Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

December 14, 2007

A Rickety Brass Compass

In this week's edition of The Blurbs—the feature in which we take a close look at those critic blurbs that are a fixture of ads for movies—see breakdowns of blurbs for 'Golden Compass,' 'Youth Without Youth,' 'Kite Runner,' and more.

Carl Bialik

The critic blurb is a staple of arts advertising. Yet if you look behind some blurbs, you'll find quotes out of context, quote whores, and other questionable ad practices. Blurb Racket exposes the truth behind critics blurbs in movie ads from the New York Times. Movie titles link to metacritic.com, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links, and find out what critics think of the racket here.

"The movie lacks an elevating passion, a cohesive vision, a soul."—Time's Richard Corliss on Golden Compass

Golden Compass (New Line)
Metacritic Score: 51/100

Richard Corliss, Time: "A literally jaw-dropping battle of the ice bears. The find is Dakota Blue Richards, a child actress who's both grounded and magical."

Not quoted: "… good, if familiar, fantasy."
From the longer Corliss review: "[Director-screenwriter Chris] Weitz can't infuse this first episode with the animating spark of grand-scale moviemaking … he's not up to helming a superproduction like this … there's something missing, beyond the iconoclastic theology, in this perfectly OK, blandly underwhelming superproduction. The movie lacks an elevating passion, a cohesive vision, a soul. It's as if The Golden Compass has misplaced its artistic compass. Somebody stole its daemon. … get your own vision of the saga by reading the book. That's where fantasy comes alive, in the collaboration of the author and his audience of one. Often, the best movies play on the reader's own mindscreen."

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "Fascinating and involving."
Actual line: "Still, though it takes some doing, 'The Golden Compass' retains enough tastes and traces of the original to fascinate and involve viewers."
Not quoted: "Whenever a book like 'The Golden Compass' gets turned into a movie, it's inevitable that the story will be simplified, characters will lose nuance and, in this case, rousing battle scenes will be emphasized and heightened at the expense of more introspective elements."

Juno (Fox Searchlight)
Metacritic Score: 83/100

Robert Wilonsky, Village Voice: "A thing of beauty and grace—'Juno' is a perfect movie about responsibility, maturity, and unconditional love."
Actual line: "Once it works its way through the first-timer's lookatme! snark, Juno evolves into a thing of beauty and grace. … Just when it feels as though [director Jason] Reitman and [screenwriter Diablo] Cody are losing their wrestling match with the tone and texture, just when it feels like Juno's about to wink and nudge itself off the screen, it coalesces into a perfect movie about responsibility, maturity, and unconditional love."
Not quoted: "At first, Juno threatens to choke on its quotation-marks catchphrases."

I Am Legend (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 66/100

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "The best movie of the year! One of the most entertaining, exciting and intense movies ever made."
Edwards, the noted blurb whore, had previously awarded films the titles "one of the funniest comedies of the year," "the most magical movie of the year," "one of the best movies of the year," and "the most delightful movie of the year."

Youth Without Youth (Sony Pictures Classics)
Metacritic Score: 43/100

A.O. Scott, New York Times: " 'Youth Without Youth' is evidently the work of a master. A curious blend of romance, mystery and philosophical speculation."
Not quoted: "It bristles with restless, perhaps overreaching intellectual ambition."
Just as it's curious to quote Scott's comment that the film is a 'curious blend' as if that's a good thing, it's curious that the blurb comes from Scott's profile of director Francis Ford Coppola

Richard Corliss, Time: "Boldly romantic and seductively cinematic. The great American director of the '70s has survived with his operatic intensity intact."
Actual line: "The first film Coppola has directed in a decade is not quite a triumph—its emotions fall flat at the end, when they ought to soar—but it is boldly romantic and seductively cinematic. The great American director of the '70s has survived with his operatic intensity intact."

Bruce Handy, Vanity Fair: "Coppola is one of the few American film directors who can match Welles both for talent and for showmanship—for sheer cinematic nerve. A romantic parable with a strong metaphysical bent."
Actual line: "It seems fair to say that he is one of the few American film directors who can match Welles both for talent and for showmanship—for sheer cinematic nerve. Like Welles, he is also no stranger to grandiosity, bunkum, overreach, self-immolation, and red ink. …"
Not quoted: "I've seen the movie twice and am still not entirely sure what to make of it. The philosophical stuff is a hash (at least to me; I'm no better with metaphysics than I am with regular physics), but the less heady parts of the story are moving, exploring as they do questions of work and love, aging and loss."

Kite Runner (Paramount Vantage)
Metacritic Score: 59/100

Richard Schickel, Time: "One of those rare literary works that has been filmed most reverently. The movie is the book."
Actual line: "One of those rare literary works that became an addiction for millions of readers, Khaled Hosseini's novel has been filmed most reverently. The movie is the book, with its narrative force and fondness for plot clichés."
Not quoted: "Viewers will either be swept away ennobled or feel manipulated, even as they wipe away tears. The emotions may be forced, but that doesn't mean the movie won't get to you."
From the longer Schickel review: "Yes, it is full of contrivance and coincidence. Yes, it comes to an uplifting ending that is not entirely plausible. And yes, we somehow never doubt that the good people of this tale are somehow going to triumph, even when they lose everything and are immersed in historical darkness. That's because they have the only qualities that count in stories of this kind—pluck, decency and resilient spirits."

Revolver (Samuel Goldwyn)
Metacritic Score: 25/100

Matt Zoller Seitz, New York Times: " 'Revolver' doesn't stint on fun…clever…impassioned…the first metaphysical lad-mag movie."
Actual line: " 'Revolver' doesn't stint on fun. … By turns clever, impassioned, incoherent and silly … After his third film, 'Swept Away'—a putrid remake of the Lina Wertmüller classic starring his wife, Madonna—he could have photocopied his two hits, 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' and 'Snatch,' and been credited with a return to form. He chose instead to make a film whose DVD version could plausibly be filed under 'action,' 'mystery,' 'religion' and 'self-help': the first metaphysical lad-mag movie."
Not quoted: "The movie's hit-to-miss ratio is hardly Olympic caliber, but Mr. Ritchie deserves credit for chutzpah."
One could argue that the ad deserves credit for chutzpah for cutting out "incoherent" and "silly." Instead, Gelf argues that it deserves our Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Awake (MGM, Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 33/100

Stephen Hunter, Washington Post: "A rare mystery thriller … with twists that will keep you guessing."
Actual line: "It's an actual, rare mystery thriller, with no true supernatural overtones. Given the fact that the hero's heart is in a jar, the young director solves the problem of keeping the movie fluid and interesting in clever ways. Oh, and the twists: some nice ones. Wouldn't have guessed that … well, never mind."
Not quoted: " 'Awake' is a pleasing if negligible diversion."

Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.







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- The Blurbs
- posted on May 28, 09
nadeem akhtar

you are very poor


Article by Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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