Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

July 27, 2007

A Spectacular Film. Also Banal.

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 'Sunshine,' 'The Simpsons Movie,' 'Hairspray,' 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, 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.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"Sunshine eventually floats free of the plausibility that has been its anchor and falls victim to hoary plot devices."—Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Sunshine (Fox Searchlight)

Jan Stuart, Newsday: "Danny Boyle's most spectacular film to date… every frame wows."
Actual line: " 'Sunshine' is Boyle's most spectacular film to date and his most banal. (Yes, this includes 'The Beach.') Every frame wows with exquisite arrangements of light and color; each of the characters' choices is packed with a sense of consequence and urgency that makes us feel as if we're frittering away our lives by comparison. But to what end is all this lavish care directed?"
Not quoted: "It's good to see such a high quotient of appealing Asian actors in the mix, but really, do they have to be so dispensable? As the body count rises with predictable selectivity, 'Sunshine' labors with decreasing credibility to convince us that it's something more consequential than your basic NASA-hardware potboiler. Pack your sunglasses, and two Tylenols."
For the ellipsis eliding "and most banal," this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "A nail-bitingly tense science-fiction thriller."
Not quoted: "… it can't maintain its momentum all the way to the end … this film eventually floats free of the plausibility that has been its anchor and falls victim to hoary plot devices. The conventional lies in wait to ambush even the most ambitious genre work, and though 'Sunshine' is far too smartly done to be fatally wounded, it's hard not to wish it wasn't smarter still."

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "… [Director Danny] Doyle and his screenwriter, Alex Garland, goose their science fiction with action- and horror-genre beats, increasingly turning up the chills and thrills."
The line after the blurb quoted in the ad is, "Less effectively, they also introduce a disappointing philosophical bogeyman."

The Simpsons Movie (Fox)

Brian Lowry, Daily Variety: "Smart… clever, irreverent, satirical."
Actual line: "Put simply, if somebody had to make a 'Simpsons' movie, this is pretty much what it should be—clever, irreverent, satirical and outfitted with a larger-than-22-minutes plot, capable (just barely) of sustaining a narrative roughly four times the length of a standard episode."
Not quoted: "… the movie drags in places."

John Esther, Los Angeles Journal: "Best animated movie ever!"
For more plays on Simpsons review puns, see this Gelflog post.

Hairspray (New Line)

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Hilarious! One of the best movies of the year!"
Did a movie with an 81 Metacritic score really need to add in a blurb from this dubious source when so many others were available?

No Reservations (Warner Bros.)

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "The most delightful movie of the year!"
It's a little clearer why this film (Metacritic score of 50) went with Shawn, who is always game to make best-of-year picks in July.

Molière (Sony)

New York Magazine: "Engaging and irreverent …light as a feather."
Actual line: "Light as a feather and full of lively performances, including Romain Duris's turn as the great writer, it's an engaging, irreverent trifle, as long as you don't think about it too hard."

This Is England (IFC)

Andrew Stuttaford, New York Sun: "Exhilarating and profoundly moving!"
Actual line: "Don't be put off by agitprop, achingly self-conscious blue-collar grit, and accents that may mystify some on this side of the Atlantic: 'This Is England,' the latest offering from the up-and-coming British director Shane Meadows, is a sometimes exhilarating, sometimes wrenching and, at its best, profoundly moving coming-of-age tale that also manages to find room to ponder questions of friendship, fatherhood, group loyalty, masculinity, and national identity. That's not bad for 98 minutes."
Not quoted: "In reality, the National Front was always more of a bogeyman to be brandished by the left than a serious electoral menace, and it's as a bogeyman that Mr. Meadows uses it in this movie. Taking his film solely as a period piece is, I suppose, fair enough; but if it's contemporary political resonance he's looking for, it falls flat, too dated to be persuasive: Those best described as "fascists" in modern Britain are more likely to be interested in fatwas than fuhrers."

Once (Fox Searchlight)

Chris Kaltenbach, Baltimore Sun: "A musical love story that simultaneously defies, reimagines and celebrates the boundaries of both genres. In a season dominated by superheroes in super blockbusters, 'Once' is a reminder that the best stories are the ones that are most human."
Not quoted: "Once's bare-bones cinematic style has its drawbacks. Carney's camera has a tendency to over-shake, and the live dialogue—especially given the characters' thick Irish accents—can be hard to understand at times.
Perhaps the Sun's lead—"Once will certainly not be enough for Once"—was too cheesy even for the ad folks.

Carl Bialik

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

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Article by Carl Bialik

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

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