Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

August 15, 2008

'A Textbook Definition of an Uneven Comedy'

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 'Tropic Thunder,' 'Pineapple Express,' 'Clone Wars,' 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, and find out what critics think of the racket.

'While aiming for the funnybone, the filmmakers bruise other body parts.'—Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey on 'Tropic Thunder'

Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks)
Metacritic Score: 72

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Downey is absurdly funny."
Not quoted: "Not only is it unabashedly politically incorrect, but it is almost a textbook definition of an uneven comedy. There are some wildly funny scenes, a few leaden ones and others that are scattershot, with humorous satire undercut by over-the-top grisliness."

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: "Hilarious."
Not quoted: "…this satire of Hollywood inanity isn't the comic classic it could have been… There's always something self-congratulatory about celebrities lampooning their own industry, and occasionally you catch Stiller patting himself a little too enthusiastically on the back."
Gelf couldn't find the word "hilarious" in the review.

Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer: "Riotously funny."
Actual line: "Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder is raunchy, raucous and riotously funny. But so acutely self-conscious that the effect is one of a stand-up comedian furnishing color commentary on his own act."
Not quoted: "Stiller's film carpet-bombs for laughs when it would be more joke-effective to go for the surgical strike. While aiming for the funnybone, the filmmakers bruise other body parts. … Stiller is more effective behind the camera than on screen as Tugg, a role reportedly written for Keanu Reeves. … With its repetitious passages of stumble-in-the-jungle slapstick and geysers of in-jokes, Tropic Thunder finally is more successful as a critique of Hollywood movies than as a Hollywood comedy."

Pineapple Express (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 64

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Gut-busting comedy. Side-splittingly funny. Franco is a revelation. The laughs are almost non-stop."
Actual line: "Director David Gordon Green, whose last film was the somber character study Snow Angels, shows a definite talent for gut-busting comedy. [Six paragraphs earlier] A scene with a stolen police car that leads to a pot-fueled chase is side-splittingly funny. [Three paragraphs later] Franco is a revelation. [Four paragraphs later] The laughs—mostly crude, profane and drug-addled—are almost non-stop."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "It slaps a big, fat, goofy smile on your face that lasts for days. Hardcore hilarious and the movie also has a heart. You'll go limp from laughing."
Actual line: "The movie, shot beyond the call of kickass duty by Green's gifted cinematographer, Tim Orr, is rich in demented details, from the black-and-white prologue to the knockout fight in Red's house (watch that sink! damn that toilet seat!) and the final free-for-all at the cannabis plant. But this movie also has a heart as big as Saul's stash. Near the end, the three friends gather at a diner to lick their wounds and go emo on each other. It's hardcore hilarious. Pineapple Express slaps a big, fat, goofy smile on your face that lasts for days. [31 sentences earlier] You'll go limp from laughing as process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) buys the wacky weed of the title from pot dealer Saul Silver (James Franco)."
The ad folks for this film were quite busy with the cut-and-paste.

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "Hilarious."
Actual line: "Frequently hilarious, occasionally sweet and often graphically violent, 'Pineapple Express' may not be the greatest stoner movie ever made, but it will do perfectly well until we get another hit of Harold and Kumar."
Not quoted: " 'Pineapple Express' nearly jumps the shark in a climactic series of shootouts—one character loses part of an ear—in a drug factory…"

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 35

Associated Press: "Clone Wars revives old-style Star Wars fun!"
That quote comes from an AP article about the film. The AP review was less kind: "… whether because of its cartoony format or its relatively lightweight story, 'Clone Wars' definitely is not an event."

Fly Me to the Moon (Summit)
Metacritic Score: 36

Pete Hammond, "Fly Me To The Moon soars, taking the 3D experience to brand new heights."
Actual line: "Fly Me To The Moon soars, taking the 3D experience to new heights."
Not quoted: "It may not be in the league of Wall E or Kung Fu Panda…"

Elegy (Samuel Goldwyn)
Metacritic Score: 62

New York Magazine: "Existentialism and carnal desire; the perfect antidotes to summer heat."
Gelf couldn't find this line on New York's website. Its review by David Edelstein ended with this: "Reading back, I see this is a rather harsh review of a movie made with intelligence and taste. But taste—at least when it’s this refined—is an obstacle to getting at the explosive hunger in every line of The Dying Animal. Satie … empty beaches … I scanned the surf in vain, hoping for something messy, jarring, with the reek of death. Where is the Montauk Monster when you need him?"

A Girl Cut in Two (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 69

Andrew O'Hehir, Salon: "Classic Chabrol. An arch and almost inscrutable blend of thriller and comedy. Ludivine Sagnier is among the most striking young actresses in contemporary cinema."
Actual line: " 'A Girl Cut in Two' is classic Chabrol, meaning that it's an arch and almost inscrutable blend of thriller and comedy, whose characters and situations resemble real life only here and there, apparently by accident. [Three paragraphs earlier] Both before and after her performance as the bewitching blond cipher of 'Swimming Pool,' it was clear that Sagnier is among the most striking young actresses in contemporary French cinema, and one who's nearly certain to make the jump across the Atlantic at some point."
For suggesting that "classic Chabrol" is a good thing, rather than a departure from real life; and for elevating Sagnier from among the most striking French actresses to among the most striking of all categories; this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Carl Bialik

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

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- The Blurbs
- posted on Jul 03, 09
Art Lakey

You should check out. You can submit as many blurbs as you want. Submit website links and photos. I just signed up . Very nice.

Article by Carl Bialik

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

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