Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

January 21, 2008

A Time and Place When African Americans Were Called 'Negroes'

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 'The Great Debaters,' 'Sweeney Todd,' 'Cloverfield,' 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 film has its faults: a cheerful unconcern with anachronisms, a surfeit of plot…"—Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern on The Great Debaters

Great Debaters (Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 65/100

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "A greatly affecting movie. The actors playing the debaters are so likable and admirable that you'd be rooting for them even if they weren't poor, educationally challenged and living in a time and place when African Americans were being lynched. (I'm not sure which is more chilling, a scene in which the team comes upon the scene of a lynching, or one in which Mr. Tolson explains the derivation of the word.)"
Actual line: " 'The Great Debaters' isn't a great title, but it's a greatly affecting movie. … The actors playing the debaters are so likable and admirable that you'd be rooting for these ardent young strivers even if they weren't poly-underdogs — poor, educationally challenged and living in a time and place when Negroes were being lynched. (I'm not sure which is more chilling, a scene in which the team comes upon the scene of a lynching, or one in which Mr. Tolson explains the derivation of the word.)"
Not quoted: "The film has its faults: a cheerful unconcern with anachronisms, a surfeit of plot, mostly involving Mr. Tolson's double life as an academic and a left-wing farm labor organizer."
Most interesting in this edited blurb was the replacement of "Negroes" with "African Americans"; it seems the critic was going for contemporary verisimilitude, but the blurb writers were scared of the dated term. For their mix of misguided political correctness and grammatically incorrect quoting (sans ellipses), these blurb writers win Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Sweeney Todd (Paramount )
Metacritic Score: 83/100

David Ansen, Newsweek: "You can't turn away from 'Sweeney.' Tim Burton's best since 'Ed Wood.' "
Actual line: " 'Sweeney' is not always easy to watch, but you can't turn away. … Who knew Burton would have such an uncanny feel for how to film a musical? His strength has never been storytelling…his Gothic imagination flowers episodically…but 'Sweeney Todd,' his best movie since 'Ed Wood,' keeps its eye on its dark prize."

Cloverfield (Paramount)
Metacritic Score: 61/100

Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle: "A terrific movie, filled with spectacle and a surprising amount of humor."
Actual line: "Even though 'Cloverfield' isn't the Godzilla-for-the-YouTube-generation picture that everyone may have been hoping for, it's still a terrific movie, filled with spectacle and a surprising amount of humor, which makes up for its lack of terror or emotional impact."
Not quoted: "The first thing you need to get used to in 'Cloverfield' is the potentially nausea-inducing shaky camera work, which makes 'The Blair Witch Project' look like the latest Ken Burns documentary. Audiences will have to make other concessions, too. While director Matt Reeves never bothers to explain why New York is being leveled by a giant angry who-knows-what, he makes time to insert an episode of 'Felicity' in the middle of his monster movie, interrupting the carnage with a romance subplot that belongs on a second-tier television network. … when you get past the hand-held camera approach, there isn't a heck of a lot to this movie that you haven't seen before. … they show every angle of the Great Evil in the first half of the film, which significantly dilutes the scare factor."

Harry Knowles, Ain't It Cool News: "Brilliant! A true milestone! 'Cloverfield' is a bold genre reinvention unlike anything we've ever seen. This is a towering movie!"
Cinematical's Erik Davis was so blown away by the blurb-readiness of Knowles's review that he presented a quiz of which blurb the studio would use. As it turns out, the ad went with a combo of several of Davis's nominations.

Cassandra's Dream (Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 49/100

Jeffrey Lyons, Reel Talk: "Intense!"
Not quoted: "I found it a challenge to accept these two as brothers. … It's not classic Woody Allen, but I had a good time."
Lyons's co-host, Alison Bailes, was much harsher: "I felt like the script was straining at times to be natural. … never really gets off the ground … it's very heavy-handed … the actors were uncomfortable with the dialect, with the accent … I don't think the script was very good in capturing these people."

Bruce Handy, Vanity Fair: "Gripping!"
Actual line: "If it doesn't quite hit—the plot, about two working-class brothers of varied degrees of dimness drawn into a murder scheme, isn't believable for a second (but, then, neither was Bananas)—the film remains gripping and compulsively watchable.
Not quoted: "It's dryly funny, too, though I'm not sure it was intended to be."

Teeth (Lionsgate)
Metacritic Score: 56/100

Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter: "The most alarming cautionary tale for men since Fatal Attraction."
Actual line: "The most alarming cautionary tale for men with wandering libidos since Fatal Attraction."
Not quoted: "Mitchell Lichtenstein's female revenge tale can't quite decide whether it wants to be a comedy, horror flick or social satire so it does all these things. There's also an artlessness about it, some of which appears intentional, that will probably marginalize the film as a midnight cult film rather than a movie that opens number-one its first weekend. … Lichtenstein, an actor making his feature writing-directing debut, never quite gets the tone right."

Beaufort (Kino)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Hannah Brown, Jerusalem Post: "The first great Israeli war film!"
Brown later wrote that she was "pleased" to see the quote from her review at the top of the film's poster.

Honeydripper (Emerging Pictures)
Metacritic Score: 70/100

Darryl MacDonald, Palm Springs International Film Festival: "John Sayles is an American treasure, who makes eminently enjoyable films for adults that are grounded in great stories, with fully realized characters and a true sense of the time, place and culture from which they spring. 'Honeydripper' is one of his best."
It's no great surprise MacDonald would be promoting Sayles and his latest film; MacDonald's film festival is honoring the director and showing his work.

The Wire (HBO)
Metacritic Score: 88/100

Newsday: "The most remarkable drama series in television history."
Actual line: "Despite occasionally expressing Simon's concerns about journalism too pedantically, 'The Wire' continues to deserve its accolades as the most remarkable drama series in television history."

Baltimore Sun: "Fascinating… one of the most daring dramas in the history of the medium."
Not quoted: "The first seven episodes made available for preview contain nothing that matches the emotional power and sociological insight of the show at its best … the newsroom scenes are the Achilles' heel of Season 5—with mainstream entertainment sacrificed to journalistic shop talk, while fact and fiction are mashed up in the confusing manner of docudrama. … Time and again, momentum is lost as the story shifts to the newsroom. … Almost everyone in the newsroom is a cardboard character—in part because Simon writes it like a morality play. … More problematic still is the way Simon links certain newsroom characters to real-life journalists through words and actions—and then depicts them exclusively in a negative fashion. Simon moves deeper into docudrama when he does that, and The Wire suffers as a result."
Sun critic David Zurawik notes that since this latest and last season concerns a lightly fictionalized version of his own paper, "Whether I praise or pan Simon's made-for-TV version of the paper, the fact that I work for The Sun means I am likely to be mistrusted, if not damned. So be it—I am not the first journalist to write about matters involving his or her own paper."

Carl Bialik

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







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- The Blurbs
- posted on Aug 25, 13
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Article by Carl Bialik

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

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