Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

August 24, 2007

An Incidental Swan Song

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 'Superbad,' 'Rush Hour 3,' 'The Invasion,' 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
"It doesn't make a lot of sense, especially as it reaches its overblown climax."—Leonard Maltin of Entertainment Tonight, about Rush Hour 3

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Superbad (Sony)

Devin Gordon, Newsweek: "Superclose to perfect."
Actual line: "The script, co-written by Rogen and his childhood pal Evan Goldberg, inexplicably sidelines [actors Michael] Cera and [Jonah] Hill for long stretches in the middle of the film, and 'Superbad' loses altitude whenever they're gone. But when the focus is on them, they're a duo for the ages. As a 'Revenge of the Nerds' redux, 'Superbad' isn't perfect. But it's super close."

David Denby, New Yorker: "An uproarious and touching picture."
Not quoted: "At times, [director Greg] Mottola loses that kind of perception of character and destiny in mere slapstick: Jonah Hill gets knocked over by a car not once but twice, and is smacked with a baseball bat as well. The scenes of the two gleeful cops ([Seth] Rogen and Bill Hader) horsing around with Fogell never rise above the level of goofy TV."

Rush Hour 3 (New Line)

Leonard Maltin, Entertainment Tonight: "Funny, full of action."
Not quoted: "It doesn't make a lot of sense, especially as it reaches its overblown climax."

Hannah Takes the Stairs (IFC)

Matt Zoller Seitz, New York Times: "Neurotic, sweet…wryly observed."
Actual line: "As played by the actress-writer Greta Gerwig, Hannah is neurotic, sweet and mildly sarcastic, in a Gen Y-Diane Keaton sort of way, and her small-stakes odyssey through three relationships is wryly observed."
Not quoted: "…less notable for its story than for what the movie itself represents: an evolutionary entry in the so-called Do It Yourself (or D.I.Y.) independent film movement … This wave of microbudget filmmaking is distinguished by its low-fi production values (16-millimeter film or, more often, video); its overwhelmingly white, college-educated, myopic and aimless characters; its improvised camerawork, plots and dialogue; and its preference for fleeting observations over huge epiphanies. … For newcomers to D.I.Y., the movie's snappy but unadventurous style—episodic structure, deadpan performances and raggedy, improvisational dialogue—makes it a less-than-ideal introduction. … For devotees of recent D.I.Y. moviemaking, 'Hannah' will evoke melancholy feelings, and not just because the heroine finds (probably temporary) bliss without seriously examining her preconceptions. … 'Hannah' plays like an incidental swan song …"
Almost the entire review, really, could be quoted as a counterbalance to the seemingly positive blurbed excerpt. For implying that adjectives meant for Hannah were meant for Hannah, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Mr. Bean's Holiday (Universal)

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "An irresistibly charming comedy!"
Shawn, Shawn, Shawn. What comedies can you resist?

September Dawn (Black Diamond)

Pete Hammond, Maxim: "Gripping and fascinating … a pulse-pounding experience that is bound to create waves of controversy."
Not quoted: "Despite awkward direction by Christopher Cain and uneven storytelling…"
Somehow this review, which also contains the blurb-worthy phrase "packing a powerful punch," merits two-and-a-half stars out of five. No wonder Hammond is so popular with the blurbers.

Death at a Funeral (MGM)

Richard Schickel, "It's insanely funny!"
Actual line: "… insanely funny, if occasionally out-of-control …"

Dedication (Weinstein Co.)

Roger Friedman, "The best date movie of the summer!"
Actual line: "The film is clever and happy, a real crowd pleaser and maybe the best date movie of the summer."
Roger Friedman, a gossip columnist, is maybe the most blurbed non-reviewer of the summer.

Right at Your Door (Roadside Attractions)

Anthony Breznican, USA Today: "An apocalyptic thriller."
That appears to be from a feature article, not a review. Not that the blurb is a rave; it's like calling Becoming Jane a period piece or Gelf an online magazine.

Chuck Wilson, Village Voice: "Terrific… totally unnerving."
Actual line: "As setups go, this one, devised by art director (Minority Report) turned writer-director Chris Gorak, is terribly precious, and in a less threatening age might have been an easy one to shrug off, like one of those old Twilight Zone morality plays about the end of the world. Many still will, but Right At Your Door is grounded hard by some terrific smoking-skyline special effects and by [actors Rory] Cochrane and [Mary] McCormack's intensity. They're impressively unsentimental, even as tears stream down their faces for most of the movie. Secondary characters—a lost neighborhood child and an equally lost gardener—ring less true, and feel like wan attempts to pad the plot. The ending, by the way, is ridiculous (let's hope), yet totally unnerving."
Surely it was obvious to anyone reading this blurb that the adjectives applied, respectively, to "smoking-skyline special effects" and the ending.

The Invasion (Warner Bros.)

Stephen Hunter, Washington Post: "Totally gripping from start to finish."
Actual line: "On the technical side, 'The Invasion' has several first-rate, terrifying action sequences and grips totally from start to finish. But a subplot involving the Russian Embassy doesn't really pay off, and the relationship between Kidman and glum paramour Daniel Craig (another doc) isn't much."

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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