Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

September 26, 2008

'An Unfortunate Title if Ever There Was One '

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 'Nights in Rodanthe,' 'Miracle at St. Anna,' 'Eagle Eye,' 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.

"The suds are inevitable, feeding cynical critics unfair ammunition."—The New York Observer's Rex Reed on Nights in Rodanthe

Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 39

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "A genuine heartfelt romance. The Lane-Gere fusion is so good!"
Actual line: "I see nothing wrong with a little genuine, heartfelt romance. … the Lane-Gere fusion is so good, sensitive and natural that they move into their roles like new skin."

Not quoted: "… an unfortunate title if ever there was one … raised to the level of (maybe undeserved) artistry by the convincing sincerity and no-nonsense honesty of Diane Lane. What an actress. She could sell oil leases to Iran. … The suds are inevitable, feeding cynical critics unfair ammunition. I shudder to think what kind of puns they'll dream up with the aid of a thesaurus."
Gelf couldn't find too many examples of puns, just straightforward pans such as ReelViews' comment that Nights falls into the category of romantic movies that "taste like they have been left sitting in sour milk for days and have the consistency and flavor of rancid oatmeal," or Roger Ebert's comment that "the movie attempts to jerk tears with one clunky device after another, in a plot that is a perfect storm of cliche and contrivance." Oh, and Colbert's take is priceless.

Miracle at St. Anna (Touchstone)
Metacritic Score: 35

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Epic."
Not quoted: "Spike Lee's 'Miracle at St. Anna' contains scenes of brilliance, interrupted by scenes that meander. There is too much, too many characters, too many subplots."

Pete Hammond, "Exciting and powerful. The entire cast is superb."
Actual line: "Spike Lee's World War II epic about four African-American soldiers stationed in Italy is overlong and flawed but still manages to be a powerful, important and gripping effort with superb performances."
Not quoted: "… the picture, running at 160 minutes, could have benefited from some judicious editing (particularly in the opening and closing sequences) …"

The Duchess (Paramount Vantage)
Metacritic Score: 64

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Ralph Fiennes is triumphant. His performance is a portrait of what the perks of power can do to a man's soul. Comic, terrifying and understandable all at once."
Actual line: "The triumph of 'The Duchess' is the Duke. Fiennes plays the odious nobleman with such subtlety, wit and perfect control that he steals the movie outright. A viciously pragmatic man with no illusions about himself, he gives the part a surprising humanity without ever softening him. It's a portrait of what the perks of power can do to a man's soul, and he cuts a figure that's comic and terrifying and understandable all at once."
Not quoted: "Ultimately, 'The Duchess' doesn't do justice to the magnificent contradictions of its formidable title character."

Eagle Eye (DreamWorks)
Metacritic Score: 44

Harry Knowles, "Extraordinary! Dripping with paranoia, conspiracies and a story that is always a few steps ahead of the audience."
Not quoted: "Is it huge and over-the-top and vaguely ridiculously awesome? ABSOLUTELY. Ok—time to attempt some rest. This festival is killer on one's sleep schedule. And I have to be at the theater by 12:30 in the morning—that just barely gives me 8 hours to rest. Which would be the first real sleep I've seen since last Tuesday."
That unquoted bit doesn't show that Knowles disliked the film, but it speaks to his credibility. What the hell does "vaguely ridiculously awesome" mean? And the man was running on no sleep. It's like he was wasted.
And speaking of lack of credibility:

Shawn Edwards, Fox: "Electrifying! The most exhilarating movie of this year! 'Eagle Eye' is an action packed thrill ride that puts the pedal to the metal."
Shawn, Shawn, Shawn. Tsk tsk.

Appaloosa (New Line)
Metacritic Score: 59

Pete Hammond, "A masterful triumph!"
Actual line: "For fans of the genre, this is a masterful triumph…"
Not quoted: "[Renee] Zellweger, on the other hand, lets her acting show at every turn. To be fair, her character rarely adds up, but she does nothing to give any dimension beyond the obvious to a woman courting both sides of the law."

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "Ed Harris' performance is forceful and nuanced."
Not quoted: "… its story -- of how a woman comes between two men in the New Mexico territory of 1882 -- has its virtues undercut by the way that critical female role has been handled. … It's unfortunate for everyone concerned, and for the film, that the train chugs into town one day, as trains in westerns are wont to do, and deposits the conveniently widowed Allison French (Renée Zellweger), a young woman who has come to Appaloosa with an extensive wardrobe, some piano playing skills and little else. Given the marked lack of piano-playing women with extensive wardrobes in Appaloosa, both Cole and Hitch are smitten, albeit to varying degrees, with the newcomer. Which really is too bad. Though the press notes insist that Allison French is 'beguiling,' the reality is that she is anything but. With a simpering manner that offers all the charm and seductiveness of a potato casserole, she is not only unconvincing as the object of multiple suitors, she is also so off-putting a character that you wince when she comes on the screen. Though the Oscar-winning Zellweger has been excellent when she matches up well with the roles she plays, this is not a part she connects to at all."

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "An American classic."
See above.

Ghost Town (DreamWorks)
Metacritic Score: 72

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: "Téa Leoni and Greg Kinnera are charming. Effortlessly funny! ****"
Actual line: "Leoni and Kinnear are charming, and [director David] Koepp keeps the mood appropriately light. But really, this would be just another disposable comedy if it weren't for our unassuming star. [Star Ricky] Gervais isn't an actor of unlimited range, but he's so effortlessly funny his expressions elicit laughs before he even opens his mouth."
The Daily News awards stars out of a maximum of five, by the way. Makes those four stars seem less impressive.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "A spirited comedy with plenty of laughs!"
Actual line: "Gervais leads spirited 'Ghost' [headline] … The film moves along briskly, offering plenty of laughs, even though the plot particulars are at times predictable."

Righteous Kill (Overture)
Metacritic Score: 36

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: "The matchup is undeniably cool."
Actual line: "…this matchup is undeniably cool, even if their characters have silly nicknames and the closest they get to depth is Pacino making spaghetti while listening to opera."
Not quoted: "The script, by Russell Gewirtz ('Inside Man'), is late-night-cable bad, and director Jon Avnet ('88 Minutes') provides no sense of New York. … Of the supporting performances, [Carla] Gugino, [John] Leguizamo and [Donnie] Wahlberg offer solid turns, but are let down by dialogue like 'Is it killin' time—or is he just killing time?' Plus, the movie thinks it's twisty, but no one with eyes will be surprised by the revelations."

Richard Corliss, Time: "De Niro and Pacino, reHEATed."
Not quoted: "That the movie proves to be a nonevent has something to do with the clichés accruing around the cop genre (where the killer is always a cop), and more to do with the passing of time. … this is a film that missed its moment. Instead of the meeting of maestros at the top of their form, Righteous Kill has the feeling of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds facing off for the first time in an exhibition game. It's like Old Timers' Day at the Motion Picture Home. … the camera is a remorseless appraiser of advancing age."
For reheating this pan's headline, which wasn't even that praiseworthy, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Lakeview Terrace (Screen Gems)
Metacritic Score: 46

Pete Hammond, "The incomparable Samuel L. Jackson is riveting to watch!"
Actual line: "The incomparable Jackson is riveting to watch, even if this pretty straightforward role of a controlling, racist cop doesn't pose one of the bigger acting challenges of his career. As Abel, Jackson simply commands our attention every moment he is on screen and dominates the proceedings like few actors can. You feel his simmering anger and prejudices, although until the final moments there isn't a whole lot of back story to add dimension or complexity to the character. He seems to be what he is with no logical reason for targeting the nice young couple next door."

Battle in Seattle (Redwood Palms)
Metacritic Score: 55

Sara Cardace, New York Magazine: "The film is a triumph!"
Actual line: "The drama gets heavy-handed at times, but the film is a triumph…"

Igor (MGM)
Metacritic Score: 40

Bill Zecker, Chicago Sun-Times: "Sweet and entertaining."
Actual line: "Though not a new animated classic, 'Igor' is a sweet and entertaining film that rarely makes you laugh out loud, but provides solid chuckles from start to finish."

John Anderson, Newsday: "Totally fresh and goofily funny."
Actual line: "Director Tony Leondis and screenwriter Chris McKennna have mined everything from 'Young Frankenstein' to 'Sleepy Hollow' to Japanese anime to the German Neo-Expressionists to create that rare thing, a cartoon for adults. And for all its influences, it feels totally fresh. … Not all the jokes work, but most do, and the overall tenor of 'Igor' is goofily funny—probably a bit sophisticated for kids but certainly good-natured."

Hounddog (Empire Film)
Metacritic Score: 33

Hollywood Reporter: "A triumph!"
Actual line: "As Lewellen, a jewel among the rotting cars and run-down shacks in rural Alabama, [Dakota] Fanning projects a strange mix of innocence and awareness. The triumph of her performance is her ability to turn it on and off in the same scene, sometimes even in the same shot."

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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