Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

December 5, 2008

Australia Is 'Windy, Overblown, Utterly Preposterous'

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 'Australia,' 'Nobel Son,' 'Four Christmases,' 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.

"Too much is sometimes just too much, no matter what the philosophical underpinnings."—Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan on Australia

Australia (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 53

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "…'Australia' is a testament to movie love at its most devout…"
Actual line: "Baz Luhrmann's continent-size epic, 'Australia,' isn't the greatest story ever—it's several dozen of the greatest stories ever told, 'The African Queen,' 'Gone With the Wind' and 'Once Upon a Time in the West' included. A pastiche of genres and references wrapped up—though, more often than not, whipped up—into one demented and generally diverting horse-galloping, cattle-stampeding, camera-swooping, music-swelling, mood-altering widescreen package, this creation story about modern Australia is a testament to movie love at its most devout, cinematic spectacle at its most extreme, and kitsch as an act of aesthetic communion."
Not quoted: "… it can be difficult to gauge Mr. Luhrmann's intentions, or rather his level of self-awareness. The film begins with some text that scrolls importantly across the screen, immediately setting the uncertain tone with some (serious?) twaddle about Australia as a land of 'adventure and romance.' … the calamities of history are merely colorful grist for his main interest … [Nicole Kidman's is] a ludicrous role…"

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: " 'Where dreams that you dare to dream really do come true' seems especially fitting for this big dreaming film. … the kind of major star romance we've been waiting for."
Not quoted: "Too much is sometimes just too much, no matter what the philosophical underpinnings. … That ultimate success seems unlikely early on as 'Australia' makes itself difficult to understand by throwing a ton of plot information at us with expressions and accents so authentically Aussie the specifics are at times hard to follow. Also unfortunate is Luhrmann's decision to play the film's first section as a broad slapstick farce that pitches action and performance to Keystone Kops level. The scene in which Kidman and Jackman's characters meet is an unlikely brawl in which (don't ask) dainty underthings end up pawed over by drooling ruffians on the streets of the port city of Darwin. It's more tedious than it sounds."

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "Insanely entertaining. Wildly ambitious. A shamefully enjoyable ride."
Actual line: "A wildly ambitious, luridly indulgent spectacle of romance, action, melodrama and historic revisionism, 'Australia' is windy, overblown, utterly preposterous and insanely entertaining. … any audience willing to appreciate 'Australia' as an affectionate, even campy pastiche is in for an almost shamefully enjoyable ride …"

David Ansen, Newsweek: "It's epic. Shamelessly entertaining."
Actual line: "It's Epic. … a shameless—and shamelessly entertaining—pastiche."
Not quoted: "… bold, kitschy, unapologetic artifice …"

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Exhilarating. A gorgeous film. Strong performances. The kind of movie that is a 'movie,' with all that the word promises and implies."
Actual line: "The film is filled with problems caused by its acceptance of mystical powers. If Nullah is all-seeing and prescient at times, then why does he turn into a scared little boy who needs rescuing? The climactic events require action sequences as thrilling as they are formulaic, as is the love story. Scarlett and Rhett were products of the same society. Lady Sarah and Drover meet across a divide that separates not only social class but lifestyle, education and geography. Such a gap can be crossed, but not during anything so simple as a moonlit night with 'Over the Rainbow' being played on a harmonica. [Gone With the Wind], for all its faults and racial stereotyping, at least represented a world its makers believed in. 'Australia' envisions a world intended largely as fable, and that robs it of some power. Still, what a gorgeous film, what strong performances, what exhilarating images and—yes, what sweeping romantic melodrama. The kind of movie that is a movie, with all that the word promises and implies."
Not quoted: "Baz Luhrmann dreamed of making the Australian 'Gone With the Wind,' and so he has, with much of that film's lush epic beauty and some of the same awkwardness with a national legacy of racism. … Luhrmann is rightly contemptuous of Australia's 're-education' policies; he shows Nullah taking pride in his heritage and paints the white enforcers as the demented racists they were. But 'Australia' also accepts aboriginal mystical powers lock, stock and barrel, and that I think may be condescending."
This is also, apparently, the kind of movie that is formulaic, awkward about race, and too much of a fable. There wasn't any mangling of Ebert's quote, just an omission of his on-the-other-hand negativity. But the extent of that negativity, and the misleading heading for the ad—top critics rave—earns it Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Nobel Son
Nobel Son (Freestyle Releasing)
Metacritic Score: 29

Ronnie Scheib, Variety: "Boldy sardonic … more twists than a designer pretzel."
Actual line: "With more story twists than a designer pretzel—including an anonymous amputated thumb and a gratuitous corpse in a bathtub—the adrenalin-fueled pic thankfully slows to a halt after only a few to many loop-de-loops. Tech credits maintain the film's momentum throughout, Paul Oakenfold and Mark Adler's techno-beat rhythms pumping up the action with occasional breaks for irony. Michael Ozier's multi-angled lensing favors colorfully expressionistic backdrops to highlight Miller's boldly sardonic editing."
Not quoted: "Least effectively, such ostentation yields Danny DeVito's obsession-compulsion, strange character names and one-line backstories."

Pete Hammond, "Outrageously entertaining… insanely clever thriller."
There isn't a bad thing about the film in the review, yet Hammond awards it only three stars out of five. It's like the opposite of a generous grading curve.

Twilight (Summit Entertainment)
Metacritic Score: 56

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines: "See it over and over again."
Earl, it's been a while. We've missed you. For more Twilight blurbs deconstructed, see this recent Blurbs column.

The Black Balloon
The Black Balloon (NeoClassics Films)
Metacritic Score: 70

Russell Edwards, Variety: "Toni Collette acts as an anchor for the ensemble, but the young leads credibly hold their own onscreen."
Not quoted: "Scenario totters on the edge of the saccharine sweetness that mars many teen pics … Lensing aims for a sun-bleached quality, which undermines the pic's solid production values and makes it look low-budget."

Four Christmases
Four Christmases (New Line)
Metacritic Score: 41

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "The funniest movie of the year! Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon are terrific. The perfect holiday treat!"
Again Shawn helpfully tips us off to the badness of a movie by raving about it."

Let Them Chirp Awhile
Let Them Chirp Awhile (Houston King)
Metacritic Score: 32

Village Voice: "Hilarious."
Actual (head)line: "Let Them Chirp Awhile Falls Apart, But Pretty Hilarious Scene To Scene"

Carl Bialik

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

Post a comment

Comment Rules

The following HTML is allowed in comments:
Bold: <b>Text</b>
Italic: <i>Text</i>
<a href="URL">Text</a>


Article by Carl Bialik

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

Learn more about this author


Hate to miss out? Enter your email for occasional Gelf news flashes.


Gelf t-shirt

The picture is on the front of the shirt, the words are on the back. You can be in between.