The Blurbs

February 19, 2006

'Bad Movie, Good Actors'

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs in ads for movies takes on Brokeback Mountain, Freedomland, Nanny McPhee, and more.

Carl Bialik

Blurb Racket
Paul Antonson
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.

Freedomland (Sony)

Joel Siegel, Good Morning America: "Incredible, riverting, jaw-dropping performances. This is some of Samuel L. Jackson's best work ever ..."
Not quoted: " 'Freedomland' isn't about the story. The story doesn't work. It really is about the acting." [Charles Gibson says: "Bad movie, good actors." Siegel replies, "Great actors."]

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "****! Moving and gripping! 'Freedomland' is a heart-stopping, riveting and utterly compelling film. Samuel L. Jackson delivers one of the finest performances of his career and Julianne Moore is superb."
Shawn, Shawn, Shawn. Won't you ever learn?

Nanny McPhee (Universal)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Funny, hugely energetic and skillfully performed."
Not quoted: "A sort of Mary Poppins minus the sweetness, song and dance ... an overproduced industrial enterprise."

Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features)

Jack Mathews, New York Daily News: "The most flawless screenplay of 2005. A perfectly adapted screenplay by Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana that will take its place among the classics of Hollywood love stories."
Actual line: "Ang Lee, one of the greatest of contemporary filmmakers, got a perfectly adapted screenplay (by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana) from Annie Proulx's flawless New Yorker short story 'Brokeback Mountain' and delivered a film that—despite its same-sex theme—will take its place among the classics of Hollywood love stories."
It's not too surprising that the ad copy excised the "same-sex theme" bit. While the ad writers were at it, they dandied up the praise, inventing the "most flawless" superlative.

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Jake Gyllenhaal is flawless. His performance is a mercurial mix of plain, poetic and practical. Exceptional. Deeply affecting."
Actual line: "It's no news that Jake Gyllenhaal is a fine actor, and his Jack is a mercurial mix of plain, poetic and practical. ... Ang Lee's film is exceptional in other ways ... it's simultaneously spare and deeply affecting." (And, from a different Morgenstern article, "Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are flawless in the starring roles.")
It's a classic bait-and-switch of blurbing—applying an adjective applying to one noun, to another.

Go For Zucker (Focus Features)

New York Times: "Go for Zucker ... and join in for a good laugh!"
Actual line: "Sixty years after the Holocaust, most Germans still feel too guilty or insecure to address any Jewish matter in a lighthearted manner. But now a new movie is encouraging them to get rid of their postwar anxieties and join in for a good laugh."
If that quote sounds unusual for a review, it's because it's from a news article that takes no stance on the quality of the movie. The actual New York Times review, from Stephen Holden, was tepid: "How much is 'Go for Zucker' likely to tickle American audiences? Enough, I would guess, to generate some chuckles, but not enough to bring down the house. Some movies travel overseas more easily than others." For making a news article sound like a rave, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award.

Roving Mars (Buena Vista)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Genuinely awesome."
Not quoted: " 'Roving Mars' sometimes comes on like a NASA commercial; those logos loom gigantic on the IMAX screen. More troublingly, the film fails to explain how computer animations were combined with actual imagery from the missions."

Nathan Lee, New York Times: "Out of this world."
Not quoted: "For the Kennedy Space Center set, 'Roving Mars' is sure to prove a rocket-science riot, but others may grow perplexed and dismayed once the journey takes off into space. Computer animation takes over where cameras can't go, so that the whole spectacular Rover adventure ultimately plays like an extravagant cartoon."

Curious George (Universal)

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "George is as irresistible as ever."
Not quoted: "I was not the only adult at a preview screening who came close to nodding off during what works out to a little over an hour's worth of story, plus credits. Quite a few actually did. To an adult, the traditional-style animation is cheap-looking, Saturday-morning style stuff."

Film Geek (First Run Features)

Oregonian: "Very funny!"
Not quoted: " 'Film Geek' devolves a bit into mean-spirited, point-and-laugh comedy."

Cowboy del Amor (Emerging Pictures)

Variety: "Richly amusing and insightful!"
Actual line: "... richly amusing and sporadically insightful ..."

Firewall (Warner Bros.)

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "Royally entertaining! 'Firewall' seizes and holds your attention."
Not quoted: "Firewall is not great, and it's not always coherent, either."

Tamara (Lions Gate/City Lights)

Kyle Smith, New York Post: " 'Tamara' tops 'Final Destination' ... will make even horror buffs flinch."
Not quoted: "... the third act is just slasher-flick clichés; worse, it largely keeps Tamara offscreen. Villainy shouldn't be outsourced. Plus the killings become routine. ... The dialogue, at best serviceable, becomes completely superfluous."

Nathan Lee, New York Times: "A sorceress of great evil and total foxiness!"
Not quoted: "A low-budget horror film with even lower ambitions."

Spot a misleading media quote in an ad about a movie, show, book, or anything else? E-mail Gelf with your find.

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Article by Carl Bialik

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