Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

August 28, 2009

'Basterds' 'Trips on Its Own Ambition'

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 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'The Time Traveler's Wife,' 'Taking Woodstock,' and more.

David Goldenberg

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.

"Your idea of a hoot has to include watching Jewish GIs led by Brad Pitt scalp German soldiers."—Lou Lumenick of the New York Post on Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds (Universal, Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 69

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Pure exhilaration! Riveting, glorious and powerful!"
Actual line: "Pure exhilaration is in woefully short supply at the movies. But within one week, two films offer a bracing dose of this rare commodity: first District 9, the most inventive sci-fi action film of the summer, and now the invigorating Inglourious Basterds. … His tall tale, with its tense and jangly pacing, is immediately riveting. … [10 paragraphs earlier] The outcome is gory and glorious. … [back in the headline] 'Inglourious Basterds' wages a thrilling, powerful war."
Not quoted: "The madness could have been dialed down in the drawn-out, grisly climax."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "A Tarantino power punch! What's better than action, hair-trigger suspense … If you love movies, you can't resist!"
Actual line: "It's not an ego trip. Tarantino's power punch comes from cinema itself. What's better than action, composition, editing, camera movement and a machine-gun spray of killer Tarantino dialogue if you want to go medieval on Nazi ass? … Those in a rush will object to the time allotted to the tavern sequence (a sort of mini-Reservoir Dogs) in which Bridget and the Basterds try to fake out the Nazis in a verbal duel that escalates into a shootout. But Tarantino gives his heart fully to this scene; it's hair-trigger suspense tied to something as small and telling as an accent. … Will Basterds polarize audiences? That's a given. But for anyone professing true movie love, there's no resisting it."
Not quoted: "So it's easy to pick at his film's flaws: It sputters, bogs down in minutiae, talks itself into blind alleys and trips on its own ambition. Detractors say the 152-minute epic should be shorter, funnier, more fierce, less verbal, add battle scenes, yada-yada."

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "The most fun you'll have at the movies this summer!"
Actual line: "… may be the most fun you'll have at the movies this summer. Of course, your idea of a hoot has to include watching Jewish GIs led by Brad Pitt scalp German soldiers -- or beat them to death with a baseball bat."
Not quoted: "… his legion of detractors will likely not appreciate the aging enfant terrible drastically rewriting history at a Paris movie premiere, with help from a pair of femmes who put explosive new meaning in the word fatale. … Those who decry Tarantino's self-indulgence (not to mention his utter disinterest in politics and religion) will probably point to a very long sequence in a basement tavern, where several layers of impersonation—and many, many cinematic references—entertainingly play out to their violent end."

The Time Traveler's Wife
The Time Traveler's Wife (New Line)
Metacritic Score: 47

Richard Corliss, Time: "A total immersion in star-crossed love."
Actual line: "In a film era that thinks sentiment is a big silly joke, The Time Traveler's Wife may be as out of its time as poor Henry. But for viewers aching for a romantic drama that leaves them emotionally, honorably exhausted, this could prove a total immersion in star-crossed love, if not perfect synchronicity."
Not quoted: "It's soppy enough to suit the requirements of the weepie genre, and there's a music score that tries to cue all the emotions in viewers, as if they're incapable of locating their own feelings. … Put a harsh light on the story and it's an old disease-of-the-week TV movie—if "chrono-impairment" is an illness covered by the Obama health-care plan."

Taking Woodstock
Taking Woodstock (Focus Features)
Metacritic Score: 55

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "A celebration of personal liberation."
Actual line: "…a gentle, meandering celebration of personal liberation at a moment when rigid social barriers were becoming more permeable, at least among the young."
Not quoted: "[Demetri] Martin's performance lacks the star magnetism that emanated from Mr. [Dustin] Hoffman playing an even more reticent character. 'Taking Woodstock' lacks the passion of Mr. Lee's finest films…"

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Director Ang Lee vibrantly captures the era!"
Actual line: "Though director Ang Lee vibrantly captures the era, his focus on the mechanics of putting together the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival is juxtaposed with a humdrum coming-of-age tale. Setting this prosaic personal tale amid such a resonant socio-cultural event only intensifies the wan nature of the main story."
Not quoted: "… the signature tunes and sense of portent are missing … [Lee] also has made a surprisingly bland film. There is undoubtedly a great movie in the Woodstock experience. This particular take, based on the memoirs of Elliot Tiber, isn't it. … misses the reverberations of the counterculture revolution that brought the great unwashed to that farm."

David Ansen, Newsweek: "A sweet comic embrace! 'Taking Woodstock' may give you a contact high!"
Actual line: "Lee wants to give us a contact high, and in his psychedelic evocation of Elliot's nighttime acid high he comes wondrously close. Some will call his Woodstock naive, but that's what he intends: the movie is a sweet, anecdotal, comic embrace …"

Big Fan
Big Fan (First Independent)
Metacritic Score: 68

Todd Hill, Newhouse Syndicate: "Patton Oswalt deserves an Oscar nomination."
Actual line: "[Writer/director Robert] Siegel would know something about that, having written the screenplay for 'The Wrestler,' the movie that earned actor Mickey Rourke an Oscar nomination earlier this year. Were 'Big Fan' a movie with a bigger profile, similar accolades for Oswalt wouldn't be out of the question."
Hill loved the film and Oswalt's performance, as made clear in a separate review, but this mangling of his Oscar comment nonetheless earns this ad Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

My One and Only
My One and Only (Freestyle Releasing)
Metacritic Score: 61

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "A good-natured screwball road film. A contemporary version of a Preston Sturges comedy."
Actual line: "A good-natured screwball road film … aspires to be a contemporary version of a Preston Sturges comedy. But for all its charm, this lighthearted travelogue is less an inquiry into the soul of America than an affectionate period piece set in economically leaner times, decades before communications technology revolutionized the concept of personal space."

Pete Hammond, Boxoffice magazine: "An exceptionally good comedy loaded with laughs, heart and wonderful performances. Renée is at her best!"
Not quoted: "… with a low marketing budget and stiff competition My One and Only will require ferocious word of mouth and the determination of theater owners willing to keep it around for it to make a dent at the box office. … The film's weakest point is Richard Loncraine's rather uninspired direction …"

We Live in Public
We Live in Public (Interloper)
Metacritic Score: 62

New York Times: "Riveting! A compelling, cautionary tale."
That seems to come from a David Carr article about the film from January, though the word "cautionary" doesn't appear. Manohla Dargis's review, appearing a couple of pages before the ad, isn't a rave; she writes that the film's director "doesn't seriously engage with the issues her documentary raises, including whether the right to privacy will survive given how eagerly so many now surrender themselves to the camera" and "doesn't explore the nuances."

The September Issue
The September Issue (Roadside Attractions)
Metacritic Score: 71

Krista Smith, Vanity Fair: "Immensely enjoyable… This is the real 'Devil Wears Prada.' "
Actual line: "This is the real Devil Wears Prada, and they love it at Sundance. … I can't be objective, since I know many of the characters personally, but I enjoyed it immensely."

Amy Odell, New York Magazine: "A hurricane of fabulousness."
Actual line: "[Anna Wintour is] portrayed as fashion's most powerful force, an ethereal being, a hurricane of fabulousness."
Not quoted: "The trailer for The September Issue is out and it shows why editors have taken to bootlegging elusive screener copies. The film looks just as amazing as they say, with a healthy dose of Devil Wears Prada flavor, mostly evident in the graphics."
The blog post appears to have been written on the basis of a trailer, not the whole film. And the seeming praise is for one character, and how she's portrayed—not for the film.

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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