Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

November 2, 2007

Ben's Uneven Debut

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 'Gone Baby Gone,' 'Dan in Real Life,' 'Bee Movie,' 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 here.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"I just wish the script was as good as the paint."—Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News on Bee Movie

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Gone Baby Gone (Miramax)

Gene Seymour, Newsday: "Ben Affleck's directorial debut is richly rendered. Amy Ryan is a revelation."
Actual line: "Affleck's uneven but richly rendered directorial debut transcends other, similar movies largely because the moral conundrums dramatized are deeply, authentically distressing."
Not quoted: "[Ben Affleck] does need to work on his rhythm. His avid eye tends to linger too long on the details, especially grittier ones. And because he is an actor (though, it turns out, a better director), he often submits to the temptation to draw every ounce of visual nuance from his actors."

Richard Corliss, Time: "It's smart… a tightly wound thriller that keeps you guessing."
Not quoted: "Affleck lays it all out with clarity and grit, though the actor in him can't help giving every star a big verbal aria. That guy—actor Affleck—probably also wishes he could star in a movie as smart and twisty and morally complex as this one is."
Apparently, it can be hard to praise director Affleck without taking a swipe at actor Affleck.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Amy Ryan gives a gutsy, sensational performance."
Not quoted: "Mr. Affleck trips up now and again, mostly with his older, famous peers Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, who delivers one of the more unpersuasive performances of his career as the head of the police department’s missing-children division. The director does better with Mr. Harris, who plays a hotheaded detective in a distracting hairpiece, though again Mr. Affleck doesn't control the performance as well as he does those of the other cast members. He also wavers when he lingers too long over the crumpled faces and bodies of what appear to be real South Boston natives."

Dan in Real Life (Touchstone)

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "The film is so winning."
Actual line: "The film is so winning it got me to like Dane Cook—or at least to enjoy his puppyish narcissism when it's this well used."
Gleiberman liked the movie, but he clearly doesn't care much for Cook.

Bee Movie (DreamWorks)

Jack Mathews, New York Daily News: "It's dazzling!"
Actual line (in the headline): " 'Bee Movie' is bee-dazzling!"
Not quoted: "Kids are going to adore looking at this movie, living in it, flying through and above its brilliant landscape. It's an animated joyride over a relief map of Manhattan. I just wish the script was as good as the paint. … short on logic and high on theatrics."

Bella (Roadside Attractions)

Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times: "Sweet and life-affirming."
Actual line: " 'Bella' is certainly a sweet, life-affirming picture, but it's just not authentic or captivating enough to justify its wildly concocted scenario."
Not quoted: "… wispy script … the questionable way things evolve and play out strains credibility, even for a piece this fanciful."
For cherry-picking the rare sweet word from this pan, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Darfur Now (Warner Independent)

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: "Undeniably important!"
Actual line: "A disquieting, and somewhat disjointed, call to arms, Theodore Braun's heartfelt documentary is undeniably important. But it may not be quite focused enough to ignite the passion he so clearly wants his audience to feel."
The blurb itself is not a big come-on for the film—it's rare that the word "undeniably" is unaccompanied by something to the contrary.

Jimmy Carter Man From Plains (Sony Pictures Classics)

Hendrik Hertzberg, "Remarkable. I hope everyone will see it. Carter is a flashpoint for controversy."
Not quoted: "Admittedly, I'm not the world's most objective observer where Carter is concerned; I worked for him as a speechwriter for all but the first month of his Presidency, and I have a lot of respect and affection for him. … I haven't read the book; a friend of mine who has, a Peace Now activist, says it contains enough errors of fact and judgment to make it vulnerable to attack."
This blurb is a rare trifecta: It's by a non-film critic, who's quite biased and didn't do all necessary research for the review.

Music Within (MGM)

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines: "Touching, inspirational, moving, a delightful time at the movies! One of the most heartfelt films of the year!"
We've missed you, Earl!

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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