Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

March 26, 2010

Blogger Gets in 'Hot Tub,' Makes Newspapers

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 ads for 'Hot Tub Time Machine,' 'How to Train Your Dragon,' 'Greenberg,' 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.

"Hot Tub Time Machine may sound almost by definition like a bad comedy. I mean, how good can a movie named Hot Tub Time Machine possibly be?"—Chicago Sun-Times's Roger Ebert

Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM)
Metacritic Score: 65

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "It succeeds beyond any expectations …"
Actual line: " 'Hot Tub Time Machine,' which wants nothing more than to be a screwball farce, succeeds beyond any expectations suggested by the title …"

Not quoted: " 'Hot Tub Time Machine' may sound almost by definition like a bad comedy. I mean, how good can a movie named 'Hot Tub Time Machine' possibly be? … This is a step or two below 'The Hangover' … I can't be sure, but I think the density of the f-word reaches the saturation point in 'Hot Tub Time Machine.' I may have heard it employed as three different parts of speech in the same sentence. One wonders if American-spoken English could survive without it. What did we say in the old days? It must have been a quiet land."

Theworldsaddress: "It freaking rocks!"
Not quoted: "Another experiment here on The World's Address: Yup. A movie review. But not any old movie review. Thanks to my awesome roommate, I had a pretty unique experience, and I wanted to share it with you. … It's actually a movie coming out some time in April [sic]. However, they've done a screening or two at various places around the country. I went to one."
This is from a blog run by a self-described stage manager and substitute teacher in Chicago, who from the sound of this post doesn't often write reviews. Though there's no indication he accepted money to run the review, one commenter wrote, "Ok, really? This is the 'critic's review' referenced in a national ad campaign. I respect your views, and don't really blame you for taking the check (I would too). But this is a new low even for Hollywood, an outfit that is certainly not a stranger to less than honest tactics."

How to Train Your Dragon
How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks)
Metacritic Score: 73

"The best reviewed movie of the year."
No, it's not. It rates a 73 out of 100, according to Metacritic 's average of movie reviewers' takes. The Ghost Writer and Greenberg, among other recent releases, rates higher.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Funny and touching, it works miracles in 3D."
Not quoted: "Kid stuff? Maybe."

Leonard Maltin, ET: "3D moviemaking at its best."
Actual line: "… truly effective, creative use of 3-D … This is first-rate family entertainment, and 3-D moviemaking worth paying for—and seeing—on a theater screen."
Not quoted: "I was enthralled with How to Train Your Dragon up until the climax. It's spectacular, but somehow it seemed conventional—and I can't say that about the rest of the film."

Greenberg (Focus)
Metacritic Score: 76

Karen Durbin, Elle: "Marks a return to form for the director, Noah Baumbach, who hit movie heaven with his savage, Oscar®-nominated comedy 'The Squid and the Whale.' "
Actual line: "Noah Baumbach's Greenberg marks a return to form for the director who hit movie heaven with his savage, Oscar-nominated comedy The Squid and the Whale five years ago, only to plummet back to earth with Margot at the Wedding."
Unlike the song, this blurb takes the good but not the bad from the review of Baumbach's recent career. It also protects Oscar's status.

The Runaways
The Runaways (Apparition)
Metacritic Score: 65

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Rock 'n' roll fans of every gender and generation will identify with this."
Actual line: "Cherie may dazzle and appall you, but Joan is the one you root for, and the one rock 'n' roll fans of every gender and generation will identify with."
Not quoted: "It is not always clear which story 'The Runaways' wants to tell, and it hits a few too many standard music biography beats. Here, right when you expect them, are the early setbacks and heady triumphs, the pressures of the road and the pitfalls of celebrity. … The movie may be a little too tame in the end …"
For taking a reference to one character and positioning it as praise for the entire film, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: " 'The Runaways' gets everything right."
Actual line: "It doesn't always tell the literal truth about the pioneering all-girl rock band, the Runaways, though it gets the basic facts and most of the details right. … precisely the kind of gritty, seamy and occasionally awkward picture that the 1970s deserve. And in getting that one thing right—in capturing that strange combination of despair and frustrated energy—it gets everything right."
Not quoted: "Some will complain, understandably, that 'The Runaways' ultimately tells a downbeat story that drifts and fades into a diminuendo. It feels ungainly, as though something else—something big—should be happening."
It gets everything right—sort of, except for the parts where it doesn't tell the literal truth.

A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, At the Movies: "See it!"
It seems redundant for the ad to include this, because both Phillips and Scott are quoted, from their newspaper reviews of the film. Though Betsy Sharkey (see below) teaches us that perhaps it really is necessary to show there's a consistent story in various media.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 56

Sherry Robinson, St. Petersburg Times: "Will keep you and the kids laughing."
Not quoted: "My husband and sons have read all the books and say it was true to its source material, but we all agreed on a couple problems. One is a new character in the movie who wasn't in the book, a free-spirited school newspaper reporter named Angie (Chloe Grace Moretz). She doesn't do much to help the plot move along, but may have been added so that the movie could appeal to girls. There's also a scene where the usually goofy Rowley gets angry and suddenly begins talking in such terse, to-the-point sentences. You'll wonder when you wandered into an ABC Afterschool Special."

Chloe (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 48

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: "A contemporary 'Fatal Attraction'! A new thriller from the intellectually challenging Atom Egoyan. As beautiful as it is chilling to watch."
Actual line: "Think of 'Chloe' as a contemporary 'Fatal Attraction,' the new thriller from the always intellectually challenging director Atom Egoyan … the sex, because with a young prostitute at the center of the story you know there will be sex, is like the streets of the town, and the wistful loss of a marriage, as beautiful as it is chilling to watch."
That quote is from Sharkey's blog post about the film from last September. But this week she wrote that "director Atom Egoyan's latest puzzle is just puzzling, little more than a messy affair with mood lighting, sexy lingerie, heavy breathing and swelling, um, music. … The result is a sort of story interruptus, the thematic possibilities of the sexual balance of power in relationships teased but never to a satisfactory conclusion. … it's hard to care if anything breaks." One commenter, noticing the difference between the two Sharkey reviews, wrote, "I can't believe the review posted here if you stated something completely different some months ago."

City Island
City Island (Anchor Bay)
Metacritic Score: 67

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "An exhilarating gift for moviegoers… There's magic in it!"
Not quoted: "… lapses into overstatement …"

Ronnie Scheib, Variety: "An expertly written joyride… spearheaded by Andy Garcia's virtuoso performance."
Actual line: "An expertly written joyride… spearheaded by Andy Garcia's virtuoso perf."
Not quoted: "And if the staging of the pic's hysterical, campily melodramatic dockside finale registers as overly schematic, with every skeleton in the closet systematically divulged, it may be because his characters cling so tenaciously to their humanity."
The ad's quote wasn't really misleading. We just love Variety's shorthand of "perf" and wanted to mention it.

Bluebeard (Strand)
Metacritic Score: 82

Richard Brody, New Yorker: "Erotic! Haunting!"
Actual line: "This artful diversion by Catherine Breillat rests on her earlier dramas of female sexual terror (such as 'Romance' and 'Sex Is Comedy'), but it plays on its own as a canny masque of erotic power. … Though the tale is slight, it reverberates with contemplative insight amplified by haunting visual calm."

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Music Box)
Metacritic Score: 74

Stephen Whitty, Newhouse News Service: "A great adaptation of a worldwide best-seller."
Not quoted: " 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' is a dense and complicated movie, which sometimes takes some peculiar and unwanted detours (like a subplot that has Lisbeth turning the tables on that gruesome rapist). The ultimate solution of that long-ago disappearance is also—given the time devoted to it, in the story and in the movie—pretty disappointing."

Vincere (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 84

Andrew O'Hehir: "A knockout! If you care about movies, I'm telling you to carve out time for 'Vincere.' "
Not quoted: "If there's a flaw in 'Vincere,' it's the fact that the film's first 40 minutes or so offers such a parade of show-stopping cinematography (it's shot by Daniele Ciprì) and high-octane histrionics that the second half—focused largely on Ida's dreary captivity in a series of mental hospitals—can't possibly compete."

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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