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April 22, 2005

Blurb Racket 4/22/05

Our weekly roundup of misleading review blurbs in movie ads finds horrifying quotes about The Amityville Horror, interprets reviews of The Interpreter, and more.

Carl Bialik

The arts section of each Friday's New York Times has pages of movie ads that feature positive blurbs from critics. Leafing through the ad pages in today's paper, I found quotes out of context, quote whores, and other cinematic sins. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links.

The Amityville Horror (MGM)

Connie Ogle, Miami Herald: "Scarier than the original!"
Actual line: " The good news is the updated version is scarier than the original, thanks to snazzier special effects, a shorter running time, moody lighting, a few solid jolts and one icky moment involving a bratty babysitter and a closet. The bad news is the film rehashes every horror movie cliché you can imagine."
Not quoted: "If this film does well at the box office, we should expect a sequel. Now that is a scary thought."

Bruce Westbrook, Houston Chronicle: "A gruesomely effective thriller."
Not quoted: "falseness rings especially hollow ... What's truly disturbing is having more events target small children than the original did. ... director Andrew Douglas shamelessly rings up too many false-alarm jolts."

Bruce Kirkland, Toronto Sun: "It will creep you out!"
Actual line: Overall, the new version of The Amityville Horror is effective but not inventive. But it will creep you out.
Not quoted: "Surprisingly, the re-make is not that scary, even with that gross-out scene of the finger poking into the head wound. ... I do not see why the movie's producers, who also generated the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, would want to remake The Amityville Horror. It serves no useful purpose."

Bob Longino, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "A boo-scare haunted house spectacular."
Not quoted: "It's got more insta-ghoulish visions, quick-moving shadows and ear-splitting music swells than any marginally decent scary movie needs. ... The TV ads and previews underscore strong potential, moving at breakneck pace with a lot of stop-and-go action, quick cuts and gruesome faces creeping into otherwise happy-looking home movies. But the real thing is far less than those promising images. While there are some workable boo-scares, this 'Amityville' seems mostly, well, ordinary. It's a better scary movie than its predecessor, but is still not psychologically frightening enough (like the original 1963 'The Haunting') nor campy enough (like 2003's 'Freddy vs. Jason') to be thought of fondly beyond its conclusion. ... Mostly 'Amityville' is noise followed by more noise. Scenes don't transition well. Characters who seem so upset with somebody one second are suddenly not."

The Interpreter (Universal)

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Smart. 'The Interpreter' bristles with the smart, steadily engrossing tension that marked such 1970s goodies as 'All the President's Men,' 'The Parallax View' and Pollack's own 'Three Days of the Condor.' "
Actual line: "Until its hard-to-swallow ending, The Interpreter bristles with the smart, steadily engrossing tension that marked such 1970s goodies as All the President's Men, The Parallax View and Pollack's own Three Days of the Condor."

Richard Corliss, Time: "Enjoy the suspense. Penn keeps you wondering ... Catherine Keener shines ... Kidman effortlessly commands an audience's eyes, suspicion and fascination."
Actual line: "Once you scuttle hopes of Hitchcock-level espionage, you can enjoy the suspense of half a dozen people with murderous intent squeezed onto a Brooklyn bus; the geometry of stares, whispered messages and sudden shifts of body weight is well calibrated. Penn keeps you wondering whether he's going to im- or explode. Catherine Keener shines in support as Penn's sidekick and just about the only sensible person in the movie. Then there's Kidman, who, when she's not being upstaged by restless strands of her long hair, effortlessly commands an audience's eyes, suspicion and fascination."
Not quoted: "this middling Sydney Pollack effort ... The thriller pieces feel assembled rather than organic ... the issue of whether a genocidal dictator will be killed doesn't have much emotional weight."

Palindromes (Wellspring)

Ken Tucker, New York Magazine: "Jennifer Jason Leigh & Ellen Barkin are terrific!"
Actual line: the biggest names—Leigh as one brief Aviva embodiment, and Ellen Barkin as Aviva's mother—are terrific in small parts."
Not quoted: "I had a miserable time watching director Todd Solondz's Palindromes ... mostly stiff acting and intentionally flat, banal dialogue ... If Solondz wants to make a movie that leads a viewer to question his or her beliefs, he'll have to rejoin the rest of humanity and film them as something other than curious grotesques. ... stinky mulch of despair."
There was no need to highlight the one positive line in Tucker's pan; there were plenty of more favorable reviews of this polarizing Solondz flick.

King's Ransom (New Line)

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines: "A gut-busting and sidesplitting comedy!"
The always-gushing Dittman—his exploits chronicled in the first Blurb Racket—has busted his guts and split his sides enough times (Hollywood Bitchslap) to render his body a spewing, oozing vessel for uncritical film criticism. Why quote the always-sunny Dittman? Because the only major review kicking around so far, from TV Guide, called this flick a "crass, trashy and none-too-funny comedy."

J.K. Harris & Company

The Wall Street Journal: "...the (nation's) most successful tax resolution company."
This isn't a movie; the quote is from a TV ad for Harris. And it's derived from an article more than five years old. The ad doesn't quote from a Journal article a year later headlined, "Nation's Largest Tax-Resolution Firm Lands in Trouble With IRS, Treasury."

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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