Ad Watch | Media | The Blurbs

April 29, 2005

Blurb Racket 4/29/05

Our weekly roundup of misleading review blurbs in movie ads finds hilariously absurd quotes about Monty Python's Holy Grail, loves to hate A Lot Like Love, 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. Movie titles link to, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (link is to

Robert Butler, Kansas City Star: "One of the funniest—and smartest—movies ever!"
One of the funniest and dumbest misquotes this week: Butler did write the above about a Monty Python movie last June, but it was Life of Brian, not Grail. Did distributors really have to fudge in finding positive words about the 30-year old comedic classic that is Grail? Also, Gelf isn't listing a distributor for this re-release because it's hard to tell from the ad who's responsible for it. The ad lists—in what may be the smallest font ever seen in a newspaper— the Web address, but that just doesn't seem right. (Gelf e-mailed Netbui Consulting Inc. just to check.)

The Interpreter

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune: "Exciting. A full-throttle thriller. A polished, exciting treat ... throbbing with emotion and intelligence. 'The Interpreter' keeps us thrillingly in its grip."
Not quoted: "a certain reliance on formula ... formula tension ... the script is somewhat less laudable ... frays credibility."

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "A thriller that's graced with two exceptionally fine performances. Sydney Pollack pulls us in with a production that's as handsome as it is rich in characterization."
Actual quote: "Sydney Pollack, who's back in form after several disappointments, pulls us in and keeps us pretty much where he wants us with a production that's as handsome as it is rich in characterization (and that was shot, in part, inside the United Nations headquarters, where no feature film has shot before). In the absence of internal logic, external style and emotional intelligence carry the day."
Not quoted: "It's best to dwell as little as possible on the logic of the plot. ... exciting if confusing climax ... it was hard to understand what had prompted crucial characters to do what they were doing at the moment they were doing it ... lacks the rigor of a classic thriller."

Leah Rozen, People: "A nail-biter. Crisply acted and capably written."
Actual quote: "Interpreter is crisply acted and capably written though overplotted. The first feature film shot on location inside U.N. headquarters, it makes excellent use of its settings. What it lacks is staying power. You won't be sorry to have seen Interpreter, but other than a nail-biter of a scene on a bus, it lingers in your mind about as long as a word of Ku vocabulary."
Not quoted: "It's indicative of the disingenuousness of this middling suspense film that it employs a fake land and language. Despite its authentic United Nations setting and ripped-from-the-headlines plot, the movie has little to do with the real world's thorny problems. In the end director Sydney Pollock (behind the camera for the first time since 1999's Random Hearts) delivers little more than a slick Hollywood thriller trading on the tingle of threatened terrorism."

David Germain, Associated Press: "Riveting. A thoughtful melodrama crackling with sophisticated dialogue and understated suspense, a refreshing reverse of the bruising bombast of today's typical thriller."
Not quoted: "The essential story is a static assassination plot whose climax hits with a dull thud instead of a sharp bang ... a bit forced ... The attention to brooding suspense and character definition make it all the more disappointing when the assassination plot plays out so limply. It's hard to invest emotionally in the urgency to protect a murderous dictator, and the ultimate revelations about who does and doesn't want to kill the guy have little dramatic impact."

A Lot Like Love (Touchstone)

Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times: "Winning!"
Actual quote: "The dialogue and some of the situations (if not the general thrust of the story) tend toward contrivance at times, but despite its flaws, 'A Lot Like Love' is a winning, unassuming little movie that, despite an obviously lush budget, avoids many of the pitfalls of the traditional big-budget romantic comedy."
Not quoted: "The script isn't as well-structured as it could be."
Gelf has fun highlighting the worst lines of reviews as an antidote to studios' cherrypicking of positive quotes, but it's worth noting that this review was, on balance, positive.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: " 'A Lot Like Love' is filled with real sentiment, worked-through performances and a story textured enough to sometimes feel a lot like life."
Actual quote: " 'A Lot Like Love' isn't half bad and every so often is pretty good, filled with real sentiment, worked-through performances and a story textured enough to sometimes feel a lot like life."
It's sad that even a half-hearted quote saying the movie "sometimes feels a lot like life" is still misleading, conveniently skipping the part about the flick not being half-bad. Oh, and Gelf doesn't recommend clicking through to the Dargis review, which begins, "Today's ontological question: what is Ashton Kutcher?"

Ladies in Lavender (Roadside Attractions)

Nelson Pressley, Washington Post: "Exquisite performances by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith."
Actual quote: " 'Ladies in Lavender' is as quaint as its title promises, but the movie—the directorial debut of actor Charles Dance—is redeemed by the exquisitely calibrated performances of its two stars. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith play Ursula and Janet, two sisters aging gracefully by the sea until a gathering storm (it's 1936; think World War II) washes a strapping young foreigner onto their gorgeous strip of rocky Cornwall coastline."
Not quoted: "Dance indulges a weakness for sappy slo-mo at the tenderest moments, which is the last thing this sentimental fable needs ... You don't get the sense that a great directing career is being launched."
Suspicion is always warranted when a blurb comments on the performances but not the film. On that note, Our Town's Chsitopher Moore is quoted in a blurb for the movie which is even more off-point: "A stunning musical score by Joshua Bell."

Liz Smith, New York Post: "A wonderful tale of hidden emotions and feelings ... with a divinely handsome Daniel Bruhl of 'Good bye! Lenin' fame."
Gelf can't find this quote, but it's worth noting that Smith is a gossip columnist, not the Post's reviewer. He's Lou Lumenick, and he wrote of this flick, "well-acted but a bit creaky," and awarded it two stars.

Madison (MGM Studios)

Tom Keogh, Seattle Times: "A touching and spirited family movie in the 'Rocky' tradition ... thrilling."
Actual quote: " 'Madison' may play fast and loose with facts (as detailed in a Seattle Times story April 14) about the legendary 1971 Gold Cup hydroplane championship. It may blatantly tweak circumstances involving Miss Madison driver Jim McCormick's historic participation in that contest. But it's also a touching, spirited family movie that, in the 'Rocky' tradition, is about a sports challenge that represents the hopes and aspirations of characters with little reason to expect success."

The Tunnel (Avatar Films)

Los Angeles Times: "Flat-out the most exciting movie from Germany since Das Boot."
At risk of being accused of nitpicking, Gelf points out that this line, from Kevin Thomas, is three-and-a-half years old, and based on the original German version. Its length has been cut significantly for American theaters.

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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