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Ad Watch | Media | The Blurbs

May 9, 2005

Blurb Racket 5/9/05

Our weekly roundup of misleading review blurbs in movie ads exposes hellish out-of-context quotes for Kingdom in Heaven, thumbs its nose at the ad for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 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 last Friday'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 metacritic.com, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads.

Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox)

Richard Corliss, Time: "A fascinating epic. Bloom has matured splendidly."
Not quoted: "So what's missing? In movie terms, a rooting interest. In religious terms, a sense of faith. ... All that makes for an odd war epic."
The Crusades flick manages to be two types of epics at once, a neat trick. Nonetheless Corliss concludes his mostly positive review thusly: "But a movie of two minds is infinitely preferable to a movie with none."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Rousing entertainment!"
Actual quote: "Scott delivers rousing entertainment layered with provocation. But he's up against the same core contradiction as the U.S. in Iraq: How do you justify the spectacle of bloody carnage while preaching the gospel of give peace a chance?"
Not quoted: "Odd as it is to say, Kingdom of Heaven loses its momentum the more Balian gets religion. The role calls at first for a numbness brought on by grief and ends with a saintly fervor befitting a champion of the people. In Gladiator, Russell Crowe propelled the plot with the fire of his vengeance. Bloom gives his all, but virtue is hell to play and double hell on down-and-dirty fun."

David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor: "The summer season's first walloping hit!"
Actual line: "The entertainment value of 'Kingdom of Heaven' is likely to make it the summer season's first walloping hit. Credit for this goes largely to Mr. Scott, who recycles the oldest action-movie gambits—barrages of razor-sharp arrows, people toppling from parapets, showers of molten lead raining down on enemies—with the eye of an audience-pleasing expert. He occasionally springs a real surprise, too, as in scenes dominated by an enigmatic ruler whose mask covers a face decimated by disease."
Not quoted: "All this [positive commentary] is outweighed, though, by the filmmakers' decision to pay only lip service (at most) to the allegory of modern-day tensions that 'Kingdom of Heaven' could have been. In the end, the movie's only real message is: Religious wars are wrong. And hey, don't most of us already know that, whether the war is a crusade in the Middle Ages or a fanatic's terrorism in our own time? Bottom line: 'Kingdom of Heaven' is the most exciting action-adventure yarn so far this year. Just don't expect anything deeper."
This blurb, incidentally, didn't appear until Saturday's paper. Consider it one plus side of Blurb Racket's appearing late.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Dan Dunn, Metro: "The funniest and most outrageous film of the year!"
... as of May 6, anyway. And on the same note...

Todd David Schwartz, CBS Radio: "The most wondrously original, most outrageously entertaining cinematic spectacle of the year!"

Paul Fischer, Dark Horizons: "A triumph! Totally original and exhilarating, fresh, dazzling and hilarious!"

Sam Hallenbeck, NBC-TV/Tampa: "Utterly original from top to bottom. I loved it!"
Besides for the "[adverb] original" formulation's lack of originality, it's rather foolishly applied to a reasonably-faithful adaptation of a popular book.

Funny Ha Ha (Goodbye Cruel Releasing)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Beautiful!"
Actual line: "It is a small, plain movie, shot in 16 millimeter in dull locations around Boston; but also, like its passive, quizzical heroine, it is unexpectedly seductive, and even, in its own stubborn, hesitant way, beautiful."
Scott's review was very positive, but there was nothing exclamatory about it. "Hesitant" doesn't go well with an exclamation mark.

New York Daily News: Three and a half stars. "A joy!"
The review is headlined " 'Funny Ha Ha' is really a joy." Ironically, it begins like this, "You see clichéd phrases like 'a genuine original' and 'an unforgettable delight' in movie ads every week. Much of the time, this lavish praise only cheats the few films that actually deserve it. For example, films like Andrew Bujalski's charming comedy, which happens to be ... well, see above."

A Lot Like Love (Touchstone)

Joel Siegel, Good Morning America: " ' A Lot Like Love' is a lot more special than the usual romantic comedy ... You'll like it a lot!"
Actual line (according to transcripts): "When we discover his brother is deaf, it's so well-handled that told me 'A Lot Like Love' was a lot more special than the usual romantic comedy and it is. Unfortunately, in more ways than one. 12 and 13 year-old girls are going to want to see this film and I'm not sure they should. Kutcher and Peet meet on a plane. Five minutes into the film, they have sex, they don't even know each others' names. They meet again in New York, they down four shots of bourbon each plus a pitcher of beer. She smokes throughout the film. They're caught by a National Parks ranger in the back of her station wagon. And none of this is crucial to the story. None of this has to be in the film which becomes an awfully sweet romantic comedy about friends who become more than friends. Finally, after six years, there's a wedding. But it isn't theirs. She hit the window, I hit the roof. Here are the questions as a critic I have to ask. Would it be the same movie if she didn't smoke? Yes. The same movie without the boilermakers? Yes. Come on, Hollywood. Worst review I've ever given a movie I've liked. To be fair, the studio isn't marketing this for young girls, but that's Ashton Kutcher's audience. Moms, you know your daughters. Be prepared. [Charles Gibson says off camera: "But if you're over 13 years old or 14 years old ...", prompting,] You'll like it a lot."

It's All Gone Pete Tong (Matson)

Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times: "[Director] Dowse has the senses working overtime ... A gutsy, over-the-edge-and-back performance by Paul Kaye."
Actual line: "Dowse has the senses working overtime as he skillfully guides the film into sweet, inspired territory. Grounded by a gutsy, over-the-edge-and-back performance by Paul Kaye as Frankie, 'It's All Gone Pete Tong' takes the long way around before finally redeeming itself."
Not quoted: "Unfortunately, more than half the film is spent skewering the Euro dance scene and Frankie's long painful descent following his hearing loss. Despite the beautiful beaches and vast, pulsing clubs of Ibiza, Spain, where most of the bacchanal takes place, and the soundtrack's lively music, the film doesn't really begin to get interesting until Frankie completely bottoms out and is forced to face his demons."
But you do have to credit Matson for its responsible use of brackets and ellipses in the ad.

Le Grand Role (First Run Features)

Variety: "Charming! A crowd-pleasing dramatic comedy about love, friendship, role-playing and Jewish pride."
Actual line: "Predictable yet charming, crowd-pleasing dramatic comedy about love, friendship, role-playing and Jewish pride that echoes 'well-intentioned ruse' plot elements."

Writer of O (Zeitgeist)

Jan Stuart, Newsday: "A literary mystery. Delightfully articulate!"
Not quoted: "That affect of mystery, along with staged sequences from the book that have the half-sanitized, half-sensationalized feel of dramatic re-enactments in historical documentaries, give 'Writer of O' the occasional aura of History Channel boilerplate."
Yet another reminder that a description of genre isn't necessarily a compliment. Also, by the way, the quote "delightfully articulate" isn't about the film but, instead, about its talking heads.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Magnolia)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Terrifically entertaining!"
Not quoted: "Precision is not Mr. Gibney's strong point. Energetic—and openly partisan—provocation is. He uses all sorts of visual and musical aids, with varying success, to heighten or comment on information contained in newsreel clips and interviews."

A Hole in One (Chapeau)

Village Voice: "The rare debut feature with a brain."
Not quoted: "First-time writer-director Richard Ledes's mystical tone and pervasive swipes from David Lynch tend to suffocate his satire, and stunt casting doesn't help."
Most reviews for this lobotomy film were bogeys, hence the groping for a positive quote in the Voice pan.

Spot a misleading media quote in an ad about a movie, show, book, or anything else? E-mail Gelf with your find.

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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