Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

November 21, 2008

'Bolt' Is Revolutionary Breakthrough! (Says Studio)

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...

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 metacritic.com, 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.

"Bolt is being celebrated at the studio as a revolutionary breakthrough."—Canwest News Service's Jamie Portman

Bolt (Disney)
Metacritic Score: 67

Jamie Portman, Canwest News Service: "A revolutionary breakthrough in 3-D."
Actual line: "[Bolt] is being celebrated at the studio as a revolutionary breakthrough in two areas—computer animation technology and digital 3-D."
I bet the studio is also celebrating the movie as the best thing since animated bread, but that doesn't make it so. This is from a news article, not a review, by the way.

Phil Boatwright, Preview Online: "Hysterical!"
Actual line: "…often hysterical…"
OK, I'm quibbling a little, but the "often" is a meaningful qualifier. And the exclamation point is rapidly losing its meaning in blurbland.


Twilight (Summit)
Metacritic Score: 56

James Wolcott, Vanity Fair: "Robert Pattinson is rebel cool reincarnated—the James Dean of the undead."
Actual line: "When Pattinson's Edward emerges in the school parking lot, wearing sunglasses and slinging his arm around Bella, he’s the troubled 50s adolescent of fast cars and rebel cool reincarnated—the James Dean of the undead, with a jot of the Dylanesque."
Not quoted: "Watching the footage made me feel like a 14-year-old girl again. Let me rephrase that. Oh, forget it."

Gina McIntyre, Los Angeles Times: "A full-blown pop culture phenomenon."
This is from a fluffy profile of the three lead actors. The Times's review, by Kenneth Turan, was mostly favorable, though he did note "the story's inherent silliness."

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "**** Epic!"
A blurb from Shawn—a reliable sign of a movie's deep flaws.


Special (Magnet Releasing)
Metacritic Score: 56

New York Magazine: "Undeniably compelling. Michael Rapaport completely inhabits his role."
Not quoted: "The low-budget effort has its rough spots…"


Slumdog Millionaire (Fox, Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 85

Richard Corliss, Time: "A buoyant hymn to life, and a movie to celebrate."
Actual line: "Despite its elements of brutality, this is a buoyant hymn to life, and a movie to celebrate."

Scott Foundas, Village Voice: "A rare 'feel-good' movie that actually makes you feel good. It will send you out of the theater feeling like a winner."
Actual line: "… one of the rare 'feel-good' movies that actually makes you feel good, as opposed to merely jerked around. … a joyous musical number that sends everybody out of the theater feeling like a winner."


A Christmas Tale (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 84

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: "****!"
Not quoted: "As sprawling as his 2004 opus, 'Kings and Queen,' the latest familial dissection from Arnaud Desplechin isn't quite as unforgettable, but it's still better than most films you're likely to see this year. … overly self-conscious …"
Inserting exclamation points after sober quotes is one thing. Inserting them after stars is a step too far. This piece of perky punctuation wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award. Oh, and that's four stars out of five, not out of four, as many publications do.


Were the World Mine
Were the World Mine (SPEAKproductions)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Village Voice: "Inspired! Puts 'High School Musical' to shame!"
Actual line: "… teeters between banal conceptualizing and inspired execution … The musical numbers, filled with old-fashioned melodic singing and choreography that wittily references classical Hollywood musicals, put the prefab High School Musical series to shame."
Not quoted: "Beneath a trite imagining of what would happen if raging homophobes suddenly turned gay (most, apparently, would become mincing stereotypes), the film articulates some age-old but still pressing truths about bigotry (Prop. 8, hello), social justice, and romantic longing."

Hollywood Reporter: "Dares & succeeds as a rousing spectacle."
Actual line: "This picture dares to summon the spirit of the Bard as well as the ghost of Arthur Freed and succeeds as a rousing, warm-hearted spectacle."
Not quoted: "The first half of the movie is too languidly paced …"


Lake City
Lake City (Screen Media)
Metacritic Score: 25

Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter: "A Southern family drama flavored with moments of nail-biting suspense… Spacek's superb performance represents another career high."
Not quoted: "Toward the end, when the villains descend on the farm, the film becomes slightly more stock … the story strands are wrapped up a tad too neatly …"

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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