Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

July 17, 2009

Brüno: Ballsy, Homophobic, Occasionally Disgusting

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 blurbs for 'Brüno,' 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,' '(500) Days of Summer,' 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 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.

"The humor is more mean-spirited and sometimes forced than Borat's."—New York Post's Lou Lumenick on Brüno

Brüno
Brüno
(Universal)
Metacritic Score: 54

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "You'll hoot and holler. Make the shameless, sidesplitting "Brüno" numero uno on your funny-time list."
Not quoted: "Maybe Brüno is more scattershot than Borat. Maybe its cringiest moments will soon be trumped by reality TV (have you seen Jon & Kate Plus 8?)."

Richard Lacayo, Time: "Unbearably funny. Sasha Baron Cohen is more than a comedian. He's the world's most famous performance artist, the inventor of a perfect hybrid of documentary and mockumentary, reality TV and psychodrama, 'Jackass' and Andy Kaufman."
Actual line: "It's safe to say that after more than a decade honing his characters on television and in films, Baron Cohen is more than a comedian. He's the world's most famous performance artist, the inventor of a perfect hybrid of documentary and mockumentary, reality TV and psychodrama, Jackass and Andy Kaufman. When he gets the mixture just right, he creates situations of unbearable tension that at the same time turn out to be unbearably funny."
Not quoted: "Some parts of Brüno—the weakest ones—are closer to conventional scripted comedy than anything in Borat. A montage of scenes of sexual gymnastics involving Brüno and a pint-size Asian boyfriend could have come from a Will Ferrell movie, assuming Ferrell was willing to have himself penetrated by a mechanical dildo. (And don't bet he wouldn't be.)"
Time critic Richard Corliss also had mixed feelings: "Some of the encounters are strained; some screamingly, liberatingly funny."

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Baron Cohen is, without doubt, the ballsiest comic of his generation and one of the brightest."
Actual line: "Baron Cohen is, without doubt, the ballsiest comic of his generation—and one of the brightest. But it's hard to imagine him taking the guerrilla shock tactics of Borat and Brüno any further. Outrage works best as a means, not an end, and somewhere between Brüno's giant dildos and anal bleachings his tactics have run out of steam. Great dirty comedy can leave you elated—Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor had that gift of rude catharsis, and so does Baron Cohen at his best. But if Borat felt like it was opening daring new doors, Brüno feels like the end of this particular road. His methods—how he pulls off his stunts and dupes his victims—have become more interesting than the results. Something's amiss when you realize you'd rather be watching a documentary on the making of Brüno than the thing itself. His next comic assault will require a radical reinvention."
Not quoted: "Baron Cohen has trapped himself in a double bind: his intent is to root out homophobia, but to do so, he has to stir it up. … the Brüno who asks these pointedly dumb questions isn't the same Brüno who destroys a fashion show by wearing a Velcro suit or asks celebrities such as Paula Abdul to conduct an interview using a Mexican gardener as a chair. (A similar scene with LaToya Jackson was cut after her brother's death.) As a character, Brüno lacks Borat's internal consistency: it makes no sense that Brüno would put on a beard and pretend to be a macho wrestler—one who plants a lusty kiss on his opponent's lips to elicit hateful reactions from the beer-swilling crowd. Brüno wouldn't do that—Sacha Baron Cohen would. (And will anybody think it's news that that crowd isn't gay-friendly?)"
Ansen clearly doesn't care much for this film. Using his praise of Baron Cohen as praise for the movie makes this Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week.

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "Gut-bustingly funny."
Not quoted: "Still, it's less hilarious than its predecessor, which I awarded four stars. For all the laughs—and they are many—there's a certain been-there, done-that feeling to 'Bruno,' though its main character is a hugely narcissistic Austrian fashionista rather than a naive television personality from Kazakhstan. The humor is more mean-spirited and sometimes forced, a few bits don't work at all, and there's an inescapable feeling that director Larry Charles, returning from 'Borat,' has staged some scenes with scripted actors serving as Bruno's victims."

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "Funnier than 'Borat.' The movie is a toxic dart aimed at the spangly new heart of American hypocrisy: our fake-tolerant, fake-charitable, fake-liberated-yet-still madly-closeted fame culture."
Actual line: "Brüno, his new quasi-documentary stunt comedy, is, if anything, a crazier, funnier, and even pricklier pincushion of a movie than Borat, his 2006 tweak of all things dumb, bigoted, and American. … The entire film is in seriously questionable taste, and there will, of course, be debates about what's staged and what's not. Those looking for purity in satire should stay away. Yet there's a vision at work in Brüno—the movie is a toxic dart aimed at the spangly new heart of American hypocrisy: our fake-tolerant, fake-charitable, fake-liberated-yet-still madly-closeted fame culture."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "The needle on my internal Laugh Meter went haywire, bouncing among hilarity, appreciation, shock, admiration, disbelief and appalled incredulity."
Actual line: "The needle on my internal Laugh Meter went haywire, bouncing among hilarity, appreciation, shock, admiration, disgust, disbelief and appalled incredulity."
Can you spot the missing word?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 78

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Captivating from the first frame. Epic and spellbinding."
Actual line: "Captivating from the first frame, this Potter feels more epic than previous films, which had a less mature, more madcap quality. … [two paragraphs earlier] Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is spellbinding, even though it is more grounded in reality and less fanciful than previous installments."
Not quoted: "Presumably [director David] Yates decided on a less-is-more finale by underplaying the book's climactic tragedy, perhaps because readers already had been rocked by the event. Though this makes sense, it leaves the die-hard fan with a sense of anticlimax. … its dialed-down adaptation of Rowling's conclusion ends what might have been a masterful work with a measure of disappointment."

(500) Days of Summer
(500) Days of Summer (Fox Searchlight)
Metacritic Score: 74

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "I feel mad love for this film and its stars."
Not quoted: "The ending is tidy and way too cute …"

Soul Power
Soul Power (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 76

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Extravagantly entertaining! Performers captured with remarkable sonic brilliance and visual immediacy!"
Not quoted: "The promoter Don King is also on hand, spinning rhetorical webs that link his own commercial interests with the causes of liberation and self-determination. He sometimes has a point…"

Somers Town
Somers Town (Mother Vision)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Simon Abrams, New York Press: "Sweet, funny. Very satisfying."
Actual line: "The film has no particular profound insights to offer, save for the notion that the traditional family model is a failure, and the best solution is undoubtedly the one you make for yourself. However, since it’s a sweet, funny and relatively quiet film, the lack of Big Thoughts is easily overlooked."

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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