Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

January 14, 2007

Come See the Film That Rocked the Box Office Despite Bad Reviews

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs in ads for movies takes on Notes on a Scandal, Freedom Writers, Children of Men, and more.

Carl Bialik

Blurb Racket
Paul Antonson
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.

Notes on a Scandal (Fox Searchlight)

Richard Schickel, Time: "Dench is nothing less than great in a performance of unrelenting ferocity."
Not quoted: "Notes on a Scandal is melodrama trying to pass itself off as a slice of realistic life."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Explosive and spellbinding."
Not quoted: "Until the film goes off the deep end of melodrama, you'll be riveted."
"Explosive" and "spellbinding" are both in the review, but both describe the acting, not the movie, and the two adjective are separated by 181 words.

Freedom Writers (Paramount)

Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times: " 'Freedom Writers' is an inspiring, moving experience."
Not quoted: "The film itself, set in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, suffers from the over-familiarity one feels toward the whole dedicated-teacher-inspires-students-against-all-odds genre, compounded by fatigue for the telling of minority stories through a white protagonist. … The individual students emerge more as types than clichés … There likely was a better, more original movie to be made focusing more on the Freedom Writers themselves …"

Code Name: The Cleaner (New Line)

Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times: "Good-natured and funny. The ever-foxy Liu and the amusingly addled Entertainer make a solid comic team."
Not quoted: "The script … is repetitious, and the plot doesn't make a lick of sense. And for those who care about such things, the Vancouver-for-Seattle production brims with blatant brand placements."

Night at the Museum (20th Century Fox)

Los Angeles Times: "A bona fide blockbuster!"
That's a line from a news article about Museum's box-office success. Kevin Crust's Times review offered little reason why the Ben Stiller vehicle should be a blockbuster. Crust says the "tedious family comedy" is composed mainly of a "series of sight gags and set pieces that wreak much havoc but little else." For passing off a box-office news article as a rave, this wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award.

Rocky Balboa (MGM)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Rocky Balboa goes the distance … It's all heart."
Actual line: "Like its forerunners it goes the distance almost in spite of itself. It’s all heart and no credibility except as a raw-boned fable."
Not quoted: " 'Rocky Balboa' drags its feet for a dangerously long time before the main course sashays onto the screen."

Children of Men (Universal)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Dazzling. Alfonso Cuarón is one of the most exciting filmmakers around."
Actual line: " 'Children of Men' leaves too many questions unanswered, yet it has a stunning visceral impact. You can forgive a lot in the face of filmmaking this dazzling."
Not quoted: "The filmmaking is so accomplished you wish it were matched by the script … the characters are too sketchy for the political metaphors to resonate."

Venus (Miramax)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "… An unalloyed delight for the audience … Peter O'Toole still has it. … He shows the younger guys put there … how the thing is done properly… Seeing a picture of the young Mauirce—the young Peter O'Toole—someone exclaims, 'He were gorgeous.' Indeed he were, and so he is."
Not quoted: "Their unlikely, uneven friendship provides the movie with a thin, wobbly dramatic peg … Mr. O’Toole’s effortless precision puts Ms. Whittaker, making her film debut, at a bit of a disadvantage, as does the script’s somewhat blurry conception of her character."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Peter O'Toole's tour-de-force performance makes Venus a movie not to be missed."
Not quoted: "No great revelations are reached, but their association ultimately enriches both lives. Roger Michell's direction has some flaws, including awkward travel montage and scenes that drag."

God Grew Tired of Us (Newmarket)

Salon.com: "Amazing! This is an important film. Everybody should see it."
Not quoted: "That said, the film has a certain TV-documentary feel that I found intermittently irritating. Re-creations of real events are not clearly identified as such, and historical file footage of the disaster in Sudan is not labeled with dates or place names or anything else. (Did they just appropriate random footage of starving African children? We can't be sure.) Quinn and Walker provide almost no context for the mid-1980s civil war that devastated that country and led to the near-biblical exodus of boys and young men from the agricultural regions of southern Sudan, and Nicole Kidman's voice-over narration sounds as if it were phoned in from the manicurist's chair."

Indiewire: "Dazzling!"
Actual line: "That said, there are few tales that truly earn such redemption as this one, especially in the airport reunion scene between John Dau and his mother, a dazzling moment of culture clash so full of conflicted emotions and societal complexities that has to be seen (and heard) to be believed."
Not quoted: "One gets the sense that there were more moments, edited out, in which the boys expressed their homesickness and disappointment, but that the filmmakers were perhaps a bit too devoted to accentuating the positive."

Tears of the Black Tiger (Magnolia)

Nathan Lee, Village Voice: "A super-duper meta-movie!"
Not quoted: "For all its super-charged exuberance, Black Tiger hums with low emotional wattage. The purposefully stilted dialogue is, well, stilted, and the cartoon mannerisms level human sentiment. Does Sasanatieng intend a cerebral tearjerker along the lines of Far From Heaven? If so, the payoff may be lost in translation."

David Edelstein, New York: "A delirium-inducing jaw-dropper!"
Actual line: "It's no buried postmodern masterpiece, but it certainly is a jaw-dropper: a delirium-inducing crash course in international trash."

The Last King of Scotland (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "One of the great performances of modern movie history."
Not quoted: "Unfortunately, Mr. Macdonald and his colleagues have been seduced by the pull of melodrama. After a sensational, all-but-flawless first hour, 'The Last King of Scotland,' careers off into the luridly familiar territory of doomed romance before culminating in the Palestinian hostage-taking crisis at Entebbe, and a specific sort of graphic violence that, mercifully, hasn't been seen since 'A Man Called Horse.' "

Arthur and the Invisibles (Weinstein Co./MGM)

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazine: "Wildly entertaining! Totally original and hilarious!"
Dittman likes bad movies.

The Holiday (Columbia/Sony)

Rex Reed, New York Observer: " 'The Holiday is so romantic and full of optimism that it makes me think there's hope for us all."
Not quoted: "The final 15 minutes of The Holiday diminish a lot of the film's good intentions. The way everyone resolves the dilemma of jobs, careers, commitments and logistics, toasting the rosy future in time for a happy, Technicolor, Grandma Moses greeting-card finale is not only unconvincing but quasi-moronic."

Miss Potter (Weinstein Co./MGM)

Richard Schickel, Time: "Winning."
Not quoted: "It's somewhat grudgingly that we recommend Miss Potter."

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (DreamWorks)

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Genius. I love this story."
Actual line: "Why I love this story, I do not know."

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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