Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

January 30, 2009

Curiously, 'Button' Is 'Not Entirely Satisfying'

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 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' 'New in Town,' 'Taken,' and more.

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.

"He gets inside our head, that's for sure, but, frustratingly, we never get inside his."—Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, on Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount)
Metacritic Score: 70

Variety: "An historic achievement."
Not quoted: "The movie is not entirely satisfying. … What's missing has partly to do with the limitations of the technology. Button reminds me of Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardner in Being There. He's oddly passive and restrained, zen-like as he floats through all the decades, watching, listening, learning. He narrates the tale via his diary, along with his dying love Blanchett. We see him engaging with people, but he never says much. We see him from the outside; we never get under his skin, and we never learn the fruits of his wisdom. He stays much the same."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "What David Fincher does, shooting digital instead of on film, is simply extraordinary… He fuses ferocity and feeling and creates a world you want to get lost in. You get a rush, like Hollywood has discovered a brave new world."
Not quoted: "The downside is that Fincher has to keep fighting the script's push toward big, Gump-ish moments. Fincher dodges emo overkill when Queenie accompanies Benjamin to his father's funeral. And he brings a cool temperature to Ben's affair with a British spy's wife (Tilda Swinton). More problematic is the relationship between Ben and Daisy. At the moment they meet in age and physical perfection, they're the most—let's admit it—dull. There's a light in Pitt's performance when Ben is a freak of nature, but the pretty-boy stuff doesn't engage him. And Blanchett, bringing romantic urgency and a lithe dancer's body to her role, can't really rouse him. For all the Sturm und Drang of the film's framing device—an aged Daisy dying in a hospital bed remembering her life with Ben while Katrina rages outside—the romance falls short of rapturous. … What Button shows is that Ben is ultimately not the hero of his own life or his own movie. He gets inside our head, that's for sure, but, frustratingly, we never get inside his."


Taken
Taken (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 49

Jeff Craig, Sixty Second Preview: "Intense! A relentless thriller."
A 60-second check reveals that the online reviews for Craig's reviews aren't so hot.
Time: "[Among the] critics and critic-wannabes who seem to exist mainly to service the studios with glowing quotes to hype their latest releases!"
Entertainment Weekly: "Jeff Craig, 36, critic for radio's syndicated Preview, doesn't write all the one-minute reviews that air on 150 stations. But since he reads them all, it's his name that appears in print. Which is why he can't be held accountable for all the raves, like one that said the ephemeral Drop Dead Fred was 'Harvey meets Beetlejuice. A trippy comedy!' "
eFilmCritic: "THE ORIGINAL QUOTE WHORE!!!"


New in Town
New in Town (Lionsgate)
Metacritic Score: 30

Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel: "The first genuinely funny film of 2009!"
Not quoted: "It's a formula as old as the hills, older than Doc Hollywood, The Coca-Cola Kid or even The Andy Griffith Show. … The Danish director they hired to put his spin on one of Hollywood's tried and true formulas doesn't add anything to the genre. And serving up cliches and snow as they do, they didn't have the nerve to film it in Minnesota (Winnepeg stood in for New Ulm)."


Shadows
Shadows (Mitropoulos)
Metacritic Score: 49

Harvey Karten, CompuServe: "Entertainment done in epic style."
Actual line: "A lengthy, serious piece with comedic undercurrents, 'Shadows' can be looked upon as an entertainment done in epic style; an absorbing history lesson; a ghost story; a tourist product placement; and one that does not stint on soft-core porn."
Not quoted: " 'Shadows' could be taken as a comment on the way nations throughout history have devastated conquered lands, but writer-director [Milcho] Manchevski must have been aware that limiting his story to politics would cut into his audience while reducing the story to mere chronicle. … overlong …"
Karten, the director of the New York Film Critics Online, with this blurb helpfully reminded Gelf that CompuServe remains in business.


The Color of Magic
The Color of Magic (RHI Entertainment)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Jonathan Malory: "The film itself is brilliant, and the whole concept was entirely new to me. As soon as the lights went down everyone was mesmerised, the settings are pretty amazing right from the start and you do kind of slip into the world pretty easily… I was totally lost in the fantasy."
Actual line: "The film itself is brilliant, which of course I would say being a fan and having a little part in it, but I tried to watch it as if I'd never heard of the Discworld before and the whole concept was entirely new to me. As soon as the lights went down everyone was mesmerised, the settings are pretty amazing right from the start and you do kind of slip into the world pretty easily. There are a couple of bits in the first half an hour that felt a bit awkward to me, but I pretty much always feel that way during the 'set up' stage of a movie—even so they haven't gone too far with the 'getting to know everyone' and they have cut out a couple of bits that really aren't needed anyway in my opinion. The Luggage is uber cool and blends in very well. Of course I'm not going to give anything away, but for me I stopped thinking about trying to watch the film, trying to weigh it up, somewhere after they reached the Wyrmberg—after this point I was totally lost in the fantasy until the screen went black and the audience let out a collective 'awww!' when it was all over…"
Malory is, yes, in the film he blurbed. And the blurb cuts out his reference to this fact, instead turning around his meaning completely—rather than being an actor and a fan, he's a viewer to whom the "the whole concept was entirely new." This is a hands-down winner of Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award and a strong contender for Bogusest blurb ever.

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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