Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

June 15, 2007

Danny Ocean: Now With 100% Real Laughs!

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 'Ocean's Thirteen,' 'Day Watch,' 'Brooklyn Rules,' 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, 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.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"The sequel is more expensive and less coherent, with giant effects and a convoluted plot involving a mystical piece of chalk."—New York Magazine on 'Day Watch'

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Ocean's Thirteen (Warner Bros.)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "…real laughs!"
Actual line: "In 'Thirteen,' the boys are trying to make amends. They partly succeed. The fog of self-satisfaction has mostly lifted. There's actually a coherent script (by Brian Koppelman and David Levien), and there are some real laughs. Not big laughs, mind you, but a fairly steady stream of smiles and chuckles."
Not quoted: " 'Thirteen' 's most conspicuous—and questionable—departure is the exclusion of any romantic interest for Clooney or Pitt. Damon's character puts the moves on Bank's right-hand woman (Ellen Barkin), but only as a ruse. This one is all about the boys. But as glad as we are to see them, watching the third installment is like attending a college reunion too soon after the last one: after the initial welcome, there's not all that much to say."
A blurb that uses "real laughs" as the most quotable bit of a review (what, no fake laughs?) hints that the review itself might be a bit tepid.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "The best of the summer 'threequels.' Breezy, clever fun."
Actual line: "This slick bauble of a movie qualifies as the best of the summer 'threequels'—at least thus far. (There remains the third Bourne film and the third Rush Hour movie, both of which open in August, as well as a new Die Hard and the second Fantastic Four)."
Not quoted: "Eminently capable director Steven Soderbergh hits a few weak notes: There is not much suspense to the caper, and the casting of Ellen Barkin as Pacino's assistant is fine, but her comic femme fatale falls flat."
Puig could demand an apology from the studio for suggesting she'd declare the "threequel" race over before two movies have come out.

Day Watch (Fox Searchlight)

Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times: "A roller-coaster ride."
Actual line: "Naysayers are best to approach the film as a roller-coaster ride, letting the trivia of the centuries wash over them while keeping their eyes on the prize—in this case, the long lost Chalk of Fate. Literally, a piece of chalk whose possessor can change their past as well as their destiny, it's an artifact each side will pay dearly for. If one doesn't take the cosmology too seriously, there's fun to be had in the action-driven mishmash of fantastic folklore."
Not quoted: "There's an episodic quality to the slickly done sequences that sometimes makes you feel like you're watching a Clio Awards highlight reel."

New York Magazine: "A dazzling mix of state-of-the-art visual effects and amazing action sequences."
Not quoted: "The sequel is more expensive and less coherent, with giant effects and a convoluted plot involving a mystical piece of chalk."
The quote purportedly from the magazine is actually from the CinemaSource synopsis, which is not so much critical as promotional. The New York Magazine website provides the CinemaSource summary beneath a synopsis of its own review. Attributing the bubbly prose to the magazine is like saying that if a newspaper's website reproduces a presidential speech, then the newspaper said it. For this laughable attribution, this ad wins Gelf's prestigious Bogus Blurb of the Week award.

Mr. Brooks (MGM)

David Denby, New Yorker: "William Hurt is now the most brilliant character actor in movies."
Not quoted: "It goes wrong at the end."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "A mind-bender of a thriller with twists you don't see coming."
Not quoted: "[Director Bruce A.] Evans lets the movie get away from him with subplots involving Earl's college-age daughter (Danielle Panabaker) and the cop on the case, played by Demi Moore with a striking directness that deserved better than being saddled with an absurd back story as an heiress with a fortune-hunting husband."

Nancy Drew (Warner Bros.)

Lorraine Ali, Newsweek: "A classic family film."
The blurb, which tops the half-page ad, is from an article about Nancy Drew, and not from a review.

La Vie en Rose (Picturehouse)

Philip Kennicott, Washington Post: "Sprawling and passionate…extraordinary."
Actual line: " 'La Vie en Rose,' a sprawling and passionate film about the miserable life of French singing idol Edith Piaf, ought to be a lousy movie. It commits too many of the sins of the hackneyed biopic about an artist, verging on melodrama at times while flirting with the dubious proposition that great pain drives great art. There are moments that graze the near boundaries of the land of camp. There are awful, silly scenes that ought to be on the cutting-room floor."

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "The most astonishing immersion of one performer into the body and soul of another I've ever encountered in a film."
Not quoted: "a chaotic jumble… The glossy 140-minute film does not sentimentalize its subject until the end, when it jarringly injects a 'rosebud' moment from the singer's past."
Holden's colleague, A.O. Scott, wasn't as fond of the film in the Times's full review: "it's a complete mess…dutiful, functional and ultimately superficial film."

Brooklyn Rules (City Lights)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Authentic and heartfelt… laced with vicious jolts."
Actual line: "However authentic and heartfelt this film's depiction of life on the meaner streets of the Northeast corridor may be, it doesn't begin to match 'The Sopranos' ' epic vision of violence, class struggle and upward mobility in a barbarous culture. This small, sentimental 'I remember' yarn, laced with vicious jolts, is a relocated 'Bronx Tale' grounded in the same old macho shtick: friendship and undying loyalty among pals of dubious character who have shared harrowing rites of passage."

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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