Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

December 19, 2008

'Dumb but Fun Time Killer'

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 'Yes Man,' 'Gran Torino,' 'The Reader,' 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, and find out what critics think of the racket.

"There are some bits that fall flat and might have been cut."
—'s Pete Hammond on Yes Man

Yes Man (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 45

Pete Hammond, "The comedy you don't want to miss this holiday season."
Not quoted: "Of course, all this goodwill does have its consequences, and Carl learns some valuable lessons. Sound familiar? Hey, if Liar Liar worked once why not go back to the comedy well? … [Zooey] Deschanel is kind of the 'straight man' here, but she's handles it well, if not memorably. … There are some bits that fall flat and might have been cut … dumb but fun time killer."
In typical Hammond form, he gives the film three stars out of five even while he raves about it.

The Tale of Despereaux
The Tale of Despereaux (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 53

Pete Hammond, "A timeless classic that ranks with the best of animated films."
Actual line: "… has the feel of a timeless classic. It is a brave and beautiful, heartfelt, lively story that ranks with the best of animated films."
Having the feel of a timeless classic isn't quite the same thing. Also, Hammond somehow rates a movie that merits these words four stars out of five.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 39

Bill Goodykoontz, Detroit Free Press: "Stylish. Fun. Coolly entertaining."
Actual line: "[Headline] 'Day the Earth Stood Still' is coolly entertaining. … While the film's intent is undoubtedly serious, you're more likely to remember its cool, stylish elements than any sort of message it delivers."
Not quoted: "The remake of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' is dumb fun with a message. Nothing wrong with that, but it's worth noting that the dumb fun part is far more effective than the message. … a fair amount of fun."

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "Enjoyable. It's hard to think of another actor … who could convey as well as Reeves the stranger-in-a-strange-land aura of Klaatu. He chills the blood in the most pleasant way."
Not quoted: "Aside from Klaatu and Gort, the 'Day' team claims to have retained the original's snappy catchphrase, 'Klaatu barada nikto,' but it's so hard to hear that viewers will be forgiven if they miss it. Also still around is the charming blackboard scene, in which Klaatu solves an equation for Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese), a man smart enough to have won the nonexistent but indisputably high-minded Nobel Prize for biological altruism. 'Day' has also retained the B-picture feeling of the original, down to the U.S. Army's bellicose decision to fire on both Klaatu and Gort as soon as they set foot on American soil, a decision that has the same ruinous consequences today as it did in 1951. Doesn't anyone in the Pentagon go to the movies?"

Gran Torino
Gran Torino (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 73

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "The performance of a lifetime."
Not quoted: " 'Gran Torino' is defiantly old-fashioned, and occasionally, albeit endearingly, self-indulgent."

Bob Strauss, Daily News: "Masterful"
Actual line: "Whatever's off about the storytelling, 'Gran Torino' is one of Eastwood's most masterfully subtle directing jobs."
Not quoted: "This would all be pretty hokey if Eastwood wasn't so delectably mean. Of course, some viewers might consider Walt just plain offensive and his late-in-the-game conversion a screenwriting scam. But most paying customers will let him get away with his verbal attacks because everybody loves Clint. And he knows it. As for the character's—and the movie's—big C Catholic conversion, it's more ham-fisted and not nearly as resonant as the spiritual elements in 'Million Dollar Baby.' Nor does this film's tonal 180-degree turn from surrogate parent comedy to soul-risking tragedy come off as effectively as in the earlier Eastwood film. Perhaps that had something to do with the unconvincing set-up and the obvious ending."

The Reader
The Reader (Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 55

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "A tale of eroticism, secrecy and guilt that's bound to stir discussion. Well-acted … it's an absorbing story of sexual awakening and moral dilemmas. 'The Reader' raises thorny questions and avoids simple answers."
Actual line: "The Reader (* * * out of four) is a slow-moving but absorbing story of sexual awakening and moral dilemmas. … Though the effort is uneven, it's a well-acted romance that becomes a less compelling courtroom drama. … The Reader raises thorny questions and avoids simple answers. Michael's morality is left disturbingly unclear. This tale of eroticism, secrecy and guilt is bound to stir discussion."
In a week of relatively honest blurbs as Oscar-worthy fare gets rolled out before year's end, this ad's plucking of "well-acted" from amid jibes on either side wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "Alternately despairing, distraught and defeated, Kate Winslet allows conflicted emotions to play across her face as she struggles with the life and death decision of which secrets to reveal and which to hide away."
Not quoted: "Though it has a potent story, 'The Reader' is easily as philosophical as it is melodramatic, as deeply involved with what goes on in the mind of its narrator as it is in what he does. In attempting to solve this problem, screenwriter (and accomplished playwright) David Hare and director Stephen Daldry ('The Hours') have in part frittered away the story's emotional force. It is only, frankly, the strength of Winslet's performance that rises above conventional surroundings and makes 'The Reader' the experience it should be. … Though [Ralph] Fiennes' increased screen time helps the film, he never seems to have enough to do. He and young Kross are also hampered by their involvement with the film's most pat and conventional aspects, including the larger role given both to Berg's future wife and their aforementioned daughter."

Nothing Like the Holidays
Nothing Like the Holidays (Overture)
Metacritic Score: 50

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "This year's warm and fuzzy Christmas movie."
Not quoted: "The film offers some funny and heartwarming moments amid the broadly conventional elements. At times it feels like a Latino version of The Family Stone, cramming too many quasi-soap-opera-style family calamities into one tale."

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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