Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

October 19, 2007

Elizabeth's Tarnished Reviews

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 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age,' 'Sleuth,' 'Game Plan,' 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 here.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"I'm not sure if anyone needed a new version of Sleuth, yet here it is"—Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Universal)

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "Lavish and entertaining."
Actual line: "The great Cate Blanchett reprises her role as the English monarch in 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age,' Shekhar Kapur's inferior follow-up to their 1998 film, which is still quite lavish and entertaining in the grand old Hollywood manner. That is, expect a fast-paced, beautifully mounted and well-acted soap opera with overripe dialogue that plays fast and loose with history—just like they did in the '30s, '40s and '50s—and you won't come away disappointed."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Blanchett is as superb here as she was the first time around."
Actual line: "Blanchett is as superb here as she was the first time around. But she can't save the film, which focuses on pomp and pageantry to the detriment of substance and historical accuracy."
Not quoted: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age squanders the opportunity to give us a telling glimpse of the woman behind the ruff. Instead, the costume drama is all gilt and opulence. Though steeped in period haute couture, this sequel to the 1998 biopic Elizabeth fails to engage us with its wan historical fiction. … the music is overbearing, perhaps to compensate for the pedestrian script and dull history lesson."

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: " 'The Golden Age' has sweep and momentum… irresistibly watchable Cate Blanchett."
Actual line: " 'The Golden Age' has sweep and momentum and almost as many mood shifts and genre notes as the queen has dresses. It's intentionally playful and an inadvertent giggle, an overripe melodrama that's by turns a bodice-ripper, a cloak-and-dagger thriller and a serious-minded historical drama with dubious contemporary overtones. [five paragraphs earlier] It's the story of a woman, who, as played by the irresistibly watchable Cate Blanchett as David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust period, sublimated her libidinal energies through court intrigue until she found sweet relief by violently bringing the Spanish Empire to its knees."
Not quoted: "A kitsch extravaganza aquiver with trembling bosoms, booming guns and wild energy …"
For yanking two phrases from sentences that are hardly kind to the film, this blurb wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Cate Blanchett can do no wrong."
Actual line: "She can do no wrong, and does none here, though the movie around her, a popcorn-worthy sequel to the 1998 'Elizabeth,' often lapses into opacity or grandiosity."

Sleuth (Sony)

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "The two actors don't just feast—they tear and bite into the unctuous nastiness of their roles."
Not quoted: "I'm not sure if anyone needed a new version of Sleuth, yet here it is … the material seems stagier than ever.

Ella Taylor, LA Weekly: "Caine and Law are terrific."
Actual line: "Caine and Law, two Alfies who can do callow in their sleep, are terrific, and whatever pleasure can be wrung from Sleuth lies in the black comedy of their sinuous cut-and-thrust. But [playwright Anthony] Shaffer's tired bromides about the potency of wealth and cunning, and the supposedly primal struggle of two males more in love with each other than with the woman they seek to possess, remain in Branagh's hands little more than a dated pissing contest energized by crude homophobia and misogyny. If nothing else, Sleuth endures as a testament to the precise aim of Lord Olivier's bullshit detector."
Not quoted: "Before he snagged the lead in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1972 screen version of Anthony Shaffer's 1970 stage play, Sleuth, Laurence Olivier had, with his customary diplomatic finesse, dismissed the source material as 'a piece of piss.' Two movie adaptations later, I'm inclined to agree with that assessment."

Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times: "Language this lethal has all but disappeared from the movies, and it's an unmitigated pleasure to observe Caine and Law attack it with such ferocity. 'Sleuth' is nasty fun."
Not quoted: " 'Sleuth' has a tendency to let its theatrical underpinnings show. Things get a bit stagy, and the act reversals yield diminishing returns. The final twist in particular takes the movie in an interesting but unconvincing direction, not because it's not credible but because it hinges on reserves of trust and credulousness that characters this quick-witted and cynical would have thoroughly exhausted by then."

Meeting Resistance (Nine Lives)

Andrew Sarris, New York Observer: "I think it is time for us to take a film like 'Meeting Resistance' very seriously, and to ponder its message very carefully."
Actual line: "So when I nod my head in agreement with a long-shot Republican libertarian presidential candidate with a name like Ru Paul or something when he says in his half-baked way that we should get out of Iraq as soon as possible, then I think it is time for us to take a film like 'Meeting Resistance' very seriously indeed, and to ponder its message very carefully, despite my abiding doubts about its ultimate reliability as a guide to our actions."
Gelf has abiding doubts about the reliability of a reviewer who tries to get a laugh by mistaking Ron Paul with a drag performer as a guide to our movie choices.

Game Plan (Disney)

Bill Zwecker, Chicago Sun-Times: "A lot of charm and heart."
Actual line: "This is one film where I think audiences will happily sit back, enjoy the ride and walk out of the theater feeling somewhat satisfied. Yes, this is a road we've traveled down before, but at least this time, it's paved with a lot of charm and heart."
Not quoted: " 'The Game Plan' really doesn't offer any new twists on the 'fish-out-of-water' genre of movies."

Canvas (Screen Media)

Chicago Tribune: "Impressive!"
Not quoted: "It disappoints, in the end, thanks to lapses in basic storytelling."

Klimt (Outsider)

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune: "Ruiz's shimmering new film."
Not quoted: "They exaggerate his sins and fill the screenplay, originally written by Ruiz, with pretentious discussions of art, theory, life and vice."

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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