Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

June 22, 2010

Face, Hannibal & Co. Produce 'Diversionary' 'Trash'

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 ads for 'The A-Team,' 'Knight and Day,' 'The Karate Kid,' and more.

David Goldenberg

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.

"[Bradley Cooper] grins so smugly that he looks like he's just seen the grosses of The Hangover."—Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman on The A-Team

The A-Team (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 47

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "It's entertainment on hyperdrive."
Actual line: "The movie itself just keeps whizzing by—it's entertainment on hyperdrive. [Director Joe] Carnahan is obsessed with action logistics: dogfights and fistfights, last-minute rescues by missile attack, bullets fired through skyscraper windows at the exact right moment, the insane image of a tank plummeting to earth while dangling from a parachute. At times, it can all grow wearying, but Carnahan works in a way that's much lighter than, say, Tony Scott. He really does see blowing stuff up as the ultimate extension of playing with toys. After all its tossed-off climaxes, The A-Team finally finishes with a real climax in which piles and piles of colorful storage compartments get blown up as a 'diversionary' activity. But who's kidding whom? The whole movie is a diversionary activity. It's trash so compacted it glows."
Not quoted: "The movie is such a relentless action windup toy that it's never about anything but its own high-megaton ingenuity. … Bradley Cooper, as Face, the group's hotshot and lothario, has some fast, funny lines (as when he impersonates a British reporter to filch a TV babe's ID card), but he grins so smugly that he looks like he's just seen the grosses of The Hangover."

Pete Hammond, Boxoffice Magazine: "The best action film in years! Now it really feels like summer has begun!"
Actual line: "Now it really feels like the summer has begun! A surprisingly satisfying big screen adaptation of the '80s TV phenomenon, The A-Team provides action fans with a great excuse to hit the theatres. In fact, director Joe Carnahan has crafted just about the best action film in years, at least certainly since star Liam Neeson's last actioner, Taken, grabbed fans in the same breathless style."
A comparison to Taken isn't always a favorable one. Hammond seems more ambivalent than his words suggest, giving the movie just three and a half stars out of five.

Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pioneer Press: "A stands for awesome!"
Actual line: "The 'A' could also stand for awesome"
Not quoted: "The only area in which 'A-Team' comes up short is storytelling, which is not so fluid. 'A-Team' is an origins tale (we get that before the credits) followed by a huge victory, followed by a comeuppance, followed by a shot at redemption, followed by … . As it hops across a decade and three continents, there's a herky-jerkyness that keeps it from being as sharp as it could be. It's almost as if 'A-Team' becomes a brand new movie every half-hour or so, and even as the credits begin to roll, there's a hint of another adventure about to begin."

Christy Lemire: "Flat-out fun!"
Not quoted: "At times it feels like little more than a cacophony of automatic gunfire and shattered glass. … While several of the action sequences flow beautifully and have a great energy about them, others look fake and cheesy, with distractingly cartoony special effects."

Knight and Day
Knight and Day (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 58

Newsweek: "Easily one of the best films of the summer."
That's from a one-line mention of Knight and Day in a roundup of summer films. A fuller review in the magazine by Jeremy McCarter notes that "the spooky-funny intensity that [Tom] Cruise shows in the early scenes gives way to square-jawed Mission: Impossible blandness. [Cameron] Diaz, who can be bubbly and funny as a tequila-drinking vintage-car restorer, doesn't get enough chances to be either once the plot gets up to speed."

David Poland, " 'Bond' meets 'Romancing the Stone.' "
Not quoted: "James Mangold may be a little light on comedy skills as a director … a touch too much CG [computer-generated imagery] at times. … The sexual tension between the two can be a little questionable at times … The third act gets a little too complicated and the movie leaves you wanting a little more of the couple …"
It's not clear that the films Poland cites as forebearers are meant as praise. In the same blog post, in which he includes three other brief reviews, he cites four other older films as points of comparison.

The Karate Kid
The Karate Kid (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 61

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Sensational."
This revival of a classic is unusually well-reviewed for a movie sporting a blurb from the undiscriminating Edwards.

Cyrus (Fox Searchlight)
Metacritic Score: 73

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "The summer's best, most original and crazily inventive comedy. In a multiplex crowded with formula rom-coms divorced from genuine feeling, 'Cyrus' brims over with hilarity and heartbreak. You'll laugh 'til it hurts."
Actual line: "It's more likely you'll be laughing till it hurts. In a multiplex crowded with formula rom-coms divorced from genuine feeling (that's you, Sex and the Shitty), Cyrus brims over with hilarity and heartbreak. Cheers to the Duplass brothers for encouraging the actors to fill in the outlines of the script with their own grit and grace notes. Hill, Reilly and Tomei could not be better, riffing off each other like skilled jazz musicians in their portrayals of characters who are damaged goods. Cyrus, the summer's best, most original and crazily inventive comedy, is potently funny and painfully real."
The blurb's subtle edits: "till" was rendered more grammatically as "'til," the troubling adverb "painfully" is gone, and the dig at the latest Carrie Bradshaw chronicle is sadly severed.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 80

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "Thoroughly exhilarating."
Actual line: "[Ricki] Stern and [Annie] Sundberg omit one huge motif: her infamous, appalling, often hilarious Elizabeth Taylor fat-disparaging phase. She couldn't resist going after someone who'd once set a standard of beauty that Rivers could never begin to meet—and who behaved with un-Jewish childlike passivity as the pounds accumulated. Otherwise, this is a thoroughly exhilarating, thoroughly depressing portrait of the agony and ecstasy of celebrity."
Not quoted: "car-crash-compelling … its subject, by turns desperately funny and unfunnily desperate …"

The Killer Inside Me
The Killer Inside Me (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 55

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "May be the darkest film noir ever made. It's exciting to see a noir in which that erotic steam-heat madness is now made explicit."
Not quoted: "As Lou betrays, lies, and murders again, our identification with him is slowly severed. The film doesn't suck us into a vortex—it leaves us on the outside, staring and a bit dumbfounded."

Andrew O'Hehir, Salon: "Spellbinding cinema. Captures much of the nihilistic soul of Thompson's novel."
Not quoted: " In a funny way, 'The Killer Inside Me' comes closer to agreeing with its critics than its defenders; it's almost a work that argues that it ought not to be seen (or read), or at least ought not to be necessary. … as Winterbottom's film goes along it can't help becoming more like an ordinary crime movie. … Kate Hudson is a bit stranded as Lou's doomed fiancée, Amy. She meets a similar fate to Joyce's, late in the film, and while Winterbottom is sticking close to the book here, as elsewhere, I think he's violating a cardinal rule of moviemaking: Show us something shocking once, and it has a didactic force. Show it again, and it becomes technical, or sickening, or both. … If Winterbottom's film were literally a bomb that blew us all up after we watched it—that blew us up because we watched it—it might fulfill all its antihero's and original creator's ambitions."

Aaron Hillis, Village Voice: "Wickedly entertaining."
Actual line: "Equally uncompromising and wickedly entertaining."
That's from a brief intro to Hillis's interview with the film's star, Casey Affleck. J. Hoberman's Voice review was less kind: "The characters are stiffly drawn, the action is fastidiously staged, the production design is self-consciously retro (reinforced by a soundtrack surplus of western swing). The poster is stronger than any image in the movie."

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 55

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Cool, elegant, sexy. The tempestuous affair of two twentieth century titans… egomaniacal geniuses locked in erotic combat."
Actual line: "A persuasive depiction of the tempestuous affair of two 20th-century titans, Jan Kounen's 'Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky' comes closer than most films to capturing the selfish competitive passion of egomaniacal geniuses locked in erotic combat. … World War I, perfunctorily dispensed with in an abrupt, unsatisfying montage of old newsreels, has already come and gone. The rest of the film is cool, elegant and sexy, with scrupulously detailed Art Deco design and shadowy lighting that lends many of the scenes a painterly depth. But the film—adapted from Chris Greenhalgh's novel, with a screenplay written by the author with the director and Carlo de Boutiny—never regains that initial blast of energy and the final scenes wobble toward a wishy-washy ending."
Not quoted: "But for the fact that Stravinsky and his wife, Catherine (Elena Morozova), speak Russian, this mainly French-language film barely makes note of his Russian origins. Chanel's past is left even vaguer. … The sex scenes, although moderately heated, have none of the biting and clawing urgency of uncontrollable animal heat."

Jeffrey … Den: "Steamy, sensual, sensate… superb!"
Stravinsky portrayer Mads Mikkelsen's head is blocking some significant words in this blurb. The missing adjective is clearly "sensational," but it took a Google search to determine that the critic being quoted is Jeffrey Lyons of KNBC Lyon's Den. That's apparent in the film's Village Voice ad, in which the affiliation of The Wrap's Eric Kohn is similarly obscured. And no wonder—while Kohn does say the film is "beautiful," as the ad indicates, his use of the word "brilliant" applies only to the opening sequence, despite the ad's implication otherwise. Kohn also says the film "suffers from major plot holes" and "ends on a vague note," though he was reviewing an early cut shown at Cannes. Still, for obscuring Kohn's name and then his meaning, this ad in the Voice wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

I Am Love
I Am Love (Magnolia)
Metacritic Score: 81

Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald: "Attention all movie buffs: Get ready to have your minds blown. A bold and thrilling masterpiece—the introduction of a major talent to the world's stage. The film gets better as it goes along, culminating in a rapturous ending that exhilarates the viewer in a manner I've never felt in a movie."
Actual line: "I Am Love is a bold and thrilling masterpiece—the introduction of a major talent to the world's stage. And it gets better as it goes along, culminating in a rapturous ending that exhilarates the viewer in a manner I've never felt in a movie. I Am Love isn't perfect, but what love is, really? Attention all movie buffs: Get ready to have your minds blown."
Not quoted: "At mid-film, a rather bizarre sex scene runs four minutes (an eternity in screen time) and consists primarily of close-ups of the lovers' naked bodies intercut with shots of pollinating bees."

Aaron Hillis, Village Voice: "Bold, thrilling, and undeniably sensuous."
Hillis raved in a capsule review, but his Voice colleague Melissa Anderson has reservations: "That it works so well—despite frequently risible dialogue and a notion of feminism that carbon-dates around the time Kate Chopin published The Awakening—is a testament to the film's loony sincerity and seductive voluptuousness, anchored by the magnificence of Tilda Swinton."

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "A cinematic tour de force."
Actual line: "If 'I Am Love' isn't especially profound, it is a cinematic tour de force of bold camera work executed with a Hitchcockian flair and pushed to the brink of excess."

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

Post a comment

Comment Rules

The following HTML is allowed in comments:
Bold: <b>Text</b>
Italic: <i>Text</i>
<a href="URL">Text</a>


Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

Learn more about this author


Hate to miss out? Enter your email for occasional Gelf news flashes.


Gelf t-shirt

The picture is on the front of the shirt, the words are on the back. You can be in between.