Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

July 26, 2005

Fantastic Four Is No Fun

Our weekly roundup of misleading review blurbs—in ads for movies, books, theater, and more—takes on Fantastic Four, Mind of Mencia, Sunday Philosophy Club, 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 movies, new-release videos, books, New York theater, and anywhere else blurbing can be found. The ads are pulled from the New York Times, the New Yorker, and other sources. Movie titles link to metacritic.com, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads. Other links go to official sites, where available, or Amazon if not. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links.

Film

Fantastic Four (Twentieth Century Fox)

Toronto Sun: "Fun!"
Actual line: "There are some fun moments, most generated by red-hot Johnny, and moving moments, all involving the Thing. But the overall effect is still far too juvenile to feel fantastic."
Not quoted: "Fantastic Four falls too far short of the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises to be called fantastic. How about The OK Quartet? ... lacks energy and drive ..."
In a first for Blurb Racket, this widely panned superhero flick's ad quotes 28 different sources saying the same one-word blurb: "Fun!" These include the Edmonton Sun and its sister Sun papers from Toronto and Calgary ... which all ran the same review contextualized above.
It wasn't fun, but Gelf dutifully tracked down as many of the 28 blurbed reviews as we could and found, not surprisingly, that the reviews contained many other words, many of them not as flattering. For shoehorning more than a dozen tepid reviews into one rave word, this blurb receives Gelf's award of Bogus Blurb of the Week. Read on for the gory details...

San Jose Mercury News: "Fun!"
Not quoted: "Fantastic? Naaah."

This review, originally from the Orlando Sentinel, did triple duty among the 28 for the Merc, the Tennessean, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It's an emerging trend in ad blurbing: Take one syndicated review that has appeared identically in a few reputable papers, blurb different parts for each paper and, voila! One positive review becomes several.

Deseret Morning News: "Fun!"
Actual line: "Evans and Chiklis ... seem to be the only ones having fun here."
Not quoted: "Thanks to the 'X-Men' and 'Spider-Man' movies, and now 'Batman Begins,' we've come to expect great things from movies based on comic books. Unfortunately, 'Fantastic Four' doesn't come close to living up to the standard set by those films, or to those set by 'The Incredibles,' which 'Fantastic Four' resembles to a small degree. ... 'Fantastic Four' is not as horrid as early trailers made it appear. It's sporadically entertaining but never amounts to more than 'Mediocre Four.' "

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Fun!"
Actual line: "There's very little about the characters' motives in this film that resonate as well as they did in the comic book. Dr. Doom's over-the-top malignancy in particular manifests itself long before his board of directors tries to take his company from him. Screenwriter Mark Frost leaves too many balls of logical continuity in the air, so the film feels choppy despite its visual slickness. That isn't to say that the movie is devoid of the fun and sense of adventure director Tim Story was striving mightily to achieve."
Not quoted: "Disappointing overall ... [Story] drops the ball completely when it comes to coaxing believable performances out of Alba as the Invisible Woman and Gruffudd as the elastic Mr. Fantastic. When the ex-lovers tussle over what went wrong in their relationship, it's nothing short of embarrassing. ... 'Fantastic Four' isn't half as good as it could have been ..."

Providence Journal: "Fun!"
Not quoted: "Rarely terrible, let alone memorable, Fantastic Four is a brutally average piece of disposable summer entertainment that fades from the mind like some hazy, half-sleeping dream. The heroes are bland. The action is minimal. The story is thinner than Mr. Fantastic in mid-stretch. Forgettable fun? Sure. Fantastic? Not even close."

Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Fun!"
Actual line: "Once the foursome sets out to use those powers, the fun gives way to a flood of special effects that are on a tight cycle: There's an explosion; cars and buses fly through the air; a building collapses. Repeat. ... Of the five, Evans/Torch is the most fun to watch."

Charlotte Weekly: "Fun!"
Actual line: "Fantastic? Not exactly, but Tim Story's take on Marvel Comic's first family of superheroes can be fun if your expectations are low enough."

Las Vegas Review-Journal: "Fun!"
Actual line: "It's not exactly what you'd call fantastic. But at least 'Fantastic Four'—the latest in a seemingly endless string of cinematic comic book adaptations—proves fleeting, frenetic fun."
Not quoted: Story "proves perfectly capable of orchestrating the movie's obligatory, over-the-top effects sequences. Yet he never quite generates the kind of express-train urgency—or sense of gee-whiz wonder—that might lift 'Fantastic Four' above pleasant popcorn-cruncher status. Neither do the primary players, who prove perfectly adequate in their roles, if seldom anything more. Evans' obnoxious Johnny is amusingly gung-ho—until he becomes annoyingly gung-ho. Alba works hard to convince us she's a brainy scientist; sometimes she almost succeeds. Gruffudd's earnest, tunnel-vision genius gets a bit smug and self-righteous; no wonder the malevolent McMahon wants to zap him to oblivion. And while the powerful Chiklis finds the wounded soul beneath The Thing's monstrous exterior, he doesn't get much chance to reveal it."

Los Angeles Times: "Fun!"
Actual line: "The audience is always a step ahead of the jokes, but the recognition is part of its fun. ... The filmmakers have some fun spoofing the drawbacks of unwanted fame, but that thread tends to exemplify the problem the film has in deciding if it wants to be 'Ghostbusters' or 'X-Men.' "
Not quoted: "It fails to be anything more than a mild summertime diversion. Based on the Marvel comic book, it's a prototypical air conditioner movie—it's probably only worth 10 bucks if your apartment is really, really hot or if you're a Jessica Alba completist. ... It isn't all that entertaining."

Christian Science Monitor: "Fun!"
Actual line: "It's fun to watch superheroes who aren't quite at ease with their abilities, but 'The Incredibles'—last year's similarly themed animated film—is livelier and funnier."

Globe and Mail: "Fun!"
Not quoted: "A not-so-bad mindless bit of camp escapism ... A stop-gap between last Christmas's The Incredibles and the next year's newest X-Men instalment [sic]..."

Philadelphia Daily News: "Fun!"
Actual line: "mindless summer fun"
Not quoted: " 'Fantastic Four' is not the best movie of the summer, but it may the best accompaniment to popcorn."

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune: "Spectacular. Astonishing. Stunning."

Actual line: "The special effects are suitably astonishing ... It's pretty entertaining: fast, slick, spectacular and full of wisecracks and inside gags, in the manner of 'Fantastic Four' co-creator Lee's scripts for the early '60s comic books. It certainly looks stunning, and there's even a try at injecting some human drama and strong emotion into the action stew, two ingredients that made 'Spider-Man 2' soar."
Not quoted: "[Director Tim] Story and his writers... seem to be missing something vital by the end. ... Screenwriter [Mark] Frost says he wanted to catch the comic's bubbly quality and director Story has been good at comedy, but the movie still seems swamped by the effects. It's not light-hearted in the way they intend—and some of the performances (Gruffudd's, for example) are almost too straight-faced and serious. ... 'Fantastic Four' tends to disappear from your mind afterwards almost as fast as Invisible Woman vanishes in plain sight. It's the movie you expect but that's not necessarily the best result. (By contrast, 'Spider-Man 2' gave you more than you expected.) There's something too heavy about the jokes and the style, too obvious about the action ... It made me itchy as I watched it unfold in ways that the comics never did when I read them in the '60s. All too often, it's clobbering time—and eventually, you want to clobber back."

Hustle & Flow (MTV Films / Paramount Classics)

New Yorker: "Enormously enjoyable! Could become a classic of its kind!"
Actual line: "As a myth of creation, the putting together of the song, element by element, over a period of days, is enormously enjoyable, even if it isn't especially convincing. ... 'Hustle & Flow' ends with a burst of movie-ish mayhem, and then a burst of sentiment, but when Brewer, Howard, and Ludacris stick to the bitter texture of South Memphis failure and success they produce a modest regional portrait that could become a classic of its kind."

Newsweek: "Don't forget Howard's name—he'll be a star by autumn."
That blurb comes from a summer-movies preview back in May. Newsweek reviewer David Ansen this month agreed about star Terrence Howard, but didn't much care for the movie, writing, "Howard redeems this lumpy fantasy."

USA Today: "The most original movie concept of the summer!"
This line is lifted from a preview of the movie, which qualified things by calling the flick "perhaps the most original movie concept of the summer." The actual review, by Claudia Puig last week, praised Howard and the film while lamenting that "the ending verges on cliché." It's curious that the same ad calling Hustle "the most celebrated film of the year!" leads with two blurbs from summer-movie previews that don't commit to an opinion about the film.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner Bros.)

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "A wondrously whimsical adventure."
Actual line: "As wondrously whimsical as the movie is—it is a marvel of rich, colorful design and flair—Depp's discomfitingly creepy Wonka tends to overshadow the rest of the film's attributes. One can't help but wonder about the subtext of the film when Depp's peculiar, alabaster-skinned persona has flashes of Michael Jackson."

War of the Worlds (Paramount)

Jami Bernard, New York Daily News: "Director Steven Spielberg promised 'intense,' and he delivers."
Not quoted: "The movie is no fun. There's none of the spirited adrenaline you expect from a bang-up blockbuster. I've docked it a star or so because it is nasty and mean-spirited, and plays on shocking allusions to 9/11 imagery. Go for the extraordinary special effects, by all means, but not if you want to feel good about yourself or humanity."

Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer: "Spielberg holds the audience in a grip of fear."
Actual line: "For the first 100 minutes of his 117-minute film Spielberg holds the audience in a grip of fear. When Ray and Rachel take refuge in the storm cellar of a survivalist (a miscast Tim Robbins), the director's grip relaxes only a bit, but the film never recovers from this excursion into the Gothic."

Chicago Tribune: " 'War of the Worlds' rivets and amazes."
Actual line: " 'War' rivets and amazes, even if it falls just frustratingly short of the mind-expanding grandeur it could have had."

New York Times: "This is something to see."
Actual line: "It's not much to think about, but it's certainly something to see."
Not quoted: "This is only a movie, and a lesser Spielberg movie at that."

USA Today: "This summer blockbuster has knockout special effects, masterful cinematography, and terrifying and suspenseful sequences. Above all, it's explosive, non-stop action."
Actual line: "Director Steven Spielberg's summer blockbuster has knockout special effects, masterful cinematography, and terrifying and suspenseful sequences. Above all, it is relentless. Its explosive, non-stop action brings to mind Saving Private Ryan's indelible opening battle sequence."
Not quoted: "Expect a logical plot, and you'll walk out of the theater with a host of questions ... Though he's playing a working-class guy, we never forget we're watching Cruise the movie star. [Narrator Morgan Freeman's] commanding delivery is not enough to move us here, mostly because his script is too pat and showcases the holes in the story."
Gelf's inner copy editor is bothered by the replacement of "its" with "it's."

Joel Siegel, Good Morning America: " 'War of the Worlds' is Steven Spielberg at his best. It's the summer movie with the most thrills, the best special effects, unbearable suspense and the most fun."
Looks like Siegel really did say this, but the show's transcript shows some entertainingly vapid banter from his co-hosts:

Robin Roberts: Oh, I thought the, I thought the way the scene opened, as a critic, (inaudible) ...
Diane Sawyer: Right.
Joel Siegel: What makes it ...
Diane Sawyer: It reminds me of a German film I saw (inaudible).
Robin Roberts: Yeah. Yeah.
Marysol Castro: Yeah.
Joel Siegel: I see my job is safe here. What makes it so good is...

Modigliani (Bauer Martinez Studios)

Hollywood Reporter: "... Scene after scene of rare cinematic beauty ..."
Not quoted: "The hangover it produces makes you realize you have no idea with whom you spent more than two frenetic hours. ... Both Modi and Jeanne are genuinely tragic figures. But the movie so trivializes them as adolescents, lacking control of their own emotions, that their tragedy never takes hold."

Reel Film Reviews: "...Garcia's amazing ... vital and exciting ..."
Actual line: "The only thing that keeps the film from becoming an all-out bore is Garcia's amazing performance, which is just as vital and exciting as we've come to expect from the actor (too bad the same can't be said of this sterile biopic)."
Not quoted: "Like a painting, the film is visually impressive but that's about the extent of it."
Four ellipses in two blurbs equals bad movie.

Rebound (Twentieth Century Fox)

Michael Booth, Denver Post: "Fun family comedy!"
Actual line: "A reasonably fun family comedy."
Not quoted: "Not all of 'Rebound' is that inspired or spontaneous. When it's not trying to be a cheap remake of 'Hoosiers' or 'Coach Carter' or 'Kicking & Screaming,' this 20th Century Fox movie too often becomes an advertising vehicle for the lame Fox offering 'The Best Damn Sports Show.' Tom Arnold and John Salley get more screen time than some of the movie's stars."

Matthew A. Thomas, Akron Beacon Journal: " 'Rebound' scores!"
Mr. Thomas is entitled to his opinions, but the blurbing conventions would suggest to the casual reader that he's the Beacon Journal's film critic. He is, instead, the son of the paper's film critic. Matthew is 10 years old. His father, George, ripped the movie apart in the same paper, in a review headlined, "Lawrence sinks career with bad 'Rebound.' "

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Wellspring Media)

Graham Fuller, New York Daily News: "A feverishly intense drama!"
Actual line: "Jacques Audiard's film is a remake of James Toback's 1978 'Fingers,' a feverishly intense drama ..."

Dark Water (Buena Vista)

Joanna Connors, Plain Dealer: "It has the sleek, sinister moodiness of 'The Shining,' 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Sixth Sense.' "
Actual line: "It has the sleek, sinister moodiness of 'The Shining,' 'Rosemary's Baby,' 'The Sixth Sense' and probably several other films whose references I did not notice."
Not quoted: " 'Dark Water' is a B movie, with A-list credentials, masquerading as an art film."

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune: "A shocker with something extra."
Not quoted: "I was disappointed at the ending."

The Beautiful Country (Sony)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Powerful and timely ... It is hard not to admire the independence and ambition of 'The Beautiful Country.' "
Actual line: "It is hard not to admire the independence and ambition of 'The Beautiful Country,' even if the film does fall short of its epic intentions."
Not quoted: "It is never a good thing when characters philosophize about their misery, and worse when those responsible for that misery take their turn. The worst culprit in this regard is Tim Roth..."

9 Songs (Tartan USA)

Evening Standard: "A cinema sensation."
Actual line: "While it may be a cinema sensation, it is also rather dull."
Not quoted: "The live footage is more realistic than in the usual concert film. Almost entirely shot from the crowd, the view is often shaky and obscured. Primal Scream perform behind a forest of raised hands and mobile phones. The viewer looks up at Nyman as they would from the stalls. However, the sound is disappointingly murky, failing to reflect accurately the deafening guitar power of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or the subtle layers of Elbow's music."

Last Days (Picturehouse)

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "A film I admire enormously."
Actual line: "A film I admire enormously while wondering if anyone will want to see it."

Chris Chang, Film Comment: "It rocks!"
Actual line: "Last Days is a strange creature: it's an extremely abbreviated biopic with zero details, a tribute to a man and his music without a trace of his songs, a tragedy without an arc, etc. It's also dynamite artistry. It understands the unlimited potential for sound to advance thought and emotion into the filmic firmament. And, in its own odd way, it rocks."

Murderball (ThinkFilm)

New York Times: "An inspirational crowd pleaser."
Actual line: "If this documentary about the sport of paraplegic rugby were just another profile in courage of athletes who have triumphed over disability, it would still be an inspirational crowd pleaser. But it's deeper than that."
This is a good illustration of how a blurb can't contain nuance, and therefore sometimes must convey words that are even less favorable than the original review.

Bewitched (Columbia/Sony)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Kidman and Ferrell are a kick to watch."
Not quoted: Nora Ephron "insists on turning 'Bewitched' into a love story, and that's when the fun starts to seep out of the movie. That's also when it stops making sense, even on its own nonsensical terms."

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (Films Transit International)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Richly lyrical."
Actual line: "Occasionally, this richly lyrical movie passes over the line separating sympathetic exploration from freak-show condescension. The camera lingers too long on one woman's deformed face and on another's nearly toothless grin. At such moments, 'Wrong-Eyed Jesus' gives off a whiff of European nose-thumbing."

Me and You and Everyone We Know (IFC Films)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Whimsical ... playful ... brazen ... touching and funny."
Actual line: "Its wide-eyed, quizzical approach to the world can seem almost naïve. But this guilelessness—which will either charm you or drive you up the wall—is more a calculated effect than the simple expression of a whimsical sensibility. ... Everyone we know may not respond to [the character Christine's] flirtation, which manages to be both brazen and coy. ... This longing is addressed in various ways, some of them touching, some funny, some borderline creepy."

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: " 'Napoleon Dynamite' for grown-ups."
Not quoted: "If the plot synopsis above doesn't put you off, the film's occasionally overbearing preciousness may set your teeth on edge."

Land of the Dead (Universal)

Jack Mathews, New York Daily News: " 'Land of the Dead' has everything people on dates could want."
Actual line: " 'Land of the Dead' has everything young people on dates could want: It's graphic, gruesome, dark, profane, funny and sexy. (Well, it could have been sexier, but that's just me.)"
Given what follows the blurbed quote, the omission of "young" is grievous indeed.

Rize (Lions Gate)

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "A vibrant eruption of motion and attitude."
Actual line: "Rize is such a vibrant eruption of motion and attitude that you can forgive the film for being disorganized and too skimpy on street-dance history."

Making Grace, (First Run Features)

San Francisco International Gay And Lesbian Film Festival: "The wacky, emotional rollercoaster that is making a family. Authentic!"
It's weird though not dishonest to quote a promotional blurb; perhaps that's a necessity because independent reviews have been rather tepid.

The Warrior (Miramax)

Jami Bernard, New York Daily News: "An expertly crafted, beautifully composed story."
Not quoted: "The title-character's redemption comes very slowly. ... At 88 minutes, it takes a long time and a lot of grains of sand to cleanse this guy's conscience."

March of the Penguins (Warner Independent Pictures)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Riveting!"
Actual line: "This sentimental but riveting film has no qualms about playing on our emotions."

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Astonishing!"
Not quoted: "The narration, read by Morgan Freeman, insists too hard that this is a love story."

Bad News Bears (Paramount)

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Billy Bob Thornton is a laugh riot!"
Edwards is a notorious bad-movie lover, as explained in this old Blurb Racket; this mostly well-reviewed film could have done without his blurb.

The Island (DreamWorks)

Ain't It Cool News: "Bigger, faster, cooler!"
Actual line: "After they showed the first half they also showed a big chase that happens latter in the film. That was when you could really appreciate it was a Micheal [sic] Bay film! A very cool high speed freeway chase that has the cops on these flying jet powered motorcycle kind of machines. Think The Matrix Reloaded chase with Return of the Jedi speeder bikes but bigger, faster and cooler!"
It's not surprising that this was an out-of-context quote; even reviewers who don't spell directors' first names correctly generally don't use comparative adjectives without saying what they're comparing the film to. This rave is about just one scene; the reviewer saw just that scene and the first 45 minutes of the film. A different writer for the site reported Friday, "THE ISLAND works pretty well, but in some important regards, it's frustratingly abrupt and poorly thought out. Overall, I'd say this review is more positive than negative, because it's a fun film. It's a dumb fun film that thinks it's smarter than it is, but it's fun, and in this case, that matters." If that ever shows up in the ad copy, it'll surely be boiled down to "a fun film."

Video

This blurb is from an ad on Comedy Central.

"The Daily Show With Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004" (Amazon)

Washington Post: "A welcome treat!"
Actual line: "It's unclear how many consumers will be anxious to relive news events that happened less than a year ago; but for many, 'The Daily Show's Indecision 2004' will be a welcome treat, as well as a sign that, hopefully, more robust 'Daily Show' DVD packages are coming soon."

These are from video boxes at my local video store.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman (Lions Gate)

Ruthe Stein, San Francisco Chronicle: "A spirited comedy! A hoot to watch, and even more fun to talk back to."
Actual line: "Raucous and overwrought, the movie is still a hoot to watch and even more fun to talk back to."
Not quoted: "[Steve] Harris and particularly [Kimberly] Elise give over-the-top performances that bring 'Diary' to the edge of soap opera. If director Darren Grant, whose experience is limited to music videos and commercials, knew more about working with actors, he would have ordered Elise to stop grimacing."

Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Boisterous and entertaining!"
Actual line: " 'Diary' is as boisterous, confusing and entertaining as Helen's mixed-up life."
Not quoted: "Half of 'Diary' is a soap opera with cornpone sentiments right out of Hallmark's Mahogany line of greeting cards: 'When you smile, my world is alright.' 'You've got the strength God gave women to survive.' "

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "... knee-slapping, gut-busting crowd pleaser!"

King's Ransom (New Line)

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines: "A gut-busting and sidesplitting comedy!"
The always-gushing Dittman—his exploits chronicled in the first Blurb Racket—has busted his guts and split his sides enough times (Hollywood Bitchslap) to render his body a spewing, oozing vessel for uncritical film criticism.

The Pacifier

Jim Svejda, KNX/CBS Radio: "Vin Diesel's best movie ever!"
That line is a paragon of faint praise.

Constantine

Richard Corliss, Time Magazine: "It's a smart ride."
Actual line: "And until it goes irrevocably goofy at the end, it's a smart ride—and smart-looking too, with rich browns predominant."

TV

This blurb is from an ad on Comedy Central.

Mind of Mencia (Comedy Central)

Los Angeles Daily News: "Very funny ... equal-opportunity offender."
Actual line: "Mencia's a gleeful equal-opportunity offender (well, maybe not equal-opportunity; he goes after the Middle East a lot). Though he tries hard to be 'edgy,' the premiere has a very funny bit about freeway signs warning drivers about crossing families, suggesting a lot of promise."

Books

These blurbs come from book covers, publishers' websites, and ads in the New Yorker.

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith (Amazon)

New York Times Book Review: "The Miss Marple of Botswana."
The Times really did use that expression to label private detective and book subject Precious Ramotswe, in the headline of a 2002 review. This April, Janet Malcolm rejected that label in—you guessed it— the Times, writing, " 'The Miss Marple of Botswana,' a book jacket quote says of her. But this is wrong. Mma Ramotswe resembles Christie's character as little as the books resemble Christie's mysteries. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books aren't really mysteries at all. There are no murders in them and little suspense." She means that as a compliment, by the way.

Sunday Philosophy Club, by Alexander McCall Smith (Amazon)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Memorable. ... The Sunday Philosophy Club will delight McCall Smith's existing fans and win him some new ones."
Actual line: "A musical faux pas or two aside, 'The Sunday Philosophy Club' will delight McCall Smith's existing fans and win him some new ones."

Chicago Tribune: "Devotees of Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series are certain to enjoy these new people and this new place. ... To know Isabel Dalhousie is to like and admire her."
Actual line: "Devotees of his 'No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' series will enjoy these new people and this new place. But they may feel the kind of guilt that comes with a preference for one child in a family over his or her sibling. To know Precious Ramotswe is to love her. To know Isabel Dalhousie is to like and admire her. It's just not the same."

Detroit Free Press: "Charming. ... Suspenseful. ... A pleasant introduction to a woman readers will want to know more about."
Actual line: "Smith takes a little time revving the engine and it's not until about 100 pages into the story that the mystery really gets going. That's a bit of a crime in a 250-page book billed as a mystery. Nevertheless, it picks up, and what emerges is a charming, often suspenseful, sad tale that's not as much a mystery as it is a pleasant introduction to a woman readers will want to know more about."

Columbus Dispatch: "So believable. ... The great pleasures of [The Sunday Philosophy Club] have to do with Smith's wry, gentle writing applied to intriguing plots more curious or humorous than dramatic. ... Precious Ramotswe has found a kindred spirit."
Not quoted: "Precious is the more agreeable protagonist. She is a humble character who built her business after a failed marriage and in spite of sexual discrimination. Isabel, the privileged daughter of an American mother and Scottish father, has inherited enough wealth to have to work only part time and to support her comfortable home (with housekeeper) and regular purchases of art. She seems to complain too much and she's nowhere near as droll as Precious. But we'll give her time."

Entertainment Weekly: "Genial.... Wise.... Glows like a rare jewel."
Not quoted: "... a half-baked whodunit. Plot has never been McCall Smith's forte, and this lukewarm mystery does little more than stimulate a series of ethical questions for Isabel and her friends to wittily ponder ... Urbane and well-educated, Isabel is both less exotic and less enchanting than the radiant Precious Ramotswe, and contemporary Scotland lacks the balmy, travelogue allure of McCall Smith's lovingly drawn Botswana."

New York Times: "The literary equivalent of herbal tea and a cozy fire. ... McCall Smith's Scotland [is] well worth future visits."
Not quoted: "Is there reason to worry about a charm deficit separating Isabel's adventures from the lovable Botswana books? Yes there is, to some degree. ... Her penchant for conducting moral arguments with herself is well-developed, but it can be less than riveting for the reader. ... It is to be hoped that Isabel's debating points become more memorable than her philosophical name-dropping (do Immanuel Kant and Hannah Arendt really need mentioning here?) and that her talky timidity gives way to more investigative zeal."

Seattle Times: "Charmingly told. ... Its graceful prose shines, and Isabel's interior monologues—meditations on a variety of moral questions—are bemused, intelligent and entertaining."
Actual line: "I wonder if readers will find Isabel a more familiar (and thus less interesting) figure than the delightfully unusual Mma Ramotswe. Also, Isabel's cultured life in Edinburgh (presumably close to that of the author, a professor of medical law there) offers a fine setting but it's no match for the exotic kick of sun-baked Africa. Which is not to say the book's a bust. Its graceful prose shines, and Isabel's interior monologues meditations on a variety of moral questions are bemused, intelligent and entertaining."

Oregonian: "Habit-forming. ... The Sunday Philosophy Club leaves plenty of time for pondering moral conundrums, the drinking of steaming cups of hot brew (coffee, in this case) and ... gentle probing into the human condition."
Actual line: Smith's "Scottish-American woman in Edinburgh lacks the gorgeous Zimbabwean setting, addicting red bush tea and some of the fire of Precious Ramotswe, but her scrappy tenaciousness and dithery vulnerability could make her northern brew just as habit-forming."

Maps for Lost Lovers, by Nadeem Aslam (Amazon)

Akash Kapur, New York Times Book Review: "Aslam reveals—artfully and heartbreakingly—a psychology at war with itself ... His prose is richly atmospheric, his tone engagingly introspective."
Not quoted: "The gloominess of his novel is infused with an anger that is occasionally overdone, yielding passages that read like an assault on the religion from which all the characters' unhappiness seems to originate."

Los Angeles Times Book Review: "Aslam manages an impressive feat: His prose is stylistically dazzling, full of poetic, richly descriptive and tender passages ... His characters' inner lives are explored in-depth, flaws and all ... A novel as affecting as it is provocative."
Not quoted: "In certain parts, the author loses his way, succumbing to none-too-subtle anti-fundamentalist rants. His own politics register loud and clear, particularly his disdain for the restrictions on the lives of Islamic women. (That would be fine, were it not for the sometimes stilted dialogue.)"

San Francisco Chronicle: "A writer's tour de force ... teeming with poetical descriptions and lapidary prose. [And] unlike so many literary novelists working today, Aslam actually has a story to tell, a powerful one."
Actual line: "The novel's 377 pages are teeming with poetical descriptions and lapidary prose. You can't help but notice the craftsmanship that goes into this kind of writing, but it has a cost: the dilution of the narrative itself, which is the supreme frustration. Unlike so many literary novelists working today, Aslam actually has a story to tell, a powerful one, but his gifts as a stylist prevent him from realizing its full dramatic potential."
Not quoted: "Extended quote from book, followed by: "Do you find these fanciful metaphors and similes charming, imaginative and evocative? Or do you view this kind of overblown prose as more indicative of the author's ego than germane to the characters or their story? If your answer to the first question is yes, you will undoubtedly enjoy this ambitious, poetic and literary novel. But if you cringe a little at the image of the peas as suckling puppies (and you should!), you will find yourself deeply frustrated by the book even as you admire Aslam's obvious talents. ... overwritten and underplotted."

Publishers Weekly: "Poignant, lushly written ... a truthful story that resists easy conclusions."
Not quoted: "At times, Aslam's critique grows didactic, as when he saddles his characters with long stretches of wooden, philosophical dialogue."

Kirkus Reviews: "[A] painstakingly crafted exploration of cultural conflict ... exquisite."
Actual line: "Often exquisite; too often, too much of a good thing."
Not quoted: "Aslam overstates and sentimentalizes Shamas's selfless saintly decency, and drowns the story in a gratuitously exotic and sensuous hothouse atmosphere evoked by ludicrously strained imagery."

Sons of Camelot, by Laurence Leamer (Amazon)

New York Times: "Intimate and immediate."
Actual line: "Mr. Leamer's portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr., and his marriage to Carolyn Bessette—fleshed out with interviews with friends—feels more intimate and immediate than many that have recently appeared, but it remains hobbled by speculative musings and cloying, self-conscious efforts to evoke the person beneath the public persona."
Not quoted: Leamer's "appetite for romance-novel prose and political and psychological clichés results in an exercise in group pathography that dwells predictably on death, dysfunction and bad luck. ... he indulges in the sort of portentous commentary and sentimental asides that turn his subjects into tiny, tragic figures in a stormy, epic landscape. ... Mr. Leamer's cheesy writing and reductive insights result in a book that bears a resemblance not to 'Buddenbrooks' or 'The Magnificent Ambersons' but to a soap opera rerun we've already watched too many times."

Idyll Banter, by Chris Bohjalian (Amazon)

Publishers Weekly: "Inviting... [Bohjalian] writes movingly about serious, intimate moments. In the book's most memorable essay, which recounts the destruction of 80% of Lincoln's library books by a flash flood, Bohjalian's words beautifully capture the community's grief: 'I saw dazed adults crying softly.... They didn't cry that day for the roads or the bridges that had been lost.... But they did cry for their books.'"
Not quoted: "Bohjalian occasionally sounds too Pollyannaish as he gushes about smalltown New England life."

Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia, by Carmen Bin Laden (Amazon)

Janet Maslin, New York Times: "An interesting story"!! This memoir shows a "Compelling" portrait of "Day-to-day... Saudi life"
Actual line: "Her book begins with the statement that 'September 11, 2001, was one of the most tragic dates of our lifetimes.' This further confirms the impression that Ms. bin Ladin isn't about to reveal anything new. But 'Inside the Kingdom,' her memoir of a nine-year marriage to Yeslam bin Ladin, is more compelling than that, if only on the level of a day-to-day portrait of Saudi life. Despite ghostwriterly phrasings like 'my life sometimes felt as barren and empty as the sand,' Ms. bin Ladin tells an interesting story."

The Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason (Amazon)

New York Times: "Ingenious ... The real treat here is the process of discovery."
Actual line: "Although 'The Rule of Four' adopts today's prevalent affectation of present-tense narration ('the trip down campus passes in a haze'), it works best when it is faithful to classical modes. The real treat here is the process of discovery, and those passages are written with precision and bravado."
Not quoted: "... for every cerebral revelation there is apt to be an 'I'm telling you, Tom, I'm convinced this is even bigger than we thought.' Or as things heat up: 'Blood is running down the tuxedo fabric, black on black.' "

1776, by David McCullough (Amazon)

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times: "A gripping read: thrilling popular history, and a graphic reminder of the parlous circumstances that attended the birth of this nation."
Actual line: "If '1776' remains a highly familiar story, and an incomplete story at that, it nonetheless remains a gripping read: readable, even thrilling popular history, and a graphic reminder of the parlous circumstances that attended the birth of this nation."
Not quoted: "As a history of the American Revolution, it is an oddly truncated volume: pivotal developments leading to the revolution like the Stamp Act, which happen to fall outside the perimeters of Mr. McCullough's rigid time frame, are not examined, and subsequent installments of the war (which would continue on after the Trenton-Princeton campaign for another half-dozen harrowing years) are ignored as well. As for the animating ideas behind the Revolution and their enduring social and political legacy—the subject of Gordon S. Wood's critically acclaimed 1992 book, "The Radicalism of the American Revolution"—they are simply not addressed in these pages.

The Caddie, by J. Michael Veron (Amazon)
Middletown, America, by Gail Sheehy (Amazon)

Lest Blurb Racket be accused of a reflexively critical demeanor, here are two book websites that, to their credit—though perhaps not to their lawyers' liking—include full reviews. Of course, they've cherry-picked the good ones, but left in some critical bits and nuance.

Theater

Cirque Du Soleil's Varekai

New York Times: "The level of artistry is high as ever."
Actual line: "Though the level of artistry is high as ever, there is undoubtedly a staleness infecting the show as a whole. Dervishlike Russian dancers, an adolescent Asian trio of bola jugglers; a menagerie of posing trapeze artists: at one point the man sitting beside me mumbled, 'I think I saw some of this 30 years ago on "Ed Sullivan." ' Though that's a little harsh (not to mention off by a decade), the point is well taken."
Such a blurb is almost sure to obscure a "but," like: "The prose is as clean as ever, but the plot sucks big time."

New York Daily News: "Cirque soars by leaps & bounds."
This quote is the headline of a feature article about Cirque's success in "transforming from a ragtag group of sidewalk stilt-walkers and fire-eaters into a multimillion-dollar global brand," though of course the blurb suggests it originates in a review.

Twelfth Night

New York Times: "Verve and clarity! This modern update has many pleasures."
Actual line: " 'Twelfth Night,' after all, is a Shakespearean comedy of improbable love, ending with the requisite happy couplings. Judged as a light diversion, this modern update has many pleasures. Even if the costumes are a bit too cute—are the oversize codpieces really necessary?—Megan Bowers's design is crisp and nicely realized, and the performances have more verve and clarity than most summer Shakespeare productions."
Not quoted: "Simon Russell Beale, for one, found deep pathos in Malvolio in a 'Twelfth Night' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2003. But this production, staged by Peter Meineck and Robert Richmond, is far more blunt, satisfied with skimming the surface of the madcap comedy."

Legal Briefs

Plamegate

Douglas McCollam, CJR Daily, as quoted in special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in his brief opposing New York Times reporter Judith Miller's final request to stay out of jail: "... there is a sense that the Plame outing ... was the kind of sleazy Beltway maneuver that represents the worst use of confidential information."
Actual line: "... there is a sense that the Plame outing through Novak by his sources was the kind of sleazy Beltway maneuver that represents the worst use of confidential information."
McCollam was disquieted to see his story quoted, and much more so to see Novak redacted: "Novak has magically disappeared!—much as he has from the entire record of Fitzgerald's investigation to date, despite the fact that he, not Miller, was the conduit for the (possibly) illegal leak."

Spot a misleading media quote in an ad about a movie, show, book, or anything else? E-mail Gelf with your find.

Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.







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Comments

- The Blurbs
- posted on Nov 21, 07
catherine bishop

carolyn bessette is a insestable whore with trash slutt behavior to hide her high non class ablity she seen fausle support of her star power and appeal to the media to seem good in heart ,class and fortitude. no of her and her family have real stability concerning the idenity of who they are related to.FUNNY, SOMEONE SAID THAT carolyn bessette father was a black man in virginia and he had sex with her mother and her mother would sneak to see each other.her mother stealing from a government official came up with hiding her image as a black woman using a prostastic to conseal her features you know the kind CIA uses to apprehend crimals thought to be gone.IF ANGENT FOLLOWED carolyn bessette and photograpgh her meeting her black relatives and planning a government cooo.would you believe.i know one thing she left allot of evidence that her family try to hide.NOW WHEN YOU HEAR THIS,I WOULD ONLY BELIEVE IF THEIR IS PROOF.folks their is.

- The Blurbs
- posted on Apr 08, 08
ANOYMOUS

their were no romance story with carolyn bessette, carolyn bessette was too busy with her spoil perceptions of the wealth and elite of power,soo busy tring to control and manipulate them and their monye power to get in astroy wih her own since of style.she felt she new how the ho;dthing work .jackie o style she new how to get by pretending to have the style in actrual rlity she had the homeyly homeless look down pat.she lived for her hatrate of the truth.she foumd the fact that in her own way jackie put carolynbessette miss pr hate dream weaver,in her place by way of investagator hrh in hiding ,part of jackie's elite high upper crust infleunces.jackie is not pleased by you and your family in reputation and good deeds.miss bessette. although years later miss bessette had other pr manipultions in mind.change the date in which she mate johnf.kennedy jr. to get accepted ,the people won't remember. yet people magazinnov.1993 the first new photo's of john.f kennedy jr. with carolyn bessette. she moved in with john's new apartment in dec,1993.JACQUELINE ONASSIS UNWELL ,READ THE FIRST NEW YORK CITY POST OF JOHN'S SUPPOSEDLY LADY. CALLED A FRIEND UP ROM HER ROYAL CONNECTIONS ,WHO WAS A WEALTHY MONARCHARY INVESTAGATOR.

- The Blurbs
- posted on Oct 01, 08
SARAH

ANYWAY SHE THE VALUE OF JACQUELINE ONASSIS APPROVAL AND GRACE OF LIFE. TO HAVE EVER MET HER..DESPITES ONE PERSON OPINION SHE IS NOT THE WOMAN JOHN F.KENNEDY JR. MOWOULD HAVE APPROVED OF OR ALLOWED THE MARRIAGE ....JOHN WAS EXTREMELY EMOTIONAL AFTER PASSING.HE NEEDED TO SPEND SOME SELF TIME WITHOUT ADDINAG A RELATIONSHIP OF HARDSHIP ON HIM..BY carolyn bessette and her clawingy members who saught only money above their wealth....WHICH WAS BASICALLY AON IN 100,000. BRACKIT FOUR YEAR POINT.HER MOTHER DIDN'T COME FROM ROYAL OR WEALTH OF ELITE AND GLAMOUR STAR LIKE JOHN AND HIS FAMILY......THEIR SIN PATTERN OF ING WEALTH AND SEEKING GAIN NOT LOVE..ONLY MADE A DESTRUCATION OF VE MEANT FOR JOHN'S PATH. NOT AND ILL VALID WOMAN OF NO CONTENT AND SUBSTANCE CALL HER OWN......carolyn bessette's education was never there enough for value of his mother, hyn bessette didn't have culture of verse languages ,cultuances or style that want for attention.In the world eye.

- The Blurbs
- posted on Oct 01, 08
SARAH

AS I SAID BEFORE carolyn bessette wouldn't have BEEN VED OF JACQUELINE ONASSIS AND I FULLY AGREE.

- The Blurbs
- posted on Oct 01, 08
SARAH

AS I SAID BEFORE carolyn bessette wouldn't have BEEN HAVED OF JACQUELINE ONASSIS AND I FULLY AGREE.

- The Blurbs
- posted on Oct 01, 08
SARAH

SO LIES OF THIS illCALIBRATED WOMAN,OF STANDARDS OF GRACE AND CLASS..THIS AMOUNG THE POOR AND WORKING CLASS MAKE THEM SICK TO THEIR MALNUTRUTION STOMACHS....SO MUCH HYPE CLASSLESS.........


Article by Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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