Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

June 6, 2008

'Five TV Episodes Strung Together'

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 'Sex and the City,' 'The Promotion,' 'Operation Filmmaker,' 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.

"Most disappointing is the paucity of clever quips."—USA Today's Claudia Puig, on Sex and the City

Sex and the City (New Line, HBO)
Metacritic Score: 53

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: " 'Sex and the City' is full of love, tears, fashion, depression, good sex, bad sex, and supreme tenderness."
Actual line: "The movie version of Sex and the City, written and directed by Michael Patrick King (always the show's savviest writer), is 2 hours and 22 minutes of love, tears, fashion, depression, lavish vacation, good sex, bad sex, and supreme tenderness. It's as long as five series episodes, a big sweet tasty layer cake stuffed with zingers and soul and dirty-down verve (it's not above having one of the girls poop her pants). Given the running time, though, not that much happens, and what does has several shades more gravitas."
Not quoted: "If Sex and the City as a movie is good rather than great, that's because it lacks the show's antic, humming New York effervescence. King would have done well to come up with at least one major subplot that didn't have to do with relationships. And though Jennifer Hudson, as Carrie's assistant, has a delicate presence, the character is almost embarrassingly saintly. Why couldn't she, too, pine and chatter with the verve of the city?"
For some reason the blurb writers chose to cut "lavish vacation" instead of "depression" or "bad sex."

Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times: "Writer/director Michael Patrick King has done some brave, surprising things with the movie… it is romantic and consistently very funny."
Actual line: "… the film arrives shrouded in such a fog of expectation, preconception, anticipation and (now with more post-Hillary bite!) gender bias that it's hard to see—or write about—the movie for the trees. Which is too bad, because Michael Patrick King, who executive produced the show (with series creator Darren Star) and wrote and directed the movie, has done some brave, surprising things with it, mining territory that's been all but abandoned by Hollywood. It's hard, in fact, to think of any other recent examples of movies that explore the complicated emotional lives of characters comically without stooping to adolescent silliness or that are willing to go to such dark places while remaining a comedy in the Shakespearean sense—all's well that ends well. 'Sex and the City' can't rightly be called a romantic comedy in the dismal, contemporary sense, though it is at times romantic and is consistently very funny. It's also emotionally realistic, even brutal."
The blurb writers' decision to turn this complex rave into more-conventional praise is neither brave nor surprising.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "It's an unabashed guilty pleasure that goes down as smoothly as a chilled cosmo."
Not quoted: "Even more than on the TV series, the movie is more about style than substance. The film feels exceedingly familiar—so much so that most of the plot turns can be guessed well before they happen. The movie's nearly 2½ hours are padded with wardrobe change montages that could test the nerves of even the most die-hard fashionista. Most disappointing is the paucity of clever quips."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Sarah Jessica Parker is funny, touching and vital."
Not quoted: "If the film didn't go on for a punishing two and a half hours, including two fashion shows and countless designer name-checks, I might call it must-viewing for men who are clueless about the female psyche. … Writer-director Michael Patrick King, the creative force behind the show's later seasons, can't disguise the fact that the movie is basically five TV episodes strung together (only three hit the mark)."

The Promotion (Dimension)
Metacritic Score: 49

Scott Foundas, Village Voice: "A smart & witty film."
Not quoted: "[Director Steven] Conrad tends to overextend certain recurring gags …"

Scott Weinberg, "Excellent! The best comedy I've seen since 'Juno'!"
Actual line: "… while it may not end up as a box-office sensation, The Promotion is the most unexpectedly excellent comedy I've seen since … hell, probably Juno."
It's not necessarily the best comedy since Diablo Cody's flick, merely the most unexpectedly good.

Mother of Tears (Myriad, Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 56

Nathan Lee, Village Voice: "An instant cult classic!"
Actual line: "An instant cult classic and easily the most entertaining film of the festival to date—or maybe ever?—this orgy of crazed plotting, magnificently bad acting, cheap special effects, and priceless conviction meditates on the second fall of Rome (riots, road rage, mothers chucking babies off bridges), which antiquities restorer Asia Argento precipitates by releasing an ancient evil witch from an urn. Plus unholy monkeys, plus psychic lesbians, plus Japanese goth freakazoids, plus Udo Kier—and that's so not the half it, I can't even tell you."
We think Lee really liked it, but he might have only ironically liked it. His colleague Jim Ridley was more clear in a longer review: "A once-great director's near-worst work passes through its funhouse plumbing and emerges from the crapper as intentional mischief: self-sabotage explained away as mad genius."

War, Inc. (Disney, Walden)
Metacritic Score: 34

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Bitingly funny!"
Actual line: "While it can be bitingly funny, the plot goes off in several directions and often loses its way."
Not quoted: "Some scenes in this thinly veiled stand-in for Iraq are heavy-handed: 'Thank You America' banners decorate war-ravaged buildings."
For turning Puig's incidental compliment into a rave, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award. For more reconstructed blurbs from this John Cusack film, see the prior Blurbs column.

Operation Filmmaker (First Run/Icarus)
Metacritic Score: 67

New York Times: "Absorbing!"
Not quoted: "Ms. Davenport pushes the analogy between this modest rescue operation with America's invasion of Iraq a bit too forcefully …"

indieWire: "Compelling!"
Actual line: "… provocative, utterly compelling …"
This is a tiny ad, so space was limited, but it may be the first time Gelf has seen a blurb downplay a rave.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (Magnolia)
Metacritic Score: 80

Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times: "Raucously funny!"
Actual line: "… raucously funny and surprisingly insightful prologue …"
Chocano likes the whole film, but only the prologue merits this particular rave. Perhaps the blurb should, like the film's title, have carried an asterisk.

Go-Getter (Peace Arch)
Metacritic Score: 72

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "Super unleaded. Just in time for summer: a perfect road trip."
Not quoted: "[Director Martin] Hynes throws things out, and some of them clunk: the too-arty opening; an easy gay joke; a song-and-dance interlude."

Stuck (THINKFilm)
Metacritic Score: 62

Robert Wilonsky, Village Voice: "Darkly comic!"
Actual line: "Stuck is both darkly comic and disgusting; the name alone reduces the crime to a sick joke."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Powerful! Hard to shake!"
Not quoted: "The tone is one of horror and dark, low comedy. Many of the visuals are starkly grisly and disgusting. … This is not enjoyable entertainment, but it is brutally watchable."

Savage Grace (IFC First Take)
Metacritic Score: 50

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "Very provocative. The sex scene is a real talker."
Actual line: "In this uneven but very provocative movie set for release in May (a year after its premiere in Cannes) they're played by Julianne Moore and the stunning Eddie Redymayne. Their sex scene together (she's trying to 'cure'' him) is a real talker."

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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