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Media | The Blurbs

March 25, 2007

Great Film. Oh, Except the Lead Actor Can't Act.

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 I Think I Love My Wife, Colour Me Kubrick, The Page Turner, 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.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"[First-time director Brian W. Cook's] movie often haplessly jumps from one incident to another, as if connective scenes were axed by either budgetary or intellectual limitations."—Dennis Harvey of the San Francisco Bay Guardian on Colour Me Kubrick

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

I Think I Love My Wife (Fox Searchlight)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Unusually insightful and funny!"
Not quoted: "[Chris Rock] is still, unfortunately, not much of an actor. He is able, just barely, to impersonate a buttoned-up suburban professional, looking perfectly respectable in his suits but never quite conveying the inner life of the man inside them. Mr. Rock has a bit of a Woody Allen problem, in that any character he plays will always seem to be a transparent alter ego, and in the case of Richard Cooper this causes blurriness and confusion. Is this guy supposed to be Chris Rock or not? And if not, who is he supposed to be?"

Colour Me Kubrick (Magnolia)

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "A delectable, irresistibly droll film."
Actual line: "Color Me Kubrick takes this flyspeck of a huckster and builds a teensy yet irresistibly droll film around him. … the film reveals, rather delectably, how potent the power of suggestion can be in a world gone madly groupie."
Not quoted: "Color Me Kubrick … doesn't have much shape; it's like a series of sketches mashed into a flaked-out comedy of fame, with Kubrick's soundtracks used as troweled-on irony."

Stephen Holden. New York Times: "A sly, knowing comedy with a perfectly cast John Malkovich."
That's a line, more or less, from a two-sentence mention by Holden in a Tribeca Film Festival roundup from last April. In Holden's fuller review, appearing in the same section on the same day as this ad, he writes, "It doesn't add up to more than a fitfully amusing collection of comic sketches … Once the movie gets started, it doesn’t know where to go or how to end. It more or less repeats itself."

Dennis Harvey, San Francisco Bay Guardian: "John Malkovich was almost too funny to bear. A deluxe comic creation."
Not quoted: "Kept afloat by one spectacularly good performance and a delightful premise, Colour Me Kubrick is otherwise a somewhat leaky boat. First-time director Brian W. Cook suggests this may not be his ideal career role. His movie often haplessly jumps from one incident to another, as if connective scenes were axed by either budgetary or intellectual limitations. It relies too heavily on music cues from Kubrick flicks (such as the Moog classicals of 1971's A Clockwork Orange) and in-joke cameos (Marisa Berenson, Ken Russell)."

Andrew O'Hehir, "Jaw-dropping fun."
Actual line: "Watching Conway perpetrate outrageous scams on gullible commoners, in the name of a so-called celebrity most of them had only dimly heard of, makes for jaw-dropping, head-scratching fun, at least for a little while."
Not quoted: "It's never clear what the point is once you get past the shock value of Malkovich's performance. … Director Cook and screenwriter Anthony Frewin were both intimates of the real Kubrick, which I guess counts for something. But for what, exactly? Does it uniquely qualify them to make a mean-spirited, trashy and intermittently funny film about a guy who wasn't Kubrick?"

300 (Warner Bros.)

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Prepare your eyes for popping—they just might fly out of their sockets!"
Actual line: "My advice is to prepare your eyes for popping—hell, they just might fly out of their sockets—in the face of such turbocharged visuals."
Not quoted: "There are times when the process, however stunning, can suck the air out of a scene and make the viewer feel boxed in."

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times: "If you want a nonstop thrill ride, here's your ticket!"
Actual line: "Snyder directs '300' as the tallest of tall tales—a vivid dream. You want realism and devotion to the hard facts, watch the History Channel. You want to experience the Battle of Thermopylae as a nonstop thrill ride, here's your ticket."
Not quoted: "This is the kind of movie that throws babies off a cliff, literally. (Hey—there's a reason for it.) This is the kind of film that presents battlefield beheadings with the same slow-motion poetry it employs for a soft-core sex sequence, and if you're offended by that, you're at the wrong flick. The blood flies and spurts with such force and velocity that I felt a little like one of those front-row attendees at a Blue Man Group show, where they have you put on a poncho lest you get covered in viscous liquid goo."

Lev Grossman, Time: " '300' looks like nothing you've ever seen… it might well be the future of filmmaking."
Actual line: "It was made by a young director, stars nobody in particular, and it looks like nothing you've ever seen. Very little in 300 is real except the actors. Sets, locations, armies, blood—they're all computer generated. It's beautiful, and it might well be the future of filmmaking. But should it be?"
Not quoted: "The result is a gorgeous, dreamlike movie that's almost too perfect. Every frame is neat and composed, like an oil painting, not a hair or a grain of sand out of place. All noise and dissonance have been digitally eliminated. It's beautiful, but it's more beautiful than it is real. Movies are invigorated by the tension between the director and reality, the struggle of the artist to tame the reluctant, intractable world, and that tension is missing from 300."

The Page Turner (Tartan USA)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "…chilly psychological thriller…"
Holden did write this neutral description in his paragraph-long summation of the film within a broader piece about French cinema. But the Times's official review, by Holden's colleague Manohla Dargis, isn't so positive, calling Page Turner a "rather small film" whose "parts don't really fit together." (It's the second time in this edition of the Blurbs that an ad in the Times quotes another Times article while a mixed or negative review of said film lurks pages away from the ad.)

Ed Gonzalez, Village Voice: "Fans of Notes on a Scandal, rejoice."
Not quoted: "preposterously self-serious … Dercourt understands the female sex even less, but at least his haute bourgeois version of Fatal Attraction is good for a laugh. During a piano recital, young Mélanie's psycho gene is triggered after one of the judges messes with her concentration. Years later, the girl ingeniously ingratiates herself into the older woman's manse, skulking around like a T-1000 on dopamine and pretentiously plotting uncertain revenge. Less offensive but equally disposable is Patrick Grandperret's Murderers…"
Mr. Gonzalez isn't much of a fan of Notes on a Scandal, you see. His colleague Jim Ridley, likes Page Turner a whole lot more than he does, and even provides blurb-worthy material: "cold-to-the-touch suspenser," "Dercourt's parting coup de grâce is like getting shanked with an icicle." For taking the single ambiguous phrase from an otherwise fiercely negative review, and overlooking a much-better blurbing opportunity from the same publication, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award, in a major upset over the many offenses of the ad for Color Me Kubrick.

Shooter (Paramount)

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "'Shooter' makes the grade as hard-ass action escapism."
Actual line: "Suspended over a deep gully of disbelief, where logic takes more bullets than the bad guys, Shooter still makes the grade as hard-ass action escapism."
Not quoted: "Once this movie starts to take its paranoia seriously, the bogus gravity stalls the suspense and spoils the fun."

Premonition (TriStar/Sony)

Pete Hammond, Maxim: "A gripping psychological thriller that will have you guessing from start to finish."
Actual line: "Even though Premonition is certainly no Hitchcock-style masterpiece, it still manages to become a gripping psychological thriller that will have you guessing from start to finish."
Not quoted: "This is one of those perplexing, and, at times, frustrating movie guessing games that can be fairly engrossing to watch but otherwise is pretty disposable entertainment."
This is one of those tepid, two-and-a-half-stars-out-of-five reviews that contains a sentence that starts lukewarmly but follows with gripping prose suitable for blurbing all the way to the finish.

Reign Over Me (Columbia/Sony)

Scott Foundas, Village Voice: "Sandler has never before held the screen with greater intensity."
Actual line: "…if [writer-director Mike] Binder has a considerably heavier hand when it comes to metaphor, his movie nevertheless remains buoyant because the feelings in it are immutable, and because Sandler has never before held the screen with greater intensity."

American Cannibal (Lifesize Entertainment)

Tobi Elkin, Huffington Post: "Well-crafted, biting, and provocative."
There's no out-of-context quoting here; that blurb in the ad is pretty much Elkin's entire review. It comes in a parenthetical ("For the record, I found the film well-crafted, biting, and provocative") in the middle of a reported article about the controversy over the film's screening.

Carl Bialik

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

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- The Blurbs
- posted on Oct 06, 07

What a silly sasauge, gerard butler makes the film 'great' u moron!

Article by Carl Bialik

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

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