Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

February 27, 2009

'Grueling To Sit Through'

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 'Must Read After My Death,' 'Madea Goes to Jail,' 'Examined Life,' 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.

"It's as cold, stony and laconic as New England itself."—Kyle Smith of the New York Post on Must Read After My Death

Must Read After My Death (Gigantic)
Metacritic Score: 74

Kyle Smith, New York Post: "Riveting!"
Actual line: "… spare but riveting …"
Not quoted: "As with 'Capturing the Friedmans,' the documentary is grueling to sit through. Yet the greasy, guilty thrill of being privy to your neighbors' most intimate dramas makes it impossible to stop watching. And like that film, this one concludes with a dank mystery—in this case, an unexplained death. Despite its searing frankness, the story ultimately closes down to outsiders—as cold, stony and laconic as New England itself."

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Fascinating and disquieting!"
Actual line: "… an alternately fascinating and disquietingly intimate portrait of a 1960s American family falling apart."
Not quoted: "…after listening to the nonstop venting by Allis, Charley and their increasingly miserable sons—Mr. [Morgan] Dews's mother, the family's only daughter, Anne, left as soon as she could—you yearn for another voice, any voice, to cut in and offer the family a dissenting opinion, a word of advice, something. … while I admire how Mr. Dews has constructed his movie on a formal level, I can't help but wonder how his grandmother would feel if she knew her family's trauma has been repackaged for our queasy consumption."

Madea Goes to Jail (Lionsgate)
Metacritic Score: 50

No blurbs on this shakily-reviewed film's full-page ad. No surprise there: Madea doesn't seem to need critical praise in order to prosper.

Examined Life
Examined Life (Zeitgeist)
Metacritic Score: 66

New York Magazine: "Energetic…inspired…fun!"
Actual line: "Energetic documentary takes nine contemporary thinkers (Cornel West, Slavoj Žižek, Martha Nussbaum among them) and films them as they walk and talk, trying to reconnect their thoughts to the world in which they live. The results are fun, but, as might be imagined, the insights range from the inspired to the insipid."
Fun…with…ellipses! For stringing together the three positive adjectives from a mixed review, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Scott Macaulay, Filmmaker: "This film is good for your soul! A must-see cinematic tonic for these confusing times."
At least Macaulay acknowledged the blurb-readiness of his review, starting it with, "Okay, here's a pull quote you won't often get from me: this film is good for your soul."

An American Affair
An American Affair (Screen Media)
Metacritic Score: 31

Avi Offer, "Captivating, witty and poignant. Gretchen Mol sizzles."
Not quoted: "… a few of the plot's twists come across as slightly contrived in the way that they unfold …"

Crossing Over
Crossing Over (MGM, Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 32

Pete Hammond, "Harrison Ford is terrific. An engrossing, thoroughly entertaining movie with great performances from a first-rate-ensemble cast."
Not quoted: "… it's not ultimately as successful as Crash …"
As usual, Hammond raves about a movie he gives only three stars.

Katyn (Artificial Eye)
Metacritic Score: 79

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: "Fascinating! Poland's greatest filmmaker caps his career with the story he waited most of his life to tell."
Not quoted: "Katyn alternates between scenes of tremendous power and sequences most kindly described as dutiful. It's as if the artist is never certain whether he is making this movie for himself, his father, or the entire nation. … Katyn is directed for maximum gravitas, but often trips over the script's clumsy transitions. Turning from wide-screen spectacle to close-up characterization, the direction falters, despite the facility of the actors. … The narrative is complicated and elliptical."

David Goldenberg

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

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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.

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