The Blurbs

November 10, 2006

I Like! (Some But Not All Things About This Movie)

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs in ads for movies takes on Borat, Volver, Babel, and more.

Carl Bialik

Blurb Racket
Paul Antonson
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.

Borat (20th Century Fox)

Joel Siegel, Good Morning America: "One of the funniest movies I've ever seen."
Siegel's rave is undercut by a silly statement he made in unscripted (we hope) banter with his ABC colleagues: "It's real people. Done in one take, hidden camera." The camera wasn't hidden—Borat presents himself to his unwitting victims as a television journalist from Kazakhstan. The statement didn't make it into the online version of Siegel's review, but then, he says he doesn't write those.

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: "Screamingly hysterical."
Not quoted: "Not every moment succeeds. I could have done without the nude wrestling session he has with his obese traveling companion (Ken Davitian)—a gruesome sight. But that's the risk a comedian takes when he's walking the line between way out and too far. Also, the jokes about Kazakhstan's poverty have a sour edge."

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Stunningly funny."
Not quoted: "…if truth be told about Mr. Baron Cohen's vulgarian truth-teller, his antics pale now and then. The screenplay, which the star wrote with Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer, is a randomish assortment of wonderful, remarkably good and not-so-hot comic notions unified mainly by the cross-country trip, and by the hero's obsession with 'Baywatch,' Malibu and Pamela Anderson, who plays herself in a not-so-hot encounter that's more anti than climactic."

Babel (Paramount Vantage)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Sheer sensory exuberance…"
Not quoted: "In the end 'Babel,' like that tower in the book of Genesis, is a grand wreck, an incomplete monument to its own limitless ambition. But it is there, on the landscape, a startling and imposing reality. It's a folly, and also, perversely, a wonder."

A Good Year (20th Century Fox)

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: "Seeing this film makes you feel like you're on vacation for two hours. Crowe is undeniably sexy and charismatic and a pleasure to watch."
Actual line: "Seeing the film makes you feel like you're on vacation for two hours; at least it makes you want to savor a glass of wine afterward. [… prior paragraph] And while Crowe mainly functions as a fish out of water, he can be undeniably sexy and charismatic, and it’s a pleasure to watch him reveal that little-seen side of his personality."
Not quoted: "It's an ambitious experiment, and not a completely successful one. 'A Good Year' often feels desperately strained in its whimsy, and as it morphs from travelogue to slapsticky French farce to shameless chick flick, it grows nauseating in its sickly sweet romantic dialogue."
For mangling the positive quote, and misrepresenting a pan, this ad wins Gelf’s Bogus Blurb of the Week award.

Copying Beethoven (MGM)

Paul Fischer, Dark Horizons: "Ed Harris plays the tortured artist with emotional range and even sly humour, and his performance is Oscar® worthy. Harris inhabits this most iconic of figures with every pore of his being, and for his magnificent performance alone, 'Copying Beethoven' is worth the price of admission."
Not quoted: "…the problem is in the casting of Diane Kruger. An attractive actress, she lacks the depth and emotional fortitude to be pitted against Ed Harris' towering Beethoven, and their scenes are all his, as she dramatically struggles."
Looking for a phrase in a movie blurb signaling something negative has been plucked out? A good bet is "for [insert positive aspect here] alone, [insert movie name here] is worth the price of admission," because it suggests that the positive aspect outweighs whichever negative aspect was mentioned beforehand.

Eric Lurio, Greenwich Village Gazette: "See it." "This is one of the big ones for the fall."
Not quoted: "We've now got a platonic romance going on in what might be described light comedy. ... The whole thing is sitcom, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing."

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: "Harris seizes his role and staggers off with the movie."
Not quoted: "At times, the story strains credibility…"

Volver (Sony)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Cruz is dazzling, passionate and witty."
Not quoted: "It's hard to say if 'Volver' is a great film…"

Stranger Than Fiction (Columbia/Sony)

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "…A contemporary masterpiece."
The immortal, inimitable Shawn Edwards.

Shut Up & Sing (Weinstein Co.)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "A revealing look at the relationship between politics, celebrity and the media."
Actual line: "The movie offers a revealing case study of the relationship between politics, celebrity and the media in today's polarized social climate."
Close enough, perhaps, but why edit?

**** (ThinkFilm)

Los Angeles Times: "Unprintably entertaining!"
Not quoted: "…the film is not as rigorous as it might have been, and eventually the pleasure it takes in its own potty-mouthed excess edges out more interesting questions."
The reviews also clarifies, "Steve Anderson's '****' (pronounced '****')." Gelf clarifies, "Steve Anderson's '****' (pronounced 'Fuck')."

Little Children (New Line)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Memorable, serious and perceptive. Mr. Field is a filmmaker with an exceptional gift."
Not quoted: "I was put off by 'Little Children''s satiric tone or by its tones, which range from archly fastidious neutrality (a narrator reading brief passages from the book) to insistently shrill melodrama (a disgraced ex-cop turning vigilante when a convicted sex offender comes back to town). … tone is the carrier wave of a drama's signals, and the signals in "Little Children" are distorted by intrusive devices (an abruptly split screen, an occasionally surreal sound track) and heavy ironies (the fatuousness of older women in a book club, the faux-mythologizing of a football game, Brad's elaborately juvenile glee in the company of teenage skateboarders). When a movie is as serious and perceptive as this one, it doesn't need to comment on itself."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "An evocative film that affirms the directorial talents of Todd Field… The performances are all strong and multifaceted."
Not quoted: "… unsure if it's a satire or a serious drama. … occasional clashes between the ironic narrative tone and the on-screen solemnity …"
This ad, spanning a third of a page, quotes from no fewer than 12 reviews; it should have stopped at 10.

The Cave of the Yellow Dog (Tartan USA)

Village Voice: "Stunning."
Actual line: "The stunning, remote valleys where six-year-old Nansaa moves around with her sheep-herding, yurt-dwelling family are increasingly depopulated, as people abandon the nomadic way of life for jobs in the city."
Not quoted: "At times the film's Buddhist lessons feel a bit forced…"

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Article by Carl Bialik

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