Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

July 26, 2010

'Inception' Is 'More to Admire Than to Cherish'

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 ads for 'Inception,' 'Despicable Me,' 'Salt,' 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.

"This is a movie that you'll wish you had crammed for."—Time's Richard Corliss on Inception

Inception (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 74

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Just in time! The mind-blowing movie event of the summer has arrived. 'Inception' dreams big…it's James Bond Meets 'The Matrix'."

Actual line: "The mind-blowing movie event of the summer arrives just in time to hold back the flow of Hollywood sputum that's been sliming the multiplex. Inception, written and directed by the visionary Christopher Nolan, will be called many things, starting with James Bond Meets 'The Matrix.' … But be warned: Inception dreams big. How cool is that?"
It's not surprising that Warner Bros. wasn't keen on keeping the line about "Hollywood sputum that's been sliming the multiplex."

Richard Corliss, Time: "See it twice."
Actual line: "But seeing Inception—or seeing it twice, which we suggest—does not answer all the riddles. This is a film more to admire than to cherish, one that aims to fascinate rather than to satisfy familiar impulses. It's a beautiful object, like a perpetually spinning top, not a living organism."
Not quoted: "This is a movie that you'll wish you had crammed for."
Sounds fun!

Despicable Me
Despicable Me (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 72

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Puts a smile on your face that will last all the way home."
Actual line: "Despicable Me isn't in the same advance class as Pixar's Toy Story 3 or Dreamworks' How To Train Your Dragon, but it still puts a smile on your face that will last all the way home."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Whip-smart, offbeat and original."
Actual line: "A whip-smart family movie … Gru's character feels offbeat and original, even a tad cosmopolitan."
Not quoted: "… not as moving as Toy Story 3 … The nasty fella who's actually a softie inside is a well-worn trope that has been worked heavily in contemporary animated sagas like Shrek."

Pete Hammond, Boxoffice Magazine: "It's impossible to have a better time at the movies this summer. Roaringly funny, heartfelt and imaginative."
Actual line: "… a rousingly funny, heartfelt and imaginative 'toon … it is likely impossible to have a better time at the movies this summer."
Likely but not definitely impossible. Also, why did "roaringly" have to be substituted for "rousingly"? Why wasn't that good enough?

Salt (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 65

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Salt is a red-hot thriller that keeps popping surprises that shouldn't be spoiled. Hang on for the ride."
Not quoted: "Suspend disbelief, all who enter here. … Go with the illogic or you'll miss the fun. … Salt has the action pow to slam you hard, batter your senses and make a case for Jolie as a superpower with the figurative balls to take on the U.S., Russia and North Korea, and still give shit to pussy critics who don't like their credulity strained."

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: "****"
Not quoted: "There's enough preposterousness in "Salt" to set off a Geiger counter—including a death by shoe-stiletto, a fire extinguisher-turned-rocket launcher and activated nuke codes …"

Ramona and Beezus
Ramona and Beezus (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 55

Sunmee Choi, Total Living Network: "The best family film of the year"
Total Living Network's mission is "to direct people to Christ and provide resources for a vibrant relationship with Him through the electronic communications media." Beverly Cleary, the author of the book that inspired the film, found details over how to worship Christ nettlesome in her personal life: Her Presbyterian parents objected to her marriage to a Roman Catholic.

The Kids Are All Right
The Kids Are All Right (Focus)
Metacritic Score: 86

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: "Funny, smart & sexy. Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo are at the top of their games."
Actual line: "I don't know what's more delightful—that The Kids Are All Right stars Bening, Moore, and Ruffalo at the top of their games in an irresistible story of lesbian marriage, sperm-donor fatherhood, sex, red wine, and teen angst. Or that this warm, funny, sexy, smart movie erases the boundaries between specialized 'gay content' and universal 'family content' with such sneaky authority."
Notice that all mention of the gay themes of the movie have been removed from this blurb—as they have from the entire ad.

Michelle Kung, Wall Street Journal: "Exuberant. A heart-warming look at modern families."
Actual line: "Though Ruffalo loves the exuberant 'Kids,' a heart-warming look at modern families, his passion burns brightest for 'Sympathy,' his feature debut as a director."
It's strange that the ad quoted Kung's interview with Ruffalo instead of Journal critic Joe Morgenstern's rave that calls the film "thrillingly funny."

Countdown to Zero
Countdown to Zero (Magnolia)
Metacritic Score: 69

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "Spine-tingling. It's the rare piece of political filmmaking that could unite the left and the right."
Actual line: "The film features spine-tingling descriptions of the moments when we risked toppling into a nuclear conflagration … At times Countdown to Zero comes close to being nuclear-anxiety porn, yet it's the rare film that could trigger and unite the reflexes of the left and the right. It makes getting rid of nukes seem less like a 'cause' than an imperative."

Eric Kohn, indieWire: "Countdown works to a great degree as a suspense movie."
Actual line: "The arrangement of talking heads and animated maps competently demystify the story, although the director appears content to merely outline the situation rather than dig very deep into it. The closing call to action, an end credit accompanied by a URL, feels like a coup: Nowhere in the movie do we see the activism that [director Lucy] Walker intends to support. Nevertheless, the narrative thread of 'Countdown' works to a great degree as a suspense movie—but the climax exists not onscreen but in our collective fears."
Not quoted: "Many of Walker's high-profile sources hit a somber note: Mikhail Gorbachev laments the failure of his Summit Meetings with Ronald Reagan, while Jimmy Carter recalls the vanity of his fight against nuclear armaments during his presidency. No matter Walker's intentions, her movie can't avoid reflecting their depressing sense of helplessness."

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York: "The most impressive material here would make for a nail-biting James Bond film. Lucy Walker's artful documentary brings the issue into penetrating focus, making a strong case for renewed global vigilance."
Actual line: "Lucy Walker's artful—if borderline alarmist—documentary brings the issue into penetrating focus, making a strong case for renewed global vigilance. … The most impressive material here would make for a nail-biting James Bond film (and probably already has) …"
For omitting the "borderline alarmist" and not even using an ellipsis, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Life During Wartime
Life During Wartime (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 67

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York: "Todd Solondz's most sincere, uncynical effort—still very much a black comedy."
Actual line: "Todd Solondz, the provocateur behind Welcome to the Dollhouse and Palindromes, is back with his most sincere, uncynical effort—still very much a black comedy, but somehow softer."
Not quoted: "Not everything in the film works, particularly its strain of knee-jerk Hebraic hermeticism."

Henry Stewart, The L Magazine: "Might be the most important movie of the year—at least the most engaging."
Actual line: "Writer-director Todd Solondz's queasy, drily comical, and morally hefty Life During Wartime might be the most important movie of the year—at least the most engaging."

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: "Beautiful… engrossing… me, I'm rapt."
Actual line: "This ain't no party, this ain't no disco: With a title from Talking Heads, Life During Wartime is obsessive filmmaker Todd Solondz's creepy/ beautiful, engrossing/repellent follow-up to his 1998 dystopian family epic Happiness. … Me, I'm rapt."
Not quoted: "In a staring contest with his audience, Solondz never blinks. He picks and picks at the themes that consume him, and he doesn't care who stays and who leaves."

Winnebago Man
Winnebago Man (Kino International)
Metacritic Score: 69

New York Magazine: "Madly entertaining."
Actual line: "… frustrating, borderline exploitative, madly entertaining documentary …"

Wild Grass
Wild Grass (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 64

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Confirms [director Alain] Resnais as one of the giants of the art."
Actual line: " 'Wild Grass' doesn't advance film language, but it does confirm its director as one of the giants of the art."

Spoken Word
Spoken Word (Variance)
Metacritic Score: 59

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "The best movie of the week!"
That really is all that Reed claimed for the film—not best of the year, or summer, or even month. If the blurb runs next week, it would be false advertising.

Alamar (Film Movement)
Metacritic Score: 78

Andrew Schenker, Slant: "Stunning!"
Actual line: "There's little question that Alamar's stunning visuals constantly court the dangers of a studied aestheticism (even when Natan sketches out a drawing, its childishness is stylized into a kind of folk art), but [director Pedro] González-Rubio is smart enough to set them off against a genuinely involved inquiry into the process of the piscatory profession or, as here, use them to comment on the binding of the father-son relationship, none of which would matter if the director's HD camera didn't fill the screen with such vivid, eye-popping pulsations in the first place."

The Girl Who Played with Fire
The Girl Who Played with Fire (Music Box)
Metacritic Score: 66

Richard Corliss, Time: "[Actress Noomi] Rapace brings a memorable literary character to indelible movie life."
Not quoted: "As artful additions to the hallowed crime-movie genre, the Larsson movies are just so-so—at heart, they're old-fashioned private-eye procedurals, more indebted to Blomqvist's solid, stolid temperament than to Salander's bouts of anger and inspiration. Remember, these were made as TV movies; they have the unambitious efficiency of a Law & Order episode. … No part of the picture measures up to the book's chilling prologue: a three-page portrait of a child's desperation. Nor does the film satisfactorily explain how one of the characters survives a premature burial."

Farewell (NeoClassics)
Metacritic Score: 71

Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York: "****! Terrific! Excellent thriller!"
Actual line: "**** [out of five] … Director Christian Carion (Merry Christmas) establishes a low-key yet threatening atmosphere right from the start, and gets terrific performances from Kusturica and Canet. … A Cold War tale is told in this excellent thriller."
Not quoted: "Carion isn't reaching for the skies with Farewell (you never get the sense that this is a capital-G great movie) …"

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "A fantastic true story."
Holden called it that in a paragraph-long description after a film festival. In a more-considered, longer review, Holden has more mixed feelings. The film "somewhat awkwardly hopscotches from Moscow to Paris to Washington and back." Also, it is "not a movie to be trusted for its facts, which have been stretched around a screenplay (by Eric Raynaud) that becomes more conventional as the film goes along. When it comes to actual historical details, 'Farewell' crams too many notions into expositional blips of dialogue. And the scenes of conferences in the corridors of power, whether in Moscow, Paris or Washington, are strained and abrupt. Late in the day 'Farewell' falls back on conventional thriller tactics to amp up suspense. As Pierre and his family make a mad dash by car to the Finnish border, Sergei faces the consequences of his actions. Loose ends are neatly tied up in a monologue by a cold, omniscient American intelligence agent (Willem Dafoe) who reveals more secrets. At this point fiction trumps truth, and we are in the comfortable land of Jason Bourne, James Bond and their technocratic ilk."

Anne Billson, The Arts Desk: " 'Farewell' is destined to be this year's 'The Lives of Others.' "
Actual line: "Farewell is destined to be this year's The Lives of Others. It's more ambitious in scale and inevitably less successful as intimate drama, but not by much."
Not quoted: "The trailer for Farewell—released in Paris this week—was so dull I nearly didn't bother to go and see the film. … There's one sequence, near the end, which flirts with standard spy thriller clichés …"

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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