Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

November 7, 2008

Is It Healthy? Wrathy? Toothy? Worthy?

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 'Role Models,' 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno,' 'High School Musical 3,' 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.

"The do-gooder climax causes audience sugar shock."—Rolling Stone's Peter Travers on Role Models

Role Models (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 61

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: " 'Role Models' is killer funny."
Not quoted: "Sometimes a shamelessly stoopid, proudly profane R-rated comedy is all you want out of life. … the do-gooder climax causes audience sugar shock."

Harry Knowles, Ain't It Cool: "un, hy edy!"
Paul Rudd's body is blocking most of the blurb, so it could say anything. Gelf guessed the first word was "fun" and the last one was "comedy." But the middle one was a toss-up—"frothy"? "Pithy"? "Shy"? Seems from the review like it's "filthy."

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 55

Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle: "Hilarious!"
Not quoted: " 'Zack and Miri' falters during the rare moments when things get serious, and a 'Three's Company'-caliber misunderstanding that causes the conflict in the movie's second half is pretty weak. This is also the type of movie that works less the more you think about it. How can two single, employed people with no kids sharing a rental in Pittsburgh not be flush with cash? Why do the alumni at Zack and Miri's 10-year reunion seem to range in age from 23 to 45? And how do all these schlubby and broke characters played by Seth Rogen continue to score Hollywood's hottest blondes?"

Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald: "A great date movie!"
Not quoted: "… it happens to contain one of the grossest sight gags I've ever encountered in a mainstream Hollywood film—a bit of business so breathtakingly vile I cannot even begin to describe it here."

Richard Corliss, Time: "Sweet, funny & sexy!"
Actual line: "… sweet, funny and (a little) sexy."
Not quoted: "In Zack and Miri, Smith flounders for a while in situations and gags that are frankly sub-Smithian. It's as if [Judd] Apatow has swiped his mojo and Smith can't get it back. As he constructs his rickety thesis, with Zack and Miri recruiting cast and crew for their X-rated masterpiece, the one spark of comedy brilliance is provided by Justin Long (the Mac guy in the Mac commercials) as a frog-throated gay porn star."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Hysterical! Seth Rogen & Elizabeth Banks are both terrific! Let the laughs begin!"
Not quoted: "Smith turns mushy and tries to spin smut into sugar. That he (almost) does is a tribute to the talents involved."

High School Musical 3
High School Musical 3 (Disney)
Metacritic Score: 57

Christopher Tookey, London Daily Mail: "A modern-day 'Grease.' "
Actual line: "Corny, squeaky-clean…a modern day Grease."
Not quoted: "If I were mean-spirited, I might point out that Zac Efron is about a foot too short to be a bona fide basketball player, and although the trailer promises 'ten new original songs', most of the numbers are indebted to Madonna and Michael Jackson."
The lesson: Don't assume, when a blurb suggests a new movie is like an old one, that the critic liked the old one.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Miramax)
Metacritic Score: 55

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "Wonderful and unforgettable."
Actual line: "It is both wonderful and devastating. [hundreds of words later] The film is not a primer on the Holocaust. It does not dwell on the Grand Guignol aspects of Auschwitz. Nor does it provide a feel-good happy ending. It just tells an unforgettable story in very human terms as easy to follow as a textbook for first graders."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Its power sneaks up and floors you."
Actual line: "You may not buy into actors playing Nazis with high-toned Brit accents, but the power of this Holocaust tale sneaks up and floors you."
As the editing of the above blurbs might suggest, nowhere in this ad does the word "Holocaust" appear.

I've Loved You So Long
I've Loved You So Long (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 78

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "So subtle and smart!"
Actual line: "The plot is not without its manipulations, but the film is so subtle and smart that you either don't notice or don't mind."

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Ms. Scott Thomas's deep, subtle and altogether stunning performance."
Actual line: "The film, in the end, turns away from the Dostoyevskian implications of Juliette's crime and its expiation. A revelation comes near the end that is both tremendously moving and a bit disappointing, in the way that the solutions to great mysteries frequently are. This turn does not diminish the accomplishment of Ms. Scott Thomas's deep, subtle and altogether stunning performance, but it does alter the scale of the movie, turning it into a more manageable, less existentially unsettling drama. Which is a relief, I suppose, but also a bit of a letdown."
That the blurb is a sentence fragment, not a sentence, is a clue that it's plucked from a sentence whose remainder isn't so adulatory.

Soul Men
Soul Men (MGM)
Metacritic Score: 49

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Soul Men is a chance to salute these masters of mirth and music. Take it."
Not quoted: "… uneven spin on Grumpy Old Men …"

The Guitar
The Guitar (Lightning Media) Metacritic Score: 26

Film Threat: "Saffron Burrows gives a stunning performance."
Actual line: "Saffron Burrows gives a stunning performance and it is a change of pace to see her in a film like this instead of more stuff like 'Deep Blue Sea.' Also, I have to commend [Amy] Redford on doing a semi-decent job on directing since she hasn't directed much in the past. Other than that, I don't have anything nice to say about this film."
Not quoted: "… there are many other things I would rather do with my final days than sit through this clichéd mess all over again. … It was, simply, boring to see Mel constantly buying stuff and eating. I got the point the filmmaker was trying to make right away and thought it was pointless to see every little transaction. On top of that, the script is atrocious. Amos Poe's screenplay seems like it was taken right out of a film school class first draft exercise. I may come to expect a character to find out they have cancer, get fired, get dumped, and then try to kill themselves in student films, but not something on this scale. The rest of the story is pretty contrived, it even ends happily (what!?!). My big question is: would a woman really be holed up in an apartment for her remaining life if she found out she had a limited time left? … this film is just way too flawed to even bother with."
But besides for all that, how'd you like it? For spinning a blurb out of this review, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

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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