Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

February 1, 2008

Katherine Heigl 'Settles for So Much Less'

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 '27 Dresses,' 'Rambo,' 'Mad Money,' 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 here.

"The question is whether '27 Dresses' has anything new to add. And the answer is a resounding no."—Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News

27 Dresses (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 47/100

Entertainment Weekly: "Katherine Heigl glows!"
Actual line: "Katherine Heigl glows, but 27 Dresses' formulaic romantic comedy stumbles on the way to the altar."
Not quoted: "…all the chick-flick trappings—the fashion, the wedding chitchat, the masochistic one-way crush—drive the story rather than the other way around. 27 Dresses is a movie geared to a pitch of high matrimonial-princess fever. It's white-lace porn for girls of every age, and the way that it revels in that get-me-to-the-altar mood, to the point of making anyone who isn't getting married feel like a loser, is the picture's key selling point."
This is one of those rare blurbs culled from a photo caption.

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: "Radiant!"
Actual line: "… even the most generic wedding can be redeemed by a glowing bride, and Heigl is downright radiant throughout. But anyone watching this appealing actress march toward the inevitable will wonder why she's settling for so much less than she deserves."
Not quoted: "… the question is whether '27 Dresses' has anything new to add. And the answer is a resounding no. … As carefully calculated as any element of the billion-dollar bridal industry …"

Bill Zwecker, Chicago Sun-Times: "Charming."
Actual line: "Don't get me wrong, this charming and sweet film is not without its faults—including becoming a bit bogged down in the middle on the aspect of Katherine Heigl's character's secret love for her boss (played by Edward Burns)."
Not quoted: "… the chemistry between [James] Marsden and Heigl is genuine. Without it, this whole story would never be believable."
Why didn't they throw "sweet" into the mix, while they were at it?

Jan Stuart, Newsday: "Heigl makes the star leap with warmth, class and nimble comic timing."
Actual line: "Heigl makes the star leap with a surfeit of warmth, class and nimble comic timing, finding nuggets of authenticity in the script's patent artificiality. For Heigl's sake, I hope the film's a hit. For Hillary Clinton's sake, I hope it tanks. It's hard to reconcile an America that would embrace a pink-ribbon fairy tale like '27 Dresses' and install a woman as its chief executive in the next breath."
Not quoted: " '27 Dresses' will never itself attain classic movie status, despite a closing pan shot that goes for the goose bumps and a menu of rom-com conventions that steals from the best. … Under Anne Fletcher's mechanistic direction, '27 Dresses' ticks along as briskly and transparently as a clock with a see-through face."
Apparently the word "surfeit" was too obscure for this ad's target audience.

Rambo (Lionsgate)
Metacritic Score: 46/100

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Stallone gets the job done. Welcome back."
Actual line: "Mr. Stallone is smart enough…or maybe dumb enough, though I tend to think not…to present the mythic dimensions of the character without apology or irony. His face looks like a misshapen chunk of granite, and his acting is only slightly more expressive, but the man gets the job done. Welcome back."
Not quoted: " 'Rambo' is, for most of its fairly brief running time, a blood bath punctuated by occasional bouts of clumsy dialogue."

Craig Outhier, Orange County Register: "More intense than ever!"
Not quoted: "It hardly matters that the character's war-vet disillusionment has mutated into something more general and, yes, inexplicable. … There's a flawed, if harmlessly non-eloquent, moral reasoning at work in 'Rambo.' "

Mad Money (Overture)
Metacritic Score: 41/100

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "An infectious dose of money fever."
Actual line: "… may be a formula flick, but as directed by Callie Khouri (the writer of Thelma & Louise), it gives you a good, infectious dose of its heroines' money fever."
Not quoted: "The actresses need all their charm, though, since the characters they're playing are just about as thin as those paper bills."

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "A heist to remember… keeps you laughing."
Not quoted: "… a mild comedy that penetrates its see-through cellophane wrap … The characters exist situationally, never developing emotionally …"

Cloverfield (Paramount)
Metacritic Score: 64/100

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: "A real jolt."
Actual line: "It is the endlessly, cruelly commodified images from Sept. 11, 2001, that 'Cloverfield' pursues with a vengeance. Skyscrapers collapse and send dust clouds barreling down narrow Manhattan streets. Loose-leaf papers flutter down from the sky. The shots are uncomfortably close to everything we know from 9/11, far less oblique in their referencing than, for example, Steven Spielberg's 'War of the Worlds' remake. You may feel queasy about such plundering, yet other sequences or parts of sequences carry a real jolt."
Not quoted: "Very dashing and zesty, this music. The film itself is into a harsher, more demographically calculating brand of fun. But I enjoyed it. Sometimes a few hundred empty calories hit the spot."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Scary … delivers the thrills."
Not quoted: "The entire film is shot in Queasy-Cam hand-held style, mostly by [the character] Hud, who couldn't hold it steady or frame a shot if his life depended on it. After the screening, I heard some fellow audience members complaining that they felt dizzy or had vertigo, but no one barfed, at least within my hearing. Mercifully, at 84 minutes the movie is even shorter than its originally alleged 90-minute running time; how much visual shakiness can we take?"

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: " 'Cloverfield' lives up to the hype."
Not quoted: " … 'Cloverfield' is content to be a creature feature; that's what makes it bearable and what keeps it from greatness. The genre, not the script, does the psychological heavy lifting. … 'Cloverfield' captures the chronic self-absorption of the Facebook generation with breathless, cleverly recycled media savvy, and then it stomps that self-absorption to death. These days, that's entertainment."

Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times: "We're left wanting more."
Not quoted: " 'Cloverfield' is adept at wringing maximum suspense and might have reached the heights of the Korean monster film 'The Host' but for the limitations of the camcorder ploy. While it injects the film with a run-and-gun urgency, the device grows tiresome and ultimately leaves the film shortchanged. Charged with the primary duty of carrying the camera, Hud takes chronicling the destruction of the city as a badge of honor, but it frequently exceeds the point where we can comfortably be expected to maintain our suspension of disbelief. Similarly, the film's brevity, though admirable on some level, feels like an indication that the filmmakers simply exhausted their ideas of making the strategy work."

For more on Cloverfield, see the previous Blurbs column.

Cassandra's Dream (Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 49/100

Kyle Smith, New York Post: "A chiller! A pulp story pinned to the screen with an ice pick of conscience."
Not quoted: "This one isn't as much wicked fun as [Match Point]; it isn't fun at all."

David Elliott, San Diego Union-Tribune: "Tight entertainment! Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor do some of their finest work to date. Tom Wilkinson's fierce energy, and the silky but then jarring way he calls in his markers, is a master class in acting."
(Part of the) actual line: "Tom Wilkinson so occupies his rather small role that he almost brims right over the good cast."
Not quoted: "It lacks the usual Allen zingers … The film builds expertly to its key action, which is done almost glancingly. Then, it sags a little … The last half hour feels pegged as a lesson."

For more on this Woody Allen flick, see the previous Blurbs column.

War/Dance (THINKFilm )
Metacritic Score: 67/100

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Heart-rending!"
Actual line: "The heart-rending American documentary 'War/Dance,' about Ugandan children of war, earns its tears more honestly than most nonfiction work of this like-minded type, though it does stumble into morally precarious terrain."
Not quoted: "An exceptional cinematographer, [Sean] Fine never fails to miss a smile or rhythmic stomp. But, as one disturbing, intrusive scene of a mourning child suggests, the Fines have yet to fully grasp the moral obligations that come into play every time a filmmaker trains a documentary eye on another person. Just because a subject allows you to show her grief doesn’t mean you should. Who, after all, benefits from this image?"
That's from a film-festival article. In her full review, Dargis writes, "… so gorgeous that its beauty distracts from the anguish it reveals … You wonder why the filmmakers felt obliged to shoehorn so many pretty sunsets into the film, which appears to be admiring itself in a mirror. … When individual children, some in tears, tell their stories while gazing directly into the camera, the shots seem posed and their remarks possibly rehearsed. The production notes explain that the children felt more comfortable telling their stories directly to the camera than to an interviewer, but you still have an uneasy sense of being manipulated."

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: "Striking!"
Actual line: "The cinematography is striking. The music is mesmerizing. And the triumph of the underdog team against all odds is extra satisfying, because the featured participants at Uganda's national music competition are war-scarred orphans who live in a teeming camp. But it's difficult to calm my tremor of unease about the filming process: For War Dance, white American filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine selected three particular children, then made a pretty establishing shot after which each describes hell, sometimes on the very spot where a parent was hacked to pieces before the child's eyes."
For applying "striking" to the whole film, and skipping the reviewer's "tremor of unease" that undermines the compliments, these blurb writers win Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

U23D (National Geographic)
Metacritic Score: 83/100

Brett McCracken, Christianity Today: "Undeniably breathtaking!"
Not quoted: "Why does it exist? Do we really need an IMAX concert film about U2? Does Bono really need to be five stories tall and in 3D (perhaps his ego does need this)? And is there a big enough audience for something like this?"
This being Christianity Today, there's a can't-miss discussion about whether Bono really put Christianity, Judaism, and Islam on equal footing, "a claim which Christians among U2 fans might find unsettling."

Praying With Lior (First Run Features)
Metacritic Score: 66/100

Variety: "A crowd-pleasing delight!"
Actual line: "Closing-credits seg is a crowd-pleasing delight."
There were plenty of other positive lines in the review about the whole film. Incidentally, Gelf will never tire of Variety's distinctive, abbreviated review style.

Jewish Week: "Funny and touching, brilliantly and lovingly made!"
(Part of the) actual line: "He stands with his head almost touching the canvas top of the swing set, a funny and touching scene, a young boy totally at home in his prayer."
Yet another blurb from this film quoting out of context praise for one seg of the film.

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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