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The Blurbs

April 11, 2008

'Leatherheads' Is Good. Or Is It?

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 'Leatherheads,' 'Shine a Light,' 'Smart People,' 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.

"Clooney throws us a rowdy party of a movie. Or does he?"—Rolling Stone's Peter Travers on "Leatherheads"

Leatherheads (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 56

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "A real winner." "The football saga 'Leatherheads,' a nimble throwback to the screwball comedies of the 1930s, meets its goal."
Actual line: "The football saga Leatherheads, a nimble throwback to the screwball comedies of the 1930s, meets its goal. Though not as clever as the Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks movies to which it pays tribute, it succeeds at what it sets out to be: smart-alecky, lightweight fun."
Not quoted: "In contrast to his last directorial effort, Good Night, and Good Luck, a period piece that was far more substantial, Clooney is on much less weighty turf—as both an actor and director—with Leatherheads. His best performances have been in more powerful and complex movies such as Syriana and Michael Clayton. Though he did a fine job in Steven Soderbergh's crime caper Out of Sight and hit all the right marks in the Ocean's series, his forte is not light comedy. … More amiable than witty and relying heavily on the likability and charm of its lead actors, Leatherheads scores more points as a retro romantic comedy than a football saga."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Clooney throws us a rowdy party of a movie."
Actual line: "Clooney throws us a rowdy party of a movie. Or does he? Leatherheads could be subtitled We Only Kill the Things We Love."
Not quoted: "… the screenwriters aren't yet in the pro leagues with dialogue."
This blurb quotes the review accurately. Or does it? No, but it wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Smart People (Miramax)
Metacritic Score: 59

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "I loved this movie! It's witty and smart. Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church are superb."
Gelf can believe Reed really loved the movie that much—he's a loving man—but we can't find the review on the Observer site. We did find the take of the Observer's Sara Vilkomerson: "nothing ever seemed to click into place."

Marshall Fine, Star: "[three and a half stars] Sarah Jessica Parker is terrific."
Fine's prodigious Parker praise was fortuitous, as he was also meeting with Parker to write this profile.

Shine a Light (Paramount)
Metacritic Score: 76

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: " 'Shine a Light' is illuminating. This remarkable footage captures wonderful moments of musicianship and style."
Not quoted: "By the time it's all over, we are thoroughly entertained. But getting to that point turns out to have been a tougher slog than might be expected. What makes it tough, frankly, is all those accumulated years. It's not that the group [The Rolling Stones] has any difficulty performing up to its standards, it's that youth and anarchy (not always Bill Clinton's areas) are part of rock's DNA, and seeing the Stones as up close and personal as a concert film demands, presents us with the unnerving spectacle of their battle-hardened, not to say sepulchral, faces. This is especially the case with Jagger. Yes he can still run and jump with the best of them, but on camera, that movement plays like a practiced performance untouched by genuine emotion. Rather than feeling the music, we are wondering who does his hair and what kind of an exercise and stretching routine he maintains."

The Visitor (Overture)
Metacritic Score: 80

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Jenkins delivers a master class in acting. 'The Visitor' is a heartfelt human drama that sneaks up and floors you. Oscar® take note."
Actual line: "If I told you The Visitor focused on one man, a shy, sixtyish college professor who comes out of his shell, you'd say, who wants to see that? And yet The Visitor, featuring an award-caliber performance by Richard Jenkins as the prof, is a heartfelt human drama that sneaks up and floors you. In The Visitor, Jenkins delivers a master class in acting. Oscar, take note."
Notice that by switching around a few sentences, the blurb makes it sound like Travers is endorsing the film for an Oscar, rather than just the lead actor's performance. Slick!

Never Forever (Now)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Village Voice: "Vera Farmiga conveys the awakening of passion …some of the hottest, most precisely modulated sex scenes since A History of Violence."
Not quoted: "…floridly plotted … The twists required to rig the movie's romantic and emotional crises sound loony in synopsis…"

Under the Same Moon (Fox Searchlight/Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 59

USA Today: "Powerful and evocative, a moving tale of courage, determination and unquenchable hope."
Actual line: "A powerful and evocative account of the efforts undertaken to forge a perilous mother-and-child reunion. Told in Spanish with English subtitles, it is a moving tale of yearning, as well as unflagging courage and determination. [324 words later] a heartfelt story of unquenchable hope …"
If only critics would let blurb writers edit their copy, it would make such awkward stitching unnecessary.

Young@Heart (Fox Searchlight)
Metacritic Score: 74

Los Angeles Times: "Irresistible."
Actual line: "The irresistible New England chorus of senior citizens proves you're never too old to rock.
Not quoted: "You won't believe the world of 'Young@Heart,' but you'll have a hard time resisting it."
The chorus is irresistible; the movie's world is hard to resist; the movie itself—well, it's unclear how irresistible it is.

Remember the Daze (Freestyle)
Metacritic Score: 39

Peter DeBruge, Variety: "Humor at every turn. There are talents to watch."
Not quoted: "As high school zeitgeist stories go, 'Remember the Daze' holds no great secrets or revelations, no iconic characters or 'American Pie'-style set pieces … shallow and superficial personalities …"
The film got a 39 Metacritic score, yet the same reviews that are featured in this ad also appear in this bizarre press release.

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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