Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

September 7, 2007

Loaded Quotes

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 'Shoot 'Em Up,' 'The Nanny Diaries,' 'Balls of Fury,' 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 metacritic.com, 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.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"You'll be exhilarated—also exhausted."—Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, about Shoot 'Em Up

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Shoot 'Em Up (New Line)

Pete Hammond, Maxim: "Loaded for fun. A trigger-happy, full-frontal assault. So out there you'll have to see it to believe it… Clive Owen rules!"
Actual line: "Loaded for fun, a trigger-happy assault on our senses that really seems to be winking at a whole macho-movie genre. Don't take it seriously, and you'll have a great time. [skip six sentences back] … some of this stuff is so out there you'll just have to see it to believe it. Clive Owen rules …"
Gelf has wondered this before: How can Hammond write such a rave (excepting the bit about not taking it seriously) and yet give the movie three stars out of five? That's 60%, a failing grade in some old-school schools. Is he trying to tell us something about the movies, and about the accuracy of his reviews? Also notable: the inclusion of "full-frontal" in the blurb, but not in the review, or at least the online version thereof; and the use of one ellipsis to strike a pose of accurate quoting, while at the same time butchering and switching around the rest of the quote.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "This is a dream for action junkies. See Shoot 'Em Up. You will not be able to wipe the grin off your face."
Actual line: "This wet dream for action junkies leaves out logic and motivation—you know, all the boring stuff. [11 sentences later] See Shoot 'Em Up for the affectionate sendup it is, and you won't be able to wipe the grin off your face."
Not quoted: "The dazzling and daffy result isn't really a movie at all, it's a live-action cartoon that feeds on its own momentum. The stunts, including a skydiving gunfight without benefit of parachutes, are stratospherically over-the-top. You'll be exhilarated—also exhausted. Davis injects an element of plot about a presidential candidate who survives on bone marrow harvested from infants. But it's hard to care."
This wet dream for blurbs junkies cuts out the word "wet," and implies that Travers commands you to see it, rather than saying, "if you see it in this frame of mind, you'll like it." Barring the possibility that this ad is a sendup of the Blurb Racket, it wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award."

Balls of Fury (Rogue)

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: "The gags fly as fast as the Ping-Pong balls."
Actual line: "Although the gags fly as fast as the Ping-Pong balls, only about half manage to make contact."
Not quoted: "If it's not quite the best Will Ferrell movie he never made, 'Balls of Fury' is, at the very least, a lot funnier than it has a right to be. It stars a complete unknown, features cheerfully cheesy effects, and relies on so many hit-to-the-groin jokes, the title should probably have the word 'steel' in it."
This blurb's selective quoting would be like taking from the line "Gelf likes movie ads for the entertainment of their selective quoting," the quote, "Gelf likes movie ads."

The Nanny Diaries (Weinstein Co.)

Richard Schickel, Time: "Intelligent…entertaining…and blessed by appealing performances by Scarlett Johansson & Laura Linney!"
Actual line: "It is not a broad comedy or a wildly romantic one, either. Nor is it Edith Wharton lite. But it does partake of all those modes in intelligently observant ways. [six sentences later] And in the end The Nanny Diaries is an entertaining study of how class warfare—honest working girl vs. the arrivistes—works out in a society that likes to pretend that such warfare is a thing of the past. [five sentences earlier] It is, as well, blessed by Johansson's appealing performance and by Linney's tense, taut one."
Reconstructing this quote—and deriving "intelligent" from "intelligently"—gave Gelf whiplash.

Romance & Cigarettes (MGM)

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Slice of life crossed with magical realism."
Actual line: "It will be fun to read the reviews of John Turturro's 'Romance and Cigarettes,' and watch the critics trying to describe a film whose charm depends on how it can't be pinned down. It's a comedy suffused with melancholy, a musical in which the characters sing along with their favorite records, a slice of life crossed with magic realism, a story about everyday working people who have nothing everyday about them. Even its language ventures from vulgarity to high poetry."
Ebert isn't down on the film, but it's interesting to read a reviewer speculating about reviews of a movie. (He was writing from a film festival, and doesn't seem to have followed up with a full review).

Armond White, New York Press: "A hybrid of working class realism and musical-comedy fantasy."
Not quoted: "Turturro's bold effort lapses into pop music jokes. … Romance & Cigarettes doesn't come close to [Terence] Davies' ecstasy or agony. … What should be Turturro's 'Tammy' becomes cute and campy. Turturro understands the emotion inside musicals but is too skeptical, or ultimately unskilled, to treat them with coherent depth. … Turturro aims for postmodern irony and misses."
What's with this movie and blurbs that basically just describe its genre?

Milarepa (Luminous Velocity)

The Dalai Lama: "I cry, weep and feel a strong sense of faith each time I read or hear the story of Milarepa, the great yogi of Tibet."
Next up, the Pope reviews Mel Gibson's Passion by commenting on how he feels about the story of Christ.

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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