Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

May 21, 2010

'MacGruber' Is 'Solid-But-Disposable'

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 'MacGruber,' 'Shrek Forever After,' 'Robin Hood,' 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.

"It ain't exactly an instant classic."—Cinematical's Eric D. Snider on MacGruber

MacGruber (Rogue Pictures)
Metacritic Score: 46

Slant Magazine: "MacGruber is wildly entertaining."

Actual line: "In the Q&A after the film, [director Jorma Taccone] revealed that he loves late-'80s/early-'90s action movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon and Rambo 3 ('not one or two or four—though four is pretty great too'), and that he and his cast intended their movie to be more of a comic tribute than a spoof. You probably have to love those movies to embrace this one fully, but for those of us who do, it makes for a wildly entertaining night at the movies."

Cinematical: "The funniest Saturday Night Live film since Wayne's World."
Actual line: "There isn't much competition in this category, admittedly, but MacGruber is the funniest Saturday Night Live-based film since Wayne's World since Wayne's World. We'd have breathed a sigh of relief if it were merely not awful. The fact that it's actually pretty good, a gleefully silly action parody that doesn't run out of steam before it's over, is just icing on the cake."
Not quoted: "…it ain't exactly an instant classic. Nothing about the film is revelatory; none of the gags are particularly inspired; it doesn't represent a breakthrough in '80s nostalgia-parody. (It might make this summer's A Team movie seem pretty redundant, though.) With only a few exceptions, I doubt any of the punch lines or sight gags will be quoted—or even remembered—for very long. As far as solid-but-disposable comedies go, however, it's more than enough to satisfy moviegoers…"

Shrek Forever After
Shrek Forever After (DreamWorks)
Metacritic Score: 57

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Fun and feisty. A fitting farewell to an old friend."
Not quoted: "It's a fun ride. What's missing is the excitement of a new interpretation."

Robin Hood
Robin Hood (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 53

Mark Adams, Sunday Mirror: "**** Thrilling. Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett make a great pair of heroes."
Actual line: "The thrilling opening scenes of the storming of a French castle are quite brilliantly staged, with this Robin a man-of-the-people leader at odds with the more lordly knights. … Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett make a great pair of heroes."
Not quoted: "… the film might lack the sheer sense of spectacle of that previous Scott/Crowe blockbuster Gladiator … the film does slump a little in the middle as rural romance takes over from swords and bows."
The opening scenes are thrilling, but not so much the whole movie, let alone the rural romance.

Dan Jolin, Empire: "**** The movie we've been waiting decades for. Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe at their most entertaining since 'Gladiator.' "
Actual line: "Not only is this the mullet-free Robin Hood movie we've been waiting decades for, it's also Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe at their most entertaining since 'Gladiator.' "
That mention of mullets didn't make the ad writer's cut.

Robbie Collin, News of the World: "**** Extraordinary. A blockbuster-scale summer movie that'll impress all audiences. A-game stuff from both Ridley and Russell."
Actual line: "Question one, of course, is: Does it measure up to the pair's 2000 swords-and-sandals masterpiece. And the short answer is, no. But it DOES show off their extraordinary ability to conjure up a blockbuster-scale summer movie that'll impress all audiences … Nobody's going to trumpet Robin Hood as the best movie of 2010. But there's loads to admire and enjoy, and it's A-game stuff from both Ridley and Russ."

Mother and Child
Mother and Child (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 66

Mary Pols, Time: "Wickedly entertaining! Beautifully acted ensemble. Naomi Watts and Annette Bening are fantastic."
Not quoted: "It's also a little too neat. All entertainments are to some extent manipulative of their audiences' emotions, but when movies get that label, it usually means we feel cheated or pushed into a reaction that the filmmaker didn't work all that hard to earn. … at a crucial moment near the end, [writer-director Rodrigo] Garcia has to manipulate one of his characters dreadfully in order to get all of us —actors, characters, viewers—where he wants us. He has to push someone into an illogical decision that a person would be highly unlikely to make—or even be allowed to make, medically speaking. It's a credit to Garcia and his actors' impeccable performances that you go along with it even for a minute. Afterward, though, it eats away just a little at your faith in the movie—and at that good cry."

Armond White, New York Press: "The best director of actresses since Bergman, Rodrigo García turns in a masterpiece."
Actual line: "Such moments prove García the best director of actresses since Ingmar Bergman. … When a filmmaker does everything right, as in Rodrigo García's Mother and Child, you may be watching a masterpiece."

Please Give
Please Give (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 77

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "A gorgeous film!"
Not quoted: "If 'Please Give' falls slightly short of perfection—and I'm not at all sure it does—the flaw may lie in the title. The case against it is simple enough; a vaguely off-putting connection with handouts. But the case for it is more compelling."

David Edelstein, New York: "A splendid mini-morality tale."
Not quoted: "One scene misfires: a visit to the super's basement apartment intended to underline the obliviousness of Kate's altruism."

Letters to Juliet
Letters to Juliet (Summit)
Metacritic Score: 50

Stephen Schaefer, Boston Herald: "Truly romantic and honestly funny!"
Actual line: " 'Letters to Juliet,' the Amanda Seyfried romantic comedy that's opening May 14 sounds a bit sentimental and perhaps predictable. And indeed it is. It's also gloriously affecting, a truly romantic, honestly funny and spectacularly scenic story of young lovers brought together by the city of Verona, Italy, where Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' is set and where women write letters to the tragic heroine telling of their own love lives."
Schaefer's Herald colleague, James Verniere, wasn't quite as keen on the film, writing, "The arguably overexposed Amanda Seyfried (if you've seen 'Chloe' you know I'm not exaggerating) is charming in the otherwise belabored and contrived 'Letters to Juliet.' "

Mary Pols, Time: "I'd take any woman in my life, ages 10 to 100, to Letters to Juliet and my guess is we'd both leave with a little Italian glow."
Actual line: "It's probably not the best indication of Letters to Juliet's romantic weight that the most heartfelt love affair here is the one between Sophie and Claire. But I'd take any woman in my life, ages 10 to 100, to Letters to Juliet and my guess is we'd both leave with a little Italian glow."
Not quoted: "The movie is too saddled by Hollywood conventions to be as charming as [Sir Laurence Olivier's A Little Romance]…"

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Amanda Seyfried will absolutely steal your heart!"
Shawn will absolutely rave about your mediocre film.

The Back-up Plan
The Back-up Plan (CBS)
Metacritic Score: 34

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Jennifer is back and better than ever!"
See above.

Princess Kaiulani
Princess Kaiulani (42)
Metacritic Score: Roadside Attractions

Pete Hammond, Backstage: "A must-see! 'Princess Kaiulani' is a rich, romantic, and captivating movie experience."
Not quoted: "On the surface, [director Marc] Forby's movie may seem a bit stiff and too much of a history lesson for mainstream audiences…"

Prairie Miller, News Blaze: "A lush, poetically crafted portrait of Hawaii and the woman who championed her people."
Actual line: "Much more than simply a period biopic or conventional costume drama, British writer/director Marc Forby's Princess Kaiulani is a poetically crafted portrait of that rare woman in history who has emerged beyond the imposed limitations of gender and race, to assume leadership in championing her oppressed people. And very much despite the danger and the odds. The film also captures a lush and sweeping singular sense of place regarding Hawaii that has never been seen before on the big screen, in contrast to that exotic playground promoted by tourist enterprises."
That's quite an edit of the original.

Daddy Longlegs
Daddy Longlegs (Sundance Selects)
Metacritic Score: 73

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: "Fantastic."
Actual line: "… a funny, fantastic, genuinely alarming quasi-autobiographical cheapster …"
Not quoted: "For all the vérité slam-bang, it's more a grungy form of magic realism. Day and night are elastic concepts—a nightmarish trip 'upstate' is signaled as interminable by partially being filmed during rush-hour dusk, with arrival in the afternoon. The movie is filled with matter-of-factly absurd episodes ranging from Lenny's barroom pickup to the thousand Xeroxed copies of a crude comic strip that the kids turn into a blizzard outside of Dad's workplace. The giant mosquito that persecutes Lenny in his dreams seems to have flown to his hovel from the Museum of Natural History. And, hastening down the street with four dripping ice cream cones in hand, Lenny is held up by a gun-toting panhandler—played by Abel Ferrara. There's no downtime. Daddy Longlegs has few transitions and many close-ups—the Safdies keep their violently handheld camera close to the action throughout. Totally unmodulated, the movie is a complete, grueling immersion in Lenny's chaotic world—a kid's-eye view of what it's like to live in a constant state of emergency."
Based on the rest of the review, it seems that the word "fantastical" applies more than "fantastic" does.

The Oath
The Oath (Zeitgeist)
Metacritic Score: 71

New York: "Gripping!"
Actual line: "[Director Laura] Poitras's deep access and her filmmaking chops make for a gripping journey, even though her film doesn't always successfully navigate the political minefield around these issues."

Looking for Eric
Looking for Eric (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 67

Stephen Garrett, Time Out New York: "Absolute joy. An undeniable crowd-pleaser."
Actual line: "Every year, there's at least one Competition film to remind American festgoers that Cannes is a distinctly European affair. And the frisky working-class comedy Looking for Eric, from Palme d'Or alum Ken Loach, did not disappoint in this regard. Footballers with a religious zeal for U.K. powerhouse Manchester United will revel in Loach's kitchen-sink realism and cornball sense of humor. But most others will probably have to stand on the sidelines and nod with benevolent goodwill. It's an undeniable crowd-pleaser, and the reception from Continental viewers was absolute joy. How will it travel across the Atlantic? About as well as David Beckham."
Not quoted: "The single dad and multiple divorcé soon finds himself on the road to repair, in episodes that veer from genuinely gritty to downright cheesy. The message is universal: Channel inspiration from your idol to improve your lot in life. But Loach's dialect is very localized. Imagine Billy Crystal being life-coached by Reggie Jackson, and you'll get the picture."
Garrett's Time Out colleague Joshua Rothkopf said the movie "should be viewed the way Good Will Hunting is by Gus Van Sant appreciators. Neither movie can fairly be called bad, but both are giant steps toward a mainstream that blurs artistic distinction. Gangsters, a missing gun and a heroic squad of friends are the endgame of a film that shoots wide for the middle."

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: "A buoyant audience-pleaser."
Actual line: "Loach's film piles on the melodrama too hard in the latter half, but all in all it's a buoyant audience-pleaser."

David Germain, Associated Press: "A sparkling tale. It's sweet and mischievous."
Not quoted: "Loach and longtime screenwriting partner Paul Laverty, who has worked with the director on such films as 'My Name Is Joe,' 'Sweet Sixteen' and 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley,' let the film drag on a bit, and the gang angle feels artificial, tacked on to give Eric a big crisis for his friends to rally round."

Babies (Focus Features)
Metacritic Score: 63

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Wonderful!"
Not quoted: "Did I feel I needed to see it? Not really."

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: "Joyous and buoyant."
Not quoted: "This is babyhood airbrushed to a high gloss. é It is both a strength and a weakness that beyond the normal spills that come with sitting, crawling, walking and other early milestones, there is not one truly difficult moment that darkens the screen. If anything, the sweet-smelling 'Babies' is the complete opposite of the conflict-riddled reality media world that dominates these days. The 'awww' without the 'shock' definitely makes 'Babies' a very huggable movie experience, just not a primer on parenthood. … The lack of language, for both the subjects and the film itself, also keeps any larger messages about the real task of having and raising babies at bay."

Women Without Men
Women Without Men (IndiePix)
Metacritic Score: 68

Ernest Hardy, Village Voice: "Stellar acting… Gorgeously composed and shot images."
Not quoted: "… the film's dialogue is often didactic …"

Harry Brown
Harry Brown (Samuel Goldwyn)
Metacritic Score: 54

David Denby, New Yorker: "Caine is as powerful as ever!"
Not quoted: "… derivative of revenge films starring Charles Bronson, Mel Gibson, and Clint Eastwood … [director Daniel] Barber shoots the picture in a grunge style so flamboyant that he seems to be aestheticizing sleaze and rot, as if he were half in love with it. The movie is hypocritical exploitation …"

Best Worst Movie
Best Worst Movie (Area23A)
Metacritic Score: 61

John Anderson, Variety: "Strangely moving."
Not quoted: "Unfortunately, it's the first part that's the most fun …"

Zachary Kanin, New Yorker: "Hilarious!"
Not quoted: "There is perhaps a bit too much about the fans of the movie…"

Entre Nos
Entre Nos (IndiePix)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Oxford Times: "Courageous"
Actual line: "Despite its earnest bid for realism, this is always a rather melodramatic and schematic study of illegal immigrants struggling to survive, with solutions to intractable problems always seeming to emerge at just the right time. Nevertheless, committed performances and a solid sense of place keep this tribute to [co-director Paola] Mendoza's courageous mother credible, if not always compelling."
The real-life mother is courageous. Not so much the film, which is merely credible. For misrepresenting this adjective, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Paranoid)
Metacritic Score: 85

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "Don't miss it!"
Actual line: "It is also possible, as reflected in Web rumors that Banksy was inspired to make this film by Orson Welles' 'F for Fake,' that this story as a whole or in parts is some kind of giant prank or elaborate performance piece that Guetta is either a witting or unwitting participant in. Only the ever elusive Banksy knows for sure, but he's not really talking. Either way, this is a doc you don't want to miss."
Quoting "this is a doc you don't want to miss" wouldn't have allowed for such big font on top of this ad.

Thessaly LaForce, New Yorker: "Funny as hell!"
Gelf couldn't find this review, but the New Yorker's main review, by David Denby, states that "as a study in prankhood, this Banksy film can't touch 'F for Fake,' Orson Welles's 1974 movie about an art forger."

The Duel
The Duel (High Line)
Metacritic Score: 76

David Edelstein, New York: "The rhythms are so evocative you'd think they'd unearthed a new (early) Chekhov play."
Actual line: "From time to time the rhythms are so evocative you'd think they'd unearthed a new (early) Chekhov play."
Not quoted: "The problem with [screenwriter Mary] Bing's screenplay is that it doesn't nail the story's ideological underpinnings—the notion that Von Koren is on the Darwinist-eugenicist cusp with an urge to rid Russia of useless Oblomov types like Laevsky. That slackens the structure and makes the duel, when it comes, slightly baffling in its motivation. And because [Tobias] Menzies's Von Koren is so peripheral, our sympathy drifts to [Andrew] Scott, whose escalating hysteria is unexpectedly winning. [Fiona] Glascott plays Nadia as such a poetically confused ingénue that I'd love to see her tackle Nina in The Seagull. Though it's not all it could be, Anton Chekhov's The Duel is convincingly—yes—Chekhovian."

Furry Vengeance
Furry Vengeance (Summit)
Metacritic Score: 23

Edwin L. Carpenter, the Dove Foundation: "Fraser and 'Furry' are family fun!"
Actual line: "Fraser and Furry are Family Friendly! Fraser is Funny in Furry! Enjoy a Furry good time with your Family! Sorry, I couldn't resist. If you enjoy slapstick comedy, this is the film for you."
Not quoted: "Sex: Husband and wife kiss. Language: H-(as a place, teen boy says, I am in H")-1; G/OMG-3; Son of—(not finished); Geez-1; Dan cries out 'Miley Cyrus!' when attacked at one point. Violence: A lot of slapstick and fantasy violence; several skunks attack characters; man drives van into construction materials a few times; animals strike character on a few occasions; birds poop on several people; raccoon and other animals attack and they push boulders in front of vehicles; one man falls in vehicle over a cliff but is still alive; dynamite is used to get rid of a beaver dam but the beavers are not home; animal pulls plug from a character's treadmill and he falls off; character falls from roof. Drugs: Man smokes cigar. Nudity: Mild cleavage; bare midriffs; shirtless man. Other: Son is angry with father and yells at one point with just a loud grunt but they reconcile."
The not-quoted bits give a sense of what sort of audience this review was written for.

The Good Heart
The Good Heart (Magnolia)
Metacritic Score: 40

Pete Hammond, Boxoffice Magazine: "A wonderful opportunity for memorable character studies by two fine actors at the top of their game."
Actual line: "Although some of this is just too literal and the ending a bit unsatisfying in its obvious simplemindedness, The Good Heart is redeemed as a wonderful opportunity for memorable character studies courtesy of both [Brian] Cox and [Paul] Dano who make this pair of uniquely interesting individuals people we are glad we got to know."

Solitary Man
Solitary Man (Anchor Bay)
Metacritic Score: 71

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Michael Douglas deserves serious award attention for his triumphant performance … [and the] screenplay is a model of acid wit and elusive wisdom."
Not quoted: "The bumps in the narrative can be jarring …"

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "It's the best work Douglas has done since Wall Street and Wonder Boys."
Not quoted: "The movie is slow, talky and takes time getting started. Often it seems like an infinite amount of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Kites (Reliance BIG)
Metacritic Score: 62

David Chute, Village Voice: "Roshan is one of Hindi cinema's most engaging leading men!"
Not quoted: "Not even the incoherent mish-mash of plot (mostly faux Sergio Leone by way of Tarantino and Rodriguez, with periodic car-flipping chase sequences) can entirely dim the appeal of this match-up between a blue-eyed Punjabi and a blue-eyed Mexican of almost equal comeliness."

The Cremaster Cycle
The Cremaster Cycle (IFC Center)
Metacritic Score: N/A

The New York Times: "The most important American artist of his generation."
Not quoted: "[Matthew Barney] also has a tendency to lay it on thick, go too far and add one too many elements."

Two in the Wave
Two in the Wave (Lorber)
Metacritic Score: 56

Richard Brody, New Yorker: "Kicks up a good splash!"
Actual line: "… kicks up a good splash but remains on the surface."
Not quoted: "… facile summaries, glaring omissions, and a gimmicky presentation …"

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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