Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

November 6, 2009

Michael Jackson Film Features 'Exploitation,' 'Slightly Airless Experience'

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 'Michael Jackson's This Is It,' 'The Men Who Stare At Goats,' 'Precious,' 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.

"By the end, though, This Is It feels like the half-complete experience that it is."—Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman

Michael Jackson's This Is It (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 67

Ann Powers, Los Angeles Times: "… beautiful … dazzling … a tribute to the power of Jackson's body and voice …"
Actual line: " 'This Is It' offers only a few such insights into Jackson's artistic process, though enough surface to make this a useful document, as well as a beautiful one. Mostly it's a tribute to the power of Jackson's body and voice … a piece with Jackson's body of work: dazzling and strange, blurring the line between fantasy and reality …"

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "… raw and endearing … the music pours out of him like sunlight."
Not quoted: "By the end, though, This Is It feels like the half-complete experience that it is—a mere diagram of the excitement that Michael, for his comeback, had planned to unleash upon the world. … we get the flavor of the songs but not the majesty. And that's not just due to the lack of trappings. Jackson, it's clear, held back in rehearsal. In This Is It, he's singing and dancing, but he's also watching himself sing and dance, stepping out of his performance. What's missing—what the film gives you only a tantalizing glimpse of—is his ferocity. … it's a slightly airless experience."

Jim Farber, New York Daily News: " 'This Is It' is a movie to be savored."
Not quoted: "… frustrating by definition."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "An unmissable film. Illuminating and unforgettable."
Not quoted: "Among the film's problems, exploitation for starters, are interviews with the singers, dancers and crew gathered like family around Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Their words start at worshipful and burst into a Niagara of gush. And the editing of the rehearsals into a semi-cohesive whole emphasizes the big finish over the slow build. … In the godawful 'Earth Song,' a bulldozer decimates a forest on screen and then rolls out on stage to toss the message right in our laps. It's all shameless razzle dazzle aimed at the cheap seats."

The Men Who Stare At Goats
The Men Who Stare At Goats (Overture)
Metacritic Score: 54

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "George Clooney is hilarious."
Not quoted: "It's hard to resist a satire, even when it wobbles, that insists the most unbelievable parts are the most true. … The script that Brit Peter Straughan, of the misbegotten How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, carves out of Jon Ronson's nonfiction bestseller jumps back and forth in time so often you may need to stare at a goat just to maintain balance."

Precious (Lionsgate)
Metacritic Score: 77

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: " 'Precious' leaves you moved like no film in years. It has a spirit that soars!"
Actual line: "When I tell people how good this movie is—and I can't shut up about it—they flash me the stink eye. As in 'Yeah, right, like I need to sink into a depression coma for two hours watching a fat, illiterate, HIV-positive Harlem girl get knocked up (twice) by her daddy, brutally battered by her mother and laughed at by a world eager to pound abuse on her 16-year-old ass.' Won't you dickheads be surprised. Precious, saddled with a clumsy subtitle—Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire—tunnels inside your head, leaves you moved like no film in years and then lifts you up in ways you don't see coming. Despite the pain at the story's core, the movie has a spirit that soars."
Not quoted: "[Director Lee] Daniels throws a lot at us, heedless of consistency, structure and tone. For that reason, Precious will be patronized as much as it is praised. Cynics typically rip anything that wears its heart on its sleeve. Sorry, haters, Precious is an emotional powerhouse, a triumph of bruising humor and bracing hope that deserves its place among the year's best films."

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "Unforgettable! A once in a blue moon experience."
Not quoted: "… the most forgettable title. I dare you to remember Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, or to even say it three times in a row."

Scott Foundas, LA Weekly: "Exhilarating! You can't take your eyes off of it."
Actual line: "He also gathers a collection of startlingly effective performances from such unlikely players as Mo'Nique (whose monster mom is anything but a one-note villain), Mariah Carey (deglamorized as an empathetic social worker) and the magnanimous [Gabourey] Sidibe, who carries this exhausting and strangely exhilarating film on her mighty shoulders. … Push takes the better part of an hour to settle on something resembling a consistent tone, yet even when the movie is at its most schizoid, you can't take your eyes off of it."
Not quoted: "… rude, wildly undisciplined, anything-goes directorial style … far from perfect …"
For removing the "exhausting" and "strangely" from the "exhilarating" to which they're so closely linked, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

David Germain, Associated Press: " 'Precious' will steal your heart!"
Not quoted: "The film isn't easy to watch and will test your tolerance for despicable behavior as a long history of physical abuse and incest unfolds involving an illiterate, obese Harlem schoolgirl."

The House of the Devil
The House of the Devil (Magnet Releasing)
Metacritic Score: 73

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Here is a horror movie with real shivers."
Not quoted: "[Ti] West, who also wrote the screenplay and served as his own editor, is better at setting the scene than making good on his promise. The something wicked that finally does come in 'The House of the Devil' is a disappointment, which might be in keeping with his cheesier inspirations but doesn't do justice to his movie."

Skin (Elysian)
Metacritic Score: 61

Ella Taylor, Village Voice: "Enormously moving!"
Actual line: "… workmanlike, but enormously moving …"
Not quoted: "Every minute of Sandra's life is defined by her color, which makes her story here feel oppressive and overdetermined at times."

Collapse (Vitagraph)
Metacritic Score: 59

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York: "Riveting!"
Not quoted: "You can't take your eyes off [doom theorist Michael Ruppert], even if he does seem a little crazy."

That Evening Sun
That Evening Sun (Freestyle Releasing)
Metacritic Score: 70

Joe Leydon, Variety: "An exceptionally fine, richly atmospheric film. Holbrook is at the absolute top of his game. A career-highlight star turn."
Actual line: "An exceptionally fine example of regional indie filmmaking, 'That Evening Sun' deserves savvy handling by a venturesome distrib to maximize its potential to attract auds and win prizes. Pic's major selling point is Hal Holbrook's career-highlight star turn … Holbrook has some choice confrontations with [Raymond] McKinnon, a couple of revealing dialogues with Goggins and some deeply moving silent flashbacks with Dixie Carter, his real-life wife, as Abner's dearly departed spouse. But he's at the absolute top of his game during moments with Barry Corbin as Thurl, Abner's grizzled neighbor and confidant."
He's at the top of his game not in the entire film, but in select moments.

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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