Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

April 24, 2009

'Much too Cutesy and Anthropomorphic for Its Own Good'

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 'Earth,' 'State of Play,' '17 Again,' 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, and find out what critics think of the racket.

"The information imparted feels superficial and there are factual holes."—USA Today's Claudia Puig on Earth

Earth (Disneynature)
Metacritic Score: 72

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: " 'Earth' should not be missed. By the time the credits roll you likely won't want it to end."
Actual line: "It would be Pollyannaish to pretend that the documentary 'Earth' is without its problems, but the bottom line is, difficulties be damned, it shouldn't be missed. What it does well is so remarkable that by the time the credits roll you likely won't want it to end."
Not quoted: "Less successfully negotiated is the tenor of the voice-over delivered by James Earl Jones in what is definitely not his Darth Vader tone. Although the 'Planet Earth' narration was crisp and to the point, the talk here is much too cutesy and anthropomorphic for its own good. These unfortunate lines include describing baby elephants as being on 'their first road trip with the family,' a bird of paradise portrayed as 'cleaning up for the big date tonight' and complimenting obedient polar bear cubs by comparing them to 'human beings who don't always listen to their moms.' These frequent remarks are a constant irritant but they're not deal breakers. Even if you have to put cotton in your ears when you see 'Earth,' if you keep your eyes wide open you'll be amply rewarded."
Notice a theme: The images are spectacular, the words, less so. That's great material for blurb writers, who can quote the first part and cut out the second.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Breathtaking."
Actual line: "Its depiction of the natural world is breathtaking and the animals and their behavior compelling. The only thing lacking is the script. It seems a minor quibble in the face of such spectacular footage, augmented by the mellifluous voice of narrator James Earl Jones. But the words he is made to say border on platitudes and don't illuminate or advance the ecological conversation. The information imparted feels superficial and there are factual holes: A gorgeous waterfall somewhere on the African continent is never identified. Some animal species are labeled while other, less common varieties go without mention."
Not quoted: "In Earth, you have such lines as: 'But as weather patterns shift, there are signs that lush forests are starting to dry up.' To most adults, this is old news and feels oddly understated. Perhaps Disney executives made a calculated decision to soft-pedal any reference to climate change. But by doing so, they mute any sense of environmental urgency. Further interfering with the majestic visuals is the overbearing and bombastic score. Only in one endearing scene of an odd-looking bird of paradise in New Guinea does the music actually enhance the visuals, playing off the bird's antics and exotic plumage."

John Anderson, Newsday: "Awe-inspiring."
Not quoted: "James Earl Jones, for all his dulcet-intonation, sounds like he's reading a script in his living room. And some of the action may be inappropriate for little children: If one elephant had trumpeted a certain expletive twice, the film would have been rated R. Instead, an elephant gets eaten by lions, and the Motion Picture Association of America deems 'Earth' a G-rated movie."


State of Play
State of Play (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 64

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Intelligent and engrossing. Several high-caliber performances give the film its vibrancy."
Not quoted: "[Ben] Affleck is not convincing as a politico; he comes across as blank in contrast with [Russell] Crowe's edgy complexity. Their striking differences make it difficult to believe that Crowe, 45, and Affleck, 36, have been close pals since college, which undermines the sense of veracity."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "A gripping thriller."
Actual line: "It sounds like a bloody mess, and sometimes it is. The kick here is what a gripping thriller Macdonald has carved out of unyielding stone."

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: "A fast-moving thriller."
Actual line: "When it lands where it should, it's a fast-moving, if implausible, thriller. "
Not quoted: "At best, a movie about a crusading journalist encourages comparisons to the great newspaper movies from Hollywood's past. At worst, given the current media climate, it's in danger of being a museum piece, something to be deleted from the handheld devices of younger viewers. … Despite its push-pull of ink versus Web, the movie is never, in its gut, truly of the moment, unlike great and near-great flicks like 'Ace in the Hole,' 'The Parallax View' or 'Absence of Malice.' And it never questions how Cal can write about a congressman while letting the guy crash at his apartment. Maybe that's where it's modern: In a movie about ethics, 'State of Play' is okay not having any."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "A smart, ingenious thriller."
Not quoted: "… the movie never quite attains altitude. It has a great takeoff, levels nicely, and then seems to land on autopilot. Maybe it's the problem of resolving so much plot in a finite length of time, but it seems a little too facile toward the end. Questions are answered, relationships revealed and mysteries solved too smoothly."

James Verniere, Boston Herald: " 'State of Play' is a fun ride."
Actual line: "Even if the misconceived final twist has the disastrous effect of eradicating all the real-life-based political intrigue that preceded it, 'State of Play' is a fun ride."
Not quoted: "The end result is nicely burnished, but may be too clever for its own good, proffering one twist too many."
Beware the praise of "fun ride"—it often means the destination isn't up to snuff. For excising the crucial "even if" clause, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.


17 Again
17 Again (New Line)
Metacritic Score: 48

Richard Corliss, Time: "Zac Efron is a movie star."
Not quoted: "Filching from the '80s body-switch parables Peggy Sue Got Married and Big in ways that are by turns perplexing, annoying and endearing…"

Pete Hammond, Hollywood.com: "Hilarious and heartwarming. Zac Efron shoots and scores!"
Not quoted: "The filmmakers sometimes have a tendency to go over the top, particularly in the 'Star Wars fight sequence' when the newly transformed Mike confronts old friend Ned with the news and a laser battle erupts (!). Another scene where 17-year-old Mike is seduced by his own unwitting daughter may be funny, but it veers a little too far into creepy territory."

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Wildly entertaining."
Yet another mediocre movie loved by Shawn.


The Informers
The Informers (Senator Entertainment)
Metacritic Score: 19

Michael Cieply, New York Times: "Part morality tale, part voyeuristic time trip. Strong stuff!"
That's from a news article about the film. A.O. Scott's review in the Times called the film "puzzling and tedious."

Troy Patterson, Spin: "Impresses with style."
Actual line: "… it impresses with style even as it alienates."


Every Little Step
Every Little Step (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 75

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "Grade A! Highest Rating! Enthralling!"
The review doesn't seem to say "highest rating"; apparently the ad writers wanted to assure readers that A+ wasn't an option.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "A thrilling dazzler!"
Actual line: "… a thrilling combination of documentary and musical dazzler."

Michael Riedel, New York Post: "Gripping! A superb chronicle!"
Riedel isn't the Post's film critic. Kyle Smith, who is, wrote that the film "shows only this: It hurts to flunk an audition, and it's nice to get hired. Everything it has to say about Broadway was said better in Bob Fosse's movie 'All That Jazz' -- in its opening five minutes."

Jesse Oxfeld, Village Voice: "A singular sensation!"
Actual line: "… we never learn enough about the individual subjects to care about their stories. For Chorus Line fans, though, the documentary … is a singular sensation …"


Is Anybody There?
Is Anybody There? (Big Beach)
Metacritic Score: 53

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Caine is exceptional!"
Not quoted: " 'Is Anybody There?' largely squanders the talents of wonderful veteran actors … who play Lark Hall residents in varying states of dottiness and physical disrepair, and these cameos are played uncomfortably close to farce. Peter Harness's screenplay, set in 1987, throws in a half-baked subplot in which Edward's father endangers his marriage by lunging pathetically after Lark Hall's 18-year-old housekeeper (Linzey Cocker)."
A theme emerges: Caine is terrific, the film isn't.

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "Michael Caine is magnificent!"
Not quoted: "While Caine is highly watchable, 'Is Anybody There?' limns all-too-familiar and schmaltzy territory for both coming-of-age films and movies with elderly actors, which in this case includes caricatured turns by the likes of such veterans as Rosemary Harris and Sylvia Syms."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Caine truly is magic!"
Not quoted: "Director John Crowley (Boy A) doesn't dodge the gooey traps in the script …"


Fighting
Fighting (Rogue)
Metacritic Score: 60

Pete Hammond, Hollywood.com: "A total knockout! The real deal. Channing Tatum's raw star power blasts through the screen."
Not quoted: "… the film could have benefitted from a deeper look into this forbidden world of underground human fighting …"
Hammond raves, then gives the film three out of five stars. That's a failing grade where Gelf did its learning.

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "A winner!"
See above.


Il Divo
Il Divo (Music Box)
Metacritic Score: 79

New York Magazine: "A thoroughly rewarding journey through modern political gangsterism."
Actual line: "A dense but thoroughly rewarding journey through modern political gangsterism."

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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