Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

May 9, 2008

Phenomenal Actor in Failure of a Movie

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 'Redbelt,' 'Speed Racer,' 'Iron Man,' 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 here.

" 'Redbelt' fails on nearly every level, from its incoherent story line to its threadbare action sequences."—Newsday's Rafer Guzmán

Redbelt (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 69

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "David Mamet is on his game, and that is a sight to see. At the center of this quiet storm of a movie, Chiwetel Ejiofor confirms his status as one of the best actors anywhere."
Actual line: "Even allowing for a few slips in pacing and judgment, Mamet is on his game, and that is a sight to see. … [three sentences earlier] At the center of this quiet storm of a movie, beautifully shot by There Will Be Blood Oscar winner Robert Elswit, Ejiofor confirms his status as one of the best actors anywhere."
Among the slips of these blurb writers was the omission of the praise for Elswit.

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "Fast. Lively. In your face. … Rousingly good."
Actual line: "Fast. Lively. In your face. Very watchable. And, like its predecessors, so bizarrely convoluted it barely holds together on a narrative level. But the underpinnings are consistent. … [dozens of sentences later] The final fisticuffs are rousingly good, although everything around them (the crowd, the media, the jujitsu master nodding in approval in the green room) is preposterously bad."

John Anderson, Newsday: "Chiwetel Ejiofor is phenomenal."
Actual line: "REDBELT - David Mamet's latest, starring the phenomenal Chiwetel Ejiofor as a famed jiu-jitsu teacher forced into the ring. (Friday 6:30 p.m., BMCC; Sunday, 6:30 p.m., Village VII)."
That's all this Tribeca Film Festival preview says about the film, suggesting that Anderson might not even have seen it, but was merely commenting on Ejiofor's prior body of work. The Newsday review by Rafer Guzmán awards the flick one star: " 'Redbelt' fails on nearly every level, from its incoherent story line to its threadbare action sequences." For misrepresenting a preview's reference to an actor's attributes as a statement on the film in question, this review wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Speed Racer (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 35

Tom Snyder, MovieGuide: "An exhilarating, visually stunning pop fantasy for the whole family!"
Not quoted: "There are also some shots of women in low-cut dresses. In one scene, Speed and Trixie are sitting alone in his car with Trixie in a low-cut dress. She tries to get Speed interested in romance by asking him two or three times, 'Do you like this?' "

Nell Minow, Beliefnet's "Movie Mom": "Enormous fun and a hero to believe in."
Not quoted: "The plot is pretty much the same as the cartoon series, meaning light-weight and a little incoherent. … Parents should know that this film includes intense action-style sequences of fighting, a sad (offscreen) death, perilous car races and crashes, sabotage, some potty humor, a bleeped (but obvious) four-letter word and some mild language and smoking."
Gelf quotes all the warnings to note that this film, which the mainstream critics largely loathed, resorts to quoting the family-friendly critics, including the above two and Gelf's old friend Janet Stokes of the Film Advisory Board.

What Happens in Vegas… (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 37

Sara Edwards, CN8 (Boston), the Comcast Network: "Laugh-out-loud funny! Sweet, smart, sexy. Works on every level."
Gelf is surprised Edwards (we hope no relation to Shawn) didn't also describe it as a gut-buster and the best date movie of the year. Quoth Criticwatch: "Wow, Sara! And, of course, we believe you because in the past you recommended we see Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Unaccompanied Minors, Home of the Brave, Stick It and Monster-In-Law. What Happens In Vegas, Sara, stays shut in your unqualified mouth!"

Iron Man (Paramount, Marvel)
Metacritic Score: 78

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Entertaining and fun!"
Actual line: "The extra heft brought to their cartoonish characters and the special-effects action make Iron Man entertaining and fun—though the second half has less snap, and a pivotal fight sequence between Iron Man and a nemesis is predictable."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Spectacular!"
Actual line: " 'Spectacular' is the word, even when the plot gears grind from the strain."

Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel: "The best popcorn flick since 'Spider-Man.' "
Actual line: "The first big popcorn movie of the season is also the best Marvel movie since Spider-Man."
This thing is not like that thing.

Baby Mama (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 55

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Fey and Poehler may well be the best female comedy duo since Lucy and Ethel."
Actual line: "Yes, the film doesn't offer many surprises and grows soft and predictable by its conclusion. But it does avoid the sappy sentimentality of the genre. The movie—and its lead actresses—charms us more than we might expect. Though the competition hasn't exactly been stiff, Fey and Poehler may well be the best female comedy duo since Lucy and Ethel."

Richard Corliss, Time.com: "Smart, funny and beguiling."
Actual line: "Except for the natural nine-month dramatic arc (which is what attracts writers to the pregnancy plot), this is prime-time sitcom fodder. Oscar and Felix; Kate and Angie. I'm not making claims that Baby Mama transcends the format's routine progressions—opposites not only attract, they learn from each other—only that, within these conventions, the movie is smart, funny and beguiling."

Son of Rambow (Paramount)
Metacritic Score: 62

New York Daily News: "A valentine to filmmaking that's full of heart."
Not quoted: "… it gets a little too sweet in its final scenes …"

Los Angeles Daily News: "A sweet ode to movie love."
Actual line: "Some cheap shots are taken at authority figures. But overall, this is a funny and tough-minded slice of weird life, as well as a sweet if wayward ode to movie love."

Noise (THINKFilm)
Metacritic Score: 49

New York Daily News: "Every New Yorker can relate to Noise."
Not quoted: "The second part of 'Noise' makes a right-angle turn that doesn't fulfill the righteous anger that sets things up. … 'Noise' ultimately becomes a slice of city life instead of a great satire."

New York Magazine: "Plenty of cathartic humor!"
Actual line: "Any New Yorker with intact eardrums should be able to find plenty of cathartic humor in Henry Bean's impassioned, scattershot satire. But occasional forays into ham-handed caricature dull its impact."
The phrase "plenty of cathartic humor" doesn't exactly beg to be followed by an exclamation point.

A Previous Engagement (Buccaneer)
Metacritic Score: 44

Andrew Sarris, New York Observer: "Fully worth the price of admission."
Actual line: "A great actress even in a not-so-great comedy is fully worth the price of admission in these far from halcyon days, both movie-wise and world-wise."
Even the out-of-context blurb isn't so hot; I'd rather see a film that's worth more than the price of admission.

Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik is a co-founder, contributing editor, and Varsity Letters editor of Gelf. Bialik currently writes the Numbers Guy column for the Wall Street Journal and plays no role in Gelf's day-to-day editorial decisions.







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Article by Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik is a co-founder, contributing editor, and Varsity Letters editor of Gelf. Bialik currently writes the Numbers Guy column for the Wall Street Journal and plays no role in Gelf's day-to-day editorial decisions.

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