Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

September 21, 2007

Please Repress This Film's Irrepressible Energy

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 'In the Valley of Elah,' 'The Hunting Party,' 'Eastern Promises,' 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, 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
"The movie is in many ways a B-movie companion piece to 'A History of Violence.' "— Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times, about Eastern Promises

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

In the Valley of Elah (Warner Independent)

Newsweek: "Haggis's movie sends out an urgent signal of distress that's hard to ignore."
Actual line: "It's an impassioned personal testament that sits uneasily inside a conventional genre format. But whatever its flaws, Haggis's movie sends out an urgent signal of distress that's hard to ignore."
Not quoted: "… its revelations and plot twists aren't likely to shock or surprise anyone who's been paying attention to the physical and psychic price our soldiers have been paying in the war. As a murder mystery, Haggis's story (which a title informs us is 'inspired by true events') doesn't generate much suspense—it's almost as if Haggis felt that emphasizing thrills would be unseemly, and would disturb his self-consciously elegiac tone."

Rolling Stone: "This movie grabs you hard and gets you good!"
Not quoted: "Yes, [director Paul] Haggis stumbles and loses focus. The haunting, heart-piercing Elah isn't perfect. It's something better: essential."

The Hunting Party (Weinstein Co.)

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "Sharp-edged! An original treat."
Actual line: "An original, gonzo treat."
Not quoted: "What isn't so easy to laugh off is the prospect of a movie that uses ethnic cleansing as a springboard for laughs. I left feeling a bit uncomfortable, but the fact that [director Richard] Shepard gets away with it at all is a testament to his talent."

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Razor-sharp! Not to be missed."
If you didn't miss every movie that enthusiast Shawn told you not to miss, you'd miss out on a lot of other things in life.

Ira & Abby (Magnolia)

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "A formidable crowd-pleaser."
Actual line: Ira & Abby "isn't as sharply directed as 'Jessica Stein,' but it's still a formidable crowd-pleaser."

Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times: "A comedy of lust, therapy and Manhattan angst. 'Ira & Abby' radiates a breathless charm."
Actual line: "A hard-working comedy of lust, therapy and Manhattan angst that deserves an A for ambition, if not achievement. … Though playing at times like an extended sitcom, 'Ira & Abby' radiates a breathless charm…"

Jan Stuart, Los Angeles Times: "Irrepressible!"
Actual line: "Whether you buy into this hardworking confection depends on how much you fall for its screenwriter-star, who combines the perky insouciance of Jennifer Aniston with the flake-head pixieness of 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show's' Georgia Engel. With all that irrepressible energy bouncing off the screen, [actor Robert] Klein's flat-tire depressive always comes as a welcome relief."

Eastern Promises (Focus Features)

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "If you are drawn to taut thrillers with fascinating characters portrayed skillfully, this is just the ticket."
Actual line: "If you don't mind bloodshed and are drawn to taut thrillers with fascinating characters portrayed skillfully, Eastern Promises is just the ticket.

Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times: "Expertly realized."
Actual line: "Expertly realized and gunmetal slick, 'Eastern Promises' whirs along with perfect efficiency, but doesn't stir much in the way of visceral horror despite its penchant for treating the human body like a chicken carcass on a block. (Squeamishness, yes.) The movie is in many ways a B-movie companion piece to 'A History of Violence.' "
Not quoted: "For all its naked fighting, as well as its finger-pruning, eye-impaling, throat-slitting and childbirth hemorrhaging, the movie is much less corporeal than the [David] Cronenberg films of olden days and considerably more hidebound. Whereas his films once expressed a fierce protection of the self against external, anti-humanist forces, they now seem to insist, compulsively, on the need for order and everyone in his or her place."

Across the Universe (Columbia)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Extraordinary. Across the Universe captured my heart. I fell in love with this movie. It convinces you that love is all you need. Fantastic… gorgeous… delirious… oh-wow!"
Actual line (emphasis added): "Another extraordinary scene follows Joe to a United States Army induction center… [skip 10 paragraphs backward] Somewhere around its midpoint, 'Across the Universe' captured my heart, and I realized that falling in love with a movie is like falling in love with another person. Imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks once you've tumbled. … [skip 15 paragraphs forward] during the time it lasts, the intoxicating passion of Jude and Lucy, both innocents by today's standards, convinces, for a moment, that love is all you need. … [skip 14 paragraphs backward] a fantastic array of puppets, masks and synergistic effects… [skip seven paragraphs forward] A visceral peak arrives with 'Strawberry Fields Forever.' In this gorgeous production number… [skip three paragraphs forward] Bono appears as the acid guru, Dr. Robert, a Ken Kesey-Neal Cassady fusion who sings 'I Am the Walrus' at an acid-drenched party and conducts Jude, Lucy and a roiling band of Merry Pranksters on a delirious bus journey through a rainbow-colored countryside. … [skip one paragraph ahead] its oh-wow aesthetic …"
Taking a review out of context is one thing; cherry-picking, rearranging and rewriting is quite another. In a landslide, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

The Brave One (Warner Bros.)

Richard Corliss, Time: "Engrossing."
Not quoted: "This thriller, directed by Neil Jordan, has so many plot loopholes, it makes sense only as the fantasy of a bereaved soul."

Rape of Europa (Menemsha)

New York Times: "Endlessly interesting"
Actual line: " 'The Rape of Europa' covers endlessly interesting material: the central role art played for the Nazis; the arriviste connoisseurship of Hitler and Goering; the Germans' different treatment of cities like Krakow (spared for its Germanic art) and Warsaw (almost obliterated for its Slavic art and sensibility). It also raises endlessly interesting questions: Should soldiers' lives be risked to save historic sites and artwork? Can a culture survive if its art is wiped out?"
Not quoted: "The film, based on a book by Lynn H. Nicholas, crams in a lot, which means it can seem rushed and cursory. And some parts beg for fuller treatment. The Monuments Men—G.I.'s (mainly) whose mission was to recover and return art—could easily be the subject of their own documentary."

Antonia (Coração da Selva)

New York Magazine: "An easygoing, enjoyable ride."
Actual line: "The way these four women tackle the obstacles they face and the gentle tack taken by director Tata Amaral make for an easygoing, enjoyable ride, if one that isn’t particularly memorable after the fact."

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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