The Blurbs

October 7, 2006

'Putridly Written, Directed, and Acted'

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs in ads for movies takes on The Last King of Scotland, The Guardian, The Departed, and more.

David Goldenberg

Blurb Racket
Paul Antonson
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.

The Last King of Scotland (Fox Searchlight)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "An intelligent thriller that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat."
Actual line: "This intelligent, sometimes gruesome thriller…has no trouble keeping the audience on the edge of its seat, but the merger of fact with sexed-up fiction can be too Hollywood for its own good."
Gelf isn’t sure whether Ansen really cares about the butchering of his nuanced thought into blurb-worthy material, but he might want to have a word with the PR guys who changed his grammar. The word "audience" is singular, and—at least in the US and with some exceptions—deserves the singular pronoun "its"—not "their."

The Departed (Warner Bros.)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Profanely funny and savagely entertaining, the entire cast is firing on all cylinders."
Actual line: "Martin Scorsese's profanely funny, savagely entertaining…[398 words later]… the entire cast is firing on all cylinders."
Newsweek entitled its review of the cops and mob movie, "Get That Mole Removed."

David Edelstein, New York Magazine; "The movie works smashingly! Ingenious."
Actual line: "The movie works smashingly, especially if you haven’t seen its Hong Kong counterpart and haven’t a clue what’s coming. But for all its snap, crackle, and pop, it’s nowhere near as galvanic emotionally."

The Guardian (Buena Vista)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Inspirational!"
Actual line: "The Guardian is the kind of inspirational movie that Hollywood made about the Army, Navy and Marines during World War II. Now, with inspiration in short supply, it's the Coast Guard's turn."
Not quoted: "At first, this film may numb more minds than it wins. It's long, very slow and misshapen…"

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (New Line Cinema)

Brad Miska, "A grisly new masterpiece, one of the most terrifying horror films ever made."

Andrew Kasch, "The best horror film of the year."
The fact that both of these sites run banner ads promoting the movie over their reviews probably has no impact on the way in which they reviewed it (although it is strange that no one else seemed to like the most recent Leatherface flick). At least the New York Times requires at least one page of separation between ads and reviews for the same movie. One example of a potential movie blurb that didn’t make it onto the ad:
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "..putridly written, directed and acted…"

Open Season (Columbia/Sony)

Jane Horwitz, The Washington Post Family Filmgoer: "Hilarious"
What is the Washington Post Family Filmgoer? It’s a column (for overprotective parents) that Horwitz writes for the Washington Post Writers Group. What is the Washington Post Writers Group? It’s a collection of writers who work in the Post building but seem to syndicate their stuff to several different news organizations. Why does it exist? Gelf’s not really sure. But here’s what the real reviewer from the Washington Post, Anne Hornaday, thinks of the movie: "Open Season trots out tropes that recent animated classics have done with more wit and smarts."

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints (First Look)

Rob Nelson, The Village Voice: "Like Saturday Night Fever! Beat for beat, the dialogue rivals classic rock."
Actual line: "At least half of Montiel's movie comprises extended flashbacks to the moist summer of '86, when teen Dito (Shia LaBeouf) came of age by carousing with his crew of fellow pubescent hotheads—i.e., ogling girls in tank tops and jean shorts when not engaging in violent ante-upping with "the Puerto Ricans." If this tit-for-tat sounds a lot like Saturday Night Fever (and I didn't mention the half-accidental-death-by-public-transit scene), the borrowing isn't necessarily Montiel's alone: Sampling the greatest hits of Tony Manero's fuck- and fight-fueled white-boy-on-the-rise routine has hardly been unique to budding artists in the outer boroughs for the past 30 years."
Nelson is claiming that the movie is ripping off Saturday Night Fever, not that it’s as good as it. For willfully misleading readers (and dragging down one of Travolta’s few good movies), this ad wins Gelf’s Bogus Blurb of the Week award.

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Article by David Goldenberg

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