Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

September 1, 2008

Reviews Shakespeare Never Got: 'Spotty and Sporadic'

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 'Hamlet 2,' 'Traitor,' 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona,' 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, and find out what critics think of the racket.

"Its sharply funny moments make its lack of consistency all the more evident."—USA Today's Claudia Puig on 'Hamlet 2'

Hamlet 2 (Focus)
Metacritic Score: 54

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "Dementedly hilarious! Steve Coogan is uproarious."
Actual line: "The movie combines these elements so randomly that it's like something tossed together at a suburban salad bar. In its farcical craft and tone, Hamlet 2 keeps slipping and sliding around, but as a pedestal for the riotous beyond-shame theatrics of Steve Coogan unhinged, the film is often dementedly hilarious."

Ruthe Stein, San Francisco Chronicle: " 'Hamlet 2' has an edge and degree of sophistication not seen in most summer comedies."
Not quoted: "… the material is uneven—it starts slow and doesn't kick in until the second half …"

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Irreverent."
Actual line: "This Sundance Film Festival hit is irreverent and occasionally inspired. But the best part is the ambitious production. When it focuses too much on the travails of the high school students he means to guide and mold, the movie strays into Dangerous Minds territory and loses its comic punch."
Not quoted: "… the wit is spotty and sporadic. Its sharply funny moments make its lack of consistency all the more evident. The movie ends up feeling like a collection of moments, rather than a coherent quirky comedy."

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "An unhinged, off-the-wall comedy! Steve Coogan is a major comic presence. 'Rock Me Sexy Jesus,' is really something to see."
Actual line: "It's an unhinged, off-the-wall comedy that will try anything once, an uneven film in which the hits are so dead-on that the misses don't seem to matter. … Coogan is a major comic presence in Britain. But he's never had a role that allowed him to go as completely all-out as he does here as a true-believing naif with the unstoppable enthusiasm of the Energizer Bunny. … The main production number, 'Rock Me Sexy Jesus,' with Coogan in the title role, is really something to see. When the father of one of the stars says, 'I'm simultaneously horrified and fascinated,' you'll know just what he means."

Philip Kennicott, Washington Post: "A dazzling comedy! A star turn for Elisabeth Shue! Steve Coogan is pure bliss. He's hysterically funny."
Actual line: "Featuring the brilliant British comic Steve Coogan, with star turns from Amy Poehler, Elisabeth Shue and David Arquette, 'Hamlet 2' is a dazzling little comedy … Coogan's manic dance of mugging and bathos is done on the razor's edge of believability, but he is pure bliss in the role, by turns hysterically funny and wildly pathetic."

Traitor (Overture)
Metacritic Score: 60

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: "Intriguing."
Actual line: "While the film's title clues you into Samir's double-edged nature, 'Traitor' plays an intriguing shell game with the specifics, and with the role in the story played by CIA contractor Carter (Jeff Daniels)."
Not quoted: "A few things hold 'Traitor' back from complete success. Now and then the storytelling slips out of complexity into perplexity. The climax’s resolution is clever in theory, but it's bound to leave some people cold. And on a medium-size budget, based on recent cinematic evidence, the toughest thing for computer-generated effects to achieve convincingly is a fiery explosion."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: " 'Traitor' weaves a tangled web of conspiracy and intrigue."
Actual line: " 'Traitor' weaves a tangled web of conspiracy and intrigue, crosses politics with thriller elements, and never quite answers its central question: In the war between good and evil, how many good people is it justifiable for the good guys to kill? Maybe that question has no answer. It is probably not 'none.' "

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Compelling."
Actual line: "The story lacks suspense and the action sequences fall flat, but the film is compelling in its examination of the many prisms of ideology and religious fervor."
Not quoted: "Traitor (* * 1/2 out of four) can't seem to decide whether it wants to be an edge-of-the-seat action thriller or a more contemplative and intellectual drama about religion and terrorism. Somehow, in trying to have it both ways, it doesn't completely succeed at either."

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 70

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "Spectacular summer entertainment! Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz are combustible together."
Actual line: "After years of diminishing returns, Woody Allen spectacularly returns to form with 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona,' his funniest movie in years and arguably his sexiest. Yeah, I know you've heard this from me—and from other critics, who overpraised the oh-so-serious 'Match Point'—but this is the genuine comeback, a romantic comedy that's a major summer entertainment with serious underpinnings. … Bardem and Cruz (who speaks mostly Spanish in what amount to an in-joke about her famous lack of comfort delivering English-language dialogue) are combustible together."
Not quoted: "One small complaint for Woody: the wall-to-wall narration, which is sometimes redundant."
The entertainment was major, but not necessarily spectacular.

I Served the King of England (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 76

David Denby, New Yorker: "Playful and slightly erotic!"
Actual line: "… the style is consistently playful, even frivolous, and slyly erotic—at times, we might be watching a burlesque operetta."
Not quoted: "… the movie, an absurdist picaresque, doesn’t have much cumulative impact, and perhaps the hero is too much a lightweight to hold an epic together."

Sukiyaki Western Django (First Look)
Metacritic Score: 58

Andrew O'Hehir, "One hell of a spectacular ride."
Actual line: "[Director Takashi] Miike doesn't simply want to dazzle us with his artful shot-making, lovingly orchestrated action scenes and gory death moments. OK, he does want to do that, but he also wants to sweep us up in the grandiose, mythical clutter-tide and deliver a genuine emotional catharsis. I'm not sure he quite gets there, but it's one hell of a spectacular ride."
Not quoted: "Once you get past the question of why someone would make a movie this artificial in the first place and move on to the answer (purely for the hell of it), 'Sukiyaki Western Django' is a blood-drenched, dynamite, often hilarious and uniquely weird big-screen entertainment. It also claims this year's version of the 'Harder They Come' prize, as a movie that requires subtitles for every possible viewer; if you're completely fluent in English and Japanese, that's still not quite good enough."

Edward Douglas, "Stunning. Amazing!"
Not quoted: "…the weakest link in the movie is the recurring appearance by Quentin Tarantino as the gunslinger Piringo, who continues to show why directors and screenwriters shouldn't try to act, unless they've spent years doing it like George Clooney."

Mariko McDonald, Film Threat: "Awe-inspiring. One of the most entertaining films you will ever see."
Actual line: "Let's suffice to say that it has a little of everything: star crossed love, Shakespeare, revenge, swordplay, dance, folk music, slapstick and of course, shootin'. What's really awe inspiring is how Miike is able to take two seemingly disparate genres and blend them so seamlessly. … 'SWD' is easily his most enjoyable film in years and quite possibly one of the most entertaining films you will ever see."
For quite possibly the biggest overstatement in a blurb you will ever see, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

The Longshots (Dimension, MGM)
Metacritic Score: 52

Pete Hammond, " 'The Longshots' is a big winner for the whole family!"
Actual line: "There are generous doses of heart and soul on display here making The Longshots a winner for the whole family."
Not quoted: "… this story of a girl quarterback would not seem that believable if it weren't true. Still, no sports movie cliché is left unturned …"

Bottle Shock (Freestyle)
Metacritic Score: 56

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Great entertainment."
Actual line: "The outcome is predictable; anyone who cares even casually knows the Yanks won, but director milks great entertainment, if not actual suspense, out of the competition."

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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