The Blurbs

January 19, 2006

Scare Quotes

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs in ads for movies takes on Hostel, The Ringer, The Producers, and more.

Carl Bialik

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.

Hostel (Lions Gate)

Kyle Smith, New York Post: "A screaming good time."
Actual line: "A screaming good time, marred only by a lazy ending." "It's been a while since we've had a director's name to put next to the likes of Romero, Argento, Carpenter and Craven ... but now is the time to make room on that list for Eli Roth."
Gelf was unable to find the above quote anywhere; the review linked from Horror Channel's homepage says, "I didn't find Hostel to be very scary at all." Update: As a reader pointed out, has multiple reviews of the film. Another does contain the quote used in the ad blurb. But then, that's hardly the take of—only that of one of its three reviewers.

The Producers (Universal)

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Uma Thurman is a one-woman fireworks display."
Not quoted: "Did you ever buy tickets to a big stage musical and find that your seats were in the front row, where all you could see were the seams showing and the actors straining to project? That's the feeling I had watching first-time film director Susan Stroman try to transfer the magic she brought to The Producers (still running on Broadway) from stage to screen. Not happening."

Tom Long, Detroit News: "Broderick and Lane are a delight to watch."
Not quoted: "It's likely to delight musical comedy lovers—the few dozen of them left on earth—and send others racing for the theater doors."

The White Countess (Sony)

Jan Stuart, Newsday: "Sumptuously satisfying!"
Actual line: "Vaguely corny but sumptuously satisfying."

Jack Mathews, New York Daily News: "Natasha Richardson's performance is one of the year's very best."
Not quoted: "[Ralph Fiennes's] emotional reticence (which he overcame for a far better performance in the recent 'The Constant Gardener') makes him really dull company in Shanghai's hothouse environment."

Last Holiday (Paramount)

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Queen Latifah is sensational! Audiences are going to love this movie."
Shawn, Shawn, Shawn. Won't you ever learn?

Hoodwinked (Weinstein Co.)

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "The funniest animated movie since 'Shrek'!"
Not so much.

April's Showers (Regent Releasing)

Lisa Yimm, After Ellen: "A cute, funny, and sometimes irreverent comedy."
Not quoted: "I was a bit put off in the first few minutes by the arriving cast of characters as they pretty much cover the entire spectrum of gay and ethnic stereotypes..."

The Ringer (Fox)

Nathan Lee, New York Times: "Irresistible and memorable ... The 'Brokeback Mountain' of disability flicks."
Actual line: "Corny yet progressive, 'The Ringer' is the 'Brokeback Mountain' of disability flicks: formulaic, irresistible and memorable insofar as it advances positive representation in mainstream culture."
Not quoted: "The movie does manage to be relatively charming and intermittently funny so long as you forget the useless romance between Steve/Jeffy and Lynn (Katherine Heigl), a perky Olympic volunteer."

When the Sea Rises (New Yorker Films)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "A bittersweet road film that approaches the eloquence of Fellini's La Strada."
Not quoted: "[Cinematographer Gilles Porte's] idealized vision of life in semirural northern France portrays it as a robust, happy culture of people who know how to live in the moment and lack grandiose expectations. Like the ending of the movie, this vision is a little too sweet and comfy to swallow whole."
The quote ascribed to Holden in the blurb is nowhere to be found in his otherwise mostly positive review.

Michael Atkinson, Village Voice: "Charming! One unforgettable performance."
Actual line: "Charming French road trip offers scattershot whimsy, and one unforgettable performance."
Not quoted: "The movie depends wholly on its charm load, and you have to stand in its way for it to hit you."

Fateless (ThinkFilm)

Marina Harss, New Yorker: "Stirringly beautiful."
Actual line: "The composition and the color of the images are stirringly beautiful, but they feel loaded with symbolism and sentiment: an emaciated man swaying with exhaustion during an interminable roll call appears to be experiencing a kind of transcendent ecstasy, like Joan of Arc on the pyre. Such loaded moments—as well as Ennio Morricone's insistent score—undercut the deadpan irony and detachment of the screenplay."

TransAmerica (IFC)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: " 'Transamerica' is touching and funny."
Actual line: " 'Transamerica' itself does not always live up to its star, but it is touching and sometimes funny, despite its overall air of indie earnestness."

Casanova (Buena Vista)

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "A surprise hit!"
Actual line: "Unlike some of the dozen or so films and TV miniseries about Casanova, this version is a light confection intended for audiences who probably aren't familiar with the genre. Its humor and campy, crowd-pleasing energy may make it a surprise hit."

Spot a misleading media quote in an ad about a movie, show, book, or anything else? E-mail Gelf with your find.

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Article by Carl Bialik

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