Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

September 20, 2010

'The American' Is 'a Test for Attention Deficit Disorder'

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 ads for 'The American,' 'The Town,' 'Catfish,' and more.

David Goldenberg

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.

"It's a tale so used, abused and broken you can hear it wheezing."—Rolling Stone's Peter Travers on The American

The American (Focus Entertainment)
Metacritic Score: 61

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "George Clooney invests heart and soul in this role."

Actual line: "What warms Jack is the possibility of love with a beautiful whore (Violante Placido), who also needs redeeming. All this would add up to two clichés passing in the night if [Dutch director Anton] Corbijn didn't create scenes of harsh beauty and if Clooney didn't invest heart and soul in the role."
Not quoted: "It's a tale so used, abused and broken you can hear it wheezing. … a steady, often glacial pace …"

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "'The American' is never less than gorgeous."
Not quoted: "… the virtues of the film itself are those of craft rather than art. Its precision is impressive and fussy rather than invigorating. It is a reasonably skillful exercise in genre and style, a well-made vessel containing nothing in particular … the still waters run very cool but not terribly deep, and 'The American' falls back into a view of its protagonist that is ultimately more sentimental than unsettling or intriguing. Mr. Clooney, shorn of his mischief and charm, does not possess the resources to suggest the state of existential torment that are crucial to the logic of his character. Instead he looks bored, tired, intermittently anxious and sometimes almost excited. At least he seems to appreciate the beauty of the scenery, human and otherwise. It's hard not to when so little else is going on."

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Elegantly crafted."
Actual line: "With its retro pacing, its pretentious lapses and its narrow emotional range, this elegantly crafted existential thriller risks alienating its audience; at times it feels like a test for attention deficit disorder."
Not quoted: "The other [woman] is a beautiful prostitute, Clara, played by Violante Placido. I wish she weren't a prostitute, because that's such a cliché and Ms. Placido is such a vibrant presence. But Clara, bless her heart and gorgeous bod, is out-clichéd by the priest, Father Benedetto (played by Paolo Bonacelli), a ponderous spouter of homespun wisdom whose very presence announces the prospect of Jack's redemption."

Jack Coyle, Associated Press: "Transfixing! A haunting European thriller!"
Actual line: "It's difficult not to want Corbijn's mournful seriousness to ease up a bit. But 'The American' is nevertheless transfixing in its weary, muted grace. … Director Anton Corbijn has crafted a quiet, haunting European thriller, drained of emotion and moving to its own deliberate pace."
Not quoted: "What is finally slightly disappointing in the film is the familiarity of its story: another tale of 'one last job.' "

The Town
The Town (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 74

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Gripping! A blazing heist film. Affleck knocks it out of the park."
Actual line: "… a gripping human drama disguised as a blazing heist film …"
Travers makes clear that a blazing heist film is something this is not, except on the surface. For transmuting the critic's intentions, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Catfish (Rogue)
Metacritic Score: 61

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "There's more killer suspense in this one-of-a-kind film than you'll find in a dozen thrillers. You'll be talking about this spellbinder for weeks. It pushes every button. Don't let anyone spoil this story."
Actual line: "There's more killer suspense and shocking intimacy in this one-of-a-kind documentary than you'll find in a dozen thrillers. … You'll be talking about this one for weeks. … Don't let anyone, especially critics, spoil this story."

Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times: "Powerful and startling work. A movie that so persuasively exposes how few things in the modern world are as they appear to be. Jaw-dropping, suspenseful and touching."
Not quoted: "In some ways, 'Catfish' is more of an amazing story than an amazing movie…"
Elsewhere in the Los Angeles Times, Robert Abele writes that the filmmakers' "ready compassion for the construct of a well-intentioned, emotional artifice may frustrate more cynical moviegoers with appropriately nagging questions about amateur detective work."

Jack Goes Boating
Jack Goes Boating (Overture)
Metacritic Score: 65

Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter: "A fond slice of life."
Actual line: "… a small, slender yet fond slice of life. Although an ambitious, emotional piece, the material is right in [Philip Seymour] Hoffman's wheelhouse, and he hits it full force. It would be interesting to see what would happen if he stretches himself next time as a director, if he gets outside that comfort zone."

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 57

Geoffrey Macnab, the Independent: "Exhilarating!"
Not quoted: "In truth, the characterisation is not very deep. Some of the slapstick, especially early on, plays like Benny Hill. There is a goofy servant with a buck tooth who blunders around in the background, to grating effect."

Leaves of Grass
Leaves of Grass (Telepathic)
Metacritic Score: 58

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "****! One of the year's best! A masterpiece. Edward Norton is flawless."
Actual line: "****! Here's a quote for the video box: 'One of the year's best!' No, Tim Blake Nelson…thank you. … some kind of sweet, wacky masterpiece. First there's the dual performance by Norton, who is flawless as both an elite intellectual and a good ol' boy."

HeartBreaker (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 59

David Denby, New Yorker: "Prolong the pleasure of summer. Sunshiny…luxurious…glamorous…playful."
Not quoted: "There's no point in complaining that nothing in 'Heartbreaker' quite makes sense … no more than a luxurious trifle."

Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 68

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "Moving and provocative."
Not quoted: "The film, to be frank, isn't as patient as the book and, understandably worried about the attention span of movie audiences, offers more hints along the way than the novel did … 'Never Let Me Go's' extreme restraint will not please everyone …"

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: "Sumptuously gorgeous and filled with sterling performances."
Not quoted: "Some may find its tone suffocatingly heavy, and the score can feel a bit melodramatic and intrusive here and there … we don't need the narration at the end to hammer home some themes that had already been made clear in much more graceful fashion."

The Romantics
The Romantics (Paramount)
Metacritic Score: 42

New York Post: "Katie Holmes does the finest work of her career."
Not quoted: "Holmes and five other college friends flirt, drink, talk, flirt and fling themselves into the surf in their undies. (False note: Would have been skinny dipping if this were the real thing.)"
Critic Kyle Smith, in the above review from January, called the film his favorite of Sundance this year (despite the lack of nude swimming), but this month he had more reservations: " 'The Romantics' takes a while to find its footing—the lack of talent of Elijah Wood, as an irrelevant pup who is forever sniffing around Laura, gets in the way, and there is a bit of awkwardness as everyone fills in back story. Malin Akerman nails the flouncing ways of the failing actress whose ebullience is exhausting. But the rest of the friends—Adam Brody, Jeremy Strong and Rebecca Lawrence—are sketchy, and their story lines don't go anywhere. … 'The Romantics' isn't as consistent or as well-rounded as its parent, 'The Big Chill,' or as entertaining as its less literate but more extroverted cousin, 'St. Elmo's Fire' …"

Last Day of Summer
Last Day of Summer (E1 Entertainment)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Joseph Smigelski, Huffington Post: "Expertly played by DJ Qualls [and] Nikki Reed in a strong and emotional performance."
Actual line: Joe, played expertly by the talented actor DJ Qualls … Stephanie, played by Nikki Reed in a strong and emotional performance …"
Not quoted: "The writing in Last Day of Summer is sometimes a bit too much over the top …"

Gasland (HBO)
Metacritic Score: 78

Hank Stuever, Washington Post: "Mesmerizing! Warmhearted…darkly humorous."
Actual line: " 'Gasland' ventures where so many other environmental-outrage documentaries have gone before and returns with more questions than answers. What's different is that [director Josh] Fox makes for a warmhearted and darkly humorous road-trip companion. It's less about inconvenient truths and more of a memoir wrapped around an unfinished '60 Minutes' exposé. … Mesmerizing and thorough as it is, 'Gasland' is one of those documentaries that will send you into the Google quagmire in search of some answers, which, I can report after a few hopeless hours of looking, you won't easily get."
Not quoted: "… it is first and foremost a movie, made by a Gen-X smartie who likes quick-cut montages of skies and clouds and water interspersed with telltale trendy Helvetica title cards. In the Michael Moore spirit of things, Fox provides many glimpses of his attempts to get gas company executives and PR people to return his phone calls, including the predictable scene of a man in a suit removing the clip-on microphone and abruptly ending an interview. Although this is presented as sticking-it-to-The-Man material, it instead hints at Fox's failings as an amateur journalist."

The Inner Life of Glenn Gould
The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (Lorber)
Metacritic Score: 73

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "A tour-de-force…"
Not quoted: "… the film is careful not to be too critical of its subject or to stray too far into speculation about the inner life that is its ostensible concern. … A degree of enigma remains, in spite of [directors] Mr. [Peter] Raymont and Ms. [Michèle] Hozer's thoroughness. But in the end, art is a mystery that no biography can conquer, in part because every artist's goal is to transcend the limiting circumstances of individual experience and touch something larger. Which is why a film like this one, expansive though it is, can only feel small in comparison to its subject."

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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