Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

December 30, 2007

The Awkward Charmer With Annoying Friends

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 'P.S. I Love You,' 'Charlie Wilson's War,' 'Walk Hard,' 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 here.

"Seeing 'P.S. I Love You' is like dating someone new and having to put up with all of their annoying friends."—The Fresno Bee's Rick Bentley

P.S. I Love You (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 40/100

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: " 'P.S. I Love You' charms."
Actual line: "The film is not a beautiful object or a memorable cultural one, and yet it charms, however awkwardly."
Not quoted: " 'P. S. I Love You' won't win any awards; it isn't the sort of work that flatters a critic's taste. It's preposterous in big and small matters (Holly complains about a Lower East Side apartment that any sane New Yorker would kill for), and there are several cringe-worthy set pieces, some involving Mr. Butler and a guitar."

Rick Bentley, Fresno Bee: "Go see this movie with someone you love."
The closest thing to that quote Gelf could find in Bentley's review was, "Seeing 'P.S. I Love You' is like dating someone new and having to put up with all of their annoying friends. As long as you can focus on the main relationship, everything progresses at a sweet pace." Oh, and also, "Like most love affairs, this is not a perfect effort. In the flood of new films opening for the holidays, 'P.S. I Love' is without a doubt the best date movie of the bunch."

Bucket List (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 45/100

Forrest Hartman, Gannett News Service: "One of the best films of 2007."
Not quoted: "Other critics have already begun kicking at the 'The Bucket List,' throwing around adjectives like 'sentimental,' 'manipulative' and 'schmaltzy.' The film is, admittedly, all of those things, but I think there's a place for that in the modern multiplex. … Call it maudlin if you like, but don't call it bad."

Pete Hammond, Maxim: "A must-see film that audiences will love."
Actual line: "Despite the AARP factor, audiences of all types will probably love this film for what it says about our own mortality and how we handle it. Director Rob Reiner, despite a tendency to overdo some of the comedic schtick, has basically delivered a winner that ought to top anyone's own 'list' starting with the words 'must-see.' "
Not quoted: "Maybe it's just us, but is Jack Nicholson actually getting kinda old. Watching him play an overweight, sometimes bald cancer victim in his latest, The Bucket List, made us think no one is going to get out of this life alive—even Jack!"

There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage)
Metacritic Score: 94/100

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "The best movie performance of the century."
Not quoted: "Its emotional temperature rarely rises above freezing and the climax goes way, way, way over the top."

Richard Schickel, Time: "One of the most wholly original American movies ever made."
Not quoted: "It is also a work that is easy to understand too quickly and utterly depends for its haunting resonance on the great performance that stands at its center."
"It is also a work that is easy to understand too quickly" is not a phrase that is easy to understand, though it may be wholly original.

Water Horse (Columbia )
Metacritic Score: 72/100

Laura Kern, New York Times: "… family-friendly escapist fare that should enthrall … fantasy-minded viewers of any age."
Actual line: "Brian Cox appears briefly, serving as the film's present-day narrator. His character's identity offers no surprise—nor does much else in the film—but that detracts little from this family-friendly escapist fare that should enthrall, without insult, fantasy-minded viewers of any age."
The blurb writers apparently felt that "without insult" was an insult." No surprise there.

Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times: "An enchanting tale of friendship…"
Not quoted: "… most of the narrative won't surprise anyone who has seen 'E.T. The Extraterrestrial' or numerous similar stories … Crusoe morphs rather quickly from cuddly urchin to fierce sea monster, and likewise, some of the film's shifts in tone are equally jarring, moving from kitchen-sink realism to slapstick, high adventure and back again."

Charlie Wilson's War (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 68/100

Claudia Puig, USA Today: " 'Charlie Wilson's War' starts off blazing away and doesn't let up."
Not quoted: "[Director Mike] Nichols' light touch with serious matters can sometimes feel too facile. Trivializing serious issues is the stuff of satire, but by the film's conclusion, we're left to connect the dots and mull the repercussions of this secretly funded war between the rebels and the Soviet Union."

The Great Debaters (Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 65/100

Stephen Hunter, Washington Post: " 'The Great Debaters' is a stunner! Entertaining!"
Not quoted: "It's a David and Goliath tale played to the max, all stops removed. Manipulative? You bet. That's the point, after all. Truthful? Well … more or less."

Steep (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 57/100

Pete Hammond, Maxim: "Awesome! You have never seen anything like it before. One of the year's most exciting films. This movies pushes the limit with indescribable eye-popping crazy feats of Big Mountain glory."
Actual line: "The visuals on display are simply awesome, so much so you almost wish director Mark Obenhaus didn't cut away to so many talking head interviews. These serve mainly to let a few courageous, if totally nuts, extreme skiers go on about how exhilarated they feel doing backflips off the cliffs. We get it. These dudes are seriously possessed by the snow devil. It would be nice to have more backstory on some of them in order to fully understand what drives them in this potentially deadly sport. … [two sentences backward] You have never seen anything like it. [eight sentences forward] Like the big wave surfers in Riding Giants, these souls do it for the thrills, giving those in the audience quite a few themselves in what is without a doubt one of the year's most exciting films. [ten sentences backward] With more white powder than even Al Pacino's nose housed in Scarface, Steep pushes human endurance and achievement to the limit with indescribable eye-popping crazy feats of Big Mountain glory."
If only Hammond would let the blurb writers edit his reviews from the start. It would be easier for everyone concerned.

The Orphanage (Picturehouse)
Metacritic Score: 72/100

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter: "Hauntingly poetic."
DeFore was writing from the Toronto International Film Festival. His colleague Richard James Havis, upon the flick's US release, was less impressed: "This Spanish supernatural thriller begins interestingly and finishes intriguingly. But what lies between drags because the film lacks a driving story line."

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Disney)
Metacritic Score: 48/100

Pete Hammond, Maxim: "Heart-pounding action! Total entertainment from start to finish!"
Actual line: "Even though it's all wildly unbelievable and rather hokey at times, National Treasure: Book of Secrets manages to surpass the first one for pure movie fun and some decent heart-pounding action, a totally safe family entertainment from opening credits to closing logo."
Among several Hammond blurbs this week, this one stands out for removing "some decent," changing "totally safe" to total, and adding exclamation points. For these misdeeds, this ad effort wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

No Country for Old Men (Miramax)
Metacritic Score: 91/100

Red Reed, New York Observer: "A masterpiece."
Actual line: "Losing their customary cool, some critics are labeling No Country for Old Men, a modern western with pokey pacing and blood-curdling violence, a masterpiece. Until the five-minute finale that threatens to destroy the whole thing, I found myself dazed, dazzled and overwhelmed. The ending is so lame it made me feverish. Then I remembered the perfection that came before it, and concluded that this is, without question, the best movie ever made by the eccentric Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. Better even than Fargo. It's so good that I am powerless to hold a grudge. Yes, I guess I have to admit it's a masterpiece."

The Kite Runner (Paramount)
Metacritic Score: 61/100

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: " 'The Kite Runner' is a film of exhilarating, redemptive humanity, conveying an enduring sense of hope."
Not quoted: " 'The Kite Runner' succumbs to some contrivance in its third act, when Amir's difficult relationship with his overbearing father comes melodramatically into play."
Another blurb for Kite Runner was deconstructed in this earlier Blurb column.

Walk Hard (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 64/100

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: "100 minutes of fun … it's the movie to see right now."
Actual line: "… whenever the jokes begin to sag, and fortunately that's not often, the movie has no reason for being. It's no stand-alone piece of work, either: If you haven't seen 'Walk the Line,' there's really no point in seeing this movie. But those caveats aside, 'Walk Hard' is 100 minutes of fun, and for pure, uncomplicated enjoyment, it's the movie to see right now."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "John C. Reilly is insanely funny."
Not quoted: "The tricky thing about parody movies is that the jokes get old fast and they're hit-and-miss. Walk Hard, a spoof of every musical biopic from Ray to Walk the Line, is guilty on both counts. How lucky that when the jokes do hit, they kick major ass."

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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