Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

March 14, 2009

'The Dark Knight Was a Better Film'

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 'Watchmen,' 'Race to Witch Mountain,' 'The Last House on the Left,' 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.

"Watchmen stumbles and sometimes falls on its top-heavy ambitions."— Rolling Stone's Peter Travers

Watchmen (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 56

Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Daily News: "Magnificent."
Actual line: "It's finally here. It's got flaws. And it's pretty magnificent."
Not quoted: " 'The Dark Knight' was a better film. 'Watchmen,' though, strives for more, and achieves an impressive percentage of all that it goes after."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: " 'Watchmen' pulsates with emotional intensity."
Actual line: "[Jackie Earle] Haley, a revelation in Little Children, penetrates the heart of Watchmen's darkness. His origin story, involving child abuse and butchery, dovetails into a revenge drama that pulsates with the emotional intensity and artery-spurting violence that indelibly marked the graphic novel."
Not quoted: "Even if you don't see Snyder's version, which has its problems, it won't kill you to peek at the comic book that Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof called 'the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced.' … stumbles and sometimes falls on its top-heavy ambitions. … The junior versions of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are the weakest and silliest part of the movie. … No wonder the film loses its power and point."

Kurt Loder, MTV: "A monumental accomplishment."
Not quoted: "The actor playing Nixon has been equipped with a prosthetic nose of Pinocchio proportions—a bizarre miscalculation that ruins the scenes he's in, which are fortunately few."

Race to Witch Mountain
Race to Witch Mountain (Disney)
Metacritic Score: 50

Bryan Erdy, Movie Planet: "An action-packed thrill ride!"
The mysterious Erdy is again plugging a Disney flick.

Sunshine Cleaning
Sunshine Cleaning (Overture)
Metacritic Score: 60

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "funny and touching"
Actual line: "This funny and touching movie depends on two can-do actresses to scrub past the biohazard of noxious clichés that threaten to intrude."

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: "amy and emily have great chemistry."
Actual line: "Amy Adams and Emily Blunt have great chemistry as Rose and Norah Lorkowski, underachieving sisters who stumble into the crime-scene cleanup business."
Not quoted: "… a subplot that feels underdeveloped."
Yes, the blurbs really do use the precious lower-case style throughout.

Severed Ways
Severed Ways (Magnet Releasing)
Metacritic Score: 50

indieWire: " 'Severed Ways' is a visionary work from one of the most promising new American narrative filmmakers in recent years."
Gelf could only find this mixed indieWire review, which notes the film is "sorely lacking in storytelling fundamentals" and calls it "an odd if momentary pleasure."

All Metal Resource: "Some of the rawest, realistic, deeply personal independent film making I have ever seen. It completely encompasses the true metal spirit."
Actual line: "Some of the rawest, realistic, deeply personal independent film making I have ever seen. I say independent because to compare Severed Ways to a big budget film like Braveheart or Gladiator would be wholly unfair. Severed Ways has all the qualities that one expects from a grand story, but budget restraints have systematically eliminated all the grandiose experiences that the two Hollywood features are awash in, instead, I was left with a film that had to compensate with what strengths it could capitalize on. … I can almost guarantee that this film will pass under the mainstream radar as its much too 'against the grain' for the majority of the viewers out there, if that doesn't completely encompass the true metal spirit, I don't know what does."
Not quoted: "Two very large issues I have with the film that could have easily been corrected are the language used, as well as a certain scene involving #2…yes, that #2. First, the language. What little dialogue this film has comes very close to being completely ruined by the fact the words are subtitled over the original voices of the actors. What is the point of that, and how can such a glaring amateur move become justified? Surely the actors could have learned what little dialogue they had in the viking tongue, right? You had the script, so memorize the lines in a different language! People speak outside their native tongue all the time while acting, this should have been no different. Secondly, the poop scene. I can understand wanting to ingratiate the viewer with a sense of true, raw, unadulterated voyeur into the lives of the viking sensibility, but is it necessary to treat the viewer to a shot of one of the viking's dropping a load and wiping himself with some leaves? Everyone knows what poop looks and smells like, and many of us have experienced what it's like to poop in the woods and use leaves in a similar fashion, so why was it included? Do you think seeing Nicole Kidman giving Tom Cruise fellatio in Days of Thunder would have given those guys an oscar? Come on. If there is a chance this film can still be edited before it hits theaters, please do us all a favor and cut out this scene."

Tokyo Sonata
Tokyo Sonata (Regent Releasing)
Metacritic Score: 74

Derek Elley, Variety: "Pitch-perfect peformances."
Actual line: "Though there's nothing here that hasn't been dealt with in other Japanese movies, pic benefits considerably from its pitch-perfect performances."
Not quoted: "Movie never develops the blackly comic bite of others dissecting the modern Japanese family unit—classically repped by 'Family Game'—and would also benefit from 10 to 15 minutes' worth of trimming. … Switch of tone in the final act, featuring an extended cameo by Kurosawa's favorite thesp, Koji Yakusho, is more problematical, mixing broader comedy with a resolution that spells everything out too literally and at unnecessary length. Technical credits are modest but get the job done."
Lingo like "thesp" makes Variety Gelf's favorite source of showbiz jarg."

Everlasting Moments
Everlasting Moments (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 79

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Engrossing and satisfying."
Actual line: "The result is an experience that, even as it feels a bit familiar, is nonetheless engrossing and satisfying."

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York: "****!"
Not quoted: "… if you can slow down your heart rate, his film will impress you."
That's four stars out of six, with no exclamation point.

The Last House on the Left
The Last House on the Left (Rogue)
Metacritic Score: 41

Brad Miska, "A tough, real horror film that will have you shaking in your boots."
Actual line: "On an old commentary track for the original The Last House on the Left, director Wes Craven said that he hoped to never revisit that time in his life again. After viewing the film years ago, I felt the same. It's a tough, brutal and real piece of celluloid that leaves the viewer with such a tremendous amount of stress, nobody should have to endure it."
The blurb is about the original, not the remake being advertised. Nonetheless, the review is favorable—until a rant at the end that Gelf won't repeat because it contains a crucial spoiler.

Reunion (Reunion Productions)
Metacritic Score: 23

New York Times: "Sex, success, resentment and…catharsis."
Actual line: "Sex, success, resentment and regret are on everyone's mind. … [prior paragraph] 'Reunion' overflows with catharsis—at least for those on screen. This may not be quite the moment to solicit our sympathy for self-absorbed beneficiaries of Ivy League privilege."
Not quoted: "This scenario—hyperarticulate people shut in a room yapping at one another—suggests a movie adapted from the stage, as do the over-deliberate cadences, rhetorical set pieces and compressed, rather contrived emotional intensity of the drama."
For listing a bunch of nonconsecutive nouns, none of them meant to compliment the film, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

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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