Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

April 12, 2010

These Titans Will 'Fleece' You

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 'Clash of the Titans,' 'Date Night,' 'The Greatest,' 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.

"Explain to kids that the movie … is only being shown in 3-D in order to charge you an extra $5 a ticket."—Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, on Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 39

Richard Corliss, Time Magazine: "A full-throttle action-adventure."
Actual line: "As to the chief complaint about Clash of the Titans—that the movie stinks—what can I say? I liked it. This is a full-throttle action-adventure, played unapologetically straight."

Not quoted: "This mythological epic, starring Avatar's Sam Worthington as the ancient adventurer Perseus, has endured a typhoon of negative reviews, for four reasons. One: After shooting the picture in the traditional format, the filmmakers slapped on 3-D effects at the last minute. Two: Director Louis Leterrier and his team dared to remake the 1981 original, replacing stop-motion genius Ray Harryhausen's handcrafted creatures—Medusa, the Kraken, the giant scorpions, etc.—with computer-generated ones. Three: The new picture reduces the role of Buba the mechanical owl, one of Harryhausen's signature inventions, to a perfunctory cameo. And fourth: Well, a lot of critics just don't like it. … Yes, [the 3-D makeover] is nothing but Warner Bros.' scheme to fleece an extra $3 or $4 from the moviegoer's pocket. Yes, the retrofit adds nothing to Clash of the Titans, and may detract from the film's old-fashioned vigor, as audience's wait in vain for some big monsters-in-your-lap moment. (And it's rated PG-13—unlike 300, its recent ancestor in the antique-Greek action genre—so the hacked-off-arm opportunities are also limited.) But at least this transfer to 3-D doesn't substantially darken the original image, as Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland did. … The special effects—the encounters with the scorpions and Medusa and the Kraken—are fitting rather than astounding; they're smartly choreographed and shot by Leterrier's constantly prowling, soaring camera work, but aren't candidates for the CGI Monsters' Hall of Fame."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Great entertainment … the climax is a classic!"
Actual line: "The outcome is told in 'Clash of the Titans' with impressive technical mastery and somewhat lesser dramatic command. For its intended audience, I suspect this will play as a great entertainment. … The climax is classic."
Not quoted: "There's no particular dramatic conflict in the movie; Perseus has to wrestle with his demi-god ambiguity; Hades (Ralph Fiennes) nurses a resentment against Zeus; he demands the sacrifice of King Acrisius' daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to spare the city, and the citizens seem prepared to get along very nicely without her. That's about it. … I don't say it's good cinema, although I recognize the craftsmanship that went into it. I don't say it's good acting, when the men have so much facial hair they all look like Liam Neeson. I like the energy, the imagination, the silliness. … So do I recommend the movie? Yes, if you intuit that this review is affectionate and have the same tolerance for goofy Greek gods as I do. One word of consumer advice, however. Explain to kids that the movie was not filmed in 3-D and is only being shown in 3-D in order to charge you an extra $5 a ticket. I saw it in 2-D, and let me tell you, it looked terrific."

Date Night
Date Night (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 57

Lael Loewenstein, Variety: "Scores a home run."
Not quoted: "At times, pic's domino-style series of spontaneous adventures, gallery of unsavory characters and brushes with peril suggest a lesser version of the nocturnal black comedies 'After Hours' or 'Into the Night'—but those were rated R, and this one is resolutely PG-13. That's a little too bad, as it would be fun to see where Fey and Carell could really go if let loose, and if "Date Night" had even further embraced its edginess."

The Greatest
The Greatest (Paladin)
Metacritic Score: 45

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "Quite an accomplishment! A film of maturity and courage, one that kept me consistently engaged. Played with earth-shaking truthfulness by the enchanting Carey Mulligan."
Actual line: "If it's true, as they say, that as one door closes, another door opens, I feel that perhaps in The Greatest too many doors open too fast in time to meet the deadline for a happy ending, but this is just a small hangnail amid the manicured strengths of a film of maturity and courage, one that kept me consistently engaged. Quite an accomplishment, really, for a new filmmaker on her first date with a camera. … Rose is played with earth-shaking truthfulness by the enchanting Carey Mulligan …"
Not quoted: "The usual grumpy cynics will undoubtedly call it sentimental and manipulative. Ignore them. In spite of an unfortunate title that invites critical puns, The Greatest is cut from the same bolt of emotional genre fabric as the 1980 classic Ordinary People…"

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: " 'The Greatest' takes a piece out of you! A riveting cast plays it for real. Mulligan is wonderfully appealing. [Susan] Sarandon nails every nuance."
Actual line: "The Greatest takes a piece out of you. … A boy dies in a car crash just after having sex for the first time, leaving his girlfriend scared and alone. Sounds like a recipe for a soapy Lifetime movie. Which The Greatest could well have been without a riveting cast that plays it for real. Carey Mulligan, an Oscar nominee for An Education, is wonderfully appealing as Rose … First-time director-writer Shana Feste, covering a trail indelibly blazed by Ordinary People, sometimes lets her foray into the spiky corners of grief spill into melodrama. The actors never do. Sarandon nails every nuance as the alienated mom." "Pierce Brosnan and the remarkable Susan Sarandon are just perfect!"
Not quoted: "Feste could have turned this all into bad 'Ordinary People' or a soap opera. A first time director and screenwriter, she takes her team into a field already well trodden with clichés. But she manages to avoid most of them …"
That review was written by Roger Friedman in January 2009. Friedman and Fox News since parted ways, hence the attribution to just the website rather than the critic's name.

New York: "The real revelation here is Brosnan!"
Actual line: "Despite the much-hyped presence of 2009 'It' girl Mulligan in this melodrama about a pregnant teenager who moves in with the family of her recently dead boyfriend, the real revelation here is Brosnan, whose riveting humanity in the role of the grieving father brings this mostly awkward film to life."

The Last Song
The Last Song (Touchstone)
Metacritic Score: 33

Pete Hammond, Boxoffice Magazine: "An unforgettable, touching and wonderful movie."
Actual line: "The Last Song mercifully avoids some of the clichés of its genre and will likely provide an unforgettably touching and wonderful film experience for the target teen girl audience that is bound to line up for it in droves. Other audience members dragged along should find things to like…"
Not quoted: "A subplot involving the torching of a local church is a bit much though, and needlessly melodramatic."

Dancing Across Borders
Dancing Across Borders (First Run)
Metacritic Score: 46

Village Voice: "Dazzling to behold!"
Actual line: "Instead, we get white folks ruminating lyrically on the peasant Asian's role as a kind of grand jeté bridge between East and West, and long performance sequences that are dazzling to behold but quite troubling to contemplate."
Not quoted: " 'This ballet thing is going to turn me into a duck,' [the documentary's star, Sokvannara Sar] remembers thinking. 'I don't think I want to do this.' It's a sentiment Sar repeats throughout Dancing Across Borders, and it is to first-time director [Anne] Bass's credit that she marked his ambivalence in this otherwise blithely tone-deaf ode to her own generosity and that of dance instructor Olga Kostritzky. There are several uncomfortable factors at play in the story of Sar's success—the clear class and culture shock; the pressure to compress 10 years of ballet training into three lest he lose his patron's attention—but Bass, enamored of his talent and determined to shape it to her liking ('I hope he's going to be what I want him to be,' Kostritzky says), elides every one."
For appending an ill-deserved exclamation point to a lone kind phrase in a sentence full of reservations, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Time Out NY: "Riveting…breathtaking!"
Actual line: "The dance footage is indeed riveting, so why take 40 minutes to reveal the artist's first full, breathtaking performance?"
Not quoted: "An illuminating profile but a sloppy snapshot of the immigrant experience, Anne Bass's documentary charts the rise of Cambodian Sokvannara Sar on America's ballet stages. The director, who sponsored Sar's emigration, lets her proximity to the subject impair most of her filmmaking decisions; cultural tensions are glossed over, as when Sar's unrefined techniques ruin a ballet audition."

New York: "A joy to witness!"
Actual line: "Despite the title, it focuses more on Sy's emotional and technical development as a dancer—which is a joy to witness—than political or social issues."

Waking Sleeping Beauty
Waking Sleeping Beauty (Disney)
Metacritic Score: 69

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Fascinating… an extraordinary inside look."
Actual line: "The most fascinating scenes in 'Waking Sleeping Beauty' involve the infamous Disney work ethic. … an extraordinary inside look …"
Ebert doesn't say any of the scenes are fascinating, merely that some are more than others.

The Hollywood Reporter: "Hard-hitting."
Actual line: "…surprisingly hard-hitting and revealing."
Not quoted: "The topic is a bit specialized to draw a wide audience … the footage isn't always of the best technical quality …"
"Surprising," because the film was made by Disney insiders.

La Mission
La Mission (Screen Media Ventures)
Metacritic Score: 46

New York Post: "An inspiring gem. The finest performance of Benjamin Bratt's career—genius."
Gelf couldn't find this review, but did find this Post review by V.A. Musetto calls the film "utterly predictable and full of trite dialogue."

Everyone Else
Everyone Else (Cinema Guild)
Metacritic Score: 74

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: "Superbly performed."
Actual line: "An exercise in voyeurism, Maren Ade's provocatively titled, superbly performed, emotionally graphic Everyone Else is more fascinating than enjoyable."
Not quoted: "Placing a youngish, newly formed couple under relentless observation, Ade's two-hour squirmathon gets a bit more intimate on the subject of intimacy than the viewer might wish."

Mid-August Lunch
Mid-August Lunch (Zeitgeist)
Metacritic Score: 79

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Luminous!"
Actual line: "… luminous sliver of a film …"

The Misfortunates
The Misfortunates (NeoClassics)
Metacritic Score: 53

Duane Byrge, Hollywood Reporter: "A riotous triumph. Bawdy and poignant… careens with madcap hilarity."
Actual line: "Under filmmaker Van Groeningen's adroit hand, the technical contributions are a riotous triump. … Bawdy and poignant… While 'The Misfortunates' careens with madcap hilarity through the Strobbe's tumultuous lives, it also resonates with its serious story undercurrent."
The spelling in the review was no triumph.

New York: "Consistently engaging… quite touching."
Actual line: "The tonal deviations don't always work—broad performances clash with more understated moments—but it's consistently engaging, and occasionally quite touching."
Not quoted: "… elegantly shot but strange hybrid of sentimental drama and crude comedy."

Who Do You Love
Who Do You Love (International Film Circuit)
Metacritic Score: 46

Reel Film Reviews: "Fantastic music. Irresistible!"
Actual line: "Director Jerry Zaks—working from Peter Wortmann and Bob Conte's screenplay—has infused Who Do You Love with an exceedingly familiar sensibility that contains all of the tropes and clichés one has come to associate with the genre, including the opening that segues into a flashback (Leonard Chess evidently can't listen to one of his acts without first thinking back on his life) and the expected downfall that dominates the proceedings' third act. Yet the film is generally elevated by the fantastic music and Nivola's charismatic, commanding performance, although—in terms of the latter—there's little doubt that Chi McBride steals every one of his scenes as Chess' self-described "guide into the exotic negro world." And although one's interest does start to dwindle once Chess' success starts to overwhelm him—ie his marriage, already on shaky ground, takes a seemingly fatal hit after Leonard starts sleeping with a drug-addicted protege—Who Do You Love primarily comes off as a personable, downright irresistible endeavor…"

Letters to God
Letters to God (Vivendi)
Metacritic Score: 37

Ted Baehr, Movieguide: "One of the most encouraging and inspiring movies in a long time."
Not quoted: "Very strong Christian worldview with a very moral perspective, references to coming to Christ, prayer, and what would Jesus do; no foul language; minor slapstick violence such as little girl pushes little boy's face in his pie and alcoholic trashes his room; no sex; alcohol use to get drunk; no smoking; and, nothing else objectionable."
This blurb and every other for the film was from the Christian media. Mainstream critics weren't as impressed.

Related on the web

Cinematical's Monday Morning Quote-A-Back column breaks down Hollywood's blurb whores.

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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