Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

February 13, 2009

This Cartoon Will Scare Your Sensitive Tykes 'Shitless'

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 'Coraline,' 'Confessions of a Shopaholic,' 'He's Just Not That Into You,' 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.

"The wizardry of Coraline is more to be admired than enthusiastically embraced."—Claudia Puig of USA Today

Coraline (Focus)
Metacritic Score: 79

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "A magical tale."
Actual line: "A magical tale with a genuinely sinister edge."
Not quoted: "It may be rated PG, but it is more suitable for adults than the very small among us."
Turan loves the film, but the ad plays down his warning to parents, and no wonder: The headline of the ad calls Coraline "America's #1 family movie!

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "A visual marvel!"
Actual line: "… a visual marvel, but it's uneven in its story. The narrative lacks focus."
Not quoted: "… the wizardry of Coraline is more to be admired than enthusiastically embraced. … Coraline is a plucky heroine, and director Selig's imagination is indisputable. But the story falters in parts, and its dark tone could be off-putting for children."
Pretty sure she meant director Henry Selick, not Selig. For cutting out Puig's reservations and appending an exclamation mark to a particularly passionless review, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Dazzling!"
Actual line: "… dazzling stop-motion animation …"
Not quoted: "OK, sensitive tykes may be scared shitless."

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: "Extraordinary!"
Actual line: "An extraordinary achievement that nevertheless falls short of its full potential …"
Not quoted: "… the connection will be entirely through your eyes; if you want it to touch your heart, you'll have to go to the book on which it's based. … the tone-deaf changes [director Henry Selick] makes to [Neil] Gaiman's perfect story are undeniably disappointing. … None of the script's changes are useful, but one is especially dismaying. 'Coraline' was written for Gaiman's daughters, and it's a wonderful lesson in courage and self-reliance. Yet the movie introduces a new character: an annoying boy who befriends our heroine and eventually comes to her rescue. Huh? The Coraline we already know and love would kick this kid to the curb, fully capable of saving herself."

The International
The International (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 52

Stephen Rebello, Playboy: "… crackles with tension … the perfect thriller for our times."
Actual line: "… great style, smarts and crackling tension … The International may be the perfect thriller for our jittery times."
Not quoted: "… sometimes top-heavy with chatter … [Naomi] Watts's role may be paler …"

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "****!"
Yet another mediocre movie loved by Shawn.

Confessions of a Shopaholic
Confessions of a Shopaholic (Touchstone)
Metacritic Score: 38

Bryan Erdy, Movie Planet: "The first feel-great film of the year. Laugh-out-loud funny! You will fall in love with Isla Fisher!"
There's no sign of Bryan on MoviesPlanet, the closest thing Gelf could find to Movie Planet. Famous for plugging Disney movies, Erdy once worked for an NBC affiliate, but apparently no longer. Confessions' distributor is, naturally, Disney.

Pete Hammond, "Hilarious! 'Confessions' is a nonstop laughing spree."
Not quoted: "[Isla Fisher] turns a character who could have been gratingly annoying into someone even the non-shopaholics in the audience can easily identify with and root for. … Whether timing in the current economic crisis is right for a movie about an upscale shopaholic is beside the point."
Also beside the point: Why Hammond consistently delivers such blurbable copy alongside such ambivalent ratings—in this case, three stars out of five.

He's Just Not That Into You
He's Just Not That Into You (New Line)
Metacritic Score: 47

Jeanne Wolf, "Hilarious! The all-star cast is at the top of their game."
Wolf mentioned "the all-star cast" but didn't say much else in the closest thing Gelf could find to this blurb. It was from a video of interviews she did with that all-star cast. How kind of them to grant her the interview, and how kind of her to give them a blurb!

Clay Smith, The Insider: "Terrific! This is what a funny, sexy romantic comedy should be."
Not quoted: "If you don't like this movie, I guess you're just not that into fast, funny, sexy romantic comedies."
He really did love the movie, but Gelf is just not that into that extra quote.

Taken (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 50

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Adrenaline-pumping."
Actual line: "With some suspension of disbelief and a strong stomach, it's possible to get taken in, or at least absorbed, by this adrenaline-pumping action thriller."
Not quoted: "The plot is preposterous, and [Liam] Neeson smites faceless bad guys with implausible finesse and immeasurable violence. … The film's paranoid and xenophobic subtext is troubling. Bryan disposes of a slew of evildoers who have heavy accents, tracking them down through various clever methods."

James Verniere, Boston Herald: "Excellent. Thrilling. Non-stop."
Actual line: "While the film's multiple vehicular chase scenes have been cut in the 'What on earth is going on?'-style we watch muttering under our breath, the truth is 'Taken' features excellent fight scenes in which Bryan uses everything within reach to perforate, smash, crush and atomize bad guys. The film has that video-game, nonstop-action quality that made [Pierre] Morel's 'District 13' such a hoot. Too bad it lacks the former’s zestful style and originality."
Not quoted: " 'Taken' begins in Los Angeles, where in clumsily written scenes we meet wretched divorced dad and retired CIA 'preventer' Bryan Mills (Neeson)."

Gene Shalit, Today: "Exhilarating."
For more on Shalit's take on Taken, see Amelie Gillette's takedown in the Onion. And see more on Taken's blurbs in the last Blurbs column.

Push (Summit Entertainment)
Metacritic Score: 36

Heather Newgen, "The first real action film of 2009! Mind-blowing! A must-see!"
Newgen did interviews with the cast, but Gelf can't find her words of praise. ComingSoon critic Edward Douglas didn't like Push, giving it 4.5 points out of 10. On his review is this comment: "I thought you guys said it was the first action film of the year or something. It's on the commercial"

Two Lovers
Two Lovers (Magnolia)
Metacritic Score: 71

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "Emotionally rich, authentic and passionate. Gwyneth Paltrow is radiant and Joaquin Phoenix is stupendous in a way he has never been before."
Actual line: "James Gray's movies (The Yards, We Own the Night) have their share of shopworn melodramatic devices, but they're too emotionally rich to dismiss. Their authenticity—and their passion—is in their texture. … Although Paltrow is radiant (and she nails the character's ditzy sense of entitlement), it's Phoenix's movie. He is, once again, stupendous, and stupendous in a way he has never been before: His face is a graceless blob, his eyes searching for something, someone to define him. (Can Phoenix really be abandoning acting for rap? Oy.)"
Not quoted: "Two Lovers is much ado about nothing, but so are most hopeless crushes in which everything in the universe seems suddenly at stake."

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Admirably bold. There's something grand about the film's sincerity and the intensity of its emotions."
Not quoted: "Although it takes place in the present, the look and mood of 'Two Lovers' are old-fashioned, perhaps even anachronistic…"
That's all from his Cannes review; his fuller review today is favorable but said the film is "a little … overwrought and schematic."

Fanboys (Weinstein Co.)
Metacritic Score: 43

Pete Hammond, "Hilarious! It's a blast! The comic force is with 'Fanboys.' "
Yet again, Hammond delivers a blurb-ready review yet awards a film only three stars out of five.

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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