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The Blurbs

May 22, 2009

This Terminator 'Takes Itself Far More Seriously' Than Previous Installments

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 'Terminator Salvation,' 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,' 'Angels & Demons,' 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.

"McG approaches 'Terminator Salvation' with near-Talmudic gravity."—John Anderson, Washington Post

Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 52

Washington Post: " 'Terminator' delivers."
Actual line: "Through the Past Darkly, 'Terminator' Delivers Thrills"
Not quoted: "Ex-music-video maker and 'Charlie's Angels' director McG, ignoring the constraints of the time-space continuum and essential insanity of the franchise, approaches 'Terminator Salvation' with near-Talmudic gravity. The result is a movie that takes itself far more seriously than the 'Hasta la vista, baby' tone of previous installments."

Whitney Kennett, Fox-TV: "Explosive!"
The only Google trace of a Whitney Kennett at Fox is this very same Terminator ad.

Zorianna Kit, Fandango: "Jaw-dropping, eye-popping—the perfect summer film!"
It's hard to find Kit's review on Fandango; it's not linked from the movie's page on the tickets site. (It's easy to find her chummy interviews with the cast, however.) Fandango links to two critic reviews: A pan from USA Today and a more-favorable take from Variety.

Kelli Gillespie, the CW: "Intense… 'Terminator Salvation' will blow you away!"
Gillespie is another hybrid interviewer/reviewer. Many traditional reviewers wouldn't also seek cast interviews, perhaps because they often involve ice-breaking lines such as Gillespie's opener: "Such a neat film, I think, to work on and be a part of."

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 44

Jeff Craig, Sixty Second Preview: "A summer smash. Fun for the whole family. You won't have a better time at the movies. ****"
Craig doesn't watch many of the movies he reviews, nor write many of his reviews," Time reported in 1993: "He is probably the most prominent of a new crop of movie blurbmeisters: critics and critic-wannabes who seem to exist mainly to service the studios with glowing quotes to hype their latest releases."

Ben Mankiewicz, At the Movies: "Better than the original."
High praise for a sequel following up on a movie with a Metacritic score of 48.

Ben Lyons, At the Movies: "I loved it. I had so much fun. It's got such a wonderful, magical, quality. Audiences young and old are going to love it."
Gelf couldn't find the At the Movies clip, but it seems one host was considerably more enthusiastic than the other. That's the same host often criticized for being too soft on bad movies.

Angels & Demons
Angels & Demons (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 48

Jeff Craig, Sixty Second Preview: "…a pulse-pounding thriller that keeps springing surprises."
More love from Craig and his team for a movie with a sub-50 Metacritic score.

Pete Hammond, "Perfect summer entertainment, Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard have topped The DaVinci Code in every way imaginable!"
Not quoted: "Brown's novel is basically pulp fiction, filled with expository dialogue which has been transferred in a clunky fashion to David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman's otherwise tight screenplay. Hanks and Zurer come close to Hardy Boys-style delivery as they attempt to awkwardly lay out 'clues' and mounds of technical mumbo-jumbo in a believable fashion—not an easy task for the best of actors. You'll also have to suspend belief as the story is largely implausible. "
More faint praise for a sequel to a widely panned film. This blurb also manages to contain a typo when naming said prior film, and to be constructed as a run-on sentence, winning it Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

The Girlfriend Experience
The Girlfriend Experience (Magnolia)
Metacritic Score: 69

Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere: "I wasn't bored for a second. It smacks of right-now verité, is smartly written and very well-made."
Actual line: "I was pretty okay with The Girlfriend Experience. It smacks of right-now verite, is smartly written and very well made. (And recently shot also with all kinds of references to the Obama-McCain race and the economic meltdown.) No one would call it the stuff of high Shakespearean drama, but I wasn't bored for a second."
Nice of the ad writers to add the accent mark in verité and the hyphen in well-made.

John P. McCarthy, Boxoffice: "I got my money's worth. An elegant piece. Once more Soderbergh demonstrates he's a silky smooth craftsman."
Actual line: "Some audience members (like me) will feel they got their money's worth. Others will feel royally gypped. … Once more, Soderbergh demonstrates he's a silky smooth craftsman, even though what precisely he's pimping never becomes clear. If you're sick of hearing about sex and/or the financial meltdown, or don't care how one might affect the other, then skip his twentieth film. You'll be missing an elegant piece—a lesson in artful economy that demonstrates vérité filmmaking doesn't have to be grainy and grotty."
Not quoted: "There's still an unfortunate redundancy to the exchanges, which the film's non-linear, out-of-sequence structure only emphasizes. … Grey's emotive ability is what you'd expect from a 20 year old with eighty blue movies under her belt. Ditto [critic Glenn] Kenny's, whose lone scene and its voiceover aftermath are crucial to the story. Neither should quit their day job."

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: "It's a hall of mirrors. Sasha Grey isn't the first porn actress to go straight, but she may be the first to allegorize her own situation."
Actual line: "No less than Che, or even the Ocean's Eleven movies, The Girlfriend Experience is a film about its own making. It's also a hall of mirrors. Are we watching an authentic sacred monster playing the part of a cute little chippie—or is it vice versa? (Imagine one performer embodying both the Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider roles in Last Tango in Paris.) Grey isn't the first porn actress to go straight, but she may be the first to allegorize her own situation—projecting an on-screen self-confidence that's indistinguishable from pathos."
Neither the blurb nor the excerpt it came from, nor the review itself, makes very clear whether Hoberman liked the film.

The Brothers Bloom
The Brothers Bloom (Summit)
Metacritic Score: 54

Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune: "…a genuinely funny, sharply observed, emotionally resonant crime caper…"
Actual line: "…a genuinely funny, sharply observed, emotionally resonant crime caper—one that lapses only occasionally into preciousness."
Not quoted: "…the succeeding hour and 43 minutes doesn't hold up to the movie's opening scenes…"

Alex Billington, First Showing: "Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo are absolutely phenomenal."
Not quoted: "The only flaw I could find in Brothers Bloom was with the story and how confusing it became."

Management (Samuel Goldwyn)
Metacritic Score: 50

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "A sweet rom-com with some big laughs."
Actual line: " 'Management' works as a sweet rom-com with some fairly big laughs."

Easy Virtue
Easy Virtue (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 66

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Director Stephan Elliott uncorks a rare vintage of laughs tinged with heartache. A comedy of bad manners done by experts. The elegant barbed wit of Noel Coward bubbling up in a time of Wolverine grunts."
Actual entire review: "The elegant barbed wit of Noel Coward bubbling up in a time of Wolverine grunts. I must be dreaming. But here it is, a 1920s-era comedy of bad manners done by experts. Jessica Biel is funny and touching as Larita, an American auto racer catching hell from the snob Brit parents (Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas, both superb) of her new husband (Ben Barnes). Director Stephan Elliott uncorks a rare vintage of laughs tinged with heartache."
For some reason the ad writers completely rearranged an already positive review.

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "Romantic, clever and artfully crafted! Guaranteed to lift your spirits! Lush production values, a perfect cast and the nimble, cutting wordplay of Coward's sensibility add up to a sparkling entertainment."
This, too, cuts and pastes from every part of a very favorable review.

O'Horten (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 77

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "So wonderful! Something to be cherished! Luminous and deliciously funny!"
The "wonderful" and "cherished" bits are hard to find, but the last sentence is from a brief Turan dispatch from Cannes last year. His fuller review was also positive but calls the film "charming and a little bit daft."

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story (Disney)
Metacritic Score: 78

Pete Hammond, "Extraordinary! The incredible jaw-dropping story behind the songs we've been singing for a lifetime."
Not quoted: "The effect the brothers' stormy relationship has on family, friends and themselves is dealt with in detail, but the actual reasons for their estrangement are glossed over—largely because neither Richard nor Robert will offer an explanation. Since this is such an integral part of their story, it would have been nice to see a little more investigative work devoted to revealing the truth between the split. Perhaps even the Sherman brothers themselves don't know the full extent of it."

Metacritic Score: 69

New York Times: "One for the ages."
That's from a TMagazine review. Stephen Holden's review in the paper stated, "Watching the movie is a little like gorging on chocolate and Champagne until that queasy moment arrives when you realize you've consumed far too much."

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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