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The Blurbs

June 5, 2009

'Up' Fails to Soar as High as Its Score

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 'Up,' 'The Hangover,' 'Away We Go,' 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.

"Rushed and sketchy, a collection of lovely storyboards that coalesced incompletely or not at all."—Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern, on Up

Up (Disney, Pixar)
Metacritic Score: 88

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Irresistible."
Actual line: "I'm still left, though, with an unshakable sense of 'Up' being rushed and sketchy, a collection of lovely storyboards that coalesced incompletely or not at all. The one exception, apart from that silent montage, is the movie's most ephemeral element, the music … touching, lilting, swooping, stirring, heartbreakingly elegiac, with intimations of Scott Joplin, Randy Newman and even Charles Ives, yet altogether original, and irresistible. The music is what the movie wanted to be."

Not quoted: "I admired the film much more than I enjoyed it. … the characterizations are fairly coarse cartoons, in contrast to the emotionally rich cartoons that have become Pixar's hallmark. They're more schematic than organic, and that applies to the plotting as well. The movie does give us a couple of flashes of its hero as a young man selling balloons at an amusement park. Still, the big moment, when all those helium balloons pour out from the open roof of Carl's house, struck me as an arbitrary notion with negligible preparation, a kind of unearned, triumphalist fantasy that bespeaks music video more than Pixar revelation. (And a derivative one: helium balloons lifted the title character to the skies in the 2003 Australian comedy 'Danny Deckchair.')"
It's somewhat baffling that the ad folks blurbed Morgenstern in the upper left corner, considering almost every other major critic loved the film. In the ad, critics' words are in balloons, and Morgenstern's soars among the highest, ironic considering his review was headlined, "Reaching for the Sky, 'Up' Fails to Soar." For taking an adjective that Morgenstern explicitly says applies to the music, not the film, and implying otherwise, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

The Hangover
The Hangover (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 73

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "The breakout comedy of the summer. A comedy cure-all. The beginning middle and end are all killer funny."
Not quoted: "The Hangover ain't art."
Worth reading: this New York Times Magazine profile of Zach Galifianakis, the exceedingly strange comedian who plays the emotionally underdeveloped younger brother of the groom in this Vegas bachelor party flick.

Away We Go
Away We Go (Focus Features)
Metacritic Score: 56

Karen Durbin, New York Times: "John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are a match made in comedy heaven! The result is one of the most credible couples ever to grace a movie screen."
Durbin really did rave, but Times critic A.O. Scott did not, decrying "the smug self-regard of this movie," which "does not like you."

Tennessee (Vivendi Entertainment)
Metacritic Score: 38

Pete Hammond, "'Tennessee' is a rewarding and moving drama with exceptionally fine performances all around. The real revelation is Mariah Carey. She's completely authentic and memorable in a movie that's well worth seeing."
Actual line: " Tennessee is a rewarding and moving drama with exceptionally fine performances all around. … Tennessee's real revelation is Mariah Carey as Krystal, a Texas waitress stuck in a dead-end marriage to a not-so-kind police officer. Seeing a way out, she joins up with the brothers and accompanies them as far as Nashville, where her dreams of a music career get an unexpected boost. Carey is completely authentic and memorable, particularly in a scene where she gets to sing in an open mic contest. This mega-pop star can finally put the disaster of her notorious flop, 2001's Glitter, far behind her."
Not quoted: "It takes a while to get into the rhythms of these two very damaged brothers, but give Tennessee a chance, and it all kicks in, especially with the welcome introduction of Carey's character. The actors bring it home. Only Lance Reddick as Frank, her crummy hubby, comes off as one-dimensional. … Like many independently-made dramas, this one will struggle to stay afloat in theaters. Hopefully, it will have a strong afterlife on DVD, where many more people will happily discover that Mariah can actually act!"

Laila's Birthday
Laila's Birthday (Cinema Production Center)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Time Out NY: "A vivid passenger-seat tour of a society perpetually crashing into madness"
Actual line: "This collection of vignettes mostly plays as surface-level reportage, as opposed to the poetically subtle, subtext-rich work of Masharawi's Palestinian art-house peers Elia Suleiman and Hany Abu-Assad. Nonetheless, Masharawi's film is a vivid passenger-seat tour of a society perpetually crashing into madness."
The film merited just three stars out of six.

Herb & Dorothy
Herb & Dorothy (Fine Line Media)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer: "A big-hearted movie! An inspiration!"
Actual line: "The film's takeaway message is bracing: Where most collectors see art as much as an investment as a passion, not so the Vogels, who did not, strictly speaking, sell their collection. What they did with it makes this big-hearted movie an inspiration."
Not quoted: "While Sasaki's film succeeds in conveying the collectors' enthusiasm for the new and the difficult in art, it does not fully communicate what the keen-eyed couple saw in the work they collected."

Unmistaken Child
Unmistaken Child (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Metacritic Score: 57

Kevin B. Lee, Time Out NY: "Entrancing."
Actual line: "Recalling Martin Scorsese's Kundun, Baratz captures these rarely-seen rites with entrancing beauty, but refrains from questioning whether these exercises amount to a child being trained (brainwashed?) into believing that he is a reincarnated Lama who can point to a photo of his dead predecessor and say, 'That's me!' "
Not quoted: "The film doesn't ask these adults much, opting to treat Tenzin and his sacred duty with more reverential observation than probing investigation."

Departures (Regent)
Metacritic Score: 66

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Gorgeous."
Not quoted: "Occasionally the story turns manipulative, or self-conscious: I could have done without the hero playing his cello in picturesque fields near snow-capped mountains, though his musical yearnings perfectly complement the movie's main theme of spiritual growth."

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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