Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

May 5, 2007

Web of Deceit

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 Spider-Man 3, Next, Waitress, 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.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"Typical of such compilations, results tend to vary wildly, though despite roughly an even number of slight successes and minor misfires, the bad nonetheless tends to outweigh the good."—Nick Schager of Slant Magazine on Paris, Je T'Aime

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Spider-Man 3 (Columbia/Sony)

Richard Corliss, Time: "The year's first surefire blockbuster lives up to its hype."
Not quoted: "An action film needs a love interest, if only for the hero to untie her from the railroad tracks, but not one who's a narcissist. And M.J. is way more self-absorbed than the movie is M.J.-absorbed. Fact is, the Spider-Man love story has grown older without maturing. In their early 20s, Peter and M.J. are like a middle-aged couple; he's too consumed by work to pay attention to her hopes for a career. The pair's attraction is assumed rather than displayed."
The ad's quote comes from Corliss's synopsis of the movie, much briefer than his more mixed review.

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Action-packed…Spider-Man has always swung to a different beat."
Not quoted: "These multiple villains make for an eventful but not always coherent plotline. Could somebody explain the supernatural rules? I'd like to know how Sandman keeps reverting to Marko's human form, and why. And is it just a weird accident that black glop from outer space picks on Peter Parker? Seems kind of arbitrary for a major plot point."

Next (Paramount)

Jack Mathews, New York Daily News: "Sensational action!"
Actual line: "[Director Lee] Tamahori attempts to cover the ludicrousness of the story with a wickedly fast pace and sensational action set pieces."
Not quoted: "…colossally silly thriller plot…"
The gelflog rounded up some of the wittier critical review headlines of this stinker.

Fracture (Castle Rock/New Line)

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: "…A must-see…"
Actual line: "…these two [Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins] turn a mediocre movie into a must-see."
Not quoted: "'Fracture' is the kind of thriller we've seen a thousand times before. Fortunately, nobody told his leads, Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins, both of whom devoutly believe they're in another, better movie. …As the bland title suggests, there is so much about "Fracture" that's ordinary."

Waitress (Fox Searchlight)

Devin Gordon, Newsweek: "'Waitress' is wise, humble and effortlessly funny. It's an easy film to love."
Actual line: " 'Waitress' arrives in theaters this month, and so far the critical reception has been glowing. But the tragedy surrounding the film makes it hard to gauge the candor of the response to it. Is the film as good as advertised? Or is its power inextricably linked to Shelly's cruel death? The answer is both. 'Waitress' is wise, humble and effortlessly funny. It's an easy film to love. Still, certain lines will make you wince at their unintended irony. A leitmotif of violence against women was subtle before; it's unavoidable now. 'Waitress' has become a fairy tale with a lump in its throat, beautifully bittersweet, like one of Jenna's signature pies."
Gordon directly addresses the subtext of many reviews: The filmmaker/co-star Adrienne Shelly was murdered after Waitress was completed, but before it opened. The ad doesn't mention what happened to Shelly, instead simply superimposing the line "A film by Adrienne Shelly" on a picture of a blueberry pie.

Paris, Je T'Aime (First Look International)

Ali Naderzad, Anthem Magazine: "A love letter to Paris!"
Gelf can't find the full review online, but the blurb is nonetheless worth noting, because it essentially translates the title of the film ("Paris, I love you") without commenting on whether it's any good. It'd be like slapping on top of your ad for Spider-Man a blurb that says, "It's about Spider-Man!"

Nick Schager, Slant Magazine: "Romantic, mysterious, hilarious. Thrums with sexy, stylish energy."
Actual line: "Most fine are those that strive to capture the swooningly romantic, mysterious atmosphere that's endeared so many to France's capital…the Coen Brothers' hilarious Metro-as-hell Tuileries…cinematographer par excellence Christopher Doyle's Porte de Choisy, which thrums with the type of sexy, stylish, silly energy that Parisian dreams are made of."
Not quoted: "Typical of such compilations, results tend to vary wildly, though despite roughly an even number of slight successes and minor misfires, the bad nonetheless tends to outweigh the good courtesy of a few preachy and/or ugly episodes that spoil the otherwise light, affectionate mood."
A compilation of 18 shorts lends itself particularly well to blurbing, because as long as some of the shorts are good, some of the words in the review will be good. Schager gave the movie two out of four stars. For using adjectives describing tiny segments of the film as if they encompass the whole stinkin' thing, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award.

Zoo (THINKFilm)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Transfixing! Eerily beautiful."
Actual line: "As pure cinema, 'Zoo' is a transfixing, albeit unnerving, document."
Not quoted: " 'Zoo' avoids any taint of exploitation, but it errs on the opposite extreme. I came away from it wanting a little less Art and a lot more simple reportage."

Year of the Dog (Paramount Vantage)

[attributed to no one]: One of the best reviewed films of the year!
By Gelf's count, there are 32 films currently in theaters that have a higher Metacritic score than this Mike White movie's 71. The one review the ad quotes, from the New York Times, is a modest 70 by Metacritic's count. (It was re-contextualized in the prior The Blurbs column.

After the Wedding (IFC)

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: "One of the best films to open in 2007."
Actual line: "One of the best films to open in the Bay Area in 2007."

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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