Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

October 5, 2007

Wes Anderson's Clumsy, Precious, Limited Treasure

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 'Darjeeling Limited,' 'The Kingdom,' 'Michael Clayton,' 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
"Humanism lies either beyond Wes Anderson's grasp or outside the range of his interests"—A.O. Scott of the New York Times, about Darjeeling Limited

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Darjeeling Limited (Fox Searchlight)

Pete Hammond, Maxim: "A wonderful mix of humor and humanity on a train trip to remember. 'The Darjeeling Limited' is vintage Wes Anderson, fine and funny, as he takes us on a soul-searching magical mystery tour."
Actual line: "If you're not a fan of the director's unique brand of idiosyncratic filmmaking, it may be an acquired taste. But for us, The Darjeeling Limited is a wonderful mix of humor and humanity with vintage Wes Anderson at his finest and funniest, as he takes us on a soul-searching magical mystery tour."
Why change Wes Anderson's "finest and funniest" to "fine and funny"? Does the former imply that sometimes he's been less fine or less funny?

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "A treasure."
Actual line: "This shaggy-dog road trip, in which three semi-estranged brothers travel by rail across India, is unstintingly fussy, vain and self-regarding. But it is also a treasure: an odd, flawed, but nonetheless beautifully handmade object as apt to win affection as to provoke annoyance. You might say that it has sentimental value."
Not quoted: "Mr. Anderson is clumsiest when he tries to confront intense emotion directly. The death of an Indian child, for instance, is less a dramatic crisis than an aesthetic opportunity, a chance for the brothers (and the filmmakers) to explore another aspect of the beauty and mystery of India. 'The Darjeeling Limited' amounts finally to a high-end, high-toned tourist adventure. … humanism lies either beyond his grasp or outside the range of his interests. His stated debt to 'The River,' Jean Renoir's film about Indian village life, and his use of music from the films of Satyajit Ray represent both an earnest tribute to those filmmakers and an admission of his own limitations. They were great directors because they extended the capacity of the art form to comprehend the world that exists. He is an intriguing and amusing director because he tirelessly elaborates on a world of his own making."

Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "A gripping thriller."
Actual line: "…dense, gripping anticorporate thriller…"
For some reason, Warner Bros. didn't like that "anticorporate" description.

The Seeker (20th Century Fox)

Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award Committee: "An epic adventure."
Who? Gelf had never heard of these guys, who bestow awards "to inform potential audiences of a film's uplifting message and appeal."

Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel: "Four stars. Well worth seeking."
Not quoted: "…a too-simple story."
It doesn't hurt that the Sentinel rates movies out of five stars, while most critics use a scale of four stars."

Feast of Love (MGM)

Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel: "Four stars. Greg Kinnear is at his most endearing. Morgan Freeman has never been sweeter."
Actual line: "Kinnear is at his most endearing, and Freeman, shorn of his flintiness, has never been sweeter."
Not quoted: "… this movie teeters on the edge of precious, much of the time, no matter how sad the break-ups, no matter how edgy the sex scenes."
It's yet another convenient instance of Moore's four out of five stars.

Patrick Goldstein, Los Angeles Times: "Forty years after co-writing Bonnie and Clyde, nearly 30 years after winning a fistful of Oscars for writing and directing Kramer vs. Kramer, Robert Benton is now an éminence grise, one of our last remaining masters of humanist drama. His latest film, Feast of Love, puts its focus on romance, reminding us how much life is shaped by the mystery, passion and disappointments of love. "
Actual line: "Forty years after co-writing Bonnie and Clyde, nearly 30 years after winning a fistful of Oscars for writing and directing Kramer vs. Kramer, Benton, who turns 75 this month, is now an éminence grise, standing a step behind Clint Eastwood as one of our last remaining masters of humanist drama."
Funny how Benton's age and his position relative to Eastwood got excised from the blurb. Theme of the week: Using profiles, such as Goldstein's, for blurbs when the same paper's critic loathed the film. Here's the L.A. Times's Carina Chocano on Feast: "What it's not is complicated, or nuanced, or interesting."

Lust, Caution (Focus Features)

Karen Durbin, New York Times: "Tamg Wei gives a performance of astonishing passion and complexity. She is the sort of deeply expressive actress who can look ordinary one moment and utterly captivating the next."
Durbin was writing a profile of breakthrough movie roles. Manohla Dargis wasn't nearly so kind in her review of the film as a whole: " 'Lust, Caution'—a truer title would be 'Caution: Lust'—is a sleepy, musty period drama about wartime maneuvers and bedroom calisthenics, and the misguided use of a solid director. … feels at once overpadded and underdeveloped: it's all production design and not enough content."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Exquisitely beautiful."
Not quoted: "There is not a frame of the film that is not beautiful, but there may be too many frames. Why does Ang Lee go into such depth and detail to establish this world, and why does he delay the film's crucial scenes? I don't know, but of course seeing the film the first time I didn't know that was what he was doing and grew restless before I grew involved. … it is not among his best films. It lacks the focus and fire that his characters finally find. Less sense, more sensibility."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Ang Lee is undeniably one of the finest directors in modern cinema."
Actual line: "Ang Lee is undeniably one of the finest directors in modern cinema. No contemporary filmmaker has crafted such a radically varied body of work with so many illustrious individual pieces. But reserve dampens the passion in Lust, Caution, his beautifully mounted but rather unmoving film. It feels surprisingly cold, despite this erotic thriller's ultra-explicit sex scenes."
Puig's review was headlined, "Lee's 'Lust' hampered by lack of passion, excess of caution." For using her "he's great, but" preamble to suggest the film reflects Lee's talents, this blurb wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

My Kid Could Paint That (Sony)

David Carr, New York Times: "A mystery, a great cast of real human beings, and a willingness to follow the truth."
Carr was inspired by the film to ruminate on journalism, truth and fairness. His Times colleague, critic A.O. Scott, is less impressed: "… there is, I think, a deeper dishonesty in 'My Kid Could Paint That,' a bad faith that lies precisely in Mr. Bar-Lev's studied displays of doubt and unease. Acknowledging that he as much as anyone else is guilty of exploiting Marla is an exemplary postmodern move, but it hardly lets him off the hook. He has made an excellent documentary, but it would have been better if he had not made it at all."

The Jane Austen Book Club (Sony)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "An entertaining, carefully assembled piece of clockwork."
Not quoted: "… your impulse is to forgive it for being the formulaic, feel-good chick flick that it is."

The Kingdom (Universal)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "A high-octane action movie."
Not quoted: "The result is a slick, brutishly effective genre movie: 'Syriana' for dummies. Which is not entirely a put-down."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Unrelenting, pulse-pounding action."
Actual line: "With its jerky camera work, rapid editing and pseudo-documentary style, it will no doubt bring to mind the far more riveting Bourne Ultimatum, particularly in the final half hour with its unrelenting, pulse-pounding action sequences."
Not quoted: "Where the movie stumbles most is in trying to be more than an action thriller. It attempts to say something profound about the war on terrorism and the human tendency toward an us-vs.-them mentality. But the finale feeds on a sense of bloodlust and then tries to pull back to show us the error of maniacal revenge. Trying to have it both ways rarely works."

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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