Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

June 19, 2009

'Whatever Works' Stutters and Stumbles

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 'Whatever Works,' 'The Proposal,' 'The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,' and more.

David Goldenberg

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 picture that results is, anyone would concede, strange."—New York Magazine's Mark Harris on Whatever Works

Whatever Works (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 44

Sara Vilkomerson, New York Observer: "An astonishing collaboration of two uncompromising comic masters."
Actual line: "Whatever Works may not be an uncompromising masterpiece, but it's the astonishing collaboration of two uncompromising comic masters of the romantic and tortured New York psyche."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "No true movie fan will want to miss the comic mind–meld of Woody and Larry."
Actual line: "On its way to an ending of surprising serenity, Whatever Works stutters and stumbles. Allen is covering familiar ground, and the timely reference to Obama just seems wrong. But no true movie fan will want to miss the comic mind-meld of Woody and Larry. On that level, at least, there's no need to curb your enthusiasm."
Not quoted: "Not everything works …"

Mark Harris, New York Magazine: "This movie is vintage Woody Allen! It's Woodyish enough, and Larryish enough…"
Actual line: "… without a new script ready, he reached for an old one. A really old one. Whatever Works is a screenplay that dates so far back it was originally written for Zero Mostel, who died the year Annie Hall came out. Allen updated it very slightly (including a voice-over reference to President Obama), but make no mistake: This movie is literally vintage Woody Allen. In fact, it calls to mind a brand of Jewish humor that has, in recent years, been all but scrubbed out—neurotic, depressive, abrasive, excluded. … The picture that results is, anyone would concede, strange—a Larry David movie that doesn't quite feel like a Larry David movie and a new Woody Allen movie that isn't really new. Nonetheless, it's Woodyish enough, and Larryish enough, to make you wish that Allen—who doesn't appear in the movie—had contrived a way for the two of them to share the screen, emperors of adjoining comedy galaxies finally colliding."
Not quoted: "The capacity crowd greeted that kind of despair as an old friend, and their laughter had a late-middle-aged timbre, the happy-sad sound you hear when people witness the opening of a time capsule and see something that's both right in front of their eyes and long gone. It was as if a collective agreement had been made to commune one more time with that old bleak magic before walking back out into a city that has left it behind."
As that omitted quote might indicate, this blurb was taken from a feature article about the film, rather than a review. New York film critic David Edelstein was not a fan. The script "suggests that even back in the seventies, at his most potent and fearless, [Woody Allen] had the soul of a sclerotic old misanthrope." As for Larry David, "as an actor he has no equipment for suggesting a conflicted inner life: It's all just straight to the camera, uninflected bombast."

The Proposal
The Proposal (Disney)
Metacritic Score: 49

Pete Hammond, " 'The Proposal' is without question the year's best comedy."
Actual line: "…a strong candidate for the year's best comedy—at least so far."
Not quoted: "No matter how inventive the script, it's pretty obvious where things are going to wind up in any romantic comedy."
The Proposal's ad without question wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award, or at least is a strong candidate—so far.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 55

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Washington and Travolta conduct a tag-team master class in old-style movie star technique… they're always a lot of fun to watch."
Actual line: "The two actors interact mostly via squawk box, cellphone and radio, as Ryder in his purloined subway car issues demands to Garber at his desk. But even at a distance from each other, they conduct a tag-team master class in old-style movie star technique, barreling through every cliché and nugget of corn the script has to offer with verve and conviction. Even when you don't really believe them, they're always a lot of fun to watch."
Not quoted: "Some of the above-ground action—in particular some hectic vehicular mayhem—feels a little routine, and a number of potentially intriguing narrative avenues remain unexplored."

Tetro (American Zoetrope)
Metacritic Score: 63

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "An inspired work, the creation of a director who has set off on a new adventure."
Actual line: "… this new movie feels like a transitional work but also an inspired one, the creation of a director who, having recently turned 70, has set off on a new adventure that requires more from his audiences than some might be willing to give."

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: "Tetro exudes enthusiasm and love of cinema."
Actual line: "The narrative is a bit labored, but, after decades of far more ponderous efforts, Coppola has found his way home. However overwrought, Tetro is neither a project nor a package; it exudes enthusiasm and love of cinema."

Andrew Sarris, New York Observer: "The work of one of cinema's most accomplished masters of mise-en-scène"
Actual line: "Despite all its longueurs and extreme aggravations, Tetro deserves to be seen as the late work of one of the cinema's most accomplished masters of mise-en-scène."
Not quoted: "Now 70, Mr. Coppola can look back on an existence drenched with family feelings and vague guilt complexes. These he has expanded and wildly overdramatized in an independent low-budget feature shot on location in the most picturesque and art-drenched neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. … And so it goes, on and on, for an inordinate length of time …"

Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York: "Is this the one, the long awaited new classic from the master?"
Actual line: "Is this the one—a long-awaited new classic from the master? Close enough."
Not quoted: "Tetro expands on the buoyant sensations of writer-director Francis Ford Coppola's previous film—the origins-of-language love story Youth Without Youth (2007)—even as its twists and turns feel less spontaneous, more pro forma. This is a straight-hewn sins-of-the-father tale (a Coppola old reliable) that is at times dulled by its narrative inevitabilities."

The End of the Line
The End of the Line
Metacritic Score: 71

Aaron Hillis, Village Voice: "Jaw-dropping … impressively accredited … and sumptuously shot portraits of natural beauty…"
Actual line: "… a free-form splash of jaw-dropping graphs, impressively accredited talking heads, and sumptuously shot portraits of natural beauty and decay, overdramatically scored to symphonic and other intense musical attacks."

Dead Snow
Dead Snow (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 63

Eric D. Snider, Cinematical: "Hilariously gory!"
Actual line: "The funniest, most inspired moments come in the film's last 15 minutes—which is smart, because it sends the audience out smiling. The fact remains, however, that what proceeds the finale is just average, a retread of familiar situations punctuated with hilariously gory stunts. If I saw the film again, I'd want it to be a highlight reel, not the whole 91 minutes."
Not quoted: "…once you get past the relative novelty of it (they're ZOMBIES, but they're also NAZIS!!), Dead Snow is only so-so."

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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