Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

October 24, 2008

'Whatever You Think of Dubya, He Has Balls. The Movie Doesn't.'

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 'W.,' What Just Happened,' 'Pride and Glory,' 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.

"The film opens with a meeting of the Bush Cabinet, all of whom look ready for SNL on an off night."—Rolling Stone's Peter Travers on W.

W. (Lionsgate)
Metacritic Score: 56

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Josh Brolin is truly electrifying!"
Actual line: "Josh Brolin is truly electrifying in the role of George W. Bush, from fuck-up son of privilege to fuck-up commander in chief, but Stone and Wall Street screenwriter Stanley Weiser can't decide whether to stick it to our departing president or just hug it out. Whatever you think of Dubya, he has balls. The movie doesn't. "
Not quoted: "The film opens with a meeting of the Bush Cabinet, all of whom look ready for SNL on an off night. Richard Dreyfuss folds his arms creepily just like Dick Cheney, Thandie Newton disappears under makeup to become Condi Rice, Toby Jones hints at the evil elf inside Karl Rove. But the script reduces the actors to stick figures, and Stone's flair for comedy is largely in his own head. … comes perilously close to being W. for Dummies …"
For presenting Travers as a fan of this Bush biopic, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: "Terrific!"
Not quoted: "Less spot-on are [Scott] Glenn's too-cheery [Donald] Rumsfeld and [Thandie] Newton's enabling [Condoleezza] Rice, whose hairdo and head-bob seem right but whose voice is irritatingly shaky when it should be icy."
The blurb plays up the four stars granted by the Daily News, the same as Roger Ebert's. But the News gives up to five, compared to Ebert's max of four.

What Just Happened? (Magnolia)
Metacritic Score: 56

Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times: "Funny, sly and weirdly exhilarating. The movie is brilliant at portraying the incredibly high stakes of the seemingly inconsequential."
Actual line: "In that it tends to confirm all the usual stereotypes about Hollywood, you could say that there are no surprises in Barry Levinson's funny, sly and highly stress-inducing movie about two crazy weeks in the life of a successful producer. … The movie is brilliant at portraying the incredibly high stakes of the seemingly inconsequential and the tremendous amounts of money spent on it. … Even more surprising, by that measure, is that the movie's second-most sympathetic character is the agent. But maybe 'sympathetic' is taking it too far. Rather, by the end, you know how he feels: queasy, clenched, weirdly exhilarated."

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "Outright hilarious, scathingly funny."
Actual line: "… occasionally outright hilarious … Sometimes silly, often scathingly funny …"

Pride and Glory (New Line)
Metacritic Score: 44

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Searing, heartfelt and brutally honest."
Not quoted: "So far, so familiar. And it doesn't help that the movie is crammed with subplots that verge on soap opera."

Changeling (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 65

Richard Corliss, Time: "Epic. Taut, twisty and compelling."
Not quoted: "… this bustling, complex picture is hobbled by something neither an Academy Award-winning director nor a seductive star can overcome: miscasting. … Screenwriters love [director Clint Eastwood]; if he likes a script, he shoots it without demanding a million rewrites. Actors love him too; if he likes Take One, he prints it and goes on to the next scene. Decisiveness is fine, but it raises the question: What does it take to satisfy Clint Eastwood? Sometimes the answer is: Not much. Or too much, as here in Jolie's high emoting. With flaring red lipstick on a face that hasn't seen much time in the California sun, and with a grieving matched in severity only by her will to learn the truth, Jolie is supposed to be a regular working mom who rises to meet the challenge of dreadful events. The actress is capable of many things, but being ordinary isn't one of them. Jolie seems to know that her startling, cartoonish, monumental beauty is a handicap here, so she goes bigger in her movements. A stream of tears stains her Kabuki makeup; her sighs come with shrugs worthy of Atlas. Underplaying would have helped. So would the casting of an actress who's less glamorous and, I have to say, more human—someone like Naomi Watts."

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Only a very hardened cynic could fail to be moved. Jolie plays Christine Collins with admirable restraint and slow-burning ferocity."
Actual line: " 'Changeling' doesn't have the moral nuances of most recent Eastwood movies: the characters come neatly fit in black or white hats (or cloches). Then again, some stories really are about the good guys and the bad, and when the tale is this gripping, why resist the moral outrage? Eastwood tells his haunting, sorrowful saga with such a sure, steady hand, only a very hardened cynic could fail to be moved. … Once you get over the distractions of her fame and beauty, Jolie plays her with admirable restraint and slow-burning ferocity."

The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight)
Metacritic Score: 57

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Magnificent! A movie experience everyone will love."
Shawn, Shawn, Shawn. Do you mind only being trotted out for bad movies? At least it's useful for ad readers, who can usually spot a lemon by finding the Edwards stamp of approval. Of the 46 films Gelf has recorded that used his blurbs, 25 rated below a 50 out of 100 on Metacritic and just one film topped 71.

Synecdoche, New York (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 65

Scott Feinberg, Los Angeles Times: "One of the most insanely imaginative, shockingly ambitious, and ultimately brilliant films of this or any year! It is the work of a visionary!"
Actual line: "Unlike [Charlie] Kaufman's earlier films, though, Synecdoche does not tie everything together at the end in a neat way that is sure to leave audiences pleased with themselves, the film, and the screenwriter; instead, it requires audiences to form interpretations and conclusions of their own, which inevitably means that some will go home dissatisfied. I, however, went home with the sense that I had seen a film that undoubtedly has its shortcomings, but is nevertheless one of the most insanely imaginitive [sic], shockingly ambitious, and ultimately brilliant films of this or any year. To me, it is the work of a visionary."
Feinberg wrote that on his personal blog. On his L.A. Times blog, the spin was a little different: "They may be less pleased, though, when they discover that his latest film—though insanely imaginative, shockingly ambitious, and ultimately brilliant, like his earlier offerings—does not explain and tie together everything in the neat and satisfying way that those films did." His Times colleague Carina Chocano was among those less pleased, calling Synecdoche a "sprawling, awe-inspiring, heartbreaking, frustrating, hard-to-follow and achingly, achingly sad movie."

Happy-Go-Lucky (Miramax)
Metacritic Score: 85

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "It's more than a movie. It's a gift. No list of the year's best performances should be made without Sally Hawkins."
Not quoted: "In lesser hands, the film would go off the deep end into cheap theatrics."
There were more blurbs of this Mike Leigh film deconstructed in the prior Blurbs column.

Stranded: I Have Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (Zeitgeist)
Metacritic Score: 76

John Anderson, Variety: "Superb! A cinematic tour de force! One of the great tales of human survival."
Actual line: "Production values are superb. … A cinematic tour de force with strong chances for crossover theatrical success … When it became known that the remaining 16 survived by eating their dead, it sensationalized what was already one of the great tales of human survival."

Johnny Got His Gun (Truly Indie)
Metacritic Score: 42

Variety: "A thrilling accomplishment."
Actual line: "It's a thrilling accomplishment when he works out a way to tell how time is passing."
Not quoted: "Critical support and the recent docu 'Trumbo' might help attract niche attention to Truly Indie's city-by-city, single-screen release before it begins its shelf life as a smallscreen broadcast/educational item. … Trumbo's pacifist message comes through loud and clear, though in both the text and visuals, pic doesn't end on as strong a note one might like."

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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