Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

October 25, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are Is on Screen Too Long

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 'Where the Wild Things Are,' 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,' 'Astro Boy,' 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.

"At a certain point, I felt I'd learned enough and was ready to go home."—Time's Mary Pols, on Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 71

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Beautiful… It startles, charms and delights."
Actual line: "… alternately perfect and imperfect if always beautiful … After years in the news, the project and its improbability—a live-action movie based on a slender, illustrated children's book that runs fewer than 40 pages, some without any words at all—are no longer a surprise. Even so, it startles and charms and delights …"
Not quoted: "On occasion, [director Spike] Jonze lingers too long on his lovely pictures, particularly on the island, where the film's energy starts to wane, despite the glorious whoops in Carter Burwell and Karen O's score. Mr. Jonze loves Max's wild things, but you don't need to hang around long to adore them as well."

Mary Pols, Time: "For all its fantastical elements, it's a work of realism, an exploration of mood and emotion."
Not quoted: "Jonze's biggest challenge lies in sustaining the movie's forward momentum during Max's time with the wild things. At a certain point, I felt I'd learned enough and was ready to go home to Keener's anchoring presence. It's not that Jonze is overindulgent; it's that he's so thoroughly devoted to exploring Max's pain and joys, sometimes to the detriment of narrative."

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 66

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Appealing family fare worth relishing."
Not quoted: "… the movie goes overboard in its final 15 minutes. The machine goes haywire and Flint and Sam try to stop it, hindered by the power-mad mayor (Bruce Campbell). The drawn-out climactic resolution is almost an assault on the senses. It induced jitters and tears among a couple of children at a screening."

Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel: "In your face hysterical."
Actual line: "The Sony house animation style is punchy, kid-friendly, and in-your-face—hysterical close-ups of characters such as the hysterical cop (Mr. T., hysterical)."
What an oddball editing of the punctuation in the sentence.

Astro Boy
Astro Boy (Summit Entertainment)
Metacritic Score: 53

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Awesome! A total blast."
What a total shock: Edwards is quoted on a movie that most critics don't like, and with a pun, to boot.

The Vampire's Assistant
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 42

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Clever, original and totally entertaining!"
See above. Big week for Shawn!

Peter Hall, "Imaginative! Eye candy for teenagers and adults."
Not quoted: "… has … some of the lackluster qualities one associates with mid-budgeted Hollywood fantasy films aimed at a younger demographic. Some of the effects work consists of whiz-bang CGI and a few of the jokes miss their mark …"

Amelia (Fox Searchlight)
Metacritic Score: 38

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "Beautiful cinematography, a star performance that is shocking in its authenticity, a careful eye for nuance and detail and an irresistible blend of action and romance."
Actual line: "It has beautiful cinematography, a star performance that is shocking in its authenticity, a careful eye for nuance and detail and an irresistible blend of action and romance that should spell automatic success. I am sad to report that the one thing Amelia doesn't have is excitement. The real Amelia had gonads. Amelia has none."
Not quoted: "It's a respectable film that is too meticulous to be dull, but the way Ms. Swank plays her, she's an icon so aware of her self-important image that she couldn't be blasted out of her complacency with a hydrogen bomb. This Amelia is a spirited, dauntless, reckless woman with blinders on, but curiously unemotional even in the face of the ultimate crisis. When she runs out of fuel and faces her own mortality, her tough, heavy-drinking and basically unshakable navigator, Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston), sweats, shakes and starts praying. But Amelia is as stoic as Lincoln. You want to pinch her. … Lots of facts, lots of calendar entries and a collage of information from aeronautical files provides the necessary tools for a documentary, but not enough heart-pounding adrenaline for a tragic historical film biography. There is so little warmth in the character of Amelia that I'm not sure I like her very much."
For removing the usually forgiving Reed's grave reservations about this film, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Law Abiding Citizen
Law Abiding Citizen (Warp Film)
Metacritic Score: 34

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "A taut thriller."
Not quoted: " 'Law Abiding Citizen' is one of those movies you like more at the time than in retrospect. I mean, come on, you're thinking. Still, there's something to be said for a movie you like well enough at the time."
That's next to "faint praise" in the blurbs dictionary.

Antichrist (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 49

Andrew O'Hehir, Salon: "Like no other movie this year or ever … mesmerizing. Almost every one of its frames shimmers with demented, imaginary life."
Not quoted: "I'm not here to tell you that 'Antichrist' is a great film, however much I admire its beauty and daring, because I think it's too damaged and crazy to be a great film. I'm also not here to tell you that it's a misogynistic abomination made by a sadist, even though that's one of the reactions von Trier has set out to provoke, and even though many women (and many men) may well decide they don't want to travel down the dark road into these particular deep woods. … It offers more proof, if we need any, that von Trier is one of the most accomplished cinema artists of our time, and also perhaps the most deeply trapped in his own head. 'Antichrist' is overcrowded with amazing ideas and images, but its plot—a Pacific Northwest couple lose their child and spiral into violence and madness—is so hackneyed it virtually doesn't exist and definitely doesn't matter. … As magnificent as [Willem] Dafoe and [Charlotte] Gainsbourg are, they're specters in a shadow play excavated from the deepest recesses of Lars von Trier's troubled psyche. It's an amazing place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there."

Wesley Morris, Boston Globe: "I don't think I breathed for the last half—out of shock, out of stress, out of disbelief."
Actual line: "I don't think I breathed for the last half. My seatmate and I took turns grabbing each other—out of shock, out of stress, out of disbelief."
Not quoted: "We laugh to keep from slashing the screen. What else can you do about a movie that includes a credit for a misogyny consultant? (Finally, a filmmaker willing to do his research first!) … for all its formal excellence, it's a work of depression that's missing a hint of even diabolical joy."

The Wedding Song
The Wedding Song (Strand Releasing)
Metacritic Score: N/A

The Hollywood Reporter: "Powerful and intimate."
Actual line: "Karin Albou's sophomore feature may have some minor moments when its intensity dips, but it is a powerful and intimate portrayal of two young women in a part of the world where female roles are still most often secondary."
Not quoted: "… the film's backdrop is strangely flat. We know what Myriam, Titi and the other Jewish characters truly have to lose because we know the horrors of the Holocaust, but not because the Nazi occupation or German soldiers are all that menacing onscreen."

Variety: "… a bold, very carnal take on adolescent female bonding."
Not quoted: "One scene—in which a girl is literally stripped of her pubic hair in preparation for her wedding night—will have some auds applauding the film's unflinching eye, while others will look away in shock. Performances are generally strong, though [Olympe] Borval, who's not Arab and had to learn the language from scratch, looks less at ease than [Lizzie] Brochere, who displays an unsettling intensity."

Irene in Time
Irene in Time (Rainbow Releasing)
Metacritic Score: 42

Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times: "Irene in Time is a valentine to women and a letter bomb to men!"
Not quoted: "Smothering insightful moments in verbal and musical treacle (courtesy of Harriet Schock's sticky songs), [director Henry] Jaglom displays an endearing lack of cynicism but an equal lack of discipline. This might have been remedied by some of the older actors—including Karen Black and the cabaret artist Andrea Marcovicci—had their director been less focused on indulging his leading lady and more focused on believability. It takes a moment to appreciate that the what-on-earth? ending is the destination that Irene was seeking all along."

Ong Bak 2
Ong Bak 2 (Magnet Releasing)
Metacritic Score: 49

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: "Tony Jaa is as mesmerizing as ever."
Not quoted: "… don't look for continuity of story line—just enjoy the extravagant fight stunts, the restless camera work, and the sluicing rivers of blood and mud. (That's why you're here, right?)"

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York: "Tony Jaa is inarguably the most fearless martial artist in movies today."
Actual line: "Today, the 33-year-old fighter is inarguably the movies' most fearless martial artist, a doofus who actually consented to performing scenes with his pants on fire."
Not quoted: "The new film sometimes feels too snazzy in its jittery cinematography…"

Black Dynamite
Black Dynamite (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 49

Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York: "This cat is dy-no-mite!"
Not quoted: "There are as many moments of belabored boredom as scenes of elating action … Even as the narrative gets increasingly, often hilariously stupid—incorporating the Los Angeles drug trade, an island of evil kung fu masters and a malt liquor that has all virile black men cowering in their pimp duds—[Michael Jai] White's performance acts as an anchor."

(Untitled) (Samuel Goldwyn)
Metacritic Score: 54

Pete Hammond, BoxOffice Magazine: " '(Untitled) has style, laughs and attitude. The ensemble cast is terrific."
Actual line: "Set around the life of an upscale gallery owner and her unconventional clientele, (Untitled) could use more of a hook to grab the non-arthouse patron but ultimately this is a smart and funny comedy surprise dripping in style, laughs and attitude. … A simply terrific ensemble cast is the main attraction in this probably too-clever-for-its-own-good satire on the world of modern art."
Not quoted: "Director Jonathan Parker, who co-wrote with Catherine DiNapoli, has a keen eye for the absurd world on display here but probably takes it all a little too seriously, at least it seems so at first."
Hammond is a master of including blurb-able quotes even his negative reviews.

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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