Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Beware the Break-out Quote!

We’re all familiar with the break-out quote—you know those little bits of excerpted reviews that festoon trailers, posters, newspaper ads, DVD cases and nowadays the internet. They always assure the viewers—usually in fewer words than found in the average Twitter tweet—of the untold delights awaiting them if they’ll plop those spondulicks down at the box office. Problem is they aren’t always exactly honest.

Now, there are ways to protect yourself from being bamboozled by brazen ballyhoo of the flapdoodle kind. First of all, pay attention to the sources. I know this is hard to do with TV spots, which tend to assume the viewer has spent years training with Evelyn Wood. Actually, they probably hope you haven’t so you can’t possibly know that the phrase “Best movie I’ve seen in 10 years!” was actually uttered by someone in Busted Hump, Mississippi on a morning TV show at 6:30 right after the report on hog futures. The fact of the matter is that any studio that can only dredge up a review from television is probably having a hard time finding anyone who said something positive about the movie they’re hawking.

In case that sounds too harsh a thing to say about my brethren in broadcasting (and don’t forget, I do radio reviewing, too), I’ll gladly note that there are some pretty dubious print review sources, too. I’m personally always a little skeptical of reviews coming from certain parties. Put bluntly, if Pete Hammond has praised a film, dig a little deeper. If he’s been one of a very few people allowed to screen a film, double your skepticism. (There are others, but he’s pretty notorious.) Now, having said that I do not subscribe to concept of a critic invalidating himself or herself because they praised an out-of-left-field movie that most critics panned. (Fanboys are quick on the trigger with this approach.) The question is whether they do it consistently. At the same time, I work on the belief that anybody who fell for being told that Nancy Drew (2007) was a “must-see” movie fully desered to sit through Nancy Drew—and they’re getting no sympathy from me.

Then there’s the imaginary critic. Credit Sony Pictures marketing for more or less dreaming up this short-lived phenomenon where a totally fabricated reviewer named “David Manning” heaped gobs of praise on such Sony releases as Hollow Man (2000), Vertical Limit (2000), The Patriot (2000), A Knight’s Tale (2001) and The Animal (2001). Manning ostensibly wrote for a Connecticut weekly, The Ridgefield Press, who were surprised to learn of this, since the paper had never heard of him. My guess is Sony pressed their luck by suggesting that anyone would call Rob Schneider’s alleged comedy The Animal “another winner.” Actually, the idea wasn’t entirely new. In the twilight of the winter of his career Bob Hope—or, more likely, his “people”—planted ads in the trades featuring gush from bogus TV reviewers about his increasingly lame TV specials.

It all sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? All you have to do is have a working knowledge of critics and pay attention to who made the claim that your life will be incomplete and your social standing destroyed if you don’t see I Am Legend (2007)—which Jeffrey Lyons (another one to watch) called “one of the greatest movies ever made”—you’ll be fine, right? Well, not exactly. There’s also the interesting process of cherry-picking a review.

This can include the incredibly vague or “Is that from a good or a bad review?” quote. These work on the assumption that the person reading the quote will assume the review must be good or it wouldn’t be used to hawk the movie. That may or may not be true. One of my favorite—and sadly missing—collectibles was a British half-sheet for Ken Russell’s Savage Messiah (1972). It used quotes like, “Reveals Miss Helen Mirren in a scene longer than the normal glimpse.” Now, it’s obvious at what part of the public interest this is aimed (and it’s a good barometer of how much more lurid UK publicity is than ours), but is it from a good review? Beats me, but it’s nothing compared to, “Leaves me feeling as if I’d been beaten over the head and pummeled in the chest.” Good or bad review? Your guess is as good as mine. In this case, I don’t care because it’s a terrific movie.

That approach is fairly benign actually. But there’s the other, more deliberately misleading one that involves picking a sentence fragment out of a bad review that makes it sound otherwise. Thereoretically, the unscrupulous promoter could go through my review of the recent Furry Vengeance and pull this out of it—“it’s going to be a struggle to beat this one.” Yeah, that’s in there, but the whole sentence reads, “We’re not even halfway through the year yet, but it’s going to be a struggle to beat this one for Worst Picture of the Year.” (And that was one of the nicer things in the review.) Still, I couldn’t claim I didn’t say “it’s going to be a struggle to the beat this one,” could I? It’s not likely to happen, but neither is it impossible.

Theoretically, critics are supposed to asked for permission to use quotes. Theory, however, often proves to be just that when fact comes into play. The only studio that’s ever asked permission to use quotes from me (and I’ve no idea if they did) was Apparition as concerned my review of The Square this year. With places like Rotten Tomatoes as an aggregator of critical thought, it’s pretty much open season for quotes. I remember thinking I was being kidded when someone told me I was quoted on the DVD case for a release of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). I’ve written about the film in some depth in a few places, but it seemed unlikely to me that these would draw attention. I hadn’t reckoned on having done a “Quick Rating” for it on Rotten Tomatoes—“One of the key films of modern horror” and that’s what they’d gone for. Actually, since it was a one-line “review,” no excerpting was necessary.

I was more surprised to receive my DVD of the newly released Joseph L. Mankiewicz film People Will Talk (1951) and see that the “Ashville [sic] Mountain Xpress” had called it a “brilliant comedy.” (I guess if I’d been personally credited, I’d have been “Ken Hank.”) Another “Quick Rating” was the source, but it wasn’t quite as quick as the DVD box claimed, since what I actually said was, “Brilliant, brilliantly subversive anti-McCarthy comedy.” There are other instances I’m aware of, but these are pretty representative and I’ve no complaints.

Even so, I recently came across an amazing case of being “quoted” in a very selective manner. It was this instance that prompted this little article. I doubt many of you have ever heard of a movie called The 13th Alley (2008), which, I assure you, is your good fortune. It’s a rock-bottom horror picture that played in Asheville for a week to a largely empty auditorium (I think attendance was in the single digit range for the whole week). The film was picked up by Carmike Cinemas as one of their “alternate programming” attempts. (Anyone familiar with their “alternate programming” knows this is a bad sign.) The film, in fact, had its premiere at the Carmike 15 in Columbus, Georgia where the corporate offices are. When your premiere is in Columbus, Georgia, you know you’re in trouble. The movie’s purported star, Shayne Dahl Lamas, put on a brave face and—according to the 13th Alley website—made brilliant observations about Columbus like “it’s different and it’s beautiful, really green.” (This is from WTVM television of Columbus.) Their website offers more than this, however.

Prominently featured on the website are these break-out quotes: “Some unknown madman…gory animatronic dogs, cats and crows…this is merely the overture to the orgy of murder to come…” and “Remember the old trick where a film paints itself into a corner and gets out by concluding, ‘It was all just a dream’?  Hopkins has brought it back and one-upped it.” No prizes will be awarded to readers who figure out that these are attributed to me. And, yes, those words do appear in my half-star review, but let’s look at the actual sentences. “Some unknown madman” is lifted from this, “In other words, the film sets up a situation in which a lot of dumb teenagers are sliced and diced by some unknown madman.”  “Gory animatronic dogs, cats and crows” is out of “The terrorizing takes the form of the leads being beleaguered by gory animatronic dogs, cats and crows as they go about their daily business.” And “this is merely the overture to the orgy of murder to come” is courtesy of “this is merely the overture to the orgy of murder to come. Alas, as orgies of murder go, this one’s more like a junior-high petting party.”

But what of “Remember the old trick where a film paints itself into a corner and gets out by concluding, ‘It was all just a dream’?  Hopkins has brought it back and one-upped it”? Ah, well you may ask. The review reads, “Remember the old trick where a film paints itself into a corner and gets out by concluding, ‘It was all just a dream’? Believe it or not, Hopkins has brought it back and one-upped it to arrive at ‘It was all just a hypnotic trance.’ Not content with this triumph, he then grafts on an utterly meaningless Carrie moment after the fact before mercifully giving up.” Maybe it’s just me, but I feel the flavor and intent of my review got lost somewhere in the process.

Do I object to this? Not strenuously, no. I’m more amused by it than anything—and since it appears they could only find two places where anyone actually reviewed the damned thing (the other being the Dread Central website, which was no kinder), I’d say is this more the result of outright desperation than anything else. It does, however, serve as a warning about putting your faith in excerpts from reviews.”

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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30 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Beware the Break-out Quote!

  1. Jim Donato

    I have to admit, it warms the cockles of my heart to see Robert Carradine plowing the furrows of a grade-Z horror film, just like his old man.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I have to admit, it warms the cockles of my heart to see Robert Carradine plowing the furrows of a grade-Z horror film, just like his old man.

    I have to admit I wanted to say that his old man never made anything this bad — then I remembered titles like Dr. Dracula and it all went to hell.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Well, his old man DID appear in MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. . .

    But are you putting that in the plus or minus column? It may be a disaster, but it’s not grade Z.

  4. I’d put Carradine’s appearance in the plus column: it’s early in the film, he doesn’t share and scenes with Mae West, nor does he appear with Raquel Welch. His bit is actually, to me, one of the few laugh-inducing, not jaw-slackening, moments in the film.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I’d put Carradine’s appearance in the plus column

    So would I, but I’d out the film in the plus column if the option was The 13th Alley. There’s cinematic two-headed cow freakish (Myra Breckinridge) and there’s just plain “Jesus, get me out of here!” awful (13th Alley).

  6. arlene

    I’ve played this game for years. If you do have a working knowledge of critics, you just KNOW when six words were lifted out of a sentence. And it is hardly a new phenomenon.

    I know you remember the day when a great deal more copy was included in advertisements in the local newspapers. Wish I’d saved some of the ads and the reviews, there would be some amusement to be had.

  7. Kevin F

    “Ken Hank” sounds like your crime-fighting alter ego. That, or some kind of folkloric union organizer.

  8. Will Lugar

    I rather enjoy seeing star ratings in quotation marks, particularly when followed by an exclamation point. I think the use of such punctuation gives the impression that the stars represent some kind of vague sound that you could actually pronounce. Just read this:

    “****!”

    Try to read it aloud in your mind. Do you hear “four stars!” or nothing at all, or do you hear something…else? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me.

    One particularly memorable instance of stars being quoted was when I saw a three star quote on the back of the DVD case for one of the film adaptations of The Scarlet Letter. “***” was the only quote on the box. I wonder if it was the only good rating anyone ever gave it.

  9. Ken Hanke

    And it is hardly a new phenomenon

    Neither are quote whores — “‘Four Stars’ — Wanda Hale” and “‘I loved it!’ — Rex Reed.”

  10. Ken Hanke

    “Ken Hank” sounds like your crime-fighting alter ego.

    Don’t be telling everybody!

    Pronunciation-wise, it’s useful because when someone calls me “Mr. Hank” on the phone I know they don’t know me and are trying to sell me something.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Try to read it aloud in your mind. Do you hear “four stars!” or nothing at all, or do you hear something…else?

    I always hear the imaginary voice of Wanda Hale gushing, “Four stars!”

    One particularly memorable instance of stars being quoted was when I saw a three star quote on the back of the DVD case for one of the film adaptations of The Scarlet Letter. “***” was the only quote on the box. I wonder if it was the only good rating anyone ever gave it.

    Kinda depends on which version. Then again, it is a film of The Scarlet Letter, so it’s working at a disadvantage with anyone who made it through 11th grade. I’m pretty sure the DVD case of They Might Be Giants has Leonard Maltin (!) awarding the film three stars, but they show four stars — the fourth being kind of greyed out.

  12. Rufus

    Kinda depends on which version. Then again, it is a film of The Scarlet Letter, so it’s working at a disadvantage with anyone who made it through 11th grade.

    I recall a film version of The Scarlet Letter MADE by 11th graders (it seemed to involve a lot of looking through bushes and squinting). I wonder what sort of break-out quote it might have garnered.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I recall a film version of The Scarlet Letter MADE by 11th graders (it seemed to involve a lot of looking through bushes and squinting). I wonder what sort of break-out quote it might have garnered.

    I had a premonition either you or your sister was gonna bring this up. My break-out quote?

    “Mr. Hanke handles his scarf with villainous glee.”

  14. DrSerizawa

    I seem to remember Mad Magazine doing a spoof of breakout quotes for movies. Excerpts where the full quote says the opposite of the breakout. Stuff like “A Really Great Movie if you have insomnia.” Or “Made Me Really Excited to run out of the theater.”

    My solution is to never pay attention to quotes. I have a handful of movie reviewers I read instead based on them usually liking the same movies I do. Obviously reviewers who like the same movies I do are the best reviewers on the planet.

  15. DrSerizawa

    But are you putting that in the plus or minus column? It may be a disaster, but it’s not grade Z.

    You are absolutely correct. Myra Breckenridge was a Grade AAA disaster. Maybe not in the same financial class as Waterworld but when a movie makes the film school curriculum as a prime example of how NOT to make a movie it achieves that rare level of atrocity seldom equaled. In many ways I think it stands proudly with other stalwart examples of schlock like Plan 9.

    But, I loved Robert Carradine’s The Duelists so much that I can still forgive him much. That’s one of my personal top100 movies.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Obviously reviewers who like the same movies I do are the best reviewers on the planet.

    Well, yeah.

    when a movie makes the film school curriculum as a prime example of how NOT to make a movie it achieves that rare level of atrocity seldom equaled.

    And it is in many ways a fascinating mess, not just any old mee. Funny thing is, I kinda like Sarne’s previous film, Joanna. And I really liked him in Seaside Swingers (1965).

  17. BREAK OUT QUOTES FROM MR. KEN HANK

    BAD BOYS II
    “BBII constantly reminded me of.. Tango and Cash, The Front Page, Miller’s Crossing, Scarface!”

    BEDTIME STORIES
    “The added bonus of a bug-eyed, occasionally flatulent CGI guinea pig thrown in for added hilarity!”

    TRANSFORMERS II
    “The world was crying out for this!”

    EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED
    “Dazzling intellectual leaps!”

    TAXI
    “You absolutely must see this movie!”

    TWILIGHT
    “Thoughtful, moving and disturbing, while managing to remember it’s a horror film.”

    TYLER PERRY’S MADEA GOES TO JAIL
    “Perry is a cultural icon!”

  18. Ken Hanke

    BREAK OUT QUOTES FROM MR. KEN HANK

    You are truly a dangerous man, Jeremy. Moreover, in the case of Bedtime Stories, you’ve turned Justin Souther into Mr. Hank.

  19. Moreover, in the case of Bedtime Stories, you’ve turned Justin Souther into Mr. Hank.
    Egad! Where’s an edit function when you need it?!

    To make amends, I present:
    BREAK-OUT QUOTES FROM MR. JUSTIN TIME

    MACGRUBER
    “The height of hilarity!”

    G.I. JOE
    “G.I. Joe accomplishes a cinematic first!”

    GROWN UPS
    “Classy stuff.”

    EPIC MOVIE
    “Giving the popular movies and trends of the day their rightful ribbing.”

    PINK PANTHER 2
    “A showcase for Martin’s comedic stylings!”

  20. davidf

    I’ll play that game.

    MORE BREAKOUT QUOTES FROM MR. KEN HANK

    PAPER HEART

    “Cute and precious and funny!”

    NEXT DAY AIR

    “Full of likable performers!”

    FIREPROOF

    “Profoundly and movingly religious!”

    WAKING LIFE

    “Cosmic!… A daring experiment in both animation and narrative structure.”

    BANGKOK DANGEROUS

    “What an inspiration!”

    ORPHAN

    “Some kind of accomplishment!”

    THE COMEBACKS

    “Hilarity…. with spoofs of such films as far ranging as Radio to Field of Dreams.”

    APOCALYPTO

    “Visionary!”

  21. Ken Hanke

    BANGKOK DANGEROUS

    “What an inspiration!”

    I especially like this one, but you fellows keep attributing Justin’s words to me. The Comebacks is his review.

  22. Tomislav Pijonsnodt

    As you said, it’s a good general rule to avoid films whose praise is drawn principally from television critics. But what really sets my klaxons ringing is the phrase “great fun for the whole family”.

    Now, having said that I do not subscribe to concept of a critic invalidating himself or herself because they praised an out-of-left-field movie that most critics panned.

    Nor do I. The entire purpose of criticism as I understand it is to convey one’s opinion, a point often lost on the fanboy contingent, which seems to assume that anyone who pans a popular film is making a deliberate effort to dislike it.

  23. Ken Hanke

    But what really sets my klaxons ringing is the phrase “great fun for the whole family”.

    That’s the kind of thing that always reminds me of the classic (and not available) Bob Godfrey Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit with its assurance, “Whether you’re six or 96 you’re sure to have great fun with the ‘Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit.’ If you’re any age between the two, however, you’re probably going to be pretty miserable and might as well leave the cinema.”

    The entire purpose of criticism as I understand it is to convey one’s opinion, a point often lost on the fanboy contingent, which seems to assume that anyone who pans a popular film is making a deliberate effort to dislike it.

    Good Clapton, there is no shortage of movies to dislike without trying to find more!

  24. Ken Hanke

    News Flash: Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore is being hawked on TV with a quote from a TV reviewer (didn’t catch who) claiming it’s the “purr-fect summer entertainment.”

  25. Zero

    News Flash: Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore is being hawked on TV with a quote from a TV reviewer (didn’t catch who) claiming it’s the “purr-fect summer entertainment.”

    Instead of the obvious cat-astrophe it is. Who wants to place bets on when it’ll be hailed by Joe Stump of Possum Ridge, AK as a “true bark-buster!”

  26. Ken Hanke

    Who wants to place bets on when it’ll be hailed by Joe Stump of Possum Ridge, AK as a “true bark-buster!”

    I’m holding out for “One giant hairball of a movie!”

  27. DrSerizawa

    Most of the people who see “Kitty Galore” will probably want to take a Katana to the producers. (BaDaBing)

  28. LYT

    I’ve googled myself and actually found foreign sites where quotes from one review of mine are attributed to a totally different movie — I’m talking, like, my review of the Leelee Sobieski thriller THE GLASS HOUSE getting quoted on ads for THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS. Domestically, though, the worst out-of-context quoting I’ve had was for THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS. In a generally negative review, I noted that at least the cast seemed to be having fun, and that Alan Cumming was occasionally funny.

    This was translated into the following quote:

    “Fun and Funny!”

  29. Ken Hanke

    I’m talking, like, my review of the Leelee Sobieski thriller THE GLASS HOUSE getting quoted on ads for THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS.

    Well, I often confuse the two movies.

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