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Salting Stars’ Wounded Power

Salting Stars’ Wounded Power (photo)

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In his review of the new Angeline Jolie thriller “Salt” in the New York Times, A. O. Scott describes the film’s star as its “prime special effect and a reminder that even in an era of technological overkill, movie stars matter.”

Do stars still matter? It’s an issue we’ve been mulling over for months on IFC.com. Last December, we focused an episode of our weekly podcast on this very issue. Inspired by Lionsgate’s release of the Russell Crowe movie “Tenderness” to just a single screen in Manhattan, we wondered whether stars have the same power and pull as they used to (our conclusion at the time: no). A few weeks ago, Stephen Saito put together a list of movies with major talent like Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jim Carrey that aren’t coming to movies any time soon.

Now, when Scott says movie stars matter, he’s referring to their work inside a film, the way they elevate material with their charisma and their talent. On that point, I don’t disagree. But just as — if not more — important to Hollywood is the question of whether movie stars still matter at the box office. Someone who brings a spark to written material onscreen isn’t necessarily a star unless they put butts in the seats while they do it.

We’ll have to wait and see how “Salt” does in theaters to know where Jolie’s star stands, but in the meantime, let’s look at the top grossing movies of the year at the domestic box office. According to Box Office Mojo:

1) Toy Story 3 – $366.9 million
2) Alice in Wonderland $334.1 million
3) Iron Man 2 – $310.2 million
4) The Twilight Saga: Eclipse $268.9 million
5) Shrek Forever After $234.5

That’s four sequels and one live-action-remake-slash-classic-literary adaptation. There are definitely movie stars in all five films, but I’m not sure how much of these films success we want to attribute to them. One the one hand, something like “Alice in Wonderland” was absolutely sold as a star vehicle; the marketing focused primarily on Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter even though he was a supporting character in the film. On the other hand, if “Tom Hanks hadn’t returned for “Toy Story 3,” or Mike Myers decided he didn’t want to voice Shrek for a fourth time, would either film have made less money?

07222010_stars3.jpgPerhaps. But both of those movies had many other elements they were selling as well: established and popular franchises, the first opportunity to see the characters in 3D, and so on. In other words, no matter how effective their stars, these movies — the most successful ones of the year — are also very much home to Scott’s “technological overkill.”

Robert Downey Jr. is terrific in the role of Tony Stark, but when he puts on his suit of Iron Man armor he’s replaced by a far less charismatic special effect (director Jon Favreau compensated for the loss of his star in action scenes by using a device that puts a camera inside Iron Man’s helmet and lets us watch him control it). And that special effect is the guy on all the T-shirts and action figures.

We wouldn’t call “Toy Story 3” a star vehicle in the way something like “Salt” absolutely is. And if we go down the list of box office grosses looking for the true star vehicles — movies sold to audiences as opportunities to come watch stars act like stars, particularly in instances that don’t involve well-known source material — we won’t find them until we get much lower.

“Knight and Day” with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz has made just $70.0 million in almost a month of release. “The Bounty Hunter” with Jennifer Aniston is right behind it with $67.0 million. You could claim these movies’ quality had a bigger impact on their success or failure than the presence of their stars. But terrible reviews hasn’t stopped “The Last Airbender,” a movie with no stars, a lot of special effects, and a popular property, from outgrossing both of them by a wide margin.

07222010_stars2.jpgThe most interesting test case on the subject of stars in recent years has been the “Twilight” franchise. Though these films definitely have their share of other salable elements — CGI, sci-fi and horror themes, the wildly popular Stephenie Meyer novels — there’s no debate that people are also coming to the theater to see their stars, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner.

At least Summit Entertainment, the company the releases the “Twilight” films, thinks so; that’s why they just renegotiated their contracts for the series’ final installment to the tune of $25 million against 7.5% of the theatrical gross each, according to Vulture.com. But “StewPattnNer”‘s appeal hasn’t translated to other projects yet: the Pattinson star vehicle “Remember Me” made about 6% of what “New Moon” grossed; Stewart’s Runaways biopic (with fellow Twilighter Dakota Fanning) earned just $3.5 million, not bad for a indie film, not great for a rising star branching out from her the role that made her. Audiences definitely want to see these actors in this franchise. But a true movie star is a draw regardless of role.

As I write this, thousands of fans are crowded into a room in the San Diego Convention Center to see the stars of the coming year’s genre movies. Folks line up for hours (sometimes days) for the opportunity to ogle and interact with movie stars at Comic-Con; it’s a big reason a comic book convention has mutated into one of Hollywood’s biggest promotional events of the year. Angelina Jolie’s even there today, promoting “Salt.” But will her presence, at Comic-Con and in the film, matter? As one person at her panel tweeted “Angelina Jolie on stage. SALT look better than thought. I might see it.” Not exactly proof, but it’s a start.

[Additional photos: “Alice in Wonderland,” Disney, 2010; “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” Summit, 2010]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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