DID YOU READ

Robert Downey Jr.’s “The Route” and the Lost Art of the Long-Form Car Commercial

Robert Downey Jr.’s “The Route” and the Lost Art of the Long-Form Car Commercial (photo)

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Last week, the Internet was abuzz with a new stop-motion ad for Planters that featured Robert Downey Jr. as the new voice of Mr. Peanut, but it was actually a commercial featuring a pre-“Iron Man” Downey Jr. that caught my eye when I came across One Cool Thing A Day‘s selection of “The Route,” a 12-minute ad produced by Volvo for its line of V50 station wagons. Produced by the Swedish carmaker in 2004, “The Route” does indeed show off all the amenities of the V50, but also functions as a surreal, elliptical piece of noir, courtesy of “The Grifters” director Stephen Frears, wherein Downey Jr. confronts himself as a not-so-compatible travel companion for himself in his search for a town called Confidence. The first part is here (and the link to part two is here):

At the time, Martin Buckley, a strategic planner from the ad firm that produced the short, said of “The Route,” “If you want people to come to the Internet and spend their valuable time to view your film and product, you better make it worth their while. We know the true Volvo prospect is highly curious and appreciates advertising that is both creative and intelligent.”

Whether “The Route” can actually be appreciated as something beyond advertising is up for debate, yet besides being a quick payday for its creative team in between films, it was notable for being a rare moment when the auteur theory made its way into marketing. While big-name directors make commercials all the time while waiting to direct their next feature, it’s far less often that they get to helm something longer than 30 seconds. And for car companies looking to make an impression on the Internet, the mid-’00s was a prosperous enough time to throw millions at burgeoning area of viral marketing.

“The Route” was actually the less successful follow-up to “The Mystery of Dalarö,” Volvo’s eight-minute 2004 ad that seemed like an undercooked BBC report about the strange occurrence of 32 people buying the same sedan in a Swedish village at the same time and even calls upon Karl Jung expert to explain the meaning. (“We all born with collective unconsciousness,” says the expert.) The ad campaign, which never targeted the U.S., caused something of a sensation in Europe where many speculated about the film’s credited director Carlos Soto, until it was revealed that “Soto” was really a pseudonym for Spike Jonze, who continued to play tricks on the public by questioning the initial ad with a director’s cut.

In an interview with The Internationalist, Volvo’s director of global advertising at the time said “Dalarö” was a product of having an ad budget half the size of other car companies and needing to be creative. However, Volvo wasn’t alone in pouring money into these mini-movies. “L.I.E.” director Michael Cuesta helmed a softly-lit 15-minute promotional film for Lexus in 2003 called “Three Journeys,” following three couples as they made their way to the California coast, that was handed out at auto events around the country on DVD and have now become collectibles.

However, they are not nearly as prized as the granddaddy of the form, BMW’s “The Hire” series, which was launched in 2001 to hawk Beemers and showcase Clive Owen as an elusive chauffeur simply known as “The Driver.” The ads were spearheaded by David Fincher, who never actually directed one of his own, though it’s probably no coincidence that “Se7en” screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker penned the first installment “Ambush” for the late John Frankenheimer to direct. Shorts from Alejandro González Iñárritu, Ang Lee, John Woo, Joe Carnahan, Tony Scott and Guy Ritchie followed, not to mention my personal favorite, Wong Kar-Wai’s moody, introspective “The Follow” with Forest Whitaker and Mickey Rourke:

Incidentally, it was Whitaker’s involvement that was reported to have kept the DVDs of the Web series in limited supply since his contract required “The Follow” to only be shown online. BMW ultimately decided to end the series after 2002 because of cost, instead putting out a comic book that continued the adventures of the Driver. Though “The Hire” is widely seen as changing car advertising for good, it was a pioneer of a trend that was short-lived. Still, its influence can be seen today even in shorter car commercials directed by less famous names like Ivan Zacharias, who lensed this 2009 Audi ad featuring Jason Statham.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
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Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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