DID YOU READ

“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Reviewed

“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Reviewed (photo)

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How did we ever live before TiVo and DVR? I honestly don’t remember. I seem to vaguely recall talking to people more. It was horrible.

TiVo and DVR have given us the freedom to control our tevision experience: to record and save our favorite shows or fast-forward through the stuff we don’t want to watch. That freedom, though, is such a complicated thing. We certainly don’t need more marketing in our cluttered lives, but that marketing pays for most of the content on television and the Internet. And as TiVo and DVR have made commercials easier to avoid on television, people have become more resistant to traditional advertising in all cultural contexts. Again, not a terrible thing… except for the people who make their money by creating content for websites that make their money selling advertising. If you won’t look at the ads, the site can’t sell the ads. If they can’t sell the ads, then they can’t pay the writer. If they can’t pay the writer, the writer has to go work at one of the places that put their ad on the site in the first place.

These are the issues at the center of Morgan Spurlock’s ingenious documentary “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” In their attempts to circumvent audiences’ post-DVR distaste for commercials, companies have had to find new ways to market to consumers. One of the biggest ways they do it is product placement, the near-subliminal use of brands and products within movies and television shows in exchange for cash. Spurlock wanted to make a film about the rise of product placement but he, like most of us, couldn’t afford to do it without outside funding. So he recruited advertisers to fund his $1.5 million dollar movie about advertising. Hence, the full title of his film “POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”

As he did in “Super Size Me,” Spurlock manages to turn a fairly dry issue into an entertaining and funny film by casting himself as its gregarious subject. His schtick is simple but effective: he enters into a high-concept premise with good intentions and limited knowledge, and learns through actions. What better way to understand marketing skullduggery than by becoming beholden to it yourself? As a filmmaker, Spurlock is kind of like Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly:” he’s got these amazing ideas, but to execute them he has to use himself as the test subject, and even if the experiment’s a success, there may be some unforeseen consequences. For instance, Spurlock doesn’t just have to recruit advertisers; he has to make them happy too. That means driving their cars on camera or pimping their shoes during interviews or even, in one case, agreeing not to disparage the entire country of Germany. Achtung!

Even while (POM Wonderful Presents) “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” dramatizes Spurlock’s quest to fund his movie through sponsors, it repeatedly breaks from its own narrative to offer opposing viewpoints on advertising from cultural critics and intellectuals who caution about the dangers and impact of marketing on our brains, children, and quality of life. You really do get both sides: this movie has an official airline (JetBlue), and an interview with an anti-product placement advocate conducted in that airline’s flagship terminal.

Making a movie about product placement by recruiting advertisers is an inherently gimmicky premise. But when you strip away the comedy, and even the modern relevancy, you realize that Spurlock is speaking to one of the fundamental and eternal questions of cinema: the war between art and commerce. How far should a director be willing to go to make and promote his movie? Some of the most interesting scenes in the movie are the ones in which Spurlock discovers that compromising your art for the sake of commerce comes with its own set of compromises. He pitches POM a whole bunch of ideas for a commercial he has agreed to intergrate into the film. His ideas are clever and funny, in keeping with the tone of the movie he’s making. POM execs reject them all and tell him what they want him to do instead. Selling out is one thing. Handing over the writing of your movie to a sponsor is another.

Despite the creative hurdles, Spurlock effectively straddles the line between selling out and poking fun at selling out. The secret, I think, is transparency. When someone on an evening soap opera calls out one of their friends for acting strange for drinking too much Dr. Pepper, there’s never any acknowledgement that you’re watching a commercial grafted atop a piece of entertainment. Spurlock is totally upfront about what products and companies support him and even tells us how much they’ve paid him in several instances. He doesn’t deny the moments where advertising has its perks, like free cars and drinks, but he’s not afraid to openly admit his reservations about what he’s doing, either. He’s self-aware in a field that’s typically defined by its complete lack of self-awareness.

Eventually, POM and Spurlock are able to agree on an idea for the commercial and, sure enough, it runs within the body of “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” There’s two other commercials during the course of the film too, for Hyatt and JetBlue, and it occurs to me that intramovie commercials of the kind Spurlock accidentally pioneers here could represent a new frontier for advertisers. Think about it: when you watch a movie in a theater, your attention is completely focused on the screen. You’re not distracted by the Internet or your phone (hopefully), and you can’t fast-forward. You’re the perfect, captive audience. But don’t worry. Even if intramovie commercials take off, you can still just wait for them to show up on cable and watch them on your DVR.

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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.
Die Hard restroom

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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