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The expectations game and “Cars 2”

The expectations game and “Cars 2” (photo)

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Over on The Projector, Will Leitch wrote an interesting piece about the online discourse surrounding the release of Pixar‘s twelfth animated feature, “Cars 2.” He nicely sums up a lot of things I’ve been thinking about the movie and its aggressively negative reception by critics, some of whom appear almost giddy in describing the fact it will be the first Pixar film to earn a negative score on the movie review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. It wasn’t simply that people saw the film and didn’t like it; some people didn’t like it before they saw it. “It’s the Pixar narrative,” Leitch writes:

“…’Toy Story 3,’ in addition to being one of the most beloved movies of last year, was seen (in the eyes of movie writers, not Pixar) as some sort of goodbye to the Good Ole Days of Pixar, the admission that the company couldn’t stay on its hot streak forever, that they would have to grow up and turn into Disney eventually. That the next movie was ‘Cars 2’ — a sequel to the only nominated Pixar film since 2003 not to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar, the one with that Larry the Cable Guy ewww — secured the narrative: Pixar was now just trying to make money and didn’t care about quality anymore. ‘Cars 2’ was seen, months before anyone had seen it, months before it was even done, as a sign of creative bankruptcy.”

I’ve heard and read colleagues complain about “Cars 2” for months, all throwing out assumptions about the film and its guaranteed lack of quality. Because the first “Cars” was easily the most poorly reviewed movie in Pixar history (to that point) and because “Cars” merchandise is a billion dollar industry, the story from the beginning has been that Pixar only made “Cars 2” the movie so they could make “Cars 2” the toys. It would be naive to assume the franchise’s merchandising popularity didn’t play a major role in the film’s production — of course it did — but it’s equally naive to assume that it played the only role.

“Cars 2,” like “Cars,” is the brainchild of John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar. More than any other film since “Toy Story,” “Cars” is Lasseter’s baby; he developed the idea for the series after a family road trip along Route 66. Though critics might hate the world of “Cars,” Lasseter clearly loves it. Why else would he chose to direct “Cars 2” instead of “Toy Story 3?”

While the online film community might hate “Cars,” there’s another important group that loves it: children. Merchandise doesn’t earn a billion dollars just because someone makes it — just look at the tons of “Tron: Legacy” toys currently sitting in bargain bins across the country. Yes, you could cynically say the “Cars” characters were designed from the ground up as toy fodder. But I’ve watched “Cars” and played with “Cars” toys with kids. They do love them. Lasseter tapped into something primal here, just as he he did with “Toy Story.” But “Toy Story” was, from the start, more sophisticated and more knowing. It appealed more widely to both adults and to children.

Which brings up another interesting quirk of the narratives that movie writers like to write. How often do we read reviews of mainstream films bemoaning the fact that modern movies are watered down and rendered safe, bland, and boring by design to cater to the widest possible audience? Well, no one is better at this than Pixar — films like “Wall-E” and “Up” represent perhaps the finest expression of that one-for-all filmmaking style. So when Pixar makes a movie for everyone, they’re geniuses. When they make a movie aimed at children, when they narrow their focus and appeal exactly how film writers often prescribe, they’re lambasted for it. Ironically, it’s when they go narrow that they’re accused of playing it safe and watering down their material. These people are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

That’s because Pixar, more than any other movie studio — now or maybe ever — has accrued an untenable reputation for quality. Critics and movie writers treat Pixar almost like a public trust; they forget that it is and always has been the arm of a major moneymaking corporation. Pixar, they say, must aspire to greater. And, hey, I wish every movie they made was as good as “Up.” But it is sort of crazy that people are getting so upset about Pixar making a toy-friendly movie when the entire foundation of the company was built on the most toy-friendly movie in film history. A part of me wonders whether they didn’t bite the bullet on “Cars 2” and accept that they’d get trashed for it just so they can get their first “flop” (a flop that’s already grossed $68 million bucks) over with so they can change the “Pixar narrative” to from inevitable fall to inevitable comeback.

According to Leitch, “the worst movie writers… are the ones who treat movies as some sort of expectations game, who go into every screening with as much information to supply their preconceived (and often incorrect) notions of a film as possible. Then, if the film is slightly better than they thought, it is ‘good.’ If not, it’s ‘bad.'” I agree. I haven’t seen “Cars 2” yet. It’s possible when I see it, I’ll disagree with everybody and think it’s a masterpiece. Or maybe I’ll hate it too. But whatever my opinion, it’ll be my opinion of the film, and not of the toy line.

Do you think critics treated “Cars 2” unfairly? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and IFC.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.