DID YOU READ

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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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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