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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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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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