DID YOU READ

The more people bash “John Carter” the more I want to see it

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Disney’s massive franchise starter “John Carter” doesn’t open for another two weeks, but it feels like it’s already been written off as a huge flop. For months, the narrative in the media about the film has gone something like this: “The trailer is horrible and the tracking is soft and the film went way over an already-high budget, so therefore it’s going to be huge disaster.” The latest — and, let’s hope, final — piece in this narrative, comes from The Daily Beast, where a lengthy article about the release of “John Carter” calls it “Disney’s Quarter Billion Dollar Fiasco.”

The marketing for “John Carter” is terrible. I’m sure the tracking numbers are soft. I have a hunch the film did go over budget. Maybe it is “a quarter billion dollar fiasco.” My question to you is this: why does any of that matter? All of those things can be true, and “John Carter” might still be a fantastic movie. In fact, most of the things people are propping up as evidence that “John Carter” is doomed to failure sound to me like reasons to look forward to the film. The more people bash this thing, the more I want to see it.

Take The Daily Beast’s article, which is largely a production and marketing history, interspersed with anonymous negative quotes from rival studio executives (these people, I’m sure, have no reason to want to see “John Carter” fail, and are speaking, no doubt, from a totally unbiased position). Here is the part of author Chris Lee’s account that really caught my eye:

“Stanton’s distinctive shooting style helped inflate the price tag. Known for his dogged perfectionism and penchant for reshooting scenes until he finds the proper balance of tone, emotion, and action—simple enough to do when your actors are animated—the writer-director dragged out physical production on ‘John Carter’ with a seemingly endless roundelay of reshoots, and reshoots of reshoots, done piecemeal around the world.”

In the context of Lee’s piece, this statement plays mostly as condemnation; Disney bet on this untested animator to make their latest live-action tentpole, and they paid the price with a “billion dollar fiasco.” But what is Lee really saying here? Here’s how I read it: Stanton is a perfectionist — which, apparently, is not only a rarity in Hollywood, but a despised rarity at that — and in moving to live-action, he trusted the same battle-tested formula that had worked for him on two of the finest animated features ever made (“Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E”). Why is any of that a bad thing?

Okay, so he might have gone over budget (Stanton has repeatedly insisted he did not, although if his budget was $250 million to begin with, as The Daily Beast reports, that’s not exactly cause for celebration). Who cares? Unless you’re a Disney stockholder or employee, that is literally none of your concern. For everybody else, going over budget is a good thing, because it means instead of throwing up their hands and walking away from the project, Disney invested more money to make sure that Stanton got to make exactly the film he wanted to make. Again, why is that a bad thing?

Here’s another eye-opening quote from The Beast piece:


“‘We’ve got a director here who made us billions of dollars over the years, fine, let him have a vanity project,’ surmised an executive at another studio, who, like just about everyone interviewed for this story, requested anonymity for fear of burning bridges. ‘But you minimize your risk as much as possible. To make something on this big a budget with no stars? Unless you’re Peter Jackson or Jim Cameron, it’s unheard of.'”

So Disney is taking a risk. Don’t we like when studios take risk? Don’t we complain when they stick to the old way of doing things? Don’t we bitch when they make the same movie over and over? Why is Disney getting raked over the coals for taking a chance on something — especially before the movie’s actually opened?

Part of the risk this nameless executive is referring to is the fact that the title character of “John Carter” is played by Taylor Kitsch, a young actor who spent years on the cult high school football series “Friday Night Lights” but has never headlined a major studio release. The spotlight on Kitsch is particularly intense in this case because while “John Carter” features other famous actors, including Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church, many are playing motion captured six-armed aliens, making the relatively unknown TV star practically the only human face of the franchise.

But just because Kitsch hasn’t opened a big movie before doesn’t mean he can’t. My wife and I are currently in the midst of discovering “FNL” via a lengthy Netflix marathon; through the first three seasons, we’ve watched Kitsch mature as an actor before our eyes. We were just remarking a few nights ago how his character, Tim Riggins, has gone from one of our least favorites to the guy we’re watching the show specifically to see. My wife thinks he’s cute and I think he’s a good actor despite the fact that my wife thinks he’s cute. That is a rare combination for a handsome leading man.

Can Kitsch open a billion dollar movie? Maybe, maybe not. But why not give him a chance? The same thinking that says Taylor Kitsch can’t open a movie before he tries is the same thinking that got Jeremy Lin bounced from one basketball team to another by skeptical talent evaluators who saw an unorthodox player and decided, without due consideration, that he “couldn’t play.” We’ve all seen how that’s turned out these last couple weeks.

Okay, so “John Carter”‘s marketing is crummy. That’s what happens when your head of worldwide marketing resigns right in the middle of the campaign. It should be no surprise that the subsequent trailers, posters, and Super Bowl commercials have all been lackluster. Despite what Disney’s surveys or polls said, I would have never in a million years changed the title of “John Carter of Mars” to just “John Carter,” allegedly out of fear women wouldn’t see a movie with “of Mars” in the title. I checked on this with my own wife: she says she probably wouldn’t, but notes that the simple “John Carter” isn’t much better unless it’s a big-screen adaptation of “ER.” And she is interested to see Tim Riggins on Mars.

Regardless, bad marketing — even a bad title — doesn’t equal a bad movie. And vice versa; the marketing for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” was outstanding while the movie itself was, uh, let’s say instanding. The same stories written about “John Carter” are the same stories that were written about “Titanic,” another insanely expensive movie with a perfectionist director and unknown stars. Things don’t work, can’t work, won’t work — until they do.

Perhaps the advertising is a portend of a doomed production. Maybe when the movie comes out, I’ll hate it more than everyone who’s trashed it sight unseen. But at least I’m going in with an open mind. A bold director, a talented lead, and a few hundred million dollars? What could go wrong?

Are you looking forward to “John Carter?” Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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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.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.