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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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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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