DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on “John Carter” and the Value of Failure

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Pixar has been the envy of Hollywood for a long time, and one of the reasons for that is Andrew Stanton. A head honcho and guiding light of the commercially and critically successful animation studio — along with John Lasseter, Brad Bird, and others — he co-wrote the first two “Toy Story” films, “A Bug’s Life,” and “Monsters, Inc.” Even more impressive, he was the director of Oscar-winners “Wall-E” and “Finding Nemo,” two of Pixar’s best films, in part because they’re among the company’s most emotionally sophisticated, brilliantly balancing sentiment and darkness to arrive at astoundingly poignant finales. All Pixar films are put together by a large creative team, but “Wall-E” and “Finding Nemo” feel personal in a way that many of their other movies don’t. If anyone in the business has a Midas touch, it might be Stanton.

It’s not surprising, then, that the Pixar whiz kid would eventually turn his attention to live-action movies, making his debut with “John Carter.” Sure, I’d heard the bad buzz: lengthy reshoots, a title change, a reportedly ballooning budget. And, yes, I’d been turned off by the initial publicity stills and trailers, just like everyone else. But, still, it was Andrew Stanton, the Pixar golden child. It was gonna turn out fine, right?

Unfortunately, no. Though ambitious, “John Carter” is a big mess that resembles a lot of other garish, plodding big-budget blockbusters. Perhaps worse for Stanton and Disney, which released the film, it’s almost certainly going to be a box office disappointment. For the first time, one of Stanton’s films is going to fail — and probably fail spectacularly. Can there be some good in that?

It’s been clear for months that “John Carter” was having problems. When Tad Friend from The New Yorker visited the set a year ago, reshoots were happening and new scenes were being added to help the story. Stanton insisted it was all fine, though: “Reshoots should be mandatory,” he proclaimed. “Honestly, if we had the time and everyone was available, I’d do another reshoot after this one.” But this was a guy who had never made a live-action feature, and his very first one cost anywhere from $250 million to more than $300 million, depending on who you believe. And it didn’t help matters that Stanton seemed pretty arrogant about the whole thing:

“We came on this movie so intimidated: ‘Wow, we’re at the adult table!’ Three months in, I said to my producers, ‘Is it just me, or do we actually know how to do this better than live-action crews do?’ The crew were shocked that they couldn’t overwhelm me, but at Pixar I got used to having to think about everyone else’s problems months before all their pieces would come together, and I learned that I’m just better at communicating and distilling than other people.”

If you’re James Cameron and able to prove the disbelievers wrong — not once (“Titanic”), but twice (“Avatar”) — you can get away with saying stuff like that. But Stanton’s defensive posturing in the article only helped create an impression that he was a cocky kid way out of his depth. Consequently, rather than simply being a noble misfire, “John Carter” has been hit with a thunderstorm of schadenfreude, and the film seems destined to become one of those high-profile disasters that will be used as an example of what not to do in Hollywood.

You could say that Stanton’s own hubris brought this on himself. But the problems with “John Carter” also underline just how difficult it is to make great event movies. Part of why Pixar was so beloved was because it seemed like all they did was produce great films. But as Stanton pointed out in The New Yorker piece, those movies often took years of painstaking trial-and-error to get right. “We’re in this weird, hermetically sealed freakazoid place where everybody’s trying their best to do their best,” he recalled, “and the films still suck for three out of the four years it takes to make them.”

Live-action blockbusters don’t have that luxury, of course: A lot of those have release dates before they have finished scripts. But the hope was that Stanton would take the lessons of Pixar and apply them. That didn’t happen.

While it’s impossible for me to know what specifically doomed the making of “John Carter,” it’s hard not to consider Stanton’s New Yorker profile as a cautionary tale about believing your own hype. All those Oscars, all that commercial success, all that acclaim — Stanton probably felt that as long as he put in the work, he could make anything terrific. After all, as Friend points out, celebrated Pixar movies like “Toy Story 2” and “Ratatouille” were in such bad shape at different stages that new directors had to come onboard to save them. But as Pixar learned recently with the critical drubbing “Cars 2” received, no formula is foolproof. And while another Pixar alum, Brad Bird (“Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles”), successfully transitioned to live-action with “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” that was no guarantee for Stanton doing the same thing.

Pete Doctor, who directed “Up” and “Monsters, Inc.,” once described the Pixar creative process like this: “Everyone holds hands and jumps out of the airplane with the promise that they’ll build a parachute before they hit the ground.” For Stanton, “John Carter” was the first time he wasn’t able to build the parachute in time. Everybody eventually fails — even the whiz kids. In a very high-profile way, the debacle of “John Carter” is a cruel reminder for him — and for us — that nobody in this business has the Midas touch. Next time Stanton gets ready to jump out of the airplane, hopefully he won’t be as cocky about it.

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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.