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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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