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Summer 2009: but what does it *mean*?

Summer 2009: but what does it *mean*? (photo)

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Clearly someone at Variety was crunching numbers every Sunday night and waiting for the moment they could announce that this was the highest-grossing summer EVER; late Monday afternoon, with all the box office estimates confirmed, it was time to drop the good news. Yes, this summer set records all over. $4.17 billion grossed over last summer’s $4.16 billion, with Labor Day weekend still to come! The highest-grossing summer romantic comedy ever (“The Proposal,” with $160.2 million)! And many other memories to take home with us over the cold, frigid months until next summer’s warm, lovely explosions.

Has anyone bothered to crunch these numbers for inflation to see if they hold up — or, for that matter, ticket sales? If this weekend indeed adds at least $100 mil to the summer’s cume, would that really take us up three percent over the halcyon days of 2007? Have ticket sales risen, or are 3D tickets really helping the math more than you’d expect? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But the thing is, Variety doesn’t either, and while I understand this is “news” in some sense, you can’t really extrapolate anything from it. It’s as meaningless as sports records set on surreptitious sports records or Iranian elections — numbers that don’t parse in any real direction.

Mostly, this summer affirms why nothing ever changes in the summer: it’d be economic stupidity to fix what ain’t broke. The top three movies domestically are “Transformers 2,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and “Up”; Variety characterizes all three as “tentpoles,” which seems like a typo but actually confirms that the Pixar brand is worth more than whatever the logline of their movies reads like. The release of the last three Pixar films has always been preceded by ominous predictions of decreased grosses for various stupid reasons — “Ratatouille” stars a rat in a kitchen, which’ll gross people out, and the title is hard to spell! “WALL-E” is too arty! (As if all that clamor and clangor in the first third somehow didn’t take the place of dialogue, or “Cast Away” wasn’t a huge hit in its time — when in silence, fill up the foley.) “Up” — this one really a stretch — is about an old guy, which means no tie-in toys! It happens every summer; by calling the studio itself a “tentpole,” Variety means it’s worth nearly as much in name recognition and loyalty as Harry Potter, and they’re absolutely right.

So yes, franchises work, even if that franchise consists of a name that allows a studio to get away with murder. “Star Trek” seemed to work because it managed to cleanly wrest its image away from the dorkiness preceding it. Otherwise, reliable mediocrity is always worth the price: the top 10 includes “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” The only big surprise is “The Hangover,” and even that’s not that odd: Hollywood appears surprised every time a combination of low-culture fetishization, gross-out gags and bro bonding wins over the twenty-something males of America. Not all of these work, but most of them aren’t heavily promoted as summer comedies “from the director of ‘Old School'” either. The only one of these movies that opened because of the name above the title was “The Proposal,” which is good news for Sandra Bullock, but means rom-coms are the only summer genre that benefit from old reliables.

The main reason I sound so testy is that “biggest” and “most memorable” seem to have nothing in common; I don’t know who but shareholders and executives should be celebrating this news. As it happens, I liked “Star Trek” just fine – J.J. Abrams’ professionalism and smoothness is great for blockbusters — and “Up” is definite top 10 material, but who could really claim this summer stood out as one exciting ride after another? Why isn’t there a single paradigm-changing hit in this summer’s top 10? Do people go to movies in the summer so reflexively they no longer really care?

[Photo: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” Paramount/DreamWorks, 2009]


The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at


Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…