Cars 2: Everyone’s least favorite Pixar movie gets a sequel! Obviously making this movie is a smart move in terms of cash infusion, because while the first Cars fell right in the middle of the Pixar pack in terms of grosses, its merchandising, as has been related so many times, remains a crazy cash bonanza. But I think it might be a smart one in terms of the studio’s unimpeachable critical rep, too. Every couple of years, industry folk seem to wonder when and if Pixar is going to slip up and make a movie that isn’t both critically hailed and a massive financial success. For lack of a better candidate, Cars served as that movie by default for a little while, serving as both a tiny chink in their armor and a reminder that at Pixar, chinks in the armor gross $240 million and hit 74% on the ol’ Tomatometer (that is to say: is a bigger overall success than any single movie released so far this summer). Cars 2 offers two things: a guaranteed big hit, and a near-guaranteed lower critical consensus than the likes of Toy Story 3 or Up.
But with the previous Cars setting expectations relatively lower, it’s entirely possible that this one will be considered an improvement; at worst, it’ll cleanse the palate for more Pixar triumphs down the road (while making a minimum of a quarter-billion dollars domestic to fund said triumphs). Not that I actually think Pixar gives a good god damn what the Tomatometer says about their movies. In fact, there’s also something wonderfully obstinate about Team Pixar sequelizing a bizarre talking-car fable and withstanding cries of merch-baiting, just because John Lasseter seems to really love the shit out of this weird talking-car world. Also, it looks like this movie takes place in an entirely different genre from its predecessor, and that genre appears to be somewhere between James Bond and Speed Racer.
Bad Teacher: Early buzz on this movie, coupled with a funny trailer, sounded promising: it’s like Bad Santa with a lady! Now it’s turned a corner to: this is just a rip-off of Bad Santa with a lady! But comedy is probably the most subjective genre going, and I can name any number of movies I found quite funny that a whole lot of reasonably-or-more intelligent people did not: Your Highness, Hot Rod, MacGruber, or even Year One, the much-derided Biblical farce written, hey, by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, the Office team who also authored this movie.
For that matter, another recent-ish and underappreciated comedy: Walk Hard, from Jake Kasdan, who, hey, directed Bad Teacher! Kasdan also made the fantastic, hilarious, and strangely moving Zero Effect, a Sherlock Holmes riff starring Bill Pullman and a pre-superstardom Ben Stiller; since then, he’s mostly been working the broad-comedy beat, which I guess makes him the original David Gordon Green! I do wish Kasdan would write another script for himself, but his work on the Apatow TV shows suggests he might have an eye for the kind of faculty-lounge pettiness I hope Bad Teacher feeds on. Also, when not starring in absolute crap, which is about half the time, Cameron Diaz is awesome. I’m serious. I will fight, by which I mean argue pointlessly, with anyone who does not think her performances Being John Malkovich, Gangs of New York, Vanilla Sky, The Box, and Charlie’s Angels amount to a stellar body of work [You forgot The Sweetest Thing. -Ed].
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop: I’m a sucker for movies about the damaged comedian psyche, and interested in the way that Conan O’Brien’s loss of the Tonight Show gig brought out a darker, more self-loathing side of the SNL/Simpsons/Late Night all-star than we’d ever seen before. But the nature of filmmaking is that this documentary comes out not on the heels of the freewheeling comedy tour O’Brien embarked upon post-Tonight Show and pre-resurrection on cable, but after he’s been working his TBS gig for almost a year. As such, I hope it doesn’t feel like outdated done-me-wrong complaint comedy.
A Better Life: This movie looks totally earnest and well-meaning, and I’m impressed that my fellow Wesleyan alum Chris Weitz wants to move from the kid-lit factory movies of Golden Compass and New Moon into small-scale drama about hard-working illegal immigrants, but it does raise the question of who wants to see the director of New Moon handle the subject of hard-working illegal immigrants.