DID YOU READ

Miguel Arteta’s Wild Ride to “Cedar Rapids”

Miguel Arteta’s Wild Ride to “Cedar Rapids” (photo)

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Making a dick joke is rarely poignantly commemorated in a film, let alone the foundation for one for its most tender moments. Yet in “Cedar Rapids” when the sheltered insurance agent Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) fumbles upon a phallic observation during a hot dog eating contest and awaits approval like a puppy from his newfound colleagues and potential friends (John C. Reilly, “The Wire”‘s Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Anne Heche, the woman with the wiener in her mouth at the time), it’s a crucial part in what director Miguel Arteta says drew him to his latest film, “that heartwarming feeling that you get when those four people fall in love with each other.”

Love has been a complicated thing in Arteta’s films to date, sending Michael Cera off to create a confidence-boosting alter ego of himself in the adaptation of C.D. Payne’s “Youth in Revolt,” a neglected Jennifer Aniston into the arms of a Holden Caulfield-obsessed loner in “The Good Girl” and Mike White on a trip out to California to create a play to win over his childhood friend who’s since moved on in “Chuck & Buck.” In each case, the director has found the humanity and all of its attendant eccentricity and warmth that burst through when dealing with matters of the heart, which is why “Cedar Rapids” feels like a sly, fresh variation on the fish-out-of-water story since that same romantic sensation that overwhelms Tim Lippe is actually one of camaraderie. No wonder then that Arteta considers what he does to be “flirting with the audience,” as he mentions below, along with how his own fish-out-of-water status helped him adapt first-time feature screenwriter Phil Johnston’s Black List-approved script set in the Midwest, why he’s not drawn to “overtly hip” comedies and the pride of “Chuck & Buck” 10 years later. [Mild “Cedar Rapids” spoilers ahead.]

You’ve said a goal of yours is to make comedies without cynicism. Has that vision been easier or harder to sell to people over the years?

It depends on how you coded it. “Cedar Rapids,” it’s a very wholesome and sweet comedy, but it also has a lot of foul language in it. But unlike a movie that just shocks you for shock’s value, the foul language just comes with the territory. John C. Reilly’s character has to be that way. But I do think it’s harder. I think there’s a lot of hip comedies nowadays that seem to work from a shock value point of view and don’t seem as grounded as they claim to be, in my opinion. So I think this is a bit of a throwback to the Jimmy Stewart movies and the Jack Lemmon movies, sort of everyday guys who get out of where they come from and do something extraordinary.

Ed Helms reminds me of Jack Lemmon a lot. He has this great ability to look like an everyday man, like really disappear. You could believe him as an insurance salesman at an All-State office, but at the same time, he has that ability to be sweet, but have a comic edge, which is truly hard. Truly hard. It’s a lot easier to be sarcastic or mean with comedy, but to come from a sweet place, it’s rare when that really happens.

02092011_CedarRapids3.jpgDo you take into account what they’ve done before and consciously try to employ them for a different purpose?

Well, definitely. All storytelling is a way of flirting with an audience and when you’re making movies, the baggage that comes with a star is part of how you’re flirting with an audience. You think you’ve seen Anne Heche, but you haven’t seen her as a redhead who can make such a compassionate case for why she cheats once a year. And I think what stars bring is something that as a filmmaker you have to have in mind because it’s all flirting. You’re flirting with a bunch of strangers in the dark.

Having Alexander Payne as a producer will obviously draw some comparisons between your styles. What was it like having him as a creative partner?

It was great. Alexander and his partner Jim Taylor and their producing partner Jim Burke, all from the Midwest, helped an awful lot. Alexander kept an eye on making sure that we didn’t cross that line of making fun of characters ever. Like we had our two main characters meet at an Olive Garden and he was like, “no, no, no. Make it a sushi restaurant. Don’t stereotype the Midwest, please.” And Jim Taylor helped write a lot of Sigourney [Weaver]’s dialogue. He got really involved with Phil Johnston, how to tweak the story. They were very hands on and the three of them fought the studio for my casting choices and then they were very involved with the cuts. It was a really wonderful team and Ed and Phil had a really strong connection and they also had a wonderful voice, so I felt really well-supported on this film.

02082011_CedarRapids3.jpgSince all those guys come from the Midwest, did you feel that you had something valuable to offer coming from a different perspective?

A tropical one. [laughs] I did not know why they picked a Puerto Rican to make their love letter to Midwestern insurance, but God bless them because I had such a good time doing it. I relate to the story “Cedar Rapids,” coming from a different culture, coming to the big country of America, being in culture shock, not knowing who to trust, who the good guys and the bad guys are. There’s a correlation there to what it’s like for Tim Lippe to go to Cedar Rapids to this convention and not knowing who the people who share his values are. The whole thing to me is like “The Wizard of Oz” of insurance. Ed Helms is Dorothy going to the big Emerald City –he thinks he has a goal, but along the way, he meets the three motley crew characters who help him and in turn, he helps them. In some ways, the whole movie is a love letter to friendship and what a delight and a surprise it is that any moment, you might make a lifelong friend and I wanted to capture what it’s like in those first few days when you connect with somebody who’s going to be your friend for life, they’re just magical. They’re just so much fun and memorable. So I think the script and the film captures that and I’m most proud of that.

Is it just coincidence or is there something attractive to you about setting your films in small-town America, as your last three films have been?

I’m not interested in making movies that feel overtly hip and I’m pretty put off by that. So I think it just helps right off the bat if you set your film in a smaller town.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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