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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.