Beatriz at Dinner

June 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“Cedar Rapids”)
Written by: Mike White (“School of Rock”)

Personalities and political opinions clash in superb fashion in director Miguel Arteta’s satirical, dark dramedy “Beatriz at Dinner,” a film that is thematically timely in the volatile partisan climate the country finds itself in today, but doesn’t overstate its message one way or another. Arteta and screenwriter Mike White (“School of Rock”), by staying vague about their personal political views, keep the narrative ambiguous and provocative, which fares well for its polar-opposite main characters.

In “Beatriz at Dinner,” Salma Hayek, giving her best performance since her Oscar-nominated title role in the 2003 biopic “Frida,” stars as Beatriz, an Los Angeles masseuse a holistic healer who has recently felt more alienated as a Mexican immigrant after one of her neighbors purposefully kills her pet goat. Emotionally drained, Beatriz finds herself at a client’s home in an upscale L.A. neighborhood for a massage appointment. Beatriz has known her client, Cathy (Connie Britton), for a while now. She used to give therapy to Cathy’s cancer-stricken daughter. There is an obvious history and a quasi-friendship present—at least a superficial type, since Beatriz is there providing a service.

The dynamic of their relationship is altered, however, when Cathy invites Beatriz to stay for a dinner party after Beatriz’s car won’t start and she has to wait for a friend to pick her up. Cathy’s husband Grant (David Warshofsky) really doesn’t think it’s a great idea that she stays, since they are hosting a couple of his business partners, including billionaire real estate mogul Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), so they can talk about the new shopping mall they’re going to build.

Ideologies come to a head when Doug, a Donald Trump-esque character (although “Beatriz at Dinner” was written before Trump ran for President), and Beatriz find themselves sitting across from each other at the dinner table and later in another part of the mansion for dessert and drinks. Beatriz is dismayed when she realizes that Doug might be the real estate tycoon who ruined her home town in Mexico with his invasive construction projects. Their conversation comes to a boil when Doug shares pictures with the group of his recent safari expedition where he killed a rhino.

Hayek and Lithgow are perfectly cast in their roles. The moments they share of brazen offensiveness and sheer discomfort might leave audiences squirming in their seats as they witness two strong characters who refuse to back down from confrontation. The film is reminiscent of two other character-driven movies released 20 years apart, the 1995 dark comedy “The Last Supper,” and the 2015 Brazilian film “The Second Mother.” The first pits a group of left-wing young adults who host dinner parties for conservative guests and end up poisoning them if their politics are too offensive to their liberal sensibilities. The other, focuses on the way a well-to-do family’s dynamic shifts when they invite their housekeeper’s daughter to live with them before she gets ready to go to college.

In “Beatriz at Dinner,” Arteta and White keep the dialogue biting without allowing either Doug or Beatriz to maul each other with their incompatible beliefs. The open-ended final minutes of the film might turn some viewers off, who were hoping for some kind of final showdown, but like life, there are usually no winners when it comes to politically-charged discourse and discord.

Miguel Arteta – Alexander and the…Very Bad Day

October 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

After directing five movies over his 17-year career, all of which could be labeled as dark comedies, filmmaker Miguel Arteta was looking for a change of pace. He found that in his first non-R-rated film “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” a PG-rated family movie adapted from a children’s book of the same name. In the film, 10-year-old Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), after having bad day and not getting the sympathy he was looking for from his family, wishes they, too, could experience what it’s like to have a day where nothing goes your way.

During an interview with Arteta, who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, we talked about what specifically drew him to making a movie that is unlike anything he has ever tried before, and why he thinks a film like “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” will resonate with Latino families.

All your films in the past have had an edgier comedic tone from “Star Maps” to “Cedar Rapids.” Why did you want to try something completely different and make a family movie?

I think I’ve gotten a little happier over the years. I’ve gotten married, finally. I started to realize I didn’t appreciating my family as much as should have when I was young. The story of “Alexander” is about a kid that takes his family for granted and then realizes how lucky he is to have them. I realized I really could put my heart in this film. It was something I needed.

As a director, is it important for you to try different things like this? I mean, when you hear the word “typecast” most people just think of it as a problem for actors, but a director could just as easily fall into the same traps, right?

Yes, it’s easy for that to happen. I try to pick movies that are relevant to what’s going on with me emotionally. I think that my 20s were more turbulent, so that’s why those movies had that flavor. But I really do want to try and work in many different genres and find something personal in those genres.

So, I guess you’re saying we can expect some different things from you in the future just depending on what’s going on in your own life, yes?

I think so. To me, it’s always good to be challenged by doing something that is new to you. Really, it’s just been in the last few years where I realized that I didn’t appreciate my family and thought, “Oh my god. You’ve been such a brat, Miguel.” I really have such a good family. I am so lucky. Having that attitude is something I’ve been getting used to.

Well, I’m sure working in this industry makes it hard to balance your family and professional life. Was that part of it?

You know, I grew up in a family of four kids and I was the youngest. I think I felt misunderstood like Alexander. I left home and really didn’t look back. It took a while to realize how much my parents really did for me. They gave me an education. They were really there for me. I think I was a little too quick to leave home and not look back. Also, I don’t have kids, which is another reason I loved making this movie. I have a dog and two nieces, which is quite challenging. But I see what my friends are going through and the pandemonium it is to have a family. I grew up in a Latin family. The script really reminded me a lot of that. I wanted to get the chemistry of the family right and how it can feel so messy. I had to pay tribute to that.

Something different about you as a Latino director in comparison to others in the business has been that you don’t necessarily make movies specifically for Latino audiences or with Latino themes. Has that been a conscious decision on your part?

Not really. You know, there have been times where I’ve been able to put Latinos in roles that are not written for them. I had the chance to put the great Lupe Ontiveros in my film “Chuck and Buck.” The part was actually written for a neurotic, Jewish girl in her 20s. Lupe, at that time, was in her 50s. I had been a big fan of hers. I remember when I gave her that script, she read the character’s name, which was Beverly, and she said, “I’m in Miguel!” I love the idea of blind casting. I think that is a wonderful thing to do in this day and age, especially since it can bring Latinos to parts that are not written for Latinos. I haven’t been able to do enough of it, but I hope to do more.

Do you feel that sometimes Latino directors think they have to make Latino-themed movies just to get a chance to make something?

It used to be more so when I started in the 90s. I think we’re getting to a place where people are accepting of all sorts of ethnicities in all kinds of worlds. Right now we have a lot of Latino directors behind the camera. When I started, there were movies like “Stand and Deliver” and “American Me” and “La Bamba” that were about the Latino experience and different aspects of it. They had this theme that said, “Let me tell you what it’s like to be a Latino in the United States.” I think it was important because you hadn’t seen enough Latinos in stories. It was important to say that. I made “Star Maps” in 1997 and came out thinking, “You know, I’m going to make a movie that doesn’t necessarily have a positive theme, but I think it’s time to start moving forward and show people that Latinos don’t have to be just one thing.” I wasn’t trying to say Latino families have a monopoly on dysfunction. Everyone has it. But I wanted to show what a dysfunctional Latino family looked like. The reaction to that film was interesting. If I put “Star Maps” out today, nobody would make any comments about it.

Do you think your new film would’ve been different if the main character was named Alejandro and we were watching a Latino family going through this horrible day?

Well, I think a movie like that would make a lot of money because Latinos are a big part of the United States. But, you know, when I read the script it did remind me a lot of growing up in Puerto Rico. Even though this was an American family, I thought it would resonate with Latinos because it’s a somewhat large family – four kids, two parents. It’s something I thought Latinos might understand. Also, I think the idea of appreciating family is more important in the Latino community than it is in the American community.

Even though the family is American, you were still able to cast a couple of Latinos in one role. I saw the last name of the twins that play the baby is Vargas.

Yeah, the twins’ father is Latino. I also cast Bella Thorne (she plays Celia, the oldest son’s girlfriend), who is half-Latino. The twins (Elise and Zoey Vargas) were baby girls and they played one baby boy. They were adorable. I cast the girls even though we were looking for a boy because there was just something so undeniably present about them. Other filmmakers thought so, too. They were also the stars of the movie “Neighbors.” There’s something radiant in their eyes. I won’t be surprised if they end up in more movies.

Of course, small incidents like stubbing your toe or spilling juice on the floor can make for a bad day. Are you the kind of person that let’s those things affect the rest of your day or do you brush them off?

I tend to be a pessimist in real life and an optimist when I’m directing. I’m definitely the person that thinks destiny is pointing its finger at me and saying, “Nothing is going to go right for you today!” That’s one thing I’ve had trouble with in my life – seeing the glass half full. But my work has really helped because as a director you have to give good energy no matter what bad things happen on a film set. You have to give energy to your actors. It’s sort of a parental role I play as a director. It’s been very healthy for me.

In this film, you got the chance to work with Steve Carrell during a very interesting point in his career. He has a lot of Oscar buzz on him right now for his dramatic turn in “Foxcatcher,” which comes out later this year. You’ve worked with comedians in the past who can jump back and forth from comedy to drama like John C. Reilly and Steve Buscemi. Do you think that is an easy thing do to? What does it say about those individuals?

It’s rare that someone can do what Steve Carrell is doing. It’s very difficult for someone to make a swing like that. I’m attracted to people who can do comedy as if they were in a drama. Steve Carrell does that and helped everyone on the set [of “Alexander”] understand that. He said to me and the rest of the cast, “I never think that I’m in a comedy.” He loves the kind of comedy where he has no idea he’s in a comedy. There is no winking at the camera whatsoever. That is my favorite kind of comedy. That is why I love actors like him and John C. Reilly.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible…Very Bad Day

October 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“Cedar Rapids”)
Written by: Ron Lieber (debut)

Stretching short books meant for children to feature-length films has always been an exercise in deciding what would make for adequate filler between hitting the beats of the original short story. Few have pulled it off successfully; think 2012’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” a movie over-stuffed with meaningless fluff that ends up contradicting the original story’s anti-consumerist message. That film is rendered into some strange monster concocted just to sell cotton candy pancakes and leave everyone confused.

The filmmakers behind the new film version of author Judith Viorst’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” have the same hurdle to overcome—the book is only 32 pages long—but, unlike their peers, they mostly pull it off. Refocusing the story (in the book we’re centered solely on Alexander) to feature the rest of his family (namely parents Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner) makes this kids’ movie more enjoyable for adults in the crowd than most movies featuring a computer-generated kangaroo kicking a man in the face typically do.

On the day before his 12th birthday, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) experiences the worst day of his life. He wakes up with gum in his hair, spills a bowl of cereal, and opens up his computer to find a more-popular classmate is having his birthday party the same night as his, assuring that no one will be there, including Alexander’s best friend and the girl he has a crush on. When the rest of his family–wrapped up in their own concerns like a job interview, a book release, a part in a school play, and prom with their shallow, bitchy girlfriend—seem to offer Alexander no sympathy, he makes a birthday wish that they all know how it feels to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Needless to say, the wish comes true, and the next day finds the family suffering calamities like pimples, being set on fire, and a misprint in a book that leads to national treasure Dick Van Dyke telling a group of children to take a dump in the swimming pool.

With fun performances from Carell and Garner, “Alexander” manages to avoid the usual pitfalls these movies aimed at 10-year-old boys seem to suffer from: being unwatchable to anyone over 10. Strangely, though, Alexander is basically a supporting character in his own movie, watching as the chaos unfolds around him. While usually films aimed at kids overstay their welcome, this one feels oddly truncated. At barely an hour and 15 minutes long, the movie doesn’t give the story enough room to breathe at times, wrapping up in a party that somehow comes together with little effort from the frazzled family. Yeah, like I said, there’s a damn CGI kangaroo that lays out Carell in the third act, but don’t hold that against “Alexander.”

Cedar Rapids

March 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“Youth in Revolt”)
Written by: Phil Johnston (debut)

Making morons out of men isn’t some innovative concept in the comedy genre. If anything, man’s link to his Neanderthal ancestry has been magnified by the big screen ever since The Three Stooges in the ’30s (Chaplin did slapstick, but wasn’t an idiot). Just last year, Steve Carell in “Dinner for Schmucks,” Zach Galifianakis in “Due Date,” and the entire cast of “Grown Ups” and “Jackass 3D” proved the male species hasn’t evolved much, cinematically speaking.

Still, there are levels of stupidity and naivety that can make or break a character depending on the comedic execution and, of course, the joke itself. It doesn’t take a genius to see the differences in humor between Steve Martin bumbling around as Navin Johnson in “The Jerk” and Steve-O launching through the air in a shit-filled Port-O-Potty.

In “Cedar Rapids,” small-town insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is the kind of hopeless buffoon you wouldn’t mind getting to know. His rite of passage comes when he is sent to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to represent his company at an insurance convention, a sizeable step for Tim, who has never left his own backyard.

Playing an easily impressed, inoffensive man-child (much like Carell in 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), Helms’ deadpan wit is far from shtick. When Tim befriends a few convention veterans (a spazzy John C. Reilly included), Helms delivers some dialed-down, hilarious moments that never feel like second-rate gags. There is also never a point in “Cedar Rapids” where Tim grinds your nerves or overstays his welcome, which propels the story a couple tiers above a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

Sure, the film, which is directed by Miguel Arteta (who helmed last year’s underappreciated “Youth in Revolt”), is like watching a group of uncool adults on a lame high school senior trip they’re decades late for, but its Midwestern charm has a lot more going for it than most dummy comedies out there.

Miguel Arteta – Youth in Revolt

January 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Filmmaker Miguel Arteta is nothing like the zealous albeit misguided characters portrayed in most of his movies. In Arteta’s first film, 1997’s “Star Maps,” Carlos (played by Douglas Spain) is a teenager who allows his father to act as his pimp because he thinks it might lead to an acting job. In 2000’s “Chuck & Buck,” Chuck (played by Mike White) creepily stalks his childhood friend hoping his advances will lead to love. In 2002’s “The Good Girl,” Justine (played by Jennifer Aniston) has an affair with a younger co-worker to break the monotony of her dead-end marriage and job.

While it might be said all these characters are passionate about what they want in life, they also possess flawed views of how to pursue their desires. The same cannot be said about Arteta. Since breaking onto the scene in the late ’90s, Arteta, whose most recent film “Youth in Revolt” hits theaters in January, has never strayed from the rational plans that have led him to success thus far.

“Making movies for me was always about fulfilling my dreams,” Arteta, 45, says via phone from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he is shooting his next film, “Cedar Rapids,” starring Ed Helms and Sigourney Weaver. “I’ve been very lucky to have found that niche early on.”

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Costa Rica by a Spanish mother and Peruvian father, Arteta moved to the U.S. in 1980 at the age of 16. Because he was going through what he calls a “rebellious teenage phase,” he joined his sister in Boston where he attended the Cambridge School of Weston. It was then that Arteta discovered a passion for film.

“I would watch a lot of foreign films—[Federico] Felini movies and [Akira] Kurosawa movies,” he says. “They made me realize what an amazing job directing could be. That’s when I picked up a camera.”

After two years of studying at Harvard University’s film center, Arteta took two years off and immersed himself in cinema by spending entire afternoons at local movie houses watching American films. This is when Arteta learned about the Golden Age of Hollywood.

“I became really obsessed with movies of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s,” he says. “I would go watch two old movies every day. I had a girlfriend who would pay for my movie addiction. She would give me $20 every day as long as I would cook her breakfast and drive her to work.”

Arteta says he was like a “kid in a candy shop” when he started attending Wesleyan University after his time off. In his freshman year, he made his first short film, a musical called “Every Day is a Beautiful Day,” which won a student Academy Award. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in film from Wesleyan in 1989, Arteta gained hands-on experience working on set with acclaimed directors Jonathan Demme (“Silence of the Lambs”) and Sidney Lumet (“Network”) on separate projects. He then went on to earn his MFA from the American Film Institute, a school he admits he “didn’t love,” but one that introduced him to Matthew Greenfield, who would later become a producer on most of his movies.

“[Matthew and I] made a pact to make our first [feature] film together,” Arteta says. “We ended up making [“Star Maps”] out of my basement. It took four years to make and 17 maxed out credit cards. When I finished it I wanted to re-shoot some scenes. We had been working on it so long my investors were like, ‘We’ll give you money to go to therapy, but not to finish your movie.’”

“Star Maps” opened many doors for Arteta after it screened at the Sundance Film Festival and Fox Searchlight Pictures bought it. The film received special recognition that year by the National Board of Review and earned Arteta nominations in directing and writing at the Independent Spirit Awards as well as his first Alma Award nomination. Accolades continued to pour in for his next two films, “Chuck & Buck” and “The Good Girl.”

Arteta’s fourth and most recent feature, “Youth in Revolt” stars Michael Cera, (“Juno”), and is based on writer C.D. Payne’s epistolary novel “Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp.” Cera plays Nick, a cynical 16-year-old who creates a French alter-ego named François when he finds out the girl he likes does not share his feelings.

“A producer showed me the book about five years ago … but it didn’t seem like the right time to make it,” Arteta says. “A few months ago, he showed me the script and told me Michael Cera was involved. I just adore Michael, so I got on the phone with him and realized I had to make this movie. It ended up being the best, most amazing creative collaboration I’ve ever had with an actor.”

The character of Nick is someone Arteta says he and Cera connect with because both have had to find their way in the world and come to terms with who they are, even though they are quite different. “I relate to all of that,” he says. “Nick is a sweet, innocent guy. François is a real troublemaker. I’m a pretty ordinary guy … but a little mischief is always good thing.”

As published in Hispanic Magazine, Jan/Feb 2010 issue

Youth in Revolt

January 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl”)
Written by: Gusten Nash (“Charlie Bartlett”)

It’s common knowledge in most Hollywood circles that when making a movie (indie or otherwise) where the script calls for a soft-spoken, insecure character with a heart of gold the actor on top of most people’s lists would be Michael Cera (followed closely by the fidgetiness and nervous rambling of Jesse Eisenberg).

While Cera’s style works rather well in most cases like in “Superbad” and “Juno,” it would still be interesting to see what he could do out of his comfort zone. How much longer will he be able to pass for a dweeby teenager anyway?

His newest comedy, “Youth in Revolt,” isn’t the breakout role some of us might be looking for, but it’s a nice transition piece that could expose him to some dimension. It’s ironic that a role like this also does the exact opposite and pigeonholes him into what we already know he’s good at.

In “Revolt,” which is adapted from the epistolary novel by C.D. Payne, Cera plays Nick Twisp, a shy high school kid who listens to Frank Sinatra and is mystified by the opposite sex. Still, he’s a sweet, old soul who wonders why “in the movies the good guy get the girl and in real life it’s the prick.”

With nothing better to do, Nick goes on a spontaneous vacation to a trailer park with his mother (Jean Smart) and her loser boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). While there, he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), the girl of his dreams who is culturally aware of all things French and would think Nick was much cooler than he really is if he’d just show a little backbone.

He gets the chance when their fling ends and both realize the only way they can be together is if they can pull off an intricate plan. Part of the mischievous plot is for Nick to get himself kicked out of his mother’s house. To do this, Nick creates an alter ego named François Dillinger (also played by Cera), a rebellious little punk with a pencil-thin mustache, blue eyes, and sharp tongue. Basically, François is the man Nick wishes he was because he’s the type of guy Sheeni could go for without hesitation. François, however, become more trouble than anticipated when he turns Nick into a fugitive.

This is where Cera breaks out of his usual mold and shows us something different, but not entirely unconventional to where one might think he was trying too hard. François puts Nick on edge and gives Cera a great character to explore alongside another that basically comes naturally to him at this point. The identity crisis works well as his battling personalities match wits. Cera alone has it in him to push the adapted material well passed a month most would deem as a cinematic dumping ground.

Surprisingly, “Youth in Revolt” is a rarity for early new-year releases. With filmmaker Miguel Arteta (“Chuck & Buck,” “Star Maps”), who has been making solid albeit small films for the past 12 years, the journal entries of one Nick Twisp are a creative and amusing journey about what it means to be at an age where the world begins and ends with whether or not you have the ability to grow facial hair.