Michael Arbeiter
Staff editor Michael Arbeiter’s natural state of being can best be described as “mild panic attack.” His earliest memories of growing up in Queens, New York, involve nighttime conversations with a voice from his bedroom wall (the jury’s still out on what that was all about) and a love for classic television that spawned from the very first time he was allowed to watch “The Munsters.” Attending college at SUNY Binghamton, a 20-year-old Michael learned two things: that he could center his future on this love for TV and movies, and that dragons never actually existed — he was kind of late in the game on that one.
  • Review: 'The Zero Theorem' Is Too Pleasant to Be Great Terry Gilliam
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 19, 2014
    Amplify via Everett Collection Mad and scattered though it may be, The Zero Theorem feels like business as usual for Terry Gilliam. If you’ve seen what the visionary filmmaker can do with emotional chaos, fantastical concepts, and corporate dystopias in the Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, and Brazils of cinema past, then you’ll find this latest venture to be less a new exploration of Gilliam’s yet untapped imaginings and more a 'Best Of' reel honoring his greatest cinematic elements to date. In short, while amply pleasant, Zero Theorem is nothing new for the director. That Gilliam’s adherence to the visual penmanship that has carried with him for decades has become “pleasant” — perish the thought: comfortable — might be its biggest fault. The dynamic “new”-ness of the aesthetic and rhythm in his early features is what made it so compelling a style. Showing little evolution in Zero Theorem, and perhaps even the hint — via a few cloyingly unoriginal sci-fi constructs, like a personalized video advertisement that follows Christoph Waltz down the street — that Gilliam has fallen behind the times in his sociopolitical commentary. Amplify via Everett Collection It’s a horrifying notion that Zero Theorem might be an act of regression for Gilliam (even after a decade of critical maligned work), and one that reverberates as we feel Waltz’s turn as a gifted recluse awaiting tell of the meaning of life amount to little more than cuteness. Alongside him are players equally limited by the fluffy nature of the piece: Melanie Thierry as a batty woman who takes a liking to Waltz’s Qohen, David Thewlis as his troublesome and inept supervisor, Lucas Hedges as a technical prodigy and petulant teen in whom Qohen finds an unwanted sidekick… oh, and a white-haired Matt Damon as “The Management.” Just as the members of Zero Theorem’s Orwellian society are accused of being, each of the film’s players amounts more or less to a tool, a cog in a competent but hardly challenging machine. The script is no more or less inspiring, just another vehicle to get Gilliam’s wildfire set piece construction and gallant metaphysical ideology running again. It’s all lovely, funny, and an entirely nice way to spend two hours. But it’s hardly the sort of work the director was once assured to deliver. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'The Maze Runner' Is All Maze, No Character
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 19, 2014
    20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection You’d think that a group of teen boys who’ve spent three years holed up together on a secluded acre of farmland would figure out something to talk about. But The Maze Runner has little interest in anything its victims might be feeling or thinking at any given time… unless it has to do with that maze. It might sound silly to bemoan a film called The Maze Runner for paying too much attention to its titular labyrinth. The enigmatic maze that imprisons the abandoned boys, its intricacies, and the one gigantic action set piece that it allows provide the lion’s share of excitement in this primarily drab adaptation of James Dashner’s young adult novel. The problem is that, cool as the maze may be, we don’t care a lick about the folks running it. The film opens as our hero, a perpetually shocked Dylan O’Brien, finds himself thrust into a mysterious reservation located right outside the doors to a treacherous mechanical obstacle course that none of the unorthodox pokey’s upperclassmen have been able to successfully navigate in three years. But as we are told from the start, O’Brien’s character Thomas is... different. 20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection We have to be told outright that he’s different, because there are no observable reasons to suggest as such. Nothing from the script nor from O’Brien’s performance to suggest that this might be our Boy Who Lived, our Girl on Fire, our Shailene Woodley. Likewise, O’Brien’s supporting team — group leader Aml Ameen, wide-smiling tyke Blake Cooper, contextually irrelevant resident girl Kaya Scodelario, and a dozen other half-present forgettables — is as flavorless as director Wes Ball’s visual polish, the one passable exception being Will Poulter as a pseudo-antagonist/metaphoric symbol of American conservatism. A savory enough premise allows us just enough interest in The Maze Runner to enjoy the occasional trip through the cogs and gears of the diabolical deathtrap. But without even fleeting access to any one of the boys’ internal makeup, least of all Thomas, we never really care if anyone makes it out alive. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'This Is Where I Leave You' Gets Everything Wrong, But Manages to Be Cute
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 18, 2014
    Warner Bros via Everett Collection This Is Where I Leave You doesn’t get a lot right about grief, marriage, love, relationships, parenthood, infidelity, masculinity, depression, alcoholism, human reproduction, homosexuality, Oedipal complexes, Judaism, sibling rivalry, marijuana use, brain injuries, ice skating, or how human beings speak to one another. But, you know, it’s cute. Though they’re given little more to do than alternate weepy existential soliloquys with jokes about masturbation (there are a lot of jokes about masturbation in this movie, or at least a lot more jokes about masturbation than most movies targeted to my mother’s demographic seem to have), the Altman siblings are hardly a chore to watch as they banter and bicker their way through a weeklong mourning ritual (and neatly packaged “side problems”) following the death of their father. As Judd (wife cheated on him) Jason Bateman is essentially fine. As lone sister Wendy (husband’s a douche/old lover right across the street), Tina Fey is more than not inviting. As youngest brother Phillip (can’t get his act together), Adam Driver is a cast standout. Corey Stoll, you might have heard, is also in this movie as oldest child Paul (can’t conceive a child). But just barely, showing up every so often for the sole purpose of reminding everyone just how little these would-be siblings look like each other. Warner Bros via Everett Collection A few sweet moments are managed — more often than not involving the dynamic Driver and one of his disapproving elders — though never impressively, settling predominantly for Vanilla Sky-inspired maxims and scenes of contemplative driving. A few good jokes land — again, usually via Driver — though never uproariously. And with takeaway messages peaking at innocuous, there’s really nothing to be gained from a viewing of Shawn Levy’s dramedy adaptation. But, somehow — thanks to the good graces of Fey’s aptitude for sisterly sardonicism and Driver’s animalistic likability — it manages a competent dose of cute. Sweet. Nice. This Is Where I Leave You has nothing — or close to it — to offer, but it’s hardly a joyless ride. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Tusk' Is Bizarre, Interesting, and Gruesome, But Banks Too Much on the Kevin Smith Story
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 17, 2014
    A24 via Everett Collection There are two ways to look at Tusk. First, through the context of the Kevin Smith’s career: a return to the offbeat after a dissipation of his Gen X cred. The long-awaited redirection to genuine imagination that he exhibited in Dogma but never before or since. Perhaps even an autobiographical illustration of the probing qualms Smith might face as a result of his career choices and brand of comedy. If you have the pertinent knowledge and energy to afford Tusk your attention through these lenses, you’ll be granting it the favor of purpose. The movie is just a tad too lacking therein to function perfectly on its own terms. Tusk seems to rely on your familiarity with the Smith story — as did each of the director’s View Askew pictures, though much more overtly — in order to access its journey in earnest. We “observe” shock jock podcasters Wallace (Justin Long) and Teddy (Haley Joel Osment, whose real world cult appeal is inscrutably wasted on such a bland role in such a bizarre movie) trading gags at the expense of the desperate and accident-prone YouTube sensations, but are welcomed just barely into the understanding of what kind of men they are in truth, why they find it so easy to be so cruel, and how they got to this point from the humble beginnings that Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) misses so terribly. A24 via Everett Collection So when we get to the weird part — the part we assume you must already know about by now — the emotional pulp is not readily available. Wallace’s visit to the Great White North lands him in the company of traveled gentleman Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a man whose nefarious intentions are as plain as the baculum on his mantelpiece. Once Wallace is in his possession, the movie derails to wild levels of body horror, black comedy, and garden-variety strangeness. The mood bounds up and down as we alternate attention between Howe’s demonic experimentations and Ally and Teddy’s quest to find their missing loved one. Along with the latter duo is a French Canadian detective straight out of a Jay Ward cartoon: Guy Lapointe, played quite endearingly by a heavily made-up Johnny Depp. Although Depp's late-in-film contribution is sure to muster a few eye rolls, he provides the necessary occasional respite from the sincerely upsetting Cronenbergian nightmare games going on in the lower levels of the Howe palace. Although we're granted outright explanations of why what's happening is happening, both in-universe and in regards to the narrative, we're never beckoned far enough inward to experience what could be a haunting parable with any real intimacy. Ultimately, Tusk winds up more interesting and enjoyable than not, landing closer to creative than commercial. But with too much confidence in the groundwork laid out by its writer and director's familiar and vivid story, the film winds up a more vacant version of what it could, should, and wants to be. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'The Guest' Is a Kooky Throwback Thriller Whose Sole Intent Is to Have Fun
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 12, 2014
    Picturehouse Never before The Guest has a film so accurately reproduced that feeling you got upon entering a popular upperclassman’s Halloween-themed red cup party. That combination of bated excitement, casual danger, and vaguely sexual panache is eminent from minute one in the fun, “retro” thriller, once Dan Stevens (himself a package of excitement, danger, and sexual panache altogether) pays a visit to the average suburban Petersons, revealing himself to be an army buddy of their deceased eldest son. The fact that there’s more to Stevens’ David than meets the eye should be evident from the second the film opens. Making no bones about keeping its secrets close to the chest, The Guest allows itself to have as much fun with the “mysterious stranger” gambit as possible. That we are brought to realize over and over how little we know about David, and how far we may be from figuring out The Guest’s puzzle, is what makes it such a delight to watch. In short, we never quite know what David is going to do next, and it’s always fun to watch him do it. Picturehouse via Everett Collection Of course, the fun is ours alone, as the Peterson’s 20-or-so-year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) is charged to unearth the true intentions of her family’s houseguest. Steady tension (the affable kind) builds to ribald chaos (still relatively affable) and ultimately unbridled dementia (despite its subject matter, this movie never wants to assault or alienate, and really never does) as Anna, David, the Petersons, the neighborhood do-nothings, and a few other unexpected parties find themselves ensnared in a maniacal and yet somewhat whimsical game of “What the hell is going on and how do we stop it?” If The Guest really suffers from anything it is from its simplicity. The movie is fun, articulate, and charismatic, but ultimately gets done everything it has to between titles and credits. Like David, The Guest is a supreme soldier: concerned with doing its job as meticulously as possible and deigning not to cross the appropriate margins thereof. As such, the flick might not stay too long with any of us after it's over and done with, but it proves all the while to be a fun, evocative good time. So, pretty much exactly like all those high school Halloween parties... or high school in general. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Whiplash' Could Be One of the Great Music Movies of All Time
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 12, 2014
    Sony Pictures Classics via Everett Collection A basic command of rhythm will make your film watchable; kinetic proficiency will make it dramatically effective. But the aural language instituted by Damien Chazelle in his second directorial feature, Whiplash, lands you with a goddamn symphony. Chazelle constructs what might wind up being one of the great music movies of all time, conducting each tier of his film with an active ear. Whiplash opens with a literal drum solo — courtesy of driven Schaffer Academy student Andrew (Miles Teller) — setting precedent for a collection of tremendous jazz numbers to follow throughout. Immediately afterward, we watch Chazelle weave scenes together via the harmonies of brass, building an atmosphere that he molds and contorts as the picture progresses. But the most impressive symphonic feat is that which follows Andrew’s chaotic run toward a stature as jazz prodigy, and the tutelage, camaraderie, and enmity he earns from his no-nonsense-is-putting-it-lightly teacher Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, playing the gruffest, fieriest, most intimidating role yet in a career that has tossed him no shortage of opportunities of the like). Sony Pictures Classics Andrew’s story unravels, ribbons out, leaps, explodes, and recollects at such an absolutely delightful pace. Character beats are inset with such expert timing, that we occasionally get the rush of watching a live performance. Ultimately, Andrew’s story breathes and moves like a song — a jazz number, naturally — which renders every turn, reveal, and twist of perspective a tremendous showstopper. And what it has to say about music? Everything that jazz might entail: how beautiful it is to love the art so wholly, and how toxic and destructive it is to devote yourself entirely to its whims. Whiplash doesn’t shove us to either side of favor regarding either of its central heroes/villains (they are equal parts each, and merrily so), nor to either side of the dividing line on whether succumbing altogether to the corrosive call of the drumsticks is, to put it reductively, a “good idea.” With such gratitude we can affirm that the movie doesn’t want to teach us a lesson. It just wants to play us a song. 4.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'The Skeleton Twins' Is a Nice Time with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, But Lacks Depth
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 12, 2014
    Lionsgate via Everett Collection I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to get past the fact that Bill Hader’s name is Milo. This was the forerunner of a number of elements that seemed to introduce The Skeleton Twins as an aggressively “Sundancey” picture: Hader and Kristen Wiig, estranged siblings living a country apart, both attempt suicide at the precise same moment, executing their mirror glowers and macabre goodbye letters in nearly perfect harmony; it’s that combination of dark and cute on which a generation of independent film was founded. But once the distance is mended — Maggie (Wiig) is brought to the bedside of her hospitalized brother — Skeleton Twins finds its pulp: the chemistry between the titular sibs. A film like Skeleton Twins rests its weight on whether or not its principal characters can be believed (and loved) as family. Where many fail, Twins strikes gold: we’ve seen Hader and Wiig play husband and wife, Californian lovers, game show host and incompetent contestant, and phone sex perpetrators rivaling for the vocal company of Joaquin Phoenix, but history does not dissuade entry into what makes for a touching, challenging fraternity in this film. Lionsgate via Everett Collection Individually, their performances sparkle too. Hader is fun as the frustrated, pithy fish-out-of-water (back in his hometown, appropriately) failed actor Milo, and Wiig duly charming as a woman suffocated by her marriage to the impossibly nice Lance (Luke Wilson, being tolerable). But it’s the togetherness — and the film’s permission to let the old friends play to their hearts’ content — that wins us over. The banter, the shtick, the “up” moments. But this dynamic chemistry comes at a price: Hader and Wiig are so effortlessly good together, we find it difficult to believe they ever might have let the years pass by without contact. Each is so readily funny that it is difficult to understand what brought them both to suicide at the film’s dawn. Skeleton Twins is so good at the up moments that it practically uproots the down, rendering its emotional core something of a nonentity. Still, Skeleton Twins lives up to its principal promise: a funny, sweet, more or less impressive platform for Hader and Wiig. They show off what we love about them and what we’ve long hoped we’d get to see, leaving plenty of room for growth in the next optimistic installment. And, miraculously, they manage to overcome the anchors of a movie that introduces itself as insistently “indie” as this one does. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Memphis' Is Beautiful to Look at, But Has Nothing Else Going for It
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 10, 2014
    Kino International via Everett Collection While it's not an entirely unenjoyable movie, Memphis is a tragic waste of all the talent evident in its creative team. We are ushered into the titular city — treated more like an extraterrestrial world by filmmaker Tim Sutton — through a collection of beautiful establishing shots, welcomed to meet the molting town, its fraying residents, and the general fog of shortsighted malaise that hangs above the lot. But the promise made by these early images is one that Sutton has no intention of keeping; it appears that with Memphis, Sutton wants to give his audience something to look at and nothing more. The writer/director doesn’t seem to have any intention of bringing us closer to Memphis, to its inhabitants, or even to the de facto hero of the picture: the dangerously eccentric musician Willis Earl Beal (playing an apparently non-fictionalized version of himself). We watch — and that’s the operative word — Willis struggle with his art, his relationships, and his sanity, though we are never beckoned close enough to feel any of his pangs or toils on a personal level. He, like the beautiful scenery of Memphis, is just something to look at. And, in the film’s more malicious moments, something to point at. Kino International via Everett Collection Beyond resulting in boredom (inevitably, no matter how striking the vision of cinematographer Chris Dapkins or how vivid the canvas with which he is blessed, we can’t help but long for something, anything to happen) the film even winds up feeling like an act of cruelty. Sutton’s distance from his characters — subjects, more accurately — is palpable throughout as his journey into Memphis seems more like a trip to an aquarium than a stay among this community. But the potential is real. Sutton’s command of rhythm is present; Dapkins’ artistry is remarkable. It’s a shame that with these tools at their disposal — including the enchanting land of Memphis itself — the team members didn’t set out to create a world that their viewers might actually get to visit. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Dolphin Tale 2' Is a Sweet, Occasionally Boring Film About Growing Up... and Dolphins
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 10, 2014
    Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection While it would take a special kind of bravery (and madness) to attempt a film adaptation of Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, its “world of possibilities” message is one that can find a cozy home in most any story about growing up. Cozy is just the word to describe Dolphin Tale 2 and its endeavor to carry forth the spirit of Dr. Seuss' final book. The clean-as-a-whistle family film uses its effectively flawless hero, the high school-aged Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), to celebrate the bounties of stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world. Throughout the film, Sawyer wrestles with a tough decision: does he accept a fantastic opportunity to spend a semester studying marine biology at sea through Boston University, or does he keep anchored to his work at the Clearwater Marine Hospital for fear of leaving his friends — both human and dolphin — behind when he fears they might need him the most? Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection Sawyer’s conflict carries forth as he and his colleagues (Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Harry Connick Jr.) search for a new cohabitant for amputee dolphin Winter, whose aged pool-mate Panama passes on in the beginning of the movie. The time spent with the animals is the movie’s greatest asset: Tensions hike whenever the team apprehends an ailing dolphin — one bears visible skin injuries, one is undersized and initially contentious with Winter — and the well-being of each rescued creature makes for consistent, palpable drama. Much lighter but perhaps doubly as charming fare surrounds a wounded sea turtle that Hazel (Zuehlsdorff) takes special attention to… and with whom Clearwater’s unofficial mascot Rufus the pelican falls ostensibly in love. Near lethal levels of cuteness ensue. While the wildlife material thrives on this kind of potent wholesomeness, the human stories suffer just a bit from a complete lack of teeth, incurring boredom on two or three occasions. Nevertheless, Dolphin Tale 2’s heart is admirable and more often than not affective. Saywer and Hazel collect life lessons courtesy of their family, colleagues, aquatic friends, and an occasional Morgan Freeman speech (he’s got a doozy involving a pocket watch metaphor), all to the thematic end of growing up. Founding itself on the values of seizing responsibility and setting sail out into the world, the saccharine, sleepy sequel could actually be a pretty valuable experience for young viewers. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Joan Rivers: Always Controversial, Always Funny
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 04, 2014
    Bravo Media via Getty Images Odds have it that you’ve been put off by Joan Rivers at one point or another. Just a few weeks back, before health problems took way for the 81-year-old comedian, a good chunk of society took umbrage with a her expression of antipathy for the Palestinian civilians killed in a military attack. Throughout her years in film, television, the stage, and every red carpet we can remember, Rivers has taken heat for a wide variety of jokes that the world deemed too crass, insensitive, or otherwise politically incorrect. But Joan, who believed in comedy above all else — whose principal devotion was not to any one individual, group, or political leaning, but to the very idea of the laugh — never let up. Rivers must have understood that this was the kind of attitude — no, ideology —necessary to weather the challenges of starting a career in the boys’ club that was the comedy world of the 1960s… hell, that remains the comedy world to this day. But the vigor with which Rivers established herself was wholly important for not only the future of women in comedy, but for the very idea of comedy altogether. This bravado demanded that her targets be indiscriminate: she’d mock individuals as beloved as Elizabeth Taylor and Adele, mine comedy from events as sensitive as the Holocaust and the Ariel Castro kidnappings. With each new “crossing of the line,” as it were, Rivers would face more and more backlash. Rivers carried through in the face of professional setbacks — like the cold shoulder of Johnny Carson (after she accepted a television series opposite The Tonight Show) and 18-year-long banishment from the late night institution where she got her start — as well as personal tragedy, notably the suicide of her husband Edgar Rosenberg. Throughout all, Rivers entrenched herself in comedy and vice versa, proving often that she was her favorite thing to make fun of. It is unlikely that Rivers, an active force in comedy for more than half a century and riddled with tenacity up to the end of her life, didn’t offend each of us at one time. While her legions of watchers and listeners might hold true to the ideals of sensitivity, compassion, and courtesy — all perfectly legitimate values, in fact — Rivers’ allegiance was to one thing only, and she held true to this maxim without a hiccup. Whether it was a conscious decision to remain strong and convicted in the face of adversity, attack, and the relentless erosions of life, or simply the nature of the acerbic and cunning Brooklynite, Rivers wore the philosophy like a glove: making people laugh is what she was here for. And she sure as hell made sure to do it. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com