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: 'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Oct 10, 2014
    Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day has more questionable elements than it has titular adjectives. Elements that make you wonder just how certain parties — the ones involved that you love and to whom you choose to extend countless benefits of the doubt — signed off on this mess. We watch these parties — Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, and guest stars Megan Mullally and Dick Van Dyke — trot through the muck of a day that just gets worse for all parties. Carell and Garner play parents to Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould), a 12-year-old boy who is no stranger to bad days. When Alexander wishes that his family would finally know what it's like to live under Murphy's Law, the whole Cooper clan — including both parents, a lovestruck older brother (Dylan Minnette), and a budding thespian middle sister (Kerris Dorsey) — succumb to misfortune in the least creative of ways. While the simple children's book source material gives way to a film intended for the same demographic, it shows that director Miguel Arteta has only worked in more "mature" material up to this point. A legion of poop jokes result from a fatal misprint in the picture book published by mother Kelly (Garner). Dad Ben (Carell) nearly fouls up his son's birthday party when he orders burly strippers instead of... well, we actually don't know what he thought they were. But worst of all, teenage sister Emily (Dorsey) gets loopy after downing an entire bottle of cold medicine, an antic that is played for laughs. Then we have the more tame material, which lands lazily, unfunnily, and without any energy whatsoever... a miracle, considering how hectic this film is. With so many characters running around between job interviews, prom dates, school plays, and public book readings, you'd imagine a burst of life force to come to fruition somewhere along the line. Instead, the effectively charmless, brainless, and occasionally toxic movie falls very short of its electric source material... but very much lives up to its title. 1.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Gone Girl' Is a Fun, Sinister Exploration of Marriage In 2014
    By: Michael Arbeiter Oct 02, 2014
    20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection The past 15 years have done a number on American suburbia. In 1999, a simpler and sweeter time, Sam Mendes used American Beauty to pull back the curtain on the subculture’s sinister core. In 2014, Gone Girl serves a similar purpose, but shoulders a heavier load: today is far more readily sinister, malevolent, desperate, and disgusting than the pre-9/11 era captured in Mendes’ Oscar winner. So, naturally, we turn to David Fincher. Just as Gone Girl is 2014’s equivalent to Clinton Era American Beauty, the new film is 50s Fincher’s answer to the mid-30s-Fincher product Fight Club. In exploring the disappearance of writer Amy Dunn (Rosamund Pike), the film’s story spotlights the diabolical wire rigs behind her relationship with husband Nick (Ben Affleck) — and, by extension, the ugly truths fueling or anchoring any modern marriage (hell, if people this pretty have problems…). The novel adaptation claims stake in the genres of mystery, horror, psychological thriller, relationship drama, and — hell, for sure — black comedy, having a ton of twisted fun as both an elaborate whodunit and a socio-psychological term paper on contemporary gender politics. 20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection Affleck is a hoot as the rigidly dislikable Nick, a charmless cad who can look shlubby even with a mile-long shoulder width. Pike, too, is a treat, batting around banter in perfect company with Fincher's dreamy eye to produce a heightened reality that hits visceral levels. But the supporting cast is Gone Girl's claim to fame. As a hard-nosed detective, Kim Dickens is electric enough to escape the limiting nature of her audience surrogate character; right beside her is an almost wordless Patrick Fugit, whose stoic body language manages a laugh every time. And yes, believe it: Tyler Perry is pretty good. But what is probably most impressive about the movie — a factor that, to some, might actually prove most frustating — is its comfort with keeping certain things nebulous. At the risk of anticlimax, Gone Girl occassionally favors implications over answers, suggesting to the audience that its conversation extends the parameters of its plot. Never lilting in its energy thanks to an unorthodox structure and feverish editing, Gone Girl is as broadly enjoyable as it is clever. Fincher manages with middle age what he mastered with fading youth, in 2014 what Mendes tried in '99. It's all very frightening, all too provocative, and all one mess of a good time. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Men, Women & Children' Thinks It Is Way Better and Smarter Than It Is
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 29, 2014
    Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection With extended metaphors about the expanding universe, every troubled teen gambit in the book, and (most of all) that title, Men, Women & Children seems to carry some extreme delusions of grandeur. But despite a sizeable cast and some menacing musical cues, this isn’t the high school Magnolia that Jason Reitman wants it to be. Still, enough instances of charm and humanity peek up from the haze of self-importance, allowing us something entirely watchable… if not all that inspiring. The film opens with a fresh bounty on the head of the digital age. As we make our way through seven or eight interwoven stories, we watch a vigilant takedown of the myriad toxicities implied by the Web’s place in our society today. Texting, social media, dating websites, personal pages, Tumblr, MMORPGS, discussion forums, and Internet porn all get their 'The More You Know' segments via technologically-induced shortcomings of a Texan suburb with a double dose of Weltschmerz. The after school specials vary in attraction. While the blossoming romance between acerbic Kaitlyn Dever (whose helicopter mom, Jennifer Garner, tracks every move she makes) and head-in-the-clouds ex-jock Ansel Elgort (who sinks into a World of Warcraft-type game in the wake of his parents’ divorce) has plenty of spark — for which we credit Dever — the marital decay of Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt is a chapter that we’re consistently trudging through. Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection Tying into the self-satisfaction that courses through Men, Women & Children’s every scene is an air of melodrama, the biggest atrocity committed by any of the film’s episodes. Beyond just robbing the movie of authentic gusto, the “overdoing it” approach actually works to undo any of the messages that the film wants to impart — when you’re dealing with paramount issues like depression, eating disorders, and teen pregnancy, it’s imperative to keep things sincere. Thanks to a ganglion of inherently watchable people — Dever tops the lot, but Dean Norris and Judy Greer make up a screen duo that, despite deficient characters, doesn’t want for much chemistry — and its propensity to keep focus on no individual party for more than a few minutes at a time, Men, Women & Children never becomes an absolute bore. But the pride in what it is saying and such ostentatiousness in how it presents its thoughts dominate. The movie isn’t half the movie it thinks it is. 2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'The Boxtrolls' Is Fun, But Doesn't Have Enough Heart
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 23, 2014
    Focus Features via Everett Collection Though we can’t fault Laika for returning time and time again to the “misfit children” well, we’re beginning to worry if the studio isn’t dipping its bucket deep enough. Though it turned in two past entries worth remembering — Coraline was good, but just shy of great; ParaNorman was great, but just shy of excellent — and repeats this achievement with The Boxtrolls, its latest is perhaps the boldest evidence of Laika’s limiting trepidation. The film actually turns the “misfit” gambit on its head, introducing a character who fits in so perfectly with his friends and family — a race of friendly subterranean hoarder goblins — that years pass before he realizes he’s not actually one of them. Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), so named for the box that guards his unseemly torso, is a young boy raised by the sweet and creative (but ultimately cowardice) Boxtroll family that lives below the misguided aristocracy of Cheesebridge, a town decidedly phobic of its underground neighbors. Led by a comically menacing vagabond with aspirations for glory (played with flair by Ben Kingsley), the Cheesebridgers agree to rid their streets and lives of the vile little creatures forever. Focus Features A few steps beyond the average 101 Dalmations rip-off, The Boxtrolls actually puts a great deal of energy into exploring the blurry dichotomy of good vs. evil, turning would-be mindless henchmen Trout and Pickles (Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade) into well-meaning patriots led astray by propaganda. But it doesn’t get too heady — Frost and (especially) Ayoade provide the biggest and most consistent laughs of the film. To their credit, Boxtrolls might be the funniest thing Laika has produced yet. The film, whose cast also includes a plucky and petulant Elle Fanning, a snooty and oblivious Jared Harris, and a thickheaded and maniacal Tracy Morgan, is eager to get especially wacky when it plays with the weird worlds of Boxtrolls and cheese-obsessed noblemen. But it’s just too darn afraid to get emotional. The Boxtrolls barely scratches the surface of its characters’ relationships, which is particularly destructive to a story about family, understanding, and bravery. Instead of watching young Eggs’ relationship with his surrogate father Fish (a babbling Dee Bradley Baker) evolve, we hear prototypical speeches about being yourself, standing up for what’s right, and a few more all-purpose themes. The Boxtrolls’ goofiness is grade A, but it cuts through the hints of biting emotional material, rendering the ordeal about half as affective as it might have been. Drop your bucket deeper next time, Laika. You're so close to that masterpiece... 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Ranking Every Character on 'Lost'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Sep 22, 2014
    ABC We had grown weary of Smallville, stopped laughing at That ‘70s Show, and couldn’t stomach even the thought of a third go-‘round for The Simple Life. By the autumn of 2004, we had no place to turn but to the mysterious island series that ABC ads had been pimping like crazy. Following our national love of sci-fi, of Survivor, of that bespectacled fella who made Felicity (ah, times were different then), we flocked to Lost, ill-prepared for the slew of questions, deficit of answers, and legion of unforgettable characters we'd meet over the course of the next six seasons. In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the dawn of America's last true pop culture addiction, we've decided to rank those characters — to celebrate the Oceanic Six, bemoan the Flight 815 tail section, and kind of sigh in bored confusion over the folks at the Dharma Initiative.  A quick qualifier: we aren't, and couldn't with any qualitative legitimacy, ranking all of the characters on Lost. We're ignoring the nearly anonymous Others, the one-line flashback extras, and that guy who was sucked into the jet propeller in the first episode. Remember him? I think his name was Gary. He's not on the list. 76. MILES STRAUMEThe most convoluted and out-of-place construct that Lost ever managed, which is saying something. Why can he speak to the dead? Who cares if he’s Dr. Chang’s son? Why did anyone think this character was a good idea? 75. SHANNONLess of a problem with the mythology than simply an annoying, corrosive onscreen presence. 74. KEAMY, FROM THE BOATUgh, this guy. This guy and his crew cut. 73. JACK’S NONEXISTENT SONDavid Shephard’s one saving grace is that he doesn’t actually exist. Three cheers for flash-sideways nullification! 72. LENNONIs… is his name actually Lennon? Or do they just call him that because he looks exactly like Lennon? And why, pray tell, does he look exactly like Lennon? 71. RICHARDThe irritation of the wholly useless Richard is maximized by the knowledge that he’ll be around forever. ABC 70. ANNA LUCIAAnna Lucia acts as the epitome of everything that was wrong with the tail section chapter in maintaining the concrete belief that she is in any way a viable substitute for the main cast’s screen time. 69. GOODWINUgh, this guy. This guy and his wisps. 68. NIKKI AND PAOLONo explanation necessary for why Nikki and Paolo falls towards the bad end of the list, but a few extra points for the sadistic treat that was their final bow. 67. THE MOTHER“Hey guys, tonight’s episode of Lost has Allison Janney! From The West Wing! I love her! I bet they give her something cool and funny and totally pertinent to the contemporary storyline to do!” 66. ELOISE HAWKINGOne Farraday was more than enough, guys. 65. ILANAI have to be honest, I barely remember who this is. 64. DOGENDogen’s scenes were just one of many late series constructs that made us sigh wistfully and recount on the good old days when this show was about people trapped on an island. 63. MINKOWSKILadies and gentlemen, Fisher Stevens. 62. EMMA AND ZACKYou can really lump all the unaccounted for Lost children in one cloying bullet point: these two, the Kwon baby, Desmond and Penny’s kid, the deity twins, Aaron. They all just caused a whole mess of trouble, didn’t they? 61. LIBBY “What if — get this — what if we gave her a romance with a fan-favorite, and then closed an episode with a shocking stinger that revealed she used to be in a mental institution?“Sounds great! Then what?”“No, that’s about it.” NEXT: 60 - 41 ABC 60. CHARLIE’S BROTHER“You all, everybody!” Ha. Remember that? 59. ABADDONEh, it’s Lance Reddick doing Lance Reddick, just without any of the interesting we were used to seeing. 58. JACK’S EX-WIFEHas anyone made a mash-up interweaving Julie Bowen’s Lost scenes with clips from Modern Family? I can’t imagine that anyone would have felt impelled to do so. And I certainly don’t feel impelled to check. 57. HORACE GOODSPEEDGoodspeed might have scored higher were not for his portrayer’s particularly creepy real life romantic exploits. Ech. 56. ALEX, ROUSSEAU’S DAUGHTERAw, she was okay. 55. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALTPuberty ruins everything. Self-esteem, probing storylines… 54. RYAN PRICE AND HIS TEN BEST MENI’d like to see a separate series about these guys. Or at least a few minutes of the pilot of one. 53. THE MAN IN BLACKHe really couldn’t have just talked things out with brother Jay? 52. ALDO, FROM THE TEMPLELadies and gentlemen, Mac. 51. THE PICKETTSNever was a story of more woe than this of… Colleen… and… Danny. ABC 50. RADZINSKYHeh, this guy. This guy and his combover. 49. KATE’S BOYFRIENDWell this one just makes me sad. 48. SUN’S DADDitto. What a jerk. 47. HURLEY’S IMAGINARY FRIENDI never entirely knew what to make of Hurley’s bout of delusional psychosis… but I’m a sucker for that thing where it looks like someone is taking a normal photograph, and then that very photograph amounts as evidence of something spooky going on. 46. CASSIDYHell hath no fury like a stunt cast actress scorn. 45. INMANScratch the Ryan Price and His Ten Best Men pitch. I want to see Inman slowly lose his noodle. 44. DANIEL FARRADAYSomewhere between endearingly nuanced and gratingly overacty, there lies Jeremy Davis’ performance. 43. JULIETFor a late addition central character, Juliet never really achieved genuine interesting-on-her-own-accord status. 42. THE PILOTSure, he died within moments of being introduced, but he single-handedly set the tone and stakes for the entire first season. Way to go, Sean Blumberg. 41. LEONARDFour. Eight. Fifteen. Sixteen. Twenty-three. Forty-two. Repeat. NEXT: 40 - 21 ABC 40. TOM FRIENDLYThe reveal that he was gay helped warm us up to Tom just a bit, but I always wanted to know more about this prominent Other. 39. NAOMII feel as though I remember Naomi being far more interesting than she genuinely was. Could just be the chutzpah. 38. DR. PIERRE CHANGSmart men make bad dads, so says Lost. 37. JACOBFor an omnipotent deity, Jacob’s kind of a dingus. 36. FROGURTOr “Neil.” 35. CHARLES WIDMOREA bit too faceless to be an effective super villain, but could teach a master class in menacing accentry. 34. BRAM, THE OTHERAnd next to Stoker, probably the best Bram in pop culture. 33. PHIL, THE OTHERAw, this guy. This guy and his widow’s peak. 32. KATE’S DADGood dad alert! We’ve got an actual good dad on Lost people! 31. MR. EKOIf only you didn’t hate Hawaii so much, Adewale, maybe your character would have gotten an appropriate send-off. ABC 30. CLAIRESane Claire? Fantastic. Crazy Claire? Abysmal. They average out to pretty good. 29. MIKHAILIs it just me, or are eye-patches unconditionally cool? 28. ROGER WORKMANThe pressures of fatherhood, the anchor of alcoholism, the monumental stresses of the DHARMA Initiative… Roger, we feel you. 27. HELEN, LOCKE’S GIRLFRIENDShe was nice. 26. SAYIDHe wasn't that nice, but he had more on his plate. 25. CHARLOTTEIt was hard to watch the nose bleeds, but we can’t begrudge an archeologist hero, now can we? 24. MICHAELSo many bad decisions, Michael. And so much harrowed shouting. 23. ETHAN ROMNobody does a dead-eyed stare like E-Rom. 22. PENNYOne half of the greatest love story in television history. 21. HURLEYAudience surrogate, comic relief, beacon of pathos, resident geek, everyman, proficient golfer. A winner. NEXT: 20 - our #1 Lost chracter! ABC 20. SUNSun’s lows are low, but her arc to redemption is a particularly challenging and interesting one. 19. ANTHONY COOPERIn earnest, the best villain Lost ever produced. Next to the piercing human condition, of course. 18. DETECTIVE MARSA hard-boiled lawman who has one job to do, but a heart he’s forced to lug around while doing it. 17. BERNARDAww. (See Rose) 16. JIN’S DADSorry, Kate’s dad. Jin’s dad is the padre supreme. 15. BOONEWhat a nice fella. And an incredible impetus for the “anyone can die” phenomenon that carried through the bulk of the series. 14. CHRISTIAN SHEPHARDWhether or not you like Christian Shephard is entirely dependent on how you feel about the finale. And I love the finale. 13. ROUSSEAUAn extended metaphor for the loss that courses throughout each character’s story, and the crash-and-burn phenomenon that will ensnare them if they do not seek and attack their issues… or maybe just a loony French lady. Either way, we dig it. 12. KATEWay more than just the “runs into the woods and gets in trouble” shtick that people fault her for, Kate is the gumption and emotional core of Lost. And we love her. 11. ARZTWhat a delightful jackass. ABC 10. JOHN LOCKEThe beauty of Locke is how much you just want to punch him right in the nose… until you realize that he’s not presenting adversity, but challenging solutions. 9. ROSEEven aww-er. 8. SAWYERThe wincing pain of aloneness and self-loathing, evident in everything that the gallant Josh Holloway does with his consistently engaging (the LeFleur era a slight hiccup) character. 7. FRANK LAPIDUSFrank Lapidus monument currently in construction in the South Bronx. 6. DESMONDThe other half of the greatest love story ever committed to television… and, no offense to Penny, the half with the superior ‘do. 5. JACKOur hero, flawed though he may be, was the perfect man to guide us through this story about the fragmented tenets of the human experience. Desperate, lonely, contentious, prickly, and a bit of a tool at times, Jack is and remains the essence of what man is. 4. CHARLIE…But Charlie, in complement to Jack, is the essence of what man wants to be. Given the finest send-off on the series, Charlie becomes the hero that he always wished he could be, embracing his passion for music and his love for Claire to save his friends and surrogate family. 3. VINCENTLess a symbol than a silent character in his own right, Vincent represents that one glimmer of hope to which even the most cynical of us hang tight: the hope that we aren’t, and don’t have to be, alone. With Vincent around, nobody does. 2. BEN LINUSIf Jack is Charlie’s complement then Ben Linus is his stark contrast: the badness that enwraps each of us, causing us to so selfish, maniacal, underhanded things… but all to the same end: not being alone. Not the more admirable guy, but one of most complicated and interesting characters. 1. JINThe very best character arc on Lost comes attached to Jin, who began as an alienating question mark and wound up a fan favorite, an in-universe hero. Jin’s slow climb to island glory, paralleling his flashback descent down the gruesome drain of desperation, makes for Lost’s strongest, most entertaining, and perhaps most emotionally engrossing individual story. And man that ending!
  • 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