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: 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' Is Mostly Dead Air and Sheep Penises
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 28, 2014
    Universal Pictures via Everett Collection If you have any pre-existing familiarity with Seth MacFarlane, you'll find yourself utterly baffled after spending no more than 10 minutes withA Million Ways to Die in the West. Half that time will be spent on the opening titles, a shockingly earnest homage to Western classics (oh, that's nice! ... but where are the jokes?), a piece on sheep farmer MacFarlane's stammering break-up with his turned-off ladyfriend Amanda Seyfried (relatable! ... but where are the jokes?), and one scene on Liam Neeson's snarling bandit shooting an old prospector dead over a chunk of gold (menacing! ... but where are the jokes?). When the allotted time is up, you'll be angling to challenge the marketing behind MacFarlane's film, as well as the reputation of the man on which A Million Ways to Die was sold. It's hardly a comedy at all, and he, at least in this case, not a comedian. MacFarlane's movie toggles between scenes devoid of humorous intent altogether and those that simply miss the mark (and hard) in the joke department. Independently, these elements are painful; together, they're fatal. The material paving the agonizingly naturalistic romantic incline involving MacFarlane and Charlize Theron would feel more at home on the cutting room floor of a mumblecore reject than in the sort of comedy that banks on the gastrointestinal system for its principal supply of laughter. Universal Pictures via Everett Collection The common factor here is a lack of effort. Instead of opting for creativity, writer/director MacFarlane plays cheap, opening the film with a fellatio gag, topping it with human flatulence (and its ugly cousin) and livestock urination, and peppering in the occasional pop culture reference. "Ah, so that's where MacFarlane has been hiding!" you might say. After all, Family Guy is full of pop culture gags, spoofs, and send-ups. But A Million Ways holds true to its maxim of expending absolutely no energy or imagination, vying for unabashed theft of catchphrases (Neil Patrick Harris is the purveyor of the most heinous example) without so much as a wink at, comment about, or spin on the source material in question. Perhaps the biggest shame is seeing deft comic actors like Harris, Neeson, and Sarah Silverman squandered in scenes that give them no opportunity to be funny. Neeson doesn't get a single joke to play with, Harris (a master of facial contortion) manages a few chuckles despite C- material. One-note jokes like Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi — a lovestruck prostitute and her virgin boyfriend — or Christopher Hagen as MacFarlane's cranky dad are the most active sources of comedy that Ways has to offer. But bald-faced jokes about sex and s**t can only occupy so much of this thing's diabolical 116-minute runtime.   Occasionally, MacFarlane's comic tenacity — the type you might never have cared for but at least knew to be an existent force — does rear its reluctant head. Townspeople clamoring over a dollar, MacFarlane and Ribisi exhibiting their own take on the saloon brawl, and an admittedly fun song about the glories of having a mustache. If this kind of imagination — or, hell, even attitude — could have been exercised over the other 85 percent of AMW, we might have had something recognizable as comedy. But instead, we have mostly dead air and sheep dicks. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Other 'Big Fat Greek' Things That the Sequel Can Be About
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 28, 2014
    IFC Films via Everett Collection If you take a gander at the top grossing films of 2002, you'll find a wholly unsurprising bunch: epic fantasy sequel — variety: Tolkien, epic fantasy sequel — variety: Potter, superhero movie, Star Wars, Will Smith, James Bond, alien thriller, sweeping animated schlock, and... wait a minute. A family-oriented culture clash rom-com written by and starring a complete unknown? Coming in ninth for the year and grossing almost $370 million? How the heck did My Big Fat Greek Wedding happen? We'll never be quite sure, save to theorize that maybe, just maybe, it was pretty good, so people liked it (hogwash). But 12 years later, multihyphenate Nia Vardalos is attempting to recreate this unprecedented magic (via Variety) with a sequel to her breakout role/career ender. The questions ignite. Can Vardalos scale the same box office mountain in the post-Avengers era? And, more importantly, what exactly will My Big Fat Greequel be about? My Big Fat Greek MarriageWe've already seen the Big Fat Greek Life shtick take form in three cameras, airing as a sitcom (with dry toast husband I-yan Mill-er recast) on CBS for exactly seven episodes. But that doesn't necessarily rule out the possibility of your typical ain't-marriage-hard! dramedy. My Big Fat Greek ChildVexing title aside, an ain't-parenting-hard! dramedy might be preferable. My Big Fat Greek DivorceSomber, yes, but it happens. Now that Toula is a single woman once again, it's time to hit the town with her promiscuous couisin. My Big Fat Greek VacationYou thought being married to Greece was tough, I-yan? What about uprooting altogether from your Chicago homestead and shoving off to Ioannina? My Big Fat Greek Mortgage CrisisThis economy is effecting everyone! When the Portokaloses (Portokali?) have to sell their beloved eatery and get office jobs in the corporate world, they learn that maybe the non-Greek lifestyle isn't so bad after all. My Big Fat Greek Music CareerShifting focus to cousin Angelo (Joey Fatone), we watch Greek culture pervade the American zeitgeist as all the tweens go nuts for the latest pop band Nu-Sync. My Big Fat Greek ScandalThe Greek ambassador is caught in bed with the First Lady, and only Toula Portokalos has the appropriate footing in both camps to save the world from international warfare. My Big Fat Greek ApocalypseAgain offset by the mortgage crisis, Toula channels her people's history with various odysseys and illiads and hiding in wooden horses to win a nationwide battle royale for herself and her family. My Big Fat Greek Dawn of JusticeWhen crime hits the Illinois suburbs, Toula organizes a team of Greek vigilantes to ensure that no crime goes unpunished. No spanakopita goes unfeta'd. How I Met Your Big Fat Greek MotherThis time, we get the story from I-yan's point of view, going back through the decade before he met Toula, which he spent sleeping around in Chicago. My Big Fat Greek WeedingA simple 25-minute gardening video, hosted by the lovable John Corbett. It seems only natural that My Big Fat Greek Wedding get a sequel, seeing as every other dominating property from 2002 is coming back into play. We're in the age of a second Spider-Man series, more Star Wars films, a follow-up Tolkien trilogy, a neverending supply of Bond movies and cartoon mayhem, and even more Rowling in the works. No telling how well My Big Fat Greek Funeral/Dance-Off/Temple of Doom will fare in the modern climate, but at least there's hope now for a Connie and Carla franchise. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'True Detective' Season 2 Sounds an Awful Lot Like 'Full House'
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 27, 2014
    HBO True Detective creator Nic Pizzolato spent his Memorial Day weekend bequeathing listeners of the To the Best of Our Knowledge radio program with new information about the upcoming second season of his celebrated HBO series. While we still have no word on who'll star in the sophomore round of philosophically dense, delightfully grim hours of criminal investigation (Brad Pitt is up in the air and Jessica Chastain broke our hearts with a resounding "no"), we are now privy to some interesting details about the characters, setting, and plot. And it all sounds a little bit... familiar. Courtesy of Uproxx, we have Pizzolato's quotes about the next story he plans to tell: "Right now, we’re working with three leads. It takes place in California. Not Los Angeles, but some of the lesser known venues of California and we’re going to try to capture a certain psychosphere ambience of the place, much like we did with season one ..." Tacking this onto the last batch of info we heard about True Detective (via EW), things get somewhat eerie: "The basic idea: Hard women, bad men, and the secret occult history of the U.S. transportation system." Taken independently, each one of these elements sounds none too suspicious. But when you slap 'em all together, you can't help but wonder if Pizzolato is upping the ante on his devotion to source material since Season 1's adherence to the Robert W. Chambers short story "The King in Yellow." This time around, it doesn't seem like True Detective is looking to literature to guide its story, but to another show. A show we all know, all love. A show that still exists. In our minds, our hearts. All around us. Everywhere we look. That's right. True Detective Season 2 sounds exactly like Full House. Think about it: It's bumping up to three leads... ABC Television Network Takes place in California, but not Los Angeles... ABC Television Network And focusing on the secret occult history of the U.S. transportation system (you know, like a bridge)... Getty Images As Pizzolato puts it, the season is about bad men... ABC Television Network/Getty Images And hard women... ABC Television Network/Getty Images And will really delve into the psychosphere ambiance... ABC Television Network/Getty Images That's right. So don't worry if the milkman, the paperboy, evening TV, and all the other tenets of predictability seem to have faded away. Because time is a flat circle. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'Mad Men' Mid-Season Finale Recap: Great Cooper's Ghost!
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 26, 2014
    AMC If there’s one thing that best exemplifies Mad Men’s separation from the rest of modern television, it is the show’s devotion to uncertainty. Nobody on the series knows what he or she wants — a unique concept for a TV drama, as a lack of defined goals makes a character more difficult to identify, relate to, and write for. But the piercing confusion that envelops Don Draper and his clan are exemplified at the forefront of the best episodes of Mad Men, this week’s pseudo-season finale being no exception. We see Don struggle with the question in regard to every aspect of his life: what does he want out of his job? His career? His relationships? His marriage? Himself? As he learns courtesy the dancing ghost of Bert Cooper, he has no idea. “Waterloo” gives us just about everything we could want from a penultimate chapter Don. Finding out he could well be ousted from the company — the Jim Cutler team sees no room for Don Draper on its staff — Don burrows deep into himself to figure out what he wants. During a phone call with Megan, the pair tacitly agrees that there is no hope for their marriage, ending it with quiet civility and Don’s insistence that he will always “take care of her” … the desire to do so being the only thing that ever really drew him to Megan, or to any woman, in the first place. But with Peggy, we see Don’s heart. He insists that she take the reins on the Burger Chef pitch in Indiana, investing more furiously in her future than in his own. After last week’s reunion of their good graces, however manufactured this endeavor might have been, we see Don finally pass the torch to Peggy in earnest. We see her deliver a magnificent pitch, one that maintains a quavering humanity all the while nearing technical perfection. And if you watch Don’s eyes throughout the scene, you see everything he feels about Peggy shine through: hesitation and reluctance, sure, but also hope, affection, and respect. The episode uses the ’69 moon landing to usher in a “new era” for the agency. One without Bert Cooper, who passes away while watching Neil and Buzz step foot on the surface, uttering an awed, “Bravo.” A fitting sendoff to a character who has always felt like he existed in another time… and perhaps on another planet. Bert’s passing is the impetus for Roger to seize kingship — something he has always lacked in his personal life, as indicated by his daughter’s palpable absence during a scene of the Sterling-Hargrove family watching the groundbreaking event — of the company, instituting a purchase from rivals McCann. This deal will make him the leader he has always wanted to be (well, the leader he suddenly thinks he has always wanted to be), will keep his faithful pal Don in employ, and will earn all of the partners a hefty sum of money. Don agrees, assuring the befuddled Ted that the other side — unemployment — is a barren hell scape. But after the next five years (or, as Ted puts it, their entire lives) are signed away, Don has no choice but to burrow deeper. Mad Men has always been creative in the delivery of its characters internal battles. We cap the episode with Don growing teary through a hallucination of Bert and the office ladies dancing to the Good News number “The Best Things in Life Are Free” — a particularly ostentation method of showcasing Don’s piercing emptiness. He belongs nowhere. Not in his marriage, not in his family, not in the job to which he has devoted himself nor outside of it. Don is alone and wholly without. And he has no idea how to fix that. The episode does everything in its power to insinuate the worst for Don: the professional linking of him and Ted assigned in the same hour that showcases Ted’s spiraling depression and likens him outright to Lane Pryce would have us believe that the man falling from the skyscraper in our old friend the opening theme could be Don himself sometime soon. But just as Don seems to when he watches Peggy transform into something that even she thought impossible, just as a long-expired Bert manages in his dying breath when he recognizes the gallantry that mankind is still capable of, we must find hope. Episode grade: A, because Dancing Bert Cooper's Ghost is the greatest television experience since the moon landing itself.  Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Blended' Is Not Just Bad, It's Uninterestingly Bad
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 23, 2014
    Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection Blended is not the worst thing Adam Sandler has ever done. For my money, that superlative goes to Grown Ups 2, though I've heard dutiful cases for Jack & Jill and That's My Boy as well. But beyond any of these travesties is Blended utterly unworthy of anybody's time. A morbid fascination with what might pass for outsider art in the form of uniquely bad movies like the ones listed above could be enough driving force to check them out. As much as I hated Grown Ups 2, I have to give it credit for at least sending me careening down a valley of explosive ideas. But Blended is wholly uninteresting in its badness. Nothing about it boasts originality, imagination, weirdness, or even the hint that anybody thought about what they were making. It's dumb, it's thick, it's careless. It's bad in all the most useless of ways. If you must know, the "story" sees Sandler and Drew Barrymore, a widower and a divorcee who shared a catastrophic blind date (thanks entirely to the follies of the "lovable" male character), bumping into each other on an African vacation with their respective litters. I won't bother getting into the contrivance that led them to such a profound coincidence, since I'm already agitated over having relived the basic premise. Although they are indelibly incompatible, Sandler and Barrymore gradually bond over a mutual love for their children, and begin to fill the roles of absent parent for each other's kids. Barrymore has two boys, so naturally Sandler needs to teach them how to box and swing a bat. That's what boys do, right? And Sandler's oldest daughter needs Barrymore to teach her how to be girly. Because up until now, she's been into sports, and that just won't do. Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection Seriously, that's a lesson that Sandler learns in this debacle: his daughter, a 15-year-old girl, shouldn't be filling her flighty head with pipe dreams about athletic prowess. She should be dressing up and chasing boys. That's what Barrymore insists, anyway. And never mind what the daughter herself, played by Bella Thorne, has to say about it. The movie doesn't ever bother to get her opinion on the matter. Throughout all its misguided aggressive heteronormativity, Blended forgets that comedy exists in a realm beyond middle-aged men getting hit by parachutes and ostriches. Its only laughs come from fellow vacationer Kevin Nealon — not because his material is any good, just because Kevin Nealon is a naturally funny dude — and Terry Crews as the head of a functional Greek chorus. Admittedly offensive in its depiction of Africans (as is the movie on the whole), the device does manage a few chuckles thanks largely to Crews' physical moxy. But four or five smirks aside, Blended is a wholly humorless, witless, charmless dullard. Something too forgettable to truly hate, but too misguided to shrug off. And even with that logical paradox, it remains bafflingly uninteresting. 1/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' Is a Perfectly Enjoyable, Meaningless Romp
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 23, 2014
    20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection Get a good look at the destitute world presented in the very first scenes of X-Men: Days of Future Past, because you won't be spending much time there. In a swift few moments, the movie introduces the stakes (mutant-killing robots called Sentinels have wiped out the majority of the superpowered race and any sympathetic humans), the surviving players — Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Prof. X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), and a few other marginally present regulars — and the one plan that's just crazy enough to fix everything: send Wolverine back in time to the 1970s, courtesy of Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) nifty new sending-people-back-in-time power, so he can prevent the impetus for this colossal nightmare from ever happening. Quicker than Peter Maximoff can divert a league of military bullets while rocking out to Jim Croce, we're out of the black hole of grim turmoil and frolicking about the groovy tunes and alabaster hues of 1973. And from there on out, it's all fun. Wolverine's mission is simple: stop Mystique (Jennifer Bluerence) from killing government scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the very man who invented the Sentinels... turns out the act of vigilance was a bit counterproductive. But even simpler than Days of Future Past's hero's journey is its quick fix on the time travel problem — you know, the web of logical paradoxes present in every piece of time travel fiction from H.G. Welles to Marty McFly to Looper that draws ire from sci-fi adherents the world over. Kitty spells out the rules from the getgo: Go to sleep in '14Wake up in '73Do stuffWhen you wake back up in '14, that stuff will have been doneThe stuff that everyone did before you went to sleep in '14 will have been undone Bing bang boom. As upfront and easy as high-concept time travel gets. In fact, the guidelines of Days of Future Past's space-time continuum could stand in as the film's general maxim to all viewers: Don't think too much. About any of it. Don't hang too tight to the old stuff, don't worry about the stuff to come, don't even get particularly hung up on the stuff that's happening now. Just enjoy yourself. 20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection Although framed around a time-bending journey to preempt the inception of a mutant genocide spanning decades, Days of Future Past isn't as much about the legacy of mutants as its premise might have you believe. All of its stories take place within and between '70s-era Charles (James McAvoy), Erik (Michael Fassbender), and Raven (Bluenifer Lawrence), battling their respective Cold War demons — drugs, political unrest, racial inequity — and shared personal discord. As a young Xavier riddled with pain and depression, McAvoy is a tremendous hoot, stealing scenes from all but one of his screen companions: the fast guy. Even more of a testament to Days of Future Past's true nature than its "get in, get out, what happens happens" mentality on time travel is its breakout character, Peter Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Wrangled in as a deus ex machina midway through the picture and offering nothing more than hearty chuckles and flashy action sequences, Quicksilver stands far and beyond the more substantive characters and devices as Days of Future Past's foremost highlight. Not because the laugh-a-minute performance has got much running under the hood, but because DOFP is far more interested in having fun (which he does) than in saying anything (which the others do). Peters is merely the beacon of the movie's joy, not the sole supplier of it. Wolverine's jaunts about the '73 Atlantic coast are deliciously merry. The grab bag of mutants popping out of the movie's seams is a delight. McAvoy's maudlin decadance as a rock bottom Charles is the stuff on which British comedy was founded. Future Past gets its gravity out of the way in the opening sequence; after that, it's all good times. And that's why it gets away with what might otherwise be frustratingly clandestine references to X-Men film history. As lax as Days of Future Past is in its adherence to "the old stuff," picking and choosing what material from the previous films it wishes to deem canon, it seems to bank on the fact that all watching have every one of the franchise's cinematic contrivances fresh on their minds when they arrive for the new chapter. Stingy allowances to the backstories of characters and concepts — William Stryker (played here by Joshua Helman), the memories of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and even Raven/Mystique (Bluenibler Bluebluence) — land inches from agonizing obstruction. But even if you're weighted down by your confusion over the nature of elements like these, you're likely to let the joy take hold, because the movie makes it terribly clear that the cool stuff is its top priority.   Although it might lack in the flare of some of its big screen comic book competitors, Days of Future Past does have plenty of "cool stuff" in its arsenal. At the expense, perhaps, of a story that feels perfectly woven, characters that come off as grounded, or a universe that's altogether cohesive, series pioneer Bryan Singer's return to the mutant world is plain ol' enjoyable enough to warrant the scope that it seems like it should have. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Assessing the Coolness of Everything That Happens in the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Trailer
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 19, 2014
    This new trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy has hit the web and it, as one might have expected or hoped, is cool. Cool in entirety. Cool incarnate. Every single thing about it is cool. Want proof? Watch it. Want further proof, you maniac? Check out our rundown of every single thing that happens in the trailer and linked assessment of whether each element is, in fact, cool. Establishing shot of a gloomy, destitute temple: That is cool. Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) disappearing electronic mask-helmet: That is cool. Peter Quill's jet-powered boots flying him out of danger through a hole in the wall: That is cool. Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky": That is cool. A giant spaceship: That is cool. A Mos Eisley-like hub for alien menaces: That is cool. Hovering robots staring down a shirtless Peter Quill: That is cool. Peter Quill juggling what is likely some kind of spherical robotic entity or explosive devise: That is cool. Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), doing their thing (thang?): That is cool (kewl?). Gamora (Zoe Saldana) slicing and dicing: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) head-butting somebody: That is cool. The personification of evil taking form in a dark, stoically seated figure: That is cool. An ominous hand crushing an orb of power: That is cool. Marvel Studios Peter Quill's rallying underdog speech: That is cool. "This August" title card: That is cool. Aerial shot of a futuristic military base: That is cool. Everybody walking around on a stone circle reminiscent of something out of Legend of Zelda: That is cool. Glenn Close's haircut: That is cool. The expositional establishment of the stakes in this movie: That is cool. Explosive debris raining down from a gigantic ship: That is cool. A door shaped like a circle: That is cool. Bradley Cooper's Will Arnett impression: That is cool. Rocket Raccoon and Groot losing their s**t: That is cool. Gamora losing her s**t: That is cool. A shot of the gang in prison jump suits: That is cool. Peter Serafinowicz cowering: That is cool. Peter Quill losing his s**t: That is cool. A giant skull: That is cool. Marvel Studios Peter Quill's awed gasp syncing up with the rhythm of "Spirit in the Sky": That is cool. Body slam!: That is cool. Explosion: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer's knife-wielding shot: That is cool. A haze of fire droplets that resemble Navi from Legend of Zelda: That is cool. Ships zooming through an electric field: That is cool. Peter Quill's speech continues: That is cool. Groot giving a little girl a flower: That is cool. Peter Quill and Gamora watching each other undress: That is cool as long as they're both okay with it. Rocket Raccoon's quip about his species' lifespan: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer losing his s**t: That is cool. Gamora screaming into the face of a creature that resembles a Na'vi... not from Legend of Zelda, from Avatar, in which Saldana actually played a Na'vi, which is maybe why I'm making such a gratuitous jump to that connotation when, really, the creature doesn't look all that much like a Na'vi: That is cool. Robot laser: That is cool. Various explosions, shots of anthropomorphic neighborhood pests yelling: That is cool. Strangling: That is cool. Marvel Studios Benicio Del Toro doing that thing that Ross and Monica did to discretely flip off their parents: That is cool. Gamora and Peter Quill near-kissing while she wears his headphones: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer conducting an orchestra of mayhem: That is cool. Groot: That is cool. A windstorm of peril: That is cool. Zoe Saldana's hand: That is cool. The hulking device into which Peter Quill's audio cassette tape is hooked: That is cool. "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede: That is cool, but I was enjoying "Spirit in the Sky." Peter Quill's solo march: That is cool. Gamora's semi-solo march: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer cocking his head a little, as if to insinuate himself a bit more subtly than did his peers, which is ironic since he is perhaps the least subtle in physical form and personal nature of the gang: That is cool. Groot's nifty shoulder trick: That is cool. Groot saying, "I am Groot": That is cool. I really like Groot. Rocket Raccoon showcasing his self-esteem in a maxim of circular logic: That is cool. Rocket Raccoon adjusting his crotch: That is cool, I guess. The gang's prideful march: That is cool. John C. Reilly introducing the name of the movie: That is cool. John C. Reilly lamenting his lot in life, and the fate of the universe altogether: That is cool. More prideful marching: That is cool. Rocket Raccoon yelling: That is cool. This movie looks cool. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'Mad Men' Recap: I'm Drinking Rum and Dancing to Sinatra
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 19, 2014
    AMC This weekend was a kind one to Don — it saw him win the lead in a Burger Chef pitch and entertain an unprecedentedly agreeable visit from Megan. But Mad Men has no interest in this brand of kindness, using the façade of the perfect weekend to showcase just how vacant everything in the man’s life seems to be. Well, almost everything. The real victory, beyond occupational leaps or oases of marital harmony, is that long-awaited smile from Peggy: the establishment that once again, these two are in this wicked run together. Coming to form at the head of such a (deceptively) smooth episode after a seasonal throughline of potent animosity, the ultimate achievement at first feels like a bit of a forced utility, rushed into production in order to satisfy Mad Men’s seven-episode semi-season. But a well-placed scene from Joan exemplifies just what Peggy’s smile truly means, to Don and to us. Back in New York after a successful stay in Detroit, Bob Benson awakens to the callous face of homophobia — his Chevy rep, likewise a gay man struggling to hide his identity from friends and colleagues, winds up in at the courthouse after an attempted sexual encounter with an undercover cop. Bob retreats further into his own folds of secrecy after seeing just how unforgiving the world (or maybe just New York) is to men like them and springs a marriage proposal on his beloved pal Joan. Sharper than he, and just about everybody on this planet, has given her credit for being, Joan rejects the arrangement, identifies Bob’s true desires, and spells out the fact that they should both wait for true, organic happiness instead of forcing the fates in their favor. Again, her diatribe comes off a little heavy-handed for the likes of Mad Men, at least on first viewing. But the sequence is masterfully situated between Peggy’s initial smile at Don, who has joined her in the otherwise empty office on a Sunday afternoon — him lamenting his dead-from-the-neck-up marriage to Megan and her writhing in the inadequacy of her Burger Chef pitch and, more so, the fact that she has nothing else to care about — and their devolution into eye-welling, throat-quavering admissions of desperation for one another, at least at this point in time. AMC Just as we might have felt at the forefront, Peggy’s grin is rather forced. And that’s because as uninterested as Mad Men is in giving its characters perfect lives, it is even less interested in giving them perfect moments. We have been waiting for Peggy to hinge herself to Don once more; Don has been aching for this emancipation from her contempt. But nobody has suffered more from this period than Peggy herself, manufacturing a connection to Don over his espousal of lessons that seem like they should have come at the very beginning of her career (“Here’s what you do when you have writer’s block…”). Unlike Joan, Peggy is willing to push her way into the embrace of a hand-crafted happiness. She is willing to redefine what “family” means — both for herself and her Burger Chef clients, centering her revised pitch around the reappropriation of the word — in order to make her days a little more livable. But unlike Joan, Peggy has something in the man kneeling before her. The man who insists on a dance to the radio’s broadcast of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Both victims of the job who have seen everything else in their lives suffer its merciless bite, they are reminded this week that neither one is on this course alone. They just happen to be traveling in opposite directions. In the Benjamin Button story of Don’s corrosive decline and Peggy’s bumpy ascent, this week might well mark their “meeting in the middle” moment. A stark reversal to the series favorite “The Suitcase,” we see Don returning in part a heavy favor owed to Peggy: validation. Validation of the idea that all this time spent huddled over a desk, spilling guts into the work, relegating oneself to the parameters of a business card might very well have meant something to somebody. He could instead be teaching her that a life might be better off spent anyplace else, but in Peggy Don has somebody else that could never comprehend such a fallacy. The episode is arranged in such a way as to excel on two levels. At first, we see everything play out perfectly: Don reclaims his position in Peggy’s heart, she snags her ingenious pitch, and the both of them, and Pete Campbell (having scared his daughter, accosted his ex-wife, and disappointed his Angelino girlfriend), form their own brand of family over a Burger Chef meal. But Mad Men, and this episode about would-be perfect moments, is better than perfect: it’s human, knowing that the turn of true value isn’t Don, Peggy, and Pete finding “the family they were seeking all along” in one another, it’s the admission that what they’ve been seeking all along might no longer exist, if it ever did. But, unlike Joan, they’re willing to put up the front if it means not having to dine alone. Episode grade: A, with bonus points for Pete Cambell merrily shouting "I'm drinking rum!" Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • All the Shots of People Staring in Wistful Silence in the New 'Interstellar' Trailer
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 16, 2014
    In 2011, cinematic scholar and prolific movies writer Matt Patches pioneered a special appreciation for the Spielberg Face. For those yet untouched by the phenomenon, the Spielberg Face is that look of childlike awe and wonder you're guaranteed to find on the mug of any of the enchanting filmmaker's big screen heroes. It's a staple of the artist's filmography — while Steve certainly has the market cornered on whimsy, a few other directors seem to have adopted the silent stare to exemplify their own psychological brand. In the trailer for his new film Interstellar, the nihilistic Christopher Nolan appears to be doing just that: directing every one of his actors to stare off into a vacant distance in a fugue state of wistful, hapless sorrow. Take a look! YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers At the :24 mark, Casey Affleck looks out upon the wasteland that has become of his beloved Earth, saying nothing, as his beard constricts his jaw from moving properly. YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers At :43, a field of baseball players call a TO on what must not be that important of a game to begin with (they don't even have numbers, or logos, or anything) to quiety stare down a dust cloud. YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers And here we find our hero Matthew McConaughey, dipping into his long untouched vault of emotional expressiveness to glare out his Deep South screen door without so much as a word for the cornless fields before him. [:55] YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers Michael Caine usually has a helping of wisdom for the plucky young gents that hobble to his doorstep, but here he treats McConaughey only to a sullen, closed-mouthed glare. Back up, at least, Mike. You're in his bubble. [1:00] YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers You think things look bleak and muted sitting down... [1:03] YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers ...look at how much bleaker and muter they are standing up! [1:05] YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers Hey look, the kid's doing it now, too. Cheer up, kid. [1:17] YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers Oh, oh jeez... things just got way more wistful and silent than we could have anticipated. How are you gonna stare out into the distance and mull over your laundry list of regrets through all them tears, McConaughey? [1:21] YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers Academy Award-nominated actress Jessica Chastain will not be deterred by the fields of flaming wheat that surround and ultimately threaten to kill her. She's got some defeatist, squinty-eyed profile gawking to do. [1:41] YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers "All we've got left," these kids think (not say, think), "is a trunk full of clutter, hearts full of destitution, and eyes full of whatever the unforgiving horizon can offer up." [1:46] YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers Exclusive word from the set is that Anne Hathaway had to be instructed several times not to break into song during her scenes of silent staring. [1:53] YouTube/Warner Bros. UK Trailers And there it is, at 2:04. The longest stare of them all — that into the endless vaccuum of space, perhaps the most lonely, wistful, hopeless place conceivable. Family, friends, and any semblance of a home left literally lightyears away, with nothing standing ahead but black, cold face of emptiness... staring right back at us. Should be a fun movie! Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • All the Shows That CBS Canceled While 'Two and a Half Men' Was on the Air
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 14, 2014
    CBS Broadcasting On Wednesday, CBS bellowed the very announcement that so many of us high-minded television viewers had been waiting years to hear: Two and a Half Men would finally be coming to an end, following its upcoming twelfth season (via Deadline). For more than a decade now, the Chuck Lorre sitcom has represented to our fair, noble, completely infallible community a ravenous black hole that was eating up time slots, viewership, and funding that might otherwise go to sitcoms of wit and emotional merit. In fact, throughout Two and a Half Men's dozen-year run, CBS has given the axe to a legion of comedies that were indisputably far better to the Sheen/Cryer/Kutcher phenomenon. All of them more worthy of the network's love than Two and a Half Men, we're running through the ill-fated half-hour series that suffered cancelation while Duckie and his revolving door of brother figures reigned supreme. Check out the list of undeniably superior series below, and join in our outrage that these gems didn't get their fair chance. $#*! My Dad Says Canceled after how long? 18 episodes.Was it good? Well, no.Was it better than Two and a Half Men, though? Sure! Probably. A little. Accidentally on Purpose Canceled after how long? 18 episodes.Was it good? Eh, no.Was it better than Two and a Half Men, though? Yeah! Baby Bob Canceled after how long? 11 episodes.Was it good? No...Was it better than Two and a Half Men, though? I mean, you know. It's a baby. Babies are cute. Becker Canceled after how long? Six seasons.Was it good? Yes!Great! So, better than Two and a Half Men? You'd becker believe it.What? Nothing. The Class Canceled after how long? 19 episodes.Was it good? It was fine.Better than Two and a Half Men? You get an A+ for that assessment!Stop. Okay. Center of the Universe Canceled after how long? 10 episodes.Was it good? Not really, but you know what was good? Andy Richter Controls the Universe. That's what I first thought this was when I read the title.Well, was it better than Two and a Half Men? Which one, Andy Richter? Absolutely. Oh, you mean this one? Yeah, sure. Charlie Lawrence Canceled after how long? Two episodes.Was it good? See above.Okay, but was it better than Two and a Half Men? I mean... at least it was about something (it was a satire about homophobia in the political sphere).So yes? Let's go with yes. Courting Alex Canceled after how long? Eight episodes.Was it good? Well, if you liked Dharma & Greg, but you... oh, you didn't like Dharma & Greg? Well... if you liked that one scene in Can't Hardly Wait...So wait, was it better than Two and a Half Men? It was. The Crazy Ones Canceled after how long? 22 episodes.Was it good? It wasn't terrible.So it was better than Two and a Half Men? Yes. Gary Unmarried Canceled after how long? Two seasons.Was it good? Watchable!Better than Two and a Half Men, I take it? Indeed. How to Be a Gentleman Canceled after how long? Two episodes.Was it good? God no.Was it better than Two and a Half Men, though? Okay, I'm really, really trying to prove a point here... Listen Up! Canceled after how long? 22 episodes.Was it good? Not quite.Was it better than Two and a Half Men, though? At the very least, it wins for the Jason Alexander factor. Love Monkey Canceled after how long? Eight episodes.Was it good? Yes!Better than Two and a Half Men, then? Sincerely! Mad Love Canceled after how long? 13 episodes.Was it good? It was okay!Better than Two and a Half Men, I assume? Yeah! My Big Fat Greek Life Canceled after how long? Seven episodes.Was it good? It was very much not.Was it better than Two and a Half Men, though? Objectively speaking, yes. The New Adventures of Old Christine Canceled after how long? Four seasons.Was it good? Yes! I mean, not great... but you know, good. It was good.Better than Two and a Half Men? It was better than Two and a Half Men, yes. Out of Practice Canceled after how long? 22 episodes.Was it good? We'll give it this: it had some funny people in it.So, better than Two and a Half Men, then? You're gonna tell me that a show with Henry Winkler, Ty Burrell, and Stockard Channing isn't better than Two and a Half Men? You're gonna stand here and tell me that? Partners Canceled after how long? 13 episodes.Was it good? Try "regrettable."Wow! But was it better than Two and a Half Men? ...yes. Rob Canceled after how long? Eight episodes.Was it good? Don't....Um, so, was it better than Two and a Half Men? Please, seriously, don't....But we really need — JUST DON'T. Rules of Engagement Canceled after how long? Seven seasons.Was it good? It was run-of-the-mill. Potently run-of-the-mill.Better than Two and a Half Men? Leagues. Still Standing Canceled after how long? Four seasons.Was it good? I remember laughing!Better than Two and a Half Men? For sure. The Stones Canceled after how long? Three episodes.Was it good? I've got to be honest with you, I have no memory of this existing.Hm, okay. So do you think it might have been better than Two and a Half Men? I'd bet my soul on it. We Are Men Canceled after how long? Three episodes.Was it good? You know, "good" is such a relative term...Any chance it was better than Two and a Half Men? Really, who are we to say what's "better" or "worse" than anything else in this world? Welcome to the Captain Canceled after how long? Five episodes.Was it good? Was it ever!You didn't answer the question. It was not.Better than Two and a Half Men? You know what? I'm going to let you decide this one. Worst Week Canceled after how long? 16 episodes.Was it good? It should have been called Best Week! Because this show was the best!Are you lying? I might be.Was this show better than Two and a Half Men? Some schools of thought would deem it so, yes. Yes, Dear Canceled after how long? Six seasons.Was it good? You know what, it was totally acceptable!Ah, good. So definitely better than Two and a Half Men? DEFINITELY. Can we end here?Yes, we're out of shows. Oh thank God. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com