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: 'Palo Alto' Is a Devoted But Uneven Tribute to Teenage Ennui
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 07, 2014
    Tribeca Film via Everett Collection Palo Alto bleeds aimlessness in a lot of good ways. In the tradition of Dazed and Confused and The Last Picture Show, Gia Coppola's directorial debut lands us knee deep in the ennui of a self-contained society of small town teens, daring us to dive right into a neon cesspool vacant of hope or self-actualization. Keeping in step with the mentioned films, Palo Alto is far less interested in telling a story than it is in painting a picture. The spectacle that results is beautiful, piercing, and — quite definitely — Coppolian. But it hits some difficulty when it tries to move beyond its frame. Adapted from the short stories of at-least-he's-always-interesting James Franco (who is featured in the movie as a sneakily lecherous soccer coach), Palo Alto tags us to the corroded souls of a gaggle of misguided high schoolers in suburban Central California. Emma Roberts is the ostensible lead; her April is a sullen young woman whose chief character trait is sympathetic disillusionment. Her paths cross here and there with Mr. B (Franco) and likewise wayfaring classmate Teddy (Jack Kilmer — son of Val, who has a brief part in the film as the space cadet stepfather to Roberts), who is lightyears away from appreciating the gravity in his drunk driving episode and subsequent community service. Tribeca Film via Everett Collection The highlight of the bunch is Teddy's pal Fred, a compulsively obnoxious clown who The Naked Brothers Band's Nat Wolff stuffs with palpable agony and confusion. Buried inside of him, April, Teddy, and the scattered secondary players who work to identify the core of the proper main character — Palo Alto itself — lives our story, never progressing in any direction thereon out. The film is a snapshot of the pangs, frustrations, misgivings, malfeasances, and so on of the kids, adults, and neighborhood in question. In this form, it glows. But Palo Alto tries to drive its story forward, yanking April, Teddy, and Fred out from the stronghold of their communal desperation and throwing them into the beyond. It's this forward motion that brings our attention to the delicate seams of the film, its unpreparedness in handling the story as much more than a lasting glimpse. We feel the elements slipping away from Coppola as she attempts to set them on a motive course for the first time in the third act, and so we have a tough time staying adhered as we once were to the characters — the falter is doubled by the fact that this emancipation comes at the intended peak of their emotional journeys.  Although the film might leave off dabbling in undeveloped turns — feeling frayed, uneven, and incomplete (I suppose it's hard to insist that such qualities are inappropriate for the story at hand) — it spends the lion's share of its time in a remarkable establishment: a portrait as lifelike as it is dreamy and as funny as it is haunting. It might lose its balance when it grabs for agency, but it offers an image very much worthy of our eyes. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Neighbors' Is a Successful Mixture of Natural, Broad, and Surreal Comedy
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 07, 2014
    Universal Stepping out of Neighbors into the cold, calm, dick-joke-free real world, you might find yourself hit with a barrage of "But wait..." moments: "Why did they move into a new frat house just a month or two before the end of college?" "When was it established that she wanted to sleep with him?" "Where did that pledge come from?" "Who was that other guy?" "If he, then why?" "When did?" "How?" "What?" "Huh?!" Yeah, there are enough logical holes in Nicholas Stoller's comedy to warrant an "Everything Wrong with Neighbors" gag trailer and a dozen or two angry message threads. But the tenability of a movie's realism isn't exactly on trial when it sells itself as the Seth Rogen comedy in which a baby eats a condom. Neighbors eagerly liberates itself not only from the laws of basic reality or tight storytelling, but also from the rigid shackles of any one comic tone. We jump from a slice of life about new parents Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Rose Byrne) who aren't quite ready to say goodbye to their youth instantly to a wild and wacky college farce about the fraternity one house over (led by Zac Efron and second banana Dave Franco), borrowing a lexicon from latter day National Lampoon. As the war picks up between these congenial neighbors-turned-close-quarters enemies, we're invited into a back and forth of vicious, albeit loony, aggression, each maneuver to "get those fogeys/punks next door" escalating in hostility, danger, and independence from earthbound possibility. As we're treated to this ceaseless exercise in human malignance, Neighbors peppers in episodes of cartoon-grade zaniness, macabre pathos, and absolute surrealism. And although it might not seem like all of these comic identities can exist in the same film, Neighbors has a special trick up its sleeve to make it all work: it's funny. Never brilliant, and rarely all that fresh, but always funny.  Universal The frat stuff plays broad, often saddling Efron's sadomasochistic pseudo-villain, Franco's vulnerable prick, and the pair's gang of goons — a wily Christopher Mintz-Plasse and an effortlessly charming Jerrod Carmichael at the top of the heap — with the usual party flick shenanigans like dance-offs and flaming barrels of marijuana. The team of youngsters is at its best, though, when the standard routine is shirked for more peculiar fare, like an abstract non sequitur that has Franco demonstrating a bizarre biological skill, or a fractured history of drinking games as narrated through flashbacks by a passionate Efron. A good deal of fun can be pinned on the usual assortment of physical gags, pop culture references (one extended bit plays on the film histories of Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, and Al Pacino to endearing results), and the goofball antics of supporting players like Ike Barinholtz (as Mac's zealous, dimwitted pal). But Neighbors' secret weapon is Byrne, outshining the established comedic reputations of her co-stars with her performance as Kelly. Catapulted miles from the doldrums of straight-man-hood, Byrne tops even Rogen in awkward panache (watching her struggling to interact with the younger breed early on in the movie is delightful) and diabolical villainy alike — the very biggest laughs come from Byrne unleashing her furies or executing evil schemes. If Neighbors inspires any lasting impression, it should be a new appreciation for Byrne's chops in the humor department.   Somehow, this farcical grab bag never feels lethally convoluted or overstuffed. While the film's pacing does no great favors — we jump right into the principal conflict, which is a tough beat to sustain for so long — and a few abject narrative leaps keep the story from feeling tidy, these problems feel like a second priority. Even if some of the jokes feel strained or rehashed, if the characters are malleable, if the conceit is overcooked, or if there are too many plot holes to count... we're laughing. So it's working. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'Louie' Premiere Kicks Off Season 4 with Delightful Weirdness
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 06, 2014
    K.C. Bailey/FX There are a few different types of Louie episodes. The first two entries in Season 4, premiering back to back on Monday night, showcase diversity in story structure — one a series of barely connected (sometimes not at all) vignettes, one a long self-contained narrative — but keep primarily within the margins of a specific type of comedy. One of the very first things we see in premiere episode "Back" is a gang of rowdy garbage men going out of their way to make as much noise as possible on a sleepy Manhattan morning, escalating in destruction from simply tossing trash cans around the street to breaking through a stoic Louie's window and wreaking havoc on his bedroom. (The fact that we've seen Louie's apartment to be a few stories above ground — think: Never tossing his rug out the window — makes this surreal gag even funnier.)  The sequence sets a tone for not only this episode, but the one to follow. We embrace even the chapters set in "reality" (like Louie laughing off young Lily's homework assignment to write a letter to AIDS, or Todd Barry telling his pal how much he dislikes his two daughters) with a whimsical, heightened feel. When Louie takes to the Hamptons in Episode 2 for a schmaltzy benefit gig that devolves into a night of passion with a wealthy model, we keep expecting something weird to happen. Weirder, I mean. K.C. Bailey/FX C.K.'s show handles fantasy in a way that few other programs do, playing on imagination to either breathe life into thoughts or sentiments that we've all experienced — the disruptive melodies of the morning garbage pickup, or obtrusively unhelpful medical professionals (Charles Grodin wonderfully plays a doctor who lays waste to the idea that Louie might ever be able to relieve himself of back pain) — or to say something interesting about the human condition (after blowing it with Yvonne Strahovski, accidentally punching her in the face and paralyzing her pupil, getting his own nose broken, and winding up on the losing end of a multi-million lawsuit, Louie can only smile about the fact that his woeful story has earned him the attention of a cute comedy club employee). Really, Louie is today's answer to The Twilight Zone. The episodes yet to come this season will show us a different side of Louie, the type that offers earthy, biting commentary on who we are as members of this society and how we operate therein. But as a kick-off to the season, we're very pleased that C.K. chose to go the delightfully weird route. There's nothing on TV quite like Louie, and there really never has been.
  • How 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' Changes Up Gwen Stacey and Harry Osborn
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 02, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection Although Spider-Man comics have been around for decades, and a whole trilogy of films was delivered just a few years back, there are still opportunities to handle the characters and stories in new ways. Emma Stone's take on Gwen Stacey in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an example of that. The talented Stone manages to give us a far more developed, substantial, and progressive version of the traditionally slighted "superhero's girlfriend figure." Meanwhile, Dane DeHaan is offering a version of Harry Osborn that he and Jamie Foxx think could never have existed before. Producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach on how Emma Stone helped to create a stronger, more substantial Gwen Stacey for the modern era: Avi Arad: "When you have a great actress, and you give her the proper material, now you have a real scene. You don’t just have someone screaming. It’s important that you noticed it because when the comics were written in the ‘50s and ‘60s, women didn’t really have a role in comics. They were supposed to look good, stay on the side. We’re all very proud that we were able to change completely… there was source material that was changed completely. It’s the way we approached everything, as far as where we are today. And we just love the fact that we had this opportunity to make Gwen a true partner. As a matter of fact, the tragedy of it is that these two should be together forever. The fact that she’s more intelligent than him — way more! — and more mature… to me, the moment where she says, “I’m breaking up with you,” It’s such a change in any time in Marvel’s history. It’s never happened before."Matt Tolmach: "You know who wrote that line? Emma Stone. True story… Now I’m going to get an angry call from the writers."Emma Stone: "My agent is like, 'Where’s the writer credit?!'"MT: "That was your instinct."AA: "These are the little victories of time, when you can take comics that were written so long ago and bring it to our world. Again, when you have someone like that, you better make it a two-person act."MT: "We spent a lot of time over the years working on Spider-Man movies, asking the question, “What’s happening with Peter Parker? Where’s Peter Parker? Where’s Peter Parker?” as they sort of follow the bouncing ball narratively. And it is really smart of you to pick up on that on sight, because, the truth is, she’s driving the story. She’s the one who’s making decisions, she’s going to England, she’s making choices. Peter is trying to keep it all together. That’s his struggle. Gwen is somebody with a real sense of who she is and what she wants. It’s not that that isn’t complicated, but it’s incredibly empowering in a character."AA: "To tell you how much it became a part of everybody’s life, there’s a great scene where he webs to the taxi cab, and you [Emma] go “Peter!” It was not in the script..."MT: [Joking:] "We actually never had a script."AA: " was awesome and thankfully we shot it." Dane DeHaan and Jamie Foxx on the evolution of Harry Osborn from the comic books to James Franco in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy to The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Dane DeHaan: "Harry Osborn is a character that’s been around for 50 years. There’s been many incarnations of him, whether it be in comic books or cartoons or movies, or whatever. The main difference now is that there’s never been a Harry Osborn of today. And there’s never been a Harry Osborn in today’s culture. So what I tried to do was look at who Harry has always been in the Spider-Man universe, but then find out where that fits into today’s culture. I think that there’s this whole kind of trust-fund baby, hipster culture today that hasn’t ever really existed in that way. To me, that was just the most natural fit for Harry. And I think that it’s only different because it’s a different time." Jamie Foxx: "That’s what’s interesting ... I’m looking at a kid in a room who is seeing me for the first time as Electro. Doesn’t know anything — I think maybe they knew, maybe, about Django. It’s too young. It’s interesting how we will ask questions about the older Spider-Mans, but when you think about it, the kid that’s 12, 15, he probably wasn’t even around! Maybe he saw it on [TV]. I think that [we’re] able to get a fresh start, in a sense. I’m opening up to a whole different audience, as well as Dane. They’ll know Dane ... We’ve got this thing on Twitter now called 'the Dane Train.' I was like, 'Get on the Dane Train!' There’s a difference, for me, looking at the perspective of James Franco and looking at [Dane]. Dane has this thing, this sort of like cool… like that line where you say, 'Isn’t that the question of the day?' That line in the movie — I had my hoodie on in the theater, seeing what people respond to, you see little girls [get excited] because there’s a certain fly coolness to it, the same with Andrew. There’s a certain… these guys jump outside of these characters and they’re on the red carpet like sex symbols, in a sense. People are looking at them completely different. I think that’s the difference, to me, in how the characters are being played. There’s a certain 'today' flyness to it." More Amazing Spider-Man 2 interviews: Read about Stone and Andrew Garfield bringing real-life romance to the screen, and the creation of the sets and villains in the film. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Building the World and Villains of 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 02, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection Even if you've only seen trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, you know that the latest film from Sony must have entailed a hefty sum of effort in the design of sets and characters alike. One scene in particular showcases an electrified Jamie Foxx wreaking havoc on Times Square — no mean feat for even the most able-bodied of production teams. Check out a few remarks from director Marc Webb and stars Foxx, Dane DeHaan, and Emma Stone to hear about all the work that went into creating the world of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the villains who inhabit it. On the mammoth Times Square scene: Marc Webb: "We shot for only one or two nights in the actual Times Square, and then we built and entire version of Times Square out in Long Island. Simply because the logistical obligations of that scene were so complex that we had to... and we could, amazingly. I remember that scene came up in the script and we worked on it a little bit, and I was denying myself the pain and fear of thinking about how I was going to [do it]. Like, 'Oh, that’s so cool.' I was like, 'I don’t know how the f**k I’m going to do this.' And then I was like, 'Well, we’ll just build part of Times Square.' They’re like, 'Okay.' I kept on waiting for someone to be like, 'Are you insane?' But they were just like, 'Oh, okay, yeah. We’ll just do this here…' But it ended up being a logistically very difficult thing, just in terms of bringing the amount of lights that were required and the amount of cement that was required. Marc Friedberg, our production designer, did a really extraordinary thing, and there’s a huge spectacle, of course. There’s lots of explosions and extras and all that stuff, but really it’s a very important scene for Electro. Spider-Man’s biggest fan becomes his biggest foe, and there’s an emotional texture that has to ring true." Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection The actors talk how costumes and makeup helped to bring their characters to life: Dane DeHaan: "My makeup took three and a half hours for the Goblin. And then it was another hour just to get into the suit. I literally had four people using screwdrivers and wrenches getting into that suit." Jamie Foxx: "Mine was like taking me and dipping me in blue candlewax for like four hours. And then I’d come out, and then the CGI guys would be there, and they’d look at me, take pictures, and say, 'Stand this way, say this, laugh.' [Performs evil laughs and grunt] All these things. It was really fun. It’s like you were back at your crib, where you’re looking in the mirror, practicing how to act. Then when I looked at it and saw what they did with the CGI, it was incredible. Because people don’t even know that that’s actually me. They think it’s all CGI." "We [spent] 16 to 17 hours on finding the right suit to wear, or the right makeup. And they took it from there. These guys are geniuses at what they do. The guy that was the head of the CGI department, he was like, 'We got it. We know what we want to do. We want to make a thunderstorm inside your body,' and all these other different things. It was great to see it all work."   Emma Stone: "I had input [on Gwen's wardrobe], but [Deborah Lynn Scott] was the costume designer and she’s a genius. She made Marty McFly Marty Mcfly. So there was no trouble there. She really understood..."Producer Matt Tolmach: "Those Nikes."ES: "That puffer vest. She did Titanic."MT: "Originally in this movie you were wearing those Nikes."ES: "I was wearing those Nikes and I was wearing Kate Winslet’s really tight corset."MT: "It was an homage."ES: "I bridged the gap between that comic book fantasy wardrobe and real life in a really beautiful way." When asked if she was able to take any pieces of Gwen's wardrobe home with her: ES: "No you have to keep everything in a Sony vault in case you have to reshoot."MT: "She tried, it got really awkward."ES: "Got super uncomfortable."MT: "Security."ES: "Arrests." Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • How Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield Brought Genuine Romance to 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 01, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection It's always risky when two costars spark up a romance behind the scenes (even riskier when it's more than two), but some of the greatest onscreen love affairs have been born from the practice. After playing a couple in 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, the first chapter of Sony's ever-growing film series, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone ventured into the tempestuous waters of real life dating, sustaining their relationship into and beyond the production of their Spidey sequel, which hits theaters this week. As such, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 showcases a notable spike in the duo's screen chemistry: as director Marc Webb, producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad, and Garfield and Stone themselves seem to feel, the second chapter of Peter Parker's story is where his love story with Gwen Stacey really blossoms into that special kind of love we only find around holidays, airport pickups, and cinema. Stone and director Webb both chimed in about how much Peter and Gwen's relationship has grown since The Amazing Spider-Man: Emma Stone: "I loved the way their relationship evolves in this second movie. The clarity and maturity that Gwen has achieved in this second movie [is] I think because of the death of her father, honestly. I think it’s brought her life into sharp focus, and so she’s really following her destiny. I think that’s one of the most inspiring parts about their relationship, is that it’s two incredibly equal parties." Marc Webb: "I think their relationship has matured, but what both those characters are dealing with in at this point that they weren’t dealing with last movie was self-actualization. Gwen in particular is finding her own path and her own destiny. Peter Parker starts the movie kind of having an idea of who he is on the inside, and Gwen is going to go to London, she’s going to have a career, she’s going to be a doctor, she’s going to study molecular medicine, she’s going to save people in her own right. That independent spirit, that pluck, that Nick and Nora, that Thin Man, Tracy/Hepburn dynamic that began in the first movie where each of them are giving each other s**t is emblematic of their independent spirit. Which is the thing that draws them to each other, and it’s the thing that going to pull them apart. Anyone that’s been in love for the first time, you know what that feels like. I think that’s a different texture that we haven’t seen before." Columbia Pictures All parties seem to agree that the sweeping Union Square scene is where that affection is showcased in earnest: ES: "My favorite scene is [Peter and Gwen] reuniting after a year, in Union Square. That’s pretty definitive of what Gwen and Peter do for each other. No matter how much hardship is happening in their lives, they tend to bring out the best in each other ... and they just have some undefinable quality of magic between them, and love. That night and that scene." Matt Tolmach: "Can I tell you something about that scene? We were in the middle of Union Square — Avi and I have said this over and over: we love shooting in New York, this movie is a love letter to New York, but you guys have got to change the weather. We were in the middle of Union Square and it was freezing, and it was the middle of the night, and I’m sure it was raining and snowing and all that stuff, and there were bags of garbage, and whatever, I’m going off on a tangent. And this scene was being shot and Marc made a decision, and a very smart one, to allow Andrew and Emma to have the freedom to play with the scene. We were huddled around these little heaters in our protective tents and everything and all of a sudden you just forgot everything. There was a magical quality to what happened that night in that scene. It’s not a coincidence, I guess, that it shows up that way in the movie. There was something really incredible about these two actors, and that scene and what it meant in the movie. It was sort of spectacular."Avi Arad: "When you have a great actress, and you give her the proper material, now you have a real scene." MW: "In terms of things that were fun to play, that scene that started off in Union Square, I remember I got a deep case of the feels when I was watching those guys do that scene. They hadn’t seen each other in a year, and it just felt so innocent and so pure. It was so weirdly simple, but I think it gives the relationship a really palpable foundation. [to Andrew Garfield:] I don’t know what it was like to shoot for you guys…"Andrew Garfield: "It was great, it was fantastic. Because she’s such a great actor and you created a great space for us to breathe and really see each other, as opposed to being obligated to try and get anywhere. I felt like that was a really great night, because we were allowed to see where the scene went, so that was really exciting. I really like the crossing the street [shot]..."MW: "That was your idea."AG: "But the way it was executed was really fun."MW: "You had an idea for the music... Garfield was describing that moment when he sees her. He’s just walking through the street, totally oblivious to the traffic..."AG: "As if my body was taking over. That was exactly how survival goes. My brain just goes, [robotically:] 'I have to be with that person.'"MW: "And he talked about cartoons and how when the skunk gets a smell and just floats across. It was that kind of idea. But you had a very specific piece of music in your head from Punch-Drunk Love, the theme from Punch-Drunk Love. But that was really beautiful. Every once in a while when you’re doing the movie, so many of the scenes are about building, the action in particular, it’s about finding little moments, but creating them is not as pure as moments like that, where you’re just like, 'Oh, this is cinema...'" Catch true romance (and also a whole bunch of other bonkers things) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, hitting theaters Friday. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Why Bob Hoskins Is the Best Part of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 30, 2014
    Buena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection In a movie filled with rocket-fueled cartoon high jinks — babbling rabbits dodging armies of merciless kitchenware, motormouth cabs zooming through (and over) the streets of Los Angeles, stray bullets arguing over the whereabouts of their desired target, piano duels that devolve into feather-flying donnybrooks — it says quite a bit that the scenes driven by a non-animated sourpuss in his mid 40s don't drag in the slightest. In fact, some of my favorite material from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a movie that enjoys a permanent home in my top five, is that of Bob Hoskins' curmudgeonly detective Eddie Valiant. Today, the role in a film like this (as if a film like this could really be made today) would be given to someone like Ryan Reynolds — handsome, goofy, capable of matching his hand-drawn sidekick in family friendly slapstick. But the Valiant we got in '88 had to play down the loony and up the humane. Not only is it called for on a narrative level (he hates toons), but also in the management of the film's unbelievable gravity. Thanks to wily Roger and his propensity for withstanding any number of refrigerator-based head injuries, Robert Zemeckis' first foray into the world of animation is not stingy with the hysterics. But on the other side of the Toontown tunnel, we find a glimmer of the real world: Hoskins, playing a prickly, dejected has-been committed to slathering all memories of a happier time in a thick coating of whiskey. Buena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection Without Hoskins' earnest, earthy approach to the character — playing him with the cranky determination you'd find in the leading men of John Huston or Roman Polanski — Who Framed Roger Rabbit would be little more than an impressive technical feat. In Valiant, we're grounded to the tenets of adulthood: pragmatism, prejudice, and gloom, played against the impossibly impenetrable childhood of Roger. Though most of our laughs come from the bowtied showman and his colorful ilk, we need to experience their story through Eddie, to channel these nutballs' hidden humanity through the lens of Hoskins' reluctant hero. Luckily, Hoskins gives us that chance, creating an Eddie Valiant that ushers us seamlessly from a recognizable world into the bizarre but (thanks to Bob) shockingly inviting neo-noir of the '47 L.A./Toontown border. Not worried about getting his solo in the showstopper and concerned only with telling a terrific story, Hoskins still manages to give Who Framed Roger Rabbit some of its most winning scenes, and incredible feat accomplished by not vying toward the sky-high mania of Roger but in helping to anchor the character and his elastic brethren down to our own terrestrial homestead. Hoskins shoulders the responsibility of making not just Eddie but the world around him feel real, palpable, and worthwhile. And whether he's drowning his own malaise, casing back alleys, and struggling to restrain a compulsively wacky cartoon rabbit, he — just like his grumbling private eye — gets the job done.  Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • A Complete Rundown of the 'Star Wars: Episode VII' Official Cast
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 29, 2014
    20th Century Fox Film Hi, Nancy.Hi, Helen.What's the story, morning glory?What's the word, hummingbird?Have you heard about Hugo and Kim? They were cast in Star Wars: Episode VII, although there's no confirmation just yet. I think Kim's playing Bib Fortuna. That's pretty much what the last year and change has felt like — rumors upon rumors upon rumors of who might be cast in J.J. Abrams' upcoming addition to the Star Wars series. We've heard tell of Clone War veterans reuniting for the film, blockbuster fixtures like Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis, rising indie mavens drawing notice from their turns in Coen Bros dramas and HBO series. But the waiting is over. Courtesy of TheWrap, we have official news of the 12 performers cast to headline the next Star Wars movie. Here's who they are, where you might know them from, and what we can expect from them in the new film. Mark HamillBest known as: Luke Skywalker, power converter spendthrift and daddy issues-haver.Age: 62.In the new movie: We know very little of what Hamill will be brought on to do in the upcoming film, though with his standing as the Original Trilogy's central hero and his family rallied at the head of this story (presumably), we imagine that Hamill will have a good amount to do. Carrie FisherBest known as: Princess Leia Organa, rigid adversary of the nerf herder lobby.Age: 57.In the new movie: We've been told, in only the most tenuous terms, that Star Wars: Episode VII will focus on Han and Leia's kids. So even if she and Ford are sidelined as the parental figures who've seen it all before (hey, it's kind of like that new Boy Meets World spinoff), then they'll likely be around for a healthy sum. Harrison FordBest known as: Han Solo, alleged Kessel Run record holder and reformed atheist.Age: 71In the new movie: On top of the above, new rumors allow that Ford will have a pretty significant role in the new film. Considering his latter days screen presence, we imagine something in the vein of an extended carbonite nap. A few are actually predicting that Han might bite the dust in VII.  Peter MayhewBest known as: Chewbacca, devoted Life Day celebrant and family man.Age: 69 (though that's only like, 14 in Wookiee years).In the new movie: Some people are already pretty livid that Chewbacca's in the film at all, considering his death in the Expanded Universe, but you don't bring out the Wookiee suit just to have him play canasta. Anthony DanielsBest known as: C-3PO, buzzkill.Age: 68.In the new movie: I don't know, probably a lot of kvetching. Kenny BakerBest known as: R2-D2, frequent film extra and Robot Hall of Fame inductee.Age: 79.In the new movie: Doot beep beeeooo doot. Oscar IsaacBest known as: The titular misanthropic folk musician in the Coen Brothers' 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis.Age: 35.In the new movie: Isaac's role is anyone's guess at this point, although two call-outs in a casting release from last year speak to his nature. He might be playing "a late 20-something male. Fit, handsome, and confident," or, more likely, "a 30-something male, intellectual. Apparently does not need to be fit."  Adam DriverBest known as: Adam, the Lena Dunham's oddball love interest on the HBO dramedy Girls, or the space cowboy from Inside Llewyn Davis.Age: 30.In the new movie: Rumors surrounding Driver's initial mention in regard to the film had him pegged to be the villain. We had some fun with that one. Andy SerkisBest known as: Gollum from The Lord of the Rings movies.Age: 50.In the new movie: Considering his mo-cap history, Serkis is probably playing an alien. And that's awesome. Max von SydowBest known as: Blofeld in Never Say Never Again, the older priest in The Exorcist, or the guy from all those Ingmar Bergman films.Age: 85.In the new movie: Last fall's casting call advertised the film's search for "a 70-something male with strong opinions and a tough demeanor," exempting the necessity for physical fitness. We can't get more specific than this but it seems like von Sydow is going to be taking on some kind of authoritarian position. Maybe at the Academy (training the Solo kids, per chance), or as the penny-pinching new owner of the Cantina. Domhnall GleesonBest known as: Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies, or the fellow from About Time.Age: 30.In the new movie: Gleeson could rival Isaac in either of the character descriptions mentioned above, though he does seem more the intellectual type (if only for the British accent). John BoyegaBest known as: The kid from Attack the Block.Age: 22.In the new movie: Boyega could be playing the character Thomas that was advertised in a casting call last year:  "Young man to play 19-23 years old. Must be handsome, smart and athletic. Must be 18 or over. Has grown up without a father's influence. Without the model of being a man, he doesn't have the strongest sense of himself. Despite this, he is smart, capable and shows courage when it is needed. He can appreciate the absurdities in life and understands you can't take life too seriously." Daisy RidleyShe's pretty new.Age: I don't know — 20? In the new movie: Could be Rachel, who was introduced in the same casting call: "Young woman to play 17-18 Years old. Must be beautiful, smart and athletic. Open to all ethnicities (including bi- and multi-racial). Must be 16 or over. Was quite young when she lost her parents. With no other family, she was forced to make her way alone in a tough, dangerous town. Now 17 she has become street smart and strong. She is able to take care of herself using humor and guts to get by. Always a survivor, never a victim, she remains hopeful that she can move away from this harsh existence to a better life. She is always thinking of what she can do to move ahead." So there you have it: still a whole lot of grey area! But at least we know something! Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' Has Too Much Junk Going On
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 28, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite. Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft. Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits. And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.   But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either. 2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'Mad Men' Recap: Don Says 'Okay'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 28, 2014
    AMC I manage, with the same measure of denial that forced down Don Draper's marauding self-hatred for the better part of his adult life, to forget again and again that he and Peggy are no longer on very good terms. So it all but guts me entirely to watch her face his return to Sterling Cooper & Partners with a vicious affirmation that she hasn't missed him a bit. Sure, she's in denial, too, blaming everyone else for her stunted personal and professional successes, as if Shirley in fact robbed Peggy of her reception of Valentine's Day flowers, or Ginsberg of her well-deserved CLIO nomination. Don tops the list, representing to Peggy the architect who designed a glass ceiling so firmly unbreakable, never hesitating to tapdance atop in a gallant display of everything availed to those in the penthouse suite. But Don has fallen quite a few stories from his skyline view, desperate for everything from his L.A.-based wife's sustained belief that he's still gainfully employed to after-work visits from his ad hoc assistant Dawn Chambers. He swells in fierce agitation when both of these systems shatter this week, ostensibly losing that veneer of validity in the eyes of two more former secretaries: Dawn's priorities lie with her actual boss now (to think!) and Megan is up-ended by the revelation that he's been lying about his professional leave in order to keep from moving out to California to be with her. Adding to a list already occupied by Peggy, Allison, and let's count Ida Blankenship (whose Mad Men Wiki page is written with quite the comically sardonic tone, by the way), and we've got a pretty poor track record for Don re: the long line of mistresses/daughter figures he kept at his front desk. With the last pieces of his old life lost after the shifts in his relationships with Dawn and Megan, Don has no other choice but to move on... back to his old life, that is. And so we're treated to a sequence as surreal as Roger's LSD trips, as viscerally disconcerting as anything involving Glen Bishop: Don's trip back to the office. Passing over an an offer at a rival firm that would have beckoned him as a royal ambassador, Don instead shows up unannounced at Roger's apartment, barking rhetorical questions about friendship and loyalty. Roger, seizing the opportunity to reupholster his shrinking office team, tells Don to show up the next morning... something that, upon arrival, Don realizes nobody else in power has been briefed on. AMC Don's morning at SC&P shows us more of Dick Whitman than we've seen since his wartime flashbacks: the fear that Don works so hard to not only hide but divide from is expertly executed in a scene that feels nauseatingly eternal... in a good way. Even as Don collects encounters, both soothing and innocuously awkward, with the gaggle of creatives whose admiration he still holds tight, we see the battlefield terror sneak back into him — a resentful Peggy isn't the only party unnerved by his return: obsessively pragmatic Bert Cooper and Senior Partner Harry Hamlin are thinking business; Joan knows that her all too delicate grasp of power would disintegrate with a reversal of latitudes that Don's return would bring; Lou Avery is just mad as a nag in heat, confound it! And with all this bad blood, and the board's insistence on a league of belittling professional conditions, you'd think the very same Don who, at the head of the ep, was so obsessed with his image as to berate his old secretary for making him feel like a second priority and lie to his wife for months about his job, would opt out of the deal. But desperate, defeated, and longing for the only place he's ever known to be a home, Don ushers in this new chapter: "Okay." Intercutting scenes of Don's stimulating professional ascension/degradation is a far weaker storyline, if only for that we've seen it so many times before: Betty Draper, making her first appearance in Season 7, rehashing the same old Betty Draper story. Prompted by her scorn of an impressive working mother, old fashioned Betty accompanies Bobby on a field trip to a local farm, spending her time boosting her own self-image with vacant conversations about the Wolfman and Dracula, sips of fresh-from-the-cow milk, and quips about the revealing dress of the farmer's daughter. But one foul-up by doe-eyed Bobby (who trades her sandwich away because he "didn't know she was going to eat" — that should tell us something about Betty's post-weight loss dietary habits) is enough to remind Betty that she really can't stand her kids. Having seen the same territory tread with January Jones' character since Season 1, in which she treats everyone in her life to a cold hostility and victimizies herself all the while, we should expect this final season to treat us to something knew, or at least conclusive. But her misanthropy is in its usual form, her self-pity is operating at normal speeds... her trip to the farm gives us nothing new in the Betty department. Thankfully, we have gold in the Don department this week, especially in his reunion with Peggy's in the penultimate scene of episode. She waits the duration of "Field Trip" to catch the anxious Don alone in the break room in order to deliver her unforgiving salutation, which bites like the dickens: "I can't say that we've missed you." But in terrific form, the unsolicited jab finds itself sandwiched between two instances of much greater mutual favor for the longtime colleagues. With Don's barely shielded pain, we rush immediately back to his soft-eyed kissing of her hand at the close of Season 5, the moment he was forced to acknowledge that his daytime daughter figure was graduating beyond his hold. The second moment illicited by Ms. Olson's harsh proclamation is one that we haven't seen yet: the ultimate reunion — be it charged by a newly leveled playing field for the pair, a joint derision of the powers that be, a refurbished drive to make something of value of themselves, or just your plain old realization that they might be all each other has — of Don and Peggy, and their good graces. In her insistence in assuring Don just how little he means to her, Peggy shows us just how much he does. And in the childlike wince he can't work hard enough to mask, he returns that favor. So now it's only a matter of time. Episode grade: B+, with bonus points for Bobby Draper's proud proclamation: "We were having a conversation!" Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com