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: 'Oculus' Digs Deep Into Its Ideas to Offer an Interesting and Scary Horror Movie
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 11, 2014
    Relativity Media via Everett Collection It seems only fair to mention that growing up, I was terrified of mirrors. Couldn't look at them, couldn't sleep with them in the room, could barely even think about them for fear of conjuring up the darkest conceivable images of what might be living on the other side of their nefarious glass faces. So, yes, I might have been an easy mark when it came to Oculus. But even without lingering childhood phobias, you won't walk away from the film free of tremors. Even more impressively, those looking for something meatier than a few jump scares won't be disappointed either. Oculus paints itself with a long, coarse, hyperactive mythology, granting us a "history" of the demonic mirror in question that dates back to centuries and abounds many questions. But really, the conceit is simple: it's a mirror that f**ks with people. It makes you see things, makes you think things, and makes you do things you wouldn't ordinarily. It ruined the lives of two children when it corrupted and killed their parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane), and threatens to finish the deed when the estranged siblings reunite in adulthood to enact revenge. Tim (Brenton Thwaites) has spent the past decade in a mental hospital, chalking up the supernatural nightmares of his childhood to psychiatric delusions. His sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan), the "together one" with a job and a fiancé, has spent her time tracking down the haunted antique to do away with it once and for all. Back in their old house with the mirror in her possession, Kaylie sets her meticulously constructed plan into action, with a reluctant Tim in tow.  And yes, obviously, everything goes awry. Relativity Media via Everett Collection The mirror's grasp on the minds of its victims exhibits an impressive imagination in writer/director Mike Flanagan. Oculus doesn't hit us with a long supply of ghoulish figures, opting instead for haunting mind games that really land in the construction of an unsettling aura: because of the nature of the mirror's powers, we never know if and when what we're seeing is real. It's not a particularly new conceit for horror or thriller, but it's one that works well. Especially when you're engaged with the people suffering through this tormenting reality. And we are. The horror of the movie isn't relegated to the mirror's demonic trickery. The far more interesting material exists between the emotionally distant siblings. While Kaylie clings to the only companion she has in the trauma that tore her family apart, Tim wants to leave his nightmares behind him, and perhaps his sister as well. Jumping between flashbacks and the current timeline, Oculus plays with relationships in a terrific way: those between parent and child, husband and wife, brother and sister, and — most importantly — past and present selves.   Oculus is far from a "fun" movie, but it does seem to be playing a few games with its ideas — the ideas inherent in the malleability of perception, or the delicateness of relationships. Although it doesn't quite deliver in its conclusion, Oculus works through its premise with aplomb. While it might well have gotten away with the concept of a "spooky mirror" just fine, it opts instead to tackle many of the concepts that horror was invented to explore. And the result isn't just interesting, it's genuinely scary. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Draft Day' Is an Aggressively Dull Film That Substitutes Stats for Story
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 11, 2014
    Summit Entertainment via Everett Collection When a movie opts to play inside baseball with a particular industry, it runs two risks: alienating the people outside looking in ("What the hell is all this mumbo jumbo?"), or alienating the people tightly connected to the underworld on display ("They got it all wrong!"). On special occasions, you have a film like Draft Day, which strikes out in both areas, somehow feigning expertise with such vigor as to befuddle strangers to behind-the-scenes football and frustrate those with an inborn knowledge of the underworld. As a member of the former community, I was bored stiff by the nonstop industry jabber. I was surprised to find, after our viewing of the movie, that a sports-savvy friend was even more aggravated with the film for everything they got so very, very wrong. But really, neither of these is the true crime of Draft Day. Even on the promise of delivering a bona fide curtain pull on the NFL, all the film really owes us is a good story. Instead, Draft Day banks on the appeal of its would-be authenticity — this is how football people talk, act, eat, do business, grimace, throw laptops on draft day! — as a stand-in for any material we might otherwise be able to care about. The film slaps Kevin Costner's Sonny Weaver Jr., beleaguered general manager of the Cleveland Browns, with just about every go-to leading man conflict in the book (problems at work, problems with his girlfriend, problems with his family) in hopes that something will land in the neighborhood of emotional legitimacy... or, more plausibly, in hopes that it'll play enough like an attempt at a screenplay to warrant all the stats talk he's really there to spout. His supporting cast has even less to do — Jennifer Garner is his all smiles romantic partner whose vehement love for football is supposed to make her interesting to us (What?! But she's a girl!). Ellen Burstyn is Sonny's disapproving mother, who has a penchant for wistful staring. Denis Leary is a coach who yells a lot. Summit Entertainment via Everett Collection The one vein of character work that stands out as a near success comes attached to the line of potential drafts. Josh Pence plays draft frontrunner Bo Callahan who Sonny has a bad feeling about. Chadwick Boseman is the underdog linebacker who we know we're supposed to like because he takes his nephews to gymnastics. In a post-Moneyball world, Sonny is accessing the humanity in the boys he's considering for a career on his field. Hell, he's even willing to overlook the troubled past of Arian Foster because he trusts the boy's dad (I think Terry Crews is contractually obligated to appear in any movie about football). It's thin material that amounts to a disjointed explosion, but it rings as the movie's most interesting stuff. Unfortunately, it's couriered through Sonny, a character who we're barely allowed to meet. The tragedy of this conclusion is that most of the cast members, Costner included, are giving moreover enjoyable performances — accolades in particular to 25-year-old Griffin Newman as fish-out-of-water intern Rick, suffering through the worst first day of work imaginable. The small comedy offered by Newman and a few others (bullpen fixtures like Wade Williams and Veep's Timothy Simons) is treated like an occasional garnish, but amounts to much-craved sustenance when it pervades the tasteless and stale football blather.   Blather that will detract anybody just hoping to catch a fun sports movie, and blather that will turn off the most high-minded of football fans craving some degree of industrial accuracy. In either case, the blather exists in absence of much otherwise. Without any real characters operating in this dense, hectic, ostensibly colorful world of the NFL, it feels as vacant as Sun Life Stadium on opening weekend. (Right?) 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • How Can The Real Stephen Colbert Make His Character Work on 'The Late Show'?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 10, 2014
    Comedy Central We’ve been watching Stephen Colbert for years now — for eight years on The Daily Show and the past nine on The Report. We’ve seen him mold the jingoistic dork who bears his name into an icon of modern satire, skewering current events and lampooning punditry five nights a week for just shy of a decade. We’ve seen Colbert degrade the English language, vie for immortality in the form of a Hungarian bridge, forward the movement against wrist violence, run for president, wrestle Jon Stewart at the 2012 Emmys, and inspire a delightful grouchiness in childhood author Maurice Sendak. We’ve seen lots of Stephen Colbert. But we really have no idea what he’s like. But this man that we’ve yet to meet, save for rare candid interviews or pre-shtick recordings we might be lucky enough to have found on the web, seems to be the one we'll be spending the rest of our days with. Naturally, Colbert’s new residence on The Late Show, announced on Thursday via The New York Times, won’t foster this degree of caricature. As such, it’s natural for fans of the Colbert Report, even (or perhaps especially) the most diehard of the bunch, to approach the news of the comedian’s ascension to network TV with apprehension. We don’t know what he can do without the good graces of his O’Reilly-inspired alter ego. We’re not sure what a genuine Stephen Colbert interview will carry — when he’s not belittling, accosting, or deliberately misunderstanding his guests, can he still be funny? We'll have to wait until 2015 for a proper answer to this first question, although we're comfortable with a resounding "probably." But in mourning the impending loss of The Colbert Report's main character, we have to take a look at his fellow late night players, and the game itself. In earnest, Colbert is the only one of the lot who has been working from the soils of true fiction, but the industry entails some degree of trimming and hedging. The cameras add 10 pounds of performative composure and well-rehearsed shtick, and the good ones keep their elements as vivid as Colbert has his Bill O'Reilly sendup. So the second question is: which of these greats will show Colbert how to handle the balance of his Comedy Central icon and the South Carolinian who pronounces his last name with an audible "T"?  Gone by the wayside since Johnny Carson's retirement is the viewing audience's adherence to the "familial" in its crowning of a replacement late night king. With a long line from which to choose, we want characters. Maybe Jay Leno held good ratings thanks to his ability to play accessible and nonthreatening, but in the days of Internet criticism, professional and public alike, that translates to amorphous. There's no Jay Leno identity beyond the high-voiced bobblehead you'll find in too many stand-up comedy routines. Leno and his ilk have fallen to the new. We want the opportunity to dig through a collection of oddballs each night, satisfying whatever cravings the preceding hours have inspired. We have that opportunity in David Letterman's crotchety cynic (who has always been, as a cultural fixture, far ahead of his time). In Jimmy Fallon's wide-eyed cherub. In Jon Stewart's put-upon nebbish. These are the characters these men have built, accessing something between relatability — face it, angrier people like Letterman and happier people like Fallon — and the special, distanced elation you get from watching a skilled actor work his comedic magic. With so many balancing acts of varying aptitude — Chelsea Handler plays on sauciness, Jimmy Kimmel on boyish impetulance, Craig Ferguson on the residual mania of his dark past — Colbert has no shortage of professors to guide him through his early semesters in the CBS gig. But the best teacher of the lot to help Colbert tailor his character to the network form might very well be Conan O'Brien, who has managed from Late Night on to manufacture a most meticulous exaggeration of his gawky, psuedo-psychotic personality to maintain through bits, interviews, man-on-the-street routines, and even appearances in other media. It's really a shame he didn't get tenure. It's natural to bemoan the loss of a character as important as Colbert's, or to fear that his greatness might not carry over to a new style of performance. But we have to remember that even in taking the stage as himself, performance is the most essential part of his new job. He might not bluster about as the right-wing blowhard we've come to love, but he sure as hell won't let his penchant for character craft and self-parody go untapped. He'll need it now more than ever. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Who Had the Best Insults in the 'Veep' Season Premiere?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 06, 2014
    HBO You haven't been able to explain why, but for some reason the past few months have felt... nicer. Friendlier. More humane. Like the world's cynical edge has faded into a general aura of good intentions and widespread compassion. Well, hopefully you haven't gotten to used to it, because the mean streak you used to know is back — Veep has returned for its third season on HBO, coming back in full force with the very best insult comedy on contemporary television. This season, we're going to hone in on which of the series' characters is leading the pack in general misanthropy by ranking the best barbs of every episode. We start off with the season premiere, which sees Vice President Selena Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on a book tour through Iowa as the rest of her staff is back home in D.C. for Mike's (Matt Walsh) wedding to a reporter named Wendy. Due to Mike's unprecedented giddiness, he sat the week out in the insults game, but his colleagues were on point in terms of disses, put-downs, hostile barbs, biting reproaches, and your run of the mill bullying. Who won the race with the coldest zingers? 6. Abhor-ney General: JONAH "I'm leaving here with my head held high and my nuts hanging low on your mom's chin, Martin."Jonah's unimpressive, infantile sign-off after he's been fired from the White House for running a gossiptainment blog. 5. Secretary of Offense: AMY "Look at you, Dan. You have more nervous tics than a shoe bomber."There's something about Amy's subdued, even-tempered jabs that feel even more hurtful than her cohorts' heated ones. "Jonah, what's the point? You don't show up in photographs."Said, again calmly, when Jonah is trying to worm his way into a group photo at Mike's wedding. Good for a chuckle, but this episode isn't Amy's best. 4. Secretary of Treachery: SUE "Would you like me to mold the cake into a pair of testicles for you, Gary?"To be perfectly honest, neither of Sue's jokes this week (her only two lines in the episode, I might add) are Veep-caliber insults. But Sufe Bradshaw's delivery is impeccable. "I hate how he learned English from pornography."Markedly better; said in response to Jonah's excessive use of phrases like "money shot" in non-sexual context. HBO 3. Secretary of Hate: BEN "Get out of the way or I'll f**king inhale you."Ben yells this at Selena's obscenely incompetent Iowa right-hand man. The believability of the threat makes it so funny. [On the title of Selena's book, New Beginnings: The Next American Dream] "You’re so full of s**t, there’s a colon right smack dab in the middle."Now that's just terrific wordplay. 2. Viscious Vice-President: DAN "I would hate the be the local Iowa guy that’s got to take care of [Selena]. Trying to source Gazpacho in a city that thinks soup is for f**s."An insult to Iowa, Selena, the gay community, and, somehow, Gazpacho. Points for versatility. "What the f**k are you doing here? You weren't invited. Unless you're the Worst Man."This clumsy and obvious clunker docks the usually clever Dan a few points. "Hey, Hepatitis J."Classy, elegant, hilarious. Jonah: "What's Google's number?"Dan: "I don't know, ask Jeeves."Not so much an insult as it is just taunting and aggressively unhelpful. But one of the biggest laughs of the night regardless. 1. The President of Put-Downs: SELENA "Hey, Richard. No offense... you're a catastrophe."Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the few comedians who can deliver a line as blunt and unimaginative as this and make it feel sharp. [To Ben] "Good to see your friendly-ish face-ish."In sharp contrast to the former, the beauty of this excellent jab at her friend's personality and appearance is its majestic subtlety. "That bag of wrist-slits got the nomination? With that face and personality?"Boom. Easily the meanest thing said all episode. And she delivers it with that demonic smile. Oh, woe is the world in which she occupies the Oval Office. And since we love Gary so much, we'll also be running this little addition to our weekly insult-off: NICE THINGS GARY SAID "[To Wendy] You look gorgeous! Is that lipstick coral blush? Nicely applied!"Oh, Gary. You sweet soul. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Kevin Feige Talks the Marvel Universe's Genre Mission, and the Future of Black Widow
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 04, 2014
    Getty Images Looming large over the Russo Brothers, Joe Johnston, and even Joss Whedon, is the Marvel Universe's kingpin Kevin Feige. The super producer keeps the comic book film franchise running like clockwork, churning out golden cinematic entries like this week's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We got a chance to chat with Feige about his mission for the Marvel movies, discussion genre, the evolution of his characters, and the future of Black Widow and Guardians of the Galaxy. The thing I was most interested in seeing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the way that you guys take on the espionage thriller genre. In the same way that that you’ve taken on so many different genres with all of your Marvel movies so far. I was wondering if that was a mission of yours from the start, taking on all these different types of genres, or if it sort of happened organically, befitting each of the characters? I’d say it was a combination. We embraced the differences of the characters. Comic book fans know that there’s no such thing as a comic book genre any more than there is such a thing as a “novel genre.” No, they all are unique and they all are different. We always saw it as our job to embrace that when we bring them to the screen. In that way it was organic, but it really did become a bit of a mission statement, if an informal one. It’s what held our interest. We’re very interested in keeping our movies fresh and keeping our universe fresh, and never allowing the audience to get bored or think that they can predict exactly what’s going to happen next, or have every movie start to feel like the last movie. That, in our minds, is a recipe for it all to come crashing down. And when you’re putting out two movies a year, they’d better be unique, different experiences. One of the fun ways for us, because we’re all movie fans as much as we are comic fans, is to embrace other genres and to lean on that to make the films feel fresh, and to give us a new roadmap to come up with a unique story. So is each of the genres that you tackle — of course, this is an espionage, spy thriller type — is that somehow inherent to the character that you are taking on? Did you think, “Captain America — it’s natural for him to take on a movie like this”? Yes, absolutely. It never starts with, “Let’s do a Western. Let’s do a Captain America Western!” It starts with, “Where are we going to take the character?” And clearly, in his first full modern day solo adventure, we wanted to focus on the man out of time element. And we wanted to put him into situations like he found himself within the decade after he was thawed, in Avengers #3. He went right into the mid ‘60s and late ‘60s. And all of the civil unrest and the political strife happening in that era. Right into Watergate and the Nixon Administration of the early ‘70s and mid ‘70s. And he was at a crossroads. He really started to find it difficult to simply follow the orders of whoever was in charge at the time, and started listening to his own morals and his belief in the broader ideals independent of whoever is in charge at the time. And we wanted to play with that, and we wanted to do it in a way that utilized S.H.I.E.L.D. versus a specific [real institution], like the army or the American government, because A) we’re making a movie, and B) we have all of that at our disposal, as we’ve established Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. very heavily in our movies up to now. Walt Disney Co. via Everett Collection Among the Avengers, Captain America stands alone as having this defined sense of right and wrong. That is challenged in this movie, and that’s why this movie is so interesting. But the character is redefining himself in light of the events in The Winter Soldier and the world he finds himself in. Going forward, how do you think that is going to change the Captain America movies we’ll see in the future? First it will have a direct impact of Cap’s next adventure, which obviously will be Avengers: Age of Ultron. And where we go from there, we’re just beginning to sort of outline what that could be and what that could look like. But to be ever evolving is one of the keys to longevity, we believe for our cinematic universe. There’s a line of dialogue in The Winter Soldier where he goes to visit a fellow he’s recently met, Sam Wilson, who runs a veterans center. And Sam asks, “Are you think you’re getting out?” And he goes “No, I don’t think so.” This is early in the movie where he’s finding himself increasingly uncomfortable with the missions that Nick Fury is sending him on, and what the mission statement for S.H.I.E.L.D. overall seems to be. And Sam then asks him, “What would you want to do?” And he goes, “I don’t know.” This is a guy who, for his entire life, wanted one thing. He wanted to do right by his country. He wanted to do what every other able-bodied person was doing in his era, which was join the fight in World War II, and he dreamed of that. And finally, of course, through the events of the first movie, he got the super soldier serum and was able to do that. And then he helped save the world, and was frozen, and then woke up, and helped save the world again. And now he’s struggling with what his place is. And that struggle continues a bit though the Winter Soldier and also into Age of Ultron. Looking at it in the other direction, what do you think The Winter Soldier says about the spy thriller genre? I think it definitely embraces the best of that genre, and hopefully gives it a new spin because it’s got Marvel characters running around in the middle of it. That’s the fun. To try to make a good superhero movie, but really make a good paranoid action thriller. Make a great movie that appeals to fans who have watched all of our movies many times and know the comics inside and out, and also appeal to people who have never read a comic, and who may have not ever seen our movies. I was just talking to somebody else who afterwards came up to me and said, “It’s funny. I’m not into comics. They aren’t usually my thing. but I love this movie.” And we’re lucky enough to get that comment after many of our movies, and that’s when we feel that we’ve really really accomplished it. Is there a certain set of guidelines you have about compromising invention with your loyalty to the comics? We’ve really found that as we approach our tenth marvel studios feature — Guardians of the Galaxy will be our tenth movie in the cinematic universe — there are two responsibilities now: one is to absolutely stay true to the source material. Mainly because the source material is great, and why change something that’s great? But the other thing is staying true to the continuity we’ve established in the MCU. And people want us to do both now. Fans. Whether they’re comic fans or movie fans, they want us to do both. So I think people get excited: “Oh I can’t wait to see Falcon on screen, and I can’t wait to see how they’re going to do it.” Because I think people realized that we weren’t going to put him in the exact outfit that he wore in the ‘70s and have him telepathically linked to a bird. Walt Disney Co. via Everett Collection Talking about Falcon and Black Widow, I love the way you integrate the characters into the movie. Black Widow’s rapport with Cap is one of the most important through lines in this movie. Is there a reason, beyond just what might exist in the comic books, why the best way to really showcase Black Widow’s character front and center for the first time was in a Captain America film? For any number of reasons, not the least of which is that Scarlett Johansson is unbelievable and brings the character to life in a full three-dimensional fashion more and more each time. But really it was all about the contrast for Cap. We knew Cap was going to be working with S.H.I.E.L.D., and we knew he was going to start to get antsy and be uncomfortable working in those shades of grey that Nick Fury was asking him to work in. And the idea was putting him in a scenario where he has to team up with his polar opposite. With Natasha Ramonov, who has been a spy, who has done god knows what. Who tells us in Avengers that she’s got red in her ledger and she wants to wipe it out. Loki tells us any number of things that don’t sound good about her past. And there’s a line early on in The Winter Soldier where Captain America is confronting Nick Fury saying, “Why didn’t you tell me about this thing? I should have known about this.” And he says, “I didn’t want you to know about this because I knew you wouldn’t be comfortable with it. Natasha is comfortable with anything.” That, at the beginning, of the movie is the perceived difference between them. And a lot of this movie, and the fun we wanted to have, was seeing Widow goad Steve into the real world. She’s constantly asking him about his personal life and who he’s dating — which is sort of a way of saying, “Have you embraced the fact that you’re never going back in time? Have you embraced the fact that you’re stuck here and now have to make a life?” But at the same time, see what kind of an influence Steve Rogers would have on Natasha. I think by the end of the movie, she has changed, based on her interactions with and exposure to Steve. Earlier in the movie, she thinks he is maybe a little too honest, and says at a certain point, “This might not be the right business for you Steve.” By the end of the movie, she realizes that maybe it’s not the right business for her. There has been mention that she will be getting her own standalone film. Do you think there is a specific opportunity with that character, due to the deficit of female superhero movies, to do something that the superhero movie world needs? I do, in large part because her origin story is interesting. We haven’t explored that too much. The solo adventures in the comics, there are a lot to choose from and they’re very interesting. But people would ask me on the floor of the Thor: The Dark World junket, “Are you’re doing a Black Widow movie?” And part of me wanted to say, “Well, we did, and it’s called Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Wait until you see it!” The emphasis we put on our characters, and in particular our female leads in all our movies, is very important to us. And showcase extremely strong, intelligent woman that control the course of the entire movie and the entire plot, and that absolutely carries over into Scarlett’s role in Age of Ultron. Fantastic. And just to wrap up, you did mention Guardians of the Galaxy before. That movie seems to be presenting itself as the “weirdest” of the Marvel movies we’ve seen so far. Was that your mission when you set out to make this one?  You can see in the teaser that we released, one of the reasons we wanted to make the movie is we wanted to make something wholly original. Of course it’s based on the comics, but the fact it’s a lesser known comic, and that they’re heroes unlike any that I think anyone has brought to the screen before. I hope people embrace the notion that this is a very fresh, very original movie, in a year in which there are lots of remakes and sequels. And clearly we’ve made the Winter Soldier to stand alone and to feel different and fresh on its own. But the notion of Guardians is all about the answer to, I believe, a cry for originality and for something totally unexpected. In the same way that people saw the trailers for Iron Man 3, or The Dark World, or even The Winter Soldier, and said, “Oh boy, I think you’re getting gritty now.” And then saw the movie and realized there was a lot of humor in it. People are embracing the notion of a very funny and quirky space adventure in Guardians, but at the same time, I think they’ll be surprised by the level of depth and emotion and pathos that you’re going to have in certain sequences of the movie. What James Gunn is planning is not just simply a comedic romp but a very full, well rounded experience that can stand alongside the best of our films, but in a completely original and fresh way. Catch Captain America: The Winter Soldier in theaters now. Buy your tickets at Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Is Stuffed with Bright Ideas, But Lacks in Character
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 02, 2014
    Marvel Studios Captain America: The Winter Soldier is filled — and I mean jam-packed — with genre-bending, action-heavy, sportily tense and relentlessly sinuous, sky-high-concept and maniacally bonkers stuff. Polygonal mayhem that aims, and impressively so, to top the Marvel lot in ideas, deconstructing every thriller staple from government corruption to talking computers to odd couple agents gone rogue. But oddly enough, the moment in the Cap sequel that I find most arresting several weeks after seeing the film is our peaceful reunion with Steve Rogers, trotting merrily around the Washington Monument as the sun rises on our nation's capital. The scene is shot from far overhead, a low pulse/high spirits Chris Evans reduced to a shapeless blur as he repeatedly (but politely!) laps fellow jogger and veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)... and yet it might be the closest we feel to Cap throughout the movie. The Winter Soldier has a lot to worry about in the delivery of its content. Managing a plot as ambitious and multifaceted as its own, with themes as grand as the scope of the American mentality — as represented by Steve Rogers, raised in the good old days of gee-golly-jingoism — it doesn't always have the faculties to devote to humanizing its central troupe. Cap isn't left hollow, but his battles with the dark cloud of contemporary skepticism play more like an intriguing Socratic discussion than an emotional arc. Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, a character who ran circles around her Avengers co-players in flavor, feels a bit shortchanged in that department here (in her closest thing to a starring role yet, no less). Marvel Studios Mackie's Falcon, a regular joe who is roped into the calamity thanks largely to his willingness to chat with a fellow runner — a rare skill, honestly — is less of a problem. He doesn't have much to do, but he does it all well enough. Dynamic though he may be, Mackie keeps things bridled as Cap's ad-hoc sidekick, playing up the along-for-the-ride shtick rather than going full (or even half) superhero. We might want more from him, knowing just how fun he can be, but it's a sating dose. The real hunger is for more in the way of Black Widow, Cap, and — perhaps most of all — the titular villain. Still, these palpable holes pierce through a film that gets plenty right. As elegantly as Joe Johnston did the Spielberg thing back in 2011, Joe and Anthony Russo take on the ballots of post-innocence. They aren't afraid to get wild and weird, taking The Winter Soldier through valleys that feel unprecedented in superhero cinema. We're grateful for the invention here — for Robert Redford's buttoned-up Tom Clancy villain, for the directors' aggressive tunneling through a wide underworld of subterranean corruption, and especially for one scene in an army bunker that amounts to the most charmingly bats**t crazy reveal in any Marvel movie yet. We might be most grateful, though, for a new take on Nick Fury; here, the franchise gives Samuel L. Jackson his best material by a mile. But in the absence of definitive work done in our heroing couple, a pair rich in fibers but relegated to broad strokes and easy quips in this turn, most of it amounts to a fairly good spy thriller, not an ace-in-the-whole neo-superhero masterpiece... which, justly or otherwise, is what we've come to expect and demand from these things. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • The 'How I Met Your Mother' Finale Broke Its Promise, And That's a Good Thing
    By: Michael Arbeiter Mar 31, 2014
    CBS A few seconds after the final episode of How I Met Your Mother came to a baffling close and commercials for some travesty starring James Van Der Beek began to roll, my roommate — longtime fan of the show and a fellow to whose slapping wrath I have fallen victim thanks to an ill-conceived bet made two years back — asked if I had “seen that one coming.” I hadn’t. Sure, I had read the theories. I had discussed them with friends and hostile Internet strangers. I had fostered a few in my recaps — Robin and Barney get divorced? Of course. The Mother dies? They all but told us that was going to happen! Ted and Robin get back together after Robin and Barney get divorced and The Mother dies? … Stranger things! — but something inside of me felt that How I Met Your Mother, for all its mind games and sleight of hand, couldn’t go that far. None of this would ever happen. So, familiar as I was with the possibilities, I was ethereally blindsided by the results of the finale: Barney and Robin got divorced. The Mother died. Ted and Robin, in the very final moments of the episode — following an hour that spanned 15 years, introduced Ted to professional bassist and blossoming philanthropist Tracy McConnell with whom he'd have two kids and (subsequently) a MacLaren’s wedding, and tossed Lily and Marshall a third child, plus one for a post-divorce Barney — wound up together. Or, at least, Ted hopped back on the prowl for his old flame. CBS I didn't know what to think. Had my roommate's subtle affirmation of the episode not been the first opinion I heard thereafter, I might have fallen into the oppositional camp, like the handful of friends with whom I'd then communicate through tweets, texts, Gchats, Facebook group messages — I swear, people only voluntarily contact me following controversial series finales — who all hated it. Truly. Viscerally. Carnally. Although there was diversity in the anti-finale rationale, I noticed a running theme: "This isn't what we were promised." Somehow, spiting its well-worn practice of duping its viewers — a practice dating back to the pilot, we might add, and spanning through huge series turns like Barney's relationship with Quinn, the death of Marshall's dad, Robin's faux-children — How I Met Your Mother had maintained many a viewer's trust that the story it "promised" it was telling was, in fact, the story it was telling. And to further highlight the peculiarity of this trust, we have to ask: was it ever really the show telling us that we were going to learn how Ted met the mother of his children, or simply Ted himself — a hopeless romantic who we knew from day one saw the world through a particularly thick, idealistic set of rose-colored glasses? CBS I can't fault the folks who held fast to this trust. Those who waited years for The Mother, grew attached to Cristin Milioti's bubbly ukulele player, and wanted to see Ted spend the rest of his life with her. My friends called Tracy "perfect" for Ted, and she sure as heck was. In fact, my primary critique of the finale is that I would have liked to see more of their time together over the 10 years between their union and her death. Time spent delighting in one another's company, raising in their kids, experiencing their shared love. Time that would have proved that Ted's refurbished yearning for Robin many years down the line wasn't an invalidation of The Mother, his quest to meet her, or the series that was ostensibly framed in her honor, but in fact just evidence for the simple fact: people love. People can fall so deeply in love, as Ted did with Robin, and then fall so deeply in love, as Ted did with Tracy... and then fall so deeply in love, as Ted did, again, with Robin. None of it detracts from that which came before, or expels the possibility of that which might come later on. Although Rosses and Rachels galore might have us believe otherwise, those lucky enough to be as wise as Ted's kids (and not as shortsighted as Ted, circa 2005 or 2030) will recognize that a true blue love story isn't... anything in particular. CBS That was Ted's mistake when we met him in '05. He had an idea of what love had to be: he saw it in Marshall and Lily, and feared its downfall in the likes of Barney, and hoped it might come to form between he and Robin. And it was Ted's mistake when we met him in '30. He thought that, having spent years devoted to Tracy — his wife, the mother of his children, the bearer of his umbrella — he couldn't possibly love another. Forget that, he convinced himself that he couldn't possibly have ever loved another before. Ted worked hard, despite the earnest truth so clear to viewers and his kinderlacht, to affirm that his years spent cherishing Robin were all just preparation for his meant to be. No woman — especially none that had come before Tracy, and especially one that would remain in his life after her passing — could mean as much to him as she did. But that doesn't have to be. It's sweet, in its way, and I can't really lament the idea of anyone championing anything that well-intentioned. But it's also sad. Ted, now alone, feels as though he deserves to stay that way, lest he betray the idea that he ever really loved Tracy. But his falling in love with Robin (I hesitate even to say falling back in love, since its a new journey altogether) doesn't make his love for Tracy any less the beauty that it was. For as long as we've known him, we've waited with Ted for his own run at the Lily and Marshall game. The inclusion of, and frequent references to, them as the commercial ideal for love has been an important staple in this show's mission to disrupt the propagation of such. Beside Lily and Marshall, we have Barney. The antithesis of their M.O. in every way, but whose own journeys with love wound up satisfying in no small form: in the finale, Barney found a different type of soul mate, true love, one-and-only: his daughter Ellie, whose addition gave the finale, and Barney's story, a special breath of warmth that I think even the detractors were fond of. She changed him. She filled the part of him that he had long known to be broken. Never in regards to Nora, Quinn, or even Robin have we seen Barney as whole as when he stared into the eyes of his newborn child for the first time and vowed to give her every single piece of himself for as long as he lived. CBS Though again, that is singular love. The sort we longtime TV junkies are comfortable with. Not the sort we saw befall Ted in the final moments, when he decided to cap his tale about his adoration for one woman with the decision to profess his adoration for another... something we should have been more prepared for, considering Tracy's own experience with losing her "soul mate," and subsequent decision (if you can even call it that) to pursue love in a refreshingly charming Mosby boy. Hell, even Robin and Barney's short-lived marriage can be tossed into the conversation. Barney affirms, in a fashion that I do not believe was meant for laughs nor as a defense mechanism by the often sardonic Mr. Stinson, that theirs was "a very successful marriage that only lasted three years." Who's to say that such a thing cannot be? Not all relationships are meant to last forever. But they might very well be meant just the same.  Admittedly, there are many imperfections to the ultimate delivery of the tale. As suggested above, we didn't really get to revel in the era of Ted and Tracy, which might well have been just what we needed to feel satisfied that their own story, one of abject importance, was given its due. To reiterate, Tracy was perfect for Ted. Too perfect, maybe. Too exemplary of the very idea of a "perfect match," to the end that her and Ted's relationship — and the "fate" that landed them together — might have undone the ultimate message of the show were we to spend any more time with them, and foster the idea that this sort of love should be championed above the rest. Call me weak, but I still can't help but wish we had seen a little more Mosby-McConnell magic. CBS The closing reveal might be used to defend this shortcoming; as this is a story told by a narrator waist-deep in a flourishing love for another woman, how can we expect him to focus so much attention on the wife he lost? Well, as is the entire point that How I Met Your Mother seems bent on making, one does not nullify another. The death of Tracy's lover back in 2005 didn't keep her from falling for Ted. Ted's boundless attempts at winning Robin's heart didn't stop him from loving Tracy. And the passing of Tracy years later wouldn't save Ted from his affections for that gun-lovin', Ghostbusters-quotin', daddy issues-havin' Canadian lass. So, really, we should have seen more of her, at the very least in this final hour. Because the show wants us to believe that Ted did indeed love Tracy, with all his heart. And, now, years later, does indeed love Robin. With all his heart. That's possible. That can happen. That is okay. So, to all detractors with whom I spoke, I have to concede: in the driving home of this message, How I Met Your Mother did not in fact deliver on its promise. Its promise, straight from the nuclear-powered mouth of a man whose maxims had been drawn from the idealized romance of Hollywood yore, was to give us something of that ilk. Something singular, indelible, incomparable, impossible. No, I'm not saying that "true love" is impossible. I'm saying that it is impossible for all of us to believe we will live out a carbon teleplay of the love that we've all seen in the shows and films that shape the young Teds of the world. That's not how it's going to be. That's not how it has to be. How I Met Your Mother very intentionally broke its promise in order to tell us something important: there is no one kind of true love story. CBS A very special thank you to all who stuck with me through the past few years of How I Met Your Mother recaps, to my pal Robbie for lending me his season DVDs (I will give them back someday, I promise), to Mike, Michelle, and Zach for riveting and diplomatic conversation, and to my roommate Matt... who still owes me three slaps. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Director Daniel Carbone Discusses 'Hide Your Smiling Faces' a Different Kind of Coming-of-Age Film
    By: Michael Arbeiter Mar 29, 2014
    Tribeca Film via Everett Collection Inspired by a league of nontraditional coming-of-age movies, debut director Daniel Patrick Carbone imbued his masterful drama Hide Your Smiling Faces with an originality and emotional purity we don't often get to see on the big screen. The filmmaker discusses the creation of this personal story, drawn from his own life experiences, why it had to be his first feature, and what he hoped to say about life and death alike. I’m not a filmmaker, but I feel like there’s a lot of specific personal attachment that goes into your first movie. I was wondering if there was a reason that Hide Your Smiling Faces “needed” to be your first movie.  There’s the old adage that your first film is whatever age you are worth of pre-production. So this was like 26 years of pre-production, and your second movie is two or three years, or whatever. I think that’s true, and I think that’s why so many people’s first features are their most personal. And sometimes their strongest, because I think you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the movie made, not necessarily overthink things, and be the most honest filmmaker you can be at that point — before you get all these reviews, and you’re like, “Oh, maybe I should be changing this. Is this working? Is this not working?” Some of the films that were big inspirations for this movie, like Ratcatcher and George Washington and countless others, were those [directors’] first films. And a lot of them take place in their hometown or somewhere near their hometown, or a story based on their childhood. There’s a long line of these great first features that are very personal. I think this is, hopefully, my addition to that line of great films that I really like… it was my version of that film. In some ways, there was no other first feature I could have made. There weren’t scripts I was considering, or anything like that. I was just writing it, and once it was written, I was like, “Let’s make this.” I know that you’ve had personal experience with what happens in the film. How exactly did that shape you creatively? The thing is, the movie started out as being very autobiographical. The first scenes in the script were scenes that I would write just because I would remember this thing that happened to me when I was nine, or whatever. And I’d write it down. I don’t keep a journal or anything. My journal is writing a little script idea, or a two-page scene in script format that happened to me. Or that I wished had happened to me. Or that was some dramatized version of something my brother did once, or whatever. So, the script started as 10 or 15 little scenes, not totally connected — not even literally in the same document, just in the same folder of scenes about my childhood. And then as I continued to realize that these were part of a bigger thing, the theme of death and the theme of loss came up a lot. Obviously the two characters came up a lot. I said that maybe this was something bigger, maybe I should combine these — see what it’s like to read this scene and then this scene and then this scene. And that also influenced the structure of the film. I liked that I was writing it kind of from memory, but also enhancing it because you don’t necessarily need to stay true to it. I wasn’t making an autobiography. So, my neighbor, when I grew up, really did tie my dog to a cinderblock once. [Laughs] Because he kept going on his property. I didn’t go and retaliate, but I really wanted to. So, in my movie, the kids retaliate. So, it’s sort of being able to use your life as a seed, but then not being afraid to make a proper story out of it. The theme of death came up a lot. The event in the film that sort of starts the film off isn’t exactly something that happened. It’s sort of an amalgamation of times when somebody in my town died — somebody in my high school did pass away, my roommate in college did pass away. Not in the way that you see in the film, but in the same sort of suddenness of it. The unanswerable tragedy of it. The movie was more about having something happen that was similar to what happened to me and would set people off in the same way that I was set off. In this search for something that you’ll never really find an answer to. So, again, it’s not fully autobiographical, but it’s a movie that has events that happen that hopefully make the audience feel the way I did growing up. So, it’s autobiographical emotionally, you could say, but not actually beat for beat in the narrative. In a lot of Hollywood movies, there’s the tendency to go general in order to relate to the most amount of people — I think when you go specific, when you go really personal, is when it does have the best effect. But were you ever worried about that? “Just because something affected me in a specific way, that doesn’t mean…” I think you’re right. Some things are so universally relatable that they become kind of grey. There’s no specifics to it anymore. Everybody can to relate to trying to get into college! But that’s actually not that interesting. Because everybody relates to it, it’s not specific enough to raise an eyebrow and want to know more. I tried to balance the line... everything that happens in the film is very specific, but there’s also a lot of ambiguity to the spaces in between the scenes we’re watching. I didn’t want to say exactly what the aftermath of this accident was for the family or for the town or for the police investigation, or anything like that. By leaving the bigger things ambiguous, I think people fill in the gaps themselves. But the reason the want to fill in the gaps is because you’re giving them these super specific things that only someone who experienced it themselves or who heavily researched a place or who spent a lot of time in a place would know. And those are the things that I always respond to in a character and in a film. There’s the plot of the film, but then what does that person do when they’re alone? What does that person do before they go to bed? What does that person’s morning routine look like? And that’s when I feel like you get the most out of somebody. So this movie, you could argue, is a series of really specific moments in these kids’ lives that have some strong effect on them. But then everything else is left up to the audience. And they’ve all been kids before, and a lot of people grew up in a rural place like this. By giving them these little specifics and then leaving the bigger questions unanswered, they said, “Well, when me and my brother did something like that, my mom would have yelled at us.” I’ve had people tell me about scenes that aren’t even in the movie that they sort of invented. “Oh, the scene where they get yelled at by their parents for leaving.” That’s not a scene in the movie. It’s insinuated, because everybody’s had that experience. It’s sort of a balance of giving a lot of specifics, but also keeping it ambiguous enough that people can kind of put themselves in the world and remember what it was like to be that age. But to be honest, when I was writing, it wasn’t something I was thinking about. Maybe it was because I was naïve and I had never made a feature before, but I wasn’t writing to raise money, I knew I would make it for very little money and that I would probably be paying for it mostly myself. I wasn’t sending it out to production companies or producers or trying to build the biggest audience I could. I was just trying to make the best movie I thought I could. A lot of it is luck, I’ll be totally honest. Some experiments that ended up paying off. And now I know! Now when I read what people respond to and talk to people after the film, now I get maybe why the movie worked. But at the time, it wasn’t a totally conscious thing. It was the movie I wanted to make — “I’m not so interested in this, but I am very interested in this” — luckily, other people shared that opinion. Tribeca Film via Everett Collection Going back to what you said about the routines of these characters. I remember you mentioning that a lot of the dialogue and a lot of the scenes were sort of in the hands of the kids. I was wondering how much of these two characters specifically that you knew and that you had invented before the movie, or at script level? And how much of that changed when you cast the actors, or how much of the characters came originally from the two boys? Almost all of the scenes in the film are scenes in the script, but [the script was] always a skeleton. I knew what I wanted the movie to be, and I knew pretty much how I wanted it to start and end — but I wasn’t even totally sure about that. I knew that with a film like this, where the structure is very loose and almost a series of vignettes at times, that I’d be able to shoot everything I wanted to shoot and then also say, “Well, what if we start the movie here? That might color the rest of the movie if you see this first…” Because there isn’t a ton of chronological stuff in the film. [With the dialogue], I was trying to sort of remember how I talked when I was nine or when I was 14. That, to me, leads to the worst child performances, when they are trying to remember lines very specifically. They end up sounding like little adults, or they’re written so young that they end up sounding not as intelligent as they really are. So I knew that the dialogue specifically would be kind of thrown out the window. We’d always do a take with it, just so they knew what the scene was about. And every now and then there’s a line that does need to lead to some other line later, or something. So we said, “Be sure to say this one line, but other than that, do what you want to do. Here’s what the scene is about, here’s where you’re coming from, this is what you want to get out of him, etcetera.” We’d do my version, and then their version, and we’d usually end up somewhere in between, on take three or four. But I wanted to give them the ability to be creatively responsible for a lot of the movie. Especially for non-actors, I think they are not coming into it with the training that adults have, to be able to hit marks and turn to the camera, and always give them the best side of their face, and say these lines. I think sometimes it’s best to let kids be kids, and let them stumble on each other’s lines, and cut each other off, and don’t answer if you don’t want to answer. If you wouldn’t actually answer in real life, then don’t answer. If you do say words there, it’s going to sound weird. And if he’s bothering you in the scene, move away from him. If you want to put him in a headlock, put him in a headlock. So there’s a lot of stuff like that. Long story short, there was definitely a little arc that I knew we wanted to hit. I knew these scenes were going to be together, and this scene was going to be here, and I knew this scene needed to start with this... little details like [Ryan Jones] spraying the cut on his leg. Obviously that was pre-planned, it wasn’t a real cut, things like that. But a lot of the scenes, like the beginning and end of the movie, were just Ryan and Nate [Varnson] being Ryan and Nate. We would be off doing something else, some sort of film set nonsense, ordering lunch or something, and Ryan would be standing in the rain trying to catch raindrops in his mouth. And I would go, “That’s better than the scene I had written. Let’s go shoot that.” A lot of the most authentic moments in the film feel the way they do because they really were Ryan and Nate being themselves. Bored kids on a movie set. We’d throw them in costume quick and tell them to keep doing what they’re doing, and then we’d make a scene out of it. The script was done, but I knew that 75 percent was going to stay, and for the other 25 percent, I was hoping for these little happenings to occur. Luckily for the movie, they did. You said sometimes it was preferable when the boys didn’t say anything at all. Do you, as a fan of movies or as a filmmaker or as a writer, respond to nonverbal, or largely nonverbal performances in general? Yeah, I do. I don’t have any real insight into why. For me, I love Woody Allen films. I love films that are really smartly written, really fast dialogue, things like that. But I tend to respond best to film as a medium when it is mostly visual. Well, visual and audio, but not necessarily dialogue. I think when you watch two people talk — other than in a situation like this [interview], where it’s literally only talking — I think most communication is nonverbal. It’s physical, and it’s through body language. Or it’s through talking about other things, but the subtext of that dialogue is what [they are] really saying to each other. Films need dialogue, but I think less is more. I think when somebody does speak — like in real life, usually, when somebody finally does speak — it’s more meaningful when it carries a bunch of weight with it. Especially with young kids. Young boys don’t sit down and have heart to heart conversations. They communicate by beating the crap out of each other, and trying to have a power struggle. Or sometimes not being violent to your little brother is your way of being very nice to him. The whole way you judge emotions is totally skewed when you’re a young boy. Again, the thing that film can do that a lot of other artistic mediums can’t do is combine images and sound in this way. Dialogue, obviously, is needed and sometimes is just as valuable, but I think stories to me — the most compelling cinematic experiences, I’ll say — are when images and sound are combining and I do not necessarily have to follow dialogue. Maybe I just can’t handle three things at once. [Laughs] But some of my favorite films are mostly wordless, because they are more pure to what I think cinema was intended to be, in a way. Do you have examples? Stalker is one of my favorite films. Tarkovsky. There is a lot of dialogue at times, but it’s kind of this psychobabble and I think that’s kind of the point. But again, there are 20-minute spans of that film with nothing. 2001: A Space Odyssey. I could go on. I’ll send you a list. [Laughs] These films where I sort of get hypnotized by what I’m seeing and hearing, and I’m not necessarily following a narrative. A traditional narrative. I like characters in a place just being. I like having time to absorb the space and absorb the tone and the atmosphere of the film. And then I’ll take a little bit of plot. But once I’m in this new place, I like to be able to absorb. I think Tarkovsky does that really well. I mention Ratcatcher all the time. I mean, there is dialogue in that, but not as much as a traditional film. A lot of that is kids exploring. I kind of want to close with my big, obnoxious question. There are countless movies about death. Some would argue that every movie is about death. I was thinking about the movie Rabbit Hole before. That’s another movie about a very similar topic, but done in a very different way. And I like that movie a lot, but there are these big scenes of breakdowns and people talking out their thoughts. And I wanted to know if, with Hide Your Smiling Faces, there was something you were trying to say about cinematic depictions of death. To make a movie that handles death in a way you haven’t seen.  The death side, I was trying to say that the way kids respond, which sometimes is counterintuitive to the way an adult would respond in a situation, is not necessarily any more right or wrong. The adults in this film are not dealing with the situation any better, arguably. There’s the guy who is very religious — not a statement on religion necessarily, but that’s his way of dealing with it. The mother and father sort of take a back seat. They’re not sure what to do, so they become distant. The kids don’t cry, but they still feel... also, the title. You’re told to feel a certain way, society says this is the right way to grieve. But I don’t necessarily feel like that’s true. The movie is more about the idea of a right and wrong way to grieve, and how that is sort of a silly notion. How sometimes, with their raw instincts, are more honest than adults, who have been trained to feel a certain way when a certain event happens. Hide Your Smiling Faces is available in select theaters and on VOD now. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Cheap Thrills' Is Almost Very Interesting, Definitely Very Gross
    By: Michael Arbeiter Mar 28, 2014
    Drafthouse Films via Everett Collection There are a lot of ideas floating around in Cheap Thrills. They're interesting, they're dense, and they're fruitful endeavors for the world of psychological horror. But they are relegated to floating, never quite anchoring into any real conclusions or statements about their desperate, depraved subjects. We meet Craig (Pat Healy), a happily married father of one, on a particularly bad day: he loses his job, is slapped with an eviction notice, and — to top it all off — bumps into a pesky old chum (Ethan Embry) from his younger days. A fellow who Craig, a loser in his own right, judges for never having gone anywhere. As the high school buddies catch up, they are roped into the increasingly violent and grotesque high jinks of a pair of thrill-seeking strangers (David Koechner, giving an impressively haunting performance, and a nearly wordless Sara Paxton) with the promise of bright financial futures dangled in front of them. The men, each of thinning pride, gradually give way to monetary temptation as they play along in these treacherous mind games, the biggest mystery being if a limit to their desperation exists. Drafthouse Films via Everett Collection Although it's an intriguing venture, the sociological study stops at its thesis question. In truth, the movie's philosophical makeup can be summed up with the Klondike Bar slogan. Still, there is meat to be found: the bubbling lava underneath the crust of Craig and Vince's (Embry) long dormant friendship comes with a few humanistic ditties about breaking free from your past, and the pangs inherent in facing off with someone who knows the you that you've been trying to escape. But these ideas, too, aren't milked to their full potential. The only element of the film that does hit its promised summit: the grossness. Cheap Thrills does deliver, and then some, on the ick factor. It's not an abundance of gore or violence that does it, but the visceral, intimate nature with which the gore is handled. Everything is up close and personal, all pains really felt. If this is your bag, then Cheap Thrills will come through here. But psychologically, it does little more than present would-be interesting ideas. Fun in the set-up, occasionally thrilling in the delivery, but never particularly fulfilling in the conclusion.  2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Hide Your Smiling Faces' Is a Tremendously Touching Story About Life, Death, and Dealing with Either
    By: Michael Arbeiter Mar 28, 2014
    Tribeca Film via Everett Collection It seems that the general mission statement of your usual coming-of-age drama is to take the lighter fare of growing up, all those moments that we took for granted until our wistful recollections years later, and pull back the curtain on just how important they always were. The first kisses, the first fights, the first sips of beer — these are the elements that have lined the genre since before American Graffiti and Breaking Away. But in earnest, there is no cookie cutter mold for the coming-of-age experience. Romance and high jinks could well take a backseat — or fall out of the picture altogether — when your childhood is shaped by something like the subject matter of Hide Your Smiling Faces, an altogether inviting and merciless picture about the sudden death of a young boy, and the aftermath as experienced by two of his close friends. Ostensibly, this is a movie about death. About what it means to lose a friend, a child, a neighbor. About what it means to understand, for the very first time, the idea of mortality, of impermanence, of loss. And through the often silent (though never to a fault) journeys of two brothers, young Tommy (Ryan Jones) and preteen Eric (Nathan Varnson), we see a version of "death" not often granted to the screen. Director Daniel Patrick Carbone doesn't seem too strained to avoid the theatrical, sewing weight and humanity into the every move, breath, and rare word ventured by the suffering boys. We're not treated to Rabbit Hole-esque diatribes or Oscar-friendly explosions in a movie whose subject matter might beckon the like. We're carted through an impressively effective journey inside the boys as they battle not only  their pain, but the inscrutable parameters set for their expression of it. Tribeca Film via Everett Collection But the struggles of Tommy and Eric aren't limited to the time frame of human grief. Just as coming-of-age movies that present kisses and fights as representative glimpses into an endless stretch of the human condition, the brothers' experience with death is a rock with which their road to maturity is paved. The tragedy brings to the forefront issues that won't fade over time: the stinging confusion inherent in figuring out how to feel, what to think, and what to show about everything. Scenes involving Tommy's own gateway into the kissing world, and Eric's sudden rift with a friend he thought he understood highlight just how expansive these themes are. They, in fact, might be the only permanent thing there is.  Even in its sincerity, Hide Your Smiling Faces doesn't fall shy of cinematic — shot in the beautiful New Jersey woodlands, we explore defunct bridges, silent dirt roads, and rotting old houses that feel impossibly lived in, courtesy of just how closely we are welcomed to the boys themselves. A story about life and death alike, Hide Your Smiling Faces handles both in a fashion you won't often see in film. In its tackling of the former — of growth and discovery — it is haunting, harsh, and sad. In the latter, it isn't afraid to access joy, hypocrisy, and beauty. On each side of its impossibly vast fence, Hide Your Smiling Faces gives us something touching, tremendous, and new. Merging the two, we wind up with something altogether beautiful. 4.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com