Author

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: Ridley Scott Gets in the Way of Cormac McCarthy's Interesting Story in 'The Counselor'
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 25, 2013 1:03pm EST
    20th Century Fox There is an obvious standout scene in The Counselor, one you'll recognize as soon as you reach it: without giving too much away, it involves a wild-eyed Javier Bardem recounting, to his pal and fledgling criminal Michael Fassbender, a sexually-charged memory involving himself, his beloved and bewildering Cameron Diaz, and the windshield of his flashy yellow convertible. Flashing back between lines of Bardem's trembling narration to haunting snapshots of the event in question, we witness the film peak in electricity — we see the cast having a rare bit of fun on this slow crawl through the crevices of human desperation, and we see Ridley Scott's stronghold on the direction of the film loosen just a bit to give the script's weirdest material a venue worthy of its character. It's a unique moment in the movie when it doesn't feel like the grisly, earthy realism of Scott's vision and the savory heightened reality pulsing through Cormac McCarthy's script are at odds. More often than not, the The Counselor's desert backdrop and dispirited denizens dry out the movie to the point where what we're watching, no matter how attractive, feels like it's forcing its way down. But it's the brief snippets into the otherworldly imagination of McCarthy, who writes this script as if it were a novel, that keeps us drinking up The Counselor. We enjoy festive gulps of the characters who speak almost entirely in maxims, and the bizarre world that seems to operate in accordance with these bubbles of nihilistic wisdom. While Fassbender's male lead is scrubbed clean of any role beyond the courier of Scott's occasionally barren A-story thriller, and his fleeting accomplice Brad Pitt offers little more than a head of hair from which to shield your eyes, some of The Counselor's more inviting participants manage to really make McCarthy's poetry work. Bardem, as a criminal world fixture terrified and undone by his powerhouse lover — bouncing between our sympathies and alien fascination — lays claim to some of the movie's most engrossing scenes, the aforementioned topping the list. But the only performer who truly embodies the fantastical genus of McCarthy's writing is Diaz, offering not so much a character from a peculiar story but a creature from a bizarre planet. As the sun around which McCarthy's solar system revolves, Diaz institutes herself as the beacon of the weird wilderness with which this script is filled. Covered in cheetah spots, sporting a gold tooth, and never wavering from her flawlessly delivered tenets of sociopathy, Diaz gives us the height of The Counselor's capabilities, the pinnacle of what would — in more generous hands — emancipate it entirely from the gritty crime thriller identity it winds up inhabiting. Although Scott is a director with penache, he gets in the way of McCarthys' strengths on this outing. Having imbued so many science-fiction stories with the reality and humanity they needed, Scott seems to miss the point on this one: The Counselor is a real world thriller that needs more of the feel of McCarthy's fantasy. 2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Writer Michael Arndt Exits 'Star Wars: Episode VII' — Script Left to Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 24, 2013 4:07pm EST
    20th Century Fox The biggest question mark of the cinematic horizon is Star Wars: Episode VII. With the capability and artistic intentions of J.J. Abrams already up for debate and the murky promise (or threat) of Original Trilogy stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford looming as cast list potentials, all we need now is a writer to drop out to further stir up the uncertainty about the ultimate quality of our next foray into George Lucas' galaxy. And so it is. The Hollywood Reporter reports that screenwriter Michael Arndt is no longer involved with crafting the script for Episode VII, though no mention is made of why or how his departure came about. Filling in for Arndt on scripting duties will be director Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. On the one hand, the presence of Kasdan glimmer with the OT veneer: Empire is widely considered the strongest of the Star Wars movies, and it might be reassuring to some Lucasfilm purists to have a mind from the glory days on board. But it was that entrenchment to cling so adherently to the mythology and spirit of the originals that resulted in the Prequel Trilogy, a failure by the standards of most hoping for a revisit to the magic born in '77. As such, a talent independent from the Star Wars universe might have been favorable. Maybe Arndt wasn't quite the right choice. He wrote the screenplays for greats like Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 — two excellent movies in their own right, but ones that might not showcase his ability to handle a broad, fantastical world like Star Wars. In company with a partner known for this skill, perhaps Arndt's touch for the personal might have worked. But we're left, instead, with Kasdan and Abrams. The former in position solely on the bounties of "legacy" (not always the best tool to use in rebooting a franchise), and the other amid a slow slip from grace after Star Trek Into Darkness and the more defensible but still sub-par Super 8. Both movies in which he exhibited his preference to put old toys in a glass case for us to look at rather than recreating and reimagining vast, fruitful ideas. So is the decision to bring on Kasdan more of Abrams' ploys to live through his nostalgia, or will Kasdan be able to channel his old stories in a new, inventive way? Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Paul Feig Is the Perfect Choice to Produce a 'Peanuts' Movie
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 24, 2013 1:44pm EST
    Charles Schulz When it comes to our cherished childhood properties, we generally approach the idea of contemporary adaptation or reboot with hesitance as opposed to excitement. We don't want to see the television shows, cartoons, or comic strips we loved unconditionally "ruined" for a new generation by a commercial lens or a creative force without the appropriate appreciation for the works in question. At the top of the list for a good sum of Americans born in the latter half of the 20th century is Charles Schulz's Peanuts, rating more sacred than just about any other piece of childhood scripture. Naturally, living within a pop culture era that has churned out more bastardized reimaginings to old favorites than we can count — notable examples: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, James Wong's Dragonball: Evolution, Tim Hill's Alvin and the Chipmunks/Garfield/developing Short Circuit movies (we know it isn't fair to cast out a movie that's still in the works, but we're making an educated guess here) — we approach the news of a developing Peanuts movie with apprehension. But buried deep beneath the cynicism is that blip of hope (cemented inside of us, funnily enough, by the never-give-up attitude of one Charlie Brown) that this movie might actually work. And that hope is abetted by the announcement that Paul Feig will be producing the Fox project. Those new to Feig fandom will raise an eyebrow at the reports from Deadline. His contemporary image has him connoted with hard R send-up comedies — Bridesmaids, The Heat, and his developing Melissa McCarthy spy flick and Channing Tatum-led gay rom-com. But if you know Feig from his Freaks and Geeks days, then you know precisely why he's the perfect pick for Schulz's universe. In essence, a lot of what Feig transmitted to the small screen in his one-season wonder could be likened to the themes of Schulz's comic strip. His main characters were sad, confused, lonely big dreamers at ceaseless odds with the kooky, convoluted, decidedly bleak world around them. But, just as Schulz did so masterfully with his cartoon, Feig never let his program feel defeatist. As low as Lindsay Weir might have plunged from her once stellar personal and academic stature, latching desperately to her existential crisis that was the plotline of the show, we never felt that she was "gone for good." We never felt that her brother Sam would be destined forever to a life of being bullied, or that Nick Andopolis would be overwrought with those troubling psychological maladies for all time. Feig always let us feel that there was a chance... a chance that maybe, maybe this time, Lucy wouldn't pull that damn football away. Feig tells Deadline, "Growing up, Peanuts was my Star Wars. Charles Schulz's characters influenced everything in my career, especially Freaks And Geeks. I'm thrilled I finally get to be pals with Charlie Brown and Snoopy." So with the grounded, imaginative, somber, and overall hopeful ideology of Feig set to instill into this new incarnation of Peanuts, we do indeed look forward to something special. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • There Is an Error in Jason Reitman's 'Men, Women & Children' Script
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 22, 2013 2:39pm EST
    WENN. If there's one thing you've got to give Jason Reitman, he knows hip. In Thank You For Smoking, he tackled cigarettes (the coolest way to corrode your respiratory system). In Juno, teen pregnancy (with the added bonus of kickstarting a new movement of particularly trendy pidgin). In Young Adult, delusions of granduer (extreme narcissism is far and away the most stylish psychological maladies one can uphold). And the director is stepping beyond the pages of his latest project to exhibit his proclivities for the fashion of the era: Reitman has taken to Twitter to cast a role for his new movie, Men, Women & Children. But in doing so, Reitman has inadvertently given us a glimpse into his Achilles heel. The filmmaker has spent so much time being cool, that he has apparently lost all touch with the world of nerdiness — there's a crucial error in the piece of dialogue that Reitman tweeted on Tuesday highlighting the writer/director's scientific blind spot. Need help casting my film! Know a teen football player who's a quiet thoughtful giant? See the attached script! pic.twitter.com/kIpG0rUco7 — Jason Reitman (@JasonReitman) October 22, 2013 Reitman tweeted a few lines of dialogue in hopes of casting Tim, described as "a 15 year old former football player ... a gentle giant (over 6'2"), a quiet mountain, who speaks softly and to himself." In his request to the world to help him seek someone befitting of this description, Reitman showcased a scene in which Tim meets another character, Brandy, and talks to her briefly about the writings of scientist Carl Sagan. JasonReitman/Twitter As you can see, introvert Tim refers to Carl Sagan's book Little Blue Dot. But here's the thing: Carl Sagan's book is not titled Little Blue Dot. It's Pale Blue Dot. And although this might be an intentional error made by Reitman's character Tim, we feel as though a kid who "spends his time playing online games" might know his Sagan just a bit better than that. Perhaps a fellow hip enough to cast his movies via Twitter, to institute a worldwide wave of JunoSpeak, to name the heroine in his latest movie (Labor Day) Adele, might be out of his element with all this nerdy stuff like space and molecules. But hey, early drafts are bound to have mistakes, and we're still looking forward to the next project from the mind behind Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult. Maybe just farm out the geekier references to your dad from now on, Reitman (hey, there was a lot of science in Ghostbusters).  Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'How I Met Your Mother' Recap: How Well Does This Show Handle Black Comedy?
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 22, 2013 11:28am EST
    CBS I had a decidedly bizarre relationship with this most recent episode of How I Met Your Mother. To begin, I watched the half-hour comedy via the good graces of my DVR (for which I allot a portion of my salary in lieu of breakfasts) at around 3 in the morning, after waking up from a nap I didn't remember deciding to take. In my fugue state, everything hit harder. The jokes (I couldn't help but laugh at every misplaced "What the damn hell?!"), the sentiment, the Indiana Jones references, and the episode's "dark" conclusion. That especially. See, How I Met Your Mother doesn't exist in the world of It's Always Sunny or Arrested Development or Seinfeld. It exists in a world with a pulsing heart, one that wants us to care about its quirky quintet. It seems too often, though, that the show tries to have its cake and eat it too: to bank on the bounties of black comedy while still riding on a sympathetic undercurrent. We've already come to recognize all of the group's core members (with the possible, and that's being generous, exception of Marshall) as horrible people. Lily goes out of her way to refer to Barney as a sociopath — probably true — in this episode. But when it comes to gags like the conclusive twist in "Knight Vision," we reach a point that's beyond bearable. At least to those of us watching in the hyper-emotional state immediately between two sleeps. Robin and Barney spend the episode trying to convince their rigid minister that they are worthy of his approval and of his church. So, they use the sweetest, most romantic love story they can conjure up: Marshall and Lily's, the whole "we met in college and have been together ever since" ordeal, adopting their personas (and nicknames, to comical nonsensicality — the stern minister fawning over monikers like "Barnmallow" and "Robinpad" earned a good laugh) in place of their own far more... colorful... personal history. When Lily's intrusion sparks the revelation that Robin and Barney swiped the story, they lose the minister's approval, and a place in his church. But the pair realizes that they prefer their true story — a story of deceit, heartbreak, lechery, adultery, and various other sorts of undesirable behavior — launching into a vivid recollection of the past nine years they have spent together. The shock of their narrative actually kills the minister, leaving them in want of a new official to oversee the wedding. Theory: Don't Robin and Barney have a friend who is struggling with the decision to become a judge? Perhaps this new position is the answer to our question of what Marshall and Lily will ultimately decide to do (move to Rome for her career vs. stay in New York for his). And so, while Robin and Barney sulk over having to find a new minister at the last minute, we cringe at their unintentional hand in the death of this man. It's the sort of thing that should haunt you, one would think, not just serve as a plot device. While this sort of black humor might feel right at home in Sunny or its dark brethren, HIMYM needs to make up its mind on where it wants to lie. It's a rare achievement for a show to manage such sinister comedy and still earn our "aww"s. And since How I Met Your Mother is certainly more concerned with the latter, it should really steer clear of gags like these. Meanwhile, Ted tries to sleep with Anna Camp. He doesn't. But don't worry. The Mother is coming soon. Footnote: In the sleep to follow my viewing of this episode, I had a How I Met Your Mother-themed dream. In it, Barney kissed Ted, tearfully professing his undying love for him and his long-guarded homosexuality. It was very moving, and very exciting. I was disappointed to wake up to realize this never actually happened.  Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • '12 Years a Slave' Star Lupita Nyong'o Discusses How Her Character Persevered Against Unbelievable Torture
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 21, 2013 5:02pm EST
    Fox Searchlight It's an impressive enough feat to give a standout performance in any ordinary film. But to achieve this superlative in a film like 12 Years a Slave, one of the most powerful we've seen in ages, and at the very beginning of your career no less, it's simply miraculous. Lupita Nyong'o makes her professional acting debut in Steve McQueen's relentless drama about Solomon Northrup — played in the film by Chiwetel Ejiofor — a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1800s. Nyong'o plays Patsey, a dutiful and sensual (as the actress describes her) slave of the merciless Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who perseveres through his neverending physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of her as a testament to the human spirit. N'yongo articulated the psychology that allowed Patsey to survive against the most overwhelming of tortures, and her own access of such unimaginable pains to portray the character. I believe this is your first feature film?Yes. Can you talk a little bit about how you came onto the project?Yeah, sure. I was at the Yale School of Drama. I was just about to graduate, when my manager got this script for another client of hers who was also in the film — Garret Dillahunt. She saw the role of Patsey and she thought I would be good for it, so she had me go on tape in New York. It just so happened that the next week we were going to be in L.A., doing our Yale showcase there. So she had the casting office come in to see my work. They then invited me in for an audition with them. Francine Maisler put me through the ringer! And then, finally, I was sent to Louisiana to audition for Steve [McQueen]. So, it was really … a lot of auditioning. Were you familiar with the story of Solomon Northrup before?Absolutely not, and I was shocked and dismayed that I hadn't heard of it. I, of course, talked a little bit with my friends about it, and few if any had heard of the 12 Years a Slave autobiography. Is the era one that you are particularly well-versed in, or have read a lot about?I've come across it, I'm sure, in history class growing up. But it was nothing that I'd ever really delved into in any way, really. But I didn't know I didn't know — that's the thing about the slave era. You read about it in school a little so you think you know, but the thing about this story is that it really shows us the complexities of the slave economy. We meet all sorts of different characters that are fleshed out and real and human. And recognizable. You can relate with them. That's what makes it so relevant, so rich. It's not this thing that happened x-number of years ago that we've passed. The truth of the matter is, we haven't really passed. We still are dealing with the effects of the time. So, I'm definitely way better educated about the time than I was before. Is there anything specific that you appreciate having learned from this project?The infamous — or is it famous? — scene of Patsey's whipping. Solomon, in the book, describes that as the darkest day of all time. To go into that knowing that was what we were creating — the darkest day — it was a lot. For me, that was the most emotional gymnastics, because it's so much that Patsey is going through when she is about to be humiliated, debased, beaten by her slave master, who is like her father figure. I liken it to Stockholm Syndrome, where you are traumatically bonded to the person who is causing you the most harm. That was a very challenging scene to walk into, and to walk into allowing myself to feel that kind of emotional and physical abuse, for lack of a better word, and humiliation. Obviously, we were lucky to be born into an era that, while problems persist, we don't know this kind of pain.Some do, unfortunately, still. That's true. But I'm interested to know how you accessed this kind of pain, that I hope and imagine you don't know personally.I think that was what made getting this role so important to me. It was an opportunity to work on real hefty material, and to really exercise what I have been training to do. It's a real exercise of imagination, and empathy. I rehearsed and prepared… I did all sorts of things to prepare for this role. And to allow myself to experience that kind of grief. The thing is, as human beings we aren't as individual as we'd like to believe we are. And I think that's what makes acting possible. Despite the fact that I have not experienced something, I have it in my human capacity to imagine it and to put myself in someone else's shoes, and to take someone else's circumstances personally. That's what makes acting possible — the fact that we are not as individual as we think we are. Speaking on that, you spent a lot of time with Michael Fassbender in the movie. And his character is despicable, to put it lightly, but you see that there is a lot self-loathing as well. In characters like his or Sarah Paulson's characters, did you see any vulnerability or humanity?Well, yeah. In doing 12 Years a Slave, in performing in it, I obviously could not be concerned with what they were going through. [Laughs] But in watching the film, I was mesmerized by the way in which Michael and Sarah so expertly show the humanity of these people. They are not one-sided, they're not one-dimensional. They are complex human beings with a lot going on. And yes, even in the scene in which Master Epps is raping Patsey, you see his self-loathing. You see how it is breaking him to do this. His need to connect… it was so disturbing. It was really, really disturbing. But also, I was awestruck by Michael's ability to do that. Because it's true — the institution of slavery did not only affect the enslaved. It affected the enslavers. That's what Michael and Sarah's characters show us, that everyone is motivated by something. This kind of cruelty is not inhuman. Humans do these kinds of things. We, as human beings, have the capacity for extreme cruelty. But we also have a resilience and a need for love, and that's what gets Solomon through those 12 years. I really do think this film, in portraying this time period, is a call to love. That is it. And not a passive love. A love that takes a stand, that faces these things, takes ownership of them, accepts them, in order to be able to forge forward in a better way. That's beautiful. The resilience really stands out to me. In Patsey we see, in almost everything she does, we see a strength and a resilience. I was hoping that you might speak on how you might have imagined Patsey's will to go on.It's all really in the script and the book. In the book, Solomon Northrup describes Patsey as "having an air of loftiness that neither labor nor lash could rid her of." And that's it. She is this woman who is in a dire situation, belongs to a master that is capable of anything and everything at any time, and she forges forward by being present and by doing what's in front of her fully. So, when she is picking cotton, she is picking that cotton. So much so that she is picking 500 pounds of cotton a day. I went to the [National Great] Blacks In Wax Museum in Baltimore, and I saw a 500-pound bale of cotton. It is taller than me, it is wider than me, and it is way thicker than me. It's ridiculous how much cotton that is. It's spoke, to me, of an incredible woman, a simple woman, who has found a way to persevere, to endure, and to work through her pain. She didn't have the luxury of wallowing in it because it was endless. She'd been in that plantation since she was a little girl. She's always working through her pain. I took those things from the book and the script and really tried to find active ways of showing that. That's the thing — when you read those things, you don't ask yourself how. You just accept it, and then it becomes true. As an actor, I find that I always ask myself, "How am I going to do that? How am I going to do that?" And the answers always ends up [being], "You just are." That's always the answer I have to arrive at. And it takes some time. It takes trying and failing. But if I just allow it to be the truth then half the work is done. I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about the scene in which Patsey asks Solomon to drown her, because that is the scene really took me down the most. If you can speak on the way you approached that scene psychologically, and your emotional connection to it?Well… Patsey, in the script, was described as being "effortlessly sensual." And I was reading James Baldwin's Fire Next Time, and in it he says that to be sensual is to rejoice in the force of life. Life itself. And to be present in everything that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. That was something that, for me, Patsey's effortless sensuality. Because she was present. That was … the thing that was so seductive about her. So, in approaching that scene — in talking with Steve and exploring it together — it occurred to me, "How do you play that scene with agency? How do you play it as though she's not giving up?" Because that's not it. She was not giving up. Patsey was always looking for comfort, she was always looking for peace. At that point in her life, the only way to achieve that comfort was through death. Steve wanted it to be soft, and to be played as a win, and not a loss. 12 Years a Slave is in theaters now. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'The Walking Dead' Recap: What About the Jewish Zombies? (Season 4, Episode 2)
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 21, 2013 11:12am EST
    AMC After last season offered us a taste of the high life inside the walls of Woodbury, we're right back in the trenches for Season 4. Maybe it's the logical psychological progression of a zombie apocalypse, the artistic complement to our time spent in the dystopian village, or an effort to top the nihilism in the powerhouse that was Breaking Bad, but The Walking Dead is really upping the ante on the bleak this year. It says a lot for a show about people watching their loved ones die in the most gruesome ways possible that these past two episodes have emanated a new degree of dismal. A week after Rick's inability to kill a suffering woman who represented his own descent into monstrosity, we find the prison infiltrated by walkers — the gang astutely figures out with Gregory House-like precision that the bespectacled young Patrick contracted some type of flu that killed him overnight, transforming him into his ultimate zombie identity and wreaking havoc upon his fellow inmates. After the demise of the good-natured, cheeky teen, we're treated to a slew of increasingly spirit-killing sideshows.The episode's stories, in ascending order of bleakness: 1. A herd of zombies threaten to take down the prison's outer fence, chomping off the heads of rats (which seemed to have been placed around the perimeter as bait for the dead heads).2. The bodies of two prison residents are burned, by an anonymous party, presumably in an effort to keep the flu from spreading3. Two pre-adolescent girls watch their father die and incur the wrath of an increasingly cold Carol for being "weak" through the ordeal.4. Rick slashes the stomachs of pig after pig after pig (the pigs are really cute, too) in order to lure the zombies from No. 1 away from the fence.5. And worst of all, Michonne cradles coughing baby Judith — who she recognizes to have contracted the flu that killed Patrick and Carl's pig — sobbing over the imminent demise of this baby and her own inability to resist comforting her despite knowing that she, in the process of doing so, is exposing herself to the same fatal disease. Yes, this show is getting really grim. But... there are a few small victories this week, too. Kind of. 1. While Carl and Rick are mending fences, Carl tells Rick about Carol's secret weapons tutelage and Rick gives Carl back his gun. Sweet-ish?2. Carol refers to the late Patrick as a "practicing atheist," which is very much in step with the way that character, who we barely got to meet, would have defined himself.3. Hershel has a leg. So... not all bad. Right? Anyway, the big questions we're left with: Who is leaving rats for the walkers? Who burned the bodies of the flu-ridden residents? What will happen to baby Judith and our beloved Michonne? And, mostly, has this show really never had an episode named "Infected" before this week? That doesn't seem possible. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: 'Carrie' Remake Is Nothing New, and Nothing New Audiences Will Revere
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 18, 2013 3:04pm EST
    Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Screen Gems We can divide the incoming audience of Kimberly Peirce's Carrie remake into three categories. First, dutiful fans of the original — just about any modern day cinephile, or regular human being who was at least a teenager in the mid-1970s. A collective who might be expecting, based on a passage of four decades and an insightful director like Peirce, something altogether different than Brian De Palma's horror classic. As much as we might have loved the old version, we're not heading to theaters to see it reproduced with Chloë Grace Moretz standing in for Sissy Spacek. Second, we have the group who never got around to De Palma's Carrie, or at least who do not remember it with any particular fondness, but who hold Stephen King's novel in high regard. A group who might expect the epistolary form of the narrative to translate to screen in some inventive way, telling Carrie White's story the way that King did back in his early days. Finally, the youngest of the lot: those who never saw, never read, maybe even never heard of Carrie, but who are flocking to theaters out of love for the young Moretz and in hopes of a good scare. These are likely to be the participants most satisfied — although it is the goal to approach every new feature film as a work independent from all predecessors and source material, anyone who has seen the '76 Carrie will have a hard time eviscerating the connotations from his or her head while watching the new venture. Just shy of a shot-for-shot remake, Peirce's Carrie doesn't come through on many of the progressive tones or innovations than might arise from connotations with the film's director. When the film does deviate, those in the know will wonder why — why the transformation of the Billy Nolan character (played here by Alex Russell, previously by Jon Travolta) from lowly dufus into a criminal mastermind? Why the changes in Carrie's understanding of her classmates' ultimate misdeed (we won't say more, just in case you're in Category 3), or in her scenes at home to follow? To those who can't seem to get De Palma off the mind, it'll be difficult to justify these very few changes... especially in light of the overwhelming presence of his shadow cast by the new movie's decision to operate in such conjunction with everything we saw in the '76 version (even including the comic relief "gettin' ready for prom" scene). But even those without a Carrie on their shoulders will feel that this film lacks the gravity it intends. The glossy feel of this Hollywood high school robs Carrie White of her desperation, her classmates of their cruelty, and the climax of its authentic severity. The only place where Carrie does knock its powerful material out of the park is with Julianne Moore, whose Margaret White is so impressively chilling, so embedded in darkness and fear that she's genuinely difficult to watch. But in the otherwise "campy" world of this Carrie, Margaret and the third act darkness just feels dreadfully unpleasant, and to no identifiable end. What is Carrie saying and doing with all this horror? Unhooking itself from the clasps of dramatic weight, genre fun, and cinematic tribute, the film floats freely without much of an identity. Although the material is enough to get you through the movie, and the performances decent enough to at least see where a new life might have been breathed into a more inventive script, you won't leave Carrie without much in the way of answers. Just one big question: "Why did they bother?" 2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Star Sarah Paulson Discusses What '12 Years a Slave' Says About Our Society Today
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 16, 2013 2:59pm EST
    Fox Searchlight Painting such a vivid picture of a time period over 150 years in the past, 12 Years a Slave still manages to touch on universal, timeless elements of humanity — the good and the bad. Although we might not be able to imagine any connection between our present progressive society and the atrocious nightmare that was the era of American slavery, Steve McQueen's powerful drama serves not only as a haunting true story but in parts an allegory for the ways in which we still have many steps to take before achieving the liberty we strive for. Sarah Paulson, who stars in the film as Mistress Epps, the wife of slave owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), feels that 12 Years a Slave is an important piece of cinema in the necessary task of keeping these horror stories forever in our memories. In our interview with Paulson, the actress discusses the film, its influence, and working inside the mind of an indefensible character. Sarah Paulson: I was completely unfamiliar with [the story]. Of course, my hope is that now that this movie is done, and as powerful as it is, that the book that the movie is based on becomes required reading in schools. I remember being in school, and your American history book would have a chapter on slavery an inch thick, or something. To have something to go with it, to give it a very personal, specific story, would be kind of incredible. I wasn't well versed in the history of slavery in the United States, beyond what I learned in school. It's one thing to hear the facts about a time, and it's another to hear a very personalized story. It's easier that way to take in the weight and the gravity of the whole time when you can follow one person's experience. I want to talk a little bit about your character. In the movie, you have a sort of sliding scale of humanity. With the slave owners — you have Benedict Cumberbatch, who is a little bit more sympathetic. He's kinder. Still a slave owner.SP: For him, it's not even about his kindness. It's about economics. He probably, as a man, would have helped Solomon in a different way. But because of the financial loss he would withstand… but really [the film depicts] a time of economic reality, too, for the owners.  But then, on the other side, you have your character and Michael Fassbender's character, both of whom are obviously a lot crueler. I was wondering how, exactly, you viewed your character in that way. Did you see any humanity in her whatsoever?SP: I certainly didn't see the humanity in her on the page. But in terms of trying to find a way to act the part, I didn't want to just think about some sort of surface "evil." Because I don't think that's really… the cruelest person in the world doesn't walk around thinking they're the cruelest person in the world. They justify their behavior to themselves. I just decided that Mistress Epps was a product of her time. She was probably raised by racists. And because I don't think she has a certain emotional, spiritual, psychological depth of character — I don't think she's terribly self-reflective — she has limitations as far as she's willing to challenge the things she's been taught. So, instead of challenging them, she just dives right into them, and decides that her way of seeing things is the most right. In conjunction with the fact that the man she's married to is in love with another woman, who happens to be a slave on the property. And this longing that my husband has for Patsey is in plain view of everyone at the plantation, which is deeply embarrassing to her. So her way of fighting back is to try to win. She's only interested in winning, because she's so desperate, so afraid of being completely humiliated. Does that vulnerability make the character easier to play?SP: Well, it wasn't even that I could think about trying to play her vulnerably, because I didn't think of it that way. But I had to find a way to justify her thoughts, and therefore her actions. Not as a viewer watching the movie, but as an actor playing her I had to do that. Of course, watching the movie, I think that she behaves indefensibly. But still, from an acting standpoint, I had to find a way to get inside of her head. It wasn't that it made it easier, it was the only way that I could figure out the how and the why to make it work. Was there anything in particular that this movie taught you about the era of American slavery?SP: More than anything, what I think this movie taught me, was how petty everything in modern daily life can be, in terms of what we worry about how we concern ourselves, when really — especially as Americans — we have so much freedom. Not being able to get a cab 3:30 on a Friday afternoon has been in the past, and probably still will be in the future, very frustrating to me … it's just so easy to get undone by such simple things. When you see a movie like this and you experience a character like Solomon, you realize what the human spirit is capable of withstanding, and pushing through, and coming out the other side. The resiliency of that, I think, was very inspiring. That is what I take away most from the story — to try to be in the moment, and not take anything for granted. How lucky we all are, really. Was there anything specific about Solomon, or any character in the movie, that you found the most painful, or the most difficult to learn about?SP: That's why I think the movie is important. Sometimes, when you put visuals, when you put imagery to something that you read, it makes it much more powerful. It goes inside of your brain, and it's hard to let it go. When you read things, you can kind of skip over things, sometimes. It was very powerful to read the script, obviously, and the book as well, but somehow, putting Chiwetel [Ejiofor]'s face to it… the whole thing is very painful to watch, I think. The idea of a person living freely, and then being captured and held against their will, and having no recourse and no rights. It's terrifying.  I want to go back to your character again. I thought it was very interesting, because I would consider her the character with the most power in the movie. When we first meet her, Michael Fassbender is domineering over her, but then there is kind of a shift.SP: I do think that the only place that Mistress Epps has any power is in making her husband feel small. So, she uses it whenever she can. The only time a person does that is when they themselves feel really small. So I actually think she struggles with a certain inadequacy. I think she is so fearful about her standing in society and in her own home. How she's viewed. The perception. Appearances are everything to her. And she's just so deeply embarrassed by her husband's behavior, and she uses that power that she has over him — which is to belittle him and embarrass him — in front of everyone. She does it whenever she can, to feel more powerful herself. It's a delicate thing. You can't compare it to enslavement, but at the same time, women were not treated equally, and were considered less important and less valuable than men. But that still goes on today. As do all sorts of racism, as well. On the one hand, it really shows how far we've come. On another level, it shows how far we still have yet to go. Is there anything else specifically that you think 12 Years a Slave has to say, allegorically, about our society today?SP: I don't really think that it is that different. People keep saying, "Why this movie now? What's what is important about this movie?" That question is what is important about this movie. There are so many things that are analogous to today's time period. Social stature … but I don't want to speak in reductive terms about what is analogous because it was a specific time in our country's history that was a boil on the skin of our country's history. It's something that nobody wants to talk about. It's a very common human experience to not want to look back, and when you do look back, to diminish the reality of what went on. Especially when what went on was negative and horrible. The mistreatment of people by other people. SP: But it's hard. When you talk about today, we have an African-American president. I would never want to try to find things that are going on today in our society that are analogous completely to the time of slavery. But there are all these things that … continue to show that we are not as far along as we would like to be. Or as people think we are. People look back at slavery, and say, "We don't need to talk about that. We have an African-American president." Yeah, but we still have a ways to go. But I think people have decided that is a conversation that can be put to bed. And I think that is partly why this movie is unsettling to people. People don't want to know that this is what happened. And when you put it that viscerally in front of someone, you have a physical reaction to seeing some of these images, as well you should. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'New Girl' Recap: This Is Not How You Handle Nick and Jess' Relationship (Season 3, Episode 5)
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 16, 2013 10:53am EST
    FOX In the latest episode of New Girl, Nick Miller gets a big bag of money. You'd think that would result in authentic hilarity — whenever the character runs rampant with a new treasure (like his London Fog trenchcoat or his "dead dad pass"), we all reap the benefits. But when Nick comes into the possession of a monetary parcel from his father's estate in this week's episode, we break into a story about Jess discretely paying off her boyfriend's mountain of debts while he gets his portrait done (like fancy rich people are wont to do) and wastes away at his bar. A week after Nick gleefully opens up about his feelings (which should be seen as a far greater victory than "being responsible with money," in honesty), he proclaims to Jess that he refuses to change for her or for anyone else. He won't open a bank account, won't pay his bills, won't abandon his irrational hatred of all socioeconomic constructs, won't even entertain the notion of growing up. When Nick finds out that Jess has been using his cash to satisfy his unpaid bills without his knowledge, the two hit a fissure. And sure, as different as they are, Nick and Jess should come to blows over the discrepancies in their ideologies. But there are many errors in the way that "The Box" handles this kind of endeavor. For one, Jess is barely recognizable this week (save for her affection for a giant spool of yarn). She isn't operating with a pulse of her own, playing with her hypersensitivity and enthusiastic idealism in contrast to Nick's curmudgeonly and depressive mentality, but instead just as a generic voice of reason. "Pay your bills!" is not an exclamation that needs to come from Jess; fiscal responsibility is not specific to her character. And to put such a grave face on a situation that ultimately results in Nick deciding he wants to change and mature for Jess, the issue should really involve a characteristic that is unique to her very unique personality. Last week's episode would have offered a better venue for the sort of fight-epiphany-reunion that we see in the second half of "The Box." Jess is, and has been from the moment she entered our lives, someone so all-encompassingly embedded in the idea of feelings. She is not someone who is particularly embedded (at least beyond the degree of any other normal human being) in money or responsibility. And although this episode is primarily Nick's, and the conflict his to overcome, it would really be more appropriate (for a story that intends such weight) if he were to face off with Jess in her purest form, not some generic antagonist. On the other side of the episode is New Girl's even bigger misstep: Schmidt. He's a bad person. We have come to feel that he is a bad person. So no, we're not pained when we watch him struggle with the idea of being a bad person. We're not happy when we see him overcome these fears and realize that he might actually be a good person. We are... admittedly, slightly amused when he visits a rabbi (in the wonderful form of Jon Lovitz) to pontificate on how to be a better person. But Schmidt is doing nothing to win back our favor. So no, we aren't going to "care" about him or his shortcomings. Not until he proves he's worthy of that again. And I think Winston lost his cat. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //