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.
  • '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 //
  • 'The Heat' Stars Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo Talk About How Jews Are Funny No Matter Where You're From
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 15, 2013 7:05pm EST
    Getty Those diligent followers of improvisational comedy will likely know the names Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo, the Boston-born comedians who have taken to the stage internationally and created and starred in the satirical Ronna and Beverly television series. Speaking to Chaffin and Denbo, who appear in memorable roles in the acclaimed comedy The Heat, we instantly understand how their partnership allowed their careers to blossom: the two play off one another like lifelong friends. Chalking this up to a common language and, even more simply, the ability to make one another laugh, Chaffin and Denbo have a lot to say about comedy in general. With experience in sketch comedy, television, and film — working in cities like Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and London — Chaffin and Denbo are a requisite for any aspiring comic looking to learn all that he or she can about the craft. The pair gave us some insight about their origins and using them to construct a brand of comedy that seems to transcend cultural barriers, about working on director Paul Feig's outstanding Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy buddy cop comedy (which is now available on Blu-ray), and about the rattling conversation that seems to follow movies like The Heat about whether or not women are funny. The discussion will enlighten you. On the beginnings of their partnership and working together in the comedy world… Jessica Chaffin: We both grew up just outside of Boston. I grew up in Newton, Jamie grew up in Swampscott. My grandmother actually lived in the town next to Jamie's, so we were kind of living these parallel childhoods even though we didn't know each other. But we had, basically, all the same kinds of influences and references and knew the same kinds of women. Twenty years later or 15 years later, we both found ourselves in New York doing improv. Jamie did improv in college — Jamie Denbo: Anything that doesn’t involve homework, or memorization. JC: I was the exact opposite. I was doing homework a lot, and not doing comedy. And then we both ended up at the UCB Theater, so that's how we met initially. Jamie got there a year before me, so we weren't always performing together. We'd do special shows together. Actually, one of the shows that we did together — before we started doing Ronna and Beverly, which was several years later — was this show called Wicked F**kin Queeyah, where all the improvisers from Boston would do a show together during the Del Close Marathon. And I would say that's probably where our common language found its first footing. Then we both moved to L.A. around the same time. It was Christmas in L.A., and the guy that was running — the artistic director at the time, Seth Morris, a very talented and funny comedian and actor in his own right — said, "Hey, are you Jews gonna be around?" And we said yes, and he said, "Do you wanna do a show called Kosher Christmas?" So we said, "Let's do something together." We had never done something together, but I think we had admired each other from across the room." In Boston, there's this thing called the Matzo Ball. I think they do it in a lot of major cities. Christmas Eve is like Jewish Valentine's Day. So basically, all the Jews go out that night. Your mother drops you off and hopes you get the number of a pre-med student — a pre-pre-med student, meaning a 16-year-old who may or may not have done very well on his SATs. So what really happens is, you go there and you're like, "I thought I hated all these boys and now I hate them more." Jamie and I both have non-Jewish partners. But I would say that's how we exorcised those demons. [But] where do you put it all? It became Ronna and Beverly. We basically said we wanted to do something that has to do with singles. We ate a tube of cookie dough and talked about it. She was like, "I wanna be this person," and I was like, "I wanna be this person." We decided to basically make fun of these women who had been making us laugh for our entire lives. On transforming their backgrounds into a career in comedy… It's a funny circle. We left Boston to go be performers… and now, all these years later, the things that still make us laugh harder than anything are the people that we grew up around. So, we joke that we play either really high status Jewish mothers or we play scumbags. We were very lucky to get to do that in The Heat. JD: We get to do both with Paul Feig, which is pretty great. JC: He directed our pilot for Showtime in 2009. That's how we met him. We've continued a relationship with him, and he produced our show that we did in England — the Ronna and Beverly show — but also, he put us in The Heat and gave us a forum to do our nonsense. It was great. We had a terrific time. JD: They always say in comedy, the more specific, the more universal. I think what happens when you get really specific about where you're from or who you are, something in that is able to reach people about their own specific quirks, and they just enjoy it for what it is. I say that because we've had such a diverse audience. Specifically for Ronna and Beverly, where we've done Telluride Comedy Festivals year after year, and we've performed all over England and had a television series there. These are not places where you'd think, "Oh, they'll completely understand Boston and Jews." I don't know that they do. But something in it connects with them. And the overbearing matriarch, the judgmental matriarch, the embarrassing matriarch — those are universal. So, when you fill it with your specifics, you're able to surprise them with new jokes. It's been really fun for us to introduce the world to the quirky, quirky, crazy stuff that is very specific to Boston Jews. It's a WASPy kind of Jew. JC: I was going to say… everyone thinks [of] New Yorkers. "That's a Jew." No, there's Southern Jews and Boston Jews and Chicago Jews. There's such a specific thing to each of those… in Boston, actually, people assimilated much more quickly than they did in New York, probably because there were fewer of them. You had to just jump into the stream, whereas in New York there was a bit more of a ghettoization. The Lower East Side, or Brooklyn, or whatever. I'm getting too deep into the etymology of that kind of language. Basically, one [universality] is the matriarchal archetype that Jamie is talking about. But also, ultimately, the reason why these women are so funny to us is because it's the complete lack of self-awareness and self-consciousness about what they do. They feel completely entitled to their opinion at all times, and they feel that everybody should either know it or share it. What we're essentially doing, because we are young people playing old people, is satire. It's happening on two levels. Yeah, it's funny to watch those old women, but we put it through the prism of how we feel about how they behave, or how they treat us, or how racist they are, or whatever it is. That's what it is, I think, that people respond to. On bringing their comedy to film, specifically in The Heat… JC: I think that was always great about it. You work on a huge movie, with a huge budget, and huge movie stars. I actually think this is a real credit to Paul — you could be doing a Funny or Die video for free, or for like 12 bucks, or you could be working on a huge multimillion dollar movie, and the actual act of doing the part, the process, feels very similar. I give credit to Paul, making everybody feel comfortable, and giving you the arena to do what you do best. JD: I also think that it starts on the page. The great thing about The Heat is that it was a great script and it was something in the area of what we do and already connect with. So we were really able to have a blast feeling confident that we could bring what we already knew to the table, and make whatever adjustments we had to make. Driving Sandra Bullock crazy, her character — that's not a situation that we've had onstage. We haven't had the opportunity to make her nuts or intimidate her or try to make her laugh. It was so fun to be able to do that, it really was. Honestly, especially now that I've just seen Gravity, I'm like, "We f**ked with her! That was fun!" JC: I also think shooting in Boston [made] the whole thing so cool. It's the greatest set that you can dress: the entire city. You get to see these characters in their natural habitat. It's this weird "What's real and what's not real?" thing. I think that was super fun and super satisfying. Actually, that's why I think Joey McIntyre is so fabulous in the movie, too. JD: What a doll. JC: He brings such an authenticity to it. JD: He never let that part of him fall by the wayside. That's just who he is. It's something he's proud of. On Paul Feig's understanding of the language of comedy… JD: He's really, really brilliant, and has incredibly confidence in his performers. I don't say that because he just lets everybody run wild. There's a reason he has chosen to work with Melissa McCarthy over and over and over again. Part of that is because he is very confident that when he lets her do what she does, he's going get everything and more. I'm not saying he's not a control freak. It is a controlled environment. But at the same time, he lets people have a certain amount of control, and it makes you a confident performer. It's this great circle of confidence. JC: I remember the first day. The very first thing we shot in the movie was my scene when I come down the stairs. You had Melissa — who is such a formidable talent, and who you admire and adore, and who is boundary-less in how far she'll take something — and Sandra — who is a huge movie star. On the one hand, it's really intimidating. On the other hand, Jamie and I work together all the time and have a common language. All the boys that were on the [set] — Nate Corddry is a really old friend of ours, Joey is a really old friend of ours. Bill [Burr] we met there, but it was immediate. We get each other. So on the one hand, you're totally comfortable, on the other hand, it's terrifying. You never know, when you have a small part, how much you can do — that's one of the things actors don't talk about. You just show up and think everyone is friendly and nice and awesome. When you have a small part, you just want to go and do it and get it done with and not f**k anything up for anybody else. I said to Paul, "I just need to know where the boundaries are. How far can I go? How much time can I take? Just let me know what you want me to do." And he said, "I want you to be yourself. Take it as far as you can." When I was coming down the stairs, he kept being like, "Even slower, even slower." Like, the slowest walk down the stairs that you can possibly do. I don't think I even quite got there. But that was so freeing. And to do such a crazy melee of a scene — Jamie is running out of the car, and we're getting in a fight. We probably did that for three hours. I think that set the pace for the rest of the movie. "Oh, we can totally have fun and play and do our thing!" I think that made it easy for us. On the infamous conversation about women being "not funny"… JD: Blah, blah, blah. You know what? You can quote me. Women aren't funny. They're just not. Everybody wins. There you go. JC: We just think people are either funny or they're not. How do you know? You either f**king laugh or you don't. We don't ever think about being women while we're working. I'm not trying out my new period jokes on Jamie. "I hope that this one lands!" We just crack each other up. Actually, that's the secret to our overall relationship and collaboration. We really make each other laugh. We're not laughing at each other because I'm like, "Oh my God, her boobs are so funny!" when she's running around on stage. No. It's your brain. It either turns somebody on or it doesn't. The rest of it is people that are just, I guess, scared. JD: I agree, except with the caveat that Jessica's boobs are very funny when they are running around onstage. JC: You're right. I apologize. That's something men don't have. Funny boobs. JD: Ha. Suck it, men. You're not as funny as women because your boobs aren't funny. JC: Did your boobs get their own credit in the movie, Adam Carolla? JD: No they did not. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: '12 Years a Slave' Is an Unbelievably Powerful and Human Story of Tragedy and Hope Alike
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 15, 2013 2:01pm EST
    At the center of 12 Years a Slave is Solomon Northrup, whose story will likely be sold to you — by those boasting of this movie's power — as the pinnacle of human tragedy. A free black man living in New York during the first half of the 19th century, Northrup is kidnapped, taken from his wife and children, transported below the Mason-Dixon line, and sold into slavery. Where he remains for the following 12 years. Intelligent, compassionate, sophisticated, and ostensibly closer in upbringing and psychology to any of us watching the feature than the lifelong slaves we'll meet along the way, we're suggested to identify immediately with Chiwetel Ejiofor's lead character, to assign our heightened sympathies to his new sweep of tragedy, to feel that what happened to Solomon is beyond the traditional horrors of this dark period of American history. But Solomon's familiarity doesn't serve to separate him from the rest of the men and women robbed of their lives and humanity in 12 Years a Slave, but instead to escort us right into the midst of this universal nightmare. It places us among the enslaved souls — it's not just in body that they are prisoners — more effectively than any other film that has attempted to emanate these themes. Spanning Solomon's decade of enslavement with domineering patience, the movie is able to make everything in this corrosive old world so vivid. Hurdling between hope and hopelessness, survivalism and principle, Solomon (called "Pratt" by his slaveowners and fellow workers) struggles to figure out how to make it not only through but past his plantation days and return to his family. It is a mission that never quite reaches impossibility to him as the time crawls on, as he is dealt the sort of tragedies the man he once was — a violinist, community fixture, and father of two — seemed happy to refrain from imagining, while men and women miles to the south of him were living within them. Fox Searchlight This will that we never see quite fade from Solomon's eyes comes from his having something very real to hope for, to live for. It is, more than the characteristics with which we can comfortably identify, what makes him 12 Years a Slave's hero. But as piercingly sad as Solomon's story is, his is not the most tragic. Through Solomon — who is not only an effectual confidant to us but to many other characters in the film as well, slaves and slaveowners alike — we are invited into a world entirely barren of his sort of drive: the heart of fellow slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), a dutiful young woman and the target of her master's (Michael Fassbender) unrelenting lust. In Solomon's story, we cry over the idea of him never returning home to his family. Of him incurring tortures so malignant as to eviscerate the very man he was at the beginning of our time with him. In the story of Patsey, with whom we spend quite a good deal of time once she is introduced upon Solomon's transport to Edwin Epps' (Fassbender) plantation, we cry because there is hardly any spirit left to destroy. And trust me, the crying is inevitable. In a film filled with scenes of physical torment so mortifying that they'll promise to rob you of breath and a settled stomach, it is a testament to director Steve McQueen and his cast that the elements that truly stay with you are the internal horrors. Young Patsey's destitute heart. Even the pangs of Epps, starved for any semblance of self-worth as he claws at the souls of himself and every living being around him. There's nary a corner of this film that is not drenched in the bottomless sorrow intrinsic of the era. The very fabric of 12 Years a Slave is hopelessness. And at the center of that is Solomon — the river of hope coursing through this broken terrain. Although we'll face his narrative with reflexive gasps, it is his story to which we align because we can see hope in it. Something to fight for, something to live for. It is because of Solomon, because of Ejiofor's masterful depiction of the real-life man and because of McQueen's enforcement of his unbelievable story, that we are able to stomach the thought of entering this horrible, miserable world. And that's a good thing. Because once we're in there, we see these horrors, these miseries in a form that we aren't likely to have seen them before. Yes, we've all been enlightened unto the depletive hell that was the era of American slavery. But perhaps never, at least through cinema, have we been placed so vividly among the human beings who suffered through it. 5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'How I Met Your Mother' Recap: Robin Vs. The Stinsons (Season 9, Episode 5)
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 15, 2013 11:25am EST
    ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Far too often, How I Met Your Mother presents an opportunity to really dive into the psychological maladies of its characters, coming up short in favor of a cozy ending and a few quick laughs. The saving grace of this week's "The Poker Game" is that it concludes its calamitous plotline with a cliffhanger, so that we may very well revisit the central conflict of Robin coming to blows with Barney's family in a valid fashion. But we'll approach this with cautious optimism. During the pre-marital poker game (to which all parties, including Robin, are invited), Barney's recently divorced brother James barks repetitive affirmations that marriage is for the birds, leading Robin to get fed up and nab the wedding ring to which James is still clinging desperately via a well-executed bet. As a result, James brings in his and Barney's mother to put Robin in her place, but Ms. Scherbatsky one-ups the Stinson family matriarch. As such, bad blood boils between the bride and her husband-to-be's family. The real conflict, however, is between Robin and Barney, who refuses to take sides despite Robin's assertions that their marriage means that the two of them must be a team. In Barney's anxious proclamations that he cannot betray his family and Robin's deliberate belief that she should take priority over James and Loretta, we see hints of the characters' backgrounds. But hints that never really come to fruition in this episode. We know that Barney has always been a very sad, lonely young man. That he had few friends, no father, an unfaithful girlfriend, and a shady, tie-wearing role model. His only consistencies, before meeting Ted, Marshall, Lily, and ultimately Robin, were his mom and brother. A pair of whom he always spoke so highly, who he has always valued above all. In fact, the regularly venemous Barney has shown a consistent soft spot for his family — perhaps the first element that was used to showcase an inner humanity in the character. Robin, on the other hand, has quite the different relationship with her family. Her dad was emotionally abusive and disapproving. Her mother is barely mentioned. Her connection to her younger sister is tenuous at best. In her family, Robin always found pain and alienation. She looked to friends and relationships for comfort. In fact, the idea of "family" being such a nightmare to her might explain her long apprehensions about marriage, and almost definitely her heated aversion to having children. With family being so far below Barney on her list of priorities, Robin cannot understand how Barney could possibly choose his mom and brother over her.  How I Met Your Mother didn't grapple with any of these character constructs, never talking about either of the pair's upbringings while delivering the conflict. Since the episode caps with Robin and Loretta still at odds, we might yet see the true reasons behind their respective ideologies come to life. But we're not going to get too optimistic, here... On the other side of things, the episode revealed a decade-long feud that has been brewing beneath the surface between Marshall and Ted over wedding gifts and thank you cards. This whole time, Marshall and Lily have believed that Ted didn't buy them a wedding gift; meanwhile, Ted resented them for not sending him a thank you card for said wedding gift, which it turns out he did buy and deliver. Very silly. Very funny. Good HIMYM B-plot material. But will the show get meaty in delving into Robin and Barney's familial issues next week? We hope, but we doubt it. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'The Walking Dead' Season Premiere: What Is in Store for Season 4?
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 14, 2013 10:43am EST
    Frank Ockenfels/AMC If you caught the premiere, or even the promotional material, for The Walking Dead's fourth season, then you know a bit about the year to come. The main takeaways: there's a whole new community of Woodburians living amongst the original troupe in the jail. They're operating under the rule of a democratic council. Rick, a part of said council, is losing his mind. But all that hits the fan when there's a breach. The episode closes with a hint of said breach — one of the new youths falls dead inside the jail after suffering from what was assumed to be stress-induced nausea, but is in truth presumably the same infection that killed good ol' Carl's recently deceased pet pig. All the while, missions to town cost the group a plucky teenager, Michonne strategizes where to find the missing Governor, and Rick is provoked (by a wanton woman struggling to survive in the woods) to wonder whether or not he can truly recover from all of the things he's done and experienced. As is the function of most season premieres, Sunday night's hour serves primarily as set-up: both for the state of affairs at the prison, the courses of action being cooked up by certain individuals therein, and the internal struggles suffered by others. So is any of it promising? GOOD SIGNS-We're cracking the shell of Michonne. As she hones in on the Governor in her decidedly militaristic fashion, we also see her make fun of Daryl and bond with Carl over a mutual love of comic books.-Speaking of Daryl, a one-off conversation with a now-deceased camp-mate asserts that we might learn (or at least explore) a little bit more about who he was before the outbreak. Is homicide detective really out of the question?-Carol, on a steady incline from her defeated position circa Season 1, is secretly teaching the young camp residents about weapons and survivalism. Assuredly, and against Rick's rules. BAD SIGNS-The emotional and psychological struggle exhibited by Rick, via his encounter with a woman broken over the loss of her husband, isn't much new for Walking Dead. It's not a complete miss, but it doesn't bring anything to the table that feels like we haven't gone through it before. But maybe that's the point — exhausting redundancy does feel like a sentiment you'd undertake during the zombie apocalypse.-Perhaps one of our graphic novel-literate readers can enlighten us unto this: if the camp has been compromised, then does this mean the entire community will hit the road together? Seems like a heavy mass to carry. And if not, why bother having introduced this whole town if only to discard them so quickly? And that leads into the biggest problem:-Too... many... characters. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: 'Escape from Tomorrow' Breaks the Rules of Filmmaking to Result in Something Magical
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 11, 2013 2:56pm EST
    Mankurt Media So. You wanna make a movie. A Disney movie. A Disney movie that you don't want Disney to have any idea you're making... even though you're making it on the heavily guarded grounds of their Florida-based amusement emporium. You want this movie to plunge into the dark, dark crevasses of the human psyche. You want it to showcase the most base and horrible things with which our imaginations are so vindictively plagued. And you want to transpose that on top of the happinesses we're programmed to pretend we occupy day after day. Better yet, the peak of that happiness: the place and time when we're supposed to be at our purest. Our most magical. Disney World. You want to show just how much darkness lurks under that facade. You want to pull back the curtain on a time-honored tentpole, revealing the nightmare lurking on the other side. This is a story you want to tell, and you want to do it at the expense of the most powerful company on the face of the planet... right under said company's nose. That about covers the rules that filmmaker Randy Moore breaks off camera, secretly shooting his guerilla-style indie Escape from Tomorrow at Disney World and Disneyland, and taking the project to Korea for the editing process. But what's just as impressive as Moore's death-defying venture is how he plays with the form of everything we think of as a "movie" on camera as well. We might have been just as startled by a straight horror film that uses Mickey Mouse as its central monster, but we're all the more in awe of the product of Moore's unadulterated creativity — a movie that disbands from the structures of any genre with which our society is familiar and delivers something that ebbs and flows in a wobbly, chilling, comical, and nauseating fashion as would the mind of a fellow who really was lapsing into insanity while on vacation with his family. Mankurt Media It's the only way to tell this sort of story, really — the simple story of a man who approaches would-be purity to find it decaying, and to find himself decaying as a result... or vice-versa. Something comfortably resembling a linear narrative wouldn't have the jarring and playful audacity that Escape from Tomorrow offers in its tale of the recently fired, sexually perverse, and psychologically fragile Jim (Roy Abramsohn). It would make revelations of sneering Disney animatronics, living witches, and other sinister elements lurking beneath the park function more like plot twists than snowball explosions of human fear, hate, and sadness. Moore's story doesn't seem to start and end so much as it does simply open a window into something that exists infinitely. It's simply a highly effective, unbelievably fun look at darkness. When discussing the movie, we're bound to talk at length about the absurd backstory behind production — Moore and his cast's evasion of Disney security guards and their clandestine forays into production. But just as unusual and artistically inspiring is how Moore plays with the very fabrics of creative filmmaking. So impressive is this picture in its ability to keep making its viewer gasp at the utter, brave unbelievability of what is going on onscreen. His movie, unlike many others (especially anything featuring Disney princesses) is a rule-breaker. And in busting out from the confines of the normal, he gives us something very close to magic. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: An Outstanding Tom Hanks Keeps 'Captain Phillips' Afloat as a Strong Thriller
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 11, 2013 11:56am EST
    Columbia There are certain genres of film that we approach with extreme prejudice, one of which being the thriller. The terminology alone suggests something that glues you to the edge of your seat and robs you of your suggested dose of oxygen, but that might not tug at the heartstrings or get any major new thoughts or questions brewing. But a good thriller, one that really works, cannot exist without the emotional or intellectual weight we'd readily assign to our favorite dramas. A good thriller is not simply well-shot footraces across Boston rooftops or ominous music booming over an ad-hoc gunfight. A good thriller comes when you have a character — someone you've grown to know and understand and care about and really want to see make it out of this whole ordeal okay — like Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips. As the titular seaman charged with delivering food and goods to underfed African civilians and a New England-affected family man alike, Hanks commands every ounce of our attention and love with every humble, humane gesture. As a professional, he's a dutiful sort, out to do a job he believes in, and playing the amicable leader to his troupe of fellow sailors. As a man, he regrets every second that he's not back in Vermont with his wife (Catherine Keener) and growing children. And as a hero — which he eventually is called upon to be when a boat of desperate, impoverished young men from Somalia board his ship with guns in hand, hoping for the biggest cash-out they can manage — he is the very best kind. Hanks doesn't play Richard Phillips with stealth, but intellect. His tactics in dealing with the foursome of gun-wielding pirates aren't that of a cagey action hero getting off on outsmarting his opponents, but a collected man trying to assuage a horrible situation as best he can. Where most thrillers opt to have their pseudo-James Bonds stay one step ahead of their screen partners and audiences alike, we are right there with Hanks all the way through. We're not supposed to be in awe of him, but to be empathetic to him. Everything Phillips does, we're on board. He makes all the right choices, which makes his ultimate incarceration by the pirates to be all the more harrowing. What Captain Phillips has at its disposal is the best man for this sort of job — having made a career out of being not necessarily awe-inspiring as much as engagingly relatable, Hanks is perfect for the sort of hero a "thriller" calls for: someone in whose shoes we can put ourselves. Sporting an accent that hearkens back to thoughts of cabin vacations, Maple syrup, and Ben and Jerry's, Hanks carries himself with responsibility, squinting at the world with befuddled wisdom, and lending importance to his every task. And when he's seized beyond his control, it doesn't feel like a leading or a distant stranger is in jeopardy. Columbia While the movie rests squarely on Hanks' shoulders, he shares screen time with the indubitably impressive young newcomers to film who play his captors. Barkhad Abdi leads the team as Muse, a man who has all but convinced himself that he's a modern day Robin Hood working toward a justice his family and friends deserve. Abdi stays a villain throughout, but never veers too far from feeling himself like a victim — he respects Phillips' lot, takes his strategic but genuine words to heart, and even seems to resent his own choices at some points. Where the film dips a bit is in its supporting staff: Abdi's fellow pirates, though acted with similar aptitude by first timers Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali, never stray too far from their single dimensions, playing the innocent, the bad bad guy, and the one that steers the getaway, respectively. Back at the military base assigned to rescue Phillips, the elements are even thinner. It is not only the characters but the scenes in full that feel like they are ripped straight from a high-budget Navy actioner, carrying the ambiance and dialogue of Michael Bay filler scenes. But luckily, we spend the majority of our time with Hanks, contained in the clutches of the conflicted Abdi and the increasingly enraged Ahmed — as long as we're in their presence, we're invested. And this alone tells us what makes an effective thriller: the character — the reason to believe that what's going on is important. The time-tested Hanks has this skill readily available in every one of his films, with Captain Phillips being no exception. Thanks to him, we don't just have what we've come to think of as your standard thriller. We have a movie that, through its imposing stakes and weight, actually thrills. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Returning to 'Glee' for a Heartbreaking Goodbye to Cory Monteith
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 11, 2013 10:32am EST
    Adam Rose/FOX Looking at Glee's latest episode, its tribute to recently deceased star Cory Monteith, with any large sum of objectivity would be an act of futility. It is almost impossible to separate yourself, your own feelings about the character, the actor, his cause of death, about your loved ones, about death, when watching an episode as powerful (albeit not flawless) as "The Quarterback." It's hard to have a reaction to this particular episode that is anything short of wholly personal. So here that is. I returned to Glee this season after a two-year absence, having fallen out of love with the program early on in Season 3. Appreciating musical theater, reveling in the dark wit, and relating (as most Internet writers probably do) to the feeling of high school ostracism, I took a lot of delight in the early, pithy days of the series. Returning for Season 5 out of professional obligation, a love for The Beatles, and a hope for a cathartic influx of tears regarding Monteith's passing (one that I got, in spades), I found myself unfamiliar with some of the new characters and plot points. But the themes carried out in this episode in particular were recognizable ones. Surprised to see that Kurt would have no solo song of his own, I was relieved when the narrative opened through his internal voiceover, lamenting the death of his step-brother and returning to Ohio for the funeral. Two years after I had severed ties with Glee, Kurt was still in awe of the superman (I believe he uses that very terminology) that his crush-turned-friend-turned-brother always seemed to be. Unconditionally strong in character. Remembering fondly the difficult, dense relationship shared by Finn and Puck, I was pleased to see how Glee handled this corner of the story: with troublemaker Noah feeling as though he had lost his beacon of integrity, his Jiminy Cricket, and fearing his own descent into any number of unimaginable horror stories as a result. Puck's turn in the episode is perhaps the most interesting. As we all tend to be in regards to the passing of a loved one, he is worried about himself. It is not aa maliciously selfish quality to uphold, but a natural one. The people we care about aren't always independent entities — because of their importance to, and effect on, us, they become functions of us. Part of us. Without this part of him, perhaps the best part, Puck worries that he's only left with the bad. Similarly, Santana cannot bring herself to be the kind of person she would have liked to for Finn, and for all those others who loved him. Having maintained a vicious air as a defense mechanism for so long, she finds it most difficult at this point to drop this guard, despite wanting to, so very badly. And no, despite efforts, she doesn't exactly bring her wishes to fruition. That is what seems most effective about Glee's tribute. Yes, people come together — Coach Beiste takes care of Puck, Kurt looks out for Santana, Emma tries to provide comfort for Mr. Schu — but people also lash out. Everyone, out of grief and prejudice, is diabolically unkind to Puck. Mr. Schu is dishonest and disloyal to his students in his theft of Finn's Letterman jacket. Sue keeps her revolving door of venom spinning toward everyone, eventually relieving herself of the weight of the same defense mechanism that plagues Santana when she is brought to admit that she thought so highly of Finn. There is a lot of imperfection in the way these people behave. And that's the best way to go about something like this, because it rings the most true. Of course, we're waiting the whole episode through for Rachel to make an appearance, which she does towards the end. She sings. She offers smiles and tears to Mr. Schu. Then she retreats to not knowing what she'll do next and not being certain that things can ever be okay again. It doesn't end on the same uplifting or hopeful note for her that characters like Puck and Santana are treated to. That, again, is honest. We don't know if she'll be okay. Just like we don't know, when someone close to us dies, if we will. And in this authetnticity, we find a really grounded tribute to Finn, and to Cory. For all its flaws — the two big ones being no appearance of Diana Agron, whose character was so important to Monteith's, and the bare minimum of focus on Finn's mother — we can call "The Quarterback" really touching: wholly sad, wholly real, wholly honest. There is no appropriate way to organize comfort in the wake of a loved one's death, but the most essential, most healthy, most powerful was to approach the tragedy is with honesty. And for this, those returning fans and those who've been loyal through the seasons can pay thanks to Glee for this tribute. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'Romeo and Juliet' Inspires Our Gallery of Actors Who Got Started in Shakespeare
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 10, 2013 5:53pm EST
    Warner Bros With a new iteration of one of William Shakespeare's most noteworthy plays coming to theaters, we have to think back upon the long line of Hollywood favorites who've given their time to the Bard. Carlo Carlei's Romeo and Juliet fills its cast with acting vets and showbiz newcomers alike, the latter joining an esteemed community of thespians who got their start reciting Shakespeare's Modern English. When delving into the list of our favorite big screen mavens with backgrounds playing Shakespeare, we noticed quite an interesing pattern: so many of those to come out of Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, and more went on to start in the Harry Potter franchise. And since we're just as devoted to J.K. Rowling as we are to her fellow Englishman, we've compiled a gallery paying homage to these great double-threats. The wonderful men and women who've traversed through Verona and Hogwarts alike. Check out the gallery, and catch the newest version of Romeo and Juliet in theaters on Friday. GALLERY: Actors Who Got Started in Shakespeare — Harry Potter Edition! Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Julian Assange Tells Benedict Cumberbatch How Terrible 'The Fifth Estate' Is, But in Such a Classy Way!
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 10, 2013 12:59pm EST
    DreamWorks It takes a special kind of charm to tell somebody that the project he's been working on is a piece of garbage and still come off like a perfect gentleman. Back in January, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, received contact from one Benedict Cumberbatch — the actor tapped to portray the controversial figure in The Fifth Estate. Fellow class act Cumberbatch was hoping to get in touch with Assange to better prepare for and develop the role. But the Australian activist refused to meet with the actor, castigating the developing picture as a work of lies and a deliberate assault on his character and life's work. But, and we say this sincerely: Assange was really, really smooth about it. Nearly 10 months later, Assange posts his response to Cumberbatch's request on WikiLeaks, remaining respectful of the performer (he even says he's a fan of his work... of course, this note was written before Star Trek Into Darkness came out) but directing no dearth of enmity toward The Fifth Estate. Assange even pleads with Cumberbatch, in the letter, to emancipate himself from the project (a suggestion the actor clearly did not heed). The first few paragraphs of the essay are printed below, with the full document available to read back on WikiLeaks. Check it out, it makes for quite the interesting read. We're all going to start using the idiom "jobbing actor" far more often. Dear Benedict,Thank you for trying to contact me. It is the first approach by anyone from the Dreamworks production to me or WikiLeaks.My assistants communicated your request to me, and I have given it a lot of thought and examined your previous work, which I am fond of.I think I would enjoy meeting you.The bond that develops between an actor and a living subject is significant.If the film reaches distribution we will forever be correlated in the public imagination. Our paths will be forever entwined. Each of us will be granted standing to comment on the other for many years to come and others will compare our characters and trajectories.But I must speak directly.I hope that you will take such directness as a mark of respect, and not as an unkindness.I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film.I do not believe it is going to be positive for me or the people I care about.I believe that it is going to be overwhelmingly negative for me and the people I care about.It is based on a deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organisation.In other circumstances this vendetta may have gone away, but our conflict with the United States government and the establishment press has created a patronage and commissioning market – powerful, if unpopular – for works and comments that are harmful to us. Read the rest back at WikiLeaks. The Fifth Estate hits American theaters on Oct. 18. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //