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.
  • 'Girls' Might Be Telling the Same Story as 'Her'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 23, 2014
    HBO If you found out that all this time Adam had been some kind of artificially intelligent supercomputer, you probably wouldn’t be too shocked. But that’s not quite what we mean when we say that the Hannah-Adam story arc in Girls’ third season seems to be telling the same story as Spike Jonze’s fantastic film Her. If you haven’t seen Jonze’s movie yet, you might want to avoid this recap for fear of spoilers — we’ll tread light on Her’s plot details, but there’s a major element of the film’s conclusion that it’ll be impossible to ignore in this analysis. But just a quick refresher: recent divorcee and anxious shut-in Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) purchases the latest model of automated operating system (the voice of Scarlett Johansson), who/which advances from digital assistant to conversational comrade to intellectual equal to romantic partner to… well, that’s the rub. The technological makeup of Samantha (Johansson) is so sophisticated that she ascends from her platform as Theodore’s “perfect woman” to an entity well beyond his reach. Quickly, Samantha — once the submissive member of the relationship — outgrows Theodore and moves on to explore new folds of this awe-inspiring universe more befitting to her evolved state of being. It is this very fate that Hannah fears will sweep her and Adam once he nabs a part in the Broadway production of Major Barbara on this week’s episode. Everyone from Shoshanna to Elijah to Hannah’s bespectacled boss to Patti LuPone confront the idea of Adam landing a role on Broadway with apprehension: “This is the first step in his journey of outgrowing you,” to paraphrase Ms. LuPone, who hits Hannah with this cold hard truth during a conversation about osteoporosis medication that Hannah is repping for Condé Nast. After getting effectively LuPWNED, Hannah allows the dread of Adam’s graduation into the dazzling world of theater to fester within her, growing humbly resentful as Adam invites his charming new actor pal to the gang’s hotel party to regale everyone with folksy stories of things like Idaho. And although Adam assures Hannah that he’s not going anywhere — that he has no interest in the behind-the-scenes intrigue glamorized by Elijah, or even in “making friends” with his fellow thespians — we already see the changes taking place. Early on in the season, Adam insisted that he didn’t even really want a gig. Now, we see him nervous over auditions, offering to revise his performance for the producers, elated beyond imagination over landing the part. He’s already smitten with the idea of acting. Soon enough, we’ll see Adam fulfilling all of the fears that Hannah was granted by cranky stage legend and non-dog-owner Patti LuPone. Running parallel to the Hannah/Adam story are two other big character turns this week:Marnie’s breakup with Ray is disappointing. I really wanted to see more of these two! Let’s hope that just because their romantic union is a bust, their story together continues in some form, considering they’re both in such low places — Marnie lowers herself to hugging an old rival and eating pizza in front of a boy (the very thought), and Ray rents Bridget Jones 2 on Netflix, reads Mark Epstein’s Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, and admits sullenly to wanting a real girlfriend. In contrast, there’s a good deal of hope in the chilling relapse that overtakes Jessa once her rehab mate Jasper (Richard E. Grant) invades her routine of substance-free boredom, reintroducing her to his brand of excitement. What makes this turn feel so fresh for Jessa is its ready desperation. Although we’ve seen her in the throes of toxicity before, this seems like the closest thing to rock bottom she’s yet to experience, which could be what it takes to rid her of her dark passenger for good. At least maybe the nightmarish Jasper’s presence in her life could wake her up to the severity of her state of being. Feel free to borrow LuPWNED, by the way.
  • Review: There Really Isn't Enough Volcano in 'Pompeii'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 21, 2014
    TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection An hour and change into Pompeii, there's a volcano. You'd think there might have been a volcano throughout — you'd think that the folks inhabiting the ill-fated Italian village would have been dealing with the infamous volcano for the full 110 minutes. After all, volcano movies have worked before. Volcano, for instance. And the other one. But for some reason, Pompeii feels the need to stuff its first three quarters with coliseum battles, Ancient Rome politics, unlikely friendships, and a love story. But we don’t care. We can't care. None of it warrants our care. Where the hell is the volcano, already? To answer that: it's off to the side — rumbling. Smoking. Occasionally spiking the neighboring community with geological fissures or architectural misgivings. Pretty much executing every trick picked up in Ominous Foreshadowing 101, but never joining the story. Not until Paul W.S. Anderson shouts, "Last call," hitting us with a final 20-odd minutes of unmitigated disaster (in a good way). If you've managed to maintain a waking pulse throughout the lecture in sawdust that is Pompeii's story, then you might actually have a good time with the closing sequence. It has everything you’d expect — everything you had been expecting! — and delivers it with gusto. Torpedoes of smoke running hordes of idiot villagers out of their homes and toward whatever safety the notion of forward has to offer. Long undeveloped characters rising to the occasion to rescue hapless princesses who thought it might be a good idea to set their vacation homes at the foot of a lava-spewing mountain. The whole ordeal is actually a lot of laughs. But it amounts to a dessert just barely worth the tasteless dinner we had to force down to get there. TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection To get through the bulk of Pompeii, we recommend focusing all your attentions away from the effectively bland slave/gladiator/hero Kit Harington — sorry, Jon Snow (he's actually called a bastard at one point) — and onto his partner in crime: a scowling Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje — sorry, Mr. Eko (he and Snow actually trade valedictions by saying "I'll see you at another time, brother" at one point) — who warms up to his fellow prize fighter during their shared time in the klink, and delivers his moronic material with a sprinkle of flair. Keeping the working man down is Kiefer Sutherland — sorry, Jack Bauer — as an ostentatious Roman senator, doling out vainglory in Basil Fawlty-sized portions. When he's not spitting scowls at peasants, ol' JB is undermining the efforts of an earnest local governor Jared Harris — sorry, Lane Pryce (he actually calls someone a mad man at one point) — and his wife Carrie-Anne Moss — sorry, Katherine O'Connell from Vegas (joking! Trinity) — and finagling the douchiest marriage proposal ever toward their daughter Emily Browning — sorry, but I have no idea what she's from. But questionable television references and some enjoyably daft performances by Eko and Jack can't really make up for the heft of mindless dullness that Pompeii passes off as its narrative... until the big showstopper. In truth, the last sequence is a gem. It's fun, inviting, and energizing, and might even call into question the possibility that Pompeii is all about how futile life, love, friendship, politics, and pride are when even the most egregiously complicated of plots can be taken out in the end by a sudden volcanic eruption. But you have to wade through that egregious complication to get there, and you shouldn't expect to have too much of a good time doing so. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • This Formula Proves That Every Will Smith Movie Is Exactly the Same
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 21, 2014
    20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection "A new Will Smith movie! What's it about?" That question sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? That's because you already know. Sure, there are a few odds and ends you might not have caught wind of, but you're never totally in the dark on the plot of one of Will Smith's gestating blockbusters. Because they're all pretty much exactly the same.  Every one of the Fresh Prince's (is it reductive to still call him that?) headliners commits to a rigid formula of pieces so interchangeable that were he alive today, we know who Eli Whitney would deem his favorite Hollywood star.  Brilliance — the new movie that TheWrap is pinning to the 43-year-old actor — is no outlier: In the film, Smith plays a "gifted" government agent who saves a future society from terrorist attacks. Yes, that'll fit quite snugly into the proverbial fill-in-the-blank game that is the rest of his filmography... BAD BOYSSet in Miami in the present, Will Smith (a cop) saves the city from criminals with the help of Martin Lawrence. INDEPENDENCE DAYSet in New York and D.C. in the present, Will Smith saves the world from aliens with the help of Jeff Goldblum and the president. MEN IN BLACKSet in New York in the present and the past, Will Smith (a cop) saves the world from aliens with the help of Tommy Lee Jones. ENEMY OF THE STATESet in D.C. in the present, Will Smith saves himself from the government with the help of Gabriel Byrne. WILD WILD WESTSet in D.C. in the past, Will Smith (a cop) saves the president from a criminal with the help of Kevin Kline. I, ROBOTSet in Chicago in the future, Will Smith (a cop) saves the city from robots with the help of a robot. HITCHSet in New York in the present, Will Smith saves Kevin James from heartbreak with the help of Eva Mendes. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESSSet in San Francisco in the past, Will Smith saves his actual son from poverty with the help of hope and perseverence. I AM LEGENDSet in New York in the future, Will Smith saves himself from zombies with the help of a dog. HANCOCKSet in Los Angeles in the present, Will Smith saves the city from criminals (and himself) with the help of Jason Bateman andCharlize Theron. AFTER EARTHSet on Earth and Nova Prime in the future, Will Smith saves his actual son from aliens and animals with the help of Scientology. So that makes four New Yorks and three D.C.s, three counts of saving the city, two of the world, and two of his son, three movies that involve aliens, three that involve criminals, four movies where he's a cop... and in just about all of them, he's "gifted." Welcome to the game, Brilliance. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Trailer Puts an End to Geek Culture, Ushers in Dork Culture
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 19, 2014
    Marvel/Jimmy Kimmel Live/YouTube A wave of geek pride swept popular culture sometime in the latter half of the past decade — regrettably, long after many of us really needed it (damn those high school years). We've seen the phenomenon unfold in the form of Lucasfilm buzz, Star Trek reboots, and (most notably) the Marvel Universe on the big screen. Comic book devotees were not only seeing their favorite stories and characters take faithful shape in Disney's behemoth film franchise, but were sharing this love, for the first time, with everyone else. The mainstream. As a subtle form of counterculture against an existing blockbuster fare so devoid of brains and heart that it bordered on nihilism, Hollywood grabbed for the passion that so many comic fans had been thriving on just below the scope of public awareness. Studios stumbled upon the pure gold that had been funding comic fandom for years, enlisting not those who might dilute the nerd lexicon with accessibility, but bona fide fluent-speakers to translate the language to the big screen: Joss Whedon, Matthew Vaughn, Joe Johnston, and the like. And the result wasn't an alienation of the American majority, but its integration with the flavorful subculture that had for so long offered shelter to those otherwise homeless. At last, being one of these long ostracized few was the key to popular authority. Encyclopedic knowledge about S.H.I.E.L.D., Asgard, and the Extremis virus became a bejewled anchor that'd dock you a coveted spot in any party conversation. Being a geek — historied, analytical, and didactic about these precious worlds — was finally in. So that would make it the perfect time to launch one of the Marvel Comics world's more obscure (at least compared to Iron Man) properties, Guardians of the Galaxy. A film version of the Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning creation was first mentioned as a possibility back in 2010, ascending to the altogether surprising, exciting, and worrisome green light platform two years later, breaking public via an announcement at 2012's San Diego Comic-Con. We had only a few months prior seen The Avengers sock the American people with a regime of jingoistic solidarity that you'd ordinarily need a national tragedy to instill, but apprehensions remained: could Marvel Studios — yes, even that very Marvel Studios — get geeky enough for this wacko publication? But we might not have been asking the right question. A year and a half later, we have our first authentic taste of what the suits at Disney and their latest on-lot artisan James Gunn are offering with Guardians of the Galaxy. The trailer came forth via the good graces of Tuesday night's Jimmy Kimmel Live! (on the Mouse-handled network ABC), hitting the Internet moments later and eliciting every conceivable response from the Twittersphere: looks great, looks dumb, looks fun, looks weird, looks like magic, looks like trash, looks too... too... "Geeky" wouldn't be the right word — far from it — though no one could claim that this seemed like your average blockbuster. Its hero, a sitcom star with a new vault-load of Lego Movie money (Chris Pratt), humorously laments the meager scale of his reputation and doles out the bird without reservation. Its second-in-commands are a cool-handed assassin (Zoe Saldana) and a shirtless bulge on a perpetual revenge quest (Dave Bautista). And then there's a raccoon and a tree (the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively). A gallery of rejects, introduced by John C. Reilly and a disapproving Peter Serafinowicz all in perfect tempo with an action montage and the musical stylings of Blue Swede. It's all pretty f**king gosh darn ridiculous, as such bound to ordain contesters: the vein-deep geeks so rigidly affixed to the spirited but sincere masterworks of Stan Lee, the Avengers franchise fans confused by the apparent shift in the comic book movie machine's gears. But just as Phase I came about as an act of defiance to the stoic norm, Guardians seems to be speaking on behalf of its own breed of second-class citizen. A legion from the social culture underbelly with even less claim to fertile territory than the geeks had. This is the beginning of a new wave for dork culture. Marvel/Jimmy Kimmel Live/YouTube Call it semantics, but you'll just be proving how estranged you are from each locale (although despite what the message boards tell you, there's no shame in not being any kind of nerd). Where the geeks are proud members of a long oppressed and unappreciated kingdom, dorks are more "man without a country" types. Perhaps more accurately identified as schmoes, goons, oddballs, outcasts, dinks, freaks, or (if you want to stick with the classics) weirdos, those in the dork variety don't boast the benefits of a grounded underworld, nor a bible to which they might adhere. The dorks — proverbial loners — have only themselves. Their intellect, their sense of humor. Where many geeks stray to science fiction and fantasy, dorks stray to comedy, a medium as readily conducive to inward speculation and innovation as the comic book scene's is to outward. As such, with action and adventure laying claim to the most popular of the cinematic world's genres (and no traditionally unified voice, by nature), it's been hard for the dorks to really get their blockbuster out there. But Guardians of the Galaxy looks like it, in a number of ways. First, this is a movie about dorks, not geeks. Although The Avengers saw a spat of dissimilar heroes coming together for the greater good, that central conceit is what identifies them as members of the geek class. Separately or together, they're all part of something larger than themselves: justice. An element that is often shunned and cast away by the powers that be, but that holds strong and electric beneath the surface until inevitably erupting with righteous power. In Guardians, we have a collection of criminals. Vandals, renegades, murderers. People (and aliens, and rodents, and trees) whose only unifying quality seems to be strength in numbers, or maybe just a distaste for the very idea of authority. That doesn't mean we won't root for 'em, but you can bet it won't be the same old band-of-brothers story that we saw back in May '12. On the same token, not a one of them seems to belong anywhere. Again, we compare with the Avengers crew: Steve Rogers reigned supreme in the WWII-era American Army, Tony Stark was the Steve Jobs of his own electronics industry, Thor staked claim to a literal throne back in Asgard. But look at the Guardians: Drax the Destroyer (Bautista) lost his planet and family, Gamora (Saldana) abandons her evil upbringing in favor of an existential (albeit still quite violent) journey, nobody's heard of Peter "Star-Lord" Quill (Pratt), and... again, do we even have to say anything about the raccoon and the tree? As Serafinowicz harumphs in the trailer, this team doesn't come off as your motley band of underdog heroes. They look like "a bunch of a-holes." (Hey, maybe that's the new subculture that Guardians is aiming for.) Marvel/Jimmy Kimmel Live/YouTube Second, this is a movie for dorks. Not only is it championing the agenda of these walking, shooting, and tree-ing bags of nonsense, it's doing so with the attitude that a dork approaches his or her every thought with. Sure, The Avengers was funny — and irreverent, no doubt — but it was sincere. Genuine all the way through in everything it shepherded from source to script to screen. Guardians, as much as we can tell so far, is an explosion in goofiness. It introduces its central hero with a joke — not only at his expense, but at that of the movie itself. It undermines its own severity over and over, with cursing intergalactic agents, an eruption of '70s pop music, and a destruction of all the principles on which the ideas of traditional heroism are founded. Logically speaking, it doesn't seem like we're supposed to root for or believe in these dinguses. They don't have the inherent nobility of your geek heroes — the moral fiber that stems from a grounding in worlds of tribalistic fantasy. These guys are free agents, and the movie looks like it is embracing that in its delivery of character, story, ambiance, and comedy. And that last one is the most important indicator here. Geek culture is riddled with fun, but takes its staples very seriously. There's no room for that when you're talking about dorks. So why now? Why is a dork movement on the rise as a counter to the very uprising that dissipated mainstream nihilism? Really, its a breakdown of subcultures altogether... or a step toward this notion. Geek culture came about to usher in a "different" group. Movies had long spoken to a specific populace, ignoring the creative, deserving, eager collections of comic book aficionados. Geek culture gave rise to the Second World. But dork culture is the Third World, or maybe no World at all. The dork wave is about true individualism. No adherence to any cultural law above survivalism. Where the geeks spent decades building speakeasy churches in which to decree their gods and psalms sanct — quietly, lest the ruling classes catch wind of this heresy — the dorks have been working corners for a bite to eat, not buying into the political reign or to the defiant uprisings. Not worrying about (or successfully abetting the demands of) what demanded of either the mainstream or the geeky, just looking for the things that made them laugh, feel, and think. They haven't been looking for a band with which to take up — as if they'd be welcome into one if they had — reveling instead in inimitability... not without a healthy sum of self-loathing, mind you (again, damn those high school years). Throughout, they knew, or hoped, that they had something figured out. That someday, past the downfall of the mainstream, past the uprise of geek culture, they'd get to tell their story on the biggest screens imaginable. And it all starts here. Crank the ooga chakas. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: Inside the Muddled 'Winter's Tale,' There Is an Interesting Story
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 14, 2014
    Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection Even without having read Mark Helprin's novel Winter's Tale, I have the unshakable feeling that Akiva Goldsman's film adaptation does not do the story justice. Speckled throughout the moreover colorless movie are hints of an intriguing idea — a fantasy epic about an angel-demon bureaucracy coexisting with the human race throughout the span of 20th century New York City, operating within the parameters of a didactic miracle-granting system — an idea that doesn't come close to its full potential. In 118 minutes, we barely scratch the surface of the world in which an apparently immortal Colin Farrell finds himself. We see him cavort with Russell Crowe, a malicious gang-leader with netherworld origins, seek guidance from a mystical Pegasus, and carry out his destiny as the savior to a mysterious red-haired girl. But we never truly understand why any of this is happening. Not that it gets particularly confusing; on a plot level, it's all quite simple. But that's the problem — it shouldn't be. The central conceit of the film is that everyone is put on this Earth with a divine "mission" to uphold. Farrell's gives us the narrative of Winter's Tale, introducing the various rules and officers of the supernatural regime along the way. Abandoned as a baby and brought up under the criminal regime of a Manhattanite from Hell (Crowe), Farrell ascends from orphan to petty thief to horse whispering renegade to whimsical lover of a dying Jessica Brown Findlay to ageless messiah... all without much clarity on the nature of the story (or stories) he's occupying, save for two ham-fisted scenes of exposition — one with Graham Greene (not the dead author) and one with Jennifer Connelly, who shows up halfway through the movie for some reason. Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection The world that Farrell is woven into has so many bright spots: we're on board for miracle quests, a magic-laden New York City, flying horses, and one of the biggest stars in Hollywood giving a cameo as the epitome of evil. Everything we see is fun, but it all flutters away as quickly as it arrives. We don't want quick bites of the way angels and demons do business with one another on the streets of Manhattan, we want the whole meal. A more thorough exploration of Helprin's world wouldn't just be doubly as interesting as the thin alternative we're offered in Goldsman's adaptation, it'd also fill in all the comprehensive gaps in Farrell's emotional throughline We don't really understand so much of what happens to Farrell. Even when we're offered tangible explanations, we have no reason to understand why the Winter's Tale world works in such a way that Farrell might survive a 300-foot fall, develop amnesia, or sustain youth for a full century. What's more, we don't understand why Farrell's tale as a cog in this mystical machine is any more important than anyone else's. Or, if it's not, and we're simply asked to watch him carry out his quest as a glimpse into the vast, enigmatic system that Winter's Tale is ostensibly founded upon, we ... we don't understand enough of that world itself. Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection We're never invited close enough to any of the movie's attractive features for them to matter. So even when the movie does offer entertaining bits — in its fantastical elements, its detail of New Yorks old and new, or Farrell's admittedly charming romance with Findlay — we're not engaged enough to really connect with any of them. Still, the flying horse is pretty cool. 2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: You Should Definitely See 'Endless Love' (There's a 'But...')
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 13, 2014
    Universal Pictures via Everett Collection Endless Love has awakened something in me. Not a long dormant passion for an introverted high school classmate, or a sudden desire to break into the zoo after dark. A question about movies — more accurately, about movie criticism. The same question you would ask yourself if you fell drowsy in the middle of Citizen Kane, or welled up during the emotional climax of Just Friends. The question I ask myself now, as I recount the 103 straight minutes of asphyxiating laughter that I endured during a screening of Shana Feste’s would-be romantic drama: What makes a good movie? We assign deference to some films, disgust to others — a lucky few of us make a living this way. But what, precisely, are we reviewing? A film’s mission or its execution? The product onscreen or the experience of watching it? All factors come into play when considering whether or not a movie “works.” But on rare occasions you’ll get a film that offers no common ground in its meeting of these standards. You’ll get Endless Love, which strives for dramatic sincerity, winds up with underwritten idiocy, and provokes in its viewers an unrestrained, absurdist revelry — the kind of joy you’d otherwise be forced to seek in a third viewing of The Lego Movie. Laughter at the ill-conceived antics and befuddling dialectical patterns of our central teen couple — a Mars native Gabrielle Wilde and her gaping mouthed beau Alex Pettyfer. Elated bemusement at the younger generation’s propensity for chaotic disrobing and didactically organized dance parties. Unprecedented ecstasy at the Mafia movie intimidation tactics of an overprotective dad (Bruce Greenwood) and the brain-dead disregard of a supportive one (Robert Patrick). As a comedy, Endless Love is unstoppable. I can only hypothesize that it was not Feste’s intention to roll us in the aisles. I have no cold proof that her resolution in paving every nook in her Georgia-set remake with another farcical stone — Wilde’s instantaneous evolution from wordless ingénue to sexually aggressive spirit walker, Patrick’s loving caution-to-the-wind attitude regarding any situation that has to do with a girl, Rhys Wakefield’s “black sheep” character forming an odd amalgamation of Pauly Shore and Charlie St. Cloud — was not one of Wolf of Wall Street-like satire, or reappropriation in the vein of Spring Breakers. Here are two movies that earned scorn from viewers who read them literally, and in turn vehement defense from those who peered through the exaltation of cocaine and firearms into the filmmakers’ ironic intentions. Universal Pictures via Everett Collection To the latter community, one to which I subscribe, I ask: if we’re readily willing to dive deeper for Martin Scorsese and Harmony Korine, shouldn’t we grant Feste this benefit? If we’d defend the authenticity of the splendor we recognized in their movies, why am I inclined to write off the very same when present in this year’s Valentine’s Day cannonball? Why do I eagerly laud the merit in Leonardo DiCaprio directing Quaalude-charged tribal chants and relinquishing subhuman treatment upon anyone short a Y-chromosome, while instinctively shafting the invaluable merriment in Pettyfer’s goofily deliberate declaration that he likes to read into the category of happy accident? But an even more precise question (one I was challenged to entertain by a friend and film critic far wiser than I am), and this time to the former community: does it matter? Did it matter to all those offended by gunplay and intrusive nudity that Korine set out to demonize youth culture and its omnipresent hedonism? Did considering his intentions make the endgame any less a visceral nightmare? If not, does it matter if Feste poured her soul into the machination of a timeless love story, only to produce a riotous cinematic episode that treads genre parody as expertly as anything from the golden age of the Zucker brothers? Does it matter that she didn’t intend for Wilde and Pettyfer’s sex scene to come off as super-hoke, for every mention of cancer to feel like soap opera send-up, or for Robert Patrick’s vindication of his son’s passion for menagerie trespassing to elicit the biggest laugh of a movie yet in 2014? So long as I consider the power of cinema, I’ll never be sure if it matters. I’ll never be sure of the answers to any of these questions. But no matter where I find myself standing on this issue down the line, I had far too much fun at Endless Love — and entertained far too many questions on the nature of cinema and the way we react to it — to call it a movie that people shouldn’t see. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Why Sid Caesar's 'This Is Your Life' Parody Is Considered the Funniest Comedy Sketch Ever
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 12, 2014
    Getty Images I have watched Sid Caesar's This Is Your Life parody sketch over a dozen times. As a kid, I worked my way into Caesar's comedy by way of the more effortlessly accessible Mel Brooks. I revisited the talents of the writer and performer after his 2001 appearance on Whose Line Is It Anyway. And Caesar was hardly overlooked in my comedy writing curriculum in college. There isn't a great deal of material from Pat Weaver's Your Show of Shows, on which Caesar canonized his prowess, readily available today. Like the stand-up of Lenny Bruce, the groundbreaking variety show is only made more legendary by its dearth of preservation. But there is one sketch in particular that hasn't entirely evaded the public grasp, thanks in equal parts to good luck and the notion that the world might crumble were we to lose it forever: "This Is Your Story," the aforementioned parody sketch that starred Caesar opposite Carl Reiner and Howard Morris in a 10-minute long bout of expertly executed hysteria. If you've never seen the routine, take a few to watch in full before reading on: Long after its 1953 air date, "This Is Your Story" is lauded as one of the funniest comedy sketches in television history. To pinpoint exactly why might be futile, as comedy is more art than science (though a share of both, admittedly), but there is a word I keep going back to every time I watch, and laugh at, the skit: sincerity. The scene opens on a set of no stark dissimilarity to that of This Is Your Life. It doesn't exactly poke fun at the documentary series or contort any of its conventions, like a Saturday Night Live episode might do with Jeopardy or the evening news. In fact, everything out of Carl Reiner's (playing the nameless host) mouth from beginning to end is utterly sincere, and would fit right at home on an actual episode of the sketch's source material. He never even loses that smile once the mayhem takes hold. But this mayhem in question is not born from particularly crazy characters. In fact, it's born from a question that just about anyone who has ever seen an episode of This Is Your Life has asked: "How would I act in a situation like this?" Odds are, most of us would land closer to the behaviors exhibited in the parody than on the stuffier, more rigid, and far less sincere performances on the actual program. "This Is Your Story" feels like it was the result of Caesar, Reiner, and Weaver watching This Is Your Life and saying, "This can't be real. You know what would really happen?" And clicking with the realization of just how funny that real display would be. Of course, "This Is Your Story" doesn't shy away from ridiculous. When you've got talented comics like Caesar, Reiner, and Morris, you can translate real emotion into genius delivery and masterful physical comedy (Morris is a breakout in this sketch, latching his diminutive frame to the much larger bodies of his costars without relent). A few "gags" are tossed in — the snapshot of a grown Caesar's head on a baby's body, Caesar smooching a perfect stranger, and even Morris' character name ("Uncle Goopy!"). But all in all, the comedy here comes from honesty. The honest pandemonium that lives within each of us. Caesar once said "Comedy has to be based on truth," adding, "You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end." Perhaps his most famous sketch, "This Is Your Story" exhibits this perfectly — just how funny the real world is when we take a sincere look at it. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • The Great Greta Getwig Twitter Debate
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 12, 2014
    IFC Films Tuesday night was a dangerous time to log onto Twitter. Innocent passersby would have caught flying mortar from both sides of a fresh, rapidly heating debate: a phenomenon that will be deemed by the history books Greta Grip! or How I Learned to Stop Gerwigging Out and Meet Your Dad. See, 30-year-old writer, actor, dancer, Barnard graduate, Noah Baumbach dater, Barack Obama birthday sharer, and effectual embodiment of the contemporary dreamer's existential quest Greta Gerwig was cast as the lead of CBS' groan-worthy developing spin-off series How I Met Your Dad. The shot heard 'round the world. Just shy of nobody has been looking forward to How I Met Your Dad, obviously born from the network's mainstay How I Met Your Mother (coming to an end this March), since it was announced in the fall of 2013. On the one hand, Gerwig's involvement as its star — playing Sally, a womanchild stuck in a dead-end marriage — and possible writer, as revealed by The Hollywood Reporter, does make How I Met Your Dad inherently more appealing. On the other, many are disappointed to learn that Gerwig's future will be driven primarily by a network television sitcom that we were all ready to write off before any of this news broke. And there are plenty other hands in this fistfight. Here's a stab at a breakdown (organization-wise) of the breakdown (emotional chaos-wise) that ensued after Gerwig was announced to be CBS' new leading lady. "We're disappointed, Greta."Greta Gerwig in a network sitcom? A network sitcom spin-off? A network sitcom spin-off that sounds basically like the same exact show as the network sitcom off of which it is spinning?  "We support you, Greta."Gerwig has a right to choose whatever projects she finds interesting. "But we want you to do other things, Greta."This isn't coming from a place of malice, but love. We love Frances Ha, and want to see you spend your time making more movies like that, as opposed to shackled to the network machine. "But we want you to save television, Greta."Now that someone interesting is involved as a star and writer, maybe How I Met Your Dad won't be so bad! "But we think you're selling out, Greta!"(Here's where it started to get ugly.) "But we think there's nothing wrong with making a little dough, Greta!"With a long career ahead of you and aspirations to make creatively daring films, getting a little funding might be the best move right about now. "But WE think the only way to maintain an output of creative integrity is to say no to the machine, Greta."Or, if you're like Andy Kaufman, to just f**k with the network from the inside. But Greta Gerwig seems nice. "But WE don't even think any of these people saw your movies in theaters, Greta."Netflixing The Dish & the Spoon doesn't do her any good! "But WE blame that on the studios' unwillingness to rely on you as a brand, Greta!"And also, we were just really swamped cramming for finals when your last six movies were playing in theaters. "But WE think that the public familiarity that comes with a starring role on a network sitcom is the exact way to establish yourself as a brand, Greta!"Now our parents will know who Greta Gerwig is, and that's a good thing. "BUT WE ARE WORRIED ABOUT YOU SUCCUMBING TO THE WHIMS OF THE SYSTEM, GRETA."Don't be a cog! "BUT WE RECALL A TIME WHEN YOU WERE IN MOVIES LIKE ARTHUR AND NO STRINGS ATTACHED, GRETA."How come nobody was b**ching and moaning about that? "BECAUSE WE DIDN'T REALLY KNOW WHO YOU WERE THEN, GRETA!"I mean, we knew, we just didn't know. "NEITHER DID WE. BUT TO BE HONEST, NO STRINGS ATTACHED WASN'T AS BAD AS EVERYONE SAID IT WAS, GRETA!"It had its moments. "WELL... WHY ARE YOU GETTING SO MAD AT US!?!"Isn't chastising actors for disappointing choices what we do? Isn't that our thing?! Isn't open discussion about artistic pursuits the whole idea?! Isn't it a good thing that we're this passionate about someone like Greta Gerwig in the first place?!  "ZOOEY DESCHANEL!!!"Case in point. Things kind of hit a wall around here, without either side giving way to the other's ideas. But in the cold light of day, we can profess: we love Greta Gerwig. We think she's talented and creative and will likely breathe new life into what could have been a very stale spin-off. But we also hope this doesn't hold her back from more interesting pursuits, preferably on the big screen. So here's waiting for the next bit of Greta Gerwig news — may it be one that we can all get behind. Or at least that she's passionate about. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: 'RoboCop' Ain't Bad, Except for the RoboCop Part
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 11, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again. We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.  In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot. Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say. And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer. 2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'Girls' Recap: Ray and Marnie Are Actually Interesting!
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 09, 2014
    HBO Hannah: Art vs. Work It’s the struggle to which every aspiring artist can relate: devote yourself altogether to the craft or take the “sell-out route” and compromise your creative integrity with a paying gig in the corporate world. At least that’s one way to look at it — the perspective Hannah adopts when she signs on for an advertorial position at GQ magazine, realizing quickly that she might have just cemented herself in a lifelong position of artistic bankruptcy. Two weeks prior, Girls had us rattled over the discovery that Hannah was capable of some dark behavior (and, the really rattling thing, that we might be too). This week’s episode retreads this territory, but in much more comfortable waters. Instead of horrifying duplicity, we’re treated to a taste of Hannah’s self-involved immaturity. To reiterate, anyone in Hannah’s position this week is likely to entertain the same questions — “Is working for corporate America tantamount to abandoning my dreams? And if so, can I live with that?” — but the difference between us and Hannah (hopefully!) is our ability to ruminate logically on an idea before thrusting ourselves full force into the most destructive “solution.” Hannah insults her coworkers by insinuating that she, unlike they, is a real writer… only to learn that they have each made far more impressive creative accomplishments than she has, but work in advertorial writing because it pays the bills. Afraid of being stuck in the machine, Hannah hastily quits her new job… only to recoil moments later and beg for it once more. This is where we can (again, hopefully) separate ourselves from Hannah. Although we have all dreamt of throwing caution to the wind and delving into our passion projects full force at the expense of responsible living, we don’t. Season 3 seems like it’s trying to push Hannah as the living id — everything we would do, say, think, and feel were not for our overwhelming sense of shame… serving almost the same function as another HBO great, Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. But audiences seem to have very different degrees of appreciation for the two. Ultimately, Hannah decides to stay at her gig, and Adam’s parallel storyline of giving up his own anti-establishment convictions to take an acting gig (yes, that’s how anti-establishment he was) is likely to breed some kind of conflict between the two down the line. Ray and Marnie: A "Love" Story I’ll be honest. After last week introduced the Ray/Marnie tryst, I thought this was going to be the weakest storyline we’ve yet to see on Girls. But in pitting the diametrically oppositional characters together in this episode, Girls shows us something interesting about each. Ray is the only person in the show’s central circle who has never bought into Marnie. And although Shoshanna did a pretty good job of invoking his vulnerable side, she wasn’t a rigid enough person to really challenge him on a visceral level. Marnie, representing everything Ray hates but doing so with the conviction Shoshanna never had, seems to be making him reconsider his values and motives — admitting defeat and watching Real Housewives. Meanwhile, the icy and judgmental Marnie is herself challenged by the proverbially uncool Ray, brought down from a pedestal of standoffishness to provoke him into proving his interest in her and agreeing to have lunch with him despite her hostile insistence that he’s the antithesis of someone she’d want to spend time with. It’s interesting to see the pair attempt civility, since they are approaching one another from two incredibly distant points on the spectrum of the human value system. Ray and Shoshanna were different, sure, but it’s more interesting when the second party in a relationship is also from the planet Earth. Shoshanna... Poor Shoshanna... And now, with Ray creeping back into her mind and heart, Shoshanna is losing it — questioning her new life choices and taking up with a painfully stupid boy in the interest of getting her “serious relationship” phase on track. It probably won’t work out too well.