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.
  • 'November Man' Director Roger Donaldson May Have Predicted Drones and Stealth Submarines
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 28, 2014
    WENN/Nikki Nelson With such a hostile political climate existing beyond the scope of cinema, it takes a good deal of skill to keep the spy genre of today feeling exciting, original, and up-to-date. Director Roger Donaldson aims for this with The November Man, a film that draws from the best traditions of the genre — packing twists an employing none other than James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, to play the lead role — and employs new devices as well (this might be the first film we ever saw to use drone technology to catch a criminal). We chatted with Donaldson about the state of the genre, what role it plays in contemporary pop culture, and how films like November Man reach beyond the screen to contribute to the political scope. Roger Donaldson: I’ve done a few films in the genre. I did No Way Out many years ago, I did The Recruit with Al Pacino and Colin Farrell. I think what I love about making these sort of films, as well as seeing them, is the suspense. I'm intrigued by characters [pretending to be] somebody other than they really are ... Espionage is very much a part of our world, the real world.  Where does the real world meet the world of the spy genre? RD: I think the two are sort of intertwined. I was definitely intrigued by the idea of shooting this film in Serbia. Serbia having been at the crossroads of history, monumental moments of history, for many years. You know, the Ottoman Empire up against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Now the influences of Russia South, various parts of Europe moving towards the East. Turkish influences. Muslims moving up from Albania, Turkey. It’s still right at the crosshairs of international politics as part of the world. And yet I was sort of appalled at how ignorant I was about Serbia and Belgrade, having not been there. I’ve been to Croatia before, but my knowledge sort of came out of reporting that happened around the war 10 or 15 years ago. The reality now is very different. They’ve moved on, Croatia is now in the EU. Serbia will soon be, probably. There are still those underlying currents that are still working their way — Hungary is up against Serbia, and Austria, and Slovenia… so it’s still a fascinating part of the world. Do these kinds of movies work to teach us anything about our political climate? RD: Well, I think political thrillers often have a sense of irony, and they’re a little cynical about the goings on of how countries and interact with another. When we made this film, it was a year ago. Just in that last year, the geopolitical events that have been happening… while this movie is not ... 100 percent [reality, it] speaks to the monumental changes that are always ongoing in the world of politics. Relativity Media via Everett Collection Speaking of real world advancements, this might be the first movie I have ever seen to use drones. RD: I know. As a matter of fact, when we decided to put drones into the film, it was stuff that wasn’t quite like it is right now. I anticipated, I guess, that this sort of technology was going to become more and more important. Both in filmmaking and in [politics]. That’s one of the reasons I put it in the film; I thought it was technology that we’d see more and more of. That’s the challenge of making films about what’s happening right now. The technology is such a part of a spy story, one has to try and embrace it. You know that the technology is probably ahead of where we are already. Now, when I did No Way Out, we talked about a stealth submarine. That was just pure fiction that came out of writing the script. Some time later I was talking to somebody who was in the know, and he was like, ‘How did you know about this stealth submarine?’ Well… we didn’t! We just assumed that there would be that sort of technology and development, and that you’d try and keep things a secret. One tries to guess, sometimes, what’s out there, and sometimes when you think of the need, what technology could provide, you put it into the story… and suddenly, it does exist, because there is that need for it ... There was a period of time when military would talk to filmmakers and say, “Hey, what bright ideas have you got that could become of interest to us?” You mentioned earlier your love of twists. Is it difficult to pull off movie twists when audiences are so savvy now, and are always expecting them? RD: It is a challenge to surprise. When [people] sit down to watch a movie like this, they know there are twists in the story, and they know that twists can only come from characters that are in front of them. So they start to try and put together the scenarios of who’s going to do what to whom. So it’s a challenge as a filmmaker to keep the audience guessing, and part of the pleasure of watching a film like this is trying to be ahead of the story. “I know where it’s going to go,” and when it doesn’t go there that’s always a feeling of satisfaction from the audience, like, “I didn’t see that coming!” And yet, you also try to do it with logic, so that when it does happen, they don’t go, “Well, that was a load of bulls**t, wasn’t it?” It’s got to make sense as well as surprise them. How do you surprise the audience, how do you entertain them? And how do you, at the very end of a movie, keep it going right through? Was there ever a twist that didn't work out for you? RD: There was a twist in [No Way Out], after I had made the film, a studio executive said, “If you didn’t have that twist on the end I think you would have done more business.” And I was like, “But I wouldn’t have made the film!” That twist was what I was attracted to about doing the film. Maybe he just felt like it just didn’t need that extra twist on the end. But for me, that was the pleasure of that whole film. It surprised right up to the end. Did you ever worry that a Pierce Brosnan spy thriller would suffer from the shadow of Bond? RD: I hope it doesn’t. To me, this film has nothing to do with Bond. Pierce has real star attraction. I think there’s a side to Pierce that hasn’t been exposed in his work, and I think this film shows what an interesting, complicated character he can pull off onscreen. That was the appeal to me about working with him on this movie. Of course, that's why he's a star. Bond's one of those movies [that made him a star], and he was a spy in that movie. But the truth is, this is a very different sort of spy movie to a Bond movie. He's playing a character who's got sort of a dark side to him, too. He's been through hell and seen all sorts of things. That sort of cynicism comes to the forefront. In the scene where he's confronting the [character] that he's got hostage, that's a very demanding scene to do as an actor. I think that scene really helps the movie [become such that] you don't really know where the movie's going to go. The November Man is in theaters now. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • The Best and Weirdest of 'Friends' Fan-Fiction
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 28, 2014
    NBC Let’s not allow Jimmy Kimmel to soil the good name of Friends fan-fiction. Although the late night host’s heavily funded but halfhearted attempt at the time-honored art form warranted few laughs, it did remind us that there are plenty of worthwhile pieces of writing floating around the Internet devoted to the West Village sextet. Some are admirable in quality, others in sheer passion. And some deserve a hat tip simply because of how damn weird they are. Following Kimmel’s reunion of Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, and Lisa Kudrow, we hit the dark corners of the web to round up the strangest pieces of Friends fan-fiction we could find. Some rearrange the narrative of the beloved show in creative ways, some test the very fabrics of the laws of reality… and some simply vie to be as disturbing as conceivably possible. Take your pick. "Mondler: The Story of a Survivor" by cvlax14Or: The one where Richard attacks Monica with a baseball bat and Chandler comes to her rescue. "'Mon we really should not be doing this.''I know Chandler, it's fun sneaking around though.''That is a lot of fun, but what about you and Richard''Richard and I are having problems.''What do you mean Mon''I really shouldn't he will get mad.''Richard will get mad?''Yes Chandler I have to go I'm sorry.'Then Monica got up and walked out of my apartment. What is Richard doing to her, I thought. I wonder if Rach knows. So I got up and walked to Rachel's apartment. She was able to get an apartment two doors down from ours." [sic] Read the full story here! "The One with Joey's Daughter" by friendslover99Self-explanatory. "'You have a daughter?' asked Monica. 'Yeah' Joey replied. 'and she just moved to the apartment last week'. 'Wait, isn't Kate that actress you dated?' Chandler asked. 'Yeah. I can't believe she's dying' said Joey. 'Well, what's your daughter's name?' asked Phoebe." [sic] Read the full story here! "Prom Makes a Difference" by KateToastOr: The one where a teenage Rachel goes to prom with Ross instead of Chip, thus changing the course of their joint romantic journey entirely. "They neared the Green mansion, as people in the neighborhood called it, since it was so large. Ross felt the all-too familiar flip-flop in his stomach as he and Rachel brushed sides. It had been happening all night, specifically when they had been dancing. He was still slightly in shock that she had agreed to dance with him at all. 'Well, this is it,' Rachel said as they reached her door. She looked up at him. 'This was really nice, Ross. Thank you for bringing me.'" [sic] Read the full story here! "Ben Becomes a Man" by rachelgreengellerOr: The one where Ross’ son Ben prepares for his Bar Mitzvah, and employs the help of his father, Chandler, and Joey to find a girlfriend. "Ben sat in the rabbi's office as he read the remainder of his lesson. He was soon going to be turning thirteen. According to jewish law, he would become a man, so he would be having his bar mitzvah soon. Ross sat with Carol by his side, his face glowing with pride as his son spoke the ancient Hebrew." [sic] Read the full story here! "The One Where Chandler Finally Experiments" by JanaSelf explanatory. "Chandler didn't know how he was going to face his friend in the morning. If he was this uncomfortable, just after having a conversation, he could only imagine how awkward things would be between them if he actually took him up on his offer. It was out of the question. Sex with friends was always a bad idea, anyway. Besides, he wasn't gay. He never imagined Joey was gay, either." Read the full story here! “Neverland” by Melanie GellerOr: The one where Phoebe’s childhood and mysterious past are imagined through an extended Peter Pan metaphor. "My stilettos clatter against the sewers I dash out into the street lights, covering my face with my hood. Both Benny and I know I'll be back, I can't live without his pills. He can't live without my money. We both, therefore, cannot live without the men." Read the full story here! "TOW the Smurfs" by tini243Or: The one where everybody talks about Smurfs. "'Joey, no one had sex with Smurfette,' Monica said matter-of-factly. Grinning lewdly Joey replied, 'See, that's how bad she needs a Joey smurf.'" [sic] Read the full story here! "I'm Your Sister" by HikaroOr: The one where Ross and Monica have incestuous feelings for one another. "'Monica...for the past few days I've just been all over the place, unsure of the things I might do. And I know it's wrong, but I think...I think I want you.' She was starting to get even more speechless and infuriated by the second. He wants her? Does he not see the huge problem in that?" [sic] Read the full story (at your own risk) here! Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Answering 'Did Tony Die?' and Other Ambiguous Movie and TV Ending Questions
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 27, 2014
    HBO We got 86 hours of genre-defining television to digest, examine, ruminate on, live in, and yet we’ve still barely managed to pull our minds away from the last three seconds. The Sopranos may be regarded as the greatest dramatic TV series of all time, but four out of five conversations about the show these days surround its divisive ambiguous ending: “So what do you think,” we inevitably say to whomever we’ve found ourselves trading Sal impressions and praise of the “Pine Barrens” episode, “is Tony dead?” On Wednesday, the world found Sopranos creator David Chase’s — so fed up with the resilience of the question that he finally caved in a conversation with Vox writer Martha P. Nochimson — perspective on the matter: (and here’s his answer, for those wishing to stay in the dark) Of course, Chase maintains that his is not the definitive ruling, that each and every viewer has equal authority on the case of Tony’s survival. Personally, I’ve always held to the belief that the family man/family man never made it out of that Italian restaurant, though I’ve had friends plead the alternative with terrific cases. More important to you than what anyone else thinks (be he a fellow viewer or even the creator of the series in question) is what you think, as your experience and relationship and with the show is yours to understand as you see fit. So what do you think about The Sopranos, and other shows and movies bearing likewise ambiguous conclusions? Let us know! THE SOPRANOS: Did Tony die? Yes: As Bobby Bacala said about death, “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?” No: That would be a thematic copout! Tony lives on with the demons he’s collected. INCEPTION: Does the movie end in a dream? Yes: Leo finds himself stuck in the prison (or paradise) of his own subconscious, destined to live forever with the mental projections of his children. No: Cobb puts the incepting game behind him and returns home to the loving embrace of his children. BLADE RUNNER: Is Deckard a replicant? Yes: Just follow the unicorn. No: But the jury’s out on Harrison Ford himself. AMERICAN PSYCHO: Was it all in his head? Yes: The Bret Easton Ellis adaptation is just a metaphorical glimpse into the menace and greed that lines our materialistic society. No: That much Huey Lewis could turn anyone into a murdering lunatic. SHUTTER ISLAND: Was it all in his head? Yes: Man, Leo really needs to start playing folks with a better grip on reality than these dudes seem to have. No: Trust us, Ashcliffe ain’t no Maui. TOTAL RECALL: Okay, but was it all in HIS head?! Yes: The whole thing was a falsified memory… just like we choose to believe about the remake. No: We don’t want to live in a reality where “Consider this a divorce!” never happened. BARTON FINK: Speaking of heads, was there a head in Barton's box? Yes: What else could it be? John Goodman practically told us that outright! No: The whole episode was a conconction of the writer's own imagination anyhow. DAWN OF THE DEAD: Do Peter and Francince make it to safety? Yes: There's gotta be somewhere out there that they can lay low to wait out this nightmare. No: Humanity is doomed. They're no exception. LOST: Were they dead the whole time? Yes: Plane crashed. Passengers died. Island gave them the sort of afterlife they don’t tell you about in Hebrew school. No: What, you can’t believe in a few smoke monsters, teleporting polar bears, mystical numeric patterns, omnipotent lighthouses, and a pair of immortal twins? THE SHINING: Do you have any idea what happened at the end of that one? Yes: Sure, it’s clear as day! He — whoops, gotta go! No: For that matter, what the hell is going on in this scene?
  • Review: 'The November Man' Is Pierce Brosnan's Unremarkable Return to the Spy Game
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 27, 2014
    Relativity Media via Everett Collection We pick up with Peter Devereaux five years after the incident that convinced him to leave the CIA (the accidental killing of an innocent boy), and with Pierce Brosnan 12 years after the tragic incident that convinced him to leave MI6 (Die Another Day). As is necessarily the case with any former lawman we meet in the first act of a movie, retirement doesn’t last long, and Brosnan’s Devereaux is roped hastily into the agency’s plan to take out a Serbian crime lord. The “Every time I think I’m out…” turn of fate isn’t the only familiar trait that you’ll find in The November Man. It’s astounding that a movie leaning on contemporary politics and what has got to be one of the first cinematic uses of government drones feels as worn and unoriginal as Roger Donaldson’s spy thriller does. Relativity Media via Everett Collection Jumping jaggedly along from one action set piece to the next, November Man stocks up on a multitude of would-be visceral punches. Betrayals, emotional reveals, and twists upon twists go effectively nowhere as we zoom between hollow characters whose personal makeup is never illustrated beyond tearful close-ups or biographical exposition. Even without proper characters or cohesive themes, The November Man does manage to keep its energy up. Here and there, we’re allowed genuine interest in the multi-tiered conspiracy theory surrounding the criminals and the agents, or in the adequately delivered action. On occasion, Brosnan takes a dip in the weirder side of the emotional spectrum, enlivening his principally dormant hero Devereaux. Ultimately, what we get in November Man is unremarkable: spiting drones, Bond-lite revivals, and close-to-home war crimes alike — all delivered capably and painlessly, no less — the film doesn’t show us anything we haven’t seen — and forgotten — time and time again. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Starred Up' Avoids Cliche Drama With a Strong Human Story
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 27, 2014
    Tribeca Film It’s particularly impressive when a movie whose premise alone seems to have been written with the intention of incurring heavy gasps can actually conjure up something rather genuine. Whereas Starred Up’s central maneuver — sticking a delinquent teenager in adult prison right alongside, as it just so happens, his no good father (“Oh my!”) — seems like the kind of contrivance that entails thick melodrama and Oscar reel-friendly climactic scenes, the movie plays everything close to the ground. It favors kindling over explosives, a paced climb over vertical leaps, and — most importantly — criminal men over criminal monsters. In fact, the victory of the film is just how reasonable its characters seem from the get-go. While the crime and prison genres more often than not approach their antiheroes with the mission of giving audiences an unexpected look at the humanity within bad men, Starred Up takes the reverse — more original and perhaps more valuable — approach: slowly waking its viewers up to the badness that inflicts these humans. Tribeca Film Yes, we have an immediate understanding of how the malicious and unpredictable Eric (Jack O’Connell) wound up in prison ahead of his years, but at no point are we dealing with a character whose erraticism drags him all the way south of empathetic comprehension. Though a more patient and poised man, Eric’s father Neville (Ben Mendehlson) is too understood from all fronts: he’s a survivor whose Machiavellian instincts would have more than likely landed him in prison at one point or another. It’s this intellect and wisdom, though, that endears him to us. And to Eric. We’re not forced to wade through a marshland of temperate drama before we see Eric and Neville “finally make up.” Right off the bat, we’re given the relationship the movie wants us to see, steeped in the conversation it wants us to have: one about masculinity. Between the two men, within the contexts of Eric’s mandatory group therapy sessions with counselor Oliver (Rupert Friend) and a collection of seasoned inmates — don’t worry, this flick never goes that false and sappy route that most therapy movies employ — and scattered throughout various corners of the prison, we witness talk of masculinity. But once again, Starred Up isn’t hitting us over the head with gaudy exclamations. The power of this movie is in its lack of interest in the dramatic and its preference, instead, of the humane. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Could 'Full House' Even Exist Today?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 26, 2014
    ABC Shutting off news reports of the Iran-Contra affair, turning down the abrasive rock stylings of the Beastie Boys, and peering through the perpetual mist of airborne cocaine particles that was inherent to 1987 California, film and television director Jeff Franklin dreamed of a simpler time. A time riddled with milkmen and paperboys, a time wherein three grown imbeciles could band together to raise a triad of blonde, plucky sisters together without incurring questioning unto their judgmental capabilities. Even in a time as cynical as the late '80s and early '90s, Franklin's creation Full House managed to thrive on the simple, wholesome, drama-free bounties of pleasant West Coast tomfoolery. Back then, the Tanners and co. didn't need postmodern satire, sociopolitical undertones, sudden character deaths, love triangles, or overarching themes of any kind — they relied (and thrived) simply on being pleasant. But today would be a different story. With John Stamos pushing to revive the highly successful ABC sitcom (via TV Guide) — in the wake of the Disney Channel's creation of Girl Meets World, no less — we are looking at the considerable, albeit presently quite tentative, possibility that such an entity might in time come to be. But we can't help but wonder how a show about three ceaselessly well-meaning kooks and their frighteningly saccharine communal daughters would fare amid today's TV slate: a community of shows where crooked and criminal, if not entirely amoral, heroes and heroine are the norm rather than the exception. Cynicism is the life blood of today's TV. Even in our comedic fare — think of Community, Arrested Development, How I Met Your Mother, and even The Big Bang Theory — do we see the proclivity to mock and deconstruct, to tear apart the very fabric of shows like Full House (happy family bouncing from one typical sitcom plotline to the next week after week). Our characters aren't looking to reclaim the era of milkmen and paperboys the way Danny Tanner was, they're looking to shoot down the blind-eyed peurility upheld by this allegedly superior past. So far gone into the muck of irony is today's television viewer that Full House couldn't seem earnest no matter how hard it tried... or, better yet, how naturally earnestness came to it. ABC But even if we can accept the Tanner/Katsopolis/Gladstone/Gibbler tribe as impeccably genuine, what would be our motivation to watch week after week? Full House, so appropriately named after an immobile edifice, was a show that celebrated its static nature. Every time you set foot into that San Francisco dwelling, you were treated to the same consequence-free merriment that you caught episodes and seasons prior. Yes, this was a treat, not a relegation. But today, we yearn for that through-line momentum. We watch, if for no other reason, to find out what happens next in the chaotic and kinetic, oftentimes toxic, forward narratives of Walter White, Carrie Mathison, and Tyrion Lannister. Hell, one of the most popular shows on today is called Scandal. If that's not telling, then I don't know what is. Without even a central romance into which to sink our teeth — could we really see Danny, Joey, or any of the girls upholding one half of a riveting will-they-won't-they? — we're hardly draw to "find out what happens on the next exciting episode of Full House," at least not with the same verve to which modern TV has fueled our communal addiction. Lacking that intertwining drama, today's Full House could seem devoid of life force. Without the scathing bite of sarcasm, it could come off lazy and unclever. And with such an adherence to the traditional format — that which today's comedy routinely turns inside out for sport — it could render not nostalgic but wholly outdated. When Full House came to be in 1987, it was then a throwback, a revival of a simpler time. So what would it be now? A throwback to a throwback? A revival of a revival? A tribute to a time simpler than a time that was simpler? See, just trying to identify it feels like a lost cause. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Which Actress Has Been Nominated for 12 Emmys But Has Never Won?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 26, 2014
    Alongside a record degree of mediocrity, the 2014 Primetime Emmy Awards also marked a few records in some of its top competitive categories. Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston took home the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series trophy last night: his fourth for the role of Walter White. With this latest achievement, Cranston has tied one Dennis Franz, who has held the record of four Best Dramatic Actor Emmys solo since 1999. The milestone begs us to look back through other Emmys records: Which stars have the most wins? The most nominations? And, perhaps tragically, the most nominations without a single win? This bittersweet superlative goes to none other than Angela Lansbury, who never quite nabbed that trophy despite 12 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series nominations as Murder, She Wrote star Jessica Fletcher. NBC Not only does Lansbury claim ownership of the most nominations without a win, she also has the most nominations period in any acting category. Alan Alda, Ted Danson, and Kelsey Grammer have all earned 11 nominations in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category (for M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Frasier respectively), and Mary Tyler Moore snagged 10 Lead Actress in a Comedy nominations for her eponymous sitcom. As for supporting categories, David Hyde Pierce has taken 11 nods for his work on Frasier, while Rhea Perlman and Loretta Swit have each earned 10 comedy nominations (Cheers and M*A*S*H). Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • The Worst Moments from the 2014 Emmy Awards
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 26, 2014
    Getty Images/Michael Tran It happens every year. We go into the Emmys hoping for thrills, for surprises, for inspiration, and we come out the other side tired, bored, and begrudging Modern Family. As per usual, this year’s ceremony offered plenty of detestable moments, both in the form of award snubs and onstage bits that don’t seem to have been thought through. In all honesty, a comprehensive list of the things that incurred violent eye rolls at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards would take even longer to read than the never-ending show did to watch, so here’s a roundup of the top achievements in the organization’s unparalleled artistry of regret: the worst moments from this year’s Emmys. Why, Weird Al, why? Shortly after reminding us of his irreverent genius with the release of the long-awaited studio album Mandatory Fun, Weird Al Yankovic took the Emmys stage mid-ceremony to perform a patchwork of quick, lazy parodies to the theme songs of the night’s various nominated comedy and drama programs (most notably Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Modern Family). None of the obvious, haphazard lyrics lived up to Al’s established ingenuity, barely earning a laugh throughout the act. Does anybody else hear wind chimes? The average Emmy viewer began to question his own sanity last night when the program began inscrutably ringing wind chimes to mark the victories of some of its big winners. The perplexing, noxious sound was enough to institute a subconscious resentment of whatever party had just taken the stage to collect his or her golden statue. We thought we were happy for Bryan Cranston until a high-pitched clanging washed the whole episode in general unpleasantness. Now we can’t even remember who we were rooting for! Aren't we over Sherlock? In its inceptive years, Sherlock was an interesting, fun, and inviting new miniseries. But this past season, the writing observed a qualitative decline and the acting showed off nothing new. With so many interesting and talented players up against Martin Freeman (the entire Normal Heart supporting cast) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, and the Fargo fellas... including his own costar Freeman, who we'd rather have seen win for the FX series than for the BBC detective show) and writer Steven Moffat, we can't really sign off on this year's wins. That one off-putting clip in the Robin Williams tribute We don’t mean to cast a foul shadow over the heartfelt remembrance of Robin Williams, but we can’t help but find it odd that the Emmys chose to include a clip of him affecting racial stereotypes among its rather short montage of his material. With so much standup gold, late night circuit merriment, and Mork and Mindy treasure to choose from, why stoop to such a questionable selection? Do you see Rosco now, Stephen? Is he in the room with us? We’ve spent years enjoying Stephen Colbert’s contribution to the political satire circuit, and plan to enjoy many more beside him as he graduates to hosting The Late Show. But every once in a while, the comic mastermind throws out a clunker, namely his “imaginary friend” shtick that earned (duly) zero laughs. Colbert stretched a weird one-note joke much longer than we hoped he would when he prattled on about the lack of appreciation for his invisible costar Rosco. It didn’t have the cleverness or imagination of Colbert’s usual esoteric material… it was just silly and, quite frankly, dumb. Hey, Emmys, you guys see that new show Orange Is the New Black? You could make viable cases for Louie and Veep as the deserving owners of this year’s Outstanding Comedy Series Award, but a little part of each of us was rooting for Orange Is the New Black. Speaking sociopolitically, the Netflix series is offering its viewers more progressive characters, relationships, and situations than Modern Family is so often credited with doing: while the ABC sitcom relegates its gay and Latina characters to jokes about home décor and mispronunciation, OITNB actually celebrates and explores its roster’s diversity sincerely… and it manages to be funny all the while. Stop milking the folksiness! Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey are both talented actors, a fact exhibited most prominently by their partnership on HBO's True Detective. And while we may love them as actors, and even perhaps as celebrities, they both seem to be milking their fame for all its worth. Sure, an entertaining routine is welcome in any awards show presentation, but Harrelson and McConaughey seemed to have eschewed a written-and-rehearsed comedy bit in favor of a few moments of self-serving rabbelrousing.   The general air of predictability Yes, many of us were ecstatic for Breaking Bad stars Cranston, Anna Gunn, and Jesse Pinkman. No, we don't have the energy to maintain fury over the victories of Modern Family and Jim Parsons year after year. It's just the complete lack of suspense, surprise, or even the pretense of possibility that can be a little bit numbing to those tuning in. Do we really live in such a formulaic time for artistic expression? Doesn't it eat at us to accept that invention and originality, projects that actually challenge us, are so seldom rewarded, while the same shows and stars year after year are granted accolades for keeping us comfortable? Can't we... eh, who cares, at least we finally have our Simpsons marathon. And the very worst moment of this or, quite possibly, any Emmys ceremony... The Award goes to... Sofia Vergara, for The Epitome of Sexist Objectification! There's a fine line between parody and reality, between upholding reprehensible behavior satirically and doing so earnestly. But the Emmys' Sofia Vergara-on-a-spinning-pedestal bit does not come close to that line. It lives far, far to one side, happily resting in its own sexist comforts, where women are deemed objects and the very idea of questioning the validity in this viewpoint is worthy of chuckles. The Modern Family star stood happily atop a rotating platform, devolving to little more than something to gawk at while her partner in crime, Chairman of the Television Academy Bruce Rosenblum, giddily mocked the idea that what they were doing was at all problematic. That's bad. Gwen Stefani mispronouncing "Colbert"-levels bad. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'To Be Takei' Shows Us the Professional, Personal, and Political Sides of George Takei
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 26, 2014
    Josiah True/ WENN It’s more than likely that your first interactions with George Takei took place aboard the Starship Enterprise. The then little-known actor boarded Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking Star Trek series at age 29, working to redefine both his own career and the way that Asians and Asian Americans would be depicted on television forever. It’s also a rather fair bet that your most recent taste of Takei came in the form of social media: Now 74, the film and television veteran has gained a refreshed notability for his amicable presence on Twitter and Facebook, where he is known to share a wide variety of visual and verbal gags as well as his inspiring messages of tolerance and progressive thought. But there is a whole lot of Takei in between the early days of Sulu and the current era of hashtagged witticisms, and that is vast middle section is chronicled in the new documentary To Be Takei. The third feature-length project from filmmaker Jennifer M. Kroot, whose previous endeavors include the 2003 sci-fi/fantasy Sirens of the 23rd Century and the 2009 biographical doc It Came from Kuchar, details the professional achievements, political activism, and personal life of Takei, who proves to be as accomplished as he is downright likable. The weight with which Kroot approaches the three principal aspects of Kroot’s life tends to vary, leaning in favor of his work for gay rights, but we find ourselves duly engrossed in his personal and professional stories just the same. The ProfessionalWe learn quite a bit about Takei’s own perspective on his early works (the pre-Sulu days), particularly those that he finds retroactively repugnant due to their embrace of racial stereotyping. Takei recounts the days when the only roles an Asian-American actor might procure were demeaning or even vilifying — clips from Green Berets, Which Way to the Front, and familiar small screen titles like Mission: Impossible and Perry Mason showcase some of Takei’s earlier, more regrettable turns… ones that he was forced to endure in order to make a name for himself in the far more regressive ‘60s and ‘70s. The PersonalConsidering his family’s personal history, it’s no surprise that Takei has taken particular efforts to quell the negative depiction of Asians and Asian Americans in the United States. In Takei’s childhood, he and his family were imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp, as was not unusual for immigrants and American citizens of Asian descent during World War II. To Be Takei offers a great deal of heartrending footage devoted to Takei describing his family’s hardships during this period — the Hollywood legend illustrates his indomitable admiration for his parents, who exhibited charity and strength of will throughout the nightmare. But the documentary also pays due attention to the lighter side of Takei’s personal journey, showcasing his relationship with husband Brad Altman: the love of his life… and occasional victim of his ceaseless brutal honesty (at one point, Altman laments Takei’s proclivity for telling people when they have gained a bit of weight, a habit that George himself doesn’t seem to find problematic). Perhaps the most enjoyable bits in the film are those that allow the audience to watch Takei and Altman spend lazy days together, joking and bickering, showing off their complementary incurable merriment (George) and high-strung neuroses (Brad). It’s charming, it’s funny, and it’s indicative of real, healthy love. The PoliticalFinally, there wouldn’t be much of a story if Takei had not become such a prominent figure in the fight for a more progressive attitude toward ethnic minorities and gay men and women. We see Takei’s spotlighted wedding to Brad (conducted by friend and former colleague Nichelle Nichols), his acceptance of a variety of awards recognizing his work in the area of LGBT rights, and — perhaps his greatest sociopolitical contribution to date — his public lambasting of William Shatner. No matter when and where you met Takei, be it back during his journeys across the galaxies or amid one of his recent highly celebrated punny tweets, your interests in the man as an actor, a public figure, and a man will be sated by the cheerful, informative doc To Be Takei. Check out the film in select theaters or on VOD now.
  • Emmys 2014: Billy Crystal Gets Personal in His Tribute to Robin Williams
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 25, 2014
    ABC  Following the Emmys' traditional In Memorium segment, honoring a collection of television greats who sadly passed away over the course of this past year, the ceremony paid individual tribute to a particularly beloved figure: Robin Williams. Billy Crystal, a friend and colleague of Williams', took the stage to speak personally about the comedic genius. Crystal spoke wistfully of Williams' great line of works, of his many successful endeavors to make the world a funnier place. But the highlight of his well-crafted speech came from his own life experience, spending time with his pal Robin at Comic Relief events and family functions. Crystal remembered attending a charity baseball game with fish-out-of-water Williams, who made up for his own lack of familiarity with the sport by inventing a Russian character and tossing jokes about professional ballplaying in his home country. Furthermore, Crystal recounted with adoration Williams' penchant for joking around with Billy's older relatives, describing our cherished star as always ready with a gag, no matter the situation. Crystal illustrated just how much fun Williams had with bits like these, citing such an example as the sort of shtick that would fill his eyes with light. Following Crystal's speech, the ceremony offered clips of Williams' work on the late night circuit, on sitcom TV, and on the live stage. Despite the odd choice that was one clip of Williams performing a comedy routine about racial stereotypes (why opt for such material when he's got legions of more admirable gold to choose from?), we can't help but remember the great contribution Williams made to comedy the world over.