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.
  • A Tribute to the Master: Philip Seymour Hoffman, an Actor of Every Kind
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 02, 2014
    WENN PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN could earn a warm welcome into nearly any discussion about acting. You might kick off conversation about the awards appeal of Daniel Day-Lewis or the maniacal devotion of Joaquin Phoenix, but in mentioning these or any other of today’s foremost acting talents, you’d be compelled to divert attention to the player we lovingly called PSH. But the topcoat lining Hoffman’s stardom was always a little bit softer that those of his peers. Despite the due praise Hoffman has garnered from the public and the cinematic community alike, he would never be called a movie star. Not an Oscar shoe-in. Why? Because Hoffman was a craft actor — so invested that the very notion of performance was the furthest thing from the minds of anyone watching him found a role. Hoffman wouldn’t just create characters, but entire worlds around him. Upon stages built by creative giants like Charlie Kaufman, the Coen Brothers, and his frequent collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson, Hoffman apprehended every vacant molecule of the stories he was helping to tell, injecting his color and meat therein. One thing that distinguishes Hoffman from the powerhouses of his stature is the absence of a standout role. To some, Hoffman solidified his genius as Lancaster Dodd, Anderson’s titular Master. Others remain tortured by Hoffman’s turn in the 1995 drama Happiness, wherein he topped the lot of haunting performances by challenging the lengths to which an actor might exemplify human corrosion. But the darker side of storytelling did not keep a stronghold on Hoffman — finding his big screen footing in the action favorite Twister, Hoffman experimented with joy just as often, and to results just as fruitful. Few can forget the stiff shoulders of Jeffrey Lebowski’s pasty, perturbed lackey Brandt, a would-be throwaway character who Hoffman turned into one of the Coen comedy’s funniest elements. And while nobody is rallying for Along Came Polly’s placement in the cinematic hall of fame, just try and claim you didn’t crack a smile at Hoffman’s introductory pratfall, or his climactic boardroom speech. Hoffman could make any material watchable. But quickly enough, studios and directors learned that he was a force that could turn great material into unprecedented screen work. As such, there are so many viable answers to the “What’s your favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman performance?” question. Friends and colleagues to whom I have posed the quandary this afternoon have cited everything from Capote to The Savages to Twister to Magnolia to his aforementioned comic bout in The Big Lebowski. For me, it will always be Synecdoche, New York — a movie that dared to tackle the boundless regimens of art, life, time, and sadness in such a vast way, and that through the unique power and humility of Hoffman did so with such articulation. There are actors who offer tremendous spectacle, who can thrill the masses with a one sheet alone, who live up to the demands of the Academy year after year. Hoffman might not have topped any of these lists, but he pervaded every single one of these conversations — and this versatility is something few actors, even the best of the best, have managed. He has excelled at the dramatic, the chilling, the goofy, and the humane. Every corner of the cinematic world provided him an easel for genius. And now, looking back at his career of adventure flicks, comedies, psychological dramas, and probing stories of the human condition, we realize that there was no type of performance at which Philip Seymour Hoffman was not, in truth, a master. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Here's Some Other People We Thought Shouldn't Be in Superhero Movies When They Were Cast
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jan 31, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection Let's get one thing straight — we're on board with Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor, and you can read all about why here. And even though we understand some hesitation over accepting the casting as spot on, we're hoping everyone who's growing hostile over the news will think back to a few instances in the past: times when some genre newcomer was given a high profile comic book character, earning shade from the masses until eventually proving him or herself to be terrific in the role. Don't forget, we weren't always on board with... Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (X-Men)In a 1999 write-up of the casting, Ain't It Cool News postulated that Jackman's acceptance of Marvel's Logan character would be "one of the world's greatest horrible decisions," citing all of Australia as the source of this prediction. Seven movies later, and the 45-year-old actor hasn't been traded in for a younger model. There is only one Wolverine. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man (Iron Man)The Killer Movies forum was filled to the brim with negativity back in 2006, lamenting the news of Downey Jr. taking on the titular role for Marvel's first Iron Man feature. The scope of doubt ranged from "Right now, I say bad choice but we will see," to "I'm not comfortable with it in the least," to "I don't think he should be any movie he sucks big time." [sic] Today, the tenuous threat of Downey not appearing in The Avengers 2 was enough to give people serious panic. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America (Captain America: The First Avenger)Those tuned into the superhero world knew Evans for his role in the lackluster Fantastic Four movies, and didn't have much faith that he could do better as Cap. The nay-saying went so far as to incite a Petition to Remove Chris Evans as Captain America. I think we can all say that we're pleased this never made its way to Feige's office.  Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk (The Avengers)Just about everyone in the comments section of this Screenrant article, announcing Mark Ruffalo as the third actor in nine years to take on the role of Bruce Banner, was displeased with Marvel's decision to replace their previous Hulk, Edward Norton. Post-Avengers, very few still consider Ruffalo a victim of Norton's shadow — he was better. Some improved material sure didn't hurt. Heath Ledger as Joker (The Dark Knight)I know we're going out of order here, but this one really drives the point home. Everyone hated the idea of the kid from 10 Things I Hate About You playing Bruce Wayne's most feared, menacing villain in the greatest Batman series yet to hit the silver screen — hell, we don't even need a citation, just think back to any conversation you had after hearing about this back in 2007. Nobody believed in this (except my friend Ben, to be honest), but the late Ledger tops lists now as greatest superhero villain in movie history. So don't cast out our Adventureland pal just yet. He could have a few tricks up his sleeve... not like in Now You See Me, in a good way. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: 'Labor Day' Is Confusingly, Hilariously, Painfully Bad
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jan 31, 2014
    Paramount via Everett Collection Three sleepless nights and a coffee-fueled morning after Labor Day, and I'm still waiting for the kicker. The reversal, the twist, the big reveal that Jason Reitman — a talented filmmaker and prodigious wordsmith who managed such sophisticated character material in each of his previous movies — wasn't actually telling the story I understood it to be. That I missed something altogether, some nectar of honesty buried beneath layers of theatrical pie crust. Owing to the respect I have for Reitman, his starring players Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, and a few fellow film critics who saw beauty in Labor Day, I'll keep on entertaining the idea that I overlooked the picture's authenticity. But for now, I've got to give benefit of the doubt to my senses — hey, we all have deadlines — and concude: this movie is full of s**t. This is no victimless crime, as Labor Day sets us up in the household of depression- and anxiety-ridden Adele (Winslet) and her 12-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith), promising a tale we never get to hear. The film jumps right into the former's struggles with stinging mental illness and what appears to be a blossoming Oedipus complex in the latter — in The Wonder Years-style narration delivered by a flu-ridden Tobey Maguire, Henry proudly affirms that his mother is his whole life: he gives her back rubs, runs her baths, takes her on dates, and asserts himself her ad hoc husband to eradicate the loneliness that cripples her so (Clark Gregg plays Henry's absent father, a "Buck up, sport" type dad who lives across town with his "better" family). On one of their monthly outings to the Piggly Wiggly, or whatever — the film takes place in a 1987 that you'd swear was actually 1959 — Adele and Henry happen upon Frank (Brolin), a blood-soaked menace on the lam who makes tacit threats at Henry's safety to convince the rattled mother to allow him room and board until he can make a spring for the border. And then, of course, they fall in love. Once Frank is settled into Adele's spacey Massachusetts two-story, he reveals himself the perfect man who fixes leaks, tends gardens, bakes pies, and whisks the shaken woman out of her decaying shell. It's clear why she takes to him — Frank is a heaven-sent gender reversal of the Natalie Portmans and Kirsten Dunsts and Zooey Deschanels who have fallen from the sky to turn things around for their broken beaus with spontaneity and singing and hamster funerals and cupcakes. In Frank's case, pies. I really can't overemphasize the position of the pies in this movie. They're everywhere. Past the point of keeping Frank hidden from those pesky neighbors, it doesn't really serve as much concern to Adele — or, far less forgivably, to the movie itself — that he's an escaped con who threatened her son's life in order to earn a place to hide from the cops. Labor Day is not interested in redemption or excuse for Frank; it goes so far as to insist that we're wrong for distrusting him in the first place. But no. This guy, for all his redeeming qualities, is a problem. Paramount via Everett Collection Labor Day is even less interested in honing the authenticity of its other adult lead, Adele, who earns Frank's attention for no discernible reason other than that she seemed vulnerable enough to con into taking him back to her place. After that? Guilt, maybe. A knight-in-shining-armor syndrome that keeps him attracted to such an open wound. Just as Frank lives up to the one-dimensional angelicism of the aforementioned heroines of modern cinema, Adele is the counterpart to their boyfriends. Vacant and passive, just waiting to be saved by people who have nothing going on inside of them other than the drive to play savior. On top of that, she's got a pretty volatile emotional illness in full swing. But it's nothing love can't cure, right? With so much wrong to cover in regards to the movie's central love story, I haven't even gotten to Henry yet: the good-natured, sexually curious middle schooler through whom the story is told. Although Henry at least has a real relationship with Frank, who stands in as dad and teaches him to play baseball, fix a car, and — of course — bake pies, every one of the boy's interesting conceits that is teased by the movie gets tossed out in favor of... well, that's the million dollar question. We're introduced to Henry through what appears to be a complex relationship with his mother, whom he views in part as a wife — without payoff, or even exploration, this is just some odd and incomplete stuff with which to open a movie. His distrust of Frank is entertained, but discarded almost immediately thereafter. Just about everything that might serve as character work for Henry is dealt with in the film's 3-minute epilogue. Spoilers: there are pies involved. If it weren't for the severity of the characters' flimsiness, you might not risk an occuluar injury from all the eye rolls provoked by the ridiculous plot maneuvers this movie cranks out. We're talking doors left ajar, oblivious bank tellers, and the idea that James Van Der Beek can be accepted as a police officer materializing at the summit of the film's dramatic climax. All this, not to mention some atrociously goofy dialogue, feels like it was rescued from Nicholas Sparks' waste basket — only in glimmers of Jason Reitman's usual shtick through a loquacious tertiary character (Brighid Fleming playing "Psuedo Juno") who institutes far more narrative turns than she really should are you reminded of whose movie you expected to be watching. And these slight reminders might be why Labor Day is such an aggressive failure: it had potential. At the onset of the film, we thought we were diving into something juicy. When things get more ridiculous than you can accept, you convince yourself that it's all going to pay off with an honest, deconstructive revelation. But three days later, I'm still looking for what I missed. The disclosure of the true activity behind the false, theatrical curtain. But there doesn't seem to be anything there: just flat characters, an ill-conceived romance, dead-end arcs, and so many motherf**king pies. 1.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Our Favorite Friendships on 'Parks and Recreation'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jan 30, 2014
    NBC Universal Media Pawnee on the whole will feel a little bit emptier without Ann Perkins and Chris Trager, but there are two residents of the sleepy Indiana town who be feel particularly sad to see the expectant parents go: Leslie and Ben. After Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe bid their farewells to Parks and Recreation on this week's episode, we'll be seeing the show try every trick in the book to keep Ms. Knope and Mr. Wyatt from spiraling into a state of bestfriendless insanity. We've seen Leslie and Ann's relationship blossom from the early days of perplexed annoyance to unremitting love, and we've reveled in the established Ben/Chris camaraderie that never made much sense but always felt authentic. Luckily, we've seen Leslie and Ben explore plenty of other terrific friendships over these past seven years, but if we had to pick a favorite pairing for each... LESLIE AND... 6. JERRY: To be honest, we're a little over the whole "dump on Jerry" routine. Stop changing his name, at the very least. 5. TOM: Some laughs here and there, but there hasn't been enough evolution with the hypercompetent boss/slacker right-hand-man shtick to keep it fresh. 4. ANDY: Leslie and Andy had an fun rapport in the early days, with Leslie taking Andy under her wing and turning his life around, but their stories have been few and far between lately. Plus, they might be a little too compatible to be truly interesting as a pair. 3. DONNA: Leslie and Donna are from two entirely different worlds, to the point where Leslie is bewildered by a great deal of the things that Donna says and does. The fact that they maintain a warm chemistry despite this makes for a terrific, albeit underdeveloped, relationship. 2. APRIL: Call it big sister/little sister, or probably more accurately sprightly math tutor/underachieving ninth grader who secretly envies the former's drive even if she might skip out early to smoke cigarettes behind the laundromat. Either way, there's something extremely heartwarming about the Leslie/April dynamic (and if you disagree, watch the Season 3 episode "Fancy Party," wherein April admits, softly, that she loves her boss and role model). 1. RON: The big guns. The oddest coupling of the lot is the greatest friendship on the show, save maybe for Leslie and Ann. The eternally frowning Ron has doled out fatherly advice to the anxious Leslie, in turn receiving the sort of compassion to which he was never treated by his parents or wives. Although only one of them would ever admit it, Leslie and Ron love, need, and complete each other in a very special way, and it's always touching to see them exemplify that. NBC Universal Media BEN AND... 6. DONNA: I guess I like when she calls him "Wyatt," but there's not much going on there. 5. JERRY: Ben might actually be the only person who shows Jerry any semblance of kindness, so he gets a point for that. Still uninteresting though. 4. ANDY: Yeah, they have their moments, but whereas some odd couplings on this show derive comedy and charm from a place of unexpected internal similarities, Andy and Ben are really just a giant happy-go-lucky goofball and an uptight cynic forced to band together on occasion. Not a lot of terrific work has been done with the pairing. 3. RON: What's kind of wonderful about this one is that we still get the feeling that Ben is terrified of Ron. He has no reason to be, and does showcase a lot of respect and appreciation for Ron, but it's hilarious nonetheless. Plus, there's also the tacit understanding that Ron has deemed Ben the only person good enough for his pal Leslie... so there's that nice bit, too. 2. APRIL: Another silver medal for April! Though their rapport might be a little bit contentious, you get the sense that April and Ben enjoy a tacit bond over the shared knowledge that they are smarter than nearly everybody else around them. There's a mutual respect there... even if it's buried under a jungle of barbs (mostly in one direction). 1. TOM: Far too underused, the Tom/Ben dynamic we saw flourish at the end of Season 3 is a personal favorite. Both "outsiders" who don't quite feel at home in Pawnee, both acutely in tune with their own respective subcultures, and both men of meager stature (we have to stick together, you know). Few interractions are funnier or more charming than Ben and Tom defending their respective outfits  But how could we not devote a little valediction to... 2. BEN AND CHRIS: Two weirdoes forced to travel the world (or Indiana) together, complementing one anothers' signature style and bonding over their shared social ineptitude. While Ben and Chris might not always seem to be sensible pals, we've seen each of them come through for the other, and we can actually feel the longstanding friendship they've shared since before we met either of them. 1. LESLIE AND ANN: Here it is, people. A story that began in the pilot, closing now as Ann heads off to have her baby in Bloomington. Leslie and Ann aren't quite the odd couple that Leslie and Ron or Ben and Tom are, but that doesn't make them any less interesting. Since we met her, Ann has been someone on a quest to figure herself out. Someone who fit in everywhere she went, but who never really knew who she was. On the other hand, we have Leslie: someone who knows exactly who she is, but who doesn't seem to belong anywhere. It's really meaningful that the two women met due to a pit that needed filling, because that is exactly what they did for each other. Internally. Like, in an emotional way. Does that metaphor work? Ah, who cares. We'll miss you, Ann. But not as much as Leslie will. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • What Is Really Behind the 'Alone Yet Not Alone' Oscar Nomination Reversal?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jan 30, 2014
    Alone Yet Not Alone/Facebook Alone Yet Not Alone gets an Oscar nod — controversy stirs. The Oscars take the nod away — controversy grows. The just-shy-of-unknown picture earned a Best Original Song nomination for its title number, "Alone Yet Not Alone," written by Dennis Spiegel (lyrics) and Bruce Broughton (music). Technically speaking, the nomination should furrow some brows: For one, Alone Yet Not Alone only had a 21-day (and largely overlooked) theatrical run in 2013, a move to option it for awards eligibility — enough to color the film with a puzzling rouge, maybe, but not quite to support accusations of wrongful nomination... as proven by the fact that a yet unnamed organization hired a private investigator to confirm the legitimacy of Alone's eligibility. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the investigation — which focused specifically on the existence of print advertisements during its theatrical run, which are necessary for a film aiming for an award — deemed the film A-OK for nomination. Far more important is the official reason for the song's disqualification: a specific degree of campaigning conducted by Broughton, who just so happens to be a former Academy governor. Reports following the removal of "Alone Yet Not Alone" from the nominees list share a message sent by Broughton to Oscar voters during nominations week, courtesy of CBS News. Anybody who remembers Melissa Leo's Best Supporting Actress candidacy back in 2010 knows that awards campaigning is hardly taboo practice. Off-putting, maybe, but not against the rules, which is why the official ruling on Broughton's actions might perplex. According to Academy President Cheryl Boone, it wasn't so much what he did, but who he was. The mere fact that Broughton's name, as a former Academy governor, appeared at the head of the aforesaid email would have been enough to sway voters, as she articulates in her statement: "No matter how well-intentioned the communication, using one's position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one's own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage." Unsurprisingly, Broughton has responded with dismay, affirming that his intentions were never to use his professional history to sway voters, but only to ensure their awareness of the film and song, a practice he asserts is within the parameters of traditional Oscar campaining. So... who's right? An even more pressing question might be if there were any additional factors that went into the decision to oust the Alone Yet Not Alone title song from the running. Although the above mentioned private investigation was conducted, presumably, by a third party (Cinemablend writer Sean O'Connell jokes — or hypothesizes? — that "it's got to be the people behind Inside Llewyn Davis"), it indicates the overarching suspicion associated with Alone But Not Alone's nomination from the beginning. When you take a look at the film itself, you might understand the contentious feelings. Alone Yet Not Alone is a self-decreed "faith-based" film that has garnered criticism for manipulative religious viewpoints and racist depictions of Native Americans. Before even stirring unrest over its eligibility, the new publicity for Alone Yet Not Alone stirred allegations of prejudice. And we've got to wonder if the public response to the film being considered for an Oscar in any way influenced the Academy's decision to pull the plug. Already the nature of the debate is shaky. Some are defending the legality of Broughton's actions (like Hitfix columnist Kristopher Tapley) and highlighting arbitrariness in the Academy's decision. And considering the holes in the organization's defense of the nomination removal as well as the private investigation and the Alone But Not Alone outcry that preceded this new development, we're left to question just what factors pushed the Academy into such a rare action, and to ask ourselves if whatever feelings we may have about Alone But Not Alone should in fact impact our outlook on its disqualification. Again: who's right? Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Rejected TV References from President Obama's State of the Union Address
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jan 29, 2014
    AMC Wednesday night treated America to President Barack Obama's fifth State of the Union address, a speech lined with criticism of our country's immigration system, economic policies, and established plans about how to move forward regarding the Middle East crisis. But towards the tail end of the speech, the Commander-in-Chief spouted a moment of levity, proving himself to be (at the very least) this generation's president when he tossed in a television reference. And no, not a square one, like Bush Sr.'s castigation of The Simpsons — Obama made a Mad Men joke. "Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work," the president said. "She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode. This year, let’s all come together — Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street — to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds." The proclamation invoked a sweeping applause in house and throughout the country — there's nothing like a good new media allusion to drive home a point. But less is more, in this case. We have it on good (fake) authority that Obama had to edit out a few other television references from the first draft of his latest SOTU... Getty - "Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine. But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates — through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors — from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications.  And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall. And if you think that's impressive, let me tell you about a simple chemistry teacher who turned himself into a billionaire by pioneering his own crystal meth empire..." - "Today in America ... a farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history. A rural doctor gave a young child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford. A man took the bus home from the graveyard shift, bone-tired but dreaming big dreams for his son. And in tight-knit communities across America, fathers and mothers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, remember fallen comrades, and give thanks for being home from a war that, after 12 long years, is finally coming to an end... just like How I Met Your Mother. Thank God, am I right? Seriously, that show feels like it's been on forever. Come on, Ted, finish the story already." - "Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all. I mean, look at Marnie. She can't even hold a job at Ray's coffee shop — and no, Boehner, it doesn't count as a spoiler if it's been 48 hours since the episode aired!" - "Tonight, I ask every business leader in America to join us and to do the same — because we are stronger when America fields a full team. Even if you get a lousy draft, you can always propose an eight-way trade. That's what Ruxin has taught us." - "These negotiations will be difficult.  They may not succeed.  We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away.  But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb.  If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today. And if Francis Underwood can convince all of those people to keep their mouths shut about that murder... dammit, Boehner, it's been like a year, catch up already!" - "What Andra and her employees experienced is how it should be for every employer — and every job seeker.  So tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now. Like spying, and killing, and planting bugs in Senators' offices in the name of Mother Russia ... you guys get it? That's a The Americans joke. Because I said "Americans." They're spies. You guys watch that show? No? It's pretty good." - "My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might — but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them. And that's why we are the most a-mah-zing country in the world ... God, I miss Happy Endings." If only... Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • How Elizabeth Banks Can Make 'Pitch Perfect 2' Better Than the Mean-Spirited, Bigoted 'Pitch Perfect'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jan 28, 2014
    Universal via Everett Collection Somewhere inside of Pitch Perfect there exists the movie it wants to be. Buried beneath the scathing send-ups of the dreamer genre, there are actual dreamers. Ones we're charged to root for — after all, we are hinged to their story about "making it to regionals," or whatever — but that we can't. Because the film itself refuses to do so. At once, it's a celebration of the socially disbarred and a satire of all the sugar-coated entertainment that has been devoted to it... okay, mostly Glee. And while this marriage isn't necessarily doomed, too often does Pitch Perfect find itself torn between asking us to root for its heroes and asking us to laugh at its victims (the same people). We can't say for sure whether something was lost in translation from script to screen, or of Kay Cannon's original screenplay was laden with the troubles we find on the screen, but we're hoping that the upcoming sequel's new director, actress Elizabeth Banks, can figure out her animal better than first installment helmer Jason Moore could. In order to do so, she'll have to know when the movie need to stop laughing at these people. And here's a good indicator: if it is laughing at them for being fat or gay, you've probably taken a wrong turn. The film offers glimpses of its potential — loner Anna Kendrick identifying Brittany Snow's shared familiarity with David Guetta's "Titanium" as awe-inspiring (one of the film's better attempts at tackling a genre staple) — but undoes its own mission when it turns the trope battering in on its characters. Pitch Perfect sets up its underdog a capella clique as a group of eccentrics with whom we're supposed to relate: genuine talents unappreciated due to weight, race, sexual orientation, and a laundry list of personality defects. But just when you think the movie is on their side, it jumps right on in, poking fun at Rebel Wilson's character for her size and Ester Dean's for her homosexuality. And one might spout the defense, "But these girls are making fun of themselves!" Well, that's the problem. They think they have to. Wilson's breakout character goes by "Fat Amy," underlining her self-assigned moniker with the rationale, "So twig b**ches like you [she's talking to Anna Camp] don't do it behind my back." Therein lies the film's defeat. It thinks that these girls have no shot at dignity, so they have to succumb to self-parody. This is not simply embracing a sense of humor about yourself (a valuable characteristic) but becoming the joke that everybody says you are because you don't see any other choice. And Pitch Perfect doesn't just limit this fate to "Fat Amy," but to its excessively marginalized gay character, Cynthia Rose (Dean). Universal via Everett Collection The joke about Dean? The same joke that has been assigned to gay characters since before the days of Three's Company, and that still, by some grace of ungodly ignorance, works its way into network television and blockbuster cinema today. Her sexual orientation is her punchline. For the length of Pitch Perfect, we're offered "hints" that Cynthia Rose is attracted to women — the way she dresses and carries herself are brandished as lesbian stereotypes, and we even get a scene of her groping fellow a capella band member Stacie (Alexis Knapp) for good measure. And then, finally, concrete evidence: "When I broke up with my girlfriend..." followed by a de facto rimshot from Rebel Wilson. Of course, Pitch Perfect was a hit, and this is owed to a very simple, very convenient allowance made by its story: the singing. Yes, these girls can sing. And when they get up on that stage at the end of the film and belt their heroic ballads, it's as if the film is saying, "See? We were behind them all along!" But giving stars like Wilson and Rose solos doesn't retroactively make Pitch Perfect's mean-spirited attitude about their identities "good natured ribbing." We were still asked to look at Fat Amy as a fat girl first, swelling with laughter at her inability to run, her propensity for falling down, and — most riotous of all — the inscrutable idea that she might consider herself sexy. You can endorse this material all you like with defenses that Fat Amy and Wilson herself were on board with the gags, but the simple fact that the one overweight young woman in this movie feels no other course than to dominate her screen time with fat jokes is unforgivable. Some would call it wise advice to garnish an embarrassing faux-pas with some self-effacing humor; this is not how heavy people should made to be felt about the way they look. In earnest, there's optimism attached to Banks' ascension into the director's chair. Although she has never handled a feature on her own, her comic sensibilities as an actress, and as a woman, might be more conducive to a little bit of respect for the young ladies at the center of this story. We can hope, anyway — with a wealth of talent in stars like Kendrick, Wilson, Dean, Camp, Snow, and the rest, and in a writer like Cannon, there's too much good to let the end product wind up so misguided. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'How I Met Your Mother' Recap: The Episode That Made Everyone So, So Happy
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jan 28, 2014
    Ron P. Jaffe/Fox I got into the game of How I Met Your Mother recaps just three seasons ago, a good deal past the CBS sitcom's prime but not so deep into its qualitative black hole that my negative reviews of episodes wouldn't still drive commenters wild with rage. People love this show. What's more interesting is that people commit to it in a week-to-week format the way television fans did back in the '90s. But they don't love How I Met Your Mother in the way that people loved Seinfeld — from a removed, critical, "Man this is good comedy!", laughing-at-them sort of way — rather in the way that people loved Friends — personally, inclusively, "I feel like they're my friends!", laughing-with-them sort of way. In the post-Central Perk era, we've flocked to MacLaren's to live vicarious through this considerably more adventurous and quirky clique. And we've hinged ourselves quite adherently to the hijinks, the love stories, and most of all the tenable camaraderie of the fivesome, all the while awaiting our introduction to No. 6. Of course, we met the future Mrs. Mosby (still unnamed, although the title of the series finale might be a hint) at the very end of Season 8, and have since come to know a few things about the amicable wayfaring troubadour. But this week's episode, the big 200, appropriately (albeit somewhat misleadingly) titled "How Your Mother Met Me" was our first opportunity to really get to know... whatshername. And from the looks of it, nobody was disappointed. The half hour launched us back to 2005 at an entirely separate MacLaren's Pub across town, where Mother-to-be celebrated her 21st birthday with her best friend Kelly (Ahna O'Reilly), awaiting the arrival of her perfect, beloved boyfriend and his undoubtedly terrific gift... but he died. Yeah, that hit us (and Mother) like a ton of bricks, the killing off of this young woman's one true love. But in earnest, it's a really sophisticated move. While Ted celebrates himself as a hopeless romantic who believes there is only one perfect woman out there for him, How I Met Your Mother itself has a more mature approach, allowing its characters to find happiness in more than one place. While our titular lady might have lived many happy years with the deceased Max had he not passed suddenly, that doesn't mean she should be deprived of this same lifelong joy just because of some commercially romantic ideal like "the one." Way to class up your act, HIMYM. You've always been a bit angelic (you know, when you're not making light of Barney committing sex crimes), but this grounds the entire story of Ted and his bride-to-be in a very real, very important way. Of course, we're still dealing with a nameless, doe-eyed, ukulele-plucking sprite with a forgiving heart, a calligraphy set, the voice of an angel, and the aspirations to end poverty (as she announces in this episode), so we might still be treading a bit too far into hippy dippy Liberal Arts MPDG territory... but in an episode this sentimentally stalwart and mathematically sound — we watch Mother ascend from that night of grief in 2005 to the present day (where we find her turning down a wedding proposal from Lou Ferrigno's son, whom she has dated for a few years in a half-hearted attempt to get over the death of her old beau but never really fallen in love with), nearly crossing paths with Ted and the gang at many a gleeful interval (they had St. Patrick's Day, economics class, the Naked Man, and Rachel Bilson in common, for starters) — it's difficult to walk away with too many gripes. I've championed the vast majority of Season 9, and am thrilled to be on board with its most important episode yet: not so much how Ted met the mother, nor how she met him, but how we did. And even more pleasant than seeing Carter Bays and Craig Thomas pull off this victory was seeing How I Met Your Mother fans respond to it so favorably on Twitter. Although I would still feel the scorn of devotees at the bottoms of my scathing Season 7 episode reviews, we've all seen the morale of the entire fanbase dip quite a bit in the past two-and-a-half years. People lament the good old days of Ted and co, wishing for a return to the funny, or a freshening up of the story, or just some damn closure already. But there were no harsh words to be found on the 'net following "How Your Mother Met Me." As Cristin Milioti strummed her Hawaiian strings on the balcony beside a listening Ted's (oh, Roger Bart, you conniving but big-hearted concierge!), we rushed with excitement over the knowledge that these four sad eyes would soon be happy. So now, we can be too. Oh, and Barney ran off. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Quentin Tarantino Lawsuit and 'Girls' Criticism Hit Gawker on the Same Day
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jan 27, 2014
    HBO One celebrity throws some shade your way on her television program? Meh, sleep it off. Another celebrity files a lawsuit against you the morning after? Okay, you're not having the best start to this week. New York-based media website Gawker was the subject of Lena Dunham's criticism on this week's episode of Girls. Hannah, Dunham's mouthpiece for all things misguided, celebrated the website's pithy report of an in-universe death, while her boyfriend Adam chastised the blog for its carnal nature. Attention was diverted away from Gawker when the scene's conversation jumped to feminist site Jezebel, which recently caught fire for chastising Dunham's touched-up Vogue cover and subsequently sharing a selection of "authentic" photos of the writer/actress (the episode was, of course, completed prior to Jezebel's article). On Monday morning, Gawker found itself the subject of controversy, and not just in the comments sections of Girls recaps. News spread that venerated filmmaker Quentin Tarantino had opened a lawsuit against the website for the publication of a link to his leaked screenplay The Hateful Eight, which we heard just last week was making its rounds throughout Hollywood against the director's wishes, on its subsidiary Defamer. A Deadline report shares a piece of Tarantino's suit: "Gawker Media has made a business of predatory journalism, violating people’s right to make a buck. This time they’ve gone too far. Rather than merely publishing a news story reporting that Plaintiff’s screenplay may have been circulating in Hollywood without his permission, Gawker Media crossed the journalistic line by promoting itself to the public as the first source to read the entire screenplay illegally. Their headline boasts, ‘Here is the leaked Quentin Tarantino Hateful Eight Script’ — here, not someplace else, but ‘here’ on the Gawker website. The article then contains multiple direct links for downloading the entire screenplay through a conveniently anonymous URL by simply clicking button-links on the Gawker page, and brazenly encourages Gawker visitors to read the screenplay illegally with an invitation to ‘enjoy’ it. There was nothing newsworthy or journalistic about Gawker Media facilitating and encouraging the public’s violation of Plaintiff’s copyright in the screenplay, and its conduct will not shield Gawker Media from liability for their unlawful activity." Weinstein Company via Everett Collection As such, not exactly a Monday to be celebrated by Gawker, although in absence of the Tarantino news the site might well enjoy Girls' critiques as a kind of backhanded homage. A site experienced in controversy would likely have foreseen some retaliation from a media-literate outspoken force like Dunham, and perhaps even some backlash from Tarantino, although the manifestation of each responses (well, premeditated response in the Girls situation) is somewhat unexpected. But hey, Tuesday should be calmer... Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Does the DGA Win for 'Gravity' Predict a Best Picture Oscar?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jan 27, 2014
    Warner Bros via Everett Collection Last week, we took a look at each of the awards circuits that have announced their winning picks for 2013, calculating just how good an indicator each one might be at predicting the Academy Awards top prize. Unsurprisingly, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle were the most common titles to take awards from venues like the Golden Globes, New York Film Critics Circle, Critics Choice Awards, and others. With the organizations carrying a variety of insight, statistically speaking, into what will be the Oscars' big winner, we named 12 Years our Most Likely to Succeed at the 86th Annual Academy Awards... but that was before today's news. See, this morning gave us the winner of the Director's Guild of America Awards — historically, the best indicator of the Best Picture Oscar with a 90% consistency over the past 10 years and an 81% consistency overall — and it is third party candidate Gravity. Alfonso Cuaron's blockbuster has snagged the DGA, putting it in the company of Argo, The Artist, The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker, and many other features that went on to win Best Picture. In fact, the last movie to take the DGA but lose out on the top Oscar would be Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, a rarity as well for winning the Best Director Oscar but not Best Picture. Averaged with the precognitive capabilities of the Producers Guild of America (middling) and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (dismal) — in which Gravity tied as winner with 12 Years and Her, respectively — the space-set thriller is about even with Steve McQueen's slavery epic in its chances to take home the Oscar. Of course, math can only take you so far (despite what they tried to drill into your heads in grade school). The separating factor, come Academy season, will be that indefinable quality that makes something an "Oscar movie." Not necessarily the best movie, but the one most palatable to the Academy's appetite. Gravity and 12 Years a Slave are both terrific films, but the latter has a few points on its side. Although they might share the DGA with Gravity, movies like Argo, The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, Million Dollar Baby, et al have far more in common with 12 Years a Slave: they're tales of history, adversity, injustice, human ugliness and human perseverence. Stories very much grounded on this Earth... something that Gravity, quite literally, might not be considered (at least by some). But we applaud the DGA for recognizing Cuaron's movie, and its other deserving winners (with special notice for the finales of Breaking Bad and 30 Rock). Peruse the winners list below! The Directors Guild of America Awards Feature FilmWinner: GravityNominees: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street DocumentaryWinner: Cutie and the BoxerNominees: The Act of Killing, The Crash Wheel, The Square, Stories We Tell Dramatic SeriesWinner: Breaking Bad: "Felina"Nominees: Breaking Bad: "Blood Money," Game of Thrones: "The Rains of Castamere," Homeland: "The Star," House of Cards: "Chapter 1" Comedy SeriesWinner: 30 Rock: "Hogcock!/Last Lunch"Nominees: The Big Bang Theory: "The Hofstadter Insufficiency," The Big Bang Theory: "The Love Spell Potential," Modern Family: "My Hero," Modern Family: "The Old Man & the Tree" TV Movie/MiniseriesWinner: Behind the CandelabraNominees: Killing Kennedy, Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight, Phil Spector, The Sound of Music Live! Variety/Talk/News/Sports ProgrammingWinner: Saturday Night Live: "Justin Timberlake"Nominees: The Colbert Report: "#10004," The Daily Show: "#19018," Jimmy Kimmel Live: "#13-1810," Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: "#799" Variety/Talk/News/Sports SpecialWinner: The 67th Annual Tony AwardsNominees: 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, The 55th Annual Grammy Awards, The 85th Annual Academy Awards, Louis C.K.: Oh My God Reality ProgramsWinner: 72 Hours: "The Lost Coast"Nominees: The Amazing Race: "Beards in the Wind," The Biggest Loser: "1501," The Hero: "Teamwork," Top Chef: "Glacial Gourmand" Children's ProgramsWinner: An Apology to ElephantsNominees: A.N.T. Farm, Jinxed, Swindle, Teen Beach Movie CommercialsWinner: Martin de Thurah (The Man Who Couldn’t Slow Down, Hennessy VS/Human Race, Acura MDX 2014)Nominees: Fredrik Bond (Voyage, Heineken; From The Future, Johnny Walker), John X. Carey (Real Beauty Sketches, Dove), Matthijs van Heijningen (Perfect Day, Sony Playstation; #Forty Eight, Verizon), Noam Murro (Basketball, Guinness; Kids, DIRECTV; Mask, Volkswagen) Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //