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.
  • Quentin Tarantino Is Making Another Western, But He Shouldn't
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 27, 2013
    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Django Unchained is one of those films that I can't help resenting for the fact that I enjoyed it just fine. Since falling in love with the director's work in the late 1990s, every Quentin Tarantino feature excepting Death Proof has blown me away in one way or another, with Inglourious Basterds shocking me in its ability to challenge Pulp Fiction as my favorite of the filmmaker's resume. As such, it was disarming to leave Django with no strong feelings either way — I laughed, I gasped, I checked my mental watch. It was fine. And that's the last thing I could ever want from a director who prides himself on being explosive. So maybe it is this ambivalence that makes me hesitant to accept another Western from the director, as he announced on Tuesday night's episode of The Tonight Show. But I'm not so sure that I can blame my feelings on Django entirely for wanting Tarantino to shy away from the Western genre, at least for now. I'd be just as ill at ease to hear that Tarantino was taking on another World War II epic, or another war film in general. Just as I want his pictures to be shocking and stirring, I want them to be new. I want to go into every Tarantino movie wondering, "What on Earth is he going to do with this one?" And then finding out, in a whimsical blaze of glory. Part of what makes the experience of his films so great is the innate worry that comes along with them. A movie about Uma Thurman slicing hundreds of people to bits after some crime kingpin destroyed her unborn child? And more jarring yet, one about World War II and the seizure and murder of innocent Jews in Europe? Apprehensions about Tarantino's ability to handle WWII with tact were set to rest in such a spectacular way within the first few scenes of Basterds. I don't want to enter a Tarantino flick knowing that he can do it, I want to enter one hoping that he can. That's why a Western to follow Django can be seen as a little bit of a letdown. Although I wasn't thrilled with Django, I admired the world that Tarantino built. He created a story and its universe adequately. And maybe it's this "adequacy" that he can prove to conquer with another Western; maybe his challenge this time around isn't the threat of a horrible (or offensive) product, but one that is in no real way provocative. But this, inherently, is a less exciting quest, and as a lifelong Tarantino devotee, all I want is that excitement — and dread — when approaching his new projects. I'm not worried that he won't be able to make another perfectly watchable Western. But I want to be. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'New Girl': A Show That Used to Be About Gender
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 27, 2013
    FOX The humor in New Girl has been waning all season, so we won't even tackle the general unfunniness of this week's chapter, "Thanksgiving III." Instead, we're inclined to focus on an even stranger calamity incited by the episode — one about which we have mixed feelings. In some ways, "Thanksgiving III" is an accomplishment for latter day New Girl, allowing the show to get back in touch with its thematic roots. It wasn't just a grab at quirky affability that led Elizabeth Meriwether to her program's title. When Jessica Day entered the lives of Nick, Schmidt, and Coach, it was as a fresh, unprecedented representation of the feminine perspective. She was there to leaven the stronghold that masculinity had on each of the boys (not men) in question. Coach's was the most on-the-nose of the conflicts in question — he was anchored down by the age-old tropes of manliness: competitive, abrasive, consumed by strength and athleticism. Schmidt's was a more modern masculinity, but a deafening one nonetheless: his affinity for grooming and cleanliness were tools pointed toward the craft of winning over as many women as possible — a triumph that would define him as a man. And, of course, we had Nick. Averse to vulnerability, growth, and change of any kind. Vices all intrinsically buried in the fears of "man," a forever weakening figure hanging tight to his grasp on a power once untethered. So who could be better than Jess to reform this trio? She's a beacon of feminine value, exhibiting emotionality, open-mindedness, understanding. The pilot planted seeds of how she might bring each of these fellows to a platform of liberation from the constrictions of gender. But then came Winston. Damon Wayans Jr. retreated to Happy Endings (where his comic talents were better utilized than they seem to be on this show, so far) and Lamorne Morris entered the picture without the parameters of character. The biggest victim of Winston's ambiguity was the show's central conceit — the disfigurement of the toxic gender boundaries. It's not as though the themes died out straight away. Halfway through the first season, we saw Jess come to blows with Lizzy Caplan, playing a recurring love interest for Nick, over their conflicting ideas about femininity. But somewhere along the line, New Girl effectively stopped being about these pulsing, interesting ideas. It kept on being funny for a while, and built up its characters affectionately, but lost a good deal of what made it a story in the first place. Until "Thanksgiving III," arguably the first episode to really tackle gender since Season 1. Nick, feeling undone by his relationship with Jess, demands that the whole gang go camping for Thanksgiving to assert himself as a man. The conclusion, as anyone who has been watching these past several weeks of New Girl might predict, is Jess convincing Nick that he's the sort of man she wants, and Nick taking one more step up the staircase of maturity. Meanwhile, these themes course through a story involving Coach, Schmidt, and Cece — modern man Schmidt feels threatened by former Eagle Scout Coach's traditional masculinity when he proves himself adept at handling the dangers of the California wilderness, and Cece proves her own gender-relevant experiences of making clothing ropes to sneak out of her bedroom window as the true source of heroism when things get heated in the third act. But none of that really matters. On the one hand, we're excited to see New Girl get back to the themes that birthed it (although we can't imagine that, even with Coach's return to the program, we'll be seeing this become a throughline element). On the other, we can't help but call "Thanksgiving III" a regression. This is a plotline New Girl should have given us two seasons ago — after living with Jess for two-and-a-half years and dating her for however many months (undergoing a series of personal changes in the meantime), if Nick is still the same thick-headed dumb bell who thinks he needs to go on an ad-hoc hunting trip in order to feel comfortable as a male specimen, then it's as if nothing was introduced into the canon of New Girl when Jess Day showed up at the loft that fateful day in 2011. By now, had New Girl kept to its inceptive identity, the show should be tackling issues of greater complexity than the most surface value of all gender restrictions. Nick shouldn't be dismissing his ill-conceived desires to go hunting (that's Step 1 of the reformation process), he should be figuring out how to tell people he loves them (Step 6, give or take). But there's that old saying about having cake and eating it too. We took one step forward with the themes of gender as fuel for "Thanksgiving III," and two steps back with the execution. And then another step back for Winston's leggings. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • The Independent Spirit Awards Nominate 'Frances Ha' and 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 26, 2013
    IFC Films As the winds of award show nominations pick up, you won't be surprised to find 12 Years a Slave at the top of every list. But the Academy, the Golden Globes, and the various other captains of the circuit are inclined to overlook some of our smaller, more personal favorites in lieu of the big, grand, and wholly unavoidable awardable pictures like Steven McQueen's American slavery epic. That is not to rob 12 Years of Slave of its due credit — the film absolutely deserves as much awards attention as it is getting. It's simply the sort of movie that you know will get awards attention right out of the gate... whereas pictures just as pristine such as Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's Frances Ha, likely won't be the center of attention come Oscar night. But that's what the Independent Spirit Awards are for: to recognize the movies that we cherish with intimacy rather than with grandeur. Among them are Frances Ha, new release Nebraska, Robert Redford's nearly wordless All Is Lost (also a viable candidate for the Academy, due to its own dezzling veneer), the Coen Bros' upcoming Inside Llewyn Davis, and, yes, of course, 12 Years a Slave. Check out the full list of nods below. BEST FEATURE 12 Years A Slave All Is Lost Frances Ha Inside Llewyn Davis Nebraska BEST LEAD FEMALE Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine Julie Delpy, Before Midnight Gaby Hoffman, Crystal Fairy Brie Larson, Short Term 12 Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now BEST LEAD MALE Bruce Dern, Nebraska Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club Robert Redford, All Is Lost BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE Melonie Diaz, Fruitvale StationSally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave Yolanda Ross, Go For Sisters June Squibb, Nebraska BEST SUPPORTING MALE Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave  Will Forte, Nebraska James Gandolfini, Enough Said Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12 BEST DIRECTOR Shane Carruth, Upstream Color J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave  Jeff Nichols, Mud Alexander Payne, Nebraska BEST FIRST FEATUREBlue Caprice Concussion Fruitvale Station Una Noche Wadjda JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD Computer Chess Crystal Fairy Museum Hours Pit Stop This Is Martin Bonner BEST SCREENPLAY Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Before Midnight Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, The Spectacular Now John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave  BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY Lake Bell, In A World Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon Bob Nelson, Nebraska Jill Soloway, Afternoon Delight Michael Starburry, The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister & Pete BEST CINEMATOGRAPHYSean Bobbitt, 12 Years A Slave Benoit Debie, Spring Breakers Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis Frank G. Demarco, All Is Lost Matthias Grunsky, Computer Chess BEST EDITING Shane Carruth & David Lowery, Upstream Color Jem Cohen & Marc Vives, Museum Hours Jennifer Lame, Frances Ha Cindy Lee, Una Noche Nat Sanders, Short Term 12 BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM A Touch Of Sin Blue Is The Warmest ColorGloriaThe Great Beauty The Hunt BEST DOCUMENTARYThe Act Of Killing After Tiller Gideon's ArmyThe Square Twenty Feet From Stardom PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARDToby Halbrooks & James M. JohnsonJacob JaffkeAndrea RoaFerderick Thornton TRUER THAN FICTION AWARDS Kalyanee Mam, A River Changes Course Jason Osder, Let The Fire Burn Stephanie Spray & Pancho Valez, Manakamana SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARDS Aaron Douglas Johnston, My Sisters' Quinceanera Shaka King, Newlyweeds Madeleine Olnek, The Foxy Merkins ROBERT ALTMAN AWARDMud 
  • Is the 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Cliffhanger a Cop-out?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 25, 2013
    Lions Gate via Everett Collection Warning: The following contains major spoilers about the ending of Catching Fire. We fans of American cinema are no strangers to the dreaded cliffhanger. Whether we are most ardently affixed to YA franchises that suggest more adventures yet to come next time around, or the comic book films that cap their features with mid-credit scenes that introduce entirely new narrative branches into the canon, we know what it's like to be teased. But in the vast majority of these cases, we're not left entirely without satisfaction. Movies from the Marvel Universe, the Tolkien collection, or the Harry Potter world will whet appetites for future movies, but will still wrap up their individual tales in self-contained stories. This is a task — no, a requirement of honest storytelling — that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire seems to have overlooked. Following a very strong body of action and surprisingly substantial emotionality, Catching Fire closes its final scene mid-conversation, revealing to Katniss and the audience that she is at the center of a vast conspiracy to rise up and take down the Capitol — in on the antic are her mentor Haymitch Abernathy, her ally/rival Finnick Odair, and the Games master Plutarch Heavensbee, among others (a number of unspecified tributes included). The final minutes of the movie see Katniss injured and knocked unconscious in her electric defiance of the institution of the Hunger Games, picked up by helicopter, and revived in a rehabilitation center far outside of the arena's walls, only to be informed of the coup brewing around her. In book form, the Catching Fire story closes on the down note of Katniss reflecting on the treachery that has overtaken her home, and gearing up for her mission to take on the Capitol. But in the movie, there is no reflection. There is no gearing. There's an outburst of expositional information, following by a wordless gasp by Jennifer Lawrence and an abrupt cut to black. It wasn't until the credits began to roll that I even realized the movie was over. It certainly didn't feel over. Even when a piece of a series, a movie is a standalone work of art — much like a novel in an anthology. There should be an independent beginning and an independent end. You can set up for future stories all you want, but ideas and themes must come to a close (for better or worse) with the last fade to black, or else you've got yourself an unfinished product. It speaks to the quality of the rest of Catching Fire that the movie doesn't leave us feeling entirely unsatisfied. For the most part, Francis Lawrence's first turn with the Hunger Games series delivers a lot of good will to fans and newcomers. But his (or the studio's) decision to cap the feature with a cliffhanger so blatant that it feels like it warrants a "Next week, on Lost..." isn't necessary to ensure that all those fans and newcomers will be back for more. We were already planning on seeing Mockingjay. You don't need to dangle the conclusion of this movie to make the beginning of the next one appealing. But more worrisome than its affront to a single movie's story structure is what the Catching Fire ending indicates about the form we might find our movies taking. We're already tacking on teasers to every superhero flick in theaters; now are we going to be upping the ante with compulsory follow-up viewing if we want complete stories? If we want episodic narratives, we have television — a different kind of art form that is far better suited for the cliffhanger game (you don't have to wait a year to find out what happens next, just a week — maybe a summer — and you're guaranteed a ticket on opening night so long as you pay your cable bill). The experience of designating a night out for a few hours at the theater is, inherently, just that. An experience. Something you devote to and engage with, hoping for a complete journey. While there is no reason that one journey cannot propose our entry into another, that first one really should give you the very basic tenets of what you signed up for: a story. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Do We Even Want to Go Back to the Prison on 'The Walking Dead'?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 25, 2013
    AMC Our past two weeks with The Walking Dead have been spent away from the prison, reuniting with a post-Woodbury Governor (now going a bit more amicably by "Brian") and the surrogate family he has accumulated along his trek for rehabilitation. Finding a new life in the affection he has for Lily, her daughter Meghan, and that surly ol' Aunt Tara, the survivalist formerly known as Philip Blake has committed to protecting these people at all costs. Even if that means he might revert to some of his pre-post-Woodburian philosophies of Machiavellian bloodlust. It was a pretty brief hiatus between murders, we have to say. So, this week, we find Govsy and the good-time gang holed up in the military camp of his former associate Martinez, living in relative peace but for the occasional zombie, a unit of decapitated corpses not far down the road, and the ocean of demons that haunt our one-eyed hero. The latter dilemma is what takes down the Governor, who kills Martinez violently in an effort to preserve his place as the pinnacle of masculinity and security in the eyes of his new adoptive wife and child. When Lily remarks that she has never felt safer than under Martinez's reign and little Meghan revels in his kindness and fortitude, we see Blake flip — his actions are no longer Machiavellian, they're simply sociopathic. And after Martinez, the Governor graduates to a few other crimes against humanity. He kills the good fellow Pete, who threatened to take command of the camp in Martinez's absence, and strongholds Pete's grieving brother Mitch into following his orders all the way through. And so, Govsy has his new Woodbury. But he's none too satisfied with their stomping grounds. He wants somewhere with walls. Cue: the Governor finding the prison. But the shot of him glaring at Rick and Carl, then over to Michonne and Hershel, only serves us one real threat: the threat that we have to head back into that bleak, infected graveyard. To be honest, these past two episodes have proved to be a refreshing respite from the show's devotion to the prison. We haven't missed the central characters quite yet, especially with Carol no longer a part of the community. In earnest, a bit more time out in the sun with the Governor, getting to know his new family, understanding the bounds (or lack thereof) of his blossoming toxic attachment to them, might have served we fans of the show a little better than an immediate return to the jail... a turn we seem to be on the verge of taking, considering the closing moments of this week's ep. While these past several weeks are leagues beyond the quality of The Walking Dead's preceding season, there is an ever-present fear of growing irreparably sick of Rick and his troupe. Every moment spent with them is one of intense severity, and every (in)decision made in the camp is one that incurs groans and aches from begrudging viewers. In truth, we didn't mind getting to know a new bunch of folks just a few miles down the road... they were chipper, at least! Why can't we stick it out with them, for a while? We don't have Dale anymore to keep things light back home, so we need to find that good cheer someplace. Or else we'll all just lose it. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • There Are Three 'Arrested Development' References in 'Frozen' (Four, If You're Being Generous)
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 22, 2013
    Disney And now, the story of a wealthy queen who frost everything. And her one sister who had no choice but to save them all from weather. It's Frozen. (Warning: Frozen spoilers to follow) We expect every contemporary animated movie to sport a layer of comedy just for the adults in the audience. While the kids are mesmerized by the magic and kept giddy over the screwball sight gags, the parents, older siblings, and babysitters are kept from dozing off by double entendres, relationship humor, and — most of all — sly pop culture references. The Shrek films upped the ante on this trade, and many a big screen cartoon has followed suit since. But Frozen gives us something unprecedented: numerous direct references to Arrested Development. Admittedly, they're subtle. So subtle that I wondered, leaving the theater after my dazzling experience with Frozen (these instances aside, I absolutely loved it, as did our reviewer Hans Morgenstern), if I was just reading too deeply into a few innocent gags. But right behind me out of the auditorium were two men about my age dicussing the very topic that was haunting me. "Did you notice all the Arrested Development jokes?" one said to the other. That's proof enough for me. So here they are. The Chicken DanceEarly on in the story, the Scandinavian town of Arendelle is invited inside the new queen Elsa's (Idina Menzel) palace walls to attend her coronation party. This is when we meet Alan Tudyk's obnoxious autocrat, the Duke of Weselton — the character responsible for a good supply of Frozen's villainy as well as the first and third Arrested Development references. The Duke insists upon a dance with Elsa's sister, Princess Anna (Kristen Bell, the hero of the piece), bouncing around her in an animalistic fashion... one of which he is well aware. The Duke boasts openly about his feral rhythm, likening his movements (with pride) to the graceful chicken. But as he delivers this line, the Duke takes a posture that doesn't quite resemble that of any ordinary chicken... with his fingers fanned out atop his head and his legs jutting to either side, the Duke's chicken is almost identical to that dreamt up by one Lindsay Fünke in her rendition of the Bluth family Chicken Dance. Finish Each Other's...Okay, maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe the animators were simply opting for the funniest way in which the squirmy Duke might contort his body. That's what I figured... until just a few minutes later, when Anna and her newfound love Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) break into their romantic duet, singing enthusiastically about just how compatible they are. The true measure of compatibility is exhibited in this couplet: Hans: It's like we finish each other's...Anna: Sandwiches! Okay, wait a minute, now that's a joke torn directly from an episode of Arrested Development. When Michael Bluth rattles on about the inspired connection he has found in a woman he believes to be his estranged sister, reveling in this fact that he and this relative stranger Nellie "finish each other's...", Michael's non-estranged sister chimes in with the conclusive "sandwiches?" Buster's MantraCould it be that a pattern is amounting, or is this just wishful thinking? Maybe I didn't catch the Duke's chicken dance quite right, allowing my AD fandom to inform how I interpreted his quick movements. And sure, that sandwich gag might have originated on Arrested, but I seem to recall its subsequent adoption by other comedic entities (Community, for one, subbing out "sandwiches" in favor of "pie"). I was teetering on the edge of believing that Frozen could, in fact, be fostering a running gag for Arrested Development devotees. At this point in the film, all I needed was one minor gust of wind to force me over. And then it came. "She's a mooonsteeer!" Yes. Once recognizing the powers of creating snow that lived within Elsa, the nefarious Duke belted this condemnation in a tone a little too reminiscent of one self-loathing, hook-handed Buster Bluth. And it was so. It couldn't all have been an accident. The last AD nod I noticed was, admittedly, the flimsiest. Fleeing the wrath of the frightened and enraged townspeople, Elsa sprints away over a liquid lake that freezes upon her contact with it. If it weren't for the three preceding gags, I wouldn't have entertained the thought that this might be a reference to Rita Leeds' (Charlize Theron) illusionary stroll across the surface of a swimming pool and her cinematic brainchild The Ocean Walker (itself all a reference to the '79 film Being There). I'll give you that this one is quite a stretch... but the other three? All in such rapid succession? You're gonna tell me that those aren't Arrested Development references? COME ON! Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • A List of the Pop Culture Characters That Inspired Lady Gaga's 'ARTPOP' Video
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 21, 2013
    Lady Gaga/YouTube Just this past weekend, we watched Lady Gaga take up the normal-est task in the celebrity trade: playing host on Saturday Night Live. All the mainstream stars do it (just about). Even Kanye West can bridle his derision for all things tangible to stop by Studio 8H for a night of good fun. So, we thought, maybe this means an end to Gaga's oddball streak. Maybe she's setting to rest her bizarre, outsider art nature to become another Patti Page. That's what we thought. But then we saw her new music video, "An ARTPOP Film." Yes, it's peculiar... but perhaps only at first glance. In fact, we'd wager that — following her gig on SNL — this is Gaga's attempt at "normal." If you look closely enough at each one of the many incarnations she inhabits in the video, you might find a spark of familiarity with an old pop culture mainstay. Maybe Gaga has traversed the catalogue of the American zeigeist, plucking out fan favorites and bringing them to life in "An ARTPOP Film" in hopes of, dare we say it, being just like the rest of us. Don't believe it? Let's take a look. The video opens around the 20-second mark, after a brief spoken intro by Gaga. :20 — Here we see Gaga as Kate Middleton, quite apparently. See? That's pretty normal! Kate marked the summit of our society's attention this past year with her pregnancy and the eventual birth of the Royal Baby. Good start, Gaga!:34 — And look, it's Walter White's HAZMAT suit! Breaking Bad has been, undoubtedly, one of the biggest talking points in television, and Gaga's just trying to get in on the conversation. She... doesn't appear to know how to wear the suit, but... it's something.:36 — And while you're doing AMC, here's some zombie teeth a la The Walking Dead. You've got this, LG.:37 — A montage of shots of Doc Brown from Back to the Future, complete with fraying hair and that gadget that was supposed to make him precognitive. Plus, a quick glimpse at :42 of what kind of reminds us of that episode of Friends where Joey wore all of Chandler's clothes. A timeless cinematic classic and the most popular show of the 1990s. Outstanding, Gaga!:44 — ... Is... is she covered in dirt? Wait, that is dirt, right? Okay... okay. Minor slip up, but I'm sure she'll get back on the horse.:46 — There, that's better! She's... rolling around in the dark in her underwear. Kind of like Susan Sarandon in Rocky Horror. Not exactly the epitome of cultural normalcy, but at least it's a movie, right?:47 — Um. Well. She's got the Walter White suit on again, but now she appears to have replaced her face with mop strands. Vaguely reminiscent of one of the Reavers from Firefly, but... no, that's just wishful thinking, isn't it?:53 — Here, Lady Gaga is a washing machine. Those are normal, right?:56 — Okay, so that's kind of like a football uniform, were it made of tattered rags and the innards of a mummified pharaoh. But can we give her points for football?1:04 — There! Singing! Just a human woman singing! Huzzah! Things are really turning ar...1:11 — God dammit, she's Big Gruesome from Wacky Races.1:20 — And that appears to be her attempt at one of our society's everpresent, hypersexualized body wash commercials. A jarring one.1:28 — W-what? Wait, pause the video for a second. What... what is she... is she a fetus? Inside the womb of a transformer? Is that some sort of commentary on the destruction porn cinema to which we are exposing our children?1:29 — Is that Lucy from Twin Peaks? Kind of. Kind of? We'll take it.Still 1:29 — A disembodied synthetic hand. Maybe she liked Lars and the Real Girl. Maybe she likes dismembering things.Still 1:29 — Um...1:30 — Are there bees?Still 1:30 — Oh good, it's Big Gruesome again.1:31 — I'd be more comfortable if you put that scissor down.1:32 — We may have overlooked a theme here. Scissors, wigs... is this Gaga's stab at getting in on the hairstyle craze to which we all adhere so devotedly?1:34 — Oop, no, now she's Big Gruesome strangling a pillow.1:36 — Oh, Gaga, no, please don't cry. I didn't... I didn't mean any of it. I loved Wacky Races. I love bees.1:53 — Oh, maybe that's a go at Orange Is the New Black!1:56 — Hey, Walking Dead again! And bowling!2:00 — And that's Tangela, the least memorable Pokemon! Slipping.2:02 — Pirate. Pirates are always relevant.2:04 — That's not anything.2:05 — Okay, turn off Walking Dead, Gaga. It's not even that good anymore.2:06 — Who is that? Janis Joplin? Benefit of the doubt!2:08 — I'm getting a Jon Heder vibe.2:09 — ...2:10 — Good, more stray body parts.2:12 — Kind of looks like Zadie Smith, doesn't it? Benefit of the doubt!2:14 — Let's go ahead and assume this is an homage to the early King of the Hill episode wherein Bobby practices kissing on a mannequin head from his cousin Luanne's hairstyling class. Because that would be preferable.2:16 — ...2:17 — I'm getting a Black Swan vibe.2:19 — UNCLE FESTER! THERE IT IS! A RECOGNIZABLE, WELL-KNOWN, FAMILY-FRIENDLY POP CULTURE CHARACTER! BOOM! WRAP IT UP, GAGA, YOU'VE DONE IT! YOU'RE DONE! CALL IT A WIN!2:20 — Aaand now you're hanging upside down like a black while rave lights flicker around you in a terribly unsettling fashion.2:23 — I don't feel good.2:24 — Well, we tried. So it turns out that Lady Gaga does not achieve pop culture normalcy with her new video, "An ARTPOP Film." And in truth, we don't want her to. We don't need Lady Gaga to cater to familiarity or our established parameters. Her entire identity is in the interest of the new, her mission statement is to show us things and ideas that we haven't seen. Not everybody is on board with the result, but everybody should be on board with the effort — to be daring, creative, strange. To be herself. Bravo, Gaga. And it's catchy, too! Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Will Sundance's 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' TV Show Work?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 21, 2013
    Jennifer Egan/Anchor Many great pieces of literature have been cursed (or gifted, however you want to look at it) with the label "unfilmable." The majority believed this to be the case with Cloud Atlas (and, after seeing the 2012 movie adaptation, many still do). Orson Scott Card even said this of his own novel, Ender's Game ... though, Orson Scott Card has said a lot of idiotic things.  However, plenty of other titles have also earned this designation thanks to sprawling plot or unusual structure. A good example: A Visit from the Goon Squad, which falls somewhere between singular narrative and short story anthology in its illustration of an electic world of kooky, self-sabotaging musicians, executives, and criminals. It's difficult to imagine Jennifer Egan's book, which hops between time periods and locations, as a comprehensive movie. But an episodic television series is another story... especially one done by a company as inventive as the Sundance Channel. The Wrap reports that the cable network is picking up the Goon Squad adaptation project, endeavored and abandoned by HBO not long ago. We're intrigued. Not entirely confident in the ability of any creative force to transport Egan's 2010 book to a visual medium, but intrigued by the prospect. We loved Cloud Atlas and had fun with Ender's Game, so we're in the mindset that anything is possible. Even the translation of a jagged, hyperactive masterpiece like Egan's Goon Squad to something palatable for viewing audiences. Especially because Sundance's "palatable" isn't quite in the same ballpark as CBS'. In case you haven't been keeping up with the Sundance Channel's output, it has reigned supreme as some of the small screen's best material this past year. The mini-series Top of the Lake ranks as the greatest new television show of 2013 in our books; Rectify followed suit as a stellar piece of long-form TV. Even their unscripted progamming, for instance The Writer's Room, is above and beyond most of what we get elsewhere. HBO, though a qualitative power player in its own right, is still too ostensibly bound by public demand, ushering out shows that are moreover conformed to the established flavor of contemporary TV. Game of Thrones and its network company do push the structural and narrative envelopes quite a bit more than what we see on network television, basic cable, or even Showtime, but it still doesn't quite hold a candle to its Sundance brethren. So, cautious though we may be about approaching an Egan adaptation, we're at least pleased that the project is in the hands best suited to make it something worthy of some optimism. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Is Appropriate Levels of Fun, Sappy, and Exciting
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 20, 2013
    Lions Gate via Everett Collection When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields. But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend. Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy. In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel. Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt. But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.  3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Which Is the Funniest Duo on 'New Girl'?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Nov 20, 2013
    FOX Now that New Girl has an even number of central players, we might be seeing a greater number of episodes splitting its stars off into groups of two to carry A, B, and C stories along. This week's entry, "Longest Night Ever," kicked off what looks to be a mainstay pairing: Cece and Coach, undertaking the beginnings of what will likely manifest as a season-long romantic relationship. And since Nick is saddled with helping Winston find his lost cat, this leaves an angst-ridden Jess to handle the emotionally unbridled Schmidt, grieving violently over Cece's interest in his friend and former roommate. And since we'll likely be seeing a lot more teams of two in the upcoming New Girl slate, let's give a gander at which duo we think handles the comedy best... Jess and SchmidtWhen the show's two A-types band together, the results are usually extreme and explosive. One of Jess' early face-offs with Schmidt had her begging him to abandon his new carefree, beachside lifestyle and return to his dish-washing ways. While Schmidt almost always proves himself an opponent of whomever he is teamed with, Jess is the only character who has enough drive to keep up with him the whole way. Nick and WinstonThe beauty of Nick and Winston is that they're generally on the same page. And it's usually a pretty ill-conceived page. Lifelong friends who we can actually imagine as lifelong friends, due primarily to their mutually stunted adolescences and lapsed understanding of basic realities (when Nick and Winston have a scheme going it is often at the expense of everyone who gets in their way). They'll bicker back and forth, chastising one another's bad ideas, with neither proving himself the more capable, independent adult. Cece and CoachWe only got a taste of the Cece/Coach relationship, and it was predicated on Coach trying to play up his bravado in order to impress the attractive Cece. Hopefully, there won't be a continuation of this trend, and we'll see the two conjure up some real, kooky chemistry. Jess and NickPre-relationship, these two were golden: the show's best material came from Jess and Nick's frustrated misunderstanding of their mutual feelings for one another. Now, somehow, things have "worked out" all too well. They're together, and they're happy, and their conflicts never last more than 30 minutes. What used to be the power couple is now one of New Girl's weakest links. Jess and CeceLike Nick and Winston, Jess and Cece are believable as lifelong friends. The affection is present in all scenes they share together. Unfortunately, this is also a zone of comfort for both characters, and without the propensity for destruction that is inherent in the Nick/Winston dynamic, that just leaves Jess and Cece a bit boring. Schmidt and CeceThis is a pair that has seen a number of incarnations. Inceptive hostility, secret and shameful lust, unrequited desire, sincere romance, uncomfortable deception... They're not without their charms, but they are best left in C plots. Especially at this point (Schmidt, you've made your bed — lie in it). Nick and Schmidt Quite possibly the funniest coupling on New Girl, in large part due to each parties being totally unequipped to care as much as he does about someone so different from the way he is. Nick, although he'll never admit it (especially to himself) loves Schmidt, despite his flamboyant representation of everything Nick can't stand or comprehend. And Schmidt loves Nick, a man he'll never be able to coax into returning this open affection, so much that it hurts him. In their continued efforts to meet one another halfway, Nick and Schmidt give us some golden comedy, and some genuinely touching moments, too. Schmidt and Winston Just a few rungs below a friendship that either one of them is really content with, Schmidt and Winston always seem a little uneasy with one another. Their common ground is Nick, a fact so vividly present that his absence (even if just from the room) hinders their ability to communicate. From this jagged relationship comes the comedy. Schmidt and Winston have no idea how to deal with each other, leading them (a pair of loons) to erupt into chaos on the regular. Jess and Winston Maybe we're reading too much into this, but Winston seems to have a personal history completely lacking in healthy relationships. His father ran off, his surrogate father was a narcissistic con man, his ex-girlfriend and he had no connection, his first sexual partner was a prostitute, and his best friend is an emotionally closed off man-child. Jess might be the first person to ever lend Winston her heart, leading for him to be at once bewildered and repelled by her, as well as uniquely drawn to her. The two don't have a lot of material together, but their relative capability makes them a pair with potential. Jess and CoachThey did exhibit a lot of energy celebrating the death of bin Laden. Winston and CoachI'd like to see a little more of their rivalry. Winston and Cece Something is there. Some weird familiarity with the world of "cool" that the other geeks that they spend their time with have never traversed, and yet some understanding that they belong down in the trenches with the rest of said fools. They've spent only a bit of time together, but their interactions (co-pranking the Schmidts and Winston's unwitting crashing of Cece's pre-wedding family get-together) have resulted in good fun. Winston and His Cat It's enough with that. Schmidt and CoachWay too much machismo. Nick and CoachWe'll see. No more workout episodes, please. Nick and Cece Have these two ever spoken? So, to rank... 1. Nick and Schmidt2. Jess and Nick, before getting together3. Jess and Schmidt4. Nick and Winston5. Schmidt and Winston6. Winston and Cece7. Jess and Cece8. Jess and Winston9. Anyone and Coach, at this point10. Schmidt and Cece11. Jess and Nick, since getting together Of course, the entire list is thrown into flux if we're including the Nick/Tran pairing in the mix. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //