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.
  • Would 'Star Wars: Episode VII' Be a Waste of Gary Oldman's Talent?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 06, 2014
    Weinstein Company via Everett Collection Not this time, champ. Fool us once. See, back in the last trimester of the Prequels era, George Lucas decided to bump up the gravitas of the impending Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith by roping in a bona fide actor: one Gary Oldman, known best for his turns in Sid and Nancy, JFK, and Air Force One — this was before Oldman had embodied either Sirius Black or Commissioner Gordon, so it would have marked his first turn with franchise fare. Lucas had pegged Oldman to play General Grievous, nefarious ruler of the Droid Army, before Oldman opted to pull out of production to comply with the fine print of his Screen Actors Guild membership — in absence of a SAG stamp on the Revenge of the Sith production, Oldman favored his organization loyalties and pulled out, leaving him independent from all things Lucas until this morning's rumblings that he's been asked to take a role in Star Wars: Episode VII. But we're not too excited, and neither is he. "They've called ... The deal isn't done, but yeah, they've inquired," Oldman tells Sky Movies, qualifying the news by adding, "I'm more cynical about it now. I'll believe it when I'm on a plane home." It's not just the tenuous nature of early rumors that leave us underwhelmed, but the prospect of Oldman taking on a Star Wars role at all. When he left the production, the character of Grievous went to Matthew Wood, a Lucasfilms sound engineer, who, though not an actor by trade, did just as well as anyone could have expected someone to do with the Kaleesh/cyborg hybrid. In earnest, it's not as though a master thespian like Oldman would have had much dramatic stretching to do with Grievous anyhow. While he gave some extra weight to Nolan's Batman films and the Harry Potter movies, we'd dare to say that an actor like Oldman might be wasted in the Star Wars universe. That said, this is the old Star Wars universe we've got blocking up our optimism. Under new direction, Oldman could have room to get creative and humane with whichever character he'd be offered here — although J.J. Abrams' track record has eroded in the past couple of years, he's still not totally out of his element matching high concept adventures with human sincerity. Plus, as a teen in the 1970s, we couldn't blame Oldman if playing a Star Wars character would be a longtime dream of his. Although we'd peg him as more of a Middle Earth guy. That's some casting we could endorse. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'New Girl' Recap: I AM FRANK SKAPOBOLIS!
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 05, 2014
    Ray Mickshaw/FOX Week after week, it gets tougher to drum up something to say about New Girl. It's not because the episodes have been overwhelmingly bad; they are simply far less interesting than they used to be. At the show's onset, New Girl was a subtle (relatively) play on gender politics. Somewhere in the second half of the first season, we became surprisingly adhered to the characters and got deeper, heavier episodes about the likes of Nick and Schmidt (we've yet to see Winston's transformative episode, and I don't think we ever will). But themes have waned, stories have tempered, and Season 3 on the whole has been a good deal less insightful than its preceding years. But the biggest crime is that the jokes just aren't working anymore. You can see where New Girl is trying to pack its funny: there's a quick scene in this week's episode, "Exes," that shows a lonely Schmidt shouting playfully into his cavernous refrigerator at a bowl of elusive grapes, breaking down in tears moments later as he eats them. The joke is not very dissimilar from a Season 2 beauty that saw Nick giving life to a dish of nuts before he too erupted into hysterics. Maybe it's because we saw a near identical gag enacted by the superior comedian Jake Johnson, but something about the Schmidt/grapes routine (which should, for all intents and purposes, be the episode's best laugh) just feels forced. The plot of the episode isn't much better: Nick's ex-girlfriend Caroline (Mary Elizabeth Ellis, from days of New Girl past) has gone bananas over the idea that Nick and Jess are now dating, accusing their relationship of spawning from an act of infidelity on Nick's part and losing all sense of logical control. If we remember correctly, Caroline was never... psychotic. The show did hint that she might have been on the selfish side, but we didn't understand her to be the sort of character who'd stalk and attack her ex-boyfriend years after the conclusion of their relationship over the presumption that he might have cheated. What gives, New Girl? So, to resolve the issue, Jess phones her own ex Berkley (Adam Brody), with whom she has maintained a close friendship... a friendship that Nick insists is fueled by Berkley's lasting desire to sleep with Jess. Of course he is proven right in the sort of cartoonish twist that sitcoms like this love to pull with ostensibly earnest characters like Berkley. But without many a laugh throughout the story (Brody does deliver a couple of good jokes, his send-off line being my favorite) it is all quite predictable, and all to very little end. That little end of which I speak involves Nick's revelation that he has been in love with Jess since the day he met her. He admits this to Jess and Caroline in order to clear the air and woo the viewing audience. Sure, it's sweet, but doesn't pack the same oomph that New Girl always used to. Maybe it's because Nick, as we've known him, has been a character defined by his failure. His driving force was his desperation, and we watched him so vigorously to see if he might grab at a scrap of happiness or self-worth one of these days. Now that things are working out peachy for him, we don't really know what to do. We're glad for Nick and all, but the show suffers. Across the hall, the gags are multiplied, in the Three's Companiest way possible. Schmidt, Coach, and Winston all aim to use Schmidt's loft to seduce strange women (in two cases that "strange" means "unfamiliar to them," in Winston's it just means "weird" — Bertie's back!), going by false names, mixing up their bedrooms, and enacting as many other screwball playboy highjinks as you can imagine. It has its moments, though a New Girl in its prime could have done wonders with this idiotic plot. Still, it is a good showcase of the occasionally overshadowed talents of Damon Wayans Jr. (who is so funny that he earns a hearty chuckle with the throwaway line, "Don't drink the water by the bed, it's got my contacts in it") and Lamorne Morris ("I am Frank Skabopolis! ... Is this helping?"). While New Girl hasn't entirely lost its charms, we aren't seeing the old magic that made it occasionally uproarious and occasionally quite sensitive. Falling in the realm of "passable" in both sections, we get an episode like "Exes." Not bad, but not the best New Girl can do... we hope. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Something Wonderful Has Happened to 'How I Met Your Mother'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 04, 2014
    CBS It was just over a year ago when How I Met Your Mother pulled what I consider its most offensive move to date: the Barney-Patrice gambit that ultimately hooked Robin into realizing her feelings for the duplicitous suitor. It was in this experiment, one that advertised the impossibility of a fit central character drumming up feelings for a full bodied woman, that the CBS sitcom showed off a peak in immaturity — a long-gestating immaturity that had taken form in the hearts of Barney, Robin, and, most of all, our hero Ted. Ted's vantage point has always celebrated a very specific idea of romantic love. The kind that you'd find in a decade-long Meg Ryan movie. In universe, Ted has endured some treacherous punishment for his pursuit of this singular manifestation of love — not even in pursuit of a return of that love, but of the love itself. Ted needs to love the way he understands love to take form. The restrictive, illogical, selfish, immature way that he (and, let's be honest, we) defines this all-consuming phenomenon. And although it's more enchanting to view love this way, it isn't fair. It isn't fair to the people we love — to Robin, in Ted's case — or to the people doing the loving. To dismiss your feelings is deemed cynical by films and television shows like How I Met Your Mother. To get over someone after years of desperate, agonizing passion would render these years illegitimate. There is only one kind of love, the show has affirmed, and it doesn't change. A third party to whom this mentality isn't fair: everyone else. Everyone who hasn't been loved like this, or who hasn't felt this specific kind of love. Anyone who didn't meet his or her soul mate on the first day of college (Marshall and Lily), who wasn't saved from a lifetime of destructive behavior by the only person "as messed up" as him (Barney), or who didn't spend nine years stealing blue French horns, setting up elaborate Christmas decorations, retrieving lockets, and destroying himself over the one (Ted). To everyone who hasn't experienced this kind of love and who has been made to feel like he or she is not experiencing real life because of it, this whole maxim isn't fair. And it's more or less a lie, too. But for 199 straight episodes, How I Met Your Mother seemed bent on upholding the idea of love that it inherited from everything in between Casablanca and When Harry Met Sally, laying waste to the toxicity it instills in the lover and the lovee, a party reduced to an idealized end-goal who is robbed of her own industries, passions, and feelings of organic love as they are devalued as little more than roadblocks in this sprawling romantic quest (Robin). In universe, Ted was punished for his journeys, but we all knew that How I Met Your Mother was rewarding him for his "uniquely pure heart" by repeatedly crowning him a tragic hero. And to all those who've endured Ted's path before, the tragic hero title is a nice compensation prize, ain't it? Just enough to keep you going, to keep you adhered to the journey. And then came the big 2-0-0, last week's episode, when we were treated to the backstory of the still nameless Mother. The episode, titled "How Your Mother Met Me," gave us the first big surprise of the season: Ted would not be her first love. Years before taking up with Mr. Mosby, The Mother was deeply and devotedly involved with another, Max, whose untimely death was the only cause for their relationship's end. No, he wasn't proven to be "not quite the one" (although a subsequent pre-Ted beau would). This Max, for all we know, would have made The Mother the happiest woman on Earth. But we were surprised to hear our old, traditionally immature friend How I Met Your Mother assure us that this doesn't mean Ted can't do the same. For the first time in its nine year span, the show admitted that there might not only be one kind of love. A week later and our surprise is doubled. We find Ted on Central Park's Bow Bridge (the most romantic place in New York City, you know), begging his nutty ex Jeanette (Abby Elliott) to return the locket that he has been dying — really, killing himself! Contacting old girlfriends like Stella and Victoria and flying across country just to figure out where he stored the thing — to retrieve as Robin's wedding gift. In a rare moment of earnestness, the kooky Jeanette challenges Ted's judgment, insisting that he needs to get over Robin and that he's better off without the locket. But Ted disagrees. He can't stomach the idea of getting over Robin, as it would mean that his years of devotion to her meant nothing. And, as said love is what he used to define himself altogether, it would mean that he meant nothing. And for the first time, after so many romantic diatribes in which Ted has spelled out his aching, ceaseless, unwavering obsession with his own love, we see How I Met Your Mother take a different stance. "I'm in love with her. If you're looking for the word that means caring about someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want no matter how much it destroys you, it's love," Ted cries. "And when you love someone, you don't stop. Ever. Even when people roll their eyes or call you crazy. Even then. Especially then. You just — you don't give up. Because if I could give up, if I could just take the who world's advice and move on and find someone else, THAT WOULDN'T BE LOVE. That would be some other disposable thing that is not worth fighting for." And then, Ted manages one desperate, "That is not what this is," almost too worn out to convince Abby or himself. For the first time, the show seems to understand that this isn't right. That this isn't how someone should feel about love. That it shouldn't be something that destroys you, or that you adhere to obsessively in an effort to become what you wish you were. And that if this is the sort of "love" you are experiencing, then you might be better off tossing your locket into The Ramble and Lake... which, of course, is what Jeanette does next. An act of malice on her part, but one that sets him free. And so, we flash forward to the wedding weekend, with Ted sitting beside Robin on the beach as the sun comes up, waiting for Barney to stumble back from his drunken night of tutoring two young schmoes in the art of wooing women (the passing of the torch, you could call it), finally deciding that everything in his cold, concrete definition of love needed to change. And so, he decides to let her go. Forever. And more importantly, to let go of his belief that his love for Robin is not just the only thing worth fighting for, but worth living for. Because love doesn't have to be defined by Casablanca or When Harry Met Sally or Marshall and Lily. Some people find it in Paris, some people in road trips, some people in college hallways, some people in New York City pubs, some people on dating websites, some people through set-ups, and the list goes on. Some people find it once, some people find it over and over. It's different for every one who experiences it — any two cases are incomparable. Every case has its own, unique, honest story. And after trying to capitalize on everything he thought it should be for so many years, the fellow telling his story via Bob Saget voiceover to the two kids on his living room couch is finally ready to begin it. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: 'The Lego Movie' Is a Wonderful, Hilarious Tribute to Imagination
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 03, 2014
    Warner Bros. It's been 65 years, 560 billion bricks, 83 set themes, 90 retail stores, 53 video games, a clothing line, a theme park, and something called BrickCon since the dawn of the LEGO, and only now are we getting our first big screen incarnation of the omnipresent children's toy. And though you'd think among the various extracurricular incarnations of what started out as a simple amendment of the building block that we'd have seen a Lego movie by now, the right Lego movie wouldn't have come along sooner. Spiting  expectations, The Lego Movie doesn't shoot for the gimmick. This isn't capitalization on a familiar property for no discernible reason beyond the frugality of name brand entertainment. We're hit with the surprising realization early on in the movie that this is a story about Legos. About the tacit struggle that plagued all young builders — the war between following the instructions and letting your imagination run wild — and just how much value there is in each. In fact, The Lego Movie steps well beyond the confines of its 32-square-peg green mat to tell a subtextual story about children who play with, and find themselves through, this incredible toy. Centering on the fantastical quest of a plain-faced everyman named Emmet (Chris Pratt, whose Parks and Rec enthusiasm is not bridled by his plastic form) who is whisked out of his cozy lifestyle by prophecies, secret societies, inter-world missions, and nefarious plans to destroy the entire Lego universe, the film hammers in the simple conceit that being yourself is not only okay, but abundantly important. But a profound sensitivity to its message does not mean that The Lego Movie holds back on the fun. On the contrary, this might be the silliest animated movie to hit theaters in ages. From scene one, The Lego Movie is maniacal in its comic delivery. Sharp gags from writer/director team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (responsible for the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs films and the 21 Jump Street movie alike) get fair treatment from a capable band of voice actors — Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, and so many others. Liam Neeson as a menacing policeman is the surprise MVP of the bunch, although supporting players Nick Offerman and Charlie Day contribute some memorable laughs. The comedy is fresh, rarely if ever pandering, and in such rapid supply that any failed joke is immediately overshadowed by a real doozy. Warner Bros. In fact, with such clever material at bay, it's the film's insistence on shoving its action sequences to the forefront that have us a bit frustrated. As an adventure movie, and one set in a land where a child's imagination would be the word of god, the inclination is not surprising. But beyond a chuckle or two at the initial gambit, there's not much favor to be found in the movie's long supply of large shoot-'em-ups and grappling scenes. But soon enough, we get back to the jokes, the message, the characters. Although second banana Wildstyle (Banks, playing a hyper-competent secret agent whose primary goal is to get Emmet to the finish line) is a disappointing turn for what is otherwise an intelligent, progressive movie, the film's heart is where it really wins. The throughline message of channeling the creative machinations that make you you only builds as the film plucks onward, offering surprising turns that help to really strike a chord with any youngster battling a fear of individuality, or any adult who ever has. As deeply as Toy Story understands what dolls can do for a lonely young kid, The Lego Movie knows what it means to create whole worlds, the people within them, and the adventures they take. While the movie doesn't discount the merit in learning and deriving inspiration from "the instructions" (oh yes, it's quite indubitably a metaphor), it knows that the far more valuable path comes from our own minds and hearts, and asks viewers young and old to realize that the best things you can give this world come wholly from you. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • The Super Bowl 'Seinfeld' Reunion Was Absolutely (Mumble...)
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 02, 2014
    NBC In the 16 years since Seinfeld went off the air, we've seen parody web series, Twitter accounts, comic strips, and even a self-satirizing reunion on the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The latest piece of show-about-nothing candy to which we're treated comes in the form of a Super Bowl commercial, combining Jerry Seinfeld's active web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with the iconic characters from the 1990s sitcom. Seinfeld and Jason Alexander, in character as Jerry and George Costanza, take to their old coffee shop haunt (which, apparently, has been renovated just a touch since '98) during the Super Bowl halftime show to grab a bite, trade insults, and quibble about the minutiae of daily life. It's a delightful bundle of laughs for anyone who loved Seinfeld... a community to which all sane adults subscribe. You can watch the full 6-and-a-half-minute episode over at Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee website. It might be just a taste of our old favorite show, but it'll tide us over until that play Seinfeld and Larry David are working on. You can also check out Seinfeld's CICGC episode with Seinfeld costar Michael Richards on the site.
  • Super Bowl Movie Trailer Roundup: 'Captain America,' 'Spider-Man,' 'Transformers' and More
    By: Michael Arbeiter Feb 02, 2014
    Paramount via Everett Collection If you're like us, you're watching the Super Bowl primarily for the movie trailers. Well, just in case your more football-affixed friends were shouting too loud about touchbacks or rundowns or whatever you call 'em for you to hear your precious previews, here's a roundup of all the new sneak peeks from this year's show. Captain America: The Winter Soldier Need for Speed  Transformers: Age of Extinction Noah The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 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 //