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.
  • The Generational Comedy Stylings of 'Tower Heist'
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 06, 2011 7:56am EST
    Tower Heist might speak particularly well to the present day, with a plot revolving around an eclectic bunch of everymen trying to steal back the money that is rightfully theirs from a greedy billionaire. However, there is one pretty significant element of Tower Heist that has been a constant for generations (not Casey Affleck, although I do have my suspicions that he is a reincarnation of Johannes Kepler). I’m talking about comedy. Although comedy has been around since the dawn of humanity and has existed as a prominent part of film, television and other forms of popular culture over the past few decades, there are certainly distinctions in the way comedy has been delivered. This is something that Tower Heist embraces. Upon examining the cast of Tower Heist, you’re likely to notice the wide range of ages in the starring players. More importantly than their ages even are their professional histories. Headliner Ben Stiller, for instance, developed his notoriety in the 1990s. Stiller’s Tower Heist sidekick Eddie Murphy, who really blossomed a decade prior—the 1980s. And, of course, the film’s villain: the great Alan Alda, who became a welcome fixture in American households during the 1970s with the hit television series M*A*S*H. Each of these men is synonymous with the comedy of his time. Alda’s heartbreaking M*A*S*H finale still holds the record for most-watched episode of television in American history. Murphy’s Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop movies are modern classics. And Stiller has continued to churn out fan favorites since his 1995 comedy Heavyweights. And though each could be considered a comedic kingpin of his respective era, they are all quite different in the humor with which they do supply us. Let’s start with Alda (I like my lists to be chronological, alphabetical, and in descending order of time spent grinning). Alda is known best for having played army surgeon Captain Hawkeye Pierce for eleven years on M*A*S*H, regaling audiences with his charm and intellect. Pierce acted as sort of a less energetic Bugs Bunny figure—we always know that when up against opponents like the humorless Major Burns, Pierce would come up the victor. Why? He was smarter, cooler, quicker with a jab—always one step ahead of everybody else. Pierce was rife with wordplay, double-talk, and countless of lines that seemed to entrance the seemingly endless supply of nameless military nurses at the 4077th. In short, Pierce was a winner. This is why it was easy to root for him—he’s the sort of character that everyone wishes to identify with the most (even if they are more the Radar type). And most importantly, just about everything he said was funny. Always on point and stocked with a clever shot, Hawkeye Pierce—and his portrayer Alan Ada—represented the comedy that America needed in the trying times of the Cold War: someone who represented intellect, popularity, stability, and success. Eddie Murphy represented quite a different style of hero—not quite an antihero, but definitely a less “noble” figure than Hawkeye. Murphy’s 48 Hrs. conman Reggie Hammond and his free-wheeling Beverly Hills Cop detective Axel Foley were reckless, irresponsible, loud-mouthed goofballs: the type whose energetic antics were regularly laugh-a-minute. The main difference between Murphy and Alda is the level of composure each represents. Whereas Alda’s comedy derived from his ability to stay calm in high stress situations (minor example: the Korean War), Murphy was a wily stick of dynamite, set off by so much as a crooked glance from somebody wearing far too much denim. For my money, Trading Places is the best comedic performance by, and best representation of, Murphy. When the film begins, Murphy’s character Billy Ray Valentine is a squawking swindler, pleading unsuccessfully with Philadelphian pedestrians for some spare change. Before becoming involved in the Duke brothers’ nefarious scheme (the central plot), Valentine finds himself in over his head in a handful of situations: he is outsmarted by a pair of policemen, thrown in jail, and nearly beaten to a pulp by two very large, very intimidating cellmates. And this is Eddie Murphy at his best: while Valentine manages to dig his own grave deeper and deeper, he still hangs onto the air of superiority and self-importance that fuels the vociferous verbal tirades for which the actor is famous. Alda’s type was important for his time—when America needed to feel like a winner. Murphy’s was equally important for his time. Murphy’s criminal characters didn’t represent the same educated sophisticates that Alda’s did. Murphy played on behalf of the common man who, while perhaps not as prone to Pierce’s casual literary allusions and effortless yet hilarious asides, were still capable of being extremely funny, and were still capable of being looked at as heroes. Hawkeye Pierce was a winner, and he knew it. Murphy’s characters weren’t quite as adept as Pierce, but they were nonetheless convinced of their grandeur. And then comes the third comic actor in question, whose characters represent the final extreme: the beta-male, the hapless nebbish, the spineless nerd, the full-fledged, bona fide loser…too harsh? It’s okay…as you’d probably assume from the fact that I blog about movies for a living, this is the category I belong to. The ‘90s saw America willing to root for a new type of hero. While Radiohead, Daria and Stephen Chbosky let the lot of us know that there was value in our inability to fit in, Stiller brought the notion of this new hero to comedic film. With films like Reality Bites, There’s Something About Mary, and Meet the Parents, Stiller represented the sort of well-meaning sad sack that we both pitied and rooted for. American pop culture wasn’t as consumed by superiority by this point. Weaker characters could be our heroes. We would even find ourselves comfortably—willingly, even—identifying with the losers. As Alda’s charming soldier was necessary for the American public in the 1970s. Murphy’s lovable ne’er-do-well was a heroic character for the working class man of the 1980s. And for the brooding beta-males who hadn’t yet seen their hero come to fruition onscreen, the 1990s brought Stiller. So what does it mean for us that they all come together in Tower Heist? It could mean the beginning of the end to the rigidity in the separation of these types of heroes. Maybe we can find ourselves rooting equally for men like Hawkeye Pierce, Billy Ray Valentine and Michael Grates. After all, the most heroic thing done by any of these characters is the inspiration of laughter in their audiences. When casting out the value in those unlike us, this is one of the most important things to remember. It doesn’t matter if you relate best to Alda’s well-read playboy war hero, Murphy’s motor-mouth swindler or Stiller’s sighing sad sack. The important thing is that each of these men can, has, and will continue to make us laugh.
  • Casting Roundup: Gary Busey on 'Two and a Half Men' and 'New Girl's' New Romance
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2011 2:05pm EST
    The Two and a Half Men set is no stranger to the eccentric. But now that Charlie Sheen is gone, it needs to fill the void of not-quite-sane celebrity somehow. There is no defecit in actors who might be short a few, but they really grabbed from the upper echelon of the pool of peculiarity with this new guest casting decision. Gary Busey will appear on an episode of Two and a Half Men, playing himself. Experiencing some latent grief over the loss of his brother, Alan (Jon Cryer) begins to foster delusions that he is Charlie. He goes to a psychiatric hospital to sort this situation out, and meets none other than Busey, who's also a patient at the mental health care institution. Busey's episode of Two and a Half Men will air on Monday, Nov. 14 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. -THR Fox's unstoppably lovable New Girl will be amping up its unstoppable lovability (be careful watching: you might be transformed into a Care Bear or something). Kali Hawk, who you likely know from films like Bridesmaids, Get Him to the Greek and Couples Retreat, will be stopping by the series to play a love interest for Jess' (Zooey Deschanel) most rigid roommate, Winston (Lamorne Morris). Hawk's character, Shelby, is an old love of Winston's who used to be quite obsessed with our most closed-mouth New Guy. Hawk will remain on the show for a multi-episode arc, sparking up some old feelings no doubt. New Girl airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. -TVLine Megan Mullally is a gift to comedic television. She was the heavy-hitter on Will & Grace, the secret weapon on Party Down, and continues to be one of the highlights of Childrens Hospital (and don't get us started on her recurring Parks & Rec role). She's heading over to Fox to join the cast of the hacker sitcom Breaking In, starring Bret Harrison and Christian Slater. Mullally will play a new head of the security firm, usurping Oz's (Slater) position as top banana. Season 2 of Breaking In will head into production in January, to join Fox's Tuesday night lineup come at midseason. -Deadline The Showtime drama Shameless, starring William H. Macy as a no-good alcoholic father of six, is on its way back for a second season. Come the twelfth episode of the season, we will meet a guest character played by Jenna Elfman of Dharma & Greg fame. Elfman is known for her comedic chops, but will likely have to channel some drama in the often heavy Showtime series. Showtime describes Elfman's character as "a woman with a dangerous past and an awkward present." Shameless will premiere Sunday, Jan. 8 on Showtime. -AOLTV
  • Fassbender Might Team with 'Apes' Director for KGB Spy Biopic
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2011 12:37pm EST
    Michael Fassbender is the guy to bet on these days. Not only does he have a name that sounds remarkably like "Fast-Bender" (which really means nothing, but sounds like it could very well mean something awesome), he's also very good at that acting thing he's been up to of late. The latest news around the fast bend is the development of a biopic about Russian secret agent Alexander Litvinenko. The spy served for the Soviet KGB and its successor, the FSB, until his arrest in 1998. The story of the film will follow the later days of Litvinenko's life, after he was fatally poisoned in 2006 by an exposure to polonium radiation. Fassbender is being reached to play Litvinenko, who, while on bedrest in London, publicized the statement that it was Vladimir Putin, then-president of Russia, who intentionally poisoned him. Warner Bros., the studio producing the film, is reaching for Rupert Wyatt, the celebrated director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, to take charge behind the camera. The Fast-Bender and the Ape-Riser... Ape-Riser is a terrible nickname; I apologize, Mr. Wyatt. The Fast-Bender and the Caesar-Homer (there it is). Could this duo-on-the-rise pull together and delivier an intriguing, terrifying and heartbreaking story? Instill sympathy into a Soviet spy, and strength into a dying man? If anyone can do it... it's the Fast-Bender and the Rocket-Cookier (there it is). Source: Deadline
  • 'Boardwalk Empire' Preview & Clips Prove The Excitement Is On The Rise
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2011 12:32pm EST
    This season of Boardwalk Empire may have gotten off to a slow start, but after Nucky's fistfight with his brother; Maggie's unsettling feelings for Owen Slater; Mickey Doyle's warehouse explosion; van Alden's marital turmoil; Richard's near suicide; Jimmy's scalping of a wheelchair-bound business head; and the rooting of a multi-syndicate heroin operation, it's safe to say that things are back in the neighborhood of excitement. As we can see in the preview below, Sunday's episode seems no different. With Jimmy on the rise and Nucky on the fall, Maggie and van Alden each engulfed by their emotional demons, and everybody and his mother trying to upstage their bosses and break into a crime ring of their own, things aren't about to get any less complicated. Ep. 19 - Preview As if tensions weren't thick enough for Maggie in the Thompson household (what with the servants mocking her behind her back, Nucky losing friends by the minute, and Slater coming around everyday to send a charge into her heart), she decides to pay a visit to her long-estranged brother. In the clip below, we can see that Maggie doesn't exactly receive the warm welcome she desires. Ep. 19 Clip - Margaret Enters Brooklyn Apartment With nowhere else to turn (as her previous support group was the already batty Detective Nelson van Alden, who is now plagued with the additional mental disarray of his wife having left him), the new mother Lucy returns to her old mate: Nucky Thompson, interrupting a very important meeting with his lawyer. We can see below that Nucky will not be bamboozled, however. Before Lucy can even speak, Nucky has the exact statement prepared to ellapse him from any parental responsibilities. Boardwalk Empire airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
  • Elijah Wood to Bring Back the Crazy in 'Maniac'
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2011 11:35am EST
    Elijah Wood has a speciality. Hidden in the shadow of his more pronounced hobbitry is the actor's uncanny ability to play crazy. And I'm not just talking about Sin City crazy, wherein he plays a speechless, inhuman cannibal. I also mean Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind crazy, where his desperate self-loathing drove him to feigning his entire identity to win the heart of a girl with whom he fell in love while she was undergoing the Charlie Kaufman equivalent of brain surgery. I also mean the sort of crazy that brings him to hallucinate anthropomorphic dog-men, as he does in Wilfred (which may be a little uneven so far, but always offers good performances by Wood). So, we've seen him try his hand at a few different manifestations of mental disarray, and all with great skill; but Wood's master thesis in twisted characters will take form in the upcoming Maniac. In Maniac, directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2 and Wrong Turn at Tahoe), Wood will play an antique mannequin salesman. Not too crazy yet, but keep reading. He's also a serial killer (there it is) who stalks his victims via the Internet and kills them (there it is-er) when overcome by tormenting hallucinations of childhood traumas (not over yet) as an outlet for spiritual revenge against his abusive mother (wham, bam, thank you ma' that insensitive?). I do think Wood to be a more than adept portrayer of unbalanced, torturted individuals, as those listed above. He's also got a tender quality to him that might make hima sympathetic killer, if that's what the film wants to go for. Working in his favor still is a comedic prowes...but I'm not too certain there'll be much room for laughter in Khalfoun's movie. Maniac will begin shooting around the end of 2011. Source: Deadline
  • Conan Performs a Gay Marriage Ceremony
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2011 7:16am EST
    Last night, America experienced a monumenetal moment in television history: Conan O'Brien performed an actual gay wedding ceremony at the end of his talk show, Conan. The show, ordinarily based out of Los Angeles, has been shooting in New York, where gay marriage is legal, since Monday. Conan was ordained as a minister for the ceremony, which united the show's costume designer Scott Cronick and his new husband David Gorshein. I'm not usually big on televised weddings, but everything this says about where we've come as a society is pretty awesome.
  • Kristen Stewart Punched Chris Hemsworth in the Face: Late Last Night
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2011 7:14am EST
    Last night on The Tonight Show, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn star Kristen Stewart paid a visit to talk about punching Chris Hemsworth in the face on the set of Snow White and the Huntsman. Finally, Eddie Murphy showed up on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to discuss his "unscripted passionate love scene" with Gabourey Sidibe that didn't make it into the final cut of Tower Heist, and to talk about the original idea for the movie that would have starred Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, Mike Epps and Tracy Morgan. Finally, on Conan, the host's old friend Triumph the Insult Comic Dog paid a visit to a locale he could really sink his teeth into: the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zucotti Park. Whatever side of the issue you're'll probably be laughing at Triumph's return to human debasement.
  • Melissa McCarthy to Write and Star in 'The Help' Director's 'Tammy'
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2011 6:35am EST
    After Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy's notoriety in the film world exploded. Since the hit comedy film, the actress has hosted Saturday Night Live and has been in talks for several projects, including Judd Apatow's Knocked Up sequel This is Forty, a comedy opposite Jason Bateman, and a new sitcom. The latest in McCarthy news: a film called Tammy, which will be directed by Tate Taylor, who also directed this summer's The Help. Tammy, written by McCarthy herself and her husband Ben Falcone (who played her air marshal love interest in Bridesmaids), centers around a woman who undergoes a series of unlucky turns, including losing her waitressing job and finding out her husband is cheating on her. Fed up, Tammy takes to the road with her wily, alcoholic grandmother for a journey of comical life-changery. Taylor's dramatic The Help won large audiences and a good amount of praise, but his first attempt at feature directing, the comedy Pretty Ugly People, wasn't as well-received. This doesn't necessarily mean that Taylor can't do comedy; in fact, the teaming with McCarthy is already boding quite well for this film's reputation. Many of us will be glad to see McCarthy headlining a film. Her work on the script is even more exciting. We don't know much about Tammy yet, but everything we do know is all positive. Source: THR
  • 'Person of Interest' Recap: Witness
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 03, 2011 10:01pm EST
    S1E7: Over the course of the past six weeks, I have been asked many times what I think of Person of Interest so far. Like many who decided to get into the show, I was a zealous LOST-aholic. And, like most people who exist in the Western world, I am an admirer of all things Nolan. So, a show created by the The Dark Knight and Memento writer, produced by J.J. Abrams, and starring Michael Emerson seemed like a pretty good habit in which to get invested. Still, every time the question was posed to me over the last month and change, I’d humbly answer something in the vein of, “It’s been just okay so far,” always adding, for the sake of my own optimism and that of my partner in the discussion, “but I think it’s building to something.” Well, whether I truly believed it or was just saying it to keep spirits upbeat, it finally happened. This week’s Person of Interest episode, “Witness,” is the very thing to which the show has been carefully, charismatically building. And honestly, I am pretty freakin’ thrilled. “If I testify, I never get to come back here. I’ve worked too hard. This is my home.” – Charlie A shooting at a bodega stirs gang-related controversy. Detectives Carter and Fusco, and a lieutenant played by Mike McGlone (the “Could switching to GEICO…?” guy) deliver the story: Brighton Beach, although a territory ruled by the Russian crime syndicate, has an Italian uprising in the form of a man named Elias and his cronies. Elias is the figure that Carter has been investigating over the course of the past few episodes. His name first came up during Reese’s undercover bank robbery, and pervaded into last week’s episode, in which Carter and Dan Hedaya took on a case. The problem is: nobody knows who Elias is or what he looks like. The man shot in the bodega is one of Elias’ men; the shooter is a representative of the Russian mob, avenging his murdered family member. So where do Reese and Finch come in? There is a witness at the bodega: a schoolteacher named Charlie (Enrico Colantoni) who saw the face of the shooter. The machine shoots out his number, and Reese rushes to his aide—just in time to drag him from the clutches of gun-toting Russians (fun cameo for Community fans: one of the Russian thugs is Luka, the Slavic warmonger with whom Britta became temporarily enamored). In hiding out with Charlie, Reese develops a liking and respect for him. Not to mention he busts his phone and cannot communicate with Finch, so he probably feels a little more compelled to make small-talk out of boredom (that inability to communicate is inconvenient for some other pretty obvious reasons too). Charlie refuses to testify out of fear of the Russian mob. He can’t get himself killed, primarily because his students need him. Reese develops a fondness for Charlie beyond even that which he seemed to foster for Zoe last week. Thus, he goes to every length imaginable to see him safe. “Elias started a war that can’t be won. Now a lot of innocent people are going to die. Do you want that?” – Det. Carter “If that’s what it takes.” – Mrs. D’Agostino Unable to communicate with Reese, Finch is forced to finally interact with Det. Fusco. In cahoots (and sometimes behind each other’s backs, but still working toward the same goal), they investigate a parked car and a mysterious police officer who is believed to be Elias. Meanwhile Carter tries to reason with the widow of the dead bodega criminal, who only wishes for the downfall of the Russian mob at the hands of Elias. She also insists that when he does rise—wanting to take over far more than just Brighton Beach—the entire police department will answer to him. It’s spooky. It’s exciting. Out of options and on the run, Reese and Charlie head into forbidden territory: the apartment complex run by the Bulgarian drug force. The Russians brave these wild-lands (earning the Bulgarians’ approval as they wish harm unto Reese for beating up two of their men in order to earn some coke to nurse Charlie’s gunshot wound…just go with it) and a game of manhunt ensues. Reese and Charlie get the break that one of the latter’s students allows them to hide out in his apartment. Here, Reese and the audience get to see Charlie really connect with the young man. We see just what kind of a role model he is—one that has clearly touched his students, and one that really deserves saving. This angelic good guy image really should tip us off to what’s coming, but it’s done pretty subtly and artfully, so it doesn’t (at least, it dupes me). “Teaching can be a dangerous profession.” – Reese “I am sure espionage is much safer, Mr. Reese.” – Finch Reese manages to apprehend the Community cameo, and brings him aboard a boat docked at the pier, tying him up. While Reese promises further to protect Charlie, the Russian thug begins monologuing—gotta love it—and informs Reese, and us, that Charlie is not who he seems. Yep. Charlie is Elias. Charlielias confirms this by pointing a gun to Reese’s head and tying him up. He does let him live out of gratitude and respect, but goes on to collect his soldiers and vow to take back the neighborhood that once belonged to his lineage. The ending of the episode is terrific for several reasons. One: it’s a killer twist. Two: it promises a large, exciting story to come—one that will hopefully carry over a good part of the season. Three, and most importantly: it makes Reese question the machine (and himself). The machine brought him to save the life of an evil man. How can he trust it blindly any further? How can he ever know who is worth saving? What is the point of saving lives at the cost of others? Is he even leading a noble life? The questions are endless. Luckily, we’ve got a Nolan behind it all. And an Abrams, too. And after six weeks of hopeful waiting, we finally see just what the two of them are up to. And let me say: it’s turning out to be some damn good TV.
  • Casting Roundup: Elisabeth Moss May Get a BBC Show, an Old Friend Returns to Conan
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 03, 2011 2:05pm EST
    The curse of being an actor on a hit television series is often that people identify you only as your character. Elisabeth Moss is bst known for playing Peggy Olson on AMC's Mad Men, but she might soon expand her notoriety with a new series on the BBC. Moss is in the late stages of a deal with the British network to star in Top of the Lake, a crime-drama miniseries about the investigation of a missing pregnant girl, whose father is a notorious drug kingpin. If the deal goes through, Moss will play Robin Griffin, the detective on the case. Also attached is writer/director Jane Campion (The Piano). -Deadline Technically, Conan O'Brien isn't really allowed to use a good deal of his bits and characters that he created for the NBC network now that he is hosting his talk show, Conan, on TBS. However, that hasn't stopped the irreverent Conan from making a few call-backs to his former days hosting Late Night. And he's not done yet. Conan will be reunited his, arguably, most iconic character: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. According to Conan's twitter, Triumph will be making an appearance on his show tonight, to add to the glory of his week shooting in New York City. The week has already been packed full of Conan's best comedy in quite some time; this is no disappointment. Conan airs weeknights at 11 p.m. ET/PT on TBS. -Twitter When 30 Rock returns to NBC a mid-season replacement, it will be bringing with it some guest stars of note. When we last left Jack Donaghy, he was still sullied over the kidnapping of his wife, Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks). However, Donaghy won't be entirely alone: Avery's mother is coming to the show, and she'll be played by Mary Steenburgen. Steenburgen's character will be Charlotte, an "uber-WASP" who doesn't quite get along with her son-in-law. The Corrections, the 2001 novel by Jonathan Franzen, has been officially picked up for adaptation as a series by HBO. Starring in the series are Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest as a couple from the American Midwest who muster their estranged children to enjoy "one last Christmas" together as the twentieth century comes to a close. -Vulture