Author

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.
  • Review: Nobody Has Any Idea What Kind of Movie 'Tammy' Is... Including Tammy
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 01, 2014
    Warner Bros. Entertainment Tammy isn't a raunchy, wild, slapstick-heavy Step Brothers-style comedy. It may seem as such from its marketing campaign, which features Melissa McCarthy dancing like a goon in the middle of a fast food parking lot before holding up the joint with a fake gun and a paper bag mask. But it's actually a rather serious film, following McCarthy's title character as she treks aimlessly around the Midwest with her alcoholic grandmother (Susan Sarandon) in tow. There are jokes, sure... but they're not very good. More prevalent is the drama — the emotional storyline that sees both Tammy and Grandma Pearl coming to terms with the complications of their lives... but that part is also not particularly good. Everything about Tammy is unclear. We don't know when we're setting up for a laugh or a whimper. We don't know what we're supposed to think about McCarthy's hero: is she a dolt? A blowhard? A sweet gal with a prickly surface? Does she have any self-awareness at all? Is the silly shtick just overcompensation for sadness? Yes to all. At various points in Tammy, we see McCarthy embody different types of characters, ones that conflict with one another entirely. Just as confusing as the tone of the film is the nature of the woman to whom we're meant to anchor. Warner Bros. Entertainment But Tammy isn't entirely charmless, oddly. As far from "good" as its jokes and emotional material seem to sit, they also pretty effectively avoid "bad." Tammy stays smack dab in the middle of comedy and drama, but also in the qualitative middle. It's usually pleasant, often dull. It's primary flaw, perhaps, is in its inability to keep us invested in where it is headed. Although we have absolutely no idea what this movie is up to, we very rarely care.   // Still, we have to tip our hats to the always charming Sarandon (playing well above her age as McCarthy's grandma), and the comically proficient Gary Cole (an alcoholic himself who aims to woo the wayward Pearl), and a general, if even a little mysterious, air of affability. Tammy won't bust your gut or move you to tears — though it tries to do both — but it won't exactly bore you to tears either. In its unique form, it ends up oddly intriguing. Just... not that intriguing. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Is 'Into the Storm' Changing the Found Footage Game?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 30, 2014
    Warner Bros. Pictures Pioneered as a device to enhance the stakes of horror movies, found footage filmmaking has become a genre all its own. Far more prevalent in the past decade than ever before, the specific brand of cinematography is often mined for heightened realism and utilized as a means to bring the idea of documenting into the story in question. As Steven Quale, the latest director to take on found footage for his new tornado disaster picture Into the Storm, told Hollywood.com on a visit to his set, "The found footage genre, I think, is a new genre. A lot of people are getting into it now, and there’s different types of subgenres of found footage. [It] might even be ... first person narrative now instead of found footage." Told through the eyes and digital lenses of a family of three (father Richard Armitage and sons Nathan Kress and Max Deacon), a team of meteorologists (Matt Walsh and Sarah Wayne Callies), and a pair of storm-chasing adrenaline junkies (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep), the film banks on the unique opportunities of found footage cinema to deliver its high-intensity story.   // Often, it can be difficult to "rationalize" the characters' use of cameras in found footage films. Producer Todd Garner: "The problem with YouTube — and I don’t blame these people, but it generally is a lot of this: 'Oh my gosh, there’s a tornado! Here it comes! Oh s**t, run!' And [they] usually drop the camera, and you’re like, 'Aw, I almost saw it!' It’s ... close but not right there. So we have one guy whose obsession is to get into the eye ... And then everybody else, just because it’s a movie, is able to stay in it and see what is usually happening when people are running away." Steven Quale: "There’s lots of cameras because things have changed a lot since the introduction of, say, The Blair Witch Project and found footage. Everybody has a camera! I mean, look at half the devices. Every phone has a camera on it, every camcorder, and there are security/surveillance cameras. The world is full of cameras. So what we have here is a high school graduation. Every parent has camcorders, so now suddenly you have hundreds if not thousands of viewpoints and points of view to actually film this graduation ceremony. Plus you have the professional crew, well it’s actually students doing it that are actually supposed to capture the graduation so now you suddenly have a legitimate, rational reason for all these cameras and because of the technology and the recent events you’re able to do more of that." Nathan Kress: "The movie is set up, at least from our perspective, as we’re doing a time capsule for the town. So in a way I’m kind of taking it upon myself to document this event that’s going to undoubtedly change the entire course of everybody’s lives in Silverton. One of the other reasons is that the storm chasers kind of recruit me to be a supplemental camera guy and he offers to pay me, which is great for young Trey. So ... for a lot of the action they were able to justify me trying to document everything that was going on." The role of the camera in found footage filmmaking is complex, as is the actor's relationship with her or her camera. Richard Armitage: "Each camera becomes a character. There [are] times where my son isn’t in the scene, but his camera is, and I have to talk to him as if he’s there. But it’s a camera operator. So each camera becomes a character. Some of them are surveillance cameras, so you have to know very specifically that you don’t start talk to a surveillance camera like it’s a person. So it’s very unusual. I’ve never filmed like this before. There are no formal set ups, and the lighting is obviously [made] to look like it’s not lit. There’s no such thing as a close up unless Trey or Donnie is doing a punch zoom. But I don’t know what size the shots have been. I always know what lens we’re on whether it’s mid or tight. I’ve not asked that question because I think I actually don’t want to know in this instance because I want it to kind of be captured and found rather than having any control over how the performance is. Which is why it feels like there is no performance. That’s a good thing. It’s a different kind of work; it’s sort of über-naturalism. Although, at the same time, you build your relationship with your camera operator that you can create the illusion [and find the] moment, which does involve that kind of choreography with the camera. Otherwise they’re always on the back of your head as you run away." Warner Bros. Pictures Due to the different perspectives and cameras at play in Into the Storm, the look and style of the film varies throughout. Steven Quale: "What’s interesting about [Into the Storm] is we definitely want to let the audience know that these are different cameras, different people, different styles of cameras ... Our story is very unique in the sense that it’s not just one person and one camera and that’s the whole story. Our film has three different things happening simultaneously. A group of high school kids ... have their own cameras, and one happens to be the head of the audio video club. So he’s really good with the camera so that makes his stuff better than, say, the average person. Then we have just a couple of local people who aren’t quite as good with the camera and that will be a little more sort of messy type of stuff. And then we have these professional storm chasers who are making a large format theatrical movie about tornados, so they are professional filmmakers with state of the art, high-resolution cameras. So their goal is to try to film the eye of the tornado, the shot that nobody has ever seen in this amazing cinematic manner. So because we have a group of a half dozen or so professional storm chasers who are professional camera people, we have a great opportunity to make it more cinematic and engaging. So my cinematic style will be reflected in those storm chasers because that’s kind of how I’d do that portion of it if I was and I’ve had years of documentary experience having co-directed Aliens of the Deep, the IMAX 3D documentary, I know exactly what those guys make that type of film. So I applied that experience thinking how these guys would act and relate to shooting in a tornado situation." Todd Garner: "We’re using basically every kind of camera I’ve ever seen on a movie set, from flip phones to GoPros, to these cool Nikon cameras, to REDs, to every format. So I would imagine it’s going to look different. And the way he’s shooting each piece of it ... because the storm trackers have a different way of shooting than the two dips**ts with GoPros. It’s not like Cloverfield with one camera filming the whole thing; it’s many, many, many different cameras. So all of the different characters in the movie have a different shooting style." Nathan Kress: "I’ve been doing a show on Nickelodeon for five and a half years [iCarly] where I was the camera guy, so I was able to use quite a bit of experience to actually help me out. Some of it’s been a little bit different because there’s been times where with muscle memory... I had been doing that show, and [they] would always tell me hold the camera lower because we don’t want to block your face when you’re on camera. With this, they realized that doesn’t look real, so I’ve had to relearn. Rather than holding it in places so that my face is above or below the camera, it has to be right there if I was actually shooting it. So it has helped and in some ways, [and] it has actually hindered because I’d been doing it for so long and was so in the groove of doing it a certain way." Of course, there are dangers to the found footage genre... Steven Quale: "What I was afraid of doing is... some found footage movies tend to ... make the camera so zoomy, so jerky, that it makes you sick, basically. There’s a different sensibility aesthetically for filming something that’s on TV with a small screen versus the large screen of cinema. And when you do the same things, it might look fine on your little monitor, but when you blow it up on the big cinematic screen... I have years and years of experience with large format. It makes you sick. It’s too much. So you have to find a fine balance between that to make it feel real and visceral but at the same time not get the audience sick. So we’ve done a lot of tests and I go up to the monitor and put my face right up to it to simulate what it’s like. I insist on seeing all the dailies projected on a big screen so we can fine tune that balance and make it work." Todd Garner: "I know that the knock on found footage movies has been the shaky cam, but I’ve worked with directors who’ve shot worse shaky cam that’s not found footage. It doesn’t bother me if it’s done right. But I know that’s the knock on it. It’s too disorienting. [Quale has] been very specific about giving you the feeling and experience of being first person but [using] real cameramen who can actually get a good shot. He’s really being careful about making sure it’s a good shot but also not making it feel like it’s just big cranes." Naturally, the Into the Storm crew did look back on a few found footage classics in conceiving the film. Todd Garner: "What triggered [Into the Storm] was I’m fascinated by the found footage idea, or the first person camera footage idea, because I think it puts you in the driver’s seat of the movie like I hadn’t seen before. Originally I wanted to do a found footage alien movie, and then Battle: Los Angeles came out. So I was thinking about it and I think the first found footage I ever saw was either [tornadoes] or Bigfoot. And I’m not really ready to do my Bigfoot movie yet ... Cloverfield and Chronicle both, I think, did a good job of moving [the genre] outside. And I would even say Battle: LA, in a certain way, had that vibe of being a found footage movie ... I think it worked so well in the horror genre because it’s emotionally rooted in things that you see every day and can happen to you. And I think that’s why specifically Cloverfield and Battle: Los Angeles and this are in the same genre, because it’s an extraordinary thing happening in a personal space. It’s not like a found footage movie going to the moon... [but] there was one of those. This is happening in your hometown. Cloverfield, Battle: LA, and now this. So, for me, it’s more of an experiential thing than a genre thing."   Into the Storm hits theaters on August 8.  Follow @hollywood_com //
  • The 10 Most Ridiculous Parts of 'Transformers: Age of Extinction'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 30, 2014
    Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection We can't say exactly how much we were "supposed to" be laughing at Transformers: Age of Extinction, but we managed a few chuckles just the same. Michael Bay's latest blockbuster has no shortage of ridiculous moments, lines, scenes, and overarching themes. Here are the 10 most absurd elements in the film: 10) "MY FACE IS MY WARRANT."When asked to produce a warrant before trespassing on Yaeger property, Lost's Man in Black responds with the above proclamation... which is just a little less menacing than it is ridiculous. 9) THE KIDNAPPING OF TESSA YAEGERNicola Peltz's character serves no distinct purpose other than to be yelled about. Her overprotective dad (Mark Wahlberg) yells about her dating her thick-headed boyfriend (Jack Reynor), who yells right back. Then, the two of them get to yell about her being kidnapped by a robot spaceship. But here's the kicker: she isn't really meant to be kidnapped. She just happens to be inside a car that is a little too close to Optimus Prime when they kidnap him. Her attempts to bust open the car windshield (a suggestion that is, of course, yelled to her by her dad) are half-hearted and futile. But the kicker of the kicker: the futuristic, space-traveling robot monsters use a rope net to do the kidnapping. 8) OPTIMUS PRIME'S CLOSING MONOLOGUELittered with idioms like, "There are questions we were never meant to know the answers to, but who we are and where we came from is not one of them," and "When you look to the stars, pretend that one of them is the soul I've spent this movie trying to prove to everyone I probably have, even though I'm a robot," Optimus' final speech to close out the film is as cheesy and vacant as something out of a teen soap with a religious slant. 7) "I WENT THROUGH THE SAME THING WITH BUMBLEBEE."Optimus Prime can empathize with Cade Yaeger's fatherhood headaches. Apparently he's been dealing with his own surrogate child's teenage rebellion and sexual exploration. 6) "ALGORITHMS! MATH!"Stanley Tucci, playing a brilliant scientist, yells this at one point. You've got to imagine that Michael Bay was using these words as script placeholders until he could wrangle a technologically adroit consultant to fill in the gaps... but then just forgot about it in the wake of designing his nineteenth explosion. 5) THE ULTIMATE MESSAGE"Some things shouldn't be invented." So... Transformers is anti-science, then? 4) DRINK BUD LIGHT, EVERYBODY!Struggling to control a wayward spaceship, Wahlberg careens down into the middle of Chicago's rush hour, crashing onto a civilian vehicle and a Bud Light truck. The spill results in a flood of Bud Light bottles and cans, one of which Wahlberg cracks open on a vehicle door as a tacit threat to an angry resident of the Windy City. 3) MARK WAHLBERG'S NAME IS CADE YAEGERThat is a silly name. 2) DON'T MESS WITH TEXASWhen Mark Wahlberg meets his daughter's Irish boyfriend, he calls him "Lucky Charms" and jabs that he doesn't sound like he's from Texas. This coming from a guy who, just a few minutes earlier, exclaimed, "I think we fownd a Transfawmah!" 1) ISN'T IT ROMANTIC?In Transformers: Age of Extinction, Peltz plays 17-year-old high school senior Tessa Yaeger. Reynor plays her boyfriend, the 20-year-old Shane Dyson. Tessa's father Cade presumes such a partnership to be in conflict with statutory law, but is put in his place when Shane produces a laminated newspaper article detailing the Romeo and Juliet Laws, passed in Texas in 2011 (in real life), that allow for the maintenance of any romantic union that began when both parties were minors, even if one breaches the 18-year mark before the other. Got that? The dude carries around a copy of an article that proves he is legally cool to have sex with an underage woman. This is a several-minute-long scene in a Transformers movie devoted to excusing, or presenting a world in which excuses are readily available for, what would otherwise be deemed statutory rape. Weird as all hell. Check out our review of the movie here! Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • What Is Michael Bay's Best and Worst Movie?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 27, 2014
    Getty Images You might hate Michael Bay. You might hate his movies. You might hate every movie he's ever made. But in that very fact is there a paradox: in order to hate every movie Michael Bay has made, you have to have seen every movie Michael Bay has made. And you have, or at least most of them. His films' box office numbers and the unparalleled population density of their critic screenings are proof enough of that. As much as we all lament the life's work of the Los Angeles-born director (including his latest feature, Transformers: Age of Extinction) there is something about his films that draws us back repeatedly. With this in mind, we have to assume that some of them might not actually be as bad as we're inclined to let on. Sure, some of Bay's films are obscenely empty-headed marathons of metallic friction, but among the lot are a few examples of relatively decent blockbuster production. We're not quite sure which is Bay's best (or, if you prefer, least offensive) movie, but we have some candidates. And of course, we're also up for considering his worst piece of work yet, too. Because that's more fun. WHICH IS MICHAEL BAY'S BEST MOVIE?  Could it be... ...The Rock? Buena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection Just the second film Bay ever made, the '96 picture is a pretty sturdy action epic. Performances from Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery don't hurt The Rock's cause one bit. Nor does the climactic Elton John-inspired wordplay. ...Pain & Gain? Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection The only non-Transformers film that Bay has made since picking up the franchise in 2007 is actually a pretty sharp, funny satire about the very ideas that his filmography propagates. ...Armageddon? Touchstone Pictures I know, I know... but... eh, I don't know. It's decidedly cheesy, but hits a few marks in fun and excitement. WHICH IS MICHAEL BAY'S WORST MOVIE? Could it be... ...Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection Wholly disillusioning in its nihilistic adherence to spiritually vacant destruction, this is almost certainly the worst of the Transformers flicks and perhaps Bay's most agonizing feature to date. ...Pearl Harbor? Touchstone Pictures via Everett Collection Why did this happen? ...Bad Boys II? Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection I gather that most would deem it egregious hyperbole to denote Bad Boys II the very worst movie Bay has made, but I defy you to sit through this unbelievably overlong tribute to grit and machismo without wincing in agony at every half-hour mark. Let us know what you think: are you a defender of Dark of the Moon? Do you detest The Island? Sound off below! And catch Transformers: Age of Extinction in theaters now. You know you're going to. We all are. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Snowpiercer' Is Remarkably Twisted, Creative, and Fun
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 26, 2014
    Weinstein Company Every time I begin to recommend Snowpiercer to a friend, I experience an instant of jabbing fear and doubt. These feelings set in, like clockwork, at the onset of my description of the plot: “Global warming has wiped out humanity.” Every time, as whatever listener I have procured struggles to hide a wince, I question first if I can successfully articulate the experience I had with this movie… and then, as I consider the audacity in its premise alone, if it could have really been all that great to begin with. But tasked with at the very least describing the little advertised Bong Joon-ho picture, I advance to the next element in my illustration of the story: “And everybody left alive is stuck on this giant train.” And every time, as the winces turn to looks of bewilderment, I begin to pick up speed. I careen through the explanation of the rigid caste system that envelops the train’s passengers/prisoners, the revolution that sparks at the dawn of the film, and the performances of stars John Hurt, Song Kang-ho, and a particularly miraculous Tilda Swinton. (Chris Evans isn't too bad either, but doesn't always keep up with the campy flavor of his comrades.) Weinstein Company via Everett Collection The uncertainty fades as I come to realize just how much fun I am having explaining what happens in Snowpiercer, sure to insist to my now wholly engaged audience that I’m hardly doing the movie justice. I'm reminded of how inviting the film is, shockingly so when you consider its grim conceit. Affability is no mean feat for a movie about human extinction, class warfare, murder, dismemberment, cannibalism... as dark as the movie gets, it's never repulsive. You're always driven to march on, from the caboose straight up the engine room, at the very least to see what new bit of twisted mania this movie has up its sleeve. The further we travel into the story, the more impressed and delighted we are by the imaginations of director Bong Joon-ho and the creators of the source graphic novel Le Transperceneige. Snowpiercer's ultimate victory is how palatable it makes its unbelievably weird material. Things might get bonkers — a fact you rediscover when you inevitably decide to recommend the movie to somebody else ("...and then they get to the rave room...") — but they are always delivered in a fashion that prefers an intimacy with its audience, rather than the cold distance that some high concept pieces strive for... or at least wind up embodying regardless of intent. This is never a problem with Snowpiercer. The weirder it gets, the more we get into it. You might not recognize this at first, or at the dawn of your recollection of the bats**t premise, but you'll get there quickly enough. This train doesn't take long to pick up momentum. 4.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Transformers: Age of Extinction' Is a Nonlethal Overload of Nonsense
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 26, 2014
    Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection Ultimately, Transformers: Age of Extinction is not as excruciating as its predecessors. The first Transformers was bad, but not spirit-killing bad. Revenge of the Fallen kicked off that trend, delivering a soulless two-and-a-half hours of nihilistic gear crunching nihilism — a phenomenon that was reproduced, but in sub-lethal doses, in Dark of the Moon. Somehow, even with at least four extra tiers of mindless climax and a post-9/11 motif underway, Age of Extinction manages to be the least offensive of the lot. Maybe it's the absence of Shia LaBeouf, perhaps the colorful robo-voice cast, or even the thinly veiled breakdown of American conservatism that's principally responsible fueling interest. But make no mistake: this combination may well airlift Transformers: Age of Extinction to a surprising altitude of tolerability (especially when considering its egregious 167-minute runtime), but the movie is still pretty darn bad. The movie bats around themes of progressivism (and, more prominently, anti-progressivism) with no particular margins in mind. Mark Wahlberg plays a lifelong Texan with a distinct proclivity for non-rhotic Rs and a teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz) who he keeps on a tight leash. When he comes face to face with her new boyfriend (Jack Reynor), a 20-year-old immigrant (perish the thought!) from Ireland (is that one of the bad ones?) in one of the film's most mind-boggling scenes representing the upsurge in liberal thinking that lays waste to American values like statutory law. Dopey Wahlberg, a perpetually blubbering Peltz, and the wickedly nondescript Reynor discover and join forces with a Transformer — Optimus Prime, to be precise — who is on a quest to do something. Something to do with humans or Decepticons or Dinobots. Whoever it is (they're all in there), he's trying to avoid them or save them or fight them. His friends come, too. Bumblebee, John Goodbot, and a samurai Transformer so undeniably racist that it stunned me that the voice actor behind the portrayal was Ken Watanabe, and not somebody whose only experience with Japanese culture came from World War II-era Looney Tunes shorts. Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection The incomprehensibility rages on as the "story" ropes in inventor Stanley Tucci — a Steve Jobs type — and Senator Kelsey Grammer — a Kelsey Grammer type. As the arguments for and against innovation are sprinkled through a minefield of nonsense, we struggle to understand the sincerity behind director Michael Bay's ultimate message. We also struggle to understand where or when or how any of what happening is happening in relationship to any other place, time, or characters in the movie. The geography of the action sequences (it might be wrong to pluralize this phrase — the second half of the film is more accurately one long action sequence separated by moments of Tucci nebbishing it up) and coherency of the set pieces are sub-afterthought. We see a lot of stuff, but we never watch anything really happen.   // With a climax that lasts forever and an abject lack of denoument, the second half of the movie is notably more harrowing than the first. But thanks to the charms of its cast (Tucci has fun and Goodman is endearing... forget Wahlberg, Peltz, and Reynor, though) and a few comically bizarre moments (like a rainstorm of Bud Light bottles or Tucci screaming about math... well, not about math, but... eh, you'll see), Age of Extinction is ultimately... survivable. Not the highest praise you can give a movie, but possibly the highest praise you can give a Transformers movie. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Michael Bay Might Have to Reedit 'Transformers: Age of Extinction' Because of a Bizarre Lawsuit
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 23, 2014
    Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection At the end of this week, Michael Bay will unleash Transformers: Age of Extinction — his fourth attempt to usurp the American lexicon with the sounds of metal crunching. While you can stumble into any crowd of mentally capacitated human beings and hear no shortage of reasons why, for the love of god, these movies need to stop, it is a particularly surprising source behind the charge to detain Bay's film this time around: Beijing Pangu Investment Co. Ltd, the company that owns the Pangu Plaza hotel (featured in Age of Extinction) is demanding that Paramount remove all traces of the establishment from the theatrical cut of the movie to run in China. Although this isn't a particularly outlandish demand, there's an addendum that makes it a bit funnier: per Cinemablend, Pangu would have been totally cool with the inclusion of its hotel, which it advertises (generously) as "dragon-shaped," in the fourth Transformers film were the film to hold its premiere at said hotel. But this was not the case, making the whole legal ordeal come off as just a little catty. "What, you're too good to have your premiere at our hotel? Fine! Then you can forget about using it in your movie!" Of course, when you phrase it like that, it completely undermines the legal decisions that probably have a great deal of founding in the marketing policies of a successful company. But a hotel that prides itself as being shaped like a dragon is suing a movie about dinosaurs fighting robot dinosaurs, so I think we're all fine with not taking the issue particularly seriously. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Venus in Fur' Is a Little Full of Itself, But Packs Loads of Wit and Energy
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 20, 2014
    Lionsgate It won't take you long to realize that Venus in Fur has no intention of stepping beyond the dank auditorium in which it opens. But claustrophobia is never on Roman Polanski's mind when he sends his film careening through the folds of Western psychosexuality, directing his starring duo with a momentum that carries them well beyond the setting walls. While Polanski's last effort, Carnage, used the one-room conceit to press down on and crush its characters, here he's playing the opposite game: launching fractured playwright Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) higher, higher, higher until he vaporizes into the atmosphere. Like any skyward launch, the journey in Venus is pretty straightforward and narrow. But it's fast, freeing, and a good deal of fun on the way up. Stage actress Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) bursts in out of the rain to insist upon an audition with frustrated artiste Thomas, whose "perfect woman" evades him in the quest to cast his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novella Venus in Furs. Despite the tired writer/director's protests, Vanda engages in an increasingly captivating — and increasingly mysterious — embodiment of the female lead, drawing Thomas deeper into her favor, and bringing closer to light his own relationship with the sexually-charged story. Lionsgate The film is a little too interested in its own enigma: the true motives behind Vanda's performance, and the explanation for the occasional hints dropped that she is more than what she seems. When it commits principality to the importance this wicked secret, Venus in Fur becomes less than the sum of its parts. The joy is in the present: Vanda launching Thomas through the most horrifying corridors of his own mind, the altitude tearing him apart at the seams. Polanski's traditional black heart peers through, but the whimsy of the story's theatrical setting — and Seinger's terrifically bright performance — keep things consistently fun. As grand as its themes may be — with gender and sexuality topping the lot — Venus in Fur amounts to something very simple. Though the ultimate product may sell short some of the gravity attached to its central ideas, the visceral journey is rich all the way through. It's dark, cheeky, provocative, and more than anything else, energized. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Can Rian Johnson Master 'Star Wars'? Looking at 'Brick,' 'Looper,' and 'Breaking Bad'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 20, 2014
    LucasFilm via Everett Collection It might seem like Disney is taking some big risks with its most precious property, the Star Wars universe. Gareth Edwards — slated to direct a yet unspecified standalone character feature for the franchise — turned in an exceptional Godzilla movie, but still only has one additional directing credit to his name. Chronicle's Josh Trank, recently saddled with a similar gig, was an even more surprising choice for the studio. And now, the coup de gracie: Rian Johnson, one of the most interesting filmmakers playing the genre game these days, will take on writing and directing duties for Star Wars: Episode VIII and Star Wars: Episode IX (per Deadline). It's the biggest task that Disney has yet to bestow upon any of its Star Wars folk, with sci-fi frontman J.J. Abrams only earning the one film, but perhaps the lowest risk of the bunch. If you take a look at Johnson's complete filmography, you'll see what we mean. BRICK Focus Features  Johnson's debut feature — a pitch black neo-noir mystery that follows a pre-resurgence Joseph Gordon-Levitt around the underbelly of his high school community looking for the answers to a spiraling mystery. The biggest strength of Brick, beyond some dynamite performances all around (Gordon-Levitt most of all) is a script that reads practically like music. Compare Harrison Ford bemoaning George Lucas' 1977 Star Wars dialogue ("George, you can type this s**t, but you sure as hell can't say it!") with JGL singing the praises of Johnson's poetry ("Brick was a good script just to read. It was like, 'Oh my God, these words feel so good in my mouth.' A lot of movies try to set up a world with cool sets, costumes, camera work. In Brick, the world is born from the words.") and you'll see that maybe a talented wordsmith is exactly what the franchise needs. LOOPER TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection Johnson reteamed with Gordon-Levitt in 2012 for his first science fiction feature, and perhaps the first of his movies to earn something close to widespread recognition. Admittedly, Looper got its share of flack for "time travel problems," as any movie that plays fast and loose with the rules of such a delicate sci-fi staple is bound to. But Looper isn't a bastardization of the tradition, it's a celebration of it: of what makes it fun, interesting, a valuable storytelling device, and worth watching a movie about. Instead of being didactic to the impossible logic of timeline continuity, Johnson was devoted chiefly to the spirit of time travel. This is what we want in a Star Wars director — someone who loves that galaxy far, far away but won't let it arrest his imagination. BREAKING BAD AMC Johnson directed three episodes of Breaking Bad, each a memorable entry in the series' five season run. The first was "Fly" (represented above, as even those unfamiliar might have guessed), Breaking Bad's take on the small screen tradition of the bottle episode, trapping Walter White literally inside of his laboratory and figuratively inside of his decaying mind. Two years later, Johnson helmed "Fifty-One," famous primarily for the climactic scene in which Skyler attempts suicide by jumping into the family's swimming pool. And finally, "Ozymandias," the third-to-last episode of the series and top contender for most celebrated Breaking Bad episode of all. The director exemplifies such completely different strengths in "Fly" and "Ozymandias" that you'd have to be startled upon learning they were brought to screen by the same artist. In the former, Walt's turmoil reaches out from in, poisoning him (and Jesse) slowly and steadily over the course of the 45-minute ep. "Ozymandias," on the other hand, is a deep dish of adrenaline. From minute one, things are edge-of-your-seat tense, incurring shoot-outs, killings, high speed chases, kidnappings, domestic chaos, the works. Both sorts of dramatic expertise are needed for any good adventure piece. Johnson can handle subdued tension, internalized drama, and psychological horror. But he also knows what he's doing when it comes to action, adrenaline, and guttural excitement. If nothing else has convinced you that he's a shoe-in for a good Star Wars picture, Breaking Bad has got to do the trick.   Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Jersey Boys' Is a Pleasant Enough Mess with No Direction At All
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 20, 2014
    Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection "You've all seen the play?" I can imagine Clint Eastwood saying to his cast and crew on the first day of shooting Jersey Boys."Yeah," they respond."Good," he'd then smile. "Do that." And they'd never see him again. Aside from dropping by three quarters of the way through production to insist on a visual reference to his golden years, Eastwood doesn't seem to have a ton to say about how his film adaptation of the Frankie Valli story should take form. Scenes throughout the movie seem to have been set and blocked in the fabric of Jackson Pollock, with actors scattered about the stage, backs to the camera, faces overlapping in a horribly distracting fashion. Such scenes are woven together so tenuously, banking with desperation on the hope that everybody watching cares about anything that might happen to the four boys in question, because there's really no contextual throughline. Plot turns, conflicts, and whole characters are introduced abjectly; each serves less as an emotional beat than it does as a segue into the next musical number. But while these musical numbers might be able to carry a haphazard story on the Broadway stage, the magic is far from our grasp in Eastwood's movie. Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection Despite an R rating for a few "f**k"s here and there, the film is as squeaky clean as the tunes of the Four Seasons. Even the mobsters with whom Frankie and Tommy associate — a riotous Christopher Walken plays their own personal godfather — are of the family friendly variety: the only drop of blood spilled in the film is the result of a botched shave, and the only act of larceny an episode of comical ineptitude. The sugar is coated so heavily that when the movie does attempt to get deep and dark, we're obscenely confused. And the music sure as hell doesn't help matters in the drama department. Still, Jersey Boys manages an inscrutable tolerability, plodding by on the charms of half of its starring team — Vincent Piazza is often jarring but frequently enchanting as undiagnosed psychopath Tommy DeVito, and Erich Bergen is a lot of fun as straight-laced Bob Gaudio (we can accredit his comic timing here to his preadolescent screen debut on The Dana Carvey Show) — and an everpresent Muppety ambiance surrounding these wannabe crooks (of the Frankie and Mugsy variety) turned wannabe stars (of the Frankie and Dean variety).   // So, we're left with more of a smile than a frown. The film lacks any definitive structure or interesting style, but it manages an affable energy nonetheless. Not unlike the music of the Four Seasons, actually. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com