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.
  • Meeting the Newest 'Star Wars VII' Stars: Lupita Nyong'o, Brienne of Tarth, and a Giant Rhino
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 02, 2014
    Fox Searchlight via Everett Collection Back when Star Wars VII announced its first rally of official players, we tackled each name on the list with a brief bit of professional history and our hopes and expectations for that with which he or she might be tasked for the upcoming film. You can check out our rundown here, which enveloped the Star Wars vets as well as franchise newcomers Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Max von Sydow, Domhnall Gleeson, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley. But today's news, via, about Lupita Nyong'o and Gwendoline Christie (oh yeah, and a leaked set photo, via TMZ, revealing a practical monster) calls for another round of introductions. Lupita Nyong'oBest known as: Patsey, the tortured slave of psychopathic plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) in 12 Years a Slave. The role won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.Age: 31.In the new movie: Nyong'o's Star Wars character is anyone's guess at this point, but her tremendous command of scene-stealing gravity should land her a pretty meaty role. Perhaps a tad too old (even with the practice of actors playing years below their age) to portray a classmate of presumed central characters, the offspring of Han and Leia, and we'd guess too high profile a figure to take on a tertiary role like teacher or soldier. So we're leaning towards high-ranking officer in the plight against... whatever they're dealing with this time. As long as she has plenty of convicted diatribes and steady close-ups. HBO Gwendoline ChristieBest known as: Brienne of Tarth, swordsmith and Stark loyalist on Game of Thrones.Age: 35 or 36.In the new movie: Lightsabers. It's practically a given. Knowing how handy she is with a weapon on Game of Thrones, J.J. Abrams couldn't pass up the opportunity to give Christie Star Wars' answer to the sword. As such, this would land her in the Jedi Knight camp, though be she one of pure motive or corrupted soul is another question yet unanswered. This ThingBest known as: The weird picture you saw a bunch of people sharing on Twitter on Monday morning, worrying that another experiment from Long Island's animal testing facility had washed up on shore.Age: Mid 40s?In the new movie: The suggestion that Star Wars VII will be heavy with practical effects is an encouraging one. Our friend here will probably be relegated to transporting a hero or two (or maybe just cargo), but he likely won't be the film's lone hand-crafted creature. Keep watch for more additions to the cast! Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Maleficent' Is a Metaphor for Human Life, So It's Pretty Dull and Meaningless
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 29, 2014
    Walt Disney Studios via Everett Collection As I watched Maleficent toggle between magic woodlands filled with trembling mushroom people and grim battle scenes steeped in markedly misanthropic revenge tales, I had to ask myself the question: who is this movie for? Too shallow for adults, too dark and dull for kids, yet still too cutesy for teens... I left the theater certain that Angelina Jolie's perplexing Disney twist wasn't for anyone, but in assessing the aforementioned elements as pieces of a puzzle rather than conflicting forces, I've come to realize just the opposite: Maleficent is for all people, because Maleficent is about all people. To be more precise, the film's structure is modeled after the lifespan of a human being. Like all people, Maleficent starts out simple, unbearably bright, and cloyingly enchanted with everything around it — as a lass, fairy princess Maleficent (played by a preteen Isobelle Molloy) scrambles through her fairy-laden home, giggling like a Care Bear with the variety of natural abominations she calls friends (elephant-frogs, tree-skeletons, troll-rabbits). It's sweet enough to invite anaphylaxis. Walt Disney Studios via Everett Collection It then grows into its teen years: brooding and self-serious — an older Maleficent (now Ella Purnell) falls horns-over-wingtips for some dope named Stefan, who vows his true love to her but is totes just being a selfish d-bag — followed by the violent hostility of its young adulthood — Stefon (Sharlto Copley, affecting a bad guy in an Animaniacs period sketch) betrays Maleficent (finally Jolie, who cuts through the thick, musty sheaths of aimless convolution with her incredible screen charisma... or maybe just those diabolical cheekbones) by stealing her wings, earning his place as king and setting her off on a course of bitter revenge. For a long while thereafter, Maleficent settles into adulthood: cynical, mechanical, apparently bored with its life altogether (this after Maleficent dooms King Stefon's baby daughter Aurora to the curse of eventual eternal sleep) ... that is, until a change in direction affords it a short-lived whimsy that perks up the energy just enough to keep it (and us) trucking to the end. If we can work our way past Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville, and Juno Temple as the insufferable and incompetent fairies charged with caring over young Aurora (Elle Fanning, but without the usual moxy). Of course, before it gets there, it endures the ever faithful mid-life crisis, ushers in a resurgence of misguided passion that never had much place in the formula to begin with and certainly doesn't seem at all at home this time around — this is an era of ghost-fish, dragon-fights, and plot contrivances out the wazoo. But finally, the film settles on the tranquility of willful disregard, knowing that there's nothing it can now do about its lifetime of shortcomings, happily committing to memories of the things it loved most: reptile-pachyderm hybrids, diabolical cheekbones, and the narration of Janet McTeer. Like any human, Maleficent leaves the world with more questions than answers, and ones we're all better off relegating to a few short words upon its passing and then forgetting altogether. And, much like all people, it's not very good. Fine. Not altogether bad. But mostly just brazenly unimportant.  2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' Is Mostly Dead Air and Sheep Penises
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 28, 2014
    Universal Pictures via Everett Collection If you have any pre-existing familiarity with Seth MacFarlane, you'll find yourself utterly baffled after spending no more than 10 minutes withA Million Ways to Die in the West. Half that time will be spent on the opening titles, a shockingly earnest homage to Western classics (oh, that's nice! ... but where are the jokes?), a piece on sheep farmer MacFarlane's stammering break-up with his turned-off ladyfriend Amanda Seyfried (relatable! ... but where are the jokes?), and one scene on Liam Neeson's snarling bandit shooting an old prospector dead over a chunk of gold (menacing! ... but where are the jokes?). When the allotted time is up, you'll be angling to challenge the marketing behind MacFarlane's film, as well as the reputation of the man on which A Million Ways to Die was sold. It's hardly a comedy at all, and he, at least in this case, not a comedian. MacFarlane's movie toggles between scenes devoid of humorous intent altogether and those that simply miss the mark (and hard) in the joke department. Independently, these elements are painful; together, they're fatal. The material paving the agonizingly naturalistic romantic incline involving MacFarlane and Charlize Theron would feel more at home on the cutting room floor of a mumblecore reject than in the sort of comedy that banks on the gastrointestinal system for its principal supply of laughter. Universal Pictures via Everett Collection The common factor here is a lack of effort. Instead of opting for creativity, writer/director MacFarlane plays cheap, opening the film with a fellatio gag, topping it with human flatulence (and its ugly cousin) and livestock urination, and peppering in the occasional pop culture reference. "Ah, so that's where MacFarlane has been hiding!" you might say. After all, Family Guy is full of pop culture gags, spoofs, and send-ups. But A Million Ways holds true to its maxim of expending absolutely no energy or imagination, vying for unabashed theft of catchphrases (Neil Patrick Harris is the purveyor of the most heinous example) without so much as a wink at, comment about, or spin on the source material in question. Perhaps the biggest shame is seeing deft comic actors like Harris, Neeson, and Sarah Silverman squandered in scenes that give them no opportunity to be funny. Neeson doesn't get a single joke to play with, Harris (a master of facial contortion) manages a few chuckles despite C- material. One-note jokes like Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi — a lovestruck prostitute and her virgin boyfriend — or Christopher Hagen as MacFarlane's cranky dad are the most active sources of comedy that Ways has to offer. But bald-faced jokes about sex and s**t can only occupy so much of this thing's diabolical 116-minute runtime.   // Occasionally, MacFarlane's comic tenacity — the type you might never have cared for but at least knew to be an existent force — does rear its reluctant head. Townspeople clamoring over a dollar, MacFarlane and Ribisi exhibiting their own take on the saloon brawl, and an admittedly fun song about the glories of having a mustache. If this kind of imagination — or, hell, even attitude — could have been exercised over the other 85 percent of AMW, we might have had something recognizable as comedy. But instead, we have mostly dead air and sheep dicks. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Other 'Big Fat Greek' Things That the Sequel Can Be About
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 28, 2014
    IFC Films via Everett Collection If you take a gander at the top grossing films of 2002, you'll find a wholly unsurprising bunch: epic fantasy sequel — variety: Tolkien, epic fantasy sequel — variety: Potter, superhero movie, Star Wars, Will Smith, James Bond, alien thriller, sweeping animated schlock, and... wait a minute. A family-oriented culture clash rom-com written by and starring a complete unknown? Coming in ninth for the year and grossing almost $370 million? How the heck did My Big Fat Greek Wedding happen? We'll never be quite sure, save to theorize that maybe, just maybe, it was pretty good, so people liked it (hogwash). But 12 years later, multihyphenate Nia Vardalos is attempting to recreate this unprecedented magic (via Variety) with a sequel to her breakout role/career ender. The questions ignite. Can Vardalos scale the same box office mountain in the post-Avengers era? And, more importantly, what exactly will My Big Fat Greequel be about? My Big Fat Greek MarriageWe've already seen the Big Fat Greek Life shtick take form in three cameras, airing as a sitcom (with dry toast husband I-yan Mill-er recast) on CBS for exactly seven episodes. But that doesn't necessarily rule out the possibility of your typical ain't-marriage-hard! dramedy. My Big Fat Greek ChildVexing title aside, an ain't-parenting-hard! dramedy might be preferable. My Big Fat Greek DivorceSomber, yes, but it happens. Now that Toula is a single woman once again, it's time to hit the town with her promiscuous couisin. My Big Fat Greek VacationYou thought being married to Greece was tough, I-yan? What about uprooting altogether from your Chicago homestead and shoving off to Ioannina? My Big Fat Greek Mortgage CrisisThis economy is effecting everyone! When the Portokaloses (Portokali?) have to sell their beloved eatery and get office jobs in the corporate world, they learn that maybe the non-Greek lifestyle isn't so bad after all. My Big Fat Greek Music CareerShifting focus to cousin Angelo (Joey Fatone), we watch Greek culture pervade the American zeitgeist as all the tweens go nuts for the latest pop band Nu-Sync. My Big Fat Greek ScandalThe Greek ambassador is caught in bed with the First Lady, and only Toula Portokalos has the appropriate footing in both camps to save the world from international warfare. My Big Fat Greek ApocalypseAgain offset by the mortgage crisis, Toula channels her people's history with various odysseys and illiads and hiding in wooden horses to win a nationwide battle royale for herself and her family. My Big Fat Greek Dawn of JusticeWhen crime hits the Illinois suburbs, Toula organizes a team of Greek vigilantes to ensure that no crime goes unpunished. No spanakopita goes unfeta'd. How I Met Your Big Fat Greek MotherThis time, we get the story from I-yan's point of view, going back through the decade before he met Toula, which he spent sleeping around in Chicago. My Big Fat Greek WeedingA simple 25-minute gardening video, hosted by the lovable John Corbett. It seems only natural that My Big Fat Greek Wedding get a sequel, seeing as every other dominating property from 2002 is coming back into play. We're in the age of a second Spider-Man series, more Star Wars films, a follow-up Tolkien trilogy, a neverending supply of Bond movies and cartoon mayhem, and even more Rowling in the works. No telling how well My Big Fat Greek Funeral/Dance-Off/Temple of Doom will fare in the modern climate, but at least there's hope now for a Connie and Carla franchise. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'True Detective' Season 2 Sounds an Awful Lot Like 'Full House'
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 27, 2014
    HBO True Detective creator Nic Pizzolato spent his Memorial Day weekend bequeathing listeners of the To the Best of Our Knowledge radio program with new information about the upcoming second season of his celebrated HBO series. While we still have no word on who'll star in the sophomore round of philosophically dense, delightfully grim hours of criminal investigation (Brad Pitt is up in the air and Jessica Chastain broke our hearts with a resounding "no"), we are now privy to some interesting details about the characters, setting, and plot. And it all sounds a little bit... familiar. Courtesy of Uproxx, we have Pizzolato's quotes about the next story he plans to tell: "Right now, we’re working with three leads. It takes place in California. Not Los Angeles, but some of the lesser known venues of California and we’re going to try to capture a certain psychosphere ambience of the place, much like we did with season one ..." Tacking this onto the last batch of info we heard about True Detective (via EW), things get somewhat eerie: "The basic idea: Hard women, bad men, and the secret occult history of the U.S. transportation system." Taken independently, each one of these elements sounds none too suspicious. But when you slap 'em all together, you can't help but wonder if Pizzolato is upping the ante on his devotion to source material since Season 1's adherence to the Robert W. Chambers short story "The King in Yellow." This time around, it doesn't seem like True Detective is looking to literature to guide its story, but to another show. A show we all know, all love. A show that still exists. In our minds, our hearts. All around us. Everywhere we look. That's right. True Detective Season 2 sounds exactly like Full House. Think about it: It's bumping up to three leads... ABC Television Network Takes place in California, but not Los Angeles... ABC Television Network And focusing on the secret occult history of the U.S. transportation system (you know, like a bridge)... Getty Images As Pizzolato puts it, the season is about bad men... ABC Television Network/Getty Images And hard women... ABC Television Network/Getty Images And will really delve into the psychosphere ambiance... ABC Television Network/Getty Images That's right. So don't worry if the milkman, the paperboy, evening TV, and all the other tenets of predictability seem to have faded away. Because time is a flat circle. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'Mad Men' Mid-Season Finale Recap: Great Cooper's Ghost!
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 26, 2014
    AMC If there’s one thing that best exemplifies Mad Men’s separation from the rest of modern television, it is the show’s devotion to uncertainty. Nobody on the series knows what he or she wants — a unique concept for a TV drama, as a lack of defined goals makes a character more difficult to identify, relate to, and write for. But the piercing confusion that envelops Don Draper and his clan are exemplified at the forefront of the best episodes of Mad Men, this week’s pseudo-season finale being no exception. We see Don struggle with the question in regard to every aspect of his life: what does he want out of his job? His career? His relationships? His marriage? Himself? As he learns courtesy the dancing ghost of Bert Cooper, he has no idea. “Waterloo” gives us just about everything we could want from a penultimate chapter Don. Finding out he could well be ousted from the company — the Jim Cutler team sees no room for Don Draper on its staff — Don burrows deep into himself to figure out what he wants. During a phone call with Megan, the pair tacitly agrees that there is no hope for their marriage, ending it with quiet civility and Don’s insistence that he will always “take care of her” … the desire to do so being the only thing that ever really drew him to Megan, or to any woman, in the first place. But with Peggy, we see Don’s heart. He insists that she take the reins on the Burger Chef pitch in Indiana, investing more furiously in her future than in his own. After last week’s reunion of their good graces, however manufactured this endeavor might have been, we see Don finally pass the torch to Peggy in earnest. We see her deliver a magnificent pitch, one that maintains a quavering humanity all the while nearing technical perfection. And if you watch Don’s eyes throughout the scene, you see everything he feels about Peggy shine through: hesitation and reluctance, sure, but also hope, affection, and respect. The episode uses the ’69 moon landing to usher in a “new era” for the agency. One without Bert Cooper, who passes away while watching Neil and Buzz step foot on the surface, uttering an awed, “Bravo.” A fitting sendoff to a character who has always felt like he existed in another time… and perhaps on another planet. Bert’s passing is the impetus for Roger to seize kingship — something he has always lacked in his personal life, as indicated by his daughter’s palpable absence during a scene of the Sterling-Hargrove family watching the groundbreaking event — of the company, instituting a purchase from rivals McCann. This deal will make him the leader he has always wanted to be (well, the leader he suddenly thinks he has always wanted to be), will keep his faithful pal Don in employ, and will earn all of the partners a hefty sum of money. Don agrees, assuring the befuddled Ted that the other side — unemployment — is a barren hell scape. But after the next five years (or, as Ted puts it, their entire lives) are signed away, Don has no choice but to burrow deeper. Mad Men has always been creative in the delivery of its characters internal battles. We cap the episode with Don growing teary through a hallucination of Bert and the office ladies dancing to the Good News number “The Best Things in Life Are Free” — a particularly ostentation method of showcasing Don’s piercing emptiness. He belongs nowhere. Not in his marriage, not in his family, not in the job to which he has devoted himself nor outside of it. Don is alone and wholly without. And he has no idea how to fix that. The episode does everything in its power to insinuate the worst for Don: the professional linking of him and Ted assigned in the same hour that showcases Ted’s spiraling depression and likens him outright to Lane Pryce would have us believe that the man falling from the skyscraper in our old friend the opening theme could be Don himself sometime soon. But just as Don seems to when he watches Peggy transform into something that even she thought impossible, just as a long-expired Bert manages in his dying breath when he recognizes the gallantry that mankind is still capable of, we must find hope. Episode grade: A, because Dancing Bert Cooper's Ghost is the greatest television experience since the moon landing itself.  Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Blended' Is Not Just Bad, It's Uninterestingly Bad
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 23, 2014
    Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection Blended is not the worst thing Adam Sandler has ever done. For my money, that superlative goes to Grown Ups 2, though I've heard dutiful cases for Jack & Jill and That's My Boy as well. But beyond any of these travesties is Blended utterly unworthy of anybody's time. A morbid fascination with what might pass for outsider art in the form of uniquely bad movies like the ones listed above could be enough driving force to check them out. As much as I hated Grown Ups 2, I have to give it credit for at least sending me careening down a valley of explosive ideas. But Blended is wholly uninteresting in its badness. Nothing about it boasts originality, imagination, weirdness, or even the hint that anybody thought about what they were making. It's dumb, it's thick, it's careless. It's bad in all the most useless of ways. If you must know, the "story" sees Sandler and Drew Barrymore, a widower and a divorcee who shared a catastrophic blind date (thanks entirely to the follies of the "lovable" male character), bumping into each other on an African vacation with their respective litters. I won't bother getting into the contrivance that led them to such a profound coincidence, since I'm already agitated over having relived the basic premise. Although they are indelibly incompatible, Sandler and Barrymore gradually bond over a mutual love for their children, and begin to fill the roles of absent parent for each other's kids. Barrymore has two boys, so naturally Sandler needs to teach them how to box and swing a bat. That's what boys do, right? And Sandler's oldest daughter needs Barrymore to teach her how to be girly. Because up until now, she's been into sports, and that just won't do. Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection Seriously, that's a lesson that Sandler learns in this debacle: his daughter, a 15-year-old girl, shouldn't be filling her flighty head with pipe dreams about athletic prowess. She should be dressing up and chasing boys. That's what Barrymore insists, anyway. And never mind what the daughter herself, played by Bella Thorne, has to say about it. The movie doesn't ever bother to get her opinion on the matter. Throughout all its misguided aggressive heteronormativity, Blended forgets that comedy exists in a realm beyond middle-aged men getting hit by parachutes and ostriches. Its only laughs come from fellow vacationer Kevin Nealon — not because his material is any good, just because Kevin Nealon is a naturally funny dude — and Terry Crews as the head of a functional Greek chorus. Admittedly offensive in its depiction of Africans (as is the movie on the whole), the device does manage a few chuckles thanks largely to Crews' physical moxy. But four or five smirks aside, Blended is a wholly humorless, witless, charmless dullard. Something too forgettable to truly hate, but too misguided to shrug off. And even with that logical paradox, it remains bafflingly uninteresting. 1/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' Is a Perfectly Enjoyable, Meaningless Romp
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 23, 2014
    20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection Get a good look at the destitute world presented in the very first scenes of X-Men: Days of Future Past, because you won't be spending much time there. In a swift few moments, the movie introduces the stakes (mutant-killing robots called Sentinels have wiped out the majority of the superpowered race and any sympathetic humans), the surviving players — Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Prof. X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), and a few other marginally present regulars — and the one plan that's just crazy enough to fix everything: send Wolverine back in time to the 1970s, courtesy of Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) nifty new sending-people-back-in-time power, so he can prevent the impetus for this colossal nightmare from ever happening. Quicker than Peter Maximoff can divert a league of military bullets while rocking out to Jim Croce, we're out of the black hole of grim turmoil and frolicking about the groovy tunes and alabaster hues of 1973. And from there on out, it's all fun. Wolverine's mission is simple: stop Mystique (Jennifer Bluerence) from killing government scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the very man who invented the Sentinels... turns out the act of vigilance was a bit counterproductive. But even simpler than Days of Future Past's hero's journey is its quick fix on the time travel problem — you know, the web of logical paradoxes present in every piece of time travel fiction from H.G. Welles to Marty McFly to Looper that draws ire from sci-fi adherents the world over. Kitty spells out the rules from the getgo: Go to sleep in '14Wake up in '73Do stuffWhen you wake back up in '14, that stuff will have been doneThe stuff that everyone did before you went to sleep in '14 will have been undone Bing bang boom. As upfront and easy as high-concept time travel gets. In fact, the guidelines of Days of Future Past's space-time continuum could stand in as the film's general maxim to all viewers: Don't think too much. About any of it. Don't hang too tight to the old stuff, don't worry about the stuff to come, don't even get particularly hung up on the stuff that's happening now. Just enjoy yourself. 20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection Although framed around a time-bending journey to preempt the inception of a mutant genocide spanning decades, Days of Future Past isn't as much about the legacy of mutants as its premise might have you believe. All of its stories take place within and between '70s-era Charles (James McAvoy), Erik (Michael Fassbender), and Raven (Bluenifer Lawrence), battling their respective Cold War demons — drugs, political unrest, racial inequity — and shared personal discord. As a young Xavier riddled with pain and depression, McAvoy is a tremendous hoot, stealing scenes from all but one of his screen companions: the fast guy. Even more of a testament to Days of Future Past's true nature than its "get in, get out, what happens happens" mentality on time travel is its breakout character, Peter Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Wrangled in as a deus ex machina midway through the picture and offering nothing more than hearty chuckles and flashy action sequences, Quicksilver stands far and beyond the more substantive characters and devices as Days of Future Past's foremost highlight. Not because the laugh-a-minute performance has got much running under the hood, but because DOFP is far more interested in having fun (which he does) than in saying anything (which the others do). Peters is merely the beacon of the movie's joy, not the sole supplier of it. Wolverine's jaunts about the '73 Atlantic coast are deliciously merry. The grab bag of mutants popping out of the movie's seams is a delight. McAvoy's maudlin decadance as a rock bottom Charles is the stuff on which British comedy was founded. Future Past gets its gravity out of the way in the opening sequence; after that, it's all good times. And that's why it gets away with what might otherwise be frustratingly clandestine references to X-Men film history. As lax as Days of Future Past is in its adherence to "the old stuff," picking and choosing what material from the previous films it wishes to deem canon, it seems to bank on the fact that all watching have every one of the franchise's cinematic contrivances fresh on their minds when they arrive for the new chapter. Stingy allowances to the backstories of characters and concepts — William Stryker (played here by Joshua Helman), the memories of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and even Raven/Mystique (Bluenibler Bluebluence) — land inches from agonizing obstruction. But even if you're weighted down by your confusion over the nature of elements like these, you're likely to let the joy take hold, because the movie makes it terribly clear that the cool stuff is its top priority.   // Although it might lack in the flare of some of its big screen comic book competitors, Days of Future Past does have plenty of "cool stuff" in its arsenal. At the expense, perhaps, of a story that feels perfectly woven, characters that come off as grounded, or a universe that's altogether cohesive, series pioneer Bryan Singer's return to the mutant world is plain ol' enjoyable enough to warrant the scope that it seems like it should have. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Assessing the Coolness of Everything That Happens in the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Trailer
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 19, 2014
    This new trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy has hit the web and it, as one might have expected or hoped, is cool. Cool in entirety. Cool incarnate. Every single thing about it is cool. Want proof? Watch it. Want further proof, you maniac? Check out our rundown of every single thing that happens in the trailer and linked assessment of whether each element is, in fact, cool. // Establishing shot of a gloomy, destitute temple: That is cool. Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) disappearing electronic mask-helmet: That is cool. Peter Quill's jet-powered boots flying him out of danger through a hole in the wall: That is cool. Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky": That is cool. A giant spaceship: That is cool. A Mos Eisley-like hub for alien menaces: That is cool. Hovering robots staring down a shirtless Peter Quill: That is cool. Peter Quill juggling what is likely some kind of spherical robotic entity or explosive devise: That is cool. Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), doing their thing (thang?): That is cool (kewl?). Gamora (Zoe Saldana) slicing and dicing: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) head-butting somebody: That is cool. The personification of evil taking form in a dark, stoically seated figure: That is cool. An ominous hand crushing an orb of power: That is cool. Marvel Studios Peter Quill's rallying underdog speech: That is cool. "This August" title card: That is cool. Aerial shot of a futuristic military base: That is cool. Everybody walking around on a stone circle reminiscent of something out of Legend of Zelda: That is cool. Glenn Close's haircut: That is cool. The expositional establishment of the stakes in this movie: That is cool. Explosive debris raining down from a gigantic ship: That is cool. A door shaped like a circle: That is cool. Bradley Cooper's Will Arnett impression: That is cool. Rocket Raccoon and Groot losing their s**t: That is cool. Gamora losing her s**t: That is cool. A shot of the gang in prison jump suits: That is cool. Peter Serafinowicz cowering: That is cool. Peter Quill losing his s**t: That is cool. A giant skull: That is cool. Marvel Studios Peter Quill's awed gasp syncing up with the rhythm of "Spirit in the Sky": That is cool. Body slam!: That is cool. Explosion: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer's knife-wielding shot: That is cool. A haze of fire droplets that resemble Navi from Legend of Zelda: That is cool. Ships zooming through an electric field: That is cool. Peter Quill's speech continues: That is cool. Groot giving a little girl a flower: That is cool. Peter Quill and Gamora watching each other undress: That is cool as long as they're both okay with it. Rocket Raccoon's quip about his species' lifespan: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer losing his s**t: That is cool. Gamora screaming into the face of a creature that resembles a Na'vi... not from Legend of Zelda, from Avatar, in which Saldana actually played a Na'vi, which is maybe why I'm making such a gratuitous jump to that connotation when, really, the creature doesn't look all that much like a Na'vi: That is cool. Robot laser: That is cool. Various explosions, shots of anthropomorphic neighborhood pests yelling: That is cool. Strangling: That is cool. Marvel Studios Benicio Del Toro doing that thing that Ross and Monica did to discretely flip off their parents: That is cool. Gamora and Peter Quill near-kissing while she wears his headphones: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer conducting an orchestra of mayhem: That is cool. Groot: That is cool. A windstorm of peril: That is cool. Zoe Saldana's hand: That is cool. The hulking device into which Peter Quill's audio cassette tape is hooked: That is cool. "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede: That is cool, but I was enjoying "Spirit in the Sky." Peter Quill's solo march: That is cool. Gamora's semi-solo march: That is cool. Drax the Destroyer cocking his head a little, as if to insinuate himself a bit more subtly than did his peers, which is ironic since he is perhaps the least subtle in physical form and personal nature of the gang: That is cool. Groot's nifty shoulder trick: That is cool. Groot saying, "I am Groot": That is cool. I really like Groot. Rocket Raccoon showcasing his self-esteem in a maxim of circular logic: That is cool. Rocket Raccoon adjusting his crotch: That is cool, I guess. The gang's prideful march: That is cool. John C. Reilly introducing the name of the movie: That is cool. John C. Reilly lamenting his lot in life, and the fate of the universe altogether: That is cool. More prideful marching: That is cool. Rocket Raccoon yelling: That is cool. This movie looks cool. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'Mad Men' Recap: I'm Drinking Rum and Dancing to Sinatra
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 19, 2014
    AMC This weekend was a kind one to Don — it saw him win the lead in a Burger Chef pitch and entertain an unprecedentedly agreeable visit from Megan. But Mad Men has no interest in this brand of kindness, using the façade of the perfect weekend to showcase just how vacant everything in the man’s life seems to be. Well, almost everything. The real victory, beyond occupational leaps or oases of marital harmony, is that long-awaited smile from Peggy: the establishment that once again, these two are in this wicked run together. Coming to form at the head of such a (deceptively) smooth episode after a seasonal throughline of potent animosity, the ultimate achievement at first feels like a bit of a forced utility, rushed into production in order to satisfy Mad Men’s seven-episode semi-season. But a well-placed scene from Joan exemplifies just what Peggy’s smile truly means, to Don and to us. Back in New York after a successful stay in Detroit, Bob Benson awakens to the callous face of homophobia — his Chevy rep, likewise a gay man struggling to hide his identity from friends and colleagues, winds up in at the courthouse after an attempted sexual encounter with an undercover cop. Bob retreats further into his own folds of secrecy after seeing just how unforgiving the world (or maybe just New York) is to men like them and springs a marriage proposal on his beloved pal Joan. Sharper than he, and just about everybody on this planet, has given her credit for being, Joan rejects the arrangement, identifies Bob’s true desires, and spells out the fact that they should both wait for true, organic happiness instead of forcing the fates in their favor. Again, her diatribe comes off a little heavy-handed for the likes of Mad Men, at least on first viewing. But the sequence is masterfully situated between Peggy’s initial smile at Don, who has joined her in the otherwise empty office on a Sunday afternoon — him lamenting his dead-from-the-neck-up marriage to Megan and her writhing in the inadequacy of her Burger Chef pitch and, more so, the fact that she has nothing else to care about — and their devolution into eye-welling, throat-quavering admissions of desperation for one another, at least at this point in time. AMC Just as we might have felt at the forefront, Peggy’s grin is rather forced. And that’s because as uninterested as Mad Men is in giving its characters perfect lives, it is even less interested in giving them perfect moments. We have been waiting for Peggy to hinge herself to Don once more; Don has been aching for this emancipation from her contempt. But nobody has suffered more from this period than Peggy herself, manufacturing a connection to Don over his espousal of lessons that seem like they should have come at the very beginning of her career (“Here’s what you do when you have writer’s block…”). Unlike Joan, Peggy is willing to push her way into the embrace of a hand-crafted happiness. She is willing to redefine what “family” means — both for herself and her Burger Chef clients, centering her revised pitch around the reappropriation of the word — in order to make her days a little more livable. But unlike Joan, Peggy has something in the man kneeling before her. The man who insists on a dance to the radio’s broadcast of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Both victims of the job who have seen everything else in their lives suffer its merciless bite, they are reminded this week that neither one is on this course alone. They just happen to be traveling in opposite directions. In the Benjamin Button story of Don’s corrosive decline and Peggy’s bumpy ascent, this week might well mark their “meeting in the middle” moment. A stark reversal to the series favorite “The Suitcase,” we see Don returning in part a heavy favor owed to Peggy: validation. Validation of the idea that all this time spent huddled over a desk, spilling guts into the work, relegating oneself to the parameters of a business card might very well have meant something to somebody. He could instead be teaching her that a life might be better off spent anyplace else, but in Peggy Don has somebody else that could never comprehend such a fallacy. The episode is arranged in such a way as to excel on two levels. At first, we see everything play out perfectly: Don reclaims his position in Peggy’s heart, she snags her ingenious pitch, and the both of them, and Pete Campbell (having scared his daughter, accosted his ex-wife, and disappointed his Angelino girlfriend), form their own brand of family over a Burger Chef meal. But Mad Men, and this episode about would-be perfect moments, is better than perfect: it’s human, knowing that the turn of true value isn’t Don, Peggy, and Pete finding “the family they were seeking all along” in one another, it’s the admission that what they’ve been seeking all along might no longer exist, if it ever did. But, unlike Joan, they’re willing to put up the front if it means not having to dine alone. Episode grade: A, with bonus points for Pete Cambell merrily shouting "I'm drinking rum!" Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com