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.
  • Twitter Was Pretty Pissed Off About 'Sharknado 2'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 31, 2014
    Syfy Bad movies will always have their supporters, be they contrarian critics or cult fans high on irony. But some people want nothing to do with an intentionally cruddy film, for instance Syfy's original feature Sharknado 2: The Second One. A sequel to the network's 2013 TV movie, Sharknado 2 released on Wednesday night, arousing quite a few reactions on Twitter. Plenty of viewers celebrated the camp and kookiness of the film, but there were no shortage of detractors: people who called Sharknado everything from a waste of time to the reason that our planet is in such a vile state. Here's a quick glimpse at the varying degrees of animosity stirred up on Twitter by Sharknado 2: The Second One... There were rational, even-keeled artistic criticisms: To make a good bad movie, you have to sense the filmmakers earnestly and truly love what they're doing. SHARKNADO feels... corporate. — Russell Hainline (@RussellHFilm) July 31, 2014 General condemnation about the whole "so-bad-it's-good" phenomenon: I'll never understand the appeal of purposefully bad movies like SHARKNADO. It honestly makes no sense to me. Ironic badness sucks. — Devin Faraci (@devincf) July 31, 2014 Blame: Sharknado exists because all you people talk about it. You bear responsibility. — Ali Gharib (@Ali_Gharib) July 31, 2014 Humor as a defense mechanism: There's a "jumping the shark" reference in Sharknado 2, which is how people used to say "making a Sharknado 2". — @midnight (@midnight) July 31, 2014 Nifty tricks offered to avoid finding yourself in a position of watching Sharknado: Do this at work tomorrow: "What did you watch last night?" "Sharknado." "You say Sharknaydo? I say Sharknahdo!" And then twirl away. — Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg) July 31, 2014 Bargaining: I will give you all a dollar to stop talking about Sharknado. — Carina MacKenzie (@cadlymack) July 31, 2014 The mindset of, to paraphrase Meat Loaf, "I would do anything for RTs, but I won't do that": All you need to know about me: I am rolling my eyes at Sharknado livetweeting. I have livetweeted ATLAS SHRUGGED 2. — Ben (@franzferdinand2) July 31, 2014 Illustrations of the human consequence of such social media activity: Every time someone tweets about SHARKNADO, an actual filmmaker throws up his hands and goes "well why the hell do I bother." — Scott Renshaw (@scottrenshaw) July 31, 2014 Existentialist arguments against Sharknado watching: Never seen THE ROOM. Not seeing SHARKNADO. Have seen 1.3 Troma films in my life... because life is to short for deliberately bad films. — James Rocchi (@jamesrocchi) July 30, 2014 And, to top the whole thing off, some pretty hostile accusations about the gravity of Sharknado fandom: Dear friends live-tweeting this awful movie: In caves all over the world, evildoers are plotting to destroy our civilization because of YOU. — Shawn Levy (@shawnlevy) July 31, 2014 It was a heated night on Twitter. Let us remember this when Sharknado 3 rolls around.
  • Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Is a Very Special Kind of Superhero Movie
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 30, 2014
    Walt Disney Studios/Marvel As the most anticipated blockbuster of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy has a ton of marks to hit. Almost immediately, it reveals its lackluster aim in a few of these departments. Director James Gunn, working with a budget that amounts to 10 times the cash allowed for his previous two features combined, shows that he has a lot to learn in bringing action scenes to life. The large-scale aerial battles neglect coherent geography; the hand-to-hand combat takes place in a virtual fog machine. When he aims to jump from one piece of his temperately constructed world to the next, the seams are bold and abject. The film’s narrative is jagged, its exposition is clunky, and its sense of rhythm seems to vanish altogether from time to time. And that score… oh, my, that score. So with technical flaws coming out the wazoo, you’ll really have to touch the personal to figure out why and how Guardians of the Galaxy manages to be one of the most wonderful blockbuster movies in ages. Walt Disney Studios/Marvel You’ll have to think back to your earliest experiences with superheroes, science fiction, and adventure. Perhaps back to your first big screen encounter with Star Wars — for me, a trip to Flushing, Queens’ multiplex with my uninterested father (if it’s not The Sting, he’s not into it) and ecstatic pal Timothy in 1997 — the film to which Guardians owes just as much as Godzilla does to Jurassic Park, though with an attitude less pious than devilishly affectionate. That distinction in reverence is where you’ll find your connection to Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that is just as much a tribute to the experience of watching the past half-century’s slate of great fantastical epics as it is to the features themselves. Guardians, a movie that treats itself with the same degree of cheek as it does its predecessors, celebrates everything that happens in the theater during a spectacle of its ilk. It celebrates the wisecracks we can’t help but whisper to our neighbors after a dramatic set piece, the often glossed-over character beats that showcase a scar beneath the heroism of every Skywalker and Solo (rejoice: this film is heavy on the Hans, light on the Lukes). It celebrates our curiosity about every odd shot, creature, and plot contrivance scrapped from focus in the interest of the Hero’s Journey. Guardians celebrates just how much we always hate to say how much more we’d love these movies if they went all the way bananas. Walt Disney Studios/Marvel Which, for sure, this one does. The movie bands together the strangest assortment of characters — a jackass space punk (Chris Pratt), a reformed intergalactic assassin (Zoe Saldana), a humorless (and yet the funniest of the bunch) alien menace (Dave Bautista), and a misanthropic raccoon thief (Bradley Cooper) and his kindhearted tree bodyguard (Vin Diesel) — on what amounts to a convoluted brazen rejection of Marvel’s usual A-to-B storyline: there’s a powerful orb, and about a half dozen villains, varying in villainy, who want to get their hands on it for disparate villainous reasons… any attempt to further access the mythology will render you a huddled, nauseated mess. Throughout this technical haze, Guardians carries forth with more spirit than anything Marvel has put out to date. Its characters aren’t limited by the sincerity of their sacrosanct brethren; Pratt is encouraged to make his Peter Quill the most engaging hero a film of this scale has seen to date. Quill and his literal partners in crime are used toward the perfect end of playing expansively with every trope that we’ve seen in blockbuster past, of tackling every question and quip that has found fertile soil in the brains of three generations of captivated genre fans. And all this, quite remarkably, without expensing the movie’s earnest construction. That’s because Guardians builds its world from the ground up with the heart inherent in that fandom. The kind of heart that loves these movies, but also the exciting, active, imaginative game that is watching them. Walt Disney Studios/Marvel That’s the kind of heart you find in Guardians’ story and, better yet, its characters. They’re our people (or aliens, or trees, or raccoons). Ours for the knowing and empathizing with; the very sort of heroes we knew we would be in our own all-the-way-bananas story, were it ever possible… or allowed to happen on the big screen. Piety of the picturesque be damned, we get those kinds of heroes, that kind of story, and — most palpably — this kind of spirit in Guardians of the Galaxy. At the expense of technical perfection and narrative flow? Maybe. Is this not a flaw but a ploy to further personalize this adventure for the ultimate connection one might forge between superhero and superfan? Hard to say. But the connection is made nonetheless, and we have in James Gunn’s wonderful movie a special experience for anyone who has spent years loving this genre from afar: Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t sit us down to show us a spectacle, it invites us into one. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Get on Up' Is Far Livelier and More Flavorful Than Your Average Biopic
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 29, 2014
    Universal Pictures via Everett Collection A James Brown biography would have no business playing docile. Still, when we hear the word “biopic,” we think today of the Rays and Walk the Lines that earned the attention of the Academy and public alike. We expect any musician’s story to hold the low notes, no matter how wild and kooky said musician might be — and as such might entail, in the illustration of his life, a connection that Get on Up makes quite effectively. From the get-go, we’re enveloped in the mania that is James Brown. We’re invited into an old Mr. Brown’s fragmented brain via a particularly chaotic scene involving a shotgun and a penchant for lavatorial exclusivity. Before we can even latch onto the adult Brown in question, we’re thrust back a ways into his young adulthood, then his childhood, back again to the dawn of his career, then the peak, revisiting eras and introducing new ones with an unpredictable and consistently engaging rhythm. Not unlike his music, James Brown’s story is both irreverent and industrious, barely tiring as it carries past its second hour. Universal Pictures via Everett Collection On the contrary: the film is so adherent to its vigor that it can actually be exhausting to watch after a while. We’re asked to expend as much energy as Chadwick Boseman pumps into his evolution from a scrappy entertainer to the hardest working man in America, needing a breather around his fourth or fifth stage performance. But if you can make it through the show, you’ll be mighty impressed at Boseman’s turn as Brown. In his embodiment of the character — of the flash, of the style, of the grit — Boseman is stellar, though beneath the elaborate linens we see find a great deal for the talented young actor to play with. Beside him is the film’s arguable standout: Nelsan Ellis, playing James Brown’s best friend, sidekick, and punching bag Bobby Byrd. More a story about the duo’s relationship than one about Brown as a star in his own right, Get on Up makes determined magic when we watch the fellas trade compassion, camaraderie, and egos. Dressed up with visual flares, narrative transgressions, fourth wall demolition, and even a few bits of absurdist humor, Get on Up aims for the lively character that James Brown was known to offer. Even if it might pack too much to hold our attention for such a lengthy runtime — especially with most of its material wading at surface level — just about everything it has to offer is exciting, vivid, and distinctly musical. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Why Is the New 'The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies' Trailer So Damn Mopey?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 28, 2014
    Warner Bros. Pictures The Lord of the Rings movies could be heavy. They could be plenty sincere, rather haunting, and tearfully grave. But they also knew when to play the mood high: to be fun, exciting, and upbeat. After a dismally bland first Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug showcased Peter Jackson's knack for good times. The movie gave us a barrel-rolling scene to rival the kinetic fun of Mario Kart, not to mention a sequence featuring some mighty satisfying dragon trickery. That's why we're so surprised to see the final chapter in the Hobbit trilogy, Battle of the Five Armies, shooting for such a somber attitude. Even in the much improved second Hobbit flick, we weren't quite latching onto the characters, nor embedding so deeply in the film's mythology. What roped us in was the fun. But that fun is nowhere to be found in the first Five Armies trailer. Instead, the clip expects us to hang our heads low for the doom about to befall our heroes, to connect with their heavy hearts as the clouds of tragedy swarm their Tolkienian skies. Sorry, but no dice. The only figure in this franchise with any semblance of a character arc is Bilbo; the rest are pseudo-anonymous set dressing with funny hair. And we like the hair! We like the funny! We like the barrel-rolling, the dragon-duping, and the riddles of Gollum! So why aren't we seeing more of that in this trailer, Jackson? Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'A Most Wanted Man' Is Sharp and Strong But Ultimately Unremarkable
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 25, 2014
    Roadside Attractions via Everett Collection To a weathered cinephile, there might be nothing sadder than a movie like A Most Wanted Man: the sort that is technically perfect, or close to it, but that lacks the panache to earn it hospice in the viewing public's minds and hearts. The latest John le Carré adaptation, a markedly superior film to Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, treats its political thriller with the patience and density that you might imagine a real spy to devote to his missions. Director Anton Corbijn is determined to build a world of espionage as piercingly authentic — if not necessarily in practice (how the hell would some two-bit film critic know what the trade is really like?) than in ambiance — as possible, paying for this triumph with the loss of accessibility and narrative rhythm. Impressively enough, the film never sinks quite to the level of tedium. But it never hits the highs of real encouragement either. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays German agent Günther Bachmann with a lovable combination of Bond-caliber determination and Office Space schlubbiness — he's a man so entrenched in his job (the "catching terrorists" racket) that his identity beyond the margins of worktime hours seems limited to sips of scotch and silent glowers. Unsurprisingly, Hoffman is A Most Wanted Man's greatest triumph: his access of the obsession and self-deprecation in a man who might have otherwise been a dimensionless vehicle not only rescues his character, but the otherwise stark A Most Wanted Man in entirety. Roadside Attractions via Everett Collection Without Hoffman, there is no movie. Despite acceptable turns from costars Grigoriy Dobrygin (as a Chechen Muslim targeted by Hoffman's organization), Rachel McAdams (as the diplomatic attorney driven to help Dobrygin find asylum), and — best of all — Nina Hoss (as Hoffman's colleague and friend), Hoffman is the principal feature keeping A Most Wanted Man alive. But even at its liveliest, the film never feels particularly vibrant. Always smart, meticulous, and impressive, A Most Wanted Man lacks the nominal imperfections — the quirks and peculiarities — that might result in an active pulse. Ultimately, we are welcome to marvel at A Most Wanted Man, but it'd be nearly impossible to revel in it. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Hercules vs. Lucy: Who Is Your Blockbuster Action Hero of the Weekend?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 25, 2014
    Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection/Universal Pictures via Everett Collection This weekend, you have two choices in the way of fantastical, action-packed blockbusters. On the one hand, you have something from the old stockyards: Brett Ratner's Hercules, a light-hearted take on the Ancient Greek myth about the epitome of alpha-male machismo (with, appropriately, Dwayne Johnson playing the lead). On the other, we have something rather new: the limit-pushing Lucy, which draws ideas from the most progressive of quantum theories and packs them into a Scarlett Johansson shoot-'em-up. Surely there is room enough in our summer movie schedule for these heroes of past and future glory, respectively. But when faced off against one another, which comes out the champion? POWERS AND ABILITIES Hercules' super strength, while mighty impressive in its own right, pales in comparison to everything Lucy's got going on in her rapidly evolving brain. Things kick off with simple tricks like mind-reading and telekinesis... but pretty soon (without spoiling anything), Lucy's abilities get far more expansive. Point: Lucy. CHARACTER We never really get to know much about Lucy. She likes her club music and loves her mom, but what else do we have to sink our teeth into? But there's no anonymity with Hercules, with whom we're all familiar enough thanks to our sixth grade English teachers.  Point: Hercules. ACTOR The Rock has charisma, sure, and sold a few laughs in Michael Bay's supreme Pain & Gain. But Johansson is a bona fide actor, capable of charm and chills alike. Although she's not giving a performance at the caliber of Lost in Translation or Her in Lucy, she's still adept in every sequence. Point: Lucy. THEMES Hercules is all about believing in yourself, standing up for what's right, sticking by your friends, making your own destiny... all that . Lucy is essentially about the meaninglessness of human existence. Less fun. Point: Hercules. BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS Even with the benefit of its familiar source material and likable central star, Hercules is predicted to suffer at the hands of ScarJo's Lucy. Point: Lucy. MOST IMPORTANLY, HOW ARE THE MOVIES? Both good, neither great. We'd give Lucy the edge for originality and Luc Besson's superior visual flair, although Hercules' spirit is indelibly more inviting. Check out our reviews for Hercules and Lucy, and sound off below with your own votes.
  • Anastasia Steele's Interview Etiquette in the '50 Shades of Grey' Trailer Is All Wrong
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 24, 2014
    YouTube/Fifty Shades of Grey, Focus Features Anastasia Steele may be a timeless literary hero. She may be a beacon of female agency in the realm of modern sexuality. She may be a vessel for the release of personal frustrations for readers the world over. She may be any and all of these things. But a good interviewer she is not. At least that's what we've gleaned from the first trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey: We're not claiming to have all the answers behind a seamless interview, but we do know a few basic rules. Rules that Dakota Johnson, as the spiritually lukewarm Miss Steele, so callously breaks in this first look at the film. Steele pays a visit to the nauseatingly sleek office building of one Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) in order to conduct "an interview for the newspaper," as she so facelessly introduces. What's to follow is an onslaught of cardinal sins and groan-worthy slip-ups on the part of the would-be reporter. Always look your subject in the eye.Nerves are understandable, but keep your nose out of your notebook. Steele's face barely reaches sea level. Keep the discussion going.Any conversation is bound to hit a few lulls, but Steele allows for a pause so diabolically long and piercing that it's sure to kill any momentum in what otherwise might be an engaging back-and-forth. YouTube/Fifty Shades of Grey, Focus Features Don't make yourself the focus.While it's not a crime to inject a personal reflection here or there in the interest of forging an empathy and connection with your subject, Steele allows the chat to switch gears entirely and begins lamenting her own meaningless life. If you do insist on talking about yourself, keep it upbeat! You probably shouldn't go and have sex with the person you interviewed.Although this one has its detractors. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Michel Gondry Has Apparently Changed His Mind About the 'Eternal Sunshine' Message
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 23, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection We first encountered the bounties of Michel Gondry's imagination in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, his second collaboration with Charlie Kaufman (after Human Nature) that earned both parties new legions of admirers. Gondry's latest film, Mood Indigo, is perhaps his most visually imaginative, bringing objects and ideas to life in a sweet, simple, sad love story about a French dreamer and his sick wife. In a conversation about the new movie, Gondry taps into the tenets of his mind, discusses bringing his visions to life, and even reconsiders the impeccable message that made Eternal Sunshine such a winning film a decade back. When developing the more surreal elements of the film, is there a certain direction you go in visually? Were there margins you set for your aesthetic style, or do you just let your imagination run wild? Michel Gondry: There is stuff that comes back, it’s funny that you mention the insects. I did something very close to that with the shaver in The Science of Sleep. And I was probably more or less consciously influenced by Boris Vian from a young age. It’s … just making you believe that objects can be alive, that there is not a strong difference between things [and people]. In the imaginary world, the table has four legs; I could put shoes on the legs of this table, and it is something different. So it’s how I imagine things. It’s sort of functional, it’s not really an artistic way of looking at things. So it might be messy at the end, but it doesn’t come from trying to be a type of image. Is that just sort of how you live your day-to-day life, being an imaginative person and writer, just noticing things like that? MG: Yeah. Things remind me of something else… or sometimes, even when you see something far in the distance, you don’t really understand what it is. So your brain tries to find an explanation. It can be the shape of a cow, or a shop window, or anything. But your brain tries to tell you what it is. In a way, my imagination takes from that. It’s like when you try to remember a dream, but it’s all messy. Sometimes you try to make sense, to make a story out of it, but it’s really hard. Your feeling tells you [that] you’ve been through a very complex and traumatic story, but then if you look at the detail, the rest of it makes no sense. I try to put that in order so it becomes something more explainable. So I do that with everything I touch. Mood Indigo has a particularly unusual structure — the conflict comes to life very late in the film. And you can say the same for some of your other movies. Can you talk about how diverting from the norm helps you tell the stories you want to tell? MG: I don’t know, exactly, the format… so that’s by ignorance, I guess. Some people say that there are only seven types of stories you can tell. That’s quite depressing! … In the movies, they don’t tell you exactly what kind of story it is. You decide it yourself. It’s just a story when it finishes. It’s my technique. so I don’t have the preconceived idea. Some people, maybe, say that I don’t know how to tell a story. Maybe we just on what the story is. Drafthouse Films via Everett Collection We got to spend a lot of time in the “happy chapter” in Mood Indigo, before the sadness sets in. Did you particularly want to immerse your viewers in this dreamlike state before we hit the hard stuff? MG: In the French version, we had much more time on the dark side. Incidentally, when we tried to distribute in … some other countries in which Sarte’s part is a little lighter. In the first version it was much heavier. And some people felt, myself included, that it was a bit long. So I felt what I wanted, for sure – I didn’t think of balance – I wanted to start as ripe, full, inventive. A little bit shallow at the beginning to show the contrast with the really, really somber, emotional [ending]. So I didn’t see it in terms of balance, but in terms of cooperation. Speaking of the mood, I wanted to hear you talk about the very interesting use of color in this movie. MG: That was the first visual impression I had when I read the book. I discovered the book a long time ago, way before I ever thought I would become a film director. And it stuck with me. I though, if ever I was asked to do this adaptation I would do it this way: start in color, finish in black and white. I feel like it’s very gradual. MG: Yeah, it starts in the middle, when Colin is looking for a job. At this point, we lose 10 percent of the color, and then the next part is 20 percent, 30 percent, 50 percent, and so on, until it’s completely black and white … We wanted to [shoot the film] in winter, and we shot in black and white. Even though it was digital, we set the camera so it was black and white. So we could not come back and change our minds. I didn’t want to give any possibility to anyone to influence me to change that. And did you think that they would be able to? MG: I had one bad experience on a video, where I was supposed to do it in black and white. We shot it in color for blue screen purposes, and then the producer convinced me to keep it in color. To this day I regret it. Stick to your plan! You mentioned earlier that you had ideas for this book when you read it many years ago. Which ideas were in your head back when you first read the book, and which ones came to you as you were making the movie? MG: I had a list of numerations in the book which I sometimes wrote down, and I wanted to present the film a little bit like a personal flashback of my first impression reading the book. I remember the ice-skating rink, the stretching guy, all the chaos … I had many impressions that stuck with me from the beginning. Was there anything that came about during filmmaking that wasn’t among your original impressions? MG: The characters were very transparent in the book. We needed these actors, like Romain Duris, who are emotional. In the book they are very transparent. We needed to correspond to how young people are hanging out in Paris. I couldn’t think of a French young actor who I would love to work with. So that’s why I picked these [actors]. Focus Features via Everett Collection Like you said, the characters in this story are transparent, and in the movie can get a little wacky. Can you talk about finding the humanity and gravity in characters, and in a world, like this? MG: A lot of [the writing process] gets in the way of directing the actor or finding right tone or finding the emotional thread. So I managed somehow, more or less, to forget all the technique. To really stick with the actors. That’s one of the most important things to do. Was there anything specific that these actors brought to the film? MG: Yeah. Romain did. Audrey [Tautou] had this idea that she would be – she would say “very, very, very, very!” … that sort of style. Just a detail like that. Aïssa Maïga, who played Alise, she had this idea that she had a secret in her mind: a love affair with Colin. And people add their own agenda, and their little secret carried that way enriched the character. Sure. Like Omar Sy’s character and the money. There’s a lot of interesting side stories going on. MG: Yeah, the money was a big issue, and it was even bigger in the book. The fact that it keeps shrinking, he had to count his money, and everything. So I sort of thought I’d diminish that in the adaptation. I thought it was a bit reductive. You just felt like it was a little unnecessary? MG: Yeah. Reading the book, it can really digress … [in the film it felt] a little more trivial. In fact, maybe now the money issue was it was trivial to push it so far. It was too trivial to be pushed that far. I wanted to talk to you about the ending. The ending of the movie reminded me of the ending of your other film, Eternal Sunshine. Even if something ends sadly, it’s better to experience it. Since it can be seen as the theme to two of your movies, can you talk about what this message means to you? MG: The idea is that if you just erase everything, then it’s like lazy eyes, it’s less intense. Every person might say there’s one specific memory that ruined all your life, maybe you should erase it. I mean, in movies it’s different. You can really enjoy a movie that’s really sad. Because it resonates with a part of your life that’s not necessarily happy. But we cry in movies… it’s one of their purposes. You can catch Mood Indigo in theaters now! Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Lucy' Is a Fun Action/Sci-Fi That Lands Somewhere Between Creative and Ridiculous
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 23, 2014
    Universal Pictures via Everett Collection I think about Limitless more often than any person should: occasionally. Topping the film's lengthy list of shortcomings is the stinging presence of wasted potential (funny, since it's a movie about the wasted potential of the human mind) capping its high stakes exploration of the expansive question, "What would happen if we used 100 percent of our brains?" with the softball answer, "We'd be pretty good at predicting stock patterns and learning new languages." In Lucy, we have the exact same hypothetical, albeit delivered in a different kind of story altogether — Limitless was effectively an addiction thriller, Lucy is an action/sci-fi. But the answers are much bigger. American slacker Scarlett Johansson comes about her newfound mental capacity much like Bradley Cooper is, by way of experimental drugs. Lucy (Johansson), an effectively anonymous character with whom we identify principally over just how regular she seems to be, has the substance thrust into her system by a sociopathic crime kingpin (Choi Min-sik) — neither party has a clue what CPH4 (which lacks the nominal panache of Substance D or Melange or Dropper or Chems) is capable of doing with Lucy's brain, nor even does top-of-his-game academic Morgan Freeman, whose main purpose in the movie is to be there to explain to us what the hell is going on... and inject a subtle plug for his upcoming film Dolphin Tale 2. But it's this grand mystery, this shriek of possibility, that makes Lucy a fairly riveting experiment. And from one rather unexpected source: Luc Besson, who has never veered too far from the straight-and-narrow path, entertains quite a few what ifs with his latest picture. Universal Pictures via Everett Collection What if you could access 20 percent of your brain? Then 40, then 50, and eventually 100? What if you had the sensory capabilities of the average dolphin? Or you had total command of organic energy? Or a free supply of the stuff that kicks you into life as a developing fetus? What sort of powers would you find at your disposal? What sort of consequences would amount from this state of evolution? How would your worldview change, your feelings change, your humanity change, your body change? And what if a filmmaker were to brave the task of telling this grand a story? Would he deliver the account in the ordinary aesthetic and kinetic fashion of his standard one-way actioner stricken with existential tunnel vision? Or would he vie toward imagination? Jumping from his onscreen narrative to footage of wildlife fornication and blank screens that prompt recollection of a certain Looney Tunes short? Why not? What if? If it sounds silly... well, it is. A great deal of Lucy will inspire smirks and scoffs. In its ambition to explore the possibilities of its premise, landings are overshot and marks are missed altogether. And sure, there are probably far more intriguing ways to go about the concept than performed by Besson and Johansson in this picture. But very little of Lucy feels like wasted potential. It's creative, even when not entirely original. It's exciting, even when just a bit aimless. And it's ambitious, even when it doesn't seem like it has a complete idea of what it's doing. Ultimately, Lucy wants to be a movie about possibilities, and it at least puts an honest go toward living up to that endeavor. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • What Is Edgar Wright's 'Baby Driver' About?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 22, 2014
    WENN/Lia Toby We might well bemoan the loss of the Edgar Wright touch on Marvel's upcoming Ant-Man feature, but there is a silver lining: now, the innovative action-comedy director gets to work on his own original (and, likely, far more interesting) project. Deadline reports that Wright will next helm a film called Baby Driver, a mixture of "crime, action, music and sound." Even with all those nouns jumbled together, the project is still largely ambiguous. And with a title like Baby Driver, we can only begin to imagine what it might be about... A baby that's also a driver?Wright directs a Look Who's Talking-style family comedy (rated R for language and violence, but still... for the family) about an infant who sets out on the road in his parents' Chevy Camaro. Somebody who drives babies around? Like a chauffer for babies?Inspired by Vin Diesel's The Pacifier, Wright creates a film about a tough guy getaway driver who takes a new gig picking up the Wasserman kids from nursery school... and grows to love them. Somebody who drives actual babies? Like the car is a baby, and the guy drives the baby-car?In the distant future, Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" has been brought to life in a few interesting ways. This dark dystopian fantasy has people driving around vehicles made of discarded babies, in light of the recent metal shortage. An early-years biopic about Good Will Hunting star Minnie Driver?Get it? An animated film about a young screwdriver?Finally, Wright takes his visual style to Pixar, breathing life into a toolbox of adventures led by a plucky young screwdriver named Phillip. So, maybe one of those. Or, you know, an actual idea. Either way, we're excited. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com