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.
  • 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
  • Review: 'Magic in the Moonlight' Is a Tired, Sometimes Funny Throwback to Pre-Woody Allen Hollywood
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 22, 2014
    Sony Pictures via Everett Collection When Hollywood movies were very much "a certain thing," Woody Allen's weren't. An innovator from the get-go, Allen celebrated the possibilities of cinema by contorting and creating, giving us in everything from What's Up, Tiger Lily? straight through his '80s string a filmic style that America hadn't yet seen. Now that he's done his due diligence, Allen seems content to make the sort of pictures that snagged his heart in the first place: the romantic comedies of the '40s and '50s — appropriately, Magic in the Moonlight borrows the Jazz Age setting of classics like Some Like It Hot — that operated in a certain straightforward, delightful fashion. Allen's latest follows the swath of Billy Wilder, Blake Edwards, and Howard Hawks, but aims for the Woody brand with muted doses of his signature nihilism and cantankerous banter. But seven decades after this cinematic golden age and four past Allen's heyday, Magic in the Moonlight's charms wear thin and familiar rather quickly.  Magic in the Moonlight doesn't carry too many surprises; kind of a shame for a flick about magicians and mediums. But it's not the premise that is in principal need of reconstruction, it's the Allen chatter. The movie opens immersed in the fun inherent in the rantings of a misanthropic blowhard illusionist (Colin Firth, whose comic delivery in the early scenes of this movie is markedly impressive) who knows the margins of reality and can barely stomach the thought of some charming charlatan passing as a psychic (Emma Stone) pulling the wool over the eyes of a gaggle of unsuspecting millionaires... whom he also detests for their stupidity, but it's the thrill of the "A-ha!" that drives him to prove the clairvoyant a fake. Sony Pictures via Everett Collection Firth's comical butting of heads — both with the enamored aristocrats (Hamish Linklater plays the hysterically doe-eyed son who is smitten with Stone's Sophie; Jacki Weaver is a giddy matriarch longing to connect with her dead husband) and with the alleged swindler — ensues, opening up an unmistakably Allenian world of privilege-induced idiocy and shirt-stuffing. But what kicks off as great comedy grows tired by the fifth or sixth time we have to hear the curmudgeonly Stanley (Firth) pronounce his skepticism or watch the entrancing Sophie declare her devotion to possibility. After a while, what started out as a classic-era throwback reveals itself to be something with very little to show off, new or otherwise. Still, even in its most redundant hours, Magic in the Moonlight never dips to levels of unpleasant. Firth and Stone are always a joy to watch, especially when playing rounds of combat. Allen's diatribes about mortality and meaning tire, but never fall dead asleep. And there is something consistently funny about Linklater playing a dead-from-the-neck-up Pittsburgh WASP serenading Emma Stone with a ukulele. Ultimately, Magic in the Moonlight won't be a memorable trip back to the age of Wilder or Hawks, or a reminder of why you started watching Woody Allen movies in the first place. Instead, it's just a pleasant enough romp with a few hearty laughs and ample opportunities to let your mind wander back to your favorite scene in Sleeper. Ha, yeah, Sleeper. That was a good movie. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Hilarious 'Simpsons' Moments That I Think About Every Single Day
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 21, 2014
    FOX I would never be so bold as to declare any one Simpsons quote the funniest of the lot. With 25 seasons (and about 10 good ones) it'd be impossible to allocate inarguable superlatives to a single line, moment, character, or even episode. But even if candidates for all-time favorites are perpetually up in the air, there are a dozen or so instances from the prolific series that stick with me consistently. Quotes and gags that pop into my head multiple times a week, sometimes with only the slightest provocation, diverting brain power from the legion of more important things I might be wise to pay more attention to. A few of these examples aren’t even especially funny (at least not in comparison to some other gems from the show), but have for some reason found a comfortable home just beneath my conscious thought. In celebration of The Simpsons' imminent arrival in our lives in two whole new ways — in its first full-series marathon on FXX, and in its pioneer journey to digital distribution (via EW) — I couldn't resist paying tribute to these moments back upon these neurological leeches from one of my favorite TV series. Please chime in with your own! "'Give me five bees for a quarter,' you'd say."Speaker: Grampa SimpsonEpisode: "Last Exit to Springfield" (Season 4, Episode 17)Context: Strikebreaker Abe begins reminiscing on the good old days during a meeting with business mogul Monty Burns. Eventually, his rambling takes him to the above quote about the alleged mid-20th century colloquialism for American currency.Pops into my head whenever: Someone asks me to make change. "That's my dad's shootin' car!"Speaker: Nelson MuntzEpisode: "Bart the Mother" (Season 5, Episode 22)Context: Juvenile delinquent Nelson introduces Bart to his father's prized possession.Pops into my head whenever: I see a car. Seriously. Any car. "So I says to Mabel, I says..."Speaker: BartEpisode: "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)" (Season 8, Episode 9)Context: None.Pops into my head whenever: There's a lull in conversation aching for placeholder smalltalk. "Then I go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like explooode yooou."Singer: Sideshow BobEpisode: "Black Widower" (Season 3, Episode 21)Context: After an ostensibly romantic musical montage, Sideshow Bob reveals his true intentions behind marrying Marge's sister Selma Bouvier: he aims to kill her!Pops into my head whenever: I hear a Frank Sinatra song. FOX "Oh no! My brains!"Speaker: Hans MolemanEpisode: "Team Homer" (Season 7, Episode 12)Context: An ether-induced Mr. Burns ostensibly drills a hole into the brain of perpetually unfortunate Hans Moleman.Pops into my head whenever: Anything causes me duress or anxiety (which, if you know me, you know is no rare occurrence). "No wires at all! Except one."Speaker: Principal SkinnerEpisode: "We're on the Road to D'ohwhere" (Season 17, Episode 11)Context: After procuring a cherished ringtone (Bart groaning in sorrow) for his "brand new cell phone," Skinner brags about the lack of wires weighing the phone down... before pulling out the one necessary, and particularly bulky, cord.  Pops into my head whenever: I hear somebody discussing cell phones. "The ironing is delicious."Speaker: BartEpisode: "Grift of the Magi" (Season 11, Episode 9)Context: Bart mocks Lisa for her stint in detention via Springfield Elementary's new academic regime (under which he is thriving), highlighting the unusual turn of events for the siblings... or trying to.Pops into my head whenever: Anything unexpected happens. This is the perfect example of a quote that isn't outrageously funny but that has proved itself a resilient go-to quote, due largely to its simplicity (and all-purpose nature). "WHOOO'S NEEELSOOON?!"Shouter: HomerEpisode: Once again, "Bart the Mother" (Season 5, Episode 22)Context: Prompted by Marge, Homer asks Milhouse where the conspicuously absent Bart might be... but Homer doesn't bother leaving his seat at the kitchen table, he simply shouts out the window across the alley to get his answer. Upon hearing that Bart is over at Nelson's place, he has one last question for Milhouse.Pops into my head whenever: Anyone I know mentions an unfamiliar name. "Play it... cooooooooool."Speaker: Homer/GrampaEpisode: "Lady Bouvier's Lover" (Season 5, Episode 21)Context: Homer aims to teach his father how to woo Marge's mother, bestowing his lessons of "cool" through the means of a funky little ditty.Pops into my head whenever: I'm faced with giving advice (usually unsolicited) to a friend (usually unrequited) FOX "Why did I have the bowl, Bart? Why did I have the bowl?"Speaker: MilhouseEpisode: "The Canine Mutiny" (Season 8, Episode 20)Context: Milhouse is bemoaning Bart's troublesome dog Santa's Little Helper. He accuses Bart of lying for the pup when he allegedly ate Milhouse's goldfish, a crime that Bart attempted to cover up by trying to convince Milhouse he never had a goldfish.Pops into my head whenever: Honestly, there is no organic trigger for this. I just think about it a lot. "Your store is being robbed, Apu!"Speaker: HomerEpisode: "A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love" (Season 13, Episode 4)Context: Homer tries to write legitimately prescient fortune cookie fortunes. This is one of them.Pops into my head whenever: I open a fortune cookie. "No! No one's going Catholic!"Speaker: MargeEpisode: "Lisa Gets an A" (Season 10, Episode 7)Context: Bart asks a stressed out Marge if the family can convert to Catholicism for the "Communion wafers and booze."Pops into my head whenever: Anyone asks my endorsement on any plan, significant or menial. "I hate every ape I see from chimpan-A to chimpan-zee..."Singer: Troy McClureEpisode: "A Fish Called Selma" (Season 7, Episode 19)Context: Prolific actor McClure performs the final scene of the hit musical, Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!Pops into my head whenever: Anyone mentions the original Planet of the Apes, any Planet of the Apes apes follow-up feature, apes, chimpanzees, the alphabet, hatred, Broadway musicals, music in general, The Simpsons, television, or most other things. Few contributions to the English language have affected my life so prominently. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Planes: Fire and Rescue' Has No Real Characters or Story
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 18, 2014
    Disney For whatever reason, I cannot effectively connect to a motorized vehicle as a sentient character. Planes, Cars, Transformers, Herbie, KITT, Jerry Van Dyke's mother. Maybe it's because I never learned to drive. More plausible theory: Every big or small screen attempt to allot sentience to a motorized vehicle has been grievously underwhelming. Okay, I'll give you Knight Rider. But the latest example of the endeavor, Planes: Fire & Rescue, is no Knight Rider. It's barely even a Cars. The feature from DisneyToon Studios is as hollow as you can imagine a 3D animated movie to be. And this degree of vacancy feels like more than just a waste of time for the targeted youth. Dane Cook's celebrity racing plane Dusty Crophopper, a leading man completely without hue — and don't think children's movie heroes are exempt from the expectation of nuance; Woody, Wall-E, Remy, were all leagues more recognizable than the anonymous Dusty — busts one of his principal cogs and learns that he can't exceed a certain speed or else he'll crash. In other words he'll never race again. So with an existential crisis on the horizon, and a town in jeopardy, Dusty switches gears and decides to learn how to become a firefighter. In large part, Planes: Fire & Rescue is a love letter to public servants, opening with a title card that dedicates the film to the brave men and women who work to keep our towns and cities safe. In this element alone is the film passable, propagating appreciation for a line of work that bears unquestionable merit. But the story surrounding this message is so tattered and lifeless that it'd be surprising if any of Planes' target youths access the throughline moral. Disney Dusty's personal journey jumps from one quasi-conflict to the next, each piece representing a fraction of a story that we've seen in other animated films, so that you're never given the opportunity to connect with him over any of his qualms. His shattered dreams of racing, his newly evident mortality, his struggle to find new purpose, his quest for self-betterment, his drive to help others. All are teased, none are explored. And the characters surrounding Dusty are even worse, the lot composed of sexist and racial stereotypes that are far more uninteresting than they are genuinely offensive. Every secondary player is a one-off joke, and not a good one; the only laughs in the flick come from the occasional play on words, but even for a pun-junkie will that tread wear thin. With characters this shallow and plotlines this scattered, your kids cannot possibly engage with a movie like Planes: Fire & Rescue. They'll relegated to staring at it, retrieving little more than bright colors, speedy scenes, goofy voices, and the obscenely frequent flatulence joke. This is clearly all Planes thinks that kids can handle, but that's an egregious affront to a demographic that fueled the works of classic Disney, golden age Pixar, and Hayao Miyazaki. I think they can manage a few well-crafted airplanes. 1.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'The Purge: Anarchy' Has a Lot of Ideas, But None of Them Amount to Much
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 17, 2014
    Universal Pictures via Everett Collection The Purge: Anarchy has more ideas than you might expect. But it also has more ideas than it knows what to do with. Somewhere in the cobbled mess of the second Purge movie to get the green light, there are discussions about class warfare and the oppression of the impoverished. There is even a somewhat earnest attempt to access the psychology of a killer — to tap into what might make an ordinary joe stand up and purge his heart out once a year. There are dissections of the morality behind purging. Is it okay if it's for revenge? Is it okay if it's to level the playing field? Is it okay if we're turning the hounds back on those who released them? Is it ever okay? Lots of questions at bay in The Purge. Lots of ideas. Unfortunately, none of them are given the attention that they need to blossom into anything truly interesting. Instead, that attention goes (unsurprisingly) to the brutality and tension that spans the length of the movie. As three sets of Purge Night victims (a mother and daughter whose financial distresses are obstinately spelled out at the forefront of the story, an uppity young married couple on the brink of separation, and a well-armed man of mysterious intentions) band together in a feat of survival, we witness efforts so grim and vile that they're inclined to turn a sane viewer off of violent movies for the foreseeable future. Universal Pictures via Everett Collection But we're not quite sure if that's what The Purge: Anarchy wants, opting ultimately for the cathartic joys of the shoot-'em-up climax on which any number of nihilistic blockbusters have relied. In the wake of this incongruity — tapping into the disparate messages of striking back against the tyrannical rich, but also finding compassion and rejecting the urge to purge — we have no idea what The Purge wants us to take away. And that leaves us assuming that it doesn't really want us to take away anything. So, we're left with the bare bones: 100 minutes of upsetting violence, paper-thin characters, grotesque cinematography, and laughable dialogue. If we can't hang our hats on the occasional interesting point it tries to bring up, we don't have a great deal remaining. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Wish I Was Here' Is More Concerned with How It Looks and Sounds Than What It Has to Say
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 15, 2014
    Focus Features via Everett Collection Zach Braff is a funny guy. He can sell a joke (or, even more triumphantly, a reactionary take) with genuine comic chops. That's what makes the first half of Wish I Was Here so watchable — pleasant to the point that we might even expect it to carry forth successfully into the later acts. But beyond Braff's dry rejoinders and quirky stammers is something deliberately less impressive: his stab at the dramatic. Braff falters in the realm of the serious not as an actor — at least not predominantly — but as a writer and director. Wish I Was Here sets up a story loaded with the potential for sharp pangs. Braff plays Aiden Bloom, a man with an unhappy wife (Kate Hudson), a dying father (Mandy Patinkin), a lonesome daughter (Joey King), a disgruntled manchild brother (Josh Gad), and a crumbling dream (acting). Each construct is set up with relative validity, but none really hits home in a way that rings remotely authentic. Focus Features via Everett Collection The reason for this is, ultimately, because Wish I Was Here doesn't seem particularly concerned with what it says. It tosses around emotional maxims to tie father to son and wife to husband when convenient, digging up contrivances about ice cream, swear jars, and surfing memories that have no real bearing beyond the benefits of a momentary poetic aesthetic. More worried about how it sounds and looks than any of the messages it propagates, Wish I Was Here tends to contradict itself — Braff and Hudson both seek happiness, but only the former is granted a real relationship (or any screentime) with their children — or fall short of painting its picture. While brother Noah (Gad) is sold as a major piece of the Bloom family's fractured puzzle, we never get the chance to learn anything about him beyond a few points of biographical trivia. Still, the movie isn't entirely unbearable. As said, Braff can handle a comedic moment with aplomb. His daughter, played by King, is masterfully charming. The saving grace of Wish I Was Here is that the vast majority of its attention is on these two and their relationship. But when we stray elsewhere, it's as if the movie is doing everything it can to pad its runtime with ostensibly deep ideas. Ideas about childhood fantasies, science-fiction, paternal disappointment, Jewish scripture, punching people, and Comic-Con. None of it packs anything beneath the surface, so we can't help but groan and wonder why it was put there in the first place. Just get back to Braff and King bickering comedically. 2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Will the Female Thor Ever Find Her Way Into the Marvel Movie Universe?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 15, 2014
    Marvel After Bucky Barnes donned the Winter Soldier garb in the second Captain America movie, fans wondered whether or not he would ultimately fulfill his comic book destiny and inherit the Cap title from pal Steve Rogers. And we can't help but entertain a similar line of thought now that Marvel Comics has announced a new heir to Thor's hammer. The company utilized the platform of The View on Tuesday morning to announce the news that "the new Thor" would, in fact, be a yet unnamed female character.  "Thor, the God of Thunder, he messed up. He is no longer worthy to hold that damn hammer of his," Whoopi Goldberg, the ABC program's cohost (and clearly a devoted aficionado of the series, if her diction suggests anything). "And for the first time in history that hammer is being held by a woman ... The story behind her is she created herself. She was saved by Thor and she came down to Earth, followed him, and made herself look like Thor and so now she’s taking over." Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection Fans of the film universe will invariably question whether the still-gestating character will make her way into any of the string of movies yet to be released. With so many films propped for the future — following August's Guardians of the Galaxy and next years Avengers: Age of Ultron, we'll see no shortage of standalone character films like Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, the Hulk, and, naturally, another Thor feature — and considering the long arm of renowned strong-female-characters-lover Joss Whedon in the Marvel scope, we'd be remiss to deny the possibility of Thor's double-X-chromosome-laden replacement taking form on the big screen. And such a prospect would be long overdue. Although Black Widow took a central role in The Winter Soldier, we eagerly await her proper starring feature. The Avengers: Age of Ultron will introduce Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch and an unnamed character played by Kim Soo-hyun into the mix, but will still pack a cast of predominantly male heroes and villains; meanwhile, characters like Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill and Hayley Atwell's aging Peggy Carter take a veritable backseat. A female Thor (alongside Steve Rogers or Bucky Barnes) would be a much needed addition to the formula. Although we don't know much about her just yet, we can't wait to hear more. Something tells us a certain San Diego-based festival that's coming up soon will offer a bit of insight. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Mood Indigo' Makes Up for a Wandering Script with Bright Imagination
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 14, 2014
    Drafthouse Films via Everett Collection Michel Gondry might not be an expert storyteller, but he is a master of imagination. Where your average American movie adheres to a rigid and familiar structure — an A-to-B throughline that limits opportunity for creative exploration — Gondry vies for the opposite extreme: his latest film, Mood Indigo, could benefit from a few tweaks in the department of narrative form. Meandering from one dreamy sequence to the next, the film falters in its delivery of what is meant to feel like a cogent love story/human tragedy. What it offers up instead is a nonstop carousel ride of wonderful ideas and images, all temperate beverages for our thirsty eyes. They more than make up for the film's narrative shortcomings, but that latter fault is what keeps Mood Indigo from being as thrilling and evocative as it otherwise might. Drafthouse Films via Everett Collection Gondry has directed some fine scripts to states of splendor — he knocked Eternal Sunshine out of the park and gave us the erratic but successfully cohesive Science of Sleep. While each of these markedly bizarre movies feels like a mapped adventure with a clear course through Gondry's right brain, Mood Indigo (which he adapted with Luc Bossi from Boris Vian's novel) comes off more like a pit stop at a mental playground. It's a pleasure to see the director play freely with the products of preadolescent hallucinations, but the momentum trips up when we spend so much time ogling insectile doorbells, motorized feasts, elastic dance moves, "high"-speed boxcar races, and so many more odd turns. Eventually, we get to the story, of which the movie takes even longer to acknowledge the presence than this review does. It's a romantic tragedy that has the Quixotic Colin (Romain Duris) caring for his new love and newer bride Chloé (Audrey Tautou, the cast standout) when she falls ill. In the latter half of the movie, Gondry uses his ambitious style to perfection, driving home the pangs of both parties — and those of their friends, stress-addled Nicolas (Omar Sy), obsessive addict Chick (Gad Elmalah), and the emotionally neglected Alise (Aïssa Maïga) — with darker hued dream clouds. Drafthouse Films The talents of this team help the often jagged film carry forth. Tautou is positively magnetic in her comedic, dramatic, and romantic scenes alike. Backdrop players Sy, Elmalah, and Maïga pepper in a dynamic nuttiness that works in perfect congruence to the film's first half, and a tragic "sickness" that works just as well in the second half.  It is in this late chapter that the film becomes more than an experiment in visual charms, evolving to a highly evocative and surprisingly down-to-earth platform without pulling any punches in the oddball department. Still, we're entering an intimacy with these characters too late into the film in order for their emotional beats to land as effectively as they should. Gondry spends so much time introducing us to the various constructs and facets of his wild, vast, unique world that he slips up on introducing us to the people who occupy it. When we finally do get to know them, even the ones we've liked all along, it can be a strain to accept them as real people. But fragmented though this story and these characters may be, they're all surrounded by such wonderful spectacle that it would be difficult to leave this movie without a supercharged heart and a jump-started imagination. These achievements are enough to render any of Moon Indigo's structural weaknesses a secondary thought. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Is 'Wish I Was Here' the Most Jewish Movie Ever Made?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 11, 2014
    Focus Features I expected quite a few things from Zach Braff's long-buffered Garden State follow-up Wish I Was Here: a brooding template, quirky imagery, Shins music. But I did not expect consistent, detailed conversations about Jewish law and scripture. Sure, Garden State included nods to the religion and culture (with which Braff was raised) but hardly to the degree that we see in Wish I Was Here. From the very first scene, in which Braff's character's daughter Grace (played by Joey King, a highlight in the flick) cites her rabbi's admonition of foul language, we're embedded in a distinctly Jewish atmosphere — one that, at times, gets so specific that I wondered what the experience of watching such a film might be for someone who didn't grow up with the religion, like I did. Full scenes revolve around the practices of Grace's adherence to the religion, without much exposition as to what we're seeing. Braff chauffers his viewers through the sequences poking fun at or offering affectionate nods to the particulars of Yeshiva academia with a "Get it?" or "Remember that?" attitude, insinuating a familiarity that the majority of his audience — if even close to a direct ratio of the population in large — probably won't have. Movies about Christianity have the luxury of going specific — no matter what religion you subscribe to, if you grew up in the Western World you more than likely know the basic gist of what goes on in church. But when it comes to Judaism, direct depictions can feel esoteric. It's not as though Braff is the only director to venture the illustration of Jewish religion and culture in a mainstream movie (as "indie" as Braff's persona is, he's still well-known enough for his work to garner public attention). We think immediately of Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, two directors who have frequently colored their movies with a Jewish context. The difference, however, between the Allen/Brooks methods (which are, furthermore, very different from one another) and that of Braff is that you're more likely to see Allen take a jab at nebbishy stereotypes or Brooks make a crass crack about circumcisions than you are to see either delve into the particulars of the day-to-day at a Yeshiva school. Focus Features via Everett Collection A recent film that drove us fairly deep into Jewish education is A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers dark comedy that centers around a physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his son's disciplinary tribulations at Hebrew school. While the Coen Brothers dabble quite frequently in the fringes of our world, we're not surprised to see them deliver such a vivid portrait of Judaism in the Midwest. In fact, A Serious Man devotes itself to the idea that Stuhlbarg's family is stamped with an "outsider" label,  But Braff adheres to no such idea, which is at once puzzling and quite gratifying. With the exception of a single one-off joke from a gentile neighbor boy, Judaism is never meant to feel like anything but "the norm." We're invited into the film through the Bloom family, and as such are welcomed into their customs, which are treated with the same engagement, familiarity, and normative mentality with which any Martin Scorsese film would treat Catholicism.   It's an interesting, and impressive, move by Braff. Although we've seen Judaism depicted on the screen time and time again, Wish I Was Here is a unique example of a Jewish movie: one that isn't driven by a narrative entrenched in Jewish history but is foremost reverent to the religion; one that treats it not so much like an "outer tier" culture but a central, basic, human practice. As loving as the tributes to Judaism of Allen, Brooks, and the Coens are, they are often inclined to approach the religion as a "something else." But Wish I Was Here just treats it as the something. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Life Itself' Is Not Just a Tribute to Roger Ebert, It's a Tribute to Movies Love
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 10, 2014
    Magnolia Pictures When I was a kid, I decided — as many of the yet unjaded do — that I wanted my life to be about movies. I wanted to make them, critique them, talk about them, and watch as many of them as I could. The lucky ones don't grow away from this passion; the luckier still get the opportunity to make it a reality. But those occupying that small circle of unparalleled fortune often face something that might cast shade over the golden path that is a life devoted to the art of cinema. That plaguing question, "Does what I'm doing really matter?" It's not a question that is specific to people who write about film, but it's one that hits our community hard. We're not curing diseases, we're not building houses, we're not defending the wronged or curbing crime. In fact, the average comments section of an article or string of Twitter responses to a hasty remark is wont to suggest that we're actually making people angry. With so much acrimony spawning from the conversations we set forth unto the Internet, we can't help but wonder if we are not only not making the world a better place, but perhaps making it a worse one. Are we further dousing this outrageous planet in hot venom? Are we devoting time that might be better spent building or curing to a plight of emotional infancy? Are we wasting our lives and everybody else's time? Many of us, at one point or another, wonder these things. As far as we can tell from Life Itself, Roger Ebert never did. He always knew that this was a worthwhile pursuit. And even if Ebert didn't always harbor that certainty, the documentary does. From beginning to end, Life Itself is sure that the world needs people like Ebert. Magnolia Pictures "Like Ebert" would be high praise with which to adorn any movies writer. Still, Life Itself doesn't treat him as an untouchable deity — poking good-natured fun at his audacity, his ego, his rivalry-turned-enmity-turned-friendship with Gene Siskel (their relationship is chronicled in what is probably the most engaging chapter in the movie) — but as a pioneer. An artist in his own right who approached the trade of "criticism" with a new point of view, giving way to a new means of thinking and talking about, and loving, movies altogether. In its portrait of Ebert's anti-establishment devotion to the Chicago Sun-Times, his heated on-air feuds with Siskel, his hearty support of new filmmakers, and his brazen takedown of the very same when they turn in what he considers to be trash (man, how he hated The Color of Money), Life Itself gives us a real character in Ebert.  I do not think it is any documentary's sole mission to sing the praises of its subject. Instead, a good biographical feature is driven to explain why someone made a difference. It wasn't that Ebert was a god, or a hero, or in any outstanding way an anomaly. He was someone — as so many of us who'll flock to this film are, and will be ever more after the inspiring song it sings — so devoted to his craft: the beautiful, wonderful, lucky drive to think about, talk about, write about, and watch movies. Because movies, be they like Life Itself or Boyhood or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, are simply and essentially worth talking about. Ebert was someone who got that. He was someone worthy of our attention, respect, disapproval (sure, at times), and interest. Ultimately, Life Itself works to remind its viewers of one thing: Ebert is one of us. He's just really good at being one of us. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com