Michael Arbeiter
Staff editor Michael Arbeiter’s natural state of being can best be described as “mild panic attack.” His earliest memories of growing up in Queens, New York, involve nighttime conversations with a voice from his bedroom wall (the jury’s still out on what that was all about) and a love for classic television that spawned from the very first time he was allowed to watch “The Munsters.” Attending college at SUNY Binghamton, a 20-year-old Michael learned two things: that he could center his future on this love for TV and movies, and that dragons never actually existed — he was kind of late in the game on that one.
  • Review: 'Snowpiercer' Is Remarkably Twisted, Creative, and Fun
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 26, 2014
    Weinstein Company Every time I begin to recommend Snowpiercer to a friend, I experience an instant of jabbing fear and doubt. These feelings set in, like clockwork, at the onset of my description of the plot: “Global warming has wiped out humanity.” Every time, as whatever listener I have procured struggles to hide a wince, I question first if I can successfully articulate the experience I had with this movie… and then, as I consider the audacity in its premise alone, if it could have really been all that great to begin with. But tasked with at the very least describing the little advertised Bong Joon-ho picture, I advance to the next element in my illustration of the story: “And everybody left alive is stuck on this giant train.” And every time, as the winces turn to looks of bewilderment, I begin to pick up speed. I careen through the explanation of the rigid caste system that envelops the train’s passengers/prisoners, the revolution that sparks at the dawn of the film, and the performances of stars John Hurt, Song Kang-ho, and a particularly miraculous Tilda Swinton. (Chris Evans isn't too bad either, but doesn't always keep up with the campy flavor of his comrades.) Weinstein Company via Everett Collection The uncertainty fades as I come to realize just how much fun I am having explaining what happens in Snowpiercer, sure to insist to my now wholly engaged audience that I’m hardly doing the movie justice. I'm reminded of how inviting the film is, shockingly so when you consider its grim conceit. Affability is no mean feat for a movie about human extinction, class warfare, murder, dismemberment, cannibalism... as dark as the movie gets, it's never repulsive. You're always driven to march on, from the caboose straight up the engine room, at the very least to see what new bit of twisted mania this movie has up its sleeve. The further we travel into the story, the more impressed and delighted we are by the imaginations of director Bong Joon-ho and the creators of the source graphic novel Le Transperceneige. Snowpiercer's ultimate victory is how palatable it makes its unbelievably weird material. Things might get bonkers — a fact you rediscover when you inevitably decide to recommend the movie to somebody else ("...and then they get to the rave room...") — but they are always delivered in a fashion that prefers an intimacy with its audience, rather than the cold distance that some high concept pieces strive for... or at least wind up embodying regardless of intent. This is never a problem with Snowpiercer. The weirder it gets, the more we get into it. You might not recognize this at first, or at the dawn of your recollection of the bats**t premise, but you'll get there quickly enough. This train doesn't take long to pick up momentum. 4.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Transformers: Age of Extinction' Is a Nonlethal Overload of Nonsense
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 26, 2014
    Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection Ultimately, Transformers: Age of Extinction is not as excruciating as its predecessors. The first Transformers was bad, but not spirit-killing bad. Revenge of the Fallen kicked off that trend, delivering a soulless two-and-a-half hours of nihilistic gear crunching nihilism — a phenomenon that was reproduced, but in sub-lethal doses, in Dark of the Moon. Somehow, even with at least four extra tiers of mindless climax and a post-9/11 motif underway, Age of Extinction manages to be the least offensive of the lot. Maybe it's the absence of Shia LaBeouf, perhaps the colorful robo-voice cast, or even the thinly veiled breakdown of American conservatism that's principally responsible fueling interest. But make no mistake: this combination may well airlift Transformers: Age of Extinction to a surprising altitude of tolerability (especially when considering its egregious 167-minute runtime), but the movie is still pretty darn bad. The movie bats around themes of progressivism (and, more prominently, anti-progressivism) with no particular margins in mind. Mark Wahlberg plays a lifelong Texan with a distinct proclivity for non-rhotic Rs and a teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz) who he keeps on a tight leash. When he comes face to face with her new boyfriend (Jack Reynor), a 20-year-old immigrant (perish the thought!) from Ireland (is that one of the bad ones?) in one of the film's most mind-boggling scenes representing the upsurge in liberal thinking that lays waste to American values like statutory law. Dopey Wahlberg, a perpetually blubbering Peltz, and the wickedly nondescript Reynor discover and join forces with a Transformer — Optimus Prime, to be precise — who is on a quest to do something. Something to do with humans or Decepticons or Dinobots. Whoever it is (they're all in there), he's trying to avoid them or save them or fight them. His friends come, too. Bumblebee, John Goodbot, and a samurai Transformer so undeniably racist that it stunned me that the voice actor behind the portrayal was Ken Watanabe, and not somebody whose only experience with Japanese culture came from World War II-era Looney Tunes shorts. Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection The incomprehensibility rages on as the "story" ropes in inventor Stanley Tucci — a Steve Jobs type — and Senator Kelsey Grammer — a Kelsey Grammer type. As the arguments for and against innovation are sprinkled through a minefield of nonsense, we struggle to understand the sincerity behind director Michael Bay's ultimate message. We also struggle to understand where or when or how any of what happening is happening in relationship to any other place, time, or characters in the movie. The geography of the action sequences (it might be wrong to pluralize this phrase — the second half of the film is more accurately one long action sequence separated by moments of Tucci nebbishing it up) and coherency of the set pieces are sub-afterthought. We see a lot of stuff, but we never watch anything really happen.   With a climax that lasts forever and an abject lack of denoument, the second half of the movie is notably more harrowing than the first. But thanks to the charms of its cast (Tucci has fun and Goodman is endearing... forget Wahlberg, Peltz, and Reynor, though) and a few comically bizarre moments (like a rainstorm of Bud Light bottles or Tucci screaming about math... well, not about math, but... eh, you'll see), Age of Extinction is ultimately... survivable. Not the highest praise you can give a movie, but possibly the highest praise you can give a Transformers movie. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Michael Bay Might Have to Reedit 'Transformers: Age of Extinction' Because of a Bizarre Lawsuit
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 23, 2014
    Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection At the end of this week, Michael Bay will unleash Transformers: Age of Extinction — his fourth attempt to usurp the American lexicon with the sounds of metal crunching. While you can stumble into any crowd of mentally capacitated human beings and hear no shortage of reasons why, for the love of god, these movies need to stop, it is a particularly surprising source behind the charge to detain Bay's film this time around: Beijing Pangu Investment Co. Ltd, the company that owns the Pangu Plaza hotel (featured in Age of Extinction) is demanding that Paramount remove all traces of the establishment from the theatrical cut of the movie to run in China. Although this isn't a particularly outlandish demand, there's an addendum that makes it a bit funnier: per Cinemablend, Pangu would have been totally cool with the inclusion of its hotel, which it advertises (generously) as "dragon-shaped," in the fourth Transformers film were the film to hold its premiere at said hotel. But this was not the case, making the whole legal ordeal come off as just a little catty. "What, you're too good to have your premiere at our hotel? Fine! Then you can forget about using it in your movie!" Of course, when you phrase it like that, it completely undermines the legal decisions that probably have a great deal of founding in the marketing policies of a successful company. But a hotel that prides itself as being shaped like a dragon is suing a movie about dinosaurs fighting robot dinosaurs, so I think we're all fine with not taking the issue particularly seriously. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Venus in Fur' Is a Little Full of Itself, But Packs Loads of Wit and Energy
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 20, 2014
    Lionsgate It won't take you long to realize that Venus in Fur has no intention of stepping beyond the dank auditorium in which it opens. But claustrophobia is never on Roman Polanski's mind when he sends his film careening through the folds of Western psychosexuality, directing his starring duo with a momentum that carries them well beyond the setting walls. While Polanski's last effort, Carnage, used the one-room conceit to press down on and crush its characters, here he's playing the opposite game: launching fractured playwright Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) higher, higher, higher until he vaporizes into the atmosphere. Like any skyward launch, the journey in Venus is pretty straightforward and narrow. But it's fast, freeing, and a good deal of fun on the way up. Stage actress Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) bursts in out of the rain to insist upon an audition with frustrated artiste Thomas, whose "perfect woman" evades him in the quest to cast his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novella Venus in Furs. Despite the tired writer/director's protests, Vanda engages in an increasingly captivating — and increasingly mysterious — embodiment of the female lead, drawing Thomas deeper into her favor, and bringing closer to light his own relationship with the sexually-charged story. Lionsgate The film is a little too interested in its own enigma: the true motives behind Vanda's performance, and the explanation for the occasional hints dropped that she is more than what she seems. When it commits principality to the importance this wicked secret, Venus in Fur becomes less than the sum of its parts. The joy is in the present: Vanda launching Thomas through the most horrifying corridors of his own mind, the altitude tearing him apart at the seams. Polanski's traditional black heart peers through, but the whimsy of the story's theatrical setting — and Seinger's terrifically bright performance — keep things consistently fun. As grand as its themes may be — with gender and sexuality topping the lot — Venus in Fur amounts to something very simple. Though the ultimate product may sell short some of the gravity attached to its central ideas, the visceral journey is rich all the way through. It's dark, cheeky, provocative, and more than anything else, energized. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Can Rian Johnson Master 'Star Wars'? Looking at 'Brick,' 'Looper,' and 'Breaking Bad'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 20, 2014
    LucasFilm via Everett Collection It might seem like Disney is taking some big risks with its most precious property, the Star Wars universe. Gareth Edwards — slated to direct a yet unspecified standalone character feature for the franchise — turned in an exceptional Godzilla movie, but still only has one additional directing credit to his name. Chronicle's Josh Trank, recently saddled with a similar gig, was an even more surprising choice for the studio. And now, the coup de gracie: Rian Johnson, one of the most interesting filmmakers playing the genre game these days, will take on writing and directing duties for Star Wars: Episode VIII and Star Wars: Episode IX (per Deadline). It's the biggest task that Disney has yet to bestow upon any of its Star Wars folk, with sci-fi frontman J.J. Abrams only earning the one film, but perhaps the lowest risk of the bunch. If you take a look at Johnson's complete filmography, you'll see what we mean. BRICK Focus Features  Johnson's debut feature — a pitch black neo-noir mystery that follows a pre-resurgence Joseph Gordon-Levitt around the underbelly of his high school community looking for the answers to a spiraling mystery. The biggest strength of Brick, beyond some dynamite performances all around (Gordon-Levitt most of all) is a script that reads practically like music. Compare Harrison Ford bemoaning George Lucas' 1977 Star Wars dialogue ("George, you can type this s**t, but you sure as hell can't say it!") with JGL singing the praises of Johnson's poetry ("Brick was a good script just to read. It was like, 'Oh my God, these words feel so good in my mouth.' A lot of movies try to set up a world with cool sets, costumes, camera work. In Brick, the world is born from the words.") and you'll see that maybe a talented wordsmith is exactly what the franchise needs. LOOPER TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection Johnson reteamed with Gordon-Levitt in 2012 for his first science fiction feature, and perhaps the first of his movies to earn something close to widespread recognition. Admittedly, Looper got its share of flack for "time travel problems," as any movie that plays fast and loose with the rules of such a delicate sci-fi staple is bound to. But Looper isn't a bastardization of the tradition, it's a celebration of it: of what makes it fun, interesting, a valuable storytelling device, and worth watching a movie about. Instead of being didactic to the impossible logic of timeline continuity, Johnson was devoted chiefly to the spirit of time travel. This is what we want in a Star Wars director — someone who loves that galaxy far, far away but won't let it arrest his imagination. BREAKING BAD AMC Johnson directed three episodes of Breaking Bad, each a memorable entry in the series' five season run. The first was "Fly" (represented above, as even those unfamiliar might have guessed), Breaking Bad's take on the small screen tradition of the bottle episode, trapping Walter White literally inside of his laboratory and figuratively inside of his decaying mind. Two years later, Johnson helmed "Fifty-One," famous primarily for the climactic scene in which Skyler attempts suicide by jumping into the family's swimming pool. And finally, "Ozymandias," the third-to-last episode of the series and top contender for most celebrated Breaking Bad episode of all. The director exemplifies such completely different strengths in "Fly" and "Ozymandias" that you'd have to be startled upon learning they were brought to screen by the same artist. In the former, Walt's turmoil reaches out from in, poisoning him (and Jesse) slowly and steadily over the course of the 45-minute ep. "Ozymandias," on the other hand, is a deep dish of adrenaline. From minute one, things are edge-of-your-seat tense, incurring shoot-outs, killings, high speed chases, kidnappings, domestic chaos, the works. Both sorts of dramatic expertise are needed for any good adventure piece. Johnson can handle subdued tension, internalized drama, and psychological horror. But he also knows what he's doing when it comes to action, adrenaline, and guttural excitement. If nothing else has convinced you that he's a shoe-in for a good Star Wars picture, Breaking Bad has got to do the trick.   Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Jersey Boys' Is a Pleasant Enough Mess with No Direction At All
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 20, 2014
    Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection "You've all seen the play?" I can imagine Clint Eastwood saying to his cast and crew on the first day of shooting Jersey Boys."Yeah," they respond."Good," he'd then smile. "Do that." And they'd never see him again. Aside from dropping by three quarters of the way through production to insist on a visual reference to his golden years, Eastwood doesn't seem to have a ton to say about how his film adaptation of the Frankie Valli story should take form. Scenes throughout the movie seem to have been set and blocked in the fabric of Jackson Pollock, with actors scattered about the stage, backs to the camera, faces overlapping in a horribly distracting fashion. Such scenes are woven together so tenuously, banking with desperation on the hope that everybody watching cares about anything that might happen to the four boys in question, because there's really no contextual throughline. Plot turns, conflicts, and whole characters are introduced abjectly; each serves less as an emotional beat than it does as a segue into the next musical number. But while these musical numbers might be able to carry a haphazard story on the Broadway stage, the magic is far from our grasp in Eastwood's movie. Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection Despite an R rating for a few "f**k"s here and there, the film is as squeaky clean as the tunes of the Four Seasons. Even the mobsters with whom Frankie and Tommy associate — a riotous Christopher Walken plays their own personal godfather — are of the family friendly variety: the only drop of blood spilled in the film is the result of a botched shave, and the only act of larceny an episode of comical ineptitude. The sugar is coated so heavily that when the movie does attempt to get deep and dark, we're obscenely confused. And the music sure as hell doesn't help matters in the drama department. Still, Jersey Boys manages an inscrutable tolerability, plodding by on the charms of half of its starring team — Vincent Piazza is often jarring but frequently enchanting as undiagnosed psychopath Tommy DeVito, and Erich Bergen is a lot of fun as straight-laced Bob Gaudio (we can accredit his comic timing here to his preadolescent screen debut on The Dana Carvey Show) — and an everpresent Muppety ambiance surrounding these wannabe crooks (of the Frankie and Mugsy variety) turned wannabe stars (of the Frankie and Dean variety).   So, we're left with more of a smile than a frown. The film lacks any definitive structure or interesting style, but it manages an affable energy nonetheless. Not unlike the music of the Four Seasons, actually. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Are Ben Affleck and Batman Stuck with Each Other Until 2019?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 19, 2014
    ZackSnyder/Twitter We don't know for sure if Warner Bros is setting a standalone Batman film to follow its recently announced slate of DC Comics features, as is reported over at Latino Review, but we sure hope that they'll think long and hard about the prospect before setting it into play. What's more, we really hope that Ben Affleck is sure that he wants to commit the next five (or more) years of his life to Bruce Wayne, especially in the immediate shadow of his widely celebrated directorial feature Argo. Sure, Argo was two years ago now, but it's the last thing Affleck did that anybody has anything to say about — Runner Runner was a wash, and To the Wonder didn't ever actually happen (you're just remembering wrong). When Affleck brought Argo to the public's attention, we realized that this was a filmmaker who had been stowing away some regal talent. When the Academy failed to recognize him as a candidate for Best Director, the masses crowed in defense of our beloved Bostonian. Affleck has maintained steady work throughout his career, but his popularity was born anew with his artful 2012 thriller. We came to understand Affleck as a man who should be making movies, and of whose movies we'd want to see more and more. In development now for the multihyphenate is his long gestating Live by Night adaptation, which is slated for a 2016 release. But the rest of his foreseeable future is bogged down with DC fare: Batman V Superman (also 2016), Justice League (2017), and now the potential standalone feature The Batman (2019). A five-year span that could be spent developing passion projects... without even the knowledge of how good a Batman Affleck will make. When it was announced in 2013 that Affleck would be playing Batman in Warner Bros' Man of Steel follow-up, the Internet knew an unprecedented degree of snark. Fans have not yet climbed aboard the Batfleck bandwagon, making the potential trio of Affleck/Wayne films a risk not only for the actor but also the studio. But ultimately, we're more concerned about Affleck. About what jumping straight from his defining directorial feature into a half-decade of superhero movies will do to his career. We want to see more in the way of Argo and his underappreciated Gone Baby Gone (not so much re: The Town). While we won't cast out his turn(s) as Batman just yet, we're hoping that he still has time to do some more interesting work throughout the next five years... and on. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Nobody Cookies Anybody in 'Dawn of The Planet of the Apes' Trailer, But It Still Looks Awesome
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 19, 2014
      Things have not gone well for humanity since James Franco decided to help a chimpanzee get better at puzzles. In the new trailer for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, hitting theaters July 11 — three years after the surprising success of Rupert Wyatt's Rise (which, logistically, really seems like it should follow "Dawn") of the Planet of the Apes — we see that mankind has dwindled to to the likes of Jason Clarke (ape-friendly), Gary Oldman (anti-ape), a couple of dunderheaded drunks who still don't seem to have understand that apes are smart now, and a campfire resident who prophecizes about how apes have the upper hand — opposable thumbs and all — in that they don't need fancy things like electricity or heat. 20th Century Fox But apes don't want war, so insists Caesar, Andy Serkis' top banana chimp who led the '11 picture and incited a revolution with the simple act of cookieing Rocket (and oh what a mistake that seems to have been... like Franco-father, like monkey-son). Caesar wants to live in harmony with the few remaining humans, but his fur-laden brethren don't seem to be on the same page. Meanwhile, we can only assume that somewhere in the mix, a kindly, well-educated bonobo is developing a serum to boost the intellectual capacity of the horses that the apes have been using as transport, thus leading to a follow-up series in which horse trounces primate-kind. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Even John Landis' Son Won't Touch 'Ghostbusters 3'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 18, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection We're of the mentality that you should never write off a project on concept alone. Who'd have thought that some of this past Oscar season's best material would include a guy falling in love with his smartphone, Will Forte dragging an old man around the American Midwest, or a woman floating aimlessly around in space? So we're really trying to find the hope in your plans for Ghostbusters 3, Dan Aykroyd, but it's not a good sign when even Max Landis, the son of your longtime pal and frequent collaborator John Landis, is turning down the opportunity to direct. Rumors began circulating that li'l Max, writer of Chronicle and Daniel Radcliffe's upcoming Frankenstein picture, was attached to helm Aykroyd's widely lamented attempt at a third go. But the heir to the Landis throne denied these reports on Twitter (via Cinemablend), citing an already stocked foreseeable future: "Zero truth to the Ghostbusters report," he said on Tuesday. "Frankenstein, Me Him Her, American Ultra and Mr. Right come out next year. Working on things at Uni and Sony, and indies. GB3, sadly, no." This must be a letdown for Akyroyd, who must have really been banking on the "But your pa and I did Blues Brothers together! We made history!" speech to take weight. But it's not like the man doesn't have plenty of other pals with up-and-coming offspring to take the reins on this new project. Jason Reitman's got to be looking for a way to make up for Labor Day, right? Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • The Picture of Dornan's Grey: First Look at '50 Shades of Grey' Star
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jun 18, 2014
    Universal Studios There's nothing sexier than a hip young gent with a sweet ride, leather duds, a clean shave, and a silent glower that says, "I buy American." At least that's what the promotional team behind Fifty Shades of Grey seems to think... perhaps misunderstanding the title as '50s Shades of Grey, as they've stuck star Jamie Dornan in a still that's family friendly even by the standards of my grandmother who still insists that I shouldn't be listening to that awful Bill Haley. The pic keeps in step with the confirmation that director Sam Taylor-Johnson's Fifty Shades will be R-rated, as opposed to the NC-17 that the book's material would more naturally call for, leaving us to expect as tame and tepid a movie about sadomasochism can conceivably be. If you have your doubts, take another look at the photo. It doesn't even seem like Dornan's Christian Grey is driving, rather sitting in park until the devil-may-care youths breaching the speed limit are safely beyond the horizon. Lousy kids. Dornan and Dakota Johnson will take to the big screen with their mutual first step to film stardom next Valentine's Day, a date appropriately void of organic passion. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com