BEST MOVIES OF 2013

0

out of the furnace posterBEST MOVIES OF 2013

By

Michael Arruda

Here’s my list for the Top 10 Best Films that I saw in 2013.

For a more detailed list and a more explosive column, in which you’ll be able to find out what fellow author and movie critic L.L. Soares had to say about his best movies of the year, and what we had to say about each other’s picks, be sure to check out our comprehensive BEST OF 2013 column coming soon at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT at cinemaknifefight.com.

Before we get to my Top 10 List, here are a few movies that made it as Honorable Mentions.  They didn’t make my Top 10 list for the best films of the year, but they were pretty good nonetheless.

Honorable Mentions:

NOW YOU SEE ME – Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine in a fast moving energetic tale of one FBI agent’s quest to bring down a group of magicians who may or may not be pulling off bank heists.  Did they just do that, or was it an illusion?  A very entertaining, very clever movie, that’s ultimately a lot of fun, as long as you don’t think about it too much.

MAMA – Neat horror movie that I actually found creepy and scary.

THE HEAT – My favorite comedy of the year, starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in a laugh-out-loud comedy that’s funny from start to finish.

WORLD WAR Z – It’s not THE WALKING DEAD, but this zombie thriller generates enough suspense to make it worth your while.

THE CONJURING – From the director of INSIDIOUS (2010) this was my favorite horror movie of the year.  I really enjoyed the husband and wife paranormal investigative team played by Patrick Wilson and Elena Verdugo.  Full of creepy images and a few good scares.

Okay, now on to the Top 10.  Here are my picks for the Top 10 Best Films that I saw in 2013:

10.  GRAVITY – Sandra Bullock as an astronaut stranded in space after a freak accident wipes out her ship and the rest of her crew.  Bullock is excellent, but the CGI effects are the real star of this one as this movie plays as if it were shot on location in space.  Things look that authentic.  The filmmakers also got the silence of space right.  When all hell breaks loose around Bullock, it occurs in a creepy silence.  Very neat.

Tight direction makes this one all the more claustrophobic.  When Bullock is fighting to preserve her oxygen, I found myself struggling for air as well.

9. THE GREAT GATSBY – Baz Lurmann’s flashy interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel features yet another topnotch performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, this time as Jay Gatsby.  Tobey Maguire is also well cast at Nick Carraway, as is Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.

This version of THE GREAT GATSBY possesses more energy and pizazz than the stoic 1974 Robert Redford version, highlights the bawdiness of the 1920s with colorful flair, and really does a nice job getting to the heart of what’s behind one Jay Gatsby.  With a modern soundtrack, quick editing, and vibrant colorful photography in eye popping 3D, this GATSBY was built with modern audiences in mind.  I loved it.

8.  DON JON – Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s creative and off-beat tale of a man so obsessed with internet porn that it gets in the way of his relationships.  Main character Jon loves porn so much that he finds it more satisfying and rewarding than the real deal.

A thought-provoking movie, well-written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and featuring a strong cast, led by Gordon-Levitt himself in the lead, as well as Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, and Tony Danza as his overbearing father, DON JON is that rare kind of movie that is so full of blunt honesty it’s embarrassingly funny.  And for a movie that spends a lot of time talking about porn, it really has a lot to say about the value of real relationships.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut.

7. DEAD MAN DOWN – Many people considered this a misfire, but I absolutely loved this dark tale of crime, murder, and revenge, directed by by Niels Arden Opley, the man who directed the original THE GIRLWITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009).

Starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace as a pair of lovers who start off as anything but, this adult tale of revenge and more revenge pushes all the right buttons, is full of intriguing characters who I cared about, contains first-rate dialogue, and tells a compelling story.  Dominic Cooper is also on hand to deliver yet another first-rate performance in a supporting role.

DEAD MAN DOWN is both an intense actioner that goes for the throat and a love story that is as sincere as it is offbeat.  I loved it.

6. AMERICAN HUSTLE-  Director David O. Russell’s critically acclaimed film about con artists and government scandals set in the 1970s featuring a powerhouse cast that includes Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner.  None of these five disappoint, as they all bring their “A” game to the table.  That being said, my favorite performance here probably belonged to Jennifer Lawrence, as her character’s over-the-top unpredictability was certainly the easiest to like.

My only complaint is that when you strip away the glitz and the style, you’re left with a story that is average at best, and way below the quality of the acting in this movie.  In short, the characters in this film deserve a better story.

It also didn’t fully capture for me the fear and anxiety that existed in the troubled decade of the 1970s.

However, it does contain a marvelously effective soundtrack, full of classic songs from the 1970s.

Not the grand slam I thought it was going to be, but still an amazing movie nonetheless.

5. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET –   Director Martin Scorsese pulls out all stops in this tale of greed, sex, drugs, and good times, based on the true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort who was indicted in the 1990s for defrauding his investors.  It features a tremendous performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a guy you wouldn’t want to know, yet you can’t stop watching him and the things he does in this movie.

It also features a great supporting cast, which includes Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin, and Margot Robbie.  It paints an ugly picture of Wall Street, as Jordan Belfort is no role model, but perhaps that’s the point.

Great movie!

4. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL –   This was a film I had no interest in seeing, yet I loved it from start to finish.  From its opening scene in black and white, mirroring the style of the 1939 classic THE WIZARD OF OZ, to the colorful and extravagant world of Oz, filled with amazing special effects, I found this one to be a keeper.

James Franco is perfectly cast as the young magician and con- man Oscar Diggs who eventually becomes the Wizard of Oz, and he receives fine support from Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch, and Mila Kunis as Theodora, the wicked witch.

I thought the little China Girl was one of the more stunning CGI creations I’d seen in a long while.

3. IRON MAN 3 – This third film in the IRON MAN series gets nearly everything right and was by far my favorite superhero film of the year.

I found it nearly as good as the original IRON MAN movie, much better than the second, and much better than some of the other recent Marvel superhero movies.  The biggest reason for this is the presence of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.  He has made this role his own, and his Tony Stark is one of the more dynamic characters in the movies today.  He has played Stark four times now, and he has been excellent all four times.

I also really enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow here, as she had more screen time this time around as Stark’s love interest Pepper Potts,   I thought she and Downey really clicked in this movie, more so than in the previous films.

IRON MAN 3 joins the top ranks of other Marvel superhero movies, films which include THE AVENGERS (2012), the first IRON MAN movie in 2008, and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011),

Grand entertainment throughout.

2. ELYSIUM – This science fiction flick from writer/director Neill Blomkamp, the man who gave us DISTRICT 9 (2009), is a superior science fiction film that I liked even more than DISTRICT 9.

Its story of two different societies, the “haves” on the space station Elysium, and the “have nots” back on Earth really resonated, and the adventure of Matt Damon’s character Max who needs to reach Elysium in order to save his own life, but in turn ends up changing the entire world as they know it, is as compelling as they come.

This is a hard hitting edge-of-your seat science fiction thriller, a film that earns its “R” rating.  It also features a knock-out performance by Sharlto Copley, the same man who played the lead in DISTRICT 9, as one of the more relentless and brutal screen villains I’ve seen in a long time.

 

ELYSIUM is an adult science fiction thriller that will knock your socks off.  It’s not to be missed.

1. OUT OF THE FURNACE – This one tanked at the box office, but for me, it pressed all the right buttons.  I thought the cast was brilliant, led by Christian Bale as a man searching for his missing brother, and Woody Harrelson as the most brutal disturbing villain in a movie this year.  He and Sharlto Copely from ELYSIUM would make quite the pair.

Casey Affleck stands outs as Bale’s younger brother Rodney, and the strong cast also includes Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard.

OUT OF THE FURNACE is a very dark very grim movie, and that’s one of the reasons I liked it so much.  It kind of got lost in the blitz of movies that came out at Christmas, and was overshadowed by the huge hype surrounding films like AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, but what I liked better about OUT OF THE FURNACE was what it had to say.  To me, its story resonated better than the tales told in AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.

 

Writer/director Scott Cooper’s story has a lot to say about American life in the first decade of the 21st century.  The dark things that happen in OUT OF THE FURNACE are a direct result of the conditions of our country during the past ten years.

OUT OF THE FURNACE is much more than a revenge film or an action film.  It’s a dark drama that takes its time telling its story.  It’s not an edge-of-your-seat thriller because the revenge plot takes a back seat to the bigger story here, which is, how these things have happened right here in our own country during the past decade.

OUT OF THE FURNACE was my favorite film of 2013.

Okay.  That wraps things up here.  I hope you enjoyed my picks for the Best Movies of 2013 and get a chance to see some of these movies.

To all my readers, thanks for reading this blog during 2013.  I’ll be writing more content right here— same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel— in 2014.  So, be sure to keep coming back, and if you like what you read, don’t forget to tell your friends.  Thanks!

Happy New Year everybody!

—Michael

Advertisements

WORST MOVIES OF 2013

0

THE LONE RANGER made my Top Ten List as one of the worst films of 2013.

THE LONE RANGER made my Top Ten List as one of the worst films of 2013.

WORST MOVIES OF 2013

By

Michael Arruda

Here’s my list for the Top 10 Worst Films that I saw in 2013.  For a more detailed list, and to find out what fellow author and movie critic L.L. Soares had to say about his worse movies of the year, be sure to check out our comprehensive WORST OF 2013 column coming soon at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT at cinemaknifefight.com, the web site that features new and exciting movie content every day!  Well, almost every day, anyway.

And be sure to check out my BEST MOVIES OF 2013 list right here on this blog, to be posted just before New Year’s.

So, here they are, the Worst Movies of 2013:

First, before we get to my Top 10 List, here are a few movies that made it as Honorable Mentions.  They didn’t make my Top 10 list for the worst films of the year, but they were pretty bad nonetheless.

Honorable Mentions:

THE COUNSELOR – what are the characters in this movie talking about???

THE PURGE – ugly horror movie with a premise that doesn’t make much sense.

PARANOIA – Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman are wasted in a trite tale about corporate greed and spying.

Okay, now on to the Top 10.  Here are my picks for the Top 10 Worst Films that I saw in 2013:

10. THE CALL  – dreadful thriller with Halle Berry as a 911 operator who bungles an emergency call which leads to the caller being murdered.  Somehow, we’re to believe that Berry kept her job, and that sometime later, she actually gets another call from another victim being chased by the same killer as before!  Now, that’s believable!  And of course, this being a movie, Berry eventually gets out from behind her desk and into the field to take on the killer herself and save the day.  She should have stayed behind her desk and saved the movie instead.

9. THE LONE RANGER – this one should have been called TONTO, because Johnny Depp chews up the scenery and steals the show as the Lone Ranger’s sidekick Tonto.  How would you feel seeing a film called BATMAN and the best thing in it was Robin?

Armie Hammer is forgettable as the Lone Ranger, which isn’t totally his fault as writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio don’t help him at all, writing a script that forgets to keep him relevant and pretty much makes a joke of the character.

A real mess of a movie.

8. THE WORLD’S END – Simon Pegg’s unfunny tale of a group of friends returning to the town of their youth to go bar hopping together one last time, to finish a journey they had started way back when, and oh yeah, they discover the town has been taken over by aliens from outer space.

This movie has its followers, but I just couldn’t get into it.  I found the humor off, and Pegg’s character completely unlikable and unsympathetic.  THE WORLD’S END couldn’t end fast enough for me.

7. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD – A good day to stay home from the movies.  Nuff said.  The latest in the Bruce Willis DIE HARD series is old and tired.

6. G. I. JOE RETALIATION – Bruce Willis again, although it’s really not his fault that this movie stinks. After all, he’s barely in it.  The lead role here goes to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  The worst part of these G.I. JOE movies is they have absolutely nothing to do with the G. I. Joe toys from yesteryear.  They also don’t have anything resembling a story.

5. TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D – How bad is this one?  Well, look at it this way:  TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D was probably the least suspenseful horror movie of the year, this from a film featuring Leatherface, who’s reduced to being an overweight slow-moving killer who is so incredibly not scary in this movie it’s not even funny!

My favorite plot point in this one:  granny shows her love to her long lost granddaughter by leaving her a house with a homicidal maniac living in the basement!  And she leaves instructions that if her granddaughter shows Leatherface some love and affection, he’ll do right by her.  Yeah, right.  Good one!  Nice going, granny!  I wish you were my grandmother!

 

4. PAIN AND GAIN – Michael Bay’s attempt to make a tongue-in-cheek thriller about a group of bone-headed simpletons led by Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson who decide to make money by involving themselves in a kidnapping scheme.  This one was so idiotic I just couldn’t get past the stupidity of it all.  Its humor was lost on me.

I just couldn’t get into a movie that had at its center characters who were committing serious violent crimes and who were complete amateurs, and as a result, botched everything they attempted, and at a very high price for those who got in their way.

This cross between THE THREE STOOGES and BONNIE AND CLYDE just didn’t work for me.  For me, it was PAIN AND MORE PAIN.

3. YOU’RE NEXT – this horror movie got off to a terrific start but then completely fell apart as it was undone by a series of very unbelievable plot points that got worse as the movie went along. Its premise of a family being attacked in their own home starts off visceral and scary, but as soon as the explanations begin to unfold, as to why this seemingly random attack happened, the movie falls apart.

In short, this one must have been scripted by Dr. Evil, because when you find out the elaborate plan these folks had in store for this family, it would have been simpler and far more effective to simply have shot them dead.  The outlandish plan they concocted is embarrassingly laughable.

2.  SCARY MOVIE 5 – This movie is so bad I’m in complete disbelief that it didn’t make it as #1 on my list.  This supposed spoof of horror movies is so incredibly unfunny it amazes me that someone actually wrote it.  People’s home videos are more entertaining than this nonsense.  When the height of humor uses Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan poking fun at their own personal problems, you know you’re in for a long 90 minutes.

The basic problem with this movie and others like it is that it confuses stupid with funny.  Just because something is stupid doesn’t make it funny, especially considering that most humor is incredibly intelligent.

Okay, here it is, my pick for the worst movie of 2013:

1. GROWN UPS 2  – Now, I didn’t actually review this one (thankfully!) but I caught it this past summer at the drive-in on a summer vacation with my sons.  Just how bad is this one?  I didn’t laugh once.  Not even once.  This one played like Adam Sandler compiled all the unused footage from the first GROWN UPS movie and then edited together into this movie.

No story, no laughs, no continuity.  To even call this a movie is an insult.  When the funniest guy in the film is Shaquille O’Neal as a policeman, you know you’re in trouble.

The worst comedy I’ve seen in many, many years.

Okay, that wraps up my picks for the Worst Movies of 2013.  Next week I’ll post my picks for the Best Movies of 2013.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

“He Came Upon A Midnight Clear” By Michael Arruda

0

Cover art for my short story collection FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, which contains the short story "He Came Upon A Midnight Clear."

Cover art for my short story collection FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, which contains the short story “He Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”

Here’s a look at my Christmas-themed ghost story, “He Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”  This story was originally published in 2001 in THE ETERNAL NIGHT CHRONICLE. 

It’s also one of the 15 stories contained in my 2013 short story collection, FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.com and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4294076.

 

Enjoy!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

HE CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

 By

MICHAEL ARRUDA

My great-aunt Georgie passed away last night.  She was 81.  I’ve never really been close to any of my relatives, especially the older ones, but Georgie I loved.  There was an incident— back in 1978— Christmas Eve.  Circumstances beyond my sister’s and my control had taken us out of our home that holiday and placed us in the enormous ancient house of our crazy aunt Georgie.  Crazy we called her.  At least we used to call her that.  Before.

***

            “Would you kids like some eggnog?”  the gray haired woman with the beaming cheeks and glowing red nose asked, snug as she was in her brightly colored red and green Christmas sweater.

            “Yes, please,” the children said, nearly in unison, their voices low and hardly enthusiastic.

            The woman crossed in front of the crackling fire, leaving the children alone in the toasty living room.

            Outside the snow fell.  Giant white globs accelerating to the ground like a raid of miniature paratroopers. The sky from which they fell glowed orange.

            With his nose pressed against the window, the boy watched the invasion with indifference.

            The woman returned to the room with two glasses filled with thick eggnog.  “Here you go, Teri.  And here you go, Todd.”

            “Thank you, auntie,” said 11 year-old Teri.

            Her younger brother said nothing.  He turned from the window, took the glass, and sulked in the corner.

            He sipped the sweet beverage and looked around the room, which was full of all things Christmas. An elaborate Nativity scene to the left of the fireplace, an illuminated Christmas tree to the right, Christmas cards on the mantelpiece, a three foot plastic Santa which in years past was outside and lit but had since stopped working stood in the far left-hand corner of the room, all kinds of holiday knickknacks in every spot possible.

            His mother always said that great-aunt Georgie’s decorations were tacky, but he didn’t think so.  He loved them.

            Usually.

            But not this year.

            “I hate it here!  I want to go home!” the eight year-old exclaimed.

            “Todd!”  Teri said, stomping her foot.

            “What?”  he shot back.

            “It’s okay,” great-aunt Georgie said calmly.  “I understand.  It’s Christmas Eve.  Boys and girls belong with their mommies and daddies, not with a crazy old lady.”

            “Well, my mommy and daddy hate each other!”  Todd said.

            “Todd, mommy said—.” .

            “I don’t care what mommy said!  They hate each other!  Now they’re not even living together!”

            “Well, maybe that’ll change tonight. Your mom’s gone to see your dad, right?”  Georgie asked.

            “Yes,” Teri answered.

            “It’s always the same!”  Todd exclaimed.  “He leaves, she begs him to come back, he comes back, they fight, and he leaves again.  This time he said he’s never coming back!”

            “Do you believe him?”  Georgie asked.

            “Would you come back?”  Todd said.  “You’re only home a few hours a night and on Sundays, and all you do is fight with your wife and shout at your kids who can’t seem to do anything right!  Would you come back?”

            “It’s not like that!”  Teri said.  “Dad’s tired.  He works all week.  He’d like to have some time to himself, and you know how mom is, always wanting to do things together!  He doesn’t get that time!”

            “He gets time.  He just wants all of it for himself!  What about me?”  Todd asked.  “When do I get what I want?  When do I get to go to a movie with dad or something?  Or to the zoo?  Dad doesn’t take me anywhere!”

            “Yes, a marriage is anything but simple,” Georgie said, plopping herself into her favorite rocking chair by the fire and sipping eggnog from her mug.  “When it works, there is nothing more precious in the world, and when it doesn’t, there’s nothing uglier.  Throw children into the mix, and it’s tough.  You have to be willing to sacrifice to have a successful family.”

            The elderly woman smiled at her great niece, who was seated across from her in another wooden rocking chair.  An empty soft chair was situated even closer to the fireplace.

             “Todd, why don’t you come sit with us?”  Georgie asked.  “The fire will make you feel better, honey.”

            “I like it here by the window.”

            “Suit yourself. Yes, the fine art of marriage.  I’ve had experience with both ends of the spectrum.  Your uncle Trevor— you remember your uncle Trevor, don’t you, Teri?”

            “Yes.  I remember playing games with him when I was like three or something.  He was really nice.”

            “He’s the devil!”  Georgie said.  “He left me after 23 years of marriage!  Twenty-three years!  Selfish bastard!  Excuse me,” Georgie smiled again.  “But your uncle Sal.   Now he was the genuine article.”

            “Uncle Sal?”  Teri asked.

            “Yes, you didn’t know your great auntie Georgie was married twice.  First to your uncle Sal, and then to the devil!  Selfish bastard!  Yes, Sal and I were high school sweethearts.  We were married right after we graduated, in 1938.  Four years later, he was in Europe, fighting in the war.”

            Her voice tapered into silence.

            A silence that turned Todd from the window.

            “What happened to him?”  Teri asked.  “Was he— did he come home from the war?”

            The elderly woman looked with sadness upon her niece.

            “I don’t tell this story often.  It’s rather unsettling.  Perhaps I should stop.”

            “No,” came Todd’s voice from the window, turning the women’s heads.  “Tell us.  I want to know what happened.”

            “Well,” Georgie began, placing her mug of eggnog upon the table next to her rocker.  “If you insist.  Believe it or not, it was Christmas Eve.  I had gone to my parents’ house.  They had a gathering there every Christmas Eve.  The whole family was there, except for the young men, of course.  They were all in the military.  When it got close to midnight, I decided to go home.  I wanted to sleep in my own bed.  I wanted to dream of Sal.  My parents only lived a few blocks away from my house, so it wasn’t a long walk.

            “About a block from the house, I noticed a man on the sidewalk up ahead walking towards me.  I thought nothing of it because in those days lots of people were out walking on Christmas Eve.  When people visited friends and relatives, they walked back then.  They didn’t drive.  Anyway, as he got closer, I could tell he was wearing a military uniform.  I was excited because I thought maybe a ship had come in.  Maybe my Sal would be amongst the group that had returned home for the holidays.

            “I was all set to ask him where he had come from when— I nearly fainted.  It was Sal.  My Sal!  I ran to him, and he was all smiles.  We hugged and kissed, and he felt so warm.  I actually felt his body.  I’ve never forgotten that.  We talked, and we walked towards our house. I finally asked him, ‘Sal, what are you doing here?  You didn’t tell me.’  And he smiled and said he didn’t know ahead of time that he was coming.  I was so excited I couldn’t believe it.  Sal was home!  On Christmas Eve, no less!

            “We reached the bottom steps of the front porch, and he stopped.  ‘Aren’t you coming in?’ I asked.  ‘No,’ he said.  ‘What?’ I asked him.  And then he told me he couldn’t stay.  That he had only come to see me and kiss me one last time.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  He might have said I’m back from the moon, and I wouldn’t have noticed, I was just so happy to see him.  I missed him so much.  He kissed me again on the forehead and told me to go inside and that he would see me again later.  I thought he meant he had to stay on the base. Everything was so secretive back then.  I turned and climbed the steps but before going inside I turned again to watch Sal go, and I thought about running after him to kiss him yet again.

            “There was a bright streetlight about a block from the house.  I saw Sal approach the streetlight, and then— and this is the God’s honest truth— I saw him disappear into a fine mist, a mist that rose like smoke into the bright light above the street, and then there was nothing.

            “December 24, 1943.  The same day my Sal was killed halfway across the world.”

            Teri gasped.

            Todd stepped towards the empty soft chair by the fire.  “Was he a ghost?  Did you see a ghost?”

            Georgie looked carefully at both children.  She bit her upper lip.  “I don’t know what I saw, but I do know it was Sal.  Since Sal couldn’t have been there, then, yes, I believe I saw a ghost.”

            Todd sat in the seat.  “Awesome!”

            “Please understand that this is a story I don’t like to tell often.  People will think I’m— well, people don’t generally believe in ghosts.”

            “I do,” Todd said.  “Did you ever see him again?  Did the ghost of uncle Sal ever come back?”

            “I’m afraid, that’ll have to be a story for another night,” Georgie said, looking up at the antique clock on the wall.  “It’s getting late.  You children ought to think about getting ready for bed.”

            “Oh, auntie!  I’m not tired!”  Todd said.  “I want to know!  Did Uncle Sal’s ghost ever come back?”

            The woman sighed. “Children are so hard to say no to!  There are times, especially on Christmas Eve, when I feel his presence, and in my dreams I see him often, looking just the way he did all those years ago, in his uniform, as handsome and strong as ever, but as far as his spirit coming back to me the way it did that night— you’ll have to wait until morning to find out!”

            “Oh, auntie!”  Todd groaned.

            “Off to bed!”  Georgie smiled.  “It’s Christmas.  You know who’s coming tonight!”

            “Like we still believe in Santa!”  Todd scoffed.  “But I believe in ghosts, and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story in the morning!”

            The boy bounded down the hall towards the bathroom to brush his teeth.

            His sister rose from her rocker and looked her great aunt in the eye.  “You made up that story just to take his mind off my mom and dad, didn’t you?”

            “I never make up stories,” Georgie winked.

            “Yeah, right!  Thank you, auntie,” Teri smiled, leaning over and kissing her aunt on the forehead.  “Good night!”

            “Good night, and sleep well.”

***

            Voices.

            His aunt was talking to someone.

            Uncle Sal’s ghost!

            Todd looked to the bed next to him.

            In the darkness, he couldn’t see his sister, but he could hear her rhythmic breathing.  She was fast asleep.

            Todd threw off the blankets and walked softly towards the door.  He did not want to wake Teri, for she’d yell at him for being awake, and the awful sound of her loud voice would certainly frighten the ghost away, and this was the last thing Todd wanted to do.

            The bedroom was on the first floor adjacent to the living room.  Auntie Georgie kept this particular room for guests rather than the extra bedroom upstairs because it was warmest.  The door was closed, but it had a nice wide keyhole, the perfect size for Todd’s little eye to peer through.

            Todd placed his eye against the hole and looked through.  Bingo!  There was Auntie Georgie still sitting in the rocker by the fireplace, her back to Todd.

            He looked to the left, to the wooden rocker his sister had been sitting in earlier in the evening.

            Sitting in the rocker now was a man.

            Todd’s mouth fell agape, and he almost blew the whole thing by crying out, but his hand shot to his face and covered his mouth.

            “So you’re Mary’s nephew?”  Georgie asked.  “I haven’t seen you since you were wee high!”

            Todd frowned.  That wasn’t the ghost of his Uncle Sal!  It was some other guy, some ugly dude with dark hair, bushy sideburns, and an Adam’s apple the size of a Ping-Pong ball!

            “What’s he got in there?  A toad?”  Todd wondered.

            “I haven’t been here since I was wee high,” the man smiled.  “I’ve been away for a while.  Working in the Midwest, and before that— overseas.  I was overseas.”

            The man’s voice didn’t match his body.  It was soft and high, like a tenor’s, while he was coarse and rough and big.  His legs were long, extended in front of him, nearly touching Georgie’s feet.  His face was angular and hard, with a nose that could have been used as a weapon.

            “My aunt and uncle were on their way over with me, but they got a phone call from their daughter in California, so I decided to go on ahead.  I went for a nice walk around your neighborhood.  I thought they would have been here by now.”

            Georgie shook her head.  “No, they haven’t been by.  You’re my first visitor tonight other than my niece and her two children.  I’m sure they’ll be here soon.  Can I get you something to drink?”

            “No, thank you.  I had quite a bit already at my Aunt Mary’s house.”

            Todd didn’t like the way the man was looking at his aunt.  It was the way his dad looked whenever he was about to blow up at his mom.  That moody look that said, “I’m pissed off, and you’re only pissing me off more by being here!”

            This man was upset about something.  He was going to blow up.  Todd could feel it.

            “Have you ever noticed that— ,” the man leaned forward.  “—evil— is most prevalent during the holiest of times?  Like Christmas?”

            Todd’s little heart started doing jumping jacks.

            “I’ve always thought it strange that evil doesn’t rest on holy days,” the man went on.  “On the contrary, the opposite is true.  Evil is strongest during holy times.  It’s almost as if the devil wants to steal all the attention for himself, as if he wants to ruin the happiness of those who are in their moments of highest expectation, expecting nothing but good times and good cheer.  Little do they know that they are about to enter hell.”

            Todd looked at his aunt.  To his astonishment, she was still rocking, seeming as relaxed as if the stranger had been talking about the weather!

            “You are sad about something, aren’t you?”  Georgie asked.

            The man leaned back and cracked a smile.  He looked surprised by the elder woman’s perceptivity.  “Yes, I am.”

            “What?”

            “I’ve— lost—.”

            “What have you lost?”  Georgie asked, her voice sounding as sincere and caring as if she had known this man all her life.

            “My children,” the man said, his voice breaking with emotion.  “On Christmas Eve, not so long ago, my wife walked out on me, and she took my children.”

            “Why?”

            “Why?  Because she— she’s a— I admit, I had some problems, but I still loved them!  She had no right to do what she did!”

            “I’m so sorry for you.  Have you been able to see your children since that time?”

            The stranger swallowed.  “I saw them.”  His voice trailed off.  “You have children here in the house with you, don’t you?”

            Georgie did not answer.  Todd’s stomach rumbled.

            “I would like to see the children,” the man said.  “I want to look at them.”

            “I think not,” Georgie answered politely.

            “Show me the children!”  the man exclaimed, somehow keeping his voice in a whisper.

            Todd jumped.

            “I think the time has come for you to leave, sir,” Georgie said, instilling her voice with strength.  “My niece and her husband are due back here any moment, so I wouldn’t make any trouble if I were you.”

            The man shook his head.  “Your niece is not due back any time soon.  Nor is she with her husband.”

            Georgie stopped rocking.

            “What do you know about my niece?”  she asked.

            “I know that she’s out there somewhere trying desperately to save her marriage, and that it’s not going to do her any good.  Once the other half makes up its mind, it’s all over.”

            “How do you know this?  That my niece is trying to reconcile with her husband?”

            “I have good ears, madam.”

            “You mean you’ve been eavesdropping?  Trespassing on these grounds?”

            “I’ve been out walking.  Taking in the aura of the evening.  Of this special holy evening, and as I said, I’ve got good ears.”

            “And this house has solid walls and windows.  Your hearing’s not that good.”

            “You had a lengthy conversation with your niece earlier in the evening in the open doorway, did you not?”

            “Yes, I did, but I didn’t see you,” Georgie said.

            “You have a wonderful light display in the side window of your house, just around the corner from your front door.  I was there, looking at it.”

            “You can see it from the street!”  Georgie barked.

            “I did, but it warranted a closer look.  As do sleeping children.  I only want to look at them.  Just show me them sleeping snugly in their beds, let me see their innocent little faces, hear their soft breathing.  That’s all I ask.  Then I’ll be on my way.”

            “You’re not going to take no for an answer, are you?”  Georgie asked.

            The man shook his head.

            “And you only want to look at them?”

            “Yes.”

            “I suppose— there’s no harm in your looking,” Georgie said.  She turned and pointed towards the closed bedroom door.  “They’re in there.”

            The man grinned.

            Todd jumped backwards, his mind swearing every obscenity it knew at his aunt.  He bolted towards his sister’s bed and tugged at her bare foot which was hanging out from underneath the bedclothes.

            Teri kicked and moaned.

            Clang!

            “Ohh!”

            Thud!

            Teri bolted upright.

            “What is it!” she screamed.

            “There’s a man out there with auntie!” Todd screeched.

            “What?”

            “There’s a strange man out there with auntie!”  Todd repeated, on the verge of tears.

            The door to their bedroom flung open.

            The children screamed.

            “Shh!  It’s okay!  It’s me!” said their great-aunt, who was standing in the doorway with a large iron frying pan in her right hand.

            “Did you hit that guy with that?”  Todd asked.

            “Yes.”

            “Hit what guy?  What’s going on?” Teri asked.

            “There’s no time to explain.  Get your coats on.  We’re going next door to Mrs. Martin’s house.  Your coats are out here hanging by the door.  Come on,” the elderly woman urged, stepping to the side, to allow the children to pass in front of her.

            Todd went first.  He stepped through the doorway and screamed.

            The man was standing in the center of the living room, a streak of blood flowing down the right side of his face.

            Georgie thrust herself in front of the children, the frying pan held prominently in her right hand.

            “You come at me again with that frying pan, old woman, and I’ll use it to reshape your face into an omelet!”  the man warned.  For the first time, he laid eyes on Todd and Teri.

            “Ah, the children!  Such sweetness!  Like candy!  Come here, little ones, and give a poor man a hug!”

            “Stay behind me!”  Georgie said to the children.

            “Get out of the way, old woman!”

            “No,” Georgie answered firmly.  “Leave the children be!”

            “I only want to hug them.  To touch them.”

            “The front door is over there!”  Georgie pointed.  “Use it.  Leave my house, now!”

            “My dear woman,” the man said calmly, “you don’t seem to understand.”  He shouted, “I want to see the children!  Do you hear me?  Don’t keep them from me!”

            He spoke calmly again.  “Do you know what we do to mothers who don’t let fathers see their children?  We teach them a lesson.  That’s right.  I can’t have the children, neither can you- or anyone else!”

            Georgie turned and pushed the children into the bedroom.

            “Get out of the house, now!” she screamed to them.  “Through the window!”

            The man screamed and charged.

            Georgie lifted the frying pan, but the man grabbed her fingers and ripped the pan from her hands, flinging it across the room where it smashed with a twang into the bricks around the fireplace.  He wrapped his bony hands around her elderly throat and squeezed mightily, lifting her off her feet, carrying her towards the old rocker.

            Todd and Teri got as far as the window, made eye contact with each other, and did an about-face immediately.  They raced into the living room screaming.

            Teri latched onto the man’s right arm and tried to pull his hand off her aunt’s throat.  The man released Georgie’s throat with his right hand and with the back of the same hand smacked Teri across the face.  She crashed into the wall with a loud yelp.

            Todd punched the stranger in the back and kicked at his heels.  With his left hand still strangling Georgie, the man pivoted his upper body, grabbed Todd by the head and shoved him across the room.  The boy landed on the floor by the front door.

            Todd groaned and rolled onto his side.  When he looked up, his jaw dropped, and he gasped.

            A pair of huge boots were inches from his nose.  The man was standing directly above him.

            Whimpering, Todd looked higher.

            It wasn’t the stranger, but another man.

            A man with a face as friendly as Mister Rogers.  He even smiled.

            He was wearing a uniform.  A military uniform.

            The man’s friendly eyes darted across the room towards the attack, and his face grew grim.

            He looked at Todd once more, and his eyes roved to a spot on the floor by Todd’s left hand.  Todd followed the gaze to the heating vent on the floor by his hand.  Inside the vent, something glistened.

            Todd looked back at the figure, who smiled warmly at him while nodding his head.

            Todd ripped open the grate to the vent and reached inside.  He pulled out a handgun.  He had never used a gun before and wasn’t sure if he could use one now, but the sound of his aunt’s choking told him he had no choice.

            He rose to his feet, took three steps towards the brutal stranger, and aimed the gun.

            “Sir!  Excuse me,” Todd cleared his voice.  “Would you turn around, sir?”

            The man turned his head.  His eyes fell upon the gun.

            “Jesus Christ,” he said.  He looked into Todd’s eyes and saw in the trembling boy a look he had seen so often in the mirror.

            “Bless the beasts and the children!” the man muttered.

            Todd pulled the trigger.

***

            The gun belonged to my uncle Sal.  He had stashed it there long before he had gone to war, the result of an argument with my Aunt Georgie.  She didn’t believe in guns, and didn’t want one in the house.  She had told him to get rid of it.  Apparently, he couldn’t let go and hid it.

            I swear to this day I saw my uncle Sal standing in that living room.  Nobody else did.  But how else would I have known to look inside that heating vent?

            Georgie, you’ve gone on to a better life, I’m sure, a life I’m confident you are sharing right now with a very special man.

            My dad never did reconcile with my mom.  He never came back.  It’s been years, and I still hate him.

            But Sal.  Uncle Sal.  He came back.  Even after he was dead, he came back.

—END—


THE THREE SCROOGES- My Top 3 Movie Scrooges

0

The THREE SCROOGES

By

Michael Arruda

 

If you’re like me, you break out the holiday movies during Christmas time and watch them year after year, regardless of how many times you’ve seen them.

 

For me, my favorite Christmas movies remain the different versions of Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol.  There’s something about dark films that I prefer over all others.  And so while I enjoy films like ELF (2003) and  A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)  I like the story of Scrooge most of all.

 

I enjoy the story of how a man as cold as Scrooge can still change.  He learns that his selfishness hurts those around him, and that by being generous, he can make a difference in people’s lives.  Dickens also gives ample background to the Scrooge character.  We know exactly why Scrooge becomes the man he becomes, from the way his father treated him as a child, to his beloved sister’s untimely death.

 

There are many film versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  I have three favorites, and so today I will share with you my picks for the three best Scrooges.

 

Michael Caine as Scrooge

Michael Caine as Scrooge

#3.  THE MUPPET CHRISTMA CAROL (1992) is certainly the most fun version of the Dickens’ tale.  Full of creative Muppet humor and a terrific memorable score by Paul Williams (who can forget the song “Marley &

Marley”), THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL is not only the most kid-friendly Scrooge tale, but also contains one of the best Scrooge movie performances, with Michael Caine playing it straight throughout.

 

While the Muppets around him crack jokes and sing songs, Caine plays Scrooge at his dramatic best.  He really is one of the best film Scrooges around.  In fact, there are only two film Scrooge performances that I like better than Michael Caine’s.

 

 

scrooge-patrick stewart

 

#2.  The 1999 version of  A CHRISTMAS CAROL, a made for television movie, features Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, and it’s one of Stewart’s best performances.  It’s a nice reminder of why STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was so successful, because it had a quality actor like Patrick Stewart portraying Captain Jean Luc Picard.

 

As Scrooge, Stewart delivers a performance that is first-rate, certainly of the caliber that belongs in a theatrical film.  I particularly like the screenplay by Peter Barnes, as it includes a lot of the small details from the novel that you don’t often see in other film versions, like the ghost of Marley’s jaw being held together by the bandage wrapped around his jaw and head.

 Stewart’s Scrooge gets to partake in many of these small details. 

 

What I like best about Stewart’s performance is that he makes Scrooge’s cold personality seem so very natural, and not over the top at all.  When he says lines like “They should die and decrease the surplus population” he doesn’t sound like a lunatic, but a real person with real beliefs.  He also captures the wounded part of Scrooge’s personality, especially when he travels with the spirits and has to relive many painful moments from his past. 

 

There’s tremendous depth in Stewart’s performance, and in all the film versions of Scrooge, I’ve only seen one performance I thought was better.

 

 

scrooge - Alastair Sim

#1.  Alastair Sim, in the 1951 British version of A CHRISMAS CAROL (originally titled SCROOGE) is the definitive film Scrooge.

 

This version was adapted by Noel Langley, who wrote many movies, and was one of the writers who worked on THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).  This is a deeply dramatic version of the Dickens tale and plays like a ghost story throughout.

 

Alastair Sim becomes Scrooge in this movie.  If you’ve read the novel and then you see this movie, you can’t help but think that Sim jumped off those pages and into this movie.  Sim also nails the “new” Scrooge, the joyous Scrooge after he has completed his time with the spirits, better than any other actor has ever done.  It’s an amazing transition to watch.  Great stuff.

 

The supporting cast includes many character actors who would go on to appear in Hammer Films, including Carol Marsh (HORROR OF DRACULA), Francis De Wolff (THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES), Miles Malleson (THE BRIDES OF DRACULA),and  Fred Johnson (THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN), as well as Universal Monster movie alum, Dr. Pretorius himself, Ernest Thesiger.

 

And even Patrick MacNee shows up as young Jacob Marley.

 

Great cast.  Great movie.  Even greater Scrooge.

 

So, if you’re in the mood this Christmas season to for the tale of Scrooge, you can’t go wrong with these Three Scrooges.

Nyuk!  Nyuk!

 Enjoy!

 

—Michael

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: HORROR EXPRESS (1972)

1

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee team up to hunt down an alien monster loose on a train in HORROR EXPRESS (1972)

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee team up to hunt down an alien monster in HORROR EXPRESS (1972)

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING:  HORROR EXPRESS (1972)

By

Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at memorable quotes from classic Peter Cushing movies.  This column exists because I’m a lifelong Peter Cushing fan, and his movie performances are a major reason why I entered the horror writing business.  This column is a celebration of sorts of some of the highlights of Peter Cushing’s career.

 

Today on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, we look at quotes from one of my favorite non-Hammer Peter Cushing movies, HORROR EXPRESS (1972).  The majority of my favorite Peter Cushing films were all made by England’s famed Hammer Studios, but HORROR EXPRESS was not.

 

HORROR EXPRESS tells a neat story about an alien creature on the loose on a Trans-Siberian train, and it’s up to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to stop it.  HORROR EXPRESS is notable because it’s one of the few times in the movies that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee played characters who end up working together to take on a common foe.  Usually, they’re pitted against each other, most of the time with Cushing as the hero and Lee as the villain or monster.  In this case, they play rival scientists who really don’t like each other all that much, but when the creature starts murdering people on the train, they put aside their differences and team up to stop the threat.

 

The other fun thing about this movie is that Peter Cushing gets most of the good lines.  So, let’s have a look at some of these memorable quotes from HORROR EXPRESS, screenplay by Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet.

 

The monster is loose on the Trans-Siberian Express.  At first, it appears to be an ape monster, the missing link fossil that Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) brought on board the train, but later it’s discovered that it was really an alien inhabiting the body of the ape fossil, and this alien is able to transfer itself from one host body to another.  So, no one on board the train knows the identity of the monster, since it keeps switching bodies.

 

In this scene, the police inspector on board happens upon rival scientists Saxton and Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing) and sees that they’re working together to discover the identity of the monster.  The Inspector’s suggestion provokes a shocked reaction from Cushing’s Dr. Wells:

 

INSPECTOR:  The two of you together.  That’s fine.  But what if one of you is the monster?

 

DR. WELLS (shocked):  Monster?  We’re British, you know!

 

 

The film is full of humor like this, and most of the lighthearted lines come from Peter Cushing’s Dr. Wells.   Since HORROR EXPRESS is actually quite scary, the comic relief in the film is very welcomed. 

 

Take this line for example, which occurs after an early murder on the train.  The Inspector needs someone to examine the murder victim, and so he seeks out Dr. Wells, interrupting the doctor’s dinner.

 

INSPECTOR:  Is it true you’re a doctor?

 

DR. WELLS:  Ask me when I’ve finished my dinner.

 

 

Probably the funniest lines in the movie come a moment later, when Dr. Wells seeks out his assistant Miss Jones (Alice Reinhart) for help with the autopsy.

 

DR. WELLS:  Miss Jones, I shall need your assistance.

 

Miss Jones then glances at Dr. Wells’ dinner companion, an attractive young lady.

 

MISS JONES:  Yes, well at your age, I’m not surprised.

 

DR. WELLS (realizing what she’s talking about):  With an autopsy!

 

MISS JONES:  Oh, well that’s different.

 

 

My favorite Peter Cushing line from HORROR EXPRESS is one of the best lines in the movie.  It comes early in the film, when the police discover the dead body of the baggage man inside the crate where Professor Saxton’s fossil was supposed to be.

 

After listening to Professor Saxton’s explanation of what he believes happened, Wells has this reaction: 

 

DR. WELLS:  Are you telling me that an ape that lived two million years ago got out of that crate, killed the baggage man and put him in there, then locked everything up neat and tidy, and got away?

 

PROFESSOR SAXTON:  Yes, I am!

 

 

Well, that’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed this edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, and feel free to check out HORROR EXPRESS.  It’s a hellluva thrill ride, one of the better Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee movies.

 

Thanks for reading!  And I’ll see you next time!

 

—Michael

THE THIRD BULLET – Exciting Thriller in Spite of Heavy Complicated Prose

0

The Third BulletWhat I’m Reading – The Third Bullet By Stephen Hunter

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

 

I picked up The Third Bullet, a Bob Lee Swagger novel— he’s the main character— by Stephen Hunter because there was a big photo of JFK’s face on the cover, and this being the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, it caught my interest.

 

More so, its story, the tale of a former Marine sniper who solves the JFK assassination, sounded so compelling I just had to read it.  That being said, within the first few pages, I almost put it down, for good.

 

The initial prose by Hunter was difficult to get through at first, not because it was poorly written, but because like the hero in this novel, it was tough to tackle.


Take the opening lines of the book, the first three paragraphs: 

 

The sidewalk before him bucked and heaved, blown askew by high winds howling through the night.

 

Oh, wait.  No.  Let’s edit that.  There was no bucking and heaving.  Ditto with the “blown askew” and the “high winds howling through the night.”

 

It just seemed so to Aptapton, because the winds that toyed with the stability of the sidewalk blew— “howled”— only through his own mind.  They were zephyrs of vodka, and they’d substantially loosened his grip on the solidity of the little chunk of earth that lay between the bar he’d just exited and the house where he lived, a few hundred yards ahead.

 

Bad writing?  Not really.  It’s creative and clever, but it’s almost a case of being too creative and clever as I found myself stopping to think about the actual prose rather than following and more importantly enjoying the story.  There are lots of moments like this throughout the hefty 480 page novel, moments where the writing seemed to get in the way of the story.

 

But in the end this doesn’t really matter, because The Third Bullet  tells a heck of a story, and Bob Lee Swagger is a very compelling character who easily held my interest throughout the novel.

 

The Third Bullet is one of those novels where the less said about the plot the better. 

 

In one of the more understated openings to a thriller you’ll ever find, Bob Lee Swagger accepts an invitation from a woman who seeks out his help because her author husband had recently been killed by a hit and run driver.  She finds this odd because her husband had been working on a book somehow connected to the JFK assassination, and he had told her that he believed he had solved it.  She admitted to Swagger that she had been only half-listening to her husband, but off he went to Dallas, did some investigating, and the next thing she knew he was dead.

 

Swagger fully expects to dismiss the case, but something the woman says, an additional seemingly minor detail, strikes a chord and a light bulb goes off, and the next thing he knows Swagger is conducting his own investigation into the JFK assassination.

 

Where the search takes him ultimately leads to an amazing yet surprisingly credible story.  Author Stephen Hunter has done his homework, and the theory he presents is so believable I easily bought into it.

 

For example, one of the sticking points that Swagger has with most of the conspiracy theories is that the JFK route through Dallas was only conceived and announced days before the assassination.  How could anyone plan such an operation with such precision to be able to pull it off in less than a week’s time?  And the answer Hunter comes up with is clever and satisfying.

 

I had more difficulty buying the reason these folks decide to kill the president.  To me, it was a bit of a stretch. 

 

My favorite part of The Third Bullet is the character of Bob Lee Swagger.  This was my first Swagger novel— there have been two previously— and I’d easily read more stories with this character.  He’s incredibly smart, and he’s relentless.  He’s in his 60s yet he more than holds his own against much younger much stronger men.

 

Plus in this story he goes up against a CIA mastermind, a man so ingenious he pulled off the JFK assassination and got away with it.  Yet, Swagger is up to the task.  It all makes for a very exciting novel.

 

Hunter is obviously a gun guy.  The details of specific guns, gun culture, and what these guns are capable of, are all encompassing.  It’s extremely well-written, but sometimes it’s a bit much.   

 

However, in this case, the gun specifics play a major part in how Swagger solves the JFK assassination, which lends more credibility to the story.  For example, the third bullet did something it shouldn’t have done:  it exploded, and we see it explode in the now infamous Zapruder film.  Hunter is able to explain with confidence how and why this was possible.

 

I liked The Third Bullet a lot.  It’s not always an easy read, as the heavy prose tended to get in the way of the story, but what a story, and that’s what makes this novel such a compelling read.  I didn’t jump on board immediately, but by the third chapter or so, I was definitely into this one, enjoying the ride, going along with Swagger as he infiltrated the ugly events which led to the assassination on that infamous day in Dallas in 1963.

 

And I believed it all.  Bob Lee Swagger is a very convincing character, even though he does some pretty unbelievable things.  And the villain, who’s living in the shadows, is also a neat character.  Hunter spends a lot of time on this guy, and he writes whole chapters from the villain’s perspective in first person.  It’s an interesting take, and it works.

 

The actual plot is a real page turner, and the further along I read into the novel, the more I wanted to read.

 

The Third Bullet is not quick read, nor is it an easy read, but it sure is a satisfying one.

 

Stay the course. 

 

Once it gets going, it’s a helluva ride.

 

—END—

 

 

 

LOVELACE (2013) Paints Sympathetic Portrait of Famous Porn Star

0

Lovelace-2013-Movie-Poster1Streaming Video Review:  LOVELACE (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

 

LOVELACE (2013), starring Amanda Seyfried as porn star Linda Lovelace, received a limited theatrical release when it opened earlier this year, and word of mouth wasn’t all that enthusiastic.  Some cited faults with the script claiming it danced around the sordid details of Lovelace’s rough life.

 

Still, I was eager to see this one, mostly because I enjoy the work of Amanda Seyfried, having been impressed with her performances in such movies as CHLOE (2009), RED RIDING HOOD (2011), and GONE (2012) to name a few.  And so I sat down to watch LOVELACE the other night on streaming video, and I’m happy to say I didn’t find it disappointing at all.  In fact, it’s a pretty darn good movie.

 

It’s 1970 when LOVELACE opens, and twenty one year-old Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) is still living with her parents, Dorothy (an unrecognizable Sharon Stone) and John (Robert Patrick).  When Linda and her best friend Patsy (Juno Temple) decide to go-go dance at a club for fun, they are spotted by a young man named Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) who encourages them to dance professionally.  They decline, but Linda and Chuck become involved in a relationship, one that will ultimately change Linda’s life forever.

 

Linda and Chuck get married, and soon afterwards, with his night club shut down due to prostitution charges, Chuck finds himself desperate for money.  He has ties to the porn industry, and so he attempts to get Linda hired to star in a porn movie, but the producers of the film aren’t interested, claiming she looks too much like the “girl next door,” and that she doesn’t fit the porn prototype, but when Chuck shows them a home movie he shot, which shows off Linda’s “talent,” the producers are impressed and change their minds about hiring her for their next film.

 

Their next film is DEEP THROAT, and it becomes a national phenomenon, propelling Linda to stardom.  Now going by the name of Linda Lovelace, a name given to her by the film’s producers, she amazingly becomes a household name across America, as she’s mentioned on the news by Walter Cronkite and by Johnny Carson on THE TONIGHT SHOW, much to the chagrin of her parents.  She even becomes the guest of Hugh Hefner (James Franco) who arranges a private screening of DEEP THROAT at his Playboy mansion.

 

But stardom comes at a price.  Chuck becomes more and more abusive towards Linda, as he continually tries to exploit her in an ongoing effort to make as much money as possible.  At one point he even collects money so she can be gang-raped.   He’s not a pleasant fellow.

 

In one of the movie’s more powerful scenes, Linda tries to return home to her parents, but her mother Dorothy won’t allow it.  She tells Linda that she must honor her wedding vow to obey her husband.  When Linda tells her that Chuck beats her, Dorothy asks her daughter what she has done to make her husband beat her.  She sends Linda back home.  Gee, thanks mom!

 

Eventually, Linda breaks away from Chuck and the porn industry.  She remarries and starts a family, and she spends the rest of her life speaking out against pornography and violence against women.

 

I had heard that LOVELACE suffered from a weak script, but I thought Andy Bellin’s screenplay worked just fine.  Two thirds into the film it does jump back in time and uses flashbacks to fill in some of the blanks from earlier in the story, most of these showing Chuck’s dark side and the cruel ways he treated Linda.   I didn’t have a problem with this, as the bulk of today’s television shows use the same style, so it’s nothing I wasn’t used to. 

 

And there are those who felt the film wasn’t dark enough, that it didn’t show us the real horrors of what Linda Lovelace went through, and that the film was somehow “soft” by going with an “R” rating as opposed to an NC-17 rating, but I didn’t feel this way at all.  To me, the film made its point:  Linda Lovelace was abused by her husband and most likely manipulated into the porn industry.  It’s not a pretty story.  I got this without being shown every sordid little detail. 

 

The biggest strength of LOVELACE however is its very strong cast.  I’ve been a fan of Amanda Seyfried for quite a while now, and I really enjoyed her performance here as Linda.  It was a bit of a change of pace for Seyfried and it really showed her range as an actor. 

 

But the strongest performance in LOVELACE belongs to Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck.  Sarsgaard really nailed the role and showed considerable range here as Linda’s sneaky cruel husband.  I’ve seen Sarsgaard in a lot of movies, and his performance as Chuck just might be my favorite.

 

Sharon Stone is just as good as Linda’s mother Dorothy, and with her 1970s hairstyle and clothes she’s barely recognizable. 

 

The fine supporting cast includes Robert Patrick as Linda’s father John, and Chris Noth as Anthony Romano, the man supplying the big bucks to finance DEEP THROAT.  Bobby Cannavale is memorable as Butchie Peraino, the producer of DEEP THROAT, as is Hank Azaria as Gerry Damiano, the guy who wrote the movie.

 

Even James Franco shows up in a throwaway role as Hugh Hefner.

 

Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have made a film that does a nice job capturing the look and feel of 1970s culture, and it also has something to say about the dark side of pornography and its treatment of women.

 

It’s interesting to compare LOVELACE with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s DON JON (2013) which also came out earlier this year and also featured a plot about porn.  DON JON took place in 2013, and its view of porn reflects the present day view which, right or wrong, is more accepting of the industry.  There’s much less of a stigma attached to the industry today than there was in the 1970s.  In Gordon-Levitt’s film, porn is portrayed as a near perfect vehicle for sexual gratification. There’s no mention of behind-the-scenes lowlifes like Chuck who abuse women.  

 

LOVELACE is a blunt reminder that underneath the glamour and glitz of the sex film industry, all is not as it seems, and there are dark forces at work that are not at all like the images so boldly displayed on the screen.

 

While not for everyone, LOVELACE is a relevant film that effectively takes us back to a rather ugly time in our history- Vietnam, Nixon, and Watergate- and paints a sympathetic portrait of a woman who incredibly became a household name for her appearance in the most successful porn film of all time.

 

—END—