Best Movies of 2016

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La La Land (2016)Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in LA LA LAND (2016

 

Here’s a look at my picks for the Top 10 movies of 2016.  Of course, while I do see a lot of movies— 58 this year, and that’s just theatrical releases—  I’m not able to see every movie that comes out, and so this list is limited to only those movies I have seen.

We’ll start with #10 and count down to #1:

 

10. THE INFILTRATOR

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Excellent performance by Bryan Cranston powers this crime drama which tells the true story of how U. S. Customs Official Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) went undercover to take down a  Columbian drug lord.

 

9. THE JUNGLE BOOK

Loved this remake of Disney’s animated THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967), and I’m a huge fan of that original 1967 animated classic.  Special effects here were amazing, and I really liked how director Jon Favreau made this family friendly film a serious hard-hitting adventure.

 

8. DEADPOOL

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The role Ryan Reynolds has been waiting for.  Sure, this vulgar, violent tale isn’t for everybody, but the humor is spot-on.  My second favorite superhero movie of the year. Best part is it is so unlike other traditional superhero movies.

 

7. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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My pick for the best superhero movie of 2016.  Plays much more like THE AVENGERS 2.5, rhis exciting tale pits Team Captain America vs. Team Iron Man, and the rift between these two friends comes off as real and believable, something that the similarly themed BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) failed miserably at.  The scenes with newcomer Tom Holland as Spider-Man are off-the-charts good.

 

6. EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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Hilarious comedy-drama starring Hailee Steinfeld as a seventeen year-old dealing with life as a teenager.  Things get complicated when her best friend starts dating her older brother.  Topnotch script and direction by writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig.

 

 

Now we get down to my picks for the Top 5 movies of 2016:

5. HANDS OF STONE

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Critics panned this movie, but I absolutely loved this boxing pic about boxing champ Roberto Durant.  Edgar Ramirez  gives a spirited performance as Roberto Durant, and he’s supported by a fine cast which includes Robert De Niro, Ruben Blades, and Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard.  Excellent movie, much better than critics gave it credit for, although admittedly I am a sucker for boxing movies.

 

4. HELL OR HIGH WATER

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Easily could be my pick for the best movie of the year, this impeccably made crime drama follows a Texas crime spree by two brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) with an old Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) hot on their trail.  Features fantastic peformances by the three leads.  Jeff Bridges is amazing as always, and the same can be said of Ben Foster, and it’s also fun to see Chris Pine get to do a whole lot more than when he plays Captain Kirk in the rebooted STAR TREK movies.  Riveting direction by David Mackenzie, and a phenomenal thought-provoking script by one of my favorite screen writers working today, Taylor Sheridan.

 

3. SULLY

Easily the most efficient film of the year, SULLY, starring Tom Hanks, and directed by Clint Eastwood, clocks in at a brisk 96 minutes, and not a minute is wasted.  It tells the emotionally riveting true tale of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, aka “Sully,” and his decision to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.  It’s an amazing story because all the passengers on the plane survived, and the film makes things even more compelling as it follows the subsequent investigation by officials who questioned Sully’s decision to land in the water in the first place.  SULLY features another remarkable performance by Tom Hanks, and yet another superb directorial effort by Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood is 86 years old, and yet SULLY plays with as much energy, oomph, and emotion as if directed by someone half that age.  I left the theater incredibly impressed.

 

2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

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This film could also have been my number one pick of the year.  MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a finely acted drama, led by two powerhouse performances by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, about a man Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) thrust into a life-changing situation as he finds himself having to care fo for his deceased brother’s sixteen year-old son.  His life in a shambles due to an earlier traumatic event, Lee knows he’s not the man for the job, but since there is no on else, he pushes himself to live up to his brother’s wishes and care for his nephew. Atmospheric direction by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, with a script that is as honest and believable as they come.

And now, for my pick for the Number 1 movie of 2016:

 

 

  1. LA LA LAND

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My pick for the Best Movie of 2016 also happened to be the last movie I saw in 2016, LA LA LAND.  What a fabulous way to end the calendar year!  LA LA LAND is an absolutely wonderful movie.

I  loved the energy writer/director Damien Chazelle brings to this one.  The opening dance number on a gridlocked L.A. freeway dazzles, and the film never looks back.  Emma Stone gives the best performance of her career to date, imbuing her struggling actress character Mia with so much raw emotion and quirky pizzazz she’s one of the liveliest characters I’ve seen on screen in a long while. Ryan Gosling is just as good as jazz musician Sebastian in this uplifting almost magical musical which follows Mia and Sebastian through a romance in which they help each other achieve their artistic dreams before reality ultimately sets in, forcing them to make decisions which affect their future.  A remarkable movie and genuine crowd pleaser.

Hands down, LA LA LAND is the Best Movie I saw in 2016.

Okay, that about wraps things up for today.  Thanks for joining me in 2016, and here’s to another fine year of movies in 2017!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NECON 35 – Relaxed Writer’s Con Unlike Any Other

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Michael Arruda, Dan Keohane, and Scott Goudsward sharing a goofy ice cream moment at NECON 35.  Photo courtesy of Nick Cato.

Michael Arruda, Dan Keohane, and Scott Goudsward sharing a goofy ice cream moment at NECON 35. Photo courtesy of Nick Cato.

NECON 35

July 16-19 2015

By Michael Arruda

Every summer a bunch of writers and readers descend upon Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI for Camp Necon, a writers’ convention unlike any other.

For me, I attended my first NECON back in 2001, as I had heard about it through Judi Rohrig, who at the time was editing the HWA Internet Mailer.  Since then I’ve been back every year.

NECON is the most relaxed laid back con you’ll ever attend, a place where you can socialize with authors up close.  It’s been said before, and it’s true:  when you attend this con, it really feels like family.  I can attest to this firsthand, because aside from my extroverted writer persona who can banter with the best of them on the written page, in person, I’m pretty much an introvert, and I’m never all that comfortable in social situations.  This doesn’t matter at Necon.  Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, reader, writer, what have you, you are made to feel welcome.  It’s family.

Here’s a brief recap of this year’s Necon, NECON 35, held July 16-29 2015, at the Roger Williams Convention Center.

Thursday, July 16

 

In addition to the usual panels found at cons, NECON also runs the NECON Olympics, events throughout the weekend where you can kick back and have fun.  You even receive medals.  Yup, there are plenty of opportunities at NECON for you to win “valuable prizes.”

One of these events, the Necon Hawaiian Shirt Contest was tweaked a bit this year, as rather than being a stand-alone event, it occurred over the entire weekend.  Secret judges were on the prowl all weekend looking for folks with the best Hawaiian Shirts.

For Necon newbies there was a 5:00 event called Jitters: A Necon Primer for Newbies to help the newcomers feel comfortable and at home right off the bat.

I spent this time socializing in the lobby, the quad, and the new lounge, a spacious and very comfortable room in which to relax and chat.  At 10:00 it was the Saugie Roast, that time to enjoy grilled Saugies, Rhode Island’s own brand of hot dogs, and chat with friends, old and new, long into the night—.

 

Friday, July 17

 

After an 8:00 breakfast, I attended the 9:00 Kaffeeklatsch: Promotion in Motion, featuring Jill & Jason Salzarulo, Sephera Giron, David Dodd, and my roommate and New England Horror Authors head honcho Scott Goudsward.  This conversation was filled with practical tips and advice on how to better promote your work, especially using social media.

At 10:00 it was time for the Kaffeeklatsch: Best Worst Movies featuring myself, Sheri White, Bill Carl, and Nick Cato.  We discussed our picks for some of the best “bad movies” ever made, and both Bill and Nick provided extensive lists of classic “good” bad movies.

Sheri talked about her love of the bad SyFy movies, and I posed the question, “does it take years for a bad movie to become ‘good’ because most bad movies I see nowadays are simply bad, and the only bad movies I really like are old ones.  I suggested the grade z movies that Bela Lugosi made, and named THE DEVIL BAT (1941) as one of my favorite bad Lugosi flicks.

I also mentioned the HALLOWEEN series.  For me, other than the first movie, HALLOWEEN (1978) the rest of the movies in this series are not what I call good movies.  In fact, some of them are pretty awful, yet I like them all.

Before the panel ended, Craig Shaw Gardner asked us to recommend one film that we’ve seen this year, and I picked IT FOLLOWS (2015), citing it as one of my favorite horror movies of the year.  After the panel, it was nice to catch up with Craig and his lovely wife Barbara Gardner.

I skipped the 11:00 Kaffeeklatsch to catch up on some rest, and after a noon lunch, I spent some time at the New England Horror Writers table with Scott Goudsward and friends.

At 2:00 I attended the panel Everything Old Is New Again: Bringing New Life to Classic Tropes featuring Paul Tremblay, Lisa Manetti, Elizabeth Massie, John Dixon, and moderator Mary SanGiovanni, and it discussed among other things writing supernatural tropes in a scientific age.

Monica O’Rourke moderated the 4:00 panel Piece of Mind: Portraying Mental Illness in/as Horror which included Paul Tremblay, Kristin Dearborn, Dallas Mayr, Heather Graham, and Trevor Firetog.  This fascinating panel delved deep into what it takes to write about mental illness in horror effectively.

At 7:00 Toastmaster John McIlveen delivered the Official Necon Toast, followed by the hilarious Necon Update with Mike Myers.  This year Myers brought down the house with an uproarious account of a complicated hospital visit.  The audience was on the floor with laughter.

Myers comical update also featured the Necon Eggstravaganza Game which left contestants with eggs on their faces. Literally.

 

At the Meet the Authors Party I hung out with Daniel Keohane, who I hadn’t seen in several years.  Always fun to see Dan, who has the distinction of being the first person I ever met at Necon back in 2001.  I shared table space with Dan, and also with Scott Goudsward and Nick Cato.  I was selling copies of my science fiction novel, Time Frame.

I also got to chat with author Gary Frank during this event.

 

At 10:00 it was time for the Necon Olympic events Darts and Foosball. Afterwards, it was socializing on the quad, where I had some memorable conversations with friends old and new, as always.

Saturday, July 18

 

With the publication of my first science fiction novel Time Frame earlier this year, I was very much interested in the 10:00 panel The Horror of the Future: Making Science Fiction Scary, moderated by Gordon Linzner, and featuring Robert Boyczuk, Don D’Ammassa, Linda Addison, Lois Gresh, and Chuck Wendig.  This was a fun panel, as it discussed frightening science fiction from yesteryear, and mentioned some classic movies, including two prominent remakes which most folks these days consider superior to the originals, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) and John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).

The 11:00 panel was just as good: Fear in Four Colors: Comics, Horror, and Inspiration. On this panel were Christopher Golden, Brian Keene, Errick Nunnally, Daniel Braum, Kimberly Long-Ewing, Duncan Eagleson, and serving as moderator was Charles Rutledge.  This panel hammered the point home that comics are an underappreciated literary form, and that they definitely make worthwhile reading.  It certainly made me sad for having stopped reading comics regularly many years ago.  Then again, I suppose it’s never too late to start up again.

At 1:00 John McIlveen interviewed the Necon Guests of Honor, Chuck Wendig, Seanan McGuire, and Paul Tremblay.  While I enjoyed all the guest of honor interviews, I have to admit I was most interested in listening to Paul Tremblay speak.  I first met Paul back in the late 1990s when we did some group book signings together for the vampire anthology THE DARKEST THIRST in which we both had stories.  It was my first pro sale as a matter of fact.  I’ve enjoyed following Paul’s career over the years, as his successes have been a nice inspiration.  I’m looking forward to reading his much talked about novel A Head Full of Ghosts.

The 2:30 panel was probably the most heavily attended panel of the entire weekend. Faustian Bargains & Plans for the Afterlife: Knowing Your Rights and Protecting Your Work Regarding Writers’ Contracts and Literary Estate Planning was also the most serious panel of the weekend, as well as one of the best.  Moderated by horror author and attorney Bracken McLeod, and featuring Christopher Golden, Brett Savory, Richard Dansky, Heather Graham, and Chet Williamson, this panel served as “everything you wanted to know about the legal aspects of writing but were afraid to ask.” It covered contract language, rights, wills and estate planning, and all sorts of other legal matters.  The 90 minutes allotted for this panel still wasn’t enough, as it went past its finishing time.  It proved so popular that later at the Necon Town Meeting it was agreed that there would be a follow-up panel and perhaps even a workshop at next year’s NECON.

At 4:00 it was time for Almost Human: The Art of the Monster, moderated by Cortney Skinner and including artists Duncan Eagleson, Jill Baumann, Ogmios, Rhea Ewing, and Glenn Chadbourne.  The panel featured a lively discussion about traditional drawing and painting vs. digital drawing and painting, which has come so far and yields such impressive results it’s difficult to ignore, and for most on the panel it’s warmly embraced.

After dinner, I attended the Artists’ Reception at 6:30.  It’s always a highlight of the weekend to walk through the gallery to see the latest prints, paintings, drawings, and sculptings by the featured artists.  This year I bought a colorful rendition of Carl Kolchak by Cortney Skinner.  This digital print of the popular NIGHT STALKER character contains a NECON in-joke, as one of the items in the painting has a NECON history.  During the reception coffee and some mighty delectable desserts were served.

At 7:30 it was Live DVD Extra: Director’s Showcase where some new film shorts were shown, including Lynne Hansen’s CHOMP and Izzy Lee’s POSTPARTUM. Both Hansen and Lee were available for questions and answers afterwards.

At 9:00 it was time for The Infamous Necon Roast. This year’s roastee was Sephera Giron, who was a real sport about the whole thing and seemed genuinely relaxed and appeared to be having a good time, which is how it should be.  As always, the roasters were hilarious, and included Christopher Golden, Mary SanGiovanni, Cortney Skinner, Linda Addison, Monica O’Rourke, Nick Kauffman, Jack Haringa, Jeff Strand, and Brian Keene.  All these folks are entertaining, although my personal favorite is Cortney Skinner whose impeccable timing is unmatched and who has the whole “Bob Newhart” deadpan mastered like a pro.

Afterwards it was more Saugies and socializing on the quad into the wee hours of the morning, since Saturday night is the last night at the con till next year.

Sunday, July 19, 2014

 

Today’s 10:00 panel was It Only Laughs When I Hurt: Comedy and Genre, a panel that looked at humor and horror and featured Craig Shaw Gardner, Hal Bodner, Jeff Strand, John McIlveen, Frank Raymond Michaels, and was moderated by P.D. Cacek.  The panel included many neat moments, amongst them Frank Raymond Michaels citing ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) as one of the all-time best horror comedies, and the discussion of how to effectively mix humor and horror by placing horror characters in a comedic situation, and vice versa by placing comic characters into a horror situation.

At 11:00 it was time for the Necon Town Meeting, the chance for folks to give the Necon committee feedback about the weekend.  It was agreed by all that NECON 35 was another grand success.

At lunch, I sat with Nick Cato and his wife Ree, and before leaving for another year, I made the rounds and said goodbye to as many folks as possible, including Craig Shaw Gardener, Barbara Gardener, Matt Bechtel, and Laura Hickman.

I’m never able to see everyone during the weekend, but here are some folks I did get a chance to spend some time with or at the very least exchange a quick word with: Linda Addison, Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Matt Bechtel, Hal Bodner, Mary Booth, Ginjer Buchanan, P.D. Cacek, Sara Calia, Bill Carl, Nick Cato, Ree Cato, Glenn Chadbourne, JoAnn Cox, Dennis Cummins, Don D’Ammassa, Richard Dansky, Barry Lee Dejasu, John Dixon, Dan Foley, Gary Frank, Barbara Gardner, Craig Shaw Gardner, Christopher Golden, Scott Goudsward, Catherine Grant, Jack Haringa, Laura Hickman, Nicholas Kaufmann, Brian Keene, Nate Kenyon, Dan Keohane, Paul McMahon, Bracken Macleod, Elizabeth Massie, John McIlveen, Frank Raymond Michaels, James Moore, Mike Myers, Jose Nieto, Errick Nunnally, Monica O’Rourke, David Price, Matt Schwartz, Cortney Skinner, Jeff Strand, Paul Tremblay, Tony Tremblay, K.H. Vaughn, Bev Vincent, Sheri White, Scott Wooldridge, and Trish Wooldridge.

I apologize if I’ve missed anyone.

Another memorable NECON has come and gone.  Thanks to the Booth family, including Mary Booth and Sarah Calia, and Matt Bechtel, and the entire NECON committee and volunteers, for all the hard work they did to pull off yet another amazing con.

Can’t wait till next year.

Thanks for reading!

Michael

LIFE RAGE by L.L. Soares wins Stoker Award!

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life-rage-cover-210x300News flash!

My buddy and Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares just won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel this past Saturday in New Orleans for his novel Life Rage, which I reviewed on this blog several months back.

Way to go L.L.!

So, what’s a Stoker Award?  Each year the Horror Writers Association honors horror writers around the globe with the Bram Stoker Awards, recognizing the best horror writing of the year.  Winning a Stoker is a huge accomplishment, as gaining the recognition of one’s peers is a very high honor.  It’s also not easy to do.  Not at all.

 

Life Rage is a neat horror novel, hard hitting, well-written, and satisfying from start to finish.  In honor of it winning the Stoker, here’s another look at my review below:

What I’m Reading – Life Rage By L.L. Soares

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

I recently finished the novel Life Rage by my Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares.  It’s his first novel, and I have to say here, that— and this has nothing to do with the fact that we’re friends and that we co-write a movie column together — I was really impressed.

L.L. is known for his in-your-face hardcore fiction, and with Life Rage, he doesn’t disappoint.  But what I found more impressive is how human and caring his characters are, and he achieves this effect without sacrificing the extreme horror elements.

Sure, the language is rough and raw, as are the sexual and violent situations, but there’s also an honest tenderness among the characters in this story that comes off as authentic and refreshing.  In short, his characters really do care for each other.  As good as L.L. is at writing about horrific situations, he’s just as good at writing about realistic relationships.

The plot is about a Jekyll & Hyde type character, a man who treats people with anger issues, yet he’s an uncontrollable monster at times and doesn’t know it.  He turns into a sort of demonic Incredible Hulk.  The book’s lead character, a woman named Colleen, somehow survives her first encounter with the monster, signifying right away that there’s something special about her.  She sees her best friend torn to pieces by the creature, and she vows revenge.

She is aided by another woman who also happens to have supernatural powers.  Viv is a sort of vampire who sucks the life force out of people while giving them the best sex of their lives- in short, they go out happy.  Viv is attracted to people who are overwhelmingly sad, and she in effect is mercy killing them, saving them from their pain.

Colleen and Viv team up to stop the raging monster before it infects the entire world with its life rage.

I liked Life Rage because of its compelling characters— they are fleshed out (no pun intended) and three dimensional— and because of its original plot.  The writing is also topnotch.

If you’re looking to read a refreshing horror novel, and you don’t mind a lot of sex and violence, check Life Rage by L.L. Soares.

It’s all the rage.

—Michael