Best Movies of 2017




Here’s a look at my Top 10 favorite films from 2017:


Kathryn Bigelow’s powerful portrait of race riots in 1967 Detroit comes off as raw live footage, transporting its audience to 1967 Detroit as witnesses to the true event which happened at the Algiers Motel in Detroit. The centerpiece of the movie is a brutal and misguided police interrogation inside the hotel which leads to the deaths of three black men.  It’ll leave you squirming in your seat.

Featuring John Boyega as a young security officer at the scene who tries to work as a peacemaker, and Anthony Mackie as a former soldier recently home from Vietnam who finds himself among the interrogated.   Will Poulter delivers the most memorable performance in the movie as a racist Detroit police officer. Sure, DETROIT is a one-sided interpretation, as the police are not viewed in a positive light, but the reality is, racism still exists, and until it doesn’t, stories like this need to be told.



Both hilarious and moving, THE BIG SICK is based on the real-life romance between actor/writer Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, both of whom wrote the screenplay to this movie. Filled with countless laugh-out-loud moments, the film is loaded with memorable characters and situations. Kumail Nanjiani does a nice job playing a fictionalized version of  himself, and Zoe Kazan (the granddaughter of acclaimed film director Elia Kazan) is excellent as Emily. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano steal the show as Emily’s parents.

THE BIG SICK has it all:  fine acting, perceptive writing, and solid directing by Michael Showalter.  With a lot to say about relationships, cultural differences, and the lengths people will go to make a relationship work when they’re in love, it’s one of those movies where after it ends, you just want to see it again.



Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a riveting performance as Jeff Bauman, the man who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and later became a symbol of hope for an entire city as he fought back to regain both his life and his ability to walk. STRONGER sports a superior screenplay by John Pollono, based on the book “Stronger” by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter. The dialogue is first-rate, natural, cutting and incisive, and at times laugh-out loud funny.   Longtime Boston comic and RESCUE ME (2004-11) star Lenny Clarke delivers a scene-stealing performance as Jeff’s Uncle Bob.

STRONGER is not syrupy-sweet inspirational.  It’s nicely paced, funny and hard-hitting at the same time, and most importantly, brutally honest.




Based on the true story of the historic tennis match in 1973 between Bobby Griggs and Billie Jean King.  The script by Simon Beaufoy, who also wrote SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008), covers a lot of ground, tackling gender equality, gay and lesbian relationships, compulsive gambling, sports, and life in the 1970s. It keeps a light and humorous tone throughout and does a nice job covering the actual event, the “Battle of the Sexes,” complete with real footage of then announcer Howard Cosell calling the match.

Emma Stone has followed her Oscar-winning performance in LA LA LAND (2016) with a very different but equally successful performance as Billie Jean King.  Stone is marvelous in this movie.  She captures King’s emotions, fears, and shows her grit and strength of character.  Steve Carell enjoys the liveliest scenes in the movie as Bobby Riggs, and he’s perfectly cast as the retired tennis pro.  As he so often does, Carell goes deeper with the character, and we really feel for him, especially as he battles his gambling demons.



the florida project

Amazing movie about life at a Florida motel that houses low-income and out of work families and immigrants, as seen through the eyes of a six year-old girl and her friends over the course of one summer. The kids steal this movie, led by Brooklyn Prince as a foul-mouthed six year-old girl named Moonnee. Her exchanges with the understanding yet increasingly frustrated motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) are worth the price of admission alone. Also a great role for Dafoe, as Bobby knows these folks have nowhere else to live, and he has a soft spot for them, especially the children. The film truly captures the essence of childhood, from innocence to devilish endeavors, like when Moonnee is giving her friend Jancey (Valeria Cotto) a tour of the motel and tells her, “These are the rooms we’re not supposed to go in. Let’s go in any ways!”

Writer/director Sean Baker, who co-wrote the script with Chris Bergoch, imbues this movie with authenticity.  With up-close hand-held camera work, the movie has the feel of a documentary.  Baker also does a phenomenal job with the child actors here. THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a film that you definitely do not want to miss, especially in the here and now, where it’s no secret that in the United States the chasm between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen at a tragically alarming rate. The children in THE FLORIDA PROJECT remind us why it is so important that this trend be reversed.



Taylor Sheridan is one of my favorite screenwriters working today.  He wrote SICARIO, my favorite film of 2015, and he followed that up with HELL OR HIGH WATER, one of the best films of 2016. Now comes WIND RIVER (2017), which is every bit as good as his previous two films, and this time Sheridan directs as well.

WIND RIVER (2017) takes place in Wind River, Wyoming, a beautiful expanse of land that looks like a winter paradise with its snow-covered mountains and icy rivers. But looks can be deceiving. A young woman is brutally murdered, and FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is on the case, assisted by hunter and tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). WIND RIVER is much more than just a straightforward thriller.  Taylor Sheridan takes us inside the minds and hearts of the Native Americans on the reservation where the murder occurred.  They are a depressed lot, feeling they have little to live for, surrounded by snow and silence. The film also points out that statistics are not kept on the disappearances of Native American women, and no one really knows how many Native American women have gone missing over the years.

With WIND RIVER, Taylor Sheridan proves to be every bit as talented behind the camera as he is writing screenplays. I can’t wait to see what he does next.



Fascinating story that is as entertaining as it is informative.  With Michael Keaton playing McDonald’s “founder” Ray Kroc, the slant in this movie is that Kroc worked so hard that he eventually claimed the title of “McDonalds Founder” even though he didn’t originate the model. Keaton is outstanding as Ray Kroc, seen here as a frenetic salesman who after one rough time after another, sees McDonalds as his opportunity to finally make it big after years of failure.  When he realizes that his success has suddenly given him more power than he ever thought he would have, he decides to use that power to go after everything he wants because he knows he can get it. In a lesser actor’s hands, Kroc may have lost all sympathy at this point, but as played by Michael Keaton, the role becomes a natural extension of Kroc’s personality and the circumstances he finds himself in.  In other words, it doesn’t come off as if he was a weasel in the making, just waiting for his chance to make it big, but rather, as a man who worked hard to be a success and then suddenly realized he had the clout and influence to get whatever he wanted.

Even though its subject, Ray Kroc, is a controversial figure, THE FOUNDER is not that dark a movie.  Director John Lee Hancock films this one with bright tones which capture both the 1950s and McDonalds restaurants. The screenplay by Robert D. Siegel also keeps things light.  The movie plays like an offbeat quirky drama as opposed to an ominous piece on the ruthlessness of cutthroat business tactics. With Keaton in the lead, it’s entertaining from start to finish.



The new PLANET OF THE APES series keeps getting better and better. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017), the third film in the new rebooted series, is a thoroughly engrossing tale that is equal parts futuristic science fiction, epic adventure, and prisoner of war drama. All three parts work well to comprise a story that is captivating from start to finish, so much so, that this third film is clearly the best entry of the series thus far.

Director Matt Reeves, who also directed DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014), is one of the more talented directors working today. Andy Serkis returns as Caesar in another impressive CGI motion-capture performance. Woody Harrelson plays the human villain, an evil Colonel. Contains superior special effects. The apes look phenomenal. They’re so good it’s easy to forget that nearly every character in this movie is a CGI creation.  With lots of nods to the original series, WAR is an extremely satisfying chapter in the APES saga. One of the best, if not the best, genre film of the year.




One of the more intense, energetic, and insane thrillers of the year, GOOD TIME is the story of two brothers, Connie (Robert Pattinson) and mentally challenged Nick (Benny Safdie) who rob a bank and then botch the escape.   Connie eludes the police, but Nick is arrested. Connie spends the rest of the movie trying to break his brother out of the hospital in which he is being held, and what follows is a roller coaster ride of a night as Connie faces one obstacle after another, and the film treats its audience to one twist after another.

GOOD TIME was expertly directed by brothers Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie.  Benny also plays Nick in the film, while Josh co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein.  It’s an excellent script with realistic dialogue and vibrant, living characters.  Nearly every character who appears in this movie is interesting, a testament both to the acting and to the superior writing.

Brilliant performance by Robert Pattinson as big brother Connie.  This is his best performance yet, and he gives Connie a depth not often found in a character like this. There’s also an absolutely frenzied and very effective music score by Daniel Lopatin that really adds a lot to the movie.  It reminded me of something John Carpenter would have written.

GOOD TIME doesn’t stop.  It’s one of the more frenetic movies of the year, and certainly one of the most satisfying.  It’s a ride you definitely do not want to miss.




Forget everything you know about traditional storytelling. DUNKIRK (2017), the World War II movie by writer/director Christopher Nolan, changes the rules and then some. In an interview, Nolan described the soldiers’ experiences at Dunkirk in three parts: those on the beach were there a week, the rescue on the water took a day, and the planes in the air had fuel for one hour.  To tell this story,  Nolan separates it into these three parts- the week on the beach, the day at sea, and the crucial hour in the air, but he does this in a nonlinear fashion, meaning all three events are shown happening concurrently and interspersed with each other.  Surprisingly, the result isn’t confusing. Instead, this bold use of time generates heightened tension and maximum suspense.

DUNKIRK tells the amazing story of the rescue of 338,000 British soldiers from the French port town of Dunkirk in events which transpired from May 26 – June 4, 1940.  The soldiers were surrounded by German forces and the only escape was by sea, which was covered by German planes.  In effect, there was no escape. However, in what turned out to be a stroke of genius, instead of sending the navy, the British authorities sent out a call for civilian ships to go to Dunkirk, which they did, and they miraculously rescued the soldiers.  Had the British soldiers been captured, Germany would have advanced, most likely on their way to a successful invasion of Great Britain.  But the soldiers escaped to fight another day, and Churchill turned the event on its head, claiming a moral victory and using it to espouse the spirit of resistance.

Superb cast, albeit mostly unknowns, deliver first-rate performances.  Veteran actors Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy are also outstanding.  The editing during the climactic sequence is second to none.  It’s one of the more suspenseful last acts to a movie I’ve seen in a while. Nolan also makes full use of sound.  When the planes attack, the sound effects are loud and harsh.

DUNKIRK tells this improbable story in mind-bending fashion, thanks to the innovative efforts of Christopher Nolan, one of the most talented writer/directors working today.

It’s my pick for the best movie of 2017.

Thanks for reading!


Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to Also available at

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.


 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to Also available at

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

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to Also available at  





STRONGER (2017) – Gripping Tale Is Incredibly Fresh and Honest



I often have pre-conceived notions about movies.  So, when I hear that a film tells an inspiring story about a real life hero, I have an idea as to what that movie is going to be like.

Sometimes I’m wrong.

Such is the case with STRONGER (2017),  which tells the true story of Jeff Bauman, the man who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and later became a symbol of hope for an entire city as he fought back to regain both his life and his ability to walk.

I expected it to be good, but STRONGER is better than all of my pre-conceived notions about it.

Why?  For one thing, Jeff Bauman had no interest in being a model of hope to an entire city.  He had no interest in getting his life back, mostly because he saw himself as a loser. So, when these things ultimately happen, they’re not just examples of teary-eyed sentimental storytelling.  The story here is real, gripping, and incredibly fresh and honest.  Jeff Bauman doesn’t just rise up and decide to become an inspirational human being.  If anything, he pushes back against the notion. His is a truly heroic journey, one that takes him down into the depths of despair and darkness before he ultimately rebounds and climbs his way back to the road to humanity.

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is at the finish line at the Boston Marathon to cheer on his girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany) who’s running in the race that day.  Jeff and Erin are in an on-again off-again romance, which lately had been off-again.  The irony of Jeff’s being at the finish line that day is that he is notorious for not showing up or being where he is supposed to be, which is why Erin continually gets frustrated with him.  But on this day, Jeff shows up, and he’s there at the finish line when the bombs go off.

The film kicks into high gear when Jeff’s extended family arrives at the hospital. This is not a scene where there is a group of folks sitting and sobbing, while sad music plays in the background.  No, the minute we see these people they are shouting and arguing and hurling accusations like it’s nobody’s business. It’s a refreshingly honest scene showing people who are scared and angry that their son has had his legs blown off by a terrorist on their home turf in Boston.

In fact, this is one of the best parts of the movie, the dynamic of Jeff’s family.  They are a dysfunctional group, but they always have Jeff’s back, and he swears by them, at one point saying after cussing them out that he still wouldn’t trade them for anything.  They are exactly the way many families are:  flawed but united.

Jeff returns home to the small apartment he shares with his mother Patty (Miranda Richardson), who spends most of her time drunk or hung over.  Jeff soon asks Erin to move in with him, and she does, which is a good thing because he needs her help to recover.

But Jeff is struggling with everything.  Everyone keeps reminding him what a big hero and inspiration he is, but he can’t see it.  He still drinks way too much and slowly begins to distance himself from Erin once more.

It’s not until he finally agrees to meet with the man who saved him, the man in the cowboy hat, Carlos (Carlos Sanz), that things change.  Up until that moment, Jeff had only been able to see things through his own eyes, but when he hears Carlos’ story and learns the reason Carlos was there that day in the first place, and what it meant to Carlos to save him, Jeff’s eyes are opened.  It’s a telling moment in the film, a reminder that all too often we only see things through our own prisms and perspectives, and we forget that others we interact with have their own issues and agendas.

STRONGER has a superior screenplay by John Pollono, based on the book “Stronger” by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter. The dialogue is first-rate, natural, cutting and incisive, and at times laugh-out loud funny.   The combination of the writing and acting brings Jeff’s family to life.

I’ve always been a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal, and while he has delivered a lot of memorable performances over the years, his work here as Jeff Bauman ranks as one of his best. Sure, he captures the obvious pain the man went through after losing his legs, but more so, he shows what it’s like to be a guy who didn’t really want to be in the limelight, who didn’t want to be a hero, a guy who really struggles when people cheer for him, because he feels he doesn’t deserve it, because he knows he’d rather be out drinking with his friends or at home playing video games.

Tatiana Maslany is just as good as Jeff’s girlfriend Erin. She feels incredibly guilty that Jeff was there that day because of her, and she really loves Jeff and is more than willing to move in with him and help him, even with her reservations that he so often drops the ball and leaves her hanging.  I really enjoyed Maslany’s performance, and she has some of the more emotional scenes in the movie.

Miranda Richardson is excellent as Jeff’s mother, Patty.  She makes Patty more than just a down and out drunken mother.  She really cares for her son.  More often than not she screws things up, but she always puts her son’s needs first.  For example, soon after Erin moves in, Patty catches her leaving Jeff’s room wearing just a nightshirt, and she glares at Erin and asks her, “Did you sleep with my son?”  To which Erin casually replies, “Yes.” And that’s that.  No insane Norma Bates ravings.  Sure, later there is a messy painful argument in front of Jeff between Erin and Patty in their car, and Patty shrieks “You’re off the team!” but later when Jeff decides he can’t live without Erin and meets with her to get her back, it’s Patty who drives him there.

All the actors who play Jeff’s family members stand out.

Veteran actor Clancy Brown plays Jeff’s father Big Jeff, who’s no longer with Patty.  In that first scene in the hospital, it’s Big Jeff who’s aggressively arguing with nearly everyone.

And longtime Boston comic  and RESCUE ME (2004-11) star Lenny Clarke delivers a scene-stealing performance as Uncle Bob.  He has humorous lines in nearly every scene he’s in, and he serves as that much-needed comic relief as the family scenes are often very tense. It’s a memorable performance.

Danny McCarthy has some fine moments as Jeff’s former Cotsco manager Kevin, and Carlos Sanz delivers a sensitive, moving performance as Carlos, the man who saved Jeff’s life that day at the finish line, whose own story is just as emotional and inspirational.

Director David Gordon Green does an excellent job here.  I especially liked the way he handled the bombing scene.  When the bombs first go off, there’s minimal coverage in the movie.  It isn’t until much later, when Jeff looks back at the moment and remembers what happened, that we get in close and see firsthand what Jeff saw shortly after the bombs exploded.  The images are not easily forgotten.

There’s also an effective scene where the doctors are removing the dressings from Jeff’s legs that really give the audience the idea of just how much pain Jeff was experiencing at the time.

The film is not slow, nor overbearing, nor syrupy-sweet inspirational.  It’s nicely paced, funny and hard-hitting at the same time, and most importantly, brutally honest.

STRONGER is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, and I definitely recommend it.







LIFE (2017)- Science Fiction Thriller Pretty Lifeless




A great name for a breakfast cereal.  Works for the board game, too.

But for a science fiction horror movie?  Not so much.

And the title is the least of this movie’s problems.

LIFE (2017) takes place aboard a space station where six astronauts make the remarkable discovery of the first extraterrestrial life form, and this occurs before the opening credits. This life form starts off as a single cell organism but quickly grows, and the next thing the scientists know, the thing escapes, and it’s none too friendly.

Hmm.  A deadly alien creature loose aboard a space station terrorizing its occupants? Sound familiar?  Of course it does!  And while it would be unfair to completely dismiss this movie as a straight clone of ALIEN (1979), because there are differences— LIFE takes place on a space station orbiting Earth, while ALIEN took place on a space ship in deep space, for instance— it’s similar enough to draw comparisons, which doesn’t do it any favors since LIFE is vastly inferior to ALIEN.

So, this deadly organism which is both incredibly strong and smart, sets its sights on picking off the crew one by one.  The crew see it as their mission to either destroy the creature or at the very least, make sure it never makes it to Earth.  Easier said than done. And just why is this creature killing people?  Well, according to the scientists, it’s not because it hates people, but because it’s simply trying to survive.  It also has the nasty habit of entering people’s bodies, and when it exits after killing the person, it’s bigger, so I can only guess that it’s consuming the person’s innards, although this is never made clear in the movie.  Perhaps it’s killing people because it fears for its own life, although it became aggressive first before it was ever attacked.  Of course, it might have simply seen humans as a threat.  Or perhaps it just likes to kill.  Why am I offering all these guesses?  Because the film never really says.

One of the reasons I wasn’t all that excited about LIFE was I had seen the trailer multiple times and it seemed to give away a lot of the movie and it also made it seem like a dull clone of the movie ALIEN.  So, I felt somewhat optimistic when about 2/3 of what was shown in the movie’s trailer occurs in the opening moments of the movie, before the opening credits.  I thought, maybe there are some decent surprises ahead.

Alas, the only surprise was that a certain prominent cast member didn’t survive in this movie for very long.

The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick doesn’t create any memorable or interesting characters, nor does it provide for a compelling story.  We hardly get to know any of the characters, and when their lives were in danger, I simply didn’t care all that much.

The idea of finding the first extraterrestrial life form isn’t handled with any sense of grandness or awe, and the actual creature didn’t impress me, either.  Unlike the Alien in ALIEN, we learn very little about this creature.  It looks okay, but it’s hardly terrifying.

The film also really struggles to build any decent suspense.  Late in the movie, when all hell is breaking loose, we get to see Jake Gyllenhaal’s character deal with his fear by reading the children’s book Goodnight, Moon.  Oooh, scary!

Reese and Wernick are the guys who wrote the screenplay for DEADPOOL (2016) and ZOMBIELAND (2009), two films I liked a lot.  But they also wrote G.I. JOE:  RETALIATION (2013), a film I didn’t like.  Where does LIFE fall?  Let’s put it this way.  LIFE is no DEADPOOL.

The cast is largely wasted because none of their characters are developed.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays astronaut David Jordan, and he’s probably the character we learn the most about.  For instance, we learn that he’s about to break the record for the most days spent in space by a person, and we learn that he prefers it in space, as he is rather disillusioned with the world below.  Yet, unlike another disillusioned astronaut, George Taylor (Charlton Heston) from the classic movie PLANET OF THE APES (1968), David Jordan doesn’t get to have his beliefs challenged by a society more barbaric than the one he left behind, nor does he even get to be in the forefront of his own movie.  He’s just one of the six on board the space station, going through the motions of being chased by an alien.

The other lead belongs to Rebecca Ferguson who plays astronaut Miranda North, and she’s pretty much in charge of security.  It’s not one of Miranda’s better days.  We learn very little about this character, and Ferguson doesn’t really get to do much with the role.

The other big name in the film is Ryan Reynolds, and he plays Rory Adams.  Likewise, his talents are also largely wasted in a very underdeveloped character.  Rounding out the cast of space station astronauts are Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami, Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina, and Ariyon Bakare as Hugh Derry.  Their roles are pretty much cardboard cutouts of scared astronauts on board a space station terrorized by a deadly alien.

LIFE was directed by Daniel Espinosa, who also directed the action film SAFE HOUSE (2012) starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, another film I wasn’t all that crazy about.  LIFE is very similar in terms of quality: it’s okay, but at the end of the day it’s nothing all that special.

The opening shot in LIFE of the space station emerging from the darkness just outside Earth’s orbit is a good one and is probably the most cinematic shot of the whole film.  If only there were more shots like this.

The scenes of suspense and horror just aren’t all that intense, and I really didn’t find LIFE scary at all.  Part of the problem here is the alien creature really isn’t very frightening.  And none of the astronauts’ deaths are all that horrific, save for one, and even this scene pales in comparison to say the alien bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in ALIEN.

The pacing is off, and I found the film rather slow.  As the movie went along, the suspense sadly did not build.  Like I said, in a key moment near the end, Jake Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan pulls out Goodnight Moon and starts reading.  It’s supposed to be a poignant and terrifying moment, but I took it for what it was:  main character reads from a children’s book when frightened by the alien monster. Imagine if in PLANET OF THE APES Charlton Heston, rather than screaming, “Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” quoted Mother Goose. Something tells me it just wouldn’t have been the same.

LIFE is a mediocre science fiction horror movie.  It’s not all that awe-inspiring, so don’t expect anything deep like ARRIVAL (2016), and it’s certainly not all that scary, so don’t expect ALIEN.  Instead, in terms of quality,  it reminded me of another flawed science fiction film which came out last year, PASSENGERS (2016) with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, only LIFE has an extra passenger, a murderous alien life form.  Not that it matters much.  LIFE is just as dull as PASSENGERS was.

Yup, at the end of the day, LIFE is pretty lifeless.





NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016) – Thought-Provoking Creative Exercise in Moviemaking



NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, the new thriller by writer/director Tom Ford, and starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, is the type of movie that gives its audience lots to think about, and the more you think about it the more you like it.

I’m still thinking about it.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS opens with one of the most difficult-to-watch opening credits you’ll ever see in a movie.  The credits play over images of naked obese women dancing, in slow motion with nothing left to the imagination.  When the credits end, it’s revealed that these women are part of a modern art exhibit hosted by the film’s main character, art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams).

But even the reason for this choice of exhibit, these opening credit images, is something to think about, expecially when you juxtapose the outward ugliness and happy faces of these obese women with main character Susan Morrow’s outward beauty and internal sorrow.

So, Susan Morrow is a very successful art dealer and gallery owner, but she’s also terribly unhappy.  Her current marriage with the handsome and successful Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer) is not going well, as her hubby is having an affair.  She’s also not happy with her career.

In the midst of all this, she receives a package from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a novel he has written entitled Nocturnal Animals, which he has dedicated to her.  She starts reading it and is immediately captivated by the story, which we see unfold on screen.  A man Tony Hastings (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife and daughter are driving along a lonely stretch of Texas highway when they cross paths with a carload of unsavory characters who force them off the road.

After a terse and very uncomfortable conversation, the three men, led by an aggressive sociocapth named Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) abduct Tony’s wife and daughter.  What follows and what horrible things happen to Tony and his family make up the bulk of the novel.

To Susan, it’s clear that this novel is symbolic of what happened to Edward in their marriage, specifically what she did to Edward as she ended their marriage.  She begins to think back to that time, when she and Edward were married, and these scenes are shown via flashback.

There are three stories being told in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS:  Susan’s present day predicament, dealing with her crumbling marriage and unsatisfying art career, the novel, which tells the fictional story of Tony — by far the most compelling part of the movie—, and Susan’s looking back at her first marriage to Edward.

Does the telling of all three stories work?  Do they seamlessly make up one terrific movie?  Not exactly, because there are certainly flaws here.  But NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is such a creative ambitious movie it’s easy to look past them.

The acting is excellent.  I’m a huge fan of Amy Adams and she doesn’t disappoint here at all.  Susan is a terribly unhappy character, and Adams captures this sadness brilliantly.  The entire movie is steeped in sadness, all the way down to its final shot.

By the far, the best story in the movie is the fictional one told in Edward’s novel.  That story also features the best acting in the movie.  Jake Gyllenhaal is very good as tormented husband Tony, the fictional counterpart of Edward.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson knocks it out of the park as the unhinged Ray.  Even better than both these guys is Michael Shannon as rogue law man Bobby Andes, who makes it his mission to hunt down Ray and his friends and bring them to justice.

I found Shannon’s performance mesmerizing.  The best part is he lifts Bobby above the usual rogue law man character and makes him nuanced enough to stand on his own.  He really makes him a real person, which is pretty funny when you think about it, since Shannon is playing a fictional character in a novel!  His Bobby acts and looks like he walked off the set of another recent movie involving crime in Texas, HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), starring Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, which came out earlier this year.

But the problem I had with this part of the movie is as good as it is, we know from the get-go that what we are watching is part of a fictional novel being read by Susan, and so while this is certainly creative, it also takes aways from the drama.  I was never as invested in these characters as I otherwise would have been, since I knew they weren’t real.

On the other hand, it’s clear that this story about Tony written by Edward is symbolic of what happened to his marriage with Susan, and how it impacted him.  As we see in the flashbacks, Susan ended their marriage in a truly horrible way.

It’s hinted at in the movie that Susan feels slightly threatened by the book, that she views its story as Edward seeking revenge against her.  I didn’t think this was played up enough in the movie.  I never got the sense Edward was a threatening person, nor did I feel Susan’s life was in danger because of him, which is too bad because this only would have added to the movie.

The ending to NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is a bold one and no doubt will leave some viewers upset, but I really liked it.  A running theme in the movie is how weak Edward is supposed to be.  At first, Susan defends her husband, saying he’s not weak but simply sensitive, but later, she changes her tune and even she is calling him weak.  The ending is Edward’s way of answering that accusation.

I enjoyed Tom Ford’s direction here.  As I said, he crafts the film so both visually and thematically it gives you a lot to think about. Likewise, it’s an excellent script by Ford, based on a novel by Austin Wright.  It tells three stories, all of them multi-layered, and it’s ambitious in its execution, even though I don’t think it all worked .

Even so, most mainstream movies today don’t require much brainwork, so it’s always refreshing to come across one that does.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is not a perfect movie, and it’s certainly not a crowd-pleaser or the type of movie you want to see on a date.  But it is a thought-provoking creative exercise in movie-making that succeeds in telling a very sad story.

And it is sad, from beginning to end.  Relentlessly sad.  It also does a fine job capturing the pain and sadness that goes with divorce and its aftermath.

You may not think you like this one as you walk out the theater, but if you give it some thought, and let some of the scenes seep into your consciousness afterwards, and if you ponder what it all means, you’ll find the answers add up to a satisfying conclusion.

One thing is for certain.  NOCTURNAL ANIMALS will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.





Best Movies of 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY poster- my pick for the second best movie of the year.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY poster- my pick for the second best movie of the year.



Michael Arruda


Here’s my list for the Top 10 Best Films that I saw in 2014.


10 – JERSEY BOYS – Clint Eastwood’s film version of the popular musical about the life of singer Frankie Valli.

9 – CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE WINTER SOLDIER – I love the Marvel superhero movies, and I enjoyed this Captain America sequel more than the original.

8 – EDGE OF TOMORROW – I really enjoyed this science fiction tale starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.  Clever, creative, and so much more than just a science fiction variation of the GROUNDHOG DAY gimmick.

7 – THE BABADOOK – creepy horror film most notable for me for its lack of false scares.  Nearly every fright in this one is genuine.

6 – THE QUIET ONES– this horror film by Hammer Films about a college professor trying to disprove a demonic possession case didn’t do well at the box office but it really is an intelligently made horror movie that is as eerie as it is thought-provoking.

5 – NIGHTCRAWLER –slick thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a sociopath named Louis Bloom who spends his evenings stealing scrap metal and other items in order to sell them and make some cash, before deciding to become a photographer for the nightly news.  This high-energy thriller came out of nowhere this year, as I had heard very little about it, and then suddenly there it was.

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a phenomenal performance, as he gives the main character Louis such tremendous energy and vitality that everything he does, no matter how outlandish, you believe it.  He also makes Louis likable, which is no easy task.  NIGHTCRAWLER also has a lot to say about today’s media, as the television news station continues to buy Louis’s videos, even when they know he’s manipulating events to get the footage.  It’s all about ratings!

NIGHTCRAWLER is a high octane thriller that features an outstanding performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.  It’s not to be missed.


4 – GONE GIRL – superior thriller in which nearly everything works, thanks to director David Fincher. It features a terrific performance by Ben Affleck, and an even better one by Rosamund Pike.  The story of a husband blamed for his wife’s disappearance starts out as a straightforward thriller but there’s oh-so-much-more going on here, with twists and turns you’ll no doubt won’t see coming.  The other thing I really liked about this movie was that three of the main characters were women, and that’s not something you see every day, unfortunately.  There was Rosamund Pike as the missing wife Amy Dunne, Carrie Coon as Ben Affleck’s sister, Margo, and Kim Dickens as the hard-nosed Detective Rhonda Boney, and all three of these performers are excellent.

3 – THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY – a deliciously smart and enjoyable feel-good movie starring Helen Mirren, THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY tells the story of an Indian family led by its patriarch, Papa (Om Puri), that relocates to France where they open an Indian restaurant 100 feet across the street from the most popular eatery in the area, a fine French restaurant owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).  The comedy stems from Mallory’s and Papa’s efforts to continually try to one-up the other, and things grow more complicated when Papa’s son Hassan (Manish Dayal), who he promotes as the finest Indian chef in the land, turns to Madame Mallory for training so he can become an even better chef.  Everything works in this movie, as it has terrific acting, a top-notch directorial effort by director Lasse Hallstrom, and an excellent script by Steven Knight.  Just don’t see it on an empty stomach.  The dishes in this flick are absolutely delectable.

My favorite feel-good movie of the year, featuring some of the most mouth-watering dishes you’ll see in a movie.


2 – GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – the most fun at the movies I had this year, this is one of the best superhero movies ever made, and it’s hilarious to boot.

I loved this movie! The humor was spot-on, thanks to a hilarious script by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn, and the performances were all top-notch, from Chris Pratt in the lead role of Peter Quill, “Star Lord,” Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, and the voice talents of Bradley Cooper as Rocket and Vin Diesel as Groot.  There hasn’t been a superhero group like this since The Avengers, and these guys are more fun!  If there were an Island for Misfit Superheroes, these guys would be on it.

There was pretty much nothing I didn’t like about this film, and in terms of all-time great superhero movies, it’s up there with THE AVENGERS (2012), IRON MAN (2008), and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), but what I think makes this one so special is just how light and funny it is without sacrificing the integrity of the superhero story.  It’s not mindlessly stupid.  On the contrary, it’s intelligently funny.


It also has an amazing soundtrack.


1 -INTERSTELLAR – My pick for the Number 1 film of 2014 is INTERSTELLAR, Christopher Nolan‘s ambitious big budget science fiction thriller which one day may rank as one of the all-time great science fiction films.  It stars Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut who leaves his family and travels to the far reaches of space in a desperation mission to find a habitable planet on which to relocate the human race because Earth is dying due to a lack of food.

For me, INTERSTELLAR was a near perfect film.  It had everything:  acting, direction, script, pacing, twists and turns, but by far the best part for me was that it tackled some truly big ideas:  it dealt with worm holes, the theory of relativity, time travel, black holes, and what happens when someone enters a black hole.  It remained intelligent enough throughout to keep its science fiction believable.  It also scored high with its human element, as the tale of McConaughey’s character Hooper’s plight to return home to his family no matter what was a winner and grabbed me from the get-go.  It also had an excellent cast led by McConaughey that also featured Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine, and John Lithgow.

Of all the films I saw in 2014, INTERSTELLAR was the most satisfying.


So, there you have it, my picks for the best films that I saw in 2014.

Next time I’ll share my list for the worst films that I saw in 2014.

Until then, thanks for reading!



Jake Gyllenhaal Phenomenal In NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)


nightcrawler posterHere’s my latest CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review, which went up this weekend at, on the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller, NIGHTCRAWLER:



Movie Review by Michael Arruda


(THE SCENE: A grisly car accident. A bloodied body lies next to a mangled car. Police cars with flashing lights surround the area.  Rescue workers hustle about, while reporters with cameras close in on the carnage.  A police officer attempts to push the reporters back.

POLICE OFFICER: Get back!  You’re too close!  Get back twenty feet!  Now!

(The reporters ignore him and rush towards the bloodied body, taking video footage. The blood-soaked body is L.L. SOARES, who suddenly opens his eyes and lunges towards the cameras with a demented vicious expression on his face.  The reporters turn and flee, running right past MICHAEL ARRUDA, who approaches L.L.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Thanks, buddy.  With those guys gone, now we can do our review.

L.L. SOARES: Now you can do the review.  I’m outta here.

MA: You’re leaving?

LS: Yep, I’m off to see another movie.  I wanted to review NIGHTCRAWLER, but I had to skip it because we just have so many movies to review for Cinema Knife Fight these days.

MA: It’s nice to be popular.  Well, good luck.  You might want to wash up first before you go to the movies.  You’re a bit bloody.

LS: So?  This way I can scare folks who talk during the movie.  See ya!  (Exits).

MA: As L.L. said, tonight we’re—I’m reviewing NIGHTCRAWLER, a new thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

NIGHTCRAWLER kinda snuck up on us here at Cinema Knife Fight.  It wasn’t one of the movies we had originally planned to review, but it got a lot of hype, and I saw plenty of trailers leading up to it, and it looked really interesting.  By the time it came out, I was into seeing it, and I’m glad I did.

In NIGHTCRAWLER, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sociopath named Louis Bloom who spends his evenings stealing scrap metal and other items in order to sell them and make some cash.  It’s clear from the outset that Louis is no ordinary thief, as he’s well-read, well-spoken, and also in desperate need of a job, which is something he can’t land.

One night, he witnesses a couple of freelancers taking video of a grisly accident scene, and he strikes up a conversation with a cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) and he learns that Loder gets paid by TV news stations for his footage.

Louis buys a cheap video camera and a police radio and scanner, and he starts filming accident scenes. He learns that he needs to get there faster than everybody else, and also closer, which means inciting the wrath of the police officers at the scene who want him to remain back twenty feet.

POLICE OFFICER: I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Twenty feet, buddy!  Let’s go!

MA: Are you speaking to me?

POLICE OFFICER: You see anyone else here?

MA: Can’t you see I’m reviewing a movie?

POLICE OFFICER:  You’re going to be reviewing a movie from the back of my squad car in a minute if you don’t move back twenty feet!  Now let’s go!

MA: Technically, there is no crime scene here.  My buddy L.L. Soares and I staged this for our Cinema Knife Fight review, so I don’t think I need to move back twenty feet.

POLICE OFFICER: Staging a crime scene?  You realize that’s illegal.

MA: So it is. Hey, isn’t that your sergeant over there waving at you?

POLICE OFFICER: What sergeant?  (Turns around.)

(MA runs, jumps into a car, and speeds away.)

MA: Slight change of plans.  Okay, so let me get back to the plot summary.

Louis obtains grisly close-up footage of a bleeding victim, and when he brings it to a local news station, it catches the eye of news department head Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who buys the footage from him. Louis hires a young assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) to help him with the camerawork and with the GPS so they can get to the crime scenes as quickly as possible, and suddenly Louis is bringing Nina incredible footage faster than anyone else.  The news station is lagging way behind in the ratings, and Nina sees Louis’ cutting edge work as her chance to save the station.

When Louis crosses the line, using unconventional and often illegal methods to obtain his videos, Nina looks the other way and does nothing to discourage him from capturing his intense footage.

(A police car with flashing lights pursues MA’s car.)

I really liked NIGHTCRAWLER, for two reasons in particular.  One, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a phenomenal performance, and two, this one has an edge and an unpredictability about it that goes a long way and lifts it above its shortcomings, including a story that doesn’t always hold water.

Let’s start with Gyllenhaal. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve seen Gyllenhaal looking terribly gaunt and much thinner than normal.  That’s because he lost close to twenty pounds for the role, and it shows.  He looks like a friggin vampire!  It’s an intense look for him, and physically he really captures the essence of the character.

Gyllenhaal gives Louis such tremendous energy and vitality that everything he does, no matter how outlandish, you believe it. He also has a way of speaking to people that is detached yet spot-on.  In other words, he’s clear and concise with what he says, but says everything with no regard for other people, and so he comes off as a cold fish, yet there’s something charming about his drive and focus, and you can easily see why in spite of his shortcomings and manipulations a woman like Nina might find him attractive.

He’s a fearless and relentless negotiator, and he gets everything he wants. I should have hated the guy, but there was something very likable about him.  His philosophy is to work harder than everybody else, and that’s how you become a success.  How can you not like that?

(MA runs a red light, speeding through a busy intersection, leaving a huge pile-up of crashed cars behind him.)

One of the best and most telling lines in the movie comes when Louis’ partner Rick complains about the way Louis speaks to people, telling him that he has no idea how to deal with people. Louis, always in the know about himself, responds by telling Rick that it’s not that he doesn’t know how to deal with people, but that he doesn’t like people.  For Louis, other people don’t matter.  They are just a means for him getting what he wants.

I’ve been a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal for a while, going back to one of his earliest roles in OCTOBER SKY (1999).  I enjoyed him here much more than in the previous film I saw him in, PRISONERS (2013), the kidnapping thriller with Hugh Jackman.  Here in NIGHTCRAWLER, Louis Bloom might be my favorite character that Gyllenhaal has created.

The rest of the cast is okay, but to be honest the only role of substance in NIGHTCRAWLER is Gyllenhaal’s.  Rene Russo does what she can with the role of Nina.  I wasn’t one hundred per cent sold on her character.  She plays this powerful newscast chief, and yet she allows Louis to run circles around her and pretty much set the tone for their relationship, both professional and personal, and he effortlessly dictates the terms of their dealings together.  I expected more from Nina, and I didn’t completely buy that Louis would have her wrapped around his finger so easily.  I get that Louis is this compelling captivating character, and I get that Nina is under pressure to improve her ratings, but still, I thought she’d be better at putting up a fight.

The two characters also become involved romantically, or at least sexually. There’s not much of a romance.  Louis pursues Nina because he can, and again, I expected much more of a protest from Nina.  I was disappointed that the film didn’t follow up more on this part of the story.  The sexual angle is downplayed, and Gyllenhaal and Russo share about as much chemistry on screen as some of the shooting victims in Louis’ videos.  A heightened sexual element would have added more to the story.

(Suddenly a half dozen police cars are chasing MA’s car.)

POLICE Voice: Pull your vehicle over!

MA: I’m trying to review a movie here! Jeesh!

The rest of the cast is serviceable. Riz Ahmed is fine as Louis’ young partner Rick, but I was most disappointed with the Bill Paxton role. I like Paxton a lot, and his role as a fellow cameraman is a small one that I really thought would be developed into a major supporting character, but this doesn’t happen.

I really enjoyed the script by writer/director Dan Gilroy. Gilroy previously wrote THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012), the most recent Bourne movie, and the one starring Jeremy Renner.  That film and its story were much better than I expected, and I think Gilroy’s screenplay here for NIGHTCRAWLER is even better.

The best part of NIGHTCRAWLER is the character of Louis, thanks to both the acting talents of Jake Gyllenhaal and the fine writing by Dan Gilroy.  Louis should be a deplorable character, but he’s not.  The story is crafted so when Louis is breaking the law to get his video footage, you almost want him to get away with it.  There’s something very Walter White-like in Louis’ drive and determination.  Part of it is the realization that life is incredibly difficult, and success often does come for those who work harder than everybody else, and when you see Louis doing this, even though he’s a sociopath with no regard for other people, there’s something admirable about his resolve.

Did I think success came too easily for Louis? Perhaps.  Nothing he does seems to go wrong.  It wouldn’t have hurt to have Louis fail once in a while.

The message about the media in this movie is also spot-on. There was a time when I would have viewed this story as too over-the-top and not very believable.  I mean, what professional news organization would allow a guy like Louis to do the things he was doing to get video footage? But judging by what I see and read about TV news, I don’t think it’s farfetched now.  If you watch TV news, you see with regularity the kinds of graphic and sensationalistic footage that Louis was shooting in this movie.  Television news appears to be already at the stage depicted by Louis’ work in this film.

Dan Gilroy does just as good a job behind the camera, which is impressive since it’s his first time directing a movie. This one is not by the numbers.  There are some neat scenes throughout as well as some that generate a decent amount of suspense.  My favorite sequence in the film happens when Louis alerts the police that two suspects wanted in a violent home invasion case are sitting in a restaurant. Louis has set this all up so he can get the footage, and as he and Rick take their positions to film what happens, and the police quickly move in towards the crowded restaurant, the suspense mounts to almost Hitchcockian proportions, as everyone in the audience knows the suspects are packing guns.

This is followed by a high speed chase that it is one of the more exciting car chases I’ve seen in the movies this year.

(MA drives down the wrong way of a one way street, pulls into a parking lot, drives up the side of a building, crashes through a window, drives through a hallway, then bursts out another window, sails through the air and lands on a road as MA continues driving.)

MA: And it’s far more realistic than the one I’m involved in right now.

It’s up there with the chases in NEED FOR SPEED (2014) and DRIVE (2011), which is appropriate, as I mentioned Walter White from BREAKING BAD earlier in this review, and White himself Bryan Cranston starred in DRIVE and his buddy Jesse, Aaron Paul starred in NEED FOR SPEED.

NIGHTCRAWLER is a compelling film driven along by a powerhouse performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, one that is Oscar-worthy, and it features tight direction and a creative script by Dan Gilroy.  It’s one of my favorite movies of the year.

I give it three and a half knives.

(MA pulls into a parking lot, parks his car, gets out and stretches his legs. Suddenly he’s surrounded by police cars all screeching to a halt.  Police officers jump out of the car, drawing their weapons.  They run at and then past MA where they quickly apprehend two armed suspects.)

MA (to camera): You didn’t think they were after me, did you?

(MA strolls past the arrest and enters the movie theater.)