Best Movies of 2017

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

10 DETROIT –

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.

 

9 THE BIG SICK –

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.

 

8  STRONGER –

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.

 

7 BATTLE OF THE SEXES –

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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.

 

6 THE FLORIDA PROJECT –

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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.

 

5 WIND RIVER-

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.

 

4 THE FOUNDER –

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.

 

3 WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES –

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.

 

2 GOOD TIME –

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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.

 

1 DUNKIRK –

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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!

—END—

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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WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) – The Best of The New APES Movies

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The new PLANET OF THE APES series keeps getting better and better.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) was an okay reboot, solid yet uninspiring. Its sequel DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) was better. I liked it but I didn’t love it.

Now comes WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) 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.

Of course, it helps to have a talented director at the helm.  Matt Reeves, who also directed DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, is one of the more talented directors working today. He’s directed some of my favorite horror movies in recent years, films like CLOVERFIELD (2008) and LET ME IN (2010), and now WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. I only wish he’d make more movies.

When WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES opens, we find Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his band of apes still hiding in the woods, still trying to avoid the humans who are out to conquer them.  This time around, the advancing human military is led by a charismatic officer known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

A small military unit locates the apes and attack, but they are defeated.  Caesar spares the lives of a couple of prisoners and sends them back as a peace-offering, but this doesn’t stop the Colonel, who returns and raids the apes’ camp, killing Caesar’s wife and son.

Found out, the apes have to move, but Caesar announces that he’s not accompanying them, as he is intent on finding and killing the Colonel.   Eventually, all the apes, Caesar included, are captured by the Colonel’s forces, setting the stage for the second half of the movie, which plays out as a riveting prisoner of war tale, where the apes attempt to plan a daring escape, even as another military contingent moves in, one that is at odds with the Colonel and plans on wiping out all the occupants at the base, including the apes.

There is so much to like about WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.  I liked how Caesar evolved here.  In the first film, he barely spoke, saying one word here, one word there. In the second film, he spoke more, but not entirely fluently.  Here, he speaks effortlessly, which makes him an even stronger character.

The storyline of the disease which wiped out humans and gave intelligence to apes continues to evolve in this movie and remains compelling.  This time around, we learn that the disease is changing, that the remaining humans are gradually losing the ability to speak, and are slowly becoming more beast-like, while the apes are becoming more intelligent.  This plot point hearkens back to the original series, where apes were intelligent, and humans were mute animals.

We first get a hint of this change when Caesar and friends find a young girl (Amiah Miller) who cannot speak.  Orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) eventually names her Nova, in a nod to the Linda Harrison character from the 1968 original film PLANET OF THE APES.

And more apes than just the ones with Caesar were affected, as they meet another chimpanzee who goes by the name Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) and who tells them his story.

There are a lot of nods to the original series here.  The soldiers wear the symbols for Alpha and Omega on their helmets, which is a nod to the Alpha/Omega bomb which destroyed the Earth in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970).  The line is used, “the only good ape is a dead ape,” which is a reference to General Ursus’ line “The only good human is a dead human,” also from BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES.

Again, there’s the character of Nova, and I liked how they came up with the name, as she finds a grille from a Chevy Nova.  Also, when Maurice says her name, “Nova,” he says it the same way and with the same cadence as Charlton Heston said it in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, so much so that I wonder if they dubbed in Heston’s voice here.

Speaking of Maurice, his name is a nod to the actor Maurice Evans who played the orangutan Dr. Zaius in the original films.  And Caesar’s little son is named Cornelius, who was the character played by Roddy McDowall in the original films, and in those films Cornelius was Caesar’s father.

There are also just some funny monkey references. The back of one of the soldier’s helmets reads BEDTIME FOR BONZO, a reference to the Ronald Reagan movie, a comedy which featured a chimpanzee. Also, the apes who work for the Colonel are called “donkeys,” a reference to Donkey Kong.

The special effects are amazing. The apes look phenomenal. They’re so good it’s easy to forget that nearly every character in this movie is a CGI creation.  The only main human character is Woody Harrelson’s Colonel, and the rest of the humans are nameless soldiers, and yet the film doesn’t suffer for it at all. You don’t watch this movie and feel like you’re watching an animated cartoon.  These characters seem genuine and real, more so than some of the human characters we see in other movies.  And their story is compelling.  You really do feel for the apes and want them to escape from the prison.

Andy Serkis, who’s become the king of motion capture performances, is excellent once again here as Caesar. I don’t think they give Oscars yet for this category, but if they did, he should get one.  And he’s not alone here.

Both Karin Konoval as Maurice and Terry Notary as Caesar’s other loyal friend Rocket have also been in all three APES movies, and they’ve been excellent each time as well.  Also of interest, both Serkis and Notary have played King Kong.  Serkis played Kong in the Peter Jackson remake KING KONG (2005), and Notary played Kong in KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017).

Two newcomers also really stand out.  Steve Zahn as Bad Ape nearly steals the movie with his humorous and touching performance as the ape who had survived on his own all these years before meeting Caesar and his band of apes.  The best part about Bad Ape is that he’s funny without being annoying, and he’s scared without being a coward.  He steps up when needed.

Likewise, young Amiah Miller is superb as Nova, in a role that is even more impressive considering she doesn’t speak any lines as Nova cannot talk.  Her scenes with Caesar are especially moving.  Once Nova and then Bad Ape enter the storyline, the film really takes off.  Miller reminded me somewhat of a very young Amanda Seyfried.

And Woody Harrelson does what he has to do as the evil Colonel.  The role isn’t as fleshed out as the apes’ characters, but it doesn’t really need to be.  He’s the villain, and Harrelson gives the guy real presence, so much so that things always feel disturbing when he’s on-screen. And we do get some background on him, as we learn what happened to his son.

The script by Mark Bomback and director Reeves is excellent.  I loved the story it tells, and the ape characters are all fleshed out to the point where you forget you’re watching CGI creations.  I especially liked the story, which is essentially divided into three parts. The first part picks up where DAWN left off, and features apes and humans battling in the jungle.  The second part becomes an epic adventure, where the apes migrate from the jungle, and where Caesar and his small band of friends go off on their own across beaches and eventually into a wintry mountain terrain as they seek out the Colonel.  It’s this sequence where they find Nova and meet Bad Ape.

And then there’s the third part, the gripping grueling prisoner of war tale, where Caesar must lead the apes on a daring escape.  This part plays like the classic war movies of yesteryear, films like STALAG 17 (1953) and THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963).  With each chapter of the story, the film gets stronger, as each story is better than the previous one.

I’m a huge Matt Reeves fan, and he does a phenomenal job here.  His films CLOVERFIELD and LET ME IN are among my favorite horror movies period.  WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES now joins that list.  Of course, the true test for Reeves is his next movie, as he’s writing and directing the upcoming THE BATMAN, the standalone Batman film starring Ben Affleck. Good luck, Matt!

And WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES features yet another powerful music score by Michael Giacchino, who we just talked about last week as he scored SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017).  I liked his score for APES here even better than his SPIDER-MAN score.  It reminded me a lot of the score he wrote for LET ME IN.  It’s potent, militaristic, and haunting.

I really liked WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Everything about it works.

It’s easily the best of the rebooted APES series.

—END—

 

 

Best Horror Movies 2016

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Elle Fanning in  THE NEON DEMON (2016)

Here are my picks for the BEST HORROR MOVIES of 2016.

First off, I have to say that unlike a lot of other folks, I wasn’t overly impressed with the line-up of horror movies that came out in 2016.  For the most part, I was disappointed.

For example, while many people loved THE WITCH, I was lukewarm on it.  I loved its style and how well it captured the period it portrayed, but I was let down by its ending which I found much less compelling than the rest of the movie.  As such, THE WITCH did not make my BEST OF LIST.

THE BOY was kinda the opposite.  It was a rather silly horror movie that didn’t really go over big with fans and critics, but I found it entertaining and rather decent.  But again, not good enough to make my BEST OF LIST.

Similarly, LIGHTS OUT had its moments, but not enough of them to make the list.

Without further hesitation, here are my picks for the TOP 5 HORROR MOVIES of 2016:

 

5. DON’T BREATHE – The best part of DON’T BREATHE was its premise.  Three young thieves in economically depressed Detroit break into a blind man’s home in what they view as an easy heist, but they are oh-so-wrong when their “victim” turns out to be an ex-military who in spite of his blindness is a very deadly foe.

First half is better than the second half, which deteriorates into standard horror fare.

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4.  10 CLOVERFIELD LANE- Not really a sequel to the J.J. Abrams produced and Matt Reeves’ directed giant monster masterpiece CLOVERFIELD (2008), but it takes place in the same “universe.”  A lot of people really loved this one.  I didn’t love it, but I found it decent and respectable and much better than the huge crop of awful horror movies that traditionally flood mainstream theaters.

Dan Trachtenberg provides tight direction, and strong performances by John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead lend support to this tense tale about a woman abducted and held prisoner in an underground bunker, while her seemingly deranged captors try to convince her that the world above is no longer there, destroyed by some unknown apocalypse.

This one is claustrophobic and will have you on the edge of your seat.  Even so, I expected more and was somewhat disappointed by the film’s conclusion.

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3. HUSH – This one I didn’t see at the theater but on Netflix Streaming, and it’s a fine example of a weird trend these days where higher quality horror movies for whatever reason don’t enjoy wide theatrical releases.  Many of the horror films released to the theaters are terrible, and oftentimes you’ll catch a film on a streaming service and it’s terrific, and you wonder why it didn’t get a wide theatrical release.  Weird.  This seems to happen a lot.

Anyway, HUSH is a very suspenseful tale about an insane killer armed with a crossbow stalking a deaf woman who lives alone in the middle of the woods.  This deaf woman also happens to be a very successful author, and in one of the film’s more enjoyable moments, uses her skills as a writer, specifically the way she constructs plots, to form a plan to fight back against her attacker.

Entertaining, violent, and well-made horror movie by writer/director Mike Flanagan.

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2. THE SHALLOWS- This shark movie was probably my favorite horror movie of the year, even though I list it here as number 2, and that’s because while this may have been a guilty pleasure, it’s not my pick for the best horror movie of the year.

Anyway, while THE SHALLOWS isn’t JAWS, this shark tale starring Blake Lively as a surfer who finds herself attacked and then trapped by a great white shark a mere 200 yards off the shore of a desolate beach is one taut tight little thriller.  With it’s brief 86 minute running time, this one bites you right away and never lets go.  Beautifully photographed by director Jaume Collet-Serra, known more for his Liam Neeson action movies than horror films, THE SHALLOWS is the perfect summer time horror movie.

 

And now for my pick for the #1 horror movie of 2016, and it’s a strange pick because it’s not a traditional horror movie at all, yet it’s the best horror vehicle I saw this past year.

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1. THE NEON DEMON- This was the most disturbing movie I saw in 2016, as well as the most thought-provoking and stylish horror film I’ve seen in a while.  Its tale of a young model Jesse (Elle Fanning) caught in the vicious cutthroat world of modeling, takes its figurative message of a world that devours its own and turns it on its head and makes it literal.  This one takes a violent unexpected turn which will upset most people, but there’s no denying the force and power of where this film ultimately goes.

Written and directed by controversial writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn, THE NEON DEMON is not for everybody, but if you can get past its disturbing elements and images and allow yourself to enter its provocative world, you’ll be treated to a film that is every bit as weird and horrifying as the work of visionary directors David Lynch and David Cronenberg.

So, there you have it.  My picks for the Top 5 HORROR MOVIES OF 2016.

Coming soon, my picks for the Worst Horror movies of 2016.

See you then!

And thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

STOCKING STUFFERS 2014: Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

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"I hope you like my gift, Larry.  I picked it out of the graveyard myself."

“I hope you like my gift, Larry. I picked it out of the graveyard myself.”

STOCKING STUFFERS – 2014

Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

By

Michael Arruda

 

Here are a few horror movie goodies that I’d like to find under my Christmas tree this year, in no particular order:

 

-A newly discovered unedited complete version of KING KONG (1933) including the infamous lost “spider in the pit” sequence.  Sorry folks, this still hasn’t been discovered yet and as of right now only exists in our collective imaginations.

 

-For the recently restored unedited version of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) to be made available here in the United States.  This one does exist, but no sign of it in the U.S. yet.  What’s the hold up???

 

-A boxed set of all the Universal monster movies with long lost scenes restored, including Bela Lugosi’s scenes of dialogue as the Frankenstein Monster in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), Dwight Frye’s extended scenes as Karl in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and the original cut of THE WOLF MAN (1941) where Lon Chaney’s Larry Talbot only becomes a werewolf in his own mind.

 

-A horror movie with Johnny Depp in a serious role instead of the over-the-top goofy roles he’s been taking of late.  It’s as if he’s quit being Depp and instead has adopted the persona of Jack Sparrow from the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, and it’s Sparrow making all these recent films like DARK SHADOWS, THE LONE RANGER, and INTO THE WOODS, not Depp.

 

-More horror films with Chloe Grace Moretz.  She was phenomenal in LET ME IN (2010) and pretty darn good in the re-boot of CARRIE (2013) as well.  And the best part?  Chloe Grace Moretz is not a scream queen!  She’s a force to be reckoned with.

 

-Speaking of LET ME IN, how about some more horror movies by director Matt Reeves?  He’s directed two of the best horror movies in the past decade, CLOVERFIELD (2008) and LET ME IN (2010), not to mention the excellent DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014).  He’s one of the most talented genre directors working today.

 

-Speaking of CLOVERFIELD, how about the long awaited sequel which has been rumored for years finally coming out?  That would be nice.

 

-A reversal in the decision to turn the Universal monsters into superheroes.  The powers that be at Universal are making a huge mistake here.  To me, this decision is a concession that these monsters are no longer scary, and that’s simply not true.  All it takes is a good writer, combined with a talented director, and these monsters could be relevant again.  Don’t bother remaking the origin stories- we all know them.  What we need are new tales of these monsters in frightening horror movies which will scare modern audiences to death.  Leave the superheroes to Marvel!

 

-Speaking of Marvel, I’d like to see Robert Downey, Jr. in a horror movie.  Scarlett Johansson too, for that matter.

 

-Speaking of people making horror movies, Woody Allen made his decision to move on from comedies years ago and continues to churn out quality films year after year.  I sure wish he’d channel his keen writing talents and write a horror tale someday.  I think it would be pretty cool.

 

-Lastly, to all my writer friends, I’d like to find a copy of your latest book under my tree so I could read your work throughout the year.  My Christmas wish for all of us is that we have books in print year after year for years to come!

 

Thanks all!

 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy winter!

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

 

 

 

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: CHLOE GRACE MORETZ Movies

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Chloe Grace Moretz as CARRIE (2013).

YOUR MOVIE LISTS:  Chloe Grace Moretz

 

By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to another edition of YOUR MOVIE LISTS, the column where you’ll find lists of odds and ends about movies.  Today we’re looking at films starring Chloe Grace Moretz.

 

Ever since Chloe Grace Moretz burst onto the scene as Hit Girl in KICK- ASS (2010), I’ve been a huge fan, so much so that she’s clearly one of my favorite actresses working today, and what makes this even more amazing is she’s only seventeen years old.  It’s a rare thing for me to be blown away on a consistent basis by an actor that young.

 

Sure, part of what made her so memorable as Hit Girl was the shock factor: here was an eleven year-old girl using language usually reserved for Robert De Niro in a gangster movie and kicking bad guys’ butts with the ferocity of Christian Bale’s Batman.

 

But Moretz didn’t stop there.  She has continued to star in one decent movie after another, and she’s usually the best part of these movies.

 

Here is a partial list of movies featuring Chloe Grace Moretz:

 

HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (2005) – film debut of Chloe Grace Moretz.

 

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005) – plays young Chelsea Lutz in this re-imagining of the 1979 film.

 

KICK-ASS (2010) – the film which pretty much put Moretz on the map.  While Aaron Taylor-Johnson is pretty impressive in the lead role as Kick-Ass, the young teen turned superhero, Chloe Grace Moretz is even better as the eleven year-old Hit Girl, the roughest, toughest pre-teen superhero ever seen in the movies.  Violent and not for everybody, KICK-ASS is one of the more enjoyable off-beat superhero films you’ll ever have the pleasure to come across.

 

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID (2010) – plays Angie Steadman in this very funny movie based on the popular book by Jeff Kinney.

 

LET ME IN (2010) – Moretz is amazing as the vampire Abby—perhaps even more impressive than her performance as Hit Girl— in this Hammer horror film directed by Matt Reeves.  This is one of my favorite horror movies of recent years, and Moretz’ performance is a major reason why.

 

HUGO (2011) – plays Isabelle in a delightful supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s highly entertaining visual tour de force about a young boy name Hugo (Asa Butterfield)  living in the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris.  Also starring Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen.

 

DARK SHADOWS (2012) – plays Carolyn Stoddard in this reimagining of the iconic 1960s TV show by director Tim Burton.  A comedic misfire, not even Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, or the presence of Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Christopher Lee, and of course Chloe Grace Moretz could save this one, which plays more like THE ADDAMS FAMILY than DARK SHADOWS.

 

KICK-ASS 2 (2013) – While it was nice to see Moretz reprise her Hit Girl role along with Aaron Taylor Johnson’s return as Kick-Ass, this sequel is nowhere near as good as its predecessor.

 

CARRIE ( 2013) – plays the lead role of Carrie in this decent remake of the 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek, both based on the very first novel by Stephen King.  Moretz is good, and Julianne Moore might be better as Carrie’s cruel mom.

 

IF I STAY (2014) – love story where Moretz’ character Mia has to decide via an out-of-body experience after a car crash whether or not she wants to return to the land of the living.

 

THE EQUALIZER (2014) – supporting role as a prostitute in this OK actioner very loosely based on the old TV show from the 1980s starring Edward Woodward.  This one stars Denzel Washington in the lead role.

 

There you have it, a partial list of some notable Chloe Grace Moretz movies. Hope you enjoyed it.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

PICTURE OF THE DAY: LET ME IN (2010)

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What happens when Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) enters her friend's home without being invited first, in LET ME IN (2010).

What happens when Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) enters her best friend Owen’s home without being invited first, in LET ME IN (2010).

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  LET ME IN (2010)

 

Here’s a still from LET ME IN (2010), the exceptional vampire movie by director Matt Reeves.

LET ME IN is a remake of the Swedish horror movie LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), and both these films are excellent.  I found LET ME IN just as good as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

LET ME IN tells the story of a young boy Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) bullied at school who develops a close friendship with a mysterious young girl Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) who recently moved into the apartment next door.  It turns out, Abby is a vampire.

The best part of LET ME IN is that the true horror in this one is the way Owen is bullied at school, and the story is set up so that in spite of the horrible things we see Abby do as a vampire, we’re actually rooting for her to survive so she can help Owen with his bully problem.

There are also many wonderful tender moments in this one, and this photo is from one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  Abby tells Owen she can’t enter his apartment unless he invites her inside.  When Owen doesn’t do this, as he’s not sure he believes her, she enters anyway.  Once inside, she begins to bleed profusely.  Seeing this, Owen rushes to her immediately and hugs her, repeatedly telling her she’s invited.  It’s an emotional and touching moment in the film, in a movie that is full of moments like this one.

LET ME IN was the comeback film for England’s Hammer Films, and it’s directed by one of the best genre directors working today, Matt Reeves, who also directed CLOVERFIELD (2008) and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014).  It also has an excellent cast, including its two talented young leads, Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

If you haven’t seen LET ME IN, you’re missing quite a treat.  Even though it’s about two twelve year olds, it’s a very adult movie, and it doesn’t skimp on the horror. It’s not a gory shock-filled extravaganza, but rather a beautifully shot deliberate and very suspenseful thriller that will hook you from its opening moments right up until the end.

It’s one of my favorite vampire movies of recent years, and I highly recommend it.

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: LET ME IN (2010)

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Let Me In poster

Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Hammer comeback movie LET ME IN (2010) directed by Matt Reeves and starring Chloe Grace Moretz, published in the August 2014 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.

And remember, if you like this column, my book IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a collection of 115 horror movie columns, is available from NECON EBooks as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

LET ME IN (2010) is one of my favorite vampire movies.

Sure, it’s the first Hammer Film to be released in theaters since the 1970s, but that’s not the reason I like it so much.

And yes, it’s a remake of the Swedish film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), which many consider to be the superior film.  However, back in its heyday, Hammer made its living with horror movie remakes, and they did just fine.  I’m here to say that Hammer’s version of the novel Let The Right One In by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, the source material for both movies, is every bit as good as the original 2008 film.

Of course, it helps to have a topnotch director at the helm, and a charismatic young star.  Hammer had both, in director Matt Reeves, the man responsible for the instant horror movie classic CLOVERFIELD (2008), and in young actress Chloe Grace Moretz, who dazzled audiences as the 11 year-old crime fighter Hit Girl in KICK-ASS (2010).

In LET ME IN, twelve year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is having a rough time of it.  His parents are getting divorced, and he’s bullied relentlessly at school by a group of bullies led by a boy named Kenny (Dylan Minnette).  However, things begin to look up when a young girl named Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) moves into the apartment next door with her father (Richard Jenkins).

The two become friends, and for Owen, things get even better when Abby agrees to go steady with him, which for a twelve year-old, is a huge deal.  But Abby has a dark secret— she’s a vampire, and when people around the apartment complex start turning up dead, and a police detective (Elias Koteas) shows up investigating the murders, Owen realizes his new best friend is responsible for some very bad things.

LET ME IN works on many different levels, but the best part is that the true horror in this movie isn’t the vampire stuff, but the hellish torment Owen goes through at school at the hands of Kenny and his friends.  Even though Abby is responsible for killing people and drinking their blood, we don’t hate or fear her.  In fact, we’re rooting for her when she offers to help Owen with his bully problem.  Likewise, we’re rooting for Owen and Abby to somehow elude the authorities so they can remain friends.

LET ME IN is blessed with very likable characters.  Take the police detectivechloe grace moretz – let me in, played by Elias Koteas, for example.  He’s a very sympathetic character, which leads to a mixture of emotions later in the film when he closes in on Abby and Owen.  We obviously don’t want to see Abby caught by the police, but yet in a very exciting scene near the end of the film, when Koteas’ detective finally gets inside Abby’s apartment and is about to discover her body sleeping during the day, we don’t want to see anything happen to him either.

The same can be said about Richard Jenkins’ character.  He goes about the countryside brutally murdering people so he can get blood for Abby, and yet, in a key scene, where his plans go awry, we’re almost wishing for him to escape those who are chasing him.

Our emotions are played perfectly by writer/director Matt Reeves.  Other than the two young leads, Reeves is the reason this movie works so well.  It’s a clever script with even better direction.

Behind the camera, Reeves pays close attention to detail.  The murder scenes are set up as intricately as something Hitchcock would have done.  And the story is told in a way that builds suspense and piques our interest.  From the opening sequence where a police escort brings a severely burned victim to the hospital, the victim a suspect in a series of “cult” murders, we wonder, who is this guy?  We don’t know the truth about Abby at first, and only gradually do we learn what’s really going on.

Then there’s the whole love story angle, which works incredibly well considering the leads are just twelve years-old, which is why, no doubt, Reeves continually makes reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, to perhaps show us the relevance and validity of young love.  The scenes between Moretz and McPhee are handled with an amazing degree of sensitivity and tenderness.

I have to say that I loved Reeves’ directorial effort here, so much so that I think he may have matched his phenomenal work on CLOVERFIELD.

The two leads own this movie.  Chloe Grace Moretz is spectacular here as young Abby.  She’s as good as she was as Hit Girl in KICK-ASS.  She’s incredibly sincere and real in her scenes with Owen, and when she becomes haunted by her bloodlust, she turns savage in a second, and young Moretz handles this transition masterfully.

Young Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen is every bit as good as Moretz.  He’s such a scrawny helpless victim you can’t help but feel for him.  And again, his scenes with Moretz are nothing short of amazing.  Their relationship is genuine and heartfelt.

The scene where they deal with Abby’s need to be invited inside a home is one of the most touching sequences you’ll find in any vampire movie.

The film also features an excellent supporting cast.  Richard Jenkins is outstanding as Abby’s guardian.  In fact, the sequence where his murder attempt goes wrong, and he finds himself trapped in the backseat of a car is one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  Jenkins makes this man such a sympathetic character, which is remarkable, considering the brutal murders he commits.

Elias Koteas is also excellent as the police detective, and to his credit he takes a small role and makes it matter.  We want to see him solve the crime, until that is, it means capturing young Abby.  Koteas and Jenkins are two of my favorite actors, and it was great seeing them both in this movie.

Just as good as these two veteran actors is young Dylan Minnette as the bully Kenny.  He’s as menacing a bully as you’ll find in a movie.  Minnette was also very good as Hugh Jackman’s son in the kidnap thriller PRISONERS (2013).

Don’t let the fact that LET ME IN is a remake fool you.

LET ME IN is a superior horror film, written and directed by one of the most talented directors working in genre films today, Matt Reeves, and it features knock-out performances by its two young leads, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz, as well as a topnotch cast of supporting actors.  And, it’s produced by Hammer Films, a company that based on its rich history (hello Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) knows a thing or two about horror movie remakes.

“Can I come in?”  Abby asks Owen from outside his window.  “You have to say it.”

Say what?

LET ME IN.

–END—