VENOM (2018) -Tom Hardy Carries Lighthearted Superhero Flick



VENOM (2018), the latest Marvel superhero movie, stars Tom Hardy and is a fairly entertaining superhero flick even if it doesn’t always play out like one.

It’s not for a lack of trying, with its witty one-liners and slick action scenes, but at the end of the day this tale of a man dealing with a symbiotic alien life form known as Venom feels more like a 1980s John Carpenter or David Cronenberg movie, only not as dark.

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative TV news reporter, and for his latest assignment he’s been asked to interview the controversial scientist and businessman Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) but it’s supposed to be a soft interview. No difficult questions. But Eddie isn’t having it, because he believes Drake is a bad man, and so he takes off the kids’ gloves and asks Drake the tough questions. As a result, Drake cuts the interview short.

Not only that, but the next thing he knows, Eddie is fired, his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams) breaks off their engagement and leaves him, and he pretty much hits rock bottom. But his instincts about Drake were right. He is a bad man. He’s been conducting experiments with alien life forms that need human hosts to survive. Trouble is, the human hosts keep dying, and Drake keeps bringing in more and more unknowing “host” people who continue to die.

When Eddie decides to investigate Drake’s lab, he finds himself face to face with one of these life forms, and for reasons not clearly explained, when it enters Eddie’s body, unlike so many other hosts, he doesn’t die.

This life form is Venom, and it turns out he doesn’t like Drake all that much either, and so he and Eddie work together to take down the villainous scientist.

Yup, it’s all kinda stupid when you think about it, so don’t think about it too much.

The best part of VENOM is clearly Tom Hardy. He pretty much carries the first half of the  movie, which can be slow at times, and he does this by making Eddie less a jerk and more a lovable loser. Hardy also provides the voice of Venom, and  when the two join forces in the film’s second half, things are far more entertaining.

Where does this stack up among Tom Hardy performances? Well, truth be told, I liked Hardy better as Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) and as Max in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015). And I enjoyed him more in THE REVENANT (2015) and DUNKIRK (2017), so it’s not the most amazing role he’s ever taken, but that doesn’t mean he’s not very good here. He is.

I’m also a big fan of Michelle Williams, but sadly her role here as Eddie’s love interest Anne isn’t much of a role.

Riz Ahmed is okay as the villainous Carlton Drake, but like so many other Marvel movie villains before him, he’s rather boring. As good as these Marvel movies have been, the majority of them haven’t had villains who have been on par with the heroes. Ahmed was much more memorable as Bodhi Rook in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016).

I did enjoy Reid Scott as Anne’s new boyfriend Dr. Dan Lewis. He wasn’t the typical cliché annoying new boyfriend. In fact, he likes Eddie a lot, having been a fan of his TV work.

And Jenny Slate is also up to par as Dr. Dora Skirth, one of Drake’s scientists who develops a conscience.

VENOM was directed by Ruben Fleischer, and he does an okay job.  The look of the film is dark and edgy, yet the tone and the script are light and funny. It’s an odd mixture at times.

Part of this, I think, is that VENOM was originally going to be an R rated superhero movie, but plans changed and it was released as a PG-13 vehicle. It may have worked better as more of an adult tale.

The action scenes are okay, but none of them blew me away, and the special effects which created Venom were also just okay.  Nothing here really stood out, other than Hardy’s performance.

Fleischer also directed ZOMBIELAND (2009), a zombie horror comedy that had more bite— heh heh— than VENOM, as well as GANGSTER SQUAD 2013), a good-looking gangster film which ultimately didn’t have much of an impact.

The screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel mixes goofy humor with its darker tale and the result as you might expect is a mixed bag. It also leaves some key points unexplained, like why Eddie doesn’t die once Venom enters his body. Also, Venom says he likes Eddie because back on his home planet he was kind of a loser as well, which is a funny line, but the trouble is Venom doesn’t really act like much of a loser here, so that revelation didn’t exactly ring true for me.

All this being said, I had fun watching VENOM and was glad I went to see it.

Where does it rank with the recent Marvel films? Well, clearly it’s not as good as the Marvel heavyweights which came out earlier this year, BLACK PANTHER (2018) and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018). Nor is it on the same level as DEADPOOL (2016).

But for what it is, a lighthearted superhero caper starring Tom Hardy, it does what it sets out to do. It entertains.

As long as you’re not expecting comic book genius, you should enjoy it just fine.




THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017) – Energetic, Joyful Musical Difficult to Dislike

greatest showman

Hugh Jackman is P.T. Barnum, the greatest showman.

While THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017) is not as good as last year’s sensational LA LA LAND (2016), it does boast the same songwriting tandem of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won an Academy Award for their work on LA LA LAND and who are back at it again here with eleven new songs for THE GREATEST SHOWMAN.

For this reason alone, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is worth a trip to the theater, but that’s not all.  There’s a lot to like about this new musical.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN tells the story of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) beginning when he was a young boy living in poverty and highlighting his budding friendship with a wealthy young girl named Charity.  As adults, they fall in love and get married, and Barnum promises Charity (Michelle Williams) the life she always wanted, and the way he believes he can do that is by entertaining others.

He opens up a Barnum wax museum but finds he can hardly sell a ticket.  When his young daughters tell him no one comes to the museum because there’s nothing alive inside, he remembers a time from his childhood when he was offered an apple by one of the street people, a person with a facial deformity, and he gets the idea that if his museum featured these types of folks, people would come because they want to see the bizarre and the unusual.

So, Barnum goes out and assembles a large group of the strange and unusual, and while these folks are admittedly nervous and wary about being laughed at and exploited, they soon realize that Barnum has their best interests at heart.  Eventually, they become a very close-knit family.

When a major newspaper critic slams the museum as a “circus,” Barnum embraces the criticisms and uses them to promote his show more, even going so far as to change the name from Barnum’s Museum to Barnum’s Circus.  The show is a huge hit, fueled by Barnum’s unceasing enthusiasm and energy, but it’s not without obstacles, as there are violent protests by locals who declare that the “freaks” should not be seen.  And when a major scandal involving Barnum himself erupts, things hit rock bottom.  But the show must go on, and against all odds, it does.

There are two main themes on display in THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, and both work well. The first is the power of imagination.  Time and time again, we see Barnum start with nothing but an idea, one that he’s not afraid to pursue, and when he does, the ideas become reality.   The theme that one is only limited by one’s imagination or lack thereof, that if you can think it, you can do it, really resonates.  Barnum is presented as a man full of imagination, while the naysayers around him are seen a close-minded “realists.”

The other theme is inclusion and acceptance.  Barnum is viewed as a hero to the eclectic group of outcasts he has assembled, as someone who gave them a platform.  For the first time in their lives, they are accepted and loved, and for many of them it’s the first time they are truly happy.  The circus is not presented here as a place that exploited them, but rather as their home.  Furthermore, it gave them a livable wage.

Still, things aren’t perfect.  When Barnum promotes the famous European singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) and brings her to New York to perform in the U.S. for the first time, he is uncomfortable about having his circus “cast” appear among this high-class New York audience and does his best to hide them out of view, much to their chagrin.

And when junior partner Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) falls in love with trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) who is black, he finds that being seen with her in public is still something he’s not able to do, in spite of his feelings for her.

The screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon delivers some solid storytelling. The characters aren’t always fleshed out as well as they could be, and sometimes moments of adversity are overcome in the blink of an eye, striking at the story’s credibility, but for the most part the storytelling here is commendable. Writer Bill Condon also directed another musical I really liked this year, Disney’s live action remake of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017).

Of course, the biggest reason to see any musical is the music, and I really enjoyed both the songs and the music score.  While not as memorable as their songs for LA LA LAND, the work here by lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is still quite enjoyable.  I found the music rousing and the lyrics poignant.  Some may have trouble with the modernized pop-like score, instead of something more fitting for the 1800s time period, but I liked it just fine.

Hugh Jackman is a natural fit in the role of P.T. Barnum.  It’s his first film musical role since LES MISERABLES (2012). and while his work here as Barnum isn’t as impressive as his work as Jean Valjean, it’s still quite satisfying and enjoyable.  He makes Barnum believable as a man who simply wanted to entertain others and be able to support his wife and two daughters. He effortlessly performs the ambitious song and dance numbers, and easily carries this movie on his back.  He provides a strong likable presence from beginning to end.

As Barnum’s wife Charity, Michelle Williams doesn’t fare as well.   Williams is an outstanding actress, even in small roles, as made evident by her phenomenal supporting performance in last year’s MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016),  a role that earned her an Oscar nomination.  Here, she plays second fiddle to Jackman’s Barnum throughout.  The dutiful wife, Charity remains loyal to the end, but as a role for Michelle Williams, there’s hardly anything for her to do, even though she receives second billing here. William’s lack of relevant screen time was probably my least favorite part of this movie.

Zac Efron makes for a likable Phillip Carlyle, the man who works his way up to becoming Barnum’s business partner.

Rebecca Ferguson plays singer Jenny Lind with mixed results.  I like Ferguson a lot, and we just saw her in the thriller THE SNOWMAN (2017) with Michael Fassbender, as well as in the science fiction thriller LIFE (2017). Here as famed singer Jenny Lind, Ferguson possesses a strong presence in her dramatic scenes, but she’s not quite as natural with the song numbers, and since she’s supposed to be the greatest singer in the world at the time, this is slightly problematic.

On the other hand, Zendaya is absolutely mesmerizing as trapeze artist Anne Wheeler.  I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she was onscreen, and it’s a meaty role.  She is constantly dealing with racism, and life for her is a battle.  We catch glimpses of it through the struggles she faces in her own relationship with Phillip.

She delivers one of the best performance in the movie, and she’s certainly in one of the most dynamic scenes in the film, an intense rapid-fire musical number with Zac Efron in which she also performs on the trapeze.  The speed with which this number moves is really impressive.  Supposedly, Zendaya did all her own trapeze stunts in the film.

I really enjoyed Zendaya earlier this year for her work in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), but I think her work here in THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is even better.

Keala Settle also stands out as Letti Lutz, the “bearded lady,” as does Sam Humphrey as the diminutive Tom Thumb.

And Paul Sparks is memorable as critic James Gordon Bennett, the man who is relentless in his criticism of Barnum and his show.  He and Jackman share some memorable scenes, especially as they discuss their philosophies as to what constitutes art and entertainment.  Bennett doesn’t see Barnum’s show as even being close to art, yet he can’t deny that the audiences love it, while Barnum views Bennett as being shallow and close-minded, or as he says “an art critic who can’t find joy in art.”  Sparks has been playing author Thomas Yates on Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS (2015-2017), and he plays a similar role here as critic Bennett.

First time director Michael Gracey does a nice job here.  He imbues the film with nonstop energy.  The dance numbers are in-your-face rousing and the songs inspirational.  The pacing is also good.  The movie’s one hour and 45 minute running time flies by fast.

Again, I would have enjoyed more character development, and I would have preferred it had some of the obstacles in which the characters faced here took more grit and resolve to solve.  As things stand, everything gets wrapped up in a neat tidy package.  Even the ultra-optimisitic LA LA LAND threw us a curve at the end.

Also, the CGI-created animals here, the elephants and lions, look pretty darn fake.

But these are small concerns.  The film stands on its music and dance numbers, and on these notes, it doesn’t disappoint.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN might not be the greatest musical ever made, and it might not give us an honest look at P. T. Barnum, who is seen here in nothing short of a one-sided positive light, but it is a highly imaginative energetic musical full of songs that will make you want to get up and dance.  In short, it’s generous with its joy, and you’d be hard-pressed not to leave the theater happier than when you came in.

P. T. Barnum would approve.


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  




Best Movies of 2016

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

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in LA LA LAND (2016


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

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




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



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




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




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




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



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



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




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



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




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

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





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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!


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  







MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) – Powerfully Moving Drama As Good As Advertised



MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) is steeped in so much New England flavor, it’s like having fish and chips and beer, the scent of fried batter and hops so vivid your mouth will water.

However, this meal is not a celebration, but a funeral, the story of a man Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) thrust into a life-changing situation, piled on top of a traumatic event that had already crushed the life out of him.  Lee is a walking coma.  His body goes through the motions of life, but his mind, heart, and soul are dead.

When we first meet Lee, he’s working as a janitor at a low-income apartment complex in Boston. He also lives there, in a tiny one room apartment.  His life is lonely and sad. One day he receives a phone call and learns that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died, his heart having given out, several years after having been diagnosed with congestive heart disease.

Lee travels north to the ocean side Massachusetts town of Manchester to make arrangements for his brother’s funeral and to temporarily watch his brother’s 16 year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  However, Lee learns that in his will, his brother Joe left Lee custody of his son Patrick, and of course Lee realizes this is something he cannot handle.

But the sad reality is there is no one else.  Joe’s wife, Patrick’s mother, is estranged from the family and no one really knows where she is.  Plus she’s an alcoholic and suffers from psychological problems.  Joe and Lee’s parents have both passed away.  There is an aunt and uncle who, according to Lee, were originally slated to care for Patrick, but they have since moved across the country and really aren’t viable options for Patrick.  And Lee is on his own, as he has long been divorced from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams).

Lee knows that he is not up to the task of being responsible for a 16 year-old boy, but he also doesn’t want to let his brother or his nephew down, so he temporarily agrees, while trying to figure out a long-term plan to make sure his nephew is taken care of.  Not an easy task for a man whose own life is in shambles, nor is it any easier for 16 year-old Patrick, whose life is entrenched in his home town with school, hockey, girlfriends, and playing in a band.  Plus Lee and Patrick get along as well as oil and water.

I really, really liked MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.  Much has been made about the performance by Casey Affleck, and we’ll get to him in a moment, but first, in spite of the excellent acting performances in the film, my favorite part of MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is the screenplay by director Kenneth Lonergan.  I really enjoyed how it tells its story.

The action does not unfold chronologically, but jumps around in time.  So, we are often watching scenes with characters that we know are dead, and yet this works amazingly well here because often these scenes occur when they should naturally.  Lee thinks about how his brother first got sick, and suddenly we’re there in the hospital room at the exact moment when Joe was first diagnosed, and we watch the entire scene play out.

I really enjoy this kind of storytelling.  It makes for an optimal storytelling experience.

The acting is as good as advertised, perhaps even better.  I really liked Casey Affleck here as Lee Chandler.  The best thing I can say about his performance, and this holds true for the entire movie, for the other acting performances and for the writing and direction, is that it all comes off as true.  I believed everything that happened in this movie.

In Affleck’s case, for example, he has survived a traumatic life event which has shaped his current personality.  He is pretty much devoid of happiness, as he has shut himself out of life because he cannot bear the pain.  Even if he wanted to, he cannot break out of this pattern.  It’s as if a part of him died with the event and there’s simply no way he can get it back.  There’s a line near the end of the movie, which pretty much sums up his situation, when Lee admits, “I can’t beat this.”

I’ve enjoyed Affleck in other movies, but his performance here in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is my favorite so far.

Michelle Williams is also excellent as Lee’s ex-wife Randi.  She’s not in the movie as much as Affleck, but she’s spot-on in all of her scenes, and she’s in some of the most potent scenes in the movie.  The one near the end, where she finally opens up to Lee about the things she said to him after their marriage ended, is one of the most powerful moments in the film.

Kyle Chandler is very good as Lee’s older brother Joe, so much so that he makes you forget that his character is dead before we ever see him on-screen.  Joe’s scenes are particularly potent for that reason, because we know his fate.  They are also moving because when we witness the horrifying event which scars Lee’s life, it’s Joe and his young son Patrick who are there to help Lee pick up the pieces.  But of course, Joe isn’t around much longer. These scenes also show the deep committment Lee feels towards Joe and Patrick, because they were there for him when he needed them.

C.J. Wilson also delivers a strong performance as family friend George, the one person who Lee can turn to for help.  George worked with Joe and knows the whole family, and he’s constantly there offering to help Lee.  It’s a performance that makes us all long for a friend like George.

And Lucas Hedges is also very good as Patrick.  The best part of Hedges’ performance is he is not some sweet innocent boy who we feel so bad for.  He’s a real pain in the ass, a typical 16 year-old boy, dealing with school, sports, friends, and juggling more than one girlfriend at a time.

I absolutely loved the dynamic between Lee and Patrick.  Patrick’s life, from the way he is constantly on his phone, to having more than one girlfriend, to sleeping with them in his bedroom in father’s house, is completely foreign to Lee.  They do not get along, and yet, there is nothing cliché about this relationship.  We don’t see Lee explode at his nephew and engage in out-of-character lectures and speeches.  He deals with his nephew on his own terms, like when Patrick asks if it’s okay if one of his girlfriends spends the night, and  Lee tells him no, simply saying, “I don’t like her.”

Yet, Lee is always there for his nephew, even silently and without complaint driving him everywhere he needs to go.  The dynamic between Lee and Patrick drives this movie, and like the rest of the film, it comes off as honest and true.

But this is really Lee’s story.  We see in a gut-wrenching  flashback the horrifying event which scarred his life and ended his marriage, we watch him witness his brother’s illness, we see him struggle to take care of his teenage nephew after his brother’s death, a job that returns him to his home town, resurrecting haunting memories, and putting him back into close proximity with his ex-wife Randi.

Director Kenneth Lonergan has made a brooding, emotionally-charged drama that held my interest throughout.  I wanted to know what Lee was ultimately going to do about Patrick just as much as I wanted to learn what caused Lee to become such an unhappy man.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a powerfully moving drama about a family where things have continually gone wrong, which is true for a lot of families, and it’s a story about one man in particular who in spite of the enormous hurdles thrown his way, has to keep it together long enough to help his sixteen year-old nephew stabilize a life of his own.





out of the furnace posterBEST MOVIES OF 2013


Michael Arruda

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great movie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand entertainment throughout.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

OUT OF THE FURNACE was my favorite film of 2013.

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

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

Happy New Year everybody!


MY WEEK WITH MARILYN Delightful Tale of Two Film Icons


my-week-with-marilyn-posterBlu-Ray Review:  MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011)


Michael Arruda


I missed Michelle Williams’ Oscar-nominated performance as Marilyn Monroe when MY WEEK WITH MARILYN played in theaters two years ago, and so I was happy to finally catch up with this one on Blu-Ray the other night.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011) is based on the book “The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me” by Colin Clark, a memoir of how Clark worked as a third assistant to Laurence Olivier on the movie THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957) and how he met and got to know the film’s other star, Marilyn Monroe.

Young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is eager to break into the movie business, and he catches his break when Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) agrees to let him help out around the set.  Colin quickly makes himself indispensable, and soon he’s hired as a third assistant, which means he’s a glorified errand boy.

Olivier is making movie THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, and he’s excited as it’s giving him the chance to work with American icon and movie star, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).  When they need a house for Monroe to live in while she’s in England, they turn to Colin, and he impresses his employers when he actually books two houses, since the owner of the first house blabbed to reporters that Monroe would be living there.  The owner of the second house was much more discreet.

Things on the set are a disaster.  Monroe is constantly late and uncomfortable, prompting Olivier to be impatient and rude.  He also doesn’t approve of Monroe’s method style of acting, or the fact that she’s brought along her personal acting coach.  But when Monroe asks Colin to come to her house for a visit, she quickly warms up to him and finds in him a sympathetic ear, and thus begins a relationship in which Colin not only finds himself inside Monroe’s inner circle but also developing feelings for her.  Ultimately Olivier doesn’t mind because Monroe loosens up on the set and her disposition improves, to the point where she finally begins to click onscreen.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is a delightful movie that tells an entertaining story and features some very strong acting performances.

I really enjoyed Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.  She certainly deserved her Oscar nomination.  I’m late jumping on the Michelle Williams bandwagon.  While I did enjoy her performance as Glinda the Good Witch in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013), before that she failed to wow me in SHUTTER ISLAND (2010), and I was never a DAWSON’S CREEK fan.  But after seeing her in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, combined with her work on OZ, needless to say, I’m paying attention now.

Even better than Williams is Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier.  I’ve long been a Branagh fan, and to see him play Olivier is a special treat, since many consider him to be the Olivier of his generation.  Branagh was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor here, and like Williams, he didn’t win.

Eddie Redmayne is also excellent as Colin Clark.  It’s a splendidly sincere performance by Redmayne, and he comes off as so likeable it’s easy to understand why both Monroe and Olivier liked and respected him so much.  Redmayne followed up this performance with the role of Marius in last year’s muddled LES MISERABLES (2012), and I remember him as being one of the highlights of that movie.  He certainly had one of the better singing voices in the film.

The supporting cast here is also excellent.  Leading the way is Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, and it was nice to see her in a much more sympathetic role than her recent turns as “M” in the James Bond movies.  Also on hand is Harry Potter’s Hermione herself, Emma Watson, as Colin’s love interest Lucy, that is, when he’s not hanging out with Marilyn Monroe.  I wouldn’t mind having this guy’s love life.

Philip Jackson is especially memorable as Roger Smith, the man Olivier hires to keep an eye on Monroe to keep her out of trouble.  Jackson makes Smith a loyal protector of Monroe rather than a nosy spy.

Equally as memorable is Dominic Cooper, who plays Milton Greene, a young man who works with Monroe and who is increasingly jealous of her relationship with Colin.  Cooper has been in a bunch of movies lately, including DEAD MAN DOWN (2013), ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012), and CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), and he’s been good in all of these.

Character actor Toby Jones is also on hand and gets to enjoy a couple of scene-stealing moments.  Jones is the son of Freddie Jones, an actor who has enjoyed a long and distinguished acting career, and who I always remember as Professor Richter in Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

My favorite part of MY WEEK WITH MARILYN was the dynamic between Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, as they were like oil and water on the set together.  One of the best lines in the movie comes when Colin sums up the reason why he thinks Olivier and Monroe struggle to get along:  because Olivier is a great actor who wants to be a movie star, and Monroe is a movie star who wants to be a great actor.

It’s an excellent script by Adrian Hodges, full of great lines and sincere scenes that are as moving and touching as they are humorous.  Branagh gets some of the best lines in the film, as Olivier’s patience is put to the test as he has to deal with Monroe’s idiosyncrasies and constant tardiness on the set.  And these lines work as well as they do because we know and understand that Olivier truly admires Monroe and he believes she’s brilliant on screen, and the fact that she’s not working smoothly with him nor responding to his direction is driving him nuts.

Directed by Simon Curtis. MY WEEK WITH MARILYN also does a nice job capturing the time and the setting of 1950s England.  The details in the sets and costumes are first-rate.  The film looks great, thanks to the cinematography by Ben Smithard.

And you can’t talk about MY WEEK WITH MARILYN without mentioning the make-up department.  Obviously, Michelle Williams looked stunningly authentic as Marilyn Monroe.  Anything less and the movie doesn’t work as well.  But the make-up unit also did an excellent job on Kenneth Branagh.  He really resembles Olivier in this movie, and it’s fun to watch certain shots where the lighting combined with the make-up and the way his hair is combed, where he really looks like Olivier.

If you like movies about film history and its icons, you’ll be thoroughly satisfied with MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, a wonderful movie that tells the story of what happened when the greatest actor of his generation met the greatest movie star of hers, and how one enterprising and sincere young man found himself in the middle of it all and in the position to make the whole thing work.