Best Movies 2018

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Here’s my list of the Top 10 Movies from 2018:

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10. BOOK CLUB – I really enjoyed this comedy starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen about four friends who decide to read 50 Shades of Grey for their monthly book club, and it changes the way they think about sex and relationships during their senior years. Also starring Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfus, and Craig T. Nelson. My favorite comedy of the year.

9. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?  – in a banner yeary for documentaries, this one was my favorite. Its recounting of the life of Fred Rogers, TV’s Mister Rogers from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, resonates deeply today, as Rogers’ message of inclusion and gentle understanding is sorely missed in today’s antagonistic and deeply divided society.

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8. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP – I enjoyed this Ant-Man sequel more than the original. Story is better, jokes and situations are funnier, and Evangeline Lily adds a lot as the Wasp and is a nice complement to Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man. Oh, and then there’s that after-credits tie-in with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR which produced audible gasps from the audience.

7.BOY ERASED – Joel Edgerton wrote and directed this film which exposes gay conversion theory for the dangerous procedure that it is. Fine performances by Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe, and by Edgerton himself as an unqualified leader of the conversion camp.

6. THE FRONT RUNNER – Sure, I’m partial to political movies, but this tale of Gary Hart’s fall from being the Democratic front runner in the 1988 presidential election to dropping out of the race entirely due to an exposed extra-marital affair pushed all the right buttons for me. The film asks relevant questions which are still being asked today. Hugh Jackman is terrific as Gary Hart, as is Vera Farmiga as his suffering wife Lee.

5. EIGHTH GRADE – Awesome film which completely captures what it is like to be an eighth grader. On target writing and directing by Bo Burnham, especially the dialogue, and a fantastic lead performance by Elsie Fisher as eighth grader Kayla Day.

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Elsie Fisher in EIGHTH GRADE (2018)

4. THE GUILTY – From Denmark, this claustrophobic intense police drama is as compelling as they come, the type of film Alfred Hitchcock would have made. All of the action takes place inside a police dispatch office as an officer relegated to the emergency dispatch receives a call from a woman being kidnapped, and he has to deal with the situation in real time. You’ll swear you’ve seen all the action scenes, but that will be your mind playing tricks on you, as the camera remains focused on the police officer throughout. Excellent movie, and lean, as it clocks in at a swift 85 minutes.

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3. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – It was an outstanding year for Marvel, as three of my top ten films this year come from the Marvel Universe. This was the biggie, the ultimate showdown between the Avengers and their most dangerous adversary yet, Thanos. Amazing superhero movie, with a big bold ending which is no longer a spoiler, which is, the bad guy wins in this one. One of the most emotional endings to any superhero movie, causing audible gasps and groans multiple times as the film races to its inevitable conclusion.

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2. ROMA – An extraordinary movie, ROMA was unlike any other film I saw this year. Unassuming simple tale of a maid working for a family in Mexico in 1970-71. Features some of the best camerawork of the year, all of it in mesmerizing black and white. Slow at first, but stick with it. The final 45 minutes is among the most emotional moments on film I saw all year.

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1. BLACK PANTHER –  My pick for the best movie of the year is another Marvel gem. This one takes the superhero movie to a whole other level, dealing with racial issues as well as any mainstream drama. My favorite superhero film since THE DARK KNIGHT (2018). I loved the conflict between hero Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and villain Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan),and one of the rare times in a superhero movie where the hero admits he’s wrong and the villain is right.  Outstanding in every way, easily my favorite movie of 2018.

So, there you have it, my picks for the Best Films of 2018.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CREED 2 (2018) – Okay Sequel Derivative of Previous ROCKY movies

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CREED 2 (2018) is actually the sequel to two movies, CREED (2015) and ROCKY IV (1985). As such, it has a lot on its card, and to continue using boxing language, its undercard somewhat outperforms its main event.

The first CREED continued the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as he trained Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his former boxing opponent and eventual friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). While the movie’s title declared it was the story of Adonis Creed, it also featured Rocky Balboa prominently and certainly continued the ROCKY storyline. I enjoyed CREED quite a bit.

ROCKY IV found Rocky training his former opponent and newfound buddy Apollo Creed for a fight against a massive and very deadly Soviet boxer named Drago (Dolph Lundgren). In the fight, Apollo dies from his injuries, and since this was a Rocky movie, it’s up to Rocky Balboa to save the day and somehow defeat the monstrous Drago in the film’s climactic bout.

I was never a fan of ROCKY IV and enjoyed the first three ROCKY movies better. However, ROCKY IV is one of those movies that has grown in stature over the years and has actually aged pretty well. In fact, for many fans, ROCKY IV is the best of the series. While I don’t share that opinion, I certainly do enjoy it more now than I did when I first saw it at the theater in 1985.

In CREED 2,  Ivan Drago trains his son, the equally monstrous Viktor Drago (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu) to become boxing champion, and they set their sights on a championship bout against Adonis Creed. Since Ivan Drago is the man who killed his father, Adonis naturally wants to accept the challenge and defeat Viktor Drago to restore honor to his father’s name.

Of course, Rocky is against this fight, as he feels guilty for not stopping the bout in which Apollo died. Adonis decides to pursue the match anyway without Rocky’s help. Predictably, Rocky is eventually pulled back into Adonis’ corner, helping to train the young fighter for the championship rumble.

Nothing that happens in CREED 2 is much of a surprise, and this certainly works against the movie. In spite of a lot of hype and box office success, it’s really just a by the numbers sequel providing nothing new or different from what we’ve already seen in previous ROCKY movies.

As I said, the undercard here outperforms the main event, or in movie terms, the subplots work better than the main plot.

I really enjoyed the Drago storyline. It was fun to see Dolph Lundgren reprising his signature role of Ivan Drago after all these years, and he still looks formidable enough to get back inside that boxing ring to take on Sylvester Stallone. ROCKY X, anyone? Seriously, though, Drago is training his son to win because when he lost that fight to Rocky all those years ago, he lost everything – honor, country, his wife.  He’s been living as an outcast in frigid Russia ever since. There is a lot on the line if his son can win.

As such, in spite of the fact that these guys are supposed to be the “villains” of the movie, I oftentimes found their story more sympathetic than Creed’s and Rocky’s, and I found myself wanting young Drago to win the fight. Furthermore, in spite of their He-Man toughness, there’s a chemistry on display here between the two actors which creates a father-son bond that really works, more so here than the chemistry between Adonis and Rocky.

The one scene between Rocky and Ivan Drago in which they meet for the first time since the fight is one of the movie’s finer moments. There should have been more of these scenes. There are not.

Likewise, as a Rocky fan, the Rocky scenes also worked for me. I continue to enjoy watching Rocky’s storyline play out, from his somber graveside visits to his deceased wife Adrian, to his wise mentorship of the fiery Adonis, to his angst over his estranged relationship with his adult son, I liked it all.  Sure, Stallone can play Rocky in his sleep, but he does it well. I’ve always liked Stallone and feel he has never really received the respect he deserves.

But the main plot, the one about Adonis, just didn’t work all that well for me, and in a movie called CREED 2, that’s not a good thing.

Since I enjoyed CREED so much, it’s not the characters at all, but simply the story. To me, the idea that Adonis would rush into a bout against Drago just didn’t resonate with me or feel all that authentic. He had just won the championship. Viktor Drago had won nothing. It certainly would have made sense for Adonis to defend his title a couple of times before setting up a fight with Viktor. Likewise, Viktor should have worked his way up to the title bout.

Plus, to me, both Dragos had more to gain and to lose than Adonis, and so their story was more interesting. Adonis was already champion. If he wins, sure he could claim a victory for his deceased father, but if he loses, he had already proven himself to be a champion fighter. Viktor Drago hadn’t proven anything yet, and if he loses, his fate is a return to icy Russia. In fact, the final shot of father and son Drago jogging under an ashen Russian sky is a depressing reminder of this fate.

I like Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed, but his storyline here just wasn’t as emotional or as locked in as the one told in the first CREED. And it goes beyond the boxing angle. I thought his relationship with both Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and his mother Mary Ann Creed (Phylicia Rashad) were rehashes of things we saw in the first movie. Adonis and Bianca marry here and have a baby, but I thought all of these scenes strangely fell flat. Perhaps it’s because they were so similar to scenes from earlier ROCKY movies.

And that’s the biggest knock I have against CREED 2. It’s so derivative from the other ROCKY movies, from dialogue about what it takes to be a fighter, to the personal relationships and the toll boxing takes on family members, to the training montages, to the boxing matches themselves. For me, the entire thing other than the Drago subplot was a bad case of “been there, done that.”

Director Steven Caple Jr. simply didn’t add any distinguishing attributes to make the movie stand on its own. The fight scenes are okay, but I’ve seen better, and the same can be said for the training montages. I also thought the pace slowed down about two-thirds of the way through. The first CREED, which was directed by Ryan Coogler, had an edge to it that this sequel simply doesn’t possess. Coogler of course also directed BLACK PANTHER (2018), a superior Marvel superhero movie, which also featured Michael B. Jordan, as one of Marvel’s better and more sympathetic movie villains, Erik Killmonger.

The screenplay to CREED 2 was written by Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor, and it largely goes through the motions.

As a ROCKY fan, it would be difficult for me not to enjoy CREED 2, and I did enjoy it, but I also recognize that it is sadly derivative of nearly every ROCKY movie which has come before it.

I judge this one a split decision.

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Books by Michael Arruda:

New in 2019! DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

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Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version coming soon!

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

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

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

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

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

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Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

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

 

 

 

BLACK PANTHER (2018) – Superior Film Much More Than Just A Superhero Movie

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Every once in a while, the superhero film reinvents itself.  It happened twice in 2008, with THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and IRON MAN (2008). It happened again with THE AVENGERS (2012).

And now it has happened once more with BLACK PANTHER (2018).

BLACK PANTHER is the latest superhero movie to come from Marvel, a comic book company that has been churning out top quality superhero films regularly since IRON MAN in 2008.  They show no signs of slowing down.  And while all their movies do follow a similar formula— wise-cracking superheroes who like to bicker and often fight with each other, high production values, A-list actors, superior writing, and a fun sense of humor— they have tweaked things on occasion. THE AVENGERS brought the “family” of superheroes to the forefront, where the conflicts were more about hero vs. hero than hero vs. villain.

Now comes BLACK PANTHER, a deeper, more resonating tale that reaches further into the social, political, and racial issues of our time than any superhero film before it.  As such, it’s that rare film that supersedes its superhero costuming and succeeds on a level usually reserved for thought-provoking Oscar nominated dramas.

BLACK PANTHER tells the story of Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) who is destined to become king of the African kingdom of Wakanda after his father, the king, was killed in events chronicled in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016). Wakanda is a special kingdom.  The people there have in their possession an element which gives them incredible technological and healing powers, powers they hide from world so as not to become involved in global conflicts. It’s also what gives the sitting king of Wakanda the power to become Black Panther, the warrior who protects his people.

One of T’Challa’s first challenges as king is to hunt down the villain Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a man who has a long history of inflicting pain on Wakanda.  This chase reconnects T’Challa with CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) who is also after Klaue.  When Klaue escapes, one of T’Challa’s best friends W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) laments that he had hoped that T’Challa would be different from his father, but like his father, T’Challa has failed to reign in an enemy of the nation.

Things grow more complicated for T’Challa when Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) arrives in Wakanda with bombshell revelations and a challenge for the new king, both of which threaten to change everything about Wakanda and its status in the world.

I absolutely loved BLACK PANTHER.  It has all the things that have made the Marvel superhero movies successful and then some.

For starters, once more it boasts a phenomenal cast. Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), James Brown in GET ON UP (2014), and Thurgood Marshall in MARSHALL (2017), is perfect here as T’Challa/Black Panther.  He strikes the right balance between strength, honor, heroism, and vulnerability.  He makes T’Challa the perfect leader, yet when he is challenged for his crown, the notion that he will win that challenge is anything but a done deal.

Michael B. Jordan knocks it out of the park as Erik Killmonger, the young boy abandoned by the Wakandans to grow up in the slums of Oakland, CA who had to fight every day of his life to get back to his native country.  Killmonger is one of the villains in this movie, to be sure, but so much of what he says makes perfect sense, and his view of the world is much closer to reality than T’Challa’s.  It’s a fascinating role and Jordan, the star of CREED (2015), is more than up to the task.  I haven’t felt this much empathy for a screen villain in a very long time.

Likewise, Lupita Nyong’o [12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013) and STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)] is very good as Nakia, T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend who he spends most of the movie trying to get back together with.  Nakia is T’Challa’s rock, and she’s with him every step of the way in this adventure.

As good as Nyong’o is here, I enjoyed two of the other female performers even more. Danai Gurira, who plays Michonne on AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD (2012-2018), is mesmerizing here as the warrior Okoye. And Letitia Wright is just as good as T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, who not only gives her king brother a hard time throughout, but is also the keeper of all the technological secrets and advancements of Wakanda.  In short, she gets to play “Q” to T’Challa’s “James Bond.”

Martin Freeman is amiable as CIA agent Everett K. Ross, and Andy Serkis is formidable as the villainous heavy Ulysses Klaue.

The cast also includes Daniel Kaluuya from GET OUT (2017) as W’Kabi and Forest Whitaker as Zuri.  As I said at the outset, BLACK PANTHER, like the Marvel superhero films which preceded it, has an A-list cast.

I found the entire movie to be pretty much mesmerizing.  Director Ryan Coogler, who also directed CREED (2015), drew me in at the outset with a combination of strong storytelling, cinematic scenes, and a Wakandan mythology that is prevalent throughout the movie.

BLACK PANTHER is loaded with memorable scenes, from the exciting to the poignant.  T’Challa’s first encounter with Klau followed by the ensuing car chase is as an exciting sequence as you’ll find.  It’s as good or better as anything done in the James Bond films.  The challenge bout between T’Challa and Killmonger is absolutely thrilling and exceedingly emotional, and the all-out climatic battle at the end of the movie is a rousing way to close out the film.

Scenes between T’Challa and his father, and Killmonger and his father are moving and sad and touch upon philosophies of life and of race.

It’s an outstanding script by director Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. The thoughts on race alone and the plight of the black man in the world are themes that make this one above and beyond a normal superhero tale.  You can almost see the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. inside T’Chala and Malcolm X inside Killmonger as they spar on the right way to save black lives in the world.

The film also doesn’t shy away from the political, addressing current issues as well. T’Challa’s statement to the United Nations  that we must “build bridges, not barriers,” is a clear reference to a certain wall that a certain leader wants to build.

When Killmonger finds himself on the throne, questions arise as to the responsibilities of fellow leaders and the citizenry when faced with an irresponsible king with no experience.

The script goes even farther than current events, examining in general the difficulties of being a world leader, as when T’Challa’s father tells his son, “You’re a good man.  And it’s not easy for a good man to be king.”

BLACK PANTHER is more than just a superhero movie. It’s a tale for our time, a look at the responsibilities of those who possesses great power, of what happens when someone without experience gains that power and uses it for a personal and oftentimes reckless agenda, and it’s an examination of the responsibilities of race relations, of just what it means to rebel against oppressors, to achieve equality in the world without becoming that which you’re trying to overcome.  It’s as deep and as resonating a superhero film as I’ve ever seen.

But it’s also a Marvel superhero film, which means that at the end of the day, it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

I loved BLACK PANTHER. It’s not only one of the best superhero movies to come out in a long time, but it’s also a powerful movie in its own right, as it deals astonishingly well with issues of race relations and responsibilities of those in power.

It’s a masterfully told story of our time.

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