TENDER IS THE NIGHT By F. Scott Fitzgerald- Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

TENDER IS THE NIGHT By F. Scott Fitzgerald

TENDER IS THE NIGHT By F. Scott Fitzgerald

What I’m Reading – Tender Is The Night By F. Scott Fitzgerald


I recently finished teaching a unit on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s’ The Great Gatsby to a class of tenth graders.  Having enjoyed Gatsby more than I had the previous times I’d read it, I decided to venture forth and read another work by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I chose Tender Is The Night, Fitzgerald’s last completed novel, and according to some, his most autobiographical.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896.  He wrote the majority of his novels and short stories in the 1920s and would go on to be regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.  He didn’t benefit from this reputation while he was alive, however.  Tender Is The Night was published in 1934, and it was not a commercial success.

Fitzgerald eventually turned to writing screenplays, but was hindered by deteriorating health due to his alcoholism.  His wife Zelda, in and out of various mental institutions, added more stress to his life.  Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44.

Tender Is The Night tells the story of a young psychiatrist Dick Diver who falls in love with his patient Nicole and marries her.  In fact, when the book opens they are already married, and the history of how they meet and fall in love is told in flashback.  They spend their summers in the South of France, and it’s there they meet a young American actress, Rosemary Hoyt.

Rosemary enjoys the Divers’ company, and she falls in love with Dick, but this is no ordinary love story.  Dick does not act on his feeling towards Rosemary until much later.  Tender Is The Night is the story of how Dick and Nicole’s relationship evolves over the years, how Dick becomes weaker, developing a troubling drinking problem, while Nicole becomes stronger, working out the issues which have hounded her earlier in life.  In the end, the Divers are hardly the captivating couple Rosemary meets at the beginning of the book.

I have to admit, while I did enjoy parts of Tender Is The Night, I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as The Great Gatsby.  Gatsby has definitely grown on me over the years— I’ve read it several times now— so perhaps I’ll need to read Tender Is The Night again before I can fully appreciate it.

I definitely appreciate Fitzgerald’s writing style, and I have little doubt that he is genuinely one of the 20th century’s best writers.  Tender Is The Night is an ambitious novel.  Fitzgerald’s writing here is very dense, in that there is often a lot happening on each page.  As such, it’s a very slow read.  He jam packs lots of information, creative writing techniques and styles and plot points all on one page, and he does this in a way that makes sense and doesn’t exhaust.

I was also impressed by his keen observations of a very young film industry.  This was written in 1934, don’t forget.  He comments about actors gaining fame and importance because of the nation’s need for entertainment during the past decade, in a scene where Dick Diver visits the set of one of Rosemary’s movies:

“It was like visiting a great turbulent family.  An actress approached Dick and talked to him for five minutes under the impression that he was an actor recently arrived from London.  Discovering her mistake she scuttled away in panic.  The majority of the company felt either sharply superior or sharply inferior to the world outside, but the former feeling prevailed.  They were people of bravery and industry; they were risen to a position of prominence in a nation that for a decade had wanted only to be entertained.”

Obviously, this trend has continued up through the present day, and so that quote could be amended to say that for the past century we have wanted only to be entertained, and thus we have placed actors and entertainers at the top of our social order.

But the bottom line is Tender Is The Night just doesn’t tell as compelling a story as The Great Gatsby.  There’s no one character quite like Gatsby in Tender Is The Night.  Gatsby is mysterious, suave, unknown, and like his numerous party guests who try to guess his past and wonder at all the rumors, we the readers indulge in the same behaviors.  Where did he get all his money?  Did he really kill a man?  Is he a con artist or an astute businessman?

In Tender Is The Night, Dick Diver, while fairly interesting, doesn’t generate anywhere near the same interest or line of questioning that Gatsby does.  Diver’s story is much more straightforward. His is a tale of downward spiral.  He starts off with the most honorable intentions, falls in love with and marries his patient Nicole, later has an affair with actress Rosemary, and eventually falls down a doomed path of alcoholism and depression, causing him to lose everything.  Sad, but nowhere near as compelling at the mysteries surrounding Gatsby.

Likewise, the entire story here doesn’t compare to The Great Gatsby, where you have a passionate love story and ultimately a tale of murder.  Tender Is Night is the study of two people’s lives, Dick and Nicole, and it tracks their life journeys as they move in opposite directions.

I did enjoy both Nicole and Rosemary better than the shallow Daisy in The Great Gatsby.  I’ve always wondered just what it was that Gatsby saw in Daisy.  Here, I can easily see what Dick Diver sees in both Nicole and Rosemary.

As a work of literature, Tender Is The Night is a worthwhile read.  You can learn a lot about writing by reading F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Nearly each page in the novel offers something of value.

But as an entertaining read, Tender Is The Night stumbles, and I suspect this is the reason for its initial failure.  It is a depressing love story, one that you’re not about to take to the beach with you for a fun summer read.

Tender Is The Night is great for literature buffs, writers, and F. Scott Fitzgerald fans, but for the casual reader not so much.

Of course, if you are in the mood for a challenging read, and you’re dealing with relationship woes of your own, you might enjoy reading the story of Dick Diver, a remarkable man with enormous potential, whose life eventually goes down the toilet because of relationships he couldn’t handle.


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.


 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.  

Separated at Birth? Harrison Ford and— Shemp Howard?


Harrison Ford as Shemp- er, Branch Rickey in 42

Harrison Ford as Shemp- er, Branch Rickey in 42

Shemp Howard

Shemp Howard

In my recent review of 42, I mentioned that Harrison Ford had never looked worse, which was a good thing, because he really nailed the role of Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey.

But as I sat there in the theater watching Ford’s impressive performance, I couldn’t help but think that this guy looked awfully familiar.

And then it dawned on me where I had seen him before.  Ford’s Branch Rickey resembled another famous less-than-attractive celebrity, Shemp Howard.

There was one expression in particular which Ford made in the movie, a goofy expression with his lips pursed and slightly downturned, which really nailed Shemp’s visage.

Take a good hard look and decide for yourself.

Moe, Larry, and— Han Solo?


42 Tells Important Story



Movie Review:  42 (2013)


Michael Arruda

As a baseball fan, I was excited to see 42 (2013), the biography pic on the life of the great Jackie Robinson.  In a way, this one plays like a baseball game.  There are moments of poignancy and high drama, excitement, and most certainly angst and pain, but it moves with the pace of a knuckleball (that’s a slow pitch for those of you who aren’t baseball fans).

 At times, I felt like a right fielder standing in the outfield without much to do.

 In the spring of 1945, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) decides that he is going to hire a black baseball player to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Of course, in racially charged America of the 1940s, this decision doesn’t sit well with his subordinates, but since he’s the boss, he’s going to make it happen.

He’s asked why on several occasions, and he gives more than one satisfactory answer.  First and foremost, it’s about money.  He wants to win a World Series, and he knows the black players playing baseball in the segregated black baseball leagues are full of talent and they can help his team win it all.  He also believes that times are changing, and he wants baseball to get with the program and move beyond its racist roots.  Lastly, he cites a time when he had the opportunity to sign a black player in the past, and he blew it.  He didn’t have the guts to do it then, and he has felt wrong about it ever since.  Now is the time for Rickey to make amends.

 Rickey decides upon Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to be this historic black player.  Rickey likes Robinson’s style of play, and he also likes his feisty attitude.  He believes Robinson has what it takes to battle his way through what is sure to be a ferociously volatile situation.

 Upon their first meeting, Rickey pulls no punches and tells Robinson exactly the way it is, that he’s going to have to take all that is dished out and more.  Rickey tells Robinson he has to possess the courage not to fight back, and to let his abilities on the field do the talking.  The better he plays, the more support he will gain from the fans.

Robinson agrees, and upon signing a contract with the Dodger’s minor league affiliate, quickly marries his sweetheart Rachel (Nicole Beharie).  As expected, Robinson plays phenomenal baseball on the field and by 1947 joins the major league club, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to become the first black major league baseball player.  Also as expected, Robinson receives death threats, has to endure racial slurs by fans and opposing teams and managers, gets booed regularly, and isn’t even supported by his own teammates.

 But with Rickey urging him on, pushing him through the painful moments, telling him to keep playing baseball, Robinson persists, fights through all the adversity, and the rest as they say is history.

 I liked 42 a lot, even though it plays like a glossy Hollywood movie.  This film works best when dealing with its horrifyingly ugly moments of racism and inhumanity, and it’s these scenes that power 42 along. 

 The baseball scenes are decent, but surprisingly, there are not a lot of them.  Every time Jackie Robinson takes the field in the movie, the film instantly gains energy.  Watching him wreak havoc on the base paths, swiping bases with ease, hitting homeruns, making sensational catches in the field, makes for exciting cinema. 

 Considerable time is spent on Robinson’s relationship with his wife Rachel.  Granted, the film shows them to be an admirable couple, but their story is simply not as interesting as what’s happening on the field.

The story is told by newspaper reporter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) whose struggles to overcome racism in the press corps mirror Robinson’s own.  However, Smith isn’t a very interesting character.

42 soars when Jackie Robinson is on the screen, either when he’s dazzling the crowd on the field or fighting racists off it.  Harrison Ford’s dynamic Branch Rickey also adds strong support.  But whenever these two aren’t seen battling the racist forces against them, the film sags and plays like something you’d watch on the Biography channel.

Chadwick Boseman delivers a solid and courageous performance as Jackie Robinson.  His is a study in self-control.  When he’s forced to stand on the baseball field and listen to the horrible racial slurs yelled at him, and he knows he can’t say or do anything in retaliation, it’s so very painful to endure, and Boseman brings this pain to life.

 He reminded me a lot of a young Denzel Washington, and I could easily have seen Denzel playing this role in his younger days.  Boseman is also believable as a baseball player, as he has the athletic build for it.

 It was incredibly fun watching Harrison Ford play Branch Rickey in this movie, and I have to admit it might have been my favorite performance here.  Ford has never looked worse than he does in this movie, but that’s a good thing!  He looks old and grizzled, as he should.  Ford really brings Rickey to life, and he makes his motives for supporting Jackie Robinson believable.  He’s also blessed with the best lines in the movie.

Nicole Beharie is beautiful as Rachel Robinson, and she makes Rachel a very likable character.  However, the majority of Rachel’s scenes are away from all the turmoil, which sadly removes her from most of the drama.

Christopher Meloni from TV’s LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT and TRUE BLOOD adds fine support as manager Leo Durocher, who gets himself kicked out of major league baseball because he’s having an adulterous affair, on the eve of Robinson’s debut, forcing the Dodgers to start the season without a manager.

Durocher is replaced by Burt Shotton, played by Max Gail, who for us old guys, we remember as Maxwell Gail from the 1970s TV comedy BARNEY MILLER on which Gail was a regular.

Alan Tudyk wins the award for best scene stealing performance for his work as opposing manager Ben Chapman.  The scene where he hurls racial slurs at Robinson’s head like 100 mile per hour fastballs is the most uncomfortable scene in the movie.

 42 was written and directed by Brian Helgeland.  Helgeland has only directed a handful of movies, but he has a ton of writing credits, including having written the screenplays for A NIGHTMARE ON  ELM STREET 4 (1988), L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997), and MYSTIC RIVER (2003) to name just a few.  Some of the movies he’s written I’ve really liked, and some others not so much.

His script here for 42 is okay.  The angst-ridden scenes of racial turmoil are excellent.  They are the best part of the movie.  The baseball scenes are also very good.  But when the movie focuses on background drama – Jackie’s marriage, the birth of his son, how his teammates deal with all that’s going on, and so forth- it slumps a bit.

 The movie also could have used some humor.  There’s a funny scene where one of Robinson’s teammates tries to convince him that it’s okay to shower with the other guys, and it does a lot to ease the tension.  More scenes like this would have helped.

 I liked 42 very much. It tells an important story in American history, and it’s a story that is bigger than the game of baseball.   

That being said, to use a baseball analogy, 42 doesn’t swing for the fences.  It’s not trying to hit a homerun.  Instead, like Jackie Robinson, it seems content to get to first base, and then steal its way around the diamond, one base at a time, until it slides home.





Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes



Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at some of Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies.

Today we look at Cushing’s first performance as Sherlock Holmes, in the Hammer Film THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959), screenplay by Peter Bryan, based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Since this is a Hammer Film, this version of the famous Sherlock Holmes story emphasizes the supernatural and suspense elements.  It’s actually a great little movie, and I’ve always felt sad that Hammer didn’t make a series of Sherlock Holmes movies starring Peter Cushing. This was the only one they did.  Evidently, it didn’t do all that well at the box office.

Anyway, Peter Cushing makes for a phenomenal Sherlock Holmes, and he gets to deliver a host of memorable lines along the way.

We’ll start off with a Peter Cushing signature line, the type of line he might say in any number of his movies.  Van Helsing, for instance, easily could have uttered this line.

Watson (Andre Morell) has just discovered that Holmes (Peter Cushing) has secretly been investigating the moors outside Baskerville Hall gathering information.  Holmes turns to Watson and utters a grave warning to his friend.

HOLMES:  “There is more evil around us here than I have ever encountered before.”

I’ll say!  The Hound from Hell is patrolling these moors!


Later in the movie, Holmes believes Sir Henry Baskerville’s (Christopher Lee) life to be in danger if he visits the Stapleton family.  Now, the Stapletons have invited Sir Henry, Holmes, and Watson to dinner, and since Sir Henry has feelings for Stapleton’s daughter, he’s eager to go.  Holmes needs to avoid joining them so he can be free to protect Sir Henry from a distance.

To do this, he’s purposely rude to Sir Henry, mocking him for socializing with poor peasants.

SIR HENRY: I wouldn’t dream of going without you.

HOLMES:  My dear Sir Henry, if you really wanted us to come with you, you’d have told us about the invitation much sooner than this.  You’d better be off.  You mustn’t be late for your peasant friends.

SIR HENRY:  I don’t like that Holmes.

HOLMES:  I don’t like the people you’re mixing with.  I should have thought in your new position you would have cultivated worthier friends.  I hope you enjoy their rabbit pie.


Cushing has such a way with lines like this.  When Christopher Lee’s Sir Henry storms off in an angry huff, you know exactly how he feels.


When Holmes is confronting the irritating pompous Dr. Mortimer (Francis De Wolff) he has had all he can take from the annoying man. He sets up the doctor for a dramatic revelation.

 HOLMES:  Strange things are to be found on the moors.  Like this, for instance!”

 Upon which Holmes hurls a dagger onto the table, its sharp point stabbing the wood.


Early in the movie, as Holmes and Watson agree to honor Dr. Mortimer’s request to travel to Baskerville Hall to protect Sir Henry Baskerville, the wheels of how he will handle this case are already turning inside Holmes’ head.  He sets up the situation so that Watson will go on ahead, leaving him free to conduct undercover work.

When Sir Henry suggests they leave today, Holmes feigns disappointment, but then comes up with a brilliant suggestion.

SIR HENRY: If you attach so much importance to this, why don’t you come down to Dartmoor with me today?  You can pack before the train leaves.

HOLMES (shocked): “You’re going today?  I can’t possibly leave town until the end of the week at least.   (But then, the brilliant suggestion.)  Watson? You’re free at the moment, aren’t you?


And we wrap things up with a look at Holmes’ dire warning to Sir Henry, about keeping off the moors.

HOLMES: I must insist upon one thing. Under no circumstances are you to go out onto the moors at night.

Wise advice, echoed years later in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981):  Stay off the moors!


Hammer Films’ THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) is highly recommended.  It features one of Peter Cushing’s best performances, as Sherlock Holmes.

That’s it for now.  See you again next time.


RED LIGHTS (2012) Screeches To A Halt


Red Lights - PosterStreaming Video Review:  RED LIGHTS (2012)


Michael Arruda

I settled in to watch the thriller RED LIGHTS (2012), now available on Streaming Video, expecting to see a battle between two cinematic heavyweights, Sigourney Weaver vs. Robert De Niro, but sadly the movie doesn’t play out this way, and the two actors, who play adversarial characters in this story, don’t even get to share any screen time.  Bummer.

In RED LIGHTS, psychologist and professional skeptic Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) travels the nation with her young assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) debunking false psychics and mediums.  They’re sort of “myth busters” for paranormal occurrences.  Early on, they assist a family whose house is “haunted,” and it doesn’t take them long to show that the young medium “helping” the family is really nothing more than a talented hair dresser, and the strange noises are caused by the family’s young daughter who wants to move back to their previous home.

When taking on “professional psychics” who fill entire auditoriums with people eager to receive the benefits of their psychic abilities and healing powers, Margaret and Tom break out the high tech equipment to expose these frauds.

Meanwhile, the most famous psychic in the country, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement after a nearly 30 year absence from the public scene.  Young Tom is eager to take on Simon and prove that the master is a fraud, but Margaret wants no part of Silver.  She considers him too dangerous, especially since thirty years before during his last performance, the man who was close to exposing him died under mysterious circumstances.

When pressed by a TV interviewer to talk about this suspicious death, Silver explains that his skeptics’ accusations that he had anything to do with the man’s death are bogus and nonsensical, because on the one hand, they’re calling him a fake, yet on the other, they’re saying he used his “powers” to kill his critic.

Up until this point, I was really into this movie.  I had completely bought into its premise, and I was looking forward to the efforts which Margaret and Tom would employ to try to prove that Simon was a fraud.  However, the story takes a dramatic turn, completely removing Margaret from the picture, leaving Tom to face Simon on his own.

Tom brings in his beautiful young student assistant Sally Owen (Elizabeth Olsen) to help out, and the rest of the movie pits these two young skeptics against the master psychic Simon, whose powers seem too formidable to be phony.

The film’s downhill spiral continues towards an improbable twist ending that flies in the face of its earlier message of healthy skepticism.

For a movie that starts off so well, RED LIGHTS surprisingly loses its momentum and eventually becomes a disappointment.  It’s really two completely different halves.  The first half is compelling and interesting, whereas the second is melodramatic and sensationalistic, and nowhere near as intriguing as its beginning.  And it’s topped off by a weak twist ending that just doesn’t work.  RED LIGHTS truly is a mixed bag.

The first half of RED LIGHTS really belongs to Sigourney Weaver.  Her psychologist/skeptic Margaret Matheson is a fascinating character who really deserves an entire movie about her, not just half a movie.  Margaret is a veteran psychologist, she’s been doing this for years, and she makes for a very formidable character. I really liked her.  I also liked her motivations.  Her adult son has been in a coma and on life support for years, and she admits that she has selfishly kept him on life support because all of her investigations have consistently turned up the same results, that there is nothing supernatural or otherworldly out there, or in her son’s case, there’s no after life.

It’s a great performance by Weaver, much more memorable than her recent appearances in THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012) and THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011).  She really brings Margaret to life, and she does this in just half a movie.  Imagine how good she would have been had she been in the whole thing!  It’s her best work since AVATAR (2009).

Like the second half of the movie, Robert De Niro’s performance as psychic Simon Silver is overdramatic and not that satisfying.  De Niro used to be able to create very uncomfortable characters.  His Simon Silver should be one very unsavory man, yet De Niro doesn’t seem to get inside this guy’s head.  Instead of coming off as threatening, he comes off as angry.  De Niro’s recent performance in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012) was much more satisfying.

RED LIGHTS is really about Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) as he emerges as the story’s central character, and Cillian Murphy in fact does receive top billing here.  But as a character, Tom is never as interesting as Margaret or Simon Silver.  RED LIGHTS is clearly a story that should have been about these two veteran characters, not the young whippersnapper.  Of course, Tom has to be the central character here because he’s part of the twist ending, but this twist doesn’t work, and this movie would have been better both without it and without Tom as its main focus.

I like Cillian Murphy a lot, and I’ve enjoyed his performances in INCEPTION (2010) and in Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy, and he’s fine here.  The problem is he’s overshadowed by Weaver and De Niro, and once Weaver is gone, she leaves a void that Murphy isn’t able to fill.

The very cute Elizabeth Olsen fares better here in a supporting role as Sally Owen than she did in the awful horror movie SILENT HOUSE (2011).

Writer/director Rodrigo Cortes sets up an intriguing first half to this thriller but then takes it in a direction that is less believable and ultimately less satisfying than its start.  Frankly, skeptic Margaret Matheson would never believe how this story plays out, and neither did I.

Instead of an intelligent drama about the efforts to disprove a fraudulent psychic, the movie switches gears and becomes a dramatic thriller about supernatural powers on the loose.

Red lights refers to a term used by Margaret to identify “tells” the frauds use in their work.  For example, in one instance, the “red lights” are people used by a phony faith healer to find information about his audience.  This term is used again when Tom and Sally investigate Simon, as they look for “red lights” to expose him.

Sadly, this thought-provoking idea is largely wasted, and when the twist ending rears its ugly head, all thought and intellect earlier employed in this story are rendered moot.

It has a captivating premise, but RED LIGHTS shifts gears midway through, slowing down, before eventually coming to an abrupt stop.

Fitting, I guess, since stopping is what you’re supposed to do when you come to a red light.


FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR – Blurbs and Interview


For The Love Of Horror cover

Dracula & Frankenstein interview me about my short story collection

Dracula & Frankenstein interview me about my short story collection

Here’s what some people are saying about my short story collection, FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.com:

“One thing you’ll notice about this story collection is how entertaining it is. For the Love of Horror is an apt title, because you can tell how much Arruda loves the genre, and you will, too.”

L.L. Soares, author of Life Rage and Rock ‘n’ Roll

“Michael Arruda’s For the Love of Horror is a brutal collection of stories, using well-imagined villains in a way that keeps the reader guessing and thoroughly disturbed…in a fun way.”

Tracy L. Carbone, author of Restitution

“Michael Arruda has a knack for creating immensely clever stories that step outside of the norm, turning your expectations, and your nerves, on edge. His first collection of short fiction is an event worth celebrating!”

Daniel G. Keohane, author of Christmas Trees & Monkeys

 And for more insight on my collection, here’s an excerpt from an interview that I did recently, conducted by two very good friends of mine, the FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER and COUNT DRACULA.


FRANKENSTEIN:  Your short story collection— good!

ARRUDA:  Well, thank you.  I’d like to think so.

DRACULA:  To write such stories—that must be glorious!

ARRUDA:  I try, but to be honest, I struggled with this one.

DRACULA:  Struggled?

ARRUDA:  Yes.  I ran into some problems that I felt I was never able to fully resolve.  I have to be honest here and say I wasn’t satisfied with my finished product.

FRANKENSTEIN:  Finished product— bad?

ARRUDA:  Well, I don’t know about that.  It’s not as good as I wanted it to be, let’s put it that way.

One of the problems I faced was I wanted to write a cool wraparound story, but the more I wrote, the more I wanted to flesh it out, but I resisted turning it into a full-fledged narrative because I didn’t want to turn the book into a novel.  Now that it’s all said and done, I’m not sure it worked.  But it was fun trying!

FRANKENSTEIN:  Trying, good!  (lights match)  Frying, bad!

DRACULA:  What else about your work did you find— troub-ling?

ARRUDA:  Some of the stories I wrote specifically for this collection, to move the narrative along, work more like chapters in a novel rather than separate short stories.  I’m not sure this worked either.

DRACULA:  Why didn’t you change it?

ARRUDA:  I definitely put the stories through various edits and rewrites, but—.

(A wolf howls.)

DRACULA:  Listen to them!  The children of the night.  What music they make!  Excuse me.  What were you saying?

ARRUDA:  I was talking about the stories I wrote specifically for this collection.

I went back and forth with edits more times than I can remember, but I read some other short story collections, and I found that oftentimes the stories ended in the strangest places, and I thought, other stories end this way, why can’t mine?

DRACULA:  Are you- disappointed with the collection?

ARRUDA:  Not at all.  I just don’t think I accomplished what I wanted to. You can’t win them all.

I did have fun connecting old short stories that when I wrote them originally had nothing to do with each other.  It was fun finding common themes and then molding them into a cohesive work.  And that I think worked.

But ultimately it comes down to the quality of the writing.  To me, the writing process is always a work in progress, and each story I produce I hope is better than the last one, and so I hope that whatever I churn out next is in fact better.

The trick is to do it consistently, and that’s something I haven’t done yet.  I think my movie reviews are consistently solid, but when it comes to fiction, I’m still looking for that string of hits.  Some day.

FRANKENSTEIN:  Short stories— good!

ARRUDA:  Gee, thanks.  I appreciate your kind words.

DRACULA:  To celebrate.   (Holds a wine bottle for ARRUDA to see.)  This is very old wine.

ARRUDA:  Great!  Better wine than blood!

DRACULA:  I never drink— wine.

ARRUDA (grabs bottle):  Then I’ll just take this to go.  Thanks, guys, for the neat interview!


Never Too Late- SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Still Delivers





Michael Arruda


When is it too late to see a movie at the theater?  Why, never of course!

We’ve gotten so used to seeing movies on their opening weekends, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “I don’t want to see it.  It’s been out too long.  I’ve already heard too much about it.”  I say, it’s never too late to see a movie on the big screen.

Take SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012), for example.  It was one of those movies which I’d missed- it had fallen through the cracks- but I really did want to see it on the big screen, so I ventured out on a recent Thursday night- the last night the film was scheduled to play in my area- and watched it with one other person sitting in the theater with me.

 Was it as an exhilarating experience as catching it in an opening night theater abuzz with a loud and energetic opening night crowd?  No, I can’t say that it was.  Had I heard more than I wanted about the movie already?  Sure.  But that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of seeing the film on the big screen.

 Of course, it didn’t hurt that SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a very good movie.  And in keeping with the theme that it’s never too late to see a movie on the big screen, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK has as its central theme that it’s never too late in life to go after what you want.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is released from a stint in a mental institution, ordered there by a court to deal with anger issues after he had found his wife in the shower with a co-worker and beat the co-worker nearly to death.  Pat also suffers from bi-polar disorder.  He’s taken home by his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) where he’ll live temporarily with her and his dad Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).

He develops a friendship with the quirky sex-addicted Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) but barely notices her because he’s determined to the point of obsession of winning his wife back.  But Tiffany is persistent, and when she offers to help Pat get back together with his wife, by delivering a letter to her, which he can’t do since there’s a court order for him to avoid all forms of contact with her, he begins to pay Tiffany attention, and when she convinces him to take part in a dance competition with her, their relationship deepens, to the point where you really want to see them overcome their obstacles and get together.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a poignant story, often disturbing, sometimes funny, about second chances in life, about seeing the positives in spite of all the negatives, and about connections people make and whether or not these connections can survive the muck of human existence that gets in the way of relationships.

 I’ve become a big fan of Bradley Cooper, from his humorous turns in THE HANGOVER movies to more dramatic roles in LIMITLESS (2011).  He’s great here once again, making a complicated man like Pat very sympathetic and likeable.

Jennifer Lawrence really does steal the show here as Tiffany, and her Oscar win for Best Actress was well deserved.  I really enjoyed her in THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) but she’s so much better here.  As Tiffany, she delivers a powerhouse performance, creating a woman who’s explosive, volatile, and strong, one who is able to cut through all the distractions and problems in Pat’s world and make him pay attention.  You’ll be paying attention too.

Robert De Niro, as the OCD suffering Pat Sr., delivers one of his most satisfying performances in years. He cares deeply for his son, yet he can’t seem to do right by him, as he’s constantly losing his patience around him.  Yet De Niro is very likeable as Pat Sr., and enjoys a key scene late in the game where he finally says the right thing at the right time.

Jacki Weaver is also memorable as Dolores, and Chris Tucker shines in a supporting role as Danny, Pat’s friend from the institution who keeps showing up at Pat’s door saying he’s been allowed out when he’s really escaped.  Anupam Kher is also a hoot as Dr. Cliff Patel, Pat’s therapist. 

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK was written and directed by David O. Russell, and his screenplay was based on the novel by Matthew Quick.  The fact that it’s based on a novel comes as no surprise because this one plays like a novel, with deep, rich characters who are more complicated and fleshed out than your typical movie character.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a thoroughly satisfying movie from start to finish.  It has great acting and a thought-provoking emotional story that grabs you from the outset and takes you along for an entertaining ride.  I’ve heard many people grumble that it shouldn’t have been up for Best Picture, but I’m glad it was nominated. 

I enjoyed its story about characters who really have to work hard to succeed in their relationships.  These folks all have baggage, hang-ups, and difficulties.  They strive for happiness and they struggle to treat those around them, family and friends, the way they want to.  They want to treat them well, but more often than not, they don’t.  SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK presents us with characters like ourselves, stuck in struggles we often feel powerless to overcome, yet always with the desire to make connections with others and to do right by those we know and care for.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK  is a movie that tells the truth about flawed people and their relationships.  Yet it’s not a downer by any means.  Sure, there are parts that are painful to watch, but for the most part, the humor works to offset the hopelessness.

We root for these folks, and we want to see them succeed even though we know the road to happiness is paved with pain and uncertainty.  Anything less would just be a silver lining.



Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in HORROR EXPRESS

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in HORROR EXPRESS

This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on the Christopher Lee – Peter Cushing horror movie HORROR EXPRESS (1972) is now up in the April edition of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.

It’s a reprint of a column which originally was published in the HWA NEWSLETTER in April 2006.  And remember you can read all of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT EBook, available now at www.neconebooks.com.

HORROR EXPRESS is one of my favorite Peter Cushing-Christopher Lee movies, and I had fun writing about this one.  Hope you enjoy it.





Michael Arruda


You gotta see HORROR EXPRESS (1972), at least once, anyway.

Though it stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it’s not a Hammer Film, and this actually works in the film’s favor, because as a result of not being part of the “Hammer formula” it’s offbeat and refreshing.  It’s an international production, Spanish-British, filmed just outside Madrid at a studio that Christopher Lee described in his autobiography Tall, Dark, and Gruesome as “unspeakable.”   “The food was deadly, salmonella the principal sauce,” Lee wrote.

HORROR EXPRESS was written and directed by Gene (Eugenio) Martin on the same train sets from the movie NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (1971), which the producer owned.

Christopher Lee plays anthropologist Sir Alexander Saxton who brings a fossil of what he hopes will be the missing link on the Trans-Siberian Express.  The frozen remains of the “man-ape” causes a stir before it even makes it onto the train.  A thief attempts to break into the crate housing the fossil, but ends up dead and inexplicably blind.  Peter Cushing plays rival scientist Dr. Wells, also on board the train.

Once the train starts moving, the monster escapes from the crate and the fun begins. 

Perhaps the most fun part about this movie is the script by director Gene Martin.  HORROR EXPRESS is not your run of the mill monster on the loose movie.  The script fills the tale with twists and turns that keep you guessing throughout.  It turns out, that the monster is not just an ape-man creature gone amok.  There’s much more going on here, which I won’t give away. 

The monster itself is quite chilling looking with frightening make-up and glowing red eyes.

You can’t talk about HORROR EXPRESS without talking about the performances.  The whole cast is good, particularly Alberto de Mendoza as the priest, Pujardov, and Julio Pena as the police inspector.  Of course, you have Lee and Cushing, and the most fun part about their performances in this movie, is that, unlike most of their films, where they’re adversaries, one the good guy, the other the villain, here, they work together against a common enemy.  They’re both given star screen time too, it’s not like one’s the star, and the other just has a cameo.  They’re both on screen doing their thing, and it’s tons of fun watching them work together taking on a deadly creature.

HORROR EXPRESS is also blessed with an abundance of humor.  For instance, in one scene, Cushing approaches his middle-aged female assistant to help him with an autopsy, and he says, “I shall need some assistance.”  She glances at the young woman he’s been having dinner with on the train and says, “Well, at your age, I’m not surprised.”

And just when you think the film can’t get any more unpredictable, who shows up but TELLY SAVALAS (!!!) (Yes, the original KOJAK himself!) as the ruthless Cossack, Captain Kazan, who stops the train with his regiment of brutal soldiers. 

Savalas gets to ham it up and deliver lines like, “The devil must be afraid of one honest Cossack,” (Or was that, “The devil must be afraid of one honest Cossack, baby?”).  The only thing missing is the lollipop in his mouth.  He even gets to bully Lee and Cushing.  It’s great stuff.  You’ll never forget it.

The film has a gory, bloody conclusion.  In fact, there’re generous amounts of blood and gore throughout HORROR EXPRESS.

There’s also a haunting music score by John Cavacas.

 Ready for a vacation?  Take a trip on the HORROR EXPRESS.  You’ll have fun, but be wary of bald Cossacks sucking lollipops.