Tag Archives: movies

Vilify Me.

19 Sep

Well, maybe not me. Them. But then, they deserve it. When one is trapped in a car with other humans for longish periods of time, one may find themselves engaging in odd conversations. In this case, I am The One, and as The One, I was talking to Lauren about my own work and why one of my projects did it for me so much – namely The Devil’s Due. The short answer is . . . I love my villain in that book. I think I got it right. Lauren, to her credit, nodded and agreed and didn’t say anything derogatory about my portrayal of Azazel, so I’m going to take that as I AGREE, BEST FRIEND THING, THAT YOU ARE AWESOME IN FICTION and take a bow.

In the meanwhile, though, it got me thinking “What MAKES a good villain?” Complicated question, that. I think understanding the bad character’s motives is the most essential piece – why does Bad Person X act the way they do? Can I wrap my mind around their actions? I understand the concept of malevolence for the sake of malevolence (the Japanese love their Angry Ghost For No Reason thing, and the movie The Strangers did a hell of a job of making the “WE’RE EVIL JUST CAUSE WE CAN BE” thing terrifying) but I think writers have to be careful with that particular trope. It’s overdone and most of the time, done poorly. For a bad guy to really get under my/our skin, it’s good for people to understand the baddy’s head space. Mind you, we might not agree with their twisted (and often psychotic) world view, but nothing is scarier than a villain who does things for reasons we can ALMOST get behind.

Making a villain likable on some bizarre level makes them dimensional. Dimensional makes them more relatable and thus . . . much more terrifying. It makes us think about ourselves and what deep, dark, mangled little things squirm at our cores.

So I decided I’d put together a list of some of my favorite villains. I even explain why I like them so much and in some cases, why they were on the list as opposed to other villains of the same genre. Really? I just talk a lot and put a lot of pictures up. Act surprised!

15. Shere Khan, The Jungle Book

He Will Eat You On Toast

Right off the bat people are probably going to disagree with me, but that’s okay! I had to pick between Jeremy Irons’ portrayal of Scar in The Lion King and this, and I went with the 1967 villain instead of the more recent one. Why? Because I always felt that Scar took a page out of Shere Khan’s book – as in he wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without some help from an earlier bad-guy-talking-animal. Not to sound like a hipster douchebag, but SHERE KHAN DID IT FIRST sorta goes on repeat whenever I hear people talk about how awesome Scar is. I know, I know “the only thing in common is they both have English accents!” Not true. There’s a certain /style/ to the villainy that carries over. Watch both movies and do a compare and contrast. I’m pretty sure you’ll get my meaning. The Disney writers definitely looked back before they looked forward in this case. Both villains are fantastic, but I’m going to give the nod to Tony The Tiger On Roids.

14. Malcolm McDowell as Alex, A ClockWork Orange

I actually didn’t like A ClockWork Orange if I’m being totally honest. The movie was heavy handed with its message, and I found a lot of the violence done more for shock value than advancing story, but I can appreciate what a great villain Alex was. You could see that Alex enjoyed what he was doing, hurting others. He liked being powerful and seeing others afraid. He raped, beat, and stabbed those not willing to go along with his horrible ideas, and every terrible thing done fueled his next Bad Plan. He got off on being wicked, and you could tell that he’d go on like that forever if there weren’t consequences for his actions. He made being bad look SO FUN, and in making it look fun, it made him scary. It made me as a watcher question if I’d like lording fear over others, and if I would, what does that say about me?

13. Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean

What A Jaunty Hat!

There is something so utterly likable about Geoffrey Rush. I don’t know if I can properly explain it, but let me put it this way – if I had a list of “people you could randomly have lunch with just because”, Geoffrey Rush would be on that list. He seems so damned approachable. And that’s why Barbossa is an amazing villain. You can get behind him. He’s funny and has as much flair as Cap’n Jack. He’s a very bad man, and yet you can forget it when he’s feeding his evil undead monkey or barking orders at his crew. There’s also a definitive creep factor to him too, though, and that’s what makes him so fantastic. I recently watched the first Pirates movie again, and was struck by how unsettling the scene is with Keira Knightly eating food at Barbossa’s table. He’s staring at her, longing all over his face. Maybe it’s because she’s a pretty girl, or maybe it’s because he misses the taste of that apple just that much. It’s intense and weird, and all because Geoffrey Rush is an amazing actor who did great things with a great character concept.

12. Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

We all learn to be afraid of the doctor’s office as a kid. The doctor wants to give us a shot, and the shot is going to hurt. The good news — at least for me anyway — was that most of the time the doctor or the nurse that treated me would give me a sticker or a lollipop afterwards. They were very nice and would pat me on the head and say I’d been very brave even if I’d thrown an enormous tantrum. Nurse Ratched would have jabbed me in the eye with the needle and then punched me in the face as a follow up. And she would have been so even keel about doing it, I never would have seen it coming. The thing that’s so UGLY about Nurse Ratched is how she never gets excitable, never gets above ten miles per hour when she’s doing her evil nurse thing. She’s so temperate it’s inhuman, and combining someone inhuman with the healthcare industry? Yeah, that’s the stuff of nightmares. She’s a little piece of doctor’s office hell.

11. Heath Ledger as The Joker, The Dark Knight

Smile!

The thing I find the most admirable about Heath Ledger’s performance in this movie is the HUGE MOUNTAIN he had to climb before he even got onto the screen, namely overcoming everyone’s admiration of Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the same character twenty years before. It’s a bit like walking into a kitchen as a new chef and being told that the old chef was Gordon Ramsay and GOOD LUCK WITH THAT. He had to play an iconic villain and put his own spin on it, and he did it beautifully. Instead of going for the campy mustache twirling of the 60’s Batman, or Nicholson’s malevolent-yet-lovable gangster clown gone wrong, Ledger made The Joker FUCKING PSYCHOTIC. He was scary. The scene where he’s threatening to cut a smile into a woman’s face at the party? Terrifying. I squirmed in my seat. He twitched and licked his lips, his eyes darted all over. He was nervous and jumpy, a makeup smeared poster child for “This is what doing too much Ritalin can and will do to you”. Fantastic villain.

10. Kevin Kline as Otto, A Fish Called Wanda

When you think of comedies, you think of the funnies associated with the plot line, not necessary the plot. You also don’t tend to think too much about the villain giving the good guys all the trouble. Then there’s Kevin Kline. A Fish Called Wanda is a hysterical movie — one of my favorites — with a stellar ensemble cast, and yet if you ask everyone who they loved the most after the movie, it’s not those Monty Python guys they talk about. It’s Kevin Kline as the assassin. He won an Oscar for his portrayal of Wanda’s other lover and it was well-deserved. Not only was he funny, he was also believably dangerous. It’s not too often that you’ll slap a comedic bad guy alongside the likes of Nurse Ratched, but I have no compunction about doing so with this particular pick.

9. Daniel-Day Lewis as Bill The Butcher, Gangs of New York

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of those actors everyone hates working with. He pretty much becomes whoever or whatever he is playing, to the point he probably ran around the set of Gangs wielding sharp objects and threatening to shank the other actors. In this case (and admittedly in most cases – the guy’s amazing) it worked beautifully. Bill the Butcher is a racist asshole who runs the town, who’s more than willing to cut anyone and anything down to maintain his control. Those who are stupid enough to cross him die horrible, painful deaths. And yet. And yet those he cares for he’s overly kind to, like he’s trying to make up for his atrocities by loving his inner circle THAT much. The thing about Gangs that’s so brilliant, though, is right as you’re about to get behind Bill the Butcher and say “ahh hell, he’s not so bad” Bill does something so savage and bloody, you recoil and wonder what the fuck you were thinking. But for a few minutes? You start to believe he’s a great guy, and that’s what makes him so frightening.

8. Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, The Shining

HEEEERE'S A CLICHE!

If you’ve ever read Stephen King’s book, Jack Torrance is something of a tragic character. He’s a flawed bum just like you or me who made some bad decisions, but he wants to make it right. He wants to turn a corner on the bad and get back on the straight and narrow, and he takes this job at The Overlook to do just that. How could he know it was a haunted hotel? The beauty of King’s text is that Jack’s decline is so slow, it’s painful to watch. He’s besieged by his surroundings and it breaks down all of those good intentions. The remarkable thing about Jack Nicholson’s performance, then, is that he managed to hint at this while staying brutally intense throughout. You can see him teetering on that dark precipice from the beginning. Without having a really good reason to say so, you just know from five minutes in things are going to go badly for this guy, and it makes you uneasy from the onset.

7. Kevin Spacey as . . . Oh Fuck. Just Pick Something.

Except Lex Luthor because that movie sucked. Anyway, Kevin Spacey is amazing. We all know this. The problem, then, is which villain do I put on the list? Do I put the serial killer from Se7en? I certainly want to. That movie made me feel dirty watching it. I one hundred percent bought into Spacey’s portrayal as John Doe, the religious zealot trying to point out human flaws with crimes embodying the seven deadly sins. When Spacey’s sitting in the back seat of the car talking about wrath and the wrath crime has yet to be discovered by the unsuspecting cops, there’s almost too much tension. You know whatever it is, it’s going to be awful just like the last few crimes. Conversely, do I put The Usual Suspects on this list? Cause he deserves kudos for that, too. Or, wait, he was in . . . fuck it. Kevin Spacey rocks.

6. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, Inglorious Basterds

Trying to pick a Tarantino villain for the list was hard. There’s Bill from Kill Bill, and Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs. There’s bad guys galore in Pulp Fiction and Stuntman Mike from Deathproof. In the end, though, I went for Hans Landa. First off, he’s a Nazi, so the likelihood of us relating to this character is slim to none. The thing about Waltz’a portrayal of Landa, though, is that he’s so bon vivant about it, like waking up and reporting in to the SS is a delightful task and la-tee-da. He’s such a casual character, his evil so off the cuff it’s bizarre to watch. Where other villains brood and psycho their way into storylines, Hans Landa waltzes, smokes a cigar, and smiles. It’s the most blase portrayal of a homicidal douchebag I’ve ever seen, and that’s what I think works about it.

5. Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, Misery

COCKADOODY.

She doesn’t really swear, she smiles too much, and her home is warm and inviting. Sort of. She’s a huge fan of your work and she’s more than willing to nurse you back to health while you recover from a terrible car accident. She’ll fluff your pillows and cook you soup. She’s also a fucking psycho who’s going to hobble your ass when you try to leave her house. Kathy Bates takes a terrifying character from literature and breathes life into her. It’s Pygmalion from Hell. I remember seeing the movie for the first time, laying eyes on Kathy Bates, and going YES. YES, THAT. Because she nailed it. She took Stephen King’s horrible creation and made it her own. She became Annie Wilkes and turned her into an iconic figure of feminine terror. Your Old Aunt Gerdy has gone around the bend, and she’s going to beat you to death with her collection of Boston Terrier Statuettes, and you won’t know if you should scream or thank her for the money she sent in your Christmas card last year.

4. Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty

“But Hillary, where’s the Evil Queen from Snow White?” Okay look, it was a toss up. They are cut from the same cloth. They’re two evil bitches who want to kill a young innocent girl for selfish, horrible reasons. Let me tell you why I picked Maleficent over The Wicked Queen. One, she turns into a dragon. Two, SHE TURNS INTO A DRAGON. Three, SHE TURNS INTO A FUCKING DRAGON, GUYS. A more serious answer? The voice acting on Maleficent is spectacular, plus she’s the first Disney character to curse (she actually says the word Hell, and that was a big deal back in the day.) She’s similar to The Wicked Queen, but I feel like this is a perfected version. Where Shere Khan and Scar were a situation of “derivative do-over”, I feel like this is an instance where they looked back and actually improved upon an earlier version, and that’s saying something. The Wicked Queen was pretty bad ass. Oh, did I mention MALEFICENT TURNS INTO A DRAGON?

3. Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch Of The West, The Wizard of Oz

I'LL GET YOU, MY PRETTY. AND YOUR LITTLE DOUCHEBAG, TOO.

You knew she was coming. And what can I say about her really? As a wee tot, I’d sit for the annual television showing of The Wizard of Oz despite knowing I was going to shit Twinkies the moment the Wicked Witch came on screen. Her cackle, her evil trees, her bony fuckin’ hands . . . she scared the crap out of me. Now that I’m older, I’m not afraid anymore, but I can’t help being impressed by a woman who hires dung-flinging aerial simians to do her dirty work. That’s clever, way before its time. And, if we’re being really fair here, The Wicked Witch had a pretty good reason to get her bitch on with Dorothy – Dorothy stole her dead sister’s shoes. If I had a sister and someone took her cool stuff without asking me first? I’d be pretty furious, too.

2. Darth Vader (Vit Your Little Boots And Cape), Star Wars

If you clicked that link, I bet you want to smack me right now. Sorry! Anyway, Darth Vader’s iconic despite being a pasty-faced robo-man. The interesting part about him? The actor doesn’t do a whole lot beneath the mask. It’s all about the James Earl voice acting. It’s stellar. It’s exactly what you need it to be – dark, brooding, evil, and yet refined too. I’m not a Star Wars fan in general — PLEASE DON’T HIT ME HAMMARYN — but I can understand why it’s got the followers it has, and I can also understand why Vader set the bar for villains in the Sci Fi/Fantasy film genre. (Sidenote: I almost put a picture of Rick Moranis up from Spaceballs, but I figured someone would sic a rabid raccoon on me, so . . . idea banished. For now.)

1. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, The Silence Of The Lambs

Someone told me a story once, I think it may have been my mother, that when this movie went into the cinemas, Anthony Hopkins decided to go watch the audience to see their reaction to it first hand. I don’t recall a lot of hoopla about the launch of Silence, it was more a darling after it won every Oscar ever, so it didn’t get massive attention and massive release. Anyway, Hopkins goes into the movie theater, sits in the back, and watches people watching his movie. When it was over, people were gushing. Sir Hopkins tapped one gentleman on the shoulder, asked him how he liked it, and the man shrieked and /ran away/. I’d have done the same damned thing. Lecter has a casual approach to his badness (a bit of what I talked about with Hans Landa). He’s a refined gentleman who just so happens to FUCKING MURDER PEOPLE AND EAT THEM. He’s smarter than you on every possible level, so he’s the ultimate predator, which I think is what makes him so bloody terrifying. He was also given some of the best lines in a movie ever. “So I hate his liver with some fava beans . . . ” You can finish it, can’t you? I know I can. It’s going to take a lot to convince me that Lecter isn’t the best of the bad when it comes to movie villains.

*****

So, have at the list. What did you like, not like? What would you change or add? I’d be interested to see which villains stuck with you and why! AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION TIME!

What IS Bad Assery?

5 Feb

If you asked everyone what scene in a movie embodies “Cool” and “Bad Ass”, I bet they’d all have a different answer. I know David and I have had a few conversations about this, and he says one of his friends claims this scene from Kill Bill is THE COOLEST THING IN THE UNIVERSE:

The thing I love about this particular example is O-Ren Ishii doesn’t even do anything except walk into a building, and yet you know from the music, the way the other characters follow her, the way the establishment owners pander to her, and her own completely flat expression that this woman commands a lot of respect. The weapon on her back is just a tease at that point, a promise of future awesome you can’t help but look forward to.

Another obvious example would be Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name:

There are three common elements apparent in both of these examples:

– Violence or the Promise of Violence
– Characters Oozing Confidence
– A Killer Soundtrack

So are these elements required for badassery? Hrmm.

It seems like a surefire bet, doesn’t it? Mix bravado with a little bit of style, add in a dash of sneering know-better wit and some intense chords, and voila, the movie bad ass is born. I could (if I wanted to) go on a complete and utter link fest of examples that would prove the formula right. The problem is the out-of-left field examples of badassery. Don’t know what I mean?

And even this!

Okay so now we have a new set of examples:

– Wizened old man giving sage advice
– Amazing soundtrack
– An incredible speaking voice

These two things really couldn’t be more disparate, could they? The soundtrack thing is there, of course, but music can make or break any mood in film. Shawshank definitely didn’t have any guns blazing in it, though, and Lord of the Rings was . . . well. It was Lord of the Rings. I suppose you could argue Gandalf’s defining moments would be on the bridge with the balrog or maybe his reveal as the new white wizard in Towers, but this scene was far more effective to me. The delivery of his message gave me tingles.

So I suppose the question is, if you had to pinpoint something in a movie that is the epitome of cool, what would you pick and more importantly, why? What elements make it so effective?

Stargate: Universe

11 Dec

I’ll give you guys a break on the apocalypse this week, and talk about one of my other very favorite things: Stargate.


I probably ought to clarify a bit: I’m the kind of fan who would probably make other, more hardcore Stargate fans weep. I stopped watching Stargate: SG:1 at some point. I think I’ve seen five minutes of Stargate: Atlantis. They’re shows I intend to come back to. Someday. When I get around to it. (I notice, as I type this, that all ten seasons of SG:1 are on Hulu. So maybe I’ll add it to ye olde queue.)

Every now and then, as we’re watching Stargate: Universe, I’ll turn to Greg and ask him to fill in a bit of backstory they’re alluding to. He watched more than I did.

And yet, I still count myself a fan. The original movie is one of my all-time favorites. Yes, I know it’s cheesy in places. Yes, I know there are better films out there — both in the SF genre and overall. But it’s still a movie that, if I come across it while flipping channels, I’ll put the remote down and watch.

Some of it’s easy to explain. When I was in, oh, second grade or so, the King Tut exhibit came to the Museum of Science in Boston. That sparked a lifelong interest in ancient Egypt and Egyptian mythology. Stargate is steeped in that, even if the worldbuilding and plot veer quickly away from what you and I might know about that time period.

Then there’s James Spader. I like him. Shut up.

It’s pretty to look at, it’s got action and drama and romance. In a pyramid. In space.

I liked the actors they found to replace Kurt Russell and James Spader in SG:1. Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks quickly became Col. O’Neill and Daniel Jackson for me. The cast was fun, the adventures were familiar and fresh. I liked Amanda Tapping’s Carter and Christopher Judge’s Te’alc. Honestly, I think the only reason I stopped watching it was because it got moved to a different day and time when it left Showtime.

Then I sort of lost touch with it. Now and then I’d catch an odd episode and try to suss out what I’d missed. Sometimes it was easy enough, other times I was lost. (The Ori? What the hell’s an Ori?) But it wasn’t for lack of interest, just lack of time. I’m kind of a completionist, and prefer to watch a series in order, if I can.

I shied away from Stargate: Atlantis for the same reason. I’m fairly certain it could stand alone, but it felt weird, watching it without knowing what had happened with SG:1.

Along came Stargate: Universe. It had a lot going for it: I missed SG:1. Battlestar: Galactica was over, and Eureka was, I believe, between seasons. Then John Scalzi announced he’d been tapped as the show’s creative consultant, and I knew it was time to give it another go.

A season and a half in, and I haven’t been disappointed. The writing is excellent, and the actors are stellar.

Dr. Rush (Robert Carlyle) is threatening to steal Daniel Jackson’s place in my heart — a tortured genius who may or may not have his own agenda (okay, he does), who believes that the mission of the Destiny (the ship on which they’re all trapped) is more important than anything else.

Duke it out, gents.

 

I have two other favorite characters: Eli (David Blue) who is, at the start of the series, just a gamer nerd living at home with his mom. He cracks the language of the Ancients because the military put it out in a video game. Of course, that means that not only does Col. O’Neill show up at his door, but poor Eli gets teleported out of the house without even getting to put on some pants. I was nervous about the character at the start: he seems like the sterotypical awkward, overweight geek, and I was terribly afraid they’d use the character as not only comic relief, but as the butt of jokes — “haha, look at the nerd.”

But instead, Eli is the heart of the show. He’s kept up morale, he challenges authority when they’re about to do something he disagrees with powerfully, and through it all, he’s kept a sense of wonder. He’s far from home, and while he feels that keenly (there’s a great subplot with, yes, his mom. One that explains why he was still living with her. You’ll need kleenex), he’s still awed by the fact that HOLY SHIT I’M ON AN ALIEN SPACESHIP TRAVELLING FASTER THAN LIGHT AND OMG THIS IS COOL.

I love that they embrace his geekiness without mocking it. Eli will make references to SF books and movies, especially if something in the plot is similar to things we’ve seen done in other places. They’re relevant and, with David Blue’s spot-on delivery, get a grin out of me. It’s an aspect of his character, but it doesn’t define him.

I’m also a big fan of Sgt. Greer (Jamil Walker Smith).

Again, a character who would, on most other shows, be your cookie-cutter unstable badass. Don’t get me wrong — I wouldn’t want to piss him off. But there’s also no one else I’d rather have watching my back if, say, we were under attack by screechy serpent-aliens who don’t get hurt by gunfire. Just sayin’. The writers could easily have just said, “Okay, career army dude, goes a little overboard now and then, buddies with Handsome Hero Guy Lt. Scott” and had done with it. But instead, they’ve fleshed him out, and now any time it looks like he might be stranded somewhere — even for just part of the episode — I’m biting my nails. Because they’ve told us how often he’s been abandoned. Not by his squadmates. By his family.

It’s the characters that make this series, and I’m having a hell of a time watching their stories unfold. If you’re looking for something to add to your Netflix queue, you can’t go wrong with Stargate: Universe.