Special Post: My Favorite Disney Villains

Villains are often the best characters in any movie, almost always more interesting than the good guys, and this is true with Disney cartoons. Here are a list of my favorite Disney villains. Note: This isn't a list of the most effective villains or the most evil or sinister villains or anything. These are mostly chosen because they entertain me and manage to be more memorable than the heroes or heroines in their movies. Oh, one more note: This might not be totally fair, but I'm lumping the villains' sidekicks with them as I see them more as extensions than actual characters. Oh, another note: I'm not including Pixar movies here.

Here's my top-13 list, and I'd love to see yours.

13. Shan Yu from Mulan

Embarrassingly, he's defeated by a woman, and he's almost too real to actually like. However, there's this almost supernatural strength with Shan Yu, and he's got a cool falcon pet and the broadest shoulders you'll ever see. That's all worth something. Historically, Attila the Hun had a falcon, right? Not sure about his shoulders. This guy's got a great mustache, a necessary characteristic of any mail villain, and eyebrows to match, and you wonder if he's so mean because of his receding hairline. You have to think that has something to do with it. I also like Shan Yu's dark humor. Physically, he reminds me of one of my assistant principals.

12. Horned King from The Black Cauldron

Full confession: I don't even remember this movie. I just came across a picture of this dude when doing my half-assed research for this and said, "Hell, yeah! I remember seeing that cat on the big screen!" He looks cool, like a more menacing version of Skeletor, truly scary. Look at those fingers and unkempt nails! Look at those horns! Look at those glowing eyes! Look at them! Look at them! No wonder this movie did poorly in theaters. Parents don't want to invite this guy into their children's nightmares. As I said, I don't remember this movie at all. Didn't this guy have an army of the undead to do his bidding? Damn!

11. Ursula from The Little Mermaid

Here's the perfect example of where the villain is the most interesting character in the movie. The "good guys" in this are completely unlikable. This sea witch, almost all tentacles and flab with at least seven chins, has a certain repulsive charm that you have to like. I have trouble telling if she repulses me or turns me on. I like what Cory said about Ursula a long time ago when he didn't agree with my thoughts on The Little Mermaid: "Ursula was a great villain. She looks evil, has a smoker's raspy voice (how does that happen underwater?), and gets to sing a bad-ass song...and she steals freakin' souls for yucks! And she also plays with eels!"

10. Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland

I can't tell which male Disney cartoon character she resembles. I'm thinking it might be Casey from the Disney version of "Casey at the Bat," but I'm too lazy to look that up. Really, I'm just using the irritable queen here to represent all the "villains" in Wonderland since none of the characters are really all that nice. I like 'em because they're not really evil; it's more that they're just completely insane. Completely. I mean, when your go-to problem solving strategy involves decapitation, you've got some mental issues that no amount of croquet wins will straighten out for you. Give the queen some tentacles, and you might not be too far off from Ursula actually. The Cheshire Cat, obviously in cahoots with the Queen of Hearts, is another shifty unpredictable villain who is either mentally ill or some kind of acid casualty. The Caterpillar? The tea party participants? That lizard guy? Yeah, just lump them all together and stick them in this slot.

9. The Shadow Man from The Princess and the Frog

Dr. Facilier, such a fluidly nasty villain. Lithely animated with a bitchin' cane and shadow that has a mind of its own, this is Disney really unleashing its creativity and creating a memorable character. I love the surreal flavor of this character, and I like how he doesn't even really have much of a motive. At least I don't remember what his motive is. Of all the villains on this list, Facilier is the one I probably know the least. What I remember is that he just seems to like fucking with people, and I can respect that. He's really a perfect example of the classic folkloric trickster character, and the fact that he's able to stand out in a setting and story that is so lively with all those colors and all that music means something. You may think I'm including this guy only because I wanted a black character on my top-13 list, but trust me--that's not the case. This guy is just plain cool.

8. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

Now, I haven't seen Sleeping Beauty in a really long time. I remember that it has colorful fairies. I know there's a nondescript prince and an unmemorable princess. And I remember Maleficent. I don't really have an interest in seeing more Maleficent--what a great name, by the way, a name that literally means "making bad"--and can't really get excited about the Angelina Jolie movie that just came out. But she's easily the most interesting character in this movie and arguably the sexiest of Disney villains. The flowing black robes, the horn things, the long face, the long fingers, those eyebrows, that impossibly long neck. So sexy. And she can transform into a dragon, a curvy and spiky phallic symbol that ejaculates fire. Menacing! I don't remember what Maleficent's bird does in this thing. This character almost inspires me to write erotic fan fiction. Pure evil. Pure sexy, sexy evil.

7. Prince John from Robin Hood

He's fresh on my mind because I just watched this again, but although he's probably the biggest loser of the bunch and not the type of villain you can like more than the hero or want to root for, he's enormously entertaining. The voice Peter Ustinov gives him makes the character for me. What a great voice! Prince John is so flawed that he doesn't really even deserve to get a taste of any sort of victory, He's an idiot, not even smart enough to listen to the must smarter Sir Hiss, his serpent adviser or whatever the hell he is. He's gullible, whiny, and arrogant, and Robin Hood barely even seems to notice the guy. Still, that voice, Ustinov trilling his R's all over the place! Great stuff. The Sheriff is kind of lame although you have to respect a villain who isn't afraid to beat up a friar, but I do like those vultures armed with crossbows. But Prince John--the way he shakes that fist (see picture), his grimace, his tiny head, his terrible posture. And that incredible voice!

6. Scar from The Lion King

I don't know. Maybe Scar doesn't deserve to be this high on the list. Again, there's a voice that really sells the character, this time provided by Jeremy Irons. Irons gives the character a gravitas and helps make this the most Shakespearean of Disney animated features. I also like his hyena henchmen--Shenzi, Banzai, and (great naming here) Ed--even though he doesn't even like them. I also like the look that Disney gives this character, the way his shape and movements are animated to distinguish him from his brother or nephew. Mostly, I like the character because he's so much smarter than any other character in the movie. And he knows it and isn't afraid to boast about it. He even gets to sing about how smart he is. See, I guess I can identify with Scar because I often sing about how smart I am, too. Oh, one more thing about Scar: Look at what happens to the land after he gets power. He turns the place into a nightmarish wasteland and doesn't even care. Apathy--a very underrated villainous trait.

5. Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective

Ah, Ratigan. If you knew the underrated character and remembered that he's voiced by the great Vincent Price, you would have guessed that he'd be in my list somewhere. He's another intelligent Disney villain, and a lot of the fun of the movie is the cat and mouse game (or rat and mouse game, I guess) between Ratigan and Basil. Of course, his eventual demise comes because he decided to act like a Batman villain and set up an overly-elaborate method of execution that gives the hero way too much time to figure out a way to escape, but we can forgive that, right? Ratigan's got an elegance and style that fits Price's voice, and at the end of the movie, where Ratigan's evil is truly unleashed, he transforms into something genuinely frightening. He's got a cool henchman, too, a peg-legged bat with a voice that sounds a little worse than a person who's had a tracheo-oesophageal puncture. If there's any animated Disney movie I'd love to see a prequel to, it's The Great Mouse Detective because I want more Ratigan. Of course, Vincent Price is no longer with us, so I'm not sure how that would work.

4. Hodgepodge of symbolic villains from Pinocchio

Here's what I wrote about Honest John, Gideon, Stromboli the puppeteer (a character you can almost smell), Monstro, and the Coachman in my write-up for my beloved Pinocchio: "I really like how the bad guys work in this, especially how they don't violently die like in other Disney classics. These villains are still menacing but work more like archetypes, symbols of problems that every young wooden boy will inevitably face during childhood--temptation, taking the easy way out, hedonism, peer pressure." So my faithful readers already could have guessed that I'd thrown them in as a collective somewhere in here. Four might seem a little high, but I really like these guys and whale and how they work metaphorically. To me, they represent where Disney first got creative with their villains. These guys are seductive, menacing, and just plain sadistic in their own individual ways, and there's really nothing cliched about any of them. Well, maybe the whale. He's just kind of a whale, isn't he?

3. Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians

Well, now I'm a little depressed. I know this blog is riddled with grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, but I didn't know I've been misspelling dalmatians for so long and in the title of my blog post about that movie. Now, I'm just wondering if my 4 1/2 readers have been judging me. Cruella de Vil might have made the top-five with her name alone. She's got a classic song that the name fits so perfectly that it makes you wonder if they had the melody or the name first. And you just have to love a Disney villain name that could just as easily belong to a dominatrix. Great dichromatic hair and a great fashion sense, there are times when you think she could be kind of hot except you know she's probably bipolar and has an impossibly grotesque bone structure. She's less attractive, of course, because she wants to skin a bunch of cute puppies. I like her henchmen, too, as bumbling as they are because they get all kinds of cartoonish gangster lines. Even Cruella's props are cool. Great villain!

2. Chernabog from Fantasia

Damn. Just look at that guy. I'm still amazed that Disney wasn't afraid to get this dark so early in its animated feature film history. Chernabog (I had to look him up) from the Mussorgsky "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in Fantasia is evil incarnate, and I don't think Disney will ever match the sinister look that they give this character poised atop that rock. Most of these other villains, you could see and not immediately think you're about to die. If you spotted Chernabog in any context whatsoever, you're shitting your pants. I'll never dress up and go to a convention, but if I did, I would dress up as Chernabog, walk down the halls and knock over geeky people with my gigantic wings. I wouldn't even need a badge or lanyard to get in, would I? Are you going to check to see if Chernabog has a badge? For me, this moment where Chernabog (I really like that I know this thing's name now) appears on the screen represents the ambition and fearlessness of Disney's creative forces because putting that thing on the big screen in a 1940 cartoon took some balls.

1. Captain Hook from Peter Pan

He's not the most successful villain as a teenager in tights who is often played by a woman on stage and an alligator or crocodile--you know I have trouble with those--make him look like a dope. But again, it's sort of more about what the character represents. It was always interesting to me that the pirate and the kids' father were voiced by the same person, Hans Conried who gives both characters an incredible voice, the same exact voice. He does nothing with the voice work to make the characters' voices any different. Disney and Conried consciously are making the character the same. And that's important because the real villain of Peter Pan is a little more abstract than just a pirate with a hook for a hand. But Hook's cool, too, dapper with those curls, that red velvet (I imagine) coat, that pointy mustache, and that hat, the kind that would make other pirates look at him, nudge each other, and say, "Arrrr! Lookee at that guy's ridiculous hat, matey!" And then there's rotund Smee who should not be wearing horizontal stripes, a fact that you'd think Hook would share with him. Smee's voiced by the same guy who did the White Rabbit, another Wonderland character with a mental problem, but spent most of his career as the voice of Droopy the dog. Smee's kind of a human version of Droopy the dog. He's bumbling and adds nothing to the Peter Pan story except as somebody who Captain Hook can take out his anger on. But you have to respect a Disney villain who isn't afraid to show his midriff.

Here are villains who just fell out of my top-13:

Jafar, who I like because he's psychotic and has Gilbert Gottfried as a sidekick. He's mean, sadistic really, but his arrogance is a little off-putting. Jafar will make the list if I watch The Black Cauldron any time soon and find out that Horned King is some kind of pansy.

The evil queen from Snow White didn't make it despite her transformation abilities. She's not as sexy as Maleficent in any of her forms. And the old woman isn't nearly as cool as a dragon. Plus, she's just jealous, and that's less a villainous trait and more a character flaw. And she's killed by a bunch of little people.

Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove is OK, and I like that she's voiced by Eartha Kitt, but she's really just another version of Cruella, isn't she? At least physically? She's got some crazy-ass eyes though, and her goofy henchman is kind of fun.

Does the Oogie Boogie from Nightmare before Christmas count? That guy got a bitchin' song and was nothing more than a burlap sack filled with colorful insects. He'd be friends with Dumbo's pink elephants and the Heffalumps and Woozles, wouldn't he? Speaking of them, are they villains? I like them, but I'm not sure they could count. It would feel weird to give Winnie the Pooh villains. Maybe the clowns in Dumbo are the villains? After all, they're responsible for getting the titular elephant wasted.

How about the Headless Horseman or Brom Bones (one in the same, depending on who you ask) from the Sleepy Hollow short? I didn't count him because it's not a full-length feature film, but maybe I should have. He's not different than the demon on Bald Mountain, right?

Shere Khan and Kaa aren't bad villains, but the former is really just a slightly meaner Tigger while the latter sounds exactly like Winnie the Pooh. Not all that menacing although I do like that voice. King Louie's great, but is he villainous or is he just a little silly?

King Candy from Wreck-It Ralph? I don't remember him. Hans from Frozen? I don't want anything from that movie on any list I ever make. Rapunzel's mom? Now, I do like her, but only sexually, a villainous MILF. The Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp? Racist. Putting them on my list would be as bad as leaving every black villain off the list. I learned just today that their names are actually Si and Am, by the way. Those characters in Atlantis? One of them was black, I believe, but none of that movie is memorable. They were just really greedy people. Gaston has the dopiest villain song and never feels like more than a lame jock to me. I would have liked to have gone with Pete, Disney's oldest villain, but he wasn't in a feature film that I know of and is kind of a one-dimensional guy. Alameda Slim from Home on the Range, a dreadful movie, has a great name but is forgettable in a forgettable movie. I don't remember Madame Medusa from The Rescuers at all except I know she's got a sweet ride and pet crocodiles which [Spoiler Alert!] eat her. Mankind in Bambi might be the most realistic villain. That judge from The Hunchback of Notre Dame? I've seen that movie recently but just can't remember him at all. That guy in Tarzan was nasty and manipulative, but he was just a realistic human, probably the same guy who took out Bambi's mom, and therefore not all that special. I think I do like his death the best though. Is that old fart from The Fox and the Hound a villain? Maybe he's the guy who shot Bambi's mom? I do like that voice though--Jack Albertson, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory's Grandpa Joe himself. But he's just a guy doing his thing, so I'm not sure he should count as a villain.

My daughter tells me that I'm missing Hades from Hercules because I've never seen Hercules. She says he's a good one. I also don't remember Treasure Planet or Brother Bear well enough to know anything about any villains who might be in there, and I have never seen Pocahontas and really don't plan on seeing it.

So who are your favorite villains? And did I miss anybody?

Bill Murray Fest: Mad Dog and Glory

1993 drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A cop saves the life of a fun-loving mobster who returns the favor by gifting him with Uma Thurman for a week. The cop, resistant initially, gets used to the idea of having Uma Thurman around.

My mind wandered throughout this movie, partially because I had mentally prepared myself for a comedy and didn't get one and partially because I was completely distracted trying to make Kill Bill jokes. I liked this movie even if I didn't really like Bill Murray all that much in it. Initially, at least. I thought he was miscast with a stand-up act that I guessed was supposed to be bad but not quite sure. He does get a musical number that is really good, and at the end, when he plays this mob guy with this kind of ironic delicacy like only Bill Murray could. And oh, man, the guy demonstrates that he can throw a punch. I guess that shouldn't surprise anybody because he's Bill "Fucking" Murray and can do pretty much anything. David Caruso can pretty much do only one thing, he and his jackass hair. Every time he and great character actor Mike Starr (of Ed fame) faced off, I secretly hoped I'd get a chance to see the latter break the former into pieces and sit in a corner to pick his teeth with his bones. Starr, milk drinker and Phil Donahue spotter, plays a fun brute like usual. De Niro's really good in a quiet role as the titular cowardly cop, and a lot of it is body language. He's mopey, right down to his pigeon toes, and it's almost like there's some kind of Jacksonian Hobbit trickery here to make him shrivel in size compared to Murray who seems like a giant compared to him. Richard Belzer is also in this thing. Bernstein's music's kind of cool, and there's a great opening to this where black 'n' white shifts to color with a thug's lighting-up of a cigarette. The story's a little slow as this is more of a character study than a comedy, but Uma Thurman's nipple makes an appearance and we therefore can't complain. But what's the Kill Bill joke in all this? Somebody help me out there.

World War Z

2013 zombie mo. . .yawn. . .vie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Brad Pitt get chased by zombies during a zombie epidemic in order to figure out why there are zombies and how the zombies can be stopped before the zombies turn everybody into zombies.

This movie starts out with our characters in a traffic jam. Midway through the movie, I kind of wished I was in a traffic jam instead of watching World War Z, a been-there-done-that, redundant two hours where I would have loved to root for the zombies over the bland human characters but couldn't because the zombies weren't interesting. That scene with the traffic jam inexplicably evolves into Brad Pitt and his family zipping through the streets of New York, a ride that eventually ends with a violent-looking collision that they all walk away from just fine. The zombies all went to the same zombie acting school (because those have to exist now, right?) as the zombies in I Am Legend. They're cartoonishly fleet of foot although they do crash into walls a little too much, never before positioning themselves well so that their shoulders take the blow. The speed of the zombies and the jumpy editing really make you feel the chaos of a lot of the situations; however, I really had no interest in feeling any chaos. Parts of this were so dark and fast in places that I couldn't even figure out what the hell was going on. Will Smith's zombie pals fly from the shadows and mist and make scary screeching noises, and Brad Pitt runs around with his shoulder-length hair and eyes that let everybody know he's going to come out of this without a scratch. After a while, this movie is nothing more than shit jumping out at you while Brad Pitt is trying to whisper something that you don't really care about to somebody you probably shouldn't bother getting to know because he's not all that important to the story. All with music that would have been identical to what I would have hummed to myself while playing Here Come the Zombies in my yard as a kid. This movie is doing nothing that hasn't been done before, and it's not even doing it all that well. Why I keep subjecting myself to these zombie movies is a mystery to me.

The Lego Movie

2014 animated movie

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 16/20; Abbey: 15/20; Buster: still doesn't understand the rating system and ran away when I asked her)

Plot: An evil dictator has plans to superglue all the Lego blocks, and only the Special, the one spoken of by Morgan Freeman in the prophecy, can stop him. Unfortunately, that Special doesn't seem very special at all, a seemingly untalented and conforming construction worker named Emmet. With other master builders, they try to think of a plan to stop the evil Lord Business.

I'd like to see statistics on how many people had seizures in theaters while watching this movie. It had to have been a lot. Too many colors, too much vibrancy, too much hallucinogenic imagery, too much Mark Mothersbaugh.

Favorite thing about this movie: We get the opportunity to hear Billy Dee Williams voice Lando. I'm such a geek. And this is kind of a geeky movie. Legos are a little geeky, and there are all kinds of geeky references pandering to geeks--Star Words, Lord of the Rings, comic book references. The plot itself seems lifted from some dystopian science fiction book until the end when the flesh replaces plastic and things get a little sappy and Will Ferrelly. The movie's a ton of fun with a ridiculous amount of characters. I'm assuming you can purchase even the ones who had almost no screen time at all at your local Target. The script's funny even if it's a little all over the place and contains far too many modern references to make this thing matter in thirty years. The voice work is great from top to bottom, but I especially liked hearing Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, and Nick Offerman. Offerman's robot pirate character Metal Beard was probably my favorite. This is lively, almost wall-to-wall with ridiculous action sequences where the screen is filled with moving parts. I'd imagine you would have felt like you were swimming in Lego blocks if you watched it in 3D. It's all a little chaotic, probably too much for grandparents to watch with the little ones, but parents who grew up playing with Legos or even just stepping on them frequently have enough to enjoy here and might appreciate the satirical edge. It is fairly subversive for little ones though. The central message is a little muddled, something to do with noncomformity or everybody being special or everything being awesome or something, but kids--who are mostly stupid--might interpret it differently and be inspired to start vandalizing or urinating on playground equipment. It's entirely possible that this would have annoyed me in another time or place or day, but I appreciated it as a movie for children that didn't really treat the audience like a bunch of idiots (though they might be) and that didn't take itself or the brand name too seriously while still managing to touch on some serious topics. Frequently clever, infectiously chaotic, and pretty funny, this is a fun way to pass some time with the kids.

Clear History

2013 T.V. movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A marketing guy played by Larry David sells his shares of an electric car company for very Larry David-y reasons and winds up missing his chance to become a billionaire. He retreats to the middle of nowhere to start a new life far, but his former friend and boss moves to town and brings out all sorts of buried emotions. Larry David's character decides to work with one of the Batmen to blow up his old friend's house.

Curb Your Enthusiasm fans should like this as it's really just an extended episode of the sitcom with Larry David playing a character who is not Larry David. I think David is hilarious, and I thought this movie was really funny. Few people will claim that Larry David is a good storyteller, however. This one meanders for an hour and a half, goes off on more tangents than a third grader writing a story about his dog, and has enough asides that you'd think it was put together by a person with ADHD. I couldn't argue with somebody who thought the half hour sitcom meandered too much, so if an hour and a half annoys you, I can sympathize. I like the sidebars, however, and I like how the screenplay sort of artificially brings them into the story multiple times to help this mess of a story fit together. It doesn't seem like the writers--Larry David and three other guys--really knew how to end this story because in the final act, things fall completely to pieces. But it's not about storytelling, is it? It's about laughs. Larry David can't act either, but if you're used to his work, that shouldn't bother you. He's surrounded by capable actors and actresses--the great Philip Baker Hall, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, the lovely Amy Ryan, Bill Hader, J.B. Smoove. Curb alum J.B. Smoove. That's just the best name, isn't it? Keaton is especially funny as a completely ridiculous character who sounds a little like Beetlejuice. They all seem natural in this mostly-improvisational joint, and it seems like they're having fun, the kind of fun that makes it fun for the viewer. I don't know. Maybe I enjoyed this more because it's been such a long time since the last Curb Your Enthusiasm season. Even the bouncy orchestra music sounds like it's lifted straight from the series. I did talk to a Curb Your Enthusiasm fan who didn't care for this, so who knows? I will say this--if you don't like the show, stay very far away from this one. And bite me.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

2013 movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Walter Mitty works with pictures for Life, a magazine facing its last issue as it transitions into a more tech-friendly entity. He's got a love interest, of course, who barely knows he exists. Problems arise with his new boss, a guy with a beard, when Mitty can't find the negative for the cover of the final issue. Oh, shoot! I almost forgot to mention that he's got a problem with daydreaming, daydreaming so hard that he actually sort of blacks out. Anyway, he is forced to become a globetrotter in order to find the photographer.

This has nothing to do with the James Thurber short story except for borrowing the name of the titular character and making him a guy who daydreams. That doesn't bother me at all, but it's odd. Why didn't they just go with a different title and let people figure out on their own that they borrowed the concept from the Thurber story? I really wanted to like this movie, at least as much as I want to watch other things Ben Stiller is involved with. This went through a lot of actors and directors and probably countless rewrites, but it feels very much like Stiller's baby. He directed the thing, and the guy's got vision and ambition. Unfortunately, this is really kind of a mess. It's not funny, it's not very exciting, and it's a little too obvious thematically. The romance subplot with Kristen Wiig seems superfluous although I do kind of like her, and the daydreams, very different from the more satirical stuff in the Thurber story, don't really do much of anything. I guess they're supposed to be funny, but none of them are. And you'd think special effects in a daydream would be a lot better than this. A falling Ben Stiller, a big fight scene in an elevator and then in the streets, and a weird Benjamin Button thing look pretty terrible. When Walter Mitty is about to be Pompeii'd in Iceland or climbing mountains, however, things look pretty good. Sean Penn's in it briefly, and his part was my favorite part of the whole thing. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was a CGI Sean Penn, and if it was, it looked pretty good. This movie's got ideas galore, but it really could have used a trim in a lot of areas and more development in others. I didn't need to see Ben Stiller skateboarding for ten minutes, for example, and if you really think about it, the daydreams probably don't even need to exist. I really thought the modernization stuff--the magazine dying and being replaced with something more digital and cold--was going to be explored thematically more, but it wasn't. It felt like a loose end, an excuse to have the character run around the world. When we do get to see the final magazine cover, it's a bit of a let-down, too. The movie is wildly sloppy but also wildly predictable although it's breezy enough and kind of fun in places. It goes a lot of places, but it doesn't really manage to go anywhere. Mark my words though--Ben Stiller has an excellent movie in him.

Bad Movie Club: Anthropophagus

1980 Italian horror movie

Rating: 3/20 (Fred: 3/20; Josh: 2/20; Libby: -2/20; Carrie: no rating; Jeremy: didn't make it through the thing)

Plot: Italian tourists find themselves in a seemingly abandoned town. Soon, a cannibal starts chasing them around.

First, I want to apologize for ruining the end of the movie with the poster choice up there. There was another, equally gruesome, poster I could have used, but when you've got a poster with a guy eating his own intestines, you kind of have to go with it, don't you? But that is how this movie ends. The cannibalistic killer falls off a roof into a well, grabs the gal who we think is the only survivor but who actually isn't and pulls her into the well, is disemboweled by a character we all forgot about, and then moans and starts munching on his own viscera. Yes, I spoiled the movie, but you wouldn't have made it that far anyway. If you waited around long enough, you'd get to see how jacked-up the bad guy in this is, and if you waited around a little while longer, you'd get to see him rip a fetus from a woman and eat it. That's something. I think that might even be the national pastime in Italy. But seriously, you wouldn't have made it that long because the movie's excruciatingly dull, nearly plotless, filled with terrible acting, and has even worse music. I don't think it helped that we had a false start when the movie was either not dubbed at all or dubbed in French. When we tried again, we had the same problem but decided to watch anyway because we were feeling adventurous but the English dubbing kicked in after about five minutes. We were also really upset when a shower scene we thought was going to happen never materialized. We felt cheated.

I would only recommend this bad movie to people who enjoyed the also-Italian Star Odyssey. We really need to be careful with Italian movies.

The Fifth Element

1997 sci-fi action movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A cab driver tries to reunite the titular babe with some rocks in order to stop something evil.

I always think this movie is much older than it actually is. It was just a couple years before The Phantom Menace which, along with the other two prequels, reminds me of this movie, at least in scope and tone. It just feels like an 80's movie with a Luc Besson indulging and so obviously making something that he knows he'd enjoy seeing. Or something he would have enjoyed seeing when he was 10 years old with some added parts (mostly Milla Jovovich's parts) added for his 15 year old self. Yes, there's a lot of humor that doesn't really work at all, definitely not as well as the action sequences or the science fiction imagery, but it's still a good mash-up of a whole bunch of (no pun intended) elements. As silly as this often gets, it's never ever boring. And I can't explain what Chris Tucker is doing with his talk show host character. It's like he blended James Brown and Prince, accidentally spilled the mix on the floor, and tried to salvage as much as possible by scooping it up with his hands. As cool as the imagery is in this--and it is very cool--the music is even better. Eric Serra did the score, and he should probably go ahead and just score all science fiction movies. This stuff is that good. Apparently, his score for Goldeneye is heavily criticized by Bondphiles, but I'll have to check that one out soon. Here, it's squibbly electronic music to operatic bombast and big action movie stuff. There's Middle Eastern tinge, reggae, futuristic pop, collage stuff, murky ambiance. The eclectic score perfectly matches the eclectic ideas in the movie. Other stuff I like about this movie:

--This has to break some kind of record for characters saying the title of the movie the most times.
--Camel close-up!
--Crotch flashlights and a guy in Zubaz trying to rob Bruce Willis. You don't rob somebody like Bruce Willis unless you're wearing pants like Zubaz.
--Love the totally impractical Mondos, especially when they're showing their prowess by busting through gold tinfoil walls.
--I want my very own Milla Jovovich in a glass cage. She was nominated for a Razzie for this performance (so was Chris Tucker), but I don't see it. She's great with that made-up language, and there's a scene where she does this Woody Woodpecker laugh that arguably should have won her an Oscar nomination.
--Leeloo's outfits. Oh, man. How many times do you think Jovovich looked at Besson and said, "Seriously? That?"
--Major Iceborg with swooshing sound effect head nods and buns that are an obvious nod to Princess Leia.
--Sibyl Buck, Zorg's secretary. Do you think anybody's ever dressed up like her for one of those conventions? I want to put Sibyl Buck in my Anne Frank sequel. Maybe she can play Edith Frank.
--"Negative. I am a meat popsicle." Say what you want about Bruce Willis. Accuse him of playing the same guy in every movie. But can you replace him with anybody else in this movie? I didn't think so.
--Such great effects and an attention to detail. It makes you feel like you should watch this again to see what little details you missed. Coruscant looks great in the daytime, maybe a little more cartoonish but still a wonder. Luc Besson, his imagination running wild in an infinite sandbox.
--Zorg might be one of the most ridiculous villains in science fiction, but I love how Oldman can make his eyelid twitch. And that voice! What the hell is going on there? He's playing it so hammy, also having a blast after playing Lee Harvey Oswald and Stansfield in The Professional. Watch how much fun he's having showing off that weapon.
--Aren't flight attendant outfits great in the future?
--Space Hawaii! I want to go. Sully from Monsters Inc. is on the floor of Bruce Willis's hotel room, by the way.
--That opera scene is so good. I don't know how they found somebody who could both sing opera that well and who happened to be blue. They must have lucked into Inva Mula. Space opera is where it's at in the future, folks. Remember the cool opera Palpatine takes Anakin to in Revenge of the Sith? This is nearly straight opera, too, except for the Smurf with head tentacles singing the thing. And when that scene morphs into a mashed-up soundtrack to a kung-fu action sequence with aliens about as special as ones you'd see in your typical Doctor Who episode? With an added Wilhelm Scream? Fresh!
--Yes, that is "Tiny" Lister as the president. Somebody watched No Holds Barred and thought, "That guy would make a good president!" and somebody else said, "Who? Hulk Hogan?" and was answered with a dirty look and, "No, not Hulk Hogan! That black guy with the lazy eye."
--McDonalds and Coca Cola product placement. Maybe that's something else that makes this stink of the 1980's. In 400 years, when this movie is supposed to be taking place, archaeologists are going to pop in VHS tapes of ours and think all these red cans are some kind of secret code. And who knows? They might be! There will be anthropology classes in the future where students analyze movies like this and Mac and Me to try to find secret messages to future peoples.

This movie is pretty popular, isn't it? I'm confused about who the audience is supposed to be. Wouldn't it annoy most science fiction fans? And isn't it too weird for the mainstream? Far from perfect, but the flaws are what helps make it so memorable and fun.

Robot and Frank

2012 sci-fi movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A former jewel thief receives a gift, a robot helper, from his son. He wants nothing to do with it initially until he realizes it can be trained to help him revive his former career. They become BFF's.

Two women play "robot performers" in this movie recommended by a guy I work with. The robot looked about the size of Twiki from the Buck Rogers t.v. show which may explain why I was so horny while watching this. Twiki, if I haven't mentioned it before, was the first robot I wanted to have a sexual relationship with which I think makes me both a homosexual and a robosexual. Those thoughts can be excused because I was just a kid. The current horniness makes sense because the "robot performers" are female. It's now become a life goal to have a menage a trois with Rachael Ma and Dana Morgan, first because it's always been a fantasy of mine to make love to two women who have to be under 4'5" and second because that would be a great story to tell my grandchildren. "C'mere, kids. Did Gramps ever tell you about the time he had sex with both robot performers from Robot and Frank at the same time?" They'll probably have never heard of Robot and Frank because they won't read my blog either, and that's too bad for them because it's a pretty good movie. Any movie with a line like "Did you take a fizzy bath balm, you son of a bitch?" has to be pretty good. That line belonged to former Saturday Night Live person Ana Gasteyer who I imagine looks like an Amazon compared to Rachael Ma and Dana Morgan. Susan Sarandon's also in this, and the suddenly omnipresent Peter Sarsgaard provides the voice of the robot which I'll admit is a bit of a boner kill, even more than Ana Gasteyer. Frank Langella's the titular human, and it's another one of those good old person performances, mainly because a lot of what he does is so subtle. He's curmudgeonly fun, and as weird as it sounds to say this, he had good rapport with the robot. Some of the dialogue's cute if not funny, like when the robot says that it's a pleasure to meet him and Frank answers, "How do you know?" I also liked when the robot said, "Warning: Do not molest me," which definitely had to have helped fuel my dreams later on. The sci-fi in this is very mild. It takes place in the not-too-distant future. There's a little satirical stuff with the fate of a library, there's a really tiny car, and there's this music that combines electronica with chamber music. I am glad to hear that the slang term "crackerjack" will survive in the near future. There are also some Don Quixote parallels, and I should know because I was supposed to read that book once. There are some strange twists here that would be hard to accept if Langella's performance didn't sell it all so well. Nice little sleeper here.

I really hope Rachael Ma and Dana Morgan aren't the type of people who Google themselves.

This might be my creepiest blog post.

The Chase

1946 noir

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A veteran with no past but the "kind of face women like to talk to" finds a gangster's wallet and is hired to be his chauffeur. It's the shadowy mid-40's, so the gangster obviously has a wife who our hero falls for. He decides to help her escape her marriage to the oft-cruel Eddie Roman and flee to Cuba, and that's when the fun really begins.

You know what? We need to do a Noir Festival after we're finished with Bill Murray. Start recommending selections now!

This isn't upper-echelon noir exactly, but it's interesting, and you really have to give it credit for the ballsy left turn it takes without even signaling about halfway through. Also, I approve of any movie that begins with flapjacks. There are some cool visuals here. Guy Maddin, one of my favorite directors, talked about this movie in an interview, and some of the imagery reminded me of shots from his films, especially a scene that takes place on a beach but is so obviously not filmed at a beach. There are also some nice weirdly-framed shots--Chuck's head popping into a shot almost like it's a mistake, a shot through a steering wheel. Robert Cummings plays Chuck Scott, the type of two-first-named hero in these types of movies, and the performance is good because you barely notice him which is just the way it should be. Michele Morgan's the blonde, and Steve Cochran plays a despicable villain named Eddie Roman. Everything you need to know about his character's explained in his first scene where the woman giving him a haircut knicks an ear and explains, "You moved." He slaps her and says, "But you didn't. Filthy dame." Peter Lorre plays his henchman Gino, and if you're going to have a henchman, you should make them like Gino, goofily sinister and with an indeterminate nationality. I love how bored Lorre's character seems in almost every scene he's in. There are some really cool little details that help this movie stand out a little bit. Monkey-handled knives, a guy in a white hat who you know you can't trust because he's wearing a white hat, spilled wine and sound effects in a cellar, Roman's ability to accelerate and brake from the back seat when he wants to. It's great stuff, but you do wonder during a scene involving a car and a train how a car can decelerate from 110+ mph to 0 in about six and a half feet. A warning if you see this one--you do have to force yourself to go with the flow because this does end up having a strange structure that might not completely work. I'm willing to give director Arthur Ripley and screenwriter Philip Yordan (from Cornell Woolrich's book) bonus points for the experimentation though.

The Beaver Trilogy

2000 documentary with reenactments

Rating: 16/20

Plot: In the late-70's director Trent Harris ran into Groovin' Gary, a guy from the titular Utah town who had ventured to a Salt Lake City television station with the hope of getting to do some impressions on the air. Harris filmed him a bit and then was eventually called to film a talent show in Beaver and hear Groovin' Gary's Olivia Newton John impression. That's the first third of this trilogy. Sean Penn and Crispin Glover reenactments and narrative gap-filling make up the other two-thirds.

This starts as an oddity, the sort of oddball human interest thing that you can poke fun at with your college friends, but it surprisingly morphs into something with a lot more depth and a little to say about our fears of unleashing our true selves, society's fears of anything unusual, and some people's almost absurd need to be famous. It fits perfectly with what you see on some reality shows actually. Groovin' Gary's got a kind of infectious personality and is really likable even if when you get the assumption that there's something not quite right with the guy. You have to enjoy how much he enjoys his own impersonations though. See, he's Beaver's Rich Little, and he gives us a little Barry Manilow, Sylvester Stallone, and John Wayne while only teasing the raw genius of the Olivia Newton John that will come later. The Groovin' Gary segment includes the interview in the television studio parking lot and a look at his car to a scene where he's having a woman at a funeral home helping him with his make-up and finally the performance as Olivia Newton Don which is just the right kind of abysmal. You're unsure about the director's intentions here. Is it all a joke? If it is, Groovin' Gary obviously isn't in on it which might make you a little sad for the guy. Then, you get the Sean Penn segment. Penn's essentially doing an impression of Groovin' Gary, a reenactment but with a few sneaky little scenes which help form a bit of a back story for the guy and a denouement that is nearly devastating. Penn's good. He's got the laugh down at least. This middle section, as well as the final third, adds a couple interesting twists. First, it shows the filmmaker and an associate a lot more which does help you understand their intentions a little. You have to wonder what Trent Harris is trying to say about himself as a filmmaker here. He's almost shown as a villain in the fictional parts of this story. Second, it develops the principal character, first seen with a sweet mustache and brown leather jacket in the real footage as the talent show master of ceremonies, a guy really getting into his job. In the enhanced retellings, we get to see the principal a bit more. And then, there's the third segment with Crispin Glover who is perfectly awkward in his turn as Groovin' Gary. The imitation isn't as accurate as Sean Penn's, but there's an artificiality added to the whole thing that adds another dimension to the story. And you get to see Glover perform as Olivia Newton Bomb which I'm surprised isn't something that killed me instantly. Glover also does Marlon Brando and John Wayne impressions that will make you shit your pants. Speaking of pants-shitting, there's an actor in this who gave about the best performance in a bathroom (this modifier is not misplaced, by the way) that you'll ever see as "Guy Who Has to Poop" (this modifier is).  It's the kind of magic that has to be seen to be believed. "This is an emergency! What are you doing in there--making a claim?" There's another guy who looks a little like Carrot Top who has a speaking part but probably shouldn't. His lone line is an exclamation--"Oh my shit!"--that was similar to my thoughts when I saw Olivia Newton Bomb. This movie is very low-budget (the Sean Penn section apparently had a budget of 100 bucks), but the way it transforms from a silly novelty to something with some sneaky depth makes it a rewarding experience. Great stuff, and not just for Crispin Glover maniacs.

Trent Harris also directed Ruben and Ed, also with Crispin Glover. If you haven't seen that yet, stop what you're doing and watch it right now.

Kill Your Darlings

2013 biopic

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Details the infancy of the beat generation with Allen Ginsberg's first year in college and his meeting with Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, and Williams S. Burroughs.

I wish this movie was a little better since I'm interested in the subject matter. I enjoyed elements and thought the movie was dreamy enough. There were interesting montages with backwards gibberish, Harry Potter furious masturbating, running as writing, backward walking, and jump cuts, but that kind of stuff got tiresome after a while. The storytelling and the performances, both sometimes really good, are frustratingly inconsistent. Radcliffe's fine as Ginsberg for the most part although he's a little distracting. It's going to take more than butt sex for him to shake his cloak of invisibility. Dane DeHaan is good as Carr, but the character is so unlikable. I did like how he said "cock" though; with those beats, it was all about cocks, wasn't it? I did like Jack Huston's Burroughs a lot. His first scene has him lying in a bathtub with some kind of gas mask. Huston had the inflections and rhythms of Burroughs down, at least sometimes. "The words. Oh, the words." David Cross plays Ginsberg's dad, and it's kind of hard for me to take the guy seriously. One thing that bugged me is that a modern song pops up in the middle of all the cool jazz and breezy experimental stuff. It would have fit perfectly if this was just any contemporary coming-of-age story with noncomformist themes, but needed to feel more consistently like the 1940's and didn't always succeed. Those themes and the early emphasis on tradition and form are all a little heavy-handed, but it would have been the type of stuff I would have eaten up in high school. There are a lot of moments in this that almost work (a message from a professor, for example), but they only almost work which makes the whole thing feel a little incomplete. This is almost exactly as good as the other Ginsberg movie Howl with James Franco playing the author of the titular poem, and that movie was just almost-good, too.

Bill Murray Fest: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

2012 comedy

Rating: 8/20

Plot: A graphic designer, the titular guy, tries to get his life straightened out after his latest girlfriend breaks up with him.

Wes Anderson collaborator Roman Coppola wrote and directed this. It's got an almost Anderson feel, maybe because it has Murray and Jason Schwartzman in it, and it takes place in the 70's which might have tricked me into thinking I'd like it. Definitely a case of silly-over-substance here though. I never could figure out what Coppola or anybody else involved wanted to say with this thing, a movie stuffed with so many ideas that it doesn't really seem to have any ideas at all. There's a scene with a marionette that I almost enjoyed and an animated look at Swan's brain early in the movie. Schwartzman is pretty good as Swan's folksinging pal while Murray seems to be phoning things in as a John Wayne-ish sort of cowboy whose belly just barely squeezes into his shirt. I was almost convinced early on that Charlie Sheen was going to be pretty good in this, but the performance was so static and devoid of anything that seemed like actual human emotion that the character was flat and tedious. And since this is a surreal character study, a flat and tedious character isn't going to help a movie's chances at being enjoyable at all. Roman Coppola could probably make a good movie, but this isn't as clever or as funny as he or anybody else involved thinks it is. Check out a scene with a Charlie Sheen stand-in dancing in a graveyard. I think that was supposed to be both clever and funny, but it managed to make me just want to turn the movie off. And I might have if this wasn't Bill Murray Fest and all. I hadn't even gotten to the Bill Murray part at that point! I did like the music provided by a guy named Liam Hayes (who apparently performs as Plush) though. That guy's songs should be in better movies. Seriously, if I'm not the audience for this movie, I don't think it's for anybody.

Bad Movie Club: If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?

1971 sermon with documented incidents

Rating: 2/20 (Fred: 4/20; Carrie: 2/20; Josh: 666/20; Libby: Fuck you, Shane and Josh/20)

Plot: Preacher man Estus W. Pirkle warns his congregation about the dangers of not living for the Lord, the consequence likely being that Communists will take over America and kill and rape our children.

Glorious religious propaganda from the early 70's! If that's your thing, this is your thing. And if you're a fan of Negativland, you'll recognize Estus W. Pirkle's voice from "Christianity is Stupid" on the Escape from Noise album ("The loudspeaker spoke up and said...Christianity is stupid. Communism is good. Give up. Give up.") and probably giggle with recognition. An hour-long sermon from Pirkle would be difficult to endure despite his Southern Baptist preacher guy cadence and tendency to say things like "Gramma skoos" or stare straight into your soul hypnotizingly from your screen. And you will be hypnotized and possibly even converted to Christianity as this thing ends and Pirkle repeats, "Won't you come?" about fifteen times. Luckily, Pirkle's ramblings about dancing, the seven erogenous zones, and drug addiction are interrupted with "documented incidents" showing some really nice C-movie death scenes. This is a Ron Ormond production, and Ormond did exploitative movies that were heavy on the violence and 60's gore before surviving a plane crash and dedicating his career to God. Thankfully, the macabre tendencies stuck around so that we get to see a bunch of unfortunate people with ketchup all over them after the titular footmen (I think?) have done their damage or a great scene where a kid, one later seen alive and well in the audience, has a bamboo shoot shoved in his ear and stars vomiting. The latter is one of the best things I will see in my entire life, and the very adult-sounding puking sound effect is still reverberating in my head. Another great scene involves Commies, one which looks a lot like Burt Reynolds, giving candy to children. The Communists sure are nasty, but this is never really scary or believable because the Russian accents are some of the worst you'll ever here. That's the only thing that is unrealistic about all this though. My favorite bad acting in this comes from the mother of the female protagonist, a gal named Judy trying to decide between Jesus and a guy with sideburns and his own car. She's played by a woman who is nearly unintelligible. "Jibbs, I gumpoor, pooz come bud church." That's one of her lines, I think. I thought this was great fun, but if this sort of dangerous propaganda bothers or scares you, you might have a reaction similar to Libby's. She seemed a little angry afterward.

That confusing title is Biblical. Jeremiah 12:5, if you want some context.