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Review: “Jindabyne” (2006)

Old Jindabyne, located in New South Wales, Australia, is mostly invisible. Flooded in the 1960s to make Lake Jindabyne, the abandoned town sits quietly under the rippling surface. But on some days, when lake waters drop low enough, parts of Jindabyne come into view — a reminder of sorts that buried things have a tendency not to stay buried forever.

That Old Jindabyne serves as the setting of Aussie director Ray Lawrence’s tense, eerie character study “Jindabyne” is certainly no accident. The watery ghost town seems to attract residents nursing old grudges and long-suppressed emotional pain. However, it takes a murder and the discovery of the body to force all the hurts to the surface and even bigger, more dangerous ones. Early in their fishing trip, Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), Gregory (Chris Haywood), Rocco (Stelios Yiakmis), Billy (Simon Stone) and Carl (John Howard) discover the nude body of an aboriginal woman (Tatea Reilly) floating in the river. The men decide to finish their weekend before reporting the gruesome finding, going so far as to tether the body to tree so it won’t float downstream. She’s dead, they seem to agree silently, so what does it matter?

It’s a decision that has enormous and damning repercussions. Though the men elect to create a story to explain their choice, Billy spills the truth to a reporter. The story hits like a bomb blast. Stewart’s wife Claire (Laura Linney) is horrified by her husband’s cruel behavior and tries to make amends with the family of Susan, the dead girl. This alienates her from her friends: Carmel (Leah Purcell), who believes Claire has no business intruding on aboriginal rituals, and Jude (Deborra-Lee Furness), still recovering from the death of her own daughter. Tensions between the whites and the aborigines, who believe Stewart and his friends wouldn’t have dismissed Susan so easily if she’d been white.

Though Susan’s death plays a key role in “Jindabyne,” the film is about much more than a murder and the discovery of her corpse. Much like Karen Moncrieff’s sadly overlooked “The Dead Girl,” “Jindabyne” explores the ways that one death creates a kind of butterfly effect, changing everyone from the family of the deceased to complete strangers, and untethers all the little hurts we weight down. Susan’s murder affects each character differently. For Stewart, it brings to light his anger over the post-partum depression that caused Claire to leave him and their son for 18 months. On one level, Claire simply wants to atone for her husband’s mistake; on another, she’s seeking absolution of her own unresolved guilt. The incident makes Jude and Carl confront their grief over the death of their daughter and the stress of raising her daughter (Eva Lazzaro). Even the killer seems surprised by the firestorm his crime has created. In this way, “Jindabyne” is very much a character study, but one with many interconnected threads.

Telling a story this complex requires patience and time, and Lawrence, who adapted “Jindabyne” from Raymond Carver’s short story “So Much Water So Close to Home,” has both in spades. He lets the characters unravel the plot threads at a pace impatient viewers will call “maddeningly slow” and minimalist fans — including this viewer — will deem “exactly right.” Along the way he focuses much attention on nature, including Lake Jindabyne, and wide, expansive shots of Australia’s wilderness. These scenes do much to reveal the continent’s harsh natural beauty, but they also cultivate the feeling of loneliness so central to the film. In the face of such vastness, man is, in essence, very small and alone.

The people of Jindabyne know this feeling all too well, and the actors give voice to this. Furness deftly shows the weariness and the sheer frustration that come after the death of a child, while Stone understands Billy’s immaturity renders him incapable of processing something this complicated. Byrne lends Stewart an air of stubborn and tense silence; his motivations are a mystery to everyone. There’s a hardness in him that frightens his wife, a part of himself he refuses to show her. Linney’s performance, though, shakes us hardest. Her Claire is a woman bell-jarred by guilt. She cannot go backward or forward, and it is she who reminds us that a life of perpetual penance is its own kind of hell.  

Grade: A

“Blind Side” an uncommonly understated human drama

Sandra Bullock is all sass, little sentiment as Michael Oher's (Quinton Aaron) guardian in "The Blind Side."

Let’s be plain about “The Blind Side”: Lee Daniels’ “Precious” it ain’t. Save for two damaged protagonists, these films have little in common. In “The Blind Side,” John Lee Hancock dulls the sharp edges of a childhood lived in poverty and neglect; Daniels displays the emotional and physical hurts in full view. Really, it’s the difference between neatly bandaged wounds and open ones. 

But perhaps this comparison, though inevitable, isn’t exactly fair, because it implies that “The Blind Side” is some kind of emotionally manipulative mushfest that is top-heavy with cliches. Gird your loins for a startling realization: There’s little schmaltz here. Indeed, what delights about “The Blind Side” is the low-key tone and the balance Hancock strikes between character-based drama, sports and comedy. What’s more, the director sees his characters as actual people and allows them to behave as such; their actions feel natural, not forced along by inane plot conventions. They become real to us, something that rarely happens in films with such clear feel-good intentions as this one.

Much credit must be given upfront to Sandra Bullock for her bold, unidealistic performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a wealthy Tennessee interior designer whose designer-label threads belie her kind heart and good intentions. This is strong, nuanced work from an actress who (finally! after years of crap like “Miss Congeniality”!) has begun to trust her talent. She grounds “The Blind Side” firmly in matter-of-fact reality as her story intersects with that of future Baltimore Ravens right tackle Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a poor teen accepted to the private Christian academy her children attend. Accepted because the football coach (Ray McKinnon) sees a bright athletic future for him, Michael has a low GPA and a tendency to retreat into his own head that some teachers mistake as stupidity. But Leigh Anne’s son S.J. (Jae Head) befriends Michael, and so she invites the teen into her home. They hire a tutor (the always-wonderful Kathy Bates) to work with Michael while S.J. teaches him football. Slowly, and much to the dismay of Leigh Anne’s snobbish friends, Michael becomes a real part of the Tuohy family.

The story, loosely based on Michael Lewis’ 2006 book about the real Oher, is simple enough to suggest some parts have been smoothed over. That’s probably the case, but it’s important to note what Hancock gets right: the likable characters and the lack of Hollywood mushiness. Tim McGraw, though hardly Sean Penn, doesn’t overact as Leigh Anne’s supportive husband Sean (he does have a few unnecessarily corny zingers, though). Head doesn’t exactly transcend the Precocious Kid stereotype, but he provides solid comic relief. Bates’ sly humor is a welcome addition as well (Kathy Bates don’t do cutesy, remember?). Aaron, chosen more for his size than acting chops, is a little more hesitant than he should be, but that doesn’t derail the movie.

Actually, that hesitation aligns him nicely with Bullock’s hard-nosed Leigh Anne, herself a bit reticent and not prone to spontaneous displays of emotion. These two have more in common than we’d think (this wins the film more points for originality). Sean describes Leigh Anne as an onion — “you have to peel her back layer by layer” — and that extends to Michael. Perhaps that is what draws Leigh Anne to Michael, the fear of seeming vulnerable. They are, in a strange way, kindred spirits. Bullock, who’s always had a quietly guarded air about her, captures Leigh Anne’s reluctance perfectly. This performance might earn her some nominations, and she will deserve them.

Hancock also sidesteps a number of cliches that lesser directors would devour: the Big Game; the Touching Moments Montage; the Coach’s Big Motivational Speech. “The Blind Side” contains not one of these insufferable moments, and the few checklist items that do crop up — there is a misunderstanding and a scene with Michael’s drug-addicted biological mother — are handled with grace. When given the choice, Hancock errs on the side of poise. And while that doesn’t mean “The Blind Side” is perfect, it does mean that it’s a refreshingly unsentimental inspirational film.

Grade: B-

I’m here! I’m alive!

Please come over! I have a refrigerator full of turkey and stuffing that’s starting to petrify.

News of my death, to quoth that late great philosophizer Mark Twain, has been exaggerated. I’ve been out and about enjoying this Turkey Day holiday — hope you, dear readers, have done the same.

Come Monday, though? It’s back to more mindless movie scribbles…

Review: “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

Quentin Tarantino may be many things — perverted, profane, whipsmart, cocky, a little too enamored with his own cleverness — but subtle he is not. He’s not even in the ballpark. Matter of fact, if that ballpark blew up, he wouldn’t hear the sound for another three days. Nah, Tarantino’s a guts-glory-chicks-and-explosions kind of director, and that imagination of his? In the name of Le Royale with Cheese does it dream up some wild-n-twisted trips.

Mark “Pulp Fiction” down as one of the wildest. Every nanosecond of this humdinger’s 154 minutes contains something warped/crazy/effortlessly cool to behold: philosophical discussions about foot massages, the nature of miracles and a gold watche that has been places no watch should go; murders both coolly calculated and comically accidental; a frightful drug overdose; kinky sex (think S&M with an Alabama drawl and a gimp); and, last but not least, a sinfully delicious $5 milkshake. Random as this catalogue seems, Tarantino’s film is far more scattershot. The action doesn’t adhere to a simple timeline; instead, there are three stories that run parallel, then smash together, then diverge only to reconnect in ways that boggle the mind upon repeat viewings. “Pulp Fiction” is a genius noir/gangster combo that keeps us guessing. Guess long enough, though, and patterns start to emerge from the madness.

Sort of. Since Tarantino makes it nearly impossible to understand how these stories pool into a cohesive ending, let’s tackle one beast at a time. First, there’s “Vincent Vega and Marcellus Wallace’s Wife,” the tale of L.A. hitmen Vince (John Travolta) and Jules (a perfectly cast Samuel L. Jackson) heading to do a job ordered by their loose-cannon boss Marsellus (Ving Rhames). Since Marsellus recently threw a guy out a high-rise window for giving his wife Mia (Uma Thurman) a foot massage, Vince has the jitters about taking her out on the town. His plan is simple: “Chew my food with my mouth closed, laugh at her fucking jokes, and that’s it.” Of course, trouble has a tendency to follow Vince, so things don’t go that smoothly.

Smoothness doesn’t much like Butch (Bruce Willis) either, which we discover in “The Gold Watch.” A talented boxer with a sweetly innocent girlfriend (Maria de Medeiros), Butch shovels some dirt on his own grave by winning the fight Marsellus paid him to throw. But his neat double-cross turns messy through a series of freak coincidences, the most interesting involving two pawn shop owners who plumb forgot to pack their manners (not to mention their morality) when they left the Deep South. “The Gold Watch” leads into “The Bonnie Situation,” a conclusion of sorts where Tarantino himself shows up as Jimmie Dimmick, a pal of Jules who begrudgingly agrees to help him clean up an accidental hit (“my gun went off! I don’t know why!” insists the a brain matter-spattered Vance) with help from Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel). What’s on Wolfe’s business card we can’t be sure, since the terse mystery man only offers “I solve problems” as his job description.

It’s offhand comments like these that demonstrate one of Tarantino’s greatest strengths: revealing character traits with one or two stray lines of dialogue. He’s a student of human nature, and he knows the ways people fill time by arguing over whether foot massages are sensual or wondering what cheeseburgers are called in France (see above). And yet everything these characters say tells us something about themselves or the story. Christopher Walken, in his lone scene, delivers a howling-good speech that seems like comic relief, but the subject — the gold watch — comes back into play. Jules spouts a nonsensical version of Ezekiel 25:17, but it reveals his own moral code. Thurman, who finds jumpy loneliness in Mia, parlays a terrible joke about tomatoes into a real connection with Vince. Haphazard though they seem, these lines are the threads that knit everything together.

What else dazzles about “Pulp Fiction”? There’s the abundance of lurid violence — much of it comical (including an uncomfortably funny rape scene), some of it truly shocking, none of it gratuitious. Jackson and Travolta are one hell of two-man team, while Willis registers a pulse and Eric Stoltz has wit to burn. Ultimately, though, it’s the manic, fearless force of Tarantino that makes “Pulp Fiction” a sweet, sweet joyride, indeed.

Grade: A

Gritty “Precious” offers uplift without melodrama

Newcomer Gabby Sidibe delivers a gritty, moving performance in "Precious."

Along the way, some well-meaning but patronizing soul probably told Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) that every day is a gift from God, but she has no reason to believe it. Raped by her father and abused and insulted by her vicious mother (Mo’Nique), the stoic Precious leads a life marked by unimaginable daily horrors. She has, at 16, learned to retreat far inside her own head because despair knows no bottom. 

So begins the unflinchingly realistic “Precious,” a film by new director Lee Daniels that contains not the slightest trace of sentimentality. There are no cloying motivational speeches ripped from Hallmark cards. No, “Precious” is a hard movie about hard people — some who choose to accept the misery of their circumstances and some who choose to struggle against them. Daniels means to show us that those who struggle have no guarantees, only hope. And hope can be misleading.

Yet for all the grit, “Precious” is an uplifting film, thanks in large part to a nuanced performance by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. Sidibe, with her remote eyes, won’t let us shrink from Precious’ pain, though Precious herself has become a master of detachment. As a child she acquired a skill for leaving her body, floating above the beatings and the sexual abuse to a hazy fantasy world. Life, though, has a cruel way of yanking her back down into the dirty apartment she shares with her hateful mother Mary (Mo’Nique), who sees Precious as a live-in slave and bait to hook more welfare checks. Precious weathers the abuse silently, and she might continue to swallow more sadness than humanly possible if not for a suspension — related to her second pregnancy — that leads her to an alternative school. Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) pushes Precious to tell her story through her class journal and connects her with a plainspoken but sympathetic social worker (Mariah Carey). Slowly, with help from both women and from her Each One classmates, Precious begins to find the power in her own voice.

Not one word of all this summary, however, really captures the mix of grim reality and hopefulness that makes “Precious” such a strong film. Based on Sapphire’s novel “Push,” the movie is unrelenting in its examination of what life looks like at its bleakest. Screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher does not soften his script to protect us from seeing the worst parts of Precious’ existence. Neither does Daniels shy away; instead, he uses documentary-style footage to force us inside Precious’ hellish Harlem apartment. In this way, the director eliminates the protective barrier that separates us from the characters. We are stripped of our defenses just as Precious is stripped of hers; her world becomes our world. This technique is effective because it strips away Hollywood gloss, leaving nothing but an unpretty story. Funny, isn’t it, how the most compelling stories tend to be the ones that lack gimmicks?

This, in fact, is where Daniels succeeds the most: telling a compelling story without relying on cliches or melodrama. He lets the actors take the lead, which suggests a level of intuition rarely seen in new directors. Because of this, almost none of the film’s scenes feel contrived, particularly those that take place inside the Each One Teach One classroom. Precious’ classmates chatter and bicker in ways that feel completely natural, and Patton lets Ms. Rain seem just as overwhelmed but eager and open as her students. Carey, remarkably unglammed and subtle, plays a social worker who isn’t delusional enough to believe she can swoop in and rescue Precious. She offers no false hopes, and so her conversations with Precious seem grounded in reality.

Devastatingly real, too, are Mo’Nique and Sidibe, who convey how the same hardship shapes two people differently. Who could have expected this kind of raw, raging performance from Mo’Nique, who’s spent her career languishing in movies like “Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins”? It’s the kind of left-field move that suggests she’s wildly underestimated her own talent. Sidibe matches her, though, not with explosiveness but with intensity. She deeply understands Precious’ pain, understands how she must suppress it until there’s time and space to express it. When those tears come, they feel like a hard-earned breakthrough. Simply put, Sidibe’s performance is a revelation. So is “Precious.”

Grade: A

No. 15: “Dead Man Walking” (1995)

“It’s not faith, it’s work.”
~~Sister Helen Prejean

Humanity exists in everyone. Men are not worse than their worst deeds. Talk about ideas that are easy to preach but hard to practice, particularly on death row. The miracle of Tim Robbins’ immensely powerful “Dead Man Walking” is that every character struggles with these concepts, and many do not swallow them as gospel truths. Here is one of the few — and possibly the most poignant and intelligent — examinations of the death penalty that leaves no scar left unseen, no voice left unheard.

The first voice belongs to that of Sister Helen Prejean (a wonderfully understated Susan Sarandon), who receives a letter from New Orleans death row inmate Matthew Poncelot (Sean Penn) and decides to visit him. There are no thoughts of shining up his dirty soul — she goes, she tells the priest, because “he wrote to me.” She enters the prison unprepared by what she finds: an oily, conceited racist whose manicured goatee give him an undeniable air of evil. But Poncelot gets a surprise of his own: Sister Helen is no Bible-thumper interested in adding another saved soul to her belt. Her motives are genuine; she asks questions and listens to his answers. She treats Poncelot, accused of murdering a teen couple and raping the girl, with respect because he is a person. For her, that’s reason enough, and so it becomes reason enough for us to care.

Soon, more voices chime in. Sister Helen’s tentative friendship with Poncelot opens a floodgate of complications. Poncelot draws her into his case, urging her to help him turn his death sentence into life in prison, and she agrees partly because she’s in too deep to pull back. (Credit Robbins with writing Helen this way and Sarandon with making her confusion palpable; rarely do we see religious figures this openly conflicted.) Poncelot, however, doesn’t make things easy — he tells Sister Helen what she wants to hear, then lapses into crazed, bigoted rants and aligns himself with neo-Nazis on TV. But there is real pain and fear beneath all that bravado*. She must face the wrath of the murdered girl’s parents (R. Lee Ermey, Celia Weston) and the quiet disappointment of the dead boy’s father (a subtle, devastating Raymond J. Barry). Angry, too, are the nuns in her order, who berate her for helping a lost cause like Poncelot instead of working with the disadvantaged children who need her more.

The volume of issues Robbins tackles in his adaptation of the real Sister Helen’s memoir is staggering. Robbins examines everything: faith, fear, revenge, pain, absolution, guilt, redemption. He does so with remarkable patience; he refuses to muscle his characters into acting as puppets meant to advance the plot. Not once does he attempt to force-feed us empty cliches and platitudes about the death penalty. Robbins is too subtle; rather, he elects to let this story develop naturally, allowing the unpredictability of human nature to dictate outcomes.  Consider, for example, Sister Helen’s meeting with the murdered girl’s parents, who believe she’s come to side with them. Their anger is blistering, and it pushes Sister Helen to question her own judgments about what Poncelot has done.

Robbins’ beautifully balanced script is elevated immensely by his actors. Talent doesn’t get much deeper or richer than Sarandon and Penn, two actors who tend to inhabit their characters completely. Saddled with the unenviable task of portraying a nun, Sarandon subverts our expectations; her Sister Helen is not a saint but a flawed woman who know she’s in over her head but won’t give up. She tells Poncelot he’s “a son of God” and honestly believes this to be true. Her directness is unexpectedly moving. Penn offers a fine counterpoint, for Poncelot covers the reality about his involvement with the murders with swagger and lines he’s pulled from Nazi propaganda pamphlets. But watch Penn’s eyes — they dam up rivers of emotions that threaten to overflow any second. When he finally tells Sister Helen “thank you for loving me,” it’s a moment of honesty so hard-won it feels wholly real. And in the end, that’s exactly where “Dead Man Walking” gets it right: It shows not one side but all of them. Every face we see haunts us immeasurably.

*Nowhere is this more evident than in Bruce Springsteen’s “Dead Man Walkin’,” a haunting song he penned specifically for the film’s soundtrack.

No. 14: “12 Angry Men” (1957)

“It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don’t really know what the truth is. I don’t suppose anybody will ever really know.”
~~Juror #8

For some men, it’s disturbingly simple to dismiss the full, oppressive weight a possibly innocent/possibly guilty defendant’s fate in the pursuit of fast, easy Jiffy Lube justice. Juror #8 (Henry Fonda), however, finds himself unwilling and unable to unload a “guilty” verdict because he’s got a pair of Yankees tickets in his pocket or dinner congealing on the table at home. His firm refusal to take facts at face value makes him the unwelcome voice of reason in Sidney Lumet’s taut, phenomenally acted “12 Angry Men,” a courtroom thriller that zeroes in on the ways petty grudges and prejudice cloud human judgment.

Perhaps, though, “courtroom thriller” isn’t quite the right phrase to describe “12 Angry Men,” since playwright/scriptwriter Reginald Rose sets nearly all the action outside the courtroom and inside the jury’s quarters.  This is a brilliantly strategic move, since it narrows our focus and enhances the claustrophobic atmosphere, forcing us inside a cramped room bursting with big egos, smart mouths and short tempers. These close quarters offer unusually, and often uncomfortably, intimate glimpses into the jurors’ lives — their professions, their children, even their thoughts, beliefs, hangups. Director Sidney Lumet’s close camera angles enhance the tension immeasurably, literally backing his actors (and us) into corners that offer no escape route. Lumet, it seems, understands that true human nature reveals itself best when suffocated by four walls.

Indeed, “12 Angry Men” is as much a character study as it is a legal procedural, and it’s a credit to the actors that there are no throwaway characters or forgettable ones. Their personalities emerge slowly inside the jury room, where they sit deliberating what seems to be a slam-dunk case: a disadvantaged teen (John Savoca) is accused of murdering his father. There are two witnesses, a knife wiped clean of fingerprints. The teen has an alibi he can’t back up with details, a long rap sheet and a volatile relationship with his old man. Then the 12-man jury retires to deliberate, and things get heated. Juror 8 dissents, urging his peers to question the case’s basis on circumstantial evidence. The remaining jurors, all convinced this young hood deserves the chair, include: 1 (Martin Balsam), the impatient foreman; 2 (John Fiedler), a shy bank clerk; 3 (Lee J. Cobb), a belligerent businessman with a runaway son; 4 (E.G. Marshall), a cool, impersonal stockbroker; 5 (Jack Klugman), who grew up in the same slums as the accused murderer; 6 (Edward Binns), a blue-collar man who abides his own moral code; 7 (Jack Warden), a slick, vain salesman; 9 (Joseph Sweeney), an elderly man who’s a keen observer of human behavior; confrontational bigot 10 (Ed Begley), a garage owner; 11 (George Voskovec), an immigrant who designs watches; and 12 (Robert Webber), a fickle ad exec. Initially united in their commitment to Jiffy Lube justice, they resist Juror 8’s arguments until his logic starts to make too much sense to ignore. Slowly, very slowly, they all — excluding 3 and 10 — begin to listen, reason out the prosecution’s points. They also begin to care about what they’re doing more than what they’re missing sitting in the jury chambers.

If this exposition makes “12 Angry Men” sound like a film that’s all talk and no action, that’s because it is. But with acting this accomplished and a script this polished, that’s hardly a criticism. Lumet’s direction is virtually perfect, both invasive and remarkably detached; his camera becomes a character itself, elevating the tension, then abating it, pushing the actors into corners, then letting them wriggle free. This approach lets us know the characters, and it coaxes, too, amazing and emotional performances from each of the 12 actors. Voskovec and Fiedler offer light comic relief, while Sweeney finds an unexpected shrewdness in elderly Juror 9. Fonda underplays Juror 8 to great effect, never overacting or aiming for melodrama. But nobody matches Cobb in terms of purely frightening intensity; as Juror 3, he holds back nothing. He lets us feel the knife twist of his disappointment — in his son, in himself. He is the voice that reminds us that life renders objectivity impossible.

10 best Disney movie villains

It took me about 20 years, but I finally figured out where my strange cinematic attraction to the lyin’, cheatin’, stealin’, no-good, lowdown tricksters, sheisters and baddies comes from.

Walt Disney, if you’re eavesdropping from the Great Disney Vault in the Sky, I blame you for this.

Disney, you see, got me hooked on villains at an early age (“The Sword in the Stone” remains My First, so naturally it holds a special place in my heart). And not just one kind of villain — all kinds. The mind reels at the sheer volume of creative and unique villains Disney films have introduced over the years. They range from the purely evil (Scar, Shan-Yu, Cruella De Vil) to the snarky tricksters (Jafar, Prince John) to the just plain cool (what’s cooler than a pirate?). When it comes to cranking out new and exciting villains, Disney has — or at least had — the market shaking and quaking in the corner.

And now, coasting in on a killer wave of nostalgia, let’s take a look at the great Disney villains of the past half-century or so:

 

1. Scar, “The Lion King”

Scar

It goes without saying that plotting the death of your own brother while leading your young nephew to believe it was his fault sends you straight to the top of the Cold-Hearted Snake Ladder of Villainy.

 

2. Cruella De Vil, “101 Dalmations”

cruella

Plainly put, any woman who’d stuff puppies in a sack, drown them and then use their skins to make a coat is right up there with Michael Myers in terms of sheer ruthlessness.

 

3. Maleficent, “Sleeping Beauty”

maleficent

Because anybody who can pull off lines like “You poor simple fools. Thinking you could defeat me, ME! The Mistress of All Evil!” while looking so effortlessly sleek and stunning deserves the utmost respect. And fear.

 

4. Shan-Yu, “Mulan”

ShanYuImage02-200Hulking, skulking marauder and village torcher Shan-Yu, with his total lack of morality and anything resembling compassion, will put the fear of the Huns in you (and a few arrows in your back, too).

 

5. Shere Kahn + Kaa, “The Jungle Book”

 sherekhan

kaaWhat we have here is a perfect combination of brute strength (Shere Kahn, all claws and big, pointy, nasty teeth) and unfathomable cunning (Kaa, unafraid to dust off that Snake in the Garden routine). Disney knows better than to sully the perfect odd couple.

 

6. Ursula, “Little Mermaid”

ursula

Part made man/wiseguy, part behind-the-scenes mastermind and schemer, part wise soothsayer — is there anything Ursual the Sea Witch can’t do? Of course not. It’s not fair, but life’s tough, innit?

 

7. Jafar, “Aladdin”

jafar

There are gangland enforcer-type villains, and then there are soliloquizing, sarcastic loonies like Jafar, reedy evil geniuses who pull the strings from behind the curtain. It’s badness without the beefcake-ishness.

 

8. Prince John, “Robin Hood”

princejohn

Bad guys who find time to sling out witty repartee in-between running amock and perpetrating bouts of skullduggery? So much more intriguing than the lamebrained strongarms.

 

9. Madam Mim, “The Sword in the Stone”

untitled

Crazed sorcerers are hard to beat (see No. 3 on this list), particularly when they have a penchant for shapeshifting and know their way around some hard-core alliteration.

 

10. Captain Hook, “Peter Pan”

CaptainHookcartoon

He’s a pirate (you know, eyepatch, parrot on the shoulder, “avast ye landlubbers!”?) with a hook for a hand. Need I say more?

Honorable mentions: The Evil Stepmother, “Cinderella”; Queen/Witch, “Snow White”; Hunter, “The Fox and the Hound”

“Twilight”: Redux

By now, I like to think I’ve made my feelings about “Twilight” — the series in general and the WHYGODWHYDIDTHEYMAKEIT? movie in particular — pretty obvious. I am not only a member of the Society of Twilight Haters, I am the founder of the South Carolina chapter. And based on post comments from yesterday’s review of “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” I’m even considering filming my own version involving the cheerful demise of Bella and Edward a) vaporized by Godzilla’s nuclear firebreath or b) pealed by Kong and eaten like an underripe banana. 

So naturally, when I found this YouTube clip, it cried out for posting. Watch, enjoy and then pause, taking a moment to marvel at just how much better this video is than the actual movie.

 

Real-life movie moment

The movie: “Unforgiven” (1992); dir. by Clint Eastwood; starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Frances Fisher.

The moment: Early morning (3:13 a.m.), my bathroom floor. A showdown between M. Carter @ the Movies and a spider with eyes big enough to reflect the flashlight beam.

The correlation: Evil Glinty-Eyed spider: “I don’t deserve to die like this. I was huntin’ bugs.” Me: “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.” Squish.