The weirdest villains in film

November 14, 2007

In a recent review for the film American Gangster, the LA Times included a fun little photo gallery of what they considered “more unusual choices for organized crime bosses.” Their picks include Jabba the Hut (can’t argue with them there…) and Don Lino (aka, the voice of Robert DeNiro) in the animated Shark Tale.

And while that’s fun and all, what about those other outcasts from the population of ne’er-do-wells whose chosen occupations sadly don’t fall into the realm of organized crime? Shouldn’t they get their say as well?

Here, then, are some of my favorite villainous oddballs:

WARNING: some contain SPOILERS (read with care…)

Bowler Hat Guy (Meet the Robinsons) – Something about those spindly legs just really creeps me out and to top it all off, the true villain is the mechanical bowler hat itself (uh huh, a bowler hat) that’s telling him what to do. Ick.

Yzma and Kronk (Emperor’s New Groove) – The first looks like some sort of waspish spider and has a weird thing for llamas. The second is a sidekick who hums his own theme song and happily cooks spinach puffs right in the middle of an evil plot. And when Yzma cackles evilly as a cute little kitten? Priceless.

The Penguin (Batman Returns) – Okay, true, in Batman, Jack Nicholson’s The Joker is mighty odd and, yes, totally insane. But he’s got a kind of sense of humor (in a creepy way) and, well… it’s Jack Nicholson. He’s his own kind of weird. In any case, unlike the Penguin in the original comics who was rather cool-headed, refined and quite intelligent, the Penguin in Batman Returns is, as the Wikipedia entry puts it, “a physically deformed, sadistic, megalomaniacal monster.” Plus, he hangs around with penguins all the time. Literally. I think that qualifies him.

The Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz) – She melts and her henchmen are flying monkeys. Enough said.

The Claw (Toy Story) – Who knew the fun selector of children’s stuffed animals could be such a bizarre nightmarish creature? Not forgetting of course that The Claw is also a completely emotionless cult leader who gets his brainwashed followers to chant “The Claw is our master. The claw chooses who will go and who will stay.” And leads them to believe that being “chosen” will take them to “a better place.” Scary, scary stuff.

HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) – As an artificial intelligence, this decidedly creepy villain is nothing but a voice and an oddly pulsating red glow. And really, there isn’t much that is scarier and more goosebumpily bizarre than a villain who never, ever raises his voice.

The Emperor (Star Wars) – Why is it that the names of many evil villains begin with a definite article? I suppose we’ll never really know, but I think it’s clear that this villain at least certainly deserves to have a name that begins with an emphatic “the.” With his ghoulish voice and eerie cackle, not to mention that blue lightning thing he can do with his hands, the Emperor is both evil and just plain strange. Darth Vader has got that cool strong man / deep voice in black metal vibe going on, but the Emperor has an omnipresent cowl and cooky sense of humor. He wins.

Assorted Amélie villains (Amélie / Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) – Perhaps not villains per se, if you want to get technical, but they are all weird and/or mysteriously odd people. So I think they should get their chance too. First, there’s the almost (okay, total) stalker guy from the café who records everything his ex-girlfriend says or does. Then, there’s the obnoxious and cruel grocer who delights in tormenting the boy who works for him and always calls Amélie “Amélie-melo.” And finally, there’s the ghost / possible obsessive picture taker whose eerie mystery haunts the film. Quite the goldmine of weird scoundrels, n’est-ce pas?

No Face (Spirited Away) – Half leprechaun, half “The Blob,” this gold-giving masked spirit vies (successfully, in my opinion) with the witch Yubaba for the title of baddest, largest, most complex, and just downright crazy villain in this spooky Japanese fairy tale.

The Cat King (The Cat Returns) – Pretty much demented, yet still a powerful ruler over, uh, cats, this rotund monarch has “I am CRAZY” eyes, static-style hair and calls the heroine “babe.” And he throws unfortunate palace performers out the window when they can’t make his guest smile. Weird and psychopathic – a winning combination for this list.

Lord Voldemort (pretty much any Harry Potter film) – Let’s recap, shall we? In the first film, he was a face on the back of someone’s head. In the second film, he was a ghost from a diary. In the third film, um… Okay, well, in the fourth film, he was a seriously creepy baby-like creature who transformed out of a boiling cauldron into a noseless man. In the fifth film and (I’m assuming) on, he’s that same snakelike, pasty-faced, noseless man. Yep, I think I’ve made my point…

Dr. Evil (Austin Powers) – This is a bit of a given. And with a medical degree in Evil, he’s earned it.

Honorable mentions: Stay Puft (Ghostbusters), the Black Knight and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), coat hanger aficionado Toht (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark), and potentially Grendel’s mother (the animated Angelina Jolie) in the upcoming Beowulf.


Favorite movie quotes

October 17, 2007

I received a comment yesterday from the eloquent blogger of Ripple Effects asking me for my favorite movie quotes.

By no means an unreasonable request – after all, how can I post quotes day after day without pointing out my own favorites?

So, here they are, the many, many quotes I know and love and quote incessantly to my friends (Eventually, that’s gotta make them love them too, right?… Right?). No “Rosebud” or “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” here, this is a list of personal favorites, ones that caught me for some inexplicable reason and somehow stayed among the various other miscellanies I seem to collect. They’re not necessarily classy, or even profound in any way (at all). But I just can’t get enough of ’em. They’re my guilty pleasure quotes, if you’d like.

This is personal, so be gentle – but not too gentle, of course. What do you think? Anything I missed? What quotes are your guilty pleasures?

Quote marks

Superman II

Oh, I’ve been, uh… working out.
[Clark Kent pumps his arms up and down a bit.]

The Incredibles

Edna Mode…
[a gun appears out of the ceiling immediately and aims at Helen]
… and guest.

– Everyone’s special, Dash.
– Which is another way of saying no one is.

Monty Python

I’m not dead!… I’m getting better!

Blue. No yel – aaaahhhhh!

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

He’s got a two day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody’s got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan. He speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom. He’ll blend in, disappear, you’ll never see him again. With any luck, he’s got the Grail already.

[later on in the film]

– But you said he had a two day head start. That he would blend in, disappear.
– Are you kidding? I made all that up. You know Marcus. He once got lost in his own museum.

Young Frankenstein
(Yep, this was the inspiration for the Aerosmith song.)

Walk this way. No…
[Igor hunches his back even more, shambling along]
this way.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
(pretty much anything I put in my post on the film, but here are some of my favorites)

Into the weenie mobile. Weenie man awaaaay!

Leaves only the fresh scent of pine.

– Are you boys cooking up there?
– No.
– Are you building an interocitor?
– No.

Caddyshack

So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

Clueless

Daddy, some people lost all their belongings, don’t you think that includes athletic equipment?

Well, uh, I thought they declared peace in the Middle East.
[said over a shot of the TV news featuring turmoil in Bosnia]

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

I put some Windex on it.

Oh, that’s okay. That’s okay. I make lamb.

Star Wars trilogy
(the first one – or rather, episodes 4-6)

– No time to discuss this as a committee.
– I am NOT a committee!

And now, young Skywalker… you will die.

(Okay, I admit that might sound a bit disturbing as a favorite quote, but you just have to hear the way the Emperor says it. Classic.)

Ever After

Some people read because they cannot think for themselves. [wicked stepmother, of course]

– She is mute, my lord.
– Really? She spoke quite forcefully.
– Well, it comes and goes…

The Third Man
(you knew I had to throw a classic in there somewhere – couldn’t help myself!)

Hello, old man, how are you?

In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Do these attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?

Fight Club

The first rule of fight club is – you do not talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is – you do not talk about fight club!

Galaxy Quest

By Grabthar’s hammer!

The ship is breaking apart and all that. Just FYI.

Roman Holiday

May I say, speaking for my own press service, we believe your Highness’s faith will not be unjustified.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Wait for the opportune moment.

The Mummy

– Well, if it ain’t my little buddy Beni. I think I’ll kill you.
– Think of my children.
– You don’t have any children
– Someday I might.

Aladdin
(You’re probably thinking – these? They’re even more random than the rest! Well, point taken, but, probably much to the dismay of my friends and family, these somehow pop up quite often in conversation.)

– Patience, Iago, patience. Gazeem was obviously less than worthy.
– Oh, there’s a big surprise.

Calm yourself, Iago.

PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS! Itty bitty living space.

The Princess Bride
(Saving the first for last – besides Aladdin, these are some of the first quotes I remember reciting.)

Well, it just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead.

Inconceivable!

(and, of course…)

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die.

Quote marks


What kind of movie are you?

September 19, 2007

People say (perhaps more often than is necessary) that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but can you judge people by what movies they like, or even by what type of movie they most resemble?

I’ve compiled a list of popular movie genres and the telltale signs that someone might be starting to identify with that genre a little too much. See anyone you know?

Action

When falling through a glass window, do you:

a) Start screaming.

b) Pray.

c) Shout a witty comeback to the man who pushed you while pulling on the ripcord to your backpack parachute.

You live by the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Or if not prepared, you always, always act like you are – and improvise (if you don’t think that Kleenex is a potential weapon, this is not the category for you). A man (or woman) of few words, you have a gift for phrases that are catchy and memorable, and, of course, almost improbably timely. Your voice is often a bit gruff from years of some sort of addictive habit and/or being knocked down perhaps one too many times by black-attired anonymous assassins.

You have perfect aim and an uncanny ability to distract enemies to the point where their own aim is nonexistent. You have very strong feelings about monologuing, especially by scheming loner types with weird, five-minute-long laughs. Unfortunately, you’re probably not great at long-term relationships, but on the bright side, you have almost no trouble finding temporary flings. Finally, you’re barely ever wrong (or won’t ever admit that you are) and you don’t like being told what to do, except, shall we say, by more “aged” citizens, particularly ones wearing expensive suits. And if you do find someone to trust and possibly even love, you’re fiercely loyal.

If you answered c to the question, the above description matches your personality and you can picture every possible escape route from the place you are now, then you’re most definitely Action.

Movies you should watch: Die Hard, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Bourne, The Matrix, Robocop, anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger (and probably almost everything on this EW list).

Horror

When leaving a party to go home late at night, do you:

a) Call a car service.

b) Tell your friends you don’t need their help and walk home alone, preferably only taking poorly lit streets and dark alleyways.

c) Grab pepper spray, a bullet-proof vest and your three, ex-Secret Service bodyguards and walk down as many brightly lit, heavily populated sidewalks as possible.

A bit naive and trusting, you tend not to be very suspicious (or even aware) of what’s going on around you. You commonly forget to lock, or just close, the door and/or you don’t think twice about telling a mysterious stranger which door you leave unlocked at night. You really like the phrase “I’ll be right back.” You carry around a grainy, digital camera – just in case. You or someone close to you might also be one or more of the following: a bully, a very attractive woman, a frequent babysitter, someone who is sexually active, a jerk, an insensitive tourist, someone who likes to take daring, out of the way trips, a corporate and/or rich snob.

If you answered b, the above description matches your personality and your phone is ringing right now, then you are Horror.

Movies you should watch: Halloween, The Exorcist, Psycho, Carrie, Silence of the Lambs, Night of the Living Dead, Alien, 28 Days Later (and, for some levity, Shaun of the Dead)

Lifetime Original Movie

You are:

a) Male.

b) Female.

You like long walks on the beach and watching the sun set. You are really attracted to obviously bad and seriously sketchy men. You can be a bit jumpy at loud noises and are often paranoid about sounds coming from outside the house, but probably for good reason. You have unfortunately suffered many, many personal, professional, family, and romantic tragedies in a very short span of time. You have a mentally unstable twin and/or a murderous family member and/or a traitorous best friend. Most importantly, however, you firmly believe that you can always learn to love again and that if you believe in yourself, everything will work out all right in the end. Requirement: you must currently have or have had, or know someone with, amnesia.

If you answered b, the above description matches your personality and you have Kleenex and a pint of ice cream handy, then you are a Lifetime Original Movie.

Movies you should watch: Sleeping with the Enemy, anything on Lifetime that stars Meredith Baxter-Birney and Tori Spelling, and other movies in this EW Lifetime Movie article (and go here to create your own Lifetime movie title!)

Romantic comedy

You are engaged. Do you:

a) Happily plan your wedding and future with the man or woman of your dreams.

b) Unconsciously sabotage your own wedding while secretly dreaming about the guy or girl who recently appeared in your life.

c) Never agree to get married in the first place.

You either have a very eligible (and single) good friend of the opposite sex (but you just don’t see them that way), or you know absolutely no one of the opposite sex. You are not known for your long-term relationships. On the other hand, you are an excellent internal monologuer.

You deal with relationship woes and/or self-esteem issues by talking to your quirky, self-deprecating, not-unattractive-but-not-competition friend(s), although you don’t often follow his or her (or their) advice. You might like to go out to parties (when your friends insist), but more often than not you prefer to be a homebody. You might also be dealing with some difficult personal style issues.

If you answered b or c (this one could go either way), the above description matches your personality and you’re planning to be at the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day, then you’re a Romantic Comedy.

Movies you should watch: You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Pretty Woman, While You Were Sleeping, When Harry Met Sally…, Roman Holiday, The Philadelphia Story

Comedy

You are at a restaurant for a job interview, do you:

a) Arrive right on time, fully prepared.

b) Arrive a bit late (volunteering at that soup kitchen took a bit longer than expected), apologize profusely, and proceed to wow them with your eloquence and graceful manners.

c) Arrive ten minutes late (your pet ferret got loose), trip and spill hot soup all over your new suit, go to the bathroom to wash and blow dry your pants/skirt, run into your interviewer there while you’re in your underwear, and then belatedly realize they’re not the bathroom attendee after you’ve handed them some change.

A bit of a klutz, you are frequently physically awkward around the opposite sex and/or their family and friends. A man or woman of perhaps too many words, you commonly end up referring to somewhat inappropriate parts of the human anatomy, whether on purpose or tragically by accident. Normal, everyday situations just don’t seem to go your way – in fact, they often seem to go horribly, horribly wrong. You are one of the following: a parent with a very large family, a young guy in high school/college (literally or spiritually) who has lots of similarly-minded friends, an eeevil dictator, a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be…, someone who is not very sexually active, an acerbic New Yorker, a worker with a very boring profession or a job that caters to highly annoying, preferably snobbish customers.

If you answered c, the above description matches your personality and you have already spilled your morning coffee in a very inconvenient place, then you are probably a Comedy.

Movies you should watch: Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Wedding Crashers, Office Space, There’s Something About Mary, Annie Hall, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Airplane!, Some Like It Hot, Blazing Saddles, Caddyshack, National Lampoon

Independent films, preferably with subtitles

In your spare time, you:

a) Listen to classical or otherwise obscure musical recordings and finish up your own translation of “Crime and Punishment” while nibbling on some bread made fresh that morning by the local baker (whom you know by name).

b) Go on a pub crawl with some friends, crash when it’s getting light out and then wake up at 4pm.

c) Play games on your Xbox.

You like talking. A lot. Or at least writing or otherwise expressing yourself artistically in a very deep and passionate way. Unfortunately, you are not often happy – but more as a way of life rather than as a mood. You care deeply about sociopolitical issues and/or are a keen observer of human behavior. You like slow walks through forests or sitting by the fire in old country estates. Requirement: you must love to read, particulary books that are bound in leather.

Movies you should watch: Any miniseries on Masterpiece Theatre, Merchant Ivory films, Marcel Pagnol movies, Before Sunrise/Sunset, Stranger than Paradise (and check out Empire Magazine’s list of the 50 greatest independent films)


Quotes

September 11, 2007

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

CART MASTER:  Bring out your dead! [clang] Bring out your dead!

CUSTOMER:  Here’s one.

CART MASTER:  Ninepence.

DEAD PERSON:  I’m not dead!

CART MASTER:  What?

CUSTOMER:  Nothing.  Here’s your ninepence.

DEAD PERSON:  I’m not dead!

CART MASTER:  ‘Ere.  He says he’s not dead!

CUSTOMER:  Yes, he is.

DEAD PERSON:  I’m not!

CART MASTER:  He isn’t?

CUSTOMER:  Well, he will be soon.  He’s very ill.

DEAD PERSON:  I’m getting better!

CUSTOMER:  No, you’re not.  You’ll be stone dead in a moment.

CART MASTER:  Oh, I can’t take him like that.  It’s against regulations.

DEAD PERSON:  I don’t want to go on the cart!

CUSTOMER:  Oh, don’t be such a baby.

CART MASTER:  I can’t take him.

DEAD PERSON:  I feel fine!

CUSTOMER:  Well, do us a favour.

CART MASTER:  I can’t.

CUSTOMER:  Well, can you hang around a couple of minutes?  He won’t be long.

CART MASTER:  No, I’ve got to go to the Robinsons’.  They’ve lost nine today.

CUSTOMER:  Well, when’s your next round?

CART MASTER:  Thursday.

DEAD PERSON:  I think I’ll go for a walk.

CUSTOMER:  You’re not fooling anyone, you know.  Look.  Isn’t there something you can do?

DEAD PERSON:  [singing]  I feel happy.  I feel happy.   

[whop]

CUSTOMER:  Ah, thanks very much.

Thanks to mwscomp.com for the script.


Best and Worst Mythology Movies – sorry, ‘King Arthur.’

August 28, 2007

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a myth geek. I even read academic books about myths in my spare time (yuck, I know). Which is why, as a movie geek too, I was so excited when my favorite film magazine, UK’s Empire, recently posted a blog entry by Helen O’Hara on Hollywood’s recent interest in movies based on classic myth or legend.

O’Hara, a self-proclaimed “history geek and fantasy lover,” makes a few choice comments about the recent film updates (“Troy works wonderfully as a silent movie” and so on) and what she would like to see in the future (Táin Bó Cúailnge, anyone?). And since I’m, well, a history geek and fantasy lover myself, I couldn’t resist using her entry as inspiration to make a list of what I believe are my favorite and least favorite movies based on myths and legends.

MOST FUN

The Mummy – I believe I’ve said it before, but this is one of those guilty pleasure movies that I can watch again and again (and I do). I love ancient Egypt and ancient Egyptian mythology, and this has got fun spins on both. A Book of the Dead made entirely out of some sort of hardened black substance? Sure, why not. A Mummy that brings with it the ten plagues of Egypt? An interesting take on the Bible, but okay. An expert on ancient Egypt as an action heroine? It’s about time! Fun, entertaining (sometimes in a campy sort of way), action-packed, somewhat romantic, and rooted in Egyptian myth, The Mummy’s got it all.

Troy – Okay, it has its weak points (for me, the Paris/Helen chemistry-free romance), but it’s got some awesome fight scenes (Brad Pitt vs. Eric Bana in a gracefully brutal Achilles and Hector showdown) and I have to admit that I was touched by the love story of Achilles and Briseis, whether or not it was true to Homer’s The Iliad, the movie’s basis.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Not for everyone, this is one of those movies that most people I know either love or just don’t get. Me? I still crack up at the opening scene (I’m getting better!) and:

-What is your favorite color?

-Blue. No yel- Ahhhh!

And who can not appreciate an extended discussion on the flight capabilities of the African swallow?

StargateThis is myth-based, you say? Of course it is! Clearly it is simply a sci-fi retelling of ancient Egyptian myth. Who is the god Ra? Why he’s an alien, of course! How else do you think they built the pyramids? (Riley from National Treasure, you were right all along) In any case, it’s got Kurt Russell and James Spader battling it out with that guy from The Crying Game in an alien version of ancient Egypt. It doesn’t get more fun than that.

Aladdin (Disney) – Perhaps not the most accurate adaptation of the Arabian Nights (if the tale of Aladdin is a Nights tale at all), but probably the most financially successful one. Who would’ve thought that Robin Williams as a blue genie could be so much fun? And don’t even try to deny that you’ve had “A Whole New World” stuck in your head at some point or another – for better or for worse.

Hororable Mentions: Ghostbusters and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Okay, a bit of a stretch perhaps, but the use of a Sumerian god, Gozer, and an Aztec curse? They might both be fictional, but still clearly influenced by mythology.

CAMPIEST (and thus, lots of fun as well)

Clash of the Titans – This is truly a camp classic of mythology. Presenting the tale of Perseus and Medusa with stop-motion animation (see the giant monster Kraken move jerkily forward to attack!), this 1981 film has got enough action, fantasy and romance to satisfy anyone. Not convinced? Then go for the actors who play the gods: Maggie Smith plays Thetis, Ursula Andress is Aphrodite (Venus), and Laurence Olivier himself plays Zeus. And for you gamers out there, Harry Hamlin, who does the voice of Perseus in God of War II, originated the role in this movie.

Comingsoon.net reports that Warner Bros. is scripting a remake. Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time.

Jason and the Argonauts – Another stop-motion animated classic, but this time from 1963. It’s a retelling of the classic myth of Jason and his crew of Argonauts (including Hercules), and their search for the Golden Fleece. If you like Clash of the Titans, you’ll like this.

Excalibur – Another cult classic. A dramatic and violent, and beautifully shot, retelling of King Arthur and his knights. With Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Bryne, Liam Neeson, and others. Be prepared for lots of mist!

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys / Xena: Warrior Princess – I know they’re not technically movies, but you know I had to include them.

The Thief of Baghdad (1924) – Watch the caliph’s daughter swoon over Douglas Fairbank’s swashbuckling (yes, swashbuckling) Aladdin in silent black and white. Need I say more?

Honorable Mention: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Referencing classical mythology and Celtic folklore, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is of course the classic comedy by William Shakespeare. It is, however, also a recent film from Fox Searchlight. Sit back, relax, and watch stars like Calista Flockhart, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale, Kevin Kline, and Stanley Tucci have lots of fun running around in the forest, while occasionally tripping over Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter.

MINISERIES (solid and not too shabby)

The Odyssey (1997) – Okay, I can give adaptations a hard time, but let’s admit it, it’s not easy to adapt a classic epic, especially one that is one of the most famous in the Western world. Although not perfect (but what is?), this miniseries with Armand Assante as Odysseus manages to pull off a solid retelling and keep many of the tale’s details intact. Also starring Vanessa Williams, Isabella Rosselini and Christopher Lee.

Mists of Avalon – Based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s popular King Arthur epic with a feminist twist, I didn’t think this was half-bad. The book was still worlds better, but a solid adaptation nonetheless. Plus, Michael Vartan plays Lancelot!

Helen of Troy (2003) – I’m torn on this one. One of those “this is the true story of…”, it doesn’t necessarily always stick directly to the original mythology. Plus, some of the legendary characters get short shrift; Achilles and Hector who? But I still found the miniseries – about the Trojan War from the perspective of its famous beauty – entertaining at times and usually fun to watch, and it contains many of the characters left out of other adaptations (Cassandra, Pollux, poor Iphigenia, even Kings Atreus and Theseus make appearances).

Arabian Nights (2000) – Nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, this adaptation of the 1001 Nights plays up the romance between Scheherazade and Sultan Schariar, to whom Scheherazade must tell a story every night in order to put off her execution at his hands. It’s got its campy moments, but it doesn’t digress as much from the Nights as other adaptations and Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible II, Ever After) and Mili Avital (From Stargate! It’s all coming together…) are convincing as the troubled king and his beautiful storyteller.

Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King – A miniseries that aired on the Sci-Fi channel and is based on the Germanic tale, The Nibelungenlied (nee-buh-luhng-ehn-leed, I believe – it’s a very impressive name to mention at parties). Ever heard of Wagner’s Ring cycle? Also partly based on The Nibelungenlied (translation: Song of the Nibelungs). Benno Furmann, a Kevin Sorbo look-alike with his long hair, plays Siegfried, the hero and dragon-slayer, and Alicia Witt is Kriemhild, his sometime lover. Kristanna Loken plays the other lover, the warrior Brunhilde. Not bad for a miniseries, it’s got lots of fun, smoldering dialogue and special effects. It lags at times, but generally provides lots of often campy fun. It was originally released outside of the US and under various different titles, including Ring of the Nibelungs.

BEST

Spirited AwayHayao Miyazaki‘s beautiful and haunting animated movie was heavily influenced by Japanese Shinto mythology and tradition. It tells the tale of a girl who wanders into a supernatural world populated by all manner of magical creatures. The film won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. Just goes to show that you don’t need fancy CGI to make a stunning animated film. If you’ve seen this and liked it, go rent My Neighbor Totoro. An earlier film by Miyazaki, it’s the story of two young sisters and their adventures with magical spirits. Playful and fun, but also moving.

Whale Rider – Set in New Zealand, the film uses Maori myth and tradition to captivating and poignant effect. It’s a touching story about a girl growing up to become a leader in a male-dominated society. The lead actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes, was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film at the age of 13.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Like Monty Python, most people I know either really like this or don’t get it at all. An odd, yet oddly captivating, retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, the movie follows three ex-prisoners in the 1930s as they encounter a Cyclops, sirens and more on their search for treasure and love. George Clooney is Ulysses and Holly Hunter plays the modern Penelope, “Penny.” In my opinion, all worth it for the scenes with the Soggy Bottom Boys.

Ramayan (1987-88) – A hugely successful Indian “miniseries” that recounts the famous epic story of Rama and Sita, ancient heroes in Hindu tradition. According to Wikipedia, the series was watched by over 100 million people when it was first on the air. It can move at a slow pace and may seem campy to Western audiences, but it’s lovingly done and an Indian classic. It’s also a great way to learn more about beloved Hindu figures. The whole thing is 78 episodes long (no, that’s not a typo), so if you haven’t seen any of it, catch an episode of it sometime if you can.

Fritz Lang’s Die NibelungenThe Nibelungenlied again, but this time in silent black and white. The famous director of Metropolis tells the epic tale in two parts (Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Revenge). Slow but powerful.

WORST

Hercules (Disney animated) – I just don’t like this movie, I’m sorry. Hades as a used car salesman type? No, no, no, and no. Not for me.

King Arthur – I love Clive Owen, and have a soft spot in my heart for Keira Knightley due to her beautiful portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, but I was not impressed by this movie. They were striving for the “real story” of King Arthur, and I respect that, but it just didn’t work.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (animated) – Yet another example of why celebrity voices alone (Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones) can’t sell a movie.

UM…

Pasolini’s Il Fiore delle mille e una notte (The Flower of the One Thousand and One Nights) – I really don’t know what to say about this film. It defies description. Critically acclaimed, yes, but I’m just not sure I get it. Be warned though: for adult audiences ONLY.

The Fountain – Lots of references to Mayan myth, but again… ?

TO BE DETERMINED

Beowulf – Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother? I’m suspicious, but willing to give co-screenwriter Neil Gaiman the benefit of the doubt. For my review, click here.

Thor – In development, an adaptation of the Norse superhero in the Marvel Comics. For more, go here for Rotten Tomatoes’ news of the event.

Yes, I know I’ve missed some (First Knight and Camelot come to mind – even The Matrix and Star Wars), and probably many, but this list can’t go on forever. What can I say? The ones above are the films that made the strongest impression on me, for better or worse.

For great print versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Arabian Nights, check out Neil Gaiman’s Dream Country for his award-winning take on Shakespeare’s play, and Fables and Reflections for a look at the world of the Nights – both volumes are part of Gaiman’s Sandman series.