Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Eight

I often wish I had the means to do videos or even podcasts, if only so I could steal that haunting, soft opening Ellen Barkin rocked in every episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour.

Go find it. I’m not going to run an example of that intro. It just wouldn’t be the same as actually saying it.

Two more reviews for the series?

Oh boy. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m going to be finally finished with this by the end of this month. It’s best to just shoot straight through the last two days, so I’m not going to be running anything else until thirty reviews are committed to this blog. We’re on day twenty-eight, and the last two may as well be already written.

God knows what’s next for this blog. I have ideas, but none of them are setting the world on fire for me at this exact moment. That could be my mood, or it could be a hint from upstairs that I should wait for some inspiration. Being finished with this will probably clear away a lot of excess cobwebs, and make room for new ones. I hope so. I’m writing more than usual right now, but I’m still waiting for an idea that sets off that mild but wonderful obsessive steak. I want to fall in love with an idea the way I fall in love with an unbelievable woman. That wish has been lingering in every other project for a while now. It’s time I became deathly serious about finding a project that sets off that kind of love. I’m already thinking (an occasional hobby of mine), but I’m looking to finishing and then cutting these loose ends around my neck.

It’s time to move on, and trust for the best to meet somewhere along the way.

On an unrelated note, it was around this time that I was running lines for my role in Frost/Nixon, so subsequently acting has been on my mind even more than usual. I have no idea when the next gig will come along, and that’s pathetically distressing.

Nothing to do but hope and pay attention for anything that looks promising.

That’s often the case, it would seem. I’m not complaining. Simply observing.

**********
30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Eight: Movie With Your Favorite Villain

Richard III (1995)
Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Starring: Ian McKellen, Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent

Choosing the movie with my favorite all-time hero was relatively easy. Yes, there were contenders for the spot, but it didn’t take long to sort through them and decide on a favorite. I didn’t doubt my pick for a moment. Close seconds aside, Indiana Jones did not get much of a real challenge from other possibilities, or any of those close seconds.

Those who know me know that while I can appreciate a great hero, I’m much more likely to enjoy the company of a truly memorable villain. A classic villain needs a hero of equal stature to achieve immortality, realized through their conflict, but I’ve always felt that the hero needs the villain more than the other way around. A villain without a good guy who measures up can still be supremely entertaining. A hero without a worthy opponent usually just bores me to the point of a mild, half-awake coma.

The only time I ever give a damn about Superman tends to be when he’s facing Lex Luthor. I’m a fantastic for anything-Batman, but my interest in the character is never any higher than when he’s up against The Joker. Peter Cushing needed Christopher Lee. Optimus Prime is even better with Megatron. Sherlock Holmes to Moriarty, and Liam Gallagher to Noel Gallagher (although I’m not quite sure who the good guy/bad guy is in that one).

This list can go on, but it shouldn’t. The point is that choosing my favorite film villain was a much more difficult task than picking the hero. I didn’t lose sleep over it (it’s not like I sleep very well to begin with), but I there was considerably more thought involved in this category than with most of the other days. Lots of second-guessing, lots of moments when I thought I had made a choice, only to then think of someone else.

Ian McKellen in Richard III has a couple of things going for it against other contenders. McKellen himself is one of the finest actors of our time. He is as captivating and convincing in heroic roles (a couple of people might have seen him in Lord of the Rings), as he is when it a film demands he play the exact opposite (the X-Men films, or even the underrated Apt Pupil). I like him either way, but he entertains me just a bit more as a bad guy, and he’s never entertained more than he did as Richard III.


Go ahead, call him a queer.

That’s one reason. The other is that it seems as though the character itself is something of a prototype for a lot of other villains I like. I look through a list of favorites, notice similarities between them and Shakespeare’s version of the real-life king and keep in mind that Richard has a couple of centuries on the rest of my list. He’s one of the earliest maniacal villain s I’m aware of, and after a lot of thought I decided he was my favorite.

I don’t think you get to truly consider yourself a badass, until you’ve screamed “My Horse! My horse! My kingdom for a horse!” from behind of the wheel of a scout car that’s being attacked from all sides by the sights and sounds of your army getting the living crap kicked out of it.

That scene pops into my head quite often. McKellen’s Richard is a monster, but he’s a charming monster, and no one can say he’s not ready to go to bat. We know he’s headed for a fall, but we also know he’s not going to make that easy for anyone who’s coming after him.

My choice in such a strong field of contenders gets considerable help from Richard III being one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched a number of films based on Shakespeare’s works in the last ten years or so. Richard III is my favorite.

Tromeo and Juliet is pretty damn good, too though.

Like a lot of people, I had to get the hell away from high school in order to finally start appreciating Shakespeare. I’ve been slow to make my way through his work, but I’ve come to truly enjoy plays like The Merchant of Venice and King Lear. For the most part the tragedies are infinitely more interesting to me (someone told me once that The Merchant of Venice was originally intended as a comedy, but I really don’t know if that’s true).

Richard III is also my favorite of his plays, period, and Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film adaptation is a brilliant reinterpretation. There are distinct differences between the film and the original material, but the center of the story, Richard himself, is unchanged. The character leaves a lot of room for an actor skilled at playing bad guys. Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone and Al Pacino have all good turns as Richard in other film versions (I’ve never seen the Olivier version, and that’s something I need to change one of these days). All those guys were good, but they can’t even come close to the lofty heights reached by the vicious, deranged menace McKellen punches into every single line and gesture. McKellen uses both his talents as an actor and fan of the play to deliver a performance that is as sinister as it is enthralling. It makes sense that he had a hand in adapting Richard III for the screen alongside Loncraine. His belief in the story and character is prevalent. Every line is delivered with intensity and passion to spare.


“Let me just finish this smoke, and then I’ll go back to murdering everyone.”

Other great actors are in the movie, but sometimes, it’s hard to pay attention to them. Robert Downey Jr (who looks pretty sedate throughout), Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith make the most of their time. Nigel Hawthorne is wonderful, fatally tragic from the onset as Richard’s brother. Everyone is great, but the name on the marquee is still the one that we’re hopefully going to pay the most attention to. This is the kind of role that could lend itself to drowning in camp under an actor with no concept of balance. McKellen has balance to the point of making it look easy. He’s proven that in just about everything he appears in. He plays Richard full-tilt and straight down the highway to hell, but he never reaches comical heights. It’s entertaining, but it’s also dark, intense stuff. What’s chilling is in how he plays Richard so smoothly that we sometimes forget the horrors of his political ambitions. If someone wanted to, regardless of their particular politics, they could probably draw parallels between Sir Ian’s performance, and the notion of people in real life being so taken by a public figure that they are able to practice intentional amnesia in response to what they’re really up to. That is one of the most gripping facets of Richard III.  We are able to at times lose ourself in the performance itself. More than once, McKellen makes anyone decent look pretty dull by comparison.

The 1930’s London backdrop does a lot for this movie, too. It’s a perfectly-realized atmosphere of chaos, fear, greed and insanity. It’s a natural fit for the drama that unfolds. This is the perfect stage for a madman to swoop in, tear the house down and go out via the same sword he used for his bloody rise to power. All the way to the end Richard III is a perfect example of what film can do to enhance something like a Shakespearean play. It adds something worthwhile to an often-told tale. While never forgetting that beneath all of that is a story and central character as rich and compelling as when they were first created. Shakespeare’s plays live on because of people like Ian McKellen.

Looking again at the more recent films, books, TV shows, comics and the like it’s hard to imagine some of those other villains matching Richard for ambition and ferocity. Most of them wouldn’t stand a chance in a confrontation. Barring my opinion of Laurence Olivier’s film, whenever I finally see it, I see Ian McKellen as the greatest actor to ever take on the best villain I’ve ever seen in a film. Richard III is unblemished filmmaking from top to bottom, but McKellen is what puts the movie on my list of classics.

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