HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of Intense Action Violence, Frightening Images and brief Sensuality

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Directed by: David Yates

Written by: Steve Kloves

(based on the novel HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Jason Isaacs, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton & David Thewlis

Confession time: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is probably my least favorite book in the series. It’s an underwhelming conclusion to a groundbreaking fantasy series. However, the material seemed like it would make an exciting film. Enter the Warner Bros. execs who upon realizing they only had one HARRY POTTER adaptation left to milk for cash decided to keep the blockbuster train rolling for two more films. Though many fans seemed initially disappointed by the studio’s route, that didn’t stop this seventh film from becoming the third-highest grossing HARRY POTTER title in the franchise (behind the eighth film and the first film). DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 isn’t a bad movie. It’s better than a majority of split book adaptations (e.g. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY and THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY Part 1), but that doesn’t overshadow the fact that this is still half a story being stretched into over two hours.

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In the aftermath of Dumbledore’s death, the wizarding world has become dark and hopeless. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is tightening his grip on the Ministry of Magic and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is taking over Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Chosen one Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is Voldemort’s prime target, which has led secretive rebel group Order of the Phoenix to stage a complicated rescue mission. After some casualties ensue and Voldemort’s Death Eaters find the Order’s location, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) venture out on their own to track down Voldemort’s secret Horcruxes, magical objects that contain pieces of his soul. These dark magical objects must be destroyed in order to kill the Dark Lord…and the trio kick off their deadly scavenger hunt by hunting down a cursed locket.

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While the HARRY POTTER series had been progressively getting darker and darker through the previous six films, DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 ranks as the most depressing installment of the series. Part of this might be attributed to the “To Be Continued…” ending, while another reason easily comes from major character deaths that might shock those who haven’t read the material beforehand. However, I feel the main reason that DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 succeeds in being a suspenseful installment is because Harry, Ron and Hermione become fugitives. The corrupt wizard government no longer offers any safeguards towards the chosen one and is actively following Voldemort’s agenda. The lack of a safety net and danger coming from all directions offer a feeling of dread that the series has previously never seen before.

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It should come as no surprise that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson slip right back into their iconic roles with ease. Though the rising threats cause tensions to erupt between their characters. Much like the film’s dark tone, this isn’t necessarily something completely new in the series but it’s never been executed to this degree. When we see longtime grudges emerge and drama between the three best friends, it’s a bit tough to watch because we’ve come to love these characters for so long. Still, these are the same protagonists, just more mature and grown up. Harry is just as courageous as ever. Hermione is smart and frequently gets the group out of trouble. Ron delivers comic relief that attempts to brighten up the rather depressing plot.

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Other familiar faces return with Dobby (the most annoying character in the series), Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), worst teacher ever Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), a cameo from Wormtail (Timothy Spall), a hardly glimpsed Ollivander (John Hurt), a psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), and many more. Ralph Fiennes has two scenes as Voldemort, while Snape’s presence is mostly regulated to the opening prologue. Series newcomers appear in: Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour, Andy Linden as scumbag Mundungus Fletcher, Peter Mullan as Death Eater Yaxley, and Rhys Ifans as Luna Lovegood’s eccentric father Xenophilius. All four of these characters serve as plot devices and nothing more.

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DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 is entertaining and nicely sets up the conclusion to the series, but unfortunately falls victim to an unnecessarily lengthy running time. Perhaps, Part 1 wouldn’t feel underwhelming if this movie wasn’t as long as previous HARRY POTTER entries. There are (at least) 20 minutes that could have been excised for the sake of a tighter running time and a more compelling movie as a whole. The introduction of the titular Deathly Hallows (three legendary magical objects) seems disconnected from the rest of the movie, because the exposition dump functions as an introduction for DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 2. Also, this plot point directly contradicts a piece of the series that was introduced in SORCERER’S STONE and I’ve never been able to completely overlook that. This sloppy bit of writing leads me to believe that J.K. Rowling didn’t have the series fully mapped out in her head as she was going along.

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DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 isn’t the worst HARRY POTTER film. GOBLET OF FIRE still holds that title and HALF-BLOOD PRINCE is 75% filler, but Part 1 is still very much the first half of a plot and feels like it. The long running time certainly doesn’t help matters, but there are memorable sequences that stick out for positive reasons. I love the confrontations that Harry, Ron and Hermione have with various Death Eaters, especially a climactic showdown. There are tense scenarios brought up in visiting the Ministry of Magic in disguise and the completion of the cursed locket storyline. This is also the darkest HARRY POTTER film with a “doom and gloom” atmosphere the whole way through. DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 is far from the best installment in the HARRY POTTER series, but still remains a solid movie in the decade-long saga.

Grade: B

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Fantasy Violence and Frightening Images

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Directed by: David Yates

Written by: Michael Goldenberg

(based on the novel HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX by J.K. Rowling)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Griffiths, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson & Tom Felton

Two years after audiences experienced the worst HARRY POTTER film, David Yates stepped in as a director and proceeded to helm the last four films in the series (as well as 2016’s upcoming FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM). This long-running fantasy franchise’s fifth installment was one of the best films in 2007’s mixed bag summer movie season. I was working at a movie theater when this film came out and still remember going to see it three times on the big screen. ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is one notch below PRISONER OF AZKABAN (the POTTER’s highest point). ORDER earns its high ranking due to a fast pace, loathsome villainess, and an intricate story that thrives on believable character development.

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Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned. People are disappearing and dark magic is becoming more frequent, but the willfully ignorant Ministry of Magic wishes to look the other way. This leaves fifth-year Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) as social pariahs in the wizarding world. To make matters worse, the Ministry appoints cruel sociopathic witch Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts. Frustrated by Umbridge’s unwillingness to teach students how to actually defend themselves, a small band of Hogwarts students form a small resistance force known as “Dumbledore’s Army,” led by none other than Harry. Meanwhile, Harry discovers that he has a frightening psychic connection with Voldemort and attempts to control it.

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ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is probably the most stress-inducing HARRY POTTER cinematic chapter in that enemies come from both sides. In the first four films, Harry was seen as a sort of gifted celebrity by the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts staff. ORDER changes that, because the corrupt Ministry invades Hogwarts and shapes the school to their benefit. Of course, this is being perpetuated by probably the most despicable antagonist in the entire series: Dolores Umbridge. She’s a horrible person and you might have to restrain yourself from attempting to jump through the screen to strangle her. Imelda Staunton plays her to sickly sweet perfection in a performance that reminds me of two terrible teachers I had in school, making the character that much more aggravating on a personal level.

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Besides Dolores Umbridge, two new characters also pop up in murderous Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and optimistic oddball Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch). The former only appears for ten minutes of screen time, but makes the most of her scenes. The latter is a fantastic new addition to the main HARRY POTTER cast. Lynch was a perfect choice for the role and plays Luna exactly as I imagined her in the books. This character is a fan favorite and it’s easy to see why. To further praise Luna Lovegood as a positive role model, she has the admirable attributes of not caring what other people think and being true to herself.

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Daniel Radcliffe is back in top-form as Harry Potter, becoming outright confrontational in places and slowly evolving into the determined hero he needs to be in order to take down Voldemort. Emma Watson’s Hermione gets a few moments to shine. She passionately hates Umbridge and supports Harry. Rupert Grint’s Ron devolves back into only providing comic relief, but his funny bits alleviate the film’s more depressing moments. Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes and Gary Oldman all receive their shining highlights as well.

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ORDER’s finale delivers lots of excitement and carefully builds upon everything that’s previously occurred. An effects-heavy confrontation between Voldemort and Dumbledore easily stands as one of series’ best scenes, even if the closing minutes seem a tad too convenient. The running time is also among the shortest in the eight films, which makes the fast pacing even better. The final third’s emotional arcs have serious repercussions for the main characters and the rest of the series. Everything that comes before that point is a combination of magical suspense and uplifting entertainment about standing up for what you believe in…even when all sides seem stacked against you.

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Much like PRISONER OF AZKABAN, ORDER OF THE PHOENIX uses a carefully scaled-down plot to evolve the characters and series as a whole. The performances are solid across the board, with Imelda Staunton being one of the series’ best villains as Umbridge. ORDER functions on powerful ideas of a corrupt government (albeit a magical one) and brewing rebellions. ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is just a hair beneath AZKABAN on the HARRY POTTER totem pole. In this series, second-place isn’t bad at all!

Grade: A

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexuality

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Directed by: John Madden

Written by: Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard

Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton & Tom Wilkinson

I’ll address the elephant in the room first. A lot of people feel that SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE stole the 1998’s Academy Award for Best Picture away from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, thus some backlash has generated against this film (similar to backlash that’s generated against TITANIC and FORREST GUMP). While I definitely don’t think that everyone will enjoy SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, I will say that it enraptured me from the first frame and was a hugely entertaining experience as a whole. I imagine that the film will work a similar spell upon fans of Shakespeare’s work and 16th century period dramas. The film is a romantic comedy that succeeds in being more than just a stereotypical chick flick (though it does contain a few well-worn clichés), but rather a beautiful love story featuring one of history’s most famous influential writers.

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The year is 1593 and William Shakespeare is a struggling playwright trying to make his way in London. Though he has a way with words, Shakespeare is encountering a particularly nasty bit of writer’s block as he tries to construct a new comedy (titled ROMEO AND ETHEL, THE PIRATE’S DAUGHTER). Through a few passing circumstances, Romeo finds a muse in the lovely Viola de Lesseps, a royal woman with a penchant for plays. In a forbidden friendship and secret romance, Shakespeare constructs his most famous play. We see how inspiration, tragedy, and timeless love hits William as his relationship with Viola evolves.

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SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE was shot on a budget of 25 million and that seems nearly impossible given the film’s sheer beauty, attention to detail, and elaborate costumes on display. The Elizabethan setting comes to colorful and dank life (depending on the scene) as every piece of jewelry and grimy smudge of dirt shines on the camera. Not once, does it ever appear that this film was shot on a sound stage. Instead, it makes me question as to whether director John Madden used a time machine to shoot this film in 16th century London. It looks that friggin’ good. The spectacle alone is worth watching, but that’s far from the most enjoyable aspect of this film.

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The cast includes many big names (some of whom weren’t nearly as famous as they are today). Joseph Fiennes is perfectly cast as William Shakespeare and exudes the kind of eccentricity that one would assume the brilliant playwright had on a daily basis. Gwyneth Paltrow is great as Viola. Though the character was invented purely for the purposes of this film, I couldn’t help but see her as one of those rare nobles with a deep appreciation for the theatre. Colin Firth is fantastic as a pompous jerk with his eye on Viola. Though he’s in a small role, Ben Affleck is enjoyable as an actor who takes his craft very seriously. Imelda Staunton and Geoffrey Rush serve as two very different types of over-the-top characters. While Rush is a grimy theatre owner, Staunton serves as Viola’s kindly nurse. Tom Wilkinson has an enjoyable part as a thuggish brute who slowly develops an appreciation for theatre over the course of the film. Finally, Judi Dench is phenomenal as Queen Elizabeth and seems born to play the role.

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The screenplay isn’t immune from common tropes that show up in every romantic comedy. These mainly include problems that stand in the way of Shakespeare and Viola’s true feelings for each other as well as an ending that probably got more than a few people to cry in the theater. I also didn’t buy one of the sillier sequences that really stretched plausibility midway through. However, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE feels very much like one of Shakespeare’s comedies that happens to star the playwright and other historical figures. In that sense, it’s truly a brilliant film. I especially enjoyed the use of Christopher Marlowe (another acclaimed playwright who lived during the Elizabethan era). The plot itself weaves elements of both ROMEO & JULIET (obviously) and TWELFTH NIGHT into a love story that feels familiar, but beautiful and touching all the same.

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SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE is a cinematic treat for those who adore the bard’s work or enjoy romantic comedies in general. This is definitely not your average “chick flick,” though it has some familiar clichés. Instead, the film is a very clever, well-crafted love story about a real-life writer who penned clever, well-crafted love stories among other brilliant plays. The performances are outstanding from everyone involved. The period details are fantastic. The movie has impeccable comedic timing and a genuine heart behind all of the emotions on display. This might be an obvious way of stating it, but SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE is a creation worth loving.

Grade: A-

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2011)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild Rude Humor

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Directed by: Sarah Smith & Barry Cook

Written by: Peter Baynham & Sarah Smith

Voices of: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen, Marc Wootton, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Ramona Marquez & Michael Palin

Aardman Animation is primarily known for their Claymation (WALLACE & GROMIT, THE PIRATES!), but have dipped their hands into computer animation back in 2006 with FLUSHED AWAY. That flick didn’t exactly impress. This past iffy effort and poor marketing are why I was turned off from watching ARTHUR CHRISTMAS for about three years. Turns out that I was cheating myself out of a modern Christmas classic. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is one of the best animated films to come out of the new millennium that doesn’t have the Pixar label attached to it. Combining imagination, lovable characters and a heartwarming sense of childlike wonder make for a phenomenal film that is sure to become a holiday tradition.

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Santa Claus is very real, but not an immortal jovial old man flying around the world in a single night. There’s a dynasty of Clauses living in the North Pole and they are aided by tons of elves. The current Claus family has three completely different generations of Santas. There’s the retired grand-Santa, the active Santa, and his two sons, technologically advanced Steve and bumbling Arthur. Santa and his elves are in charge of delivering presents and Steve is in charge of the S-1 (an enormous computer-powered sleigh), but Arthur is in charge of reading the letters of children around the world. After a child’s gift is mistakenly undelivered, Arthur takes the initiative and journeys across the world to make sure that one little girl has a merry Christmas. Since Arthur isn’t exactly a trained Santa, his race against time goes a little awry to say the least, which causes conflicting views in the Claus family to butt heads.

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One special factor that makes ARTHUR CHRISTMAS unique from other family films of this kind is that there’s no real antagonist. The family members have conflicting viewpoints causing friction in their relationships, but nobody is perfect as each generation of Santa has their own flaws. Grand-Santa glamorizes the good old days and yearns for the fame he once had. The current Santa is too self-centered to realize that he’s hogging glory that should rightfully be passed down to his sons. Steve is so obsessed with the technical side of Christmas that he neglects the pure emotion surrounding the season. Arthur is a clumsy and cowardly guy who’s sort of roped into this quest.

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These characters are all essential pieces in a brightly colored world that’s filled with imagination around every corner. The visuals here are crisp and vibrant. There’s a warm holiday glow around the environments, but each location is given a unique flare. Let’s just say that England isn’t the only place that Arthur rides a sleigh through. Vocal talents of big actors bring these various Santas to life. James McAvoy’s voice disappears into the overly eager Arthur. Bill Nighy nails it as Grand-Santa and Jim Broadbent plays the current Santa. Hugh Laurie is excellent as Steve. Finally, there’s my favorite character, Byrony. This punkish elf (complete with unique hair-style and facial piercings) provides the biggest laughs in the whole film. She’s in charge of wrapping presents and accompanies Arthur on his trip. Not to mention that’s she is just plain adorable. I want a stuffed Byrony and I’m a grown-ass man.

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Another top-notch quality that seals the deal in ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is a brilliant sense of humor. There are jokes being thrown out at a mile a minute. Running gags pop up frequently and one of them (involving wild life that gets in when you leave the door open at the North Pole) absolutely cracked me up on multiple occasions. There’s plenty of witty banter among the characters and the script is far more clever than one might initially expect going into this film.

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The best thing about ARTHUR CHRISTMAS that separates it from many other holiday films and animated family fare is that a lot of heart was clearly put into this whole movie. The story is funny and imaginative, but also has the genuine sweetness that makes beloved Christmas classics worth watching year after year. It’s simultaneously heart-warming and hysterical, which are two good qualities that go great together.

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I’ve said before and will say again that the best children’s films are the ones that make adults feel young at heart as well as delighting younger viewers. These movies respect the intelligence of the audience, in spite of supposedly being constructed only for kids. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS nails every quality that matters in a story like this and manages to be perfect all around. I don’t have a single complaint or problem with any part of this movie. The feeling that ARTHUR CHRISTMAS leaves is specific to the holiday season should be cherished by viewers of every age. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is a modern, magical holiday classic that I will watch repeatedly for years to come.

Grade: A+

My 10 Favorite Cinematic Villains

List by Derrick Carter

There are tons and tons of great villains in film. In fact, this year alone I can already think of ten off the top of my head that stood out. What makes an awesome bad guy? Is it something that plays to our personal preferences, like many different qualities in cinema? Are there always universal themes in each great bad guy that are just so damned believable and (sometimes) relatable that we almost fall in love with watching their evil deeds? When is it okay to root for the villain, be terrified of them or a little of both? I decided since All Hallows Eve is only a few hours away, I would ponder over my 10 personal favorite baddies.

Now, I must get this out-of-the-way. This is ALL OPINION. I’m not claiming these are the best bad guys out there, far from it. You probably already know fantastic antagonists that range from Heath Ledger’s Joker to Hopkins’ Hannibal to the well-known classics. I’m just counting down my favorite bad guys and listing the reasons why I love to hate them so much or just plain enjoy watching them. Without further ado…

10. Ratigan

10. RATIGAN (from THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE)

Nothing kicks off a villains list better than an animated rat from Disney. GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE is a take on Sherlock Holmes with mice, rats, and other talking animals filling in as characters. It’s actually a really solid movie and one I plan on reviewing in the future. However, the best part of the film is the nefarious Ratigan! Voiced by the always-great Vincent Price, Ratigan is a sort of Moriarty figure with a tail. He tries to act civilized and uses his pet cat (how’s that for a unique weapon?) to cover his vicious side, which does come out in the film’s intense finale. Want another justification of why he’s on this list? Did I mention he sings too? Good luck trying to get his two ultra-catchy tunes out of your head.

9. Drexl Spivey

9. DREXL SPIVEY (from TRUE ROMANCE)

Gary Oldman can do bad so good! Leave it to this chameleon to turn a laughable stereotype into something out of a nightmare. Drexl Spivey is a pimp and also a “wigger.” Whereas this sounds funny and possibly comedic, it’s not at all. Drexl is the best part of TRUE ROMANCE and he’s only in for a short time of the film. After he’s gone, the story goes down a couple of notches. The stand-out scene is in an intense conversation with Christian Slater. Having already seen Drexl go friggin’ crazy on two people and brutally murder them up to this point, it makes the tension that much scarier. Also this isn’t the last time you’ll be seeing Oldman on this list.

8. Aaron The Moor

8. AARON THE MOOR (from TITUS)

Shakespeare writes fantastic villains who delight in their evil ways. It was a tough choice between Aaron The Moor and Ian McKellen’s Richard III. Seeing as Richard isn’t exactly as chilling as Aaron is, this choice was decided on that factor. Aaron (played by Harry Lennix in this version) is purely and simply bad-to-the-bone. He absolutely loves corrupting those around him and has no real friends to speak of. Even his so-called accomplices vicariously become his victims by the play/film’s end. Adding a slightly comical tone to the role too is how Aaron will occasionally turn to the camera and directly address the viewer, thus letting them in on how much fun he’s having committing horrible sins. It should say enough that his only dying regret is that he didn’t do more evil.

7. Dino Velvet

7. DINO VELVET, EDDIE POOLE, & MACHINE (from 8MM)

Another underrated flick has a three-way-tie between some of the nastiest deviants you’ll come across on-screen. 8MM is a thriller about a detective (played by an unusually good Nicolas Cage) trying to prove a supposed snuff film is authentic. We’d have a pretty boring and underwhelming movie if said snuff film was a fake, so Cage does indeed come across the creators (and a surviving star) of the small reel of murder footage. Eddie Poole (a scummy James Gandolfini) proves to get the most satisfying comeuppance of the trio. Dino Velvet (an awesome Peter Stormare) is the flamboyant “director” who has chilling pieces of dialogue. It’s the bondage-masked Machine who delivers one of the bleakest explanations of why there are evil people in the world in a haunting scene near the end. 8MM contains a three-for-one delivery of memorable baddies.

6. Dr Josef

6. DR. JOSEF MENGELE (from THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL)

Let’s face it. It’s really not that difficult to make anyone hate a Nazi. All you have to do is throw the swastika on their shoulder and you’ve got yourself instant bad guy. In this fantastic 1978 thriller, a group of war criminals are trying to clone a new Hitler (it’s not remotely as silly as it sounds). As if that wasn’t interesting enough already, the leader of the group is played by the one and only Gregory Peck (that’s right, Atticus Finch). Peck pretty much plays the Fuhrer without actually being called the Fuhrer. Adopting a flawless German accent, a vicious temper, and a nasty talent for deforming people with science, Peck gives what I’d argue is the most creative Nazi ever shown on-screen (I’m counting zombies, Fiennes, and Hans Landau). If you haven’t seen this flick, then strap yourself in and give it a watch. This is another one that’s definitely getting a review from me down the line.

5. Cesar

5. CESAR (from SLEEP TIGHT)

This is a fun entry. Unlike the majority of bad guys on this list, Cesar doesn’t have a body count to his name. This main character in the Jaume Balaguero’s Spanish thriller is a doorman who has made it his goal to cause misery to everyone around him. He cannot feel happiness, so why should anybody else? He mainly sets his sights on a young woman who isn’t cracking under his pressure. When the villain has keys to every apartment in the building and takes to poisoning your make-up, infesting your apartment with roaches, and escalating things from there, its safe to say that you might sleep with one eye open. Don’t worry, because that’s why Cesar keeps a bottle of chloroform handy. The dark sense of humor around this character is off the charts too. One of the best scenes is a conversation with an older apartment dweller who tries to be polite and gets owned in the most emotionally demolishing way possible. Cesar may not be a serial killer or a criminal mastermind, but he’s a dickhead. He also happens to be a dangerous dickhead with keys to your apartment and a whole lot of patience.

4. Leland Gaunt

4. LELAND GAUNT (from NEEDFUL THINGS)

There have been plenty of portrayals of Satan on the big screen, but Max Von Sydow’s performance in this Stephen King adaptation takes the cake. Armed with a slimy sense of humor (he claims he’s from Ohio), an upbeat attitude (offering people good things in return for small favors), and a kindly old grandfather demeanor, you’d never think this shop owner is actually the Devil incarnate. That’s exactly who he is though and he’s quite good at using people to destroy each other. How can you beat a Satan with the balls to say “You can’t win. I’ve got God on my side.” Enough said…

3. Dolores Umbridge

3. DOLORES UMBRIDGE (from the HARRY POTTER series)

Let me tell you why this bitch is on here instead of Voldemort. Not once during the entire HARRY POTTER saga did I ever want to jump through the screen and strangle Voldemort with my bare hands, no matter how many people he killed. The same cannot be said of this sickly sweet witch with a penchant for cats and truly nasty punishments. I think part of the reason I hate her so much is because I had a teacher in Junior High who was pretty much an exact doppelgänger of Umbridge. This educator emotionally battered the entire eighth grade class on a daily basis and acted like a sweet little lady at parent-teacher conference. We’ve all met people like Umbridge and we all hate them for obvious reasons. Props to J.K. Rowling for including such a despicable character in her series. Voldemort is a saint compared to her.

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2. NORMAN STANSFIELD (from LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL)

This pill-popping, gun-totting, certifiable nutjob is my favorite Oldman performance….ever! Stansfield is the best corrupt cop to grace cinema! He’ll make you laugh one minute and piss your pants out of sheer fear in the next. He can switch at the drop of a hat and is evil to his core. At one point, this villain corners a little girl in the restroom and asks her if she appreciates her life. When she answers yes, he calmly responds “Good, because I could never take a life from someone who didn’t appreciate it.” That’s straight-up cold! It’s also highly ironic that the movie featuring a hitman and an assassin-in-training as likable protagonists manages to show someone who’s even more of a lunatic than hired killers. Props to Oldman. This is the role that I’ll remember him for!

1. Milton Dammers

1. MILTON DAMMERS (from THE FRIGHTENERS)

My favorite villain of all-time. Jeffrey Combs absolutely cracks me up through this entire film. In a movie riddled with many threats from different sides (ghosts and serial killers), this drastically misguided FBI agent manages to be the stand-out baddie of the bunch. Sporting a slicked Hitler haircut, nervous mannerisms, and a side of crazy that keeps escalating as the film goes on, Jeffrey Combs is amazing in this role! He also has my favorite villain demise of all-time. His dialogue is absolutely hilarious too! Dammers is a self-described asshole, but he’s such an entertaining one! That’s why Milton Dammers is my favorite villain of all-time!

Have any personal favorite villains of your own that don’t get enough recognition? Leave them in the comments below!

THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Action, Rude Humor and some Language

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Directed by: Peter Lord

Written by: Gideon Defoe

(based on the novel THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS by Gideon Defoe)

Voices of: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson, Ashley Jenson, Al Roker

Aardman Animation has become known for their acclaimed and highly successful stop motion shorts. They made their feature debut in 2000 with CHICKEN RUN. That film played out like THE GREAT ESCAPE with poultry and played out as a one-joke film. It was a decent first effort, but Aardman really hit their stride with WALLACE & GROMT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT which stands as one of my personal favorite animated films ever made. The studio went on to do a couple of computer-animated efforts, but THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS is their third Claymation feature. For some reason, this movie just didn’t resonate as well with American audiences as it did with our friends across the pond. It’s really a shame, because PIRATES! is pretty friggin’ great. It’s a piece of animation that will keep kids’ eyes on the screen from the sheer colorful visuals, but also throws in tons of jokes that only adults will understand.

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The year is 1837 and the British navy has control of the open sea with one exception. Pirates sail, plunder and pillage wherever they so desire. Many pirates are fearsome, intimidating foes, but this cannot be said of the Pirate Captain. Eager to prove his seaworthiness to his peers, the Pirate Captain aims to win the Pirate of the Year award by getting the most booty that he can, but he’s inept in nearly every way possible. After hijacking Charles Darwin’s ship, the Pirate Captain discovers that his crew’s beloved parrot Polly isn’t actually a parrot. The feathery friend is actually the last living dodo. Trekking into London to win the prize that comes with the Scientist of the Year award, the crew make their way to London in disguise and hijinks ensue.

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Unabashedly silly at every turn and clever in more ways than you might initially expect, THE PIRATES! is a beautifully animated family friendly adventure. Most kids may not understand a good portion of the jokes, but I’m reminded of how well MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN did this year and that film relied on tons of history jokes that only adults would recognize. It’s a colorful tale of swashbuckling seadogs that also happens to have brains, hard work put into it, and heart. There is a moral lesson being told (mainly about realizing who your true friends are and not taking them for granted), but it’s not done in a sloppy overly cheesy way. It just happens to be where things are ultimately heading and it certainly helps that lots of laughs populate the trip.

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Plenty of familiar voices can be heard from the mouths of these Claymation pirates and other characters. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain and this is the only animated film role in his career thus far. Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins from THE HOBBIT) is Captain’s trusty second-in-command, while David Tennant (who most know from DOCTOR WHO) is wonderful as Charles Darwin. Despite being in her late 50’s, Imelda Staunton is great as the villainous Queen Victoria who has more than a few skeletons in her closest. Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Anton Yelchin (if you’re watching the US version) and Brendan Gleeson have rather thankless roles, but are cool appearances nonetheless.

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I find myself thinking about certain moments from this movie in between long periods of not watching it and make references to friends who have seen it. There’s certainly a rewatchability factor to this film. I originally saw it in theaters and bought it the week it hit DVD. I’ve since viewed it about half a dozen times. It’s great fun. While it may be absolutely hysterical for adults, I can imagine certain age groups being completely lost during this movie. References to Jane Austen, the Elephant Man, and the inclusion of Charles Darwin as a central character might throw people for the loop. There’s a very British sense of humor around the whole film. If you like WALLACE & GROMIT, Monty Python, or any of the Cornetto trilogy (the latter two are admittedly more R-rated than kiddie fare), then you’ll probably dig THE PIRATES! a lot. There are a few misses in certain jokes and the movie just breezes by at a breakneck pace (almost too fast). The running times is about 80 minutes not counting the credits. All things taken into consideration, this is on the higher scale of family films of which there have been many recent good ones.

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THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS is based on the first entry in a series of children’s books and it’s a pity that there won’t be any follow-ups in the future. This is the definition of an overlooked gem. As the years pass, I’ll remember this film fondly with the likes of THE IRON GIANT, RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, and THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. It’s not necessarily a mainstream hit and it will never be. This is the closest thing that you’re likely to get to a Monty Python family film and enjoy it on those merits alone. Subversive, witty, and all-around ridiculous, THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS comes highly recommended! If you haven’t seen it, then do so as soon as you can. If you have, then it’s high time to revisit it. This is the kind of film that only gets the funnier the more you watch it.

Grade: A-

MALEFICENT (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Sequences of Fantasy Action and Violence, including Frightening Images

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Directed by: Robert Stromberg

Written by: Linda Woolverton

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Miranda Richardson & Peter Capaldi

Disney is the biggest thing to ever happen to family entertainment! From the history making first-ever animated feature (SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS) to a well-known golden streak from ’89 to ’94 (including LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, and THE LION KING), the studio has revolutionized fairy tales and made kids films into movies that every generation can enjoy on different levels. MALEFICENT is the first instance of Disney taking one of their own cartoons (which in turn was based on a Brothers Grimm story) and translating it into a live action adaptation with a twist. The cool spin being that this actually one of the darker Disney films as it follows the villainess of that original 1959 animated film and treats princess Aurora as a secondary character. Everything focuses on Maleficent’s view instead of the traditional story that everyone has become accustomed to. It may be receiving some mixed response from critics and general audiences, but I absolutely adored this new take on an old fairy tale.

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In a far away land, there exists two kingdoms at odds with each other. One is ruled by a greedy king and the neighboring kingdom is a wondrous place populated by magical creatures. A young fairy named Maleficent adores her massive wings and finds what she believes to be kindness in the beastly mankind, only be hideously betrayed. A wicked side is born within this once peaceful fairy and an unbreakable curse is placed on the newborn princess Aurora. From there on the tropes that everybody knows and loves are retold, but from a fresh perspective. The story is turned in significant ways that completely changes the flow and ultimate message behind the tale.

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To be perfectly honest, I think that Disney’s 1959 SLEEPING BEAUTY is actually one of the studio’s lesser films. It’s bland as bland can be, despite some pretty cool scenes. Every single thing that was done differently in MALEFICENT actually benefitted the well-worn story in more ways than one might have anticipated. Of course, this move might displease a lot of Disney diehards, but it signifies a step in a new direction for the fairy tale brand. With another originally bland cartoon being turned into a live-action film on the way (CINDERELLA), Disney seems to be moving forward into exciting new territory. MALEFICENT is a family friendly, dark (but not too dark) fantasy that absolutely delighted me and seems to be working on a number of others.

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Taken on a purely spectacle level, MALEFICENT is visually gorgeous. The effects are incredible and fantastical creatures (of which there are plenty) are brought to life in awesome fashion. As the title character, Angelina Jolie fully inhabits the role of Maleficent. Everyone else plays second fiddle, some more than others, but that’s a necessity to the story being told. The character of the cursed princess herself is filled by Elle Fanning (younger sister to Dakota Fanning) and she does a wonderful job in the role of the kind, naïve girl who is far more fleshed out than her animated counter part. As the three good fairies, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville are essentially comic relief, but they hit the marks with some very funny moments. Meanwhile, Sharlto Copley is a tad underused as the king with a lot of motivation to kill Maleficent, but does shine in the scenes he’s fully used in. A new character added is Sam Riley playing Maleficent’s shape-shifting servant (mainly seen as a crow or a human) and I dug the little details on the design of this bird-turned-man (a beak-like nose among other subtle touches).

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An area where MALEFICENT excels is carving out a new mythology for the well-known villainess. Certain fantasy plot points are thrown in that were either glanced over in the animated film or completely new to this version. The film is very in sync with the fantastical atmosphere that it maintains for the running time. Originally, the running time was listed at being over two hours long, which would make for a more epic approach. This is one of the few cases where I will say that the rumored studio interference with the final cut may have been far more of a benefit than a curse. The pacing is fast, but I never felt it was going at a hectic speed that one might not be able to keep up with. It’s short, not too complicated with the heart of the story being front and center.

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The movie isn’t a masterpiece. There’s some voice narration that felt tacky, especially in the closing. Some whimsical moments are used purely to supply some laughs that some may argue that detract from the dark fantasy being told. The movie is also very cartoony in moments and by this, I mean that the creature design can be so creative that some may find these creations to come off as too cheesy. I will defend my stance on this film and why all of these supposed problems can be seen as invalid. MALEFICENT is essentially a live-action Disney cartoon that was adapted from a well-known fairy tale. One can expect all of these things to come with the territory and I actually appreciated the film even more for including some of these tropes.

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It will be interesting to see what the general consensus is on MALEFICENT after a huge amount of people see it this weekend. I think it could go either way (being considered great or terrible) or it just might wind up with indifference. At any rate, I can see a group of moviegoers (Disney fans, fans of dark fantasy, and those just looking for an imaginative ride) loving this film. The few flaws that I spotted can easily be forgiven on the basic level that this is at heart a family film and a live-action version of a Disney cartoon. I loved this movie. MALEFICENT is magnificent!

Grade: A

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