Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Most Powerful Disney Villains

So I finally saw Moana, which was decent, if pat. But it got me thinking about what makes a good Disney villain, and then thinking about which were most powerful. So here's my ranking, open for debate, of Disney's top ten most powerful villains.

Notably, regular human types are essentially absent, and everyone on the list will have some sort of incredible or supernatural ability. Which brings us to our honorable mention:

Honorable Mention:

Yokai – Big Hero 6. The ability to control robots with your mind makes Yokai a phenomenally powerful adversary. In the realm on non-magical humans it is close to a supernatural ability. Arguably he could devastate some of the people on the list. But one incantation and – poof – your mind robots are now daisies.

10. Evil Queen

The Evil Queen from Snow White has a rather limited sort of magic – one of spells and incantations. And she uses it, destructively, on herself. Time, preparation, the need for ingredients – these all relegate her to the final spot on the list.

09. Tamatoa

The crab is able to beat the crud out of a demigod, which is pretty significant power. But…he’s a giant crab. Super strength can only go so far, and his vanity and laziness put him in a passive role. He could still easily destroy / eat a Gaston-level villain, though. So he gets a nod.

08. Madam Mim

Mim has incredible power of transformation – but she only uses it in a very limited way. Even when she uses her anamorphic skills to become a dragon her shortsightedness still undoes her. Lacking ambition, creativity, and other traits, restricts her. Could probably take Tamatoa, though.

07. Ursula

Ursula has phenomenal power once she achieves the power of the trident. But she’s significantly handicapped – she only has control over the ocean, and while storms and gigantism are not nothing…she is defeated fairly easily even at the height of her powers. Being water-bound also means easier to escape.

06. Doctor Facilier

Facilier’s sight into the past, and people’s desires, is tremendous. He also seems to possess a number of smaller magical abilities – but they all come at too steep a price. Being tied to his magical talisman, he is vulnerable. Further need of support for these gifts, which can be (and are) rescinded makes him only as powerful as his ‘friends’ will allow.

05. Maleficent

No need for spells or items of power here. Maleficent has incredible dark magic within her - she can control whole kingdoms, transform into a dragon, and summon her army of (stupid) demons. More impressive – she is not sidetracked. No distractions: she doesn’t let vanity, laziness, or a lust for power blind her from her purposes and goals.

04. Chernabog

He’s limited in a couple of critical ways – he only has power of the dead for a single night of the year – which is phenomenal, but also, seemingly, he's geographically hampered by his need to stay on his mountain. And then, you know, dawn. Since he’s only a conscious, empowered entity for that one eve, though, he could probably take most comers, even Maleficent, when he’s alive.

03. The Horned King

What’s better than controlling the dead for a night? Controlling them for longer than a night! Assuming he steered clear of Chernabog that one night, he could wreak havoc and rule the land with his undead army for the rest of the year. He would be difficult to oppose, although he is constrained by his item – the necromancer’s black cauldron. Still…compared to singing nuns and dawn…

02. Jafar

“The universe is mine to command! To control!” With universe-wielding might, Jafar-as-genie is the most powerful villain in terms of outright capacity. The servitude – the cuffs on the wrist – are what limits him. In the right hands he could destroy essentially any enemy. But in the hands of another he can only use his powers for their beneficent purposes, hamstringing his villainous nature. And, you know, itty bitty living space.

01. Hades

As a literal god Hades is pretty difficult to beat in a fair fight. He suffers from Movie Villain Syndrome, true (why not destroy Hercules by sending all of your beasties at once?) Yet he is a pretty good strategist, for example, using the Titans to help with his overthrow of Olympus. His literal hot temper is a drawback, but not a significant one. He gets very close to achieving his goal. Only another godlike power can vanquish him, making him the most powerful of Disney villains.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Nanami: Inferno of First Love Review

Ending first: I destroyed this film after watching it.

Beginning: I like art house films. I teach Film Studies. Constantly I am plumbing the depths of foreign cinemas – African cinema, Asian, European. And as such I often use lists and guides to help me find things.

A friend told me about “patrician” films – snootiness that implies others are plebs. But when checking out these lists I realized, despite my Criterion and art house credentials, that I’d seen very few. So I took one of the lists he sent me, and began investigating. Here is that list:

Now, over the past year or so, many of these films I’ve now seen have been genuinely intriguing. Some I’d seen before: ‘Black Orpheus’, ‘The Lost Weekend’. ‘I Am Cuba’ and ‘Mother and Son’ were new – and had great cinematography. ‘The Steel Helmet’ had not aged well, but it sticks with you. Others were just the other side of cult: ‘Putney Swope’ and ‘Pink Flamingoes’. However, as I delved further into the list, one title I could find very little about: ‘Nanami: Inferno of First Love’.

So I looked on eBay. I found someone selling a copy, bought it, and watched it.

Let’s start off the bat with our protagonist, named Shun, whom I will dub Captain Sadsack. Sadsack meets a young girl in a cheap hotel who quickly undresses. So far so normal – I’m thinking of ‘Belle Du Jour’ and ‘Cleo from 5 to 7’. Prostitution has always been a fascination of the New Wave, and this film, being Japanese New Wave, starts off no different.

Of course he’s a virgin. Of course she’s a nude model. And of course he doesn’t get anywhere because he’s too shy. All standard coming-of-age plot stuff. Sadsack tells us his backstory, and now the film begins to pile on: he was an orphan, and is a journeyman goldsmith apprenticed to his foster-ish parents, and his “father” has molested him since childhood. He also takes laughing lessons.

We aren’t at the five-minute mark, yet. Already I’m thinking, “Why did I spend money on this?”

Then we find out, of course!, that his only friend is a five-year old girl. He is hoping the prostitute he’s telling all this to will be his second friend.

Why is a five-year old his friend? Because his only form of enjoyment is feeding pigeons in the park, where he sometimes sees her. I remind you that this boy is in his late-teens, not a cute old granddad. If he’d been a cute granddad perhaps I’d have been cheering him on.

Also he may have been drawn to pigeons because those were his only friends as a child. It’s unclear. What is clear is that this movie is crap. We are now only ten minutes in.

Anyway. So Captain Sadsack is hanging out in a graveyard with the five year old because subtlety is for suckers, when the little girl needs to pee. He takes her behind a grave and is spotted, and, not surprisingly, is presumed to be a child predator. Thankfully the deranged director doesn’t show us the girl urinating, but by this point I thought I was prepared for anything.

A Freudian hypnotist (which clearly is what this train wreck was missing) gets him to be more explicit about his molestation-infested childhood. Meanwhile our prostitute with a heart of tarnished brass is doing more exotic photo-shoots of the S&M sort.

Up to this point the film is just bad. It’s schlocky and pretentious, over-the-top and ‘artistic’ in all the wrong ways. Up to this point, it isn’t worth writing up. But – fair warning – it now gets really, legitimately beyond pretentious levels of bad.

Sadsack is back home, and other things probably happened but I can’t claim to care enough to recall. Then he begins to masturbate, but his visions of his prostitute friend fade out and we get still images of young children running around in masks. In various stages of undress.

I paused the film. I went online. I looked up this film, and various synopses. Only a couple, here or there, mentioned this scene. (“One weird scene in particular involves naked children walking around in a cemetery wearing tengu masks. God knows what that's about.”) Which leads me to wonder: what the fuck?

It has a 7.9 on IMDB. Who gives a 7.9 to this garbage?! Who gives it a 4.2/5 on Rotten Tomatoes? The fact that it’s “art” doesn’t really excuse exploitation, at least not for me.

Once I’d read the synopses and was sure there weren’t going to be any more surprises I finished the film. Unfortunately the ending is supposed to be a shocking twist, which, by checking to make sure there weren’t going to be more naked kids, was essentially ruined. Long story short: The Captain decides to leave his awful foster situation, falls truly in love with the prostitute who loves him in return, and right before he meets her at the hotel to consummate what he’d been unable to previously, he gets hit by a car and dies because OF COURSE HE DOES. The end.

Up to the creepy kids I’d already come to the conclusion I was going to take the DVD and sell it to one of the used DVD stores in town, which, this being Berkeley, there are many. But, frankly, I don’t want people to see this film, and, worryingly, I wonder if the market for it doesn’t include real creeps.

So instead I destroyed it.

Maybe it is art. Maybe I’m an uncultured heathen and my reaction shows just how petty and bourgeois, what an unsophisticated “plebeian” I am. I just feel more comfortable knowing that it’s not out there. And I hope this review may be found by others and serve as a warning that this film is of no real cinematic value. Should every existing copy be destroyed? No, probably not. But mine is, and I can’t help but feel the world is better off for it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Stand-Up Round-Up

These are in no order whatsoever. We could all use a little cheering up right now, though, so here are fifteen of my favorites (many NSFW). I would argue each represents some of that comedian's best material. 


Lewis Black – IHOP

Eddie Izzard – Engelbert Humperdinck

Robin Williams – Last Ten Years

George Carlin – Reagan’s Gang

Patton Oswalt – KFC Part Two

Louis CK – SNL Monologue

Bob Newhart – Abe Lincoln vs Madison Avenue

Chris Rock – Black People

The Smothers Brothers – Mom Always Liked You Best

Richard Pryor – Burn

Steve Martin – Fun Balloon Animals

Bill Hicks – Marketing

Mitch Hedberg – Donut

Greg Proops – America is England’s Fault

Dara O'Briain - Homeopathy