Friday, October 26, 2012

10 FAVORITES (65): Scariest Villains

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought that my latest edition of 10 FAVORITES would be a scary one.  When one thinks of Halloween, one usually tries to think of scary things.  And then I started thinking about the things that frightened me as a kid.  Of course, the obligatory scary movies made their way into my mind and several of their iconic gory images.  Then I decided that I wanted to share with you, my readers, which Movie villains from my childhood used to scare me the most.  Now, as these villains had to be scary to me when I was a kid, there had to be a cut-off date.  The Movie and its villain had to appear in the cultural lexicon before I was at least 11 or 12 (which is when I started not being so scared by images and faces I would see on the Silver Screen!).  So the Films on this list had to be released before 1990 (Apologies to Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Lord Voldemort!).  That being said, it is good that I chose this day to share this list: Friday, October 26 (I figure if Friday the 13th is unlucky, then Friday the 26th must be doubly unlucky!).  So, without further adieu, here are:


Jack Torrance, The Shining (1980)
Annie Wilkes, Misery (1990)
These two are together mainly because they are both from two of Stephen King's most popular books.  But growing up, Jack Nicholson's face through that door at a terrified Shelley Duvall and Kathy Bates (in her Oscar-winning role) hobbling a bedridden James Caan were frighteningly crazy.

The Skeksis, The Dark Crystal (1982)
As a kid, these brilliant creations by Muppet mastermind Jim Henson did exactly what they were supposed to do: frighten the children in the audience into not liking them.  Their evil, opportunistic world was dark and scary enough for the children to be wowed by the film's ultimate conclusion.

Monstro, Pinocchio (1940)
The Great White Shark, Jaws (1975)
These two go together as they are my "Villains of the Deep" (so to speak!).  Of course I saw Pinocchio before I saw Jaws (as most kids probably did!).  Monstro was one of the most frightening of Disney's villains (at least to me!) and when I saw Steven Spielberg's blockbuster, I was reminded of the scare I had watching the Disney classic.

The Devil, The Exorcist (1973)
Who knew that sweet little Linda Blair had such a nasty mouth on her?  If you see this film as a kid (and you're raised with Catholic conceptions of Hell and damnation!), you worry that you will end up like Linda Blair and spew bile and spin your head and say horrible vile things to people.  With the latter, this film handed me a ready-made excuse!

Norman Bates, Psycho (1960)
My father always tells the story of how his uncle took him to see this film when it first came out.  My father was only 12 at the time.  Alfred Hitchcock was a master of terror and my father learned halfway through this film how good at his job he was.  So good in fact my father ran screaming out of the theater when "Norman's mother" attacked investigator Martin Balsam.

Mola Ram, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
I was very young when I saw this movie and well the video below should be explanation enough.  (I mean, I still can't watch this scene all the way through!)

The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz (1939)
These days (thanks in part to a certain musical!) the lady with the green skin is not as frightening.  But when you're a little kid seeing this cackling flying woman threatening sweet Judy Garland (and her little dog too!), you can't help but be terrified.

Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, The Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983)
Darth Vader was an imposing figure enough in the first film (with that booming intimidating voice of James Earl Jones!).  By the third film, we learned he was Luke's father and was turned by an evil Dark lord.  And then we meet this Dark lord, the Emperor himself.  And boy is he a piece of work!  I mean, if it takes Vader to kill him, then you know he has to be bad!

The Alien Queen, Aliens (1986)
In James Cameron's really well-done sequel to Ridley Scott's brilliantly terrifying 1979 sci-fi classic, we learn that the Alien from that first film was one of many.  A colony of Aliens run by a predatory and vicious Queen. The terrifying actions of this monstrous "bitch" (as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley succinctly puts it!) were so frightening to me as a kid.  To me, the Alien Queen is the scariest female villain (or "villainess") of all-time.  As for the men, see below.

Freddy Kreuger, Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
More than Jason or Michael Myers or Leatherface or any of the other villains listed above, Freddy was truly the stuff of Nightmares.  Wes Craven cemented his master of horror/slasher film status with Robert Englund's terrifying interpretation of a deformed man who kills teens in their dreams.  He was menacing, gory and all kinds of scary.  I mean he even killed a young Johnny Depp!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Of Baseballs and Candidates...

This is an interesting screenshot from ESPN's Monday Night Football coverage last night that I feel is pertinent to this article.
Well everyone, it has been an interesting 3 weeks since my last post.  However, not interesting enough to warrant me posting over that time.  You see, unless you've been living on the moon, there are two things that have been dominating our culture's collective conversation over the last month: Baseball and the Election.  With Major League Baseball making their way to the World Series (which begins tomorrow!) and the 2012 Presidential Election coming down to the wire with the debates of the major candidates, the first half of this month has certainly had the media in a frenzy trying to cover what happened.  And they didn't seem to cover much else (at least in any great detail!).  I have never really cared for sports and so it really makes no difference to me which teams will be playing in the World Series.  That being said (and the fact that I call the San Francisco Bay Area home), congratulations must be given to the San Francisco Giants.  And it probably would be nice to see them win it all again.  But as I said, I don't really care.  That was the first reason for my silence these last few weeks.  The other was the Election.

Now a major Presidential Election is important and I would it expect it to be a dominant story no matter what else is going on in the world (except maybe a World War or perhaps a severe geological disaster!).  I try not to discuss politics on this blog, mainly because that is not the purpose of a blog that focuses on Arts and Entertainment.  However, I cannot ignore something that has been an integral part of the culture.  And so I have to speak.  There was once a time in our country when the Presidential debates mattered.  Television was a fairly new thing when most people felt that the televised Presidential debate of 1960 between then-Senator John F. Kennedy and then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon basically swung voters from one side to the other (and we know how close that Election was!).  And we all learned in our Elementary School history classes about the legend that was the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  But over these weeks, I've discovered something.  I believe our current climate and 24/7 media has rendered a Presidential (or even Vice Presidential debate) useless.  You see, after talking to some people and reading the numerous tweets and status updates following each debate (and there were A LOT!), I realized that nothing said in the debates changed anyone's mind.  I mean, the ones who were extremely liberal were still going to vote to give President Barack Obama a second term.  And the ones who were not as pleased with the last four years, were still going to vote for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  Most of my "undecided" friends and acquaintances still consider themselves in that category and some are even going as far as to write-in other candidates (because they are disillusioned by the entire 2-party system, which is a discussion for another time!).  With two weeks left until Election Day, both candidates seem to be in a sort of "Dead Heat" with no signs of it going one way or the other at this moment (which is certainly frustrating to all the news outlets out there from FOX News to MSNBC!).  It seems that both sides (Democrats or Republicans, Liberals or Conservatives, etc.) dug their heels in even more and just slung a little more mud (calling each other "liars" or "ineffectual").

So I have to ask: what good did the debates do if most of the voters (who already knew most of their preferred candidate's proposed policies well before October) didn't really open themselves up to the other side's point of view? Or even more constructively, open up to a possible compromise?  My aunt went as far as to compare the vitriol out there to the rabidness sports fans have when supporting their favorite team.  And I couldn't help but laugh at the irony that (through the wonder that is the scheduling of October 2012!) the MLB Playoffs were occurring at the same time as both political parties were spewing their venom as the candidates made their respective cases.  As I said, I don't really like to get political and it was one of the major reasons I did not post these last few weeks.  But I could not ignore such an important moment in the culture without stating something I feel we all need to think about.  Are we in a cultural vacuum when it comes to politics?  Has the competitiveness we often see in Sports (and sometimes Oscar season!) made its way into how we choose our Government?  Or are we in such a hole (economically, militarily, environmentally, etc.) that the patience we so desperately need is not enough to subside the anger that is out there (on both sides of the aisle!)?  These are just questions to think about, I am not advocating one over the other.  Just bear these in mind when you fill out your ballot on Election Day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

10 FAVORITES (64): Divas and Divos!

Last week for my birthday, I got to do something I've always wanted to but never got the chance (be it for whatever reason: finances, time, interest, etc.!).  I got to attend my first live Opera.  Yes, I have seen Opera on Television or heard great Opera recordings. And I even have seen some Opera singers sing live at events or concerts.  But this was my first Opera live and in person.  And what a way to do it with the perfection of the San Francisco Opera at the gorgeous War Memorial Opera House (where I also saw my first ballet many a year ago!).  The production was of Giuseppe Verdi's classic Rigoletto and it was truly amazing.  No, I did not see any Opera "stars" like Bryn Terfel or Anna Netrebko.  The people in this production were Opera singers from other parts of the world (our title character was an Italian baritone and our leading female was a Russian coloratura, just to give you an idea!) and they were just as brilliant as those who have made names for themselves performing at the Metropolitan in New York or Covent Garden in London or the all-too-famous La Scala Opera House in Milan.  But now I've begun to think of the famed Opera singers of the past and how they inspired me to dream of one day seeing a live Opera.  There have been so many names that have over the hundreds of years Opera has existed that have become synonymous with the Art.  So, that is why I am devoting this week's 10 FAVORITES to:

Miss Piggy and Link Hogthrob on The Muppet Show "honoring" Opera

Dame Joan Sutherland
This Australian soprano was noted for her soaring high notes.  Nicknamed "La Stupenda," she became noted for her phenomenal breakthrough in Franco Zeffirelli's 1959 Covent Garden production of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (recreated below for TV's Bell Television Hour).

Jose Carerras
The third of "The Three Tenors" was considered one of the most desirable males in Opera.  The Portuguese singer was a popular ticket especially when he played the swooning romantic leads like Alfredo in Verdi's La Traviata or Puccini's Rudolfo in La Boheme (below).

Marilyn Horne
One of the most amazing mezzo-sopranos of the 20th Century, Marilyn Horne did it all and did it all quite well.  She did great Operas (she performed Bellini's Norma with the likes of Joan Sutherland or Monterrat Caballe), she worked in Film (most notably as the singing voice for Dorothy Dandridge in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones) and even Television (she did multiple PBS specials and appeared several times on Sesame Street!).

Enrico Caruso
Before WWII, this Italian tenor was the very definition of Opera.  His recordings were always big sellers making Opera popular with the masses.  It became "chic" to love Caruso.

Andrea Bocelli
Though he doesn't perform in Operas, this amazingly-voiced blind tenor has recorded some of the most famous Operas and those record sales have added to his classical pop recordings.  He mixes his lush Operatic sounds with a popular sound that makes audiences swoon and soar.

Leontyne Price
This groundbreaking soprano has more Grammy Awards than any other Opera star.  With her gorgeous voice, she made people look beyond the color of her skin and defy some of the prejudices people have when it comes to Opera (bringing a whole new audience to the art!).

Beverly Sills
Known in many circles as "Bubbles," this cherub-faced soprano showed the world you didn't have to be a temperamental diva to be a great Opera star.  Her personable style and fantastic sense of humor made her a pleasure on many talk and variety shows throughout her career, most notably on The Muppet Show!

Placido Domingo
This brilliant Spanish tenor is still active today (and is also the Creative Director of the Los Angeles Opera Company!).  With his full voice, he has performed some of the most famous roles all over the world.  To date, he has sung 140 different roles and intends to perform two more new ones come next year!  With his voice, every day is a "pleasant Sunday."

Maria Callas
She was known as "La Divina" and (too many of her critics) as "The Tigress."  For many, she was more famous for her social interactions (multiple marriages, a long-standing affair with Aristotle Onassis, etc.).  But it was her voice that I first heard (before I knew anything about her personal life!) and absolutely adored.  I felt it was one of the most beautiful sounds I ever heard.  Just listen to her perform the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen (below).

Luciano Pavarotti
But more than Callas, this is the voice that brings me to tears (especially when he sings the "Nessun Dorma" from Verdi's Turandot!).  Out of the Three Tenors, Luciano was by far my favorite (though it was amazing to watch those three perform on the same stage!).  For me, Pavarotti is and always will be Opera.