Don’t Follow The Following, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bacon

If you watched any of the NFL playoffs on Fox over the past couple of weeks, you’ve been bombarded with ads for their new show “The Following,” starring Kevin Bacon as a retired FBI agent temporarily brought back to the field. I initially had no desire to watch this show, from the ads it looked more concerned with shock value than telling a good story. But wouldn’t you know that when I went on Hulu last week to watch my weekly episode of Castle (big Nathan Fillion fan), there was the pilot episode, so, against my better judgment, I watched it, and I watched the second episode this week as well.

It’s not very good. I don’t really know why I watched the second episode, since I wasn’t very impressed with the first one. I’ll probably watch the third episode next week.

But again, I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because I’m curious as to what fresh heights of absurdity the show will reach in the coming weeks.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Kevin Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a retired FBI agent recalled to duty after the escape of Joe Carroll, an infamous serial killer. Ryan was the man who caught Carroll however many years ago, and he knows him better than anyone. Carroll has developed something of an obsession with Ryan, so the feds of course track Ryan down to help find Carroll. Ryan wrote a book about Carroll while he was in prison, and is now a drunk blah blah blah.

I’m sorry, I just lost interest in summarizing the plot. If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Every single element of this show’s plot has been done a million times before, and done better nine times out of ten.

Charismatic, calculating serial killer? Check.

Convoluted romantic entanglements? Check.

Houses with weird crap written all over the walls and bodies buried behind said walls? Check.

Lots of interrogation scenes that try really hard to be intense and mostly fail? Check.

Jaded, alcoholic ex-FBI guy brought back to track down the nutbag he caught because he knows him better than anyone else et cetera et cetera et cetera? Check, Check, Check.

It almost seems like the writers realize how clichéd all of this is, since they add a new wrinkle that they hope will differentiate the show from the many, many other films, books, TV shows etc. that it rips off. Serial killer Joe Carroll is a Charles Manson-like cult figure, who has inspired all kinds of fellow whack-jobs to join his demented cause. This is the “Following” of the title, but what it really amounts to is spectacularly lazy and cheap storytelling, since ANYONE COULD BE EVIL AT ANY TIME.

Take the first episode: the prison guard is evil, the friendly gay neighbors of Carroll’s escaped last victim are evil (and not gay…well, maybe one of them is), and the nanny of Joe’s son is evil. This, to me, feels incredibly lazy, since you can pretty much make someone evil whenever you want to in order to attempt to surprise people, logic be damned. It’s another cliché as well, since SO-AND-SO WAS ACTUALLY EVIL ALL ALONG has also been done before dozens of times.

It also completely muddles the plot, since whenever the show randomly makes someone evil, they spend a lot of time trying to explain why they’re evil. Much of the second episode was composed of showing the background for the evil nanny, who isn’t a very compelling character and is hard to care about in the first place. I really don’t care about why she’s evil. Another problem is that most of these explanations as to why people are randomly evil are pretty much going to have to turn out to be mostly the same anyway: they were seduced in one way or another by the smooth-talking, charismatic Joe, and that’s mostly it.

And speaking of Joe, man, what an amalgamation of clichés. He’s handsome and charismatic and smart and all that, and of course he’s also completely batshit crazy. Hannibal Lecter, anyone? He’s also a former English professor who’s obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe, and there are all kinds of ridiculous Poe references. When Ryan and his pals walk into the aforementioned house with crazy stuff written on the walls and NEVERMORE scrawled all over the place and they promptly, randomly find the body of the evil nanny’s dead mother in the wall, Ryan mumbles, “Classic Poe.” Um, okay.

Evil Joe is played by James Purefoy, a talented British actor I’ve liked in films I’ve seen him in, and he does what he can with what he’s given, which here isn’t very much. Maybe I’m being too harsh on this show based on just two episodes, but so far we haven’t really seen much to show why or how he could inspire such fanatical devotion in people. There are a lot of interrogation scenes between Joe and Ryan that all try to recapture the terrifying, magical intensity of the famous interrogation scene in The Dark Knight, and all of them fail. The acting is generally decent, though Bacon always seems a bit flat to me. But I’ve never been a member (or follower, if you will) of the Church of Bacon so maybe I’m biased.

The show also has an annoying tendency to over-rely on flashbacks to tell the story. There’s an annoyingly-placed flashback whenever the show feels like it needs to explain something, which distracts from the main plot and provides backstory that isn’t even very interesting in the first place. Ryan had an affair with Joe’s hot wife. Yawn. The evil nanny killed her mother. Boring. Joe is all charismatic and whatever. Is there something else on?

There’s also an inordinate amount of gruesome violence. I’m not usually one to talk about violence on television (my two favorite shows are Spartacus and The Walking Dead, for crying out loud, probably two of the goriest television programs of all time), but to me the violence in The Following feels designed to shock more than anything else. Bloody murder scenes, eyes gouged out, decaying corpses, people set on fire…it really seems like Fox is trying to show how cool and hip they are by showing all of this, but it really doesn’t have any impact past the initial shock. The fact that much of the violence is directed towards women provides an additionally sour taste.

The Following is a mess of clichés, lazy plotting, and occasional outbursts of graphic violence. So why am I watching it? I don’t really know. I suppose part of me is curious to see how all of this nonsense plays out, and there’s always the (admittedly slim) chance that the show will eventually manage to pull its head out of its ass, but for now I’m in just to see how dumb things will get. To give you an example, the second episode ends with a man dressed in a stupid-looking Poe mask walking up to a random dude in public and lighting him on fire, then walking away as nobody tries to stop him. I can’t wait to see how this ties in to evil Joe’s master plan.

I read a comment online on a review about this show that summed up its logic thusly: “2+2 =5. OMG IN THE HOUSE!!!” That about sums it up.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie (or TV show) to watch.

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THE FAT MEXICAN SURVIVES!!!

First off, I would just like to say thank you to anybody who read my last post and gave me a kind word or a Like on Facebook. All of your kindness really means a lot to me, and in many ways 2013 is off to a good start. My previous record for most views in one day was 18, I think that was for my John Carter post, but my last one got 25 in one day, which pretty much obliterated my previous record. It also helped me pass 500 total views! I have no idea if that’s a lot in the blogging world, but it’s a personal landmark for me so I just wanted to say thank you everybody for supporting me.

I know after my last rather emotional post I said I was going to write about something cheery like a Pixar movie, which I am still planning on doing sometime. But before I get to that, a fellow by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger came out with a new movie last week, which I enjoyed so much that I’m going to have to put the Pixar movie temporarily on hold.

Like many other people, I was extremely disappointed with Arnold when it came out that he had fathered a child with one of his family’s maids or something and had been keeping it a secret for years. Damn, dude, you really broke my heart on that one. I’m still a huge fan of his movies, to me they are as entertaining as they ever were, but the recent revelations about his personal life are still disappointing. That’s what you get for thinking with a part of your anatomy other than your brain, I suppose. You lose a lot of the respect of one of your biggest fans.

But such is life, I suppose. Nothing anyone can do about it, so let’s move on.

The Governator’s latest movie, the rather generically-titled “The Last Stand,” is an old-school, kick-ass shoot ‘em up, full of blood and bullets. There’s not much plot, but there doesn’t really need to be. It’s kind of a modern-day Western, with the better-equipped, more numerous bad guys going up against veteran lawman Sheriff Ray Owens, played by Arnold, and his inexperienced-but-likable group of deputies, along with a local gun enthusiast played by Johnny Knoxville.

The basic plot setup is this: an infamous drug lord named Gabriel Cortez, whom we’re told is the most notorious drug baron since Pablo Escobar, is being transported to prison or whatever by FBI agents, led by Forest Whitaker. The drug lord promptly escapes and starts barreling toward the border in a souped-up Corvette with close to 1,000 horsepower. The only thing that stands between him and sanctuary in Mexico is Sheriff Owens and his semi-hapless but endearing deputies.

The deputies are an entertaining bunch. There’s Figuerola, aka Figgy, a portly Mexican fellow played by Luis Guzman, a likable actor you’ll probably recognize if you look him up. There’s Frank Martinez, a former Marine locked up for the weekend for drunk and disorderly, who also happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Sarah, played by the lovely Jaimie Alexander, whom you might recognize as Sif, the warrior gal from Thor. There’s also the hapless Jerry, who (SPOILER ALERT) gets killed before the final showdown, which made me sad. It was impossible not to like him. Throw in the Johnny Knoxville gun enthusiast and you’ve got a motley crew if ever there was one.

Part of the fun of movies like this is in rooting for the underdog, since Sheriff Owens and his plucky deputies are outmanned and outgunned by the drug baron’s small army of faceless henchmen, including Peter Stormare, a Swedish actor you might recognize as the thug who infamously put Steve Buscemi through a woodchipper in the Coen brothers’ “Fargo.” He has a weird accent in this movie, it almost seems like he’s trying to put a Southern accent over his Swedish accent, but he only remembers to do it about half the time so his accent ends up being kind of all over the place. But whatever, he’s still pretty badass.

The movie builds to an apocalyptic battle in Sheriff Arnold’s sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction, and what a battle it is. The movie is the English-language debut of director Kim Jee-Woon, a respected Korean filmmaker. I haven’t seen any of his Korean films, but maybe I’ll check some of them out now. Based on the evidence in The Last Stand, he’s a damn good action director. There’s a thrilling car chase through a cornfield at the end of the movie, which sounds preposterous and kind of is. It’s also kind of brilliant because half the time the two drivers can’t see where the other vehicle is. There’s a great shot where the camera pulls back and shows the two cars sitting about ten feet away from each other, and neither one is going anywhere because the corn is so thick that neither driver has the slightest clue where the other one is.

The movie is also appropriately self-deprecating, and Arnold pokes fun at his image a couple of times in amusing and audience-gratifying ways. During the final showdown with Cortez, Arnold says, “You give immigrants like us a bad name,” which is pretty hilarious.

Unfortunately, the movie completely tanked in its opening weekend, grossing a measly 6.3 million and barely making it into the top ten for the weekend box office. It is on track to be the biggest flop of the Governator’s long and storied career (insert obligatory joke about his stint as Governor of California here). This saddens me greatly. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, and I heartily recommend it to my fellow action fans. It’s fun, funny, well-made, and action-packed from start to finish. In my humble opinion, Arnie may be in his sixties but he can still kick ass. Apparently a lot of people out there either didn’t agree or didn’t care. But will those doubters be able to pull a shard of glass out of one of their legs and keep kicking ass when they’re sixty-five? I think not.

Oh, well. I still enjoyed the movie. It was a ton of fun. There’s a scene where Figgy the portly Mexican deputy improbably survives a massive explosion and emerges from a cloud of smoke with machine-gun blazing, which made me want to stand up and shout “THE FAT MEXICAN SURVIVES!!” in the middle of the theater. I didn’t, but I certainly wanted to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

Feelings

Have you ever watched a movie that made you feel something? And I don’t mean just thinking, “Oh, that was a good movie,” or “Eh, that one didn’t do much for me.” I mean, really, deeply, made you feel something, something that maybe helped you realize something about yourself?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I re-watched Baz Luhrmann’s wonderful “Moulin Rouge!” recently and it is a movie that always gets me.

But wait a second. I’m the guy who writes about action movies, right? I write about underwater zombies and how terrible an actress Denise Richards is and, you know, silly stuff, right? What am I doing writing about a musical all of a sudden?

In short, I’m writing about Moulin Rouge because it speaks to me. It moves me profoundly, and it always makes me think about my life. It makes me think about where I am in my life, what I’ve accomplished, what I could have done but didn’t.

Ok, before I go any further I’m going to give you a little background on me. This is going to be more personal than I’ve gotten on any of my other posts, so if you don’t want to read about the life details of some guy on the internet who is more than likely a complete stranger, I understand. I just kind of need to spill my guts here, so bear with me.

I’ve always been a bit of a loner. I don’t really make friends that easily, so I’m the kind of person who prefers to have a few really close relationships than a lot of more casual ones. I’m kind of an extreme introvert. Social situations make me nervous. I’ve never been good with big groups of people, I always feel uncomfortable and out of place. I’d rather be at home with a cup of tea and a good book or hanging out with a really close group of friends than be at, I don’t know, a really crowded party or nightclub or something. That kind of setting just doesn’t appeal to me. To be brutally honest, it scares the hell out of me.

In college, I was the guy who stayed in his dorm room on the night of all the big school dances and such and watched Resident Evil movies and ate ice cream. Seriously, I did this. I was that guy. College was a challenge for me because I’ve never been good at meeting new people, I always feel like I make things awkward because I’m not good at talking to people I don’t know. I made lots of good friends in college, and I value their friendship enormously, but there were a lot of wasted opportunities on my part.

Girls, for example. I went to a college that was at least two-thirds female (it may have been more, I forget the exact ratio), so you’d think that I’d have a decent chance. But I wasted it. I completely wasted it. People kept telling me that I had to just put myself out there, and I never did. I just…couldn’t.

I had a huge crush on this girl who lived in my dorm freshman year. She was the prettiest dark-haired girl I ever saw. I talked to her maybe twice. Maybe three times. I did get to open the front door to the dorm for her once when she couldn’t find her keys, and that made me feel gentlemanly, and she knew my name, which was nice, but I never made the effort to really get to know her. I wanted to. I wanted to so badly, but I didn’t. I let my fear and my nervousness get the better of me, as I have all my life. A girl that pretty, you just know other guys had their eye on her too. And then she transferred to another college after freshman year, and I never saw her again. Probably never will.

I spent all four of my college years thinking “Hey, it’s all good, you might meet someone, you never know, it’ll be fine,” and guess what? It’s now almost two years since I graduated from college, and I haven’t even managed to get a job that’s anything more than just temporary.

I’ve never even dated. Not once. I barely even talked to girls in college. I feel like some Neanderthal because I still have no idea how to talk to women my age. I just never tried. And now I’m living at home and nothing seems like it’s going to change. I’m 24 years old and I’ve never even kissed a girl. And I want to. So much. I keep seeing people I knew in college announcing on Facebook that they just got engaged, and I’m happy for them but every post I see like that just serves as a reminder that for me, that level of intimacy is still just an idea. Some intangible, mysterious and completely unobtainable idea. Something that, for me, is so far out of reach it might as well be in another galaxy.

And it’s not just physical, my desire for that sort of intimacy. I mean, let’s face it, I’m a guy, there are physical impulses at work here, I won’t deny it. But what I really want is that sense of connection with another human being. That feeling of one soul in two bodies.

And that is what Moulin Rouge makes me feel. It makes me feel like it’s possible. Like the beautiful courtesan and the penniless writer can fall in love. The list of things that make me feel this way is pretty small. Moulin Rouge did it. Hunger Games did it. A book called “Divergent” by Veronica Roth did it. There are maybe a few others, but those are the ones that immediately pop into my head whenever I think about this.

I guess this is all part of why I love movies so much. I read a lot of books and I play my fair share of video games too, don’t get me wrong. But what I’m driving at is that I haven’t found that unobtainable level of intimacy in real life yet, so I look for it in fiction. And isn’t that what stories are really all about? Experiencing things you more than likely wouldn’t get to do in real life, like blowing up the Death Star or traveling through time? For me, I just hope that falling in love won’t remain one of those things that exist purely in the realm of fantasy.

For any of my family and friends who may read this, I would just like to say that in no way is anything I’ve written here meant to reflect badly on any of you. I love and cherish each of you, and any of my personal failings I’ve described here are entirely my own.

Well, there it is. I spilled my guts on the internet. I never really intended to get this personal when I started blogging. But deciding to write about Moulin Rouge brought with it all of these feelings, and it didn’t seem right to just ignore them. And it helps to get them all out, you know? Writing is good therapy. I’ve had all of this bottled up in my head for so long, it really helps me to be able to just step back and look at it. I’ve never been very good at expressing my feelings vocally, my own mom has told me I’m a hard person to read, so hopefully I managed to express myself in writing just a bit more eloquently. Feel free to psychoanalyze me if you want, and if you want to ignore this post entirely that’s fine too. Maybe I’ll follow this up by writing about something light and happy, like a Pixar movie. That would be nice.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

A Belated New Year’s Movie

So here’s that cheery New Year’s movie I mentioned a few days ago. It is 1999’s End of Days starring none other than the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I don’t know where to even start with this one. It’s so spastic and scattershot it almost seems like the filmmakers forgot what kind of movie they were making between scenes. Its tone is relentlessly serious, and yet there are goofy lines and moments sprinkled throughout that make its seriousness just seem silly.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. End of Days begins in Rome in the year 1979, as a worried-looking priest in the Vatican watches a comet arch over the moon. Apparently this is meant to signal the birth of the one chosen to bear Satan’s child, sort of like the evil Virgin Mary. The Pope and most of the clergy want to find and protect the girl, while another group wants to kill her in order to stop Satan’s plans.

The scene shifts to New York, where a baby is born. The baby is taken away by a nurse to be cleaned up. The nurse, however, takes a creepy-looking elevator to the basement, where some creepy-looking folks find an ominous-looking mark on the child’s arm. They then cut open a snake with a knife and sprinkle its blood over the child. Ew. This apparently produces the desired result and the child is taken back to its mother, who names the girl Christine.

Fast forward twenty years to retired cop Jericho Caine (I LOVE THAT NAME), who now works private security. He’s been in a constant state of depression since his wife and daughter were killed by hitmen, and is shown contemplating suicide. He is on the security detail for a Wall Street banker, who is promptly attacked by a guy who turns out to be the priest who saw the comet at the beginning of the movie.

This plot summary is wearing me out, and you probably see where this is going anyway. Turns out the Wall Street banker Jericho was protecting has been possessed by Satan, so the would-be priest assassin was actually trying to do a public service, if you think about it. Baby Christine from the beginning is now grown up, and is plagued by all sorts of weird visions. Jericho and his pal Bobby Chicago (sounds like the lead singer from an 80’s metal band) track her down just as some dudes are about to murder her.

One of her would-be assassins tries to read her last rites before murdering her, which wouldn’t you know it gives Jericho enough time to rescue her. As you’ve no doubt realized by now, the guys who were trying to kill her work for those dudes from the Vatican, also from the beginning of the movie, who wanted to kill the woman who would bear Satan’s child.

“But wait a minute, Mr. Zombieroom,” you’re thinking, “how is this a New Year’s movie? What does any of this nonsense have to do with New Year’s?” Well, the key lies in the year. After the prologue, the bulk of the film takes place in the final days of the year 1999. A helpful and very knowledgeable priest (who is not an assassin) informs Jericho and Christine (and the viewer) that the Number of the Beast is not 666 but is actually 999, and that Satan must, to put this delicately, lie with the one chosen to bear his child before the year is over.

One wonders why Satan waited so long. Why not do the consummating in January or something? Satan is a procrastinator, I guess.

Anyway, long story short, Christine gets captured, Jericho rescues her, and they end up in a church as the ball is about to drop in Times Square. In an interesting twist, Jericho tosses his gun away and actually asks God to give him strength. This has to be the only time in any action movie where the protagonist has elected God over machine guns. Satan then possesses Jericho and tries to rape Christine, but Jericho fights his possession and impales himself on a sword held by a fallen statue right as the ball drops, killing himself and presumably sending Satan back to hell to mope around for another 999 years. Girl saved, world saved, end of movie.

All of this is EXTREMELY SERIOUS. I don’t think there’s one smile in the entire movie, unless it’s an evil one from Satan. But there are a couple of lines that are so goofy it’s hard to take any of it seriously. To illustrate this point, here are a couple of choice lines of dialogue from the film.

BEHOLD:

Bobby Chicago: “You’d be amazed what you’ll agree to when you’re on fire.”

Jericho: “Between your faith and my Glock 9mm, I’d take my Glock.”

Priest: “He was doing God’s work.” Jericho: “So God ordered a hit on an investment banker?”

Evil Vatican assassin dude: “We’re not afraid to die for our cause!” Jericho: “Good, because I am not afraid to kill you.”

Bobby Chicago: “You know, sometimes you border on competent.” Jericho: “I know, it’s scary isn’t it?”

And the hits just keep on coming:

Satan: “Now you’re making me angry. You don’t want to see me angry.” Jericho: “Oh, you think you’re bad, huh? You’re a f-cking choir boy compared to me! A CHOIR BOY!!” Satan: “You’re in touch with your anger. I admire that. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to have a drink.”

And one of my all time favorite Ahnuld lines: “GET DOWN OR I’LL PUT YOU DOWN!!”

There is also a scene in which Satan pees on the sidewalk and sets it on fire, which causes a huge explosion, and what has to be one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history, wherein Jericho gets his ass kicked by an old lady. Yes, really. This happens. She beats the crap out of him. He does eventually smash her head through a glass table, but holy crap watching the Governator get beat up by a septuagenarian is priceless.

And at the grand climax of the movie, when Jericho sacrifices himself to save both the girl and the world, he seriously leaps like eight feet through the air to impale himself on this sword. If you’re gonna go out, you might as well go out like a boss, and maybe set a new long-jump distance record while you’re at it.

So yes, moments and lines such as these, while admittedly taken out of context here, make it almost impossible to take the movie seriously, and the relentlessly grim tone doesn’t help any. You can almost hear the director yelling in the background, “Hey come on, this is SERIOUS STUFF HERE, PEOPLE!!” but you can’t quite hear him over the sound of your own guffaws.

It’s kind of a shame too, since there are some decent ideas here, they just get lost under layers of kitsch. Some part of me likes the idea of a protagonist struggling with his faith, and it is an intriguing idea to have an action hero choose faith over firepower. But none of it really works in the movie. It’s noisy and overblown, and its relentless seriousness doesn’t jibe with its sillier moments, though there are a couple of good action scenes along the way. And I would totally watch an entire movie about priest-assassins.

On a mostly-unrelated side note, Wikipedia informs me that the soundtrack for the movie included tracks from Korn, Limp Bizkit, Guns N’ Roses, Eminem, and Rob Zombie, which has to be the only time in recorded history any of these people had any sort of connection to anything that even remotely involved the Pope.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

2012: The Year in Villainy, Part Two

Yay, more villains! There were a lot of memorable cinematic villains in 2012, so let’s get to it.

Loki in The Avengers

Loki is another example of the villain needing to match the strength of the hero. That was a sizable task in The Avengers, which had no less than six superheroes. Joss Whedon’s megahit superhero flick managed to make Loki enough of a threat that it required the combined efforts of six superheroes to stop him, and it made sense to the viewer that one hero alone would not be enough to defeat him. Loki was far more interesting here than he was in Thor, and Whedon pulled off the not-inconsiderable task of giving all of the main characters a reason to hate him. There were so many ways The Avengers could have failed, but it didn’t, becoming the highest-grossing film of the year by a sizable margin and one of the year’s best popcorn movies. Bring on the next round of Marvel movies, starting in May with Iron Man 3! I’m so ready.

Bane in The Dark Knight Rises

It’s become cool since TDKR came out on DVD to gripe and complain about it, and for a bunch of jackasses to stick their noses in the air, look down on people, and say condescendingly, “It wasn’t that good.” I am here to tell you that those people are stupid. Do not listen to them. TDKR was a fantastic film, probably my favorite of the year. There are people out there (see above) who would simply say that my Batman fandom blinds me to any problems the film may have and that my opinion is therefore not valid. On the contrary, I am fully aware that TDKR is not a perfect film, in many ways it is quite flawed. But it is still fantastic, and Bane was one of the most original and memorable cinematic creations of the year. I don’t care that his origin story was slightly different from how it was in the comics, it still worked in the movie. Following in the footsteps of the late, great Heath Ledger was no easy task, but Tom Hardy gave a fantastic performance, and was completely convincing as a match for Batman both physically and mentally. Love him or hate him, you certainly won’t forget him.

As a side note, I’m not including Catwoman on this list because in my opinion she wasn’t a villain. More of an antihero, or antiheroine as the case may be. Certainly still a memorable character though.

The Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man

To be honest, the Lizard was one of the weaker elements in The Amazing Spider-Man, a movie which otherwise gets my vote for Most Surprisingly Good Film of the Year. He looked a bit cheesy and Rhys Ifans seemed a bit bored as his alter ego, Dr. Curt Connors. But I still liked the film, and the Lizard was still enjoyable to watch. Another evil lizard: does anyone hate that stupid Geico gecko as much as I do? Seriously, it seems like you can’t watch TV for five minutes without that little green bastard popping up somewhere. Does anyone even think he’s still cute or whatever anymore? GAH. I hate you gecko. You give geckos a bad name. Okay, rant over.

Vilain in The Expendables 2

Ah yes, Vilain the Villain. The rather pointlessly evil bad guy played by the Muscles From Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme. He had no personality and no motivation whatsoever, but every action movie needs a villain so why not Van Damme? The Expendables 2 was thoroughly silly but I still enjoyed it immensely. Just listen to the way Van Damme pronounces “Don’t challenge me” and you’ll see what I mean. Amusingly, if you watch the blooper reel on the DVD, it seems like Van Damme had a hard time remembering his lines. Maybe he took too many spin kicks to the face back in the day.

Ares and Kronos in Wrath of the Titans

Most people have already forgotten Wrath of the Titans, the not-needed sequel to 2010’s mostly unloved Clash of the Titans. But it still had a couple of good villains. One was Ares, the God of War, played by Edgar Ramirez, an actor I like who does a good job of being evil but still a little sympathetic. Call me crazy, but I felt kind of bad for him. Kronos is a giant lava monster, so that’s pretty cool. There’s no kraken in Wrath of the Titans, but I thought that Kronos was one of the cooler-looking CGI creations of the year. The special-effects guys did a great job with him. He’s really just another giant monster bent on destruction, but at least he provided some snazzy visuals.

Silva in Skyfall

Shudder. Just thinking about Silva, played so brilliantly by Javier Bardem in the latest excellent James Bond film, is enough to send chills down my spine. He was so creepy. I liked Quantum of Solace, the previous Bond film, though I agreed with the common criticism that the villain was boring. I like the idea of an evil environmentalist, but Dominic Greene was pretty dull. Oh boy did they fix that in Skyfall. Silva is not only one of the best villains of the year, he’s one of the best Bond villains ever and one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time, period. Casting the Oscar-winner Javier Bardem as a Bond villain was an inspired choice, one that paid off in spades. Silva is completely unhinged and utterly terrifying, but just like the Joker in The Dark Knight, you can’t take your eyes off him and you kind of miss him when he’s not around. Utterly repellent and utterly fascinating, Silva embodies all the qualities of a great villain.

Mad Dog and Tama in The Raid: Redemption

One of the best straight-up action films of the year, the Indonesian martial-arts flick The Raid: Redemption also boasts a couple of thoroughly nasty villains in the form of ruthless gangster Tama and his main henchman, the aptly-named Mad Dog. These two do all kinds of horrible things to people and it is extremely satisfying when both get their inevitable comeuppance. Seriously, if you like action movies and you haven’t seen this one yet, stop reading this and go to Netflix or something RIGHT NOW.

The Convicts in Lockout

One of the many great ideas about setting an action movie on an orbiting space prison is that, by definition, pretty much everyone up there is a murderous psychopath. You’ve got an entire setting chock-full of bad guys! Think Arkham Asylum in space and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the kind of folks you will find populating the space prison in Lockout. My favorite was the main guy, I don’t know if he had a name but if you’ve seen the movie you’ll know who I mean. He’s the guy the President’s daughter interviews, who promptly kills all the guards and wakes up all the other inmates from cryosleep. This guy is so loony and has such a thick accent that it’s hard to even understand what he says. He’s skinny and emaciated and covered in tattoos, and just generally repulsive. Seriously, if they had to pick just one prisoner for the President’s daughter to interview, why did they have to pick the one guy who’s clearly crazier than a bag full of… I don’t know, something really crazy? It’s almost enough to make one wonder about the decision-making processes of the folks who run the space prison…

Tobin Frost in Safe House

Safe House was an early-year hit, and in my opinion it’s not hard to see why. Denzel Washington is the kind of actor who makes any movie he’s in worth watching, and he had great chemistry with Ryan Reynolds in this film. Think of Safe House as 3:10 To Yuma meets The Bourne Identity. I thought it was a great action flick, and I’m surprised to say that I find myself liking Ryan Reynolds more and more these days. Washington plays Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA agent who has since become a traitor. Despite his turncoat ways, I’m a bit conflicted calling him a villain since there are other characters in the film who might fit that description more aptly. But Washington’s is still the most memorable character in the film, and I liked how he and Reynolds had to depend on each other to survive. Safe House is a smart, punchy action flick, and while it may not be the most original story it is still worth checking out.

Clas Greve in Headhunters

Headhunters is a Norwegian crime thriller that only had a limited release in the States, so if you’ve never heard of it I forgive you. I’m cheating with this one a little since I think it was released in its native country in 2011, but I discovered it in 2012 so what the heck. The plot concerns a fellow named Roger, who has some serious inferiority issues. He uses his job as a corporate headhunter to find out which potential employees are in possession of valuable artwork, which he then steals. He bites off more than he can chew when he steals a valuable painting from an ex-soldier named Clas Greve, played chillingly by Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known to American audiences as Jamie Lannister from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Seriously, the dude is extremely badass. I would like to cast my vote for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to be the next Bond villain. Headhunters is a great movie, if you’re into tense, smart, Hitchcockian thrillers you should absolutely check it out.

Azog the Defiler in The Hobbit

The Hobbit really didn’t need to be made into three movies, but I find myself looking forward to part two next year. Part of that has to do with the wonderfully-named Azog the Defiler. A completely invented character whom you will not find in Tolkien’s books, Azog the Defiler is a hideous albino orc monstrosity that the filmmakers invented to be a nemesis for badass dwarf hero Thorin Oakenshield. Azog is not really necessary to the plot in any meaningful way, but damn did I get a kick out of him.

So there you have it, my picks for the most memorable cinematic villains of 2012. Some 2013 villains I’m looking forward to seeing: General Zod in Man of Steel, The Mandarin (played by none other than Gandhi himself, Sir Ben Kingsley) in Iron Man 3, and whoever Benedict Cumberbatch is playing in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Are there any villains I may have missed? Who were some of your favorites?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

Also, HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!