Saturday, October 29, 2011

Salute to Characters!

I got to thinking last night about what makes a movie really memorable. Sure, you can go on about cinematography, special effects, story lines and dialogue. Those are extremely important, after all. But what I usually remember the most are the characters that populate the stories. They guide us through their little worlds. We love them and we hate them. We cheer them on and we burn them in effigy. They make us laugh, cry, think, and inevitably applaud. Sometimes they let us down and we just don't connect with or believe in them, but this isn't about those disappointing ones. I've got here a list of some of the characters that have really left their mark on me and the actors who brought them to life in all my years as a dedicated movie buff.

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow (The Pirates of the Caribbean)
 You gotta love Captain Jack! He's weird and he's out for himself, but he's oddly lovable for all that. Maybe that's because he's a refreshing break from the usual pirate templates: on one hand the bloodthirsty buccaneers who'd run you through as soon as look at you, on the other the romanticized "gentleman pirates" who are more like the high seas versions of Robin Hood. There's no love for one, no grit to the other, and no substance in either. Here we have the best of both worlds! Jack is nobody's fool. He uses his sharp yet skewed wit and a whole lot of BS to get out of a pinch, but don't think he won't fight if it comes to that. In his continuing search for rum and between battles with Hector Barbossa, Davy Jones, the East India Trading Company, and what seems like half the world, I for one have come to appreciate the character and quirky personality of dear Captain Jack as more than another inspired performance by Mr. Depp. He struggles with moral issues and the idea of being ethical, and in a world dominated by politics and intrigue he always comes out on top, just by being Jack. If you do your research, the character becomes even more impressive. Depp's approach initially raised some eyebrows and caused a few executives to question the decision to cast him, but lucky for us they didn't stand in his way! And of course, about everybody has heard the inspiration for this character was guitar player Keith Richards, but even the costumes were influenced by the rock star! It's significant to me that the reprisals in Dead Man's Chest, At World's End, and On Stranger Tides were the first sequels Depp ever made in his career. Not one sequel, THREE! Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Heath Ledger as the Joker (The Dark Knight)
 This one really gave me chills. Heath Ledger, may he rest in peace, more than deserved the Academy Award he got for this role. It's hard to take up the mantle of such a well-known character (forget about the psychotic villain part), and if we trot on over to Wikipedia we can learn a little something about how he developed his character. "To prepare for the role, Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character's posture, voice, and personality, and kept a diary, in which he recorded the Joker's thoughts and feelings." That is dedication for you. Jack Nicholson's Joker, while plenty crazy, was just too comical for me, but there was nothing funny about Heath Ledger. That insane giggle made the hair on the back of my neck stand up! I was enthralled even as I was repelled! When you're hired to portray the number one villain of all time, you have to deliver, and I don't think there's a word that can be said against Ledger here. He was eerily inconsistent (in a darn good way), and the only constant was the chaos. Bravo, monsieur!

Matthew McConaughey as Tip Tucker (Larger Than Life)
  You won't find much on this movie, but this character earns his place on my list. Highly caffeinated, extremely high-strung, and with a mouth that runs a mile a minute, Tip Tucker the trucker is a Character with a capital C. When you stack this movie up against some of McConaughey's other work, the movie itself falls flat, but when you remind yourself that this man has done action flicks like Reign of Fire, dramas such as A Time to Kill and We Are Marshall, and romantic comedies out the ears, Tip kind of stands out. The film is forgettable (unless you grew up watching it *wink*), but Tip is not. He's a lunatic with a tire iron and odd theories about school lunch programs. He's over the top. He's vengeful. He's sleep-deprived. He'll get on your nerves, but you won't forget him in a hurry. And by the time the movie's over, you will learn not to mess with Tip Tucker and his Tip Top Trucking.

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's)
 Ah, yes, how can we leave her out of this? She's gorgeous, glamorous, and endearing. And I'm not sure if I'm talking about Holly or Audrey herself. Sabrina may be my favorite Hepburn movie, but you can't deny her appeal in her most memorable, iconic role. Holly is eccentric and naive (but then, that's what everybody and his grandmother has to say about her). What strikes me the most is her determination not to belong to anybody, which is off-set by her need to belong to somebody. Hepburn considered this her most challenging role ever, an introvert portraying an extrovert, but we can all agree that she did it beautifully. If I could only get my hands on Truman Capote's novella! The movie is a trip into a modern-day fairy tale of a girl with high ambitions and astoundingly low expectations setting her heart on what's not for her only to find everything she needs is just next door, and let's not forget "Moon River." Holly Golightly. The Southern gal turned uptown (almost) lady. The last word in chic. Every glamor girl's idol and ideal. Often imitated, never duplicated, least of all by Mary Tyler Moore!

Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Another of my favorite villains! What kind of psycho, twisted, heartless witch wants to kill adorable little puppies for their coats? Why, Cruella, of course! I'm convinced that Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada might have found her origins in this skunk-haired fashionista. She's glamorous, too, albeit in an extreme, edgy, Bride of Frankenstein kind of way. She's also deliciously nasty, and the sworn enemy of the SPCA. I most admire Close's physical comedy throughout the movie and its sequel. She gets kicked by a horse, dropped in a vat of molasses, pinned under a sow (as in female pig), thrown into a pile of  manure, sprayed by a skunk, and baked into a cake. And all in high heels! The woman is a trooper! A huge departure from her role in Sarah, Plain and Tall, though maybe not such a far cry from Alex Forrest, with the obsession and insanity and all that. I have the sudden urge to dig out the old VCR and watch this movie again...What is left to say? Oh, yes! "Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil, if she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will, to see her is to take a sudden chill, Cruella, Cruella De Vil!"

Scarlett Johansson as Purslane Hominy Will (A Love Song For Bobby Long)
 Isn't she just so pretty? The movie is more introspective than fast-paced, and really gives you time to take in the performance Johansson puts in. Pursy hasn't caught a break since her mother ditched her to pursue a career in jazz, and since moving in with a washed-up literature professor and his former teaching assistant and would-be biographer, it doesn't get much better. Pursy is insecure yet still has that spark of independence in her that makes you want to cheer her on, and the way she handles life with Bobby and Lawson is something of a carnival ride. Johansson was opposite John Travolta for this one, but for once I wasn't paying him any attention (no offense, John, I still love ya). There was magnetism in the vulnerability and a lot of literate intelligence. That's in reference to literature, of course. This movie began my girl-crush on Scarlett, and I've since enjoyed her work in A Good Woman, Scoop, and The Other Boleyn Girl, particularly that last one, but this one holds its place as my favorite of her films. Now my only issue is my jealousy that she got to work with Hugh Jackman in TWO separate movies, and kiss him in both! You lucky girl!

Well, there you have it, my list. You can disagree with me if you like, as it all comes down to opinion, but when I think "memorable characters" it's always these six that come to mind first. Do you have any favorites? I'm open to comments, and I'd love to hear from you!

Your pal,

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