Friday, March 20, 2015

10 Least Favorite Screen Characters

I was tagged by my wife to do my Ten Least Favorite Screen Characters (ie., characters from a TV show or movie). Like my wife, I'm going to provide a brief explanation so that if I offend or shock anyone, I can explain my position. I'll tag people on the Twitter post for this.

There are maybe a handful of spoilers throughout this post, but probably not any huge shockers. Just a fair warning.

Topanga (Boy Meets World)

You know what's funny? I like Boy Meets World. It's a fun series, and there are plenty of good episodes that resonate with me as much as an adult as much as they did when I was a kid. But when I watched it again, I found that I could not stand Topanga. Part of the problem is her self-righteousness and pushiness, which never (in my opinion) gets addressed or rebuked sufficiently. The biggest example of this for me was the one Christmas episode where she stays at the Matthews' home, and starts pushing her family's Christmas traditions on them; then, come the end of the episode, it's Cory who has to apologize?! Excuse me? Are we not going to address Topanga's manipulation of a family to which she was a guest?

It didn't help when it became a trope how, every season, Cory and Topanga would break up, become drama llamas for several episodes, then get back together. It made the series annoying for me. Partly this was because I've had friends in real life who have gone through such relationships, where they break up with someone three or four times before they finally break up for good. Partly this was because it just made the story lines so predictable. I didn't care whether or not they got back together, because I already knew they would. It's kinda like when people die in Dragonball Z; I'm not gonna mourn for them, because I know by the end of the story arch they're just going to be resurrected. More importantly, it seemed like a lot of times the break up was a result of either something Topanga did (though Cory was certainly guilty a few times), or because of some shallow reason Topanga had for said break up. Cory's interests in her at some point seemed more like an obsession, and in my opinion he had broken up with girls in previous episodes for less legitimate reasons than he did with Topanga.

In fact, while re-watching the first few seasons, I started wishing that Cory had ended up with Wendy rather than Topanga. One of the few times as an adult I've been tempted to write a fanfic, really...

Bella Swan (Twilight film series)

Granted, I don't like Bella Swan in the book series either, but unlike Edward (whom Robert Pattinson made somewhat more likable...creepy stalking aside), Bella is even more unlikable in the movies. It goes without saying that Kristen Stewart's acting in those films is some of the worst acting I've ever seen in cinema history period. She makes Steven Seagal look like Ian McKellen. Read this line out loud: "Whoa, what is going on?" Congratulations, you just read it with more depth and feeling than Kristen Stewart did. I seriously believe that every scene with her was done in one take. It didn't help that every other actress in that movie did a good job in their respective roles, causing me to repeatedly think, "Okay, why didn't they get the role of Bella?" Say what you want about Anna Kendrick, I think she could have done a better acting job as Bella than Stewart.

But acting aside, the character is just completely unlikable. She goes through the film with a perpetual "Woe is me, my life sucks" persona. I don't like girls who behave that way in real life...why would I want to spend 2+ hours with a fictional main character like that? Her obsession with Edward is equally as mystifying in the films as it was in the books, and her ability to just go from Edward to Jacob made me doubt if she fully understood what romance really was. She seriously ranks among the top least liked characters in literary or film history for me.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter film series)

Some of you are probably shocked by this choice, since I've talked on Twitter about being a fan of Harry Potter; I also follow JK Rowling on Twitter, and have used her on this blog as an example of how a good author behaves. So let me tell a little story to explain myself...

I saw the first Harry Potter movie as a late teen, and had never before read the books. I thought it was okay as far as movies go, but I just did not like Hermione as a character. Then my wife introduced me to the books, and as I read them, I discovered something amazing...I liked Hermione. No, I loved her. I found, as a character, I could relate to her in so many ways, and she came across as someone I would have loved to hang out with if I'd ever gone to Hogwarts. She actually became one of my favorite characters in the book series.

In the movies, most of what made her enduring was removed, and the bits that made her human were amplified to the point of annoyance. Her initial unattractiveness (frizzy hair, buck teeth, etc.) was removed, and her studiousness was treated more like snobbery than a character perk. A lot of scenes that made me sympathetic to her were changed so that she was more of an unlikable character. For example, the scene where she throws birds at Ron: in the book, she did it because Ron was a jerk to her; in the movie, she does it because she's a jealous twit.

While Emma Watson can be a good actress, her portrayal of Hermione also hurt my opinion of the character. A lot of her lines are delivered in an unnecessarily dramatic fashion, so that even ordering a salad sounds like she's in some great peril. Her rebuking of other characters, treated in the book as her being the sole voice of reason, is in the films treated more like nagging. By the later films, I found myself absentmindedly saying "Shut up, Hermione" whenever she got upset. It also didn't help that Emma Watson acted with her eyebrows - no, I mean it. Look at her in most of the films, and you'll see she lifts her eyebrows at every other syllable in her line. In some scenes it became so prevalent that I would start counting out loud. Miniscule as this may sound, that part became distracting about her character. If you still don't believe me, start a drinking game over it, and watch any of the movies. I promise you'll be wasted thirty minutes in.

Danny (The Shining, 1997 version)

I'm not going to go into a debate over which version of The Shining is closer to the book, better as a film, etc. I can understand where some of the frustrations Stephen King had with Stanley Kubrick's interpretation, and why he might have wanted to see a different take on the story put to film. People are probably divided on this issue, and I know there are valid arguments on both sides.

That being said, I absolutely hated Danny in the 1997 version of The Shining. That nasal, congested voice of his got grating after about ten minutes. I think they were trying to make him a cute kid that would be enduring, but they overdid it. I started rooting for the hotel, I ain't gonna lie.

Olivia Benson (Law & Order: SVU)

I could probably write a whole blog post on all the problems I have with L&O:SVU, but one of them is the character of Olivia Benson; in a way, she represents everything I find wrong with the series.

For one, she has a self-righteousness, so prevalent in a lot of cop shows today, of "I'm always in the right, even when I'm breaking the law, let alone the US Constitution." Her character will violate police codes of ethics, then get upset if the federal government or another department does the same to SVU. Um, hello? Pot calling the kettle black, much? Is the NYPD's Special Victims Unit somehow immune to checks and balances? There was one episode where she and other officers stalk a suspected rapist - who had been acquitted in court of all charges, mind you - and embarrass him at his workplace and in public until he finally confesses of his crime. Look, I'm not minimizing the crime of rape, and rapists should be brought to justice, but that isn't how our legal system is supposed to operate. If someone is found innocent in the court of law, they're declared innocent unless better evidence comes up. When you reach a level of stalking and public embarrassment, you're breaking the law. Yes, police investigators, try doing that in real life - I'm sure Internal Affairs would be very happy to tell you what happens next after the guy you're bothering sues the city.

For another, her character randomly arrests people at first suspicion, and then is shocked - shocked, I tell you - that she has to let them go because they have nothing more than circumstantial evidence. WHOA! No way! Dang! Curse you, "reasonable doubt"! If only we, I dunno, lived in a dictatorship or police state where the slightest bit of evidence could get you executed! In one episode she had a man convicted of rape, and after the man is found guilty he commits suicide. Then, later on in the same episode, she discovers...oops, he was the wrong guy! Yes, that's right, because of her shoddy police work, she arrested, got convicted, and publicly humiliated the wrong man, and was the catalyst for his suicide. Does she show any remorse? Does she show regret that she drove a man to kill himself due to forever being marked by the law as a suspected sex offender? Nope. Of course not. She's a member of SVU, and they're above all moral and legal rebuke and correction. Remember, they're always in the right, even when they're in the wrong.

Finally, Mariska Hargitay is immensely overrated as an actress. She has the Milla Jovovich problem of having perhaps two facial expressions: slightly concerned, confused look; and smug, cocky look. Granted, once in a while she does a regular smile, but that's when we're lucky. I don't mean to continually focus on the actor behind a character rather than the character themselves, but even if they had chosen someone competent to play Benson, I would still hate the character.

Jimmy Sands (Bats)

Bats is a terrible horror movie overall, and one of the things that makes it so bad is it has perhaps one of the biggest examples of a "token black character" that I have ever seen. It's not that Leon (yes that's his full name) is a terrible actor, it's just that the movie doesn't know what to do with him. His purpose is to literally be a black character and say wise cracks every now and then. What's more, about 99% of his lines are ignored by the other characters. You could literally remove almost every scene of him, or line said by him, and you would lose nothing of substance. If someone wanted to teach a group of film students on what a token black character is, Jimmy would be the archetype.

Big Bird (Sesame Street)
 
Like Boy Meets World, I enjoyed watching Sesame Street as a kid. Most of the characters were fun, and are still enduring as an adult. However, the one character I could not stand, even as a little boy, was Big Bird. Most of the characters were portrayed as simple minded in the sense of being naive or child-like in their thinking, but Big Bird took things too far. Sometimes his stupidity just got aggravating to the point where I was amazed the other characters tolerated his antics. Even to this day, when I watch the Christmas Eve special, Big Bird's concern about how Santa gets down the chimney receives no sympathy for me (given Santa's supposedly done it for like, y'know, the past 2000 years with no problems).

I also watched all the Big Bird films as a kid, and every single one made me, at some point, want to smack Big Bird over the head. The only part I enjoyed was a part of Big Bird in China, where Big Bird goes to a restaurant and asks the host to give him and his dog friend the samples from the front window. The host keeps telling him (in Chinese) that the samples are plastic, and hence not edible (something that a regular person would figure out, even without speaking Chinese), but Big Bird keeps demanding they be served. There's a part in that sequence where the guy turns to the camera and gives a look of utter despair for his situation. I remember seeing that as a kid and thinking, "Yeah, man. I feel your pain. I'm with you."

Nathan Algren (The Last Samurai)

Again, I could probably write a whole post on all the problems I had with The Last Samurai, but a large chunk of it is because of Tom Cruise's character. In fact, Nathan Algren is probably a good examination of all the problems of what I have in the vast majority of Tom Cruise's film characters. Perhaps the biggest problem is that Nathan Algren comes across like a bit of Tom Cruise Mary Sue. Given Cruise's egotism, past accusations of editing films behind a director's back to make himself more of a film's focus, as well as the fact that in every role it just seems like Tom Cruise acting like Tom Cruise but under a different name...that charge could probably be valid.

The Mary Sueness of Nathan Algren shows throughout the film. In just six months of training (part of which was spent going through alcohol withdrawal and recovering from a serious wound) he is suddenly a talented samurai warrior, and is even able to take down ninjas. Yeah, OK, Miyamoto Musashi spent his whole life perfecting the craft of swordsmanship, but Tom Cruise can do it in under six months...yeah sure whatever. Then at the end of the movie, he gets shot umpteen times by a Gatling gun, but then appears later in the film perfectly fine; I half expected him to say to the other characters in a John Cleese-ish voice, "I got better!"

Perhaps the biggest offense of all is the fact that Algren kills off a samurai, then said samurai's wife, upon meeting Algren, says he smells like a pig...and then, in literally the very next scene, she's gazing at him with loving concern as he's getting beaten up. By the end of the film, not only will she be in love with him, but her kids (the children of the man Algren killed) will adore him and laugh and play baseball with him. I'm not saying if someone killed my father I would never learn to forgive him, or treat him with human decency...but I can promise you I won't be treating him like my dad after a few months, let alone will my mother be falling in love with him.

So yes, he becomes a great warrior in a short span of time, and everyone loves/fawns/adores him, even those whose family members he's bumped off...Algren totally is a Tom Cruise Mary Sue. And like every Mary Sue, he's unbelievable and unrelatable as a character.

Belle (Once Upon a Time)

I liked Belle in the original Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast. In the ABC TV show Once Upon a Time...not so much. Whereas Belle in the animated film could be strong and independent while still being a likable character, Belle in the TV show is just annoying. Part of it is her bookworm trait seems more like something attached to her character because it was part of the original canon, rather than an actual part of her personality. She also does some amazingly stupid things, like try to trap a monster in a village full of lots of innocent people. The fact they teamed her up as the love interest of my favorite character, Rumpelstiltskin, didn't help matters.

Have you ever had a character you hated so much in a TV show or movie that, when something bad happens to them, you respond with cheers rather than tears? Belle was one of those characters for me. There's an episode where Captain Hook shoots her. Even though she doesn't die, I literally cheered when that happened! That, along with Rumpelstiltskin going ape-crap and Hook getting hit by a car, led me to tell my wife, "This is the greatest episode ever!"

The Entire Cast of Ghost Writer

OK, I'll admit, I'm cheating here; I'm including an ensemble cast rather than an individual person. However, given these kids acted as a bit of a single-minded organization centered around their literary demiurge, I'm including them as one.

I tried watching Ghost Writer as a kid. I really did. I liked the concept, and I've always been a fan of mysteries. However, these kids are rock stupid. No, I'm not being mean. Really. I'm serious. These kids were dumb. I'm sure in real life all these actors are nice, intelligent people, but the characters they played were dumb as bricks. It took them a week to solve a mystery I think the real police - or any real detective - would have resolved in a day. The biggest example to me was the episode where they came across a container with these words, with some of the letters covered up by dirt:

WA**ING
HAZA*DO**
*UBSTANC*

I remember watching this episode as a kid about the same age as the characters, and immediately thinking, "Oh, it says Warning Hazardous Substance." Did the kids in the show get it right away? Nope. They were like, "Wow, we need to record this and figure it out later!" Then when they get back to their headquarters, they were still stumped as they mulled it over. Finally they were like, "Wow, this is so hard! We need to get out the dictionary!" I was literally yelling at the screen and throwing stuff - one of the few times in my life I've ever done that. I just could not believe anyone would be that incapable of figuring out something that was so freakin' simple. And these kids want to be detectives?

God help us all...

5 comments:

  1. Interesting selection. I have to say that I only know a handful of those and largely agree with those I do.

    I'd have to go with either Bella Swan or Nathan Algren. Having lived in Japan and studied Kendo for some years I can't help but be amused. A 'romantic' view of a history if ever there was one.

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    1. I haven't studied Kendo (I've wanted to for a long time), but Japanese history and culture has been one of my many passions. Needless to say, sitting through "The Last Samurai" was like sitting through "Pearl Harbor." I should have made a drinking game over how many times I said "That's wrong, and that's wrong, and that's wrong..."

      Really, the story should've been called "Dances with Wolves II: I'm Turning Japanese."

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    2. Starring Kevin Costner doing his best Japanese...

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  2. These are hilarious, and I love your descriptions, and I love your blog.

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