Tag: hannibal lecter

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Hannibal

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After two truly excellent films and a somewhat passable prequel, we come to the fourth and final installment in our look at Hannibal Lecter. Like the other movies based on the novels of Thomas Harris, we’re presented with a charismatic and compelling villainous protagonist, shown dark recesses of the human condition and are at least somewhat creeped out by the goings-on. But Hannibal, to be blunt, doesn’t measure up to the truly excellent Silence of the Lambs and the very good Red Dragon. Let’s peel it apart and find out why, shall we?

Courtesy MGM

At the core of any decent film should be a decent story, right? I mean, fun films can get by with gaping plot holes and one-note characters – a common criticism of most superhero flicks, even decent ones – but to make a film with something approaching meaning the story has to be solid. And while the story in Hannibal never really smacks of total implausability, every once in an while a moment comes where you feel like Thomas Harris either chuckled at the thought of skeeving his audience or dialed up a bit of lurid absurdity to underscore the fact that a novel like Silence of the Lambs adapated into a film that wins five Oscars doesn’t really need a sequel. But getting paid is nice, I guess.

So, the premise: Hannibal’s absconded to Europe and tries to get a steady job as curator at a museum. Special Agent Clarice Starling is struggling to coordinate operations but keeps getting the short end of the stick on account of having boobs. A faceless man – literally, this man has no face – is on the revenge warpath for Doctor Lecter and a Florentine police officer who has yet to notice the oddly-dressed gentleman free-running on the rooftops is beginning to suspect that his erudite, polite American is more than he seems. Seriously, when are Americans erudite and polite? There’s gotta be something up with the guy.

Courtesy MGM
His leering is nowhere near as creepy as Hannibal’s default state, so Starling is completely unphased.

If there’s one thing that approaches salvaging the film, it’s Sir Anthony Hopkins. His portrayal of Hannibal remains pitch-perfect, equal parts cold menace and disarming charisma, and he’s always fun to watch. What made Silence of the Lambs so great and Red Dragon a success, however, was that he was supported by excellent material and a talented cast that kept up with him. This is not to say that Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta and Gary Oldman (face or no face) aren’t talented, but Anthony just leaves them in his dust here. I don’t think it’s the fault of the cast, honestly, nor of Ridley Scott the director. The writing is where this one falls short, and while there are glimmers of truly interesting conversation thanks to David Mamet, the big weakness that causes people to assault this film for massive damage is its focus.

In the other two films I keep raving about, the focus is on character development and interpersonal drama. They’re deeply psychological films, every bit as much explorations of the darker corners of the human mind as they are tense murder thrillers. Hannibal, on the other hand, is a gorefest. As it’s wearing the dressings of Florence and the mannerisms of Hannibal Lecter, it doesn’t have the naked self-indulgent gore of Saw or any other current horror flick you’d care to name, but it certainly likes to slice and dice its way through its running time. It takes no time to develop the new characters that are introduced other than one-note traits that verge on stereotyping, and the established characters unfortunate enough to not be Hannibal Lecter are left flat and uninteresting, mere passengers on the Cannibal Express. I say this is the writing’s fault because Julianne Moore has been in several fantastic films carrying more than her own weight, Ray Liotta was stellar in GoodFellas and Gary Oldman is one of the most talented character actors I’ve ever seen. I don’t think they were intending to play characters who are so completely flat, but that’s what they were handed.

Courtesy MGM
Hannibal is considering eating her raw. …Um.

There were warning signs from the beginning that this would not end well. Both Jodie Foster and Jonathan Demme, originally foregone conclusions in the continuation of Hannibal’s story, walked away from the project due to the direction it takes and the proposed changes to Clarice’s character. The funny thing is, Ridley Scott asked Harris if he was married to his original ending, and Harris really wasn’t. In fact, the impression one gets is that Harris has little to nothing to do with this project at all. It’s unlike Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon to such a degree that if you change the names of the characters, it doesn’t lose a thing, and neither do those other stories.

There’s an underlying cynicism to the whole affair of Hannibal that makes me wonder what Harris’ real motivation was in writing the novel. Was he prompted to do it due to Hannibal being so interesting, or did the studio hound him for another story, driven by the success of Silence of the Lambs? Whichever’s the case, the feeling one gets upon examining this odd and disappointing specimen is that it was completely unnecessary – unnecessary to write, unnecessary to make, and unnecessary to watch. Save yourself some time, and read the excellent and hysterical Hannibal in 15 Minutes by Cleolinda Jones. She even lifts lines and moments directly out of the film. Things like Gary Oldman not having a face and Starling’s disturbingly funny lines and Hannibal carefully preparing bits of brain in a saute pan. I swear, she is not making that stuff up.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! The Silence of the Lambs

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At the conclusion of the career of the serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy, Doctor Hannibal Lecter was languishing in Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. It looked for all the world that he was destined to return to his quiet incarceration, sketching and reading while infurating his smarmy overseeing psychiatrist, Dr. Chilton. But then another dark soul emerges to claim innocent lives, and the unique insight of the good doctor is once again required. This time, the FBI has sent a trainee. They’ve sent one of their best and brightest, untarnished by the greater evils of the world. They’ve sent a young woman named Clarice Starling.

Courtesy Orion Pictures

Starling’s quarry is dubbed “Buffalo Bill,” from his peculiar calling card of skinning his victims. They’re all young women but seem to have nothing else in common. After playing a game or two with Starling, Lecter offers to profile the killer in exchange for being allowed to leave Chilton’s care. The deal is considered skeptically until Buffalo Bill abducts the daughter of a US Senator. But when Lecter if offered a deal, he opts instead to work with Clarice directly, exchanging information on the killer for secrets of Starling’s past. Quid pro quo – after all, how can Lecter trust Clarice to keep her word if he doesn’t know the deepest corners of her soul?

Silence of the Lambs was shot in 1991 and has some of the vestigial trappings of the 80s that are also present in TV shows of the time such as The X-Files. I can think of at least one scene where Jodie Foster is nearly swallowed by the shoulder pads of her jacket. But there’s only so much criticism I can level at this film, considering that the writing is extremely solid, the acting is superb and the directing is taut and intimate.

Courtesy Orion Pictures
Always so polite.

The book, written by Thomas Harris, was the third he wrote featuring Doctor Lecter. As I mentioned previously, his second book was adapated to film in 1986 under the title Manhunter, and while the debate as to which between it and Red Dragon is the superior film contiues to this day, the first film was successful enough to warrant a sequel. This one was adapted by Ted Tally, a relatively unknown screenwriter who only had a TV movie and a romantic comedy to his name. And yet, when it came to Silence of the Lambs, he walked away with the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Jodie Foster really came out of nowhere for this. I mean, child stars transitioning into adult works have never had an easy time of it. Add to the fact that Jodie was the sole obsession of John Hinkley – the guy who shot President of the United States Ronald Reagan in 1981 – and she had quite a bit of notoriety to shake off. However, she’d proven her acting chops in The Accused, and she was paired up with Sir Anthony Hopkins, who took over the role (and the original spelling) of Hannibal Lecter from Brian Cox. Oddly enough, both of them began acting in 1968. Both of them stepped in after other actors had left the roles. And both would, like the writers, walk away with Academy Awards.

Courtesy Orion Pictures
THIS is girl power, you ignorant douchebuckets.

The film was directed by Jonathan Demme. He’d been struggling to break through into the mainstream after finding critical acclaim with his earlier films, trouble with some big studio projects and a few documentaries and comedies. Silence of the Lambs was a bold turn for him, and he directed it much like Lecter directed the development of Starling. We as the audience, like Starling, are not only shown evil; we are sat in its presence and made to stare. It blended procedural crimesolving with chill-inducing horror so perfectly that it’s been the template upon which many subsequent films in the genre have been based. Not only did Demme win the Best Director Academy Award for his work, the entire film was honored with the coveted Oscar for Best Picture.

That’s five, if you’re keeping track. Five Oscars, all in major categories, and Silence of the Lambs is one of only three films to boast that accomplishment. What more can I say about it? How much longer would I need to sit here trying to convince you to see it, if you haven’t already? It’s quality cinematic entertainment, packed from start to finish with fine performances and keen artisic sense. It will enthrall you and immerse you as well as making you think, and the novels and movies that can truly do that are growing more few and far between every passing day. To neglect The Silence of the Lambs would be, in my humble opinion, extremely rude.

And we all know how Doctor Lecter feels about rudeness.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Red Dragon

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When we last left our dear Doctor Hannibal Lecter, he was completing his tenure at a Parisian medical school while enacting bloody vengeance upon the Nazi war criminals that devoured his sister and his innocence. While he did have run-ins with the law, he did not truly meet an equal or memorable rival the way he did in his first actual outing, which we’ll be covering next week. When, in his timeline, we next meet up with Hannibal, this will thankfully be different. Storytelling in this sort of genre is at its best when the battle of wits feels more compelling than anything involving physical weapons. Since Sir Anthony Hopkins made the character the most prominent, and I haven’t bothered to watch Manhunter yet, we’ll be reviewing Red Dragon. Fans of Brian Cox’s “Doctor Lecktor” are invited to leave their protests in the comments below.

Courtesy Universal Studios

When we catch up with Doctor Lecter in Baltimore, he’s seen as a man of wealth and taste, inviting his friends from the philharmonic to dinner even as they mourn the loss of their second clarinet – although they admit, his disappearance is an improvement. The dinner is followed by a visit from Special Agent Will Graham of the FBI, who’s been consulting with Lecter on the profile for a serial killer. Circumstances fall into place that Graham discovers Lecter was his prey all along, and the two have an altercation that ends with Lecter imprisoned under the smarmy care of Dr. Frederick Chilton while Graham retires early. Years later, a serial killer the media dubs “The Tooth Fairy” is baffling authorities, and Graham is the only man with the wherewithal to bring him in. To do so, however, he must resume his relationship with Doctor Lecter. To keep more people from dying, he must face the man who tried to kill him.

What is most puzzling about this film is not that it’s a retread of Thomas Harris material previously covered. That can be explained by the popularity of Lecter as portrayed by Sir Anthony. And after his previous outings, pairing him with dramatic powerhouses in their own rights – Edward Norton, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel and Ralph Finnes to name just a few – is a brilliant move. No, the perplexing portion of the affair is that it’s under the direction of one Brett Ratner.

Courtesy Universal Studios
Hannibal’s had a hankering for Ratner since The Last Stand.

Do you recognize the name? You should. This is the man who nearly drove the X-Men film franchise into an early grave and took the high-energy batshit-bonkers action star Jackie Chan and made him into a somewhat mediocre straight man to Chris Tucker in not one, not two, but three different films. But odd as this may seem, I think I have an explanation. You see, when you have excellent writing, and it’s given to talented actors who have chemistry and a grasp for their characters that transcends words on a page, not even someone like Brett Ratner can fuck things up.

The linchpin, of course, is Sir Anthony. While I’ll go into more detail next week as to why his Doctor Lecter became such a sensation and a template from which other horror film villains would crib notes, his mere presence seems to elevate the rest of the cast. Edward Norton gives us a particularly interesting character in Graham. He seems shy at first, almost entirely introverted around other people, but encounters with Doctor Lecter draw him out of his shell and allow him to realize his full potential. As much as he may loathe the man, its undeniable that Hannibal’s influence is a big part of his success. The scenes between these two are electric, and while the relationship Hannibal develops with the next Special Agent that comes to see him is a bit more nuanced, this sort of talent playing off of one another is a big key to Red Dragon‘s success.

William Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in White
A work of art (the painting) within a work of art (the film). Insert joke/meme here.

Meanwhile, we have Ralph Finnes and Emily Watson. It may surprise fans of Lord Voldemort to see this seemingly unrepentant killer of men suddenly become tortured by his nature and darker desires when faced with Watson’s character. On top of being lovely and a talented actress, Watson is called upon to play a blind woman employed in a photo processing dark room, and the ways in which she moves, behaves and relates to her environment are actually quite compelling. Nothing she does feels forced or artificial, which is a testament to her skill. Much like Hopkins and Norton, Finnes and Watson are good to watch together on-screen, and the two pairs trade off back and forth through most of the second act.

I felt that a couple of the other characters, while serving purposes for the narrative, were a bit tacked-on or one-dimensional, and some of the would-be twists at the end were easy for me to spot coming. But taken as a whole, Red Dragon is a surprising and delightful success, outdone only by the next story in Doctor Lecter’s career that was actually the first time film audiences really got to know him. And instead of being paired with a fellow experienced actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins’ counterpart would be someone who, like many child stars, had previously struggled to transition into adult movie success.

We shall return to where it all began, my friends; and it all began with a man desperate for change, an erudite animal behind a pane of glass, and a little girl who for years carried a tiny and frightened little lamb.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Hannibal Rising

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October has arrived. It’s a month that brings a change of seasons, a decrease in termperatures, post-season baseball and a plethora of colors. Oh, and I think there’s some holiday at the end of it. In honor of a time where folks fly their freak flags, culminating in a celebration of sugary or other types of debauchery, I will be examining the character and exploits of one Doctor Hannibal Lecter. I’ll be going in chronological order, which means we’re beginning with Hannibal Rising.

Courtesy Dino De Laurentis Company

Dr. Lecter’s story begins in 1944 where he lived as the son of a wealthy Lituanian aristocrat. The Germans retreating from the front forced the Lecters out of their castle, and circumstances and war caused the deaths of all save Hannibal and his little sister. Militia looting the countryside come to the Lecter’s lodge in the dead of the Russian winter, and what happens there renders Lecter mute for eight years. Escaping from the orphanage his castle had been converted into under the Soviets, he finds his aunt, the Lady Murasaki, who cares for him and teaches him courtesy, honor and revenge. He takes these lessons to heart, especially when he begins to track down the men who murdered his sister and haunt his dreams.

I’m not sure if I can really recommend this to be the starting point for viewers unfamiliar with Dr. Lecter and his particular pursuit of justice coupled with a singular diet. If nothing else, the absence of Sir Anthony Hopkins completely inhabiting this character, whom he made famous, is keenly felt throughout the movie. While the essence of the character is shown to grow organically from the circumstances of the opening, the nature and meaning of that opening do two things. They add nothing to the other points in the narrative, and they operate in a completely forgettable fashion. You can watch Hannibal Rising at any point, really, because for all of the good decisions made in the film, it’s rather superfluous, and the other films in the series, with one notable exception, outclass it in every single way.

Courtesy Dino De Laurentis Company
“You drink better wine than you sell…”

Prequels often have this problem, but at least Hannibal Rising doesn’t go completely around the bend in fleshing out the good doctor. “Little sister eaten by Nazis before taken in by Japanese aunt” seems like a bit of a stretch on paper, but the film does little to overly glorify or demonize any aspect of this story. While what was done to Hannibal’s sister was monstrous, young Hannibal himself is every bit as deplorable in his actions even if war criminals are acceptable punching bags. And in spite of some of the romanticism in Western circles with the way of the samurai, the extent to which Dr. Lecter pursues his revenge quickly leaves honor behind in favor of sadistic delight and a penchant for cooking ingredients unlikely to appear on Iron Chef.

The problem with the execution of young Hannibal’s little European rampage is that in terms of aesthetic and self-righteousness he comes dangerously close to emulating one John Kramer, a.k.a. “Jigsaw.” The deaths of some of our war criminal victims are rather elaborate or theatrical, and while Dr. Lecter has always been one to appreciate the power of presentation, the overwrought nature of these killings lacks refinement. One assumes that this may be part of the point, as we are watching a creature of intellect and malevolence we can barely call human grow in his knowledge and power. However, I for one can’t help but feel some of this is intentional to get fans of that other aforementioned franchise into the theatre, right next to the demographic certain corners of the Internet would refer to as “weaboos.”

Courtesy Dino De Laurentis Company
A soccer player and a geisha. I’m sure they get along fine.

As much as aspects of the film feel superfluous or a bit shameless in their aping of popular bits of geek culture, Hannibal Rising does a few things right that other prequels rarely do. Instead of telling us about Hannibal’s backstory, the film lets it unfold naturally, showing us how and why Hannibal’s slow decent into darkness begins and accelerates. At times, French actor Gaspard Ulliel seems to be trying to hard to affect the aforementioned mannerisms, while at others director Peter Webber plays up the head-slightly-tilted-forward/eyebrow-cocked/coy-dark-smile image that defines many charismatic horror villains, but for the most part he does remain grounded and does project charisma as well as drive and intelligence. Li Gong, Dominic West and Rhys Ifans all turn in fine performances, and while some of the early bits vie for most ham-handed villainy with some of Dr. Lecter’s trap-making, none of it seems to go completely over the top, until perhaps the very end.

All in all, Hannibal Rising is not the worst one of the franchise, but I cannot recommend it as a proper introduction to Dr. Lecter. I think that recommendation must, unfortunately, wait until a week or two from now. Yes, this prequel suffers from some issues in scripting, pacing and overall execution, where influences of marketing or trend-following overwhelm any actual narrative ideas it has going on. But on the whole, after we finish our examination of Red Dragon, I think you will agree that in any order other than theatrical release (which is the most logical and perhaps the most ideal), that is a better starting point than Hannibal Rising. Join me, won’t you?

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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