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TV REVIEW: Hannibal


Creator: Brian Fuller

Starring:  Mads Mikkelson, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Lara Jean Chorostecki

Network:  NBC

Airs: Thursdays, 10pm Eastern /9pm Central

Cinema’s most notorious cannibal has returned to public life as the unlikely star of a one hour NBC crime drama.  Hannibal, set before the events of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, finds a middle-aged Lecter assisting the FBI on grisly manhunts while masquerading as a Baltimore psychiatrist with a fridge full of secrets.  Any movie fan would naturally be concerned that TV censorship and commercial interruptions inhibit Hannibal even more than his signature straitjacket and facial restraints.  Yet the horror icon remains menacing and seductive in his new serialized incarnation, bringing a potent flavor to introductory episodes “Aperitif” and “Amuse Bouche” that masks the blandness of formulaic forensic shows.

If nothing else, series creator Bryan Fuller (Heroes) has found the perfect actor for the pivotal title role. Dane Mads Mikkelson avoids Anthony Hopkins comparisons by drawing more on the sinister minimalism of his James Bond villain from Casino Royale.   This Hannibal is trying to pass himself off as a boring suit, so he can’t risk the theatricality of those purring taunts and unblinking stares that caged Hannibal used to intimidate his interrogators.  Lecter lives out his double life wearing an unwavering poker face, but subtle gestures and asides help Mikkelson retain the dark humor and refinement that has always made this beast relatable.   A dinner of exquisite looking mystery meat, or a courtesy call placed to a fellow serial killer, play like private jokes between the viewer and this strangely admirable enigma.

Dr. Lecter hungers for an equal to sniff out his true nature, which makes his relationship with tortured FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) the crux of the show.  Graham’s heightened intuition helps him process crime scene clues through the eyes of the most depraved psychopaths – he’s a great investigator but an unstable lawman.  Lecter is brought in to help Will develop coping skills and process his recent first kill, but the shrink uses the sessions instead to insinuate his macabre world view inside Will’s fevered brain.  Dancy’s jittery performance is a nice contrast with Mikkelson’s calculating stoicism, even when the storylines push Graham’s emotional state to campy extremes.

Fans of Red Dragon and Manhunter recognize Will Graham as Lector’s eventual captor, but Hannibal has changed enough about the set-up to make that future uncertain.  Like JJ Abrams’ Star Trek or A&E’s Bates Motel, the project isn’t a slave to the source material and many canonical elements have been tweaked successfully.  Will Graham looks more damaged and socially awkward here than in the movies because he has a house full of stray dogs rather than a stabilizing wife and son.  Turning sleazy male reporter Freddie Lounds into a scheming female blogger not only contemporizes the character, it gives Lector a tempting new target.   As long as the show runners respect the source material, I think defying expectations is a great way of keeping fans interested.  Right now I don’t care if this Lecter ever ends up behind bars.

Still, not everything about Hannibal feels like a fresh reinvention.   Laurence Fishburne makes for a credible Jack Crawford, but he leads a stock crime fighting unit transplanted from a lesser procedural (annoying Asian scientist, dour bearded white dude, sexy lady shrink, etc.).  And the overwrought cases, which include a deer hunter skewering women on a wall of antlers and a pharmacist growing a mushroom garden out of comatose diabetics, create the bogus impression that every murderer on the East Coast is some aspiring performance artist using cannibalism to redress childhood hurt.  If this is what we’re going to get week after week, it’s going to diminishes Lecter’s reputation as a unique monster.

Hannibal has impressive production values, and its queasy corpse imagery and violent standoffs don’t feel compromised by broadcast television standards.  Yet I can’t help feeling like the show would play better on a network that doesn’t require it to make room for 17 minutes of commercials. Graham resembles a psychic more than a cop when ads don’t give us enough time to covet the clues, and he has to make improbable deductions to compress the plot.

Despite its flaws, Hannibal promises to be a worthy new chapter for the serial killer if it can maintain the Lecter/Graham dialectic.  I’m just afraid the show will get lost in America’s overcrowded DVR and wind up cancelled before its audience can find it.  I definitely RECOMMEND streaming both episodes over at sooner than later, and look forward to tasting the remaining 11 courses of Season One.


April 17, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews, Television | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on TV REVIEW: Hannibal

The American Movie Review

The American Movie Poster

The American

Director:  Anton Corbijn

Writer: Rowan Joffé

Starring:  George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Irina Björklund

Studio:  Focus Features

Release Date:  September 1, 2010

The American is a taut thriller.  Every actor delivers an authentic performance that makes their character feel real.   Every shot in the film is gorgeous and feels like each frame could be a postcard.  The American may just be the best film I cannot possibly recommend.

Clooney plays Jack, a gunsmith and hit man on the run from relentless Swede assassins.  In most movies with this type of set-up we would see Jack investigate his attackers, eventually uncovering their boss in an action-filled climax, but The American provides a refreshing, seemingly more realistic take.  Instead of going on the offensive, Jack goes into hiding in the Rome countryside, counting on his employer Pavel to keep him safe.  More, this attack has frightened Jack, making him want out of his lethal lifestyle.

It’s a very low-key, suspenseful take on a story about hit-men, and that is The American’s greatest strength.  Even when Jack’s serenity is interrupted by a Swede attack, the action scenes are bloody and short, the exact opposite of the glossy, adrenaline-filled fights in action films like The Bourne Identity.  The scenes are not here to thrill, but to remind Jack, and the audience, that death surrounds him and his quiet respite could come to a bloody end at any moment.  This is driven home to great effect.

Indeed, The American treats the Swedes as a subplot, with the main focus being Jack’s relationship with local prostitute Clara.  What starts as a purely professional relationship ends in a true romance as Jack connects with Clara, despite not ever truly trusting her intentions.  Clara could be a plant, and we’ve already seen Jack kill one girlfriend.  As such, Jack and Clara’s scenes together are always bittersweet as the audience knows at any moment one of these lovers could kill the other.

But despite all that is done right, The American fails in many respects.  Jack is a laconic cipher   We have endless scenes with him drinking coffee, or expertly machining a rifle, but Cloony’s performance always leaves us disconnected from the assassin.  Jack’s lies are told so often and so easily that we never know what to believe.  We don’t trust Jack and Jack trusts no one, leaving the viewer with no character with whom they can relate.  Do we want this agent of death to find love and salvation, or do we want the Swedes to deliver swift justice?

The film’s final fall is in its finale.  As we are kept emotionally distant from our main character, his fate becomes ultimately unimportant.  The suspense of the eventual double-cross reaches its climax, but in an unfulfilling, perfunctory way.

The American is like one of Jack’s guns–lovingly crafted, expertly made, but ultimately cold and mechanical.  Not recommend

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The American Movie Review