“This is my design”: Why HANNIBAL tastes so good

May 31, 2013

Hannibal, the television series devised by the unreasonably talented Bryan Fuller, has been renewed for a second season, and I couldn’t be happier. This ‘Trailer Trash’ column I wrote for Inpress magazine attempts to explain why:

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Ridley Scott’s 2001 film Hannibal was an ugly, unwieldy mess. The television series Hannibal, on the other hand, is elegant, hypnotic and compulsively watchable – maybe it says more about me than I care to admit, but I’ve had the episodes that have aired to date playing on a near-constant loop in the background. (I will of course press pause to watch Celebrity Splash because, hey, who wouldn’t do that?)

Now, for a while there I fell back on my customary reasoning as to why one Hannibal works and the other doesn’t – the film made the fatal flaw of assuming that cannibalistic shrink Dr Hannibal Lecter is a lead rather than a supporting character; the series makes him a member of an ensemble – but as the story has progressed and Lecter has become more and more prevalent, that theory seems to hold less and less water.

So why has Hannibal sunk its claws so deep into my imagination? (As it may yours if you give it a whirl, and you really should. It’s currently airing on Seven…or you could obtain it other ways, but you didn’t hear that from me.)

For one, I’m an easy mark for terrific performances…which can sometimes be different from terrific acting. The two, of course, can and often do go hand in hand. In Hannibal’s case, there’s theatricality to the performances by the wonderfully well-selected core cast that catches the eye and the ear –the bone-deep weariness and trembling vulnerability of Hugh Dancy’s FBI investigator Will Graham, blessed and cursed with “pure empathy” that allows him to slip into the skins of brutal serial killers; the chilly precision of Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter (this is a real casting coup; the angular planes of the actor’s face are beautiful and terrifying) – but it’s complemented by the desire for human connection both characters have and both actors convey subtly and sensitively (yes, even in Lecter’s case – he’s a manipulative, murderous monster, and Hannibal never lets you forget that, but there’s some form of a soul under the formal demeanour and impeccably-tailored suits).

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The same goes for Laurence Fishburne as Graham’s superior. Fishburne’s forceful presence has made him a go-to for authority figures in recent years, and the series uses it effectively, but then there are also scenes between Fishburne and Firefly’s equally great Gina Torres (the real-life husband and wife play a loving, long-married couple) that are as tender, honest and heart-rending as anything I’ve seen recently.

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That’s what it boils down to for me. Hannibal is a horror show, undoubtedly – there are grotesque crime-scene tableaux and depictions of violence that reset the benchmark for commercial television, so be warned – but going hand-in-hand with that gruesome aspect of the series is a constant awareness of the preciousness and precariousness of life and the dread and sorrow that can accompany it being snuffed out violently or sucked away gradually.

It’s why Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs remains resonant and haunting two decades on while the likes of Scott’s Hannibal or Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon have all but faded from memory. Hannibal understands and expresses it, all the while suffusing the series with an incredible visual and aural style (watch for Shining references!) and even a slyly perverse wit. I mean, the elaborate gourmet meals Lecter serves to his guests may have some questionable ingredients but goddamn if they don’t make one’s mouth water.


Review: THE GREAT GATSBY

May 29, 2013

2013 blog gatsby poster

There are moments in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation – or maybe interpretation is a better term – of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby when the Australian filmmaker seems to get it just right.

A sense of yearning to recapture the glories of the past. A tantalising feeling of hope that such a thing is within reach. A deeply-buried fear that it actually isn’t.

Sadly, there are precious few of those moments. For all his intricate detailing and obvious good intentions, Luhrmann stumbles quite dramatically here.

He appears to have a rudimentary understanding of what The Great Gatsby is about but his ways of expressing it vary from clumsily to broadly.

Worst of all, however, he’s made a film that is downright dull and sluggish for long periods.

In his efforts to pay tribute to Fitzgerald’s work and era while making something ‘relevant’ to modern viewers, he’s packed every frame with audacious imagery and incident and filled the soundtrack with a mix of music old and new.

About half the movie is a variation on this image

About half the movie is a variation on this image

That’s Luhrmann’s style, of course, and while it worked a treat in William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and, to a slightly lesser degree, Moulin Rouge, it only acts as a flimsy facade here.

Maybe that’s the point, though. Maybe Luhrmann is trying to say that the glitz and glamour of the Jazz Age’s festivities was a vain, desperate attempt to mask something hollow or absent, both in society and in the wealthy, mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who throws the wildest parties around.

But the filmmaker isn’t quite attuned enough to the more muted frequencies of wounded, melancholy souls to convey that kind of thing.

Luhrmann has always tended to work in broad strokes, and The Great Gatsby requires a more delicate and nuanced touch, even if its story – revolving around Gatsby’s heartfelt but deluded and futile efforts to win back Daisy (Carey Mulligan), the woman he loved and lost – is essentially a simple, straightforward one.

Luckily, he has DiCaprio, who pulls off the quite miraculous feat of staying in step with his director’s outsized approach while locating and articulating the genuine, unvarnished nature of his character.

Yeah, you know you did good

Yeah, you know you did good

It’s a truly intelligent and insightful performance, and quite possibly the one thing that saves The Great Gatsby from utter triviality.


Review: THE HANGOVER PART III

May 22, 2013

2013 blog hangover 3 poster

The Hangover movies have been remarkably popular, and it’s not hard to understand why.

They’ve shown a willingness, even an enthusiasm, for pushing the envelope when it comes to outrageousness.

And they’ve provided a great showcase for some talented, uninhibited comic performers, primarily Zach Galifianakis, making the most of the juicy role of the perpetually awkward and inappropriate Alan.

It's true, Zach, we had some good times

It’s true, Zach, we had some good times

But while it can be important for a comedy to have both wild and wacky situations and characters that one can relate to and even care about, I have to wonder: does anyone really care about the Hangover bros all that much?

Or do we just want to see them make a bunch of bad decisions under the influence of mind-altering, memory-wiping substances and then frantically try to piece together the shambles of the night before?

With The Hangover Part III, it appears it’s the former.

Apparently we’re supposed to have embraced Alan and his ‘Wolfpack’ buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) to our hearts over the course of these movies.

Where's an out-of-control truck when you need one?

Where’s an out-of-control truck when you need one?

So when they find themselves in peril at the hands of belligerent crime boss Marshall (John Goodman, phoning it in), who’s been ripped off by unofficial Wolfpacker Mr Chow (Ken Jeong), the stakes are seemingly raised.

It’s not just drunken, druggy shenanigans anymore; it’s life or death.

And as I watched Part III unfold, my main reaction was ‘Yeah, so?’

That said, the disinterest I felt watching this movie seemed to be mirrored by what was happening onscreen.

Cooper and Helms go through the motions professionally but one can almost feel them watching the clock, waiting for the opportunity to get this over with and move on to something new.

And while Galifianakis still puts plenty of effort into making Alan a walking bundle of weirdness, it’s easy to get the impression there’s not much left in his bag of tricks as far as this character is concerned.

Don't give me that look, Zach. You know what you did

Don’t give me that look, Zach. You know what you did

There’s the occasional fun moment here but The Hangover Part III seems more into wrapping up what it mistakenly views as an epic trilogy than making its audience laugh.

As a result, it’s not so much a celebration as…well, an obligation. Disappointing, really.