Hannibal is one of the unexpected recent highlights of U.S. TV crime drama. Inspired by Thomas Harris’ series of novels featuring the urbane maniac Hannibal Lector, the show reinvigorates a tired brand in a wholly enthralling way – and in a manner that’s not for the squeamish.
Hannibal is actually a prequel to the first Harris book to feature Lector, Red Dragon. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), an almost supernaturally gifted but psychologically fragile profiler and instructor at the FBI’s Quantico training facility, is drafted by Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), head of the Behavioural Science Unit, to assist with difficult cases. Crawford is well aware of the danger he exposes Graham to by asking him to immerse himself in the minds of killers, so he enlists the assistance of psychiatrist Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelson) to monitor Graham’s mental state; Crawford is unaware however that Lector is a serial murderer of such monstrous cunning and ingenuity that he has literally handed the lamb to the wolf.
Shot in darkly muted tones of browns, greys and reds that give it a suitably sombre aura of chilly dread, the show is one of the most unflinchingly gruesome on television without revelling in the gore – a tricky feat. Mikkelson is outstanding as Lector, bringing nuances to his and the writers’ interpretation of the character that make it stand apart from previous portrayals, while Dancy holds his own as the tortured Graham, conveying Graham’s psychic agony so palpably that he is difficult to watch at times.
For everyone lamenting the imminent end of Breaking Bad, this is a darkly addictive series worthy of support.
The press release lists three featurettes as extras, but there are only two in the set, ‘First Look ‘ and ‘Forensics 101’, which were created by U.S. broadcaster NBC to promote the show in advance of its debut. They offer little insight into the work that went into reimagining these iconic characters and their inclusion is rather pointless.
Gimme the Loot
Think upbeat version of Larry Clark’s Kids and you’re somewhere close to the style of this authentic, rough and ready look at the lives of two semi-impoverished Bronx teens. Malcolm and Sofia are best friends and street taggers who are offered the ultimate challenge to truly make a name for themselves – leaving their mark in the centre of an iconic statue at Shea Stadium. All that stands in their way is the pricey sum of $500 needed to pull off their stunts. It’s a figure which they attempt to find, by hook or crook.
Gimme the Loot is as far from a picture postcard view of New York as you could (mercifully) get, and a fine debut from ex-Woody Allen production assistant, Adam Leon. He has a feel for the city which you seldom get to see on screen, and is able to work wonders on what is obviously an extremely limited budget.
Set during the kind of balmy, summertime atmosphere which evokes the memory of Spike Lee at his very best, this film is an absolute lo-fi delight and will hopefully find the loving small screen audience it thoroughly deserves.
There’s a fun commentary from Leon, where he discusses filming in the film’s fantastic found locations, plus some deleted scenes. A nice little addition here is the Bronx public access All City Hour, which features and Gimme the Loot edition with the film’s cast and crew.
I’m So Excited
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, I’m So Excited is a Spanish ensemble comedy set aboard an airplane heading to Mexico City. When a technical failure endangers the lives of those on board, and it appears as though the end is in sight, the pilots, flight crew and passengers look to forget the anguish of the moment.
Almodavar was one of the first directors to enter mainstream cinema as openly gay, and I’m So Excited is as camp as you can get. Full of secrets, lies and sex, the film combines drama really well with the playful comedy the promotional material has focused on. Crazy and melodramatic, I’m So Excited is far from reality but it’s certainly proud in its silliness, and there’s enough going on in between the singing and dancing around to make the characters and each of their stories effective at the same time.
The films only major stars are Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas who make small cameo appearances, but the rest of the cast are fantastic in their roles. The three main actors who play the stewards (Raúl Arévalo, Javier Cámara, and Carlos Areces) are hilarious and work together really well. The original Spanish title, Los amantes pasajeros, means both “the fleeting lovers” and “the passenger lovers” which works well for the many sub-plots going on in, but the English title comes from Pointer Sisters’ 1982 hit song that the stewards perform for the crew.
The special features on the DVD are fairly decent, consisting of a ‘making of’ video showing the director working with some of the cast, which is always quite interesting to see. Also included are a theatrical and teaser trailer, a making of the VFX showing how some of the effects aboard a plane were done, a video showing the creation of the airplane crash site, and finally a photo gallery showing both film stills and images of the cast working with the director. Again, a decent collection of extras but nothing overly special.
A reminder of teen angst, 90s-style, Nowhere looks like a scuzzier, more wilfully anarchic precursor to director Gregg Araki recent sci-fi-flavoured comedy, Kaboom. It also has the same haphazard charm when it comes to narrative. Dark (James Duval – what happened to him?) is a disaffected 18-year-old who hangs around with a debauched group of sexually-adventurous teens who populate a similarly disenfranchised Californian community, full of repressed parents, disturbed classmates and cockroach-styled aliens.
The shabby, punk aesthetic (best described as ‘John Waters meets Troma’) is evident everywhere – from the flat, sitcom-like lighting, to the ungainly, slipshod framing and abrupt editing style. Everything is designed to infuriate and discomfort the viewer (this approach presumably drove highbrow critics crazy during the film’s cinema release). Similar to Clerks, its lack of anything approaching a style becomes a style in itself.
Very much of its time, Nowhere is considerably tamer nowadays, but there still fun to be had, namely from the completely up-for-it casting (including a frighteningly fresh-faced Ryan Phillippe) delivering mannered and OTT sub-90210 acting. There are also a number of subversive turns by teen fodder of that time, including Heather Graham, Mena Suvari, Shannen Doherty, Christina Applegate and Rose McGowan, to name but a few. Featuring a superb alt/electro/shoegaze soundtrack (Araki can always be called upon to source some amazing songs for his films) it’s a curio for sure, but worth checking out.
Little here aside from a playful audio commentary by director Gregg Araki and his stars James Duval, Rachel True and Jordan Ladd. A retrospective documentary would have been nice.