There’s no cult surrounding the books of Thomas Harris like the kind surrounding other crime authors. Harris writes about the behavioral science investigators of the FBI who look into the darkest corners of the human mind. In addition to being murderous and incapable of stopping, the serial killers of Harris’s books have a flair for sadistic ritual killings and dramatic presentation of the bodies. Not the kinds of things you want to rehash and examine with a book club.
You’ve undoubtedly heard of Harris’s greatest contribution to pop culture, the villain Hannibal Lecter. Played most famously by Anthony Hopkins, his first on-screen appearance was by Bryan Cox in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, the first of two adaptations of Harris’s Red Dragon.
Red Dragon chronicles the investigation by Will Graham, an FBI agent whose sophisticated sense of empathy allows him to enter the minds of serial killers. During the investigation he must play mental chess with Lecter, a psychiatrist who once helped him but turned out to be a pyschopath himself.
Now Hannibal, the T.V. show on NBC, chronicles how Lecter and Graham met and how their lives and minds would be forever intertwined. It was created by Bryan Fuller (of the excellent Pushing Daises) and can easily lay claim to the goriest, most graphic show ever on network television. Assuming that’s your cup of tea, here are three more reasons why you should tune in to the season two premiere tonight.
1) The Guest Stars
Here are a just a few examples. Gillian Anderson as Lecter’s therapist. That’s right…Dana Scully is head-shrinking Lecter. Eddie Izzard as another insane doctor who is seemingly keeping Lecter’s cell warm for him. Raúl Esparza as Dr. Frederick Chilton (yes, Lecter has him many times for dinner). And Mobius himself, Laurence Fishbourne, as Jack Crawford, Will Graham’s mentor and enabler. And these are the people you know. Several other actors are stars in the making, like Hugh Dancy (who plays Graham), Caroline Dhavernas (as Dr. Alana Bloom) and Gina Torres as Bella Crawford.
2) The Pedigree of the Directors
T.V. isn’t really a director’s medium, but try to tell me that the horrific Grand Guignol artistry and look of the show doesn’t have the fingerprints of masters like Guillermo Navarro (the cinematographer for Guillermo Del Toro), John Dahl (who directed Red Rock West and The Last Seduction), and British legend, Peter Medak, all over them. Let’s see who they bring aboard for season two.
3) Mads Mikkelson. Obviously.
The world I dream about has enough money to remake Casino Royale and this time swap roles between its leads. Daniel Craig will play a Bond villain and Mads Mikkesen is James Bond. Smooth, with an impassive face, he betrays nothing of the danger that awaits. He is a killer at the ready. That is essentially how he plays Lecter. No Hopkins hamming here. This is the face of sophisticated evil. The beautiful death incarnate.
I know it’s February but I wanted to wait until I saw the slew of year-end Oscar contenders before compiling this list. I say “Meh” to most of them. So with significant blindspots, here are the ten that had the deepest impact on me in 2013.
I find it baffling that this movie is getting very little attention on pretty much everyone’s year-end lists. It has everything that good independent film should: a raw style by writer/director Ryan Coogler (who is next working on Creed, about Rocky nemesis Apollo Creed’s grandson), breakout performances (not least by lead actor, Michael B. Jordan), and a perfect balance between artistry and politics. That this story of the shooting death of unarmed father, Oscar Grant, at the hands of a BART cop came out the same week as the awful Zimmerman verdict will stay with me for the rest of my life.
A master walks among us and his name is Wong Kar-Wai. The oft-told life of Ip Man, who trained Bruce Lee, is given a sumptuous treatment that instantly ranks among the greatest kung fu films of all-time. Coupled with one of Wong’s favorite motifs, that of unrequited love (between Tony Leung with Ziyi Zhang of Crouching Tiger fame), the action sequences (choreographed by Woo-Ping Yuen who did Kill Bill and The Matrix) are visceral and felt not merely seen. AVOID THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN TRUNCATED VERSION FOR AMERICA AND SEARCH OUT THE INTERNATIONAL DIRECTOR’S CUT.
A documentary that must have Hitchcock, Michael Powell and Orson Welles all rolling in their graves. You won’t believe your eyes as small-time Indonesian gangsters, modern heroes of their communities, recount how they tortured and murdered their country’s communists in the 60s with the same intensity that you use to order brunch. Director Joshua Oppenheimer then lets the men stage tableuas of their wicked deeds in the killers’ favorite cinematic genres. Those scenes will have you questioning your very senses and morality. Proof for the profound and illuminating power of film.
A champagne supernova of satire that shamelessly squirts drugs, violence, and the allure of youthful indiscretions in your face. Is James Franco, who plays a white-trash Svengali rapper, being hilarious on purpose? Who cares? It’s the best thing he, and director Harmony Korine, has ever done.
A lo-fi version of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Andrew Bujaski’s Computer Chess takes place during a motel chess tournament where computers and their programmers vie for supremacy. The movie, using the look and designs of the early/mid 80s (VHS videotape, block fonts, et al), underscores not only how tastes and technology evolve but the eternal necessity of human connection.
It’s been quite a year for Steve Coogan. His well-received roles in the indies What Masie Knew and The Look of Love have been capped off by his work in the excellent Philomena, which he wrote, produced, and starred in (and got a writing Oscar nod). But my favorite of his 2013 movies is the one that won’t be released in the States until April of 2014, the long-awaited reprisal of one of Coogan’s most endearing characters, Alan Patridge. Co-created by Armando Ianucci (who has written the excellent HBO series Veep), feckless television personality Alan Patridge now works in a Norwich radio station. When a laid-off co-worker goes postal, Patridge is brought in to negotiate with him, which leads, of course, to no good. One particular sequence is among the funniest things I’ve ever seen and because this movie is funny from beginning to end, it beats out This Is The End (which sputtered out for me…N’Snych?…c’mon) as the best comedy of the year. See it when it’s released on VOD later this month.
The Coen Brothers have perfected the poetry of misery by giving us this sepia-toned snapshot of an artist in his most primordial struggle: whether to continue being an increasingly irrelevant artist or soldier on and suffer the slings and arrows of his (sometimes self-made) misfortune. It was a downer and I loved every second of it.
Mads Mikkelson, who has casually built a resume of iconic characters (are you seeing him devour the role of Hannibal Lector on NBC?) dials it down and delivers one of his best performances as a taciturn day care worker who is falsely accused of impropriety by his best friend’s daughter. This return to form from Dogme 95 founder Thomas Vinterberg is a slow-simmering version of our Salem witch trials. Fear Mikkelson and his range. He is a superstar in the making.
Depending on your point of view, Terrence Malick is at the height of his powers or completely losing his ability to maintain any sort of narrative focus. I happen to fall into the former camp. This visual tone poem describing a love triangle between Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams is told not with words or story but feelings and camera movement (by Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki who also lensed the stunning Gravity). Once more, Malick has made a film that illuminates our grace within. It goes against everything that I believe regarding spirituality and I can’t wait to see he turns out next.
My favorite film of 2013, this emotional epic that ranks among the greatest films of all time, will sadly be remembered for its “shocking” scenes of slave life. Well, shocking to those people who have never considered the brutality of everyday slavery. Look, it’s hard to examine (and enjoy) a film about such a deeply barbaric period of American history, one whose effects can still be felt in many parts of the country. But allow yourself to see through Solomon Northrup’s eyes and witness the deranged notions of love (in Michael Fassbender’s relationship with breakout Lupita Nyong’o), the dehumanizing aspects of unfettered capitalism, and the appeasement/compliance of slaves against one another. Any one of these themes would individually make for a fascinating (and disturbing) film. That British provacateur Steve McQueen has included these themes and more in his film (only his third!) shows a mastery in storytelling that should shame all of Hollywood.
Honorable Mentions (aka Enjoyable Movies That Are Completely Worth Seeing):
The Crash Reel, Drinking Buddies, This Is The End, Pain & Gain, Trance, Which Way Is The Front Line From Here?, Sightseers, The Dirties, Blue Caprice, Blackfish, Behind the Candleabra, Reality, We Steal Secrets: The Wikileaks Story, Enough Said, Lone Survivor, August: Osage County, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Philomena.