Forthcoming Attractions: June 2015

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Is it just me, or was May an extraordinarily quiet month in terms of home entertainment releases? Looking back I realise that I only purchased two new titles for the entire month, which must be an all-time low for me since I first purchased a DVD player over a decade ago. Ironically the two titles that did come out in May now sit next to each other on my alphabetically organised shelf as if cowering for mutual safety, since the first was Birdman and the second was Big Hero 6 – there will be a review of the latter shortly.

ex-bluBut with May over and done with, June arrives and it’s like someone has turned the taps on full blast because on the very first day of the month we get a torrent of big titles – more in 24 hours than the whole of last month in fact. So I thought I’d take the liberty of a one-off change from reviews to previews with this ‘Forthcoming Attractions’ piece; think of it as a back door pilot for possible future appearances of the same sort of article. If you think of it at all, that is. Read the rest of this entry »

Hannibal S2 E1 “Kaiseki” (Sky Living)

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Contains spoilers for season 1

The second season of Hannibal started airing in the UK this week, and to be honest I’m a bit surprised the show got recommissioned. It’s such a gruesomely dark and utterly impenetrable affair that’s it hard to imagine how it could possibly attract the size of audience sufficient to keep the network and studio interested in making it. Those twisted souls who keep faith and continue to be absorbed by the show (such as myself) do so almost like visiting the Tate or Guggenheim to view an exhibition of the works of a particularly unhinged genius: we can admire it without really understanding it, but often the best moment of all is when we head outdoors again at the end and can relish the return to fresh air and sunshine after the complete gloom and despair of what we’ve seen.

castThe ending of the first season confounded the expectations of those of us who thought we knew how the series would go based on our knowledge of the Thomas Harris book Red Dragon from which the series was inspired. Rather than having Dr Hannibal Lecter incarcerated in a basement cell at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, showrunner Bryan Fuller’s reimagining of the story instead left FBI profiler Will Graham staring out from behind the wrong side of the prison bars after being framed for Lecter’s own appalling serial murders. Worst of all for Graham, even he didn’t know for sure whether he did or did not do the crimes of which he is accused, thanks to Lecter’s comprehensive shredding of his psyche. Read the rest of this entry »

Hannibal S1 E1 “Apéritif” (Sky Living)

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It seems that filmmakers simply cannot leave Dr Hannibal Lector alone to dine in peace. He first appeared on screen played by Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s 1986 film Manhunter adapted from author Thomas Harris’ initial novel Red Dragon, but it was the Oscar-winning film of Harris’ follow-up book The Silence of the Lambs (which was essentially a re-write of the first but with a female lead) that really made Anthony Hopkins’ incarnation of the cannibalistic serial killer into a global phenomenon. After that, Lector rather took over Harris’ stories and became the (anti) hero of Hannibal and then the prequel Hannibal Rising, which were of decreasing quality. Both were made into films (Gaspard Ulliel playing the younger version of the character) and Hopkins further reprised the role in a second adaption of Red Dragon.

castNow that cinema has picked the bones of Dr Lector clean, it’s time for television to have its go with a brand new project entitled – oh, how imaginatively – Hannibal. But it’s not a new adaptation of the novel/film of that name, nor is it a new run at the prequel: although set prior to the events of Red Dragon, it’s not as far back into Lector’s childhood. Instead it takes as its jumping off point certain references from Harris’ first book referencing how a young FBI profiler by the name of Will Graham – cursed with exceptional empathy and insight into the minds of serial killers – first met and eventually exposed Lector.

The latter stage is a long way off as the new NBC series developed by Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Heroes, Dead Like Me) opens with noted and respected psychiatrist Lector (played here with considerable cold relish and underplaying by Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen) meeting Graham (Hugh Dancy) and his boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) for the first time to consult on a series of abductions and killings. Read the rest of this entry »

Manhunter (1986) [Blu-ray]

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Before there was The Silence of the Lambs with its Oscar-winning turn for Anthony Hopkins as urbane psychiatrist turned cannibalistic serial killer Dr Hannibal Lector, there was Manhunter, Michael Mann’s film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ original 1981 book Red Dragon.

It was, as far as I can recall, the first film I ever saw or heard about that featured this new-fangled concept of a ‘profiler’. In the years that followed we had angst-ridden profilers seeping out of every cinematic corner and then also popping up on TV in the likes of Cracker, Profiler, Millennium and most recently Criminal Minds. But back in 1986 this was a thrillingly new concept: a detective who doesn’t merely track down clues, motives and alibis but who instead seeks to get deep inside the mind of his prey, to think like them in order to get the jump on them.

Lector (or Lecktor as he’s named in this film, apparently due to a copyright legal wrangle at the time) isn’t the star of Manhunter but a relatively minor part played by the then little-known British actor Brian Cox. The real star of the film was a young stage performer by the name of William Petersen, who had caught Mann’s eye with the lead role of To Live and Die in LA because of his very quiet, intense style of underplaying that went against traditional leading man cop/action hero conventions.

Petersen is terrific here, as we follow him worming his way into the mind of an unseen serial killer who has already slaughtered two suburban families in different parts of heartland USA. The two sets of victims had nothing to do with each other, no overlap to suggest how the killer selected them in the first place or what he was seeking to achieve with the murders. The FBI is stumped, and the boss of the profiling unit Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) – aware that a third massacre is imminent – turns to Graham for help. His gifted protégé now lives in retirement on a Florida beach with his wife and son, having quit the FBI after nearly dying at the hands of a previous psychopath: Lecktor. Graham doesn’t want to take the case because to do so drags him into some very dark places, mentally speaking; but neither can he walk away knowing that others will die without his help.

In the 1980s, Mann was usually dismissed as being a style-over-substance director and it’s certainly true that every frame of the film dazzles with its conspicuous styling in a shoulder-pads-and-pastel-colours fashion that will put you right in mind of Miami Vice, which Mann was indeed heavily involved in. Music, too, is also a very important part of Mann’s mise-en-scène, and the score by The Reds pervades the film throughout – although it’s the moments when the soundtrack stops to belt out The Prime Movers’ “Strong as I Am” and Iron Butterfly’s “”In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” that you’ll really sit up and pay attention, and have playing in your mind for days after. All of this visual and audio 80s influence means that the film initially dated very quickly (in just the way that the dour, gothic trappings of The Silence of the Lambs seem timeless.) As an example, compare Lecktor/Lector’s cell in the two films: in Manhunter it’s a searing, clinical all-white that allows Brian Cox’s dark eyes, hair and eyebrows to float malevolently in a sea of light; whereas in The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins is situated in a dark medieval stone dungeon. The latter still works just as well today; what’s interesting is how fashion has come round to the earlier film, too, and everything that initially seemed super-cool and then became painfully dated is now back in vogue again.

But style only goes so far in making a successful film: it’s actually the performances and the slow meticulous attention Mann pays to how Graham uses his empathetic insight to unravel the mystery in small careful steps that really grips. True, the film follows the book’s lead in having a strange mid-film break that switches us to the serial killer’s story (a memorably weird Tom Noonan) but that merely structurally emphasises how he and Graham are mirror images of one another; moreover it doesn’t get in the way of the sense of our following Graham’s satisfying break-through revelations that finally get the FBI within touching distance of their target. All in all it’s a terrific story and a primer in a whole new type of detective/mystery thriller fiction.

After the box office success of The Silence of the Lambs and its sequel Hannibal, the film makers returned to the original novel and made a new adaptation of Red Dragon, sweeping away Mann’s ultra-modernistic stylings in order to make a new version more stylistically in keeping with the Oscar-winning film: Lector this time is back in that dark stone dungeon. The story is pulled and pushed about a bit in order to accommodate Hopkins as the star where Cox had been a minor part, but even so Edward Norton does a good job taking on the role of Will Graham. Of course he can’t quite match Petersen, at least as far as I’m concerned; that’s because Manhunter is still an incredibly effective and impressive cinematic experience, one that if you haven’t seen yet then you really must. It’s that good.

Despite the age of the film, Mann’s predilection for sharp lines, bright slabs of colour and geometric shapes means this print brushes up extremely well in high definition so it’s well worth springing for the Blu-ray version; it allows allows an ‘extended version’ with new scenes to be branched in, but it’s worth adding a caveat that these haven’t been cleaned up and are in standard resolution, so it can be rather jarring when the quality suddenly dips for a minute or two before getting back on track. It’s less of an issue on the harder-to-get Collector’s Edition DVD, and both contain a director’s commentary from Mann and a couple of short making-of featurettes.

Manhunter is available on DVD and Blu-ray.