Tag Archives: Hannibal

Ridley Scott’s HANNIBAL 

The third Hannibal Lecter film is an unorthodox and strange beast. It doesn’t quite live up to the previous two films, MANHUNTER and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, on the whole; yet it feels like a natural cinematic progression that does the film franchise justice, yet falls short of the powerful impression the novel left.

The film is handicapped before it even leaves the gate with the recasting of Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling. The recasting really isn’t that catastrophic due to Scott’s ability to minimize Starling’s impact on the story and refocus the narrative on the title character and Gary Oldman’s grotesque and obscene performance as Mason Verger, a character so complex he quickly goes from victim to antagonist. 

Over the course of the film, it’s an almost exhilarating journey watching Hopkins reprise his seminal role in a way that feels fresh, even though Hopkins has since worn his welcome out in that role. It’s a different Lecter, a reborn Lecter who has been living a new life, leaving his past behind him; or so he tries. 

The transgressive nature of the film is a stark contrast to the soft aesthetic and alluring score, and beautiful Italian set pieces. The depravity the film slowly and softly sinks and is startling if you are paying attention. The homoeroticism between Oldman and Hopkins in a flashback, the feeding of the wild hogs, and the infamous Ray Liotta dinner scene are all prime examples of how subversive and disgusting the film can get. 

While the ending of the film is a drastic change from the brilliant ending of Thomas Harris’ novel, it’s a sensible and cinematic ending, even though it runs the risk of not saying much, which almost hinders the film as a whole. The film isn’t great, and can feel worn out around some of its edges, but when it’s good, it is really good. 

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Ridley Scott’s Hannibal


Many of us get so wrapped up in the legacy of Silence Of The Lambs that we sometimes forget just how great Ridley Scott’s Hannibal is. Lambs is a wicked clinical shocker, full of psychopathic deviance and razor suspense, but Hannibal is just as good, instead coming from a place of lush, baroque opulence and velvet gilded carnage that overflows with style. They’re two very different films populated by the same characters, chief being Anthony Hopkins’ disturbed cannibalistic serial killing psychiatrist. Lecter has settled down in Italy when we find him, where one foolish police detective (Giancarlo Giannini, terrific) thinks he can lure the good doctor into a trap. Big mistake, although his efforts do gain the attention of FBI Agent Clarice Starling once again, this time played with grit and grace by Julianne Moore. Lecter is fascinated, perhaps even attracted to Starling, and it’s a treat watching them play a complex game of European cat and mouse whilst other various characters dart in and out of the tale. Ray Liotta blunders into their path as Starling’s ill fated bureau handler, a loudmouth who… doesn’t quite… keep his head screwed on tight (yes I went there). Gary Oldman shows up too, although you’d never know it was him as he’s uncredited and slathered up under a metric tonne of Chernobyl waste prosthetic makeup, playing perverted millionaire Mason Verger, who has a bone to pick with Lecter and I mean that quite literally. Hopkins had aged some since Lambs and doesn’t have quite the same unsettling virile charisma he did there, but he’s lost none of the malevolence or cunning, showing once again what a manipulative monster Hannibal can be. This film is all style, and even the frequent graphic violence, although abhorrent, is done with all the flourish and hues of a renaissance painting. The horror is somehow numb as well, or relaxed would be a better term. Lambs was all in your face with jump scares and spine shuddering yuckyness, while here the horror is rich, deep and vibrant, terrifying yet oddly aesthetic. Goes without saying that this is the closest Lecter film, in terms of style, to NBC’s masterful tv version we’ve been blessed with today, and much inspiration was no doubt culled from this gem. Beautiful, harrowing stuff. 

-Nate Hill

A chat with John Dahl – An interview by Nate Hill

I’m incredibly excited to bring you my latest interview, with veteran director John Dahl. John has a staggering resume, having helmed episodes of television shows including Hannibal, Breaking Bad, Ray Donovan, Justified, Kingdom, House Of Cards, Jessica Jones, The Affair, Californication, Outlander, The Bridge, The Strain, Dexter, Arrow, Homeland, Shameless, Caprica, True Blood, Battlestar Galactica and more. He has also directed some amazing films, including Joy Ride, Rounders, The Last Seduction, Kill Me Again and Red Rock West. It was an honour to speak with him and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Nate: Growing up, what was it about film that attracted you, and how did you discover that you wanted to pursue it? Were there any filmmakers you admired or have inspired your work?
John: I always love going to see movies but then I remember seeing a “behind the scenes” preview of Jeremiah Johnson. They were pushing the camera on dolly track, it was the first time I’d seen anything like that. It started me think about how films were made. Then there was A Clockwork Orange. I was an art student and I loved the production design of the film and the use of Beethoven. Again it occurred to the that someone had to make everything that was in front of the camera. This film has really stuck with me as one of my favorites. As for influences; Kubrick, Coppola, Hitchcock, Spielberg, David Lynch & the Coen Brothers.

Nate: You have spent one portion of you career making feature films, and a more recent section has been centered on episodic TV. How do you find that the two differ? In film school we were told that they get directors for shows who are kind of like ‘guns for hire’, who will be efficient and carry the overall tone of the show without changing it too much. Did you find with any of the shows that you worked on (Ray Donovan, Hannibal, Justified etc) that you were rigidly set within the parameters of the show, or were you able to give them your own style, even a little, at all?
John: In any endeavor I’ve know there was always a practical side to me. From playing in bands, making artwork and certainly in writing and directing. While studying cinema in college I was curious as to how directors got their starts. This is when I came upon Roger Corman and his low budget approach. I noticed that both Jonathon Demme and Martin Scorsese got started with him. At this writing Corman has 409 producing credits and 56 directing credits. Are they all great? No, however If every movie I watched was as good as The Godfather or Rocky I probably never would have left Montana. Corman was a window into how films could be made and how one could grow through time and experience. Supposedly he shot Little Shop Of Horrors in 48 hours. My first professional directing experiences were doing music videos in the 80’s. This was a great playground to learn about lens, lighting, editing and how to work with a budget and a professional crew. I directed about 30 music videos when I got the opportunity to direct my first film. I’ve never worked on a project where money and time were not a factor, in the 8 movies that I’ve done and almost 90 episodes of television. The process is pretty much the same as I can tell – yes when you direct a film you are more in control of the process until you show it to the studio and start testing it. Then you have to respond to the audiences, producers and studio desires to hopefully recoup their investment. When you make television the studio and producers are involved every step of the way. It’s a group effort rather than an individual one. I can’t help but bring my sensibilities to the work I do – so far it hasn’t been a problem because when I’m doing someones tv show I’m trying to figure out how I can make it as great as possible with the time, money and talent available. I see filmmaking as the art of what is possible.

Nate: Rounders: for some reason, feels like the most personal film of you career. Silly for me to say, I know, since I’ve never met you, but it’s such a focused, distilled style and seems like all efforts involved were purely concentrated upon making this something really cool. How was you experience on this film?
John: Rounders what a terrific experience for me. I never really saw myself as much of a writer. I wrote so that I could create opportunities to direct. After four movies I was finally handed a movie and it was Rounders – pretty much the way you see it on screen. I saw it as a sports movie, the sport was gambling, not baseball or golf but a game of chance in which if you study, work hard you would succeed. Miramax supported the project, they liked the script, the cast – everything went fairly smooth. Interesting that you would say it my most personal film. I would probably say Red Rock West would be my most personal film – but to each their own.

Nate: Joy Ride: a colossally fun film. How was your experience making this one? I’m very curious about Ted Levine. On the dvd there test clips for Rusty Nail auditions with both Levine, Eric Roberts and a guy called Stephen Shellan. Were you in control of who nailed the role? Did you get to work a lot with Ted in the recording process?
John: Ted did a great job on the film although he was not my first choice. I pitched the ending of the film to the studio, building on the idea that the movie had to have a suspenseful ending – not more surprise which JJ Abrams was big on. I set up the idea that if Rusty Nail had Venna and the cops were coming to the rescue, if Venna was in jeopardy by say a “shotgun to the head” it would be more exciting – kind of the way Silence Of The Lambs ended. That may have been the take away for JJ – Buffalo Bill thus Ted Levine.

Nate: Red Rock West: Classic desert noir. How was the experience? One thing with your films that always is consistent and incredibly memorable performances from your actors. Particularly Dennis Hopper (Lyle From Dallas haha) and JT Walsh, who was a family friend of my parents. What was it like working with them? This is a Segway into my next question:
John: They say 90% of directing is casting the right actor. I agree. I’ve been blessed to work with remarkable actors. My approach is simple, I try to get great actors, set up the scene and get out of their way.

Nate: Working with actors: how do you approach the working relationship between actor and director? How has that process evolved for you over time and what have you learned from it?
John: I try to say as little as possible. I trust that they’ve done their homework and want to be great in any role they play. I’m there to guide them. Help them do their best work. As long as they end up going where I’m trying to take them — I give them full license to find the role.

Nate: The Last Seduction: I’m very curious about what it was like working with Linda Fiorentino, who is a favorite of mine.
John: Linda was fantastic. It was clear from the moment she entered the room that she was perfect to play that part. She pretty much cast herself, all we had to do is get out of her way and let her be Bridget Gregory.

Nate: You have written both Red Rock West and Kill Me Again. How do you find working with a director with your own material as opposed to other projects where you are dealing with a script crafted by someone else?
John: I like working with a writer – gives me someone to bounce ideas off of – it allows you to challenge the material – make sure you have the best version possible when you start shooting and even while you are shooting. I’ve often thought that the people with the most skin in the game are the director, writer and actors – those 3 jobs live or die each time they make something.

Nate: Are you hooked on tv now, or will we see some more films from you at some point in the future?
John: I like television. I’ve been able to work on great shows with fantastic writing. I don’t see a big difference between the two – if the material is good, I’ll do it. Do I still want to do features? Yes, I just need a great script. 
Nate: Thank you so much for your time John, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you, and keep up the great work!

MILE HIGH HORROR FILM FESTIVAL DOUBLE FEATURE: THE DESCENT WITH DIRECTOR NEIL MARSHALL/THE SHINING WITH JOE TURKEL AND LISA & LOUISE BURNS

mhhff

The schedule for the 2015 Mile High Horror Film Festival is bursting with quality programming all day and deep into the night, but a double feature on Friday afternoon/evening was my primary target as soon as I viewed the calendar:  The Descent with director Neil Marshall in attendance, and The Shining with Joe Turkel (Lloyd The Bartender) and Lisa and Louise Burns (The Grady Daughters) conducting a Q&A session prior to the show.  Arguably the best horror film of the 2000s followed by arguably the greatest horror film of all time, with these creative forces behind them in the house?  No question I’d be at both, and each was fantastic.  The Descent and The Shining have important similarities, such as masterful senses of tension and locations that are crucial to the proceedings, but couldn’t be more different otherwise—a monster movie enclosed in darkness, gore and stone versus a brightly lit ghost story floating through spacious, impeccable halls.   A naturalistic, tough and large female ensemble; a stylized nightmare with few (living) souls inhabiting it.  Still, the two stand on equal footing because the purity of vision in each is unquestionable, and not a moment is wasted in taking the viewer on their respective dark journeys.

Neil Marshall’s The Descent is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, and one could see the pride and enthusiasm the filmmaker still has for discussing this gem by his effusive Q&A immediately following a fully attended afternoon screening.  He started by addressing the “alternative ending” controversy, stating that the UK received the real finale so he wasn’t as worried about its reception overseas, and the test screenings indicated US general audiences preferred something more upbeat, so he allowed Lionsgate to show the truncated cut here with the condition that they gave it the widest release possible, ultimately on over 2,000 screens.  He also pointed out that his original vision is the happy one; Sarah’s ending up with her daughter (played by Marshall’s niece) was the only version of peace she would ever find.

Neil Marshall

The director continued by discussing the origins of the story and its early reception.  He originally wanted to expand an earlier student film revolving around space zombies called Brain Death into a feature, but was told it would be too expensive at a meeting to pitch producers and was asked to come up with something else.  Remembering a challenge he’d heard in the press about his debut, Dog Soldiers, not being scary enough, he determined to make the scariest film he could imagine, got on a train immediately after said meeting and let his mind wander.  By the time he’d returned home several hours later, he’d figured out a little-used location in horror to exploit with a cast almost completely devoid of testosterone.  The script felt more like a novel as he quickly entered extended sequences of little to no dialogue, and the stark descriptions within scared everyone who read it.  One of his producers labeled it “too relentless!” and asked him to let them out of the cave; Marshall’s response?  “They didn’t get to leave the boat in Jaws!  They didn’t get to walk away from The Nostromo in Alien!”  He knew keeping the heroes trapped was key.

A brief discussion of the technical details revealed a fun anecdote or two, including the time one of the “crawlers,” as he referred to them, sprained his ankle on set and was taken to the emergency room—in full costume.  Marshall continues to be proud that barely any CGI was used, not to mention the fact that they’d built sets so effective the viewer couldn’t tell the entire film was shot on sound stages at Pinewood Studios with a few exteriors shot in Scotland (apparently real caves fill with fog fast when humans are around and the slippery surfaces ensure repeated, dangerous falls).  He even pointed out a variety of obscure references to be found in the film, some as subtle as a shot of a sleeping Beth with her arm over her head nodding to Deliverance.  When asked if Alfred Hitchcock’s influential hand could be felt anywhere on The Descent,  Marshall balked at the notion yet then teased the audience that the next film he’s working on is his “Hitchcock Homage,” but spilled no further beans.  For broad influences he called John Carpenter the biggest and mentioned The Thing, Alien, Deliverance and The Shining as specific touchstones.

ShiningDancers

Turning to that particular Kubrick masterpiece, the MHHFF and Alamo Drafthouse Littleton pulled out all the stops to celebrate the picture and set the mood for a 35mm projection with several cast members in attendance to discuss the famous filmmaker and their memories of the production.  Initial events, including several twin-themed dance partners interspersed throughout the crowd and a Redrum cake that doesn’t belong on any child’s birthday table, gave way to the honored guests of the evening.  Joe Turkel, spry and clearly excited for his chance to discuss fellow Brooklyn kid and longtime friend Stanley, was joined by Lisa and Louise Burns, the British twins who interestingly played sisters of different ages in their indelible, iconic scenes as the Grady girls.  Joe was quick to point out that he’s the rare actor who appeared in three Kubrick productions (the others being The Killing and Paths of Glory), and often mentioned how he and the director bonded over their love of the Yankees and Joe DiMaggio, the latter having passed away a day after Kubrick himself did.  Turkel also pointed out the ‘director’s bible’ that Stanley had with him on all three sets where they worked together, in increasingly dog-eared, underlined and battered form, a text by the great Russian filmmaker Vsevolod Pudovkin called Pudovkin on Film. He went on to describe the director’s demeanor as always quiet and respectful, but yes, famously thorough and prone to many takes.  He claimed the shot of Jack Nicholson walking past strewn-about balloons and entering The Gold Room with a ghostly party in full swing was done no less than 180 times.  As Kubrick asked for each new take, the camera angle or lens or lighting would always be slightly altered.  Turkel once asked him, “Are you ever satisfied with just one take?”  Kubrick smirked and responded “Oh yes!  Many times!”

ShiningPanel

The soft-spoken Burns sisters didn’t have the same relationship with Kubrick but, like Turkel, had many memories of the director being warm, friendly and accommodating, even during the lengthy portions of their work.  They didn’t have a specific take count on any of their scenes, but recalled that his getting the single shot he ended up using of their bloody bodies in the hallway took three full days, during which they were awfully cold.  Kubrick personally went and retrieved a space heater for them when they complained, and when their birthday arrived he halted the shoot for several hours in order to throw them a proper party, wherein he presented them with an autograph book filled in by cast and crew.  Speaking further about the director’s personality and demeanor, Turkel insisted he was a plain-spoken kid from Brooklyn (he preferred everyone call him Stanley, not Mr. Kubrick, not Stan) who wasn’t a hermit but understood his celebrity would require him to be increasingly beholden to anyone he met, so he chose to limit how many new people he brought into his life.  Discussing the film itself, Lisa and Louise didn’t actually see it until they were in their 20s, and due to UK censorship the version they saw was a full half hour shorter than what audiences in other countries enjoyed.  Turkel pointed out how strange this was considering The Shining is far from a violent picture; outside of Nicholson’s brutal ax murder of Scatman Crothers’ Dick Halloran, there is almost no physical conflict portrayed.  As a result, the Burns sisters didn’t realize what a horrifying picture it was until much later.  Joe Turkel claimed to have only seen it 5 or 6 times, but said his enjoyment deepens with each viewing.  He took a quick shot at the original author’s negative take on the film and the resulting 1990s television miniseries version, which in his words “bombed” by not focusing on the psychological horror that Kubrick presented in masterful form.  The actor then shared two quick stories, one about how he and a friend ran into a struggling Nicholson at the horse races in 1961, when that performer was considering leaving Los Angeles and returning to New York City but stayed after Turkel’s friend repaid Nicholson some money he owed him with their gambling winnings (“I saved his career!”), and another about his last day on set.  Insisting Stanley was a warm man but not prone to physical contact, he walked up to Turkel, put his hand on the actor’s shoulder and said “you know, so far you’re the best thing in this movie.”  Joe Turkel responded by saying “Thanks Stanley—so don’t wait another 40 fucking years to cast me again!”  Kubrick smiled, walked away, and that was the last time the two spoke.

Finally, the 35mm print rolled for the audience, and as with most great films it felt like a first viewing all over again to share the experience with an anonymous audience in the dark.  On a quick personal note, I must recommend that if any organization such as the Mile High Horror Film Festival or the Alamo Drafthouse gives you the opportunity to enjoy either of these films in a theater, take advantage of it.  The Descent’s darkness flows off the screen and effectively envelops you, and The Shining’s still-stunning sound design, visuals and atmosphere trap you, the viewer, in the Overlook Hotel just as it did Danny and his family all those years ago.  Seeing the two films this past Friday with these talented artists present to tell their stories made for a unique, revelatory and unforgettable day for the horror fans in attendance.

RedRumCake

PTS Presents The Gary Young Special Episode 1: Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER and Jonathan Demme’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Our first monthly series with screenwriter Gary Young, where we discuss Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER and Jonathan Demme’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  We also get into the television series HANNIBAL as well as Ridley Scott’s HANNIBAL and we briefly touch upon Brett Ratner’s RED DRAGON.