Film Review: Hannibal (2001)

Also known as: The Silence of the Lambs 2 (working title)
Release Date: February 9th, 2001
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Mamet, Steven Zaillian
Based on: Hannibal by Thomas Harris
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Frankie R. Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Gary Oldman, Željko Ivanek, Mark Margolis, Ajay Naidu, Leonardo Cimino (scenes deleted)

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“People don’t always tell you what they are thinking. They just see to it that you don’t advance in life.” – Hannibal Lecter

As much as I just came off of loving Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs in their reviews, a part of me was dreading having to sit through Hannibal again, as my original assessment of it was pretty poor. Granted, that assessment came in 2001, the last time I saw the film, which was on the big screen, opening night.

I have never had much urge to go back and revisit this and honestly, it kind of soured me on the franchise, including the masterpiece that is this movie’s direct predecessor, The Silence of the Lambs.

Watching this, almost exactly twenty years later, didn’t help the film.

Sometimes, I don’t like a movie but when I give it another shot, years later, I find things in it worth appreciating. This especially happens nowadays when modern movies are mostly just corporate, unartistic shit. Hannibal still failed and the only real positive is the performances from the core cast members.

Julianne Moore was fine but it’s still odd watching this and seeing someone else as Clarice when Anthony Hopkins is still playing Hannibal Lecter. Frankie Faison even returns in his smaller role but Jodie Foster wanted nothing to do with this. I know that she hated how this story ended but they changed the ending in the script and the final film to appease her. Still, she couldn’t be lured back. If she actually read the script, I can understand why.

Reason being, the script is terrible but then, so is the story. Granted, I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure if that was bad too or if the script was just a really poor adaptation of it. Either way, this was predictable as hell for the most part and it was also incredibly dull.

I just didn’t care about the story, the people in it and the big changes to the ending felt off. Honestly, though, I know how the novel ends and I’ve always thought of its ending as really uncharacteristic of the Clarice character. But then who am I to argue with the author that created the characters in the first place.

Anyway, this also had some intense gross out moments. There’s one where a character uses a piece of a broken mirror to skin his own face. There’s another scene where Hannibal is cutting morsels out of the exposed brain of a human man and then feeding it to him.

The thing is, these moments were pretty gratuitous for cheap shock value. While The Silence of the Lambs was dark as fuck and had some gross out parts, it wasn’t done for shock and it wasn’t over the top schlock like it was in this film. The brains scene actually wrecks this movie more than it already was by that point. I don’t know why a well-versed director like Ridley Scott thought to go that route, creatively, but it felt cheap and made me roll my eyes so hard I pulled a muscle in my face.

Sure, the scene could’ve been in the film and worked but the problem was with how it was shot. Sometimes it’s better to imply something horrific without showing it in frame. This would’ve worked much better if they let the viewer’s mind fill-in the blanks.

The cinematography was good and I thought the music in the film worked. But other than that and the actors making the absolute best out of a shit script, this is just a really, really meh movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: SubUrbia (1996)

Release Date: October 11th, 1996 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Eric Bogosian
Based on: the SubUrbia play by Eric Bogosian
Music by: Sonic Youth
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Amie Carey, Nicky Katt, Ajay Naidu, Parker Posey, Dina Spybey, Samia Shoaib, William Martin

Castle Rock Entertainment, Detour Filmproduction, Sony Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“At least I admit that I don’t know. I know that things are fucked up, beyond belief, and I have nothing original to say about it…” – Jeff

SubUrbia was the fourth picture by Richard Linklater and it is a sort of spiritual successor to his films Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It features many of the same stylistic elements and narrative tropes. It is also set in suburban Texas (and filmed in Austin) like those previous films.

While being a comedy, initially, the humor is very dark and the serious tones push this more towards being a drama, as the film rolls on. It follows the lives of a handful of twenty-something friends, stuck and complacent in their lives, talking about their big plans and their next move but ultimately wasting their time on the planet: drinking and moping around a convenience store parking lot. When one of their high school buddies, who became a pop star, returns home to visit his friends, relationships are tested and the group begins to implode.

SubUrbia feels both like Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It has the visual tone and style of Slacker but is more cohesive and follows a group of young people trying to figure out their futures like Dazed and Confused.

It is also the most serious and darkest of Linklater’s early pictures. While the harshness of the film makes it feel more realistic and authentic, compared to his lighthearted earlier pictures, it also doesn’t resonate as well. SubUrbia feels like kids I knew when I was that age but mostly kids I didn’t want to hang out with. Sure, I had some shitty and annoying friends but none of these characters are all that likable, except for the girl with major substance abuse issues. Steve Zahn, who I’ve always liked, was a guy I just wanted to punch.

Granted, the acting is damn superb. Each of these shitty kids was believable and they owned their parts. Besides, it isn’t a movie where you’re supposed to like anyone, it’s just a reflection of what lower middle class suburban youth were like in the mid-90s, stuck in a time between grunge music and boy bands. A time when the Internet was still in its infancy and wasn’t yet a mainstream social tool. Being close to this age, around the same time, makes it a film I can relate to.

Giovanni Ribisi showed that he was one of the best actors of his generation and the fact that he never became the star many people thought he would be, is pretty baffling. Nicky Katt, who plays the aggressive asshole of the group (and an aggressive asshole in Dazed and Confused) was dynamite. While he is barely in Dazed, he showed something real in that film and it is cool seeing him sort of expand on that role for SubUrbia. Amie Carey played and interesting character and she was one of the ones I nearly liked. Surprisingly, she hasn’t done much acting outside of this. Also, Parker Posey is in this and I enjoy her in just about everything.

The big standout for me though, was Ajay Naidu, most widely known as Samir from Office Space. His frustration with these shitty kids connects with the audience. The violence brought against him by the characters was sad. The fact that he genuinely wanted to see a few of them do something with their lives just added a lot of emotional weight to the tragedy of this story. As much as I enjoy Naidu in Office Space, this is really his greatest role that I have come across.

SubUrbia gets so real that it becomes uncomfortable. Fans of Dazed and Confused that want to check this out will probably be caught off guard by it, I was. It is a very different movie, even if it does cover some of the same territory. But where Dazed and Confused left you feeling really optimistic, SubUrbia is the stark contrast to that.

I liked SubUrbia, quite a lot, but it isn’t the sort of film you will want to re-watch on a rainy day like its endearing predecessor.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Pi (1998)

Also known as: π
Release Date: July 10th, 1998
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, Eric Watson
Music by: Clint Mansell
Cast: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Samia Shoaib, Pamela Hart, Ajay Naidu, Joanne Gordon, Stephen Pearlman

Protozoa Pictures, Artisan Entertainment, 84 Minutes

Review:

Pi is the first feature film from Darren Aronofsky. As I am slowly re-working my way through his too small of a film catalog, I figured I would start with his first film.

This movie is probably my favorite Aronofsky film, I’ll wait to confirm that for sure until after I revisit his other work and I still haven’t seen Noah, his most recent effort.

For a film that was shot for $60,000, Aronofsky did a brilliant job of stretching that money and making this film work. It was grainy, dark and at times disorienting but that worked for the film and not against it and to be honest, it was intentional and gave this movie a depth and a darkness that it wouldn’t have otherwise had. While Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream is dark and unsettling, it has a clean and pristine look to it. This film accomplished more visually with the director forced to make the best out of his lack of equipment and tools.

The plot of this film is pretty straightforward but still feels disjointed at times. Granted, it is supposed to feel that way, as well as surreal and often times a few steps outside of reality. While you know what is happening, you are never sure of what is real and what isn’t and while that is a plot device that has been used more times than I care to remember, this film does it in a very effective way and ultimately, when the ride is over, you don’t care about what was a real experience and what wasn’t because either way, the main character has gone on an insane journey involving mathematical equations, the secret to cracking the universe, secret evil Wall Street societies and angry Jews who want the mystical numbers in an effort to talk to God.

The main character was played by Sean Gullette, who also co-wrote the film with Aronosfky and has gone on to be a pretty accomplished screenwriter after this film. He acted incredibly well in this film and while his character Max was hardly likable in any way, you still felt for him and cared about his well-being. It was hard not to respect a guy who had the level of intelligence he had and even though he was a prick, he was an interesting character that pulled you in.

One of my favorite actors, Mark Margolis (who is now probably most known as Uncle Tio from Breaking Bad a.k.a. the wheelchair dude with the bell), plays Max’s mentor who has a similar obsession with numbers as well as the board game Go. Margolis was tremendous in this picture and his performance was chilling, as he gave what I felt was something so organic and real that he was more than just some supporting character or mentor in this film. In a way, Margolis sort of became the voice of God warning Max away from his thirst to crack the universe with numbers.

Many films lose their effectiveness on repeat viewings. Pi does not. It is a masterpiece by Aronofsky and was one hell of a starting point for his career. He started with the bar really high. Luckily for us, for the most part, he has lived up to the hype and the standard that he created for himself back in 1998 with this great picture.

Rating: 10/10