My Current Favorites (That You’re Probably Not Watching — Why???)

I love the following TV shows and movies and want to talk about them with YOU, but you’re NOT watching them!!!!

1. Hannibal

Okay, I’ve been screaming this from the rooftops and some of you are listening. Thank you. But will you hurry up and finish the damn series so we can talk full-on spoiler action to the max? Please?

2. The Fall

Cougar Gillian Anderson and fake jail-bait Aisling Franciosi compete for my affections while this mesmerizing cat-and-mouse story has me binge watching harder than Chinese calculus.

3. Kill List

Is it post-modern action movie? Is it post-modern horror movie? Is it post-modern family drama? None of the above? It’s a movie that got under my skin like very few do. I feel growing up with 80s horror and action movies made me primed to fall in love at first sight.

More to come…

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Should Movies Be Reviewed Subjectively or Objectively?

The lowest rung of humanity is populated by the couch critics, the apathetic advisors who, from a detached perch of safety, believe that every whim that breezes over their small minds, and every one of their witless arguments, ought to carry the same weight as the hard-won wisdom of those who are actually in the fight, whose minds have been sharpened with real-world experience, whose legends are being forged by action.

—Brendon Burchard, The Motivation Manifesto, p. 39

Who is qualified to review a movie? And what kind of review are they qualified to make? A friend of mine, Chuck Francisco, started a great discussion on this topic over at

Personally, I think it’s absolutely necessary to consider context before one reviews a movie. That is, who is the audience you’re reviewing the movie for?

If it’s simply Joe Public, then we should embrace subjectivity.

I think Netflix gets it totally right with its rating system:

***** “Loved it”
**** “Really liked it”
*** “Liked it”
** “Didn’t like it”
* “Hated it”

Beyond star or numerical ratings, your review should reflect on the experience you had as a viewer. Optionally, you could also discuss the quality of that experience with the goal of informing potentially like-minded people and helping them choose whether they might or might not have a similar experience.

“I enjoyed it, I hated it, it forced me to rethink my position on X, it scared me, it annoyed me, etc. And here’s why I feel that way.”

The ONLY time I think it’s worth talking about the “objective” quality of a movie is in the context of filmmaking and film history. And that’s a really small audience: Basically filmmakers, film students, and film historians.

And if the reviewer doesn’t have some pretty awesome credentials or experience in filmmaking or film history before he makes his “objective” proclamations, then he’s just a poser with a podium. Or a blog. :)

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Hettienne Park talks NBC’s Hannibal

My third interview for — this time with Hettienne Park, who talk time away from her newborn baby (yes, I do feel guilty about that) to talk to me about gallows humor, racism and sexism on TV, and of course, what it’s like to work on my favorite TV show of all time, Hannibal.

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Lara Jean Chorostecki talks NBC’s Hannibal

My second interview for — this time with Lara Jean Chorostecki about her work as the sophisticated and ruthless tabloid reporter, Freddie Lounds, on NBC’s Hannibal. Enjoy!

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Katharine Isabelle talks NBC’s Hannibal

I did an interview for with the talented Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Freddy vs. Jason, American Mary) about her recent turn as Margot Verger in Season 2 of Hannibal). Enjoy!

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Hannibal Review: “Mizumono” (season 2, episode 13)

“A bloodbath that leaves no one unscarred”

There comes a moment in watching a television show when you go from being a fan to being… well, an avid fan. Let’s call it a becoming of sorts. It’s at that point the show takes on an abnormal importance in your life. I discovered that was true for me when I sat down to watch the Season 2 finale of Hannibal. To my dismay and horror, I found myself staring dumbfoundedly at a baseball game in its seventh inning. After a bit of Internet scurrying, I was able to watch the episode, and holy crap. Without exaggeration, I think I’m ready to declare this the most gut-punchingly amazing non-series-ending season finale I’ve ever seen.

At the beginning of Season 2, we were teased with a flash-forward of a brutal hand-to-hand combat fight between Hannibal Lecter and Jack Crawford. We rightly assumed that the show would build over the course of the season to this deadly confrontation. But what we didn’t expect was that this seemingly straight-forward fight between two characters would culminate in a bloodbath that leaves no one (including the audience) unscarred.

Last episode closed with Will Graham offering up Crawford to Hannibal as bait. As “Mizumono” opens, we learn that Jack is in on this plan. And in a crafty bit of editing we get two separate conversations (Will and Jack, and Will and Hannibal) juxtaposed. We’re seeing both sides of Will, and while it’s tempting to believe Will is lying to Hannibal (“Will’s the good guy!”), I don’t think it’s that black and white. As the editing shows us, these two sides of Will have merged. Somehow two entirely dissonant beliefs exist side by side in his mind — the belief that serial killer Hannibal must be caught, and the belief that friend Hannibal must be saved. “You were supposed to leave,” Will tells Hannibal in that final scene. That’s when I understood. Will expected Hannibal to run. Despite all his empathy and his gifts for insight, Will wasn’t privy to the flash-forward we saw. He didn’t know this confrontation was inevitable. I think he and Hannibal both believed it could somehow be avoided.

For Hannibal that belief was shattered when he smelled the supposedly dead Freddie Lounds on Will. But Will’s belief lived a little longer, right up until Hannibal gutted him. This gets me to the big surprise of the season: The “resurrection” of Abigail Hobbs. (Which makes me wonder, was it Abigail who Beverly Katz found in Hannibal’s basement? I’d assumed it was Miriam Lass.) In a show where off-screen “deaths” are rarely deaths, some viewers might say they saw this coming. But did you see the I’m-still-alive-and-I’ll-shove-you-out-the-window moment coming? I didn’t think so! Seriously though, whether or not you expected Abigail to return (and for the record, I did NOT), Will’s surprise-confusion-betrayal-love at seeing her alive again was heart-breaking. And then to lose her again, right in front of him… F**k you, Hannibal!

Will’s allegiance to Hannibal, no matter how shaky and complicated it was, cost him dearly. The body count hasn’t been tallied yet, but whatever it is, Will’s guilt at his own complicity will surely birth some major personal demons (as if he didn’t have enough already) while he mourns the violent death of Abigail, et al. The drop of blood in Alana’s tears not only foreshadowed the episode’s bloody and tragic climax, but it’s also the perfect metaphor for Will’s becoming. His folly with Hannibal Lecter cost him blood and tears. And we can count on a lot more blood (and at least a few more tears) on what will likely be Will’s Season 3 rampage for revenge.

Speaking of aesthetics, the cinematography and scoring, while always exceptional, reached a new level of artistry toward the end of this season. In Hannibal, these elements rarely call attention to themselves, yet boldly heighten the emotional resonance of the storyline. And in “Mizumono,” ALL of the ingredients of film production — story, cinematography, score, editing, acting — combined perfectly into a magical witch’s brew that left me by the end both choking on it and wanting more. The bar has been set very high for Season 3 of Hannibal. And for this avid fan, it can’t get here soon enough. Continue reading

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Hannibal Review: “Tome-Wan” (season 2, episode 12)

“The event horizon of chaos”

There are very few secrets left between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter. And “Tome-Wan” begins with a frank conversation that picks up immediately after last week’s final scene. Will “warns” Hannibal he’s set Mason Verger out to kill him because, well, he “was curious what would happen.” Will is playing Hannibal, in both senses of the word: He’s performing a version of Hannibal; and he’s doing so in order to lure Hannibal onto his hook. Hannibal of course is aware of this possibility. From his perspective, it’s irrelevant whether or not Will has actually murdered anyone; Will is dancing so close to that line that Hannibal is sure to be delighting in the effects of his influence.

We are witnessing a psychological game of chicken, as Mason calls it. But with two completely different styles. Hannibal’s “veneer of self-composure” is impenetrable. He’s the rock that you don’t see move until it’s crushed you. Will, on the other hand, is like an old coal-fired train racing at dangerously high speeds. You’re never quite sure if it’s going to stay on the tracks, and when it does, you’re amazed that it didn’t crash. An unstoppable force about to hit an immovable object.

At the end of that opening scene, Hannibal instructs Will to close his eyes and imagine what he would like to happen. And as I watched Will’s fantasy of him feeding Hannibal to Mason’s pigs, it felt incredibly satisfying — a culmination of all of Will’s suffering, a vindication of all of his efforts. And at the same time, I could not help feeling sad (and this is coming from someone who thinks all this “Hannigram” stuff is cray-cray). Their friendship is a fascinating dance on “the event horizon of chaos,” and as much as I want Hannibal to get caught, I don’t want the dance to end. But as Will acknowledges, “This is not sustainable.” [Subtextually, imagine how different that line would have felt had the show been canceled last week instead of being renewed — yikes, I don’t want to even think about that.]

Gillian Anderson returns as Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Hannibal’s former psychiatrist, to finally fill in her backstory and to warn us that Hannibal is still in control, no matter how confident Will and Jack seem. She also prophecies two significant plot developments: One, that Hannibal will persuade Will into thinking the only choice Will has is to kill someone he loves; and two, that Hannibal’s downfall will be the result of “whimsy,” or “self-congratulation at his own exquisite taste and cunning.” Concerning the first prediction, we can make a pretty good guess at whose life Will has chosen to offer up (Jack Crawford), based on the flash-forward from the beginning of this season plus Will’s suggestion to Hannibal in the final scene of this episode. But that second prediction… that’s intriguing, and likely something we will see develop over the course of Season 3.

We also get the conclusion (for now, that is) of the beautifully bizarre Verger storyline. Margot Verger has become the surrogate surrogate daughter (redundancy intended) for Will and Hannibal, taking the place of Abigail Hobbs. This complicates their plans for Mason. Both Will and Hannibal know that by killing Mason, they will be hurting Margot, which neither wants to do. How fitting then that Hannibal finds a solution to humiliate Mason by “eating” him (not literally but by proxy), but without killing him. And in a clever twist on the book, Mason feeds his face not to his own dogs, but to Will’s dogs!

Small changes like this remind us of how skillfully Bryan Fuller and his creative team are building on Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter mythology. It’s rare that a derivative work outshines its source material. But I think that’s what we’re witnessing with Fuller’s Hannibal. Fuller has found a way to honor and respect the spirit of the original while shaping his Hannibal into something that’s different — transcendent even. And with just one episode left in Season 2, I can’t wait to see how he pays off that tantalizing flash-forward that began the season and sets up Hannibal’s downfall in Season 3. Continue reading

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Hannibal Review: “Ko No Mono” (season 2, episode 11)

“Every creative act has its destructive consequence”

Aside from the normal risks associated with being friends with a serial killer, being friends with Hannibal Lecter means being friends with someone who will happily set into motion a series of events that are likely to (and in fact do) result in the forced abortion of the child you were tricked into fathering. This is not an otherwise “good guy” who happens to murder people; this is a monster. And all you fans with a Hannibal fetish (the man, not the show) may want to get your heads checked.

After their relatively slow introduction over the past few episodes, “Ko No Mono” brings sister and brother Verger front and center into the plot. They’ve become additional pieces on Hannibal’s chessboard that he can use in his game with/against Will. Having encouraged Margot last episode to find someone (Will) with the right parts to give her a child, Hannibal reveals her intentions to her brother, Mason, who is none too happy about it. What follows is probably the most horrifying scene you could watch on television this Mother’s Day weekend — Mason mutilates his sister and eliminates his competition for the Verger fortune once and for all. And when Will (still haunted by the death of “daughter” Abigail) learns the fate of his unborn child, he goes after Mason.

It’s tempting to view Will’s relationship to Hannibal in one of two ways: He’s either Hannibal’s opponent in this twisted game of chess; or he, too, is a piece on Hannibal’s chess board. But I think he’s both. Will is like the chess piece that’s self-aware. He’s the play-thing that’s playing the player. It reminds me of the album cover for Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast, which shows the devil pulling the strings of their mascot, Eddie, who’s also pulling the strings of the devil himself. Will is not free of Hannibal’s influence, but neither is Hannibal free of Will’s.

Alana Bloom, who’s been relegated to the background for several episodes, steps forward to do some emotionally moving and teary-eyed (where’s Mason Verger with his tissues?) psychological detecting. She’s becoming less and less certain of Will’s guilt, just as she is of Hannibal’s innocence. By the end of “Ko No Mono,” it’s clear to the viewer that Will is playing Hannibal. But what’s not clear is why is he playing Alana? He tells her, “I told everyone Hannibal was a killer, and no one believed me. Just like no one would believe you if you said I was a killer.” Is it just revenge for her doubting him? That would be my reason if I was Will. I would want to see her suffer in her wrongness about me (yes, I should probably get my head checked too). But I suspect as with anything on this show, it’s a bit more complicated. Ever since Will’s incarceration for murders he did not commit, he’s seemed content to let others wallow in their uncertainty. It’s enough that he knows the truth. Others, like Alana and Jack Crawford before her, can find their way to it at their own pace.

This is one of the things I love most about Hannibal. Even in the midst of unrealistic events, characters behave the way real people do. They don’t over-explain their motivations for the sake of the narrative. They have their own agenda, their own resentments, their own perspective that they obscure from the rest of the world — and often from themselves too.

The most moving scenes of all were the two in which Will and Hannibal discuss the death of Abigail Hobbs, as directly as they can anyway. This has been a long time coming. In life and death, Abigail has been at the center of their relationship: she was Hannibal’s first test for Will (when Will saved her life after Hannibal warned Abigail’s father Will was coming for him); she was the catalyst for their emotional connection (when they bonded over their mutual father-like protection of her); and she was the wedge between them (when Hannibal murdered her and framed Will).

Hannibal all but confesses to Will, expressing as much regret as a monster is capable of. He intellectualizes his emotion as a wish that time could reverse itself, that “teacups [could] come together.” We even get a visual of a shattered teacup reassembling itself; and I may be mistaken, but the musical cue and maybe even the shot itself were from the episode in which Abigail dropped a teacup in Hannibal’s kitchen.

But as we know, and as Will knows, time will not reverse itself. Abigail is gone forever. And Will is no longer content to simply kill Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal, who loves to humiliate his victims by eating them, deserves to be humiliated too. As Will tells Mason Verger, “Dr. Lecter’s the one you want to be feeding to your pigs.”

Continue reading

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Hannibal Review: “Naka-Choko” (season 2, episode 10)

“Greatness… and some rough edges”

I didn’t appreciate “Naka-Choko” on first viewing. It felt like a jumble of really tasty ingredients that didn’t know what it wanted to be. After viewing it a second time, I like it a lot more, but still have some gripes.

Right off the bat, I felt the opening scene of Will’s confrontation with Tier/Hannibal/Ravenstag was unnecessary. Hannibal has always been a show where things happen off-screen. This is often done to enhance the dramatic tension and mystery — as seen at the end of the previous episode. Not showing us the fight between Randall Tier and Will made that final reveal in Hannibal’s dining room all the more powerful. So why revisit it now? All of the information we get from that fight scene (Will fantasizing that he’s beating Hannibal to death) is covered in dialogue in the very next scene. Aesthetically, something felt off to me as well. For example, the percussive score unintentionally (I hope) recalls Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and jarred me right out of the episode every time I heard it.

My biggest criticism, however, did NOT survive my second viewing. In serialized storytelling, you want a good mix of paying off previously posed questions and setting up new mysteries and ambiguities. “Naka-Choko” felt skewed too far to the asking side. Is Jack Crawford in on Will’s game or completely in the dark? Why is Mason Verger breeding killer pigs? Why did Margot seduce Will? What happened to Freddie Lounds? And most importantly, is Will really becoming a serial killer or faking it to catch Hannibal? But to my surprise, many of these questions are in fact answered — if we look closely. And those that aren’t, are teased in dramatically satisfying ways.

Much of the mystery in Hannibal (and in life) lies between the lines of what a person’s true intentions are and what they present their intentions to be. As viewers we’re always looking for solid ground to stand on — what can we trust as true? I suggest that we can trust most of what we see in Will’s dreams and visions. For example, when Will does his empathy thing (on himself) at the Tier crime scene, we witness his vision of himself conversing with his victim. Tier says, “This is my becoming. And yours.” Will shakes his head and corrects him, “This is my DESIGN.” I think it’s safe to conclude that a part of Will (as represented by Tier) acknowledges the joy he’s taking in the violence, and as a result, the risk of him becoming the very thing he’s chasing (Hannibal). But there’s another part of him that’s in control (for the moment, that is) — the fisherman — that has designed a person suit for himself to carefully lure Hannibal onto his hook.

Contrast this to Will’s words when he comes out of his vision and back into the room with Jack and Hannibal; his words are no longer truth but bait. He tells Jack and Hannibal that Tier’s killer ENVIED him. “Randall Tier came into his own much easier than whoever killed him.” This is Will’s way of baiting Hannibal, essentially saying to him “It may be hard for me to admit, but you and I are the same.” No they aren’t. Not yet anyway.

So… Is Will really becoming a serial killer? I would say at this point it’s like asking whether Schödinger’s cat is alive or dead. There’s potential for either answer to be true, and we will not know until we open the box. Will has formed an alliance with Hannibal that is both alive and dead, both true and not true. It’s a dangerous game for him to play — as dangerous as its ever been, a tightrope walk without a net.

What happened to Freddie Lounds? My guess is that Will and Freddie have found common ground over their inability to help and save Abigail Hobbs. The confrontation between them at Will’s house was clearly real, but I’m pretty sure Freddie is alive and either willingly helping Will deceive Hannibal, or tied up somewhere. Or possibly in FBI custody — which leads us to…

Is Jack in on it with Will or is he clueless? Jack’s question to Will at the crime scene, “His killer EMPATHIZED with him?” is very interesting. If Jack is not in on it, this is a sign he might be getting suspicious of Will again. If he is in on it, it was a clever way to throw Hannibal off the scent. Makes me wonder if he in fact responded to Freddie’s call and took her (willingly or otherwise) into custody to prevent her from posting those incriminating photos online.

Why did Margot seduce Will? Quite simply, to leave a legacy, as Hannibal suggested in her therapy session. Of course, she needed someone with the “right parts” to help her with that. Enter Will Graham (pun intended). How ironic then are her words when she shows up at his door with a bottle of whiskey and says, “I’ve come to replenish your stores.”

And finally… Why is Mason breeding killer pigs? This question will likely not be answered too soon. Is it to torment his sister and/or keep her in line? Seems pretty elaborate for just that. Or is Mason a burgeoning serial killer too? If that’s the case, I expect we’ll get a lot more of him in Season 3.

Despite its flaws, I expect “Naka-Choko” will rise in my estimation within the larger context of this season as a whole. I think when storytelling dares to reach for greatness, it’s bound to have some rough edges from time to time. Continue reading

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Hannibal Review: “Shiizakana” (season 2, episode 9)

“What we desire most is the same thing we most fear”

With “Shiizakana” Hannibal gets a minor dose of The X-Files. I’ll admit, at first I was thrown off quite a bit by the pre-credits “monster” attack at the snowy truck stop. Oh no, my greatest fear second only to my own death — Hannibal has jumped the shark! As the camera slowly panned away from the bloody violence and the screen went black, in my head I heard Mark Snow’s “doo duh duh, doo duh duh, doo” opening theme music. But my fears were unwarranted; this is indeed Hannibal, where the monsters are all human and “man is the only creature that kills to kill.”

As the pace of Will’s becoming rapidly accelerates and the “Willdigo” (the name Bryan Fuller has given to the Wendigo aspect of Will’s personality) in him finally emerges, we meet a new serial-killer-of-the-week that has evolved himself into an animal predator, too, but much more tangibly so. Randall Tier has fashioned himself an animal suit equipped with a prehistoric jaw and claws powered by “pull ratchets and pneumatics” that allow him to literally tear his victims to pieces. It’s an animal version of the “person suit” that Hannibal and his psychiatrist so often discussed in Season 1. And it mirrors back to Will the dangerous transformation he is allowing (even encouraging) in himself, under the supervision of his “trusted” psychiatrist, of course. As it turns out, the good Dr. Lecter ALSO treated Randall Tier many years ago. And so Hannibal sees an opportunity to encourage the homicidal evolution of both patients by arranging for a deadly confrontation between them. Even murderers need personal empowerment, right?

We also get more great scenes with the creepy Margot Verger. For those unfamiliar with the source material, she’s the sister of Mason Verger, who plays a prominent part in the third book. (And on a related note, who else caught the glorious Manhunter homage when the killer leaps through Will’s window in the climactic scene?) This week, Margot leaves Hannibal’s office and meets Will. I absolutely loved when Margot and Will, while sipping whiskey together, each confess their “private carnage.” I tried to murder my brother, she says. Well, I’ve got that one beat, he retorts. I tried to murder my friend, our mutual psychiatrist. If you’ve ever wondered “What would happen if Hannibal’s patients started talking to one another?” you got your answer.

Story elements aside, “Shiizakana” exemplifies what I love most about this show: Hannibal is a show of paradoxes. It’s a show where characters never say exactly what they mean, yet somehow ALWAYS say exactly what they mean. It’s a show where the violence is both horrific and beautiful. It’s a show were best friends try to murder each other. And it’s a show that explores one of the most fundamental psychological paradoxes we experience as human beings: What we desire most is so often the same thing we most fear — to be seen by another as who we really are.

Hannibal desires a friend worthy of knowing him, but he fears that by revealing himself he’ll be locked up in a dark cage in the basement of a psychiatric hospital. So he dons a carefully constructed person suit to keep people at a distance. Will desires human connection with someone who can help him understand who he is, but he fears the pain of extreme empathy and risk of betrayal that comes with getting too close. But unlike Hannibal, Will doesn’t don a person suit to keep people at a distance. He keeps them at a distance to avoid donning THEIR person suits.

Before Hannibal’s framing of Will, I think each believed the other could “save” him. Much of this season has been about them each trying to reconcile their own paradoxical feelings since then. In “Shiizakana,” Will and Hannibal seem to have reached an equilibrium — for a moment at least. Both have found their match yet on opposite sides of right and wrong. Another paradox, or is it the perfect marriage, like matter and antimatter gravitating towards an inevitable explosion? Even though they are at odds and they know it, there’s a respect for what they recognize of themselves in the other. In Will’s dream, Hannibal tells him, “No one can be fully aware of another human being unless we love them.” They’re peers — intellectually, in terms of understanding human behavior, and in their isolation from the rest of society.

In other words, they’re even-steven. Continue reading

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