Review: Hannibal, or: That’s How It’s Done

So, after last week’s disappointment in watching Suicide Squad, I had a hankering for something violent and morally questionable that I’d enjoy. So I started watching Hannibal– again. I’m talking about the 2013 TV series, and this is my… third? fourth? time watching it start to finish. And it’s not getting boring with repetition– it’s getting better.

Why do I love this show? Because it is so well done. It combines vivid cinematography with great acting and a loving attention to detail in its story-telling. It’s tight- every scene is relevant, every shot has meaning. Now, obviously, this show isn’t for everyone. Is it violent? Is it gruesome and disgusting at times? Yes, yes it is. And it’s scary– there’s one scene I still haven’t watched in its entirety because it’s just so damn creepy (maybe I will this time around?) But then, it’s a show about a cannibalistic serial killer and the people trying to catch him. ‘Nice’ isn’t on the menu– so to speak. And how do you make a character who removes people’s organs while they’re still alive and then eats them even slightly sympathetic to the audience? The answer: you make him competent, you give him someone he actually cares about, and you surround him with people who are arguably worse than he is. At least Hannibal has standards.

Why do I love this show again? Because none of the characters are perfect, and none of them are static– they all struggle, they all change. I love it because every conversation has more than one layer, because every choice of body language is deliberate, I love it because even my third time through it pulls me in so thoroughly that I forget to analyse and just watch.

I believe you can tell in a work whether the people who made it loved it, and whether they had fun creating it. Hannibal is such a show. It enjoys its own theatricality, it does what it does whole-heartedly. And maybe that’s why for all the fake blood splattered about with cheerful abandon, the violence doesn’t feel gratuitous– and in fact, there is far less graphic torture, far fewer screaming victims than in, say, Criminal Minds. When Hannibal does horror, it does horror well. But I believe we spend far more time exploring the psychology of the characters than we do watching anyone get murdered. Though we do also spend a fair amount of time watching Hannibal cook. That’s okay though– he’s very fetching in the kitchen, and the food is simply beautiful.

So. If cheeky cannibalism, lovingly-presented dead bodies and a dedicated creep-factor don’t scare you off– do give this show a try. It is, after all, the best cooking show on television.


Movie Review: Suicide Squad and the Art of Storytelling

So, having this blog but apparently not much to post in the ways of original fiction, I’ve decided I might just do some reviews and share some thoughts.

Without further ado, I give you:

Suicide Squad and the Art of Storytelling

Caution: There be spoilers for the movie ahead! Don’t read if you don’t want to know!

So I just returned from watching Suicide Squad, and after I’ve spent the last little while thinking about storytelling, and learning about it, I have some thoughts about this movie.

First of all: Here’s how not to do it.

Item One: Viewer/Reader expectations. The trailer promised me a movie full of wise-cracking, crazy super-villains, forced to act in the interest of society and doing so with brutal madhouse flair.

This is not that movie. All the quips are in the trailer, pretty much. I’ve seen that trailer a few times, so I already know them. I’m not sure if it’s that or just the general atmosphere of the movie, but most of them pretty much fall flat in context. So, not so much with the wise-cracking. As for the flair… Sure, so we shoot and bash some mutated people. Deadshot and Harley get some reasonably cool scenes. I’m still missing some cinematic oomph, though.

Item Two: The Beginning. So we all know that in the beginning, you’re supposed to hook the audience. I guess that’s what they tried by showing us some prisoners being abused– hey, we’re supposed to be sympathetic to these convicted criminals, so, sure. Only why do we then segue into a half hour affair of talking heads that narrate at length the back story of these characters under the pretence of putting together this team– which still leaves us in complete darkness as to the motivations of these people to do what they do?

Now, I don’t know if it was in truth half an hour, but that’s what it felt like- a boring half hour of telling, not showing. This is one of those instances where someone didn’t quite figure out where the story started which they wanted to tell. And it’s a waste of time, too. Those short little summary screens of the villains they had– that was all we needed at this point in the story. The rest would’ve done much better interwoven with the major plot at times where it was relevant for that character.

Item Three: The Plot– in which we ask: what plot? The one about the shady government agency and it’s shady dealings? Or the one about the evil witch trying to destroy the world? What is this movie trying to tell me? Recruiting super-villains to your defence is a bad idea? Super-villains can be good people, too? I’m really not too sure… So it was a home-made problem because the evil witch you thought you had on a leash went and… stole your bomb?

Here’s a hint: while your story can have twists and turns, it shouldn’t confuse your audience. I, as the audience, am still somewhat confused as to what the whole point of this exercise was. The evil witch is building a portal– oh, but your job is to extract your (pretty much evil) boss instead of stopping her. Right. There’s an army of mutated evil minions in your way, you’re supposed to avoid them, so you… stay right where you are until they attack you? Okay. You’re possessed by an evil witch that you hate but… you call her so she can… run away and resurrect her brother and destroy the world? Uh… And why again was that bomb important? And why didn’t we know about it the moment it happened if it was?

This… is not how you write a good, logical plot.

Oh, and also– the dramatic team walk and the slow-motion final show-down has been done to death. Really.

In conclusion: There is a great movie in there– one about how super-villains are maybe people, too, and about how even bad people can be in love, about what separates good from evil, anyway, and whether the ends justify the means, and about whether redemption is ever possible.

Unfortunately, the movie I saw today wasn’t that movie.