Tag Archives: Hannibal

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Apéritif (s1 ep1)

It’s about time somebody entered Hannibal into our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, and Andrew is just the man to do it. Starting with the pilot episode of the hit NBC show about a cannibal psychologist seems as logical a place to begin as any.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

Hannibal 2It was always going to be a tough sell. Basing a TV show or a film on a well-loved book, or series of books, always brings the nutters out of the woodwork. The same can be said when you try to make television shows with a much doted on film series as your inspiration (we all remember that Robocop TV show, right? Or the immeasurably bad decision to make a Rambo cartoon?). So surely any TV exec worth their salt would know not to entertain an idea that would attract rabid, feverish fans from both directions. Surely.

The announcement of a TV show based on Thomas Harris’ novels had many, myself included, going extra-strength crazy at the mere notion. Any project that included the recasting of Sir Anthony Hopkins was sacrilegious and a recipe for complete disaster. The announcement of Mads Mikkelsen taking the role made it even worse. My reaction was not dissimilar to how others have reacted at, say, Heath Ledger being The Joker, or Ben Affleck playing Batman. I’m a fan of Mikkelsen, but I was convinced it was a poor choice. Wait, what? Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford? What are you playing at? I haven’t been so dead against a TV show since someone likened Mad Men to The Sopranos!

A few months later and I’ve given in. I can’t say it’s pants until I’ve tried it. So I grab my coffee and my remote and, not completely willingly, wade in.

Starting in the only way a show with this kind of pedigree in its name could, we are thrown into a fresh crime scene. Blood splattered across walls and oozing across the floor as a corpse is unceremoniously zipped into a body bag. A mysterious figure is standing, watching as police and CSI tackle the unimaginable scene in front of them.

I’m still not convinced.

I turn to my wife. Angry. “They’ve gone and made it a bloody procedural! It’s NCIS-fucking-Hannibal! CSI-Goddamn-psychotherapy!”

Without a word of dialogue being spoken, the figure, which fans will quickly recognise as being Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), appears to walk backwards through the scene. With the crime apparently reversing itself and the bloody display returning to the serene home it was, we begin to see how Graham’s mind works.

Replaying the crime, the psychologist walks us breath by breath through the scene and the events of the evening. Giving us as deep a look at Graham as he wants with the killer, uttering the words soon to become synonymous with Will and his methods, indicating that what was done was planned, premeditated and coldly calculated. “This is my design”. The scene plays out with an air of menace and moves on.

“Ok. I’m up for this. Let’s see where it goes” I say to the other half.

The next ten minutes or so, we are treated to the standard cop drama steps. We are introduced to Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford, the man at the top of this particular FBI food chain and the man about to pull Will Graham into this story for us. Some background info, a little forensic work, lots of scene setting and a quick glance at a suspect and his inspiration. All typical shots for a crime show’s pilot. A post-mortem scene, a stroke of brilliance from Graham and a line of dialogue sure to put some off their dinner softly walks us to what we came for. The first appearance of our titular character.

In a surprise move for a show clearly trying to break out and be its own thing, introducing Hannibal to the viewer with Bach’s “Aria” as musical accompaniment was a strange move. But it works. It instantly conjures up images of Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal and we’re given time to relate to that as we watch him eat.

I wasn’t sure how to react if and when Mikkelsen’s real accent came from my speakers when Lector speaks. It’s not something I would usually fixate on, but it seems an important detail for a franchise known for Hopkins’ dulcet tones. In truth, I was simply indifferent. It didn’t matter. Hannibal’s mannerisms are the important thing and Mads brings them beautifully. His calm demeanour, the air of danger and his penchant for civility all acted in such a magnificent way that even the harshest of critics were starting to relax.

It takes a little over twenty minutes for Hannibal and Graham to be in the same scene. And boy is it tense. Will’s damaged, misfiring psyche clashing with Lecter’s cold calculation. It’s an uncomfortable scene as the men are presented immediately as polar opposites, but there’s a strange and intriguing atmosphere suggesting they are more alike each other than different.

The pair’s next meeting is the most poignant of the episode, and maybe the season. Visiting Will at his home, Lecter brings a dubious breakfast for the pair to share as they discuss Jack, the case, and size each other up. Substituting his couch for the breakfast table, Hannibal psycho-analyses Will over scrambled eggs and a coffee. It’s a beautifully dark scene. Superbly shot and oozing with tension.

It’s this scene you’ll remember. As the episode wraps up and the foundation is set for an edgy thriller, it’s this scene that left an impression. The pessimist in me has accepted the show, it’s been brilliantly introduced and it feels new and I’m very willing to give it a few more episodes to see if it holds up (it does, very well). But that breakfast scene feels like genius the more I recall it. As if they weren’t just talking to each other, they were talking to the audience. Not all of them. Just the few, like me, that went in ready to hate it. We went in jaded and cynical and this tense scene between the pair was absolutely speaking to us as Hannibal suggests that they could perhaps be friends.

“I don’t find you that interesting”

“You will”

‘Brooker’ is the latest debutant writer for Failed Critics (although he has written extensively on video-games in the past) and can usually be found over on Twitter – at least until we coax him back here to write some more! The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.

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Chef

ChefChef is basically two hours of Jon Favreau working through his issues with the studio system.  Mainly because of this, it’s rather entertaining.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Chef is Jon Favreau: The Movie.  Any pretence that this film is telling a story about characters that have no relation to the film’s writer, director and star is jettisoned the moment Dustin Hoffman swaggers in and orders Jon Favreau’s chef to cook by menu, “play [his] hits,” as it were, and that, if he doesn’t like it, there are a million other people that Dustin Hoffman could easily replace Jon Favreau with as director of the kitchen.  If not by then, then it will most certainly become clear when Jon blows up at a food critic who trashed his cooking, questioning whether he cares that the hurtful stuff he writes genuinely hurts those he writes about.  This is not subtle.  It makes the high school parallels in Divergent look like the lyrics to a They Might Be Giants song.  The film permanently seems five seconds away from actually dropping all of the pretence and having everyone just dramatize Jon Favreau’s post-Iron Man life.

One, therefore, may see Chef as a vanity project and little more, what with its extremely unsubtle real-life parallels, starring role for Favreau that lets him stretch himself beyond ‘funny comic relief guy’ and that he casts both Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson as his ex-wife and possible ex-lover respectively (the latter of which outright tells Favreau’s character at one point that he’s the best chef she ever worked with).  And… well… yeah, it kinda is.  The actual character work, and characters in general, populating the film are flimsy and undercooked and, once things head to Miami, nothing ever goes wrong for Favreau ever because he is the world’s greatest chef if people will just LET HIM DO WHAT HE DOES BEST INSTEAD OF CONSTRAINING HIS CREATIVE GENIUS, DAMMIT!!  That being said, I’d recommend not writing off Chef sight unseen.  It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s nothing memorable, but it is mildly amusing, rather entertaining, nearly always interesting and, brace yourself for the big one, it’s a comedy that runs for two hours… that I can’t see cutting down to 100 minutes!

Oh, I have your attention now, do I?

Our story, then.  By the by, I’m going to dispense with much of the pretence and just straight up tell you the “subtext” cos it’s that unsubtle and it saves me time later on.  Jon Favreau is a chef, a very well-respected chef, at that, who caused a splash ten years ago as a hungry guy wanting to make a name for himself.  He’s currently employed at a big, fancy and relatively famous restaurant that’s about to get reviewed by the biggest food blogger in town and he wants to surprise the guy, cook up something original and shocking and biting and all that jazz.  The restaurant’s owner, Dustin Hoffman, thinks that’s not a good idea, being too risk-averse, and orders Favreau to cook by menu, reasoning that people who go to see The Rolling Stones want to hear them play ‘Satisfaction’.  This ends disastrously, Favreau’s heart is clearly not in it and the critic tears apart both the food, which is too safe and generic, and Favreau himself, believing him to be over-the-hill and also fat jokes cos critics are dicks.

Favreau does not take this well, with the review and Favreau’s resulting meltdown at the critic going viral.  Fired from his job for refusing to follow orders, Favreau’s ex-wife (played by Sofia Vergara) convinces him to meet her successful first ex-husband, Robert Downey Jr., and get back to basics.  Gifted a food truck, Favreau decides to take his little low budget venture on the road, making smaller products with more heart that may connect with the public more and revitalise his love for his art.  Tagging along are his son, EmJay Anthony, who doesn’t see his dad much but aspires to follow in his culinary footsteps, and his old workmate, represented here by John Leguizamo, where father and son may just bond together and learn a thing or two about a thing or two.

It’s even less subtle than that, before you ask.  A good 50-60% of Chef really is just Jon Favreau working through his frustrating studio experiences via the thinnest of metaphors.  Not that that’s a bad thing inherently, mind.  A fair bit of the film’s entertainment value comes from just how far the metaphor goes, in much the same way that 22 Jump Street’s appeal comes from just how far that film is willing to push its central joke, “we are a pointless sequel and we’re well aware of that fact.”  It also helps that the execution is rarely cringe worthy or overly blatant, the lone exceptions come during the times when Favreau meets up with the critic that wrote the nasty things about him (embodied by Oliver Platt).  Those times trot out the usual “what you say hurts me! I make art, what do you do?  Just sit behind your computer and vomit words” clichés that typically accompany artists ranting against critics.  (It’s not the heckler bit from Louie, is what I’m getting at.)  Otherwise, the execution remains interesting, it becomes a kind of fun little exercise to see Favreau working through his problems and seemingly rediscovering his love for filmmaking.

See, the film does have characters, which makes this a landmark point in Sofia Vergara’s acting career if nothing else, but they take a backseat, along with nearly everything else that’s not related to the metaphor.  Even the food stuff feels more like an extension of that metaphor instead of a total love of food, there are several scenes where Favreau explains his creative process to his son that come across far more as his creative process to filmmaking than food-making (especially when he mentions that he first goes looking for ingredients and only then decides what he’s going to cook, he doesn’t go in with a fully-formed pl-it’s a reference to the creation of Iron Man, alright).  The whole enterprise feels less like a story that Favreau wanted to tell and more like he just decided to make a film and see if it made him fall in love with filmmaking again.  Such a theory is practically confirmed when it comes time for the film’s ending to occur, which the film practically crashes into and is over before it has a chance to become satisfying.  Again, though, it is fascinating to watch, feeling relatively raw and personal instead of pretentious and whiney.

Look, I apologise for spending so long fixated on the metaphor side of Chef.  I know a lot of you will be able to get past it, or maybe not even clock onto it (although I have no idea how you would, I have seen South Park episodes with subtler allusions and metaphors), but it really does constitute the meat of the film.  Outside of it, you have the barest of plots about a father and son bonding over a shared enthusiasm (if you choose to read it like that and not, say, as the kid merely being a representative vessel for Favreau’s increasing realisation that he does still love making movies) and a very glossed over subplot of Favreau reconnecting with his ex-wife Vergara because… I actually don’t know, it’s that glossed over.  I should note that I’m not knocking the film for these things, I’m just letting you know how incidental the whole thing is.

Besides, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about with regards to the film outside of that subtext.  It’s all fine and pleasant.  There’s a runtime that’s just shy of two hours and though it feels like that at times, the film is paced well enough, and its content serves the whole metaphor point enough, to make it hard for me to find scenes to cut out to reduce that time to 90-or-so minutes.  There aren’t really any big laugh out loud moments and I guarantee that there are no jokes you’ll think back to 12 hours after seeing the film and go “that was hilarious” or some such, but the film is still funny.  It has very charming actors and actresses striking up a great enough chemistry with one another to make exchanges amusing, even if nothing particularly funny is being said.  Praise should especially go to EmJay Anthony who is not only hugely non-irritating, he’s able to keep up with Jo(h)ns Favreau and Leguizamo.  Food, meanwhile, is very often shot excellently, which is a hard thing to do right on film and television.  Not up to Hannibal standards of “mmm, that looks de-licious” but enough that I felt legitimately peckish for some high-quality grub as I left the cinema.  Also, for whatever it’s worth, I really like the film’s soul, Cuban and groove-laced soundtrack; Jon Favreau (and/or his music supervisor) has excellent taste in music.

Yes, I am stretching for stuff to talk about but there’s one last thing that deserves some conversation.  Chef loves social media.  Chef loves social media.  If social media and Chef were embodied by real life people (which the film kinda is, anyway), they would have a hopelessly romantic meet-cute, followed by a whirlwind fairy-tale romance that culminates in a magical beach-side wedding at sunset.  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vine, the celebrity gossip website Holy Moly!; all these and more get prominent screen time and are actually relevant to the plot, as well as being the subject of hi-larious gags about how Favreau has no idea how the Internet works (he tweets an insult at the food critic who wrote the negative review cos he thought the service worked like text messaging).  It’s equal parts toe-curlingly awkward, like when your dad posts a “selfie” of himself having a day out in Scarborough, and strangely progressive.  Like, yeah, the film does mine the expected jokes out of Favreau not knowing how social media works and his son being a whizz with it because kids today and their computermabobs, but the usage of social media is actually vital to the plot.  It ends up being utilised as a tool for good, a way for Favreau and his low-budget venture to travel around drumming up buzz and connecting with the people who matter.  It’s refreshingly free of cynicism or confused-dad-“when-I-was-YOUR-age”-ness which, if nothing else, puts it above f*cking Transcendence.  It does officially go too far when 1 Second Everyday comes up for the sole purpose of adding some feels to the finale, but get over the initial “oh, no, Dad’s trying to get down with the kids” response you will inevitably have when it comes up and it’s not actually a problem.

Chef, then, is more of an extended therapy session for Jon Favreau than it is a movie in its own standalone right.  That therapy session, though, is always interesting and frequently entertaining; it’s definitely the most personal thing Favreau has been involved in in a good decade and it’s nice to see him seemingly fall back in love with his art again.  Outside of that, there’s not much here.  There are funnier films available now, there are more heartwarming films available now, there are TV shows with better food porn on the air right now.  On the surface level, it’s a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.  I would, however, be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the film for what it is under that surface.  You may too, but that depends on both your knowledge of the film industry and your tolerance for “inside-baseball” stuff.

So, with Favreau having rediscovered his passion for filmmaking by going back to his roots and delivering a deeply personal work, I look forward to seeing what he’s going to transfer that passion into next!  … …“he’s making a live-action, CG version of The Jungle Book for Disney?”  Well, in that case, either he’s a quick forgiver, or I eagerly await the spiritual successor to this in 2020!

Callum Petch saw you standing on the opposite shore.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!