Month: March 2014

I Myself Can Not: “Takiawase”

imyselfcannot

(in which Kate and Jason zig-zag through Kübler-Ross model)

KATE: Hey, Jason! Wow, what an exciting episode. It had everything: suspense, body horror and a guest appearance from a character actor as our serial killer of the week. It really seemed like typical Hannibal fare at first… and then we got to the ending, proving that the show is really ramping up expectations for this season. If next week’s episode is supposed to be the jaw dropper of the season so far, then I really don’t know what to expect. I’m so confused, Jason! Honestly, I went into this week expecting very little, but boy, was I wrong… so very wrong. So very disturbingly wrong. Is there enough room on that fainting couch for two, Jason? Because I have a feeling I will need some smelling salts by the end of this review.

Well, let’s start with the positives. We get to return to Will’s memory palace this week, where we find Will fishing with Abigail. They have a highly metaphorical conversation over the difference between hunting and fishing before we’re snapped back into reality. Will is still in jail and in between visits from Alana, Beverly or Hannibal, he’s busy being analyzed by the all too willing Dr. Chilton. Chilton is working with Will to restore his memory from the previous season with surprising success. It adds a lot to the plot and to the character of Chilton. In the books and movies, I’ve always viewed Chilton as largely useless. We’ve rarely seen anything to suggest he is the master psychoanalyst he pretends to be, until now. He’s actually earning his stripes this week, bringing us (and Will!) back to the memory palace for a replay of the pivotal conversation between Hannibal and Abel Gideon. Will Chilton trigger something in Will to help him remember the truth? We can only hope.

I’m very glad the show has embraced the concept of the memory palace, even if they haven’t explicitly named it as such. In doing so, the show has carved out a certain space for relaxation and reflection, both for the characters and the audience. In a world full of body horror and human honey combs, this is crucial. After all, a show ultimately about death can become very heavy very quickly… and Hannibal is no exception. In particular, this episode revolved around how different people confront death. In the case of Bella, we face it head on because we have no other choice; when it comes to Abigail, we go hunting and actively seek it out; in the world of killers like Hannibal and Katherine Pims, it’s seen as a gift to our fellow man, something merciful and well deserved.

Which brings me to Beverly. Oh, Beverly. I’ve been crushing on her very hard this season. In my brain, I thought she could be this show’s version of Clarice Starling–a capable, smart, no bull type who sees through Hannibal’s shenanigans and can work to bring him down. Look at that scene in Hannibal’s house! It’s essentially Clarice’s descent into the basement at the end of Silence of the Lambs! Aside from Dr. Du Maurier, she’s the only character around who seems to want to believe Will, so much so that they run the risk of bodily harm. However, Du Maurier had the sense to keep her cards close and disappeared before Hannibal came for her. I guess in the end I was half right. She did see through Hannibal’s exterior, but I’m not sure it’s going to do her any good, given that cliffhanger.

What did you think, Jason? Are you as heart broken as I am?

[muffled sobbing]

[muffled sobbing]

JASON: You can have the fainting couch all to yourself for this week, Kate, because Beverly’s death didn’t have the same effect on me that it had on you. Well, to be fair, I had the ending spoiled for me, and while I’d love to grumble about it (thanks a LOT, tumblr), that’s just the reality of television these days: if you don’t want spoilers, watch the episode as soon as it airs or stay off of social media. But whether it was adjusted expectations or a lack of connection with the character, when the moment came, I was more interested in the final shot and the way it indicated her death without showing it. Then again, I just realized that next week we’re probably going to see her done up in one of the show’s infamous corpse displays, at which point all my denial will crumble away and I will most likely shove you off the fainting couch so I can have a good cry.

By the way, given the parallels between Beverly and Clarice, and considering what happened to Jack’s original protege, this makes two Clarice Starling proxies that Hannibal has murdered. Maybe it’ll be better for everyone if MGM never gives up those rights.

While the death of Dr. Katz was this week’s main event, we also got some forward movement on Will’s “investigation,” along with confirmation that, yes, he is trying to trap Dr. Lecter. I may have been the only one who needed that confirmation, because I am not only not a critic but also not a terribly clever viewer, but it was a least a nice surprise to see Abigail show up and to learn that the “fishing” Will is doing in his memory palace isn’t just for the purposes of relaxation.

Also: Let’s not give the good Doctor Chilton too much credit, Kate. It looked to me like any actual benefit Will got from his treatment was purely incidental. Maybe when we get another look at how the Chilton/Graham sessions are going, it’ll be clearer. For the time being, though, he’s definitely giving Will the ol’ Don Draper special and reporting back to Hannibal about his findings —

A quick pause while I brainstorm my Hannibal/Mad Men crossover fic.

— but even if Chilton thinks that he and Hannibal need to “stick together,” the fact remains that Will is making some pretty convincing points towards Hannibal’s guilt. The mere act of spreading around that kind of suspicion is a win for Will… although in Beverly’s case, it didn’t turn out so well, so maybe Will ought to keep his big stupid mouth shut. Oh, Beverly! Why? Why did it have to be this way?

Um… let’s talk about the music! The scoring on this show is always suitably unnerving, in a way that doesn’t draw attention to itself. It sometimes reminds me Jason Segel’s line from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, about “dark, ominous tones.” But Segel was taking a shot at formulaic CSI-style procedurals that would never do something as adventurous as the use of (what I believe was) an organ in this week’s score. It only happens a couple of times and it draws attention to itself in the best way possible. We first hear a few jarring organ-stabs when Beverly appears in the hallway following Will’s trip to the memory palace. It has the immediate benefit of throwing us off-balance, something the show is quite good at, but it also foreshadows Beverly’s fate in the final scene, where the music sounds like it was lifted from an old Universal horror movie and the credits play out entirely to a single, elongated note.

The organ also makes an appearance during Will’s stunning trip into his own mind during Chilton’s treatment, where it plays off the flickering lights to communicate the feeling of disorientation Will gets during his seizures. Another nice little visual touch from that scene: the way the flashing light plays over the physical objects in Will’s memory.

One last thought: what did Beverly find in Hannibal’s basement? I’m betting it was just a lot of creepy cannibal stuff, but I have to admit that my first reaction was “it’s Abigail!” I’ve never bought into the theories about Abigail still being alive, but I guess they’ve gotten inside my brain, anyway. Does that count as “psychological driving?” Wait, don’t answer that.

KATE: As much as I want Abigail to be alive, it seems more likely she has already been eaten. Towards the end of last season, Hannibal conveniently served a veal dish right around the time of her disappearance and it read as a wink to the audience. I want Abigail to be alive, I really do, but it seems unlikely, even if the FBI still hasn’t found her remains. At any rate, I don’t think Hannibal is the type to keep his trophies around for long. He either eats them or sets them up as performance art. In the case of Abigail, I’m thinking it’s the former and sadly, I’m afraid Beverly is going to be the latter. Will’s play at confusion was working for him; it just so happens that Beverly played her cards too soon. I’m thinking that if Beverly found anything, it would be Hannibal’s collection of special cookware and yet to be eaten human flesh. Alas, we’ll never know.

Say, Jason. Did you know that Fuller originally planned to have Will cough up Beverly’s ear at the end of season one? Just think about that for a second. It isn’t going to change things now, but just imagine what would’ve happened to Abigail if they had focused on that angle instead. While you’re thinking, take some time to enjoy Dr. Chilton’s very lovely singing voice.

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I Myself Can Not: “Hassun”

imyselfcannot

(in which sometimes you just gotta talk to ’em)

JASON: Say, Kate! Have you been reading Bryan Fuller’s weekly interviews with the AV Club? If you haven’t, I would recommend them: Fuller comes off like a very smart man who knows exactly what he’s doing with the show, which is refreshing and means that we’re TOTALLY right about the folder-passing shot last episode. I mention it this week because the interview following “Hassun” made me realize that not a lot happened in this episode, and that most of it was set-up for episode 5, which apparently is going to be the craziest episode yet.

Hannibal is such an entertaining show that even an episode spent moving pieces around on the board is a joy to watch. Question: has the show gotten funnier since the first season, or has it always been this way? I find myself writing down several lines per episode in my notes, just because I’m surprised at how humorous they are. Will’s lawyer, in particular, had a quip for just about ever situation. I don’t know which is better, his muted reaction when he received an ear in the male, or his line to Alana about “stepping in Young Adult and tracking it into the courtroom.” Also deserving of mention: everything about Chilton and Lounds. I cheer whenever Freddie shows up in any context, and even though I love her and her ridiculously inappropriate church-lady hat, it was sooooo satisfying when Will’s lawyer shut her down with two questions. You’re the real Paul Esparza fan here, so I’ll leave any discussion of that to you, except for two words: dat cane.

And I have to hand it to you, Kate: a week after you point out the show’s use of mirroring (which I had missed until then), Hannibal opens with the most blatant example to date. Well, technically, the episode doesn’t open with Will and Hannibal getting dressed for court, it opens with Will dreaming about pulling the switch on his own execution. I’m wondering if that’s going to get more attention, or if we’re just meant to interpret it as-is. My initial impression was that Will was expressing a latent death wish, wondering whether it would be easier to just let himself be convicted and get out of this whole crazy circus. But nothing in the episode bears this out… unless I missed something.

Come to think of it, I probably did miss something. Until I read that interview, I thought we were still meant to believe that Hannibal was the copycat killer. All those deeply unsettling lines about Will not letting the killer’s love go to waste, coupled with that unexpectedly sad image of Hannibal sitting alone in his office, lead me to believe that the new murders were Hannibal’s way of saving Will’s life, while allowing himself to remain free from suspicion. And yet, Fuller seems to imply that at this point, Will’s admirer is a mystery. What’s going on, Kate? Did I miss something? Seeing Will in that electric chair did nearly drive me into hysterics, but I do believe my delicate Victorian lady composure was restored by the end of the episode.

Something else that disturbed my delicate emotional equilibrium: Jack Crawford. Boy, back in episode one, I hated Jack for refusing to believe Will. When the two of them were speaking in the prison, I was almost looking forward to that fast-approaching moment when Hannibal jams a piece of glass into Jack’s neck — and if you ever had any doubts that I was unqualified for legitimate criticism, well, there you go. But now, I’m more on Jack’s side than I’ve ever been. It wasn’t just his act of professional suicide that doubled as a re-affirmation of his own guilt in what happened to Will, it was the conversation he had afterwards with Hannibal. We haven’t seen Bella in a while, and hearing the details of their life together as she nears her death was like a sucker-punch. The way Jack got teary-eyed and choked up was heartbreaking. I forget how great Laurence Fishburne really is, which is the risk you run when you surround him with people like Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy.

One last thing about that interview: Fuller mentions later in the season, we’ll be seeing some “other patients” that Hannibal has been “encouraging.” That’s got to be Verger siblings, right? Oh, man, I can’t wait until Mason Verger shows up. No, that doesn’t do it justice. When Mason Verger makes his first appearance, I am going to split the time-stream in half so I can watch that episode with my 15-year-old self and give him a bunch of high-fives. Wait, that may have been too much in the opposite direction. Well, I’m excited, anyway.

Please don't ever change, Freddie.

Please don’t ever change, Freddie.

KATE: It’s good to be excited, Jason! Embrace it! I’m excited for the Verger siblings to show up as well, although I’ve always preferred my Vergers (especially Mason) post-mutilation. Spoilers, readers: Hannibal likes to mess around with his patients. Anyway, I’m sure it’ll be riveting. Look what the show has already done with the Hannibal/Will relationship! I’m not sure if the readers are familiar, but Red Dragon, the first book in the “Hannibal” series, takes place after Hannibal has been caught by Will and put in jail. The TV show is largely working in unexplored material that we as the audience had only previously imagined. I imagine (and hope!) the Verger subplot will be treated the same way. Let’s face it, good back story and prequelization are so hard to pull off successfully. I know “prequelization” isn’t a word, but bear with me. Just look at Hannibal Rising. Actually, please don’t. It’s awful.

My point being that it is difficult to retroactively pull off a background story of a character, particularly one as well known as Hannibal Lecter. There’s almost no way for it to work and it rarely adds anything. I never wanted to know why Darth Vader turned evil. Everything you need to know about him is right there on the surface. I never wanted to know how the Wicked Witch of the West became so wicked. In great stories, your villains can speak for themselves. It’s not just evil characters, either. No one needed to know how Carrie Bradshaw moved to New York and met Samantha.  All of this is just to say that Hannibal is abnormally good at its job and the Verger subplot will hopefully be no exception. There’s very juicy material there, if someone knows how to write it. As much as I love Gary Oldman, I rewatched Hannibal (the movie) the other day and man, it is pretty awful. The story could definitely stand a new approach. Yeesh.

This season does seem to be more humorous than the last. I think the snappy lines and quick jokes are part fan service and part Bryan Fuller. Like any beloved book turned TV series, there are a lot of inside jokes and foreshadowing for the fans. Look at Game of Thrones! Every time the word “wedding” was said during the third season of GoT, the editors could have inserted this cue and saved themselves a lot of time, but they didn’t. Part of that may be storytelling for people who aren’t familiar with the source material, but I think it’s a subtle acknowledgement to the fan base. The hard core fans want to see Chilton be irritatingly pompous because they know what happens to him; the casual fans want to see Chilton be irritatingly pompous because it works towards what will happen. And yes, I do love Raul Esparza. He isn’t the most subtle performer on the show, but that’s what the role calls for. Chilton is intelligent, but he’s mostly snide and self absorbed. Have they shown Chilton with a cane before? Is that related to his kidney issue? I’m almost positive Chilton doesn’t need it, he just likes showing off.

All in all, I think you covered my thoughts on this week’s episode, Jason. I found it to be a little uneventful, save for the dead judge and Freddie’s hat. Every show has its filler and development episodes, so I’m not too worried. Not to mention, we know by now to trust in the wisdom of Bryan Fuller. If he tells me that episode five will be crazy, it will be. So say we all, in the name of Fuller, Dancy and Mikkelsen.

JASON: So say we all!

I Myself Can Not: “Sakizuki”

imyselfcannot

(in which Jason and Kate talk about Hannibal while Jason idly wonders if he should find a new picture of himself for the header, one where he isn’t three weeks into another failed attempt at growing facial hair)

JASON: I have a lot of stuff I want to say about feminism and world-building, but first I need to stop dry-heaving over that first scene.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously, the only notes I wrote for that cold open were “GAHHHH” and “guhhhhh,” because… well, GAH. When this episode opened on a shot of the silo, I was hoping that the victim who woke up at the end of last week would already be dead, just so we’d be spared the agony of watching him die. No such luck, however, as the show then cuts to a shot of the human mosaic and it is clear that only moments have passed. And then…

Look: body horror is one of my things, and when I say ‘things,’ I don’t mean “things I enjoy” or “things that I can watch without feeling sick” — as a mater of fact, I mean the opposite of those two things. You even warned me ahead of time that it would be hard to watch, but until I saw Roland Umber pulling himself free from the mosaic and tearing off chunks of skin, I guess I didn’t believe you. I was eating dinner when this episode started, Kate! The third most important meal of the day!

Aside from being an wonderfully-executed example of something I never want to see again, that opening scene was as tense as anything that’s ever been on the show. Roland ducks in and out of cars while the killer pursues him, and then they end up in a corn field with the killer’s flashlight as the only source of light. Of course, there’s no way Roland is going to make it out of there alive, but even after he hit those rocks on the side of the cliff, I held out hope right until his body re-surfaced. Sorry, Roland; your superpower of having a slightly above-average tolerance of heroin couldn’t get you out of this one.

As usual, I have more stuff on my mind than I could ever hope to whittle down into a single review, but since this episode put a spotlight on Dr. Du Maurier, it seems like a good opportunity to discuss the show’s female characters. Namely, the fact that they exist. Alana Bloom (who appears only briefly in this episode) is an expanded and gender-flipped version of a very minor character from the books named Alan Bloom, and Freddie Lounds is, of course, the gender-flipped version of Frederick Lounds, a character who’s prior portrayals still make me too sad to think about, so let’s not focus on that right now. The point is, Bryan Fuller made it a point to add more female energy to the show, and he’s stated in interviews that this was his motivation for turning Frederick and Alan into Freddie and Alana.

It goes further than that, though: if I remember correctly, the CSI characters in Hannibal were just one character in Red Dragon, and that character wasn’t a woman, much less a woman of color. And then there’s Cynthia Nixon! I’m only familiar with Nixon through the very little I have seen of Sex And The City, but so far I am loving her in this. Her fierce persona is second only to her fantastic Hillary Clinton hair. Trivia: Nixon’s character, Kade Prurnell, is an anagrammed version of the character Ray Liotta played in the Hannibal movie, Paul Krendler! This doesn’t exactly bode well for the ongoing copyright issues that will someday stop this show in its tracks… but we’ve got a ways to go before that’s an issue.

Let’s not forget Dr. Du Maurier, the only person in the world who believes Will Graham and who I absolutely thought was going to die in this episode. Luckily, she only caught a minor case of the Actor-Has-Other-Projects disease, and Fuller says he wants to bring her back as soon as possible. But here’s the thing: even if he doesn’t, he and the other writers have a full roster of female characters the can keep exploring! I don’t know much about Bryan Fuller’s beliefs in regards to feminism, but despite the fact that Hannibal is a show centered on the relationship between two men, it offers a corrective to the major problem of female representation in popular culture: namely, the fact that there are hardly any female characters at all. This is a subject for a much longer rant, but it’s not about having more “strong” female characters — it’s about having more female characters, period. Of course, you also want them to be interesting characters, and Fuller isn’t doing a half bad job at that, either.

Kate, I imagine you’ll be sympathetic to my thoughts on the subject, but still, I apologize for getting distracted that I left 80% of the episode untouched. Was your reaction to the opening scene as strong as mine? How did you feel about Will Graham’s solemn intonation of “one of these things is not like the other?” Is Will’s trial going to have a strong emotional impact on me than any real trial I’ve ever seen?

Look, thinly-veiled death threats are a normal part of any healthy psychiatrist/patient relationship.

Look, thinly-veiled death threats are a normal part of any healthy psychiatrist/patient relationship.

KATE: You know what, Jason? Looking back on last week’s review, neither of us brought up the human mosaic! What’s up with that? It’s like forgetting about the human mushroom garden from season one! Huh. It completely slipped my mind until the opening shot of this week’s episode. That was probably for the best, all things considered. Roland’s last minutes on earth were gripping, disturbing and disgusting. Hannibal is a show that prides itself on arresting imagery and this was no exception. I’m still not sure what was worse—watching Roland peel himself off of the human mosaic or watching Roland realize he’d have to peel himself off in order to survive. I didn’t think he’d make it to safety, but I did admire his will to live, even if it ended with him floating down river split in half.

It’s safe to say we’re on the same page about body horror, Jason. Hannibal’s heart to heart with the mosaic killer, as he lies sewn and glued into his own masterpiece, was just…creepy. They might as well have been two neighbors, comparing different brands of lawnmowers! It also felt a little off, if only for the reason that Hannibal isn’t that big on influencing people directly. He talks people into believing what he wants them to believe from a distance, not in the middle of a crime scene. And because Hannibal can’t leave without a trophy, the audience is treated to a lovely sequence of Hannibal preparing a human leg for dinner. I may be wrong, but is the first time we’ve seen Hannibal definitively consume human flesh? This is our first trip to Hannibal’s memory palace, even if it reads more like an ability to detect other serial killers via smell-o-vision.

Strangely enough, I haven’t put much thought into the show’s female characters, aside from the fact that they gender swapped two of them. I think that’s a credit to the show. Most television has very few female characters, let alone main characters that have actual personality. Alana started off her run as a vague love interest for Will, but she’s also shown she’s intelligent and has a spine. It’s a similar story with Beverly’s character. She began the show as a sidekick technician in the lab; now that Will is in jail, she’s quickly become the lab’s most valued member. In fact, she reminds me a lot of Will. Not only can she pick up random bits of information no one else sees, she’s also learning to connect it to larger patterns that save lives.

This brings me to my main point, which is that the show is very focused on how relationships play off and/or mirror each other. For every Hannibal and Will, there’s a Hannibal and Dr. Du Maurier. Granted, that’s the most obvious mirroring going on here, but did you notice how Beverly has started using Will for unconventional advice, much like Will sought Hannibal? I may be (and probably am) grasping at straws, but with Will stuck in jail, Beverly is the only person on Crawford’s team who thinks outside the box. She may believe Will is guilty, but not enough to stay away from utilizing his skills, so how insane could he really be? This brings me to my other point. It can’t be a Hannibal review without me bringing up something to compare to the source material. Beverly and Will have a certain je nes sais Clarice/Hannibal vibe. I mean, did you see the way she passed him the case info on her visit? It’s the same shot from Silence of the Lambs!

So, I have a couple of stray thoughts about this episode that are neither here nor there:

What do you think Hannibal eats for breakfast? How many plastic murder suits do you think he owns? Where does he get them? Why did Dr. Du Maurier leave Hannibal her perfume? Is it because Hannibal likes to sniff things? Did you see how he sniffed the corpses? How did no one else in the lab see that? AHHHHH. Jason, in a way I’m glad we don’t watch these shows together. I think our combined Hannibal insanity would be a little much for anyone else in the room.

JASON: I totally saw the way she passed him the case! I meant to ask if you thought it was intentional, but I see I need not have bothered! Glad to know we’re on the same page, Kate, quite glad.

(random reminder that Kate co-hosts a podcast about alcohol and pop culture, which makes it my number-one podcast of all time)

I Myself Can Not: “Kaiseki”

imyselfcannot

(in which Jason and Kate return from hiatus to talk about the season-two premiere of Hannibal, a show that they TOTALLY LIKED BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE, not to be a jerk about it, but come on, give us some credit)

JASON: And we’re back!

You know, Kate, it’s weird to think that just under a year ago, we were looking on the idea of a Hannibal series as if it were the stupidest thing imaginable. Even after the gorgeous, surprising first episode, I still wasn’t totally convinced. Bryan Fuller and his band of merry men won me over as the season went on, even if I was still a little on edge. Looking back on it now, my lack of faith was disgraceful and I should be ashamed. Also, it manifested itself in a lot of weird ways in our reviews. Remember that time I said that the show wanted us to disassociate from our bodies? A little much, don’t you think?

Well, all that is over, now. I put my full trust into the holy trinity of Bryan Fuller, Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, along with the many minor deities of Hannibal, from composer Brian Reitzell to cinematographers James Hawkinson and Karim Hussain to every other actor in the show. And the world is on my side, too! Everyone’s got Hannibal fever. With all reservations put aside, I was able to kick back, relax and let the show do its thing, and my first though upon starting the episode was: OH MY GOD I HAVE MISED THS SHOW SO MUCH.

Actually, my first thought was “the big fight scene in season one felt kind of weird but this one is so thrilling and well-choreographed not to mention CRAZY that I have no such reservations.” So, I’ve still got a modicum of critical thought left. Which is good.

Yeah, let’s start off with the fact that Hannibal is apparently going to stab Jack Crawford in the neck. I’m not entirely sold on flash-forwards as a concept, but that one was so engaging that I’m going to let it slide. Plus, it reminds me of how the writers of Breaking Bad would set up flash-forwards without having a plan for getting there, thus giving themselves a goal the were forced to meet. At the very least, we now know that Jack is going to get on Hannibal’s bad side by the end of the season, which will certainly shake things up.

There’s so much to talk about in this episode, I don’t even know where to start. How cool was it to see Will in his new surroundings? I mean, not “cool”, since my heart breaks a little more every time I see him behind bars, but his new attitude is a pleasure to watch. Will is still on-edge to say the least, but he’s no longer on a slippery slope to insanity like he was last season. Now that he’s playing the Hannibal to Hannibal’s Will Graham (huh?), Hugh Dancy gets to show off a new side of Will that still fits with the borderline-autistic murder-genius we’ve all come to love.

Okay, I can’t hold it back anymore: Kate! Will Graham has a memory palace! Granted, it’s not exactly like the thing that Thomas Harris describes in the Hannibal novel—for one thing, it’s just a river in the woods, and for another, it’s Will that goes there, not Hannibal. But it’s close enough to set off my Hannibal Geek Radar.

That radar went off for another reason when Hannibal and Jack sat down to dinner, though, and Hannibal made an off-handed mention of “Aunt Murasaki.” For those of you who know all aspects of the Hannibal mythos—or those of you who love bad novels—that name should be familiar. Would it be melodramatic to say that the idea of Bryan Fuller incorporating Hannibal Rising into the show makes me gag? He’s too smart for that, right? You think maybe he’s just trying to get a rise out of us? Yeah? That’s got to be it, right?

I’m edging out of criticism into pure rambling, so I’m going to pass the baton to you, my more levelheaded co-writer. Please tell me I’m going crazy, and that Hannibal Rising didn’t really happen, and while you’re at it, I guess you can tell me how you felt about the episode. If you need me, I’ll be on the Victorian fainting couch, hand pressed to my forehead.

kaiseki

Classic memory palace.

KATE: Hey Jason! Long time, no see!

So, where do we go from here? The first season of Hannibal was, quite simply, beautiful. The acting was terrific, the plot was detailed but easy to access and the set design…well, I’ve gushed about this before. Frankly, I’m surprised that so many other people liked the show as much as we did! I loved the first season, but I’m somewhat of a Hannibal superfan, for all of its ups and downs over the years. Why would anyone else bother? If I was an average person approaching this show, I’m guessing all I would know is that it’s yet another installment in a long running franchise. My best guess is that people were lured by the idea of another police procedural and were hooked by its particular kookiness. That’s neither here nor there.

Hannibal is back and better than ever…so far. Second seasons are notoriously tricky. Any TV show can put together a stellar first season before they fall off in quality. Can the second season of Hannibal live up to all of the buzz of the past year? If the first episode of season two is any indication, I think it can. I spent most of the episode furiously scribbling notes between freaking out over the on screen visuals. Some of them are insightful, some of them are dumb…all of them are imbued with a certain “HANNIBAL IS BACK, HANNIBAL IS BACK” mania. No worries, there. I’m as pumped for this season as you are.The new Hannibal/Will dynamic is an interesting direction for the show to take. It’s obviously a reversal of what we may know from the earlier movies and novels. For one thing, Will’s cell is almost identical to Hannibal’s from Silence of the Lambs. For another, it gives Will some room to breathe. He isn’t any less crazy, so to speak, but he has gained a new sense of identity. He’s safe behind his creepy plastic jail cell. There aren’t any new killer of the week cases to grab his attention, he isn’t being tricked into eating people’s ears, he’s got a sweet memory palace to escape to… I mean, the situation is looking up!

It will be interesting to see where the show takes Will’s situation throughout the season. Keeping your main character in jail has to chafe the writers a little bit, don’t you think? Of course, it also gives the show more incentive to hang out with other characters, especially Hannibal. Is it just my imagination or did we spend more time with Hannibal this episode than any in season one? He has a lot to do, after all. Hannibal is the new Will Graham over at the FBI, as well as resident psychopath of the DC area…he’s got a lot to keep him busy. (Why does Hannibal work for the FBI now? Is there seriously no one else trained in criminal psychology working at the FBI? Really?) Mads Mikkelson has always been wonderful in this role and it was nice to spend more time with him this week. A particular favorite of mine was the scene between Hannibal and Dr. Du Maurier, as he began to discuss his compulsions towards Will. What is his motivation here? In some strange way, I think Hannibal genuinely cares about Will. Framing him for Abigail’s murder was just an unfortunate by product of an unfortunate situation. Some one had to go to jail, Will just happened to be collateral damage. That’s serial killer logic for you, I guess.

Help me out, Jason. First crazy Hannibal theory of the season: Do you think Dr. Du Maurier knows about Hannibal? She hinted at it heavily in this scene. For example, “Jack Crawford doesn’t know what you’re capable of…” or “You’re putting me in a position to lie…again.” If she does know (or at least suspects), why would Hannibal keep her alive? Does he owe her a debt? (Maybe). Is she secretly Aunt Murasaki? (No.) Am I crazy? (Probably.) I’m not too worried by the random mention of Aunt Murasaki. If Fuller has control over the character, it won’t be too awful. Look at Freddie Lounds. I didn’t find him particularly engaging in the novels and films, but on this show, they’re morphed her into a character that works. I hope…I just really hope  they don’t bring up Mischa as a plot point. Like, ever.

The Unofficial Jason Edwards Oscar-Palooza, Part 2

oscars part 2

The Oscars: still meaningless, and now they’re over! Let’s get back to what’s really important: me, ranking movies in a seemingly arbitrary manner.

5. The Act of Killing

This movie is crazy. It’s also socially relevant and historically important, so much so that it deserves a deeper analysis than a slack-jawed sort of awe, but I’m afraid that’s the only way I know to describe it. This. Movie. Is. Crazy.

Indonesian gangster Anwar Congo leads us through the killings he perpetrated on behalf of the Indonesian government in 1965 and 1966, and right from the beginning it is unbearably surreal, surreal on a level you couldn’t reach with a one-hundred percent pure blast of Lynchian filmmaking. As we watch Anwar walking around, talking and laughing with the people of Indonesia, he performs a series of mental gymnastics to justify his crimes and two things become apparent. One: Anwar has been performing these ethical tricks for so long that, while it leaves us with a feeling of cognitive dissonance that is physically overwhelming, it doesn’t affect him in the slightest. It’s not even second nature to him, it’s just reality.

Two: the Indonesia government also believes in this reality.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer lays it out best in an interview that accompanies the film’s DVD release: most of the time, when you examine a situation in which a crime has been committed, the criminal has been punished, or at the very least, the world around him realizes he has done something wrong. Because the people who backed Anwar are still in power, he’s never been punished, never even had to admit to himself that what he did was wrong.

I don’t want to give anything away–it’s a great documentary and a truly unique experience and you ought to watch it–but towards the end of the film, we do get a brief look at the physical toll it takes on the human body to live in evil for so long and call it good. And it is not pretty.

Craziest Documentary Runner-Up: Tim’s Vermeer

Once again, this movie so thoroughly blew my mind that the only response I had was “that’s crazy. that is crazy! this is crazy.” Unlike The Act of Killing, Tim’s Vermeer didn’t leave me feeling horrified and empty inside, so I feel better about not having more to say. Once you see this movie, you’ll understand why I was so impressed. It’s not a crazy ride, so don’t expect too many twists and turns, but I’ll just tell you this: this movie is about a guy named Tim who believes that Johannes Vermeer may have used some form of a camera obscura to assist him with his paintings. Tim, filmed by his close friends Penn & Teller (who are currently on a nice streak of not promoting any libertarian nonsense), decides to pursue this theory by developing his own version of the device. In the process, he makes a subtle point about the relationship between technology and art, but man, the real draw here is seeing what he does with the device. Because let me tell you: it’s crazy.

4. The World’s End

The third entry in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy lacks the indie scruffiness of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, which isn’t surprising since Wright is now a big-boy director working a gig for Marvel. The World’s End also lacks the rapid-fire joke count of his early works, which is a bit more jarring. Even though Wright has always preferred character moments or stylistic homages over blatant punchlines, the more subdued tone of The World’s End threw me for a loop at first. But as the movie settled in my mind, I realized that Wright had set his sights a little higher this time. Or is it lower? Anyway, it was the heart. He was aiming for the heart.

Shaun of the Dead had some pretty serious pathos, but Wright and co. were riffing off of zombie movies, a genre that comes with tragic deaths and tearful goodbyes built right in. Hot Fuzz had just enough of a real connection between Angel and Danny to hold the movie together, but a lot of the emotional content had quotation marks around it. This isn’t to say that Edgar Wright doesn’t know storytelling, or to minimize the accomplishment of his earlier work, only to emphasize the deftness with which he integrated the prominent and somewhat complex emotional content of The World’s End.

Consider the first thirty minutes of the movie, where Wright tells a story about five old friends getting back together, while slowly dropping hints that things are not quite right and building up a mood of slight discomfort. It’s not until the story of the five friends reaches a breaking point that this atmosphere explodes into pure science fiction. Once the “genre” plot kicks in, it’s easy to overlook how Wright keeps the original story moving inside of it, matching every sci-fi beat (the mistaken identity, the final confrontation) with a character beat.

And let’s also take a moment to appreciate Simon Pegg’s fantastic and layered performance, because it’s easy to undervalue comedic acting and Gary King is probably the most interesting character of last year.

Why Did You Make This Movie?: Dallas Buyers Club

I don’t even know where to start with this stupid thing. I guess I’ll just ask, why? Why, when telling the story of a community in crisis, a community and a time period that is criminally under-represented in popular culture, would you make the main character someone who isn’t a member of that community? Why, in other words, did the filmmakers decide to make a movie about a Straight Savior coming to heal the gay community? More than that, it’s a guy who doesn’t even like gay people. Of all the stories to come out of the AIDs crisis, why in the world would you choose the story of how it affected a bigoted straight man?

And guess what! It’s very likely that Ron Woodruff wasn’t even straight! I have a hard time deciding if this makes the whole thing more or less offensive, but I’m going to err on the side of ‘more’.

And ANOTHER thing: the movie’s not even good! It fails as drama, since none of the characters, not even Rod Woodruff himself, get enough development for us to really care for them, and Woodruff’s journey from homophobe to defender of the gay community is either too underplayed or completely nonexistent, I can’t decide. It also fails as a non-fiction story, since the most potentially interesting aspects of Woodruff setting up the titular club are glossed over in a couple of montages.

Sure, McConaughey does a fine job, but there’s only so much to  be done with the script, and ‘Lost The Most Weight’ doesn’t equal ‘Best Actor’ Sorry, this whole thing is turning out pretty negative. Let’s move on to more stuff that I liked.

inside llewyn davis

I feel ya, buddy.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

Here’s something I haven’t talked about on this website: my life! More specifically, the fact that I moved to New York City last October. I also had the foresight to move here during one of the top-ten worst New York winters of all time. On top of all that, if you couldn’t tell by the fact that I am writing this for free, I am something of a struggling artist. You see where I’m going with.

I have not reached depths of despair and displacement that poor, awful Llewyn faces during Inside Llewyn Davis, and I hope that I never will, but seeing him trudge around in an ever-ending snowstorm while muttering a lot of grand statements about artistic purity does strike a chord with me. Even though the movie ends on a note of perpetual failure and defeat, Llewyn’s defiant spirit makes the whole thing into a cosmic joke, one that he might finally be in on. I don’t know how rousing it’s meant to be, but it filled me with hope. A weird amount of hope.

I’m probably reading too much of my own life into Llewyn’s, and I’m definitely ignoring the way that the Coen Brothers expand their legacy as all-time greats with every movie, but you’ll have to forgive me if I get a little distracted. It’s really, really cold up here.

Movie Of Questionable Quality With Most Lingering Effect

The Place Beyond The Pines may be a deeply flawed movie with some serious plotting problems, but it’s insanely ambitious for what first seems to be a simple crime movie and the last few minutes have stuck with me like nothing else I’ve seen this year.

I don’t want to get too spoiler-y, in case the one guy who wants to see it but hasn’t yet is reading this, but in the ending hammers home the movie’s theme of how fathers are affected by their sons. Viewed in totality, the movie argues this: no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, if you are a father, you will fail your son in some way. This failure is inevitable AND it’s going to mess up your son’s life like crazy. Plus, your mistakes are going to ripple down through time, so your son is going to take your mistakes and put them onto HIS son.

It’s a pretty pessimistic view of parent-child relationships, but I love the way it doesn’t tip fully into nature-over-nurture genetic-determinism-style nonsense. It’s an honest attempt to grapple with the legacies that parents leave for their children filtered through a melodramatic crime epic. Of course, you could say the same thing about The Godfather, a comparison that does Pines no favors, but hey, how many movies can stand up to The Godfather? This I ask you.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf of Wall Street is such an overstuffed movie of wild excess that it’s hard to narrow in on the best thing about it. There’s a lot to like: the looseness of the cast, the bright, clean cinematography just barely holding back a world of filth, the funny, unorthodox Terrence Winter screenplay (what up, T-Dubs), the way it pushes past glamorization into much dirtier, uncomfortable territory while using that same gorgeously-shot hedonism to indict American society. There’s also one thing not to like about it: the very uncomfortable fact that  Jordan Belfort made money off of this movie. At the very least, that dude should probably not still be earning any more income. BUT I think everyone’s probably tired of debating the morality of this movie, so let’s just accept that without Belfort’s book we wouldn’t be able to have this conversation and we’d get caught in a paradox and possibly cease to exist.

Here’s my favorite thing about Wolf Of Wall Street: it finally got me to like Leonard DiCaprio.

The internet’s favorite overlooked actor has been on an upward trajectory for the last ten years, with a run of stellar role choices that is really incredible when you remember what a flash-in-the-pan heartthrob he seemed like in the 90’s. But this run of “serious roles” came with the downside that all the roles were really, really serious. DiCaprio specialized in playing a violence-prone man on a mission in over his head with a wife who was either dead or just about to die. He spent so much time furrowing his brow that it seemed like his forehead might get permanently creased, and as someone with a weird vertical dent in his forehead, let me tell you that it’s no fun. I haven’t even been nominated for an Oscar!

Everyone who wanted to see Leo have a little fun got their wish in Django Unchained, but even Calvin Candie was a sadistic slave-owner who smashed skulls with a hammer. In Wolf Of Wall Street, Leo took that same energy and poured into a vicious, free-wheeling performance in a full-on comedy. Yeah, it’s a dark comedy, and yeah, Jordan Belfort is still pretty much evil. But Leo deserves some kind of award, if solely for his dancing in the wedding scene.

… just maybe not an Oscar. Hi-yo!

1. Her

Ugh. I know. What a cliche, right? The sensitive white-guy writer chooses a Spike Jonze joint as his favorite movie of they year. Trust me, I feel it, too. It’s so inevitable that it’s kind of gross.

I didn’t want it to be this way! When I first heard about this movie, my first concern wasn’t the ridiculous plot, but the fact that Jonze was holding down directing AND writing duty, solo. All his best work had been done with certified genius Charlie Kaufman, and even his lesser films (a category consisting solely of Where The Wild Things Are) had a co-writer to lend a helping hand. I just didn’t think Jonze had the talent as a writer to create a compelling film to back up what sounded like a silly, lightweight sci-fi story.

Fortunately, I was wrong on all counts.

First of all, the love story of Her isn’t nearly as stupid as it seems at first blush, and people still referring to it as “a guy falling in love with his phone” either haven’t seen it or just can’t get past their original impression. It seems like a movie that’s going to require a lot of concessions from the audience, but the buy-in is pretty low: if you can accept a world where Artificial Intelligence exists, you’re already on board. Beyond that, Jonze does all the work for you (with a lot of help from Joaquin).

This is an obvious irony, but here it goes: for a story that has been touted by myopic social critics as an example of how disconnected we are from one another, Her is deeply, deeply humane. Every action, every character beat, every moment comes directly from a recognizable, understandable human emotion. Everyone in this movie, even the minor characters like Amelia and Catherine, is aching with hurt, need, confusion, love… you know, human-being stuff. And every facet of the film is so soaked-through with that emotional truth that it washes right over you.

Plus the whole thing is just gorgeous. Every shot is soaked through with warm, bright colors; the set and costume design both evoke a world similar to ours but just different enough to be unfamiliar; the score is unique enough to notice but not to a distracting degree, even if the people who composed it (Win Butler and Owen Pallet) do contribute to the so-indie-I-want-to-puke vibe. Or is that just something that I’m imagining? Does anyone actually care? I’m not some sort of self-loathing hipster caricature, am I? Oh, I hope not. I would hate that.

Anyway, what was I saying? I kind of lost track there. Maybe Her hits me in such a deep, emotional place that I have trouble expressing why I like it so much. I mean, people much smarter than me have said that the secret truth of all criticism is that art just hits you a certain way, and you try to justify your opinion after the fact.

But let’s not get into all that. Let’s focus on the positives, like the scientifically proven fact that gratitude reciprocates. Or the way all our fathers are looking down on us from heaven, eating gumbo and lemon meringue pie. And don’t forget, when you’ve got God, you’ve got a friend… and that friend is YOU.

Wait, so... if God is my friend, then I'm ALSO my friend? Or is God the 'you' in that sentence? Or... is this... are you talking to the you of ten years in the future? I... I'm not... I don't think I understand.

Wait, so… if God is my friend, then I’m ALSO my friend? Or is God the ‘you’ in that sentence? Or… is this… are you talking to the you of ten years in the future? I… I’m not… I don’t think I understand.

The Unofficial Jason Edwards Oscar-Palooza, Part 1

oscars part 1

Like all award shows, the Oscars are essentially meaningless. Not as much as the Golden Globes (which are actually kind of a scam, given the shady submission guidelines), the SAG (the most obviously self-congratulatory entry in a high self-congratulatory genre)  or the Emmys (which are just obviously a huge joke, I mean come on), but still, the Academy Awards are mostly a big, empty ceremony.

Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t honor films! Far from it. I just think it’s important to keep things in perspective, and remember that while the medium of film is important, the way we make up meaningless awards and write up stupid little top-ten lists can sometimes be a distraction from the power of the art form and from life in general.

So, that being said, here are my top ten movies of 2013, alongside some awards that will go completely unrecognized by the public at large but in every other way are just as meaningful as the Oscars.

10. The Counselor

Sure, let’s start right off with the one that will make you not take me seriously.

A lot has been written about this shiny, cold, bloody and nihilistic film: Salon called it “the worst movie ever made”–reason enough to check it out, in my book–while Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci wrote an intelligent defense of it that is more persuasive than anything I could write. It isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but I don’t want to call it a failure, either, because it’s successful at what it’s trying to do… the problem is, part of “what it’s trying to do” is make you feel gross about the movie and disconnected from its characters. But if you love impenetrable, over-written crime thrillers with fatalistic, film noir plotting, The Counselor is right up your alley. If you’re not interested in watching Cameron Diaz have sex with a car, well, I get it, but you should probably stay away from this movie.

The best way I can think to explain this movie, aside from just showing you a picture of Javier Bardem’s hair, is to suggest that you think of it as spiritual successor to Cormac McCarthy’s earlier cinematic adaptation, No Country For Old Men. The plot of both movies follows the same general shape: the main character is a guy who makes a lot of bad decisions, but when he does one vaguely positive act, the whole universe collapses around him and a lot of very evil men hunt him to the ends of the earth. The only difference is, the wise old cop from Old Men is dead now and that dark future he foresaw is bearing down on us fast. At the end of the film, after we’ve seen an innocent woman’s decapitated body dumped into a landfill, one character implies that all the horrific violence we’ve just witnessed is only the beginning and that “the slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.” Yeeesh.

Or, put it like this: at one point in The Counselor, Bardem describes a nasty cartel murder-device called the “bolito”, basically a unstoppable mechanized noose made of impenetrable metal. Once someone loops it around your neck, cord draws tighter and tighter, drawing in on itself and severing your head in the process. McCarthy paints a picture of society that is not unlike the bolito: an entropic circle of violence that is forever in the process of destroying itself and everything inside it.

Why Did You Make This Movie? (Runner-Up)

Y’know, I hesitate to raise the subject again, because everyone is tired of it and I’m not qualified to add anything to the discussion, but in the wake of the ongoing Woody Allen scandal, it’s easy to see The Hunt for what it really is: a paranoid fantasy written and directed by a man who seems to be completely detached from reality. A well-respected white man is accused of sexual abuse by a young girl, and his life falls apart? Boy, someone let me know when we live in that world.

The quality of the film isn’t just irrelevant to its offensiveness, it’s actually part of the problem. The Hunt is a well-made movie that gets under your skin, but at the end of the story, the viewer is left with the lesson, “think twice before you believe the testimony of an abuse victim.” And so I have to ask the director: why is this the movie you wanted to make? Wouldn’t it have been more productive to focus on the reality of unreported and un-prosecuted sexual abuse, rather than the extremely small percentage of rape allegations that turn out to be false?

The funny thing is, Thomas Vinterberg already made a movie that captures the way our society actually responds to abuse, with all the denial and mockery that the abused have to face: it’s called The Celebration, and it’s actually quite good.

9. Iron Man 3

How awful are nerds? I say this as someone who identified as a nerd for most of his life: they are the worst. I tried to never take the label too seriously, but I stopped taking any pride in it when I realized that the internet has turned nerd culture into this insular world where angry white guys can tape up the shutters and just stew in their own bitterness, spewing venom at anyone who dares to touch their precious toys. It’s getting a little better–in the last year, we’ve made some progress in dismantling the ‘fake geek girl’ ideology, which is minor in terms of world-wide problems but is emblematic of a lot of societal issues–but even if we get rid of the sexism and the racism, we’ll still have a lot of insufferable people who can’t deal with any change to their beloved property.

If you’ve kept track of the response to Iron Man 3, you probably know where I’m going with this. The Mandarin is an old-school Iron Man who is such a racist Fu-Manchu-style caricature that his name is basically The Chinaman. I mean, for God’s sake, just look at this guy. One of the cleverest things about Iron Man 3, all in all an extremely quick-witted and funny movie, is the way it turned The Mandarin into a giant gag. It was one of the movie’s best jokes, and it doubled as a fantastic twist.

… but of course, a bunch of nerds went crazy because it wasn’t the REAL Mandarin. People started claiming that The Mandarin was Iron Man’s arch-nemesis, which might technically be true in the comics, but only because Iron Man was a C-Lister for so long that they didn’t bother to give him an nemesis that wasn’t completely embarrassing. The one-shot follow-up, “All Hail The King,” only makes matters worse by doubling back and assuring fans that no, no, their precious racism is still well intact in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I’m sorry, I know that didn’t have much to do with the actual movie, but this thing with The Mandarin has been bothering me for a while. Two quick reasons why Iron Man 3 is awesome: the plot is so well-constructed, particularly in terms of how the villain’s plan develops, that the whole story clicks into place with a single, wordless shot of a disabled little girl. Also, that kid that Tony hangs out with in Tennessee is the most likable child sidekick I’ve seen in a movie probably since forever.

8. Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ series has turned from one of the most unthinkable franchises in film history to one of our greatest cinematic trilogies. When Before Sunrise first came out, the ending was a wonderfully ambiguous move, a rorschach test for whether you were a cynic (Jesse and Celine never see each other again) or a romantic (they meet up fall in love and have lots of babies). After such an iconic ending, Before Sunset almost seemed like a novelty movie–the tagline, “what if you had a second chance with the one that got away,” pretty much covers it–but it had the benefit of being fantastic, filled with the same romance and wit as the first one but deepened by the regret of the main characters and the urgency of their second meeting; Before Sunset had a depth that the first movie lacked, and it turned out to be the most suspenseful “real time” movie ever made.

But Before Midnight proves the talents of Linklater and his fellow screenwriters, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. With this entry in the ongoing saga of Jesse and Celine, the creative team has taken an idea that seemed as delicate as a dream or a floating bubble of soap and stretched it into a trilogy with growing thematic depth. The mere fact that the sequels aren’t terrible is kind of amazing, but Before Midnight might actually be the best yet. The focus is still squarely on Jesse and Celine, but by introducing a strong supporting cast (a first for the series), the filmmakers are able to expand their scope and subtly examine the way different relationships function and change.

Instead of ruining the unique nature of the first entry, the second and third films add perspective. Looking back on Before Sunrise reminds us how much history these two characters have together, while looking forward to Before Midnight makes Jesse and Celine’s infatuation in the first film even more endearing: as John Lennon might say, it’s real love — it’s re-e-e-e-e-eal.

Never forget that this was a thing that happened.

Never forget that this was a thing that happened.

Most Infuriating Conversation Overheard In A Coffee Shop

A note to the man decrying the unfairness of “Alone Yet Not Alone” being removed from the list of nominees for Best Original Song: first of all, while I take issue with your description of a racist Christian film with shady connections as “super, super indie,” technically, you are not incorrect. While the aesthetics and spirit of independent film are, even in their most self-indulgent, amateurish manifestations, of much greater artistic merit than the chintzy, moralizing, somehow-always-anti-abortion-no-matter-what spirit that most “Christian” films possess, Alone Yet Not Alone was about one-hundred light-years from a studio system. So, I’ll give you that one.

But your repeated complaints that Bruce Broughton was stripped of his nomination “just because he let people know about this movie he worked on” simply cannot pass. You are, again, technically correct, but Broughton’s seemingly-innocent message was not, as you seem to characterize it, an attempt to make up for the lack of an advertising budget. It was, in fact, a flagrant defiance of the Academy protocol, addressed to a group of members whose names Broughton would not have known if not for his long tenure as Academy governor. You see, “letting people know” that he worked on the movie goes against the way that Best Original Song voting is set up, a fact that Broughton would have known. This makes his email campaign less “grassroots” and more “slimy and underhanded.”

So, to the man sitting on the couch fifteen feet to my right and complaining loudly to his friend about this nonexistent case of anti-Christian persecution, please consider yourself hastily corrected. I only wish I could have gotten this message to you while we were both in the coffee shop. Instead, I will have to be satisfied with battling an imaginary version of you inside my head for the rest of my life.

7. The Wind Rises

I probably shouldn’t say much about this one, since my knowledge of Hayao Miyazaki is limited to Spirited Away (which I saw when I was too young to appreciate it) and one other Studio Ghibli movie directed by his son (From Up On Poppy Hill, a gorgeously animated snooze-fest with a lovely score). Still, I hope my status as a Miyazaki novice won’t diminish the impact when I say that this movie is masterful. The director integrates his skill for dream-like imagery into the real-life story of Jiro Horikoshi, avoiding the constrictions of a biopic by integrating elements of fiction that turn the movie into a true epic.

Much has been made of the movie’s view of the main characters actions, and while I have to admit that I have some concerns of my own, I think The Wind Rises is complex enough to recognize the hero’s complicity in the horrors of World War II and how his own narrow-minded view of his dreams lead to that place (after all, one of the first things we learn about him is that he’s near-sighted), while still recognizing the beauty of what he accomplished.

Also: I ended up seeing the English dubbed version as opposed to the subtitled version. I was prepared for some awful voice work, and while it’s occasionally awkward, everyone involved does a pretty good job. And Werner Herzog is in it! Which is nice.

Best Suits

The best part about watching The Wolf Of Wall Street on the big screen (besides the fact you get to experience the debauchery in all of its widescreen glory and the accusatory final shot in all of its uncomfortable directness — boy, that movie really is vicious) is the suits. All those double-breasted, pinstriped suits, with awful Italian silk neckties worn right up on the collar. Not to mention everything about Jonah Hill’s character, from that pastel shirt and high-waisted jeans combo to his unnaturally white teeth. The fashion in this movie is hideous, but like everything else about Wolf, it’s hideous to an end. And for fans of that unconsciously gaudy era when 80’s fashion was warping 90’s fashion, it is a thing of beauty.

6. Short Term 12

Fun fact: Destin Daniel Cretton, director of Short Term 12, worked in a group home for at-risk teenagers, much like the one featured in the film!

Fun fact #2: If you have seen Short Term 12, you don’t need me to tell you that, because the reality of Cretton’s experience shows in every frame of the movie.

Short Term 12 walks the fine line between giving a realistic, detailed, lived-in portrait of live in a group home and delivering a satisfying narrative, and it does it with finesse. I’ve never spent any time in a group home, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of Cretton’s portrayal, but I do know a lot about movies, and I know the dangers of basing a work of art off of a real-life experience, and Cretton does it right. He’s clearly a talented filmmaker, and by letting his real life fuel his storytelling, he gave life to characters that, in less assured hands, might come off as two-dimensional “issues” rather than real people.

Despite the movie’s heart-shredding qualities, it does have an arc of healing and redemption, and man, you sure do feel it. I get emotional just running through all the fantastic moments in Short Term 12. The story that Mason tells at the beginning, contrasted with the story he tells at the end. Marcus’s rap. When Grace finally breaks down to Jayden. Oh, and Mason’s birthday party–a two-minute scene that gives you the character’s entire life story through detail.

If you need any more proof that the Oscars are irrelevant, consider the fact that this movie received no attention. Or, consider the fact that Academy members weren’t even sent screeners of this movie. I mean, seriously.