Hannibal, Season 3 Episode 5: Contorno

At the end of Hannibal's second season, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) sneaks up on an unsuspecting Hannibal Lecter with the intention of arresting him and finds the killer is anything but unprepared. What ensues is a brutal acrobatic Battle Royale between the two of them in Hannibal's kitchen which results in Jack being stabbed in the neck and surely on a quick route to the grave. Last week's catch up episode, "Apertivo" actually did the impossible by bringing Jack back from the presumed dead and it's much to the show's benefit. Jack announces his presence by kicking Hannibal's ass.
The fight, which feels more like a dance due to the musical and fluid fight choreography, begins with Jack looking up through a window at Hannibal on the second floor. Jack has spent the episode getting used to life after his wife Bella has lost her battle with cancer. He follows Hannibal's trail to Italy and comes to know Inspector Pazzi and his wife only to lose his newfound friend to Hannibal who executes the man by hanging him (but not before disemboweling him). Perhaps it is this sight that causes Jack to dance with Hannibal so furiously and more importantly, to actually beat him. For one of the only times in the series' history, Hannibal is defeated. He manages to escape and in the moments before fully retreating he mirrors his position with Jack at the duel's onset. Now he stands below looking up at Jack, his position solidifying his status as the loser.

This entire sequence serves as a reminder that forces are finally closing in around Hannibal. He escapes Jack but really only by sheer luck. Hannibal is nearly always in charge of the world around him so even though at this point in the series he is the villain, this change has turned him into the underdog and he actually inspires sympathy. "Contorno" has Hannibal finally realizing that, yes, he is pulling his enemies to him, but it's no longer by his own design. He is quickly becoming the source of his own undoing and by the end of this episode that fact becomes clear to him. His relationship with Alana Bloom has given her knowledge of his tastes that few have and those facts allowed her to track him to Florence. Jack uses traditional, gumshoe fact finding and police work, though most of it is Pazzi's, to locate Hannibal. And Will is spurred on for an incalculable number of reasons but after Chiyo pushes him off of a train, it is Will's mental conjuring of Hannibal's spirit, a stag, that actual gets him up and moving again. This makes perfect sense. Will must the final straw in the battle against Hannibal. If Hannibal is going to lose it will be by Will's hand. That is why Hannibal was able to escape Jack. That is why no matter what happens to Hannibal in the next few episodes, the only time there were will ever be any real risk will be when he's in Will's presence. He is the only one who can fell the beast.

Hannibal, Season 3 Episode 4: Aperitivo

"I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

This episode's opening scene is pure magic. Dr. Chilton and Mason Verger, two characters who should surely be dead after the events that concluded Hannibal's second season, find themselves having a bedside chat. Verger, nearly eaten alive by a pack of hungry boars, has little more than scar tissue on the bottom half of his face. Chilton, shot point blank by Miriam Lass, removes a prosthetic that emulates a cheek bone and half a jaw. Both men are drastically disfigured and their appearances are the literal representations of the other characters that reappear in this episode. All of the survivors of Hannibal's reign of terror are permanently scarred. None of them are whole.
In a season full of unexpected moves, Apertivo tries the most unexpected of all by having an entire episode without the show's titular character. It does finally manage to shed some light onto the fallout that came from the massacre that concluded season 2 though so I can't be entirely frustrated by this fact. Honestly, the audacity of a show completely unwilling to reveal what happened to nearly half its cast for three episodes is worth salivating over. In a world where television seems only to cater to its audience, to simply provide a distraction rather than reinvent or challenge what we're all used to, Hannibal is the freshest breath of air I've had since Mad Men. And as fresh as this decision is "Apertivo" winds up being the least inventive of what Hannibal has done so far this season. It's almost entirely expository, not that that's not a bad thing. The episode almost works at its own personal breath of fresh air after the waking nightmare that has been the first three episodes this season.

Will and Hannibal still don't meet but a reunion of a different and equally important nature does occur. Will and Alana Bloom find themselves together in Hannibal's former home. Utilizing one of the prettiest color palettes the series has ever employed (in a show that is already disgustingly gorgeous) Alana and Will have a melancholy conversation about forgiveness. More accurately, forgiving Hannibal for what he's done so that Will can continue benefitting from his exposure to the killer. Will even comments on their "mutually unspoken pact to ignore the worst in each other to continue to enjoy the best". This solidifies a notion that this season has been hinting at all along. Will and Hannibal are the flip sides of a coin. The light and dark of each other. Without the other they can't fully exist.

But enough about Will and Hannibal. They're the furthest thing from the focus of "Apertivo"This episode wants to catch up with everyone else because the most broken character we get to the meet this season is Alana Bloom. Physically she's doing fine (all things considered), except she walks with a limp and requires a cane. But as a character, as a person, she's entirely changed. She disguises the woman we knew, in much the same way that Verger and Chilton disguise their physical weaknesses, because Alana sees her former self as a weakness. It can be the only reason she's assumed this new persona. A much stronger, more severe persona that won't ever be fooled or taken advantage of again. This point is underlined made in maybe the best line of the episode: "You cannot see what you will not see. Until it throws you out a window." She embodies this in every way. Her clothes are bright, primary colored and make her look like a 1940's femme fatale. She's covered in make-up and lip stick as if she's proud of the fact that she's masking her true self. Most important of all is the fact that once the episode has moved all of its pieces, we learn that Alana is actually the main motivator for revenge for both Chilton and Verger. She's pushing the both of them over the edge.

This entire episode works at a follow up to Bedelia's line to Hannibal in last week's episode. He is drawing all of these characters to him and even though they are all fueled by their respective forms of revenge and forgiveness, it all seems to be playing into Hannibal's design. What's more daunting is this series generally likes to work with two story arcs per season and we're almost halfway home. Something big is coming. Something bloody.

Hannibal, Season 3 Episode 3: Secondo

We all fear what we don't understand. Looking into the unknown has always been one of the greatest sources of humanity's unrest. So much so that many writers and creators like to work that mystery into characters, locations, and forces in their respective art forms. One of Hannibal's biggest sources of power as a villainous character stems from the knowledge that we have none about him. No one really knows where exactly Hannibal Lecter came from. He's like evil stuck out of time. Hannibal Lecter isn't a person with evil qualities. He is a force of evil.

Now that entire prelude is really just a way of saying that when the twenty minute mark hits in Secondo and Will finds himself in Hannibal's childhood home, I was very worried that the writers would attempt to rationalize his evil ways. To legitimize and humanize his character into something less than what I've grown to love and fear all at once. Shortly after having that feeling I had another much stronger one. And that was guilt. I felt like a traitor to Bryan Fuller who's been dazzling me all along when it comes to his version of Hannibal and I can't believe I didn't allow myself to just go along for the ride because Secondo doesn't give up any secrets at all. This episode manages to give us a quick tour of Hannibal's past without ever trying to explain away the kind of person he is. In fact, it reinforces the already terrifying things we know about Hannibal. He's a manipulative monster whose powers know no limit. Will learns that quite quickly when he meets Chiyoh, handmaiden to Hannibal's aunt. She's been tasked with guarding a prisoner who, according to Hannibal, murdered and ate his sister. This isn't true but Hannibal has a way of telling a story that transcends lies vs. truth. He takes a crime he is likely guilty of and manages to weigh down an innocent party with guilt built out of sorrow and humanity. Hannibal understands everyone he comes into contact with and always knows how best to handle them. Will Graham happens to be the first person he's ever encountered who's able to break down the persona that Hannibal has built to show himself to the world. He explains to Chiyoh that the story Hannibal fed her about his sister's death is a lie and more importantly, it's one of the smallest he's ever told. Hannibal killed and ate his sister Mischa but in no way was she the starting point, nor, really any kind of explanation for the man he is. She's just another one of his victims. A bloody drop in the bucket.

Secondo is a piece-moving episode and is legitimized by watching the episodes that follow it. This third season of Hannibal is moving those characters all around the board that is the killer's life. Once the truth is revealed, Will finds an ally in Chiyoh but manages to turn her into a murderer in the same motion. He convinces her to free her prisoner and then she kills him out of self defense. This story arc is paralleled with another murder by Hannibal's hand but this time Bedelia is as much a participant as he is. So even though Will's intentions are good he and Hannibal are so star crossed that they affect those around them in exactly the same ways. Will and Hannibal will do anything, even unconsciously, to get closer to each other. And this is Will's plan, slowly falling into place. The only way to beat Hannibal is to match him. They must perform on the same plane if they're going to find one another and truly have their war.

The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Kenji Fujishima

Kenji Fujishima
Some of the first things about Total Recall I latched onto as a young cinephile were its dazzling production design and special effects, its breathless action sequences, its over-the-top violence—in short, its surface....Today, though, my appreciation for Paul Verhoeven's mind trip goes beyond simple nostalgia, and hinges on how its seductive look and immediate visceral pleasures are wily in their concealment of grand themes.

Contributed to: Slant Magazine, The Daily Targum, In Review Online, The Wall Street Journal, The Home News Tribune and The L Magazine.

Influences: Pauline Kael, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Matt Zoller Seitz, Armond White, Fernando F. Croce, Dave Kehr, Richard Brody 

Born in Queens, NY and raised in East Brunswick, N.J., Kenji Fujishima (December 4, 1985-) has slyly become one of the most reliably logical and easily digestible critics in the US. Soft-spoken, kind and gentle, his unfailingly pleasant demeanor conceals a ravenous intellect and a style that effortlessly dances a step ahead of the reader. 

In his own words: "My interest in cinephilia and film criticism came relatively late in the game compared to many of my colleagues. I was much more into music—classical, for the most part—than movies early on, and when I started playing the piano and the violin during my elementary-school years, I initially thought I’d be pursuing musical performance when I grew up. In those years, though, I also read The Newark Star-Ledger’s film reviews pretty regularly…and then, probably sometime during middle or junior high school, I borrowed a copy of Pauline Kael’s final collection of film reviews, Movie Love (1991), from my local library in East Brunswick, N.J. That was when I had my first film-criticism “eureka!” moment, when, upon her recommendation, I decided to give Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets a shot on VHS and not only found the film to be a quietly mind-blowing experience, but found her ecstatic review of it to beautifully mirror my own feelings. Not only was I hooked on her criticism, but thanks to the Internet, I was able to discover other crucial voices on my own: Jonathan Rosenbaum (especially for introducing me to the work of world-cinema auteurs like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abbas Kiarostami and Béla Tarr), Matt Zoller Seitz (for his focus on finding meaning in technique), Armond White (for simply his fire-and-brimstone polemical style, whether or not I agreed with his stances or not), Fernando F. Croce (for his lyrical economy of expression), and others."

"Still, it wasn’t until after my sophomore year of my undergraduate college education at Rutgers University—after an initial two years of agonizing over my choice of major—that I decided to focus my energies on film criticism. Technically, I ended up majoring in journalism with a minor in cinema studies—but I became active with Rutgers’ daily newspaper, The Daily Targum, writing film reviews for them before becoming the film editor of its weekly Inside Beat entertainment section. One year, for the Targum, I decided it might be fun to get a film critic’s perspective on the year’s Oscar race; it is for that reason that I decided to reach out to Matt Zoller Seitz, then Newark Star-Ledger television critic and New York Press film critic. In some ways, that feature opened the door for my entry into The House Next Door when Seitz decided to open up what was initially his own personal blog to various outside contributors…and essentially, that’s how I got my foot in the door of this business we call film criticism."

And we can all be grateful he did. Since his debut, Kenji has kept to a handful of outlets, releasing one sturdily written piece after another. Like the classical music he loves so much, there's a grace to his diction. His sentence structure, especially his interplay of verbs and adjectives, move with a ballerina's seemingly effortless flow. Look at this sentence in his review of Onur Tukel's Summer of Blood: "...it's becoming apparent that Onur Tukel is developing a distinct on-screen persona: that of a cynical motormouth whose disaffected hipster veneer masks a core selfishness." The meter is delectable, reading as smoothly in one's head as it does out loud. There's an old world construction to it. You'd expect to read something with that confident rhythm from one of the romantic poets. Read this passage from his review of Quiz Show and feel it tugging you down like a steady river current: "Though the film’s vision of capitalistic exploitation is damning, thankfully the filmmakers don’t forgo the flawed, wounded human beings at the heart of this sobering tale in favor of political point-making." Easygoing but with such urgent force behind it. He's a conductor, compelling the proper dynamic from the orchestra at his fingertips. 

On Dinosaur 13
To some extent, Petersen's use of a wide aspect ratio and Morton's emphatic score takes its cues from Larson's passion—the expansive frame more given to exuding an openness to natural environments, the music expressing perhaps more than Larson himself is willing to outwardly show (he remains a generally stoic camera subject throughout). Perhaps that's why its final shot—of Larson going back out into the desert, pickax in hand, in an extreme wide shot—is as surprisingly affecting as it is. Larson may not have ended up with exactly the outcome he desired (and the film vehemently argues that he deserved better than the outcome he got), but his love of fossil-hunting at least remained thankfully undimmed through it all.

On Sunshine Superman
Boenish’s infectious enthusiasm generally tended to spread to the people around him—and damned if it doesn’t get to us as well. Perhaps the sheer preponderance of Boenish’s self-shot footage is key to the effectiveness of Sunshine Superman. It’s one thing to hear Boenish spouting inspirational platitudes about thinking outside societal boxes and following your bliss; it’s quite another, however, to see the man himself putting his philosophies into mad practice, and moreover, to see his own filmed results as thrilling illustration. In the end, it doesn’t matter so much that the reenactments can sometimes be cheesy, the pacing in the second half somewhat lumbering, the hagiography occasionally oppressive. Such doubts are bound to be swept away when faced with the spectacle of real people momentarily suspended in air, engulfed by their surroundings, experiencing the intoxicating freedom of defying the laws of society and nature. Sunshine Superman may not inspire anyone to climb up and fall from a tall building, but the underlying liberating ethos behind such devil-may-care behavior comes across resonantly and passionately.

On Cinderella

Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella is, for the most part, a straightforward retelling of the fairy tale, and the Walt Disney Pictures imprimatur ensures that the filmmaker forgoes the more violent moments in the Brothers Grimm version of the story (no one cuts their toes off here in order to fit into Cinderella's glass slipper; to see that, you'd have to turn to Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods). Which isn't to say that the film doesn't have its own distinct virtues. Dante Ferretti's color production design and Sandy Powell's wide-ranging costumes (the black-with-green-stripes design on wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine's dress offers an expressive contrast with Cinderella's initial plain pink dress) are so intoxicatingly colorful that every shot has the immersiveness of a dream. But it's the emotional reality with which Branagh, screenwriter Chris Weitz, and his cast ground this Cinderella that makes it as affecting as it is. 

Branagh fully understands the societal critique underlying the tale, and brings it out into the open: The world that surrounds Cinderella is one in which surface appearances matter more than inner beauty, class status is a kind of mental prison from which only a few are able to break free, and climbing up the social ladder is believed to be the only sure route toward happiness....
....Most of all, though, this Cinderella resonates as an ideological battle between Cinderella's (Lily James) natural optimism and Lady Tremaine's (Cate Blanchett) viciously calculating pragmatism. While the former ultimately wins out, Branagh isn't above occasionally giving the latter perspective its due. Even as Blanchett generally plays her character to the delicious black-hearted hilt, she does offer fleeting glimpses of the painful life experience that has shaped her appalling current behavior. And though the film sprinkles in those intermittent moments of bitter adult wisdom, Branagh, as with the film's main character, never allows Cinderella to sink into heavy-spiritedness. A sense of play reigns over the proceedings, perhaps encapsulated most amusingly by Helena Bonham Carter's Fairy Godmother, played with a kind of jokey, no-nonsense gleam in her eyes that nevertheless feels completely sincere rather than snarky. That just about sums up the film in a nutshell: It may not reinvent any wheels, but it's been made with enough care and belief in its material that it manages to refresh our relationship to the iconic tale, reminding us of why its message, of kindness triumphing over evil, has endured for so long.