Standoff (2016): Verbose Thriller (Review)

Poster for Standoff

Written by first time director Adam Alleca,  Standoff is a verbose thriller that stars heavyweight actors Laurence Fishburne and Thomas Jane along with the excellent child actress Ella Ballentine (who already has 16 credits to her name).  The film focusses upon this intimate cast after a murderous open and despite the claustrophobic nature of the setting  entertains. 

Bird (Ballentine) is at a cemetery to visit her dead parent’s grave. She takes her camera, although her “uncle” Roger does not want her to. A funeral service is taking place and Roger tells the girl not to photograph the proceedings.

She does though and captures hitman Sade (Fishburne) killing the small number of mourners and the preacher presiding over the burial. The murderer spies her and gives chase. Bird’s uncle is also murdered and the girl runs to the house that belongs to Carter Green (Jane).

Carter is depressed and about to commit suicide when the girl arrives at his doorstep. The Army veteran  is shot in the leg by Sade and he, in turn, shoots the killer in the stomach. He then holds off the killer with his 20 gauge shotgun.

This is a violent film.  Sade tortures a character horrifically and is all too eager to kill whoever  is in front of his gunsights.  There are long bits of verbal exchanges with small bursts of action. Said action is mostly rather intense and at times very bloody.

It is the psychological warfare between the two men that drags on that bit too long. The film feels like  a Japanese ’60s film where the protagonists have reams of dialogue between truncated scenes of action.

Fishburne chews great bloody bits of scenery with his cold-blooded and eager to kill contract hitman.  Jane’s performance is one of controlled intensity. Both men work well off the other.  Laurence making his character bigger than life works well opposite Jane’s more down to earth terse performance.

Ballentine is spot on as the girl whose parents died in a crash. There is never any point where the young  actor does not sell  her character fully. The young performer impresses with her interpretation of a young damsel in distress.

Alleca takes his story seriously and presents it accordingly. One never doubts that one, or more, of these characters will die a painful death. However what starts as a tense experience soon falters into an overly verbal bit of interaction between the two alpha males in the picture.

The cinematography by Zoran Popovic (War Inc, Shiver) is brilliantly dark,  where it needs to be,  and stark at all the right moments. The scenes in the house are dramatically shot and the lighting is spot on. Susan Maggi edits the film deftly and on point.

The feel of Standoff is similar to those westerns where the protagonists are surrounded by an enemy who demands only the release of one individual.  In this instance Jane’s character is the cavalry commander who refuses to acquiesce to Fishburne’s savage killer.

Despite the overly verbal nature of the film, it grips the viewer throughout. We care about Carter Green and the little girl he is attempting to save.  The damaged veteran who holds out against the professional hitman is not necessarily likable but we understand his misery and admire his resolve.

Beyond any shadow of doubt, Laurence Fishburne gives great “bad guy.”  His villainy is complete, even before the hammer.

At 80 minutes the film does not drag on too long. At no point, despite the verbal sparring, does the film drag.  There is also a splendid, yet small, twist at the end which is pleasing and full of irony.

Standoff is a sold 4 star film.  The cast alone makes this film worth watching. Alleca has done very well his first time in the chair and his effort reveals a man to watch.  The film is streaming on Netflix at the moment. Stop by and check this ‘R’ rated film out, you will be glad you did.

The Muppets: And the Cameos Continue (Review)

The newest iteration of The Muppets continues to treat the viewer with a plethora of cameos. In the second installment, aka episode two – titled Hostile Makeover, there are no less than four.  The pilot episode,Pig Girls Don’t Cry had three “cameos” with  Elizabeth Banks, Tom Bergeron and Tracy Anderson playing themselves. This week’s episode has some pretty impressive luminaries  as well.

With Jay Leno hosting a party, which he invites Fozzie to and then asks him to “open” his act in Vegas, we then have Josh Groban, Laurence Fishburne and, last but certainly not least, Lea Thompson. With the additional extra guest star on the second episode, it is beginning to look like stars may be falling all over themselves to get on the show.

Not to mention a gradual build up of celebrity cameos. It will be interesting to see if there will be an exponential increase of celestial guests per episode. In other words, will episode three Bear Left then Bear Right have five guest stars? Time will tell…

Of course this has been the case for some time in the world of the muppets. Stars knew they had arrived when an invite to appear on the old 1970s original The Muppets Show came via their agent.  With such “heavy hitters” as Fishburne (proving that apart from voicing the bear in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, he has one great sense of humor) and Thompson, this series with Kermit and Miss Piggy estranged may prompt some serious star watching.

Hostile Makeover  has Miss Piggy becoming involved with Josh Groban after he guests on her talk show, Up Late with Miss Piggy. While most of the show’s crew and backstage entourage are pleased with Groban’s presence, Kermit is concerned with the amount of influence that Josh has with Piggy.

He attempts to force Groban out and after failing to oust the troublesome influence allows Miss Piggy to see the new promotional billboard for her talk show where Josh’s name is over hers. Out goes Groban and the show goes back to where it should be.

There are some more risque jokes that will most certainly annoy the mother’s group who claim that the show is perverted. These are, however, mildly saucy and not something that will damage the youth of America…or any other country that has access to the muppets.

Kermit shares an elevator with Lea Thompson (his self admitted “crush”) after implying that he has played out this scenario in his head. Just as the doors close Gonzo leaps into the lift to relate what has happened to his mother.

Fishburne steals the show with his two, or possibly, three lines where he cracks himself up while making fun of the show. Kermit literally runs into the Oscar nominated star twice via the “golf cart” studio transport.

Jay Leno gets the most screen time in a sketch that involves George Carlin’s candy dish and a brass chicken. The format is still the same, one on one interviews with the camera and more behind the scenes mayhem. Fozzie’s girlfriend was absent this week as was Kermit’s new squeeze Denise.

Despite the charges of perversion by some, obviously, not too tightly wrapped mom’s out there The Muppets is still family entertainment. While on ABC and not ABC Family, the show would have to work a lot harder at offending than it has thus far.

The Muppets airs Tuesdays on ABC.

Hannibal: And the Beast from the Sea (recap and review)

Will Graham, Hugh Dancy
Hannibal last week gave us a look at the continued duality of characters in this world. That show touched on Bedelia’s ability to separate herself from her own crimes as well as those of Lector. The two parter also looked at the women in Hannibal’s life, including Alana Bloom; who threatened Lector with the loss of his dignity if he did not protect Will Graham. These threads were on top of the duality of Francis Dolarhyde.

This week sees Dr. Bloom making good on her previous threat. Before the end credits roll, Dolarhyde breaks up with Reba, The Great Red Dragon attempts to kill Molly and Wally (and later “beats” Francis severely for messing that assassination up), Hannibal warns The Great Red Dragon, Alana does take away all of Hannibal’s luxuries, Will confronts Lector and Jack Crawford is furious with his pet serial killer.

On the periphery; a reluctant good samaritan is killed, Will’s dogs are poisoned, and Wally learns of Will’s past. Graham himself is angry that he had to “justify” himself to his step son.

The dreamlike sequences of this episode continue to draw us into this somnambulistic netherworld full of human monsters. Director Michael Rhymer (Queen of the Damned, Battlestar Galactica) does a brilliant job matching the slow-motion surreal world of Hannibal as it appears in this final season. This should come as no surprise since he has directed a total of 9 episodes. His deft touch this week resulted in a particularly disturbing opening sequence where Francis is talking to (Being treated by?) Lector.

Following the theme of duality, as Francis and Hannibal discuss The Great Red Dragon, Dolarhyde brings up the topic of Will Graham. After dismissing Will’s looks, the subject of beauty or at least above average looks is a major part of Dolarhyde’s psyche, Hannibal reveals to his patient that Will, “has a family.” As he says this, Hannibal turns to look at the camera, thereby looking at himself as doctor treating patient, two places at once. While this conversation is taking place on the phone, the projections of Dolarhyde and Lector are all in Francis’ mind…and perhaps also in Hannibal’s.

It follows that Dolarhyde will suffer from a duality of self. He is, after all, being possessed by The Great Red Dragon and that entity wants him to destroy Reba because she dilutes his (the dragon’s) purpose. However, this imagery is not just in Dolarhyde’s head, but in Hannibal’s as well and he too is suffering a split purpose, a duality. He loves Will but also wants to destroy his family and ultimately Graham himself. So he has much in common with Francis and this opening pre-credit scene shows this.

More importantly, in the introductory sequence, Hannibal tells Dolarhyde, “Save yourself.” (Long pause for effect.) “Kill them all.” While this is taken to mean Will and his family, it could also include Reba. Keeping in mind that Lector specializes in cultivating his fellow monsters, it makes sense that he would advise Francis to kill the one true distraction that is keeping him from “becoming.” Hannibal senses that Dolarhyde cannot and will not contemplate abandoning The Great Red Dragon. It is also during this exchange that Lector tells Francis he can pass the dragon on to someone else, Dolarhyde’s expression reveals that this idea is repugnant to him.

The episode moves forward to Dolarhyde studying Will’s home and “becoming” the dragon. Later as he watches his Graham home movie, Reba is told that he is doing “homework,” and the film is of Molly, Walter and the dogs at the Graham residence. Reba asks if these are his “nocturnal animals” and he replies in the affirmative. She then raises the question of whether they know that he is filming them. “No,” Dolarhyde says.

*Sidenote* While Francis watches his movie of the Graham family, the silent film footage is accompanied by the sounds of a piano, reminiscent of the old silent movie days where a pianist played tunes to the footage displayed on the screen.

The dogs are drugged/poisoned and removed from the premises by Graham’s wife. Molly believes she has inadvertently made the dogs ill by substituting Will’s homemake dog food with canned Chinese dog food. The dogs are kept at the vets for an overnight observation. Will approaches Hannibal and asks him to reveal who The Tooth Fairy is, Lector lies and says he does not know who he is. He then goes on to mention Will’s family. “Who do you see when you close your eyes, Will? Is it your family you see?” Lector is giving Graham a hint as to who the killer’s next target is. He will not, however, tell Graham which family is meant to die.

“They are not my family, Will,” Lector says, “And I am not letting them die, you are.”

Francis puts in his “teeth” and sneaks into the house. He is masked and armed with a silenced automatic pistol. Cue some tense, and pretty white knuckle, hide and seek where Molly gets Walter out of the house and she sets off the family car alarm. Dolarhyde shoots the car and the Grahams run down the snowy street. Molly flags down (stands in front of) a car and after it stops, the driver exits and is shot mid-complaint. Molly and Walter leave in the vehicle and she is shot by Francis as she drives away.

At the hospital later, Molly is recovering and Will is angry. His conversation with Jack Crawford is full of irritated references to his family almost dying and not being able to go home. Alana reveals to Hannibal that she knows Dolarhyde has been talking to the him posing as his lawyer. After reminding Lector of her threat, Alana allows Crawford to tell Lector to help trap the killer. The next time Dolarhyde calls, Hannibal is to keep him on the line so they can track him.

Dolarhyde literally beats himself up for missing his opportunity to kill Graham’s family. Although in his mind it is the Great Red Dragon who is meting out the punishment. He then breaks up with Reba, who reacts badly to his expressed fears of hurting her. She tells him to get his hat and go. A distraught Francis calls Hannibal. After telling Lector that he could not hear Reba’s heart, Hannibal tells Dolarhyde, “They’re listening,” and hangs up the phone.

Crawford is furious, Francis collects his things and leaves Dr. Lector’s old office. The FBI search the place as Alana removes everything from Hannibal’s cell. “You’re not the only one who keeps their promises Hannibal,” she tells the bound and muzzled Lector. “Take the toilet too.” As she warned the doctor earlier, she has removed his dignity.

Will visits Molly and he explains to her that the Tooth Fairy went after them because Hannibal told him to. She reveals a duality of her own. This brave and normally easy going woman gets angry at the whole thing. She admits that it may take a while for them to recover from this.

Graham then confronts Hannibal is his “empty” cell. “I’m just about worn out with you crazy sons of b*tches.” Lector replies, “The essence of the worst in the human spirit is not found in the crazy sons of b*tches.” “Ugliness,” he continues, “is found in the faces of the crowd.” Will asks Hannibal what he said to Francis. “Save yourself. Kill them all,” Lector replies, “Then I gave him your home address.”

Hannibal stares blankly at Will, “How’s the wife?” “How’s my wife?” Will is furious. They talk further and Lector quotes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust: First Part, “Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast, And one is striving to forsake its brother.” It shows the duality of Dolarhyde and his internal struggle. The dragon is freedom Lector tells Will and it is change.

Graham realizes that Dolarhyde is not killing the families, he is “changing” them. Hannibal asks Will if he craves change.

As this season rushes to its finale, one cannot help but wonder if Freddie Lounds will be punished, or changed, by Dolarhyde. Her name was brought up again in this episode, by Molly, and it is surely about time that the ghoulish reporter get her just deserts.

Hannibal having his items taken away by Alana ties in nicely with the verse created by Thomas Harris. In The Silence of the Lambs, Lector bargains with Clarice Starling for items to be returned. There are two episodes left in the last season of Hannibal. The show airs Saturdays on NBC.

Hannibal: And the Woman Clothed with the Sun Part II Review

Francis Dolarhyde and Reba as the zoo
Last week in Hannibal we returned to Thomas Harris territory; the Tooth Fairy, The Great Red Dragon, Francis Dolarhyde, et al. Despite this move back to its literary roots, part two of And the Woman Clothed with the Sun should be treated as a separate entity.

While the series follows the book, Dolarhyde’s romance with Reba McClane, Hannibal’s set up of Will Graham, the eating of the Blake watercolor, and so on, the second half of this two-part episode looks at lot of things, that may have already been examined in the book, but for the purposes of this review will be treated as a stand alone version of Lector’s, and Will’s adventures.

After all, things have been changed from the literary tale of Graham, Dolarhyde and Lector. Lounds is a redheaded woman instead of the male newshound for the National Tattler in Harris’ book, Alana Bloom is a man and there is no Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier in the books. Regardless of the changes of some characters and the inclusion of others the series looks at the psychiatry of the serial killer as monster; peeling away layers to reveal the horror beneath.

Looking at the end of the second half of And the Woman Clothed with the Sun first, the reveal that Francis’ scar, on his upper lip, is barely discernible comes as no real surprise. Hannibal “named that tune in one,” early on when he pointed out to Will that he was disfigured mainly in his mind. Leaving behind the elaborate backstory in Harris’ book, it was apparent that the scar itself was minimal and that the cleft palate surgery left internal scarring. In the television show the only clue we have to Dolarhyde’s history is his nervous recitation of the enunciation exercises before his call to Lector, “Reh, Meh, Keh.”

This little scene tells us more than enough about the Tooth Fairy and his journey to become The Great Red Dragon.

This second half also gives us the female orgasm and death connection again. Part One had a young Abigail reacting sexually to her “murder” by Hannibal (as father) and this week we see Bedelia reacting so savagely to her murder of Zachary Quinto’s character that she passes out, such is the strength of her orgasm, after she penetrates Neal Frank with her arm and fist. Neither of these two scenes are too surprising as the show is, after all, about sex and death and how the two are interwoven and both sides of the same coin. (Although it could be argued that sex and death are two sides of a triangle with the apex being the sensuality of preparing and eating human flesh.)

There are other things that the episode shows perfectly. Dr. Du Maurier’s total denial of any complicity in Hannibal’s crimes while she was an intimate part of his life. Will’s reaction goes from humorous condemnation, “spending time in Hannibal’s bowels, the bride of Frankenstein, and crawling so far up his a** that you didn’t care.” All reactions to her public recitation at the beginning of the episode. Later he changes to amused acceptance “you lie Bedelia. You lie a lot. Why do you lie a lot?”

Perhaps most telling of all, is the framing of the tiger scene. (One does wonder if Francis makes his decision to take Reba to “see” the tiger based upon Hannibal’s William Blake The Tyger quote during their conversation.) That psychopaths are capable of such romantic gestures, and really, taking your blind girlfriend down to “look” at an unconscious tiger is the height of romanticism, is frightening. How can someone who murders entire families do something so touching, so kind or, as Reba herself says, so eloquent?

How can the monster, or the insanity, be hidden so well? While this question is not answered by director Guillermo Navarro, he does show us the beauty of the scene. The dark beauty of Reba’s hand moving softly through the orange and black fur of the sleeping tiger. The lighting is so bright it is almost surreal as seen through Francis’ eyes and therefore through ours. The beauty is overwhelming and this, combined with the couple’s lovemaking later on, is what prompts Dolarhyde to eat the watercolor and try to defeat the dragon.

For those who have read the books there will be little in the way of surprise as the show moves toward completion. What remains is the question of what will make it to the small screen version. Will Lounds lose her lips? Quite possibly after all, Mason Verger ate an incredible amount of his face. It is already apparent that Lector is setting up Will Graham, just as he does in the book. (Why else is he getting Will’s address?)

All that remains is to see just how much Bedelia, who really does feel as deadly as any serial killer in this verse, is involved. Again, regardless of the book, it will be fascinating to see where this all leads. The writing, and show creator Bryan Fuller have opened up a lot of possibilities as well as new characters. The Du Maurier victim, Neal Frank, is a good example of another character created just for the series.

Frank, played with brilliant paranoia by Zachary Quinto, gets himself so worked up that he begins to fit. Bedelia helps Neal to swallow his tongue, by apparently shoving the appendage right down into his stomach, and as horrible as this scene is, the entire incident, from insertion to removal and her orgasm, is preceded by Quinto’s character spouting a very funny line. Amusing for its very odd wording.

“No. No,” he says to Bedelia’s request to sit down. “This is culty and weird…” and arguably the funniest line in the episode is spoken by the guy who begins to choke and is then murdered by the reptilian Du Maurier. Neither character exists in the book and certainly this scene has come from the minds of the show’s makers. Such brilliance goes to show that anything can happen in this final season while they continue to follow the Harris verse.

This last season pulls out all the stops. While retaining the massive talent of Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Gillian Anderson and, occasionally Laurence Fishburne, they have added Richard Armitage and True Blood alumni Rutina Wesley. This cast must be one of the most impressive on television at the very least, in terms of cast awards and nominations not to mention performances on the show. Hannibal looks to finish impressively and continues to air Saturdays on NBC.

Hannibal: Dolce (recap and review)

Hannibal and Bedelia in Dolce
Last week’s episode of Hannibal, Contorno had Will thrown off the train by Chiyo and Rinaldo Pazzi was murdered in the fashion of his infamous relative. In Hannibal this week, in Dolce; Will and Jack reunite, Bedelia is questioned by the late Rinaldo’s colleague, Chiyo intervenes and Jack gets a nasty cut from under the table. Will and Hannibal are taken to Muskrat Farm where Mason Verger welcomes them.

This episode changes from the extremely dark appearance and theme that has made up season three of Hannibal thus far. At the start of the episode, Lecter limps bloodied and injured through the streets of Florence. He is next seen soaking in a tub and then Bedelia begins treating his wounds, stitches are needed and one has no doubt that this is done sans anesthetic.

Jack and Will reunite as Crawford watches the la polizia wrap Pazzi in a bodybag. Jack asks Graham whose side he is really on. The two discuss Hannibal and Jack says that the man is wounded and worried, Will disagrees saying that being hunted rattles him no more than killing. They also discuss Rinaldo Pazzi, who decided to become a bounty hunter and therefore placed himself outside the law and alone, Jack echoes the statement referring to himself and Will.

It is at this point that Crawford questions Will about what he will do when they find Hannibal. When asked why he did not kill Lector when he had him, Jack responds, “Maybe I need you to.” This mirrors what Bedelia and Chiyo have both stated that Will needs to kill Hannibal or vice versa. Bedelia packs Hannibal’s bag.

The two discuss their relationship and why Hannibal has not eaten the doctor yet. The supposition is that she deserves to be savored before eating so Bedelia lives another day.

Cordell, prepares pigtails to resemble fingers, “Ah finger food,” says Mason. Serving up the dish, he also has made another from the pig’s marrow. Mason starts choking on the pigtail and Cordell holds up a Buddhist singing bowl for Verger. Doemling suggests that they “Peking Duck” Lector and Mason dreams of a crispy honey covered Hannibal.

He is awakened from his Hannibal dream by the news that Pazzi is dead. Bloom tells Mason that he needs to buy more Italian police to replace Rinaldo or he could lose Hannibal. Du Maurier is “shooting up” a cocktail of drugs and she meets Chiyo who has let herself in. The two discuss Hannibal and Bedelia muses whether or not the woman is a greater mistake than Will.

Later Jack and Will confront the drugged Du Maurier, who insists that she is Mrs. Fell, and it is during their off kilter Q&A that Will slips off to meet with Hannibal. As Jack calls Will’s name, Bedelia muses who will catch Hannibal first, Graham and Crawford or Verger’s purchased polizia.

Mason and Margot talk babies, uterus issues and incest. Mason wants to have a baby with his sister and she reminds him that the last time they talked about this, he had hers forcibly removed. Will comes across Hannibal sketching in front of a Botticelli, his drawing has the faces of Will and Bedelia, and the two talk. Future and past are discussed as is the fact that Will and Hannibal are beginning to “blur” and Will says that every crime of Lector’s feels like one that he, Graham is guilty of.

As the two men walk down the cobblestone street, Chiyo watches from the top of a building through a sniper scope. When Will pulls a knife out of his right trouser pocket, she shoots him in the shoulder.

A kaleidoscope sexual interlude between Bloom and Margot ends with the Verger sibling asking Alana what she knows about harvesting sperm. It appears that sis is interested in Mason’s proposition. An Italian detective questions Bedelia about “Dr. Fell” and Crawford tells the man that Fell is Hannibal. He also reveals to the detective that he knows that Mason Verger has bought the la polizia. The official tells Jack that he can go.

Will wakes up strapped to a chair, shirt off; wound exposed. Hannibal is preparing to take out bullet lodged in Will’s shoulder and he hands the agent his knife. “You dropped your forgiveness Will,” Lector says. “You forgive like God forgives,” he finishes.

There is a moving Rorschach Inkblot Test sequence where Will and Hannibal merge and separate only to merge again. During the fluid scene Will asks “What’s for dinner?” Lector replies, “Never ask, it spoils the surprise.” As the two images come together and start to spin, Will opens his eyes, he is still in the chair, his shirt back on.

Hannibal comes in the room with a soup tureen and begins to spoon liquid into Will’s mouth. He tells Graham that he will regret leaving Italy. At the other end of the long dining table there is another place setting and Will asks who the guest will be. Jack enters the room and approaches Will.

“He is under the table Jack,” Will says and Lector’s knife slashes Crawford. The polizia detective shows Bedelia the pictures on file of the real Dr. Fell and his wife Lydia. Du Maurier insists that she is Lydia Fell and the cop says that he does not care. When it is made clear that the lawman does not work for the Questura but for Mason Verger Bedelia gives him the information he needs for him to capture Hannibal.

Jack is strapped to a chair at the other end of the table from Will. Hannibal tells him that the drug he gave the FBI agent will allow him to do little more than chew. A horrified Jack watches Lector take an electric bone saw and start cutting into Will’s forehead. As the sound reaches a crescendo, Jack’s screams are drowned by the noise and the freshets of blood flying through the air.

Hannibal and Will are next seen hanging upside down surrounded by dead pigs and Mason Verger welcomes them to Muskrat Farm.

The writing in this episode is so tight that it screams and the interwoven links and signposts are delightfully clever. Hannibal’s quoting of the nursery rhyme, “To market, to market to sell a fat pig…” forewarns that Mason will have won by the end of the show.

Considering that dolce is word meaning “softly sweet,” it seems that Mason is about to have his sweet revenge on Hannibal after all. The re-enactment of the dinner at the end of season two, “the menu was not right,” mutters Will, makes it apparent that Jack was not meant to survive this second party.

Gillian Anderson was spellbinding as Dr. Du Maurier as was Tao Okamoto as Chiyo. Okamoto may not have had much screen time, but she rocked it when she was on camera. Anderson proved that even when her character was high as a kite, she can seduce the audience with an ease that could be seen as obscene. Kudos to Katherine Isabelle and Caroline Dhavernas in that intense sexual union where nothing was seen but was so erotic/exotic and damned artful.

The whole of Hannibal season three could be said to be the same, erotic; in term of the devotion to food, exotic; Margot and Mason…and the newest member of the household Cordell, and damned artful; the entire show, its cast and the creators. One final word on cast; Laurence Fishburne exudes so much gravitas, just from his eyes alone, that he may just overtake Moran Freeman as the current crown holder of this descriptive phrase. Hannibal continues to air Thursdays on NBC. Intelligent television for the discerning viewer, do not miss this if you like to think about what you have seen.