Thursday, February 15, 2007

Recently Seen

The following reviews and others can be read here.

Breaking and Entering

Written and directed by Anthony Minghella, "Breaking and Entering" is a film full of the aforementioned acts, both physically, mentally and sexually. In what amounts to his most intimate script since 1991 and "Truly, Madly, Deeply", Minghella has gathered an all star cast to play out a morally complicated but somewhat hollow chess game that details the experiences of an affluent architect who decides to follow his cheating desires and go slumming for the love of a Bosnian mother. Sounds possible right?

Jude Law plays Will, a successful man who's the brains behind a multi-billion dollar project to revamp and revitalize the ghetto area known as King's Cross in London. After a series of break-ins at his warehouse, Will takes it upon himself to sit outside and wait for the bandits to strike again. They do, in the form of Miro (Rafi Gavron) a 15 year old Bosnian refugee working for his uncle who masterminds the burglaries. Will follows Miro after an aborted break-in attempt and begins to insinuate himself into the life of his mother, Amira, played with a hint of overacting by Juliet Binoche. Slowly, Will seduces Amira, presumabley because his beautiful Swedish wife (portrayed sensitively by Robin Wright Penn) and her autistic daughter, Bea (Poppy Rogers) are way too much to handle, right? Soon, the moral complicities begin to pile up. Amira finds out that Will suspects her son of the break-ins, so she has herself photographed with him one day after he falls asleep in her bed in a desperate attempt to protect her family from the impending accusations if and when Will has ulterior motives.

The script for "Breaking and Entering", while it raises some interesting scenarios and wants desperately to be a very serious adult drama, never reaches anything beyond a dry specimen of acting, writing and directing. There's no emotion or force behind the characters. They simply plod through the narrative points obediently without ever infusing life into their situations. The liveliest moments come from Ray Winstone as a been-there-done-that police inspector and Vera Farmiga as a prostitute who sits in the car with Will outside the warehouse each night. These secondary characters, lining the edges of Minghella's ethnically complex melting pot of Kings Cross, momentarily break out from the hermetic universe of "Breaking and Entering's" other insufferable men and women and carve out indelible moments. Otherwise, you have Law uttering lines such as "I love your laughs. I want to collect all those laughs and put them in a box....a box that only I have the key to." Pretentious moments such as this make it hard to take anything else in "Breaking and Entering" seriously. The film does look phenomenal though, thanks to the cinematography of Benoit Delhomme and while Minghella is always an interesting filmmaker (I loved, loved, loved "The English Patient") he aims for something grand and self-important with "Breaking and Entering" but comes up short.

Hannibal Rising

Acting as a sort of prequel to the 1991 film "The Silence of the Lambs", its amazing just how far they've come from the original myth and suspense built around Anthony Hopkins and his monster cannibal/murderer Hannibal Lecter. I always assumed the franchise was effectively put down after the last gasp of "Hannibal", diluting the franchise down to a parody of itself- none so much than the now infamous 'dinner table' scene in which Ray Liotta is fed his own brain as he groggily surveys the scene and murmurs questions. If you've seen that movie, you surely know what I'm referring to. Now arrives "Hannibal Rising", Peter Webber's extension of the Lecter franchise that charts the traumatic childhood of young Hannibal through the German occupation of Lithuania and his subsequent growth into the embodiment of evil. Yes, this is the film that places justification of Hannibal's cannibalism within the atrocities of World War II.

Stepping into the lead role of Hannibal is new-comer Gaspard Ulliel in a one-note performance that requires the Tom Cruise-like effect... i.e. progressing through every emotion with two facial features- a smug sneer and an faux intense gaze that should (but doesn't) instill fear and dread behind a handsome face. Opening in Lithuania during the German blitzkrieg of 1944, Hannibal sees his family killed during a squirmish between German and Russian forces after being ejected from the family castle. Left to protect his sister, Misha (Helena Lia Tachovska), their solace is soon broken when a group of gypsies stumbles upon the children while taking cover in an abandoned lodge. Hannibal is again forced to witness the damage humans propogate against each other when the men decide to resort to cannibalism, and the brunt of their hunger falls on his sister. Hannibal eventually escapes and survives the war, landing in the calm graces of his dead uncle's widow in Paris, played with sensuality by Gong Li (and what else would anyone expect from this legendary screen goddess?) Now safe, Hannibal's past haunts him nightly in his dreams, turning him inside out with anger and resentment. "Hannibal Rising" soon digresses into a slasher film wherein Hannibal tracks down the Nazi war criminals who killed his sister, while a Paris police inspector (HBO "The Wire's" Dominic West, forced to carry an awful French accent) determinedly shadows Hannibal.

As the above plot synopsis describes, there's very little room for subtlety in "Hannibal Rising". I'm not sure exactly what I expected from a film such as this, but there's something perverse in the way Thomas Harris' script justifies a life of murder by placing it within the context of war crimes. "Hannibal Rising" wants to have it both ways- eliciting sympathy for Hannibal while clearly reveling in the bloody killings throughout the film. Unfortunately, neither outlook balances the film very well and lead Ulliel lacks the cold, calculated menace of Anthony Hopkins. And through all of its uneveness, Harris and director Webber even find room for Hannibal to learn the ways of the samurai, using a sword to enact several of his first killings. I guess we're not too far off the parody of "Hannibal" after all.

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