Archive for September, 2010

Top ranking lists sustain a mild level of interest until you reach the top ten and the wobbly voiced narrator promises a host of stellar names after the break – cue The Beatles, The GodfatherTo Kill a Mockingbird or any other artistic usual suspect you care to mention. While it is often hard to discredit such music, film or literature, it becomes a little tiring when people assert greatness without thought, haplessly allocating quality on the basis of established standing, rather than studied appraisal.

For example, Film Four’s current top 100 list contains, respectively at places one, two and three: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes BackThe Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. All are decent films (The Godfather a clear standout in my eyes), but it is also worth noting that all were made more than 15 years ago and, of the top 10, only Gladiator was filmed this side of the millennium. Clearly, therefore, the only way to be truly venerated artistically is to wait around for a couple of decades and hope for the best, which seems at odds with the concept of ‘the greatest’ – surely if a film’s excellent, it is now just as much as it will be in twenty years time. Only if popular and/or influential legacy is a consideration would a time delay be necessary.

Get outta it you faaaarking slaaag!!!

My favourite film, however, is a mere pup, having been made as recently as 2001. Like all classically revered cinematic productions, it has at its helm an A-list director in the form of Ridley Scott, creator of the beautiful pant-shitter, Alien, the aforementioned Gladiator and the superlative Blade Runner. Not content with star quality behind the camera, the film also serves up a solid cast, featuring knight of the realm, Sir Anthony Hopkins; Hollywood’s go-to ginger, Julianne Moore; faux-Italian wiseguy, Ray Liotta; and the ever dependable Gary Oldman, a leftfield character actor and real-life brother to Mo Slater from Eastenders (who said that blogs can’t be valid educational tools). However while, say, Raging Bull and The Godfather are often regarded as the career zenith for the actors involved, my film of choice is to acting what naked exposure is to teaching, with much of the cast still reeling from their involvement in this widely perceived cinematic aberration. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the incomparable Hannibal.

Mason, would you like a popper?

Black pepper, sir?

For those unacquainted with Thomas Harris’ literary creation, Dr Hannibal Lecter VIII is a brilliant psychiatrist, hampered by his double-life as a cannibalistic serial killer. The beauty of the Lecter character is that despite his penchant for unorthodox dinner parties, the reader (and the audience) ends up rooting for him, on account of his ability to threaten unspeakable acts while behaving with the upmost courtesy. I doubt, for example, that you would ever see Leatherface extolling the culinary merits of pairing a human liver with some fava beans and a splash of Chianti.

Tom Hanks Forrest Gump. Charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded

The movie-watching public got their first glimpse of Lecter (played by Brian Cox) on screen in Michael Mann’s Red Dragon. However, despite positive critical reception and a resurgence following later Lecter films, the character failed to make a lasting impression. Where Brian Cox presented a subtle and studied Lecter, Anthony Hopkins went full retard in Jonathan Damme’s classy adaptation of Silence of the Lambs, revelling in the good doctor’s eccentricities and psychotic nature, and producing one of cinema’s most revered and oft-referenced villains.

Following the success (including several Oscars) of Silence, expectations ran high when Hannibal was released in 2001, however it didn’t take long for the critics to voice their disapproval; the Guardian decreeing it “an inflated bore of a movie”, while a brutal American reviewer dismissed the film as “a carnival freak show…we must give it credit for the courage of its depravity; if it proves nothing else, it proves that a man cutting off his own face and feeding it to the dogs doesn’t get the NC-17 rating for violence, nothing ever will.” Only Empire came closest to capturing the film’s true essence: “ranging from laughable to just plain boring, Hannibal is toothless to the end.”

As someone who has seen the film at least 100 times, I know better than to judge it as a serious motion picture. It must be treated as a comedy, and not only that, a comedy of the highest order. Just as ditsy females of my generation memorised Alicia Silverstone’s lines in Clueless, I can shamelessly reel off scene after scene of Hannibal dialogue, barely pausing for breath between each take. Not only that, I have managed to corrupt others in my quest for global Mason Verger (see further below) worshipping to the extent that we can now fully converse in Mason-speak, a kind of Klingon for people who prefer velvet-tongued cannibals to sexually frustrated space-travellers. For aspiring Mason enthusiasts, I have added a glossary to the end of this post.

I can list its most conspicuous aspects if that would help, jog the memory?

I know you won't believe me, boy, but I get a lot of pussy

The plot for Hannibal is so ridiculous, one can only assume that Harris adopted the early Bret Easton Ellis technique of getting loaded on class-As before putting pen to paper. Certainly, no sober mind could have conceived a successful novel around a horrifically disfigured and mentally disturbed cripple (Mason R Verger, Lecter’s last surviving victim), who spends his days lying in bed watching Sky News, all the while fantasising about feeding his one-time psychology lecturer (Lecter) to a pack of genetically engineered Sardinian hogs. While his retribution methods may be unorthodox, Lecter’s original offence was no less bizarre. After receiving a dinner invitation to Mason’s student digs, Lecter plied the young dandy with poppers and red wine before suggesting that he try peeling off his face and feeding it to the dogs. Never one to shy from a challenge, Mason duly obliged, later recounting, “it seemed like a good at the time”.

With his face now resembling a poorly made meat terrine, it is clear that Mason could have exercised greater judgment. From his opening line of “is that a Mustang I heard out there?” it becomes clear that Mason is comedy gold (skip to 30 seconds in):

While Mason rests-up in his four poster bed dreaming up obscure one liners (“nobody beats the Riz”), Hopkins’ Lecter minces about Florence, threatening to eat people’s wives and generally doing little to improve relations with our European comrades. No reason is given for Lecter’s decision to set-up in Italy, just a general acceptance that as an artistic lunatic, it’s the kind of place he’d go to get his kicks. This basic premise paves the way for some amusingly pointless art-house scenes, notably where Lecter attends an open-air opera yawn-a-thon armed with what appears to be an original extract from Dante Alighieri’s sonnets. At the end of the opera, it becomes clear that Neil Strauss and other PUAs could learn from the good Doctor, as he successfully sarges some Italian tail by handing her the sonnet text, and generally acting like a lecherous ponce.

As it transpires, there was method in Lecter’s behaviour, his flirting a deliberate attempt to unsettle Inspector Pazzi, the husband of the target of his affections. Having got wind of Mason’s $3 million dollar reward for capturing Lecter, Pazzi decides to have a go himself, apparently under the illusion that delivering one of the top-ten most wanted people in the world, and a cannibal to boot, would be a simple task. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go according to plan, with Pazzi last seen dangling from a noose in a Florence piazza with his bowls spewed out onto the sidewalk, like the last spoils of an offal convention. That’s how we say arriverderci in Hollywood, bitch.

You see it all comes to bear

Oink, oink

Back in the relatively real world, Mason’s plans for vengeance appear to be on track, as a highly charged exchange with Carlo, his Sardinian hog farmer, proves:

“Carlo: [answering the phone] Docto vino pronto.

Mason: CARLO??!!

Carlo: Mason…

Mason: Ciao bello, como estai??

Carlo: Errr…vell…vell…Am I…coming to see you?

Mason: Yes soon I hope. But first I need you to pack off the boys. Yes I know, the day you never thought would arrive has.

Carlo: Vell vell

Mason: Cordell will fax the Veterinary Service forms directly to Animal and Plant Health, but you need to get the veterinary affidavits from Sardinia. [Pause] So how are they??

Carlo: They are BIG, Mason, real BIG. Nearly two hundred and seventy kilos.

Mason: Oh, woooowwww.”

Alas YouTube appears to have pulled down some unauthorised Hannibal footage, which means I’m unable to share Mason’s child-like cry of “wooowwww”, and Carlo’s stereotypically-rugged Sardinian stubble. Suffice to say, the hogs themselves are capable beasts of which Mason should be rightly proud, and one begins to fear that Lecter’s chops might be unable to cope with the toughness of the hide, regardless of his cannibalistic pedigree.


Amongst the bizarre shenanigans occurring in Florence and Sardinia, Julianne Moore’s wooden portrayal of Starling is allocated a sub-plot, a joist for superiority in the FBI between herself and her nemesis, Ray Liotta’s corrupt agent, Paul Krandler. Jealous of Starling’s fame following her pursuit of Lecter in Silence, the chauvinistic Krandler (a Will Ferrell patented buffoon who would probably list wanking and beer as his hobbies) belittles her wherever possible, before joining the Mason payroll. The skulduggery between Krandler and Mason results in the film’s finest hour, with Oldman’s Verger trussed up in a cardi, baseball hat and designer shades.

Enjoying the effects of the consumed appetiser

Upon its release, much was made of Hannibal’s violence, with the scene where Lecter dissects part of Krandler’s brain before braising it and feeding it back to his startled host, deemed gratuitous by all save for Heston Blumenthal, who avidly took notes before later proclaiming it ‘pioneering’. Having read Harris’ original novel, it is clear that Scott did in fact spare the viewer from some of the original’s darker moments. Mason himself, for example, is subject to a horrific ending in the book, with his younger sister, whom he molested as a child, shoving an electric eel down his throat. While this kind of retribution may appease hardened Daily Mail readers, Scott elected for a more sensible approach by having Mason feed to his own boars by long-suffering assistant, Cordell, following child-like goading from Lecter.

Thankfully YouTube have seen sense and preserved the clip showing Mason’s demise in all its bloody, dark-humoured glory (see below), and this seems a fitting place to draw matters to a close. In terms of iconic Mason phrases, this clip keeps them coming, starting with his unexpected deployment of the John Torode shopping list technique (see my early Masterchef post https://shanghaicowboy.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/masterchef-funny/) when describing his prized killer hogs (personal highlight being the pronunciation of ‘elongated canines’) to his attempted ultimatum to Cordell: ‘rather not? Or will not?’.

Remember, nobody beats the Riz.

Mason-speak for beginners

Useful – a substitute for ‘lunch’, as in ‘do you fancy being useful?’ which doubles up as a lunch invitation. Taken from Mason’s line to Cordell ‘you could be useful seeing about my lunch’. When delivering the dining invitation (‘do you fancy being useful?’), it is imperative that the first syllable of ‘useful’ is delivered in a high pitch.

Docto vino, pronto – a euro flavoured telephone greeting used by Carlo, Mason’s Sardinian pig farmer. The speaker needs to inhabit the character of a native Italian, elongating the ‘pronto’ to achieve the desired effect.

They are big, Mason, real big – another missive from Carlo, used to give Mason a basic understanding of the size of his bores. In everyday life, the phrase can be used to describe heffers in the street, or appealing waves. Example: ‘Hey dude, check out those sets. Yeh, man, they are big, Mason, real big.’

Cordell, Cordell! – a plea for help, as deployed by Mason when Cordell pushes him into the pig enclosure.

That’s not what I asked – a basic riff on ‘sorry, I didn’t quite catch that’.

Do you have faith? – a question asked of a beleaguered football fan, who’s team is receiving a royal humping. First deployed by Mason in his interrogation of Starling’s religious persuasion.

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