Hannibal Rising (2007)

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The carnivorous killer Hannibal Lecter, first introduced in an excellent Thomas Harris novel called Red Dragon and then made the focus of a follow-up, The Silence of the Lambs, and its sequel, Hannibal, has gotten a thorough workout in a succession of big-screen versions (including not one but two adaptations of Red Dragon). Predicated on the notion that what’s really missing from the saga is an origin story, this belabored prequel about Nazis, the Russian army, and Lithuanian orphans is crassly conceived, poorly executed, and devoid of wit and/or charm. There’s plenty of clumsy storytelling but very little in the way of atmosphere and credibility, nor even hints of Lecter’s vaunted cleverness. Granted, the character portrayed by Anthony Hopkins is meant to have a few decades of experience on the teen variation played here by the French actor Gaspard Ulliel, but where Hopkins invested Lecter with penetrating insight and a flair for the theatrical, Ulliel just acts like a mildly excitable high-schooler whose iPod is loaded with one too many emo revenge fantasies. Gong Li — again with the gorgeous Chinese woman playing a gorgeous Japanese woman! — is wasted, but at least adds a touch of class to the proceedings. The problem is Hannibal Rising is worse than inept — it’s out-and-out dull, despite the occasional glimmer of an intriguing idea. Harris himself wrote the screenplay, which is based on his own novel. Not having read it, I can’t say whether this tedious movie is worse than the book. But one thing’s for sure — out of everyone involved with this sorry project, Harris is the one who should be most ashamed of himself for not realizing it was a terrible, terrible idea. D

A version of this review was originally published in theWhite Plains Times.

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

Curse of the Golden Flower

Gong Li plus Chow Yun Fat sounds like some kind of superstar pairing, all right. Too bad it comes on the downslope of a precipitous decline in the watchability of director Zhang Yimou’s work. Gong is the Empress and Chow her Emperor in this grand soap-opera pageant of color and sound that seems born more from a desire to see how closely Chinese cinema can hew to the high digital standard set by the Lord of the Rings movies than by any honest attempt at storytelling on a human scale.

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Miami Vice


There’s a scene somewhere in the middle of Miami Vice where Crockett, feeling some oats, sensibly decides to sow them in the direction of Gong Li. They get on a speedboat and whiz off into the ocean blue. You can tell she’s sweet on him, and when she announces she’s taking him to her hang-outs in Havana — Havana! — for mojitos and dancing and maybe something more, suddenly this hard-boiled cop movie inflates with a sense of romantic wonder and possibility. To get on a boat in Miami, tear away from the shore and bounce across the waves, setting a course for Havana?

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