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Non-Review Review: Polar

At the heart of Polar is a vaguely interesting idea.

The basic premise of Polar filters an archetypal masculine midlife (or retirement) anxiety through the prism of a hyper-violent fantasia. It is almost a cliché to suggest that certain types of men revert to boys when confronted with their own mortality, but only because it permeates popular culture that treats middle age as a relapsed adolescence reflected in the shiny toys that such men buy and the selfish decisions that such men make. Polar just takes that central metaphor and runs with it.

The assassin who came in from the cold.

Even beyond that basic concept, there’s something potentially compelling in the premise of an assassination-themed black comedy that hinges on what amounts to a pension swindle. It’s hyper-capitalism run wild, the commodification of human life to the point that workers are literally killing one another to prevent the company from having to make a pay-out. The Other Guys managed that deft balance with ease and grace. On some strange level, it’s fun to imagine a hyper-violent assassination thriller rooted in something as mundane as balance sheets, mergers and annual reports.

Unfortunately, Polar is a disaster of a film. It just doesn’t work. More than that, the ways in which it doesn’t work are painfully and predictably mundane. It’s leery, voyeuristic and trashy, but not in any fun way. It has a weird anal fixation that most obviously manifests itself in those sleazy tight close-ups of female derrieres, but which has a slight equal opportunity air to it; audiences are also treated to a number of shots of Mads Mikkelsson’s ass as he thrusts into his female co-stars, and the film opens with Mikkelsson receiving a prostate exam that might serve as a metaphor for the store film.

Not a patch on John Wick.

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Hannibal – Savoureux (Review)

That was one impressive first season. Hannibal has developed from something that seemed like an idle curiosity – a police procedural based around the over-used cannibalistic serial killer? – into one of the best new American dramas of the past season. I suspect a lot of that is down to the decision to structure the season across thirteen episodes, instead of a larger (more traditional) network structure of twenty-or-more. To be fair, there were a few missteps early in the first season as Hannibal tried to balance the expectations of a procedural drama with the demands of an intimate character study, but it found its feet almost half-way through the season and it has never looked back.

Hannibal has been tightly plotted and cleverly constructed from around about Coquilles, and it’s remarkably how the show has found a way to weave its “serial killers of the week” into the over-arching plot. For example, Georgia from Buffet Froid winds up being a vital piece of Hannibal’s plot to incriminate Will. The clock that the sinister psychiatrist asked Will to draw in that episode is used to generate some exquisite tension here. Everything seems to have been building towards this point, and Bryan Fuller has done a simply tremendous job constructing a thirteen-episode Rube Goldberg machine that pays off beautifully.

Portrait of the killer?

Portrait of the killer?

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Hannibal – Relevés (Review)

For a show about a serial killer and the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit, Hannibal is often surprisingly deep. That’s not much of a surprise, given the quality of the staff working on it, but the show is absolutely stunning meditation on identity and personality. In a way, that’s one of the smartest things about Fuller’s first thirteen episode season, building on the foundations set by Thomas Harris to construct something that fits quite elegantly while remaining its own distinct entity.

Relevés is the penultimate episode of the first season, and the point where – having used Roti to clear away some of the clutter – the show starts tying up a lot of those loose ends. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about the episode is the amount of suspense that Bryan Fuller and his staff can wring from the set-up – despite the fact that we know how this story ends, Hannibal manages to engage us so completely in the telling that what we already know seems almost irrelevant.

Things are heating up...

Things are heating up…

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Hannibal – Roti (Review)

Roti is the point where Hannibal really starts to gear up for its finalé. The decision to thematically name each of the first season’s episodes after a part of a meal seems oddly appropriate, as the whole season can be seen as a banquet, each of the courses painstakingly prepared to ensure a rich bouquet of flavour and a pleasing array of tastes. Each course is individual, and yet it remains part of the whole. It’s all one gigantic and enjoyable experience, just broken down into sweet digestible chunks. Each serves a clear purpose, like a chapter in a book, or a course in a meal.

Roti features the return of Abel Gideon, the show’s obvious homage to Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Doctor Hannibal Lecter. It also positions Will precisely where he needs to be for the first season’s rapidly-approaching climax.

A piece of the action...

A piece of the action…

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Hannibal – Fromage (Review)

With Fromage, Hannibal walks a bit of a fine line. One of the obvious conflicts in the first half of the season was between the procedural “serial killer of the week” elements and the more intriguing character-driven parts of the show. I think that, past the half-way point of the first season, the show begins to balance those two aspects much better. However, Fromage can’t help but feel a little bit contrived. It relies a rather convenient overlap between Hannibal’s world and Will Graham’s investigation.

Still, it works quite well as a continuation of the themes hinted at in Sorbet, and takes advantage of the fact that the show has completely embraced its lead character’s darker side. If Entrée and Sorbet pushed Hannibal from the periphery of the story into the spotlight, then Fromage allows him to actively drive the story. It’s the show’s first serial-killer-heavy story that is driven more by Hannibal than by Graham.

Work and play...

Work and play…

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Hannibal – Sorbet (Review)

Hannibal took its time building up Hannibal Lecter as a serial killer. According to creator Bryan Fuller, there would have been a joke in Aperitif about Lecter’s culinary habits, but holding off on the sight of Lecter as a serial killer until the end of Entrée feels like it was a shrewd move. Not because it could ever fool the audience into forgetting that Hannibal Lecter is a murdering cannibal or anything like that. Instead, it builds up a certain amount of tension and suspense around the character, allowing us to see how those around him could have been blinded by his persona.

With a few obvious exceptions – knocking out Doctor Bloom in Potage or phoning the Hobbs household in Aperitif – we’ve mostly seen Lecter through the eyes of others. While the very premise of the show counts on the audience knowing who or what Lecter is, keeping him at a distance allowed the show a bit of breathing room in its first year. However, now that we’ve caught a glimpse of Lecter in action, Sorbet feels like its willing to pull back the layers on our eponymous epicurean.

Best served warm...

Best served warm…

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Hannibal – Entrée (Review)

It’s nice that we got this far into the season before Entrée was necessary. It’s the kind of episode that a show like Hannibal was always going to have to produce relatively early on, allowing it to air the laundry, so to speak, and to overtly and clearly distinguish itself from a popular predecessor. In this case, it’s The Silence of the Lambs.

Although we haven’t met Clarice Starling yet, although the credit at the start of each episode cites Red Dragon as the show’s inspiration, it’s hard to escape the shadow of one of the most popular horror films ever made. Many argue that The Silence of the Lambs was the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Even today, it remains a cultural touchstone, and there’s an incredibly large number of people who are only familiar with the character of Hannibal Lecter through that story and – in particular – through the film adaptation.

Hannibal hasn’t been shy about referencing The Silence of the Lambs, nor should it be. Crawford’s office from the start of Aperitif seems arranged in homage to the film, while the arrangement of two of the victims in Coquilles couldn’t help but evoke Hannibal’s dramatic escape from his cell at the film’s climax. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Entrée exists mainly to allow the show to indulge and engage in the imagery and iconography of the film, so that Hannibal can truly distinguish itself.

"Oh, goodie..."

“Oh, goodie…”

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