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Killing Others To Survive: Identity, the Film

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The 2003 psychological horror film Identity is not a direct adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 mystery novel And Then There Were None, though the plot of Identity is structured like that classic novel. In both, “10 strangers arrive at an isolated location which becomes temporarily cut off from the rest of the world,” where terror and paranoia mount as the strangers are killed off one by one. Despite the fact that one of the characters in Identity tries to explain the unusual and downright scary events at the isolated motel with a story of displaced Native Americans who may be seeking supernatural revenge, there is nothing other-worldly about Identity and its scares. The real horror of Identity is even spookier than revenge-seeking ghosts.

John Cusack, Identity © Columbia Pictures

The story begins with a chauffeur, Ed (John Cusack), getting trapped by washed-out roads at a lonely motel with his movie-star passenger Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay), who is beyond annoyed at the fact that they end up stuck at some slimy motel.

Rebecca DeMornay, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Soon Ed, who is a former police officer, and the spoiled actress are joined by a family, including son Timmy, whose mother was injured in an accident.

Identity © Columbia Pictures

Because of the relentless thunderstorm, other travellers are also soon stranded at the motel, including a former prostitute Paris (Amanda Peet), who is leaving Las Vegas and traveling to Florida to start a new life as a citrus farmer,

Amanda Peet, Identity © Columbia Pictures

a pregnant newlywed Ginny (Clea Duvall) who is insecure about her husband’s love and completely, irrationally superstitious on her best days,

Clea Duvall, Identity © Columbia Pictures

and another cop, Rhodes (Ray Liotta), escorting a dangerous convict, and who goes crazy when his convict escapes shortly after their arrival at the motel.

Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

When other people begin disappearing at Larry’s (John Hawkes) motel, everybody gets more than a little anxious, paranoid, and defensive.

John Hawkes, Identity © Columbia Pictures

It doesn’t help that some of the stranded motorists feel they’re being targeted, that it’s raining and it’s the middle of the deep dark night, or that way too many of the stranded people at the out-of-the-way motel are awfully proficient in the use of firearms.

John Cusack and Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Now, throw in the story of a convicted mass murderer / serial killer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who’s getting a last-minute, pre-execution hearing from a judge and prosecuting attorneys

Pruitt Taylor Vince, Identity © Columbia Pictures

because the convicted killer’s psychiatrist Dr. Malick (Alfred Molina)

Alfred Molina, Identity © Columbia Pictures

insists that his client-patient is not morally responsible or legally guilty of the crimes. Since Rivers is not mentally competent, Dr. Malick explains, it is irrelevant that Rivers’ body might have, in fact, perpetrated the murders that Malcolm Rivers was convicted of committing.

Bret Loehr as Timmy, Identity © Columbia Pictures

What does that convicted serial killer have to do with the people stranded at the isolated motel in the pouring rain? Are they his victims? Are we, in fact, seeing the killer’s memories of all the people he killed? Is the killer truly and verily mentally incompetent, as his psychiatrist insists to the judge and attorneys present at the last-minute competency hearing?

You won’t miss the absent supernatural elements in this scary thriller. By the time you get to the big Reveal, you’ll be as spooked as the people stranded at that isolated motel.

The film has a great storyline and powerful acting by everyone involved. Identity is a psychological horror great. It’s available for rent for a few bucks, or purchase for a few dollars more, from Amazon, from YouTube, from iTunes, and more.

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Murder, Anyone? In A Lonely Place, the Film

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Even if you’re a fan of the great Humphrey Bogart, you might find it hard to believe that he “played juveniles or romantic second-leads in drawing room comedies [in the theatre], and is said to have been the first actor to ask “Tennis, anyone?” on stage.” As a pre-teen, I watched his films on Saturday afternoons when a local television channel aired classics. I loved Bogart’s characters: the wounded cynic who was tough yet vulnerable, powerful yet caring.

His most memorable films reinforced his “Loner with a Heart of Gold” role: the private investigator with a femme fatale client in The Maltese Falcon (1941), a Noir classic based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett; the self-sacrificing expatriate in Casablanca (1942), which was Bogart’s first romantic lead in film; and private investigator Phillip Marlowe in the complex and somewhat convoluted Noir The Big Sleep, (1946), based on the novel by Raymond Chandler.

Humphrey Bogart as Dixon Steele, In a Lonely Place ©

Until last month, when I first learned of Dorothy B. Harris’ 1947 Noir serial killer novel, In a Lonely Place, however, written in Limited Point of View from the perspective of the killer himself, and its 1950 film adaptation, I never realized that Humphrey Bogart had played a man suspected of being not just a murderer, but a serial killer. Bogart’s angst-ridden and angry character Dixon Steele in the film adaptation of Harris’ novel, is one of his most “fascinatingly complex” roles, one that has earned the film a place in multiple the Top 100 lists.

Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart, In a Lonely Place ©

Bogart plays once-successful screenwriter Dixon Steele, who is being urged by his agent and colleagues to adapt a trashy bestseller into a script to get his own career back on track, i.e., earning money. Annoyed by the book’s banal content, Steele feels oppressed by the assignment. He attempts a shortcut: instead of reading the entire “epic” novel himself, he asks a young coat-check girl (Martha Stewart) at one of his favorite restaurants to come back to his place to tell him the story. When the two arrive at his apartment complex late at night, Steele glimpses the woman of his dreams, Laurel (Gloria Grahame), who is a new neighbor.

Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, In a Lonely Place ©

From that point on, Steele’s life is a tumultuous roller coaster ride. As he tries to write a screenplay for the book he doesn’t even like, he finds himself irresistibly attracted to the mysterious and somewhat aloof Laurel. Worse, he’s under investigation for violent crimes, including a gruesome murder.

Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, In a Lonely Place ©

Though the film seems to start somewhat slowly and has some inappropriate comedic moments, especially those involving the drunken actor who’s a friend of Steele, and many scenes with Steele’s agent (Art Smith), it mostly concentrates on the disturbing story of Steele’s vivid (albeit scary) imagination and his even more frightening rage.

Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart, In a Lonely Place ©

The isolation, moral ennui, and angst driving Steele to desperate acts of savagery that begin to terrify even his long-time agent, the beautiful but restless Laurel, and close friends Detective Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy) and wife Sylvia (Jeff Donnell).

Jeff Donnell and Frank Lovejoy, In a Lonely Place ©

It’s not only the most intense performance Bogart ever gave, it’s considered by many to be his best: “revelatory, vulnerable,” and “unnerving.”

Because the film In a Lonely Place is only very loosely adapted from the novel, I wouldn’t recommend that you read the book beforehand, as the differences between novel and film will confuse you. Instead, watch the film — or read the novel — separately from each other. This film, called the “purest of Existential primers,” is available for rent ($2.99-3.99) from Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu.

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Bello, Bellisima: NBC’s Hannibal Season 3 Premiere — Antipasto

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Warning: Spoilers
& Graphic Images

imagesIf you’ve read my previous blogs on NBC’s amazing and daring series Hannibal, you know I was catching up on Seasons 1 & 2, and so intentionally did not reveal any spoilers or important plot lines in case there were other viewers like me who had never seen the show. (For one thing, I’m rarely awake @ 10p.m., being an early riser, and for another, the local network here delays Hannibal by an additional hour beyond the 2-hour time-zone difference, but that’s another source of irritation and rudeness that I’ll have to address with them.) From now on, my Hannibal blogs will include some spoilers, but they are not merely plot summaries. That’s not my style.

images-12That being said, I have to say Bravo! to the writers of the Premiere episode of S3: “Antipasto,” and not just for going back to names of dishes that I can pronounce and understand as episode titles. The premiere of Season 3 was a bold and brilliant departure from the previous seasons’ premieres, as well as from the seasons themselves. It was symbolic of the manner in which Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen, above) and his former psychiatrist, Bedelia du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), who are now posing as husband and wife in Paris and Florence, are attempting to re-invent themselves.

Season Two’s Finale

images-25The extremely violent, excellently acted, brilliantly choreographed, and almost — dare I say, erotic — finale from season 2, left us with Hannibal being “recognized” for who and what he is by many of the characters in the show. Of course, Hannibal did not go quietly into that dark night. No, he raged against the dying of his light. His gutting of Will (Hugh Dancy) while holding him like a lover (above) was blatantly erotic and showed just how much Hannibal had come to care for Will Graham.

images-7And by “caring for Will,” I mean as much as a serial killer can care for anyone other than himself, and only because Hannibal believed Will could become more like Hannibal himself.

Throughout the first two seasons, Hannibal has been drawn to patients who seem to have some criminal, especially murderous, leanings, and has pushed them to “see” and to “become” — a common theme in the Thomas Harris novels on which the show is based — and to honor their true natures. In fact, one of Hannibal’s lines in last season’s finale was, “Now that you know me, see me.”

images-2His warning to his lover Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) — that she had a choice to walk away, after she confronted him, weapon drawn, weeping at her own blindness and at his “betrayal” — surprised me. I thought he might find her pulling a gun on him “rude,” and we all know how Hannibal feels about rudeness. I wasn’t surprised that he’d emptied her gun while she slept in his bed beside him a few days earlier, or that he went after her when she pulled the trigger.

He had warned her, after all.

images-8His confrontation with Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne, above R), who seems to believe that “might makes right,” was one of the saddest in terms of Jack’s inability to outmaneuver Hannibal psychologically or physically. It was also one of the most beautifully choreographed.

images-6You could see Mads’ dancing background in virtually every move, but especially in his jump over the counter when he went after Jack (above). I don’t know if Mads was wearing a harness to help him leap over that counter, but even it he was, it was still a jeté magnifique.

imagesDespite Jack’s most valiant efforts to defend himself and take down Hannibal, however, Jack was simply no match for Hannibal’s physical agility and determination. Jack was left locked in the pantry, bleeding out, desperately trying to reach his dying wife on the phone to say good-bye.

images-24Most shocking in the S2 finale was the reappearance of Abigail (Kacey Rohl, above L, below R), whom both Will and Hannibal had begun to view as a “daughter-figure.” Will did so after he shot her father Garret Jacob Hobbs when the FBI, i.e., Will and Hannibal, were attempting to apprehend Hobbs for a string of murders. During that showdown, Hobbs had already killed his wife, pushed her, dying, out the front door, and was threatening to slice open his daughter’s throat. He did. Will shot him dead. Will became the “protective” father-figure. images-4Hannibal became  a “father-figure” after he caught her killing the brother of one of her father’s victims. Hannibal realized then that Abigail had been a willing participant in her father’s killings of the girls — she was the bait — despite her protestations to the contrary. Hannibal realized her potential to “become,” and told her he could protect her, as long as she asked for his help. Hannibal became the “teaching” father-figure.

images-7In S1, Abigail came to realize that Hannibal was a serial killer, and viewers were given the impression that Hannibal had killed her, however reluctantly it might have seemed at the moment he first tenderly touched her face after she had seen beyond his “person-suit.”

Hannibal framed Will for her murder by forcing Abigail’s ear through a feeding-tube into a relatively unconscious Will, who vomited it back up along with his medications. Although Will didn’t recall killing Abigail, he believed it might be possible since he could find no logical explanation for vomiting up her whole ear, un-chewed and without apparent bite-marks. (Viewers didn’t know how the ear had gotten into his stomach until the premiere of  S2, when Hannibal’s force-feeding was shown.)

images-2Abigail reappeared in the S2 finale, upstairs, with a crying, bewildered, and obviously disoriented Alana Bloom, and pushed her out a second-story window, leaving her broken on the stone doorstep below, in the pouring rain. She then went down to Hannibal, where he then proceeded to slice her throat open as her father had originally unsuccessfully did.

Will and Abigail lay side-by-side, both bleeding out, with Will vainly attempting to reach her and stop her bleeding as he had done so long ago in her father’s kitchen.

images-3The final, pre-credit scene, showed Hannibal stepping out into the rain. In this metaphorical baptism, Hannibal is re-born.

Having finally been seen for exactly what he is, Hannibal can now become himself most fully.Unknown

If you were foolish enough to turn off the S2 finale before all the credits rolled, then you missed the most startling moment of all: Hannibal, drinking champagne aboard a jet, with his companion, the lovely Dr. Bedelia du Maurier.

images-5

Hannibal’s “Kind of Peace”

images-18Season 3 begins in Paris, where Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom, above L), a former Teaching Assistant (TA) of a Dr. Fell, makes Hannibal’s acquaintance, meeting Hannibal as “Boris Yakov” and sans the ubiquitous plaid suits and sans the laquered hair.

They later discuss a few things at a party, mainly some poet’s “bad writing,” before Hannibal leaves to follow an older gentleman at that party home, where he kills him and eats his liver, greeting the man’s wife-now-widow with a pleasant Bon soir when she enters the apartment.

images-10Later in the S3 premiere, no longer in Paris but in Florence, viewers learn that the beautiful Bedelia, played by Gillian Anderson, is living with Hannibal as man and wife. We are treated, too briefly, to a dancing scene, where Hannibal gives us a glimpse of a smile. When the dance ends, he gazes down at Bedelia and murmurs, “Bellisima,” to which she softly responds, “Grazie.”

(Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker wittily mused on Gillian Anderson’s gorgeousity —

I think it’s the wardrobe change, or perhaps Bedelia’s bathing in Hannibal’s victims’ blood, but it may be Gillian’s physical proximity to Mads that has her glowing.)

images-21In any event, Hannibal wants to “preserve the kind of peace” he’s found in this new life, where he’s “hardly killed anybody.”

Yes, let it be a fairy tale, then…

Not That Kind of Party

images-24Between flashbacks containing Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) and Hannibal, as Hannibal is slowly chopping off bits of Gideon’s body and feeding them to him while they discuss the definition and morality of cannibalism, Hannibal is posing, in his new life in Florence, as Dr. Fell, whom he murdered to “vacate” the faculty position he held, making it available to himself. Bedelia is aware of this. She is posing as Mrs. Fells.

Alas, Dr. Fells’ former TA Dimmond appears in Florence, too, meets Hannibal again, who is now calling himself Dr. Fells instead of Boris Yakov. Dimmond’s no fool, or so it seems, and though he casually and repeatedly tells people that he knows Dr. Fells well, and hints at the “stories he could tell” were he not “such a good friend,” Hannibal invites him to dinner.

images-16There, Dimmond comments on Bedelia’s diet, and the exchange which follows, involving what the Romans fed animals to ensure their unique taste, and ending with “It’s not that kind of party,” is too exquisite for me to ruin it for you here. You have to see it to catch all the nuances, the sexual innuendo, the chemistry between Bedelia and Hannibal (and between Gillian and Mads).

Quite the couple, they make.

Bedelia’s Secret

images-23Alas, all is not well in Bedelia-Land.

Though Hannibal claims to have found a sort of peace, Bedelia is clearly uneasy, anxious, and increasingly frightened.

images-7The scene of her waiting for the train — to what destination, we are not told, since she walked to the market — while gazing up at the surveillance cameras, serves as a metaphor for Bedelia’s life with Hannibal. She is more than uneasy, in fact: she is terrified because she is constantly being watched.

images-9We also learn where Hannibal went immediately after the carnage in S2’s Finale — to Bedelia’s house. When she entered, she discovered him taking a shower in her master bath. He came out of the shower to find her sitting on the bed, with a loaded pistol in one hand, and a drink in the other. After asking if he could get dressed, he told her he’d taken off his person-suit.

She asked how that felt.

He told her she was in no position to ask such a question.

Now, in Florence, living with Hannibal as his wife, Bedelia’s trips to the market do nothing to quiet her.

images-20Her attendance at Hannibal-as-Dr.-Fells’ lecture on Dante is apparently required, because she is obviously uncomfortable, and she bolts as soon as she catches a glimpse of the former TA Dimmond, leaving Hannibal to gaze upon her empty chair.

images-22Scurrying home to their elegant Florentine apartment, she packs, and is just about out the door when Hannibal opens it, followed by the big-mouthed Dimmond, whom Hannibal must deal with.

05HANNIBALRECAP6-blog480Hannibal’s and Bedelia’s ensuing conversation about “participation vs observation” open other, symbolic, doors: into how much Bedelia knows about Hannibal, how long she’s known it, and the secret Bedelia and Hannibal have never revealed about the time she was attacked by a former patient of Hannibal’s, who was killed, and Hannibal’s role in that.

It is this secret that has apparently bound Bedelia to Hannibal, even when she tried to “retire” from clinical psychiatry.

No other major characters appeared in the premiere, so their fates are as yet unknown. I have intentionally avoided viewing any Season 3 trailers which might reveal who survived and who didn’t, and I have not included them here.

Meanwhile, I say Bravisimo to Bryan Fuller and the others who have changed the entire approach to Hannibal.

Because, after all, now that he has been seen, he can become.

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M is for Munchers: Guest Post for RachelintheOC

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My Guest post today is M is for Munchers, on RachelintheOC’s site. Thank you, Rachel, for listening to one who had no “voice” as a child.

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