Hannibal: Michael Pitt Is Out And My Heart Is Breaking


A little over a week ago, the news came out that Michael Pitt will not be returning to the show Hannibal in the role of Mason Verger. Knowing that I am a huge fan of the show (and an even bigger fan of the actor himself), friends and social media acquaintances of mine were quick to bombard me with the details and await my reaction; expecting me to have a fit.

I’ll be honest; they weren’t exactly wrong. My first instinct was to write up an angry rant about how bad a move this was. I still feel that way, but had I done that at the time, my thoughts would have come from a place of anger about an actor I love, and from that place alone.

Which is exactly why I decide to wait at least a week before addressing the news.

Look, I have been a Hannibal fan since the very beginning of the show. It hit the ground running, and has only gotten better and better with every episode. Visually, it is the most striking and beautiful show I’ve ever seen. The dialogue is great, the way the suspense and tension is allowed to build in a painfully slow manner is fantastic. Overall, the show is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and it’s certainly the best in this recent trend of television horror.

But that’s the thing. The main reason for this is the casting. While other horror shows have some stellar actors, Hannibal also has this, but goes a step further. The thing that sets it apart is that in its case, you almost could forget you’re watching actors. Each person becomes their character. Not only that, but the cast is taking on roles that we’ve all read about or watched onscreen before, but in a totally fresh and unique way. And in a creepier way.

No one in the entire cast, not even Mads Mikkelsen himself, has embraced that creepiness more than Michael Pitt. He came in halfway through the season as Mason, and it’s like he was there all along. I’m not alone in feeling like he steals every scene he’s in: the way he torments his sister without ever being completely unlikable; the way Pitt plays Mason as being even more screwed up than Will Graham (but completely narcissistic about it), and as someone who can get the best of Hannibal. But it isn’t just that. The thing that made Michael Pitt such an asset to the show, is that once you see him in the role, it’s hard to picture anyone else in it. He just is Mason Verger.


I can only imagine how hard it must be to play a role like that. A lot of times what ends up happening is that the actor either is never really that scary or believable as a villain, or they go so far over the top with it that the character ceases to be eerie and becomes comical. Pitt’s Mason struck just the right note between him being completely irredeemable and an actual normal person.

When we last left Mason, his face had been…well, disfigured, to say the least. So, naturally when we meet him again, the character’s creepy factor will be all about his voice, pattern of speech, tone, and all those things.

And therein lies the problem. It wasn’t just the facial expressions and mannerisms Michael Pitt brought to the character that made him so good. It was the way he said things; the way he spoke to the other characters, the way he paused between certain words, and the way he changed his speech slightly depending on which character he was talking—all of that while still maintaining a sort of dripping condescension and superiority in everything he said.  It’s difficult enough to pull off a role when you can use every asset. I find it hard to believe that anyone could replicate that, or be as utterly terrifying as Michael Pitt was just using his voice.


I’m going to make a bold statement. Michael Pitt’s portrayal of Mason Verger has been comparable to Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker. It was just that intense and fascinating.

And once you have something that good, losing it can only detract from the show.

It doesn’t even matter what the behind the scene details are. The thing is, it’s all a business. Business is about doing what’s best for the company, and the company’s efficiency and productivity. It is the responsibility of The Powers That Be to oversee this. At the end of the day, letting Michael Pitt go, no matter the reason, was a really bad decision. Everything should have been done to keep him. And, who knows, maybe everything was. If so, then it’s sad to realize the truth: this will ultimately have a negative impact on the show. Any pop culture nerd knows how difficult it is to garner support for a replacement when it comes to be popular character or popular prior actor. It’s going to be twice as difficult in this case.

With that said, let’s pay tribute to Michael Pitt’s time as Mason, and wish him well in all he does in the future.

Hidden Gems: See No Evil 2


First off, let me start this by explaining why I feel that See No Evil 2 meets the qualifications for a Hidden Gems addition. Judging by the excitement and anticipation I saw on social media leading up to the release of this movie, it might seem a little strange to consider this gem “hidden.”

But I remember watching the first See No Evil and not being able to find a single person who’d seen it; let alone liked it and wanted to discuss it. I wondered if my brother would always be the only person I knew besides myself who’d seen the movie.

So, between that, and the straight-to-DVD release, I don’t think it’s that big of a stretch to categorize this one as a Hidden Gem.

I’ll be honest. When the news first surfaced about this sequel, I was ecstatic. It was one of the rare situations where a sequel is announced and I didn’t have any “will it be as good as the first” reservations. To me, the first See No Evil was a standout, unique slasher movie and I had no doubt that I’d find the sequel to be just as good, just as unique, and just as “standout”.

I was wrong.

Don’t misunderstand; I really enjoyed the movie for what it was, and Kane’s performance as Jacob Goodnight was brilliant, but this movie had one big problem going for it: everything that made the first film so unique and enjoyable was removed or watered down to the point that it turned this movie into the basest, most generic of slasher movies.

Let’s start with the fact that, in the first film, once you find out all the information, it makes perfect sense that the movie took place in the hotel. That wasn’t the case for this film. Who throws a birthday party for someone at a morgue? Could they not have just had the party at someone’s house or met Danielle Harris’s character at a bar or something when she got off work? I would have bought that maybe Jacob followed them from the morgue to someone’s house and killed them off one by one there.

In the first movie, it made sense that everyone ended up at that hotel because the backstory was believable. A bunch of delinquents sent there on community service. I buy that. But using a birthday party as a convenient excuse to have a bunch of 20somethings at a city morgue is just….ridiculous. I don’t care if I work there myself; if my friends couldn’t come up with something better for a birthday party for me, then it’d be time to find some new friends.

There was pretty much zero plot in this movie, especially if you take away the paper thin “love story” (if one could even call it that) of Amy and Seth. It’s literally just scene after scene of run, chase kill, run, chase, kill.

Which would be fine for a casual horror fan who really does just come for the gore and blood. But the original See No Evil had a cool Moby Dick-esque backstory between the cop and Jacob Goodnight, and it had an underlying theme to it, with more and more coming out about the villain as the movie went on, along with a decent twist.

All of that is what was missing from this film. They tried to connect this one to the first one with Jacob having flashbacks from those previous events, but other than that the films don’t seem connected at all. It would have been clever to use the song from the original film (Jesus Loves The Little Children) during the flashbacks and other parts of the movie to keep the religion theme going. I think maybe they thought they were doing this with the few lines of dialogue that had Jacob talking about seeing the sin, but it simply fell flat.


I kept waiting for Jacob to pick one of the group (most likely a girl) to save,–especially since in a scene where he cried over his mother’s dead body, he didn’t seem all that interested in his mother’s point of view and in seeing the sin—like he did in the first one, but that never happened. One minute, he’s just as he was in See No Evil; a reluctant, struggling victim of his mother’s teachings; and the next he’s just as crazy as she is: seeing the sin in everyone but himself.

Go ahead. Watch the first movie, go back and watch See No Evil 2. And then see if you don’t find yourself scratching your head at how it feels like two completely unconnected, unrelated movies.

Final verdict? At the end of the day, this movie is still very much an enjoyable slasher. So if you go into it as a casual horror fan, or as someone who hasn’t seen the original, it’s really mindless, fun and entertainment. Even if you are a fan of the original like me, you can still enjoy it…as long as you clear your mind of any expectations you may go into it with.

Bad Kids Go To Hell; Hidden Gems #3

imageSo, as any pop culture aficionado knows, this Monday was the 30th anniversary of the date of the detention in The Breakfast Club. Given the fact that that film is my favorite movie of all time, I am always more than willing to pay homage to it. With that thought in mind, I decided to pay tribute to this anniversary by selecting a horror movie that has the same concept as The Breakfast Club (only, of course with murder) and homages that film left and right for my third Hidden Gems segment. That film is: Bad Kids Go To Hell.

Bad Kids Go To Hell is a little horror film about a group of very different teenagers at a fancy prep academy who find themselves in detention together at a time when the school is secluded. Sounding familiar, yet?

The kids are prototypes of a number of different high school stereotypes such as the teen queen, the jock, the nerdy kid, the Goth rebel, a criminal, and one ordinary kid who doesn’t seem to fit any of the high school labels. The story takes off (if you can call it that) when the Goth rebel girl convinces the other kids that the library is haunted because of some kind of murder of an Native American, and so they have a séance so she can try to prove it; and this is where the horror takes over.

So, how does this movie compare to its non-horror ‘80s predecessor? Well, by the end of The Breakfast Club, we’re meant to sympathize with every character. I haven’t met a person who doesn’t at least see a little of themselves in every character in that film. But there is no coming to love the characters in this movie. You will hate all of them from beginning to end. Spoiled brats galore. While the members of the real Breakfast Club actually have real problems, these kids are just bratty and angry for no reason. In a way, almost all of them are a Claire Standish at the beginning of the movie.



The first girl dies due to not being able to breathe (asthma attack after being scared during the séance.) The kids try to go for help, thinking that there is definitely a spirit in the library with them, but their cell phones were collected by their detainee, and they are completely locked and trapped in the library (would a school even be allowed to lock kids in like that? And why would they be having detention over winter break?)

Throughout the film, we see flashbacks of a lunchroom incident about stealing food and trying to kill a bug and tackling a kid in a wheelchair, and you can tell that it’s supposed to be important to understanding the events, but it at best ends up seeming slightly insignificant and confusing.

Part of the plot is the characters trying to figure out what the criminal, Matt Clark’s secret is, and whether or not he is a bad person, but it doesn’t hesitate to let us know that all of these kids are bad people with secrets, as are their parents. Manipulation is a game to them. It does keep the movie at least interesting.

One character disappears, out of nowhere, quite inexplicably, and it takes the other characters a cringeworthy amount of time to notice it. So, yeah, that was strange.

The thing about this film, is that unlike its ‘80s counterpart, we actually get to see the characters in school. We get to see what they are like beyond this one Saturday. And the film does make it clear that this is vitally important, because it gives every hint that there is a story behind the story. The story does try to set this semi-mystery up. But there is very little payoff, and what payoff there is, is almost impossible to understand.

There’s not much else to say about this movie. It kind of just is what it is. There’s really not enough depth to it to form any major criticisms or praises. I will say that the ending to the film is one of those “Look how cool and great this movie is, and how wonderful the writing is, because we think we tricked you and threw in what we think is a clever little twist, but oh wait, it’s the exact same twist and reasoning you’ve seen in at least half of the horror movies you’ve ever seen before this one” type of things. That said, it was at least entertaining. The dialogue wasn’t boring or even cheesy.

Let’s face it; all of these kids are bad people. They all think that their use of foul language, racial slurs, and their supposedly-intimidating demeanors make them badass and cool. It actually serves no purpose other than to make you look forward to their deaths and rejoice when they do bite the dust. And the movie itself isn’t bad. But it definitely isn’t all that worth praising either.

I’d recommend seeing it, definitely, but only because it’s a fun little tribute to one of the greatest films ever made, and it’s a great way to pass a couple of hours if you’re the kind of person who can get past super annoying characters that all make you want to commit murder yourself, and a plot that doesn’t really go anywhere accept to confuse you as many times as possible, and then confuse you all over again just when you think the convoluted “plot developments” are over. So, have fun with it for what it’s worth and appreciate the little nods to a great classic.



Hidden Gems “Messages Deleted”

Messages Deleted is a horror thriller about a screenwriter/ screenwriting professor, Joel Brandt (Matthew Lillard), who finds himself twisted up in a small string of murders when he starts to get mysterious messages from strangers pleading for him to come save them, and telling him that the killer will only spare them if he shows up to where he’s instructed. Sounds interesting enough, right? There’s also a second layer to it: the killings become more and more similar to one of Joel Brandt’s own screenplays. Ah, the plot thickens.

I loved the idea of the film’s protagonist (as we learn in the movie, “hero” is not the appropriate term to use) being a screenwriter. Once the movie began, I (a former film student) fell even more in love with this element, as I immediately found Joel Brandt relatable. He reminded me so very much of my own former writing professor turned writing mentor. So much of his dialogue at the beginning of the film is exactly like things I’ve heard numerous times from my screenwriting mentor and the writers he’s introduced into my realm of knowledge. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Messages Deleted from the screenwriting perspective it so delicately analyzes.

Right off the bat, Matthew Lillard, one of my personal favorite actors, is exceptionably believable as the screenwriter protagonist. His unique brand of intelligence, narcissism, and subtle low self-esteem in his portrayal of Joel Brandt worked well. He immediately charmed me with his opening disdain of movie clichés.

And when we meet him, Joel even mentions the old rule about the inciting incident taking place on page ten. The movie itself follows this rule: Joel gets the phone call from the first victim pleading for help in the first ten minutes of the movie. At the time, though, of course, Joel thinks it’s a prank.

Which brings to a second point about the film. The movie does fall into some of the traps it lays out as far as what not to do when writing/making a movie. And the whole “dismissing things as a prank” is one of them. It’s totally a cliché, and one that is way overused in horror movies. Why do characters never take things seriously? Why do they always think everything is just a prank? Are movie characters just way more cynical than people are even in real life? Or in the movie world, is everyone just an extreme prankster, to the point that no one believes anyone anymore? Maybe I’ll never know, but I do know that in real life if you do get a phone call like that, and you have no proof that it is indeed a prank, you call the police and let them figure the whole thing out. Then at least you know you’ve done your part. It’s that simple. But, no, Joel just dismisses the whole thing as a joke and doesn’t think much of it—until the next day when he comes into contact with the body of the victim in a truly creepy way.

Another element that films like this always rely on to the point of it being borderline cliché, is incompetent cops. I say incompetent because cops, in movies like this, always think they’re so smart; latching onto an idea no matter how much or how little evidence, and seemingly less interested in discovering facts and the truth than they are in proving that their theory is correct. The two cops in this movie are no exception. One of the downsides to this film is how easy it is to get sick of the detectives, knowing that they are just as wrong as all the horror movie cops that came before them.

My favorite screenwriting rule is one that sounds obvious: Don’t write about stupid characters doing stupid things. In his interactions with his students, Joel touches on this rule in not so many words. And yet, this is exactly what the characters in the actual film do. For Joel to be a screenwriter, for all his expertise and typical writer nature, he is also a perfect example of “stupid characters doing stupid things.” You hear or see something crazy or suspicious, you call the police. It’s that simple. But Joel doesn’t do that. He ignores it and then shows up at the first two crime scenes of people who have called him. And this promptly gets him arrested. Then, he does a number of other stupid things, like going to the next crime scene when he receives a phone call at a pay phone from the victim, and not calling the police, but trusting a stranger to do it- after he’s already at the crime scene. Then, when he’s already a suspect, he pulls a knife out of the victim’s back, with his naked hands.

This movie also breaks the rule my own screenwriting professor taught me about always have characters that people are invested in. He taught me that we don’t have to like or love them, and they don’t have to be necessarily good people, but we do have to care about what happens to them. Outside of Matthew Lillard’s character, every other character was either boring and somewhat flat, or extremely annoying. Neither of these things lend themselves to me or anyone else caring about the supporting characters. They are so not worth investing in, that it makes one care that much more about what happens to Joel Brandt, because of the people he has around him.

With all that said, Joel is never not interesting. This may be my love for Matthew Lillard talking (he was one of my adolescent crushes, having adored him since I was able to sneak and watch Scream), but no matter what Joel’s flaws were, it never stopped being possible to be on his side. Matthew Lillard’s vulnerable yet intellectual-to-the-point of-being-a-pretentious-douchebag portrayal of him should make him unlikable, but it never does.

So there it is. While this movie could be and would be entertaining for a watch if there’s nothing else to do, that’s about it. I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise, because it has nothing else to offer besides Matthew Lillard and all his charm and brilliance. So, if you’re as big a fan of him as I am, watch it and enjoy his one-man show. He’s great in it. If you’re not big on him, then don’t bother.

In Defense of Bates Motel

Okay, so here’s the thing. I usually am not a fan of trends. But there is one trend that I am most definitely a huge fan of: horror, thriller, and mystery classics finding their way to the small screen as television shows. It’s been happening more and more lately, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Among these, one of my favorites that stands out for me personally is Bates Motel.

Let’s start with the casting on the show, which is excellent. Freddie Highmore is perfection as a young Norman—he strikes just the right balance between being impressionable/ vulnerable, and being on the brink of turning psychotic. He and Vera Farmiga not only have chemistry together, but they’re so talented, they successfully walk the fine line between close mother-and-son and inappropriate sexual tension. Then there’s the inspired addition of a created brother in Dylan. Not only was it a cool way to take creative license and add another layer of intrigue to something so classic and well-known; the whole of Dylan’s character (considering that he serves as the only sane one in the family) just illustrates the dysfunctional nature of Norman’s life that leads him to become the person he eventually does. Some find the added-out-of-nowhere brother distracting: I call it genius.

I’d be willing to bet that the first question that pops into mind when one hears about a movie being turned into a television show is, “how much story could they possibly have to tell?” It’s definitely the question that pops into my mind. Bates Motel wasted no time in answering this question. From the very first episode on, things were super intense. There is no easing into things: Norman’s dad dies and we know that there is more to the story of his death than we are seeing initially. The first episode sent the message: “by watching this show, you are in for a long, hectic ride that will completely captivate you.” Every episode just piles on the drama and suspense. We gradually learn more and more about how horrible a parent Mrs. Bates really was, why Norman turned out so strange and psychotic, and where his misogynistic view of women stems from.

If you’re going to spending an hour each week with characters, they surely need to have some layers that keep you coming back. They don’t have to be likable, but they definitely need to be interesting. At the very bare minimum they need to make you feel something. And whatever else we can accuse the Bates family and the other residents of White Pine of, they definitely make you feel things. I may not like Norma at all, but I keep coming back because I love to hate her. I wouldn’t want to be friends with Norman, but I do feel for him and root for him, despite already knowing how he turns out. And Dylan definitely stirs emotions of compassion as the hot, dark, misunderstood guy that every girl loves deep down.

But with all of this said, there’s one thing in particular that makes Bates Motel so worth defending. Shows based on horror/thriller/suspense classics always seem to lose their scary roots at some point and become just basically a drama that belongs on one of those networks with all the shows teenagers love. They stop trying to scare you and thrill you and turn into just really, really dark primetime soap operas. Bates Motel doesn’t seem to have this problem. So far, it hasn’t lost sight of its horror roots. Every week when I watch the show, I always feel like I’m watching a mini horror movie. And for a show that has to live up to the name of the horror classic it’s based upon, I don’t think I can ask more than that from it.