Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the premier Hollywood monster of our time -- even scarier, in his way, than John Travolta. Fish-eyed and slightly phosphorescent, wearing an expression of icy beatitude, he hovers monklike behind his sheet of perforated plastic (which recalls the captivity of laboratory locusts), bodily contained but limitless as to his mind. Nothing -- no act or idea -- is beyond him, and his dastardliness is without degree: Criminology stops short of Hannibal the Cannibal, analysis stammers its excuses and psychiatry just bounces off (under sodium pentothal he merely recites exotic recipes). "Gruesome, isn't he?" laments Hannibal of his prison shrink.
The great god of laughter, his sides forever split, is not pleased by black comedies, for the simple reason that they tend not to be very funny. The comedy of blackness is usually a kind of local anesthetic, something frozen, producing not humor but a dead-skinned tolerance for the horrible; and there is no situation so ghastly that it cannot be made worse by a bad joke.
When a well-made film whistles past me without touching, when I've sat down and presented the astonished bull's-eye of my brain to the filmmaker only to hear the arrow go harmlessly by my left ear, I have to assume that it was aimed elsewhere -- that I may not, in fact, be the target audience. Who, to take a case in point, is Neil LaBute's Possession aimed at? Answer: my mother-in-law. She loved it. An avid and discerning cinemagoer, she found it entirely satisfying. It filled her, it covered her like a perfume. For me it didn't do much, but, as I say, that might be the point.
One approaches the films of M. Night Shyamalan with the slightly hysterical goodwill of a parent attending a school play. Senses gaping, disbelief suspended a mile high, one so wants the evening to go well. And if clumsiness and mawkishness should rule the hour, well, so what? We'll clap like seals and go home happy that no one flubbed his or her lines or knocked over the scenery. The reason for this, I think, is the transparent sincerity of Shyamalan's effort to entertain. In today's Hollywood, it looks like innocence. Limpidly free of the contemporary vices of deftness, velocity and panache, Shyamalan works hard for his audience, and you can feel it.
Tony Wilson, narrator and protagonist of the fictionalized documentary 24 Hour Party People, is a hard man to pin down. Club owner, record label boss, self-proclaimed "serious journalist," daring entrepreneur, terrible businessman, style guru, buffoon, manipulator, facilitator, wide-eyed fan: He's here and he's there, a creature of contradiction. The people around him, when grasping for the essence of his character -- his pith -- seem drawn to a common theme. "Wilson, you cunt," calls someone in a nightclub line as our man swishes by.