Full Dark, No Stars Netflix's 1922: a review

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This is, quite unintentionally, turning into the Stephen King fan blog. What can I say? It's been a banner year for the release of several movies based on King's works, I'm learning to hear again, and so here we are.

While I enjoyed both It and The Dark Tower at the movies, 1922 came by way of a Netflix original. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you'll know that Netflix originals have been kind of hit or miss for me until recently.

Needless to say, I held my breath when I saw they were taking the helm for one of my favorite King novellas, 1922. This is the kind of story that can easily be botched by overacting or a poorly paced film. Fortunately, Zak Hilditch delivers a pitch perfect film that is intense and the epitome of an excellently rendered horror tale.

Thomas Jane plays Wilfred James, a farmer hellbent on keeping his farmland intact, even if it means murdering his headstrong wife (Molly Parker as Arlette James), who wants to take her inheritance and live the city-life. What could have devolved into an angsty morality tale turns into a ghost-tale worthy of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.

The film is true to the novella, and the acting simply makes the story sing. This should be on your must see list, regardless of the time of year.

A Quiet Place: a review from the deaf perspective

I loved this movie. I want to get that out of the way from the beginning. Yes, there were a few plot holes, but A Quiet Place was about the one thing I love: the characters. Rather than a shoot-em-up, run-around-and-get-slashed horror movie, John Krasinski gives us a very intense human drama. 

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The horror of A Quiet Place isn't the actual violence, but the constant threat of violence the family endures as they try to survive.

Each of the actors brought a superb level of talent to their roles. I loved Emily Blunt as the Evelyn Abbott. Her subtle facial expressions spoke volumes. Millicent Simmonds is a fine young actress, and I hope Hollywood finds many more roles for her. Likewise, Noah Jupe and Krasinski were excellent.

I was so caught up in the family's survival that the story's few plot holes didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film. Although to be honest, the rigged cochlear processor bothered me in that a cochlear processor doesn't emit sound the same way a hearing aid does. A hearing aid amplifies sound and can often give feedback. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged portion of the ear to directly stimulate the auditory nerve. So these two things are not the same.

However, since it was a tricked-up processor in A Quiet Place, I was willing to suspend belief and shush my ridiculous mind every time it bleeped: BUT HEY, THAT'S NOT HOW HOW A PROCESSOR WORKS. Meanwhile another part of my brain was going: THAT IS THE COOLEST LOOKING PROCESSOR AND COIL AND THAT I'VE EVER SEEN AND I WANT ONE.

Frankly, I gushed about the movie all the way home.

What made me squeal: My daughter and both squealed out loud when the camera zoomed in on Regan's cochlear implant. Cyborgs save the world!

What jarred me: When the subtitles suddenly dropped off the screen during the few spoken parts.

That was the one big downer of the film for me. Fortunately, between my own cochlear implant and my ability to lipread*, I was able to put together the gist of the conversations. Someone who is born deaf might not be able to do the same thing, which brings me to my biggest issue with A Quiet Place: the scenes with ASL** are captioned for the hearing audience, but the spoken scenes were not captioned for the deaf audience.

Given all of the other stellar points of the movie, this seems like something to nitpick, but it's not. A few hearing people have pointed out that they found it jarring when the captions suddenly stopped. For those of us who rely on those captions to understand the dialogue, it was like someone suddenly shut off the sound.

Their lips moved but we couldn't understand what they were saying.

So let's use it as a teaching moment of what ableism looks like in practice. Given the efforts made to promote this movie based the family's use of ASL to communicate with one another and having Simmonds as the lead, I can only see the lack of captioning during the speaking parts as an oversight--one that detracted from the overall theater experience for me.

Under no circumstances do I want to disparage the sincere effort that was made to bring Simmonds into the project so as to make Regan's experience as authentic as possible. At the same time, I don't feel it's inappropriate to point out ways that the movie could have been better, and of course, more inclusive. The most obvious way is by captioning the entire movie.

I hope captioning movies is something future filmmakers will consider. Since box office numbers are so valuable, I just want to point out that I, and many other deaf people, would go to more movies if captioning was available for the entire film. Just pretend that deaf people speak a different language (we do) and then caption appropriately. Otherwise, we'll be waiting for the DVD, which will come with subtitles.

[Note: this is not the place to inform me about assistive devices theaters use to provide captioning. Not all theaters have them and according to many deaf people, the captioning boxes don't always work correctly. So no. I'll wait for the DVD.]

Meanwhile, A Quiet Place is, in many ways, as important to the horror genre as Get Out. Please go see the movie. Even knowing what I know now, I highly recommend A Quiet Place to everyone.

At the same time, please don't stop advocating for captioning on all movies as well. 

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*I am a late-deafened adult. I began to lose my hearing around age twelve and over time, I became completely deaf. Because no one in my family used ASL, I had to develop other coping mechanisms in order to communicate. I now have a cochlear implant in my right ear, which gives me around 62% speech discrimination. Without my processor, I have 0% speech discrimination and rely on lipreading. I am in the process of learning ASL.

**Some folks have noted that the shots made some of the ASL difficult to understand, too. However, these scenes were also fully captioned.

Pennywise the Great and Terrible is IT [movie review]

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My father was a storyteller. It was how he taught his classes. He loved history, and in order to pass that love along to his middle school students, he disguised the dust of the past in dramatic story form. I'll never forget being at a campground one night when he regaled us with a retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula. With the dark of night around us, a fire crackling nearby, his strong baritone carried the tale and transported us to a different world. The story was one that I knew well, but my father sparked new life into his rendition and captivated me.

Around that same time in the mid-seventies, I discovered the novel Carrie and became a lifelong fan of King's works. I read It when it was first published in 1986. After seeing the movie, I browsed through the first chapters and in doing so, I recalled how King's voice always drew me his worlds. He speaks to the reader very much like my father spoke to us when he retold Dracula that long ago night.

There is a conspiratorial tone to his works, as if he is drawing us close to share a terrible secret, and it is only when the last page is turned, do we realize that he merely holds a mirror to show us the monster wears our face. He gives us so much about the people in his fictional worlds that we feel like we know them, because in a lot of instances, we know someone just like them, or we are them. When he paints the picture of a small town--be it 'Salem's Lot or Derry--he peels back the illusion of genteel small town life to accurately portray the willful blindness that walks the streets and enables the monsters in the sewers to thrive.

I recognized King's small towns, because I lived in a version of Derry, where each individual's reality is layered by one's social status and the color of one's skin. Some people are forced to live within the abyss while others are afforded the luxury of looking away. King's skill is his ability to show us our prejudices without alienating us. He also makes the losers the heroes, which in many ways gives us hope that we can persevere over incredible odds. 

Capturing the essence of King's voice and tone is one of the reasons his literary works are so hard to translate into film. Well, that and the sheer magnitude of some of his works--It being one of them.

In the novel, when Georgie is going through the house to find the paraffin that will make his paper ship float, he is thinking about how his brother Bill is a good writer, not simply because he can write well, but because he can see. Likewise, translating a novel to film isn't so much about screenplays and theatrics, although those aspects are part of the process, but the true success lies in the director's ability to see what the author intended, which, finally, brings me to the movie.

Andrés Muschietti knows how to see. He manages to condense the story of the Loser's Club in such a way as to capture the true essence of the children and their complex relationships without diminishing either the story or the characters. The actors who portray the children in the Losers' Club were all excellent and perfectly cast. In what could have been an unintentionally comic episode, the scene in the library with Ben Hanscom [Jeremy Ray Taylor] and the headless child was absolutely horrifying. This was due to Taylor's performance and Muschietti's direction along with judicious use of CGI.

At no point does Muschietti let the film devolve into corny scares. He takes the time to build the mood before launching the more horrific scenes. Like King, Muschietti manages to use Derry's facade of normalcy to contrast the darker shadows lurking beneath Derry's surface.

Which, of course, brings us to the star of the show, Pennywise.

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Bill Skarsgård's performance is what turns this film from a remake into a retelling. In an absolute expert performance, Skarsgård uses his voice and eyes to fluctuate between childlike innocence and outright malevolence. During his conversation with Georgie, his voice is pitched sweet and high in the beginning and gradually deepens as his mask slips. In equal parts appealing and repulsive, he chuckles and speaks to Georgie with childish delight of circuses while drooling over the meal to come.

In a reverse transformation of Guillermo del Toro's faun in Pan's Labyrinth, where the faun becomes younger and more vibrant as the movie proceeds, Skarsgård's Pennywise becomes slightly more horrific with each subsequent scene. His forehead seems more bulbous, his makeup a little more cracked, and his voice deepens to give the audience one disquieting peek after another into the monster itself.

It is a retelling, but a damned good one and well worth your time. If you can't wait for the next installment, I highly recommend the book. Let Stephen King whisper his tale into your ear. You'll definitely find yourself somewhere within the pages; although, I can't guarantee you'll like what you see.

I went to see THE DARK TOWER so you wouldn't have to [a review]:

Last weekend, I saw Atomic Blonde (I know this is a review for The Dark Tower, hang with me for a minute).

Atomic Blonde was rated R as it should have been. If you're not in America, R means the movie is for mature audiences only. Atomic Blonde lived up to every one of my expectations, and when it comes out on DVD, I'm going to buy it so I can watch it again.

When I saw The Dark Tower was rated as PG-13, I lowered my expectations for the film, and here's why:

The Dark Tower novels were brutal, just as brutal, if not more so, than the story in Atomic Blonde. Susannah's story-line alone is horrific and that is all before she ever lands in Roland's world. The PG-13 rating said that the studio wanted a movie directed toward preteens and marketing and games and toys and that is precisely what the movie is. 

Being an urban fantasy does NOT make it a bad movie. I imagine a lot of the younger members of the audience enjoyed it immensely. As a matter of fact, from a story perspective, it was a very good movie. It simply bears only a passing resemblance to the novels.

Idris Elba as Roland was the best part. If you want to go and support this movie so that you see him in more leading roles, your money won't be wasted. He captured Roland's gravitas and his rare moments of amusement. While Elba gave the most nuanced performance in the film, his co-star Tom Taylor was also excellent as Jake Chambers. He and Elba had a lovely chemistry that really carried the film.

And while the film worked as a coming of age story, the movie failed for fans of the series, because The Dark Tower is really about Roland, not Jake. By changing the protagonist from Roland to Jake, the horror is replaced by wonder, and it's all sort of like the Wizard of Oz, but with gunslingers and creepy monsters and the Man in Black.

King gave Satan/Death a corporeal form in the Man in Black, and in doing so, he gave flesh to the evil that walks among us. The movie gives us the Man in Black as a Cruella de Vil caricature intent on slaughtering preteens instead of puppies. Somehow I never imagined the Man in Black to be quite that organized and operating from a command central. His was always a more subtle menace as the chaos that wanders among us. The movie robs him of that role, and in doing so, gives Matthew McConaughey's character very little to do other than walk around and be nasty to people.

If they ever do an R version of The Dark Tower and have McConaughey reprise the role, I'll be on the front row, popcorn in hand.

The plot proceeded smoothly from point to point, sometimes too smoothly. I never felt a great deal of tension, but the cast was great, and I was never bored. There was a lot of shooting; however, I found the violence in Wonder Woman to be far more intense than anything I experienced in The Dark Tower. There was also a nice little nod to Pennywise about midway through, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, coming soon to a theater near you. 

Overall, I enjoyed The Dark Tower movie as a light urban fantasy. However, if you're looking for something with guts, read the books.