The Silence: a review from the deaf perspective

This isn’t going to be a long review, because I wasn’t able to get far into the movie. Two things I want to get out of the way up front are: first, I love Tim Lebbon’s books, and second, in terms of plot and cinematography, The Silence might very well be an excellent movie. I don’t know, because I wasn’t able to get past the “deaf” character’s actions. In other words, this review is about how poor representation ruined what might have otherwise been a good movie for me.

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Nor is this review an attack on Ms. Kiernan Shipka or her talents as an actor. Ms. Shipka seemed to do well with the material she was given; however, it appears she wasn’t given much. I understand that she learned ASL for the role, but as I’ve stated in other posts, there is much more to being deaf than knowing sign language.

As with all my other posts from the deaf perspective, I also want to point out that this review is written from my perspective as a deaf person, which can and will differ greatly from those of the Deaf community, or from people with a different type of hearing loss. In other words, your mileage may vary, which is fine.

Viewing the movie as someone who loves horror films, I can say that my gripe with The Silence began before Shipka’s character, Ally, ever hit the screen. I’ve spoken of this particular issue in novels, and it’s no less annoying in a movie: the need to leap too fast into the action without any attempt to cultivate tension. The opening scene could have been a claustrophobic buildup of horror. Instead, it was delivered like an awkward prologue that was over so quickly, it felt like an aside.

Then we meet Ally, who tells us how smart she is because she learned to lip-read so fast after her accident … and I flinched, because that is not how it works. Even so, I gave the film a few more minutes, because I wanted to see how the story would explain that particular skill.

Essentially, Ally’s backstory is this: she was in a car accident with her grandparents three years earlier. Due to the traumatic head injury inflicted during the accident, Ally was rendered completely deaf. In addition to recovering from whatever other brain trauma she might have endured during the accident, Ally is now perfectly healthy, except she is deaf. In three years, she has learned ASL and how to lip-read and moves through the hearing world without the annoying dizziness, vertigo, or tinnitus that burdens the rest of us.

At no point are we led to believe that Ally moves in anything other than a world of silence. She doesn’t wear either hearing aids or a cochlear implant. This tells me, as a deaf person, that her hearing is completely gone, and due to whatever injury she sustained, assistive listening devices do not help her.

Within the first five minutes with Ally, we see her taunted from behind by a group of her high school classmates, who are actually acting like they’re twelve. That was just weird.

Immediately after Ally is taunted by her classmates, she walks down the middle of a street…

—let me pause here to say that deaf people, who can’t hear cars coming NEVER walk down the middle of any street without constantly looking over their shoulders—

…her boyfriend approaches her from behind and puts his hands over her eyes.

And I almost shut the movie down then, because that is the most horrible thing you can do to a deaf person: sneak up on them from behind. Seriously, you scare the crap out of deaf people when you do that. It’s horrible. Don’t do it. Ever.

But this is Ally’s boyfriend, who will soon be getting his drivers’ license, and Ally informs him that her parents will probably never let her drive because she’s deaf …

Dear Ally’s parents and the producers of this movie,

Deaf people drive all the time and we’re probably safer drivers than hearing people, because we are paying attention with our eyes.

Thank you,
Me

Then Ally arrives home and my nitpicking reaches monumental levels. The usual systems designed to help deaf people pinpoint noise (for example: doorbells, phones, fire alarms, or loud noises) are large bulky boxes that indicate why a light is flashing. They could have been there in the background and I just missed them, but after going to all the other lengths to show Ally’s deafness, the director doesn’t bother to show us that her home is equipped for a deaf person.

Ally’s family uses pidgin sign language to communicate. As a family having to adjust to a late-deafened child, it’s possible they’re doing the best they can. They also make asides that Ally can’t hear, and although unkind, I found this plausible as well.

Still, it bothered me that Ally follows conversations with ease. Even with lip-reading and signing, most deaf people are moving on a delay and the faster the topics change, the more frustrating communication becomes for the individual. Also, to lip-read with Ally’s accuracy, one needs to have some residual hearing.

Later that evening, Dad comes into her room and at one point, they forget to sign, but Ally has no trouble following the sudden topic shift, and that was it for me. I’d watched about all of the movie I could watch, because I realized from that point forward I would be doing nothing but critiquing Ally.

Those critiques turned into my biggest issue with The Silence. Whereas A Quiet Place presented a moment of ableism in the lack of captioning during the spoken parts between hearing characters, The Silence is the ableist viewpoint on full display. At no point did I believe that Ally was actually deaf, and if you can’t make me believe in your characters, then I’ll never buy into your story, no matter how good the film.


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Frohock has intricately woven a unique reinterpretation of history. Eloquent prose accompanies a lyrical theme amid prewar tensions, enriching this imaginative historical fantasy. –starred review, Publishers Weekly

Where Oblivion Lives is available at Scuppernong Books | HarperCollins | IndieBound. You can find links to Amazon and B&N at the HarperCollins link. If you're an audiobook fan, we've got you covered: the audiobook is narrated by the talented Vikas Adam and is available from Audible.

A few people have asked if you have to read the novellas first in order to enjoy Where Oblivion Lives. The answer is no, BUT if you want to read them, you can find the Los Nefilim omnibus at HarperCollins, as well as links to the individual novellas right here.

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. 

__________
*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 (at the date this article was written—as of 2019, I have 82% speech discrimination with my processor). 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.


WhereOblivionLives.jpg

Frohock has intricately woven a unique reinterpretation of history. Eloquent prose accompanies a lyrical theme amid prewar tensions, enriching this imaginative historical fantasy. –starred review, Publishers Weekly

Where Oblivion Lives is available at Scuppernong Books | HarperCollins | IndieBound. You can find links to Amazon and B&N at the HarperCollins link. If you're an audiobook fan, we've got you covered: the audiobook is narrated by the talented Vikas Adam and is available from Audible.

A few people have asked if you have to read the novellas first in order to enjoy Where Oblivion Lives. The answer is no, BUT if you want to read them, you can find the Los Nefilim omnibus at HarperCollins, as well as links to the individual novellas right here.

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.

Marco Polo: a [mildly] spoilerific review (#SFWAPro)

During my annual post-holiday crash and burn, I plugged into Netflix's new series Marco Polo. I know the series has received some criticism for stereotypical Asian characters (Lenika Cruz gives a balanced review on this subject at The Atlantic). However, overlooking the usual credibility issues in these kinds of "historical" dramas, Marco Polo fares well in terms of story and characterization, which is what draws me to a series more than anything else.

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Shadow of the Vampire--another spoilerific movie review (#SFWApro)

When I wrote my review of Snowpiecer, Kate Elliott made an interesting comment. She said, "Most of my trouble with this film as I watched it came about because I went in with expectations that it was going to be a science fiction film about what it would be like to live on Earth after the world froze, and it is actually (as you so carefully discuss here) an entirely different film."

I experienced the same feeling with Shadow of the Vampire. I initially went into the film with the mindset that the movie was horror (thank you, Netflix, for that erroneous marketing) ...

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Snowpiercer ... here there be spoilers (#SFWApro)

SPOILERS, WARNING, SPOILERS

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS FOR SNOWPIERCER.

Oh hell, who am I kidding? Everyone has already seen this movie. As usual, I'm the last one to the party, because NO CAPTIONS AVAILABLE at the theater, and haven't we all heard THAT song enough times, so I won't sing it again here.

If you haven't seen Snowpiercer, turn back now. Go watch the movie, then return to discuss it, or not, whatever pleases you. This is your last chance ... okay, you were warned.

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