Sinister Summer: “The Silence of the Lambs” retrospective

“Good evening, Clarice.” How many of you have never thought of fava beans and chianti in the same way since then? Quite literally inventing a new genre that combines elements of horror, suspense, and crime to create the crime thriller, The Silence of the Lambs remains the motion picture that typifies the genre. More than 27 years later, Silence still holds up and continues to terrify audiences today. Whereas this iconic film may not be considered horror, by today’s understanding and expectation by many, it was certainly widely considered horror when it was released in 1991. A sleepy success, I might add. Essentially, Silence is an indie film that flew in under the radar but soon grew to be immensely popular and critically acclaimed. Silence is also one of only three films to win “the big five” Academy Awards (picture, director, lead actor, lead actress, and screenplay). This, in and of itself, serves as demonstrable evidence that The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most influential and profound films of all time–across all genres. Furthermore, there is not one single moment that I would change because it is cinematically perfect just the way it is. It is arguably a dark crime-thriller, but it is also very much a horror film. When asked which category I put it in, I respond with horror. Why? Because there is certainly intent to horrify audiences during particular scenes in the film; whereas, a crime-thriller tends to not overly concern itself with the intent to horrify. The intent to horrify is what defines it as a horror film first and crime-thriller as a very close second.

A senator’s daughter is kidnapped, and it is believed to be the work of a serial killer. After serial killer “Buffalo Bill” (Levine) leaves a trail of mutilated bodies of female victims behind, FBI forensic psychology director Jack Crawford recruits Clarice Starling (Foster), a sharp cadette, to interview famed psychiatrist, cannibal, and psychopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). Crawford hopes that Lecter can provide insight into the case in order to apprehend Buffalo Bill. While tracking down Buffalo Bill with assistance from Lecter, Starling must confront her own internal fears in order to overcome all obstacles to catching Buffalo Bill before he kills again.

Most notable in Silence of the Lambs are the performances of Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and don’t forget Ted Levine. While Hopkins and Foster get most of the attention, Levine delivers a command performance as Buffalo Bill. Delivering a spine-chilling and exhilarating performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter is Sir Anthony Hopkins. The performance was so intensely perfect that he won his Oscar for male actor in a leading role with fewer than 15mins on screen. Hopkins gave us an uncompromising performance that caused audiences to be frightened and yet love him at the same time. Furthermore, this performance ushered him into the company of the likes of Jason, Freddy, and other icons of horror. Foster’s Academy Award winning role as Clarice Starling was gripping, engaging and pivotal. Her phenomenal performance gave a much-needed voice to feminism–a voice that was sorely missing at the time–and is still needed today. She was strong, feminine, smart, vulnerable, and clever all at the same time. Not nearly receiving the accolades he should, Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill is masterfully delivered. His terrifying portrayal of this character was dark, twisted, and mesmerizing. In fact, his oft quoted line “it rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again” appears in memes, parodies, and other media. His character was even used in an episode of Family Guy. Levin’s Buffalo Bill, much like Lecter and Starling, was instantly iconic. What is the common element found in each of these performances? Uncompromising devotion to the character that brings about a believability that few actors have been able to encroach upon.

What a screenplay! One of the foundational parts of visual storytelling that I feel is largely missing from many modern horror films is a solid screenplay. Adapted from the novel written by Thomas Harris, Ted Tally’s Oscar-winning screenplay for Silence is incredible. Although there are some differences between the screenplay and the novel, the screenplay is widely seen as an excellent adaptation and even praised for its more unnerving ending compared to the novel. While some negatively criticize the screenplay for portraying transgendered (or more broadly queer) individuals as being predisposed to abnormal or violent behaviors, Tally’s screenplay comes to the defense by including dialogue that transgendered individuals are prone to pacificity plus no scientific correlation between, what we would now call the LGBTQ community, and violence. Starling is never objectified by Lecter; and any other character objectifying or patronizing her, she quickly diverts attention back to the case. She isn’t modeled as a sex symbol; funnily enough, Lecter refers to her clothes as frumpy, cheap, and her entire persona is barely beyond her background as “poor white trash” from West Virginia. The screenplay contains a healthy, progressive message for feminism–more specifically–women working in a man’s world. Foster’s Starling gave a voice to those women who are working diligently to prove that they are just as capable (and in some cases maybe even moreso) as any man in a given profession. Some film scholars and critics have referred to Silence of the Lambs as one of the most feminist films of all time. Prior to Silence, there were few horror, crime, or film noir motion pictures with strong female protagonists (Ridley Scott’s Alien being another example).

Executing his impeccable vision for this iconic film, the late director Jonathan Demme guided this film from screenplay to screen, blazing new trails for a genre not typically known for high caliber, excellent motion pictures. Moreover, the film was so successful that junior executives at studios would pitch other screenplays as “the next Silence of the Lambs.” Most remarkably about the direction of the film is the success at overcoming prejudices held against visually and psychologically disturbing stories that involve graphic language, cannibalism, nightmarish serial killers, nudity, self-mutilation, and (although mostly off-screen) violence. There are Hitchcockian tones in the suspense and violence that can be seen in the off-screen violence, framing, lighting, and angles. That which is in the mind is more frightening than what the naked eye can see. Demme’s Silence is arguably seen as a model for other horror and thriller filmmakers, and is often imitated but never has been replicated. The power of subtlety. Demme communicated so much emotion through subtle movements and strategic dialogue rich with subtext. One element that is common amongst Best Picture winners is the ability to take what was then “present day” and make it timeless. The plot, characters, and setting feel ageless. Genuine fear can be felt throughout the film because Demme channeled that which terrifies him in real life. It’s authenticity is uncanny. Much like Psycho was groundbreaking for modern horror films featuring psychopaths and twist endings, Silence of the Lambs was groundbreaking in that it relied upon the everyday world rather than supernatural forces to shock with unbelievable credibility and realism.

While the director, screenwriter, and actors are the principle forces behind the success and timelessness of Silence, the film would not have won best picture without amazing editing, music, cinematography, and other technical elements. The best editing and cinematography occurs when you don’t see the seams or think about camera placement or angle. Superior editing and cinematography enable the characters and plot to maintain center stage. The world Demme desires to portray in the motion picture was to be as real as possible. Hence why you won’t find lengthy shadows, set decoration that stands out from the world that it inhabits, and music that enhances but never overpowers a scene. Demme and his director of photography Tak Fujimoto worked together to strategically include a motif of birds that are literal and metaphoric. This is evident in not only Clarice “Starling” but in the crows at the beginning, stuffed owl in the Your Self Storage unit, and even in the line at the crucial turning point, “it’ll be terns for us too.” Birds are an important element in films, not limited to horror films. Specifically terns was used in place of turns because terms are a protected bird species, much like the mind of Dr. Lecter. Birds are a common motif or symbol in films, and can be used to represent different concepts or ideals.

Thematically, Silence is incredibly rich. These themes are brought out through the strange relationship shared by Lecter and Starling. There is a high level of respect mutually expressed by both characters, albeit unconventional. This strained relationship is observed in the similarities between Lecter and Starling. Examples of the parallels between Starling and Lecter include the feeling, they both experience, of being ostracized by the world in which they respectively live and work. Lecter from the human race, for his psychopathy and cannibalism; and Starling by the law enforcement profession because she is a women in a time that women were not commonly pursuing careers in law enforcement. They both occupy a prison. Whereas Lecter’s prison is a literal one, Clarice’s is a metaphoric one because of the men that literally and figuratively tower over her, establishing her boundaries. Clarice may not have a doctorate but she can easily match wits with Lecter in the shared power they both have to manipulate and persuade with cunning. Less obvious is the shared past they both have as victims of abnormal upbringings. Lecter was a victim of child abuse, and this ca be inferred in his dialogue with Clarice (note: Demme should have underscored this a little more) with Clarice being left an unloved orphan to be raised by distant relatives. Shared childhood trauma. These similarities are what forge the bond between these two strong characters. Demme and Fujimoto reinforced these themes and relationships with visual storytelling elements in order to personify and manifest in dynamic ways that hook and mind and eye.

Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs remains one of the most iconic films in cinema history and will continue to have an evergreen shelf-life. It’s a multidimensional motion picture that frightens and intrigues. It is an arthouse film that achieved commercial success. Perhaps Red Dragon and Hannibal do not live up to the quality of experience of Silence but they by no means infringe on the ability for Silence to terrify us today. From the buildup to the introduction of Dr. Lecter to the trademark moth cocoon in the throat of the original victim. Furthermore, Demme continues to drive up the suspense and tension that create frightening thoughts and imagery through the use of interiors and exteriors of houses and buildings that represent the minds of characters (i.e. Buffalo Bill’s house and lair). We continue to seek this film out for its ability to manipulate our minds and eyes through strategic and artistic use of story and image. And you know what? We love these characters. We like and can identify with Clarice, have an unconventional respect and even like Dr. Lecter, and are completely intrigued and disgusted by Buffalo Bill.

 

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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Disney’s “Christopher Robin” full movie review

Silly ol’ movie. Disney’s latest live-action re-imagination of a classic property is Christopher Robin, directed by Marc Forster with a story and screenplay by several writers. And that is likely where the fault lies with a movie that should have been heartwarming and magical. Although the movie has a whimsical fancy about it, and there are moments that will tug at your heartstrings, those moments are very few. It is as if each contributor to the story/screenplay had his or her own idea of how to handle a middle-aged Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred Acre Wood; but instead of selecting one story, one plot, we have bits and pieces of the different takes on how to write a story dealing with a rediscovery of the inner child and realizing that friends and family are more important than work. Plots such as the aforementioned are commonplace, almost cliche. So, it needed a fresh take on it. Needless to say, the movie plays it safe and paints by number. Not to say the film is not without its accolades. The quality of the CGI for Pooh and his fellow Hundred Acre Wood residents is outstanding. There are moments that you forget that they are not actually real. However, I am confused as to why Owl and Rabbit are based on real animals whereas the others are based on stuffed animals–that decision is a little odd. Suffice it to say, the best scenes in the movie are the ones with Pooh, because McGregor’s Christopher Robin ultimately fails to genuinely connect with the audience. Although the past iterations of Winnie-the-Pooh (animated and live action) have more heart than this film, you can still enjoy waxing nostalgic as the film takes you back to the Hundred Acre Wood and displays a little heart despite the cumbersome story.

Faced with having to find 20% in cuts at the Winslow Luggage Company or be forced to lay off a significant number of employees, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is forcibly asked to work the weekend to prepare for a big presentation Monday morning. Unfortunately, that means he has to send his family away to his boyhood countryside home without him. When his childhood best friend Winnie-the-Pooh pays him a surprise visit in London, Pooh asks that Christopher return to the Hundred Acre Wood in order to help find Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga, and Roo. Resistant at first, Christopher Robin returns to the wood where he spent most of his early childhood. It is in these whimsical woods that he is reminded of the child he once was. But after finding Pooh’s friends, Christopher Robin must return to London for his big meeting. Returning all the help and friendship Christopher Robin showed the Hundred Acre Wood all throughout his childhood, Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet embark on an xpadition to London in order to help Christopher Robin to rediscover the joy of life.

At its core, Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne would likely approve of the story Forster attempted to tell. Unfortunately, Milne would likely be unhappy with the final product. “Too many hands in the pot will spoil the sauce.” When a film or movie has multiple writers contributing to the story and screenplay (in this case 7), the plot typically suffers from too many ideas and too little direction. Clearly the movie is trying to be a cross between Finding Neverland and Hook. Two excellent models to follow for rediscovering childhood magic, Christopher Robin would have benefited from relying upon one or two writers to extract the best elements of the aforementioned and use them as supporting structure upon which to build the present Winnie-the-Pooh concept. For those of us who are familiar with Winnie-the-Pooh through the years from the books, TV shows, and theme park attractions, the story includes many nods to past stories and contains several Easter eggs. And these will be some of the fondest moments from the film. There is one pounding question left from the film. And that is whether or not Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends are toys that have come to life or actual living creatures that Christopher Robin abandoned, which complicates what it means for Christopher to leave them behind for more than three decades. It also doesn’t help matters any that Christopher comes across as a jerk, and not older equivalent of Toy Story‘s Andy who brought tears to our eyes.

A far riskier plot, but one that allows for more introspect, is the one used in 2017’s Goodbye Christopher Robin. In short, Goodbye Christopher Robin takes audiences on a journey that explores the literary success of author A.A. Milne and the estranged relationship with his son who came to resent the character of Pooh. Emotional depth is missing from Christopher Robin. Much of the mild emotional connection between the audience and the characters feels forced. So, yes there is a bit of a relationship between the audience and the characters but not enough of one that takes you on the journey that this film could have been. Some of this lack of a connection can be explained by spending way too much time in the factory to the point it feels tedious. Imagine if you will, spending most of Mary Poppins at the bank? That is precisely what you have here. Another aspect to the film that takes away from its ability to successfully connect with the audience is the lazy plot device used to get Christopher Robin back to the Hundred Acre Wood. His own daughter and wife couldn’t get him to spend even a day in the countryside, but he quickly decides to return once he encounters Winnie-the-Pooh on a park bench. The story would have been so much more compelling and the childlike wonder could have been increased if Robin’s daughter stumbled across the Hundred Acre Wood to discover her father’s drawings were of real creatures. And together with Pooh’s friends, Robin’s daughter could have been more instrumental in helping her father rediscover the joys of life.

The overall message of this film is to “do nothing.” Although it is explained what that means, it is not terribly constructive. There was such potential here to comment on friendship and family, but the movie barely moves beyond the surface level. Moreover, Christopher Robin struggles to connect the audience to the characters and make Robin a relatable character with whom you can sufficiently empathize. You will definitely enjoy the moments in the movie that feature Robin and Pooh together and nods to the past Pooh stories. And Tigger even sings his song! Whereas I never felt on the verge of tears, I enjoyed the moments that made me smile and giggle. I just wish there were more of those.

Sinister Summer: Kubrick’s “The Shining” film review

“Here’s Johnny!” Arguably one of the most quoted lines in, not only the horror genre, but in all of cinema! Widely considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, it stands as a testament to what an innovative, pioneering director can do with the genre. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining based upon the best-selling novel by Stephen King is a cinematic masterpiece that continues to be studied and terrify audiences today. You’ll find TV shows and even movies paying homage to it through clever references to famous scenes in the film. The Shining is an incredible source of inspiration for visual storytelling and the horror genre. Much like Hitchcock radically altered the landscape of suspense and horror, Kubrick is regarded as a director who also dramatically changed filmmaking and broke ground for directing, cinematography, editing, and more! He took the medium of film to new levels that are still studied today. He is infamous for his acute perfectionism that often required dozens of retakes for the same scene, which made him a terror to work with. He was giving his best, so he demanded that you give your best in turn. It’s this approach that has made his films withstand the test of time. Beyond the silver screen, last year Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights made it possible for you to check into the infamous Overlook to face your fears as you meander the corridors lined with the famous carpet that leads to bloody elevators, terrifying twins, and Jack Torrance wielding his fire axe (although it’s supposed to be a croquet mallet). As part of my Sinister Summer series, this article explores just what makes The Shining such a timeless horror film and example of excellence in the art and science of motion pictures.

With the recent news regarding the casting and upcoming production of the sequel to The Shining titled Doctor Sleep, I thought that an analysis of this iconic film was appropriate! Although the 1997 3-part mini-series was a closer screen interpretation of the novel and took place in the very hotel (The Stanley in Estes Park, CO) that inspired Kubrick to write the terrifying tale, it’s the Kubrick film that continues to be the favorite among cinephiles and horror fans. Furthermore, it’s the film that is a testament to the power of visual storytelling and ability to evoke strong emotion, and is simply more memorable because of the depth and complexity of the film that begs for analysis. As a member of the audience, you are forcibly pulled into the story; you can feel the trauma, tension, and emotion of the characters. While Kubrick’s The Shining is one of the greatest horror films of all time, it is not and should not be thought of one of the scariest movies of all time. For one, Kubrick never stated that The Shining was a scary movie nor did he, through his control of the public relations and marketing material, imply that it was a scary movie. However, he did imply that it was more of a conventional horror film in order to capitalize on the popularity of the genre; but initial responses to the film were not overly positive because some interpreted the publicity as a bait’n switch. It does a lot of things, but “scaring” the audience is not one of them.

As I’ve written before, horror films are not synonymous with scary movies. Are many, if not most, horror films also scary? Yes. But some of the best ones focus more on the drama, themes, and subtext. That focus gives the film depth. And through the drama and cinematography, tension is built, suspense is drawn out, and strategically placed glimpses of visceral horror, nightmare-inducing imagery, and uncanny moments are revealed that generate terror in the mind that evokes a physiological response to the motion picture. Beyond the physiological realm, The Shining also taps into the psychology of the audience as the events unfold through the various traumas on screen. In retrospect, The Shining is a dark, traumatic family drama disguised as a horror film. The action sequences in the film certainly lend themselves to the horror genre, but the family drama paired with the brilliant cinematography and editing is what gives the film critical value. On the surface, it is very much a horror film, but beneath beats the heart of a dark melodrama with terrifying glimpses into psychotic breakdowns and schizophrenic delusions.

The Shining is one of those films that has been and continues to be analyzed to discern the meaning behind the images and writing. In addition to directing, Kubrick also co-wrote the screenplay with Diane Johnson. As one of the writers, he was often asked about the meaning of the various sequences or moment in the film, and in mysterious fashion, he was reluctant to clarify the meaning. Instead, he preferred to leave it up to the individual audience members to decide. If you’ve read the novel, you’ll note that there are many differences between the Kubrick film and book. Most notably the weapon of choice for Jack. A axe in the movie and a croquet mallet in the novel. There are also character traits that were lost in translation. In the book, Wendy is a strong female whereas in the film she is incredibly mousey. And the hotel itself. The hotel described in the novel is clearly The Stanley in Estes Park, CO but it was the Timberline Lodge in Oregon that was used for the exterior shots. Why would Kubrick make these obvious changes? Not limited to The Shining, Kubrick often–in Kubrick fashion–adapted novels to screenplays in a manner that it made them more cinematic and less literary. The film certainly has a literary quality about it, but the changes implemented were in an effort–and successfully so–to make the story more cinematic. One visual way Kubrick adapted the novel in order to make the film memorable was to invert colors from the novel (i.e. yellow VW bug instead of the red one from the novel). Furthermore, he looked at the meaning behind the hotel’s design in the novel, and interpreted the meaning for the screen, not the objects themselves. It’s this cinematic quality that contributes to the masterpiece status of the film.

More than a ghost story in an isolated location, more than haunted magnificent hotel with a sordid, tragic past, The Shining derives its brand of horror through the twisted, dark family drama with a touch of the supernatural. I love how Kubrick uses what may appear to be beautiful imagery and juxtapose it against the macabre. Often there are innocent or majestic images used in the film that are undercut by dark subtext, uncomfortable music, or superimposed on that which removes any positive potential from the sequence. It keeps you from being too comfortable or perhaps it pains your mind. While one may expect a haunted hotel to appear in a more conventional or traditional fashion (gothic, rundown, tired, antiquated), this hotel is brightly lit, well-kept, and modern. But through Kubrick’s brilliant direction, despite the hotel’s outward appearance, it also feels evil from the onset. Frame by frame, Kubrick paints an entire portrait, writes an entire story. Each scene is as though it is a word in a larger paragraph. Much like the scenes in Barry Lyndon are ostensibly taken directly from an oil painting, the shapes, colors, and frames of The Shining communicate through extensively showing that which would have lost critical value if it was told. Show don’t tell (I say to my students all the time). Visually, the film builds tension throughout every moment from the beginning to the end. Because Kubrick exerted extreme perfectionism in direction, cinematography, and editing, one could remove all the dialogue from the film, and it would still play out just as powerfully. But of course, we would lose that famous line as Jack comes crashing through the apartment door.

Some of what Kubrick left out of the novel was due to logistical reasons. Visual FX that would allow for increased ectoplasmic apparitions, menacing hedge animals, and more was still limited. At least, limited to the extent that they did not meet the demands of Kubrick. He exchanged the more traditional horror imagery for something with far more intrinsic value–and thankfully so. Let’s concentrate on the three principle characters for a moment. Just like the Overlook Hotel is one location, one building with many spaces or rooms, we can apply that illustration to the Torrance family. Imagine the Torrance family as one unit, one unit with three different spaces. Perhaps this is a bit of an abstract thought, but the film’s content supports the focus on the central three as abstract spaces within the larger whole more so than the haunts around them. When analyzing the family in such a manner, the viewer can then see how elements of the hotel are extensions of the individual family members. You can read the family like you read the hotel. I also liken The Shining to Edgar Allan Pot’s The Fall of the House of Usher because the Overlook is a direct representation of the psyche of Jack, just like the house in Poe’s story. On one hand, the hotel is exquisite and expansive but on the other, it’s a claustrophobic prison, a grave. It exists on a serene landscape of beautiful snow-capped mountains but it also exists in a state of hell. It’s that identify crisis that mirrors Jack’s duality of mind and behavior. The famous carpet pattern, arrangement of corridors, impossible windows, lonely hallways with skeletons in the closets–or bathtub in this case–are all representative of the bizarre, bewildering mazes of Jacks mind that slowly drive him insane.

Kubrick also plays around with the idea of time, repressed memories, the uncanny through the revealing of that which should have remained hidden or buried. In my article The Psychology of Horror: An Exploration of Freud’s Uncanny through Psycho, I explain that the uncanny is The word uncanny comes from the German word unheimlich, which is literally translated as something unfamiliar. However, that which is unfamiliar is not necessarily uncanny. By the same toke, that which is uncanny is not necessarily completely unfamiliar either. In particular, he was interested in the return of the repressed. And, in this return of the repressed, “other” scenes, to which we do not have direct access, would reveal themselves. It is this revelation that is what Freud terms the uncanny. According to Freud, “unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained…secret and hidden, but has come into the light.” The famous bathroom scene with the ghoulish bathing beauty, the bloody elevator (which Universal achieved so brilliantly at last year’s Halloween Horror Nights), and the twins that beg Danny to play with them forever, these are all repressed memories of the hotel’s past that have come into the present to disrupt the natural order of time, space, and dimension. It’s this disorder that directly impacts the ability for the family to function normally. And therefore contributes to the psychological breakdown of Jack, Wendy, and even Danny. These images and experiences distort reality, causing those of weak minds (Jack) to question everything around them, to behave hostilely in the face of an inability to discern reality from imagination.

Many critics and fans have written that the chief theme of The Shining is an exploration of America and her troubled, violent past. Mainly the massacre and displacement of the natives but can be applied to slavery, the Civil War, and where I’m choosing to go: socioeconomic class. I find that this is an important theme to discuss and may provide further insight into the meanings of the film because we learn that Jack is unemployed but finds himself in the grandest of hotels. Evidence of socioeconomic class can be seen through Jack’s words and behavior. Although he’s issued the title caretaker, he quickly asserts himself as a writer during his interview. How many of us have modified our profession or self image to impress more. It’s out defensive pretense to make ourself appear more successful or more intellectual than we actually are, for fear of what others may think. We are our own caretakers and public relations professionals.

Jack quickly associates the hotel with luxury, but is reminded of his lowly status during the course of his interview. He can temporarily live like the elite, but knows that he is still a working class schlub. Seeing this position at The Overlook as a way to gain prestige, he takes the position. I imagine he took the position so he could say to his friends that he spent the winter at the Overlook in order to write on his novel. During the tour, Wendy often remarks that they’ve never been anywhere like this before, drawing attention to the family’s provincial status. Several times during the film, Wendy urges Jack to resign as caretaker and return to Boulder. He refuses, stating that if he went back, he would be reduced to working menial jobs. The irony is that he is already working a menial job as a caretaker at a shuttered hotel. He exists in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance, demonstrated an inability to reconcile what his role actually is. Again, we witness the film displaying someone who cannot discern reality from imagination.

And on the topic of the real versus imagined, another theme I’d like to highlight in the film is madness versus possession. We may never truly now if Jack was simply mad or was truly possessed by the spirits in the hotel. In the TV version, it is far easier to surmise that Jack IS possessed by the hotel, not so much in the more artistic film. We know that Jack has a violent history of alcoholism that led to Danny’s arm breaking and that he resents Wendy for refusing to forgive him for the accident. Furthermore, Jack demonstrates anger and resentment for Wendy not fully supporting his aspirations for a writing career. The presence of ghosts and other evils lends support to the possible possession of Jack. He certainly does change during his short tenure as the caretaker. Perhaps it’s a combination. Danny’s ability to shine and Jack’s sensitivity to objects and people who shine creates quite the conundrum. It’s entirely possible that Danny insisting that Jack is possessed drives him mad. There is evidence in the film that Jack may be legitimately schizophrenic because of his visions of Lloyd, the Gold Room bartender and the New Years party guests. But because Wendy eventually sees these same ghosts, that supports the hypothesis that Jack is possessed by the hotel. Does Jack have free will or is he fated to a pre-determined destiny? You be the judge.

That’s what makes the writing and visuals of this film so great! There are many interpretations, and I feel strongly that is what Kubrick wanted. This film causes us to think and discuss. So, I am glad it doesn’t just have one metaphor or meaning. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a masterpiece of a film that deserves all the accolades that it has ever received. The supporting evidence outlined in this article merely touch the surface of the depth and breadth of discussions that can be had about this film. The bar set by the atmosphere of dread in this film is incredibly high, and few films even encroach upon the level of cinematic excellence.

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“Tully” film review

A no holds barred, unapologetic story of the realities of motherhood. Focus Features’ Tully starring Charlize Theron is a brilliant film that shies not away from what being a mom is truly about during postpartum depression, a subject seldom touched on in film or TV. Directed and written by Juno’s Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody respectively, this film represents the best work of Reitman and Cody since the groundbreaking Juno which was followed up by the outstanding Young Adult, and showcases just how incredibly diverse an actor Theron is. See her in a role unlike her typical roles as she so incredibly authentically brings to life a middle-class working mother who is faced with many obstacles as she rears her three kids, one of which is a newborn. As a male, I cannot begin to fathom just how difficult it is to be a mother (or by extension, a single father); but after watching this film, I have a whole new respect for the many hats that a mom has to wear in order to manage a household. Some might even say that this film is so incredibly effective at laying out the hardships of being a mom, that it may work better than more conventional birth control. However, the film is not only about the trials of motherhood, but it also spends time on the joys. Tully is what I characterize as a dark comedy that has some truly terrifying moments.

Already the working mother of two kids, one of which displays signs of a developmental disorder, Marlo (Charlize Theron) is not pregnant with baby number three, in what her brother identifies as an “unplanned pregnancy.” Marlo’s wealthy brother desires to help his sister by gifting her a night nanny in order to help Marlo through the rough transition of a newborn in an already chaotic house. Marlo’s husband is hardworking, makes lunches, and assists his oldest daughter with her homework, but fails to understand that Marlo needs to be taken care of as well. In order to not go completely insane during postpartum depression, Marlo reluctantly decides that she could use the night nanny that her brother offered to pay for. Hesitant to the extravagance of having a nanny at first, Marlo forms an unexpected bond with the unconventional, challenging hipster Mary Poppins named Tully.

No pretense about this story of motherhood. Cody’s brilliant penchant for self-deprecation, dry humor, and stark naked emotion is witnessed once again in Tully. I cannot think of a present screenwriter that could have created such a compelling story. Unlike her timeless modern classic Juno, Cody shies away from the comedy you may be accustomed to seeing from her, and focus on the darker side of being a mother. And it works superbly. I laughed, cringed, and cheered during the film, and so did many of the others in the audience. There is an authenticity in this story that is seldom seen in other melodramas. Possessing a raw, gritty narrative, Tully will have you empathizing quickly with the struggles Marlo continues to face throughout the film. There is so much that is praiseworthy in this story; but unfortunately the sharp, precision that supports the first two acts becomes a little dull during the realization (or resolution) on the third act–the same chutzpah that was in the DNA of the majority of the movie is not as apparent at the end. What Tully lacks is a well-defined external goal. The weak end game is uncharacteristic of Cody, as both Juno and Young Adult had solid realizations. As I tell my screenwriting students, dealing with life is not a goal (it’s incidental). Still, everything else about this film is effectively compelling.

Theron displays a genuine, uncompromising commitment to character in this motion picture. Aside from the fact she literally put on 50lbs for the role (that’s right, no fat suit), she provides audiences with a fearless portrayal that is both vulnerable and fiery. Coupled with waves of mania, anger, and complete exhaustion, Theron delivers a razor-sharp performance that will leave you breathless and bleeding from the unbridled intensity and emotional rawness. In this slice of life story, there was certainly the room to demonize Marlo’s husband, the sister-in-law, the former roommate, and school principal, but Cody includes these individuals that many moms actually have in their lives but chooses to focus on the physiological and emotional struggle of Marlo as she recovers from her unplanned pregnancy. Of course, there is a brilliantly funny scene of Marlo confronting the pretentious private school principal. It’s the kind of encounter that many of us want to have with those who refuse to shoot straight and annoyingly avoid confrontation because they are so afraid to be candid, and it just comes off as a facade. Theron’s ability to completely sell a mother on the verge of a breakdown who’s constantly facing situations in which she asks herself how-the-hell-am-I-going-to-get-through-this is unparalleled. I cannot think of another movie that has a character quite like Marlo in Tully.

The film’s title character is a Mary Poppins of sorts that comes to the aid of Marlo when she is at her wits’ end. You may be wondering why the film is named after the night nanny instead of Marlo. For the same reason Mary Poppins is the name of the story that is really about Mr. Banks. Marlo may be the central character, but Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is so incredibly instrumental in supporting Marlo through this time. Furthermore, she opens her mind to new possibilities and the joys of being a mom, even when Marlo isn’t feeling it. Tully embodies that free spirit that many of us have or had in our 20s that somehow gets lost as we get older. Tully enables Marlo to channel her younger self in an effort to be emotionally healthier for her kids. Taking care of yourself first so you can be there for your kids, is one of Tully’s many messages to Marlo. There is a whimsy about Tully that is contagious, and will put smiles on the audience’s faces amidst the majority of the film’s darker moments.

You’ll encounter all the different kinds of people that an emotionally struggling mom has to deal with on a regular basis. From an out-of-touch snobby sister-in-law to a husband who just doesn’t get you, from a pretentious and absurdly conflict aversive school principal to a former roommate, the film provides commentary on how each of these kinds of relationships affect a mom who’s trying her best to keep sane and not murder everyone. The film even touches on how having a kid with a developmental disability is physiologically and psychologically draining, even though you love your kid unconditionally. It’s important to note that Marlo’s husband is shown to be an active participant in his family by way of, not only his financial support, but being there for his kids in the evening and helping to make lunches. However, he does withdraw to playing video games after the kids have gone to bed; but that’s because he is like many fathers that are unaware that their spouses need to be comforted, cared for, and shown appreciation during this rough transitional time. Hopefully, after watching this movie, fathers will have a better idea of what their spouse may be going through. One of the strongest themes one can write into a film is a commentary on what it means to be human–the human condition–but seldom has a film been so specific to comment on what it means to be a mother. In this respect, Tully is provocatively groundbreaking.

Such a perfect film for the upcoming Mothers Day weekend. Even if you are not a mom or (let’s not forget) single father, there is something to learn from this film because you may have a mom or single father in your circle of friends or family. Never before has a film stripped away all the magic of motherhood at the time when your kids are little. No frivolous, ostentatious gender reveal parties, gym moms-to-be, or ridiculously lavish baby showers for this mom. Why? Because those are events and experiences typically found on Pinterest, in the movies, or reserved for upperclass society that is hasn’t a clue what it’s like to be a struggling mother balancing her full-time career and being a full-time mom. Tully tells it like it is for so many, and why it is such an outstanding motion picture.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“A Quiet Place” horror film review

Heart-pounding. Spine-chilling. A creepy creature-feature that will leave you speechless. The demonstrable excellence in terrifying visual storytelling can effectively be summed up by the queen of silent film herself Norma Desmond, “we didn’t need dialogue, we had faces” (Sunset Boulevard). A Quiet Place truly earns its place among “certified fresh” horror films. Not since Don’t Breath and 10 Cloverfield Lane have I encountered such a thrillingly intelligent motion picture. Writer-director John Krasinski’s post-apocalyptic horror masterpiece showcases the power of visual storytelling within the horror genre. Furthermore Krasinski brilliantly channeled the soul of the iconic (mostly Universal Pictures) silent and early horror films for his modern interpretation of the creature-feature. No gimmicks here. Only a solid plot that builds an incredible, immersive cinematic experience upon the foundation of a simple plot with simple limitations. Simple plot, complex characters. That basic screenwriting principle is where so many filmmakers and writers go astray. Film is a visual medium, often supported by well-crafted, lean dialogue, and this film has visual storytelling in spades. This film represents one of the best examples of embracing the concept of “show don’t tell.”

Shhhh. Don’t make a sound. One family finds themselves surviving a post-apocalyptic world now inhabited by an alien species that hunts by sound.

There has certainly been a resurgence of exceptional horror films over the last few years. I mentioned Don’t Breath and 10 Cloverfield Lane earlier, we also have the Academy Award nominated Get Out from last year and many others. While many may shrug their shoulders at horror because it is a proliferated genre with many cheep, tawdry horror flicks, this same genre can be incredibly intelligent in how it makes an observation of society and offers commentary, a new perspective, or provides a means to a discussion. Some of the most critically acclaimed films over the decades have been horror. Being among the first films commercially released, horror has also stood the test of time and provides audiences with a experience that challenges worldviews, provokes physiological responses, and fuels nightmares and imaginations.

One of the most brilliant aspects to A Quiet Place is the film’s innate ability to instantly hook the audience with loud silence. Going into the movie, audiences know that the arachnid-like creatures kill anything within an earshot. Therefore, the audiences hang onto every bump, snap, or thud as the tension rises and suspense is drawn out to terrifying levels. Impeccable audience engagement. It takes a special kind of movie to completely immerse the audience into the world of the film in a multidimensional way. In terms of viability of the film and cross-promotion, this movie certainly has what it takes to be a popular and successful adaptation for a house at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights or Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream. Definitely has a place among the best horror film experiences to date.

The successful suspense and tension building can be attributed to seldom getting a good look at the alien-arachnid-like creatures. Had the audience seen the creature repeatedly throughout the film, it would lose fright value. As Hitchcock stated, “there is nothing scarier than an unopened door.” Meaning, the filmmaker’s ability to transfer the terror on screen to the minds of the audience is far more powerful and impressive than relying upon on-the-nose scares and jump-scare gimmicks. Well-crafted suspense and rising tension carries far more weight, and has the ability to support a narrative so much more effectively than a cheap scare. Although the atmosphere in this film may remind you of Don’t Breath, and rightly so, Krasinski’s film does not quite measure up to the macabre, terrifying atmosphere that Fede Alvarez provided audiences; however, Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is extremely close to the aforementioned and deserves the accolades that it has received.

In terms of how to closely read A Quiet Place, the film provides exceptional social commentary on the perils parenting and, by extension, protecting one’s offspring. In fact, I imagine that the experience for parents watching this film exceeds the levels of terror felt by those of us who do not have kids. There is also plenty of material on how far a parent is willing to go in order to protect their children. I also appreciate the film’s commentary on expected mothers, and how they stop at nothing to protect their unborn child from that which seeks to do it harm. Responding to and working through grave tragedy is another heavy and shocking subject matter in the film. We all respond to death differently; many of us grieve differently than one another. Some bottle up all the negative feelings for fear of how to deal with them, and others blame themselves because they feel that there is something that could’ve been done differently to protect a lost loved one. On a lighter note, the film also provides metaphor on how to work with and handle your older kids when they seek to push the boundaries–boundaries that may be dangerous and place them in harm’s way. There is so much here to talk about, and I have just touched on the surface. That is why horror is the best genre for creatively exploring psycho-social constructs and other observations about humanity and the world in which we live.

Quietly make your way to your seat in the auditorium. A Quiet Place is definitely a film to be experienced on the big screen with a theatre full of others who seek to be frightened. Enjoy the refreshing originality of a film that could have so easily went by way of so many other creatures features that lack anything memorable, and just blend into the background with countless others in this subgenre of horror. It may not have the well-defined external goal and end game of Don’t Breath, but it is certainly exciting and fun! You’ll certainly be absorbed into this terrifying post-apocalyptic world, where YOU are afraid to go bump in the night.