Tag Archives: Deafness

Movie Review: Hush (2016)

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Rating: B-/ Hush is a fairly typical home invasion/slasher flick with a intriguing twist- the victim of the unfolding mayhem is more or less completely deaf, making her easy pickings for an unhinged thrill seeker with a neck tat and a bad attitude. Or so he thinks. Maddie (actress/ co-writer Kate Siegel) is a kind and independent hearing-impaired young woman who’s retreated to a cabin in the woods to finish her latest novel.All the wants is some peace and quiet while she tries to overcome her crippling bout of writer’s block, but the otherwise unnamed ‘man’ (John Gallagher Jr.) has other ideas, as he stalks Maddie with a crossbow, intent on not only murdering her but also making her life a living hell before doing so. Continue reading Movie Review: Hush (2016)

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Marie’s Story (2014)

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The Miracle Worker in a convent. Sister Marguerite (Isabelle Carre) is a well-meaning but somewhat naive French nun who lives in a convent-slash- school for deaf girls. When Marie Huertin (Ariana Rivoire) arrives, Sister Marguerite as her work cut out for her. Born both blind and deaf, Marie is the wild offspring of working class parents (Gilles Treton and Laura Duthilleul) who, although apparently kind and compassionate, were not up to meeting the needs of their out-of-control daughter.

Marie can’t or refuses to dress herself, eats like an animal, and bites and claws anyone who stands in the way of her achieving her whims. While the Mother Superior (Brigitte Cattilion) believes that Marie can’t be helped and should be sent to an insane asylum or someplace else better equipped to control her unusual behavior, Sister Marguerite takes her on as her own personal project despite being very ill herself. This leads predictably, after much frustration and doubt, to a Eureka moment akin to Helen Keller’s at the water pump and some gradual bonding between Marguerite and her protege.

Marie’s Story is a film which, while very well-acted, should seem familiar to people who hve seen films such as The Miracle Worker, Nell, or Truffaut’s slightly superior oldie The Wild Child. While the character’s disorders are slightly different in the two latter films (having previously been feral humans rather being born blind and deaf,) the set-up is very much the same. The big confrontation between Marguerite and her young charge over whether the wild young thing should eat with a fork strongly echoes a defining scene in The Miracle Worker, while the sequence where the girl is tormented by the poking and prodding fingers of some mean-spirited deaf girls seems reminiscent of the boy’s jarring first arrival to supposed ‘civilization’ in The Wild Child.

It is not surprising that this film should seem uncannily similar to The Miracle Worker, after all, both are based on true stories that occurred around the same time period and both incidents resemble each other a great deal. If Annie Sullivan was a nun who was dying of an incurable disease, well… With all that said, acknowledging that no, Marie’s Story does not feel fresh or particularly innovative or original. it is not a bad movie by a long shot. There’s are some good performances.

Ariana Rivoire does an amazing job as Marie. Not once does she break character, it is easy to imagine that she is really a disabled, nearly feral young girl. Isabelle Carre provides steady support, and while she did not impress me as much as Rivoire (Rivoire admittedly having the more showy role,) she didn’t fail to compel me as a true woman of God. I don’t know if there is a God (being a very skeptical agnostic,) but if there is, people like Sister Marguerite do him proud.

Despite very little dialogue spoken by the character throughout the film, Gilles Treton as Marie’s father touched my heart in a way I can’t exactly explain. You can tell by his look of concerned devotion that he is a good man who provided his daughter with a life much better than most severely disabled people in that era could dare to dream of. He just couldn’t provide her with what she needed most; communication. I found myself liking his character even though he had next to no lines, just call it a hunch, or really good acting on Treton’s part. Although it gets a bit too sentimental at times, Marie’s Story has a good story and strong characters.

It’s a good film in all respects, but it just can’t manage to avoid the pitfall of seeming like ‘another Miracle Worker type’ movie. It doesn’t differentiate from the former enough to give it a true identity. However, if you want a film with Faith-based themes that doesn’t condemn the Catholic church yet doesn’t feel like a proselytizing ‘Christian movie,’this might be a prudent choice. I enjoyed this movie and as a skeptic I consider it a religious movie that doesn’t make a agnostic want to barf. It balances God with a fascinating (if familiar) story and gifted actors. In French. So if you like these kinds of movies, in all likelihood, you’ll enjoy this one. There are far worse films about people living with handicaps to choose from.

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Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

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Johnny Got His Gun is a cinematic rarity- a motion picture featuring a perfectly likable and sympathetic protagonist who you desperately hope will die by the film’s conclusion. There are some fates worse than death, the filmmaker reminds us. Although novelist/screenwriter/first-time director Dalton Trumbo’s 1971 classic is bound to be controversial for it’s strong pro-euthanasia and equally fierce anti-war statements, it is as important a movie as it was when it first came out over forty years ago, even partially due to the fact that it is willing to make you squirm and think about time-worn issues of patriotism, God, and man’s duty to himself Vs. to his country, In other words, not a light watch. But worth seeing and discussing by serious film goers.

Joe (Timothy Bottoms) is a good looking, All-American kid with his entire life ahead of him. That is, until he fights in the trenches of the first world war and gets mangled beyond all recognition by a grenade attack. An undetermined amount of time later, Joe is trapped in a kind of living death; a blind, deaf, horribly disfigured quadruple amputee imprisoned in his own head. With absolutely nothing to do set out on a steel table like a slab of meet and  confined to a sterile hospital, Joe drifts in and out of a drug-fueled haze and dreams of his past life; his parents (Marsha Hunt and Jason Robards,) his high school sweetheart (Kathy Fields) and his own expansive helplessness and misery.

Johnny Got His Gun is Trumbo’s directorial debut, based on his novel by the same name, and it is notable for trying to get into the main character’s head through dreams, hallucinations, and memories. In this way, it is as interesting and immersive as a novel. Timothy Bottoms plays the doomed soldier, and although I don’t necessarily think he was the best man for the job (he seems to flounder at times in an exceedingly difficult role,) he has a innocent quality that lends credibility to his character. The message is sort pf obvious and states itself in a somewhat didactic way, there’s a not a huge amount of subtlety to a script that all but outright tells you that ‘war is hell’ in a dark and thoroughly depressing manner. That said, the movie has not lost it’s power since it’s release in 1971 and it’s intelligent stylistic choices and primal sense of horror (the horror of being trapped within yourself. unable to see, hear, or communicate and treated by your doctors as brain-dead) still rings true.

Johnny Got His Gun will make you think about a state between life and death where suddenly, being alive isn’t worth the trouble anymore. We see a decent, clean-cut, likable kid in a harrowing situation that God willing, none of us will have to face, and we see the bullshit of war and the hypocrisy of  warmongers and politicians who send kids in to die for a conflict most of them don’t fully understand. In one of the film’s earlier sequences, Joe and his girlfriend Kareen share a sweet moment while a enlistment officer talks a line of bunk about the glory of war.

The scene of the couple’s genuinely sweet moment juxtaposed against the officer’s never ending speel is particularly memorable. For a boy going to war, what is gained? More importantly, what is lost? Potent, raw, and sometimes downright eerie, this movie is worth watching when considering both the Euthanasia and wartime debate. If I myself was in Joe’s position, there’s no question about it. I’d want to be put out of my misery as quickly as possible.  Living for the sake of living, despite horrible quality of life, just isn’t worth it. This isn’t a rousing movie with lots of hyper kinetic battle scenes. It’s a quiet, serious kind of film, and should be viewed as such. It is also one of the most effective ant-war films I’ve ever seen.

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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

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Seeing this movie for the first time is like watching a slow-motion train wreck. I mean, Geez, guys. What other horrific tragedies can befall these people? However, effectively ambiguous character development and outstanding acting serve to make this Korean revenge thriller more than just a series of senselessly violent nihilistic events.

Let me just tell you before I proceed with this review that I actually have not seen director Chan-Woo Park’s most famous film, “Oldboy.” I saw “Thirst” (an innovative take on the vampire film) and his English-language debut “Stoker,” as well as the not entirely comprehensible loony-bin comedy “I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK,” but not “Oldboy.” Therefore, I can not say which film is more effective as a revenge thriller or otherwise compare the two. But I digress.

Boyish green-haired deaf-mute Ryu (played magnificently by Ha-Kyun Shin) faces bitter labor in his dead-end factory job as well as ableism from the people in his personal life, who sound out consonants and vowels as if speaking to an unmitigated idiot. Ryu’s sister (Ji-Eun Lim) needs a kidney transplant, and when an honest operation doesn’t line up fast enough Ryu books a visit to a black-market ring of organ dealers, but is exploited and ultimately ripped off.

,  Desperate and shystered out of any money he may have originally had, Ryu is reluctantly convinced by his left-wing extremist girlfriend Yeoung-Mi (Doona Bae) to kidnap the young daughter (Bo-bae Han) of Ryu’s former employer (Kang-ho Song,) with disastrous results.

“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” is a film you should pay close attention to, because big plot developments are only mentioned once, with minimal dialogue, and thus slip through the inattentive viewer’s recollection like grains of sand. It is a strange movie, with many darkly offbeat happenings. That said, it’s not really an abstract film either, and what you see is basically what you get (if you’re paying attention.)

Do not watch this movie if you are expecting an inspirational picture with a big-hearted disabled hero. The reason “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” works is although you feel for Ryu at times and are confronted by his desperation and his love for his sister, the filmmaker does not entirely let him off the hook either. Similarly, when the girl’s father goes on a journey of retribution, he does many unconscionable things that you nevertheless can comprehend, even empathize with.

This makes “Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance” a startling moral fable rather than a lurid revenge picture. You see how these two men got into these situations, and they’re nothing if not human. However, I was not as transfixed with the goings-on as I would’ve liked to have been and lost interest somewhat in the final 1/3rd, which is why I’m giving it 3.5/5 stars and thus abstaining from a higher rating.

I liked the fact that some of the otherwise silent Ryu’s thoughts are articulated through captions on the screen. Whether we admit it or not, someone being able to communicate their thoughts In some way makes them easier to relate to and the captions gave me a better look into his inner life. There is lots and lots of violence in the second half of the film, but as other critics have noted, nothing that does not directly fit the plot and the mood of the movie itself.

“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” is essentially a tragedy, more than it is a typical pulse-pounding action movie. It has real consequences for the crises it presents, which in my opinion is a must in good revenge film. It is a worthwhile watch for fans of Asian cinema and casual filmgoers alike. Just prepare for a Hell of a depressing story.

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Orphan (2009)

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Filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra knows the steps but not the music, and therefore lacks the ability to make “Orphan” great, or even good, for that matter. I was startled by myriad similarities to “Joshua,” a psycho-child thriller I really liked, but while “Joshua” showed restraint and a gift for nuanced dread, “Orphan” delivers it’s shocks with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

I became wary when “Orphan” opened with a nightmare sequence involving a bloody squalling fetus-monster coming out of Vera Farmiga (who plays an almost identical role in “Joshua,” wouldn’t you know?) We soon find out that the reason for Kate (Farmiga)’s nightmares is a recent miscarriage and an alcohol problem that’s the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’

However, Kate and her loser husband, John (Peter Sargaard,) want to bring light and joy into an orphaned child’s life, so they adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman,) a prim and unnervingly precocious girl with an annoying Russian accent, and bring her home to their nice house and two children, Maxine (Aryana Engineer) is the youngest, a sweet girl who has suffered almost complete hearing loss in an accident, and Danny (Jimmy Bennett) is somewhat of a punk, who fancies himself a bit of a ‘bad boy’ at his school.

The reactions of the two tykes transpire much as you might expect. with Maxine (‘Max’) immediately accepting the strange child and Danny balking at the girl’s presence. But Esther isn’t who she wants you to think she is, and she soon causes chaos and bloodshed in her adoptive parents’ household.

Fucking jump-scares, man! Let me just say up-front, I have watched a LOT of horror movies. I can usually predict when a jump-scare’s going to happen. And this was no exception. Like in the scene where Kate’s gobbling pills in the mirror, I can safely say, “Someone’s going to pop out in the mirror when she closes it.” You know why? Because it’s been done a million friggin’ times before! If I could describe “Orphan” in three words they would be “Cliché, cliché, cliché.”

“Orphan” tries to compensate for it’s utter predictability by tacking on an insanely ludicrous twist ending and some deliberately, self-consciously ‘shocking’ scenes involving young children. Guess what? I did not find these scenes ‘horrifying.’ I found them skeevy and lurid, as I would guess most people with a social conscience would, but certainly not as ‘horrific’ as the filmmaker intended.

When a young child puts on a low-cut dress and make-up and puts her hand on a grown man’s crotch are we not supposed to be a little… concerned? And I know what you’re going to say, “Well, it’s really not any worse than the violence.” Well, let me just say this- pervs aren’t going to be wanking to the violence.

Some beautiful films have been made about blossoming sexuality. Some timely films have been made about child sexual abuse, which transcend the yuckiness of the subject matter. “Orphan” is neither. It is a cheap attempt at shock value. And that ending! Jesus! Could it have been any fucking lamer if it tried? I laughed out loud when the evil little bitch came popping out of the hole in the ice like Michael Myers or something.

Also, most of the good parts of this movie had been taken almost directly from “Joshua.” The way Esther pits her ‘parents’ against each other has been done better in movies like “Joshua” and Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

I didn’t really care about any of the characters, except maybe Max, and while I liked Sam Rockwell’s similarly dispositioned character In “Joshua,” I found John (Sarsgaard) to be a weirdly ineffectual dweeb. while the kid actors (especially Ariana Engineer, who is hearing-impaired in real life) were decent, the movie was a total fail.

Note- On the other hand, I did get a laugh out of an ad for adoption at the beginning of this movie. Do you back the SPCA before a showing of “Cujo?” There’s a time and a place, people!

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The Hammer (2010)

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no big fan of wrestling. I just can’t get pumped up at the prospect of two muscly, angry-looking, sweaty boys/men sticking their testicles in each others’ faces. So the human interest element of a wrestling story really has to involve me, or else the appeal is lost on me.

Well, “The Hammer” is no Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” but it still manages to be a pretty appealing ‘underdog’ story, sans “The Wrestler”‘s devastating ending. Now inspirational underdog pic can be great “Billy Elliot,” good “The Fighter,” or just mediocre (“Front of the Class,”) and “The Hammer” falls somewhere in the middle category.

Based on a true story, “The Hammer” follows Matt Hamill, a deaf athlete (played by Russell Harvard, who has the disability in real life,) who struggles throughout his youth for love, inclusion, and acceptance. As a child, Matt’s grandfather Stan (Raymond J. Barry) denied him the right to learn sign language or participate in a school with other deaf children.

So guess what? Matt gets moved to the ‘slow class’ of a mainstream primary school, where the normal kids  assume he’s stupid- he can’t hear, he can’t talk, he doesn’t respond to their taunts… until one day he does respond, knocking one of his victimizers to the ground after being bullied.

Matt grows into a strong, oxish youth who nevertheless remains tentative about social engagements. He also finds his calling in life… wrestling. When Matt fails at his wrestling scholarship, partially because of his inability to understand sign language (way to go, Gramps,) he must fight his fears and insecurities in order to achieve his dreams.

I’ll admit- I kind of spaced out during the wrestling scenes, which weren’t my forte. But despite the sentimentality, the tears, and the token inspirational moments, I was pleased with this film as a whole. It wasn’t really anything new or special, but it was well-done.

First of all Matt was a likable characters- you felt for his failures, even if you knew he was going to succeed at the end. The Grandpa was a three-dimensional character, even if his motivations were not always clear. He made up for his shortcomings by being an overall good father figure to his grandson.

Matt’s deaf girlfriend Kristi (also deaf actress Shoshannah Stern) was kind of blah… you couldn’t really feel the chemistry between her and Matt, and her constant nagging at him to sign rather than speak was annoying, and never really got resolved.

“The Hammer” is an overall rather predictable movie that ends up inspiring you despite yourself. The acting is decent, the script strong, and the characters likable enough. It might be worth a watch if you can find it for a cheap rental, or if you like this sort of movie.

The Miracle Worker (1962)

Blind, deaf, and mute, wild child Helen Keller was shut out from communication and terrorized her affluent Southern family, until willful teacher Annie Sullivan brought structure and discipline to Helen’s life and through teaching communication offered Helen something entirely new- a way to speak, and a voice of her own. “The Miracle Worker” tells the true story of Keller’s childhood, with a special touch of sensitivity and minimal sentimentality.

Helen, who became a respected feminist and disability rights advocate, owes her success in no small part to Annie Sullivan, her teacher and friend. But it didn’t start out that way. When Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft,) she is entangled almost immediately in a battle of wills with Helen (Patty Duke,) an unkempt girl seething with frustration and coddled by her exhausted family.

Helen’s family deals with the pressure of her upkeep in different ways- Captain Arthur Keller (Victor Killer) postures and demands respect and obedience from his beleaguered family, while Kate Keller (Inga Swenson) maintains the dutiful ‘whatever you think is best’ attitude of old-world Southern manners. Meanwhile older brother James (Andrew Prine) goofs off and mouths  off, while tensions between him and his domineering father simmer.

There are no ‘bad guys’ here- no monsters in the closet who want to exploit Helen, no boogeymen who want to make the wretched girl suffer. Helen is not a saccharine movie character- she kicks, screams, and bites, and at one point quite deliberately stabs her teacher with a needle- but she is never reprehensible or unlikable, and we never lose sight of her unbearable frustration and anger.

Patty Duke gives what is surely one of the best child performances of all time. Not once does she break character- we believe she is this wild, nearly feral deaf, blind, and mute girl. She excels beyond the portrayals most adult performers deliver of the disabled. The entire cast turn in excellent acting jobs.

It is impossible not to feel enormous  respect for Annie Sullivan, as she refuses to take the easy way out (letting the child have her way) in the long, grueling process of educating Helen. When I saw the stage version of this at our local theater, the audience tittered and laughed at the scene where Annie tries to force her pupil to eat with a fork. In the film adaptation, nothing funny about it. Just pure grit.

“The Miracle Worker” is a touching true story that is still effective years later, and can be enjoyed by the whole family. No blood guts n’ sex, no infantile humor pandering the younger set, just powerful storytelling. It is a true classic that can be enjoyed for years to come.