Thomas Harris, Clarice Starling, and Me

The name Hannibal Lecter was a constant in my household. Long before I was cognizant of the context, I knew the infamous character and his creator, Thomas Harris, were held in reverence. My mom and sister vociferously devoured (pun intended) the 1981 novel Red Dragon and its fame-eclipsing sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, on constant repeat. When the trilogy-ender Hannibal was published in 1999, I was nine years old, and vividly remember the ecstatic family furor leading up to its release. That haunting, grotesque cover of harsh reds and blacks, depicting a snake-like creature devouring an agonized man, is one of the iconic images of my youth.

I wasn’t allowed to read them, of course, despite my growing interest in crime fiction. The most I managed was sneakily skimming the first fifteen pages of Hannibal at my sister’s kitchen table. I was entranced, to say the least; the seed of fascination had been planted through osmosis.

Four years later at thirteen, I’d already seen my fair share of violent R-rated movies: Terminator 2: Judgment Day under parental supervision, Halloween by myself one late night in a darkened basement. My parents knew what I gravitated toward and cautioned rather than forbid, unless something struck them as inappropriately explicit for adolescent minds (i.e. Bram Stoker’s Dracula). So when I begged my mom to let me rent a VHS copy of The Silence of the Lambs from our local rental store, she allowed without issue. She even let me watch it alone, unsure of her own interest given her devotion to the novel.

Every cinephile remembers the moment when a specific movie blew their minds apart. Nothing would touch the effect Silence of the Lambs had on me for at least a decade.

For ages I didn’t understand why, or how, or even the full extent. I just knew, like a lightning strike to my bones, something had switched in how I understood the language of film, the crafting of it; its potential to challenge, inspire, prophesize. Clarice Starling, and by extension Jodie Foster, was the definitive heroine of my formative years. Thomas Harris became a literary icon, once Mom granted me freedom to consume the books. I rented it over and over and over again, wearing out the tape that didn’t belong to me; I pored over TVGuide schedules so I could record it off a movie channel onto a blank VHS; it was one of my first DVD purchases when I had enough earned money in my pocket.

I watch it around Valentine’s Day every year (not an idea I take credit for— the film was released on February 14th, 1991), and I’m never not enthralled anew, even as I’ve memorized every frame, every cut, as every music cue strikes goosebumps of remembrance.

The best part? It isn’t about the good doctor.

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John Wick: Chapter 2 Is A Cathartic Balm To The Soul

Keanu Reeves is American cinema’s greatest action star.

Wait, what about — nope. It’s Keanu.

Over thirty years in showbusiness, dozens of revered films to his credit, an inarguable pop culture icon with chameleon-like genre versatility, and it took until 2014’s majestic, breathtaking sleeper hit John Wick for the man to finally start receiving, in slow drips, the cultural appreciation he deserves. He’s a solid box office draw with an adoring fanbase, but if I had a dollar for every time I heard the “Keanu Reeves is the worst actor ever and only says Whoa” adage, I’d be Scrooge McDuck levels of rich. And it’s not true.

Remove the stunning fight scenes and fascinating worldbuilding from Wick (impossible as that sounds), and so much of its success resides on Reeves’s deliciously broad shoulders. The crumbling planes of his face evoke more grief than a spoken soliloquy. The martial arts skill honed into effortless presentation, a pristine-suited harbinger of death both terrifying and electric in equal measure. Infinitesimal switches in posture simultaneously convey a fury deadly as several hundred bullets and the chasm-deep devastation of a lost, broken man. The character, the actor, overflows with feeling, in polar opposite to the stoic and emotionless archetype — his brokenhearted rage informs every decision. Those prolonged stares aren’t cold, they’re vengeful Old Testament fire. And he bleeds. You feel the pounds of flesh taken; no macho Terminator bullshit here. Wick is a man — a humanized grim reaper antihero, but a man all the same, one we cheer for even as he leaves a massacre in his unshaven wake. (I mean, if someone killed my cat…just sayin’.) That’s all due to Reeves, in a role acknowledging and — if I may be so bold — weaponizing his talent for quiet, layered intensity and understated lethality.

John Wick: Chapter 2 does everything a sequel should. Bigger, louder, and somehow even better, it subtly unveils new layers to Wick’s character, expands its unique mythology with stunningly believable authenticity, and enhances its predecessor’s esteemed action through elaborate scenes of visceral beauty. It operates on the same level as Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part 2: realizing its formula, preserving, and elevating, while also ensuring the franchise’s place among the genre greats it idolizes.

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We Need To Talk About Split

(Spoilers from word one.)

M. Night Shyamalan and I have always had a complicated viewer-filmmaker relationship. He directed three of my most beloved movies — Signs, The Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable, the latter an underrated masterpiece. He also made one of my most loathed, The Last Airbender, a tone-deaf white-washed adaptation of the stunningly progressive animated series of the same name, not to mention a run of uncharming B-movies. But it’s impossible to deny his talent for suspense, atmosphere, and emotionally satisfying genre payoffs (I even love the much-reviled The Village and argue it was ahead of its time), so I’ve spent years rooting for him to have a career renaissance.

Looking at the reviews and box office numbers for Split, you’d think this is his long-overdue win. It isn’t.

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