Tag Archives: Autism Spectrum

Movie Review: Cube (1997)

cubeposter

Rating: B-/ As far as I’m concerned, Cube is an amazing premise somewhat undone by a few pretty bad actors. Aside from the weak links in the cast, Cube has creative minimalist sets built on a fairly low budget, intriguing characters each with something interesting to bring to the table, and fascinating shifting dynamics between the leads. There’s something missing, but what’s there makes a pretty good watch for the most part. The director gets points for originality, and making the most out of meager sets and props. With almost nothing, he creates a story that makes you want to keep watching. Too bad some of the actors (I’m looking at you, Maurice Dean Wint) can’t measure up to the film’s mostly high standards.  Continue reading Movie Review: Cube (1997)

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies (2014)

losthonour

I have somewhat mixed feelings about tabloids. While I like magazines such as the Weekly World News with such truths in their headlines as ‘Bigfoot stole my baby!’ and ‘Al Qaeda Vampires Run Amok in Iraq,’ I loathe these kinds of brainless entertainments’ shameless exploitation of tragedies such as Robin Williams’ suicide and the Sandy Hook Massacre. And I can fully see how such media can run rampant and derail someone’s life. I honestly believe the media is a sizable part of what drives many actors on downward spirals. And then there’s Christopher Jefferies. What didn’t break him made him stronger, and this film tells his infuriating and enlightening story.

Christopher (Jason Watkins) is a man of whom I’m convinced of two things, based on this movie #1) that he was gay, and #2) that he was somewhere on the Autism Spectrum, probably mild Asperger’s. Alternately blunt, socially inappropriate, and downright rude, Chris lived a somewhat hermetic existence and was the landlord of a couple of flats in the small English village of Failand. Watkins plays him in a thoroughly believable and compelling manner, every infinitesimal tic and twitch duly perfected. Christopher is a retired schoolteacher and anti-social lone wolf who finds himself in the middle of a police investigation when one of his tenants, Joanna Yeates (Carla Turner) is found murdered outside his place.

Lost_Honour_of_Christopher_Jefferies

Suddenly, everything about Christopher seems suspect- his ‘to catch a predator’ wardrobe, his odd inflection and apparent lack of empathy, even the fact that he is an older man living on his own, and such men must, by extension, be pervs. Of course, correcting the cops’ grammar during questioning doesn’t help Jefferies look like an innocent man, and with no further ado, the police make this assumption: odd old man + suspicious circumstances= killer. They hardly have anything on him that isn’t circumstantial, but suddenly the entire country is in an uproar over this man’s presumed guilt. The thing is, Jefferies didn’t do it, and his lawyer, Paul Okebu (Shaun Parkes) is determined to bring his innocence to light.

Honestly, this movie didn’t end nearly as tragically as I thought it would. I knew almost nothing going in, and I was tense throughout the film, expecting something terrible to happen not only to Yeates, but to Jefferies too (being unfamiliar with the case as I was.) However I was immediately sucked in by the lead character and performance. If the police understood Autism-like behavior more, they would see that this man was not a monster, just a harmless oddball. Watkins does an amazing job of playing someone who is ‘on the spectrum’ who just happens to be gay without reducing his character to a gay or aspie caricature. Some people might find this story slow, but if you like British dramas and the feeling of heightened realism they create, you’re sure to like this film.

Note- Frankly, I’m a little confused because this film is described on Imdb as a ‘mini-series,’ but the version I saw on Netflix Streaming was a movie just under two hours, and distributed by Universal. If I missed some footage of the original cut, I would definitely like to see the whole thing straight through. Any help on this would be much appreciated, and I hope you get a chance to see this film; it’s fascinating. For me, British cinema holds a kind of appeal that American movies just don’t, and I would love to discuss the themes of this obscure gem with anyone who wishes to partake.losthonourof

The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki

the-way-things-look-to-me

Can we take a temporary hiatus from books about neurotypical protagonists who perceive their Autistic Spectrum siblings as mostly or entirely irrelevant balls and chains in their otherwise perfect lives? I know, I know, the teen overlooked by their parents in favor of their special needs brother or sister, who needs so much more care than they is a story as old as time, to say the least. But how long after the parents are dead can the angst and resentment carry on? Isn’t there a time to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and forgive the sins of your parents, and the overbearing challenges of your disabled sibling?

For me, the Murphy’s realization that no, they might not had it perfect, but it could have been a whole lot fucking worse couldn’t come soon enough. Asif and Lila, two Palestinian/Irish siblings, have always lived in the shadow of their brilliant Asperger’s sister Yasmin. They were in many ways denied a childhood because of their mother’s insistence that they not do anything to set off Yasmin. Now, Mom and Dad are dead and Asif serves as the primary caretaker to Yasmin, a beautiful but painfully awkward teen whose moods fluctuate on the turn of a dime. And Lila… what exactly does Lila do?

She promiscuously fucks around, throws epic tantrums, and is a grade-A cunt to everyone who crosses her path. Of course, she isn’t responsible for any of this. This is all her sister’s fault, for stealing all of Mommy’s love and attention, while she suffered an extended bout of depression and unhappiness. Lila is an infuriating character. I have never met anyone like her, and if I did, I would do something drastic, like throw my sneaker at her. In my limited experience, most people don’t seek out confrontation with complete strangers, but the name of her game is Drama with a capital ‘D.’

I found it impossible to sympathize with Lila, and hard to sympathize with Asif, who is too bland and plays it too safe while being privately self-pitying to be a compelling character. Yasmin is not always likable, but  least you can blame it on her condition, which limits empathy in some (not all) of it’s patients. Lila is a stock Beautiful But Damaged heroine, and her blind boyfriend Henry thinks she’s beautiful inside and out and absolutely wonderful in  every way. Until a scene where Henry goes explosively off which comes out of left field, culminating in angry and abusive sex, Henry is the disability equivalent of the magical Negro, and the male version of the manic pixie dream girl (he’s sensitive! He’s quirky! He’s wonderfully British! He exists to save the self-absorbed little bitch from herself!)

Henry is a completely unbelievable character in the amount of shit he takes from Lila. The scene where he explodes, screams at her, and takes her a rough and loveless fashion (not quite rape, but still) struck false, and serves simply as a way of showing that he wasn’t completely perfect while seeming artificial and icky. As for Yasmin, you’re better off reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” as it is more of the same. The subplots of Yasmin having synesthesia  and particularly going blind (which is never fully handled) seem ill-conceived and underdeveloped.

The writing here is decent, so why did I pan it so enthusiastically? After all, it’s not really that bad a book. An acutely observed character detail here, an interesting simile there…. I guess ‘The Way Things Look to Me’ just rubbed me the wrong way. I never warmed up to the characters and their individual dramas, and I had to power through the book while suppressing a groan. Asif and Lila were SO self-absorbed, and Asif continually played the martyr, which made him even more exhausting. Yasmin was the typical robotic, tragically cold and distant savant, and although I was not offended by Farooki’s portrayal of her (which was fairly accurate for some cases) I wish that authors would acknowledge that Asperger’s comes in many forms.

Domestic dramas mostly work when you’re invested in the characters, and that just didn’t happen for me here. I’d also like to point out that while Lila never calls Yasmin a retard, continually referring to her is Raingirl and Miss Spock can be just as pejorative and damaging. As a person with mild Asperger’s Syndrome, I’d also like to say (although this is not the fault of the book, which deals with a more typical case,) many people with AS do feel empathy just as fully for other people.

I found ‘The Way Things Looks to Me’ an angsty and overlong book, chock-full of self-pity, but I don’t not recommend it. It might appeal perfectly to other people, just as one man despises a dish that his companion loves. This review is based more on my personal reaction than the quality of the character development or writing in the book. It’s just that I wouldn’t want to spend my afternoon with these people, so why would I want 338 pages of my time with these people. They’re not even compelling in a macabre, ‘Wasp Factory’-way. But I digress. This is not a book for me. It made me annoyed and exasperated. But it is not terrible, and those would like to read it should, by all means, partake.

The Story of Luke (2012)

story_of_luke

Let’s cut to the chase here- most films dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders are pretty much crap, and despite a effective performance from Lou Taylor Pucci, this movie is basically no exception. “The Story of Luke” is a movie where characters behave in a highly unlikely way to aid the development of the plot. Most of the characters are not just abrasive, they’re downright mean. They constantly antagonize Luke and call him a retard, before having a road to Damascus and realizing how much the kid needs their friendship and support.

The main character, Luke, has been looked after by his grandparents since his mom dumped him on them when he was four. Luke has Autism, and his predictable routine is suddenly changed when his Grandma dies and his somewhat foul-mouthed Grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) begins deteriorating health-wise. Luke is sent to live with his Uncle Paul (Cary Elwes, As you Wish) and Aunt Cindy (Kristen Bauer van Straten of “True Blood” fame) and their bratty kids. Aunt Cindy is pretty much a major-league C-U-N-T.

She doesn’t want Luke there and she makes absolutely no effort to hide her anger at his arrival or her disgust at his limitations. However, the duo bond of over discussion of Cindy’s sexual frustrations (inappropriate?) and alcohol (!) In an attempt to court a woman named Maria (Sabryn Rock, I’ve never seen her before but she is gorgeous) and her lovely breasts- uh, disabled people enthusing about sex, never awkward, especially when it’s handled in a facepalm-worthy way such as this- Luke attempts to get a job.

Although he succeeds in entering a training program for people with disabilities, Luke is paired with the world’s worst supervisor. Enter Zach (Seth Green,) a total whack who berates Luke constantly, slams him against the wall, and tells him he was put on this earth for people to pity and condescend to. If Zach were NT (neurotypical) he would be considered nothing more than a bully, but since he’s on the Autistic Spectrum the film pairs him up with Luke as a an unlikely ally.

I truly believe that disabled people should be treated like sexual beings, but here’s what I don’t like. Handicapped peoples’ sexuality being portrayed as ‘cute’ and willfully awkward. As in, ‘aw, he’s thinking about boobies just like a normal person, isn’t that sweet?’

Here’s a short list of unbelievable events in this movie.

. Everyone constantly mistreating Luke and ‘stage-whispering’ about his disability as loud as they can (did you hear a retarded man is coming to live with the so-and-so’s?!! Poor dear!)

. The guy at the employment office asking Luke if he can multiply big numbers. I know this is supposed to be a commentary on “Rain Man”-esque misconceptions about Autism, but please! Calling the way this scene was presented over-the-top is an understatement.

. The cousin’s girlfriend immediately flirting with the bewildered Luke after he catches them making out and asking him to ‘pass her her bra’ provocatively.

And last, but not least…

. Uncle Paul telling Luke that he and Aunt Cindy ‘made love’ for the first time in over a year. I know this is supposed to fill us up with an ‘aw everything is going to be all right between them’ , warm ‘n fuzzy feeling, but in what likelihood would a man be telling his Autistic nephew that he got some trim last night?

I like Luke. It’s easy to like Luke. But as likable as Luke is, you can’t deny that the script is simply flimsy. The film takes the endearing Luke, and puts him in a universe that’s a little more ruthless and strident than it needs to be  Most of the characters feel neither fleshed-out nor authentic. I thought indie movies were supposed to feel more real than the soulless mainstream, not less?

the-story-of-luke-movie

The Imitation Game (2014)

the imitation game

Being a genius ain’t easy. However, being a latently homosexual genius with undiagnosed Asperger’s in a time where being different was not just detrimental to your social status, but dangerous is damn near impossible. “The Imitation Game” is a (sorta) true story of Alan Turing, who saved thousands of lives by cracking the Germans’ enigma code during World War II and may have cut the war short more than two years.

Turing is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, your go-to guy for Brit quirkiness without going too off the radar. Just look at the guy. He looks like he was born to play an eccentric-slash-asocial genius. And while many found “The Imitation Game” to be generic Oscar Bait, I was thoroughly engrossed by the troubled life of Alan Turing. Tragic, yes. But also fascinating.

My interest was largely based on Benedict Cumberbatch’s amazing acting job (it should also be mentioned that Alex Lawther, who played young Alan, also gave an outstanding performance) and the fact that I had reasonably low expectations. A drama about codes and mathematics? Bor-ing! Everybody who knows me knows perfectly well that math is not my strong suite. But a fascinating lead and an arresting storyline? That I can get behind.

If this movie is true at all to the real man, Turing had a brilliant mathematical mind, but he was not someone you’d invite to a squash game. In fact, he most likely isn’t the kind of man you’d associate with at all. He’s a genius, yes, but he knows he’s a genius, and that makes him all but insufferable. He’s actually a bit of an arsehole, but you still can’t help falling a little in love with him, as some (not me) were endeared to Sheldon in “Big Bang Theory.” Turing is a much better written character, but he possesses the same offhand arrogance, somewhat effeminate softness, and distaste for the common man. Not to mention his lackluster (to say the least) social skills.

When Alan Turing is hired to break a German code under almost unbeatable obstacles, he is convinced he can do it himself, aided by nothing but his big old brain (not to mention one hundred-thousand pounds government funds.) But he finds an unlikely ally in Joan Clarke (the lovely, if worryingly thin, Keira Knightley,) a girl who seems rather ordinary on the outside, but who possesses a keen mathematical mind.

Flash-forward to Turing being interviewed by a skeptical officer (Rory Kinnear) afted he is arrested for sexual indecency (i.e. homosexual acts.) Turing recounts to the policeman his efforts working for the military cracking codes as well as his childhood bullying at the hands of the other students and hopeless crush on his schoolmate Christopher (Jack Bannon.)

The film itself  is apparently fairly historically inaccurate. This has bothered some purists, but I say, so what? Sometimes biographical honesty is the best policy, and sometimes the story just turns out better when you take it in a different direction altogether. And yes, sometimes the story does feel conventional, with characters having dime-store epiphanies when the plot requires them to, but any occasional  lack of depth the script is overtaken by the fantastic acting. If  nothing else, this movie will make you think about the liberties we take for granted today concerning our sexual practices.

benedict-cumberbatch-as-alan-turing-in-imitation-game

Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic by Donna Williams

nobody nowhere

There are so few books about Autism Spectrum Disorders written from a female perspective, especially of those few published in the 80’s and 90’s, when Autism was still considered a mysterious malady and high-functioning ASD and Asperger’s had barely even entered the picture.

And although it would be unfair and inaccurate to apply autobiographer Donna Williams’ insights about her condition to all diagnosed youngsters (with all due respect, the diagnosis of Autism was barely skimming the surface of Williams’ issues,) “Nobody Nowhere” is an emotional roller-coaster with the heart-grabbing readability of the best fiction.

Donna was born to an abusive and negligent middle-class family and early into childhood it was apparent that something was very ‘off’ about the little girl. Donna records her attempts to be like ‘everyone else’ culminating in channeling the character of Carol, a mirthful but shallow persona; her struggles with her cruel mother and older brother and her painful school days.

She takes us through trials and failures, relationships with good men and bad, and her gradual journey to self-insight and recovery. At no point does Donna blame her fraught relationship with her mother as a ‘reason’ for her Autism Spectrum Disorder (Donna did not know she had Autism until her late twenties and merely feared she was ‘mad.’)

Instead she speculates that a world lacking warmth and a real sense of family taught her to be independent and took her on an important journey. In the meantime, the abused and dejected Donna dabbled in self-destructive behavior including self-mutilation and deliberate self-soiling, and was repeatedly treated like crap by guys who saw her as an easy target. However, she also recounts experiences with kind people, even complete strangers, who attempted to offer support to this wild troubled girl through her times of turmoil.

I you can get through the two introductions at the beginning (dry!,) “Nobody Nowhere” is actually a involving read. I helps if the reader has an interest in abnormal psychology and/or Autism, but author Donna Williams had a truly fascinating (if singularly unfortunate) early life. While many of her ‘symptoms’ are most definitely not typical for the majority of Autistic young people, one must remember that Donna is ultimately not representing anyone but herself in this intense life story.

I wouldn’t recommend this book as a manual for ‘understanding’ Autism (though I would not necessarily recommend any one book for understanding Autism,) but I would heartily suggest it for building upon what you know about the disorder and also early trauma as well as child psychology in general.

I was saddened to hear about Donna Williams’ breast cancer on her personal blog. I felt almost like I was hearing bad news about a friend, though of course I had never met her. I was also angry. How much bad luck can one person get? ( I am not referring chiefly to her Autism but instead to her  abusive upbringing and her emotional issues, which I consider related yet separate.)

On the other hand, she’s apparently married to a good man and feels content with her sense of self. I wish the best for Donna and I will read her other books (“Somebody Somewhere,” this book’s sequel, and “Like Color to the Blind”) when I get a chance.

The Quarry by Iain Banks

the-quarry Iain Banks

“The Quarry” is a novel focusing on the slow-paced exploits of an appealing narrator, eighteen-year-old Kit, and seven exasperatingly mean-spirited nincompoop side characters, whose rants and abrasive political views take up a copious amount of the book. Kit, a high-functioning Autistic with an avid video game fandom, lives with his abusive, foul-mouthed (and dying) father Guy in a ramshackle house on the edge of a quarry. The house is scheduled for demolition as soon as Guy kicks it and the government vacates Kit, who is wondering seriously about the probability of supporting himself after his father’s death.

Guy has cancer and isn’t expected to make it much longer. To accompany Guy in his final days- or drive him to an early grave, the more likely outcome (with friends like these, who needs enemies?) a group of Guy’s university friends come over to the water-damaged wreck of a house. I won’t go into great detail describing them for you; suffice to say they are horrible people, intellectual wannabes/ vacuous losers who aren’t really there for Guy at all.

No, what these self-righteous pricks want has nothing to do with altruism- they have their sights set on a missing videotape that allegedly contains shocking footage that nobody wants found. I was initially sucked in by the mystery of the tape, but the resolution of this plot thread was disappointing to say the least. I hate to say bad things about this novel- writer Iain Banks was dying when he wrote it and it was obviously a very personal project to him. Indeed, “The Quarry” has some very good qualities- just not enough.

You’ve got Kit’s story for starters. If you focused on Kit and cut out all the extraneous bullshit (i.e. the side character’s political crap,) you’d have one hell of book. Kit has a unique way of seeing the world due to his condition, and for every moment he was self-absorbed and painfully immature, there was another where he was charming and likable. And that’s as it should be- people with disabilities aren’t saints, and pretending they are is nothing less than careful, calculated nonsense. I’ll never look at traffic jams the same way again after hearing Kit’s wonderfully quirky take on their spiritual dimension.

Sadly, about 25% percent of “The Quarry” is simply unnecessary- long, pointless tirades haranguing the bureaucratic bullshit of just about everything. None of the characters besides Kit are remotely likable, and even the only one who serves as a friend to Kit, film critic Holly, ends up betraying him in the end. Kit wants to believe in Holly, and convinces himself she cares about him and has his best interests at heart. That’s not the point. We don’t believe in Holly. If anything, we believe she should get her free-loading ass out of Kit’s house.

The creepiness of Kit’s indecent  interest in mom-figure Hol didn’t even bother me. I just found parts of the book terribly dry and didactic. The character’s scathing monologues are more exhausting and annoying than affecting- does anyone actually talk like that? And do we really want to have anything to do with these terrible, and more to the point, completely uninteresting people?

Iain Banks’ first novel, “The Wasp Factory,” was great, and there really are moments that shine in “The Quarry.” I like Kit’s way of dissecting the fine points of the  everyday niceties that don’t come naturally to him, although sometimes he seemed more socially intuitive than most neurotypical  people. I just see a lot of filler that would be better off in the writer’s paper wastebasket. It’s a shame that he didn’t write a better book with his last time on earth.