Tag Archives: Based On Book

Mozart and the Whale (2005)

In many books and movies dealing with autism and Asperger’s,  a related disorder, a scene is added where a person, generally a psychiatrist, explains the situation to another character.

This is most likely not added to aid character or plot development. Probably this part is there to help people who are not in the know about it, in other words, people who don’t get what these conditions are, so they’ll understand the story better.

In Mozart and the Whale, the main character, Donald (Josh Hartnett), pauses in the beginning to talk about life with Asperger’s. One might think these would be interesting, and a good departure from the “shrink explains” cliche, but actually it becomes rather irksome.

Judging from this movie, people on the autistic spectrum like nothing more than to sit around and discuss their conditions. Mozart and the Whale is a romantic drama based on the memoir of the same title, which I’ve never read. The main characters, Donald and Isabella (Radha Mitchell) have Asperger’s Syndrome and meet during a support group meeting. The film chronicles how their relationship begins and the difficulties of trying to coexist in a romantic situation on the autism spectrum.

Well, I’m guessing some people might have no clue what Asperger’s is. I suppose, though, by telling you, I will be making the same mistake the film did and boring people who already understand it. I guess the difference was that Donald was discussing this with fellow Aspergians who were already in a support group and probably didn’t need instruction.

Then again, maybe you don’t either. In that case, skip the following paragraphs and cut to the chase. Asperger’s, in short, is a difference in the mind that cause difficulties relating to people, and in some cases, uncommon reactions to certain stimuli. It’s related to a more commonly known condition, autism, but tends to be milder. People with Asperger’s have problems with social skills, have certain interests they dwell on, and don’t easily “change gears.”

Some of them are introverted, and others try to relate but come off as sort of odd. Introversion, possibly, could be a reaction to being misunderstood. Generally they are gifted and grow up to live more independently than people who are autistic. In the beginning of  Mozart and the Whale, Donald meets Isabella, a new addition to the support group. Isabella is a bright, excitable, and socially challenged artist who immediately tells fellow group members about being raped as a teenager.

Obviously she is angered when a severely autistic woman displays a grossly inappropriate reaction and begins laughing, although she doesn’t understand the woman’s problems or her own flawed behavior. Infuriated, she is stopped from leaving by Donald, who convinces her to keep going to meetings. One of the group members has a nervous crush on Isabella, but she is more interested in Donald. Soon, she invites him to a costume party, which he doesn’t arrive for.

She comes and knocks on his door dressed as Mozart, and he joins her to walk with her, him in a whale costume (hence the title). They spend time together, and even a near-breakdown from stimulus overload at the carnival doesn’t ruin the night. Before departing, they have their first kiss. After their bond deepens and they move in with each other, they start having problems in their relationship. Several times they leave each other but get back together.

However, problems arise when Isabella feels that Donald is unaccepting and is trying to”‘normalize” them for the outside world, and she and Donald break up. The two of them feel lost without each other and Isabella becomes suicidal, but they’re afraid to get back together. Mozart and the Whale is a okay movie, although at times it becomes irritating, especially at the beginning.

When we are first introduced to the main characters, the director seems to be afraid we’ll forget the condition of the group members, so we’re constantly hit atop the head with “autistic” symptoms. The characters mention their disorder just about every five minutes, and their “interests,” such as mathematics or art, seem so hackneyed that it’s difficult to relate to many of them.

On the plus side, the movie is made so that each person, in many ways, is vastly different from the others. Although they share Asperger’s, their general personalities and mannerisms are their own, though at times overdone. Actually, Donald and Isabella are not very alike, although they both lack proper social skills.

All in all, Mozart and the Whale seems like more of a tool to explain Asperger’s than a proper story. I don’t have the book to judge from, but the film is well-intentioned but plods heavily at times. It’s definitely not the worst view of the autistic spectrum, but it’s far from the best.

 

Let the Right One In (2008)


It’s no secret that “Let the Right One In” is my second favorite movie of all time, and was, in my opinion, in no need of a remake. The experience of watching this movie is akin to that of reading a great book — afterwards you want to recommend it to everyone, in hopes that they will feel the way you did watching it for the first time.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an unhappy twelve-year-old boy, is bullied by his peers and fantasizes about making them pay, though for the time being the violence stays within the confines of his imagination. While outside his apartment complex at night, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange twelve-year-old who offers him, for the first time, a chance to dream of a different life.

Eli is not like other girls. She goes outside into the bitter Swedish winter wearing no shoes. Occasionally she smells like a putrid corpse. Animalistic growls emanate from her gut. But she floors Oskar with her concern for him and her insistence that he must fight back, no matter what the cost.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Eli is a vampire, which doesn’t stand by itself as a big spoiler, as it is alluded to in the first twenty-or-so minutes. Eli is not twelve, but rather thousands of years old, and her intentions toward lovelorn, nerdy Oskar are ambiguous throughout.

This is a extraordinarily well-shot film — the snowy, coldly beautiful backdrop is the perfect setting to tell this story, and the cinematography is gorgeous without being showy or pretentious. It is the kind of story that makes you fall in love with its characters. It doesn’t matter if Eli is a vampire or a zombie or even a robot — she is an undeniably real presence, and you root for her as she carries out what must be done.

Lina Leandersson is surprisingly good and carries most of the acting duties on her small, vampiric shoulders. Kåre Hedebrant is a little underwhelming at times but still makes a decent effort, and acts much better than Daniel Buttcliffe is the early HP years. He pulls off the mix of darkness and pain in Oskar’s heart combined with his ultimate naivete.

There’s a lot of symbolism in the second half of the movie (Oskar closing the doors of his toy cars, anybody?) which you may not catch if you are overly literal-minded or are not paying attention. The film never lets us forget the suffering of Eli’s victims, including Lacke, a local drunk she ensnares with a nasty trick and makes a snack out of.

The strength of “Let the Right One In” is that it cares as much about its characters as its blood and special effects. The small bit of controversy it earned with its content involving children is unfounded, and should not deter you from watching what is most certainly one of the all-time greats in modern horror.

Temple Grandin (2010)

“Temple Grandin” is a really interesting movie about a fascinating woman that allows us an inside look at an unknown world. This is a must-see for people struggling to understand loved ones with autism or for AS people themselves, because close family members will understand autism better and people on the spectrum might see themselves in the intrepid but troubled Temple.

“Temple Grandin” is the real-life story of the eponymous character, who struggles with severe autism from an early age, then goes on to become a pioneer in the cattle industry. Temple suffers from an autistic condition which deprive her of a ordinary childhood, but give her an astonishing and intuitive mind and a unique way of looking at things.

As a young woman, Temple (Claire Danes) stays at her aunt’s farm, where she becomes familiar with the cattle who live there. When she witnesses a cow being calmed by a squeezing machine, Temple is inspired — when she leaves the farm and goes to college, she builds her own ‘hugging machine’ to dilute the tension that most people relieve by giving and receiving hugs.

However, Temple’s new classmates and teachers don’t understand the relief Temple gets from her machine (instead thinking it’s something perversely sexual,) and she must fight for her right to express herself, a fight that continues throughout her life.

The film, which premiered on HBO, is based on Temple Grandin’s non-fiction books ‘Emergence’ and ‘Thinking in Pictures.’ As you may have heard before, Claire Danes nails it as Temple. I watched Mrs. Grandin in interview on the special features of the DVD the first time I watched this, and… wow. Mrs. Danes really emulates Temple’s speech and mannerisms.

I just hope the actress nails my speech in the upcoming biopic of my life (ha, ha.) The rest of the cast is good too. The film features some well known actors such as Julia Ormond as Temple’s courageous mother, Catherine O’Hara as her aunt, and David Strathairn as her teacher, who passes on important lessons to her.

I like the way the film visualizes the intricate workings of Temple’s mind so that I can understand them better. “Temple Grandin” is frank in the way that it deals with the bullies Temple must deal with on the road to success. Just think about it this way… are these people heard of except as bullies in an HBO TV film? They’re not even a name. The way I see it, Temple got the last laugh in the end.

This film is definitely worth watching, and will keep you intrigued throughout its running time. It definitely makes you think in terms of the people who you slight because you assume they are mentally retarded and have nothing to offer you, but are they?

Everyone assumed Temple was either crazy or stupid. Even her childhood doctor blatantly stated that she should be institutionalized and kept from tormenting the masses. And she turned out to be one of the great minds of her time. Anyway, you just never know. Have a great day, and don’t forget to comment *wink*!

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)

Gentle and bittersweet, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is the second movie adaptation of “Everything is Illuminated” author Jonathan Safron Foer’s novel. Although the movie is littered with stars such as Viola Davis, Tom Hanks, and Sandra Bullock, newcomer Thomas Horn steals the show in a flawless performance as Oskar Schell, a troubled eleven-year-old prodigy struggling with his dad (Hanks’) death in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Oskar could be rude, he could treat people sh**ty, but I immediately rooted for him. It helps that he reminded me of a friend of my brother’s I’m fond of. While Oskar’s dad was alive, he would send him on scavenger hunts. When Oskar rummages through his dad’s closet and finds a key with a word on it, Oskar believes his father wants him to find the lock the key belongs to.

Oskar probably has Asperger’s, and that becomes a factor as he travels through New York City battling anxiety, loud noises, and his own worst fears about Urban terrorism. Meanwhile, his well-meaning mother (Sandra Bullock) tries to get through to her angry loner son. I wasn’t sure about Sandra Bullock prior to this movie because I thought she was undeserving of the Oscar for “The Blind Side” but she was good here. You can’t help but feel for her when her son throws angry words in her direction.

Linda (the mom)’s unconditional love for her son touched me, as did her quiet grief, but Oskar and the otherwise unnamed ‘The Renter’ played by Max Von Sydow were my favorite characters. ‘The Renter,’ true to his title, rents a room from Oskar’s grandmother and accompanies Oskar on his perilous quest.

The only complaint I have with this movie is that the premise was very unrealistic. I mean, the word ‘Black’ that comes with the key could meet anything and Oskar is immediately on the right track. Not only that, but as Oskar looks for people with the last name ‘Black,’ he doesn’t even think that not only is ‘Black’ a ridiculously common name, but there’s no guarantee that if this ‘Black’ is a person, that they live in New York city!

I liked Oskar a lot. I liked his way of looking at things. Thomas Horn interpreted Oskar honestly and touchingly. This is one of the most underrated child performances of all time (probably because the movie wasn’t received well, for what reasons are mysterious to me.) I wanted him to be happy, and move beyond the tragedy of his dad’s death and the tragedy of 9/11 in general. Many lives were affected that day, and this movie offers sympathy to both the lives lost and those left behind.

To breach another subject, I thought the depiction of Asperger’s  was very good as someone diagnosed with the condition. The funny, idiosyncratic things Oskar said seemed very typical for someone with AS, while his social anxiety was easy to relate to. A lot of movies exaggerate AS symptoms for ‘Hollywood’ effect, making the hero some kind of head-banging, socially defective prodigy. I mean “Rain Man,” that was put out near the beginning of Autism research. But “Mozart and the Whale?” Seriously?

And let’s not forget how good the entire cast was throughout this movie. Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Max Von Sydow, Thomas Horn of course… they all played their roles wonderfully and were touching and likable. I’d say Von Sydow and Horn were the standouts among this amazing cast. Von Sydow as the silent renter had no spoken lines, but managed to convey emotion like a pro. I’m going to have to diverge from the critics and say this movie is absolutely worth seeing. It’s worth it.

Broken (2012)

Apparently “Broken” is ‘inspired’ by Harper Lee’s much-loved classic “To Kill A Mockingbird,” but I find “Broken” to be a better story with more well-developed characters (yes, you have found the one person in the world who isn’t floored by “To Kill A Mockingbird”- don’t stare, please, it makes me nervous.) It’s certainly darker, as Lee’s redemptive tone is replaced with unrepentant bleakness. The racial issues have been traded in, but the themes of injustice and the destruction of innocence remain.

Spirited tween ‘Skunk’ (a powerful and expressive performance by newcomer Eloise Laurence) is stuck in that tricky transition between childhood and adulthood where matters of sexuality and maturity interest her, but are not quite within her grasp. Skunk’s father, Archie (This generation’s Atticus Finch,) (Tim Roth)  is an honorable man who loves his daughter with a fierce intensity but struggles to cope with her youthful antics.

When Skunk’s mentally challenged friend Rick (Robert Emms) is accused of rape and beaten by her redneck neighbor Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear,) Skunk is baffled just as much as Rick is- Rick has never laid a hand on Oswald’s tramp of a daughter, and treats the situation with confusion and astonishment. He is portrayed in a very fine performance by Emms (who I saw just days before as a gay superhero in “Kick-Ass 2”,) who resists the urge to overact and makes the character of Rick his own.

Tim Roth is one of my favorite actors, and he does a good job here, but the entire cast is equally worth mentioning. Eloise Laurence is adorable and charming, but also shows real acting chops as compassionate Skunk. Cillian Murphy (known for films like “Batman Begins” and “28 Days Later) plays Archie’s housekeeper’s love interest, who soon becomes the target of Oswald’s seething rage. He is flawed yet sympathetic, as are most of the characters.

I did think the myriad disasters piling up for Skunk and Rick’s families became a little bit melodramatic and hard to take. After a while it was like… really? Is there anything awful that’s NOT going to happen to these people? There also could have been more build-up in the beginning scenes, instead of revealing everything immediately.

I really liked the character of Skunk. I think the way she treats Rick says everything about her character. She acts totally like he’s a normal person and talks to him accordingly, and never thinks it’s weird that he’s a grown man and they’re friends. And her romance with local boy Dillon (George Sargeant) is appropriately chaste and really cute. She’s a sweet, strong, and hearty girl, with a keen mind and a big heart. I liked the character of Rick too. He’s a nice fellow, a little simple, and his fate saddens me.

“Broken” is a powerful film and I’m not ashamed to say I liked it better than “To Kill A Mockingbird.” So, it’s a classic. Sue me. I hope Eloise Laurence has a big career ahead of her, but she’s not the only rising star in this movie. Not many people can play the ‘mentally handicapped’ role without resorting to theatrics, and Rick is a profoundly sad and likable character. I recommend this film to drama lovers and people to like a sad, touching story.
Rating-
8.0/10

The Piano Teacher (2001)

Unsettling and provocative, “The Piano Teacher” is at once a study of the lives of deeply unhappy people and a commentary on the dangers of repression. It’s not pretty or pleasant, but one can expect nothing less from controversial Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. He shines an unyielding light on his character’s perversions, prejudices, and desires.

The piano teacher of the title, Erika (impressively portrayed by Isabelle Huppert) is an aging spinster living with her crazy-domineering mother (Annie Girardot,) who still treats her like she is a girl on the cusp of puberty, who needs to be nettled and looked after constantly. They fight viciously, share the same bed, and there’s an incestuous subtext going on. Even when that subtext is confirmed, we still can scarcely believe it.

Erika is a very lonely and repressed soul, but she’s not a particularly sympathetic character. She is cruel, petty, sexually aggressive, and at one point inexplicably maims a promising student’s hand with shards of glass. However, it is impossible not to feel sorry for her at some point. She is an extremely hard character to read, and her seeming lack of emotion puzzles us deeply.

We are given virtually no backstory on Erika at all- her father is locked up in an asylum somewhere, and she and her mother have long be entangled in a sick, co-dependent relationship. That is all. When Erika meets Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel,) he pursues her, but neither of them know what they’re in for. They promptly head down the path of Sadomasochism and mind games.

I was surprised that this was categorized on my favorite site as ‘erotica.’ Frankly put, this is not in the least bit erotic and has some of the most unsexy sex scenes for a film containing so many. “The Piano Teacher” is not unlike “Shame” by Steve McQueen in that respect. There is no joy or virility in the ‘love’ scenes, even the consensual sex has a not only clinical but aggressive feel to it as well.

Isabelle Huppert is fabulous here, and Susanne Lothar (late, great actress and one of the only good things about Haneke’s pretentious bore-fest “Funny Games”) has a small part as the mother of one of Erika’s students whose distinct lack of warmth mirrors Erika’s mother’s own.

I wish Walter’s character had been developed a little more. He exists simply to pursue Erika’s character for one half of the movie and brutalize her emotionally and physically for the other. If his motivations had been considered more thoroughly, and his attraction to Erika better explained, the movie would have been better.

There’s a lot of ambiguity and subtext in Haneke’s films, and “The Piano Teacher” is no exception. This ambiguity is both a gift and a curse, as it is endlessly frustrating but also intriguing and may command multiple viewings. There were some thoroughly ‘What the Fuck’ moments as well, for example when Erika urinates on the ground of the drive-in theater.

“The Piano Teacher” contains some distinctly ‘Haneke’-esque annoyances like superfluous long takes but the film is startlingly adept in its power and never betrays itself with Hollywood B.S. or an inappropriately upbeat ending. Ultimately it is as as it’s as enigmatic as it’s heroine but less weirdly naive- it knows what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Worth watching.

The War Zone (1999)

Actor Tim Roth’s dictatorial debut is also an exquisitely acted masterwork about the dark secrets surrounding a middle-class British family, with Lara Belmont stealing the show as the abused daughter. Teenager Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) is horrified but initially fails to intervene when he realizes his older sister (Belmont) is carrying on an incestuous relationship with their father (Ray Winstone.)

Winstone, who is primarily known by the public for imposing-baddie-with-a-cockney-accent kind of roles, really sells it as a monster of a human being. You will hate this man so much you will want to vomit. Tilda Swinton plays Mum, who is pregnant at the start of the film, and later has a baby girl named Alice.

The weird thing is, Tom doesn’t immediately see his older sister as a victim, even as he looks on as she is raped by her father. In fact, Jess (the sister) doesn’t always see herself as a victim either. I don’t think she thinks she deserves to be saved. She occasionally fancies herself a Daddy’s girl, and may very nearly likes the attention and the meager pleasures of the ever more frequent assaults.

She teases Tom, coyly denies it. Tom seems to blame Jess for the impending disintegration of their family, rather than the piece of human excrement who sits at their table, eats their food, makes love to their mother like his interests aren’t directed elsewhere. While ‘Dad’ is a monster, Tom isn’t exactly sympathetic either, and Jess initially raises question of whether she likes Daddy’s attentions, and, in fact, is complaint in the incest.

This is not a movie for the weak of heart. I was disgusted, but in a good way if you know what I mean. This movie is a hundred times scarier than “The Shining” and a hundred times more grotesque than “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence,)” if only because it is firmly rooted in reality. The only thing I can think to compare it to is “Tyrannosaur,” another great movie who was also directed by a UK actor (Paddy Considine.)

This movie is not about ghosts, devils, evil entities, or masked killers. It’s about the evils people do, the atrocities that can take place in a more or less regular household. While the lack of sexual boundaries the family exhibits is off-putting, it doesn’t seem to incorporate abuse at first. Oh, how wrong you are, filmgoer.

I recommend this amazing movie to people with very strong stomachs. The acting is great all around and the script is nearly flawless. I’m still floored that Lara Belmont did no professional acting prior to this movie. Her acting will blow you away. One of the most underrated performances ever. I hope Tim Roth can find time to make another movie in addition to his acting career. Purely, and simply… great.

Tideland (2005)

“Tideland,” Terry Gilliam’s fantastical horror brain child, is an undeniably original, unmistakably repulsive journey into the life and mind of one troubled little girl (Jodelle Ferland.) To say it outstays it’s welcome it an understatement, the film clocks at over two hours and leaves an undeniably bad taste in one’s throat. The characters are hard to comprehend, much less like or understand.

All this would be bad enough without the bizarre intro by Terry Gilliam, who vaguely informs us that children ‘bounce back’ from situations such as these and tells us ‘don’t forget to laugh.’ But what is there to laugh at in a disgusting horror show such as this?  it’s as if Dave Peltzer of ‘A Child Called It’ fame had promised us a knee-slapping good time.

Between the role of Jeff Bridges as the girl’s junkie father, who sits down in a chair to shoot up, dies, and spends the majority of the movie in various states of decomposition, our prepubescent heroine trading ‘silly kisses’ and sexual curiousness with a mentally retarded man (Brendon Fletcher,) and Daddy (prior to his death) instructing his daughter to prepare heroin for him, I found very little to laugh at in this revolting freak show.

The fact that Gilliam expects us to laugh and see this whole travesty through the eyes of a child speaks volumes on the man’s mental stability. What does he think we are? Animals. Sub-human cretins who are all-too-eager and willing to laugh at the mental and psychological destruction of a child? Apparently, if Gilliam should have his way, we will be laughing at child endangerment through the eyes of that child, oblivious to the adult consequences of such atrocities. Mmm-kay.

After her harpy mother (Jennifer Tilly) O.D.’s Jeliza-Rose (Ferland), ten or eleven or so, is swept away from the squalid tenement she calls home by her druggie father (Bridges,) and tries her best to adjust to her new home in her father’s childhood house on the massive prairie, far away from anything. When Dad dies, Jeliza-Rose acts much as if he was alive, talking to his corpse and exploring the prairie, where she meets local freak Dell (Janet McTeer) and her brain-damaged brother, Dickens (Fletcher.)

Dell, who as it happens, bangs the stuttering grocery delivery boy (Dylan Taylor) in exchange for food, takes a liking to Jeliza-Rose and invites her and her doll heads (Jeliza-Rose frequently talks through her collection of severed doll’s heads, did I mention that?) to live in her and Dickens’ family home.

“Tideland” often references Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ as Jeliza-Rose ‘falls down the rabbit hole’ from one bizarre situation to another. Although technically well-made in many respects, “Tideland” is yucky, overlong, and had me begging for it to end by the halfway point.

Jodelle Ferland turns in pretty good performance as Jeliza-Rose (although I found her Southern accent exaggerated) and Brendan Fletcher gives a decent supporting performance as Dickens (who, through no fault of his own, reminded me a bit of Ben Stiller’s ‘Simple Jack’) but overall the film is a fail. I would recommend you watch “Alice” by Jan Svankmajer as a dark take on “Alice in Wonderland” rather than this. It is less sickening and doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching for hours on end, but hey, that’s just me.