Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Temple Grandin

If you have a child, friend, or loved one who is autistic, or if you are a teacher, or if you have any contact with autistic adults or children, or for that matter anyone with any disability (have I covered everyone?), you must see this movie!  Today it's not unusual to meet kids with an autism spectrum disorder, and those kids are in schools to varying degrees of inclusion.  But when Temple Grandin was a child growing up in the 1950s, it was a different world.  She was different, odd, hard to teach, etc.  Ultimately she became a respected university professor and animal husbandry expert.  This movie follows her life from her childhood to her early career.

Besides Temple's spirit and determination, her mother and aunt and uncle provided her with the environment and input she needed to reach her potential.  A high school teacher helped her explore her gifts.  In spite of her limitations in speech and social interactions, Temple succeeded and thrived, all the way through college and graduate school.

Several scenes in the movie show her determination at work.  In college, she created a hugging machine, inspired by a cattle chute at her uncle's ranch, to help her calm herself.  Even when the college officials forced her to give it up, she fought back and won permission to keep a device in her dorm.  Later, when she was researching the treatment of cattle in stock yards, the men tried to keep her out by refusing entry to women.  So she dressed as a man, fooling the gatekeepers!  Claire Daines portrays Temple's quirky behavior in these situations beautifully and with respectful humor.
Temple transformed the cattle industry by trying to see stockyards from the cows' point of view.
Temple Grandin takes the viewer into her autistic mind, giving us a hint of the way she thinks visually.  Just as Temple put herself in the place of the cows, to attempt to see the world as they see it, thus coming to a better understanding of how best to treat them, Temple Grandin will give the viewer unprecedented insight into the mind of autistic persons.  Highly recommended!

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

Here are some books she has written, and one by her remarkable mom:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Panique au village and L'illusionniste

I recently watched a couple of animated foreign films that break out of the mold of American cartoons.  These are definitely not Pixar or Disney creations.  They're both fun, in different ways, but may not make your toddler's favorites list.

Panique au village (A Town Called Panic), the more kid-friendly of the two, uses stop-motion animation to create a Gumby-like experience.  Cowboy and Indian decide to celebrate their roommate Horse's birthday by building him a barbecue.  Due to a wayward coffee cup placed on the keyboard, their online order for a few bricks becomes millions of bricks.  They pile the bricks on top of the house to get them out of the way, but then the house collapses and a pathway is opened to another world, leading to great adventures by the trio.  Sounds silly, and it is, but it's great fun and a treat to watch.
All kinds of chaos going on here. . . .
L'illusionniste (The Illusionist) is not for kids--not that it's obscene or violent, just that kids would probably not be interested in it.  Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet, L'illusionniste was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.  You may remember his Les triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville), which was nominated in 2004.  Chomet based it on a screenplay by Jacques Tati, the director and mime.  The illusionist himself, a caricature of Tati, speaks little; in fact, the whole film has only a tiny amount of incidental dialogue, as befits a mime.  The illusionist struggles to fit in to a changing entertainment world, and gains a fan who follows him, becoming a sort of adopted daughter.  The film is touching and humorous, and beautifully animated.
With the charming characters and beautifully drawn images, dialogue is unnecessary.
I noticed a few subtle visual jokes in the film, leading me to believe I had missed many more.  In one segment, the illusionist takes a job at a garage, which has a sign reading "Shell"with the word spill, and a license plate on a car driving by read "FU8 U5H."  Am I reading too much into that license plate or is it a jab at our former president?  At the garage, a stereotypical Texan brings his big Cadillac in for service (how'd he get his Caddy to Paris?); his license plate reads "B1G A55."  That one's a bit more clear.  I read in a review that the classic old lady/young lady optical illusion makes an appearance as a character at one point.  I assume there are more hidden jokes like this which you'd have to be more observant than me to see. . . .

Bottom line, I'll give 3 stars each to these imported gems.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


After going to see the opera Hydrogen Jukebox the other day (my review here), I saw the DVD Howl at the library and decided to expose myself to a little more Ginsberg.  Howl features James Franco, who recently starred in 127 Hours (which I have watched but haven't reviewed here yet) as Allen Ginsberg.  The movie focuses on Ginsberg's poem Howl and the obscenity trial regarding the poem.

The most interesting thing about the movie is that there is no original dialogue.  The entire script comes from trial transcripts, interviews with Ginsberg, letters, the poem itself, and other sources.  As we are told at the start of the film, every word in the movie was actually said by the person who is portrayed as speaking them in the movie.  Cool.  But it's more than a documentary or a sterile dramatization.  It's pretty remarkable how well the strategy of using only actual documents works.
The "artist" at work.
Beyond that impressive technique, though, I found little to like about the film.  It's amazing that there was a trial in the first place.  The prosecution is made to look ridiculous as they attempt to prove that Ginsberg's poem has no intrinsic artistic value as literature.  Maybe I think it's a crummy poem, not worth my time, but that doesn't mean it has no merit.  And Ginsberg's life--well, if I thought his poetry was worth a dime, I might be more interested in his biography, but I'm not.  I don't get very excited about the heroes of the 1960s.  Some of Howl was the poem itself, accompanied by psychedelic animated interpretations of the content.  No thanks.

So for this movie glutton who can do without the cultural contributions of the beat poets, this wasn't a movie for me.

Bottom line, 1 1/2 stars.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I love a movie that takes me to a place I've never been and exposes me to a culture I don't know.  It's nice when such a movie tells a good story, too, but if it doesn't, well, that doesn't mean it's a total waste of time.

Tulpan is one of those movies.  Asa lives on the steppes of Kazakhstan with his sister and her family.  He's ready to start a life of his own, but the only single woman in the area, Tulpan, repeatedly rejects him.  He holds out hope, for her and for a better life for himself, in the hopeless setting of the steppe.

I didn't get too caught up in this slice of life story, but I did enjoy the realistic portrayal of these steppe dwellers.  It's hard to imagine a bleaker landscape.  No features in any direction.  No trees, no hills, no buildings, just open space with their hut and stables set up in the middle of it.  Throughout Tulpan I found myself thinking of Abraham in Genesis.  Surely this life is not much different from Abraham's, living in a tent out in the middle of a plain, keeping livestock to get by.

Asa's family herds sheep, and the film is full of other animals running around.  The sheep play a pivotal role.  Several are stillborn, but Asa accidentally tracks down one of the pregnant sheep who had wandered off and assists in a successful live birth.  That's something you don't see everyday: an actual live animal birth on film!  A beautiful thing.
The vet of the steppe with his animal transport.
The animals provide some of the humor, too.  At one point, a vet comes by with a camel calf in his motorcycle side car.  Apparently the mother has followed them from wherever he picked up the calf.  When they move on, the vet motors away with the mother camel loping after him.

So don't expect much tension or development when you watch Tulpan.  It's there, just very low-key.  But if you're curious about life in pastoral Kazakhstan, Tulpan is an enjoyable treat.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cop Out and The Other Guys

Wise-cracking cops, mismatched partners, crazy chase scenes, suspended officers who pursue investigations against orders and end up solving the case, tough superior officers, smart, stylish criminals: these elements could describe a whole slew of cop movies that come out every year.  They'll say they're parodying the "buddy cop" genre, but this has become a genre of its own to the point that I don't really know what they're parodying anymore.

Cop Out is the straighter comedy of the two.  The partners Jimmie Monroe and Paul Hodges (Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan) bungle a sting operation, get suspension without pay, then take matters into their own hands when Jimmie's valuable baseball card is stolen when he's trying to sell it.  Jimmie needs the cash from the sale to finance his daughter's wedding.  Turns out there's a local crime boss who loves sports memorabilia who ends up with the card.  His brother is the subject of the failed sting, and there's a gorgeous woman in the trunk of his car.  Of course it gets very complicated and everything works out for Jimmie and Paul.
This sting operation didn't work out quite as planned.
The Other Guys is funnier, in different ways, than Cop Out.  This time partners Allen and Terry (Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) long to be in the police department spotlight, but due to Terry's goof-ups, primarily shooting Derek Jeter, and Will's desk job as an accountant, they are stuck in the office doing paperwork.  When the two star detectives die in action, Allen and Terry get a shot at a case.  Of course, they blow it, but decide to pursue it off-the-record and win out in the end.  Thematically, The Other Guys resembles Cop Out and all the other movies in the genre, with a more overt, off-beat humor.  It has some of the humor you would expect in a Will Ferrell film, but he manages a more subdued role than his usual here.  He doesn't even have a scene where he runs around in his underwear! 
Allen and Terry have a love-hate relationship.  Mostly hate.
For what they offer, both of these are fun, silly, movies with plenty of laughs and action.  Break out the popcorn!

Bottom line, The Other Guys, 2 1/2 stars.  Cop Out, 2 stars.

Monday, June 13, 2011


On the surface, there's not much special about this movie.  Simple dialogue, simple story, bare sets.  But the brilliance of this movie is that it's all done in a single take!  That's right!  The camera starts rolling and doesn't stop until 85 minutes later.

I first thought about the length of a take while watching one of the Kill Bill movies a few years ago.  There was a long, elaborate fight scene and I realized that camera never stopped rolling.  I don't remember how long it was, but it was pretty impressive.  Then I watched Russian Ark, which was an elaborate single take film.  It tried to make up for its lack of a story with the huge cast and elaborate costumes and sets, making for a rather dull movie.
PVC-1manages to tell a compelling, if simple and incomplete, story in its single take.  An armed gang invades a family's home, straps a bomb made from PVC pipe around a woman's neck, and demands ransom money.  The family frantically goes for help, calling in a bomb squad to defuse it.  The tension runs high, and the real time feeling draws the viewer in.  There's no room for back stories or extraneous material in this bare bones story, but that adds to the mystery and effectiveness.  I found myself wondering, Who are these people?  Why are they targeted by these criminals? etc.  But we don't have to have all the answers spoon-fed to us, do we?

So this is not the best movie you've ever seen, but for the sheer guts of filming a feature-length film in one shot, PVC-1 deserves a look.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides

Believe it or not, the Movie Glutton actually went to a newly released, full-priced, actual movie!  I did not watch this on my laptop, or even at the discount theater!  Kurt was here from Michigan; we caught the new Pirates at Rave, his treat.  (Thanks, Kurt!)  We did choose the 2D version, mainly so we wouldn't have to wait around the 40 minutes or whatever it was for the 3D version.  I don't think we missed much.
Another one?  How many more of these movies can we take?
If you loved the first three Pirates movies, you'll probably love this one.  If you're like me, and you enjoyed the other 3 but they all sort of run together, you might enjoy this one, too, but it won't leave much of an impression on you.  Other than a few characters, there is very little connection between the other movies and On Stranger Tides.  That's nice, in a way, because you don't have to stop and think, Hmmm, what's going on here?  This is a completely independent story from the others.  One plus: instead of Keira Knightly we get Penelope Cruz.  One minus: you'll never think of mermaids the same way again.

Overall, the finished product seems underdone.  It starts strong, with Jack's capture and escape and capture, and there are some decent action sequences.  But the great comic action I loved from the other movies is missing, for the most part, and even Jack Sparrow's swagger and wise cracking seems to be a bit subdued.  The story holds together and comes to a satisfying conclusion, but the end does leave the sequel option wide open.

So Pirates fans, you've probably already been to see this, but if not, go on,  you won't be disappointed.  But for the rest of you, it's an entertaining, if overlong and forgettable, fantasy adventure.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Easy A

This movie has some funny moments, has some true, if facile, lessons about gossip and reputation, and has some good performances, but I didn't like it.

Olive is a high school girl who does not have good luck with boys (ever notice that in movies, the so-called homely, unpopular girls are gorgeous?  Emma Stone is.).  When her friend Rhi hounds her about her weekend, during which Olive stayed home by herself instead of camping with Rhi's family, Olive makes up a story about losing her virginity to a nameless college student.  Their conversation is overheard by Marianne, the school religious busybody.  The gossip starts flying, and Olive instantly becomes known as the school slut.  She plays it up by wearing racy clothes and putting a red A on her shirt (They're studying The Scarlet Letter in class.).
Not exactly a homely girl. . . .
Some highlights:

Olive's teacher's comment on social networking:
I don't know what your generation's fascination is with documenting your every thought... but I can assure you, they're not all diamonds. 'Roman is having an OK day, and bought a Coke Zero at the gas station. Raise the roof.' Who gives a rat's a--?
Amen, brother!  That's for sure!

It's not a plot element, unless to show that Olive's family is a bit out of the mainstream, but Olive has an adopted African-American brother.  Great to see transracial adoption as so normal that it hardly draws a comment!  Here's a funny conversation with their goofy parents:
Chip: I'm never gonna go through puberty. 
Mom: Course you will, baby, but we're a family of late bloomers.  I didn't until I was 14.  Nor did Olive.
Chip: Why does that matter?  I'm adopted.
Dad: (clearly jesting) What?  Oh my God!  Who told you?  Guys, we were going to do this at the right time!
Later, their dad (played by the hilarious Stanley Tucci) jokingly asks him, "Where are you from originally?"
His name's Chip.  Sounds like Zip.
Some lowlights:

I can see that a girl can get a bad reputation, but the whole school acts like none of them have ever had sex.  That seems sort of weird.  It was not big news at my high school if someone was having sex, and that was in the pre-Clinton era.  So, even though it worked to reveal the hypocrisy of many of the students, it lent an air of unreality to the story.

The lowest low light was the treatment of Christians in the movie.  Marianne is the leader of a small Christian group that sits around in a circle singing really bad versions of spirituals.  Christians are portrayed as judgmental, mean-spirited, and/or hypocritical.  OK, I admit, I've known plenty of Christians like that, and I can't say I have been exempt from those three descriptors every moment of my life.  But there's no balance here.  Would it have been too hard to include a Christian who's actual a decent person?

In Easy A, the bad points certainly outweigh the good.  Don't waste your time.

Bottom line, 1 star.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Catfish started out as a simple, rather narcissistic film, it seemed like these guys filmed just to have something to film.  But the end result is a timely, compelling slice of life that is definitely worth watching. 

Nev, a talented photographer living in New York, receives an unsolicited package in the mail, a painting reproducing one of his recently published photographs.  The artist, Abby, an 8-year-old girl, continues to send paintings, and she and Nev become Facebook friends.  Eventually, Nev becomes friends with many of Abby's family and friends, including a passionate, long-distance e-romance with her 19-year-old sister Megan.  Nev's brother Rel and their buddy Henry are filmmakers, and talk Nev into documenting his relationship with this family on film.  Eventually, the trio begins to suspect that all may not be as it seems, and they take a road trip to the family's home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 
Megan's photoshopped picture of her and Nev together.
They were right.  Things were not as they seemed.  Without giving away too much, it will suffice to say that Nev does not get to meet the girl of his dreams.  What he does discover is a life lesson, obvious to most, but easily missed when it happens to someone: not everyone on the internet is exactly what she says or shows.  Catfish opens a window on a subculture of Facebook and of internet identity in general that I never see.  Nev and his friends bring it to life in an entertaining, interesting way.

(By the way, I poked around on the internet and found a roaring debate about whether this was real or an elaborate hoax.  The filmmakers insist it's real, exactly as happened.  I don't know.  If it's a fake, it does take something away from the film.  But an interesting cultural artifact nonetheless.)

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.