Category Archives: Film review

The good autistic vs. the Bad autistic – Thoughts on X & Y

Another title could have been: “you didn’t make a film about autism, you made a film about everything but autism” but that seemed a little unwieldy. So many sub-plots that took time away from developing the main character’s story and so many of them seemed superfluous to the development of the plot and to Nathan’s story. To channel Chandler from Friends a little “so many sub-plots, must focus narrative.”

This is more a rant then a review really. That’s 112 minutes of my life I’m never getting back, I wish I had gone to see Suite Francaise instead or better yet stayed at home and watched Wolfsburg v Inter. There are so many things that infuriated me about the film, I’m so angry that I can’t remember all of them. It was everything I expected it to be, based on seeing the trailer and that is not a good thing. Inaccurate in terms of the autism stuff, clichéd, sickly sweet, over emotional nonsense to sum it up.

Not only did it not seem to focus on Nathan who was meant to be the main character but they somehow managed to avoid using the word autism throughout the entire film, the one occasion the word autistic was used it was in a derogatory way. Instead he was “on the spectrum” or “had super-powers” And when his roommate Luke asked him he merely said, “I take it you’ve been diagnosed?” I can’t work out the writer’s aversion to the word, why it was unspeakable.

The only scenes in the film worth watching are the ones that involve Luke, two in particular the one where he tries to use a joke from one of his TV shows to fit in with the group and the conversation mentioned above. In the latter scene, he makes an excellent point about how it’s ok to be autistic or different in some way, as long as you are a genius to go with it. His parents probably meant well when they told him it was ok to be different, people usually do, but the people who tell you that, they don’t have to deal with being you.

Being a genius isn’t enough for people to accept you, as referred to in the title, there seems to be a good kind of autistic and a bad kind. The good kind is like Nathan, smart and a little awkward but mostly quiet and pliable. One who goes along with what neuro-typicals want, one who doesn’t actively try to fit in and belong, they want you to conform on the surface but not to try to be one of them. The bad kind doesn’t go along with how NTs think things should be done, they don’t mind having an opinion that differs from the norm. It seems to bug certain kinds of people, they can’t understand why someone may not want to be a part of the group. Of course that’s irrelevant here because Luke did want to belong, he wanted badly to have friends and to be part of something. His parents had done right in a way by telling him that it was ok to be himself but they had failed him in the sense that they hadn’t helped him obtain the skills he needed to be a part of the world. If an autistic person really is happy by themselves then of course it’s wrong to force them to socialise, but if they do want friends then their parents should be helping them to gain the necessary skills.

The scene in question when it was used in a derogatory manner also involved Luke, Isaac said: “he’s obviously autistic except he has all of the bad traits, obsessive and socially incompetent and none of the good ones.”

I wonder what does Issac consider to the good traits of autism.

So they know he has autism and they know what areas his difficulties lie in, yet they still bully him for those very things. Also they too are obsessive, they are the ones who have talked about nothing but maths the whole time, they even rap about maths and their social skills aren’t that fantastic either, they aren’t at all good at dealing with people who don’t agree with them or who are different to them in some way.

The scene which dealt with Nathan’s diagnosis was even more troublesome, “he’s on the spectrum with traits of autism and synaesthesia.” No, just no, if you have traits then that’s all you have, only people who have autism are on the spectrum, you either have it or you don’t. And the way his parents handled it was just horrid, the scene where his father talked it over with him demonstrates yet another example of their refusal to use the word autism: “do you know anyone else who has what you have?”

Nathan answers Einstein; well first of all it’s not possible to say definitively that he was autistic. Second of all that line is just awful, why would you not say autism there “has what you have”, that’s a really awkward phrasing and for no reason at all. He could have said “do you know anyone else like you?” which would have been less awkward and more naturalistic.

The writing was awful in every respect; actually the film was awful in every respect, the worst clichés of sport movies mixed with the worst sickly sweet drama clichés, and a bunch of autism stereotypes mixed in for good measure.

I’m so sick of films about autism that have characters that are emotionally disconnected, don’t like to be touched, don’t have any understanding of emotions, have little interest in interacting with other people and worst of all who are good at maths.

Another source of annoyance throughout the film was his mother, in particular the scene where he was playing with sparklers with his father. Right in front of him, she comments that he’s allowing his father to hold his hand. You do know he can hear and understand you right? It makes me wonder, what is it with parents and their obsession with physical contact, why are they always obsessing over the fact that their child doesn’t hug them or like physical contact? Do you think you have some kind of right to it, would you be making such a big deal if you had a NT child who did not like any kind of physical contact?

It always infuriates me in films like this when towards the end they show the autistic character allowing some kind of physical contact, as if the only problem was finding someone who loved them or them being able to trust someone. It’s usually sensory issues that result in a person disliking physical contact, all the love in the world isn’t going to resolve that.

The other issue with the character of his mother was the relationship between her and the maths teacher, it served no purpose in the overall narrative I thought, it just served as just another distraction from what was meant to be the main story. It seemed as if the writer had gotten bored of Nathan and so decided to pad out the film with the sub-plots. Halfway through it’s as if they discovered what a dull and uninteresting character Nathan was, truthfully the film would have been more interesting with Luke as the protagonist.

So overall not impressed at all, not in terms of the representation of autism and not as a film in it’s own right. But then there are so few good films about autism, there’s an ever increasing number of them but very few that are any good. I wonder what makes a writer decide to create an autistic character or to write a story centered around one, what is the source of their interest and fascination, and why do so many of them get it so badly wrong?

Rua Alguem 5555: My Father Josef Mengele

When people think about victims of the Nazi regime their thoughts will naturally first go the people who were persecuted and murdered by the regime, and maybe their descendants. Most people wouldn’t give a second thought to the children of the perpetrators of such atrocities and how they are too in a way victims. The story of Rua Alguem is complete fiction insofar as Mengele did not have two sons; the son who is the main character in the film does not exist. Nevertheless, the points the film raises about children having to answer for the crimes of their parents are valid ones.

Hermann is not a Nazi, he’s just a regular human being, his only crime is who is father is. The people outside the hotel who attack him cannot see the irony of their behaviour. They are attacking him for something he cannot help; he is being made to suffer for his father’s crimes. Not unlike how they were persecuted for something they could not help. You would think they would be the last people on earth to do such a thing.

How is it that a film about Josef Mengele’s (fictional) son can end up having such an emotional impact on you, as much as any Holocaust film?

And it’s not just because its Thomas Kretschmann is the lead character. It’s such a solidly written and directed film that not even having Charlton Heston as Mengele detracts from the quality of the film. It opens with a very powerful scene and doesn’t let up from there. It opens with a sense of mystery; you don’t yet know who he is or why he’s there. He’s obviously moved by the place as most people would be, If you didn’t know what the film was about and who he was, the scene with the group of Jewish children might be seen from a different perspective. If you didn’t know who his father was. From his emotional reaction you know he’s not a Nazi, from looks alone, he looks like a stereotypical German, an Aryan, a SS man Himmler or Heydrich would have approved of. As he approaches the children, you can almost see him thinking, “Do they know? It feels as if they do know, just from seeing him. It’s unbearably tense. As are the scenes with his father, the attempts to extract a confession, the police station, and the gun and of course the hotel at the end.

It’s a work of brilliance that they managed to tell such a story in a fair and balanced way, not just that but that they actually manage to evoke sympathy for Hermann and for the protestors outside (Holocaust survivors included) to be portrayed as being in the wrong. It’s a shame that it’s so hard to obtain (I had to get my copy from the Czech Republic), it truly deserves to be seen and even though it’s not technically a Holocaust film as such, it should be on any list of best films related to the topic. It’s not only one of the best Thomas Kretschmann films I’ve seen (note films, not parts) along with Stalingrad and The Stendhal Syndrome, but one of the most gut wrenching films I’ve ever seen. It’s a rare film that provokes such a strong emotional reaction in me. It joins such rarities as Das Leben der Anderen, Der Tunnel, Das Boot, Any Day Now, Der Untergang, Frankenstein, Stalingrad, The Big Blue, Senna, Goodbye Lenin, Nebraska and not a film, but deserves to be mentioned with all of these, Generation War.

It should be watched by anyone who doubts Thomas Kretschmann’s talents as an actor. It’s just a shame that he doesn’t get more parts like this, his choices of late have been extremely disappointing in comparison to some of his earlier roles. How unfortunate that he does so many typical and straightforward Hollywood villian type roles and doesn’t find a balance between those and parts such as this, like Vincent D’Onofrio has managed to do. Not saying that they belong in the same sentence of course, they don’t even belong in the same league. D’Onofrio is Bundesliga material whereas Kretschmann compared to him is third division at best.

Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France

That was apparently what Tarantino wanted as the title of Inglourious Basterds, as much as I like the actual title with its characteristic Tarantino-esque misspelling, I really like that and wish they had kept it. I was also tempted to title this post “I love numbers” which isn’t actually a line from the film, it’s a comic mishearing by a critic (from Sight and Sound I think). They thought that’s what Landa had said when he uttered one of his best lines (I know all of his lines are his best lines, but it’s my favourite in particular) “I love rumours.” Though for obvious reasons it would have been, in a very dark way hilarious, if that’s what the Jew hunter had said.

Inglourious Basterds delivers upon what if offers on the poster, an uproarious, inglourious thrill ride of vengeance. It’s enjoyable for film buffs and casual fans alike, if you get the references it just adds to the fun and if you don’t it doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the film.

Some people have voiced the opinion that whilst the first twenty minutes or so is undeniably sheer genius, that the film loses its way later on, in particular what QT refers to as the “French film” segment being criticised for its slowness compared to the rest of the film. I don’t think so; my view on it can be summed up with a quote from The Wire: “and all the pieces matter.” I think it all fits together perfectly; each and every segment is required. The film is pretty long, two hours and thirty-two minutes (including in the credits) and yet I couldn’t imagine a single thing that could be cut or that would need to be.

Nor do I think that the film suffers when Landa is not on-screen, despite my considerable appreciation for the character, it’s almost a relief when he’s not on screen for the simple reason that the scenes he is in are so fraught with tension that it’s a relief not to see him for a while. The relative calmness of the French section counteracts the intensity of the rest of the film nicely I think.

I honestly don’t have a single thing to criticise, there isn’t anything I think could have been done better or improved in any way. From a writing perspective, I think it may be the best thing QT will ever do and maybe from a directorial standpoint as well. The casting was simply unbeatable, I obviously hugely appreciate the fact that you have Germans playing Germans; in fact my favourite thing about the film is that the correct languages are spoken. I also like how speaking or not speaking a particular language, or rather speaking it correctly is an important part of the story. On this note my favourite scene is the one with the solider in the bar after Hicox and the two Basterds have been shot. The exchange goes something like this:

Aldo: What are you?
Werner: I’m a German you idiot.
Aldo: You speak pretty good English for a German.
Werner: I agree.

To me, that was QT mocking all of the films that have had English speaking actors play Nazis over the years.

Overall, the film is so perfect it really is impossible to pick a favourite scene. If I were to list my favourite scenes I would just ending up describing the film from beginning to end. Nor could really I pick a favourite character, Landa I obviously like, but I equally like Wilhelm Wicki, Lt. Aldo, Frederick Zoller and there are many I like amongst the characters who don’t have a great deal of screen time as well such as Richard Sammel as Seargent Werner Rachtman, Christian Berkel as the bartender and Denis Ménochet as the farmer in the very first scene. And not forgetting the truly disturbingly perfect Sylvester Groth as Joseph Goebbels. Nevetheless Landa is the one I have written pages and pages about, in fact I have so many notes on him and my interpretation of his character that I think it’s best to give him a post of his own so that he doesn’t steal this post like he stole the film.

The film ends with the words “you know, I think this may be my masterpiece”. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece. He may have won the Oscar for best original screenplay for Django Unchained but in my mind, he should have won it for this. Whilst both films have great quotable dialogue, Django obviously having the advantage given that almost all of the film is in English, for me it’s Inglourious Basterds that is better overall and that showcases Tarantino’s talents as a writer.

In Order of Disappearance

I didn’t really have a favourite film yet this year, not before I saw this. There was Frank which I enjoyed very much but it wasn’t quite my favourite and also Stalingrad, but that was obsession related, not so much on its own merits. From the description of the plot and knowing that Stellan Skarsgard and Bruno Ganz were in it, I was sure it would be good, but it was even better than I expected. At first glance it’s a by the numbers revenge thriller but it soon becomes apparent that this film intends to go a little deeper. It’s an excellent meditation on the nature of revenge and how quickly it can spin out of control, how people are connected in all sorts of ways without realising it. With great writing, the stunning night-time shots that are so characteristic of Scandinavian films and a wonderful performance from Stellan Skarsgard and the black humor that the Norwegians do so well, this film was nothing short of perfect. Some standout scenes: Nils killing the drug dealer in his van, that scene was fantastic, the death was up close and personal, deeply uncomfortable, the director spared the audience not at all, in a different film it would have been a quick and easy death, the actual mechanics and how difficult it is to strangle someone would have been skipped over, not here. Another great scene, my personal favourite, when Nils takes the drug dealer’s boy back to his own house and puts him to bed but the boy can’t sleep without a story so he reads to him from an information leaflet about snow-blowers. The scene ends up with him lying on the bed next to him, the boy falling asleep underneath his arm. That small moment actually made me cry, which doesn’t happen often with any film, let alone in the cinema. In fact I can list the few times it has occurred, not counting anything obsession related (that is TK’s death in Stalingrad or CW’s death in Django Unchained): Any Day Now, Rush, Nebraska, A Royal Affair and 12 Years a Slave. And that’s of about approximately 130 films over three years.

There’s just some much to write about, I feel like I need to see it again to get everything, indeed I’d really like to see it again. Unfortunately today was the last day it’s there, just six days it was there, and if my friend hadn’t asked to see A Most Wanted Man (which incidentally they couldn’t – I’m oddly relieved about that, because I don’t have to sit through that film again) I may not have known it was there.

My top five favourite of films seen at the cinema this year:

1. In Order of Disappearance

2. Frank

3. The Rover

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel

5. The Guest

I would have put Rush and Pulp Fiction on the list, but I feel like that’s cheating since despite seeing both of them at the cinema this year, neither of them were actually released this year.

Der Löw and die Mannschaft connection – the son of the Serbian gangster who was killed, his name was Miroslav. Also the fact that they were Serbs because I just bought several trading cards of Joachim Löw, one of which was only issued in Serbia. Plus the fact that Bruno Ganz was in the filml (he played Hitler in Downfall), the connection being the Downfall parody videos, in particular the one in which Hitler finds out that Germany drew with Sweden 4-4.

Scandinavian related tangent, after seeing such a terrific Scandinavian offering, I feel like delving once more into the delights of The Killing and The Bridge. Of course if I were to do so, I would have to skip TK1, having seen it three times already, I couldn’t see Meyer die again. TK2 I’m not very fond of, I found the political stuff a little tiresome. TK3 I’ve only seen once when it aired on TV, maybe I’ll just skip straight to that.

As for The Bridge, I think I’ve seen s1 at least four times, no need to watch that again, S2 again like TK3 I’ve seen only once when it aired on TV. I the both of them on blu-ray, but I never got round to watching them. In addition I have an entire shelf of Scandinivian films, the vast majority of them Danish, and about half of them unwatched. With winter coming, it’s perfect timing, long dark winter nights and many Scandinivian delights. Winter truly begins when the The Bridge starts.

Random note about something I noticed today, before seeing my rail card the train guard was speaking in a normal way, after he saw it he started talking slower? Why, do you assume all people who have a disabled rail-card are mentally challenged and thus need to be spoken to in such a way?

A Most Wanted Man

Daniel Brühl is indeed a most wanted man,  I feel like I don’t see enough of him in general and it was especially true here, him and the other Germans in the film were not used a great deal. Though the film earned itself some Löw points with me because the first time you see Daniel he is wearing a very fetching dark navy blue shirt, just like Jogi’s at the World Cup. Also amusing to me was the fact that not only Daniel was in it, but Rainer Bock and Martin Wuttke as well. An Inglourious Basterds trifecta.

I was very excited to see this film, now having seen it I’m not sure whether I enjoyed it or not. I like a film that doesn’t rush along like a freight train to its glaringly obvious conclusion, I enjoy the slow pace of a good spy thriller, however here I was a little bored. Also the fake German accent bugged me, it’s totally unnecessary, but if they decide to go that way they should at least be consistent with it. The story was intriguing, I think maybe the film was a little weak in terms of characterisation. I would have preferred to get to know Issa better than spend any more time with Günter, for all the time the film spent with him, I didn’t feel anything for him. Nor do I think it’s PSH best ever performance, I think some very different reviews would have been written if were not for his death.

I’ll say one thing about it though, it has got me thinking about the nature of the relationship between Germany and the USA, there obviously being quite a history there. Most of my knowledge on the subject relates to the Cold War, I know very little about after that, something to add to my reading list.

Strangely enough, it’s got me thinking about The Stendhal Syndrome, the reason being that both of them end just when things get interesting, the film that is, not the Cold War.

If things go as planned I’m going to see it again next week, maybe a second viewing will help me come to a more definitive conclusion and to write something a little more about it.

 

The Keeper of the Lost Causes

The main reason I was so excited to see the film was because of Mikael Boe Følsgaard (who was absolutely perfect in Arcel’s previous film A Royal Affair as the troubled King Christian) and he did not disapoint here despite his limited screentime. Not exactly relevant but getting mentioned anyway, the first time he appeared, I couldn’t help but think of Niki Lauda, I can’t really explain why. I knew he would be just perfect as Uffe. He just became my number one favourite Dane.

And had I known that Søren Pilmark was playing Carl’s boss I would have been equally happy and sure of his perfection in the role. A cranky and snarky boss is right up his street. I did however have reservations about Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Carl Mørck. Despite having seen him play a cop in the TK3 I just couldnt see him as Carl. I was wrong about that, he captured Carl perfectly, his strangely sensitive side and the rougher side of him too. There are some scenes which if they keep that arc from the second and third book, he will really nail.

Most of the reviews I’ve read seem to like Fares Fares as Assad, I thought he was just ok. He’s not how I pictured Assad, he’s not odd enough nor strange looking enough. I pictured Assad as being stockier. Which leads to my biggest casting complaint, I have nothing against Troels Lyby, he’s been excellent in everything else I’ve seen him in, most notably a very brilliant and disturbing Danish film called Accused, but he was not the right choice to play Hardy. I’m not a total purist about the film keeping everything from the book but some things are important and for me this is one of them. I thought it important that they cast someone who physically matched the description of Hardy, that is a great hulking giant. Someone like Theis from TK1. Or at least someone as tall as him anyway. Though given that the film downplays Hardy’s importance as a character, I don’t think such considerations would have been of any importance to the writer or the casting director.

On the subject of keeping things from the book, they couldn’t find two minutes to mention the funding for Department Q? The fact that Carl’s boss is taking the lion’s share of the money and using it for other things, in exchange for Carl being left alone and him and Assad getting free rein in the cases they choose. And the fact that this reason is why Carl is able to demand any of this.

That aside, Arcel and Nørgaard have for the most part delivered a nicely written and directed thriller here. Not too formulaic and good chemistry between the two leads. Though I’m personally not a fan of his tight editing style here, I think he could have loosened up a bit more, fleshed out some of the smaller pieces of the story a little more. An extra fifteen minutes wouldn’t have gone amiss. For example I wouldn’t have minded seeing more banter between Carl and his boss, or seeing a little more of Merette with her brother.

One final thing, whoever wrote the review in the guardian is an idiot. Not because they gave it two stars. I don’t agree with them (I’d give it three and a half) but I respect their opinion. They are an idiot for what they said about the flm (to quote Schultz I’m paraphrasing just a tad) being a step backwards because it doesn’t have a female lead. Not all Danish or other Scandinavian films need a female lead, but apparently they do in guardianland.

Now I finally have the answer to the question that was bugging me throughout the whole film, I knew I recognised the killer by his face and his voice. Turns out it was Niels Erik from Borgen.

Too many films/ The Secret in Their Eyes

That was my predominant thought at the beginning of the month. That I spend too much time watching way too many films. Conjoined with two very disappointing books and finally having sat through the terrible and slightly surreal Karate Dog (thanks for that Thomas), all in all a not so good start to the month.

All of this was vanquished by watching one film, The Secret in Their Eyes. It answered my question of why you watch films and it affirmed that you don’t watch too many, rather the opposite, you don’t watch enough. If you didn’t sit through all the mediocre and could be better films, could you truly appreciate a masterpiece like this?

Whilst thinking about it I was reminded of a reviewer of Relic Hunter (because directly or indirectly everything has to come back to Thomas I guess) on the IMDB. They had come across the show late one night on TV and after reading some good reviews which they very much disagreed with they set about watching all of the episodes and reviewing them. Because in order to truly appreciate good TV you have to know what bad TV is.

Not that it’s as black and white as that. Most films don’t fall into the absolutely perfect or truly terrible. A not so good film can have a redeeming feature. As Thomas said “still within the good there’s some bad and within the bad, there’s some good, it’s not black and white.”

The Secret in Their Eyes is, I don’t quite know how to put it, it seems as if there are no words sufficient to adequately describe its beautiful simplicity. I love it all, the title, the direction, the writing. I love the way the film seamlessly wanders in and out of different periods of time. I love the slow burn pace and most of all I love the interactions between Esposito and Pablo. The scene in which Esposito theorises of the murder of Pablo proceeded is at the same time both incredible to watch and heartbreaking.

Again and again I keep thinking of Das Leben der Anderen when I think of this film. The double meanings, the same slow burn pace, each heartbreaking and moving in their own way. Both are about two men inextricably linked, both involve a typewriter, and in both the two men are in some way connected by a book. In The Secret in Their Eyes it is the prosecutor writing a book that starts of the chain of events that leads him to his discovery and in Das Leben der Anderen it’s through writing a book that Dreyman gets to thank his sort of saviour Wiesler. Another similarity is that neither man confronts their helper/nemesis. In Das Leben der Anderen, Dreyman can’t face Wiesler, in The Secret in Their Eyes Esposito confronted with the killer, now cutting a pitiful figure as an old man locked up for several years and denied any form of human contact, he can’t face him either. He recoils from him, too stunned or horrified to say anything.

Thinking of the double meaning of The Secret in Their Eyes (in that it refers both to the look in the killer’s eye that identifies him as such and the look in the husband’s eye that gives out the opposite message) made me rethink the meaning of the title of Das Leben der Anderen. The Lives of the Others, I assumed it referred to the people Wiesler and the employees of the Stasi watched. The people who lived whilst Wiesler watched them. But now I think there may be another meaning, it could refer to the majority of the population, the non-elite who don’t have access to the same privileges as Dreyman does. He claims to speak for them through his writing yet the truth is he knows very little of the reality of their lives, hence the lives of the others.