Two brief movie reviews

The Thinker by Rodin

Temple Grandin (2010)

Temple Grandin is a salute, not just to the potential of the autistic, but also to the acting ability of Claire Danes. I should also salute the movie’s excellent makeup artists who were able to transform Danes into someone wholly unrecognizable from her previous movies. Danes was Yvaine in Stardust and Cosette in Les Miserables, among many other movie roles. Danes is a remarkably beautiful woman and no offense to the autistic but Temple Grandin will not turn too many heads, especially when she is wallowing in the dirt like cattle or trying to drive her truck out of a slaughterhouse with her windshield caked with cow parts.

Temple Grandin is autistic, which means that most of the world perceives you as intensely weird when in fact you are just intensely different. Temple sees the world as pictures, which gives her a unique perspective but one that is not embraced by polite society. She is physically unaffectionate, perceived as rude to her teachers, considered a freak by her classmates, and she has some unusual habits, including liking to go into a cattle squeeze machine because it calms her. Temple is also exceedingly bright, in her own way, but getting through school is problematic, and is only possible due to her amazingly devoted mother played by Julia Ormond. On rare occasion a teacher will take her under his wing. In high school she is fortunate to bond with her science teacher Dr. Carlock (David Strathairn) who helps bring out her potential, which is to see the world in new perspectives. Strangely she makes it into college and immerses herself the world of animal husbandry. When not calming herself in her self-made squeeze machine she studies slaughterhouses and bovine behavior.

The combination of a severely autistic woman combined with the gruesome business of cattle management and slaughter makes an odd premise for a movie, but Danes’ brash performance as Temple Grandin is surprisingly compelling, as is her story. Temple makes for a compelling and exceedingly strange character, but one that will stick with you. Autism is a condition I have never paid attention to, but now one I feel I sort of understand by seeing the world through Temple’s eyes. The movie is a tour de force for Danes, but also for a host of ancillary characters including Julia Ormond. For Danes, the movie proves that she can move beyond being just another pretty actress.

The movie is closely based on the real-life Temple Grandin, who became an example of the potential of people with autism. I like any movie that takes me on new human adventures, and this one certainly proves that a fascinating story and a compelling cast will stay with you a lot longer than yet another move rife in special effects and superheroes.

3.2 out of 4 stars.

Rating: ★★★¼ 

Argo

It must be exciting for an actor like Ben Affleck to be famous and talented enough to branch out on his own and both star in and direct his own film, like Clint Eastwood. In Argo, Affleck regresses us thirty-two years to the time of the Iranian hostage crisis and the crazy, crazy revolutionary world of Iran after the fall of the Shah. I’m old enough to remember those 444 days when American embassy employees were held hostage by revolutionary guards in their embassy. In Argo we get to see just how crazy it actually was. President Carter was able to eventually get all the American hostages home safely, but it arguably cost him reelection. (It really wasn’t his fault. If you had to pin blame, it would go to a host of presidents, but mostly presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy who promoted the shah and used Iran as a Cold War pawn at the expense of its people.) Argo is the mostly forgotten story of six American embassy employees who managed to escape from the embassy as it was being overrun, and hole up secretly in the home of the Canadian ambassador. The real trick became escaping from a revolutionary Iran. Affleck plays a CIA agent who executes a crazily improbable scheme: impersonating a Canadian film production company scouting locations for a bad science fiction movie. Revolutionary guards are everywhere, and even a hint that you were American was sufficient to get you interrogated, if not tortured and killed.

For someone old enough to remember those times, the movie is both a blast from the past and painful. The fun part is recalling how we dressed back then, which was quite badly overall. The guys had thick mustaches, wide ties, hair often blowing into their eyes and really enormous glasses. The women were usually in tight polyester and dark pantyhose. It was a manual, pre-Internet age where the Secretary of State had a secretary that used IBM Selectric typewriters, most color televisions rendered bad color TV and telephones were landlines that came from Ma Bell. People smoked recklessly in the workplace and never thought anything about it.

It’s no laughing manner when Iranian Revolutionary Guards execute people in the street or leave people hanging from construction cranes. The CIA’s plan to get them out seems as lunatic as the Revolutionary Guard’s antics, but no one can think of a better idea. It doesn’t take long for the viewer, like the hostages, to feel the oppressive weight of being inside a very crazy and dangerous country. You instinctively grab your seat’s armrests during the scarier parts of the movie.

Aside from Affleck, there are not many actors in the movie that you will recognize. I recognized Alan Arkin’s voice but not his face, as he is old and bald in this movie. John Goodman was easy to recognize as the movie producer fronting this Grade C movie, a role similar to one he recently portrayed in The Artist, which won best picture last year. Mostly the movie succeeds as a nail biter, in part because most of the actors are mostly unknown, which makes them feel plausible. This plus Affleck’s uncanny ability to recreate 1979 and 1980 in such meticulous detail leaves you frequently on the edge of your seats. But, like Temple Grandin, it is done without a single special effect. Once again, excellent directing, attention to detail and plausible characters win the day. This is the kind of movie that you don’t mind spending $10 to go see, and is good enough where had you spent $15 you would not feel cheated either.

3.3 out of 4 stars.

Rating: ★★★¼ 

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