Life, Animated


The world is Owen Suskind's oyster.

The world is Owen Suskind’s oyster.

(2016) Documentary (The Orchard) Owen Suskind, Ross Suskind, Cornelia Suskind, Walt Suskind, Gilbert Gottfried, Jonathan Freeman, Dr. Alan Rosenblatt, Emily, Michelle Garcia Winner. Directed by Roger Ross Williams

 

Autism can be a frightening thing to both parents and the children afflicted with it, and of course to the siblings not afflicted who only know their brother or sister is “different.” The thing is that there’s no one way to treat it and no right thing to do; it’s trial and error and sometimes, just error.

Writer Ross Suskind of the Wall Street Journal got to learn this first-hand when his son Owen was diagnosed at three with autism. He had been a normal toddler up to then, but all of a sudden he became withdrawn. Instead of communicating normally, he spoke in a kind of gibberish. His motor skills deteriorated. His mother Cornelia was frantic; his older brother Walt wasn’t sure what was going on with his brother. When the doctor made his diagnosis, the family was devastated. Nobody knew what to expect next.

It was years of silence; Owen was unable to communicate with his family normally and no matter what they did Owen seemingly couldn’t understand what they were trying to get across. It was a frustrating time for the entire family but they hung in there. There came a few years later an unusual breakthrough; Owen repeated dialogue from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. At first Ron and Carnelia were ecstatic but their doctor warned them that this was likely just echolalia, vocal parroting and somewhat common among autism sufferers.

But Ron figured out differently; he used a puppet of Iago from Aladdin to actually have a conversation with his son. Eventually the family and therapists used the Disney animations as a means to help find a way into Owen’s world. Owen, for his part, used the animations to help make sense of the world. They were timeless and unchanging in a world that was changing rapidly.

Most of the film, we see Owen at 23, getting ready to graduate to independent living in an apartment complex that his girlfriend Emily – also autistic – lives in. Owen seems on the surface like an attractive, normal guy until you hear him muttering gibberish to himself. He runs a club for like-minded autistics who connect to the world through Disney – there are a lot more of them than you’d think.

The heart of the movie is the connection between Owen and his family; clearly the love and patience that they have for each other are extraordinary and it does this jaded critic’s heart good to see it. Older brother Walt expresses concern about Owen’s future; when Ron and Cornelia pass away, who will take care of Owen? Walt knows it will be him and frankly, is more than willing but certainly not looking forward to the prospect.

The movie uses animation effectively; it is kind of stream-of-consciousness and generally depicts what Owen’s world looks like inside his head. There is an almost impressionist look to the animation which I found truly effective; in them Owen is always depicted as a little boy, and I found that somewhat apropos. I’ve always felt the use of animation to enhance documentaries was a brilliant idea, although it has been somewhat overused of late. In this instance, it truly does enhance the experience in that it gives us insight into Owen and how he views the world.

There are plenty of Disney clips used in the film, and Disneyphiles are going to love this; in a lot of ways, it confirms the healing power of movies, although in a kind of unquestioning manner. The book that Ron wrote that this is based upon also mentions that the Disney therapy is just one of many things that Owen responded to over his years of learning how to function despite the noise going on in his head. The movie gives the impression that Disney saved Owen and quite frankly that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

I have to wonder what Owen made of the cameras. Clearly some of the scenes are staged, as when Owen watches Disney films in his room. While his actions of delight are genuine, it seems a bit too contrived for my comfort. The movie works best when it is simply capturing what happens in Owen’s daily life, including a lovely moment when Aladdin voice actors Gottfried and Freeman attend one of the meetings of Owen’s Disney club.

This shouldn’t be taken as a primer on how to deal with autistic family members – there is, as has been mentioned, no one right way. This also isn’t a movie about how Disney can be used to save autistic children; there’s no real telling what things autistic kids will focus in on, be it trains, baseball, playing cards or grocery stores.

What it is in reality is an account of how one kid made it through and how his family loved and nurtured him despite everything. At the end of the day, that’s the kind of movie that is well worth watching and the best part of what I get to do for a living.

REASONS TO GO: This is an unexpected, life-affirming treasure. Disneyphiles will dig this hard.
REASONS TO STAY: Leads one to wonder how much the presence of the cameras affected what we saw on the screen.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are complex; there is also brief mild profanity and some conversation that is a little suggestive.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The animations are supplied by the French animation firm Mac Guff.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: David and Lisa
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Hollywood Beauty Salon

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New Releases for the Week of July 29, 2016


Jason BourneJASON BOURNE

(Universal) Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Styles, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepherd, Bill Camp. Directed by Paul Greengrass

One of the world’s most dangerous and wanted men, Jason Bourne, had escaped into the shadows. The CIA couldn’t find him and frankly, had stopped looking. But something has drawn him back out again; he can remember his past – all of it. And now, he is searching for something that those who run the covert corners of the CIA can’t figure out, but one thing’s for certain – it will be bad news for anyone who gets in his way.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language)

Bad Moms

(STX) Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate. Motherhood in the 21st century isn’t what it used to be; women these days not only have to put the needs of their kids and their husbands first, but also have to balance a career and an ever narrowing list of restrictions that make their lives more difficult and complex. It’s quite frankly, exhausting and when one mom rebels and goes on an epic binge, she and her friends will run smack dab into the PTA Stepford Mom who rules the local brood with an iron oven mitt.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout and drug and alcohol content)

Café Society

(Lionsgate/Amazon) Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, Kristen Stewart, Parker Posey.  In the Golden Age of Hollywood, a Bronx-born kid with ambitions for a high society life goes to work for his high-powered agent Phil, which his life with his bickering dysfunctional family may or may not have prepared him for. Certainly nothing prepared him for the beautiful assistant that he’s lost his heart to but when things don’t go as planned, he returns to New York to run a nightclub for his gangster brother and settles into a new life – until the love he lost walks into his club one night.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, a drug reference, suggestive material and smoking)

Dishoom

(Eros International) Nargis Fakhri, Akshay Kumar, Jacqueline Fernandez, John Abraham. Two men, devoted to the same girl, are devastated when they lose her to a third man. Things go from bad to worse when they discover that her fiance is an evil man with evil plans. They determine to rescue her, even if it might mean their lives.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

Life, Animated

(The Orchard) Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind, Gilbert Gottfried, Jonathan Freeman. A family whose young son is born with autism is heartbroken when he is unable to communicate coherently with them. However, they find a way using their son’s love for Disney animated movies to communicate, which allows him to function in a relatively normal environment. As he prepares for life on his own, the challenges that face him continue to require the love and support of those around him. Look for the review of this film later today.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, and language including a suggestive reference)

Nerve

(Lionsgate) Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis, Emily Meade. A high school senior is tired of playing things safe and watching life rather than living it. She decides to take on the popular online game Nerve, a game of escalating dares. At first it seems to be good clean fun but as the dares escalate, she finds herself trapped in a game where the stakes grow higher and higher and the dares grow more and more dangerous. She will definitely never be the same – if she can somehow survive the game.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (Opened Wednesday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving dangerous and risky behavior, some sexual content, language, drug content, drinking and nudity – all involving teens)

Pick of the Litter – July 2016


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters

(Columbia) Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth. Who ya gonna call? One of the 80s most beloved films gets a reboot. There has been some grousing that the team of paranormal exterminators is all women, and that has led to a great deal of grousing on the Internet. I know, who would have thought that people on the Internet grouse? Seriously, director Paul Feig has made some of the funniest comedies of the past few years and generally utilizes a female-centric cast. While I generally would have preferred a sequel (although original Dan Aykroyd reportedly makes a cameo here), I’m really looking forward to this. July 15

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Buddymoon

Buddymoon

(Orion) David Giuntoli, Flula Borg, Claire Coffee, Brian T. Finney. Left at the altar on his wedding day, a former child actor is convinced by his German friend, DJ Flula, to take his honeymoon anyway – a hike in the Pacific Northwest’s Cascades Range. Reluctant at first, the two good friends prove to be anything but compatible hiking partners as neither one is used to the great outdoors. But gradually, they find their stride and maybe, discover what it means to be buddies. This played the Florida Film Festival this past April. July 1

Life, Animated

Life, Animated

(The Orchard) Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind. An autistic child presents challenges for his or her family, but Jonathan Freeman’s family faced some enormous ones with him. Their love and devotion to him moved them to create an entire language using Disney animated films so that they could communicate with Jonathan. This documentary, showing their triumphs over adversity, has been wowing the festival circuit since it first made an appearance at Sundance earlier this year. July 1

Microbe and Gasoline

Microbe and Gasoline

(Screen Media) Ange Dargent, Théophile Baquet, Audrey Tautou, Diane Besnier. Michel Gondry is one of the most imaginative directors in the world and his latest is in many ways his most accessible film yet. It is a coming of age tale about two misfit young boys, certain that they will never fit in, who decide to leave town and take a road trip across France to find a place they do fit in. Not being old enough to drive, much less afford a car, they build one of their own – a kind of an RV if you use a little imagination and you can bet Gondry uses a lot more than a little. July 1

Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic

(Bleecker Street) Viggo Mortensen, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella. Ben has raised his family in what can only be termed as a counterculture method. Away from civilization and technology, he has crafted a simple life for he and his family. When his wife gets sick, he relents and takes her to the hospital but it’s not enough. Her death sets Ben up against his wife’s heartbroken father, who determines to take the children and raise them in civilization before Ben kills another of them. This film is an allegory of the left vs. the right in a year where politics are everything. July 8

Fathers and Daughters

 Fathers and Daughters

(Vertical) Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe, Aaron Paul, Jane Fonda. Following the death of his wife, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author suffers a mental breakdown and is forced to give up his daughter while he recovers. 27 years later, his now-grown daughter struggles to forge connections of her own while trying to help a young girl who has lost everything. From director Gabriele Muccino, Oscar-nominated director of The Pursuit of Happyness. July 8

Our Little Sister

Our Little Sister

(Sony Classics) Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose. Three beautiful young women, sisters all, attend the funeral of their father, from whom they’ve been estranged for his philandering ways. When they arrive at the funeral, they discover that he left behind a fourth sister with the woman who they had blamed for wrecking the marriage of their parents. When they discover she has no place to go, they invite her to stay with them. This Japanese film looks beautiful from both a cinematography standpoint but also an emotional one and is based on a popular graphic novel. July 8

Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever

(Weinstein) Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Dane DeHaan, Judi Dench. In 17th century Amsterdam at the height of tulip mania in the Netherlands, a young artist is hired to paint the portrait of the wife of a well-to-do merchant. The artist and his subject fall in love, beginning a game of cat and mouse with the husband that might have deadly consequences. With a script by Tom Stoppard and a cast with some of the best actors from Hollywood and Europe, this is undoubtedly a must-see. July 15

Don't Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice

(The Film Arcade) Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci. A tight-knit New York City improv group has been laboring in relative obscurity in the city. When one of their number gets called upon to join the cast of an SNL-like TV show, the rest of his troupe begin to realize that they may not be destined for stardom after all. A bittersweet look at life in the comedy lane. July 22

Can We Take a Joke

Can We Take a Joke?

(Goldwyn) Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampinelli, Jim Norton. In this age of social media and instant gratification, comedy has come under fire for offending people. Anything that even smacks at poking fun at, say, racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes, religious stereotypes – all of these can end up getting the comedian in hot water, and sometimes in physical danger. This documentary asks if we’ve gotten too thin-skinned for our own good (SPOILER ALERT: yes we have). July 29

Viral

Viral

(Dimension/Radius) Analeigh Tipton, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Michael Kelly, Travis Tope. It isn’t often that I include a horror movie among my Picks of the Litter, but this one looks special. For one, it’s got Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman in the director’s chair, two of the brightest and promising directors in Hollywood. For another, it’s got a look that reminds me a little bit of the excellent FX series The Strain. And finally, it looks scary as hell. July 29