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Cinema Signal: A highly inspirational story with an exceptional performance.

Thinking in Pictures
My Life with Autism
by Temple Grandin Ph.D.
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Temple Grandin"

This exemplary biopic about an autistic woman who accomplished great things stands as a template for the genre. The plethora of film biographies fail miserably on the count that they almost always stick to the mere headlines of the life they examine, calculating that too much detail will stick the movie into the arthouse bin. Films that underestimate the audience deserve all the failure they get.

On the other hand, this story of Temple Grandin is built on the details of her mental makeup and the varying nature of her affliction: autism--precisely what you tuned in for on HBO, or what you bought into for the DVD. It is a worthy addition to the best on your shelves as well as something of great value for all the children you can expose this film to.

A simple search on Google tells us that Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. From my own exposure to more than one autistic child I can add that there are probably no two autistics whose symptoms are exactly alike and that it seems to be a reordering of brain wiring. Autistics are often referred to as Savants because of one or several areas of genius. It's as though the brain tissue missing from one part of the brain has been given to another.

Temple Grandin (Claire Danes) is interesting to us (and remarkable for) her insight into the causes of behavior in animals (especially cows, as related here) and for high-level, problem-solving design and engineering capability. She also differs, according to the interpretation of her in this film, from many an autistic in the degree of her self-awareness. She knows, and laments her inability to feel and express emotions with loved ones--especially her devoted, sensible mother. The emotion that she does express is the feeling of victory in having her ideas properly recognized and accepted. In such moments she celebrates as much as any pitcher does after throwing a no-hit game.

Having been born in 1947 and diagnosed as autistic in 1950, it was a time when studies of the disorder (and later named Asperger's Syndrome) were producing more bafflement than understanding. It is no wonder that the doctor to whom her mother Eustacia (Julia Ormond) takes her to for a consultation conveys the terribly misinformed prognosis that she should be institutionalized. But the Grandins aren't having that.

Though the problem stems in large part from Temple's social difficulties at school, both are convinced that Temple is smart enough for any school despite being seen by her peers as beyond nerdy. Temple's Aunt Ann (Catherine O'Hara), on whose ranch Temple stays for a summer, is in full support and agreement after watching Temple amaze everyone with her ability to build a semi-automatic, self-closing gate and picking up from a cattle enclosure her own gentling "hug machine." All agree that Temple needs to be in an environment that challenges a "high-functioning autistic" with such original ideas.

The film follows her into her post-graduate years of research at a corporate cattle facility in which herds of cows are slaughtered for market. If she thought the taunts and ridicule she suffered in high school and college were anything, wait till she goes up against the prevailing attitudes of the hard-nose culture of macho cattlemen. But she does, indicating that her social skills improved with age, even though never to full normality.

The film goes on to trace the steps she had to take for her research in the field of animal husbandry, which led to her conceptions for the humane treatment of cows in the dipping process and the journey to slaughter. The film details the visions and designs that then led her to being recognized today as one of the top scientists in the humane livestock handling industry.

The movie is so well made by director Mick Jackson ("The Memory Keeper's Daughter," TV) and his television writers Christopher Monger ("The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain") and Merritt Johnson's ("In Treatment" and upcoming "Lovelace") adaptation from Temple Grandin's autobiographies ("My Live With Autism"), we live through the highlights of her path in life with fondness and close attachment. It's a lovely journey, which isn't over yet, and Claire Danes gives us the fabric of a remarkable person's unique mentality and achievements.

With Danes' manifestation of this unique person, she enters the realm of actors who precede her in taking on solo interpretations of extreme characters like their life (and careers) depended on it... like Charlize Theron who was so intent on making the 2003 biographical thriller "Monster" about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a former prostitute who was executed in 2002 for killing seven men, that she (Theron) had to produce the film in order to do it. It was some calculation, giving her a vehicle to prove her acting chops with a character of such depraved and singular disposition, and the Oscar she put so much effort into to earn.
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The DVD
SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • The Making of Temple Grandin
  • Audio Commentary with Dr. Temple Grandin, director Mick Jackson and writer Christopher Monger
  • This is Claire Danes' graund solo interpretation. She takes the character and assumes her identity. The integrity of her performance and clear devotion to her subject is second to none and evident in every frame. Do I smell an Emmy? Well, award or not, this will go down as at least one of the more remarkable interpretive performances of her career. It also maintains the level of quality for HBO original movies with a fine burst of daring and discovery.

    Full disclosure? My reaction to her ultimate triumph brought tears to my eyes. Charlize never did that to me.

    As with any well made film biography about a still living person, it leaves us with a wish to know the destiny of the characters after the film story ends. Today, Temple Grandin is a Doctor of Animal Science and professor at Colorado State University, a bestselling author, a speaker, and consultant to the livestock industry in animal behavior. That's her, on the left.

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                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  
    

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    Opinion Section
    Comments from readers:
    Well written, Perceptive
    I've seen the movie and agree with the review
    Site rating: 9

    Completely agree. This film is high on my list for Best Movie of 2010. (I consider'em all, TV or theatrical.)

                                                               ~~ Jim Ragsdale 
    This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer
    Site rating: 10

                                                               ~~ siffion 



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    Claire Danes as Temple Grandin
    An autistic; a visionary. An exemplary performance.

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