Film Review : John Graham 2016


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Hopefully you will show some agreement if you’ve seen the films yourself and hopefully you have a list to agree with the basic judgement we have been treated to some awesome film making.

The short story of the year 
There has been a fantastic depth of very good film making reaching the Cinema Screens and now also through Netflix and Amazon more market penetration of otherwise poorly distributed films.  Most of all is the palpable sense of new film taking on innovation as a viable fully rounded act in cinema in response to the technical advances and sometimes non technical advances in the means of storytelling.  I believe this year has exceeded expectations and it started with the very successful Whiplash burning our ears with Jazz drumming, who’d have thought that?  Into the realms of creativity there and an accidental or otherwise treatise on modern jazz technique and the delivery of performance and performer.  It received its Oscars etc. but that aside and it is not important anyway – it’s knee jerk pigeonholing of genre and not loose enough to deal with the prodigious – say black new directors – those outside the Spike Lee Chi-Raq forms – very bravery and wise but ultimately failed attempt in contextualising Men and Women’s relationships through Chicago – the reference to Iraq being it is reportedwhile Chicagos Americas race murders are homicides are paroled. Given slack coverage and a film appears which gets no distribution on British Screens 13th.  About the incarcerated population being a form of slavery.

So where are the best films?  Some may like the escapism and reproduction of familiar traits in Blockbusters or Historical Drama.  Love and Friendship was a novella well performed and light with some serious overtones. I found/find Rogue .. Star Wars ..  whatever .. numbingly dumb directorially and as story telling. Below he back wall one giant moving projection cut with a foreground of stupid people advancing towards robots of a furniture kind.

Any chance this is not a new range of Harvey Norman Store Tables? and these poor souls are attacking across the landscape of a Hertfordshire Paint Hall in a CGI formed battle as – pretend your after a New Year Bargain.  These tables might fall though if any one leg goes.  Not even designed to stand on 3. Paint balling Star making at Pinewood!

Plot spoiler there is a fit young girl who missed the Olympics to do this probably.  Her time at Rottingdean or other uppercrustville secondary modern was well spent.  Gives it lots of yum.

the real stuff then and no greater contrast than the unconciable life’s of others experience in the 3D world of Britains disgraceful hierarchy of poverty and underwaged employment manipulations for vast numbers which is focused in on by the brilliant returnee to the directors role of Ken Loach with the superbly constructed script of Paul Lavery with – singing of the same hymn sheet, because this is a tale of morality in a seemingly Christian society, where all comers are treated in the calling cards of Political enmities as equal and some times (here in Northern Ireland) under the Lord. – a story telling us how fractured society is becoming and how desperate it is becoming for the increasing many requiring state assistance to live.  Even the employed require the assistance designed into their work by Government past and present.

I, Daniel Blake

This film was extraordinarily hard to watch and I, on first seeing it nearly got up to leave, such was its tragic effecting story of the Country/Nation we inhabit.  It was a grave indictment of the system and as the last photo above shows not the people.   It is a scourge of capitalist animals who visit the poor as wage slaves and recruit their labour to fill their own expanding wealth. Technology is abandoning many in corporate rush to accumulate and ‘create’ wealth through buying up and selling back product to everyone.  They have a political elite and charities providing their cover and spreading the disease of a Country which has many in it – most – who want things to change for the sake of having a sustainable future not based on greed. Ireland is no different.


Next film which must get mentioned is Room.  It is an exceptionally well constructed narrative with exceptional acting at every level.  It is a marriage of a scriptwriter – author of the Book.  Room. Emma Donaghue Lenny Abrahamson and exceptional leads in  Brie Larson as Joy “Ma” Newsome, Jacob Tremblay as Jack Newsome.
Jacob Trembly, is outstandingly intuitive as kids can be in depicting the central persona of an inquisitive boy, being aware of how he can puts himself in the character is amazing for later enquirer to watch and find out. In final credits after long thanks etc the names Christina and Jacob Tremblay are credited. This is appreciative of the real mother and son relationship on which film making is entrusted.

Napoleon Reconstructed epic with more promised.

I sat through this and was rewarded by an act of Cinema unequaled and a forerunner for so many types of film making and the inherent worth of cinema as proportionally gigantic in its cerebral reach.

See the tracks in a race scene of the camera vehicle having preceded the horses, wagons! Fun and biblical gravitas delivered with mishaps aplenty and it tails off a bit as ambitions meet a budget deficit I’ll be bound.

Life, Animated.

Many people warm to Disney and Owen is no exception.  His own use of it is perfectly inventive and his fathers astute locking on to his sons difference makes this way and beyond any visual representation of a spectral condition very misunderstood and even more traumatic to contend with.  The animation is as expected with Disney a jumping off point.  The wonderful The Jungle Book, this year being a sequel of utmost integrity and piercingly singly entertaining experience for a range of ages speaks of young helpful insights delivered through cinema on parables however bizarre and magical.

Beautifully rendered by Ron Suskind as a new version of his book and the book illustrations take on a new direction of animated verve which could in itself have the makings of a long form story.

Notes on Blindness 

Confoundingly this is a visually attractive exposé on the deficit of sight loss and its occurrence.  Through the Notes originally made on tape the talk over technique using John and Dora’s voices synced to the frames of the co-directors detailed trawl of available senses is for us to encounter this viewed by existing sight, the other sense.  The loss of sight is thrust into an embrace of water and words become raindrops as a downpour on the floor and typewriter as explanation of what rain is accompanied by the feel for outdoors and being in it.  Many superb acts of courageous empathetic nourishment is given to anyone who takes this film in.  It is also an accompaniment to others deprived of seeing the film, who may only be able to hear it described to them while presented with it.  Through layers of contact for the community with this ‘disability’ with notes or the subtext it may seem like an LP cover sleeve notes, for those of us who are sighted, of the old accompaniment kind, in much else is encountered besides the vinyl.  This is an analogue adventure and it is unexplained or beyond comprehension particularly for John whose Christian ethos is harshly challenged.  Having studied Theology and being a Theology lecturer at University this is a minor but immensely mindful watch.

The analogue device which John Hull practically (literally) prescribed to launch many many book recordings for RNIB

Snowflakes are  made for memories everywhere.



This the best photographic image.             Explained!

Pedro Almodovar has reached the point where simple framing and contrasts can be light and softly intimating a story. He takes to a train and dual depictions of Julieta in this superb film.

The best frame is the afore title mentioned Street frame of I, Daniel Clarke.  I will explain myself.  In Daniel Clarke this image is intensely moving and it delivers with sheer insightful subtly the ridge in the story where hope has reached.  They are walking into an unknown future in a modern world with hope and alongside it determination.  Little else needs to be said.  Just look and look at it and it will cause you much deep thought and sense of the story it depicts.

As for the Julieta, in wide shot with a 4:3 ish! ratio centrally basically, Pedro Almodovar treats this as a Vermeer type painting in the shadow of the rural and metropolis disposition seen throughout – art is enlisted by the borrowing? of paintings of an acquired ‘class’ – and this is a new portrait for me. Julieta, Emma Suárez, is engaged foot forward in loose figure draping cloth involved in writing the story which this film is the reveal of. Some pages of the story  written are spread as cast offs on the floor.  Her choices testing her as to what she can safely reveal.  It is glorious and gorgeous in restrained effective beauty.  There is also a sparcity to the way Julieta lives which is evident.  It gives a sense of Julieta needing only small things to reconfigure and adjust to a changed life.  Emma Suárez is extremely effective in this whole Spanish delicate story.  Pedro Almodovar has created one of his best films and Emma Suárez has her own filmic genius invested and evident as other characters also have delivered alongside in this terrific film.

Train to Busan

Many will have noted this as a probable genre derivative film of limited scope.  South Korean audiences made it their highest grossing movie ever and they are not a zombie movie audience but discerning group of widely appreciative movie goers.  No Bollywood Hollywood fodder and able on their own terms to create films of origin.  It took me by surprise as I often dislike this trope as meaningless though effective cinema.  Horror is best left to filmmakers who try hard not to make it stereotypical and far too few are they able to.  What works here is a story of fatherhood and absent modern parental solidity.  The age is now and the traumatic event is the dismantling of life by life.  The cannibalising of the dead living by the living dead.  It is monumental in scale as a national crisis unfolds.  The train is the interior world navigated by a desparate group of assorted human beings who happen to share a destination.  It unflods as a gripping story taale of memorable significant difference.  A horror zombie movie catapulting the real world into a unreal confrontation.
Under the Shadow

This film is another extraordinary venture into our world vision with a deft and dynamic spellbinding feat of ingenuity and political depth charging genius.  Under the Shadows makes it as a lesson in what filmmaking is all about.  Discovery and realisation.  Provocatively depicting a Tehran in turmoil in the first Iraq war of the late eighties this is a horror film from a point on the compass someway north of the starting dramatic course.  It follows an individual incarcerated within a physical and mentally torturing world.  One scene in particular leads you into the immense complexity of the imagination challenged by the realities each day presents.  It involves a scene of a woman dancing in utter silence.  Only her time is in the now and her daughter is not far away as a witness and parallel displaced refugee from exterior pain.  It is astonishing from beginning to end and practically flawless and my review was well received and got what I was aiming for in delivering some very crucial commentary to enhance its presence as an outlier film and one which actually ended up as MK the go to reviewers film of 2016.  That takes some doing in this year.

What I wanted I got on Twitter!  Lips added by me!

The Survivalist started off as a new release by local director Stephen Fingleton in a no holads bafrred representation of a post event modern world in which Martin McCann acts his socks off and various other items of clothing in a perilous world of the kind found in Margaret Atwoods searingly futuristic novel The Handmaidens Tale projecting all functions in disassembly along with The Survivalist proving alertness and vitality is key to survival.  It is a brilliantly conceived and unconventional – it leave nothing to viewers to grasp as a soft landing intentionally purity driven with forensic instinctive techniques.  It is shown in Cinemas with a central speaker to avoid directional playback tropes while at the same time a creative raw sound is palpable and every sense is engaged though taste, smell is intuitively your own reality!  It also is filmed entirely without artificial light and interiors are very distinct as a character playing its key serviceability role as apostate to the probable earlier homes and gardens the immediately period post dates.  It is a hefty story and tension is coarse as the environment it inhabits.  The future of it exists! holads evidence of a filmmaker intent on pursuing the art form outside of boundaries as conceptual polemic ideas and upturned orthodoxies are in every sense appropriately being set upon by the story maker, Stephen Fingleton whose grasp of motion and stillness times ahead and behind are in his gift to shape into new film work alongside his script work.  Martin McCann last time I spoke was involved in the Dierectorial debut film being made in (Scotland+?) by Woody Harellson. Mia Goth below married Shia LaBeouf who appeared in a starring role in American Honey.

Mia Goth

Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is a 4:3 ratio Road movie of young people brought together to join a team of magazine subscription sellers as a means to live by a female Donald Trump character Riley Keogh, surprisingly spot on – her performance in Mad Max 2 stands apart, very different but also spot on – and the visual metaphor is given with her wearing the Stars and Stripes as a two piece bikini.  It is the use of the bikini  as a character statement by Krystal, uncompromising and savvy.  It is very observant of contemporary life but has some repetitive elements.  Very much ahead of similar attempts of national identity realism films in the US.

Andrea Arnold  gets a rear end shot also!  I’m on to something comparing her character as the Wannabee Queen of America type Donald Trump huckster.  Very right concerning the ‘type’as it turned out with all that DT history unravels. Savvy and uncompromising.


For the final listing and the top film of 2016, I am very certain Victoria is unmistakably number one.  Some reviewers thought it sometimes as a gimmick but were completely lost to its value and immersive integrity.  A brilliantly achieved narrative of the state of a youthful group separated from the mainstream perpetual driving commercial City world.  Berlin in 2016.  Anxious.  It presents the young lives altering morality in the stark commercial world which they roam through while it sleeps ready to churn out another capitalist day’s work. They are a small alternative but driven to crime and results in mash up of a conclusion except it is all done in real time and reality sucks.  This is today. While some sleep the alternative escape is narrowly – and by night light, with only the distraction of the stars. The other distraction all commerces wndows.  Boxes of homes.  Streets of linear lamplight and occasional passing traffic.


Victoria Director. Sebastian Schipper. His film is set on the streets of Berlin that plays out in real time in one continuous, 138-minute camera shot.  Victoria herself is played by Laia Costa, a young woman we see first of all in a club. The Norwegian camera man is Sturla Brandth Grøvlen.  His credits are foremost at the end.

Variety Magazine were harsh in the extreme 

Sebastian Schipper’s exhilarating heist thriller is stunt filmmaking of a very high order.  

Very much someone who likes the thrill element of 28 locations but not the development or reasoning of the story.

A.V. Club. Misplaced rhetorical observation.

Victoria demonstrates why it’s a bad idea to shoot a movie in one take.

The film is certainly impressive, but “impressive” and “great” (or even “good”) aren’t remotely the same thing. 

Complete balderdash.  Looking and seeing are two different things.  It is not the response of film goers to go away ‘impressed’ dull idiotic selection of stature.  Nor is ‘great’ a movie attribution of any valid quotient in assessing a films worth. Possibly ‘good’ but whose good?

Be wary of all reviews!  Mine included.  They should point you to the core of the intentions and deliver insight.  It is always about communication as the Ballet Master Sir Peter Wright, an express reel filmmaker also says Communication is the key, dance drama film music and all the arts including painting.

These reviews are lame inquisitorial attempts at placing the film in a context which does not exist.  Hitchcock and others tried but Carl Von Dreyer and Ordet – to Victoria, are fellow societal effective dramas with very different backdrops and suspension.  

Time lapsed

Other films are overlooked only as their type is not of a permanence I think the above are – including the ones mentioned without listing among the selected five.   Very good films are not mentioned. This is exile, Sonota, The Idol, Hunt for the Wilder People, Captain Fantastic, Tale of Tales, The Commune, Versus (Ken Loach doc.) and where are the Amy Adams such as Arrival?  Arrival is an example of a well formed rigorous piece of exploratory cinema delivering a reasoning outside something you may not have looked into in books, science fiction, science narratives and along the Brian Cox type BBC futurology.  

Arrival brings very polished skills along in story telling by film.

If all time is eternally present all time is irredeemable. T.S. Eliot.

Bad ones, curates eggs.
Obviously there were some really bad films and some greatly overrated.  In the latter category there was  Anomolisa.  In the bad category was The Truth Commissioner.  To finish of a trio I also disliked intensely Green Room which Patrick Stewart who is a great Dickens Scrooge is front and central in a nasty film.

John Graham

31 December 2016


I am not a serial killer : A Film Review

I am not a serial killer.

Director. Billy O’Brien. Produced by James Harris, Mark Lane, Billy O’Brien, Nick Ryan, Robbie Ryan. Screenplay by Christopher Hyde, Billy O’Brien.  Based on I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells.  Cast. Max Records, Laura Fraser, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Baldwin.  Music by Adrian Johnston, Cinematography Robbie Ryan, Edited by Nick Emerson.

I am not a serial killer delivers as a psychotic horror film set in a Mid West America small town called Clayton in a surprisingly luscious shocking and intensely entertaining way.  Shooting began in Virginia, Minnesota, on 28 February 2015. It premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival on 13 March 2016.

Teenage kicks

It follows a teenage high school boy who lives with his Funeral Director Mum and business partner Margaret while he gains hands on experience of preparation of cadavers on the white ceramic lab table his Mum (Laura Fraser) uses to embalm the many corpses the small town accumulates.  Being allowed in the workspace is the first surprise.  Very much from the beginning a gore fest is imagined as coming at you.  The first, as the film opens,  is a murdered mechanic, 53 years old. In the opening scene and in typical Robbie Ryan cinematography we view the Maun Street from behind the yellow tape line as we observe the body being carted to the rear of the ambulance in broad daylight.  The mechanics slightly incomplete body makes it to the Funeral home via. the mortuary. Young John is midspace and closer and on his bike observing in Ryan’s long shot.  When the Ambulance departs a quip remark between the police officers and John set the ball rolling.  The basis though is kept to the real process without any directorial, script writing flannel.  A focus on the personalities develops with ease making this an enjoyable feast of detecting who are the good, bad and victims, perpetrators in the rollout of the – far enough away for it not to be our town melodrama, crime thriller.  But it is every town.

This Mortal Coil

As any youthful encounter with death might, this mortal coil contests young John played with ratcheting tension of his own uncertain derivation in a convincingly confronted boundary crossing boy.  A machine known as the pop up features as a character and is the solution stopping instrument doing the cathartic transformation enacted to preserve a corpse and have it melt in its own way back to dust once all sense of liquicication has gone.  The body returning to its earthly final resting place and through that portal of death to burial and.  John has few school friends given his macabre home situation.  The co-habiting women are diligent providers of a service not many would choose.

The thing is this is a special movie in the sense it delivers a story which seems so peculiar and natural as an adjunct to normal life.  Challenged by his headmaster early on when his essays are delivered with added mortal content, given his increasing expertise, John is asked to become more normal and John contests the premis he actually is not normal by reciting back to the headmaster the fact it is he who is defining normal by making John appear abnormal.  John is a near neighbour of the star of the film – Christopher Lloyd who could not be further from the Back to the Future wizard – playing a seemingly affable elderly gentleman whose routines are fairly, well routine and he displays a youthful vest full adoration of his homely wife and all seems fifty shades of normal.  William Cowper is a part which suits Christopher Lloyd so admirably.  He appears a shade frail and has gotten on into his dotage (in the film!).

There is a powerful underlying spirituality accumulating as the film progresses and through its numerous deaths.  Well you didn’t think I was unlikely to tell you there were several murdersnot just one and there is therefore a progression to the horror? After all a big clue in the setting of a boy in a family Funeral business is fairly indicative of where these well developed characters are going.  The other indicators are the Stephen King (esque) mentions, The Thing, the Halloween trailed at school where John turns up dressed as a Pierrot character subtexting it with lots of movies (hyjacked as previous films as a ‘Killer Clown’ stik) I prefer the Gerard Dillon multidimensional use of Pierrot in so much of his work and one (he was an artist born on the Falls Road in Belfast if anyone is asking) whose split mental state called on Pierrot in a lot of his work alongside Chagall influences.  Check them out.  We are invited into the cerebral John with his essays and his own self analysis.

We also get to know he is referred by his Doctor on the basis of therapy in his ‘fatherless’ environment to a young nerdy psychoanalyist played by the Irish actor Karl Geary with a hammy, a little irritating Irish/American droll, though it is most times buried by highly crafted psycobabble along side some incisive thoughts. On route we also get a bit of William Blake and have a Blake off (sic) recitative to which I will side step with this Blakeian wisdom as follows.  Blake saw us inhabiting a world with real spirits among us. They would be seen by him in fields among the workers picking crops, would be seen observing us from a tree, “their luminous wings, ‘bespangled every bough like stars.’”  It is something similar to another incident in another film I picked up on.  In it someone had died and responsibilities for the death were mixed.  While neither had caused the death both protagonists confessed to each other they couldn’t get the person out of their head, they were with them all the time. So maybe those ghosts linger if a resolution or reprieve can not be found.

This brings us onto the night time patrols that – as all vigilante style small town anguish descends into – ratcheting up our expectations of more gore.  We are not disappointed.  For me the middle section of the film dragged a little, as bodies themselves got dragged about.  I began thinking of how this Halloweeen, Thanksgiving, Christmas period movie might put people off their Christmas dinner but no.  Much bigger frights and scaryness lay ahead and believe me it was well worth the middle section wait.  It takes on very gripping tense narrative with the entire town becoming paranoid and the Bill character as alluded to earlier is much more than outward appearances suggest.  More split personalities and psycobabble is poured out.  Mum has another child to worry about an Emily, Johns sister eschews the family business for in deep witty contrast goth style rebelliousness.  At least someone sensible is around for ou counterfoil emotional baggage.  No it is perhaps the loafing young friend, perhaps Johns only friend, Nathan who is a nerdy but cool and clever moderator and even for his Dad who is a reactionary Hapless participant in tabloid, News channel hyped angst, Donald Trumps finest companion on the road to hell.

Colour my world. Colour is my world

Robbie Ryan and Director play on our need for progression with little vignettes of comedic black moments and we throughout get a CSI approved black gooey liquid slithering out and resting on each crime scene sans body.  The cinematic value of this contrast of body organs, fluids is astonishingly receptive to this quite unique visionary filmmaking technique showing us; on the one hand – just what I mean, and matterafactly, viscerally, body parts such as mortuary excavated organs, livers, lungs, heart, count them out count them in, – the afore mentioned black goo – the exchange of the darker blood from a cadaver with in the whirling flask sundae coloured ice cream pink red juice lovingly devoured by the lens and also through its plastic pipe progression returning to the body into carefully mechanically photographed sumblime choreography which will have people open eyed and mouth wide open such is the beauty and clarity of almost documentary style educational simplicity conveyed by Robbie Ryan and the pace orchestrated by our Director.

John Wayne Gary is also a sleuth and his detective edge gets him up close with murder.  “Fear is a really weird thing,”    “People are afraid of things, but they’re never afraid of their own actions.” The bestseller book of Dan Wells 2009 is itself comic and dark brought here with the teenager unafraid and possessing what are know as the three parts of the “Macdonald triad” predictors of violent sociopathy. Dr Neblin, Karl Geary, believes he is “a good person” unassuring for us.  Large irrating – it becomes stupidly expected of a nastie/horror film to inflict a dose of bikes, panda masks, clowns – in some of the steerage class plot liners come too much retro navel gazing antics.  It is unfortunate because the film has intuitive other worldy character transformative engagement and blackness enhanced with class 16mm cinematic bravado.  The Christening of a new Christmas horror ‘must watch‘ is sadly just falling off the newness factor in delivery.  Coming close but no palaver.  I kept looking for a dirty white van with ‘Don’t open these doors, there is a decomposing body inside.’ Something Johns Mum, Laura Fraser, might have asked him to draw as she is slightly unhinged not spotting the idiocy of training a teen in the dark and Strwberry Milkshake sundae arts of preparing corpses for ‘removal’ – we are taking you to your place of rest.  Enjoy.  Pick up a leaflet on your way out.

Good as many reviews have been with caustic deep referential content they mostly miss the purity of the act of dying and the momentary lapse only one – a psychotic unreal inhuman being – has any time for.  I think Billy O’Brien and Robbie Ryan choosing to stand off – far away in the first period – then closer implies they don’t get the catharchic experience.  Many a training outing with dark assassins missed probably which is unusually clever being Irish.  Frances McDormand sees them coming.

Don’t make me. Or your going up with Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky.

Conclusion ####4

It makes it up to four courtesy of the new offerings.  While reservations on the Robbie Ryan familiar stand offish; at times, beautifully atmospheric locational driven camerawork and the wacky inclusion of nod after walked off nod to pluralist film tonality, tones it figures as a splendid creation.  Highly thoughtful and conflicting as to whether you blame anyone on John’s risky approach – is it his inherent fatherlessness heaping his own remit of boundary escaping and the simple motherly love which takes too many things at face value sometimes imperilling her as well as laying on thick the hard work of keeping the work balls in the air (metaphorical) and family cosyness stuffing the turkey for thanksgiving and presidents at Christmas it is a deserved success.  There is surely more work to come in this vein and Laura Fraser and Max Record provide award level leads with heaps of smaller characters excelling the call and pitching in cult like, the model of intention required as a sideline wack.  Taking of which one scene literally had me jump which takes some doing.  A sudden piece of unexpectedness.  For the hot of the film though you have to hand it to Christopher Lloyd whose Mr Bill Crowley will last very long in the memory and film analysts will be crawling over his every word and character development to see the nuanced stage and screen general occupy the space of .. you decide in a deranged horror film. Suspenseful for Christmas fare it is not – just a hyper realistic thriller becoming a drama of latitude.  Everything is resolved at the level of the earth not in the sky.

John Graham

15 December 2016


See I am Not a serial killer on 19 December 20 December 21 December or and 22 December 2016 at QFT Belfast before going back at year end to see Donnie Darko.

The Box has arrived as you can see!


See I am Not a serial killer on 19 December 20 December 21 December or and 22 December 2016 at QFT Belfast before going back at year end to see Donnie Darko.

The Box has arrived as you can see!

Life, Animated : A Film Review


Director. Roger Ross Williams. Cast/’Featured’. ‘Owen Siskind, Walt Suskind, Cordelia Suskind, Ron Suskind’, Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Ron Suskind. Genre: Documentary. English. Running Time: 1hr 29min. 


This film is an extraordinary example of human willpower overcoming deficits within the human form. Deficits which cause it not to work in the way most of us anticipate and hope to carry forward.  Autism is a complex neurological disorder which has a very wide variance across the diagnostic spectrum.  Some elements of motor malfunctioning takes place with limbs and head being given to spasmodic movements.  At the age of three the portents showed in Owen Suskind was not like other children of his age. Parents Ron and Cordelia Suskind notice the change advancing swiftly taking their son prisoner.  They describe the onset with frank accuracy giving us account which the Oscar®-winning director Roger Ross Williams uses home movie footage to outline the passage of Owens disorder.  From then onward Williams uses illustration alongside conventional conversational interview and observation, inspired by the illustrated Ron Suskind book together with the beginnings of Disney Movie referencing.

Family hope.

Ron Suskind reveals a moment of discovery for him into Owens mind and how it worked. Previously playing and acting out characters from Disney movies they had watched had made no connection with him.  In a scene which also reveals Owens fathers determination and willpower on learning what they all confronted Ron breaks down a wall of the prison when an enlighted moment works out the Disney characters have a great deal more meaning than mere entertainment.  Astonishingly Ron becomes a transformed parent with some hope.  The downside is that the evaluation is circumspect in the conservative diagnosis of the specialist they work with.  It signals language understanding but no expression of connected meaning and linkage. The discovery of the language key that unlocks speech and the ability to converse is itself a wonderful moment and well explained in the film by Ron while it is illustrated by the flood of beautiful rolling animation.  I will leave you to discover how the journey begins. 

Owens world

Owen is in a world he knows by means other than ours. This awareness is a core issue. Nosce te ipsum, temet nosce (“thine own self know”) appears in The Matrix translated as “know thyself”.  Dad and son ignore the strictures of Medical niceties and begin a dialogue henceforth based on the most part by relating everything to Disney movies and more particularly the characters.  The reveal for us is how it works.  Owen is introduced to us early on at his ‘present’ age of 23.  We then meet elder brother Walt who is a grounded individual full of empathy and common sense and a great friend and foil for Owen to relate to literally.

Owens story

From the beginning of this film we enter the agonising world of evaluation confronting the family. Conceptual thinking is confined to Owen describing bad times as glop.  He taught himself to read through the films.  Films do not have subtitles so how!  Every encounter in his early years is fraught with strangeness and after two phases of schooling one of which rejects him because they do not have the skills to cope and his piers in learning difficulties themselves are leaving Owen behind.  Even so this is devastating and these episodes because the belong to the past are where director Roger Ross Williams works with the book illustrations animating them with full frame pictures of Owen as a young boy bewildered and looking over his shoulder.  Developmentally though Owen is using his own imaginary tools – films – observing his family and their emotional drivers to produce a world of absolutes.  Certainty is found in The Lion King, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, Bambi, Aladdin, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast with brilliant accurate reading of each characters roll.  Ron and Owen could run masterclasses on Disney movies and this in fact is what – at the age of 23 – Owen does at the learning facility by starting a Disney Club and becoming not only a Disney lecturer but to teach his fellow students how to read the stories or rather bring out of them the meanings they are aware of to recognize their connection with the real world. Pitfalls and all.  The journey is not easy and darkly intimidating for the mixed ability classroom.

The Disney Emotional lexicon.

While he has become an expert, acquiring a collection of VHS of hundreds of Disney films and recorders and remote controls manipulated like Darth Vader, rewinding after rewind over parts of films he notes as stimulating. Captain Hook is a favourite, he is in all other ways a normal guy.  When it came to reading expressions and mannerisms he finds it hard and likewise it requires a lot of attention to see how Owens behaviour has its nuances.  In lots of autostic folk there is a tendency to stoop forward and look at the ground while walking – Owen and his therapist note this and also discuss Awareness while being outside.  Of where to cross a road and paying attention.  I found watching Owens expressions when he was in a ‘autistic’ moment, one in which he was calculating or trying to work out a thing his right eye would be partially closed while his left eye would be open wider than would be ‘normal’.  When Owen was firing on all cylinders and telling a story – a lecture features – his eyes are as would be expected normally.  Alert and evenly open.  

The simple but precisely how it works as a film, approach by Roger Ross Williams is the brainwave, excusing all those parallel aspects, is to use the very thing which Owen and perhaps other children, teenagers, adults, can utilise – it is seen in the film as having similar effect on other pupils – the Animation in the film of his own construction including a very highly Disney inspired story, from the beginning, narrating the growth and life perils Owen encounters and how it moves on.  Itfeatures in the middle of the film and has the makings of something much bigger.  Get to it Disney!

Autism is so complex

This I think relates to the cerebral cortex which has the left side of the brain working with communication skills, words, speaking, memory and vocabulary, developing complex thought to communicate (it also controls the opposite hemispheres eyes, facial features – the right eye for example) while the right side of the brain deals with spatial awareness, three dimensions and creative things which are worked on internally before being shifted into models of use – i.e. Writing, drawing, expressing through hands, sculpting, manouevering trough the outside space.  The left eye in Owen is showing this I believe.  When a thing is seen clearly in space and tangible.  He also expresses this with his hands, his left eye opens wider controlled by the right side of the brain. When at the same time the way to vocalise this is problematic he shuts his right eye slightly while processing the thing in question.  This obviously is a feature crudely observed but along with other things such as hearing and loud noises other senses are involved. I recall a young mother recently whose daughter suffers along these lines, in a shop when the fire alarm went of the young girl became intensely worried and after a few minutes was clinging to her mother.  Once the alarm stopped her mother had to calm her and introduced a diversion for her daughter.  She said “We need 6 large eggs, now where shall we find the eggs?” Another, “Which cereal shall we get this week, I don’t know which, would you like to choose one for us?”  After twenty minutes or so this ‘work’ was over and the daughter copied her Mum by putting the items on the conveyor at the checkout and joining the queue.  It was a clear and very direct example of how autism affects so many children whose learning is different to the rest.  

Left handed folk. (Owen is right handed so spoils my argument to follow straight away, but bear with me!)

From a little knowledge of (being a left hander) how left and right basis works, I have been told during the pre-birth period if a trauma happens the developmental process is adjusted while the right side functions that are developing cannot continue for a time, the left side of the infant brain processes these ‘right’ side normality in the left hemisphere until normal service is resumed!  It sounds logical enough and I wonder how it occurs and whether it would be amplified in step with the presenting life problems.  A death in the family, an emotional trauma for the mother, a change of circumstances health or otherwise, an accident – falling, breaking something?  There is bound to be a pivotal point where this is manifested.  In recent readings I have become aware of the discoveries in psychology on how malignant aggression may be disposed through a trauma enteringthe world at the point of childbirth, difficulties at the time of birth.  There is also discoveries prenatally in Basic Perinatal Matrices (BPMs) where indications of traumatic ‘histories’ inform life itself and behavioural tendencies.  We are only at the edges of discovery presently.

Where to now

As a family the Suskinds are aware of their own life span and of Walt who is a huge part of the film though Cordelia and Ron are in the frontline daily, has his own life prospects to consider alongside his love and caring for Owen however things may move on.  In the film we have met his Disney Masterclass mates, even a few ‘stars’ of the films and we see the emotional, juvenile rite of passage which Walt has some dilemmas in drawing out, with one of Owens classmates becoming his girlfriend over three years.  Emily is in the same school and plans are progressed for Owen to move out as a matter of course from the family home to a Life assisted living residential home where he will have his own apartment, his own condo and Emily can move along with him to an adjacent condo of her own. 

There is a website set up by Ron Suskind called Welcome to Life, Animated. As follows –

Our son Owen, like so many with autism, has an ‘affinity’ — in his case, a deep connection to the Disney movies he’s watched countless times to make sense of an often-bewildering world.

When we first shared Owen’s story, we thought he was one in a million. But the wave of responses we received showed us that Owen was really one among millions. We learned about autistic men, women, boys, and girls all over the world with affinities from movies to maps.

Conclusion ####4

While recent trends in documentary making are used, integrating forms of drama and illustration in ‘sequence’ played out as if the ‘action’ is unrehearsed and legitimate observation – here there are several incidents of ‘happenstance’ when Owen is observed as a link looking at the very same ‘pointer/reveal’ in the Disney contenr and it flows on.  This is moderately irritating but in fairness to deliver in a short time frame – this is a movie after all – the storytelling has to move swiftly to get to the next important thing.  The important thing being to inform us and empathise with the whole situation.  The system of healthcare, the specialists at times floundering on the edge of experience- after all Owen is himself a pioneer and brings plenty by his energy and perseverance – to the need to be in a calm place and his parents moving out to Cape Cod and a beach existence which would soothe anyone – from New York work commitments foe Ron who is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.  It reveals our own perspectives are lax and the learning is here so well delivered we become advocates or perhaps shall share the knowledge going forward.  As a documentary it is of the highest quality given the ‘disclaimer’ I make immediately above and it is also a work which all involved – Disney published the book on which it is based but did not get involved in any editing, selection of the Disney catalogue and their sister company Pixar films. Owen has possibly memorized the entire catalogue and could make it as an advocate for more animation which is a Law onto itself in many respects.  It is the diet of so many young folk and expands.  I flag up the industrious and talented British creator of an entire series, Mr Moon, Kate Veale whose success for Disney Playtime is huge.  Mr Moon, created by Kate Veale, from Anglesey, will debut on the Disney channel this summer. The series is a collaboration between art director Ms Veale and animators in Singapore, London and Canada. She was inspired to create Mr Moon one evening in her back garden but it took 10 years for her to realise her screen dream. The series centres around Mr Moon, who looks after the night time sky with his best friend Silva Star, while Sunny takes care of the daytime. That was in 2000 and it is a cult children’s series now!

Get to it Owen – give us a seminar on the world of Mr Moon and outer space.  There is no Dark side of the Moon, matter of fact it’s all dark.
John Graham

8 December 2016


Wonderful inspiring Documentary insightful vision of Autism on at Queens Film Theatre from this Friday 9 December up to and including Thursday 15 December 2016 and on VOD and general release.

Chi-Raq : A Film Review


Director. Spike Lee.  Written by Spike Lee and Kevin Willmot.  Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson. Music by Terence Blanchard. Cinematography Matthew Libatique. Edited by Ryan Denmark.

End of

Prevent war remove sex. How does that work when women enjoy it much the same as men do and can be just as distraught if it’s not on the horizon?  Based on the 411bc play by Aristophanes it tells the tale of one woman’s mission to end the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata played by Teyonah Parris who projects a sexualised image, convinces the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to negotiate a peace.  In the blink of an eye this scenario presents in Chicago as a modern day philosophy on manhood in the hood with the female carrying the fall out of violence as most of them choose not to carry a gun being polar opposites.  Renaming it as Chi-Raq which is one of the leading gangsters name, that part played by Nick Cannon, is explained in the opening frames which are launched as a set of rap lyrics with smooth multi-faceted lessons on the reality in slanguage spoken by rappers.  The old Dr Johnson meaning – to rap – speak violently augmented in a slick roll of red print on black introducng then the figures of deaths in Afganistan, Iraq then America which are in ascending order and deaths by gun crime amount to more than the other two combined over the period up to the present.  Chi-Raq is in a feud with Cyclops played by Wesley Snipes. The killings go on through their turf wars.


Spike Lee is on the case of Gun crime being a act of community self annihilation by recreating a  closely fixed tragic-comic opera to the cinema screen for consumption by all those wise enough to see the message as relevant to the times and a picture of disconnections between white and black/brown Americans in inner city environments.  Taking a play from 411bc is a act of performance totally formulated on a stage with us as the audience and we have a MC – one Samuel L. Jackson as a compete who is an invigilator expressing to the wide audience range anticipated the shape of the drama as it unfolds.  He is snappily dressed with a cane who comes on between acts. The fourth wall is like a pro-cesium arch with real backdrops.  Spike Lee filters into the set progression reality.  The actors themselves are frequently those who suffered and their injuries are explained whereas the dead don’t speak.  They are forgotten.  Yet into this is reality in the form of memorial with portraits of real live lost shown as a memorial tapestry, a mural of the lost victims.  Like any memorial March, say the Bloody Sunday victims these images are not for suppressing but remembering.  This is our Selma a roster shows.  

Configuring Chicago 

Profanity, sexual patois is dispensed like everyday language, it is layered and layered in effective meter as in Classical drama.  This is Titus Andronicuos with violence a daily experience.  Here it is confined to neighbourhood slaughter off screen with innocent victims – central to the story is the death by a ricochet of Paula a ten year old child.  Her loss is a figurehead cause bringing in a local Ministers involvement, Father Mick played by John Cusack as a man on a mission, who instead of explaining the Christian view of suffering having no reason or purpose other than to examine our own life gift.  He uses the criminality as a signal to mpower the people and entreat their brotherly/sisterly love.  In this there is no cliche.  No make love not war, no woman on cry, no peace no love, but the stirring of the women leader Lysistrata who in meetings and rallies has persuaded many to withhold sexual privileges or options in their relationships, whether lovers, husbands or casual acquaintances.  It is immediately about the sexual politics prevalent in the age then and now.  

The speech and address to the Congregation gathered at the funeral of a child victim, is neither a sermon nor an admonishment.  It is a monologue on the ills of society in his outreach and is a plea muted, support of Lysistrata as the focus is on the child and its loss through gun crime.  It is a brilliantly delivered tirade and is about the only thing I found merited credit in the film.

Single issue combat

It is not about domestic violence, feminine rights, child sexual abuse, procreation rights which the original play also excludes.  The simplicity of the scenario therefore limits the narrative by making it almost comedic and farcical.  Never are the roles assessed or the possibility of programmed lives as culture dictates.  The sexual behaviors outside this community is not challenged.  When child abuse was prevalent in the upper classes and boys, girls were regularly ‘bed warmers’ the destible practices pervaded all strands of society.  Herecthe play is focusing on the powerless.  Restoring unity among warring factions of society is the aim of Lysistrata.  

It is at once a problematic issue in reconfiguring the premise of the ancient story to a vast group of people in present day Chicago.  Firstly the role of females is crudely stereotyped into different characterisations with the leader 


Many parallel plays come to mind in respect of war and methods of creating peace.  The recent film Napoleon while being a War film illustrated a lesser accepted fact that religion has less to do with wars (Ricky Gervais please note) than constantly  trailed out as fact.  The Academic record states otherwise. Napoleon the film might even gesture towards being anti-war.  The Silver Tassie by Sean O’Casey, (banned by W.B.Yeats as being too anti war and anti-British also) is another.  So much for the sentimental poems as sophisms of sense of place.  More than any I’ve seen I constantly return to the Ballet/Play I first seen performed by the Batheseba Ballet Company of Israel perform.  It first was performed in 1934 and is a solemn link to the past and presses the vision of peacemaking without arms.  Powerful as this is similarly powerful.

The use of sexualised imagery is both like a bad rap video exentuating all the hot spots including a rating of women afraid to loose their lovers if they do not fill the stereotypes they occupy.  Relationships are not a battleground but a mutual place for love to flourish in a home and rewarding in all parts.

 The Spike Lee choice to hype up the sexual ramparts of bling culture, rap culture and neighbour hoods presence and effect is definitely overplayed and it saturates the film with profanity a needless representations of misogyny.  Lysistrata is plastered in bling and their are repeated visits where she is visiting every corner of the neighborhood drumming up support.  There are stand off replicating city gun stake outside and delivered operatically.  These are juvenile in concept and over simplification at which point I began to realise – the people who this film is supposed to be about, and the roll call of ‘one eyed monsters’ – Cyclops is indeed sightless in a jeweled one eyed eye patch and carries it to oversimplified responses when confronted with the dynamic.

Americas dilemma

The rest of the country is as recent elections have show are a mirror of racial tensions born out of discrimination, oppresiveclaws and poverty which has a large majority livecin below the poverty line in the disenfranchised communities of non-white background with about $12,000 an annual income to live on for most non-white Americans which includes non state health care provision.  The point quickly made that the poor are a business generating incomes across the board from, welfare workers, lawyers, schools and healthcare which compare unfavourably with the high tech prisons and state bureaucracies leveraged by the poor.

3 themes present in all seriousness.  It’s a serious matter from 411 bc.

The three themes are: peace and unity, power and gender, and politics. Peace and Unity The main theme of Lysistrata is peace and unity. This is the main theme because the goal of the women is to create peace and to restore unity in Greece.

Instead of a group of Old men and Old women choruses we have a nifty police force and military.  They are the power base.  There is then the Trojans and Spartans with religious oversight stuck in the middle as moralists.  The wooden fires of the separate factions is replaced by ear defenders and loud music of indifferent and stereotypical soundings.  The Mayor role covers the Commisioners role who is played as an overaxous to please congressman type who is both a fascist and realist.

The opera is rather long and drawn out and strange choices are made by Spike Lee to put up the resolution and gravitas in a conclusion.   The absence of a workable conclusion makes it presumably be termed a Comedy and one of 11 surviving plays of Aristophanes.

Conclusion ###3

Giving this time to develop and for it to piece together without demeaning Chi-Raq citizens is a tall order not achieved by Spile Lee.  He patronises his possible audiences and maybe communities with the stereotypes of people who actually experience the deaths visited in the city of Chicago.  The jigsaw pieces are large and fitted together but it’s all bling and gung-ho and does not do justice to the people who actually are in the community.  It uses their experiences and mirrors them back in a disfigured, profane and facile way.  Sure it hits hot spots and reconfigures, contextualoses the notion of life there but it is a lost opportunity given the – and the choice of play is merely ironic – might of film and the reach to audiences.  It will offend plenty and it will get lots of plaudits but it fits into a category of being too sensationalist and crude representation of very proud people who have come through a lot.  Greek wisdom is partial as a projection of a problem not a summation and fresh viewpoint.  The overall display pace and look of the film despite some repatativeness os a work finely crafted.  It is such a shame the contents are supplanted by mockery and lack of soul, Minister Mick excepted.

There are lots of good performances and one of the standouts is Angela Bassett in the role of Miss Helen who is one of the more articulate joiners and has less ‘rhyming s language to slaughter the ordinal pay with and its audience.  There are plenty of interesting provocative one-liners but they are scattered in the middle of a ‘slanguage’ contest for who can be the profanist unfortunately.

John Graham

1 December 2016


On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 2 December through to 8 December 2016.