DVD Review: “Temple Grandin” and “You Don’t Know Jack”

Written by Television, TV on DVD

“Temple Grandin” is the remarkable story of the title character, an autistic woman whose insight into the behavior of cattle revolutionized the way the animals are treated on ranches and slaughterhouses. This inspiring biopic stars Claire Danes as Temple, giving one of the best performances of her career.

Mad Men and Modern Family may have received the most attention at this year’s Emmy Awards, but HBO once again dominated the fields of Made for Television movies with two excellent films, the triumphant Temple Grandin and the provocative You Don’t Know Jack. The inspiring Temple Grandin was nominated for fifteen Emmys and came away with seven, including Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Best Director, Outstanding Lead Actress, Outstanding Supporting Actress and Outstanding Supporting Actor (all in the category of Miniseries or Movie). You Don’t Know Jack won the Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Writing for a Movie or Mini-series

Temple Grandin is the remarkable story of the title character, an autistic woman whose insight into the behavior of cattle revolutionized the way the animals are treated on ranches and slaughterhouses. This inspiring biopic stars Claire Danes as Temple, giving one of the best performances of her career. Danes captures the way Temple speaks and carries herself in the same broad manner that the real life Grandin does, bounding into scenes and commanding each room she’s in. Additionally, Danes gives the character emotional depth, making it a well-rounded performance and not just an impersonation. It is a brave performance and Danes deservedly won the Emmy. Complimenting Danes throughout the film are three veteran character actors who enlighten the film.

As the film follows Temple’s pursuit of a higher education, we witness the leers and prejudices she suffers in college, and later in grad school, when she’s the only woman in the all male world of cattle farming. Luckily she has a strong support group to keep her going. First and foremost, there is her diligent mother, Eustacia Grandin, played with strength and grace by Julia Ormond. Eustacia refused to give up on Temple when doctors told her the girl should be institutionalized. She also refused to coddle her daughter, despite her autism. Then there is her Aunt Anne, who is patient and understanding with her niece. It is at her aunt’s ranch that Temple first begins understanding and relating to cows. Catherine O’Hara, the great actress from all of Christopher Guest’s ensemble films, gives a restrained and nuanced performance. Finally, as Temple’s mentor, Professor Carlock, the first teacher to take the time and try and understand her, David Straithern gives another heartfelt performance. Whether it’s a John Sayles indie or a big budget Bourne style action film, Strathairn always delivers.

Thanks to director Mick Jackson and the inventive script by Christopher Monger and William Merritt Johnson, the film is a visual marvel. Temple repeatedly states that she “thinks in pictures,” and the filmmakers put us inside her mind. Using animated drawings (like blueprints) and quick visual edits (as if her mind is sorting through the thousands of pictures stored in her photographic mind), plus sound effects, they show us how she sees the world. Credit Emmy Award winning editor, Leo Trombetta, for helping Jackson achieve this effect. Mention must also be given to Alex Wurman’s innovative score, which avoids schmaltz and keeps the film’s pace moving.

Inspiring, touching and quite funny in places, Temple Grandin is one of the best films I’ve seen this year; it’s also something you can watch with you children. Check it out the next time you’re perusing Netflix and looking for a quality Saturday night rental.

Everything you need to know about the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the Michigan doctor whose homemade machines assisted in the deaths of 130 terminally ill people, can be found in the movie, You Don’t Know Jack. Al Pacino won the Emmy for his portrayal of the doctor in this interesting and funny film that humanizes Kevorkian. The film opens with his idea to create a way to assist terminally ill patients to end their lives. Kevorkian is an intelligent, creative man who believes that it’s a person’s right to end their life should they want to. He doesn’t view his position as immoral. As a physician, he believes that he’s only helping to ease the suffering of his patients.

Kevorkian has a small circle of friends who help him in his endeavors. His sister, Margo Janus (a terrific Brenda Vaccaro), is one of two people who know how to control Kevorkian and put his ego in place. She helps him with most of his assisted suicides (videotaping testimonials and being a witness) until her death. Also assisting Kevorkian is his old friend, Neal Nicol (John Goodman in an excellent supporting role). Nicol is a medical supply dealer and sells Kevorkian with all of his chemicals.

The other two key people in Kevorkian’s small world are Geoffrey Fieger (Danny Huston in an obnoxious blond wig), a lawyer who knows how to handle the press and media. He champions Kevorkian’s cause until he decides to run for governor. Finally, there is Janet Good (Susan Sarandon, exceptional as always), the president of a Michigan Hemlock Society who befriends Kevorkian and becomes the only other person who can tell Jack to shut up and put his ego in check. Good succumbs to cancer and becomes one of Kevorkian’s patients. The final scenes between Jack and Janet are quite moving; you can tell that he truly loved her.

As directed by Academy Award winner, Barry Levinson, the film oscillates between seriousness and big laughs. This is in part due to the fine performances and also because of the script by Adam Mazer, Neal Nicol and Harry Wylie. There are some serious issues being discussed in the film, but it never feels like a civics lesson. While You Don’t Know Jack is one sided in its view on physician assisted suicide, Kevorkian is evenly portrayed. While he comes off as a caring man, but he also has a huge ego that leads to his downfall. Pacino does some of his finest acting in recent years. His typical over the top mannerisms are toned down. For a change, he reigns in his performance. Credit Levinson, who has a history of drawing great performances out of acting legends (Pacino, Hoffman and Beatty, to name a few), for keeping Pacino focused and keeping the film entertaining as well as enlightening.