Monthly Archives: July 2015

Film Review: A Brilliant Young Mind

Film Review: A Brilliant Young Mind

Strictly from a plot standpoint, Morgan Matthews’ film A Brilliant Young Mind sounds like a movie-of-the-week. Nathan (Asa Butterfield), a teenage math genius with Asperger’s syndrome, must confront a number of challenges to compete at the prestigious International Mathematics Olympiad.

To judge this film by its plot synopsis would be to shortchange it. The acting-by Butterfield, Sally Hawkins as his mother, and Rafe Spall as his mentor-is strong enough to make this film worth a look.A Brilliant Young Mind Hawkins & Spall

Nathan loses his father at an early age, and he deals with the trauma by rejecting change of any sort. He vetoes any gestures of affection such as hugs. Early scenes show mom Julie (Hawkins) struggling to make each day identical to the one before it.

Numbers, especially prime ones, are comforting to Nathan. They make sense to him when the rest of the world doesn’t. An unorthodox teacher, Mr. Humphries (Spall) takes a special interest in Nathan and his math abilities.

Thanks largely to his work with Mr. Humphries, Nathan lands a spot on Great Britain’s team at the International Mathematics Olympiad. This means he must travel from his home in London to the training camp in Taipei. He must also adapt to a completely different culture.

Nathan finds his squad leader (Eddie Marsan) to be a great help during the training camp. He spends a lot of time with Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), a young woman on the Chinese team. Zhang Mei has been assigned as a guide for Nathan, but many of their outings look suspiciously like fun.A Brilliant Young MInd Fishing

When Nathan returns to London, he discovers the trip to Taipei has changed him. Suddenly, math isn’t the center of his life any more. People’s feelings matter to him more than they did. As an added complication, the Olympiad is just a few days away.

We’ve been swamped with films claiming to be based on or inspired by a true story. In this case, the true story is available for viewing on YouTube. It’s called Beautiful Young Minds (2007), and Matthews directed it as well.

Beautiful Young Minds covers the selection and training of the British team for the 2006 Olympiad, as well as the event itself. The team wins four silver medals and one bronze. A standout member of the team (and winner of a silver medal) is Daniel Lightwing, who is the inspiration for Nathan.

Comparing himself to Daniel and the other team members, director Matthews says he is a “Muggle”, while they are “Wizards”. He found their world sufficiently compelling to make it the basis for a fictional script.

Daniel Lightwing & Asa Butterfield
Daniel Lightwing and Asa Butterfield

The fiction was obvious to members of Daniel’s family. For one thing, Daniel’s father is alive and well. His teacher/ mentor, Miggy Biller, is a woman.

Asa Butterfield met with Daniel several times over the course of filming, and reports are that Daniel felt comfortable with him. Sally Hawkins also did a great deal of research for her role, working with parents of autistic children. Rafe Spall, whose character has MS, did research and also attended discussion groups of the MS Society.

All this work by the actors pays off. They truly seem to be living the roles, not playing them. Matthews’ work in documentaries serves him well here, because he is able to tell this story without becoming unduly sentimental.

I’m betting this film will steal your heart, but that’s just one Muggle’s opinion.

Theme: Hello, Kiddo

Related Posts: Film Appreciation: David and Lisa  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-david-and-lisa/

Hello, Kiddo: List For Week Ending August 2, 2015  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/hello-kiddo-list-for-week-ending-august-2-2015/

Film Appreciation: David and Lisa

Film Appreciation: David and Lisa

Frank Perry’s debut film David and Lisa is similar to this week’s review film, A Brilliant Young Mind. Both films have plots that sound self-evident, and both are more than redeemed by the performances of their lead actors. They manage to be sympathetic without becoming sentimental. David (Keir Dullea) is introduced first. He’s an unhappyContinue Reading

Hello, Kiddo: List For Week Ending August 2, 2015

Hello, Kiddo: List For Week Ending August 2, 2015

This week’s list gets its name from the greeting used in David and Lisa. Some characters in this week’s films maintain relationships even though they’re dealing with challenges like OCD (As Good As It Gets) and bipolar disorder (Silver Linings Playbook). Others deal with schizophrenia (A Beautiful Mind) and Asperger’s syndrome (A Brilliant Young Mind).Continue Reading

Film Review: Jauja

Film Review: Jauja

Lisandro Alonso’s enigmatic film Jauja is a study in contradictions. While it appears to be a minimalist production, it is actually complex compared to his other films. A well-known actor (Viggo Mortensen) plays the leading role. Alonso collaborated with poet Fabian Casas on the writing of the twenty-page script (about nineteen pages longer than hisContinue Reading

Helldorado: List For Week Ending July 26, 2015

Helldorado: List For Week Ending July 26, 2015

This week’s list features films about people with a quest (wealth, utopia, empire) that didn’t turn out so well. In Greed and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a lust for gold turns characters against one another. English settlers in The New World kill off Native Americans through transmitted diseases. And so on. This isContinue Reading

Film Review: Rebels Of The Neon God

Film Review: Rebels Of The Neon God

Like its young protagonists, Rebels of the Neon God seems driven by unfocused intensity. Video arcades with players on each of its wall-to wall machines, all flashing lights and sirens. Rows upon rows of math students, calculating with frenzied precision. And water everywhere. Director Tsai Ming-liang has created a vibrant portrait of Taipei in theContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: Band Of Outsiders

Film Appreciation: Band Of Outsiders

Band of Outsiders (1964) isn’t the easiest film to categorize. It’s an adaptation of the novel Fools’ Gold by Dolores Hitchens, but the script is written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard. The resulting film is a French New Wave treatment of a scenario where plans for robbery and romance plans hit unexpected snags. Godard calledContinue Reading

Whaddaya Got: List For Week Ending July 19, 2015

Whaddaya Got: List For Week Ending July 19, 2015

In The Wild One (1953), someone asked Marlon Brando’s character, “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” Brando’s reply-“Whaddaya got?”-sums up the feelings of the characters in the listed films. They may be runaways, as in Beggars of Life or Wild Boys of the Road. In Rebel Without A Cause, high school is the problem. TheContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: Stand and Deliver

Film Appreciation: Stand and Deliver

In the opening shots of Stand and Deliver, Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) drives his VW past Los Angeles skyscrapers. The contrast is striking between this pristine section of the city and Jaime’s destination in East Los Angeles. He drives by an apartment building with a mural of a Hispanic woman and the legend “WeContinue Reading