Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Ode to Robin Williams

'I have always been afraid of being left alone but I never thought that I would be
surrounded by people that make me feel like I am alone.' ~ Robin Williams

In 1979, fresh out of high school, I discovered 'Reality: What a Concept!' ...Robin
Williams had a deep voice... I believe it was his debut comedy LP.
In those days there weren't a lot of avenues for learning about somebody you'd see
once a week on TV, so I just assumed the squeaky helium voice of Mork was Williams's
natural voice. Nope: it was just part of the antic disposition he donned for the flimsy
one-note role that made him, within a few months in 1978, one of the biggest stars
in America.
In real life — to the extent a stand-up comic's stage persona is any closer to real
life — Williams sounded like what he was: a superbly educated young man who
spoke with a velvety and erudite baritone, the product of a life of ease and opportunity.
He grew up in suburban Detroit, the son of a vice-president of an automobile company.
He moved to Marin County, California (home of the über rich) and eventually studied
theater at Juilliard in New York, a protégé of John Houseman…where his classmate
and later roommate was Christopher Reeve. They went on to be lifelong friends.
'Happy Days' (1974–1984), created as a de facto serialization of 'American Graffiti'
(1973), had already entered its interminable creative decline when he auditioned for
a part as a space alien who descends into Richie Cunningham's Milwaukee. Invited
by the producer to take a seat, he sat on his head. The rest would have been a late
1970s' flash in the pan (who remembers Leather Tuscadero?) if Williams had had
nothing to offer beyond manic improv comedy energy. But it turns out that Juilliard
and Houseman had an eye for talent. First, Williams had a lot of manic energy,
goosed in those days with beach-toy shovels full of cocaine. His ability to fill
a room with his spirit, to riff until his feet practically lifted off the floor,
carried him out of 'Happy Days', through four seasons of 'Mork & Mindy' (1978–1982),
and on to a lifetime on talk shows he could carry through dead spots with one of his
preferred celebrity imitations (John Wayne, Truman Capote) or a reference to drug
culture. He use to say, "Canada is like a really nice apartment over a meth lab."
The hints of richer talent were sporadic for a while. His title role in Robert
Altman's 'Popeye' (1980) was just confusing, as was the whole movie, an attempt at
an art-house blockbuster. His performance in 'The World According to Garp' (1982),
understated with flashes of anger, is the one I'd recommend as the first evidence
of serious dramatic skill. 'Good Morning Vietnam' (1987) had its moments, but it
wasn't until Peter Weir's 'Dead Poets Society' (1989) that you could hear the
satisfying crack of a serious actor knocking a performance out of the ballpark. The
notes he established here — wistful but warm and confiding — set the parameters
for most of his dramatic work to follow. But here he shines above some of the best
actors of a younger generation. When he leans in close after Ethan Hawke's painfully
shy young student manages to improvise some serviceable beat poetry and whispers,
"Don't you forget this," it's a perfect moment.
Most of the American performing arts are so rooted in the colloquial — jazz,
stand-up comedy, cinema and team sports — that it's easy for audiences to fool
themselves into believing the greats are nothing but intuitive talents who get by
on luck and help from the Almighty. But Williams honed his comedy through hundreds
of nights in clubs, and he brought the same discipline to his movie roles that he
used to get into Juilliard. While my favourite film roles for him are like most
everyone else's — 'Dead Poets Society',
'Awakenings' (1990), 'Good Will Hunting' (1997) — his craftsman's discipline is
perhaps most clearly on display in Christopher Nolan's 'Insomnia' (2002), where
he plays a disturbed Alaska resident caught up in a murder mystery investigated
by Al Pacino. Here Williams avoided mannerism and sentimentality to deliver
a cold, bitterly compelling performance.

It took only a few minutes for Williams' apparent suicide to bring out legions
of commentators who are sure they knew why he could not carry on. I won't throw
more guesswork onto that pile. He made no secret that life could be as hard for
him as for millions of others who do their best, every day, with demons at their
heels. What I prefer to remember is that when he became famous he seemed
certain to be a flash in the pan, but 36 years later he leaves a deep and generous

In 'Dead Poets Society', John Keating (Robin Williams) tells the boys: "To quote
from Whitman: 'O me, O life! Of the questions of these recurring... Of the endless
trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish… What good amid these,
O me, O life? Answer: that you are here….That life exists, and identity. That the
powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.' That the powerful play
goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"

That was his...

© From Where I Sit™
July 20th, 2015

* photo: Final appearance @ 'The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson' - May '1992

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Movie Review - 'Stuck in Love' (2012)

'I will find that special person who is wrong for me in just the right way.' ~ Andrew Boyd

It seems that whenever a new film or movie is released it's a car chase or a killing spree…
blowing shit up, children's stories or sequels. 'Die Hard 18', 'Rocky 26', 'Rambo 10' or my
favorite 'Halloween 101'. But there was a time, in the 1990s', due in part to Sundance and
Miramax, when studios began acquiring 'independents', and the calibre of adult-oriented,
intelligent, riveting films began a resurgence. Actors, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, who
made a slew of Indie flicks, such as 'Happiness' or 'Doubt'... would probably still be working
as a waiter somewhere in New York, but instead became a major player, until his demons
precipitated his demise.
In the new Millennium all that changed... especially after the stock market adjusted
(I won't say 'crash'), and the flowering of 'Indie Studios' by the majors stopped. Those
divisions full of creativity not so long ago dried up. I recently enjoyed a film that put
a smile on my face... made me reminiscent of that time - a sweet little American indie,
'Stuck in Love'. I know, it sounds like a corny 'chick flick', which is why it had
been lagging behind on my 'DVR' list for so long, and I kept skipping over it. I rarely
come across films that transport me and I become completely engrossed in every word. When
that moment happens there's a little pitter-patter in my heart as I know I'm witnessing
what could be the launching pad for hot new talent. Lo and behold... I found that here...
a glimmer, a spark that ignited and inspired me. I hope you enjoy my review as much I
enjoyed writing it.

When released it must have been in the midst of a plethora of films that were better
marketed…because I never saw ONE ad or commercial. An independent romantic-drama film
written and directed by Josh Boone, an auteur's first gift to adults… that stars Jennifer
Connelly, Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins, Nat Wolff and Logan Lerman. First-time writer/director
Josh Boone crafted an exquisite film which successfully combines several themes that few
are able to tackle propitiously. The sharp edges of the story are sanded down; human
connection -- the innocence and fear of first love, the seesaw of a mature relationship,
and the pain of an estranged couple.
An acclaimed writer, his ex-wife, and their teenage children come to terms with the
complexities of love in all its forms over the course of one tumultuous year… a drama
of family dysfunction with many literary references that takes a little from Curtis
Hanson's 'Wonder Boys' (2000).

Greg Kinnear plays William Borgens, an unhappily divorced, once-brilliant novelist,
who hasn't had a hit in ages but refuses to allow anyone to sense his self-pity, channels
his creative energy into coaching his two children to be writers: he pays them a kind
of stipend so they can concentrate on writing their 'journals' without needing to take
a demeaning 'McJob' –- and he is still obsessed with his ex-wife. Erica, played by
Jennifer Connelly, is the quintessential partner cast aside at the expense of William's
inattention and indiscretion. Their teenage children Samantha and Rusty are discovering
their own offbeat paths into the wacky world they've inherited. High school student Rusty
(Nat Wolff) is a struggling writer himself, remains cruelly unpublished, and like their
now creatively blocked dad is beginning to experience the first frightening pangs of
adolescent desire. Dad isn't the best role model, after all, but this is a father-son
relationship that has promise if either or both can get their acts together. The minxy
19-year-old daughter, Samantha (Lily Collins), is in college and headstrong in the way
a young woman is determined to control her life and career at the expense of entering
the dating scene and submitting to the wants of a man. She astonishes and secretly
appals one and all by getting a book deal for her smart, but cynical first novel. Enter
Lou (Logan Lerman), the earnest intellectual who will stop at nothing to win her over.

From top to bottom -- Kinnear, Connelly, Collins, Wolff, Lerman -- are perfectly cast,
even the adulterous Tricia, brilliantly played by Kristen Bell ('House of Lies'), all
inhabit their roles as if created by them. In fact, to some extent, that's true as the
dialogue's authenticity is at least partly rooted in Boone's generosity in allowing the
actors to improvise some of their material. Wolff, in particular, takes advantage of
this opportunity to add a good deal of the narrative's comic relief with his ad-libbed
lines.As his would-be suitor, young Lily Collins is an able foil to Lerman's advances
and wins over the viewer with her sharp wit.
The adults who anchor the film deserve far more credit than they're given. Jennifer
Connelly, who won an Academy Award opposite Russell Crowe in 2001's 'A Beautiful Mind',
is a beautiful soul inside and out as the wounded spouse who still has a place in her
heart for a potentially loving husband... who still holds a torch for her, as well,
an intensely personal plot device that could easily lack credulity in the hands of
lesser professionals. Oscar-nominated Greg Kinnear, unbeknownst to me, turned into
a very fine actor able to tackle complex characters... proves once again why he is
one of the industry's go-to guys. Few actors handle comedy and drama equally well,
and he has no problem convincing us he's a tormented has-been.
The film is technically well-balanced between slick Hollywood production values
and a relaxed indie look. Bright lighting belies the turmoil beneath the surface.
Tim Orr, a longtime 'indie' cinematographer is truly a master. His signature style
is the ability to capture beauty in nature and everyday objects -- a dripping gutter
here, a playground swing there -- and photography that is comforting... enveloping
the actors in a warm glow that matches their affections. The quaint beach house
setting used in many of the scenes is awash with a color palette of earth tones
and rustic furnishings, a counterculture milieu befitting this family of intellectuals…
Think Cape Cod.
'Stuck in Love' is overflowing with the authenticity of real life. You'll laugh,
you'll cry -- often in the same scene -- and, most of all, you'll empathize with
at least one of the characters. There isn't one of us who hasn't experienced the
feelings and emotions exhibited by the members of this richly complex family.
That's key to this ensemble that features many of our best and brightest young
independent film actors. For what I expect a 'sweet little American indie' to
accomplish, 'Stuck in Love' is simply perfection.

* From Where I Sit!
July 7, 2015