The Darker Side of Robin Williams #3 - "World's Greatest Dad"

The Darker Side of Robin Williams


World's Greatest Dad
11/16/2015

The title leads you to believe that this is another crazy family comedy starring Robin Williams that the whole family could enjoy.  The poster however deceives the title and shows a lonely and tired Robin.  Written and directed by popular 80s comedian Bobcat Goldthwait the story is told in darkly comedic and satirical tone.  Similar to his later and even darker film "God Bless America".

Robin plays Lance Clayton a struggling writer who has yet to have anything published. Although he is very persistent he is on the verge of giving up all hope.  His day job is a high school english teacher at the school his teenage son currently attends.  To put it bluntly his son Kyle is just an asshole on every level.  He does however have one loyal friend in Andrew who lives next door.  A nice kid who really only stays over at to escape his own horrific home life.  Lance is divorced and only half heartedly tries to control Kyle.  After so many years of trying he is starting to give on him too.


Lance is a likable enough guy and has managed to carry on a relationship with a much younger teacher at the school.  It becomes threatened when a colleague, a young black man, has the first thing he ever wrote published in a New York magazine.  Lance is quite the sad sack, but things are to about to look up when he finds that Kyle has accidentally killed himself while masturbating.  Auto erotic asphyxiation to be exact.  To protect his son's dignity Lance hangs the body in the closet to make it look like a suicide before calling the cops.  He also types up a suicide note and sticks it in Kyle's shirt pocket.  The note turns out to be the best thing he has ever written, and is taken as a window into Kyle's profound inner pain.  Like the latest social media fad, Kyle's note goes viral and people can't get enough of him.  Looking to cash in on his son's sudden popularity he writes up a mock journal of Kyle's and actually gets it published.  Lance plays the grieving father perfectly during interviews and soon enough he becomes a sort of celebrity himself.


Lance loves all of the attention he is getting from the news media, publishers and colleagues.  In a twisted sort of way his all his dreams are coming true.  But when the school plans to rename the library in honor of Kyle, he must draw the line and finally come clean about the whole ordeal.  He admits his own son was a jerk and nobody paid any attention to him when he was alive.  The movie makes a statement on the greedy nastiness of the news media.  How Kyle's suicide was just another product to be sold to the American public.  It was never really about Kyle, but how other people could profit from his death.  Something Lance got swept up in but was finally able to come to his senses and morn his son death.

In light of Robin's own tragic suicide "World's Greatest Dad's" has an even more eerie feel to it.  At one point his character utters the line "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."  Sadly less than five years later Robin was unable to take Lance's advice.



The Darker Side of Robin Williams #2 - "Insomnia"

The Darker Side of Robin Williams #2

Insomnia
11/15/2014

After his breakout hit "Memento" director Christopher Nolan was given the job of remaking the Swedish murder mystery "Insomnia" starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank.  Nolan did not disappoint and was eventually given the job of  rebooting Batman franchise and is currently one of the most in demand directors in Hollywood.

Detectives Will Dormer (Pacino) and Hap Eckart (Martin Donovan) are L.A. detectives sent up to a small isolated town in Alaska called Night Mute to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. The town is far enough north that the summer sun never sets.  They are welcomed by a bright young officer named Ellie Burr (Swank) who idolizes Dormer.  The reason they've been sent on this assignment is take a break from an ongoing internal affairs investigation back in L.A..  Happ wants to make a deal while Dormer will do everything in his power to fight it.

The film starts out like your average police procedural, our victim is Kay Connell a local teenage girl whose body was found in a dump.  Although upon inspection of the body her hair was washed and her nails were trimmed by the killer.  Randy the boyfriend and Tanya the best friend are interviewed.  After the discovery of Kay's book bag Dormer sets a trap only the murderer could fall into.  This leads them to a cabin on a rocky beach and chase through a dense fog.  Shots are fired, a local cop is hit.  Dormer gives chase and fires upon a shadow in the fog, its Hap.  Looking up at his partner Hap thinks he was shot on purpose to prevent him from taking the IA deal.  Dormer realizes the situation and the cover up begins.  Dormer is unable to sleep during the investigation, but is it because of the constant light or a guilty conscious?  After studying the evidence of Hap's shooting Ellie has questions and doubts of her own.


During another sleepless Dormer gets an anonymous call from the girls killer (Williams) who saw him kill Hap.  He wants to make a deal since they are in similar situations.  Dormer discovers that the man is a local author named Walter Finch.  He was friends with Kay, he bought her stuff, listened to her poetry but it never went any further than that. The films best scene is when the two men decide to meet up on a ferry boat.  Pacino has a tendency to be a little over dramatic, becoming a parody of himself.  Robin on the other hand is calm and calculating.  He is not a murderer, things just got a little out of hand.  It was an accident, or was it?  They try to blackmail each other but in the end things end up as they should.  The character dynamics in "Insomnia" are intriguing and I know its a giant cliché but the Alaskan setting is a huge character in itself.  It helps drive Dormer to the brink of insanity.  The truth gets hidden in the dense fog.  The atmosphere is heavy, cold, and wet with Ellie being the only ray of sunshine.  "Insomnia" is an amazing film and another opportunity for Robin to explore his darker side.



The Darker Side of Robin Williams - "One Hour Photo"

The Darker Side of Robin Williams #1


One Hour Photo
11/13/2014

The late Robin Williams was known around the world for his crazy off the wall humor that could make the most serious and stoic person burst out laughing.  While he's most known for his comedic roles later in his career he was able to explore a lot more darker ones.  A daring but welcoming departure that showed a whole new side to a familiar actor.  The fact that he was playing so far against type was shocking and interesting in itself, not to mention showcasing what a great actor he really was.  The next bunch of reviews will explore some of Robin's darker roles.  First up is the 2002 film "One Hour Photo" directed by Mark Romanek (who also did "Never Let Me Go" which I have previously reviewed.)

In a time not so long ago people use to take pictures with cameras that used film.  You'd get about 24 shots per roll, then would have to bring it in to a store to get it developed.  Sy Parrish is photo lab technician at a Wal-Mart like big box store called Sav-Mart.  He takes his work very seriously as family photos are a treasured commodity that can't be replaced.  He knows his customers well and closely follows the lives one family in particular, the Yorkin's.  Will (Michael Vartan), Nina (Connie Nielsen) and their son Jakob.  He likes to think of himself as Uncle Sy while Jake calls him Sy the photo guy.  It's all pretty normal and business as usual, but inside Sy is a hurt and tortured soul. 

Sy lives alone in drab and dull apartment.  He is a quite man and his loneliness shows in his eyes,
deep down you know something is bothering him.  He's is not a bad person, he doesn't drink or get violent he is just damaged.  Things start to get creepy when we see his living room wall covered with photos of the Yorkin's.  He has made extra prints of all of his favorite moments in their lives.  He fantasizes about living in their house and being loved as Uncle Sy.  He purposely runs into Nina at the Mall's food court, then shows up at Jake's soccer game.  He is desperate for a family, desperate for any real human connection.  Sy's fantasy world is about to come crashing down as he discovers that Will is having an affair when he develops a young woman's film.  He feels personally hurt and betrayed as Will has breaking up his surrogate family.  In retaliation he puts some of the incriminating photos into Nina's order an watches what happens.  About the same time the Sav-Mart manager has caught on to Sy's extra prints that he has been taking home and fires him on the spot.  This is the last straw and Sy simmering anger and rage is about to be unleashed.  He steals one last thing from Sav-Mart, a hunting knife, and heads out to teach Will a lesson.

The film opens at a police station with Sy under arrest being asked questions by a detective.  This is also where it ends as Sy breaks down and confesses what happened to him as a child.  "One Hour Photo" is an intriguing and heartbreaking character study of a damaged man looking for the loving family he was denied of as a child.  Robin's performance got huge praise and a few awards.  That same year (2002) he played a murder suspect in the Christopher Nolan thriller "Insomnia".  This will be the next review  as we explore the darker side of Robin Williams.


"Thumbsucker" A quirky coming of age story

11/2/2014

"Thumbsucker" is similar to the previously reviewed "Chumscrubber" in that it's an independent dram-edy with a strong ensemble cast.  A quirky coming of age story of a teenage boy and the prescription drugs society makes him take.  Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Kirn, the film was also released in 2005 and did quite better with critics than "The Chumscrubber".

Lou Taylor Pucci plays Justin Cobb a shy but very real seventeen year old.  When the anxieties and pressures of being a teenager get to be too much he resorts to sucking his thumb.  His mother Audrey is played by the always great Tilda Swinton, a nurse who has a crush on a T.V. show cop Matt Schramm (Benjamin Bratt).  His father Mike (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a former high school football star whose severe injury prevented him from going pro.  He is emotionally closed off to Justin and cannot over come his own hang ups.  Rounding out our supporting cast is Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughn) the debate club teacher and Perry Lyman (Keanu Reeves) an unconventional orthodontist looking for "something" in his own life.  All of the characters seem to be looking for something, going through a sort of existential crisis.

During an orthodontic appointment Perry can see the physical damage that the thumb sucking is
causing Justin.  He offers a solution with a little hypnosis and Justin is game for just about anything.  His parents also take him to see a doctor and is diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and prescribed Adderall.  Since drugs are always the answer he starts taking them and before long his life is changed, but is it for the better?  He begins to excel at the debate team competitions and his self confidence soars.  Although this new found confidence goes a little to far and he is turned into this arrogant douche with little regard for anybody other than himself.  He gets into mischief and in trouble with the law.  He manipulates Mr. Geary at the state debate meet.  Angry with himself he stops taking the pills, and reacquaints himself with his friend Rebecca who has also changed.  Just when as he think things are going a little too good he is blindsided by her and it stings.  Justin is a sensitive and caring guy although a little naive he is still a strong person.  He will not be deterred from his goals like getting into NYU.


"Thumbsucker" is very honest with its characters and the acting performance further enforce this.  At times heartbreaking, quirky, and funny you can't help but feel for Justin and remember similar times in your own life.  Everybody looks for safety and security in this world and sometimes it manifests itself in strange ways like sucking your thumb.



"The Chumscrubber" Meet Generation Rx

10/22/2014

Perfect suburban neighborhoods are not as perfect as they look is one of the main themes of "The Chumscrubber" the debut film for director Arie Posin. Psycho suburbanites are nothing new when it comes to the movies.  The crown jewel being David Lynch's 1986 film "Blue Velvet" and 1999's "American Beauty".  It has become a little cliché but "The Chumscrubber" does a decent job thanks to its talented ensemble cast.

The main protagonist is Dean a high school student played brilliantly by Jamie Bell.  He's a loner and a misfit but the most grounded and down the earth of the characters.  He is the heart of the film that everything revolves around. The main plot is really more of a teen drama that shows how parents have no idea who their kids are, another easy stereotype.  An opening scene shows Dean finding the body of his best friend Troy who has hanged himself.  All of this taking place during a dinner party thrown by Dean's mother.  He walks back home in a state of shock, unable to tell anyone.  The story itself takes place in a southern California cul-de-sac, all of the families involved are intertwined in each others lives but all to often are just involved with themselves.  Everybody spends so much time and effort improving and promoting themselves that they have lost all meaningful contact with everyone around them.  Dean's father is self-help guru who uses him to sell his books, while his mom hawks Veggie Force vitamin supplements.  Every family seems to be in a similar situation.  The kids are forced to raise themselves. 

Dean's departed best friend Troy was the school "happy pill" dealer and now a group of cool kids are after him to recover his lost stash.  Good Ole Camilla Belle plays the hot girl, Crystal, who is now interested in Dean but her motives are a little foggy.  While Billy the school's arrogant douche bag (Justin Chatwin) is crazy enough to do anything to get those pills.  The third member of the group is Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) who just blindly follows the crowd like a lonely lost sheep.  This rears it ugly head near the films climax.


Billy hatches a plan to kidnap Dean's little brother to get the lost pills but that goes awry when they pick up the wrong kid.  The kid actually kind of likes being kidnapped and hanging out with the group.  His mother doesn't even realize he is missing for a couple of days.  The script is tightly structured with many storylines going on simultaneously almost like a ballet.  They all come to a head and people become aware of their misdeeds, but will it make them better people or is it just business as usual.  Dean is able to fully accept and grieve for Troy and move on, while Billy is not so lucky.  Why is it called The Chumscrubber? You'll just have to watch the movie and find out for yourself.  It's now available on DVD which also includes has a commentary track so check it out!