REVIEW #200 - Robin Williams and Matt Damon in "Goodwill Hunting"

Review #200
The Golden Side of Robin Williams


Combining the landmark 200th review and the current Robin Williams tribute, I've chosen one of my all time favorite movies in "Goodwill Hunting".  The film was not only the breakout party for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but it earned Robin his only Academy Award.  In all the movie was nominated for 9 Oscars, winning 2.  It is currently ranked #128 in IMDb's list of the greatest movies of all-time.  Directed by Gus Van Sant, "Goodwill Hunting" managed to be one of those small films that hit it big in every possible way.

Will Hunting is a young working class genius living in South Boston.  He is however troubled and prone to fits of anger.  He spends his days mopping the floors at MIT and his nights drinking at a local bar with his friends.  Chucky (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck) and Billy (Cole Hauser).  Will has an amazing mind for mathematics that is in danger of going to waste if he doesn't straighten out his life.  While at his duties at MIT he anonymously solves a proof that was meant as a supreme challenge to the students of Professor Gerald Lambeau class.  Lambeau becomes aware of Will's brilliance and is intrigued.  Meanwhile Will and his friends instigate a nasty brawl with some guys from the neighbor and Will ends up hitting a police officer.  While in court he rattles off all kinds of legal jargon and precedent setting cases that have gotten him off before but this time the judge won't hear of it.  Professor Lambeau comes to the rescue and saves him from any jail time, but he must help him will mathematical theories and worst of all see a psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist scenes are hilarious as Will plays the consummate smart ass.  He can deconstruct anybody in the blink of an eye and have them running for the exits in no time.  When worst comes to worst Lambeau brings him to an old college friend of his who now works at a community college.  His name is Sean Maguire.

Like all the others before him upon their introduction Will cuts deep to the core a Sean.  When he makes comments about Sean's recently deceased wife, he puts a hand to Will's throat and threatens him.  Despite his anger Sean wants to see him again.  Hailing from the same neighborhood he is determined to help him sort his life out, while along the way helping to sort out his.  On their second meeting they go to a pond and Sean has a big monologue about love and life experience.  Even though Will is so smart "You can't learn everything from books".  Sean works at bringing down the walls that keep Will a prisoner in his own mind.

Back with Chucky and the gang Will meets Skylar (Minne Driver) at a bar outside Harvard and he is immediately smitten.  Although Will never allows himself to be open and vulnerable to anyone, Skylar could be the one to break through his thick exterior.  Things are going great until Skylar's plans to move to California force will to make a tough decision he is not ready for.  This happens all while he is making good progress in his sessions with Sean.  Will opens up and respects Sean, he gets the father figure and mentor he has been sorely looking for while Sean gets the son he never had.  They are both lonely men.  Sean and Lambeau meet frequently but have vastly different opinions about how to care for the boy.  Each have their own theories but is it in the best interest of Will of themselves?

Even after this progress Will is reluctant to change and it takes a push from Chucky to break free and make something of his life.  Put best by Chucky "You have a winning lottery ticket, but are too much of a pussy to cash it in".  To make something of himself Will must leave his small and secure surroundings.  In one of their last sessions Sean having gained Will's trust and respect digs deep into Will's past and confronts him about his fathers abuse and how he was also abused as a child.  This breakthrough allows both men to turn the page and start the next chapter in their lives.  Will decides to search out Skylar in California, while Sean decides to take some time off and travel.

"Goodwill Hunting" is funny, heartfelt, and just plain amazing.  It also wouldn't be the same without the haunting and beautiful songs by the late Elliott Smith. The closing song "Miss Misery" got an Oscar nomination for the Portland based musician.  Like any great music it melted perfectly into the film and made it even more unforgettable.  The movie is widely available on any platform or device so if you haven't seen it yet get to it!

The Dark Side of Robin Williams #4 - "The Big White"

The Dark Side of Robin Williams #4

The Big White

Released in 2005 "The Big White" is a dark comedy with a talented ensemble cast.  Like the previously reviewed "Insomnia" the story takes place in Alaska hence the title "The Big White".  While it was independently financed and played a number of film festivals it never made it to theaters but went straight to DVD.  Its a fun movie never the less, with fine performance from the whole cast.

Robin plays Paul Barnell who runs a struggling travel agency.  He is married to a more than a little eccentric Margaret played by Holly Hunter.  Margaret has some sort of mental disorder that is not identified, but from that comes a bunch of disturbingly funny scenes.  They have a wonderful marriage and Paul will do absolutely anything for her, which is what puts the whole movie in motion.  Paul is in deep financial trouble and is looking for any kind of money he can get his hands on.  His brother Ray (Woody Harrelson) has been missing for a few years so he tries to cash in on his life insurance policy.  The problem is there is no body and he needs to be missing for seven years to be declared legally dead.  In despair Paul needs another plan, which he finds in a rather unusual place, the dumpster outside his business.  A couple of low level thugs, kind of in the vein of Laurel and Hardy, have just dumped a body there and Paul is desperate enough to do anything.  There is plenty of dead body humor as Paul uses the corpse to pose for his missing brother.  While he waits for the insurance company to process his claim, fraud investigator and ghostly white Ted (Giovanni Ribisi) smells a rat.  Ted's girlfriend Tiffany (Alison Lohman) runs a telephone psychic scam and talks frequently with Maragaret.

Things start to get a little messy for Paul when the goons come back for the body and its missing, but
worst of all crazy Ray comes back into the picture looking for his piece of the insurance money.  Knowing that Paul took the body the goons, who we later find out are gay lovers, take Margaret hostage in a home invasion.  Margaret puts up a pretty crazy fight even when she is tied up.  Paul is taking heat from every angle.  He must find a way to control his psychotic brother, save Margaret, and lose the obsessive Ted.

It's rare to see Robin Williams plays the straight man in a comedy.  Paul is a grounded and sensible man whose desperation gets him in to some sticky situations.  He is surrounded by crazy off the wall characters that make him stand out even more.  The style of comedy is like midnight in the desert, dark and very dry.  It's not for every one but for a few adventurous people its pure gold.

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

The Darker Side of Robin Williams

World's Greatest Dad

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


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

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.