Tag Archives: Robin Williams

Christopher Nolan

I’ve seen all but one of Nolan’s movies, and he impresses the hell out of me with his ability to both write and direct competently without any gross missteps. He casts well, he gets good performances out of his actors, and his scripts often have refreshingly original ideas. He hasn’t yet made the movie that has left me in complete awe, but I won’t be surprised if he eventually does. Sometimes his scripts are too ambitious. I would love to see him direct a television show where he gets five seasons to tell something epic.

The Dark Knight Rises: Bane is a decent foe for Batman as is Marion Cotillard’s character. But I didn’t feel much awe while watching this, which is kind of necessary for a superhero movie. Cillian Murphy makes a fun reappearance as the Scarecrow.

Grade: B-

Inception: Nolan does an exceptional job of taking this mind-boggling concept and teaching it to the viewer without too much exposition. Slick camerawork and good performances as well by DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page. But despite how epic the movie remains, there are so many glaring plot holes in the last half hour that it’s hard for me to overlook them. The ending is also manipulative and obvious and created some silly debates among viewers. On the other hand, it was also the first movie I saw with my wife, so bonus points there.

Grade: B

The Dark Knight: The second of the Batman movies is famous for being Heath Ledger’s final movie and also his best, as he deservedly won an Oscar for his portrayal of The Joker. He’s pure delight every second he’s on the screen. But there are probably even more plot issues here than in Inception (mostly the good guys making things way too hard) making for some really contrived climactic scenes.

Grade: B

Memento: Famous for the entire movie being told backwards. Each scene is about two to six minutes, then we jump back in time to the one before it. Guy Pearce plays a guy with amnesia who forgets everything he’s learned after a few minutes and therefore obsessively writes things down on paper and on his body. It’s dizzying at first, but Nolan does a good job of making everything fall into place at just the right time. Gimmicky for sure, but the story is good regardless. And the acting is excellent. The Matrix stars Carrie Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano give chilling performances, and Pearce is believable as well. Haven’t watched this a second time, though there is an option on the DVD to watch it forwards rather than backwards.

Grade: B+

Following: Nolan’s first full-length movie, in black and white, we meet a writer who (benignly) stalks people for his stories, until a thief notices him and takes him under his wing as a co-thief. One of the best stories I’ve seen that relies on plot twists and misdirection, I never felt manipulated or taken by the storytelling. The acting isn’t the greatest and the budget is obviously low, but you can definitely see some Nolan trademarks and it’s beautifully paced.

Grade: A-

Insomnia: Two L.A. detectives are sent to an Alaskan town where the sun literally doesn’t set for months at a time to solve the systematic murders of the local police force. Based on a Norwegian film made a few years earlier. The only movie Nolan doesn’t have a writing credit for, though he did have a hand in some of it. Al Pacino is good, and Robin Williams puts in one of the best performances of his career, probably because Nolan doesn’t allow him to mug for the camera.

Grade: A-

Batman Begins: I never had a desire to see a superhero movie but I was blown away by this. Beautifully shot and an imaginative, compelling back story for how Batman became to be. Perhaps I love it because I pretty much hate comic books and this movie never feels like one. I was engaged all the way until the end. Cillian Murphy is awesome as the Scarecrow, but Michael Caine and Gary Oldman are inspired choices as well. Katie Holmes was a misstep as Rachel Dawes (corrected with Maggie Gyllenhaal in the sequel) but she doesn’t ruin anything.

Grade: A-

Other Christopher Nolan Movie You May Have Seen

The Prestige

Francis Ford Coppolla

Jack: Robin Williams plays an overgrown child. It’s like the role was made for him!  Fran Drescher doesn’t help things either. When you hate a Robin Williams movie as a kid, you know it’s bad. Ugh.

Grade: F

Tucker: The Man and His Dream: Once upon a time a guy (Jeff Bridges) tried to compete with The Big Three and create his own line of cars with innovations like a rotating headlight that follows your steering wheel. That man was squashed by The Big Three, though admittedly his car did have some issues which hurt things. Based on a true story; it’s easy to root for Tucker even though you know what’s going to happen in the end.

Grade: B-

The Rainmaker: Matt Damon plays one of John Grisham’s idealist young attorneys who takes on a corrupt insurance company with the help of Danny DeVito. Solid cast and a solid plot, but nothing all that memorable either.

Grade: B

The Godfather: Part II: Camps are about equally divided on which of the two movies is better. I prefer the first one as I felt it was faster paced with more tension. Still, the character development of Michael Corleone is powerful and depressing. Diane Keaton puts in a strong performance as well as she watches Michael’s ascension to power. Robert DeNiro is also quite good, introduced here in the second film.

Grade: B

The Godfather: It took me until I was 24 to watch this and I expected to be disappointed by all the hype. I was not. I watched it with a friend and we were white-knuckling our chairs multiple times. Marlon Brando is fun as the Don, but it’s a young Al Pacino who really shines. It’s easy to follow him through and understand the choices he makes and Coppolla has us simultaneously rooting for and being scared by him at the same time. I also love James Caan’s performance. In fact, the entire cast is pretty much brilliant. This movie not only defined an entire genre of movies, it also redefined real mobsters, who were never this slick in real life but aspired to be so after watching this. Oh, and it also helped Mario Puzo; from what I’ve heard, his books are not that great.

Grade: A

Other Francis Ford Coppola Movies You May Have Seen

The Godfather: Part III
Apocalypse Now
The Conversation
The Outsiders
Peggy Sue Got Married
Rumble Fish
New York Stories
The Cotton Club

Chris Columbus

Columbus just seems to me like a completely nondescript director, as far as that’s possible. His movies are generally easily digestable and the actors always seem to be having a good time, but there’s nothing about the direction that is all that innovative or special. The only trademark I can see is that he likes to go for some genuine but easy tearjerker moments in otherwise light movies.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch: I really disliked this when I was ten years old, and I haven’t seen it since. However, I like the first movie and I’ve heard good things about this one, so I’ll have to give it another shot someday.

Grade: N/A

Home Alone: Holy crap was this movie popular. I liked it fine enough as a kid, and it’s fairly inoffensive as an adult. But Macaulay Culkin is precocious and obnoxious, so it’s hard to root for him against the cartoonish villians (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). In fact, the whole move is cartoonish, and not all that funny.

Grade: D

Adventures in Babysitting: I think it’s awesome that Vincent D’Onofrio played in this movie the same year as his role in Full Metal Jacket. I would probably need something lighthearted too after that movie. Anyway, Elizabeth Shue agrees to babysit three kids before taking them all in her car to go to Chicago and (surprise!) wacky hijinx ensue. One of the first movies I ever watched twice in the same day. I haven’t seen it since I was a kid, but I have enough fond memories of it that I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy it if I watched it today. I may just keep my fond memories, though.

Grade: C-

Gremlins: After a boy gets a cute furry bat for Christmas, he fucks everything up by spilling water on it and feeding it “after midnight,” whatever that means. It produces many gremlins, which terrorize the town, kill a few side characters, and do some hilarious shit like get blown up in microwaves. Creepy at times, hilarious at times, and a bit slow at times. The actors appear to be having fun.

Grade: B

Rent: I wonder if Columbus took this movie because he worked with Anthony Rapp in Adventures in Babysitting? Tenuous connection, I know, but it’s not like Rapp has done a lot of other stuff other than Broadway. Either way, this is a solid but not spectacular translation of the Tony-winning play about a bunch of whiny artsy types whining about having AIDS, getting fired for insubordination, and by gosh, actually having to pay rent to live somewhere. I have a feeling in forty years that almost nobody will care about this play, as it doesn’t translate all that well outside of the 90’s. Other than the character of Angel, pretty much nobody in this play is sympathetic unless you’re a bleeding-heart communist. Still, there’s some fun music and Columbus was able to get most of the good songs into the movie while actually making it look like a movie (for the most part) rather than a play. Most of the actors who didn’t look ridiculously old yet reprised their roles, including Jesse L. Martin, who is fantastic as Tom Collins. Rosario Dawson (a newcomer) also shines as Mimi.

Grade: B

Mrs. Doubtfire: I honestly don’t know what to do with this movie, as it’s yet another Robin Williams vehicle I was crazy about when I was 12 and I like less and less over the years. The plot is insultingly contrived, as for some reason his ex-wife (Sally Field) is so bitter about Williams just being an okay husband that she convinces the court to make sure his visits with his kids are supervised by a bitch, despite the fact he obviously loves his kids and other than being a mild risk-taker, has never endangered them. Then, rather than get a better lawyer, he decides to cross-dress so he can be his kids nanny, which is scarier than anything he did while he was being a supposed bad father. Cue tired old cross-dressing jokes that stopped being funny sometime in the 80’s (or for me, 1994).  Still, I have a soft spot for this as the performances are good (Williams is actually restrained…for him) and it is pretty endearing, despite the ridiculousness of it all. The kids are adorable, especially Mara Wilson, and you really believe they’re family. I also love Robert Prosky, who plays Williams’ boss. I also appreciate the fact that Field’s new boyfriend, Pierce Brosnan, just plays a regular, nice guy and not some arrogant jerk for Williams to play off of.

Grade: B+

Other Chris Columbus Movies You May Have Seen

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Percy Jackson & the Olympians
Bicentennial Man
Nine Months
I Love You, Beth Cooper
Only the Lonely

Barry Levinson

I have seen very little of Levinson’s catalog, and I may have seen his best three movies. Other than using Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, he seems to like larger-than-life characters and really exploring how they respond to adversity and triumph. I suppose that could be applied to nearly every story, but these movies really make sure you know that the heroes are fallible and not everything has a storybook ending, while also making you feel good about the heroes when it’s over. It could also just be a common theme among these three movies and he could be a hack otherwise for all I know. If you’ve seen anything else he’s done, please illuminate me.

The Natural: An epic feel-good baseball movie starring the always charming Redford, The Natural basks in its button-pushing ways. Die-hard baseball fans will cringe on occasion (the walk-off homer in the top of the ninth comes to mind), but the excellent acting allows me to forgive those errors and the occasional schmaltz.

Grade: B+

Good Morning, Vietnam: I don’t quite feel all that comfortable about the movie as a whole, but I like so many individual aspects of it that I still enjoy it today. Robin Williams plays a real-life human in Adrian Kronauer, but sadly he just plays Robin Williams. Some of his ad-libbed jokes are still funny, many are dated and obnoxious. And after a while he just comes off as a insubordinate, whiny jackass. But the dramatic moments in the movie are very powerful, and Williams’ character is knocked down a couple of pegs by the end, leaving us with a realistic and bittersweet finale. The soundtrack is amazing and the supporting cast is also good, though Kronauer’s superiors are a little too cartoonish in their dickishness.

Grade: A-

Rain Man: I’ll get out of the way that Dustin Hoffman winning best actor really annoys me. While his portrayal of an autistic savant is pitch perfect, it had to be one of the easiest performances of his career. He literally had to show no emotion, most of the time. Tom Cruise had a significantly more complicated role, playing the brother who has to process his own emotions of dealing with an autistic brother (and one he didn’t know he had). That’s not to say Cruise is a better actor, but I’m more intrigued by his performance, one of the best of his career. It’s not perfect; Cruise is not a master at subtlety, but Levinson gets the most of him and I still believed his anguish.

It’s an occasionally funny story that does a little bit to bring to light the lack of public awareness and available resources for those with autism. Granted, autistic savants are extremely rare, but the late Kim Peek (the person Raymond Babbitt is based on) still suffered from many of the same social and daily living problems that those who are not savants suffer from. The movie treats the problem fairly honestly, and the ending is poignant and subdued.

Grade: A

A Partial List of Other Barry Levinson Movies You May Have Seen

Wag the Dog
Man of the Year

Tom Shadyac

Tom Shadyac has made fewer than ten movies and I’ve been tricked into seeing more than half of them. It is painfully obvious he isn’t very good at his job, but despite the fact he’s directed so few movies, the ones he has been greenlighted for have been almost exclusively big budget films with big name actors. One could argue he put Jim Carrey on the map, but I would argue that Jim Carrey put Jim Carrey on the map and then helped out Shadyac in a couple other movies as well.

Shadyac does comedies almost exclusively and his movies seem to advertise that a joke is only done well if it’s exaggerated to the breaking point. I don’t know if Shadyac purposefully directs actors who love physical comedy and fast-talking jokes (Murphy, Carrey, Williams) or if he just doesn’t know how to rein an actor in for the more subtle nuances of comedy. Maybe both. What I do know is that he tries to plug dramatic, tear-jerker moments into many of his comedies, and without exception every one of these moments is awful.

Stay away, and read below if you want the evidence.

Evan Almighty: I haven’t seen the whole movie from start to finish, but I’ve seen the beginning and the last forty-five minutes or so. Carell really looks like he doesn’t give a shit. I haven’t seen Bruce Almighty, which I’m sure is better, but I’ll do my best not to.

Grade: F

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective: This was my first introduction to Jim Carrey and I carried a special loathing for him for way too long because of it. It took me a while to realize I hated the character and not the actor, but I was so angry that other people loved this movie that I couldn’t get over it. The only part I enjoyed was Dan Marino, not because of any skills he has in front of the camera, but the jokes at his expense. For a while after this movie, whenever the Dolphins would get knocked out of the playoffs, I’d yell for him to get gonorrhea and rot in hell.

Grade: F

Patch Adams: Roger Ebert had a special, angry place in his heart for this movie, which I didn’t understand when I was 17. In fact, I laughed a lot when I first saw it. Now I can barely stomach it. The whole premise, a wannabe doctor who truly believes laughter is the best medicine, is irredeemable and insulting, and that’s before Patch begins tearing down the evil straw men presented to him. The romantic subplot is beyond manipulative, and the final courtroom scene is so laughably out of place one wondered if the writers forgot what script they had in front of them. Robin Williams has become a comedic hack, but nobody could have saved this script with this direction.

Grade: D-

The Nutty Professor: A pretty decent cast, and Eddie Murphy does a remarkably pointless job of playing several different fat characters, but everything’s just a bit too obvious.

Grade: D+

Liar Liar: Easily Shadyac’s best movie.  I don’t like it quite as much as I did at the time. It has the same problems most of Shadyac’s movies have, false sentimentality and dishonest character motivations. However, Carrey is at his absolute best, playing a lawyer who suddenly cannot lie, even with something as banal as the color of a pen (rrrrrrooooyal blue!). Beyond his antics and the easy but fun jokes the premise delivers, there’s not much there.

Grade: B-

Other Tom Shadyac Movies You May Want To Avoid

Bruce Almighty