July 9, 2015

boulevard Greetings again from the darkness. The tragic death of Robin Williams last year left a void in the world of comedy, and his absence is also felt on the big screen where his dramatic skills were often underappreciated. His final non-comedic role comes courtesy of a film that is probably not worthy of his talents, but leaves us with a reminder of what a skilled actor he was.

The premise feels at once a bit dated and also timely. Williams plays Nolan, a 60 year old man who works at his comfortable bank job (of 26 years), goes home each day to his comfortable suburban home, to a comfortable marriage to his wife (Kathy Baker) with whom he no longer shares a bed or much of anything else. He also periodically stops off to put a straw in the ginger ale for his near comatose father with whom he has never had much of a relationship. His entire life is a façade of comfort and life lived well enough.

Are you happy?” That seemingly odd and innocent question from his boss sets Nolan off on a path of awakening. It turns out that since he was 12 years old, Nolan has suppressed his true identity as a gay man. A spontaneous u-turn on the titular Boulevard sends Nolan on a collision path with Leo (Roberto Aguire), a young male prostitute with whom he quickly bonds … through only talking and self-identification.

It’s this awakening that brings a level of modern-timeliness as Nolan’s story is not so different from that of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner who has dominated the recent media with the late-in-life shift in persona. They are sixty-plus year old men who have evidently each lived a lie for much of their lives. It’s difficult for many of us to relate to, but clearly it’s a real thing, and director Dito Montiel and writer Douglas Soesbe capitalize.

The best and most uncomfortable scenes occur with Ms. Baker and Mr. Williams avoiding the issue through years of practice, and also the scenes with Mr. Williams and Bob Odenkirk who plays his long-time friend and confidant. These are three strong actors who work well with each other.

There is really nothing wrong with the film … it’s slow pace designed to match that of Nolan’s life … but the Nolan and Leo segment just never clicked, leaving me struggling with a third of the story. It’s about a man who is totally not comfortable in his own skin, and lives a somber and unfulfilled life right up until the point where he takes a leap. It’s not that he takes a leap, but rather the specific leap he takes that just didn’t click for me. Still, it’s a performance from Williams that is worth watching – in fact, must be watched if you are a Robin Williams fan.

watch the trailer:



August 12, 2014

O Captain! My Captain! (Walt Whitman)

robin williams There have already been many beautiful tributes written for the immensely talented Robin Williams, so mine will be brief. Additionally, I recommend reading what his peers from the entertainment world have to say. And those fans whose lives he touched.  They speak of a very warm and generous man … even when he was mired in the darkest moments of his life.  Of course he was an inspiration to many stand-up comedians and actors, but he also worked tirelessly for the homeless and underprivileged children. He was also quite forthcoming in discussing his battles with drugs, alcohol and depression.

Williams, along with Andy Kaufman and Steve Martin, transformed stand-up comedy.  Comedy became more insightful, and not always in a positive way.  He flashed attitude at breakneck speed … sometimes he spoke so fast, he offered us little time to laugh – in fear we would miss the next cultural prod. When he took his talent to TV, it seemed only right that his character was from another planet … none of us knew anyone like this!

What really set Robin Williams apart was his ability to thrive in two worlds: the childlike and the profane.  He somehow balanced his “Sesame Street” appearances with a role as a wise-ass military disc jockey who refused to be silenced.  He balanced his effervescent vocals as a giant blue genie with a role as a somewhat rebelious, yet passionate educator of young men. Who else could pull off a cross-dressing dad so desperate to spend time with his kids; and a bitter, insightful psychologist trying to crack the shell of a young genius; and the ultimate childlike Peter Pan?

It seems too simple to say, but the words are quite heavy … Robin Williams will be missed.

Many know his stellar work from such popular movies as Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Aladdin, and of course the Night at the Museum franchise.  In addition to those, I have three others to recommend if you want to see just how serious he was about the art of acting. One of his early films was Moscow on the Hudson, directed by Paul Mazursky.  It’s from 1984 and his unusual character is certainly worth checking out. The Fisher King was directed by Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) in 1991, and stars Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. It’s an underappreciated gem. Finally, for a glimpse at just how dark and creepy Williams could go, see 2002’s One Hour Photo.  Those three films over an almost 20 year span will show you the depth and range of a man who could be so silly and so outrageous, while also opening our eyes.

Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society (Carpe Diem)


Robin Williams on “Sesame Street”






Lee Daniels’ THE BUTLER (2013)

August 22, 2013

butler1 Greetings again from the darkness. This is not a film about multiple personalities.  Rather it is a film WITH multiple personalities! Yes, there are a staggering number of characters played by a who’s who of actors, but it’s the movie itself that flashes the most personalities. It is quite a mixture of historical events, the Civil Rights movement, family drama, generational differences, Presidential evolution, emotional wrangling, and Oscar posturing.

Forest Whitaker portrays Cecil Gaines, the man who worked his way up from being a child slave on a Georgia plantation  to the highest level of butler within The White House … a gig that spanned 34 years and eight Presidents. The story is based on the real life story of Eugene Allen, who had a front row seat to dramatic historical events and major social changes … all while wearing white gloves and tuxedo. The movie bears a resemblance to the popular movie The Help, but while that one focused on individual racism, this one is more concerned with systematic or institutional racism.

butler2 While the movie has plenty of emotional moments, in my opinion it could have been even stronger had it committed more time to either Cecil’s long run in The White House or the father-son generational struggles between Cecil and his desperate-for-change son played with fire by David Oyelowo (from Freedom Rider to Black Panther). Instead there is much wasted time on superficial Presidential interactions and a needless side story of adultery involving Cecil’s wife (Oprah Winfrey) and his friend (Terrence Howard).

Director Lee Daniels obviously has many friends who wanted to be part of this one. The incredible cast includes Mariah Carey (still seeking redemption for Glitter), Alex Pettyfer (as a brutal slave owner), Vanessa Redgrave (Cecil’s first serving trainer), Clarence Williams III (Cecil’s ultra cool mentor), Nelson Ellis as Martin Luther King, and Cuba Gooding Jr and Lenny Kravitz (as fellow White House butlers). The most blatant slap in the face of Conservatives comes from the casting of extreme Democrat John Cusack playing Richard Nixon and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. Other Presidents are played by Robin Williams (Dwight Eisenhauer), James Marsden (John F Kennedy), Liev Schreiber (LBJ), and Alan Rickman (Ronald Reagan). The constant game of “spot the star” is a bit distracting at times, but not as much as one might guess. It’s just a shame that most get very little story or screen time.

butler3 As for Oprah Winfrey, she is getting much love for her performance, including some Oscar chatter. What I saw was a performance that was solid, yet distracting due to the lack of aging in comparison to her husband (Whitaker). She changes very little (except for costumes) from the beginning until the very end when she definitely goes into heavy make-up for the Obama election. On a personal note, watching 1970’s era Oprah shaking her booty to “Soul Train” was an image I neither needed nor enjoyed.

Again, my favorite scenes were the ones between father and son … Whitaker and Oyelowo. Seeing these two generations struggle so much to understand each other and interpret the world in such different ways proved quite powerful. It’s always painful and embarrassing to re-live the horrible manner in which African-Americans were treated, but even moreso when it’s tied to a father-son relationship.

**NOTE: the ridiculous movie title is the resulting settlement brought on by Warner Bros who was concerned that a title of “The Butler” would cause confusion and conflict with their own 1916 short film of that title.  Yes, 1916.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for an entertaining movie loaded with stars and a story that delivers some emotional tugs.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting insight into the inner-workings of The White House OR watching Oprah get her groove on could possibly burn your eyeballs as it did mine.

watch the trailer: