Friday, December 26, 2014

Robin Williams, His Best Part II

If anyone prior to this doubted that either Williams or Bridges could do fully fleshed out characters with dramatic gravitas, "The Fisher King" answered that question once and for all. Boy, could the two of them do it "all" in the movies. Bridges plays an obnoxious radio tv talk guy who makes a life altering mistake on his show. Robin Williams plays Parry, the homeless man who in the circle of life is caught in the rays of what radiates out from that mistake. They will create something positive out of this but it is coming out of the darkest of the dark to do so. Either Williams or Bridges should have won the Oscar for this, perhaps both, but they did not. It did show the movie going world though that Bridges had been consistently underestimated up to that point and he began getting parts instead worthy of his talent. Williams was already known as a great talent, just not as an actor but as a great comic. This was one of many roles he did that showed exactly why Juilliard wanted him so badly. 

The female roles were fully realized by Mercedes Ruehl and Amanda Plummer and they are beacons for coming home and out of the darkness and into the light. One of my favorite movies with favorite performance from all four actors. Prior to this I don't think I could have pictured either woman as a romantic lead in a feature film but they pulled it off in this film. There had to be odd females for those roles though as these two men were way too damaged to be given young and pretty rom-com kinds of girls. It would have ruined the film.

I read John Irving's "The World According to Garp" when it was first published and just loved it. When I saw the movie, the book was still quite vivid in my mind. One problem there was in filming this book was in it you are also reading Jenny's book, "The Sexual Suspect," which is quite gripping. The movie, by contrast, had to use a visual medium to show two people who were writers, Jenny and her son Garp. George Roy Hill was a wonderful director but that is nevertheless quite a feat to bring off. I did like the movie though. For one, it had some extraordinary talent in it: Robin Williams, Glen Close, and John Lithgow, just to name the most prominent. There were imaginative leaps too, such as acting out some of the stories in flight of fancies. So I liked it but I can't honestly say I loved it when I saw it such a long time ago upon its initial release.

In the wake of Robin Williams' death, I decided to watch it again. I liked it much, much better this second time because I was not weighing and balancing it against the novel. This is because I have not read the novel in decades. So only bits and pieces of it came back to me while watching it. This time, I have no complaints.

Does the film have a plot? Yes, it has "the only plot". This is about Garp's life, all the good and bad in it and how he meets and greets life and gets through it. He has a good outlook and this is largely because of his mother, Jenny. He has great joys and great sorrows. He tackles life head on and gets on with it. He falters badly once but Jenny helps him recover his will to live and go on. Jenny becomes a big feminist leader through her book and John Lithgow, who plays a woman (transgendered), is Jenny's right hand woman. All of these actors are marvelous.

In light of Robin Williams recent suicide, you will find yourself wishing that he had been more in real life like Garp and that he had had one strong, loving, totally supportive and "there" parent like Jenny Fields in this work of literature. That could have enabled a lengthier life. That adds a rather sad coda to this film but it will not interfere with your enjoyment of it.

"Moscow on the Hudson" was Robin Williams's breakout movie as a serious actor with comic overtones. He made this film with that great avant garde film maker of that time, Paul Mazursky. Williams always had so much energy, verging on the manic, that he needed a director like Mazursky to reel him in with gentle restraint.Williams plays a Russian defector to America who is a jazz musician. His is a very gentle performance and romance. He defects to the leading lady in a department store. There are sad moments, comic moments and romantic moments throughout, all perfectly realized. It was made in 1984 when Williams was at the zenith of his powers. He had many great performances to come but in some of them, this kind of sincere role would have him descend into mawkishness and sentimentality. Under Mazursky's influence, however, this film never does that. It remains a delightful character study and romance of a Russian immigrant coming to America. One of his best lines is: "In Moscow, we fight for a crumb of freedom! Here, you s*** on it!" In later years we tended to forget how charming Williams could be in a gentle, romantically oriented movie. In this film you can easily see why the leading lady falls in love with him. His character's exploration of freedom in all aspects from love to making money to expressing himself are all masterfully handled.

Williams himself probably thought his "Popeye" with Robert Altman was his breakout film. I thought he did a good job with that material but he was born to play this role. It is his true breakout film as a movie star to watch.

"Cadillac Man" was incredibly well written and performed by two master Oscar winning actors, Robin Williams and Tim Robbins. We open with Williams for awhile because we need to see him struggling. He is over his head in every respect. He is divorced, has several girlfriends, his car sales are way down, he's in debt and about to loose his job. This was a guy who once upon a time could sell ice to eskimos as the old joke goes.

This set up is necessary because as soon as we have this portrait of Joey (Williams), Tim Robbins bursts in on the scene with a shotgun and explosives and is ready to kill everyone at the dealership that day because his wife has been having an affair. Joey who at heart really loves people (the basis of his problem) in a burst of courage recovers his mojo and spends the entire rest of the movie negotiating with Robbins to save everyone. It is their movie from that point on. It is almost as if Williams is doing one of his famous stand up acts but with Robbins as his partner.

From the point that Robbins and Williams come together, it is an absolutely brilliant comedy because it focuses with laser sharpness on the one thing that matters: being able to see the world in perspective. Both of these characters had lost this ability out in the world and now they are going to regain it. Apparently some people do not like this film and I cannot figure out why. I saw it when it first came out and thought it was great. I just watched it again decades later and thought it was great again. Now that Williams is gone, perhaps people will come to finally appreciate the film.

"What Dreams May Come" features a tour de force performance by Robin Williams. It is made all the more poignant because the film's gist is that he has to save his wife from hell because she killed herself. In light of his own suicide, to see him saving someone else is almost a shattering experience. I did cry watching it.

The after life is splendidly recreated with every imaginative leap one could possibly make. On the box you see a dog by his side and that is the dog who died some years before his character died. That hit me very forcibly too. I saw this film originally in the movie theater when it came out in 1991. I was a fan of it then and I recollect most people were not.

My opinion has not changed in the intervening years. I could have stood a lighter hand on the music perhaps but that's just a quibble. After I initially saw the film I tried to read the novel. It was written in the 1950s by Richard Mathieson. I only got part way through it but the sheer imagination of the movie was just not there on the written page. Or perhaps it was that Robin Williams was not on the written page. It is hard to believe that a guy who could act such a serious part was also a world class stand up comic. He does manage to deliver a comic line near the end that I can't imagine any other actor pulling off given that he was inside of this serious script. You really need to see him in this if you have never seen this film before. Bring a kleenex with you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Part II: Fugitive, As He Lived & Died, Dr. Sam Sheppard

If you missed Part I, start here
Before we vault back into how Dr. Sam got out of prison, I wanted to share this photo with you. This is in the last year of Dr. Sam's life. He is 45 or 46. It is 1969 or 1970. The picture is in such stark contrast with who he used to be and there are no traces left of the glib, arrogant, pedantic guy who had it all. Here is someone who has been stripped down to the very core of his being and shortly it will all be blessedly over. Now onto "The Fugitive's" getting out of prison.