What I Watched Last Week – 18.08.14 – Robin Williams Marries a Drag Queen; Shakespeare was a Phony.

Here is where I always write about the films I saw in the past seven days that were first time viewings and weren’t at the cinema. First of all, Robin Williams needs another mention. RIP. Here’s the tribute blog I made to honour his work. In other news I went to see The Expendables 3 at the cinema and it gave me shellshock and cauliflower ears and PTSD (my review here). Now on with the writing.

 

 Mansome (2012)- 1/5

Director: Morgan Spurlock

Cast: Morgan Spurlock, Zack Galifianakis, Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Judd Apatow

Mansome

Supremely subjective documentary by Super Size Me’s Morgan Spurlock which seeks to define the essence of manhood in today’s society. Forty five minutes is devoted to facial hair alone, which doesn’t leave all that long for other inherently opinion-based  discussion of what this film deems to be the most important factors in the manhood equation:  body hair and balding. A dude with an impractically long beard, a former Sikh-geek and a professional ‘wrestler’ chime in to expound on their first strand experiences and the pressures of preening in the modern age; elsewhere, sitcom pals Will Arnett and Jason Bateman raise a brouhaha in a spa. Between Two Ferns host Zach Galiafinakis pops up to spin some amusing fictional anecdotes which just about shave you from dying of shear boredom.

 

Anonymous (2011) – 2/5

Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: Rhys Ifans, Rafe Spall, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis

Anonymous

Roland Emmerich is more at home conducting international catastrophes than costumed period dramas, but in Anonymous the master of movie disaster has gone for a marked change of pace. Many are the crackpot theories surrounding the works of one William Shakespeare, Bard of Avon and archangel of English literature; the plot of Anonymous chooses one: Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (played here by Rhys Ifans) wrote the whole lot, going unrecognised for his feats to save his puritanical family line from political disgrace and ad-verse-ity. ‘Undeserving’ figurehead Bill Shakes is portrayed by a nonplussed Rafe Spall, and in a role roughly traced from F.Murray Abraham’s in Amadeus, spurned playwright Ben Jonson (gurning, soap quality actor Sebastian Armesto) serves as the go-between for William and his genius benefactor De Vere. Queen Elizabeth I, shared by actresses Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave for the purposes of the sprawling timeline, is the only well balanced member of Anonymous’ vast dramatis personae.

The production is large – although not in Emmerich terms – and despite the lack of alien invasions/ nuclear lizards/ mega-quakenamis, the destroyer of worlds still gets to smite a famous landmark (the original Globe theatre) into a smouldering heap. Anonymous is a bad film, and you’ll need a drink or two to calm your rattled nerves after sitting through its drawn out hodgepodge of conspiracy-based flim-flam. Exit, pursued by a beer.

What Dreams May Come (1998) – 3/5

Director: Vincent Ward

Cast: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Annabella Sciorria, Max von Sydow

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Not to be mixed up with unlicensed Robin Williams porno spinoff ‘Wet Dreams May Cum’ which, in the opinion of the deceased icon himself, was ‘alright’. When he’s killed while trying to save the victim of a car crash, children’s psychiatrist Chris Nielson (Williams) follows his dead offspring into the afterlife. Heaven proves to be as painterly perfect as he could ever have wished it to be, but his soul cannot rest knowing the anguish felt by his grieving wife (Annabella Sciorria), now all alone in her inconsolable pain.

What Dreams May Come isn’t a guaranteed feel-good crowd pleaser in the same way as Good Will Hunting. The sardonic amongst you will get nothing but gruff over the sentimentality and Hollywood-ised emotional expediencies, which is where this film founders most of all. Where it succeeds is in the gentle, good-humoured performance of Robin Williams; his presence in the film is tragically ghost-like, and the reality of his committing suicide at sixty three years old really bites when Cuba Gooding Jr. utters the eerily poignant line, ‘Who want to be sixty three throughout eternity?’ Yikes. Still, if there is a heaven then Robin Williams deserves it.

The Birdcage (1996) – 4/5

Director: Mike Nichols

Cast:  Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Dianne West

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If in the right frame of mind, The Birdcage can reduce you to a shuddering wreck of uncontrollable mirth. In a sentence, here is the plot: Gay lovers Robin Williams and Nathan Lane have an adopted son who is about to married but can only get the blessing if the girl’s family – who are devoutly Christian career politicians – come to stay with them in Miami and approve of the union.

 The Birdcage is a larger-than-life comedy bonanza in which, for once in his career, Williams plays the straight man (not in the literal sense, as his character is that of a sanguine gay club landlord). Weirdly for a film that stars Williams and Gene Hackman (on devastating deadpan form as a Conservative senator), it is Hank Azaria who gives the funniest and most memorable performance of the bunch. His oleaginous, ultra-camp and outrageously inept butler Agarus Spartacus steals not just the show but the after party as well, and it comes as no surprise to learn that Nathan Lane often had to hide from him in a soundproof room so that the number of takes didn’t run over the fifty mark.

 

Let the Right One In (2008) – 4/5

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Cast: Lina Leandersson, Kare Hedebrant, Ika Nord, Per Ragnar

LetTheRightOneIN

Well, well, look what the bat dragged in. In this riveting Swedish language horromance, a young boy learns how to stand up for himself when he meets the mysterious new girl next door. To call her weird wouldn’t come close to covering it; all you need to know is that she lives off blood but hates stakes (no matter how they’re cooked) and she’s twelve years old, a level of physical maturity which she has embodied ‘for a long time’. Let the Right One In is as terrifying as a psychopathic school bully or the prospect of living forever, and novelist  John Ajvide Lindqvist’s sublime script adaptation gives each player a genuine depth that intensifies the unfurling psychodrama no end. Let the Right One In also features the most effective jump-scare since Pazuzu in The Exorcist. Though this reviewer hasn’t seen it you can guarantee that the American rehash, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, is a specdracula waste of time.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002) – 4/5

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman

PunchDrunkLove

Somebody call the universe, Adam Sandler can act! Or at least he could. Regardless, Philip Seymour Hoffman acted better. Punch-Drunk Love, the third feature from prudent auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, stars Sandler as Barry Egan, a lonely Los Angeles salesman with serious anger issues and seven loathsome sisters. When he becomes embroiled in a sex-line phone scam he takes matters of avengement into his own hands, spurred on by his need to protect new found (and first ever) love interest Lena Leonard (Emily Watson). Here’s a clip.

A jarring, jangling soundtrack helps keep viewers on edge as they observe the journey of the viciously cantankerous Barry, in several sections overpowering the dialogue to the point that it cannot be heard, forcing you to read into the emotions of the protagonist’s long-suffering face.  Here’s one more clip, this time of a short that was sadly excised from the final cut but which can be watched again and again and again (and more agains) on YouTube.

Until next time.

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