Thoughts on…

Robin Williams

Two days ago, we lost one of the greatest actors of our generation: the always inspiring Robin Williams. Williams showed the world how to laugh, love and live through countless films and a number of incredible performances. We will pay tribute to him by sharing our thoughts on our favorite Robin Williams performances

There are a handful of great Robin Williams movies, particularly those that were significant to me as a child, Aladdin and Night at the Museum being my two favorite. Night at the Museum was the first movie I chose to watch twice in theaters and Aladdin was the first animated film that really stuck with me. However, years after my days of PG movies exclusively, my dad showed me Good Will Hunting, one of Williams’ more dramatic performances. Though my attention span ranged from half-asleep to wide-awake, there are two scenes I remember crystal clear. Both of these scenes feature Williams, in one of the best dramatic performances of his career.

The two scenes I was talking about are two of the more famous scenes of the movie. The first one is a scene when Williams’ character, Dr. Sean Maguire, is scolding his patient, the brilliant yet brash Will Hunting (Matt Damon). For much of the movie, Williams portrays Maguire with a feeling of empathy and is very sweet towards Will, as a therapist should. But in this one scene, Williams provides one of the most memorable monologues in recent history. “You’re just a kid” he says, condemning Will’s ignorance. The way Williams delivers the monologue, with utmost honesty, is a prime example of his outstanding acting ability. The actual content of the line, however, is what makes Good Will Hunting, specifically Williams’ performance, so significant to me.

Before I get to what he actually said, I’m want to talk about the other scene I remember from the movie: the (almost) last one. It features him consoling a hysteric Will Hunting, who is finally confronting his tragic childhood. Dr. Maguire is there to heal and comforting him. This scene is one of the moments I remember Williams in the most. He is warm, comforting, and loving towards this cocky young man, who hasn’t done much to deserve Maguire’s love. yet it doesn’t matter. Connecting back to the other scene, everything Robin Williams says has so much meaning. Will Hunting listened to Maguire’s scolding because of how Robin Williams could deliver the serious lines with such warmth and sincerity.

robin williams

In Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams displays what everyone will miss about him: he is kind, intelligent, caring, warm, funny, and just a nice guy. Obviously I never knew him, but his presence on screen—specifically the love and kindness he radiates—is why we’ll miss him. You just knew he was one of the good guys in the industry. You just knew.

R.I.P to one of the greats.

Divorced dad dresses in drag, pretends to be a nanny, works his way back to his kids.

By all accounts, the above premise (The plot for Mrs. Doubtfire, in case you haven’t seen it) is ridiculous. It’s gimmicky, strange and could easily be botched by some no-name director. So why is it one of the highly-regarded movies I grew up with?

Robin Williams. Mrs. Doubtfire is a perfect example of how Williams could liven up any premise and keep any movie moving. Williams had a certain quality about him that I couldn’t place until I rewatched Doubtfire earlier this week but I think I’ve finally pinned it down: he gave every movie he did (EVERY movie) his all.

I can’t think of any film where Williams seemed uninterested or uninvested. Here he is, expected to give a lively performance while wearing what looks like pounds of makeup and ridiculous prosthetics and he fully delivered.

mrs doubtfire

There was also something genuine about him, about the way he played his characters which shines here. He brings himself and some of his own quirks into his character without it being distracting or off putting. If anything, it was that connection that opened the doors to all of the characters we appreciate today.

I’ve heard that Williams enjoyed ad-libbing and improvising lines and I can totally see that. It’s easy to imagine a director, a writer, even a whole crew sitting back to watch Williams deliver joke after joke that a show running team would spend hours laboring over.

I also particularly enjoy that Williams is talented enough to play two distinct characters here. Nowadays, we see comedies featuring male actors in drag (An oddly crowded niche) come out every other month yet the vast majority of them just play that premise to death. In Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams creates another character who is very much alive. In fact, the movie is very aware of this and references it a lot with the characters treating Doubtfire as a wholly different person.

In short, Robin Williams had this spark to him that really made him unique. As the universal praise for him in the wake of his death suggests, his humor resonated with everyone in some way or another. This film is just one example out of a myriad of showcases for his talent. In fact, writing this makes me want to get even more familiar with him.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams.

Bit of a spoiler for the movie, but great scene.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Hey all! Today we’ll be taking a look at Marvel’s biggest risk yet, Guardians of the Galaxy. Directed by James Gunn and starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Bradley Cooper, it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fiction and language.

The latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe follows Peter Quill (Pratt) after he steals a mysterious orb that puts him right in the center of a manhunt led by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). However, Quill, after being thrown in jail, makes four unexpected allies that help him combat Ronan and preserve the safety of the galaxy.

8.5 out of 10

Ever since the first time we heard the steady beat and tribal chants that prelude Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling in the very first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy we were excited, for the soundtrack if nothing else. This was Marvel’s riskiest film yet, taking a bunch of “D-List superheroes” (as one article called them) and throwing them on to a slate that already features Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor: all A-list superheroes. But boy, did it pay off big time. What we received was a hilarious, action packed film that stands its ground with Marvel’s best.

I will admit that the beginning of this film did not have me. After the first five or ten minutes I was starting to wonder how this movie, which looked so awesome, could be the biggest disappointment since Iron Man 3! The first scene was pretty unexpected, as his mother dies and then he is taken by a spaceship (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler). It was too abrupt a shift from something so sad—something that established a really tragic tone—to something as unrealistic and bizarre as being taken by aliens. It was just too much for me at first. 

Additionally, the first few minutes after the beginning credits served as an adjustment period for the audience, as the dialogue was difficult to enjoy at first. It was extremely different depending on what characters you were talking about. Ronan and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have a formal, more strict way of speaking when compared with Quill and Rocket Racoon (Cooper) who are laid back and snarky. And then of course, there’s Groot, who only knows how to say “I am Groot”. I can’t really explain it, but  the contrasts made it hard to really enjoy at first, but after 15 minutes or so, I was really loving it.

Last criticism. Ronan the Accuser wasn’t incredibly exciting as a villain. He reminded me of Malekith from Thor 2, which is not a good thing considering how notoriously boring he was. Ronan was an improvement, but not by much. However, he did seem a bit threatening, especially towards the end. Even more threatening than Thanos. Which I’m not sure is what you want.

As much as I’ve talked about the bad stuff, this movie really is awesome. The characters are among the most interesting comic book movie characters I’ve seen and, even better, they mix very well together. Expect for Zoe Saldana’s character, who is kind of boring but still likeable, all the characters are unique, important, and interesting.

Rocket Raccoon and Groot steal the show. Their love-hate relationship is one of the best things about the film. Both characters are such a contrast to each other that it makes it believable that they’re a talking raccoon and (somewhat) talking tree respectively. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel nailed it.

Chris Pratt, likewise, is very good. He’s funny, heartwarming, and courageous without being annoying at all. People are talking about Chris Pratt potentially being one of the next big action stars and consider me on board. Peter Quill has become one of the best characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, largely thanks to Pratt.

The movie also features some of the best written comedy of any Marvel film. As I’ve pointed out, I didn’t love Iron Man 3, largely because I thought it forced its comedy. This, however, was so well done. The timing was absolutely spot on. Pop culture references, Groot-Raccoon moments; everything. It was a very funny movie.

What lets this movie be so successful is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows how silly it’s concept is and capitalizes on this. It’s a funny, action-packed adventure that proves to be one of Marvel’s finest to date.
~Vig

9 out of 10

Two years ago, Marvel Studios released what many consider to be its magnum opus: The Avengers. In fact, any future Marvel adventures seemed unneeded. So, naturally, once Marvel announced it was producing a second phase, a lot of questions were raised. The main one being what are they going to top The Avengers with? To which Marvel stood up and proudly announced that it would follow up with an exciting, epic sci-fi team: The Guardians of the Galaxy.

And, as far as I can remember, there wasn’t too warm of a reception. Don’t get me wrong, people still poured their faith into Marvel but nobody knew what to think of Guardians. They thought they could top Robert Downey Jr. with a talking raccoon? And the whole rest of the team with a bunch of no-names?

rocket

And two years later….they did. In fact, I think they surpassed the standard set by The Avengers in my opinion. Let us go over why:

The comedy: I laughed more in Guardians of the Galaxy than around 75% of the comedies I’ve seen. This film is very self-aware; it knows its dealing with a pretty ridiculous set of characters and it never takes itself too seriously. The comedic bits tied all of the film’s elements together and utilized humor in such an effective way that it sits on top of the list of funniest Marvel films.

The characters: As I said before, people weren’t too thrilled about this team of misfits. A less professional studio would labor over these new characters’ backstories and tell rather than show anything about their development. Not Marvel: it trusts in the characters’ attitudes and dialogue to tell their story and they do.

The universe: Guardians goes so far out of Marvel’s usual realm that its a wonder it belongs the same continuity. But special effects paired with original designs really made the sci-fi atmosphere. In a weird way, seeing all of these new settings reminded me of the first time I saw Tatooine or the starship Enterprise. Very original, new world that opens itself up to so many plots and characters.

Speaking of, I’m actually anxious to see the Guardians interact with the usual Marvel suspects. It seems like a bit of a challenger but I’m convinced Marvel is up to it. Considering how they were able to integrate five heroes into one movie, I’m sure they can fit two teams.

Gamora (left), Rocket, Quill, Groot, Drax

Gamora (left), Rocket, Quill, Groot, Drax (right)

My one criticism (And it’s an incredibly small one) is that it was so good at crafting little sincere moments that they could have delved into them a little more. That’s a small complaint and, hey, there’s always the sequel, am I right? This is Marvel, so of course I am.

There you have it. All of these elements combined created such a great superhero movie that I daresay it cracks my top five superhero movies list. But I really can’t describe the fun, you’ll have to experience it yourself: see it.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.2
Metacritic: 76
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%

Snowpiercer

Hi everyone! Today we’ll be taking a look at the South-Korean sci-fi film Snowpiercer. Starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, and Ed Harris, the film is rated R for violence, language and drug content.

Snowpiercer follows a post-apocalyptic Earth in which a failed climate-change experiment sends the world into an Ice Age, killing everyone except for a select few who board the “Snowpiercer”, a train that travels around the world non-stop. On the train, a class system emerge, and Curtis (Evans) and Edgar (Bell) attempt to make their way to the front of the train, evening out the inequalities along the way.

8 out of 10

It’s refreshing to see something so cool like Snowpiercer, even if it isn’t from Hollywood (even if the cast is primarily famous American actors). I definitely would not have seen it if Evans, Bell, or Harris weren’t in it, so the inclusion of famous American actors was a very smart choice by the South Korean producers. It helped that these actors lived up to their regular standard as well. Chris Evans delivered a surprisingly strong performance as a perennial bad-ass on his way to revolt against the remains of humanity. He was brave and sharp, yet had fears that made him vulnerable. I really liked his character for that, even after the mistakes of his past (I would tell you what they are, but it is a bit of a spoiler) cloud his character.

Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer all deliver fine performances as well. They are all very unique, interesting characters and my only regret is that none of them (specifically Jamie Bell) receive the same amount of attention and development that Chris Evans’ character does. You might be wondering how I can expect this, since Chris Evans is, quite frankly, the protagonist. And you might be right. However, I just felt a lack of connection and empathy towards the recurring characters, specifically Bell’s and Hurt’s. However, this is not to say their characters are bad: I just wish we could build more of a connection to them. When something tragic happens to them (and let me tell you, a lot of tragic things happen to them) we really don’t feel nearly as engaged as we would with Chris Evans’ character.

jamie bell

The tone and storytelling of this film were very good. It was gritty, dark and exciting. The action was engaging and frequent, though moments were spared for solid, relevant dialogue. There was no superfluous dialogue and every word spoken was meant to further the plot, establish the setting, or just be purely entertaining. It’s great when a movie is straightforward like that: no nonsense.

However, one big thing this film was missing was good effects. The effects in this movie were very subpar, to put it plainly. I won’t go too far in my trashing of the effects since it can be attributed to a relatively low budget, but the outside world did not look realistic at all. Most of the film takes place inside the train, with occasional glimpses of the outside world. Those occasional glimpses didn’t look like glimpses at the outside world, more like glimpses at crappy CGI work. In the end, it didn’t really take anything out of the film, thankfully. But man, would it have added to it.

Overall, I’d recommend checking out this film. It’s an interesting exploration of social classes, with an interesting new take on it the topic time. Though about 20% of it is in Korean, this has virtually no impact on the comprehensibility of this film (if you have subtitles, of course). Snowpiercer is a really compelling, entertaining film that takes risk you will no doubt enjoy.
~Vig

8 out of 10

We talked about anthropomorphic apes last week so let’s move on to a (even more mature) movie about….people…of different classes…on a train….during the future….which is in an ice age.

As you can see, Snowpiercer is one of those movies that asks the audience to cement some of its logical gaps themselves so they can fully delve in to the world it has to offer (A pretty awesome one at that). In fact, I remember a handful of my friends saying it was “unbelievable” and “so good” but few of them could describe the actual movie.

snowpier

That’s how complex it is. Snowpiercer has an environment that would take multiple volumes to set up but it must make due with its 120 minute mark; a daunting task that becomes impossible when you throw in character development and even logistically moving the story from script to screen but Snowpiercer does it. And, man, does it do it well.

As I said last review, one of the purposes of sci-fi is to kind of step back to take a look at humans and their quirks. What can humanity survive exactly? Why can’t we, even in disaster, cooperate?

Snowpiercer is one of those one-in-a-million premises that examines these questions (Among others) nicely. The entire setup (Which probably sounded completely ridiculous on paper) just loans itself to a plethora of ideas. This movie gives itself a lot of directions which is a very important virtue. It may sound pretty basic (All of humanity stuck on one choo-choo train? How absurd!) but it builds a complex world around it.
I also enjoyed the use of practical effects and sets. You can tell that the producers didn’t lazily push the actors in front of the green screen; instead, they took the time to build the railcars and effectively created a cramped yet interesting atmosphere. In addition, its harder for actors to do their shop in front of a hanging green sheet instead (See the Star Wars prequels).

And how about Chris Evans? These past two years have been awfully good to him and he finally has someone other than Marvel to thank. Chris Evans is a likeable lead who’s relatively flexible with his roles. In short, he’s come a long way from Fantastic Four and I’d certainly like to see more of him. The rest of cast work very well with their characters also.

snowpiercer

Overall, Snowpiercer was one rewarding flick. If you can suspend enough belief to get invested in its premise, you will not be disappointed. I guarantee it.

It’s been a good year for sci-fi, eh?
~Zach

 

IMDB: 7.0 
Metacritic: 84
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%