Tag Archives: Bonnie Hunt

Remembering Robin Williams: Nate’s Top Ten Performances

Robin Williams left us five years ago this week, and out of all the celebrities, actors and entertainers who have passed on, his absence is still the one I feel most. So what made him so special? For me it was the way he could cut so deep in both serious and comic performances. When he showed up in the room the energy turned light and carefree as the zany, untethered forces of his improvisation and imagination took over like a gentle breeze. Then when it was time to rein it in for a more serious, introspective scene he would be less effervescent but the light in his eyes wouldn’t dim, the focus wouldn’t falter and he’d demonstrate his equally brilliant talent for heartbreaking drama as well. He could carry an entire film on his own, light up a supporting role and even make a cameo glimmer through to become memorable. In looking back I’d like to highlight the ten performances that are most personal, most memorable and mean the most to me as someone who grew up watching him on the TV all the time, idolized and loved him dearly. Enjoy!

10. Adrian Cronauer in Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Viet Nam

No other scenario requires a much needed sense of humour like the fog of war, but Williams’s rebellious spirit isn’t received well by the brass in Nam, yet he makes it clear that a good dose of verbal comedy is exactly what the airwaves need in this case. It’s a no holds barred performance with some touching emotional notes and plenty of slotted time to let loose behind a radio DJ’s mic.

9. Walter Finch in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia

Cast against type as the freaky villain of Nolan’s chilly murder mystery, he channels a Stephen King style energy in playing a slippery antagonist set against Alaska’s grey skies and at odds with Al Pacino’s sharp but distraught homicide cop. Williams is somehow constantly likeable yet creepy in a way you can’t quite put your finger on until the third act rolls around and he really lets it rip.

8. Parry in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

Mental illness gets a ballistic but tender portrayal in Gilliam’s urban fantasy that sees Robin as a former professor of medieval history who loses his mind following a tragedy. Surreal production design helps his work flow but the raw potency is all his in a performance that brings down the house, brings out the best in both Gilliam and Jeff Bridges and shows how a mind broken isn’t necessarily one lost forever.

7. The Genie in Disney’s Aladdin

I’m pretty sure all of the Genie’s dialogue wasn’t even scripted off the bat, I think they just sat Williams down in front of a voiceover mic each morning, gave him a general outline and then slowly backed away out of the room to observe the magic happen. The result is a nostalgic blast of a vocal performance that so many hold dear and one of the most quotable Disney characters of all time.

6. Alan Parrish in Joe Johnston’s Jumanji

Infusing childlike wonder is something he was always good at, and it served well here in playing a guy who has been trapped inside a deadly jungle themed board game since he was a kid. His chemistry with Bonnie Hunt is funny and touching, his feral mania upon being finally released from the game into 90’s suburbia is hilarious and the interaction with young Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce makes for a dynamic character that I always love to revisit.

5. Philip Brainard in Disney’s Flubber

Williams plays an incarnation of the absent minded professor archetype in Disney’s unfairly dismissed comedy. In a film whose star is a rambunctious pile of ever morphing charismatic green goo, trust Williams to defy that description and upstage the Flubber itself with his own wild, inspired performance. But he also gets surprisingly deep when lamenting: “I’ve spent my whole life out there trying to figure how the world works when I should have been trying to figure out *why* it works..” it’s a disarming line to hear him intone in a heartfelt manner from a Disney film, but that’s why I love this one so much.

4. Sean Maguire in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting

Mentor, friend and advisor to Matt Damon’s prodigal kid, Williams imparts wisdom in clear eyed fashion here as an extremely down to earth fellow faced with an extraordinary situation. His mid film monologue to Damon won him a best supporting Oscar, but the moment that captures this character’s spirit most beautifully is when he wistfully remembers his wife who passed away, and injects some humour into the conversation that was purely Robin’s improvisation and as a result hits the scene home.

3. Rainbow Randolph in Danny Devito’s Death To Smoochy

Devito’s venomous farce of children’s media is a criminally undervalued and quite terrific film, and Williams goes into full on nut-bar mode as a disgraced kiddie show host who never should have been let on the air to begin with. Trying to kill Edward Norton’s beloved rhino Smoochy in between bouts of rage, flagrant insecurity and maniacal mood swings, it’s an incredibly ballsy, thoroughly R rated and absolutely hysterical piece of black comedy performance art not to be missed.

2. Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in Chris Columbus’s Mrs. Doubtfire

The lengths that loving father Williams goes to in order to see the children he lost custody of here would be horror movie material in any other actor’s hands, but because Robin was so adept at both wacky innovation, disguises and genuine heartfelt explanations for such behaviour, the result is both magical and realistic. The restaurant scene alone is time capsule worthy, in which Hillard has to multitask and hop in and out of the Mrs. Doubtfire suit rapid fire to both have a family dinner and entertain a scotch swilling TV exec (Robert Prosky).

1. Chris Nielsen in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

A gorgeous fantasy film showcases Robin in his most deeply felt and affecting performance as a man who has lost everything including his own life. He ventures out across the afterlife through heaven, hell and beyond to find his wife and soulmate (Annabella Sciorra) and save her. Williams portrays celestial determination like no other and a fierce, passionate love for her that shines like a beacon through realms of the astral plane and lights up the film in the process.

Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoy and hold Robin’s work as dear as I do, and have enjoyed my thoughts here.

-Nate Hill

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Barry Levinson’s Rain Man

What I enjoyed most in Barry Levinson’s excellent Rain Man is that it didn’t cheap out with a faux sweet final cherry on top with the ending. What I mean by that is that in some stories about mentally challenged people, they will spend much of the film dealing with their conditions, the relatives, friends and doctors around them will help and periodically become frustrated by them and right near the end there will be this miraculous, parting of the clouds moment where a coherence comes through and the filmmakers attempt to manipulate the events by showing something unrealistic in order to make the story more palatable. Not this one. Dustin Hoffman is a method actor’s method actor and while I don’t always see the value in such focused, orchestrated and inorganic prep work, for this type of role it’s not only necessary, it’s crucial.

He plays Raymond here, a high functioning autistic man living in a care facility who is scooped up by his estranged younger brother Charlie (Tom Cruise). Charlie didn’t know he existed so it’s a bit of a shock and adjustment period for both, but really all he’s after is the three million inheritance money that’s gone into a trust in Raymond’s name, and all else he has to deal with results in frustration and lashing out. Charlie is a materialistic, caustic, self centred asshole when we meet him and one could argue who is in fact the more mentally challenged one given his immature behaviour. But that’s what character arcs are for, and Cruise’s here is something really special. At first he’s distant and short tempered with Raymon who, naturally, is tough to properly communicate with. But after spending time on the road together for weeks a bond forms and Charlie realizes that this man is the only real family he has left, and in a poignant series of interactions highlighted by one key conversation, the two become brothers again, or perhaps even for the first time, properly anyways. It’s a fantastic piece because the script treats these two with respect and let’s them be real human beings and not cloying plot devices. Cruise plays it hotheaded and then down to earth when the shift in his tone comes, I loved the scene best where he confronts Raymond’s doctor (Gerald R. Molen) about keeping his existence a secret this whole time. “It would’ve been nice to know I had a brother, and it would have been nice to be able to know him this whole time.” Cruise delivers the line offhandedly but the intention beneath cuts real deep. Hoffman is a series of mannerisms, behaviours and reactions that are clearly researched well, but he still lets the humanity and personality in Raymond shine through in every scene, he’s essentially multitasking with both sides of his brain and he fucking nails it. They’re supported by others including Valeria Golino as Charlie’s compassionate wife, Levinson himself as an irritating doctor prick, Lucinda Jenny, Beth Grant, Chris Mulkey and Bonnie Hunt who I’ve always had a huge crush on.

I like the choices made in this film. Many dramas like this get sort of way too down to earth and exist primarily in houses, hospitals, courtrooms and such. This one is essentially a buddy movie and much of it is spent on the road, which gives it a carefree, laidback feeling that lets the drama emanate through naturally of its own accord as opposed to setting up specific, intimate scenes and blocking the actors in such a way that you know it’s just meant to elicit heavy lifting in terms of performance. This film is different. They cruise down the highway, go for pancakes, gamble in Vegas and you truly get the sense that these are two real individuals living life and not existing inside the preordained vacuum of a heavily tailored script. I also loved Hans Zimmer’s light, ethereal score. There’s certain films where his composition is sort of non orchestral and counterintuitive, not what he’s used to. True Romance, Pacific Heights, Interstellar and this all feel like that, and the style suits the material here. What a great film.

-Nate Hill

Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire

Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire is probably one of the most engagingly likeable films I’ve ever seen, on both a star-power and script level it positively glides. I’ve heard it described as the ultimate feel good movie, and while I would be quick to agree, I think there’s more to it. There’s countless films out there about unscrupulous maverick in the professional world who have a crisis of conscience, an ethic conundrum or call it what you will, but Tom Cruise’s freewheeling, silver tongued sports agent may be the only case I’ve seen where said crisis happens literally at the beginning of the film as opposed to a midsection turnaround or climactic final resolution. Because of this, the rest of the film is completely affected each step of the way by his awakening in the first scene, which I find so interesting.

The hero has his realization early, and it seems like the kind of weighty lesson that sums up the bulk of the film, but it only leads to more complicated questions, tricky interpersonal communication based on previous impulsive behaviour and a trickle effect down into even more life lessons, always given the unexpected flourishes and cathartic pathos of Crowe’s script, which has to be among the best ever written.

Cruise is aggressive, tender, charismatic and compelling as Jerry, the archetypal American business shark who flounders in the deep end of a narrative seemingly built as an obstacle course for character renewal and self discovery. Renee Zellweger is an actual angel as Dorothy, the single mother who realizes that idolizing and loving someone can be different things, one and the same or a confusing mixture of both. Cuba Gooding Jr. is a stirring bundle of joy and frustrations as Rod, Jerry’s last remaining athletic client, a fiercely loving family man with a self referential chip on his shoulder and enough energy to fill a stadium on his own, it’s the best work I’ve ever seen him do. The supporting cast is unbelievable and includes Jerry O’Connell, Jay Mohr, Beau Bridges, Eric Stoltz, Donal Logue, adorable Jonathan Lipnicki, Kelly Preston, Mark Pellington, Jared Jussim, Toby Huss, Drake Bell, Ivana Milicivic, Lucy Liu, the always lovely Bonnie Hunt and an absolute knockout Regina King as Rod’s fiercely passionate wife, it takes a lot of effort to steal every scene in a film that’s already packed to burst with scene stealers but she is really something else here.

I’ve read reviews saying that this is too much of a good thing and that there’s too many strong elements to absorb or focus on all at once and I disagree. I think that whoever wrote that has underestimated the cinematic appetite of people who crave well written, emotionally ambitious films that don’t just break the mould but drop kick it full field goal. Jerry Maguire is at once a brilliant character study, a rocking ensemble piece, a genuinely thought out and heartfelt romance, a morality play and what’s more, Crowe handles all of the above in a fresh, unique way. Having finally seen this I still can’t say that it dethrones Vanilla Sky as my favourite Crowe film (a tall order indeed), but I loved Jerry Maguire to bits, I was locked to the screen for the entire two plus hours, it’s a wonderfully told story and is now inducted into my list of favourites.

-Nate Hill

Jumanji: A Review by Nate Hill 

In the jungle you must wait, until the dice reads five or eight. So professes a mysterious board game possessed by dark magic to young Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd), a boy with no clue just how far an innocent roll of the dice can take you. From the first ominous drumbeat the game utters, until the last fading tones it plays the film out with, Jumanji is a giddy rush of pure adventure, with a refreshingly dark and primal side to its mayhem. Alan disappears from the 1950’s and we fast forward 25 years later. Young orphans Peter and Judy (Kirsten Dunst & Bradley Pierce) are moving into his old family home, so fate (and those damn creepy drums) would have them find the Jumanji in the attic, and continue the game Alan started with Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) over a decade ago. Suddenly every jungle creature, meteorological phenomenon and 90’s CGI monster erupts from the game into their little town, causing a mess that goes beyond the word havoc. This includes a near feral middle aged Alan, now played by Robin Williams. Together with a most reluctant Sarah, the quartet try to stop the destruction, play the game, but mostly just survive this onslaught. Psychotic monkeys, mutant mosquitoes, an elephant stampede, monsoons, giant spiders (fucking shudder) and crocodiles are but a few of the wonders awaiting them. My favourite has to be murderous Victorian game hunter Van Pelt, played mightily by stage actor Jonathan Hyde, with a pith helmet and an epic mustache that would make Kurt Russell chortle. Hyde does excellent double duty as both the deranged hunter and Alan’s stern but loving father, a tough contrast he handles like a champ. I admire the film’s willingness to go creepy and dark, despite being geared towards kids. The danger feels real, the game has an eerie mysticism to it, a life of it’s own that gives you goosebumps. Not often do family orientated films have a shred of real fear in them anymore, so let’s count our blessings with this one, still holding strong today. The special effects are dated in places (those monkeys, man) and wonderful in others (that hardwood floor quicksand tho), but you have to cut them some slack, it being 1996 after all. Williams and Hunt have snarky banter that barely hides their love for each other, and it’s one of my favourite onscreen pairings he ever had with a gal. He makes Alan resourceful, kind and just a little bit crazy, but the guy did spend years alone in a treacherous jungle straight out of your nightmares, so that can be expected. Amidst the chaos you can look out for Patricia Clarkson, a deadpan Bebe Neurith and David Alan Grier as well. There’s a lot of stuff crammed into the film, but never does it feel bloated or crippled by it’s own weight, flowing nicely and taking time where it can to develop character and give it’s human cast just as much to do as all the crazy jungle stuff. I’m surprised I never saw any of this go down as a kid, because parts of it were filmed blocks from my neighborhood, and CGI was scant back then, so much of it would have physically been there, large and loud. Maybe I did, and have since forgotten. I definitely haven’t forgotten any of the film, though, and allow for repeated viewings whenever I have the time. It’s one of the best, most thrilling adventure stories of its time and ages well as each year passes. Cue the drums. 

Disney’s Zootopia: A Review by Nate Hill

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Disney’s Zootopia is the kind of animated film that passes with flying colors in just about every damn category it needs to, making it a thoroughly endearing classic that will stand the test of time and delight countless new fans as time goes on. It’s the best of its kind since last year’s Inside Out, and one that will be hard to top this time around. It’s got the most treasurable kind of story, one that has all the fun, flash and zip that the kids will take a shine to, some hilariously subversive and cheeky humour for the the adults to chuckle at, and some vital, important messages within its themes that adults will knowingly relate to, and the kids will subconsciously perceive. Never preachy nor pandering, all of its ingredients are mixed harmoniously. And let’s talk about that animation, good lord. Every year these films get more cutting edge and eye boggling, and this one busts the blueprints in its attempts to dazzle, with every kind of texture, glint and rendered gold on display. Animals of all shapes and sizes run, scamper, dart and dive throughout the film, to the point where I felt that only with multiple viewings could I appreciate every loving detail and subtle joke. Ginnifer Goodwin gives perky vocals to Judy Hops, a small town bunny who dreams of being a big city cop. Just leagues away from the tiny carrot farm she was raised on lies Zootopia, a sprawling metropolis where the denizens of the animal kingdom live in civilization, or rather, their brilliantly realized version of it. She is told time and time again that she’ll never become a cop, but pays no heed. And whadd’ya know, she becomes a cop. Left to rot on parking duty by stern bison Sergeant Bogo (growly Idris Elba) she fumes and longs for real action. Soon she meets wily fox and street hustler Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman in possibly the best vocal performance in years), and both are whisked away on an adventure through Zootopia to find some bad cats (and every other creature imaginable) who are up to no good. The city itself is a marvel in every sense of the word. Divided into detailed, vast and climatized zones including Tundra Town, Little Rodentia  (laughed hardest at this sequence, purely inspired) and a subtropical tree house lined Rainforest area. The cast has buckets of fun, including JK Simmons as Mayor Lionheart, Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake as Judy’s endearing parents, Tommy Chong as a yak hippie, Peter Mansbridge as Peter ‘Moosebridge’, and more. Shakira shows up essentially as herself in animal form, with an original composition called ‘Try Everything’ which gives the film a lot of its charm and heart. Bateman just has to be commended for a performance so full of real conflict and shades of grey its hard to belive hes playing a fox in a Disney flick. Despite being in the most hyper real of all genres, hes walked right out of real life amd nails every note. There’s so many highlights I could write for pages, but I won’t spoil the fun, of which there’s no end. There’s also a very grounded head on the film’s shoulders, saying some important  things about not giving up on your dreams (sounds clichéd, I know, but not the way the writing addresses it here), and never assuming one thing about a specific group of animals just because of the way a few of them behave. Subversive stuff for a kids movie, and I’d have it no other way, as the undercurrents of film forge minds and opinions for the young ones. Simply put, it’s destined to be a classic, and comes up a winner no matter how you look at it. Oh, and try not to bust a gut laughing at the sloth sequence, I dare you.