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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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The Man behind The Dark Knight rises by Kent Hill

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How did this wonderful film slip through the cracks? There was little to no word about this utterly enthralling and compelling story about the ‘other’ man behind the bat.

I admit to you now – I was in the dark. While comics were a staple of my formative years, as that time receded, my interest had diminished to ‘casual’  by the early 2000’s. Even then I was far from what you would refer to an an aficionado. Comics were flame bursts in the dark. Most of mine were not pristine, and I collected them by the bundle when my Grandmother would take me along with her to the Book Exchange and allow me to parlay a stack of her used paperbacks for a pile of superhero awesomeness.

But, back to the topic at hand. I read comics without much regard for who created them (that attention to detail I reserved for my first obsession, the movies). I was there to indulge, pure and simple. Still, as our awareness grows, so do we seek out ever greater detail – the mechanics that make our preferred mode of escapism tick and thus our experience is enriched and the depths of our interest continue to descend into the pop culture sea that abounds, seemingly fathomless.

Such is the story brought to life by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. Like the equally incredible Searching for Sugar Man before it, Batman & Bill traces the steps of the elusive Bill Finger – the man who, in case you didn’t know, co-created Batman with Bob Kane. And, like Sugar Man, the plot, which on the surface might seem to have a logical conclusion, just keeps unraveling as the real life seeker of justice, Marc Nobleman, tracks down and lets the sun shine brightly on the life, labors and legacy of Finger.

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Now I’m not going to spoil this at all. You must, must, must seek out this glorious unfolding of a sad, arduous, but ultimately triumphant saga which is predominantly about rewriting history, but at its heart there is a drum that beats and reminds us to stand tall in the face of adversity, and the film depicts this, in the form of the mammoth uphill battle to place Finger’s name next to Kane’s as a creative force behind one of the truly monolithic heroes from the realms of illustrated storytelling.

All I will say is that the end broke me up like Field of Dreams always manages to. Yes, strong men also cry, to quote The Big Lebowski, but you’ll walk away from this film ever changed and with a sense of pride having seen honor restored, a name reclaimed and a final note so satisfying it’ll touch your heart.

Read the book, see the film, and as for right now enjoy my chat with the extraordinary team who have captured beautifully this tale of a watchful protector who fought with a pen mightier than any sword to see the ‘other’ man behind the Dark Knight, rise…

 

https://www.hulu.com/press/show/batman-and-bill/

https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/1360261187749/batman-and-bill (for Aussie viewers only)

https://www.amazon.com/Bill-Boy-Wonder-Secret-Co-Creator/dp/1580892892

 

Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty

Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty could also laterally be called Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, since star John Travolta fought tooth and nail to keep all of the author’s dense, intelligent and pop culture soaked dialogue intact. The film is not only better for it but comes out a glowing gem, a giddy crime/comedy classic that’s as special to me as a comfort blanket to a toddler. A rainy day film, a lazy Sunday go-to DVD, I could watch the thing anytime and not only be consistently entertained with each revisit, but notice something I didn’t the previous couple hundred times. Travolta has never been cooler as Chili Palmer, a silver tongued Miami mobster who is propelled on a meta odyssey to Los Angeles after his boss dies and a whirlwind of confusion is whipped up. There he gets a taste for the film industry after meeting sad-sack B movie mogul Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman, priceless), scream queen actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo, never sexier) and a host of others. It’s a Hollywood satire, a pulpy crime thriller, a brilliant dark comedy and ensemble screwball piece that comes as close to the shores of perfection as movies can get. Dennis Farina gives one of his timelessly precious, angry wiseguy turns as Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni, another Miami hood and the barbaric, obnoxious answer to Travolta’s cool cucumber gentleman act. Delroy Lindo has further villain duties as crime kingpin Bo Catlett, who also has his sights set on celluloid and will intimidate, kill and extort his way there at any cost. Danny DeVito does a sly, biting send up of method acting as Martin Weir, a lovable thespian with his head just a wee bit jammed up his own ass. James Gandolfini is pure class as Bear, the stuntman who moonlights as an enforcer and carries his adorable daughter around anywhere he goes. Rounding out the cast are perfectly pitched turns from Jon Gries, David Paymer, Bette Midler, Martin Ferrero, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Conley and a special surprise cameo that I won’t spoil. Although not my favourite Leonard adaptation (Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight holds those honours), it’s definitely the most fun, and by far the most entertaining. The cleverness of offhand Hollywood jargon, peppered with obscure references that expect the cinephile in you to keep up are pure bliss, not to mention the tongue in cheek tough guy banter, the playful music by John Lurie, the lighthearted, whip crack editing from Jom Miller/Ted Woerner and the showcase performances from all actors involved, feasting on Elmore’s fine dialogue like steak & lobster. There’s a sequel called Be Cool which I have been reluctant to see, so I can’t weight in on it but apparently it doesn’t measure up, so you could always divert and check out Sonnenfield’s 2001 comedy Big Trouble, which is fun too and shares some costars with this (Farina and Russo appear in both). Or you can just pop this masterpiece in for another visit, and let it be it’s own sequel. I do all the time.

-Nate Hill

Danny Devito’s Duplex

I will never not love Duplex, Danny Devito’s jet-black ode to neighbours from hell, a ninety minute domestic squabble of epic proportions and one of the funniest films of the last few decades. Devito knows how to do comedy at it’s meanest, lowest and most shamelessly un-PC, whenever he’s in the director’s chair you know you’ll get something that will either land squarely with those who have a deranged sense of humour (moi) or drive of the prudes in droves. Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore play a hapless NYC yupple (yuppie couple, just made that shit up) looking for their perfect little love nest to settle down in. They think they’ve found it in a gorgeous, spacious Brooklyn split-suite, but there’s just one problem: sweet, ninety year old Mrs. Connolly (Eileen Essell), who is the tenant equivalent of the plague. At first she’s a benign darling, but after a few weeks pass, she’s a harridan hellbent on making their lives into an extended nightmare of never ending chores, sleepless nights and maddening disruption. The solution? Well there’s many in the real world, but in Demented Devito realm it’s to kill her, of course, an eventual resolution they come to quicker than your average ruffled landlord. It’s all in good fun if you’ve got the wicked internal lens to angle at it, and I find it to be a consistent laugh riot with each repeated viewing. Essell is comic dynamite, pretty spry for an old gal and always game to make the dialogue sizzle, as the film sort of relies on her character to work. Stiller and Barrymore stir up a collective brew of exasperation and screeching hysterics, while the wicked good supporting cast includes Wallace Shawn, Robert Wisdom, Justin Theroux, Swoozie Kurtz, Maya Rudolph, Amber Valletta, Tracey Walter, Michelle Krusiec, James Remar as a shady hitman and Broadway’s beloved Harvey Fierstein as New York’s sleaziest real estate tycoon. Devito’s scripts almost always veer into a dark, bizarro cartoon style once the antics get feverishly out of hand, and bearing witness to the many varied and idiotic ways Stiller and Barrymore try to kill the old broad are a showcase of him at his nuttiest. Gross, unpleasant, cheerfully in bad taste, relentlessly raunchy and delightfully mean spirited, pretty much all the things a great comedy should be.

In the footsteps of Schwarzenegger: An Interview with Peter Kent by Kent Hill

Ever been mistaken for somebody famous? Someone ever come up to you sayin’, “Hey you know, you look a hell-of-lot-like (insert famous actor here). You could be his stunt double.”

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Peter wasn’t in Hollywood long before he heard about a little film being made called The Terminator. He went down and met with the film’s director, this young guy named James Cameron. Then, he met the film’s star, a chap named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Peter bore a striking resemblance to the man who would ever be Conan. It was after this encounter that would secure Peter a gig for the next 13 years as guy who made Arnie look as though all the rough stuff he endured on screen looked like a cakewalk.

Of course, along the way, Peter became a star in his own right; not only playing small roles in Schwarzenegger movies, but amassing an impressive list of credits in both film and television alongside his stunt work.

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Nowadays however, Peter is a contented family man and is equally as dedicated to training the next generation of stunt performers. And who better to learn from than one of the best. This was a great interview with tales of life with Arnold, fighting over the channel changer with Jesse Ventura and having a beer with Charlton Heston.

So dear PTS listeners I give you a chat between two Kents. And no, I’ve never been mistaken for Peter.

Enjoy . . .

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(FOR MORE ON PETER’S STUNT SCHOOL FOLLOW THIS LINK: http://peterhkent.com/1school.shtml )

Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks


Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks is a spectacular howling good time, a 50’s inspired gumball machine packed with schlock, satire and more star studded send ups than you can shake a stick at. It’s so silly and overstuffed that one just has to give in to it’s fisher price brand of mayhem and just watch the wanton hilarity unfold. Martians are indeed attacking, and they’re evil little rapscallions with giant brains, buggy eyes and lethal ray guns. Humanity’s best are left to fight them, and let’s just say that’s not saying much with this bunch of morons. Jack Nicholson does a double shift as both the hysterically poised, rhetoric spewing US President and a sleazeball casino tycoon. Annette Bening is his hippy dippy wife, while Rod Steiger huffs and puffs as a war mongering potato head of a general. Over in Vegas, prizefighter Jim Brown and his estranged wife (Pam Grier) fight against hordes with little help from obnoxious gambler Danny Devito. Pierce Brosnan is a bumbling tv expert who sucks on a pipe that he apparently forgot to fill or light, a subtle yet precious running joke. The only people with sense are trailer dwelling youngster Lukas Haas and Natalie Portman as the President’s daughter, and the method they finally find to destroy these nasties has to be seen to be believed. The cast seems padded simply so we can watch famous people getting dispatched by slimy aliens, and also contains Tom Jones as himself, Lisa Marie, Jack Black, Paul Winfield, Michael J. Fox, Christina Applegate, Glenn Close, Joe Don Baker, Barber Schroeder, Sylvia Sydney, Martin Short and Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on the body of a chihuahua (don’t ask). There’s little story other than Martians attack and kill shitloads of obnoxious people, but therein lies the big joke, and it’s hilarious. Aaack !

-Nate Hill

Problem Children with Big Eyes who make Biopics that’ll give you Goosebumps: An Interview with Larry Karaszewski by Kent Hill

As the child from a working class family in South Bend, Indiana, Larry was introduced to the movies by his father. He was not restricted as to what he could watch, so he watched it all. After high school he debated between pursuing either a career in comedy or a life in pictures.

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Larry opted for the movies, and soon found himself at USC. It was there that he would meet Scott Alexander, and together they would form not only a friendship, but also the foundation of a prolific career as a successful screenwriting duo.

After (and though it launched a trilogy of films and even an animated series) Problem Child, the screenwriters struggled to find work. It seemed as though they had been typecast buy their work and so looked to independently produce a biopic they were working on about the notoriously bad filmmaker Ed Wood.

As fate would have it, word of the project reached director Tim Burton. After expressing interest, the boys would have to hammer out a screenplay in double-quick fashion. They succeeded, and this, the first in a string of biographical efforts, would re-establish them in Hollywood and from it they would carve out their place in the genre and become, in many ways, its ‘go-to guys.’

Biopics of Larry Flynt and Andy Kaufman would follow, seeing the boys team up with Academy Award winner Milos Forman. They would go on to re-team with Tim Burton as well as dabble in a variety on different genres including everything from a kid-friendly version of James Bond to horrific hotel rooms were you’ll spend a night or perhaps even an eternity.

Larry and Scott have garnered the highest accolades the industry has to offer and continue to deliver. While trying to get a hold of Larry for this interview I caught him riding high on his recent wave of success, so I would just have to wait for the tide to turn. I am however, glad that I did. It was, as it is ever, a privilege to chat with a man whose work I heartily admire. I love the films he has written and I look forward to the projects that he and Scott have in the pipeline.

Without further ado I present, the award-winning screenwriter and all-round nice guy . . . the one, the only, Larry Karaszewski.