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Josh Reviews Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

August 20th, 2018
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The new HBO documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, is a fascinating and funny look back at the life and career of Robin Williams.  If you’re a fan of comedy, and/or the work of Mr. Williams, I can’t imagine your not enjoying this film from director Marina Zenovich.

I’ve loved Robin Williams’ work for as long as I can remember.  He was a giant, an extraordinarily creative and original comedian and also a fantastic actor in all sorts of films — comedies and dramas.  As a kid I had a cassette tape with a recording of his electric, hilarious 1986 concert at the Met (“A Night at the Met”), which I listened to over and over again.  That was my introduction to Mr. Williams stand-up work, which I followed voraciously.  I particularly loved all of the Comic Relief specials that he did with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg.  Mr. Williams’ film work was always of interest to me, as well, and while he was certainly in a lot of bad movies, he was also in quite a number of terrific films which I have returned to repeatedly over the years, films like Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society and The Birdcage.

Come Inside My Mind follows Mr. Williams’ life and career.  There’s a lot of ground to cover, but the film is skillfully edited so that it feels very in-depth while still moving along at a brisk pace.  here wasn’t anything major that I felt the film skipped, which is an impressive accomplishment for a documentary that clocks in at less than two hours.

The film is often somber, as we explore some of the troubles Mr. Williams faced over the course of his life.  And, of course, his too-early death hangs over the whole film like a shadow.  That being said, the film is also very very funny, giving lots of time for archival clips of Mr. Williams’ comedy — both from his stand-up work and also his performances on TV and in film — from throughout his life.  Sometimes documentaries about comedians take themselves too seriously and become somber and grim affairs, but Come Inside My Mind does not fall into that trap.  I love how jam-packed the film is with incredible, hilarious clips of Mr. Williams’ work.  We cover all the well-known bases you’d expect the film to cover, and also some surprisingly deep cuts.  (I was delighted that the film spends a lot of time of Mr. William’s hilarious, ad-libbed reactions to losing the 2003 Critics’ Choice award to a tie between Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis.)

One of the things that sets this documentary apart is its extensive use of Mr. Williams’ own … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project

Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project is a 2007 documentary film, focusing on comedian Don Rickles.  I’d wanted to see this film ever since it came out, but for one reason or another I’d never gotten around to it.  It’s a great irony to me that I finally watched this film last month, less than a week before Mr. Rickles passed away.

The film, directed by the great John Landis, is a wonderful portrait of an incredible comedian and artist.  Mr. Rickles is, of course, known as perhaps the greatest “insult” comic of all time, a comedian whose act is largely reliant on poking fun, mercilessly, at his audience.  Mr. Rickles’ material could easily be considered offensive or politically incorrect, but the enigma of Mr. Rickles was how people were not generally offended — how, in fact, people seemed to love being cut down by him!  Mr. Landis’ film looks back at Mr. Rickles’ life and work, giving us generous footage of the talented Mr. Rickles in action as well as a wealth of stories from those who knew him (and/or were made fun of by him at one point or another).

Mr. Landis himself pops up at the very beginning of the film, but then he steps back and allows his footage to do the talking.  As the film reconstructs the story of Don Rickles’ career in film, TV, and on stage, we see a wonderful array of archival material showing us Mr. Rickles’ work from across the decades.  These clips are often accompanied by fascinating commentary by Mr. Rickles’ co-workers.  (How great is the footage of Clint Eastwood talking about Mr. Rickles’ film work??)  In particular, I truly enjoyed the clips of Mr. Rickles on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.  It’s very endearing to see the playful bond the two men shared on-camera.

We also get to see significant footage from Mr. Rickles’ Las Vegas act from the mid-aughts when the film was being put together.  (I don’t believe Mr. Rickles had ever before allowed his stage show to be recorded.)  It’s incredible to see the way the elderly Mr. Rickles would burst into life the moment he stepped on stage.

The film is packed with famous faces, and it’s a lot of fun hearing from the likes of Bob Newhart, Sidney Poitier, Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Penn Jillette, Roger Corman, Richard Lewis, Larry King, Chris Rock, the Smothers Brothers, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and many, many more.  I also love that the film also cuts back to Mr. Rickles himself to give his (usually dismissive) response to their commentary.  It’s good for a film about a very funny man to be put together with its own sense … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Louie Season Three

I loved the first season of Louis C.K.’s FX show, Louie, but it took me a while to track down and then find the time to watch season two.  But after tearing through season two in just a few days (click here for my review), my wife and I didn’t waste much time before moving on to season three.

The show has not dipped one iota in quality.  Season three is just as funny and weird and unique as the first two seasons.

Thinking back on this season, I am immediately struck by three scenes that rank among the funniest things I have ever seen on television:

First there is Louie’s long, rambling, neurotic monologue that he delivers when asking out Parker Posey’s character in “Daddy’s Boyfriend” part 1.  This is a classic comedy moment, and something that would have felt at home in the middle of a classic Woody Allen film.  Genius.

Then there is the reaction of the women in the strip club in “Barney/Never” to learning of the death of comedy club owner Barney.  I won’t spoil it here, of course, but I almost fell out of my chair.

Then there is Louie’s crazy lunch with his uncle (played by F. Murray Abraham) in “Dad.”  It’s great seeing F. Murray Abraham back on the show (he played the swinger’s husband in the season two finale), and once again I love Louis C.K.’s willingness to cast the same actor in multiple roles, without worrying about the continuity of the show.  This scene is laugh out loud hysterical, so crazy.  Mr. Abraham creates such a wonderfully unique, memorable character.  I can’t believe he’s just in that one scene!!

Other thoughts on the season:

The great opening credits sequence is still here, though Louie gets a little more creative with how he uses it, sometimes using a shortened version and sometimes eliminating it altogether and just starting the episode.  The other new story-telling device is that for the first time Louie occasionally stretches a story out over multiple episodes.  In the two-part “Daddy’s Boyfriend,” Louie asks out an attractive woman (played by Parker Posey) who works at a bookstore he visits.  Parker Posey is spectacular in this guest role, and the long weird date that she and Louie spend together in the second episode is extremely memorable.  Then there is the three-part “Late Show,” in which Louie is tapped by CBS to potentially replace a retiring David Letterman as host of The Late Show.  That three-parter is a gold-mine of inside-Hollywood stories, and I loved the depiction of everyone lying and scheming to get Letterman’s spot (including Louie’s two “friends” Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, who both … [continued]

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Hamlet Double Feature Part I: Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet

January 5th, 2011
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I remember reading about Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet when it first came out, back in 1996.  I was intrigued by the notion of a filmed version of the complete text of Hamlet, and also by Mr. Branagh’s cast, which combined famed Shakespearean actors with a variety of famous Hollywood stars.  But I missed the film in theaters, and for one reason or another I never caught the film on video/DVD until just a few weeks ago.

I can’t say that I found Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet to be entirely successful, though I must respect the enormous ambition of the undertaking.

It’s quite a delight to watch Hamlet performed in its full, complete version.  Much praise must go to Mr. Branagh and his studio partners for the respect they show their audience by not feeling the need to shorten the play.  The great length does make this film something of an endurance test — and I will freely admit that I watched it in two sittings (something which I’m generally loathe to do, even when watching a long film).  By the time I got to the famed play-within-the-play scene, I felt my attention beginning to wane, so I stopped and picked up the film again on another evening.  I’m glad I did, because it enabled me to enjoy the second half of the performance more, I think, than had I gone straight through.

I recall reading some criticism of the cast of this version of Hamlet, but I must say that I really enjoyed the, shall we say, eclectic assemblage of actors.  I think the entire ensemble acquits themselves quite well, and it’s fun seeing actors like Gerard Depardieu and Robin Williams filling out small roles.  Their appearances bring a nice spark to those scenes, and I think the casting was a canny way for Mr. Branagh to draw modern audiences into his story.

There are some real standouts among the large ensemble.  Kate Winslet, in one of her first film roles, is absolutely magnificent as Ophelia.  She is incredibly skilled with Shakespeare’s words, lending them a fluidity that is impressive.  She has a nice spark with Branagh as Hamlet — indeed, their shared “get thee to a nunnery” speech is one of the dramatic high-points of the film for me.  Julie Christie is also very impressive as Gertrude.  She brings a regal bearing to the role, and gives the character a strong inner life that shines through even in scenes when she has little to do.  Charlton Heston brings every ounce of his movie-star persona to bear in the role of the Player King, and he is outstanding.  I’ve often found myself bored, I will admit, by the scenes with … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Insomnia (2002)

There’s no question in my mind that Christopher Nolan is one of the best directors working today.  There’s only one of his films that I haven’t seen (his first — Following — and I do hope to remedy that situation soon), and I have thoroughly enjoyed every other movie he’s made.  His worst film is probably Batman Begins, and I think that’s a pretty damn good film!

Contrary to my previous statement, my sense is that the general consensus about Mr. Nolan is that Insomnia, his follow-up to Memento, is his weakest film.  But I remember enjoying Insomnia back in 2002, and I really loved it when watching it again on blu-ray last week.

Insomnia is a remake of a 1997 Swedish film of the same name starring Stellan Skarsgard and directed by Eric Skjoldbjaerg.  I’ve never seen the original Insomnia, though I understand that it’s pretty well thought of.  I realize that, had I seen it, it’s possible that I might be as dubious of a remake as I am of the recently-released re-do of Let The Right One In (the new American version is titled simply Let Me In).  But having not seen the original, I am free to judge Mr. Nolan’s version exclusively by its own merits — and it’s quite excellent.

Al Pacino plays beleaguered L.A. homicide detective Will Dormer.  The L.A. police department has been rocked by allegations of misconduct, and Dormer believes that the I.A. investigators are ultimately after him.  In the midst of that, Dormer and his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) are dispatched to a tiny Alaskan town to investigate the murder of a teen-aged girl.  Heading up the local investigation is a young, well-meaning cop named Elie Burr (Hilary Swank).  She clearly worships Detective Dormer, and he seems to appreciate her enthusiasm.  But the case is a difficult one, and Detective Dormer soon finds himself stymied by his main suspect, a local author named Walter Finch (Robin Williams).  As the film progresses, Dormer gradually unravels, his struggles with the case exacerbated by his persistent insomnia (caused perhaps by the fact that, because of how far North as the Alaskan town is, the sun never sets during this season — or, perhaps by Dormer’s growing guilt over the mistakes of his past and a terrible event that happens soon after arriving in Alaska).

This was a high-profile role for Hilary Swank, coming as it did not long after her Academy Award-winning role in Boys Don’t Cry (1999).  Ms. Swank is solid if unspectacular in the film.  The real superstars of Insomnia are Al Pacino and Robin Williams.

Though unquestionably one of the greatest actors of our time, I’ve often felt that … [continued]