Archive for the ‘Robin Williams’ Category

The Butler

26 Aug

The Butler – directed by Lee Daniels. A poor black farm boy becomes Butler to the White House during six Presidential occupancies concurrent with the Civil Rights movement. 132 minutes Color 2013.


What did those folks feel who did nothing during the Civil Rights years – which extended from The Eisenhower administration and still go on? What were those folks like? What did they go through?

I, a white man, was one of them, and so were a great many black folks. And this movie pays attention to those who were not on the firing lines, favored the black cause, but hung back. Rather than Cecil Gaines, the White House Butler, the true subject of this film is the sort of human he was: reserved, conservative, restrained, domestic, uxorious, responsible, honorable, hard-working, and unimaginative about and unsupportive of the racial revolution under his nose. Many black people were the same. They may have doubted or disbelieved or felt The Civil Rights Movement was not the way to go. They may have simply felt they were content with their lot or were lost in their own pleasures, work, and lives. They felt the movement was disrespectful and ill-mannered. They did not hold back the tide, but were carried along with it, and, in the end, had to acknowledge the accomplishments attained and still to be attained. The Presidents Cecil Gaines served all fall into this category as reluctant participants. They were ignorant of blacks. And to all of them, the Civil Rights Movement was an annoyance. It was supposed to be.

Cecil Gaines, who rose from the cotton fields to be the White House favorite, was reluctant also. Forest Whitaker plays this man with all his might, and his work is enforced by Oprah Winfrey, perfectly cast as his self-indulgent wife and the domestic tangle she and her son, played by David Oyelowo, in different ways, represent to Gaines. Coleman Domingo is brilliant as the White House matre d’ interviewing Gaines for his job. Clarence Williams III is grand as the man who first mentors him, as is Vanessa Redgrave, telling as the plantation owner who takes him into her house as a boy to learn to be a footman. Cuba Gooding Junior brings the character of a fellow butler and friend fully to life in every scene he plays. Various presidents are played by Robin Williams as Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber marvelously made up and played as Johnson, and Alan Rickman as Reagan. James Marsden has Kennedy down pat. But most amazing of all is John Cusack capturing psycho-physical screwiness of the rodent that was Richard Nixon.

The picture paints a strong picture of a part of the black world of that era – the world of the uncommitted or limitedly committed, that is to say, the majority. It balances and honors it. It puts before us ourselves as we were.

It is a rich entertainment indeed.

I was deeply influenced by seeing it.




Mrs. Doubtfire

17 May

Mrs Doubtfire.  Directed by Chris Columbus. Farce. An irresponsible ex-husband turns himself into a responsible female Scottish housekeeper for his ex-wife and children. 125 minutes Color 1993.

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I have a hard time swallowing Robin Williams as an actor. Performance art is different internally from the art of acting, and as we all know Robin Williams is one of the great performance artists of our time. Bob Hope always groused at Oscar time that he never won one. The joke was he knew he should not have.  Very few comics have both crafts in them. Jackie Gleason. Milton Berle. I once saw it in Jerry Lewis. Performance artists have the ambition to entertain, and that’s the problem with Williams, and many another. They tend to get teary and sentimental, which they take to be acting when it isn’t. Things come out ever so slightly exaggerated when comedians take on serious parts. Their desire to entertain pushes through like a blister. But Williams is not bad in this piece. In fact, he is better at being the old lady than he is at his occasional riffs, one with dinosaurs, for instance, which is feeble. His confrontation scenes at the end are very well played. He’s a naturally likeable entity, which has a lot of carrying power, and, since his comic genius is entirely verbal, his quick wittedness accomplishes a lot playing a character whose diction accounts for everything funny that happens. For the written words of the script are funny. When it asks him to break character, or enter into physical comedy, it and he flop. But he has a marvelous actor opposite him, our beloved Sally Field. She is an actor of the great power of daring. Watch how good Williams becomes as, when opposite her, they play an outright hateful argument. Pierce Brosnan, as pretty of piece of flesh as ever graced a bathing suit, strikes just the right balance as the attractive suitor. Harvey Fierstein plays Williams inventive brother in the gigantic manner we all now wait for and enjoy. The film has the most damaging musical score I have ever heard. Cut off one of your ears when watching this picture. Or hope that your laughter will drown it out. It sounds like it is trying to prop up a structure that needs no props, like flying buttresses around a pyramid. Don’t believe it for a minute. The picture holds up quite well indeed.

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