Just a Quick Thought: Remembering Kobe Bryant

Sunday, January 26, 2020 has proven to be an extraordinarily difficult and surreal day for hoops and sports fans in general. I’d like to pause my movie reviewing for a second to remember basketball player Kobe Bean Bryant, who passed away a day after Lebron James, currently of the Los Angeles Lakers, passed him for 3rd place on the NBA all-time scoring list. As Saturday night turned to Sunday, we went from historic highs to tragic lows. To say this weekend has been an emotional rollercoaster would be an understatement. 

TMZ first reported the news that the former Los Angeles Lakers superstar and five-time world champion died in Calabasas, CA Sunday morning in a helicopter crash that left no survivors. He was 41. The total number of victims and their identities are, as of this writing, still unknown. [UPDATE: one of the nine victims has been identified as Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.] The cause of the accident is currently under investigation. Reportedly the private chopper was en route to a basketball practice in the Thousand Oaks area.

The loss is felt far beyond the NBA courts and even the sporting world.

Bryant leaves behind a legacy of brutal competitiveness and inimitable determination on the hardwood. One of the first players to go straight from high school to the pros, the prolific scorer racked up an astonishing number of accolades and achievements over a career that spanned 20 years, five NBA Championships (three consecutive) and two Olympic Games (where he won Gold with the Americans, 2008 and ’12).

Notable Mamba Moments include being named back-to-back NBA Finals MVP (2009, ’10) and making 11 All-NBA First Teams, nine NBA All-Defensive First Teams and 18 NBA All-Star Game appearances. He’s responsible for the second-most points ever scored in a single game, dropping 81 on the Toronto Raptors back in 2006 (sorry Jalen). In April 2016, during his final competitive game, a home stand against the Utah Jazz, Bryant peaced out by cashing in 60 in a hair-raising display of just what he is capable of. It was the kind of end to an odyssey that not even Hollywood screenwriters could have concocted.

The accolades didn’t stop when he unlaced his sneakers for the final time; in 2018 he won an Academy Award for Best Animated Film for Dear Basketball, a heartfelt tribute to the game he loved, lived, breathed and slept.

It’s a surreal day, even for someone like me whose relationship with Kobe was more described by admiration than passionate fandom. It’s sickening to think we’re in an era without the Black Mamba. That’s plain wrong. Not since the loss of flamboyant sideline reporter Craig Sager in 2016 have I felt a celebrity death so palpably, and it’s really kind of silly to even say I’ve been affected considering I’ve never had the chance to even be in the same zip code as these famous people. It’s just another stark reminder — not that I needed one four days removed from the four-year anniversary of my own mother’s passing — of the true fragility of life.


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In Memoriam: Stephen Hawking


It is a heavy beyond leadened heart that has moved me to create this post. One of the brightest lights in our universe has eked out its final flicker. The iconic physicist Stephen William Hawking died today at the age of 76. His family says that he passed away peacefully in his home in Cambridge, England. He leaves behind a daughter, Lucy, and two sons, Robert and Tim.

The enigmatic Mr. Hawking will be remembered for so much more than enduring over half a century with a form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease that over the course of decades slowly denied him physical movement, and for his tireless efforts in and stunningly resourceful methods for working around the many obstacles the results of a progressively devastating neurological disease threw his way.

Mr. Hawking was a man whose intellectual capacity was only matched by a boundless ability to inspire and excite. Who honestly would not get giddy whenever they came across a headline stating something about his theories about the future of mankind — or its possible origins? The prospect of going on without him, living life without Stephen Hawking guiding the way, flagging up signs of potential trouble with increased intelligence in human-engineered A.I. — that kind of loss has an impact not unlike that of the strange and (potentially terrifying) cosmic phenomenon known as the Black Hole.

supermassive blackhole Dave as ‘Gargantua’ in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 sci fi epic Interstellar

It is immature of me to say, but this just isn’t fair. The inevitability of his succumbing to an ailment that he lived with far longer than any doctor might have expected is, I suppose, an easier pill to swallow than the sheer shock created by the randomness of John Forbes Nash and his wife or Princess Diana being involved in fatal car accidents. But life does and has to go on. And so does the work of the scientific community, and the millions upon millions whom he has inspired and instilled a thirst for knowledge and truth. The question is, to what corner in the cosmos do we point in our backyards at night whenever we want to have little private sounding boards with one of the great minds of our time?

Where is our fascination with artificial intelligence leading us? Will our future really look like it does in Blade Runner 2049? Or will we revert back to tribal living, and worshipping shit like the sun and the clouds and the trees? What is the actual value of life? Is it measured scientifically, or is love all we are here to find and feel comforted by? I’m quite sure I don’t have answers to any of that, but I know that whenever Stephen Hawking said something either speculative or that held scientific weight, I listened. I am going to dearly miss that soothing voice of wisdom.

I think if Mr. Hawking were still here he’d urge us all to carry on these discussions ourselves. To never stop thinking about the possibilities. As long as we keep pushing for answers, not even the sky is the limit. And when you’ve lived like this wonderful, brilliant man has lived, you’re the kind of light that actually has a chance of surviving a black hole.

R.I.P. Stephen Hawking. 1942 – 2018


Click here to read my review of The Theory of Everything, a 2014 romantic drama which detailed the personal life and career achievements of Stephen Hawking.

Science-y/otherworldly films worth talking about: Under the Skin; Interstellar; The MartianEx Machina; Arrival; Blade Runner 2049; Annihilation


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OCMC: Robin Williams, what a concept. . .

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I think in order to best encapsulate this week, and the range of emotions that have also been dealt with over the past couple, I will include this excellent montage of photos of Robin throughout his career that has been put together by a personal friend of Steve Oedekerk (the man responsible for one of my all-time favorite spoof-comedies, Kung Pow! Enter the Fist), and this clip I found via some snooping around on Facebook. (Yes, I am cool enough to be on Steve’s friend list. . .and his friend’s list isn’t even that big, you guys!!!!)

It may be a 7 minute clip but don’t let the time stamp fool you. Once you start it, this video flies by. Arguably too quickly. It also seems to be able to say more about the man than a bunch of pretty words that I could write. Some of you may have already seen this, but for those who haven’t I really hope you enjoy it and maybe even agree that this is one of the most beautiful and certainly one of the more comprehensive retrospectives of the life and career of a gifted man, entertainer, supporter, activist, son, cousin, brother, husband, father.

Oh captain my captain, we thank you. For you have made all of our lives extraordinary just for being.

Here’s the films/performances I have covered over the last week for anyone who has missed them:

  1. Lance Clayton in World’s Greatest Dad
  2. Chris Nielsen in What Dreams May Come
  3. Seymour “Sy” Parrish in One Hour Photo
  4. TBT: Dead Poet’s Society
  5. Alan Parrish in Jumanji
  6. Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in Mrs. Doubtfire

OCMC: Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in Mrs. Doubtfire

mrs-doubtfireWe have reached the end of the voyage, dear friends. Our beloved Captain is due back on shore tomorrow, where he shall drop anchor and bid adieu to us after one fine week of sailing the high seas. I guess I better drop the metaphor before it gets even more confusing. Basically, now that the week where it’s been acceptable for me to say “Oh captain my captain” to pretty much everything is coming to a close, I’m feeling quite bittersweet about the whole thing.

I’ve really enjoyed going back and revisiting each of these moments (and many others) this week. I hope you all have as well, even though at times I’ve felt as if this OCMC tribute has been a little redundant. Not necessarily pointless, but it wasn’t as if we needed any more reminding of the man’s talents given the outpouring of support and love for the man over the last fortnight. Hopefully I haven’t so much sold you on anything as much as I’ve reminded people of why I, like millions of other fans, couldn’t help myself in verbalizing the pain I felt for his loss. It only seemed natural to suspend activities on DSB for one week and properly tip my hat to a performer I’ve idolized for awhile. Yes that’s right — idolized. (I promised myself a while ago that would be a word I’d never use. . .but, well. . .ehem.)

There are few characters created that become so successful, so endearing to audiences as to become greater than the film itself. In some instances they become standards to which other characters in said genre might be measured. I believe today’s entry more than qualifies.

Guys and gals I’d like you to (re)acquaint yourselves with Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, a creation that could only have been Robin’s. A tough nanny with high standards of cleanliness and organization and a penchant for grooming well-behaved, cooperative children, she was essentially Mary Poppins with a Scottish accent and a beard. (Well, the beard’s implied. We knew she was a man, either way.) The character’s great, but the situation is what really projected Williams’ multi-tasking talents: Mrs. Doubtfire was actually the brilliant brain-nanny of desperate but talented voice actor Daniel Hillard who, after royally fumbling his marriage with Miranda (Sally Field), planned on remaining in his children’s lives in whatever capacity he may be able. He engineers a new character to look after the three tykes as Miranda is seemingly unable to do quality parenting of her own (oops, too harsh?) and could use the help. When the funny-talking, funny-looking she-male inadvertently impinges upon his ability to function in his own world, time will only tell before the cracks begin to show. And then. . .then what happens?

It may be worth mentioning that this is my very favorite role Robin Williams has played. His nanny is pure magic.

*

Quoted: “Carpe dentum. Seize the teeth!”


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OCMC: Alan Parrish in Jumanji

jumanji-1“AAAAHHHH!! AHHH!!! . . . . . . AH!”

Noises. Robin Williams came equipped with many of them, and in this outrageously fun film from the mid-90s, he’s provided an opportunity to tap into that part of him that was more. . . . shall we say, animalistic? As a child who got trapped inside the dangerous board game Jumanji, Alan Parrish has spent most of his “life” fighting for. . . well, a way out. An escape back to the real world.

And who can really blame him when he pops out of the middle of the game covered in vine and bramble, looking like George of the Jungle? I mean, my main man here is all hopped-up on some bath salts or something, dressed in foliage. Foliage dude. That style is SOOO 1960s. . .or whenever it was when he was rather unceremoniously consumed by a board game. When things were simple and dad made ends meet by pumping out shoes on a production line. Now (flash-forward roughly 20 years) it’s all complicated. Now kids are stumbling upon random board games in the loft of a mansion, getting into all kinds of trouble. . .like inviting random stampedes into the home or unleashing them upon the town. Bugs the size of Chihuahuas are the products of curious children snooping around where they perhaps shouldn’t.

But if there is one constant we always associate with the man when he’s up on the silver screen, it’s the adventure factor. Here is a film where that idea is exploited for the purpose of plot progression. In other words, comparatively Robin Williams is not the craziest thing about Jumanji; about a movie featuring kids battling flash floods and quick sand in their living rooms, and outlasting killer bees the size of, yes, small dogs. The environment is. Robin’s beard might be the craziest thing about his character. Well, that and the noises. Yes indeed, this is one of those performances that may not ultimately stand out from the crowd when comparing to his other creations but this is one that seamlessly blends in with the style and tone, this is Robin Williams basking in entertainment that, for once, has not been created wholly on his own.

When a new family moves into the Parrish’s gorgeous home twenty-six years after a strange occurrence involving the board game in the living room, history looks to repeat itself when two children — Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) — discover the relic and begin playing, unaware that their first experience is merely a repetition of a vicious cycle that will bring to life some very real (and surreal) things. They dared roll the dice, now they must be prepared to face the consequences. . . .or at the very least, to face a very hairy Robin Williams.

*

Quoted: “What happened to you, the Clampetts have a yard sale? What do you want, I never shaved before.”


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TBT: Dead Poets Society (1989)

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As if this wasn’t going to happen you guys. . .

This is the perfect combination of fitting in with this month’s sort-of-theme (going back to school, woo!) and the ongoing tribute to one of my favorite performers of all time. We now have an opportunity to crack into what many of us probably hold dear to our hearts as one of the most touching Robin Williams performances. Though I doubt many grade-school classes have collectively taken a stand up on their desks in protest of their “oppressive teachers” and “unreasonable course loads,” few and far between are the folks who haven’t at least wanted to. Try coming across someone who hasn’t at some point quoted a line from  

Today’s food for thought: Dead Poet’s Society

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Carpe-ing the diem since: June 2, 1989

[DVD]

Somewhere out there is a teacher I am indebted to for introducing me to this film. I am a little embarrassed I can’t remember in what class I watched this, but I’m so fortunate that was the environment in which it was brought to my attention because I’m not typically drawn to school dramas, even with a name like Robin Williams in it. I’m fairly sure this would have been a title I might have avoided had it not been for the chance encounter in an English class.

Perhaps not. Inevitability might have had the final say on that, for Peter Weir’s ode to the fleeting nature of boyish idealism and romantic notions of challenging the status quo is a difficult one to avoid, and turned out to be so unlike the eponymous club of the initiated. Its influence has been ever-widening, like ripples in a pond gradually encompassing everything within its borders. One thinks of inspirational films, and good chance this title is one of the first five or ten that come to mind.

There were no rites of passage in getting to know William’s John Keating. Taking him into our hearts was a most natural transformation. His passionate, colorful and off-beat approach to educating his students — nay, enlightening them — was what made this film crackle to life, what made this place worth tolerating if you could take his words and make them apply to your own place in the universe.

“Tradition. Honor. Discipline. Excellence.” The four pillars of education echoed monotonously off physical ones, drowning in the catacombs of this most unholy of institutions. Attending a school like the stiff Walton Academy for Boys for even a single semester was more than enough time to become jaded, enough time for one’s skin to toughen to the point of becoming brittle in response to a cruel and demanding world built by dedicated workers, not daydreamers. After all, boys won’t be boys for long, and outside the walls of the prep academy lay a laundry list of matters of pressing urgency that demanded focus and seriousness of purpose. In the short term this necessarily implied preening one’s self for the pristine Ivy Leaguers. After that, perhaps careers of distinguished but quiet fame.

Dead Poets Society is written beautifully, weighing the values of traditional, old-school practicality against the inexplicable urgency of youth and individuality. The passion that threatened to tear the two conventions apart rightfully secured the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1990. Beyond bullish headmaster Mr. Nolan (Norman Lloyd) and the parade of tenured graybeards roaming the Academy’s hallways — threatening, as always, with a paddle to beat the next free-thinking so-and-so into submission — notions of conformity and obedience extended to peripheral characters such as Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), in effect blanketing this 1950s scene in a snowdrift of almost inescapable bleakness. To a lesser extent, meek and mild Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) came from a well-to-do household that ultimately becomes divided over the John Keating situation. His situation was far less severe than Neal Perry’s, but it helped paint a bigger picture, a society still clinging on to old values in whatever way it could.

The harsh environs no doubt enhanced this newcomer’s rejuvenating presence. Not just because of Williams, but because the character was such a departure from everything these young and wide-eyeds had known; a much-needed warmth to melt away the layers of permanent frost this isolated community was erstwhile entrenched. I feel we’ve been indebted to the great Robin Williams in the same way I want to tell that teacher I owe him or her one. This experience is certainly one for the books.

4-0Recommendation: A film with little urgency for me to recommend. You’ve either caught this in class (or slept through it, who knows), or on television at some point, surely. An immensely popular film for all the right reasons, Dead Poets Society managed to capture the fleeting essence of boyhood developing into manhood in an era where tolerance for deviating from the norm was more frowned upon than encouraged. Packed to the brim with memorable and inspiring quotes, the film I recommend without restraint as your next Robin Williams adventure if you haven’t seen it already.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 128 mins.

TBTrivia: The irony in Robert Sean Leonard’s character’s struggles here are not lost upon dedicated viewers of the hit TV drama House, wherein Leonard plays one of the heartbeats in Dr. James Wilson, perhaps the only legitimate friend of the ornery Dr. Gregory House. Here, Neal Perry battles with his no-nonsense father about a career in acting, though his father demands he attend medical school. A request that comes at a price of tragic proportions.

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OCMC: Seymour “Sy” Parrish in One Hour Photo

one_hour_photoHere we have one of those roles where Robin Williams simultaneously truly impressed me and deeply concerned me. His ability to detach — as evidenced by this chilling character, a lonely one-hour-photo developer named Seymour “Sy” Parrish — seemed like a mere eject button he could push (“get me outta here”), an escape route so desperately needed yet so subtle we never stopped to think about the fact he might be saying something more than what the script is telling him to bring to the table.

Yeah, yeah. . .the whole ‘reading into things too much.’ It’s all too easy to do when he’s just so different in this role, and incidentally more convincing here than in any other role he’s ever played, if you ask me. From a completely objective standpoint, this is perhaps Robin Williams’ most technically impressive role, as he dials down his manic energy to a 1 out of 10. It’s the kind of taut, disciplined lead performance that should have earned him more than a Saturn Award.

In the course of 90 minutes, we go from meeting Sy, a painfully awkward man who works diligently to make sure all the photos he develops are as high quality as they can be; to empathizing with a true loner who uses his job as a way to socialize with the outside world (namely the Yorkin family, his favorite customers); to becoming excruciatingly uncomfortable around a sociopathic man desperate to make one family’s life experiences and memories his own, living vicariously through the prints he develops for them on a regular basis. His initial friendliness morphs into an extreme associative psychological disorder that is portrayed with brilliance and bravery by Robin Williams.

I particularly like this scene, not only because it was the most readily-available clip I could find. . .like, anywhere, but because it. . .well, it freaks me out. This is so unlike Robin Williams, but goes to exemplify the actor’s depth. Granted, a great deal of what makes those ten seconds eeky-creeky is the stylistic flourishes applied by cinematographic genius Jeff Cronenworth, who bathes the entire affair in a haunting, listless monotone, but it’s still Williams dead-center, and wow. The first time I watched this film was immediately before going to bed. That was. . .kind of a mistake. . .

*

Quoted: “What the hell is wrong with these people?”


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OCMC: Chris Nielsen in What Dreams May Come

wdmc-1Despite What Dreams May Come possessing a healthy amount of material that tends to bring tears to the eye, here’s an ultimately uplifting and sweeping drama that appeals on a more universal level than Bobcat Goldthwait’s darkly comic rumination on the nature of the living memorializing those who have passed.

For anyone concerned about “what happens after death,” this film could be looked at as more than just powerful suggestion. Snagging the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1998, Vincent Ward’s epic love story tells of a man wandering the afterlife in search of his wife after she kills herself when she finds it impossible to cope with the loss of her entire family in two separate car accidents.

In another one of my favorite dramatic overhauls, Robin Williams is at once vulnerable and desperate as Chris Nielsen. Once in heaven he does everything in his power to understand what is going on and how he can reconnect with his fragmented family. But when he learns an act of suicide means a direct ticket to Hell, Chris finds an entirely new purpose in the afterlife: rescuing his dear beloved from eternal agony.

To be completely honest I’m still reeling in the wake of the news but it’s getting easier each day. I miss the man dearly. I like to think he’s soaking up some nice shade underneath that beautiful blue Jacaranda.

*

Quoted: “A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in Heaven. Then we’ll all be together forever.”


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OCMC: Lance Clayton in World’s Greatest Dad

wgd-1Okay, I believe I’ve got this week mapped out the way I want. We’re going to start with the heavier performances and work our way out of the dark side of things. Like Anakin Skywalker, only trending in the opposite direction.

So this little. . .thing that I’m doing. . . .to pay proper tribute to the full range of acting chops Robin Williams undeniably possessed might seem like it’s starting a bit solemnly — I mean, I’m not sure you can find a darker comedy that this man has been in (perhaps Death to Smoochy gives it a run for its money) — but as the week goes on I’ll do my best to turn that frown upside-down by looking into some of his more funny moments. Come next Sunday, hopefully we will have built our way up to a fitting conclusion to this man’s legacy.

His wickedly fast comedic tongue most assuredly is what he’s most known for, though his markedly reserved dramatic persona is not to be ignored, either. Frequently these smaller moments in a career packed with bigger and more luminous ones are overlooked, because. . . well, we all do love it so when Robin makes us laugh.

Here, though, we couldn’t be further from that comfort. In this pitch-black comedy involving a high school teacher who is broken by his son’s suicide (and there’s no really good way of saying this) via autoerotic asphyxiation, Robin Williams demonstrates a truly heartbreaking reaction to his son’s untimely death. This one moment may be particularly sensitive given the events that have since transpired, but this is as good as I’ve ever seen Williams hold the screen as far as convincing us that real loss is going on around him.

World’s Greatest Dad is directed by none other than Bobcat Goldthwait (still the best name in the business, if you were to ask me. . .but you’re not so I guess we can move on) and stars Robin Williams as the aforementioned teacher; Daryl Sabara as his awful son Kyle; Alexie Gilmore as Lance’s love interest as well as colleague. . .and then several, several names you’ve likely never heard of.

The bulk of the movie’s emotional heft revolves around these key players, with various supporting roles showing up in the latter half of the film to offer support and their condolences to the shattered man. And this is precisely where the movie starts to take a really, really darkly comic turn. I don’t know. This movie is pretty weird, but I enjoy it. An overlooked piece for sure.

Quoted: “Ernest Hemingway once said all he wanted to do was write one true sentence. He also tried to scratch an itch on the back of his head with a shotgun.”


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O Captain, My Captain: A Tribute to Robin Williams

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Beginning next Monday, I will kick off my week-long tribute to Robin Williams, a man whom the title ‘genius’ or any other lofty descriptions most certainly apply but still somehow don’t seem to do justice. The news of his passing on Monday, August 11 hit me like a tidal wave. Not an entirely unpredictable reaction either, given how dramatic I tend to get sometimes. But this news, man this news wasn’t to be swallowed with any relative ease. Not at all.

There often trends a fine line between actual/normal and pretentious grieving. How does one pretentiously grieve, you might ask? I actually don’t really know, that sounds kind of stupid when I read back on it. But if Robin Williams wasn’t family (and he wasn’t, to many many millions of us), I tell you what, the loss of his talent in the industry and his face around. . .wherever the hell else he goes in his spare time (whatever modicum of time that may be) — sure feels like a family member suddenly removed from our presence.

That we are tasked with facing a future without Robin McLaurin Williams is an ugly proposition. One that I don’t look forward to acknowledging when I finally awaken from this stupor, not one bit. But in order to begin moving on, I feel like the coming week (that is, Monday August 18 through Friday the 24th) will be a great opportunity to highlight some of my favorite moments of his career, the time I’ve spent with him and to also gauge everyone else’s thoughts and responses to the legacy of our most beloved Genie, our most precious Jack, our silliest (but still endearing) President Tom Dobbs (there’s an obscure one).

So in the next several days things will be as normal on here but starting Monday it will be a Robin Williams Tribute Week, something that I am thinking as of right now will supplement regular blog content, if only for the time being. Please feel free to share your thoughts and favorite memories of this wonderful and exceedingly popular man, talented comedian and exemplary human being.

Also, in an effort to minimize the heaviness of such a post (one of my many regrettable In Memoriams, I’m afraid), here’s this:

cbs-greenlights-robin-williams-pilot-two-new-dramas