Archive | July, 2021

My Favorite Movies – Leave No Trace (2018)

30 Jul

By Tanner Smith

I think it’s time to admit I won’t be talking about Winter’s Bone in this series. After many, many viewings in nearly 11 years, I still really like the film, but I think I like its lead character (Ree, played by Jennifer Lawrence) more than anything else–so it’s a movie with some favorite “moments” but not really one of my favorite films overall.

Yeah, watch me suddenly change my mind after watching it again and being like, “OK it’s one of my favorite movies now!”

However, Leave No Trace, “Winter’s Bone” director Debra Granik’s follow-up film, is one that I think is going to stay with me for a long time to come–characters, story, atmosphere, and all.

Watching this film in a theater (the Glenwood Arts Theater in Leawood, Kansas, three years ago) was like an emotional experience, as it felt like the passions of the characters were overwhelming me and I had no choice but to pay attention and fear for them as well as admire them. This is one of those films in which you feel like the characters’ actions and words are reaching out from the screen and touching you. I think much of that has to do with the fact that not much is explained about their situation(s) through a lot of dialogue. It’s just the expressions and carefully-chosen dialogue delivered by powerful actors in brilliant performances that help carry the emotional weight of the characters’ story. Do it right, and the audience can feel like they’re in a whole other place for nearly two hours.

When “Leave No Trace” opens, we meet a father and his teenage daughter–Will (Ben Foster) and Tom (Thomasin McKenzie)–living quietly in nature. We don’t know why they’re here or who they are, but we’re immediately intrigued by how they live. It gets revealed fairly quickly that they do live in modern times but not with modern civilization–they mostly live off the land, mind their own business, and only go to the town market once in a while for some supplies.

It’s only through a few props (like newspaper clippings) and a few actions (such as Will’s visceral reactions to helicopters) that we learn Will was a soldier who is now living with PTSD–he has found peace in nature and brought his daughter up to appreciate it the same way he does.

But they’re living in this nature park illegally, and so they’re caught and brought to social services. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those stories in which authority tries to split the father and daughter because they think the father’s a bad influence. (Though, they do make their concerns known because Will & Tom’s way of living is unknown to them. “Your dad needs to provide you shelter and a place to live,” Tom is told. “He did,” Tom replies.) They instead provide a house for Will and Tom to live in, in exchange for Will working on a Christmas tree farm. While Tom is open to trying new things and adapting to this change in her life, Will isn’t having any of it.

And I’ll leave it at that, because honestly, where it goes from there is even more intriguing.

Thomasin McKenzie has received many accolades for her brilliant performance as Tom, but it always bothered me that she was considered a “supporting” actress, because really, the film is seen through her character’s eyes. It’s interesting to meet a teenage girl who wasn’t born into the kind of life or privilege that most of us are accustomed to, and to see her in tune with nature just like her father, who we can gather has lived a life that failed him severely, makes me wonder constantly how she’s going to react to change. And her reactions to a lot of what she sees is pretty refreshing, because she wants to actually try new things.

And it’s even more interesting when you think about it and realize that it takes a lot to not conform–for example, Will refuses a cellphone when offered and that’s seen as a big deal.

My favorite scene: Without giving much away, it’s near the end and a nonverbal understanding between father and daughter when a decision is made.

Wonderful stuff here. And after watching “Leave No Trace” again today, it still leaves a hell of an impression on me.

My Favorite Movies – Wildlife (2018)

30 Jul

By Tanner Smith

One of my top 20 personal favorite movies is an indie dramedy called Ruby Sparks, starring real-life long-time couple Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan. Kazan also wrote the film’s screenplay, and as much as I like her as an actress (and she does indeed have appealing screen presence–check out The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), I’d like her even more if she wrote more films.

Well, there is another–this one was written by both Kazan and Dano. And Dano directed the film as well. I’ll take it!

Wildlife is an adaptation of Richard Ford’s 1990 novel of the same name. When Dano requested the rights to adapt the novel to film, Ford told him this: “I am grateful to you for your interest in my book, but I should also say this in hopes of actually encouraging you. My book is my book, your picture, were you to make it, is your picture. Your movie maker’s fidelity to my novel is of no great concern to me. Establish your own values, means, goal. Leave the book behind so it doesn’t get in the way.” Dano got his blessing…but he’d never written a screenplay before–lucky for him, his long-time girlfriend Kazan has. (Yes!) So they worked together in adapting the screenplay.

I’ve never read the book. But someday, I’d like to, if only to see how different it is from the film, which I admire a great deal.

Dano proves to be a darn good director too. His passion shows, as does his ability to communicate with his actors.

Set in the early 1960s, Wildlife is told from the perspective of 14-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould). (Oxenbould is best known for playing comedic relief in movies like The Visit and “Better Watch Out”–I sometimes have to remind myself this calm, mild-mannered young man is the same actor from those movies.) He and his family live in a small Montana town, where his father Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) works as a golf pro at a country club and is very friendly with the clients. But because Jerry refuses to stay out of the way, he loses his job–even when he’s offered it back shortly after, he refuses due to excessive pride. Joe’s mother Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) looks for work herself, and since Jerry won’t look for a new job, Joe gets work too, at a photography studio.

Soon, Jerry leaves the family to help fight forest fires in the nearby mountains. Jeanette is left to care for Joe and the household. But the situation gets more complicated when she starts an affair with an auto dealer named Warren Miller (Bill Camp, one of our most reliable character actors working today), which confuses and worries Joe. Whenever Joe tries to confront her about what he knows is going on, it’s like she doesn’t want to be a mother but a free person now that Jerry’s out of the picture (even temporarily).

Carey Mulligan delivers her best performance here, in my opinion. I’ve liked her work before in other movies and she deserved all the accolades she received recently for her daring work in “Promising Young Woman”–but here, she truly shines. She plays a motherly figure whose natural sweetness dies down when her ideals are suddenly changed and she becomes her own person. Courage? Confusion? Maybe both? Do we shun her for it? No, not necessarily. But she’s easily empathetic. Jeanette is an interesting, compelling character to study each time I watch the film.

Which, of course, means that Mulligan was ignored by the Oscars. Indie Spirit Awards to the rescue yet again! (Mulligan was nominated for Best Female Lead and the film also garnered nods for Best First Feature and Best Cinematography, for Diego Garcia’s stellar cinematography.)

The film is all about Joe coming of age and realizing that his parents aren’t perfect, they make mistakes for their own pride and pleasures, and…he’s either going to grow up into a well-adjusted individual or a mom-obsessed psychotic killer. (But I’m an optimist, so I’ll hope for the former.) The moment that truly got me was when Joe witnesses his father do something insanely rash when he finds about Jeanette’s affair. There’s a long tracking shot of Joe running off in tears. Was this Dano’s blatant tribute to a similar shot in Truffaut’s The 400 Blows? I don’t care–it still worked for me.

OK, so maybe “Wildlife” isn’t wholly original in its depiction of a American nuclear family unwinding, but when it works, it’s still effective. And with acting this good and directing this skilled, I’ll take it.

And I look forward to what else Paul Dano and/or Zoe Kazan will direct/write in the future.

My Favorite Movies – Heavyweights (1995)

11 Jul

By Tanner Smith

If you know me, you know I’m a fan of Judd Apatow’s work. I love The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Funny People, “Trainwreck,” and Knocked Up. (I’m sure some day, I’ll come around to loving “This is 40”–I’m not there yet though.) I love many of his productions too, like Superbad, Bridesmaids, Pineapple Express, The Big Sick, Walk Hard, and “Begin Again.”

…I often have to remind myself that Judd Apatow, the same Judd Apatow, wrote one of the ’90s live-action Disney movies I frequently watched over and over as a kid.

No joke–Judd Apatow co-wrote (w/ director Steven Brill) Heavyweights, a 1995 Disney comedy about boys running wild on a fat farm!

The comedy in “Heavyweights” is obviously gentler than what Apatow is most famous for, but it’s also edgier than you saw in most family-oriented comedies in the 1990s. The kids aren’t your basic cookie-cutter kids like you would see in something like “Major Payne”* (which came out the same year); they feel like real, wisecracking, mischievous kids–Apatow knew how to write for them.

For what could have otherwise been a deplorable, standard summer-camp romp for Disney, Apatow gave the material a much-needed edge with a lot of witty one-liners, an awareness of itself, and colorful characters that don’t get dumbed down (for the most part). He and Paul Feig went on to create “Freaks and Geeks,” and honestly, I think I like “Heavyweights” almost as much as my favorite episodes of that wonderful series.

Plus, there’s a deleted scene on the Blu-Ray in which the boys are joking about the possibility of getting boners while getting inspected by the attractive nurse–now THAT’s an Apatow scene!

Best part of the movie? No question about it–it’s Ben Stiller as Tony Perkis, the extreme fitness guru who aims to turn the fat camp into a business opportunity. Seeing this movie as an adult, I recognize its wonderful satire as we realize what this guy is all about, which is to use the kids as profit for an infomercial, while the kids themselves are not at all serious about losing weight.

Stiller is having a ton of fun here and he has a lot of the best lines that I love to quote from time to time.

There is, however, a problem that I notice upon watching this movie nowadays. Late in the film, the kids fight back against this guy, who turns out to be a sociopath–and I’m not sure how to take that. It bothers me a little bit that the idea of satirizing the infomercial-weight-loss concept isn’t stretched out to its full potential (and accidentally treating the overweight kids as the problem, if you really think about it—none of the kids end up with serious pain as a result of the “system”).

But…eh. I’ll let it pass. At least the kids learn something about self-confidence at the end.

My other favorite character in “Heavyweights” aside from Tony Perkis? Lars, played by Tom Hodges. He’s one of Tony’s assistants, who speaks with an Austrian accent (gee, I wonder who he’s supposed to remind us of), and he delivers some real good laughs as well.

I thought I outgrew Heavyweights as I got older (I even gave it a mixed review before)…who was I kidding? Not only did I still watch it often, but I also bought the Blu-Ray because it had a whole lot of vintage behind-the-scenes material and retrospective modern interviews as bonus features.

It’s just a funny movie. What else can I say about it?

*I’m not dissing “Major Payne”; it’s just that Damon Wayans is better than anything or anyone else in that movie.

My Favorite Movies – Rocky II (1979)

9 Jul

By Tanner Smith

Not enough people talk about Rocky II, I don’t think. That’s a shame, because I think it’s one of the best movie sequels.

It was criticized for giving Rocky Balboa (again played by Stallone, who also directed this one) his happy ending, which critics argued went against what was set up in the prior film. Rocky wins the rematch against Apollo and thus earns the World Heavyweight Champion title. Well, why not? After everything I’ve experienced as a film viewer with this appealing character who just kept doing his best at what he was good at, I would’ve been disappointed if he lost again!

He earned it. He pushed it to the limit. I can’t help but feel happy for him! (“YO, ADRIAN!” he shouts to his wife. “I DID IT!!!”)

The first “Rocky” movie was about a nobody who wanted to prove his worth. This second movie, “Rocky II,” shows what happens after. Rocky marries Adrian and he thinks it’ll be a happily-ever-after. But new problems arise, starting when he spends money he thinks he can earn back with endorsements, but he can’t play to the camera (in a really painful scene; it’s funny but it’s also sad at the same time). Well OK, maybe he can fight again–actually, no, because his eye is too damaged for it. Reality hits Rocky real hard, and what makes “Rocky II” so interesting to watch is seeing how Rocky and Adrian cope with what should have been a fairy tale ending.

This of course leads to the big rematch between Rocky and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who is humiliated because everyone thought he was too fair to Rocky in the previous fight. I’m more invested in this fight because it feels like there’s more at stake this time around.

I love “Rocky II.” It’s emotional, heartbreaking, and still knows when to bring out the positives in a negative situation. And it leads to a resolution that is definitely well earned because Rocky is still a realistic heroic figure worth cheering for.

My favorite scene: Rocky’s proposal to Adrian. I am a sucker for this scene, guys. It’s one of the sweetest, most romantic scenes I’ve ever seen in any movie in my life.

Now, what about the other sequels? Obviously, they don’t really match up, but there is still something to them. “Rocky III” has its enjoyable moments and “Rocky IV” is crazy in its silliness. “Rocky V”…has SOME good moments, but is still kind of a missed opportunity. “Rocky Balboa,” the first “Rocky” movie I saw in a theater, is decent enough and felt like a satisfying farewell to Rocky’s boxing career.

Finally, Rocky Balboa was brought back to train another fighter, Apollo Creed’s son Adonis, for the 2015 film Creed, which was a terrific revival and a brilliant new direction. (I also like Creed II. A few more viewings, and it might join “Rocky,” “Rocky II,” and “Creed” for a spot as one of my new favorites. Maybe.)

My Favorite Movies – Rocky (1976)

9 Jul

By Tanner Smith

It’s kind of ironic that a small film about “going the distance” surpasses “the distance.” Rocky is about a guy who’s given a shot to show the world what he’s all about next to the best in his field, and while he doesn’t win (in fact, he barely survives), he gains respect, self-assurance, and the love of his life.

That guy was a boxer named Rocky Balboa, and he was portrayed by the film’s screenwriter Sylvester Stallone, who himself had something to prove. The studio bought Stallone’s script, but they didn’t have faith in a film with Stallone as the lead. Stallone, however, got the last laugh–everyone fell in love with “Rocky.” Critics and audiences adored it, everyone spread the word around resulting in box office success, and as if all that wasn’t enough, it even triumphed at the Academy Awards with the top honor of Best Picture.

Yeah…I’d say it did more than go the distance! That sort of goes against the initial purpose of “Rocky,” but who am I to complain? It’s awesome!

“Rocky” is basically a fairy tale about a boxing bottomfeeder, Rocky Balboa aka The Italian Stallion, who fights (mostly for money) because he has trouble with everything else. That’s especially true when he tries to court the shy Adrian (Talia Shire), but he keeps trying his best, and soon enough, his efforts win her affections. When the World Heavyweight Champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), handpicks this “Italian Stallion” as his opponent for a big New Year’s match. Suddenly, this no-name boxer has a shot at the title. But winning the fight isn’t the first thing on Rocky’s mind–the most important thing to him is that he shows Apollo and the large crowd that he can go the distance.

There’s a time when a lot of us can relate to Rocky. We often think about how great it would be if we won something that would gain respect from most people. But sometimes, we also realize that it’s less about winning than it is about trying. And in the end, what’s more important is the people in our lives who are with us during this particular challenge–in this case, it’s Adrian for Rocky, which makes the final scene all the more heartwarming. Rocky doesn’t win the fight, but he does win Adrian’s heart.

My favorite scene: I guess I have to pick a Rocky-Adrian moment here and I know everyone loves the ice-skating scene between Rocky and Adrian–it is a great scene, but my personal favorite between the two characters is their first kiss soon after.

There’s hardly anything I can say about “Rocky” that hasn’t been said by everyone else already. Stallone’s Rocky is an appealing character, the love story between Rocky and Adrian is great, the sports-film cliches feel fresh in this realistic setting, the supporting cast is great, the theme song “Gonna Fly Now” is iconic, et cetera and so on. It’s a great film and a feel-good classic, and I love watching it.

Now, what about the sequels? Well…join me in the next post.

My Favorite Movies – Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

5 Jul

By Tanner Smith

People say the best movie sequels are “The Godfather Part II” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” I may agree those are the “best”…but my “favorite” is and always has been “Terminator 2: Judgment Day!”

No joke–this movie is in my top 15 personal faves. It’s my favorite action flick!

“T2” is what I call a gold standard for the action film genre. It is really. Freaking. Awesome!

The first “Terminator” was a surprise hit people loved. So naturally, there had to be a sequel. But what would it be about? Is Sarah running from a Terminator again? Are there more signs to an ongoing threat to wipe out mankind? Will there be a lot of callbacks? It doesn’t sound like too many possibilities to be found.

But here we are at “T2,” a sequel that could possibly stand on its own because it doesn’t totally rely on callbacks to the original. (In fact, I watched this before I watched the first movie. I was 11, saw a few clips on TV, LOVED what I saw, asked my parents to buy both movies, watched “T2” all the way through, THEN watched the first movie.)

The film opens with the threat of human extinction as we’re told billions of people died in a nuclear war in 1997. In 2029, the war between the defense computer system and the human resistance continues, led by John Connor. The machines have sent a Terminator (a killer cyborg disguised as human) back in time to kill John as a child. The resistance has also sent someone back in time to protect John.

Cue the holy-crap-this-still-haunts-me-to-this-day opening credits! These opening credits….WHOA! From the haunting theme music accompanied by five pounding notes that get you all pumped up to the shots of a playground ablaze to the extremely menacing stare of a Terminator endoskeleton to close us out…I’m already stoked before Schwarzenegger even shows up!

Speaking of which, we cut to the mid-1990s, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is back…but not quite. This is a different model. He’s still imposing and poses a threat to others (that scene in the bar is still unbelievable–btw, get used to me gushing over how much of this movie holds up!), but this time, he’s not out to kill our hero. He’s been reprogrammed to be young John Connor’s protector.

Man, I wish I didn’t know that when I first saw this. I wonder if I would’ve been as surprised as theater audiences in 1991 when Schwarzenegger turned out to be the good guy!

Anyway, John (Edward Furlong), who’s supposed to be 10 years old in this film but looks about 12-13 (maybe even 11), has been brought up by his gun-loving mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton) to believe that he will grow up to lead mankind in the battle against the machines. Well, now his mother has been institutionalized because of her warnings about the future, and John would just rather be a normal kid and not have to worry about anything at all…but then the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) shows up.

Since the Terminator we were used to seeing before is now the hero, “T2” needed a memorable villain…and WOW IS THE T-1000 A GOOD VILLAIN! (Sorry, it’s just…I love this movie.) He doesn’t have personality, but again, if you watched this movie not knowing the true identities of these characters at first, you’d think he was the hero. He acts like an everyday dude, can appear human when need be, seems like he’d be an OK guy. But nope–he’s a machine; actually, a more advanced cyborg than Schwarzenegger and even made from liquid metal. When he needs to kill, that’s when he goes full Terminator mode! His limbs can form weapons, he can dissolve into liquid, he can become other people, and what’s even worse is he seemingly can’t be destroyed–you shoot a hole in him and it closes up quickly, you slice him up and he closes back up to, you can even BLOW HIM UP and he’ll still pull himself back together. Man, and I thought the original Terminator was scary…

Oh, and he’s a cop! I wouldn’t trust the police after seeing this guy in action!!

I think the movie I drew myself to this film as an 11-year-old was because it starred a kid my age at the center of things. He’s the one the T-1000 is chasing after, the weight of a lot of scenarios throughout the film are riding on his shoulders, and what’s even cooler is the Terminator has to do whatever he tells him to do because that’s how he’s programmed. At first, John thinks it’s cool, as would any kid–but then he learns pretty quickly that his protector is indeed a Terminator, which results in an interesting dynamic in which the kid has to play the parent and teach the Terminator why he shouldn’t kill people. He can even teach him the value of human life as well, and the Terminator even takes some of it to heart (despite not having a heart).

Soon enough, the Terminator and John help Sarah break out of the institution (in one of the most suspenseful sequences in the movie) and together the three set out to prevent the nuclear war (labeled Judgment Day) from happening, with the T-1000 not too far behind.

There’s real stuff at stake here. The fate of the human race, for instance! Sarah and John want to stop the war from happening, the Terminator has to learn the importance of existing, and they each have their own little arcs in the process. Sarah even at one point becomes as cold as a Terminator when she considers killing the one man responsible for the central computer, at which point John must help her snap out of it, again playing the parental role (to his own mother, for crying out loud).

But enough of that drama and character development and emotions and stuff I’ve come to look for in movies as I got older! Gimme that awesome chase sequence in the LA aqueducts! Gimme the escape from the mental asylum! Gimme Arnold Schwarzenegger with that awesome minigun! Gimme the chase on the LA streets! Gimme the chase through the steel mill! HELL YEAH THESE SCENES ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!!

You see what this movie does to me? I started this review off by stating it was the best action flick I’ve ever seen and it took me until one paragraph ago to mention the best action sequences in it! But that should say something–“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” has more on its mind than action…but when the action happens, it’s (I’ll say it again) really. Freaking. Awesome!

I won’t be talking about any of the sequels in this series about My Favorite Movies, so I’ll just sum my quick thoughts about them:

“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”–has its moments but nothing special.
“Terminator Salvation”–I don’t even remember much from this one, other than Anton Yelchin as young Reese and Schwarzenegger’s sort-of return.
“Terminator: Genisys”–even its fun moments remind me I could be watching the first two movies again.
“Terminator: Dark Fate”–I won’t lie, this one would’ve been fine…but I just can’t get behind it starting (casually, I might add) with John Connor’s death. It didn’t matter to me how good the rest of the movie may be; within the first few minutes of the movie, it LOST ME!!

But “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” I’ll always treasure.

My Favorite Movies – The Terminator (1984)

5 Jul

By Tanner Smith

“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is one of my top 15 favorite films of all time…but before I get to that awesomeness, I want to talk about THIS awesomeness: James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi-horror sleeper hit “The Terminator!”

The film no one expected to become a classic hit gave birth to one of the scariest and most badass villains in the history of cinema: the Terminator, played memorably by Arnold Schwarzenegger. What’s more terrifying than a killer? A killer that can’t be reasoned with, is heavily persistent, and won’t stop for anything at all until they kill you!

The Terminator is a cyborg sent from the future to exterminate the would-be mother of who would grow up to become the leader of a human resistance against a hierarchy of defense-network computers turned against mankind. (Or, as another fighter from the future states, it’s “one possible future, from your point of view.”) Schwarzenegger plays him as a ruthless killer–a machine with no purpose other than to hunt and kill his target. And what’s worse? He seemingly can’t be killed, seeing as underneath his living human tissue is a metal endoskeleton!

Yikes! Someone’s out to kill me, they have lots of weapons, and they can’t be killed–I’d be running for my life and saying my prayers constantly!

Plus, as director James Cameron pointed out, Schwarzenegger’s Austrian accent adds to the effect–it does sound like a machine computing and processing, in a sense.

The Terminator’s target is Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a meek, mild-mannered waitress who simply can’t believe it when she learns she’ll give birth to the leader of the world, a killer robot is stalking her, and her only hope is a fighter from the future human resistance, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who lays down so much info on her in one night. It’s a lot to take in, and what I love about Sarah’s arc in this movie is how much the adrenaline of the chase between the Terminator and her and Reese gets her to grow. By the end of the film, she fights back and even gets to order Reese to keep going because they’re not finished yet.

If the Sarah Connor of this movie turned into the Sarah Connor of the sequel in just one movie, it wouldn’t be believable–but here, it makes sense. She doesn’t become a full-on badass, but she does accept what she has to do to become said-badass.

Even though “The Terminator” is more of a horror film than an action film, there are still some really well-executed chase sequences to be found here, especially for its low budget. I especially like when Reese and Sarah are on foot while the Terminator now has a huge truck. (I remember as a kid being like, “Holy sh*t! How are they gonna get out of this??”)

Now…I have to share this one tidbit about the film I really hate: “You Got Me Burnin’,” the song in the Tech Noir club. Man, is it bad. The singer sounds like the Heart lead vocals on absinthe. And for whatever reason, the people who picked the song list at the theater I worked at thought THAT would be nice to listen to every once in a while!

But that’s just a nitpick, really. “The Terminator” is still great–great monster, clever script, likable heroes, intriguing story, one of the best the ’80s had to offer!

Now, its sequel, on the other hand? That’s one of the best the ’90s had to offer! (I’ll get to it soon…)

My Favorite Movies – Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

4 Jul

By Tanner Smith

I always liked “Good Morning, Vietnam” and called it one of my “ALMOST-favorite” movies, but now I can’t help but look at it in a whole new way that’s not only fascinating but worth analyzing. Thus, its placement here.

I mean, I don’t spend a whole lot of time analyzing the whole deal with the Vietnam conflict and the contradiction of love in the time of killing. That’s obvious, especially since this film was criticized for being “a comedy about the Vietnam War.” No, I’m talking about Robin Williams and his performance.

I’ll get to that. Anyway, it started when I binged a lot of old “Siskel & Ebert” reviews and came across their review of “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Ebert talked about what intrigued him more about Robin Williams’ performance as radio DJ Adrian Cronauer:

“He plays a guy who is all words. There is a wall between whoever is inside that character and his words. He uses the humor, the standup comedy, the one-liners–to hold people off. And at the end of the movie, curiously enough, we know a lot about the personalities of all of the supporting characters, but that central Robin Williams character is still a complete mystery. There is no glimpse into it. And that, to me, is brilliant, because it shows a certain kind of comic personality that I haven’t seen in the movies before, where the comedians are using the humor to say, ‘Don’t look inside. I’m going to keep you laughing the whole time.'”

Considering what we know about Robin Williams now (or what we concluded, anyway), it’s kind of eerie how spot-on that statement is. If only Ebert knew that was probably the kind of person Williams was in real life…

I’ve seen the movie about 6 or 7 times in my life, and that thought about Williams’ character never crossed my mind. I just saw it as Robin Williams at the top of his game in terms of hilarity–right up there with his Genie character. Listening to Ebert’s analysis about him inspired me to check it out again. So, I did…

Ebert’s right. We DON’T know that much about Adrian Cronauer (and if you know the true story about the real Adrian Cronauer, that’s probably for the best–but it’s a movie; let them take liberties). I think the closest we get is a scene in which Adrian is caught in a traffic jam with soldiers prepared to fight and he gives an impromptu “broadcast” right there on the spot, much to their appreciation. This is after he’s been suspended from the station and descended into a drunken stupor, and now he has this moment in which you could argue he realizes how important his job is at making the troops laugh. You can see a little hint of what he’s about in this scene. And that also leads to a revelation in the final act, in which one of his best friends turns out to be a VC operative and Adrian’s heart is just broken, which he makes clear in one last meeting with him. Aside from that, he just cracks jokes, doesn’t play too serious, and keeps his guard up. He’s still a mystery, and Williams’ approach is something worth thinking about.

I also realize we know less about Adrian than we do about Private Edward Garlick (wonderfully played by Forest Whitaker in one of his early film roles) who befriends Adrian, tries to keep up with him, and supports him–we know Garlick is goofy but by the book too, cracks wise and has a sense of humor but knows when to keep quiet and focus, and gains self-confidence through his friendship with Adrian, even though he too doesn’t know Adrian’s deal–but he does know what Adrian stands for with his radio persona. Garlick is the anchor for the audience–he’s a wonderful character played wonderfully by Forest Whitaker.

And again, I’ve seen this movie before, so I already knew I liked Williams and Whitaker’s performances–it’s just that now I have other reasons to like them.

The film is already highly recommended for being so funny in Adrian’s radio broadcasts and for being a biting commentary about the Vietnam War at the same time (and this came out just after “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket,” which were all about the hell that was Vietnam–this film has a different approach to it but is still pretty effective). And now…I guess I’m going to call it one of my favorite movies now!

My favorite scene: Adrian’s first broadcast starting with “Gooood moorrrrning, Vietnaaaam!” Robin Williams supposedly ad-libbed all of the broadcasts in this film, and it’s amazing to see him go to work here.

I thought Siskel and Ebert’s vintage reviews couldn’t influence me anymore, now that I’m older. I’m glad they can still surprise me after all this time.