Jumanji (1995) Film Review

Having watched Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle which disappointed me with the lack of women and the poor representation of women, I followed through on my commitment to re watch the original, and man, I was so glad I did.

Alan (as a child, Adam Hann-Byrd, as an adult, Robin Williams) and Sarah (as a child, Laura Bell Bundy and as an adult, Bonnie Hunt) discover Jumanji in a building site and accidentally start playing. On their first rolls, Alan gets sucked into the game and Sarah is chased from the building by bats. Skip to twenty-six years later. Orphans Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) move into Alan’s old and abandoned house with their Aunt Nora (the wonderful Bebe Neuwirth) and discover the game. Alan, now an adult, comes back and they track down Sarah so they can finish the game and everything will be restored to how it was. And with each roll, more threats come from the world of the game to torment them.

This is how you make a kids film. It’s a great plot, the characters are fabulous, there are several female characters, the teenage girl does what she needs to survive rather than squealing and wimping out. Having a brilliant cast, including the wonderful Robin Williams and a young Kirsten Dunst helps, but it was clever, strong writing, and a real adventure. Looking at the credits, most of the production team were men. So, blaming the appalling nature of the recent remake on the fact that that production team was also mostly men is not valid. What’s happened in the last twenty years? I don’t watch as many kids films these days, but do we still have kids films that do better by us? I’d love suggestions.

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (2014) Film Review

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I saw this because it was one of the last films Robin Williams made. And I would say that if you are thinking of doing the same, don’t. It’s just not worth it.

The concept is almost good. There is a guy, Henry Altmann (Robin Williams) who is totally angry all of the time. Then he is told by his doctor’s fill-in, Dr Sharon Gill (Mila Kunis) that he has a brain aneurism (true) and has ninety minutes to live (false), and he storms out, threatening to sue. So while he runs around trying to reconcile with his estranged son and distant wife and figures out how much he has messed up his life, she is trying to find him, and has his family looking for him. See, almost good. Actually, not even almost.

And the film is not even saved by the amazing cast – Robin Williams, of course, plus Mila Kunis, Peter Dinklage, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, James Earl Jones, Richard Kind… but they cannot save it. I love your low-budget type dramas and the like, but this just doesn’t work.


Insomnia (2002) Film Review


Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is a LA Cop who, with his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) have been sent to Alaska to assist on a horrible crime – a young girl, beaten to death. However, he is in trouble, under investigation back home. Arriving in Alaska to the midnight sun and with so much on his mind, he can barely sleep. Then, whilst chasing a suspect, things so wrong, and he is in a world of pain and confusion, and the whole time, feeling like he may lose his mind from fatigue.

It’s a stunning film. Beautiful, clear Alaskan scenery. Clever storyline, well acted. Fabulous. I come and go with Al Pacino sometimes – but this here he gives such a strong performance. I know that sense of fatigue, the frustration that everything is getting on top of you, that you can barely hold your eyes open. He does everything but drool – and I guess toward the end it seems over the top, but I don’t mind. All I know is that I really, really wanted to get some sleep.

Then there is Robin Williams, so good at that gentle, disturbed kind of character.

The World According to Garp (1982) Film Review


Based on a novel by John Irving, the film follows the story of TS Garp (played, as an adult, by Robin Williams), a writer with an unusual beginning. He was conceived when his mother, Jenny Fields (Glenn Close), has sex with a dying soldier when she was a nurse in the war. As a child, she rarely panders him, and often embarrasses and dominates him. When he decides, as a young man, to head to New York to pursue a career as a writer, she follows, writes her story and inadvertently becomes a hero to the feminist cause, often overshadowing and partially defining his life.

I read this book many years ago and found it compelling, and remember thinking that the film captured the themes of the book – identity, the place of women in 1970s American culture, when it is to be a man – really well. Funny that, because watching it this time made me wonder why they hated women so much. By ‘they’, I mean many of the male characters in the film, the filmmakers, and even John Irving. Things that can be forgiven of a man have horrifying results for the women, and the women in the film are so extremely aggressively hateful of the men as well. While the individual main characters seem to truly care for each other, everyone else is a caricature, from the hooker with a heart of gold, to the militant feminists disfiguring themselves in a misguided way of supporting a rape victim, even to the horny male student insisting on forcing a sexual act from his lover.

Perhaps it is just that there is far too much story for one film, and in trying to cram it all in, too much of the important detail and nuance is lost. Or perhaps John Irving really did have that much hate.

The World According to Garp was nominated for Oscars for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Lithgow) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Glenn Close)

Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013) Film Review

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Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) was a butler at the White House under eight different presidents during over many years of the civil rights movement.

What I enjoyed about this film was the journey of Cecil’s son, Louis (David Oyelowo) through the Freedom Riders, with Martin Luther King Jnr, into the Black Panther movement and beyond. It was a well told story, with the structure of the interactions with the presidents to show the way things didn’t change at the same time that everything changed. Still, you do need to suspend your belief a lot – it is a big ask to have a film span such a long time and have the same actors. Both Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey looked far too old for their young years, though the aging of the other actors was more effective. The story is strong enough to beat those flaws.

The Butler was nominated for BAFTAs for Best Supporting Actor (Oprah Winfrey) and Best Make Up/Hair.


Dead Poets Society (1989) Film Review


Mr Keating (Robin Williams) is the new teacher at an exclusive private school in Vermont in 1959, shaping the minds of future doctors and lawyers and businessmen. But he believes in living life to the full: Carpe Diem. This is appealing to some of his students, but many parents and staff and less than impressed, especially when tragedy ensues.

I think I saw this film six times in the cinema when it was released. I loved the hope and the rebellion, and (let’s face it) I loved the handsome young men trying to find their paths. I was pleased to discover that it very much held up for me. Perhaps part of that is the memories it brings back, but I do think it is a very good film. Funny (and I will certainly say that some of the classroom scenes are bit over-the-top in the Robin Williams humour) and sad. There are certainly some elements in the film that feel a bit clichéd and twee, but I don’t care. When Josh Charles’ character strokes the girl’s hair, when Robert Sean Leonard’s character flings a desk set from the roof, when Ethan Hawke’s character yawps; these things all give me joy.

Dead Poets Society won an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Tom Schulman) and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robin Williams) and Best Director.

Good Will Hunting (1997) Film Review

Good Will Hunting

Will (Matt Damon) works as a janitor at MIT and is secretly a genius, but he prefers to spend his time with his mates. After solving a maths puzzle set by Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellen Skarsgard), he is discovered, but his behavioural and emotional problems need to be dealt with. Eventually, he finds a fit with Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) who is dealing with his own problems. And chuck in gorgeous British beauty Skylar (Minnie Driver).

This film may always be known as the film that rocketed unknown actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into the spotlight as (or so the legend goes) fed up with not getting work, they wrote an awesome script and here it is. I don’t know if that is true as such, but I will say that after watching several of the Ben Affleck directed films, Good Willing Hunting gives us an indication of his talent. He knows how to craft a good, emotionally engaging story with flawed characters trying to beat the odds. It’s a good film. Real good.

Good Will Hunting won Oscars for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Robin Williams) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck).

August Rush (2007) Film Review



Evan (Freddie Highmore) is an orphan who is about twelve and lives in a group home believing that if he ‘follows the music’ he will find his parents. He runs away and ends up in New York city with no money, but falls on his feet to some extent after finding Arthur (Leon Thomas III), a kid who busks and lives with a bunch of kids in a condemned theatre with their benefactor, Wizard (Robin Williams). After a series of events, he ends up studying at Julliard and writes a symphony that the New York Philharmonic end up playing in a concert in Central Park. His mother Lyla (Keri Russell) has been told by her evil father that the baby didn’t survive when he had, in fact, put him up for adoption, and I don’t think Evan’s father Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) even know he existed. Would the music bring them all together?

Who cares? This is an absolute stinker. It seems like the story could potentially have legs, but the main character is such an insipid and annoying character that I don’t care, the structure of flashbacks mixed in with present moments is sloppy and I had no connection to any of the characters at all. It felt as though when the script was being developed, someone kept pointing out potential holes in the plot and then some crappy thing was written in to plug it. And I couldn’t see the point of Robin Williams’ character. It was like he was supposed to be an evil, horrible man and instead he was just a bit shouty sometimes. Whatever.

August Rush was nominated for an Oscar for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (Raise it Up).