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Robin Williams (#110 of 13)

Summer of ’91 Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again

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Summer of ’91: Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again

Paramount Pictures

Summer of ’91: Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again

With Dead Again, Kenneth Branagh takes a shot at unseating Brian De Palma as the master of the Hitchockian homage, and one can’t help but appreciate the attempt. Especially when the result is as gleefully fetishistic as this 1991 film, which has the hots for numerous classics by the Master of Suspense, and fashioned in ways that allow cinephiles to visually pick out these drool-worthy influences. The ridiculous story, however, takes its cue from North by Northwest, whose equally incredulous plot served as the hook upon which its director hung his effective bag of tricks. Hitch once said, “Logic is dull,” and it’s a quote that writer Scott Frank takes to heart: Dead Again’s director-inspiring hook is a mystery about reincarnated lovers who may or may not be heading down the same murderous path as their predecessors.

Summer of ‘89: Dead Poet’s Society...Do the Wrong Thing

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Dead Poet’s Society</em>...Do the Wrong Thing
Summer of ‘89: <em>Dead Poet’s Society</em>...Do the Wrong Thing

Dead Poets Society purports to be about the bravery of following one’s own path. This is a bright, shining lie, one the film is ballsy enough to tell to your face. It makes examples of those who march to the beat of a different drummer by crushing them with the drum kit. Those who stay in line get to cover their asses before making empty gestures of sympathy toward the people they helped destroy. A more conformist, less inspirational piece of cinema would be hard to find.

And yet, this was perceived as “inspirational” by the audiences that made it a hit in 1989; by the Academy, which nominated it for Best Picture; and by the AFI, which lists the film at #52 on its list of the 100 most inspiring movies of all time. That’s higher than A Raisin in the Sun, Sergeant York, Sounder, Shane, and two far better examples of its own inspirational-teacher genre, Fame and Stand and Deliver.

Dead Poets Society takes place in 1959 at Welton Academy, one of those enormous, stuffy prep schools beloved by old Hollywood, British people, and Academy voters. The students are as white as the snow that falls every winter, and just as cold and blasé. Into their standard, almost militaristic existence comes replacement English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams), an alumnus whose claim to fame was creating the titular institute. Keating, like all stereotypical move teachers, is a bit looser than his predecessor: He calls bullshit on the standard way of teaching poetry, takes the kids outside for lessons and, during his first day of class, utters the one of the AFI’s top-100 greatest movie quotes:

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

And how do these boys carpe their diem? By resurrecting Keating’s Dead Poets Society. There’s no mention of why this is a radical idea, because none exists. Any high school kid will tell you poetry is evil. The Dead Poets Society is a group of kids who sneak out into the woods to quote Thoreau and read poetry that isn’t assigned by their teacher. In other words, they’re doing extra credit work! What school would be against this? Welton Academy, of course, and the school’s objections lead, in most convoluted fashion, to the ouster of our beloved teacher.

Altered States Oliver Sacks’s Hallucinations

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Altered States: Oliver Sacks’s Hallucinations
Altered States: Oliver Sacks’s Hallucinations

Did you know that, as a way to celebrate his 32nd birthday, the neurologist Oliver Sacks took an oversized syringe out of his parents’ medicine cabinet, filled it with morphine, pumped it into his veins, and then curled up in bed and proceeded to hallucinate for 12 straight hours, seeing on the sleeve of his nightshirt a finely detailed, three-dimensional reenactment of the 15th-century Battle of Agincourt, complete with soldiers, pipers, and caparisoned horses?

If this anecdote is any way intriguing to you, either because it deals vividly with the topic of altered states of mind or because it reveals something rather curious and personal about a prominent public intellectual (one who’s been both portrayed and caricatured cinematically by Robin Williams and Bill Murray), then you should check out the newest book by the good doctor Sacks.

Hallucinations is meant to be a sort of psychic safari, “an anthology of hallucinations,” as Sacks describes it. It’s a survey of the many elaborate things that people see, hear, smell, taste, and touch that no one else around them would be able to corroborate or to verify, the kind of phantasmal sensations a person can have due to epilepsy, solitary confinement, migraine headaches, psychedelic drugs, brain damage, limb amputation, and emotional trauma, among other destabilizing circumstances.

DOC NYC 2012: Radioman and Shepard & Dark

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DOC NYC 2012: <em>Radioman</em> and <em>Shepard & Dark</em>
DOC NYC 2012: <em>Radioman</em> and <em>Shepard & Dark</em>

Friendship manifests itself in many different forms, and can occasionally be one-sided, and with Radioman and Shepard & Dark, DOC NYC presents two very different observations on the avenues through which individuals feel fulfilled, or alienated, by those they consider close comrades.

Radioman—née Craig Castaldo—is ready for his close-up. Presented as an amusing profile more than a compelling character study, Mary Kerr’s Radioman is the documentary equivalent of having a droll conversation with a stranger at a dive bar while refusing to acknowledge any disturbing subtext within the stories told. Despite having an apartment, the once-homeless Radioman still leads a life that’s mostly of a vagabond, spending most of his days researching “on location” movie shoots in New York City and wandering the streets in search of a film set. Consistently fascinated by the process of filmmaking, Radioman also possesses a childlike excitement for the prospect of briefly appearing as an extra. Through a combination of persistence and the appearance of an essential NYC bum, he can be found in over 100 films—even if it’s just the back of his haggard head.

Poster Lab: The Big Wedding

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Poster Lab: <em>The Big Wedding</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Big Wedding</em>

It would appear that one of the biggest challenges facing movies with huge, starry casts is getting all the actors together to shoot the poster image. Like New Year’s Eve before it, the treacly-looking ensemble comedy The Big Wedding comes with a one-sheet whose pretty faces couldn’t look more disparate. The designers thankfully avoided the dreaded grid approach, but one wonders if a paper-doll Photoshop assemblage is even worse. As the central couple, whose pre-marriage plight involves conflicts too tired and dull to mention, Amanda Seyfried and Ben Barnes are perhaps the only two actors who genuinely seem to have been photographed together. A case could also be made for Susan Sarandon and Robert De Niro (who, like their younger costars, have the credibility factor of joined hands), but there’s still something vexingly posed, airbrushed, and artificial about their shared moment, as if even the laughs were digitally grafted.

Everyone else may just as well be on another planet, especially Diane Keaton, whose halfhearted smile and overall bemused awkwardness support the notion that she’s in fact prepping for her latest L’Oréal Paris ad. The one star whose directional gaze seems appropriate is Christine Ebersole, who offers an uncomfortable sneer while eyeing up the crackpots to her left. Also the only actor to not receive billing, Ebersole almost looks relieved to have been kept at a certain remove, and she plays viewer surrogate as she bitingly judges the mess in her midst.

15 Famous Movie Heavens

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15 Famous Movie Heavens
15 Famous Movie Heavens

No, this list-maker hasn’t had the pleasure of devouring Kate Hudson’s ticking-clock romance, A Little Bit of Heaven, which sees everyone’s favorite Almost Famous alum continue to chase her first hit like an undiscerning free-baser. The movie did, however, inspire thoughts of cinema’s approach to the great hereafter, which has been visualized as everything from an inhabitable oil painting to your good old field of clouds. Diagnosed with terminal cancer by a doctor (Gael García Bernal) who in turn becomes her squeeze, Hudson’s character tries for a little heaven on earth before her time runs out. These 15 heavens, however, almost all exist on another plane.