Thursday, August 14, 2014



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Remembering the Robin Williams I Knew

He was a friend decades ago, then our lives took different, but parallel paths. A few memories from afar . . .

While realizing I was two days early for a screening at the King of Prussia Imax in suburban Philadelphia, my phone rang and my cousin said, "I read you knew Robin Williams."
"Yes," I said. "Why?"
"Well, he died."
"No. You know he was one of us." My cousin is also sober. "Was it his heart?"
"They're saying self-inflicted."
"Oh, no," I said, collapsing as I hung up. I had to get home. I had to write about Robin. The Robin I knew. If ever briefly. But I knew him well. Long ago.
I felt that a part of him resented having to be 'on' so much of the time.
It was the late 1970's, those Mork and Mindydays, and we were in Harvey Lembeck'scomedy workshop. Yes, we were classmates. Robin would just jog into our Saturday morning class which had the likes of John Ritter, Marylou Henner and Alana Hamilton Stewart, and strut his wonderful comedic stuff. Then he would leave us laughing and jog out again. He would work his material out on our class as though he was having a tennis volley with words.
One morning, I had the good fortune to meet him, to go to dinner with him, and to become intimate with him for a short time. What did we have in common besides laughing? Cocaine. This was my alcoholic bottom and I was enjoying getting high with the help of alcohol and coke. And Robin was, too. How sad we were.
I remember how insecure he was once the laughter died down. He was sad and I was sad and we shared our sadness together. He was not a funny person when he was not "on." And I felt that a part of him resented having to be "on" so much of the time. To become a success. To be accepted. To be loved.
Several years before, I had dated Peter Sellers and Robin Williams' tendency towards depression reminded me of Peter Sellers who was filled with self-loathing.
As absurd as it now seems, Robin and I performed at the Comedy Store at the same time. I performed with the class, but, of course, Robin was the draw and did his solo standup routine, and was wonderful. Up and coming and out there. But inside tormented. He was not forthcoming with his feelings. In fact, he never discussed them. Neither did I. We were both emotionally frozen with our real feelings buried deep within. I did not know about feelings until I became sober.
For instance, I always thought Robin was handsome, but he felt ashamed of an aspect of his looks.
When I became sober in 1980, I wanted to reach out to him to try to carry the message, but he was too famous by then to communicate with. When he was 12-stepped—that is, helped by sober alcoholic/addicts who brought him to the sober rooms—I cheered inside. I was thrilled for his new lease on life, and the thought that now his comedy would be safe, and he would live a long healthy and, finally, happy life.
Then I read he had checked himself back into a rehab though he had many years of sobriety. 'Uh oh,' I thought. Then I read he had had a heart attack. Not good, I thought. Not good at all.
Sometimes fame makes it so difficult for the famous to cope with sobriety. And very recently I read he was back in rehab again.
Tonight, as I watch news of his passing, I will never forget the joy our class in comedy improvisation had watching Robin Williams work out his comedy muscles; his new material; his generosity in wanting to make us all laugh, while inside dearest Robin was not laughing at all.
Carole Mallory is a writer and actress from Philadelphia. She appeared in The Stepford Wives, among other films. She has written for Esquire, Elle and Playboy and is the author of Loving Mailer and Picasso's Ghost and teaches creative writing.


'The Expendables 3': A Testosterone Fest

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I enjoyed The Expendables 3 more than I thought I would. Nostalgic eye candy. These guys are good. Fast paced action. Good acting. Mediocre script. Predictable plot. But fun to see these boys strut their superstar stuff. Yet I wonder with all the excellent production values why there wasn't a more creative plot? Of course, Stallone wroteThe Expendables 3 with the help of Creighton Rottenberger, Katrin Benedickt and David Callaham. Yes, a woman was involved in this homage to machismo.
Barney (Stallone) must add to his team of expendables with newbies for a battle with Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), the notorious arms dealer, wanted at The Hague alive to go on trial for his war crimes. The 'alive' part makes Barney's battle a bit challenging. Directed by Patrick Hughes the action film is fast, but some of the battle scenes are too long, too chaotic, too too. The finale is one which Stallone fans will cheer and the audience did, too. His sense of humor is still alive, well and in Rockystyle still there for us to cheer -- if a big hokey, but by this point who cares. Not me. I was too busy watching the bulging biceps to care about this idiotic plot.
Equal time is in order for each expendable and one wonders just how Sylvester Stallone got this group together. "I could have gone for you thirty years ago," Ronda Rousey says to Stallone. Gracious of Stallone to make fun of his aging. He is a magnificent 68 and after a plug search of the entire cast, I did not see any in sight though I am sure some lurked beneath the comb overs. I also did not see any women in sight. Oh, yes, there is one. Ronda Rousey. She is tough like this team of testosterone. But it is youth that steals the thunder and has its appeal when 29 year old Kellan Lutz, (a total ten) and a cherubic 25 year old Glen Powell, give us an opportunity to compare the young'uns to the elders who hang in there to light up the screen. Stallone, of course, takes major camera time and is the champion of the soulful stare. The silent, sensitive tough guy with a heart. Kelsey Grammar's part is one of the smallest, but he steals his scenes from Stallone because he is just that good. Fresh out of jail for tax evasion Wesley Snipes is fun and funny and has a line about tax evasion that ignites the audience. Antonio Banderas's early delivery is forced and awkward, but once his character gets going he is a fresh breath of comic relief while Harrison Ford is the champion in the acting department and age does not seem to disturb his craggy look. Arnold Schwarzenegger is awkward in his opening scenes and at 67 looks more weathered than most of these boys, but he gets it up for the finale and shines in typical mayoral splendor, cigar in mouth tough guy that he is. Jason Stratham portrays his usual appeal as a dependable expendable named Lee Christmas.
Uber alles is Mel Gibson as the villainous Conrad Stonebanks who holds The Expendables 3 together with his sheer nastiness. And he is oh, so good at this. But it is Stallone's final line that is the pay dirt the audience is waiting for. A mighty fine moment.
In the last battle scene I did catch myself yawning while thinking how many of these shoot 'em ups does one have to sit through. So I would not look to this film to have variety, but if you want to watch men play tough guys with style and ease The Expendables 3 is for you. If on the other hand, you want a sensitive well-crafted plot with equal time for women, stay home with your TV and watch Masters of Sex.


Saturday, August 9, 2014



Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: A Hoot and a Half

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What was a senior citizen doing at a screening of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Having a good time, that's what! Fun. Fantasy. An escape. It's all here. Do not look too closely as it has flaws, but the special effects and wonderful acting by that beauty, Megan Fox, made my time spent at this screening worthwhile.
Michael Bay, a co-producer, has whipped this into shape via terrific editing, cinematography and fine acting, but the plot and dialogue are lukewarm. Jonathan Liebsman directs at a fast pace, but the writing by Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec and Evan Daugherty is dull. The dialogue is lackluster and at times silly when if it had been cool, hip and surreal this film could have had firepower. But watching the effects was sheer joy.
The plot is straight out of Spiderman and a disappointment. But what the hey! Plots repeat especially in the Comic-Con world. The plot is as follows: The evil Shredder and his Foot Clan warriors have controlled New York City in everything from politicians to police. But the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rise from the sewers to be the vigilantes to fight the Shredder and the Foot Clan. The Turtles have allays in the brave reporter, April O'Neill (Megan Fox) and in her flip, but smitten cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett). The amazing, skilled-in-ninjutsu Turtles must save NYC from the grips of the billionaire-gone-wild Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) and his diabolical scheme to destroy New York City and all of its inhabitants.
While the characters of this fun film were created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, I just wish the dialogue had been more in-your-face. But it is the acting of Megan Fox that carries this film. Sure her beauty is something to write home about, but the sincerity of her delivery and her ability to listen are equal to her beauty. It is refreshing to see her not in roles of a sexpot or scantily clad, but in the role of a reporter who wants to be taken seriously for her reporting -- just as Megan Fox wants to be taken seriously as an actress. Sex symbols such as Ms. Fox face the worst of Hollywood's chauvinism, and just as the Ninja Turtles rise from suppression, it is refreshing to see Ms. Fox rise from the grips of Hollywood's obsession with treating beautiful women on film like objects. William Fichtner as the villain Eric Sacks is also superb. He is so good that I did not believe his sincerity in his opening scenes. Well, I learned he was playing April and setting her up to be a victim of the Shredder and his Foot Clan.
Will Arnett as Vern Fenwick plays a kind of hanger-on to April's charms with hopes that she will make his day. He has the right degree of innocence and naiveté and listens well. The Ninja Turtles' Michelanglo (Noel Fisher); Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), with his voice played by Johnny Knoxville; Donatello (Jeremy Howard); and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) are amazing in their agility, costumes and special effects, which allow them to be animated as though they are completely human.
But it is the animated fatherly Splinter (Danny Woodburn) who will tug at your rapidly beating heart. Splinter is the Turtles' sensei and adoptive father. He is a Japanese mutant rat who learned the ways of ninjutsu from his owner and master, Hamato Yoshi.
Bernadette Thompson is played by Whoopi Goldberg who has a small part as April's boss at the newspaper. Unfortunately Ms.Goldberg is too broad and mugs on occasion. Sincerity in her acting is lacking.
Do not judge this film by normal standards. If we can have sharks falling from the skies as villains in Sharknado, a huge success, why can't we have alien ninjutsu turtles who are brothers as vigilantes? Makes perfect sense to me. I have never read the comic book, but this did not limit my enjoyment for this film. What's to understand? Just go with it with an open mind. Fantasize with it. And look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as visual splendor -- not in the grass while reading a comic book, but at your local cinema while laughing and having a good time.


Friday, August 1, 2014


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Guardians of the Galaxy: They Can Guard My Galaxy Anytime

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It's here! Our summer blockbuster. Fun. Splendid visual effects. Rapid, witty dialogue with one liners as sharp as bullets. At times the laughter overpowered the sound track. Never mind as there are always the visual effects to study. Stunning. Perhaps the most inventive superhero movie to date. Oscar worthy costumes and make up for sure. An animated raccoon named Rocket with the voice of Bradley Cooper. A talking tree, Groot, comes alive with the voice of Vin Diesel.
But it is Chris Pratt who is the perfect comic of a comic book hero. As former American pilot, Peter Quill with the nickname Star-lord, he knows how to not take himself seriously and to share his ability to look at himself quizzically and with a sense of awe. Half alien and half human, his exaggerated facial expressions always seem to end with an awe shucks attitude. Zoe Saldana as Gamora is her beautiful slinky self. Charles Reilly has too small a part as his timing is always top notch. And Glenn Close is too brief in her appearance as Nova Prime. Her makeup and costumes excite the palate and add to her dynamic stature making her galaxy worthy. David Bautista as Drax has a physic that doesn't quit. Benicio Del Toro plays the menacing The Collector while Lee Pace is terrifying as the evil Ronin.
Guardians of the Galaxy was directed and written by James Gunn who had some assistance with the screenplay from Nicole Perlman. This film is an example of where Gunn's almost total creative control worked to Marvel's and Disney's advantage and delight. Of course Stan Lee is uber alles. David Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote the comic book to which we all owe our gratitude.
But it is the music that takes on a character of its own. Great golden oldies such as: "I'm not in Love," sung by the 10ccs, "Come and Get Your Love," "Let's Go All the Way," performed by the Raspberries, "Hooked on the Feeling," "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," are played in the beginning to give us a time and place then their lyrics are sprinkled throughout. Our Star-lord hero is grooving in outer space with a vintage Walkman in his ear as he dances on his tippy toes amidst a galaxy we have never seen before. Carefree and footloose. Fear is foreign to our Star-lord who would rather dance and clown around and make music his kind of god rather than terror or anger. By strutting his stuff like the youth of today, he proves to be our new latter day space hero. For Guardians of the Galaxy to send a message to dance and sing in the face of fear makes this film great.
The plot is about an orb the size of a baseball that contains the ability to destroy the Galaxy. Our hero, Star-lord steals this orb and throughout the film an array of aliens tries to capture Star-lord and get back the orb. Ronin is the frightening enemy who must be destroyed for peace in the Galaxy.
The beginning is masterful, but mid way there were a bit too many saucer type mini air crafts bombarding the screen and I became bored. It became 'let's look at the watch time.' And some of the jokes are silly and adolescent, but if you ignore this films attempt to 'be funny' and at times miss, you will enjoy its cleverness and creative genius. The ending is powerful and rewards your restlessness that might have had you walk out in the middle. That or take a nap in outer space.
But it is the weird charm of the Guardians of the Galaxy that will linger -- along with its masterful soundtrack -- long after you leave the theater. You, too, will be "hooked on its feelin."