Robin Williams: World’s Greatest Dad

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Comedy and Tragedy are the oldest siblings.

There are figures in popular culture that we perceive as immortal; they have existed since the time of our birth, and they will be a constant presence in our lives until we meet our demise. People whose works are deemed timeless, whose screen presence proves to be so electric and engaging that they linger in the back of our minds even when we are not consciously thinking about them, whose voice and demeanor (be it in print or onscreen) is immediately recognizable, like the kindly uncle that makes you look forward to every family get-together. Robin Williams was this type of person, for everyone.

Robin Williams was the kindly uncle of every person who experienced the joy of cinema.

I did not expect the news of Williams’ untimely passing, nor did I expect to be as affected by it as I am. Part of it is because I, too, always thought he would be around forever; his performances in The Dead Poets SocietyGood Will HuntingMrs. DoubtfireThe Fisher King, and Death to Smoochy were my earliest introductions to excellent acting in both drama and comedy. Even in a movie as flawed as Hook, his performance as an aged Peter Pan is nothing short of spectacular and deserving of a far better film. He shaped my earliest ideas of what great acting was, and was one of the few people who never failed to make me smile, even during the darkest moments of my childhood where it seemed liked everything was crashing down. From the time I was little, Williams was more than another actor to me; he was a staple of pop culture, a monument to comedy, and a great stone behemoth of entertainment that even the mightiest of storms could not tear down. His death at the age of 63 (only a few years older than my own father) came as such a shock to me because it reminded me, harshly and with great whiplash, that Williams was a human being.

Many people assume that someone as outwardly hilarious as Robin is always of perfectly sound mind, which is why the news that his death is very likely a suicide came as such a shock. But like most comedians, he used the gift of humor to mask a great pain eating away at his insides until, unfortunately, the pain was too much. Williams suffered from Bipolar Disorder, one of the harshest mental illnesses a human being could possibly deal with. I cannot pretend to fully understand or comprehend the specificity of his condition, but I do know this; when you are engulfed by an uncontrollable sadness, it can make you implode emotionally without a proper way to channel it. Many who experience this, be it through Bipolar Disorder or clinical depression or any number of other conditions, will often turn to comedy; oftentimes a comedian’s goal is not only to make the audience laugh, but to take a part of themselves that is missing and fill it with laughter. Williams did just that, bringing the joy of humor to countless audiences for several decades, filling that little part of himself by brightening the lives of those around him. But in the end, this was not enough; at 63 years of age, the pain was too much.

Robin Williams may no longer be with us, but he is not dead; he will live on in color, and sound, and most of all, in laughter. The laughter of those who loved him, and loved his performances, will forever contain a little piece of him. Even in death, Robin Williams will outlive us all.

Your move, chief.

Modern Cinema and Fanbase Entitlement

Premiere Of Paramount Pictures' "Pain & Gain" - Arrivals

An Editorial by Ethan Dunlap

Trigger Warning: Mentions of rape.

Picture this scenario: It is the height of the summer movie season, in any given year in recent memory. A blockbuster, based on a highly popular and beloved cartoon / comic book / video game (most likely from the late 1980’s or early 1990’s), has just been released. Directed by a largely disliked gun-for-hire director (we will call him “Michael Bay” for the sake of this hypothetical scenario), the movie was released to exceptionally high box office fare, but middling-to-scathing reviews. Taking to the internet, hordes of entitled fans, feeling personally betrayed by this less-than-stellar piece of cinema, proceed to unleash a mass verbal beat-down on the film, even going so far as to say it “raped my childhood”.

If this completely hypothetical scenario seems even remotely familiar to you, then congratulations, you have had internet access for the past few years. I would say it seems like an annual event, but that implies that this reaction is only seen once a year, when in fact it is seen almost year-round, like clockwork. An adaptation of some beloved nostalgic property comes out, it turns out to be terrible, cue the “raped my childhood” sentiments.

I understand the disappointment, I really do. I was born in the 90s, and practically raised on cartoons and comic books; I understand the immense letdown one feels when something I loved as a child is adapted into a mediocre Roland Emmerich clone like Dragonball: Evolution, Michael Bay’s Transformers quadrilogy, and this week’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot. But can we all collectively stop pretending that the mere existence of these movies somehow destroyed the sanctity of our childhoods? And furthermore, could we stop equating that to the sexual assault of said childhoods?

There’s a disturbing trend prevalent on the internet to equate any mundane issue (such as, off the top of my head, disappointing movies) to rape. “This movie raped my childhood” is almost guaranteed to show up in the comments of any discussion about such recent adaptations as the ones I listed above, and much, much more. Normally I don’t mind the use of hyperbole to illustrate frustration, something which I myself have partaken in many times before, and likely will many times in the future. But equating it to rape is simply too far. Rape is an incredibly sensitive topic; in my personal opinion, it is among the worst atrocities human beings can possibly inflict on one another, and I’ve been hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t share that sentiment. Victims of sexual assault suffer from grueling psychological trauma after going through such a heinous act, trauma that they will likely never get over for the rest of their life. In some cases, the mere mention of rape (be it in an actual discussion on sexual assault, the casual dropping of the word, or even through hearing/reading a rape joke) can trigger post-traumatic stress in the victim. To trivialize something as deplorable and psychologically damaging as rape by comparing it to a disappointing movie adaptation is not only incredibly insensitive, but it’s also unbelievably childish.

Furthermore, even if we were to ignore the rather disgusting trivialization of rape, the entire concept that one of these films ruined your childhood makes absolutely no sense. Take Dragonball: Evolution, for example; a movie that, without a single shred of doubt, is one of the most trite exercises in blockbuster filmmaking that I have ever seen. Dragon Ball and Dragonball Z were two of my absolute favorite shows when I was growing up; they (along with Yu Yu Hakashu, Lupin III, and Rurouni Kenshin) were my introductions to anime, and an enormous early inspiration for my art style. When a live action movie adaptation was announced, I went in hoping for nothing more than a fun 90 minutes of Goku being hilarious, Roshi being additionally hilarious, and hopefully a climax which involved screaming blond men punching face with other screaming blond men whilst preferably not wearing shirts. Instead, I was treated (and I use that term as loosely as humanly possible) to 90 minutes of excruciating boredom and visuals that could only be described as “eye feces”.

But, despite how insufferable that viewing experience was, I never thought any aspect of my childhood was ruined. The memories I had of Saturday nights in my bedroom, watching DBZ on Toonami and reenacting the fight scenes with my action figures and trying to color my hair with a yellow highlighter so I could be a Super Saiyan, were still there; the entire original series that I loved was readily available on home media, and no matter how trite the movie was, it did not take that show or those memories away from me. The same goes for the recent TMNT; it was by all means a mediocre blockbuster without half the heart or endearment of any of the three cartoons or 90s movie trilogy (yes, I am including the third movie in there, because that piece of shit is hilarious), but I never felt robbed, or my memories of the TMNT cartoons sullied, by this movie’s existence.

I believe that a large part of this mindset comes from a sense of entitlement that we, as fans, have. “This was my childhood, dammit,” the furious fanboy screeched as he raised a fist to the computer monitor, “And I am owed a good movie!” However, we have to come to the collective realization that, contrary to what we believe, Hollywood does not owe us shit. These movies may be based on properties that we grew up with, but do not think for a second that they are making them for us; they are making them for themselves, to make more money. It is a tired statement, but a universally true one at that. Filmmaking, while mostly an art form, is also a business, and directors like Michael Bay simply do not give a damn about making the fans happy, and more than likely do not give a damn about the properties they are adapting; their entire priority is to make dumb, loud movies that will make inhuman earnings on their opening weekend, which general audiences will proceed to forget about in a month’s time. They should make a good movie, yes; that is common sense. But they do not owe us a good movie.

Adaptations, no matter how unfaithful or insulting, will never ruin our childhoods. Our childhoods are still there, they happened, and they are stored securely in the safe confines of our memory until the day we die (unless you are a soap opera character that recently got amnesia, in which case I offer my deepest condolences). These movies do exist, and I may not like them, but instead I simply push them off to the side and ignore them, where they cannot touch the originals that I loved.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014)

A Review by Ethan Dunlap

The supernatural has been one of the most frequently explored areas in the history of fiction. Ever since humanity grasped the concept of imagination, and to convey that imagination in the form of storytelling, the tales of ghosts and phantoms, of vengeful demons and restless spirits, have littered the tapestry of fiction. This has continued into the 21st century, where it seems each new year brings us a cavalcade of the paranormal; 2010 gave us James Wan’s refreshing ghost thriller Insidious and the embarrassingly mishandled The Last Exorcism, 2012 brought Scott Derrickson’s surprising chiller Sinister, and just last year saw two supernatural horror films from James Wan (the excellent The Conjuring and the criminally underrated Insidious: Chapter 2). In this modern era of cinema, the growing trend that innumerable haunted house and demonic possession movies have jumped onto is branding themselves as being “Based On A True Story”. Deliver Us From Evil, Scott Derrickson’s new exorcism/cop thriller (a sentence I never thought I’d say), does just that.

Allow me to address the elephant in the room; I don’t think 90% of this movie actually happened.

When any film, particularly in the horror genre, sells itself as being a TRUE STORY, it is always best to take it with a grain of salt. It is nothing more than a harmless gimmick, made to stir up publicity and put large sacks of money in the producer’s front lawn; and truly, it has no bearing on the quality of said movie. In fact, many of the films that claim this are actually very well done; The Conjuring was one of the best major releases of last summer, and I believe the events of that movie to be true about as much as I believe The Adventures of Baron Munchausen to be a documentary about the fall of the bourgeoisie. The duty of an effective horror film is not to have journalistic integrity, but to weave an entertaining story while at the same time exuding a sense of fear or unease onto the audience. This, ultimately, is where Deliver Us From Evil fails.

This is not a bad film; it is, in many respects, a very, very good one. It has an unorthodox mix of genres that make perfect sense together (a cop thriller and a supernatural horror tale), a solid cast featuring stand-out performances from Eric Bana and Joel McHale, and a terrific unsettling score. The problem is that instead of the cop angle and horror angle working seamlessly to create a story that utilizes the best of both genres, the two seem to clash. It does not know whether it wants to be a police thriller or a demonic possession movie, and it becomes very obvious which genre it would have been best in.

The weakest part of the movie, what truly holds this back from being great, is the horror element; which is bizarre, given Derrickson’s obvious skill at using fear to tell an effective story, evidenced in both Sinister and 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose. What made those films work was the ability to build tension; both have their share of jump scares, but a majority of the time there was a steady air of unease that built and built until finally coming to a head. However, with this film, every time the atmosphere is beginning to set in (and if there’s one thing Derrickson knows, it’s atmosphere), it is immediately punctured by a loud music spike and a shot of a cat, or a potted plant falling, or some mundane act of the like. The problem with jump scares is that, contrary to what their name suggests, they are not scary. They are simply startling, the cinematic equivalent of your friend jumping out from behind a tree and wailing “OOGAHBOOGABOOGA!”. The tactic has become infuriatingly popular in the horror genre since the early 2000s, turning most of the mainstream offerings from potentially effective movies into loud, bombastic trite that aims to surprise rather than scare. In the first two acts of this film, instead of lingering, the “frights” disappear faster than the jarring music note that cued them in. I cannot help but feel bad for Derrickson, a highly talented director with an unfortunately spotty track record, for the tired and uninspired over-use of jump scares reek of studio meddling. This makes it all the more heartbreaking, because there are moments where it is obvious that Derrickson is attempting to try new things in the admittedly fairly stale genre of exorcism movies; between the blending of the police drama element, and the fact that one of the characters has a close-quarters knife fight with a possessed man (something that I am surprised I have never before seen in a mainstream horror film), it is clear that given more creative control, this movie had the potential to be a breath of fresh air in a genre that has grown tired and muddled.

Many individual elements don’t work, the most major and insulting being the possessions. Unable to recapture his unsettling depiction in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Derrickson’s version of the possessed in this film comes off as more comedic than frightening; even the main figure, whom engages in the previously mentioned knife fight and is very imposing from an action standpoint, never truly came off as scary. Logical inconsistencies bog down the movie as well, such as when the leads are investigating the Bronx Zoo after a massive power outage, and yet are able to enter the lion den, which has electronically activated gates. In a better movie, this gripe would only be a nitpick, but among this mediocre fair, it actually highlights the ineptitude of the rather shallow script (a script that perhaps should have gone through one or two more drafts). Also dragging the film down is the unenthused performance of Edgar Ramirez as the token priest. On paper, this character has the potential to be genuinely fascinating; a former heroin addict, haunted by the ghosts of his past, who continues to indulge in cigarettes and hard liquor to tame his temptations to use again. However, any of this potential is immediately squandered by Ramirez, who delivers each line in a monotone that likely was meant to be stoic and weary (perhaps to illustrate the character’s past struggle with substance abuse), but instead comes off as wooden and lifeless. In the hands of a more capable actor, such as Pedro Pascal or Clifton Collins Jr., this character could have emulated the pain and weariness that was no doubt intended.

Conversely, the cop element of the movie is perfect. We are introduced to Bana’s protagonist, Ralph Sarchie, in a refreshingly somber shot of him recovering a dead baby from the dumpster of a dingy South Bronx alleyway. Before delving into the disappointing horror plot, the audience is treated to an excellent sequence where Bana and his partner (played by an outstanding Joel McHale) respond to a domestic violence call, leading to a chase scene which ends with Bana savagely beating a skinhead wife-beater on the streets of New York. Once the third act kicks in, which is easily the best part of the movie, the horror gives way to police action, the highlight of which is the aforementioned fantastic knife fight between Joel McHale and the possessed figure the cops have been tailing for the entire film; its brutal, exciting cinematography made me wish it was gracing a much better movie. Immediately afterward, we get treated to a flashback sequence (shot on what looks like Super 8, a nice visual reference to the disturbing home movies in Sinister), where Bana chases down a notorious pedophile and ferociously beats him to death in broad daylight. Watching this sequence made me think, “I wish I was watching that movie instead”. This is also a film that fully embraces its R rating, as opposed to homogenizing every aspect into a tame PG-13 as the modern Hollywood horror scene is apt to do; the characters in this movie cuss up a storm, they chain smoke, they down hard booze like there is no tomorrow. This is a movie where the characters have vices, complimenting the refreshingly gritty and somber tone that Derrickson conveys. By not subjecting the film to the squeaky-clean tone that litters the works preceding it, it is saved from the cinematic death trap of blandness. Disjointed and disappointing as the film no doubt is, it does not commit the cardinal sin of moviemaking; it does not fall prey to mediocrity.

Deliver Us From Evil is not a terrible film; it is not even a bad one. It is an excellent cop thriller trapped inside a mediocre horror movie. While not being Derrickson’s worst movie (that would have to go to 2008’s utterly forgettable remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still), it is easily his most disappointing, both because of the stellar job he did with his previous horror offering, and because of the hints of true promise that were squandered by an under-developed script and extensive studio meddling.