Remembering “Mrs. Doubtfire”

Robin Williams In 'Mrs. Doubtfire'

Ah Robin Williams. Will we ever forget him? Not likely. He gave so much joy to the world that sadly it seems he didn’t have any left for himself. But I didn’t start writing this post with the intention of being morbid. I intend to talk about a little film of his that I re-watched the other night called Mrs. Doubtfire. It was never one of my favourite films that I would watch over and over again, as I’m sure it was for many people, but I do remember it being a pretty big part of popular culture as I was growing up in the 90s (and incidentally it was released the very same year I was born). While there is no denying the film’s popularity and legacy, I’d like to give my own personal thoughts on how well it holds up.

The “drag queen” comedy, in which a male actor masquerades as a woman for comedic effect, has now been done many times in films like Big Momma’s House, White Chicks and Jack and Jill. The Chris Columbus directed Mrs. Doubtfire arguably started this trend, and I personally think the novelty wore off almost immediately. However, while I don’t find Adam Sandler in drag to be remotely entertaining, that is not the case with Robin Williams; I find him funny, believable and strangely charming as the eponymous character. I have no doubt that this is down to just how darn good an actor he was. He imitates the voice, personality and mannerisms of an old British woman almost flawlessly and it is his performance that brings life to what would otherwise most likely be a sub-par comedy.

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The film follows Daniel Hillard, an out of work voice actor whose irresponsible attitude soon leads to him getting divorced and separated from his three children Lydia, Chris and Natalie. Unable to bear the thought of only seeing his kids once a week, Hillard uses his skills as an impressionist to answer an ad placed by his wife Miranda (Sally Field) seeking a housekeeper/babysitter. With the help of his makeup artist brother Frank, Daniel takes on the role of sweet old house-lady “Mrs. Doubtfire”. After being hired by Miranda, he attempts to rebuild his relationship with his family while also trying to sabotage Miranda’s blossoming romance with the handsome Stu Dunmeyer (Pierce Brosnan). And naturally, hilarity ensues.

In terms of character, Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire is of course the most enjoyable and the most fully developed, but the supporting characters aren’t too bad. Miranda can be unlikable at times but is always at least somewhat understandable in her actions. A working mother coming home to find that her husband has allowed the house to be trashed and attracted the police? Yeah, we can all see why she’d be a bit irritable. We do get to know her warmer side as the story progresses and Sally Field is a great actress as always. Pierce Brosnan’s character Stu also has both his unlikable and likeable traits, as while his distaste towards Daniel is made clear he does seem to genuinely care about Lydia, Chris and Natalie. However, at the end of the day he is still essentially Pierce Brosnan. The children themselves are fairly cute and charming, although they aren’t given an awful lot of development. We get a sense of their relationship with Daniel but we don’t find out much about them personally; we know that Natalie likes storybooks and that’s about it. Even though delving into subplots involving them would probably have distracted too much from the main story, it wouldn’t have hurt for us to know more about who they are so we can better identify with them.

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The story is reasonably well structured, although if I had one major complaint it would be that I think the film drags on slightly towards the end. The restaurant scene in which Daniel is switching back and forth between identities gets a tad exhausting. I do understand that the situation is a comedic setup and gives Daniel a problem to overcome; I just think it takes its time too much. As for the comedy, some of it works and some of it doesn’t. The comedy that does work mostly comes from Williams’ charisma in the title role; lines like “broke by bag the b***ard” and “it was a run-by fruiting” are just unforgettable. Scenes in which comedy is derived from Daniel trying to be both identities at once don’t personally do much for me, but my tastes tend to be more off the wall than other people’s.

For all the film’s strengths and weaknesses, I believe the overall message it tries to convey to be well handled and relevant, if slightly over-sentimentalised. As I’ve mentioned previously however, it is dear old Robin that makes it as he delivers one of his many memorable performances that will likely be enjoyed for years to come.

Posted by Frank Short

“Kingsman”: Gratuitous Or Masterful?

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(Warning: this review contains some spoilers)

I saw the new film Kingsman: The Secret Service at the cinema recently and walked out with somewhat mixed opinions. Part of me liked it, part of me didn’t. So I thought: you know what? I’m going to channel my conflicted thoughts and write a well-balanced review.

The film has been described as James Bond meets Kick Ass… and yes, that is more or less on the money. So what is it all about? Well it stars Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson and tells the story of a secret organisation of spies operating beneath a Tailors shop. Taron Egerton plays Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, a youth on a path to self destruction who encounters Harry Hart (Firth), a suave gentleman who turns out be a high ranking member of the spy organization known as “the Kingsmen”. After learning that his late father was a Kingsman, Eggsy is persuaded by Harry to unlock his full potential by training to become a Kingsman himself. He is then forced to go head to head with Richmond Valentine (Jackson), a maniacal Internet billionaire, and his deadly assassin Gazelle (Sofia Boutella)  as they hatch an elaborate and diabolical plot to cull the majority of Earth’s human population.

When I summarize it like that it sounds pretty much like every other spy/thriller movie you’ve ever seen doesn’t it? Well… not quite. On the surface, it’s a story format we’ve seen a million times; the coming of age story about a young hero trying to follow in his father’s footsteps while being mentored by one of his father’s close friends who feels a degree of responsibility towards him. We’ve seen that in Star Wars and many other films. However, the content of this film tries to add a bit more of a kick (literally). There are quite a few jolting moments and action that will definitely keep your blood pumping. There are also moments in which the film attempts to defy cinematic conventions in a somewhat self-aware manner, which some may view as merely gimmicky but others may find fresh and exciting.

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The film derives much strength from its enjoyable characters. The sheer contrast of Eggsy’s rough and, for lack of a better term, “chavvy” personality mixed with the suave, James Bond style demeanor he is forced to adopt makes him an entertaining lead protagonist. He is developed quite well and there is not a lot of focus given to his romantic subplot, which I found refreshing. Taron Egerton gives a good performance to boot. The show stealers however are Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson, who both seem to have a lot of fun in their respective roles. I think what really makes them shine is the fact that the characters they play in this film are quite different in style to what they would normally play. Seeing Colin Firth swiftly beat up a gang of roughians in martial arts fashion is such a spectacle that it’s hard not to appreciate it, yet he still manages to maintain his trademark charm and cool-headedness. Likewise, Samuel L. Jackson’s take on a geeky Internet billionaire/super villain with a lisp is brilliantly quirky. Eggsy’s fellow Kingsman trainees are generally less interesting characters, with the exception of Roxy, but the film doesn’t devote too much time to them. Mark Strong gives a solid performance as the Kingsmen’s tech genius Merlin and as for Michael Caine’s character Arthur, while the actor commands a strong presence as always I can’t help but feel that he was under-utilised.

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The action sequences are very kinetic and exciting to watch, however my main issue with the film comes from the sheer level of violence and death. The problem for me started during a scene in which [SPOILER ALERT] Firth’s character Harry ruthlessly slaughters an entire Church congregation. Granted, Harry wasn’t actually in conscious control of his actions thanks to Valentine’s mind warping technique, but as the sequence went on (and it is rather lengthy) I reached a point where I thought to myself… this is a tad excessive. The level of violence is similar to that of Kick Ass, a film I enjoyed greatly. In Kick-Ass however, the context that the violence is placed in enables it to come across as satirical, which I can accept. Kingsman didn’t quite do that for me; it came across as more gratuitous. I may be overthinking it, but the morbidity sucked some of the fun out of the whole affair in my eyes and left a bad taste in my mouth. Saying that however, I still enjoyed the movie as a whole. In addition to the good characters, the story is well paced and it has some decent comedy.

To wrap up, there are three aspects that make this film worth seeing in my opinion: the visual style, the comically over-the-top action sequences and the performances delivered by the main cast, particularly Firth and Jackson. The violence may put some people off but overall I would say that Kingsman: The Secret Service is quite a fun-filled ride. Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

Posted by Frank Short

The Trial Of A Werewolf

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“Please tell the court Mr Wilde, did you or did you not murder Daniel Sanderson?”, Mr Lawthorn asked me. The sinister tone of his voice turned my blood cold. He knew the answer to the question, everyone in the courtroom knew. I had murdered my best friend. So why did he ask? I can only assume it was to instil a sense of guilt in me that would display itself like an aura and ensure my prosecution. It was a futile effort however, as there was no way he could give me any more guilt than I already had.

     The fear and disgust in the eyes of that jury reminded me of the same look I received from the guards every time I walked down the dingy corridor of the facility, on my way to be encaged. Each month they would look at me with a degree of such harshness that it left no doubt in my mind that I was a monster, regardless of what I had been told by “society”. Their stares were particularly intense on that one night. Besides that however, everything was perfectly normal. The routine carried out as it always did, giving me no reason to think that something could go disastrously wrong; but it did. The guards had gone outside for a smoke, when I noticed something was not right. There was no red light, meaning the door was not locked. I cannot put into words the panic and shear horror that set in me at that moment. I had no sooner jumped up to alert the guards, when the change came over me. The unimaginable pain hit me as it did every month, as if I were being torn apart from the inside. It’s something you could never get used to. Bones stretched, skin ripped, my whole body reshaping itself from God’s image to the Devil’s. After the agony subsided, there was blackness. I remember nothing after that. It’s like going to sleep.

     I sometimes dream while I’m changed, although these dreams would be more suitably described as nightmares by any account. I often relive the night I was infected. Science may call it a virus, but I still call it a curse. That thing that came out at me from the darkness was not a species, it was an abomination. As it’s teeth sank into me I remember thinking, please let it kill me. As strange as it sounds however, I actually prefer that dream. The other dream involves me chasing someone through the woods. I eventually catch them, tear them apart and consume their innards; and I enjoy it.

     No matter how gruesome the nightmares were, and gruesome would often be a gross understatement, I would always wake up safe and sound in my cell. On that night however,  the nightmare did not end when I woke up. I was in the middle of a field drenched in blood. It was as if I hadn’t woken up at all. The nightmare would never be over.

     The case was all over the news. The containment facilities had a spotless safety record up until that point. The tabloids had a field day. Walking into that court room I immediately felt like I was being condemned by every single person there. Justice, equality, you see those are just buzzwords. No matter how far mankind advances there will always be prejudice. Part of me was convinced that I wasn’t really a monster; I just had an illness, no different to a turrets sufferer. However, another part of me saw the anguish and hate in the eyes of Dan’s family and came to a very different conclusion.

     I had a good lawyer. We couldn’t afford the best but we were lucky enough to find someone who actually sympathised with my case. And also lucky enough to find someone who would object at the very moment I was struggling to think of an answer to the prosecution’s manipulative question. “I’d like to remind the court that the circumstances of Mr Sanderson’s death are not the focus of this trial”, he responded. “I reiterate my earlier point that my client was not in conscious control of his actions and therefore cannot be found guilty of this crime!” It was a valid argument, but I could still see doubt splattered across the faces of the jury. Then the moment finally came for them to reach a verdict.

THE END

Posted by Frank Short