KEVIN SMITH RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW: GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997)

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Sean: It’s not your fault

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writers: Matt Damon & Ben Affleck

Starring: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgård, Casey Affleck, Cole Hauser

Synopsis: Will Hunting, a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.

Good Will Hunting is the breakout hit of 1997 for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. These two young actors proved their credibility not only as great actors but also as smart filmmakers. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the script for this film which is smart, witty, emotional and very mature for two young boys from Boston. This isn’t their feature film as Ben Affleck had been working with Kevin Smith (Producer on this film) on Mallrats and Chasing Amy and Matt Damon had some pre-acting work also. However this was the film that put them on the map and also garnered them Academy Awards for Writing (Best Screenplay). Although they both wrote the script the film is Matt Damon’s showpiece. He stars as the protagonist Will Hunting who is a poor orphan boy from Boston working menial jobs who is secretly a genius prodigy.

He is discovered by Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) after he secretly completes a complicated mathematical equation for his students. Will was working as a Janitor at the University and is caught by Lambeau after he notices him working on his whiteboard. Will is happy to just hang out with his best friends including Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck) and Billy (Cole Hauser) as they hit bars and work construction jobs. They are all from the same part of town and are as close as brothers. Will doesn’t want to break his bonds with them although he has a secret gift.

After getting into a brawl he is sentenced to prison unless he takes therapy sessions advised by Professor Lambeau. Initially Will isn’t interested in working for the Professor but goes along as he doesn’t want to go to prison. He plays around with different therapists trying to buy time until he reaches 21 and can be free. However Professor Lambeau seeks out an old colleague who he knows can reach out to Will. His old colleague is Sean (played in an Oscar winning performance by the legendary Robin Williams) who connects to Will and knows how to cut around his bullshit. Will eventually gives in and they form a bond which is emotional and heart-warming. Matt Damon and Robin Williams have excellent chemistry and their scenes together escalate this film to a higher status. The film overall is quite slow and follows familiar tropes of a Kevin Smith film. Two best friends, girl trouble, college humour. However with a smart script, delicate direction from director Gus Van Sant and brilliant acting from Matt Damon and Robin Williams this film garnered critical and commercial fame which a Kevin Smith film could not approach (although I find Kevin Smith’s films more entertaining in general.

This is a sophisticated film which put Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into A list stars. It is a little slow but the conclusion pays everything off brilliantly.

A

Highlights:
– Excellent chemistry and performances between Matt Damon and Robin Williams
– Great original script by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
– Matt Damon and Ben Affleck portray two friends very realistically
– Minnie Driver is quite charming
– Robin Williams gives the film a maturity the film is missing in the first half
– Matt Damon and Robin Williams in the “It’s Not Your Fault” scene escalates this film to classic status

FILM REVIEW: BIRDMAN (2014)

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Riggan: Just find me an actor. A good actor. Give me Woody Harrelson.
Jake: He’s doing the next Hunger Games
Riggan: Michael Fassbender?
Jake: He’s doing the prequel to the X-Men prequel.
Riggan: How about Jeremy Renner?
Jake: Who?
Riggan: Jeremy Renner. He was nominated. He was the Hurt Locker guy.
Jake: Oh, okay. He’s an Avenger.
Riggan: F – k, they put him in a cape too?

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan.

Synopsis: An aging actor who was once famous for playing the superhero ‘Birdman’ struggles to regain relevance when he attempts to adapt a play based on Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

A visually compelling and emotionally resonant motion picture from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. I loved Inarritu’s first two films Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003) however he lost me with Babel (2006). His first two films had a gritty visual style and fractured structure that resonated with the films themes of desperation, longing and failed dreams. However he went too far with Babel, which turned into two hours of depression porn. I’m happy to see that just like his lead character Riggan Thomson he has made a comeback with this important and relevant fable on celebrity culture, superhero/blockbuster cinema, arthouse cinema and his original themes of desperation, longing and failed dreams. The film is very meta not only for its director but also its lead character Riggan, who was once in a successful superhero franchise (Birdman 1, 2 & 3) just as its actor Michael Keaton (1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns). Keaton has always been a wild and charismatic lead actor and revealed a manic spirit in his first successful film 1988’s Beetlejuice. Keaton recaptures this manic energy and also adds a level of gravitas by knowing his history with the real life Batman franchise. He gives the character an extra level of reality with his casting.

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The film revolves around Riggan trying to make a comeback by adapting the Raymond Carver play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, however his own hubris comes in the way as everything starts falling apart including the set, actors and his own fragile mind. Riggan continuously hears voices in his head from the character he once played, Birdman. Birdman believes that Riggan shouldn’t bother with this play, no one cares and he won’t be able to make it as a true actor. He tells him to take the check and star in another Birdman film which is what the audience really wants. No one cares about theatre and broadway. He may be right in this day and age of the superhero blockbuster. The film is a real time capsule of cinema in 2014 and is a savage attack on the entire superhero genre and how it is destroying true art. This is only one of the themes as the film also tackles age, father daughter relationships, art versus commercial, internet and viral marketing, actor’s egos, and the fall of success. It is a bold and powerful film.

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The real star of the film for me was cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The film is made to look as if it is all one shot and this is breathtaking to behold. The amount of work from actors to crew (especially the stage handlers) is amazing as the camera pulls in and out of Riggan’s room, to the stage and to the streets of New York. The films distinct look is remarkable and will be talked about for years to come. I haven’t even mentioned the impressive performances from Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan. The film is quite the masterpiece and is clearly one of the best films of this decade.

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Rating: 4.5 Stars