Tag Archives: Good Will Hunting

The Martian (2015)

Hands down, the best movie theater experience I’ve ever had.

Sci-fi royalty Ridley Scott’s’ latest space voyage did not disappoint.  The Martian — starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover (holy shit) — epitomizes the term “modern classic.”  It gets its two major themes of unrelenting determination and human bravery across gracefully and without any integrity-damaging clichés, an accomplishment that continuously eludes many filmmakers who embark upon such a journey. That’s the difference between this film and Independence Day, for me (that’s not to say that the latter doesn’t hold a special place in my heart).

I left the theater with the stupidest grin on my face. The film’s humor was the beautiful element that made it exceptional, not only in the simple sense of making the film more enjoyable, but also in the sense that it unquestionably aided Damon’s performance — otherwise, I doubt his sheer optimism would have been nearly as believable.  The humor lightened the mood for us and kept us believing that Mark Watney was going to do the impossible.  Far from falling into the category of comedic-relief-humor, The Martian might actually get nominated for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes next year.  When Watney practically blows himself up and goes I flying across the hab, I cried with laughter.  When Watney intentionally goes to town with expletives in an inter-planet online chat that is being streamed worldwide, I cried with laughter.

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Good Will Hunting (1997)

I would like to start off this review by stating plainly that this is my all-time favorite film. I would never go to such lengths as to suggest that this is the “best” film ever made, but rather that it contains all the things that I truly care about in a movie — simply good writing, good acting, and an enlightening theme. I put a lot of emphasis on a film’s ability to speak to me in an emotional and personal way. Good WIll Hunting brought me to tears; it wrenched my gut with laughter; it inspired me, and it made me want to go out into the world searching for something special to call my own. This film won two Oscars in 1998, one for Best Original Screenplay, accepted by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and one for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, awarded to Robin Williams. I would like to dedicate this review to the memory of this remarkable man, whose passing, even months later, pains me deeply. We love you, Robin.

It is no surprise that this film spends a lot of its run-time focused on Will’s (Matt Damon) therapy sessions with Sean McGuire (Robin Williams), considering that a major theme of the film is about overcoming the obstacles that we make for ourselves within our own minds. Will has serious difficulty with allowing new people into his life in any real and significant way because the first people that were meant to love him, his parents, deserted him. This is why Will hangs up on Skylar (Minnie Driver) after running out into the rain to call her on a payphone; this is why he simply cannot bring himself to say that he loves her, even though he wants to, even though it breaks her heart that he won’t. This is an issue that nearly all of us deal with to some degree or another. The complete desire to do one thing, but to be so inhibited from doing so because of various psychological dilemmas is undeniably a common and quite frustrating problem. Will goes further, masking his issues by adopting the persona of an aloof, no-shit-giving punk. He’s a janitor who evenly divides his time between batting cages and bars.

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Ordinary People (1980)

Halfway through Ordinary People, there is a scene in which high schooler Conrad Jarrett’s parents are taking family portraits. His mother and father take turns posing with their only son while his grandparents run the camera. Conrad awkwardly folds his arms, not knowing whether to smile. Father flashes a genuine grin, truly relishing the moment. When it’s Mother’s turn, the two stand together uncomfortably. Father’s trying to take the perfect picture, but Mother doesn’t know how to show Conrad affection, and her fake smile is growing tired. Father takes too long with the camera, Mother gets increasingly frustrated, Grandparents are talking over everyone as usual, and suddenly Conrad explodes. He’s had enough. Not so much with the photo, but with his mother’s inability to stand next to him and smile. Everyone freezes, except Mother. She carries on like nothing happened, hoping to fade back into normality like another ordinary person.

It’s a perfect representation of the family’s dynamic, though not the only one. Ordinary People is made up of small moments like these where characters aren’t saying how they feel, partly to keep up appearances, and partly because they don’t actually understand how they feel. In his directorial debut, Robert Redford proves to be an actor’s director, finding the ticks and gestures that characterize these humans better than any line of dialogue would. This is a movie about a family’s lack of understanding, of each other, yes, but mostly of themselves. They fidget, they pace, they stare blankly, lost in thought. They don’t understand why they feel and act the way they do, so they look to blame each other. After all, Conrad once screams, “It’s gotta be somebody’s fault or there ain’t no goddamn point.”

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Dead Poets Society (1989)

This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Theatre Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a double feature of Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.

Robin Williams was an actor who selected his film roles very carefully. Despite his ironclad station as the greatest American comedian of his time, Williams acted in drama nearly as much as he did in comedy. One need only look to the shy Dr. Sayer of Awakenings or to the chilling villains of One Hour Photo or Insomnia to see the acting mastery Williams commanded.

On the surface, John Keating of Dead Poets Society and Sean McGuire of Good Will Hunting are two more of these “serious” roles that broke the mold for Williams the comic. There is no doubt that both helped to establish him as a master thespian regardless of genre. He was nominated for Academy Awards for both roles and won Best Supporting Actor for the latter, beating out the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Robert Forster.

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One Hour Photo (2002)

The eyes of Sy Parrish deserve a spot alongside the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg in the hallowed Eye Symbolism Hall of Fame. Over the course of One Hour Photo we become increasingly aware of the fact that Sy, lonely photo tech at the local SavMart, is always peering into other lives, always consuming with his gaze, always watching. His eyes are obviously as much a part of his “hunting” arsenal as his camera – but they also provide a look back the other way into Sy’s dark and tortured soul.

Robin Williams is brilliant with dramatic material (see Awakenings, Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, etc.), but the actor on display in One Hour Photo is a being unlike anything else in the extensive Robin Williams filmography. Sy the Photo Guy is a creep sure enough, a stalker of the first degree, and with a guy as manic and riffy and fantastically off-the-wall as Williams in the role you’d think Sy would be likewise larger-than-life. Not so. The opposite is in fact true – Sy is impossibly withdrawn, deadly quiet, suspiciously reserved as he observes and interacts with a couple and their son whenever they get their photos developed. The fact that we know Williams as a massive screen presence only makes the silences of this turn more unsettling.

And director Mark Romanek deserves as much credit for that as Williams, because the entirety of One Hour Photo is a spare but deceptively rich character study. Romanek has stuck mainly to music videos (and made the greatest music video of all time, Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”) but will hopefully create a film as quality as this in the near future. It’s Romanek’s direction and framing that calls attention to the deeper aspects of Sy’s psyche, in particular through a few key shots and sequences concerning the watchful eyes of Sy Parrish.

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