September 17th, 2014

I AM DIVINE (2013) *** ½

I was a fan of the John Waters documentary, Divine Trash. This documentary about his most famous star, Divine, is even better. For any fan of Divine or Waters, this will be a must-see.

I Am Divine chronicles how Glenn Milstead goes from being an overweight Baltimore mama’s boy to the most famous midnight movie star of all time. A lot of this was already covered in Divine Trash, but I Am Divine delves deeper into Milstead’s need for acceptance as a legitimate actor. And it’s here where the movie really shines.

I Am Divine is full of clips from Waters and Divine’s movies, many of which, if you’re a fan of the duo, you’ve already seen. We also get a lot of priceless clips videoed from Divine’s various one-woman shows and off Broadway plays too. My favorite parts though were the snippets from Divine’s music videos.

All of John Waters’ usual suspects are interviewed and give heartfelt praise to Divine’s work ethic, creative drive, and talent. Divine’s mother is also interviewed and tells how she eventually grew to understand and accept her son. Her interviews are quite emotional, but the biggest emotional wallop comes from archive interviews with Divine himself. The film ends with him giving a big inspirational speech about following your dreams. When most people give out this sort of spiel, it feels phony or forced. However, when you hear it from someone who’s actually dreamed it and lived it, it works.

ROBIN WILLIAMS-PALOOZA: PART ONE: GOOFY ROBIN

Last month, the world lost one of its greatest comedic talents. This month, I’m going to honor the genius of Robin Williams by devoting a month-long movie-watching palooza to him. The first part will focus on his goofy movies, the second will focus on his darker films, and the final part will be devoted to flicks that blend the two. Today, we’ll be talking about Toys and Flubber…

TOYS (1992) * ½

In 1992, Barry Levinson was still getting a free pass from Hollywood for winning the Best Director Oscar for Rain Man. He then took it upon himself to make his dream project, Toys, about a general who takes over the family toy factory and tries to turn it into a big plant for war toys. This sounds good in theory, but the flick is just so mind-numbingly awful that it’s hard to even enjoy.

Before Toys came out, the trailer was nothing but Robin Williams standing in a field and ad-libbing. It was pretty hilarious. None of that energy or spark (let alone, laughs) can be found in the finished film. None of the scripted gags are funny, and neither are Williams’ obvious additions. When Williams and his friends finally rise up against the evil general, things really go to pot. The scenes of toys fighting are pretty lame and the whole thing is ruined by some truly nauseating slow motion.

Williams seems conflicted about how to play things. His character is rather demure and a bit of a goofball. When Williams starts riffing on his own, there are flashes of his trademark wit. Because of this, his character is inconsistent.

I think the movie would’ve actually worked better as an animated film. At least the overly simplistic narrative and heavy-handed “war toys are bad” message would’ve been more suited to an animated film. Toys is full of bizarre little asides (like the toy duck crossing scene) that aren’t funny and don’t exactly fit. In an animated movie, it might’ve been a goofy little throwaway gag. The awful New Age-y songs and musical numbers are a bit hard to take too and might’ve seemed at home in an animated flick.

I can’t completely hate Toys because the set design is pretty amazing. There is one scene where the walls of a room push in like Tetris pieces that is quite amazing just on a technical level. If Levinson put more thought into the script as the set decorators put into the backgrounds, it might’ve worked.

FLUBBER (1997) **

Robin Williams starred in this remake of The Absent-Minded Professor written by John Hughes. It was made during the days when Disney was remaking all their old hits like That Darn Cat, The Parent Trap, and The Shaggy Dog. It’s not very good, but I guess it’s harmless kid’s stuff.

Williams plays a professor who is so absent-minded that he keeps forgetting he’s getting married to Marcia Gay Harden. He’s so absent-minded in fact that after a while the audience believes he may be on the verge of Alzheimer’s. He invents a super-sticky substance called “Flubber” that can make basketballs bounce super high and cause cars to fly. The evil dean of the college (Raymond J. Barry) wants Flubber for himself and steals it. It’s then up to Williams and Harden to get it back.

You pretty much know you’re in for the usual John Hughes family film shenanigans as soon as you see Williams’ Rube Goldberg breakfast maker contraption. Hughes updates the big moments from the original, like the flying car and the basketball game scene, but with CGI special effects. This is watchable for the most part I suppose, but the whole thing devolves pretty quickly in the third act. The terrible scene where the Flubber goes flying into Christopher McDonald’s mouth and he shits it out is pretty cringe-inducing.

You know, in the original, the Flubber was like Play Doh or Silly Putty. This Flubber is a CGI blob that looks semi-human and has Busby Berkeley-style musical dance numbers with itself. It zooms and zips around making all kinds of PG family friendly commotion, but it is never exactly funny or anything.

I know I’m not the target audience for this sort of thing, but kids will probably enjoy it though. Still, there are some weird aspects to the flick that are just plain creepy. Like the subplot where Williams’ pet robot (voiced by The Little Mermaid’s Jodi Benson) falls in love with him and creates a photo-real duplicate of herself to seduce him. Yeah, that was odd.

Williams isn’t bad when he’s riffing and making jokes to himself (or at least to his pet robot) while messing around in his laboratory. I’ve always enjoyed R rated Robin myself, but he does eke out a few laughs with the PG material. The supporting cast fares slightly better. Christopher McDonald looks like he’s having fun as Williams’ sleazy rival who not only tries to steal his ideas, but his girl too. I also liked seeing Ted Levine and Clancy Brown as the goons hired by the dean to snoop on Williams. Too bad they’re forced to do a lot of sub-Home Alone type stuff.