Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How I Scared Robin Williams

Getting The Bad News

It seems like a celebrity dies every day. I'm rarely shocked by that, because... well, it's a part of life, and there are more celebrities than days. I usually just think, "Ahhh... that's too bad," and take a moment or two to reflect on how this person might have inspired or entertained me.

Not last night, when I received a text from my mother, "Did you hear about Robin Williams?"

My mother lives in Vegas, so she'll sometimes let me know when somebody I like is performing. That was my first guess, but the tone of her text seemed off, and I replied, "No, is he okay?" I wondered if he was in a car accident, got hurt filming a movie, or maybe had a heart attack. He is, after all, getting up there in years.

Impatience set in and I hit the web. Not performing in Vegas. No car accident. He was dead. And I did something for this celebrity that I've not done for any others... 

I wept.

My Fascination for Robin Williams

My fascination with Robin reached its climax in 1993. It was my senior year in high school, and two friends of mine and I would watch a movie every day. Cody was a huge Jean-Claude Van-Dam fan, so when he picked a movie, it came from that collection. For Jason and I, it was Robin Williams.

Mrs. Doubtfire had just come out. What a brilliant movie. Normally, the idea of some middle-aged guy dressing up like an old woman to stalk kids would be the makings of a horror movie. Robin Williams' portrayal of Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire left me convinced that he was the most talented actor in history.

Was it his humor that made him talented? No, lot of people made me laugh. It was his dynamic range of acting; I am convinced he could do it all. I mean, here was a guy who had become famous playing an alien in Mork and Mindy, but was now playing an old lady. And that's not all; his versatility was unending!

He played (well, voiced) a genie in Aladdin, with jokes coming so fast you have to watch it a dozen times to catch them all. Also, you can tell that those jokes are mostly Robin Williams' humor. I'm quite sure he didn't even read the script and just improvised everything in front of the mic.

He played Popeye. Okay, not exactly the highlight of his career, grant you, but I think his execution was perfect. Seriously, Popeye is not the easiest guy to act.

In The Survivors, he played Donald Quinelle, an insane gun-nut. I don't remember the plot at all, but I do remember one scene that just slayed me when I saw it. He's in a shootout with somebody when he realizes he brought the wrong bullets for his gun. So, he hides behind a tree and starts calling for a time out. A time out!!! In the middle of a gun fight! I half expected him to say, "Hey, can we reschedule this whole shooting at each other thing? Right now doesn't work for me. How about my people contact your people..."

And then there is "Good Morning, Vietnam." I grew up as a military brat, so this movie resonated with me on multiple levels. Again, I doubt any of his on-air parts were scripted, they were just sooooo Robin Williams. There are so many lines to quote from Adrian Cronauer, but the one that always stands out is, "Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? 'Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P." Also, the perfect answer to the question, "What does three up and three down mean to you, airman?"

Let's not forget Dead Poets Society. As a youth, this movie had a lot of influence on how I chose to live my life. I just watched it a few months ago, and so much of it still rings true to me to this day. To John Keating I say, "Oh Captain, my Captain." To everybody else, I say, "Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary." Okay, I'm not saying that, I'm whispering it like somebody from the grave. I almost feel like Robin is whispering it to me now.

Several of my favorite movies were his lesser known movies. He only had a few scenes in Dead Again. I love that movie on the surface, but having Robin in those few scenes made it that much better. Again, a stretch from everything else he had done. As Doctor Cozy Carlisle, his only role seemed to be providing exposition, but he inserted his own dark humor into the role, which was perfect for his part in this movie.

I'm surprised how few people have watched, "The Fisher King." Again, such versatility in acting! This movie took him through every emotion one can experience in a lifetime... love, revulsion, horror, fear, joy... everything!, and he did it in one two-hour long movie. Amazing. Brilliant. Entertaining. Thought provoking. It's one of my all-time favorite movies, but I doubt it would have been without the casting of Robin. On a side note: I like New York in June, how about you? 

And then there is Hook, which is such an intriguing movie to me. When I watched it as a high school student I thought this was a movie about Peter Pan trying to reclaim his youth. It wasn't until I was a parent that I realized this was about Peter Pan trying to reclaim his children. Not just physically, since they were kidnapped, but emotionally as well. As a family.

There were other movies, of course. Fern Gully. Baron Munchausen. Moscow on the Hudson (again, versatile role as a defecting Russian). The World According to Garp. All of the characters were the roles that demanded to be played with just the right mixture of Robin to keep it flavorful.

There are so many actors who never mix it up and just play the same role again and again. Especially action stars. Van-Dame played the same guy with just a different name in every one of his movies. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood are just actors playing the same character movie after movie. Some try to branch out, and the results can get laughable (for the wrong reasons), but Robin always pulled it off.

Only a few actors have branched out as much as him, like Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Gary Oldman, and Daniel Day Lewis. In '93, I put Robin on a pedestal and I've kept him there. He has been, and always will be, my favorite actor.

He's done much since that year when Jason, Cody, and I watched every movie he did in my living room while we raided my parent's food pantry. We practically memorized all of his lines, and we'd often be found in high school quoting them to each other and performing the lines verbatim and on demand. Since that year, he's made other great movies like Jumanji, Jack, Good Will Hunting (where he finally won a much-deserved Academy Award), Patch Adams, RV, August Rush, Night at the Museum, and so many more.

Scaring Robin Williams

Okay, here it is. One of my many lame claims to fame is this one: I once scared Robin Williams. I've told people I've done it, and I've always promised to tell the story someday. Why not now? Spoiler alert: this isn't as exciting as you might imagine.

I was at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas about fifteen years ago with my brother, Dave. We were watching some tech presentations when Dave says, "Did you hear that? Somebody said that Robin Williams is walking by."

Ummm... what? Screw this possibility of winning a Sound Blaster from Creative Labs, I was going to check this out! Sure enough, we looked around for a bit and there he was. At this point, I pretty much lost control of my humanity as I dashed over. Here he was, my favorite actor, right in front of me!!! Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, OHMYGOSH!!!

A bomb could have gone off a few feet from me and I wouldn't have noticed. When I had the opening, I stuck my hand out, shook his hand, and pronounced, "Hi, Robin! I'm your biggest fan!"

"Oh, yeah? I'm glad to hear that," he said. 

Something told me he doubted that a little bit. Okay, challenge accepted. I'll prove it to him? "Yes. I can quote any movie. Hit me with a line, and I'll continue it."

Robin laughed. He briefly glanced over his left shoulder before turning back to me and saying, "I believe you. Thank you. Do you want me to sign something?"

I rummaged through the collected crap in my swag bag until I found a sticky-note pad and a pen. He quickly scribbled his name and then talked with my brother while I stared at his signature in shock and reverence. I mentally vowed to never wash my right hand again. I was thinking a lot of insane things... my mind was closer to Ork than Earth at the moment.

However, as I replayed it in my head afterward, and got more of Dave's side of the story, this is what really happened.

I ran up to Robin Williams, wild eyed, starting to sweat, panting, and probably drooling a bit. I'm sure these are the types of people that Robin loves meeting on a regular basis. After shaking hands hard enough to dislocate his shoulder, I practically shouted, "I'm your biggest fan and will lick the carpet everywhere you walk and quote back all of your lines and we can be best friends and I can hang out at your house or you can hang out at mine and have sleepovers and play World of Warcraft together and level our characters together and slip in a little bit of cooperative Zelda game play and I'm just like you so why wouldn't you want to hang out with somebody that totally gets everything you do and worships the very ground you walk upon."

I know, I know... I was one of THOSE fans, like I was entitled to three wishes from him. I bet he thought, "Oh, to be free! Not to have to go, 'Poof! What do you need?' Poof! 'What do you need?' Poof! 'What do you need?' To be my own master. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasure in the world."

His laughter wasn't of the, "Oh, good, I finally found my biggest fan" variety, but more of the ""Ummm.... keep an eye on this one. I'm worried" variety. See, I told you he was a great actor. He had me fooled!

The short glance over his shoulder was actually directed toward the two burly men flanking him throughout the convention. With that one glance, they stepped a few inches closer and put on glares that stated, "Step away kid, we're not afraid to hurt you. In fact, we're hoping for an excuse to gut you right here."

At which point, Robin promised to sign something in hopes I'd be placated and just go away. A brilliant maneuver as he escaped just before I completed my transformation into Annie Wilkes. Something tells me I wasn't the first person to lose all self control in his presence.

Final Thoughts

He inspired me, helped me see the world in a different light, made me laugh, and didn't order his bodyguards to beat me to a bloody pulp. He was a true diamond in the rough. He is my favorite actor and I will miss him. RIP Robin! Your table's ready.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

After the Movie: The Fault in our Stars

Before seeing The Fault in our Stars on Friday, I blogged on my impressions of the book with the possible intention of writing my post-viewing impressions. Well, here it is!

I started that post spoiler-free and then when the spoilers came out, I gave a warning first and then went a lot more in-depth. In this post I'll keep things spoiler free except for one paragraph (I'll warn you first), so you are safe to read this whether or not you've read the book or seen the movie. I'm still assuming you know the premise of the book, right? If not, then yeah, there will be some small spoilers ahead.

I love a good book adaption to a movie. I understand that no book can be translated to the big screen perfectly. I am rather annoyed when a book and the movie are hardly anything alike, or they implement drastic changes to the point where the two are not even related anymore. So, while I recognize SOME changes are needed, I think some go a little too far.

Unlike most adaptions, I don't think this one strayed from the story line too far. The only change that really stood out was when I'd think, "Okay, here is one of my more favorite lines. Here it comes, here it comes," and then it doesn't come. It's replaced by something else. It wasn't so much that they cut a line in the interest of time, because the line was often replaced instead of removed entirely. Then it hit me, "Wait a minute, they've made the characters sound less sophisticated!"

I guess it makes sense. A criticism I've regularly seen of the book is that the main characters talk way too grown up. I didn't mind, because kids who go through as much as these two do often mature sooner. And, to be honest, if this is the biggest thing to crawl under my skin, I'm still happy with the outcome. After all, they didn't turn the kids into morons, they just made them sound more like teenagers.

Okay, skip this paragraph if you don't know much about the book. Slight spoiler alert ahead... If they would have changed one thing, I wish it was the sex scene. It didn't show anything that would be considered nudity, but I thought it could have been scaled back more than they had. I was growing uncomfortable with how far they let it progress.

Overall, I loved the movie; I thought it was one of the better book adaptions. I loved seeing it on the big screen, and I thought the chemistry between Shailene Woodley (Hazel Grace) and Ansel Elgort (Augustus) was real. On screen, the two seem to share a real connection. I can't imagine any other teenage couple doing anywhere near as well as these two did.

As for the themes, one continued to stand out. Some day, we are all going to die. Every single one of us, and when we do, we are going to leave somebody behind who cares about us. Conversely, some day somebody will die and leave us in tears and sorrow. The question is, should we love somebody if this is the fate that happens between you two? When you get married, more than likely one will leave before the other.

Recently, I lost both of my great-grandparents within a couple of months of each other. My grandmother went first, and the hardest thing I've ever seen in my life is watching the coffin close on her as my grandfather--her husband of 70 years--watched over. He cried. I cried. Everybody who witness this cried. There wasn't a dry eye in the room.

Despite the pain, I don't believe for a second that he would have changed their relationship at all. I don't think he ever thought, "This hurts too much, I wish we had never met." Of course not. He loved her.

Lord Tennyson wrote, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Yes, we can all spare others of the pain of our death. We can be spared of these feelings ourselves by not getting attached to people, so we do not feel the pain and sorrow of their departures.

Don't let the fact that all relationships end on this earth stop you from forming a loving relationship. The pain that accompanies death is because of the love you've been able to experience with that person. Everything has its opposites, and the opposite of sorrow and fear is love. You can't have one without the other. While the loss of a loved one is one of the greatest sorrows you will ever feel, the love felt from that person is the greatest feeling you will ever experience.

Don't fear love. Appreciate your loved ones. The way to live life to the fullest is to love with all your heart, not through anything else. True joy is only experienced through true love. While a life may be pain-free by sparing itself from love, it will ultimately be a very dull life that is not worth living.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Before the Movie: The Fault in our Stars

On New Years I posted my annual book rewards and one of my favorites for 2013 was The Fault in our Stars. Imagine my joy when I found out that it was being turned into a movie. Last week I gave it another read in preparation for the movie and I still loved it.

I wanted to give my "before" impressions of the story before the movie has a chance to change it. I'd like to write a followup on my thoughts after the movie as well, to see if the movie supported my thoughts, gives me new impressions, or dashes my perceptions (a nasty habit of Hollywood).

A Warning

I'll begin by trying to keep it spoiler free. I'm going to assume that if you haven't read it, you at least know what it is about and the trials the two main characters are forced to endure. If you don't and you aren't a fan of spoilers, STOP RIGHT NOW!!

Mostly Spoiler-Free Zone

I naturally assumed that everybody should read this and fall in love with it like I did. It's got a 4.5 on Goodreads and won countless rewards, who could be hating on this?

A handful of people, apparently.

To each their own, right? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, even when they are wrong. Haha, just kidding! Seriously, I don't think any less of you if you didn't like a book I enjoyed.

One problem people have noted is that the dialogue seems a little grown up for teenagers. Personally, I excuse this because the two main characters are young, but have worn and old souls. They are in a reflective stage of life because of the trials that had been thrust upon them. I actually enjoyed the dialogue and the banter.

Another criticism was the maturity level of the book since it's geared toward teenagers. Bad language? Check, but nothing that would prevent a movie from slipping into the R-rated category. Compared to children in high school, this is actually quite mild. Mature (sexual) content? Check, but it was far from graphic. I don't think it was needed, really, but that was for the author to decide. Again, nothing that would prevent a PG-13 rating. In fact, the movie is PG-13 and I'm assuming they kept the scene from getting to explicit.

If this were a middle-grade book, then this would be way too far, but as a YA book this--at most--pushes the envelop. Am I thrilled by the content? Nah, adult content doesn't excite me and I think he could have scaled back considerably without taking away from the story. However, if you are sensitive to adult content, I'd probably avoid this book.

And then there is the cancer. I've heard this referred to as a cancer book, but I've never thought this was a cancer book, I thought the book's theme had to do with something else entirely: identity, living life, and the difference our lives make to others.


Seriously, I'm not holding back anymore. Stop reading now if you haven't read the book or seen the movie to avoid any surprises.

Last chance....

Not a Cancer Book

Okay, so why isn't this a cancer book?

To me, a cancer book would be a book where cancer is a main character, however, this is more about kids who have cancer. Cancer is there, and because it is a major factor in their lives, it is brought up constantly, especially when it comes from the perceptions of other people. For the most part, when Gus and Hazel are together, they talk about other things. Movies. Friends. People. Their love for each other. Cancer is not the prevalent part of the conversation except in two conversations. I don't even think it would make it as a supporting character. Hazel spends a lot of time obsessing how she is going to dress, but I haven't heard anybody suggest that this is a book about clothes.

The cancer becomes more prevalent when it comes to other's perceptions of it. Hazel's parents seem to deal with it more often than Hazel does, to the point where it seems that is all Hazel's mom does with all her time. It's pointed out when a child approaches Hazel and asks about her oxygen machine. It seems like everybody else doesn't see Hazel as a person, they only see a kid with cancer. Sadly, it seems that Hazel internalizes a lot of this to the point that she thinks she is a grenade who will go off and ruin everybody's lives who are nearby, hence her hesitation in forming a relationship. What this book says is, "Hazel is not a cancer kid. Hazel is a person." In the literary sense.

Theme 1: Identity

I think Gus put it best when he asked Hazel what her story was. She started talking about when she was diagnosed with cancer and he interrupted her. He didn't want to hear cancer's story, he wanted to hear her story.

Throughout their relationship, Gus actually treated Hazel like a real person and not cancer or a grenade. Because Gus is cancer-free when they meet, Gus is already viewed as a normal person who just happens to be missing a leg. The cancer is a thing of the past, so he is planning on a future. He still goes to school.

Even still, he doesn't want to just be known as cancer. When Gus disappears before they board the airplane, he later explains he hates it when people stare at him. I can't remember why exactly (I don't have the book in front of me), but if I remember correctly it was because he was tired of being looked at as the sick kid. Sick or not, he's still a person, dang it!

Same thing with other characters in the book. Hazel's mom, what do we know about her? She has taken upon herself one job: Hazel's nanny. Everything she does is only to help Hazel. Or, is it? Sadly, it isn't until the end of the book that we learn that she is more than just Hazel's caretaker.

Aren't we all? After all, when people ask for our story we usually start with what we do.

Stranger 1: So, tell me about yourself.
Stranger 2: Well, I'm a candle-stick maker. My mom always told me I was born with a wick already lit in my hands. I started making candles before I could walk. In fact, I could make a candle before I could even say the word. You?
Stranger 1: Accountant. No, I won't do your taxes.

Okay, a candle-stick maker. That isn't who you are, it's what you do. In the book, Hazel refers to her fighting cancer as her full-time job, so when Hazel is asked about her story, she does like all of us does and launches into her getting-over-cancer job. How refreshing would it be to have a conversation like this:

Stranger 1: So, tell me about yourself.
Stranger 2: Well, I'm a hopeless romantic. When I met my wife, I sang to her publicly to ask her out. I didn't stop singing until she relented. Speaking of, I really love to sing, even though I'm not that great at it, but luckily my wife is deaf in one ear so it works out well as long as I'm standing to her left. Also, I like cheese. You?
Stranger 1: Oh, I absolutely love and adore cheese!

I'd like to try this the next time I'm asked who I am, and not tell them what I do until they explicitly ask what my occupation is. WE ARE ALL MORE THAN WHAT WE DO TO PAY THE BILLS.

Theme 2: Living Life

Hazel is a bit of a recluse. Partly because her parents are afraid to let her out of their sights, but she also tends to hold back a lot because she doesn't want to hurt other people. At one point, Gus touches Hazel's face and she kind of freaks out, in which she explains to him that she doesn't want to hurt anybody so she isn't going to gamble with falling in love, because it won't end well.

That sounds well meaning, but in the end you are only depriving other people when you decide to withhold yourself. I liked the grenade analogy and what happened with the rest of the book. First, she did go off like a grenade right after this part. She went to the hospital for a few days, and Gus stayed in there the entire time. Even after witnessing the metaphorical explosion, he stuck around.

Then the grenade actually turned out to be Gus, and I loved seeing the paradigm shift that Hazel experienced. Instead of fearing that she'll hurt people because of her upcoming death, she only loves Gus more when she ends up being on the receiving end of a grenade going off. Yes, Gus getting sick hurt her, but having Gus as a person in her life was seen as a blessing. Most likely the best thing that ever happened to her. Maybe the best thing that ever will happen to her.

He taught her to have a life and live it to its fullest.

Then there's the other side of the spectrum: Peter Van Houten. This is a guy who could freely live his life. He's got health (well, more than the main characters), he's got wealth, and the only thing holding him back is a pessimistic worldview and an addiction to alcohol. Sadly, it's the potential that Van Houten could have and is missing out on. Van Houten has everything he needs to have the most extraordinary life, but instead he has turned into a person who's only real skill is to turn people away with his bitterness.


Aren't we all grenades? One day we will die and we will leave people behind to mourn over us. Should we let this fact (oh, spoiler alert, you too will some day die) make us "live" a life of fear or should we make a life worth living? One thing this book teaches is to choose the latter decision. You only get one life, make the most of it and don't settle for less!

Theme 3: Difference Our Lives Make Toward Others

This was the most profound theme I noticed in the book, the influence people have with others.

Again, there is the grenade metaphor. Hazel's fear is that she will do no good for the world, only blowing it up in the wake of her illness. Sadly, this thought is shared by many people in the world. That horrible thought of, "What good am I? The world would be a better place without me."

Nonsense! Everybody is a blessing toward somebody. We all have value, more than I think we will ever realize. We all make a positive difference for other people, even if we don't realize it. When you have the above thoughts and pull yourself out of the world, you are only withholding your potential to be a beacon of light to the world.

Gus has the opposite fear, that he won't leave a large enough impression on the world. When Gus is asked what his biggest fear is, he answers, "Oblivion." He feared that when he left, nobody would remember him.

Hazel then responded that he shouldn't fear oblivion, because it is coming whether he liked it or not. Some day, our sun will explode or the galaxy will implode, and nothing we do now--no matter how amazing--will ever change that.

Gus wanted to do something big. He made grand gestures while playing a video game to save everybody, usually at the ultimate cost of his teammates and himself. He had a fear of dying just of cancer, which he didn't consider to be noble. He wanted to exchange his life for something. I think he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.

To which Hazel took offense, because this line of thinking sounded dangerously close to, "If you don't go out nobly, you might as well not even live at all."

She's right. I think it is more important to live a noble life than to die a noble death. Even if oblivion is coming (as a religious person, I have a deep-rooted belief in an afterlife and a forever, but even still...), what will people remember about you a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, a billion years from now? Sooner or later, we will all be forgotten. What matters are the people you can bless right now. Today. Who you've blessed in your yesterdays and days before that, and those you can bless in the future. In the end, people are rarely remembered for how they die, but only for how they live.

So, what can you do now to help others? I love looking at the characters in this book:

First, there is Hazel, the point of view character who was afraid of hurting others. Because she feared causing harm, she also feared doing good, not realizing that the two often go hand-in-hand. She even chose to become a vegetarian to lesson the number of lives hurt by her. However, she was still a friend to Kaitlyn and later to Isaac. She was still there to help Gus in his time of need and return the love he so freely offered. Gus' father said he thanked God every day for her being part of Gus' life.

Then there is Gus, that character that has reduced readers across the world to tears. Why did they cry? After all, if Gus had bit it in the first chapter, we probably wouldn't have cared. Heck, didn't one person from the support group end up dying? What was that person's name? That person's gender? Yeah, I don't remember either. However, the tears were shed because of the life he lived, not the death he had. Gus, without question, uplifted Hazel's life to a height I don't think she'd ever think it could. She had the adventure of a lifetime and the love of her life, but only because Gus had been there for her. Because of his love, hearts were touched and uplifted, and not just in the book.

Okay, now for Peter Van Houten. If anybody wept over him, it was only because of the lost potential. The book opens with Hazel telling us bout her three best friends, her two parents and Peter. He had written a book that inspired her and made her find meaning in life. When she finally gets the opportunity to meet him, he turns out to be a total jerk-face. No, no... that's too nice. I think compete jerk-faces read his scene and thought, "Wow, I'm glad I'm nothing like this guy." At one point, he did good. It wasn't just Hazel and Gus who he had touched, he apparently had piles of unread fan mail. This is why Lidewij wanted Hazel and Gus to come, so he could finally see for himself that there was good that came from the book. Instead, he got liquored up and claimed he loathed his book. He tried to make amends, but in the end Hazel just told him to stop drinking and write something. Who knows, maybe there is still hope for him. I'd like to think so. I wonder if John Green, the author, thought that too.

Mrs. Lancaster is no exception. I actually love how she turns out, because the story portrays her as just being a helicopter parent. Obviously, she means well, and without her (and her husband's) love for Hazel, Hazel would have had a horrible life and a much earlier death. Instead, she cares for Hazel, which appears to be all she did. Or was it? I love the fact that Mrs. Lancaster devoted so much more of her time preparing herself to help others. Even Hazel was excited to know that she was going to become a Patrick... and Hazel didn't even like Patrick. I'm with her, I'm excited that Mrs. Lancaster will be a Patrick too; the world needs more Patricks.

I guess there is also Patrick, who is actually mocked in the movie, but you know he wouldn't be there if he wasn't doing good for somebody. So, he didn't help Hazel or Gus... or did he? If not for his support group, these two people would have never met. We don't see much of his story outside of Hazel's disdain, but in my mind I imagine him being a help to a lot of other people.

One more person, a minor character. The most true character: Anne Frank, the teenage diary writer. The faith, hope, and love she shared through her words have touched MILLIONS!! Sadly, she died at the age of 15, and I'm sure had no idea what an influence she would become for the generations that have and will continue to follow. No doubt, she has blessed the lives of so many others, including myself.

And more.

In the end, it is our choice. We choose what kind of influence we will have on others. I hope I make the right choices in this regard.