Tag Archives: Robin Williams

A movie post: “Rocketman” provides great music, and a so-so story. 30 years on, remembering the great “Dead Poets Society.” And a father’s day PSA honors Dads of all kinds

Here are some things I can tell you after a rare trip to the cinemas Friday night, to see the new Elton John biopic, “Rocketman.”

— There are a whole lot of Elton John songs in this movie (although disappointingly, we didn’t get “Candle in the Wind”), and they’re all sung excellently and with fantastic stage presence by Taron Egerton. Egerton is so freaking good he almost redeems the movie’s flaws by himself.

— This is a sanitized version of John’s story; I mean, yeah, we see him treating people badly, and we see the drugs and the drinking that takes place after he shoots to fame, but it’s really pretty tame stuff compared to most rock biopics. Alas, Sir Elton was an executive producer on the film, so that explains why it was rather tame.

— Did I like the movie? The music scenes were excellent, Egerton was, as I said, superb in channeling the look and sound of Elton John, and visually there were some incredible set pieces.
But the story was really, really slow-moving; we didn’t need a half-hour of Elton John’s childhood. There were lots of unexplored avenues in the film, a lot of the plot was simplistic in regards to John’s parents, and the movie abruptly ends telling John’s story in around 1989. Lots of interesting stuff has happened to him since then, including his incredible AIDS charity work, his musical evolution without working with Taupin, etc. I would’ve liked to see a lot more of the last 30 years, and less of his first 30.

I’d give the movie 2.5 stars, because when all is said and done, I did have a fun time watching it.

— If you believe this movie’s chronology, about 95 percent of the classic Bernie Taupin-Elton John songs they wrote together were penned in the first year they knew each other. Seriously, SO many hits were played/sung in the first months of their collaboration that you’re left thinking “Man, these guys started out hot, then didn’t write another great song for like 10 years.

— Finally, this has nothing to do with “Rocketman” but I just need to share:

The guy working the snacks counter told me, authoritatively, that not only are there people who purchase the giant horsebucket-sized container of popcorn for $9.50, but often bring it back for the promised free refill, while the film they’re seeing is still going on.

Who are these people that need THIS much popcorn? How can they eat this much popcorn? Even if they’re sharing it with, like 6 or 7 people, that’s still a ridiculous amount of popcorn?
Sorry, this stayed with me for a few hours after the movie.

**Next up today, in the same “movies” vein, The Ringer.com and Bill Simmons had an excellent podcast the other day about the classic “Dead Poets Society” which turns 30 years old this year.

I have always loved, loved, LOVED “DPS,” because I’m a writer and an English major nerd and because it’s just such a beautiful film, acted so well by Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, and a young Josh Charles.

Anyway, they of course talked about the final scene, which for my money is the best last scene of a movie, ever.

Enjoy. And seize the day!

**And finally today, Sunday was Father’s Day, and I hope if you’re a Dad you had a great one, and if you’re lucky enough to have your own father still around, you called him or hugged him or maybe did both (I saw mine and we had a lovely day).
Before I go on, had to share these two fantastic Dad jokes I took from NPR’s Twitter thread Sunday, when they happily unveiled a flurry of Dad jokes for our groans and amusement. These two legit had me laughing out loud:

1.My wife is really mad at the fact that I have no sense of direction. So I packed up my stuff and right.

2. Guy walks up to a librarian and says…”Can you tell me where I can find the books on paranoia?” The librarian (whispers) “They’re right behind you.”

OK, moving on, thanks to my Facebook memory feature Sunday I saw this incredible PSA from 2013 that I ran on the blog here in honor of Father’s Day, and it was so good and moved me, again, on Sunday that I wanted to run it again here.

Just beautifully put together by the folks at Family Today; the Dad’s face at the :55 mark is all of us…

Tales from 2 awesome days at U.S. Open qualifying. Letterman remembers Robin Williams, beautifully. And a terrific speech from a Little League coach to this team


I’ve spent the last two days out at the National Tennis Center in Queens, watching one of my favorite events in sports, and the ticket didn’t cost me a dime.

I’ve written in this space before about the awesomeness of the U.S. Open qualifying tournament, when 128 men and 128 women compete for 16 spots in the main U.S. Open draw (for those not familiar with it works at Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the top 110 or so players in the world rankings automatically get into the main draw of the tournament, while the rest of the spots go to players who get wild cards (usually up and coming players for the host country, or older players whose injuries have made them drop way down the rankings) or those who make it through qualifying, where you have to win three matches in a row to reach the coveted main draw).

It’s free to the public, you get hour after hour of competitive tennis (there are rarely any lopsided matches in “qualies,” because there’s not much difference between players ranked No. 145 and No. 165, for example), and you can get even closer to the court than you can during the regular U.S. Open:

Some scattered thoughts from my heat-fried brain after two days of tennis nirvana:
— My biggest takeaway from the two days was how physically brutal tennis is. I’d say in at least 50 percent of the matches I watched, at least one player took an injury timeout (in one match Wednesday, both players took simultaneous injury timeouts, which I’d never seen before.) Tuesday a promising young American woman named Sachia Vickery hurt her knee late in the second set and tried really hard to keep playing.
She managed to get the match to a third and deciding set, while barely able to move between points. During the points she ran and played her best, but she was in agony for a good hour out there. She finally lost and had to be helped off the court.
This sport just punishes your body when it’s played at a pro level.

— Got a real good look at the two most promising young American men to come along in a while, though calling them “men” really isn’t accurate yet; 16-year-old Stefan Kozlov (above, who looks about 12 if you just see his face) won his first-ever adult qualies match, while 16-year-old Francis Tiafoe, who I’ve written about here before, lost a close night match before a raucous crowd cheering him on vociferously. Both are outstanding talents that could win the Open one day.

— Another cool feature of qualies week is you never know when you’ll stumble upon major stars practicing to get ready for the Open, unannounced. Wednesday around 3 p.m. I wandered over to the Grandstand court, just to see if anyone was over there, and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka was practicing with No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych. Two of the top 6 players in the world, playing a practice set just 20 feet from me.

— Maybe my favorite thing I saw in 2 days? A teenager walking around with a “Commack Tennis” t-shirt on. That’s my old high school! And man, we never had T-shirts advertising our Commack pride. I was totally jealous.

**Next up, David Letterman always is funny, but he also does a fantastic job with sad news on his show as well.
The other night Dave gave a moving speech about Robin Williams’ death, followed by a terrific short montage of the comedian’s finest moments on Letterman’s TV shows.

Watch and enjoy… Dave’s the best.

**Finally today, the Little League World Series has been going on all week, with Wednesday night seeing new Sports Illustrated cover girl Mo’Ne Davis and her Philadelphia teammates lose to Las Vegas.
As always, there are winners and losers in Little League, where millions of kids learn how to do both. But it’s losing with class and grace, and seeing the positive in defeat, that’s often hardest for kids to learn.
Which is why I loved this speech from Rhode Island coach David Belisle, who had to try to console his players after they were eliminated from the World Series. His words are beautiful, uplifting, and exactly what we want all coaches to be.

Remembering the manic genius (and acting chops) of the great Robin Williams. And a baby laughs uproariously because that’s what babies do sometimes.

I once saw a TV special where the legendary comedian Alan King was asked to talk about Robin Williams.

He paraphrased the old Bobby Jones quote about Jack Nicklaus; Jones saw the young golfing phenom and said “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.”

King said the same thing about Robin Williams: “I’ve been doing standup for over 50 years, and he and I aren’t in the same business. We’re not even from the same planet.”

Robin Williams literally played a man from another planet once on TV, but in reality he pretty much lived up to King’s quote. He was manic and zany and hilarious and impossible to interview in a serious way, since he ping-ponged around a room at warp speed.

You will read and hear a lot today about this incredible talent, who succumbed to the darker angels of his nature and took his own life on Monday, about how he fought depression for many years, about how even a man as famous and talented as Robin Williams can be brought down by this crippling disease.

I want to share a few personal memories of Williams, one of them being that I find it fascinating that for all his comic gifts, his two best movie roles were in dramatic performances: “Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting.”

When I was a kid one of the things my best friends Marc, Andrew and I used to do on Saturday nights was rent VHS tapes of comedy specials of our favorite comedians. (yes, I know we were super-cool.)
We would watch Billy Crystal, Howie Mandel and Jerry Seinfeld and laugh our heads off; I looked forward to those nights so much.

One night we rented Robin Williams’ “A Night At the Met,” and I was completely blown away. He was insanely funny, completely impossible to follow, and I remember not understanding half the jokes but realizing this is someone very, very different.

I watched the above clip late tonight, and laughed really hard again. Robin Williams was a comic genius, and he will be missed, and if his death shines a light on the depression millions of Americans far less famous than he suffer through, then that’s a good thing.

But that a 63-year-old man beloved by millions decided he couldn’t go on one more day, that’s just an indescribable tragedy.

And now, on a lighter note: A baby, some music, and a remote control that makes him deliriously happy. I hope this is all it takes to one day entertain my child…

Why I’m so excited for jury duty today. A Dave Matthews fan gets a rare surprise. And this “The Butler” movie looks awesome


Ninety-nine percent of the U.S. population will disagree with me on this.

But I am so, so damn excited for my first-ever trip to court for jury duty today. Been looking forward to it for weeks. Weeks!

I can just hear you screaming “What?” Americans do everything possible to avoid this fate. They fake illnesses. They concoct wild stories about their workplace. I even once heard about a guy who hid in his house and didn’t answer his phone when he was supposed to show up for jury duty.

But I never understood these people, because my whole life I’ve always wanted the chance to be a juror. First of all, I think it’s a fascinating part of our job as citizens: Every once in a great while, we are asked to help decide the fate, guilty or not guilty, of one of our fellow citizens. That’s a tremendous power to have.

Second, I’ve seen “12 Angry Men” so many times that I can practically give you the movie line by line. Of course I know it doesn’t always work that way in real life, but still, to be in a jury room and get to have a spirited back and forth about a person’s innocence or guilt, with people from wildly different backgrounds and have had wildly different experiences than me? Sounds like a great time.

Finally, I just think it’s a chance to actually get to give something back. We take so much for granted in the country; even when things are terrible, for most of us they’re still pretty good compared to how much of the world lives.

For all that we are given, getting to do your legal duty and be a juror seems a small price to pay.

I’ve been waiting my whole adult life for this. Not sure why I was never called until now; at first I thought it was because I was a journalist, and they know we can never be impartial or have no opinion about a case, I guess.
But nope, even after my career changed and I kept voting here in N.Y., I was still never called.

Finally, though, my day has arrived. I’m ready, baby. I don’t care if it’ll be boring today or tomorrow, I don’t care how long the questioning takes; just give me a shot to be a part of our criminal justice system, and I’m one happy dude.

Yes, I know I’m strange. But I can’t wait to get started.

**I don’t usually get excited about movie preview trailers; in the theater, they’re just an impediment to the reason I bought the ticket, and I usually don’t care if I miss it.

But I saw one in the multiplex the other day for this new Forest Whitaker movie called “The Butler,” based on the real-life White House experiences of an African-American man who served eight Presidents, and I could hardly contain my excitement.
Just look at some of the cast: Jane Fonda. John Cusack (playing Richard Nixon! My mind is spinning contemplating Lloyd Dobler now playing Tricky Dick). Liev Schreiber. Alan Rickman. Terrence Howard. Robin Williams (as Dwight Eisenhower). Oprah. Vanessa Redgrave. Melissa Leo.

I mean, that’s a hell of a cast. And then the trailer, which I’ve watched several times now, has me completely riveted. It’s coming out in about a month; I definitely will be there.


**Finally today, a sweet celebrity encounter. Seems Dave Matthews was out for a pre-concert bike ride in Hershey, PA last weekend when he got a flat tire, and didn’t have a cell phone with him. (Dave, Dave, Dave, bike-riders of the world tsk tsk)

Fan Emily Knaus was on her way to the show with her boyfriend and stopped to help the stranded biker, not knowing who it was.
Matthews was so grateful for the ride to the show, he gave Emily and her boyfriend seats, and took them to dinner afterwards.

Very cool gesture, Mr. Matthews.