Gutted, mourning Robin Williams

What Dreams May Come

What Dreams May Come

Sure, Robin Williams, who has been found dead at his home aged 63, had his demons with drugs, drink – and like so many comedians – depression.

But that certainly doesn’t mean his death is any less shattering or was generally met with disbelief when it was the first thing that met my eyes and ears as I awoke to the news. Famously, he cites the death of fellow comedian John Belushi as a wake up call to his drug consumption and he freely admitted that if The Blues Brother hadn’t died then it probably would have been Williams next.

Like many, I grew up with him, first on my TV screen on Mork and Mindy, then on several of his live shows and of course his big screen antics way before he hit it big in Good Morning Vietnam in 1987, which seems like a lifetime ago, but seemed to capture the persona of Williams perfectly – the zany comic against the establishment and the thoughtful man that cared for others. Williams was both of these and pretty much the rest of his output moved between the two with great success in the likes of Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire and even Dead Poets Society.

He’ll, of course, always be remembered for his manic style – an interviewers dream and nightmare no doubt – and his amazingly fast comedic processor that saw improv with hilarious results in such classics as Aladdin, Good Morning Vietnam and Mrs Doubtfire, that just shows his sheer diversity there.

But these were tempered with more thoughtful performances in Dead Poets Society, Moscow on the Hudson, and in one of my own personal favourite films, Awakenings. Not to forget his best supporting actor Oscar nod for Good Will Hunting of course, Williams also received nominations for the afore-mentioned Vietnam, Society and The Fisher King.

There was often sadness in this clown’s eyes during his performances, whether that be the desperate father to see his children, the doctor who couldn’t help in Awakenings or the ‘little boy lost’ or ‘boy who never grew up’ figure in the likes of Jack, Jumanji and of course Hook as Peter Pan himself. And in the latter, for me, it was the grown up Peter in the real world that bookended the film that was the most interesting element of that film.

And his performances in darker material such as Insomnia, this time acting against Pacino, and One Hour Photo just showed the man’s range and ability to act, he was no one trick pony. And that range was matched by the diverse range of films and genres that he found himself leading audiences, of course there were always the comedies but I’ll remember him as much for his dramatic roles, roles such as that in What Dreams May Come where he finds himself looking for his wife in the afterlife – which has never looked so vivid and rich – after she has committed suicide. It’s poignancy elevated beyond belief now of course, it is a beautiful film to look at and certainly won’t be easy viewing when it is next watched.

One of his last films to be released will be Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb, scheduled for a Christmas release, again its release will be cloaked in sadness at the talent we have lost. Ironically I was watching the first film the night before his death and he is brilliant as Teddy Roosevelt (essentially in that he is the elder statesman of comedy) and he fills his supporting performance – always making it feel bigger than it actually is – with what makes a Williams performance great, full of warmth, humility and fun. He of course played another President,  Eisenhower, in the recent The Butler (2013).

It’s pleasing (if that is the right word) to see that Sky, the BBC and Channel 4 are all remembering the talent of Williams with a selection of his most beloved films. All, for one reason or another, will be difficult to watch because of the man and the talent that we have lost and many of his performances will now resonate more loudly and deeper than they ever did before.

The ‘zany character’ of Robin Williams that we saw on the big screen, on stage or on the chat show was just that, a character and he played it well and brought so much joy to others of all ages. My favourite ever story though is that when Steven Spielberg was making the harrowing Schindler’s List he’d come back from an emotionally draining day of filming and speak to Williams via video link up who would just cheer him and other crew up, bringing some sunshine back into the darkness. I’m sure all of us who have been made to laugh or been moved by one of his performances just wished that we could have done the same for him.

His light might have dimmed but his power to make us laugh and cry, or even cry with laughter, has just been forever heightened.

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Rock chick

Shades. Check. Springsteen-esque Hello Kitty t-shirt. Check. Thumping tune. Check.

Isabelle released her not so inner rock chick when Crazy Nights by Kiss was cranked up to 11 (obviously) in grandma and grandads’s car on the way to see ‘How To Train Your Dragon 2′.

After the screening I’m sure Iz will book into the nearest hotel just to throw a TV through a window, just to complete the ensemble.

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West end girl

IMG_9167Isabelle made her West End debut a week ago today at the Novello Theatre, current home of Mamma Mia.

It’s an iconic theatre and we were flanked by famous name shows – The Lion King and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – and famous names, Iz was performing across the street from Jessica Rabbit and Emperor Palpatine AKA Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid.

Iz was on stage to help celebrate ten years of Make Believe, the theatre school that she is part of on a Saturday morning in Southend. And she loved it, and she was a proper little star.

After we got up to London we had to leave her at the stage door, complete with snazzy blue t-shirt exclusive to the Southend school, along with the rest of her classmates, or should that be castmates? With the number of phones and cameras going off you’d have thought that they were all famous, and they all took it completely in their stride. If Iz had a sharpie I’m sure she’d have been signing her name as well!

And so we settled down for the show, awaiting Isabelle’s three appearances, for the songs Blame it on the Boogie, Truly Scrumptious and A Whole New World, all from West End shows or from Disney.

When she remembered, or wasn’t just gawping at the singers on stage, Iz was the consummate professional and performed with gusto, especially the bum wiggles and arm movements. I must admit that during her second performance I even had a proud Dad tear in my eye, thankfully it was dark, but it really was special to see her up there on that stage – as it was for Sarah, Grandma and Rosemary – in front of all of those people, especially as she had only ever set foot on it just an hour earlier.

IMG_9216And of course, her leading man throughout the show was Thomas, who seemed quite the item prior to the show. Perhaps these darlings are the new Burton and Taylor or Ken and Em? They’ll have a spread in Hello next!

Like most things with Iz, she just took the whole day in her stride and just had lots of fun. So, if this turns out to be Isabelle’s debut and curtain call in the West End she’ll always be able to say that she has done it, and after all, to paraphrase Will Shakespeare, all the world’s a stage.

IMG_9235To congratulate Iz on her triumph, post show we all celebrated with coffee and cake, next stop the Olivier awards (perhaps).

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The Newman Files

The_Rockford_Files_(title_screen)Sarah and Iz were away for the week recently and I came back into the living room to find the nice surprise of an answer machine message from Isabelle the night before they were coming home.

Listening back to it, for some reason it just reminded me of the opening of The Rockford Files, so I decided to create a mini homage to it, all the more fitting now obviously since the death of Jim Rockford himself, James Garner.

I even created the card order as closely as I could, although something tells me the original wasn’t done with Ben & Jerry’s playing cards – complete with cows as Kings, Queens and Jacks – which I had to use to fill in the blanks.

As far as title sequences go The Rockford Files is as cool as they come, I’ve only recreated the beginning phone sequence, but the photo stills montage is a classic, cue harmonica.

And here’s the original…

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Iz brings me sunshine

IMG_6529It’s been a day of changeable weather today and on the way to (a soon to be aborted) a trip to the park Iz came across a poster of the forthcoming stage show, Morecambe, based on the life of Eric Morecambe.

Iz took an instant delight to the ‘silly man’ and proceeded to emulate him of sorts. It is, after all, a family tradition of sorts as my dad always used to try and get me with the catching nothing in a paper bag trick and I used to do the whole glasses up and down move when I was in junior school.

I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before she is copying Harry Worth’s shop window stunt or hanging off a clock face Harold Lloyd-style.

Of course, the most pressing question is that does this mean that I am the one with the short, fat, hairy legs? That makes this the blog what I wrote then.

Thankfully we didn’t have to emulate Morecambe and Wise’s Singin’ in the Rain skit as we headed back home just as the heavens opened, the rainy weather theme continued though, of sorts, as in the warmth we slapped on Mary Poppins. We could have certainly done with her brolly.

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Stars in Their Iz: Guinness ad homage is pure genius

How it came about, I’m not really sure, but somehow Isabelle ended up jumping over both Sarah and I laying on the bed. She loved it in some crazy Evel Knievel style way, thankfully stopping short of jumping over the pair of us on fire for the added danger (us on fire not Iz).

Iz certainly floated through the air with the greatest of ease…with a rather spectacular landing, which she managed to carry off again and again, hitting her mark each and everytime.

Her prepping and getting ready for the perfect moment to leap reminded me of the classic Guinness advert with the surfers and the horses in the waves from 1998, which has to be one of the best adverts ever. With that in mind I decided to pay homage to that very advert, right down to the moody black and white.

Okay, so instead of the pint of Guinness glass I used an empty drinks cup with the lid acting as the head and black paper representing the pint. Does that make Sarah and I the horses? Here is the classic original that still packs an adrenaline punch today.

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Raid-Iz of the Lost Superm-Ark-et

raidersShe may not have been wearing the brown leather jacket or the fedora but Iz certainly had a bullwhip cracking good time on a short jaunt to the supermarket.

She rode on the front of our trolley just like the intrepid Indiana Jones hanging on the front of the Mercedes truck in Raiders of the Lost Ark (minus the being thrown through the windscreen bit that saw him get there in the first place of course).

She was continuing a long-standing family tradition (sort of) as my brother and I had hung off one of the actual trucks at some war film vehicle display attraction when we were younger – and yes, I do have photos somewhere. Knowing me we probably ‘threw’ each other out of the window as well.

imagesCAXXRIKKBack to the supermarket trolley, I unfortunately just wasn’t quick enough to snap Iz produce her skipping rope and perform the Yakima Canutt Stagecoach-inspired stunt, where Iz climbs down the front of a moving trolley, slides to the back end of the moving trolley dragged along by her rope, and climbs onto the back of the trolley. Cue Raid-Iz March.

untitledAsking Iz whether she’d planned such an elaborate stunt all along, she shrugged her shoulders and said: “I’m making this up as I go along.”

Coming soon: Isabelle Newman and the Tesco of Doom?

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