What Dreams May Come — Review

Whatdreamsmaycome

3Star

by Ken B.

What Dreams May Come unmistakably wears its heart on its sleeve and doesn’t care what you think about that. For 112 minutes, this movie moves around from life to heaven to hell with a fair dose of awe-inspiring visuals among each.

The first act details the life of Chris Nielsen (ROBIN WILLIAMS), from meeting his wife Annie (ANNABELLA SCIORRA) in Switzerland, to their wedding, to their two children dying in a car crash. Chris and Annie are plunged into grief and despair, but eventually manage to move on, or as much as you can after something like this occurs. Four years later, Chris too is killed in a car wreck. He is led by the spirit of Albert, a man he knew in life (CUBA GOODING, JR.), first through his own funeral and the events following, and then to his own heaven, entirely reminiscent of a painting by Annie, who worked in art restoration.

As the story progresses, Chris learns that Annie is dead, and is in hell. According to his guide, this is what happens whenever someone refuses to acknowledge their existence or its cumulative value. Against advice, Chris ventures into hell in order to find his wife, regardless of what will stand in his way.

What Dreams May Come’s strongest suit is in its visual style. Shot on a film most used by landscape and nature photographers, the movie features vivid scenery. It is most notable when Chris first arrives in heaven, where the land inspired by a painting is made entirely of paint; when he grips a flower, it oozes out of his hand. When the scenes in hell occur, the visuals are fittingly surreal, horrific, and dark. At the risk of sounding like a cynic, the scenes in hell are the most memorable and admirable from a filmmaking perspective.

Bless this movie for its visuals, because without it, the fact that the script dissolves into nothingness as the end nears would be all the more obvious. Richard Matheson, who wrote the novel that this film is based off, was once asked what he thought of the film. He responded that he agreed with an anonymous Hollywood producer’s observation that “they should have shot [his] book”. After looking over some of the comparisons between the two, I find that the novel had few of the storytelling qualms that were there with the movie. When writing the adaptation, Ronald Bass apparently found it necessary to brush and wrap the story into an unsubstantive collection of ideas and plot points.

The acting also does part to save what may have been an even more underwhelming experience. Williams portrays Chris with great relatibility and skill, and Sciorra does a quite credible job, especially when Annie breaks down after losing both her husband and children. Max von Sydow has an important supporting part in the second half of the picture, and is excellent. Michael Kamen’s music is a plus, swelling and beautiful and enhancing the film upon several occasions.

It’s a shame when every aspect of a movie excels except its screenplay. For every legitimate moment of What Dreams May Come, there is another of cheap tearjerking and unfulfilled potential. And yet, I don’t regret having seen it. There is something fearless about its manner of existence, and that is what must be admired.

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Dead Poets Society – Review

by Bret W.

Since the mid- to late-eighties, there have been an increasing number of films that one could categorize as heartfelt, warm, and wonderful. For a while, it seemed like there was only one or two a year. Dead Poets Society is such a film. It makes the audience feel good about themselves and life in general just to know that they’ve seen such a story presented on the big screen. Peter Weir is a fantastic director who knows how to capture the essence of the little slices of life he presents for us, and he does it to near perfection in this offering.

The story opens on the beginning of a new school year at a preparatory school for boys. As the boys muddle through their beginning classes, they are swept along by the tide of the classes, the uncertainty of the schedules. When the boys arrive in John Keating’s English Poetry class, however, things suddenly change. Keating is animated and alive when discussing the poetry presented to the class. He talks more about what life is about than what the value of the poetry is. He shows them a new way of thinking and a new way of appreciating everything around them. Carpe Diem, he says, Seize the day!

The boys, in their admiration and desire to be more like Keating, discover that he was a student at the school and, looking at his old school annual, find he was a member of something called the Dead Poets Society, a secret group that met in the caves near campus and read poetry to each other. The boys start their own such group, and therein discover untapped courage and strength. Neil Perry decides to go against his father’s wishes and join a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Todd Anderson overcomes his fear of public speaking and finds untapped creativity inside himself. Knox Overstreet daringly pursues a girl he has fallen in love with, who is dating the captain of a public school football team.

All this courage and self discovery is not without a price, however, as they soon discover. Keating gave them the courage to follow their dreams, but in the end, his career was destroyed by an incident that the school, in needing someone to blame, decided was his fault. The boys, in a final gesture, show Keating that they still live by the example he gave them and will continue to appreciate all he has taught them, both in and out of the classroom.

This is more than a film about a poetry teacher. This film is poetry in the cinema, inspirational and touching, fluid in meter and perfect in rhyme and rhythm. The acting is exceptional, especially from Robin Williams who, like the Susan Lucci of film, was nominated but didn’t win the Oscar for his performance. It had always bothered me that Williams’ acting ability had never been properly recognized by the Academy. Alas, it would be another nine years before he finally won an Oscar for his supporting performance in Good Will Hunting.

Ethan Hawke is another standout in this film, as the shy and reserved Todd Anderson. We see a glimpse of what is to come in his acting chops with this film, and certainly the roles he plays after Dead Poets Society are increasingly passionate and emotional.

Dead Poets Society is a pick-me-up film, and one to be enjoyed again and again. Seize the day and see it soon.