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Kathy Baker

Review: The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff

[originally published in The Weekly, November 9, 1983]

The Right Stuff is the biggest, brightest, busiest movie of the year, exhilarating in its largeness of spirit, in the sheer physical scope of its achievement, and in the breadth and complexity of its ambitions. It’s also an exasperatingly difficult film to review, for its strengths and weaknesses frequently lie side-by-each, and although the former far outweigh the latter, both must be acknowledged.

Anyone setting out to make a film from Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff faces an awesome challenge: how to take 16 years’ worth of aviation history teeming with event, detail, character, and information, and shape it into a coherent, let alone an engrossing, movie. In this, writer-director Philip Kaufman has stunningly succeeded. Against all odds, unintimidated by the shifting currents of history and changing fashions in American heroism, his Right Stuff rushes along a breathlessly clear narrative line for 3 hours and 13 minutes. It’s a joyride with substance, the sort of experience that leaves even classy kiddie-kar entertainments like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi looking trivial by comparison.

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Film Review: ‘Boulevard’

Kathy Baker and Robin Williams

It only takes a quick scan of Robin Williams’ filmography to see how unusual his movie career really was. He cashed in his Mork-fame with Robert Altman’s fantastically weird Popeye and a winning lead role in a literary fantasia, The World According to Garp. Every time he scored huge with pure comedy, à la Mrs. Doubtfire, he quickly turned to melancholy parts that suggested an urge to save the world. (He and his Awakenings co-star Robert De Niro have the same clenched, uptight body language when they move across the screen.) And the past 15 years are riddled with creepy, depressed little indies in which he played throttled men who were sometimes quietly desperate, sometimes malevolent: One Hour Photo, The Final Cut, The Night Listener, and World’s Greatest Dad. Never widely distributed, these strange portraits emphasized what was tightly wrapped and uneasy about Williams—something that was always there, even in his big successes.

Boulevard, completed the year before Williams’ suicide, is one of those portraits.

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