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Selection for the weekend of
September 24 - 26, 1999

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Seize the Day

     Seize the Day

Today, Robin Williams is considered one of the finest actors in Hollywood. He has been rewarded with Academy Award Nominations, and won an Oscar in 1998. Fifteen years ago, no one would have believed Williams had such a bright future. His big blockbuster, Popeye, was a bust. His television program, Mork and Mindy had been cancelled. His biggest talent was his improvisational skill, but no one in Hollywood knew how to use that ability. People had forgotten that he studied at Julliard. Seize the Day, served as a wake up call to anyone who didn't think Williams was capable of drama.

Robin plays Tommy Wilhelm, a 40-year old man man whose life is falling apart. After leaving college for a failed acting career, Tommy has spent his life as a traveling salesman. He loses his cool when the boss decides to give half of Tommy's territory to his own son-in-law. It is the only thing Tommy has to show for his efforts, and he feels betrayed after being promised promotions and stock options. He loses his temper, and his job.

With nowhere to turn, Tommy leaves his girlfriend (Glenne Headley) in Connecticut and seeks a new job in New York City. He also hopes to obtain some help from his father (Joseph Wiseman).

Tommy's friends turn on him. His investments have failed. His children don't want to see him. The wife he left years ago, but continued to support financially, demands more money. His father is ashamed of him. Tommy thinks he is a failure in every aspect of life. Desperate to generate some income, he turns to Doc Tampkin (Jerry Stiller).

Tampkin wants to get Tommy involved in the commodities market, practically guaranteeing success and profit. Tampkin has made millions and brags about all the places he has been and seen. He makes it sound easy. Tommy's desperate and, "tired of working for a living and never getting out ahead," so he takes a chance. Will this gamble payoff?

The movie, set in 1956, is based on Saul Bellow's novel. It is an examination of men who feel left behind by great economic times and life. Many people in 1999 feel a little like Tommy. Everyday, we read about some hot shot Internet pioneer who made millions in an IPO or a friend who invested in some stock that skyrocketed. We often wonder why we are not making the kind of money others seem to be falling into.

The movie tries to remind us of what is truly important in life. Tommy's father is a very rich man, but he loves his money more than his children. He spends his days in the sauna, all alone. He lies to his friends about how much money Tommy earns because he has no appreciation for anything but the almighty dollar.

The men who live at the hotel with Tommy's father all talk about how much money they have, but they never have visitors or go out to dinner with anyone. Tommy spent 10 years of his life ignoring his family, while he built up the territory that was taken away from him. When he needs them most, they are not there for him. Even Doc Tampkin seems to have no one in his life.

Robin Williams does a marvelous job of portraying Tommy's desperation and shame. He is a man whose dreams are dead, so life just moves along day after day with no point and purpose. He is working to pay the bills, not to live. Williams is best in the scenes where he examines his life and the choices he made along the way. He represents all of us, because we have all had those lingering thoughts of what could have been.

I also enjoyed Jerry Stiller's performance as Doc Tampkin. He fills a fatherly role to Tommy, providing the love and support that he so desperately seeks from his own father. In a way, Tampkin also needs to provide this comfort and love to someone, since his life is empty. His actions towards the end of the movie will surprise you.

The movie originally appeared on HBO and probably hasn't been seen in quite some time. In the eighties, HBO produced many fine films and paved the way for other cable outlets to enter the production business. Today, Showtime, TNT, USA and even VH-1 produce original programming instead of wholly relying on syndicated reruns. HBO was a pioneer.

Check out Seize the Day this weekend.

Seize the Day: B+

Directed by Fielder Cook

Screenplay by Ronald Ribman

Based on the novel by Saul Bellows


Robin Williams ……………………………Tommy Wilhelm

Joseph Wiseman ………………………… Dr. Adler

Jerry Stiller ……………………………….Doc Tampkin

Glenne Headly ……………………………Olive

Copyright 1999 -