SECOND BANANA CITY!

For me it’s the supporting cast that makes a movie.  Often in my favorite movies, there’ll be a guy or gal whom I’m immediately drawn to, and I’ll perk up whenever they’re onscreen, which in most cases isn’t all that often.  Supporting performances are almost always the best parts of a movie, because those performers are naturally going to be more relaxed and devil-may-care about the job they do, and as a result they tend to deliver a likable, believable performance, whereas the star is most cases IS the movie, and they’re going to “act” their asses off, and will likely enjoy their performance far more than any viewer possibly could.  

I was thinking about it tonight and I decided I should do an ongoing thing about my all-time favorite supporting performances, if for no reason other than the opportunity to write about movies and actors I love.  Off the bat, I’ll tell you that there are way more men on this list than women.  I’m sorry, I guess I just don’t like women that much.  The more I tried to think of more chicks in movies I’ve liked, the blanker my mind became.  I feel like a real asshole, but what are you gonna do?  Black and foreign people outnumber women on the list, but not by much.  I swear I’m a real nice guy.  The filmgoer in me, however, is apparently a raging sexist neo-Nazi.  Hopefully more non-white non-males will come to mind as we go along, to both spice up my list and make me seem like a good person.

Anyway, without further inane ado, here is my list of FAVORITE SUPPORTING PERFORMANCES IN MOVIES.  As far as I know, none of these people won Oscars for any of these performances, and in more than a few cases the movie I happening to be singling them out for may not even be very good (although I probably think it is).  They’re just people who made me happy in movies I watched.  Here there are, in no particular order:

SASHA JENSON as DON in DAZED AND CONFUSED

   

Here we have a movie, and a fantastic one, entirely made up of supporting performances.  They vary in quality, but all are memorable in some way.  It is Rory Cochrane’s quintessential stoner and Matthew McConaguey’s (probably not how you spell it but I in no way feel like looking it up) genial sexual predator who get the most attention, and while they’re both great, I liked the guy on the left in that picture up there best.  Played by Sasha Jenson, who was hardly ever in anything again, Don is a hulking obnoxious badger of a guy, one of those always-on kind of high-schoolers who seems to be everywhere at once at all times.  Chief among his interests are getting drunk, destroying property, sleazily accosting women, and in one great early throwaway moment threatening freshmen in the hallway by faking punches at them.  But he’s just so darn energetic, always with this big dumb smile on his face, bouncing around in overalls.  My favorite scene in this movie, arguably, is a quick one between Jenson and the equally likable and rarely-seen-anymore (and awesomely named) Wiley Wiggins, as squirrelly-but-learning pending freshman Mitch.  Don takes Mitch aside in a pool hall and gives him a little advice that is as thoughtful and well-meaning as it is crude and unoriginal:

“You know that Julie chick?  Loves you. Oh yeah.  You want her? Gotta play it cool, you know. You can’t let her know how much you like her, cause if she knows, she’ll dump you like that. Be-LIEVE me. Like, if she asks you if you want a ride, you say, “No, I’ve got my own ride, but maybe I’ll see you later.” Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? It works. ”

Sure, earlier in the parking lot he was joining fellow seniors in paddling the kid with a bat he made in wood shop, but that’s just business.  He remembers what it was like to be Mitch, and what a big deal it is the first time you encounter a girl who responds positively to you and your bullshit, and he gets a kick out of seeing that happening to this wide-eyed kid.  I literally can’t help but smile when this scene shows up.  For a moment, the popular kid drops the act and lets the new fish feel like one of the guys.  In fifth grade I did well in a spelling bee, and when eighth-grade soccer superstar Craig Dube took a moment in the hallway to tell me I did a good job without turning it into a joke or insult, I felt like a million bucks, despite the fact that I don’t think we ever exchanged words again. Maybe I remember that when I see this scene.  Jenson comes off a bit like Robert Downey Jr in “The Pick-Up Artist” as a redneck Texan.  It’s interesting, and it works.  I don’t think I’ve ever once read anything much, positive or otherwise, even mentioning his performance, so I feel good being able to do it here, where very few people will ever get to see it.  

Man, I wrote way too much about that guy!  The rest of these are gonna have to be shorter or my fingers and brain are going to revolt.  

VICTOR WONG as THE FUNNY OLD CHINESE GUY WITH THE CRAZY EYES in THE GOLDEN CHILD, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and TREMORS

As a rule, whenever I see Victor Wong’s name appear in the credits, I’m guaranteed to enjoy the film.  No face or voice in Hollywood puts me at such immediate and calming ease.  The wacky Asian guy was an unfortunate but popular character in ’80s movies, but Wong brought dignity to the role.  He was clearly having fun making these ridiculous movies, and it was infectious.  These are three movies that I can always throw on, no matter the occasion or mood, and experience 100% satisfaction.  I refer to them daily in conversation.  When browsing DVDs in the store, I pick them up and look at their cases, despite the fact that I already own copies of all three films.  I make light of my fondness for these goofy, effects-heavy intelligence-light live-action cartoons, but fact is I love all three like old friends, and will drop everything if any of them happen to be on.  Victor Wong died in 2001, and I’m not happy about it.  

BRUCE DERN as RUMSFIELD in THE ‘BURBS

Geez, I could look at that picture all day.

Bruce Dern never really plays anyone you’d want to approach in real life.  He’s always squinting and frowning at things, and tends to overreact to everything in a whiny voice.  Before “The ‘burbs”, I don’t know that Dern was ever considered as a worthwhile candidate for a comedic performance, but his off-putting manner is perfect for this morbid, arrhythmic, slapstick-heavy, understatedly over-the-top horror-comedy.  His Rumsfield is a former military man who has carried his gung-ho Patton routine unaltered into his listless retirement in the suburbs.  Despite his impressive arsenal (which includes nightvision goggles and sniper rifles) and willingness to invade any and all supposed enemy territories, he’s also oddly prissy.  While waiting atop a roof to spy on and possibly assassinate his next-door neighbor, he daintily eats a box of animal crackers, and at another point he declines to climb a telephone pole because “it’s very high”.  I have never not laughed at ” ‘Bout a nine on the tension scale there, Rube” or “HEY!  PINOCCHIO!  Where YOU goin’?”  Dern’s the man, never moreso than here, but I also love him in “Silent Running” (where he plays a guy who loves plants and robots but hates everything else) and “The Trip” (where he unsuccessfully babysits Peter Fonda during an acid trip).  

RIP TORN as BOB DIAMOND in DEFENDING YOUR LIFE

That’s a pretty crappy picture of Rip Torn right there, but believe me when I tell you there are worse ones to choose from.  Footage of celebrities being drunk and disorderly will always retain a certain schadenfreude, but there’s nothing funny to me about seeing this excellent actor lurching groggily around a police station, gurgling curses at cops, hair askew.  It’s the kind of cruel crap I admit to having enjoyed in the past, but when I came across such a video online, it just made me feel awful and sad, and I hope he can get it together one of these days if he hasn’t already.  Nobody does gruff, borderline-insane optimism like Torn.  He’ll never be better than he was as Artie on “The Larry Sanders Show”.  That’s legendary work, and if you’re one of the many who still hasn’t seen much of that show, try to work it into your Netflix queue.  The first few episodes are a little shaky, but once it hits its stride, it’s so good, a pioneer in awkward comedy long before “The Office” came along.  

“Defending Your Life” is a funny little Albert Brooks comedy about a guy who gets hits by a bus and then ends up in an afterlife waystation where he must explain himself in a celestial court of law, aided (or hindered, depending) by actual screened footage of pivotal events in his life.  His otherworldly attorney is Torn, an intimidatingly enthusiastic old codger who won’t take no for an answer or tolerate a moment of self-pity, a condition lesser talents have failed to extinguish in Brooks.  He also, he’ll happily inform you, uses 48% of his brain, in comparison to our 3%.  Tirelessly putting positive spins on each of his client’s often hilarious foibles, Bob Diamond is a lawyer I’d be proud and relieved to hire.  

“Don’t worry, and don’t kick yourself forever.  Just take the opportunities when they come.” is how he sums up his counsel to Brooks.  In the end, what better advice than that?  Let’s keep the TMZ cameras on Mel Gibson and Andy Dick from now on, and let this guy live his life.  

MARTHA PLIMPTON as STEF in THE GOONIES

It’s funny.  Back in the eighties, when I used to watch “The Goonies” on tape every day, Martha Plimpton was my least favorite character in the movie.  Now I think she might be my favorite.  She’s really the only one of the bunch with any sense at all (“Oh, come on!  Where are you?  YOU are in the clouds, and WE are in a basement!”).  Certainly the closest thing the Goonies had to an adult, which pretty well explains why I didn’t like her then but do now.  The rest of the Goonies are having fun sliding down makeshift waterslides and eluding counterfeiters, but Stef would rather be almost anywhere else (“I feel like I’m babysitting but I’m not getting paid”).  

I think she brings out the best in Corey Feldman here, too.  Mouth is prime Corey Feldman, back when he was just a funny little kid.  Say what you will about him now, but he’s confident as hell in “The Goonies”, the king of 80’s grade-school wiseasses.  In fifth grade I wanted to be him, and so completely wasn’t.  It isn’t dwelt on much (Kerri Green’s inane flirtations with a young and sweatpanted Josh Brolin are given much more attention), but Feldman and Plimpton indulge in a love-hate, bickery crush throughout the film, and during the final coastline reunion it culminates in a stammery exchange that I’ve always thought the two handled really well.  

MOUTH: I just wanted to say thank you…for offering to save my life and everything…

STEF: What?  What, what, what?  

MOUTH: I just wanted to say thank you.

STEF: Wow, “thank you”.  Real moment.  Your voice is kinda nice when you’re mouth isn’t screwing it up.

MOUTH:  Yeah, well, thanks.  And you know, your looks are kinda pretty…when your face doesn’t screw it up.

It’s funny and sweet, and Plimpton hits on something real and adorable with the way she bombards Feldman with dizzy, disbelieving little “what what what”s when he finally starts being nice to her.  She can’t fully let him off the hook, but despite the intended sarcasm it is a “real moment”, especially in comparison to the rest of the film.  A shot of reality in a beloved thrill ride sorely lacking in it, Plimpton is a talented actress we don’t see nearly enough of.  

There’s five to get us started.  More later.  The next time I talk to you, we will have a new president.  Weird.



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8 Responses to “SECOND BANANA CITY!”

  1. Did you see Plimpton in 200 Cigarettes? She was great.

  2. I didn’t see that one but I did see her in the terrible made-for-video version of “The Beans of Egypt, Maine”. She definitely needs to have a heart-to-heart with her agent.

    I like her in “Parenthood”, too, and “The Mosquito Coast”. The 80s seems to have been her decade.

  3. Yeah, Plimpton. Always liked her and found her oddly attractive. Or maybe it isn’t odd, really, although she has sort of a schnauzer face. You’re right about the 80’s being her time, and I’d add her small but effective performances as smart, snarky, sad teenagers in ‘Another Woman’, ‘Shy People’, and ‘Running on Empty’. Yup, had a crush, and envisioned our first encounter going very much like that Feldman/Plimpton scene from the end of the ‘Goonies’. Sigh. She’s had some tough luck of late (like from the last 20 years or so), but she was funny in ‘Pecker’. That ‘Beans of Egypt, Maine’ thing was the worst thing ever. Ouch.

    And I completely agree with you on Sasha Jensen. Loved his character. Utterly real and, while mostly a jackass, likeable. I can see his future, and I feel bad for him. His offscreen speech at the end about “I did the best that I could while I was stuck in this place…” while Pink looks off into the distance and the camera pans around him on the 50 yard line really makes it, really sums it all up for me. I look him up on imdb from time to time, and I feel bad for him too.

    And you know my feelings on the Wong.

    Great article, by the way. Looking forward to more…

  4. In a movie positively bursting with good moments, the “stuck in this place” scene might be the best, or at any rate the most immediately effective. What the camera does and the way it mixes with Jenson’s speech is just right, and I always get a little choked up at that moment without knowing exactly why.

    Do you remember back in the mid-90’s when someone tried to get creative and released a “interactive” movie called “Mr. Payback”, and select theaters were outfitted with remotes that audience members could use to vote on what they wanted to happen next? Apparently Sasha Jenson was in that. Also apparently it was absolute shit. I would really love to watch it, but I have a feeling it’s not slated for a DVD release anytime soon.

  5. Yeah, I remember reading an article about ‘Mr. Payback’. You had these joystick-type thingies where you could vote on how the story goes (sort of like a group ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ movie); unfortunately, since it bombed big time and you were more often than not the only person in the audience at the time, the whole audience participation aspect probably didn’t work out. Or maybe it was better, like you were controlling all of reality from your little joystick. Maybe that’s a littel Freudian, but who cares. One thing I remember reading was that, even though the gimmich was aimed at kids, one of the coosable scenarios led to a bdsm storyline. And that Christopher Lloyd was in this, I think. Poor Sasha- he probably thought that was the gateway to the big time…

  6. I just realized I wrote ‘cooseable’ instead of ‘chooseable’. Talk about Freudian.

    Anyway, yup, looking it up on imdb gets not only Sasha and Christopher Lloyd, but Cheech, Robert Englund, D-Day from Animal House, Paul Anka, Ice-T, and the lady who was Officer Callahan in the Police Academy movies. Was there a cast party? Could I go back in time and go there?

  7. Oh, and Plimpton was hilarious playing ‘herself’ in the little seen ‘My Life’s In Turnaround’, which myself and MacMillan seem to be the only fans of. (I own a screener copy).

  8. Oh, Leslie Easterbrook, where have you gone? Didn’t I hear somewhere that they were gonna make a new “Police Academy”, casting whoever’s still alive that used to be in the original movies? So that makes who, Guttenberg and Michael Winslow? Maybe Bobcat? I used to own the “Police Academy” box set, but a few years ago I had to sell it in order to buy frozen foods. True story!

    Roger Ebert actually reviewed “Mr. Payback”, as I recall. I enjoy thinking about him watching that film, and disgustedly voting on stupid hackneyed scenarios.

    I tell you now that I would give anything to retroactively attend the “Mr. Payback” cast party.

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