SECOND BANANA CITY 2
I gussied up my blog a bit and I gotta say I’m feeling good about it. It almost resembles a real webpage that someone might actually make. I also had to transfer my old 2005-2007 Yahoo blog over to WordPress, as Yahoo 360 is closing up shop for good, and while I don’t expect it to get many visitors, still I wanted to preserve my old entries as they tended to have more of a “well, this crap happened today and here’s what I think about that” type of feel to them, and that’s a nice thing for ol’ Stover to go back and regard with fondness. Like that time he bought “Chu Chu and the Philly Flash” at that gross VHS store in the mall. I can’t chance that memory leaving my brain. Anyway, if you’re hard up for kicks n’ yuks please feel free to check my old blog out here.
That business aside, some time ago I did an entry dedicated to more or less unsung supporting performances in movies that I wanted to give some love to, and reading the many enjoyable movie reviews posted over at Videoport Jones has inspired me to continue in that vein. All it takes is money and looks to be a star, but you need real chops to stand out in a smaller, potentially thankless role. The following are more of my favorites in this regard.
JAMES GAMMON as COACH LOU BROWN in MAJOR LEAGUE
“You may run like Hayes, but you hit like shit.”
It all comes down to that one line. Foul or whiff an easy pitch (not that you ever play sports anymore, you lazy piece of worm-ridden filth!), chances are good some smart guy’ll drawl that line at you. And you won’t mind a bit, because it’ll make you think of “Major League”, and you can’t think of “Major League” without experiencing instant mood improvement.
James Gammon hadn’t been seen much by audiences before commanding attention as gruff but effective Indians coach Lou Brown and inducting that unforgettably tossed-off line into the playground taunt hall of fame, and although he’s shown his hounddog face in a good number of films since (including “The Apostle” and “Cold Mountain”, not to mention the fact that he voiced one of “The Country Bears”), and despite the fact that he’s a perennial favorite of playwright Sam Shepard, “Major League” will more than likely be the performance that Gammon is remembered for.
Though I’m sure “The Country Bears” doesn’t appear on that portion of his resume that Gammon goes out of his way to point out to prospective casting directors, it’s apt that he was cast in that film. “Ursine” is an adjective that well applies to this fine actor. His voice is that of an animal speaking. He growls every line like an ill-tempered St Bernard just waking up from a nap you’ve ruined, and for my money he’s the heart and soul of this underacheiving TBS Sunday afternoon staple. A more dire (not to mention bizarre and potentially unfunny) comedy trio than Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, and Wesley Snipes could hardly be conjured present day, but this was well before such critically derided efforts as “Sniper”, “Two and a Half Men”, and “Going to Prison for Tax Evasion”, so nobody thought twice at the time.
And it worked. None of the three were noted founts of rollicking goodtime humor, fore or since, but damned if they didn’t click as a comedy trio. I always liked the scene where they’re forced to clean up their act to meet Berenger’s love interest at an upscale restaurant (a moment that must be seen to appreciate the humor inherent in Sheen’s great “I look like a banker in this thing!” line). The script ain’t Shakespeare or nothin’, but writer-director David S. Ward (“The Sting”) has a talent for snappy locker room banter, and the cast seems to enjoy the opportunity to deliver such colorful dialogue, which is generously distributed among the game-across-the-board cast. “My kinda team, Charlie. My kinda team.”
We all know Bob “Christ, I can’t find it. The hell with it!” Uecker gives an Oscar caliber performance in this film (a dream movie concept of mine would be a comedy co-starring Uecker and Fred Willard [whose own prowess at portraying clueless/inappropriate commentators is equally well documented] as brothers; I think they could seriously be an unstoppable comedy team), but any true “Major League” fan knows it’s all about Gammon. Unlike some of his co-stars, he doesn’t work for the laughs, just lets them arrive naturally whenever they feel like showing up. The “inspirational speech” below sums up his role a lot better than I can:
“All right people, we got 10 minutes ’till game time, let’s all gather ’round. I’m not much for giving inspirational addresses, but I’d just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press seems to think that we’d save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I’m for wasting sportswriters’ time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give ’em all a nice big shitburger to eat! ”
Watch him smile and laugh after that “shitburger” line. There’s no acting there. He looked forward to delivering that line. It’s truly funny to him. (I tend to crack up myself at the “went out and shot ourselves” part.) That’s a guy having himself a great time being in a fun movie.
If I in any way felt like sitting down and wrenching a list out of my brain, James Gammon’s Lou Brown could very well be one of my top ten favorite 1980’s performances. For Pete’s sake, let’s put him in a few more movies before he dies of terminal crustiness.
RANDEE HELLER as LUCILLE LARUSSO in THE KARATE KID
Oh, you like sore throats? You like frozen toes?
The somewhat pornily named Randee Heller has very few film credits to her name, though she has seemingly appeared on every 70’s-80’s era television program ever produced, including but not limited to “Quincy, M.E.”, “Soap”, “ALF”, “Hunter”, “Night Court” (twice!), “Who’s the Boss?”, and “Murder, She Wrote”, just to name a few, and that’s to say nothing of the shows she appeared on that I’ve never heard of, a few of which are “The Bronx Zoo”, “The Fanelli Boys”, “Mama Malone”, and “240-Robert”. I can see her being in demand on TV of that era, when there was greater call for garrulous aunt-like characters, ladies who work crappy jobs and can’t get their hair to look right but are always happy to see ya and won’t let you escape their kitchen without a homemade snack of some sort and a hour or so of lively chit-chat.
I absolutely adore her in “The Karate Kid”, and to my mind she rivals even good ol’ Mr. Miyagi as the best part of the film. She epitomizes the harried but fun single mom, and the scenes of her barely enduring her son’s mostly harmless backtalk never feel forced or unnecessary. Better still, and difficult for me to watch to this day, are the moments in which her Lucille unwittingly discovers the abuse Daniel is suffering from (and, admittedly, often asking for to some extent) at school; the floor drops out from under her playful mood in a heartbeat when her teasing request for her son to remove his shades so she can see his “baby browns” reveals a fresh shiner, and her immediate horror really hurts.
Everyone remembers the scene where Daniel returns home from a particularly humiliating attack and begins taking it out on his none-too-fashionable bike, throwing it around and slamming it against and into a dumpster (all together now: “I hate this damn bike, I hate this bike! I hate this friggin’ bike! I HATE IT!”) after being forced off the road and sent tumbling down a nasty-looking hill by Johnny and his goons. Lucille comes out to find out what’s going on, and it all comes to a head: in the hopes of making a fresh start, she has placed her son, the most important person in the world to her, in a miserable, violent situation from which she is powerless to rescue him. After days of passive-agressive wisecracks, the kid gloves come off and a tearful and bruised Daniel accuses her of being unfair, forcing him to relocate and leave his old pals in New Jersey when it was the last thing in the world he wanted to do.
“You’re right,” she says. “I should have asked.”
It’s an easy scene to poke fun at in a way, with all the melodrama and the friggin’ this and damn bike that, but these few minutes ring true for a young viewer, and they stay with you. In the bitter moments following someone picking on you or beating you up, there is a time when nothing could be more disgusting to you than your retarded toys, or your gay friends, or your stupid parents. You hate your friggin’ bike; you wish you didn’t but you do, and no one can help, not even mom, whose attempts to do just that become somehow more offensive than anything your attackers could come up with.
Another Randee Heller moment I like comes when she shows up at Golf N Stuff in her distinctly untubular station wagon to pick Daniel up from his date with the impossibly cute Elizabeth Shue. “Hi kids!” she singsongs as she pulls into the lot, squinting with confusion and mild hurt feelings when Daniel’s “friends” respond with derisive laughter and unwelcoming comments. She just wants to say howdy-do to the teens, maybe take them out for some root beer floats. A bunch of bad apples, those Cobra Kai.
I never realized it before, but the Cobra Kai badges on their gis kind of look like the Napa logo. Anyway, anybody who endured any stage of childhood short of infancy during the 1980’s who doesn’t hold a special place in their hearts for “The Karate Kid” either didn’t get to see it till later or is lying to you about their age. The film has no shortage of memorable supporting cast members – the inimitable Martin Kove as evil sensei John “Sweep the leg!” Kreese, Shue, Morita, the “they’ll have to take him out in a body baaaaaaaaag! Yeeeeeeeeeah!” guy – but Heller brings it all down to earth just by being the mom of the friend whose house you like to go to most. This is a performance that doesn’t get enough attention. Hell, I couldn’t even find a picture of her bigger than a thumbnail. Easily my favorite movie mom.
ANDREW ROBINSON as SCORPIO KILLER in DIRTY HARRY
“No, don’t pass out on me now cop! No, no, no, no, no. Don’t pass out on me yet, you dirty, rotten winker! Do we understand each other? You better answer me, if you want to know where the girl is. Okay? Now listen… I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to let her die! I just wanted you to know that. You hear me? I just wanted you to know that before I killed you!”
I have a lot of movies left to see using my remaining time on this earth, but I don’t know that any of them will feature a villain more genuinely upsetting and repulsive to me than Clint’s Eastwood’s brutal, unhinged adversary in “Dirty Harry”, played to the hilt by the talented Robinson. I don’t even like to look at his face. To see him is to despise him, and to hear him is even worse. There’s real evil in that voice, and not the cool, attractive evil of a Hannibal Lecter or a Jack Nicholson Joker (though Scorpio’s not so far removed from aspects of Ledger’s take on Mr. Kerr), but heartstopping, encounterable, becomable evil.
Scorpio Killer isn’t frightening due to any physical abilities or even cunning on his part – he gets his ass handed to him repeatedly, undergoing the most brutal beating I’ve ever seen in a movie in one horrible scene in which a burly African-American gentleman accepts a cash payment to pound his face into an unrecognizable pulp, an act of violence SK can later pin on Dirty Harry. Having thrashed him for what feels like an eternity, the man asks Scorpio how much more of this he intends to receive. Scorpio looks up, his face a jumbled, stomach-churning mash, and gurgles, “Every penny’s worth, you black bastard!” His broken face coupled with that line represents five or six seconds of film that I instinctively turn away from to the day. It really scares me.
He will do or say anything (why, he’ll even call you a “winker”), so long as it results in destroying the lives of any and all in the immediate vicinity. He lives only to hurt, and the terror and pain he sees in others provides him with a palpable pleasure that is both sexual and infantile. An ugly baby with a giant boner killing everyone – how do ya like that? Course you don’t; what’s to like? We’re crying out for Clint Eastwood to fill his face full of bulletholes.
His graphic, drawn-out death cannot come fast enough for even the most passive and peace-loving of viewers. You want him dead, and you want front row seats when it happens. Unfortunately, before his inevitable demise, he, of course, gains control of a school busload of little kids.
“We’re going to the ice cream factory to see how ice cream is made!” he cries. “Come on, sing everyone! Sing or I’ll go home and kill all your mommies!”
Well, that’s just about as manipulative as movies get, God love it. After a few minutes of Scorpio slapping kids for fun and forcing them to cry-sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” at gunpoint, one needs to stifle an audible “hip hop hooray” when this image shows up in the killer’s field of vision:
Yeah, that signifies a future problem for Scorpio. It’s no spoiler to say that Harry gets his man, but not before Scorpio accosts a little boy enjoying some quiet time at the local fishing hole by putting a gun to his head. This is a bad guy done right, not someone you want to hang out with or quote at parties in a misbegotten attempt at coolness that fellow revellers will politely endure if you’re lucky. Evidently, Robinson’s performance so ruffled 70s-era moviegoers that he received a number of death threats and eventually had to get an unlisted phone number. Yet much like the aforementioned Ms. Heller, he either never received or declined to accept a great many film roles following this one, though again like Heller he’s sure done a lot of 80’s/90’s TV (“Walker, Texas Ranger”, “L.A. Law”, “Moonlighting”, et al.).
“Dirty Harry” director Don Siegel did use Robinson again to good effect in 1973’s “Charley Varrick”, one of your all-too-few chances to see Walter Matthau play a deadly serious (though still amusingly cantankerous) tough guy. Matthau’s a small time crook who stumbles onto a big time heist, and finds himself outrunning both local authorities and the mob, embodied here by Joe Don Baker, doing a bang-up job as a quick-to-pummel henchmen who goes by the name “Molly”. I know, I know, “Mitchell”…be that as it may, Joe Don is damn good in “Varrick”, funny and scary, and he beats the living bejeezus out of both Robinson (who’s actually one of the good guys here [“good” being a relative term in this film] and is a sidekick of sorts to Matthau) and a trailer in one standout scene. Unbeknowst to this non-Trekkie, Robinson also evidently had a notable role on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”. But a household name he’s certainly not. A shame. It’s no small feat to steal scenes from Clint in his prime.
Just the three for today. I have a subpar boxed margarita to deplete. Jeez, I can’t in good conscience leave you with that horrific image, so here, meet my new desktop wallpaper: