STAR CHARACTERS ACTORS – STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY

“Who’s that guy? I’ve seen him before but I don’t know where.” is a refrain used often when recognising character actors. Traditionally although not exclusively they’re interesting and dynamic performers who lack movie star good looks, maybe a charismatic persona (although arguably they do) or just that lucky break in their career. Often they’re regulated to similar types of roles, positions of authority, henchmen, working stiffs, parents in teen comedies, ugly ducklings around the office, oddballs in the ensemble. The list goes on. Yet if they play in enough good movies and get enough breaks they sometimes eclipse these roots to become marque names in their own right or at least get supporting or lead roles in straight to video fare or off Broadway theatre productions.

Such an actor is Stephen Tobolowsky who you may recognise from this photo.

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If not maybe this might job your memory.

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Or maybe more helpfully this.

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That’s right Mr Tobolowsky played Ned in Groundhog Day, the annoying guy that Bill Murray has to meet every morning over and over again. That punch is the beginning of Murray’s character deciding to the test the parameters of his predicament.

Character actors specialise in this, communicating the backstory or type of character quickly with little set up, proving a useful even pivotal foil for the star and then fading away. As the Internet Movie Data Base notes Tobolowsky has often played “annoying business-men types that the heroes or villains loathe to deal with”. So it’s interesting to note he’s played bad guys in action films like Bird on a Wire Image result for stephen tobolowskyor Glimmer Man of which there is an interesting story that you can find his quote about on IMDB. Probably his most successful roles and most substantial roles came in the late 1980s early 1990s but he had parts throughout in The Philadelphia Experiment, Spaceballs, Mississippi Burning, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, Sneakers, Basic Instinct, Single White Female, Memento. Over the past decade he has worked more in television and probably become more well known as a result having re-occurring parts in Deadwood, Glee, CSI: Miami, Heroes, Justified, Californication, The Mindy Project and Silicon Valley to name a few.

IMDB can give you a lot of information on his career so rather than crib from them I will simply discuss some favourites of mine.

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Community is a television show about adults going to community college to get ahead in life. One of the characters Abed (Danny Pudi) often makes meta references about the nature of television story telling and riffs on pop culture ensure. The best season is arguably Season 2 and Tobolowsky appears in a classic  episode Competitive Wine Tasting. Abed’s plot that episode is taking a class with Professor Peter Sheffield who teaches a class about Who’s the Boss? the TV show. Abed takes it upon himself to disprove the teachings of Professor Sheffield with predictable results. It’s not a showy performance per se but Tobolowsky like all great character actors shows up like he’s always been there, tells the story and disappears at episode’s end. It’s just if he wasn’t that good they wouldn’t have put him in that episode. Characters like that need good actors or the whole show fails.

Finally of all the great Tobolowsky’s performances he’s given us there’s a special place in my heart for Max who is Hal Slocumb’s partner (Harvey Keitel) in Thelma and Louise. They come across as two professionals, familiar with each other but different in temperament. In a scene where they were running up to a doorstep in the rain Keitel playfully pushed Stephen off the path unscripted. The kind of choice an actor will make to establish a history and rapport between characters in a quick throwaway moment. Later Hal and Max are briefing Thelma’s no good husband Darryl (Christopher McDonald)about how to talk to her on the phone to try and get information about her whereabouts. The scene is a masterclass in subtle acting from McDonald, Keitel and Tobolowsky as they slowly show the growing disdain the two detectives have for Darryl and him trying to hold onto some sense of their respect. It ends with the deadpan “Women love that shit.” delivered by Tobolowsky.  The choices made by the three actors here set up later scenes well.

Stephen Tobolowsky continues to work, happily married to his wife character actress Ann Hearn since 1988 with two kids, Stephen has some interesting real life tales of when he almost bit the bullet quite literally.

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Image result for stephen tobolowsky ann hearnYou can most likely hear some of them via his podcast The Tobolowsky Files where he relates personal behind the scenes stories. No matter what role, big or small Tobolowksy brings something unique and special to every one. Do you recognise him and do you have a favourite performance of his that you would like to share?

-Lloyd Marken

A BRAVE NEW WORLD WITH NEW GHOSTBUSTERS

When is a movie not a movie? The new Ghostbusters could be an example of such a thing. There are seldom few reviews out there that don’t feel like diatribes about gender, remakes and fan service. Negative reviewers feel compelled to point out their history with the franchise and whether they enjoy female led films. Positive reviews take the time to scold small brained insecure men who couldn’t deal with women being at the forefront of a beloved franchise. Which is fair enough because there were puzzling and unsettling paradoxes here. For example, late last year several underwhelming trailers were released for this season’s blockbusters but even bad trailers for anxious releases get more likes than dislikes on YouTube. Not so for the Ghostbusters trailer whose unprecedented negative rating seemed the result of a concerted effort by those with a sexist agenda. Paul Feig has made 3 films previously with female centric casts in traditionally male dominated genres. Bridesmaids (gross out comedies), The Heat (buddy cop action) and Spy (ummm the spy genre). None of these caused controversy or debate albeit Bridesmaids was celebrated a little for breaking new ground. Is it that fan boys particularly felt under attack for the casting in their beloved franchise? Was it a perverse extension of the mindset that had caused a stir when Daniel Craig was cast as blond Bond? Yet these are different characters in a new iteration, Bill Murray remains the only actor to have portrayed Peter Venkman, you can leave those old films on a shelf unharmed. After years of false starts and Harold Ramis’s passing, doing a new take with a female led cast felt like a great way to organically do something new, different and fresh. Plus the old cast were showing up in cameos to give their blessing. While that often is a case of writing enough numbers on a cheque surely the old fans would not want this to fail if the old cast didn’t? It can’t be worse than say Blue Brothers 2000? Ghostbusters  peter macnicol ghostbusters ghostbusters 2Ghostbusters for some holds a special place in their heart the way Superman and Star Wars does for others. Yet the response for this film seems a little over the top given how much Ghostbusters II failed to fire. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy are well established movie stars now in their own right and at one point Elizabeth Banks was rumoured to be under consideration (what the hell happened there Hollywood?!) although Kate McKinnon does look very similar. wink ghostbusters kate mckinnon winkingThe trailers and marketing were subpar but the negative reaction has also felt targeted and revealed some ugliness. On the other hand the implication that people who don’t like this film are all sexist is insulting to both genders and something Sony seems happy to have exploited.

So here we are…maybe we can talk about the film now for a bit. Wiig stars as physics professor Dr. Erin Gilbert trying to get tenure at her university when an old book she co-wrote about paranormal research is re-published hurting her chances. She tracks down her old friend and co-author Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) who is now continuing paranormal research at a technical college with Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon). She tags along with them in their latest investigation and wouldn’t you know it they come across an actual ghost which thus begins their adventures of busting ghosts. Soon enough they’re joined by Transit Officer Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who calls them to one scene and reveals herself an expert on old historical landmark buildings and their hauntings. All four are entirely new characters with echoes of the original quartet, Yates is Ray Stantz-the believer super excited by what they’re doing, Holtzmann is Egon Spengler – socially awkward and tech minded, Tolan is Winston Zeddemore-the practical outsider (references to Patty or Winston as being streetwise I don’t get, they were just very grounded and smart in that sense) and Gilbert is Peter Venkman-interested in other things including in an adorkable way the opposite sex. Not to sound too politically correct but Patty Tolan in the trailers seemed a throwback to old stereotypes of African American women. In the film she is more well rounded and arguably the most likeable character compared to killjoys chasing tenure and others complaining about Chinese take-away.

The film following all the media coverage seems oddly prescient in retrospect, the film’s villain is a little man who studied the ghost research of Wiig and McCarthy only to use it to cause more havoc and bring about him becoming a more powerful giant being. A thinly veiled reference to the stereotype of a basement dwelling fan boy geek who can’t relate to women and who has delusions of grandeur. Some have suggested this is an attack on the franchise’s fan base but who wants to identify as this guy? More disappointing is the fact that this idea for an interesting villain isn’t further developed.

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Ah. Old New York city with your rampart crime and filthy streets.

The film follows trends of blockbusters these days, less scary and sexy than previous incarnations or more pointedly less adult and more family friendly for four quadrant appeal. Boston fills is for New York City for the most part, there’s a great deal of CGI which has less impact than practical effects. Everything has less impact! A neat touch though is McKinnon slowly developing the tech throughout the film after each encounter to make it more practical and combat effective which comes in handy during the finale.

kristen wiig ghostbusters kate mckinnon melissa mccarthy leslie jonesThese are some of the most likeable female comedic actresses working today and they remain likeable in this film. I read a really good piece by Matt Zoller Seitz citing how here is a blockbuster with four women in the lead who are all about the work, not defined by their relationship to a man, are all supportive of each other, surrounded by people (mostly men) saying they can’t do their job before they prove ultimately they can. These are all great things to have in a blockbuster but as a scary film it’s not scary enough, as a comedy there are great spaces of time between laughs throughout and chemistry wise something is off with this film. The new Ghostbusters film isn’t bad but it ain’t great either and don’t both genders deserve a great Ghostbusters film?

I’ll close with this picture. These little girl wants to bust ghosts, were there little girls who wanted to busts ghosts in 1984 but were told they couldn’t just because all the Ghostbusters in the movie were men? I don’t know, my sister had Princess Leia, Supergirl, She-Ra and Rainbow Bright so it didn’t come up. If this movie makes it a little easier for these girls or any girls to play being a Ghostbuster, if it spurns an interest for these girls or any girls to do science, if it makes these girls or any girls have a more positive image of themselves as women then that’s a good thing. I hope they enjoy the film too.

-Lloyd Marken