Character actors, those talented enough to get noticed and remembered playing the same type of character while most cinemagoers recognise them instantly but can’t place the film or name them. More likely to etch out a living without ever having their name above the marque some have become famous for being character actors. J.T. Walsh was one, looking back over his career you’ll often fine one common streak. He was the antagonist, we loved to hate him and like all good actors he probably wanted to or even sought out playing characters we’d like but there was something about him that made him such a good asshole. Sometimes he was sleazy, sometimes he was macho, often he was authoritarian and sometimes he was deceptive. It took chops to pull that off, maybe as time went on he would have been allowed to move into other roles but as it was he died of a heart attack in 1998 aged 54. Jack Nicholson dedicated his third Oscar to him. He left behind an impressive body of work and son John West who himself has done a variety of work in film most prominently as a production assistant.
He made his film debut in 1983 as ‘Man in Bar’ in Eddie Macon’s Run and in 1999 saw the final film he did released after his death called Hidden Agendas.
In between he blocked a variety of stars trying to complete their character’s arcs.
As Sergeant Major Phillip Dickerson he caused the most trouble for Robin William’s Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam not even secondary to bomb explosions or getting lost in enemy held jungle. Cronauer can get away with mocking Second Lieutenant Hauk but as Dickerson points out “Don’t call me Sir, I work for a livin!” and proves he is somebody not to fuck with making their last scene together even more satisfying.
There is similar satisfaction in Backdraft when Billy Baldwin repeats J.T.’s Alderman Marty Swayzak’s words back to him after he’s been making life difficult throughout the movie.
There were other times he went toe to toe with the heroes, Nick Nolte in Blue Chips, backing up smarmy Tommy Lee Jones against Susan Sarandon’s tough lawyer in The Clientor pushing Kurt Russel to shake with fear and anger if anything has happened to his wife in Breakdown. Even a small part in Sling Blade where he is finally put in his place shows the nature of the arc of Billy Bob Thornton’s lead character. I mean the guy even had it in for Santa being cast as lawyer Ed Collins in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street where Mr Collins is charged with proving the rather ludicrous assertion that there is no Santa Claus.
There were other roles and a desire as the years went on that the long time theatre actor wanted to play different notes. No doubt in the decades since his death he would’ve gotten his chance. In A Few Good Men he is bottled up with guilt and loyalty as Lt. Col. Matthew Markinson and sure as Big Bob in Pleasantville he was the closest to a villain you could get in that story but there was nuance there. Something under the surface waiting to spring forth. He certainly seemed to be enjoying himself in The Grifters, one of his films I’m yet to see.
There are many, what were you favourite performances of his, what made him such a good actor to you?
Fargo Season 2 is arguably the best television show I’ve seen in the past year and I’ve seen a few. Season 1 set the bar high with fascinating multi-layered characters, stylised scenes of violence, philosophical conversations and themes, a real sense of place and time with well-made production values and a litany of Coen brothers filmography references. At the end of the day though it was the characters and their likeability and their inevitable countdown to confrontation that really suck the viewer in. There was a core four of Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard a put upon insurance salesman who suddenly gets caught up in murderous activity, Billy Bob Thornton as mysterious hit man Lorne Malvo, Alison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson who has a good heart and strong mind for police work even if her co-workers fail to recognise it and Jim Hanks as Officer Gus Grimly who looks more like his father Tom Hanks every year especially playing an everyman. Wanting to see how it turned out for those four characters was the key to the show’s success even if a lot of its charm came from a large ensemble of colourful supporting characters.
That season was set in 2006 and Season 2 is set in 1979 and works as a standalone work and as a prequel to the former season. For example we know there’s a big event coming in Sioux Falls but we don’t know what or exactly when. We know some people are here in Season 2 but aren’t around in Season 1 but don’t necessarily know their fate here. We also enjoy seeing how some things change but some stay the same. Season 1 is made richer by Season 2 not contradicted by it, that’s what good prequels do.
The number of important characters increases in this season but all are given their fair share to shine. There is a gang war brewing between the local ruling crime family of the Gerhardts headed by matriarch Floyd (Jean Smart) and including her three sons Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), Bear (Angus Sampson), Rye (Kieran Culkin) and daughter Simone played by Rachel Keller against the Kansas City syndicate. They are represented by the likes of Brad Garrett as Joe Bulo and Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan. Drawn into this war are State Trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) and his father in law Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson). Like Larry from the first season there are two ‘civilians’ caught up in the plot in the form of beautician Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband butcher Ed (Jesse Plemons) who prove old hands at dealing with this all-out war then the people conditioned to it.
There are a variety of reasons why Season 2 may appeal to me more. First of all the setting of 1979 offers the opportunity to put the story in the time and place of popular culture that I soaked up in childhood. Police cars here for example look like the police cars I first learnt to recognise. Secondly our two male leads are war veterans which is also a subject that hooks me; regardless of the likely realism of some of their conversations the quiet moments between Lou (who crewed Swift Boats in Vietnam) and Hank (who liberated France as a soldier) are most enjoyable. It’s interesting to note here that Lou as played by Keith Carradine in Season 1 would often say “State Trooper 18 years” as people suspected he’d once been a cop. Here he often repeats Swift Boats and the number of tours as people suspect he’d once served. The more things change the more they stay the same.
Peggy at times is exasperating in how she single handedly destroys the life that she and Ed were building but she is more complicated than that one note, trying constantly to protect and do the right thing by her husband even though he wants a life that terrifies her) and she gets a fantastic action scene a few episodes in. Larry while put upon originally it was revealed very quickly was an absolute asshole and Ed and Peggy are far more likeable than that and no less watchable. The Gerhardts are fascinating with their family dynamics all getting a scene where they have the power but there is a melancholy here of something being lost to time and we perversely hope for them to meet with some success. Martin Donovan (who put on weight for the show) as an alpha male comically undermined later on is well played for laughs by the actor while staying true to the terror his character is feeling. Their heavy Hanzee Dent, a Native American played by Zahn McClarnon, starts to make a bigger impression on the narrative as the episodes go on but never loses his sense of mystery or menace and that’s very hard to do.
Then there’s the home life of the Solversons where Cristin Milioti as Betsy, Lou’s wife, is fighting cancer and we know at the very least she doesn’t make it to 2006. One scene with her telling a friend what to do after she is gone will bring a tear to your eye. Nick Offerman stars as Karl Weathers the only lawyer in town and a close drinking buddy of Lou’s. His grandiosity is undercut at two critical points and Offerman plays it just right making Karl real and good hearted and brave if still reliably human and fragile. Bokeem Woodbine as Milligan follows a long line of violent men in film who love to talk putting on airs of class they don’t really deserve. Except well Milligan like them all is a hoot and someone you enjoy listening to, wait until you hear him quote the Jabberwocky.
Out of such a stellar cast of lovable and compelling characters though it might be Ted Danson who steals the show as lovable Hank. Quietly listening to others before offering counsel or incisive questions. Due to his age and seemingly narrative disposability we fear for his safety a great deal. Brave in showdowns against bigger numbers, if Colin Hanks’ uncertain Officer Grimly is the current example of American male masculinity onscreen then Danson’s Hank was the old model. Nervous to express his emotions too much but easily read by his loved ones. Decent and kind but prepared without hesitation to die with certainty in his convictions and values. Grimly I relate to more but Hank ain’t a bad standard to hold ourselves up to. Every one of these characters whether they lose or win, gets more chance to shine or very little is fully realised and nuanced that even if I don’t agree with their actions I understand where they’re coming from. Except for Hanzee-that motherfucker is just dangerous.
Production wise there is a confidence in this second season with the use of split screens in very inventive ways at the beginning of episodes to catch the audience up with what is happening in the world of several characters, a rollicking soundtrack (I particularly enjoyed Burl Ives’s One Hour Ahead of the Posse, Yamasuki’s Yama Yama and Bobbie Gentry’s Reunion) use of an alien spacecraft (yeah you heard that right), bigger action sequences (although please stop using CGI blood and get back to using old school squibs please) and attention made to recreate a period setting with the action on a grander scale. Cinematographer Dana Gonzales retrofitted an Arri ALEXA camera with vintage Cooke lenses and crew replaced each sodium lamp street light with tungsten light bulbs. These are the things that elevate a production but it would all be for naught without the rich and whip smart dialogue. There’s several, all cast members affect the regional accent and slowly talk each other over to a way of thinking. One example of many is Floyd’s advice to Dodd in an early episode where she establishes control over him to an extent without hurting his ego because she has to. My anticipation for what show runner Noah Hawley and his team will do in Season 3 is now high but whatever transpires Season 2 will remain 10 hours of television to savour long into the future.
When you get to a certain age you start using a new sentence, “I was going to but…”. Whatever you were going to do sounds amazing and whatever stopped you never sounds as impressive to your own ears let alone others. I was going to but… We’ve all got regrets and we’ve all got reasons and responsibilities but there’s a sting in that sentence you’ll find in few others. Journalist Kim Barker doesn’t have to say that sentence because she said another “I’ll do it.” A journalist with the Chicago Tribune in 2004 as Operation Iraqi Freedom was getting hot, she put her hand up to cover Operation Enduring Freedom while the more experienced high profile correspondents were in Baghdad. Barker was in that part of the world for the next five years from 2004 to 2009.
Resulting exploits were covered in the resulting bestseller The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hollywood came calling with screenwriter Robert Carlock dropping the time in Pakistan and producers advising they’d beef up the romantic angle of a relationship by telling the story of Kim Baker. Clever. Going off the events of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, The Taliban Shuffle should be an interesting read. The film effectively plays out as a career comedy with two significant premises. Baker as a woman excels in a workplace, war, country and culture that is male dominated and secondly with the threat of death ever present and removed from direct supervision the journalists play up merry hell allowing the film to indulge in gender politics and crass humour at the same time.
Kim Baker arrives in Afghanistan green and out of her depth relying on everybody else to show her around. She is greeted by Fahim Ahmadzai played by Christopher Abbott who is her ‘fixer’ (local who acts as translator and guide) and carries himself with a quiet dignity. Alas her cameraman doesn’t get the same amount of screen time. The new kid on campus is set up in a cheap local quarters with other journos including Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman another talented Englishman in a long line that proves only a Scot can play a Scotsman). Vanderpoel is friendly with no agenda and MacKelpie is friendly because he has an agenda. Or is that the other way around?
Baker starts going on assignments and finds not only does she have the knack for the work but also the nerve putting herself in harm’s way repeatedly to get the story in all its glory. Baker starts to lose sight of what normal life is, dodging explosions and competing for the next big scoop in between bouts of partying like there’s no tomorrow. Tomorrow though despite not being guaranteed keeps on coming.
There are deep themes here for a mainstream film, Whiskey walks a fine line addressing them while insistently maintaining a light touch. The fears and stakes for Aghan nationals in the war, the young soldiers shot or wounded, the addictive nature of war for people caught up in it, the kidnapping of Westerners, sexism and misogyny in the workplace and in a national culture, the corruption of the Afghan government, the fickle changing interest of the public in world affairs. WTF won’t reveal a great deal of insight about these issues but like its protagonist it takes you through the war and feels something but tries best not to dwell too long on the consequences of it.
The cast is uniformly excellent straddling this fine line with Margot Robbie ‘a hot chick’ relishing the opportunity to play off a woman and not be a love interest or figure of lust but an actual career orientated individual. Margot you’ve come a long way with your acting since Vigilante and you should be very proud, I know I am to have worked with you once upon a time. Martin Freeman must also be enjoying a different type of role playing a romantic lead in a big American film and remains as charming as ever. Billy Bob Thornton looks the part of an Army Officer although I wonder if his uniform could’ve looked a bit crisper even if on operations. A facial reaction done by him could provide the film’s biggest laugh. Alfred Molina delights as a corrupt Afghan official who takes more than a passing interest in being ‘grilled’ by Kim. It is Abbott as the noble local though that has the most interesting character, the relationship between Ahmadzai and Baker has the biggest and most significant arc in the film. Thanks to Abbott’s performance you will google to find out what happened to the real Kim Barker’s fixer.
Long before the film went into production there was mention of how Kim Barker was similar to Tina Fey, and while there are many talented comedic actresses out there, that the casting the star feels almost like destiny. The SNL alum was also a fan of Barker and is relishing the opportunity to do a role that honours her father who was both a veteran and journalist. No matter how quirky and beautiful Fey reveals herself to be, her comedy always first and foremost projects her fierce intelligence. It is no different here and if you like Tina Fey you will enjoy this film. If you don’t like Tina Fey then… what do you mean you don’t like Tina Fey?
Directors Glen Ficarra and John Requa shot in New Mexico which convincingly stands in Afghanistan for the most part and the scale and scope of the film is well done bar one car explosion early on that looks Movie World Stunt Show fake. Considering they worked with a modest $35million dollar budget the filmmakers have done exceedingly well. Some fantastic aerial shots with helicopters can’t help but give away we’re in America but they’re also spectacular.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells another story from the War on Terror, it invites us to laugh and then maybe to think but mostly the coda for the film is to live your life to the full, embrace the challenges, get through them and then move on and live your life the best you can now. Like in war. Operation Enduring Freedom ended on the 31st December 2014. US Troops remaining in Afghanistan serve as part of the ongoing Operation Sentinel’s Freedom.
Imagine a comic book movie of refreshing anti-heroics, witty repartee amongst its characters, well choreographed action scenes and attitude to burn. Imagine no more. You can grab a DVD of, download, stream, get from vending machines or hang out on a mate’s couch looking at him as he play acts out the whole movie of Deadpool or for that matter 2013’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It will be cheaper and depending on your friend’s acting prowess a damn sight better than seeing this new Suicide Squad at the movies.
Whoever created the trailers for Suicide Squad should be hired to do the work for the next Ghostbusters movie by Sony.
Those trailers popped with energy, eye popping visuals and sass. You can’t deny the Brothers Gibb and Queen helped up with that, (Bohemian Rhapsody and Becky Hanson singing I Started A Joke played over the trailers) but after lacklustre marketing for Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters, Star Trek: Beyond and X Men: Apocalypse the Suicide Squad trailers promised at the end of this summer there would be one bright spark of originality and fun. Then Batman’s Mum Has the Same Name As Superman’s Mum came out and underperformed and there were rumblings of re-shoots, cuts for PG-13 audiences and instead of rejoicing about the fact that Suicide Squad would be vastly different to the current DCEU light lifters instead there was disquiet and a need for re-direction. Now Jared Leto is nodding his head as interviewers note his on air screen time is so small you could argue his role is that of a cameo and he’s playing the Clown Prince of Crime for fuck’s sake.
Somebody call Al Pacino, Gene Hackman,
Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell or Billy Bob Thornton or anybody else who’s played a legendary movie coach and sent them over to Warner Bros. and TELL THEM TO GET THEIR SHIT TOGETHER! FYI Warners this is what shit together looks like.
Harley Quinn was created in 1992, by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for the much respected Batman animated series of the time, which is relatively recent by comparison for most DC comic book characters as for example the Joker whom first appeared in 1940. Dr Harleen Quinzel has built up quite a fan base in the relatively small time, studied for the contrast of her kick ass persona that still is very much under the spell of a man who may not really value or treat her well. Someone who has robbed her of autonomy and sanity but also made her a stronger individual rebellious of society’s expectations. Fans have been waiting a long time to see her on the big screen and Margot Robbie does not disappoint. There’s no denying the attractive actress wears hot pants well but Robbie subtlety shows that her sexuality is just another weapon in this character’s arsenal. An important aspect of the character is she appears a harmless beguiling woman capable of inflicting incredible violence with no restraint. In addition to being a fighter she’s also lovesick for the Joker. Yet how much can two insane and immoral characters be with a messed up power dynamic be in love? Does the Joker really love her and does she really love him? These are intriguing questions. The Joker appears throughout the story focussed on being reunited with his incarcerated woman, risking much but she’s also partly incarcerated due to him abandoning her. She exists this way because of his brainwashing, is there affection there or are they merely playing the part of a couple. It is a new take on the Joker being done on film to give him a lover and their relationship could prove fascinating but the bulk of their only time onscreen are mostly brief flashbacks that barely establish their relationship let alone probe the dynamics of it. Which is a shame because it’s the most interesting thing above the film. Talks of a Harley Quinn spin-off should be met with approval and despite the film’s flaws, getting the adaptation of a beloved character right straight out of the gate is rare and should be celebrated.
In fact most of the squad are full of interesting characters well realised by the actors playing them. There’s Amanda Waller played by Viola Davis, an intelligence operative who puts the squad together and sees metahumans as the next strategic upper hand in world affairs and deterrent. The most powerful being in the squad is Enchantress, a witch goddess who has taken over the body of the archaeologist who found her Dr. June Moon (Cara Delevingne). Dr. Moon can bring her forth but can’t necessarily control her. Leading the team is her boyfriend Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) who is looking for a way to free June from the Enchantress. Actually he’s not, he’s not doing much of anything actually for a Special Forces soldier he spends most of the film being rescued and losing everybody’s respect. Being a good guy not as powerful as evil people he has to lead could have been a fascinating dynamic but mostly he just stands there and points guns until it’s all a bit too much for him. His only real display of a personality comes when he is dismissive of hitman Deadshot (Will Smith) despite their shared military background.
Anybody holding their breath for Will Smith to play against type as a ruthless killer should start inhaling now. Smith plays Floyd Lawton, a father and a good man who just happens to shoot people for a living but hey we only see him kill a criminal. Smith one of the most likeable movie stars on the planet is cool, funny and sympathetic here but the most prickly he gets is being a smartarse to Flagg. The Fresh Prince made the smart play segueing into a different kind of character as apart of an ensemble film rather than rehash past glories but the film doesn’t reward his choice and I really would have liked to see Captain Steve Hiller return. As Richard Jackson pointed out he concludes many scenes with “let’s do this” which remains unclear since they basically were doing the same thing they are doing now. Quinn and Lawton form a bond in the movie although why is unclear except maybe the two characters are aware of the good chemistry that Robbie and Smith had in Focus. Rounding out the team is gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) who has the superpower of projecting flames (arguably one of the most powerful members so naturally he doesn’t want his powers following a tragic incident from his past), bank robber Captain Boomerang who has some reaaallly cool Boomerangs, a mutant played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje called Killer Croc (although nobody is going to use the word mutant in DCEU film), Slipknot (Adam Beach)who is really good with ropes and Flag’s bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who wields a magical samurai. Most of these members are hardly super powered but apparently the powers that be see them as a fallback if the next Superman goes rogue. Why use bad guys too after Batman worked so hard to lock them up? So that they can be plausibly denied and expendable except we never see these guys do harmful things to innocent people (an effective choice in say The Godfather but here denies the whole point of what makes these characters different in this genre). We see Amanda Waller kill an innocent in cold blood which is supposed to make her look cool and ruthless but makes her more evil than the squad. Interestingly Viola Davis read M.E. Thomas’s autobiography Confessions of a Sociopath to prepare for the role and described Waller as “relentless in her villainy” so the act is true to the character but is not as appealing as other aspects of her character. Or again we don’t really see enough of the character to understand the complexity and contradictions at the heart of her. That’s the problem with the film, Waller, Quinn, Joker, Deadshot and Killer Croc are interesting characters and Davis, Robbie, Leto, Smith and Akinnuoye-Agbaje are good actors but we get tantalising glimpses rather than hard looks.
The attitude and sass of these characters is infectious and the saving grace of the film, a scene in a bar late in the film has the right kind of energy that should have appeared in bigger doses to establish characters and develop relationships.
The most disappointing aspect of this action film is the action scenes often boil down to people shooting at things and lacks real excitement and inventiveness. Given the expensive sets and effects it is disappointing that they weren’t put to more effective use with the set pieces, cinematography that includes spectacular shots like this that are sadly not in abundance throughout. Former submariner and director David Ayer made the critically acclaimed Fury and End of Watch but here with a $175 million budget something has been lost. Speaking of lost, many questions are raised by the editing of the film suggesting that key scenes were scrapped and re-shot hurting the narrative flow of the story.
Suicide Squad frustrates with missed opportunities, an action film that fails to excite with its action scenes, a film of bad guys that don’t appear to be all that bad and flashbacks that hint at a story we’re not told. Suicide Squad was the last and great hope of 3 weeks of watching disappointing blockbusters that kicked off with Central Intelligence. None were bad and none were great, the best thing that can be said about Suicide Squad unlike most of the others is that it makes you excited to see these characters again in a film worthy of them.