MINOR ROLES THAT HAD A MAJOR IMPACT – JAGUAR OWNER FROM SPEED

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A minor role will usually only involve a few minutes of screen time but will usually see the character given a name and have some relevance to the main characters. A friend who in a twist is the key villain, a mother who only offers advice in one scene, somebody whose importance to the plot is only revealed at the eleventh hour. Other times it’s a showy role for only one scene and everybody is talking about that performance after they leave the film.

A long time ago there were these ice skaters named Torville and Dean. They scored a perfect 6 from all the judges in their final routine at the 1984 Winter Olympics and naturally became legends. Image result for torvill and dean in australia 1994Following their Gold Medal winning performance at the winter Olympics they went professional and performed for several years. In 1994 they returned to the Winter Olympics and won Bronze. Some time passed and they came to Australia to perform. My family were fans and on a whim one day decided they would see if they could get tickets. It was not in my parent’s nature to go to such shows, they were luxuries to be weighed up heavily. Hence the last minute enquiry and the resulting lack of availability. So as a consolation prize we decided we’d go to the movies. Speed termed as a “Die Hard on a Bus” was out  with Keanu Reeves playing against type. We knew of his Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), Parenthood (1989) and Point Break (1991) although only the first had been really watched by me as the others were probably deemed too adult. We went in with no expectations, my father, mother and siblings. I still think about that night every now and again watching Speed up on the big screen. Kids become teenagers and get too old to go see movies with their parents. Then your parents tend to not want to go out to the movies because its easier to wait until it comes out on Foxtel. 🙂 Speed was on the cusp of that change and an unexpected gift. This action film inadvertently became a family film  because we all have that memory and we all enjoyed that night and that movie. A great movie will be universally loved and bring people together.

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Torville and Dean would have been a once in a lifetime experience but there are no memories from that day tinged with disappointment only amazement. It turned out Speed was to be bonafide classic with amazing cinematography, a rip roaring score, amazing stunts, witty dialogue, and a fantastic ensemble cast. There’s no denying that Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves have a huge part to play in engaging the audience and making them care about the outcome. As a kid who’d never seen Easy Rider it made Hopper relevant again, it introduced the world to Sandra Bullock and it allowed Reeves to be seen in a new light. Yet there is not one speaking part in that film that isn’t memorable. That gun wielding latino “Stop the busss!”, the aw shucks tourist “We’re at the airport…I’ve already been to the airport.”, the lady with the G-string coming out of the elevator, the elderly African American couple weeping “The baby.” just before that incredible jump. I could fill out the rest of the year in this series of posts with actors from Speed. I’m half tempted to, but on initial viewing there was one guy who we all strode out of the cinema talking about-the black guy who’s car gets commandeered.

Credited as Jaguar Owner Glenn Plummer is still listed seventh on the cast listing at IMDB. An ordinary man finding himself in the extraordinary situation of flying down the LA Freeway after a commuter bus that has a bomb on it. I look back now and wonder how this played to African American audiences to see a black man in an expensive vehicle have his car commandeered at gunpoint by a white police officer (Keanu Reeves’s Jack Traven) who then proceeds to wreck said vehicle and put both of their lives in danger. Related imageAt the time this was standard behaviour for film action heroes to pull guns when civilians black or white did not play nice with them. Now I wonder if Plummer’s performance is a little over the top, at the time African Americans were featuring more and more in films and to Australian audiences any unique ways they spoke were lively and fresh and exciting to see. Bad Boys come out a couple of years later and the banter between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith was riveting because we weren’t used to seeing this in mainstream American films. Now two decades later I wonder if Glenn Plummer was encouraged to ham it up but I like to think he maintained his dignity. Related imageThe characters always plays as real to the situation, the off hand way he says “Take the phone.” after losing his car door feels right but you know a white guy wouldn’t say it the same way and that’s kind of the point. Well I guess it will be interesting to hear what you think but I thoroughly enjoyed  Glenn Plummer’s performance as Jaguar Owner and it seems I wasn’t the only one.

They made a point of having his character now named Maurice appear in a similar manner in the sequel Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) courtesy of an amazingly ridiculous coincidence and he got some high profile roles directly after Speed in Showgirls (1995), Up Close & Personal (1996). More recently Glenn Plummer had roles in The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Saw II (2005), Sons of Anarchy (2008) and Suits (2016).

He has also branched out into other jobs co-writing, producing and directing in 2006 VooDoo Curse: The Giddeh (2006) and the upcoming Charlie Charlie (2017).

Some people will remember him in his early work in Menace II Society (1993) and his break out role in South Central (1992). Others know him from his recent television work. Yet if you’ve seen Speed it’s doubtful you’ll not remember him in that. He took a small thankless role and sold every line, every joke, every reaction and I hope to see him again soon holding my full attention with his incredible talent.

-Lloyd Marken

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MINOR ROLES THAT HAD A MAJOR IMPACT – DR. LAMAR FROM GATTACA

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They say there are no small roles and profiled in this post is certainly one of those occasions where that was certainly proven to be true.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

WE’RE GIVING AWAY THE FUCKING ENDING!!!!

SO…..SPOILERS OK!

Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca is set in the not too distant future where everybody genetically engineers their offspring. This has resulted in a new class system and Ethan Hawke stars as a man born the old fashioned way who dreams big. Genetically he’s got a bad ticker and is ruled out of his lifelong dream to become an astronaut so he fakes his identify including DNA samples and gets into the space program.

It’s a film that only grows in resonance with each passing year and beneath it’s clinical stylised look beats a human heart. The tagline for the movie was ‘There is no gene for the human spirit.” and I hope that’s true. There are a lot of good performances in the film not least of which is one by Jude Law who got noticed a lot for his performance here. Personally I think Law works best as a character actor rather than a movie star but that’s another conversation.

Speaking of character actors, Xander Berkeley who I may do a profile on down the line, plays Dr. Lamar whom Ethan Hawke’s Vincent Freeman skillfully gives Jude Law’s DNA to during regular tests so he can remain in the space program. There are maybe three scenes with the good Doctor to show us the stakes and process of Vincent’s deception. In it Berkeley gives Lamar a droll personality and always closes with the line “Remind me to tell you about my son” but we don’t pay too much attention.

The stakes get pretty high for Vincent and numerous plotlines play out. The Doctor does not feature in any of them. Finally at the end of the film with his goal in sight Vincent is confronted with an unexpected urine test doing his final medical with Lamar. Assuming the jig is up he begins a speech. That’s when Lamar tells him about his son. One of my favourite type of scenes is when two characters are talking about one thing but they’re really talking about something else entirely. Dr Lamar tells Vincent that his son wants to follow in Vincent’s footsteps but he is not perfectly healthy but then who knows what his son will achieve and then waves him on. With that Xander Berkeley’s side character becomes the coolest guy in the whole movie having known all along Vincent was lying and never letting on for years. The dialogue is just perfect here, we come to realise maybe Lamar told his son the truth about Vincent and that is why his son idolises Freeman but then again maybe not. Ethan Hawke’s reaction is so perfectly calibrated. What is happening between the two characters is deeply profound and personal for both but neither openly expresses it and yet neither can quite mask all the emotions on their face.

It also speaks to the deeper themes of the film. Part of Vincent’s achievement was beating the odds against his supposed less than perfectly healthy body but it was also about the sentimentality and love that Dr. Lamar has for his own child and wanting his dreams to come true. In the end dreamers can’t be forced to stop dreaming and if there is enough of them anything is possible.

-Lloyd Marken

MINOR ROLES THAT HAD A MAJOR IMPACT – STEPHANIE FROM THE NAKED GUN

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The saying goes there are no small roles and profiled in this post is one of those occasions where that was certainly proven to be true.

The premise is brilliant in itself, Lt Franklin Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) of Police Squad gives chase to a criminal as he drives away. Commandeering a vehicle a classic car chase ensues but with a twist – Drebin has unwittingly commandeered a driving instructor’s car with a student behind the wheel.

The student is called Stephanie (Winifred Freedman) and to give you an indication of how small the role is, the character is listed as Stephie on IMDB coming in 14th of the cast list but there are many people to this day who if you ask them about Stephanie from The Naked Gun will know who you are talking about.

Several things may have contributed to this, while the premise is great the filmmakers don’t rely on it. Plenty more visual gags are included and Stephanie has a fully formed character arc. Nervous at first and lacking confidence as a learner driver Stephanie faces a challenge, comes through it a changed person and then even proves victorious in an ultimate showdown. A standard 3 act story. She gets a few goofs but a genuine belly laugh is created by an unexpected and drawn out action that every learner driver will eventually learn to execute. For a sequence that runs less than 3 minutes Stephanie gets mentioned by name at least 3 times, another great way to make her stick in the mind quickly. It is arguably one of the best scenes in the film too, good comedy comes from truth and a car chase while a heightened reality still touches upon the nerves and journey of all learner drivers which most people experience being at some point.

It should be noted that the driving instructor was played by Oscar Winner John Houseman a former collaborator of Orson Welles and a producer in his own right as well as an actor. Most famously known now for The Paper Chase. He appeared uncredited in The Naked Gun and it was last film role before sadly passing away aged 86. According to IMDB, Winifred Freedman is still working today and has over 47 acting credits to her name including small parts in The Fabulous Baker Boys, Evolution and The Last American Virgin. Perhaps this is her most famous performance but we salute he for her whole body of work including her wonderfully realised Stephanie.

-Lloyd Marken