Tag Archives: Hollywood

The Girl Without a Name

Timecode: 33:48 – 36:17

SAM
You got Dramamine?

KAFFEE
Dramamine keeps you cool?

SAM
Dramamine keeps you from throwing up; you get sick when you fly.

KAFFEE
I get sick when I fly because I’m afraid of crashing into a large mountain, I don’t think Dramamine’ll help.

SAM
I’ve got some oregano, I hear that works pretty good.

If AFGM was a wedding, its invitation would include that post-script you see more and more these days: “We love your kids, but this is not an event for children.” The film spans 138 glorious minutes, and there’s not a single childSam's Baby

Actually, scratch that. There is one: Sam’s baby girl, who as you can see from the above photo, “just looks like she has something to say.”

But I’m afraid that’s about all I can tell you about her, because for some strange reason, the tiny actress’ name never appears in the credits¹. Now, it’s not like I expected to see her billed alongside Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, but I assumed (incorrectly) that every actor who appears on screen (even those that can’t yet eat solid foods) would at least be acknowledged in the end credits. Nope.

Somehow, the film’s payroll assistant (Harry Winters), first aid specialist (Roberta Wells), and negative cutter (Donah Bassett) all earned themselves a credit. But not the tiny tot who was precocious enough to point to a mailbox, as if to say, “Pa, look! A mailbox!”

Well, needless to say, I was outraged [primarily because I’d come up with the (baby) genius idea to turn this post into a thousand-word blowout all about the film’s littlest “star”]. But then it hit me: I’ve got the Internet! You can find out anything on the Internet!

So, I went to IMDB: nothing. Then I Google’d everything from “who played Sam’s baby in A Few Good Men?” to “Is the government trying to keep me from knowing who played Sam’s baby in A Few Good Men?” And guess what? Not even a clue as to who this tiny towhead might be.

I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise what famous dialogue exchange immediately sprung to mind:

That’s right! I do want answers! I do think I’m entitled! I need to know why this baby didn’t get her goddamn due! Could it be because…

…the baby tragically died during the making of the movie? (Of course not! That would definitely be on the Internet.)

…they couldn’t find a baby girl to play the role, and last minute, decided to dress a baby boy up in that little pink jumper, but wanted to spare that boy any residual gender-identity-related scarring down the road? (I’m not ruling it out.)

…the baby was played by Tom Cruise’s illegitimate daughter, and he got cold feet about making the movie their coming out party as a father and daughter? (Let’s hope not, ‘cause Siri’d be pissed!)

Whatever the reason, I need to know! I mean, what if it turns out that this baby has grown into the woman of my dreams² and fate is trying to keep us apart? You have to admit that it’s at least possible. I mean, a dedicated AFGM blogger falling for the uncredited baby that appears in the film? At the very least, it could make for a great Lifetime movie (assuming the woman ends up suffocating me in my sleep after our relationship goes off the rails). I mean, just look at those eyes; there’s definitely some darkness behind them, right?Sam's Baby2

Who knows? Maybe she’s out there right now, reading this… And if she is? Well, my dear, I hope you feel like you finally got your due.

Whatever the hell your name is.

-MPM

¹I watched the scroll twice just to be sure.
²I did the math: it wouldn’t be creepy.

Should I Keep Writing?

When I was six years old, I spent countless hours alone in my room playing this game I’d made up. I’d take one of those small plastic “bubbles” – the kind that held those cheap little treasures that you’d get for a quarter at the grocery store – and throw it onto my bed. A second later, I’d launch all of the stuffed animals from my sizable collection onto the bed after it. See, the “bubble” wasn’t a bubble; it was a football. And my many stuffed animals were football players involved in a free-for-all to recover the game-clinching fumble. (Obviously).

The moment the dogpile was complete, I’d slowly sift through the (adorable) wreckage and see which stuffed animal had prevailed at the bottom of the pile¹. That lucky “beast” would be hoisted into the air triumphantly, as I announced the results to the “crowd”. (Although, full disclosure: the fix was in. Kermit the Frog, a.k.a. my favorite stuffed animal, won at least 90% of the time due to his long green arms…and the fact that I always threw him on the bed first.)Kermit the Frog celebrates 50 years in show business

Now, obviously my childish antics were far from unusual. I mean, show me a little kid, and I’ll show you a tiny crazy person who talks to themselves non-stop and gets lost in their imagination. But the thing about me is, well…

…I never really grew out of that phase. It’s 30 years later, and while I no longer have a stuffed animal collection, I still spend an inordinate amount of time talking to myself², as I drift off into an imaginary world of my own creation. Sure, life (and responsibility) can get in the way sometimes, but chances are, if I’m driving, showering, lying awake in bed, or just staring off into the distance, my mind is somewhere else. It’s trying to envision a world that isn’t but could be. It’s trying to figure out how Kermit (or more likely, the current “hero du jour”) is going to emerge victorious this time. It’s trying to tell a story.

For the longest time, I saw this as a quirk — an amusing glitch in my programming. It’s only recently that I came to realize: it is the program. It’s hard-wired into the way my brain processes (and makes sense of) the world. As you might expect, this has had some rather far-reaching implications when it comes to my life…

…but the reason that it’s been coming up for me a lot lately is that it answers a nagging question:

Should I keep writing?

If you read last week’s post, you know that it hasn’t exactly been non-stop hookers and ice cream around here lately. In fact, it’s gotten pretty dark. Writing for an audience that hasn’t really materialized (yet) can do that to a person. You can start to feel like you’re tilting at windmills.tilting at windmills

So, you start to wonder… Am I wasting my time pursuing this? Am I delusional about how talented I am? Is anyone (outside of my family and friends) ever going to give a shit about what I write?

If you think about these questions long and hard enough, you can’t help but fantasize about a world where you don’t have to answer such difficult questions. A world where life is unburdened by ambition and expectation and hope. But that’s about the time that you have to face another question:

Well, if I didn’t write, what would I do instead?

And that’s where things get a little bit clearer. That’s when I remember Kermit the Frog and the pile of stuffed animals. Or writing and performing a “Wayne’s World” sketch at Lilli Milton’s 13th birthday party. Or spending all of my free time in college sitting on the floor of the bookstore reading interviews with great filmmakers. Or going five straight days without speaking to another human being, but never noticing because I was so engrossed in a rewrite of my script.

“Being” a writer? It isn’t something I do. It’s something I am. I mean, shit, an alligator can stand on its feet and ring your doorbell all day long; that doesn’t mean it’s gonna stop being an alligator.

The reality is I don’t get to know if I’ll ever be Kermit and emerge from the pile victorious. But I do know one thing. I can’t imagine a world where I ever stop playing.

-MPM

¹“Prevailed” is probably a pretty generous term to describe part of a stuffed animal touching a plastic bubble. But the stakes felt pretty high at the time.
²Although I have gotten just a LITTLE bit better about keeping that dialogue INSIDE my head.

And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’

Timecode: 31:46 – 33:47

KAFFEE
You got authorization from Aunt Ginny.

JO
Perfectly within my province.

KAFFEE
Does Aunt Ginny have a barn? We can hold the trial there. I can sew the costumes, and maybe his Uncle Goober can be the judge.

Uncle Goober

This week’s Minutes involves a pair of (consecutive) scenes that show us Kaffee at his most (sexually?) frustrated (with Commander Joanne Jo and her interference) and at his most relaxed (slinging cliches back and forth with Luther at the newsstand)¹. And while the two scenes have plenty of memorable moments², I thought I might focus instead on what joins them together: music.

By and large, the AFGM soundtrack is a March Shaiman joint, relying almost exclusively on his gripping, original score. In other words, this isn’t exactly The Breakfast Club or Garden State soundtrack that you’d fire up on a long road trip. In fact, there are only four songs used throughout the entire movie — the first of which we hear when Kaffee fires up his ‘63 Chevy Impala and tries to get as far away from Commander Joanne Jo as possible:

That’s right, folks. Four years before Elvis laid down his iconic version of “Hound Dog”³, Big Mama Thornton recorded it first. And like a lot of blues recordings of that era, the sound is far more visceral than anything (even the King himself) could ever hope to achieve. It grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let go.

What’s crazy is that until I did the research for this post, I’d always thought a man was singing whenever I watched this scene. In my defense, I was probably unduly swayed by two things: the more popular Elvis version and the fact that the next character you see on screen (Luther at the newsstand) looks like he could be a member of a blues band that would cover this song in a smoky club on some random Friday night. I guess you can add it to the list of gender/race-”defying” voices that have flummoxed me over the years.Can't Beat Em Join Em

As for the song’s use in the film, it not only is the first song featured, it’s ultimately the only one (as the other three songs, discussed below, are all playing in the background of otherwise dialogue-heavy scenes). While I think its placement is largely used for a tonal transition (from one scene to the next), one can’t help but find some echoes of the plot in its lyrics:

You ain’t nothing but a hound dog
Been snoopin’ ’round my door
You can wag your tail
But I ain’t gonna feed you no more

Whether Jo or Danny is the hound dog in this analogy, of course, would depend entirely upon which of the two of them you asked.

As for the other three ditties featured on the soundtrack, you’d have to pay very close attention to even notice them. They merely act as a subtle emotional backdrop for the scene they play behind. In the order they appear:

Patty Loveless, “Timber I’m Falling in Love” (1989)

This plays in the seafood restaurant, while Danny and Jo break bread (and crab legs) and exchange resumes. Given the sappy lyrics of the song, its placement sure feels like a vestigial limb of an earlier draft of the script, in which Danny & Jo had much more of a fully-realized Hollywood love story.

Jimmy Cotton, “Next Time You See Me”(1967)

This plays during Danny’s return visit to the newsstand — right before Markinson stealthily slips into the backseat of his car. Makes perfect sense to choose another bluesy riff (just like “Hound Dog”) to lull us into a sense of security. And the cliche-laden exchange with Luther will double-down on that expectation before…

…BANG! Markinson scares the shit out of us (and Danny). Plus, I mean the lyrics, c’mon! Could they be anymore on the nose? “Next time you see me, things won’t be the same…”

UB40, “All I Want to Do” (1986)

Time after time I say to myself
Working all my life isn`t good for my health
Get old, get tired, get put on the shelf
I do all the work, someone else gets all the wealth
Wish I was on an island in the sun
Where I wouldn`t have to worry how to get things done

While you can’t actually hear these lyrics in the bar where Kaffee meets Smilin’ Jack Ross to tell him about Markinson, they do seem to fit their work-based friendship. On a different night, the two of them could share a beer and a laugh, and they’d never have to resort to cheap shots about daddy issues or softball skills. But tonight is not that night.

Taken as a collective, the thing that stands out is that despite playing an incredibly minor role in the story, the songs have clearly been very carefully selected. It just goes to show you that a movie is nothing more than a collection of thousands upon thousands of very specific choices that are crafted to look like one seamless tapestry.

-MPM

¹Long live the parenthetical!
²(Chronologically): 1) Jo’s hip-swaying walk to Kaffee’s car. 2) A peek into Louden Downey’s life on the farm. 3) This aforementioned classic. 4) Danny’s 1963 Chevy Impala. 5) Luther’s triumph in a battle of wits.
³Which changed the lyrics a bit from the original.
What? You thought all that business about white people hijacking rock ‘n roll from African Americans was an old wive’s tale? Pssh.
Like Jackson Browne or Ray LaMontaigne (who I thought were black the first time I heard them), or Dobie Gray and Maxine Nightengale (who I thought were white), or early Tevin Campbell or Nina Simone (who I thought were the opposite genders).

It’s Always Darkest

I didn’t want to write this. And honestly, that shouldn’t come as any surprise, because for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t wanted to do much of anything.Depression_2014_Types_10-22-14_5PM-img_1280x720

The explanation for this malaise really depends on your point of view. A medical professional would probably diagnose me with a case of situational depression. A philosopher (and/or “The Prince of Denmark“) might suggest that I’m experiencing an existential crisis. But I’m a writer, so all I can think is, “we have now entered the ‘dark night of the soul’ portion of our story.”

Even if you’re not familiar with the terminology, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that 10-12 minutes near the end of the second act when everything – and I mean everything – goes to shit for the main character. Their significant other breaks up with them, they get fired from their job, their dog dies, their favorite sports team loses Game 7 of the NBA Finals¹, and their latest Facebook update gets zero fucking likes.

Hope is lost. Existence is questioned. And shit gets dark. Basically, it’s this song playing on a loop in your head all goddamn day²:

So, yeah, I’m having a tough time. And while my favorite team did choke away Game 7, and I have gone through a breakup recently, and I’m still not sure what will happen with my career, the thought I keep coming back to is this:

How can I be 36 years old and have so little to show for it?Dubs lose GAme 7

To be clear, by “show for it” I am not referring to material possessions like a house, or a sports car, or even a bank account with lots of zeroes in it. I’ve never really been motivated by those things³. I’m talking about the impact I’m making / have made on the world around me.

There’s a reason I became a writer. And it’s not because I was talented, or because someone in my family did it and I looked up to them, or because I wanted to trick people into thinking I was smart. I became a writer because I spent the vast majority of my childhood by myself, and I had a deep yearning to connect with other people. Writing was like a siren’s song: here was a way that I could connect with lots and lots of people simultaneously…

…and you might say: I’ve been crashing into the cliffs ever since in pursuit of that feeling. Or at least, that’s what it can feel like sometimes.

The summer before I started film school at USC, I took an old professor of mine (from my undergrad days at UCLA) to a baseball game. As we were walking back to the car, he told me the story of another former student of his who went to film school. “He spent his two years there, he wrote a bunch of scripts, and then nothing happened,” my old professor said. It was a cautionary tale. The not-so-subtle subtext was, “Just because you’re a good writer, and you’ve gained entry into the best film school in the country doesn’t guarantee you anything.”

Obviously, he was right. And I knew that, even then. But I don’t think you can set out to be successful in anything (be it the creative arts or business or anything else) without being a little delusional — without believing that, on some level, you just might be exceptional. And life, of course, has a way of leaving you just enough bread crumbs to keep you walking down such a path.

If I was some talentless hack, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this right now. Because I wouldn’t have gotten into USC in the first place. Or secured representation. Or sold a few projects. Or had a few others that came oh so close to becoming something that you actually saw on a movie or television screen.

But that old cliche about talent and hard work being the only two things that you need to succeed? It’s starting to feel like another siren’s song. A “promise” that’s lured me to where I find myself now, more than 10 years after I started this journey: dead in the water and lost at sea.doldrums

I’m standing on the deck of a ship, staring up at the sails, waiting for the wind to pick up. Because it doesn’t seem to matter how hard or how long I blow, my lungs just don’t seem capable of getting the damn thing to move on their own.

I’ve been here before, of course. Because our lives aren’t really a single narrative so much as they’re a series of stories told over time. There was that time in college, for instance, where in the span of 10 days, my girlfriend broke up with me, my car died (for good), and I got laid off from my (then) dream job of writing for FoxSports.com. Or that time I spontaneously broke down in tears at a stop light, because I was feeling so profoundly unfulfilled by my 9-to-5 job in marketing. Or that time after grad school ended, a different girlfriend and I broke up, and I spiraled into such a long and miserable depression that I ended up betting a thousand dollars on a football game just to feel something.

Having survived those experiences, I know (on an intellectual level, at least) that there is one cliche that can be believed: “this too shall pass.” But when you’re in the middle of it, when the night is its absolute fucking darkest, you can tell yourself that until your blue in the face, and it still won’t feel that way.

All nights end eventually; it’s true. But the sun doesn’t rise on command, you know?

-MPM

¹Too soon!
²Except you substitute in your name for Peter’s, because otherwise shit just gets confusing.
³Although I’d certainly enjoy having them.
Technically, I bet 500 on the game against the spread (which I lost) and 500 on the Patriots money line (which I won). So, all tolled, I probably lost about 250 bucks.

The Six Degrees of Smilin’

Timecode: 30:32 – 31:45

ROSS
I hope for Dawson and Downey’s sake you practice law better than you play softball.

KAFFEE
Unfortunately for Dawson and Downey, I don’t do anything better than I play softball.

What better way to kick off the second act then to introduce our final key cast member? Obviously, AFGM’s director, Rob Reiner, was sick and tired of trying to tabulate how many degrees of separation stood between him and Kevin Bacon, so he went ahead and cast him in the role of Lt. (Smilin’) Jack Ross. And boy is the movie better for it.Jack Ross

In the hands of a less seasoned and less charismatic actor, Jack Ross would be blown off the screen by Tom Cruise’s megawatt stardom and be relegated to dispensing exposition in those precious moments between Kaffee one-liners. But this is Kevin fucking Bacon we’re talking about here. I mean, the guy already had Animal House, the original Friday the 13th, and Diner on his resume by the time Cruise enjoyed his star-turn in 1983’s Risky Business. And given the success of Footloose in 1984, you could even make the argument that, for a time, Bacon was the bigger star. (That, of course, would all change when Cruise starred in 1986’s Top Gun and ascended to a level of stardom that few actors have enjoyed before or since.)

The point is Kevin Bacon is not only a dramatic bad ass, he’s also a performer that audiences were (and still are) accustomed to rooting for. And I’m sure that this was the defining prerequisite for casting Kaffee’s legal opposition¹, because if you’re going to spend an hour of your movie in a courtroom (and maintain a high level of suspense), both the audience (and the jury) need to be compelled by the lawyers on both sides of the aisle.

And really, if you think about it, the Bacon casting is a microcosm of what allowed this movie to transcend its genre and become a modern classic. Every role was filled by an actor of the highest pedigree. And acting as part of an ensemble is no different than playing on an athletic team: greatness is more likely to be extracted from an individual if they’re surrounded by other great actors/players. (A concept that Kevin Durant no doubt understood when he chose to sign with the Warriors this past week).

It’s clear basically from the jump that Cruise and Bacon have incredible chemistry (and possibly even some unexplored sexual tension, if you’re to believe this mildly out-of-context still):Sticky Fingers

But (potential) sexual tension aside, their relationship is still among the most nuanced in the film, as they have to walk the tightrope between (professional) rivals and (personal) friends. Based on their back-and-forth in this scene, I’ve always assumed that, while they’ve battled on the softball field² and the basketball court numerous times before, they’ve never actually faced off in a courtroom.

Ross’ “Welcome to the big time” opener also establishes a clear dynamic: he’s the older brother. He’s been here before, and he knows where dad (a.k.a. the Gitmo Marines in this analogy) hides the porn³. And like like a lot of older brothers, he’s trying to look out for the kid…while also subtly manipulating him into acquiescing to his agenda (which, in this case, is a quick and painless plea bargain).

There’s only two problems with this strategy:

1) Their walk-and-talk takes place in a hallway armed with donut distractions. And as we learned in the infamous apple scene, Kaffee is no stranger to eating on the go or sticky fingers.Donut Time

And 2) Kaffee hasn’t been the same guy since Jo pushed his buttons. Think about it: (in the big picture) this scene with Ross plays out identically to Kaffee’s plea bargain with Spradling over the dime bag of oregano. It takes Danny all of about 20 seconds to get Jack to agree to his “12 years” proposal. If he were still the o.g. Kaffee, this case (and the movie) would be over by the time they reached the end of the hallway.

But we’re dealing with a changed man. And Reiner (and his production designer, J. Michael Riva) are there to underscore this point with a subtle visual cue. Just look at the sign behind Kaffee as he exits the negotiation:Courtroom this way

Even if Kaffee and Ross may not know it yet, this baby is headed for court.

-MPM

¹Well, that and his ability to remember who played the bailiff more than 20 years later.
²I’m sure Kaffee would make a Sherby-for-Ross swap faster than you can say, “let’s get two!”
³In his safe with all his guns. Duh.

Storytelling 101: The Debrief

This, my friends, is a story without a whole lot of suspense, I’m afraid. Once upon a time, there was a teenage boy who discovered his passion for writing thanks to the encouragement of three high school mentors¹. And then, almost 20 years later (a.k.a. this past Thursday), said boy (now a man) walked back onto the campus of said high school and did his best to help 29 seventh and eighth graders discover if they might have a passion for it, too. A good time was had by all.a-good-time-was-had-by-all

So…yeah, the class went well. In fact, if first and second-hand reports are to be believed, the kids absolutely loved it². And me? Well, I had a blast. Which doesn’t make for much of a story, of course³. But there were a few fun anecdotes and details that I thought were worth sharing…

First Period

In the syllabus I’d laid out, I’d planned on having the kids introduce themselves by sharing their favorite movie (and then using those movie titles for a game). But instead, I decided to streamline things and have them introduce themselves by telling the class the story of their favorite movie — until someone could guess the title. This worked quite well, and it also let me learn a little bit about their collective taste.

Many favorites were not surprises (i.e. Finding Nemo, Shrek, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc.) A few were, none more so than Madea’s Witness Protection. The funniest/saddest moment came when one girl prefaced her choice by saying it was “an old movie”, and then proceeded to describe the plot of 2001’s Ocean’s 11. Great taste, but damn did I feel old. Another girl’s “old movie” actually lived up to its billing: West Side Story.

I think the biggest surprise, however, was the movies they didn’t pick. Nary a one of them named a comic book movie (no Avengers, No X-Men, No Deadpools, No Dark Knights) or a Star Wars film. Who’d a thunk it?

Second Period

From there, we segued into the definition of a story. And to pound this point home, I showed them the epic opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The verdict: it may be 30+ years since that movie came out, but that shit still holds up. They were all captivated.

I doubled-down on the movie clips by showing them the opening sequence from Up (to illustrate the importance of making the audience care about your characters). Up, of course, they recognized before I even hit play on the clip, and it was met with a chorus of groans that would’ve made you think we were about to do geometry proofs.

“But this is like the saddest thing ever!” they said in almost collective unison. But, of course, that was the point. And they were every bit as responsive to the clip once I pressed play.

Third Period

Next up was the Vernon Hardapple game, where I gave each group (4-5 kids) a picture and asked them to tell me the story of what was going on in it. This was the picture:main.original.640x0c

What they didn’t know (at least up front), was that they all had the same picture. So, it was fun to see the many versions of the story that they came up with. In retrospect, having a photo with a gun involved painted them into a bit of an imaginative corner, and the result was some dark fucking stories. There was enough death, secret agenting, and tragedy to make for a pretty good art house spy film.

The hilarious part was that the only two groups who told a story with a happy/redemptive ending were made up of all girls. But I have to say that the redemptive turn at the end of their stories was far more compelling for at least this audience member.

Break

I spent the break doing what any good teacher would do: investigating their snack choices. For those scoring at home, there was a preponderance of “bars” and a bit of fresh fruit here or there. Two other important things I learned: they were (genuinely) having a great time, and the boy who smuggled an Area 69 joke into his improv story, and was decked out in all Warriors gear, did not want the team to sign Kevin Durant.

Fourth Period

In what was undoubtedly the most successful/fun game of the day, the kids really brought it during our modified version of The Tonight Show staple, “True Confessions.” My favorite “truth or lie” interrogation centered on an Alex P. Keaton look-a-like, who was wearing an argyle sweater (on a late June day no less), and told the story of meeting former President Jimmy Carter at a book signing (no shocker: the kid was telling the truth).maxresdefault

The game’s big winner was Nicole, however, who told the story of having her finger broken at a community pool, when someone dropped a large piece of concrete on it. 95% of the class thought she was telling the truth (myself included), but that little rascal: she was lying through her braces-laden teeth. I’ll tell you one thing right now: I wouldn’t want to be that girl’s parents over the next 5-6 years, because she’s going to get away with murder.

Fifth Period

Due to time constraints (and me having a decent feel of the room by that point), we ditched The Moth-esque storytelling exercise I’d had planned. Instead, we finished off the day with some “Build a Story” improv’ing. We started with longer intervals between storytellers, and then brought things to a crescendo by having them piece a story together one word at a time. I’d assumed that the one-word-at-a-time version would be more difficult, but it actually proved much easier for them, as the pressure of only having to come up with one word (rather than multiple sentences) was far more manageable.

Bottom line: they had fun and actually learned something. For me, it was a great opportunity to engage with the creative process in a new and collaborative way. And while I think I’d likely prefer (moving forward) to work with kids a little older, I’ll definitely be back next year to do it again…

…assuming they’ll have me, of course.

-MPM

¹Many thanks to the Murder’s Row that was/is Lippi, Navone, & Thompson.
²More than a few of these reports included the words, “favorite class of the whole program”.
³At least for the blog’s sake, a major crash and burn might have been fun.
Remember, we were in Marin County, CA – a.k.a. The Whitest Place on Earth.
Sorry, kiddo, it happened! And it’s fucking amazing!
Which was confirmed when I had them rattle off the key points I’d made throughout the morning.

That’s The Code

Timecode: 26:48 – 30:31

KAFFEE
You don’t need to call me sir.
(to DOWNEY)
Is this your signature?

DOWNEY
Sir, yes sir.

KAFFEE
You certainly don’t have to do it twice in one sentence.

Considering his clients have been in a jail cell for almost 24 hours since their transfer up to D.C., it seems only right that Kaffee should finally pay them a visit. After all, there’s only so much Chocolate City sightseeing you can really do from behind bars, right, Louden? Plus, I mean, I’m no lawyer, but an attorney actually meeting his clients face-to-face seems like something he should probably do before striking a plea bargain or (god forbid) going to trial¹.Is this your signature

The scene marks a sharp tonal shift, which Reiner (and cinematographer Robert Richardson) tip us off to the moment we see the holding cell’s drab coloring and dim lighting (which is made all the more drab/dim by its contrast to the preceding scene: shot outdoors on a bright and colorful softball field). The suggestion seems to be simple: shit’s about to get serious.

And it is.

For the first time since we’ve met him, Kaffee has encountered an audience (Dawson & Downey), who not only don’t find him amusing, they don’t even seem capable of speaking the same language. As much as Jo has rolled her eyes at Danny’s sarcastic quips, it’s clear that (at the very least) she gets the joke. Dawson and Downey², on the other hand, greet Danny’s humor with all the understanding and appreciation that a cement wall greets a tennis ball. And aside from Galloway’s “You know what a Code Red is?” stumper, it’s the only thing that we’ve seen have the power to wipe the smirk off of Kaffee’s face.Oh Harold

[As a quick aside, this got me thinking: what would make Dawson and Downey laugh?

For Downey, the answer is easy: so long as a superior officer wasn’t breathing down his neck, he’d probably laugh at just about anything that didn’t involve clever wordplay or straight-faced sarcasm. This list would include Marmaduke comics, The Great Cornholio, fart noises, every second of Jackass and Tosh.0 ever put on film, and pretty much any inappropriate sex joke that you heard in middle school.Dawson

Dawson, of course, is a whole different animal. If memory serves, the guy doesn’t so much as crack a smile the entire movie (Markinson and Kendrick would also make this list). He’s the fucking bizarro-world version of Smilin’ Jack Ross: Hangdog Harry Dawson. That being said, he strikes me as the kind of guy who would laugh were he reminiscing with a friend or sibling about “the good old days”. In other words, if he’s going to slip out of super-serious Lance Corporal mode, he’d have to be with someone he felt incredibly close/safe with. And I don’t imagine that list of people would be very long.]

It takes all of a few seconds to learn that Kaffee and Dawson mix about as well as root beer and grapefruit juice³. And nowhere is that more evident that when Kaffee calls into question the code that Dawson lives his life by (not to be confused with the code that Danny lives his live by: Softball. Yoo-hoo. Babes. Steak knives.):

Kaffee certainly has no shortage of antagonists to contend with in this movie. He’s got Galloway up his ass basically non-stop. In just a matter of minutes, he’ll have Jessep, Kendrick and Markinson stonewalling him at every turn. And as much as Jack Ross may smile, he is — quite literally — the opposition (that’s how the whole prosecution-defense thing works, after all).

And yet, despite all those heavy-hitters, no character will prove a bigger catalyst for Kaffee’s arc/change than Harold W. Dawson. Their relationship will personify the central theme/conflict of the film. And if you don’t believe me, just look at where their first meeting is placed structurally: the last scene of the First Act (sometimes known as “Conflict Lock”). There’s no turning back from this moment for Danny, just like there’s a concept that Harold’s gonna have to start warming up to: Kaffee’s the only friend he’s got.

-MPM

¹Although I could totally see the 2016 version of Kaffee FaceTiming with his clients between innings of one of his softball games.
²a.k.a. D+D Music Factory
³Take my word for it.
To say nothing of the ghost of his father lurking behind all of this.
And those are some serious fucking heavy-hitters, especially when you consider the actors who are playing them.
The character being played by the guy nobody’s ever heard of, who’d go on to do guest spots on Charmed.
Frenemy might be more accurate, but the term wouldn’t be invented for another 15 years or so.