Tag Archives: Jack Nicholson

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.

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).

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.

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.

You’re Wrong, I Do Know You

Timecode: 23:25 – 26:47

JO
I don’t think you’re fit to handle the defense.

KAFFEE
You don’t even know me. Ordinarily it takes someone hours to discover I’m not fit to handle a defense.
(JO just stares at him)
Oh come on, that was damn funny.

If a genie had granted me three wishes as a 12-year-old, it would’ve taken me all of 20 seconds to rattle off my choices:

1) I wish the Giants would finally win the World Series.
2) I wish I could see Kathy Ireland naked.
3) I wish I could be Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men.Jo-Danny confrontation

Well, I still haven’t seen Kathy Ireland naked (and honestly, I think I’d pass if given the chance now). And it ended up being another 18 years before the Giants finally won the big one. But for one magical evening in the Fall of 2005, Wish #3 was granted — for a few minutes, anyway.

I have only one person to thank for that, and no, it wasn’t a genie. It was my friend and USC film school classmate, Katie Wood¹. The scene we shot together (in which I play Kaffee) just happens to be the A Few Good Minutes we’ve arrived at in this week’s breakdown. So, it seemed only appropriate to invite my once (and future?) director to take the reigns this week and evaluate our performance. Take it away, Katie!

-MPM

* * *

One of the first classes that Mike and I took in the USC MFA writing program was “Directing the Actor” taught by the inimitable (and Academy Award-nominated) Nina Foch. If her long career and trunk full of stories about Hollywood’s Golden Age² weren’t enough to intimidate us, her no-bullshit teaching style took care of the rest. At 81, not only had she seen it all, she saw through it all. Like Jo Galloway, she didn’t let people skate by in some fast-food, slick-ass, Persian bazaar manner.

So, needless to say, anxiety was running high leading into our final project. The task at hand was to direct a scene (from an existing film) within certain limitations: the scene had to be between two characters, and there was no editing allowed. In other words, the entire scene had to be shot in one, continuous take. (You know, like this…but the student film version).

Leading up to the exercise, we learned how to break down scenes like a director, by stating the intention behind every line of dialogue. And while this may sound like a pedantic exercise that would suck all the joy out of a scene, it’s actually really fucking fun! Here’s an excerpt from my breakdown of our AFGM scene:breakdown1crop

Kaffee’s intention is almost always some form of “to show you my dimples.” He’s a charming SOB, after all, and it’s gotten him far in life. In fact, it’s gotten him all the way to JoAnne Galloway: the first person who doesn’t find it particularly cute. Okay, she finds it a little cute, but that just makes him that much more irritating. And for Kaffee, the next best thing to charming someone is irritating them. So, it’s a perfect match, really. I mean, just look at these two going back and forth with one another:

Now, all I had to do was capture that same dynamic with two actors not named Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. Luckily, being in LA, we had easy access to professional(-ish) actors. I mean, they’re everywhere! And they’ll work for free! They don’t even treat you like you’re some idiot kid, either (even though you are some idiot kid!)

But then I remembered that Mike’s favorite movie was AFGM, and I knew that I wanted him to play the part. Why? Well, for one thing, he already knew the dialogue! Plus, he owned softball gear! And he has dimples! I mean, who better to play Kaffee?³

Jo was tougher find. My apologies to the actress, whose name I can’t remember, but she was the only one who could get through Jo’s monologue without stumbling and sound like she had at least some idea of what the words meant. Sorkin really isn’t for the faint of heart. But, in the words of LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it… Watch for yourself:

Trying our hand at the scene made it that much clearer how perfect the real thing is/was.

There are a few advantages that a Hollywood production has over a student film. Aside from money and talent, there are also Naval uniforms. Of course Jo wouldn’t confront Kaffee out of uniform. Dress whites are the perfect physical representation of Jo’s character. Crisp, spotless, professional (if not severe). The contrast with Kaffee is striking. He’s relaxed and joking and can’t even stop hitting balls to talk to a superior officer. Of course, Kaffee is also in uniform: his softball uniform. He’s dressed for a game, which sums him up perfectly, too.

My choice to set the scene at night was due mostly to scheduling conflicts, but it couldn’t be more wrong. Rather than catching Kaffee shirking his duties, it seems like Jo has stalked him during his off-hours. Our attempt at a classic Sorkin walk-and-talk was somewhat hindered by the length of the sidewalk, lack of a steady cam, and the speed at which I can walk backwards. At the time I was quite pleased with the staging, i.e. which character was leading and which was following. But in the original, every choice speaks perfectly to who the characters are, not just who has the upper hand in the conversation.

Watching the original again, I was especially taken by the way Kaffee doesn’t even take a break from hitting balls when being questioned by a superior officer, though he does miss the ball the first time she questions his work ethic.Jo-Danny confrontation4

Taking on this scene made me appreciate the level of skill of everyone involved in the Reiner/Cruise/Moore version. But I think we did a decent job for some idiot kids.

Now, given that whole preamble I gave you about our no-nonsene instructor, I know you’re dying to know: what did Nina think? Well, her critique of the scene ended up being a simple, “You did the job”, which for her, was a glowing fucking review. And the rest of the class was so impressed that I’d made the grade with her, they bought me drinks at the bar later. And really, isn’t that the goal of any great artist?

-KW

* * *

¹“She’s a good woman.” (c) John Norwood, circa ’05

²Most of these stories were about how full of shit most of Hollywood’s greatest actors were. Except Bogie. He was all right.

³Thanks, Katie! Check is in the mail.

Hal, Is This a Blog?

Timecode: 22:45 – 23:24

EXT. THE BRIG – DAY

Another red-brick building. A few M.P.Is stand out front as the cars pull up. As soon as they come to a stop, all the doors swing open and various uniformed and non-uniformed officers hop out and move to the unmarked sedan where they escort DAWSON and DOWNEY, in handcuffs, out of the car.

HAROLD DAWSON’s a handsome, young, black corporal. Intense, controlled, and utterly professional.

LOUDEN DOWNEY’s a 19-year-old kid off an Iowa farm. He’s happiest when someone is telling him exactly what to do¹. DAWSON’s his hero.

The two prisoners stand still for a moment. They might as we’ll be in Oz.

DOWNEY
Hal, is this Washington, D.C.?

Hal, is this Washington D.C.

This week’s short scene seemed like the perfect opportunity to a) highlight a bit of Sorkin’s sensational screenplay (which you see above), b) discuss the high comedy that is Downey’s wide-eyed-ness (which we’ll get to momentarily), and c) take stock of the bigger picture with the first installment of our AFGM Power Rankings² (which you’ll find below). But let’s start with the lovably guileless Louden…

His line in this scene is my pick for the most unintentionally hilarious moment of the movie. While there are certainly naive and unsophisticated people in the world³, there’s something about his delivery of the line that is so broad, it bleeds into caricature. In fact, if this were a different movie, say one directed by the Zucker or Wayans brothers, you could see this turning into a full-on gag if the scene continued:

“Hal, is this prison?”

“Hal, is this a toothbrush?”

“Hal, is this my dick?”

You get the picture.

I think my favorite part about the line, though, is the subtext that I’m (more than likely) projecting upon young Lowden. I like to imagine that the question stems not from naivete but disappointment. He gets out of the car expecting to see The White House, The Capitol Building, and the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington Memorials all at once. After all, this is supposed to be Washington D.C.! Postcard fucking central. It should look something like this:turn around louden mockup

But nooooo! All poor little Louden gets are a couple of nondescript brick buildings and a dinky metal staircase. I mean, what a gyp!

(Quick side-note: given Downey’s Iowa roots and his inquisitive nature, I also can’t help but think of this famous “Where am I?” moment from movie history:

But hey, at least Shoeless Joe had an excuse for being so dense: I mean, ghosts aren’t exactly known for their crack geography skills. End of quick side-note.)

*

AFGM Power Rankings 1.0

Listed in ascending order from least powerful to most powerful (at this point in the movie):

136) Downey
“Hal, is this last place?”

135) Santiago
Only his fine penmanship (in that letter he wrote) saved him from the cellar.

118) Sherby
If he kept his eyes open, his chances of ranking higher would increase by a factor of ten.

97) Spradling
Was smoked like a dime bag of oregano.

75) Dawson
Definitely outranks Downey (both militarily and in these power rankings), but he’s shown more acumen with duct tape than he has with the English language thus far.

61) Markinson
We just saw him scolded like a small child. I mean, you half-expected the scene to end with him licking Jessep’s boots like he was his dominatrix.

60) Kendrick
Similarly dressed-down in the previous scene, but at least he’s getting a free lunch at the “O” Club out of it.

44) Weinberg
Has no responsibilities here whatsoever.

27) Capt. Whitaker
Pretty sure that dude next to him with his eyes closed is fantasizing about him in a manner that would push the limits of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.Requested by division

* Top 5 *

Drumroll, please…

5) Kaffee
He’s pacing himself.

4) Galloway
Had Kaffee all kinds of turned around by the end of their first meeting.

3) Capt. West
‘Dat mustache, tho.

t-1) Jessep
Took a few innings before they finally brought him out of the bullpen, but he came in throwing absolute gas.

t-1) Tom
Obvi.

-MPM

¹This sentence provides a classic example of why how-to screenwriting books are (mostly) rubbish. They’ll often tell you that you should never include something in the scene description that we (as the audience) can’t see or hear. But when done artfully (and sparingly) – particularly when describing a character for the first time – it can do wonders to help the reader understand what you’re going for. And at the end of the day, that is the whole point of a screenplay.
²Trademark pending.
³And quite of a few of them are probably Midwestern teenagers.
I had no idea until writing this that it’s “What a gyp!” and not “What a gip!” #stilllearning
Military slang for Officer’s Club.

Enter the Dragon (and Tom)

Timecode: 18:11 – 22:45

JESSEP
We go back a while, [Matthew]. We went to the Academy together, we were commissioned together, we did our tours in Vietnam together. But I’ve been promoted up through the chain with greater speed and success than you have. Now, if that’s a source of tension or embarrassment for you…I don’t give a shit.

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Charles, gave the student with the highest score on the previous week’s spelling test the honor of announcing the new spelling words each Monday. Ostensibly, this meant that Brian Schulte announced the new spelling words each week, because that Hooked on Phonics motherfucker never misspelled a word in his goddamn life. The moment I saw the 18 or 19 out of 20 written atop my test, I knew my fate was sealed. I’d come up short – yet again – in my quest to dethrone the King. And despite it happening each and every week, it rankled me to no end.

Brian and I were frenemies long before that term had even been invented, let alone popularized. Not only were we the two best spellers in our grade, we were in the same advanced math and reading groups. We took guitar lessons together as part of the school’s music program. We even played together every recess, usually as part of a one-on-one basketball tournament that the two of us had organized with our other (actual) friends.

If ever there was a living embodiment of the idiom, “familiarity breeds contempt”, it was my “friendship” with Brian. Due to a combination of geography, aptitude, and mutual interests, our life paths had been laid out in parallel. And yet, with every step we took, all I could think about was how much easier my life would be if I could push him off of the road and into a ditch, where he’d never be heard from again.

Which is all to say, I couldn’t be more #TeamMarkinson if I tried. I am Team Markinson¹, okay?Matthew looking up at Jessep

So, it took 18 minutes and change, but our movie finally has its dragon: Col. Nathan R. Jessep. And he starts breathing fire (and chewing up scenery) right outta the gate, as dragons are wont to do. There is so very much to like about this scene, but three things stand out:

1) The Chain of Command (a.k.a. A Military-Sanctioned Pissing Contest)

What this movie does best is populate scenes with incredible actors, supply them with manna from heaven², and then, let them eat. And because the cast is almost entirely male (save for Jo and Aunt Ginny), the vast majority of these scenes devolve into outright pissing contests — this scene merely being the first of many examples. I mean, by the time Lt. Col. Markinson and Lt. Kendrick are done squabbling over the “Curtis Bell incident” and Col. Jessep reminds Markinson that he’s his superior officer, you half expect the three of them to pull out their dicks for a more definitive comparison. Of course, by scene’s end, there’s little confusion about who’s the cock of this walk. Which leads us to…Train the lad

2) Jack (a.k.a. The Cock of the Walk)

In some ways, expanding on this point feels like overkill, given how much weight the man’s name carries. But what is this blog, really, if not one long exercise in overkill?

By arming Jack with an arsenal of Grade-A fucking monologues, you’re essentially serving up Triple X-rated word porn to the viewer. The man can make a meal out of a look, so giving him the chance to lay waste to a well-crafted speech almost seems unfair to his fellow actors. (I’ve always been particularly fond of the way he intonates the line, “Yes, I’m certain that I read that somewhere once.”)

My friend and fellow AFGM-acolyte, Marc, has been known to affectionately refer to Aaron Sorkin as “The (latter day) Bard” (a.k.a. The LDB). And if you think about the marriage between script and actor through that lens, teaming Sorkin’s words with Nicholson’s delivery is the closest we’ve come to dramatic nirvana since Sir Laurence Olivier tackled “The (o.g.) Bard” in Hamlet. At least until…

3) Josh Malina opens the door into our hearts (a.k.a. The Tom Experience!)

In a scene that includes no less than a three-time Oscar winner, one of the greatest character actors of his generation, and Jack fucking Bauer, one man – and one man only – rises above the fray. That man is Joshua Malina.Tom peekabo

You’d be hard-pressed to find an actor more inexorably intertwined with Sorkin’s career. Malina not only made his big screen debut in AFGM, he was also a part of the play’s original cast on Broadway³ three years earlier. Since that time, he’s appeared in two other Sorkin-penned films (Malice and The American President) and starred in Sorkin’s first two television series (Sports Night and The West Wing). I mean, shit, the guy even co-hosts a weekly podcast devoted to The LDB’s magnum opus (The West Wing Weekly).

But none of that would have been possible without this scene. Without his dutiful portrayal of the man described in the script simply as “Orderly”. The man we now know as Tom.

“Sir.” “Yes, Sir.” “Yes, Sir.”

Five words, ladies and gentlemen. That’s all it took to give birth to a Sorkinian legend.

-MPM

¹Hopefully without the nickel-plated pistol in my mouth, of course.
²a.k.a. Sorkin dialogue
³Playing the pivotal role of “Ensemble”
Who could forget Jeremy dating that porn star, thereby alienating him from Natalie, and keeping him from completely fucking dominating that post-show game of Celebrities?
Though one has to wonder if his reverence is motivated by guilt, given the (possibly apocryphal) story of how Malina once broke three of Sorkin’s ribs while attempting to give him the Heimlich maneuver during their Broadway days.