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Category: No Small Parts
No small parts means two different things. To actors, it means that they should take any part they can get because they’re all important to their audience and to their careers. To the audience, it means that all parts, no matter how “small,” add necessary color and context to every scene. For this series, I choose those parts with less than 2 minutes of screen time that serve specific purposes: 1) catalysts for the plot; or 2) tools to help us appreciate just how much a major character needs to grow or has grown. For these reasons, every “small part” deserves our respect. The movie would be two-dimensional without them.
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Great Shatner’s ghost! I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted about Star Trek. It’s my favorite entertainment property, yet I’ve been so focused on the superhero stuff and random Netflix movies that I haven’t watched any Star Trek recently. Ironically, it was the Iron Man quarantine watch party on June 30, that inspired this post (as well as this one and this one).
— Rob Bodine #QuarantineWatchParty Fiend (@GSLLC) July 1, 2020
I haven’t seen a lot of Faran Tahir, but I’ve been impressed by everything in which I’ve seen him, including his role in Iron Man. That role wasn’t small, but this post is about Captain Robau from the 2009 reboot of Star Trek. George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) gets the credit for his sacrifice, and that’s fair, but it’s clear that he was following the teachings of his captain, played by Mr. Tahir. Captain Robau set the tone for the scene, and the entire movie, by remaining completely calm during the brief negotiations and immediately complying with Nero’s demands despite the danger. He didn’t do this because he was without fear – his bio signs indicated an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, and other signs of emotional distress – but because leaders don’t have the luxury of personal considerations. If you take responsibility for other people’s lives, you need to live up to that.
Captain Robau was a strong character, and his leadership set the tone for a movie that was as much about leadership as it was about friendship.
Last night was another quarantine watch party hosted by Brandon Davis of ComicBook.com. This time it was Spiderman: Far from Home, and the small part I want to highlight is William Ginter Riva. There were several characters that helped Beck in his master plan. William was one of those characters. He had a small part . . . twice. He first appeared in Iron Man.
Jump to 0:10. Or just wait for it. It’s only 10 seconds.
Then he appeared again in Far from Home.
Jump to 2:10.
Unlike the other No Small Parts entries, he probably got a bit over 2 minutes of screen time, but the added value of this part is the connection it draws between the first modern MCU film, Iron Man, and the first one after which Tony Stark had died (representing a coda to the Tony Stark legacy). The thing that amazes me the most about the MCU is that I can’t think of any cinematic universe that tied together so many independent stories that collectively told a bigger one. Star Trek came close, and Star Wars came closer, but the MCU is the new standard for such a thing. Every movie stands 100% on its own yet tells a common story across 23 films. The fact that William appeared only at the very beginning and then at the very end makes the MCU feel a little bit more real, and thus relatable.
William was a small but significant way to remind us of that larger story, so I can’t help but appreciate this role.
Side note: What some may not know is that William was played by Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie in 1983’s A Christmas Story. The best part, of course, is that they made a (not so?) subtle reference to “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
Unlike the other MCU films, the overarching storyline in Captain America: Civil War wasn’t the Avengers finding a way to come together, but rather the Avengers being torn apart. Behind the scenes, the Sokovia Accords were being written, and Secretary Ross was getting ready to confront the Avengers, but for the disassembly of the Avengers to occur, it had to come from within. The two factions were led by Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. Steve needed no outside help to make his stand; it’s what he does. Likewise, Tony is prone towards sacrificing liberty in favor of security, but in prior films, he insisted on being the one in control of that security. Something had to push him over the edge to where he’d be willing to surrender that control to the government that he so routinely dismissed.
Enter Miriam, played by acting veteran Alfre Woodard.
Jump to 0:55 for the scene in question.
Miriam tells the story of her son, Charlie Spencer, who had the city of Novi Grad, Sokovia dropped on him during the events of Age of Ultron. She blamed the Avengers for his death and laid a huge guilt trip on Tony Stark in that scene.
One of my pet peeves about superhero movies is the after saving the world, the unappreciative human race vilifies the heroes because of the collateral damage that occurs, ignoring that, in some cases, without the heroes the entire human race would be killed. That’s certainly a theme in Civil War, and it’s annoying as hell, but in Civil War those arguments were no more than a means to advance a more reasonable position. The United Nations truthfully understood that what the Avengers were doing was right, and that the consequences of those actions were often not the Avengers’ fault. They simply wanted international oversight to minimize those consequences.
But logic isn’t always the best motivator. Even the most stoic among us are emotional creatures. You can’t blame the Avengers for feeling bad about what happened. If a criminal held a gun to a loved-one’s head, and you felt you had to kill the criminal in order to save that person’s life, the world wouldn’t blame you, but you might still find it difficult to deal with having killed another human being. Maybe you could have disarmed the criminal, and if so overpowered him. Tony was facing the same emotional dilemma, and to make matters worse was the creator of the threat, Ultron. Even more, maybe Tony could have zigged when he zagged and saved some more lives.
Miriam appealed to that emotion, and in less than 2 minutes of screen time, set in motion the civil war between the Avengers.
The DCEU is dark. In Man of Steel, Superman lost his mother and father before he knew them, and then lost his adoptive father just after reminding him he wasn’t his real father. Bruce Wayne famously lost both his parents, and that loss created the Batman. Wonder Woman couldn’t move forward without turning her back on her family, and by the end of the movie, she lost her one true love. The DCEU likes to kill heroes’ families.
The DCEU has taken some heat for how dark its tone is. The argument I’ve heard the most is that Marvel has always been upbeat, and Marvel is a success, so that must be the path to success. I think that’s a strange line of thought. First, there can be more than one path to success, and plenty of dark movies have enjoyed success. Second, the DCEU had to take its own path. If it had mimicked Marvel, it would have inspired just as many detractors who would have criticized a lack of originality. (My suspicion is that many of those detractors would have been the same people, but we’ll never know.) Whether you agree or disagree, my bottom line is that I’m glad it forged its own path, and I’ve enjoyed all the DCEU movies.
The Light in the Darkness
Moving to Aquaman, Jason Momoa played a brooding, reluctant hero who avoided connection at all costs due to his half-breed status and the loss of his mother. This is right in line with the darkness that I’ve enjoyed. That said, too much of even a good thing can be bad. We needed a break, and not just a scene or two. We needed hope, and not just an alien letter on a shirt. We needed to see Aquaman connect in a big way, and reuniting with his long, lost mother was just that. But that could have felt forced if not for the hints we had that deep down inside he sought that connection. Besides his scenes with his father, that started with the bar scene.
Go to 2:02 for the bar scene.
Granted, the build up within that scene was a bit overacted (which appears to be solely the script’s fault), but it redeemed itself by quickly shifting to comedy and lightheartedness. The actor portraying “Biker” is Luke Owen. Finding his information has proven difficult, so I can’t point to anything else he’s done or even copy him on this post. But as I’ve stated in my first and second “No Small Parts” posts, the scene and Mr. Owen’s part were important. They started the build up to the much-needed light in the darkness of the DCEU.
I leave you with a great song from the soundtrack.
After participating in the Guardians of the Galaxy quarantine watch party, I published a post referencing the show business adage that there are no small parts. In doing so, I used Bereet as evidence supporting that adage. Today, I’m going to use the sympathetic physical therapist, played well by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.
Like Tony Stark, Stephen Strange (slowly) grew from a self-absorbed jackhole to someone serving others, but unlike most others in the MCU did so by changing his methods. When the arms-dealing Tony Stark’s focus shifted from himself to others, his methods didn’t change. He still accomplished his tasks through weaponry. Thor still ran into battle headfirst relying on brawn more than strategy. Nebula’s plan for saving half the universe still involved murder, and her target was a family member. The Guardians in general were still scavengers looking for a payday to finance their universe-saving efforts. They worked with what they knew.
Strange was different. Off the top of my head, he was unique among the major MCU characters in that it wasn’t just his attitude that changed, but also his methods. Strange had to open his mind to other means to accomplish his goals. Strange’s circumstances largely removed his medical skills from his playbook, but he wasn’t being told to abandon them; in fact, he used them to help Dr. Palmer operate on him. The Ancient One’s point was that he had to add new skills. Experts “can often see in part but not the whole.” While I don’t believe in magic, as a general principle, this is certainly true. The more complex our base of knowledge becomes, the harder it is to understand everything necessary to solve large problems. But this is a superhero movie, so let’s stick with the magic. Strange needed to add magic to his repertoire, and while he could have used that magic to return to his old life, his new-founded altruism forced him to focus on a new skill set in favor of the old.
In the prior post, I asked, “[H]ow can you appreciate that growth if you don’t experience its full progression?” That is, to appreciate the growth, you must first clearly establish the character’s starting point, which leads us to Holdbrook-Smith’s part.
The physical therapist represents an important part of Strange’s own field, yet Strange responds to him with condescension (“Bachelor’s Degree”). Granted, Strange is emotionally compromised by his injuries, but Strange exhibited this same behavior earlier when discussing being a part of the emergency room team, and when criticizing the other surgeon, Dr. Nicodemus West (who could easily have been the subject of this post). The physical therapist was there to remind us of this specific character flaw at a time when we may have forgotten it. He also helped make it clear that even someone doing his job competently and exhibiting remarkable patience in the face of Strange’s insults, isn’t protected from them.
No doubt, this is a subtle point, but as I said before, actors with quick appearances, even if they have no lines and are relegated to the background, provide necessary color to scenes. Holdbrook-Smith did that for us, whether we were paying attention or not.
Tuesday night was the Guardians of the Galaxy quarantine watch party hosted again by Brandon Davis of ComicBook.com. We were joined by director James Gunn and actors Sean Gunn and Melia Kreiling. I love the GotG movies and have spoken about them many times, but with movies this good, there’s always something more to discuss after each viewing.
Melia Kreiling played Bereet in the 18-second clip below.
She had an additional one minute here.
This isn’t much screen time, but during my online interaction with Ms. Kreiling, I played the role of Captain Obvious and pointed out that there’s no such thing as a “small part.”
I agree. And not saying this to be a kiss ass, but James didn’t treat ANY part like it was small. He took me around the set to introduce me to everyone there, on my first day of camera tests. Amazing atmosphere.
Actors with quick appearances, even if they have no lines and are relegated to the background, provide necessary color to scenes. I’m sure most actors want lead roles in blockbuster films, but if that isn’t available, their contribution can still be important. Let’s consider the scenes in the videos. Like most of the primary and secondary MCU characters, Peter Quill (you might know him by another name, Star Lord) had a lot of growing to do. He started as an irreverent, silly, narcissistic, selfish criminal, but by the end of Endgame had become an . . . irreverent, silly, savior of the universe. Old habits die hard, and you can’t fix stupid, but it’s the thought that counts, and his intentions became noble.
Consider this: At this point, Quill suspects that grabbing the power stone will kill him. He doesn't care. It's more important to him that Ronin not grab the stone. He's grown as a person. #GotG#QuarantineWatchParty
But how can you appreciate that growth if you don’t experience its full progression? Bereet provided the necessary context. The first time we got a glimpse into what made Peter tick was his interaction with Bereet. She was, as Ms. Kreiling puts it,
Peter and Bereet had clearly spent a non-negligible amount of time together, most of which we assume was sexual, and he didn’t even remember her being there. How self-absorbed can one get? He then refuses to honor his word by betraying Yondu (admittedly, not the nicest guy either). Bereet provided the means to display that betrayal by unwittingly answering the “phone call,” something Peter would just have ignored without the audience knowing it had happened. This was good acting and good writing, and was as important as any other moment in that movie.
“Small parts” are often critical. Sometimes we just don’t think about the roles they play.