The Kominsky Method

Sometimes actors tend to play to type.  From movie to movie, their characters seem to operate within pretty much the same emotional range and have the same basic reactions and mannerisms.  Humphrey Bogart would be an example of this type of actor, and John Wayne would be another.

kominsky1-e1567030523175I had the same general perception of Michael Douglas, viewing him as most comfortable in playing Gordon Gekko or another unlikable, bullying jerk who you hope gets his just desserts at the end of the film.  Then Kish and I watched the two seasons (so far) of the Netflix series The Kominsky Method, and my preconceptions about Michael Douglas were absolutely destroyed.  The show is a classic example of a  well-known actor playing against type, and doing so brilliantly.

The title of The Kominsky Method refers to the acting class of Sandy Kominsky, played by Douglas.  Sandy’s in his 70s, but he’s not ready to give up teaching — or acting, for that matter.  The show centers around Sandy’s relationship with Norman Newlander, Sandy’s long-time agent and best friend played by Alan Arkin.  Norman has been very successful financially and had a long-lasting marriage, whereas Sandy has gone through multiple wives, failed to pay his taxes, and hasn’t led the most responsible life — although he drives a terrific car.  Now Sandy and Norman are dealing with the kinds of problems that men in their 70s must deal with — like prostate problems, energy problems, memory problems, sexual problems, health problems, and relationship problems.

The interactions between Sandy and the dry, biting Norman as they address the issues they are confronting are often hysterical — at least, to this reviewer who isn’t all that far from his 70s — and there is a fine ensemble cast that includes Sandy’s daughter, his daughter’s aged boyfriend, Sandy’s new girlfriend, and the students in Sandy’s acting class.  The acting class scenes in particular are really interesting, as Sandy watches his students perform, teaches his approach to acting, and shows that he still has a lot of passion for trying to get people to take acting seriously as a craft.  Sandy’s got some warts, but on the whole he’s charming, vulnerable, funny, and likable.  You wouldn’t mind having a beer with him — but you might have to pick up the tab.

Michael Douglas, playing a vulnerable, likable character?  That’s a big part of the reason Kish and I binge-watched and really enjoyed The Kominsky Method, and why we’re looking forward to season three.

James Gandolfini, R.I.P.

James Gandolini has died.  Only 51, he passed away on a trip to Italy, of an apparent heart attack.  It is tough news for those of us who admired Gandolfini’s acting and held out hope that, at some point, we might see a bit more of The Sopranos.

Many people consider The Sopranos to be one of the best — and maybe the best — TV shows ever made, and James Gandolfini was its spiritual core.  His Tony Soprano was one of the most fully realized TV characters ever to grace the small screen.  Viewers understood his angst and sympathized with his crises, cringed at his extraordinary episodes of hyperviolence and serial philandering, celebrated his successful schemes, marveled at his generosity and quick turns of mood.  The character was the product of great writing, but also of Gandolfini’s brilliant acting.

My favorite Sopranos scenes were from the early years, between Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano and Nancy Marchand as his formidable, emotionally brutal mother.  It was naked, powerful, astonishing stuff.  Their convincing portrayals of a devoted son and a caustic mother in a devastating family relationship — and the flashbacks to Soprano’s boyhood — made the notion of a mob boss going to a therapist seem very plausible, indeed.

The Sopranos was TV lightning in a bottle, with the perfect combination of concept, cast, and writing.  It will be enjoyed by TV viewers for so long as people appreciate talent.  Fifty-one is much too young for a talent like Gandolfini’s to exit the stage, and his death is an enormous loss for his family, his friends, and his fans.

Release The Kraken!

I think being an actor would be an enormous challenge.  To be successful as an artist, you have to understand your character, get into their skin, and faithfully assume their personalities and mannerisms.  Otherwise, it will just look like someone acting.  On the other hand, to put bread on the table, you will need to accept jobs in movies that aren’t exactly artistic triumphs — perhaps a remake of a popular TV show, or a comic book adaptation — often wearing ridiculous get-ups.

When Kish, Russell and I went to watch Shutter Island on Saturday we saw the preview for the remake of Clash of the Titans.  The original dates from the ’80s and was a Ray Harryhausen stop-motion epic starring Harry Hamlin.  The remake features, among other notables, Liam Neeson as Zeus, the King of the Gods.  At one point in the trailer, Zeus says “Release the Kraken,” which is an enormous, large-toothed, screeching, earthen monstrosity.

It must have been tough for Liam Neeson, so memorable in Schindler’s List and recent fare like Taken, to speak that dialogue.  As he does so he is clad in some glowing, shimmering kind of armored breastplate and a cape, with long hair and a long beard.  How do you decide how to say such a line as such a character?  “Release the KRAKEN!”  “RELEASE the Kraken!”  “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!!!”  Waving hand and shrugging, “Release the Kraken.”  Shatner-like:  “Release . . .  the Kraken.”  (Shatner probably would have been a good Zeus, come to think of it.)

Neeson pulls it off, somehow, speaking the lines with a sense of weariness, indignation, and resignation, as his breastplate glows and his beard hairs flap in the breeze.