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Cocoon

Review: ‘Cocoon’ / ‘Lifeforce’

[Turner Classic Movies will show Cocoon, one of Ron Howard’s pretty-good movies, this coming Sunday, Feb. 10, at 2:45 p.m. Pacific Time. The following review appeared in The Weekly during the film’s 1985 first run. Also on screens then was another sci-fi film in a very different key, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce. That won’t be on TCM (which is showing Cocoon because of the Oscar it won for Don Ameche), but Lifeforce is available on DVD. However, you really should wait for the Shout! Factory upgrade of it, coming out on Blu-ray and DVD in April. – RTJ]

[originally published in The Weekly, June 26, 1985]

Blue steel pending: Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, and Don Ameche in ‘Cocoon’

The summer braindeath alert is still in force, but the Cineaste General has just announced two additional safe zones in which the filmgoer can move without undue fear of contamination. Somewhat surprisingly, both abut the science-fiction genre, a plague-ridden territory where video-game special effects and kiddie cant are habitually substituted for intelligently impelled narrative and a provocative point of view. Nevertheless, Cocoon and Lifeforce may both be recommended to discerning viewers, even though they happen to be light years apart in style, tone, content, and likelihood of achieving commercial longevity.

Of the two, the apparent class act is Cocoon. It’s the latest film from actor-turned-terrific-movie-director Ron Howard, whose romantic comedy-fantasy Splash last summer was an entertainment of rare freshness and enchantment. Its packagers are Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, who first enabled Steven Spielberg to set his Jaws for the unwary moviegoer. They’ve supplied Howard with a nifty story idea (by David Saperstein), two-thirds of a good screenplay (Tom Benedek), and a cast unmatched for professionalism and appeal, if not marquee clout: Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Don Ameche, Gwen Verdon, Maureen Stapleton, Jack Gilford, Brian Dennehy, and Steve Guttenberg.

Most of the aforenamed play residents of a Florida retirement community called Sunny Shores, where they sit waiting, with varying degrees of contentment and resignation, for the Grim Reaper to pay a house call. Actually Ameche, Brimley, and the terminally ill Cronyn don’t do much sitting. They’ve lately taken to trespassing on the disused palatial estate next door and paddling, like truant sixth-graders, in the indoor pool.

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Ron Howard: a director who never gets ahead of his audience

Back in 1993, during a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the auteur theory in America, critic-turned-filmmaker Paul Schrader identified a then-current Hollywood trend: “If you learned your craft in episodic television, you learned two things. One: how to take orders and be on time. And two: how to please people. So now who are our ‘auteurs’? Meathead, Laverne and Opie.” Which was to say, Rob Reiner, Penny Marshall and Ron Howard, respective acting alumni of All in the Family, Laverne & Shirley, and The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days.

Laverne and Meathead soon ceased to matter much, but Opie gives no sign of slowing down, and he continues to direct movies as if he were following the season bible for some TV series and determined that every second of airtime keep people pleased. An Opie opus is dependably formulaic on every front and, from shot to shot, cut to cut, numbingly predictable. Yet that’s coherence of a sort, and a way of compensating for the lack of an applause sign to cue the audience.

It’s exasperating that Ron Howard is almost certainly a nice man. Seeing him on TV to promote his latest picture, you realize he’s exactly who Opie Taylor and/or Richie Cunningham would have grown up to be. He’s been married to the same woman forever, he reserves roles in just about every movie for actor dad Rance and actor brother Clint, and he’s even named his kids after the town — and, in one case, a certain country road — where each was conceived. Family values. You can’t knock ’em.

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