Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cute old people and Sci-Fi...it must be the 80s

What exactly was it about the 1980s that made old people bankable on both television and in film?  I mean suddenly the elderly were in vogue in shows like The Golden Girls, Murder She Wrote, and Matlock...I suppose because this was the first time that spunky old people were given lead roles rather than side roles (Jessie Royce Landis in To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest comes to mind...but she wasn't front and center...more of a curiosity to the side).  These were real people with real problems and personalities, not stereotypes in rocking chairs and playing shuffleboard, and I suppose that's where the appeal came from (and perhaps there was a little bit of morbid curiosity as well...wondering if old people really do talk about sex and all that).  However it was David Saperstein who combined sassy old people and science fiction for the first time in his novel, Cocoon, which proved to be a hit combination.  Ron Howard enjoyed the book so much that he decided to make a film of it (changing a ton of elements in the process) and making a huge hit for 20th Century Fox.  It is a tale of growing old, fearing death, and wishing for rejuvenation while keeping a curiosity for the unknown.  Without further ado, I bring you...Cocoon.

The film opens with a young boy, David, watching the stars before going to bed.  He just misses seeing a large spaceship fly over and shine its light over the ocean near his home.  The next day, at a local retirement community, Art, Ben, and Joe find their usual trespass to the pool next door interrupted by newcomers who are renting the house that the pool belongs to. The newcomers also surprise Jack, a local boat rental captain, when they offer to rent his boat for 27 days at full price.  They expect no questions asked and Jack complies (though he and Ben, Art, and Joe are considerably curious about the cargo they are pulling up from the ocean floor everyday).  The geezers decide to use the pool when the newcomers are gone and discover it filled with rock-like objects that sound hollow and make the pool like a virtual fountain of youth.  Soon each man is growing stronger and younger and is sharing the fountain of youth with his respective wife/girlfriend, not really caring where the power comes from.  It isn't long, however, till they all realize that the new owners of the house are aliens and the rocks are really their cocooned officers, left from when their base on Atlantis sank over 6000 years ago.

Cocoon is a very complex story with several characters and different plot points, and that is why it has such an appeal with viewers.  Everyone can relate to wishing they could remain young (or get young again) and wishing they could have a quick fix like a fountain of youth (or a swimming pool) to make it happen.  We can also relate to having loved ones die, and others can relate to being curious about what is going on out there in the universe.  Its a real ensemble piece too, with Steve Guttenberg, Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche, and Hume Cronyn creating amazing characters along side actresses Jessica Tandy (beginning her big comeback), Maureen Stapleton, and Gwen Verdon.  Oh, and don't forget Brian Dennehy as the lead alien, Walter.  He is wonderfully dry, yet lovable character who experiences death for the first time while with the other leads.  Its a touching moment that adds another layer to the film (because everyone has to experience the death of a loved one for the first time).  If you've never seen Cocoon, or haven't seen it in a while, its a lovely 1980s fantasy experience that, while not exactly as heartwarming as recent work, is still good for a few laughs and some very touching moments (though to be honest, the one that really makes me cry is the sequel Cocoon: The Return).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Paddy's Day

Well, my senior class play is over and now I can get back to the blog.  Technically, I could have blogged these last several days...but I've just needed to be lazy, you know how that is?  I have another week (a few days actually) until I have to leap right back into production, this time for the musical, and so I'm relishing these days off.  That will be another six weeks of craziness and then done for the year...well done with shows.  Then I've got a mere two weeks left of classes until Summer.  Oh I do love summer...its nice out, I'm off work, and there are endless possibilities for things to do.  For one, I plan to save my money to be more prepared for the rest of the year but I'm gonna take some quick trips to cheap places too.  I've got to go visit my new nephew when he comes too.  I'm so pumped for the summer, its scary.  I think these last months of school will go well too, I just have to get everything squeezed in.  Anyhoo, for St. Paddy's Day this year I'm presenting a double feature of titles that are so full of Blarney that they can't be anything but fun. The first is a lesser known Disney classic and the third is a horror yarn that launched one of the biggest direct to video franchises that Vidmark ever had.  So let's dive right in!

The first title is a pet project of Walt Disney's based on the stories of Herminie Templeton Kavanagh called Darby O'Gill and the Little People.  It tells the tale of a man named Darby O'Gill and his endevors to catch Brian Conners, the king of the leprechauns.  The story also deals with his replacement as caretaker of his Lordship's summer house by the young Michael McBride and Michael's blooming romance with Darby's daughter Katie.  It is a wonderful little fantasy full of many staples of Irish fantasy and chock to the brim with grand performances, particularly a young Sean Connery as Michael.  There's some very spooky imagery in it as well, such as when Katie is menaced by a banshee and Darby is taken away by the c√≥iste-bodhar, the death coach.  Its not the kind of thing that would scare grown men of course...but it certainly will spook the kiddies.  Even today, I have memories of not sleeping after seeing the banshee and hearing her horrible cry.  You can't go wrong discovering this movie for the first time (or rediscovering it after not having seen it for years).

The second film of tonight deals again with a mischievous leprechaun...but this leprechaun is not playful and witty like Brian Conners.  He is fanged, clawed, and out for blood.  Leprechaun was a sleeper hit when it was released in 1993 due to a blitz of television advertising and a unique presence.  It was an old fashioned slasher movie with a St. Patrick's Day flavor...perfect for the release wasteland that is March.  The story is simple and opens with Daniel O'Grady returning home from Ireland after visiting his mother's funeral.  He bestows a bag of gold coins on his wife and tells her that he took them from a leprechaun he captured.  This is a bad move however, as the little imp kills every person who steals his gold.  Soon, the leprechaun shows up and dispatches them both....but not before Dan can seal the creature inside a crate, using a four-leaf clover.  Years later, Tory (Jennifer Aniston) and her father rent out the O'Grady house for the summer and inadvertently release the leprechaun from its prison.  He then begins to slaughter everyone in his path as he tries to regain his gold.  Leprechaun was originally intended to be a horror film for children according to writer-director Mark Jones, but the studio believed it could be R rated and so they added more gore and kills to make it appeal to the horror crowd...this probably explains the somewhat odd mix of hard-R horror and comedy that plays through the film.  Its effective at what it sets out to do, though, especially when compared to its rotten sequels.  At any rate, you could do a lot worse.