★★ / ★★★★
Ben (Wilford Brimley), Art (Don Ameche), and Joe (Hume Cronyn) live in a seaside retirement community. Once in a while they break into a pool house next door for some fun and relaxation. During one of their visits, they see four rock-looking figures settled at the bottom. Although curious as to what they are, the zestful gentlemen are not entirely bothered by them so they decide to swim anyway.
Meanwhile, Jack (Steve Guttenberg) is hired by Walter (Brian Dennehy) so that he and his crew can use Jack’s boat for twenty-seven days. Out in the middle of the ocean, they obtain cocoons that house extra-terrestrials and place them in the swimming pool that the older folks so enjoy spending time in.
“Cocoon,” based on the screenplay by Tom Benedek and David Saperstein, is highly enjoyable at times because, having volunteered in a retirement home during my years as an undergraduate, I found it honest in its portrayal of the aging. While there is a sadness in watching the geriatric characters struggle in doing the simplest things like getting from one point of the room to another or picking up a spoon to feed themselves, these images are contrasted with sequences where the men and women are energetic enough to partake in social activities like dancing and playing mahjong. This is before we learn that the cocoons in the pool have the magical ability to make the old feel very young again.
Comedic scenes come in various forms like the men freely talking about their erections and seducing their wives or lady friends to bed. I appreciated that the movie shows that even old people can still talk about sexual things without reservation.
The most awkward aspect of the picture, however, is the romance between Jack and Kitty (Tahnee Welch), one of Walter’s crew members. After being a Peeping Tom and discovering that Kitty is an alien, he is still so very willing to get into her pants. And he is far from subtle about it. It is probably funny on paper because Jack comes off as a silly kid stuck in a man’s body, but I found it weird and the possibility of a human and an alien sharing a love scene made me feel uncomfortable.
Whenever the romantic angle is front and center, I wondered if the yearning between the human and the alien could have been more convincing and actually romantic if the script had been more subtle about their feelings for one another. Because their interactions consistently border on triteness, I did not believe the sentiments. I was bored. It is similar to watching a puppet show with no jokes.
Eventually, the old folks are given a choice between living the rest of their lives until their bodies are ready to die and a chance to live forever. Bernie (Jack Gilford) supports the former idea despite his ailing wife while the rest are, understandably, so quickly willing to embrace such a magical possibility. Instead of going for the easy chase scene, I wished the picture had taken more time in exploring which really is the right thing to do for each major character. In the end, we get the impression that some of them will not be happy with their decisions somewhere down the line.
Directed by Ron Howard, “Cocoon” is a mixed bag. When the camera turns its attention to the residents of the retirement community, the material coruscates a certain contagious energy. If only the subplots were constructed and executed as freshly and as youthful as the spirits of the senior citizens.
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Barry Levinson, “Diner” was about a group of friends verging on adulthood who constantly tried to find a distinction between marriage and being in love with a woman. I adored this film greatly because I felt like the guys were the kind of people I could talk to. Even though they were silly and talked about the most unimportant things, they were very entertaining and each had a distinct personality. Eddie (Steve Guttenberg) was about to get married, Boogie (Mickey Rourke–who I did not recognize at all) was a womanizer, Modell (Paul Reiser) got on everyone’s nerves, Tim (Kevin Bacon) had issues with his brother, and Shrevie (Daniel Stern) was addicted to music. But my favorite was Billy (Tim Daly), Eddie’s best man, because he was the most mysterious of the group. His interactions with Eddie had a certain feeling of sensitivity to it; the look he portrayed in his eyes made me think that he harbored a secret and I desperately wanted to know what it was. While they all had separate personalities, I liked that Levinson surprised us somewhere in the middle. The picture seemed to have flipped itself inside out and showcased something unexpected about them. For instance, Tim turned out to be someone who was genuinely intelligent despite his sometimes unwise decisions. The biggest strength and weakness of this film was its many colorful characters. Since there were so many of them, I was never bored because it jumped from one perspective to another with relative ease. But at the same time, I wished it had less characters so it could have had the chance to dig deeper within the characters’ psychologies. Nevertheless, “Diner” was very funny because the guys had chemistry. Their interactions made me think of nights when my friends and I would hang out at Denny’s, talk about the most random things, tease each other, and eat until it was either difficult for us to breathe or our mouths were simply exhausted from talking. So I felt like the movie really captured how it was like to be considered as an adult (over eighteen) but not quite reach the maturity level of a real adult. “Diner” is a deftly crafted picture with intelligence despite the dirty jokes, characters who are easy to identify with and a script that flows and sounds natural. I always feel the need to say that a movie may not be for everyone only because the movie is heavy on dialogue. But I think this film is an exception because it knows how to have fun but remain honest so the audiences can feel like they’re part of the inner circle instead of simply eavesdropping from another table.
Boys from Brazil, The (1978)
★★★ / ★★★★
I heard about this film in several of my Biology classes so I thought I’d check it out. Gregory Peck as Dr. Josef Mengel stars as a Nazi scientist with an evil plan: assassinate ninety-four sixty-five-year-old men in a span of two-and-a-half years. Believe it or not, that is only the first step of his much more menacing endgame. Sir Laurence Olivier is the Nazi hunter who tries to stop Dr. Mengel after hearing about it from a young Nazi seeker played by Steve Guttenberg. Watching Peck and Olivier interact, especially during the final scenes, was a pleasure to watch. They both have such power in the way they deliver their lines yet still have that subtetly that makes the audiences question whether what they see is really the entire picture. The way Franklin J. Schaffner, the director, told the story reminded me of the best spy films I’ve seen. He managed to build the suspense after each scene but at the same time still have minor payoffs to keep the viewer engaged. I thought this film had three standout scenes: when Guttenberg learns the information that the Nazis are planning (it reminded me of “Alias” when Jennifer Garner would drop in a conversation she wasn’t meant to hear), when Olivier learns about the science that goes behind the Nazis endgame (the science is completely believable which made it all the more impressive), and one of the last scene involving the dogs (which I thought was deeply symbolic). Those three scenes alone convinced me that this film should be seen by many. Although there wasn’t as much gun-wielding action scenes as I would’ve liked, the characters are shrewd and the plot was intelligently written with genuine moments of comedy dispersed along the way.