If you want to make an omelette, the saying goes, first you have to make a remarkably unexceptional non-starter featuring Whoopi Goldberg as a tech whiz embroiled in an espionage scandal. Apparently people actually like Jumpin’ Jack Flash, judging by the surprising number of nostalgia-fueled pieces about Whoopi’s young comedy days, but apart from an amusement with her indomitable ‘tude I can’t imagine why. You can just watch The View if you’re into Whoopi’s ‘tude, right? Unless you prefer a different kind of supporting cast, essentially one made up not of has-beens but of not-yets.
One such not-yet was behind the camera in the form of Penny Marshall, one day destined to direct the likes of Big, Awakenings, A League of Their Own and more alongside her numerous TV credits. Jack Flash is the transition piece from the Laverne & Shirley days (she was Laverne) and also serves as her first real foray into feature filmmaking. As is the case with many such transitions, Jack Flash is really only noteworthy in a retrospective review of a one-day-great director. Another Happy Days-related alum leaps to mind in the form of Ron Howard, who would find great success behind the camera but not before making his first movie Grand Theft Auto.
Continue reading Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)
At some indiscriminate point in the ’90s movie producers everywhere decided to simply stop caring about trying to get actors to do passable Irish accents. Can’t we try, begged writers and moviegoers and people from Ireland, at least try to make this sound accurate? We know it’s more appealing to have a major American beefcake rather than, say, an actual Irish guy playing the role of “actual Irish guy”, but can’t we spend the extra time/money to ensure this film won’t become a laughingstock in ten years, or five, or instantaneously? Please? Please?
We’ve charted a course backwards through movie time and discovered Far and Away to be one of the earliest and most egregious offenders. If not patient zero per se, Far and Away is effectively worse than the index case for presenting itself on the largest possible stage and thus spreading the Awful Irish Accent disease much more quickly. Prior to Far and Away a shitty accent was a shitty accent. After Far and Away, a shitty accent became a perfectly acceptable feature of a major blockbuster because Ron Howard and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman couldn’t be bothered to do better. Why should anyone else?
Continue reading Far and Away (1992)
Parenthood might be the first time Ron Howard really showed his talent as a director. Grand Theft Auto and Night Shift were passable as Howard found his directorial voice, and Gung Ho and Willow were larger productions that achieved different levels of success as Howard matured. I’d entertain an argument for Cocoon as the first glimpse of the great director Howard would one day become, mostly for the subtle mix of fantasy, sentimentality, humor and drama. But Parenthood, although admittedly very different, is the better film. With a burgeoning cast that can only be described as an ensemble, Howard’s brilliance lies in making that ensemble feel more like — oh no, he’s going to say it — a family.
There are the young ones — Kevin, Taylor, Justin, Patty, “Cool” and Garry (a pipsqueak Joaquin Phoenix) — each content in their kid ways to run around with head-in-bucket (in Justin’s case) or figure out the square root of 8,649 (in Patty’s case [it’s 93]). There’s Garry’s older sister Julie and her boyfriend/husband Tod. There’s the next generation, the brunt of the Buckman clan led by Steve Martin’s Gil, and the spouses of each Buckman sibling. And then there’s the patriarchal generation, with Grandpa Frank played by the great Jason Robards, utterer of the greatest line in cinema history (from Once Upon a Time in the West — either ya knowhadimean or ya don’t).
Continue reading Parenthood (1989)
The upgrade in quality from Ron Howard’s directorial debut Grand Theft Auto to his sophomore effort Night Shift is pretty remarkable. Howard did direct a string of TV movies in the interim (Cotton Candy, Skyward, and Through the Magic Pyramid) and had directed a few shorts prior to Auto, so it wasn’t like Night Shift was only the second time he touched a camera. He was also doing this really weird thing called “acting” on occasion.
Regardless of where it falls, Night Shift is a surprisingly hilarious addition to Howard’s early canon. Auto relied heavily on Happy Days cast members and members of the Howard Family to round out the cast and crew, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but could be a bit distracting at times. Speaking of distracting, Auto also had a funk-bass-porno soundtrack that served to bolster the overall feel of the thing as hastily-made. And most importantly, the character motives in Auto just didn’t make a whole lot of sense across the board.
Continue reading Night Shift (1982)
It’s easy to see how Ron Howard made Grand Theft Auto. He was 23 years old in 1977 and already had a few years of Happy Days under his belt, not to mention enough TV credits to satisfy the entire career of most actors. He had connections, and those connections included his family of actors as well. Grand Theft Auto, frankly, is nothing phenomenally special, at least not in terms of script or directing. The hasty editing and funky bow chicka wow wow soundtrack do, at times, make the thing seem like it’s about to throw the hyuk hyuk Days of Happy out the window and become a low-budget adult film. But it’s Howard’s first film! He was 23! We can give him a break on quality here, for sure, and in fact I’m surprised most debut features from eventually-famous directors don’t look more like Grand Theft Auto.
Howard plays Sam Freeman, nice young lad from a modest family woefully in love with the beautiful Paula Powers. Paula’s played by Nancy Morgan, and she’s a great reminder that every desirable teenage girl in the ’70s had alliterative given and surnames. Paula’s also rich, and so her proposed engagement to Sam is not received well by her parents. They call him a fortune hunter and kick him out of the house before locking the door and blasting Kanye’s “Gold Digger”. Love, however, is not so easily swayed. Paula steals her father’s Rolls Royce and picks up Sam, and they hit the road to Vegas to get married and inspire an inexplicable epidemic of carjacking in their wake.
Continue reading Grand Theft Auto (1977)