Thursday, February 7, 2013

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Casting Coup Month: Cocoon

Best Supporting Actor - Don Ameche (WON)
Best Visual Effects (WON)

I first saw Cocoon in either third or fourth grade. The PBS station we had -- WPBT, Channel 2: Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and the Palm Beaches -- always aired a movie around 3:00 or, you know, whenever it was, and I usually just came home from school and turned on the TV, doing my homework as I continued my actual education: a cinematic one. Ha.

I remember enjoying myself throughout most of it. After all, it's the story of a trio of senior citizens in South Florida who habitually break into a local mansion to use the pool, since the owners are only there part of the year. This time, however, the oldsters find bizarre decorative rocks, and soon have the energy of young men. As it turns out, it's because the house is currently being rented by aliens who visited millenia ago, and the rocks are cocoons holding the aliens that were left behind, waiting for their brethren to return. The pool is being used to keep their energy until enough are gathered and they go home. The aliens allow this trio and their wives -- and only them -- to use the pool, and they all make friends.

It's actually a pretty bizarre setup, but within that story are ideas of second chances and immortality, and would you take both if it meant leaving everything you've ever known. Not that I knew that in third or fourth grade. I remembered the alien sex scene, the elderly break-dancing, and all the old people breaking in and sucking up all the pool's energy, and one of the leads dying, and the old people going off to space with the aliens. I remembered all that.

But mostly I remembered the death scene, which was on of the saddest, most desperate things I had ever seen in a movie. I was used to either off-screen deaths or brief goodbye scenes, but this one actually had a husband reacting to the death of his wife of -- I don't know, let's say 40 years? --  40 years, by bringing her to the now-dead pool and pouring the water onto her face. And nothing. It doesn't work. The energy is gone. I cried off and on for two or three hours after that. It was terrible.

In the years since, I got really into Oscars, and found, to my surprise, that Cocoon was nominated for two Academy Awards. It won both. I remembered the aliens and spaceship, so the Visual Effects win was obvious, but when I read how Don Ameche won Best Supporting Actor, I racked my brain trying to remember the movie. All I could think of when I thought of Cocoon was the saddest death sequence of ever. So finally, in September of last year, I watched Cocoon again, for the first time in years.

Oh my God, I can't even deal with Cocoon. There is a full 30 minutes after the death scene that deals with the aliens offering immortality and intergalactic adventures to the seniors, and all of them wrapping up their unfinished business at home, including Wilford Brimley having to explain to his grandson that he has to leave forever. I guess he doesn't have to, since it's a choice, but the idea here is that while on Earth they stay in a home, with the Cocoon Aliens they can help bring peace to the galaxy. They're useful. Anyway, there's 30 minutes of reconciliation and goodbyes that I didn't remember as a kid, probably because I was a wreck over that other scene, but dear Lord I was sobbing throughout, than for another hour afterward. Then again when I tried to explain to a friend what Cocoon was about.

Yet it's still bizarre to me that Don Ameche won the Oscar. Of the roles that could have been in this category, his is probably given the least to do. Yeah, he romances Gwen Verdon and dances and says something about getting a boner, but Wilford Brimley more or less leads the ensemble, Hume Cronyn gets a great subplot about his infidelity, Brian Dennehy plays the benevolent leader who experiences death for the first time. Really, this seemed like an Oscar that was less about the performance and more about how much Hollywood loves Don Ameche. Which I understand, and he's fine in the role, but still. It's just Don Ameche.

It wasn't until my own Casting Coup choice that I realized how much it made sense. The actor I chose for that role is to me now what Don Ameche was to them then. He'd been in the movies since the 30s, as a dashing leading man in films like In Old Chicago, Heaven Can Wait, Swanee River and many, many more. Around the time Cocoon came out, he had appeared as one of the villainous Duke Brothers in the Eddie Murphy comedy Trading Places, the 4th highest-grossing film of 1983. People loved Ameche, and his role in Cocoon was a different side to him, nervously courting a fellow senior then confidently dancing with her at a nightclub. I still disagree with the choice, but what am I gonna do about it?

I didn't leave room for an easy segue, so here's the cast:

Who is He: Captain of a charter boat engaged by Walter and Co. After an initial freakout when he realizes what his guests really are, he grows to bond with them, falling in love with sexy Kitty.

Originally played by:
Steve Guttenberg (Police Academy, Diner)

My Choice:
Sung Kang (Better Luck Tomorrow, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift)
An actor who's kind of mastered the laid-back quality of a beach bum like Bonner. I tend to like him whenever I see him, so why not? WHY NOT?

Who is She: Female alien on board. Falls for Jack.

Originally played by:
Tahnee Welch (Cocoon: The Return, I Shot Andy Warhol)

My Choice:
Nichole Galicia (Torque, Love Don't Cost a Thing)
Stealing moments of Django Unchained with her impossible beauty and sly line readings, Galicia was the first actress I thought of for this role. Because her physical beauty has to attract Bonner, before he falls for the woman -- er, alien -- herself.

Who is He: Leader of the aliens, an immortal. Although the pool is for the cocoons, he allows the trio of seniors and their wives to take advantage of its restorative properties. Befriends Ben.

Originally played by:
Brian Dennehy (First Blood, Romeo + Juliet)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Good Will Hunting)
Stellan Skarsgard (Mamma Mia!, Thor)
A surprisingly humorous and paternal role, Skarsgard showed off both qualities in his Thor role. I also consciously chose a Swede for the role, since anyone from Florida could tell you that if there's a tourist coming down for the summer and hiring a boat, it's going to be a foreigner. The aliens would know this, I think, and adapt.

The next group is, of course, the seniors. I ran through a lot of names, and at times there were role reversals within the group I settled on. In the end, I sat down and thought about (a) who could bring their own, unique personality to the role, and (b) who read the lines best in my head. I also had a bit of fun: each of the couples has worked together before, bringing a palpable chemistry that I want to explore. The exception is the Finleys, who both appeared in the same film, but did not share screen time.

Who is She: Joe's wife. She hopes that this second chance, as it were, means she gets to spend more time with her husband, but is disappointed when he goes back to his old ways. She's always turned a blind eye, but now it's too much.

Originally played by: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress [Musical/Comedy] (Driving Miss Daisy)
Jessica Tandy (The Birds, Fried Green Tomatoes)

My Choice:
Miriam Colon (Goal!, Bless Me, Ultima)
Where is Miriam Colon? She's a reliable character actress who's done great work in films like Lone Star and Scarface, yet now she appears to be doing soup commercials. Miriam: you deserve this role. It has a beautiful confrontation scene, and a lovely reconciliation one.

Who is He: One of Ben's friends who takes full advantage of the Fountain of Youth, almost too conspicuously. Also uses it to go back to his tom-catting ways, much to the chagrin of his long-faithful wife, Alma.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Seventh Cross), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Marvin's Room)
Hume Cronyn (Shadow of a Doubt, Brewster's Millions)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner/BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor [Drama] (Amadeus)
F. Murray Abraham (Scarface, Finding Forrester)
Just like Colon, I would love to see him in the reconciliation scene. And, you know, he's a very striking-looking man, the kind who probably sends the hearts of old ladies a-thumping. I could believe him as a lothario who still loves his wife. He is, after all, used to playing complicated characters.

Who is He: One of the senior citizens, taking care of his ill wife. He refuses to break any rules, be they man's or God's and hates the Fountain of Youth.

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Save the Tiger)
Jack Gilford (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Catch-22)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (An Officer and a Gentleman)
Louis Gossett, Jr. (TV's Sadat, Daddy's Little Girls)

Who is She: Bernie's wife, in the midst of battling dementia. Sometimes she's there, sometimes she forgets her friends.

Originally played by:
Herta Ware (Practical Magic, Cruel Intentions)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee/SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (American Gangster)
Ruby Dee (Buck and the Preacher, A Thousands Words)
A small but important role. And it would kill me to see Dee in this role. Especially that last scene.

Who is He: More or less the unofficial leader of the pack, but a benevolent and unassuming one. He discovers the pool-house, always stressing the importance of keeping the secret. Befriends Walter.

Originally played by:
Wilford Brimley (The Thing, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Aviator), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Aviator), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (The Aviator), WGA Award Nominee for Best Original Comedy (The Four Seasons)
Alan Alda (California Suite, Wanderlust)
I like Alda because he can warm and prickly all in the same moment, with a more clipped manner of speech than Brimley. But as I said, he's a warm presence, and I'm sure he'd kill in the car conversation with his wife. Speaking of...

Who is She: Ben's wife, surprised by his newfound energy. And when she gets to bathe in the Fountain of Youth, she takes to climbing trees.

Originally played by: Academy Award/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Reds), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Airport)
Maureen Stapleton (Lonelyhearts, Interiors)

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress - Musical/Comedy (Pete 'n' Tillie, The Four Seasons, Annie) and Best Supporting Actress (A Wedding)
Carol Burnett (The Front Page, Noises Off...)
I do think that Stapleton's Mary is pretty passive, and that's the role. She's not given much to do, other than the Car Scene near the end. Burnett has never been passive, even in brief appearances, so you know she would bring more spunk to the role. And climbing trees!

Who is She: Teaches a dance class at the home, has a bit of a thing for Art.

Originally played by: SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress and Best Ensemble (Marvin's Room)
Gwen Verdon (Damn Yankees, The Cotton Club)

My Choice:
Chita Rivera (Sweet Charity, Chicago)
And in another 30 years, this role will be between Renee and Catherine.

Who is He: Ben's best friend, falling in love with Bess. A hell of a dancer, he uses his new youthful energy to show a thing or two to the kids at the nightclubs. Surprised by his boner.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Cocoon)
Don Ameche (Moon Over Miami, Trading Places)

My Choice: Hollmann Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor [Musical/Comedy] (Mary Poppins)
Dick Van Dyke (Dick Tracy, Night at the Museum)
It was this obvious casting choice -- beloved icon, dancer, great with an ensemble -- that made me realize why Don Ameche won his Oscar. If Van Dyke appeared in this same role, he might finally get a nomination.

Best Actor: Alan Alda
Best Supporting Actor: F. Murray Abraham, Louis Gossett, Jr., Sung Kang, Stellan Skarsgard, Dick Van Dyke
Best Supporting Actress: Carol Burnett, Miriam Colon, Ruby Dee, Nichole Galicia, Chita Rivera

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