The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Ron Howard
Many of you younger readers may not realize Ron Howard was already famous as an actor before he started directing. As a child, he played Sheriff Andy Taylor’s cute son Opie in “The Andy Griffith Show”, before becoming a teen hearthrob with the one-two punch of the nostalgia-driven AMERICAN GRAFFITI and the long-running hit show “Happy Days”. While he could have probably had a long career as an actor, Howard always wanted to direct, making his first outing a low-budget car chase B-movie for Roger Corman, GRAND THEFT AUTO, in which he also starred. This led to his first studio hit, the surprisingly raunchy NIGHT SHIFT, starring his “Happy Days” pal Henry Winkler, and Howard’s discovery, Michael Keaton, who went on to make several films with him as a director.
Howard’s first major hit was the Tom Hanks-starrer, SPLASH, which was the first movie to ever get released by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, and made stars out of Hanks, Daryl Hannah and John Candy. After that, his career became one of the most enviable in town. All of his movies were hits, including COCOON, GUNG-HO, the George Lucas produced fantasy WILLOW (with a great score by frequent collaborator James Horner), and then - in the nineties - becoming an award season favorite with APOLLO 13, the Mel Gibson-starrer RANSOM and more.
He’s had the odd ill-advised foray into comedy, with ED TV and THE DILLEMA, but Howard’s movies, while not always ultra-dynamic, are usually very good, with the recent RUSH and IN THE HEART OF THE SEA being underrated. He’s also one of the top producers in town with his shingle, Imagine, being absolutely huge (his partnership with Brian Grazer is among the most successful in Hollywood history). Known to be an especially nice guy to boot, Howard remains as prolific and as popular as ever, even dabbling in-front of the camera with his long gig narrating “Arrested: Development”, where he also plays a fictionalized version of himself, and numerous funny viral videos for “Funny or Die.”
While I admire Ron Howard’s career as a director, with him having made many fine films, to me the best movie he’s ever been involved in remains George Lucas’s AMERICAN GRAFFITI. A slice-of-life portrait depicting the last night before college for some 1962 teens, Howard is only part of the ensemble, but his story-line, where he has to decide whether he can leave his childhood sweetheart behind, is very moving. This movie is so out-of-character for Lucas, but it’s a mesmerizing work and it’s a shame he never tried doing a similar, character based drama, as it works so brilliantly. It’s probably one of my favorite films, and one I return to as much as I do the first STAR WARS trilogy.
I’m not especially excited for this week’s INFERNO, even if the reviews are pretty good. While I like Howard and love Tom Hanks, their Dan Brown/Robert Langdon movies haven’t done a thing for me. Both have just been two hours of Hanks standing around figuring things out, and Howard, oddly, even cut back on the book’s action sequences, making the films even more dull in the process. THE DA VINCI CODE is particularly bad, with Hanks’s much-maligned haircut being especially unfortunate, although it made a mint at the box office so I guess someone liked it (I haven’t really met anyone who has though).
BACKDARFT has always been my favorite movie about firefighters. It lacked the maudlin sentimentality of the latter LADDER 49, opting for a heightened, action-heavy approach that revolved around an arsonist making fires Kurt Russell’s crew-chief has to deal with over-and-over in some spectacular sequences. The pyrotechnics in the movie are outstanding, and Kurt Russell makes for an iconic hero. Some critics took issue for just how over-the-top it gets, particularly in the climax, but it’s a really fun ride. William Baldwin has one of his best parts as Russell’s inexperienced younger brother, who becomes an arson investigator with Robert De Niro’s badly scarred “Shadow”. De Niro’s parole hearing scene with Donald Sutherland’s insane arsonist is one of the best sequences of Howard’s career, and the Hans Zimmer score also deserves top marks. Check it out if you haven’t already seen it.
”Houston, we have a problem” became one of the all-time great lines in nineties film, after being uttered by Tom Hanks’s every-man hero, the real-life Jim Lovell, during this memorably tense scene aboard the Apollo 13 that features Howard directing at the very peak of his abilities.
4. A BEAUTIFUL MIND
2. APOLLO 13
1. AMERICAN GRAFFITI
In addition to INFERNO, Howard is also producing THE DARK TOWER, which he toyed with directing for years, as well as the Tom Cruise/Barry Seal biopic, AMERICAN MADE. And yes “Arrested: Development” fans, he should also be back narrating that beloved show once the new season gets rolling.
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