Tag Archives: Karen Allen

Starman (1984, John Carpenter)

Starman’s first forty or so minutes speed by–director Carpenter gets as much information across as quickly as he can to discourage the viewer from paying too much attention. There aren’t exactly plot holes, but there’s a lot of silliness in the script. For example, Charles Martin Smith–who’s perfectly good in the film–has an entirely pointless character. He’s just there to contrive some drama in the third act.

Except it isn’t really dramatic because Starman’s narrative is exceedingly predictable. What isn’t predictable is Carpenter’s direction or the performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. Bridges gets the unique leading man role of being able to continually reinvent his performance; right up until the last scene of the film, there’s always something new he gets to do.

The script doesn’t fully acknowledge the strangeness of Allen’s character’s situation–her husband reincarnated but as an entirely different being. Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon’s script is never particularly smart or self-aware. In some ways, Carpenter just ignores the script problems and pushes forward. He matches his personal indulgences (like the massively choreographed and utterly useless helicopter sequence) with similar indulgences for Bridges and Allen. Carpenter’s showcasing, because there’s not much else to do with the problematic narrative.

Carpenter keeps the filmmaking ambitious, compensating somewhat for the script. The lush Jack Nitzsche score is initially muted, only coming through as the narrative develops. Carpenter and cinematographer Donald M. Morgan create some fantastic visuals.

It’s a glorious, gorgeous misfire.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon; director of photography, Donald M. Morgan; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Daniel A. Lomino; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Starman), Karen Allen (Jenny Hayden), Charles Martin Smith (Mark Shermin), Robert Phalen (Major Bell), Tony Edwards (Sergeant Lemon) and Richard Jaeckel (George Fox).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 2: THE STUDIO QUARTET.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

Don Siegel had an anecdote about the length of titles. He showed them to his boss, who kept asking for them to be longer, then showed them to the boss again, telling him each time he’d made the changes. In fact, he had not–his boss was simply familiar with the titles and couldn’t gauge the experience fresh after the first viewing.

The last time I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, I gave it three and a half. A first for the Stop Button, a post about a previously viewed film. Before starting the film, I figured I’d only write it up again if the star rating changed. Much to my surprise–as Raiders goes through many two and a half (and maybe even two) star lulls at times–I realized, this viewing, definitely a four star one. The last time, I think, I hadn’t seen the film in quite a long time and was waiting for scenes and sequences, my memory of the film interfering with my viewing of the film itself.

It’s still a problematic four. The ending, where the film needs a boost, works only because of the John Williams score. There’s the end music, closing the story, then the bump to the iconic theme music. Maybe it’s as simple as I didn’t watch it long enough last time, to let the music envelope me. Because, more than any other Williams score (Raiders being at the high point of his career, both in terms of quality and cinematic importance), this one carries a lot of weight for the film. It does a lot of the heavy lifting.

It doesn’t do all the heavy lifting–Harrison Ford, from the first grin, has most of it. That grin, as he’s falling into the pit in the opening sequence, establishes the character. Everything else–from his interactions with Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, even Karen Allen–is just gravy. Spielberg’s direction is good, but–as the ending (compared to Close Encounters) illustrates–is far from extraordinary.

The supporting cast–particularly Allen, Rhys-Davies and Paul Freeman (even if his French accent is a little iffy)–are all great. There’s not a weak performance in the film and a lot of the smaller ones are singular (I’m thinking of Don Fellows).

The problems are plot ones. There are lulls due to the (requisite) epical storytelling, but it goes further. Even when the events aren’t perturbing the plot, some of Spielberg’s action sequences get a little long. Others, like the truck sequence, are perfect.

I was trying to guess how many times I’ve seen Raiders. I’m thinking it’s got to be around fifteen. Maybe the last viewing, I tried to find something new in it. I don’t think there is (except some in jokes, I’m sure) and, instead of examining it, I should have just been enjoying it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Frank Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Anthony Higgins (Gobler), Vic Tablian (Barranca), Don Fellows (Col. Musgrove) and William Hootkins (Major Eaton).


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King of the Hill (1993, Steven Soderbergh)

Two major things about Soderbergh’s approach to a memoir adaptation. They’re somewhat connected, so I might not manage to separate them out. King of the Hill has no frame, it has no narration. It has no context. It does not feel, at all, like a “true” story because there’s no attempt to classify itself as a true story. It drops the viewer right in, gives he or she a subtitle notating the setting and time and nothing else. Soderbergh creates, at times, a stylistic euphoria–starts right at the beginning doing it even, maybe the third or fourth scene–and the approach makes King of the Hill different. Even though it’s based on a memoir, by never involving “reality,” Soderbergh makes the plot’s conclusion unsure. Anything could happen.

As innocuous as the story might sometimes get–since Jesse Bradford’s protagonist is so self-sufficient it’s hard to remember he’s thirteen–Soderbergh infuses the film with a constant danger. Sometimes the danger is age-appropriate, sometimes it’s a lot bigger. Around the midway point, I had to remind myself Soderbergh was not telling a story about his youth. I had to remind myself Soderbergh wasn’t alive during the film’s time period, it wasn’t based on his childhood–the film envelops the viewer. Soderbergh immediately establishes his characters and then everything else is experienced at Bradford’s pace. Characters enter and leave the story, with the entire story through Bradford’s perspective. The viewer occasionally gets other things, very brief glimpses from other character’s perspectives, but the whole show is Bradford, which might be why he’s never been able to follow it up.

The other performances are excellent too, with Adrien Brody in the film’s flashiest role. Soderbergh’s cinematic storytelling here is accomplished, there’s no other word. He incites the viewer to figure things out by a character’s presence, not to be cute, but because a successful King of the Hill viewer is a participatory viewer. It might by with the film did so terribly. Also good are Cameron Boyd as Bradford’s brother; Amber Benson as his friend–I find I’m not enumerating the adults as much, which is because of the way the film portrays them. It’s difficult to put them, having just watched the film, in an easy to discuss context. Spalding Gray is quite good in his small part as is Kristin Griffith in her two scenes.

The film’s character relationships are complicated and hard to unravel. Soderbergh manages moments of severe gravity with silence from the characters and Cliff Martinez’s delicate score. Martinez and Soderbergh seem to take some of the tone–and the music’s effect on the tone–from Badlands, which is an odd influence for a movie about a kid–King of the Hill is not a kid’s movie at all. It isn’t a feel good movie. It’s a sometimes unsettling film about survival and self-sufficience. Without ever using the word “depression,” Soderbergh has made one of the best films about the Great Depression.

It’s kind of like Maugham with kids (and in America and during the Great Depression).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed and edited by Steven Soderbergh; screenplay by Soderbergh, based on a memoir by A.E. Hotchner; director of photography, Elliot Davis; music by Cliff Martinez; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; produced by Albert Berger, Barbara Maltby and Ron Yerxa; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Jesse Bradford (Aaron), Jeroen Krabbé (Mr. Kurlander), Lisa Eichhorn (Mrs. Kurlander), Karen Allen (Miss Mathey), Spalding Gray (Mr. Mungo), Elizabeth McGovern (Lydia), Cameron Boyd (Sullivan Kurlander), Adrien Brody (Lester Silverstone), Joe Chrest (Ben), John McConnell (‘Big Butt’ Burns), Amber Benson (Ella McShane), Kristin Griffith (Mrs. McShane), Chris Samples (Billy Thompson), Peggy Freisen (Mrs. Thompson), Katherine Heigl (Christina Sebastian) and John Durbin (Mr. Sandoz).


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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

Maybe it was the viewing atmosphere… I also was obsessing about something I’d read from either Spielberg or Lucas claiming credit for “MTV-style” editing with Raiders. Once the film was edited, the two went through and snipped a few frames at each edit point to hurry the film along. As I watched Raiders tonight, it all did feel very hurried.

The film is excellent–exciting, well-written, beautifully directed–but nothing sat, nothing resonated. I expected a transcendent experience (similar to the one Star Wars produces), but found myself very aware of the film. Not obsessively–I wasn’t watching the clock to see how long each sequence went and I didn’t time how long Indiana Jones and the audience were deceived about Marion’s death, but I did notice all the work being done in the film. Primarily, John Williams’ score. From the first sequence–when Indy’s running in South America to the plane–Williams’ score does more work than anything else in the film. It’s not bad–it’s a great score–but I just couldn’t separate my observation from the experience. The film just didn’t force me to do it.

Similarly, lots of little moments in the script do a lot of work in the shortest time possible–the rapid-fire humanization of Indiana Jones, his comedic accidents, the establishing of Indy and Sallah’s kids–it’s all fast and it’s all precise, and maybe it’s too fast and too precise for this presentation. The Raiders of the Lost Ark DVD is the cleanest DVD presentation I have ever seen. It doesn’t look like a movie, it looks like a Pixar digitalization. There are no DVD artifacts, which is fine, but there is no film grain either, which is bad. Raiders plays like one of those shows recorded on video back in the 1980s and 1990s, when everything just looked a little off. And Raiders shouldn’t look off.

I haven’t seen the film in eight or nine years and then it was in optimal settings–without looking for the Spielberg/Lucas editing innovation–on LaserDisc. I’ll have to watch Raiders again in similar conditions, but it was a rather unsentimental experience, which I wasn’t expecting from a film I’ve probably seen twenty times.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Frank Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Anthony Higgins (Gobler), Vic Tablian (Barranca), Don Fellows (Col. Musgrove) and William Hootkins (Major Eaton).


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