Tag Archives: Karen Allen

John Carpenter’s Starman

John Carpenter usually has a flair for the macabre and the darkly mysterious forces that our world and others have to offer, but such is not the case with Starman, a touching, tender science fiction story showcasing one knockout of a performance from Jeff Bridges.

When an extraterrestrial spaceship crashes somewhere in the Midwest, the being living inside wanders out and takes the form of a woman’s (Karen Allen) deceased husband to make her a little less jumpy, which is an interesting strategy. So begins a road trip to an extraction point in Arizona with her sort of held hostage but quickly warming up to this curious, childlike extraterrestrial who slowly learns what earth life is all about. Meanwhile various factions of the government including an amoral NSA asshole (Richard Jaeckel) and a pacifist scientist (Charles Martin Smith, terrific) pursue them all over the region but mostly just trip on their shoelaces. Bridges is absolutely brilliant as the alien, infusing a truly otherworldly quality into his gentle, restrained performance full of distinct mannerisms, expert physicality and beautiful subtleties. The chemistry between the two of them is so good you can practically feel it sparkling around the in the air. Allen’s performance works wonders too, beginning on a sorrowful note and eventually opening up to hope and happiness once again.

This is essentially a story of loss, and how one can deal with it. Granted there’s not a lookalike space alien out there for everyone who has lost someone but Bridges’s presence feels like an essence that could be any type of good, helpful quality that enters someone’s life following such an incident. This is the type of compassionate, heartfelt film that leaves a warm glow in the living room when the credits dim, and Carpenter blesses it with his trademark touch while giving it a slighter, brighter atmosphere than usual. The score by Jack Nitzsche is also a brilliant composition that adds to everything I’ve outlined above. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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B Movie Glory: John Mackenzie’s Voyage

Remember that movie Dead Calm where creepy Billy Zane terrorized Nicole Kidman and hubby Sam Neill on the high seas? Well, picture that with a wayyy cheaper budget and starring Rutger Hauer, Eric Roberts and Karen Allen instead and you’ll have some idea of John Mackenzie’s Voyage, a cheap little B grade thriller that benefits from a cast who deserved a better script and some gorgeous, atmospheric Mediterranean locations. Hauer and Allen are a wealthy couple fighting their way through a crumbling marriage who sail towards a dilapidated Monte Carlo mansion they wish to restore over the summer. Soon they run into a young hotshot (Roberts) and his sexy wife (Connie Nielsen), invite them aboard and continue through the sun and surf as a quartet. It’s always a bad move to trust strangers though, especially if one of them is Eric Roberts and that mile wide, winning yet somehow sinister smile of his. Soon it becomes apparent that these two kids aren’t who they say they are and clearly have intentions beyond hanging out on the boat and having drinks. Mackenzie is an accomplished director, having made notable impacts with The Long Good Friday and The Fourth Protocol, among others. Roberts and Hauer are legendary badasses of cinema but also notorious for appearing in shit films. They hold their own and give awesome turns here though, as do the two ladies, but it’s in script and execution that this thing falters. It should be full of tension and uncomfortable suspense, and unfortunately the tank is only partly full, and it ultimately fails to deliver as an effective thriller. Still, worth it for the four leading actors who are all consistently reliable performers, as well as the beautiful Mediterranean ambience to soak up. Just don’t expect to be excited or kept on edge all that much.

-Nate Hill

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

raiders

There’s no disputing that Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is one of the greatest action/adventure films ever made, featuring some of the most memorable action sequences ever put on celluloid. Who can forget part-time archaeologist, part-time adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) outrunning a giant boulder at the beginning of the film? Or the exciting gun battle in a Nepalese bar? Or Indy being dragged behind a truck full of Nazis? However, the older I get the more I appreciate the quieter moments in Raiders – the downtime between action set pieces. These scenes convey exposition and develop the characters. The credit for them working so well should be given to the film’s screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who also wrote the screenplays for such noteworthy films as The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Body Heat (1981), The Big Chill (1983), and many others. He’s written some of the best scripts ever committed to film and knows how to write witty dialogue and create engaging characters.

raiders1Kasdan’s ability to engage us in the obligatory exposition scene is evident early when Indy and his friend and colleague Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) meet with two military intelligence officers about the location of an old colleague of Indy’s – Abner Ravenwood – who might have an artifact – the headpiece of the Staff of Ra – that will reveal the location of the Ark of the Covenant, which the Nazis are eager to get their hands on. Indy and Marcus give the two men a quick history lesson on the Ark and its power. Marcus concludes with the ominous line about how the city of Tanis, that reportedly housed the Ark, “was consumed by the desert in a sandstorm which lasted a whole year. Wiped clean by the wrath of God.” The way Denholm Elliott delivers this last bit is a tad spooky and is important because it lets us know of the Ark’s power, his reverence for it, and why the Nazis are so interested in it. This dialogue also gives us an indication of the kind of danger that Indy is up against.

raiders2This segues to a nice little scene right afterwards at Indy’s home between the archaeologist and Marcus. He tells Indy that the United States government wants him to find the headpiece and get the Ark. As Indy gets ready they talk about the Ark. The camera pans away from Indy packing to a worried Marcus sitting on a sofa and he reveals his apprehension about what his friend is going after: “For nearly 3,000 years man has been searching for the lost Ark. It’s not something to be taken lightly. No one knows its secrets. It’s like nothing you’ve ever gone after before.” Indy shrugs off Marcus’ warning but his words, accompanied by John Williams’ quietly unsettling score, suggest the potential danger Indy faces messing with forces greater and older than himself.

raiders3Kasdan also does a great job hinting at a rich backstory between Indy and his ex-love interest, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). When they are reunited at a bar she runs in Nepal, she is clearly not too thrilled to see him, giving Indy a good crack on the jaw. Marion alludes to a relationship between them that went bad. She was young and in love with him and he broke her heart. To add insult to injury, her father is dead. All Indy can do is apologize as he says, “I can only say sorry so many times,” and she has that wonderful retort, “Well say it again anyway.” Harrison Ford and Karen Allen do a great job with this dialogue, suggesting a troubled past between them. In a nice touch, Spielberg ends the scene with Indy walking out the door. He takes one last look back and his face is mostly obscured in shadow in a rather ominous way as he clearly looks uncomfortable having had to dredge up a painful part of his past.

raiders4Indy and Marion have another nice scene together after they’ve retrieved the Ark from the Nazis and are aboard the Bantu Wind, a tramp steamer that will take them to safety. Marion tends to Indy’s numerous wounds and says, “You’re not the man I knew ten years ago,” and he replies with that classic line, “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.” It starts out as a playful scene as everything Marion does to help hurts Indy’s world-weary body. In frustration she asks him to show her where it doesn’t hurt and he points to various parts of his body and in a few seconds the scene goes from playful in tone to romantic as they end up kissing. Of course, Indy falls asleep – much to Marion’s chagrin. Kasdan’s dialogue gives Spielberg’s chaste, boyhood fantasy serial adventure a slight air of sophistication in this scene as two people with a checkered past finally reconnect emotionally.

raiders5.jpgFor me, Raiders is still the best film in the series. The pacing is fast but not as frenetic as today’s films. There are lulls where the audience can catch its breath and exposition is conveyed. In many respects, it is one of the best homages to the pulpy serials of the 1930s and a classic example of when all the right elements came together at just the right time. This film has aged considerably well over time and each time I see it, I still get that nostalgic twinge and still get sucked in to Indy’s adventures looking for the lost Ark.