Tag Archives: Karen Allen

The Glass Menagerie (1987)

glass

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter receives gentlemen caller.

Tom (John Malkovich) returns to the now abandoned apartment of his childhood. It is here that he recollects to the viewer his life living there where he resided both with his handicapped sister Laura (Karen Allen) and overly-protective mother Amanda (Joanne Woodward). Laura is very shy and has no social life, and instead spends her time taking care of her collection of miniature glass animals. Unable to hold down any job and straddled with a limp her mother fears that Laura will never find a man to marry and as a result will be alone and penniless when she gets older. She pressures Tom, who spends most of his free time watching movies in the theater in order to alleviate the boredom of his own life, to find a suitor, or gentlemen caller, who can come to visit and subsequently court Laura. Tom finally finds someone in the form of Jim (James Naughton) whom he works with at his factory job. Unbeknownst to him Jim went to high school with Laura and she was secretly infatuated with him. When he arrives for dinner Laura’s shyness takes over and she retreats to her bedroom, but then later she comes out. The two begin to talk and Jim tries to give Laura more confidence. Will he be her ‘knight-in-shining-armour’, or like with her glass collection will it simply be an illusion destined to shatter?

The film is based on the famous Tennessee Williams play, and to a degree his own life while growing up, that was originally produced in 1944 and was his first successful play that catapulted his career. It was made into a movie in 1950, which got a lukewarm response from film goers and critics alike for the perceived miscasting of Gertrude Lawrence, an English actress, who played Amanda. It was remade as a TV-movie in 1966 with Shirley Booth and then again in 1973 with Katharine Hepburn. Many felt this was the best filmed version of the play especially since Tennessee Williams wrote the teleplay.

This version is okay, but kind of seems unnecessary. Initially I thought director Paul Newman was going to use a different approach by removing it from a stage setting and having more outdoor scenes, which we see during the opening as Tom walks towards the apartment, which would’ve been different from any other Williams play. Ultimately though this one comes-off no different than the others with virtually everything taking place within the claustrophobic apartment. I realize that the point of the story is to show how trapped these characters were in their dismal lives, but putting a variety to the visuals and making it seem more cinematic would’ve helped. Even just adding in some cutaways would’ve been a plus like showing what Amanda and Tom are doing while Jim and Laura are sitting in the living room for an extended period of time talking. You’d presume that Amanda, being the meddlesome mother that she was, would be attempting to listen into their conversation, but actually showing it would’ve allowed an added context instead of just having them disappear and yet remain in the apartment, but doing who knows what.

Malkovich is solid and it’s nice seeing him in an early role before his ego and persona turned him into a caricature of himself. Allen is also quite good with her expressive blue eyes being the emotional catalyst that holds it all together and helps keep the viewer compelled to the story despite its overly talky nature. Woodward though doesn’t come-off as well. She’s played such strong characters in the past in films that were also directed by her husband that this one seems like a letdown compared to those. She’s also, despite the gray hair, a bit too young for the role as she was only 56 and it would’ve been better served had it been played by a more elderly woman in her 60’s or 70’s who could exude a lady completely lost in a bygone era.

The story is still compelling, but the conversations go on longer than they should and more effort should’ve been made to give it a stronger southern feel. The original film’s runtime was only 107 minutes, but this one goes on well over 2-hours. I’m not sure what was cut from that one, or added here, but it could’ve used some editing and still not hurt the basic integrity of the material.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1987

Runtime: 2 Hours 14 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman

Studio: Cineplex Odeon Films

Available: VHS, DVD-R

Animal House (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They like to party!

In 1962 the Dean of Faber College, Vernon Wormer, (John Vernon) wants to rid the campus of the Delta Fraternity as he considers their rundown house and partying ways to be a blight to the University. He works with the clean-cut Omega President (James Daughton) to establish a kangaroo court which has Delta’s charter revoked. The Delta members then seek revenge by creating havoc at the homecoming parade of which both Wormer and his wife Marion (Verna Bloom) are attending.

The film, which was a huge box office hit at the time of its release, succeeds by wisely balancing the farcical humor with a believable setting where many of the scenarios shown were based off of real-life experiences of the film’s writer Harold Ramis and producer Ivan Reitman during their own fraternity years. While the film does devolve at the end to being just a procession of slapstick gags it also manages to provide diverse characters and a genuine college atmosphere, which was filmed on-location at the University of Oregon.

The inspired casting helps especially John Belushi who mostly improvised his part. Although he’s best remembered for his pimple gag I actually laughed more when he cries out like he’s lost some prized possession after witnessing a crate of alcohol go crashing to the ground. His ability to chug an entire bottle of whiskey in one take is impressive and I liked how his character, as crude as he is, was able to convey a sympathetic side in his attempts to ‘cheer-up’ a despondent Flounder (Stephen Furst) after his car gets wrecked.

Tim Matheson is equally engaging as the cool and collected fraternity leader whose dry delivery doesn’t initially hit you as being funny until you go back and actually think about what he has just said. Kevin Bacon is hilarious in his film debut as a member of the snotty Omega Theta Pi who tries to quell a panicked crowd only to get quite literally flattened by them.

It’s also great seeing Verna Bloom, an actress relegated to mostly plain Jane roles, wearing a snazzy brunette wig and playing a sexually frustrated woman who has an amusingly drunken ad-libbed segment. Karen Allen is gorgeous as always playing a ‘good-girl’, but who isn’t afraid to flip someone the finger if she has to. You also get a nice glimpse of her bare ass as well as Donald Sutherland’s, apparently Allen only agreed to show hers if he bared his, and for the record Matheson’s crack gets exposed briefly too.

However, what I took away from this movie the most were the politically incorrect segments. The most extreme one is when Larry (Tom Hulce) contemplates having sex with Clorette (Sarah Holcomb) after she passes out drunk, which would be considered date rape now, but treated merely as throwaway bit here. Then in a later scene Larry tries to have sex with her again only for her divulge to him that she is just 13. Although the actress looks much older and was actually 19 when it was filmed it still gets implied that they went ahead and had sex anyways despite the character’s age issue.

I was alive when this film was released and although there was criticism pertaining to the film’s overall raunchiness these specific segments, which would create shockwaves now, were never brought up. Whether things are better now, or we’ve become too sensitive about stuff that was merely considered ‘tasteless’ back then is a whole other argument. Yet when they say things shown in the ‘70s could never be done now it’s all true, which makes watching this movie and others like it feel almost like you’ve slipped into a different universe.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Landis

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

A Small Circle of Friends (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three friends sleep together.

Leonardo (Brad Davis), Jessica (Karen Allen), and Nick (Jameson Parker) are students attending Harvard University during the late ‘60s. As they become intertwined with the events of that turbulent era they also form a strong bond that lasts through their school years and on into young adulthood. Leonardo has a relationship with Jessica at first, but it doesn’t work out, so Nick steals her away. Initially Leonardo is angered, but he eventually adjusts and the three later form a ménage a trois.

This was the first film directed by noted producer Rob Cohen and overall I liked the feel. The narrative is fragmented and dreamlike, but it also has a nice nostalgic quality. The script is broadly written, but still gives one a good sense of what life was like on a college campus during that period. The final scene where Leonardo visits an underground student revolution movement where they resort to violent, unlawful means to achieve social change I found to be the most compelling.

Davis gives another great performance and I’m always amazed at the way he can play an effective gay character such as he did in the homoerotic Querelle, but still manage to pull off being a flaming heterosexual too. Allen says little, but her piercing emerald eyes had me hooked on her regardless. Parker is stiff and boring, but still successfully works as an anchor to the other two who are aggressively idealistic.

It’s also fun to see Shelley Long in her film debut. Her character has little to do with the main plot, but watching her portray a man during a stage production while wearing a mustache and male body hair glued to her chest is a hoot.

Usually with these types of films the viewer gets treated to a plethora of overplayed period rock hits, but not here. Instead it’s a loud, booming orchestral score that gets both obnoxious and pretentious as it makes it seem like this is an epic of some kind when in reality it’s just a simple story of young people learning to cope in the real world and the music should’ve reflected that with a quiet folk rock sound.

The film also doesn’t take advantage of the unorthodox sexual activity of its main characters. Three friends, even in these more liberal times, rarely end up becoming a sexual trio. Having this story element introduced late and then quickly dropped is frustrating and should’ve been more explored as it is the one unique thing in an otherwise derivative film that is good enough to get a passing grade, but not much else.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rob Cohen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD