Until September

September 25, 2012

An American woman stranded in Paris. A handsome Frenchman whose wife is away for the month. An accidental meeting. A budding affair. The lights of Paris, the wine, the music….

But, mon ami, we have seen all this before, non? Well, oui, dozens of times. Still, Until September has the courage of its clichés—problem is, it just tries to run right over them, rather than trying to find a way around them.

Karen Allen, of Raiders of the Lost Ark, plays the American divorcee who misses her plane in Paris. She drops into a friend’s pad, but the friend is on vacation for the month of August, as most Parisians are.

Living next door is a gorgeous banker (Thierry Lhermitte, of My Best Friend’s Girl) who is alone and fair game: his wife is out of town and his mistress has left him. He is more than willing to help our heroine find the best restaurant and the coziest bed in town. She resists the latter for a while, but comes around finally. Which leads to the exposure of much bare skin, and a splendid time by both.

But those nagging questions about his wife and children, visiting relatives until September, are bound to crop up in stories such as this. Otherwise things would be disgustingly blissful, and there’s nothing dramatic about that. So they bicker, but it’s all set against the Eiffel Tower and the Seine River (and set to John Barry’s rather nice romantic music).

It’s a pretty sappy movie, but a somewhat likable one. Actually, Until September is leavened with a sprightly sense of humor about itself. Until the Serious Questions start getting raised in the last third of the movie, there’s some fun to be had.

Karen Allen is obviously enjoying herself as the spunky Yank. And Lhermitte displays a smooth comic style, including  physical comedy, which he gets to do in the film’s final sequence: a chase through an airport. Don’t romance movies always end in airports?

The director, Richard Marquand, most recently helmed the final installment of the Star Wars series, Return of the Jedi. It’s understandable that he would want to make a small film after that gargantuan job, and Until September is certainly modest in its ambitions.

Marquand’s Eye of the Needle, made a couple of years earlier, marked him as a director to watch. In that sense, Until September is a disappointment, because it certainly isn’t a director’s film. I assume that most of the film’s naïve twists and turns are the work of the first-time scenarist, Janice Lee Graham.

At its heart, Until September is really a Harlequin Romance, dressed up in summer clothes and—through Allen’s occasional speeches about being a big girl and putting Lhermitte in his chauvinistic place—given a superficial women’s lib slant.

That summing-up will either be a recommendation or a dismissal, depending on your susceptibility to such things. But if you’re the kind of person who leafs through those trashy novels while standing in line at the check-out stand—just to kill time, of course—you may find yourself lured into the world of Until September.

First published in the Herald, September 1984

Nothing too special here, either as a movie or review. It’s a shame about Richard Marquand, who did Brit-TV work and a fine job on Eye of the Needle; he completed two more films, Jagged Edge and Hearts of Fire, before dying at age 49 (of a stroke, according to IMDb).

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Starman

February 1, 2012

In the opening scene of Starman, we see the Voyager probe, which was sent into outer space a few years ago. In a parody of the musical space ballets of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the vessel glides through the solar system—but instead of the strains of “The Blue Danube,” as in 2001, we hear the Rolling Stones singing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which, apparently, was included in the sampler of cultural artifacts as part of the message of invitation for alien civilizations.

Right then you know this is not going to be a stuffy movie.

The Voyager’s invitation will be accepted, by a highly advanced civilization, and this premise—a grown-up E.T.—is the story of Starman (which, by the way, is being touted as the science-fiction sleeper of the season, especially compared to the bigger-budgeted 2010 and Dune).

Starman had an air of notoriety even before the cameras started rolling. This is the project that Columbia Pictures decided to develop instead of E.T., which was then passed on to Universal. We all know how that one turned out, and Columbia had egg on its face for a while.

Starman makes Columbia look better. It’s not as good as E.T., but it’s got a similar innocence and hopeful view of man and alien. It’s also got unavoidably similar situations, such as the alien learning to eat, speak, and behave in the human world. Some of this stuff has been overworked lately (it’s going to turn up again in the upcoming Brother from Another Planet), but much of it is sure-fire in terms of engaging an audience.

Both films are love stories between the alien and his finder. The big difference between E.T. and Starman is that this story has an adult romance, not a child’s.

The Starman crash-lands in Wisconsin near the farm of a widow (Karen Allen, from Raiders of the Lost Ark). He scopes out her home and reforms himself to look like her late husband (so, he looks like Jeff Bridges).

He’s on Earth just to get a feel for the place and then return to his own world with information—and perhaps to help a little down here. But he went off course, and he has to get back to his pick-up point (in Arizona) in three days, or he’ll miss his ride and die.

So Allen is recruited as a reluctant chauffeur, and as a tutor—teaching the Starman, during their cross-country journey, about the joys of driving, language, truck stops, Dutch apple pie, and other intimate human functions.

A parallel story develops: the pursuit of the Starman by official forces. The government people, being government people, want to capture him and run all kinds of nasty tests. Not very good manners, considering that, as one expert puts it, “We invited him here!”

That UFO expert (a good role for Charles Martin Smith of Never Cry Wolf) tracks the Starman with the government officials (led by that mean guy, Richard Jaeckel). By the time everybody meets up in Arizona, he’s got more feeling for the Starman than for his official job.

This film should open up some doors for director John Carpenter, who has had a hard time breaking out of the horror genre (Halloween, Christine). He gets the humor very nicely and the performers are solid. I would quibble only that the film takes a long time getting into its groove, but it grows on you enough to make you forget that. When Starman reaches its rapturous ending, you’re with it all the way.

First published in the Herald, December 12, 1984

It may have opened some doors for Carpenter, but it turned out he wasn’t a guy to walk through them anyway. Nice movie, and it must be well-liked, but it sure doesn’t come up much in conversation; maybe there’s too much mushy stuff for it to hold a lot of nerdosphere cred? Jeff Bridges is terrific in it, and got a well-deserved Oscar nomination.