STRIPES

By Marc S. Sanders

A trifecta of talent was widely received when Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman came on the Hollywood scene. With films like Meatballs and Animal House, they were toeing the line of B movie T&A material. Audiences, however, responded to the wisdom in the comedic potential of disregarding the authoritative party. That is especially true in their R rated army romp from 1981, Stripes.

Stripes is arguably not their most memorable film of any of their careers, but for me it is probably my favorite; more than Caddyshack or Ghostbusters. The comedy was spot on, and the timing was perfect. When John Winger and Russell Zisky (Murray & Ramis) decide to enlist in the army on a spur of the moment, their basic training experience is actually believable. It could happen. I could relate. If I was as big a guy as John Candy, playing the lovable “Ox,” and I was running the obstacle course, yeah…I might run off course uncontrollably into the outer woods. All these guys are completely out of shape. There’s no way we were ever gonna see Rambo here.

Bill Murray might be the leader of this rag tag gang of miscreants, but his own material is just very, very funny. Few comedies have such a hilarious opening scene as he does while he escorts a snobby woman to the airport in his cab. He has enough of her, and so everything is put out on the table. The Three Stooges would have smacked a pie in this woman’s face. John Winger decides to terrify her with some action photos while he drives. To date, no one has ever come close to duplicating this scene.

Winger continues with his rebellion against his Drill Sargent played by Warren Oates who is terrific in his own right. Oates convincingly comes off as straight army material amid all of these nitwits. He can give a facial expression that says a thousand words.

John Candy is a huge highlight in perhaps his breakthrough cinematic performance. Ramis and Reitman wrote a great character in Ox. I think it’s hilarious that a fat guy thinks the most ideal way to lose weight is to join the army because it’s free with a six to eight week work program. We all love to see that it eventually occurs to Ox that basic training in the Army is not exactly a weight watchers program. A major highlight is when Winger rushes Ox into a mud wrestling ring at an adult club. Pure slapstick fun. You can’t help but laugh.

I’m surprised to see that many took issue with the film’s second half. I loved it as the platoon has to pursue Winger and Ziskey who have a special puke green colored RV that the army has engineered with more weaponry than a James Bond car. Eventually, this leads to a ridiculous rescue within a Russian occupied Czechoslovakian outpost. It’s a great blend of action and comedy that holds up nearly 40 years later. What’s not to like?

I’ll be honest. I saw Stripes when I was 10 or 11, and it actually gave me an education on the current life of what it’s like to be in the Army. Having never enlisted, I’m nevertheless convinced that Warren Oates was an accurate interpretation of what a hard driven Drill Sargeant was like. Because it seemed so genuine. It seemed only fitting that a great comedy could be drawn from resisting that kind of authority. The material in Stripes didn’t come off silly or Looney Tunes like. It all seemed natural. The jokes just came alive amid the challenges of entering the Army life.

Stripes remains a favorite comedy of mine.

JURASSIC PARK III

By Marc S. Sanders

Jurassic Park III.  What’s to say?  Well not much.  The third film in the dino franchise plays like an extension of the first two.  Sam Neill is brought back as paleontologist, Dr. Alan Grant.  Sadly, the rest of the cast is terrible.  Yet, the dinosaurs remain marvelous.

Following an opening sequence parasailing adventure gone wrong, an enormously wealthy couple, the Kirbys (William H Macy, Tea Leoni), recruit Dr. Grant and his apprentice Billy (Alessandro Nivola) for a vacation excursion to the restricted island of Ilsa Sorna as a twentieth anniversary celebration for them to see the exotic, resurrected animals.  Grant and Billy are to be their tour guides.  The offer is too good for the doctor to refuse and off they go. Once on the island, the mayhem we’ve all grown accustomed to commences.

The intelligence of the Jurassic films only comes from one source, and that is the special effects makers of these animals.  The attention to detail in skin texture, eye movement, teeth, roars, claws, limbs and facial expressions are sensational.  You truly believe these are actual living creatures.  These wizards reinvent themselves with a new dinosaur known as the Spinosaurus.  Bigger than a T-Rex and at least as fast as the velociraptors.  This is a BEAST!!!!!! 

Director Joe Johnston takes the director chair from Steven Spielberg. While the magic is lacking this time around in some of the thrills and scares, at least the new director has some fun with a couple of gags.  A cell phone (the new novel household item at the time of this film’s release) plays for some laughs, especially when the Spinosaurus appears on the scene.  There’s also a magnificent sequence in the Pteranodon bird cage.  Love the Pteranodons.  Finally, we get to see the winged dinosaurs in action as they lift the various members of the cast into the air with their claws and snap their beaks for a couple of nips.  There’s a great close up of one Pteranodon that is one for the ages.  He turns his sinister head over his shoulder towards the camera with a “Wanna fuck with me?” expression.  It’s like it was modeled off of Robert DeNiro.  Great stuff.

Raptors are back, and while we may have seen all of this before, I don’t get tired of it.  It’s like seeing a thrilling car chase for the fiftieth time.  As long I’m thrilled, I guess I’m satisfied.  Nevertheless, being that this is the third chapter, I was hoping for something more with some insight in the film.

My colleague, Miguel Rodriguez, notes that this installment as well as the prior one serves merely as amusement park fun rides.  All true.  I think I’ve backed that up here.  However, there are so many unexplored elements within the franchise originally conceived by novelist Michael Crichton.  For example, there’s the secret scientific research and development company known as InGen – the party responsible for discovering how to resurrect dinosaurs in the modern age.  Three movies in, and we’ve barely gotten to know InGen.  I think it’s time we do.  There’s gotta be a CEO at the top who is twirling his mustache amid his or her dominance.  That would really play for some good storytelling.  At best, in all three films to this point, we just get the InGen logo printed on the side of some motorized vehicles and laboratory doors. 

Much like the Alien franchise (with Weyland-Yutani), these puppet masters are never fully realized.  One of the three (THREE????) co-writers of Jurassic Park III is director/writer Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt).  With a genius mind like that couldn’t we have been treated to something that had more depth than just jaws, beaks, teeth, claws and roars?  What we are left with is an annoying William H Macy (one of his worst career roles) and an even worse Tea Leoni (feels like I’m watching Chrissy from Three’s Company) as the Kirbys.  They quickly provide a twist to their purpose in the movie.  It’s a dumb twist.  It’s hard to believe a doctorate mind like Alan Grant is supposed to have never seen this unexpected turn of events coming and it takes up space where the writers could have spent time bringing more back story to the Jurassic Park universe.  Crichton lined it all up!  Why didn’t the filmmakers pounce on these golden ideas?

That’s all there is to say.  Jurassic Park III is a popcorn movie.  Nothing else.  It’s only just a somewhat satisfying popcorn movie, though.  You miss the Spielberg touch, and you wish for just a little more dimension.  You don’t get it, but you do get the “don’t fuck with me” attitude of a nasty looking Pteranodon.  That alone is worth ninety minutes of your time.