By Dan Skip Allen
The Cinequest Film Festival champions filmmakers from different backgrounds with unique visions. Based out of San Francisco, the festival showcases films from all over the world. There are loads of narrative films, documentaries, and shorts, many of which deal with the human condition. After a couple years of virtual editions, the festival is returning to an in-person format from August 16-29. Here are some films playing in the festival that we recommend you check out!
Linoleum takes place in Fairview Heights, where the lead character Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan) hosts a children's science show, a la Bill Nye the Science Guy, called "Above and Beyond." He is married to Erin (Rhea Seahorn, Better Call Saul), who sometimes helps him on the show but works at a science & space museum in town. They have a daughter named Nora (Kathryn Nacon) who goes to a private high school, but she doesn't fit in. She meets a boy in school, but he's the son of her father's rival. When a rocket lands in Gaffigan's backyard, he decides it's time for a change in his own life.
This film is trying to say something about motherhood, parenting, and how parents interact with their children. It uses some weird ways to do this, but they work in an odd way. It wasn't easy to be a parent in the '80s or today, for that matter. Director Colin West creates a very existentialist film but uses the weird things going on in the movie to tell a straightforward story.
You Resemble Me
You Resemble Me deals with two Sisters, Mariam and Hasma, that look alike. It's a French film, subtitled, but the girls and their families are Moroccan. Their mother is abusive, so the girls get out and run away. They live on the streets in Paris, France, but the girls get taken to child services. Each one is put into different separate homes. Hasma runs away from their foster parents and goes back home, but her mother doesn't want her anymore. Now she's an adult on her own, and she's struggling to make a life for herself, and she reaches out to her cousin, who's a terrorist in Syria,
Films about terrorism aren't easy to digest. This film puts the viewer in the first person aspect of how a downtrodden life can lead to a life of terrorism. Terrorists prey on struggling Muslims to get them to do their bidding. This happens with any religion, though. Catholic, Protestant, or Baptist. They see weakness, loneliness, and anger and direct those emotions into getting their bidding. The writer/director Dina Amer captures this lifestyle perfectly. It's a shame that people are preyed on in this way. This film might not be for everybody, but it was an eye-opening look at how things that happened in this film come about.
What We Do Next
What We Do Next takes place in New York City, around Washington Heights, and follows an ensemble of characters. One of the lead characters is Sandy James (Karen Pittman), a city councilwoman and career politician. Another is Paul Fleming (Corey Stoll), a financier of 500 hundred dollars used to buy a gun. The third character is Elsa Mercado (Michelle Veintimilla), who murdered her father who was molesting her, and went to prison for 16 years but got out. Sandy and Paul try to help Elsa when she gets out, but there is a miscommunication involving what the money would be used for. It's not as a down payment for rent. Now she is blackmailing them for a job making 75,000 dollars a year.
Stephen Belber shapes this film in seven parts, but it's more like a stage play than a movie. It's like a three-man play set in this area of New York. As a dramatic piece about politics and crime and punishment, it works perfectly. As a film, it drags, and the conversations seem at times like they are going nowhere until someone changes the subject or the stage changes to the next one. The acting is fine by all three leads, but I feel they forced the issue too much to be as effective as it could be. On a personal note, politicians can help family members in need after committing a crime, but it's not generally this dramatic. Velvet pushes the envelope a little too far for my liking.
A young woman, Mack (Madison Lawlor), leaves home to spend time alone at a secluded cabin after her sister's death. Unexpectedly, her friend from childhood, Alex (Decker Sadowski), and her college roommate Dylan (Olivia Blue) show up to console her in a time of need. And then a couple of guys, one the brother of Alex, show up as well, making it five people at the cabin.
The director Kathrine Dudas brings these people together so they can work out their differences and grieve in a way that's not normal for most people. The drama between the characters seems forced, and the acting doesn't seem genuine. The location is fine, but the overall execution of the story and characters seemed off. They didn't seem authentic, and neither did the entire situation.
A Union soldier, William (Garren Howell), gets scared off of war and decides to flee the fight. After an injury, he gets found by a young slave, Kitch (R.J. Cyler, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), who brings him into his life and introduces him to his family. Inexplicably, they become friends. They are helping out on the Underground Railroad. First, they must avoid men trying to capture and kill them, led by Silas (Ewen Brenner). Kitch's grandmother Caddy (Carol Sutton), teaches them her ways about life and the kitchen.
Writer/Director Brett Smith captures the world of the 1800s South perfectly. It's no 12 Years a Slave, but it is an authentic, true look at the South during that time in our country. The cast is very good, and the cinematography is beautiful to look at. It's a shame people of different races can't seem to come together today to form a bond in hard times. Hopefully, more people will watch this film and see how life can change if you give someone different than you a chance.
By Dan Skip Allen
Many of these retrospectives on actors' lives have started with me talking about something I've seen in my childhood that I loved, which made me a big fan of a film, actor, or director. The same will go for Hollywood tough guy James Caan. The Godfather is in my Top 5 movies of all time, so I couldn't do a James Caan retrospective without bringing up "Sonny"/Santino Corleone, the first born son of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). He had a lot of fire and led the family differently than his father or younger brother, Michael (Al Pacino). His temper, especially toward his sister's husband in the film was legendary. He beat him to a pulp in that street scene. That was the mentality of Caan, though.
That is just one of the many notable performances from Caan. He's had a long and storied career in Hollywood. Another role he is noted for is that of Paul Sheldon in Misery, an author with writer's block who has traveled to a secluded cabin to write his next novel in his popular series. Unfortunately for him, he gets into a near-fatal car accident on the slippery mountain roads on his way to get some supplies for his stay at the cabin. He gets rescued by an innocent bystander who happens to live nearby, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Bates won an Academy Award for her performance as this superfan turned kidnapper. Caan has to do everything he can to survive and escape this maniacal woman. This film showed Caan's range and put him in great company opposite Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth, and the aforementioned Bates, who gave the best performance of her career opposite him. He played it a little more nuanced this time around.
Caan also works opposite one of the world's foremost comedians and television stars in Elf. He had to play the straight man, as Buddy's father opposite Will Ferrell. Ferrell is at the height of his popularity as this elf looking for his father in the Big Apple. He's such a child that everybody around him, including Caan's Walter Hobbs character, is playing second fiddle to Ferrell. Like in Misery, Caan creates nuance and subtlety to make this character memorable. The rest of the cast, including Peter Dinklage and Zoey Deschanel, add some addition to the film that makes it even more fun than it already is. This is an instant Christmas classic, and Caan is a major part of that.
In Caan's career, he played tough guys, innocent victims, and fathers who never knew they were a father of a man child, but he's also done a couple of football films that mean a lot to me. One I consider one of the best sports films ever, Brian's Song, a movie of the week where Caan plays Brian Piccolo opposite Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers. Both actors played football players who played for the Chicago Bears in the 1960s. Piccolo and Sayers were white and Black men in an era when segregation was still a thing, even in sports. They were symbols of what would become a norm in later decades. Both characters have various bouts of severe illness, and one was very tragic for Caan's Sayers. This film is amazing, and the performances between Caan and Williams are the main reason why.
In The Program, on the other hand, Caan plays a head coach, Sam Winters, of a college football team with all the cliche moments you'd think a football program would have: drug abuse, alcoholism, partying, and other criminal behaviors. This film was modeled after Florida State in the 90s and early 2000s, where Bobby Bowden had a great team, but his players weren't necessarily all on the up and up during their careers as college students/athletes. The student part seemed to go by the wayside, though. Caan played this coach with a manor of innocence towards his players while bringing the fire he was known for in his other films. He was cast perfectly as this coach with a championship goal despite the directives from his superiors at the school and his crazy and wild players.
Caan's career is varied, and he's played all kinds of characters. He is most known for Sonny in The Godfather, but he has been around since the '60s with El Dorado, and his 70's career had a mix of interesting roles in Rollerball and The Gambler. The 80s brought Thief, directed by Michael Mann, where he played Frank, a jewel thief trying to do one last score before he retires. This is always the case with criminals, but it never ends the way they think it is supposed to. In Mickey Blue Eyes, he plays a gangster once again, opposite Hugh Grant, who's trying to marry his daughter. This is another comedic role for Caan, who mixed up his parts very nicely. His career has given fans plenty of great characters and memories that will endure for many years to come. I will never forget him and his career as long as I live.
E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL -- The Magic of Cinema Is Still Infectious 40 Years Later
By Dan Skip Allen
When I was a kid, my family sometimes didn't have enough money to eat, and we struggled to pay our bills. Even for an eight-year-old, I knew we were struggling financially. Every once in a while, we had enough money to do things together as a family. My brother, sister, and I would load into whatever car we had at the time, probably a station wagon, and go to the nearby drive-in theater. This was a big deal for us. Even a bigger deal was back in the summer of 1982; we did just that and got to see a film that helped transform me into the film aficionado I am today: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
E.T. wasn't just any film — it was a film that showed me what movies could really be for a child of eight years old. I remember as a kid that when E.T. and Elliot (Henry Thomas) road that BMX bike into the sky to escape men in black trying to get to them. It felt like they went right through the screen and into the air above the drive-in. It was a bit surreal to me at the time. I have held that memory with me ever since, and I'll never forget it.
That famous line from the film uttered by an animatronic alien, E.T., will also be indelibly stuck in my brain forever. "E.T. Phone Home." Any kid or adult watching that film that didn't cry is just not human because I balled my eyes out when I watched it. Shows like Stranger Things have adopted a little of the nostalgia of what E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is, but nothing will ever replace this film in the annals of history.
I loved the cast, from Dee Wallace as the overprotective mother to Thomas Howell as the big brother and who couldn't forget little, at the time, Drew Barrymore as the sister who dressed E.T. up as a girl and fed him Reese's Pieces. Now Reese's Pieces are synonymous with this film. Peter Coyote played the secret agent trying to capture E.T., and he did as great as this character. He played a good villain at the time.
Many people make a big deal about physical media editions of this film being altered because the guns were taken away, but no DVD, Blu-Ray, or 4K will ever take away what was etched in my memory as a child. At the time, the guns were necessary to help the story. I understand they may have been a bit overkill, but they worked in the context of the story. The producers and filmmakers made a tough choice, but I think it was right.
My second favorite filmmaker is Steven Spielberg. As a kid, I got to see Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but my favorite of his films will always be E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He was able to bring something out in me no movie had ever done before: genuine emotion, from crying sadness to joyful happiness and, at times, anger. This film brought out every emotion in me as a child. That is what great filmmaking should be able to do.
One of Spielberg's frequent collaborators is John Williams. At the time, he was the conductor of the Boston Pops. Another annual gathering for my family would be once again to load all the kids in the car, head to Boston, and get our spot on the grass at the Esplanade, where we would get to hear the Boston Pops perform for free every Fourth of July. And so I was very familiar with this man's work, but the E.T. theme was like magic to my ears, and it's still one of the most iconic themes of John Williams's career, in my opinion.
On the week of the fortieth anniversary of E.T., I implore everyone young and old — if you've seen the film or not — to watch this absolute classic. Maybe it will bring you the emotions it brought me as an eight-year-old little boy looking for magic which I found on the big screen at that drive-in cinema. The cast, the filmmaker, and the composer brought me one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences of my entire life, and I will never forget that moment in time.
By Dan Skip Allen
I loved watching sports movies and gangster films when I was a kid. They were two different kinds of movies, but they both had their own way of inspiring me growing up. Sports films put you in the shoes of those heroes on-screen, whether it be Roy Hobbs hitting massive home runs or Shoeless Joe Jackson coming out of the corn, saying, "Where are we? Heaven?" Sports films have an imagination that can make you dream of something greater than yourself. Gangster films have a glamour to them that gives me chills. In Goodfellas, Henry Hill cooks an Italian meal in prison with the Don. You have to cut the garlic very thin, so it melts with the olive oil. It was a great scene of camaraderie between brothers. Gangster films showed a world that was just perfect sometimes.
Ray Liotta was in both of these films. In one, he played a ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson teaching and playing baseball; in the other, he was Henry Hill, a young and impressionable man looking for something to be a part of and belong to. Both characters showed Liotta had acting chops. Both characters brought something to the table regarding my favorite kinds of films: a Martin Scorsese classic and a baseball classic. They are movies I would recommend to anybody. Liotta is excellent in both of them. The scene where he was high on cocaine, driving all over town trying to deliver the guns, but he believes the feds are following him, is brilliant. He's so paranoid in this whole sequence. You feel the paranoia he feels while watching him.
Liotta has had a vast career besides those two iconic roles in those great films. He's played a corrupt policeman in Copland, an FBI Agent caught in the middle of a bunch of hitmen in Smokin' Aces, a police chief caught in a hostage situation in John Q, and Aldo Moltisanti, the father of Christopher in The Many Saints of Newark, the prequel to The Sopranos. He's even been in Bee Movie starring Jerry Seinfeld. He pretty much did it all in his fifty or so years in film. When people think of two of the most iconic films of the last generation, they'll talk about Goodfellas and Field of Dreams. That's what I think of when I think of the great career of Ray Liotta. These two films will cement him as one of the greats of his generation.
By Dan Skip Allen
Starting in the '40s and going through the '60s was the age of the big Hollywood musical. Sure, musicals trickled on through the rest of the decades, but not like the golden age of musicals. One of the era's biggest stars was Gene Kelly. Arguably his most famous and most important role was as Don Lockwood in Singin' in the Rain. It's a very influential film on many levels, some even considering it the best movie musical of all time.
Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lamonte (Lina Hagan) are a very popular duo in Hollywood. They bring the crowds in by the droves for their silent pictures. While attending a party, the host shows them and the studio head a talking picture reel. The studio head gets the idea that talkies are the new-fangled thing that will bring the movie industry to the next level. When the picture he is making, The Dueling Cavalier, doesn't sound right, he doesn't know what to do.
Singin' in the Rain has a great cast in addition to Kelly and Hagon. Debbie Reynolds, the mother of Carrie Fisher, is Kathy Seldon, an entertainer in her own right. She dances and sings at various parties. When Kelley's character's car breaks down, he gets a ride from her. This is the beginning of an on-again-off-again friendship between the two. Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) is the best friend of Kelly's character. He is always there when he needs a friend to talk to or an idea. They work very well together on screen.
Singin' in the Rain is an excellent film for many reasons, and one of them is that it has a great story of the transitioning of silent films into talking pictures. This was a story at the time that depicted something that actually went on in Hollywood a couple of decades before. Some people just couldn't cut it in talking pictures because they didn't have the proper accent or couldn't speak the English language, or have some other talent they needed. Dancing and singing were prerequisites now at this time in Hollywood. It's a big change.
Another thing that makes Singin' in the Rain so great is its great musical numbers. "Good Morning," "Make Me Laugh," the title track, "Singin' in the Rain," and so many more vibrant, entertaining songs kept this movie going from beginning to end. The songs are the heartbeat of this wonderful film about change in Hollywood. With Kelly, Reynolds, and O'Connor singing these songs, it was destined to be a success. They are easy to sing along with while watching the film. That's a key to why this was such a success.
Singin' in the Rain also had technical aspects that made it look and sound so good. Technicolor was a relatively new thing at the time that was used to bring this film to life. The various dance numbers are very vibrant. Colorful costumes and sets jumped off the screen. The remastering for the 70th Anniversary didn't hurt the film — it made it better. This film has never looked better than it does now, 70 years later. That's saying a lot for a movie this old to still stand up this far from when it came out originally.
Gene Kelly was a massive star when Singin' in the Rain came out. He'd done An American in Paris, Brigadoon, and Hello Dolly, but his biggest and most famous role ever was as Don Lockwood. Kelly danced and sang his way to stardom. He had a charisma and personality that made him a star. Kelly was a talent that has rarely been seen before or since.
One of my influences as a film critic is Roger Ebert. His favorite film of all time was Singin' in the Rain. I understand why he loves this film so much. "Singin' in the Rain pulses with life; in a movie about making movies, you can sense the joy they had making this one." This says it all. Once I saw it, I instantly loved it. Seventy years later, it holds up as one of the great musicals and films in general of all time. MGM made a film that will probably influence filmmakers and be enjoyed by film fans like me for decades to come.
By Dan Skip Allen
John Wayne (True Grit, The Searchers, Stagecoach) has got this reputation of being a man's man. He is a tough guy if you will, but he played a softer, more compassionate character in his films every once in a while. That is if you consider Sean Thornton a gentler, more compassionate man. After all, he killed a man in the ring as a boxer, which convinced him to leave America and move to a small town in Ireland called Innisfree. Now he's trying to start over fresh.
Sean figures he would move back to where his family is from, and he would buy their land and live the rest of his life in peace. Except a man named Will Danaher (Victor McGlagen) is also interested in the land. Sean notices a beautiful redhead named Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara, How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street), who happens to be the sister of Danaher. He tries to get into a relationship with her to spite Danaher, but she's feisty and fiery as redheads tend to be. And what a beautiful relationship it turns out to be.
Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne have been in a few other films besides A Quiet Man together: McLintock, Rio Grande, and Big Jake. They have very good screen chemistry from working together on all these films. Some might consider it one of the best on-screen romances ever in Hollywood. I would have to agree with this assessment. These two have a great on-screen dynamic.
Another frequent collaborator of John Wayne is John Ford. These two have had a long and prosperous filmmaking relationship with one another. They did quite a few Westerns, making the duo famous in Hollywood. Their films are some of the best movies ever. A Quiet Man might be the oddest film they've done, though. It's not about tough firefighters, WWII pilots, or gunfighters shooting each other and Native Americans. It's a romantic film that hits on all the notes a great romantic film should.
With the annual March holiday of St. Patrick's Day coming up, A Quiet Man is a perfect film to revisit. It's one of the greatest films focusing on Ireland. The drama between Wayne and McGlagen's characters is accurate of the time, and the romance is one of the best put to screen. This film also has more to offer than just the story and acting. It has excellent cinematography and music as well.
The cinematography by Winton C. Hoch is gorgeous for the time. The reds and blues are very bright and vibrant, and Ireland's backdrop as a whole is beautiful. The music by Victor Young, mostly bagpipes and horns, is fantastic as well. The film has so much going for it. The story by Ford and others is excellent as well. It's the kind of story many audiences can get behind.
As a kid, I was in love with films about Ireland. Darby O'Gill and The Little People and A Quiet Man were my favorites because they romanticized the homeland of my ancestors. The music and drinking were right up my alley. A little too much up my alley. Still to this day, St. Patrick's is my favorite holiday. John Ford, John Wayne, and Maureen O'Hara gave me a film where I could believe in something as a child. My upbringing wasn't perfect, but films like A Quiet Man are something I can go back to time and again and remember what kind of life I wished I could have.
A Quiet Man is turning seventy years old this week. If there ever was a film to see at this time of year, it's this one. The beautiful romance, what there is of it, and the redemption story of Wayne's character is all worth watching the film. The music, whether it is an Irish lyric or a slow piano solo and pun intended music to my ear. The look of the film is stunning. The performances by all and direction are fantastic. This film is just a delight no matter how you look at it. What other film would be better suited to watch this St. Patrick's Day holiday than this one? It's one of the best from this trio who have so much familiarity with one another.
By Dan Skip Allen
When I was a kid back about forty-two years ago, I saw The Godfather for the first time. Of course, on television, it was edited down not to show so much blood, and the cursing was cut out. It wasn't till years later that I saw the unedited version in all its glory. That's when I had a full appreciation of the greatness of The Godfather, as well as its sequel. Now it has turned fifty years old, and it still hasn't lost any of the nostalgia it had for me as a kid. As an adult with many years under my belt, I have a new respect for this Francis Ford Coppola classic.
The Godfather is based on the book by Mario Puzo. It chronicles the lives of the Corleone family, of which Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is the patriarch. He has garnered a lot of respect from his constituents and business associates. Even so, when they need something, they'll come to him at his daughter's (Talia Shire) wedding. He has three sons. One is part of the family business Sonny (James Caan), another Michael (Al Pacino) is just home from the Army, and his third son Fredo (John Cazale) is a little slow, but he's also a part of Genco Olive Oil which is the front for the business.
Coppola created a look and feel of the iconic film. Set in the 1940s, the film has a style that sets it apart from any other movie in this genre. It has a grain that makes it have a lived-in feel and a worn-out look. Gordon Willis is the cinematographer, and he leans on a darker paper of colors such as blacks and browns. The inside scenes are perfectly set in these colors. The outdoor scenes show a little more range of tans and peaches that contrast to the indoor scenes. This film looks gorgeous no matter how you look at it.
All great films have memorable lines of dialogue that will live in the annals of time. The Godfather is no different. As mentioned before, Don Vito is visited at his daughter's wedding by many to pay tribute, and one of those people is an actor/singer named Johnny Fontane (Al Martino). He comes asking the Don if he can help him land a role in a movie he wants to star in, and Don Vito tells him he'll help him. He asks how and Don Vito says, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." Another great quote from the film is when they send their best hitman, Luca Basi (Lenny Montana), to take care of some family business. He doesn't come back. Instead, they get a package delivered, and in it is a fish. They say, "Luca Brasi swims with the fishes." My favorite line in the film is when a hit is made out in the sticks of New Jersey by Clemenza (Richard A Castello) tells his partner, "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." This film is littered with great lines.
This film has a great cast in it. Besides the actors I've mentioned already, there are a lot of teller performances from the supporting cast, such as Robert Duval as Tom Hagan, the consigliere, and Diane Keaton as Kay Adams, Michael's girlfriend and eventual wife. And with all gangster films comes the other family heads and various members of the organization. Abe Vigoda (Tessio), Al Lettieri (Solozzo), and Sterling Hayden (Capt. McCluskey) are all great as the antagonists of the film. This film is filled with Oscar winners and all-time greats. It's one of the best casts ever in any movie.
Besides the cinematography, the film also has some fantastic production design by Dean Tavoularis, makeup and hair design, costumes, and editing by too many to list. The score was by Nino Rota, and it was incredible. It brought you into this world perfectly. This score is iconic for its melancholy, but also its legendary tones. The first few notes are mesmerizing and so memorable to me all these years later.
Coppola helped adapt Puzo's book, making this book come to life. The character arks for many of the characters are very satisfying. All the sons of Don Vito have their various plot points, but Michael's arc is one of the greatest in film history. He goes from a mild-mannered son who wants nothing to do with the family business to becoming a cold-blooded killer and the leader of a crime syndicate in the guise of a businessman. In later films, this would become more prominent. The script is a masterpiece by anybody's standards.
As years have gone by, I've watched The Godfather probably thirty or forty times. I see something new in it each time I watch it. It has layers that not a lot of films have. It has a rewatchability factor like no other film ever. The family drama, the crime drama, and the character beats are some of the best in any movie. Coppola captured a subsection of society that wasn't that prominent at the time but became an entire genre in later years. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese made it their own. And various true stories about real-life gangsters were made into films like Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, Donnie Brasco (which also starred Al Pacino), and American Gangster from Ridley Scott. The Godfather and its sequel have become part of the lexicon of society, not just criminal society like Scarface.
Not that awards are important, but they signify greatness, so they must be discussed. The Godfather sits at number 5 on AFI's Top 100 Movies of All Time list currently, and it won three Academy Awards back in 1973 for the '72 calendar year: Best Picture, Best Actor for Marlon Brando (for which he sent Sachin Littlefoot to accept the award on his behalf due to his protest against the treatment of Native Americans in movies and the country), and Best Adapted Screenplay by Coppola and Puzo based on his book. It also stands at number two on IMDb's list of the 250 best movies list. And it won many other awards as well. The fact remains that it's one of the greatest films of all time. It has stood the test of time because of the timeless nature of the story, the incredible characters, and the incredible skill that went into every aspect of the production.
By Dan Skip Allen
Ivan Reitman has had a forty-year career as a director and producer making such movies as Ghostbusters and its sequel, Animal House, Meatballs, Dave, and a few Arnold Schwarzenegger comedies. He has made some iconic films in his career. He has even helped his son become a great director as well. One of his most iconic movies is Stripes, a comedy about two men who join the Army and get more than they bargained for.
John Winger (Bill Murray) is a down-on-his-luck man who lost his job, girlfriend, car, and apartment. He's looking for something to motivate him and get his mind and body right. Russell Disney (Harold Ramis) is his best friend. He teaches migrants how to read and speak the English language. They both need a change in life and a change in mindset. The Army is the right place for them. Along the way, they meet some colorful characters and a couple of enlisted ladies and become friends with them.
Along with Murray and Ramos are John Candy as Ox, Judge Reinhold as Elmo, Warren Kate's as Sgt. Hulka, John Larroquette as Capt. Stillman, PJ Soles as Stella, and Sean Young as Louise. This cast is fantastic. It has a lot of standup comedians who improvise quite a bit of the dialogue. The legendary comedians in this film make for many laughs and make for a hilarious ensemble. The military has never been this fun before or ever since.
Stripes is full of this ragtag group of individuals who need to come together to help the Army to deploy a new state-of-the-art weapon called an EM-50, basically a glorified motorhome. This ends up being the thing that allows Murray and company to come together. They are not the military type, but they know they need a change — even Sgt. Hulka instigates Murray's character to get him motivated to show what he can do for his country. This is a typical military film. Murray and the cast are great in it.
After all the hijinks that ensue during basic training, the film takes a turn for the better. They have to fight in an encounter, and more laughs and action occur. Reitman knows how to get the audience laughing. Various scenes of mud wrestling and so forth add levity to a film with plenty of laughs already. John Candy shows why he's such a great comedic actor in this scene. This creates great comradery for the group of young soldiers in the film.
As far as military films go, this is one of the better ones. It's no Private Benjamin, but it's pretty good. Both have heart as well as laughs. Reitman knows how to bring the heartfelt moments out while also getting laughs from the audience. This film even has romantic moments between Soles, Murray, Young, and Ramis.
The film also has excellent music and nostalgic moments of singing "Do Wah Diddy Dumb Diddy Do" by Manfred Mann while marching and "The Rubberband Man" by The Spinners at the mud wrestling bar. The music by Elmer Bernstein adds another fun element to the film. The military songs are in the movie as well. "Joining the Army" by Nita Leaves is an entertaining song too.
Stripes is a fun film that takes the Army and turns it on its head. The superb cast of legendary comedians such as Murray, Ramis, Candy, Larroquette, and others makes a very funny film. Add a little romance and some action, and you have a fun movie. Reitman assembled the right people to bring Len Blum, Dan Goldberg, and Harold Ramis's script to life. All in all, Stripes was the kind of film Murray, Ramis, Candy, and Reitman have been associated with their entire careers. It is a hilarious, nostalgic trip down memory lane for me and I'm sure many others. Reitman will be missed, but he leaves behind a legacy of great work.
The Criterion Voyages (Spine #732): MY DARLING CLEMENTINE -- A Wonderful Western That Pre-Dates TOMBSTONE
By Dan Skip Allen
I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't a big fan of westerns. Unforgiven, High Noon, and Once Upon a Time in the West are among my favorite films of all time. Tombstone is another terrific western, but it was based on My Darling Clementine from 1946, another great film about famous Sheriff Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) is trying to move a herd of cattle through Arizona when he and his brother stopover for a night in Tombstone. When Wyatt wakes up the next morning, he notices that their herd of cattle is gone and one of his brothers is dead. He suspects the Clanton clan, led by Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) who live out by the O.K. Corral. Trying to figure out a way to get revenge for his brother, Wyatt becomes the Sheriff of Tombstone. He also befriends an alcoholic gambler known as Doc Holiday (Victor Mature) and the title character of the film, Clementine Carter (Kathy Downs).
Fonda's Earp struggles the entire film to try to get his cattle back and apprehend the culprit. The film is based on Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake. It's directed by legendary western director John Ford who worked with John Wayne quite a bit in his career. This film takes a lot from classic western tales, but Wyatt Earp is considered one of the most famous lawmen in history.
Henry Fonda plays a great Wyatt Earp and lawman. Later on in his life, he played a very evil villain in the Sergio Leone spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West. So he played both sides of the coin in his acting career. He's great as both men, though. It just shows what a great actor Henry Fonda is. His Earp is a very friendly guy. People are generally connected to him because of his friendly demeanor. He doesn't want people to think they can walk all over him, though. That's where his toughness comes in.
Walter Brennan was another very famous actor of the time. He was in quite a few westerns in his career including Rio Bravo, but his most important role was as the Pastor in Sgt. York starring Gary Cooper. Even though he won the Oscars for Supporting Actor in his lifetime. He plays a great villain in My Darling Clementine as Old Man Clanton. A true western villain that resembles others and Stephen Lang channels in Tombstone in 1993.
My Darling Clementine also has great performances from the women, including the title character, in the film from Kathy Downs and Linda Darnell as Chihuahua. They hold their own against great actors like Fonda and Brennan. Their characters are tough and stick up for their own lives in the film as well. A lot of actresses of the time are powerful and can handle themselves in these films with the best actors of the time. These two are very good at that.
The film is in black and white, but it looks great and has beautiful cinematography. The music in the film is pretty good as well. The title of the film is sung throughout the film. And it's a very catchy song, but the score is very good as well. The craft departments are all superb in the film. And it's nice to see a film that everything in it is so authentic and makes the film much more watchable than I could have thought. It's a great addition to the Criterion Collection.
The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1105): MENACE II SOCIETY -- A Harrowing Look at a Life of Crime
By Dan Skip Allen
Menace II Society takes place in Los Angeles in the wake of the riots that happened in the early '90s. The Hughes Brothers — Albert and Allen — show a world of drugs and crime and hard streets and neighborhoods where teens tend to grow up fast. Criterion has branched out and started getting the rights to some of these more urban films with different takes on inner-city life. This Hughes Brothers film is that.
The film focuses mainly on two young men Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O Dog (Lorenz Tate, Girls Trip) They get into all kinds of trouble from robbing convenience stores to selling drugs on the street and holding up people for basically nothing. They hang with a gang of guys that do the exact same thing. This lifestyle leads them down the wrong path and death follows.
The film has some very famous actors in supporting roles as well. Samuel L. Jackson plays Caine's father Tat Lawson in flashback scenes from the 1970s, who gave him this idea of a life of drugs and crime. Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix) plays Connie, a young mother who is interested in Caine. He cares about her as well as her young son. Charles S. Dutton (Rudy) is a teacher, Mr. Butler, who tries to give Caine a new perspective on life from a religious point of view, using the Muslim religion to help get him out of the neighborhood.
The Hughes Brothers get to the heart of what it's like for Black youths and the citizens in general in Compton and South Central L.A. As the song says, it's hard out there for people in these neighborhoods. Caine has people that love him and want to rescue him from this lifestyle. It means leaving his friends and grandparents behind though. And that's not an easy decision for him. He's a young man with a lot on his mind and his plate. Things aren't easy for him any way you slice it.
The film has a great soundtrack that goes along with the film as well. Songs from various rap groups and labels of this time period rang throughout the film, like "Straight Up Menace", "Packin' a Gun", and "Only the Strong Survive" are all anthems for the world this film takes place in. Artists such as D Quick, Too Short, and MC Eiht sing songs that talk about the gangster lifestyle and growing up in this world of drugs, guns, and crime. The music perfectly fits the film's feel and vibe.
Menace II Society captures the feel of this world faultlessly. The blood and violence of this world are too hard for some people to escape. Tiger Williams wrote a great script depicting this lifestyle. If this film isn't a tragic look at why this kind of life doesn't pay, I don't know what will. The Hughes Brothers made a film that transcends. Any kid from any neighborhood in any state in America can relate to this kind of story. Almost thirty years after it came out, it's still relevant today.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.