Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Movie Project: Die Hard


Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
John McClane, a New York cop, goes to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife at a company Christmas party in a skyscraper. During the party, German terrorists infiltrate the building and take the partygoers hostage, with their goal being the theft of six hundred million dollars from the company vault. McClane gets loose in the building and takes on the terrorists and their leader, Hans Gruber.

Memorable Quote:
Yippee-ki-yay, mother@#$%$.  ~McClane

Highlight:
Karl is a great henchman and the heir apparent to another blond German, Stamper from Tomorrow Never Dies. The actor, Alexander Godunov, was a world-class ballet dancer and appeared as an Amish farmer in Witness.

Lowlight:
The very end where Karl comes back from the dead and runs into the street for one last shot at McClane. The whole thing is silly: first, that he wasn't dead after seemingly getting his neck broken in the big chain; second, that he made it out of the building without anyone noticing him and got as close to McClane as he did; third, that Al was the only one with the presence of mind to shoot him even though there were 700 other cops around.

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Don Johnson and Richard Dean Anderson, both established action stars in television, were considered for the role of John McClane.

Hard to imagine RDA as McClane -- glad he stayed focused on MacGyver.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Time to Die Hard! I thought it would be fun to revisit this series -- I'm very familiar with 3 and pretty familiar with 2, but I didn't remember 1 that well. And 4 and 5 I've only seen once (for good reason). 
  • Die Hard was based on a book called Nothing Lasts Forever. According to wikipedia, the studio was contractually obligated to offer the McClane role to 73 year-old Frank Sinatra (!) due to his part in a 1968 film based on a previous book in the series. I don't think this movie would have worked as well with Frank. 
  • I noticed a goof at the 9:57 mark: McClane touches "Gennaro" on the touch-screen locator map computer, and the name changes to "Gennero."
  • One of my favorite Die Hard tropes -- the sight of 10+ big menacing Euros walking silently and with purpose.
  • Alan Rickman (who we saw in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) excels as Gruber, and his performance is especially impressive considering that this was his first feature film. Also a good performance from Reginald VelJohnson (later seen in ABC's Family Matters) as Al.
  • On the flip side, Argyle the limo driver didn't add anything to the story, and why was he partying with a teddy bear in the back seat for hours before deciding to do something? Even worse was Ellis, the smug company man who inexplicably approaches Gruber with plenty of swagger but no plan and no leverage.
  • The walkie-talkie conversations confused me, like why sometimes it seemed like McClane and Al are talking in private, but other times the terrorists could hear everything. 
  • Another Die Hard trope -- making McClane looking more than a little battered and bruised by the end of the movie. The bloody feet from stepping on glass looks painful. 
  • I recognized Robert Davi, who plays FBI Agent "Big" Johnson, as the lead villain from License to Kill.  The FBI and police, by the way, do a terrible job of negotiating -- they just agree to release the guys that Gruber demands them to without asking to speak to any of the hostages or asking for any of them to be freed.

Final Analysis:
Good movie -- I'll put it in the Entertaining category. It's pretty even-keeled in that there's not much that jumped out to me as a highlight or part that I love to watch, but there's also not much in the way of lowlights either. Willis, Rickman, Godunov, and VelJohnson are all outstanding, and the plot makes for a great formula (good guy trapped in a place with a ton of bad guys). We'll get to Die Hard 2 next on the Movie Project.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 7: Love's Sweet Song


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Indiana Jones and his friend Remy stop in Ireland to work and raise money on their way to enlisting with the Belgian army, and Indy pals around with a young lass and experiences the Easter Rebellion. Then, he goes to London and falls in love with a suffragette who had a similar childhood to him of traveling around the world. He proposes marriage, but she declines in part because he's leaving for war and in part because she wants to devote herself fully to writing. 

Memorable Quote:
If you speak French and Spanish, Italian is not hard to learn.  ~Indy

Highlight:
The language duel between Vicky and Indy is classic and one of the very few moments from this series that I remember from when I was kid. In particular, the quote above always stuck with me. On the surface, it doesn't appear to be that memorable, but I remembered it so it gets the honor of being the memorable quote!  I also remembered that she stumped him with Welsh and that she referenced the Jones surname as being Welsh in origin.

These two have great chemistry together, and the actress who plays Vicky (more on her later) delivers her lines with great zest.

Lowlight:
The storyline with the Irish playwright was slow and didn't add much. I would have liked to see more time spent on Indy's relationship with the Irish lass.

Brushes with historical figures:
  • W.B. Yeats
  • Sean O'Casey (playwright) and Sean Lemass (politician) -- hadn't heard of these two before
  • Sylvia Pankhurst (suffragette) -- hadn't heard of her either
  • Winston Churchill -- heard of him 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • I don't have too much to say on the Ireland portion, other than the battle sequence is impressive (as in the previous episode), especially considering that this is early 90's network television.
  • Fun scene when Indy gets on the double-decker bus and gets forcefully rejected after putting a move on a widow. I noticed the conductor and thought, "She's cute -- Indy should have gone after her instead." I thought at first she was just an extra, and so I was surprised when she ended up as the heroine of the story.  I was even more surprised when I checked IMDB after the episode ended and discovered that it was Elizabeth Hurley, future A-list actress and supermodel! I missed her name in the opening credits and had no idea that she was Liz Hurley. I also had no idea that she was so talented of an actress (the only other movie I've seen her in is Austin Powers) -- she really is outstanding in this role.
  • Speaking of the bus, I like old-school double-decker buses. The only time I've been on one was in Disney World in the 80s -- they used to transport guests around Epcot's World Showcase until it was discovered that driving a huge bus through a jam-packed street full of tourists wasn't the best idea.
  • I never knew that the Germans used zeppelins to drop bombs. Being inside a zeppelin doesn't seem like a good place to be with a target on your back, and I read online that the British did eventually start shooting them down. 
  • Nice to see Miss Seymour again, and it's good of her to make Indy write to his father. 
  • Some other notable guest stars: Julian Fellowes (creator of Downton Abbey, of which I'm currently in the process of watching for the first time) as Winston Churchill, and Vanessa Redgrave as Vicky's mother. We saw her in the first Mission: Impossible movie as the arms dealer Max, and I'm surprised this show was able to get an actress of her reputation for such a small part.
  • 1:24:55 mark -- No words necessary in this scene as Liz's eyes do all the talking. Once again, she's really good in this episode! 

Final Analysis:
I have to say, this one tugged at my heartstrings a bit.  It didn't get to the point where I needed to reach for the tissue box, but I still found the last ten minutes to be quite poignant and melancholy. We can tell that these two are a perfect match and in love, but we also know full well that it's not going to work out between them in the end. The final scene on the train is very well done and heartbreaking at the same time. I didn't expect to top last episode so soon, but I really enjoyed Indy and Vicky's relationship, and I'm ranking this one 1 out of 7.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 6: Spring Break Adventure


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
When Indy and his girlfriend, Nancy, try to fix her father's Bugatti before the prom, they stumble on to a plot to steal naval research from Edison Labs. After foiling the perpetrators, Indy goes to New Mexico with his father to visit his aunt. Then, Indy and his cousin go to Mexico, where Indy joins Pancho Villa's band of revolutionaries and encounters an old adversary.

Memorable Quote:
They all steal your chickens. The only thing to change is the name of the man who takes them.  ~Peasant

Highlight:
I love the setting of the first half of the episode as this charming, early 20th century Americana-land. It's unlikely that New Jersey (aka the Armpit of the Nation) was ever that idyllic, but it's a nice thought.

Lowlight:
It's never adequately explained why Professor Thompson is involved in the plot to steal his own material and fake his kidnapping. If he was working with the oil companies to suppress research, then it doesn't make sense when he later says that he was motivated by not receiving enough credit for his research.

Brushes with historical figures:
  • Edward Stratemeyer. I hadn't heard of him before, but apparently he was a pioneer of children't literature and created the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, among others. 
  • Thomas Edison
  • Pancho Villa. The actor playing Pancho also played Fuad from The Escape
  • John J. Pershing
  • George Patton

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Hooray, it's older young Indy! With all due respect to the episodes with younger young Indy, I'm glad to move toward storylines with an excitement level greater than watching paint dry.
  • Sean Patrick Flanery is great as young Indy -- lots of energy and charisma.
  • His girlfriend, Nancy, is played by Robyn Lively, who we saw in the Quantum Leap episode Dr. Ruth (also filmed in 1993). Nancy is a good match for Indy -- too bad we won't see her again.
  • Another Quantum Leap crossover: the lead detective, Frank Brady, is played by the same actor who played the cameraman in Temptation Eyes.
  • The intro to the Last Crusade was in 1912, and the prom sign shows that it's now 1916, so it makes sense that Indy has his fedora. 
  • We sadly learn that Mrs. Jones died of influenza 3 years ago.
  • As much as I've tried to forget the Crystal Skull, I do remember a line where Indy tells his son that he once rode with Pancho Villa -- it's cool that they worked that in as a reference to this episode.
  • Crazy to think about the other kids in Indy's class returning from spring break: "Where's Indy?  Oh, he joined the Mexican Revolution and then went to Belgium."
  • Ridiculous moment as a young George Patton goes into a cantina, provokes some of the patrons, and then starts shooting them. According to wikipedia, Patton was on the Pancho Villa Expedition, and his gun did accidentally go off in a saloon. But there was no need to portray him as some kind of crazed gunslinger that went around killing locals.
  • The Demetrios plot line is very compelling. Demetrios, the villain from the first half of My First Adventure in Egypt, resurfaces eight years later and half a world away in Mexico. Indy eventually recognizes him and recovers the long-lost jackal, which he had never forgotten about.  Great stuff.
  • 1:31:41 -- Indy performs the MacGyver shake after throwing a punch.
  • Always great to hear Indy say, "It belongs in a museum!"

Final Analysis:
Phenomenal introduction to older Indy. I enjoyed the first half of the episode a little more, but the second half was still very good with the Demetrios storyline and a well-filmed battle scene. Ranking this one 1st out of 6 by a country mile. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 5: Journey of Radiance


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
In India, Indy meets Krishnamurti while Miss Seymour challenges the members of the Theosophy Society on their exploitative behaviors. Next, the Joneses go to China, where Indy gets Typhoid fever in a secluded hut and must rely on traditional Chinese medicine to get better. 

Memorable Quote:
You took the time to think and then you acted wisely, and so you have your own approbation. You do not need the applause of others.  ~Li

Highlight:
The acupuncture scene with the Chinese doctor was cool, although I doubt that young Indy was really that scared of needles. 

Lowlight:
It was clever to include a young Mola Ram and young Lao Che on young Indy's adventures to India and China...oh wait, they weren't included! It's not like George Lucas wrote this episode...oh wait, he's credited with the story!  Come on, George!  Missed opportunity here -- would have been some inspired writing to see Indy cross paths with his future nemeses in the Temple of Doom. If only the production team would have hired me as an Indiana Jones consultant/expert...

Brushes with historical figures:

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • It's always a bit of a thrill to see the black and green LucasFilm graphic in the beginning -- feels like an event. 
  • Good performance by the actor playing Charles Leadbetter. Apparently he was a real guy -- I wonder how the Leadbetter estate feels about him coming off as a sleazeball. They'd probably care more if anyone other than me was still watching this show.  
  • Once again, they didn't skimp on the production costs as it's clear that Indy and company actually went to the real Great Wall of China.
  • 1:15:55 mark -- this is the first time I've ever heard of Indy having a sister, Susie.
  • 1:30:56 - there was a better chance of the producers hiring me as an Indiana Jones consultant than there was of Ah Pin finding the Jones's lost luggage that got carried away in a river.
  • There wasn't any need to include the American doctor in the story, since he didn't do anything of value other than make a backhanded compliment about Chinese medicine.

Final Analysis:
While it could have used some more action and bad guys (as is the case with every episode involving 9 year-old Indy), the production value here was outstanding, particularly the China segment. Ranking this one 2nd out of 5. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 4: Travels with Father


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
After getting in trouble with his parents for disturbing a wedding, Indy runs away into the Russian countryside and meets up with Leo Tolstoy. Then, in Greece, he discusses philosophy with his father on their way to a monastery.

Memorable Quote:
Are we being skeptical, cynical, or stoical?  ~Junior
Junior?  Shut up.  ~Senior

Highlight:
There's not one that jumps out at me. I guess I'll go with the comedic aspects of Junior destroying property at the wedding.

Lowlight:
Once the rope supporting the wooden mountain gondola begins to fray, Senior and Junior somehow construct a ladder in less than a minute using wood from the gondola itself. And then they somehow secure this ladder so that they're able to climb up to the top of the mountain. We haven't seen such speedy woodworking since MacGyver built an airplane in 20 minutes.

Brushes with historical figures:
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Nikos Kazantzakis (never heard of him)

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • After the first wedding incident where Junior pushes a cart full of glasses into the orchestra, I'd say it's time for the Joneses to go, but instead Dr. and Mrs. Jones just leave Junior by himself with the wedding cake while they stay at the party as if nothing's happened. Needless to say, Junior ends up obliterating the cake.   
  • It's unclear why Tolstoy is on the run and who he's running from. 
  • Some of this episode was clearly filmed in Greece such as the scene at the Parthenon.
  • 1:01:05 mark -- I wasn't expecting that double dose of backside nudity.

Final Analysis:
While it's nice to see Senior and Junior bond at the end, the rest of the Greece portion is like watching a documentary about philosophy. The Russia scenes, by comparison, are a bit better, but not by much as there's little in the way of highlights or excitement. Ergo, as they say in philosophy, I'm ranking this one 4th out of 4. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 3: The Perils of Cupid


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
In Vienna, Indy develops a crush on Princess Sophie, daughter of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Then, in Florence, Mrs. Jones falls for the operatic composer Puccini.

Memorable Quote:
Anyone can see by his operas that signore Puccini is a passionate man. But let us remember, passion burns bright when it's new.  ~Miss Seymour

Highlight:
My favorite scene so far from the series: Indy on the loose in the castle trying to elude everyone on his way to see Princess Sophie. In general I enjoy when the protagonist is being chased and/or performing evasive maneuvers, which is what this series should have had more of when Indy was nine and too young to fight.

Lowlight:
It's too bad Puccini didn't get more comeuppance for how overly aggressive he was toward Mrs. Jones, like if Indy would have tripped him and caused him to fall into a lake or something.

Brushes with historical figures:
  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand
  • Princess Sophie
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Carl Jung
  • Giacomo Puccini

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • 2:07 mark -- Indy's way too short to be able to reach Sophie's hat on the ground while staying on his horse.
  • 2:30 -- I like the "Herr Jones" reference from the ringmaster -- makes me think of the good old days when grown-up Indy is whooping up on the Nazis. 
  • I googled the Archduke (whose assassination set off World War One) and Sophie to see what they looked like, and they actually looked reasonably like their characters here.
  • While I admire Indy's powers of evasion, there's no chance that one of the 15 musicians (facing in his direction) wouldn't have noticed him moving a chair, standing on the chair, and turning the lock on the door.  
  • Indy, next time don't throw irons off the Leaning Tower of Pisa -- you could kill somebody!

Final Analysis:
I like this episode best so far on the strength of the Vienna portion. It's a great setting (you don't often see shows or movies in Vienna), and it's cool to think of Indy crossing paths with the Archduke, someone that casual students of history are aware of but might not know much about. I also like the dialogue in the scene around the dinner table with Freud and Jung.

The Florence part is also well written with the discussion of physics mimicking Mrs. Jones's feelings and also the conversation between her and Miss Seymour at the end (some sage advice there from Miss S). The ending is a little abrupt (and Indy and his mom could probably use some therapy after that emotional roller coaster), but it's nice to see Mrs. Jones's character having her moment in the Tuscan sun.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 2: Passion for Life


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
In East Africa, the Joneses join President Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting expedition. Next, the family travels to Paris where Indy pals around with Norman Rockwell and spends time in the artist community. 

Memorable Quote:
Some artists live extraordinarily colorful lives. Lives of danger, daring, passion, eccentricity, and outrageous behavior. But, eh, you're a little too young to know about that just yet.  ~Henry Jones Sr.

Highlight:
I like the actor who plays Teddy Roosevelt -- he has the right look, and he acts as I'd imagine Teddy to act.

Lowlight:
On the flip side, the Picasso performance is quite loud and over-the-top. Did young-adult Picasso really have a goofy mustache and scream all his words?

Brushes with historical figures:
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Norman Rockwell
  • Pablo Picasso
Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Paul Freeman appears as Selous, a hunter in Roosevelt's party. Freeman previously starred as Belloq, the main villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark. 
  • Africa marks the 2nd time that Henry runs away. "Don't you ever, ever do that again," Mrs. Jones says. Let's see how long that lasts. 
  • Similar to some scenes from the previous episode, the train scene must have been filmed years later because Indy looks much older, and then he's young again once he gets to Paris. 
  • Norman Rockwell is played by Lukas Haas, who I know as the little kid from Witness (which is at some point coming to a Movie Project near you). 
  • And there he goes! Off into the Parisian night. That's now the 3rd time he's run away, although I like how he saves it by coming back and pretending to be in the closet all along. He then runs away again but gets caught this time by Mrs. Seymour. Let's hope that the next episode has a different plot device.
  • At the end when Indy's parents come back, he's older again. 

Conversation:
Matthew Jacobs, episode writer (first half: "British East Africa")
British East Africa was one of George's fav stories, got turned into a book, and a comic book and a game I think - or that may have been Lassie (?). For him it was what Young Indy was all about, an educational show.

I got nominated for the Environmental Media Award for best TV hour for that one. Lucas sent my wife and I down from San Francisco to Los Angeles to sit at a table with the other Paramount execs. It was a very strange experience -- I just remember the second they knew we didn't win, the table emptied in two seconds flat!

Final Analysis:
I thought the Kenya section was decent, and they did a great job of creating the look and feel of an African hunt. The Paris scenes, however, were practically unwatchable with the sluggish plot combined with the insufferable Picasso. As a result, I have to rate this one a hair below Episode 1.