Sunday, January 15, 2017

Mission Impossible -- Episode 1: The Killer


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Jim's protege is killed by an assassin who is difficult to catch due to his changing tactics.  Jim puts together a new IMF team and catches up with the assassin in England where they convince him that his paymaster is trying to kill him.  The killer then confronts his boss in San Francisco and they kill each other.

Memorable Quote:
It's over.  Tom Copperfield's job is finished.  ~Phelps

Highlight:
Everything involving the fake hotel was very clever, including the taped-on street signs, the secret door behind the desk, and their quick room number switcheroo.

Lowlight:
The death scene in the beginning was strange when the victim saw his arms appearing to light on fire and then inexplicably threw himself off the side of a building.  It would have been less ridiculous if he had just keeled over.

Project Overview:
Welcome to the first edition of the Mission Impossible Project!  I plan on watching and reviewing the two seasons from the late 80's revival and also the 5 Tom Cruise movies.  I don't remember much about the tv show other than we watched it as a family: seven year-old me, my two older sisters, and my parents all in the family room.  Most of the time I had no clue what was going on, and my sisters didn't fare much better -- my poor parents probably just wanted to watch the show in peace but instead got peppered with questions throughout.  The four things I can hazily remember from the show are:
  • a chess episode where Nick pretends to be a grandmaster and has a ring that tells him what move to make
  • an episode where Nick goes bad (and I vaguely remember a lion being involved?)
  • Casey climbing up a fence and being chased by dogs in her last episode (won't spoil what happens next)
  • Shannon floating away into space and Grant saying, "Stay calm."
That's pretty much all I remember.  I also had a Mission Impossible video game for the original Nintendo, and the game was based on the show (you could switch between Max, Grant, and Nick). The game was hard as hell, and I remember one part in particular where there were these moving robot-type things that would set off a jarring alarm if they saw you and then would send out some fighters that would beat you to a pulp.

I thought this would be a fun show to watch since it's one I've seen before and is right up my alley with all the spycraft.  And while my main focus is the tv show, I thought it would be fun to cover the movies also (certainly no shortage of talking points when Tom Cruise is involved). 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • I noticed on IMDB that the episode writer died in 1980, eight years before this episode aired. Huh?  Well, turns out that this episode is a remake of a 1970 episode also called "The Killer" from Season 5 of the original Mission Impossible (which aired from 1966 to 1973).  During the Hollywood Writers Strike of 1988, the networks were looking for already written material that they had ownership over, so ABC decided to reboot Mission Impossible and reuse the 1970 script (with adaptations) as the series premiere.
  • Another interesting thing I read online is that the series was filmed in Australia (unusual for an American network show) in order to save money.  Series regulars Thaao Penghlis and Tony Hamilton in fact were Aussies.
  • Speaking of Penghlis, I remember his was my favorite character as a kid.  After all, "Nick" is a great name, but I also enjoyed his master of disguise persona.  I also remember thinking that Thaad Penghlis was an awesome name (I learned later that it's actually "Thaao" instead of "Thaad," but still a great name).
  • Grant Collier (played by Phil Morris) is the son of original IMF agent Barney Collier (played by Morris's real-life father Greg Morris).
  • This episode was directed by Cliff Bole who directed 15 episodes of MacGyver (and he'll go on to do two more Mission Impossibles).
  • And like MacGyver, it's an ABC/Paramount Studios production.  
  • Whoa, it's a John de Lancie sighting as Drake the villain!  He's appeared many times on this blog, first as Brother Brian in MacGyver's The Escape, and later as Bartok the scientist in my twelve episode review of Legend.
  • "Vengeful" and "Peter Graves" (a seemingly calm, stoic guy) don't belong in the same sentence, and it's amusing to see him try to act like he's seething beneath the surface at various points in this episode.
  • What a theme song!  It's gotta be a top-5 all time tv theme, right?
  • And notice how long the theme is.  If they rebooted it today, they'd cut the theme in order to have more time for advertisers.  Just look what they did to the MacGyver theme in the reboot. The lesson here, as always: the execs running tv today don't know s*** from shinola.
  • I love the look of the black thing that Phelps gets in the beginning of each episode. Too bad it has to self destruct each time, though that is admittedly pretty cool.
  • They did a nice job making the streets feel like England, though it probably helps that they're in Australia.  But when Max pulls Nick over, he says "miles" instead of "kilometers" which seems like a faux pas.
  • Risky move letting Drake shoot Casey (in what I'm assuming was a bulletproof vest).

Final Analysis:
That was fun!  It wasn't the most thrilling or memorable thing I've ever seen, but not bad for a pilot episode and for a recycled script from 18 years ago.  I like the format and all the members of the team and am excited to see more.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Quantum Leap Wrap-Up

We've made it to the end of another series on The MacGyver Project!  As I rewatched Quantum Leap for the first time since I was in junior high, I was surprised by how little I remembered most of the episodes, and that made it fun because it was like seeing them for the first time.  Like MacGyver, it had been a show I enjoyed watching with my mother, and I was curious to see how it would hold up through adult eyes.

Well, the answer is that it holds up just fine -- in fact, I enjoyed it even more than I was expecting. It's an exceptionally well-written, well-acted, well-produced show, but it's really the performances of Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell that elevate the series to another level.  Just as Richard Dean Anderson did with MacGyver, Bakula brings a sincerity and humility to the part of Sam Beckett that makes for a character that is easy to root for.  And the series is defined by Sam's relationship and friendship with Al -- the dialogue and chemistry between them is wonderful.

Time for some data analysis!

  • When it comes to episode locations there were 27 states represented -- the top 3 were California (22 episodes), New York (12) and Texas (7).  There were 5 foreign countries visited (Vietnam, Egypt, Japan, Soviet Union, and England), and there were 3 episodes at sea.
  • I counted 34 guest stars who were also on MacGyver.
  • I compared Mark's final rankings with my own and found that we had two that were in the exact same position: Nuclear Family at #75 and A Portrait of Troian at #91. And I noticed quite a few that were off by just one spot.  With MacGyver, we had just one episode in the same spot (The Outsiders at #23).

Thanks to Mark, Highlander, my mom, and everyone else who read or commented on my Quantum Leap posts, and hopefully more people will discover the show in the years to come (and ideally it won't take a lackluster reboot to inspire interest from the next generation).  And it would be great if the series would come back to Netflix at some point in the near future.

Next up I'll be covering the 1980's Mission Impossible tv series -- more to come on that in a post very soon!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

J.W. Rinzler: Outstanding Author


Author:
J.W. Rinzler is a former editor at Lucasfilm where he wrote several books including the one we'll be discussing on this podcast, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones.  You can purchase the book on Amazon and can visit J.W. on his website.

Special Guest:
Joseph Passman is an Iraq War Veteran, a PhD candidate, a childhood friend, and a seeker of fortune and glory.

Conversation:
Total run time: 53:15

  2:20 - How J.W. got started at Lucasfilm
10:31 - CGI and its effect on quality
14:58 - Temple of Doom and Last Crusade
18:33 - Crystal Skull
23:10 - Indy 5
25:35 - George Lucas
33:06 - J.W.'s current projects
35:12 - Joined by special guest Joe Passman to talk all things Indiana Jones


The embedded player works best in Google Chrome.  You can also download the mp3 by clicking here, and the podcast is available in iTunes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Quantum Leap -- Episode 92: Mirror Image


Sam Leaps Into:
Himself

Objective:
Decide whether he wants to keep leaping or if he's ready to go home.

Date:
8-8-53

Location:
Cokeburg, Pennsylvania

Memorable Quote:
Dr. Sam Becket [sic] never returned home.

Highlight:
Talk about a last 5 and a half minutes!  This is one where it's good to have a few tissues on hand. And it doesn't help that they go from Dvorak's New World Symphony to Georgia on my Mind and then back to Dvorak -- it's as if the producers had some Kleenex stock they wanted to inflate.

Lowlight:
The whole business with the miners was a distraction from Sam's dialogue with Bruce McGill (what do I call him: Al?  God?  The bartender?  I think I'll go with Dalton for old times sake). I couldn't really have cared less about any of the scenes involving the miners, but I was eagerly hanging on every word between Sam and Dalton and wanted more -- there certainly were plenty of unanswered questions that could have been addressed.

McGill, by the way, is phenomenal in this episode.  Interesting that he was in both the first and last ever QL.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • No usual intro in this episode -- instead it starts right away with a little trip to Goosebump City when Sam sees himself in the mirror.  Great acting by Bakula here.
  • Sam is only supposed to leap within his own lifetime (not including The Leap Between the States), but if his birthday was 8-8-53, then Play it Again Seymour (4-14-53) and The Americanization of Machiko (8-4-53) were outside the timeline.
  • Cokeburg is the hometown of series creator Donald Bellisario, and the bar is modeled after one owned by his father.  This LA Times article from 1993 talks more about the hometown connection and has some other interesting insights from Bellisario.  I had heard somewhere that this episode was written before those on the show knew for sure that they were being cancelled, but this article dispels that notion.
  • Some familiar faces in this episode include but are not limited to:
  • Weird how after taking so long to find Sam, Al gets a little huffy and talks about leaving when Sam is acting strangely.
  • When Bellisario wrote M.I.A. all the way back in Season 2, I wonder if he had envisioned having Sam save Al and Beth's relationship in a future episode.
  • I have mixed emotions on the surprising final moment of the series where we learn that Sam never returns home (and embarrassing for them that they spelled his name wrong -- "Becket"), but I dislike it more than I like it.  On one hand it's impactful and helps solidify in our minds the sacrifice he's making.  On the other hand, it feels like like a big punch in the gut that this character who we've grown attached to over 5 seasons is going to be stuck in limbo for the rest of his life. After reading the aforementioned LA Times article, I don't think Bellisario was trying to make any big moral statement but instead was just keeping his options open in hopes of a future tv movie or getting picked up by another network. If that was his goal, he still could have had a happy ending where Sam goes home and then a tv movie where he decides to get back into Quantum Leaping for some reason.  At the very least, it would have been nice if they had made the wording more positive such as "Sam spent the rest of his life helping countless numbers of people" instead of "never returned home."  If this was Sam's mission and calling, then we should celebrate it, but unfortunately the wording puts a negative and depressing spin on it.

Final Analysis:
This one had some all-star moments including the beginning, ending, and every scene with McGill.  In particular, the closing with Beth was inspired storytelling and the perfect way to end the series.  As mentioned above, however, the scenes with the miners and the idea and word choice around Sam never returning home left much to be desired.  A memorable episode, but I think with some changes it had the potential to be one of the all-time greats.  Ranking it 16 out of 92.

Well, there you have it -- another legendary tv show in the books!  I do have one more post planned as a wrap-up to the series, and then it'll be time to leap into something new.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Quantum Leap -- Episode 91: Memphis Melody


Sam Leaps Into:
Elvis Presley 

Objective:
Give a young woman the courage and confidence to follow her dreams.  Keep Elvis's original timeline on track so as not to mess anything up for his career. 

Date:
7-3-54

Location:
Memphis, Tennessee

Memorable Quote:
*cough cough* That's Jingle Bells.  That's Jingle Bells.  ~Sam

Highlight:
Some outstanding blues/gospel music throughout this episode including all of Sam's Elvis covers and the duets with Sue Anne, and I also like the old-school country playing in the background during the opening diner scene.

Lowlight:
Hard to think of one.  It would have been fun to hear Sam perform one of Elvis's signature, more recognizable songs.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Watching this episode on 1/7, which happens to be the birthday of my dear departed Grandma Sweedo.  She was a big Elvis fan, and mostly because he was nice to his mother.  
  • John Boyd West, the actor who plays Elvis's friend Red West, is actually the son of the real-life Red West.
  • I'm not sure that pressuring someone to sing out of nowhere in front of a diner full of people would be the best way to cure them of their stage fright.
  • I wrote in my Good Morning Peoria post how the diner looked like the one from Back to the Future (both Universal productions).  Well, in this episode I can confirm that they're in the Back to the Future diner -- just compare the light fixtures:


  • Fun Bill Clinton reference as the young sax player from Hope, Arkansas.
  • The outside of the diner is the same exterior that has appeared in several episodes (see Trilogy post for comparison photos).

  • The record producer is played by Gregory Itzin who appeared in MacGyver's Final Approach and also starred as President Logan on 24.
  • Funny how at Sam's diner performance at the end there are several guys just hanging out with their instruments and ready to play.  And I like the moment at 40:56 when Sam is running on the counter and we hear a woman yell out, "Watch out for that pie!"

Final Analysis:
Wow!  I had no idea this was going to be a phenomenal episode.  It's hilarious, extremely well-acted, poignant, inspiring, and has amazing music.  The small-town Southern diner and the music studio make for fun settings, and the competing plot line of Sam trying not to sabotage Elvis's career is well conceived and compelling.  Ranking it 4 out of 91.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Quantum Leap -- Episode 90: The Leap Between the States


Sam Leaps Into:
Captain John Beckett, a Union soldier in the American Civil War and Sam's great-grandfather.  

Objective:
Help some slaves escape to freedom along the Underground Railroad.  Don't do anything to jeopardize John's relationship with Olivia, Sam's great-grandmother.

Date:
9-20-1862

Location:
Mansfield County, Virginia

Memorable Quote:
Most of all, I like the way I feel about being a free man.  Makes a man feel like a king.  So if it ain't too uppity, I'd like to be called Isaac King.  ~Isaac

Highlight:
Actor Geoffrey Lower gives a fantastic and menacing performance as Confederate Lt. Richard Montgomery.

Lowlight:
If Montgomery knew Sam was a Union soldier (he tells Olivia that he found his uniform), it doesn't make sense why he would keep that to himself up to that point and allow Sam to take drinks to his men guarding the slaves.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Watching this episode with the MacGyver Project Mom and Dad!  It was time for a break from Hallmark Channel Christmas movies.
  • 15:00 mark -- Sam helps Olivia and Isaac put out a barn fire.  "How much water is in that trough?"  ~Mom
  • Sam's wound doesn't seem to stop him from fixing the broken pump. "His left arm is pretty good considering he just got shot."  ~Dad
  • Funny how Olivia makes this great meal and then Sam gets up before eating anything to play the piano. "That's one thing I wouldn't do -- get up from dinner."  ~Dad
  • The idea of Sam having to woo his great-grandmother is a bit uncomfortable but not all that different from Lorraine McFly's interest in her son Marty in Back to the Future.
  • What does Sam do with Montgomery and his men after knocking them out?
  • Al gets the names of Martin Luther King Jr.'s ancestors wrong.  Also it's a good time to mention that Isaac King is played by Michael D. Roberts who was in The Challenge, Walking Dead, and The Color of Truth.

Final Analysis:
Great episode!  I'm glad there was at least one historical episode that took place in a previous century, and I like the choice of time period since I'm a Civil War buff (in fact I wrote a book that takes place during the Civil War).  Given the relatively small budget of an episodic television series, they did an excellent job of recreating the period.  Furthermore, the characters are interesting, the acting superb, and the plot moves along at a nice clip.  Ranking it 7 out of 90.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Quantum Leap -- Episode 89: The Beast Within


Sam Leaps Into:
Henry Adams, a Vietnam War veteran living in the woods with his friend Roy, a fellow veteran who suffers from seizures.

Objective:
Get Roy the necessary medication to save his life. 

Date:
11-6-72

Location:
Washington

Memorable Quote:
We got trouble, Sam, we got big trouble.  ~Al
Oh, no kidding we got trouble.  ~Sam

Highlight:
I liked how Sam was able to understand Henry and the other characters through reading Henry's journal, and the history that the characters had with each other was compelling and well crafted.

Lowlight:
It's unclear how at the end Luke finds everyone (since unlike Sam, he doesn't have his own hologram to help him) or how he gets to them (we never see his car and they never consider using it to transport Daniel).

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • This episode was written by John D'Aquino who played Frank in Jimmy and Deliver Us From Evil.
  • This leap takes place exactly 10 years after All Americans.
  • The Vietnam flashbacks remind me a bit of The Spoilers
  • 42:05 mark: the mom looks down at her lifeless son and says, "he's in shock but his vital signs are good" with the passion and urgency of a tin can.
  • The ending with Big Foot is predictable but I enjoyed it anyway.  And haven't we seen another tv episode that makes a case for Big Foot's existence at the very end?


Final Analysis:
Really well written episode with interesting and complex characters.  The plot moves along at a good clip, and it has a nice ending.  Ranking it of 16 out of 89.