Friday, October 18, 2019

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 15: Daredevils of the Desert

To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Indiana Jones journeys across the desert to the town of Beersheba (in modern day Israel) to protect the wells for the incoming British Army. He travels with Maya, a mysterious agent whose motives are unclear. 

Memorable Quote:
What's it like, the desert?  ~Indy
It's like nowhere else on this earth. It's the most terrible place there is. And the most wonderful. ~Lawrence

Between Catherine Zeta Jones and Daniel Craig, we got some big-time star power in this one! Catherine Zeta featured in The Mask of Zorro, one of my all-time favorites, and I'll talk a lot more about Daniel Craig once I get to my James Bond Project (that's right, it's coming at some point down the line -- at the rate I'm going, maybe by 2036). Both give good performances (Craig has a decent German accent), and it's fun to see them at the beginning of their careers -- per IMDB, it's Catherine Zeta's 7th-ever credit and Craig's 8th.

The fake fight between Indy and his partner was a stretch insofar as they were able to foresee the opportunity they'd have and how the "dead" partner was able to get away without being spotted. And how did they manage the fake blood?

Brushes with historical figures:
  • Lawrence of Arabia

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • I watched this episode about a month ago on a bus. Fortunately I took notes because I'm having trouble remembering the details. 
  • 7:52 mark -- When Indy sits down at the tavern table to get his assignment, it looks like he puts a whip next to his side. I kind of forgot about the whip as a potential tool because he never uses it in this series -- it would have been nice for him to break it out every once in a while. 
  • Col. Meinertzhagen, the British intelligence officer, apparently appeared in the Phantom Train of Doom. His appearance there isn't ringing even the slightest of bells with me -- not now, nor when I was on the bus. 
  • Lawrence of Arabia is back after appearing in My First Adventure, but this time it's a different actor who has a more boyish appearance. 
  • While Indy's Middle Eastern accent actually isn't too bad, it's hard to see how he'd fool anyone into thinking that he's an Arab. 
  • Indy makes a reference to flying a plane with Houdini in Australia -- maybe that was an episode that got cut?
  • Seems like a bad idea for the defenders of Beersheba to blow up the wells without a clear escape plan, because then they run out of water too. 
  • 56:45 -- Abrupt turn from CZJ (that's what her friends call her) as she goes from "prickly" to "kiss me Indy" at the drop of a hat. 
  • 1:03:03 -- A goof when Daniel Craig slams the knife down on the desk and the point of the blade sticks in the desk. Later, we see that the knife is not real and that the blade collapses when pressure is applied.
  • The fight scene at the end is like a manifestation of Indiana Jones vs. James Bond. This round goes to Indy. 

Final Analysis:
This episode is pretty good -- I like the desert setting, and the storyline with the Australian unit was a nice touch. And getting to see young Daniel Craig and young CZJ was a lot of fun. Ranking it 6 out of 15. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 14: Espionage Escapades

To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
While in Barcelona, Indiana Jones goes undercover as a ballet dancer with the goal of manipulating a German spy who fancies another dancer, but the plan goes awry when they learn that both the German and the dancer are double agents. Next, Indy travels to Prague for the purpose of receiving an important telephone call, but he discovers that his room has no phone to receive the call, so he sets out on a quest to get a replacement phone. 

Memorable Quote:
No, no, I'm not upset. I'm incandescent with rage!  ~Indy

Mildly amusing moment when Indy is snooping around the dancer's dressing room and falls down after being startled by Delfina, the old assistant who has lost her marbles.

Everything around the missing telephone (more on this later).

Brushes with historical figures:
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Sergei Diaghilev
  • Franz Kafka

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Rough opening, maybe the worst 5 minutes of the series thus far as we're introduced to the "spy ring" which consists of a goofy band of buffoons. 
  • And then the next 5 minutes aren't much better. While I like the concept of bringing back characters from previous episodes, Picasso is my least favorite character of the series. 
  • Somehow the German Colonel, who's supposedly a master spy, never recognizes Indy after seeing him in the opening scene at the tavern. Or maybe he does and doesn't say anything because he's a double agent? I'm confused. 
  • The first half of the episode is startlingly reminiscent to Honest Abe between the farcical plot, the character that speaks in exaggerated Italian expressions, and the protagonist using light reflections to deliver a message in Morse code.
  • So when the Count learns that the letters were a hoax, does he ask any follow-up questions, like why did you do that to me?  Do they see Indy and the other spies in the car?  Again, I'm confused.   
  • We now transition to Prague, where Indy pretends to be "Amadeus Schubelgruber" on a quest to get a phone for his hotel room so that he can receive an important call. He's foiled at every turn by what turns out to be a vast, out-of-control Czech bureaucracy where everyone speaks with an English accent. There's a cartoonish spy named Clousseau who serves no purpose to the story, and the phone call that finally arrives merely tells him to go to Berlin. I can't describe the level of silliness and farce in this episode -- you have to see it for yourself (or better yet, don't see it). 

Final Analysis:
I didn't think that I was going to rate any of the older Indy episodes lower than the young Indy episodes, but this one was by far the worst of the series. After painfully enduring the episode's first half, I didn't think it could get any worse, but the second half made the first half look like The Last Crusade. Speaking of which, the Indy movies can't get here soon enough. Ranking it 14 out of 14. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 13: Adventures in the Secret Service

To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Indiana Jones is sent to Austria to help two princes obtain a peace agreement from their brother-in-law, the emperor. Then, he goes to Russia to gather intelligence on the Bolsheviks, who want to overthrow the Russian government and pull Russia out of the war. 

Memorable Quote:
What are you looking so pleased about? This whole damn trip is wasted. That letter is worthless!  ~Prince Sixtus
I have a feeling this one isn't.  ~Indy

Good action scene on the train where Indy and the princes elude their pursuers and then Indy makes a dramatic escape into Switzerland.

Just as in the previous episode, the French commander essentially tells Indy, "You failed to complete the objective in your previous mission, but that's not going to stop me from giving you an even more critical assignment that the fate of the world depends on, even though you're an American kid who we barely know." Then halfway through the episode, he basically says the same thing a second time.

Brushes with historical figures:
  • Austrian royal family
  • Lenin (Vladimir, not John)

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • When Indy's in Vienna, it would have been a nice touch to see Princess Sophie from The Perils of Cupid
  • I like the two royal brothers, although it's not clear to me why they have to sneak around in their own country. 
  • The advisor to the emperor reminds me of Christopher Lee, a legendary actor in many series including James Bond, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings.  UPDATE: That actually is Christopher Lee!  How did they get Christopher Lee for this part?!
  • I like the storyline with Indy competing with another analyst to gather intelligence, although it's unclear why Indy's new Bolshevik group of friends are happy to hang out with him given that he admits to them that he's working in French intelligence. Maybe they're trying to use him as an asset, but it seems like they genuinely care about him, even throwing him a surprise birthday party with upwards of 75 people. 
  • 1:13:55 mark -- Indy finds a sympathetic and poetic way to let Rosa down gently.  Take note of this line if you ever need to be the bearer of bad news to an admirer: "Rosa, I like you so much. You're smart and funny and pretty. But love is a weird thing. It's kind of like lightning. You can no more make it strike than stop it if it decides to hit you."

Final Analysis:
Decent episode -- not too many high or low points. Ranking it 6 out of 13. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 12: Attack of the Hawkmen

To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Indiana Jones receives spy training and goes to work for an American unit in the French Army as a photographer based in airplanes, and he crosses paths with the German fighter ace known as the Red Baron. Later, Indy goes into Germany on a mission to convince a young scientist to switch sides from the Central Powers to the Allies. 

Memorable Quote:
It's great to see you!  ~Indy
I think I'm gonna cry.  ~American pilot

All of the air battles are amazingly filmed, even if it's hard to imagine someone (i.e. Indy) capable of hanging on to the bottom of the plane after rolling off the wing, all while the plane is under siege and moving every which way.

I had several issues with the last thirty minutes:
  • Indy parachutes in the heart of a German city during the day, and no one sees him?
  • After the warehouse explodes, he slips away from the entire German division with no one on his tail?
  • And the biggest issue: he speaks to numerous people in the research facility with an American accent and no one questions what he's doing there.  Imagine if a guy was walking around Los Alamos during WWII speaking German to everyone -- they'd just say, come on in and look at our atom bomb! 

Brushes with historical figures:
  • Manfred von Richthofen, aka the Red Baron. The actor who plays him does a great job of giving the character some arrogance. Surely the Baron would be humbled to know that he's probably more well known to today's generation for his frozen pizza and his Christmas song with Snoopy. 
  • Charles Nungesser, a French flying ace. I hadn't heard of Nungesser before, 
  • Anthony Fokker, a Dutch engineer. This episode could have been the forerunner of Meet the Parents, like if the French told Indy, "Go bring back that little Fokker over to our side."

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Indy's always writing letters to Lawrence of Arabia, but he seems like a guy on the move whose address wouldn't be constant. 
  • The process of becoming a spy for the French seems pretty easy: "You forged a signature? Great, you're hired and entrusted with all our top secrets, no reference checks necessary!
  • I would not at all enjoy flying in a plane that was doing barrel rolls or going at mach 2 like Top Gun -- I don't even feel all that great when swinging at a playground (although apparently I'm not alone).  
  • 16:14 mark - random shot of a small lion on a chain next to the plane. We see the lion again later and it's never explained -- is he's the captain's pet?
  • Does Indy really have to go crawl on the wing to check if the wheels were ok? What's the alternative if they're not ok?
  • I know it's mid-90s tv and so I shouldn't expect too much, but it's hard to watch all these "Germans" speak English. Always works better to have characters speak in their native language and use subtitles. 
  • If the Germans know where the American base is, why not just drop a bomb on the base instead of just dropping a message challenging Nungesser to a duel?
  • 38:30 mark - a small goof as one of the Americans looking at Indy's photo celebrates "the Red Baron going down" even though he had just painted his plane red for the first time and so wouldn't have been known as the Red Baron. 
  • Indy has no formal spy experience other than taking the photographs from the plane, and the French leadership barely knows him, so why not send him on a dangerous and critical mission?
  • 52:34 - a hat tip to James Bond and Q Branch as Indy gets outfitted with some random gadgets by some mad scientist-types. 
  • I had a quick stop in Hannover about 15 years ago -- I remember the train station and how clean and well-kept the city seemed (not unusual for a German city).  
  • The explosions and pyrotechnics at the end are quite impressive. 
  • Perhaps I missed something, but I have no idea what "Hawkmen" refers to.  

Final Analysis:
I wasn't wild about this one -- the storyline of Indy going on a spy mission into Germany had a lot of potential, but it came off as somewhat farcical. The first half was better, and the Red Baron was an interesting character. Ranking this 6 out of 12 and only ahead of Demons of Deception for older Indy episodes. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Andrew Selee: Outstanding Author

Dr. Andrew Selee is the president of the Migration Policy Institute and the author of Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together

Total run time: 26:21

  2:38 - US and Mexico as highly integrated neighbors
  7:26 - The "Mexican Dream": Americans moving to Mexico
  9:32 - Current state of immigration, including caravans and the border wall
18:51 - Impact of anti-immigrant rhetoric
21:24 - Mexican president Obrador
23:05 - Best places in Mexico to visit

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 11: Oganga, the Giver and Taker of Life

To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Indiana Jones is sent on a death-defying expedition across the Congo to bring back a marooned shipment of high-powered guns. Along the way, he leads a mutiny against his superior officer after the officer orders the men to abandon a sick child they find along the way. Then, Indy meets a German physician who encourages him to think for himself and have a reverence for life. 

Memorable Quote:
Tonight I received a stunning lesson in political science from the most unlikely of sources. If my sergeant is right, if this is nothing more than a white man's war for possession of black man's soil, then I have to ask myself just what it is I'm doing here.  ~Indiana Jones

Up until the final third, I was fully prepared to say the scene where Indy leads his men in mutiny and turns his gun on the major. It's a really well done scene, and Flanery is fantastic here. But you know I'm a sucker for great music, and I just can't put anything above the scene where Indy is watching the doctor heal the villagers while Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring flows from an oboe while backed by a full orchestra. At first I wondered why they chose that song (not a complaint, just seemed random), but then I read about how the doctor this is based on, Albert Schweitzer, was a Bach aficionado.

The opening battle was surprisingly violent and went on for quite a while. I put this episode on the big screen while Mrs. MacGyver Project was in the room, and I ended up shutting it off and putting on something happier for her to watch before she went to bed. The violent battle does, however, contrast nicely with the humanistic message that Indy later receives from the doctor.

Brushes with historical figures:
Albert Schweitzer

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • 14:37 mark -- I'm not sure who the picture is in Indy's locket. Could be his mother, but then I'm not sure why they didn't just use a picture of the actress that played his mother.  UPDATE -- My bad, that was the locket that Princess Sophie gave him in The Perils of Cupid. It's easy to forget things when you watch one episode a month. 
  • Seems like a bad idea to send a couple hundred men on a 2000 mile march through Central Africa -- why not take a boat around the horn or a plane?
  • The actor who plays the sergeant that cares for the sick boy is one of the villains in Casino Royale, which we'll get to once I start my (spoiler alert!) 007 countdown. 
  • 33:18 -- the picture on Indy's diary looks just like the one on my DVD case.
  • 59:43 - I like how Schweitzer calls Indy "Captain Dynamite, scourge of the Kaiser."
  • Great dialogue from Schweitzer when he's on the boat going to save the tribal chief, and he follows that up with several more memorable conversations with Indy. The dialogue between him and Indy is exceptionally well written, and full credit to writer Frank Darabont, who also wrote the screenplay to The Shawshank Redemption. 

Final Analysis:
Whoa! This was kind of a masterpiece. The first half alone was outstanding with the storyline of Indy struggling with the tension between his duty to obey versus protecting an innocent child and then finally rising up against his superior officer to save the boy. But the second half takes it up to an even higher level as Indy, initially suspicious of the German doctor, is transformed by Schweitzer's kindness and talk of reverence for life -- even I was feeling inspired. This is also Flanery's best performance so far -- he's crushes it. And as usual, the production value and re-imagining of the locale (in this case, Central Africa) is top notch.  Ranking this one firmly at the top of the list.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Young Indiana Jones -- Episode 10: Phantom Train of Doom

To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Indiana Jones and Remy are reporting for Belgian Army duty in East Africa, but they get lost after taking the wrong train. They find a British squad comprised of middle-aged soldiers and join their mission to destroy a German train and capture an elusive German officer. 

Memorable Quote:
Well, we should be safe enough down here, I reckon.  ~Birdy
What are you talking about? The whole mountain's about to blow up!  ~Indy

The entire train sequence, while preposterous, is clever, entertaining, and well filmed.

I thought the Germans were overly incompetent in the train sequence (e.g. terrible shots, failure to jump on the train), but that was nothing compared to the hot-air balloon scene when they surrounded Indy's balloon with 200 guys but still couldn't bring it down. We haven't seen this big a failure to bring down a hot air balloon since you know what.

Brushes with historical figures:
Colonel Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck: a German commander in East Africa 
Margaret Trappe: a pilot who helped the German army
Frederick Selous: a British big-game hunter 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • I noticed in the opening credits that Paul Freeman, who plays Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark, was in this episode. I hadn't remembered that he was in an earlier episode as the same character until Indy brings it up. 
  • Everyone seems pretty calm in the trench by the sea even though things are exploding all around. 
  • Not sure if this is intentional on the part of the writers, but Indy extolling the virtues of having a plan is a nice contrast to Raiders where he talks about making things up as he goes along.
  • Mr. Golo's only speaking line is "Hakuna Matata," one year before The Lion King.
  • For being such a legendary military commander, Col. Von Lettow doesn't seem all that bright, and he doesn't try that hard to escape even with ample opportunities. He also sounds British, not German. 

Final Analysis:
Cool idea to have an old guy unit and an enemy train that hides in the mountain, and as always, the location work was great and really felt like Africa. The train action sequence was outstanding, and at that point I was thinking this might be my number one episode, but the last third with Col. Von Lettow fell flat. Ranking this one 3rd out of 10.