Saturday, October 31, 2020

How James Bond Was Indiana Jones’ Father Long Before Sean Connery Played Indiana Jones’ Father

As a young aspiring filmmaker, Steven Spielberg really wanted to direct a James Bond movie. After his successes with JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, he even reached out to the 007 camp, but as he told The Independent, “I called up Cubby (producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli) and offered my services but he didn’t think I was right for the part.”

So, as the legend goes, Spielberg went on vacation with his friend George Lucas in the summer of 1977. Lucas’ breakthrough smash hit STAR WARS had just been released, and Spielberg had just completed CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, due to be released later that year. While building a sand castle on the beach at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (hey, this is how the legend goes), Spielberg told Lucas his dream of making a James Bond movie and how it would probably never come to be.

Then Lucas told his friend he had an idea that was better than Bond.

In a later interview, Lucas explained, “So I said, 'Well, look, Steven, I’ve got a James Bond film. It’s great - it’s just like James Bond but even better. I told him the story about this archeologist and said it was like a Saturday-matinee serial, that he just got into one mess after another. And Steven said, ‘Fantastic, let's do this!’”

Lucas’ character was named Indiana Smith – after his dog’s name. Spielberg disliked the name but agreed it should be an all-American moniker, so they settled on Indiana Jones.

This simple beach chat led to one of the biggest movie franchises in history with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK , INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE dominating the ‘80s box office.

LAST CRUSADE, the third entry, was especially notable as it featured Sean Connery as Indy’s father, Henry Jones, which brought the Bond connection full circle. Although he was only 12 years older than series star Harrison Ford, Connery convincingly owned the role, playing against type as a nebbish bookworm, and the part introduced the actor to younger generations who had never seen any of the seven films in which he portrayed the suave super spy, 007.

As Spielberg later said to Empire Magazine, “Who else but Bond could have been worthy enough to play Indiana Jones’s dad?”

Spielberg never did direct a Bond film, repeatedly saying in interviews that with his colossal career, “now they can’t afford me.”

Connery retired from acting in 2003, but he did consider returning when the fourth Indiana Jones film was in development later in the decade.

He ended up issuing this statement: “If anything could have pulled me out of retirement, it would have been an Indiana Jones film, but in the end, retirement is just too damned much fun.”

Connery’s role was reduced to his picture being seen on Jones’ desk along with Denholm Elliot (Indy's mentor Marcus Brody) in an early scene. As INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is far from a fan favorite, maybe Connery made the right decision. 

In the scheme of things, Connery’s role as Indiana Jones’ dad is a small part of his lengthy legacy, but it’s still a crucial one as it connects the franchises in a major way. Undoubtedly, many kids sought out Connery’s Bond movies after seeing LAST CRUSADE, and went from there to discover his other work which is getting spotlighted right now on the sad event of the great actor’s death.

In conclusion, Spielberg didn’t get what he wanted (making his own James Bond film), but he sure got what he needed (co-creating an iconic character that was almost as good - sorry, Lucas, but it’s true).

One last tidbit is that Connerys Henry Jones Sr. reveals that his sons name is Henry Jones Jr., and that their dogs name was Indiana (obviously inspired by Lucas's dog). This leads to Indy’s long-time pal, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) to mock him for being named after a dog. A few lines later, the original trilogy is done.

R.I.P. Sean Connery (1930-2020)

More later...

Monday, October 26, 2020

BORAT Is Back, But The Joke Is Wearing Thin

(Dir. Jason Woliner, 2020)

Sixteen years ago, Sasha Baron Cohen made quite a splash with his moviefilm BORAT (full title: BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN), and now the offensively oblivious Kazakh journalist returns in the Amazon streaming production (full title) BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM: DELIVERY OF PRODIGIOUS BRIBE TO AMERICAN REGIME FOR MAKE BENEFT ONCE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (whew, that may be the longest sentence I’ve ever written).

This time Borat once again visits American to mock more unaware citizens, and expose the racism, sexism, and homophobia that lies not far below the surface of society. That’s all well and good, but I cringed more at how cheap, and obvious the humor was more than I laughed. However, that may be Cohen’s intent with the material.

The premise largely involves Borat’s 15-year old daughter Tutar (24-year old Maria Bakalova, who is as fiercely into her character as Cohen) who stows away on her father’s trip in a crate with a monkey that was intended to be a gift to Vice President Pence in order for Kazakhstan to regain the respect it lost due to the previous Borat moviefilm.

But low and behold, Tutar ate the monkey on the long journey (see what I mean by the cheap humor?), and a new plan is formed to give Tutar as a gift to Pence. After getting a makeover including a bottle blonde dye job, Tutar and her father attend a debutant ball in Macon, Georgia, where a disgusting dance scene occurs in which Tutar, on her period, flashes the horrified party members with her blood-stained panties. This is undoubtedly the moviefilm’s lowest point.

Much better is a sequence in which Tutar scarfs down a cupcake with a tiny plastic baby the top this is after a visit to a bakery where Borat gets a cake decorated with the phrase “Jews will not replace us,” and a bunch of smiley faces. 

Tutar accidently swallows the plastic baby, and they go to a Women’s Heath Center, a Christian anti-abortion clinic in South Carolina. Of course, they don’t give the stunned counselor, pastor Jonathan Bright, the proper context with such lines as “I have a baby inside of me, and I want to take it out of me,” and Borat’s admission that “I feel bad because I was the one who put the baby in her.” That’s right, this is what I think is one of the moviefilm’s highlights.

Following that, Borat settles on a new mark: Rudy Giuliani. On their way to find the former NYC mayor, and current Trump attorney, Borat dons a Donald Trump fat suit and mask to crash a Pence event, cosmetic surgery for Tutar is considered, Borat gets a job as a barber, Tutar gets some eye-opening life lessons from her babysitter, Jeanise Jones (maybe the most grounded participant here), and Borat befriends a couple of kindly conspiracy theorists, Qanoners Jerry Holleman and Jim Russell, who he lives with under quarantine for a short time.

Yes, Borat brushes with COVID 19, but jokes about the Clintons being responsible for the virus, and calling the situation a “hoax virus shutdown” don’t land, and a bit where Borat, in redneck disguise, sings a crude country song at a far right rally in Washington is a squalidly lazy segment.

Then we come to the scene you’ve surely heard about: Giuliani’s cameo in which he’s caught in a compromising position with Tutar, who by this point has become a TV reporter. However one interprets what they see in this scene, it’s a creepy experience as Giuliani lies back on the hotel bed and puts his hands in his pants (he claims he was tucking in his shirt). What is shown here doesn’t really prove anything, and doesn’t have to real punch needed to bring all these silly strands together.

Luckily there is a real climax which makes for a more satisfying ending. But despite some funny moments and snatches of intermediate cleverness, I mostly found Cohen’s Borat schtick to grow more and more tiresome. He has targets aplenty in the age of Trump, COVID, and Qanon, but he seems to just want to put them on as fools than really skewer them as his subjects.

Again, that’s all well and good, but it’s not really a joke that keeps on giving.

More later...

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Serious Series Addiction Part 5: : Exercise Bike Binge-Watching Through The Pandemic

hile stuck at home since last Spring due to the damn pandemic, I’ve tried to keep busy by working on various writing projects (like my second book – more on that later), but what I’ve mainly been doing is binge-watching while exercise biking (above is the digital display monitor on my bike, and, of course, my TV).

When I first posted the first installment of Serious Series Addiction in 2010, the term “binge-watching” wasn’t in wide use. I didn’t even use it until a few entries later, instead saying things like “devouring one episode after another.”

Now, binge-watching isn’t just a well known concept – it’s a way of life. Getting on the stationary bike, firing up the Roku, selecting a show on whatever streaming service (Netlfix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.) and energetically pedaling through it really gets me going these days. 

Early in quarantine, I took on a program I had been curious about for a while: The Man in the High Castle, the Amazon-produced series based on the Phillip K. Dick book of the same name. 

The premise is wonderfully juicy – America lost World War II, and the country has been taken over by the Germans and the Japanese. The show is gritty yet still lush looking with its movie quality production values and boasts a solid cast, which includes Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, Stephen Root, and Rufus Sewell, a stand-out as a Nazi officer who somehow becomes a sympathetic character. The show gets more and more compelling as it reaches the inspired conclusion of its fourth season. Highly recommended. 

Next up, a show I’ve seen random episodes of before, but wanted to do the complete deep dive on, Showtime’s Shameless, which is based on the British series of the same name. The Chicago-set series concerns the sleazy scams, and shenanigans of the unwieldy and extremely wild Gallagher family which is held together by the oldest daughter Fiona (Emily Rossum). This is because the family’s father, Frank (William H. Macy*) is too drunk or drugged up (or both) to pull his weight. Shameless is over-stuffed with too many characters and plotlines, but it’s fast paced so one can easily enjoyable whoosh through the narratives. At 10 seasons (with an 11th which is supposedly the final one), it’s a lot to take in. It took me about a week and a half and I was pretty exhausted when I finished. 

* When I interviewed Macy a few years ago, I hadnt seen much of Shameless. If I had seen the show in full, that interview would've been very different I believe.

Back when the acclaimed show Boardwalk Empire premiered ten years ago premiered on HBO, I was right there with it, especially since the first episode was directed by Martin Scorsese. I enjoyed it and watched most of the first and second seasons. But, despite that it starred three of my favorite actors – Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, and Kelly Macdonald – I drifted away from it. I always intended to pick it back up, and lockdown appeared to be the perfect time. 

Set in Atlantic City during prohibition in the ‘20s, the program stars Buscemi as Enoch “Bucky” Thompson, a politician turned bootlegger with a mob boss air. Since Boardwalk Empire was created by The Sopranos executive producer Terrence Winter, and shares a number or writers and cast members with that classic mafia series, it’s unsurprisingly violent as hell. But more importantly, it’s often on the same satisfying level as The Sopranos. And that certainly is no mean feat.