Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Legends of Western Cinema Week 2023 Tag



 My favorite John Wayne movie is El Dorado so many of these answers naturally come from that movie.  No apologies, just saying.

The LOWCW 2023 Tag

  • Stetson -- a favorite hero moment (i.e. highlighting their character and/or making a pivotal decision, etc) : El Dorado: When Cole Thornton (John Wayne) tells Bart Jason (Ed Asner) that he is declining the job offer, Thornton exhibits some moral values that the rest of Jason;s mean might have a hard time finding.
  • Petticoat -- a favorite heroine moment (ditto): True Grit: Even though I don't like her as a person (she's far too opinionated, and as one character intimated she needs a good spanking), I do like the way she deals with the horse trader (Strother Martin).
  • Canteen -- a favorite scene with a leader/mentor: Back to El Dorado: The scene where Mississipi (James Caan) and Thornton have a give and go about Mississippi's inability to shoot a gun early on in the film.
  • Gloves -- a favorite sidekick/friend scene: El Dorado (again): Any scene with J. P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) or Bull (Arthur Hunnicut)
  • Canyon -- a favorite western landscape: Any of the movies that feature Monument valley, of course.
  • Pistol -- a favorite fight scene: When Mississippi faces off with the guy who killed his mentor in El Dorado. I sometimes just stick that movie in the DVD player just to watch that scene. (Only one of the characters has a pistol, though... and it's not Mississippi.)
  • Saddle -- a favorite horse / animal in a western: OK, not in keeping with the theme, but I love the scene where Mongo decks the horse in Blazing Saddles. That was one great stunt horse.
  • Sky -- a favorite ambitious / crazy plan in a western: 
  • Rifle -- a favorite scene with an antagonist: "Fill your hands you sonofab****!" (Nuff said)
  • Chuckwagon -- a favorite meal scene: Back to Blazing Saddles. Anybody want more beans?
  • Badge -- a favorite scene with peace officers / sheriff: A nod to one of my other favorite actors, Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp in Tombstone.
  • Lariat -- a favorite cattle drive /roundup: The Cowboys

Saturday, July 22, 2023

When the West was REALLY Wild


 This is my entry in the Legends of Western Cinema Blogathon hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy.



In the history of movies and dynamite film stars, few have really ever achieved a status where you could say "The new (Star actor name here) film" and reasonably expect a draw without any more information than that. You could probably put John Wayne on that list. Arnold (of course). Probably a few others, but those are two that come to mind.

In 1999, Will Smith was maybe not quite there, but he was definitely edging into that territory.  A remake of a classic TV western (which originally had a white actor, Robert Conrad, in the Jim West role)?  Hey, why not cast Will Smith in it (even if he wasn't white)?  He'll be a big draw.

After all, hadn't Smith been the THE in two previous summer blockbusters, Independence Day and Men in Black? (BTW, just as a side note, in case you are one of the six or eight people in the world who didn't know: Will Smith turned down The Matrix and did this one instead. Can you see Smith as Neo?)

So how did this movie manage to basically bomb so badly, especially when it's competition at the box office included. at the time, The General's Daughter, one of John Travolta's worst movies (my opinion), Big Daddy (not Adam Sandler's best either) and Summer of Sam ( a movie about the David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) murders in NYC (go figure)?

The problems that stemmed from the movie production were numerous.  One of the main issues seems to be that it deviated too far from it's original inspiration, that too much of the comedy portion was contrived and that the racist aspect of it was too much. (Despite the fact that the main character played by Smith delivered many of the "racist" jokes himself).

The connections to the original TV series are tenuous, at best. Firstly, the villain of the movie, Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) is the victim of a tragic event in the Civil War that ended up with half his body amputated. The original inspiration was Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn) was a dwarf.  The joke is lost if you haven't seen the original series, not to mention maybe just a little offensive if you are sensitive to it.

Outside of that, the only real connection to the series is that the main characters were actually named James West and Artemus Gordon (Robert Conrad and Ross Martin in the TV show, respectively, and Will Smith and Kevin Kline in the film).

That, in itself is probably much of what made Wild Wild West get such negative reception. Plus the fact that most of the people intended to be attracted to the movie (kids and young adults who liked Will Smith) were not even born yet when the TV show was broadcast or in syndication.  Basing a movie on a TV show would usually require that the fan base of the original be the primary goal of attraction.(For myself, I was too young to remember if I had even seen an episode in its first run.  I would have only been 8 years old in it's final season.  But I did remember seeing a few episodes in reruns in the early 70's).

In spite of all the negative reviews, I am totally on the side of those that enjoyed the movie.  No surprise there.  I loved Blazing Saddles, too, even though that one has fallen into a black hole of movies considered "offensive".   

As far as westerns go, this movie has the basic tropes found in westerns, including the good guys vs, the bad guys, with, naturally, the good guys coming out on top.  And don't forget the necessary bar fights (which are not necessarily strictly a western trope, but many westerns usually had at least one bar fight...). The addition of the steampunk aspects of the movie put this movie on a teeter totter, because, after all, there were no steam operated giant spiders in the Old West, among other things, but the western aspect is one that comes through even with those weird additions.

 One more final note before the review.  Like his predecessors in the persons of Max Von Sydow (Flash Gordon) and Raul Julia (Street Fighter), Kenneth Branagh spurned the typical fare for an Oscar nominee/winner by taking on the role of the villain in popcorn movie.  And also like Sydow and Julia, he seems to be having the time of his life playing it over the top.

Wild Wild West (1999):

We start off with a guy running through the woods giving a vocal plot drop so we know exactly what to expect.  Wearing a metal collar and being chased by a flying buzz saw, the guy say says (to no one else but himself, thus noted as being a "plot drop"):

"He's a mad man! Must warn the president!  Giant spider!"

 But the flying buzz saw prevents him from accomplishing that. He loses his head over it all.

Now, (after the credits) we get to meet the first of our two stars, Jim West (Will Smith), an agent for the U.S. Army,  hiding out in a water tower with a saloon girl (who thinks she is the reason he is there, but he has a different reason). 



 West is actually there to witness and stop a delivery of weapons by ex-Confederate soldiers under the command of General "Bloodbath" McGrath (Ted Levine).




Meanwhile in a nearby town, Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline), a U.S. Marshal, is spying on McGrath while undercover (as a saloon girl, go figure. And you have to see his costume...)  While West tries to stop the delivery, Gordon is trying to seduce McGrath so he can get him alone and find out about the delivery of those same weapons.




The two end up competing against each other and develop an intense dislike of each other.  



Unfortunately for them, President Ulysses S. Grant (also played by Kline) puts them together as a team to get to the bottom of the issue.  They end up finding out that the mastermind behind the entire affair is Dr. Arliss Loveless , a man thought to be dead, but in actuality still alive (or at least half of him.)




The rest of the film is a give and go as West and Gordon try to corner Loveless and have one setback after another (including being captured by Loveless and being rigged up with the same device that killed the guy in the opening scene).




Eventually they discover Loveless' evil plan.  He has built a giant mechanical spider and also the first known tank, intending to force Grant to cede the United States to him, which he plans to divide up between England, Spain and Mexico. And himself, of course... he's mad, but he's not crazy.

So in the final scenes, we get our hero West battling a few of Loveless' henchmen who have been outfitted with helpful accoutrements.  One is a guy whose hands conceal foot long knives. (bringing up one of my favorite throw away lines when West defeats him with the line "No more Mr. Knife Guy!")

This movie is "bad" on many levels, but the movie as a whole is pretty entertaining if you can get past a few obstacles.  For one, and I agree with a lot of the podcasters I listened to about it over the past week, the hero, Jim West, is entirely unlikable.  He's a jerk to just about everybody, including any potential romantic encounters. Another is the whole racist dialogue which was done thousands of times better in Blazing Saddles

But as I stated above, Kenneth Branagh's scenes are very enjoyable, and those steampunk aspects are also pretty cool. If I were to give an award to the movie it would be giving Branagh a Best Supporting Actor award (not an Oscar, just a Quiggy...) and another for Special Effects.

Well, folks time to saddle up and ride off into the sunset.  (yes, I installed a saddle into the driver's seat of the Plymouth just for this episode...)  Drive safely, folks.



Thursday, July 20, 2023

Actors vs, Singers






Ok.  So I was listening to a Spotify playlist of "One-Hit Wonders". Don't knock it.  There are some fantastic songs that an artist had a hit with, but it was the only time they managed to crack the American Top 40 list with it. Although anybody's list would be subjective, to say the least. I mean a VH1 list I saw has Los Del Rio's "Macarena" at #1 while a Rolling Stone list puts a-ha"s "Take on Me" at the top. Most of my favorites in the "one hit" category are from the 70's which had no limit to the artists that came and went like a flash in the pan. ("Convoy" anyone?)

Disco was pretty much a one-shot genre. Sure, you had some bands with staying power to hit the charts more than once (Village People, Kool and the Gang).  But you also had Patrick Hernandez (Born to Be Alive), Anita Ward (Ring My Bell), Amii Stewart (Knock on Wood) etc.  One of my favorites is one that often also makes lists of "worst" or"most annoying" songs "Disco Duck" by Rick Dees. 

Anyway, during that playlist I was subjected to, among others, hits by actors who tried their hand at singing (if you can call it that).  I heard Eddie Murphy's "Party All the Time", Bruce Willis' "Respect Yourself", Patrick Swayze's "She's Like the Wind", Don Johnson's "Heartbeat" and David Soul's "Don't Give Up On Us".

And I came to the conclusion: Actors should act and singers should sing and ne'er the twain should meet.

The reason I include singers that shouldn't be actors in that is I have seen a few movies in which singers tried their hand at acting, proving time and again that it doesn't always work in reverse either.

Now, there are singers who turned out to be pretty good actors.  Many of Frank Sinatra's movies are among my favorites. (:Von Ryan's Express", "The Man with the Golden Arm", "From Here to Eternity", "The Manchurian Candidate").  Bing Crosby and Bob Hope did the road movies and some of those were good. And I absolutely LOVE Burl Ives' turn as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof".

Sure, there are some more recent names that did the acting scene decently.  I will always say Marky Mark was better as an actor, but then I never took to him as a "singer" anyway. But then you have those people who should have left the acting to those who are better qualified.  (Does anybody really think Neil Diamond was a great actor  in "The Jazz Singer"?)

Now I'm not suggesting that any singer who tries his or her hand at acting should be at the Academy Award level. But the singer in question should be able to be distinguished enough as an actor that you could tell the difference between him and a mannequin.  Maybe plot has a lot to do with the way the singer comes across on the screen.  Surely nobody thinks the plot to "From Justin to Kelly" is a high caliber concept for a film.

To name but just a few singers that managed to transition the chasm to the big screen I would give a lot of kudos to Harry Connick, Jr.  He was OK in "Independence Day" (having to share screen time with Will Smith is liable to reduce your own cache, I think), but if you've never seen "Copycat" you really ought to. And since I mentioned him in the previous sentence, we can't ignore Will Smith. Bette Midler has been in at least two great roles ("Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Ruthless People").Cher does a pretty good job in her movies, especially "Moonstruck".

So, yes, there are exceptions to the idea that singers should just sing. But I will still stand behind my first half of this post that actors should just act.  I can't name one actor who put out a song that was any good. and by that I mean an actor who wasn't actually also a singer, so John Travolta gets a pass since he actually sang his parts in "Grease", even though I don't like "Let Her In", one of his solo efforts.

This is not the most conclusive post I could make it.  If I addressed every incidence of actors trying to sing or singers trying to act this post would be a book instead... But feel free to comment with your own additions if you think I left off something that should have been included.


Saturday, July 8, 2023

Alien Babes on the Beach

Beach Babes from Beyond (1993):


Stallone! Swayze! Travolta! Estevez! See them all on one screen!  

Got your attention now?  A dream casting that no one has ever seen, you think?

Well, it's true.  However, those people you just thought of are NOT in the movie.  What you are really getting is:

Jackie Stallone (the mother of Sylvester).

Don Swayze (the brother of Patrick).

Joey Travolta (the brother of John). 

Joe Estevez (the uncle of Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen and brother to Martin Sheen).

Sorry to burst your bubble...

But you get a movie that asks the cosmic question "what would happen if aliens from outer space landed in the middle of a summer beach party?" (quoted from the movie trailer, by the way.  I don't claim credit there).



OK.  that said, this movie is NOT one I'd recommend.  To anyone over the age of 21 anyway. In 1993, even in my early 30's, the idea of a movie which basically had no plot except to sandwich between some soft core sex scenes was a bit beyond my tastes. In my 20's, maybe. I did watch a few late night movies on Showtime, which at least in the 80's did air some soft core porn.

And that's all this is, really.  A soft core porn movie with an intriguing idea for a plot if they had developed it as a straightforward movie, but they didn't.  

The basic plot is, if you are really interested (and have made it this far into the review) is that the parents (played by Don Swayze and Jackie Stallone) are on a trip to get away from it all leaving behind their young daughter (Nicole Posey).  The daughter, Sola, and two of her friends, Luna and Xena (played by Tamara Landry and Roxanne Blaze) hot wire Sola's father's T-Bird hot rod spaceship to head to a distant planet (called Beta 45, but we would know it as "Earth") to check out guys with "large cranial capacity" (yeah, right).

And they'll have fun, fun, fun 'til daddy takes the T-bird away. (Sorry, couldn't resist...)

Meanwhile, on Earth, best buds Dave and Jerry (Michael Todd Davis and Ken Steadman) hook up with Dave's uncle Bud (Joe Estevez), who has a knack for acquiring dilapidated beach houses which frequently get condemned.  The sub plot here is a bikini contest to save Bud's current domicile. And the alien girls are on board to help out.

Added in is Joey Travolta as a dispenser of healthy alternatives to standard beach fare at a beach snack food hut.

With all that, if this had been a straightforward film, even with the usual topless scenes of women that are bound to show up in these kinds of movies, I think this movie would have been at least interesting.  Unfortunately, because of the even more frequent soft core sex scenes, even I was turned off by it. Maybe if I seen it in 1993 wen it came out I might have been more receptive...

I can't help but wonder if the almost headliner names here, (Stallone, Swayze, Estevez and Travolta) even knew what the final goal was when they signed on.  (Burt Ward, Robin from the 60's Batman TV series is also in it).

If you decide to take a gamble on this there are a couple of sites online to watch it for free. I am not going to post even my usual marquee pic or the movie poster lest anyone get the idea this blog is going in an entirely new direction.  I still like some of the more risque types of movies, but I draw the line at recommending soft core porn.  I only add this because of the interesting aspect of casting the familiar family names that were the focus of the first 20 seconds of the movie trailer.

(Note: I can't even put up the movie trailer, even though the one I found is censored enough to not be too offensive. But if you are interested enough it's on YouTube. So is the movie if you're so inclined to check it out on your own.)

Back to more acceptable fare next time.  Drive safely, folks.


Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Respect the Fedora






How I got here:

Do you remember where you were in the summer of 1981?  Some of you may not have even been born yet, admittedly.  Me, I was 19, on my way to my 20th birthday later that year.  But I still remember the first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Note: that was the full title when it was first released.  It didn't garner the additional designation of Indiana Jones and the part until the release of the boxed set in 1999.)

I was visiting a college friend one weekend and, on the way home, I decided to check out the movie which had been out for a couple of weeks by that time. I remember thinking it was a great adventure.  I was talking to my sister and apparently we went to see it together.  But I'm pretty sure i must have convinced her to go after seeing it the first time.

I have always like these kinds of movies.  So by the time Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom rolled into theaters, I was ready for the next installment.  Doom did not impress me, but it didn't disappoint me enough to turn me off of the franchise. (My sister no longer went to movies with me by this time, so I only saw it alone).

By the time Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade hit theaters I was ready to try to get back into the story.  By that time I was a student at what was then called Southwest Texas State University ( it has since changed to just Texas State University).  I was involved with a campus Christian group which was preparing for it's annual leadership conference in Washington D.C.  As a group, several of us went to see Crusade on the last night before we were to start our trek to D.C.

Everyone in the group greatly enjoyed Crusade. It would be 20 years before another installment of Indiana Jones came along. By that time, Harrison ford, who has played the adult Indiana for the entire run, was 66.  I had become jaded by then, since I was in my late 40s, and just couldn't wrap my brain around an aging old man playing a character who was supposedly still spry.

Note: I really have no idea how old Indiana Jones is supposed to be in any of the films.  Given that he is old enough to be a Boy Scout in 1912 at the beginning of Crusade, I estimate he was probably born in the late 90's.  For argument's sake and a point of reference, lets just put it at 1897.  That means he was in his late 30's/ early 40's for the first three movies and 60 by the time of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  In comparison, Ford was about 40 in 1981 and mid 60's by 2008. OK, so at least they aren't trying to get away with much.  But, still...

Anyway, as a result of that trepidation (and the fact that I was dealing with glaucoma which severely limited my movie going enjoyment and experience) it wasn't until after it was released on DVD that I finally got to see Crystal Skull

Despite all that, I am, as of the start of this entry, on the verge of going to see the new release, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Ford is 80 at the time of this and his character, if what I read on wikipedia is right, is 72 (based on the calculation I arbitrarily made for his birth above).  If being a 60 year adventurer seemed a bit too much, I am having a REALLY hard time accepting a 72 year old, but I will at least approach it with an open mind.  (see the last entry in this post for a follow-up to this initial thought.) 

Note: I wrote the last paragraph prior to going to see the new movie.  Here a few days later, as I finish this entry I still have some problems with accepting the 70+  character acting like a 40 year old, but what the hell, it's only a movie.


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981):

 1936: The saga starts of slam bang with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) attempting to find a sacred idol.  He is accompanied by Satipo (Alfred Molina).  (For some reason I keep hearing Jones call him "Sapito" Not sure if this is a character error or if they mistakenly misspelled it in the credits...)  Anyway, Jones has to maneuver a trap laden cavern to get to the idol.  But success is fleeting, as when he exits the cavern he is stopped by the natives and Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), a rival archaeologist with less scruples than a spider with a flytrap.  Belloq takes the idol away from Jones and Jones is left to escape the natives empty handed.

Back at the university where he is a professor, Jones and his boss, the dean of the university, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot), are approached by two men representing the U.S. government.  It seems that an old professor from Jones' university student days is being sought for an artifact that the Nazis want, to help them find a sacred relic, the Lost Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, a sacred Jewish relic, has been lost for centuries, but the Nazis think they might have a line on how to find it.  The reason they want the ark is it just might be the most powerful aid to help them win the war. Jones is recruited to find the artifact they seek before they do.

The daughter of the old professor, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) , might know it's whereabouts so Jones heads to Nepal, her last known whereabouts.  But the Nazis also know where Marion is, and the villainous Nazi Toht (Ronald Lacey) is sent to her location. Although the Nazis are not successful at retrieving the artifact, they do get some help. Toht gets burned by the red hot artifact, searing half of the writing on his hand.  Note to self: Never try to pick up a metal object that has been sitting near a red hot fire for several minutes... (not that I needed to be reminded, but apparently Toht did.)

 Armed with the relic, Jones and Marion head to Cairo to meet up with Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), an ally who is one of the many employed by the Nazis for a dig near the site of the ancient city of Tanis, where the lost ark is thought to be located.  Coincidentally (or not, this is the movies, after all), also on hand at the dig is Belloq.  But, as Jones discovers, they are digging for the Ark in the wrong place.  (Remember Toht and his unfortunate tattoo?  It seems he has only 1/2 the information needed to discover it's location.)

Using ALL the information, Jones discovers the true location of the Ark and rescues it from it's sandy crypt.  But, then, you know that's not all the story. The last 1/3 of the movie involves Jones rescuing the ark, losing it, rescuing it again and losing it, until the final confrontation where Belloq tries to initiate a Jewish ritual before opening the ark.

Raiders of the Lost ark ranks as #2 on my list of ranking the films.  Most lists I saw put it at #1, but I chalk that up to people who never forget their first love (or their first introduction to the character of Indiana Jones.)


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984):

 The second installment of the series actually takes place a  year or so before the events of Raiders. At the beginning, Jones is in Shaghai to exchange a relic to a Chinese big wig (read: mobster) named Lao Che (Roy Chiao) for a valuable diamond.  The exchange takes place at Lao Che's nightclub where the main attraction is a singer named Willi Scott (Kate Capshaw).

Of course, Lao is not about to play fair. He poisons Jones and demands the diamond back in exchange for the antidote.  Chaos breaks out as Jones and Lao's henchmen run amok.  Jones escapes the bar with Willi and boards a plane.  But the plane is owned by Lao and the pilots desert the plane in mid-flight.  Setting up the plot, as Jones and Scott and Jones's diminutive partner, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) have to desert the plane, too, before it crashes.

They are helped to a native Indian village where devastation has occured.  The village's sacred stone has been taken, as well as the children of the village.  Jones is given the task of retrieving the stone from it's captors.  This leads the band the the palace of Pankot, where the residents are under the spell o of Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), an Indian shaman trying to re-institute the worship of Kali, the god of destruction and change in the Hindu religion, as well as the Thugee cult which was dedicated to ridding the country of it;s British rule.

Mola Ram and his Thugee cult are using the children as slave labor, mining the area for more of the sacred stones needed to complete a ritual that will put Kali in full power.  There is a lot of a religious aspect to this whole scene, something which it had been already established that Jones didn't subscribe to, but he does have enough knowledge to know what is going on.  His goal to achieve the release of the children and the retrieval of the village's sacred stone are hinged to the cult practice of human sacrifice

In case you didn't know, Jones is successful in the end, despite the interference of Mola Ram (and on occasion, Willi).

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ranks as #5 on the list.  A lot of that has to do with the less than believable plot, but a good portion of it is attributed to Capshaw as Willi.  That is not necessarily a bad mark on her performance, she isn't bad as an actress.  But her character is the most annoying, shrill and self-centered woman I have ever seen on film. Personally, I would have shoved her out of the plane early on. If Capshaw is even remotely like the character she plays I fell sorrow (and respect) for Spielberg for putting up with her for all these years. (But she probably isn't anything like Willi in real life.)


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989):

 We get some background to Indiana Jones' character in the early part of the movie.  In 1912 he is a Boy Scout (played by River Phoenix) who happens upon a grave robbing scene while on a camp out with his Boy Scout troop.  He retrieves the Cross of Coronado only to have to give it up.  Jones' father makes an appearance, although we don't actually see who it is until later in the movie, (but you can't miss Sean Connery's voice if you are familiar with him.  Note: there's a reason why you don't see him.  That's not actually Connery in the scene.  But his voice was dubbed in.)

During the chase to get the Cross back we are introduced to many of the familiar quirks and accoutrements of the character, such has how he acquired his fear of snakes as well as how he got his trademark fedora and whip.  27 years later Jones reacquires the cross and defeats the man who originally took it from him.

In the new installment the story is started off by the fact that Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) is on a quest to find the Holy Grail (the legendary cup that Christ drank from at the Last Supper as well as caught the blood as he was dying on the cross.) Jones' father was the expert on the trail, but it has turned out he has disappeared, so Donovan entreats Jones to take up the quest where his father left off. He makes this journey with his dean of the archaeology department, Marcus Brody (with Denholm Elliot reprising his role from Raiders).

Jones ends up in Venice where he meets Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) who helps him locate key artifacts in his quest.  But it turns out, as will be seen later, that her loyalties lie with an entirely different set of principles.  Need a hint?  This is 1938, and they ARE in Europe, and she is Austrian... Also during this trip, Jones meets up with the nefarious villain of the piece. (No, not Hitler, himself, although Jones does manage to meet him in person briefly.) No, this is Toht's (remember Toht from Raiders?) counterpart, SS Colonel Vogel (Michael Byrne, making him the second Nazi villain played by an English actor, to perfection I might add).

In the process, Jones finds and frees his father from captivity in a Nazi fortress and the two go off in quest of the Grail with the help of Jones, Sr.'s Grail diary. Using all the clues that are found, they locate the hiding place of the Grail, but Jones has to alter his perceptions slightly when it comes to navigating the booby-trap laden passage to the hiding place.

Last Crusade  gets the #1 spot in my list of the best in the series. Sean Connery's prescence as Jones' father boosts it up past Raiders in my opinion.  Plus the adventure gets an added bonus because of the Grail legends that abound in it.  Personally, I'd much prefer to find the Grai than the Ark of the Covenant if I were a true historian (rather than the amateur one I am today. Can't call myself a real historian since I never finished getting my degree in history...)


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008):

It's 1957. Jones has been taken hostage by Russians.  He is given the task of finding one crate in a warehouse full of them. Like finding a needle in a haystack?  Well, not necessarily.  The crate they want is one that came from an event in Roswell, New Mexico.

Yes, that Roswell, and if you are already ahead of me you already have an idea what's in the crate.  So the head of the Russian contingent, Dr. Irina Spaiko (Cate Blanchett) and her KGB comrades take possession of the crate, despite the heroic efforts of the (60 yer old) Jones trying to stop them.  Jones escapes but ends up hiding out in a fake town, one built for a nuclear test site.  Moments before the bomb goes off he hides in a refrigerator and survives. (Not likely, if you ask me, but you have to make some allowances when watching Indiana Jones movies).

After rescue he becomes a person of interest to the F.B.I. and is summarily dismissed from the university (although they term it as a leave with pay)

He decides to go to Europe, but while on the train he meets up with Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) who gets him to help rescue his mother and an old colleague.  The colleague, Dr. Oxley (John Hurt), was on a search for a legendary Incan city of gold, El Dorado, when he ran into his own problems with the Russians. 

After retrieving a crystal skull in the lost grave of some legendary missing conquistadors, Jones and Mutt head off for another legendary city, Akator.  Of course, the russians are hot on his trail.  He is captured where he finds that his old colleague Oxley, who has apparently lost his mind, is a captive.  Not only that, but mutt's mother is a captive, too.  Guess who Mutt's mother is...?  If you said Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) then you are absolutely right.  We also find out that Mutt's relationship to Jones is a lot closer than either of them suspected. (yeah, you are on the right track there...)

So the quest to return the skull is off and running as, as usual, Jones escapes, is captured (again), escapes (again) etc. (and just as a side note, how can so many supposedly expert soldiers with machine guns fire off so many bullets but not hit anybody?) Ultimately we arrive at Akator where it turns out that there is an aspect to this alien story that may not have been expected.

So why did (and still do) so many loyal fans of the first three films hate this film?  Maybe it was the whole alien theme that came into it.  The Jones saga "nuked the fridge" (a real term based on the "jump the shark" trope) when it added an alien theme to the mix, apparently.  It got good reviews from quite a few reviewers.  Roger Ebert, for one, gave it 3 1/2 stars. Fans, on the other hand, for the most part, rank this one as 5th in the 5 movie series. The new Dial of Destiny is already being hailed as #3.

As for myself, I liked this outing. Of course, I'm much more prone to liking a bit of aliens thrown into the mix.  Therefore, I put Crystal Skull in the ranking as #4.  Much better than Temple of Doom and neck and neck with the new Dial of Destiny for the 3 spot.  That ranking may change after I have seen Dial a second time, however, but I am giving the new one a better ranking just for it being new and fresh.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023):

OK. so we are in the late 1960's now. As I said early in this post, based on the arbitrary date of birth I estimate that Indiana Jones must be close to 80).  Although at the beginning, it is still in the 40's, and through the magic of CGI and some make-up, Ford does look like he's still in his 40's.His dean, Marcus Brody, does not make an appearance, because, after all, I told you in the previous entry that the actor Denholm Elliot had passed away. Jones and his colleague, Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are seeking to free the Lance of Longinus, a relic related to the Christian tradition.  It is supposed the spear used to pierce Jesus' side to cause him to bleed to death on the cross and make sure he was dead. It is of course the Nazis who are seeking the Lance. (as a side note: You know, for a group of people who rejected the trappings of Judeo-Christian beliefs, Hitler and his ilk sure did seem to seek out some very Judeo-Christian relics...)

Anyway, as the Nazi scientist Vollmer (Mads Mikkelsen) helping the Nazis locate the Lance points out, the relic they find is a fake.  But in the process, he has discovered 1/2 of the Dial of Archimedes. This is the relic that drives the story as 25 years later Vollmer,, who survived whatever criminal roundup gathered all those Nazi scientists back in '44, is still on the lookout for the other 1/2 of that dial.

You see, Archimedes apparently had discovered a way to travel through time and developed tis dial as a way to find fissures in the time-space continuum. Hut he had the wherewithal to know, apparently, that it could be used for evil purposes (like, oh I don't know, say, a former Nazi 700 years in the future seeking a way to change the outcome of the past...?)

Jones is accompanied this round by his goddaughter, the daughter of his former colleague Shaw, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).  Both he and Vollmer go on a quest trying to beat the other to find the other half of the dial.  What Jones intends to do with it may not be entirely certain although he does say that he would use it to go back and prevent his son, who had been killed while serving in the military, from ever signing up.

You would think, and rightly so, that Vollmer plans to go back and make sure the Nazis win WWII. But if you think you have a line on how, it's a good bet you'd be mistaken.  Since we don't find out his true objective until 3/4 of the way through the movie, I won't spoil it.  I will tell you that the dial is not just a worthless relic that has no power, however.  But what happens at the end was a pleasant surprise.  I concluded, just as the movie was nearing it's climax that they were going to throw a curve ball (to use a baseball metaphor), but instead got one hell of a slider (another baseball metaphor, and no baseball does not figure into the ending, but at this writing it is almost time for the MLB All-Star game, so it's on my mind...)

I told friends on Facebook that this movie is better than Temple of Doom and it is.I'm ranking it #3 on the list.  Another decent Nazi villain and the aspect of time travel push this one up the list. Always did like time travel stories.

So if you made it this far here is a summary of my rankings (which doesn't gibe with anyone else's that I could find, but it's my blog, so my list...)

1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

3. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny  

4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

5. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Hope you enjoyed the trip.  The old Plymouth is fired up and we are heading home now.  Drive safely.