Sunday, January 21, 2018

George Vecsey: Outstanding Author


Author:
George Vecsey is an author and former columnist for the New York Times. We talk about his experience covering soccer detailed in his book Eight World Cups.  Visit George online at georgevecsey.com, and follow him on twitter @georgevecsey


Conversation:
Total run time: 55:13

  2:29 - The state of soccer coverage in America in 1982
  6:41 - Turning his experiences into a book
10:07 - The great fans from Trinidad and Tobago
12:53 - US vs. Brazil: July 4, 1994
14:49 - The joy of traveling
20:12 - Best player, team, and national anthem
28:11 - Alternatives (or lack thereof) to penalty kick shootouts
31:39 - The state of American soccer
38:35 - Baseball talk, including best players and Hall of Fame voting
46:01 - The future of American football
48:14 - Crossing paths with Donald Trump


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

Additional Links:



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Movie Project: The Thomas Crown Affair


Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Thomas Crown is a wealthy, fast-living executive who steals a priceless Monet from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the fun of it. He meets his match with Catherine Banning, an investigator hired by the insurance company to retrieve the painting and catch the thief. Crown invites her into his life despite being the prime suspect, and they develop feelings for each other.

Memorable Quote:
Let's play ball.  ~Thomas Crown

Highlight:
Both heist scenes are a ton of fun, especially the second one when the police department is ready for Crown and out in full force, yet Crown still gets the best of them.

Lowlight:
Obviously you need to take everything in this movie with a grain of salt, as with all heist shows/movies, but the stealing of the second painting (the one that Catherine liked) was a bridge too far. The gates in the room were down and there were men on the roof, and it was never explained how Crown was able to pull that off.

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
In the scene where Thomas Crown is dancing at the party, his tie is untied on his tux, and the top buttons unbuttoned. This is because at the time, Pierce Brosnan was under contract to play James Bond, and a rumored stipulation of that contract, was that he could not wear a tuxedo in any non-James Bond movies.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Watching this one with Mrs. MacGyver Project! "Like no one would notice him crawling under the gate," she notes during the heist.
  • 20:30 mark -- I can't believe he just folds the painting in half like that.
  • Even if the video cameras got disabled in the heist room due to the temperature change, the museum should have video footage in the other rooms that places Crown in the museum.
  • Runner up for memorable quote:
    • "Always get your man?"  ~Crown
    • "Mmm-hmm."  ~Catherine
    • "Think you'll get me?"  ~Crown
  • 52:15 - Catherine drops Crown's stolen keys back into his pocket. "Like he wouldn't have felt that." ~Mrs. MP
  • Uh-oh, it's the love scene! Cover your eyes, Mrs. MP! I remember seeing this movie in the theater with some friends and feeling a bit uncomfortable while this was going on. But probably not as uncomfortable as Thomas and Catherine were doing the horizontal mambo on a marble staircase.
  • It's one thing for Crown to trust Catherine to "take the stick" of the glider, but she's flying pretty close to the trees there. "I don't think she should be doing that," Mrs. MP agrees.
  • Pierce Brosnan = one of my favorite all-time actors (who we saw recently in the making of Robin Hood video) and who I'll talk more about once I review the Bond movies. As with Bond, he was born to play this role of a suave, charming, cocky rich guy.  Rene Russo is equally sparkling as Catherine and gives a truly Oscar-worthy performance.
  • 1:22:07 - I like the smart aleck pyschologist played by Faye Dunaway who was in the original Thomas Crown Affair (which I've never seen). "Oh dear. Peter Pan decides to grow up and finds there's no place to land!"
  • It's not clear why Crown goes through the trouble of making such a detailed forgery (getting the borders exactly correct) only to underlay the painting with "Dogs at Cards" (which is hilarious, by the way).
  • So not only does this priceless painting get folded in half, but it gets painted over with watercolor and then washed off with sprinklers. For someone who allegedly loves the painting, Crown doesn't mind pushing it to its limits.
  • And speaking of the sprinklers, does an art museum actually have sprinklers that could go off over the artwork? At least there's a mechanism to cover the paintings, but the sculptures still get hit.
  • "So if some Houdini wants to snatch a couple swirls of paint that are really only important to some silly rich people, I don't really give a damn." ~McCann
  • Funny how Catherine leaves the priceless painting with the random lady working at the airline ticket counter and tells her to give it to the police.

Final Analysis:
A fun, rewatchable, clever, well-paced movie. It's a goofy premise (a businessman gives up everything to steal a painting for fun, keeps it for one day, then gives it back and is forced to live his life on the run), but who cares, it's a movie. Crown is a likable thief, Brosnan and Russo are amazing, and Denis Leary is good as the down-on-his-luck detective. I'm still trying to get a handle on my tiers -- for now I'm putting this at the top of the third tier.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Movie Project: Midnight Run


Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Jack Walsh is a bounty hunter hired to bring in Jonathan "the Duke" Mardukas, an accountant who ripped off a mobster and gave the money to charity. Walsh catches the Duke in New York, and they begin a cross-country journey where they are chased by the FBI, the mob, and a rival bounty hunter. Despite their perilous situation and different personalities, they develop a semblance of respect and friendship.

Memorable Quote:
Jack, you're a grown man. You have control over your own words.  ~The Duke
You're goddamn right I do, so here come two words for you: Shut the #$@% up.  ~Jack

Highlight:
The entire movie is one big highlight, but if I have to pick something, I'll go with the dialogue. I'm generally hard to please when it comes to comedies, but this movie is as funny as it gets. It's also one movie that you don't want to watch on cable. Why? Because there's 100,000 (approximately) f-bombs, the totality of which can't be properly enjoyed when they're bleeped out. If you're gonna watch this movie, you gotta watch the real #$@% thing.

Lowlight:
A minor point, but the scene in the diner where Walsh and the Duke take the manager's "counterfeit" money is too over the top. I know there are some dumb people out there, but no one would possibly be dumb enough to give their money away like that.

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Paramount Pictures originally owned the rights to the film, and they wanted a big name star to appear opposite Robert De Niro, in order to improve the film's chances at the box-office. It was suggested that the character of John "Duke" Mardukas be changed to a woman, and be played by Cher, who had had recent box-office success with The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Suspect (1987), and Moonstruck (1987). It was felt that casting Cher opposite De Niro would lend some "sexual overtones" to the relationship between the two characters. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Tons of familiar faces in this one including Alonzo Mosely (Live and Let Die), Marvin Dorfler (Beverly Hills Cop), Eddie (The Fugitive), and Jerry (just saw him in The Sting).
  • I love how they call Mardukas "The Duke" -- good call by the script writer to give him a nickname that translates to an object that evokes royalty and that others can possess (e.g. "Do you have the Duke?").
  • Awesome looking plane, and it even has a spiral staircase! Too bad the Duke is afraid to fly...
  • 24:50 mark -- the stewardess tries to stop herself from laughing (looks unscripted) when the pilot tells Jack that he can't bring a prisoner on board.
  • "You and the other dummy better start getting more personally involved with your work, or I'm gonna stab you through the heart with a #$@% pencil." ~Jimmy Serrano.
  • Speaking of Serrano, Dennis Farina doesn't get a ton of screen time, but he's #$@% incredible in this movie.
  • Interesting how no one on the train bats an eye when the Duke walks down the aisle in handcuffs.
  • I've never seen so much smoking in a movie before. There's smoking in planes, on trains, in airports, etc. -- it was a different time back in the 80s. And I've always been curious about the effects on non-smoking actors who need to smoke for a role, like if it's enough to make them addicted.
  • "Don't say a word to me, Sidney. Don't say a #$@% word to me. I'll get up and I'll bury this telephone in your head."  ~Serrano. So many great quotes in this movie -- I'm barely scratching the #$@% surface.
  • It makes for a great movie and so I'm not complaining, but it would have been hard for everyone (e.g. the mob, Marvin, the FBI) to get to Jack so quickly in these random places (e.g. they hear he's in Amarillo and suddenly they're there too).
  • Can't Jack just use an ATM instead of asking his wife or Eddie for money? Dorfler did cancel his credit card so maybe that had something to do with it?
  • "You guys are the dumbest bounty hunters I've ever seen! You couldn't even deliver a bottle of milk!" ~The Duke
  • Walsh and the Duke seem like the archetype for the McGarrett and Danno bromance on Hawaii Five-O. 
  • 1:28:46 - no way that the cop would tell Marvin where Mosely was going.
  • "Sidney, sit down, relax. Have a sandwich, drink a glass of milk, do some #$@% thing." ~Serrano
  • Great way to end the movie:
    • "You wouldn't have change of a thousand, would ya?" ~Jack
    • "What are ya, a comedian? Get out of here, you bum!" ~Cab driver
    • "Looks like I'm walking."  ~Jack

Final Analysis:
A tour de force, and one of the best comedies ever. De Niro and Grodin give incredible performances, as does everyone else in the film. The travel and chase elements are great, and it's fun how there are so many characters with their own agenda pitted against each other. All in all, it's an extremely rewatchable movie and an easy entry into my tier 2. And if you don't agree, then I got two words for you. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Pen Densham: Outstanding Screenwriter


Screenwriter:
Pen Densham is a screenwriter, author, director, and producer. We talk mostly about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which he co-wrote and produced and which I recently profiled. He also wrote the book Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing.


Conversation:
Total run time: 41:02

  1:41 - How he got started on Robin Hood
10:36 - The Robin Hood soundtrack
14:13 - Starting the movie with the Crusades
18:30 - Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham
23:25 - Kevin Costner's performance
25:41 - Sean Connery's cameo
27:56 - His work on Rocky II


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

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Movie Project: The Sting


Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Johnny Hooker, a small-time Chicago grifter, gets a price on his head after ripping off a numbers runner for Doyle Lonnegan, a big-time New York mobster. After Lonnegan's men kill Hooker's partner, Hooker turns to Henry Gondorff, a legendary con man, for help in taking down Lonnegan. They set up an elaborate sting operation to take Lonnegan's money without Lonnegan ever knowing that he got conned.

Memorable Quote:
Four Nines.  ~Lonnegan
Four Jacks.  ~Gondorff

Highlight:
I'm not a poker player, but I appreciate a good poker scene, and the showdown on the train between Gondorff and Lonnegan is spectacular. The dialogue is tremendous (I love how Gondorff intentionally butchers Lonnegan's name), and the acting is superb (e.g. the change of expression on Lonnegan's assistant's face when Gondorff drops the Jacks). It's just a fun and satisfying scene to watch.

I have to take "Linnaman" to task, though, for not being a very good cheat. Before the game, JJ (one of Gondorff's men) tells him that Lonnegan "likes to call deck low, 8's or 9's," which presumably means those are the cards he typically gives himself when he cheats. But if Doyle varied his methods and gave himself 4 Queens or a straight flush, then Gondorff would have lost with his 4 Jacks. As the great Henry Gondorff said, "Tough luck, Lonahan, but that's what you get for playing with your head up your ass."

Lowlight:
This isn't really a lowlight per se, but like the sting episodes of MacGyver, suspension of disbelief is required to imagine the caper getting pulled off in the way it does. If I didn't suspend disbelief, I'd have a few questions, such as:
  • The idea of Lonnegan never knowing he was conned and accepting his loss is unfathomable. This guy is one of the top crime bosses in the country, he has a boatload of cops on his payroll, and he knows everything that goes on in the Chicago and New York underworld. After he gets wiped out, wouldn't he send some of his people out to investigate and figure out what happened?
  • And what about the 40 or so people who were in on the con, are they all going to be tight-lipped and never reveal anything about the con to anyone?
  • Isn't Snyder (the nasty cop) or one of his fellow officers going to run into Gondorff or Hooker at some point in Chicago? As it is, everyone just walks out the door the minute after Snyder and Lonnegan leave.
  • And shouldn't Lonnegan have been surprised that there'e this guy (Mr. Shaw) that he's never heard of who's running a large betting operation?
  • And if Lonnegan is as ruthless as he's described to be, there's no way that Gondorff/Shaw would have left that train alive.
Good thing I'm a champion disbelief suspender.

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Just prior to Elizabeth Taylor's presentation of the Best Picture Oscar for this film, the streaker Robert Opel darted across the stage as David Niven was introducing her. It was this incident (among others) that inspired singer Ray Stevens to write the song "The Streak" that went to the top of the US charts the month after the awards. Incidentally, Opel was found murdered in his San Francisco gallery in 1979.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • I've mentioned this on the blog before, but I watched this movie as a 10 year-old with my parents, and I paused it so many times to ask questions that our VCR broke. Fortunately, the movie makes much more sense this time around.
  • What can I say about the soundtrack to not understate how great it is? I took piano lessons growing up, and by a certain age pretty much all I wanted to play was ragtime by Scott Joplin, which I first heard in this movie. My parents' friends gave me a Joplin record (i.e. an actual vinyl record) that I played frequently, and I got a Joplin CD and Joplin sheet music. Maple Leaf Rag was (and still is) my go-to Joplin rag when I sit down at the piano, but it's not in the movie. My other favorite is Pineapple Rag, which plays when Redford is getting a new suit and a fingernail clipping. Other familiar rags from the movie include Easy Winners, Solace, and The Entertainer. It was an inspired decision to use Joplin's music in this movie, and Marvin Hamlisch did a great job with the arrangements.
  • The actor playing the numbers runner who gets ripped off by Hooker in the beginning of the movie? None other than James Sloyan of MacGyver's The Invisible Killer and Live and Learn. Other familiar supporting actors include Robert Earl Jones (father of James) as Luther and Charles Durning as Snyder. When I was a kid, we often went to the Memorial Day concert on the square in Washington D.C. where Durning (a veteran who was at D-Day) was a featured speaker, and he always seemed to get the tear-jerker assignment (e.g. reading a letter from a dead soldier). 
  • "Can you get a mob together?" ~Hooker. " After what happened to Luther, I don't think I can get more than two or three hundred guys."  ~Gondorff.
  • "You follar?" was a line that my Dad made his own and often included in his everyday conversation. And the "finger on the nose" signal was something that my Mom and I adopted.
  • Speaking of the "finger on the nose" signals, that's one of the coolest scenes in the movie, and the shot of Newman at the bank (pictured above) is as classic as it gets.
  • According to IMDB trivia, the diner where Lonnegan gets the phone calls is the Back to the Future diner (and also featured in a few Quantum Leap episodes). I actually thought of that while I was watching those scenes and wondered if it was the same. 
  • Fun scene where Kid Twist (great name, btw) and JJ take over an office by pretending to be painters, and then Twist pages the confused secretary at the front desk to tell her that he's leaving for the day.
  • It's a Dana Elcar sighting! Other than this movie, I don't recall ever seeing him in anything other than MacGyver. He's excellent in his role as Polk, the hard-nosed FBI agent who is in on the con.

  • The Loretta Salino plot line is a clever twist, but she goes through a lot of trouble over what could have been an easy kill. We're supposed to think she didn't knock Hooker off in her apartment because her elderly neighbor saw him, as if the infamous and talented Salino couldn't have kept it quiet or knocked off the old lady. 

Final Analysis:
Best Picture winners aren't normally my cup of tea, but the Academy got one right in 1974. What a masterpiece -- a true classic in every sense of the word and firmly in my Phenomenally Stupendous Fantastic tier 2. Such a fun ride into 1930s Americana, and I haven't even mentioned the names Paul Newman, Robert Redford, or Robert Shaw yet, all of whom are among the best actors ever. As Henry Gondorrf says, "It's a hard act to follow."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Movie Project: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves


Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Robin of Locksley returns to England from the Crusades to find his father murdered by the Sheriff of Nottingham, who is ambitiously seizing power while King Richard is away. Robin and Azeem, a Moorish warrior, join a band of merry men in Sherwood Forest, and Robin becomes their leader and motivates them to fight for their freedom. After the Sheriff kidnaps Robin's beloved Maid Marian and plans to publicly execute several of the freedom fighters, Robin and his small remaining crew infiltrate the Sheriff's castle.

Memorable Quote:
That's it, then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans. No more merciful beheadings. And call off Christmas.  ~Sheriff of Nottingham

Highlight:
The soundtrack is spectacular, from the triumphant main title to the slower ballads. I'm rather indifferent to Bryan Adams' Everything I Do song, which was written for this movie. If it comes on the radio, I don't necessarily turn it off, but I don't necessarily keep it on either. But when you strip everything away (e.g. Bryan's singing [sorry Bryan], the guitar, the drums), you're left with a beautiful melody that really resonates, such as in the scene where Marian is rowing away from Robin in the fog.

Lowlight:
I could have done without the witch, who was too weird for me. The version I just watched was the Director's Cut which includes a bizarre scene where the witch reveals to the Sheriff that she's actually his mother -- they were wise to cut that from the original.

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
A half-hour behind-the-scenes documentary of the film was hosted by Pierce Brosnan, although he did not star in the movie.

Pierce Brosnan is one of my favorite actors, and it's funny to me that he agreed to do this -- even if it's before he was a big movie star, he was still Remington Steele. I found a Youtube video of the documentary and watched the first few minutes, and Brosnan's passionate intensity is amusing to say the least.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Strong opening where Robin off on the Crusades, though I do wonder how he was able to so easily pull his hand out from under the falling sword considering his hand was supposedly strapped to a rock. 
  • Robin's father is played by Brian Blessed, who took a turn in MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis
  • Alan Rickman = fantastic villain.
  • Like Brosnan, Kevin Costner is very high up there on my favorite movie actor list, and I love his performance here -- he plays Robin with a great combination of charm, gentleness, and swagger. Apparently he took some heat in many corners for his lack of a British accent. Absolute tosh, I say. His lack of an accent doesn't hamper the movie in any way for me, and it's better to not do the accent than to do a bad one. Plus, how do we even know what people talked like back in the 1100s?
    • In fact, Costner and I are backed up by this satisfying piece of IMDB trivia: Kevin Costner got a lot of stick for his use of his natural American accent, however at this time in history American and English accents hadn't diverged. The rhotic accent we hear from Costner and Slater was in fact likely to be closer to the way people spoke at the time. Non-rhotic accents emerged in England much later as a way for a new working class to differentiate themselves, and that later became more common throughout the United Kingdom and is now recognized as the English accent.  Boom. 
  • Clever little twist where it's actually Marian in the knight's costume fighting Robin, but it does seem like she's really trying to stab him. Her character arc is reminiscent of Nikki Carpenter in how she starts out as a bad-ass but by the end of the movie, she's a helpless damsel in distress resolved to screaming and watching from the sidelines as Robin battles Nottingham.
  • Robin and Little John get some good licks in during their stick fight in the river -- was there a concussion protocol back then?
  • One of my favorite moments in the movie: Robin distracting the young boy when he's firing an arrow to teach him a lesson about distraction, but then Marian turns the tables on him and gets him to miss badly while blowing in his ear. The whole scene is great, and it's especially cool to see the target from Robin's viewpoint and how the bullseye gets blurry as Robin focuses on it. 
  • The big battle in the forest ends with Nottingham's large army firing flaming arrows into the treehouses. I don't see how anyone of the foresters got out of that alive -- surely Nottingham would have sent his men in to finish off any survivors. The treehouse community is amazing, by the way -- what a fun place that would have been to hang out with its bridges, rope ladders, rope swings, etc. Too bad it burned down. 
  • I haven't seen many other movies with Christian Slater (in fact, I can't think of a single one at the moment), but I like him here, and his scene where he reveals his true relationship with Robin is excellent.
  • Fun fact: the Celt leader who Nottingham recruits is played by Pat Roach, famous (to me, anyway) for his villainous roles in the first two Indiana Jones movies.
  • Hard to believe that this movie got a PG rating. I remember seeing it in the theater, so I would have been 10 years old at the time. In retrospect, there was probably too much violence for a kid my age, not to mention the ending where Nottingham tries to rape Maid Marian.
  • For some reason, I have a vague association between this movie and Cleo Rocks. I feel like maybe I went to see the movie during the day and then watched Cleo Rocks in the evening.
  • Great surprise cameo at the end from Sean Connery -- they couldn't have picked anyone better for that. 

Final Analysis:
Awesome movie! Even better than I remembered. I had seen it several times as a kid and at least once as an adult, so I knew generally what happened, but it wasn't a movie I was intimately familiar with. It's my kind of movie -- lots of adventure but with a dash of fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. I'm giving this an Outstanding (3rd tier) rating. There are several other Costner movies that I have on my list, so we'll be seeing quite a bit of him in The Movie Project. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Movie Project


Lately I've been in the mood to watch movies instead of blogging, and then it dawned on me: why not just write about the movies that I'm watching?  I ran it by the MacGyver Project board of directors, and they signed off.  There's no rhyme or reason to my choices (other than the heavy dose of 007 and general action/adventure) -- it's just whatever I feel like, maybe a movie I've seen 1000 times, a handful of times, or never before.  I made some preliminary categories and tried not to repeat any from my MacGyver List, such as the elusive "Proof that God exists."

THE GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME

PHENOMENALLY STUPENDOUSLY FANTASTIC
Midnight Run
The Sting

OUTSTANDING
The Thomas Crown Affair
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

ENTERTAINING

DECENT

MEDIOCRE

NOT ENJOYABLE

WORSE THAN THE MOUNTAIN OF YOUTH