Friday, May 31, 2013

Dr. No

Year 5, Day 152 - 6/1/13 - Movie #1,444

BEFORE: Switching Bonds, going back to the first Bond film made (not including the lame-o 1960's "Casino Royale", of course).  I think there's something of a facial resemblance between the current Daniel Craig and the young Sean Connery - of course there are those who would suggest that Bond could get extensive facial surgery to change his look after every few adventures, or even that there may be a group of secret agents using the same name and I.D. number.  But then, what's the point of issuing the license to kill to an individual?

Linking from "Quantum of Solace", an actor named Tim Pigott-Smith, who played a foreign secretary, was also in "Clash of the Titans" with Ursula Andress.

THE PLOT: Bond's investigation of a missing colleague in Jamaica leads him to the island of the mysterious Dr. No and a scheme to end the U.S. space program.

AFTER: This is the most jarring glitch in my experimental Bond continuity - I just went from a film made in 2008 to one made in 1962.  This affects the look of the film, the referenced technology, and of course topical references to things like "moon rockets". 

This one moves at a glacial pace - it's a full 80 minutes before the titular villain gets any screen time, and Bond's Caribbean investigation takes its own sweet time.  I think maybe he's stretching things out to have a sort of vacation. 

It's funny, when we were in Jamaica on our honeymoon, a tour guide told us that all of the James Bond films were shot there.  It is, after all, where Ian Fleming spent a great deal of his time, but the claim still seemed far-fetched - what about those clips I've seen of Bond skiing?  Maybe she meant that PART of each film was shot in Jamaice - but this first one definitely was, I recognized the Dunn's River Falls at Ocho Rios.  I'll be counting over the next few weeks to see how right that tour guide was.

The science here is sketchy at best - Dr. No is working with radiation what, exactly?  To make a radio beam that will affect a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral?  Is that even possible?  Can I see some paperwork on that?  And then just when the film starts to kick into high-gear, BOOM, it's over.

I find it funny that some people complain that the more recent Bond films are full of product placements - Omega watches, Heineken beer, particular cars - but the practice goes all the way back to the first film, which prominently features Red Stripe beer, Smirnoff vodka, Pan Am airlines, and Rolex watches.

LOCATIONS: Jamaica, mostly

VILLAIN: Dr. No (no, duh!)

BABES: Sylvia Trench (that's an unfortunate name...), Honey Ryder (ah, that's better)

ALLIES: M (a new one, maybe the other one's on holiday), Felix Leiter (now he's a white guy - or maybe a master of disguise!), Quarrel

PASTIMES: Chemin-du-fer, solitaire

CARS: A 1961 Sunbeam Alpine Series 5 that's apparently powered by rear-screen projection, but mostly boats here.

GADGETS: Walther PPK, and a human hair (Bond's low-tech in this one)

THEME SONG: Just the now-famous Monty Norman instrumental.  Formula still being worked out.

Also starring Jack Lord, Joseph Wiseman, Bernard Lee,

RATING: 4 out of 10 seashells (Sorry, but "Casino Royale" set the bar pretty high, and I don't think this one has aged well by comparison)

Quantum of Solace

Year 5, Day 151 - 5/31/13 - Movie #1,443

BEFORE: Daniel Craig carries over, in what I believe is a direct sequel to "Casino Royale".  After this, I'm going back to the past for the Cold War-era Bond. 

THE PLOT:  James Bond descends into mystery as he tries to stop a mysterious organization from eliminating a country's most valuable resource. All the while, he still tries to seek revenge over the death of his love.

AFTER:  The first cut is the deepest, and it looks like Bond never got over Vesper.  Everything here spirals out from Bond tracking down her enemies, tying up the loose ends left from his origin story.  There is an additional plot beyond that, but it involves drilling rights in Venezuela or something. (Yawn!)  Where's the poker tournament?

QUANTUM is the name of the criminal organization Bond battles, but it also can mean "a small amount".  So Bond is looking for a small amount of comfort here, that's all.  Is that too much to ask for, in between rooftop chases and killing enemy agents?  

This film seemed rather lackluster, at least when compared with the non-stop, high-stakes action of "Casino Royale".   I admit I dozed off a couple of times, and that shouldn't happen with an action film.

The relationship between Bond and M clearly has a lot of layers - it seems to go beyond boss and employee somehow, or maybe not.  This would be like having a boss that you respect a great deal, only they're always riding your ass and second-guessing you and making your job impossible - not that I'd know anything about that. But here's my first real glimpse at how convoluted my proposed Bond continuity is going to get - Bond's supposed to be younger here, at the start of his career, but the same actress will be playing M much later in his career, and she's going to look younger at that point.

It's a rather cynical view to suggest that people who deal in "green" technology only do so when it's profitable.  However, I think that's not too far off the mark.  I remember how New York City once suspended its recycling collection because it wasn't cost-effective.  But it's not SUPPOSED to be cost-effective, it's a city service that serves a purpose.  Would you suspend the the fire department or EMS Services because they're not turning a profit?  Of course not.

NYC just started up one of those bike-sharing programs, with thousands of low-gear bikes available for 45-minute trips across town.  Putting the ridiculousness of starting such a program just as the thermometer is hitting 90 degrees (who the HELL wants to ride a bike right now?) I predict the program will be scrapped within three months, and I think I'm being generous.  Most of the people in this city who want to ride bikes already own one, so I think the segment of the populace that will take advantage of the new system is rather small.  I also think that New Yorkers are too ingrained in taking the subway, cabs or buses, especially during the summer when air conditioning is a necessity.

Also, just wait until the first few traffic accidents involving city-provided bicycles, and people decide to sue the city rather than each other - the whole "deep pockets" theory.  Combine this with the fact that paying an annual fee for vehicles that don't work well over the winter makes no sense, and you may realize that the actual deployment of well-intentioned "green" technology never quite lives up to the theory. 

LOCATIONS: Italy, Haiti, Austria, Bolivia, Russia

VILLAINS: Dominic Greene, General Medrano

BABES: Camille Montes, Strawberry Fields

ALLIES: M, Rene Mathis, Felix Leiter

PASTIMES: The opera, Monopoly (the oil kind, not the property-based board game)

CARS: Aston Martin DBS V12 (still?)

GADGETS: Digital camera with facial recognition software.  (That's it?)

THEME SONG: "Another Way to Die" by Jack White + Alicia Keys.  (Meh.)

Also starring Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Jesper Christensen (all carrying over from "Casino Royale"), plus Olga Kurylenko, Gemma Arterton, Mathieu Almaric. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 speedboats

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Casino Royale (2006)

Year 5, Day 150 - 5/30/13 - Movie #1,442

BEFORE: Well, I finally made it to the Bond films - for a while there I kept adding serial killer films, and it felt like I was never going to get here.  They ran almost all of these on the Encore channel late last year as a tie-in with "Skyfall", and I took the opportunity to put them all on DVD in release order.  But what is the proper viewing order for me?  I rejected four separate possibilities:

1) Release order.  Sure, I could have started with "Dr. No" and just moved forward through the movies, but anybody could do that.  Also, I'd hit Bond's rebooted origin story at film #21, and that wouldn't really work.  Plus, I really wanted to use Daniel Craig as my lead-in and lead-out, carrying over from "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", and then leading into the sci-fi chain.

2) Book order.  This seemed like a natural fit, since "Casino Royale" was the first Bond book published in 1953, followed by "Live and Let Die", "Moonraker", "Diamonds Are Forever", "From Russia, With Love", "Dr. No", "Goldfinger", "For Your Eyes Only" (also including the short stories "From a View to a Kill" and "Quantum of Solace"), "Thunderball", "The Spy Who Loved Me", "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", "You Only Live Twice", "The Man With the Golden Gun", and "Octopussy and the Living Daylights".

The down side there is, that only covers 16 of the films.  So at some point that order would run out, and I'd be forced to switch back to the release order for the remaining movies.  And besides, there's no real way to tell when the short stories take place - in between the novels?  There are also the post-Fleming books, and the novelizations of the later films, where do those fit in?  There's no real way to establish a Bond chronology, is there?

3) Ah, but there is.  Scholar John Griswold made a high-level chronology of Bond's life, based on the time periods and current events depicted in the books.  It runs more or less like the above publication order, except after "Thunderball" he suggests "Octopussy", "The Living Daylights", then chapters 1-5 of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", then chapters 10-15 of "The Spy Who Loved Me" - now how would THAT work when I'm watching the films?  Plus, same problem, the chronology runs out with the Fleming novels, so after "The Man With the Golden Gun" I'd have to revert to film release dates anyway.

4) Then I found the chronology of Win Eckert, which starts out the same as Griswold's, but then places "A View to a Kill" seventh, followed by "Quantum of Solace", "Goldfinger", "For Your Eyes Only", "Thunderball", "The Living Daylights", "The Spy Who Loved Me", "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", "You Only Live Twice", "The Man with the Golden Gun", THEN "Octopussy", followed by the remainder of the films in release order.

I was intrigued by this, but I can guess what you're thinking - "That order is crazy, because it jumps from Daniel Craig to Sean Connery to Roger Moore and back again - so Bond's going to look different from film to film!"  True, but that was sort of going to happen anyway.  "There could be a villain who dies in one film, and then appears alive again a few films later!"  True, but that could also have happened with any order I choose. 

Finally, I scrapped any thought of relating to the continuity of the novels, since the films have created their own world, and I'm going to watch the origin story first, then "Quantum of Solace", and then proceed with the rest of the films in release order, ending with "Skyfall".  It's not perfect, there are bound to be continuity issues, but I'll deal with them as they come.  Besides, each film takes place in a magical time period called "Story Time".  And I'm trying not to be so obsessive about these things. (How am I doing?)

THE PLOT:  Secret Agent James Bond sets out on his first mission as 007 and must defeat a weapons dealer in a high stakes game of poker, but things are not what they seem.

AFTER:  There was another version of "Casino Royale" made in the 1960's - and David Niven played Bond.  When I was a kid and a trivia question asked you to name all the actors who have played Bond, you had to start with Niven.  It's kind of like how Pluto used to be a planet.  The film was made as a comedy, also starring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen (both of whom also played characters named "James Bond", just not THAT James Bond).  Yeah, the movie kind of sucked.  I tried to watch it once, and it made no sense - everyone should just try to forget about it.

But this film takes itself more seriously, giving Bond the origin story he deserves.  We learn quite quickly what the "00" in his number stands for (it's a good point, why isn't he just "7"?), we almost learn M's real name, and we also find out that the Cold War is over (though I have a feeling it will heat up again later this week...).  We also learn why Bond prefers sleeping with married women, how he got his first Aston Martin, and why he switched to vodka martinis, shaken not stirred.

More importantly, we see a Bond who's capable of making mistakes.  How else is a young secret agent going to learn?  He makes a big tactical and diplomatic mistake in the (second) opening sequence, and then makes another one in the main plot.  If anything, the second one comes from trusting the wrong people, leading with his heart and not his head.  It costs him the love of his life, and (nearly) his career - but this also could explain his later fear of commitment.  If loving Vesper Lynd is wrong, why does it feel so RIGHT?

In addition to the firsts listed above, because this is the origin story, there are many others - first time Bond is involved in a chase scene on foot (as opposed to in a car or a snowmobile), first without the standard "naked ladies" in a title sequence, first to have a sequence filmed in black and white, and I think the first time he drinks something besides a martini - the "Vesper" cocktail, which seems to be a big hit with the casino crowd.

NITPICK POINT: If Le Chiffre was really in debt to the terrorist organization, and he paid the fee to enter the poker tournament, couldn't he just NOT do that?  Couldn't he have just given the money for the entry fee to the terrorists?  Maybe he needed to win the tournament to pay them off, but if that's the case, then he was in pretty deep.  Please, kids, bet with your head, not over it.

Since I never met a set of data I couldn't over-analyze, let's start breaking it down:

LOCATIONS: Madagascar, Bahamas, Miami, Montenegro, Venice

VILLAINS: Alex Dimitrios, Le Chiffre

BABES: Solange Dimitrios, Vesper Lynd

ALLIES: M, Rene Mathis, Felix Leiter

GAMES: High-stakes Texas Hold'em (changed from baccarat + chemin du fer in the novel)

CARS: Aston Martin DBS V12

GADGETS: Walther P99 pistol, tracking microchip, (REDACTED)

THEME SONG: "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell

Also starring Eva Green (last seen in "The Golden Compass"), Judi Dench (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Mads Mikkelsen (last seen in "The Three Musketeers (2011))", Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright (last seen in "The Ides of March").

RATING: 7 out of 10 bloody tears (I'll admit, I didn't see the point of that...)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Year 5, Day 149 - 5/29/13 - Movie #1,441

BEFORE:  There was an actor in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" who also turned up in tonight's film, but I missed it - I admit it.  So I have to link another way - Gillian Anderson from "Johnny English Reborn" was also in "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People" with Daniel Craig (last seen in "Elizabeth").

I know this is technically not a spy film, but I believe it's filled with international intrigue - the main characters are a journalist and a hacker, but my reason for including it here will be very apparent as of tomorrow.  Geez, it's based on one of the most popular books in recent history, and I know almost nothing about it.

I'm going with the English version of this film, I'm aware there were Swedish versions made of all three books in this series, which are running this week on the Sundance Channel, but the running times is even longer, plus I think it's in Swedish, so I'm secure in my choice.  Plus I banned the Sundance Channel from my rotation for running commercials - ain't nobody got time for that.

THE PLOT:  In his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years, journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.

AFTER:  Again, these are thoughts coming from someone who never read the popular books - and my first thought is "Damn, I was going to write a screenplay with a pierced, bisexual computer programmer who rides a motorcycle!" (Seriously, I was.)  Maybe I still can, but now people are going to think I stole from this film.

Seriously, Lisbeth seems like one of the all-time great characters, incredibly well-rounded in her skill set (almost TOO well-rounded), she's brilliant, intense, manipulative, and quite messed up.  Good with weapons, vehicles, computers, disguises - I'm thinking of her as the female Jack Reacher, only without the military experience.  And everyone else is either hot for her, or afraid of her.  Or both. 

I feel secure in placing this film here in the line-up because it is sort of a callback to the serial killer chain.  The leads are not sure they're after a killer, but it seems like a safe bet. They are asked to sift through the history of one really messed-up Swedish family, searching for clues to a woman's disappearance.

Pacing feels slow, but it's really not.  A lot happens in the course of two and a half hours, so why does it always feel as if the case is inching forward? I think I see what all the fuss is about, it's a tense thriller with more than a few surprises.

Also starring Rooney Mara (last seen in "Youth in Revolt"), Christopher Plummer (last seen in "Nicholas Nickleby"), Robin Wright (last seen in "Moneyball"), Stellan Skarsgard (last seen in "The Avengers"), Joely Richardson (last seen in "Anonymous"), Goran Visnic.

RATING: 7 out of 10 piercings

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Johnny English Reborn

Year 5, Day 148 - 5/28/13 - Movie #1,440

BEFORE:  Not really in the mood for a comedy - we spent most Monday afternoon with our cat Gypsy at the vet, since she was having trouble breathing.  We learned she had lung cancer, and they gave her a steroid shot and some time in an oxygen chamber, and she seemed to be doing better, but her breathing trouble came back overnight, and by Tuesday morning she was gone.  On the other hand, maybe I really need a comedy.  I'll try to muddle through, I don't want to bring everybody down.  Maybe by January 1 I'll be able to write a few paragraphs on what a great (and also challenging) cat she was.

Linking from "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", Colin Firth was also in "Love Actually" (it's on the list) with Rowan Atkinson (last heard in "The Lion King")

THE PLOT:  Johnny English goes up against international assassins hunting down the Chinese premier.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Johnny English" (Movie #56)

AFTER:  I went back and read my review of "Johnny English", which was rather short.  What I said about it was that it had to feel both inept and accomplished at same time - the hero has to save the day, but he also has to be funny while doing it.  Much of the humor is based on mistaken identity, and the rest is a lot of slapstick.

I'm just going to repeat all that for this sequel, but it all still applies.  This film sets itself a really tough task by walking such a fine line - and if that's truly what it set out to do, then it succeeded.  But it's a weird place to put a comedy, one that's trying to be funny, but not TOO funny like "The Pink Panther", and to also sort of work as a spy film, but yet not be as serious as, say, a Bond film.

Regarding the plot, we've seen this sort of comedic riff on "Manchurian Candidate" stuff before, with a mind-controlled assassin, most notably in "The Naked Gun" - so not much new comedic ground was covered here.  Even the spy spoof stuff has been done before, most notably in "Austin Powers".  With all the talk of secret organizations like "Vortex", it sort of works as a parody of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", which had all these secret code names like "Witchcraft".

The new bits here include a low-speed chase on a motorized wheelchair, a different spin on the usual sportscar vs. sportscar high-speed chase through the streets.

Also starring Gillian Anderson (last seen in "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People"), Rosamund Pike (last seen in "Jack Reacher"), Dominic West (last seen in "Centurion"), Daniel Kaluuya, Tim McInnerny.

RATING: 5 out of 10 chopped vegetables

Monday, May 27, 2013

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Year 5, Day 147 - 5/27/13 - Movie #1,439

BEFORE: I want to take a minute and talk about television, since last night's film was based on a TV show, and tonight's film was previously adapted as a TV mini-series.  We used to have this time period called "summer", during which the TV networks would sort of give up and run repeats, and this enabled most people to have some free time, go on holiday, or just relax.  But then cable networks started running new programming during the summer, and after that the major networks felt they had to as well, in order to stay competitive.  SO nowadays there's really no break, they all keep working during the summer - the only problem is, they're all running crap.

Think about how good a show needs to be to premiere in September - then think about the next level down, these are the "midseason replacements" that debut in January.  So if a show premieres in late May on one of the big four networks, you can bet that it probably stinks.  I'm going to use this summer primarily to catch up on shows dating back to February (the backlog is more than my DVRs can handle, so I've got a pile of VHS tapes).  The only new TV shows I'm planning to watch this summer are "MasterChef", "Next Food Network Star", "Top Shot: All Stars", and "America's Got Talent".  Oh, wait, "Futurama" and "Bizarre Foods", but that's it.  The rest can go screw.

Getting back to spy films, who turns up in this one but Benedict Cumberbatch, and I swear I didn't realize that would happen when I decided to drop "Star Trek: Into Darkness" into the mix.

THE PLOT:  In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6.

AFTER:  Well, yesterday I was at a disadvantage because I knew too much about the source material, and tonight I'm at a disadvantage because I didn't know enough, not having read the novel by John Le Carré.  Or seen the mini-series with Alec Guinness, for that matter.  So I was floundering for most of the film, because it seemed mostly confusing and moved at a snail's pace, so I kept falling asleep.  It's a holiday weekend and I'm caught up on sleep, so I have to blame the film.  Yet somehow this film made it to the list of "1,001 Films to See Before You Die", so I have to wonder about that.

It's definitely too talky, that's part of the problem.  A spy movie's supposed to be about shootouts and car chases, no?  And where are the cool gadgets?  Actually, maybe this is what the real intelligence game is like - hours spent listening to wiretaps, hoping to glean scraps of information - maybe so, but that doesn't make for a compelling film.

But if I watch a film and then have to read the summary on IMDB or Wikipedia to find out what happened, then again I have to say that the film failed to make things clear.  My head is swimming trying to figure out who was really working for whom, and who the mole really was, and wondering how one goes about making international intrigue so flipping boring.

Maybe I might get something out of this if I watched it a second or third time, but I don't have that luxury.  I'm just going to assume that British agents in the 1970's spent all their time chasing shadows and sleeping with each other's wives (and boyfriends).

Also starring Gary Oldman (last seen in "The Contender"), Toby Jones (last seen in "Les Miserables (1998)), Colin Firth (last seen in "Girl With a Pearl Earring"), Mark Strong (last seen in "The Eagle"), John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds (last seen in "In Bruges"), Tom Hardy (last seen in "This Means War").

RATING: 3 out of 10 attaché cases

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Year 5, Day 146 - 5/26/13 - Movie #1,438

BEFORE: I'm going to treat this as an "extra" film and watch two today, since I'm still behind on the count for the year, thanks to two weeks of vacation and all that.  Exceptions must be made for "Star Trek" films, which are important.  My original plan was to watch the new "Star Trek" on this 3-day weekend, and review it later, but I feel that would be sort of deceptive, so I'll write about it now.

This interrupts my spy chain and screws up my linking, but I couldn't help noticing the coincidences - since the actor who plays the main villain in this film is also currently famous for playing Sherlock Holmes on the BBC.  And I can find a new linking - Jude Law provided a voice for the animated film "Rise of the Guardians", and so did Chris Pine (last seen in "This Means War") - see, that was easy!

THE PLOT:  After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Star Trek" (Movie #142)

AFTER: And here's the other reason I'm reviewing the film now, instead of with my other sci-fi films that are over a month away - some plot similarities I can't ignore.  In "Game of Shadows", Sherlock Holmes dealt with anarchist bombings that were intended to bring about a World War.  In "Into Darkness", there are terrorist bombings that seem to be devised to bring about an interstellar war - that's an awful big coincidence, if you ask me.  Plus we've got the two lead characters thing - Kirk/Spock, similar to Holmes/Watson and the hero/villain battle of wits, Kirk/villain, similar to Holmes/Moriarty.

Plus, another coincidence, "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows" borrowed liberally from a famous piece of the source material, the short story "The Final Problem", and this film borrows elements from one of the original Star Trek TV episodes, namely "Space Seed".   Plus, just like last night, it's the 2nd film in a series, and the one in which they choose to introduce a major villain. 

Backing up a bit, if you remember, they re-booted the franchise due to some suspect time-travel in the 2009 film, so the makers are free to devise a plot that goes in a different direction from the old "Star Trek" universe.  It can feature the same characters, but in a different way, with a different spin.  They can cherry-pick the best plots of the "Star Trek" timeline if they want, and discard the rest, or do something completely unique.

(Quick, what do Star Trek, James Bond and DC Comics have in common?  All have undergone major re-boots in the last few years - great news for new viewers/readers, bad news for those of us who remember the old stories, which have now been invalidated in some way.)

So I think I went into this new Star Trek film at something of a disadvantage - I'd read the debate in entertainment magazines for months over whether this new villain was actually a spin on an old villain.  I maybe learned a little too much about the plot before-hand, because it seemed pretty clear, and since I was a big fan of "Star Trek II" (but not "Space Seed"), about halfway through I started to see where this crazy ride might end up as a destination.  I wasn't completely right, but I was close.

And this is the problem with a re-boot, whether it's Superman, Batman, Bond or the Star Trek crew.  The characters have to remain familiar enough so that we all will recognize them and like them right away, but they have to be new and different enough to justify the re-boot.  I don't envy the writers, who then have to walk a very fine line.  But I think with "Trek" that it paid off - so far restarting the timeline seems like the smartest thing they could have done.  But in other ways it almost feels like cheating - how many do-overs should a franchise be entitled to?

So to me, this is Kirk/Not Kirk, Spock/Not Spock, and maybe-Khan.  I'm not giving out any more details, you can check the IMDB if you're curious.  But if you're a real Trekkie, you've probably seen this by now, and if not, you might not care.  But I care.  And if you're going to bring back an old villain (and I'm not saying they did...) you better make sure you've got a fresh take, and that he's somehow better (or badder) than he was before.  By the way, this goes double for General Zod in the "Superman" films. 

I think they largely succeeded with this "Trek" film - there's action, comic relief, they advance all of the characters along with the plotline.  But as with "Game of Shadows", I'm still missing a little bit of the old magic - so many of the old shows centered around solving problems, technical or social.  How are Kirk & company going to fix the warp-drive, complete the mating ritual on Altair III and still rescue the colonists from the asteroid before it hits, without violating the prime directive?  Sure, there's some of that old "Kobayashi Maru" outside-the-box thinking we've come to expect from Kirk, but in the end, the day was won by shooting guns and punching people, and how sophisticated is that?

NITPICK POINT: So, in the future they can invent a device that prevents a volcano from blowing up, but they can't invent a robot or drone to deliver it - it has to be brought in by hand?  That's some lame future... and why create a timer on the device that takes so friggin' long?  Wouldn't a 10-second timer get the job done more quickly?

All other NITPICK POINTS put on hold to avoid spoilers....

This marks my third time going to the movie theater this year, which for me is a lot, and the year's not even half over.  I would still like to see "Iron Man 3" on the big screen, as well as the new "Superman" film - I'm holding places for them in my line-up, when I watch my other outstanding superhero films in July.  We saw about 7 or 8 previews (I don't call them "trailers" since they're never shown after the film anymore - why does that name persist?) which seemed like a lot - 20 min. of my time watching commercials for films I'm either already aware of, or not going to watch.  But no less than THREE were for futuristic apocalyptic sci-fi disaster films - "World War Z", "Ender's Game" and "Elysium".  Isn't that a bit much, Hollywood?

We went to the same theater we saw "Star Trek" in, which was also on Memorial Day, four years ago.  This only enhanced the "deja vu" nature of the film - the feeling that this has all happened before, just in a slightly different way.

Also starring Zachary Quinto (last seen in "Star Trek", duh), Zoe Saldana (last seen in "The Losers"), Simon Pegg (last seen in "Paul"), John Cho (last seen in "Down to Earth"), Bruce Greenwood (last seen in "Barney's Version"), Benedict Cumberbatch (last seen in "Creation"), Anton Yelchin (last heard in "The Smurfs"), Peter Weller (last seen in "Leviathan"), Alice Eve (last seen in "The Raven"),  
RATING: 8 out of 10 airlocks

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Year 5, Day 146 - 5/26/13 - Movie #1,437

BEFORE: I'm counting this as a spy film, as opposed to a police/detective film, because they really amped up Sherlock's character in the 2009 film, giving him more talents than just deductive reasoning, really making him more of an early secret agent-type.  (Victorian secret agent?  Sounds weird...) Anyway, there is another connection to the spy genre, since in some stories Sherlock's brother Mycroft becomes the first "M" when they establish the British secret service.

And perhaps I should have placed this next to "The Raven", because they cover a similar time period, but I didn't because of the actor linking, what was it again?  Colin Farrell from "The Recruit" was also in "The Way Back" with Mark Strong, who was in "Sherlock Holmes" with Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Zodiac") - I think there was a shorter way, since an actor named Chris Owens from "The Recruit" was also in "The Incredible Hulk", in which Robert Downey Jr. had a cameo.

THE PLOT:  Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Sherlock Holmes" (Movie #824)

AFTER:  And yes, it's the power of two again tonight, with Holmes & Watson.  Or maybe it's the dichotomy of Holmes vs. Moriarty that should be the focus.  But damn, that makes three characters.  Well, you know what I mean, there's a two-person alliance and a two-person confrontation.

I forgot, in this incarnation Holmes is also a brawler, prone to fisticuffs when required - but they film it in such a way that boxing is presented as a sort of mental game.  Holmes calculates all of his opponents' potential moves and is ready to counter them all, which results in a near superhuman reaction time.  This results in a hyper-realized choreography of sorts, depicted in slow-motion, for us mortals to be able to understand the workings of Holmes' genius mind.

The slow-motion effect is used a few other times in the film, especially to backtrack and show us plans that were put in motion beforehand but not yet revealed, and to highlight the actions during a frantic chase scene, also filled with gunshots and explosions.  Even slowed down, though, there was so much going on that the sequence was difficult to follow.

My other complaints include the villain's plan being not very well explained - a series of anarchist bombings that will somehow bring about a war.  But I recall the evil plot in "Sherlock Holmes" wasn't well explained either, so this is in fact a step up in clarity.  Also, I'd like to know what year this set in - 1891?  It's odd that they have whatever tech they need, even if it wasn't invented yet in the real world.

Other than that, it was a very entertaining film.  I usually like the puzzle/mystery aspect of Sherlock Holmes more than the shooting/punching parts, but to each his own.  I can understand why Holmes needs someone like Dr. Watson around, since he tends to get pretty banged up.  Also he seems to ingest a lot of foreign substances.  Does anyone else find it ironic that Robert Downey Jr. has had his best successes playing Holmes (a drug addict) and Tony Stark (an alcoholic)?

This film is, in part, based on the original Arthur Conan Doyle short story "The Final Problem".  (After I finished with Edgar Allan Poe stories in junior high, I moved on to Conan Doyle)  This is the story in which the author killed off Holmes, feeling he'd done all he could with the character.  Fans revolted, however, and ten years later the author felt compelled to bring him back - so Holmes might be the first fictional character (after Jesus, that is) to be brought back from the dead to appease fans, in a practice all too common in today's soap operas and comic books.

Also starring Jude Law (last seen in "Contagion"), Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris (last seen in "Natural Born Killers"), Rachel McAdams (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes"), Stephen Fry (last seen in "Alice in Wonderland").

RATING: 7 out of 10 tarot cards