Sunday, August 26, 2012

People on Mars: Mars One in 2023

I don't care what anyone says, I'm excited about Mars One!  Yes, there is danger, which I'm cognizant of, but hoping all goes well, this mission is WAY ahead of all previously discussed manned missions to Mars (I've frequently heard 2030s) and I really would like to see a man on Mars. Additionally, as there are several stages involved (see timeline), this means that we'll have not one, but two more rovers on Mars in 2018 (the other being ExoMars' rover) [the only two rover missions currently on the books].  Will they get the funding? That remains to be seen, I guess.  A long wait, but nice to know we're making progress.

They have their own videos on their site, but this is a nice video summary too.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Curiosity On Mars

How exciting that the Mars Science Laboratory is now safely on the surface of Mars, collecting data.  It's absolutely mind-blowing how far the human race has come... think of it: the first object ever put into space was a ballistic missile (the V2) on October 3, 1942.  And now,  just 70 years later, we have a fully-equipped mobile  lab, remotely controlled from Earth with the capability of sending images and chemically analyzing samples from the surface of another planet.  70 years?! Astonishing.

Friday, August 3, 2012

New Entertainment Weekly Issue Ranks the James Bond Films

I eagerly picked up a copy of the new EW issue, with "26 pages of 007."  Amongst its offerings: an interview with George Lazenby (can't wait for his memoir!); a fun map of the world with icons representing 007's various exploits, a bunch of behind-the-scenes photos (no doubt supplied at the cost of leaving Never, Say Never Again out of the Bond canon), and a film-by-film look at the Eon Productions.  The film listings have really great plot summaries (although riddled with spoilers-- they are for those who have seen the films and need a plot reminder).  EW also ranks the films by letter grade, from A to C-.  Below are my thoughts on the Bond films and EW's rankings of them.  (When I noticed the films were given letter grades, I quickly scribbled down some "predictions" of EW's rankings.)

Dr. No (1962).  Most Bond fans rank this first film at the middle-of-the-pack, where I also feel it belongs.  The fun of Dr. No is that, no matter which Bond movie was your "first," you can find some element of that movie in the blueprint laid out by this initial entry in the series.  Another plus, is the knocked-out-of-the-park casting of Ursula Andress as the first Bond girl, "Honey Ryder."  My prediction for EW was an A- but they gave it a B.  My grade: B+

From Russia With Love (1963).  One of the top tier Bonds among fans.  I consider it to be the very best of the series-- the closest of the movies to perfection.  The cast, particularly Lotte Lenya and Robert Shaw, is solid, the action is great, but above all, I enjoy the way the filmmakers brilliantly adapted the Ian Fleming novel-- having SPECTRE become the villains, pitting the Russians and British against each other.  A classic.  I got EW's A ranking correct.  My grade: A

Goldfinger (1964) The quintessential Bond.  Some of it comes off a little hokey to me, especially the gassing of Fort Knox and the hopelessly caricatureish "hoods convention." It seems to me that each of the "main" Bond actors-- Connery, Moore, and Brosnan had their wacky-jokey entry that's way over the top, but a lot of fun: Brosnan has Die Another Day, Moore has Moonraker, and Connery has Goldfinger. Goldfinger is the only one of these, however, that I would say is still a great movie.  I predicted that EW would give it an A+, but they capped all of their rankings at an A, which they gave Goldfinger.  My grade: A

Thunderball (1965) This to me is the most underrated of all the Bond films.  I never thought the action got bogged down in the underwater sequences, which has been suggested.  The villains are great, the women are gorgeous, the gadgets are top notch, and Connery delivers his best performance as 007, what more do you want?  I predicted that EW would go more along the lines of how the film has been traditionally graded, a B+, but they went A-.  My grade: A

You Only Live Twice (1967) Many Bond fans consider this one of the best films, but not me.  It's the first where Bond doesn't kill the villain at the film's end, maybe that's my big problem with it.  I guessed EW would give it a B+ but they surprised me by matching my grade.  My grade: B-

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) I feel the same way that 007 fans do: despite the fact that this is George Lazenby's one-off, it's still one of the very best films.  I find myself watching it at Christmastime as I've heard many Bond fans say they do too.  It definitely has the best performance of Blofeld in the series (by Telly Savalas).  And although he, too, gets away, at least Bond came close to getting him; plus, it was better to end it the way it did end rather than Bond getting Blofeld. I predicted EW would give it an A+ and, shockingly, they gave it an A-.  This will annoy many a Bond fan. My grade: A.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971) A nice return for Connery, even if he seems to approach it as the overpaid actor he was.  The climax is totally lame, but the route 007 takes, along with the delightful henchman duo of Wint and Kidd, is worthy of a higher-than-average grade, which is why I predicted that EW would give it an A-.  Instead they gave it a B.  My grade: B+

Live and Let Die (1973) An odd one, but always better than you remember.  Moore, bringing his own approach to the role, was so right to properly take Connery's place.  I thought EW would go B- but they went B.  My grade: B+

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) I think all 007 fans feel similarly about this film: Christopher Lee and the clever golden gun are tops, but this is one of the series' weakest entries.  I enjoy watching this movie and yet when forced to, will list it as the worst movie in the canon.  The fact of the matter is there hasn't been any bad Bond films!  I predicted that EW would slam it with a C, but instead they gave it a way-too-high B.  My grade: C

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)  The older 007 fans who can't get over Sean Connery call TSWLM just a pale remake of You Only Live Twice.  But what it really is is one of the series' very best: great action and villains plus, for the first time, a worthy partner in crime with XXX.  The best theme song follows one of the series' most amazing stunts in the pre-title sequence. Moore was here to stay.  EW couldn't shake Connery out of their system either and idiotically gave it an A- (their highest ranking in the Moore era, and as we'll see, a mere half letter grade above A View to a Kill-- c'mon!).  My grade: A

Moonraker (1979) For many years I considered this entry, as most 007 fans do, the series nadir.  A live action "cartoon."  But then I realized I've probably seen it more times than any other Bond film.  It's just so much fun to watch, even in all it's silly excess.  So, now what?  How do you rank it? EW went with the grade I predicted they'd give it: a C- (their lowest).  But I can't deny the movie's rewatchability and the sheer 007 joy it's given me over the years.  My grade: B+

For Your Eyes Only (1981)  This film is usually given low top-ten status by Bond fans.  To me, although the plot is confusing on its initial viewing, it's possibly the best Bond film after From Russia With Love.  After you get over the hiccup of the goofiness at the end of the pre-title sequence, 007 is back to being a tough customer.  However, the humor and light tough of Moore is still in evidence as in the Citroen chase sequence.  It seems the best Bonds have a strong female counterpart or villainess to 007. EW went B+ to my predicted A-, which is admittedly how most usually rank it.  My grade: A

Octopussy (1983) I've bounced back and forth on this one over the years.  I once came to the conclusion that it had a great first and last third, but a weak middle third.  I'm not even quite sure about that anymore. I don't like that whole safari part with the stupid jokes, the dual villains, and never really liked Octopussy as the Bond girl, overshadowed by the sexy Magda (Kristina Wayborn). EW labels it the most underrated, then slaps it with a B+.  I predicted they'd go B.  My grade: B+

Never Say Never Again (1983).  I'm not getting photos from Eon Productions, so I don't have to leave this rogue Bond movie out. It's not as bad as 007 fans label it.  There are quite a few good action sequences and a worthy villainess in Barbara Carrera's "Fatima Blush." My grade: B

A View to a Kill (1985) When I became a Bond fan, although I had missed it theatrically, this was the then-current Bond film.  As such, especially with the hit Duran Duran theme, I liked it very much.  As time has passed, and with many subsequent viewings, I find it to be among the most overlong of the series (I can't stand the cop/ fire truck chase).  But it has many great action sequences, terrific villains, and one of the very best climaxes in the whole Bond canon.  Bond fans kind of hate this one (even the ones that like Roger Moore), frequently citing Moore's age, so I thought EW would give it a C, but they surprisingly went B+.  I doubt anyone agrees with that grade.  My grade: B

The Living Daylights (1987) This was my first Bond film theatrically and I'm glad it was: a terrific entry.  I especially like how the filmmakers adapted the short story.  Dalton has many defenders but EW is not among them, and they gave this a unfairly low mark: B-.  I pegged them to give it an A!  My grade: A-

Licence to Kill (1989) Bond fans like the tough Bond of this movie.  I consider it a weak link in the series, punctuated by one brilliant sequence that sees Bond on land, sea, and air within the span of a few minutes.  I correctly predicted EW's B+.  My grade: B-

GoldenEye (1995) When I saw this theatrically, Bond had been off the screens for an unprecedented six years and in between True Lies (1994) had come out, which I thought would give the Bonds a run for their money.  I was pleasantly surprised that Bond was back in a big way with GoldenEye.  To date, this has been my most happy Bond experience theatrically at the time of release. Brosnan certainly got the last laugh on NBC.  I thought EW would go high on this one with an A, but they went A-.  My grade: A-

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) The more I see this movie the blander it gets.  I used to rank it higher than The World Is Not Enough, but whereas I consider TND better on the whole, TWINE has many better moments, so I've reversed the ranking of these two Bond entries, which nonetheless are among my least favorite.  The action isn't great (except the remote control car) and the villains aren't very interesting.  I predicted EW's B.  My grade: C+

The World Is Not Enough (1999) I hate that M looks like an idiot in this one.  I also think the main villain gets seriously overshadowed to the point that his death is an anticlimax.  Sophie Marceau makes this Bond entry a must, plus a slam-bang pre-title sequence (smartly lengthened by the filmmakers to go through the boat chase). I predicted a B+ from EW, based mostly on the fact that Brosnan ranks high with Bond fans, but they went B-.  It's always interesting to see how TND and TWINE rank in respect to each other for me for the above mentioned reasons.  Again, I have flipped on this one over the years. My grade: B-

Die Another Day (2002) Yes, it's wacky, but I love watching this 007 movie more than almost any other!  Brosnan nicely aged into the role and it's too bad it ended up being his last, he easily had more in him.  There was a great hue and cry at how outrageous this movie was, but it was nothing compared to what people thought, for different reasons, of Quantum of Solace. I predicted EW would slam it with a B-.  Nope.  They slammed it with a C+! Because of its rewatchability I have to go "Moonraker" on this one.  My grade: B+

Casino Royale (2006) I was the only person I know who was underwhelmed by Casino Royale.  Several critics, including EW's Owen Gleiberman, put this movie in their top ten films of the year list.  I thought it was too long (including an unnecessarily drawn out sequence way after the end of the true action in a crumbling palazzo) and what should have been an amazing tete a tete, the card game, was so poorly done with Mathis literally telling the audience what's happening-- even the 1954 "live" TV version of Casino Royale did it better!  On the other hand I thought both Daniel Craig and Judi Dench were great and the torture scene was among the most brilliantly filmed dramatic sequences in the entire run (terrifically adapted from the book). These days, it remains the Bond film I most rarely feel up to watching [even before Quantum of Solace got criticized for it, many of the "expected" Bond elements were dropped from this series re-boot].  I expected EW, especially in light of what I recall was an A+ grade by Owen Gleiberman, to give it an A+.  To my surprise, they gave it an A-.  I reviewed Casino Royale: here. I also ranked the James Bond movies in that blog entry (which I've stayed for the most part consistent with herein-- below is my slight re-ranking). My grade: B+

Quantum of Solace (2008) I was two-for-two with the general consensus when I liked QOS, without a doubt one of the most reviled Bond entries.  The reason I liked it was the same reason why people hated it: it was way off formula.  Since I know I watch the Bonds ad nauseam, I considered it a refreshing little short story (it's the shortest Bond film) that was different from the others, and as a matter of fact I have indeed watched it several times.  No matter its critical reception, I think Craig and Dench give terrific performances.  Interestingly, EW did not give it my predicted C, but a B-.  So, the two Craigs actually were rated by EW closer to my personal feeling for them, rather than what I consider the general consensus inside and out of Bond fandom.  My grade: B+

My ranking of the James Bond Films:

1. From Russia With Love (1963) A
2. For Your Eyes Only (1981) A
3. Thunderball (1965) A
4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) A
5. Goldfinger (1964) A
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) A
7. The Living Daylights (1987) A-
8. GoldenEye (1995) A-
9. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) B+
10. Casino Royale (2006) B+
11. Octopussy (1983) B+
12. Moonraker (1979) B+
13. Dr. No (1962) B+
14. Live and Let Die (1973) B+
15. Quantum of Solace (2008) B+
16. Die Another Day (2002) B+
17. A View to A Kill (1985) B
18. Never Say Never Again (1983) B
19. You Only Live Twice (1967) B-
20. Licence to Kill (1989) B-
21. The World Is Not Enough (1999) B-
22. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) C+
23. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) C

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Dream Come True EW issue: 50 Years of James Bond!

I'm soooooo glad they went with Connery over Craig for the cover of this special issue celebrating 50 Years of 007.  No doubt they debated it.  This is the one time I think the "current" Bond actor rightfully needed to temporarily step aside. Craig is great, but if Connery weren't so good, the series may never have taken off.

"Sight and Sound Poll" Released-- "Citizen Kane" out of Top Spot!

"I'm Charles Foster Kane!"
The Sight and Sound Poll has been made public, and Vertigo has replaced Citizen Kane at #1. I prefer Citizen Kane and really did hope it would remain #1. Not to say I don't love Vertigo, but I'm telling you new film buffs-- the ones that always bashed Kane as "not that great"-- will be doubled baffled by Vertigo.  It's impossible to pick a #1 film of all-time but it always seemed to me that Kane was the best representative of cinematic achievement.  At least, however, we're moving forward, i.e. 1941 to 1958.  In the early days of the Poll relatively current films would make the list (although admittedly there was a shorter history of movies).  When 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most recent film on the [critics] list and it came out before the moon landing plus not one not two but three silent films appear, it sure makes the least look creaky.  The rest of the list was no surprises.  The thing that I'm most happy about is (unlike last time) The Godfather and The Godfather Part II were considered separate films (duh!)-- it was such a rip when it landed on the list as one movie. To me that would be the equivalent of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back being considered one movie.