Knee-jerk review: "Star Trek Into Darkness"

1. Thanks, Paramount, for releasing it on our birthday.  Much appreciated.
2. In hindsight, we probably liked 2009's Star Trek reboot more out of nostalgia and an excitement that the franchise was finally getting another shot than out of a genuine affection for the movie.  Frankly, it was kind of a mess what with all of that time-travel nonsense and one extremely lame villain.  (We're a little forgiving only because it was an origin story and had to spend so much time getting everyone into place on the Enterprise.)
3. But this one delivers the goods.  Lots of action, some clever twists and turns, funny moments.
4. Dr. McCoy probably gets the short end of the stick here.  There's more to him than the crowd-pleasing wisecracks.  It even gets on Kirk's nerves.
5. Spoiler alert: never trust Peter Weller.  That is all.
6. Sure does seem like a lot of wasted space in that ship.  Look at the huge, roomy compartments and hallways.
7. Welcome to the rebooted universe, Klingons.
8. We obviously liked the many Wrath of Khan homages.  Fun, but not distracting.  The filmmakers spin the old mythology (and that 1982 movie's signature bits) in new and interesting ways.
9. We never have been a Zachary Quinto fan.  He seems a little smug and lazy to us somehow.  But it's hard not to like his Spock here, dealing with an angry girlfriend, fist-fighting a bad guy, engineering a classic Kirkian double-cross.
10. It seems like the strategy to restart a warp core is the 23rd century equivalent of us banging our faulty remote control on the tabletop. Seriously?
11. Speaking of which, warp cores seem pretty unreliable, don't you think?  They're always failing or almost failing.
12. Bruce Greenwood never fails to utterly mesmerize us.  Killer actor.
13. Hollywood, enough with the let's-destroy-an-entire-city-and-call-it-entertainment plot point.  Your villain doesn't have to kill thousands of innocent people for us to root against him.
14. We're guessing more captains break the Prime Directive than actually follow it.
15. Not sure if it's the writing or the performance, but Zoe Saldana's Uhura is one of the movie's strongest elements.
16. We're growing weary of the villain who anticipates the heroes' next three or four moves (and, in fact, seems to form strategy based on those next three or four moves) in a way that seems completely impossible.  These chains of cause and effect simply seem too shaky and unpredictable.
17. For a second there we thought they were going to go the ship-self-destruct route.  Please don't.  In fact, we forbid the filmmakers from ever considering that turn for any future sequel ever.
18. After all of the coy denials and fake secrecy about bad guy John Harrison, we were genuinely shocked by his real identity during the movie, then realized just now that the truth about his character has been sitting there on the IMDB cast list for who knows how long.
19. Some have complained that this feels more like a plot-heavy, action-first Star Wars movie than a character-heavy, drama-first Star Trek movie.  Maybe so (though we would point to 1991's The Undiscovered Country and 1996's First Contact, both non-stop thrillers with a similar vibe as Into Darkness).  But that probably bodes well for the next Star Wars sequel, which J.J. Abrams is directing.
20. Cable cars are still running in San Francisco several hundred years from now?
21. So the next sequel takes us onto the famous five-year mission.  Very exciting.
21. Definitely worth a look, people.

Six remarks from a four-year-old concerning an old episode of "Star Trek"

1. "Hey, daddy, those look like your little people!"  Meaning our action figures.  Don't pretend that you don't wish you had some of your own.
2. "Is that a good robot or a bad robot?" He's bad.
3. "Daddy, what's wrong with his... (gesturing to her eyebrows)?  Why do they do that?"  He's an alien named Spock.
4. "What happened to the red men? Where'd they go?" They were vaporized, as must eventually happen to all Starfleet security members in red shirts.
5. "So the alien is good and the robot is bad?"  Correct.
6. "That robot hurt the boy [Scotty] and the girl [Uhura], right?" Right.


Knee-jerk review: HBO's "Game of Thrones" (season one)

1. We can nitpick most shows and find flaws with the plotting or the pacing or the character development or something.  But it's sure hard to find any fault here.  It may not be our favorite show, but it surely ranks among the most well-made shows we've ever seen.  A peerless production from top to bottom.
2. We don't do pay-cable, but a friend insisted we watch the first season on DVD.  He called it "The Godfather with swords."  A clever description, but The Godfather and it's story of the Five Families was never this dense and complicated and layered.
3. At first we didn't think we'd like it.  This is a dank, seedy world where good is not rewarded.  But then it started to grow on us.  And we realized you can take comfort in what little moment of cathartic comeuppance the show does choose to allow.  Like the "golden crown."  If you've seen it, you know what we're talking about.  A completely deserved punishment.
4. Peter Dinklage knows what a great role Tyrion is and pretty much knocks it out of the park every time.  No wonder he won an Emmy.
5. It's shows like this that seem to keep European actors employed.
6. Female nudity is nothing new for an HBO original show, of course.  But there's quite a few shots here of the very rare full frontal male, plus a couple of rather extended, graphic, and noisy sex scenes.  If this show were released in theaters, in other words, it would probably be too hard for an R.
7. We knew going in what was going to happen to Ned Stark.  Even so, it was still pretty devastating.  Remember: he didn't even want to go to King's Landing.
8. "Winter is coming."
9. King Joffrey.  What a evil little snot.  We found ourselves often imagining gruesome ways to kill him off.  Even his horrible mother at times seems disgusted by him.
10. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau definitely has a sort of Han Solo swagger to him.  As villainous as he is, we find it hard not to like him, to try and find a reason to like him.
11. The casting of Sean Bean makes explicit certain genre parallels to the Lord of the Rings books and movies.  But the Tolkein stories feel mythic, removed from reality.  Those are fairy tales about a magical land.  The "Game of Thrones" stories, however, even with dragons and magic, feel much more urgent, more much connected to contemporary problems of politics and power and family.
12. We read a rather insightful appraisal about the "heroes" of the story, especially given the unexpected way Ned's character is handled.  While at first glance it would seem to be Ned's story - he's the one character truly working hard to be honest and honorable and just - the story is really about Ned's children.  All of the children, really.  How will this new generation handle the bloody conflicts their parents created?
13. That is one bad-ass throne. No doubt about it.
14. With death lurking around every corner, it's pretty safe to say that if you're still alive at the age of 30 or so, you're a pretty dangerous character with a finely-honed sense of survival.
15. Those swords look really heavy.  What kind of upper body strength do you need to swing those things?  This is the sort of thing we think about when we're watching the show.
16. Does this mean we have to start reading the novels?  They seem really, really long.
17. The most compelling character arcs for us would have to be two female characters.  There's Daenerys, the victim who evolves into a confident queen figure.  And there's poor Sansa who comes of age quickly and learns the folly of making husband-hunting one's only priority.
18. Indeed, while the show does have a sexist vibe to it what with all of the nudity and sexual assaults and prostitution, one could argue there's a point to it all.  In that world, women were either mothers or whores.  Trying to push outside those labels, as so many of the female characters are doing, isn't easy.
19. "Targaryen" is fun to say.  Mark Addy probably does it best.
20. What pops for us is all of the back-room politicking and scheming.  This part of the show seems so very universal.  What will people do to grab power and then keep it?
21. Who wouldn't want a direwolf available to run in from the shadows and bite the fingers off an enemy?
22. The only time you can sense the show's limited budget is when you start to realize all of the big battle scenes are happening off-screen somewhere else.
23. We have our money on the scary, hulking, scarred Hound having a heart of gold.
24. The season's biggest twists emerge from a variation of some tawdry supermarket tabloid expose about adultery and paternity tests.  It's those Maury Povich-like efforts to uncover who the king fathered or didn't father that spin the country into civil war.  It doesn't get any more contemporary than that.
25. "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.  There is no middle ground."
26. So yeah, we're going to watch season 2.  It's a pretty amazing show.
27. If you're curious how they did that genius main title sequence, here's how.