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Brad Balfour

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New Thrillers and James Bond to Watch This Holiday Season

Posted: 12/25/11 07:52 PM ET

Exotic locations, fast cars, beautiful women, and crazy gadgets are the excitements in today's cinematic thrillers -- whether they be spy-oriented, crime adventure, or a suspense mystery.

And with such films as Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Adventures of Tin Tin, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy (all which opened this weekend or very recently), there's a good chance of catching one variation or another of the genre.

Of this bunch, all pretty much satisfy the basic strictures of these spy/cop/crime dramas -- good guys, skillful associates (at least one of them has to be an attractive, sexy woman -- or, in Tin Tin's case, a cute dog) nasty villains, wealthy magnates, fancy moves and incredible weaponry. Only Tinker Tailor is more of an arthouse production with more talk and little action.

Among these four, the Brad Bird-directed Mission Impossible best hits the genre's high points with the most balanced results. Between its smart use of humor (with the comic Simon Pegg as one of the IMF's skilled team), Tom Cruise's gymnastic moves and Paula Patton's sultry turns, the film's story pulses forward.

Though the digitally animated Tin Tin reigns as the latest advance in performance-capture, it also serves as a successor to director Steven Spielberg's love affair with adventure films seen through such series as the Indiana Jones tales -- and terrier Snowy makes for a much smarter, cuter sidekick than Shia LeBouf. In Tin Tin's case, this series has lots more gas in its narrative engine than the now-tired Indie Jones saga.

Both Sherlock Holmes and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo deal with bloodthirsty villains -- one who kills for perverse greed, the other for sadistic passions -- and present convoluted stories that come to uncertain conclusions. While they each offer slick, visually stimulating sequences of death and destruction, one seems a sleekly-made yet unnecessary remake (Dragon) and the other an almost too-peculiar re-imagining (Holmes).

Drawing on author John Le Carre's cerebral novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy investigates the secret agent landscape as an intellectual exercise. In director Tomas Alfredson's version, this story of spymaster George Smiley ferreting out a mole in the British espionage bureaucracy tries to recreate the novel's complex machinations, but it spurs more confusion than insight.

And all of these films have roots in a raft of source material, but the granddaddy of it all is the James Bond series, longest running franchise in film history.

Some of the series' cinematic excursions ranged far afield from Ian Fleming's original novels where the world's most suave, savvy spy was actually a lot grittier and more of a cold, ruthless operator.

While the filmic Bond increasingly relied on fancy gadgets to enhance the drama -- especially after the character became far more of coy caricature during the Roger Moore years -- it still influenced a crop of sometimes superior imitators. And now the character has returned to a harder edge through actor Daniel Craig's recent re-invention.

Normally the Bond films can only be viewed on various DVD and Blu-ray sets but they have been viewable all this month on Epix -- the premium entertainment service available on television, video-on-demand, online and on consumer electronic devices.

And they dovetail into today's marathon of Bond movies. So if you still hunger for the original thrills set in play through James, the following are viewable: Goldfinger (3:45 pm ET), Thunderball (5:45 pm ET), Live and Let Die (8 pm ET), and You Only Live Twice (10 pm).

For more info go to: www.EpixHD.com