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Pre-Comic-Con Film Festival Extravaganza - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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July 20th, 2010


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09:24 pm - Pre-Comic-Con Film Festival Extravaganza
I leave for Comic-Con tomorrow! And for the last month, I have been almost exclusively watching movies that relate to this agenda. Because I'm staying with Seanan, there's a lot of horror.

Swingers: Since one of my favorite movies ever is Go, I've been wanting to see Doug Liman's first movie for years. I tried to watch it one night with friends in Ann Arbor, but I was tired and fell asleep after ten minutes. The movie is essentially about some dudes in L.A. going out to parties and picking up chicks, which is, you know, totally my life. Jon Favreau is an adorable guy trying to get over a six-year relationship, and Vince Vaughn is his asshole friend who tries to get him laid. Vince thinks Jon is money and he doesn't even know it, and look at all these beautiful babies, baby, money, baby, baby, money, money, baby, that is like his entire dialogue right there. I basically hated anything involving the asshole friends, but I liked scenes with Jon and Ron Livingston, who is also not an asshole. The saving grace is that the movie clearly does not support Vince's assholishness and is okay with your not liking him. It's a mildly entertaining, sometimes sweet movie, but it's mostly a cute time capsule of 1996. B/B+

The Thing: In this John Carpenter horror classic, an Antarctic research team encounters an alien lifeform that has the ability to take on other organisms' shapes, which sets the scene for the oft-used It Could Be Any One of Us trope. It's a well-crafted horror film in the way that it slowly builds suspense and paranoia by both teasing the audience and allowing them to use their imagination, introducing so many barely distinct characters that it's hard to keep track of who might be an alien, when was the last time we saw them, how long have they been gone. But, really, I loved the fuck out of the creature effects, which are some of the best I've ever seen. Look, I love me some CGI, but I sure do miss the pre-CGI days, when things looked real and tactile and goopy. The design of the creature makes almost no sense, but it's not supposed to be a plausible alien being, it's supposed to be the stuff of nightmares. A-

Big Trouble in Little China: I saw this movie when I was a kid, but other than the exploding man and the very last shot, I remembered very little about it. Kurt Russell, in one of many iconic John Carpenter roles, is a truck driver who, well, gets into big trouble in Little China. He's supposed to be a badass, but he is rarely actually badass, which is pretty refreshing for this type of movie. The movie is pretty fucking ridiculous, but what's brilliant is how serious Carpenter plays it. Sure, the criminal underground is ruled by a millennia-old cursed man with no flesh. Sure, he is protected by three bodyguards with supernatural abilities. Sure, that thing has a lot of eyes. The movie moves swiftly from weird fight to amusing conversation and back to weird action sequence. It's very enjoyable. B+/A-

Drag Me to Hell: Sam Raimi's return to horror last year got incredibly positive reviews, but I'm a little surprised. Alison Lohman is a loan officer who denies an overly grotesque gypsy an extension on her mortgage and gets herself cursed to be attacked by a demon who will, well, drag her to hell. Justin Long is her loving boyfriend who doesn't really do anything, so it's basically Alison Lohman's movie, which is fine because I liked her, even though I sometimes questioned how much I liked her character. I did like their relationship, though. It was sweet. As for the horror, it was a mix of overly gross and curiously campy. I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to laugh or not. There is, I shit you not, an evil handkerchief. IT HAS AN EVIL DEMON FACE AND EVERYTHING. If I accept that these things were supposed to be a bit silly and over-the-top, I can admit they were pretty fun. I found the movie entertaining, but not particularly scary. B/B+

Resident Evil: In preparation for the new movie, I had a Resident Evil marathon on July 3. The franchise begins with a virus getting out in a secret Umbrella Corporation facility and zombifying all the personnel. Now an elite team must infiltrate the building and contain the infection while battling the A.I. security system. Oh, A.I. security systems. Will you never betray us? Milla Jovovich—whose character, Alice, is never named during the movie, which is either dumb or subtle considering all the Alice in the Wonderland references—is totally badass and kicks a zombie dog in the head. But she actually starts out not badass and with some memory loss, and a large part of the plot is her remembering who she is and what happened. So, basically, this movie strings together a lot of my favorite things fairly competently, except for the indistinguishable, forgettable characters. The sequel setup at the end seems quite promising. B+

Resident Evil: Apocalypse: Milla Jovovich is back, and she's ten times more badass, which is good because Raccoon City has been overrun with zombies! She's joined by Jill Valentine, who is terribly hot and badass at times but is mostly there to be terribly hot. The movie continues right where the first left off, which is pretty cool. While the first movie had a claustrophobic feel with only the occasional zombie attack, this one pretty much goes for straight-up all action, all the time. Milla Jovovich's talent for badassery is truly impressive, especially since she does almost all her own stunts. There are many more characters this time around, and we have to follow them in their isolated stories for a while before they connect with the main characters, which makes it hard to really give a shit about them until their importance is realized. I think the first movie is a better movie, but this one has so much more awesome shit in it. B+

Resident Evil: Extinction: Each installment in this series destroys the world a little more, and each has a different feel to it. Alice continues her evolution in badassery and now joins Claire Redfield and her convoy of survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape. The Umbrella Corporation is hot on her tail, though. Unfortunately for them, these days she's sporting dual Kukri knives and kicking all sorts of ass without bothering to take names. There are more cool zombie fights, in addition to some interesting...additions to the story. This is the weakest movie of the three, but it's still pretty good. B+

Predator: An elite special forces team—is there any other kind?—is sent into the jungle on a rescue mission only to find themselves hunted by an alien bounty hunter. The movie has a great build and is well paced so that it's never boring, and it's always tense. The first half hardly concerns the Predator at all, but we know it's out there, waiting. Using the time-honored method of only showing us a little bit of the monster at a time, director John McTiernan (of Die Hard fame) generates suspense and horror, even twenty years later after we all know what the damn thing looks like. As Arnold Schwarzenegger's team is picked off one by one, he finds that he must become a predator himself! This flick is a horror classic for a reason. A-

Gamer: Annalee from io9 once commented that this movie was underrated, so I decided to check it out. After all, it attracted such talents as Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, John Leguizamo, Alison Lohman, plus, as I discovered, random cameos from Maggie Lawson, James Roday, Milo Ventimiglia, and Keith David. I am mystified as to how that happened. The premise of Gamer is that in the future, video games are played with real people. There's a Second Life-style game called Society and a first-person shooter called Slayers, and players control actual human beings with nanotechnology or something, I don't know, it really doesn't make any sense. In fact, it takes half the movie for anything to start making any semblance of sense, but once the plot emerges, it's not too bad. The social commentary sort of gets lost in the torrent of violence, often inflicted on innocent civilians for no reason at all. The directorial style, full of quick cuts and flashy digital effects, reminded me of the bizarre style of Crank, and, sure enough, it's the same guys. Except Crank was a lot of ridiculous fun, and Gamer is sadistic and silly. It's almost worth it for the musical number with Michael C. Hall, though. I'm not kidding. B-

Daybreakers: What if nearly the entire world were vampires and humans were almost extinct, causing a worldwide blood shortage that threatens to destroy the vampire population? Daybreakers take this intriguing premise and doesn't do quite enough with it, although some of the worldbuilding is pretty cool. Most movies would focus on a human resistance fighting to destroy the vampire oppressors once and for all, but this one is told from the perspective of a vampire hematologist...who joins up with a human resistance yada yada yada. Although the trailers made it seem like an action-packed thrill ride, it's actually a fairly slow movie. Slow, but not boring, with a few scenes of gore and exploding vampires. One thing that struck me about halfway through the movie was that the defining trait of vampires in this movie is their need for blood. Here, vampirism is simply a way of life. The vamps don't really display the increased strength and agility you see in most movies because it's not really a necessary trait in everyday life, when you get your blood with your coffee. One character does get his head ripped off, though, so it comes in handy sometimes. B+

The Orphanage: Juan Antonia Bayona's film debut was produced (and "presented") by Guillermo del Toro, which is not surprising, given its similarities to The Devil's Backbone. Laura wants to reopen the orphanage she grew up in as a center for children with special needs. Right before the grand opening, however, her son meets a few imaginary friends. As you might expect, said friends turn out to be not so much imaginary and more...ghostly. To save her son, Laura must unearth past secrets and figure out what the ghosts want. Many of the plot elements are familiar; this is a fairly classic ghost story. But it's done really well, and the only time my eyes left the screen was to confirm that I was alone. The actress who plays Laura is great, so you feel her fear and desperation, and the camera constantly teases you with the possibility of a cheap jump-scare that never comes. A reminder that you don't need big-budget special effects for good horror and that in the right hands, a door closing all by itself can be fucking scary. A-

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: I loved this movie within the first two minutes, which include the line, "But you can't run away from your own feet." And I had already declared the movie awesome twenty minutes in. It did not let me down. You know the basic idea: food is falling from the sky. The movie constructs a plot of fairly familiar elements and adds some fun twists, like a monkey whose thoughts are spoken through a translator and a protagonist who likes to speak in participles. Plus, it embraces the crap out of nerddom by making its central love story about a nerdboy inventor and a nerdgirl weather reporter who—gasp!—learn that it's okay to be nerdy! The movie is hilarious and snarky and fun and enjoyable and I seriously do not understand why more people are not going around raving about it. I recommend this movie if you are a fan of food, weather, or things that are awesome. A

X-Men Origins: Wolverine: This movie should have been called We Took a Whole Bunch of Marvel Characters and Changed Nearly Everything About Them. It's an affront to both Marvel continuity, which is annoying, and the X-Men MOVIE continuity, which is worse. If you can get past all that, however, it's not a terrible comic book action movie. It has very unsubtle character development and a pretty simple narrative drive (REVENGE!) with some fun plot twists. The action sequences are sometimes poorly edited, but there are some cool moments. Except pretty much everything looks like special effects, and the special effects aren't that great. Wolverine's claws look TERRIBLE. Didn't they look better in the other movies? Christ. Oh, another alternate title is Hugh Jackman Roars a Lot, Sometimes Naked, Often Shirtless. B

Session 9: John Rogers recommended this little horror movie, and his review intrigued me enough to check it out. A bunch of guys get a job removing asbestos from an abandoned mental hospital. The boss is having some issues at home since he became a father. His right-hand man is his confidante. The boss's nephew is afraid of the dark. One guy stole another's girlfriend. And one guy decides to start listening to old interview sessions with a woman with multiple personalities. Oh, you better believe shit gets real when he reaches Session 9. The movie is a slow burn: it's not trying to make you jump out of your seat. It is trying to creep you the fuck out for 100 minutes. You know something's going on early on, but then the focus shifts to the characters and their relationships, and you wait for the "scary" stuff to start, so you're always on your toes. And as Rogers amusingly describes, by the time you figure out what's going on, it's too late. It's a chilling story made all the more chilling because it was actually shot in an abandoned mental hospital. Even more impressive is the fact that 90% of this movie takes place in the daytime, with sunlight streaming in through the windows. Yet: brrrrr. When the credits finally rolled, I kind of couldn't move for about a minute. B+/A-

[REC]: [REC] is basically Cloverfield with zombies. Or the other way around, chronologically speaking. Angela Vidal thinks she's doing a mundane story on a night in the life of a firefighter, but instead she finds herself trapped in a building during a zombie outbreak. And her trusty cameraman Pablo keeps the camera rolling. The movie starts out slowly and has some good scares, and then it quiets down and gets sort of boring, but once all hell breaks loose, it's good stuff. I loved how chaotic everything was, with people screaming and the camera swinging around wildly, as it really made you feel like WTF IS GOING ON WHY ARE PEOPLE EATING PEOPLE. The whole thing was shot on location, which again adds to the realism. I really don't know how difficult it must be to film movies like this, especially when you have long, unbroken shots of running and bloody mayhem. Yes, the characters are thinly drawn and mostly there to be eaten, but Manuela Velasco gives it her all as Angela, as she progresses from wanting to get the story of the year on tape to fearing for her goddamn life. B+

Scanners: All I knew about Scanners was that it was a David Cronenberg movie about psychics who could make people's heads explode. I may have thought they were aliens (they're not). I did not know it starred Patrick goddamn McGoohan, of Prisoner fame! He plays a doctor studying Scanners and trying to make use of their telepathy. Michael Ironside is a villainous Scanner who needs to be stopped, so McGoohan sends one of his out to get him. If you think this sounds like an exciting movie, you would be wrong! Scanners is surprisingly plodding and dull. Everyone speaks very slowly and deliberately, the shot composition isn't very interesting, and most of the movie consists of people looking very silly as they convulse and make pained expressions. There are some cool psychic-power moments, and the plot takes some nice turns eventually, but it was really hard to stay engaged. B-/B

Quarantine: How does one review this movie after seeing [REC] when it is almost a shot-for-shot, beat-for-beat remake? One simply knows that it must be inferior and look for reasons why. But first, let me focus on the positive. Angela as played by Jennifer Carpenter is more likable and relatable in this version, as is the cameraman (whom you actually see a couple times and who thus feels like a character). There's a little more focus on the quarantine aspect, which I think adds a lot to the tension and paranoia: not only are you surrounded by zombies, but the government is deliberately trapping you inside with them. There's a pretty cool scene using the camera as a weapon. But—and I don't know that I would have noticed if I had seen the movies the other way around—this movie is clearly inferior. For one thing, it looks too good. The picture is too clear, and the shots are too well composed. Conversations are shot at an angle, zoomed in, like in a movie, rather than head-on and at a medium distance, like you would if you were a TV cameraman. As a result, the realism isn't as strong. And while there were some good chaotic scenes, I don't think it reached the intensity that [REC] did. Finally, they changed the origin of the outbreak, and while I understand the original story has a bit of a European flair, I like the implications of it more. I'd be interested to hear what someone who saw the American version first and then saw the Spanish version thought. I don't think this remake is bad, and it has some good ideas of its own, but if you have a choice, stick with the original. B/B+

Ultraviolet: After my Resident Evil marathon, I wanted to see how this movie, which basically seemed like the same thing, compared. It's by the same guy who did Equilibrium, but he somehow became a less competent filmmaker. I also know there was a lot of studio interference, but still. Milla Jovovich is a "vampire" in a world plagued by some disease or something, I don't know, she takes five minutes to explain the premise in the beginning of the movie. And then she goes around killing lots of people and protecting a little bald kid. Now, Milla Jovovich has made a career out of killing lots of people in really badass ways and then striking a power pose at the end, but for some reason Kurt Wimmer decided to shoot his action scenes so that you can't tell what the living fuck is going on. There are a handful of good fight scenes, especially when she breaks out the gun-kata action, but most of them are a mishmash of images that don't fit together. Sometimes the movie honestly looks like a cartoon. It doesn't help that everything is so washed out and the lighting is all wonky so nothing looks real at all; it always looks like they're acting in front of a greenscreen. (And although Milla Jovovich was good in the RE movies, she is...less so here.) Also, there are ludicrous plot twists. Despite all these complaints—which I was looking for since I heard the movie was terrible—there were some cool bits here and there, except when it got boring in the middle and I fell asleep. B-

Comic Book: The Movie: On duchessdogberry's recommendation, I checked out this mockumentary by Mark Hamill, in which he plays an uberfanboy making a documentary at Comic-Con for a film studio set to announce a revamp of his favorite, beloved character, Commander Courage. They want him to support this "Codename: Courage" business, but he wants to honor the original Commander. The appeal of this movie lies in the fact that they actually filmed at Comic-Con and they nabbed dozens of cameos, from Stan Lee and Kevin Smith to Mike Mignola and Peter David, not to mention voice actors like Arleen Sorkin and Tara Strong. Plus, Daran Norris has a pretty great role. The movie itself is incredibly uneven, though, not sure whether it wants to be a satire of Hollywoodization of comic books, a jokey look at comic book history, or a love letter to Comic-Con and fandom. It has funny moments here and there, but it's rather shoddily edited and loses steam in the middle. It's cute and amusing, but it should have been a better movie. B

Nineteen movies in a month! Man, remember when it took me like four months just to watch a dozen movies? All hail Netflix. And my local libraries. And the fact that it's summer and there's very little television to watch.
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Tracy Bonham - Navy Bean

(30 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:toastandtea
Date:July 21st, 2010 05:13 am (UTC)
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But, really, I loved the fuck out of the creature effects, which are some of the best I've ever seen.

YESSSSSSS. It is amazing how well the effects in The Thing hold up. They are still genuinely scary and convincing. I also just really love practical effects, they have a tangibility that makes them all the more horrifying.

YOUR WOLVERINE GRADE IS FAR TOO HIGH. I'm still rolling my eyes at that piece of crap. I suppose it MIGHT have been relatively inoffensive if i hadn't loved the shit out of the first two movies, but oh my god it was so terribly written and acted, so boring, so insulting to the X-Men movieverse, awful awful awful. Gambit was cool but SO WASTED, he did not deserve to just be brought in as an inconsequential throwaway character in what already felt like an inconsequential throwaway movie. And yeah, the claw effects were horrendous. Also: NO BLOOD, EVER. FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU

Session 9 sounds really interesting, i'll have to check that out.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 21st, 2010 05:38 am (UTC)
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YESSSSSSS. It is amazing how well the effects in The Thing hold up. They are still genuinely scary and convincing. I also just really love practical effects, they have a tangibility that makes them all the more horrifying.
Yes! I was really impressed.

YOUR WOLVERINE GRADE IS FAR TOO HIGH. I'm still rolling my eyes at that piece of crap.
Ha! I think it had been built up as so terrible that I didn't think it was that bad (and, in fact, I graded it higher than Ultraviolet, which had a similar reputation). But all your complaints are valid!

Session 9 sounds really interesting, i'll have to check that out.
It is available on Instant Watch! Watch it in the dark!
[User Picture]
From:sterope
Date:July 21st, 2010 06:50 am (UTC)
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Predator is the best movie I've seen in a very long time. I enjoyed it immensely.
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[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 21st, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
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I did wonder how well it would hold up.
Not well!

Okay, I didn't know anything about Big Trouble in Little China, but now I kind of want to see it!
You should!

I had no idea that Milla (whom you found to be pleasant in person, if I remember correctly)
You do!

did most of her own stunts! Now I like her even more, yay!
Yay!

Now, I am the person who gets nightmares from M. Night Shyamalan films (shut up), so should I go ahead and see this one, or will it be too much for me?
It's more of an action pic than a horror pic, as far as "scary" goes, so you should be fine.

Thanks for the recommendation for Cloudy. I had no idea it would be so good!
It's soooooo good.

I was sooooo disappointed in Wolverine, but I never read the comics.
Neither did I, really. But I knew basic things like, uh, Emma Frost couldn't turn diamond at that age! That was her secondary mutation! Also she was like a fetus at that point.

("gun-kata"!)
That's not me being funny; that's the actual name of the fighting style Wimmer developed for Equilibrium.
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[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 21st, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
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That's a pretty fantastic guide, actually. Yes, all of that is correct, true, and useful. And it reminded me to bring a Sharpie.
[User Picture]
From:justjohn
Date:July 21st, 2010 01:32 pm (UTC)
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I was dismayed by your "Ultraviolet" rating, but then I realized you weren't thinking of the one I was. So let me recommend the short-lived BBC tv series "Ultraviolet." Among other things, it boast Idris Elba.


"Big Trouble in Little China"'s basic gag was this: Russell's character was actually the sidekick. The DVD's commentary track has Carpenter and Russell laughing themselves sick.
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[User Picture]
From:loopychew
Date:July 21st, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
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Completely unrelated to this post: This week's Leverage had Alona Tal!
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 21st, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
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Singing!
[User Picture]
From:ethanvahlere
Date:July 21st, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
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For once, I haven't seen most or all the movies on your list, because I'm not the horror connoisseur you are.

Swingers is an example of a movie type I'm not sure I can put a name to, but it's heavily influenced by Diner (one of my all-time favorites), in that both are concerned with atmosphere, character and dialogue rather than plot (you, on the other hand, seem more drawn to plot), and more importantly, both are about how guys are more comfortable talking with other guys than with women, and we understand it's the guys who have the problem (if you think about it, Favreau is actually the only character in Swingers who ends up with a meaningful relationship at the end, because he's a nice guy). Swingers isn't as good, or as insightful, as Diner, but I still think it works. I also liked the homage to Reservoir Dogs and to Goodfellas, and I loved the last scene in the movie.

The Thing (a remake of a 1950's sci-fi movie that's also pretty good) and Predator hold up very well for me, and I'm glad you liked them. I've never seen all of Big Trouble in Little China, but I remember it being fun. It's too bad John Carpenter and John McTiernan have had spotty careers in the last decade or so (for Carpenter, even longer).

I didn't like The Orphanage or Session 9 as much as you did. For the former, there were certainly frightening scenes, but it bothered me that it took the main character so long to figure out the basement was where they needed to look. The latter had everything needed for a good movie of that kind except, curiously, it didn't creep me out as much as it did you and others. I don't know, maybe it was a case of the hype defeating it for me, and I should give it another shot.

Finally, I haven't seen Scanners in a long time, but I remember liking it more than you did. The flat acting style Cronenberg seems to encourage in many of his movies worked for me, because it contrasted nicely with the horror, and I don't remember any particular problems with how it looked.
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[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 26th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
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She just ducked and swooshed and miraculously survived and then everyone else was dead! LAME.
Ha, seriously!!

Hope you enjoy Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs!
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:July 22nd, 2010 03:20 am (UTC)
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So, what would it take for you to give a movie a C? Even the ones that you panned and fell asleep for got a B. :-)

Have you ever read "Who Goes There?" the novella that The Thing is based on?

I've only ever managed to see the last half of Ultraviolet, but I was deeply disappointed in what I saw after the awesome fight scenes in Equilibrium. The only fun bit was when the weapon scanner finds her arsenal. "Guns. ...many."
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 26th, 2010 06:01 am (UTC)
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So, what would it take for you to give a movie a C? Even the ones that you panned and fell asleep for got a B. :-)
I've given movies C's before! Look at the other posts! My rating system is full of arbitrary point-giving and point-taking-away. Sometimes positives like things blowing up or especially cool scenes can bump a movie out of the C range. You have to have little redeeming value to stay there.

Have you ever read "Who Goes There?" the novella that The Thing is based on?
Nope.
[User Picture]
From:thomasyan
Date:July 22nd, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
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Are you planning to watch any of the animated Resident Evil movies (maybe there's only one)? I don't recall being too impressed by them.

P.S. One of the trailers when I went to see Inception was for Scott Pilgrim, and this time I thought the trailer made the movie look promising. I'm not sure why the earlier trailer didn't work for me.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 26th, 2010 06:03 am (UTC)
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There's one animated movie, and I don't have any plans to check it out.

I'm glad the second SP trailer worked for you! The movie is pretty awesome and fun.
[User Picture]
From:beeker121
Date:July 23rd, 2010 01:48 am (UTC)
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I saw 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' after it was nominated for an Oscar, and I remember starting it thinking "really?". By the time I finished I was cheering the sheer fun of the movie and totally thrilled that it had been noticed.

I am also adding a few of these titles to my neverending netflix list. It would seriously take me nearly a year to empty it, and only if I didn't add anything else in the meantime.
[User Picture]
From:prophetkristy
Date:July 25th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
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I can't believe you gave Wolverine a B! Read your commentary again and ditch the curve. ;-p

(and it breaks my heart to see X-men abused so in the film medium. Stooopid Hollywood.)

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