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#33: Piranha 3D

This is the exact type of movie I would have LOVED as a kid. And frankly, I still do. Nature run amok. It's a great theme for a movie, whether it's done in absolute seriousness (like "Jaws," "Jurassic Park," or "Tarantula") or in full-on goofy campy mode (as in "Evolution," "Eight Legged Freaks," or this movie).

Piranha 3D is exactly what it sounds like: An excuse to have super gory piranha attacks in full 3D. Throw in the fact that it happens during spring break while a group of sleazeballs are out making a "Girls Gone Wild" type movie, and it's also an excuse to have tits and ass in full 3D.

Sounds like a perfect combo, yeah?

Unfortunately... I still think 3D is an unnecessary gimmick. Until I saw Cameron's "Avatar" last year, I'd not seen a 3D movie for DECADES. And even though I felt that Cameron used the 3D technology in Avatar to INCREDIBLE effect, he knew also to compensate by making his movie super vibrant and colorful. Because those 3D glasses are about the same as wearing sunglasses in the theater, which means that your movie is going to look murky and muddy if you don't compensate... and perhaps more sketchy, unless the THEATER compensates by turning up the projector bulb a bit so the screen is more brightly lit. And since most theaters are loathe to turn up the bulb to the proper venue in the first place (under the mistaken idea that running them dim saves life on the bulbs)... when you have a movie made without that in mind, the result is underwhelming.

So it's a kind of weird catch-22. I would have enjoyed Piranha 3D much more (a full grade point more) if I'd seen it in normal mode, but that's not what the biz wants to do these days, it seems.

Hopefully 3D technology will hurry up and catch up to a point where the glasses don't murky up the screen AND where the glasses work better with people like me who don't have perfect vision and already have glasses. Either that, or the current 3D craze dies down again.

Avatar's phenomenal success wasn't due to its 3D technology as much as it was the simple fact that Cameron knows how to make movies people want to see... but alas, the fact that it was also 3D means that now I fear a LOT of studios think that adding 3D to your movie is the magic bullet to increase sales. Which is too bad. We need more "3D isn't for me!" folks like Christopher Nolan!!!!

Whatever else is going on... Piranha 3D has both the funniest Richard Dreyfus cameo ever AND the sexiest naked-girls swimming underwater and making out scene I've seen.

Piranha 3D: C+ (Probably a B without the 3D annoying factor)

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#32: The Expendables

While "The Expendables" has some really fun action sequences (particularly whenever that fully-automatic murderous shotgun shows up), my hands down favorite scene is the one near the start where we have Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis all on screen at the same time. Their dialogue is priceless! And it's just cool seeing the three stars that more or less made the 80s' action genre what it is all in one spot. Here's hoping for a sequel where the three of them have to team up  and maybe fight against a cabal of bad guys made up of, oh, let's say Alan Rickman, Clancy Brown, and Jesse Ventura.

The Expendables
: A –

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#31: Salt

Salt is an unusually good movie. I went in expecting not much more than an action movie, and while it delivers quite well on that front, it actually has a pretty cool storyline and, perhaps even more crucial, a really cool character. I can certainly see Salt turning into a franchise similar to the James Bond or Bourne movies, but with a bit darker and more edgy twist to the entire thing.

Salt: B+

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#30: Inception

I saw Inception last night, and still can't get it out of my head. I'll be seeing it again tomorrow, I think. Go see this movie before you learn too much about it from friends; the trailers, for once, do a MASTERFUL job at selling the movie without really revealing at all what it's about.

Best movie of the year, hands down. Not gonna say much more about it for now, though. Go see it.

Inception: A+

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#29: [REC]2

The original [REC] was remade into a VERY faithful adaptation here in the states called Quarantine. Both of those movies are actually really good. I prefer [REC] because the explanation of what exactly is causing the strange rabies-like contagion that takes over an apartment building in the middle of the city is a lot more... mystical, I guess, than scientific. And fortunately, that mystical explanation, only hinted at in the first movie, becomes the backbone of what's going on in [REC]2.

So, two excellent sequels to excellent movies, back to back! But unlike Predators, which more or less regurgitated (althoguh quite skillfully) the original, [REC]2 took the story into devious and harrowing new territory, including a development in the final third that, when it first occured, I thought was kind of cheesy, but the more I thought about it, the more awesome and cool it became. Culminating, in the end, in a really REALLY creepy final shot. And unlike Quarantine, that final shot was not turned into the movie poster. AKA: It wasn't pre-spoiled.

As part of one of my favorite genres; the "found footage" genre, there were a few points (primarily in the middle of the movie) where it kind of broke my suspension of disbelief that the characters in that situation would keep filming, but the first third and the last third were solid! The movie itself also does something new with the genre; it isn't merely one person filming the events, but several, from several viewpoints, so that we get to make sense of events to a greater extent than the characters in the movie, but at the same time feel like we're there filming events as they unfold. Good times!

[REC]2: A

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#28: Predators

Going to see Predators was a bit strange for me. Because Predator landed squarely in that zone of "Now I can watch R-rated movies on the VCR" and it happened to be one of the movies I owned, and as a result I watched the HELL out of the movie. As with other movies in that category, like Alien, Aliens, John Carpenter's The Thing, Re-Animator, Phantasm II, Hellraiser, and Halloween, I'm pretty well-acquainted with the dialogue, soundtrack, and storylines.

So from the start, watching Predators hit me with a huge wave of nostalgia in a good way. From the music to the script to the plot to the pacing to the camera work, it felt VERY much like a movie straight out of the late 80s or early 90s to me (although with modern resources for creating the special effects and all that), because it really REALLY felt like a natural and logical progression and extension of the movie Predator. Something the past several predator-related sequels did not (and on top of THAT they weren't that great as stand-alone movies anyway).

It's a strange thing, remakes or sequals that get made decades later. There seems like there's been a lot more of them lately, and for most of them, the movie makers make some pretty boneheaded, ill-informed, and usually just plain poor mistakes. They simply don't get what made the original they're working from is more than just the story; it's the music, the pacing, the directing, the cadence of the dialogue, and more. When you make a remake or sequel to a movie and you mess with those established starting points, chances are pretty good that you're going to make a poorer movie. Because when you make a sequel or remake of a movie that's still remembered 20 or so years later, you're pretty much GUARENTEED to be following in the footsteps of a master and of a beloved, VERY good movie. Because if it wasn't, it would have faded into obscurity; that's why there's not many high profile sequels these days of obscure movies like Shocker or Deadly Friend (to pick on Wes Craven for a bit). So every conscious decision you as a movie maker make to change an element of the original is a great chance you're self-selecting for a lesser movie, because chances are that you as the person chosen to do the remake/sequel are NOT as talented or visionary as John Carpenter or Ridley Scott or Clive Barker. A Halloween remake wherein you mostly abandon the Halloween music and the gore-light suspense for generic action movie music and torture porn violence is a great example.

Anyway. Lots of words to say that Predators is a dang fun movie. Not as good as the original, but it obviously respects the original and even builds upon the original in some fun and neat ways. More to the point, it FEELS like a sequel that the original movie makers would have made. Why is that? Well... unlike many sequels, the man mostly responsible for this one, Robert Rodriguez, happens to be a brilliant movie maker himself. It's not often that you see this happen, but you DO see it happen; it happened with Aliens, for example, and James Cameron.

Of course, being brilliant and working with a sequel is certainly no guarantee. David Fincher made Alien 3, for example, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet made Alien Resurrection. My only guess there is that they were hampered by bone-headed studio execs or something.

But yeah... Predators is fun! Not perfect; it's a bit predictable at parts and has about 2 too many plot twists and a couple of annoying action movie cliches (like the "outrun the explosion" one), but overall... good times!

Predators: B+

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#27: Knight and Day

"Knight and Day" is the type of movie I probably would have normally not seen in the theater, had I not been trying to see 53 movies in the theater this year. And as it turned out, it wasn't that terrible at all. It was actually pretty entertaining, although it suffered a little bit from the "show all the good parts in the trailer" syndrome... with the exception of a pretty fun car chase at the end of the movie. Lots of scenes that the Mythbusters have proven are impossible as well, such as cars blowing up when you shoot the gas tank.

The VERY end of the movie went on for a little bit too long, but it can't touch the end of "K20: The Fiend with 20 Faces," aka "The Fiend with 20 Endings."

Knight and Day: B –

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Paizocon 2011

ALSO. Paizocon was really fun, although kind of frustrating since it happened on the same weekend my sister, whom I haven't been able to hang out with for 2 years, was in town for more or less the exact same amount of time Paizocon was going on. So I only had about 3 hours to hang out with Stephanie. Which was lame.

But Paizocon itself was quite fun. Always good to get to chat with fans and customers and freelancers, and it's also fun to be able to play games with new folks, to take Unspeakable Futures out for another spin (this time with an assault on the deep one fortress located atop the ruins of Alcatraz), to preview the upcoming Serpent's Skull Adventure Path, and to play some Call of Cthulhu with some of the most fun roleplayers I've played with for some time.

My first game resulted in 3 PC deaths. My second resulted in 3 PCs being knocked out and dragged off to uncertain fates by the cannibals. Both of those games used the Pathfinder rules.

The third game used Call of Cthulhu. And despite the investigators being confronted by a Great Old One in a COMBAT ENCOUNTER, there were no deaths and no permanent insanities due to some of the luckiest rolls I've ever seen pop up in that game. A d100 sanity rp;; resulting in a 3 point Sanity loss for one, and a successful 28% dodge check to avoid the instant death attack of a Great Old One for another, and a fight against a crazed black bear in which the bear was gunned down one initiative step away from it killing a PC.

And it was awesome. Call of Cthulhu is a deadly game. The games where the players get obscenely lucky are really cool.

The banquet was good, but I think that the trivia contest went on for way too long. Although it was pretty cool seeing one of the Paizocon Attendees propose to his girlfriend in the course of the trivia contest!

#26: The A-Team

So... I went into "The A-Team" expecting a goofy, silly, movie with fun characters, fun action sequences, and creative "A-Team" moments where the team rigs some sort of crazy contraption to get the job done. In other words, something akin to the original show.

While they did a pretty good job capturing the characters... the action sequences were TERRIBLE. You know something has gone drastically wrong when the best parts of an "A-Team" movie are the character building parts and not the action parts. What was terrible about the action sequences you ask? Two things.

1) Shaky cam. Done well by a director and a cinematographer who have the skill to pull this easy-to-copy but hard-to-do-well technique, shaky cam works really well to heighten the tension. This movie does not do it well. Like so many others, the shaky cam just seems to distract and mask what's going on, making it unnecessarily difficult to tell what's happening.

2) The original show had unbelievable stuff, like building a tank that shoots cabbages. But while that was unbelievable, it was at the same point a physical special effect that they built in real life to work, so that part is fun. In this version, the effects and results of the A-Team's various jury-rigged solutions and creative fixes are achieved via the use of CGI, and are so blatantly preposterous that they cross the line from good goofy fun into simply stupid. AKA: I can buy a tank that shoots cabbages at bad guys, but I can't buy that 8 air bags scavanged from cars can float a semi container on a river like a boat, but much more STABLE than a boat could ever float.

CGI effects, in other words, make people lazy sometimes.

The A-Team: C

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#25: Cargo

Last movie of SIFF was Cargo, and it broke my record of rating movies either a "3" or a "5" for the festival by being interesting and well made but not being daring or creative enough to live up to its intriguing setup—a cargo ship delivering materials to a distant star to aid in building a remote station to aid in the evacuation of earth has some sort of stowaway on board. Lots of neat cavernous and cyclopean sets with a skeleton crew of astronauts managing an IMMENSE ship evoked a lot of "Alien" mojo, but the end result of what that stowaway on the ship was really up to was underwhelming.

Cargo: B

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