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If I Ran the Academy


The Oscars are coming up this weekend (Sunday night) and although I do like Anne Hathaway and James Franco (who are hosting) I can’t really say that I’m looking forward to watching.

It’s annoying to see the entertainment news show hosts fawning over the celebrities and talking to them like they’re friends who hang out on a semi-regular basis (“Angelina! How are Brad and the kids!”) It’s excruciating to suffer through the awful, fumbling speeches, most of which seem to consist of long strings of names I’ve never heard of, and vicariously embarrassing to watch the winners get practically dragged off the stage because they wouldn’t shut up when the music started. And it’s boring to see the same pretentious bigwigs win over and over again when plenty of good movies never even got a chance at an award because they don’t fit into a category.

Barring a few interesting spots of entertainment (remember the shadow statue people?) it’s pretty much always the same thing, because you can only become the head of an organization like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by being around forever, by which time you have become an old fuddy duddy who is married to tradition.

If there was a young(er) person in charge (for the sake of argument, let’s say… me!) they would shake things up a bit. Here are the new rules I would make if by some hell-freezing chance I actually became the head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

No watch? No vote!

Currently there’s only one category where the members actually have to have seen the movie before they can vote: Best Picture. That leaves every other category open for guessing, sucking up, nepotism, and general idiocy. In my regime, if you haven’t seen every movie in the category, your vote goes in the shredder. No exceptions!

No speeches!

Yeah, yeah, a lot of people helped you get where you are. But the only people interested in hearing you sob out a list of names are the people on that list of names, not the millions of people who now have you on mute at home. So type up your speech and hand it to the web director, who will post it on the live blog. Anyone who cares can go read it. Save your sucking up for the after party and maybe we can get this thing down to less than nine hours.

No distribution, no nomination!

Sorry, indie filmmaker. That film you made in your garage might be the best thing ever made in the history of ever, but if it never made it into the big theaters, no one has seen it, therefore no one cares whether or not you win. In the new world order, only movies people have had a chance to see get on the TV broadcast. Everyone else can have their own little ceremony. Perhaps held in the garage.

No obscure categories on the air!

This means you, Documentary Short Subject. It’s the same principle as the distribution rule. If no one has ever been given a chance to see the short films you’ve made, your whole category is going to go by while viewers are in the kitchen making nachos in preparation for Best Actress. So either start putting your little shorts in front of feature films like the animated ones do, or you’re getting bumped to the off-air awards night.

Explain your frikking category, Oh My God.

Film people know about film, but if we’re going to broadcast your category’s awards for millions of people to see, you’d better make damn sure they actually know what you do. What, for instance, is the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing? Where is the line between Cinematography and Art Direction? People have no idea, so they zone out for your category. Make up a skit, do a blog entry, or just get up and talk about it, but explain yourselves, people. That’s an order.

Comedy gets a category. Deal with it.

Yeah, yeah, in insider circles comedy is about as respected as an armpit fart prodigy at music school, but comedy matters to everyone else. When they’re having a bad day, or a bad month, what do they want? Not your depressing dramas. They want a comedy that will make them feel better. A movie that can do that deserves a little respect. Obviously you can’t compare apples (drama) with oranges (comedy) so they’re getting their own category.

No more consolation prizes!

When there are two or more films with a pile of nominations each, one will win all the big awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, etc.) and the other will win something piddling (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, etc.). because you felt bad and you wanted to give them something at least. Well stop it. Vote for who you think is the best. No sympathy. No loyalty, no compromise.

Only one nomination for best pictures!

Big movies that get nominations in the double digits are taking up space in categories that could otherwise have accommodated a less than perfect film with stellar work in that category. So from now on, any movie that’s on the Best Picture list is not allowed to be nominated for anything else. It will be considered worthy in all categories, and everyone who worked on it shares the award, not just the producers.

I realize that my edicts would quickly piss off the members of the Academy enough that they’d form their own very-well-dressed lynching party, but if I could squeeze just one Oscar broadcast past them before I was run out of town, I think all the little people watching at home would appreciate it.

Go ahead, film snobs, feel free to bombard me with your dissenting opinions, but I warn you, I will not be swayed!

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My Abysmal Award Predicting Record

I’m definitely not psychic, despite what some of my library patrons think. If I was, I’d have been able to pick more than five of the correct answers on the “who will win at the Golden Globes” fun tests that all those entertainment websites always put out. Five out of twenty-five. And only two of them were serious picks, the rest were all blind guesses. That’s got to be some kind of record. Even blind guessing, I should have gotten more right than that.

So why am I so awful at predicting these things? Well, part of it is that I’ve almost never seen all of the nominated movies, so how could I possibly make an intelligent guess? I’ve got two real jobs and two fake ones (don’t ask), so I don’t have time to torture myself watching molasses-slow foreign and independent films just so I can have a better chance at telling whether it will or won’t win an award I don’t care about.

And then there’s the someone else factor. I’m not trying to pick winners that can be ranked by some sort of objective means, like an algorithm. I’m trying to guess what hundreds of people I have never met will like best. And these hundreds of people rarely agree with me.

I’m pretty good at predicting what people will like when I know them. That’s why my some of library patrons think I’m psychic. I can go: “read this, you’ll like it,” or “don’t watch that, you’ll hate it,” and be right because I know what they have or have not liked in the past. So I guess if I want to improve my record for the Golden Globes, I have to get to know every member of the Hollywood Foreign Press personally. That would be a lot of phone calls. I imagine if you were listening to my end of it, it would sound something like this:

“Hi, yeah, I was just wondering: what’s your favorite movie of all time? …..Uh huh. Really. ….. Oh and in the original Swahili? Isn’t that something. ….. No, I haven’t heard of it, but I’ll definitely check it out (not).”

“Yes, hello. I just wanted to ask what you bought your mother for her last birthday. …. A bidet? And how did that go over? ….. Oh, you still aren’t speaking. That’s a surprise (not).”

And even then it would be pointless, because it doesn’t matter so much what they actually like as it does who they owe favors to, who their friends are, who’s banging their brother’s girlfriend’s driveway paving specialist, who they’re trying to get on the good side of, etc. Especially with the Oscars. So really, I’d have to do one of those complex social dynamics math equations and… oh the hell with it.

Next time, I’m just pinning the sheet to a dart board and throwing some sharp things at it.

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New Words for Movie Reviews

If I hear one more movie described as “a high-octane thrill ride” or “laugh out loud funny,” I’m going to gnaw off my own arm in annoyance (not really. I need two arms to type). I’d lambaste the movie reviewers who keep using the same reviews for everything, but I can’t really blame them. A bjillion movies come out each year and most of them are not appreciably different from the ones that have come before. There are only so many words in the English language to describe the same thing (yes, I know they’re called synonyms, smart ass) and we’re running out, throwing the movie criticism industry into crisis.

Some reviewers have tried to work around the rapidly evaporating pool of witty criticisms by simply comparing new movies to old ones:

“[insert name of move that came out this year] is this year’s [insert name of similar movie that came out last year]!”

EXAMPLES:

Observe and Report is this year’s Bad Santa!”

“Iron Man 2 is this year’s Iron Man!”

Other reviewers make claims that whatever new movie they’ve seen is the best of some genre (just not any genre that’s already been topped by a movie that’s actually good.) A tightly confined, made up category, usually further narrowed down by being limited to the current year:

“[insert name of movie] is the best [insert four qualifying adjectives] of the year!”

EXAMPLES:

Tangled is “Disney’s best non-Pixar animated movie since 1994!”

“Dinner for Schmucks is the best awkward dinner comedy starring a former Daily Show correspondent of 2010!”

The smart ones, however, realize that it’s not going to take very long for people to notice a pattern in their obvious contortions to say something new and complimentary that will end up on the DVD box. These savvy but still panicked critics often resort to using random, semi-applicable dictionary words that nobody understands.

Duplicity is an “effervescent espionage with two irresistible forces”!
TRANSLATION: Duplicity is lively and exhilarating and it has two sexy people in it.

Babies is a “joyous and buoyant new documentary”!
TRANSLATIONS: Happy babies float in water?

Since all of these movie critics seem to be having so much trouble coming up with things to say, I thought I would help them out by appropriating, mutilating, and outright inventing new words that can be used to describe common facets of moviemaking. Hopefully they’ll put off the impending crisis for a few months until the new urban dictionary comes out and everyone can switch to street slang, yo. I’ll list them for you here along with their definitions. I’ll even use them in a sentence, like this is a spelling test.

Hyperventalatory

From the verb “to hyperventilate,” which means to breathe so quickly you can’t get enough oxygen. In this context, it means a movie that causes extreme excitement and/or fear.

EXAMPLE: “A Perfect Getaway is a hyperventalatory thriller that has made me afraid to go on vacation.”

Volumized

A made-up word usually used to describe the eyelash engorging effects of mascara, but in this case it means a movie that has less substance than it appeared to have, often because of an unusually good trailer.

EXAMPLE: “The Dilemma has been volumized to the point where a great idea for a five minute sketch was drawn out into a terrible ninety minute movie.”

Ectopic

A term that is usually used in medicine to describe a pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus and must be aborted. In this case it describes a movie that is based on an extremely out of the box idea that just didn’t work.

EXAMPLE: “I was expecting it to be fun, but Michael McGowan’s Score: a Hockey Musical turned out to be ectopic.”

Thicktastic

From the root “thick,” a slag term used to describe a stupid person, it describes movies for muscle-bound thickos that are actually good or at least fun to watch, usually starring former sports players.

EXAMPLE: “Sylvester Stallone’s thicktastic new movie The Expendables will find a home on my action shelf.”

Antihesive

An invented antonym (opposite) to “cohesive,” which means something that makes sense or fits together well. It describes a movie that just can’t seem to keep itself together.

EXAMPLE: “Resident Evil Apocalypse turned out to be extremely antihesive, bouncing between plot points that had nothing to do with each other.”

Unicornacious

From the root “unicorn,” which is a magical horse-like beast with a horn on its forehead. It describes a film that is impossibly awesome and sharp, but that looked, at first glance, to be something ordinary.

EXAMPLE: “You could be excused for getting Easy A confused with Postgrad, but make no mistake: Easy A is extremely unicornacious.”

Luciferian

From the root “Lucifer,” one of the many names for the devil. Used to describe movies made by people who seem to hate their audiences.

EXAMPLE: “In a luciferian attempt to cause uncontrolled bleeding in viewers’ brains, David Fincher let Zodiac run on for nearly three hours before pulling the plug on its inconclusive plot.”

Fossicker

From the verb “to fossick,” a mining term from Australia/New Zealand which describes looking for gems and minerals in the scrap heap from an old mine. It is used to describe a director or writer whose Blockbuster movies are based on ideas stolen from other people’s reject files.

EXAMPLE: “When Michael Bay took the brief, aborted inclusion of human beings in the Transformer cartoons and turned them into a whole trilogy of big budget movies, he went down in history as Hollywood’s biggest fossicker.”

Strychnatic

Based on the root “strychnine,” which is a bitter alkaloid poison. It describes movies that have been made by bitter, angry filmmakers.

EXAMPLE: “Michael Moore’s strychnatic documentary, Farenheight 911, blames everyone and their dog for the trouble the country is in.”

Ecliptic

Usually used in astronomy to describe the orbital paths of celestial bodies. In this case it refers to a movie that goes around and around the point but never gets to it.

EXAMPLE: “Legion’s maddeningly ecliptic plot was supposedly about a modern day Mary but kept detouring away for monster battles and angsty reunions between angels.”

Bonobous

Based on the root “Bonobo,” which is a species of great ape previously known as the Pygmy Chimpanzee. It is used to refer to a movie which was obviously made by monkeys.

EXAMPLE: “Leap Year is the most bonobous excuse for a romantic comedy since a monkey actually got hold of of a film camera and taped itself picking nits off its girlfriend.”

Dystrophic

A word usually used in medicine to describe the degenerative effects of faulty nutrition. In this case it refers to a franchise that has been slowly disintegrating due to poor writing.

EXAMPLE: “The Clone Wars is just the latest entry in an increasingly dystrophic series of Star Wars spinoffs designed solely to sponge money from nerds with OCD.”

If you’re stuck on a review, feel free to use the above words to make it more original. At least until enough people start using them for them to become cliched, and then it’s back to the drawing board. After a few years we’ll be doing all our descriptions in Portuguese.

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Top 5 and Bottom 5 Movies of 2010

happy old year
Well, 2010 is over. Even though, if you’re like me, you still keep writing 2010 on everything, it’s officially 2011 now and time for a whole new crop of movies. Before I push on, however, I’d like to go back and review the best 5 and worst 5 movies I’ve seen this year, just in case you were living in a cave or something and now you have time for five movies ONLY before you go back in again. Those of you who’ve read my top 5/bottom 5 of 2009, know that only movies I’ve seen are in the running and since I am not a bottomless well of time and/or money, I can only see one a week (sorry, The Town, and Get Low you missed out) and I generally try not to pick ones I KNOW are going to be horrible. You know, like a normal person.
So onward, with the normal non-rich person’s bestest and worstest movies of 2010!

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DVDs for Oct. 12, 2010


How to Train Your Dragon

I love this movie. It’s about a Viking teenager who defies tradition and makes friends with one of the pesky dragons plaguing his village. Pixar usually wins the animated movie Oscar, but I’d pick How to Train Your Dragon over Toy Story 3 any day. This movie was done (rather spectacularly) in 3D for the theaters, so I imagine it loses something on your normal TV, though not enough to make it not worth renting. Your kid will like it and so will you. You can read my full review here.

Buy How to Train Your Dragon on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Jonah Hex

It’s the Civil War. There’s a guy. His family gets killed and his face gets burned. He’s now ugly and he has superpowers involving ghosts and he’s out for revenge. Basically it’s Josh Brolin starring in the antebellum version of The Punisher. Unsurprisingly, it’s based on a comic book. If you just want to watch things blow up and ogle Megan Fox, you might actually like this movie. If you need a semi-intelligent plot and an attractive male lead (Jonah Hex looks like Harvey Two-Face from Batman) then you’re out of luck. I won’t be renting it, that’s for sure.

Buy Jonah Hex on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


I am Love

Tilda Swinton is Italian (or rather, her character is). She’s also having an affair. It causes problems in her big Italian family. I am Love is one of those big deal foreign films that critics and festival snobs fall all over themselves to compliment, which means to the average North American (like, say you or me) it is boring and confusing. If you’re into that (and into reading – there are subtitles), then by all means, rent away. If you’re not, this is probably not a good movie for you to rent unless you’re trying to impress someone.

Buy I am Love on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Leaves of Grass

As you might have guessed from the title and the fact that Edward Norton is sporting a mullet on the cover, Leaves of Grass is a movie about drugs. It’s one of those quirky independent movies that famous actors do when they get tired of earning so much money (Keri Russell, Susan Sarandon, and Richard Dreyfuss are all in this too). Norton plays a set of twins, one hick drug dealer, one city banker, so it’s supposed to be funny, but there are also chunks of shooting and violence so it’s also part unfunny. If you’re a fan of drug movies or Edward Norton, check it out. The critics seemed to like it, but that doesn’t always mean anything.

Buy Leaves of Grass on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

TV seasons out this week:

The Tudors: The Final Season (Heads are regularly chopped, nasty old English sex is regularly had… it’s no wonder this show is so popular.)
Dollhouse: Season 2 (I love Joss Whedon, but this show was not his best. I lost interest before the end of the first season.)
In Treatment: Season 2 (Yadda yadda talky talky I have no interest in psychiatry.)

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Trailer Reviews for October 8, 2010

Holy overload, Batman. Opening this weekend we’ve got 8 features: Secretariat, Buried, Life as We Know It, Catfish, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, My Soul to Take, Never Let Me Go, and Howl. Plus the Cape Breton Island Film Series also is showing Winter’s Bone.

SECRETARIAT



There have been a lot of movies about horse racing over the years: Black Stallion, Dreamer, Phar Lap, Seabiscuit… hell, there’s even been one about a zebra in horse racing (Racing Stripes), and they’re all pretty much the same. Person has special horse. Person wants to race special horse. Person is a nobody, so everyone says they can’t. They do. Yay. It’s usually a true story. Secretariat looks like more of the same. Their angle on it is that the person is a housewife instead of a teenager or a has been or whatever. There are Oscar rumors following this movie around like ducklings but for the life of me I can’t see why anyone who’s not a horse nut would be interested.

BURIED



CSI did an excellent two-part episode called “Grave Danger” where Nick was buried alive. A two part episode is approximately the same length as a movie, but they could carry it off because they were mostly sticking with the CSIs as they tried to find him, not Nick, because he was stuck in a box so pretty much all he could do was look scared. Unless there’s a LOT more to Buried than any of the trailers are letting on, the filmmakers have made the cardinal mistake of staying in the box with Ryan Reynolds the whole time. I know the guy’s a decent actor, but come on. No one can lie on their backs with a lighter and carry a movie for two full hours. I suspect a lot of people are going to get fed up and/or bored with this one, but the critics will love it because it’s “different.”

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT



I must be an eternal optimist, because every time I see a trailer for a romantic comedy, I think: “Oh I hope it will be good!” Sometimes it turns out to be great (27 Dresses), but more often it turns out mediocre (Letters to Juliet) or completely stupid (Leap Year). For Life as We Know It, the random famous person pair-o-matic stuck Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl together. If it was just the two of them I think they would’ve been utterly forgettable, but add in a baby and ta da! Total cuteness. I know they gave practically everything away in the trailer, but I’ll probably see it anyway. Because I’m eternally optimistic.

CATFISH



Everyone’s being deliberately vague about what exactly Catfish is about (and why it’s called Catfish in the first place) but generally speaking it seems to be a story about internet dating going horribly wrong. It’s not a documentary, it’s a thriller, but it’s made to look like a documentary, kind of like The Blair Witch Project or The Last Exorcism. I’m not like most of the overly trusting members of the internet generation. I tend to assume the worst of random people I meet online, so I doubt anything in this movie will be all that surprising or scary to me. I’ve already imagined worse. Whether the story is really so great and wonderful that they need to impose this kind of secrecy, I dunno. I guess we’ll all just have to go see it and decide for ourselves, which is exactly what the filmmakers want.

IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY



I’m not a huge Zach Galifianakis fan, but It’s Kind of a Funny Story actually looks pretty interesting. I really liked those episodes of House when House was in a psychiatric hospital, and this movie could be more of that. I imagine actually being in a psychiatric ward isn’t nearly as interesting as they make it out to be in the movies and on TV, because crazy to writers means “I can make up anything for them to do” while crazy to psychiatrists means something more easily pigeonholed. I wouldn’t go see It’s Kind of a Funny Story in theaters, at least not on a week like this, but I’ll totally put it on my DVD rental list.

MY SOUL TO TAKE



Hmm Wes Craven is actually writing and directing this movie instead of letting other filmmakers appropriate his name, so this could be good. I just hope they don’t actually make that kid (Max Theriot: he looks familiar because he was young Hayden Christenson in Jumper and Ned in Nancy Drew) the reincarnation of the killer or something because that was totally obvious even in the trailer. And they did that on that episode of The X-Files. “Aubrey” it was called. Anyway, Scream et all were more surprising than that, so I think I will give My Soul to Take the benefit of the doubt.

NEVER LET ME GO



Holy crap, how did I not hear of this one until now? Never Let Me Go is a really generic title, so I guess that could account for part of it. The whole “raised to donate organs” thing is inherently dramatic, but unlike The Island an excuse to blow things up, Never Let Me Go is more about jerking on heartstrings. Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield… all these people are awesome. Plus it’s British so you know it’s not going to turn stupid. I really want to see this right now, immediately, but of course we’re not getting it. Isn’t that always the way? Hey CB Film Series people: bring in this one please.

HOWL



James Franco: I’m never quite sure what he’s going to do next. This time he’s not a pothead or a soldier or a supervillain, he’s a pote. Allen Ginsberg, to be specific. I’m always amused by stories where artists are taken to task for being “obscene.” If you’re offended by it, don’t read it/look at it/listen to it! Problem solved. But I guess “Howl” was a big deal back then and actors like to dress up in period clothes, so that’s how we ended up with a movie. I like James Franco, but I don’t like beat poetry, therefore I don’t read it, and I don’t watch movies about it. See how easy that is?

And the Film Series people have brought in Winter’s Bone. I did a trailer review of it a few weeks ago when everyone else was getting it. You can read it here. Suffice it to say that it looks really good, so I’m going. Not for this week’s review, it’s too old for that, but just for fun. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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How to Have Helpful Opinions

For a lot of people, reviewing a movie begins and ends with the phrases: “it sucked” and “it was awesome.” However, even if you’re just talking to your friends, this information isn’t enough to help them make a decision. After all, everyone has different opinions and expectations. What you thought was awesome might suck to someone else.

You might think you’re not capable of forming a more complex and helpful opinion if you don’t know about three act structures or two shots, but insider knowledge isn’t necessary to be an amateur movie critic. All you have to do is take a second to think about how the movie made you feel, and then use the following decoder to translate it into something helpful. Observe.

I was bored — usually means — the pace was too slow for me.

It blew my mind — usually means — the movie was based on an innovative idea.

I hate character x — usually means — it was hard to identify with the characters.

It was so cute — usually means — the actors had great chemistry.

It was stupid — usually means — the world rules weren’t close enough to reality for the audience to believe in them.

I cried — usually means — it was moving, but not necessarily sad.

It wasn’t what I was expecting at all — usually means — the movie had a misleading trailer or failed to hit the points expected of the genre.

I was excited — usually means — it was fast-paced with lots of action.

I didn’t get it — usually means — the plot was too complex.

The only one that doesn’t really work is “it was funny,” because responses to comedy are so subjective. In this case, you should think about what movies your friend has thought were funny (for instance, did they laugh at Team America or at George of the Jungle?) before recommending a comedy to them. I get bad recommendations from people all the time simply because they don’t take into consideration that we have different senses of humor.

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Casting Bond 23

bond 23 poster

With MGM up for sale and Bond 23 on indefinite hiatus, current James Bond actor Daniel Craig has jumped ship in favor of the English adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, leaving the role of James Bond potentially open for casting once things at MGM have been settled.

Before Craig was cast for Casino Royale, Australian actors Hugh Jackman and Sam Worthington were also being considered for the role, leading me to believe MGM was interested in reaching new audiences (i.e. Australian ones) with their choice of Bond. They didn’t go for it, obviously, since they chose Daniel Craig, but perhaps when MGM has a new head they’ll actually try to reach out. They won’t choose Jackman or Worthington, of course. The new head of MGM will want to put his or her “stamp” on things, so they’ll choose someone else entirely. Someone British (some things never change).

I have some casting suggestions for the James Bond role based on which new audiences MGM wants to attract to the theaters, hopefully solving the studio’s money problems.

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Inception: Why it’s not as awesome as you think (or as awful)

There seems to be something of a war going on over Christopher Nolan’s latest film Inception. On one side you’ve got the online critics (like Laremy Legel from Film.com), who seem to be in a competition to get a quote on the DVD box, and the print critics (like Andrew O’Hehir from Salon) who seem to be using the movie as an excuse to unload all their bottled up vitriol on the undereducated internet plebs.

If you haven’t seen Inception, it’s about a team of thieves who steal ideas from people’s dreams. They decide to attempt a supposedly impossible feat – planting an idea. It’s really cool to watch but it had major consistency issues and that’s all I can say to you right now without giving away the plot. If you want to keep reading, go see the movie. I’ll wait.

Back? Well, just to be safe, I’m going to give this warning (cover your ears).

CAUTION! THIS ARTICLE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! DO NOT CLICK ‘READ MORE’ UNLESS YOU ARE OK WITH BEING EXPOSED TO SPOILERS!!!!

For those of you who have seen Inception and were confused by it, you may be interested to know that this is not your fault.

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Trailer Reviews for July 23rd, 2010


It’s a slow weekend for Hollywood movies: only Salt and Ramona and Beezus are coming out this Friday, along with a couple of foreign films. But that’s no comfort to me. I’ve still got a backlog of movies I want to see that’s as long as my arm. I envy the “real” critics. They get to go to whatever they want for free! As for us, we have to spend our hard earned cash buying tickets. $12 on the weekend! $15 if it’s 3D! Highway robbery if you ask me. I’ll tell you what’s worth it and what isn’t.

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