Welcome to The Morning Read.

Devin Faraci's been chasing this story for a while now, and it's good to see he finally got it pinned down.  It's probably the biggest story breaking today, and it's one that we'll be feeling the ramifications of for a while.  We've talked about the plan at Marvel Studios to get from "Iron Man" to "The Avengers," with all the films in-between, but there's been very little talk about what happens after they get there.  Devin finally got a peek at what's going on over there, and it's promising.  Evidently, Marvel is quietly meeting with writers and directors about a series of smaller films, somewhere in the $30 - $50 million range, that will allow them to bring some of their lesser-known characters to the screen for the first time, and with far less risk than if they were asked to carry a giant tentpole film.  I love this idea because it seems both business-sensible and creatively challenging.  Devin included several titles that he says are under consideration right now, including Dr. Strange, Ka-Zar, Luke Cage, Dazzler and Power Pack.  I know the last time I saw Kevin Feige (during a still-embargoed set visit for a film that rhymes with "Thor"), he spoke about how much he loves Dr. Strange, and I got the sense that it was one of the most important characters for him to get on film in the future.  I would imagine anyone who grew up reading Marvel Comics has their own list of characters they'd love to get their hands on, and I doubt Marvel's going to have any trouble getting filmmakers excited about this opportunity.

Is anyone else bitterly disappointed in Comedy Central?  One of the reasons that "South Park" is enjoying a successful 14th season on the air is because they are fearless satirists.  You may not like what they do, but it would be hard to deny that they have stayed on top of their game the entire time they've been around by simply refusing to buckle to fear, no matter how powerful their targets.  In their 200th episode, they brought together many of their earlier targets, and in particular, they brought back the Prophet Muhammad.  As a result, they were threatened repeatedly this week, and there was a website that went up that included photos of Theo Van Gogh, the filmmaker who was killed by Muslim extremists.  As a result, Comedy Central censored last night's new episode completely, rendering it nearly incoherent in the process.  Look, what happened to Theo Van Gogh was awful and terrifying, but anyone who reacts out of fear as a result is only feeding into the idea that the Prophet Muhammad is somehow beyond the same criticism and commentary as any other religious icon or even public figure.  I'm sorry that there are people who consider themselves Muslim who feel that murder is the way to handle their disagreements with the world at large.  I am.  But the only way to give them power is to give in to their bully tactics, and Comedy Central is now officially complicit in making violent Muslim extremists more powerful today, when the whole point of Matt and Trey's comedy is to make them less powerful.  Way to go, Comedy Central.  Way to go.

One of the many superfans I've dealt with in the last decade-plus I've been working online is the entity known as "AB King," which is actually a pair of twin bodybuilders who are obsessed with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I'd imagine they are about to implode from the anticipation over "The Expendables," especially since seeing the Ah-nold cameo in the trailer.  AB King is convinced that the moment Ah-nold leaves office, he's going to start right back into giant-budget action moviemaking, despite his age and the fact that he hasn't exactly been keeping himself camera-ready.  His focus has been elsewhere the last few years, and there's no guarantee he's even thinking about picking up his acting career again.  That doesn't stop people from speculating, though.

I really need to catch up with "Exit Through The Gift Shop," the Banksy documentary that's playing in limited release right now, and this Vanity Fair article only makes me more anxious to check it out.

It's interesting to see the conversations that have been sparked by "Kick-Ass," both from the people who hate it and the people who love it, and I think Kim Voynar's response to an upset reader sort of pins down one of the things that I think the haters are missing.  I don't think the movie lets Hit Girl or Big Daddy off the hook for their behavior.  Not at all.  Yes, Chloe Moretz seems to take an almost indecent amount of glee from the mayhem she unleashes in the film, but the film absolutely makes clear the deep sorrow just beneath the surface that leads Damon to brainswash his little girl in the first place, and I think the film offers up a fascinating look at the way we raise our kids and what it is that they take from us.  It's a responsibility all parents need to contemplate, especially the ones who are upset because they took their kids to an inappropriate R-rated film.  Ahem.

Asking if Nikki Finke might be a bad sport is like asking if the sun might shine.

I think I figured out what I want for my 40th birthday next month.

Oh, Mr. Baldwin... really?

What?  A new music video from Spike Jonze?  Yes, please.

 

 

Okay, is it just me, or is that one of the most cheerfully ominous things ever?  I am terrified of those panda dudes now.  Thanks for the nighmare fodder, Spike.

Chris Cunningham is responsible for plenty of nightmare fodder of his own, and I have spent many years wishing he would finally make a feature film, but reading this profile of him and what he's up to right now, I think it's time I get used to the fact that whatever muse is guiding him, it's probably not one that would ever permit him to comfortably work in the studio system or even to get an indie feature finished.  He's a singular artist and an amazing talent, and he just may be too precious for this world in general.  I wish him well, even if he frustrates me tremendously.

Geoff Boucher's piece about the writing process on "Iron Man 2" is interesting because there's been so much off-the-record talk here in town about exactly how these films get made.  I know one person who thinks Marvel's just gotten lucky each time they've made a film because they start production with "terrible" scripts.  I think that's a naive way of looking at it.  In the case of "Iron Man," the franchise works because of the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau, guys who don't just embrace improvisation... they thrive on it.  They are at their very best when they are building something on the fly, and the fact that they can do that on a giant $200 million superhero film is a rare gift.

The times, they are a-changing, indeed.

Okay, if I don't get biomechanical legs for my 40th birthday party, then at the very least, I want some cake in a jar.  Yums.

There were rumors that Meryl Streep might be starring opposite Russell Brand in the upcoming remake of "Arthur," but today the news is that Helen Mirren is actually the one stepping into the role played by Sir John Gielgud in the original.  Mirren is an amazing choice, and I have no doubt that her take on Hobson will be a preposterous pleasure.

And finally today, It's frustrating when you see a small film at a film festival that you love, only to see it vanish into obscurity because no American distributor picks it up.  Fantastic Fest is a place where you see dozens of those types of films each year, and now Luke Mullen's done an amazing round-up that looks at where the films from last year's fest are, and how you can see them.  It's a two part article, so make sure you read both of them.

The Morning Read appears here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Except when it doesn't.

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