<p>See 'Four Lions' this weekend, or I swear I will blow up this crow.</p>

See 'Four Lions' this weekend, or I swear I will blow up this crow.

Credit: Drafthouse Films

The Morning Read: Controversial terrorist comedy 'Four Lions' opens on a busy blockbuster weekend

Plus Neil Gaiman on Stephen King, chasing 'Superman,' and Ice Cube gets 'Dirty'

Welcome to The Morning Read.

Another week winding down, and the next few weeks, I'll be seeing most of the rest of the films coming out in 2010.  It's an avalanche.  Because I see and review things on that sliding schedule, sometimes reviewing something months before you have a chance to see it, on the Friday morning these movies finally come out, it's worth taking a moment to link to the reviews and remind you of what we've said about the films.

For example, there's "Four Lions," which I saw at Sundance and loved.  Chris Morris, the evil genius behind "Brass Eye," has made a potent and piercing picture about the absurd face of modern terrorism.  It's the first release by the newly-formed Drafthouse Films, and it's stuck with me for the entire year.  I urge you to find a theater near you playing it, and if it's not playing near you yet, keep your eyes open for when it does.  You can listen to my interview with Chris Morris on the last episode of the podcast as well.

"Megamind" is opening today, as is "Due Date," comedies for very different audiences.  The latest Dreamworks Animation movie is a solid effort, a smart and frequently funny take on superheroes, while I was disappointed by the way the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis never really congealed into a great comedy.  "127 Hours," the new Danny Boyle film, is great.  I loved it at Toronto, and when I recently sat down with Boyle and star James Franco together, it was a great conversation.

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<p>Anne Hathaway gives a defining performance in the new Ed Zwick film 'Love and Other Drugs,' which opened the AFI&nbsp;Fest in Hollywood last night.</p>

Anne Hathaway gives a defining performance in the new Ed Zwick film 'Love and Other Drugs,' which opened the AFI Fest in Hollywood last night.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: 'Love and Other Drugs' offers career-best roles to Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway

Ed Zwick makes an intimate romantic drama that matters

Why does a person fall in love with another person?

It's one of the fundamental questions of art.  There are mountains of books and movies and poems and songs and paintings and sculpture and performance about the question, both asking and attempting to answer it.  Even so, it's an answer you can't offer up as a general all-purpose thing.  No two couples are the same.  No two relationships are the same.  No two people are drawn together in the exact same way.  And so we return to this idea, examining it a thousand different ways, hoping to find the universal in the specific, hoping for some answer that will make sense of these powerful forces that so often render us helpless.

Movies often bungle the "why" in love stories, and to my mind, the "why" is all that matters.  There's a reason movies often resort to what they call the "meet cute," these phony, ridiculous situations that are meant to serve as shorthand to all the things that actually go into the cultivation of a relationship.  It's a shortcut.  We're simply meant to assume in most movies that the lead characters fall in love because that's what the story is about.  Writers will go out of their way to create elaborate scenarios that drive characters apart, manufactured tension that doesn't really work because of our knowledge of genre convention.  When you go see 99.9% of all romantic films, drama or comedy, you can be assured that you will get a happy ending.  The two pretty people on the poster?  They'll end up in each other's arms, one way or another, and the more elaborate the gesture and the more ridiculous the situation, the more it seems like audiences eat it up.  The slow clap, the run through the airport, the declaration as someone walks across a crowded office that's come to a stop to watch… these are the ways we signify love on film.

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<p>Martin Sheen will join the cast of Marc Webb's 'Spider-Man' as the beloved Uncle Ben</p>

Martin Sheen will join the cast of Marc Webb's 'Spider-Man' as the beloved Uncle Ben

Credit: Douglas Healey/AP

Martin Sheen onboard 'Spider-Man' reboot as Uncle Ben

Marc Webb's cast just keeps getting more interesting

Well, if you're looking for paternal authority, I guess you can't do much better in casting than Martin Sheen.

Let's set aside the fact that one of his actual sons, Charlie Sheen, is practically a super-villain at this point whose archenemies appear to be cocaine, an army of ex-wives, hookers, and hotel suites.  Sheen was perfect as President Bartlett on "The West Wing" precisely because of that reasonable, benign wisdom he projects.  When Mouth finds a coin in the wishing well in "The Goonies" and excitedly proclaims, "It's Martin Sheen!", that's because it's hard to not get him confused with a Kennedy.  He's played both RFK and JFK, and he's played unnamed Presidents in many more films beyond that.

There must be something special about playing JFK that qualifies you to play Uncle Ben in a "Spider-Man" film.  After all, "PT-109" starred Cliff Robertson as the young JFK during his days of Naval service, and he played Uncle Ben for the Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" series.  Now Marc Webb has tapped Sheen to step in and play the role in the reboot of the series that's due out in 2012.

This comes on the heels of the recent flurry of casting decisions for the film, including the hyper-adorable Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Rhys Ifans as the still unnamed-but-heavily-speculated-about villain, and of course Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Spider-Man.  I like the idea of Garfield and Sheen playing scenes together, and I think I'm more excited about that notion than any of the potential special effects or action scenes.  The real key to me caring about a new version of Spider-Man is the cast and the human elements of the story.

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<p>It's always fun when James Bond is cornered and desperate, but now that MGM is in the same position, will they be able to fight their way out of it and bring the superspy back to the big screen?</p>

It's always fun when James Bond is cornered and desperate, but now that MGM is in the same position, will they be able to fight their way out of it and bring the superspy back to the big screen?

Credit: SPHE

MGM wants James Bond back in theaters in 2012

Is there any realistic way for the company to make their plan happen?

There is really only one test that matters for the re-organized MGM when it comes to their recovery from bankruptcy, and today, we get our first look at how they plan to face that test.

If you haven't been following the MGM bankruptcy story, or if you're only aware of it in vague terms, I don't blame you.  I've been in Los Angeles for 20 years now, and MGM's been struggling with bankruptcy for most of that time.  I've always find it amazing that this titan, this 86-year-old movie icon, could be run so poorly and managed so badly for such an extended period of time.  Now that they've rejected the takeover bid by Lionsgate and Carl Icahn, they've got to prove that they can turn the ailing company around.  In order to do so, they filed a pre-packaged plan with a Manhattan federal bankruptcy court that outlines their goals and the ways they hope to accomplish those goals.

And as I said, there's only really one thing that matters:  what do they plan to do about James Bond?

After all, "The Hobbit" is going to happen under the guidance of Warner Bros. and Peter Jackson's Wingnut Films.  MGM may have their name on that film, and they may well end up distributing it internationally, depending on how healthy that part of the company is in 2012, but they aren't really "making" it.  They can't afford to.  I'm not sure how they plan to deal with their $275 million "total obligation" to the movie, but my guess is they'll have no shortage of third party financiers looking to jump in.

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<p>Legendary Pictures, producers of films like 'Clash Of The Titans,' may have dabbled in prequel tie-ins, but now they're planning to open a division dedicated exclusively to comics, like this one by Gonzalo Arias.</p>

Legendary Pictures, producers of films like 'Clash Of The Titans,' may have dabbled in prequel tie-ins, but now they're planning to open a division dedicated exclusively to comics, like this one by Gonzalo Arias.

Credit: Warner Bros/Legendary

Legendary Comics launches with kudos from Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, and Max Brooks

Will the boutique label be more than just a chance to rough draft some movies?

The image you see there is from one of the only Legendary comic ventures so far, an iPad/iPod prequel comic to "Clash Of The Titans," with art by Gonzalo Arias, an acclaimed fantasy artist with a strong "World Of Warcraft" fanbase.

Today, Legendary Pictures announced that they were kicking off a new comics label, a venture that will be headed by Bob Schreck as Editor-in-Chief.  Kinda makes sense that if you're a company called Legendary and you're starting a comics division, you're going to reach out to a guy who legitimately can be called a legend in his field. 

The entire key to the announcement can be found in one line of the press release, of course:  "[Shreck] will be working closely with Kathy Vrabeck, President of Legendary Digital, and they will, as warranted, look to bring the newly-created comic-based IP produced by the venture to other entertainment platforms such as film and television."

Well, of course they will.  This is not a breakthrough in terms of business model.  Right now, with comic properties driving such a huge percentage of the industry, it's only prudent to start a division where you can test properties and see how they work with your exact demographic target.  There are many companies that have been started in the last decade or so that I would describe as "IP farms," companies that develop material with the express idea of leveraging it across several platforms.  In many of those cases, the comic books that are produced as a result of these deals are not good comic books.  They read like placeholders.  They read like someone's pitch for the eventual movie they hope the book will become.

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<p>This promo art for Kevin Smith's 'Red State' was part of his announcement that production on his tenth feature film has wrapped</p>

This promo art for Kevin Smith's 'Red State' was part of his announcement that production on his tenth feature film has wrapped

Credit: The Harvey Boys Productions

The Evening Read: Kevin Smith finishes 'Red State' and wages war on film critics

Plus Jackman and Elfman on 'Houdini' and more AFM 'news'

Welcome to the Morning Read.

Actually, thanks to a visit to Santa Monica to check in on a film that's currently editing and a delightful afternoon of traffic on the 405 that makes no sense at all to me, today it's the Evening Read.  And so be it.  It was a big day of things to read, and just trying to find the time to sift through it all took until now.

In the time between when I posted my "Sucker Punch" set visit this morning and now, the new trailer premiered on Apple.com, and I'm sorry if you're one of those people who still inexplicably insists that Snyder doesn't handle narrative well… I disagree.  Yes, he's a man who loves style and loves to play with the image, but I think he's a storyteller.  And this new trailer tells a complicated story well, setting up the movie in a way that hints at how much there's going to be for viewers, but that also leaves you wanting more.  And the use of Led Zeppelin?  Bonus points. 

Also, I have to say… I have resisted joining the cult of Apple for many years, but watching a 1080p trailer from Apple.com on a 13" Macbook Pro is only one of the ways I've been converted since I got the laptop in September.  This must be what it feels like when The Thing takes you over.  I can feel myself changing into one of those people…

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<p>Baby Doll (Emily Browning) faces one of the many dreamscapes she is forced to conquer in order to find the key to escape from a prison both mental and physical in Zack Snyder's 'Sucker Punch,' due in theaters in 2011.</p>

Baby Doll (Emily Browning) faces one of the many dreamscapes she is forced to conquer in order to find the key to escape from a prison both mental and physical in Zack Snyder's 'Sucker Punch,' due in theaters in 2011.

Credit: Warner Bros/Legendary

Set Visit Preview: Zack Snyder's 'Sucker Punch' is next year's craziest ride

Hot girls? Robots? Dragons? Don Draper? 'Sucker Punch' promises something for everyone

Take "Inception."  Drop in "Black Swan."  Add a dash of cosplay fantasy and a hint of "Excalibur" and a pinch of "Return To Oz," and then blend until liquified.  At that point, shoot the whole thing in Zack Snyder Dream-o-vision and brace yourself for "Sucker Punch," the director's first original feature film, not based on any source material.

And I can honestly say that after visiting the Vancouver location for the film, after talking to the director, the cast, and Deb Snyder, one of the film's producers, I still don't feel confident saying that I could "describe" the film to you accurately.  I get the feeling that until it's done, polished, and every last detail is in place, there's no way to get your head around exactly what it is that Snyder's tried to do.

When I compare this film to both "Inception" and "Black Swan," don't get me wrong… I'm not saying Snyder was influenced by those movies.  He wasn't.  It's just that there are thematic ideas he's chasing that those two films also explore.  He's been chipping away at "Sucker Punch" with his co-writer Steve Shibuya since before he made "300," and he's just finally gotten himself to a place where he has the expendable clout to make something that is this purely an expression of his own interests and fancies.  His relationship with Warner Bros. and with Legendary is very similar to the relationship they have with Christopher Nolan.  They have a faith in him and his overall vision that extends well beyond any one film.  They are in the Zack Snyder business, and they plan to be in that business for as long as they're still convinced that Snyder has a connection to the zeitgeist.

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Skyline

Not a good sign

Credit: Rogue Pictures

Watch: Eric Balfour and company try to escape the invasion in 'Skyline'

Five new clips from this 'low budget' adventure look anything but

The story behind "Skyline" is pretty interesting: two brother's with a special effects house (Hydraulx Filmz) get inspired to shoot an alien invasion flick in one of their condos. They hire mostly TV talent and with a tiny crew put a movie together that gets picket up by a major studio!

Ok, these guys were pros already, (Hydraulx was working on 'Battle for Los Angeles" for Sony while finishing this) but "Skyline" is truly a great example of what digital effects technology can do nowadays, and will be held up by many a penny pinching studio exec as what is possible "on a budget" for years to come.

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<p>Todd Phillips, director of 'Due Date,' sat down with HitFix to discuss his new film, working with his two high-energy co-stars, and the way Internet news works</p>

Todd Phillips, director of 'Due Date,' sat down with HitFix to discuss his new film, working with his two high-energy co-stars, and the way Internet news works

Credit: HitFix

Watch: 'Due Date' director Todd Phillips talks about dark comedy and Mr. Creepy

Comedy titan talks about Internet rumors, Galifianakis, and road trips

Todd Phillips is one of those guys I'm always happy to sit down and talk to, no matter how much I do or don't like his most current film, because I know he'll be frank in an interview, and because I've learned over time spent interviewing him that as long as you treat him fairly in print, he'll treat you the same in person.

We live in an age of controlled media spin as the norm, so on those occasions we actually hear someone speak their mind in an unfettered way, it's a little shocking.  I was enjoying the reaction earlier today to an interview Phillips gave to Movieline, and the way people were getting upset or defensive about what he said.  I don't think any outlet with a voice as gleefully confrontational as Movieline's should ever be surprised if someone has a strong reaction to what they do, even if it's negative. 

That's what you risk when you adopt a tone that is largely built on snark, which is the coin of the realm these days.  I'm occasionally cutting with the way I'll sneak a joke into something, but for the most part, I find that sincerity works best when writing about film because the only real reaction that matters is the genuine one.  I could easily put my finger up to the wind, figure out which way things are going, and come out on the side of the majority on every film.  I could use sarcasm to distance myself from my emotional responses to films, and mask it all by building one-liners that score points on the various things I cover.

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<p>Brad Pitt, seen here in Andrew Dominik's 'The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford,' may reunite with the filmmaker for a new heist comedy</p>

Brad Pitt, seen here in Andrew Dominik's 'The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford,' may reunite with the filmmaker for a new heist comedy

Credit: Warner Bros./Virtual Studios

Brad Pitt and his 'Jesse James' director pull a Vegas hustle in 'Cogan's Trade'

Will the heist film also reunite much of the acclaimed 'Jesse James' cast?

If you were to take a poll purely of film critics and not the general moviegoing public, I think you'd find that "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford" is considered one of the most unjustly overlooked films of the last decade.  I know I tried to impart to my readers an urgency in regards to seeing the film on the bigscreen, and if I was the sort of person who got crazy about awards at the end of the year, I would have spent most of that year's award season sputtering and spitting about the film's mistreatment.

I think history will eventually hold the film in high regard, and part of the reason for that is the incredible ensemble of actors that director Andrew Dominik put together.  Casey Affleck did some of the best work of that year in his role as Robert Ford, and Brad Pitt did career best work in the lead.  Sam Rockwell, Garrett Dillahunt... these are some of the best guys working now, and Dominik not only put that great cast together, he also knew what to do with them.

Now word comes that Dominik and Brad Pitt are going to reunite in what sounds like a comic heist picture.  "Cogan's Trade" is described as the story of "Jackie Cogan, a professional [enforcer who investigates a heist that takes place during a high stakes poker game under protection of the mob."  And in addition to Pitt, there is a chance Dominik will be using Rockwell and Affleck, which would be tremendous news.  If he adds Mark Ruffalo and Javier Bardem to the mix, that sounds too good to be true.

Keep in mind the American Film Market is in progress in Los Angeles right now, which means you'll be reading a lot of casting news and word of exciting new projects, and it'll seem in the next ten days or so like every one of these projects you read about is happening, absolutely, set-in-stone, no-chance-anything-goes-wrong.  That's not the case, of course.  Much of what the AFM does is hypothetical, in which rights packages are sold and unmade movies are described in the most glowing possible terms.

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