<p>Aaron Eckhart of 'Battle Los Angeles'</p>

Aaron Eckhart of 'Battle Los Angeles'

Review: 'Battle: Los Angeles' delivers kinetic thrills as long as no one's talking

Strong visual style and interesting approach almost overcomes weak script

Alien invasion movies have been done many ways, by many filmmakers, and there's very little you can do that is genuinely innovative.  In the case of "Battle: Los Angeles," the solution appears to be strip it down, soup it up, and let it rip, and in the film's best moments, the approach works for them very well.

Aaron Eckhart stars as Staff Sgt. Nantz, a career military man who is assigned to a unit of marines when a meteor shower turns out to be something far more intentional and malicious.  The film actually opens with the Marines in a helicopter, en route to their landing zone, explosions all around them, the invasion of Earth already at full tilt.  I wish the film didn't back up after that opening to give us 20 minutes of exposition we don't need, and you can almost hear the studio notes during those sequences. 

"Well, we need to give Nantz some personal stakes.  Let's explain who he is and establish why this mission is important to him, and let's meet some of those Marines and show who they are and make sure our audience knows them all before the heavy action kicks in."  The thing is, all of that is covered on the fly during the action, so the early explanatory stuff feels redundant, and the film would seem much more unconventional and bold if they just dropped us into the situation, sink or swim, fight or flight, and let us figure it all out as things unfold.

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<p>Michelle Rodriguez laughs at thoughts of punching Tim League in the face as we discuss her new film opening this weekend, 'Battle:&nbsp;Los Angeles'</p>

Michelle Rodriguez laughs at thoughts of punching Tim League in the face as we discuss her new film opening this weekend, 'Battle: Los Angeles'

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Michelle Rodriguez and Michael Pena enthuse about 'Battle: Los Angeles' invasion

Plus Bridget Moynihan gives us the scoop on what she learned at vet school

Last year, one of the highlights of the ten days or so I spent at Fantastic Fest was the evening of the Fantastic Feuds.  If you haven't read about them, it's a series of debates/boxing matches, and the main event this year was between Michelle Rodriguez, the scrappy star of "Girl Fight" and "Avatar," and Tim League, the founder/owner of the Alamo Drafthouse.  Tim spent months smack-talking "Avatar," and Michelle showed up to make him eat his words.

You see that look on Michelle's face in the photo that we ran with the story?  That's the look she got on her face the moment I walked into the room for our interview and told her that Tim was ready for a rematch.  He's not.  He's never indicated to me that he wants to get back in the ring with her.  But I'm not above stirring the pot a little to get an interview off on the right foot, and in this case, as soon as I got her laughing, Michelle was a delight.

I find it funny that she's always cast as such a flinty-eyed hardass in movies, because she comes across completely different in person.  She's warm, she's funny, she seems predisposed to laughter.  One day, some filmmaker's going to capture that side of her on film and we're going to see a whole new career open up for her.  I can't wait to see that happen, and while our chat was typically short, it was a pure pleasure.

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<p>This behind-the-scenes photo from Quentin Tarantino's 'Death Proof' shows just one of the many amazing images Buddy Joe Hooker has been part of creating during his decades in the business, which will be celebrated at this year's ActionFest</p>

This behind-the-scenes photo from Quentin Tarantino's 'Death Proof' shows just one of the many amazing images Buddy Joe Hooker has been part of creating during his decades in the business, which will be celebrated at this year's ActionFest

Credit: The Weinstein Comany

Biff! Bam! Whack! ActionFest is back, and we've got your first details

The first guests and films have been announced for this year's festival

Last year, I attended the first-ever ActionFest in Asheville, NC.  It was one of those things that just sort of fell together perfectly.  A long-time friend of mine was the festival director and wanted to put together a jury he felt comfortable with, and when he called to invite me, it was about three weeks after my parents retired to Asheville after living most of my adult life in Tampa, FL.  Complete coincidence that it all worked out that way, but when someone asks if you want to go sit on a film jury with Chuck Norris and visit your parents at the same time, you say yes.

And while any festival in its first year is going to suffer from certain birth pangs, there was a lot to like about the event.  The films shown were good, and the people present were great, and overall, it was a heck of a good four days.  And Asheville is a beautiful city, especially in April as the spring kicks in.

So, yes, I'll be returning to Asheville in April this year for the second edition of ActionFest, and I'm excited.  It sounds to me like the plans are coming together well, and I'm pleased to be involved with several of the events over the course of the weekend.  I love the idea of a festival that celebrates action movies and the stuntmen and filmmakers who make that action happen onscreen.  It's unusual for stuntmen to ever get their chance to stand in the spotlight, and we're going to be celebrating them in a major way this year.

Don't take my word for it, though.  Instead, you should check out this press release that went out today, which outlines the first wave of announced titles, and then let me know how it sounds to you:

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<p>That's Medusa... ain't she beautiful?</p>

That's Medusa... ain't she beautiful?

Credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Exclusive: Your first look at the one-sheet for 'Bellflower'

Plus some details on their SXSW screening plans

Have I mentioned yet that I love "Bellflower"?

Just describing the film to someone makes me happy.  I've been doing my best to make sure other critics show up for the movie when it plays SXSW next week, and I know I'll be seeing it again at least once during the festival.

I'm excited to hear that that Evan Glodell is going to be bringing Medusa with him to the festival.  And who or what is Medusa, you may ask?  Well, I'll let the press release from the filmmakers explain that for you:

"Visionary filmmaker Evan Glodell will be celebrating his SXSW 2011 premiere of Oscilloscope Laboratories’ BELLFLOWER this weekend by unveiling his hand-crafted, road ready and apocalypse-equipped car - Medusa.  This unforgettable machine creates some of the film’s most high-octane moments amidst the romance cum revenge-fantasy tale of Woodrow’s journey of love, betrayal and vengeance.  

Glodell, a former engineering student, constructed Medusa to be a real-life road monster.  Unlike the Batmobile, Glodell’s Medusa is the real deal - no CGI or special camera tricks needed…the extraordinary features you see in the film are the same features you will see when you meet Medusa in person!  

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<p>I don't think you can call the studio who made this movie 'chickenshit,' and I&nbsp;think risks like this, as much as I love them, are the exact reason Universal may have to play it safe in days ahead.</p>

I don't think you can call the studio who made this movie 'chickenshit,' and I think risks like this, as much as I love them, are the exact reason Universal may have to play it safe in days ahead.

Credit: Universal

Is it fair to blame Universal for the state of the industry today?

As they shut down 'At The Mountains Of Madness,' what does it say about our business?

I just got off the phone with Harry Knowles a little while ago, and the good part of our conversation was hearing how spirited he seems on the eve of his release from the hospital after an extended stay as part of his recovery from major, potentially life-changing back surgery.

We had a major disagreement as we were talking, though, over something he just published in which he called out Universal as being "chickenshit" because they aren't going to make "At The Mountains Of Madness."  That disagreement spilled over onto Twitter, and I think the easiest thing to do is explain myself clearly here because the situation Universal is in serves as a microcosm of where the entire industry is right now, and I can understand why it freaks Harry out and upsets him.  It should.  Things have probably never been worse, and to some extent, it's our fault.

Believe me... I ache to see that film.  When you describe that movie to me, it sounds like something that someone put together especially to appeal to me.  A $150 million horror film adapted from the work of H.P. Lovecraft without any compromise, produced by James Cameron, starring Ron Perlman and Tom Cruise, directed by Guillermo Del Toro?  And I've read drafts of the script over time by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo, and they're awesome.  If you don't know the book or if you're not familiar with Lovecraft, it's a sprawling tale of an expedition to the Arctic in search of signs of a lost civilization that predates man, and what happens when the people searching find something alive, something not remotely dead, something that is ready to reclaim the Earth as its own.

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<p>Evidently, we can expect a lot less of this in the next 'Iron Man' movie</p>

Evidently, we can expect a lot less of this in the next 'Iron Man' movie

Credit: Marvel Studios/Paramount

First details of Shane Black's 'Tom Clancy'-like 'Iron Man 3' revealed

Plus where is Marvel headed after 'The Avengers' wraps up?

Shane Black.  "Iron Man 3."  Since the first moment those two names were connected, the question has been, "Will he write the film?"

And now, according to Ain't It Cool, we have an answer.

Shane Black appeared this weekend at the Omaha Film Festival, along with some other guests like Tom Elkins, Mauro Fiore, and Ted Griffin, and one of the people who was in the audience wrote in to AICN to talk about what Black revealed regarding "Iron Man 3."

Here's the paraphrased version of what they ran:

Shane Black is about to meet with Robert Downey Jr. this week in Los Angeles.  They'll be discussing the story and Black will, indeed, be writing the film.

Marvel Studios wants to make sure this third film isn't just a retread of the first two.  They want to make sure this next film doesn't just end up as another film about "two men in iron suits fighting each other," and I agree.  I think that's a great impulse.  Tony Stark's had a long history in print, and for the first two films to be so similar in shape is probably a mistake.  If they're serious about taking the film in a Tom Clancy-like direction, with Iron Man fighting real-world villains, it's a cool direction to take the series.  It sounds like after "The Avengers," Marvel's focusing on making movies that stand alone again, which is also a very strong impulse.

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<p>Channing Tatum was at Sundance promoting his recent film 'The Son Of No One,' and he's involved in the new 'Pan' project that was just set up at Sony as well.</p>

Channing Tatum was at Sundance promoting his recent film 'The Son Of No One,' and he's involved in the new 'Pan' project that was just set up at Sony as well.

Credit: AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

Channing Tatum's 'Pan' origin story finds home at Sony

How many fairy tale movies and TV shows is the public really asking for?

Evidently, fairy tales are what you want right now, even if you don't know it yet.

Hollywood has decided, and you have no choice in the matter.  You are going to be into fairy tales in the next few years, and you'd better love it, because there's more coming.  However much you think there is, there's actually more.

I'm curious to see if there is really an appetite for this stuff, or if Hollywood's going to get halfway into this avalanche of titles and realize they dove off a cliff with no parachute.  I get one part of the motivation here… you're dealing with stories that are public domain, so you get name recognition without having to pay anyone for the underlying rights.  But this material is fairly unproven as a big-screen lure, and it seems risky to me to just go all in the way the studios are at the moment.

This past weekend, "Beastly" finally opened, a "Twilight"-inspired riff on the "Beauty and the Beast" story with Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer, and this coming weekend, "Red Riding Hood" starring Amanda Seyfried will open, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who, of course, directed the first "Twilight" movie.

The battle of the "Snow White" movies is, frankly, ridiculous.  Relativity is making a Tarsem Singh version called "The Brothers Grimm: Snow White," with Julia Roberts playing the evil Queen, while Charlize Theron will play the role for "Snow White and the Huntsmen," with Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Viggo Mortensen as, presumably, the Huntsman, with Rupert Sanders directing for Universal.  Disney's had a long in-development version called "Snow and the Seven" about Shaolin kung-fu monks, but that does not appear to be any closer to actually shooting at this point, even with Michael Arndt onboard as a screenwriter.  Francis Lawrence and Natalie Portman have been attached at various points, but I'm not sure I see this one getting made after two other versions of the same basic material.

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<p>Guillermo del Toro</p>

Guillermo del Toro

Credit: Matt Sayles/AP

Guillermo Del Toro's 'Mountains' gets a start date? Not so fast, says producer

Rumors are, for now, just rumors, and the film continues development

I've seen a number of sites run the story today that started at i09 that says "At The Mountains Of Madness" has an official start date of June, and that Tom Cruise is finally confirmed for the film.

The i09 story quotes Don Murphy, although in a sort of indirect way, only quoting part of a sentence from him.  So imagine my surprise when I e-mailed both Murphy and Del Toro this morning to congratulate them, only to hear back that they do not, in fact, have a start date.

Murphy's official statement to HitFix is as follows:  "We are all trying to get Mountains up and running with Tom and Jim and everybody but no start date has been set AT ALL."

They've both responded to me at this point, and it's clear that this is not a news story yet.  They are still working very hard on the film, and I'm itching to see what they've been up to in the development phase of things.  Guillermo's been cooking this one for a long time now, and having James Cameron involved, a guy who is as dedicated to the art of world-building as any filmmaker I can think of, seems really exciting, especially in a post-"Avatar" world where he's once again proven just how reliable his commercial instincts are.

I wish this were happening in June.  And who knows?  That's still several months away, and maybe things come together soon and dates start to fall into place.  But for now, both producer and director have emphatically and clearly explained that they do not have that start date.  This is a development project, and one that I certainly pray gets the go-ahead.

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<p>Aaron Eckhart in a lighter moment during our conversation about his new film 'Battle:&nbsp;Los Angeles'</p>

Aaron Eckhart in a lighter moment during our conversation about his new film 'Battle: Los Angeles'

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Aaron Eckhart reports for duty with 'Battle: Los Angeles'

The actor talks about his new action film in our recent interview

Aaron Eckhart is a good egg.

And he just happens to be having a great run of luck right now.  His work in last year's amazing "Rabbit Hole" just destroyed me.  As a father, imagining myself in his character's shoes in that movie was almost too much to take.  And the way he navigated the performance without ever going for the easy beats, the cheap sympathy, was genuinely impressive.

I still remember the experience of seeing "In The Company Of Men" in the theater when it first came out and watching the way people reacted to him.  It was a star-making performance, but as a world-class asshole, and I think there are people who simply assumed he had to be that guy.

Over time, what I've been impressed by is the solid matter-of-fact adulthood that Eckhart represents in an age where so many of our actors are boyish well into their 40s.  Eckhart has never seemed like a boy.  Not once.  He's a throwback to an age where movie stars had some miles on them, where they were real men, and he brings that same quality to his work in the new film "Battle: Los Angeles," where he is the staff sergeant to a group of marines who find themselves navigating the mean streets of Santa Monica during a military emergency involving aliens from space.

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<p>The Goonies find the map that will send them on their big adventure in an early scene from the '80s cult hit 'The Goonies'</p>

The Goonies find the map that will send them on their big adventure in an early scene from the '80s cult hit 'The Goonies'

Credit: Warner Bros. Home Video

Film Nerd 2.0: Toshi and Allen encounter high adventure with 'The Goonies' on Blu-ray

The column returns after a long hiatus, and we explain why

Why do we share movies with our children?

It's a question worth asking as I finally return to this column.  It's the question that originally motivated me to turn this into a regular feature on the site, but we've never actually discussed that idea head-on.

So why?  What is it that I hope to accomplish by sharing movies with my little boys?  I think for some people, maybe even many people, TV and movies are just placeholders, something to have on, and there's very little thought that goes into it.  People seem to trust brand names and take the path of least resistance when it comes to picking what they show their kids.  Anything Disney gets an automatic pass, and there are channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network that people seem happy to turn on and just trust without watching along with their kids.

And I've met people who are genuinely good-hearted about trying to mold their kids into carbon copies of themselves, tiny mirrors of their own taste.  There's no malice in it, and there's nothing wrong with it, but it's not for me.  I feel strongly that my job is to educate my kids about what images mean, to set a context for them so they can deal with what they watch, and to lay out a buffet of choices, then help them follow their own interests.

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