<p>Bruce Willis, and specifically Bruce Willis as John McClane in the 'Die Hard' films, is one of the subjects being discussed in Vern's new book 'Yippee Ki-Yay, Moviegoer!'</p>

Bruce Willis, and specifically Bruce Willis as John McClane in the 'Die Hard' films, is one of the subjects being discussed in Vern's new book 'Yippee Ki-Yay, Moviegoer!'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Outlaw Vern is the best movie critic alive. Ever. Seriously.

His new book just underlines the ongoing greatness of his site

I think there are a lot of people who have written a lot of words about movies who are good at what they do.  I think many of them are working currently, and many of them have worked in the past.  But as far as critics whose work I will seek out and read for the sheer pleasure of reading, no matter what they're reviewing?

Outlaw Vern is the best of the best.

I spent many years publishing his articles at Ain't It Cool, and what many people don't realize is that I was familiar with Outlaw Vern well before he started publishing articles.  I have been a fan of the way he thinks about movies since 1995 or so, and I've been entertained by the way he expresses those ideas since the first time I encountered him.  I take genuine pleasure from reading about the way he approaches a film.  He is as good at teasing out subtext as any of the "great thinkers" on film, but he's also a man with a real appreciation for the tactile pleasures of filmmaking.  He's able to surrender himself completely to movies, and I've never caught him acting like he was above watching or reviewing something.  There is an open contempt for movies that many professional critics express in public, and even in private, Vern is as relentlessly in love with movies as he seems in his published work.

He finally broke through to a level of mainstream success and awareness with his first self-published book, Seagalogy: A Study Of The Ass-Kicking Films Of Steven Seagal, which was indeed a scholarly breakdown of the onscreen career of Steven Seagal.  It sounds like a joke, but it's not.  It's a great, entertaining, in-depth, intelligent piece of work that studies seriously the work of Steven Seagal.  It is one of the best books about movies written in recent memory.  It's so good because it is laser-focused.  Vern becomes the expert on these movies by virtue of seeing and seriously writing about each one.  In doing so, he establishes himself as the foremost published authority on the onscreen work of Steven Seagal.  His book is absolutely and precisely about that.  It's a great way for people to get their head around an introduction.

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<p>Luke Wilson stars in the story of the moment money collided with the internet for the first time in 'Middle Men,' coming in August from Paramount</p>

Luke Wilson stars in the story of the moment money collided with the internet for the first time in 'Middle Men,' coming in August from Paramount

Credit: Paramount Vantage

The first trailer for 'Middle Men' arrives with a lovely Hollywood evening

The trailer's online now, but what's the film all about?

Sitting in the warm early evening on top of the London Hotel in West Hollywood, eating a bacon-wrapped scallop the size of my head, chatting with George Gallo about "Midnight Run," a movie I love dearly, was one of those Hollywood moments that you have to just enjoy for the sheer absurdity of it.

Gallo was there to discuss "Middle Men," his film that Paramount Vantage will be releasing on August 6, and to show a group of journalists the trailer before talking to them about the movie and his hopes for it.  The cocktail reception/dinner was built around the screening of the trailer, which went online for everyone to see this morning, and my first reaction is that this sort of story has been told many times, and it always has a chance of working if they tell the details of the story well.  When you're doing a look at the rise-and-fall of something, the cautionary Icarus tale of what happens when you get super-rich super-fast and can suddenly do and have anything you want, there are only so many riffs you can play on that story.  What makes the good ones work is that they are specific.  Henry Hill's story is not terribly special, but the way Scorsese tells it, he makes that feel like the most amazing epic life of crime ever lived.  And you'll certainly find some of the DNA of "Goodfellas" in "Middle Men," along with pretty much everything else ever told in this genre.

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<p>Nicolas Cage looks set to return for a sequel to 'Ghost Rider' with the directors of the 'Crank' films at the helm.</p>

Nicolas Cage looks set to return for a sequel to 'Ghost Rider' with the directors of the 'Crank' films at the helm.

Credit: Sony Pictures

'Ghost Rider 2' gets closer to Cage and the guys from 'Crank'

After 'Jonah Hex,' are these guys a good call for more comic book mayhem?

Making a sequel to "Ghost Rider" was a priority to Nicolas Cage when he and I talked about the character and the first film on the set of "Kick-Ass," and he was genuinely excited when he described his idea for how to make a second movie that was going to be global in scale and give his character a new and bigger mission.

Making a sequel to "Ghost Rider" was a priority for Sony Pictures, who has the same sort of deal on the "Ghost Rider" property that they have on "Spider-Man" and that Fox has on its Marvel properties.  If they don't make a movie within a certain period of time, they're going to lose the rights completely, and Marvel will own the character again outright.

Making a sequel to "Ghost Rider" was not a priority, as best as I can tell, to audiences anywhere.

This is going to be an interesting moment, because I don't think it's impossible to make a good "Ghost Rider" film.  I get the reasoning behind taking another shot at it.  There's something freaky and iconic about the character, and if you look at that image next to this article, it's one of the most outrageous of the Marvel movies so far.  I don't think the first film made the character compelling at all, but visually, you can't argue with that.  It's Ghost Rider.  He's a dude on a motorcycle with a crazy flaming skull for a head.  And that's sort of awesome.

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<p>There's a new trailer for the Zack Snyder animated adventure, 'Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'hoole'</p>

There's a new trailer for the Zack Snyder animated adventure, 'Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'hoole'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Watch: New full-length 'Legend of the Guardians' trailer all animated action

More footage reveals the director's signature style and an epic canvass

When I look at "Horton Hears A Who" and then I look at "Jonah Hex," I don't see anything that unites the two films in terms of style or visual vocabulary or rhythm in the filmmaking.  I don't know who Jimmy Hayward is as a director because those two films have nothing in common.

When I look at this new trailer for "Legends Of The Guardian," I can tell you conclusively that you're looking at the work of Zack Snyder.  It's amazing how much of him is in this footage, and in an animated film.  He obviously is using every single stylistic tool he's developed, but in an environment that he controls completely here.  Animation is a perfect medium for Snyder, and here he's working with talking animals, but we're a million miles away from the worlds of Pixar or Disney.

Watching this footage, I'm not expecting anything to break out into song.  I don't think these owls are "cute," except in the way that owls are inherently "cute."  There's a great near-realism to the look of the characters, and the action beats in this footage don't feel like they've been softened for kids.

Animal Logic is the lead house on this stuff, and I love what they did on "Happy Feet," and between this and "Happy Feet 2," there's a whole lot of good-looking Animal Logic animation coming in the next 18 months or so.  And I like the way this is filled with strong voices that seem vaguely familiar instead of movie stars who stick out as movie stars.  We saw some of this same footage in the first trailer, but the way this one's cut makes a world of difference.

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<p>Josh Brolin appears as Jonah Hex in the big DC&nbsp;Comics adaptation that arrives in theaters this Friday.</p>

Josh Brolin appears as Jonah Hex in the big DC Comics adaptation that arrives in theaters this Friday.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Watch: Josh Brolin discusses the pleasure and pain of playing 'Jonah Hex'

He smiles more in this four minutes than in the entire movie

Saturday was a big day for Toshi on the publicity circuit with me.  He doesn't get to go to screenings every single day, and still thinks of it as a big deal when it happens.  Before he can join me, there's a vetting process that involves his mom, and she's not nearly as excited by Toshi's budding nerd-dom as I am.

Thankfully, the previews for "Despicable Me" and her own love for Steve Carrell convinced her to let him join me.  I'll have a review of that soon.  Because of the timing of the screening, there was no way for me to take him home before my scheduled interview, and besides... he was getting ready to leave for a 16 day vacation with his mom, and I wanted to spend some time with him before he went.  So we went to the Four Seasons, where we had lunch while waiting for my call-time for my interview.

When we walked into the room for the actual taping, Josh Brolin was already seated, having just gone through several of his interviews in a row, and he smiled when he saw Toshi walk in with me.  "Hi, there," said Brolin, "what's your name?"

Toshi is surprisingly forward in social situations, but not unappealingly so.  He just seems comfortable meeting people, and so he put out his hand for Brolin to shake and said, "Toshi."

"Well, that's a pretty great shirt you've got on.  What is that?"

"That's 'Transformers,'" Toshi said after double-checking to make sure.

"Did you know that the girl from 'Transformers' is in our movie?" Brolin asked him.

"No."

"Do you know the girl from 'Transformers'?" Brolin asked.

"Yeah.  She's pretty good," said Toshi, and with that belly laugh from Brolin as a response, I sent Toshi to take a seat, and the cameras rolled on the interview, with Brolin still smiling as we got started.

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<p>Woody, Buzz, and Jessie prepare an escape in the emotionally devastating 'Toy Story 3,' in theaters this Friday.</p>

Woody, Buzz, and Jessie prepare an escape in the emotionally devastating 'Toy Story 3,' in theaters this Friday.

Credit: Walt Disney Company/Pixar

The M/C Review: 'Toy Story 3' offers emotionally powerful conclusion to franchise

Pixar closes out this franchise with a devastating story of loss and moving on

I wasn't ready for it, and that seems to be the point of the film.

"Toy Story 3" is an exceptional film by any standard, but as sequels go, it's an open letter to the rest of the industry.  If you're going to tell stories over a series of films, you should take it as seriously as Pixar took it here for the third entry in the series that introduced the animation studio to the mainstream in 1995.  If you're going to make a part three, you've got to aim at least this high.  I may get a little spoilery, in vague ways, to explain just how high the bar's been set.

The reason these films work as something more than just programmed cash grabs is because of the intensely personal connection this creative team feels to the characters they've created.  The story of the "Toy Story" films is the story of the cycle of life, and to make a thrilling, emotional, visceral film trilogy of blockbusters that somehow doesn't rely on the typical storytelling crutches of the modern blockbuster is a truly amazing accomplishment.   There's no chosen one, no mention of destiny once in three movies, no "chase the doodad" plot where all the energy is spent on plot and none is spent on anything important.  "Toy Story 3" is entertaining all the way through, but there is plenty of heft to the text, and there are some big ideas at play here.  It's sophisticated, and there are things that happen that I think will genuinely surprise people, especially in terms of how strong a reaction they have to what they see.  But considering the themes that director Lee Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt are dealing with, it shouldn't be a shock that the film goes to some potentially dark places, or that it takes them seriously.

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<p>Hugh Jackman in the first image released from his new film 'Real Steel,' a sci-fi family film for the holiday 2011 season.</p>

Hugh Jackman in the first image released from his new film 'Real Steel,' a sci-fi family film for the holiday 2011 season.

Credit: Disney/Dreamworks

First Look: Hugh Jackman and boxing robots in 'Real Steel'

Practical and performance capture will combine to make the robots fight

Holy cow, I'm looking forward to a Shawn Levy film.

Here's where I prove what I say about giving every movie a fresh chance.  I've had fairly strongly negative reactions to a number of the films that Levy has directed so far. The "Night At The Museum" films, the "Pink Panther" remake, "Cheaper By The Dozen," or "Just Married".... they just don't work for me.  I've heard he's great to work with, and studios obviously love him, but I haven't clicked with anything he's made, and I didn't make it to "Date Night" in the theater.

This week, he's rolling film in "Real Steel," his new movie, starring Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo as a father and son who discover a robot in a junkyard who they restore in hopes of making him a champion in a robot boxing league in the future.  And USA Today scored the exclusive this morning with an image and a story that has immediately turned this into a movie that I want to see.

This is an important film for Dreamworks and Disney and their newly-forged collaboration.  They'll be looking to start branding the sort of films people can expect from the partnership, and this sounds like it's aimed at family audiences in the broadest sense of the term.

Here's the official synopsis:

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<p>Megan Fox and Josh Brolin, seen here in their new film 'Jonah Hex,' were part of a press conference on Sunday morning in West Hollywood.</p>

Megan Fox and Josh Brolin, seen here in their new film 'Jonah Hex,' were part of a press conference on Sunday morning in West Hollywood.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Megan Fox deflects 'Transformers' controversy at 'Jonah Hex' press conference

Brolin discusses his 'woody' and Fox says 'I'm full of lollipops.'

10:00 AM doesn't sound intolerably early, but I'm a night owl by nature, and this was a Sunday morning following four or five 8:30 AM mornings in a row, with a 6:30 AM morning in there for good measure.

I just barely made it to the Four Seasons in time, grabbed a quick glass of juice and bacon, because YOU DO NOT TURN DOWN FREE BACON,and took a seat in the back of the conference room.  They brought in Jimmy Hayward, the director of the film, as well as Megan Fox, Josh Brolin, and producer Andrew Lazar.  They got seated quickly and we jumped right into Q&A that lasted for 40 fairly spirited minutes.

The first question set the tenor for much of what followed, particularly where Megan Fox was concerned.  She's on the spot right now because she's not going to be in "Transformers 3," and there's controversy about whether she left or she was fired.  Josh was asked what it was like to play a comic book character who is not as well known to the public, so there's room for him to offer up his own interpretation without the crushing weight of expectation, and Megan was asked, "How is it to get away from the robots?"  Yeah, nothing leading about that.

"What robots?" asked Brolin to the first of many waves of laughter during the press conference.  "Coming from a comic book that refused to die... allowed us to do what we wanted to do."  He went on to talk about how the core of the character is what they worked to preserve while playing loose with the details.  Then all attention turned to Fox, who has a reputation for being outspoken in the past and less than political at times.

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<p>Elle Fanning and Stephen Dorff co-star in Sofia Coppola's new film 'Somewhere'</p>

Elle Fanning and Stephen Dorff co-star in Sofia Coppola's new film 'Somewhere'

Credit: Focus Features

Watch: Sofia Coppola's 'Somewhere' promises Dorff, Fanning in tender divorce drama

Like 'Lost In Translation' with a father-daughter dynamic

Yep.  That looks like a Sofia Coppola film.

And I say that as a big fan of her work.  I like some of her films more than others, but I think she's got a real voice, a very strong sense of language in film, and even a lesser work like "Marie Antoinette" is obviously a considered, controlled piece of filmmaking.

"Somewhere" is a world she must be familiar with, the story of a young girl living the high life with her famous father.  This trailer is pure observation, and I'm already feeling a strong connection to what we see here.  I'm not a Dorff fan, particularly, so I'm curious to see how I react to him over the course of two hours as opposed to two minutes.  I just know that, as a parent, I've thought about what it would do to my relationship with my children if my wife and I weren't together.  I don't think I could do that to them, ever.  And if I did, I think I'd overcompensate.  I'd be so worried, so hyperaware of any possible damage to the amazing personalities both of them are developing right now.

I know some people are already rolling their eyes because "who cares about the lives of rich people?", but I don't think that's important, really.  The reason I hate "It's Complicated" isn't because the people are rich... it's because the conflict of "which of these men do I bang and can I get a gigantic kitchen in my house?" is something nobody can relate to.  With "Somewhere," I think it's more along the lines of "what do you do to protect your child while your marriage implodes?", and money's got nothing to do with understanding that.  That's very basic and primal, one of the things that I think you have to be afraid of if you're married.  Vampires?  Relatively sure I'm not afraid real vampires will eat me or my family.  Divorce?  Yeah, that's terrifying.

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<p>Will Ferrell and Tina Fey will both lend their voices to 'Megamind' this November, just one in a long tradition of animated films that make use of 'Saturday Night Live' voice talent</p>

Will Ferrell and Tina Fey will both lend their voices to 'Megamind' this November, just one in a long tradition of animated films that make use of 'Saturday Night Live' voice talent

Credit: Dreamworks Animation

Saturday Night At The Movies: 'Despicable Me,' 'Megamind,' 'Shame Of The Jungle' and more

What do you gain hiring SNL talent for voice-over roles?

This morning, Toshi and I took in a screening of "Despicable Me," the new animated film that stars Steve Carrell.  Although I'm not able to review it yet, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the way the celebrity comedians who contributed voices for the film are all essentially disguised completely.  No one just stops in to do a cameo in their own voice.  Even Jack McBrayer, best known as Kenneth on "30 Rock," plays a different type of character than normal. 

It's nice, because a good comic actor freed of the visual recognition should be able to vanish completely into something, and "Despicable Me" makes very good use of Kristen Wiig, who plays the woman who runs the orphanage where the three little girls who are the stars of the film live when it starts.  Wiig gets to play a physical type she'd never play in real life, and she does a voice that didn't make me think of her at all.  It's perfect for what you're looking at, but it doesn't sound like "Kristen Wiig," and I think that's great.

Since "Saturday Night Live" went on the air, dozens of animated films have used cast members to do voices in cartoons, and often, they did their very best to get the comic performers to play themselves or barely disguised versions of themselves.  While I can understand it from a marketing point of view (after all, who wants to watch a Bill Murray movie if you can't tell it's Bill Murray?), I think it's a waste.  Animation is all about potential and freedom and unleashing something in a voice actor, not just tying them to what we already know about them. 

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