<p>The characters created by Charles Addams have survived numerous interpretations including a current run on Broadway, but will Tim Burton have anything new to say in stop-motion?</p>

The characters created by Charles Addams have survived numerous interpretations including a current run on Broadway, but will Tim Burton have anything new to say in stop-motion?

Credit: Charles Addams Foundation

On Tim Burton, 'Addams Family,' and the death of creativity

Go ahead, Tim, you might as well... you've already given up

I don't think it would surprise anyone to learn that Charles Addams was a major influence on the artistic style of a young Tim Burton.  I'm sure Edward Gorey and Gahan Wilson were equally influential in terms of ghoulish silly sensibility, but when you look at the black and white line work of Charles Addams, you see the direct precursor to almost every one of Burton's signature quirks.

That's cool.  Burton wears his childhood influences like an open book, like many great visual stylists do, and in his case, he's always been partial to a mix of the morbid and the hilarious.  Addams is the master of that.  I would argue that more people know his style from the original '60s TV show "The Addams Family" or the feature films that were made in the '90s than are actually familiar with his cartoons.

Understandably.  Right now, the one place you can read the amazing work that Addams left behind is in those weird book things. The Addams family (the real one, not the creepy ooky kooky one) has worked hard to keep his work off of the Internet.  There are only a handful of his hundreds of cartoons online, and since it's so important to the estate, I won't reprint one here as an example.  The reality is, it's far more likely that people stumbled across the TV show or the movies or the animated cartoon versions that have existed at various times, simply because that stuff is actively out there, easy to stumble over.

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<p>Johnny Depp is playing the title character in Gore Verbinski's animated 'Rango,' and there's a full-length trailer for the film now.</p>

Johnny Depp is playing the title character in Gore Verbinski's animated 'Rango,' and there's a full-length trailer for the film now.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Watch: Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp reunite for weird and playful 'Rango'

Who exactly is this animated film intended to entertain?

For the most part, animation is controlled by a few very loud voices in the industry, and there is little room for people to experiment with it, particularly at the studio level.

That's a shame.  Because animation is a medium with near-limitless storytelling potential, and year after year, film after film, we essentially see the same types of stories with the same types of characters and the same sort of authorial voice, an echo chamber in which you either tell stories for children, or you don't tell stories.  And you tell them in a very familiar way, so as not to freak anybody out.

Sure, we've got Pixar, and I have been vocal about how much I admire their work, but I don't think that should be the only strong voice out there in animation.  Disney, Dreamworks, Aardman... they've all contributed strong films to the mix, but that's still just a very narrow range of stories being told.

What we don't see much of are filmmakers who have strong voices who decide to just make an animated film. Robert Zemeckis is a rare example, and he sort of took the all-or-nothing route, building an infrastructure and working with the same technology from film to film, polishing his technique, experimenting.  Seeing Spielberg and Jackson jump into "Tintin" together is a thrill, and I hope they crush it.  I hope they make these movies that are basically like jumping into the world that Herge created.

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<p>Forget all this Team Jacob... Team Edward... how about we double-team Bella?</p>

Forget all this Team Jacob... Team Edward... how about we double-team Bella?

Credit: Summit Entertainment

The M/C Review: 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse' offers more energy, but still disappoints

Is being the best 'Twilight' film really something to be proud of?

I think it really just comes down to one inescapable fact:  I hate Bella Swan.

I suspect my real problems lie with Stephenie Meyer and Melissa Rosenberg, the novelist and screenwriter responsible for "The Twilight Saga," and, by extension, Bella Swan.  But it does not change how completely I hate Bella Swan.

Bella Swan, for those of you fortunate enough not to be "Twilight" savvy at this point, is the main character in "The Twilight Saga."  Kristen Stewart has become a superstar playing the character, although I'd argue we have yet to see any proof that her fanbase will follow her after the franchise is done.  She is the teenage girl who finds herself torn between her affections for Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a Native American werewolf, and Edward (Robert Pattinson), a sparkly vampire.  She is a rotten, rotten person as written, and the fact that the entire series just serves as an extension of her desires and goals has managed now to make me feel like a bad person just for sitting in the theater and watching her.

I never reviewed the first "Twilight" film.  I didn't see it in any sort of timely manner.  I did, however, review "New Moon" last year, and here's what I wrote about that film:

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<p>Emma Watson stars as Hermione one last time in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'</p>

Emma Watson stars as Hermione one last time in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Watch: 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' trailer promises epic finish

Can anything live up to the promise of this trailer?

Well, you can't accuse Warner Bros. of playing this one down.

I'm already watching people moan and groan on Twitter and message boards about the claim that this is "the motion picture event of a generation," but if any upcoming film gets to claim that early, the last two "Harry Potter" movies would fit the bill.

I find the films sort of amazing.  The fact that they even finished the series with the original cast in place is remarkable.  The fact that there's been a learning curve and we're actually seeing the films continue to get better as they wind up to the finish is almost beyond belief.  Shouldn't they just be coasting?  Shouldn't they be phoning it in by this point?

That trailer is not the sign of a franchise that is phoning it in.  This looks so ambitious, and it looks like they know that they get to basically play the entire two films at a crescendo that they've earned in the previous six movies.  Ralph Fiennes is so freaky in that make-up, and the digital work they've done on him works perfectly.  It doesn't look like an effect.  It looks real.  And it looks wrong. 

The kids have grown into really strong actors, the world has grown darker in keeping with the ideas each movie deals with, and the magic has grown into something potentially scary and dangerous this time around.

These are going to be huge, both in impact and in content, and I can't wait.

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<p>Steve Carrell and Paul&nbsp;Rudd star in the very strange and very funny 'Dinner For Schmucks,' in theaters soon.</p>

Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd star in the very strange and very funny 'Dinner For Schmucks,' in theaters soon.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

EXCLUSIVE: Jay Roach and Steve Carell discuss their 'Dinner For Schmucks'

A quick chat after an early screening of their new movie

Last Thursday night, while many of my peers were seeing "Inception" for the first time, I was sitting in a theater in Hollywood for an early screening of "Dinner For Schmucks," starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd and directed by Jay Roach.

The following day, I spent 45 minutes on the phone talking to Roach about the movie, and I ran into Steve Carell on Saturday at the "Despicable Me" press day, where we also ended up talking about the film.  Even though I'll have the full Roach interview up next week (and it's a pretty great one), I wanted to run some first impressions of the movie and my conversations with these guys.

Right from the start of the movie, a gorgeous credit sequence set to "Fool On The Hill," there's real control in the way Roach tells the story and lets you know exactly where your sympathies should lie.  Carell plays one of the most outrageous characters of his career, Barry, who spends his free time creating elaborate dioramas with taxidermed mice, and the opening credits are all done over a huge inter-related scene, a "Sunday in the park dream date," that immediately tells you just how sweet Barry is, despite seeming completely bent.  It gives you permission to laugh at Barry, because you know he's a good guy underneath, so it's not mean-spirited at all.  That's key to being able to enjoy the ride in the movie, and Roach gets it exactly right.

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<p>Neve Campbell and Nancy O'Dell on the set of 'Scream 4,' which began principle photography today for a 2011 release.</p>

Neve Campbell and Nancy O'Dell on the set of 'Scream 4,' which began principle photography today for a 2011 release.

Credit: Nancy O'Dell

'Scream 4' starts shooting, but the horror landscape has changed completely

How will Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson adapt?

This morning, cameras rolled on "Scream 4," with Wes Craven once again directing from a script by Kevin Williamson.

From 1996 to 2000, the first "Scream" films helped define horror at a time when it was at a commercial low.  By paying homage to the slasher films of the '80s and then investing them with a decidedly '90s feel, Williamson and Craven managed to bring the entire genre roaring back to life in terms of box-office.  Williamson's influence on the teen genre basically created an entire market, beyond horror even, but "Scream" was ground zero for that.

It is not uncommon for a film to become a phenomenon based on one great idea or one great scene or one great action gag, and in the case of "Scream," it's all about that opening scene.  The winky knowing dialogue, the deconstruction of the genre, the idea of killing Barrymore early... it sent shock waves through its audience.  I'm not saying that's the only thing people liked about the film, but after that opening, there was so much good will built up that the audience would have gone almost anywhere with Craven and Williamson.

I can't really call myself a fan of the series.  I admire the commercial machinery of the first film, but I didn't buy it.  I respect that there is an audience that used "Scream" as a gateway to horror, that suddenly had an appetite for being scared in the theater.  I think a lot of truly terrible films were made in the wake of "Scream," including the "Scream" sequels.  But there have been a lot of kinks and twists in horror since 2000, and obviously the remake frenzy has set in.  Even if I don't love "Scream," I love that it was an original film that was Williamson's way of nodding to films he loved rather than just straight-up remaking them.

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<p>Phil Hartman wasn't just the glue that held 'SNL' together during his time on the show, he was also the bridge between east coast and west coast comedy.</p>

Phil Hartman wasn't just the glue that held 'SNL' together during his time on the show, he was also the bridge between east coast and west coast comedy.

Credit: NBC

Saturday Night At The Movies: Phil Hartman, Cheech & Chong, and Pee Wee Herman

How LA's comedy scene affected the NY institution

It's a good day for screenings of classic comedies here in LA, and the framing of the day gave me a perfect excuse to talk about one of my favorite things in today's column, the work of Phil Hartman.

Hartman was the co-creator of the Pee Wee Herman character during his days at the Groundlings with Paul Reubens, and he co-wrote the script for "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," which screened this morning as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival.  Tonight, I'm heading into Hollywood for a triple feature of the first three films starring Cheech & Chong, the second of which, "Next Movie," features an onscreen appearance by Hartman in a small role playing another Groundlings character, Chick Hazard, Private Eye.

When "Saturday Night Live" went on the air, most of the talent that ended up in the cast was from the Chicago Second City scene or from Toronto, or from New York.  There wasn't really the same sort of LA comedy scene at that time.  It wasn't until later that the west coast talent pool started turning out performers who would graduate from the Groundlings into the world of "SNL," and quite possibly the greatest of the Groundlings was Phil Hartman.  Lorne Michaels nicknamed Hartman "The Glue" because of the way he managed to play utility, able to turn any sketch funny.  He was the consummate character guy, and they worked him mercilessly during his time on the show.  What amazed me most about Hartman is how comedy wasn't his first calling, and how even though he came to it later in life, he left a huge mark on the comedy scene.

When you look at those first few Cheech & Chong movies, you get a cross-section of what was going on in LA comedy at the time.  You'll see cast members like Edie McClurg and John Paragon and Cassandra Petersen and Paul Reubens and a very young Rita Wilson (grrrrrrrowr, Mrs. Hanks) all show up, and you'll be able to see the early seeds of some characters they've played elsewhere  In "Next Movie," for example, Reubens plays a hotel desk clerk who tussles with Cheech & Chong and Cheech's cousin Red (also played by Marin), only to show up at the end of the film at the Battle Of The Bands in character as Pee Wee Herman, his first film appearance.  He's also in "Nice Dreams," and that's the first time I really noticed Reubens as "The Hamburger Man," a crazy drug dealer who only says a few things, over and over.  "I'm sorry" and "Hamburger" are the big two, and until you see how much comic mileage Reubens can get out of those two words, you don't really get how funny he is.

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<p>Michael Fassbender, seen here in 'Inglorious Basterds,' is set now to play the young Magneto in Matthew Vaughn's 'X-Men:&nbsp;First Class'</p>

Michael Fassbender, seen here in 'Inglorious Basterds,' is set now to play the young Magneto in Matthew Vaughn's 'X-Men: First Class'

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Some thoughts on Michael Fassbender as Magneto and 'X-Men First Class'

Have we been thinking about this film all wrong?

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back on May 10, when I ran the story that Jane Goldman was writing "X-Men: First Class" for Fox and director Matthew Vaughn, I finished the article with a very pointed comment:

"Now if only they'd hire Michael Fassbender as young Magneto..."

You can thank me now. 

Actually, you can thank Vaughn and the studio.  I was just spitballing back then, since I'd just seen "Centurion," and I was newly convinced of Fassbender's movie star potential.  Vaughn's got a good ear for casting, and my guess is, Fassbender's a big deal right now, a guy on the rise.  It was inevitable he'd meet on this film for some role. 

Now, word is Fassbender has officially accepted the offer to star opposite James McAvoy, the Magneto to McAvoy's Xavier, and so we're able now to make a guess as to what we might expect from the film, due next summer.

And suddenly, I'm excited for it.

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<p>Peter Jackson looks to be set to return to Middle-Earth as the director of the two-part 'The Hobbit'</p>

Peter Jackson looks to be set to return to Middle-Earth as the director of the two-part 'The Hobbit'

Credit: AMPAS

Breaking: Peter Jackson in negotiations to direct 'The Hobbit' after all?

Why are we not surprised?

It appears that several sites are breaking the news simultaneously, but really, it's something we've all just been waiting to hear now for a while anyway:  Peter Jackson will direct "The Hobbit."

It's not official, no, but even when the news first broke about Guillermo Del Toro leaving the project so he could return to the States and get back to work on his own films, my first thought was that Peter would probably end up making the films.

I've been a fan of Jackson's work since the days of "Dead Alive," and when I say that he sort of needs to make "The Hobbit," I'm not running him down.  It's just that he came off of "Return Of The King" one of the most powerful filmmakers in town.  The perception was that he was invulnerable, the new King of the Geeks.  He went directly into his dream project, "King Kong," and while I still think Kong is one of the few truly great digital characters ever created, and there is a lot of good in that film, it was messy.  Messy enough that it started to dent his reputation.  And again... I liked "The Lovely Bones," but there's no denying that the film hurt Peter.  Critically dented, commercially dented, the Peter Jackson of right this minute is not the Peter Jackson from Oscar Night 2004, arms full of acclaim, that you see in the photo attached to this story.  At that point, moving on from Middle Earth seemed as natural a decision as he could possibly make.

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<p>Wolfgang Petersen is attached to make 'Rock Em Sock Em Robots' as a movie?&nbsp; Fox is developing 'The Martian Chronicles'?&nbsp; Hollywood's got SF&nbsp;fever.</p>

Wolfgang Petersen is attached to make 'Rock Em Sock Em Robots' as a movie?  Fox is developing 'The Martian Chronicles'?  Hollywood's got SF fever.

Credit: Mattel

Okay, Hollywood, there's good SF and bad SF: 'Martian' and 'Robots' news

A desperate plea to development people to think about what they're doing

Part of me hopes that the next big gold rush for development people in Hollywood involves the thousands of amazing SF novels and short stories out there that have never been optioned or filmed before.

Another part of me realizes that I might regret that wish if it actually comes true.  I'm not sure I want Brett Ratner's "The Stainless Steel Rat" starring Zak Efron, and that's exactly the sort of worst-case-scenario that could happen.

There are two stories breaking today that started me thinking about all of this.  The first is a rumor from Pajiba that Wolfgang Petersen is attached to develop a bigscreen version of "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots."  This is the director of "Das Boot."  This is a guy who started his American career with acclaim and respect, and who is now the director of "Poseidon."  Petersen confuses me.  Did the studio system really treat him so badly that the only option left for him now is "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots"?  Or does he think if he makes that, it will allow him to finally get "Ender's Game" made as a film or some other personal pet project?

Because I think that's a dangerous gamble, and Petersen may be fooling himself, the same way I suspect Ridley Scott is fooling himself if he thinks making two 3D "Alien" prequels is going to get Fox to pull the trigger on the much-more-difficult "The Forever War," based on Joe Haldeman's brilliant book and theater piece.   The only way these smart and challenging books are going to end up handled right onscreen is if they're not treated like they're vegetables or medicine, something for the studios to endure between making big dumb movies that will actually sell tickets.

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