Quaritch in his EVA suit

Stephen Lang plays Col. Miles Quaritch, the military contractor who finds himself pitted against the Na'vi in James Cameron's 'Avatar' 

Credit: 20th Century Fox/WETA

The M/C Interview: Joe Letteri, FX Supervisor on 'Avatar,' takes you inside the tech

We discuss how the year's most ambitious film came together

Last Friday, I got up incredibly early to go watch a bunch of four-year-olds in bathrobes sing some Christmas songs and carry around a rubber doll they called Jesus. And as low-tech as it was, it was absolutely thrilling to each and every parent in the room.  Toshi may not have remembered all the words to "Away In A Manger," but he bellowed every one he did remember with all the heart any parent could ask.  As soon as that was done, I was out the door and in my car and on my way to Burbank, where I sat down for coffee with Joe Letteri, a guy I've been waiting to meet for a while now, so we could talk about the absolute opposite of that Christmas pageant, the mega-expensive and cutting-edge technological marvel of "Avatar".

As FX supervisor for WETA Digital on "Avatar," he's been buried in secrecy for the last five or six years, and that whole time, I've been itching to sit down and ask him about the work he's been doing.  Since Letteri was also a key player on "Lord Of The Rings," one might argue that there are few people in the business better suited to talk about world building on a certain scale right now.  As soon as we had our drinks, we sat down outside and I turned on my tape recorder:

DREW MCWEENY:  I grew up watching these films.  Like I said, I was seven when “Star Wars” came out.

JOE LETTERI:  Yeah, yeah.

DM:  It rewired me.  I staggered out of the theatre and said to my parents, “All right. Who made that?”  We looked at the poster and they were like, “Okay, written and directed by George Lucas”.  That was the first movie where they really did the big behind-the-scenes thing, where for a year we saw specials and magazines and it kind of lit the fire for a lot of kids my age.  It basically said to us, "This is a craft. You can learn to do this.  It’s not something that’s magic or impossible."

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<p>Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo Di Caprio play federal agents investigating the disappearance of a mental patient... OR DO THEY... in Martin Scorsese's wickedly convoluted 'Shutter Island'&nbsp;</p>

Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo Di Caprio play federal agents investigating the disappearance of a mental patient... OR DO THEY... in Martin Scorsese's wickedly convoluted 'Shutter Island' 

Credit: Paramount Pictures

The M/C Review: Scorsese's trip to 'Shutter Island' with Leonardo Di Caprio leaves a mark

Director pays tribute to Val Lewton with this emotional horror film starring his new favorite actor

Another highlight from this year's Butt-Numb-A-Thon (aside from the previously reviewed "Avatar" and "Kick-Ass") was the world premiere screening of Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island."  If you're not familiar with Butt-Numb-A-Thon, it's a 24 hour movie marathon, where the movies play back to back to back from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday.  Except this year it started at 11:00 and ended after 2:00.  Harry Knowles programs the event as his birthday/Geek Christmas, and it's always a mix of vintage films and new films.  Honestly, the best example of how that can pay off with a whole that is better than any of its parts individually came with the way we ended up watching "Shutter Island."

Harry had to write Scorsese a letter and ask him for permission to show the film at Butt-Numb-A-Thon.  So Harry wrote a letter describing the vintage programming and the children's charity that the BNAT supports and how Harry wanted to show "Shock Corridor" by Sam Fuller right before showing "Shutter Island."  And he found the entire experience sort of nerve-wracking.  I get it.  It's one thing to ask Paramount to give you the Scorsese film.  It's another thing entirely to ask Scorsese directly.

The director sent word back to Harry that he was interested in letting the film play, but he wanted to request a different movie to play before it.  Harry is very proprietary over the BNAT line-up, so it easily could have turned into a problem if Harry didn't want to change his programming.  This, of course, was Martin Scorsese making the request, though, so Harry did the only sane thing he could do and happily changed the lead-in.  Instead of "Shock Corridor," we ended up seeing "The Red Shoes."  Little surprise there.  It's one of his oft-cited favorite films, and he just co-produced a new 4K restoration of the film.  I've seen it many times, but it was wonderful to see this classic work on a crowd, and considering how many of them hadn't seen it before, it was an act of kindness for Scorsese to push this one on Harry.

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<p>Robert Downey Jr. is Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law is Watson in 'Sherlock Holmes,' Guy Ritchie's preposterously fun new riff on the classic detective duo</p>

Robert Downey Jr. is Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law is Watson in 'Sherlock Holmes,' Guy Ritchie's preposterously fun new riff on the classic detective duo

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C Review: 'Sherlock Holmes' gives Robert Downey Jr room to play

Big witty fun that honors canon instead of reinventing it

One of the most interesting things about reading "Sherlock Holmes" reviews so far is realizing just how little most people know about the actual Sir Arthur Conan Doyle version of the character, and just how completely the Hollywood interpretation of that character has become the "real one" for the majority.

When Harry Knowles branded me with the nickname "Moriarty" all those years ago, it was because I was a snide smartass who sent him e-mails discrediting this bit of information or that bit of information.  I wasn't even trying to become a contributor to his site... I just wanted to take my shots at him and then move on. Harry somehow saw past my original snark, though, and invited me further and further into the fabric of AICN, turning me from a jerk with an opinion into... well... a jerk with a job, I guess.  Over the years, people have assumed that I picked the name because I was a huge fan of the character, but that's not the case.  It was actually the other way around.

One side-effect of being named "Moriarty" is that I've been sent enough Sherlock Holmes material over the years to start a museum.  And over the years, I've read the full Arthur Conan Doyle several times, front to back.  It's a brisk read each time, and each time, I'm struck by just how modern a creation he is, even viewed from a 21st century perspective.  There's a reason people find themselves compulsively hooked on "House," and it's little surprise you can build an entire empire on the kicks afforded by a "CSI."  Both have their origins in Sherlock Holmes and his ongoing adventures with his trusted friend, Dr. John Watson. These two characters have been played on film more times by more people than any other literary creations, and the basic formula has been bent and twisted so many times, in so many ways, that most audiences have no idea what the "real" Sherlock Holmes is like.  They base their knowledge of the character on a few surface details, and they've been quite vocal about how upset they are by the way Guy Ritchie and Joel Silver and Robert Downey Jr. are "ruining" the character.

Only... they're not.

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<p>There are many indelible images I'll take away from 2009 as a viewer, and these are just a few... how many of them are you familiar with?&nbsp;</p>

There are many indelible images I'll take away from 2009 as a viewer, and these are just a few... how many of them are you familiar with? 

The M/C List: 2009's 25 Best Movies

The year's done, and the cream has risen... but did your favorites make the list?

It's that time of year again, and here's how we're going to do this.

I could publish one quick list of the titles by themselves, but what fun is that?  If I can't justify the inclusion and/or the placement of a title, I shouldn't be making a list in the first place.  And while I'm not trying anything nearly as exhaustive as Dan Fienberg's awesome best TV of the decade list, I would like to dig in and do this right.

I tried to narrow things down to a top ten.  But honestly, I liked a whooooole lot of movies this year.  There are movies that I genuinely love that aren't going to make this list this year, movies like "Mystery Team" or "Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans" or "The Loved Ones" or "Big Fan" or "Away We Go" or 'Funny People" or "It Might Get Loud" or "The Hurt Locker" or "Paranormal Activity" or "Paper Heart" or "Star Trek" or "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" or "The Lovely Bones," and that is rough.  I wish my list had room for every "The Slammin' Salmon" or "The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus" that I saw, because my DVD shelf certainly does.  Any one of those easily could have found its way into the top 20, but in the end, you just have to go with your gut and decide what you feel the most deeply.

The very nature of list-making is reductive.  You have to kill some of your babies.  On the other hand, I am terrible at letting go of things, and so for a list that is supposed to be 20 titles long, I managed to wrassle in 25 titles because I am a big fat cheater.  If I'm going to make your OCD ring like a bell by including more than 20 titles, then buckle up.

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<p>Seth Rogen, rolling with his crew, in the deranged dark comedy 'Observe and Report'&nbsp;</p>

Seth Rogen, rolling with his crew, in the deranged dark comedy 'Observe and Report' 

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C List: #15 - #11: Pixar, coming of age, and courting controversy

The list continues with festivals faves, a new family classic, and some dark, dark comedy

I think it's only in the runners-up that we have this many ties.  Quite a few in part one of this article.  Don't blame me.  Blame all the filmmakers who did worthwhile and interesting work this year.  In the top ten, each film had to fight for its own slot. Here, though, I'm trying to spread the love a little bit...

#15 / "Anti-Christ" and "Love Exposure"

Lars Von Trier was damn near attacked by the crowd at Cannes over his newest film, and trying to get a mainstream American distributor to pick up a four-hour film about a kid who decides to become the best upskirt panty photographer in Japan is madness.  Both of these films sound like transgression for the sake of it, but I don't think that's a fair description in either case.  "Anti-Christ" has been called misogynist, but that seems like an almost deliberate misreading of the material.  This is a powerfully controlled piece of mood and atmosphere, an emotional horror film about the cumulative effects of misogyny on women and what happens when all of that cultural pressure finally causes someone to crack.  It is no accident that Von Trier named his protagonists Woman and Man.  He's painting with big symbols here, and it works precisely because he aims so broad.  There are horrible images in the film that sear the eyes, but that's the point. This is what horror does at its best... it forces us to deal with the things that most profoundly unsettle us.  I know most "horror" fans don't really want anything that is difficult or upsetting, but that's your flaw, not the genre's, and Von Trier's movie shouldn't be penalized for being deliberately ugly.  Not every film needs to comfort us or hold our hand.  "Love Exposure" tackles at least a half-dozen big ideas, including institutionalized religion, love, the way fetishism in our culture defines people, and more, and it juggles them all with aplomb.  A young man with a strict Catholic priest for a father decides to become an epic-scale sinner so he has something to share with his father in confession, and that drive leads him to meet the love of his life while dressed as a woman.  She falls in love with his female self, but he wants desperately to make her love him as a man, and that fuels a huge, sprawling story that is ultimately one of the most innocent things I've seen all year.  In both cases, audiences might read descriptions of these films or individual scenes in them and decide they aren't going to watch them because they are "dirty." Don't deprive yourself.  Any real adult who is interested in the full range of what cinema can do should seek these out.

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<p>Thomas Hardy gave one of the most dedicated performances of the year as a wild animal who loves the challenge of the cage in &quot;Bronson&quot;</p>

Thomas Hardy gave one of the most dedicated performances of the year as a wild animal who loves the challenge of the cage in "Bronson"

Credit: Magnet Releasing

The M/C List: #20 - #16: Animation, heavy metal, horror and unlikely heroes

The list kicks off with Raimi and Selick and 'Watchmen" and more

One of the things you'll notice is that I have a number of ties on my list.  Each of them is, I think, a fair grouping of films that either work in similar ways or that tackle similar ideas from different directions or that are in some other way related.  A good example...

#20 / TIE / "Coraline" and "A Town Called Panic"

Stop-motion animation has always struck me as one of the most miraculous types of filmmaking.  It's handmade in a digital world, in the best sense of it.  Stop-motion guys are performers as much as hand-animators are.  They all have to understand acting if they're any good at their craft, and when they're drawing a performance, doing all the key work, in some cases as a full 24 frames per second, they're performing.  The same is true of the great stop motion guys, and Henry Selick proved this year that he is the current master of stop-motion animation, pulling off this gorgeous, creepy, sad little magic trick that glows and shimmers and, in the best use of 3D this year (yes, the best), Selick plays with depth perception and set decoration and the layout of rooms depending on which reality Coraline is in, and it's such a brain-bending game that the theatrical experience really isn't what you'll see at home.  The 2D version, thank god, is a great film in its own right.  Make no mistake, though, Selick is part of the game-changing if anyone is.  

On the opposite end of the aesthetic scale is the crazy Belgian stop-motion film based on a crazy Belgian stop-motion TV show about a Cowboy, an Indian, and a Horse who live together.  They are toys, crudely animated, but the choice is so deliberate, and the style of comedy so dependent on the animation looking the way it does, that the low-budget becomes a style, not a burden.  "A Town Called Panic" is wall-to-wall funny, strange and silly in a way that movies and TV for kids often try to accomplish, but which so few ever do.  It's not talking down to kids and it's not occasional knowing winks to the adults, but it's genuinely strange and unique humor that anyone can laugh at.  It's just slapstick chaos theory, bouncing out the craziest jazz riffs for the full 80 minutes or so.  If "Coraline" is a vision of just how beautiful and technically sly stop-motion can be on the cutting edge, "A Town Called Panic" is proof that all a great animator ever needs is a camera and something to say.

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<p>Tobey Maguire is rumored to be playing Bilbo Baggins in 'The Hobbit,' but the actor denies those rumors completely</p>

Tobey Maguire is rumored to be playing Bilbo Baggins in 'The Hobbit,' but the actor denies those rumors completely

Credit: AP Photo/Peter Kramer/New Line

So is Tobey Maguire a Hobbit or not? And will 'Spiderm4n' happen on time?

Online wars rage about a casting rumor and some troubling sequel buzz

To be Bilbo Baggins, or not to be Bilbo Baggins... that is the question.

The online world has changed in many ways over the last 12 years, since I've been an active online presence, and in other ways, it's exactly the same as it's always been.  One outlet writes something they believe as fact, another outlet runs a piece calling them liars, and then the flame wars start.  I've been the guy who has been the source of many of these rumors, and I know that when I run something as a fact... even if it's being denied in public by the parties involved... I've been right a large majority of the time.  I know the difference between a rumor and a fact, but I'm also aware that merely reporting on something can create a Schrodinger's Cat effect on the story, which makes things even more slippery.

El Mayimbe over at Latino Review is wired deeply into the agency community.  That's not guesswork... it's a fact.  His sources are agency sources, and 12 years of doing this has taught me that agency sources are some of the best.  Everything passes through agencies at some point, and so if he's adamant that CAA is having the conversation about Tobey Maguire as Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit," rest assured... they're having that conversation.  Doesn't matter what Movieline or The Hollywood Reporter says.  Doesn't matter how many publicists offer carefully worded denials.  Doesn't even matter if Tobey Maguire himself plays coy with the press and says he's not sure what they're talking about.  There's no way to know at this moment if he will end up in the movie or not, but have those conversations happened?  Count on it.

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<p>&nbsp;Sam Worthington of 'Clash of the Titans'</p>

 Sam Worthington of 'Clash of the Titans'

'Clash Of The Titans' trailer unleashes the Kraken

Another of next year's event films gets a new and spectacular trailer

I have a good friend who I stay with when I'm in Austin, and his favorite film is "Clash Of The Titans."

His least favorite actor?  Sam Worthington.

I would have thought he'd end up laying somewhere twitching in response to the just released new "Clash Of The Titans" trailer, which is much larger than the first one.  Overall, though, his responses on Twitter seemed fairly positive.  This time, you get a sense of the story and the scale, and it looks like an amazing monster mash.

I think this one's going to test some people on their nerdstalgia, though.  After all, Ray Harryhausen was the man who brought the original's creatures to life, and there are people who worship at the altar of his Medusa or his Kraken.  Rightfully so.  They are amazingly performed stop-motion characters.

But as a film?  I must confess I've always found the original to be about half of a good experience.  There's the horrific R2-D2 owl, there's Harry Hamlin, there's some just plain silly '80s storytelling... but it's got character and charm to spare, and all those monsters.  To my mind, "Clash of the Titans" is one of those movies that seems damn near perfect to remake.

If you want to see the new trailer, check it out at Apple.com, where it just had its exclusive premiere.

And watch out for the Kraken.  He looks hunnnnngry.

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<p>Mickey Rourke plays Whiplash, the bad guy who is determined to remind Tony Stark of all the terrible things his family has done over the years in an effort to build their fortune&nbsp;</p>

Mickey Rourke plays Whiplash, the bad guy who is determined to remind Tony Stark of all the terrible things his family has done over the years in an effort to build their fortune 

Credit: Paramount/Marvel

Brand-new 'Iron Man 2' trailer brings the thunder

Much of the Comic-Con footage featured, plus some new surprises

I haven't really been following the viral game that's been leading to the reveal of the new "Iron Man 2" trailer, but it seems that someone's finally solved the clues, cracked the code, and the trailer just went live a moment ago.

This is the same trailer we saw at Butt-Numb-a-Thon over the weekend, and it's one hell of an announcement for what Paramount and Marvel have in store for us in May.  In many ways, it plays like a condensed version of the Comic-Con reel that we talked about in July, but there are some sweet new shots (Whiplash cutting Tony Stark's race car in half, that last shot of War Machine and Iron Man back to back) and a charming reintroduction of Pepper Potts and Tony Stark together in the belly of a plane just before he dives into battle.  I'm still not sure what the main thrust of the storyline is, but it looks like there are a lot of forces in play, all of them intent on knocking Tony Stark and Iron Man down a peg or two.  We'll meet new characters like Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and of course, Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), who looks like a genuine threat.  We'll also see Pepper Potts again (Gwenyth Paltrow) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), as well as Col. James Rhodes, played this time by Don Cheadle, who is going to get his chance to suit up as War Machine.

The trailer made its exclusive debut at Apple.com.  I'm sure we'll be able to post our own version of it in a few days, but for now, go check it out in lovely HD Quicktime glory over there, and then let us know what you think!

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<p>Paul Reubens must have a portrait hanging in an attic somewhere, because Pee-Wee Herman looked as youthful as ever on Dec. 7th, when he gave a press conference in LA about his new stage show<font class="Apple-style-span" size="3"><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-size: 11px;"><br />

Paul Reubens must have a portrait hanging in an attic somewhere, because Pee-Wee Herman looked as youthful as ever on Dec. 7th, when he gave a press conference in LA about his new stage show

Credit: AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

Breakfast with Pee-Wee Herman

And details of what to expect from his new live stage show in LA

When it rains in LA, traffic becomes even more unbearable than usual.

And since I am fortunate enough not to have to commute to downtown Los Angeles every morning, I'm really not used to just how godawful it can be when you do have to get from Northridge, which is the far end of the San Fernando Valley, all the way to the Staples Center.  According to Yahoo! Maps, that trip should take 47 minutes.

Try two hours and eleven minutes.  Thanks, Los Angeles.

Even so, it was worth it on a recent Monday morning to make that wretched drive so I could spend some time talking with Pee-Wee Herman about his return to the spotlight.  This January, Pee-Wee will be appearing in a brand-new stage production that will run for a full month, featuring many of the beloved characters from "Pee-Wee's Playhouse.  From January 12 to February 7, Pee-Wee and Miss Yvonne and Globey and Pterry and many more will all be taking over the stage at Club Nokia @ LA Live.  The 90-minute production will tell the story of Pee-Wee's desire to fly, and what happens when he's given one wish.  Will he use it to fulfill his own desire, or will he help his friends, who are in desperate trouble?  Original cast members like John Paragon and Lynne Marie Stewart will join new cast members like Phil Lamarr, who steps in for Lawrence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis.

There's been a bit of controversy getting here.  Originally, the show was supposed to run at the Music Box Theater, and tickets were sold, but then cancelled.  One of the first things I wanted clarified at the press day was what happened, and the answer was fairly simple:  at the Music Box Theater, there were several other events booked to run concurrently with Pee-Wee, meaning they would have had to strike the set, clear out, then rebuild after each event.  With the technical complexity this show requires, that would have been impossible, and so they went after a venue that would let them stay standing for the entire run, and Club Nokia actively campaigned to get the show as a sort of announcement that the venue can support more than just music concerts.

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