<p>The Final Fantasy series is one of the biggest names in gaming, so today's release of &quot;Final Fantasy XIII&quot; is a major event for gamers.</p>

The Final Fantasy series is one of the biggest names in gaming, so today's release of "Final Fantasy XIII" is a major event for gamers.

Credit: Sony

DVD & Games Forecast: 'Final Fantasy XIII', 'Precious,' and 'Up In The Air' top today's releases

Plus 'Old Dogs' and 'Boondock Saints 2' stink up the schedule

So I've been thinking about how to handle this column, and I'm starting to seriously think that after I get back from SXSW, you're going to see this evolve into my first-ever weekly podcast.  It's one of those things that can take a lot of time on a busy week, and I think I could actually do a better job in a more conversational way with an audio version of this column.  So stay tuned... big changes are coming...

For now, it feels like all of Hollywood has a hangover in the wake of the Oscars.  Everything's quiet, and that includes this week's fairly modest release schedule.  There's a huge title for gamers, a few of this year's Oscar contenders, and a couple of the worst films in recent memory.  All in all, an interesting week, so let's get right to it.

THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:

"Final Fantasy XIII" (X360/PS3)

I've never been a big fan of this particular type of game, but there's no denying that "Final Fantasy" is one of the biggest franchise titles in the world, and the release of this particular chapter in that franchise comes with enormous expectations both from the audience and from the developers.  New approaches to combat, more overt SF influences than ever before, and the first time one of these has been released multi-platform in the US means we're looking at one of the biggest launch days of the year.  I hope this one lives up to all the hopes that fans have for it, because it's been a long time trying to get this on shelves.

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<p>Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund star in the highly anticipated sequel &quot;Tron Legacy,&quot; due in theaters this December.</p>

Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund star in the highly anticipated sequel "Tron Legacy," due in theaters this December.

Credit: Walt Disney Company

Watch: 'Tron Legacy' trailer impresses with quiet confidence

The much-discussed trailer debuts online as part of a viral game

Big day for trailer premieres, and the difference in approach between the last "Iron Man 2" trailer and this first "real" trailer for "Tron Legacy" is night and day.

I love the new "Iron Man 2" trailer precisely because it basically kicks in the door, swaggers onto your monitor, and dares you not to have fun.  It's packed with money shots, and it is aggressive in the way it introduces characters and storylines.

This "Tron Legacy" trailer, on the other hand, is the very definition of a soft sell.  The Daft Punk cue, written for the trailer, is all gentle dynamics and slow build.  Even once the action switches from the real world into the world of the game, it's still just suggestive.  There are a few beats showing action, but I get a feeling all this is supposed to do is suggest tone and mood and the look of the movie.

We do get our first looks at Olivia Wilde and Michael Sheen in the game world, and there's a particularly creepy shot of Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges as Clu, the young digital version of himself, and seeing just that one shot, I am absolutely amazed at how authentic it looks.  It's nothing like that effect in "X3: The Last Stand," which felt artificial.  Here, i just looks like they found some footage of a young Jeff Bridges.

It's also our first look at Garrett Hedlund as the son of Bridges, looking for his father, and what surprised me (pleasantly) is that he comes across as a real adult, not as a teenager.  That makes him a formidable lead, and watching this trailer makes me very curious how his "Captain America" screen test went.

There is a lot to like in this new trailer, and I have my fingers crossed that this could be that rare sequel that actually exceeds the original film.  "Tron" was a sensation for kids my age when it was released in the summer of 1982 because it didn't look like anything we'd ever seen before.  But as a film, it's got some real pace and tone issues, due in large part to Steve Lisberger's inexperience behind the camera.  He is still involved this time around, but I'm hoping the involvement of other talent like Edward Kitsis (one of the writers of "Lost") and Joseph Kosinski, whose got an amazing eye, means that we're going to get a film that finally delivers on the potential of this world.  Here's the trailer for you:

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<p>Kathryn Bigelow, winner of the Academy Award for Best Director of 2009, has made history and could well inspire a new generation of women to dream big.</p>

Kathryn Bigelow, winner of the Academy Award for Best Director of 2009, has made history and could well inspire a new generation of women to dream big.

Credit: AP Photo

Why Kathryn Bigelow's Best Director win really matters

An avowed Oscar-hater finds real significance in this historic win

Much will be written tonight and this week and in the future about the Academy Award win by Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director, and that is no surprise.  It is a historic night, and a historic win.

Normally, I sit the Oscars out altogether.  I don't spend energy thinking about them ahead of time, I don't liveblog them, I don't spend time and energy prognosticating what will happen, and I don't pour over the results with a fine-tooth comb.  That's just me.  I tuned out of the Oscars when I was very young, pretty much as soon as I realized that the films I love and cherish are rarely the films that are honored.  As I've gotten older, it's less about that than it is about the idea that art is not a horse race.  I don't believe in the competition, and so rather than hammer that all year every year, I just let those who want to enjoy all the pomp and circumstance do so, and keep my own Grinchy comments to myself.

This year, though, I've chosen to write about one of the wins in particular because I think there is a real significance, one that is not just symbolic, and one I hope resonates through our entire industry in a permanent way.  If I have ever been proud of the Academy, I am proud of them tonight.  I look at Kathryn Bigelow up there on that stage, winning that award, and I can't help but think that our industry just got a little bigger, and that moves me in a way that has nothing to do with a simple award.

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<p>Mickey Rourke brings the thunder to Robert Downey Jr's doorstep in the newest trailer for 'Iron Man 2'</p>

Mickey Rourke brings the thunder to Robert Downey Jr's doorstep in the newest trailer for 'Iron Man 2'

Credit: Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios

New 'Iron Man 2' trailer is the real winner on Oscar Sunday

More footage, more characters, more wow

Jon Favreau, you've done it again.

Every single "Iron Man 2" trailer has gotten more and more confident, and this last trailer... or at least I assume it's the last one, since the film is just about two months away now... is absolutely amazing.

Finally, they've introduced the character of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who seems to be a direct counterpoint to Tony Stark.  He's an eccentric weapons manufacturer, charismatic, but the difference is that Hammer has no moral compass whatsoever.  There's also even more Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) in this trailer, and he looks like a real threat, plain and simple.  A superhero is only as good as the opponent he faces, in my opinion, so to give him a foe who looks that dangerous automatically makes Iron Man more interesting this time around.

There's something very meta about the way this trailer begins, with Iron Man dropping into the Stark Expo, setting off a major celebration over his return.  And why not?  Why shouldn't Favreau and Downey take a victory lap?  They earned it last time out, turning a character that many people were calling "the B list" into one of the biggest box-office successes of the year.

There's a little more Scarlett Johansson this time, but not a lot, and that's fine.  I hope her character is a subplot in the film, a diversion.  What really seems to get turned up is the idea that Tony Stark wants to do everything by himself and increasingly realizes how impossible that is.  Don Cheadle's James Rhodes gets a decent amount of face time in the new trailer, both as himself and as War Machine, and that scene where all of Hammer's Iron Man knockoffs drop one by one to the ground, surrounding Iron Man and War Machine, is one of the most immediately iconic beats in superhero cinema.

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<p>Matt Lucas, Mia Wasikowska, and Matt Lucas in a scene from Tim Burton's new 'Alice In Wonderland'</p>

Matt Lucas, Mia Wasikowska, and Matt Lucas in a scene from Tim Burton's new 'Alice In Wonderland'

Credit: Walt Disney Company

The M/C Interview: Matt Lucas talks about playing the Tweedles in 'Alice In Wonderland'

What does the veteran make-up actor think of the greenscreen future?

While we're on the subject of "Alice In Wonderland," I have one more interview to run today.  I first spoke with Matt Lucas a couple of years ago when he and David Walliams came to Los Angeles to promote the HBO version of "Little Britain," a show I quite like.  Lucas is one of those performers who is frequently described as "fearless" because of his willingness to do anything for a laugh, but I don't think that fully describes just how nuanced and smart much of his work is.  There's a keenly observant quality to his character work, and a wicked, wicked streak as well.

The first real images I saw from "Alice In Wonderland" featured Lucas as the Tweedles, and if nothing else, I give Burton credit for that casting.  I wish he'd been used more in the film, but he is a striking presence, and an interesting addition to Wonderland.   Considering how much of his work has been spent in elaborate make-ups so far, I thought having a conversation about the transition into a digital world would be a rewarding one.
 
Turns out, I was right.  From the moment he opened his door at the Hollywood Rennaisance and recognized me from our previous interview, Lucas was gracious and charming, and here's the conversation we shared:
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<p>Mia Wasikowska plays the title character in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland'</p>

Mia Wasikowska plays the title character in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland'

Credit: Walt Disney Company

Why do some critics willingly go down the rabbit hole while others don't?

A look at the wild disparity in reviews for 'Alice In Wonderland'

When I published my review last week for "Alice In Wonderland," I intentionally didn't read other reviews first.  I've certainly read a ton of them at this point, due in part to the way many of you kept throwing other reviews at me as a way of refuting my opinion on the film.  "But look! A.O. Scott liked it! And he's smart!" Yes... yes, he is.  Looking at the Rotten Tomatoes page for the film, there are a number of smart critics who appear to have given the film a passing grade, although a close reading of many of those reviews would reveal a big of ambiguity as to just how much they actually enjoyed what they watched.  I actually considered running links to various reviews, both pro and con, but I don't feel like attacking or nitpicking every individual reaction is something I want to start doing.  But I am fascinated by the general division here, and there is no denying that there is a fairly serious difference of opinion on this one.

Why?

Why does that happen?  Why are there some films where people seem to have a generally accepted middle-ground of opinion, and others where critics are driven to polar extremes?  I think "Alice" is a good case study for the question because, in this case, I can see where some of those battle lines have been drawn, and even if I disagree with the reasoning, I can understand what's causing it.

There are many viewers who seem perfectly happy to simply bask in the familiar with each new Tim Burton film.  And if what you want is what you've already seen, "Alice" more than delivers that.  My complaints were not so much that I think he ballsed up an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's work, although he did, but more that there was nothing in this movie that I haven't seen from Burton already.  I think he is enormously talented, but I think that talent is slowly ossifying, locked into a rigid set of expectations of what a "Tim Burton film" is supposed to be.

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<p>Helen Mirren is the voice of Nyra, an evil queen in Zack Snyder's animated film 'The Legend Of The Guardians,' in theaters this September.</p>

Helen Mirren is the voice of Nyra, an evil queen in Zack Snyder's animated film 'The Legend Of The Guardians,' in theaters this September.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. unleashes Zack Snyder's 'The Legend Of The Guardians'

Marketing blitz begins with a trailer and the first images online

I guess Warner Bros. decided it's time to get "The Legend Of The Guardians" onto everyone's radar.

And based on the reaction in my own house to the trailer, it may have worked.

USA Today kicked things off yesterday with a "first look" article yesterday featuring five new stills from the film, and the accompanying article did a nice job laying out what to expect from this animated adaptation of the Guardians of Ga'hoole novels by Kathryn Lasky.  I didn't realize there are fifteen books in the series so far, but that would suggest that there is a big audience out there just waiting to see these stories brought to life.  Just because I didn't know about them doesn't mean they're not well known to the exact audience that Warner Bros. is trying to reach with this film.

The trailer itself is stunningly beautiful, something that was only hinted at in the footage I saw while I was in Vancouver in December.  I'm taken aback at how strong the work by Animal Logic appears to be.  It's realistic, but it also has a lush, rich style that suggests they're treating the material seriously, and not just making a "kiddie film."  That's exactly the approach I would expect from Snyder, and it looks like it's paid off.

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<p>The Cheshire Cat, voiced by Stephen Fry, is one of the characters brought to life by the work of Ken Ralston and his team in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland.'</p>

The Cheshire Cat, voiced by Stephen Fry, is one of the characters brought to life by the work of Ken Ralston and his team in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland.'

Credit: Walt Disney Company

The M/C Interview: FX guru Ken Ralston creates magic in 'Alice In Wonderland'

Plus he talks about his inspirations and past triumphs

It's obvious that my review of "Alice In Wonderland" touched a nerve with people, which is strange because most of the responses to it were from people who haven't seen the movie yet.  I'm going to write a little more about the film and the critical responses tonight, but for now, I'm excited to run this particular interview.

It's not often you meet someone who rewired you as a human being, but I think it's safe to say that Ken Ralston is one of the people directly responsible for me being who I am at this point.  He's been an FX legend as long as I've been a filmgoer, and the work he does continues to push the cutting edge each and every time he works, it seems.  That challenge is one of the things that defines him, and he certainly faced a whole new batch of difficulties bringing the world of Lewis Carroll to life for director Tim Burton.  We got a chance to sit down at the Hollywood Rennaisance Hotel as part of the "Alice In Wonderland" press day, and he more than lived up to expectations.

Drew McWeeny:  I have literally grown up watching your work.  The movie that changed my life and made me want to be a filmmaker when I was 7 was “Star Wars”… and it was really from that moment…

Ken Ralston:  I’m feeling so old.
 
DM:  …from the moment the Star Destroyer rolled overhead it was like, okay, whatever this is, I want in.  Over the years, you have been on the front of almost every major sea change in how effects are handled in films. And several times I think you have pushed the cutting edge to the point of breaking.
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<p>'The Secret Of Kells' was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year's Academy Awards.</p>

'The Secret Of Kells' was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year's Academy Awards.

Credit: GKIDS

The M/C Review: 'The Secret Of Kells' is lovely, lyrical animation

This year's suprise Oscar nominee deserves serious attention

When this year's Oscar nominations were announced, perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the inclusion of "The Secret Of Kells" as a nominee for Best Animated Feature.  The film opens in limited release this weekend, and while I doubt it's going to steal the Oscar out from under Pixar, I hope the attention that's been given the film draws an audience to what might otherwise have been a very hard sell for families who are used to simply following the Disney or the Dreamworks brands around by the nose.

"The Secret Of Kells" is steeped in Irish history and folklore, and directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey brings an incredible sense of composition and style to bear in telling the story of the creation of the Book Of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript from somewhere around 800 A.D.  The film's art direction draws inspiration from the way the actual Book Of Kells was illustrated, as well as artists like Gustav Klimt, but it's still very modern and very approachable for young audiences who have grown up with shows like "Dexter's Laboratory" or "Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends."  Evan McGuire voices the main character, a young boy named Brendan, who is being raised at the Abbey of Kells, where preparations are being made for an impending attack by raiding Vikings.  Those preparations are the all-consuming focus of the Abbot (Brendan Gleeson), and as far as he's concerned, a wall around the Abbey is the only thing that will save them.

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<p>Are Sam Raimi and David Slade set to team up for a new film version of 'The Shadow' for 20th Century Fox?</p>

Are Sam Raimi and David Slade set to team up for a new film version of 'The Shadow' for 20th Century Fox?

Credit: Universal

Fox knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, picks up 'The Shadow'

Sam Raimi producing for David Slade to direct

I've been saying it for about a year now, and sure enough, pulp is starting to become a big deal again.  The recent news that Shane Black is directing "Doc Savage" had me dancing around the house for days, since I love Shane Black, and I am a raving "Doc Savage" fanatic.  I can't claim the same level of affection for The Shadow as a character, even if he was closely associated with Doc during the heyday of the pulp magazines.

But sure enough, it looks like Sam Raimi's longtime dream of bringing The Shadow back to life is one step closer to happening, and 20th Century Fox appears to be the new home for the film.

Latino Review broke the story today that Fox is planning to bring Raimi and director David Slade together on the project.  Slade, of course, directed "30 Days Of Night" for Raimi's Ghost House Pictures, and he's currently finishing work on the newest film in the "Twilight" series, "Eclipse."  

So just who or what is The Shadow?  Well, that depends on which version you're familiar with.  The best known incarnation was the radio show, where he was Lamont Cranston, a man who fought crime using mystical abilities he learned from the shadowy East, foremost of which was the ability to cloud men's minds so they either didn't see him or they didn't remember what they saw.  If you've seen Raimi's "Darkman," then you've already essentially seen his version of the character.  Alec Baldwin played the character in the '90s for a big-budget Universal film that was written by David Koepp and directed by Russell Mulcahy.

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