<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 />
</span></font></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

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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<p>Chloe Grace Moretz arrives as a fully-formed movie star by the end of her first scene as Hit Girl in 'Kick-Ass,' due in theaters in April&nbsp;</p>

Chloe Grace Moretz arrives as a fully-formed movie star by the end of her first scene as Hit Girl in 'Kick-Ass,' due in theaters in April 

Credit: Lionsgate/MARV

The M/C Review: 'Kick-Ass' really, really does

Matthew Vaughn's giddy ballet of hyperviolence sends the BNAT audience reeling

I've been lucky enough to attend all eleven Butt-Numb-A-Thon festivals in Austin, TX.  For the first ten of them, I was a contributing editor of Ain't It Cool News, the website founded by Harry Knowles, and BNAT is a combination birthday party for Harry and movie-nerd freakout that runs 24 hours straight, one film after another, a mix of vintage and premieres.

I'll be bringing you a number of reviews over the next couple of days from BNAT, although if you want, you can already read my reviews of "The Lovely Bones," Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Micmacs," or James Cameron's "Avatar," all of which played this year.

First up, though, let's talk about this year's big winner at BNAT, and the way the screening turned from a very good screening of a very good film into the stuff of legend.  This was one of those happy accidents that I find make an event into something more than just a screening, and it's one of the things Harry has built the legend of BNAT on over the years.

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<p>Russell Crowe stars as the famous outlaw Robin Hood this summer for director Ridley Scott in 'Robin Hood'&nbsp;</p>

Russell Crowe stars as the famous outlaw Robin Hood this summer for director Ridley Scott in 'Robin Hood' 

Credit: Universal

Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe reteam in new 'Robin Hood' trailer

Apple has the HD premiere today

I know that we're all supposed to harumph and say we hate "Gladiator" these days, at least based on the way the fanboy nation reacts every time it's mentioned, but forget that.  I loved "Gladiator" when it came out and I still think it's one of the most acutely entertaining moments of Ridley Scott's career.

I'm also on record as being a huge fan of the director's cut of "Kingdom Of Heaven," a film that was mistreated to a disturbing extent during its theatrical run.  Fox shot themselves in the foot on that one, because the shortre theatrical cut deserved to fail... it made no sense.  The longer version, though, is powerful and impressive, and almost overwhelming during the battle scenes.

Now it's back to the well for Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, who could probably stand to have a box-office hit, and I'll admit... I'm having a hard time working up much enthusiasm for yet another rendition of "Robin Hood."  Then again, it's all about how the story is told, and I'll admit... there are two things that have me immediately interested:  Cate Blanchett and Mark Strong.  Both of them are exciting each and every time they work, and Strong in particular is on a roll right now.

So if you're curious, check it out at Apple.com, where the trailer made its official debut today, and where you can see it in HD.  "Robin Hood" arrives in theaters May 14, 2010.

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<p>Nicolas Cage was almost Superman, and he definitely played Ghost Rider, but you'll forget both of them once you meet Big Daddy&nbsp;</p>

Nicolas Cage was almost Superman, and he definitely played Ghost Rider, but you'll forget both of them once you meet Big Daddy 

Credit: Lionsgate/MARV

New 'Kick-Ass' clip and poster introduce Nic Cage as Big Daddy

The buzz builds as a new image arrives

I'm going to be publishing my thoughts on "Kick-Ass" verrrrrrrrrry soon, but I don't want to rush it.

Suffice to say, Matthew Vaughn conquered that Austin audience this weekend, and I'm thrilled with the way the film cut together.  When you visit a set, you're looking at parts.  Pieces.  Potential.  But until a film is done, almost anything could happen.  I've seen films that were moderately impressive on set come together in a way that is almost confusingly great, and I've seen the exact opposite.  With "Kick Ass," I hoped it was going to work from the moment I read the script, and in every one of the set reports I wrote after visiting last year, I was optimistic.  I've been playing cheerleader ever since, and now, I'm thrilled to see that whatever I thought it was going to be, it's better.

Today, UGO got hold of the new "Big Daddy" character poster and a great new clip.

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<p>Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal chat late into the night in 'Crazy Heart,' which opens in limited release on Wednesday&nbsp;</p>

Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal chat late into the night in 'Crazy Heart,' which opens in limited release on Wednesday 

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Watch: Jeff Bridges, Robert Duvall, and Maggie Gyllenhaal discuss 'Crazy Heart'

Drew McWeeny interviews the three stars of this underdog winner

One of the nicest things about the way "Crazy Heart" has just sort of blown in out of nowhere at the end of this year is how rare it is these days to discover a film without any hype attached, particularly one starring people like Jeff Bridges, Robert Duvall, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  Scott Cooper's film was originally going to get its first public exposure at next month's Sundance Film Festival, but Fox Searchlight made a very last minute decision to put the film out this year instead.  As a result, when I sat down to see it, I hadn't seen a trailer or a still or read anything at all.  I just saw it cold.

My reaction to the film led me to enthusiastically ask the film's publicists if I could talk to the cast at the TV day, and they were kind enough to offer all three, one at a time.  I will admit I had an ulterior motive here, but I'll explain that a little later.

First up, I sat down with Maggie Gyllenhaal, who I met at Sundance in 2001, when she was in town for "Donnie Darko."  She and her brother Jake were at the "Darko" after-party, held at a "cabin" which was actually a four story house packed full of hundreds of people by the time the night was finished.  Even amidst all that madness, I had a chance to spend some real time with both of them that night, and Maggie struck me as a young woman who was already at home in that particular world, thanks to the influence of her talented parents, Stephen Gyllenhaal and Naomi Foner.  She was just out of college, and she seemed determined to do work that mattered to her, outside the Hollywood game as much as possible.  In the years since then, she's done a lot of interesting work, and I think she's one of the most eccentric actresses working right now, in a good way.  She makes very unusual choices, and frequently.  Yeah, she's in "The Dark Knight," but she's doing a lot more like "Secretary" in the meantime.  Here, I think she does very natural work, and I wanted to talk to her about how she and Bridges found their rhythm together:

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<p>&nbsp;'Avatar'</p>

 'Avatar'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

The M/C Review: Cameron's 'Avatar' delivers, transports, delights

James Cameron's the king of a whole new world now

In many ways, my anticipation for James Cameron's "Avatar" started in 1977, when I emerged from the darkness after my first viewing of the original "Star Wars."

I was seven years old, and my brain had just been rewired by what I saw on that screen.  I didn't know how George Lucas discovered those alien planets and managed to get movie cameras to visit them, but I knew for a fact that I had left Earth and visited new places, met real aliens, and had a fantastic adventure.  And the experience transformed me immediately into a cinema junkie in general, but specifically, it awakened a deeply-seeded love in me for the idea of world-building on film.

In the 32 years since then, I've read a lot of science-fiction and fantasy, both high-minded and pulp, and I've seen pretty much everything in those genres on film.  I've watched the gradual refinement and evolution of special effects on film, and I've watched many filmmakers, including George Lucas, try to nail the same sort of giddy feeling of travel to a new world, and I've seen most of them fall short.

Yesterday morning, I got a hit of the real stuff for the first time in a long time. 

I haven't seen as persuasive and passionate a trip into a fantasy world since Peter Jackson's triumphant "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy, with the most significant difference being that James Cameron is offering us a personal vision of a brand-new place, and in doing so, he's absolutely given birth to a brand new world, one in which he is the undisputed king.

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