<p>If you're itching to take an early trip to Pandora, Ubisoft's 'Avatar: The Game' is in stores today&nbsp;</p>

If you're itching to take an early trip to Pandora, Ubisoft's 'Avatar: The Game' is in stores today 

Credit: Ubisoft

DVD & Games Forecast: 'Avatar: The Game' starts the onslaught

Plus MST3K, 'Terminator Salvation," and SNL Season Five

Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast for December 1, 2009.

These are the fairly lean days now, the weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.  There are still good titles coming out, but compared to the glut we've gotten for the last few months, it's slowed down considerably.  Still, there are plenty of ways to clean out your wallet completely with new releases, and since I'm so sick right now that even my teeth hurt, let's try to get through this with no fuss and no muss, eh?  

THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:

"James Cameron's Avatar: The Game" (PS3/XBOX 360/PSP/Wii/DS)

I know... I know... never get excited about a movie tie-in game.  Only Ubisoft is the company behind this, they had three years to work on the game instead of the normally telescoped process most movie tie-ins suffer from, and the demo I saw at E3 this year was actually very cool.  So color me interested in this one, and as soon as I finish Ubisoft's amazing "Assassin's Creed II," I have a feeling this will be the next game I chip away at, which should help me assuage my almost chemical need to see the film as soon as possible. You play as both human and Na'vi characters at different stages in the game, which is set before the film, so you don't have to worry about spoilers destroying the film experience for you.  Now if only I had that 103-inch HD 3D monitor that I saw the game demo on...

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<p>Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in the South African rugby drama 'Invictus,' directed by Clint Eastwood&nbsp;</p>

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in the South African rugby drama 'Invictus,' directed by Clint Eastwood 

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C Review: Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon, and Morgan Freeman bring 'Invictus' to life

The second sports drama about race this season arrives... but does it score?

There's little doubt that Clint Eastwood is the model for what a studio wants from the director of adult drama.  He makes them at a reasonable price, he's fast, movie stars love him, and he exercises restraint in pretty much every decision he makes.  He's become one of the most reliable brand-name directors working today.  When you go see a Clint Eastwood movie, and it seems like there's always at least two in release, you know what you're going to get.

"Invictus" is a perfect example of that.  Working from a very straightforward screenplay by Anthony Peckham, Eastwood tells the story of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) attempting to create a sense of unity in a country that was known worldwide for its deep racial division, reaching out to Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to lead South Africa to a World Cup victory.  It's extremely earnest filmmaking, direct and unsubtle, and it absolutely feels like an Eastwood movie.  Even with the element of suspense removed (after all, why would they make the film if there was no triumph at the end?), the film works as a solid piece of down-the-middle entertainment.  It never hammers at its audience, which would have been incredibly easy to do with material like this.  Eastwood's touch is exactly what this subject matter needed, and as a result, he's made another film that's no doubt going to kill at the box-office and push all the right buttons for Oscar voters.

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<p>Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham share a laugh on the set of the '80s throwback action movie 'The Expendables'&nbsp;</p>

Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham share a laugh on the set of the '80s throwback action movie 'The Expendables' 

Credit: Coming Soon

The Morning Read: John Hillcoat discusses 'The Road'

Plus an 'Expendables' trailer, Manny Pacquiao fights a giant crab, and will 'Thor' rock?

Welcome to The Morning Read.

Hope you had a great weekend.  Once again, I'm trying to get rid of some leftover links that I've hidden amidst all the new stuff I've seen online over the weekend, so this is another appropriate edition of The Morning Read, and with this much to discuss and with me leaving the house at 6:30 AM on Monday morning for a set visit, I'd better write as fast as possible tonight so you guys can read this while I'm out all day.

Looking forward to checking out this "Avatar" roundtable on December 3rd.  Nice get for MTV, and it sounds like it took nearly six months to negotiate.  In the meantime, Geoff Boucher (one of the few film writers for the LA Times that I actually respect at this point) has gone "Avatar" crazy, and his interview with production designer Rick Carter is especially good.  It's one of the first to tackle the question of how different the approaches of James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis truly are.

And speaking of Cameron, this new "AVP" game is one of the first that gets close to tapping into the aesthetic that makes "Aliens" my favorite out of either of those series, and I hope the gameplay delivers on the promise of this teaser video.

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<p>Saoirse Ronan stars as Suzie Salmon, the young girl whose murder is the subject of Peter Jackson's adaptation of 'The Lovely Bones'&nbsp;</p>

Saoirse Ronan stars as Suzie Salmon, the young girl whose murder is the subject of Peter Jackson's adaptation of 'The Lovely Bones' 

Credit: Paramount/Dreamworks

The M/C Review: Peter Jackson unearths 'The Lovely Bones'

But has he done justice to Alice Sebold's beloved novel?

I am a marshmallow.

Wasn't always, but I certainly am now.  When I was younger, I prided myself on seeking out the most extreme, the most challenging, the most difficult movies and images I could.  There was no work of fiction that went "too far" for me, and I considered it a thrill to sit through a movie that other people declared to be too dark or too upsetting. 

Over the last decade or so, though, my empathy switch got recalibrated, and suddenly I find myself getting weepy over movies all the time, and since having kids, it's out of control.  The strangest things set me off, and I am aware of how ridiculous it is even as I find myself utterly given over to these emotional thunderstorms.  The other day, for example, I was driving Toshi to meet the rest of the family for Thanksgiving dinner, and he's recently become obsessive about The Beatles since I picked up some of the new remasters.  So he demanded the White Album, and we were singing along to it as I drove, and we got to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," and as I was singing about the domestic bliss of Desmond and Molly Jones, and as the angel-sweet voice of my little boy piped in from the back seat with "Life goes OOOOOOOON!", I lost it.  It was one of those moments I will bank and treasure and look back on for the rest of my life, and it was nothing more complex than the right song at the right moment.

As a result of my self-appointed big ol' crybaby status, I was actively afraid of "The Lovely Bones."  I knew what it was about, and I wasn't sure I wanted that in my head.  I won't read news stories about abused and murdered children.  I know it goes on all the time.  I know there are people who do horrible things to children.  But it's something that sends me into a near-physical panic now when I read details of these things.  I hover a lot around my kids... I want to protect them from every bump and scrape right now, while i can, because I know for the most part, I'll have no control over their safety.  I won't be around them 24 hours a day.  All I can do is love my kids as well as possible, nurture their creativity and their education and foster as much joy as I can for them, so they grow up happy and smart and healthy, hopefully.  All I can do is plan for the best and understand that the worst is always a possibility, always a very real shadow just waiting to fall on us.

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<p>Could Jeremy Renner be suiting up for 'The Avengers'? &nbsp;That's a distinct possibility, and one I'd certainly welcome&nbsp;</p>

Could Jeremy Renner be suiting up for 'The Avengers'?  That's a distinct possibility, and one I'd certainly welcome 

Credit: Marvel Comics/Summit Entertainment

Is Jeremy Renner moving from 'Hurt Locker' to Hawkeye?

Empire's got the interview that started the rumor

If this pans out, Marvel Studios has made yet another kick-ass decision as they cast out the Marvel Universe, and I can't wait to see what the roster for "The Avengers" is going to look like.

Empire Magazine was interviewing Jeremy Renner about "The Hurt Locker," and it's obvious that no matter what the film does in terms of Oscars, it's given Renner a huge bounce in the industry, and he's going to start showing up in all sorts of interesting places soon, I'd expect.

Here's what he had to say, though, that got nerds everywhere buzzing this week:

"If I was a betting man, I would bet that Hawkeye would probably show up in 'Thor', and then be in 'The Avengers.' But do I know for sure? I can’t say. But I’d love for that to happen. It’d be fun.”

Even more interesting?  Renner was one of the guys who just spent the last three months chasing the lead role in George Miller's new "Mad Max: Fury Road," only to lose out to Tom Hardy, who is coming off of the ferocious "Bronson."  I know Sam Worthington was also in that hunt, so it's interesting to see how there's a new group of guys all chasing the same parts who qualify by virtue of being men in an industry of perpetual boys.

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<p>Ben Barnes greets Skandar Keynes warmly in 'The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader,' the third in the 'Narnia' film series&nbsp;</p>

Ben Barnes greets Skandar Keynes warmly in 'The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader,' the third in the 'Narnia' film series 

Credit: Walden Media

The Morning Read: First images appear online from 'The Voyage of The Dawn Treader'

Plus 'Sherlock' buzz, a 'New Moon' kiss, and 'Whacking The Baby'

Welcome to The Morning Read.

Isn't it supposed to get quiet over a holiday weekend?  If that's true, then why do I have a giant overstuffed Morning Read for you today, and why is everyone else online working so damn hard right now?  I have turkey sandwiches to eat, people! They're not going to eat themselves!  In the spirit of the season, some of these are brand new links, and some are leftovers I'm just clearing out.  Seems appropriate, eh?

I'm hearing some pretty amazing buzz from this week's Guild screening of "Sherlock Holmes," and I have a feeling all the naysayers are going to find themselves part of a very small club when audiences get a look at the film next month.  I'm dying to take a look myself, and I hope it happens sooner rather than later.  To be fair, our own Greg Ellwood tells me that the HFPA, the voting body behind the Golden Globes, hated the film, but I'd trust my sources and their taste over anything the HFPA thinks any day of the week.  It sounds to me like "Sherlock" might just turn out to be the franchise-started Warner Bros. is praying for.

It's always interesting when a film goes from hypothetical to actual, and I guess I missed that moment for the third "Narnia" film.  Last I heard, the film was still a "maybe," but Coming Soon just debuted a number of stills from the film, including looks at Lucy Pensevie, Prince Caspian and Edmund reunited, and the helm of the ship.  One image is included here at the top of the story, and you can find the rest of them at Coming Soon. 

Did you know the Kids In The Hall are working together again?  Did you know they're making a full-blown mini-series that they say is inspired by "The League Of Gentlemen"?  Do you have any idea how cool that is?  There's a teaser trailer online now, and it fills me with sinister glee. 
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<p>Here's hoping the turkey you sit down to this holiday is on the table and not on the screen&nbsp;</p>

Here's hoping the turkey you sit down to this holiday is on the table and not on the screen 

Credit: The Norman Rockwell Estate

What I'm Thankful For 2009

An annual moment to stop and recognize just how lucky I am

As I prepare to take a slight break over the holiday, it's time to look back at my first year here at HitFix and also to consider what I'm thankful for, both personally and professionally.

One of the things I like about Thanksgiving as a holiday is that it's not religious, and there's no baggage attached.  It's an incredibly simple concept.  Set a day aside and give thanks for all the things that make your life better.  I know we should be thankful every day, but it's easy to get distracted by all the noise and all the activity and all the nonstop activity each week.  So when there's a day like today, why not take advantage and speak up?

1.  My family

I have a truly amazing wife... beautiful and smart, and the only reason I'm a functioning human being today is because I met and married her.  Together, we've produced two beautiful kids, and I'm thrilled every day with the adventure we're having as a family.  As my first son Toshiro is getting older, he's become a central figure in the work I do here on the site, in particular with the column "Film Nerd 2.0," and it is a joy to watch him come into focus, and to share that process with you.  As much as I love movies and games and TV and comics and all the other ephemera that is part of this job, my family is what keeps me going.  I had no idea there was something missing from my life until all these people became part of it, and now I can't imagine life without them.

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<p>Prince Naveen and Tiana share a magical kiss in the moment that changes everything in Disney's latest animated film, 'The Princess and the Frog'&nbsp;</p>

Prince Naveen and Tiana share a magical kiss in the moment that changes everything in Disney's latest animated film, 'The Princess and the Frog' 

Credit: Walt Disney Company

The M/C Review: Disney's 'The Princess & The Frog' revives 2D animation

In looking back, have they laid the groundwork for their future?

There's a lot of pressure on this film and on the filmmakers, and under the circumstances, I'm amazed that the film works at all.  After all, how would you feel if the Walt Disney Company asked you to not only bring back the 2D hand-animation that the company was built on, but also to try to recapture the lightning in a bottle that made the early '90s run of hits so explosive for the studio?  

That's no small order, and yet somehow, "The Princess And The Frog" makes it all look easy.  Family audiences in New York and Los Angeles are in for a treat over the long holiday weekend, and once the film goes wide, I expect Disney's going to celebrate the Christmas season with a whole lot of green.

Toshi and I went to the Disney lot in Burbank last week to see the film, and afterwards, Disney rolled out the full experience that ticket buyers will have if they go see the film during its limited flagship runs starting today.  After the film, all of the families who were there were led to a soundstage where there were actors dressed as all of the Disney princesses, as well as games, a play area, and a number of displays designed to emphasize the filmmaking process.  

It's no surprise that they'd throw such an elaborate party for the film... most of the great early '90s runs at the El Capitan featured similar events themed around each release, and it takes the sting out of the extra ticket price that families pay if they want to see the movie right now.  Toshi had an amazing time with it, and he was particularly taken with the film's bad guy, Dr. Facilier, also known as The Shadow Man, voiced by the great Keith David.  I love it when Disney villains are actually scary for the young audiences, and The Shadow Man is a perfect example of that.  David gives a spirited vocal performance in the role, and brings nuance to what could easily be a pedestrian one-note example of evil.

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<p>An eccentric family of misfits takes revenge on munitions dealers in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 'Micmacs,' a bizarre Gallic riff on Kurosawa's 'Yojimbo'</p>

An eccentric family of misfits takes revenge on munitions dealers in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 'Micmacs,' a bizarre Gallic riff on Kurosawa's 'Yojimbo'

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

The M/C Review: 'Micmacs' should please Jeunet fans

But will it cross over to a wider audience like 'Amelie'?

This was the verrrrrrrrry last thing I saw at the Toronto Film Festival this year, squeezed in against all odds on the morning I was leaving town, after staying up all night writing, watching movies, and hanging out with Cinematical's Scott Weinberg.  I wasn't even technically supposed to be able to attend this particular type of screening because I didn't have a press badge.  So it was a miracle I sat down in the theater at all.

The film is pretty much exactly what you hope a new film from Jeunet is going to be, unless you don't like his particular flavor of whimsy, in which case, "Micmacs" is pretty much exactly what you dread a new film from Jeunet is going to be.

I've been a fan of his work since "Delicatessen," and with "The City Of Lost Children," admiration turned into unbridled adoration.  I still think that's one of the best things he's been associated with in any way.  It's a gorgeous, crazy, broken-hearted fairy tale, and I love pretty much everything about it.  "Alien Resurrection"? Not so much. My wife and I were still in the early days of our relationship when "Amelie" came out, and we both went nuts for it.  I respect "A Very Long Engagement," but I don't think it's completely successful.  Even so, I think I would have savored it a bit more if I knew it was going to be five years before he made another movie.

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<p>Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann, and Seth Rogen all star in Judd Apatow's 'Funny People,' which arrives on DVD and BluRay today&nbsp;</p>

Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann, and Seth Rogen all star in Judd Apatow's 'Funny People,' which arrives on DVD and BluRay today 

Credit: Universal Home Video

DVD & Games Forecast: 'Funny People' arrives, packed with extras

Plus 'The Sopranos' on BluRay and crazy Dennis Hopper Ozploitation

Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast for November 24, 2009.

Black Friday is this week, and the shelves are as full as they're going to get right now.  The studios really dumped most of their big-ticket merchandise onto shelves over the past few weeks, and this week, it's just a last few things being released as consumers hopefully hit the stores and go crazy.

As the industry debates internally about whether physical media is finished, it's worth asking the question: what, if anything, are you planning to pick up either for yourself or for loved ones this season?  Anything? Everything? I'm interested in what you guys have to say about it.

Right now, let's jump in and look at this week's titles of note:

THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:

"Funny People"  (BluRay/DVD)

Judd Apatow's latest is perhaps more uneven and harder to get a handle on than his earlier films "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," but the ambition of it is part of what I love.  It's a big, sprawling, messy story about a guy who isn't very nice and learns nothing from a tough situation.  Talk about cashing in your commercial credibility on something difficult.  Apatow decided to cast his buddy Adam Sandler in a film that pretty much defies every commercial impulse that Adam Sandler's films typically follow, and that actually mocks those films at the same time.  Seth Rogen, Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill, and Eric Bana all provide excellent support for Sandler's lead, but once again, it's Leslie Mann who sort of dominates, giving a performance that is edgy and alive, and which proves that this is one Hollywood power couple where both halves are equally strong.  My original review for the film can be read here.  If you've picked up any of Apatow's earlier films on DVD or BluRay, you know what to expect here.  It's packed with features, although I am disappointed they didn't throw in an extra disc and just put out the entire live event, "An Evening With Funny People."  Bummer, guys.

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