<p>More and more key art for James Cameron's 'Avatar' is showing up online, including an international one-sheet that features this image&nbsp;</p>

More and more key art for James Cameron's 'Avatar' is showing up online, including an international one-sheet that features this image 

Credit: 20th Century Fox

The Morning Read: 'Avatar' hype heats up as Cameron does '60 Minutes'

Plus what makes a film profitable? 'Dock Ellis' and Edward Woodward

Welcome to The Morning Read.

'Tis the season.  Oscar-hopeful films are starting to screen heavily, and at this point, almost everything's been seen by someone.  In the last few days, I've seen "Nine," and I've got several films lined up this week that aren't coming out until the end of December.  It seems like the last of these films that's going to screen for anyone is "Avatar," which makes sense.  They're still putting all the last minute technical touches on the film, and I'm sure the first time Cameron screens it for press, he wants it to be 100% finished so that they get the full intended experience.

He is, after all, HMFIC.

If you don't know what that means, then you probably didn't see the piece that "60 Minutes" ran last night about "Avatar" and Cameron.  And why would Cameron sit down with a news magazine show that pretty much no one under a certain age watches anymore?  Ten minutes after the show ended, there was a message on my answering machine from my 60+ year old mother, telling me to tune in and check it out.  "Avatar" was already on her radar because she reads my work, but if it wasn't, that would have done the trick.

Right now, the most important thing for 20th Century Fox is getting the word out to every single demographic, every single niche audience, and every single potential ticket buyer.  They don't just want you to see "Avatar" on December 18th.  They NEED for you to see "Avatar."  And not just once, either.  They're hoping that they will get you on the hook for repeat viewings.  Over and over.

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<p>Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes in one of the rare quiet moments from Werner Herzog's wackadoo update 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans'&nbsp;</p>

Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes in one of the rare quiet moments from Werner Herzog's wackadoo update 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans' 

Credit: First Look Studios

The M/C Review: 'Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans' serves up delicious crazy

Werner Herzog and Nic Cage have indecent fun while being bad

It's been a while since I've proudly identified myself as a Nicolas Cage fan.

But I'm saying it here, and I'm saying it's because of all the years in the wilderness, not in spite of it.

I've been there from the start.  13-year-old me saw "Valley Girl" in the theater.  Twice, courtesy the movie theater usher older brother of a friend.  14-year-old-me took two different girls to see "Racing With The Moon" when it played, and both times, I got to touch a boob as a direct result of the movie, which automatically made it better-than-almost-any-other-movie-EVER.  

Cage was a guy who was part of a young group of actors who I looked up to, who felt like the first people from my generation to break through in movies in any way.  When I saw "Birdy" in 1984, the same year "Racing With The Moon" and "The Cotton Club" came out, I flipped.  I got evangelical about that film for a while.  LOVED it.  In two short years, Cage had been in three films I considered significant plus a handful of others, so when he sort of disappeared for a few years, it was confounding.  

Then came the one-two punch that made me rank Cage as perhaps the most eccentric and hilarious actor of his peer group, "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Raising Arizona." 1986 and 1987.  And as far as I was concerned, that was it.  Cage was amazing, fearless, insane, inventive and always worth watching.

So of course nobody knew what to do with him.

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<p>Jae Head, Quinton Aaron, and Sandra Bullock all enjoy story time in a scene from 'The Blind Side'</p>

Jae Head, Quinton Aaron, and Sandra Bullock all enjoy story time in a scene from 'The Blind Side'

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C Review: 'The Blind Side' with Sandra Bullock transcends cliche

Yes, it's familiar material, but done oh-so-well

I've offered up a few bits of coverage of this film this week, including a talk with the director, John Lee Hancock, and an interview with Leigh Anne Touhy, the woman whose real life inspired the film in the first place.  If you've read those interviews, then you might have picked up by now that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed "The Blind Side."

Based on a book by Michael Lewis, "The Blind Side" tells the story of Michael Oher, who is now a left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, but who started life as a kid with pretty much everything stacked against him.  The film is ostensibly a sports drama, but it violates a lot of the "rules" of the genre, to good effect.  Instead of having everything hinge on the games we watch, Hancock keeps the focus squarely on the people and their story, and the result is affecting.  Simple, direct, but affecting.

Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) was a kid growing up in the worst parts of Memphis when he managed to get enrolled in a private school, where he ended up in class with the kids of Sean Touhy (Tim McGraw) and his wife Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock).  When Leigh Anne realized Michael was essentially homeless, taking care of himself, she reached out and offered him a place to stay.  What started as a temporary act of kindness ended up changing their family when the Touhys slowly came to think of Michael as their son. Due to his enormous size, Michael was identified early on as a possible football player, and it was only once Leigh Anne helped him realize what special skills he brought to the game that he unlocked his potential and became a star, eventually winning a chance at college and a life he never would have had without the Touhys.

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<p>You want epic? &nbsp;This is John Woo's idea of a small intimate moment in the absurdly large-scale 'Red Cliff,' playing in limited release and available in VOD&nbsp;</p>

You want epic?  This is John Woo's idea of a small intimate moment in the absurdly large-scale 'Red Cliff,' playing in limited release and available in VOD 

Credit: Magnet Releasing

Watch: John Woo discusses his new epic 'Red Cliff'

Did returning to China turn him back into a great filmmaker?

Meeting John Woo is one of those things I can now knock off of my personal checklist, and I'm pleased to report he was delightful and very warm and personable.

I'm also pleased to report that "Red Cliff," his latest film, is a giant epic slice of John Woo battle sequences, duplicity among men, and slow-motion that is perfectly utilized.  In other words, this is a real John Woo film, not that weak sauce Hollywood kept trying to get him to make.

It's disconcerting that the version we're seeing here in the United States is literally half of the movie he meant for it to be. Released in China as two movies totally five hours, "Red Cliff" has been turned into one two-and-a-half-hour movie for release here.  I almost don't think I can offer a review of the film until I've seen the two-part version, because while I enjoyed what I saw, it's blatantly obvious that it is a heavily trimmed version of something.

In the brief time we had together, I asked Woo about returning to China to make movies and bringing these big Hollywood techniques to an industry that's used to doing things in a very different way.  I don't appear on camera in this brief interview, so you'll just hear Woo discussing the film, but I swear... I was in the room, basking in the glow of the dude who made "Hard Boiled":

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<p>Viggo Mortensen and Kodi-Smit McPhee play a father and son lost in a ruined world in John Hillcoat's film adaptation of &quot;The Road&quot;</p>

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi-Smit McPhee play a father and son lost in a ruined world in John Hillcoat's film adaptation of "The Road"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Watch: Viggo Mortensen talks about life on 'The Road'

Joined by his young co-star, the 'Lord Of The Rings' vet opens up

I've always been a fan of Viggo Mortensen's work, at least since the first time I really noticed him in a film back in "The Indian Runner," which nailed me to a wall.  One of the things that I enjoyed most about watching the "Lord Of The Rings" phenomenon explode was seeing the general public discover Mortensen on a level that had never happened before.

Since then, he's had several big moments, most notably his collaborations with David Cronenberg, and now he's about to find himself back in theaters in the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's piercing, difficult novel The Road.  While I was in Toronto, I had a chance to sit down with both Mortensen and his young co-star, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and ask them about the process of working together to create a believable father-son relationship onscreen.

A quick note... we're not in control of the technical side of these interviews, so sometimes we find ourselves working with whatever we've got when we leave the room.  In this case, I am baffled by the sound mix on this thing.  My microphone was evidently taped to one of my buttcheeks based on how muffled I am when talking, and Mortensen is such a soft-spoken guy in real life that even if they'd put the microphone inside his mouth, I'm not sure it would have been much better than this.

His answers are still worth a listen, though.  Just crank it up after the film clips end:

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<p>Sandra Bullock plays real-life force of nature Leigh Anne Touhy in 'The Blind Side'&nbsp;</p>

Sandra Bullock plays real-life force of nature Leigh Anne Touhy in 'The Blind Side' 

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C Interview: Leigh Anne Touhy tells her story in 'The Blind Side'

Meet the woman Sandra Bullock plays in the new film

This is an unusual interview for me.  I'm used to talking to writers, directors, actors, producers, cinematographer, editors... all the people typically involved with making movies.  It's much more uncommon for me to hop on the phone with someone whose life has been turned into a movie, the "based on" in the "based on a true story" equation.

With Leigh Anne Touhy, I figured it would be interesting to give it a try.  She's presented as such a dynamo in the new film from John Lee Hancock, with Sandra Bullock doing some of her best dramatic work playing her, that I knew it wouldn't be boring.

LEIGH ANNE TOUHY:  Hello, Drew, how are you?

DREW MCWEENY:  I'm fine, Mrs. Touhy. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

LAT:  Well, thank you so much. You’re a boy Drew.  I knew a Drew could be a girl or a boy.

DM:  Yes.  I am a boy Drew.

LAT:  You’re a boy Drew.  Okay, then!

DM:   My parents both attended Ole Miss.

LAT:  Yeah?  Then you’re a wonderful boy Drew.

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<p>Black Cat has a &nbsp;long and rich history as a character in the Spider-Man universe, and now Marvel may be bringing her to the big screen</p>

Black Cat has a  long and rich history as a character in the Spider-Man universe, and now Marvel may be bringing her to the big screen

Credit: Marvel Comics

Who's playing The Black Cat in 'Spider-Man 4,' and why should you care?

Lesser-known Marvel character takes center stage in online catch-your-tail

When even Nikki Finke decides to throw her hat in on a geek movie rumor, it's time to talk about it.

I'm not a fan of this point in the casting process, when names start flying and people start reporting non-news breathlessly every day.  It's one thing when we get down to the point of people doing screen tests... those are serious contenders for something.  But just coming in to meet the producers on a meet and greet does not mean someone is "in talks" for a role. It sounds to me like right now, "Spider-Man 4" is at the stage where they are casting a wide next, looking for someone to step in and play The Black Cat, aka Felicia Hardy, one of the many ohmygodhawt female antagonists who have tormented Peter Parker over the years.

At this point, it seems to be accepted as fact that Felicia Hardy is in the film.  In truth, all we've heard officially is that they are looking for a new "female lead," and that they are not replacing Kirsten Dunst.  Much of what I'm reading about this particular actor search is speculation, which is one of the reasons I've been slow to pick the story up.  I've been waiting to see if my own sources could cough up something I could treat as fact.  So far, all is quiet, though, which is strange.  If this is such a hotly debated part, and they're really looking at names like Rachel McAdams, Anne Hathaway, Romola Garai, and Julia Stiles, then why is everything so quiet in the places I'm looking?

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<p>Michael Sheen provides one of the few bright spots in the otherwise painful 'New Moon,' opening in every theater in America this weekend&nbsp;</p>

Michael Sheen provides one of the few bright spots in the otherwise painful 'New Moon,' opening in every theater in America this weekend 

Credit: Summit Entertainment

The M/C Review: 'Twilight: New Moon' marks a franchise on the wane

Creatively speaking, these vampires are dead, dead, dead

Oh, boy.

I did not see the first "Twilight" in the theater. I wasn't actively against it, but I also recognized early on that it most likely was not made for me.  And I don't operate under the illusion that all films must please me in order to justify their existence.  I did eventually catch up with it, and I thought it was an entirely harmless teen romance/angst film that worked primarily because there was a tangible tension between the two leads.  I thought it was visually dull with some laughable imagery, but again... harmless.  I didn't weigh in on it because I didn't feel strongly enough about it one way or another, and I didn't see it in a timely enough manner for my opinion to make any difference to anyone.

Over this first year at HitFix, I've watched the way Greg Ellwood has done his best to serve the "Twilight" community, one of many web writers who has absolutely treated that crowd with respect and who goes out of his way to gather every tidbit of information that he can pass along to them.  Yes, it means traffic for the site, but in watching his engagements with them and in dealing with them in passing at Comic-Con or in e-mail or on the site or on Twitter, I've always found them to be polite and friendly and enthusiastic in all the best ways.  Bitter fanboys can rail about the "Twilight" fans all they want, but I'll take a bunch of screaming girls who just want to like what they like over a bunch of miserable boys who hate everything and nitpick the movies that were made expressly to service their whims and fetishes.  At least the screaming girls are having fun.

So if you're a "Twilight" fan and you already know you're going to go see "New Moon" this weekend 76 times, then don't bother reading the rest of this review.  You know more about the characters and what you like about this series than I'll ever know, and my take on things probably isn't going to please you.  I'll give the series another shot next year, and we'll talk again then.

If you're like me, though, someone looking in at this phenomenon from the outside, then read on, because I definitely had a reaction to the film tonight.  Probably not the one the filmmakers were hoping for, but a reaction nonetheless.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon," from the title down to the closing credits, personifies the major problem with franchise filmmaking these days, and it's the difference between the ones that get it right and the ones that get it wrong.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" plays like a 130 minute trailer for a movie called "The Twilight Saga: New Moon".

When franchise filmmaking works, it works because it's a TV episode that makes us want to see what happens next.  It works because of energy and chemistry and a sort of connection with the audience.  It's certainly not easy.  The first two "Harry Potter" movies are solid, sturdy, and sort of boring.  They're not bad films, but they're certainly not great films.  They did, however, feel like films.  They were long, they rambled, but there was always a sense that the films had to be truly grand.  When you see the movie, it's the fulfillment of a promise that the trailer makes, and a movie like this one just plays like a trailer all the way through.  It's all promise, all build-up, all tease, and because of how clumsy the world-building is, it's not a promise I particularly care to see fulfilled.  Break the promise.  Fine by me.

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<p>John Lee Hancock discusses a scene with Sandra Bullock on the set of 'The Blind Side'</p>

John Lee Hancock discusses a scene with Sandra Bullock on the set of 'The Blind Side'

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C Interview: John Lee Hancock discusses 'The Blind Side'

How do you turn a real-life story into a feel-good Hollywood movie?

John Lee Hancock's track record so far is a solid one.  Imagine having two of your earliest scripts directed by Clint Eastwood.  Hancock wrote both "A Perfect World" and "Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil" for the legendary filmmaker before he moved into directing himself with "The Rookie," a generally well-liked Dennis Quaid movie based on a true story about a guy who was, by most standards, over the hill, but who managed to get a shot in Major League Baseball.

"The Rookie" worked because it never wallowed in sentiment, and it seemed like a film that managed to avoid the most cloying tendencies of the sports drama.  If I'd known before I walked into the theater that Hancock was the director of "The Blind Side," I probably would have been more interested in it, but maybe that was a good thing.  It let the film sneak up on me, and I ended up enjoying it a lot.  As a result, I was pleased to sit down and chat with Hancock about the film and his work on it:

JOHN LEE HANCOCK:  Hi, Drew.

DREW MCWEENY:  Hi, John, how are you?

JLH:  I’m well. You?

DM:  Very well, thanks.

JLH:  Good.

DM:  Wanted to tell you what a pleasant surprise the film was, sir.

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<p>Ed Norton, ten years ago, ripping it up Fincher style in 'Fight Club'&nbsp;</p>

Ed Norton, ten years ago, ripping it up Fincher style in 'Fight Club' 

Credit: 20th Century Fox

DVD & Games Forecast: 'Star Trek,' 'Fight Club,' and 'Bruno' lead this week's BluRay charge

Plus game fans face an expensive week with 'Assassin's Creed' and 'Left 4 Dead' sequels

STAR TREK! FIGHT CLUB! OMFG!

That's how I feel, anyway.  It's a great week overall, but the BluRay nerd in me wins for sheer unbridled enthusiasm.  And speaking of OMFG and enthusiasm, did you guys see "Curb" on Sunday night?  Between Bob Einstein's joke and the Michael Richards moment and the big finish with Larry, I sort of can't believe that even exists.  Hats.  Off.

The Christmas season is well underway, and as is true of music, today is pretty much D-Day for a lot of the giant holiday titles hitting shelves.  It's one of those weeks where there is 100% no way I could afford to pick up everything that interests me.  These titles will be trickling into my house over the next few weeks as I find them on sale or used or at discount, because it's a flood.  There are so many things, all worth my attention this week, and as a result, it's a particularly good week of featured titles.  Or at least I think so... see if you agree... 

THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:

"Star Trek" (BluRay/DVD)

I'm a fan.  And no matter what version of this you pick up today, you're in for a treat.

"Fight Club" (BluRay)

It's about time.  I'm glad to see this arrive just in time for people to reflect on the film's ten-year anniversary and offer the film some attention and respect.  I remember when it was released and Roger Ebert dismissed it as a "macho wheezy porn trick."  I couldn't disagree more strongly, and although I think David Fincher has grown as a filmmaker since he made this movie, I think it's going to take a lot for something to replace this as my favorite film that Fincher's ever made.

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