<p>Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Kirk (Chris Pine), Scotty (Simon Pegg), McCoy (Karl Urban) and Sulu (John Cho), together for the first time in the JJ Abrams version of 'Star Trek'</p>

Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Kirk (Chris Pine), Scotty (Simon Pegg), McCoy (Karl Urban) and Sulu (John Cho), together for the first time in the JJ Abrams version of 'Star Trek'

Credit: Paramount Home Video

The M/C Review: 'Star Trek' BluRay delivers on every level

Extra features, a great transfer, and a movie worth revisiting... what more could you ask?

Toshi's no dope.

He is growing up in a sci-fi movie, and at the age of four, he treats technology that blows my mind with a casual "yeah, yeah, what else you got?" attitude that cracks me up.  He knows what a BluRay is now.  He knows that Daddy treats the DVDs a little more rough and tumble than he handles the BluRays.  He knows that if something shows up on BluRay, most likely it's going to be for watching in Daddy's office, and that is something he really wants to get in on.  As much as humanly possible.

So about four days after we saw the latest "Star Trek" film in a theater, an event which sort of changed his life, he started asking me about when the movie would show up at our house on BluRay.  And asking.  And asking.  And asking.  Because when you're four, you have nothing else to worry about.  You're not thinking about the mortgage or what to do for your dissertation or insurance issues or anything else... you're fixated on when you'll have "Star Trek" in your house so you can watch it eighteen billion times a week.

This past week, an envelope arrived while he was at school with the "Star Trek" BluRay inside.  I opened it, then decided to put the disc back in the envelope and wait for him to get home.  When he did, my wife hid outside my office, and we arranged the blinds so we could record his reaction when I handed him the envelope so he could see what was inside.  When he's much older and he asks me why he has so much trouble talking to girls, I'll show him his spontaneous geeksplosion upon recognizing the "Star Trek" cover as a way of answering that question.  This acorn fell pretty close to the tree, so to speak.

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<p>Rachel Weisz stars in Alejandro Amenebar's 'Agora,' a look at the fall of the Alexandria library and a parable about religious tolerance</p>

Rachel Weisz stars in Alejandro Amenebar's 'Agora,' a look at the fall of the Alexandria library and a parable about religious tolerance

Credit: Canal + Espana

The M/C Review: Amenebar's 'Agora' lovely but thin

Talking about big ideas isn't the same as having them

One of the big stories in the last few weeks has been the way "Agora" opened in Spain to tremendous box-office although it couldn't find an American distributor after spending much of the year playing various festivals, including Toronto, which is where I saw it.

Alejandro Amenábar is a great filmmaker who doesn't always make great movies.  He's got incredible technical control, he is ambitious, and he always seems determined to engage his audience both emotionally and intellectually. He's only made five features, starting with "Tesis," which he made when he was only in his early 20s, followed a year later by "Abre Los Ojos," which was remade in the US as "Vanilla Sky."  He's one of the rare international directors who didn't have to sell out his identity completely when he made an English-language film, and "The Others" is an effective and stylish ghost story that was a sizable commercial hit.  "The Sea Inside" is a strongly emotional picture, all mood and heartbreak, and features a very strong performance by Javier Bardem.  As much as I like and respect all those films, I don't love any of them.  He has yet to make a film, in my opinion, that transcends its individual elements to stand as a coherent and satisfying whole.

"Agora," alas, does not change that.

Rachel Weisz stars as Hypatia of Alexandria, a tremedously significant historical figure, a philosopher, a mathematician, and an astronomer, and I can see why Weisz was attracted to the role.  Hypatia's a remarkable figure, and Weisz is a good fit for the role.  She projects warmth and strength and keen intelligence, something that's been true for her whole career, and those are exactly the qualities she needs in order to make Hypatia real.  As the film opens, she and her father are trusted figures in Alexandria, teachers, custodians of the famous Alexandrian Library, and they are intoxicated by the pursuit of knowledge.  

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<p>Cowboy, Indian, and Horse are just three of the effortlessly charming characters in the delightful Belgian animated film 'A Town Called Panic'</p>

Cowboy, Indian, and Horse are just three of the effortlessly charming characters in the delightful Belgian animated film 'A Town Called Panic'

Credit: Zeitgeist Films

The M/C Review: 'A Town Called Panic' charms and charms and charms

Dark horse entry into this year's Animated Feature Oscar race is a treat

Cowboy and Indian and Horse share a house.  When Cowboy and Indian realize they've forgotten Horse's birthday, they decide to order bricks off the internet so they can build him an outdoor barbecue.  They make a small mistake during the ordering process, though, which results in 50 million bricks being delivered to their house.

So begins one of the most effortlessly likable films of the year, "A Town Called Panic," which played both Fantastic Fest and AFI Fest in the last few weeks, and which is now in the mix as a possible candidate for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year.  I hope it ends up as one of the five nominees.  It won't win, but that nomination could get a whole lot of people to take a chance on the film when Zeitgeist Films releases it for a limited theatrical run, and that would be a very good thing indeed. 

The film by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, based on a charming series of shorts they created for TV, is pretty much a delight from end to end, whimsical and silly and delightfully strange.  It's stop-motion animation, but very limited.  It looks like a bunch of toys by different manufacturers and of different sizes, all dumped together at random.  You remember the moment in "Where The Wild Things Are" where Max is telling his mother the story about the vampire whose teeth fell out?  And the way his story lurches from event to event without anything like a conventional narrative to hold it all together?  That was one of the best examples I've ever seen of the way children invent stories as they play, and "A Town Called Panic" is the same sort of thing, a film that feels like it unfolds with the purity of a child playing, and the effect is intoxicating.  So often, filmmakers are locked into certain narrative shapes, so even the most skilled of filmmakers can fall into the trap of predictability.  Here, anything can and does happen, and it's incredibly winning as a result.

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<p>Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) prepares for war in James Cameron's 'Avatar,' and if I were Eric Cartman, I'd worry</p>

Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) prepares for war in James Cameron's 'Avatar,' and if I were Eric Cartman, I'd worry

Credit: 20th Century Fox

The Morning Read: Behind the scenes on 'Avatar,' '2012,' and 'Where The Wild Things Are'

Plus what exactly constitutes a spoiler when discussing a film?

Welcome to The Morning Read.

We'll get to the new "Avatar" featurette.  Trust me.  And "South Park".  But let's work up to it, okay?  After all, we've got a lot of ground to cover today, and about a thousand links for you, and the only way it's all getting done is if I just dive right in.  I'm trying to clean out the "Favorites" column on my Twitter feed, where I earmark things to discuss with you, then promptly forget I earmarked them.  I had to delete about 150 saved Tweets before I even began today because they were so far out of date, and I want to post the rest of these instead of just letting them slip away as well.

Let's start by picking up a conversation I was having the other night with several different guys who also write about movies.  It was ostensibly a conversation about spoilers, and that's a thorny subject, one that I suspect has no correct answer.  When I'm writing about a film, particularly one that the audience hasn't really had a chance to see yet, I always work to suggest things rather than spell them out.  I think there is a way to write about a film without giving away major plot points, and there's a certain degree of courtesy involved in doing so.  However, as a critic, sometimes you need to dig into the film in an explicit way if you want to make certain points, and I don't think there's anything wrong with doing so as long as you respect the reader in the way you handle it.  There are people who think that anything you say about a film is a spoiler, which raises the question of why they're reading film criticism in the first place, but I don't want to be dismissive of the conversation as a whole.

But in the case of "The Fourth Kind," the good Dr. Cole Abaius over at Film School Rejects feels that even discussing the nature of the film is a spoiler, and here's where I'm afraid I have to disagree, and that's because of personal experience.  I sort of intensely dislike the whole "based on a true story" game that movies play in general, but when you extend that further and actually tell your audience that something they're looking at is real, when it's clearly not, you're playing a dangerous game.  

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<p>I was going to try to find a good John Cusack image to use, but let's be honest... if you go see Roland Emmerich's '2012,' this is what you want to see&nbsp;</p>

I was going to try to find a good John Cusack image to use, but let's be honest... if you go see Roland Emmerich's '2012,' this is what you want to see 

Credit: Columbia TriStar Marketing Group

The M/C Review: Emmerich blows up the world real good in '2012'

There are people in the movie, too, like John Cusack, but will anybody care?

Let's be very clear about something up front:  "2012" is flat-out, jaw-droppingly ridiculous.

It is one of the most outrageous, egregious, over-the-top, go-for-broke lunatic things I've ever seen on a movie screen.  I would be hard-pressed to call it a "good" film, but it is stuffed with things I will never forget.

As the movie ended, one very smart critic friend of mine was in visible pain, annoyed to the point of anger by the entire thing, while another very smart critic friend of mine was elated by the scale of the movie's madness. My wife, who I always view as the general movie-going public, loved it and couldn't wait to tell people to go see it.  I was amused by just how all-over-the-map reactions were, and by the passion of them.

Amused, but not surprised.  Roland Emmerich has been one of the experts in empty calorie filmmaking on a certain scale since "Independence Day" was released in 1995.  I wasn't a fan of that film, but there's no denying that it hit some sort of nerve with the general movie-going public.  Emmerich was making films before that, of course, but even "Stargate" was just a warm-up.  "ID4" was a triumph of marketing over movie, and it established Emmerich as a certain sort of brand-name.

There are a number of blockbuster directors who get critically beat up and they are frequently lumped together, guys who are more about empty sensation than storytelling, guys who deal in cliché, who go for the big image at the expense of everything else.  After the aliens were defeated with an Apple computer virus in "ID4," Emmerich earned some of the lumps he took, but in his defense, I'll say this much:  in an age of shakey-cam and epileptic editing rhythms, I'm glad there's still a guy like Emmerich who seems devoted to the idea of conventional coverage, coherent editing, and cinematography that allows you to actually see what you're looking at.  All of those seem like fairly obvious skills for a filmmaker, but today's stylistic conventions allow a lot of filmmakers to ignore these things.

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<p>A still from 'Assassins Creed Lineage,' the film that was made to augment the upcoming sequel to the popular Ubisoft game</p>

A still from 'Assassins Creed Lineage,' the film that was made to augment the upcoming sequel to the popular Ubisoft game

Credit: Ubisoft

Is Ubisoft using 'Assassin's Creed II' to launch their own studio?

An event in Hollywood makes the case for convergence

It's fitting that I would discuss the ways narrative and gaming are starting to really collide and create new emotional reactions in games, reactions I've never had to a book or a film, just as Ubisoft starts to get serious about becoming an entertainment company that produces films, books, games, and anything else they want.

Last night, I was invited to an event in Hollywood that illustrated just how fuzzy lines are getting these days. Ubisoft, the same company behind "Prince Of Persia" and the upcoming tie-in game for James Cameron's "Avatar", scored a sizeable hit two years ago with "Assassin's Creed," a game set in two different time periods.

In one, you're in the near-future, as a guy who is kidnapped and forced into an experiment involving a machine that uses your DNA to tap into ancestral memories.  The other time period involves your actual ancestor, a member of a cult of assassins, as he carries out missions in the ancient Holy Land.  It was a beautifully designed game, with some breathtaking ideas in it, and although it got very redundant by the end, I still viewed it as a fairly amazing overall experience.  The worst part was the ending, a cliffhanger so abrupt that it practically left a scar.

Much of the original creative team returned for the new game, which hits shelves on Tuesday, November 17th, and to help launch the game, Ubisoft decided they wanted to test something that is one of the company's larger, long-term goals. They don't see themselves as just a game studio.  Eventually, they want to produce films and TV shows that work in tandem with their games to tell large-canvass stories.  I'm not just talking about adapting games to films, either... and that's the reason I think their idea is both exciting and inevitable.

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<p>Aaron Johnson plays the title character in the upcoming Matthew Vaughn adaptation of Mark Millar's 'Kick-Ass'&nbsp;</p>

Aaron Johnson plays the title character in the upcoming Matthew Vaughn adaptation of Mark Millar's 'Kick-Ass' 

Credit: Lionsgate/MARV

Want one more 'Kick-Ass' character poster?

Lionsgate continues the blitz with an introduction to Kick-Ass himself

Have you noticed that "Kick-Ass" decided to jump in this week with their campaign at full volume?

First we got the four teaser posters of the characters all standing above the city with their backs to us.

Good stuff.  I like the fact that they are playing coy a bit with the audience right now.  There's so much in "Kick-Ass" that it's hard to know where to start when you're describing it, and so just introducing characters is a smart way to begin.

Then yesterday, the trailer for the film showed up, and reaction was a little mixed.

Keep in mind, this is a film that covers a lot of ground in terms of tone.  What you're seeing in a teaser like this is just one of the many colors that the film utilizes.

Knowing that, I think the new poster they released today is even better than the first ones, and I hope we get more character posters done in this style.  These are genuine poster art, and although the character campaign isn't the most innovative idea in the world, executed right, it's one of my favorites ways to sell a movie.

Here's Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass:

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<p>Eddie Riggs (Jack Black) offers to give Ophelia a ride in the Iron Deuce in Tim Schafer's deliriously deranged 'Brutal Legend'</p>

Eddie Riggs (Jack Black) offers to give Ophelia a ride in the Iron Deuce in Tim Schafer's deliriously deranged 'Brutal Legend'

Credit: EA/Double Fine

The M/C Review: Jack Black rocks in 'Brutal Legend'

The latest Tim Schafer game looks and sounds great, but how does it play?

One of the best movies I've seen all year is a game I just finished playing.

And, yes, I know how that sounds.  But it's true.  Tim Schafer's "Brütal Legend," released on both XBox 360 and PS3, is one of the best narratives I've enjoyed all year.  It just happens to be contained in a video game that is an absurd, outrageous homage to the excesses of heavy metal.

I don't listen to much of it these days, but there was a time where I would have described myself as a big metal fan.  Even saying that, though, it's not terribly descriptive, since there are so many eras of heavy metal, and so many sub-genres, and the amazing thing is that Tim Schafer has paid tribute to all the different ideas of what metal "really" is, all while telling a fantasy story that is both ridiculous and emotionally engaging.  I know this isn't a video game blog, per se, but one of the reasons I push for us to do more coverage of games in general is because I think the lines are getting increasingly blurry about how stories are told and what constitutes a game, and how these things are produced.

In this case, Schafer is a game designer who is well-known for the story-based games he's created in the past.  He's got a silly sense of humor, and games like "The Secret Of Monkey Island," "Grim Fandango," "Full Throttle" and "Psychonauts".  He's been carrying around the idea of a game set in a heavy metal universe for years now, and I can see the appeal.  If you've ever been a metal fan, you know how the album covers and much of the iconography of metal marketing has little to do with the records themselves. Schafer made the obvious jump, designing a world where all of the creepy demon nuns and the battle axes and the crazy monsters and the ruined fantasy landscapes are all real.  For his lead character, he created Eddie Riggs, and then hired Jack Black to voice him.  It's a logical fit, and Black seems really engaged by the character and the world.  So much of the humor of Tenacious D was based on taking the ideas of rock hyperseriously, so this just feels like a logical extension of Black's sense of humor.

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<p>&nbsp;Pixar's 'Up' continues the company's tradition of going above and beyond when putting together their BluRay releases</p>

 Pixar's 'Up' continues the company's tradition of going above and beyond when putting together their BluRay releases

Credit: Walt Disney/Pixar

DVD & Games Forecast: A Pixar BluRay Trifecta of 'Up,' 'Monsters Inc.,' and 'Cars'

Plus 'Modern Warfare 2' blasts its way into stores

Welcome to Motion/Captured's DVD & Games Forecast for November 10, 2009.

I normally love to wax on about the week's releases, but (A) a ridiculous schedule for me yesterday and (B) a fairly thin week of releases and (C) me already being a day late means that this is going to be lean and mean today.  Besides, it's video game day here on Motion/Captured, which I'll explain at the end of the column.

First, let's see what the big tickets are this week, including one that was supposed to be on shelves last week originally...


"Up" (BluRay/DVD)
"Monsters Inc." (BluRay)
"Cars" (BluRay)

Is there any question who owns today in terms of BluRay releases?  Pixar has always gone above and beyond in the presentation of their films on home video, and they have embraced BluRay in a way that is positively gorgeous.  Not only are their digital-source transfers pretty much the standard for sound and picture in high definition, but they also still work harder than anyone to provide genuine value in the extra features, with both of today's new releases showing just how far they'll go to make sure these discs are worth purchase.

On "Monsters Inc," they acknowledge that it's a double-dip from the very beginning, explaining all the new things that they put on the discs and then talking about what they've brought over from the DVD that most families have probably watched 10,000 times by this point.  Well-played, gentlemen.  Talk about basic respect for the consumer... they go above and beyond in making sure people won't feel burned.  The textures in the film have never looked more amazing, and I am reminded just how lovely a left turn this was when it first hit theaters.  The new packaging for "Cars" comes with two toys, new designs of Lightning McQueen and Mater, and trust me... if you have a "Cars" fan in the house, and you haven't made the upgrade from DVD yet, this is the excuse.  Toshi and Allen both freaked out when they saw it, and because there were two cars, bloodshed was avoided.  Barely.

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<p>Aaron Johnson makes a splashy debut as a superhero in an early scene from Matthew Vaughn's 'Kick-Ass'&nbsp;</p>

Aaron Johnson makes a splashy debut as a superhero in an early scene from Matthew Vaughn's 'Kick-Ass' 

Credit: Lionsgate/MARV

Watch: First 'Kick-Ass' teaser trailer introduces the characters

But you won't hear one mention of Nic Cage from Mr. Voice-Over


Great timing.  I was just talking to Matthew Vaughn about the inherent difficulty of cutting a trailer for "Kick-Ass" earlier today.  He was bemoaning the fact that most of the money shots in the film are impossible to put in a trailer, either because of spoilers or because the MPAA would blow a gasket if you tried to show certain things.

That certainly ties your hands a bit when advertising a film, doesn't it?

Still, I think Vaughn knows exactly what he wants to do in terms of introducing the world of his film and the characters, and just like the teaser posters we ran the other day, the trailer takes the somewhat bold tact of introducing these characters without giving the names of the actors playing them.  So often, international financing these days, particularly on the indie level, is done based on "who can we put on the poster?", so hiring a Nicolas Cage and then specifically NOT saying his name?  Perverse and creative.  It may give the money guys fits, but I think it helps sell the reality of "Kick-Ass" from the get-go.

There were two things that Vaughn said he wanted to do with the marketing for this film as far back as a conversation I had with him before production started.  First, he always said he wanted the teaser trailer to use the opening moments of the film, involving the kid standing on the edge of the building with his superhero-suit with the wings.  Exactly like the trailer opens now.  That was important to him as a way of first establishing expectations, then demolishing them.

Second, he's always said that he wants to use the tag line, "No power, no responsibility," and I think that reflects just how askew the sensibility is of this film from what we're used to in the genre.  Smart choice, and I'm willing to bet that ends up a key piece of the campaign at some point. 

Ahhh, Hit Girl.  Just a hint, but enough that America should sit up and take notice of a superstar about to happen.

This is a far more comic and light trailer than I expect the final one will be.  Right now, this all looks like fun and games, and there's no hint of just how high the stakes are in the actual story.  Once people realize this isn't a joke, I think interest will go up even more.

Me?  I can't wait for April. 

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