People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Friday, March 26, 2010
  HOLY ****!: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World trailer
There's a movie coming out this summer that I've been quietly awaiting a trailer for, and that's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There's a number of factors that has this near the top of my Must-See List, among them the fact that it's the third film from director Edgar Wright, who helmed the too-brilliant-for-words Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (see both immediately if you haven't already), it's based on the incredible graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley, and it's set in my hometown of Toronto (as is the comic; O'Malley's a Toronto guy as well). It stars Michael Cera as the titular character, a twentysomething dude who falls for the girl of his dreams, the beautiful and mysterious Ramona Flowers, only to learn that in order to win her, he must first defeat her Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends (who include Jason Schwartzman, Chris Evans and Brandon Routh, among others). The trailer just hit the 'net, and it looks amazing.

The Scott Pilgrim comic is just a blast of pure fun, combining martial arts, classic video games and romantic comedy, and it's one of the best comics being published today (the sixth and final volume, Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour, is due in stores in July). From the look of this trailer, Wright and crew have totally nailed the tone of the books, which, on the surface, seems like it would be difficult to adapt into a movie. I've been on the fence about Cera's involvement – the character of Scott Pilgrim, a loud, outgoing, fun-loving guy, couldn't be further from Cera's usual on-screen persona – and while this trailer doesn't totally put my concerns to rest (he barely speaks in it), the rest of it just confirms that this movie looks like it deserves the excitement that it's generating in many corners of the Internet (including this one).

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World hits theaters on August 13. See it, or you are dead to me.

Check out the Scott Pilgrim trailer here, courtesy of Apple.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010
  [REC] 2 gets U.S. release date
News came down yesterday that Magnolia Pictures has picked up the Spanish horror sequel [REC] 2 for distribution in America. The original [REC], the best zombie movie I've seen since Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake (it's like Cloverfield or Blair Witch meets zombies, and it's remarkably effective), was remade in America as Quarantine, which is basically a shot-for-shot remake of the Spanish original. (As a devoted movie snob I always try too seek out the original, and it's almost always superior.) The film is due in U.S. theaters on July 9, which is significant if only because the original [REC], which had some serious buzz going for it, was basically buried for fear that it would hurt the box office for Quarantine (why pay $12 to see something in a theater when you can rent the original movie it's a remake of for $5?), but it's available on DVD now, and I recommend it highly if you're into horror movies. It's terrifying in ways the American remake (which really isn't bad) isn't.

Original [REC] writer-directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza are back for the sequel (which means it will probably also be awesome), and they're already talking about making [REC] 3.

Check out the teaser for [REC] 2 below. But be warned, it's not for the faint of heart.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010
  And Captain America is...
A nice bit of news broke late yesterday that I'm happy to report (in part because I've been following this whole situa'Hey, put on a shirt, Rogers.'tion closely for months now): Chris Evans will don the red, white and blue tights in The First Avenger: Captain America.

I love this, as I mentioned last week in my rundown of the casting rumors, and I think Evans will do a fine job as the Star-Spangled Avenger. It took me a little while to warm to Evans – I initially thought he was just another pretty boy – but his work in movies like Sunshine and his genuinely awesome job in the really rather cruddy Fantastic Four movies won me over. It's also sort of weird that one actor will have played both the Human Torch and Captain America, but nobody seems to remember the FF movies (which I own on DVD, and I actually kind of dig the sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, but that's mostly because I'm a big fan of that character; I can't actually defend that movie as being any good), so it's not like viewers will be confused. Hell, I'm just happy it's not Channing Tatum or, even worse, Dane Cook. But of the list of actors that circulated last week, Evans was my favorite choice, and I'm really happy he accepted the job. Him interacting with Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark in The Avengers will be an absolute treat.

The First Avenger: Captain America starts shooting in June, and is due in theaters on July 22, 2011.

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Friday, March 19, 2010
  DVD Review: Good Hair
Good Hair is a documentary produced, co-written and narrated by comedian Chris Rock about black hair, and more specifically black women’s hair. It struck me as a bit of an odd subject for a full-length documentary when I first heard about the project, but it turns out to be a fascinating subject for many reasons, and I could have happily watched a much longer version that went into even greater detail about weaves, relaxer and the Bronner Bros. Hair Show in Atlanta. (I could watch a two-hour documentary of just Ice-T talking to a camera about whatever’s on his mind.)

Good Hair begins with Rock trying to answer his daughter’s question of why doesn’t she have “good hair.” It’s a cute premise that allows Rock to narrate the film in a much more personal manner than usual, which is perfect for a comedian (it also allows him to be honest and funny about what he learns during the film), and it also roots the film in something real, making the movie something of a personal journey. The idea is that Rock is investigating the concept of “good hair,” which basically means straight hair, which is not natural to black women. Good Hair is about the lengths black women (and, as Rock says, some men, like Prince or Michael Jackson) will go to in pursuit of good hair.

A lot of the best parts of Good Hair are the celebrity interviews. Rock and company interviewed dozens of black stars about their hair, from actresses like Nia Long, Raven Symoné to rappers like Salt N’ Pepa, Eve and the aforementioned Ice-T and cultural figures like Reverend Al Sharpton and Dr. Maya Angelou. Everyone is hilarious and compelling, particularly Sharpton, who first got his hair straightened, we learn, in the ‘early 80s when he went with James Brown to visit the White House to visit Ronald Regan, or Maya Angelou, who didn’t try relaxer until she was 70. And Pepa’s famous asymmetrical haircut from the video for Salt N’ Pepa’s breakthrough single, ‘Push It’? Turns out Pepa had to shave half her head because of a relaxer mishap.

Like Rock’s comedy, Good Hair seems light and funny on its surface, but there’s an undercurrent of real intelligence here. He’s not just talking about hair, but the social and economic issues surrounding it, from the health hazards of regularly using relaxer (which, as it turns out, is an insanely dangerous chemical that can literally erode a tin can into nothing in about four hours), to the cultural implications of black women pursuing a beauty standard that essentially aims to make them look white, to the economic impact of the importance of good hair (black women can spend upwards of $1,000 on a weave, in some cases when they’re simultaneously struggling to put food on the table), to the hair-smuggling trade in India, to the fact that, as much as black hair is a multi-billion-dollar industry – several people in the film mention the black community spends more on hair products than just about any other cultural group – it’s dominated on the business side of things by non-blacks. All of this stuff gets covered, but at no point does Good Hair feel preachy or like Rock has an axe to grind. These things are just presented, and he seems happy to let the audience make of these observations what they will.

Most importantly, Good Hair is funny. Rock, arguably the smartest and funniest stand-up comic working today, is brilliant, but he’s intelligent enough to know when to stay in the background. He wisely lets the humor come about naturally from the interview subjects. In the sections that are explicitly about the Bronner Bros. show, he profiles a handful of competing stylists, all of whom are in some way ridiculous (as is the competition itself, the winner of which receives a boxing-style title belt), but the film isn’t feels mean-spirited nor does it feel like Rock and company are mocking their subjects.

As a person of mixed race, I also grew up with kinky hair that I wished was straight, so many of the personal stories that the interview subjects tell struck a chord with me (I wished for long, flowing locks when I was 6, but alas, that was not in the cards for me), but at the same time Good Hair is a glimpse into a world I knew literally nothing about, and I found it utterly absorbing. Regardless of your level of knowledge about, or interest in, hair, Good Hair is a highly entertaining film, and I recommend it.



The only bonus feature on the Good Hair DVD is a commentary track from Rock and producer Nelson George. It’s a really funny and entertaining track – George holds his own fairly well with Rock, an actual professional comedian, but mostly plays straight man or provides producer-y nuggets of information to counterbalance Rock’s cracking wise – and I felt like I learned even more about the subject after listening to it. My problem with the disc is that Rock and George repeatedly mention in the commentary other features that will be included on the DVD (additional interview footage, etc.), but alas, none of it is included. It’s too bad, as the commentary track is great, but the empty promise of more hilarious interviews with Sharpton and Ice-T and others ends up being sort of annoying. Otherwise, this is a great documentary and a nice DVD.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010
  More Captain America casting rumors
I make no secret of my geekiness, and, as I’ve mentioned here numerous times, I’m closely following the production of Marvel Studios’ potential blockbusters set for next summer, Thor, which is about the Norse god of thunder exiled on modern-day Earth, and The First Avenger: Captain America, which is about, well Captain America, and is largely set during World War II (it also apparently ties into Iron Man 2 via Tony Stark’s father, in addition to leading into the planned Avengers movie). I like both characters, and I’m really excited about seeing Thor, Captain America and Iron Man all crossing over in the same movie universe; this is the sort of thing comic book fans have been dreaming about for decades.

On paper, Thor is the more difficult sell, as it combines superhero action and a more Lord of the Rings-like fantasy setting, with frost giants and other mystical creatures, which seems like a tricky balance for a superhero flick. Captain America, on the other hand, punches out Nazis in the Second World War and is frozen in a block of ice until he’s thawed out in the modern day by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, introduced in the post-credits scene in Iron Man), which sounds like a relatively easy film to pull off, at least compared to a movie that has to somehow fuse the more real-world vibe of Iron Man with a story, quite literally, of gods and monsters. But somehow Thor is the production that seems to be humming along nicely with a solid team of people behind it (it’s directed by Kenneth Branagh, stars relative unknown Chris Hemsworth as Thor and co-stars Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgård, Ray Stevenson and Idris Elba), while Captain America seems to be rife with problems: the film starts shooting in June and Marvel is still searching for its lead actor (though casting Hugo Weaving, who’s in final talks to play the evil Red Skull, is brilliant), and director Joe Johsnston, who last helmed the flop The Wolfman (though he came onto that film with a couple of weeks to go before shooting, so he can hardly be held responsible for its performance, and it’s actually quite a good movie), has reportedly been butting heads with Marvel over the casting and the budget, and I’ve heard rumblings that the Captain America script is fairly underwhelming.

A few weeks back I mentioned a list of actors Marvel was bringing in for screen tests, which included Jon Krasinski of The Office (a choice that, as much as I railed against it initially, I have to admit is growing on me a little bit). At the time it was believed that the casting of Cap would be finalized any day, but here we are weeks later and all we know is that there are even more actors apparently being considered for the role, the latest being Ryan Phillipe, Chris Evans and Dear John’s Channing Tatum. Given the parade of actors gunning to fill the Star-Spangled Avenger’s tights, as well as my interest in all things Marvel-related, I thought I’d give my thoughts on some of the actors rumored to be up for Cap.

Channing Tatum. This guy is one of the new additions to the list of OHPLEASENOpeople Marvel has apparently approached, and I hate it. Tatum, who I keep hearing is actually a very good actor, has sucked in the stuff I’ve seen him in. He was the dead weight in the otherwise fun G.I. Joe, and given how similar the characters of Duke and Cap are (charismatic soldier and leader of men), I really don’t need to see the Marvel movie universe sullied by a Captain Marblemouth film. I get that someone up high has decided that Tatum will be a star, I just want him to do it as far away from Marvel Studios as possible.

Ryan Phillippe. He seems too physically small to play Captain America (who’s usually portrayed as a tall, beefy guy) but otherwise he has the right look. I have no doubt Phillippe would bulk up for the role, but purely in terms of height his Cap would probably seem tiny, especially next to Hemsworth (who looks massive in everything I’ve seen him in, like A Perfect Getaway and Star Trek), who plays Thor, one of the members, along with Iron Man, of the Avengers. Phillippe also seems a little bland to play a guy who is supposed to be, quite literally, an icon.

Chris Evans. Evans has already been in a Marvel franchise – his Human Torch is the best thing about the utterly the mediocre Fantastic Four movies – and he had powers in the excellent little sci-fi/action film Push (a likely future Under the Radar entry). And despite his good looks, he’s actually a fine actor as well; I thought he was just another pretty face until I saw him in Danny Boyle’s overlooked Sunshine (it’s like Event Horizon, but good), where he actually acts. He’s got the charisma and he looks like a superhero. Of all the actors said to be under consideration, Evans is probably my favorite.

The Supernatural guys. Supernatural co-star Jensen Either one of these guys is fine.Ackles is reportedly one of the contenders, and he certainly looks the part with his square jaw and Aryan good looks. As much as I think he’d do a fine job (he’s pretty great on from what I’ve seen of that show, and he’s also solid in the fun slasher flick My Bloody Valentine 3D), I actually think it’s his co-star, Jared Padalecki, who would make a better Captain America. He’s taller (he’s almost the same size as the hulking Jason in the Friday the 13th remake), and already solidly built, so he’s essentially just a peroxide bottle away from being Steve Rogers.

Jeremy Renner. The Hurt Locker star was reportedly in talks with Marvel for quite some time (sometimes rumored for Cap, sometimes for Hawkeye in The Avengers; it’s speculated the character turns up either in the Thor film or Captain America in a cameo), but word is the low salary Marvel’s offering, coupled with the apparent nine-picture deal required by the studio, turned off the recent Oscar nominee. I think Renner would probably make a better Hawkeye (the character is traditionally portrayed as a cocky smart-ass, which is right up Renner’s alley), but you could do a lot worse than having an Academy Award nominee and star of the recent Oscar darling playing Captain America. If it were up to me I’d pay Renner what he wants and give him the shield and get to it.

Garett Hedlund. The star of the upcoming Tron Legacy is apparently Marvel's apparent favoriteone of Marvel’s top choices for Captain America, but once again, he’s said to have balked at the studio’s low fee. His name’s still in the mix up though, and between the positive buzz Tron Legacy is building up online (and not just from yours truly) and the fact that he’s still in this discussion, it sounds like Marvel may try to meet Hedlund halfway. I dig the actor’s work (he’s great in Friday Night Lights and is solid enough in the underwhelming Troy), and again, he certainly has the right look. I think he’d make a pretty fantastic Captain America.

Ryan McPartlin. I’ve never seen Chuck, or McPartlin in anything else. All I’ve seen on the Internet are a lot of pictures of this guy with his shirt off, and he’s certainly blond, handsome and ripped. Who knows if he can act, but if I wanted a picture of a guy dressed as Captain America, I’m sure he’d be great.

Jon Krasinski. So a few weeks ago I went on about how I just couldn’t see Jim Captain Jim?from The Office as Captain America. Despite conflicting rumors that Krasinski has the inside track and that he’s all but out of the running entirely, he’s been stuck in my brain ever since I first heard his name come up. He sort of has a 1940s look to him, and he’s tall enough that he’s in no danger of being dwarfed by Robert Downey Jr. when standing with the rest of the Avengers. I’m still not sure he has the gravitas to be Captain America, but I’m slowly warming to the idea of Krasinski in the role, even if he’s starting to look like a longshot.

Mike Vogel. The fact that this guy is still being mentioned as a contender despite being something of a nonentity (I’ve seen both the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and Cloverfield, and I have literally no memory of Vogel in either of them, which does not bode well for him) suggests to me that he’s Marvel’s Plan B, C or D. I guess if he shaves his permanent 5 o’clock shadow he may look the part, but he seems to lack the onscreen presence to pull off a character as important as Captain America.

Dane Cook. This one, is probably nonsense (or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part). The only guy rumored to be in talks (the “rumor” seems to be generated by Cook’s own Twitter feed, so take it with the requisite amount of salt) that will make me, a dyed-in-the-wool Marvel geek, not go see a Captain America movie. I can think of few people worse for this role, and I don’t want to dignify the concept of Dane Cook playing Captain America any more than I already have, so I’ll just stop writing now, lest I get too worked up and give myself a stroke.

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Friday, March 12, 2010
  DVD Review: Capitalism: A Love Story

To call Michael Moore a polarizing figure is an understatement, but his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story, is simultaneously his most provocative work yet, and also his most understated and least hyperbolic. Which sounds like a contradiction, but Moore has learned the lessons of his past few films (and, more specifically, the reaction to them), and focuses more on hard facts and real-life anecdotes like he did in Sicko, as opposed to bending the truth to make his point like he occasionally did in Fahrenheit 9/11 (which Moore himself admits is less of a proper documentary than it is a “filmed essay”), and the result is a movie with the emotional power of his early work like Roger & Me and the best parts of Bowling for Columbine and the more mature, quasi-journalistic style of the better-regarded Sicko. Examining the collapse of the American economy, Capitalism: A Love Story is in many ways the film Moore has been building to for his entire career, to the point that it’s almost a sequel to 1989’s Roger & Me, and it sees Moore continuing his shift from political agitator to activist. Unlike some of his previous films and TV series, in Capitalism, Moore is less interested in making fools of his subjects or getting easy laughs from the audience (though the movie is also very, very funny) than he is making a point about what he feels is wrong with America, and it’s a wise move. The lack of cheap-shots makes the film seem more like a legitimate documentary (albeit one with a definite point of view, which is something most documentaries have nowadays) and less like a political screed, and given the importance of the message Moore is trying to convey, it’s a canny decision, and short-circuits much of the usual criticism his movies garner.

Capitalism sees Moore at his best as an advocate for the working class, and as much as I realize that he’s probably a millionaire a few times over himself, he’s toned down the rhetoric in this film, so there’s less opportunities for him to come across as disingenuous when he discusses the plight of blue-collar folks. He may not be a middle-class guy himself these days, but his anger at the fact that the secure, middle-class lifestyle he enjoyed when he was a kid has basically vanished from America seems very real, and he’s hell-bent on exposing what he sees as the corrupt political and corporate forces that are eroding the middle class. Moore, a former seminary student, returns again and again to the moral implications of capitalism, repeatedly asking whether Jesus (or any other religious figure) would be on the side of the tiny fraction of Americans that control most of the country’s wealth (who also seem to invoke Jesus’ name quite a bit) or on the side of the underpaid, exploited masses. In past films, Moore’s moral outrage can seem like an act, but I totally bought it this time around.

Moore is angry in this film, but he doesn’t make himself the centre of the proceedings. He’s learned the lessons of Sicko (that sometimes it’s easier to get your point across without all the histrionics), and it seems like he’s internalized some of the criticisms against him, particularly after Fahrenheit 9/11. He barely appears in the film other than in voiceover (he still appears onscreen several times, but he’s nowhere near as much of a presence as he was in Fahrenheit or Columbine, and it’s a wise decision, particularly given the politically sensitive nature of the subject matter and how divisive a figure he is). Moore’s smart enough to realize how politically touchy it is to basically make a documentary about how American capitalism has failed and destroyed much of the country, both literally and figuratively, especially in America, and he constructs the film wherever possible as a simple presentation of facts. Moore sniffs out examples of capitalism run amok (like teenagers unjustly thrown in juvenile detention, sometimes over the objections of probation officers, because a local judge had cut a deal with the private company that built the for-profit detention center to keep the flow of kids coming so the company could make more money with more inmates), and in contemporary America, it’s not hard to find examples of lower-middle class people getting screwed over by the horribly broken system. It would be tough to argue against the points Moore makes in Capitalism: A Love Story without resorting to partisan name-calling or talking-points or just blind devotion to a system that any reasonably intelligent person can see is simply no longer working. The only arguments against Moore’s thesis in the film, which is basically that capitalism has gone too far and replaced democracy in America (as opposed to remaining just an economic system that runs alongside democracy) are either that no, everything’s actually just fine (which probably means you’re one of the 1% that controls the vast majority of the wealth in America) or that it’s unpatriotic or sacrilegious to even begin to question the sanctity of the capitalist system, which is the propaganda that those in power have been selling for years.

The unfortunate thing, in America at least, is that there’s a lot of truth, ugly, harsh truth, in what Moore is saying in this film, but because of his reputation I’m sure a great many people who should see this film and be moved by it, won’t. As much as I agree with Moore on a lot of issues on paper (I’m Canadian, and I’m probably further to the left of the political spectrum than he is), even I find his style a bit grating and disingenuous at times (in particular in Fahrenheit, and some parts of Bowling for Columbine are a little too over-the-top for me), but Capitalism: A Love Story really isn’t a political movie in the left-right/partisan sense (Moore’s as hard, if not harder, on the Democrats than the Republicans, particularly in the section covering the bank bailout, one of the film’s strongest – and most infuriating – sequences). It’s about justice and what’s right, and it’s about a broken system that’s still sold as being “for the people” despite the fact that it isn’t. But Moore, sadly, has positioned himself through his career in such a way that people already predisposed to disagreeing with him will just ignore Capitalism as another tirade against America, and that’s too bad.

Overall I was quite blown away by Capitalism: A Love Story, and I went into it expecting to agree with just about everything Moore had to say in it (and I pretty much did); if I have a knock against the movie it’s that Moore seems to scale back his argument near the end, I guess to avoid being seen calling for the complete dismantling of modern American society, and I can understand his reluctance to take his argument to its logical conclusion lest he be seen as an insane radical or worse, something approaching a terrorist. Capitalism: A Love Story is a film that, in an ideal world, would be seen by just about everybody in America, and other parts of the world as well. It’s not a political rant, but rather an incisive, street-level breakdown of exactly what went wrong with the American economic system over the last several decades. It’s a film about how we got where we are, and it’s a heartbreaking, infuriating journey. Moore ends the film with a call to action, his most explicit appeal to his viewers since Fahrenheit 9/11 (a movie that existed purely to try to hamper George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004), and, as much as it pains me to say it, I think he’s barking up the wrong tree. Either way, Capitalism: A Love Story is an important, and remarkably well-made documentary that just about everyone should see. Highly recommended.



The extras on the Capitalism: A Love Story DVD are good and plentiful. The strongest, in my opinion, are an extended version of Moore’s interview with Congressman Elijah Cummins (D-Maryland) in which Cummins breaks down while describing the plight of the working class, and an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Chris Hedges in which he discusses ‘The Killing Machine Known as Capitalism,’ essentially (and with terrifying rationality) laying out the argument that unfettered capitalism, in addition to causing a great deal of pain and misery (for example, the huge and politically influential corporations that make insane amounts of money off the current wars in the Middle East, and so it’s therefore in their interests that war and destruction continue), unregulated capitalism is destroying America. I realize that on paper that sounds like the ravings of a fringe intellectual figure, but listening to Hedges calmly explain his position is incredibly unnerving.

There’s a ton of other interesting stuff on the DVD, including the full version of Jimmy Carter’s infamous Jul7 15, 1979 address to the nation, in which he warns of the dangers of self-indulgence and the worship of material goods (Moore uses a piece of it in the final film to segue into his hilarious and depressing segment on Ronald Regan); it’s chilling to watch in its entirety, and sort of mind-blowing to consider the political ramifications of an American president just talking honestly to the people (the idea of, say, Barack Obama doing the same thing today is nigh-unthinkable). There’s also a bunch of little profiles of different business models (a piece called ‘Commie Taxi Drivers’ looks at Wisconsin cab drivers that operate as a worker’s co-op, and another looks at a “socialist” bank operating out of North Dakota). The result is an assortment of extras that run the gamut of righteous indignation and angry reaction to real alternatives and examples of how some smaller companies and communities are making things work without screwing over or taking advantage of workers. A great DVD for an excellent documentary.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010
  Trailers for Iron Man 2, Robin Hood
There’s a pair of new trailers out this week for movies coming this summer (well, I guess it’s spring technically, but May is summer in the world of movies) that I’m particularly excited about. The first is the second trailer for Iron Man 2 (which I’m so stoked about I’m trying not to think about it too much), and, of course, it looks awesome. There’s a bunch of stuff in this new trailer that’s got the Marvel geek in me insanely primed (the suit-in-a-suitcase gag, lifted directly from the classic comics; the apparent promise that Mickey Rourke will don a something closer to a full suit of armor at some point; Downey and Cheadle kicking the crap out of a bunch of robots; I could go on and on), and it’s clear that director Jon Favreau and company responded to the common criticism leveled against the first Iron Man that there wasn’t enough action. The only X-factor for me is Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, because the Black Widow is supposed to be Russian, and Johansson is a bad enough actress as it is without trying to handle a Russian accent. But that’s a minor concern considering the amount of robot suits and lasers this movie promises. Iron Man 2 opens on May 2.

Next up is Ridley Scott’s re-teaming with Gladiator star Russell Crowe for a new take on Robin Hood. I’ve been fascinated by medieval stories since I was a little kid, Robin Hood in particular (I loved the Kevin Costner movie when I was 9), and Scott, one of my favorite filmmakers, already made an excellent (and underrated) movie set in the period in 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven (it’s a really great Middle Ages epic, or at least the Director’s Cut is; I never saw the terribly-reviewed theatrical cut). As much as I was pretty lukewarm on the idea of another Robin Hood movie when I first heard about the project (particularly Scott’s and Crowe’s involvement; it felt like they were revisiting Gladiator territory), and I was so-so with the first teaser, this new full-length trailer finally grabbed my interest. It looks more epic than I expected a Robin Hood film to, and Cate Blanchett (probably the best actress working today) classing up the joint as Maid Marian certainly helps matters. Robin Hood hits theatres May 14.

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Monday, March 8, 2010
  Blogging the Oscars: Part 2

Welcome to the part two of the second annual Captivate movie blog Oscar night liveblog. I actually hate the word “blog,” and I just used it twice in one sentence there, so I doubt you’ll be seeing it again today. Check out Part 1 here if, for some reason, you want to read a more detailed rundown of my picks. The deal is, I watch the entire Oscars telecast and write about it, and this is noteworthy because I don’t really care much about the Oscars. This year, however, unlike last year, I’ve actually seen most of the nominated movies (6 of the 10 Best Picture nominees, vs. none of last year’s five), so let’s see if my actually knowing what the hell I’m talking about improves my accuracy. I don’t really expect it to.

A quick note: I actually fell asleep during the red carpet pre-show (which tells you about all you need to know about my level of interest in Oscar fashion) and woke up a little bit after the show started, and I’m actually watching the show saved on PVR on about a 45-minute time delay, so my times are estimated and may be a little bit off, if that’s the sort of thing that matters to you.

8:30 pm ET
Okay, we’re off to a pretty weird start, with all the best actor and actress nominees on stage. I don’t get it. And neither does Clooney, apparently, who looks sort of uncomfortable.

Neil Patrick Harris comes out for a little song and dance number to introduce Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. I hate musical numbers with a burning passion, so right off the bat they’re making me question the wisdom of doing this whole “force myself to watch the whole Oscars show and be witty about it” thing again. Antonio Banderas looks impressed though.

Martin and Baldwin take the stage. I think both of these guys are pretty great (though I still can't help but assume their pairing was originally meant to promote It’s Complicated, which they’re both in...and now they’re joking about Meryl Streep. Does this thing come out on DVD next week or something?) They’re doing the bit where they joke about nominees in the audience, which is almost always the source of uncomfortable jokes. Martin and Baldwin are solid so far (less than five minutes in, for whatever that’s worth), and I like Baldwin’s little staredown gag with Clooney, who usually seems more game for joking around like this. Who pissed in Clooney’s cornflakes this morning, I wonder? Overall though, it’s a fairly solid opening monologue, though I guess it’s really not that because there’s two of them. Duologue?

They’re doing Best Supporting Actor already. I love how they always start off with a couple of big awards to trick us into thinking the show is actually bopping along at a quick pace and isn't going to drag until after midnight. Oh, how naive we all are. So is The Last Station movie about Leon Trotsky? Because if it is, I don’t understand why Christopher Plummer is up for Best Supporting Actor.

Christoph Waltz wins for Inglourious Basterds with a nice little speech. Not boring, didn't drag on, and it seemed heartfelt and sincere. And I was right, so we’re off to a pretty nice start here. And I can’t escape the feeling that this will be the only award Inglourious Basterds wins all night.

My Pick was: Christoph Waltz
I Am: Right. 1-0.

Cameron Diaz and Steve Carrel are solid. So far I’m pretty impressed with the writing in the show, and the presenters are surprisingly not-terrible. Up wins Best Animated Feature, which is not much of a surprise. I would have liked to see Fantastic Mr. Fox win (I’m a Wes Anderson nerd and I really liked this movie), but Up was pretty much a shoo-in, and it’s a great movie. Is it shoo-in or shoe-in? Anyway, good for Up.

Man, that Miley Cyrus is a void of charisma. I’m not looking forward to when they try to shove her down my throat as a movie star in a few years. Seriously, entertainment business, this is the best you’ve got to offer? I am unimpressed. Ryan Bingham and T. Bone Burnett win Best Original Song for something from Crazy Heart. They keep it nice and short, so again, I feel like I’m being lulled into a false sense of hope as far as the show’s length goes. We’ll see.

Chris Pine is out to talk about District 9, part of the thing where they talk about every Best Picture Nominee through the show. There’s 10 nominees this year, so these will be more plentiful than normal. I only mention this because I suspect it will be the only time District 9 will be talked about tonight.

Man, Baldwin looked like he was eating glass when he said that thing about Tina Fey reviving his career. She and Robert Downey Jr. have a nice little bit together introducing Best Original Screenplay. But I just can't take Tina Fey seriously giving these little voiceover stage directions. I assume this is Tarantino's to lose…except he just lost to Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker. I’m pleasantly surprised (not that I have anything bad to say about Tarantino’s work in Inglourious Basterds, probably his best film yet), as it’s a fantastic movie (regular readers know I’ve been raving about The Hurt Locker since the summer), and journalists just don’t win enough Oscars. A nice, humble little speech from Boal, and The Hurt Locker has its first Oscar. I am stoked.

Wow, is Molly Ringwald a giant, or is Matthew Broderick really short? They're out for a tribute to John Hughes, which is a sweet little segment that does the job well. And look at that young Alec Baldwin!

Man, it is beyond weird seeing all these actors from old John Hughes movies all grown up. It’s cool that they got them all back for this, but that cut from 2010 Anthony Michael Hall to 2010 Judd Nelson was rough.

I like this little segment about short films (pretty smart to explain the significance of the “other” awards the Oscar producers make the public sit through to see the awards they actually care about), though it seems a little defensive, a two-minute piece justifying the short awards’ placement on the main show. And seconds after thinking to myself that this Logorama thing looks sort of cool, it ends up winning. Not a bad speech either, by some French guy, but there’s that inescapable feeling that this pleasant, charming man who is obviously experiencing one of the high points of his professional life is about to get played off the stage by the band any second.

The second the fat lady interrupts the black dude his acceptance speech after Music by Prudence wins best documentary short, I realize this is gonna get ugly. And lo and behold it does: we’re treated to a rambling, unintelligible speech by someone who interrupted the guy holding the award, ending with the evening’s first uncomfortable music play-off. Ugh. People who win the minor awards, while I understand they’re super stoked about winning, need to realize that nobody wants to spend three or four minutes listening to the thoughts of the guy who wins best animated short or best sound editing. These two guys who just won for best live action short film was just brutal. Two out of the three speeches for the shorts awards ended awkwardly, and I’m wondering once again why they’re even on the main telecast.

Ben Stiller comes out dressed as an alien from Avatar for a joke that seems sort of expected. But Stiller, as usual, sells it pretty well; the joke, somewhat wisely, is based on the fact that he looks like an idiot. Star Trek just won for best makeup, and I’m starting to doubt in my abilities to keep this whole thing interesting for the duration of the night.

I love that Jeff Bridges (a.k.a. The Dude from The Big Lebowski) introduces the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man in the best picture montage. Is only one of the Coens in attendance? That’s crazy. I don’t even know which one that is. Ethan?

Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams are out to present Best Adapted Screenplay. Ooh, I forgot that In The Loop was up for best adapted screenplay! I finally saw that a few weeks ago, it’s brilliant. But it’s District 9 that I’m really rooting for. And Push wins, of course. I forgot that that movie needs to win stuff because it won’t get any of the “major” awards, like best picture. Man this guy looks emotional. He sounds like he's reading a monologue from a play. It’s gonna be so awkward when the band starts playing him off. Actually that didn't happen, he managed to end it quite gracefully. I’m impressed, and I need to see this Push business.

Queen Latifah is out for a thing about the governor’s awards, which I guess are four lifetime achievement-type awards. Awesome that Roger Corman has a Oscar now. Looks like everyone had a great time at that thing, everyone seemed drunk. Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman are getting a standing ovation until the announcer tells them to stop by bringing out Robin Williams. This is probably going to be painful.

It’s time for best supporting actress. Penelope Cruz still feels like a token nomination for Nine, a film that was clearly meant to be a big Oscar deal, but now the producers get to say it was nominated for something. And I’ve already ranted enough in this space about how Mélanie Laurent from Inglourious Basterds was robbed. Mo’nique wins, which makes me 2-0, and for some reason they cut to mostly black actors (many of whom, as far as I know, were not her co-stars in Precious, like Samuel L. Jackson) during her speech.

My Pick: Mo’nique
I am: Right. 2-0!

Avatar just won its first Oscar, for best art direction. Hoo boy, someone started their speech with “13 years ago, the doctors told me I wouldn’t survive…” pretty much daring the producers to play him offstage, and all but guaranteeing emotional applause. Well played, sir. Well played.

The scientists who keep Sarah Jessica Parker looking younger than 60 are working overtime tonight, but really, there’s only so much you can do for a hideous witch-woman like that. She and Tom Ford are out to present Best Costume Design, which goes to The Young Victoria. I’m sure it’s a fine film and the costume designers all worked hard, but I don't care.

The music they keep playing after they hand out awards keeps reminding me of ‘Love Hurts’ by Nazareth, which is incredibly distracting.

Cute little Paranormal Activity bit with Martin and Baldwin, but I expected it to go somewhere. Instead it basically just says to the audience “Hey, everyone, remember Paranormal Activity?”

Man, speaking of voids of charisma, two moppets from Twilight are out for a montage paying tribute to horror films. Hey, what are the chances that the Oscar people thing the Twilight movies are horror movies? Well, they included a shot of it in the montage, so I guess so. Too bad, it was an otherwise cool bit, even though I’m not sure I see the point. Someone decided to devote a couple of minutes to a montage of horror movies, and now that's done, the horror movies have officially been acknowledged and we can all move on? Also, I really, really hate the Twilight girl. It can’t be good that I get this irrationally angry when a person appears on my TV. Health-wise, I mean.

The Hurt Locker wins for best sound editing, which is cool, as that movie has pretty good sound editing (having a semi-decent sound system helps me notice stuff like this), and it’s more hardware for The Hurt Locker, so, aces. Nice short speech too, no complaints here.

The Hurt Locker wins again for best sound mixing, which means they have to fetch the guy who just won two seconds ago from the back to accept another award. Great stuff. I hope this is the beginning of a trend for the night.

For some reason they play the E.T. theme when Elizabeth Banks comes out to mention that they handed out some technical awards last night. Not really sure what the point of that was, either the E.T. thing or the technical awards mention, as they don’t even say who won what.

Is John Travolta wearing jeans? Did he not know about tonight’s show? I’m starting to wonder what it’s gonna take for Quentin Tarantino to win an Oscar. I guess Inglourious Basterds won’t be his The Departed after all.

Avatar wins for best cinematography, and during cinematographer Mauro Fiore’s speech it cuts to Stephen Lang, probably the only human in Avatar worthy of any acting recognition.

It’s time for the annual Oscar Death Montage. Patrick Swayze kicks off this year’s morbid “Who Gets the Most Applause?” sweepstakes. Oh man, I forgot Ron Silver died this year. Michael Jackson made the cut this year, which seems to bend the rules a little bit, but Farrah Fawcett (who was an actual actor and died the same day) isn’t even mentioned. Stay classy, Oscars.

Jennifer Lopez and Sam Worthington may the oddest presenter couple this year, and what they’re presenting is even odder, a montage of best original score done as an a series of interpretive breakdance numbers. I’m pretty sure I made a very similar joke last year, but if anyone's curious, what is happening on my television right this moment is exactly what people hate about the Oscar telecast. This is just absurd.

The Avatar number just pushed this breakdance number over the top into “among the silliest things I’ve ever seen” territory. Then Up wins best original score.

Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper are presenting together, and I want to make a joke about how both of them are bland, handsome flashes in the pan. But I can’t think of anything funny, so I just wrote that. Avatar wins best visual effects, which is one of the biggest gimmes of the whole night (except perhaps Christoph Waltz), which is a shame, because for my money, District 9 had far superior effects, if for nothing other than I just believed more in that world and in those digital characters. But it looks like Avatar is winning all the technical awards, and I won’t pretend it didn’t have great effects. Can’t argue with the biggest movie of all time, I guess.

I forgot Alec Baldwin was co-hosting this thing. I guess they have these big chunks of the show without the host now (I vaguely recall something similar happening last year, when Hugh Jackman vanished for like 40 minutes or something), or in this case, hosts. I feel like we’re in the home stretch for some reason, and I also think I’m probably just fooling myself.

The Cove wins best documentary, underscoring my need to see that movie. Also, Fisher Stevens just won an Academy Award. Tonight is weird. Man, they are playing people off mercilessly tonight. That’s three times tonight that I’ve been moderately embarrassed for the people onstage.

Tyler Perry is annoying.

The Hurt Locker
just won for best editing. I’m starting to think it’ll win all the major awards it’s up for. I wish I’d picked The Hurt Locker for best picture instead of Avatar, because then I think I’d be looking at a clean sweep in terms of my predictions. But no, I had to get all cynical and assume the Academy would split the Best Director and Best Picture awards to give both The Hurt Locker and Avatar some love. If only I’d gone with my heart.

My digital TV guide says the show will be over in 10 minutes, but I suspect that will not be the case. Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodóvar present best foreign language film. I’ve got to see this A Prophet movie, I’ve heard only insanely good things about it. An Argetinian film called The Secret In Their Eyes wins, and the guy accepting the award makes the funniest Avatar joke of the night, thanking the Academy for not considering Na’vi a foreign language. He doesn’t get any laughs.

Kathy Bates classes up the joint and sells Avatar as a legit contender for best movie of the year. Still not buying it. But I think the major awards are up next, which is good, because I am getting tired.

They’re doing that weird gang-presenter thing from last year again, bringing out a bunch of co-stars to talk about the nominees for best actor. And someone needs to find out what demon Michelle Pfeiffer made a bargain with, because she does not look however old she’s supposed to be. (I can’t believe we’re minutes away from Tron: Legacy officially starring an Oscar winner!) The problem with this system, though it is nice (Pfeiffer's tribute to Bridges was particularly touching), is that it takes several minutes to hand out one award. Also, these are such nice, warm tributes that it’ll seem sort of unfortunate that in about three minutes, four of these guys are going to be losers. And Tim Robbins is hilarious.

They’re still handing out best actor, except now Kate Winslet is doing it. They tricked me into thinking this would come in at a reasonable length again. Jeff Bridges wins, which is great, even though I haven’t seen Crazy Heart. He's an incredibly talented actor, and he deserves an Oscar. The Dude just won an Academy Award, and delivers a wonderfully Dude-like acceptance speech. Awesome.

My Pick: Jeff Bridges
I am: Right. 3-0.

Now it’s time to do this whole thing again with best actress. These things are actually very sweet and effective, particularly Oprah Winfrey’s tribute to Gabourey Sidibe from Precious. Sandra Bullock wins, surprising almost nobody. Bullock proves herself a class act with her speech, saying nice things about everyone else in the category. I don’t even really like Sandra Bullock, but that was the best Oscar speech I’ve seen in a while?

My Pick: Sandra Bullock
I am: Right. 4-0.

Two awards to go! Babra Streisand is out to present best director. The Academy makes my night by giving it to Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. The director of Near Dark and Point Break, two of my favourite movies of all time, just won an Oscar. Cameron looks legitimately thrilled for his ex-wife, and Bigelow herself seems absolutely blown away. I get cynical about the Oscars every year, but every time I’m ready to write them off, the Academy pulls through and gives awards to truly great movies like No Country for Old Men or, in this year’s case, The Hurt Locker. If it wins best picture, my clean sweep is ruined, but I don’t care.

My Pick: Kathryn Bigelow
I am: Right. 5-0.

Tom Hanks literally jogs onstage to announce that The Hurt Locker is the winner for best picture. I don’t remember the last time a movie so deserved all the awards (well, I guess No Country winning). I got excited about The Hurt Locker the second I heard about it a couple of years ago, just because it was a new Kathryn Bigelow movie, so the idea that I just watched her win a bunch of Oscars is pretty nuts. Sometimes there’s justice in the universe.

My Pick: Avatar
I am:
Wrong, for the first and only time tonight. 5-1.

12:00 am
Well, that’s the show, and it’s well past my bedtime. Not only did I come one pick away from being perfect on the big six awards, but I also accurately predicted that the show would go long.

I feel like this wasn’t as funny and clever as last year’s, but the more I think about it the more I realize it’s just a combination of my actually being satisfied with most of the major winners (particularly The Hurt Locker) and the show being boring. Not a lot of train-wreck moments, at least not ones I could write something clever about (that breakdancing thing was just brutal), and the show, overall, left quite a lot to be desired after, I thought, a pretty strong start.

The good news is, I went 5-1 after going 3-3 last year, so I guess it does make a difference when I actually see the nominated films. I have no idea what next years’ crop of movies will be like, obviously, but if it’s as solid a field as this year’s contenders (The Hurt Locker, District 9 and Inglourious Basterds were all up for multiple awards, and were my top three movies of last year), then I’ll take a boring show for some genuinely great films winning awards.

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Friday, March 5, 2010
  Blogging the Oscars: Part 1
So it’s Oscar time once again, and I’m keeping up the tradition (now proudly in its second year!) of my two-part Oscar special. Today I’ll run through the big nominees and make my picks for the winners, and then on Monday morning you can read my liveblog of the awards show, and we can all find out how I did with my predictions. Last year I broke even at 3-3, and I hadn’t seen the majority of the nominated films. This year I’ve seen considerably more (I’ve seen six of the 10 Best Picture nominees; last year I’d seen none of the five nominees at the time of the show), and I so I feel like I should come out with a better record this time around.

Let’s do this thing!

Best Picture
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

My pick: Avatar. While I did like this movie quite a bit (I always give points to movies that can legitimately say they showed me stuff I’ve never seen in a movie before, and the 3D was awesome), I don’t think it has any business being on this list, other than it made a metric ton of money. It’s a fun sci-fi popcorn movie, and a token nomination would be one thing (particularly with the new 10 nominees thing, a.k.a the Dark Knight Rule), but the idea that Avatar is considered a front-runner just because it’s the highest-grossing movie of all time makes me vomit in my own mouth a little. I haven’t heard or read one compelling argument that this movie is actually one of the best films of 2009, I’ve just seen quotes of box office figures. Which is sad.

Regular readers know my dark horse pick is District 9, which I realize doesn’t have a hope in hell. If Avatar doesn’t win though, I’d expect it to go to Up in the Air, though that movie seems to have lost a lot of the early momentum it had a few months back. But my pick is Avatar, which is a dire commentary on the state of mainstream movies.
Or my own cynicism, whichever.

Best Director
James Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

My Pick: Kathryn Bigelow. I’m almost tired (almost!) of singing Bigelow’s praises in this space, and I’ve already said more than once how awesome I think it is that she’s not only getting recognition for the brilliance of The Hurt Locker, but also that a woman is considered the front-runner for the Best Director Oscar for the first time in my lifetime. I can’t say enough good things about this movie or Bigelow, and I will do a dance of joy in my apartment if she wins. Or hurl something across the room if she doesn’t.

And Jason Reitman is Canadian. He won’t win, but if I fail to mention his heritage in an Oscar story, the Canadian government will take away my free health-care.

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

My Pick: Jeff Bridges. He seems to be tied with Christoph Waltz in the Heath Ledger Memorial Foregone Conclusion sweepstakes this year. He’s a wonderful actor, and while I haven’t seen Crazy Heart, I only hear good things about his work in it. But this also seems like one of those awards that, assuming Bridges wins, is more of a reward for larger body of work than this specific performance, and he definitely deserves it. Jeremy Renner would also be a pleasant surprise, but I think he’ll be just fine career-wise if he doesn’t win; the nomination for him was proof that he’s arrived.

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

My Pick: Sandra Bullock. Similar to Bridges, this is Bullock’s award to lose, and as much as I hear she’s quite good in The Blind Side, doing some “real” acting for a change, I can’t escape the feeling that her winning an Oscar has more to do with the Academy rewarding her for years and years of making hugely successful, if fluffy, romantic comedies. But every one else in this category seems like an outsider, except for Streep, and I think she has enough damn Oscars already.

Best Supporting Actor
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

My Pick: Christoph Waltz. He’s this year’s Heath Ledger, with the added bonus of still being alive. Nobody else in this category comes close.

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

My Pick: Mo’Nique. I haven’t seen Precious, but I hear she’s incredible, and the fact that she’s actually a comedian turning in an Oscar-worthy serious performance seems to strike a chord with Academy voters (see also: Tom Hanks, Robin Williams). Anna Kendrick is fantastic in Up in the Air, but for some reason it’s widely held that her sharing a category with co-star Vera Farmiga will probably cost her the award (I still don’t understand that logic myself, but whatever). And I’ve said here before that as far as I’m concerned, the best supporting actress of 2009, Inglourious Basterds’ Mélanie Laurent (who is flat-out incredible), isn’t even nominated, which is easily the most criminal act in this year’s nominations.

Swing by Monday morning to see how right (or wrong) I am. If District 9 wins anything, I’ll be absolutely over the moon, and if The Hurt Locker gets shut out (there’s a really weird and, to me, vaguely upsetting rash of stories in the media right now that seem to be trying to tear the movie down, which I don’t understand, from the
suspiciously-timed lawsuit to stories about how real military bomb techs think it’s unrealistic), I’ll be filled with righteous fury. So come by Monday morning to get an update on my mental state, if nothing else. Should be good times.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010
  Tron's legacy
I don't think there's a movie coming out in 2010 that I'm more looking forward to than Tron: Legacy, which, considering Iron Man 2 is also due this year, is quite a statement. I still sort of can't believe that Disney made a sequel to Tron almost 30 years after the original (which, while not a flop, was hardly a blockbuster in its day), and everything I see for it, from images to the teaser released last year just reinforce how damn cool it looks. Commercial director Joseph Kosinski's making his feature film debut with Tron: Legacy, and if his commercial reel is any indication (he did some awesome ads for the Gears of War games), his movie will, if nothing else, look great. And really, for a Tron film, that's pretty much all that matters.

Rather encouragingly, it looks as if Disney is going all out with its reinvigorated Tron franchise, as there's talk of a potential trilogy, similar to Pirates of the Caribbean, and Disney has already confirmed a 10-part Tron "micro-series" on its Disney XD cable channel, which they hope to spin into a regular animated series, presumably to keep the brand going between film sequels (this, of course, could all go out the window if Legacy flops). As an old-school Tron fan, I'm very excited about this news, though not excited enough to go see the abysmal-looking Alice In Wonderland just to see the new Tron: Legacy trailer. But when this thing comes out in December, I'll be lining up for the first IMAX 3D screening. Lightcycles ahoy!

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