Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny

Watch: Mutants in action in first clip from 'X-Men: First Class'

See: Xavier with hair! Mystique is a good guy! much more

<p>This man is serious about mutants</p>

This man is serious about mutants

I'm sure everyone feels as badly for Drew as I do. He's stuck in a beach town in France, watching movies with a bunch-a-nobodies, while we get to hang out with our beloved computers and be among the first to see cool stuff like this new scene from 'X-Men: First Class.'

As you know, this is the prequel to Brian Singer's "X-Men" films that ended on a relatively low note with Brett Ratner's "Last Stand" in 2006. Director Matthew Vaughn was brought in to revitalize the franchise, and if this clip is any indication, he's on the right track.

In the clip, Charles Xavier, played by James McAvoy, offers his (mutant) help to the CIA, presumably with the Cuban Missile Crisis (unless there's some other crisis in the movie that's left out of the trailer) and Raven Darkholme, AKA Mystique, AKA Jennifer Lawrence demonstrates some mutant abilities to get their attention. Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids) also appears as a young Dr. Moira McTaggart, (She's my most favorite Byrne after David Byrne)

McAvoy's aggressive energy as Xavier lets us know that this is not the reserved peacemaker embodied by Patrick Stewart, this Xavier is strident and ready to push for his cause. He doesn't take kindly to derision and proudly proclaims the advantages of being a mutant. Of course we all know this eventually backfires in his life, but it's great to see young Xavier fighting the good fight.

Watch: Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek strut their stuff for 'Puss In Boots' at Cannes

Spanish dancers and giant boots mark press event for 'Shrek' prequel

<p>Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek in their natural habitat: at the beach&nbsp; in France promoting a movie.</p>

Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek in their natural habitat: at the beach  in France promoting a movie.

Credit: Dreamworks

Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, the two stars of Dreamworks "Puss in Boots" made an appearance at the Carlton Pier at the Cannes Film Festival today after screening some footage from the film. The two stars braved the typically aggressive European press and and waved for throngs of fans as they made their way down the pier giving interviews then finally climbing up a giant pair of boots bearing the name of the film and waving for cameras.

The animated film is a spinoff of the popular "Shrek" series starring Mike Myers. 'Puss' is a prequel, however, taking place before the character even meets Shrek, and when his lifestyle is may not be as above the board. In the film the feline swashbuckler is teaming with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and Kitty Softpaws (Hayek) to steal the Goose that lays the golden egg.

Given the glimpses of the movie in this footage, the professional Spanish dancers at the event, and the casting choice of Mexican actress Hayek, we predict a 'Spanish' flavor to the film. However, considering the 'Fairy tales in a blender' thematic mashup that is the 'Shrek' universe, anything is possible.

Woody Harrelson's training the tributes as Haymitch in 'The Hunger Games'

Surprising choice could pay off in wonderful ways

<p>Woody Harrelson, seen here at the Academy Awards last year, is planning to train some tributes as Haymitch in 'The Hunger Games'</p>

Woody Harrelson, seen here at the Academy Awards last year, is planning to train some tributes as Haymitch in 'The Hunger Games'

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Woody Harrelson has just been announced as Haymitch for "The Hunger Games," and I have to say… didn't see that coming, but I like it.

I haven't gone out of my way to cover every single casting hiccup on "The Hunger Games" precisely because I knew they risked burning audiences out on this before they've ever seen a frame of film.  There are a ton of speaking roles in the first film, and as a result, Lionsgate has been careful to announce each new tribute, no matter how unknown the actor, and I've been waiting for a few key roles to write about instead.

Haymitch might be my favorite character in the books.  He was the one tribute from District 12 to ever with the Hunger Games, and he's spent every year since then trying to burn the memory out of his head with booze.  He's a ruined man in many ways, propped up by the Capitol as a symbol despite his best efforts.  When Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are picked as the tributes for this year, Haymitch is told to mentor them, and once he realizes they stand an actual chance of winning, he snaps himself out of his funk to try and teach them whatever they'll need to survive.

It's a great part, and I think Harrelson could turn out to be inspired casting.  Just look at his work in "Zombieland," which seems almost like a variation on Haymitch.  He's also one of those actors who younger actors seem to really enjoy working with, and that's important here.

Review: Cannes launches in style with Woody Allen's 'Midnight In Paris'

A sly supporting cast takes a slight joke and gives it real depth

<p>Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard are almost as luminous as the city around them in Woody Allen's 'Midnight In Paris,' opening the Cannes Film Festival tonight.</p>

Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard are almost as luminous as the city around them in Woody Allen's 'Midnight In Paris,' opening the Cannes Film Festival tonight.

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Woody Allen was one of the first people who taught me about screenwriting.

Not directly, of course.  These days, young writers are positively spoiled with the number of scripts they can read, and not just ones that have been officially published.  Almost anything you're curious about is floating around out there online, easy to get hold of, often before the film is even released. As a result, the basic language of screenplay is far more accessible to young writers now than it ever has been before.

When I was first interested in film, though, it was not a commonplace thing to publish every screenplay, and if you were interested in learning about the craft, you either had to go to a film school's library or, every now and then, you'd be lucky enough to see a script in book form.  One of the guys who made the effort to collect his scripts and publish them was Woody Allen, and reading his scripts led me to read his prose and his plays, and taken as a whole, his printed body of work informed the way I felt about him as a filmmaker, and some of my ideas about film in general.

In Allen's world, the word is primary.  His films are these rich cascades of language, and sometimes it all adds up and sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes, it all snaps into focus and you get a genuine emotional and intellectual rush from what he does, and sometimes, it just lays there, intelligent but without a pulse.  And it's often a matter of degrees between the two.  Some of what he did in his short fiction wouldn't really work on film, and sometimes, his films feel like rough drafts, the result of his unrelenting schedule of a film a year.

Watch: 'SNL' veterans Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph chat about 'Bridesmaids'

Old friends playing old friends? That's crazy!

Watch: 'SNL' veterans Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph chat about 'Bridesmaids'

"Bridesmaids" is a huge pleasure on a lot of levels. 

As a fan of Paul Feig and Judd Apatow and their work together, I'm delighted to see a new collaboration between the two of them turn out so well. 

As a fan of Kristen Wiig's work in smaller supporting roles, it is a thrill to see what happens when she moves center-stage and actually writes her own lead role. 

And as a fan of strong comedians, it is a real joy to see a film that's designed as a sort of showcase for a number of strong players who don't always get the proper material.

One of the things I liked most in the film is the onscreen friendship between Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, no doubt fueled in part by the offscreen friendship between the two of them.  In a world where so many films aimed at women seem to focus on the most toxic and vile versions of "friendship" imaginable, it is impressive to see a nuanced, complicated relationship that goes through some very real and recognizable highs and lows in the course of a mere two hour film.

And, yes, it helps that it is often hysterically funny at the same time.

Set Visit: We head back to school with Tom Hanks for 'Larry Crowne'

Plus we talk to his producing partner Gary Goetzman

<p>Tom Hanks leads a scooter revolution in a scene from this summer's new comedy 'Larry Crowne'</p>

Tom Hanks leads a scooter revolution in a scene from this summer's new comedy 'Larry Crowne'

Credit: Universal Pictures

I love Tom Hanks as a director.  L O V E, love.  I have mad affection for "That Thing You Do," and I have been eager to see him get back in the director's chair for a while now.

In June of 2010, I got the call to a join a group of other writers on the set of "Larry Crowne," his newest film as a director, on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills.  It's not often I can drive myself to a set visit, and it's always a relief.  I enjoy spending time with filmmakers working at their craft, particularly if there's time to chat with them during the day, but I'm increasingly less interested in having to stay somewhere overnight to do so.  I spend enough time away from my kids thanks to film festivals, and at least there, the pace of the event justifies it.  Most of the time on a film set, you spend the majority of your visit waiting for things.

We ended up speaking with Hanks, with his producer Gary Goetzman, with "That '70s Show" star Wilmer Valderrama, and with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who went on to star in the spy show "Undercovers" afterwards.  We were there for most of an afternoon, and it was a lovely, relaxed atmosphere, as laid back as you would expect a Tom Hanks set to be.

I've had many opportunities to meet Hanks and speak with him over the years, probably the longest-lasting of which was on "The Green Mile" set, where I spent many, many, many afternoons observing.  That was a real opportunity for me to watch a great ensemble of actors at work, with one of the biggest movie stars in the business right at the center of things.  Even then, though, I never saw Hanks act like he thought he was a "movie star."  There was no ego to his behavior on-set or on-camera.  He was the same person he projects as his public persona, warm and funny and uncommonly sharp.  

Watch: Director Kenneth Branagh discusses family and fighting and 'Thor'

Anyone who loves Vic Armstrong as much as he does is okay in my book

<p>Kenneth Branagh seems very pleased with the responses audiences have had so far to his new film 'Thor'</p>

Kenneth Branagh seems very pleased with the responses audiences have had so far to his new film 'Thor'

Credit: HitFix

Kenneth Branagh makes an excellent target for people who want to hate him.

When I spoke to Anthony Hopkins, he talked a bit about the way Branagh has always been a target, in no small part because of the way he appeared on the scene with so much hype behind him.  In the world of theater, and particularly among Shakesperean experts, Branagh was seen as an upstart, and people were gunning for him.  When he moved into film, his "Henry V" was heavily praised, the sort of praise that almost guarantees people are going to want to go after something.  And throughout his career, he tends to make big choices like a four-hour-long "Hamlet" in 70MM, that make him seem like he's positively dripping with hubris.

But if you can deliver the goods, is it really hubris?

That word is the main focus of "Thor," thematically speaking, and moving from something as small as "Sleuth" to a giant mainstream Marvel superhero film with action sequences that are unlike anything he's staged before, seems like another of those Branagh moves designed to put him in the crosshairs, and sure enough, people have been gunning for "Thor" ever since it was announced.

Will Smith may star in Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' with Waltz, Jackson

No deal's been made yet, but it looks promising

<p>&quot;You... yes, you... just want you to know that no matter what, you will never look as good wearing orange as I do.&quot;</p>

"You... yes, you... just want you to know that no matter what, you will never look as good wearing orange as I do."

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Will Smith and Quentin Tarantino?  Sounds like someone got their chocolate in my peanut butter and I am DIGGING it.

This is not, evidently, a done deal, and I would imagine Will Smith is not cheap, even if he really wants to be in a movie.  He is one of the few truly reliable movie stars left in the world, able to open almost any movie.  He has had a charmed career, with very few major missteps.  Unfortunately, one of the biggest of those happened to be his last film, "Seven Pounds," and I am not sure that retreating to the safety of a "Men In Black" sequel is the best choice.  Seems too calculated to me, and with the way that process has been playing out so far, it may not have been the safe bet that he was counting on.

Reports have been surfacing this afternoon that Tarantino crafted the lead role in "Django Unchained" expressly for Will Smith, and that they've already had some informal talks about Smith playing the role.  In order for Brad Pitt to make financial sense on "Inglorious Basterds," he had to cut his asking price, and I'm sure Smith will have to do the same.  This is a guy who can demand between $20 and $30 million per role, after all, and if Tarantino is really going to pull off this insane task he's set himself with his new script, he's going to need to spend every penny of what will do doubt be a sizable budget onscreen.

Watch: Kat Dennings and Jamie Alexander discuss different sides of 'Thor'

Two very different actresses both shine in the new Marvel movie

<p>Kat Dennings let just a hint of her inner nerd slip out when talking about her work in 'Thor'</p>

Kat Dennings let just a hint of her inner nerd slip out when talking about her work in 'Thor'

Credit: HitFix

Two lovely ladies.  Two very different actors.  Two absolutely different Realms.

Kat Dennings plays Darcy in "Thor," a political science major who ends up helping out Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, in her research into some strange energy storms in the desert.  Jamie Alexander, on the other hand, plays Sif, an Asgardian warrior who grew up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and who is one of his very best friends.

The two really couldn't be less alike.  Alexander is a strikingly pretty woman up close, but there's something substantial about her, something that suggests she could easily kick your ass up between your ears if she decided to do so.  Dennings, on the other hand, has this wonderful eccentric energy about her.  I don't find her threatening in the least, but she is a wonderful comic presence.  Each of them adds something invaluable to "Thor," and we sat down with both of them to discuss their work in the big Marvel movie.

Dennings is as funny in person as she is onscreen, and she actually taught me a word as we were preparing to talk.  She complimented me on my "aubergine" tie, and while I've seen the word, I didn't know what color it referred to.  We chatted for a moment before the cameras rolled about her film "Daydream Nation," which is getting a split-second theatrical release but which has already been sent to reviewers on Blu-ray.

Watch: Jodie Foster discusses bringing 'The Beaver' to life

The great actor-director talks about both sides of her craft

<p>It's amazing how little Jodie Foster has changed over the years, and how eager she is to discuss her new film 'The Beaver'</p>

It's amazing how little Jodie Foster has changed over the years, and how eager she is to discuss her new film 'The Beaver'

Credit: HitFix

Jodie Foster is one of those people who has been part of mainstream entertainment as long as I've been paying attention to it, and who always seemed close enough to me in age that I could use her as a sort of milestone for my own life.

As an actor, I think she can be undervalued, despite the Oscars, and I miss her when she doesn't work for a while.  As a filmmaker, she has a remarkably small resume, but I think she's proven that she likes unconventional material, and that she brings a considerable intelligence to the choices she makes.

Thankfully, "The Beaver" offers up Foster as both actor and director, scratching both itches at once, and I think it represents a real triumph for her.  Of course, thanks to our tabloid society, most of the conversations about the film seem to focus on Mel Gibson, his public meltdown, and his possible career rehab that the film might represent.  But for me, what made "The Beaver" compelling from the moment it came together was the notion of Foster behind the camera again.

Sure enough, the film is a quiet marvel of tasteful choices.  Just consider the way Foster shoots both Gibson and the puppet as characters instead of treating one as a prop.  And also consider the careful handling of depression in the movie.  Where one director could easily take this same script and play it as farce, Foster keeps it firmly grounded in real human pain.  

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