<p>Pleaseletthemkiss, pleaseletthemkiss, please... er, I mean... yeah, punch him! Real hard!</p>

Pleaseletthemkiss, pleaseletthemkiss, please... er, I mean... yeah, punch him! Real hard!

Credit: Universal Pictures

Review: 'Fast Five' kicks off summer right with big stunts and beautiful people

This greatest-hits entry in the franchise makes it all work

As with the "Scream" series, I come to this latest sequel in the long running "Fast and the Furious" franchise as a non-fan.  I don't hate the movies, but I don't have any particular love for them, either.

The difference is that the latest "Scream" movie struck me as a film that only fans of that franchise would love, and when I reviewed "Scream 4," I wrote it with my shoulders lifted into a shrug the entire time, trying to imagine whether a "Scream" fan would be happy with the final product or not.  It seems to be a wholly insular thing at this point, designed only for people already familiar with the series, and so self-contained that it almost didn't care if new viewers were able to crack the movie's code.

With "Fast Five," it is obvious that this franchise is moving in a different direction, continually evolving and changing in an effort to become a broad-based audience-pleasing machine, and with this latest chapter, I think they've finally made the film they've been gearing up to make now for a while, the most completely unhinged mainstream action movie since "Bad Boys 2," and while there is a stretch in the middle where the melodrama starts to pile up a bit, for the most part, this is a breathlessly exciting and gleefully improbable ride.  And, yes, fun from end to end.

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<p>Every member of the cast of 'Bridesmaids' gets at least once chance to shine, a testament to the writing, but Melissa McCarthy still manages to steal much of the film when she's onscreen.</p>

Every member of the cast of 'Bridesmaids' gets at least once chance to shine, a testament to the writing, but Melissa McCarthy still manages to steal much of the film when she's onscreen.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Exclusive: Meet Megan, Melissa McCarthy's twisted 'Bridesmaids' character

The scene-stealer from this May's hilarious comedy gets her own one-sheet

Last night, I was at the Arclight in Hollywood seeing the press screening of "Fast Five," and after the film, I spotted a "Bridesmaids" poster, and on the poster, a quote from my review.  And certainly, I'm happy to have my words used to try to persuade people to check out Paul Feig's rich and raunchy comedy about two friends (co-writer and star Kristen Wiig and the wonderful Maya Rudolph) who find their long shared friendship challenged when one of them sets a date for a wedding, asking the other to be her maid of honor.

Weddings in movies are rarely handled realistically, and yet, the thing that gives "Bridesmaids" its greatest power is almost painful accuracy of the way it portrays the various stresses that erupt when you're in the midst of this sort of major sea change, and the things it does to friendships when one person is ready to move on and the other isn't.  Wiig is amazing in the film, as is Rudolph, but as with any great comedy, what holds the film together and really keeps things chugging along is the amazing supporting cast across the board.

Melissa McCarthy has her own network sitcom right now, "Mike and Molly," and she's one of those performers who has made a lovely career out of stealing scenes on a regular basis.  But I'm guessing it will be the character she plays here, "Megan," who becomes the most recognizable thing of her career, and that's because of the sheer gusto with which she tears into it.  Wiig and her co-writer, Annie Mumolo, originally wrote another character for McCarthy to play, but once they got into rehearsals and conversations, this is the character that emerged, and what looks to be a joke on the surface is actually one of the weirdest but most enjoyable creations in a film so far this year.

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<p>By far, one of the things kids seem to love most about the 'Green Lantern' trailer is the sheer variety of aliens on display in the Green Lantern Corps.</p>

By far, one of the things kids seem to love most about the 'Green Lantern' trailer is the sheer variety of aliens on display in the Green Lantern Corps.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Which members of the Green Lantern Corps will we see this summer?

Last week's 'Green Lantern' #65 spills the beans on the bigscreen line-up

Since WonderCon and the release of the edited version of that promo reel via Apple.com, I've probably seen that "Green Lantern" footage about 1000 times.  That's because my two sons have gone absolutely insane for the movie, and they ask to see that thing several times every day.

I've said before that I don't really read the comics, so I'm not familiar with every nuance of Green Lantern lore, but I know the broad strokes.  I know characters like Hal Jordan and Thaal Sinestro and Abin Sur and Tomar-Re.  I know who Kilowog is when I see him in the trailer.  The animated "Green Lantern" movie last year prepared me for that much, at least.

But when I look at that trailer, I see a dude with an eyeball for a head, and another dude who looks like a bouncing squid, and it all looks vaguely crazy to me.  I don't know who any of those characters are, and I couldn't put name to face if I had to.

Thanks to "Green Lantern" #65, though, hardcore fans now have their best rundown on who they can expect to see in the finished film this summer, and I thought I'd publish the list for those who will be excited by these names.  Maybe you can tell me how this line-up looks to you.

All I know is that by the end of this year, I'll probably know every name here.  My kids definitely will, and I remember the way I absorbed all the names of secondary background characters in "Star Wars" without batting an eye.  That was actually part of the appeal of "Star Wars" for me.  I loved the secret vocabulary, and you should never underestimate how much something like that means to a kid.

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<p>I genuinely think it's adorable that Leonardo Di Caprio takes his mom to premieres, but I still don't think he's the right guy to play Travis McGee.</p>

I genuinely think it's adorable that Leonardo Di Caprio takes his mom to premieres, but I still don't think he's the right guy to play Travis McGee.

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Will Paul Greengrass make 'Travis McGee' with Leo Di Caprio?

Or will we see giant monsters on the high seas from the filmmaker instead?

Okay, now I'm conflicted.

I'm sure I've mentioned it here a few times already, but I can always say it again:  I love Travis McGee.  I wish I was Travis McGee.  He is, hands down, my favorite literary creation, and I think John D. McDonald is one of the great American writers.  I don't just think he writes good thrillers… I think his use of language, his observations on our culture and our character, and the way he defines his people in his fiction… he's unmatched.  I see echoes of his voice in the writing of so many people on the bestseller lists of today, whether it's Stephen King or Carl Hiaasen or Lee Child, and honestly, I don't think any of them offer the complete package the way he did.

So, yes, I have very strongly held opinions about a possible film version of Travis McGee, and I've read the draft by Dana Stevens that got everyone excited.  To say I'm skeptical is an understatement.  Stevens introduces his Travis McGee on a surfboard, for god's sake.  Travis McGee decidedly does not surf.  Not at all.  I hope that Kario Salem, whose work I don't know at all, made some major improvements with his drafts, and that they were smart enough to just get back to the book, which works perfectly without any unnecessary invention.

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<p>Joss Whedon joined the cast of 'The Avengers' last year at the San Diego Comic-Con, and based on this image, I'm guessing no one set will describe Robert Downey Jr. as 'the shy one'</p>

Joss Whedon joined the cast of 'The Avengers' last year at the San Diego Comic-Con, and based on this image, I'm guessing no one set will describe Robert Downey Jr. as 'the shy one'

Credit: AP Photo/Denis Poroy

The Morning Read: 'The Avengers' starts production today

Plus Commander Future returns and James Cameron goes RED crazy

Welcome to The Morning Read.

I've never been one to be shy about self-promotion, so I'm going to sing it loud and proud this morning.  Over at Popcorn Fiction, you'll find my just-published second Commander Future story, "Moving Day," and you can still read the first story, "The Interview," if you haven't had the chance yet.  I love the site anyway, and being able to introduce this character I love so much and do it in a place where I don't have to give up all control of him forever… that's heaven for a writer.  I've got some big plans for the Commander this year, and I will be eternally grateful to Derek Haas and Mulholland Books for giving him his first home.

Oh, yeah… and there's something about some movie called "The Avengers" or something?  There are going to be a lot of headlines this morning about the film starting production today, and I'm genuinely pleased to hear it.  Seems like one of those things that I never thought would actually happen, and yet… they're doing it.  Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, the world's new busiest man Jeremy Renner, and Samuel Motherscratchin' Jackson are all gearing up to make what promises to be the most outsized superhero film of all time.  Better be, anyway.  If you're spending years running up to something, and you stop and you call your shot like Babe Ruth, then it's time to step up to the plate, focus, and knock this thing out of the park.  I better hear Randy Newman music and see a scoreboard explode after you swing.  The nice thing about having Joss Whedon at the helm is that he's going to have a sense of humor about it, whatever happens.  I quite enjoyed his statement today on what "The Avengers" will be about:  "The Justice League."  Indeed.

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<p>The only thing Jimmy (Matt D'Elia) is really threatening James (Brendan Fletcher) with here is a total destruction of basic societal structures and expectations... so nothing major.</p>

The only thing Jimmy (Matt D'Elia) is really threatening James (Brendan Fletcher) with here is a total destruction of basic societal structures and expectations... so nothing major.

Credit: American Moving Pictures

Review: 'American Animal' and 'Tell Your Friends!' offer two types of performance art

We catch up with two SXSW charmers and ask a question for you

I'd like to get your opinion on something, even as I offer up my opinion on a few things.  A little give and take, as it were, on a holiday weekend Sunday evening.  I want to ask you how much of our festival coverage you guys actually read, and what value there is in it for you.

I can tell you that from my end of things, I feel like festivals are the cornerstone of a film critic's year.  If you manage to make it to Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Fantastic Fest, and Toronto, I feel like you've got your year covered, and if you add in supplemental local fests like the LA Film Festival and AFI Fest here in LA, you can eventually catch a surprising number of the year's films and see a wide range of what's going on in the world.  If you really want to understand where cinema is at any given moment, I think you need to put yourself out there on the festival circuit and see as much as you can.

One of the things that happens at many of the festivals is that you end up prioritizing what gets written up in the heat of the moment and what's doesn't, and it's rough for some of the smaller films.  Especially if they're movies that don't already have distributors in place and that you're not sure you'll ever see again.  The thing is, there's value in seeing those films for me, and there's absolutely a benefit in it for the indie filmmaker, who is always hoping for press that draws attention to what they've done… but is there value in it for you, the readers, who haven't seen these films and who may never see them?

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<p>Bilbo Baggins has some news for you, but it's a secret, so don't tell anyone except the hundreds of hobbits attending his birthday party.</p>

Bilbo Baggins has some news for you, but it's a secret, so don't tell anyone except the hundreds of hobbits attending his birthday party.

Credit: New Line Cinema

Ian Holm will return as Bilbo Baggins in 'The Hobbit'

The release of the news raises questions about secrecy and the news cycle

It's interesting the way "secrets" work these days.

I was under the impression that it was going to be a secret all the way through production and until release that Ian Holm and Elijah Wood appear together in the wrap-around segments of "The Hobbit," tying the films directly into "Lord Of The Rings."  Then Elijah's participation in the film was confirmed a while ago, and this week, no less that Peter Jackson himself confirmed that Ian Holm is in "The Hobbit."

It seems like there really is no such thing as a surprise anymore.  Earlier today, the post-credits bumper for "Thor" showed up online, presumably duped from one of the Australian screens where the film is already open.  For fans around the world, they can simply spoil that moment for themselves now with one click as opposed to waiting a few more weeks to see it at the end of the film, when it would have far more impact.

The difference here is that Peter Jackson is the one who gave away the spoiler this time, and if he says it's fine for people to know, then I guess it's fine to know.  Jackson has been helping to define the way filmmakers can interact with fandom since the year 1999, and while I might have kept the Old Bilbo/Frodo stuff secret, I'm not about to tell Jackson he's wrong for revealing it in such a casual off-hand manner.

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<p>The vampire thriller 'Stake Land' opens today in limited release, and it's one of several films we discuss in today's review round-up.</p>

The vampire thriller 'Stake Land' opens today in limited release, and it's one of several films we discuss in today's review round-up.

Credit: Dark Sky Films/Glass Eye Pix

This week's new releases: 'African Cats,' 'Elephants,' 'Stake Land,' and Yen

A look at this week's new films, including festival reviews

So far this week, I've published reviews for "African Cats" and "Water For Elephants," two of the bigger releases, but I've also previously published reviews for some of this week's other releases, and because of things like festival schedules, I figured we should run links to some of those earlier pieces, plus offer up a few quick reactions to things I never quite got around to reviewing.

It's been fun watching people react to "Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," and I salute Morgan Spurlock for making the publicity for the film entertaining instead of self-serving.  Spurlock is part of that new breed of documentarians who put themselves front and center in their films, and that can get really obnoxious.  Spurlock manages to use his big broad ideas to examine things without preaching, and in this new film, I think he's done a particularly good job of looking at the way product placement works in our new media landscape.  He's not a scold, and he's not a clown, and the way he's managed to sell this movie by extending the message of the film into every single action he's taken since Sundance is fairly ingenious.

Also this week, you can catch up with "Legend of the Fist," one of the 10,000 films that Donnie Yen starred in last year.  I would recommend this film if only for the oh-my-god opening sequence in which Yen appears to win WWII single-handed.  Yen's really hit his stride as a performer over the last few years, and I think he might be the most exciting martial artist working anywhere in the world right now.

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<p>Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, who has certainly looked better, share a tender moment in 'Water For Elephants'</p>

Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, who has certainly looked better, share a tender moment in 'Water For Elephants'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: 'Water For Elephants' is effective old-fashioned melodrama

Is Christoph Waltz on his way to being typecast?

I never read Sara Gruen's novel, but having seen the film version of "Water For Elephants," I have a pretty good idea what to expect.  I have no doubt that Richard LaGravenese has crafted the classiest possible version of what feels like a very old-fashioned melodrama, while leaving much of the texture of Gruen's novel intact.  I'm almost curious enough to go read a few chapters now to see if my guess is right.

Almost.  The thing is, what praise I have for "Water For Elephants" isn't really about the story.  Instead, I'm impressed by a few of the performers and, in particular, by the way director Francis Lawrence approached the material.  Especially in the first half of the film, he captures a romantic version of the circus on film that I'm not sure ever really existed.  He makes it feel real, though, and evokes a nostalgia for a time when you could hop the rails in search of some sort of direction when your life was falling apart, and when running away with the circus was this charming possibility.  There's one scene in particular, the first time they're setting up the circus and Jacob (Robert Pattinson) is watching them, that is honestly one of the best versions of that scene I've ever seen done.  It's alluring in all the right ways, and by the end of it, I wanted to run away and join the circus, too, if only for a weekend.

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<p>Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari take up bank robbery the hard way in the new comedy '30 Minutes&nbsp;or Less'</p>

Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari take up bank robbery the hard way in the new comedy '30 Minutes or Less'

Credit: Sony Pictures

'30 Minutes or Less' trailer offers Eisenberg, McBride, and insanity

The director of 'Zombieland' looks to have another hit on his hands

Ruben Fleischer was pretty much offered the world after "Zombieland" came out.  He was given opportunities to choose between several different films, and he eventually chose to direct "30 Minutes Or Less."

Early word from people close to the film is fairly rabid on this one, and with today's release of the first red-band trailer for the film, I'm excited about getting a look at it later in the year.  The script for the film by Michael Diliberti made the Black List a few years ago, and it looks to have been a real draw for some of the funniest people in film right now.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as a pizza delivery guy who is abducted by two guys (played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) who strap a bomb to him and order him to rob a bank.  Now, this actually happened to a guy, and the real story was sort of tragic and insane and bizarre, but it does seem like a great jumping-off point for a truly manic comedy, and the trailer does a nice job of setting things up without ruining the entire movie.

In particular, I like the idea of Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari as friends.  You wanna talk about two totally different types of energy playing off of each other… that seems like it sets up some outstanding opportunities, and even in this little glimpse at the movie, they've got great natural chemistry.

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