<p>Okay... now I've got it... what am I supposed to DO&nbsp;with it?</p>

Okay... now I've got it... what am I supposed to DO with it?

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Final 'X-Men: First Class' trailer gives great look at intriguing prequel

Has Matthew Vaughn rebooted the series successfully?

Each new piece of material they've released for "X-Men: First Class" has gone a long way towards convincing me that this was, indeed, the right next step for the series.

It's been interesting watching Fox try to figure out this property, and I've certainly blasted them in the past for what I've seen as aggressive mismanagement of the franchise.  "X-Men" is one of the biggest of the Marvel series, not only in terms of sales over the years but also in terms of scope and number of characters.  It is one of the most flexible franchises to come out of the House Of Ideas, and the real beauty of it as a film series is that they can rotate characters in and out easily, and move backwards and forwards in chronology if they choose.  I've always said that if there's any franchise that could give James Bond a real run for longevity, it's this one, but only if you take care of it and really treat it right.

As much as I like the Bryan Singer films, I would never argue that they are the only possible version of this universe, nor would I say that they render other adaptations pointless.  I think there's a lot of great material and ideas that ended up left on the table while they were making those movies, and when you look at how rushed "X-Men 3" was as a wrap-up to that initial series, it feels like Fox was killing the golden goose out of sheer petulance.

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<p>Tom Hiddleston's Loki is one of the best bad guys in any of the Marvel movies, so it is exciting to hear that he's going to return for 'The Avengers.'&nbsp; Unless you're one of the Avengers.&nbsp; In which case, watch yourself.</p>

Tom Hiddleston's Loki is one of the best bad guys in any of the Marvel movies, so it is exciting to hear that he's going to return for 'The Avengers.'  Unless you're one of the Avengers.  In which case, watch yourself.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Behold! 'The Avengers' have... chairs! Mighty, mighty chairs!

And, yes, Loki is one of the bad guys

When I was on the set of "Thor" at the Manhattan Beach Marvel Studios, there was a moment where we were talking to Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki.  Kevin Feige was standing 30 or 40 feet away, doing something else, as we asked Hiddleston questions.

At one point, we asked, "So we had a chance to tour the weapons vault in Odin's chambers, and I couldn't help but wonder… if someone were to steal some of those weapons and head to Earth with them, that would take more than one hero to stop them, wouldn't it?  Don't you think that might demand… oh, let's say… The Avengers?"

Hiddleston got a big smile on his face (remind me to play poker with this guy sometime) and said, "Well, actually, that's not far off.  What I've heard so far makes it sound like I'll have a great time in 'The Aven'--" and that's as far as he got before Kevin Feige leapt the full 40 feet in one move, leaning in close, and power-whispering something in Hiddleston's ear.  The smile vanished and a suddenly-shaken Hiddleston continued.  "You know, perhaps I'm not in 'The Avengers' after all."

Thankfully, that one slip of the tongue did not cost us one of the best villains in the Marvel movie universe, because today's official press release confirms that Hiddleston is going to be in the movie and it also lays out who else we'll be seeing in the mega-movie, while still managing to keep the actual nature of the threat they're facing (coughSkrullscough) a mystery.

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<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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