<p>'Iron Man 2'</p>

'Iron Man 2'

Credit: Paramount

Justin Theroux talks about the challenges of writing 'Iron Man 2'

How did being an actor help him write this super-blockbuster?

On a recent Saturday, I drove to the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills to sit down with two of the architects of this year's first big summer movie.  Justin Theroux, the screenwriter of the film, is also known for his work in front of the camera, and the last time I saw him, he was wearing a ridiculous wizard's costume for his role in the David Gordon Green comedy/fantasy "Your Highness."

"I look a little different now, right?" he laughed.  "I was all Lazar-ed up last time."

We chatted about my reaction to the film and the first thing I brought up was the obviously improvisational nature of much of the work in the film.  I asked him about building structure and plot when things are that fluid on-set.  "It's not hard," he said.  "I'm not a novelist." 

He explained that he prefers a collaborative atmosphere.  "Moviemaking is a socialist endeavor."  His background as an actor prepared him for the idea that these things can change dramatically each day.  "I like writing.  I like that challenge.  If someone says, 'Oh, and Mickey wants a bird in this scene,' I want to be able to figure out how to do that."

I asked if it helps on a film like this knowing exactly who he's writing for.  After all, when you've got voices like Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke and Sam Jackson and Robert Downey Jr, why not make the most of their specific voices.  "It helps that I'm an actor and I know what actors hate to say.  They can sniff out exposition.  If anything, I did a lot of that for these guys, and it's a joy."  He talked about knowing Rockwell for 20 years in New York.  "I called him up and I was like, 'Dude, you're going to do this role.  It's great.  You're going to love it.'" 

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<p>If all of the apes in Fox's new reboot of one of their oldest franchises are created with CGI, how will the modern-day Cheston play a love scene with one of them?</p>

If all of the apes in Fox's new reboot of one of their oldest franchises are created with CGI, how will the modern-day Cheston play a love scene with one of them?

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Fox formally announces an all-CG 'Apes' reboot

How new is this 'new idea'?

Reviving the "Planet Of The Apes" franchise has been a top priority for 20th Century Fox for well over a decade now, and even before they made the Tim Burton version of the film in 2001, they had spent years of development time and millions of dollars trying to figure out how to re-introduce talking monkeys to the general population.

In many ways, modern franchise filmmaking began with "Planet Of The Apes," not "Star Wars."  Over the course of five movies and both a live-action and an animated television series in the '70s, several variations were played on the basic idea of our modern-day society colliding with a future where apes have become the dominant species and mankind has become a subservient species.  Time-travel got involved and eventually the series folded in on itself.

The Tim Burton film was supposed to kick off a whole new series, but poisonous critical reaction and general public indifference killed that plan.  Recently, writer/director Scott Frank worked for a while to create a script called "Caesar" which would have jumpstarted the series, starting from a new beginning that would hopefully fold into the original run of movies, narratively-speaking.  That version also stalled out, and now Fox is moving forward with a film that will incorporate ideas from a number of different incarnations over the years.

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<p>Bayar, one of the four babies observed in the new documentary 'Babies,' enjoys a personal triumph and some fresh air.</p>

Bayar, one of the four babies observed in the new documentary 'Babies,' enjoys a personal triumph and some fresh air.

Credit: Focus Features

The M/C Review: Overbearingly adorable documentary 'Babies' is nearly abstract

A nature documentary about human infants almost plays as straight-faced joke

It's distinctly possible that "Babies" is review-proof. 

I saw the film earlier tonight at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, as part of a special promotional screening.  I'm not sure how they did the word of mouth for the event, but there were a lot of mothers with very young babies in attendance.  It was like having extra Dolby speakers sprinkled throughout the auditorium, randomly cooing and crying and blabbering.

And the movie played tonight.  It played like it was "There's Something About Mary" to that crowd, big laughs throughout.  The film is non-narrative in any traditional sense, and there's something about the visual language, the choices made in how it's cut, what is shown, that is almost like a straight-faced parody of nature documentaries.  I don't think it's intentional... I just think that the "big idea" of the film is basically shooting human babies in four different places in the world like they're wildlife, a la "Planet Earth."

Ponijao, Bayar, Hattie, and Mari are the four babies that were chosen by the filmmakers, and they live in Namibia, Mongolia, Japan, and the US, each in very specific, very different surroundings.  The film traces two years in the development of these kids, and it does so without any voice-over or any dialogue.  What little talking takes place in the film is there simply as ambient sound, part of the background of what the directors are shooting.  It's cut to compare and contrast the way these kids develop, to show a common experience in the first few years of life with a family.

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<p>Hello, Arizona?&nbsp; Danny Trejo would like a word with you.</p>

Hello, Arizona?  Danny Trejo would like a word with you.

Credit: 20th Century Fox/Troublemaker

The Morning Read: Robert Rodriguez and Danny Trejo celebrate Cinco De Mayo 'Machete' style

Plus a porno 'Batman' parody, Patton Oswalt joke theft, and more on JJ Abrams and 'Super 8'

Welcome to The Morning Read.

Over the weekend, it started to sink in.  I am turning 40 this month.  There's no way to spin that to feel like I'm young anymore.  That is a number that used to make my skin crawl when I was young.  I used to joke about making a pact with another friend with a birthday the same month that we would go on vacation and end things in a blaze of murder/suicide glory rather than face life after 40.  Now, as someone with kids and a career that's nothing like what I expected or attempted, I am in such a different headspace that I can hardly believe that younger version of me was actually me.

It's made me nostalgic for the great movie going experiences I've had in my life so far and it's made me reflect on all the intriguing twists and turns that got me to this particular point.  I consider the great movies in my life to be milestones by which I can trace my own development as a person.  I know where I was and who I was when I saw things for the first time, and one of the reasons I revisit certain films is because I know I'll be different when I get back to them, and that difference is worth observing.  When I was 19, I saw "Lawrence Of Arabia" in the theater for the first time, and it blew my mind.  On May 30, the Aero theater is showing "Lawrence" in 70MM, and I think I'm going to see how many friends I can round up to join me for that screening.  It's my favorite film, and it seems like a wonderful way to celebrate what is frankly a difficult birthday for me to internalize.

In the meantime, enough mopery... let's see what's going on out there...

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<p>Jon Favreau, seen here as Happy&nbsp;Hogan in 'Iron Man 2,' is enjoying his time as a Marvel Studios filmmaker.</p>

Jon Favreau, seen here as Happy Hogan in 'Iron Man 2,' is enjoying his time as a Marvel Studios filmmaker.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Having The Moment: Jon Favreau

The director of 'Iron Man 2' rocks the turntable for fun at the film's Austin premiere

Watching the director of one of the biggest films of the summer commandeer a DJ's gear so he could perform a full set at the Highball in Austin the other night, my wife leaned over to me and said, "I don't think he really wants to make movies.  Look how happy he is right now."

Little wonder.  Once "Iron Man 2" hits theaters on May 7, Favreau's going to be the man behind one of the biggest films of the year, so I think right now, he can afford to smile a bit.  And while some people still seem shocked that Favreau has turned into an event movie filmmaker, I'd say that a close look at "Iron Man 2" and Favreau's earlier films would reveal that he's actually perfect for this series, and that the films wouldn't work with someone who works in a different style from Favreau.

To explain, one should look at both "Swingers" and "Made," movies that were well-scripted but which came to life on the set thanks to the chemistry of the performers and their willingness to play.  When I recently spoke to Sean "P Diddy" Combs on the set of "Get Him To The Greek," he credited Favreau with preparing him for the sort of environment where lightning fast improv is not just valued but essential.  With "Iron Man 2," Favreau has embraced this sort of loose and inventive on-set mood and the result is a blockbuster that's almost entirely personality-driven.

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<p>Matthew Vaughn nearly directed 'X-Men 3' for Fox, and now rumor has him circling the series reboot 'X-Men:&nbsp;First Class'</p>

Matthew Vaughn nearly directed 'X-Men 3' for Fox, and now rumor has him circling the series reboot 'X-Men: First Class'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Updated: Matthew Vaughn directing 'X-Men: First Class'

New mutant saga will hit theaters on June 3, 2011

Updated: 5:30 PM PST - Variety is reporting that Matthew Vaughn is now signed sealed and delivered to direct "X-Men: First Class."  The studio has also set a release date of June 3, 2011 for the latest mutant adventure.

Bryan Singer will stay on board as producer alongside Lauren Schuler Donner and Simon Kinberg. 

Singer told the trade, "I've been a fan of Matthew's since 'Layer Cake.' He has a deft hand with multiple characters and storylines, and a great love of the X-Men universe. I feel the combination of this story and his vision will make for an exciting and original X-Men film."

The trade also reports the film may not center on the young mutants Professor Charles Xavier recruited to become the X-Men, but instead, on the initial friendship between Xavier and Erik Lensheer who eventually became Magneto.  The story will find them working together to stop a "global threat alongside other mutants (some familiar, some new)" until a rift lead to their eternal war chronicled in the first three "X-Men" films.  What "familiar" mutants that could mean is unclear.

Production is expected to begin sometime this summer.  Look for continuing updates on this story in Motion Captured and on HitFix.

- Gregory Ellwood

Original post: 8:30 AM PST

After the release of "X-Men 2: X-Men United," it seemed like a sure bet that 20th Century Fox and Bryan Singer would make a third film in the series and wrap up the story threads that the hugely successful sequel had so carefully laid out. Then things famously went south between Singer and the studio, and at one point got so bad that Singer was escorted off the Fox lot at the end of the one week by security, then working the following week on the lot directing a pilot. 

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<p>JJ&nbsp;Abrams, shown here directing 'Star Trek,' has just shot a top-secret trailer for a new film called 'Super 8,' and you'll see it in theaters this weekend.</p>

JJ Abrams, shown here directing 'Star Trek,' has just shot a top-secret trailer for a new film called 'Super 8,' and you'll see it in theaters this weekend.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

EXCLUSIVE: Want to know the title of the secret JJ Abrams film?

Even better, want to know when the top secret trailer premieres?

JJ Abrams loves secrets.

By now, anyone who knows his work knows that he loves to play games with his audience, both onscreen and in the way he markets his movies.  There's a brilliance to the way his game starts from the moment he releases a trailer, or even from the way he and his collaborators design their trailers.  They shroud their productions in total secrecy and they try various ways to obfuscate what they're doing, and they're as good at it as anyone in town.

So what if I told you JJ Abrams had a mystery box called "Super 8" all gift-wrapped and ready for everyone to open this week, and there hasn't been a single word written about it online so far?

Impressive, don't you think?

And absolutely true.  When audiences sit down for screenings of "Iron Man 2" this weekend, they're going to see trailers for other summer movies that they've already heard of, and then they'll also get their first look at a movie that Abrams is producing via a teaser trailer he directed, much like the teaser trailer that announced "Cloverfield" to an unsuspecting audience in front of "Transformers."  That was almost a complete surprise when it happened, although someone did manage to pierce the veil of secrecy before the trailer showed up.

So what is this trailer?  What, precisely, is in JJ's new mystery box?

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<p>It appears that Ashley C. Williams from 'The Human Centipede' has been listening to this week's episode of The Motion/Captured Podcast.</p>

It appears that Ashley C. Williams from 'The Human Centipede' has been listening to this week's episode of The Motion/Captured Podcast.

Credit: IFC Films

Listen: The Motion/Captured Podcast #4

Special guest Scott Swan discusses 'Human Centipede,' 'A Nightmare On Elm Street,' Roger Ebert on 3D, 'Armageddon' on Blu-ray and more

I have heard your repeated requests for an iTunes option for this podcast, and we're absolutely going to do it.  It's a process on our end, and we're in the midst of it right now.  Bear with me for another week or so, and we'll get it done.  I promise.

However, if this week isn't the week that we end up on iTunes, don't sweat it.  One of the things I'm going to have to learn to get used to in doing a podcast is that I can't revise and tinker and rewrite the way I do with my prose pieces.  I don't think this is a bad episode, per se, but I think I was unnecessarily glib when recording it, and this is the first one that I felt dissatisfied with after I finished editing it.

"Yay!" I can hear you saying.  "How fast can I download it?"

Don't get me wrong.  I'm just a control freak, and one of the things I'm starting to realize is that when you recording something conversational, you have to be willing to let some of that control go.  It's a hard thing to get used to, but it's made me more eager to get good at this.  It is a radically different skill set than writing a review or building a narrative out of a set visit.

This week, James Rocchi (who can always find at MSN Movies) joins Scott Swan and I for a round of Movie God in which Scott makes choices that inspire James to label him "crazy."  If you'd like to send in pairings for future games of Movie God, please do.

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<p>This is real.&nbsp; This is happening.&nbsp; And not you or any of your friends can stop it.</p>

This is real.  This is happening.  And not you or any of your friends can stop it.

Credit: Satan/Sony Pictures

The Morning Read: 'Thor' gets pantsed as part of a crazy superhero rumor blizzard

Plus JJ Abrams rumors swirling and 'Piranha 3D' gets a trailer

Welcome to The Morning Read.

Time to wrap the week up, and it's been a strange one.  They all are these days, though, aren't they?

No matter what, they're making a "Smurfs" movie, and it's from the director of "Scooby-Doo" and "Home Alone 3," so you can count on it being of the highest possible quality.  Especially when it features Hank Azaria looking like this.  No, really.  That's a good idea.  I'm sure of it.

It's frustrating for studio publicists these days, because it seems like the game for movie sites is to run every piece of information they get the second they get it, no matter what.  I've never been of that mind, personally, and in the overall balance of things, I've kept waaaaaay more secrets over the years than I've revealed.  I don't think the role of a film reporter is to ruin everything they can simply to prove they can do it.  Then again, I also don't think scoops are the main reason to do this.  I've certainly run my share over the years, and there are times I've made certain filmmakers crazy, but I try to strike a balance.  There are certainly sites out there who have the attitude that everything is fair game and they don't owe anything to any filmmaker, and that's their choice.  I think in the end, I'm engaged in an ongoing dialogue with both the readership of this blog and the people I'm writing about, and it would be slightly suicidal for me to intentionally and repeatedly burn either end of that equation. 

The most mercenary scoop site online right now is Latino Review, and I'm not using that word in any way other than descriptive.  They genuinely don't care.  Earlier this week, they ran a spy photo of a major villain from "Thor."  Not the major villain, but certainly a key part of a major sequence of the film, and what they shot was a piece of a costume.  It's a character that's going to be pulled off with a combination of techniques, and what they ran was a good indicator of just how close some of this movie's designs are going to be to things from the full history of the Marvel incarnation of the character.  Whether it's The Warriors Three or certain weapons or sets, the filmmakers seem to be using key art from the entire history of Thor as reference.  Although it's obvious from their response that Paramount is upset about the spy photo, they should count the general reaction to the image as a win. 

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<p>Chris Hemsworth is the next major Marvel superhero in 2011's 'Thor'</p>

Chris Hemsworth is the next major Marvel superhero in 2011's 'Thor'

Credit: Marvel Studios

Check it out... the first image of Chris Hemsworth as 'Thor'

Next summer's first big Marvel movie finally reveals its hero

Here's a case where a studio is taking back the conversation about a film of theirs after several online leaks, and in the best possible way.  First the "secret ending" of "Iron Man 2," which may tie in to the larger Marvel Universe in some way, was spoiled by a bootlegged version of the scene, and then a spy photo showed up online this week of  one of the major villains in "Thor."   In an effort to shift the conversation, Paramount and Marvel have now offered up the first official still of Chris Hemsworth in costume as Thor, and it's a great, evocative first look at the character.

I sincerely believe "Thor" is poised to be a major surprise hit next year, and I say "surprise" even though this is a giant-budget Marvel Studios superhero movie because I think it's still a title that is under the radar for many people.  "Thor" is in the same position now that "Iron Man" was a year before release.  Many people predicted that the general public had no idea who Iron Man was, and that they wouldn't care.  With "Thor," the question marks all seem to be about the way the studio plans to introduce Norse gods and mythology and magic into an onscreen universe that so far seems to be based in science, even if it is Marvel pseudo-science.

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