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In the US's crosshairs, Assange gets his close-up in 'Risk'

Laura Poitras announces early in her Julian Assange documentary "Risk": "This is not the film I thought I was making."

"I thought I could ignore the contradictions," the Oscar-winning "Citizenfour" filmmaker says in a voiceover. "I thought they were not part of the story. I was so wrong. They are becoming the story."

Decoding "the story" when it comes to the WikiLeaks founder has never been easy. It's evolving even now, just as Poitras' six-years-in-the-making documentary — one made with rare access to an explosively controversial figure under ever-increasing international pressure — is hitting theaters.

Following WikiLeaks publishing of a trove of CIA hacking documents in March, the Department of Justice is reportedly preparing to seek the arrest of Assange, who has been holed away in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for nearly five years to avoid extradition to Sweden. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton blamed "Russian WikiLeaks" for swaying November's election by publishing hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee. (Assange, responding Wednesday on Twitter, told Clinton to "Blame yourself.")

Also on Wednesday, FBI director James Comey, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the FBI had "high confidence" Russia was behind the DNC hacking. Comey said WikiLeaks was publishing damaging "intelligence porn." Assange responded on Twitter Thursday, accusing Comey of lying during his testimony.

Poitras, whose "Citizenfour" went behind the headlines to reveal NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, initially hoped that "Risk" would do something similar for Assange. She was making an intimate documentary about a brave visionary who risks everything in his crusade to make governments transparent. But, like many others who have been confounded by the WikiLeaks founder, Poitras underwent an evolution in her opinion of Assange. It's a journey she documents in the film, running right up until now.

"The ambivalence and struggle, I share that. I did try to let the audience see a very complex picture. And I grapple with it," Poitras said in an interview Tuesday. "For me, I absolutely support and defend their right to publish and I think that they have brought forward extraordinarily important information through their publishing. And I'm also disturbed by some of the things that are said in the film and I didn't want to exclude those things. That's not my job, to paint a simplistic portrait."

Poitras first contacted Assange in 2010 after WikiLeaks published the "Collateral Murder" video, which showed a U.S. helicopter in Iraq shooting several men, including two Reuters journalists. Poitras, who became focused on making films about post-9/11 surveillance, was welcomed into Assange's inner circle. "Risk" captures some of the inside drama behind many earth-shattering WikiLeaks publications; it opens with Assange trying to reach Clinton at the State Department ahead of the imminent leak of thousands of diplomatic cables.

It also shows Assange in a bracingly intimate, sometimes surreal way: getting his hair cut by his loyal followers; disguising himself before fleeing to Ecuador's embassy; being interviewed by Lady Gaga. There are hints, too, of the accusations that have often followed him, like that he runs WikiLeaks like its own intelligence agency.

Poitras first premiered the film a year ago at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was received largely positively. But some questioned whether Poitras was too closely aligned with her subject. Variety wondered if it was a "glorified fan film." The Guardian labeled it "an embedded report that sacrifices impartiality for access."

"I never define myself as an activist. I define myself as a journalist and a filmmaker," said Poitras. "There's a long tradition of journalism that's first-person perspective. I don't think that journalism is by definition activism. I think it's just stories that are told from a subjective point of view."

But developments that followed that premiere led Poitras to recut her film. She added the voiceovers that question and occasionally distance herself from Assange. She updated the film to include the DNC leak and allegations of a Russian connection, and even late last month went back in to include Attorney General Jeff Sessions vow to make Assange's arrest "a priority."

Numerous alleged victims also came forward to accuse Jacob Appelbaum, a WikiLeaks insider and significant personality in the film, of sexual harassment and bullying. (Appelbaum has denied it.) Poitras added to the film her acknowledgement of a previous relationship with Appelbaum and said he was abusive to someone close to her after their relationship ended. A representative for Appelbaum didn't respond to a request for comment about the film or abuse allegations.

Slate, however, still criticized the updated "Risk" as "what happens when a filmmaker gets too close to her subject." Yet "Risk" also repeatedly shows questionable behavior by Assange. In one scene he calls the rape allegation in Sweden, which he has denied, "a thoroughly tawdry radical feminist political positioning thing."

Poitras has shown him multiple cuts of the film. Before the Cannes screening, he texted her that he considers "Risk" ''a threat" to him personally.

"There were pressuring demands that I remove scenes from the film — that I didn't — that involved what he was talking about in terms of the Swedish case," said Poitras. "I don't think he has legitimate reason to (perceive the film as a threat)."

Assange and WikiLeaks also did not respond to requests for comment.

"Citizenfour" came about while Poitras was working on "Risk." She was contacted by Snowden, who said he wanted to leak NSA documents to her, and she put him in touch with reporter Glenn Greenwald and documented their clandestine meetings in a Hong Kong hotel room.

"I got pulled into the story in a way that I never anticipated. Being pulled into the story led to all different types of conflicts and shifting relationships that happened that are in the film," said Poitras. "I'm part of the story now."

She nearly abandoned the Assange project but, convinced of its value to history, eventually returned to it.

"This is a moment of shifting power dynamics and how the internet is impacting that, for better and for worse," said Poitras. "We have a president now who communicates through Twitter. The film, I think, is trying to capture that historical moment."

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

#MayTheFourthBeWithYou: 'Star Wars' fans celebrate unofficial holiday

It's that time again.

May 4 is unofficially known as "Star Wars Day" in honor of the pun-tastic phrase, "May the fourth be with you."

>> Photos: Carrie Fisher through the years

Naturally, fans flocked to social media to pay tribute to the popular films, this year paying special attention to Princess Leia actress Carrie Fisher, who died last year. 

>> Click here or scroll down to see what people were saying on social media

Alec Baldwin: Trump is 'Saturday Night Live' head writer

Alec Baldwin welcomes the chance to share the screen with President Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live."

"I think if he came it would be a great show," Baldwin said in an interview Wednesday. "I think it would be better for everybody. It's always fun to defuse some of the tensions and unpleasantness of all this because we are mocking him — by no means with more frequency or more maliciousness, if you will, than other people."

But he will have to wait. The actor, whose Trump impersonations became a staple this season and helped propel "SNL" to its best ratings in years, said the president recently turned down an invitation to appear on the NBC show.

"We invited him to come when I hosted recently, but he refused to come, which is fine," Baldwin said. "I'm hoping 'SNL' was the one thing he chose to ignore so he could actually do his job."

Trump has repeatedly bashed "SNL" and Baldwin's impersonations on Twitter, but the actor said his performance is driven by Trump's words and actions.

"Trump himself is responsible for nearly all of the content," he said. "Trump is the head writer at 'SNL.' Nearly everything, every consonant and every vowel is something that Trump himself has rendered in some way. So I think Trump is even more frustrated because he has only himself to blame for that."

He also praised Jimmy Kimmel, who on Monday night detailed how his son was born last month with a heart defect and required surgery. Kimmel's tearful monologue included a plea for all families to have access to life-saving medical care.

"Good for him to get real about that," said Baldwin, who's a father of four. "I'd love to see this country turn in a direction where it makes things easier for moms and dads."

Baldwin said he has reached out to Kimmel, who was his co-star in the animated film "The Boss Baby."

"I can't imagine any time in your life when you buckle down more and kind of batten down the hatches more than when you're going through that with your wife," Baldwin said. "That's just mind blowing. Mind blowing. And I hope everything is great for his son."

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Follow Nicole Evatt on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NicoleEvatt

Man who claimed he created 'Kung Fu Panda' gets prison

A Massachusetts man who falsely claimed he first came up with the character and story for the 2008 animated movie "Kung Fu Panda" has been sentenced to two years in prison.

Jayme Gordon also was ordered Wednesday in federal court in Boston to pay more than $3 million in restitution. He was convicted of wire fraud and perjury charges in November.

The 51-year-old Gordon had filed a lawsuit in 2011 designed to obtain a multimillion-dollar settlement from DreamWorks Animation SKG.

Prosecutors say Gordon fabricated and backdated drawings of characters similar to those in "Kung Fu Panda," lied repeatedly during his deposition and destroyed computer evidence.

Prosecutors say beyond what they called superficial similarities, the panda characters and story that Gordon created have little in common with DreamWorks' movie.

Review: Timing couldn't be better for Poitras doc on Assange

The WikiLeaks founder is getting his locks trimmed, and the rapt, loving attention being paid to this process by co-workers in the room — who, like a team of Hollywood stylists, take turns with the scissors and offer suggestions — makes it look like he's about to go accept a lifetime achievement Oscar. Poitras may have included this scene as a rare light moment — a counterpoint to everything else — but it also gives us a sense of the man and his relationship with those who work for him.

It also shows, as do so many scenes here, the seemingly limitless access Poitras had to her subject, whom she began filming about six years ago. Just as in another recent, also excellent documentary, "Weiner," a moment comes where you just think, "Whoa, how was she allowed to do this?" Indeed, Poitras says the same thing. "Sometimes I can't believe what Julian allows me to film," she says in voiceover. "It's a mystery to me why he trusts me, because I don't think he likes me."

Whether he likes her or not, and whatever the changing nature of their relationship — there's been talk of a falling out, but it's murky — the leeway Assange gave Poitras is what elevates this film to must-see viewing. Yes, Poitras, an Oscar winner for "Citizenfour" about Edward Snowden, seems less aggressive at times than she could be in investigating what makes Assange tick. Lady Gaga, in a bizarre cameo, is freer with her questions. But it's hard to quibble with the result.

And it's hard to imagine a documentary could be more timely. On Tuesday, three days before the film's opening, Hillary Clinton came out and said that but for two factors — FBI director James Comey, and WikiLeaks — she'd be president. As Poitras makes sure to point out in the final minutes of her film — one of its last lines is a newscaster announcing Donald Trump's election — Assange has become a key figure in the narrative of the 2016 campaign. And she has gotten closer to him than any filmmaker is ever likely to. Editing right until the end, and nearly a year after a version screened at Cannes, Poitras even rushed last week to incorporate remarks by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that arresting Assange is a priority.

Assange, of course, is still living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he took refuge nearly five years ago to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he'd been accused of rape, accusations he denies. He has said he fears ultimately being extradited to the United States and being tried for espionage. In March, WikiLeaks released nearly 8,000 documents that it says reveal secrets about the CIA's cyberespionage tools. Previously it published hundreds of thousands of State Department cables and U.S. military logs from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's with the sex accusations that the film gets thorny — that is, if you're trying to decide either how Poitras really feels about her subject. The scenes that touch upon Assange's attitude toward these accusations present him in a light that can only be deemed unflattering, even if you're in the camp that admires much else about him.

We see, for example, Assange being counseled by his attorney, Helena Kennedy, in "getting your mind around using language that doesn't sound hostile to women." He argues that the whole affair is "a thoroughly tawdry radical feminist political positioning thing." Her frustration is palpable. Later, Assange tells Poitras that if the two women involved pursue a court case, "they'll be reviled forever by a large section of the population." His self-image is clearly healthy. At another point he tells Poitras that his "profile" didn't really take off, globally, until the sex case.

It's hard to reconcile these scenes with the reflective man who tells Poitras: "Every day you live your life, you lose another day. You don't have that many. So if you're not fighting for things you care about, then ... you are losing."

The current version of "Risk" is said to be much less flattering to Assange than the early one, and Poitras is upfront about the contradictions. "This is not the film I thought I was making," she says. "I thought I could ignore the contradictions, I thought they were not part of the story. I was so wrong. They're becoming the story."

However you feel about Assange — and about risk, secrecy, and so many other things touched on by this film — it's a story that demands watching.

"Risk," a Neon release, is unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 95 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Q&A: Michael Mann on the restored 'Heat,' 22 years later

"This crew is good," declares Al Pacino's Los Angeles detective Vincent Hanna in Michael Mann's sprawling noir saga "Heat." Hanna is speaking of Neil McCauley's (Robert De Niro) criminal gang but the same could also be said of Mann and his production team.

The sheer filmmaking rigor is one of the things on display in the "Heat" Blu-ray, out Tuesday, that includes a number of insights into Mann's 1995 opus of driven men and the women who suffer their obsessions. It features a glorious restoration of the film, the most pristine presentation yet of Mann's heavily researched investigation into the night — a recurring fascination for the intrepid director of "Collateral" and "Miami Vice."

It was and remains the quintessential Mann film. Preceded by "The Last of the Mohicans" and followed by "The Insider," ''Heat" found the director — and his legendary leads — at the very top of their game: the thunderous downtown Los Angeles shootout, the historic Pacino-De Niro tete-a-tete, the panorama of characters.

Taking a break from developing a miniseries of Mark Bowden's upcoming Tet Offensive history, "Hue 1968" — a project he is bursting with enthusiasm for — Mann spoke recently about "Heat," 22 years later.

AP: What did you want to accomplish with this restoration?

Mann: What I wanted to do was take it away from the way the world would have seemed, seen 22 years ago, and into the way the world is now. Everything evolves, including what we think is real, how we see light and shadow on a human face, what constitutes a dramatic aspect. I think we probably went into every shot of the film.

AP: You're co-writing a novel prequel to "Heat." Is that something that could turn into a film?

Mann: It may be. It's a ways away. There's a lot of work that's going to have to go into that.

AP: One striking aspect of "Heat" is how you linger on the deaths of various characters, as if taking a moment to contemplate the choices that brought them to their fate.

Mann: I'm a big believer in causality. I think if there was an instrument to measure all the micro-causal tracks between what causes a thing to happen and the effect, it would all be knowable. We don't have that instrument.

AP: This film and others of yours, like "The Insider," are about men consumed by their work. Are you drawn to these stories because the same is true of you?

Mann: I don't know, maybe. Do I have to be lying down to answer this question? Listen, drama to me is conflict. Conflict is usually some kind of collision. Collision between two slackers isn't really that interesting. "Do you want to watch TV at my house or your house?" It tends to take you into people who are pretty proficient at what they do, or want to be good at what they do, or ambitious.

AP: Do you grant that you're an obsessively detailed filmmaker?

Mann: I plead guilty to being ambitious. I wish I wasn't that ambitious sometimes because I love shooting. Some directors don't like shooting. I actually like shooting. I would lead a very happy life as a journeyman director and I'm incapable of it. But I have to feel pretty passionate about something.

AP: The coffee shop scene famously for the first time united Pacino and De Niro on screen. Yet you avoided a wide shot of them both fully in the frame and stuck to over-the-shoulder shots. Why?

Mann: I hadn't intended on excluding a wide shot until the editing. Every time we (Mann and editor Dov Hoenig) put that shot in, it let the air out of the balloon. It deflated the intensity. ... When you stopped being empathetically projected over Al's shoulder of Bob or vice versa, but then became an observer looking at the two of them, it stopped being quite as intensely immersive.

AP: Instead, they aren't fully seen together until the final shot of the film, that incredible crescendo scored by Moby .

Mann: By the way, he was integral in the editing. He was fascinated with the film. We had a strange (round-the-clock) editing situation. ... Often, I'd get in in the morning and Moby would be there sleeping under one of the Avids or something because he was hanging around quite a bit.

AP: Has "Heat," in particular, remained with you? The characters seem to still rattle around your head.

Mann: Well, they all do. "The Insider" and "Heat" are two films I've never really changed. They didn't need any modification. There's a line I'd take out of "Heat" if I was ever motivated to. I'm not going to tell you what it is, though.

AP: Pacino has a few famously big, theatrical moments in the film. He's claimed his character has an unseen cocaine habit that explains some of the behavior.

Mann: That kind of provocation and verbal, psychological assault is absolutely what guys who are good at doing this will do. That's kind of where it comes from. And the scene with Hank Azaria, as well. By this point, Al and I were almost three-quarters of the way through shooting the film and it was Azaria's first day on the set. Al and I had a kind of shorthand communication about "I'm going to try something" or "I'm going to do a free one," which meant that we had gotten the scene and "Let me just rip and see what's going to happen spontaneously." He and I would always do these. I said, "Great, go ahead." We had forgotten to clue in Azaria. So all of a sudden Al explodes all over the place. The look on Azaria's face.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

The top 10 movies on the iTunes Store

iTunes Movies US Charts:

1.Fifty Shades Darker (Unrated)

2.La La Land

3.Split (2017)

4.The Founder

5.Hidden Figures

6.Underworld: Blood Wars

7.Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

8.Moana (2016)

9.Lion

10.Why Him?

iTunes Movies US Charts - Independent:

1.Christine (2016)

2.Carrie Pilby

3.Manchester By the Sea

4.Betting on Zero

5.Moonlight

6.Queen of the Desert

7.The Descendants

8.A Dark Song

9.We Are X

10.The Void

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(copyright) 2017 Apple Inc.

Review: The rot of American wealth is on 'The Dinner' menu

the ominous music and the camera movements make these painstakingly designed and exorbitantly expensive dishes seem like all that is evil in the modern world. It's a sense that sticks with you throughout writer-director Oren Moverman's grandly ambitious, if not wholly successful film.

Based on the Dutch novel by Herman Koch, the set-up is small but instantly intriguing. Two married couples are gathering for dinner to discuss something sensitive, something to do with their teenage sons — creating the atmosphere of genuinely suspenseful whodunit. One is a charismatic congressman who's running for governor, Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) and his primly coiffed (and quite young) wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). The other is Stan's perpetually aggrieved brother, Paul (Steve Coogan) and his tolerant wife, Claire (Laura Linney).

Paul, a former public school teacher who is obsessed with the Civil War, doesn't want to go to the dinner. He hates the dripping decadence and pretention of the restaurant and does not seem interested in pretending to be anything but disdainful of the operation, even as the eager hosts and perfectly pleasant maître d' (Michael Chernus) proudly explain what's on each dish and why it's so special. Paul's awkward stubbornness is even a little endearing at first — he seems to be on to something worthy about wealth and opulence as he manages to embarrass the staff, his brother and his wife. But as the meal, and film progress, his true makeup emerges. Paul might have big Marxist ideas at the ready, but he comes from the same immensely advantaged stock as his brother Stan.

As each course comes out, a new layer is exposed in the complex tapestry of the lives of the two Lohman families — Stan's first wife Barbara (Chloe Sevigny), various health issues, of the mental and physical variety, and the deep-seated damage and corrosiveness of long-unchecked privilege.

The performances are first rate — nuanced and lived in from the first moments of performative civility to the shattering barbs thrown by the end — even if the women are given the comparatively short stick here. But it is, essentially, about the brothers and both Coogan and Gere are up to the challenge.

It takes a little too long for the movie to arrive at the Big Thing. "The Dinner" does not weave time and revelations as elegantly as, say, "Manchester by the Sea" did just last year. There are so many fits and starts and diversions and delays that even the most patient viewer will have a hard time buying that it would take these four this long to get to the point. By the time they do, the natural interest has slowed and patience is waning. But with the revelation, however tardy, a new ethical and moral conundrum arises which effectively propels the film to its fiery end. It might even leave you wanting more.

To be perfectly blunt, though, "The Dinner" is not an easy watch, and it may be hard to stomach for some. If I may offer a suggestion: "The Dinner" is best consumed with a very stiff drink by your side, possibly alone.

"The Dinner," a The Orchard release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "disturbing violent content, and language throughout." Running time: 120 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

Box office top 20: 'Furious' takes a victory lap

Before the arrival of "Guardians and the Galaxy Vol. 2," ''The Fate of the Furious" took one more victory lap at the North American box office, leading all movies in ticket sales for the third straight week.

The film, which has passed $1 billion globally, grossed $19.9 million domestically over the weekend, according to final box office figures from comScore on Monday. The reign of the "Furious" sequel, however, is sure to end this weekend when "Guardians" kicks off the summer season.

In the lull between blockbusters, several smaller films did relatively strong business. The Eugenio Derbez comedy "How to Be a Latin Lover," opened in second with $12.2 million. It drew an 89 percent Latino audience. And the South Indian film "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion" came in third with $10.4 million despite playing on only 420 screens.

Both films bested the badly reviewed Emma Watson and Tom Hanks thriller "The Circle," which debuted with $9 million.

The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by comScore:

1. "The Fate Of The Furious," Universal, $19,936,540, 4,077 locations, $4,890 average, $193,268,115, 3 Weeks.

2. "How To Be A Latin Lover," Lionsgate, $12,252,439, 1,118 locations, $10,959 average, $12,252,439, 1 Week.

3. "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion," Great India Films, $10,354,532, 425 locations, $24,364 average, $10,354,532, 1 Week.

4. "The Boss Baby," 20th Century Fox, $9,372,386, 3,739 locations, $2,507 average, $148,787,970, 5 Weeks.

5. "The Circle," STX Entertainment, $9,034,148, 3,163 locations, $2,856 average, $9,034,148, 1 Week.

6. "Beauty And The Beast," Disney, $6,825,595, 3,155 locations, $2,163 average, $480,525,828, 7 Weeks.

7. "Going In Style," Warner Bros., $3,607,144, 2,761 locations, $1,306 average, $37,346,914, 4 Weeks.

8. "Smurfs: The Lost Village," Sony, $3,558,031, 2,554 locations, $1,393 average, $37,977,532, 4 Weeks.

9. "Gifted," Fox Searchlight, $3,364,270, 2,215 locations, $1,519 average, $15,894,295, 4 Weeks.

10. "Unforgettable," Warner Bros., $2,412,141, 2,417 locations, $998 average, $8,950,960, 2 Weeks.

11. "Born In China," Disney, $2,385,812, 1,508 locations, $1,582 average, $8,819,843, 2 Weeks.

12. "Lost City Of Z, The," Bleecker Street, $1,806,634, 866 locations, $2,086 average, $4,913,080, 3 Weeks.

13. "Get Out," Universal, $1,710,240, 1,563 locations, $1,094 average, $172,534,250, 10 Weeks.

14. "Sleight," OTL Releasing, $1,701,785, 565 locations, $3,012 average, $1,701,785, 1 Week.

15. "The Promise," Open Road, $1,443,046, 2,251 locations, $641 average, $7,067,064, 2 Weeks.

16. "Kong: Skull Island," Warner Bros., $1,121,735, 933 locations, $1,202 average, $165,487,121, 8 Weeks.

17. "The Zookeeper's Wife," Focus Features, $991,805, 997 locations, $995 average, $14,808,000, 5 Weeks.

18. "The Case For Christ," Pure Flix, $989,072, 1,050 locations, $942 average, $13,054,237, 4 Weeks.

19. "Power Rangers," Lionsgate, $855,661, 889 locations, $962 average, $84,234,169, 6 Weeks.

20. "Logan," 20th Century Fox, $771,459, 614 locations, $1,256 average, $224,508,170, 9 Weeks.

5 things you don't know about Baby Groot of 'Guardians'

Baby Groot was "born" at the end of the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" film, and the extraterrestrial, treelike creature is a tiny, scene-stealing superhero in "Vol. 2."

Voiced by Vin Diesel, the computer-generated character usually says just one thing — "I am Groot" — but it means everything, and his intergalactic comrades always seem to understand his (often foul-mouthed) message.

Groot — regenerated from the massive tree-like character in the first film — can grow his arms and legs into twisted branches that can open doors and drawers and pull him into and out of tight spots, but here are five things you don't know about the woodsy humanoid:

1. Groot apparently took on various duties behind the camera. Stay tuned through the closing credits of "Guardians, Vol. 2" to spot Groot's "contributions" throughout. Groot's name appears throughout the credits — in graphics, special effects and various other departments — which are worth sitting through for the inevitable Marvel movie-ending "Easter eggs" that hint at future action.

2. Baby Groot is an unofficial Earth Day ambassador. Marvel, which considers Groot to be "the galaxy's top tree," joined with the Disney Conservation Fund and the Nature Conservancy to plant a tree every time the hashtag #GrootDanceBomb shows up on social media. Marvel aims to donate $250,000 by the time the film opens Friday.

3. Baby Groot's sweet appearance belies his terrible temper. "He's completely adorable, but has a lot more anger issues than adult Groot did," says writer-director James Gunn.

4. Co-starring alongside actors Dave Bautista and Chris Pratt, who both stand over 6 feet, Baby Groot proved to be a challenge for the cinematographers framing the shots. They used a sculpture of the 10-inch diminutive character, which was created entirely in CGI for the film, and special camera rigging to capture Baby Groot's perspective amid the other superheroes.

5. Franchise star Pratt, who plays Guardians leader Star-Lord, knew early on in the filming that he could be upstaged by his tiny co-star. During the opening sequence, while the Guardians battle a massive, multi-jawed space slug, the camera stays focused on a dancing Baby Groot in the foreground. Gunn recalled Pratt looking over at the sculpture of Groot in the scene and saying, "Damn it, he's going to steal the whole movie."

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .

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