X-Men: First Class
20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality and brief profanity.
Classic “Origins” Prequel Reveals Roots of Mutants’ Superpowers
The release of a prequel is normally a sign that a franchise is running out of steam. But that isn’t the case with X-Men: First Class, a very worthy extension of the Marvel Comics franchise. This classic “origins” episode is devoted to the derivation of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr’s (Michael Fassbender) superpowers and to these archenemies’ emergence as Professor X and Magneto, respectively.
The film opens during World War II inside a concentration camp where we find Erik, a suspected mutant, being pressured at gunpoint by a Nazi scientist (Kevin Bacon) to demonstrate his ability to move a coin with no hands. When he fails to comply, the sadistic Dr. Shaw callously shoots the boy’s mother to death right on the spot.
Enraged, Erik is suddenly able to summon his superhuman magnetizing skills to kill a couple of guards but Shaw manages to escape. Understandably, the trauma of witnessing the murder leaves the kid obsessed with exacting vengeance on the murderer.
At the same time of Erik’s internment, Charles is growing up in New York City with a silver spoon in his mouth. There, the orphaned, 10-year-old heir to a family fortune has been learning how to harness his own special gift, namely, mental telepathy.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and Erik is still trying to track down Dr. Shaw on a trail that is taking him from Switzerland to Argentina to Miami. Meanwhile, Charles is just returning to the States after earning a Ph.D. at Oxford where he majored in Mutantology.
Their paths intersect soon after the CIA seeks Dr. Xavier’s advice about assembling a top-secret team of genetic anomalies to neutralize the efforts of an evil counterpart bent on world domination, none other than the diabolical Dr. Shaw. This initially makes pacifist Professor X and revenge-minded Magneto easy allies, until the former’s peaceful nature comes in conflict with the latter’s personal agenda.
Unfolding against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, X-Men: First Class takes considerable cinematic license with the truth, though very cleverly weaving myriad Marvel characters into factual events in a most entertaining fashion. The upshot is a fanciful, revisionist history suggesting that mutants might have played a pivotal role in the resolution of an infamous Cold War incident.
In this regard, the film is reminiscent of Inglourious Basterds, a Quentin Tarantino tour de force, which had Hitler assassinated by an interracial couple in a movie theatre instead of committing suicide in his underground bunker. What’s next? How about a flick where the D-Day assault on the beach at Normandy is led by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I probably shouldn’t be giving Hollywood these ideas for free.
Excellent (4 stars).
In English, French and German with subtitles.
Running time: 132 Minutes.
Wrekin Hill Entertainment
Ostracized Teen Overcomes Teasing in Coming of Age Musical Comedy
In some ways, 14-year-old Spork (Savannah Stehlin) is your typical adolescent trying to negotiate her way through those awkward years. Her being frizzy-haired, overweight and hailing from the wrong side of the tracks makes her easy prey for Cherry Lane Middle School’s exclusive clique of popular blondes led by the insufferable Betsy Byotch (Rachel G. Fox).
But Spork has considerable additional burdens to bear, being an orphan whose mother died after her father abandoned the family. Since then, she’s been raised in a trailer park by her big brother, Spit (Rodney Eastman). He’s the one who came up with her sibilant nickname inspired by the hybrid of a spoon and a fork, due to the fact that she has both male and female sex organs.
Spit’s publicly outing his sister as a hermaphrodite has only added to her sense of social isolation, as her tormentors have taken to referring to her as everything from “Fagatron” to a “He-She.” Consequently, Spork now hangs with the African-American crowd, basically because of the support of her best friend, Tootsie Roll (Sydney Park). And even though she has no rhythm, with the black kids’ blessing, encouragement and coaching, she decides to enter her school’s Annual Dance-Off Competition.
That, in a nutshell, sets up the eventual big showdown around which Spork revolves, as quirky a coming-of-age comedy as you are ever apt to encounter. Written and directed by J.B. Ghuman, Jr., the picture might be best thought of as a cross of Kick-Ass and Napoleon Dynamite; or better yet as Mean Girls meets The Revenge Of The Nerds.
It’s admittedly fun to root for such an abject underdog, although while watching this screwball adventure, I couldn’t help but wonder whether students in junior high are really quite as precocious nowadays as these sexually active characters. Fair warning: some of the ethnic humor is of questionable taste, like when the white dance team performs in blackface or when a fat Chinese kid is called a “Chunk.”
Spoiler alert: Spork not only ultimately prevails, but she even manages to win the heart of a cute and sensitive, gender-ambiguous admirer (Michael William Arnold). Proof positive that hermaphrodites are people, deserving of Hollywood endings, too!
Very Good (3 stars).
Running time: 86 Minutes.
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening June 10, 2011
Judy Moody And The NOT Bummer Summer (PG for mild epithets and rude humor). Jordana Beatty stars in the title role of this madcap adaptation of the children’s best seller about a feisty third grader who finds herself dreading the prospect of spending a boring summer vacation with her annoying little brother (Parris Mosteller) and an awful aunt (Heather Graham) whom she’s never met. With Kristoffer Ryan Winters, Janet Varney and Jaleel “Urkel” White.
Super 8 (PG-13 for profanity, drug use and intense violence). Fantasy thriller set in Ohio in 1979 about a group of friends who come to suspect that the train wreck they witnessed wasn’t an accident when the disaster is followed by a series of unexplainable disappearances. Cast includes Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee and Joel Courtney.
Agrarian Utopia (Unrated). Visually-captivating, salt-of-the-earth saga highlighting how peasants farming the rice paddies of Thailand are being exploited by avaricious bankers playing a rigged form of capitalism. Starring Prayad, Sompong and Sai Jumma, and Nikorn and Somnuek Mungmeung, (In Thai with subtitles.)
Bride Flight (R for sexuality and graphic nudity). Romance drama delineating the diverging fates of three Dutch refugees: a fashion designer (Anna Drijver), a farm girl (Karina Smulders) and a barren spinster (Elise Schaap), all of whom emigrate from Holland to New Zealand after World War II to enter arranged marriages. (In Dutch and English with subtitles.)
Just Like Us (R for profanity). Cross-cultural, comedy flick, shot in both the U.S. and the Middle East, and featuring standup routines by such talented comics as Ahmed Ahmed, Whitney Cummings, Tommy Davidson and Sherif Azab.
One Lucky Elephant (Unrated). Poignant, pachyderm whisperer documentary examining the end of the relationship of the ailing owner of a traveling circus and the orphaned 18-year-old elephant he rescued in the wild and raised practically from birth.
Queen Of The Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? (Unrated). Endangered species expose’ examining the mysterious decimation of the honeybee population all around the globe, except New Zealand. Includes pontificating by perplexed experts like botanist Hugh Wilson, swarm catcher Jacqueline Freeman and entomologist May Berenbaum.
Reversion (Unrated). Apocalyptic sci-fi drama set in an altered City of Los Angeles where the past, present and future unfold simultaneously, revolving around a black woman (Leslie Silva) struggling to remain faithful to her man (Jason Olive) in the wake of a genetic mutation which has left her with a lack of morality. Support cast includes Tom Maden, Jason Frost, Indira Wilson and Justin Huen.
The Trip (Unrated). Culinary comedy chronicling character actor Steve Coogan’s sampling of British cuisine while accompanied on a tour of England’s finest restaurants by his best friend/colleague, Rob Brydon.
Trollhunter (Unrated). Scandinavian horror flick about some students investigating a series of bear killings who get the surprise of their lives when they realize that the person responsible is actually a bloodthirsty troll hunter (Otto Jespersen). With Johanna Morck, Knut Naerum and Erik Bach. (In Norwegian with subtitles)
Viva Riva! (Unrated). Congo drama about a smooth operator (Patsha Bay) who masterminds a nefarious plot to pilfer a fortune in petrolium when not lavishing attention on his luscious girlfriend (Manie Malone). With Hoji Fortuna, Marlene Longange and Alex Herabo. (In French and Lingala with subtitles.)