X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men:  First Class is a small indie picture from earlier this year.  You probably haven’t heard of it.  It deals with a group of young adults railing against the evils of Corporate America at the turn of the century and their influence on the Columbine tragedy, while subtly touching on the subject of net-neutrality and the dangers of an internet without Freedom of Speech.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

All joking aside, I fucking loved this movie.  I’m super pissed that I let the dark side get the better of me, and avoided it in the theatre.

Things that I loved:

Pacing.  You hear me complain about it a lot.  I do this because most movies today suffer from horrible pacing.  They’re too slow in the slow parts.  They’re too fast in the fast parts.  Not here.  The pacing is perfect.

Action.  When I watch a comic book movie, particularly an X-Men movie, I want action.  I want it to be good.  I want it to make me sit up in my seat, at the edge.  I want to see awesome powers being used to fuck people up in creative ways.  I want to scream “Fuck yeah!” when some random asshole guard gets fucked up by ridiculous mutant powers.  I did all that.
Character.  The only thing that is almost as awesome as mutant powers, is the dynamic character that the best X-People have.  Make no mistake:  This is the story of Professor X, Magneto, Mystique, Beast and Kevin Bacon (I knew there was a reason he doesn’t seem to have aged since Tremors.)  The others are tack on characters that don’t matter.  Who cares about Banshee?  (No one.  No, not even you, lone objector in the comments.  No one.)  This is about the big characters.  Their story is interesting.  Their reactions and emotions are believable, and stay in character… or rather… form the character.

We see the important moments in the lives of Chuck, Hank, Erik and Raven that shape their future.  Their origin, if you will.  In an origin story?  That’s crazy talk!  It shouldn’t be surprising that you’d see the origins of characters in an origin story…  but they’ve been fucked up so hard in the past (I’m looking at you, Lucas) that it’s actually damn near astonishing to see one that’s done well.

Cameos.  They were excellent.

Building a Universe.  Marvel Studios has been getting a lot of credit for building their non-mutant Marvel Movie Universe, heading towards The Avengers next year.  While I agree with all that praise, I have to nod towards Fox and the Mutant Marvel Universe they’re creating.  Even with the steaming pile of shit that was X3, and the ridiculous, but fun, romp that was Origins: Wolverine, they seem to laid the groundwork for another trilogy, or more, with this picture.  There are plenty of stories to be told with these characters still, and I’m looking forward to them.

Things that I didn’t love:

The Fat Guy With Glasses in me can’t always get past the little details… and here it’s no different.  I’m watching the movie and thinking to myself…  “Isn’t Raven even older than Chuck?  I thought she was, like, Wolverine old.”  “That’s not the right Angel!” “That’s not the original class at all!” “Hank’s hair looks like shit!” “I thought Kevin Bacon already learned a valuable lesson about playing chicken in Footloose!”  Turn off that voice.  You know you can do it.  Just shut it off and everything will be fine.

The poster art.  Look at that photoshop disaster.  Chuck’s head looks like Matt Stone and/or Trey Parker cut it out in cardboard and taped it there, guy.  Mags looks like he’s in the middle of walking down the runway, seconds away from stopping us all in our tracks with Blue Steel.  The only one that isn’t looking like a tool is, of course, Kevin Bacon, who is obviously now the frontrunner to replace Daniel Craig as 007 in the next movie.

That’s it, though.  I loved everything else.  At least, I don’t remember anything else I hated.  I’ve heard some people complain that January Jones was too distant as Emma Frost…  These are probably the people that complained that Eric Bana was too distant as Bruce Banner.  Or that Christian Bale seemed stiff as Batman.

Final Thoughts:

Re…. memm…  ‘Member that part where the guy was teleporting all over the place, and dropping lackeys from the sky and then Bacon basically walks in through some rubble like Vader at the beginning of Star Wars and blows the crap out of that guy that does the stuff?  FLABOOM!  Yeah… that was awesome.


Gregory Maguire’s Wicked

This review was originally posted, for the most part, at Goodreads.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

“When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked?

Gregory Maguire has created a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again.” – Goodreads blurb.

 Wicked is essentially the story of Elphaba, better known as “The Wicked Witch of the West”.  It follows her from birth to death.  It shows us her origins, and then attempts to show us her side of one of the world’s most famous stories.  Wicked has earned a great notoriety of its own.  In addition to being a successful novel, it’s a very successful Broadway musical.  Of course, like everything else, it’s also being looked at to be turned into a movie.

It’s not very often that my wife and I are both interested in reading the same book. This was one of the few times I can think of. Neither of us had heard of it before, and we spotted it on a shelf in a local thrift store.  We both saw it at the same time, and reached for it.  Reading the back cover, the premise excited us, as it has so many others.

For me, however, it failed to deliver. It came out of the gate strong. Sometimes brilliant, but sometimes preachy, I found myself mostly enjoying Elphaba’s birth and early years. But as her entrance to college started a downward spiral of less brilliance and greater preaching, I found myself enjoying the book less and less. By the end, the author seemed to be trying too hard to say too much and I lost almost all interest in Elphaba’s origins.

Added to the preaching was the fact that many things happened that seemed to be left unresolved or unexplained. Now, I don’t mean that in a “I’ll leave this for the sequel” kind of way. In attempting to ground the land of Oz to reality, you really need to go into greater details regarding the hows and whys of the Wicked Witch’s strange appearance. You should probably not explain the fantastic details of your main characters oddball traits to your reader with, effectively, the equivalent of, “I dunno… maybe her mother screwed some pixies or something?” This problem is compounded by the fact that this is supposed to be an origin story, and recurs throughout the novel.

I can see why some have greatly enjoyed the novel. Maguire’s “adult” look at the world of Oz is an interesting take. The idea that this world that we all know of as beautiful and majestic, inhabited with wonderful creatures, is actually filled with as many horrors and horrible beings as our own is quite interesting. And most of the messages Maguire tries to get across (equal/human rights, moral ambiguity, the evils of tyranny and the abuse of power, etc.) are things that many enjoy reading about.

Once it was done, though, I was glad to be through with it. I have to say that “It’s Okay.”  Thus: