X-Men: First Class

 

Let’s get this straight – I am a geek.

Wolverine #90 got me into comic books and since that fateful day in 1995 I have dipped in and out of the comic book universe as I saw fit. In fact, tracing it back further still, growing up watching Christopher Reeve save the world as Superman influenced my life with and love of the superhero genre, definitely. But we’ll come back to him later.

Back at the turn of the millennium, Bryan Singer, whose directorial arrival was heralded by the sublime Usual Suspects, was tasked with bringing the world’s most unluckiest superheroes to the big screen.

To be fair to the guy, he didn’t do a bad job. Generally considered to be more of a taster of things to come, the first X-Men film definitely proved the concept, and when X-Men 2 (X2) arrived, we finally saw Singer’s vision fully coloured in before our eyes; Wolverine cut-loose, cameos-a-plenty and of course, that epic epic Nightcrawler opener.

Excellent stuff.

Since then though, with the X-Men at least, we have not been so lucky. X3: The Last Stand was frankly, terrible. A rushed schedule (largely in part to a last minute director change) not helping much and what with Mr Singer departing to work on [the extremely underrated] Superman Returns, the wheel was left unchecked and the series lost its course.

The less said about X:Men Origins: Wolverine the better.

Which brings us to First Class.

A few years ago the ‘Origins’ moniker was attached to a number of X-Projects (with Wolverine getting the first stab, so to speak) and First Class was one of them. When the news broke that the film was going ahead, it was promising to say the least.

First off, irrespective of takings (both X3 and XO:W both broke $200m at the box office) the studio knew they had to do something to prevent yet another bad X-film being made. This is a good sign. Second?  Singer was back. This time taking a writer/producer credit and – in a match that seems to be made in geek heaven – Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (fresh from their own successes on the fantastic comic book adap, Kick-Ass), stepped into the roles of screenplay and director respectively.

The Gods were smiling.

But then, reports of a rushed production started appearing, followed by a poorly received above the line campaign and, to top it all off, every time a set pic was leaked, the ‘fans’ heaped scorn upon a franchise that was already fighting an uphill battle. Not cool.

When then trailer finally dropped, people did not know what to expect –

“Hang on, this actually looks quite good…”

Four months later, tickets were purchased and with much trepidation, we entered the cinema. Set in 1962, just before and during the Cuban missile crisis, First Class riffs on its 60s backdrop perfectly. With retro black lines drawn across the inevitable training montage scenes as well as a very suave, almost Austin Powers-like, Charles Xavier – brought to life by my second favourite actor in this film (I have a top three), James McAvoy. The time of the piece is set perfectly and trust me, it works.

Coming in third in the aforementioned trio of awesome, comes Kevin Bacon as the nefarious Sebastian Shaw. Hell-bent on world domination through a hitler-esque survival of the fittest, Bacon excels here. Fans of the books will understand that physically, in build at least, the two aren’t exactly similar however, with a combination of sheer stage screen presence and the film’s iteration of Shaw’s mutant power, this is swiftly forgotten – Kevin Bacon is Sebastian Shaw.

In at number one, our star of the show, Erik Lensherr – aka – Magneto.

Brought to life magnificently by Michael Fassbender. The vengeful intensity that he brings to Magneto’s early years is completely believeable and, once his solo mission of revenge comes to the end of its first chapter, you understand completely why people are already calling Fassbender out as the next James Bond. Seriously.

The rest? Mystique and Beast (who share a number of interesting moments together) are noteworthy as is The White Queen, Emma Frost. However, the others are fairly forgettable. Perhaps it’s only Banshee’s Irish charm that keeps him from fading from my memory… Additionally, whilst Riptide manages to get through the film without uttering a single word, the award for most criminally under-used character goes to Azazel.

In comic book lore, Azazel is the father of X2’s Nightcrawler and, colouration aside, shares a similar look and power of his future son. It’s just a shame then that his [slightly russian?] origin was not explored further. But hey, there’s always future films – right?

Let’s be clear; X-Men: First Class is by far and away the best X-Men film to date. Given that X2 set the standard pretty high, this is praise indeed – especially for a franchise that was close to coming to an end.

Finally, don’t try and worry yourself about the time line too much; if you work under the assumption that Singer ‘did a Superman’ and ignored the third and fourth films in the series, then they kind of plug in together nicely. You learn how and why Mystique is the way she is, why Magneto is the way he is and – crucially – what happens after a young Erik Lensherr is spotted bending gates in a Nazi concentration camp.

In closing; if you’re a geek (and can forgive a bit liberty thievery here and there), you’ll get a kick out of this. If you’re not, it’s still a bloody good, almost caper-esque, action flick.
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t leave the cinema completely blown away but now, a few days on from seeing the film, it has definitely grown on me.

Go see it.

 

 

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the social network

— a film by David Fincher

I am a fan of David Fincher. I’ve seen everything since Alien3 and loved nearly all of it. When it was announced that he would be lensing ‘the facebook movie’; among the naysayers, I was not.

A few months back, the trailer hit.

Superb. This past Monday I was invited to a preview screening care of Sony Pictures and it left my brain buzzing.

First off; the film on its own is a fantastic watch. Although, and it is an odd comparison to draw, very much like Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the social network I think will only speak to people of a certain age. What is that certain age? I don’t know.

Actually, scratch that. it’s a generational thing. Fact.

Whatever way you look at it, the social network really is a great film; there is Fincher throughout, but quietly. Almost like he’s whispering in the background and steering gently from afar. His custom clean, dark-shaded visuals, of which he is a master, are there but the flights of camera-based fancy are almost non-existent (save for a set of stunning establishing shots at Henley on Thames; tilt-shifting never looked so good).

This is a Fincher film all over but he’s adult enough to step back and let it shine on its own. Good job.

For me, the title ‘the social network‘ itself is an interesting play on words, in that while it’s obvious that it refers to the software platform that our protagonists are squabbling over, it also resonates as a nod to the group of friends who started out on this journey together and furthermore, the ensemble cast that present them to us.

Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly believable as the nerdy but gifted Mark Zuckerberg character (a point to which I’ll come back later) and holds the film together well. For anyone that’s ever watched a single episode of The West Wing, the throwaway remarks and razor sharp dialogue will be distinctly Sorkin and, although the story is boldly told from different perspectives and narratives, it is clear that ‘Zuck’ is our hero; anti-, tragic or otherwise.

Justin Timberlake, as Napster founder ‘the evil Sean Parker’ is surprisingly very good. I’m not sure why I say ‘surprising’, I’ve always thought that he’d be quite a good actor however, there’s always something nudging at you when he’s on screen. That small voice in your head saying ‘Hey… Hey! That’s Justin Timberlake up there!’, but once you get past the first 10mins or so it settles down and you can enjoy his performance which, by the way, is as good as he is dislikeable. You want to punch him in the face. A lot.

Spider-Man-in-waiting, Andrew Garfield, is probably my favourite thing from the whole film. You feel his pain, his hurt, his lack of judgement, his anger.. All of it. He is a very talented actor and, for someone so young, brings immense gravitas to what could’ve quite easily have been just a one note role.

Fincher explains in the production notes that he’d never worked with such a young cast before (Aaron Sorkin also mentioning he’s never written so young either), so he pushed for take after take after take, sometimes up 80 or 90, just to make the language more casual

“If you’re not speaking at speed, then I won’t believe it”.

When Eduardo Saverin arrives late one night looking worn out from flying, it’s because Andrew Garfield had been shooting that scene for five hours and his exasperation shines through. It’s a punishing, yet fantastically rewarding technique. Love it.

Finally, on the casting front at least, a hefty hat tip to Armie Hammer who to plays both the Winklewoss twins with an ease that is almost unnatural. I’ll admit, he’s the only one of the main cast I haven’t seen in anything else before, however if he can play two of himself with ease (I can’t imagine the line learning, shooting technique, SFX etc that were needed for that casting decision), then he definitely deserves some special attention.

Sounding like Xerses from the 300 and towering over Jesse Eisenberg like a pair of Grecian Gods, he embodies the Harvard final final club elites perfectly. Jeremy Irons would be proud.

So what of the film? Well, it’s a tough one. The different times I’ve talked about it with friends and colleagues since viewing have produced multiple responses;

  • “It’s an Aaron Sorkin script, with a Fincher wrapping.”
  • “It’s a modern day myth”
  • “It’s all still so fresh.”

I’ve said it a number of times already, the film is great… BUT you find yourself watching it all with a healthy pinch of salt. I’ve read interviews with Mark Zuckerberg. A lot of interviews. His views on privacy, sociology, business… all of them are there if you look hard enough and there are certain characteristics which don’t come through in the film. Yes, we’re six years on (just six years) and no doubt he’s changed a fair amount but still, some of it didn’t ring true for me.

Which actually, isn’t that surprising given that Zuckerberg was the only one who refused to meet with the film-makers before, during or after production. C’est la vie. When you watch this film, remember you’re watching the characterisation of a real person. One that has been drawn and painted, by others, without any approval from the source. That’s all.

Let’s put it this way; if you’re under 40 and you have a Facebook account, see this film. If you’ve been a part of (or worked within) a start-up culture, see this film. If you’re a fan of Fincher or Sorkin, see this film.

The aforementioned bold decision to not stick to one core narrative will leave you wanting more, reaching for those parts still left untold and somehow feeling that you weren’t given the full story…

But I guess that’s the point.

No matter if you end up seeing the the social network or not, the final word has to go to Zuckerberg himself:

“We build products that 500 million people see…

..
…if 5 million people see a movie, it doesn’t really matter that much.”

Perfect.

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Adventures in Soho Part 2: The Sarah Marshall Chronicles

You may remember, back when I had Less than 24hrs in San Francisco, that everywhere I looked I kept being reminded of The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Not that I kept seeing Sarah Connor-themed posters… Oh no.
(could’ve made an interesting new angle for the next Terminator mind)

The ones that haunted my vision were for someone called ‘Sarah Marshall’.
This, out of context, made no sense to me…

However – all was to be revealed when I returned to the UK when a reasonably new (and good) friend of mine, Mike Sizemore, (blogger, vlogger and all round jammy film reviewer), invited me along to a top secret blogger screening of Judd Apatow’s latest film, ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’.

Having never seen or heard of the film before, aside from the aforementioned US poster campaign, I was quite pleased that Mike had thought of me and the invite was even more attractive as a) I managed to swing a ‘plus one’ and b) it was as the Soho Screening Rooms (which sounded suspiciously seedy if you ask me).

To whet my appetite even further, Mike even included a link to the latest Forgetting Sarah Marshall trailer…

DO NOT WATCH THIS YET

YouTube Preview Image

Ok. Judd Apatow is someone I’ve only just got to know. Having steered clear of Knocked Up (it didn’t look like my kind of film) I recently rented out – (check me, old school) – Superbad.
Which is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

I watched the trailer, laughed a little… wasn’t sure… saw a couple of guys from Superbad… saw Russell Brand… realised it was a free screening.. and made my mind up.
One quick call to the girlfriend later and I had an evening of free entertainment in Soho, with blogger buddies AND I get to impress the Girl.

Who cares what the film is like right? Wrong.

Hand on heart I went into the cinema descended into the depths of said screening rooms not really expecting much. ‘Expecting much’ is not something I do often. Not expected anything is the best way to a) avoid disappointment and b) be pleasantly surprised. Fortunately, this time round, the evening fell firmly into category ‘b’.

Y’see I had this horrid COCK SHOT feeling that the trailer had given away all the funny bits and, for a little while, I thought COCK SHOT I was right. But, I am happy to report that COCK SHOT there’s still quite a lot of amusement to be had throughout the rest of the film.

That aside, COCK SHOT, for maximum enjoyment, I would recommend avoiding the trailer for this film as much as possible because as much as it does entice you into watching the film itself; it also gives away its fair share of funnies… I found myself knowing which joke was next as I’d watched the trailer several times and kinda knew which bit came when y’know? Please – don’t let this put you off – this film IS very, very funny.

Something that took me that took me completely by surprise was that beardy man over there on the right ————————————————>

He was actually very good in this film.

Although I can’t say I’m surprised.

Russell Brand is one of those comedians who I tell everyone I can’t stand and yet find myself often watching him on the tellybox and chuckling away at his dickensian wiles as he meanders his way around our fair language like a blind man on a bicycle…

I want to hate him, but I can’t.

Git.

And as I said, in this he is cast perfectly.

Git.

I don’t do film reviews often – although coincidentally enough, the last one I reviewed was a comedy also (albeit an unintentional one) – so for me actually sit down and bother to write this up means it’s actually worth seeing.

I laughed that hard I nearly wet myself.

No really. Forgetting Sarah Marshall has the some what strange honour of being the first EVER film that I was able to leave the room for. EVERY film I see I always make sure I go before I sit down.
I hate those people that pay £8-£10 to go and see the latest blockbuster and end up missing a massive chunk of plot because they forgot to have a number one before they went in.

I mean REALLY. It’s like 2 hours people!
You’ve just paid to watch the damn film – so sit down and watch it!

*sigh*

Anywhoo – I won’t be doing that again in a hurry, on the way back I was blinded by the light from the projector and ended up tripping on the step, stumbling up the stairs and then hitting a fellow blogger in the chops (sorry Annie!).

I digress.

This film is funny. See it.

Finally – Props to my mate Scott who saw this outside Hammersmith Tube Station last week…

It seems the hate campaign is spreading…

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