X-Men: First Class [Review]

I watched the first two X-Men films on a television screen in preparation for seeing the third in the theater. I remember choice moments from the series, although if you asked me to organize them, I wouldn’t be able to figure out which bit belonged in which film. I remember, for instance, the talented Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto; I remember lovely Anna Paquin playing some character with a white streak in her hair and not being able to kiss anyone; I remember the fascinating Mystique, her character a silent, blank, dimension-less shadow; I remember Xavier’s infuriating calm and how angry I was that he pronounced his name Exavier instead of Zavier.

The newest addition to the X-Men saga is a prequel that follows the origins of the mutant movement. The film was fun, gripping and action-packed but managed to move through a coherent and interesting plot as well. No small feat for a film based on a comic series that includes so much information that it could never hope to all be transferred to the screen. I enjoyed seeing Xavier’s arrogance as a young man, his high-and-mighty nobility that really stems from a need to be accepted and adored. I found the friendship between him and Magneto to be a beautiful thing, but very much like that of Sebastian and Charles in Brideshead Revisited or else Dumbledore and Grindlewald in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – that is, beautiful, but with a clear lack of balance and sticking-power. It was, I suppose, to good to be true, and so of course they must part. This isn’t a spoiler, mind you, because anyone who’s seen the X-Men series so far will remember that Xavier and Magneto are sworn enemies who speak very nicely to each other and allude to a former friendship.

And yet, sadly, there was much to complain of. Mystique’s character was annoyingly vague – fine, she appeared in Xavier’s kitchen one day, they became staunch friends… and? Where did she come from? What makes her trust him? Why does it take her so many years to realize that she has feelings for him? And those feelings, once displayed, disappear so quickly that I wonder if they were even there at all! She’s very confusing, which isn’t helped by the fact that the actress seemed, to me, to be having a tough time stringing more than a couple of words together at a time. The script, too, failed me towards the end, when I began to predict every line the characters uttered because they were a string of clichés that explained, very quickly, several facts that are supposed to make the audience go “ooooh!”

Finally, I remained unconvinced that the film was taking place in the early sixties. Everyone’s clothes seemed exactly like those we wear now. Maybe the X-Men all have another mutation that allows them to predict the fashion sense of the future? Maybe I’ll find the scene explaining that one in the deleted scenes on the DVD.

Five Words

I’m currently reading Stephen Fry’s Moab is My Washpot, which is the first part of his autobiography. I have admired Mr. Fry for some years now as an actor and writer, and I fell more deeply in awe of him when I listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks that he narrates because of his incredible range of voices, accents and tones. His regular speaking voice is, in itself, impressive as well.

What strikes me most about him when reading his autobiography is his love of language. He loves words for the sheer look of them, the sound they make, the way the tongue feels as it moves to create a consonant in the mouth. Inspired by him, I spent an hour happily reading aloud the titles of books I was vacuuming dust off of – I especially enjoyed titles like The World According to Garp, Smiley’s People, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas because of “Garp,” “People,” and “Vegas,” all words that are fun to say. Go ahead, try them out.

The second thing that Mr. Fry has inspired me to do is read the dictionary. I know, aren’t I exciting? But seriously, I look up words online more often than not, and I never get to see an odd word or two that way. So, in order to kick-start myself, I’ve decided to find five new (to me, that is) words in my big copy of the OED, and use them in sentences:

1. Stephen Fry didn’t suffer from dyslalia when he was young, because there was nothing wrong with his speech organs – he eventually learned to articulate his speech properly so that others could understand him.

2. There was a point in time when I thought my eating disorder was insuperable, but I’m doing much better now.

3. Many politicians are perfidious.

4. The gems in animated films are always so exaggeratedly rutilant. I doubt that real precious stones are every quite so twinkly and red.

5. On the road to Jerusalem, there’s one clough that always reminds me of the valleys by my grandparents’ house in Los Angeles.

___

And that, boys and girls, was probably enough of that for now.

Being Other

A toss of the hair, a gesture with the chin, a purse of the lips – these will suffice to change a person utterly from one thing to the other. From a shy, timid, slightly awkward person will emerge an attitude, a style, a replica of the actor onscreen. Confidence has nothing to do with it at that point – once someone changes, they’re in the moment and no matter what happens, the attitude will remain, the stance will stay upright and the chin raised.

Such small things, such subtle mind-shifts and twists – on such things hangs the balance of a show. But once a person is out of self, succumbing to that infamous of Greek gods, Dionysus, and loses the identity of the self, then there is no pause, no doubt, no fear. Nonexistent wine gives the head its buzz and the body its confidence; nonexistent masks take over the face and expression; nonexistent muses come and spark drama or comedy at the needed times.

Being other is liberating. The fear before succumbing to that loss of self is overwhelming, almost paralyzing. The moment the threshold is crossed, however, the fear evaporates like a magician’s rabbit – instantly, utterly, although still biding its time somewhere hidden where the audience can’t see it.

Being other is mastering fear. Being other is being free.

Blllrraghl

In acting classes, there are always those extremely odd sessions where the teacher tells everyone to start speaking gibberish. I have to say that apart from being one of the sillier exercises a person can endure, it is also extremely interesting. I know that it might sound strange to say that a bunch of people standing around and making noises that are reminiscent of two-year olds’ babble is interesting, but it is.

Let me try to explain my point. People communicate by tone of voice and facial expression as well as by speech. For instance, a person can say the word “sure” and mean a few different things. They might mean “sure, yeah, right” in a sarcastic way, they might mean “sure” as in “okay,” or they might mean “sure” as in “oh, alright…” The only way we can distinguish between the possibilities is by the tone of voice and the expression used, as well as the body language the person uses while he or she is speaking.

The exercise of speaking gibberish is fascinating, because people can actually enact whole scens of love, friendship, anger or betrayal by not using any real words at all, but rather by using body language, facial expressions and tone of voice to make their meaning come across. It’s a terriffic exercise, and even though it’s hard to let yourself go and make pointless sounds for an hour, there’s a catharsis in being able to throw away all dignity whatsoever in such a performance.

Magical Musicals

For those who know me personally, you know I listen to lots of rock music [from old rock, to new, more pop-like bands], cabaret-punk, and undefined indie music like Tori Amos and the like. Another part of my broad musical taste is my love, my deepest and most obsessive love, of musicals. I have a friend who shares my love for them – or perhaps, thinking back, she’s the one who actually got me into them. Apart from the fact that I love the music, the stories and the dancing, I am always simply in awe of musicals.

For one, musical casts are made up of actors who are dancers and singers. They roll three separate talents into their person. There can’t be a mediocre one in the bunch, or it simply won’t work. Singing while dancing, they whirl around the stage – and when they stop singing and dancing long enough to speak, they’re as convincing as any other stage actor.

Next, we have the writers and creators of musicals. They compose, they write lyrics, they make up a story that manages to center around it all and somehow fit dancing in without looking ridiculous. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that it takes years to write a good musical.

Lastly, there’s the performance as a whole. Watching a musical on stage is simply a staggering experience. The grandness of it all, the lighting, the costumes, the sheer talent of the actors/dancers/singers! The notes they can hit and the emotion they manage to put in their voices and movements – it is magic, pure magic.

Royals and Celebrities

I am currently reading “The Constant Princess” by Philippa Gregory. I also read her book that was made into a movie, “The Other Boleyn Girl” and loved it, which is why, when I was last in a proper bookstore, I picked up a couple more books by her. Her novels are historical fiction, many focusing around the lineage of the Tudor family, one of the more scandalous and dramatic royal lines in England apparently, as there is such an obsession surrounding them – there’s even a mini-series which I’m dying to see called “The Tudors.”

This got me thinking though. First of all, what parts of Gregory’s books are based on actual fact? Oh, who married who and what they named their children is obviously true, but what about the smaller events? I assume there are historical diaries and letters and such from the period that hold gossip and information about what was going on in the royal court, but obviously all the feelings and thoughts of the characters in the book are fictional and speculative. Unless there are diaries of Catalina, Infanta of Spain and eventually Katherine, Queen of England herself then Gregory merely uses her imagination to write her feelings and thoughts over the hardships she endured and ambitions she harbored.

This got me to thinking something else. Look at this fascination so many people, myself included apparently, have with royals, with these celebrities of centuries past. Will people still be fascinated with such celebrities in, say, three hundred years time? Will there be novels written about people like George Bush or will it be novels about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? Or will humanity finally realize that celebrities, whether in power or not, are still just people and stop obsessing over their lives?

What People See in George Clooney

I never get it. I really don’t. I don’t think he’s that good looking, his facial hair looks like it’s painted on, and he has odd hair that looks naturally gelled up. I’ve never seen him in General Hospital, but I don’t understand how he became the heart-throb he is considered.

There is, however, one thing I love about George Clooney. He is absolutely amazing at being sarcastic. He drips with sarcasm, insincerity and dry humor when he wants to, and I find THAT, of all things, to be the coolest, most awesome thing about him as an actor.

He’s a good actor, no doubt about that, but still – heart-throb? Hardly

[Can you tell this is a spur of the moment post because my mother is flying tonight and I have no time to spend on the computer?]