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“X-Men: First Class”
a review by Darby O’Gill

What would happen if you took a comic book origin story and mixed it with an actual historical event? In a two words… pure awesomeness! X-Men: First Class does just that. Set during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is called upon by the CIA, to put together a team of young mutant powered heroes. One of which is Erik Lennsherr (Michael Fassbender), or as he’s better known Magneto, and Charles’ future nemesis. The two have very different views on the future of mutant-kind, and both are right in their own way. Now, I’ve stated before that I’m not the biggest Marvel Comics fan, but the one book that has always worked for me is The Uncanny X-Men. The story just works on so many levels: isolation, segregation, political and social unrest, and even varying stages of awkward pubescent adolescence. Even though the comics dealt with the adventures of costume clad super-powered heroes, they also always managed to always keep the subject matter of segregation as its driving force. It was that subject matter that director Bryan Singer was able to so brilliantly convey in the first X-Men movie. I think the first movie really opened the public’s eyes to the types of subject matters comic books could instill in children. I for one, remember my own mother after seeing the first movie saying, “Is that what those comics were about?! I had no idea they gave you so much to think about.” And it’s that same attitude that makes X-Men: First Class just as good. Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) doesn’t just re-boot the series. He truly took his time in making X-Men: First Class a prequel that not only honors the previous films, but could also be seamlessly linked back to them. The surprise cameos helped in that department, but on a whole the movie just works.

With Magneto on Professor X’s side this time around, the franchise gets to introduce yet another key protagonist in the X-Men saga, head of the Hellfire Club himself Sebastian Shaw, brilliantly played by Kevin Bacon. I don’t think I would have ever considered Kevin Bacon for the role of Sebastian Shaw, but it worked! He oozes the character of Shaw, as I remember him from the books, on to the big screen. The hair and wardrobe, it’s all dead-on. And yes, die hard comic book fans are just going to have to go with some of the movie’s changes, as characters and events are slightly askew for this new tale. Another character making her big screen début is Emma Frost, played by January Jones. Jones definitely has the look, and she fit the ‘60’s setting perfectly, but Frost’s diamond form was a little off. I realize that this is a hard one to pull off, and that it worked to some degree, but I just think it could have been done a little better. Other than little things like that, the movie works amazingly well! Also, this story is truly epic! They manage to squeeze so much into the almost two and a half hour running time, that at times I found myself wishing it had been a TV series. I would have really loved to have seen plot points from this movie played out as hour long episodes. You can also tell that things were cut in order to keep the movie under a three hour mark, but will hopefully be made available when the movie comes out on DVD and Blu-ray. This is the summer of Marvel movies, and even though X-Men: First Class received the least amount of hype of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, I think it’s going to end up by far being the best one of the bunch!

Rating:


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“Pirate Radio/The Boat That Rocked”
a review by Darby O’Gill

Hands down, the feel good movie of the year! Before Howard Stern, and even before Wolfman Jack, a band of rogue deejays rocked the airwaves. In 1966, at the height of the British Invasion, rock and roll was only allowed to be played on British radio stations for barely two hours a week. The only way people in the U.K. could listen to rock or pop music was by tuning into pirate radio stations broadcasting from boats just off the coast of Britain in the North Sea. In Pirate Radio, previously released as The Boat That Rocked, earlier this year in the U.K., writer/director Richard Curtis tells a fictional story based on the true events of Britain’s rock and roll revolution. Broadcasting live 24/7 from an old tanker turned makeshift radio station, anchored just outside British jurisdiction, is a band of misfit deejays known as Radio Rock.

The story begins when Young Carl is sent by his mother to the ship known as Radio Rock, to spend time with his godfather Quentin, the owner of the radio station, who is played by the always brilliant Bill Nighy. It’s very much a coming of age story, and I think the British equivalent to Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. Once on board, Young Carl meets the motley crew of deejays. There’s The Count, the flagship American deejay that is constantly pushing the envelope and crossing the line, masterfully portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. There’s the always charismatic, and at times narcissistic Doctor Dave, played by the extremely funny Nick Frost. Another familiar face is that of Flight of the Concords’ manager Brian, actor Rhys Darby, who plays the self proclaimed funny man Angus “the nut” Nutsford. Even though all the faces may not be familiar, this is truly an all-star cast. Each performance is so masterfully executed that you can’t help but feel the authenticity of this film. However, I think one of the most unsung heroes of this film is Ike Hamilton, who plays Harold, the ship’s booth technician. If you watch Ike’s performance throughout the film, I guarantee that you will be totally blown away. Every little nuance that he brings to the character of Harold just radiates brilliantly off the screen. If you’re reading this after you have already seen the film, I highly recommend seeing it again for Ike’s performance alone. But, if you’re anything like me you’ll already want to see this movie again regardless.

The other side of this story is that of the British government and their efforts to stop the pirate radio ships from broadcasting. This task is helmed by Sir Alistair Dormandy, played by Kenneth Branagh, and his new assistant Mr. Twatt. I’m not kidding, his last name is Twatt. And, yes Richard Curtis takes full advantage of it. Twatt is played by Coupling‘s Jack Davenport. Now, don’t worry. The political stuff doesn’t weigh down the story at all. Mostly because it’s not an overpowering plotline and it also lends itself to some of the film’s funnier scenes. I dare you not to laugh or at least snicker every time Dormandy says, “Twatt.”

Richard Curtis has, as always, done a masterful job telling this story. His unique vision, and heart warming style of storytelling, makes Pirate Radio/The Boat That Rocked a must see film. Every part of this film oozes 1966. The wardrobe is fantastic, the soundtrack is to die for, and even the look of the film itself sets the tone. It’s almost as if the film was shot and processed in 1966. Adding to the film’s authenticity, the bulk of the movie was shot onboard an actual ship, just off the south coast of England. Richard Curtis’ first cut of the film had a running time that was just over three hours. The final cut of The Boat That Rocked had a two hours and fifteen minute running time, where as the final cut for Pirate Radio has a one hour and fifty-six minute running time. I’ve seen the U.K. version of the film and enjoy both cuts, but I have to say this film is so enjoyable that I wouldn’t mind sitting though the three hour cut at some point. Most of the missing scenes from the first cut of the film appear on the U.K. DVD release of The Boat That Rocked. (U.K. DVD review will be posted soon) The two major scenes that were cut from The Boat That Rocked for the U.S. release of Pirate Radio consists of a visit to the Radio Rock ship from a large group of contest winners, and the other is the unseen stag party in London. The scenes aren’t necessarily needed, but this movie is so, as I said before, enjoyable that I don’t think you could ever get enough of these characters.

I realize this review is quickly becoming a mini-novel, but I think I would be crucified if I didn’t at least talk about the music in the film. As you would imagine, this movie is chock-full of classic rock from the likes of The Who, The Kinks, The Turtles, and so many more. Both the U.K. release, and the U.S. release of the soundtrack feature a two disc edition with 36 tracks to take you back. Also, the opening credit graphics are fantastic! The use of the radio tuner dial transitioning from scene to scene, as The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” blares, instantly sucks you into the world of the movie. But, I think one of my favorite things was the use of the album covers in the end credits. It not only instills you with a fantastic sense of the history of rock and roll, but it also makes you want to listen to some great albums you might not have listened to in awhile. The bottom line here should be obvious at this point, but needless to say I highly recommend this movie no matter which version you see.

Rating:

5 Little People