X-Men: First Class

Quote of the movie: “Mutant and proud!”

X-Men: First Class (2011) is a reboot of the X-Men franchise, directed by Matthew Vaughan. The film chronicles the lives of Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Both are young boys who have a gift, but they have discovered and developed them in very different ways. Charles, with the subtle gift of telepathy, grew up in a secure household, very open to learning and understanding his ability. Eric, at a German concentration camp during WWII, discovers his ability trying to save his parents, and it’s only by the murder of his mother when he can begin to understand how to tap into his power. From the very get-go, Charles has a safe and peaceful association with his ability — and mutants in general. Eric, on the other hand, associates his gift with anger and pain — and with the concept of power.

To further establish Charles’ open-mindedness, he catches “his mother” in his kitchen once. She looks and sounds like his mother, but she doesn’t act anything like her. Attempting to steal some food, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) transforms from Charles’ mother to her real self: a scaly blue creature with red hair. Charles invites her to his home, promising her companionship and food. While this movie primarily focuses on Charles and Eric, Raven is a very important third character. Charles doesn’t mind her appearance, but he encourages her to hide her real self from society. It’s this society conformity that Raven struggles with throughout the entire movie. She wants to be “beautiful”, but human society would never accept her as such. She takes on a beautiful guise, but that’s not *really* her. It’s not until Eric works together with Charles and Raven where she finally feels some acceptance from another person; he encourages her to be her true self.

Whether or not this follows X-Men comic lore, I really enjoyed the backstory in this movie. From my vague memory of X-Men cartoons, I knew that Professor X and the X-Men constantly battle against Magneto and his group of mutants. I’m sure it had been implied that they were friends at some point, and I really enjoyed seeing their friendship in this movie. Charles, through his gift of telepathy, can truly understand the experiences and feelings of anybody he reads, which makes his guidance and concern extremely sincere. He really wants to find the best inside of everyone.

Eric has a fervent hatred towards Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), the man who killed his mother. While working with Charles, he internally always wanted to get revenge against Shaw. When the moment finally comes, he shuts out Charles, who would convince him to act otherwise. He murders Shaw and he exhibits his true feelings about mutants and humans — mutants are the better beings and humans must be destroyed, or else they will destroy the mutants. Charles doesn’t feel that way at all; he truly believes that there can be coexistence. Charles and Eric fight and Eric accidentally deflects a bullet into Charles’ spine, causing his paralysis. Eric truly cares for him, but, realizing their differences, he leaves. Before he leaves, he calls for the other mutants to join him. Raven joins him. She also cares for Charles — they have an almost brother/sister bond — but he understands that she needs to follow Eric.  It’s an interesting take on back history that evolved from friendship and brotherhood into animosity and hostility.

The film flaunts a mantra similar to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” — promoting an attitude of self-acceptance. The film’s use of “Mutant and proud” makes the message a little too blunt, but the message is still appreciated. The message even shines light on Charles’ character. As a supporter of mutant-kind, he tries to keep mutant powers discreet — a reality that is quite convenient for him since his ability is undetectable. It shows two sides of his character: one of which is incredibly caring and helpful to the cause while the other promotes a sense of shame.

The reboot is a great success, with a great script and cast. The sequel is set to be released on May 23, 2014, bridging together the new and old cast.

Our Idiot Brother

On the eve of Chiberia, my roommate and I ordered in some Chinese food and cozied in with a movie night. We keep making the “mistake” of browsing Netflix’s “Comedy” category for a light-hearted comedy. I say mistake only because we keep finding movies that are actually “dramedies”, with an unexpectedly poignant message that we are not mentally prepared for. We scrolled through some titles and picked Our Idiot Brother. It wasn’t a “mistake” to watch it — since it was a nice movie — but it wasn’t what we were looking for.

Our Idiot Brother (2011), directed by Jesse Peretz, is about Ned (Paul Rudd), an unaware but kind and sweet man, who befalls adversity, both in his life and the lives of his sisters. He means no ill will on anybody, but he lacks common sense and foresight to understand the consequences of his action. Basically, this film is is about the bond between Ned and his sisters and how it grows stronger throughout the movie. Even more simply, it’s the story about how Ned is reunited with his dog. At its most simple, it’s the story of how Ned finds love — the most weak part of the film. After defining complex relationships between Ned and his siblings, his siblings and their partners, the conclusion of the film seems too cliché and too unimaginative. The rest of the film was clever and interesting, and this ending is a bad aftertaste after an intriguing meal.

Paul Rudd plays Ned very well, exuding charm and charisma. He’s charming in every way, including his foolish antics. He ends up “ruining” the lives of all three of his sisters: Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Liz (Emily Mortimer), and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel). His honesty unravels Liz’s marriage, stifles Miranda’s article at work, and destroys Natalie’s partnership with Cindy (Rashida Jones). The three sisters ultimately gang up on Ned and his idiocy, but the beauty of this film is that they all have made bad decisions that have led to the rocky points in their relationships. It was merely Ned’s light push that brought all their insecurities and secrets to light. Through these complex relationships, the film cleverly shines the “foolish” light on the three sisters — who are normal members of society, seemingly put-together, with common sense and good judgement — through Ned’s exaggerated stupidity. 

Even with a small budget, this film excels, particularly in make-up and costume design. This film manages to make beautiful women like Rashida Jones and Emily Mortimer very plain and even unattractive. Playing down attractiveness is a huge plus in this film; it makes it feel more real. It’s more relatable. It also works on Paul Rudd, with that long, flowing hair.

Even though it wasn’t what we were looking for, Our Idiot Brother entertained us. The cast is incredible, also featuring Adam Scott. For an independent film, the ending seems a little too passive and flat. It’s what you expect from a big-budget rom-com. One can say that it’s fitting with Ned’s character, as he’s an idealist — and something I appreciate as a hopeless romantic — but it casts too much attention on itself compared to the tone of the rest of the film. While it may have been a “mistake”, it was a happy accident to stumble on to Our Idiot Brother