Hugh Jackman Gives Prisoners Conviction

Prisoners, Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, poster, movie

I still hate this overly photoshopped mess of a poster. I mean, who is that?

It was way back in May that I first talked about Prisoners with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. At that time I posted the trailer and asked if it was just me, or did the thing give away too much of the movie? As it turns out, it was just me and no, while the trailer might have led us (notice how I’m now including others) to believe that we could figure out where director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski have gone, believe me when I tell you that it only took us about a quarter of the way.  So first, let me just admit that I was wrong; happily, thankfully wrong, and then say, “Well done, sirs!”.

Prisoners, is not an easy film to watch. It’s a spellbinding and morally complex thriller with an unquestionably career-best performance from Hugh Jackman.  It’s also the harsh and often brutal story of two Pennsylvania families as they suffer the soul-rending experience of a parent’s worst nightmare after their daughters are both kidnapped.  It’s dark,  twisted,  and harrowing . What starts with a bucolic image of father and son on a hunting expedition, builds and builds and builds (with help from the great cinematographer Roger Deakins and his steely gray/blue color palette and Johan Johannsson’s haunting score) until the tension becomes, at times, almost unbearable.

The film turns “been there, done that, seen it before” tropes and stereotypes on their heads, though, starting with the fact that Hugh Jackman’s Keller Dover and Terrence Howard’s Franklin Birch are so effortlessly friends. They spend holidays together (the movie begins at Thanksgiving). Their wives are friends, their children are friends, including the two older teenagers. Why this is worth noting is not just the obvious, but that the Birches are the more affluent of the two.  Howard is white collar with a bigger, nicer house, nicer car etc. Keller is a carpenter. Blue-collar, whose family has probably been in the same area of rural Pennsylvania for generations; a man of faith who still teaches his son to “be ready” for anything.  All things considered (and especially when we find out what he’s storing in his basement), in another movie we would expect Dover and Birch to be at odds. It is but one deftly avoided cliché.

Another is that suspect number one, Alex (an amazingly creepy Paul Dano), lives with his aunt (Melissa Leo) in the kind of run-down, single-story, cookie-cutter aluminum sided example of depressed suburbia where all serial killers, pedophiles and drug dealers tend to reside, at least in the movies. But Villenueve, and Gruzikowski’s script, let us know that not only are they aware of these things, they let us know  that it’s okay if we’re aware of them, because they’re just the tip of the iceberg.  We know from the trailer that the police are forced to let Alex go, at which point Keller, who is as sure as we are that Alex is guilty, takes matters into his own hands, abducting the suspect and chaining him up. Again, we know this from the trailer. But if we think we’re in for another tired, trite and banal story of vigilante justice, we are wrong. This is only the beginning.

We first see Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki  watching the rain come down in sheets against the window of a Chinese restaurant (more like a diner). Despite the bright fluorescent lighting, the rain closes in the space, making it feel very forlorn. He’s spending Thanksgiving alone, flirting with the waitress, and on call, ready to respond to his radio. Loki is a study in contrasts. We are told that he has never failed to solve a case, which lets him get away with insulting his superiors.  Despite his wide blue eyes, Loki’s face is closed, like the top button on his shirts, the collars of which don’t entirely cover what look like gang tatts.  He’s so solemn that when he does smile, we’re instantly on our guard and expecting him to explode in barely-contained rage.

But Hugh Jackman is the heart of this movie. Keller Dover is always at the epicenter despite the puzzles and twists and turns that Guzikowski’s brilliant script has laid out for us. More suspects crop up and seem to fall away while Jackman’s character comes apart at the seams, his family in shreds.  Meanwhile Loki , who has become single-mindly obsessed with the case is in a similar state, but manages to internalize his damage.

Every single character is absolutely vivid and multi-dimensional. We are given details that define them,  allow us glimpses into their lives, but do not define their actions and vice versa.  Villeneuve maintains a delicate balance between holding the audience in a death grip and yet still manages to allow the film to take its time without rushing through scenes another director might decide were unnecessary.  I don’t mean to suggest that there is anything superfluous that does make it on screen.  I don’t think there was a single aspect that was simply for “shock value” either, (although there was a scene that I wish I’d known about going in. Anyone who knows me and has seen the film, knows to what I refer).

The acting is, as you would expect from a cast like this, stellar. Despite very limited screen time, Maria Bello and Viola Davis both give us indelible portraits of the various stages of a mother’s desperation and grief.

One of Gyllenhaal’s greatest strengths as an actor is that he is continuously underrated so that he’s still capable of astonishing us. If you ‘ve seen David Fincher’s Zodiac, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that it’s as though Gyllenhaal is almost giving us the flipside of the detective he played in that film.  Loki is almost Robert Graysmith several years on, his eagerness beaten down by time and circumstance into Loki’s haunted dread.

The final reel belongs to Melissa Leo, who despite being given a role front-loaded with opportunities to chew up and spit out the scenery, instead takes things down so far and so quiet that we have to pay attention and hang on her every word while our empathy slowly turns to horror and disgust.

Still and all, it is Jackman that will be remembered come awards season. His Keller Dover is an earthy, rugged “every man”; a true believer gut-punched into questioning his beliefs and pushed to the edge of hopelessness. It has been suggested that he should now hang up his adamantium claws and mutton-chop whiskers lest he be typecast; that he shouldn’t have to toil in the land of the comic book heroes any longer because now the world will see his “range”. I submit that not only has it been there all along (one has only to look at his CV on imdb), even if, like so many other actors, he is the best thing about a questionable movie, but that part of his appeal is that he can do a movie like Prisoners as well as Real Steel or The Wolverine or even voice a character in an animated film like Flushed Away.  But beyond that, I don’t see anything wrong with making a movie, provided it’s done well, purely for the sake of entertainment. I enjoyed Australia (even if it didn’t quite reach the heights of the classic Hollywood romances like Casablanca to which it aspired) and I liked The Fountain and The Prestige and Deception as well.  (Oddly enough, the one role I can honestly say I wasn’t entirely thrilled with, is the one for which he received his first ever Oscar nomination, that of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. I know I’m out on a limb with that opinion.)  Frankly, I think Hugh Jackman is one of those actors, nay those people, that are so appealing that we’ll buy them in anything. (The only comparison I can think of is Tom Cruise and before you tell me I’m nuts, you have to remember that whatever we think about him here at home, he’s still the biggest movie star in the world.) I submit that Jackman won us over during that song and dance during the Oscars in ’02 and he hasn’t looked back.  Not to mention, with X-Men: Days of Future Past, he will have played Logan/the Wolverine in 7 films and produced the two stand-alones. I think he’s okay with it.

The best thing about this film, in my humble opinion is its restraint. In the pacing certainly, in the acting definitely, but most of all,  despite the fact that we and the characters involved are faced with the weighty issues of morality, justice, right and wrong, we aren’t ever taken by the hand and led to an “obvious” conclusion. What might have, in less gifted hands, been nothing more than the best, most brutal “procedural” ever, becomes something more. Avoiding cliché and focusing on the drama, Villanueve allows us to absorb everything and draw our own conclusions and that applies to both the joyous moments and the horrific ones. We are spoon fed nothing. To my mind, the ending, the final shot, was perfectly spot on. (Some members of the audience I saw it with disagreed. Especially the man who yelled “Seriously?” at the screen.)

Prisoners with Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Len Cariou, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Soul, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla-Drew Simmons, Wayne Duvall, and David Dastmalchian, directed by Denis Villanueve from a screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski has been embraced by audiences in the US (succeeding not only due to word of mouth, but to a large extent due to Jackman’s appeal) and just opened in the UK.  It is a two-and-a-half hour slow-burn that probably won’t lose anything in the translation to home viewing, but it’  an intelligent “adult” movie, the likes of which are few and far between. So go to the theater and support it. Prisoners is at times difficult to watch, but watch it you must.

So, have you seen it? Do you agree? Disagree? Anything? Bueller…. Feel free to sound off below.



Trailer or Spoiler? First Look at Prisoners

Prisoners, poster, Hugh Jackman, kinopoisk

poster via

Hugh Jackman stars in Incendies director Denis Villanueve‘s new film, Prisoners, due out later this fall. It’s been a long time coming too.  Originally Mark Wahlberg was to star under the direction of Bryan Singer. Jackman was first attached with Olympus Has Fallen‘s Antoine Fuqua directing, but both left the project. Leonardo DiCaprio was attached, but he eventually dropped out as well. After several years in development hell, Jackman returned. Ever since filming finally began in January of this year, I’ve been hearing good things. There are already whispers in the wind of “awards worthy” with reference to Jackman’s performance.

Also starring Terrence Howard, Maria Bello (in a role that was originally rumored for Jessica Chastain), Viola Davis, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano, Prisoners casts Jackman as a blue-collar Boston father (despite the fact that it was filmed in Georgia. Pffft) on the trail of the man he believes responsible for kidnapping his young daughter and her friend.Jake Gyllenhaal plays the detective assigned to the case.

Ultimately, the film seeks to ask, to what lengths would an ordinary person be prepared to go for their children?

The first trailer has just landed on line and while I was anxious to get first look, after watching it, I think we can all guess the answer. I have to wonder what’s left to discover and why should I buy a ticket? Take a look:

YouTube video via JoBlo Movie Network

Is it me or does this give way too much away? We get the setup, then we’re told what the crime is. We see how tied the hands of the criminal justice system are and we watch as Hugh Jackman starts to go all vigilante. We see Paul Dano, who may or may not be the kidnapper bound and gagged in Jackman’s bathroom, we see his mother defend him, then we see the beginning of a confrontation with whoever will more than likely turn out to be the actual kidnapper. Wam Bam, two minutes and thirty seconds and we’ve seen the whole thing.

It has been argued that there are but a handful of basic plots. I’ve continually espoused the tenet that there is nothing new under the sun and it’s all in the delivery, but there’s nothing in this trailer that tells me I’m going to see anything new, other than this time it’s Hugh Jackman’s turn to go all Charles Bronson.

Am I just jaded? Should I be giving Villanueve, here making his English-language debut, the benefit of the doubt? (side bar: Villanueve has two movies coming out this year, and if their current release dates hold, within eight days of each other and both starring Jake Gyllenhaal.) It seems to me that with a cast this good, Warner Brothers shouldn’t need to show us all of their cards to stir up interest.  This is just supposed to be a first tease for a movie that doesn’t open until September. How much more are we going to see between now and then? Is it possible there is a helluva twist that we can’t see coming? JMHO, but when a trailer gives so much away all at once, it signals a lack of confidence in the finished product. I predict a LOT of advance screenings in a lot of cities.

There is a fine line to be walked between generating interest in the product and just plain giving too much away too soon. Internet-connected fans are more movie savvy than any generation before them and while they are ravenous for news and “inside” intel, their affections are fickle. I’ve talked quite a bit recently about how social media is changing the face of movie marketing, but there have been quite a few examples of blitzkrieg-like campaigns that started out looking like marketing genius, only to have the masses revolt when the hype is not to be believed. Prometheus anyone? How about the recent resurrection of “Arrested Development”?

What do you think? Does this trailer for Prisoners fill you with anticipation? Are you anxious to see the movie or has this trailer spoiled the whole thing for you?

And the BAFTA Goes To…


Tonight, Sunday February 10, the 2013 EE British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs).were announced during a glitzy ceremony held at London’s Royal Opera House and hosted by Stephen Fry.

Before we get to the meat, let’s be shallow and talk fashion. (I’ve included a few pics at the bottom.)  I’ll start with one of my girl-crushes, Jessica Chastain, who killed it in a Roland Mouret dress, the color of which matched her eyes and looked flawless with her red hair and porcelain skin.

Anne Hathaway played it safe in a studded and British black Burberry number. Also in black and white (but with feathers), Elizabeth Olsen in Chanel Couture. Andrea Riseborough and Marion Cotillard chose blinding lemon yellow, the former in Vivienne Westwood, the latter in Dior Couture, the style of which was very similar to Jennifer Lawrence’s Golden Globe dress with it’s weird hidden layers. Lawrence chose Dior Couture this time as well, but it was a simple gem-studded strapless gown. (Poised, savvy, funny, scary-talented with 2 Oscar nominations to her name -hard to believe she’s only 23).

Fashion bloggers praised Gemma Arterton’s one-shouldered column Celia Kritharioti, but I thought she looked like an anemic bee. Amy Adams looked far older than her years in black lace Elie Saab while Thandie Newton looked like she got her black lace Louis Vuitton from the Frederick’s catalog. Speaking of Elie Saab, Sarah Jessica Parker, WTF were thinking?

Ben Affleck’s better half, Jennifer Garner looked gorgeous in a black and white Rolan Mouret that perfectly complimented Ben, his beard and the satin lapels of his tux. Speaking of power couples, Helen McCrory in a pale robin’s egg blue vintage Givenchy from 1963 that matched the darker blue of hubby Damian Lewis’ velvet tux. (*girly sigh*) Eddie Redmayne probably spent the ceremony throwing up because Lewis as well as Luke Evans pulled off the velvet thing better than he has. (He actually had the flu – I'm not being gross) Then there was the Prince and Princess of Wacky, Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. (I’m disappointed she hasn’t repeated the mismatched shoe thing!)

Last but not least, I must mention the incomparable Helen Mirren. I love and adore this woman, but even more than ever for her pink hair, the twinkle in her eye and the fact that she twirled…TWIRLED…on the red carpet. That’s how I want to do 67, too.

One more thing: Someone needs to explain Paloma Faith to me. I realize she’s the British flavor of the month but 1. Why was she singing INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart” while a montage of the year’s films (not just nominees) played behind her  and 2. WTF was on her head? The red carpet wasn’t bad enough then she plunked some sort of shrubbery slash chandelier on the top of it. Apparently this sort of fuckery is a thing with her. She’s like Lady Gaga crossed with LaVay Smith by way of the Andrews Sisters. Or something.

On to the main event: I mentioned that Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, led with ten nominations, ahead of Les Miserables and Life of Pi, which both had nine. I also made the observation that in the weeks between the BAFTA nominations and the ceremony, Lincoln appeared “almost dead in the water”. I think the results bore that out. The only award it went home with was the only sure thing of the evening: Daniel Day-Lewis for Leading Actor.

Emmanuelle Riva’s win for Leading Actress, probably the biggest shock of the night, actually works in Jessica Chastain’s favor in terms of the Academy Awards. Riva had won a couple of critics groups but Chastain, despite her loss of the Screen Actors Guild Award to Jennifer Lawrence, had won many more. If BAFTA had gone for Lawrence, I think it would be clear the Academy would too, hence my thought that Chastain is still in it. Just my humble opinion, of course. Conventional wisdom says BAFTA equals Oscar for actresses who haven’t won much else. Eg: Marion Cotillard in 2008 and Meryl Streep in 2012. We’ll see.

I gave you my picks (which are marked with ** a few days ago in this post.  Let’s see how I did, shall we? The winner is highlighted in yellow.


**ARGO Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney

LES MISÉRABLES Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh

LIFE OF PI Gil Netter, Ang Lee, David Womark

LINCOLN Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

ZERO DARK THIRTY Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Megan Ellison

Ben Affleck’s little film-that-could has now unquestionably become an unstoppable juggernaut on a trajectory for an Oscar win. (Hyperbole? Perhaps. We’ll see on February 24.)


ANNA KARENINA Joe Wright, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster, Tom Stoppard

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL John Madden, Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, Ol Parker

LES MISÉRABLES Tom Hooper, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh,

William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS Martin McDonagh, Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin

**SKYFALL Sam Mendes, Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan

As I said, “All of these are worthy. I’d love to see Seven Psychopaths take it but I have to go with Skyfall. It’s a massive global hit, but it’s also intrinsically British and they are very proud of the Bond franchise. It’s also damn good.”

Director Sam Mendes, upon accepting the award from Ben Affleck and Bradley Cooper said, “On behalf of the 1500+ people who made this {film} we're accepting this. We had high expectations of this film and it surpassed them all. I also have to single out the man around whom we built this film, and that's Daniel Craig.”


BART LAYTON (Director), DIMITRI DOGANIS (Producer) The Imposter

DAVID MORRIS (Director), JACQUI MORRIS (Director/Producer) McCullin

**DEXTER FLETCHER (Director/Writer), DANNY KING (Writer) Wild Bill

JAMES BOBIN (Director) The Muppets

TINA GHARAVI (Director/Writer) I Am Nasrine

As I said, Dexter Fletcher was purely a sentimental choice. LOL


**AMOUR Michael Haneke, Margaret Ménégoz

HEADHUNTERS Morten Tyldum, Marianne Gray, Asle Vatn

THE HUNT Thomas Vinterberg, Sisse Graum Jørgensen, Morten Kaufmann

RUST AND BONE Jacques Audiard, Pascal Caucheteux

UNTOUCHABLE Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache, Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Yann Zenou, Laurent



THE IMPOSTER Bart Layton, Dimitri Doganis

MARLEY Kevin Macdonald, Steve Bing, Charles Steel

McCULLIN David Morris, Jacqui Morris

**SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn



**BRAVE Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman


PARANORMAN Sam Fell, Chris Butler

“Awards season favorite Wreck-it Ralph isn’t even nominated so I think this goes to Brave.”


Michael Haneke AMOUR

**Ben Affleck ARGO

Quentin Tarantino DJANGO UNCHAINED


Kathryn Bigelow ZERO DARK THIRTY

It’s no secret that his skill as a director has rejuvenated Ben Affleck’s career. In his acceptance speech, an effusive Affleck said “This is the second act and you’ve given me that. This industry has given me that. So I’d like to dedicate this award to anyone else who’s looking for their second act.”  Ben Affleck – Class Act.


Michael Haneke AMOUR

**Quentin Tarantino DJANGO UNCHAINED

Paul Thomas Anderson THE MASTER

Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola MOONRISE KINGDOM


As worthy as all of these screenplays are, there was no question it would be QT’s.


Chris Terrio ARGO


David Magee LIFE OF PI

**Tony Kushner LINCOLN


I almost changed my prediction to Argo after it’s late win at the Scripter Awards Saturday night, just on hunch, but decided to let Lincoln stand. I would have been wrong either way. This is another category that’s too close to call for Oscar night at this point. Silver Linings Playbook, Argo and Lincoln all have some critics association wins. We’ll know more on Feb. 17 when the Writers Guild hands out their prizes.



BRADLEY COOPER Silver Linings Playbook


HUGH JACKMAN Les Misérables





JENNIFER LAWRENCE Silver Linings Playbook





CHRISTOPH WALTZ Django Unchained




As I said, I stepped out on this one. Oh well. I think this seals the deal on another Oscar for Waltz.


AMY ADAMS The Master

**ANNE HATHAWAY Les Misérables

HELEN HUNT The Sessions




Dario Marianelli ANNA KARENINA

Alexandre Desplat ARGO

**Mychael Danna LIFE OF PI

John Williams LINCOLN

Thomas Newman SKYFALL

Mychael Danna is the relative newcomer on this list. His score for Life of Pi was beautiful and he did win the Golden Globe, John Williams could scoop it though. Alexandre Desplat was nominated for the wrong film, he should have been nominated for Moonrise Kingdom).




**Claudio Miranda LIFE OF PI

Janusz Kaminski LINCOLN

Roger Deakins SKYFALL

This was presented by Mark Strong – better than being right.


ARGO William Goldenberg


LIFE OF PI Tim Squyres

SKYFALL Stuart Baird

**ZERO DARK THIRTY Dylan Tichenor, William Goldenberg


**ANNA KARENINA Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

LES MISÉRABLES Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson

LIFE OF PI David Gropman, Anna Pinnock

LINCOLN Rick Carter, Jim Erickson

SKYFALL Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock


**ANNA KARENINA Jacqueline Durran

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Beatrix Aruna Pasztor


LINCOLN Joanna Johnston



**ANNA KARENINA Ivana Primorac

HITCHCOCK Julie Hewett, Martin Samuel, Howard Berger

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY Peter Swords King, Richard Taylor, Rick Findlater


LINCOLN Lois Burwell, Kay Georgiou


DJANGO UNCHAINED Mark Ulano, Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, Wylie Stateman

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY Tony Johnson, Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges,

Michael Semanick, Brent Burge, Chris Ward

**LES MISÉRABLES Simon Hayes, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Jonathan Allen, Lee Walpole, John


LIFE OF PI Drew Kunin, Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton, Ron Bartlett, D. M. Hemphill

SKYFALL Stuart Wilson, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Per Hallberg, Karen Baker Landers


THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Peter Bebb, Andrew Lockley

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher


**LIFE OF PI Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer


PROMETHEUS Richard Stammers, Charley Henley, Trevor Wood, Paul Butterworth


HERE TO FALL Kris Kelly, Evelyn McGrath

I’M FINE THANKS Eamonn O’Neill

THE MAKING OF LONGBIRD Will Anderson, Ainslie Henderson


THE CURSE Fyzal Boulifa, Gavin Humphries

GOOD NIGHT Muriel d’Ansembourg, Eva Sigurdardottir

**SWIMMER Lynne Ramsay, Peter Carlton, Diarmid Scrimshaw

TUMULT Johnny Barrington, Rhianna Andrews


“I picked Swimmer because it’s directed by the same Lynne Ramsay that gave us We Need to Talk About Kevin, as well as the upcoming western Jane Got a Gun with Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, Joel Edgerton and Rodrigo Santoro, making it the only short film I’ve heard of. Subjectivity at its finest LOL  Ramsay, like a lot of feature film directors, got her start in shorts, too.”

THE EE RISING STAR AWARD (voted for by the public):






“A case could be made for any of the four actresses …Both Riseborough and Temple are British. I’m going with Riseborough because I’ve been a fan since “The Devil’s Whore” with Michael Fassbender. (Look at that, I managed to get in two Fassy references.) She’s incredibly talented and has been “on the verge” for a long time. She deserves the push.”  Juno Temple gave a fantastic performance in William Friedkin’s Killer Joe opposite Matthew McConaughey and was in The Dark Knight Rises for about a minute. Still wanted Riseborough to get it.

BAFTA gave their Fellowship Award (the equivalent of a Lifetime Achievement Award) to Sir Alan Parker, acclaimed director of such films as Midnight Express, Bugsy Malone, The Committments, Mississippi Burning and Evita. (He also wrote a song for the soundtrack of Halloween III)

All in all, I didn’t do too badly.  14 right out of 24 categories.  That’s 58%. Eh. I've done better.  I’ll meet you back here in a couple of weeks to talk about my Oscar predictions.

 Pics are *clickable*


Where Do I Begin?

I want to talk about X-Men: First Class. I don’t want to do a typical review. There are plenty of them available, by amateurs and professionals alike, if that’s what you’re looking for. I also don’t want to turn this into a gushing Fassbender fangurrrl post either…and I SOOO easily could.

Okay, I guess I’ll start there. Succinctly, Michael Fassbender OWNED this movie. There are, of course, two characters at the center of this film, James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier and Fassbender’s Erik Lehnsherr. Everything and everyone orbits around them. They are tentative friends, uneasy allies, yin and yang, two sides of the same coin. McAvoy was good. I don’t want to take anything away from him, but I always see either James McAvoy or I see Mr. Tumnus* in every role he plays. Charles Xavier is also the less "showy" or flashy of the two. The manifestation of his mutation isn’t visible to the naked eye.  He has merely to lay a finger alongside of his temple and concentrate, as if he were in deep thought.  His character looks like a ‘professor’. All that is missing from his wardrobe are suede elbow patches. (Those probably come later. I have to say other than the fact that I’m aware of some of the characters portrayed in the earlier films, I don’t know much about them. Someone else will have to tell you how well this movie fits in with the canon.)

Fassbender’s Magneto on the other hand, is in a word, magnetic. If Charles Xavier looks like your eccentric uncle who taught you to play chess and gave you a chemistry set for Christmas, Erik Lehnsherr looks like your swinging single bachelor uncle that you know is probably up to no good, but is probably having a hell of a lot of fun. He speaks several languages with ease (including French, Castilian Spanish and the actor’s native German.) We know what Charles’ best pick up lines are. We doubt Erik needs them.  (I could sing odes to the menswear of the early sixties, write sonnets extolling the virtues of well-tailored flat front, straight legged trousers or the joys of a good leather jacket. Costume Designer Sammy Sheldon-who also did the costumes for Kick-Ass and Stardust– is going on my Christmas card list for that three piece suit that matched the color of Fassbender’s eyes. She goes in my will for the pocket square**.)

The character’s backstory is heart wrenching and compelling and the actor takes full advantage of it.  There is so much going on inside Erik at all times and Fassbender makes sure we know it. At one point, Charles says to Erik, "There is so much more to you than just your anger." And we know that. We see it. The scene in question comes at about the midpoint of the movie and in it, McAvoy comes the closet to matching Fassbender’s intensity. Both times I saw the film and the scene, I had an emotional reaction, but it is another moment that ultimately belongs only to Fassbender. When Charles pulls that memory out of Erik, Fassbender makes the viewer feel and experience it the same way that Erik does.  When it’s a physical struggle to use his gift, he makes sure we know that too. It is clear from the first time that we see the adult Erik Lehnsherr that Fassbender has approached the role with the same zeal and passion with which he approaches every role he tackles.

Apparently, the decision to let us see Magneto shed tears in the above mentioned scene was the actor’s own. As he told Chris Lee of ‘The Daily Beast’, "Everything I put my name to and take part in, I want to be good. That’s not saying it will always happen. But I want to make bold choices. That scene was very important to me." Given what he went through to change his entire body for Hunger, I think we can believe him.

Much has been said about the style of this film and that it could be seen as not only an homage to, but an audition for the James Bond franchise. I think director Matthew Vaughn probably did have the Connery era Bond films in mind when creating the look and feel of …First Class, which frankly is only natural. The timing is apt in terms of when the film is set, which would naturally dictate the wardrobe and set decoration. There are even the requisite two "Bond girls" in January Jones’ Emma Frost*** (the bad girl) and Rose Byrne’s Moira McTaggert (the good girl- without this premise, there can be no other explanation for Byrne running around in vintage lingerie.) Beyond that, the early Bond films were excellent examples of how to do this type of film right. They all appeared to take the subject matter seriously, including outlandish plots, sci-fi inspired gadgets and over-the-top villains, but did so with a twinkle in the eye. Vaughn has captured the spirit of those films while also imbuing this one with a great deal of heart and soul.

I love Daniel Craig’s Bond, but if he decided to step down, I wouldn’t mind seeing Michael Fassbender take the Astin Martin out for a spin. He could certainly bring the suave sophistication and charm needed for the role, and I don’t think his ability to handle the action sequences required should be in question either. (You have seen 300, right?)  

I also like the idea of Vaughn someday being invited to take the reins of a Bond film. Matthew Vaughn’s previous three films all reside on my dvd shelves and JMHO, they are among the best of the last ten years. They are genre defying, as if Vaughn is resisting being put into any sort of niche and proving that there isn’t anything he can’t tackle. It’s tempting to say that  X-Men: First Class resembles his last film, Kick-Ass, and that’s probably the film that got him this gig, but that would be missing the point. Kick-Ass is based on a comic book, as are the X-Men films. But Kick-Ass is tongue-in-cheek if not outright parody. In my opinion, the main thing they have in common is that the players and film makers translated their love of the material to the screen and that both films are a lot of fun to watch.

To digress but a little, I love that Matthew Vaughn has accrued a "company" of sorts. He’s made three films with screenwriter Jane Goldman, three with Costume Designer Sammy Sheldon, this is his second with composer Henry Jackman (and I must say I loved the score for this film) and all four of his films have featured actor Jason Flemyng. I had all but forgotten that Azazel was Flemyng until the credits because his makeup renders him unrecognizable. Bit of Vaughn trivia: Sebastian Shaw’s yacht shares the name "Caspertina" with Capt. Shakespeare’s boat in Stardust. The name is a hybrid of two of Vaughn’s children: Caspar and Clementine.

Brandon Gray at Box Office Mojo is claiming that the $21 million opening day take for X-Men: First Class was a sizable step down from X-Men Origins: Wolverine which made $34.4 million on its opening day. (Living in a large metropolitan and avidly movie-going city, I am sometimes misled by appearances. I saw the film on opening day in the middle of a Friday afternoon and the theater was full. I saw it again the following morning at 10am and the theater was full.)  In any case, what is not taken into account by these numbers is that Wolverine had at best lukewarm reviews and the box office dropped off sharply after opening weekend. I predict that …First Class has legs.

It’s already received very high marks from critics and I suspect that word of mouth will keep it alive for many weeks to come. Next week, its only real competition will come from the Spielberg-esque, JJ Abrams film Super 8.  If the internet and social media have distorted the appetite for …First Class, it has provided nearly all of the appetite for Super 8. If …First Class supposedly suffered from the lack of marquee names like Hugh Jackman, but still included McAvoy, Fassbender, Bacon et al, consider that Super 8 has NO big name stars. JJ Abrams’ name has a certain amount of cachet, as of course, does producer Spielberg’s, but trailers just started to appear on television about a week ago. I saw one in the theater with Thor, but none since. I just don’t see it as being a threat. JMHO. And while Kung Fu Panda 2 and Hangover 2 will still be around, they have already slipped considerably.  I predict that X-Men: First Class will hang on to the number one spot next week.

In any case, based on this report and Gray’s supposition at the top of his piece, I have to concur with Edward Douglas of who tweeted: "Based on this opening weekend, I predict that at least one X-Men cameo appears in the commercials next week." I’m trying desperately to only hint and not spoil. Work with me here people.

As I said, I’m unfamiliar with the other X-Men films. I can only take X-Men: First Class at face value. As an entertainment and as a showcase for the talents of its cast and crew, I have to declare it an unqualified success.

Side note: Ultimately I’m not sure it matters since the purists who care about this sort of thing have probably already dismissed Gavin Hood’s Wolverine film, but the timeline’s will probably make some fan boys heads explode. (I succumbed and finally watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine between starting and finishing this piece. It was a struggle.) At the end of Wolverine, a young Emma Frost is seen getting on a plane with an already bald, but still walking Charles Xavier and yet the adult Emma Frost in …First Class knows Charles as a young man with a full head of hair and becomes paraplegic while she’s incarcerated at CIA headquarters.  Just sayin’.

*McAvoy’s breakout role from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
**Oh yes, a perfectly folded pocket square with just a half inch of deep purple silk above the edge. You’re welcome 😉
***A word about January Jones. She is one of the luckiest "actresses" on the planet, to have stumbled into not one but 2 roles that only require her to stand there and look good and all with the same expression on her face. The minute she opens her mouth all bets are off.