Wednesday, March 26, 2014



Labor problems are continuing at the VickiWear plant in Paramus, New Jersey. The Indonesian seamstresses remain restless, despite an increase in their wages to a generous $2.15 an hour and Mr. Carducci, the manager, will not return my phone calls. I have instructed Madame Rose, my publicist along with Fajer and Hellmann, my attorneys, to please deal with the problem. I will not have my good name or the brand names of my fine consumer products sullied in this manner. There is some indication that Mr. Carducci has been funneling some of the payroll to a Mr. Tony Soprano and associates and product keeps disappearing off the trucks passing through certain parts of the region. Personally, I really don't care what octave Mr. Tony sings in, although male sopranos are usually referred to as countertenors. I just want to make sure my fans get their high quality South Pacific and Tobacco Road inspired outfits in a timely manner. The whole mess has been causing me much anxiety. I almost missed my mark on the set the other day.

August promises to be a busy month for me. The Opp, Alabama concert, The Ssssoundssss of Ssssilence, celebrating the opening of the Snake Wrangler's Hall of Fame, is set for the 12th. If it goes well, Joseph will try to book me for the opening of the Jack Wrangler Hall of Fame later this year. I'm a little leery of this, though. I'm afraid I might be mistaken for Margaret Whiting and she must be nearly eighty while I remain a perennially youthful thirty-nine. My appearance on the Hip-Hop awards is set for the 20th, but the location has been changed from New York, to Miami Beach. All systems seem to be go, but I do wish they would stop spelling MNM 'Eminem' in the correspondence. I'm planning on wearing a red sequined tuxedo body suit for the ' hot tap' number they've asked me to perform, only they keep spelling it ‘rap’. Apparently their secretarial proof reading skills are not quite up to snuff. They want me to do a song called Kim but I haven't been able to find sheet music for it, so I'm thinking I'll do something from Roberta instead. The audience is sure to enjoy Jerome Kern.

As I seem to be beset on every side these days by the forces of darkness, I thought perhaps a good comic-book film where good triumphs over evil might be in order. Therefore, I descended to my home theater with a tumbler of Laphrohaig single malt scotch and the DVD of Bryan Singer's X-men from 2000. I had missed this film at the local cineplex so I was looking forward to seeing how Singer, known for his small character driven films, handled a big budget action picture. Before I begin, I must confess that I am an X-men neophyte, never having read one of the comics or seen the animated series. I did do a benefit once, for the San Diego zoo, where I did a tap specialty dressed as a koala and a very nice young man, dressed as Wolverine, did kung-fu stunts for the kiddies but that is the extent of my exposure.

X-men is the story of a not too distant future United States, when, for reasons that are entirely unclear, certain individuals are born slightly different. These 'mutants' manifest themselves during adolescence when their genetic mutations give them unusual and highly idiosyncratic powers. The incidence of mutation seems to be on an upswing and normal folks, like you and I, are scared of the new and the different. A republican senator (Bruce Davison), is busy trying to have all the mutants in the country rounded up and identified as public threats. A brief holocaust prologue is supposed to make us think of the Nazis but I thought much more of recent right wing rhetoric on the gay community. The senator's speeches seem lifted word for word from  James Dobson’s , Tom DeLay's and even W's remarks on homosexuality. Listen to those scenes and replace the word 'mutant' with 'homosexual' and you'll see what I mean. The chief mutant spokespeople are Charles Xavier, a telepath (Patrick Stewart) and Dr. Jean Grey, a telekinetic (Famke Janssen) who run a school and sanctuary for displaced mutants, tossed out by their un-understanding families.

Meanwhile, a young mutant girl, Marie (Anna Paquin), leaves home on an odyssey, adopting the name Rogue. In the Canadian Rockies, she meets up with Logan, also known as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a mutant with extrordinary powers of self-healing and a metal skeleton and claws implanted in some sort of secret experiment. After they are attacked, they are rescued by Xavier's chums and brought back to his school/sanctuary. Here, they meet up with Storm (Halle Berry), a young woman with white polyester hair and serious cataracts who controls the weather and Cyclops (James Marsden), a young man with bad teeth and cheekbones to die for, who shoots laser beams from his eyes. We then embark on a battle between the good mutants under Xavier, known as the X-men, and the bad mutants, henchmen of the evil Magneto (Ian McKellen), who has power over metal, even, apparently non-magnetic non-ferrous varieties (another detail that is not explained). Magneto was a great friend of Xavier's until he chose the dark side (oops, wrong film)... until he decided to confront humanity's discomfort with mutants with force rather than understanding. His henchmen include Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), a cross between a Quest For Fire extra and Ron Perlman's Beast, who must have access to industrial strength hair conditioner; Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) the unholy offspring of Smurfette and a King Cobra who can shape shift into any other character for purposes of plot; and Toad (Ray Park), who scampers up walls, has a prehensile tongue, and has a predeliction for lavender eye shadow. This sets up a good versus evil conflict with predictable results.

The film is formulaic, but credit must be given to Singer for being able to introduce and maneuver a large cast, especially given its relatively brief 100 minute run time. He also keeps the storytelling clear and only occasionally gives in to pretentious solemnity, especially where McKellen and Stewart are concerned. Fortunately, the two veterans know how to keep their scenes moving and don't allow the messages to muddle the good time. He and screenwriter David Hayter create their world with a perfectly straight face, no tongue in cheek and make it accessible to those with no background in the original comics. The action setpieces are well staged, but riffs on films we've seen before. The visual and storytelling references are legion - everything from Batman to Saboteur to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome seems to have gone into the blender. Singer and Hayter are also clever enough to have a satisfying resolution without ever dealing with the central enigma of the film - Who is Wolverine and where did those claws come from? This, of course, leaves sequel and franchise opportunities wide open.

Hugh Jackman, the Australian stage actor best known for his musical comedy roles prior to this film, gives a star making performance as the mysterious and churlish Wolverine, despite the bad 50s hair don't. He has a physical presence and a quiet way of dominating his scenes that seems to be the provenance of Australian leading men. There must be something in the water there that allows them to produce him and Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson, instead of the pretty boy-men that seem to be the norm in Hollywood. McKellen and Stewart are old pros having a good time and make even the lamest dialog bits work. The big losers are Halle Berry and James Marsden. Berry sports some sort of unidentifiable accent and seems to be stoned. Marsden, as Cyclops, performs as if he's in an old Devo music video, rather than a movie. Anna Paquin has some affecting moments as Rogue, but little actual screen time. The villains are given little to do, other than be menacing although it's nice to know Ray Park can talk after his silent role as Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.

The DVD comes with a number of extras. It's in wide screen with a choice between 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby surround. The 5.1 makes the action scenes come alive and there's good use of the rear channels for extra suspense. There are the usual press junket featurettes, excerpts from an interview with Bryan Singer and Charlie Rose, some 'animatics' showing how action sequences were designed almost as videogames before being filmed, and Hugh Jackman's screen test. There is an option that allows you to view cut scenes in place in the film. No major sequences were cut and most of the cuts were in the second act at Xavier's school. So, unless you really want to hear Halle Berry lecturing on the Roman Empire in that irritating accent, James Marsden teaching auto-mechanics, or more of Rogues twee and underdeveloped high school romance, it's not recommended. The cuts were made with good reason - the missing footage slows sequences to treacle speed.

Bare Hugh Jackman torso. Coma kiss. Tudor headdress brain wave amplifier. Normal saline senator. Imperiled foreign dignitaries. National monument destruction. Gratuitous dove eating. Bumpy harrier jet landing. Exploding camper. Yellow spandex joke. Bullet control.

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