Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Aug. 24 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Aug. 24 

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X-MEN: FIRST CLASS X-Men: First Class is the best X-Men flick since the 2000 original, and while it's no match for either The Dark Knight or Superman, it still ranks among the top 10 movies to date in this specialized genre. It's that good. Working from a plot fashioned by six writers (including himself), director Matthew Vaughn employs a generous 132-minute running time in order to give all the characters and their predicaments breathing room. Front and center are Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbinder), two powerful mutants who team up to stop a former Nazi (Kevin Bacon) from starting World War III during the height of the Cold War. They also elect to mentor other mutants all looking for acceptance in a world that is just now becoming aware of their presence but already fearing and despising them for being different. Both Charles and Eric are happy to serve as mentors to these tortured youths — among them, the shape-shifting Raven/Mystique (Winter's Bone Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence) — but to different ends: Charles believes that mutants and humans can eventually coexist peacefully, while Eric feels that humans deserve only contempt and must bow to mutant superiority. Vaughn appears to be something of a mutant shape-shifter himself, moving from the steely coolness of Layer Cake to the fairy tale romance of Stardust to the relentless brutality of Kick-Ass. Here, he ably demonstrates that he can tackle a mammoth Hollywood blockbuster without getting swallowed whole by the experience. Crucially, he never loses sight of the fact that the characters matter far more than the effects work (though the CGI is excellent), and such an approach results in some memorable characterizations as well as one standout performance by Fassbinder as Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto. ***1/2

ZOOKEEPER Leave it to Zoolander to have the foresight to succinctly sum up Zookeeper. In that 2001 comedy, Owen Wilson's Hansel blares, "Taste my pain, bitch!" — a declaration that Kevin James was directing at me for the duration of this ghastly film's 100 minutes. I'm sure that taste will still be lingering in my mouth in December, when it's time to draw up the year-end "10 Worst" list. For now, I'm reduced to shedding a tear over our animal friends: Between this and Mr. Popper's Penguins, they're having an especially bad summer. The screenplay cobbled together by five writers curiously spends a lot more time on the bland romantic woes of Kevin James's zookeeper than on the talking animals, although there is a protracted subplot in which Griffin bonds with a lonely gorilla named Bernie (Nick Nolte!) by taking him to TGI Friday's. James always projects a sincerity that's missing from too many of his lowbrow peers, but when all is said and done, he's still about as funny as head lice. Adam Sandler's monkey gets off a couple of good cracks, but otherwise, the animals (lions voiced by Sylvester Stallone and Cher, bears voiced by Jon Favreau and Faizon Love, etc.) prove to be even more dull than the humans, never doing anything remotely interesting or amusing. Replaying Zookeeper in my mind draws up another Zoolander quip: "I've got a prostate the size of a honeydew and a head full of bad memories." Nothing wrong with my prostate, but, man, does my brain need a detox. *

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