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X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
Starring: Ray Milland, Diana Van Der Vlis
Director: Roger Corman
Plot: A scientist invents a serum that allows him to see through objects but soon his extraordinary powers go out of control forcing him to flee his peers and driving him close to madness.
Review: Done quickly and on the cheap, X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes (or simply "X!" as the title proclaims) is actually a surprisingly efficient little B-movie, one of exploitation king Corman's best directorial efforts. Oh, some of it is indeed rather silly, but it's quite effective in conveying its story, the pace is rather good, and the narrative moves along nicely, touching on many aspects and themes, exploring the difficulties of his new-found powers all within a short running time. There are moments of humor to be found, as when our hero finds himself at a college party and sees everyone naked (and, while we don't see it, the camera captures it quite well, if rather shyly). The film takes a dark turn half-way through, as he loses control over his perceptions, and his visions start affecting his mind and alters his relationship to his own humanity. Yes, it's another plot involving the time-favored morality tale of scientists paying the price for seeking "forbidden" knowledge, but thanks to a decent script, this actually still holds quite well even today. Corman's ability to stretch a tight budget is now legendary, and here he finds once again some creative ways to shoot the many required special effects sequences and, even though these are sometimes low-key or even downright crude, they work well enough to keep us involved. The end is rather sudden, with a final shot which was probably more shocking at the time than it is now, but rumor has it that the original ending was cut off and was even more shocking (*spoiler warning* after plucking out his eyes to escape the images before him, he gets up with empty sockets, and screams "I can still see!" - heady stuff! *end spoiler*). It was a definite coup getting Oscar-winning actor Milland to play the protagonist; though the actor was on the wane since his win for The Lost Weekend in the 40's, he adds a definite amount of class to the proceedings and makes even the most laughable dialogue believable. Of the cast, funny-man Don Rickles is the only stand out in a sleazy supporting role as the obnoxious circus presenter. Despite some minimal sets, some wooden acting, and its obvious budgetary constraints, Corman and company have managed to create with X an interesting, engaging science-fiction tale.
Entertainment: 7/10

X: the Movie (Japan - 1996)
Starring: Tomokazu Seki, Junko Iwao
Director: Rintaro
Plot: A young boy is given an awesome power to decide the fate of the world by either defending Mankind, or by helping to wipe out the Human blight from the face of the Earth. Whichever he chooses, he must challenge his power-mad friend in final battle.
Review: Trying to over-simplify the massive, and unfinished, Japanese Manga (comics) series X, the producers have ended up spoon-feeding the story to the audience. Indeed, the constant repetition of the "fate of the Earth" motif and X's role in it becomes patronizing and annoying. Even so, the story still seems rushed, with no time for any development to the interesting characters leading to weak one-dimensional protagonists. And yet, paradoxically, there are many instances of slow, uneventful moments. The climactic showdown is also a bit of a let-down after such a long build-up. After saying all this, I have to admit that what X lacks in story, though, it more than makes up in stylish, colorful visuals. The animation itself may not be up to par with releases such as Princess Mononoke, but its art direction, with its gothic and modern architecture, amazing scenes of battle and destruction, as well as its peaceful post-apocalyptic imagery, is superb. Apocalyptic battles and super-powered heroes may not be new but X, with its mature and downbeat storyline, manages to bring an interesting and often impressive visual presentation to the genre.
Entertainment: 8/10

The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998)
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau
Director: Rob Bowman
Plot: Two FBI agents specializing in the supernatural follow-up on an alleged government conspiracy to hide from the public knowledge of a deadly virus that might have extra-terrestrial origins.
Review: Based on the on-going TV phenomenon, X-Files: Fight the Future brings the cast of the show to the big screen in a blockbuster-sized installment of their continuing quest for The Truth. The story has all the elements that made the show such a success: the atmosphere of paranoia, the twisting conspiracies, the dealings and whispers in dark alleys, and the relationship between the two partners, Mulder and Scully. Being a summer offering, however, all of this is presented to movie-goers with some amazing production values, large sets, good special effects, and even some decent action scenes. Beyond the usual trappings, though, it's the chemistry between the two leads, their camaraderie, and their long-standing platonic friendship that really shines through and makes the film, and the series, so appealing and both actors have their roles down pat. Regular characters all make cameo appearances, of course, with the noted addition of Landau, in an interesting casting choice as the Deep Throat-like informer. Director Bowman, himself a show veteran, ably makes the jump to features and offers up a good-looking picture with a constant sense of tension. The story, stretching from Texas to Antarctica, is appropriately grand, and reveals a bit of the mystery surrounding the convoluted series' main arc. For casual viewers, the film stands well on its own but will feel very open-ended, leaving more questions unanswered than a typical film of the genre would allow. For fans, however, this will feel like a large, exciting episode between two seasons of the show. An intelligent, exciting sci-fi adventure / conspiracy thriller, The X-Files: Fight the Future is more than a solid big-screen adaptation of a TV series, it's a finely made, entertaining film in its own right.
Entertainment: 8/10

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet
Director: Chris Carter
Plot: Two former agents who dealt with paranormal cases for the FBI are called back to duty when a fallen priest claims to be having psychic visions of a kidnapped 
Review: A long-in-the-making follow-up to the successful TV-to-big screen incursion The X-Files: Fight the Future (and six years after the end of pop-culture phenom series finale), I Want to Believe does an about-take to give a more somber, action-deficient (and thrill-deficient) film, to the detriment of just about everyone. Blame the story, which brings little of the spookiness and paranoia that we've come to expect, focusing on a more intimate tale that seems too small for a movie theater. For die-hard fans of the TV show, any excuse to see Mulder and Scully back in action (even in little action) is better than none. For everyone else, this is an unmemorable film experience despite the crisp Vancouver BC cinematography, the semi-intriguing concept and the return of two of TV-dom's most beloved characters. The error was to try to make the film a stand-along affair palatable to all; the tale still hits on the main concepts of belief, supernatural forces and strange science, but the story dismisses the real attraction, that of the series' core mythology, and gives rise to only a typical, hum-drum horror / thriller. In fact, it's more appropriate to a two-hour TV episode of the series, and not one of the better ones at that. There's no denying that Duchovny and Anderson have the roles down pat, but the movie finds them living life as an old married couple, something that leads to an interaction that is nowhere near as lively (or interesting) as it was in the past. In fact, the most interesting aspect are the dramatically underused Peet as an FBI agent who "wants to believe" and Connolly who plays a pedophile priest who may or may not be having visions. Not to say that it's a complete loss: there's a nice little mystery here, and anyone who has ever watched the show will get a twinge of nostalgia. Alas, like the title, we want to believe in the film, too, but if the elements are there, the spark is all but gone leaving us with little to hold on to.
Entertainment: 6/10

Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (1998)
Starring: Lu Lu, Lopsang
Director: Joan Chen
Plot: Like millions of urban Chinese youths during the early 70's, Xiu-Xiu is separated from her parents to work in the countryside. She ends up being sent to a remote corner of the highlands to learn horse herding from a solitary man in a desolate place, and must share a tent with him in little privacy. But all her dreams are of going back home to her family.
Review: What starts off as a sweet, intimate portrayal of a young, naive Chinese city girl sent out on her own quickly turns into a dark, dispiriting look at the moral corruption of the Chinese under Communist rule. The camera doesn't shirk away from difficult scenes and the script doesn't offer any easy answers or happy endings, and delivers an often brutal look at the loss of childhood innocence. The successful acting ability of the main characters is all the more important here as most of the sentiments that propel the story are unspoken, and the two main actors are a joy to watch on-screen. Chen's direction is especially note-worthy - her first effort comes off as a mature, veteran production. Combined with the beautiful cinematography of the desolate, magnificent vistas of the Tibetan countryside, she has created a beautiful, moving, heart-wrenching film that deserves to be seen by everyone who appreciates good cinema.
Drama: 9/10

X-Men (2000)
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman
Director: Bryan Singer
Plot: A powerful telepath brings together a band of super-powered mutants to battle a villain with magnetic powers and his evil brotherhood.
Review: With X-Men director Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil) has managed the difficult task of bringing an adaptation of the classic comic super-hero team to life. The script is obviously aiming at a more sophisticated crowd than the typical summer blockbuster, tying in political sub-text, decent characterizations and intelligent story to the special-effects-laden action. Unfortunately, it's hard to shake the feeling that the film is mostly just introduction to the characters and settings, and not enough a story in its own right. Audiences looking for an action-fest will be disappointed by the sparse battles, but there's enough good stuff to keep viewers satisfied, and those expecting a story with some depth will be well rewarded. As in most ensemble-cast films, the characters are only brought to life in a very cursory manner, except for Wolverine who ends up being the main character, and the villain Magneto, the only one with an actual background. It's also a fine cast all around, and the performances are convincing, especially Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Fans of the comics will be pleased by the generally faithful adaptation, and new ones will appreciate the start of a new, interesting franchise - and one that begs for a tighter paced sequel.
Entertainment: 8/10

X2: X-Men United (2003)
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen
Director: Bryan Singer
Plot: After a presidential decree makes them outlaws, a band of mutant heroes must work with their escaped nemesis to stop a vicious paramilitary officer and his powerful henchmen from killing every mutant on the planet.
Review: A notch better than its solid predecessor, X2: X-Men United is bigger, bolder than the previous one, with more action, wilder plot, and better special effects, it raises the bar for all genre adaptations. Bar none, this is the closest a movie has ever come to capture the feel of a good super-hero comic-book. Much like the Superman II, the movie builds on the first "origin" film and cuts loose; now that they don't have to spend time setting up the characters, the story gets a chance to really hit its stride. The smart script manages to be faithful to its source, with a terrific grasp of the essence of the comic-book characters and situations that made it so popular with fans. At the same time, it still adds enough zest to make the film its own entity. Combining them both, the film manages in the process to uncover the best of its base material and become what the original paper series aimed to be: higher-brow entertainment. Indeed, every moment feels like a real good comic-book story - amusing character interactions, impressive action, pathos, love triangles, and a good sense of humor. Add to this some terrific production values, slick editing and some real super-hero blasting and you have a product that's a just a lot of FUN. Director Singer proves that his first X-outing wasn't a fluke, and seems to have even better control over his cast, his production, and his camera than ever before. With such a large cast, it takes some doing to make each character stand out, but thanks to the solid all-star cast (including Halle Berry, Brian Cox, and fine new-comer to the series Alan Cumming as the teleporting Nightcrawler) and a competent script they all have their significant part to play. X-Men 2 is more that just a good ensemble piece, it's also a summer action movie with all the right elements: this is what a blockbuster event should be!
Entertainment: 9/10


X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen
Director: Brett Ratner
Plot: The X-Men are caught in the middle of an eminent war between humans and super-powered mutants following the dicovery of a cure for mutations, and things get worse when one of their members is resurrected as a powerful entity joining the fray against them.
Review: Seen as a stand-alone commercial effort, X-Men: The Last Stand is a fun blockbuster, a collage of money shots and mutant mayhem that will satisfy casual viewers, but as a final installment of a stalwart, smart series that captured the real essence of the comic-book world it's a disappointment. The original installments (X-Men, X-Men United) by director Bryan Singer were shining beacons that transcended the standard comic adaptation and elevated the costumed hero soap-opera to real drama. Lacking the heart and soul of its predecessors, this latest chapter is more interested in grand spectacle (like the moving of the Golden Gate bridge, or the mayhem of the Phoenix entity) and grand themes. As such, the special effects are impressive, the super-hero action is pretty good, and it's obvious a lot of money went into the film, but it all feels flat and a bit rushed - considering the many issues that plagued the production that's perhaps not unexpected. As a last-minute replacement director Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) tries his best with the franchise and manages well enough during the large-scale events but lacks the subtlety with the characters that made the series so enthralling. The story may have high stakes, what with its the two main plots (the mutant cure and the Dark Phoenix saga - important milestones in the original Marvel books) and the parallels with current politics, but it's all so jumbled that it diminishes the impact. Knowing this would be the last chapter in the series the filmmakers have gone for broke by throwing in too many characters and plot points to deal with in such a short time; it's no wonder it all gets short-changed. It ends up with little of the dialogue, character development, or emotional empathy with its larger-than-life characters that we've come to expect. Two fine exceptions, however, are the deaths of two major characters that are virtually operatic in their depiction, especially during the tragic climax, the real emotional highlight of the film. As the leads, Jackman comes off unscathed but while Berry gets top billing and more screen time this time around her Storm isn't very interesting. The large supporting cast, including new members like Kelsey Grammer as The Beast and Vinnie Jones as The Juggernaut (to name but a few) don't get much to work with and feel more like they're all going through the motions. The exceptions are McKellan and Patrick Stewart, as the old friends turned adversaries, who play out their scenes with real panache. X-Men: The Last Stand is a solid summer pop-corn movie, but with the high expectations set by its predecessors one can't but feel let down by this conclusion to the trilogy.
Entertainment: 7/10

X-Men: First Class (2011)
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Plot: In 1962, a young Prof X teams up with the man destined to be Magneto to form a band of superpowered operatives under the auspices of the CIA in order to stop a brotherhood of evil mutants from causing world destruction.
Review: Rewinding back one generation, before the events of the popular X-Men trilogy, X-Men: First Class means to go back to the mutant team's very origins and provide the premise for a new movie trilogy. Cramming into two hours a slew of new and old characters, a world-spanning adventure, spectacular special-effects set-pieces, and a nice dose of humor it succeeds at satisfying old and new fans alike. Filmed like a 60's-era James Bond Cold War thriller, the sets are colorful and retro-futuristic, the villains are grand and the dastardly plot involves global atomic destruction. Pitting the mutant-against-mutant battle in the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis adds some political punch, replete with actual era footage, and the historical setup makes for a more hefty narrative than most Hollywood blockbusters. Director Vaughn made quite an impression on super-hero fans with the no-holds-barred adaptation of Kick-Ass, and here he ups the ante in terms of scope and style while still keeping a very humanistic approach to the characters, even if the film takes the more familiar (and less controversial) mainstream road. But at the heart of all this comic-book tom-foolery are the two leads: McAvoy hits the right notes and is suave and all British as Prof X, but it's Fassbender, as the young troubled Magneto who's the real star: on the one hand he plays the part of the cool secret agent with bravado, making a great Sean Connery impression to boot; on the other, he puts in so much angst and anger as a man bent only on revenge, it feels like we've jumped into a scene from Wuthering Heights. Rounding out the supporting cast are Kevin Bacon as a villainous ex-Nazi-turned-mutant, Lawrence as the young, blue-tinted Mystique, January Jones as the scantily clad Frost Queen, and some other familiar faces. If there's one downside, it's that Vaughn and his screenwriters try to explain and wrap up too many things in this first installment. Still, if it's not quite as "first class" as the title suggests (that definition still only applies to X-Men United), X-Men: First Class still has a lot of class all its own, and it's pretty smart summer action fare, too.
Entertainment: 7/10

xXx (2002)
Starring: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Marton Csokas
Director: Rob Cohen
Plot: A tough extreme-sports star is forcibly recruited by a secret agency to infiltrate a Russian criminal organization made up of ex-army officers that plans to spread a deadly virus across the globe.
Review: From the get-go it's obvious that xXx is a blatantly commercial product that's loud and fast, silly and preposterous. Yet, as a mix of extreme sports and James Bond spy thriller contrivances (which includes a gadget-laden street car and nubile women), this is pure, unadulterated escapism. Director Cohen hit the right tone and feel with his last collaboration with Diesel on The Fast and the Furious, but he misses the slick polish and engaging narrative here. It tries damn hard to be fun, but with a bunch of stock, sneering villains, an uneven pacing, and a clichéd, by-the-numbers story that is so silly and blandly executed, it teeters badly. Thankfully, the filmmakers have tried to create the most incredible, elaborate effects-laden stunts they could imagine and the dozen over-the-top action set-pieces makes up for all these discrepancies. These include parachuting from a car diving over a bridge, outracing an avalanche on a snowboard, riding a motorcycle over an exploding farmhouse, and more, everyone of them working admirably; they're exciting and thrilling, and will definitely bring a grin. It's just too bad that they're all connected with the most thread-bar of plots. Vin Diesel is being touted as the action hero for a new generation and the film tries hard to plug him into a niche character with a rebellious, cynical, cooler-than-thou attitude. But this is only Hollywood's idea of a "bad boy" - he was much more formidable and interesting in Pitch Black. Still, Vin Diesel does come off well in the film's more tongue-in-cheek moments (at one point he screams "I live for this!" into the camera before being thrown off a cargo plane). Unfortunately, the finale finds Diesel riding what amounts to a speed boat on auto-pilot and the "stunt" which should have topped all that came before is instead an unexciting, uninspired sequence that just putters on. In the end, xXx comes off as too calculating and bland story-wise to be a real hit, but the myriad of stunts (and Diesel) will keep most audiences highly entertained.
Entertainment: 6/10

xXx: State of the Union (2005)
Starring: Ice Cube, Willem Dafoe, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Lee Tamahori
Plot: After a mysterious commando group devastates the NSA headquarters of the xXx program, a new agent is recruited to track down and stop a military coup against the US Government.
Review: The original xXx had two things going for it: action star Vin Diesel and over-the-top X-treme sports action scenes that were silly but damn exciting. For xXx: State of the Union it seems the filmmakers forgot everything that made the original so much fun: from a promising start, it’s all downhill once the opening credits have rolled. Gone are the cool gadgets, the inventiveness, and anything that might have had a tie to the original, except perhaps for Jackson who easily steals the show despite only a handful of scenes. As for the clever stunts, there aren’t really any in this chapter, the story relying more on gunfights and a show of sleek-looking cars. Worse, things blow up well enough and the action is pretty much non-stop, but none of it is engaging or interesting to look at. This is a step back for Tamahori who proved he had the chops for this kind of film after directing the last Bond flick Die Another Day (which itself was more in line with xXx). Sure, the expensive production values, the art direction is exaggerated, and the pacing is revved up, but the connect-the-dots script is so derivative, predictable and just plain dumb that we quickly lose attention to what’s happening on-screen. In fact, one can’t help but be reminded of the lame 80’s Chuck Norris film Invasion USA which had a similar army-in-Washington set-up. The film’s biggest liability however is Ice Cube; Diesel showed both intelligence and attitude, but the current xXx doesn’t even bother with one-note acting, going for a constant scowl instead. Is it even worth mentioning that the stereotypical portrayal of Blacks is supposed to be “cool” but isn't and the women are there purely for the cleavage shots? Perhaps not. Taking the worst elements of the genre, State of the Union is a loud, ludicrous and incompetent affair that is barely passable for action fans.
Entertainment: 3/10

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