Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
When X-Men: First Class hits theaters on June 3rd, you may notice that the blockbuster series has changed a bit. The costumes and setting are different, as are the actors playing lead characters Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr/Magneto. But the most noticeable departure for the franchise is its super-powered roster. The A-team of Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey and Wolverine are gone, along with heroes-in-training like Ice Man, Rogue and Kitty Pride. And though you’ll hear a few familiar names like Mystique and Beast, you won’t recognize their faces. Filling in for these future fighters are a new batch of mutants who join Xavier in actually founding the X-Men, and a young and talented cast of newcomers who you’ll be seeing a lot of in the coming years. Let’s take a look at the new mutants (well, not THOSE New Mutants…).
Emma Frost/The White Queen
Played by: January Jones
First Comic Book Appearance: X-Men #129 (1979)
Mutant Abilities: Various telepathic powers, including mind reading, mind control, mental sedation and psionic force bolts. In addition, she can transform her skin and hair into a diamond-like substance, rendering her nearly invulnerable.
Emma was born into a wealthy Boston family, but shunned its success and instead wished to make it in the world on her own. Guided by her ambition, intelligence and charm (not to mention her telepathic powers), she climbed the corporate ladder of big business and became the majority stockholder of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate principally involved in electronics and transportation. Her success caught the attention of the Hellfire Club, an elite secret society bent on global domination led by Sebastian Shaw, which is at the center of the conflict in X-Men: First Class. From there, she became one of the Club’s most respected members, and eventually its White Queen.
Played by: Kevin Bacon
First Comic Book Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #129 (1979)
Mutant Abilities: Can absorb kinetic energy and re-channel it into superhuman strength, speed and durability. He also has minor telepathic capabilities.
It’s no wonder that Frost and Shaw hit it off so well; they come from different sides of the same coin. Born to a poor family in Pittsburgh, Shaw turned his fortunes around by his mid-twenties with Shaw Industries, a company he built from the ground-up. He was quickly invited to join the Hellfire Club, and rose it ranks to become the Black King with relative ease. At this point, he planned to use its political and economic resources to further his own goals of global domination, but the X-Men surely had something to say about that…
Played by: Jason Flemyng
First Comic Book Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #428 (2003)
Mutant Abilities: Like the video game Portal? If so, this is the mutant for you. He can teleport by opening portals from one dimension to another. He can also concentrate this portal energy to conjure devastating blasts. Additionally, he shares a mental link with all of his offspring.
Believe it or not, mutants have been around since biblical times (Jesus? Maybe?). Azazel is one of the oldest, and he’s a pretty bad dude. As ruler of the Neyaphem (demon-like mutants from the old days), he believes that Earth and everything in it belongs to him, which kind of puts him at odds with the X-Men. It’s quite strange, then, that one of his children would turn out to be one of them! That’s right: Nightcrawler, the blue teleporter from X2, is the son of this evildoer, though I wouldn’t expect him to bring that up in First Class.
Played by: Zoe Kravitz
First Comic Book Appearance: New X-Men #118 (2001)
Mutant Abilities: They’re quite icky, actually. Angel possesses a few abilities akin to that of a common housefly. Aside from having a pair of wings that allow her to both fly and create a deafening ultrasonic sound by vibrating them, she has an insect like reproductive system that lets her lay eggs that can hatch after just five days. If that’s not weird enough for you, she can spit up an acidic bile-like substance that’s probably not too good for your skin.
Not to be confused with Ben Foster’s winged character from The Last Stand, Angel comes from a very different background than Warren Worthington III. Her abusive stepfather drove her out of her home, forcing her to sleep in the woods where her mutant abilities kicked in a formed a cocoon around her. When she woke up, she had her wings and ran into Wolverine, who took her to Xavier’s mansion. On an interesting side note, actress Zoe Kravitz, who plays Salvadore in First Class, briefly dated the fore mentioned Foster, bringing the cinematic mutant universe back full circle in a sense.
Played by: Lucas Till
First Comic Book Appearance: X-Men #54 (1969)
Mutant Abilities: Havok can absorb cosmic energy into the cells of his body, transform it in an unknown manner and release it as waves of energy that heat the air in their path enough to turn it into plasma, which is a super-heated state of matter consisting of charged subatomic particles.
This is where things get tricky for the chronology of the mutant universe. You see, Alex is the younger brother of Scott Summers a.k.a Cyclops. When we catch up with him in First Class circa 1963, he’s well into his teens already. How, then, can Scott the elder brother be in his early thirties in 2000s X-Men while Alex, the younger is 16 in the sixties? I really hope that director Matthew Vaughn and his army of writers address this fallacy, because it actually has kept me up at night.
Anyway, after a tumultuous upbringing in an orphanage followed by foster care, Havok joined the X-Men and fell in love with Lorna Dane, a.k.a Polaris (who is noticeably missing from the roster). After time spent abroad together doing research, he later would rejoin the X-Men and eventually lead the second iteration of the government sponsored mutant fighting force known as X-Factor.
Played by: Edi Gathegi
First Comic Book Appearance: X-Men Deadly Genesis #2 (2006)
Mutant Abilities: As his moniker would suggest, Darwin’s game is adaptivity. If he’s trapped in a burning building, his skin becomes fireproof. If he’s deep underwater, he grows gills to let him breathe. Get it? Unfortunately, he has no control over his powers; they are purely the result of an instinctual response. However, they have increased his intellect to near genius level.
Darwin is a relatively new addition to Marvel’s mutant universe, but no less important. His story begins in a 2006 run of comics in which he’s born to a father who rejects him and a mother who resents him. However, his intelligence got him a full scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, where he was bullied because of his wraithlike appearance. At 15, his latent abilities kicked in and he used them to fight back. It was then that he was sent to Dr. Moira MacTaggert, a renowned geneticist and friend of Charles Xavier. Eventually, all of MacTaggert’s students joined Xavier’s growing band of freedom-fighting peacekeepers known as the X-Men.
Played by: Caleb Landry Jones
First Comic Book Appearance: X-Men #28 (1967)
Mutant Abilities: Sean’s got a powerful set of pipes; thanks to his superhuman lungs, he can produce a sonic scream for various effects. First off, he can stun, disorient or knock someone out with his deafening shriek. He could generate sonic blasts that strike with tremendous concussive force, liquefying or outright disintegrating targets at his highest levels of power. He can even concentrate the sound waves to enable himself to fly.
Cassidy belongs to a noble line of Irishmen that dates back before recorded history. Born into a happy home where as a youngster he dreamed of heroic acts, he discovered his mutant abilities as a teen but concealed them at first, fearing for his own safety. He frequently clashed with his mutant cousin Black Tom, and the two had a longtime feud over a local girl who Sean ended up marrying. After a career in law enforcement with Interpol, Sean teamed with the X-Men to take on the rising mutant subversive organization Factor Three and, following their defeat, joining the team full time. In First Class, Cassidy will be one of the younger team members, but in comic book lore he’s actually of the same age as Charles Xavier and became a close confidante of the leader.
Played by: Alex Gonzalez
First Comic Book Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #210 (1986)
Mutant Abilities: Riptide can spin his body at incredible speeds, creating a vacuous suction that draws in nearby objects and allows him to throw objects at equally powerful velocities; chief amongst them calcified “daggers” which he grows from his own body.
Another villain who has clashed with the X-Men on numerous occasions, in the comics Riptide is a member of the mutant collective the Marauders who serve Mr. Sinister. In the film, he’s one of Sebastian Shaw’s henchmen and in all likelihood a low-ranking member of the Hellfire Club.
Update: Proving the point I just made in my original post that X-Men: First Class's casting is never, ever done, Deadline Hollywood just revealed that the distinguished Oliver Platt will be joining Jason Flemyng and Rose Byrne for director Matthew Vaughn's upcoming franchise reboot/prequel. Pratt will play a non-mutant, the enigmatically-named "Man in Black" - who, it can be assumed, has no connection to the Lost character of the same name, though I wouldn't be surprised if like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, Pratt's "Man in Black" was part of some similarly shady (though less hilarious) government agency. That's the same kind of villainous bureaucratic role Pratt played to perfection in Roland Emmerich's recent disaster-porn blockbuster 2012, so I give this bit of casting two thumbs up! The rest of the First Class news continues below:
Original Story: If you've been following our ongoing coverage of X-Men: First Class, then you're already aware that director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) has been busy all summer filling the prequel's roster with a wide spectrum of actors, ranging from the well-known (James McAvoy as Professor Xavier) and established (Kevin Bacon as an unknown villain) to the up-and-comers (Michael Fassbender as Magneto; Twilight's Edi Gathegi as the mutant Darwin).
Unfortunately for us carpal tunnel-stricken writers tasked with reporting on each newX-Men casting rumor to come down off the interwebs, Vaughn apparently isn't done expanding First Class's pantheon, despite the fact that 21st Century Fox expects principal photography to begin in London in just two weeks.
The latest to join the ensemble are British actor Jason Flemyng, who recently played Calibos in Clash of the Titans and is well known in England for his roles in Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999) and Snatch (2001), and actress Rose Byrne, who stars opposite Glen Close in Damages.
Flemyng revealed at this year's Movie-Con in London that he is set to play Azazel, a demon-like mutant whom he described as "a teleporter" at his presentation for Jonathan English's upcoming Ironclad movie. More importantly for the series' continuity, Azazel is Nightcrawler's father.
Azazel is introduced to the X-Men universe in "Uncanny X-Men" #428, "The Draco," as the father of Kurt Wagner (a.k.a. Nightcrawler) and the leader of a biblical race of mutants who have a demonic appearance and can teleport between dimensions. Although he is banished to another dimension by an angelic race of mutants, Azazel escapes to father Nightcrawler with the terrorist Mystique.
Byrne, meanwhile, joins the cast as Scottish scientist Moira MacTaggert, a leading expert on genetic mutation and the film's love interest for Charles Xavier (McAvoy). In the later 1979-1980 Uncanny X-Men storyline, MacTaggert is also the mother of one the series' greatest villains - the reality-warping Proteus - though by all accounts that narrative won't be part of First Class.
In addition to McAvoy, Fassbender, and Bacon, Flemyng and Byrne join Alice Eve as Emma Frost, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee, and Lucas Till as Havok for First Class, which begins production at the end of the month.
Actor Edi Gathegi, who played the villainous vampire 'Laurent' in Twilight and New Moon, is the latest addition to the cast of Matthew Vaughn's upcoming X-Men: First Class. The 31-year-old Kenyan, who grew up in California, will play 'Darwin' - a mutant who has the power of "reactive evolution."
In the X-Men comics, Darwin's body can biologically adapt to any environment he is put in, allowing him to survive almost any situation. For example, he can develop night vision after a few moments in the dark or grow functional gills if submerged in water. If exposed to fire, he simply becomes flame retardant. (That sounds more representative of Lamarck's theory of evolution than Darwin's, but we'll give the writers a pass for now.)
Gathegi, who just finished production on director Paul Johansson's adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, has also appeared in small but memorable roles in Gone Baby Gone (as the drug dealer 'Cheese') and Crank (as the Haitian taxi driver). For his latest role, Gathegi will join an ever expanding ensemble cast for First Class, including James McAvoy as Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Alice Eve as Emma Frost, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee, and Lucas Till as Havok. It was recently announced that Kevin Bacon will be playing the film's villain.
Bacon has joined James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class, according to EW.com.
Meanwhile, newcomer Jennifer Lawrence will reportedly portray the younger Mystique, who was played by Rebecca Romijn in the X-Men trilogy, and Caleb Landry Jones and British actor Nicholas Hoult have previously been cast as Banshee and Beast, respectively.
McAvoy and Fassbender will lead the cast as Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, respectively.
The film chronicles how the former friends became mortal enemies Professor X and Magneto.
In today’s dose of X-Men: First Class news, Jennifer Lawrence has been cast as the shape-shifter Mystique in the X-Men prequel. Lawrence, who is taking over the role played by Rebecca Romijn in the original series, has been nabbing rave reviews for her performance in new indie drama Winter’s Bone.
In its multitude of previous casting announcements, 20th Century Fox has reportedly been applying a misdirection campaign, reporting that actors have been cast as minor mutants in order to keep their true roles in the film a surprise. That’s probably not the case here, as Mystique would probably have a significant role in the film as one of Magneto’s henchmen.
Since we're on the verge of making a spreadsheet to keep track of X-Men: First Class casting news, here’s a breakdown of all the roles that have been cast so far.
James McAvoy- Professor Xavier
Michael Fassbender- Magneto
Kevin Bacon- possible villain
Caleb Landry Jones- Banshee
Nicholas Hoult- Beast
Alice Eve- Emma Frost
Lucas Til- Havok
For more of our previous X-Men: First Class casting news, check out these links
The X-Men: First Class casting process will not slow down for you, or for me, or for anyone. Now we are hearing that the illustrious Kevin Bacon (of Footloose fame) has been made an offer to play the unnamed villain in the Matthew Vaughn-directed prequel/reboot, and is currently in talks with 21st Century Fox.
If Bacon joins the roster for First Class, he'll be in good company with the likes of James McAvoy (Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Alice Eve (Emma Frost), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), Caleb Landry Jones (Banshee), and Lucas Till (Havoc).
I'm sure this announcement has people turning heads ('Kevin Bacon' is not a name we hear too often in Hollywood, and yet he has a sort of je ne sais quoi cachet), but I think Bacon could be perfect for this feature's villain. Look at that picture of him! Observe his sallow face, the surly demeanor (in this picture at least!), the high cheekbones and thin lips. He really is aging just perfectly for a villainous turn.