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By Michael Calleri

I think the key to a full enjoyment of "X-Men: First Class" is to erase most of what you remember from the previous X-Men movies and allow this new prequel to wash over you. Let there be no doubt, there are inconsistencies from the films with Wolverine as a pivotal character, including the failed version that revolved completely around Wolverine.

Just in case you've misplaced your notes, the titles of the four previous pictures are "X-Men," "X2," "X-Men: The Last Stand," and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." The "Last Stand" and "Wolverine"

features are the weakest entries. The gist of the X-Men Marvel comics is that the planet is populated by humans and mutants. Some believe the two cultures can coexist; others do not. War between the classes is always around the corner and to some, it's inevitable. There is also serious conflict within the mutant community.

Thematically, the latest edition goes back to the beginning of the development of mutants. On the production side, we have the very smart move of involving original director Bryan Singer as one of the producers and a co-author of the new movie's story. Singer deserves praise for helping make the first two X-Men films as entertaining as they were.

"X-Men: First Class" is a prequel that takes the audience to 1962. What we will learn is how Magneto, Professor X and some of the other X-Men learned about, and worked on, their prodigious powers.

Charles Xavier (played by a very good, very earnest James McAvoy) is a student at Oxford. He is a font of information about mutants. Xavier, who will eventually be known as Professor X, has telepathic powers. He tends to a runaway named Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), who will also be known as Mystique. She's a shapeshifter.

We see mutant self-discovery and training, and eventually, a group of mutants will be recruited by CIA official Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne). The CIA has information that a former Nazi concentration camp officer named Sebastian Shaw has been using his own nefarious mutants and a fistful of mysterious powers to create conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Essentially, the Cold War is a mutant creation overseen by a reptilian villain. A suitably nutty Kevin Bacon plays Shaw in overdrive.

When he was at the concentration camp, Shaw oversaw the separation of a young boy from his mother. That kid, Erik Lehnsherr, never forgets what happened to him. No surprise here, he is also a mutant, graced with the ability to bend metal. He will grow into the character known as Magneto, who is played with special energy and excitement by Michael Fassbender. It really is a terrific performance.

Because Magneto wants to avenge his mother's death, Erik will join forces with Xavier and the CIA to stop, now get this, the Cuban missile crises from turning into World War III.

And that's the audacious idea behind "X-Men: First Class:" that the world is on the brink of nuclear war thanks to the manipulation of a former Nazi.

And, even more audacious, mutants are involved in the madness. Clearly it wasn't just Cuban cigars and rum in which they were interested.

As a prequel, "X-Men: First Class" offers a clever glimpse into the past, but purists may balk at some changes, including the alteration of a little bit of X-Men history and new twists to some of the characters.

There are many screenwriters, and it's obvious that a little more cohesion and concentration from the myriad writers and from director Michael Vaughn might have eliminated some of the loose threads, and also to the overreaching involving the seemingly endless naval battle that looks more like it came out of a Sean Connery James Bond movie than something geared for the 21st-century. is fantastic, but does differ from what fans have come to know.

One element that is very well-handed is the relationship between Magneto and Professor X. We know from the history of the X-Men that there are vast differences between the two mutants. These differences are stark and draw your attention. The fact that the two men seem as if they could be superb friends makes their falling-out a powerful moment.

There's real emotion here, and I think we can credit Singer for this because he has always understood the underpinnings of the characters and recognizes the problems, including the discrimination, that stalked the mutant world.

"X-Men: First Class" is smart and colorful and doesn't bend under the pressure of some of its lesser, but forgivable moments. Ultimately, the movie is crazy fun.

There is a grand tradition of telling ghost stories, either humorous or eerie, in Mexican filmmaking. The tradition continues with "Nora's Will," a seriocomic film written and directed by Mariana Chenillo, about a Mexican-Jewish family dealing with plans for the funeral of its matriarch.

The ghost is Nora, the deceased, who has committed suicide and reaches out from the beyond with her demands after her death. Her will is a series of notes that control her ex-husband, Jose.

The two have the kind of relationship that many exes have. They are divorced, but they still share strong feelings for each other. In fact, they live across the street from each other.

Their lives are forever entwined.

Through a series of events, occasionally a shade too coincidental, Jose will deal with Nora and her will. He is Jewish, but he's become an atheist. Because it's Passover, he may not be able to bury Nora according to plan. She has even prepared a Passover meal as one of her last acts. Jose also has to wait for their son to arrive from where he lives before he can complete the tasks demanded of him by Nora's quirky will, some of which is written on Post-It notes.

Add a Catholic maid and her plans for the body, as well as a mysterious photograph, and you've got an enjoyable little farce that plays out in a relaxed and pleasing manner as more and more characters and incidents are thrown into the mix.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 7, 2011