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X hits the spot.

BACK in the 1950s parents, teachers and politicians queued up to condemn American comics as violent trash that would surely rot our brains.

Nothing is more attractive than forbidden fruit, but when I laid my hands on the occasional imported mag I couldn't see why everyone was making so much fuss about such feeble stuff.

How times change. Nowadays comic books and their superheroes are hailed as an art form.

As if to emphasise the point, the movie version of X-Men (12) comes complete with a brace of distinguished Shakespearean actors.

Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are both excellent in a film that also has a worthy moral theme, but I'm still not persuaded that comics should be taken seriously.

Marvel Comics first published X-Men in 1963, by which time it was too late to seduce me into their appeal. So I found the film's long explanation of what it's all about absolutely essential.

In some respects this is a comic strip very much of its times, with an underpinning theme about how society rejects, fears and persecutes minorities and tends to react violently to anything it perceives as different.

There are echoes of McCarthyite witch hunts and oblique kicks directed at the nastiness of racism and bigotry.

But let's not get carried away.

The appeal of comic strips still consists principally of violent action, endless fights and wishful thinking about heroes who turn up in the nick of time to save us from the monsters.

X-Men is set sometime in the future when an evolutionary glitch has started to throw up human mutants with special powers. The rest of society is running scared, wanting the freaks controlled, or even exterminated.

On the good side is Professor Xavier (Stewart), who reads minds. His team includes Cyclops (James Marsden) with death-ray eyes, Storm (Halle Berry) who can whip up a tornado and Dr Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who hopes that science and reason will triumph over ignorance and intolerance.

The baddies are led by Magneto (McKellen) who is plotting to take over the world. His team includes Toad (Ray Park) with a lethal tongue, Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) and shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).

Caught between the two is Rogue (Anna Paquin), a teenager who can absorb the gifts of others just by touching them. Fortunately, she has the ferocious Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) as her protector.

All of this appears to be an elaborate introduction to what is undoubtedly meant to be a long-running series of movies.

But if you like comic-book hokum, dazzling effects and spectacular stunts then X-Men is in the top class, with its strong cast and a script that at least tries to glimpse beyond the obvious.

If you can suspend disbelief long enough to accept the magical device on which the plot hinges, then Me, Myself, I (15) is a delight.

Rachel Griffiths stars in this classy, sensitive, funny, Australian fable that puts a new spin on 30-something female angst.

Pamela is a successful, award-winning journalist but increasingly worried that she has missed out on love and happiness as a top-notch career hides a lonely private life.

Then an accident magically transforms her - and she finds herself face-to-face with her doppelganger, the Pamela who married Robert, the love of her life, and now has three kids and a dog.

Stepping into a parallel universe, Pamela tries out her alternative life in a poignant, witty and well-observed movie.

Everything hinges on Rachel Griffiths who knows how to time a line and throw in a grimace and a wry smile at just the right moment.

Funny without pushing the joke too far, subtle and light of touch, this is a feel-good movie without the saccharine sentimentality that would have drowned it had the script fallen into the usual Hollywood hands.
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Author:Williamson, Richard S.
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 20, 2000
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