X-Men: PICK

(2000)

Tora! Tora! Tora!: PICK

(1970)

Jezebel: PICK

(1938)

Content advisory:

X-Men: Stylized comic-book violence; a few crude expressions; stylized non-explicit nudity (mature viewing). Tora! Tora! Tora!: Restrained battle sequences (nothing objectionable). Jezebel: Romantic complications and innuendo, an honor duel (teens and up).

With X-Men 3: The Last Stand opening in theaters, it’s a good time to revisit the original X-Men, the superior super-hero film that relaunched the current wave of comic-book films. Along with Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins, X-Men is one of the few super-hero films capable of standing with the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Bryan Singer’s film is as interested in conflicting ideas and ideologies as clashing super-powers or martial-arts moves, an action-adventure bold enough to invoke the Holocaust and the civil-rights movement in its tale of widespread fear and mistrust of a misunderstood minority population, the super-powered mutants.

Patrick Stewart plays Professor Xavier, leader of the X-Men, who wants to see mutants and other humans live together in harmony. Ian McKellen plays Magneto, an embittered Holocaust survivor whose determination to realize his vision for mutantkind by any means necessary ironically mirrors Nazi superior-race ideology. The real star of the large ensemble cast, though, is Hugh Jackman as the popular Wolverine.

Violence is sometimes intense but seldom deadly and (except for a brief but brutal prizefighting scene) stylized; refreshingly, the film finds it unnecessary to kill off the villains. Remarkably, persecution of the early Church is highlighted in a key scene, deleted from the film but available in special-edition DVD/VHS, that slyly parallels the conversion of Constantine and legitimization of Christianity with Magneto’s entertainingly hokey comic-book plot.

Five years later, the bad taste of Michael Bay’s schlockfest Pearl Harbor is still hard to wash away — but the DVD release of the American-Japanese coproduction Tora! Tora! Tora! is just the thing to do it. With documentary-like restraint and evenhandedness, the film eschews Hollywood drama and spectacle in favor of a thoughtful exploration of the circumstances and events on both sides leading up to the infamous attack, including failures in communication and disastrous decisions made with limited information.

Richard Fleischer directs the American storyline in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., while the Japanese sequences are directed by Kinji Fukasaku (replacing Akira Kurosawa after the great director became disillusioned with the project and got himself fired). The result has been criticized as talky and static, but its low-key realism is persuasive: a welcome relief from standard Hollywood war-movie fare. Yamamoto’s famous line, “I fear that all we have done is awakened a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve,” may be apocryphal, but it accurately reflects the admiral’s well-founded fears.

David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind may be the definitive classic Hollywood melodrama of the antebellum South, but according to Charlotte Observer critic Lawrence Toppman, it’s a close second to the previous year’s Jezebel, Bette Davis’ consolation prize after she lost out on the opportunity to play Scarlett O’Hara in Selznick’s film. (Davis’s performance won her her second and last Oscar.)

Southern belle Julie Marsden may not be Scarlett O’Hara, but her determination to wear red to a New Orleans ball — in the face of ironclad social convention dictating white gowns for unmarried women — suggests a similarly willful, tempestuous nature, one bound to bring her to grief. Henry Fonda plays Julie’s put-upon fiancé, as honorable as Ashley and as tough-minded as Rhett, who is alienated by Julie’s behavior. Eventually Julie’s scheming machinations lead to tragedy, though even more tragic events offer her an opportunity for redemption. New to DVD.