Beautiful Stranger

I don’t usually do these kinds of things, but I was tagged for one of those Facebook things where you’re supposed to link to a song starting with a letter the tagger gives you.  I was given b, and when I did a quick google of songs starting with b, I came across Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger.”  I’ve liked a number of Madonna’s songs over the years, but this one has a personal resonance for me.  When my wife, Fiona, and I started seeing one another, she was finishing her dissertation at Penn State and I was living in Gardiner, NY.  I used to drive down to see her on the weekend, taking my little, three-cylinder Geo Metro onto interstates where single and double tractor-trailers roared along beside me.  The car had no air-conditioning, so I kept the windows rolled down and blasted the radio.  That was the summer the second Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me, debuted, and this song was all over the airwaves.  I’d hear it on my the down, when my heart was trip-hammering with anticipation, and I’d hear it on the way back, when I was already counting the days till I returned.  To this day, whenever it comes on the radio, I recall those early days of the relationship that would lead to our marriage, the incredible good fortune that befell me.


X-Men: Days of Future Past

I read a lot of comic books when I was a kid, most of them put out by Marvel.  (This was from the mid-to-late seventies to the early-to-mid eighties.)  The Amazing Spider-Man was my favorite, both the new issues being written by the great Marv Wolfman, and the original issues being reprinted six at a time in paperback collections.  My brother liked The Fantastic Four–also being written at that time by Wolfman–so I read those, too.  Conan the Barbarian was a favorite, as was his superhero cousin, The Mighty Thor–both written by Roy Thomas.  I read a lot of other titles, too, sometimes because they crossed over with one of the Spider-Man comics (there were, as I recall, three regular Spidey series:  Amazing, Spectacular, and Marvel Team-Up, where Spidey paired with a different hero every issue, as well as at least one reprint series) and sometimes because they simply looked cool.  (And this isn’t going into the series I read because they brought to life this or that toy [Rom, Spaceknight or The Micronauts or The Shogun Warriors] or film monster [Godzilla].)

As I grew into my early teens, I started picking up the X-Men, as well–then being written by Chris Claremont, who wrote every issue of the comic I read for years.  I’m sure Claremont’s run on the X-Men has been discussed and dissected in all manner of venues, from academic popular culture studies to online forums.  I remember being struck by the intensity of his stories:  even by the melodramatic standards of comic book plots, his narratives went for broke.  It wasn’t just that things were darkest before the dawn–they were pitch black.  It’s the kind of technique someone like Joss Whedon would deploy in each season of his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.  I was impressed, too, by his portrayal of strong, complex female characters–Storm, Rogue, Kitty–something that was in particularly short supply when I was growing up.  The character of Wolverine as he was being written at that time also struck me:  this was a violent character whose violence had an edge that felt real and even frightening.  I liked, too, the moves Claremont was already making towards transforming Magneto, the X-Men’s greatest enemy, into more of an anti-hero than an out and out villain.

All of which serves as a prelude to this afternoon, when the Honey Badger and I went to the local theater for a matinee of the latest entry in the X-Men film series, Days of Future Past.  I have to admit, I wasn’t anticipating this one as eagerly as I was some of this summer’s other offerings (i.e. Godzilla), but I wound up being pleasantly surprised.  For one thing, talk about a story where there’s a lot at stake:  if Logan (Wolverine) doesn’t succeed in his time-travel mission, then it’s curtains for him and what few of his friends are left alive.  What’s more, there’s a chance for some of the deeper divisions that have occurred among figures like Professor X, Raven/Mystique, and Erik Lensher/Magneto to be, if not healed then at least ameliorated.  And indeed, this is where the movie really worked for me.  There are CG effects a-plenty, especially in the scenes set in the future, but while they’re undoubtedly impressive, I found them far less compelling than the human drama that plays out amongst the younger Xavier, Raven, and Lensher.  A lot of superhero movies appeal to the significance of choice, but this one does a better job than most of actually dramatizing that choice so it means something.  There are a couple of plot hiccups (i.e. the failure by Xavier et. al. to include Quicksilver in their plans for the  final showdown) but they’re forgivable.  If there’s one thing I can say about this X-Men movie, it’s that it makes me excited to see the next X-Men movie, which, this far into the series, is no small feat.