Discrimination. Genetic engineering. The Federal government invading private citizens’ privacy. What has made the “X-Men” comic books and their recent adaptations on the big screen (“X-Men,” “X-Men United”) better than the average superhero-action-adventure fare is the way the mythology and backstory of these genetic mutants with supernatural capabilities manages to address serious issues that are spiritually and culturally relevant.
The pursuit of tolerance and truth continues this weekend with the opening of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the third and (supposedly) final chapter in the film series. In the film, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and the rest of the mutants once again defend humanity against the evil Magneto, even while they themselves are the victims of hatred and bigotry–but this time with a twist. The X-Men are unexpectedly presented with an opportunity to become “normal.”
With the help the latest recruits, The Beast and Angel (one has apelike strength and one has wings), the X-Men face the resurrection of a former teammate turned foe, Jean Grey. Possessed with the cosmic power of the Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey is now a force of evil and destruction. In an attempt to save the world one more time, the X-Men accidentally discover a potential cure that would treat–and ultimately eliminate –genetic mutations. Gone would be the X-Men’s outcast status, but gone, too, would be their superpowers. By morphing into the ordinary, the X-Men realize that world peace may be possible–or not–but their own identity and purpose would be potentially lost forever.
Sound like a lot for a “popcorn” movie to take on? Well, it is. There are truly fascinating moments worthy of discussion in this film, but they are often buried under the onslaught of spectacular special effects. National landmarks are blown-up and fight sequence after fight sequence overshadows the important ideas that are given only sound-byte lip service sporadically throughout the story. There is also a lot of low-brow humor that betrays the charm of Wolverine and some of the other mutants, which was evident in the previous films.
In spite of “The Last Stand’s” shortcomings, I still recommend the film, and I don’t think die-hard “X Men” fans will be too disappointed. Any movie that dares ask you to think about how you can be kinder to others–while you are watching bridges and buildings being blown to bits–beats out that other blockbuster movie about some albino monk beating himself up over a convolated conspiracy any day.
After nearly three decades out of the musical spotlight, Yusuf Islam–formerly known as Cat Stevens–is back with the promise of a new album. Inspired by growing tensions between his beloved religion and the West, the singer-songwriter will be releasing a collection of songs that he originally worked on 20 years ago, according to the BBC.
The new album will be released on the 40th anniversary of Islam’s first record, “I Love My Dog,” which came out in November, 1966.
After he converted to Islam and changed his name in 1977, Yusuf Islam dropped out of the music world and became involved with London’s Muslim community by becoming a teacher and founding a popular Islamic school. Since his conversion, Islam had released several albums of spoken word and religious music (some of which I have and love).
He re-released his hit “Peace Train” in opposition to the Iraq war and has consistently spoken out against Islamic extremists as being contradictory to the peaceful nature of the religion. I can’t help but think his activity on this issue inadvertently led to the strange incident in 2004 when the U.S. refused his entry to this country (when he was coming to receive a peace award from a group of Nobel Peace Laureates) on grounds that he was “a threat to national security.”
So why, after so long, is Islam returning to popular music? In his true humble style, Islam told The Independent that “there were 100 reasons for leaving the music industry, not least because I had found what I was looking for spiritually. Today there are perhaps one hundred and one good reasons why I feel right making music and singing about life in this fragile world again.”
I can’t wait to hear this album.
Fans of all things magical and related to Harry Potter will be happy to know scientists are hard at work turning Harry’s famous invisibility cloak–the one that allows him to maraud about Hogwarts undetected by the likes of Snape and Mr. Filch–from pure fantasy into reality.
Skeptical are you? Have a little faith!
Andrew Bridges of the Associated Press reports in an article called “Harry Potter-like Invisibility Cloak Theoretically Possible” that scientists are busy “laying out a blueprint for turning science fiction into reality” and that “nothing’s stopping them from making such a cloak”–at least in theory. They are still working out the bugs for the materials necessary.
How does it work then? All you need are a few “exotic materials with an ability to steer light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation around a cloaked object, rendering it as invisible as something tucked into a hole in space,” writes Bridges. “Instead, like a river streaming around a smooth boulder, light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation would strike the cloak and simply flow around it, continuing on as if it never bumped up against an obstacle. That would give an onlooker the apparent ability to peer right through the cloak, with everything tucked inside concealed from view.”
Sounds pretty amazing, but as to whether it is practical everyday wear, physicist John Pendry told Bridges, “To be realistic, it’s going to be fairly thick. Cloak is a misnomer. ‘Shield’ might be more appropriate.”
The end of the eight-year run of the WB’s “Charmed” also marked the passing of a programming trend that began in the mid-late 90s, Wicca and witches. The proliferation of this particular primetime paganism–or rather, this artistic approximation of paganism–began with ABC’s “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” in 1996. Based on the Archie comic book series, Sabrina (played by Melissa Joan Hart) her two bachelorette, witch aunts, and ex-wizard cat, Salem, found themselves in many a zany situation thanks to miscast spells and improper potions.
A year later, “Felicity” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” jumped on board, featuring more realistic Wiccan characters. Sure, Felicity’s roommate Meghan was a bit odd and “Buffy’s” Willow would later turn evil and try to destroy the world, but both these characters were portrayed practicing Wicca as a craft and not casting crazy spells to save the prom.
These girls with power mirrored the larger “Girl Power” zeitgeist of the mid-late ’90s. Uberproducer Aaron Spelling took the broomstick and flew with it, so to speak. In 1998, “Charmed” debuted to huge numbers and would remain popular. The Sisters Halliwell–originally Pru, Piper, and Phoebe,later Piper, Phoebe, and Paige–were known as the “Charmed” ones, witches who have special abilities dubbed “the power of three.”
And while the show took artistic, action-driven license, it also provided a decent representation of a belief system not often portrayed on television. Reviewer Wren Walker noted that while warlocks don’t actually try to steal witches’ powers, “The pronunciations were good, the tools were explained well, and some ethical considerations were mentioned. The altars looked messy enough to be real–I guess not even Hollywood magick do anything about wax drippings–and the sisters wore-gasp!-regular clothing even when casting spells!”
More importantly however, the gals of “Charmed” cast a spell over the audiences making their eight-year run the longest running show with all female leads. Now that’s Girl Power!