The New Deal...

Because I still haven't stopped reeling from last month's $1500 credit card bill, I've been aspiring to a new level of thriftiness lately. Partially inspired by my new television obsession, Extreme Couponing, on TLC, I've been clipping more coupons for my grocery purchases, and trying to stick to buying sale items as much as possible. I'm never going to be able to attain the 98% discount rates that the people on the show do, mostly because I live in an area where no stores double coupons, I don't have the space to amass a hoard of items purchased with coupons, and I just plain refuse to dedicate the same amount of time to chasing deals that they do. Still, I managed to buy $80 worth of groceries recently for $46, a savings of 43%, and I'm pretty damn proud of that.

Similarly, in this spirit of thrift, this evening I decided to curate a date night for Justin and I based entirely on coupons from online daily deal sites. I had a $50 Groupon to a neighborhood Italian restaurant that cost me $25, and I had a Livingsocial deal for two movie tickets to be purchased on that cost me $9. Since movie tickets in Chicago cost about $12.50 per person for non-3-D movies, the Livingsocial discount saved us $16 alone. The Groupon was less of a good deal, since the restaurant we ate at still cost us an extra $20 in tax and tip above what was covered by the coupon, bringing the out-of-pocket cost of our dinner to $45, which was about what we might have spent if we'd gone to one of our usual restaurants, sans-online deal. Basically, the Groupon only enabled us to try a restaurant that would have ordinarily been beyond our means. Still, overall, we saved $41, or 43%, on an evening out in the city, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Oh, and as for the movie we went to see, it was X-Men: First Class. You may or may not remember that I'm a sucker for superhero movies, though it's usually a father-daughter bonding activity for me. However, since Dad was never a fan of the X-Men comics growing up, he's never been interested in seeing any of the films the way he is with Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, and their ilk. I, however, occasionally caught the X-Men animated television series as a child, so I cultivated an interest in their film franchise. I really enjoyed the first and second films, was less than thrilled with the widely-derided third installment, X-Men: The Last Stand, and decided not to bother with the Wolverine-based spin-off. That decision turned out to be for the best -- I later caught it on t.v. and couldn't bear to watch after about the first five minutes.

I did, however, really enjoy this latest attempt to reboot the X-Men franchise. Oddly enough, the special effects were occasionally a little tacky/sub-par (especially with regard to Emma Frost's transformation into diamond form), but I found the film to be well-acted (aside from the truly unfortunate decision to make almost everyone speak in an American accent, leading to distracting slip-ups), and entertaining. Usually, the reverse is true in comic book movies -- the acting and plot are lacking, but the razzle-dazzle of special effects keeps you distracted.

In particular, I enjoyed Michael Fassbender's portrayal of Magneto. I thought Sir Ian McKellen's Magneto was one of the best parts of the first three films, so I was glad to see a nuanced, energetic performance of his character in this film as well. James McAvoy, in the role of Charles Xavier, was pleasing to the eye and delivered a decent enough performance. He was no Patrick Stewart, but then again, no one is. Also, although I think January Jones is a terrible actress in general, she was well-cast as Emma Frost, where her inability to emote actually enhanced the character's frigid disposition.

For me, X-Men: First Class would have been worth the trip to the theater if only for the look of joy on Justin's face when it was my idea to see a movie based on a comic book. Apparently, a girlfriend with an interest in superhero films is a serious asset to a guy who's a self-professed "huge nerd." Even if it hadn't won me brownie points, in all honesty, I think the latest X-Men offering might be the best comic book-based film I've seen since The Dark Knight (though it wasn't even close to being on that level.) I recommend it regardless of whether you're a fan of the franchise; it's the perfect way to kick off the summer blockbuster season.

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