Some reviews

Back again. I have three reviews I want to share with you. In no particular order:

Superman Returns

I went and saw this Wednesday night. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t all that great, either. Honestly, the best part of the experience was seeing the teaser-trailer for Spiderman 3 (completely unexpected, and completely cool — you can see it for yourself here).

Anyhow, in the grand scheme of superhero movies that have come out the last few years(and that I’ve seen), I would place Superman Returns toward the bottom of the list. Now I haven’t seen the reportedly less-than-stellar Daredevil, Electra, or Fantastic Four, but it falls just below the X-Men movies in my opinion.

First of all, the pacing felt off… and I think a big part of that was a lack of high-energy action sequences. There’s a good one relatively early, when Superman saves a plance that Lois is on, but overall the action (what little there is) feels rather… flat.

It lacked the sense of fun that ran as an undertone to both Spiderman films, and the brooding intensity that marked Batman Begins. While the lead, Brandon Routh, made a decent Superman (most notably in his performance as a replacement Christopher Reeve), he lacked Reeve’s natural onscreen charisma, and the emotional/romantic tension that should have existed between him and Lois just didn’t convince me.

Overall, not a truly bad movie, but not one that I have any desire to see again soon (unlike both Spiderman and Batman Begins, which I watch on DVD every so often). I give it a C+.

Cell by Stephen King

King’s second book since completing the Dark Tower series (he published a pulp thriller called The Colorado Kid last year) is good, and caught me offguard a bit. Based on the marketing hype, I was expecting King to give his twist to the classic “zombie apocalypse” scenario. In a way he did, but went farther than I would have expected, and in a different direction.

I was reminded of The Stand while reading it — particularly the ‘apocalyptic travelogue’ and anti-technology themes (it isn’t Luddite by any stretch, but it is cautionary). Cell is much less epic, however, and focused on a single character instead of the dozen-or-more that populate The Stand.

The idea that underlies the premise of the novel — that a techno-psychic pulse acts as an EMP to the human brain, rebooting it to its primitive core, and allowing something new to start developing in its place — is interesting, and since the latter part of that premise wasn’t what I was expecting, I kept reading to see what twist might show up next, and to see if any explanation (techno-babbly or otherwise) was forthcoming from King.

Ultimately, King doesn’t provide an explanation beyond the theorizing of his characters. Ultimately, it doesn’t harm the novel, since the story isn’t about what happened, or how it happened, but how one man deals with it. It’s a character study of a sort, really.

It’s rather quickly paced, which I think dampens some of the emotional impact of what’s going on. We meet these characters and spend time with them, but we don’t get the luxury of the leisurely characterization that, in my opinion, characterizes King’s best work.

The ending is somewhat maddening… it’s a classic The Lady or the Tiger situation, where King allows the reader to decide for themselves what happens next, and that decision speaks volumes about the reader and their life philosophy.

On the one hand, I really like the ending because of the debate that it may provoke among book circles, but at the same time I was left without any concrete resolution… the worst of the immedeate danger is past, but it’s left dangling. Is there hope for those infected by the pulse, or not?

As a final word, I enjoyed the little nods to King’s “Constant Readers” (as he calls them). The main character is an artist, and the references to his graphic novel are obvious tips of the hat to the Dark Tower epic. The other tidbit I picked up on (courtesy of Entertainment Weekly of all things) is that one of the supporting characters — the headmaster of a private school the characters visit — is named Charles Ardai, very likely named after the editor of “Hard Case Crime” (the publisher that released The Colorado Kid).

I give Cell a B+.

That will have to do it for now. I have one more review in mind, but I have to get ready for work. Look for it later this weekend… a review of the most recent season of Doctor Who (well, most recent as we here in the US are concerned).