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Archive for June, 2006

Review: Superman Returns

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There’s a scene early on in Superman Returns which beautifully establishes director Bryan Singer’s priorities for his latest superhero epic: the Kryptonian rocket which Superman has apparently been using during his mysterious time off Earth crashes in a cornfield near his mother’s farm in Kansas. We don’t see the ship land, however, not directly; we see Martha Kent’s face and reaction as she watches the crash and explosion through the window in her kitchen. We see what she sees only as a reflection in a windowpane. From the outset of the movie, Singer tells us he’s more interested in the characters and the emotions of his story than he is in the special effects; he’s ultimately more concerned with the man than with the super.

Speaking of that man: as difficult as it was, I tried very hard not to hold the fact that he’s not Christopher Reeve against new Superman Brandon Routh. [1] I thought Routh was just fine, but clearly Routh was no Reeve, a man I’m firmly convinced was genetically engineered to play Superman. Routh mostly aped Reeve’s performances, especially his bumbling Clark Kent, and he made a decent go of it. And I certainly don’t blame Routh for mimicking Reeve here; I’m sure he was instructed to do so by Singer. Since this movie was lifting the aesthetic of the first two Superman movies whole-cloth, Routh’s performance actually would have been out of place had he not tried to copy Reeve. And while Routh might not have the screen presence that Reeve did, his Superman still captures the easy grace and charm of the character.

Even if I didn’t like Routh’s Superman as much as I did Reeve’s (and to be truthful, that’s not even a fair fight), I far preferred Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane to Margot Kidder’s. I never liked Kidder’s Lois as I didn’t find her at all attractive, appealing or charming — I couldn’t understand why Superman would fall so heavily in love with this woman who was more annoying than anything else. Bosworth, on the other hand, has plenty of the appeal and charm Kidder lacked. Her Lois, while still being younger than I might have liked, also had enough of the flinty edge underneath I expect from Lois Lane. Bosworth did a wonderful job of conveying the heartache and confusion Lois felt when Superman disappeared and the internal fight when he returns. (As much as I liked Bosworth, though, I will have to admit to a few quibbles with some of Lois’ parenting choices: the intrepid journalist endangering herself is one thing; putting her five-year-old son in harm’s way certainly wasn’t her brightest move.)

Kevin Spacey brought much more menace to the role of Lex Luthor than Gene Hackman did, and I appreciated this more evil Lex: to me, Lex Luthor’s not supposed to be the buffoon Hackman portrayed him to be. I was afraid from the previews that Spacey was going to camp up the part, but luckily all of the campiest bits were used in the trailers; past that, Luthor was the hyper-intellectual follicularly-challenged menace he’s supposed to be. Roger Ebert said he didn’t think Spacey was having any fun with his role, and I can see thinking that if one is using Hackman’s Luthor as the measuring stick — Hackman clearly looked like he was having a better time with his Luthor, but that doesn’t make his a better performance. I don’t believe Luthor is supposed to be a fun character. This is a man willing to kill billions of people; what should be fun about that?

You might be asking yourself at this point: “Hey, all of this stuff about the characters is cool and all, but what about the action, man?” Yes, the action sequences were every bit what I expected them to be. Every penny of that rumored $200 million budget was on that screen. Singer’s Superman does the sorts of things you expect Superman to be doing, and the special effects have advanced to the point where not only can he do the impossible, but he can look damn good doing it. The plane/shuttle rescue in particular was breathtaking to behold, exactly the kind of thing done regularly in the comic books but formerly impossible to pull off in the movies, and the Superman Saves Metropolis sequence made me wish Metropolis would be in such peril more often. My only problem with the action sequences was that there weren’t enough of them, but as noted above, Singer was emphasizing the man over the super, so the action took something of a backseat to the characters.

My one major complaint with Superman Returns — and it’s a complaint serious enough to knock my overall grade for the movie down a half a notch — was with the Beatdown of Superman sequence. (I don’t feel it’s a spoiler to mention that this scene occurs since it’s featured prominently in the most recent trailers, but you might want to skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens.) A depowered Superman gets thoroughly whipped by Luthor’s goons. That much I can deal with, even if I don’t like it — the problem I had was with the fact that Superman doesn’t fight back at all, save for a feeble grab at Luthor’s legs. He didn’t as much as take a swing at his attackers, and that’s not true to the spirit of the character. Superman does not crawl away from a fight on his hands and knees, even if he’s in pain and has lost his powers — it’s not his powers that make him Superman, but rather his willingness to fight for, as Daily Planet editor Perry White says in this movie, “truth, justice, all that stuff.” Superman’s mission is traditionally called the “never-ending battle,” not the “as long as I have super-strength and invulnerability battle.” Seeing a battered Superman crawl through the mud in pain and humiliaton struck a very wrong chord with me; I don’t see why the scene would have lost any power or resonance had he fought back against his attackers yet still been overwhelmed by their greater numbers.

Still, Superman Returns was a glorious “welcome home” to a character who hasn’t graced the big screen in far too long. Superman is the iconic superhero, and it’s good to see him finally get the super treatment he deserves.

Grade: A-

[1] I normally don’t advocate writing reviews by comparing different movies or different intrepreations of a character, but Singer invited us to do exactly that by so closely following the vision Richard Donner put forth in 1978. Not comparing the two would both feel dishonest and like the review was incomplete. Singer took the exact opposite tack with Superman Returns from the one Christopher Nolan took with his masterful reimagination Batman Begins: while Begins completely repudiated the four previous films in the series, Returns is slavishly faithful to Superman and Superman II. Nearly every memorable moment from the first movie was either recycled, updated or knowingly echoed with a wink in the new movie. I certainly appreciate wanting to ground the audience who grew up with the originals to feel like this newest entry in the franchise was still part of the same universe, but it almost felt like too much on occasion.

Written by Allen

June 30th, 2006 at 10:12 am

Link: First Trailer for Spider-Man 3

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I might not have the love for Spider-Man that I do for Superman, but I’d be seriously remiss in my geeky duties if I didn’t let you people know that the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man 3 was released today. And while I’ve never been a fan of Venom, what they show of the alien symbiote does actually look pretty sweet… as does the black costume. And the Sandman.

It’s certainly not enough to distract much of my attention from the fact that I’ll be watching Superman Returns in <checks watch> 28 hours and seven minutes, but it’s nice to know that I’ve got what looks to be a kickin’ superhero epic to look forward to next summer.

Unlike, say, 2008′s Iron Man, which I have a feeling is going to suck hard enough to pull my stomach lining out through my mouth.

Written by Allen

June 27th, 2006 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Comic Books,Movies,Pop Culture

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MySpace Invader

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Against my better judgment, I now have my MySpace profile relatively complete. (Yes, thank you, I’ve noticed that I’m not a 15-year-old girl.)

My reasons for setting up the profile are couplefold:

  1. Most of my friends from Florida are on MySpace, and that seems to be one of the main ways they keep in touch. For example, my insanely talented (and now Cali-ized rather than Florided) friend Steve (he of the Deadly Fists of Kung Fu video I posted here a few weeks back) has an acccount there, and I might actually keep in contact with him a little bit better if I know where I can consistently find him.
  2. There seems to be some small opportunity to network effectively using the stupid site — there are several comic book writers I like who have accounts there and allow anyone to friend them. I seriously doubt anything will actually come from having, say, Warren Ellis on my MySpace friends list, but hey — it can’t be any less than the absolutely nothing that will likely happen otherwise.

MySpace is, of course, an Internet entreprenuer’s wet dream: the guys who built it launched the site in the summer of ’03 and sold it two years later to News Corp for $580 frickin’ million. The people who programmed the site originally couldn’t possibly have known that their little community application was going to become one of the biggest phenomena on the web and one of the centerpieces of modern teenager culture, but that’s exactly what it is. At the time I’m writing this, MySpace is the fourth-most-visited English-language site in the world according to Alexa.

As a professional web applications developer, however, using MySpace feels like digging tiny barb-covered Mountain Dew-dipped daggers underneath the fingernails of my soul. It really and truly is a wretchedly put-together site. The usability and navigation are abysmal, and we can’t even get started on the entire “ugly design” ethos that MySpace empitomizes lest my frontal lobe catch fire. I can’t look at the site without thinking of all the things I’d have done differently if I’d built it. [1] But as part of my plan to Get My Name Out There And Network, I decided that I needed to swallow the bile rising in the back of my throat and start using MySpace, at least a little.

So any of you reading this who are willing to admit you have a MySpace page, let me know or just add me as a friend on your profile. I’ll tell Warren Ellis you said hi.

[1] Of course, who knows — the things I’d've done differently might’ve made for a better application but a less-popular site. It seems that MySpace’s rough-around-the-edges-ness is one of the reasons it’s so popular. My designer mind can’t quite wrap itself around that one, though.

Written by Allen

June 23rd, 2006 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Web,Web Design

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Eternal Stupidity

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So in this space today, you were supposed to get a review of the first issue of Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr.’s new Eternals miniseries. I wanted to help persuade all of my Gaiman-loving but not necessarily comics-reading friends to find their way to a comics shop to pick the book up. (Assuming that the book’s good enough to recommend… oh, who am I fooling? It’s Gaiman.)

You might notice that this ain’t that.

And you know why? Because the guy who runs my local comics shop apparently has a brain the size of an M & M underneath his dyed-blonde mullet. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Allen

June 22nd, 2006 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Comic Books

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Link: Horrifying USB Teddy Bear Flash Drive

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As much as I love my USB thumb drive — truly one of those gadgets I didn’t realize how much I needed until I got one — I’d love it that much more if it looked like this custom job some sicko put together. I could carry all of my important files and horrify my children at the same time! Score!

And yes, I’m aware it’s this sort of thing which will lead to A] no end of emotional/psychological trauma and/or B] no end of paternal embarrassment in my children by the time they’re teenagers.

(Thanks to -b for the link.)

Written by Allen

June 22nd, 2006 at 11:00 am

Posted in General

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