December 6, 2016

Bad Boy- Mini-Views

Hey all.

Okay, so for all two of you who still keep up with this blog which is kinda dead (sorry, college has been relentless this semester, and--sorry, but can we all agree that this year in general was just fucking horrible), anyway, thank you for sticking with me here!

Um, so, anyway I just finished a book.


It's a book that I'd been looking forward to reading ever since finishing up Elliot Wake's other novels Cam Girl, Black Iris, and Unteachable. It's called Bad Boy. You can buy it here.

I'm hesitant to even write this review, because, full disclosure, I just really wasn't feeling this one. Don't take that to mean this book is bad. It's not. In fact, just culturally and contextually, this book is absolutely necessary. The plot in this one revolves around YouTube vlogger superstar Ren Grant, a transgender man who is also the muscle behind the vigilante group Black Iris, itself formed in the final pages of Wake's third book of the same name. But when he's falsely accused of rape, he has to find out who has framed him and why. Characters here include Ren, his ex girlfriend Ingrid, and his new (really hot) flame Tamsin, plus the returning characters Ellis, Vada, Laney, Armin, and Blythe. Pro-tip: read Black Iris and Cam Girl first before reading this one. Then read them again, because if you're anything like me, names will become confusing for you.

This has probably the most ambitious attempt at weaving in social commentary, transgender discourse (for lack of a batter term, sorry, I really hate that word), and surprisingly nuanced looks at masculinity and the patriarchy, of any of Wake's books. I really loved that Ren struggles openly and internally with his views on masculinity and how that intersects with him transitioning in gender. How does one cope with becoming a person who's body is seen as being inherently part of a patriarchal oppression? How much agency does one lose and gain when they do so? Are they worthy of that agency or is that agency imposed upon them? These questions are raised implicitly and explicitly by Ren himself through narration and some YouTube vlog excerpts dispersed throughout, and I found all of that fascinating. Ren was at his strongest as a character when he was struggling with these questions.

I loved that Ren went in-depth about his transition. It would've been so easy to just gloss over this and trust that the reader would be able to parse this out from the actions of the plot and the climax, but by going in blatantly and talking about what it's like, what being on testosterone is like, how your brain chemistry shifts, all the surgeries and emotional breakthroughs and breakdowns, it lets us see this character fully. I liked that a lot, both in terms of yes thank goodness, we're seeing more representation of marginalized voices in literature, but also in terms of just knowing this character's story and knowing his journey. When he grapples with how this false accusation of rape is affecting him socially and mentally, when he catches himself falling into stereotypical masculine behaviors and always has to ask himself "will I prove all those misandrists and men's rights activists both right?" this is what I call a complex and wholly satisfying way of intertwining academic and feminist discourse into a work of fiction. Wake showed he had that skill in Iris and especially Cam Girl, and it's back in spades here.

The plot, and the surrounding subjects here, is the books biggest weakness, at least for me. Wake loves to go complex, he loves to go big with his plots, he likes that twist and fling of stories. And I thought he just outdid himself in Black Iris, a book so complicated I went through and rigorously read it in chronological order just to see if it all added up in the end (it did). But here, the plot's not really complex, it's just complicated. Complicated to the point that it becomes mundane, even banal at times. And it really comes down to the Black Iris piece of this. Cut that out, have it focus on Ren and his ex Ingrid, throw in a romance between he and Tamsin, and I feel that the story would be so much stronger, tighter, and more believable. What Laney and the gang do is fairly behind-the-scenes, and I feel that Ren could have figured it all out without their involvement. The one thing I will say, just to end this paragraph on a positive note, is that the inclusion of the returning characters did let us see a much better realized Armin. I loved his interactions with Ren. We got to see two men who were both flawed and frustrated with their own masculinities in ways that just really spoke to me, as someone who deals constantly with internal misogyny, misogynistic performance, etc. Really good on that character front!

The pacing in this was really rough for me. For the first half, especially, I was more surprised than irritated, because Wake is usually so good at keeping a consistent pace throughout his work. The first third is this book's weakest point, as it has to reintroduce many characters from Iris and Cam Girl, and build up this new character. And that's terrible, because I know so many people who would put this book down before getting to the good part. Again, just comparing this to Wake's other works, character introduction and allusion is usually a much more subtle process than it was here. And as such, this takes away valuable space from Ren's own story. The second half does ramp up the pace a bit, and there's a reveal in here that was pretty good. But it all just feels a little too... flat (?) coming off of Iris and Cam Girl and how driven those plots were in relation to their characters.

As I sit here digesting the book, I've been mulling over my criticisms, trying to see if they're even worth bringing up or taking into account when you yourself go out and buy this. Bad Boy is about a transgender person learning to put himself back together and become his own man. It's written by a trans author who has worked his ass off to get to where he is. A major theme in the book is that we are all put together from fragmented identities, a patchwork of various movements, views, and assumptions that both shape and are shaped by us. The pacing, the writing, the plot, the characters, they all bend to this theme too, being built out of this wonderful world that Elliot Wake has created and simultaneously adding to it in important ways. To quote Ren directly, "Being a man means being strong enough to let your fragility show," and Wake has done that. I didn't think this book was Wake at his best. But I do think this was Wake at his most honest, at his most transparent, and at his most genuine.

November 21, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 2x06 "Changing"

I've been super inactive lately just in terms of posting stuff. To the like five of you who care about this, sorry (but thank you obvs. for caring!). It's been a super busy month—depressing af too obvs.—and honesty Supergirl and the impending release of Elliot Wake's newest book are the only things fueling me through these last few weeks of 2016.

Really loved this latest episode of Supergirl! This episode had so much awesome in it, it's kinda insane when compared to the previous episodes that honestly haven't been that exciting for me. It's like they saved it all for this.

Alex's coming out was amazing; just so real! Multiple threads of character and different emotions going into it too which was fantastic! It would've been so easy to make this completely happy or just prey on the painfulness, but Chyler and the writers really run the full gamut of Alex's emotional spectrum which was very smart. It gave us an Alex that reacted differently about her being gay when in the company of different people and that was su smart, because it made her more human that way. Super resonant! They even played on the fact that she's an adult coming to terms with this; I just... like, this is amazing! We've never seen that before, not really. I cried, seeing this kind of representation on screen. I also found it satisfying just from a narrative standpoint that Alex and Maggie didn't end up together by episode's end. This was realistic too in how Maggie handled herself and how Alex reacted, and I'm glad that this didn't fall into the trap of insta-love. This is a relationship that's worth the growth and the depth; I'm so glad they're in it for the long haul.

Winn and James finally got to take more active roles in the show which was nice to see; as soon as James showed up in that suit before he even spoke I knew that dude had a voice modulator! He doesn't look nearly as silly as pictures made him out to be; the suit works great in motion. Mon-El and M'Gann are also growing as characters. I'm still not crazy about Mon-El as a character in his own right yet; his use as comic relief is good but I don't know if there's enough depth to this guy to draw his hero trepidations story out for so long. M'Gann Mors though, it should be neat to see where her relationship with J'onn goes after the reveal in episode four that she's a White Martian and her donating blood to J'onn this episode. Setting up conflict is great and I hope they do as equally good follow through.

And coupled with all of this great character work is an external story this week that I actually cared about. I've been thinking a lot about this episode since it aired last Monday. I'm mostly just super happy that Alex's story is being treated as real and as a legitimate character journey. (It's obviously made a big enough impression on me to write this!) Part of why I hadn't posted reviews of the previous few episodes (besides me being swamped with school stuff) is because the external plots of the past few episodes just haven't been all that interesting or nuanced to me. Alien amnesty acts are all well and good, and having a political allegory is fine, but how the show's been handling stuff like this is just so obvious and as such loses a lot of the impact for me. But this episode we have a debut of a classic Superman villain in a way that ties more directly into how the characters themselves are acting (prominently with Winn, James, and Mon-El), so there's more stuff to care about with regards to the external plot this time around, which was so great.

Also, I think I was still used to Supergirl taking a more active role in the show—she is the star, after all. But that was a last season thing; this season is all about interpersonal relationships and how the character dynamics can be shaken up, which is fantastic and it is what a second season is supposed to do. Kara's character is developing very slowly and her arc as a reporter is like the least interesting of everything going on, which I initially thought to be a negative, but on looking back, this is probably all to the benefit of the show because it allows room for other stories to be told. Now, we have Alex and Maggie and their relationship, Winn and James as a team, J'onn and M'Gann's conflicting relationship, and Kara being supportive of her sister.

So yeah, I loved this episode! More like this, please!!

October 18, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 2x02 "Last Children of Krypton"

This season is definitely going in strong!

As with last time, Superman’s around, but I’m so glad that this didn’t feel like scenery chewing at all: his presence felt natural and they enveloped him nicely into the workings of the show without ever compromising on any other plot or character material, and that’s great.

The strengths of this episode definitely stem from tight character work and interactions. The fight between Kara and Alex felt as real as ever, both actresses doing a fine job balancing their conflict and rising tension without becoming catty with one another. I could’ve done with a bit more of that, actually, but what we got was great, and a sign that the two Danvers sisters are going to be in more loving conflict this season, which is exactly what I want. J’onn and Clark not getting along due to the former having Kryptonite on hand feels a bit forced for me, but they devoted enough time to it for it to make its point, and again, given that this episode was a character-driven one, this element plays right into that, and it’s a good way to help integrate Clark into the story so that he doesn’t just seem like the hired muscle of the week.

The pacing this week was very good. This is something that the show had struggled with last season, and it seems to have settled into its own now. It’s a pace that’s fast, but not breakneck, allowing for a variety of tone and character beats to shine. While the hour tends to cut a lot to different locations (I found the Fortress of Solitude sojourn to be a bit tedious), the upshot is that the character conflicts and interactions remained the focus. The fights looked quite good, and the dual fight between Superman and Supergirl and the two Metallos was well done cinematographically; some sweet transitions in there!

Where this fell short for me was pretty much everything having to do with Cadmus. Don’t get me wrong, Supergirl’s needed a strong serialized villain for some time; Astra and Myriad didn’t really pan out too well, and I have a feeling that the writers learned from that and are now trying to make up for lost time by just introducing the season-long villain right off the bat. While this is good in intention, the execution feels rushed. We barely know anything about Cadmus, and what we do know feels ever so much like a cheap knockoff of the excellent depiction in the Justice League Unlimited show. Maybe that’s just me, but I really hope we can get into the workings of this group besides just knowing that they’re evil. This villain has the potential to be very good and very nuanced, and I’m not seeing that right now.

Also, Metallo himself wasn’t great. I’m only tangentially familiar with his comic book stories, so maybe this is how boring and lifeless he is there too, but this on-screen representation just didn’t hold my interest. This would be a bigger knock against the show if the character stuff weren’t so strong, but even so, they really need to work on developing good villains here.

Cat’s leaving! No surprise here, though they gave her a good emotional sendoff, which I liked. Snapper Carr is gonna be a pain in the ass to watch, but it was nice to see Kara set him kinda straight by episode’s end. And Kara’s (and Supergirl’s) goodbye moments with Cat rounded things out nicely.

Next episode looks to be even better, with the mysterious Mon-El waking up and Wonder Woman POTUS herself Lynda Carter coming in on the scene! Exciting!!

October 11, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 2x01 "The Adventures of Supergirl"

This was so fun!

It’s great that Supergirl is back in the air! This is a show that I watched religiously throughout last year (once I got caught up half way through), and the charm and energy is still going strong here. This season has great potential; last season was a bit rocky when it came to pacing overall, and while there’s still a bit of a problem with that here, the writers seem more focussed and intent on what they want to do with the show now.

And yeah, alright, so they switched to the CW network which is fantastic as it allows the show to interact with the other DC shows! I have a problem with this only because CBS had instant access subscription while the CW does not, so I have to wait a day before watching new episodes, dammit. But besides that, the move is a logical one, and doesn’t seem to have impacted the show on the outside, which is nice. Things still look bright and the tone, style, and effects felt consistently up to par with last year’s stuff.

Melissa Benoist is back in full force, throwing herself into the role, and it was a joy to see her on screen again. Her story for the episode was a good one, fitting in nicely with the themes established last season of her figuring out who she wants to be; last year it was who she is as Supergirl, now it’s who she is as Kara. Her relationship with James, one which I was kind of indifferent about honestly, seems to have fizzled out here, which is fine. I much prefer having Kara learn to understand herself first before moving into a heavy relationship, especially with a regular on the show; it’s early in the show’s development, they have time to draw this out. There are a few scenes with Cat Grant that were nice and sweet; Flockhart delivers her lines with less fire than before, but all to the better as to me it makes her seem less cartoony, and what she says to Kara is good advice for anyone really: dive, take risks, but learn first why you’re taking them and what you intend those risks to mean for you. It cements the themes of Supergirl nicely, that this is a person who not only wants to be out of Superman’s shadow, but also wants to be her own person in the process, and figuring out the one does not necessarily mean that she’s figured out the other.

Of course, Tyler Hoechlin guest stars as the Man of Steel himself, but I was pleased to find that he never stole the show away from Supergirl beyond sadly relegating Winn and a few other Supergirl-centric characters to shorter scenes. Benoist and Hoechlin have decent chemistry on screen, and the two do a good job of not overplaying or overselling themselves too much; the two characters are giddy, but they also understand one another on a familial level. This is in great contrast to how Superman is seen by the general public: while Supergirl always strolls into the DEO and no one pays her much mind, Superman flies in and everyone is at attention. A bit of an obvious difference, sure, but it highlights again how revered Superman is, how he’s seen as a god among humankind, and how much weight his mere presence brings. I’m a little sad that they didn’t address this beyond a few remarks by an annoyed Kara at how everyone seems to love him, but at the same time I’m glad they didn’t turn this into a needlessly antagonistic pissing contest or some such.

Where Hoechlin really shines is as the bumbling Clark Kent. This is possibly the best version of the character we’ve had since the early Superman films; he’s quiet, charming, and has that everyman sound to him. I liked too that he gave advice to Kara but also asked to spend time with her so that she could tell him about home. Those were two vital scenes that really cemented to me their relationship as family and as two fairly lonely people living on an alien world. It also pushed further the idea that is central to Kara’s character, that she’s felt like she’s living in Clark’s shadow in that the show kind of pushes back against that: this is Supergirl’s show, so to have Clark be humbled enough to ask for her help and not be mad about her being credited with saving the day and such, it just made the characters feel more dimensional to me, more real.

Lena Luthor is a new character for me, and I liked her here. She’s shrewd but not needlessly antagonistic, and the brief scenes we have with her cement her character well. This played in nicely with the furthering of Kara’s character, as she now needs to make a decision about what she wants to do with her life now that she’s no longer Cat’s assistant. Having Lena Luthor in here gave that goal both a face and a foil to work against; it even parallels in a dark way the Supergirl/Superman relationship in the eyes of the world, that Supergirl is working on her own terms now, much in the way Lena is trying to distance her company from Lex Luthor’s villainy.

I did have a few complaints. The actual villain of the episode is very flat: obviously we need to set up his origin story for his eventual transformation into Metallo, but this was just really not a character that had much impact for me. I don’t get why we should be invested at all in an assassin taking out a target beyond the fact that this is happening in Supergirl’s city... it just didn’t land well at all. Metallo himself is a great obstacle for the children of Krypton to face, but the road to get there was not satisfying on this front. Similarly, as mentioned before, some of the other Supergirl regulars felt a bit shunted off to the side this time around. There are a lot of strangely short scenes making up the hour, so maybe that contributed to it, but still, it all felt just a bit underdone. The interactions between Kara and Alex, for example: they’re there, but it never felt like they were working towards anything this time around. Decent character interaction I suppose, but nothing we’ve not seen before. It would’ve been nice had Alex gotten more to do here beyond beat up a bad guy and make off-hand comment about how nice Superman smells; have her give Kara some advice, or offer up encouragement what with Superman commanding so much respect. Maybe they didn’t want this to get in the way of Cat’s mentor role already, but I don’t know, Alex felt underutilized in this episode.

The big mystery that’s not a mystery is who’s in the pod? Mon-El of course, I mean who else could it have been? Clearly, this and the Cadmus stuff are going to be the long arcs for either the first half of or for the full season. What they’re doing seems neat, and if I want the writers to have learned anything from last season, it’s to keep a tight focus on long story arcs and make them count. Don’t Astra this shit!

So yeah! Was this as good as the Flash crossover? I don’t think so, no. But it was certainly one of the highlights for this show, and not just because Superman was here. It’s the reasons why he was here, the story and character advantages that presented that I think the writers took advantage of as best as they could. They made the chemistry between Clark and Kara work pretty well, and should he make guest appearances after next episode that might be fun. But above all I’m glad that this never shied away from being about Supergirl first and foremost. This is her show, after all, and the second season has started off things very strong! Keep it up!

August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad- Shadowcon Mini-Views

Before I say anything else, I'll just say this: buy the album! Seriously, this movie has like the best mixtape of songs ever, it's so great!

Other than that....?? Yeah, this movie sucks.

June/July Updates

It's been a bit of a crazy month, mostly due to work, lots of writing, and a wholly self-inflicting abandonment of any kind of work ethic re: this blog whatsoever. I do apologize for my absence here, and for those of you who still read this blog, thank you, sincerely! I appreciate the support!

June had me working on a large company-wide project for work, so that took up more time than I thought. I actually really liked it despite how tedious it was, because it was person-specific, which meant that they hand-picked me along with a few other people to work on this. Made me feel accomplished. Other than that, I marathoned How I Met Your Mother, a show that is juuuust good enough to not be bad; I found it to be nice background noise as I built some Gundams, a new hobby that I've taken to like a fish to water. I'm not very good at the whole model-building thing, but it's something I like to do, and there's a certain unique satisfaction in having a figure that you essentially built from scratch!



Here are a few of the Gundams I've built!

At the end of July, I went to the Santa Fe Writers Conference. I went to the one in Taos a few years back and absolutely loved it, and this time around was no different. I got a bunch of wonderful advice in my novel writing class and character workshop class, and met some great people besides! The strength of all the writers there is just incredible! Got me inspired to begin the second draft of my book, and so I've been working on that for a bit too! It was a great trip, and I just love being amongst writers and creative minds that just pushed me to write more. Totally cool.

I've been reading some great books too! The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore is a great book on the history of William Marston, Wonder Woman's creator, chronicling his attempt at breaking into academia, the invention of the lie detector, his multiple wives and fathering of children, to the creation of Wonder Woman and how she faired within DC Comics. It's a neat look at how 1920-40s feminism factored into the creation of an icon, and how that was integrated into the psyche of a man alive during that time. Lots of neat facts thrown into this book, too! It's a quick read, and if you're a superhero fan and/or history buff, you should definitely read this!

In that same vein, I read a fascinating political studies book on superheroes called War, Politics, and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film by Marc Dipaolo. It's a bit preachy and dismissive of certain comics and franchises, but on the whole, I really liked it! It analyzes certain superheroes and how various writers from differing political spheres have written them with certain agendas in mind, or how superheroes faired in different political and social climates. It's extremely thorough and I liked how it approached its subject matter, by fixating on certain heroes and looking at them first, instead of picking a political viewpoint and then going from there.

Re-read Black Iris because it's awesome but also because I'm doing a re-read of Elliot Wake's books in preparation for his upcoming Bad Boy, due out in November! I'm super stoked for it! I love his writing a lot, as I've said in past, and it's just such a pleasure to re-read his books!

Looking forward to next semester a lot! I'm excited for my classes, and overall just ready to be back in Oregon! I'll have a review of Suicide Squad up here tonight or tomorrow, so that'll be good! How have you all been! Again, I know it's been a while, and I thank you all very much for sticking by me and giving your support and continuing to read this blog! It means a lot!

August 7, 2016

Star Trek Beyond- Shadowcon Mini-Views

I know I've been gone for over a month! I'm so sorry, it's been a crazy July (and June, honestly), but I figure a few weeks after this film's release, that's still within a reasonable amount of time to get my thoughts down on this, right?

As you probably know, I hated Star Trek Into Darkness. It was just heart-wrenching to see a great film, The Wrath of Khan, be spat on and cut up and mushed into a crappy film with very little original content. The only things I liked about the second film were the cast (except for Cumberbatch), and the score; seriously, that score has all the greatness of Trek, and is really quite a marvel to listen to on its own! Everything else about it, though, failed for me.

But this time, it seems the people behind the camera actually care about Star Trek again. Right from the start of the film there's a wonderful sense of fun and optimism that was lost with Darkness. I think what really helps this out is that Kirk finally delivers a poignant and engaging captain's log, something of a first for the reboot films, and this helped a lot to convey to me that the writers were fans of, or at least understood, the original show and the original films enough to get that the log, a staple of the show, was to be used in film to give us some insight into Kirk's character. And this one did that well enough, and caught us up on what the crew's been doing for the last three years.

The interactions between the cast continues to be the highlight of this new series. Kirk, Bones, and Spock are all finally fully in character this film: gone is the weird frat-boy-Kirk that we saw in the first movie; Spock now has lines that feel more Nemoy in that they're less robot and have more hints of humanity to them; and Bones gets to be a doctor again! Yay! The rest of the cast is good too. Scotty's role is beefed up considerably, as Simon Pegg wrote the screenplay for this. I like too that Sulu and Uhura and Chekov get to have more to do this film than just be at their stations.

The plot here is exactly what I think a Trek film should be: nothing apocalyptic (for the most part), just the crew exploring space and a planet and finding new life and civilizations. There's a great sense of wonder to this nebula they're parked next to and what's on the other side, and when they end up on a planet after a riveting action sequence that sees (slight spoilers) the glorious destruction of the Enterprise, things feel like they're drawing from but in no way ripping off episodes of the Original Series. Indeed, this film feels like an episode of the original show pumped up for the 21st century in all the best ways (where as the Next Gen films all feel like episodes in all the worst ways). Here, we have a simple straightforward plot that doesn't feel the need to preach to us or cloak its stupidity under the veneer of intelligence. Yes, different aspects of humanity and our purpose in the universe are brought up, but it's all wonderfully in the context of what the villain is trying to do or in how Kirk and co. operate as a crew and family.

The villain, played by Idris Elba, is a bit weak at first, but on second viewing, I liked him more and more. His motivation and backstory are introduced just a bit too late for my taste, but the first two acts do a good job of dropping hints at who he is and his views about humanity and life that it kind of works. His debates with Uhura during the second act and with Kirk at the climax of the film on the nature of humanity feel much more substantive and earned than Khan's pseudo-intellectual bullshit spewed last film where it just made him sound really dumb (much like Cumberbatch himself, actually). Here, the "betterment of humanity" speeches are all delivered with context and character behind them, instead of just thrown out into a void.

The new direction also helps this film feel very fresh and new. Gone are the Abrams lens-flares, and the camera tilting around the ship is used tastefully here. I also like the various filters and lighting choices the camera people decided to make with this; it captured the scope and endlessness of space really well. The effects are top-notch of course, and seeing an Abrams-verse rendition of the NX-01 type ship fly around put a smile on my face; sure, Enterprise sucks, but the ship itself had some neat stuff going on with it, so I considered this a welcome return. The film is kept at a reasonable pace throughout; we get a wonderful action sequence in the first act, a slower, more character-driven middle, and a climactic third that runs just a bit too long. It's well-balanced between action, character, and plot, something that this series of films has always had a tough time of grasping. Here, it's all done very well.

Beyond is the first legitimate good one of the new Star Trek movies to come out. The first was good in the sense that holy shit, it's Star Trek on the big screen again, but beyond that there wasn't much Trek to be found there. The second one was just terrible, in my opinion. But Beyond really nails the blend of old and new, mixing a lovingness for the franchise with a good wholly original story that captures the spirit of the older stuff without dumping chewed up bits of concepts from the older material into our laps and expecting us to clap. And what a great time for this to come out, on the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, a milestone for anything really. If you haven't seen this one yet and you're a fan of either the original shows or the new films or both, I strongly urge you to see it. This pleased me both as a casual fan of the new stuff and as a hardcore of the old. A success this was, and it was a true pleasure to watch!

June 19, 2016

Finding Dory- Shadowcon Mini-Views

This is a spoiler-free review.

Pixar has had a bit of a rough track recently, putting out a fantastic film (Inside Out) and, from what I've been told, a pretty mediocre film (The Good Dinosaur), a film that I didn't even realize was a Pixar movie until someone told me. And before that, their sequel run hasn't exactly been inspiring; Toy Story 3 was amazing, of course, but Cars 2 and Monsters University weren't stellar, or even very good. So I went into Finding Dory with a lot of reservations. Finding Nemo is one of my favorite Pixar films ever, and doing a sequel to a story that, frankly, didn't need one seemed a bit out of the blue (no pun intended).

But this has reaffirmed the idea that Pixar doesn't do sequels unless they think they have a legitimately good idea. And Finding Dory is certainly one of the best they've had in a while.

Dory isn't as complex a film as Nemo, having one plot running through the film that focusses on one character, in contrast to all that wove into the first one. But I think the sequel has a much stronger moral message than the first one did. This one focusses on mental illness specifically and disability in general and has a great message behind that theme. usually a film focussing on disability will have the message of ‘oh just get over your disability’ or ‘don’t let your disability keep you down,' both of which sound optimistic but are actually quite harmful and dismissive of actual disabled people. But instead, Finding Dory is about learning to recognize that your disability is a part of you and that this is simply a different way of living, and that people should work to structure the world in a multitude of ways instead of just an ableist way. I loved this! It's pretty much a disability studies thesis right there, and to put this in a film for kids is great, because it manages to convey a tolerant and optimistic view of how disabled people and abled people are able to coexist.

Dory's story is quite tragic in how she lost her parents, but very optimistic in how her parents dealt with her short-term memory loss. We see adorable kid-Dory interacting with her parents as they don't just prepare her for the wider world but do so in a way that does not demonize or put blame on her short-term memory. The brief segments with big-eyed cute kid Dory and her loving parents are some of the most tender and cute scenes Pixar's ever done, and it was refreshing to see a disability worked into a kid's life instead of having it be shunned as it was in, say, Frozen, or having the whole of the kid's identity be about that in a harmful or demoralizing way as it was in, say, Me Before You.

The broader plot of the film has Dory searching for her parents in a Monterey California aquarium-like "rehabilitation center,"which works to make the humans less villainous as they were in the first film, again feeding into the larger more optimistic view of this one. The aquariums and various exhibits that Dory and new character octopus Hank explore and fall into are just as immersive as the ocean was in the first one, and more fun as the human interaction is more pronounced. A scene where Dory must evade giant human hands was particularly riveting, and I loved how all the different tanks and such gave variation to the water and environments.

Marlin and Nemo tag along for the ride, though their brief subplot is bare-bones and not as engaging as I think it could have been. Also, for all that I loved Hank, I felt especially on this second viewing that his story was almost all cut out of the final draft of the movie, not getting resolved as well as I think it was originally going to.

Those two things aside, however, the film is great. The animation is miles above what it was in Nemo, no surprise there, and once again Pixar knows how the hell to animate some beautiful and breathtaking marine life. Great colors, vibrant environments, and fluid movements all make this a visual candy treat! Coupled with superb voice acting that pretty much sells itself, this movie is just so fun to watch.

Finding Dory isn't as complex in theme or plot as its predecessor, but the moral and the character evolution is far stronger. As a visually-impaired person myself, Dory's optimistic tone and fierce acceptance of disability and impairment as things that exist in the world and that shouldn't be "cured" or "overcome" is just inspired. A message like that, that still has trouble squeezing into academia, is something that should be cherished and passed down, and I'm so thrilled that this made it into a children's movie. Such a great time!

May 12, 2016

Sophomore Year Complete

Man, I'm halfway done with college already! What the hell?!

This is an extremely rambling, non-cohesive post.

Alright, so I'm now two days returned home, and I gotta say it feels pretty great! Got done with finals last week and headed on a three-day road trip back to Albuquerque.

Now, I'm catching up on Person of Interest which just started its final season last Tuesday (and we have two a week now, yay!!) and delving into major revisions/rewrites/restructuring of my book in preparation for a writers conference I'm going to at the end of July! Very excited about that!

Sophomore year was insane! Awesome, but insane! Also, very busy. I learned so much and had some of the most amazing classes ever this year, met probably the greatest professor at my college who is now unofficially my WGS advisor (!), and got to experience a host of academic stuff outside of the classroom! I went to Lewis&Clark and presented a paper for their Gender Studies conference; I got published in Watcher Junior; I submitted some of my writing to various journals and papers, none of which I've heard back from, but that's okay because, having never submitted anything before, I feel that this is an accomplishment all its own. I also tried my hand at writing for The Odyssey, an online informal magazine. It was an okay experience; I quit because the current management is not to my taste. I got to write some awesome stuff and learned how to write things quickly and for a relatively tight turn-around time. You may check out my articles here!

My classes last semester included my last math class ever (probably not, but it's the last one for my undergrad experience thank god); astronomy, where I had just an amazing learning experience much more than I thought I would; close reading; and the return of Latin, which I excelled at last semester because it was Latin I and I remembered a surprising amount of stuff. Seriously though, astronomy was just the greatest thing because the professor was just fully engaged and excited about the material and that can really impact a course. Or in the case of my math class, it can so hamper the course that there ended up being no structure to it and I was bored for a good 95% of the class.

But spring semester was where things really picked up. I had two classes with the aforementioned greatest professor ever: Literary Theory, and Feminist Theory. Both were amazing on their own, but taking them together provided me with so much cross-pollination possibilities. Lit Theory opened up a world of interesting conversation about language, history, different philosophies, and so forth; Fem Theory had us examine the nuances of feminism, the history of it, how different lenses operated within the movement, how there are really multiple theories going on and not all of them agree and that's okay, just all this stuff that I kinda knew but didn't have the language or wherewithal to adequately articulate it. Now I do and the subject of gender studies only became more interesting and multi-layered as I progressed through the course!

In addition to those two courses, I also had second semester Latin which kicked my ass so hard I honestly don't know if I didn't fail it or not (probably didn't, but damn if I don't deserve to, holy shit). Seriously, this semester was a totally different animal than last semester. More complicated grammar, more vocab, a host of ways in Latin to express purpose... it was a lot of stuff. That coupled with me literally doing six hours of reading on Mondays in the library for Lit and Fem Theory after a full day of classes (that's not an exaggeration), Latin was a chore. But, I did make it through it (hopefully; grades have yet to be posted), so that's something I guess.

I also took British Literature: Fantasy, a course that I ended up loving more than I thought I would given the beginning days of the class. The professor was again fully engaged and excited by the material, and while the first couple of weeks were kinda boring, it picked up and by the end I was really enjoying myself! We read a lot of King Arthur stuff, some of Tolkien's Silmarillion, a bit of Neil Gaiman, and a host of short stories on faeries and giants and all that good stuff. It was an engaging course, kind of a lighter class which was good because it provided balance next to the juggernauts of the other classes.

It was a great year academically, I think! This was definitely the year where I soaked in as much knowledge as I could and really cared about the topics discussed. Fem Theory and Lit Theory especially, just aaaahhhhh!!!! So good, y'know!!

On the more personal end of things, I've come to realize over the course of this year that I am a biromantic asexual person. I haven't really formally announced that to many people, so I guess this is where I'm doing that? I don't know. But it kinda feels nice y'know to say that to people, even if it is just in a blog post that a handful are going to glance at. I bring this up more so because I've tried to make more a splash with regards to asexual visibility in the LGBTQIA "community," to give it more of a voice and to just advocate for common sense and treating people... y'know, like people. Anyway, this was a point of self-discovery for me and I think it was a very important one because it influenced my writing and how I filtered a lot of the readings in Fem Theory through an asexual lens. Like most people who pick labels, I'm pretty flexible in how I relate to the two I relate to, and indeed the labels themselves are malleable and versatile which is nice. Recognizing this part of my identity has also allowed me to engage in some riveting conversations on Twitter about representation, tokenization, internalized phobias, and so forth. I find asexuality interesting to learn about from an academic standpoint too, not dissociating myself from the label, but just looking at the history of it and learning more about what it means to different people. It's nice to learn about it and to recognize that other people experience it and that their voices and my voice matter.

Finally, just wanted to say thank you for those who continue to read my postings and check out the blog! I know I've been incredibly non-active and I apologies for that. However, I do hope to write more thoughts on movies this summer and stuff like that! I had an amazing sophomore year and can't really believe that it's over or that I'm now half way through my college experience. That's insane!

May 5, 2016

Captain America: Civil War- Shadowcon Mini-Views


This review is SPOILER FREE

With twelve films under their belt, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has undoubtedly taken the film world by storm, influencing everything from storytelling structure to branding to rethinking entire business practices. In terms of quality of storytelling, personally I’d say about half of the Marvel films have been good; rarely are they amazing beyond novelty, and sometimes they’re just bad films, however much the Marvel fanboy in me hates to admit it.

I’m happy to say, however, that “Captain America: Civil War” is one of the greats, up there with the previous super soldier film in the franchise, “The Winter Soldier,” as being one my favorites. Directed by the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, the film boasts now-classic and expectant Marvel action and humor, but also a surprisingly meaty through-line about security, trust, casualties, and “for the greater good” operations. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) express different points of view regarding how the Avengers as a unit should operate, catalyzed by the UN’s desire to have the team put under government supervision so as to theoretically stop all the destruction the Avengers cause in their attempts to help people. I liked this debate a lot, for sure, but more than that, I liked how both men had personal connections and reasons for believing what they did: Stark not wanting to see more people hurt, and having to deal with the personal guilt of having to look a mother in the eye as she tells him the his heroics killed her son; Rogers not wanting the government, with its politics and pencil-pushing, interfering with not only how he operates but also deciding who lives and who dies and having that be based more on political action than on saving as many lives as possible. This debate and the words said between these two drives a good chunk of the story, and it was great to see that happen.

A civil war of ideologies breaks out, with various other heroes taking sides, and all the action is sublime, effective in its mission to entertain, and just a ball all around, with all of these different personalities coming into conflict while still understanding that what they’re doing—throwing trucks at each other and being webbed up by Spider-Man—is kind of insane. There are a great many thrills to be had in this film, but unlike other superhero films, the action does not compromise the story, always being at the service of the plot or characters; its indulgence does not become self-indulgence, and that is a good thing.

As a sequel to “Winter Soldier,” I think “Civil War” is a decent follow-up. Because of the nature of the film’s need to be both a sequel to the Captain America and the Avengers films, I think it balances its two tasks as well as can be expected. The Bucky/Steve relationship I’ve never found particularly groundbreaking or interesting, honestly, but the writers try their best to infuse Bucky with some character this time around, making him a victim of other people and foregrounding that aspect of him in the film. This victimization and use as a tool for a corrupt government again feeds into the different ideologies at play, a literal representation of what Steve is afraid could happen to the Avengers, though obviously not on a literal scale, and it bridges the two roles that this film must serve quite well.

“Civil War” also serves as a meta-text for the broader state of superhero films, I think. The desire by big governments, Tony Stark, and Steve Rogers too, to not cause so much destruction and civilian casualties with their superheroics could be considered a commentary on the state of the superhero film craze that has taken Hollywood by storm: there is more to superhero movies than just action, and to rely on action at the expense of a good story sells the audience short and, in-universe, perhaps does more harm than good to the very people superheroes are attempting to save.

April 18, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 1x20 “Better Angels”

Kinda exhausted today, so this one’ll be a bit all over the place (as if these things have any structure at all).

Right off the bat, how great was that Supergirl speech at the beginning?! A bit bloated, sure, but especially the second half of it where Kara is thanking the people of National City for accepting her and making her into who she is, that was awesome! I also loved that this once again proves to be a solid synthesis of what Supergirl and Superman are supposed to stand for, to by example lead us to be better people. This show overall has nailed that quality super well, and this speech did it again. Sure, the phones were a bit much; I could’ve done with a tighter speech too, but the point was a good one. Indeed, as I was watching it, I kinda got this not-so-subtle vibe from it that seemed to be commenting on the state of films and television shows nowadays, that everything is gloomy and dark and despairing, and there was one part in here that really hit that home:
When facing an enemy like this, it’s easy to feel hopeless. We retreat, we lose our strength, lose ourselves. I know. I lost everything when I was young. When I first landed on this planet, I was sad, and alone. But I found out that there is so much love in this world out there for the taking. And you, the people of National City, you helped me. You let me be who I’m meant to be. You gave me back to myself. You made me stronger than I ever thought possible. And I love you for that. Now, in each and every one of you, there is a light, a spirit that cannot be snuffed out, that won’t give up. I need your help again. I need you to hope. Hope that you can remember that you can all be heroes, hope that when faced with an enemy determined to destroy your spirit, you will fight back and thrive.”
As is often the case, Supergirl seems to be throwing some much-deserved shade at the DC Expanded Universe’s almost parody level of “grimdark,” offering up the point that to be a hero is to not lose hope or at the least lead by example to be a better person and to thrive on that. On a meta-level, the enemy that Kara talks about could be Hollywood’s annoying infatuation with making everything grim for the sake of it nowadays; the hope she speaks of an encouragement of audiences to not lose sight of what’s important in superheroes in the first place. And that seems to be the overall message of this show, to be a better person and to actually act like a hero.

The moments between Alex and Kara worked very well as always. Benoist and Leigh have great sisterly chemistry on screen and I really felt their bond this episode. Indeed, the cast as a whole is something that I don’t praise enough and I really should; everyone on this project, especially for this episode, feels genuine and real, pulling their weight and having a ball as they do so. Great chemistry amongst this team!

I really loved how Kara saved the world. Sure, the mechanics of the climax were a bit weird (that the military would just leave Fort Roz unguarded or unsecured besides cloaking it from prying eyes just seems like such contrivance for this episode and I didn’t buy it at all). But it did make for some sweet set pieces and seeing Kara lift that thing into space was great! The effects team, like the cast, again really put their all into this one it seemed like. Just some beautiful shots of Kara set against the Earth and space, just really great! I also like how this ties into the speech given at the beginning, too. She didn’t throw down with Non for very long, dispensing him fairly easily all things considered; instead, in total contrast to the DCEU, she removed the threat from the planet instead of keeping it on the ground. While this has been done before (recently in The Avengers, but plenty of other examples exist too), I love how there was no big explosion, no lives lost here, no collateral damage. She just hauls that thing into space and that’s that. It may come off as a bit clean, but maybe that’s what we need nowadays, clean solutions to our stories especially in the face of how unclean and messy our morals and ethics are today in the real world.

Amidst all of this there was a self-consciousness in the air given that season two hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, and that played both to this episode’s strengths and to its weaknesses. I think it helped push these actors to give the most of themselves for this, and that’s great. But it also made the writing team maybe too pleading.

See, I gotta say, for a finale, this was very strung out. By that, I mean that it felt like it wanted to be more packed than it was; it had a lot of pieces, but none of them moved very fluidly and setting the plots side-by-side as they did seemed to only exacerbate the seems. Add to that a lot of the dialogue was overwrought and too sentimental even for this, it really brought me out of the experience more than I’d’ve liked. That dinner scene especially, really that should’ve been one or two quips at most, but it just felt so on the noes and pandering. Didn’t like that at all.

Broad strokes aside, I’ll credit the episode this: it succeeds very well in its small moments, as most episodes of Supergirl have. While there were several this episode that didn’t work, that were too sentimental or too self-aware or both, a lot of them did go over very well. As I said, the Alex and Kara scenes worked well, and the scenes between Kara and Cat did their job well.

As for the big mystery of the pod at the end there, I don’t know. I like the theory that this is Power Girl; maybe it’s Superboy sent up by Cadmus to crash and make it looked like he came from space, or maybe he tried to steer it and crashed it himself. I like the Power Girl idea myself, but I guess we’ll see… maybe… provided we get a second season.

And oh my god, I really want this show to get picked up for a second season!!! There are so many great little moments that the writers and cast put into this show that with the right focus and appropriate amount of risk I think they could soar high and be amazing. As it is, the first season played it incredibly safe. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but just seeing how the show inched forward in little ways a part of me does want it to take that leap on a larger level. And I think it can! It’s all right there in the show!

April 17, 2016

Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage

A bit late writing this, but whatever. Saw this concert last week, but it's still been on my mind 'cause it was so cool!

Star Trek has been a phenomenon that I’ve loved since I was a little kid when my dad sat me down in front of our old boxy twenty-year-old television set and had me watch a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A few years later, after going through a good portion of the franchise, he took me to see the New Mexico Philharmonic perform a stirring concert celebrating the music of the franchise, and it was super exciting, something that’ll stick in my mind as an important moment between me and my dad.

So when the Portland Center for the Arts subscription news email came in informing me that Portland would be doing an “Ultimate Voyage” concert, well, naturally I had to check this out. Schnitzer concert hall is awesome, aesthetically pleasing and has great open acoustics… a bit of a problem, actually, as the orchestra on stage performing this numbered only around 35 to 40 people, so their sound was constantly muted and muffled. But the conductor was excellent, very energetic and on top of his game, as he conducted the orchestra to picture—they played actual musical cues from the various shows and films while the scenes themselves played overtop of it, and while the use of clips was the weakest part of this, as the sound mixing was all over the place in terms of balance, it was a decent attempt at giving us something more to do than listen to the music. I personally would have been just as well satisfied had they just played the score without the clips; I think this music in particular is strong enough to stand on its own as a fine listening experience without the actual show getting in the way, even if the music was written as situational music.

But the highlight of the evening—for the general crowd, at least; I myself was giddy over about five different pieces—came when Ron Jones, veteran Star Trek composer who does some awesome work for up-and-coming musicians actually, came out and conducted the opening titles score to the video game Star Trek: Starfleet Academy. I don’t enjoy video game scores very much; unlike film scores, video game scores are often very long, repetitive (because missions and scenes and levels and such for the game can go on for a while) and don’t stand on their own very well. Obviously there are myriad of game music scores that can trump that argument (Zelda, for example, or Skyrim), but on the whole, it’s just not my thing. Also, having Star Trek as a video game seemed like an odd choice for me just on a medium level, and I thought this score would be bombastic and thrill-ride cliché numbers throughout. But no! Ron Jones cooked up a beautiful melodic sweeping piece for the game’s opening, incorporating the classic eight-note figure from the original Trek score into this in a great way. I loved how the atmospheric space-ness of the game got filtered through the orchestra—the strings were stars, the brass bold starships exploring the final frontier, the winds churning up visuals of orbiting planets and weird spatial anomalies and such—just the whole thing was beautiful to listen to. And bringing Ron Jones himself onto the stage was great! It of course invigorated the audience and also further cemented the fact that the music for this franchise was something special, something that could stand on its own, and was something that a lot of its contributing composers cared deeply about.

Other highlights of the night included the performance of Next Generation’s “The Inner Light” flute theme that was always a favorite of mine, the awesome end credits to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the strings nailed all the high runs up there; that made me smile!), and of course the opening titles to all four Trek shows peppered throughout the concert. It was a good show, mostly for the nostalgia factor and the fact that I was hearing the scores to Star Trek live. While the orchestra was good, their small size meant that musically the performance felt a bit shallow, exacerbated I think by the fact that the audio for the clips playing was often too loud and covered up sections of the orchestra. Very unfortunate! I’m glad I got an album recording of this to listen to it again with proper mixing. Ron Jones’ contribution to the concert added a lot, I think, and his video game score had me taken aback and humbled in a way as it challenged my assumptions about the video game music scene. Overall, a good time, and a happy reminder of how awesome the Star Trek music has been over the course of the franchise’s 50-year existence!

Pictures!!






April 11, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 1x19 “Myriad”

This was an incredibly clunky script.

I’m actually very disappointed by this, considering the fairly solid block of episodes prior to this one, with engaging character moments, improved pacing, and an overall sense of solidity. “Myriad” didn’t have a whole lot of that for me, but I’ll start with the good.

The opening between Kara and Lucy at the DEO was awesome, I could really feel the pain Kara felt of having to go up against Lucy and losing her. More fuel for my otp definitely! That fight between Kara and Maxima was sweet, and that takedown move was fucking brilliant! Great use of slow-mo here! Not sure what the opening act of this was for however, as Kara solves the problem and defeats Maxima fairly easily and then locks up all the prisoners anyway. This could’ve easily been cut and we could’ve started with Kara going to the Fortress of Solitude and we would’ve lost very little. I still liked the opening for all that it didn’t flow into the rest of the episode.

I have to say I also really liked the scene on the terrace between Cat and Kara. Sure, Kara’s half of the dialogue is all messed up (I’ll get to that), but Cat’s speech to her about not being afraid, of finding strength not through reacting in fear, but through an intelligent deployment of faith in the human spirit. That is something that this show has had running through it for most of the season, and it was nice to have that summed up here, especially before an inevitable battle. It’s a good speech and it weaves together some nice themes of hope and believing in the betterment of humankind. It also ties in with the main Kara-related thread for this episode and presumably the finale: she won’t be able to stop this threat through punching things. She’ll need to think her way out this time, and that’s awesome, because so many superhero films have big action climaxes, and I’m sure we’ll have one here too, but if they do it right, we could end up with not only that but also a firm grounding of the action in a more thought-based and consequently heroic ideology.

In principle, I liked the moral debate that Max, Non, and Kara all have with one another at various points in the episode, how the betterment of humankind can only come about through fear, through enslavement. It reminded me a lot of the ending of Allen Moore’s Watchmen. Not nearly as complex, obviously, but the spirit of that I felt was here. I also love the side-eye this is throwing at the DCEU, how Lord’s plan is essentially the same thing as Zack Snyder’s in that movie. And Kara’s and Cat’s objections to this seem to me to be exactly the words of the fans: what good will all this destruction do? How will this help the human race if we destroy everything? We’re not heroes if we do this. Again, it played nicely into the above thread of Kara needing to come up with an alternative to Max’s plan, to the DCEU formula of “hit it and punch everything into oblivion to solve the problem.”

In practice, though, the whole moral dilemma thing doesn’t pan out very well, and I guess this is a good time to bring in the problems of the episode that I had, and as always, this is just my opinion, I’m not trying to antagonize anyone… just thought I’d clear that up.

With “Myriad,” we have a script that treats its characters, especially Max and Cat, as mouthpieces for speeches instead of imbuing them with heart. I have to say too that the acting for this is tonally off from what should be a fairly dark moment in the show. Granted, no one wants depressing Batman V. Superman stuff here, but the way Flockhart and Facinelli say their lines, you’d think they were in a completely different point in the show, substituting emotion in for a snark-like tone that takes the punch out of almost every line. This drags down the potentially poignant conversations that these characters have with one another about the bomb plan and hope and all that… I don’t know, I feel like there should’ve been more weight behind all of this.

The problematic pacing that this series has struggled with is made especially prevalent here too because this is essentially the first half of a two-hour episode, so the tightness is all but lost. I also didn’t find the Alex/J’onn scenes to work very well either. Don’t get me wrong, these two are great on screen and I like watching them, but their story feels so tangential to what’s going on, it just didn’t flow as strongly as it could’ve. It’s made worse I think by the fact that the Cadmus thing came out of nowhere two episodes ago and now Alex is back…with nothing happening to her in the interim; they were “on [their] way” to Cadmus when they heard what was going on, so what the hell? This could’ve set up for another story down the road, but oh well. I’m sure we’ll get back to this eventually.

Overall, this is an odd episode. It doesn’t have the weight that I feel it should, and being that it’s basically only one half of a larger episode makes it feel very set-up like, piecemeal in its presentation. However, there were some good moments, and as always a nice beating heart of hope running through this. I am looking forward to the finale and am interested to see how they resolve this seeminigly unbeatable threat.

April 3, 2016

PUBLISHED IN WATCHER JUNIOR!!!



IT’S HERE!!!!

*heavy breathing*

My first publication in an academic capacity, Watcher Junior: The Undergraduate Journal of Whedon Studies published a heavily condensed version of my paper on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “‘Are You Ready to be Strong?’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive to the Strong Female Character Stereotype” today in its 9th volume!! Check it out, and I encourage you to read the other papers in this issue; they are fascinating and there’s some thematic overlap too!!

A bit of background on this version: This is the broad strokes of my argument streamlined and tightened to fit into about ten pages or so, and I had to write a new introduction for it. Not sure how I feel about that, but I actually learned a lot about editing and cutting this down; revision for this was helpful as it forced me to suss out the major strengths of the essay and put them all together into a more solid and dense paper. I'm quite happy I did this, even aside from the novelty of now being published in a journal specifically about Joss Whedon's work!

Very exciting stuff, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

Check out my Watcher Junior article here!

Begin the original ten-part version here!

March 29, 2016

What Does Superman Mean Now?

I'm pretty much the definition of double-dipping my content...

This article was originally published in The Odyssey online magazine; there have been minor additions made to the material below, but you may read the original here! Be sure to share it on social media too!

March 28, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 1x18 “Worlds Finest”

There’s been a lot of buzz about this one, and the marketing and sneak peaks have been more overt and numerous than normal! I for one was really excited about this, and I think it did a good job overall. There are problems to be sure, but the sheer enjoyment factor and novelty of having a crossover like this does overshadow those somewhat.

Also, just as a quick disclaimer, I don’t watch Flash. I’ve heard it’s quite good, and based on Grant Gustin’s performance here I am now even more inclined to give it a go, but yeah, I have no prior knowledge of the show besides what I’ve read about and heard, so this was, for all intents and purposes, my introduction to the Flash character.

As with most any Supergirl episode, the strengths come from the cast and the character-based scenes and dynamics that pepper an otherwise run-of-the-mill story. I liked Kara’s and Barry’s interactions a lot. The interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff made this feel like everyone involved was not only putting their best foot forward (exemplified quite well in the finished product), but also that they seemed to really believe in this project, wanted to have fun with it, and genuinely cared about what they were doing. This is in contrast to the recently released Dawn of Justice, wherein everyone seems to sleepwalk through a grim and depressing script. Supergirl’s been pretty hoss about throwing shade to the DC Expanded Universe’s darker take on the lore, and this episode is no exception. The fun factor and enjoyment that the script and the actors and the director imbue into this episode just makes how dark the DCEU is that much more bizarre, and it’s nice to see a crossover where two superheroes get along and are just genuinely happy people who know how to work with each other. Remembering to have fun seems to be this episode’s point, if it has one at all, directed at the DCEU.

Barry Allen has good chemistry with the cast in general too. His interactions don’t feel forced or shoehorned in like I was afraid they’d be; sometimes in event episodes like this, the script and the actors can come across as being too aware of what this is out of universe, but everyone handles the event with a subdued giddiness which I liked a lot! Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin are great on screen together, their obvious off-screen friendship and professional acting history seeps through and just gives the whole thing more verve and life that pumps up an admittedly weak villain-of-the-week story.

There are some good scenes that feed naturally into the wider narrative that’s been going on throughout the last few episodes of Supergirl too. Kara reflects on how she’s tried to win back the city’s trust to no avail, and Barry points out that she’s forcing the solution with her too-quick, one-and-done solutions, when she needs to slow down and cement herself as a hero again. I like this exchange because it serves as side-eye at Man of Steel and especially to Dawn of Justice, but even more importantly, it could be a conscious recognition by the writers that they’ve tried to force storylines and arcs onto the show itself when it was doing just fine anyway. Does this signify a change coming for the narrative of the show? I’m not sure, but given the ending for this episode, I’m confident that the writers are pulling the show back onto a more solid track, recognizing that they have good ideas that are worth exploring. And I like too that this seeming admission was worked into the episode itself, but again didn’t feel obnoxious in its inclusion.

The best scene in the whole thing for me was when Kara saves the helicopter from destruction and all the civilians rush over to her aid when she collapses. It gets kinda over the top after that, but even then, the spirit of the scene was good! It reminded me a lot actually of Spider-Man 2, when Peter stops the train and all the people step in front of him to defend him. Just, scenes like this make me smile because they serve as a reminder of who Supergirl is fighting to protect in the first place, and having the populace rally around her seemed again like a conscious effort on the part of the writers in reassuring audiences that the show itself is now going to pick up steam. Very well done.

Finally, the looming romance between James and Kara comes to a head, and it’s good! I liked this coda actually a lot more than I thought I was going to; I felt it eased us nicely back into the Supergirl episode/universe proper, realigning us to the show without Flash there, and brought back the season bad guys and gave us a good cliffhanger. I hope to God the writers can deliver on this one!

The things I didn’t like? Most definitely almost everything having to do with the villains. Siobhan’s story is okay but hamstrung by a weird origin that felt like they wanted it to be true to the comics but also align with the more light tone of the show. The origin comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere, serving its purpose only but without much of a follow-through. The only good moment for me was her turning against Winn, a moment that worked because the two characters had had chemistry built up over the course of several episodes. And Winn’s own character gets to shine a little bit as he pleads with Siobhan to be a better woman than her father was a man. It was some great acting and good interaction! Livewire doesn’t work here very well; I understand what they were trying to do by having the villains team up as well as the heroes, but this character never gelled with me in her introductory episode and doesn’t add much to this one either. Her fight with Flash is brief and confusing, more of a fancy light show than anything, and honestly she was the weakest character in this episode. The motivations for the two villains was also poorly set up; not a fault of this episode exactly (Siobhan’s hatred always seemed petty at best to me), but the script hinged on previous setup too much instead of expanding that further to give us a greater sense of why these two women would go so far. This was akin to Eddie Brock’s hatred of Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 for me, just taking things way too seriously and for very little payoff.

Those problems aside, however, the episode flows pretty well. The novelty factor is certainly at play here, and if I watch this again later on down the line, I might feel differently about it without rose-colored glasses on my face. But for now, I enjoyed it. I’m sure I’d enjoy it even more if I were watching Flash also, but perhaps this is to the show’s benefit, signifying that even someone like me who doesn’t watch Flash found himself enticed by the Barry Allen character. I think this was a success in the same way Sam Wilson’s cameo in Ant Man was a success, though done much better than that: this was fun, enjoyable, and smile inducing, but was marred by a script that relied probably too heavily on that instead of standing on its own with the Flash as an enjoyable addition. An enjoyable episode to be sure, which was refreshing after this weekend’s terrible Dawn of Justice movie. Everyone behind this project felt like they put all their passion and energy into this, and to paraphrase Christopher Nolan, if I’ve seen that you’ve put that much time and energy and that much of yourself into a picture, I’ll probably respect you for it. I know the difference between a project that tried its best and didn’t quite make it and a project that just didn’t try at all. “Worlds Finest” is clearly in the former category (indeed perhaps a tier or so above it), and I’m so happy about that!

Looking forward to the next episode of course! Coming in on the last leg of the season! Expectations are high!!

March 25, 2016

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice- Shadowcon Mini-Views


Y'know...

Someone needs to find Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer and have them read a Superman comic book. And have them watch the old Superman movies. And the cartoon. And the Supergirl TV show. Because if there's one thing this movie proved, it's that Snyder and Goyer do not understand Superman's character at all.

March 21, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 1x17 “Manhunter”

I am so conflicted about this episode honestly.

There are parts of it that I really liked a lot, but the overall structure and especially the pacing just made the whole episode flawed.

Content-wise, this thing has it nailed! We get wonderful vignettes of flashback on each of the principal characters, and they work relatively well! Ironically for me, J’onn’s story is the least engaging; I liked the version he told Alex much better than the rendition they decided to go with here. Everything plays out pretty much as he described it, but there’s just something off about how the situation is performed, less emotion conveyed than I think there should’ve been; I never bought Danvers’ very quick conversion into befriending him, and I cringed when he entrusted the safety of his family to this alien. Not to say that J’onn can’t be trusted, but come on; the guy saved you from a snake, which just kinda warps the whole “this man saved my life” story that Danvers tries to spin this as… I don’t know. I also felt that J’onn’s overall emotional tone was off, or maybe just a retread of what we’d gotten before. We already had a great recap of his origins, so this felt hollow. Considering that J’onn’s is the principal story for the first act or so of this episode, that’s kind of a shame, but David Harewood puts in a great performance, contrasting nicely his duel role as J’onn and as the real Hank Henshaw.

Alex’s character gets fleshed out a bit more too, which was good! Her flashback centers on her at a seemingly low/directionless point in her life when Henshaw recruits her for the DEO, and the scene plays into her previously-established idea of feeling second best or not needed next to Kara, and I liked that this felt like an organic feeding into that character dynamic rather than the sort of whiplash feeling I got last episode, and the ending for this, with Alex on her own arc (however contrived- see below) is good! It means that her character both in- and out-of-universe won’t just be revolving around Kara anymore, and that theme was explored and developed well here.

Kara’s flashback scenes are some of the best, as they’re framed in the context of her revealing her identity to Lucy Lane, a twist that I didn’t see coming (maybe I’m just slow on the uptake here!) trying to convince her that she and Hank are good people. And I liked that Lucy’s skepticism wasn’t dictatorial or arrogant; her objections that Kara lies to people so how the hell are we supposed to trust aliens if all they do is lie seems in character, and Kara’s explanation of her needing to hide to feel normal, to not be ostracized, was great. I loved seeing her and Alex as little kids again and they had a good moment of Kara not knowing how to control her powers on her first day in school, which was the only scene in the whole of Man of Steel that worked for me, and it works well here too. And revealing this to Lucy seems like a smart move; it allows for greater character interaction and complexity, and while this again makes the list of people who know about Kara’s Supergirl life longer, it also brings Lucy’s character more into focus. Lucy hasn’t been given a lot to do, and so this episode sets up a new direction for her, which is good. I like the actress too, and I’m glad they’re giving her more stuff to do!

Throwing Cadmus into the mix was exciting in the moment, but upon reflection, it all but confirms a suspicion many have been having about this series for a while I think, and that’s that Supergirl is very much lacking in overarching direction. That’s not an innate flaw of a show, but the series has the bad habit of introducing threats and then never capitalizing on them, always moving from one potentially good adversary to the next. And that’s fine when they’re one-episode baddies, but Non, Astra, and now Cadmus, these are large-scale threats that should be mapped out over a season carefully by the writers, not just thrown at a dart board to see what sticks.

I bring this up because, on a more episode-to-episode scale, there was barely any follow-through from last week at all! And that’s terrible, because this should have been an episode wherein Kara has to earn back the people’s trust. And the thing that irritates me about this is that the framework of having J’onn in custody was a great way to do that! Have the general guy be all uptight and suspicious, and then have Supergirl gradually win back the people’s trust, have her reveal herself to Lucy and all that, and through these actions change the general direction of suspicion and win Hank back to the DEO not through a fistfight but through heroism. This could’ve even fed well into the flashback sequences, especially Kara’s, having her interview with Cat now framed in this need to be a hero, which it was, but it would’ve been stronger I think had we seen Kara in the present do some heroic actions. And I’m sorry, but two clips of her on tv and a one-off line by Cat doesn’t automatically absolve her of last episode’s actions. There are real character-driven choices that must be tackled here, and I was sad that they didn’t capitalize on that more this episode.

The ending is also a mixed bag. We have Lucy taking more of an active role, which is great! It’ll be good to have Benoist interact with another female cast member on a regular basis besides Chyler and Flockhart (not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just, y’know, more female interaction is always good, especially in the male-dominated military scenes here). Not sure how I feel about Siobhan’s reveal; I was tempted to laugh at that pretty poor effects shot they used, but again having this framed by her relationship with Winn will hopefully make her character more compelling as a villain next episode.

I guess I liked this one, but it was a rude return of the wonky pacing that plagued early episodes (and some would argue that that hasn’t gotten any better, though I’d disagree), and introducing more subplots and vast story arcs at this juncture just feels like they’re grasping at straws. Some great character moments and good setup for potential future character-based interactions save this one. Again, I’ll reiterate: you, the writers, have so much character, plot, and thematic material in this show already! U S E  I T

Next episode though, holy shit!! That’s gonna be at the least a fun time with smiles everywhere! Looking forward to it!!!!

March 19, 2016

Unteachable- Shadowcon Mini-Views


Elliot Wake (Leah Raeder) is in fact my favorite author of all time, and I say that knowing how much weight that label carries for some, certainly for me. I've had an interesting experience with his work, moving through his world backwards as I began with Cam Girl and then worked back to Unteachable, and so admittedly I started with dessert and am now ending with what might be the pre-meal yummy sweet milkshake, yet still I've remained engaged and very impressed with the work he's put out.

Indeed, reading Unteachable last gave me a thrill if only because I got to see the genesis of many of the ideas, characters, themes, and tone found in Cam Girl and especially Black Iris. Wake's lyrical style is here, and his social/thematic commentary bold, but not quite let off the leash yet, which is understandable. As I've said of other debut books (Beyond the Red, for example), this isn't the book that you got to soar with; it's the book you can prove can swim before doing an amazing swan dive in your next book. And being that Black Iris was one of the most intense swan dives ever, I found Unteachable oddly endearing in its restrained exploration of its subject matter because I knew that Wake would soon just launch off the page. Appropriately enough, reading this felt very much like being at the beginning of a roller coaster ride that I'd absolutely loved: it's the buildup before the big drop that I knew was amazing.

Having said that, taking this book on its own, it's good, but very conventional. Which again, is fine; it's a debut, and in terms of lyricism and imagery, Wake's style is bold and presented proudly, so it definitely proved that the author has a voice worth reading (doubly impressive when I found out that this thing was self-published at first!). It is a romance first and foremost, but while the box-tilt does happen here (in pretty great ways, actually), it all feels very confined and at the service of the genre in which it is firmly grounded, instead of, say, Cam Girl which felt like it was running along a parallel but an aesthetically completely different track to the New Adult/Romance genre. This is clearly New Adult, and it seems resistant to be so but not quite powerful enough to break free of the genre's restraints. Much like the main character Maise, the book takes on the daunting task of needing to conform to a genre while also realizing and actualizing its potential, a potential that it knows to be far in excess of the genre that it's in. Unlike Maise, Unteachable isn't quite able to slip out of its confines.

The plot of this involves Maise, a high-school senior becoming involved with her professor, Evan Wilke, while also struggling against her crumbled at-home situation and needing to get into college. The tryst is naturally attractive, and while the two try to keep their hands off each other, secrets begin to slip out, culminating in a very weird climax that definitely shows that the pieces have moved along a winding road throughout the book. There is some charm in Maise being the least fucked-up protagonist whom Wake's invented... which is saying something considering Maise's own background and history, and it was nice to see Hiyam again (my heart skipped a beat when I read her name in here for the first time; I actually went back to double-check that she was the same one as in Iris). Evan Wilke is a serviceable romantic interest though nowhere near as powerful Blythe and not holding a candle to Ellis (or Blue), and once again Wake demonstrates how the hell to portray a suitably messed up mother-daughter relationship, again planting the seeds for the theme to grow in Iris. I liked Wesley a lot, actually, finding his chemistry with Maise more interesting than Maise's own with Wilke. The school project plot is fun to read about as it introduces a great conflict for all players involved, but setting that alongside the mob plot that showed up was a weird aesthetic and structural choice. I will say I did like how many potential climaxes for the book (Wesley's film project, Hiyam's extortion, and even the breakup) served to keep me engaged and pulled off some nice twists throughout the work that kept everything relatively fresh.

Being New Adult (and Romance), this thing's got lots and lots of sex, makeout sessions, and plenty of sensual details within its contents. I don't know if its just poor ol' asexual me, but this got boring very quickly. However (!) I will say that this proved Wake a writer who is constantly improving, as I realized that this trilogy (soon-to-be-quadrilogy - November cannot come soon enough, dammit!), if viewed in release order, demonstrates how Wake hones his skill at working the sex scenes into a more character-based system: Unteachable lathers itself in excess sensual and sexual vignettes; Iris tempers that a bit more with great character chemistry outside of that; and finally Cam Girl makes its sexual scenes specifically about its characters and what these actions are doing to their psyches and in relation to their situations. Unteachable arguably tries to do something similar to Girl actually, as it raises the question of whether Maise's and Evan's entire relationship is based on sex and physical attraction, but I never got the sense that the answer that the book wants us to arrive at ("no") was justified. To clarify, Iris had very physical and sexual energy from the beginning too, but that was almost always tempered with chemistry between Laney, Blythe, and Armin that existed outside of their physical attraction to one another, something Unteachable lacked for me. I recognize that this is part of the point of the book, that the situation that Maise and Evan find themselves in is itself attractive and alluring and so their physical attraction is an obvious way to exploit that, but their love never moved beyond the immediate for me even when the book seemed to suggest at the tail end that it had. This is definitely more of a me problem than one inherently wrong with this book; this is an insta-romance, after all, which is perfectly fine, but Wake is usually more subtle and nuanced than this, again a truth that is hindered by this being a debut and constantly veering on the more reliable side of the genre.

So yeah, I'm obviously really mixed about this book. I did like it, but I think I liked it more so because of how it demonstrated the growth of its author than it as a work of fiction. As I said in my Beyond the Red review, I'd much rather be honest about what I think of a book by an author I love rather than what that author would want me to say as that's treating everyone like the intelligent and thoughtful people we know each other to be. And I can't say I was as enthralled by this as by his other material. There're some great nuggets of ideas in here, but the full potential of those ideas is better realized in Wake's later books. Read this for the full Elliot Wake experience, certainly, and if you're more of a fan of typical Romance and especially New Adult than I am, you'll probably love this! For me, however, I can only say I think it's a great representation of the potential for New Adult lit, but only an average demonstration of Wake's writing abilities.

March 14, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 1x16 “Falling”

This episode hit most of the marks I was expecting it to hit and it did so very well!

It seemed like the writers really wanted to bring back some of their more successful ideas: we saw the senator lady return, many character dynamics shift back into focus for better or for worse, and there was a definite sense of status-quo shakeup here that gives me hope for the rest of the season!

Right off the bat, RedK Kara is the sexiest Kara holy crap!! I’ll echo what @webethemonsters said, “I’m asexual, but damn I had to stop and take a deep breath when Kara walked in the club” #same for me, honestly! And when she goes all RageQuit on everyone, man that was super satisfying… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I LOVED the beginning of this one! Seeing Supergirl interact with the people of National City was awesome and yes, it helped contrast with her darker self, but even more broadly it helped hit home the fact that she is the city’s hero, a hero of the people, and I really liked that! It’s kind of the same feeling I got while watching Amazing Spider-Man 2 wherein Peter actually seems to be connected with the people of New York and not above them. I thought they did a good job representing that here with Kara too! And plus that little girl was adorable! Indeed, many of the set-up scenes to establish Kara’s good-natured self were effective and I’m always happy to see Melissa Benoist be all adorkable and happy, so that was cool!

As for when Kara goes all Red Lantern sass, um HELL YES!! This Kara was great to see in action! Her nonchalance in stopping the one-off villain and then letting him go was refreshing, and Benoist really just nailed the bad girl attitude! Her getting Siobhan fired carried emotional weight for Siobhan’s character, a lot more than I was expecting, so that was nice; it provides good setup for her eventual turn to villainy. I also liked that this destroyed a potentially good relationship with one of Kara’s friends too, yet the episode doesn’t come out directly and address that, which I’d normally cite as a problem, but in this case it just reinforced how dangerous Kara is when she is not in check, even when not active as Supergirl.

Now, her as a more angry Supergirl, that’s what you’d expect, and they pulled it off relatively well. While her more sassy monologuing dipped into villainy a bit too much for me towards the middle, it was for the most part sound. I also liked this exchange between her and Cat before she throws her off the building:
Kara: “‘Supergirl is brave, kind, and strong.’ Isn’t that kind of a stock characterization? Very two-dimensional. Everyone knows real people have a dark side.”
Cat: “Yes, but you don’t get to be a real person. You’re a superhero. You get to represent all the goodness in the world.”
This is great! It hits a character theme that I wish they’d explore more, this idea that Supergirl is a celebrity and at once has little agency in the public’s eye: she is trapped, in a sense, in a kind of social obligation and thus rendered to an extent powerless. Now, that’s obviously the most extreme case of her relationship with the public, but it does raise the issue of how Supergirl’s operations and celebrity status might affect her personhood and agency. It also brings to light that dynamic that I love about Supergirl as a character overall, that she essentially needs to carve out her own identity when placed next to her cousin. This takes that one step further and suggests that she needs to do that while being held hostage by the public to remain a stereotype of superheroics. And it’s understandable how she might feel limited and fed up with that. Not justifying her follow-through of those emotions, but I did think that it was a good character insight and examination.

Kara’s actions towards Hank were certainly effective, but seemed to come a few episodes too late for me. These two characters hadn’t interacted as alien outcasts for a while, so to bring this theme back now was a bit of a left-fielder for me. The stuff between her and Alex was also good if a bit too on-the-nose. I’d’ve liked for that conversation to happen before Alex knew what was up with Kara, make that argument a two-sided affair where both had things to say to one another. Instead, we get Kara simply telling Alex things that they’ve already been through, their previous arguments and scenes establishing far better their sister dynamic than this. The scene does tie back into the loose theme of Kara feeling controlled by the various people and entities in her life when she hits Alex with the deduction that she killed Astra because she hated what Kara was, but it wasn’t a central part of the argument so it came off as kind of flat for me. Still, it did work okay, got the job done and all, and the emotions that Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh display here are fantastic!

Bringing Max Lord back into this seems to be a nervous tick that the writers have, and while it worked okay here as he was severely limited in his appearance, I admit I did groan when he appeared. The episode was strong already, I really didn’t mind not knowing who made the Red Kryptonite. Lord’s plan was bland, but at least they had the good sense to call it out this time, so that was fun. The problem with his character on the whole is I just don’t know what they’re trying to do with him. There’s a potential mutual respect enemy thing going on between he and Alex that is struggling to catch momentum and it’s kind of pitiful to watch, especially next to all these great character interactions that are working well already. I hope they give Lord more direction in the future.

And yes, that ending! J’onn is revealed and captured and this really makes me curious as to where the show’s gonna go from here! We might be seeing more of Lucy Lane considering that they said earlier in the show that if Hank were ever not in charge then control of the DEO would fall to General Lane (dammit), so maybe we’ll see that happen! The status quo is definitely shaken up and I’m looking forward to where they go from here! I hope to god that they don’t just push the reset button as they’re want to do; let this be a lasting thematic and emotional through-line that the characters must deal with for multiple episodes. Don’t Astra this shit! It’s important for the characters to breathe a bit and recover from this on screen! Kara needing to win back the people’s trust; having her deal with a lot of now out-in-the-open emotions with Alex and Hank; her and James’ relationship… again, this is all right here! So USE IT! Please!!!

Anyway, as an episode on its own, this one worked very well! Visually dazzling and emotionally driven this was, a nice opportunity for Benoist to stretch her acting legs a bit more (and yeah, show off her legs more too!) and I enjoyed it a lot! Let’s hope next week can follow through with a lot of the material this one set up!