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!