BOOK REVIEW — Nimona

A commissioned review from my GoFundMe! It’s been a while since one of these, huh?

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Basically.

For my birthday, an anonymous donor generously commissioned and recommended that I read and review Nimona, a book I’d never heard of. All the anonymous recommendation said was, “It’s fun!”

So I took a deep breath, bought a copy, and hoped it would, in fact, be fun.

SPOILER:

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IT WAS IT WAS IT WAS

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YAYYYYYYY

Usually, the primary question to answer when introducing a book or movie or TV episode is: “What is it about?”

I’ll get to that, but with Nimona, I feel like I need to step back even further and first answer the question of: “What IS it?”

Nimona is not just a regular book made of words, like the ones I usually review here. Nimona is a graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson, based on her webcomic. I hadn’t heard of the webcomic, of course, so I approached it as a book, which it most certainly is at this point — it was even a finalist for the National Book Award in 2015. Are there a lot of graphic novels nominated for that? I don’t know; if you wanna research that, feel free to do so and then comment or tweet at me to expose my ignorance.

I have some thoughts on how I would have appreciated it differently had I read it as a webcomic rather than a book, but they won’t make sense until I go back and address the “What is it about” question, which I will do right now.

It’s about a small person named Nimona (surprise), who desperately wants to be a sidekick to the baddest supervillain around, the aptly named Balister Blackheart, and the psychotic shenanigannery she engages in to get the job and to keep it.

nimona-1Oh, and she’s also a shapeshifter.

It’s also about the fraught relationship between Blackheart and his archnemesis, the subtly named Sir Goldenloin, as Blackheart attempts to bring down the government and Goldenloin staunchly defends it. But is Goldenloin the hero and Blackheart the anti-hero, or is Blackheart actually the hero undermining a corrupt government, with Goldenloin being on the other side?

I’m just throwing out questions here, don’t read too much into it.

Or am I.

The book is, to put it simply, a delight from start to finish. (And start to finish are not that far apart — I read the whole thing in maybe an hour?) Nimona’s maniacal glee and Blackheart’s self-seriousness clash again and again in the most hilarious ways, and they make a fantastic team and even more fantastic comedy duo.

In summary:

Blackheart: “NIMONA DON’T DO THE THING”

Nimona: “I’M GONNA DO THE THING”

 

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The setting Stevenson chose ought to be confusing, with its helter-skelter mashup of medieval knights and jousts juxtaposed with high tech (characters routinely communicate on screens via video chats) but at no point does the incongruity seem out of place. Nimona the character delights in flouting and breaking all rules and expectations, and Nimona the book consequently does the same, subverting convention after convention. It all works.

My one complaint, therefore, would be about the ultimately fairly straightforward logic of the plot, which, for me, lacked the sheer manic enjoyment of the rest of the book’s unpredictability. It was, for me, just a little too well-constructed and made too much sense, with various arcs wrapped up very neatly. Can a book be too satisfying?

But the heart of the book is the character interaction (which is something I am prizing EXTREMELY HIGHLY right now after having seen Rogue One and been deeply disappointed by the poorly conceived character relationships — READ NIMONA, ROGUE ONE WRITERS), and I feel like I could read a whole book with no plot if it just had Nimona and Blackheart talking to each other in their wonderfully odd-couple way. Well, maybe not a whole book. Well, I’m not sure.

Which brings me back to my thoughts about this being a book-vs-webcomic — if I had read this as a webcomic, I know I would have been looking forward to each installment for more glorious nuggets of dialogue and character interaction. I wouldn’t have cared much about plot. I would have just loved checking in and seeing what absurdity these characters were up to that week, and been perfectly happy with nothing happening. All plot would have been a bonus. But with books, plot is expected. And it’s certainly not a bad plot. It’s just not what I loved most about this book.

nimona-christmasA whole book of this, though. That’d be awesome.

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Sarah Meira (SM) Rosenberg is a former auto mechanic and current jill-of-all-writing/editing-trades. She has a degree in Creative Writing, her very own Amazon author page, a podcast with some fellow nerdgirls, and a gofundme where anyone can commission her to write about anything — movies, TV, books, sports, you name it. Got anything you want me to review? Feel free to commission it through the GoFundMe! Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy.

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The Color Purple: SM Goes to Broadway

 

[NOTE: I reviewed this play several months ago but couldn’t post it at the time. The Tony Award-winning lead actress, Cynthia Erivo, is still anchoring the show and she is phenomenal. Some other cast members have moved on.]

 

Before I start this review about this particular play, I want to clarify some of my experience and thoughts about Broadway and theater culture in general. Because this is a pop culture column, and theater is a culture. It’s not one that I’ve ever been a part of, so of course that’s going to color my interpretation and opinions of any Broadway play that I see.

 

Feel free to skip down to the * * * break if you just came for the review!

 

Still here?

 

Okay, let’s do this.

 

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I don’t mean “theater culture” as in all the fun times and traditions that go on behind the scenes between stage actors, because I am so far removed from that part of it that I’m not even going to pretend to be qualified to opine on it. I’m pretending to be qualified to opine about theater-going culture, the culture of regularly going to see Broadway plays, either cheaply or by paying significant sums of money — just considering that a routine thing to do.

 

For me, it is absolutely not. I’ve now seen three Broadway shows in my life, including this one.

 

One was a birthday present when I turned five (yes, twenty years ago) — my dad took me to see Beauty and the Beast. Of course, that was pretty much wasted on a five-year-old, even an adorably precocious one such as myself. All I remember is the moment when the Beast turned into the prince; it was basically magic.

 

I saw my second show, West Side Story, as a perk of being accepted to the full-scholarship Macaulay Honors College — you know, the CUNY program designed to poach potential Ivy League students into attending CUNY colleges by bribing us with money, laptops, and free Broadway shows. (It worked.)

 

The third was this one, The Color Purple, for which I copyedited a number of posts for a friend’s Broadway blog (shout-out to BroadwayWiz!) in exchange for a ticket.

 

You may have noticed a common thread among these experiences: I didn’t pay for my ticket. And I point that out because I think that that’s the crux of my exclusion from theater-going culture: money.

 

Broadway is expensive entertainment.

 

I don’t just mean the Hamilton craze and $1000 tickets (though I do find it sadly ironic that a play about the value of diversity and immigrants is being effectively limited to the wealthy, mostly white elites). I also mean that it’s especially expensive when you come from a big family, like I do. Seven kids, two parents. There are things you just don’t do a lot when your family is nine people and your parents are teachers. To name a couple: you don’t eat out at restaurants much, and you don’t go to Broadway shows. Because take the price of a meal or a ticket, and multiply it by nine.

 
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Yeah. 

 

So I didn’t grow up going to Broadway shows, and as a result, whenever I’ve got a few extra bucks and am looking for an activity or some entertainment, it doesn’t even enter my mind to consider going to a Broadway show. Like, I’ve got a $5 movie theater in my neighborhood. The price on my ticket for West Side Story was $110. Do you know how many movies I could see and how much sushi I could buy with that money? Or how many clothes or other other stuff that isn’t a one-time ephemeral experience?

 

A lot. The answer is “a lot.” So for me, Broadway has just always lived in a zone in my mind that is simply outside of my pay grade. And yeah, I know there are ways to get cheaper tickets, but some of them take a lot of effort, and it just isn’t something that occurs to me, because of that zone.

 

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So with that in mind, what did I think of The Color Purple, the Tony Award-winning musical on Broadway?

 

Well, I think a lot of things. Firstly, I’ve read the book, and I absolutely love it. It is one of very, very few “classic” works of literature that I have genuinely enjoyed and actually recommend to other people instead of warning them away.

 

In case you haven’t read it, it’s a story that begins horrifically and ends as one of the most empowering feminist narratives that I have ever read. It’s the story of Celie, a young black girl who has been raped multiple times by her father* and borne him two children by the time she’s 16. She hasn’t seen them since she gave birth and believes he may have killed them. (I know, this is literally the worst beginning ever. Blowing up the planet would be less depressing.) Then, in order to save her sister, Nettie, from having to marry an abusive man, she agrees to marry him herself.

 

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The story then follows Celie’s married life, the people she meets, the influences they have on her, and her slowly-developing sense of self-worth as she becomes more and more fed up with her husband and her life circumstances. She learns to draw strength from the people around her and ultimately from herself and her own inner confidence and value, and finally stands up to her husband and her community, and it is GLORIOUS.

 

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*Turns out the man she thought was her father was actually her stepfather, but that’s no less horrific.

 

The play sticks with the same basic storyline, characters, and emotional beats as the book, although I do think that it downplayed the emergent lesbian aspect of Celie’s character. Other versions, such as the 1985 movie, have probably done that too, because the book’s portrayal of lesbianism and frank discussion of female sexuality were extremely progressive for its time, and the mediums of film and stage probably weren’t ready for it.

 

But regardless, Cynthia Erivo’s performance as Celie is amazing. She is tough, vulnerable, quietly rebellious, with sharp comic timing that adds a laugh or two to some of the bleakest scenes. Erivo completely deserved the Tony Award she won for the role. Even though there are many times when the men do the talking and have all the agency in Celie’s early life, she is always in the foreground of the stage, well-lit and prominent, so that we never forget that this is her story, not theirs.

 

Another standout performance was Sofia, played by Danielle Brooks, better known as Taystee from Orange Is The New Black [NOTE: Sophia is currently played by Carrie Compere]. Sofia is big, loud, brash, and is the first woman we meet in the play who immediately talks back to the men and takes no crap from them. She utterly rejects the accepted social norms that give men the right to beat their wives and girlfriends, and she walks out when her boyfriend hits her. It’s so refreshing in the context of the play, where so far all we’ve seen is women being crushed under men’s authority and only able to resist in quiet, subtle ways.

 
danielle-brooks-and-meI got to take a picture with her after the show. That’s her face on the poster between us. Photocred to BroadwayWiz!

 

The book, of course, is not a musical. And honestly, I preferred the speaking parts of the play to the musical parts. This is partly because I have a general preference for good dialogue, and partly because I felt like something was off with the acoustics of the theater. It was too small for the huge voices of the cast. Solos were usually fine, but when more than one person was singing or if they were belting at the top of their lungs, the words seemed to all crash together, and my friend and I could hardly ever tell what they were saying in the group songs. I really wanted subtitles. (I had the same thought when I saw West Side Story. Someone really needs to invent a subtitle projector for theater.) Maybe it was a fluke mic problem, maybe it sounded different down in the orchestra seats (we were on the mezzanine), but whatever it was, I was glad there was a lot of speaking to augment the music. If I’d paid for my ticket (about $75), I might have been disappointed. So I’d suggest that if you want to see it, listen to the cast album first so that you’re more familiar with the songs than we were.

 

Lastly, I’d like to mention that there is a pretty strong religious theme in the play — the title is a reference to how one of the characters uses the existence of good or beautiful things in the world, like the color purple, to explain her belief in God. I’ve never been the biggest fan of that sort of philosophy, where you attribute anything good to God and just kind of handwave all the bad. So that aspect of it didn’t really resonate with me, but others may have found it uplifting. I was more inspired by the strength and resilience of the characters, who fought through an oppressive society to ultimately find happiness and support each other through some of the most awful situations.

 

Bottom line: This was an excellent production with riveting performances and it held my attention easily the entire time. Those who like musicals might like it more than I did, especially if they listen to the songs in advance, but there is plenty of dialogue for those of us who prefer that. It is a more expensive show, so if you can get cheaper tickets, go for it. If you can’t, I hope I’ve done a decent job letting you know what you’re in for so you can decide if it’s worth the full price. The book is less expensive though, and definitely worth it.
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Sarah Meira (SM) Rosenberg is a former auto mechanic and current jill-of-all-writing/editing-trades. She has a degree in Creative Writing, her very own Amazon author page, a podcast with some fellow nerdgirls, and a gofundme where anyone can commission her to write about anything — movies, TV, books, sports, you name it. Got anything you want me to review? Feel free to commission it through the GoFundMe! Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy.

 

Datin’ Without Hatin’ — Return of SM’s Dating Advice Column! Inspired by the Godawful Relationship Writing on “The Flash”!

Well, hi there! I know, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, let alone this column. But I am not gone! I am still here!

 

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And I’m still capable of advising you on how best to live your life, because I’m definitely not an internet hermit to whom it makes no difference that I’m snowed in on a Sunday because it wasn’t like I was planning to go outside anyway. Nope, that’s definitely not me right now.

Anyhow, I was inspired to write a post lambasting some of the horrendous relationship choices made by the writers on The Flash this season, specifically one particular section of dialogue from the most recent episode.

If you’ve never seen The Flash, don’t worry, I shall explain:

Barry Allen is the Flash. He can run super duper fast. He thus became a superhero and fights all sorts of supernatural threats that regular cops can’t deal with.

This season, he met a lady cop named Patty. Patty is awesome and they start dating, but Barry never tells her anything whatsoever about being the Flash or about the supernatural threats that are endangering her, even though Patty is on the special police task force specifically established to deal with supernatural threats. 

He constantly flakes on her, backs out of plans without explanation, lies to her about everything from his whereabouts to his emotional needs, etc, all because he refuses to tell her anything she needs to know, even though this is constantly putting her in danger because she lacks the critical information necessary to protect herself.

Girls, boys, and others — this is SUPER unhealthy. But my even bigger issue came this past episode, when Patty finally confronts him about his behavior. How does she do it?

“Look, I have been a really cool girlfriend, okay? Most girls wouldn’t have the self-esteem to deal with [begins to list numerous ways in which Barry is a lousy boyfriend].”

This line…this line…I don’t even have the words to explain how much I despise this line.

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You want to know why many girls put up with lousy boyfriends? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because of self-esteem.

Usually, it is literally the opposite.

We put up with lousy partners, negligent partners, abusive partners — and why? Because we don’t think we deserve better. We think that our emotional needs aren’t worthy of attention. Because we think that making our needs and desires known will make us “uncool” or “clingy” or “demanding” or “shrewish” or, god forbid, “nagging.” This goes for all genders, fyi, but I do think that there are extra complications for women because there is SO MUCH societal pressure on women and girls to be nice and polite and sweet and accommodating and “cool” in a low maintenance way.

Note that “shrewish” and “nag” are used almost exclusively to describe undesirable behavior in women. Note that Patty equated her silence with being “a cool girlfriend.” Note that on other occasions, she prefaces perfectly reasonable requests with, “You know I don’t want to nag, that’s not who I am.” The fear of being considered a nag can be so intense that we frequently shut up about what we want or need in an effort to just be “cool.”

I speak from experience, as someone who dated a lousy boyfriend, years ago, and put up with all the flakiness, the cancelled plans, the broken promises, the constant “compromises” that weren’t compromises because they just amounted to me giving in to what he wanted.

I thought those things made me a good girlfriend. I thought that I was being nice, that I was being strong and not giving in to insecurity, that I was being generous and understanding. Because I did understand that, say, he was tired and didn’t want to hang out, or that he canceled on my birthday because he was feeling really anxious about a lot of things so we skyped instead, or that it made more sense for me to travel an hour and a half to see him on certain days because he had class until noon and if he had to travel to me after class ended, we’d have less time to hang out.

All of these things individually were understandable, but they piled up, skewing the reciprocity, so that I was giving, giving, giving, and he was taking, taking, taking. And when I did try to say that it felt unfair or that I needed something from him in return, he would call me “clingy” or “demanding,” and I would be appalled at myself and shut down my needs, and concentrate on just giving more and being better.

It was not because of self-esteem.

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I haven’t forgotten that this is a dating advice column. So here’s my advice:

To girls, because we’re socialized to be pushovers (but this can of course be applicable to other genders as well): Speak up about what you need. Don’t be ashamed of it, don’t repress it, don’t be afraid that it makes you naggy and clingy and undesirable. If it’s something that you honestly think you would willingly do for your partner, it’s not too much to ask. And if your partner is repeatedly unwilling or unable to meet or respect your needs, walk away. You will be better off.

To boys, because it’s not your fault but you’re probably not aware of just how much girls are socialized to accommodate others: If you feel like you screwed up, but the girl says, “it’s okay” or “don’t worry about it” — don’t always take it at face value. Sometimes it is okay, for sure, don’t get me wrong. Like when I walk into a guy’s place and he’s all, “sorry about the mess” and I’m all, “pffft, whatever, don’t worry about it,” I genuinely mean that, because messes genuinely do not bother me. And if it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon canceled plan. But if it’s a fairly big no-no, like canceling on her birthday, or if it’s a pattern, be mindful of that. There is so much pressure on us girls to just be okay with everything that sometimes we stay silent when we should speak up. So just in case, try to make it up to her sometimes. Nothing flashy, just “I know you said x was okay, but I felt weird about it, so I did y, or I got you z, or I made q plans” — just something.

And please, for the love of god, do not call her “clingy” or “naggy” or “demanding” or any of that stuff. They are all ways of saying, “your needs are not important,” and if she believes you, and starts believing that, the psychological damage is enormous. Believe me.

If her needs or desires genuinely do overwhelm you and you can’t meet them, either because what she wants is truly outlandish or because you personally are not equipped to handle it, that relationship is probably not the best fit for either of you, and you should probably end it.

 

I know all of this is general and oversimplified and each individual relationship comes with its own calculations, but overall, I think these are important to keep in mind, along with the most vital piece of advice I can give you: Don’t listen to the Flash writers about dating. Just don’t.

 

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open —http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

SPOILER FREE REVIEW — Supergirl Pilot

(100th post!!! Ahhhh!!!)

Before I watch this episode that the world-renowned Anonymous Donor has commissioned me to review, I just want to say that I have no idea what I think about this show. I have not watched any trailers, leaked footage, nada. I made a choice some time ago to see the show only in its intended episodic form, not truncated or packaged promotionally.

And the reviews I’ve seen (headlines are unavoidable on Facebook) appear to be polarizing. I know that when the trailer came out, lots of people mocked it for being exactly like the SNL Black Widow movie trailer except without the irony, while others were adamant that that is the whole POINT of Supergirl, that she is “just a regular girl” with mundane girl concerns and mundane girl interests, who just happens to have superpowers. And that the show is trying to make a point that being a girly girl or being feminine is not a weakness; you can be a girl’s girl AND a superhero! Of course, my concern with that is that in their efforts to make Supergirl an Everygirl, the showrunners may forget to give her a unique personality and have her be more of a cipher than a character.

I’m also not sure what to expect of Melissa Benoist, whose character on Glee was pretty much the dictionary definition of “bland.” That may not have been her fault (the character was definitely weakly written) but put it this way: when Grant Gustin was cast as the Flash, I was thrilled because he was FABULOUS on Glee and I was excited to see what he’d do. Melissa Benoist, not particularly. I did like her in Whiplash, though, and her role in that movie was to represent ordinariness and normalcy in contrast to Miles Teller’s character’s obsessive pursuit of extraordinariness and greatness, so if that will be her job on Supergirl, to be normal and ordinary, she’ll probably pull it off just fine. I just hope it won’t be boring.

Basically, I’m not sure what to expect, what point the show is going to try to make or whether it will be any good at making it. I’m not prepared. Well, I’m prepared to be conflicted. That’s about it.

 

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WELL. I guess it turns out that I did have expectations, because this was wayyyyyy better than I thought it was going to be.

First off, Melissa Benoist is perfect here as Kara, aka Supergirl. She has more life and verve in this role than she ever had a chance to showcase on Glee. Yes, the show does do the typical thing of making her kinda clumsy and awkward, but — take note, Aaron Sorkin and Newsroom staff — never incompetent. She has more passion and enthusiasm than I was expecting from an Everygirl character, which give her excellent screen presence. She is not boring. She cares deeply about things, from her job dissatisfaction to her newfound crush to her reverence for Superman to her relationship with her sister to her own heroics to her confusion over her place in the world. Yes, many of these things are mundane Everygirl concerns, but rather than turning her into a cipher or a Mary Sue, the effect is not that I project myself onto her, but rather that she feels like her own entity, definitely a full person, but one that I’d like to be friends with because we have some things in common. That scene on the couch with her squeeing over seeing her heroics covered on TV for the first time — total bff material.

I also love that they didn’t just make the protagonist female only to surround her with a mostly male ensemble, as is far too common. There seem to be two main ladies aside from Kara — a fantastic Calista Flockhart as Kara’s boss, and Chyler Leigh (Lexie from Grey’s Anatomy! With short hair!) as Kara’s sister — and don’t look now but the main villain appears to be female as well. There are also a number of background/one-line characters who could easily have been male but aren’t. The episode probably passes the infamous Bechdel test half a dozen times, easily. And even the clichéd “freaking out over what to wear on a date” scene isn’t really about the date or the dude; it’s about the supportive and reciprocal relationship Kara has with her sister. There are a couple of male regulars too, but they seem to be ancillary and side-kicky in relation to the women, who are the real driving forces of the show. It’s a flipped gender dynamic that is all too rare and therefore very refreshing. To me, at least.

I don’t want to get spoilery, so I’m not going to go into detail about the plot. Suffice it to say, baddies show up and comic-booky fighting ensues at some point, growing more and more prominent as the episode goes on. In my opinion, that’s the weakest thing about this pilot; I would have preferred to see more of Kara in her real life and her relationships with the other characters, because those were interesting and nuanced, whereas right now, these villains seem to just be flat and capital-E Evil because . . . they’re evil? EEEEEEVIIIIILLLLLL. *maniacal cackle*

 

for teh evulz

 

Also, I gotta say, Kara’s coworker who keeps trying to hit on her is kind of a jerk. Not a fan of him. I mean, at one point he mistakenly thinks she’s about to tell him she’s a lesbian and is like “so THAT’S why you were never into me!” Dude, no. The default setting on girls is not “into you unless lesbian.” Sorry not sorry to burst your bubble. Just no.

And the special effects are hokey. Probably the worst of the Arrow-Flash-Supergirl triumvirate. Wonder why that is. Different budgets? Different production companies? More challenging scenarios? Who knows.

So — the million dollar question — is the show empowering? Or *gasp* feminist? 

Well, purely by virtue of it being populated by multiple female characters who consistently interact with each other in meaningful ways, unrelated to the male characters, it is as feminist and empowering as almost any shows I’ve seen this side of a Shonda Rimes production. There are definitely some moments that ring false, like when a character heavy-handedly says, “A female hero! Someone my daughter can look up to,” but overall, it’s a solid start. And if the showrunners catch onto the fact that allowing multiple women to take center stage and go about their business is being feminist, and that waving your arms all, “HEY LOOK AT US BEING ALL FEMINIST OVER HERE!!!1!!” is not so much, there’s hope for it to get even better in that department.

Have you seen the Supergirl pilot? What did you think? Feel free to disagree with me in the comments 🙂

 

 

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

 

REVIEW — House of Cards, Season 2, Episodes 5 & 6

 

Hey, look at that, I’m back to reviewing these! Primarily because the new season of HoC premiers at the end of the month and I am super behind. In case I haven’t mentioned this: I watch and then review, and I don’t watch further if I haven’t written a review, so I’m sure you can see how that strategy might backfire into not ever getting a chance to watch the rest of the show because I’m just too lazy to write my review. Bad, SM. Get it together.

 

I am getting it together! Or trying to, anyway. I finished automotive school at the end of January and now I am in Israel on a month-long trip that I like to call “My Last Hurrah Before Having To Come Home and Be an Adult.” And of course, what is there to do in Israel aside from watch TV shows about American politics? Nothing significant, that is correct.

 

This review in particular, though, I’m finding hard to write, not because it’s been so long since I’ve seen and written about the show, but rather because nothing that happens in either of these episodes struck me as particularly memorable. They hit a couple of major plot points — Lucas the Journalist’s story mercifully wrapped up with his framing and arrest for cyberterrorism, and Frank is attempting to drive a wedge between the President and his billionaire advisor, Raymond Tusk. But neither of these storylines are all that compelling to me because Lucas is not a character I find interesting, and neither is Raymond Tusk. Gone is the eccentricity that gave his character the slightest bit of depth; now he’s just this rich guy who’s looking after his interests. Very one-note, very boring. So these major arcs just feel perfunctory to me as a viewer because I don’t care much for the people involved.

 

The smaller stuff I find more compelling, even if there’s not much there — the few brief scenes with Rachel Posner (I think that actress has incredible screen presence and I hope she gets to have more agency as the show goes on), and more substantially, Claire’s new committee to fight for women’s rights in the military, which introduces the character of the First Lady, and it was awesome to see her use her status to smack down that general/military dude who was insisting the military does all it can to protect its women, when clearly it could do more. I was less enamored with the bit where Claire is clearly trying to push Christina (girlfriend of the late Peter Russo, a’’h) out of the picture by planting suspicions in the First Lady’s mind that Christina is having an affair with the President. At least, I think pushing Christina out of the White House is her goal with that, but honestly I have no idea because I don’t know why she suddenly cares what happens with Christina. Theoretically she could be concerned that Christina could piece together the fact that Frank murdered Russo, but it’s unclear how that would be possible and why now this is a concern. Also it’s unclear if Claire even knows that Frank murdered Russo? Ugh, show, you could be better at this.

 

Basically, these two episodes fall into the category of Less Engaging Setup. I do not have a problem with setup in and of itself, but even if seeds are just being planted for a payoff down the line, there are ways to make those seed-planting scenes more interesting than many of these. (As I wrote in my review of the season 5 finale of Supernatural, that show suffered from the opposite problem of setup that was so interesting that the payoff paled in comparison.) Of course, most people aren’t watching this show in two-episode chunks and then stopping to write reviews, so the show is structured to build as one story and not necessarily be broken down on an episode-by-episode level. Still, there are very serialized shows out there that do a better job on an episode-to-episode and scene-to-scene level than these couple of episodes. Hopefully things will pick up soon, and if they don’t, well, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are still worth watching regardless. Underwoods 4evah!!

 

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MOVIE REVIEW — Veronica Mars

 

 

Well, this is way overdue and I feel like I should apologize to the internet. Sorry, internet.

 

This review was commissioned by an anonymous donor known only as the “Funder of Dreams.” Thanks, Funder! (Commissioned post #4 out of 10 so far!)

 

While I did not fund the famed Veronica Mars Movie Kickstarter, there’s no way to talk about this movie without talking about some history, because practically everyone who saw the movie has some kind of history leading into it. Mine was that I watched the Veronica Mars show years ago, sometime after it went off the air, and thought it was a pretty good show but not OMG AMAZEBALLS like most of its fans seemed to think. And then more recently, my favorite blogger Mark Oshiro of www.markwatches.net began blogging it episode by episode, and I picked it up again, intending to watch along with his posting schedule (as I am doing with Supernatural right now) . . . aaaaaand that didn’t work out so well. The show has so much momentum that I zipped through all three seasons in like a month.

 

But I was amazed at how much more there was to the show than I’d given it credit for during my first watch. I’m assuming that in the intervening years I’ve become so much more aware of and invested in social constructs and societal conventions, and that’s why I could finally appreciate how daring the show was, and how direct it was in tackling issues of racism, classism, sexism, and just about every other ism. And it doesn’t do it in a preachy way; it just weaves the threads into the lives of the characters and the mysteries that the titular Veronica has to solve week in and week out.

 

So it’s like, some people go into JJ Abrams’s Star Trek movies hoping for morality plays and social commentary because that’s what Star Trek is about (and they are disappointed because JJ Abrams? Philosophy? HA) — but Veronica Mars isn’t really about that and I don’t really expect commentary from it; I mostly just expect to see the world presented to me as it is and being left to make the final judgment call myself. No impassioned monologues delivered by major characters at the movie climax about right and wrong or about how things should be; just people living messy lives and making messy decisions. Of course, there are true villains and evilness and that’s fun to root against, and we have our plucky heroes that we can root for, but no one’s perfect and I don’t have to like everything they do, and most characters fall somewhere in between.

 

So in that vein, I liked a lot of the choices that the writers made for this movie, such as where they decided to place the characters in this Ten Years Later installment. Funder of Dreams expressed disappointment to me that Wallace, Veronica’s adorable sidekick, became a high school teacher/basketball coach instead of the engineer he’d dreamed of being when we last saw him on the show. We saw how dedicated Wallace was in college to the math and science work he had to do, even though it wasn’t easy for him, and Funder may have a thing for engineers and felt let down to see that Wallace’s work hadn’t paid off long-term in the form of an engineering career. And I’m sure some people were annoyed that Veronica herself went off and became a lawyer instead of a hotshot FBI agent, and I’m absolutely certain no one expected Weevil, the leader of the PCH motorcycle gang, to settle down and have a wife and baby.

 

But I like that. I like when movies and TV and books acknowledge that life is not linear. Life paths do not follow a set trajectory just because that’s logical or because you want them to. I actually saw the movie, I realize now, with someone who originally thought he’d be an engineer, but life happened and now he feels that his true calling is to be a high school teacher. He is basically Wallace. This stuff really happens. I’m aware that there’s a tacit requirement of fiction that it has to make more sense than reality, but career paths changing is such a normal thing that I don’t believe it really requires an explanation. I mean, if someone made a TV show out of my high school life, it would be unbelievable boring, but aside from that, it would be about a teenage girl who wrote novels. And if there was fanfiction written about my Unbelievably Boring High School Life show (because such things have been known to happen), I’m sure all the fanfic writers would project that grown-up SM would be a novelist or the next JK Rowling, depending on the degree of wish fulfillment the writer subscribed to. None of them would have put me in automotive school, but guess what? That’s where I am right now, and that’s where I want to be. Life is not linear.

 

And sometimes, as the movie shows, you may get sucked back into that original trajectory, and that may not be “destiny” or “meant to be” or any of those positively connoted things — it may in fact be a regression, the path of least resistance, an addiction; it may not be a good thing. And I liked that too.

 

And again, nobody in the movie really gave any speeches outlining this and analyzing whether it is right or wrong — it’s just there. For you to notice or not, just like the other things I didn’t notice when I first watched the show.

 

Leaving aside all this baggage I’ve now projected into the movie, was it a good movie?

 

I think so. I saw it with someone who’d never seen the show, and aside from my squealing every time a character came onscreen (“MAC! WEEVIL! GIA! LEO! DEPUTY SACKS!”), I don’t think he found anything too confusing, which is a big plus for a movie with so much background info. There were some incredibly suspenseful moments, and because the movie was low budget and couldn’t possibly be “action-packed,” the few incidents of violence were shocking and effective. As far as I could tell, this was a good little thriller. (I don’t know how qualified I am to judge such things, because I tend to watch dramas and comedies and sci fi and family movies and hardly any straight-up thrillers at all, but most of the critics seem to agree with me, as did my movie-going companion.) And I was of course extremely nostalgic and just so happy to see all the familiar faces playing all the familiar characters ( ❤ Vinnie Van Lowe, you scumbag).

 

It was too bad that they couldn’t get Leighton Meester to reprise her role as Carrie Bishop, because every time they showed pictures of what was supposed to be her character, it was super distracting because THAT’S NOT LEIGHTON MEESTER YOU CAN’T FOOL ME. Looked nothing like her. They could have said she’d had plastic surgery, and given the character, I’d have been totally fine with that, but nada.

 

I thought it was interesting that they chose to make the villain an unfamiliar character invented for the movie, and not one we already knew (although the movie distractingly pretended that he had gone to high school with them to explain why he was at the reunion), but I suppose that would have been too risky and would have outraged too many people. This is a fanservice movie, after all, and while they may not have gone the Wallace-the-engineer/Veronica-the-FBI-agent wish fulfillment route, there were some lines they still didn’t want to cross.

 

Such as having Veronica end up with anyone other than Logan. Le sigh.

 

I came into the movie assuming that they’d wind up together and that I’d be fine with it, because I never thought Piz, Veronica’s other love interest in this movie, was a viable option for Veronica. (At heart, I still liked Veronica’s first boyfriend Duncan best but Teddy Dunn was not going to be in the movie so I accepted that the LoVe ship would be sailing.)

 

I’m not that tough a sell when it comes to romance, honestly. Show me characters who genuinely connect and care and get along and support and respect each other as equals and I’ll probably be fine with whoever you throw together.

 

And the movie gives us that with Piz but not with Logan. We see that Piz and Veronica have a well-functioning relationship of equals and that Piz no longer that pathetic puppy dog just following Veronica around. Good for him! They work really well together in the movie! But it is not to be, alas. And we’re left to assume all of that important stuff with Logan; the movie doesn’t give us enough Veronica/Logan talky time for them to hash things out and deal with their issues — it shows us Logan in his Air Force uniform, Logan being broody, Logan being violent, Logan being heroic . . . but none of that actually addresses the central issues of the Veronica/Logan relationship, such as poor communication, distrust, and oh yeah, ten YEARS without speaking to each other. But he means well and they smooch by the end so it’s all good. Not.

 

On the other hand, there’s all sorts of class warfare and douchey police abuse and Logan being angsty and Keith Mars being the best dad ever and Mac being the only one to have a linear life where she’s now a hotshot software developer, and that’s pretty yummy.

 

So overall, I think enjoyment of this movie depended largely on expectations. I don’t think critics expected much from it and were pleasantly surprised. I think I expected certain things from it, as outlined above, and for the most part my expectations were met, so I was happy. I think that if people expected it to be the best movie of the year, the decade, the century, they were probably disappointed, and that if they disliked Logan, they were probably disappointed, and if they expected linear progression of the characters and of some of the plot loose ends left by the show, they were probably disappointed, and I can’t argue with that.

 

But I think it was a solid little movie, and if by some miracle there’s a sequel, I’d totally go see it.

 

 

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On “Arrow” — Why *CHARACTER SPOILER ALERT* Bothers Me: A Meditation on the Integration of Strength and Vulnerability in Screen Characters

(Whew, that’s a long title.)

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

 

In honor of the conclusion of season 2 of Arrow, we have our first commissioned post! Alex Wittenberg donated and requested that I write about “any one aspect of the show.” So I decided to write about something that’s been bothering me, which probably doesn’t bother most people for the same reason, but there are probably other reasons people are bothered by this aspect as well.

Enough with the vagueness! On to the spoilers!

Seriously, don’t read past here if you intend to watch Arrow and haven’t yet seen up to Season 2 Episode 4. Major character spoilers ahoy. Okay, you’ve now been warned three times. I give up.  

So as you may have figured out if you recall what happens in Episode 4, I’m trying to say that I’m bothered by the characterization of Sara Lance, also known as Black Canary.

I was really excited when she joined the show, because I thought it was a great twist and I was looking forward to seeing what they’d do with her. But unfortunately my enthusiasm petered out when I discovered I just didn’t like the character very much. I found her fairly flat and unmemorable despite all the screen time they gave her, and I really can’t tell if it’s the actress or the writing or possibly even the directing, but I just barely remember anything interesting she did this season, aside from having a female lover (which the cynic in me says was a desperate attempt to combat her unmemorableness, as well as a ratings ploy even though it was pretty tastefully done). At this point, I couldn’t care less about her being on the show or not, but I’m glad they haven’t killed her off yet, because if they did, I’d be expected to care, as a viewer, and I just don’t. (Same with Laurel but this post is not about Laurel.)

But aside from her overall blandness, Sara’s characterization suffers from one of my personal pet peeves: what I like to call “the Strength-Vulnerability See-saw.” (And by “I like to call it that” I mean that I just now made up the name for the purposes of this post, of course.)

The Strength-Vulnerability See-saw is what happens when a character seems to me to have only two modes: 1) stoic, badass, and hyper-competent, vs. 2) emotional, weepy, and overly vulnerable.

Sara Lance could give the master class in this. When her mask and wig and cleavage-baring catsuit are on, she is unstoppable, a force to be reckoned with. As soon as the mask comes off? She morphs into this sad-eyed, angst-ridden, quivery-chinned mess.

Some might call this character depth and talk about how her superhero mode is her coping mechanism for all the emotional turmoil underneath. And I’m not saying that’s untrue, I’m just saying that it’s irritating to watch an ostensibly strong female character see-saw back and forth between such extreme versions of being a superhero and being a child. It feels lazy to me, as all extremes do. Nuance is where it’s at, y’all. Not everyone agrees with me that this is unnuanced, of course; some see it as a positive: “On the plus side . . . the show landed a performer capable of pulling double duty as both an emotionally wounded individual and someone skilled at taking down gang members with similar proficiency as Oliver,” writes Kevin Yeoman at ScreenRant. But I don’t care what he thinks.

Writers and actors often have a hard time integrating strength and vulnerability into a single character without resorting to extremes. That was one of my biggest problems with the second Hunger Games movie as opposed to the first one — I felt upon my first viewing that Jennifer Lawrence see-sawed too often between the stoic and the hysterical. (The second time I saw it, I didn’t feel that as much, but I still think it was an issue at points.)

It’s not a problem exclusive to female characters, either. In the early seasons of Supernatural, Dean Winchester was super macho, except in those moments when he wasn’t and went to the other extreme. Fortunately, as the seasons go on, either the writing gets better or Jensen Ackles got a better grasp on integrating the character’s emotional side with his macho side, so that he no longer felt like a see-saw.

Maybe if Sara were on the show for longer, the same thing could have happened. But if she’s not, I definitely won’t miss her. Apologies to all the Sara fans out there.

 

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