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”

 

nimona-board-game

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.

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.

 

volunteer-as-tribute

 

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.

 

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 — The Flash, Season 1, Episode 15, “Out of Time” [#SPOILERALERT]

 

 

I was commissioned way too many months ago by a generous [and patient!] donor to review an episode of The Flash of my choosing. (Commissioned post #8, booya!) First I thought I’d do the pilot, because it was a pretty darn good one and record-setting to boot. Then I thought I’d do the Flash/Arrow crossover, because it was pretty epic.
And then last night’s episode came along, and, well, I had to write about it. Not because I loved it, but because it is such a hugely important episode (a real “gamechanger” as the showrunners have been telling us), and ultimately, to me, a hugely frustrating episode. And I feel like most reviews are going to be going gaga over how awesome they thought it was, so I just have to come along and poop on everybody’s opinions before it’s too late.

[SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS I CANNOT BE HELD LEGALLY OR MORALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGES INFLICTED ON YOUR SPOILER-PROTECTED SOUL IF YOU READ PAST THIS POINT]

 

So on the one hand, I am really really glad that they FINALLY told us who Harrison Wells is (or confirmed it, anyway, since my comic book geek friends have been telling me for weeks that in the comics, Reverse Flash’s last name is Thawne, and thus he’s probably a descendant of Eddie Thawne — aka Mr Romantic Obstacle who will be discussed later — and that’s why Reverse Flash didn’t kill Eddie when he had the chance). And the show told us his main motivation: to pull a Marty McFly and get back to the future. He’s been trapped in this time period for 15 years, and he believes the Flash’s speed holds the key to him getting back to his own time, and he’s so desperate to return that he’s been sociopathically murdering anyone who might hurt or kill Barry, because that would destroy his only chance to get home.

 

Great. Got that. It mostly makes sense. (Except the part where he was going back in time to kill Barry in the first place. That one’s still a mystery for a later date.)

 

What I did NOT get:

 

What are the parameters of Dr Wells’ powers? Wtf is that speed mirage thing? How fast can he go and what else can he do, and also WHAT THE HECK was Cisco looking at when he was reexamining the containment field? That was what almost killed the whole scene for me — he’s running some kind of test on the containment field and then the Reverse Flash appears within the forcefields, doing and saying exactly what he did and said that first time, and it’s supposed to be this BIG REVEAL MOMENT, but I…didn’t get it? What was it? A recording? A hologram preprogrammed by Wells to do all that stuff, including beating him up (there were actual bruises on Wells; they treated him for his injuries) and killing all those cops? But can a hologram beat up a person and kill things? And if it wasn’t a hologram then what? Huh? Was it another application of this whole speed mirage nonsense? That Wells-in-the-Yellow-Suit was a speed mirage left over to beat up Wells-not-in-the-Yellow-Suit? But a speed mirage lasts seconds.

 

I haven’t looked up anyone else’s reviews or explanations of what that was, because I want this review to be about my untainted reactions at the time that I watched it, and my untainted reaction at the time was: Error. Error. This does not compute in any way.

 

 

 

So for me that whole scene was a fail because when your Big Reveal moment winds up being just a Big Huh??? moment, it’s incredibly distracting and not only takes away from the reveal but takes away from what comes afterward because I was still all WHAT IN THE NAME OF ZEUS IS SUPPOSED TO BE GOING ON HERE when Wells himself came into the scene and [SPOILERED] Cisco and I suspect that part had much less of an impact on me than it was supposed to, because my head was still stuck several minutes back.

 

Speaking of which!

 

The other awesome/gamechanging development in this episode came in those final seconds when Barry somehow punches a hole through the fabric of the spacetime continuum and travels through time. Woohoo!! And surprise, he doesn’t go to the future or the very distant past — he goes back, conveniently, to nearly the beginning of the episode, so that the writers have in effect hit a handy dandy reset button on everything that happened after that. Cisco isn’t [SPOILERED], Wells hasn’t revealed himself, the police chief hasn’t been struck by lightning to save Joe, Joe hasn’t been kidnapped by the Weather Wizard, Barry hasn’t revealed his powers to Iris AT LONG LAST, Iris hasn’t confessed her undying love for Barry, Iris and Barry never did something so abominably thoughtless as smooch each other while in relationships with other people — but more on that development later.

 

As for time travel, it’s still super unclear what the rules are. Like, are there now two Barry Allens walking around in the past or did he somehow merge and become only one, because I didn’t see a second Flash on that streetcorner when he appeared in the past? And can he alter history now, or not? Because if he could, then what we saw happen would never have happened, because there would have been a second Flash running around stopping it in the first place, because time travel is circular and paradoxical and totally makes no sense.

 

But I figure they probably won’t address that and just have him try to change things and have OTHER things go wrong. Which I’m looking forward to, for sure.

 

But I think it’s a bad thing when an episode makes you feel glad that it pressed a reset button if the reason you’re glad is because you think most of the choices made by the characters were stupid choices and phew, now they get a do-over.

 

Like, oh my god, I am not okay with the direction the romance on this show has taken. I am really not a fan of when a show presents alternate love interests who (a) might as well have OBSTACLE emblazoned on their foreheads and then (b) proceeds to treat them poorly, depriving them of development and having the main characters who are dating them instead of each other treat these disposable obstacle characters like crap. (This is what happened to Dean after Jess got introduced on Gilmore Girls and so much NOPE there too.)

 

Barry, you are dating Linda. Focus on that. Stop dwelling on Iris. Stop asking Joe for advice about her; ask a neutral party. (Joe gives terrible advice here that deserves to be erased from the spacetime continuum; he advises Barry to “hold onto those moments” when he thinks Iris loves him back, rather than pay more attention to the girl he is actually dating. You cannot date someone seriously — and Linda has made it clear she would like to be dated seriously — if you are actively holding onto hope for someone else. Bad, Joe. You should know better.)

 

Iris, you are living with Eddie. You know Barry has feelings for you. Stop feeding that. Stop inserting yourself into his love life, by crashing his dates, being touchy-feely, giving him your unsolicited opinion that the girl he’s trying to date is wrong for him. That is an area of his life that you need to butt out of, period. Let him get over you and build new relationships. Not to mention the discomfort you’re causing Eddie. Which has reached a point where he speaks up about it and calls Iris on it. (Aside: I really liked how he did it, btw, the way he phrased it: “I didn’t like how I felt when…” I didn’t like how felt. He doesn’t accuse and blame her, but he makes his feelings clear that he felt like a third wheel when he shouldn’t have to feel like that. He was much more diplomatic than my little sister’s assessment, who is only 14 but can still tell that Iris’s behavior is not okay: “Iris is really bugging me right now.”)

 

All of this detracts majorly from the moment at the waterfront where Iris confesses her feelings and they kiss — the whole time my brain was just screaming “WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS ROMANTIC??? You are dating other people! You are lying to them! This is not romantic! This is not okay!” But with the music swell and the camera’s loving, lingering shots, clearly the show is presenting this moment as romantic, and I am so not cool with that. (Also Joe was being held hostage and there’s an impending tsunami and why are you kissing. Also that.)

 

 

Also was not cool with Linda’s line to Iris that she thought Iris had told Linda about Barry’s feelings because that was “typical weird crap women do to each other” — that line just radiates Male Writer in a way that really rubs me the wrong way. Maybe a woman who sees herself as such an outsider compared to other women might say something like that, but we really don’t know enough about Linda for that to feel authentic to her character. It basically sounds like a man writing a woman, and doing it badly.

 

Female representation on this show is not its strong suit, which is a crying shame, because representation of other minorities is done so well. There are multiple non-white characters in the regular cast, and it was established in an earlier episode that the chief of police has a boyfriend, who is now a fiancée.

 

That’s the one moment that I am sad to see vanish into the ether of rewound spacetime: the way everyone reacts to the fiancée — that is, they don’t react at all. They treat him as anyone would treat any distraught significant other, with no mention whatsoever of the fact that this is not a heterosexual relationship and no “look at us, we have a gay couple on our show!” It’s presented as completely mundane and normal. The show made such a statement by deliberately not making any statement at all, and I loved, loved, loved that.

 

One final gripe: Dear lord, everyone is so stupid about the Weather Wizard. After Cisco makes that magic weather wand, and after it has been proven to work, WHY ON EARTH IS JOE GOING ANYWHERE WITHOUT IT? What is wrong with you?? And since he didn’t take it, why didn’t Barry take it when he went to the waterfront?! WHY ARE YOU SO STUPID. (I know, I know, gotta pass the Idiot Ball around because Plot.)

 

One final non-gripe: The Weather Wizard is pretty. So glad he’s the one who gets to have a recurring role, and not the creepy-looking dude who played his brother.

 

So…yeah. These are my thinky thoughts. Basically, most of what happened in this episode bothered me, especially the romantic subplots and the stupid way everyone dealt with the Weather Wizard, and I was glad it was stricken from the record of history. If it was the intention of the writers to make me feel that way, well, good job, writers. But that doesn’t make me any more thrilled with the contents of this episode.

 

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Agree? Disagree? Like my thinky thoughts? You can commission more of them via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — or subscribe on the sidebar, and thanks for reading! You can also buy me tools from this Wishlist but really I just like money.

 

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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REVIEW — “Dollhouse” Pilot

 

Keeping this review fairly spoiler free so that people who haven’t seen the show can read it and hopefully join in our madness.

 

Commissioned post: 3 of 8 so far.

 

An anonymous donor donated anonymously, as anonymous donors are wont to do, and requested that I review any episode of any Whedonverse show — i.e., any television by the renowned nerd-cult-leader-gone-mainstream-because-Avengers, Joss Whedon.

 

Well, as you may know, that doesn’t narrow things down much. I could choose from Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, or even Doctor Horrible (Agents of SHIELD doesn’t count), which all add up to approximately a bazillion episodes. Somehow I decided I wanted to do Dollhouse because I think it was the least popular of all the Whedonverse shows, and I have a curiosity about unpopular things made by brilliant people, and also because I really liked a lot of Dollhouse when I watched it years back. I don’t remember all that many of the specifics, but there are very vivid plot points and character moments that I do recall, and to me, television is often more about the moments than about the overall picture, so if a show has that many moments that have stuck with me for this long, it counts as a good show in my book.

 

I know that a lot of people couldn’t stomach it because of the consistent theme of sex trafficking and issues of consent, but for some reason that never bothered me in a visceral way when I saw the show, so I always found it more fascinating than disgusting or disturbing. And I’m pretty sure people complained that they found certain leaps in the show’s logic to be irritating and unrealistic, but again, not a problem that usually bothered me. And even if it had, the awesomeness that is Enver Gjokaj would have outweighed it ALL.

 

This dude’s talent is off-the-charts bonkers.

 

I’m going to do this review in two parts: first a little background on the first time I saw this episode and what I especially liked, and then I’m gonna watch the episode again, see if it lives up to my nostalgia, and write part two. This is my blog, so I can do that if wanna.

 

 

PART ONE

 

I first saw the Dollhouse pilot during the year I spent in Israel between high school and college in 2008-2009, when I went to visit my brother for the weekend in Yeshivat Har Etzion (aka Gush). On Saturday night we ordered Burgers Bar hamburgers (I think it was the only time I had Burgers Bar the entire year) and he sat me down in his dorm room to watch this new show he’d seen, refusing to tell me what it was about. I was confused for exactly as long as the show wanted me to be confused before it revealed its premise: the Dollhouse is an establishment that wipes people’s personalities and reprograms these “dolls” to whatever specifications their insanely wealthy clients request — a lover, a companion, a weapons expert, a master negotiator, etc. (This is where the logic complaints came in — “If you have the oodles of money necessary in this fictional universe to buy a reprogrammed human doll, why would you do that instead of paying for a real weapons expert, master negotiator, etc?” Which, fair point. But we’ll ignore that because PLOT.)

 

For me, what sticks with me and what sold me on this show was one particular exchange: I don’t remember the wording, but when Echo (the main character doll played by Eliza Dushku) is programmed to be the aforementioned master negotiator, one of the characters asks Topher, the amoral genius programmer of the Dollhouse, “Why does she need glasses?” Topher had programmed her persona, Eleanor Penn, to have worse vision than Echo actually has — and he explains that the poor eyesight was necessary, in order to give her reprogrammed personality its edge. According to Topher, excellence must be balanced with flaws and imperfections, and people who have to work harder to overcome inherent disadvantages in themselves and their lives are therefore stronger, more driven, more successful, so he couldn’t just make Eleanor Penn this brilliant negotiator with no inherent flaws because the personality just wouldn’t work. (He also gave her asthma. Thanks a bunch, Topher.)

 

I know that this is basically pop psychology at its finest, but I think it’s ingenious and I loved it. I love it. It told me right away that this show was going to be an exploration of the human condition and the nature of what makes us who we are, and that’s all I needed to know.

 

I’m not going to go into more detail about the plot or what else I remember because that’ll be covered in part two. Now I’m gonna go find my brother so we can rewatch it together. Symmetry.

 

PART TWO

 

Well, that was even better than I remembered.

 

It was a very interesting experience the second time around, because, having seen the entire show, I know the arcs of each character and who is a traitor and who is not what they appear to be and what certain seeds lead to down the road. That adds a whole new layer to the viewing, which of course could not be there for anyone watching the pilot as it was meant to be watched: as an intro to this world, with no knowledge of what’s to come. And it also confirmed for me that one particular twist was in no way planned from the start and was pulled out of the writers’ butts near the end of the series just because. But a lot of the other ones were set up from this very first episode, which is nifty. So if you like shows with an overall arc, rest assured that this one has that — but it starts to really get going about five or six episodes into the season, which may be why some people who shall remain nameless but not blameless got impatient and stopped watching.

 

I’m not going to talk about the arc plot or the plot of the pilot because spoilers, and besides, almost all episodes of Whedonverse shows have decent, well-paced central plots and that’s not what makes them great or less great — the characters and the dialogue do that. And I think this was an excellent pilot in that regard, because something interesting was being said in just about every scene. And even the scene which introduces the FBI Agent Paul Ballard, which I remembered as being weird because it crosscuts between a conversation he’s having with his bosses and some random boxing fight that has zero plot relevance, but upon a second viewing, it was pretty emotionally effective in communicating the beats of that conversation and Ballard’s ultimate intentions.

 

Eliza Dushku did a very good job in this episode, I thought. Echo is an incredibly challenging role, and over the course of the show’s run, I didn’t always feel like Dushku was up to that challenge because she doesn’t always completely disappear into her multiple character personas the way other actors on the show do, like Enver Gjokaj and Dichen Lachman. Those two are fantastic. (I don’t know if this is a politically correct thing to say, but sometimes I wonder if it’s because as a white person, I am not as used to reading faces of people who are very visibly of certain other ethnicities, so their characters seem more distinct to me and I don’t notice common tics between the different personas the way I might with a whiter-looking person. But mostly Gjokaj and Lachman are just insanely talented and chameleonic actors, and Dushku is slightly less so.) Either way, the slight cracks in her performance don’t start to show until future episodes, and she was very solid here.

 

As I suspected, the characters played by Gjokaj and Lachman don’t get all that much to do in the pilot, and the major character played by Miracle Laurie (who is fantastically talented and gorgeous and also happens to be bigger than a size zero) wasn’t in the pilot at all. And Amy Acker WAS in the pilot but her role was so small that I almost forgot about her. Which is to say that as good as this pilot is — and it is good and you should totally watch it if you haven’t seen it and if you have, you should rewatch it because it’s worth it — as good as the pilot is, the show gets even better as it goes.

 

Also, the theme music is awesome.

 

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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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