Friday, December 25, 2015

Movie Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Spoilers)

I just got back from watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the first time and Oh Wow!

No spoilers. You want to see this film with no preconceptions or foreknowledge. It's simply fantastic.

I've heard it compared to the original trilogy, but that's not quite true. Yes, it has the "feel" of "old school" Star Wars, but the characterization is much deeper. I can't really tell you much about it without giving away key plot points, but both Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) are complex characters with mysterious pasts, well, Rey's past is the more mysterious.

I'm not going to tell you a thing about Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). I can't, but who he'll never see it coming.

Max Von Sydow had a small part in the film and I've long been an admirer of his work.

There are particular parts of the film that will seem familiar, that are subtly or not-so-subtly derived from the original trilogy, but I didn't find that obvious or disappointing. More like meeting an old friend after many years.

Han was most like himself, just older. Leia...well, older but she's changed, and given what's happened to her, I can understand why.

Chewy? He's always Chewy. The same loyalty and growl. He's in for a shock, though.

I'm not saying a bloody thing about Luke Skywalker. There's a reason he's not in any of the promotional material including the trailers, but it's not what you think.

The various planets and other environments shown in the film are first rate. Deserts, jungles, forests, oceans, ice worlds, it's like the first three Star Wars films all over again (except for the ocean and the island).

I'm pleased to see the X-Wing pilots span the scale of thin, heavy, man, woman, alien, ordinary people, not supermodel actors.

Light saber battles, lots of explosions, space travel, light speed, Jedi powers, droids (and this time they find the droid they're looking for), this one has all of the familiar Star Wars tropes plus some damn fine acting. I almost was in tears for a couple of scenes.

There was one time when I started to miss Obi-Wan Kenobi as played by Sir Alec Guinness.

I happened to see the movie in 3D. I don't typically go for that. 3D, especially in live action, is distracting at times. I'll have to go see the film again without 3D just for the comparision, plus to catch all the stuff that went by in a blur the first time.

If you see no other movie on the big screen, see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You won't be sorry. I promise.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Old School Supergirl

I don't know how much buzz there is for the new Supergirl television show as compared to anything else, but I came across an image of a comic book cover from 1962 that illustrated the day when Superman revealed Supergirl to the world.

In the original canon, Kara Zor-El came to Earth in 1959 after the domed Argo City, which had been thrown clear of the explosion of Krypton, stared emitting radiation dangerous to its inhabitants, even though they weren't exposed to the rays of a yellow sun and thus having super powers (Kryptonite can't hurt a non-super Kryptonian, so this was some form of anti-Kryptonite). As in Kal-El's origin, there was just room in an experimental rocket for one person, young Kara, Kal-El's cousin. Her father Zor-El had been able to monitor Superman's activities on Earth and so not only launched Kara there, but created a costume for her similar to her heroic cousin's.

Superman, upon Kara's arrival and after hearing her story, decided to send her to an orphanage (no such thing as foster families in the late 1950s I guess), telling the administrators that her name was "Linda Lee" and her family had been killed in a flood that destroyed her home town (no records). She hid her identity under a brunette wig and only used her powers in secret. Superman felt she needed practice before doing heroics publicly.

The cover below shows the day, three years later, when Superman decided to tell the world about his younger, Kryptonian cousin, the day when Supergirl became a hero in the light rather than in the shadows.

Eventually, Kara/Linda was adopted by the Danvers, a childless couple (no older sister like in the TV show).

Thought folks might enjoy the look back.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Does Supergirl Have Pierced Ears?

Does Supergirl (played by Melissa Benoist) have pierced ears? If so, how? Being invulnerable, nothing should be able to pierce her earlobes (or anything else) unless she's weakened by Kryptonine.


Look closer. See that right earlobe? It doesn't look like a clip on.

See! I told you. That sure looks like an earring to me, and I can't see how it could be a clip on.

OK, are there other such photos? Most of the time Benoist's hair is down so it's difficult to see her ears but in this photo, it could be an earring (click on each image to see a larger version).

While there doesn't appear to be one here.

Kara, as opposed to Supergirl, most often wears her hair in a ponytail or otherwise off her ears. Let's see what we can see.

Yes, an earring.

Same here.

Same here.

In other words, either her earrings are held on by a magnetic backing (and that would be a pretty strong magnetic field to keep them on her during fight scenes), or the folks at CBS made a big goof.

How else can you explain this?

OK, I'm taking a small detail and blowing it up way out of proportion, but on the other hand, I'm a trivia nut and I really get off on little details like this one.

What next? Superman with unexplained facial piercings?

Oh, I got the first image from the DC Comics blog.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Pilot Episode of Supergirl: A Review

I hadn't originally intended on watching the pilot episode of Supergirl starring Melissa Benoist in the title role, but it was online, it was free, so I figured, what the heck. I didn't expect to like it all that much, but I was curious how CBS was going to adapt decades of Superman and Supergirl canon. My reaction is mixed.

I've read a few of the other reviews of the pilot, both before and after I saw the episode, and they range from "good but not perfect" to "triumph for everyone wanting a strong female hero for a change". You can see examples at Yahoo News, IGN, The Mary Sue, and The Los Angeles Times.

The episode started out with a summary of how Kara Zor-El came to Earth. Launched from a doomed Krypton just minutes after her infant cousin Kal-El, 12-year old Kara was charged by her parents with taking care of the baby after they both arrived on Earth. Granted, no one would have had a clue where Kal-El was going to land on the alien planet and under what conditions, but sending a mere 12-year-old on such a mission was a long shot at best. Still, the writers had to inject her into the canonical story of how Superman got to our planet somehow.

Then, her space pod is caught in the shock wave caused the Krypton's explosion and is sent hurdling off course and into the Phantom Zone where time doesn't pass.

Some years later (at least as time passes outside the Zone), her ship is mysteriously freed and somehow finds its way to its original destination...Earth. When it lands, the pod opens and Kara is greeted by her cousin, grown to an adult, and already sporting the blue and red.

(At this point, I figured out that this show isn't leveraging the film Man of Steel (2013) starring Henry Cavill and instead represents a separate canon)

You only see Superman in silhouette and he's never called "Superman," but it would be impossible to tell key portions of Kara's story without acknowledgement to her more famous cousin.

Kal-El places the orphaned Kara (really, the kid must be freaking out -- her entire race and home world are long gone, her parents dead, her only relative (an infant cousin who is now 12 years older than she is) and fellow Kryptonian is the most powerful hero on her new alien home planet, and he places her with Jeremiah (Dean Cain) and Eliza (Helen Slater) Danvers (I liked the nice, continuity piece of choosing these two actors, both with ties to the television and film appearances of Superman and Supergirl respectively).

I wonder how Kal-El managed the legal niceties of getting Kara adopted or was able to explain to the authorities (since adoption requires the involvement of the civil court system) who Kara is, where she came from, how her parents died, and why she doesn't have any relatives or home community to take her in...a person with absolutely no recorded history before age 12?

This was glossed over (ignored) and we next meet Kara Danvers (no need to adopt the name from the comic books of Linda Lee Danvers apparently) working as a 24-year-old "gofer" uh, assistant, to Cat Grant, owner of her own media company Cat Co.

In spite of the fact that she has decided to play a low profile in terms of her powers (the world doesn't need another superhero) and to "fit in," she's wearing glasses, which she doesn't need, as if she's maintaining a secret identity. It's true that when she finally decides to adopt the Supergirl persona (although the "girl" part was first coined by Grant), she'd need to separate Kara from the young woman in the red cape, why did she decide to wear glasses in the first place?

Benoist imbues Kara with a wholesome, naive charm and she's instantly likable. Although she's attractive, I kept relating to her more like my best friend's sister than as any sort of "hottie". I was almost taken off guard when she went out on a blind date (with someone who quickly gave her the brush off). I was also slightly surprised when she reacted to Jimmy, uh...James (Mehcad Brooks) Olsen (who admittedly is a solid hunk) with attraction (although she clearly wasn't sure what to do about it). Benoist convincingly portrays Kara as "the girl next door," the friendly, kind, helpful girl, the one you'd never think to ask out.

Kara grew up with an older (adoptive) sister Alex who has a big secret. She's an agent for a government agency created after the first appearance of the alien Superman in orter to investigate other alien appearances on our planet.

Kara doesn't know this, of course...well, not at first. She doesn't even want to be super. Not until she has to rescue her sister's overseas flight from crashing, which she barely manages (hey, even if you're super, you still have to deal with things like mass, momentum, and inertia).

It was cute when her date asked Kara where she's from originally. It was cute when we saw Kara with wide eyed wonder, shoveling down pizza while watching herself on the news rescuing the airliner. In fact, I was beginning to be overwhelmed with cute. Is this show only written for young teens?

With the help of her friend Winn (Jeremy Jordan) Schott (isn't that the last name of the Toyman?), the IT guru where she works, Kara slowly transforms into Supergirl. Kara took a big chance telling (and showing) Winn who she really is. She couldn't have predicted how he'd react. Their boss would no doubt pay a lot of money to anyone who could deliver the exclusive story of who Supergirl is and where she could be found (right under your nose, Cat).

But Winn plays the loyal if nerdy friend and helps design her costume. Well, the first one was without a midriff and our modest Kara wouldn't wear it to the beach, let alone to rescue people.

That's actually one of the things I like about the way the show characterizes Supergirl. It's not about an overwhelmingly sexy, or even cute nymphet Supergirl doing daring do. Kara, if anything, is a bit conservative, both in how she dresses and how she acts and reacts. She's like a lot of people her age, still trying to figure herself out and walking into walls (not literally) half the time. Now she's got to figure out how to be both Kara and Supergirl.

But things get muddy fast. Turns out on one of her first missions, she's all too easily captured by Alex and her boss Hank (David Harewood) Henshaw, the director of the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO) using Kryptonite darts and holding her in Kryptonite bindings. Henshaw doesn't like aliens (even though the DEO has her spaceship) and demands that Kara stop being Supergirl. Alex backs Henshaw up, at least this time, but circumstances pull the "Maid of Steel" back into the fight.

When Kara's ship left the Phantom Zone, it didn't leave alone. Somehow (a lot of somehows), it brought along Fort Rozz, formerly Krypton's high security prison facility, crammed full of the biggest, baddest, aliens (apparently not all are Kryptonian) in the galaxy...and now they're on Earth conspiring to do what...take over the planet?

That part is left vague, but they're also plotting to bring someone called "the General" to our world, and they sabotaged Alex's flight in an attempt to kill her.

An alien prisoner named Vartox (Owain Yeoman) who wields a mean, super-heated ax, calls Kara on a special high frequency only she can hear (I think I saw this done in one of the old Christopher Reeve Superman movies) to come out and fight. Turns out these aliens not only know Kara but her Kryptonian mother, who was a judge back in the day, and had sentenced all of these interstellar tough guys to Fort Rozz. Now they want revenge against the daughter of their jailer (also a theme from the second Chris Reeve Superman movie).

Long story short, Supergirl almost gets her head handed to her (literally) but her sister arrives just in time with some serious artillery to save her. Although Henshaw again warns Kara to hang up her cape, this time Alex encourages her to be the hero she's destined to be.

In the final battle between Supergirl and Vartox, with the DEO having her back, as Kara is about to lose, Alex delivers a stirring "I believe in you" speech which turns the battle around and Supergirl saves the day (it was pretty cliche and internally, I gagged a little).

Vartox commits suicide rather than be captured, but issues the dire announcement that he's only the beginning, forecasting that future episodes will feature the alien baddie of the week with the mystery of who the General is and what she...that's right, she, wants.

As if I didn't dump enough spoilers on you already, the General is none other than Kara's aunt, leader of the band of miscreants, who would like nothing better than to see her niece dead.

So like Team Arrow and Team Flash, Supergirl now has a team, or more accurately, she's now a covert super agent for the United States Government. That's truly terrifying.

It's also concerning that Henshaw, in the 1990s comic books, became the villainous Cyborg Superman. Shades of a future story arc?

Impressions: The show tries to be a little too cute (didn't I say that enough?). I get that we're supposed to like and even feel protective of Kara, but it's hard to imagine this sweet little millennial getting the chops to play in her cousin's league. I know a hero like Wonder Woman would probably embody more of the feminist ideal, an already strong, developed, self-assured figure, so it's difficult to understand why Supergirl would be appealing as the leading female-driven superhero show on television. I suppose emerging power laced with vulnerability makes her more relatable to young girls and women than a commanding personality like Diana Prince.

From the look and feel of the show, it's seems the main demographic must be between the ages of 12 and 20. Sorry, but a lot of what I watched seemed very juvenile. Maybe I'm jaded by the darkness of most of the other superhero TV shows and films. But the Flash is light hearted and "young," and yet you get the impression that adults are also supposed to relate to the main characters. By comparison, the pilot episode of Supergirl seemed a little more "cartoonish".

I didn't outright dislike the show, but I wasn't immediately hooked either, the way I was by Arrow and The Flash. Also, the show promises to be "formulaistic" as I already mentioned, with a built-in conspiracy delivering the super villain of the week for Kara to sharpen her teeth on (not literally, of course..if you want teeth, watch The Vampire Diaries).

I do believe that the world needs more female oriented superhero shows and films, but I can also acknowledge that all of the source material for each and every one of them today is at least fifty years old. Half a century ago, comic books were overwhelmingly male driven, with just a few token females on various teams (Wonder Woman being one of the notable exceptions) to break up all that "maleness". If entertainment producers want female characters more easily adapted to modern audiences, they need to read more recently created comic books. The 1960s weren't particularly progressive compared to 2015.

All that said, I wish the show success and hope the writers manage to develop the character and her supporting cast and environment into something slightly more mature people can connect with. The show isn't bad, and I know most pilots have a lot of rough edges, but the Supergirl television show has left itself a great deal of room in which it needs to grow.