Category Archives: Television Reviews

Up, Up and Away

SUPERGIRL PILOT EPISODE REVIEW

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DC have been on a hot streak recently with televisual adaptations of Arrow and The Flash. Can Supergirl join them in the category of must watch programming? With the unofficial (but rumoured deliberate) leak of the pilot episode online lets take a look at what is in prospect for the first female led superhero series this decade.

What’s immediately apparent is the pace, this is a show that does not believe in hanging around but throwing you straight in. After a brief but spectacular prologue showing young Kara Zor-El escaping the destruction of Krypton we quickly learn that though she was to protect her most famous cousin when they reached Earth. A problem with her space capsule means she slept in space for twenty four years though she did not age. Drifting through the Phantom Zone (a bad part of the universe where criminals are sent) she eventually makes it to Earth to find her cousin grown into adulthood and having taken his place as Superman. He places her in the care of a couple of scientists (played by Helen Slater and Dean Cain, a lovely touch) who she will be raised by as an adopted daughter alongside their natural born child Alex.

Kara escapes the destruction of Krypton

Kara escapes the destruction of Krypton

This all happens in the space of a few minutes but the direction is clear and the editing excellent so you don’t feel like you are being rushed through events. Cut to Kara (played by Melissa Benosit) as an adult, working at Catco Media in National City. Her job as a Personal Assistant has her fetching coffee, being put down by her boss and generally feeling flustered by life in general. She keeps her appearance plain, sensible clothing and hairstyle and less than flattering pair of glasses.

We meet media mogul Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart who is on fine form as a bitchy take no prisoners power loving boss. Also introduced is IT guy Winn (played by Jeremy Jordan) who is rather smitten with Kara though she gently mocks him for the alien investigation website he writes. The final employee we meet and most significant is James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), tall and handsome this is a fresh portrayal of the character and his reinvention totally works as he contrasts perfectly with the bumbling and unsure Kara. James has met Superman and with a knowing tone describes his friendship with the Man of Steel to Kara. The interplay between the two actors is pitch perfect here and their scenes are charming to watch.

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Winn, IT expert and alien website writer

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Cat Grant, media mogul

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James Olsen

Back home Kara chats to her adopted sister Alex about her frustration and how she feels she isn’t living up to her potential having not used her powers in years. Their conversation is cut short as Alex catches a flight to Geneva but the plane has a problem and is set to crash. Kara sees her chance and seizes it, charging out into the night she takes flight and in a spectacular scene rescues the place bringing it safely to rest in the river. The special effects here are excellent and the rain pattern on the camera lens is a nice touch.

Kara is thrilled and celebrates in a very human way by watching herself on television while eating pizza! It’s good to see that even aliens love pizza. Her joy is cut short as Alex chastises her for exposing herself. This might seem rather ungrateful as Kara just saved her life but it will make sense as the episode progresses. Arriving at work the next day Kara finds she is the number one story though her identity is safe as the only photos taken are to low resolution to identify her.

Alex, concerned sister

Alex, concerned sister

All good heroes need a good villain to come up against and now we meet our antagonist. Vartox (Owain Yeoman) is an alien disguised as a regular truck driver, he is ordered by his off world superiors to kill this emerging hero and with axe in hand he goes looking for her.

The pilot strikes an excellent balance when it comes to tone and after the menace of the bad guy we go to a cute montage sequence showing the evolution of Kara’s costume and her powers. Winn helps her with both sending her out to various crimes as she eventually settles on an outfit. The final form including the famous S symbol which is her families coat of arms.

Costume evolution

Costume evolution

It's not an S, it's my families coat of arms

It’s not an S, it’s my families coat of arms

All seems right with the world as she embraces her powers but this is cut short as she is captured by a shadowy government group called the Department of Extra Normal Operations. They are tasked with monitoring and combating alien activity and are led by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood). The department was set up after Superman arrived on Earth and they have Kara’s ship. Her craft was responsible for accidentally dragging a Kryptonian prison ship to Earth and her sister is revealed to be working at the Department.

Feeling frustrated and betrayed by those closest to her now is not the time to go out fighting super villains but of course Vartox calls her out and they have a showdown at a power station. The fight scene here is incredible with both unleashing their strength to trade punches and crash through walls. Kara might be incredibly strong but she has no experience and is about to be finished off when Alex shows up to save the day with a bombardment of missiles from a helicopter. The action is again brilliantly staged and the production team have achieved wonders on their budget.

Kara is having a crisis of confidence but reconciling with her sister she is presented with a recording of her mother which was hidden in the ship. This is the catalyst she needs to fully embrace her powers and use them to help others. A final showdown with Vartox beckons and their rematch is even more spectacular as they battle it out on a desert highway. She doesn’t win just because of her physical strength but by combining that with an inner belief which is boosted by the love of her sister. The emotions are pitched perfectly so it never feels like it is tipping over into melodrama.

It’s a breathless forty five minutes of television but the pacing is excellent and the mixture of action and character development feels just right. The final scene reveals more about the oncoming big bad which should provide even more exciting drama for the rest of the series. Melissa Benosit is perfect as Supergirl, she is charming, humble, confident and self doubting in equal measure. It’s refreshing as well that she is not saddled with a romantic interest a cliché the production team have done well to avoid. Yes she is struck by how handsome James is and has Winn mooning over her but the focus is firmly on her and not a man she needs to make her whole. It may not be the most original piece of television hitting as it does many familiar beats but it is all done with such heart that only the most cold hearted cynic could fail to gleam any joy from it.

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Up, up and away

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Hopefully when the series starts properly it will be a huge success and prove that female led superhero television and movies can be popular and empowering to female audiences.

Supergirl is set to be broadcast Winter 2015

THERE WILL BE CHAOS

Gotham Pilot Episode: The Review

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Gotham is the new television series telling the story of some of the most infamous inhabitants of that city before the appearance of Batman. From over seventy years of comics and movies audiences are pretty familiar with the origin story of Batman. A young boys parents murdered in front of his eyes becoming the reason for him to dedicate himself to a life of fighting crime.

So how can a new spin be put on this most familiar of stories? By shifting the focus to the character of Police Commissioner James Gordon who at this stage is a young detective while Batman is still a twelve year old Bruce Wayne. The pilot opens with the murder of the Wayne’s (after a brief glimpse of young Selina Kyle, the future Catwoman) and in a pleasing wink to the comics young Bruce kneels between their corpses in a close recreation of a classic comic cover. The scene is effectively told but with it being so well known it’s a sensible decision to get it out of the way early.

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At the Police Station we are introduced to James Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie) and his older borderline alcoholic partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Gordon manages to disarm a suspect who has grabbed another officer and in the first hint that things are not right in this department a group of cops lay into the suspect while restraining him.

Gordon and Bullock

Gordon and Bullock

So far this pilot episode has hit on a lot of familiar story beats, young idealistic detective, older more cynical partner and a case that has great implications with pressure to close it quickly. Bullock it turns out has one foot in the corruption that is rife in the department as he takes his young partner to meet gang boss Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) the murder having occurred on her territory. Gordon encounters one of her henchmen the young Oswald Cobblepot who will go on the become the Penguin (a derisory nickname foisted on him by fellow gangsters). He is all gleeful menace as he batters a man with a baseball bat obviously enjoying the power afforded to him actor Robin Lord Taylor suggesting that a childhood of trauma and bullying has bought out a desire to revenge himself on those who may have taunted him when he was younger.

Fish Mooney

Fish Mooney

As pilots go it’s a bit of a whirlwind as we are introduced to younger versions of Alfred, Poison Ivy, Edward Nygma (the future Riddler) and possibly the Joker. This is a potentially thorny issue that the programme makers are going to have to try very hard to get right. The Joker for many years in comics had no origin story, no real name or secret identity. He simply was the Joker. The 1988 comic The Killing Joke gave him a possible back story but even he doubts how accurate it is. The 1989 Batman movie caused controversy by suggesting that before he was the Joker he was the thug that murdered the Wayne’s. Shrinking the fictional universe of the film considerably (but more on that later). The 2008 film The Dark Knight finally gave audiences a screen version of the Joker that portrayed him as a man with no name or background just a primal force of chaos.

As mentioned above the want to tie everything together is a bizarre affliction of writers and film makers. For examples of this look at Star Wars where the prequels tell us Anakin is from the same planet as his famous offspring, that he builds the droid C-3PO. The point with Batman is that if he and the Joker grow up in the same place it invalidates the theory that crazy people are drawn to Gotham because Batman represents to them a place people can be crazy.

Very little of the pilot is spent with young Bruce Wayne which is fortunate as child versions of characters rarely do justice to their adult selves and can cheapen established mythology (of course the writers will be trying to establish their own mythology but they are working within such a well known universe it will be interesting to see how far they can push new ideas). The recent Doctor Who story “Listen” which was on its way to becoming a classic entry in the long running series until undoing all its good work by showing a glimpse of the title character as a young child and setting the scene in a location that would be reused by the same character hundreds of years in the future. It’s time like this that you want to grab the writers and shake them while shouting “Stop making everything so small when you can make it bigger and richer!”

Production wise Gotham looks fantastic, the city is vast and while you do get a sense of scale future episodes need to explore different areas of the city to show that its not all gloomy buildings and dangerous alleyways. A brief sojourn to Wayne Manor is fine but shows us the schools, the malls, suburban neighbourhoods and office blocks. Even in a city as corrupt as this there has to be something to contrast the endless line of gangsters and scumbags against.

So does Gotham offer innovation anywhere? Gordon is a involved in a foot chase with a suspect and the audience is dropped into the moment with shots looking directly at the young officer as he tears through buildings, presumably achieved by strapping a camera to the actor. This really caught the eye and if the directors are encouraged to try dynamic ideas like this it could make the programme stand out from all the other US crime dramas that are so prolific right now.

One area that does need significant improvement from the pilot is the relationship between Gordon and his girlfriend. The scenes with them together at home have absolutely no emotion and come across as two beautiful people reciting their lines on a set that has come straight out of a designer home catalogue.

The real highlight of the pilot was the performance of actor Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald. He runs a huge spectrum of emotions from sadist to snitch, to overconfident to terrified and finally reborn from a watery grave more violent than ever. His brutal murder of a fisherman and glimpses of further violent behaviour in the trailer for episode 2 show he could be a strong version of a character that has been hard for audiences to take seriously over the years due to prior versions being so comedic (excluding the wonderfully grotesque take on him from 1992’s Batman Returns). Making him a central figure in Gotham’s criminal underworld would be a fresh take and certainly a welcome one.

Oswald steals the show

Oswald steals the show

So a good start and once the business of establishing the characters is out of the way hopefully the early plot strands such as Harvey’s mob ties, Oswald’s rise to power and Gordon’s crusade to clean the police department up can bring the audience some rich drama.

Gotham is broadcast Monday nights at 9pm on Channel 5.

TWENTY MINUTES TO SAVE THE WORLD

How Power Rangers celebrated their 20th anniversary

The Super Megaforce Rangers

The Super Megaforce Rangers

Recently broadcast the season finale of Power Rangers Super Megaforce attempted to honour the legacy of what had gone before and wrap up the series long battle against an alien armada. With a running time of around twenty minutes this would be a tall order for any production team but luckily this episode would definitely have more hits than misses.

In the previous episodes the Rangers had halted all previous attempts by The Armada to conquer the earth and defeated the Prince who was commanding their forces. His destruction resulted in the arrival of his father, Emperor Mavro who unleashes a fierce bombardment which destroys the Rangers Megazord (their giant fighting robot) and leaves the city in ruins. The population warned that at dawn the aliens will return to finish them.

Emperor Mavro

Emperor Mavro

This series of Power Rangers has been very light in tone so this shift in drama for the final few episodes may come as a shock to some viewers but it really helps to sell how inept the Prince was and how powerful his newly arrived father the Emperor actually is. The last episode boldly opens with the Rangers laying defeated, their bodies injured, their clothes filthy and the city falling part around them. While they struggle to regroup the audience is treated to some familiar faces.

One of the selling points of the series has been the Rangers ability to morph into previous teams but it is only now that the legendary Rangers are seen to still be active in saving the world. Be it a man trapped under rubble, a little boy who has lost his dog or office workers trapped in an elevator they are all rescued by past heroes whose faces quickly change to their helmets and then back again. We know something special is coming but the programme makers tease us by holding things back. Long term fans can’t help but feel a shiver especially at the last legend to be revealed, Tommy Oliver is back and saves a kid from a car with help from his talking short sword Saba (though his weapon doesn’t have anything to say here unfortunately).

Tommy using Saba to rescue a child

Tommy using Saba to rescue a child

Dana Mitchell Pink Lightspeed Ranger

Dana Mitchell Pink Lightspeed Ranger

T.J. Johnson Blue Space Ranger

T.J. Johnson Blue Space Ranger

As dawn arrives the people of earth, forced to sleep amongst the ruined buildings are awoken by the morning sun and dare to hope that this new day might hold something better for them but these feeling of optimism are soon destroyed as the aliens descend with their robotic army and prepare to carry out their promise to destroy everyone. But if Power Rangers has taught us anything over the years its that no matter how massive the odds, heroes never give up. The team appear and begin to battle the huge enemy force.

Realising their only chance to win might be to take down the Emperor himself Troy (team leader) and Orion (an alien who became the Silver Ranger halfway through the series and has a score to settle with the Emperor for destroying his home world) ram raid the Emperor’s ship and in a superbly choreographed sequence finally take down the enemies leader.

Since its inception Power Rangers has relied on using action footage from the long running Japanese Super Sentai series and the blending of that and American footage has now become almost seamless so credit for the action must go to production teams in both countries. After their victory Troy and Orion return to earth but like all the best stories we know its not over yet!

A huge enemy force of ground troops march down the valley into the standard quarry location (seriously Sentai and Power Rangers series have more quarry action than fifty years worth of Doctor Who) and at long last they appear. Teams of past Rangers are everywhere and they march forward to greet the current incumbents. A select few unmask and front and centre is the most popular Ranger of all time. Tommy Oliver back in the Green Ranger outfit at last. Long term fans will feel a wave of nostalgia at the sight and younger viewers will be left with a lasting impression of how important all the former Rangers are. Special mention to the music here which is stirring and heroic.

Legendary Rangers

Legendary Rangers

FIGHT!!!!!!

FIGHT!!!!!!

The battle itself though turns out to be a bit of an anti climax. There is nothing wrong with the footage itself, the action is fast paced, hectic and dynamic. It’s just all over so quickly and half the legendary Rangers fail to get a money shot moment. After all the hype and build up throughout the series its a real let down especially when you consider how much footage they could have used from Super Sentai which featured the battle in several episodes and a feature length film. We can but hope for an extended edition on DVD. Being just twenty minutes long Power Rangers has always had to pack a lot in to an episode and unfortunately there is so much missing that it doesn’t feel like a satisfying viewing experience.

The battle done, the legends disappear and our heroes walk away. Troy leaves his sword stuck in the sand, they no longer need weapons as victory has been won. Jake and Gia share a moment of tenderness (he has been pining after her the whole series) and the Rangers walk off, into the sunset.