Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Chuck: A case of the sequels?

Starring: Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Adam Baldwin, Joshua Gomes
Category: TV
Two episodes into the new fall season and there are signs of trouble on the TV series Chuck. The cracks began showing in the last episode of Season 1, as if the writers were running out of ideas or going around in 'the circle' (more on that later). 
Chuck is really a balancing act between two 'realities'. The first is the hyper, over-the-top world spies where action and gadgets is the name of the game. Panels open to reveal hidden switches and impossible technologies are the norm. Slightly cartoony because people get shot and die without spilling as much as an ounce of blood. Then there is the second reality, the one where we are all familiar with. People go to work, face real problems at work and at home, pay the mortgage and if they are lucky, find love. Yes, even that reality is amp-ed up a bit but it still is familiar. Chuck's attraction is that he is the guy stuck in-between both realities. What makes it more endearing is that despite the seductiveness of the SpyWorld, he very much wants to remain in the RealWorld. Chuck is appealing because he is fallable, susceptible to everything we are yet he represents the best of us. Loyalty, innoscence, curiostiy, decency.
What made Season 1 so successful was that it explored both world from a perspective skewered torward Chuck's. Chuck grew from episode to episode, sometime in directions we didn't expect to go but ultimately reaching where we liked to see him or liked it when we finally did see. Each episode peeled back the layers of the characters, making them familiar and showing them as characters we can relate to. We began disliking Bryce, Chuck's best friend in college who framed him as a cheater and stole his girl, only to discover the truth was that Bryce was protecting his friend. We saw how Chuck fell for Sarah and she eventually fell for him, whether she intended or wanted to or not. We finally saw why Casey is so emotionally constipated. While all the while catching the bad guys.
Which bring us to 'the circle'. This is what I call the dreaded path treaded by most middle-of-the-road sitcom comedy writers. These writers are forced to treat the series they are writing for as a box of toys and they are the children. You can play with anything you want as long as you put it back in it's place after your are done. Most of the times. Sometimes, you can't just pick up any toy, only those laid out to you. This is all to ensure that a number of episodes are written as standalone, that they can be moved either to the back or front of the series without causing a ripple in the overall storyline. Sometimes this circle is larger than a single episode but it still represents a path taken by the writers again and again. Formulaic is another good description.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The X-Files: I Want to Believe - really I do

Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson
Category: Horror, Mystery

10 is a long time and the world continues spinning, like it or not. 10 years is a long wait for another X-Files movie and the question is whether there's anybody left who cares about another X-Files movie.
Good thing the passing of time was not lost on Chris Carter. Instead of simply picking up where the TV series ended, he let time take it's course and began the movie where the characters would most likely be now or at least where the progression would have reached a holding pattern or stalemate.
And that is where the characters are caught in. A stalemate in their lives. Scully is back to being a doctor, doing what she wants, finally making a difference. Mulder is hiding, sort of. Officially, the FBI are looking for him. In reality they know where to find him. But they are probably just as happy to leave him be. Just in case he becomes useful again.
editor's note: This post got truncated. Half of it is lost. My apologies and I will restore this soon.

Friday, July 11, 2008

War: Is as messy as this movie

Starring: Jet Li, Jason Statham
Category: Action
If you've been reading this blog ever, you'd notice that I don't normally write about action movies. It's not that I don't watch action movies, I just don't have anything to say about them most of the time. Mostly it's because if I do, it'll sound about the same. Great action. Fantastic ride. Don't think about it too much.
This time it's different.
After watching War, I thought, 'Argh, I've got to write something.' This time it's different. I have something to say. Unfortunately, it's not nice.
War is mostly a movie about two opposite sides of the law. One is a cop, with revenge on his mind. Another is a killer with, well, killing on his mind. The cop is looking for revenge for the death of his partner and his family in the hands of the killer. The killer has motives that are his own and the movies tried to make it not so obvious. The bad news is, it is very obvious. I don't know why but I had the twist in the end figured out right about a quarter through the movie. I am not saying that the movie is that transparent but you get a sense of it, where it's going, what's going to happend and you realise that you don't want to go there.
Which is a waste really. With two of the top action heroes from East and West on call, you'd expect better action sequence. The least that the director could have done was make up two unique filming styles for the action sequences for Jason and Jet Li. You know, Jet Li gets all graceful and slow mo while with Jason it's so close and raw, you can feel each jerk and thud.
What you get is a sense that the director was aiming to recreate a 70s action movie feel. With modern sensibilities. Bell-bottoms were the rage back then but now bell-bottoms are fashionable only for the fashion conscious (when bell bottoms were 'coming back'). And the twist in the end required a bit more dramatic acting than Jason could muster. Or was it the script because he suddenly sounded small and whiny.
War is a mess and so is this movie

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

TV: Chuck - Next season's predictions

These are my predictions for the upcoming season 2 of Chuck.

Things yet to be seen
  • The return of Ilya - and Casey having to make a big decision
  • The return of Chuck's dad - also an agent.. too corny but always good if a twist is added. also explains why he was away a lot before leaving his mother
  • Bryce finally dying - so that Sarah and Chuck can be together without feeling guilty. Plot device for them to fall into each other's arms
Intersect 2
Now let's deal with the elephant in the room: With the completion of Intersect 2, Chuck is no longer needed. But instead of being 'taken care of', the powers-that-be are interested in how the information is stored in Chuck and how they can other agents to be like Chuck. So, Chuck gets a new job at the CIA - as a sort of field computer, to be used to get information and then put back into a box. While being a lab rat without him knowing it. The sessions that are meant to slowly extract Intersect 1 to Intersect 2 are also experiments on Chuck to see how the first Intersect was put in. This could be a Major Series Adjustment. It could mean Chuck leaving his current surroundings and friends. Risky move because those are the things that make the series interesting. The spy stuff is really over-the-top but what brings me back to the series is the 'side stories' about Chuck and the relationship with his family and friends which seems a lot more realistic. Unless replaced with a new family: people with special skills who are kept underground (literally) to work for the government, like the guy who escaped and came across Chuck for help. Easy sell to TVexecs (fits their : if-it's-good-let's-have-more-of-it mentality) but could easily end up like a version of "Mystery Men", great idea, flawed execution. Also easily to loose the soul of the series, Chuck's relationship and growth with his family and friends.

TV: Chuck - Season 1

Chuck - Chuck is in a rut. He has a dead-end job too far beneath his skill level. Probably couldn't have done better since he was kicked out of Stanford (University) three years ago. Finds himself regressing to his high-school level self not without the help of Mogran, his childhood friend. Topping it off, he is living with his sister, Ellie and her awesome boyfriend, the only family he has. Although he knows he should be angry at Bryce, his college buddy who turned him in, he can't seem to blame him entirely. Sure, the exam answers Bryce found under his bed (that got him expelled) wasn't Chuck's but Bryce couldn't have know that, right? He would have done the same thing to Bryce if it was the other way around, right? Hm..

Seems that Bryce just doesn't seem to stop figuring in Chuck's life. Bryce, now a secret agent, sends him a computer database that gets embedded in his brain. Since Bryce blows up the computer and Chuck's computer is trashed, Chuck is the only way to use the database. Now the CIA and the NSA have to protect him as well as use him to get to the database. Which makes Chuck's life that much complicated, in more ways than one. Posing as her girlfriend, Sarah is the CIA agent assigned to Chuck. Doesn't help that she was also Bryce's squeeze. Chuck and Sarah connect before he found out she was an agent. He now knows it isn't real but he still he feels it and wishes it was so.

And that is the premise of this new series that has been getting a lot of attentions because it has a Geek hero (as opposed to the oft disguised Greek Hero in other TV series) with a typical Spiderman-superhero syndrome. Each episode is centered around a spy mission involving Chuck, Sarah (his NSA handler) and Case (his CIA handler). Around each episode is an interweaving story related to Chuck's relationship with his friends or family. These stories would have a impact on Chuck's growth as a person making him in most cases a better agent.

The side antics of supporting cast is what makes the series interesting. They are not just disposable props but they themselves grow in terms of both character development and depth. Beyond just providing comic relief (Chuck's co-workers at the BuyMore) or emotional growth (his relationship with his sister and best friend Morgan Grimes), these stories are what makes the series interesting and strangely enough, real and makes us relate to the character.

Another big theme is Chuck's obvious attraction to Sara (in reality, who wouldn't be). Even when he knows that their relationship is a cover, he follows her around like a lost puppy. And when it does begin to evolve, it grows from attraction to something real for both of them (for Sara, in-spite of her own efforts not to). The big turning point was when Sara has to decide between Chuck and Bryce. Although she claims she was just following orders, she cared enough about him and his safety to stay on.

I can't wait for next season.

TV: Chuck

Starring: Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Adam Baldwin
Category: TV, Action, Comedy

What a surprise this was! I was wanting to hate it because TV shows with geeks always get it wrong. Either stupid tech references that don't make sense or fake tech stuff (yes, Hackers, I'm talking about you). But surprisingly, Chuck gets it right. Not just technically right but the tech refs are in the right place, too.
Chuck is techie who winds up with valuable information locked in his head when it is downloaded from a top secret computer. The computer is destroyed so he brain is the only remaining copy of the information. He can't retrieve them on will but it has to be triggered. Two agents, Sarah and Casey are assigned to protect him while the actual computer is rebuilt. Sarah's partner, Bryce is the one who blew up the computer while Casey is the agent chasing Bryce. Bryce apparently dies after destroying the computer but not before transferring the data to Chuck, his old college buddy.
the characters feel real and multi-layered

I wouldn't call Chuck a dramadey.. more of an action comedy at best with a strong dash of 'fish-out-of-water' thrown in. At worst, Chuck is a weak parody of spy movies. But I don't think that was what the creators wanted it to be. The spy stuff is all fake, bordering on Alias, not even close to 24. But the characters feel real and multi-layered. More is revealed in each episode about each of them. Not just the core characters, but also the side players; Ellie - Chuck's sister who live with her boyfried, Captain Awesome (corny but watch and you can't help but agree that the name fits), Morgan - Chuck's boyhood friend who also works at the BuyMore store, The Nerd Herd gang - the technical support department that Chuck leads.
Chuck Poster TV F 11x17 Zachary Levi Vik Sahay Scott Krinsky Joshua GomezThe series creators must be under a lot of pressure to keep the episodes self contained, so all the spy stuff tends to resolve by itself by the end of each episodes but two story arches runs through the first season, first the fate of Chuck once he is no longer needed. And the growing feelings between Chuck and Sarah.
And it is story, the heart that goes into those small moments that add character to the players and makes you keep coming back for more.