Chuck vs The Matrix

So, as E stated in the opening, there are things that we agree on, and things that we quibble over. Well, sometimes the two overlap. Such is the case with one of all our favorite shows, Chuck, and specifically with the way that they ended the second season. Now, I know what you’re thinking. M, that show ended two months ago! Yes, well, through the magic of DVR, E just managed to finnish watching it yesterday. If you are a fan of the show and aren’t caught up, do not read on…

E wrote:

Just watched the penultimate episode of this past season of Chuck…. And wow! So much! I have to say, if the show WAS going to end, they did a great job pushing things forward. I can’t wait to see the next one!

M responded:

E, the finale is AWESOME. Two words immediately come to mind, but to not spoil anything I’ll only tell you the first one…. Mister. You’ll know when you watch it. Hoo-rah. FYI, I’ve actually kept that on my DVR, and just watched part of it again over the weekend.

E then came back with:

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Man, do the writers of this show know how to keep things fresh! Ah-mazing.

Awesome.

M replied:

Domo Arigato!

but C rebutted:

Well, put this on the list of things you and M love that I don’t.

E responded:

Clearly we should because I’m struggling to think what you don’t like. You must be afraid of the direction they’ll take, having downloaded skills as well as knowledge into him?

What I liked about it is that it works as a series finale as well as a season one [given that no one knew whether the show would be renewed when this episode was made]. In fact, in some ways it was so satisfying that I don’t know where they’ll go with what they’ve done. Chuck quit the Buy More! Morgan and Anna are moving to Hawaii! I don’t want them to take those things back, but what will it do to the show to change them?

C replied:

I like all the other dramatic changes – I loved everything except the last two minutes. To me the appeal of Chuck is that he has to use his ingenuity to get out of situations. The Intersect was always helpful but getting out of trouble usually depended on his brain as well as Sarah and Casey’s brawn. I’m not saying they’re going to stop writing Chuck as clever, I’m just saying that having a deus ex machina downloaded into his brain doesn’t exactly thrill me.

Also, as I said to M: quoting The Matrix? Doesn’t classify as a cute homage when you’re wholesale ripping off The Matrix.

M wrote:

To be fair to C, I completely agree about ripping off the Matrix. That scene would have worked far better if Chuck had said something like “Guys… what was that?!?!” and then collapsed, or something along those lines. That being said, I am with E on the finale as a whole, and like the possibilities of the new Matrix-y Chuck. First and foremost, the Mr Roboto scene was one of the greatest things ever filmed. From the introduction of Jeffster, to Papa Awesome (Scarecrow without Mrs King, for the record) calling Lester an Indian Lesbian, to Morgan’s “If you hit me you just teach me to hit” reflex to Awesome, to Awesome’s being cool with his own wedding being wrecked if it is to help Chuck-the-spy, to the blending of the music into the whole fight scene, it all works so well together, blending together all the wonderful elements of the show. What really topped it off for me was the song choice. Chuck WAS Mr Roboto! The lines that sum it up best are “I’m not a robot without emotion, my heart is human, my brain IBM” and “I’m just a man whose circumstances got beyond his control”. That sums up the first two seasons of Chuck to a T.

E added:

I’m totally with you on this one, M. I think Chuck should have made one of his fantastic patented shock faces, and fainted. Or kind of jumped away, aghast. To make this work, I think he’s going to have to combine he new found ass-kicking chops with his characteristic clumsiness. If the physical comedy isn’t there, they just lose too much.

That said, I think it can be done. I have total faith in the writers’ ability to keep Chuck himself, not to mention Zachary Levi’s skill at making Chuck’s constant state of horror work. It bothers me more, though, that we can’t go back to the Five and Dime (which is to say, the Buy More). And we can’t. There is no natural way to put them back there, and yet, how do you lose Morgan and Jeff and Lester and Anna and Big Mike and that white guy with the fro? I’m much more nervous on that front. Oh. And. I’d a conversation with C about this, but I was super disappointed in Chuck and Sarah’s aborted love scene. It was terrific – and then they started kissing. How could that be such a let-down? Very unsatisfying when people have that sort of chemistry yet don’t give good screen kisses. Off topic, I know, but you can put that in the category of what frightens me more than Chuck the Superhero.

Brilliant insight about Mr. Roboto, M. I can’t believe it, but I have never actually paid attention to the words of that song. I had no idea how apt it was.

PS : I didn’t “finnish” watching the show. Nothing to do with Finland went on at all.

M’s PS Rebutal: I have found that having small children who are learning to read the English language sometimes can be a problem in this regard. I followed the proper rules, since with only one n in “finish” the first i should say its name, and thus be pronounced “f-EYE-nish.” So sorry.

C responds:

I LOVED the Mr. Roboto sequence, and your reading of the lyrics as applicable to Chuck is fantastic, M. And I have to say that people who can write a one-two punch like those finale episodes deserve at least cautious optimism, even though they made what I see as a bad decision. I just wish they had left Chuck as hapless, physically inadequate Chuck. However, I am thrilled that Chuck will be back in the fall and I’ll be tuning in with excitement.

E and M conclude:

Well, that’s something that we all agree on!

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Ten for the Price of Five

E here.  As noted, I’m a self-confessed Oscar watcher. I try to see all the nominated movies, and usually manage it. And yeah, I’m down with the dark indie films my sis has been decrying. I’ve no idea what this will do to the noble art of Oscar prediction, where guessing the nominees is always the best fun. It will probably take at least one season to know for sure if this is a colossal mistake or not. With that confessed, let’s get down to business.

Some years, there’s an abundance of terrific movies vying for the nomination, and other years, I wonder how they’ll scrape together five worthy films. So a list of ten? I’m dubious. And, like my sister, I think this has happened in the hopes of boosting the ratings of the Oscar telecast, which have been in freefall since they stopped nominating movies people have seen. (Notable exceptions being, of course, The Return of the King and Titanic.) And, of course, there’s the fact that the Oscars were invented to get people (like me, heh) to see more movies. Here’s Academy president Sid Ganis, as quoted and paraphrased by the AP:

Ganis said the broader field also might make room for documentaries, foreign-language films, animated movies and even comedies, which typically do not fare well at the Oscars.

“Everybody says the academy will never nominate a comedy,” Ganis said. “Well, maybe we will.”

I’ve got a few thoughts about this.

First, that they’re diluting the brand by picking ten movies every year, and not, say, allowing for the occasional overflow when a category is exceptionally full as the Golden Globes do. The National Board of Review starts out the year with their ten best films list, as do several other odd awards giving bodies. While I’m all for supporting merit, I don’t know – it just seems like too much. The Oscars should be about the best of the best, right?

And then here’s the big thing. Ganis says, maybe we will nominate a comedy. Well, says I , maybe you won’t. Look at the inclusion of the word maybe, for heaven’s sake. Maybe, in ten movies, one might be a comedy? What does that tell you about his attitude? And look at the Golden Globes Musical/Comedy category, while you’re at it. Do they nominated popular well made comedies like, I don’t know, Wedding Crashers or The 40 Year Old Virgin? No. And the latter was one of the best reviewed films of 2005. They nominate Sideways and The Squid and The Whale. And who saw The Squid and The Whale? I didn’t even see The Squid and The Whale. They nominate Ray, which is a movie with music in it, but is really not a musical. (If for no other reason than that the leads lip synch rather than sing; Walk the Line gets slightly more cred for that reason.) I just can’t believe that they’ll nominate movies like Wall*E or Hoop Dreams or Red – the best reviewed films of their years, but in categories (animated, documentary and foreign) which rarely if ever get Best Picture nominations. Now, the ten picture game might have helped The Dark Knight and Dreamgirls, but Star Trek? Despite being the only film actually worth seeing to come out in the last few months, I doubt it. Too genre, too tv, too much everything that the Academy wants you to know it’s NOT about. Too much everything – and much too good to be relegated to that ghetto, but there it is. Ditto for last year’s Iron Man. Does this mean that any of the remaining Harry Potter films have a shot at the brass ring? What, children’s movies about a wizard? Are you kidding? That would be quite a pleasant surprise. Why doesn’t a movie like Say Anything have any awards to its name? Because all the awards giving groups, not just the Academy, care more about genre and the appearance of seriousness than an individual work’s creativity, originality or perfection of form.

BUT – and there is a but – I can’t say I think that the Academy is all wrong. They’re just leaning too far in one direction – works that look like prestige films, rather than simply great movies. Maybe some good can be found in this. Maybe more adults will go to see serious films on serious topics. Many of the films I see simply because they are or look like they might be Oscar movies are films I wouldn’t see otherwise, films I’m so grateful to have taken a chance on. The Visitor was one of the hidden gems of last year, too small to be noticed by anyone without championing from the critics; with a slate of ten Best Picture nominees, it might have made the final cut and upped its audience even more. Gods and Monsters, Requiem for a Dream, American Beauty, Rachel Getting Married, Frozen River, Little Children, 21 Grams: I doubt I’d have seen any of them if it hadn’t been for that magic association, because all touch on dark subjects I might otherwise have left alone. Some of them – most of them – were movies I was convinced I’d hate and ended up loving. And then there are movies like Volver and The Last Samurai that I’d automatically discount out of dislike for a star or director. It’s much more rare that they actually don’t prove their worth (though I found Babel, Children of Men and Pan’s Labyrinth disappointing and VERY much pregnancy-unfriendly, which was hard to take for me that season).

The big studios used to make grown up movies with big stars and the star treatment. And by grown up, I don’t mean movies that are dark for the sake of darkness, like (in my opinion) Revolutionary Road; I think The 40 Year Old Virgin was actually more successfully grown up and less cliched, despite the incredible power of RR‘s acting. I mean movies that really try to say something about the human condition. Movies that try to be complex and nuanced. Now it’s chiefly the independent films that try to be grown up, and I’m glad they’re lauded for that, rather than trying to praise lame efforts like A Few Good Men. At least someone is doing it! I have a hard time thinking that the Academy’s real agenda isn’t simply to get people to see more movies (and hopefully like them). And I can get behind that, especially when they’re talking about small films that dare to be smart and original and exciting. But I also miss the days when a film like The Fugitive (a tv adaptation, no less) could be nominated along with Schindler’s List. And would I have been happy to see In the Line of Fire and Sleepless in Seattle, two perfect genre films from that year, nominated as well? You bet. Of course, 1993 was a banner year, and they aren’t all. But on the occasion that a mass market studio film turns out to be Star Trek rather than Transformers 2, it’d be nice if the Academy paid attention. So, is there room for all of us? To acknowledge both art and public taste? That’s what I’m hoping for – and I know it’s a lot. I’m hoping that having ten whole spaces to fill will allow the Academy to push us a bit out of our box, and also let them jump out of theirs.

Uncle Oscar Stoops to Conquer

Hi world, I’m C and it’s my turn to post.  Like M, I had something else I planned to talk about, but the news has preempted me.

Now, E is the big Oscar Fangirl, but no one interested in the entertainment industry could help having an opinion on the biggest news in Oscar history, since… well, probably ever: Number of Best Picture Nominees Goes From 5 to 10.

My opinion?  Shameless, tacky ratings-pandering.

There was a time in history when the Academy Awards were given to great movies, whether they were comedies or tragedies, popular hits or lesser-known artistic triumphs.  In 1934, It Happened One Night (a family favorite, btw) won the awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Picture.

It Happened One Night is a romantic comedy.  When’s the last time you saw one of those win an Oscar?

Today, instead of awarding movies people like and have actually seen, four times out of five the Oscars celebrate small, depressing art house films which only people like E go to see (and she only sees them because they’re nominated for Oscars).  Even when a heartwarming film that people really love wins or is nominated, it’s usually 1) dark, and 2) relatively obscure.  Think Slumdog Millionaire or Little Miss Sunshine: these films may be lovely, but they’re not for everyone.  And that’s what the Oscars are determined to be: NOT FOR EVERYONE.

Which is why this new move is so low.  Why nominate ten films?  So people will watch the show, of course.  Because you know how it will be.  There will be the five real nominations, and then there will be the five crowd-drawing nominations.  Star Trek will probably be nominated.  Sorry, Virginia: Star Trek will not win.

But I bet the fankids won’t feel so sure about that.  They’ll tune in because, supposedly, there’s a chance.

Now maybe you’re saying “What about Return of the King?”  But it took a juggernaut of three groundbreaking, remarkable blockbuster fantasy hits before the Academy condescended to honor one.  And did they get any acting awards?  Of course not.  Benjamin Button is acting.  Fantasy is not acting.

Maybe I sound bitter.  Maybe I am, a bit.  I’m sick of the attitude that because something is popular, funny, belongs to one of those things called “genres,” or God forbid, appeals to more women than men, it’s automatically lesser quality.  The Academy are the people who relegated animated films to a ghetto category after their elitist world was shaken by Beauty and the Beast being nominated for Best Picture.  They couldn’t risk that happening again!

And now they’re going to nominate Star Trek to get you to watch the show.  How will they live with themselves?

Oh right.  By only giving AWARDS to films that make you want to put your head under a blanket and cry.

Yes! You Are Correct, Sir!

M here….  I feel very James Bond-y introducing myself that way.  I like it.

Anyway, I had originally had something else planned for my first post here, however the sad news of yesterday has pushed me into a different direction.  No, the sad news was not the announcement that Jon and Kate Plus 8 will continue on as the world watching Jon and Kate Divide 8, it was the passing of television icon Ed McMahon.  I found myself reflecting back on his career at various times, and thinking about how unique it was.  You see, Ed McMahon was something that we have rarely seen, if ever, and will likely not see again any time soon.  Let me explain with an analogy from a horrible movie…  Sky High.  In case you haven’t seen it, and I’m hoping for your sake that you haven’t, it is set in a high school for super heros.  The only catch is that if a student doesn’t have super powers, or have really lame super powers, they are put into the “sidekick” program, and learn how to become sidekicks.  Now, the movie follows the typical path of the ugly ducklings becoming the heros, proving that everyone can be a hero, even sidekicks.

However, in the very entertainment industry that made that movie, that’s not really the case.  Entertainers are pretty well divided into their levels, with stars NEVER becoming sidekicks, and sidekicks rarely if ever becoming stars.  Ed McMahon, however, was both.  And he wasn’t a sidekick who became a star, he was both at the same time.  He was most famous, obviously, for being Johnny Carson’s sidekick, his automatic laugh.  But he was also the star of the aptly title Star Search, and a full fledged “Ryan Seacrest wishes he could be me” level star in his own right on that show.  Then throw in that he was the co-host, and half star-half sidekick, of Dick Clark on the wildly popular Bloopers and Practical Jokes.

Rarely has anyone pulled off that kind of star, sidekick, star and sidekick kind of, well, trichotomy.  Since I thought of it I’ve been trying to think of anyone that has been able to pull that off, and I can’t think of another person.  That’s not to mention that he was doing all three at the same time.  Its also not to mention that the two partners he worked with are two of the greatest entertainers in television history.  I mean, for younger readers (like C) who don’t remember or know them, Johnny Carson and Dick Clark make David Letterman and Simon Cowell look like former Late, Late Show host Craig Kilborn and Mike Richards, the host guy from Beauty and the Geek, and yes, I had to look up his name.  Ed McMahon was the guy they wanted to work with, the guy they had by their sides for some, or in Johnny’s case most, of their greatest moments.  He made them better, he made their shows better.  Yet, at the same time he made his own show great.  Star Search was the original version of both American Idol and America’s Got Talent.  It was a phenomenon and it was Ed who tied it all together, and built the drama.

Will we ever see someone pull off something like that again?  I don’t know, but I doubt it.  I think there is too much division of roles, too many people are type cast, pigeon holed, whatever you want to call it.  Needless to say, the entertainment industry lost a truly unique member.

And They Have A Plan

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with my brother M in a strip mall parking lot where we met up so I could give him the car seat our sister accidentally drove to Connecticut (don’t ask), and said, you know, I’m thinking about finally starting that entertainment blog.

Oh, he replied, you and C and I should do that together. That’d be awesome.

And I had to admit that yes, it totally would.

See, friends of mine have been saying for years that I should channel my obsession with the Oscars, with film and tv and books and whatnot, into a blog – possibly so they would be spared my voluminous emails on the subject. (I kid! I kid!) And I don’t object to the idea. I’m a big idea person. I tend to get really intimidated about starting projects, though. Call it stage fright or writers block, I’ve got it. It’s not for nothing that my college admissions essay was about the terror of writing a college admission essay. So having co-contributors would take the pressure off me, at least a bit. That isn’t the most exciting reason to do a blog with my beloved siblings, though.

See, for people who not only love but also like each other, my brother and sister and I really like to fight.

Family dinner, when we have it, can be a full on jousting match. We’re highly competitive and we all pretty much like the sound of our own voices. We’re all looking for the advantage, looking for the best rhetorical line, for the way to beat the others into complete submission. Now, you probably wouldn’t want to hear us talking politics, but when it comes to books and tv and movies and the like, we have great fun speculating on the finer points of a plot line, abusing writers where we think they’re being untrue to characters, and praising them when they’ve fooled us. In other words, we can disagree – at times loudly and vociferously – without actually getting mad at each other. And we have a great time doing it, so much so that we tend to call each other after a show airs to find out what the others think.

We do actually have quite a bit in common. All three of us are down with the nerdy classics: Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, X-Men and The X-Files. We get our geek on with regularity. We’re also all fans of Chuck, Alias, Lost, Veronica Mars, and, of course, The Princess Bride. We love a good plot and witty dialog. We like smart characters, thrilling adventures and shocking twists (though we’re pretty hard to shock). We all love classic film and Disney/Pixar. “Where’d we see that actor” is one of our favorite games; we’re good enough at that to alarm most observers. Then there are other things we like in pairs: C and I glory in romantic costume drama and English mysteries, while our brother prefers his costume dramas to involve riffles, ships or swords. (We like those, too; we’re just also big fans of, say, Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell, while he, well, isn’t.) I mean, come on. We’re girls. We were both English majors. It’s to be expected. Oh. We love Harry Potter and kiddie lit, too.

M and I, on the other hand, both enjoy the kind of reality competitions which involve actual skills, like Top Chef and So You Think You Can Dance. And we have a reservoir of nostalgic favorites like Moonlighting which C is too much younger to have experienced fully. M and C are fans of The Office (Steve Carrell’s character makes me squirm, despite the overwhelming cuteness of Jim and Pam.) and Farscape, and are much better at actually watching things when they air; I’m a bit dvr challenged that way, but hope to improve for the purposes of this blog.

If you are brave enough to stick around as we embark on this online adventure, we hope to offer you a few things. We’ll talk about what makes us passionate, what we’ve seen and read and maybe in some instances heard. We’re spoiler averse, so if we’re going to have a discussion about an ongoing series, we’ll make sure you know what you’re getting into before you read it. We have about the same opinion of celebrity gossip as we do of slasher flicks; we don’t need to see people flayed apart like that. You’ll get to know more about our individual likes and dislikes (who’s the weeper, who’s the grammar police, what do we think of vampires or Lauren Graham) and hopefully will be able to see and take part in smart and substantive debates on the fine art of entertainment. We hope to meet new friends, talk more with old ones, and generally have a great time. We think that together, we have more to offer than any of us alone; our shared passions and our unique sensibilities add up to our own family brand of zesty oddness. We hope you’re up for it.

And – phew! – with that, we’ve started!

Best regards,

E

PS – M, I will be very disappointed if you don’t make a crack about C driving the car seat to Connecticut rather than her car. I left the bait in just for you.