Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beeeeeeeeep. 24! Chuck! JD Salinger! And More!

Man, a lot going on in the world of entertainment this week. A few quick thoughts before I get to some TV Reviews ...

- Everyone should check out the brilliant film, A SERIOUS MAN, out on DVD today from Focus Features. This is one of the Oscar-nominated movies that a lot of people haven't seen yet, but I urge everyone to run out and watch on DVD or blu-ray or digital download. The movie is classic Coen Bros. - dark, hilarious, thought-provoking, and brilliantly written and acted. It's a twisted black comedy in the tradition of Coen movies like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, and to me it was absolutely one of the best films of 2009. And by the way, to all those who say the movie is antisemetic or whatever, I COMPLETELY DISAGREE. In fact, I think the movie is one of the funniest and most interesting looks at American Judaism ever crafted. And, while you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy the movie, I think my fellow Jews will get an extra kick from A Serious Man's dead-on portrayal of suburban Jewish life in America. Just an incredible movie though, and everyone should see it ASAP.

- Word on the street today is that Warners has tapped none other than Christopher Nolan to oversee development of the latest SUPERMAN reboot. Nolan is a guy who, as is evident from movies like The Dark Knight, has a great sense of how to do right by these characters. While I wouldn't want a new Superman movie to be as dark and gritty as one of Nolan's Batman films, I agree with the decision to go back to the drawing board. Make a Superman movie with a great cast, with huge action, with an epic sci-fi storyline, with big, emotional beats and lots of heart and heroism. Don't repeat the mistakes of (shudder) Superman Returns. Come on, Nolan, help WB make a kickass Superman movie!

- Finally, I haven't yet had a chance to really talk about this, but I've been meaning to write a quick tribute to the great JD SALINGER, who passed away last week. It's a tribute to Salinger that my comments about him likely echo millions of others who became fans of his as young adults. I think so many of us had a similar experience - we read Catcher In the Rye - and it was immediately clear that this was a world apart from other works in the literary cannon. Holden Caulfied is the timeless embodiment of teen angst - he seems to speak directly to his young readers. So many books that you read in school are written in such lofty language, and take on such grand themes, that it's a revelation to read something so conversational, so immediate, so relevant. You might even say that ol' Holden's rants were a precursor to the digital era of blogs and Facebook status updates - you can only imagine all of the phonies that he might have taken shots at had his story been transplanted to the modern age. JD Salinger will forever be the voice of those who question the status quo, who get pissed off at their lot in life, who are sick of lies and hypcocracy and phonies. It was pleasant to think that Salinger was holed away somewhere in New Hampshire, quietly laughing at the world, letting his work speak for itself, content to let the spotlight shine on others. We need more originals like Salinger.

Shifting gears ...



- So I was a fan of last week's 24, and I thought that the slow-burn tension building was suitably ramping up the intensity for what I hoped would be a big payoff this week. And yet, 90% of this week's episode was kind of boring - the whole thing just seemed to draaaag, and just felt like it was more of the same from the previous week. The thing is, Jack Bauer and Renee Walker are entertaining enough that they can carry just about any scene. But while it's always fun to see just what Jack will do next, the same can't be said for almost any of the other characters currently featured on the show. Everything with the President, with Hassan, with Hassan's daughter, with the Russian mob ... it all just felt like placeholder material, and the fact that none of these characters is particularly interesting doesn't help matters. Worst of all - the ongoing saga of Dana Walsh and the lamebrained stalker from her criminal past. Last week, this univerally reviled storyline came off as so campy that it was kind of amusing. I was kind of entertained by the stalker and his thuggish friend just hangin' out at Dana's apartment, watching TV and eating nachos. This week though, we spent a lot of time with the terrible twosome, as they tried to rob a police holding facility with aid from Dana and her CTU-provided building schematics. These segments were just plain painful.

So I said that 90% of the episode was boring (and I mean, hey, how long are we supposed to watch Sergei make futile attempts to call his fellow mobsters to ask whether they have nuclear materials in their possession?). But what about the other 10%? Well, let me just say: even as my attention started to wander off towards the end of the episode, the final few scenes caused me to sit up and watch, wide-eyed, as awesomeness was unleashed. Yep, Renee's fit of psycho-violence was just straight-up crazy, and the whole sequence of Renee stabbing Sergei like a woman possessed, accidentally knifing Jack, and then Jack PULLING OUT THE KNIFE FROM HIS CHEST and THROWING IT into the throat of Sergei's right-hand-man ... I mean, daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.

From there, business picked up. Jack, still undercover as a hilariously nerdy German arms dealer, volunteered himself to be taken by the Russians-with-nukes. Renee breaks down and loses it. CTU loses track of Jack. And ... end episode. So yeah, a ridiculously badass ending doesn't make up for an otherwise mediocre ep, but ... it helps.

My Grade: B

- I've really been enjoying CHUCK this season, and last night's episode was yet another enjoyable outing for everyone's favorite geek-turned-superspy. I like that Chuck now has such a crazy combo of familiar genre actors - Superman from Superman Returns, Lana Lang from Smallville, and Adam Baldwin, who's just awesome. But even with all the superheroic cast members, Chuck this season is, at its core, about Chuck finally graduating from helpless trainee who happens to possess the Intersect, to competent secret agent who is a legit spy in his own right. As a guy like Chuck well knows, with great power comes great responsibility, and Chuck's increased role working for the CIA has meant that he's had to increasingly keep his friends and family in the dark about his daily wherabouts and goings-on. And now, that means Hannah, the new Buy More nerd-herder played by Kristen Kreuk. In this ep, Hannah cemented her role as a potential love interest for Chuck (or potential evil Ring agent posing as a love interest - who knows?), and at the same time, Chuck realized how tough it would be to have a real relationship given the increasingly top-secret nature of his life.

Any fan of Smallville surely cringed when Hannah started to get mad with Chuck for keeping secrets from her. It triggered instant flashbacks to Lana's endless whining about Clark's secrets on Smallville, and I was worried that that same whiny quality would tarnish Kreuk's otherwise likable character on Chuck. Luckily, Josh Schwartz and co. were smart enough not to drag out Hannah's suspicions forever. At least that's what it looks like. I don't know though, I'm a little skeptical on the whole people-being-suspicious-of-Chuck's-double-life thing ... I just don't want the show to paint itself into a corner with this. And you also wonder why the CIA hasn't modified Chuck's Buy More cover to make it a little less weird when his "ex-girlfriend," Sarah, comes around to bug him at work all the time. My only other complaint is that this episode felt a little late-period OC-ish in how quickly Chuck and Hannah, and Shaw and Walker, paired off. It's that feeling of "okay, this new character was just introduced, let's immediately have one of our main characters fall for them after about ten minutes." Suffice it to say, Shaw and Sarah in particular felt a bit forced. Plus - how can they hook up so freely when they're both spies? Wasn't the whole point of Sarah and Chuck breaking up that their romance was not allowed in the superspy handbook? I'm sure there's probably more to the Sarah-Shaw thing than the show is currently letting on, but man, the interaction between the two so far has been pretty lame.

Still, this was a fairly fun ep with some good action, humor, and some interesting new wrinkles in the life of Chuck. And ... I will bump up the grade a bit solely for the awesomeness of the ep's ending, with the Ring's shadowy uber-council making ominous plans. My hope is that Chuck ups the ante when it returns post-Olympics.

My Grade: B

- Okay, I'm out. PEACE.

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