Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chuck - The Complete Third Season DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Season three of Chuck finds Chuck (Zachary Levi) at a crossroads in his life. He now has the Intersect 2.0 downloaded in his brain, enabling him not only to be able to "flash" on subjects to gain information on them, but also to gain abilities. He may look at a sword and if he flashes, he becomes a master swordsman. The problem is he is unable to control these abilities when his emotions get the best of him, especially when he is around his partner Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) who he is madly in love with.

His inability to flash first manifests itself in the opening episode when, during a simulation, Chuck is unable to flash and would have been killed had it been a real mission. This gets Chuck suspended from the team by General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy). We also learn that six months earlier, Sarah met Chuck in Prague, wanting to leave with him and ditch the spy life and he turned her down — a decision that haunts Chuck throughout the season.

After Chuck's eventual reinstatement, NSA Agent Carina (Mini Anden) shows up, posing as the fiancé of an arms dealer the CIA is trying to get to. Carina is on to Sarah's feelings about Chuck and she discusses this with her while Chuck has the same conversation with his best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez) about Sarah. This episode does a good job of showing the parallel of Chuck and Sarah's feelings toward each other. Morgan tries in vain to get Carina to show up at his party to impress his fellow Buy More coworkers and when she arrives with her "fiancé and his entourage Morgan, not realizing she was on a spy mission, kicks her out of the house. Morgan's tactics work though when Carina returns, turned on by the fact that a guy actually said no to her. She also shows her heart by giving Sarah a security camera video of Chuck professing his love for Sarah.

After Chuck's brother-in-law Devon (Ryan McPartlin) saves the life of premier Allejandro Goya (Armand Assante), a man the CIA is trying to protect after years of trying to kill him, he and his wife Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) get invited to a gala he is hosting at the consulate. The CIA learns Goya is the target of a hit and sends Chuck and his team to protect not only Goya, but Chuck's family as well. Chuck's teammate John Casey doesn't want to go as he had had tried to kill the premier on numerous occasions and had earned the nickname Angel de la Muerte, or Angel of Death. Chuck and Sarah pose as a couple at the gala, furthering the tension between the two and, in an amusing twist, Casey ends up donating blood to save Goya's life, with his reward a box of fine cigars.

Brandon Routh appears as Daniel Shaw in the episode "Chuck Versus Operation Awesome." Shaw is a CIA agent who has been trying to take down The Ring for five years and is something of a super spy. He feels deep regret for the shooting of his wife and has hardened himself to not show emotions to protect others. He falls for Sarah though, who initially resists his advances, but realizes she likes being close to someone. Both characters are similar in their "no feelings" stance as they are true spies unlike Chuck who is ruled by emotions. Sarah still has feelings for Chuck though, but thinks that's over after what happened in Prague. Chuck is, of course, devastated that Sarah would take an interest in Shaw whom he feels he has no chance against.

Chuck gets a love interest of his own in the form of Hannah (Kristin Kreuk), who he meets while on his first solo mission on a flight to Paris, a city he has always wanted to visit. Hannah is a down-on-her-luck computer programmer who had just lost her job and was flying to Paris to clean out her office there. The two hit it off and Chuck encourages her to come to the Buy More if she's ever in the area. Much to his surprise she not only does, but also joins the staff as a fellow Nerd Herder (a parody not only of Best Buy's Geek Squad, but of the Star Wars' insult Nerf Herder). Sarah is jealous of Hannah while Chuck, still having feelings for Sarah and not wanting to have to lie to Hannah about his double life, breaks up with her rather ruthlessly at a dinner with her family. The episode shows how Chuck has changed and that he is human and doesn't always do and say the right thing.

When they fear their store is about to be bought out and all but Chuck and Morgan will be fired, the Buy More employees stage a revolt, led by the creepy duo of Lester (Vic Sahay) and Jeff (Scott Barnes). Casey, whose cover is at the Buy More and who hates suits even more than he hates neo-liberal fascists, joins in the fray. The employees build a wall by the entrance and Lester leads them in the singing of "Fortunate Son" to great comedic effect.

Shaw believes that a Ring operative killed his wife, but later learns it was one of his own that did it, which has consequences for his team. Meanwhile, Chuck finally gets his chance to profess his love for Sarah, but does she accept this time? These are among the many questions posed during the show.

The DVD includes deleted scenes, the featurettes "Chuck Fu…and Dim Sum: Becoming a Spy Guy" and "The Jeffster Revolution: The Definitive Mocumentary" as well as a gag reel. Originally slated for 13 episodes, NBC decided to order six more. While episode 13 feels like a finale, the remaining six episodes are well written and lead into the forthcoming season four well. With its mix of good writing, a good ensemble cast and an excellent mix of drama and comedy, season three of Chuck is a winner.

Article first published as DVD Review: Chuck - The Complete Third Season on Blogcritics.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Electric Light Orchestra Live: The Early Years - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In the latter days of The Move, the band's alpha males — founder Roy Wood and newcomer Jeff Lynne — expressed a desire to go beyond the typical three-minute pop song. Wishing to continue where the Beatles left off with "I Am the Walrus," the duo launched a new venture with Move drummer Bev Bevan that incorporated orchestral instruments into a rock context. The Move was dead, but from its ashes rose the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). After some disagreements over the band's direction, Wood left during the recording of its second album, leaving Lynne as the leader of ELO. It is these early years under Lynne's guidance that are chronicled in the DVD Electric Light Orchestra – Live: The Early Years.

The DVD begins with footage from Brunel University 1973. This footage, along with all the other footage on the disc, is in surprisingly good condition and appears to be from broadcast masters. Here we find the band mixing classics such as Lynne's "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" with the classical as the band takes on Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," the latter of which is done in a surprisingly faithful arrangement. Jerry Lee Lewis most likely did not envision cellos and violins when he recorded "Great Balls of Fire," but the band makes the seemingly absurd combination work, rocking out on the early rock and roll gem. Fans of 1970s fashion should be on the lookout for violinist Mik Kaminski's cape, which seemingly does not seem out of place amidst the other clothing choices for this concert.

Up next is the band's appearance on the German television show Rockpalast from 1974. An interview from this show is included on the DVD is a bonus feature. The set list is similar to the Brunel show, but the band appears more confident and loose in this performance. The band delivers a raw version of the instrumental "Daybreaker" with some excellent keyboard work by Richard Tandy. Both the '73 and '74 shows include cellist Mike Edwards, who recently died when he was stuck by a runaway bail of hay. An unconventional death for sure, but this was an unconventional band.

The final performance included is the Fusion concert from 1976 recorded at the New Victoria Theatre in London, England. This show documents the early part of ELO as a hit-making machine with songs such as "Can't Get it Out of My Head," "Evil Woman," and "Strange Magic" gracing the set list. On the latter, drummer Bev Bevan comes to the front of the stage to contribute his distinct bass harmonies. The show features a medley of songs that originated from Lynne's time in The Move — "10538 Overture" from the first ELO album and "Do Ya," which was originally a Move single, but reworked for the then-new A New World Record. Most notable to this show is the addition of the band's new bassist, the late Kelly Groucutt, who shared vocals with Lynne on many of the songs and really added the missing link to the band's live vocal sound.

The DVD includes Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound options and really the only negative for fans here is the non-inclusion of a few songs. For what seem to be copyright reasons, versions of "Roll Over Beethoven" from 1974 and 1976 and "Day Tripper" from 1974 have not been included here. Curiously, they are included on the UK edition of this DVD. That is the only thing keeping this from being an A+ for ELO fans however and anyone interested in seeing the band before the spaceships took over the live stage would enjoy Electric Light Orchestra - Live: The Early Years.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Electric Light Orchestra - Live: The Early Years on Blogcritics.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Pictures At An Exhibition: Special Edition DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Prog rock has always been ambitious in its focus, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer are no different. Viewed by some as pretentious while others see them as genius, Emerson, Lake & Palmer have straddled that very line for the better part of 40 years. In 1970, they took it upon themselves to adapt Modest Mussorgsky's classical piece Pictures at an Exhibition into a rock format. The shows were recorded and filmed and are now presented in remastered form in Pictures at an Exhibition: Special Edition.

Well known for their music chops, the band appears to be having fun on stage as evidenced by drummer Carl Palmer's knowing smiles at keyboardist Keith Emerson as he tries to keep up with the challenging tempos of "The Gnome." Bassist Greg Lake shows off his classical guitar skills and haunting vocals on "The Sage," a song that foreshadowed the band's hit "From the Beginning." "Blues Variation" features some blistering keyboard work from Emerson that shows through all the over-the-top antics (Emerson appears to hump his keyboard at one point and does stab it with knives at another), these guys could really play.

Early '70s psychedelic visual effects take over during "The Old Castle" and feature prominently throughout the rest of the DVD. While they are dated, they are historically correct. Fans looking for a version sans these effects won't find that here. Still, the picture and sound quality are generally excellent for a nearly 40-year-old concert recording.

The DVD includes the original trailer for the movie as well as a Belgian TV appearance on Pop Shop from 1971. This footage is touted as appearing for the first time, but it had previously been available on the DVD Masters From the Vaults.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer have had a long and storied musical career. They are among the founding fathers of prog rock and fans wanting to catch of a glimpse of this legendary band near the beginning of its career won't be disappointed with Pictures at an Exhibition: Special Edition.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Pictures At An Exhibition (Special Edition) on Blogcritics.