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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

I was able to sit down for a couple of years and pump out a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.

Check out my new column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me on TWITTER under the name: Stipp

Departures DVD - Review

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The fact that this film beat out Waltz with Bashir and The Class at last year’s Academy Awards should be an indication of how good Departures really is. Not saying it should be a sticker on its box cover but it is a compelling fact on top of the one that this is really that good.

For those who need the CliffsNotes version of the story it is thus: A talented musician/father, Daigo (Masahiro Motoki), takes solace in his music as a professional cellist. When he finds himself in the unemployment line after his orchestra goes bankrupt, with no work and no way to make ends meet, the family packs up and moves back to his hometown where he grew up as a boy. With no prospects for any kind of musical employment Daigo answers an ad to help prepare dead bodies. Hiding the job from his wife, learning what it means to be alive, learning what it means to die, all play into a story that is at the same time satisfying and slightly inspiring.

Where director Yojiro Takita genuinely excels is crafting a movie that is at once affirming and interesting. This is Daigo’s story, to be sure, but the way in which we navigate the waters of personal grief that never overpowers the notion that this is Daigo’s tale to tell shows how well Takita can back off when he needs to, never pushing a schmaltzy Frank Capra-esque “It’s great to be alive!” kind of agenda. The action is understated and always very aware of itself. Sometimes, it’s too aware and the way in which Daigo finds his own way to enlightenment about his own life, and the many things that have held him back for so many years as an adult, and it is this, I feel, is where the Academy really saw something in this film.

True, there is nothing new here about the emotional state of mankind that made this an absolute shoo-in to win an Oscar, The Class had a much more direct and profound statement to make, but it is a film that transcends so many boundaries and does get at the inane blocks we sometimes place on ourselves. The movie is great because it doesn’t get bogged down with the superfluous but it also misses an opportunity to delve deeper into the emotional core of our character; while we see a lot of ourselves in this film, you understand, there should have been more we see of Daigo’s own transformation. There is no way you can go wrong with a viewing of this film and more than deserves a few of your rental dollars. What it has to say and show about death, mortality, and the unique preparation of our corporeal bodies, is enough to warrant a couple of hours of your time here on earth.

Zachary Levi - Interview- Part 2

It’s hard to look into the future when it comes to broadcasting but Zach Levi knows enough that it could be mistaken for yet another one of Chuck’s skills. Star of the program that bears his likeness in so many promos that you wonder whether the network is trading in the peacock for his delicate mug, Levi has a lot to say when it comes to reflecting on the previous seasons of the show. As well, he’s more than an open book to discuss what happens when the very same network pushing your show on the viewers of the channel whacks your budget and the effects it has on those who act in it. There was more than enough of the Straight Talk Express to go around and Levi let loose, literally not letting me get a word in edgewise. When last we left off with Levi, he was explaining what happened when he visited jolly ol’ England to talk about the show months ago, on the verge of cancellation, and ended up becoming a Sandwich Artist for the day.

Chuck is now back to its normal time on Monday, 8/7C on NBC

chuck1LEVI: So it was right around the corner from where the convention was and Adam and I had a panel on Saturday. We already talked about Chuck and we were supposed to have another panel with another actor who didn’t end up making the convention so it was just going to be me.  And I said I didn’t want to just sit up there and say the same things so I said, “Hey, instead of me just talking, who wants to go walk over to Subway and have some sandwiches?”

And, literally, almost everyone at the convention got up and went over to Subway.

Then we got over there and I ordered a sandwich and the people at Subway said, “Would you like to come back and make it a photo op and make a sandwich?”  So I said “Yeah” and I went back behind the counter and made a sandwich and I was in the middle of the production line, bur I ended up making about 250 sandwiches.  It was so surreal.  I’m in a Subway, in England, with a bunch of my fellow nerds at a convention that is part of this grassroots campaign, people I’ve never seen before, and here we are.  And then that got traction and it went out to everybody at Warner Bros. and NBC and I just don’t know, man.

It’s a unique and special thing to be a part of and I feel like later in my career I hope to be a part of something that special – be a part of things that are so symbiotic with the fans – the people that means the most too.  You can be out there and make great stuff and good movies and all that but to be in the trenches with them – to see if a miracle does happen – and it did happen.

CS:  It did.  I can’t imagine what that did for you knowing that this was all going on and your job was in the balance publicly.  If I was about to get fired and everyone knew about it, I don’t know how I would hold myself together.  It must be a unique position for you. But now that you have your third season, do you have an idea of where this third season is going to go when you kick back up again?  Was there always a third season tentatively written?

LEVI: I am sure that they had ideas and a good idea of the overall premise of where the third season would go.  But, when the future is that uncertain, I don’t know how much time as a writer, and I am, but I’ve never been in their particular shoes, where it’s like, “OK we have two seasons under our belts.  How much time are we going to dedicate to cracking stories?”  It could be all for naught, you know?  But I know that certainly the second season was left as a cliff hanger.  The second season I download the new intersect 2.0 and at least temporarily have kung-fu and that’s the last line.  I know kung-fu and we’re out.  You just can’t …Everybody was, “Oh my god, what the heck is going on?”  It’s crazy.  And because Chuck, why it’s a special show for the Comic-Con crowd is because Chuck is the Comic-Con goer.  If you look in our art department, my room is litered with Comi-Con badges by my desk.  So I feel the fun of the show is that they get to live vicariously through Chuck and vicariously they get to learn kung-fu as we go into the third season you find out that these powers are fleeting.  The intersect has its glitches.  It was not meant for me.  It was meant for Bryce Larkin who is already a super secret agent and is cool…so I don’t have the capability to turn it on and off.

Whether it’s fighting skills or speaking another language or playing an instrument or operating machinery, whatever the case may be, it’s all these physical attributes that Chuck now has the power to tap into but they only last for a certain amount of time and so we’ll get some great action out of it but then at the same time there will be some great comedy because of those moments where, for example, we’re on a mission and a couple of big baddies step up and I say “Guys, I got this” and I strike my pose but nothing is happening and these guys are coming to beat the crap out of me or something like that.  It is certainly not at will, kind of happens as it does, and it’s perfect because if I could just retain kung-fu the show wouldn’t make any sense anymore.  I have to be the everyman.

If I, all of a sudden, could protect myself, Casey and Sarah, we wouldn’t need them anymore.  I would just be a secret agent.  I wouldn’t have a home life anymore, so there goes my sister and Awesome and Morgan and everybody.  But this way we’ve opened this new door of all these possibilities and Josh and Chris and the rest of our writers have done an excellent job of setting up that world and now in the third season they are just going to dive into it.  I’m sure they have all kind of fun ideas.

CS:  Exactly.  Going back to the idea that fans…when you are out talking and people are talking to you, why do so many people, in your opinion, embrace the show and feel like it’s their show?  What is it about it that people really want to protect?

Zachary LeviLEVI: I think that A) it is the element that Chuck is one of them and I feel partly that like Josh and I, we are Chuck and Morgan, not entirely, but when we say we’re gamers, we are genuine gamers.  And I think that there is an honesty that comes through in that and that’s not a pat on our back by any means but certainly I feel like the audience feels less duped.  I feel like they get to watch the characters and feel like that these guys are like that too.  They are on Xbox and like comic books – so on a personal level I think they are invested in us too which I think is a really awesome thing.  But then on top of that I think it’s an entertaining show and speaks to the fanboy and fangirl.  We nod to and allude to, not rip off…

(Laughs)

But certainly a homage to so many of the classic either spy movies, sci-fi movies or fantasy, we’re like Sandworm from Dune, whatever.  We have great guest stars that are all from that world, or many of them are.  Like Scott Bakula playing my dad, that’s huge, or Trisha Helfer came on and played an agent on the show.  Any bit that we give I feel it’s our duty to do that because I think it’s staying true to our fan base – gives them more reason to stay with it.  Then, on top of that, aside from the fanboy/fangirl Comic-Con world, paired with that the show itself has a really big family audience because we’re an 8:00 o’clock show so you can’t do too much that’s too risqué, although some of the lingerie… But one of the coolest things I’ve gotten out of this whole experience on Chuck is how many parents have come up to me for 3 years now, or 2 going into our 3rd, just saying, “Thank you.  Thank you that you have given me and my kids an hour of television that we get to sit down and hang out together and we watch the show and we all dig it.  We all dig it for different reasons.  My son loves the action and we love the whole spy world stuff.  It’s so silly and fun.”  Or some moms say, “I think Alan Baldwin is the sexist man alive.”  Whatever.

And a lot of gamers are really into the Chuck Morgan stuff hoping that we get to bring that bromance and best buddy stuff back and just speaking to the nerds and speaking to everybody with the multi-genre thing, we are a cornucopia of genre which is very difficult to balance and, quite frankly, a pain in the ass sometimes, but that’s what makes the show unique.  There is nothing like Chuck on television.  There’s just nothing like it.  And that’s not necessarily a good thing it’s just – it is.  It’s a mini movie every week and we speak to genre people and we speak to sci-fi people and we speak to gamers and nerds and speak to families and even the guy/guys out there who say the girls are, “So hot on your show.”  I think it’s all that stuff…We get these people and get a lot of them.  I think we get a lot of different people and get a little bit of everybody and it makes it a very kind of different and dynamic show.  And, on top of all of that, I think the reason why people are with us and stay with us and are invested in the show is because now they have genuinely become a part of our survival and our livelihood.  They are the crucial part of why we are still around and I think it’s the best kind of situation you can be a part of because you know that it’s worth something at the end of the day.

I love acting.  I love what I get to do.  I hope I get to do it for the rest of my life but certainly there are many, many times where I’m doing it and saying, “Does this really mean anything? ” There are guys and girls overseas defending our freedoms abroad.  Those guys are putting their lives on the line.  That means something.  Or Caltrans guys working on the sides of the roads keeping the freeways going, those jobs do something.  I’m an entertainer.  What does that mean at the end of the day?  But, for an hour a week, you bring a smile to somebody’s face and it’s not just a smile.  It’s a smile that is rooted so deeply and they are willing to offer up their time and energy to keep it going because they want that smile or they want those tears in those dramatic moments we have.  They want that adrenaline in those action packed moments.

This whole weekend, especially today after our panel, it’s just humbling.  Everything has been very humbling.  It certainly gives me a renewed appreciation for what we do and I want to be able to just keep this going and carry that to the next 13 episodes and just make them awesome and keep giving the fans what they want.

CS:  Going into the 3rd season, knowing how number 2 turned out, fate being what it is with the show, does Chuck need to change in order to stay afloat?

0000043360_20070924122705LEVI: We’ve already seen some changes and those changes have all been kind of monetary, budget restricting changes which is across the board, really.  Some shows didn’t come back at all because they just couldn’t work it on with the budget or they were already on season 7 and it’s like…look, Without a Trace for example was in the top 10 shows or something and it didn’t come back.  That was making huge numbers and far bigger numbers than us.  So across the board, studios, networks, everybody feels it so I, as tough as it is sometimes, would be like, “Come on, give us a little bit of love.”

I know that sometimes the buck just gets passed and passed and passed and it just has to be.  So we’ve seen that already. Take Josh Gomez, he was in all the shows produced and now it’s 11 of 13.  So he’s not in every episode but he’s going to be in the majority of the episodes.  I think Adam, Yvonne, and I are the only ones all shows produced.  And that’s a bummer.  When the show first started to me it was like, it’s Chuck torn between his family life and his new spy life.  It was Adam and Yvonne on this side and it was Josh and Sarah on this side.  So to see somebody come and get demoted, if you will, that bums me out for Josh.  Not just for his pocketbook, although you do feel that, obviously.  But just kind of on a that’s just sucks.  Not fun news to hear.  But, Julia Ling, who played Anna Wu, she’s not on the show at all.  And I know they have reached out to her and said “We’d like for you to come back and guest star” but she might have other things she’s working on.  I don’t know.  So that kind of stuff is tough.

Our overall budget has been cut half a million dollars.  And we were already in a place where getting the job done where we were was tough in the time and money we had allotted.  Now we lost a day on our schedule and we lost a good portion of our budget so it’ll be interesting.  I don’t know how but I believe that it can, I know we will.  There is no turning back.  We have 13 episodes to do and this is the money we have to do it.

You just have to have faith that whatever is meant to be is meant to be and we will still be able to produce the show if fans are with.  And at the end of the day, I don’t think we’ll lose fans because we didn’t go to a location necessarily.

LEVI: You lose people when you stop being true to the characters.  And stop being true to the relationships.  And stop being true to what the heart is all about.  And I think also because our fans are now so very in on – pretty much everybody knows that we lost money in the budget, Josh Schwartz was in today talking about it at the panel.  We had budget cuts and blah blah blah so I think fans will give you a pass.  As long as it doesn’t look like it was shot on a camcorder.

(Laughs)

And as long as everybody stays true to the heart of what the show is about and we’re still doing everything we can to make it the best show we can.  I think they will stay with us.  I don’t think they’d come this far and then say, “Ah, whatever.”  Look at a show like Heroes.  Yes, they slipped a little bit in their numbers but they went through some rocky times.  The first season it was the biggest thing in the world.  And then it wasn’t exactly the show people loved the first season.  It was different.  Some people thought “I don’t know, I like this version more” and they tried to come back in the third season and now a fourth season and they still have a full packed hall at Comic-Con.  So, the dedicated fans will stay.  They invested that time.

chuck_nbc_tv_show_image_zachary_levi_and_yvonne_strahovskiI am a huge fan of Lost.  And when they hit – I thought second season was fantastic.  The first half of the third season, had maybe writer changes, but you are not getting the mythology, not getting questions answered, just more and more questions, but not questions at all, just day to day living and I’m like, “Come on, what’s going on?’  And then they went on hiatus and came back and the second half of the third season was some of the best television I ever saw in my entire life.  I was like, “YES, here’s my show.”  And I felt good because I didn’t give up, I could have, but I didn’t and you feel good that you stayed and it’s still to me the best show on TV.  I love Lost.  I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen.  I’m dying.

CS:  Last question:  You’ve been a very public face for Chuck.  Why have you taken such an active role in coming out and stumping and being who you are regarding Chuck’s fate in the public sphere. What part of your personality does that come from?

LEVI: Thank you.  I appreciate that.  I think it’s a couple of things.

I think A) it’s just the way God made me but, hey, everybody’s got different things.  Some people – I don’t fault anybody for not - people have different personalities and I’ve always been an outgoing gregarious guy anyway.  But I feel it’s a particular paradigm from the beginning of when I started my career – and it’s funny because I was just talking to somebody about this today but again I don’t fault anybody because we’re all different – some artists are very close and they are just more introverted types of people or something and that’s them and that’s cool and rock and roll.  I feel like some people their philosophy on the business is the less you give the more they want so they hold back.  You don’t know anything about Johnny Depp so you want to more about Johnny Depp.  I don’t even know if that’s who Johnny Depp is but he’s a mysterious kind of guy.

But it really started with the first show I did, Less than Perfect.  Somebody I was talking to said “You shouldn’t really open up too much to fans because the more you give the less they’ll want” or something.  I was new and I thought about it for a second and thought, “Whatever.”  But for me, if I can just maintain ,for multiple reasons,  as a regular person, that’s the most I can do.  Who knows?  In 20 years,  if I continue to be blessed and I continue to work and do good things and my star rises, if you will, and it gets really nutty so that I can’t even walk on the floor at Comic-Con without getting attacked or something, things happen and you have to start making boundaries so you don’t die.  But, until then, I say be you.  Take every opportunity that you can to thank people and be there with them.  Honestly, I feel like any opportunity that you can share a bit of you you can gain a support for your whole career.  Not that you do it for that reason but the reason behind it is because you know how much they care.  You know how much it means to them.

Somebody could be having the worst day of their life but they see you – I can see someone on the floor at Comic-Con and they tried to go talk to so-and-so or they don’t have enough money to go buy the comic they wanted and they are just kind of moping around, and all of a sudden they look up and they say “Hey, you’re Chuck. Can I take a picture?” and I say “Yeah, whatever, I’ll take a picture with you” and for the rest of the weekend they are on Cloud Nine…or maybe not…they could be saying, “Oh, burn it!”

(Laughs)

You don’t know.  But I feel like until you have to build walls I think it’s the wrong way to go.  And, again, you have to be careful.  People do want a lot from you and some people don’t know where that’s it’s OK to stop.  And fortunately I have friends and family around me that will be there for me and give me a little tap on the shoulder like, “Hey, we got to go because we’ll be here forever.”

I don’t know.  It’s just my philosophy.  You take things as they come.  I mean, I’m in the UK with a Subway around the corner, and Wendy, who started the campaign to save the show, is there. “What are you going to do for the finale tomorrow?” she asked. I responded, “Guess I’ll go to Subway and ask if anyone wants to go.”  But if that didn’t happen…maybe there was no Subway around the corner…maybe Wendy wasn’t there.  Then it probably wouldn’t have happened.  I don’t know.  But I just think you have to be open to what can be done or what should be done.  In that particular moment, you take it moment by moment sometimes and just try to be as honest and as real and hopefully as loving as you can.

No matter what, even if the show didn’t get picked up, I feel like it was still the right thing to do.

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