TV Review: Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014)

Also known as: Forever Sam Crow (working title)
Original Run: September 3rd, 2008-December 9th, 2014
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Bob Thiele, Dave Kushner, Curtis Stigers
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Johnny Lewis, Maggie Siff, Ron Perlman, Ryan Hurst, William Lucking, Theo Rossi, Dayton Callie, Jimmy Smits, Drea De Matteo, David Labrava, Niko Nicotera, Glenn Plummer, Taryn Manning, Ally Walker, Mitch Pileggi, Kenneth Choi, Kurt Sutter, Titus Welliver, Walton Goggins, Henry Rollins, Hal Holbrook, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Marilyn Manson, Kim Dickens, Chuck Zito, Ray McKinnon

Linson The Company, Sutter Ink, Fox 21, FX, 92 Episodes, 41-81 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This is one of those reviews that will probably turn a lot of my friends against me. I care not. I must tell it like it is from my point-of-view.

Sons of Anarchy is a show that I have developed a like/hate relationship with. I don’t say “love” because I’m not that enthralled with the positive aspects of it. It does however, have some positives amidst a sea of negatives. And I guess that makes me go against the popular opinion, as nearly everyone that I have talked to, has loved this show.

But I guess this isn’t a show for me. Where I expected something more like The Sopranos on motorcycles, this was more like a mindless action flick full of an overabundance of violence, bad CGI, bad acting, bad writing, bad music and really stupid and unlikable characters. Sons of Anarchy is geared more towards the male millennial crowd than it is for people who want good and groundbreaking television or at the very least, some sort of coherent plot.

This show is a mess. It is a moderately enjoyable mess at times but it is a show that constantly tries too hard and falls short. Yes, there are shocking and intense moments but they lose their meaning and significance almost immediately. For one, it is hard to care about any of these horrible characters. Also, with the show trying to constantly outdo itself and escalating further and further from episode to episode, things eventually get so over the top that it becomes unintentionally ludicrous.

The premise of the show also changes as it goes on and it loses sight of itself just a few seasons in. Maybe this is intentional but it really just feels like the weight of this ratings beast forced the showrunners to make quick, big decisions, which may have increased ratings further but sacrificed whatever integrity and soul the show may have had early on.

For instance, the show’s main drive in the beginning is the main character Jax’s obsession with his dead father’s writings. The writings talked about what the motorcycle club was supposed to be, how it got away from itself and how butt hurt Jax’s dad was about it. Jax then makes it his mission to right the wrongs and make the motorcycle club respectable. Maybe he would’ve been more inspired and followed through had he actually read more than two paragraphs of his father’s writings at a time. Maybe Jax has a bad attention span. Maybe that is why he couldn’t follow through because he got distracted by doing really stupid shit every episode.

In any event, the show evolves away from the club’s redemption through Jax’s leadership and instead shows the club fall on hard times and then even harder times. It just gets worse and worse, Jax stops reading his dad’s journals and pretty much turns into the asshole his stepfather Clay is. He actually turns out worse than Clay by the end of it all.

I could write a book about how much of an idiot Jax is but I’m not going to waste my time. I could also write a book about how much of an idiot his mother Gemma is.

All the characters really suck and all of them, for the most part, are stupid morons. They are the dumbest criminals I’ve ever seen. Darkwing Duck had smarter bad guys than the members of the Sons of Anarchy.

As far as likable characters, there are really only five. There is Wayne, who is on a tragic journey that ultimately ends up sucking really bad for him. Also, he had terminal cancer “eating away” at him in season one but somehow survived seven seasons. There is Jax’s ex-heroin addict wife who goes on to redeem herself and she’s about the only character you are happy for in the end. Then we have Nero, the pimp and tragic lover of Gemma. I really liked Nero but Jimmy Smits is awesome in every role. There’s Piney, who saw the bullshit for what it was and tried to hold everyone accountable. Since he was the voice of reason in a sea of shitty people, he was killed off. This brings me to my favorite character: Juice.

Juice is most likely the most tragic character in television history. Juice was a positive on this show even though his end was horrible. You couldn’t not like Juice and feel for him every step of the way. He truly cared about the club and doing the right thing but continually got fucked (literally) and lost his life and stature because the people he invested his love and loyalty in were pieces of garbage. Juice’s journey is one of the redeeming factors of this show. I don’t like how it ended but this show is one big tragedy.

In regards to the show’s music, it is terrible. The main theme is awful but somehow was nominated for an Emmy by some tone deaf Hollywood types. The songs throughout the show are even worse. More often than not, we are treated to some poor slowed down roots rock cover song of a known pop hit. It always feels bizarre, out of place and makes the show come off as generic and cheesy. At least once per season, we get some crappy song sung by Katey Sagal, who probably shouldn’t sing but is most likely encouraged by her husband, who is the show’s creator. That’s probably also why she was cast as Gemma. Lastly, the music selections are almost racist. When the biker gang fights another biker gang there is rock music. When they fight Mexicans: Spanish language gangsta rap. When they fight blacks: generic crappy English language gangsta rap. Asians: make sure to add in some Asian stringed instruments and gongs in over the soundtrack. Irish: Celtic shit. Persians: grab the sitar – hey wait, that’s Hindi you racist bastards! It’s sad and predictable and becomes a distraction.

This show was not The Sopranos on motorcycles, it was a Shakespearean tragedy on motorcycles. Which is perfectly fine. The problem is that the execution was shit and it tried to convince the viewer that it was clever while beating you over the head with its Shakespeareanism. After the tragic, pointless and retarded ending of the show, it even gives the viewer a Shakespeare quote before rolling its final credits. I’m sure dumb ass college students for years to come will write papers about how fantastic this modern Shakespearean saga is after just skimming over the Cliff Notes of Shakespeare’s work to make them feel the connection.

I don’t hate this show, even though it probably comes across like that. I had a hard time getting through segments of it but I enjoyed it enough to finish it. Granted, the ending was one of the worst in television history but really crappy endings to long-running shows is the trend lately. And maybe that ending just enhanced whatever bitterness I’m feeling.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The SopranosBreaking BadFear the Walking Dead and Justified but these are all better shows. Well, maybe not Justified, I’ll post my review for that soon.

TV Review: The Last Man On Earth (2015-2018)

Release Date: March 1st, 2015 – May 6th, 2018 (original run)
Directed by: various
Written by: Will Forte, various
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Schaal, January Jones, Mel Rodriguez, Cleopatra Coleman, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Sudeikis, Boris Kodjoe, Mark Boone Junior, Kenneth Choi, Kristen Wiig, Keith L. Williams, Chris Elliot, Fred Armisen, Will Ferrell (cameo), Alexandra Daddario (cameo), Jon Hamm (cameo), Laura Dern (cameo), Jack Black (cameo), Martin Short (cameo)

The Si Fi Company, Lord Miller Productions, 20th Television, Fox, 67 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Oh, farts.” – Phil Tandy Miller

*Written in 2015.

Now that the first season is over, I can give a proper review to Fox’s The Last Man On Earth.

In short, I really like this show.

Will Forte is great as the lead character Phil Miller. Kristen Schaal is fantastic as the fairly neurotic yet very lovable Carol Pilbasian. Add in January Jones, Mel Rodriguez and as the show progresses further, Mary Steenburgen, Cleopatra Coleman and Boris Kodjoe, and you’ve got a pretty diverse and enjoyable cast.

The show starts with Phil traveling the country in search of other human beings. He paints “Alive In Tucson” on billboards throughout the United States and as the show progresses, characters start to show up every few episodes.

Due to the title, I was wondering how Fox would make an ongoing show out of a single character but I’m glad it has expanded. While it isn’t a post-apocalyptic world per se, it has similar themes as The Walking Dead. Sure, there aren’t zombies and the feeling of danger around every corner but it shows human beings trying to govern themselves and reestablish their place in the world.

Forte’s Phil Miller is mostly unlikable but there is a quality to him that has you siding with him and pulling for him, even though his dastardly deeds cause him to continually lose favor with other members of his tiny community despite the fact that he is the reason everyone has come to Tucson. Miller’s faults are easy to understand and relate to and even though he gives into them, he ultimately just wants to find his place and has a need to feel useful and loved – understandable for someone who was alone in the world without human contact for so long.

The show is entertaining, the cast is amazing and without spoiling anything, it looks like the show isn’t afraid to reinvent itself along the way. Based off of some things that happened in the finale, it will be interesting to see how things pan out in season two.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Well, it’s pretty unique. If you have any ideas, post them in the comments.

Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Release Date: July 19th, 2011 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Kenneth Choi, Toby Jones, Natalie Dormer, Richard Armitage, Jenna Coleman, Samuel L. Jackson

Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” – Abraham Erskine

It was nice going back and revisiting this chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To be honest, I really hadn’t seen this since about 2012 or so. They pump out Marvel movies so fast that sometimes you get caught up in all the new stuff that the older films get neglected. At the time that this came out, it wasn’t my favorite of the Phase One set of films. I think that’s changed, however.

Captain America: The First Avenger is, first and foremost, an origin story. The first half really has to deal with how Captain America comes to be. The second half has to deal with Cap saving the world from the evil Hydra commander and Nazi officer, Red Skull.

This also introduces us to the Tesseract, which would evolve into the first Infinity Stone to be seen in a Marvel movie. This MacGuffin would be center stage in this film, as well as in the first Avengers movie where its ownership would shift to Loki. This mystical item would carry a lot of narrative weight, as it still exists in the current crop of films and still hasn’t had its power fully unleashed. I’m assuming we’ll see all the Infinity Stones in all their glory when Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters in late April.

But back to this movie.

It is a solid World War II action film that just happens to have a superhero and some crazy sci-fi elements thrown in. Shift some things around and this almost feels like a live-action version of a Wolfenstein game.

The relationship between Captain America and Peggy Carter has helped to define both characters after this film. Both had to move on without the other and under very different circumstances. It was nice coming back to this movie and seeing how it all started. Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell and incredible chemistry and the weight of the scene where Cap crashes Red Skull’s ship is so much heavier now knowing the pain that both of these characters felt after losing one another.

I also liked going back and seeing the relationship between Steve and Bucky before they went to war. This is something else that didn’t have quite the weight that it has now, knowing where their journeys would go in future films.

One complaint however, is that I feel like the villains Red Skull and Zola were wasted. Red Skull could have offered so much more to the franchise and really, he should have come back by this point or another person should have taken over the mantle. Zola, who was a formidable Captain America villain would only return as a computer program.

I actually forgot that Tommy Lee Jones was even in this. It was cool seeing him though. It was also a delight to see the Howling Commandos in all their glory and to be honest, they deserve their own movie or at least a short season television show like Peggy Carter had.

This is the one Marvel film that is a true period piece. The different world this exists in was refreshing and did a lot to enrich the mythos and to expand the universe beyond the films before it.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a solid piece of tent pole, blockbuster filmmaking. It’s a popcorn flick that’s more fun than most and it just feels truer to the title character than even Iron Man did.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Captain America: The Winter SoldierCaptain America: Civil War and The Avengers.

Film Review: Bright (2017)

Release Date: December 13th, 2017 (Regency Village Theater)
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: Max Landis
Music by: David Sardy
Cast: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Edgar Ramirez, Ike Barinholtz, Margaret Cho, Brad William Henke, Kenneth Choi

Overbrook Entertainment, Trigger Warning Entertainment, Grand Electric, Netflix, 118 Minutes

Review:

“This is like a nuclear weapon that grants wishes.” – Nick Jakoby

Any film where Will Smith is the chosen one, is probably guaranteed to suck. But then Netflix original movies are the modern version of direct-to-video schlock. At least, that seems to be the trend over the last year or so.

Also, I’m going to have to be brutally honest with this review because David Ayer is a shit filmmaker. Between this and Suicide Squad, I’d prefer it if the guy just stayed away from a camera unless he’s taking selfies for his profile on Tinder. Then again, I really don’t give a crap about his Tinder or his movies, at this point.

There is one sole bright spot in this entire film and that is the performance of Joel Edgerton. Sadly, he had to play opposite of Smith, who can be a good actor at times but whose hokiness and cheesy delivery can be confusing in a role that requires more grittiness and a hefty helping of testosterone. Smith plays his role like this is Bad Boys III and even when he gets a bit of a harder edge, he’s always got that awful one liner that drags the movie down a few notches.

I don’t blame Smith per se, I blame Ayer for not knowing better. It was his job to dictate the tone of the film and thus, Smith’s execution of the character. Maybe Max Landis’ script was just hard to work with. While it showed promise and had some interesting ideas, the dialogue was mostly terrible, the metaphors for race relations were one dimensional and overall, it was incredibly derivative for something that really should have felt fresh and original. In fact, it mostly just played out like Training Day and End of Watch, two of Ayer’s better films. But really, I think Ayer can only make one kind of film and this is it. It just happens to have orcs and elves thrown in.

Bright is poorly executed in just about every way. It should have been cool and unique but it wasn’t. I guess Netflix already wants to pump out sequels, showing that they don’t really give a shit about the quality of their product anymore. They just need to make as much product as possible to justify rising subscription costs and a mass loss of content that they didn’t create. I’m pretty close to cancelling my subscription, actually.

Bright really is friggin’ terrible. That being said, it has to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Release Date: June 28th, 2017 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Martin Starr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Evans, Paul Rudd, Jennifer Connelly, Hannibal Buress, Kenneth Choi, Selenis Leyva

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“You need to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.” – Aunt May

For lack of a better word, Spider-Man: Homecoming was amazing.

While it isn’t a perfect film, it is the best that any of the Avengers related properties have produced in awhile, minus the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Finally, we get a Spider-Man that looks and feels the appropriate age. Tom Holland was magnificent and a perfect choice to play Peter Parker and thus, Spider-Man. Tom Holland brought something special to the role and he was the first actor to truly feel like the Spider-Man of the comic books.

Bringing Spider-Man into the bigger universe that has already been established by Marvel was long overdue and thankfully, the famous webslinger fits right in. The chemistry between the young Holland and veteran Robert Downey Jr. was uncanny. I hope we get to see them come together more often in the future, even if Downey Jr. feels like his time as Iron Man is winding down. Ultimately, even if Avengers: Infinity War fails to deliver like its two predecessors, at least these guys will make it fun. Assuming they aren’t an afterthought with all the heroes that are getting squeezed into that picture.

Michael Keaton stole the picture, though. He played the villainous Vulture but only went by his real name: Adrian Toomes. It was cool seeing him play the bad guy and it was a stark contrast to him being the hero in the Tim Burton Batman films from 1989 and 1992. He was chilling and bad ass and was the best on-screen villain for Spidey since Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin back in 2002. Keaton may have surpassed Dafoe overall but Dafoe was just pure intensity and a maniac, which worked really well for his character, fifteen years ago.

We also get other appearances by other Marvel characters. Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, in his first appearance since the solo Iron Man films. Gwyneth Paltrow also makes an appearance as Pepper Potts. We even see Chris Evans in some really funny cameos as Captain America.

The film also gives a few small roles to some of my favorite people from television. Silicon ValleyParty Down and Freaks & Geeks‘ Martin Starr plays a teacher. Other teachers are played by Kenneth Choi from Last Man On Earth, Selenis Leyva from Orange Is The New Black and Hannibal Buress.

The plot of the film benefits from not being an origin story. Spider-Man already exists with his powers and how he got them is just casually mentioned and then the movie moves on. Everyone already knows the story, just like any future Batman films don’t need to show Bruce’s parents being murdered.

The movie is about Peter Parker becoming a hero. Not just a masked vigilante but truly learning and understanding what it takes to be a real Avenger. There is friction and tough love from his mentor Tony Stark and for good reason. This picture is really Spider-Man’s training wheels. It is his first big test to see if he has what it takes to stand alongside Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk and the others.

Everyone in the film did well with their roles. The story was entertaining and there was a good balance between action and the coming of age drama that fans can expect from a Spider-Man story. It doesn’t get bogged down in the romance side of things and Parker isn’t chasing either Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane in this version.

There is a good twist in regards to his romantic relationship in the film but that relationship is just used to add a bit more weight to the bigger story and the emotional and heroic development of our beloved main character.

Spider-Man: Homecoming may fall a bit short for some when compared to the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies but I think it stands above them. It is more genuine and closer to the roots of the comic series, especially the old school stories. Plus, seeing him enter into a larger universe opens a lot of doors for what’s next for the spectacular wall crawler.

Also, comic book fans will probably be happy to see cameos from villains the Shocker, Scorpion and the antihero Prowler.