Here's a look at what I watched on my medically forced writing vacation.
"Sons of Anarchy - Season 2"
"Sons" is a rough, gritty, real look at life in a small town California biker gang. Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is the vice president of the club which was founded by his now dead father and his current step father, Clay (Ron Pearlman). The gang deals with rival gangs, the feds, and, of particular interest in season 2, a group of white supremacists who have eyes on cutting in on their business. FX and show creator Kurt Sutter teamed up for seven seasons of "The Shield" (one of my all time favorites) and after "Sons" first two runs, I'm seriously hoping for a similar lengthy run. This is NOT FOR EVERYONE by any means. Sutter pushes the envelope for what can and cannot be done on TV. But the story lines are outstanding, the characters are impeccable, and the realistic style is refreshing compared to network TV.
"Big Bang Theory - Seasons 1 and 2"
Shelden (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) are (surprise!) nerdy physicists whose new neighbor is the stereotypical actress/waitress Penny (Kaley Cuoco). Leonard falls hard for Penny and soon she is part of their nerdy group of friends that includes shady engineer Howard (Simon Helberg) and fellow physicist Raj (Kunal Nayyar), who can't say a word to women. As cliche as that may sound, "Bang" is actually quite unique and honestly funny. The "will-they-won't-they" dilemma between Leonard and Penny is predictable but the real strength of the show is in the relationships of the four nerds. Parsons just won an Emmy for his portrayal of Shelden. At first Shelden makes you want to take a hammer to your TV but after a while his obnoxiousness becomes endearing and you come to understand his charm. Season 1 is more formulaic than I usually like but the show hits its stride in Season 2 and leaves me looking forward to Season 3 (which debuts on DVD next week) and the upcoming Season 4. My only real complaint is the laugh track. I'm not sure when the executives at CBS are going to wake up and realize the other networks have almost completely done away with laugh tracks but let's hope it's soon.
Season 1 Grade: B+
Season 2 Grade: A-
Jack Carter (Sylvester Stallone) is an enforcer for a Las Vegas mobster who returns to his Washington hometown for the funeral of his brother. When he starts to suspect that his brother's death was no accident, he goes on a rampage and uncovers a dirty little secret. I've heard the original "Get Carter" starring Michael Caine is a good time but unfortunately this is the version that popped up on Netflix Instant View recently. This is the type of movie I watch when I'm writing or working late. It doesn't require a lot attention or follow-along capability, which is key for my work schedule. It doesn't take a lot to entertain me in these situations. But man is this bad. It's not even like there's a lot of ridiculousness or overly bad acting, it's just worthless. Even working and only half paying attention I knew what the final twist would be 20 minutes into the movie and nothing done throughout really did much to distract from the enevitable conclusion. Boringly simple and stupid.
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a mild mannered bassist for an above average alt rock band who falls for a girl named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Before he can date Ramona, however, he must first battle and defeat her seven evil exes. He goes into these battles hesitantly but finds ways to win each battle, building his way up to a final fight with Gideon (Jason Schwartzman), who serves as the "boss" of the movie. "Scott Pilgrim" plays out like a video game, complete with Nintendo-like graphics and special effects. Director Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead") delivers a very smart, EXTREMELY original movie that is absolutely destined to achieve cult status. A poor marketing campaign and a confusing trailer caused this movie to tank at the box office but it's too much fun and too witty to not find an in-home audience. It does drag a bit by the end and I think a shorter run time would have been of benefit but overall this is a strong comedy that deserved better than the response it received.
Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Ying Yang (Jet Li), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) are the foundation of a group of mercenaries who take on a suicidal mission in Central America. I am not making up those names nor do I know the name of the country these hired guns travel to because honestly, I didn't pay that much attention. This is not the type of movie you watch for the details. This is throwback 80s, testosterone fueled, all-violence-all-the-time cheesiness at its best. From minute one to minute 103, every action star of the past three decades (with the notable exceptions of Steven Segal and Wesley Snipes) attempt to one up each other with one ridiculous stunt after another. Never in my life have I enjoyed such a truly awful movie like I did "Expendables." The audience was so perfectly primed for this cheese fest that it felt like I was watching a classic nerd movie at some kind of convention, and "Expendables" continually plays to this crowd. It would be IMPOSSIBLE and irresponsible for me to call this a "good" movie. But if the only indicator of quality if entertainment then...well...color me both entertained and more than a little embarrassed.