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Review: True Blood

TV-MA (strong sexual content, language and violence), HBO. Seasons 1 & 2 available on DVD. Season 3 currently airing.

Created and produced by Alan Ball. Cast: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Kevin Alejandro, Marshall Allman, Chris Bour, etc.

True Blood is an american television series created and produced by Alan Ball, (creator of Six Feet Under). The show is based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, and details the co-existence of vampires and humans in Bon Temps, a fictional small Louisiana town. The show centers on Sookie Stackhouse, (played perfectly by Anna Paquin) a telepathic waitress at a bar, who falls in love with vampire Bill Compton, (Stephen Moyer).

Following the vampire craze of Twilight, this is a seriously sexed up and adult themed drama series that is really a guilty pleasure to watch. True Blood is into it’s 3rd season now and has been airing on HBO since September 7 2008, however I only recently got into the show because of all of the accolades it kept receiving, (including winning a Golden Globe and Emmy last year).

The show has such a broad ensemble cast of regular central characters and a rotation of supporting characters, that it gets hard to keep up with them all.

The other most notable characters in True Blood are: Eric Northman, (Alexander Skarsgard) a charismatic vampire who is also the Sheriff of “area 5” and is fascinated with Sookie’s strange abilities. Sam Merlotte, (Sam Trammell) owner of “Merlottes” bar and admirer of Sookie, who also has a secret of his own. Jason, (Ryan Kwanten) Sookie’s horny brother who gets addicted to V juice (vampire blood which acts like a narcotic to humans), Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley), the obnoxious best friend of Sookie and Lafayette Reynolds (Nelson Ellis), a flamboyant gay cook and cousin of Tara, (who also sells V juice on the side).

As I said above, there are all kinds of story lines aside from the central love story between Sookie and Bill, including a mystery surrounding a series of murders that start happening in Bon Temps, a look into vampire culture and even sorcery.

The show offers plenty of raunchy sex scenes for those who like that kind of thing–and since most of the woman are beautiful, i’m not complaining much.

I think I already summed up this show with two words: Guilty Pleasure. 3/5 stars

Review: Glee

TV-PG. Fox. Season 1, 22 episodes. Season 2 release date: September 21 2010.

Created by and written by Ryan Murphey. Cast: Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Jessalyn Gilsig, Jane Lynch, Jamya Mays, Kevin Mchale, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Matthew Morrison, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Jenna Ushkowitz.

Glee is a musical comedy-drama that focuses on a high school show choir , (a modern day glee club) called “New Directions”, at the fictional Mckinley High School in Lima, Ohio.  The show just completed it’s first season, with season 2 starting off again on September 21st 2010.

Now this is one of those shows that honestly I would never have had much interest in watching. I like music, but a bunch of guys singing and prancing about is not necessarily how I entertain myself. That said, I kept reading rave reviews about this show and then saw it piling up on award nominations and finally going on to win the Golden Globe for Best New Television Series.

So this got me really curious, but I still held out. In the meantime, Glee’s popularity continued to escalate with its ratings  and viewership almost doubling.

Finally, I just had to see what all the hype was and honestly I am glad I did. I will not say that this show is the greatest thing on TV by any stretch of the imagination, but what I will say is it is pure feel good entertainment.

The story centers around Will Shuester (Matthew Morrison), a spanish teacher who takes over as the glee club coach with hopes to restore it back to it’s former glory. There are 12 main characters in the show, all of which have their own story lines. The stand outs are Rachel Berry (Lea Michele),  the snooty but talented star of the glee club, Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), the star quarterback who risks alienation from his school mates to join the glee club and Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), who plays a gay male soprano with flare.  All the other characters do a fine job, but these are the ones who I felt the most invested in and who really got underneath their characters skin.

And then of course there is Sue Sylvester, (played by the hilarious Jane Lynch), who won a well deserved Golden Globe for her supporting role as the coach of the “Cheerio’s” cheerleading squad and arch-nemesis to the glee club. She plays her role with so much relish, it’s just fun to watch.

While the show has it’s comical moments, I will admit that this is a truly heart warming show, where you find yourself really rooting for the underdogs to succeed. The show is also good at surprising you; one moment there is a corny and predictable scene and you think you know where it is heading, but then it goes a completely different direction.

The other thing that makes this show a real hit is of course its musical numbers. It is no surprise that the creators spent months of research looking for the best performers at broadway to cast this show.  There is some incredible talent from all involved but again the stand outs for me were Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele.

So many covers are done such as Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What you Want”, Queens “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Van Halens “Jump” and even a whole episode dedicated to Madonna and Lady Gaga. The numbers are performed with flare and are very entertaining to watch.

Yes sometimes the acting is cheesy, but there are times when it is also very good and even intense. Besides, the show succeeds in the best way possible: it warms your heart and makes you want to sing and dance. Anyone who has a problem with that, is just a party pooper. 4/5 stars.

Movie Review: The Switch

PG-13, Mirimax Films, 101 Minutes.

Directed by Josh Gordon, Will Speck. Cast: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Patrick Wilson.

The Switch is not what it seems. The trailer makes it look like another romantic comedy. But truthfully this film is not that funny at all.  It’s more of an adult dramedy and overall is slow and has several plot faults. That said, there is still something here that makes it watchable.

The premise is a simple one: Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) are platonic best friends. Worried about her age she announces that she is going to have a baby through a sperm donor. Wally objects as he has always secretly been in love with her, but he doesn’t have the courage to say it.  Patrick Wilson plays the sperm donor, who is a married man at the time of the donation.  At a party celebrating this occasion, Wally gets hammered and in a drunken haze, he switches his own sperm with the original. Kassie then gets a job out of state and moves away and neither of them really stay in touch much.

Cue 7 years later. Kassie moves back to New York with her 6 year old son Sebastian (played by the adorable Thomas Robinson) in tow, who just so happens to exhibit the same mannerisms as Wallie, because he is in fact his son. The sperm donor comes back into Kassie’s life too, who happens to no longer be married.

What happens next is quite predictable, but even so I found myself willing to continue watching and was even pleasantly moved by a few scenes.

This is ultimately Jason Bateman’s film, who offers a subtle and touching performance. The moments where he bonds with his son and how he handles his own insecurities are very real and something you can actually relate to. I have nothing against Jennifer Anistion (who I loved in Friends) , its just she keeps being typecast  in the same role, and i’ve grown tired of it.

The film is given an extra boost by supporting roles from Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis (both brilliant and underrated actors in my opinion), as Wally’s and Kassie’s respective best friends, who have some of the films best lines.

If you want laughs then I don’t recommend The Switch, but if you DO want to see Jason Bateman in top form and watch a sweet and touching movie made for adults, then this is worth the trip to the cinema. 2/5 stars.

MY TOP MAFIA MOVIES

This list was pretty easy for me to put together, but feel free to kick me if I left out some major classic. This is top pick for Mobster and Mafia films:

1. The Godfather.

2. Goodfellas.

3. Scarface.

4. Road to Perdition.

5. Heat.

6. Boyz N Hood.

7. Lock, Stock & two smoking barrells.

8. Snatch.

9. Reservoir Dogs.

10. Pulp Fiction.

11. Chinatown.

12. The Usual Suspects.

13. Carlito’s Way.

14. The Departed.

15. Donnie Brasco.

16. Once Upon a Time in America.

You will see that Al Pacino rules supreme in this genre, starring in 5 of these films. Robert De Niro comes in 2nd starring in 3.

R (for strong violence and language), Lionsgate, 103 minutes.

Written and Directed by Sylvester Stallone. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eric Roberts, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Steve Austin.

What does the Expendables have going for it? Well first off, look at that cast. It’s any action movie lovers personal wet dream. Truth is several of those actors only show up in cameo roles, but who cares? They’re all together and its the first time we’ve seen something like this on the big screen of such magnitude.

The Expendables offers exactly what you expect. It is a testosterone soaked, high octane action-war film with non-stop explosions, blood and guts, macho speeches and fight sequences. Maybe it’s the giddy teenager in me, but I had a blast watching it.  Its a great tribute to all the blockbuster action films of the 1980s and 1990s that a lot of us grew up watching.

Honestly, the plot does not even matter in a film like this. But in a nutshell, it is about a group of elite mercenaries tasked with a mission to overthrow a Latin American dictator.  Barney Ross (Stallone) is the group leader. Lee Christmas (Statham) is the knives expert, Yin Yang (Li) is the martial arts expert, (although Jet li’s skills were a bit unused in this film, I thought), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren) is the Sniper, (and a delight to see on the big screen again), Hale Ceaser (Terry Crews) is the weapons specialist and Toll Road (Randy Couture), is their demolitions guy.

There’s a delicious cameo from the Governator himself and Bruce Willis, together with Sylvester Stallone. It’s all dialogue but it was actually reminiscent of that scene from “Heat” when De Niro and Pacino chat in the diner. Amongst all the action and intensity it was hands down the best scene in “Heat” and I felt the same way here.

Mickey Rourke is also a lot of fun playing Tool, a former member of The Expendables. He’s about the only one who brings any real acting chops to his character, which is why I guess he got that oscar nomination.

Eric Roberts also shows up as a corrupted ex-CIA agent called James Monroe who is involved with the corrupt dictator that they are bringing down. Many people forget that he had also starred in some hit action films from the early 1990s, (Best of the Best, anyone?)

The action sequences are well executed and there are some REALLY big guns involved too. The film throws in numerous fight sequences, numerous car chases and countless explosions. Again it all comes down to the one word that people want to see this film for in the first place: ACTION.

The Expendables delivers just that and in abundance. 3/5 stars

PG-13, Columbia Pictures, 107 Minutes.

Directed by Adam Mckay, Narrated by Ice T, Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L Jackson, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan.

The Other Guys is a ridiculous and over the top buddy-cop crime comedy that succeeds for that very reason. I won’t say it is particularly memorable, but it is definitely an entertaining night out at the movies.

The film starts off with Detective Danson (Dwayne Johnson) and Detective Highsmith (Samuel L Jackson) who are two hero cops that are highly respected and admired by all. In the opening sequence they are chasing a drug cartel and manage to leave a path of destruction behind them, before the criminals are caught.  They do things “their way”, but they get the job done.

Then there are the other guys. Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) is a forensics accountant who prefers to stay behind his desk instead of getting any action on the street. His reluctant partner is Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), a detective who has been stuck with a desk job ever since he accidentally shot Derek Jeter during the 2003 World Series. Hoitz also has a tendency to shout out “i’m a peacock, you’ve got to let me fly” every now and then.

Gamble and Hoitz start to investigate a shady businessman by the name of Dave Ershon (Steve Coogan) and the deeper they get into the case,  the more they find themselves being kidnapped and shot at.

Gamble is married to his beautiful wife Sheila (Eva Mendes) who he only considers to be “plain” to the amazement of his partner. Mark Wahlberg overplays his character too much to the point where I got bored of it. I don’t find him that funny as a comic actor, but when he finally gets some action in this film is when he seems the most formidable as an actor.

Will Ferrell however, is definitely at his comedic best in this movie. Most of the films biggest laughs involve him. There is a good cop-bad cop scenario which is completely over the top but hysterical.  A backstory about his pimping days in college is also hilarious.  There is also random dialogue between Gamble and Hoitz throughout the film, most of which is completely non-sequiter which makes it even more comical.

Michael Keaton is also a lot of fun, playing their Captain Gene Mauch, who also has another job as the store manager at Bed Bath and Beyond. There’s a running joke with their Captain throughout the movie that involves the music group TLC, which I thought was very funny.

The Other Guys isn’t a movie that warrants repeat viewing, but it’s definitely a movie that will grab some laughs and is worth the watch. It’s also Will Ferrell back in shape at his comedic best.  2 /5 stars

PG-13, Universal Pictures, 112 mins.

Directed by Edgar Wright. Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman.

Scott Pilgrim VS the world is an over the top, super cheese puff ball of a movie that plays like a computer game throughout the entire film. In fact only computer geeks will truly appreciate all the game references and I guess that makes me one of them.

I’m actually saying this as a compliment. The movie is dazzling and original and there is even some wit beneath all the corn.

Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim a 22 year old geek that plays bass with his band “Sex Bob-Omb” and still manages to be a kind of babe magnet. While I actually like Michael Cera, I do feel his characters are becoming stereotyped. That said, he does a good enough job that you are still rooting for him.

The movie takes off when Scott meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is literally the women of his dreams. In order to win Ramona over, Scott discovers that he must battle and defeat her seven evil exes who are out to kill him.  As ridiculous as they are, the fight sequences done to a computer game theme are actually very entertaining. References to Super Mario Bro’s, Pac-Man, Street Fighter etc are just plain fun.  Chris Evans gives an amusing appearance as Lucas Lee the 2nd evil ex as does Brandon Routh (yes that is Superman), as Todd Ingram the 3rd evil ex.  Jason Schwartzman plays Gideon the 7th evil ex and mastermind of the battle of the exes.

Other notable appearances are from Anna Kendrick who plays Scotts younger sister Stacey Pilgrim and Kieran Culkin in a stand out role as Scotts gay room-mate Wallace. It’s nice seeing the Culkin family represent! Where are those guys?!

Scott Pilgrim VS the world moves at the speed of texting so it keeps you entertained throughout. I had honestly not planned on seeing it as the preview looked too corny, but don’t let that dissuade you. This is a film that does not take itself seriously at all and that is its winning formula. Great fun. 4/5 stars

Movie Review: Despicable Me

G. Universal Studios, 95 minutes.

Director: Pierre Coffin, Cast: Steve Carrell, Jason Segal, Russel Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett, Kristin Wig.

Despicable Me is a highly enjoyable computer animated 3-D comedy that not only provides plenty of laughs but also tugs at your emotions in a way that pleasantly surprised me.

Steve Carrell plays Gru, a man who has proudly held the title of being the worlds #1 Super villian. He is a grouchy and nasty fellow who lives in a big  black house with an underground domain where he keeps all his stolen artifacts and is assisted by an old Scientist called Dr Nefario and his adorable yellow pill shaped minions.

The film opens with a sequence showing that the Pyramids have been stolen and replaced by fake inflatable ones. Gru’s mother (Julie Andrews) calls him to congratulate him for stealing the Pyramids but it turns out that he did not do it. The culprit is in fact Vector, (Jason Segal) a young and upcoming criminal who is attempting to take over the spot of worlds #1 Super Villian.

In retaliation, Gru devises the biggest heist in the world: to steal the Moon. In order to carry this out Gru needs a lot of money so he goes to the bank of Villians to get a loan. There he speaks to the Manager Mr Perkins (Will Arnett) who won’t give him the loan until he acquires the Shrink Ray that he needs in order to accomplish the feat.  Gru then sets off with his minions to get the Shrink Ray but it is stolen from him by Vector in the attempt.

In comes Edith, Agnes and Mongo, three orphan girls who go door to door selling cookies. Gru plans to adopt the girls and use them as pawns for his grand scheme to get the Shrink Ray back and then steal the moon. However, Gru soon finds that their innocent love for him and great desire to have a parent has a profound effect on him.  The movie really does a terrific job of showing the bond that grows between Gru and the three girls and I am not embarrassed at all to say that I found it very touching.

The movie is just flat out fun for the whole family.  It has great voice over performances from all concerned and is also supported by a wicked original music soundtrack. Look out for “Despicable Me 2” which should be hitting theaters in the next year or two.  4/5 stars.

PG-13, Columbia Pictures, 100 minutes

Director: Philip Noyce, Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetol Ejiofor

I find it interesting that “Salt” was originally slotted for Tom Cruise to play the leading role in but when he opted out, the script was rewritten for Angelina Jolie. Nothing wrong with Jolie who does a fine job here, but it would have been a great flick for Cruise to have played and more enjoyable than Knight and Day for me, anyway.

Salt escapes the boundaries of being just another cheesy popcorn flick by good performances from the main characters as well as exciting action sequences that used little CGI (unlike Knight and Day).

Angelina Jolie is Evelyn Salt, a CIA Agent who at the beginning of the movie interrogates a Russian Defector named Orlov. He tells her of a plan called “Day X” where the Russians will launch a major attack against the US starting with the assassination of the Russian President who is in town to attend the funeral of the US Vice President. (The idea here is that the Russians will then retaliate on America or something). While the interrogation is underway an FBI Agent called Peabody (Chiwetol Ejiofor) and Salt’s boss and mentor Winter (a solid Liev Schreiber) are listening in. Orlov then tells Salt that the name of the Russian Sleeper Agent who will kill the President is called Evelyn Salt. She tells him that this is her name and he confirms that this means that she is a Russian Agent.

In fear of being wrongly accused, Salt then makes a dramatic escape and goes on the run to try and clear her name. Winter and Peabody are in hot pursuit of Salt , chasing her all across Washington DC. There are several thrilling chase sequences which keep you entertained as well as some plot twists, which although being quite predictable, were still entertaining.

There’s also plenty of close up shots of those sumptuous lips of Angelina Jolie’s which I have to admit, I could not keep my eyes off. That aside, Jolie definitely does prove again here that she is more than just a lavish sex machine. The lady can act and she plays her role well with both a touch of super cool and urgent desperation.

This is an effective Action/Thriller that was worth the visit to the Cinema and better than I had expected.  3/5 stars

MY TOP HORROR FILMS

As a disclaimer: I’m not into the average blood and gore horror flick, so this list won’t satisfy the hardcore horror junkie. However, there are movies that definitely fit under the category of “horror” as they are some of the most chilling and disturbing films out there.

Here is my top pick:

1. 28 Days Later (2002)

2. Se7en (1995)

3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

4. Let The Right One In (2009)

5. Event Horizon (1997)

6. The Fly (1986)

7. Scream (1996)

8. Misery (1990)

9. The Hitcher (1986)

10. Sixth Sense (1999)

11, An American Werewolf in London (1981)

12. Alien (1979)

13. the Shining (1980)

14. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

15. The Exorcist (1973)

16. Psycho (1960)

17. The Wickerman (1973)

18. Arachnophobia (1990)

19. The Frighteners (1996)

20. The Blair Witch Project (1999)