REVIEW: HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999)

CAST

Geoffrey Rush (Shakespeare In Love)
Famke Janssen (X-Men)
Ali Larter (Heroes)
Taye Diggs (Basic)
Peter Gallagher (American Beauty)
Chris Kattan (Undercovr Brother)
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (Billy Madison)
Max Perlich (Blow)
Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator)
James Marsters (Caprica)

Still from House on Haunted Hill (1999)

The head of a now abandoned asylum, Dr. Richard B. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs), once performed grotesque experiments on the patients, killing many in the process. The hospital was closed in 1931 after the patients escaped from their cells, killing the entire staff (except five who were not present) and setting fire to the hospital. Vannacutt had rigged the building with numerous iron gates, activated by cranks and levers that cannot be reset for twelve hours, to keep patients from escaping. He closed the gates during the fire, dooming the patients and himself to death. Decades later, during reconstruction of the facility, several unexplained deaths result in the building being dubbed “The House on Haunted Hill”.
Still from House on Haunted Hill (1999)
In 1999, Evelyn Stockard-Price (Famke Janssen), a spoiled trophy wife, is in a disintegrating marriage with Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush), an amusement park mogul with a wicked sense of humor. Price leases the house from the owner, Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan), for Evelyn’s birthday party. Evelyn gives Price a lengthy guest list; he shreds it to spite her and then creates one of his own. Five guests arrive for the party – Jennifer Jenzen (Ali Larter), Eddie Baker (Taye Diggs), Melissa Margaret Marr (Bridgette Wilson), Dr. Donald Blackburn (Peter Gallagher), and Pritchett himself. The guests are not the ones Price invited—neither Evelyn nor Price know who they are. Despite this, Price continues the party’s theme, offering $1 million to each guest who stays in the house and survives until morning, with any person not making it having his money added to the pot.

The security gates are tripped, locking everyone inside. After finding some hand guns, Jennifer, Eddie and Pritchett decide to take one of the guns. Meanwhile, Price scolds Carl Schecter (Max Perlich), a company employee – who has developed a series of harmless traps to scare the guests— for not letting him know he planned to pull a stunt like closing the iron gates. When Schecter states that he is not responsible, Price believes Evelyn is responsible. Meanwhile, Pritchett, Eddie and Jennifer go into the lower levels to find a way to open the gates. As Eddie and Jennifer explore the dungeon-like basement, Jennifer confesses to Eddie that her real name is Sara Wolfe, and that she’s an out-of-work assistant to the real Jennifer Jenzen. And that she attended the party in Jennifer’s place because she needed the prize money. However, the two are separated, and Sara is nearly drowned in tank of blood by a ghost impersonating Eddie. Though the real Eddie arrives in time to save her.

Melissa disappears when she wanders off in the basement, leaving behind a massive trail of blood. After Melissa’s disappearance, Price goes to Schecter to accuse him of faking the killing and hiding her; when he turns the seat around Schecter is found brutally murdered. Price sees a doctor walking through the room with a bloody knife on a surveillance monitor and fruitlessly chases after him. Shortly after, Evelyn dies in front of the others, when they find her mysteriously strapped onto a hypercharged electroshock therapy table. Furious, Price pulls a gun on the guests, demanding to know which one of them killed his wife. Sara nearly shoots him, but Eddie knocks him out before either one can kill the other. The remaining guests lock Price in the “Saturation Chamber”, an archaic device that Vannacut used to treat schizophrenics. Blackburn volunteers to stay behind to guard Price, while the others search for another way out. Seemingly clueless as to what the machine is or how it works, Blackburn turns the chamber on with Price still inside, and leaves him trapped. The chamber bombards Price with moving images and ghostly hallucinations until it drives him catatonic.

Meanwhile, Sara and Eddie find Vannacut’s office. Inside, they find a portrait of all the head staff, most of which have their last names, as well Price’s and Evelyn’s maiden name, on a staff picture from the asylum. Pritchett explains that that the spirits themselves created the guest list specifically to include the descendants of the five members of Vannacutt’s staff who did not die in the 1931 incident. The only exception is Blackburn, whose name does not appear amongst the staff.

Blackburn is revealed as Evelyn’s lover and they are working together to kill Price. Evelyn, who was brought back to life by Blackburn, kills him and uses his body to frame her husband. Sara, who heard Melissa moaning in the basement, comes across an incoherent Price in the basement, still delirious from his “treatment” in the saturation chamber. Believing that he is Blackburn’s murderer, shoots him as he begs her to help him. After the others return upstairs, Evelyn approaches Price to gloat, and Price, protected by a bullet-proof vest, attempts to kill Evelyn. The two scuffle before Price throws her through a decaying door. Inside the rotting room, the two realize they just stumbled upon the evil core of the house. The Darkness – a dark, shape-shifting creature composed of the spirits in the house – awakens and begins to take form. Evelyn is captured by the Darkness, which assimilates Evelyn into itself, killing her while Price watches in horror. The Darkness emerges in front of Price, revealing that it is composed of “everyone who died and is responsible”. This force begins to pursue Price. Pritchett is killed by The Darkness, allowing Price to evade it. Price tells Sara and Eddie that “the house is alive” and deduces that the only way to get out is through the attic. The three flee as The Darkness begins to seep through the house, manipulating the walls and shattering the floors as it chases them.

As they flee, Sara trips, and the Darkness uses Melissa’s form to try to lure her to it. Price activates a pulley that reveals an opening in the window of the attic. When the Darkness seeps into the attic, Price sacrifices himself to give the others time to escape, but the Darkness reactivates the iron gate after Sara escapes, trapping Eddie inside. When The Darkness confronts Eddie about his ancestor’s actions, it takes on several forms of all the guests who died during the party. Eddie screams out of desperation that he was actually adopted. As the Darkness prepares to assimilate Eddie, Pritchett’s ghost appears and opens the iron gate. The Darkness is distracted by Pritchett long enough for Eddie to escape out the window to Sara on an outside ledge. Pritchett’s ghost and the Darkness then both fade away. As Sara and Eddie watch the sun rise, they notice an envelope on the ledge. It contains all five $1 million checks, made out to cash. After the credits, a black-and-white film shows the patients torturing Evelyn and Price in the afterlife.

Overall the film starts like any other Hollywood horror but the clever direction, creepy music and imaginative visuals of Dr Vannacutt all create a creepy feel to the film that is better than the gore that also comes. The final section slides back into standard fare with the old CGI evil coming to get us – but up till then it’s surprisingly good stuff.

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REVIEW: BASIC

CAST

John Tarvolta (The Punisher)
Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan)
Connie Nielsen (Gladiator)
Tim Daly (Superman: TAS)
Giovanni Ribisi (Ted)
Brian Van Holt (S.W.A.T.)
Taye Diggs (Chicago)
Dash Mihok (Gotham)

In Panama, a team of Army Ranger trainees and their instructor, Master Sergeant Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson), engage in a training exercise: navigate the jungle in hurricane conditions using live fire to hit targets before rendezvousing at a bunker. Later, a rescue chopper sees Sergeant Ray Dunbar emerge from the jungle, carrying wounded Second Lieutenant Levi Kendall. The two men are pursued by a third soldier, Sergeant Mueller, who is shooting at them. Dunbar kills Mueller in self-defense. Although no other bodies are found, the rest of West’s team are presumed dead.
Dunbar refuses to talk to Captain Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen). Instead he insists on speaking to a fellow Ranger from outside the base and draws an “8” inside a circle on a piece of paper. Spooked on seeing the “8”, base commander Colonel Bill Styles (Timothy Daly), calls in an experienced interrogator and friend, DEA agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) who is also an ex-Ranger. Even though he is now under investigation for suspicion of bribery, Styles assigns him to Osborne. The pair have only 6 hours before the CID transport from Washington arrives to take Dunbar and Kendall away.
Dunbar’s story
Hardy begins by revealing to Dunbar during the initial interrogation that he served under West as a Ranger. He also mentions that he knows West is infamous for being a ruthless, tough-as-nails sergeant.
Dunbar relates that another trainee who went on the Panama training mission with Dunbar, Kendall, Mueller and two others, Nuñez and Castro, was named Pike. Pike had earned West’s wrath, because West thought he was not following orders. Hardy and Osborne suggest that with plenty of reason to hate West, Pike had motive to murder him. Dunbar refuses to say more. Before Hardy and Osborne leave, Hardy asks for cigarettes because he had “forgotten” them in his car.
 
Kendall’s story
Hardy and Osborne then go to see Kendall, son of a Joint Chiefs of Staff general, recovering from gunshot wounds. At the hospital, Hardy runs into Dr. Peter Vilmer (Harry Connick Jr.), an old friend and Osborne’s former love interest. Kendall, after recognizing Hardy as “the DEA agent with friends in low places”, reveals he is a homosexual and claims West hated him because of it, and that West silently threatened his life shortly before the mission began, partnering him with Castro for the mission, and feared West may have ordered Castro to give him a “training accident”.
 
Kendall claims West died when hit in the back with a white phosphorus grenade and that Pike confessed to the crime, thinking his comrades would be “on board” with him in support. However, the team decided to turn Pike in. In the night, Pike tried to gain Kendall’s sympathies, playing on their mutual hatred of West. Pike proposed killing Mueller and Nunez and convincing Dunbar and Castro to back them up. Kendall dismissed Pike’s suggestion, but later spots Pike whispering to Dunbar. Kendall says Dunbar went back to his bag, extracted his pistol and aimed it at the sleeping Mueller. A firefight ensued, and Mueller shot Castro, who fired and hit Nunez, Kendall and Pike. Nunez and Pike die and Kendall is wounded. Dunbar then carried Kendall, exchanging fire with Mueller to the pickup point, as seen at the start of the film. Asked why Dunbar would rescue him, Kendall suggests maybe Dunbar expected him to cover for him in gratitude.
Dunbar’s second story
Dunbar, now accused of murder, says Kendall is lying and claims he didn’t shoot West. Hardy notes Kendall claimed West died from a grenade, not shooting. Dunbar claims Mueller and Castro were selling prescription drug kits called “combat cocktails” to help dull physical pain and sharpen the mind; that Mueller shot West, who became aware of their drug dealing, and claims Mueller then used Pike’s grenade, stolen from his pack earlier. At the bunker, Mueller tried to pin the blame on Pike, but Pike pointed out evidence throwing suspicion on Mueller. A fierce argument ensued and Mueller executed Pike. A firefight broke out and Castro and Nunez die. Dunbar rescued Kendall and during the pursuit killed Mueller before the helicopter pickup. Dunbar provides proof of the drug-dealing operation, and states Vilmer supplied the drugs to Mueller and Kendall.
 
Kendall’s second story
Osborne and Hardy return to the hospital and speak with Dr. Vilmer, who admits that he distributed drugs to Mueller and Kendall and that he falsified drug tests so the soldiers would come up clean. Vilmer is placed under arrest. After his case discussion with them, Styles orders Osborne and Hardy to not talk to Kendall again.
 
But Hardy and Osborne confront Kendall, who is acting very strangely and refuses to give them any useful information, such as why he pinned the three murders on Dunbar. However, Kendall, still claiming that Dunbar was the guilty party, forces them to ask Dunbar about “all the murders he’s covered up for his drug dealer”. They soon discovered that they planned the murder on West, and after a brief chat between Hardy and Osborne, with Kendall still making fun of the two, they are threatening to charge him with the crime as an accessory, which he does not want any part of it, and Kendall continues to laugh at them, thinking that they got nothing on him. Suddenly, while Osborne tells Kendall that they find one of the dead bodies, Hardy noticed him beginning to bleed out of his ears, and calls for a nurse. While Osborne is trying to hold Kendall, he suddenly starts vomiting blood, and abruptly dies. Before he dies, he uses his blood soaked finger to draw on Osborne’s palm what she thinks is the sign of infinity. Shortly after, she realizes it is an 8. She shows this to Hardy, who indicates ignorance of its significance. She suspects he knows. After a brief physical fight, he takes her aside and explains the conversation he had earlier with Styles. There is rumored to be a group of ex-Rangers in Panama, trained under West, who turned rogue and became drug-dealers. They call themselves Section 8.
 
Styles is furious that Osborne and Hardy talked to Kendall a second time after he explicitly ordered them not to. He relieves Osborne of duty and asks Hardy to leave. He informs them that Dunbar and Vilmer will be taken away shortly on the transport plane that has arrived from the U.S. and he considers the investigation closed.
 
At the stockade, Vilmer casually observes to Hardy and Osborne that he will be on the same plane with Pike. Hardy corrects him, saying that he’ll be on the same plane as Dunbar, but Vilmer says that’s not right. He reveals that Ray Dunbar is black. The white “Dunbar” Hardy and Osborne have been questioning is in fact Pike, the man whom West antagonized during training (according to his own story). Pike had switched his tags with Dunbar’s, in order to throw off the local authorities and disappear, after being transported for trial. Hardy and Osborne rush back to the base just as Pike is being taken onto a transport plane. Hardy grabs Pike, but not before he grabs a gun from one of the guards, and holds his face dangerously close to the plane’s whirling propeller. The two engage in a brief screaming match, although what they say is inaudible. Pike then drops to his knees, out of breath. Afterward, Hardy and Osborne lead Pike away to interrogate him again now that they know the truth.
 
Pike’s final explanation
In Pike’s new story, West was not shot, and he claims West knew about the main operation going on at the base: cocaine smuggling. He claims West confronted the Rangers in the bunker and told them that he would turn them in to authorities in the morning and tell Styles everything. A brief Mexican standoff ensued and West escaped the bunker. Nuñez chased after him and was shot by West. Shortly after, Castro and Mueller went looking for West, Pike found Dunbar dead, West shot Kendall, wounding him, and tried to convince Pike to give himself up. Pike says Mueller managed to kill West, that he then shot at Mueller, and knowing that he would be blamed if West died, took Dunbar’s dog tags. It is still established that he managed to escape, carried Kendall through the jungle, killed Mueller and was picked up by the helicopter.As proof, he gives Hardy, Osborne and Styles the number of a crate where Vilmer had stowed cocaine, and they open it.
 
Hardy then talks to Styles alone. He asks why West wouldn’t tell Styles about the drugs as soon as he suspected something. He then accuses Styles of lying, and believes West did in fact go to him, but that Styles was behind the drug dealing operation the whole time; that rather than side with West, Styles ordered Mueller and Kendall to kill him in the jungle and then poisoned Kendall afterward to keep him quiet. Osborne, meanwhile, approaching the office, overhears, and secretly listens. Styles laughs off the accusations, but as Hardy starts to leave by turning him to the authorities, Styles offers him a percentage of the operation, once he’s back in business, in order to keep his mouth shut. Hardy, realizing that Styles has been involved in this whole operation all along, says he’ll have to think about it and turns to leave. Styles draws his weapon to force Hardy to accept his offer, but is killed by Osborne.
 
Final twist and explanation
After the Military Police wrap up the investigation into Styles’ shooting, Osborne is about to leave the base for the night and Hardy tells her that everything’s fine and all they have to do, concerning the shooting, is “Tell the story right.” Osborne recalls hearing that phrase during both Kendall and Pike’s stories, describing how members of the conspiracy planned to cover up West’s death.
 
Osborne suspects Hardy may be involved, especially since he hated West and because Section 8 contains West’s former trainees. She tails him out of the base, and sees Pike run out from some roadside bushes and get into Hardy’s jeep. She follows them by car, and then by foot through the streets of Panama City crowded with costumed revelers and watches as the two of them enter a doorway with a big eight ball hanging above it, revealing it as their headquarters. Osborne sneaks through a long hallway, down a flight of stairs, and up behind Hardy and Pike, with her weapon drawn, believing that they are behind both Section 8 and West’s murder. Then West, very much alive, walks up behind her. Castro, Dunbar and Nuñez are also there, fixing breakfast. Hardy reveals them as his colleagues.
 
They reveal to Osborne that Section 8 is actually a black-ops anti-drug unit led by Tom Hardy (who is addressed as “Colonel”). The “Section-8” insane-mercenary story is a cover to spook the cartels. “Dunbar”, “Castro”, “Nuñez” and “Pike” (not their names) infiltrated the base to investigate the cocaine trafficking that was going on, and discovered Mueller, Kendall and Vilmer were responsible. West, not realizing Styles was also involved, informed him of the findings. Styles responded by ordering Mueller and Kendall to kill West. The training mission ordered by West was in fact a covert Section-8 set-up to get rid of Mueller and Kendall, faking West’s death (in order to transfer him to Section 8) and Hardy had been called to the base by the coded message from “Dunbar” to confirm Styles’ and Vilmer’s involvement. West and Hardy then offer Osborne a job.
Basic is an interesting military mystery thriller, strong, convincing performances by the leads helps sell it, combined with a twisting story. That arguably is a little bit confusing at times, while your interpretation of the film come the finale, will hinge on the ending itself.

REVIEW: NEW GIRL – SEASON 1,2,3 & 4

Image result for NEW GIRL LOGO

MAIN CAST

Zooey Deschanel (Yes Man)
Jake Johnson (Jurassic World)
Max Greenfield (Veronica Mars)
Lamorne Morris (The Guild)
Hannah Simone (Oldboy)
Damon Wayans Jr. (Big Hero 6)


RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Gillian Vigman (The Hangover)
Mary Elizabeth Ellis (The Grinder)
Ian Wolterstorff (The Neighbours)
Katie Cassidy (Arrow)
Natasha Lyonne (American Pie)
Lake Bell (In A World…)
Justin Long (Waiting…)
Eva Amurri Martino (Saved)
Michaela Watkins (Casual)
Stephen Amell (Arrow)
Rachael Harris (The Hangover)
Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield)
Kali Hawk (Bridesmaids)
Jeff Kober (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer)
Clarke Duke (Kick-Ass)
Ryan Kwanten (True Blood)
Joey King (The Dark Knight Rises)
June Diane Raphael (Bride Wars)
Dermot Multoney (The Grey)
Martin Starr (This Is The End)
Natalie Drefuss (The Originals)
Rebecca Reid (Eastern Promises)
Thomas Lennon (17 Again)
Nelson Franklin (Argo)
Parker Posey (Superman Returns)
David Walton (Bad Moms)
Josh Gad (Frozen)
Molly Cheek (American Pie)
Rob Riggle (21 Jump Street)
Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap)
Jamie Lee Curtis (Scream Queens)
Carla Gugino (Watchman)
Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse)
Dennis Farina (Get Shorty)
Nate Corddry (Mom)
Brooklyn Decker (Battleship)
Brenda Song (The Social Network)
Odette Annable (The Unborn)
Margo Martindale (Mike & Molly)
Merritt Weaver (Signs)
Curtis Armstrong (American Dad)
Mary Lynn Rajskub (2 Broke Girls)
Ajay Mehta (Anger Management)
Riki Lindhome (Much Ado About Nothing)
Jon Lovitz (Big)
Taye Diggs (Chicago)
Jessica Chaffin (Spy)
Nakia Burrise (Power Rangers Turbo)
Brian Posehn (The Big Bang Theory)
Ben Falcone (The Boss)
Prince (Purple Rain)
Linda Cardellini (Scooby-Doo)
Alexandra Daddario (Texas Chainsaw 3D)
Kerri Kenney (Anger Management)
Jessica Biel (The A-Team)
Ciara Hanna (Power Rangers Megaforce)
Kaitlin Olson (The Heat)
Alan Ritchson (Smallville)
Erinn Hayes (The Watch)
Julian Morris (Hand of God)
Cleo King (Mike & Molly)
Amber Stevens West (22 Jump Street)
Greta Lee (St. Vincent)
Barry Bostwick (Spin City)
Nasim Pedrad (Scream Queens)
Zoe Lister-Jones (Salt)
Nora Dunn (Bones)

Your desire to watch New Girl is probably predicated by Zooey Deschanel, her cutesy fringe and massive possum eyes but rest assured there is a lot more to this show than that. If you aren’t already a Zooey fan please don’t let the somewhat annoying portmanteau “Adorkable” put you off seeing this great show.In my opinion the first few episodes of the show’s run are a little weak, but as season 1 continues this show goes from strength to strength as the writers seem to be figuring out what works and getting rid of what doesn’t. If you have seen the first few episodes on TV and are not sure if this show is for you I would definitely recommend sticking with it as the characters become less cartoonish and more fleshed out. While there are lots of comedies about people in their 20s and early 30s struggling with quarter-life crises, this show find a fresh approach to these issues that both men and women of this age in particular should enjoy.

There is lots of cringe-inducing humour and the show benefits from a great deal of physical humour and sight-gags as well as nerdy rapid-fire verbal comedy (which is my favourite!). I would definitely recommend getting this show on DVD, as it is incredibly rewatchable. Not only will you quickly come to really enjoy `hanging-out’ with these characters but sometimes the jokes and quips come so quickly you will definitely pick up on jokes you missed during the first watch.

The actors are all excellent and are perfectly cast in their different roles bringing a real warmth to the relationships between the main characters. Zooey is excellent as Jess and is a really refreshing comic lead. It is great to see a quirky, laid-back female character as so often actresses in sit-coms are relegated to being the nagging girlfriend/wife or to just commenting on the funny situations the male characters get themselves in to. Not only is Jess a witty character but also her lack of tact and weirdness are frequently sources of humour, as are the gaffs of her three roommates. Schmit is the break out character of the show for me. While in the first episode he comes across as an arrogant, shallow meat-head he quickly becomes more nuanced and sensitive and in my opinion is far and away one of the funniest characters on TV.The first season of New Girl established the will-they-won’t-they pairing of Nick and Jess and the they-did-will-it-last coupling of Schmidt and CeCe, so the second season is all about raising the stakes for them. For Nick and Jess this takes the form of bad relationships keeping their minds off messing with the loft dynamic by dating a roommate. Though each has some legitimate opportunities for happiness, be it Jess’ commitment-phobic Dr. Sam or Nick’s sexually adventurous stripper girlfriend (played by Olivia Munn.) However knowing that there remains a chance they could end up together leads to frequent self-sabotage.As much as Deschannel is the star of the show, Johnson has quietly become just as integral, as Nick grows and discovers himself, with the help of his future self and a water-massaging elderly Asian gentleman (the show can get weird sometimes.)For Schmidt and CeCe, reality is far less promising, as CeCe begins to sense her biological clock is ticking, and finds herself on a course for an arranged marriage to a pleasant man who just isn’t Schmidt. Meanwhile, the one true Schmidt seeks to alleviate the impending loss of his caramel queen by running back to his one true love, Elizabeth, a girl he dated in college, when he was hundreds of pounds heavier. It sets up a troubling love triangle, as the real Schmidt is just right for Elizabeth, but the Schmidt he wants to be is a perfect match for CeCe. While there’s a grimy aspect to Schmidt keeping two women secret from each other, on the other hand, Greenfield makes it work by showing Schmidt cares about both women and is, oddly, doing it to not hurt either of them, rather than out of some sort of romantic greed. It’s an unusual situation, and one the show handles well.The focus on Schmidt and CeCe this season unleashes the show’s secret weapon, as Simone proves to be one of the most consistently funny performers in the series, popping in a look or a delivery that’s just perfect for the situation. Many of the show’s best moments this season grow out of CeCe’s on and off again connection with Schmidt, with the season’s home-stretch existing only thanks to the culture clash that grows from her arranged marriage, Part of what makes her so entertaining is how her exotic beauty gets betrayed to hilarious effect by her ability to be wonderfully silly. (The other benefit of having CeCe around is the presence of her Russian modeling pal Nadia (Rebecca Reid), who is economically hysterical, with a higher laugh to word ratio than anyone on TV.)The mix in the loft is why the show works so well, as the quartet of roomies and friends behaves realistically, no matter how offbeat the situation may be or how odd the four may sometimes get. So whether it’s Schmidt feeling old thanks to some hipsters who have imoved in and befriended Jess, the exploration of the group’s most annoying aspects (a.k.a. “pogos”) or Winston struggling with his period, they mercilessly tease each other, but have each other’s back to the end. This is never more clearly illustrated than in “Virgins,” where the crew one-up each other with their horrible tales of their first sexual experiences. The way they interact is as close to real friends as anything on TV.With the series expanding upon the world created in the first season, we get to meet more of the people in the lives of the four roommates, and those additions were rather impressive, to go with returning speicial guests, like June Diane Raphael (playing Jess’ lesbian gynocologist.) The late Dennis Farina had a great turn as Nick’s con-man father, while Margot Martindale plays his brassy mom, Nick Kroll is his dim-witted brother and Bill Burr is his Beantown cousin. Meanwhile on Jess’ side, they snagged Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis to play her feuding parents (and Reiner should become a series regular as her dad). Add in Rob Riggle as Schmidt’s brother, Carla Gugino as his sexually-aggressive boss and Brenda Song as Winston’s new lady friend, and the show managed to cultivate a fine ensemble outside of the core five, expanding and improving the series.

The natural progression of the relationships between Nick and Jess and Schmidt and CeCe, along with the changes in the world around them, made for an entertaining season that balanced silly fun with genuine emotion.
Coach’s return was a little unexpected, there was already a great ensemble, why mess with it? For those who don’t know, Coach was one of the original characters from the pilot. Wayans’s was already cast in Happy Endings, but with Happy Endings suffering in the ratings, it was expected to be cancelled, leaving Wayans’s free to find another role. It didn’t get cancelled, and New Girl even benefited with the addition of Winston. Eventually, Happy Endings was cancelled, and Coach comes back.  Coach’s return to, guess what, coaching was inspired, and his slight change in focus really benefits both him and Schmidt, as well as the show as a whole. By the end of the season, it feels like Coach has always been there!
Then there is Winston. It really is a testament to Lamorne Morris’s ability as an actor and comic that he has got so much out of character that doesn’t really have much to do. I think he’s one of the least developed characters, and with so much focus on Nick & Jess, the re-introduction of Coach and Schmidt’s all round issues, he’s left to fill out episode storylines without getting much development himself. The comic relief Winston provides is necessary to balance out the drama with the other characters, but it’s a shame so much of it is just short story arcs or lasts just a single episode. If there’s any area I’d like season 4 to develop, it’s Winston. There is just too much talent and comedy to ignore.

New Girl continues its solid track record, producing a classic relationship season without losing the fact it’s a comedy at heart. Well executed by all involved.

Romantic relationships remain the primary concerns of Jess, her four dude roommates, and her best friend Cece (Hannah Simone). In season three, Jess and her cute slacker roomie Nick (Jake Johnson) made good on the will-they-or-won’t-they? dynamic teased in the previous seasons and are already peaceably broken up at this point. (The episode “Goldmine” nicely addresses the difficulty of getting people not to bail on dates with each of them after learning that they live in the same apartment as their ex.) At work, Jess has made it up the ranks from schoolteacher to vice principal, which is all well and good until she gets a crush on a new British teacher (Pretty Little Liars’ Julian Morris) with the saucy name Ryan Geauxinue (pronounced “Goes-In-You”); unfortunately for Jess, administrator-teacher couplings are a no-no, so she tries to ignore the hunk. (That doesn’t happen.) Nick finds Kai (Greta Lee), a lady who likes to lay about the apartment as much as himself; rookie cop Winston (Lamorne Morris) “investigates” her behavior for his roommate and decides she must be homeless. (She’s not.)
The show’s other key couple, former-model-turned-inept-bartender Cece (Hannah Simone) and metrosexual would-be player Schmidt (Max Greenfield), continue their pas de deux; Schmidt starts off the season overwhelmingly obsessed with Cece while she just wants to move on. As the season continues, Schmidt cools it a bit and finds a way to be Cece’s friend… which, of course, just makes her remember why she liked him in the first place. Unfortunately, by this point, Schmidt has started up with manipulative, career-driven city councilwoman Fawn Moscato (Zoe Lister-Jones). Fawn’s power excites Schmidty, but is this duo built to last?
 Wayans was a “recurring” cast member in season 3, but he’s a full-fledged co-star in season four. His presence in the show — besides demonstrating  that non-“niche” sitcom ensembles can have more than one black dude in them — is wonderfully layered with jock-y braggadocio, hidden tenderness, and amiable goofiness. Coach also reacts to relationship strife in the most entertaining ways possible, whether it’s emotionally breaking down as he tries to describe fertilization in a health class he’s teaching or attracting a bar full of ladies to grind up against him to the strains of Alannah Myles’s “Black Velvet.”
That just leaves Winston, who occasionally takes a break from studying for his police exam and from being in love with his cat to try to woo a human lady. I have to admit that Winston’s decision to become a cop just keeps reminding me of the later seasons of That ’70s Show, where Kelso’s decision to join the police academy also felt fairly arbitrary and strange. This is addressed in a subplot in the episode “Par 5,” which was actually co-written by  Lamorne Morris, in which the character feels forced to hide his profession when he starts dating a woman who actively protests the LAPD. This episode tries to add a little nuance and depth to Winston’s choice to be a policeman.
For a show with so many semi-arrested characters, gaining maturity and finding worthwhile career paths are unsurprisingly also an ongoing component of the show. Jess and Winston, of course, seem like they’re right where they want to be career-wise with the vice principal and police gigs respectively. Nick continues to flounder professionally, but eventually teams up with Schmidt to start their own entrepreneurial concern, and while their first concept — a suit made out of sweatsuit material — is a dud, the show seems optimistic about them finding fulfillment in working together. Cece finally goes to college, with some financial help from Coach and Winston, who consider it an investment that they expect to see repaid. When they find out Cece uses the opportunity to take somewhat esoteric liberal arts courses, the fellas are duly perturbed.
Once again, the show opens its doors to a number of excellent guest stars, including It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson as Jess’s former classmate and potential stepmom (Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis return as Jess’s divorced parents), Jessica Biel as a romantic rival for Jess, Billy Eichner as a stressed-out, catty airport employee on Christmas, Childrens Hospital’s Erinn Hayes as a promiscuous school nurse, Lisa Bonet as the touchy-feely leader of a teachers conference, Nora Dunn as Schmidt’s overbearing mother, and on and on. Justin Long. Josh Gad. Michaela Watkins. Barry Bostwick. Sarah Burns. Kurt Braunohler. Regis Philbin. Funny people!
 The ensemble cast truly shines in this newest season of New Girl. Some episodes come in a little below expectations, but overall the season offers some interesting developments for the characters and oodles of great jokes. If you like the show, keep liking the show.

REVIEW: THE SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW – SEASON 1-2

CAST (VOICES)

Charlie Adler (Wall-e)
Alimi Ballard (Sabrina: TTW)
Steven Blum (Wolverine and the X-Men)
Dave Boat (Ultimate Spider-Man)
Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck)
Grey DeLisle (The Fairly Oddparents)
Mikey Kelley (Gravity Falls)
Tom Kenny (The Batman)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Travis Willingham (Dragon Ball Z)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Shawn Ashmore (X-Men)
Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
John Barrowman (Arrow)
A.J. Buckley (Disturbing Behavior)
Ty Burrell (Muppets Most Wanted)
LeVar Burton (Star Trek: TNG)
Taye Diggs (Private Practice)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)
Suisan Eisenberg (Justice League)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: TNG)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)
Nika Futterman (Futurama)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Tricia Helfer (Powers)
Cheryl Hines (The Ugly Truth)
Josh Keaton (Justice League: Gods and Monsters)
Wayne Knight (3rd rock from The Sun)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Phil LaMar (Free Enterprise)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
James Marsters (Smallville)
Jennifer Morrison (Urban Legends 2)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica)
Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: TLJ)
Ray Stevenson (Divergent)
Fred Stoller (Little Man)
George Takei (Star Trek)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Michelle Trachtenberg (17 again)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Jim Ward (Danny Phantom)
Adam West (Batman 60s)
Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries)

When I saw a preview of The Super Hero Squad Show back in February of 2009, I thought it looked pretty interesting, but certainly aimed at the kiddies, and as it aired on Cartoon Network, I never saw an episode. In fact, I forgot all about it, and when I got my hands on this disc, I thought it was an animated take on the old Fisher-Price Marvel kiddie figures. So I had no expectations coming in. Well, my only expectation being that it would be bad. So it was with a good deal of shock that I found it to be a pretty entertaining action-comedy series, if you don’t mind the cheese-level of many of the jokes.

The Super Hero Squad (sort of a loose version of the Avengers) is made up of an assortment of Marvel heroes, including Iron Man (as the leader), Captain America (who provides aid on a regular basis), Wolverine (adding the X-Men’s popularity,) The Hulk, Thor, a spacey surfer-dude version of the Silver Surfer, and Falcon (obviously added to bring some diversity.) Joining them is the mostly unknown Reptil (a dinosaur-powered bit player from the Avengers comics) who is both a young guy and Hispanic, helping fill out the P.C. scorecard a bit more and give younger viewers a stand-in.  They go up against Doctor Doom and his legion of bad guys (and ineffective henchmen), as he searches for the Infinity fractals, shards of the Infinity Sword (which seems connected to the Infinity Gems of the Infinity Gauntlet. Infinity.)


Though the storylines are pretty solid and offer big action-packed battles, the bulk of the show is comedy, with the character’s out-sized personalities carrying the jokes, be it Thor’s overwhelming concern about his appearance or Captain America being stuck in the ’40s. Maybe I don’t give kids a lot of credit, but I can see a large portion of these gags flying over their heads, which will make the show far more enjoyable for adults than one would have expected. There was more than one joke that got a genuine laugh out of me, though many of them rely on bodily functions or pratfalls for the punchline. The wordplay and character-generated jokes are much more entertaining and fun, especially Thor’s Asgardian versions of modern language, the Silver Surfer’s alien view of Earth life, and anything involving the always-ridiculous floating head known as M.O.D.O.K. (voiced hilariously by Tom Kenny.) One joke about the Hulk swallowing a yo-yo is technically genius. The only thing about the show that doesn’t really work is Reptil, who feels like the Poochie of the show, coming off as a bone tossed to kids, with his dino-focused power, youthful role and extreme behavior.


This version of the Marvel Universe smartly keeps the same look for its characters, giving long-time Marvel fans an in for the series, but presents them in a super-deformed style (squat bodies, large heads and feet, four fingers) that’s kid-cartoon friendly and which easily separates it from any other version of the Universe you’ve ever seen. That way, there are no issues with continuity or previous incarnations, and the show can be enjoyed on its own merits (allowing them to do something like make Dr. Strange a complete lunatic.) That’s a good thing, because the show is loaded to the gills with fan-service goodies, like the episode titles (which reference famous comic titles) and title cards which replicate memorable cover art. The show also pulls characters from the depths of the Marvel roster, like Screaming Mimi and the Melter, and having silly cartoon fun with them. Taken simply as a silly, almost What The–?! treatment of the characters, it’s well worth a look for comic-book fans out of grade school.

On a non-story note, the theme song, provided by Parry Gripp of Nerf Herder, is an energetic blast, while the voice cast for this series has to be one of the best for a non-prime time animated series, with tons of veterans of the cartoon industry, like Kenny, Tara Strong, Jess Harnell, Grey DeLisle, Cree Summer and Charlie Adler, along with plenty of genre stars, including Robert Englund, Tricia Helfer, Jennifer Morrison and Adrian Pasdar. It’s rare to see a show like this pull this kind of voice cast.

the overall plot of the cycle will feature the villain Thanos seeking the six stones of the Infinity Gauntlet, a powerful cosmic weapon. Opposing him will be the titular Super Hero Squad, which is made up of goofball takes on Iron Man, Thor, Falcon, Wolverine, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, original character Reptil, Scarlet Witch, and sometimes Captain America. While the first two shows focus specifically on the Thanos plot, other episodes detour into one-off excursions. For instance, “World War Witch!” takes the heroes back in time to when Cap was fighting the Red Skull alongside the Invaders in WWII, while “Support Your Local Sky-Father!” pits Olympus vs. Asgard, and it features the Marvel Universe rendition of Hercules.

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: GO

CAST

Katie Holmes (Batman Begins)
Sarah Polley (Mr. Nobody)
Scott Wolf (V)
Jay Mohr (Small Soldiers)
Timothy Olyphant (Hitman)
Suzanne Krull (Mousehunt)
Desmond Askew (Roswell)
William Fichtner (The Dark Knight)
Taye Diggs (Chicago)
Breckin Meyer (Garfield)
Melissa McCarthy (The Boss)

Told from three perspectives, a story of a bunch of young Californians trying to get some cash, do and deal some drugs, score money and sex in Las Vegas, and generally experience the rush of life

This movie is absolutely brilliant. Take one eighteen-year old,sulky, skint supermarket cashier named Ronna, thrown in a stoner friend-Mannie, a concerned friend-Claire, an angry drug dealer, some chewable aspirin and a drugs bust and you have the first story.

She faces the choice of either being evicted or dealing drugs to get some money- but everything seems to go wrong. This is undoubtedly the best of the three mini-tales. A. Katie Holmes’ Claire is just a badass.  Timothy Olyphant is suitably scary, funny and horny as drug dealer Todd.

The second story revolves around Simon, an English guy going for a weekend in Vegas with some mates. This story involves group sex, tantric sexuality, a strip joint, a sexy red car, a car chase and Simon running through the hotel butt naked. Simon is the daft stoner who is always getting himself and his friends into bother and he succeeds big time, managing to piss off half Las Vegas in the space of a few hours! This story will having you crying with laughter and falling off your seat with anticipation. Simon is lovable and dorky, and you can’t help laughing at his stupid remarks and antics.

The third story revolves around Adam and Zack, a pair of gay actors who try to bust Ronna in order to get out of a charge themselves. However the cop they are working for, Burke, keeps hitting on them for some reason. They whinge and bitch at each other for a while and then they get involved in a ‘little accident’. This story is the least active but it makes up for it in the amusement stakes. Jay Mohr (Zack) and Scott Wolf (Adam)

Go is confusing the first time you watch it, the second time around, it rocks. Throw in a brilliant soundtrack, a bunch of charismatic characters and a real ‘culty’ feel and you have a totally unmissable independent movie.

REVIEW: BLACK PANTHER

CAST (VOICES)

Djimon Hounsou (Stargate)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Stephen Stanton (Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
Kerry Washington (Django Unchained)
Alfrie Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact)
Jill Scott (Girlfriends)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Rick D. Wasserman (Planet Hulk)
JB Blanc (War Dogs)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Jonathan Adams (Bones)
Taye Diggs (Equilibrium)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Stan Lee (Chuck)

The concept of the motion comic is controversial to say the least. Many comic purists would argue they are pointless endeavors, while others, like myself find them an interesting supplement and even more a way to get those uninterested in comics to seek them out, provided they enjoy the program.

The newest release in the series may be their biggest yet, produced not just for DVD but as six-episode animated series. With “Black Panther,” Marvel adapts Hudlin’s own take on the character from 2005 and the end result will induce much headshaking and confusion.

Unlike the previous two installments in the Marvel Knights Animation line, I had not read the original source material, however, it’s safe to say, with the author being directly involved in the adaptation, it likely follows the comics quite closely. The most apparent change viewers familiar with the motion comic concept will notice is the consistency in runtime. Each episode runs around 18 minutes long and is paced like an episode of a TV-series. There are no more abrupt endings as before and this is a truly welcome change. Also worth noting is the star power in the voice cast. Hudlin has secured veteran voice actors Kevin Michael Richardson and Nolan North, as well as Hollywood stars Alfre Woodard, Kerry Washington, and in the title role Djimon Hounsou. It’s all downhill from this point, with Hounsou’s involvement being the only positive memorable aspect of a disaster of a series.


“Black Panther” is a muddled mess, attempting to weave an origin story amidst a half-baked plot against our hero’s life by a band of largely second (or even third) rate villains. The tone of the entire series is wildly inconsistent; one minute our villains will be bickering with each other in classic Saturday morning cartoon fashion, giving the impression the series is lighthearted, but all this comes following an intro that is decidedly more mature, featuring tribal warriors getting impaled on sinister traps and severed Nazi heads on pikes. Add to that a very mean spirited tone, resulting from most characters not related to Black Panther being either stupid, bigoted, or both and the 132 minute runtime feels achingly brutal.

Comic book fans may immediately take issue with the series’ sad attempt to establish dominance of the Black Panther by having him swiftly defeat Captain America in hand-to-hand combat. The character doesn’t need such a wildly unbelievable fight to appeal to audiences, nor does he need the sympathy formed from broad stereotypes attempting to hold him down because he’s the leader of a small African nation. What should be a fun fantasy tale is instead drenched in an underhanded political theme that is downright tiresome and boring; if more time was given to developing supporting characters, a little bit of preaching would have been tolerable. To Hudlin’s credit, his take on Black Panther or T’Challa (Hounsou) is a fascinating, three-dimensional creation, and his home country of Wakanda is given admirable life and scope. Hounsou brings strong balance of kindness and fierceness to the role, and a scene midway through the series where he removes his mask to speak to a boy who worships him as a god, is one of the more heroic and humble moments I’ve seen in a superhero adaptation.
On the flipside, Kerry Washington, delivers a strangely overacted vocal performance as T’Challa’s sister, while Stephen Stanton is in full on, evil for evil’s sake mode, as Klaw, the main villain, an assassin responsible for murdering T’Challa’s father decades earlier, who returns to finish killing the royal family. The less said of Klaw’s inept cadre of support, the better, but the Vatican Black Knight is worth mentioning of only for the fact his character adds another layer into the theme of the evil Western world; not only does a rival nation want Wakanda overthrown, but so does the US (led by a cartoonish and ignorant General voiced by Stan Lee), and yes, the Pope. As a final insult to comic fans, Hudlin shoehorns in the story of T’Challa’s romance with Ororo Munroe, or Storm as she’s more commonly known. The addition is nothing more than a way to artificially extend the overly long runtime of the series and find an excuse for a few worthless X-Men cameos.

“Black Panther” is heavily dissappointing, and it’s a damn shame, as there is great potential with the character. The writing has a bad pace to it; dialogue driven scenes are sometimes choppy, flashbacks are overused (even as an origin story), and the action sequences often have great buildup but result in a sad whimper in terms of execution; a half-assed inclusion of zombies in the final episode tempts me to a giant stamp of “fail” on the series, but there are more than a few Panther centric moments to elevate it from the lowest possible rating. Animation wise, John Romita Jr’s art style translates horribly to the motion comic format, and some sequences are animated in a amateurish fashion at best; the fact I waited this long to mention it, is a strong indicator of how forgettable it is. There are strong talks that the Black Panther will see life on the big screen and I’ll reiterate again, Hounsou deserves a shot at the role, however, I hope this series is used as an example of what not to do.