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True Blood – Season 1 (DVD / Blu-ray)

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True Blood - Season 1 on Blu-ray and DVD (click for larger image)Reviewed by Heather Wixson

Starring Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley

Directed by Alan Ball

Distributed by HBO Home Entertainment


“True Blood”, based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of books by Charlaine Harris, is Alan Ball’s latest HBO series that gives viewers a look into a fictitious world in which vampires not only exist, but exist alongside those of us that aren’t so photo-sensitive. The series centers around the world of Sookie Stackhouse (Paquin) who isn’t your normal girl from Louisiana. She’s got a special gift for being able to read the minds of those around her, whether she wants to or not.

Sookie’s world is turned upside down when she meets the handsome vampire Bill (Moyer), and coincidentally enough, people in her life suddenly start getting killed off. The common thread to the murders? All people who associate with vampires. Sookie realizes that she might be next on the list and decides to figure out just who the murderer is before it’s too late.

That’s the simple overview. The truth is, “True Blood” is far more complex and compelling than just Sookie’s fight to stay alive and her blossoming love affair with Bill. What is really the driving force behind “True Blood” and makes it must-see television is Ball’s ability to create complex storylines that intricately weave together. Pair that with a talented cast of characters dripping with sexual tension, and you’ve got the best vampire serial since “Dark Shadows”.

True Blood - Season 1 on Blu-ray and DVD (click for larger image)The supporting cast of “True Blood” is what makes this show better than simply a love story between two characters. We’ve got Sookie’s brother Jason (Kwanten), who on the surface seems like your average pretty boy womanizer, and her hard-boiled best friend Tara (Wesley), who is fighting through her own inner demons. We also meet Sam (Trammell), who is not only Sookie’s boss but has an uncanny ability to appear whenever Sookie might be in danger. The true heart of the Stackhouse family (and for the series as well) is her grandmother Adele (Lois Smith), who offers wisdom to Sookie and her hospitality to Bill when most people in the community wouldn’t dream of doing so. Probably my favorite of the “True Blood” supporting characters is Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), a flamboyant drug dealing, out-of-the-closet cook at Sam’s restaurant who pretty much steals every scene he’s in. Ellis ably demonstrates his ability to play Lafayette far deeper than just some sort of gay caricature.

“True Blood” does take a few episodes before it really finds its footing, but I sort of think that’s par for the course when it comes to setting up a serialized drama — you need a few episodes to develop characters and their relationships and set up the dramatic arc for the season. But once “True Blood” gets rolling, it’s a satisfying hell of a joyride that will leave you riveted until the very last scene of the first season.

True Blood - Season 1 on Blu-ray and DVD (click for larger image)One of my favorite episodes of the season (and it’s hard to pick just one) was “To Love Is To Bury”, which focuses on the ramifications of Bill’s murder of a fellow vampire in order to protect Sookie. Viewers get a taste for how the vampire hierarchy works through a tribunal that sentences Bill to sire a young innocent girl as his vampire apprentice. Once she awakens, all innocence is lost, and suddenly we’ve got “Vampires Gone Wild” as she discovers swearing, Goth clothes, and her bloodlust. The episode demonstrates just how skillful Ball is at balancing the dramatic with dark humor.

The special features of “True Blood” showcase the viral campaigns that HBO put into place before the first season started including both the “Tru Blood” beverage ads (the synthetic drink that the newly civilized vampire community drinks so that they can stay away from feasting on the living) as well as some public service ads that offer up both sides of the vampires in society argument. The true gem of the special features is the In Focus piece, a witty little mockumentary on how vampires work on trying to fit into the normal population.

Much more compelling but also a pain in the neck to get to are all the bits of supplemental viewing that appear as Blu-ray exclusives. Here’s the thing: These pop-up or picture-in-picture slices of goodness are only accessible while you’re watching the show itself. This proves kind of distracting depending on what you’re trying to focus on, not to mention it would take hours to see everything this set has to offer. An index of these materials similar to how New Line did their Infini-film features would have been a godsend. Maybe for Season 2, right?

“True Blood” Season 1 is a must-own for any genre fan. If you love vampires and vampire lore mixed with the very sexy South, this is your hot ticket to blood-stained bliss! And don’t forget to sink your teeth into Season 2 when it starts on June 14th.

Special Features:

  • Pop-up trivia track (Blu-ray only)
  • Enhanced viewing mode (Blu-ray only)
  • In Focus: Vampires in America mockumentary
  • Tru Blood Beverage Ads
  • Tru Blood Service Ads
  • Public Service Announcements
  • Six audio commentaries with cast and crew, including Alan Ball, Anna Paquin, and Stephen Moyer

    Series:

    4 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    4 out of 5

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    AHS: Cult Review: Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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    Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

    Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


    ** NO SPOILERS **

    It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

    Spoiler free.

    To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

    That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

    Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

    Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

    Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

    Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

    But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

    But let’s backtrack a bit here.

    Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

    And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

    Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

    With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

    Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

    I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

    Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

    Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

    Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

    On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

    That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

    In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

    While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

    Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

    Bring on season 12.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
    3.5

    Summary

    The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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    Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

    Directed by Nicholas Woods


    The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

    The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

    The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

    The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

    The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

    The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

    • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
    • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
    • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
    • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
    • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
    • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
    • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
    • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
    • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
    • The Axiom
    4.0

    Summary

    In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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    User Rating 5 (2 votes)
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    The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!

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    Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey

    Directed by Alan Lougher


    The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.

    When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

    Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    Ultimately chilling in nature!

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    User Rating 3.5 (8 votes)
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