Shameless (2011- )

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Created by: Paul Abbott
Starring: William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum, Cameron Monaghan, Ethan Cutkosky, Justin Chatwin, Shanola Hampton, Steve Howey, Emma Kenney, Jeremy Allen White, Laura Wiggins and Joan Cusack

Only during my research for this post did I discover that this Showtime drama is based on a long-standing, award-winning drama of the same name created in Britain in 2004. While IMDB gives the American version a higher rating, I came across some disgruntled fans of the original that made note of the shortcomings of the American remake.  Thankfully, I have not seen the British version and can therefore only comment on the American one.

The show is, well, utterly ‘shameless’.  As we welcome the ne’er-do-well Gallaghers into our homes we are confronted with drug abuse, alcoholism, full nudity, feral sex and comic brutality as Fiona Gallagher, Frank’s eldest daughter, attempts to raise all five of Frank’s children and Frank himself.  There are a cast of characters including the six Gallagher children, sex-addicted neighbours, an agoraphobic adulterer, troubled teens, some closeted gay men, a few criminals, some very disturbed children and Frank Gallagher, the supposed patriarch and raging narcissist.  The camera abandons no one, even if they all abandon each other.

What I like: The show makes me cringe, laugh, cry, gasp and watch, eager for more.  Each character has a fully developed personality and contributes to the whole mess with force and impact in a short time.  I like and dislike everyone almost equally which is both a testament to the writing and to the acting.  The cast is top-notch, starting with William H. Macy who is brilliant as Frank Gallagher, soaked in alcohol and always ready to preach; Emmy Rossum, who plays the burdened Fiona with subtle charm and deep sadness but no elegance; and Joan Cusack, whose neurosis and sexual preferences will have you both wincing and howling; and that is only a few of the characters I have grown to love.

What I dislike: The fact that no one seems to notice the sociopath in their midst and what’s worse I still laugh.

My rating: Count how many times you exclaim to yourself: “My God. They’re shameless!”

IMDB: 8.5

Metacritic: 66%

Season Three Premiere: Sunday, January 13th at 9pm on Showtime

Headhunters (2011)

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Director: Morten Tyldum
Writers: Lars Gudmestad, Ulf Ryberg and Jo Nesbø (Novel)
Starring: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Eivind Sander and Julie R. Ølgaard

It’s no easy task to recruit some people to watch a movie with subtitles (if it isn’t the Millennium Series) and I promoted the Norwegian film Headhunters to friends and family to the point of unrealistic expectations in the hopes that they would overlook their prejudices and enjoy one of the best crime thrillers I’ve seen in awhile.  I mention this because it was my father who most aptly described the movie as the credits began to roll:  “You see,” he said. “If you have a good story, you don’t need a big budget.”  This essentially sums up what I found most enjoyable about this movie: The story.  It has the feel of, as director Morten Tyldum mentions in the extras, an “American action movie” but was made for “the budget of those movies’ lunches.”

I’m sure if I deconstructed the plot I would find anomalies but the story, about a headhunter who moonlights as an art thief to satisfy the unattainably expensive tastes of his wife, coupled with gripping action, sleek design, raw characters and smooth acting as well as the beautiful Norwegian countryside (if in fact that is what we’re seeing) makes the movie a bite-your-fingernails adventure.

What I liked: The movie surprises you.  The formulaic action elements are all there but how the movie gets you from A to B is what makes this a real thriller.  While some critics have argued that the plot holds its twists too close the chest, I would argue that the ambitiousness of the film isn’t the main draw: it’s the journey.

What I didn’t like: The story doesn’t always make sense and the final reveal is unnecessary but, again, the holes enable the director to have some fun and I appreciated it.

My rating:  I wish I had seen it twice on the big screen.

IMDB: 7.5

Rottentomatoes: 92%

Entourage (2004-2011)

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Created by: Doug Ellin
Starring: Adrien Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrera, Jeremy Piven, Rex Lee, Perrey Reeves, Debi Mazar and Emmanuelle Chriqui

There’s nothing like rediscovering an old favourite, and if you’re anything like me oftentimes life gets in the way of a great TV show.  That was the case with Mark Wahlberg’s brainchild, Entourage, a series whose merits I recognized and whose characters had me gasping and howling but for some reason or another I stopped watching after season 2.  About a month ago, as I curled up on the couch looking for something to watch, I was happy to find Entourage in its entirety (all eight seasons) available to rent or to stream and once I started watching I simply couldn’t stop.

The show chronicles the rise and fall, work and play, of a young Hollywood actor turned celebrity and the boyhood friends who ride his coattails.  It is comedic, dramatic, luxurious and teeming with celebrity cameos.  While Vincent Chase might be the “star”, it’s the supporting cast that really breathes life into this 30min dramedy.

What I liked: Chase is performed by Adrien Grenier with the sort of laid-back cool you expect all celebrities to have but few probably do.   E., Vince’s manager, played with charming humility by Kevin Connolly, is the moral center of the show, which makes his lapses all the more enjoyable.  Johnny Drama, a washed-up actor and Vince’s older brother, is played with priceless egotism by Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrera’s Turtle makes a nice comic foil to Drama’s hilarious outbursts.  However, what really makes the show unforgettable is Ari Gold, Vince’s uncompromising agent.  Gold is played with such crass cunning, fierce anxiety and unapologetic coarseness by Jeremy Piven that he deservedly received a Golden Globe and five nominations for his performance.   It is a show celebrated for its daring, enjoyed for its characters and dialogue and followed for the life we wish we had.

What I didn’t like: The show relies heavily on its characters as the plot doesn’t change or move forward all that much.  They’re either successful or not at any given moment in the show but watching these characters deal with it all is what kept me loading new episodes.

My rating: Get warm, crack a beer and escape into the lap of luxury.

IMDB: 8.7

Metacritic: Season 3 (first available rating): 73%