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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why We Love The Underdog

Over the years, I have found an insane coincidence with a lot of shows I enjoy- most of them feature an underdog.  What is an underdog you ask?  It's a person who has a history of screwing up- but there's always the hope that they will rise from the ashes like a phoenix and finally do something right.  Sometimes an underdog's shortcomings are self-induced- like Hank Moody from Californication.  I've always been a huge fan of David Duchovny and he is the epitome of the underdog in this series.  He loves his wife/mother of his daughter but he's far from happy being domesticated- and just can't get his act together professionally, socially or romantically.  Sexually, he has no problem- those of you have seen the show know that meeting other women has never been an issue for him. Somehow, despite whatever he does, you can't help but feel sorry for him... he loves his family so much but just can't seem to make that transition from single guy on the prowl to happy husband and dad.  Add booze and drugs to the mix and it always leads to his downfall.

We find such characters relatable and even root for them- it always seems they are just about to finally get their act together- then they do something ridiculous at the last minute to completely screw up all the groundwork they have made.  Hmmm, I think I may be a bit guilty of this myself- scary.  And yet we still throw hope onto the underdog show after show- we see in them the struggle inside ourselves, and the struggle for meaning in a life that isn't always fair or easy.  Why do you think LOST was such a huge success?  Yes, it was the first time such a show was introduced to mainstream TV- a show that actually made viewers think (gasp!)- but in reality, who were the characters?  They were all dysfunctional and had screwed up in some major way- and had a chance to start again on the island and leave their past behind.  Or so they thought.  As I already mentioned, the underdog always tries to change for the better- but it seems bad choices & fate make it impossible- it's part of who they are. 

Another one of my faves is the TV show "Breaking Bad".  Bryan Cranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with advanced lung cancer at the beginning of the series.  With a special needs son and a new baby on the way, he knows he has to make a lot of money FAST- so that his family can support themselves after his demise.  Here's a guy who knows he is dying and he only thinks of the family he will leave behind- which endeared him to us in the very first season.  He turns to a life of crime, producing and selling methamphetamines with a former student of his Jesse Pinkman and as the series progresses and he actually beats the cancer, he finds the easy money too hard to walk away from.  It's a perfect example of someone who does the wrong thing for all the right reasons.  But in the end, his actions have consequences and of course, hurt those close to him.  He has finally discovered something that he excels at & makes amazing money- but at what cost? 

Another show I am obsessed with is Dexter.  Dexter Morgan was orphaned at the age of three after the violent, suspicious murder of his mother and is then adopted by Miami police officer Harry Morgan and his wife.  After discovering that young Dexter has been killing neighborhood pets for several years, Harry tells Dexter that he believes the need to kill "got into" him at too early an age, and that he believes Dexter's need will only grow stronger as he gets older.  To prevent Dexter from killing innocent people, Harry begins teaching Dexter "The Code".   In this code, Dexter's victims must be killers themselves who have killed someone, escaped the justice system by some fluke and will likely do so again if not stopped.  Dexter must also always be sure that his target is guilty, and thus, frequently goes to extreme lengths to get undeniable proof of his victim's guilt.  Most important, Dexter must never get caught.  Like Walter White, Dexter does the wrong thing for the right reasons- trying to save those others that would have been killed had he not intervened. 

The moral of this blog is that we like to watch shows in which we can sympathize with the characters and their screwups.... and know that we are not alone in this crazy world where anything and everything is possible.  I would bet that the writers are Sagittarians, it would certainly explain a lot.   : ]

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Sagittarian's Adventures at the Gym

I don't obsess on my horoscope like some- but the characteristics associated with my sign are dead on.  So much that it's actually pretty scary.  Us Sagittarians have a love of freedom and a disdain for routine- and also tend to be a bit on the irresponsible side... (see, it's not entirely my fault when I screw up!).

 In my opinion, this explains why I never joined a gym until I was 40 years old.  Structured fitness just seemed entirely too organized for me- (structured anything for that matter- again, it's the Sagittarius in me).   I couldn't imagine even stepping foot in a place that people paid to run like hamsters on a wheel.

 Me- I have always preferred to get my dose of exercise in the great outdoors surrounded by fresh air.  However, astrological sign or not- I have never been a big fan of winter sports.  I am incredibly lazy in the winter- I blame it on the lack of suntan oil during those dark months.   But us Sagittarians are also very adaptable- which forced me to get off the couch and join Planet Fitness.   I strolled in one night after work and went through the rigamarole of filling out the paperwork and giving them my checking acct. info.  Normally, I don't like to have money just taken from my account automatically, it's too much commitment for me- but I didn't have a choice in the matter this time.  The girl signing me up gave me the whole spiel about how it's not like other gyms and anyone and everyone feels comfortable here- a claim I found difficult to believe.  I guess I still thought of gyms as places only musclebound guys and women in tight, perfectly matched workout gear and full makeup hung out.   Turns out I was wrong- at least about this place- looking around there were all shapes and sizes of people and no one even seemed to really pay attention to each other- just their workout at hand.   I know some people think of the gym as a social opportunity but not me.  I just want to be able to focus on myself while I'm there- crank my ipod and get in the zone.  The girl completed my forms and then offered me a compliment "I love your eyebrows, where do you get them done?!"- nice but a bit odd.  It's not every day that you get feedback on your brows.  Since I came right from work and hadn't been prepared to work out, I left and decided to come back the next day for some hardcore cardio.  The next evening, the first person who greeted me was the girl from the night before- and it was obvious she had been discussing me with her coworker.  "Hey Linda- this is the girl I was telling you about- with the great eyebrows she does herself!"  I laughed and said something along the lines of  "Maybe I should have a seminar on it, make a little extra money!" which cracked them both up.  Interesting- maybe this place won't be so bad after all- and if  I have any questions, I can always flash my eyebrows and get immediate assistance.  I get on the treadmill and start doing my thing- with a brand new play list I had made the night before.  I never fully realized how vital a kicka$$ play list is at the gym- without it, you just don't have the same motivation level.  My play list is a random mix of old and new- including J. Lo tunes from her pre-poser days,  Cage the Elephant, Mickey Avalon, Kid Rock, Foo Fighters, OffSpring, Pink, Puddle of Mudd, My Darkest Days and (go figure) old Pat Benatar.  I also find that if I throw it on random shuffle- it also gives me a little extra motivation.  Now, the only thing left to try is the free pizza they provide- every first Friday of the month.  Yes folks, you heard it right- my gym has free pizza one Friday a month.  Insanity.  I guess they figure it's all about moderation - and hell, whoever goes to the gym on a Friday after a long day at work- deserves a big slice.

Monday, February 20, 2012

If We Drink Enough of These, Spring Will Come!

Dirty Girl Scout Cookie (Shot)

 This one is good for those chilly end-of-winter nights!

 1/2 oz. Bailey's Irish Cream
1/2 oz. Kahlua Coffee Liqueur
1/2 oz. Peppermint Schnapps

 Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake well. Strain into an old-fashioned cocktail glass, and enjoy!

Sunset Sangria
A lighter, summery version of the Sangria we know and love!

 1 (750 milliliter) bottle rose wine
1 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup vodka
1/4 cup triple sec
1/2 cup simple syrup
1 peach, sliced
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
1 lime, sliced into rounds
1 (6 ounce) container fresh raspberries

Combine wine, pineapple juice, vodka, triple sec, and simple syrup in a large bowl or pitcher. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Next, stir the oranges, lemons, limes, and raspberries into the chilled sangria at least 30 minutes before serving. The longer the fruit marinates the better! Serve over ice.

 Or.... try Watermelon Sangria!

12 cups cubed watermelon
1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry white wine
1 cup vodka
1/2 cup triple sec
1/2 cup simple syrup
3 cups cubed seeded watermelon
1 medium lime, quartered
1 orange, cut into wedges
1 cup fresh blueberries

 Place 9 cups of watermelon cubes in a blender; blend on high until very smooth. Strain juice through a mesh strainer into a large pitcher.  Pour the wine, vodka, triple sec, and simple syrup into the pitcher- stir to combine. Mix the remaining 3 cups of watermelon cubes, the lime quarters, orange sections and blueberries into the sangria. Chill for 4 hours before serving.


 Who doesn't love a low calorie, ultra refreshing minty lime drink that quenches your thirst?!

For EACH drink place into a cocktail shaker:
1 sprig of fresh mint leaves from your garden or local market, removed from their stems (don't use dried, but frozen fresh is okay)
1/2 a fresh lime squeezed
1 tablespoon or more of table sugar (start with one and increase to taste as needed later, don't skip the sugar, it's important to the taste. You can substitute Splenda, but Equal and Sweet & Low don't give it the same sweet taste you are looking for).

 Crush these 3 ingredients in the bottom of the shaker using a wooden muddler or whatever works for you.  This step is very important- it releases the mint essence from the leaves into the sugar and lime juice!

 Pour 1 or 2 shots (per drink) of white rum (or citrus rum!) over ice.  Cover shaker and shake vigorously and dramatically in front of your guests
Do not strain the mixture from the shaker, allow the crushed mint leaves to go into the serving glass as well, that's part of the look and taste!

 Fill the glass with sparking water, seltzer, or club soda and stir with a long spoon

 Garnish with a fresh mint leave floating on top and serve with a tall drinking straw

BEST Bloody Mary - from our friends at

A little "hair of the dog" when you partied too hard the night before- liquid breakfast!

3 cups tomato juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 ½ tablespoons worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¾ teaspoon tabasco sauce
¾ teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
13 cup pickle juice
1 ounce vodka, per drink
cucumber, celery or whatever garnish you are feeling/have in your fridge

In a blender combine the tomato juice, lemon juice, lime juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, pickle juice, and hot sauce and process until smooth. Transfer to a nonreactive container and add celery salt and black pepper, to taste. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
When ready to serve, fill each glass with ice.
Add 1 ounce of vodka to each glass, then fill the glass with the bloody mary mix. Stir well, and garnish each glass with your favorite veggie, pickle, cucumber or celery.

Skinny Pineapple Martinis

Hey, it's not good to be vitamin C deficient!

 The average Piña Colada has 644 calories (that doesn’t include any fruit garnish or the whipped cream).  The average Pineapple Martini only contains 146 calories.  And the Pineapple Martini doesn’t have any fat calories at all…the Piña Colada can’t say that even if it doesn’t have the whipped topping!!!

 2 Ounces Pineapple Rum
2 Ounces Pineapple Juice (fresh or canned)
Pineapple Wedge (optional)

 In a shaker filled with ice add pineapple rum and juice.
Cover and shake vigorously.
Strain into martini glass.
Garnish with a pineapple wedge and serve.

Stay tuned- my next venture will be homemade pineapple infused vodka!!!!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Roasting Chestnuts- Fuggedaboutit

I am obsessed with cooking & travel shows that showcase the local delicacies.  I admit it, I need serious help- and I don't know if even Dr Drew can save me.  Some women have crushes on Brad Pitt or Matt Damon- me, I would sell my stuff and run off with Anthony Bourdain without a second thought.  I grew up with a father who loved to cook and did most of it- not the typical Italian household.  My Mom likes to say that he knew he didn't marry "Betty Crocker" and since he actually enjoyed cooking - she just let him take over!  Don't get me wrong- my mom has her 3 things she makes- and makes really well (love you Mom!)- she just doesn't get the same joy out of her culinary creations that we inherited from our Dad.  I was always fascinated when he lingerered over the stove- drinking wine while stirring pigskin into his homemade sauce, cooking up dandelion greens and  roasting bones in the oven for a stew.  I have fond memories of filling jar after jar of cherry peppers stuffed with proscuitto and cheese with my brother and him up at the lake-I think it was "one for me, one for the jar" most of the afternoon.  As I got older, I would invite him over for dinner at whatever circus-like apartment I was living in at the moment.   As I served my latest creation, I always watched his face carefully to see what he really thought of my efforts.  My dad was a lot of things- a good liar he was not.  I was always fascinated by his wine-soaked stories of making homemade bread in Italy, the chestnuts they roasted, ripe figs they picked right off their trees.  He taught me how to appreciate the most basic ingredients and create something almost magical with them.  These days, my taste varies from Italian to Mexican and even Asian- if my Dad could only see me now!

One Italian tradition that my brother and I enjoy year-round is our love of chestnuts.  We like to roast them over an open flame and come up with every excuse in the book to have a bonfire.  If it's been snowing, he even has been known to snowblow a path to his outdoor "kitchen" and shovel out some standing room for his guests! 

For those of you who have always been curious about chestnuts, cooking them is actually very easy.

First, you must score your chestnuts to allow steam to escape.  Basically, take a sharp knife and cut an "X" on the flat side of your chestnut. 

Then, place them in a pan that has had holes drilled through it so the heat can penetrate and cook evenly (we made ours on our own, but I am sure you can buy them premade- God bless the internet!)

Get your fire raging....

Or you can use a brick oven like my bro's (he made his himself!).   You can also do this stovetop with the same pan, just keep them moving and hang out stoveside so they don't burn!

Now, have some rum punch while you wait....

And enjoy some good company while they cook!  Keep stirring them- you don't want them to burn!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Planning Your Wake Before You Die

So those of you who know my Mom know that she has a funny yet morbid streak to her (hmmm, I wonder where I get mine...).  As odd as it sounds, she likes to joke about her wake and who will attend and when she meets a friend of mine who she really clicks with, she likes to throw them off guard.  My friend Jessica found this out last summer.  There we were, soaking up the rays at the beach and my mom started up the wake talk, "So Jess, you'll come to my wake, right?"  Good ole Jess didn't even bat an eye, "of COURSE Donna, and I'll even bring my husband!".  My Mom rubbed her hands together in glee "oh good, 2 more definites!"  She has her music planned out and everything- and swears she will haunt me if I don't subject everyone to several hours of Elvis's Greatest Hits and her favorite foods.  And did I mention that she expects all our pets there too?! She even has a few people on her list that I am supposed to refuse entry to- but we won't go there today.  We laugh about it but hey, it's like your last party- why shouldn't you have what you want?!  One day my Mom decided that she really only needed one night vs the standard 2 nites of mourning most deceased receive.  It was at this point that I figured "what the hell, I'm jumping on this band wagon too".  So I made it known that I expect 2 full nights of mourning- hell, maybe even 3- I want all my out of state friends and family to have a chance to get together and reminisce on the good times we had.  My Mom quickly nodded her head in agreement,"Whatever you want honey- I think you deserve a few nights and if I'm still here, we will get Holo Holo charters in Kauai to take everyone out to spread your ashes on each of those 3 days".   Like Mother, like daughter.   Love you Mom!

Friday, February 3, 2012

10 of My Favorite & FREE Android Apps

A lot of these apps are also free if you have an iphone- or so I have been told.

10. Shazam
If you hear a song and don't know what it is (or for the life of you, can't remember who sings it)—Shazam to the rescue! This is an app I keep easily accessible on my main screen.  Hit the Shazam button, hold it as close as you can to the speakers or even your TV.  Within a few seconds, the app will tell you the title, artist, and sometimes even find the album art, too.   It keeps in it what it calls a "tagged file" so when you are ready to download from Itunes, it's right at your fingertips.

9. Angry Birds Rio
What's better than a game you can play anywhere you have to wait for something?!
 In Angry Birds Rio, the original Angry Birds are kidnapped and taken to Rio de Janeiro, where they eventually escape their captors and set out to to save their friends, Blu and Jewel – two rare macaws and the stars of the hit motion picture, Rio. Angry Birds Rio combines the fun of the original game with twists based on the film.

8. Brightest Flashlight
Another one that's a must for your main screen.  This app even sounds serious as it fires up- and I have used it several times in the woods, in complete darkness while hunting for logs for our bonfires.  There are also apps for colored flashlights which I admit I also installed, but this is the one I find I use the most.

7. Wheres My Droid - If you're anything like me, you've "lost" your phone so many times only to find it tucked away in a jacket pocket or some other obvious—or not so obvious—location.  This app makes your phone ring at maximum volume or vibrate when the phone receives a text message containing a specified phrase, such as "Where's my Droid?".  The app can also tell you the phone's location but your GPS must be enabled.

6. Mobile Q (for Netflix)
This app is great for those of us who have dvd delivery only from Netflix (no streaming).  Since I don't have streaming as part of my Netflix package, their regular Android app won't allow me access.  Apparently, they don't have a way to not allow streaming access on your Android, so their standard app is not so user friendly for those of us who just want to add a movie to our dvd or blu ray que.  Are you ever out and about and someone tells you that you MUST see a certain movie?  If you're anything like me, you'll forget all about it by the time you get home.  Now with Mobile Q, you can search for a movie, add to your que and it's linked to the Netflix site instantaneously for updating. 

5. Skype Mobile
I have to admit, I just downloaded this one and have yet to use it.  But hey, if I can skype with my sister on my phone- this is going to be in my top 5 soon.  Anyone who has used this already, I would love some feedback.

4. Out of Milk
I'm definitely an old-school list maker when it comes to my grocery list but I thought I'd try this one.  This app allows you to scan products directly into your Shopping Lists or Pantry Lists using a Barcode Scanner which is pretty cool.  It also features a To-Do List that lets you add and keep track of any other items on a daily list.  Say you have a shopping list for a specific recipe that you want to share with a friend- you can email or text message the list right to them!  For those married folk out there, you can even email the To-Do list to your spouse! 

3. Google Sky Map
This app uses your phone's orientation tools to give you an accurate representation of the stars and planets on your screen. Point your phone at the sky, and it will outline the constellations that are visible.  It's a great way to find out if that light in the sky is a UFO or not.

2. Pandora
Pandora Radio is free personalized radio that only plays music you’ll love. Just start with the name of one of your favorite artists or songs and Pandora will create a custom "station" that plays similar music.  If you're somewhere that you need some tunes and don't have your ipod sound system with you, this saves the day!

1. Surfline
Ok, ok, maybe a lot less people will use this app than the others listed but I can't wait for my next trip to Hawaii to use this one.  You can get the surf report, tide info and even the weather forecast for various beaches on here, which is great when you're an avid boogie boarder like myself.  This is a must-have for every beach lover out there.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Saving the World- One Pet's Life at A Time

When my longtime feline friend Wonka died of renal failure, my vet broke the news to me that diet had played a huge part in his disease.  For 19 yrs, I thought keeping him well fed was enough- but apparently the pet food companies have been lying to us for years about what exactly is in their products- and animals are getting sick and dying.  Familiar supermarket brands and even a lot of pet store brands are full of so many preservatives, additives, gluten and meal- not real meat.  If the first ingredient in your pet food is meal- that is very very bad.

This is worth the read if you love your pets like I do....

Halo dry cat food (also available for dogs!)

Since my cats have been eating Halo (well, mainly Penelope-at one years old, Halo is all Gino has ever had- thank christ), no one has thrown up and they actually enjoy the taste of this more natural dry food.

Halo's Sensitive Cat Formula of Spot's Stew is an all natural dry cat food that does not have any rendered ("recycled") meat or meat meals, which are legally unfit for human consumption.  It contains USA-grown vegetables and fruits, natural preservatives, and vitamins and minerals. Halo Spot's Stew contains no corn or wheat, which makes it an ideal pet food for cats with food allergies like my girl Penelope (explains her throwing up in the past!).  Spot's Stew includes probiotics, also known as live bacteria to help restore bacterial balance in the intestines. It also includes prebiotics which are special forms of fiber that stimulate growth and function of beneficial bacteria in the intestine.

If you sign up for their email newsletter, you can even score coupons and free cans of wet food for joining their site!

For the love of God, buy yourself a little less wine like I do and spend the extra money on your furry friends.  They deserve it.

In Memory Of Wonka

Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: about 1 1/3 cups)

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
4 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (3-inch) stalk lemongrass, halved lengthwise
2 teaspoons fresh chile paste
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 cups light coconut milk
4 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (about 8 ounces)
1/2 cup green onion strips
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add mushrooms and the next 4 ingredients (through lemongrass); cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chile paste; cook 1 minute. Add Chicken Stock, coconut milk, fish sauce, and sugar; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low; simmer for 10 minutes. Add chicken to pan; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Discard lemongrass. Top with onions, cilantro, and juice & anything else you wish.  I love this recipe!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

10 Dark & Deranged Movies To Keep You Up At Night

Those of you who have Netflix memberships have probably noticed the ridiculous amount of horror movies on their site.  I've never been a lover of comedy, aside from the rare exception- my secret addiction is horror movies- the more obscure the better.  Those movies that some might dismiss as too deranged or too gory, those are the ones I added to the top of my que!  Now some of these may not be your typical bloody horror flix- but they were so weirdly thought provoking that they made my list.  My close friends know it takes a lot to disturb me- but some of these really got me thinking... especially those that could feasibly happen.  Those are the ones that made me lose a little sleep but hell, I can sleep when I'm dead.....

(potential spoiler alert- be warned)

10. Welcome to the Jungle

This is shot like a documentary- which in itself I found intriguing right from the start.  We start out with two old friends who haven't seen each other in awhile and two guys they are involved with.  Right from the start, you realize the two couples are almost completely opposite from each other and this will present a problem.  They journey to the New Guinea wilderness to try and find Michael D Rockefeller, who disappeared in 1961.  As they get deeper and deeper into the jungle, partying commences, opinions clash, fights ensue and they split up- which turns out to be a fatal mistake.   The movie is shown through the eyes of couple 1 (on camera 1) - then through the eyes of couple 2 (on camera 2)- it adds a kind of realism.   I'd rate the gore and violence factor as a 7 on this one and towards the end,  my heart was racing because I just KNEW it wasn't going to end well.  This movie made you really think about how different cultures can be and that when you're in the jungle, it's every man or woman for themselves.  I really really liked this one- and the end was great, even if somewhat anticipated by those horror aficionados like myself.  The reviews I read for this one were pretty much all negative but I am so glad I gave it a shot.  I've always been one to be open minded, check something out and form my own opinion regardless of what I have heard or read.  This is definitely one I want to buy and add to my blu ray library- the scenery was fantastic. 

9. Wrong Turn 4

Normally I'm not a big fan of sequels- they always seem to fall short of the original.  Wrong Turn 4 is actually a prequel which tries to explain the beginning of the hillbilly mutants.  In a way, you almost feel bad for them being locked up & shut away the way they were- maybe just a little.  The usual Wrong Turn ingredients are present here- friends meet up, start partying, friends disappear, friends die, friends rescue each other- but not for long.   The scene in the kitchen was probably one of the better scenes in all of the Wrong Turn movies- I admit, even I was a little sickened.  But hey, it's just a movie- suck it up and watch it.

8.  Shrooms

3 couples go to Ireland in search of the elusive magic mushroom and some quality time together in the forest.  Right from the start, I was impressed with Lindsay Haun- she was very believable in her role and kept me glued to her plight the whole movie.  It doesn't take long until a creepy story is being told at the campfire which might be more than just a story... people start disappearing, silhouettes move through the woods and the creepy story starts to melt into reality along with the effect of the mushrooms.  No one could distinguish between what was real and what was a hallucination- so it kept me guessing as well.  Not the typical horror movie- more of a freak-out that I liked more than I expected to- even the effects were pretty cool.  But maybe that was because of the talking cow and the ending I should have seen coming but didn't.

7. Red State

Three middle american teens answer a craiglist adult ad- and they get more than they bargained for.  The scariest thing about this movie is this really can happen in today's world- where more people meet online than ever before.  You quickly realize the woman they go to meet is just not right somehow and that safety isn't always guaranteed even in numbers.  I don't want to ruin this one for you but let's just say things go bad quickly and the people they meet have sinister intentions.  It's also shows you that what the government releases as truths as not always what really happens.  Watch it- and think hard about this one.

6. Hostel III

In the world of torture porn, Hostel has always stood head and shoulders above the rest.  I didn't expect much from Hostel III but was curious as to where they would go with this one.  Unlike the other two Hostel movies, this one was not set in a different country but in Las Vegas of all places.  In my opinion, this is what made it even more disturbing- that this can happen right under our noses in America.  Four friends embark on a secret trip to Vegas for a bachelor party and encounter two escorts who promise them a private party off the strip.  Again, it's the old "the rich can buy anything" adage and of course it's Vegas- so it involves gambling.   Well, gambling with a killer edge to it.  Hostel III had the usual graphic violence but the first death scene really blew me away.  I just didn't expect what I was about to see- despite my familiarity with the Hostel series.  The nonchalant way the "doctor" went about his tasks in front of the audience was overwhelming.  Movies like this make me wonder if organizations like The Elite Hunting Club really do exist.  People disappear every day and you wonder if situations like this become their fate.  I was truly shocked by the ending- I didn't expect it to develop the way it did and the last two characters to be so completely changed from the beginning.  But I didn't blame them- I probably would have done the same thing at that point.  Yea, it's different than the first 2 movies but that's what made this sequel more watchable in my eyes.  Get it- let me know what you think. 

5.  The Perfect Host

Red or white wine?!

This movie actually made me a fan of David Hyde Pierce.  I was never a huge fan of Frasier- to be honest, I thought it sucked.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he can play someone creepy and pull it off.   A con on the run goes through a mailbox and decides to pretend he is a friend of the owner - to give himself somewhere to hide out and buy some time.  What happens next is a perfect example of how the hunter can quickly have the tables turned on him and be the hunted.  As the movie progresses, you realize that the con couldn't have picked a worse house to hole up at- and you wonder if he'll make it out alive.  Of course, the wine he is offered is drugged (never accept a glass of liquid from a stranger- hello!!!) and the party scene is bizarre.  David Hyde Pierce's character tests the con in certain situations, then their chess game shows him that he is a man to reckon with- a man who has balls.  I never in a million years expected the movie to play out as it did.  They say every psycho has two sides- one for the general public and their "real" life and one for their private persona only seen by their victims- and you see both sides of his here.  And I won't ruin it for you- but when you gain an insight into his "real" life, it's not at all what you would have expected.

4.  Black Water

This movie puts those ridiculous Lake Placid movies to shame.  If you like movies with killer animals, this is a must-see.  A couple and the woman's sister are on vacation in Australian and on a whim, rent a boat to go fishing.  The part that really stuck with me for hours after the movie was the relationship between the 2 sisters and how it ended.  All I kept thinking was "what would I do?  How would i save my sister".   The raw emotion that was shown in this movie actually brought tears to my eyes and I really was rooting for the sisters to escape unharmed from the mangrove swamp.  The movie has little blood and gore, more psychological angst and for a low budget independent movie, it was incredibly realistic.  The scenes in the dark with the lightning and the crocodile lurking below were the scariest- sometimes what you don't see scares you the most.

3.  Wrecked

A man wakes up trapped in a car- with no recollection of who he is or how he got there.  The only company he has is the dead guy beside him and he has no idea who the hell he is either.  As he attempts to piece together the details of how this happened, he has flashbacks (or are they hallucinations?) which offer a glimmer into the truth behind the crash.  I'm a big fan of Adrian Brody so maybe I'm a bit biased but I really liked him in this survival story.  As it becomes apparent that no one is coming to rescue him, his new ordeal is now escaping the car which he is trapped in.  As he escapes, you wonder if maybe he was better off inside the car- as the wilderness now surrounds him with all it's dangers.  The story definitely dragged a bit and would have been better if it was a bit shorter but the makeup/injuries were extremely well done.  As the pieces of the story fit together, it made a lot of sense and the whole thing with the dog really was what kept him going in my opinion.  Another good one to check out on blu ray- very scenic.

2. The Reef

I have had an obsession with shark movies since I was a child.  Maybe I shouldn't have watched "Jaws" so young but in any case, I find myself both fascinated and terrified of them at the same time.  These days, shark movies have come a long way- they actually show the shark- or at least a damn good computerized version of one.  I am someone who would fight to the end but after seeing this movie I thought "would it have been better just to die from drowning or go through the ordeal these poor people did- to no avail?"  The characters couldn't avoid being hunted and in the open water, there is absolutely nowhere to hide.  I can't imagine witnessing the violent death of a friend, temporarily burying your emotions in order to move on-while knowing that you are probably next.  It was pretty easy to pick out who would survive- and that was really the one I was rooting for the whole time.  If you have a blu ray player, this is another one that's a must on blu ray- you actually feel like you're right beside them in the ocean.  I usually watch movies in the dark for maximum impact but at one point, I actually found myself turning the light on- it somehow made me feel safer.

1. The Grey

I recently saw this one in the theatre but felt it should still be on this list.  An oil drilling team in Alaska is watched over by Liam Neeson's character who is a sniper hired to protect the drilling team from hungry wolves.  Their plane crashes and quickly they realize they are out in the wilderness with no supplies and being hunted by the same wolves.  After ten minutes of watching the extreme cold on the screen, I actually started shivering myself.  Was it the movie or the chill in the theatre?  Maybe a bit of both.  Their fight to stay warm and survive while steadily losing members of their group to the wolves was enough to make normal people give up hope but not Liam Neeson.  He banded them together and like the Irish tough guy image he is known for, he gave them the courage and know-how to survive.  The ending when he strapped broken nip bottles to his hand and got ready for his final confrontation left you wondering- but in the end, it was all he could do.  Anyone that knows Liam Neeson's characters knows if he's gonna go down, he's going down fighting.  I liked it and felt it was worth the $7 discounted ticket I scored.