Sunday, October 4, 2015


Challenge Totals to Date:

Movies Watched Today: 5
Total Movies Watched: 12
Total First Time Views: 4
Scare-A-Thon Donations: $180.60

Remember, if you would like to make a pledge toward Scare-A-Thon 2015 (benefitting PLANNED PARENTHOOD and GREENHOUSE SHELTER) at any time, drop me an email at to say how much you would like to pledge. Your donation is tax deductible and, seriously, even a penny per film helps.

Series 7: The Contenders (2001) d. Minahan, Daniel (USA) (2nd viewing) 86 min

Made only a year after Survivor premiered on network TV, this brilliantly dark satire offers the premise of six strangers randomly selected to hunt each other down live on-camera. A decade and a half later, it’s amazing how brilliantly writer/director Minahan predicted the tropes of reality television with his feature debut – it’s a textbook example of life imitating art. We are given background profiles of our six contenders, they and their families are interviewed, and then the “competition” begins, with Brooke Smith (best known as kidnap victim Catherine Martin from The Silence of the Lambs) taking center stage as an 8-months-pregnant mama bear bent on survival at all costs. My favorite thing (outside of the oft-hilarious dialogue)? The fact that it’s posited as the seventh installment of the series, so a lot of stuff is just taken for granted for the “regular viewers.” (There’s also a certain pre-stardom Arrested Development alum cameo that simply – wait for it – kills.) Smart and stinging filmmaking, with an air of well-thought-out authenticity that other found-footage efforts would do well to emulate. Great song soundtrack by Girls Against Boys.

Kalifornia (1993) d. Sena, Dominic (USA) (3rd viewing) 118 min

David Duchovny stars as a journalist out to deliver the definitive book on serial killers with his sassy, sardonic photographer girlfriend (Michelle Forbes). As fate would have it, their cross-country travels take them on a collision course with white trash murderer Early Grace (Brad Pitt) and his half-wit lady love Adele (Juliette Lewis), racking up the miles and body count along the way. Tim Metcalfe’s overlong script is a bit trite at times, with its on-the-nose observations about classism and voyeurism into the darker corners of the world, but there are enough bright (and bloody) spots throughout to keep things worthwhile. Lewis is terrific in her weirdnik way, and this is the movie where I said, “You know, this Brad Pitt fella – he knows how to have a good time.” Director Sena was having a moment there with Gone in 60 Seconds and Swordfish, but doesn’t seem to have done much since 2011’s Season of the Witch with Nicholas Cage. Music by Coen Brothers fave Carter Burwell.

From Within (2008) d. Papamichael, Phedon (USA) (1st viewing) 89 min

A finalist in the third After Dark Horrorfest, this second directorial feature from longtime Hollywood DP Papamichael (3:10 to Yuma, This is 40, Ides of March) sees a small God-fearing community waylaid by a wave of irrational suicides. Sensitive lad Aidan (Thomas Dekker of Sarah Connor Chronicles fame) is labeled a witch by the local pastor’s zealot son (Kelly Blatz), with good girl Lindsay (Elizabeth Rice) caught in the middle. The weird doppelganger motif that the victims see before they die manages to provide a few cheap scares despite feeling a little gimmicky, but the authentic tiny town religious fanaticism proves more chilling than any CG creepers. Not great, but not horrible. Too bad about the super generic title, though.

Hide and Seek (2005) d. Polson, John (USA) (2nd viewing) 101 min

A great cast, headed by Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Amy Irving (a pre-credits cameo), Famke Janssen, Elizabeth Shue, Dylan Baker, Melissa Leo, and Robert John Burke in service of a fairly cliché and lugubrious ghost story. After the death of her mother, young Emily (Fanning) and her grieving father (De Niro) move upstate to try to lose the blues, whereupon the girl starts having communications with an unseen companion, Charlie, who might be imaginary... or something more sinister. All the performers do fine, so I guess most of the blame should be laid at the feet of Polson who fails to deliver more than dark brooding and glum faces, and screenwriter Ari Schlossberg’s third act twist doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. With the exception of Cape Fear and Angel Heart, it might be safe to say that maybe Bobby DN should steer clear of the horror genre – one has to wonder why he picked this one other than the paycheck and despite his marquee value, his brusque presence perhaps wasn’t the best choice for the gig. (He constantly looks like he wants to punch Fanning out, not that her creepy kid antics don’t deserve it.) There are four alternate endings available on the DVD (“One Final Game” is the best of the lot, for my money); unfortunately, theatrical viewers were stuck with the test audiences’ preference for a stereotypical “ooooooh, skeeeeery” conclusion.

12. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) Miner, Steve USA (4th viewing) 86 min After a downward spiral of increasingly inferior sequels and goofy storylines, Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the Halloween fold, and there was much rejoicing. The backstory: Laurie faked her death in order to escape her psychotic sibling, and is now living a fragile existence as an alcoholic, overly protective single mother and headmaster of a private California high school. (A move that pleased some fans and enraged others, since the events of the previous three installments are essentially ignored here.) When The Shape inevitably shows up, a genuine, emotionally invested struggle between two beloved screen characters ensues, as Laurie struggles to defend herself and her son (Josh Hartnett, in his screen debut) against her lifelong nemesis. Horror veteran Steve Miner does a laudable job of alternating between suspense and shock, and the Robert Zappia/Matt Greenberg script provides many Scream-like references, including cameos from Curtis’ real-life mom/Psycho star Janet Leigh, and Nancy Stephens (the nurse in the car with Dr. Loomis when Myers originally escaped from the asylum in 1978). Reprising her starmaking role, Curtis is nothing short of terrific and the final half hour is a thrill-ride, watching her go toe-to-bloody-toe with her darkest fears, providing nostalgia and bloodletting in equal measure. With Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, and LL Cool J.


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