Hidden Netflix Gems – Series 7: The Contenders

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Spoofs of reality television have become almost as ubiquitous as reality television itself these days, and fake documentary films are certainly not in short supply, but writer-director Daniel Minahan‘s 2001 dark comedic thriller Series 7: The Contenders is one of the best of both. Released before the rise of Arrested Development star Will Arnett, who provides the voice-over of the film’s fictional reality show, Series 7 benefits from its largely unknown cast in that, as unlikely as its central premise is, it often feels all too real. The film is wickedly funny, but simultaneously disturbing in its depiction of the ruthlessness of human nature, especially when a great deal of money or fame is involved.

Series 7 concerns the familiar idea of a game in which human beings hunt each other for sport. Beginning with Richard Connell’s 1924 story, The Most Dangerous Game, this concept has gone through a number of incarnations, most recently in the Japanese cult favorite Battle Royale and the immensely popular The Hunger Games. What sets Series 7 apart most of all is its relentless dark humor; for example, after blowing away a fellow competitor in a convenience store, the film’s protagonist, Dawn (Brooke Smith, best known as Buffalo Bill’s captive, Catherine Martin, in The Silence of the Lambs), calmly asks the clerk, “Hey, you got any bean dip?”

Dawn is the crowd favorite, having won the two previous seasons in a row (contestants are granted their freedom if they win three in a row) and being eight months pregnant. She is now presumably trying to win her freedom and her life in order to care for her baby once it is born, but the skills she has honed in the previous two seasons show in her apparent relish for the sport. As the film begins, she is seen stalking the other contestants and calling them on the phone in an attempt to psyche them out and make them easier prey. Other contestants include Dawn’s high school boyfriend, Jeff (Glenn Fitzgerald), which indicates that the supposedly random selection process is rigged; Lindsay (Merritt Wever), a perky high school student who has just turned 18, making her legal fair game for the show; and Connie (Marylouise Burke), a seemingly sweet, middle-aged nurse who proves to be the most fascinating and terrifying character in the film.

Though Series 7 frustratingly lacks a larger worldview to explain some of its more questionable conceptual leaps of faith – particularly the circumstances that led to the government’s sanctioning of the show’s selection process – its commitment to accurately recreating the look and feel of reality television pays off enormously. The undeniable entertainment value of the series makes for extremely effective satire, especially in the film’s ending, which is too viciously brilliant to spoil here.

  

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The ultimate solution to the 3-D madness — “Feel Around”

I like the late Kinji Fukasaku’s film of “Battle Royale,” but maybe not quite as much as some people.

Nevertheless, this item, about a coming and seemingly utterly random 3-D retrofit of the putative “gorefest” just makes me want to fly to Monster Island and pick a fight with Ghidrah. What next, “The Wild Bunch”?

Or perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe it’s time to just go utterly all-in with the ultimate cinematic process, predicted so many years ago by the Zucker Brothers, Jim Abraham, and John Landis in “The Kentucky Fried Movie.”

  

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A “Kick-Ass” marketing campaign?

What’s looking to be almost certainly the most controversial comic book movie of 2010 is starting to take its marketing campaign into high gear with the release of posters for “Kick-Ass.” For those of you not in the know, it’s Mathew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s comic book about a teen (Aaron Johnson, who’ll also be playing the young John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy”) who decides out of the blue to be a superhero — only he doesn’t get bitten by a radioactive animal, nor does he spend 10 years turning himself into the ultimate ninja. Following his lead, a few presumably less than stable “heroes,” to be played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Superbad“), Chloe Moretz (“(500) Days of Summer“), and Nicolas Cage, get into the act. Ultra-violent hijinks ensue.

KickAss_WildPost_4UP_NoURL

As you can see, we have four separate posters here that might be together on large billboards (those of us who live in L.A. may well see some huge version of this on the Sunset strip) and can also be displayed separately.

I don’t know the comic book, but as mentioned here before, there’s been definite buzz around this project based on some clips that showed this year at Comi-Con. Moreover, director Matthew Vaughn was once best known as Guy Ritchie’s producer, but he stepped confidently out of his shadow and emerged, in my opinion, the less showy and better director with the 2003 crime thriller, “Layer Cake.” As with 2007’s underrated/underseen romantic fantasy-comedy, “Stardust” the screenplay is credited to Vaughn and English TV presenter Jane Goldman. I also like the fact that so far Vaughan has made three very different movies in three different genres.

According to Peter Sciretta of /Film, comparisons are flying with this one, particularly to “The Matrix” and also, according to a unnamed friend who saw it, “Shaun of the Dead” — presumably in terms of the sense of humor. Still, considering the possibility for social satire and the touchy spectacle of young people and ultra-violence, my mind is going towards Kinji Fukasaku’s film of “Battle Royale.”

I understand a trailer is coming next week. Also, according to Rick Marshall of MTV, there is a web site (iamkick-ass.com), but what I’m seeing there right now is just pure whiteness. Not terribly kick-ass. Stay on the lookout, I guess.

  

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Wrapping up Tarantino Tuesday

Quentin Tarantino has eaten my day! And there’s no guarantee it won’t also be Tarantino Wednesday-Sunday!

Nothing to do but share a few links you may have missed and I’ve failed to include here prior.

I tend to fight the temptation vigorously, but we film geeks love our lists, and Tarantino has participated in two this week. The first is his twenty favorite films that have come out since he began directing in 1992. It’s been on every blog on town, so I don’t see why we should be any different. (H/t Anne Thompson and every other blog in town.)

Do I agree with his choices? Nah, not very many. Some are downright baffling, including his favorite, “Battle Royale.” It’s an entertaining/disturbing little movie but, though it was a huge film for many, it wouldn’t come close for me to something like, say, the vastly less well known “A Dirty Carnival” — it might make my top twenty for the year it came out. On the other hand, agreeing is never the point of this film criticism game; that’s a mistake too many make. Also, my list covering the same period would have at least two, maybe three, but no more than four, Tarantino movies, so there’s that.

And that other list. In this case, Tarantino collaborated with the critics of England’s Time Out on a catalogue of what they see as the “The 50 Greatest World War II Movies.” It’s a genuinely interesting group of movies, and there isn’t a single film that I don’t think should be seen on it (including a few I need to get caught up on myself). Actually, there is one exception. I was essentially praying for death through of all “The Thin Red Line,” so bored was I with the intense beauty of Terence Malick’s imagery, so I can’t really recommend that one. Some people think it’s great. Also, thanks to my WWII movie-loving buddy, Randy Reynaldo, for sending me the link. And we both agree: Where’s “Stalag 17” Where???

The invaluable David Hudson has tons more, some of which may still end up here, too. More to come, for sure, in any case.

  

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