Lifetime Christmas Movie Review: The Christmas Contract (dir by Monika Mitchell)

There’s a very clever scene at the beginning of The Christmas Contract.

Jack Friedman (Robert Buckley) is a writer who can’t get any of the big publishing houses to even take a look at his new book.  However, Jack’s agent informs him that they might change his mind if he does some ghostwriting.  One can see from Jack’s reaction that this is not the first time that he’s been asked to be a ghostwriter and it’s not something that he particularly enjoys.  Still, because one does have to eat, Jack agrees.

His agent tells him that he’ll be ghostwriting the latest installment in a very popular but critically dismissed series of romance novels.  He’s told to go read the previous book in the series and then to basically rewrite it, just changing a few details so that it can be advertised as a totally new book.  He’s given a list of plot points that the publishers want to be included in the book.  Again, it’s not particularly important how the plot points are integrated into the story.  Instead, they just have to be there.

Moonlight dance?  Yep.

Kisses under the stars?  Yep.

Oh, and the book needs to take place in Louisiana.

Now, you don’t have to be a part of the industry to realize that, in this scene, Jack is serving as a stand-in for every writer who has ever been assigned to write a Hallmark (or, let’s just be honest here, Lifetime) Christmas movie.  Don’t try to reinvent the season, just make sure that the basics are there.  Pick a new location and you’re ready to go!

With that scene, the makers of The Christmas Contract are acknowledging that, “yes, this is another Lifetime holiday movie.”  And yes, it’s going to remind you of a lot of other Lifetime holiday movies.  But, that still doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it.  After all, the appeal of a movie like this is to be found in its familiarity.  In an often chaotic world, there’s something to be said for the comfort of a good, if predictable, romance novel.  The same can be said of a Lifetime Christmas movie.

Anyway, it’s a good thing that the publishers want the book to be set in Louisiana because that’s where Jack spends his holiday.  He’s actually accompanying a recently single woman named Jodie (Hilarie Burton) back to her home for Christmas.  Because Jodie’s ex-boyfriend is going to be visiting with his new girlfriend, Jodie doesn’t want her family to know that she’s single.  So, Jack pretends to be her boyfriend.  They even sign a contract ahead of time.  And, yes, you can guess exactly what ends up happening but, again, that’s kind of the point with a movie like this.

The cast, which includes several veterans of One Tree Hill, does a good job with the material but the true star of this film is the state of Louisiana.  This film makes full use of the beautiful Louisiana landscape and the celebratory nature of the state’s culture.  It may have been predictable but it was still enjoyable.  Spending the holidays with Jodie, Jack, and the family looked like a lot of fun.

2017 in Review: The Best of SyFy

Continuing my look back at the best of 2017, today is the day that I reveal my picks for the best SyFy movies and performances of the previous year!

But before I do that, a plea to the SyFy Network.  I make this plea every year and it never does any good.  It probably won’t do any good this year.  But still, I’m going to make it.  SyFy, give us more original films!  From a business point of view, I can understand why SyFy shifted their focus from movies to episodic television.  But I’m not a business person!  I’m a movie lover, one who has wonderful memories of when every weekend would bring another gloriously over-the-top SyFy movie.

Those were wonderful days and it’s sad that the only time that I get to relive them is either during Shark Week or during October.

Seriously, SyFy — give us more original movies!

With that in mind, here are my picks for the best of 2017 SyFy:

(All credits are based on what’s listed at the imdb.  If anyone has been incorrectly credited or left out, please leave a comment and I will correct the mistake.)

Best PictureHouse of the Witch (produced by Neil Elman, Margaret Huddleston, Bryan Sexton)

This haunted house movie was effectively creepy and featured some unexpectedly starting imagery.  Runners-up (and it was a close race): Trailer Park Shark, Sharknado 5, and The Sandman.

Best Director — Griff Furst for Trailer Park Shark

The idea of sharks attacking a trailer park sounds like a huge joke but Furst crafted it into a compelling and entertaining story that celebrated redneck ingenuity.

Best Actor — Ian Ziering in Sharknado 5

The fifth time is the charm as Ziering gives his best performance so far as the chainsaw-wielding Finn.

Best Actress — Haylie Duff in The Sandman

Duff brings some much-needed gravity to the role of a formerly irresponsible aunt trying to save her niece from a monster made of sand.

Best Supporting Actor — Jason London in Mississippi River Sharks and Dennis Haskins in Trailer Park Shark

As much as I tried, I simply could not make a choice between London’s comedic performance (as himself) and Dennis Haskins’s villainous turn.  So, we have a tie!

Best Supporting Actress — Shae Smolik in The Sandman

As the girl being haunted by the Sandman, Smolik gave a refreshingly realistic performance.

Best Screenplay — Neil Elman for House of the Witch

This is the third year in a row that Neil Elman has won in this category.

Best Cinematography — Dane Lawing for House of the Witch

House of the Witch feature some truly haunting images.  In my review, I raved about one shot in particular, of a pickup truck driving across the desolate landscape in the middle of the night.

Best Costumes — Mary-Sue Morris for Empire of the Sharks and Kendra Terpenning for Neverknock

Another tie.  Empire of the Sharks proved that, just because the world’s ending, that doesn’t mean you can’t look good,  Neverknock’s costumes made good use of the Halloween setting, especially with Lola Flannery’s devil costume.

Best Editing — Anna Florit and Ryan Michelle for Sharknado 5

In 2017, Sharknado 5 took us on a trip around the world, offered up nonstop action, and there was never a boring moment.

Best Makeup — Madeleine Botha for Empire of the Sharks

Again, just because the world’s ending, that doesn’t mean you can’t look good.

Best Score — Andrew Morgan Smith for Trailer Park Shark

The score brought the bayou, the trailer park, and the shark to life!

Best Production Design — Anthony Stabley and Dana Rice for House of the Witch

Seriously, that house was so creepy!

Best Sound — Dylan Blount, Leandro Cassan, Jonathan Iglecias , Mitchell Kohen, Chris Polczinski, Mike Varela for House of the Witch

It wasn’t just the way the house looked in House of the Witch that made it a creepy place.  It was also the way that every sound in the background could have just been someone stumbling around or it could have been the witch about to jump out and rip off someone’s fingers.

Best Visual Effects — Craig Bassuk, Sasha Burrow, Yancy Calzada, Glenn Campbell , Yolanda Charlo Rodriguez, Aine Graham, John Karner, Tammy Klein, Mark Kochinski , Kevin Lane, Christian McIntire, James Payfer, Richard A. Payne, Paul Runyan, Chris Simmons, Scott Wheeler, Aaron Witlin,
Al Magliochetti for Sharknado 5

Keep those sharks flying!

Tomorrow, my look back at 2017 continues with my list of good things that I saw on television last year (not counting, of course, all of the good things that I just mentioned in this post).

Previous entries in the TSL’s Look Back at 2017:

  1. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Single Issues by Ryan C
  2. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Series by Ryan C
  3. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Edition (Contemporary) by Ryan C
  4. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage) by Ryan C
  5. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Graphic Novels By Ryan C
  6. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I saw in 2017 by Valerie Troutman
  7. My Top 15 Albums of 2017 by Necromoonyeti
  8. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2017
  9. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Final Post About Twin Peaks: The Return (for now)
  10. 2017 in Review: Lisa Marie’s 14 Favorite Songs of 2017


Let’s Talk About Mississippi River Sharks (dir by Misty Talley)

Oh my God — sharks in the Mississippi River!?

Hey, why not?  Listen, SyFy has been showing shark films for over four years straight now.  We’ve had zombie sharks.  We’ve had toxic sharks.  We had a ghost shark.  We’ve had a planet of the sharks.  The sharks have taken over the oceans.  They’ve taken over the jersey shore.  There’s even a movie called Sand Sharks, in which the sharks take over the beach!  And, let’s not forget that SyFy and the Asylum have built an entire franchise around the idea that sharks can survive in a tornado.  (And I haven’t even mentioned what happens in Shark Exorcist.)

My point is that there are a lot of shark movies and, as a result, the sharks are having to branch out and explore new aquatic territory.  It was inevitable that the sharks would eventually find their way to the Mississippi River.

As soon as I saw the title of this movie, I thought to myself, “Please tell me that this movie will open with a big old riverboat getting attacked by sharks.”  You can imagine how happy I was when, less than five minutes into the film, that’s exactly what happened.  When you’re watching a movie on SyFy and you see a bunch of CGI sharks jumping onto the deck of a riverboat and snapping off people’s heads, you know you’re in a good hands.  You know you’re going to be properly entertained for the next two hours.

Really, when it comes to shark movies, all you really need are the sharks and some victims who, for whatever reason, refuse to stay out of the water.  However, Mississippi River Sharks offers a  bit more than that.  After the sharks get finished with that riverboat, they move on down the Mississippi and attack a small town’s annual “fish rodeo.”  Needless to say, a fish rodeo always tends to attract the most eccentric among us and this one is no different.  For instance, there’s Possum (Kevin J. McGrath), who isn’t going to let a little thing like a shark attack stand in the way of his quest to win a trophy.  There’s Big Bill (Marco St. John), who owns the local car dealership and who doesn’t see why the presence of a few sharks should stand in the way of making a little money.  There’s Wyatt (Dean West), who has a way with a quip and quickly emerged as a favorite of the viewing audience.  And then there’s Tara (played by Cassie Steele, star of both Degrassi and Zombie Shark) who quickly shows that she knows just how to deal with ill-tempered sharks.

Finally, there’s Jason London, playing the role of …. Jason London!  That’s right, Jason London plays himself in Mississippi River Sharks.  In the film’s universe, Jason is well-known for starring in multiple editions of the Shark Bite franchise.  (“We don’t talk about Shark Bite 3!” Jason snaps.)  When Jason accepted the invitation to be the fish rodeo’s special celebrity guest, he never realized that he would have to face real-life sharks!  However, when those sharks do arrive, this movie hero proves himself to be … well, not much of a hero.  Watch the movie to see what happens.  I’ll just say that London is hilarious and it’s a lot of fun to watch him pretending to be a pretentious and stuck-up movie star.  He delivers his lines with just the right amount of weary annoyance.

(And yes, there is a Jeremy London joke but I won’t spoil it.)

(Also, it’s mentioned that Jason London also starred in Here Comes Santa Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Shark.  Seriously, somebody needs to make these two films.)

Now that the sharks have invaded the Mississippi River, where will the sharks show up next year?  Well, just remember this — the Mississippi River is the biggest river in the United States.  Those sharks could end up anywhere.  Personally, I’m hoping for Minnesota Winter Sharks.

We’ll see what happens!

Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 5.7 “House of Horror” (dir by Bob Gale)

Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the 7th episode of the 5th season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!  

House of Horrors has everything that you could possibly want from a Tales From The Crypt episode!  A dumbass idiot frat boy (played by Kevin Dillon) forces three pledges to enter  a supposedly haunted house.  Mayhem ensues.  This episode is full of atmosphere, dark humor, plot twists, and unexpected turns and it features two wonderfully over-the-top performances, one from Dillon and one from Meredith Salenger as a Southern-accented sorority president who may have a secret of her own.

This episode originally aired on October 27th, 1993.



Horror On TV: Night Visions 1.1 “The Passenger List” (dir by Yves Simoneau) and “The Bokor” (dir by Keith Gordon)

Do y’all remember an old show called Night Visions?

Night Visions was a horror anthology show that ran for a season in 2001.  It got some good reviews as a summer replacement series but it struggled to find an audience.  After the 9-11 attacks, the show was preempted for three weeks straight and, when it finally did come back, I imagine that viewers weren’t really in the mood for a horror anthology, not when they had real-life horror to deal with on a daily basis.

And so, Night Visions was canceled but apparently, it still has a strong cult following.

Below is the very first episode of Night Visions.  It originally aired on July 12th, 2001 and it tells two stories.  In the Passenger List, a man investigating a plane crash starts to doubt his own sanity.  In the Bokor, a group of medical students make the mistake of cutting into the cadaver of a powerful voodoo priest.  Mayhem follows.

From what I’ve seen on YouTube, it looks like Night Visions was actually pretty good so enjoy this episode!

(And yes, each episode was hosted by Henry Rollins.)


Let’s Talk About Dam Sharks!


Last night, SyFy’s Shark Week continued with the premiere of Dam Sharks!

I watched it with my friends, the Snarkalecs, and we had a damn good time.  Seriously, Dam Sharks is damn fun, damn entertaining, damn good, damn funny, damn gory, and pretty damn enjoyable.  I’m damn glad we watched it, dammit!

I’m sure that we’ve all wondered what would happen if a bunch of sharks suddenly showed up in a river.  Well, Dam Sharks provides us with an answer!  Apparently, they would not only eat every human being that they came across but they would also use the left-over body parts to construct dams.

(Needless to say, by building their own dams, the sharks would also end up putting a lot of beavers out of work.  If you’re wondering what happens when a beaver has nothing to constructive to devote itself to, I suggest checking out a film called Zombeavers.)

Now, if you’re asking yourself why a bunch of sharks would show up in a river and start building a dam out of human body parts … well, that means you’re not approaching this film correctly.  Why it’s happening really isn’t that important.  Blame it on global warming, if you must.  Blame it on the military.  Blame it on Big Evil Corporation.  Blame it on whoever you want.  The why is not important.  What important is that, in this film, it’s happening.  Sharks are in the river and they’re making dams.  As my favorite character, Carl the anti-government survivalist (played by Robert Craighead), put it whenever anyone spent too much time wondering why the sharks were in the river, “It’s a long story.”

In fact, it’s such a long story that the film doesn’t have time to dwell on it.  Especially not when so many people are hanging out around that shark-infested river…

Like many SyFy films, Dam Sharks borrows its structure from the disaster film genre.  We meet various groups of people, we watch as they’re forced to deal with a sudden crisis (in this case, dam-building sharks), and we try to guess who will die and who will survive.

Now, of course, some of the people are obviously doomed.  The guy in the boat who fishes with a gigantic hook that’s at the end of a chain?  Oh, he’s so obviously dead.  The hipsters trying to zipline over the river?  No way they’re going to make it.  The girl who strips down to her underwear so that she can dive off a rock?  She’s not even going to reach the water before a shark gets her.  That’s just the way it goes.

But others, we’re not so sure about.  Much like Atomic Shark, Dam Sharks deserves a lot of credit for keeping the audience off-balance.  There are a few characters who you assume will never die because they’re either too likeable or too funny.  But, as we quickly learn, sharks don’t care if you’re funny or likable.  They just want to eat you and add your leg to the dam.

As I mentioned earlier, my favorite character was Carl.  He disliked almost everyone and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it.  However, Carl was also the only character who I personally would want to help me if I found myself being attacked by river sharks.  He knew what he was doing.  Carl spends most of the movie with Kate (Jessica Blackmore) and, working together, they are a shark’s worst nightmare.  Good for them.

Of course, Carl and Kate aren’t the only ones on the river.  Tanner (Jason London) is a callous CEO, the type of boss who thinks that he’s the next Steve Jobs and simply can’t understand why nobody likes him.  Tanner has ordered several of his employees to spend the weekend at the river.  Over the course of the day, they will play paintball, they will practice archery, and they will take a raft out onto the river.  Since you really can’t blame sharks for acting like sharks, Tanner is the closest thing that Dam Sharks has to an actual villain.  Jason London, who was so good in Zombie Shark, is properly loathsome as the buffoonish Tanner.

As for Tanner’s employees, they’re a mixed bunch of characters.  Some of them will survive the weekend.  Quite a few of them most definitely will not.  From the start, it’s obvious that Pullman (Matt Mercer) and Stella (Neka Zang) are the two that we’re supposed to care about the most.  Both Mercer and Zang are well-selected for their roles.  When they sit on a rock and hide out from the paintball game, their conversation briefly makes Dam Sharks about something deeper than just damn sharks.  Mercer is especially effective when he talks about how little personal fulfillment he gets out of his job.  You truly feel bad for him.

But really, the entire film is well-cast.  From the stars to the most minor of characters, everyone gets a chance to make an impression.  I have to give special mention to Eric Paul Erickson, who turned the buffoonish Kenny into a rather sweet and likable character.  Among the actors playing the rest of Tanner’s employees, Kabby Borders, Saxon James, and Francis Gonzalez are especially well-cast and likable.  Though the film itself encourages you not to take any of it too seriously, you still find yourself hoping that they all manage to survive.

If you’re a fan of SyFy movies, you’ll love Dam Sharks!  And if you don’t like SyFy movies — well, that’s just a damn shame.

Dona and Carl searching for dam sharks.

Kate and Carl searching for dam sharks.

(In an earlier version of this post, I accidentally misidentified both the character of Kate and the actress who played her.  I apologize for the error! — LMB)

Hallmark Review: The Wishing Well (2009, dir. David Jackson)


It’s not often that I review two movies from two relatively different sources that are both by the same director, but that’s the case this time. David Jackson is also the director who brought the Halloweentown series to an end with Return To Halloweentown. This time he took on something much easier than ripping off Harry Potter with a miscast lead. It’s about a wishing well! Sort of.


The movie begins before the title card appears, and we meet Abby Jansen played by Jadin Gould. She will be your smiling one-dimensional little girl for the movie. I mean your Hallmark Bailee Madison stand-in for the movie. Then we cut to stock footage of New York City before we meet our leading lady named Cynthia Tamerline played by Jordan Ladd.


She works for Celeb magazine where not only is Charles Shaughnessy her boss, but her secretary is Lurch with a nose ring.


Obviously this movie needs to find an excuse to get Cynthia out with the country folk now. That’s why Shaughnessy calls her in and tells her either publish, perish, or become a nanny for my kids. He suggests that she write a story for one of his other magazines called Great Housekeeping. It’s for people who think Good Housekeeping just isn’t good enough. I thought she chose to write about a woman named Angela and her charity to save the vampire flies, but somehow that will cause her to end up in Slow Creek, Illinois to find a celebrity who may have visited their wishing well. But before that, she looks up Angela’s push to save the vampire fly on No affiliation with This one has Darcy from A Gift Of Miracles writing for it too.



This time she ripped off numerous encyclopedia entries about flies, but it is a little odd that she copied from the United Church Of God’s magazine Vertical Thought.


Anyways, she’s off to Slow Creek, Illinois, which is the “Home of the Wishing Well.” Not just any wishing well, but the Wishing Well. That is till the 2011 Canadian film Wishing Well came out to give them some stiff competition for that title.

She arrives at the hotel where she is going to stay and finds that Ernest Borgnine runs the place. Cynthia is in town for a story that she can take back to Celeb magazine…I thought. Regardless, this is where I am obligated to say that these townsfolk are probably hiding a terrible secret about a Muslim American solider who died overseas and whose father was murdered in the town. I mean the movie has Borgnine, it’s a small town, and Cynthia’s last name is Tamerline which is close enough to Cass Timberlane played by Spencer Tracy in the movie of the same name. That meant while watching this movie, I immediately thought of the film Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) which had Tracy and Borgnine in it. Great movie by the way that I simply updated to a modern context. Here’s the trailer.

But onward with this movie now.

Annoying little girl tells us that wishes come true if you believe and make the right wish. Then we find out that not only is the hotel run by someone Retired and Extremely Dangerous, but that the diner is run by ‘Hot Lips’ O’Houlihan (Sally Kellerman).


Now Cynthia visits the local paper and finds out that it’s run by the little girl’s dad played by Jason London.


So this is what happened to Eric Camden’s associate pastor’s twin brother.

Cynthia starts to look into this wishing well of theirs. Turns out it was once a hot attraction, but then this happened.


Don’t you just hate it when your ex shows up and your wish doesn’t come true, but your ex’s does. Now writer Enid Jones had it out for the well.



But this isn’t enough for her so she goes to dig in the archives. Long story short, Ronald Reagan once visited their well back in the 1960’s.


That and a UFO was seen on a farm in Slow Creek. Interesting! What else is interesting is that they didn’t pull this Reagan and a wishing well thing completely out of their ass. Reagan actually did visit a wishing well in Dublin, Ireland back in the 1980s. Hmmm…I guess that means I need to listen to some Irish music while I finish writing this review. Well, Dropkick Murphys (Flannigan’s Ball) is Irish enough for someone who is a quarter Irish and from the Bay Area.

Oh, and since Reagan was mentioned. I guess I need to break out Genesis’ Land Of Confusion as well.

More annoying girl, and then Cynthia wakes up the next day to find out that she is now in the Twilight Zone. She is just somebody who has been hired as a local reporter. She calls up people back in New York City, but they don’t know who she is. She doesn’t try to tell them anything personal that only she would know, but just keeps calling.

This is when you can say the film goes on autopilot. Cynthia becomes more of a fixture in the town and discovers just how important this paper is to its residents. The paper is in trouble and might be bought out soon. The little girl is still annoying. A guy dies and she writes his obituary. Another guy sets his house on fire trying to beat his record for how many of his collectible lighters he can have going at once. I’m not making that up. During the scene where he explains his little game and current record I said to my dad that he didn’t mention this is the third house he’s gone through playing this game. Then she is waking up in bed to a phone call telling her his place is burning down. Of course! She writes an article that moves people about the fire. Finally, the townsfolk watch a meteor storm.


Then this big city guy’s mustache shows up to buy the paper. It’s okay though because it turns out the guy who died left a huge amount of money to the paper in his will. I guess that’s better than the huge wad of cash in a can from Christmas Land.

Now just in case you thought you were finally getting this Twilight Zone like story, she wakes up on a plane back to New York City to receive praise for the story she wrote for the magazine. Yep, makes as much sense as you think it does. By that, I mean very little. She leaves her job at Celeb magazine and goes back to Slow Creek where smiley and her dad know who she is. Then it just ends abruptly.


That’s it! It’s quite lousy. Even my Dad said this was a stinker and he’s usually easy to please with these movies. No reason to waste your time with this. Go watch Bad Day At Black Rock instead.

Since I happened to catch her this way. I’m really sorry Jordan.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to throw a coin in a wishing well because I’m shipping up to Boston to find my wooden leg and I can use all the luck I can get.