A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Malibu Shark Attack

August 19, 2012

Malibu Shark Attack

According to Marian Call it is Shark Week again (just try getting that song out of your head!) Even though we’re not doing our movie a day project any more we couldn’t let this special week go by without watching a cheesy shark movie. It’s an annual tradition.

Today’s movie is one we actually wanted to watch last year, but it wasn’t out yet on DVD at the time. Amanda had tuned through part of it one morning and called out to me from the living room. “Andy! You’ve got to see this fake CGI wave!” It quickly became apparent as she watched that this movie was an almost perfect amalgam of all the shark movie tropes we’ve come to love after all the awful movies we’ve watched.

Paper-thin two dimensional characters that nobody cares about? Check. Badly computer animated pre-historic sharks released by a natural disaster? Oh, yeah. Sections of the score and even some of the action blatantly ripping off (or paying “homage” to) parts of Jaws? You’d better believe it. In fact I don’t think there’s an original moment in this entire movie – which is why it made such perfect viewing tonight.

Our shark attack victims are the workers at a lifeguard station on a beach in Malibu. There’s the hunky young guy (who look like Casper Van Dien and Neil Patrick Harris had a baby and sounds like he struggling not to let his Australian accent creep through.) There’s an annoying and prone to hysterical screaming teenaged girl who is doing community service cleaning the beach. There’s the ruggedly handsome ex-Navy Seal, his ex-girlfriend with the gravelly voice, and her new ruggedly handsome beau who is doing an overhaul on some beachfront property. There’s the gruff foreman in charge of the home update team. There’s the Science-minded lifeguard who is working on her doctorate (in marine biology of course) and her brand new fiance. And a few other pieces of shark-food who hardly even have names much less characters.

During the opening credits we are treated to a computer animated underwater volcano (which puzzled me greatly because you wouldn’t think it would be hard to license some stock footage) and inter-cut with all the establishing our characters stuff is a series of shots that imply some sharks are going to attack. Oh, and a whole lot of young women in bikinis. (Apparently this all takes place in a Logan’s Run style dystopia where nobody is allowed to live past thirty years old, and for some reason most of the male population of the planet has been wiped out because there are probably five women on this beach to every man.)

The character establishing stuff drags on a little too long – especially given how little there really is to establish – but soon enough we get to the actual movie as a couple divers and a para-sailer are gruesomely killed by the dreadfully animated sharks. Soon the poorly animated sharks are joined by a hilariously poorly animated tidal wave and our gathering of survivors are stranded in their life-guard shack and half-renovated home with water all around and no hope of rescue. Then it’s just a matter of waiting to see who gets eaten first and how many poor souls make it through the night alive.

This movie is embarrassingly awful. By the end I was feeling bad for the actors trapped in the movie far more than for the characters they were portraying. They give it a really good try, but there’s just not much to work with here – even by made-for-TV disaster movie standards. The sharks (which we are told are fast enough to overtake a jet ski) move slower most of the time than their prey who are hip-deep in water. The animation looks laughable and is frequently recycled.

I will take back, though, my earlier comment about there being nothing original in this movie. I don’t think I have ever seen a movie where people chop up sharks with power tools – that was hilarious and fun to watch. I won’t say this movie was as wonderfully awful as Sharks in Venice – or that it was as fun to watch as Sharktopus – but it is, at least, exactly what we were expecting to see when we put it in. A low budget by-the-numbers shark attack movie. Perfect for Shark Week.

August 19, 2012 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 1 Comment

Hercules (1983)

May 13, 2012

Hercules (1983)

When Amanda and I attended Pax East last month we were treated to a new episode of Moviebob’s Big Picture that featured a movie we desperately needed to add to our collection. Go ahead – watch it for yourself. Before we even left the theater I had gone online to order this movie so it would be waiting for us when we got home. Today we found the perfect opportunity to watch it while visiting our friend A.

Even with Bob’s summary we found ourselves overwhelmed by this movie’s cheesy glory. As the movie began we were astonished and delighted to discover that the Peabody Award winning MST3K episode “Outlaw of Gor” blatantly stole its soundtrack from this movie. It adds so much to the experience of watching this when the music reminds you constantly of a Mystery Science Theater episode. Indeed I think a familiarity with MST Hercules movies in general enhances the viewing experience. As does a modicum of knowledge about the actual Greek myths that have virtually nothing whatsoever to do with this movie.

I’m used to movies playing somewhat fast and loose with mythology to make them more cinematic. I enjoy things like the Clash of the Titans movies for example. This film however only uses some names from Greek mythology and sticks them in a silly Italian Eighties sci-fi fantasy.

This film takes a long time to get going. Mostly because there’s so much unnecessarily silly mythology to explain. The prologue explains at length about the creation of the universe from chaos and the gods who live on the moon manipulating the world of men.

Lou Ferrigno stars as the mighty Hercules, who in this version of the tale is not son of Zeus but a kind of avatar of godly power transported into a human child and raised by adopted mortal parents. (I think it is cribbing from the very successful Superman movie there.)

When Herc’s parents are killed (one by a bear and one by a giant robot locust) he sets out into the world to find out why he is cursed with super strength and hunted by monsters. He eventually wins the love of the princess Casseiopea, who is promptly kidnapped by Areana, daugher of nefarious King Minos of Atlantis. Minos and his minion, the sexy alien Daedalus, are trying to overthrow the gods with science – or something.

One fantastic trait of this movie (one of too many to individually highlight) is the delightful level of acting on display. Lou is not by any stretch of the imagination a great actor, but his pure enthusiasm for the role is infectious. The collection of scantily clad Italians he is surrounded by deliver exactly the kind of heavily dubbed over-acting I’ve come to expect from such films. Add to the crazy wide-eyed capering some wonderfully Eighties costumes (some of which the ladies barely fit into) and some of the most delightfully cheesy “special effects” and you have a magical wonderland of a movie. The monsters Herc fights are all stop-motion-animated robots clearly designed for their appeal as toys for children. Everything in the movie sparkles and flashes with effects added in post. There’s a heavily over-used electronic synthesiser foley effect that is meant to imply that something magical is happening but which gave our friend A flashbacks to Xanadu. You can almost hear producers Golan and Globus in the meetings that the movie came from. “Superman is popular – let’s make our movie look like that. And have lots of Star Wars stuff in there too – like a glowing sword fight. The kids today love robots – lets have some of those in there and we’ll make a fortune selling little plastic toys!” The result? Hilarity!

Honestly I am astonished that until this year I didn’t even know this movie existed. It is so astonishingly and hilariously bad. Everything from the writing to the acting to the design to the effects is laughable. It has instantly become one of my favorite movies ever. Thank you Bob.

May 13, 2012 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 584 – Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank – October 5th, 2011

I really feel pretty bad about watching this tonight, but Andy suggested it and, well, I don’t really have any better suggestions. Though I do maintain that this is not so much a failing of our collection as it is a sign that we’re getting down to the end of the project and we’ve watched the vast majority of our really good movies. But then again, it’s hard to plan specifically for something like what to watch when someone like Steve Jobs passes away. We’ve burned through pretty much everything else that could be considered remotely appropriate and it was this or Real Genius, which we are saving for either The Worst Day Ever or the end of the project. So we went with this. Sorry, Mr. Jobs. You gave us revolutionary tech and we’re watching a made-for-tv movie featuring Raul Julia and stock footage of baboons. I am so ashamed.

As with pretty much every other movie we own that was featured in MST3K, I take responsibility for this one being in our home. We bought it on VHS when I was in college, more as a novelty than anything else. I mean, can you believe this movie was ever actually available on home video? It is probably up there with the weirdest stuff we own, just considerably cheaper in terms of production values than most of the others. It takes place in a future where everyone’s lives are controlled by an authoritarian government/corporation. One of the key points made is that regular people aren’t allowed to watch movies. They still exist, but they’re locked into a private database only accessible to the head of the corporation. The recreational activity of choice these days is called doppling. It involves having a little bit of tech implanted in your head that allows your consciousness to be stored in a cube and transferred into other things, such as animals. People dopple by spending a weekend riding around in the head of a lion or a horse or whatever. Meanwhile, their bodies are being taken care of at the doppling facility, stored in racks full of cots while bored technicians keep an eye on them.

The main character of the movie, Aram Fingal, is a programmer who’s bored with his job and his life in general. This sort of character is a stock figure in something like this. Obviously the dystopian setting requires that most people be subdued and willing to live with the monotony of lives controlled by the government and whatever basic amusements they’ve been offered. But Fingal isn’t. He wants something else. And he finds it by hacking into the movie database and watching Humphrey Bogart on his work terminal. It’s only a matter of time until he’s caught and reprimanded. And said reprimand? Comes in the form of an enforced doppling. Fingal hasn’t ever doppled before and he’s not terribly enamoured of the concept, but if he wants to keep his job then he’s got to do it. And all he can afford is three days in an old baboon.

Now, that sounds somewhat ridiculous, and it is somewhat ridiculous, albeit with a fairly decent core concept. But if you think for one moment that it’s not hilariously awful to listen to people say “Fingal’s dopple” over and over again? You are wrong and have no sense of humor. Just say it to yourself. Now say it again. Now say it about fifty times in the space of a minute or two. Now run some old National Geographic footage of baboons in the background and keep saying it. Congratulations. You have now made a reasonable facsimile of the first half of this movie, minus the late Raul Julia. To get the rest you need a somewhat modern looking office building and a seedy bar in which to re-enact portions of Casablanca. Also, a chroma key editing deck would help really set the mood. Give it that made-in-high-school feel.

No. I’m not joking. This is actually what this movie involves. The doppling facility loses Fingal’s body for a little while and the tech who was monitoring his dopple session has to talk him through the situation, keeping track of him while his consciousness is in the computer banks because they couldn’t keep it in the cube it was in while he was hanging out with the baboon. So Fingal starts making his own reality in the computer – very pre-Matrix, but lacking anything that made that movie cool. I’m sure some people would argue that the whole Bogart thing is cool, but no. No it’s not. It’s not remotely cool. I am so sorry, Raul Julia, but your Bogart impression kind of stunk.

Obviously since Fingal’s a rebel and a hacker and all, and now he’s inside the computers of the government/corporation, he’s going to muck around as much as he can, which worries the people in charge. So they try to get rid of him and he tries to get away from them and they have to find his body but that means inventorying the entire facility because apparently their organization skills suck hard. Seriously though, the reason this happened? Was because a kid on a field trip changed the tags on Fingal and someone else. And no one noticed. The only thing telling these people where each body belongs is a system of colored tags without any other identifying information on them and a kid on a field trip was allowed close enough to mess that up. For such an authoritarian society, they’re pretty sloppy.

There’s some really incredibly obvious foreshadowing early on, involving a vortex you have to avoid getting sucked into or you end up losing your consciousness completely. There’s a burgeoning romance between Fingal and the tech who’s been keeping an eye on him. And then there’s the stock footage and the Bogart impression and lots of cheap special effects and so on and so forth. While watching it I did a little reading up and found that it was one of three sci-fi book-to-tv-movie adaptations done by WNET/PBS in the 1980s. And that’s great! I’m glad someone had the idea of making sci-fi stories into tv movies or PBS at the time. As a kid I thrived on things like Doctor Who on PBS. But oh, oh the budget and the time period are so very obvious. The only remotely big name on the cast list is Raul Julia and let me be frank: This was not the performance of his career. And maybe the story reads better on paper, but on screen it just comes off as goofy, especially with people saying “Fingal’s dopple” over and over. It ends up being less a commentary on authoritarian governments meshing with corporations and controlling people’s lives and more a silly story about a ridiculous future.

October 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 583 – The Silent Scream

The Silent Scream – October 4th, 2011

When we started this project we knew there were a few things we’d be adding to the collection. For one, we were missing some movies we could have sworn we owned. For two, we knew that the collection was heavily influenced by Andy’s particular tastes since he’d purchased the vast majority of it, so we wanted to even it out a bit. For three, we knew there’d be things we’d think of or that hadn’t come out on DVD. And then there was everything else we’ve added. It’s an odd assortment, really. Things we’d never really considered owning until they were recommended by friends or that we’d decided we really wanted not just to watch, but to review. This is one of those last types. Because it was directed by Andy’s uncles.

Horror and slasher films aren’t really my thing. And while I can enjoy a suspenseful movie, suspense and horror together aren’t my favorite combination. I get tense and that tension takes a while to dissipate. So I admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this. I wanted to watch it, yes, but I wasn’t really looking forward to how I’d feel afterwards. Fortunately, it turned out to not really be what I was expecting, in a good way. There is suspense and there is some blood, but it’s not the sort of “oh god oh god something’s coming to get me” tone that I can’t deal with. It’s more of a “who will survive and how exactly will all of this play out” tone. That, I can deal with.

The story begins with college student Scotty Parker looking for a place to live after transferring to a new school. The actress playing Scotty, Rebecca Balding, reminds me so strongly of Elisabeth Sladen that I found it impossible not to imagine that Scotty was somehow a clone of Sarah Jane Smith. I imagine having Daleks or K-9 show up mid-movie would have run the whole thing right off the rails, but still. That’s how my brain works. Anyhow, Scotty ends up moving into a rather large house right by the ocean. Mrs. Engels and her son, Mason, have plenty of extra space so they’ve let out four rooms. The other residents are all students. There are Doris and Jack, who already live there, and then there’s Peter, who shows up when Scotty does. And all seems fine, until one of the four gets killed after a night out. And I think you can probably predict at least part of what happens next. I mean, this is a slasher movie. Of course someone else dies.

The interesting thing here is that there really aren’t that many bodies. It’s not a movie full of gore and death. It’s full of odd people and suspicious circumstances. I suppose most horror fans would be disappointed at the lack of blood, and most suspense fans would want more tension. And that’s fine. I understand that. But I like that the tension comes not from wondering what’s going to jump out at the main characters so much as from when they’ll be attacked and who it will be who attacks them.

If I was going to make a complaint about the movie it would be that the eventual reveal of the Engels family secret has so little to it. I mean, it’s a good one and all, and it’s clearly hinted that there’s something terrible in the house and once you know what it is and what’s happened it makes for good background. But it gets so little time because it’s the big secret. On the other hand, I know that there was more footage filmed that would have tied into the background (you can see Mason watching some of it at one point, as if it’s a movie he’s flipped to on television) and it got thrown out as unusable. In fact, a fairly large portion of this movie was reshot entirely and then edited together with what was usable from the original material. And I’ve got to hand it to everyone involved that I couldn’t spot the shots and bits and pieces that were from the older material in with the new. Fantastic editing there. But that those scenes were taken out says something. Either they were really poorly done and simply couldn’t be used in any form other than as a cameo on a tiny television screen, or they didn’t fit the narrative. Since they weren’t reshot, I’m going to have to go with the latter. And while both could be true, their absence in the movie as it stands definitely points to a problem in fitting them into the story. You don’t want to lessen the dramatic tension by giving away too much, but you also don’t want to bog down the climax with too many flashbacks at the end once the secret’s been revealed. Still, I couldn’t help but wish for more foreshadowing. Something to point back to and say “Oh! So that’s what that meant! That’s why that was there! That’s why that character said that!” Something to make it feel like more of a cohesive part of the story instead of just a twist.

I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. It wasn’t quite what I expected and that’s a good thing. I expected it to be about as far from my preferred genres as possible and I expected it to leave me tense and/or disappointed and I wasn’t either by the time the credits rolled. It’s not a big budget horror masterpiece, obviously, but it’s still fun. And hearing the interviews with Rebecca Balding and Ken and Jim Wheat, I’m really pretty impressed with the process involved in making the movie, taking existing footage, editing down to what was still usable, bringing the cast back, reshooting, editing, etc. I’m not saying it doesn’t have flaws, just that I enjoyed it despite what flaws it has and I think it’s pretty damn cool that it holds up like it does.

October 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Silent Scream

October 4, 2011

The Silent Scream

The latest “Scream” movie came out today at my local Blockbuster today. Number two thousand I think. Amanda and I don’t own any Scream movies of course, but we do own this seventies slasher film, which has “Scream” in the title. Not because we wanted to own a seventies slasher film but because this movie marks the grand Hollywood debut of my famous film-maker uncles.

The history of this movie as I understand it is this: film-maker Denny Harris had an incomplete and not particularly good slasher film he had made, and he brought the Brothers Wheat in to do a re-write and shoot some pick up shots to complete the movie. So they got a couple of the actors who had been in the original project back and shot around the existing footage. At least that was the plan. What actually happened was that Ken and Jim pretty much made an entirely different movie that uses a little footage from Denny’s cut (and for a fraction of the budget.)

I had never watched this before tonight (since I was eight when it came out and far too young to see it then.) I’ve always had the impression that my uncles were a little embarrassed by this movie, though as I watch it tonight I couldn’t say why. It’s a perfectly good murder mystery and horror film – heavily influenced by such films as Psycho.

The movie starts out wit a bit of a teaser. A group of policemen and detectives are investigating an old house. It’s a gruesome crime scene with multiple corpses and blood coating the wall. The mystery lies in the identity of the bodies and how they came to be there.

To find out we have to follow a young college student named Scotty Parker who has just transferred to a new school in LA. (It’s not stated to be Occidental but it’s pretty easy to recognise it in shots that take place there.) There’s no student housing available so she ends up having to hunt down an inexpensive place to live off campus.

The house she ends up renting out a room in is a large place on a hill with a collection of other college students already living there. There’s an annoying preppy twerp who is rolling in his daddy’s money. There’s a handsome blond hunk. There’s a friendly girl who bonds with Scotty right away. Then there’s the creepy introverted teenaged son of the owner of the house who shows the kids their rooms and tells them the rules. Chief among the rules? Don’t disturb his mother Mrs. Engels, who lurks quietly in her attic.

This being the kind of movie it is kids eventually start getting stabbed to death. The question is, who is the killer? Is it the mild mannered Mason Engles? Is it his quiet an disapproving mother? And what’s up with the secret stairway leading up from the basement. Who is the mysterious figure behind the walls?

I will say that the dramatic plot twist (which probably came from my uncles and not from the original film because it involves actors who were only in their re-shoot footage) is almost ludicrously over the top. As I said earlier there is some Psycho influence here and I think that might be what they were going for. It’s not as weird as the famous twist at the end of Sleepaway Camp, but it’s up there. Maybe if there had been some hints earlier in the film to set it up it would have been less jarring, but I do understand the difficulty of getting footage to match between different productions three years later which would make it hard to add any subtle hints in. Still – when Mrs. Engles says “haven’t you guessed the truth about her… and yourself?” I felt there wasn’t any particular need at that point in the film for a twist like that. Not only had I not guessed, I had no idea that there was even a hidden truth there TO guess. I suppose it does let Mason go around the bend, and that’s fun to watch.

As I watched this for the first time tonight I played a kind of game with myself. I tried to figure out what bits were the original movie and what bits were written and shot by my uncles. Knowing that the movie is eighty-five percent “reshoot” it’s pretty seamless. I honestly don’t know where the original ends and the new begins. The end product, though, is a fairly good movie that deserves some recognition for at least being better than it might have been.

October 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 543 – Dinocroc vs Supergator

Dinocroc vs. Supergator – August 25th, 2011

When we were doing Shark Week we had some real gems like Sharktopus, and when we have movies like that we will often watch the trailers before the movie on the DVD. Why? Because every so often we will see something like this. All it took was one line and we knew we had to have this in our collection and I’m sure that’s why that line was included in the trailer. When you hear a character say, straight, that crocodiles and alligators are naturally mortal enemies, then propose making the two monsters of the movie fight each other? That right there is a thing of amazing beauty. Amazingly stupid and ridiculous beauty. That it had David Carradine in it was just the cherry on top of the sundae.

I did worry a little that this would be a Megalodon situation, where it would be fun, but not as much fun as I wanted it to be. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because this movie was everything I wanted it to be, right down to a hunter named Logan from Louisiana who goes by the moniker “The Cajun.” Because that’s unique. And no, he does not have claws or glowing eyes and he only wishes he was as cool as the X-Men. It’s got ridiculous science, laughable attack scenes, shoehorned romance and big monsters chomping on each other. All filmed against a rather lovely backdrop.

I actually feel a little silly just going over the premise. I mean. It’s a movie titled Dinocroc vs Supergator. Does it really matter why these two things exist? Or why they’re fighting? One’s a dinocroc! The other’s a supergator! Chomp chomp! But okay, let’s gloss over the basics. They do not make this movie any less silly. There’s a biological research lab in Hawaii with government grants to develop super huge food sources to combat hunger or something like that, but undercover agent Paul Beaumont thinks there’s something fishy about the place! And of course he’s right, because this place is also developing enhancements for humans to make them into supersoldiers. And what could possibly produce the right chemicals to make supersoldiers? Crocodiles and alligators! And how did they get said animals to produce them? By zapping them with rays, of course! There was an attempt to have this all make sense, but I wasn’t paying attention. It wasn’t important in the grander scheme of things.

The important part here is that instead of having the scientists at the lab devise a way to take the dinocroc and supergator out, the head of the company – David Carradine – orders them all to be executed by mercenaries. You know, like you do. He even goes so far as to have his assistant assassinate one of the scientists in the hospital after she escapes and spills the beans to Beaumont, Logan and the local sherrif’s daughter, Cassidy, who’s also in law enforcement. The amusing thing to me is that Logan almost immediately takes up with Beaumont and Cassidy, agreeing that these monsters must be stopped and not because he cares about the company’s reputation. So they all work together against the monsters.

Meanwhile, as the humans all chat about how the monsters were created and what they should do about it and whether they should sell tickets for the final giant reptile showdown, the reptiles themselves are snacking on the local tourists. These scenes, are, by the way, fantastic. And I don’t mean they’re incredibly well done. I mean they’re hilarious and awesome at the same time. Now, you have to understand that these things are supposed to be huge. Like, fifteen feet tall or long, depending on the creature. One of them is up on large rear legs, like a velociraptor. The other is just, well, a really big alligator. At least three feet tall at the head even when it’s on its belly. These are not stealthy animals! And yet at one point one pops up from underneath a guy who is wading in calf-deep water. Like, straight up from under him! They pop out from the brush and snap up a couple of bikini-clad ladies. They are hilarious.

There’s really not a whole lot more to this movie. It’s not complicated or deep. There’s no meaning here. There’s no message, other than don’t tamper in god’s domain, which is the theme of every man-made monster movie. But what makes it fun to watch is exactly what got us to buy it in the first place: It knows what it is. I think this is key to our enjoyment of movies like this. When they’re made to be cheese, and embracing that, it’s so much more fun. When everyone is on board, from the cast to the crew to the director to the writer, it’s just so much easier to laugh along with the movie. There are monster movies that are sincerely trying to be serious horror action monster movies and when they’re laughable it’s kind of sad and disappointing. But when the movie is not only aware of its nature but playing it up? That’s fun. And including a line about crocodiles and alligators being mortal enemies, with shots of the dinocroc stomping its way down a road while the supergator nabs a snack? That’s some great self-awareness.

August 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 525 – Piranha Part Two: The Spawning

Piranha Part Two: The Spawning – August 7th, 2011

We had originally purchased this in case we needed an extra Shark Week movie. Sure, it’s not about sharks, but from its description it seemed like it would fit right in. And then we ended up watching all the Jaws sequels and that filled our week, so we tacked it onto the end, finishing up with a little miniature killer fish movie like a wafer thin mint at the end of a huge meal. Of chum. We don’t own the first movie that this is a sequel to, nor am I about to go out and buy it. This one was more than enough for me, thank you very much. I’m perfectly fine with this being the one and only piranha movie in our collection. I’m not planning on starting a Piranha Week now.

I haven’t seen the movie this is supposedly a sequel to and I highly doubt that I ever will. Granted, I did enjoy watching this on a cheesetastic level, but unlike, say, Sharktopus I don’t see myself putting it in again for fun. But I will say this: This movie has a fantastic monster. I mean, who doesn’t love flying salt water piranhas that make squeaky styrofoam noises? Aside from my mother, who doesn’t understand how I can watch crap like this and come away amused. As with many of the shark movies, the whole point here is the monster and its attacks on people. There’s an attempt at plot, but really, who cares about plot? I can tell you, it’s going to be nice to get back to movies with actual stories and characters and things to care about.

The supposed plot of this movie revolves around a separated couple, their son, the lothario trying to get into the wife’s wetsuit and an island resort that would, of course, be ruined by actually caring about the safety of its guests. Anne Kimbrough and her son are living at the resort while Anne gives SCUBA lessons and guided dives to the guests. Her husband, Steve, is the local chief of police. He’s also kind of a jackass, but that’s par for the course in this movie where I think almost everyone but Anne and her son are at least a little loathsome. Anne and Steve are separated (probably because Steve’s a controlling ass) and Steve makes it clear he hates what Anne is doing, calling it “guided drowning” or something like that. And granted, in this movie yes, diving in the area is super dangerous what with the piranhas, but when he gets all assy about it the piranhas have only eaten two people, and they were going without SCUBA gear to have sex underwater at a sunken wreck, so I’d say they were well outside Anne’s safe diving guidelines.

Anyhow! It’s clear that the whole set-up of Anne and Steve and Steve’s insistence that Anne is risking people’s lives and all is there so that when people start showing up chewed on and dead he has an excuse to tell her to stick to dry land. Of course Anne doesn’t. Instead, after a diver on one of her dives gets chewed up she breaks into the morgue to take a look at the body and ends up getting a lecture from Steve implying that he thinks she did it. Or she’s responsible. Or something. One could read it as concern on his part, wanting to keep her out of the way so she doesn’t get blamed for something he knows isn’t her fault. And one could argue that given their estrangement he couldn’t really express said concern in any way other than yelling at her. But I don’t know if I want to give this movie that much credit for emotional nuance.

Complicating the whole thing is a guy who’s been taking Anne’s classes and trying to get her to go out with him. Turns out he’s mixed up in the whole piranha thing, which is, of course, due to some sort of secret government project that got loose. He’s trying to cover it up but he knows Anne is doing the Nancy Drew thing and investigating. And I guess I can almost forgive him the skeevy insistence that she have drinks with him since she ends up getting him to help her break into the morgue in return and he did have other reasons. Still, this is a crappy horror movie, so of course they end up in bed together. Come on, did you think they wouldn’t? Women love skeevy guys!

The entire thing comes to a climax with the resort’s big fish fry during a spawning night where the resort encourages the guests to go out to the beach and bash up the fish that congregate at the shore to spawn. And, like you haven’t already guessed, the fish who show up are the piranhas and they come buzzing out of the ocean on their little wings, zipping through the air to chow down on annoying resort guests left and right. I honestly don’t know if the resort owner got nibbled, but I hope he did. If he didn’t then I would count it among the movie’s failures (which are many), because so very many people get eaten and it seems silly to make this guy out to be such a money-grubbing jerk and then not have him at least lose an eye or something. The movie kills off friends and foes alike, from the two women who initially show up topless and get all their meals by scamming resort staff to the fisherman and his son who seem to be good folks on friendly terms with Anne and Steve. Even the annoying but ultimately innocent newlyweds at the resort for their honeymoon get attacked.

It’s really just a thoroughly ridiculous movie that’s mostly an excuse to show women in bathing suits (and out) and get people all covered in holes from the piranhas. There are some great moments with the piranhas, I admit. Such as when one camps out inside a corpse for hours and hours, then pops out to attack the morgue attendant. The noises they make are fantastic regardless of anything else in the movie. As monsters for a cheesy horror movie, they deliver. They deliver well. The trouble is that the rest of the movie is such a complete mess. There’s cheesy comedy, with the desperate older woman trying to hit on every young stud who walks within a 20 foot radius and the sterotypically nerdy couple who, I believe, manage to escape from the spawning unscathed. And then there’s the drama with Anne and Steve and Steve’s insistence that Anne is somehow at fault here. There’s the government cover-up. And there’s the young love subplot with Anne and Steve’s son and the daughter of the rich guy whose boat the son is helping out on. It’s very much a “toss some plot threads at the wall and see what sticks” sort of movie, with bonus gratuitous breasts and plenty of blood. Amusing enough, but nothing terribly special.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Piranha Part Two: The Spawning

August 7, 2011

Piranha Part Two: The Spawning

I bought this movie as a companion piece to our Shark Week this year based on little bits of information I knew about it even though I had never seen it before tonight and had never seen the movie it is supposedly a sequel to. The DVD we purchased proudly bore a sticker on the cover claiming that it was “From the director of Titanic and Avatar,” which amused me since I knew it was a cheesy movie about rubber fish on strings attacking people. How could I pass such a thing up?

Now I had known that the original Piranha movie was produced by the inimitable Roger Corman and I had thought somehow that this movie was as well. It made sense in my head that James Cameron would have gotten his start directing under Corman in the same way that Ron Howard did. Sadly it appears that I was mistaken. This movie was produced by, co-written by, and co-directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis – which looks to me as though it has to be an anagram for something because no way is that a real name. (Okay – so it’s Italian and he’s a producer of schlocky Italian horror movies, although if he had one more ‘t’ in his name it would be an anagram for “A good vision is tits” which seems to be his motto.)

This movie shares more in common with seventies Italian “breastploitation” movies than with the cheesy gorefest I had been expecting. I guess after watching so many made-for-TV shark movies in a row I was unprepared for a film that starts right out with a couple getting naked in a submerged wreck for some scuba-sex before they are eaten (mostly off camera) by the creatures from the title. Not that I’m complaining. Before we get to the actual plot of the movie there’s a fair amount of gratuitous nudity and if I had owned this as a thirteen year old my right arm probably would have fallen off. Sadly, the breasts only temporarily distracted me from the fact that this is a pretty badly flawed film in general.

Flaw number one is the painful comic relief. The movie is set on a resort island and the local hotel (on the eve of their annual spawning festival, when they gorge themselves on migrating fish or something) is filled with a colorful array of caricatures. There’s a gold-digging young woman who wants to snare a doctor. There’s an annoying couple who make a lot of noise about how completely besotted they are with each other. There’s the pair of nudist women on their boat who decide to raid the resort’s kitchen to resupply their yacht. There’s the skeevy cougar who wants to have sex with one of the resort employees. There’s the dynamite-fishing hick and his mute son who add local color. It’s a nauseating group of characters, and frankly a lot of the fun of the movie is waiting for them to get eaten. (I have to admit that by the end of the movie I was somewhat disappointed that not all of the annoying characters died and that some of the more sympathetic ones did.)

Then there’s the lead characters. A marine biologist woman has a job at the resort working as a dive instructor, which nets her a free suite at the hotel which she shares with her son. Her ex-husband works for the local police. One of her scuba diving students is a sleazy stalker who spends most of the movie trying to get into her pants – and eventually succeeds. What’s never adequately explained is why Anne the dive instructor has broken up with Steve the police chief in the first place. Aside from his kind of manic episodes where he pretty much accuses her of killing a woman at the morgue he seems like a nice enough guy, and clearly they both dote on their son (who spends the entire movie working as a cabin boy for a foppish moron with an improbably well endowed daughter.) I guess he needs to be out of the picture so that Tyler can have his sleazy way with Anne.

Part of my confusion with this whole plot, and I’ll admit that I tuned out for vast sections of it, was that the only actor I really felt was worth watching at all was Lance Henriksen as police chief Steve. He feels sometimes like he’s playing two different roles since he has to be the skeptic who stands in the way of Anne’s investigation but he’s also the hero at the end of the movie who goes out to save their son when the fish start eating everybody on the island. It’s confusing to me, but – again – I wasn’t paying very close attention. Furthermore, their son Chris doesn’t seem to be in much danger of anything except being trapped in a boat with a scantily clad teenager who barely fits in her top – not a fate most teenagers would want to be rescued from.

Another odd thing in this movie is its score. I don’t know quite how to describe it. It has a vaguely classical feel to it with occasional bursts of electric guitar, and it never blends very well with the visuals. It also is poorly edited – cutting abruptly at the end of some scenes or fading in and out awkwardly. It almost feels like a temp track at times, but no, that’s the actual score.

What saves this movie is the piranhas themselves. Flying piranhas on strings. Piranhas that squeak like styrofoam when they’re above water and warble amusingly when under water. They’re always shown out of focus or in extreme close up (with a few exceptions) because they are not in any way articulated (except for their flapping wings in some shots.) I don’t think their jaws even move. When they attack people the actors have to hold the fake fish against their necks and smear themselves with fake blood to simulate being eaten. It would seem that the piranha of this movie have mastered the skill of leaping directly at a human’s jugular and that’s how they kill most of their victims. They remind me of nothing so much as the deadly rabbit from Monty Python’s Holy Grail – except that they’re less convincing.

I suppose that this is a fun enough movie. It’s stupid, badly dubbed at times, and filled with annoying characters, but many of them get killed by hilariously cheesy flying fish. That makes things alright in my book. Just don’t claim that this is a James Cameron film, because it has very little in it that feels like it bears his mark at all. Except maybe Lance Henricksen crashing a helicopter. That feels like the Cameron I know and love.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

Jaws: The Revenge

August 6, 2011

Jaws: The Revenge

I knew that this was going to be a ludicrous movie going into it. I had actually seen the climactic scene at the end once long ago when I tuned in to it just as the movie was drawing to a close and knew just how stupid this movie was going to get before it was over. I also remembered reading reviews of it when it first came out and how badly it was panned. As such I was pretty much prepared for the mess we witnessed when we put this in as the last movie in our second Shark Week, but even being fully braced for it I found myself somewhat amazed by just how insane and lazy this last Jaws sequel really is.

This movie picks up years after the other ones. Sean Brody has taken over for his father as Police Chief on Amity Island and his brother Mike is working down in the Caribbean as a marine biologist gathering data on the migration of conches. Their father has died (of a heart attack, although their mother is sure it was fear of sharks that did him in.) Then tragedy strikes. A giant shark (imagine that!) kills Sean just before Christmas. In fact – the shark lays a clever trap for Sean and lies in wait for him. Or so it seems.

Mike’s mother Ellen Brody, played as she was in Jaws and Jaws 2 by Lorraine Gary, becomes convinced that this giant shark is specifically hunting her family. So sure is she of this that she begs Mike to give up his job and abandon the ocean lest the shark get him too. Instead Mike convinces her to go to the Caribbean with him to those warm southern waters that apparently no great white shark has ever ventured into. Here is where the movie starts to get surreal: it turns out that Ellen is right, and the shark actually follows them somehow to hunt her, Mike and his daughter Thea. There’s even a kind of psychic connection between Ellen and the fish – she’s able to somehow sense it when the fish attacks Mike while he’s diving for conches.

What’s happened here is that this Jaws movie has become more of a supernatural thriller than a serious horror movie. The first Jaws, and even the second one, was somewhat grounded in real life, and that’s what was so terrifying about it. It actually did make people afraid to go into the water because who’s to say that there isn’t a giant shark out there somewhere in reality? The shark in this movie has more in common with Freddy Kruger than with Jaws. It’s a supernatural nightmare creature with a vendetta against one particular family and the ability to find them no matter where they go.

I suppose that makes sense in terms of the time when this movie came out. This came out in 1987 during they heyday of cheesy supernatural horror films. This movie was trying to share the same genre as Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th – and it came out one year before the half-spoof Child’s Play. If you were making a horror movie at that time you had to have a cheesy supernatural undead villain and wise cracking heroes.

Sadly, Jaws doesn’t have the same flair as Freddy. For one thing a shark isn’t able to deliver witty one-liners (although this particular shark does have a throaty roar of a kind – maybe it’s half bear.) For another Robert Englund’s make-up is more convincing and more frightening than this shark. Jaws in this film is a ponderous, lumbering shark (if you can picture such a thing.) It plows inexorably forward gnashing its teeth but seems incapable of stopping or turning. It looks exactly like what it is – a styrofoam shark mock up built around an inflexible torpedo shaped submersible. One of the many problems this movie has is that the film makers allow the lumpy, seemingly semi-paralytic fish too much screen time.

Another problem the movie has is its comic relief. I can mostly tolerate the neverending witty repartee of Michael Caine as Ellen’s romantic interest the dashing airplane pilot Hoagie because he’s Michael Caine. Sure he’s playing an aging Lothario with a million anecdotes of his mis-spent youth, but he’s just so damned charming. Less charming is Mario Van Peebles as Mike’s partner Jake. I spent a lot of the movie wishing he would just stop it with the banter already! The only way I was able to tolerate him was to imagine that he was actually Hermes Conrad from Futurama. I kept expecting Bender to show up and beat up the shark after that.

I do actually quite like Lance Guest as Mike – he’s charming and caring and deosn’t want to have anything to do with the shark most of the time. Lorraine Gary is also pretty good. This movie is mostly about Ellen, and it’s nice to see Lorraine, who was a bit part at best in the first two movies, given more to work with. I just wish the movie itself weren’t so disappointing.

It’s not cheesy enough to be amusing. It’s not scary or funny. Most of the time it doesn’t even make sense (although I highly recommend reading Amanda’s review for an alternative interpretation of the movie that actually works pretty well.) To me the supernatural elements come of as feeling like lazy writing because if you just establish that your shark is a psychic monster bent on revenge then you don’t have to find a reason for anything that happens – it can all be explained as just being supernatural. At the same time the movie tries to pay homage to the first film both by imitating the touching scene of Captain Brody interacting with his son at the breakfast table and by inter-cutting the climax of the original Jaws with the completely ludicrous ending of this movie. It feels like a cheap rip-off when it does these things.

I can completely see why this movie got panned as badly as it did when it came out. It’s an utterly stupid movie, and a kind of sad way for the Jaws franchise to swim ponderously off to die. A part of me wishes it could have been better. Still – at least the first movie remains as great today as it was when it first came out.

August 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Jaws 3

August 5, 2011

Jaws 3

The version of this movie that we own is not in 3-D, as it was so clearly meant to be. I wanted to find a 3-D version because that was the way I first saw the movie, but there doesn’t seem to be one out there, or at least none I could find on short enough notice for it to be part of this year’s Shark Week.

The first time I saw this movie was as part of a 3-D evening of television on channel 38 back in the Eighties. They showed a whole bunch of stuff in anaglyph red/blue 3-D including a Three Stooges short and this movie and you had to get your glasses from the local paper. (I didn’t have 3-D glasses so I stuck red and blue see-through colorforms on my glasses, which worked just as well, but looked kind of nerdy.) Even way back then I was a fan of 3-D, and although I had no fondness for horror movies I couldn’t resist watching this. Really this movie needs to be seen in 3-D. It’s full of things that are obviously meant to be popping out of the screen at you from the opening credits to the grand finale. Besides that, the version we’re watching tonight on DVD has several bits where there process used to tint the film red and blue has not been completely reversed, leaving eye-watering edges on the characters and backgrounds.

Without stuff popping out of the screen this is only a mediocre cheesy shark movie with less than spectacular special effects. In this movie it is not Captain Martin Brody that is menaced by a giant shark – it is his sons. Mike is working as foreman doing construction on the new Seaworld undersea lagoon attraction in Florida and his brother Sean (who is deathly afraid of the water and has been going to college far from the ocean) is visiting. Of course on the eve of the opening of the new Seaworld a shark gets into the lagoon and terrorises the staff, until it is captured by Mike’s marine biologist girlfriend. It’s a relatively small ten-footer and all seems well until it becomes apparent that one of the staff members was in fact killed by a much larger shark. She’s about thirty-five feet long, she’s the mother of the shark they’ve captured (which died in captivity) and she’s pissed.

This movie is a sort of transition for the Jaws franchise from serious horror film to cheesy fantasy. The location alone is the stuff of seventies disaster movies like towering inferno. The undersea complex is an advanced technological marvel with a high-tech control room at its heart from which the park manager can monitor things all over and react to any situation. Of course when the big shark gets loose a bunch of people get trapped inside and so it’s a rush to get them out before they suffocate.

There are a couple things that puzzle me about this movie. One is how on Earth the film makers convinced the executives at Sea World to allow them to set their shark monster movie there. I suppose that Universal owns Sea World (and half of Orlando besides, with Disney owning the other half) but just because you CAN get the rights to set a monster movie in your theme park doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Did this movie work as some kind of strange promotion for the park? Would people who had seen a movie about tourists trapped in a park attraction actually be inclined to visit that park? I don’t know.

The other thing that puzzles me is the star power attached to this movie. Sure Lea Thompson wasn’t a big name at the time (this was her film debut I guess) and maybe Dennis Quaid hadn’t quite arrived, but they have Louis Gossett Jr., hot off of his Oscar from An Officer and a Gentleman, appearing as the street-talking big wheeling park owner Calvin Bouchard. I suppose there must have been an air of legitimacy to the Jaws franchise – or maybe he just wanted to appear in something campy and silly. Certainly his performance is a strange one. He’s the ever cool and in command corporate bigwig, but Gossett plays him with a hip sort of jive which seems strange for the character’s social standing. Maybe it’s an Eighties thing. Maybe it’s just that this entire movie is packed to the gills with accented stereotypes and Gossett preferred to fit in.

And oh, are the accents thick on the ground here. Most of the locals are played as down-south hicks such as I would expect to see in a seventies trucker movie. Then there’s the foppish British photographer and globetrotting adventurer Philip FitzRoyce and his Australian manservant. There is a sense that the people involved in this movie knew that it was turning the corner from serious film to camp. What else could a 3-D shark attack movie set in Sea World be? It is movies like this one, much more so than films like Jaws, that are the progenitors of that whole delightful genre of “Roger Corman Presents” cheesy monster movies. I didn’t mind watching it again. Amanda and I had fun laughing at the poorly processed special effects, the bits that were clearly meant to jump out at us, and the giant rubber shark. As long as you aren’t expecting a serious movie you can pretty much relax and enjoy this.

Tomorrow: The Revenge! I’m looking forward to that, I must say since I’ve only seen the very end of it before.

August 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment