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

Movie 524 – Jaws: The Revenge

Jaws: The Revenge – August 6th, 2011

I had heard things about this movie. Not good things, I assure you. Just, things. Andy explained to me that it actually bore the tagline “This time, it’s personal.” Which has to be a joke. It’s a joke, right? This whole movie is a joke? I can’t think that it could possibly have been made seriously. The people responsible had to have known they were making something thoroughly ridiculous. It’s a movie about a shark hunting down members of the Brody family and attacking them, from Amity Island in New England to the Bahamas. How can anyone involved have looked at that plot idea and looked at the prior movies and not realized they were making a joke? They can’t have. It’s impossible.

While talking about the movie with Andy, I mentioned that it’s possible to read this movie semi-seriously if one assumes it’s all happening inside the head of Ellen Brody, Chief Brody’s wife. The movie starts out on Amity Island, where Sean Brody has taken his late father’s place on the island’s tiny police force. It’s Christmastime and he’s about to spend the evening with his mother and his fiancee when he gets called out to deal with a log that’s stuck on one of the channel markers. Apparently this was a trap set by the shark, which snaps his arm off as he reaches out to move the log, then gobbles him up. Overcome with grief, Ellen is convinced to join her elder son, Michael, and his family down in the Bahamas for the holiday. Where the shark again appears, this time coming after Michael, his daughter Thea and Ellen herself before Ellen kills it.

Throughout the movie Ellen has nightmares and frequently obsesses over her remaining son and his family living near and working in and around the ocean. She begs Michael to give up his research on conchs and take a teaching job somewhere safely inland. And when the shark shows up near the boat Michael and his research team are working on, ignoring the rest of the team in favor of going after Michael alone, Ellen knows something has happened even though she’s not at all nearby. She tells Michael that the shark’s killed both his father and his brother, to which Michael responds that his father died of a heart attack. Ellen claims that it was fear of the shark that gave him that heart attack. So this is my theory: While this movie could well be just poorly plotted and ill-conceived, cashing in on the franchise and trying for cheese but falling just short of it, it’s also possible that someone had some sort of purpose and was going for a psychological thriller concept.

Oh, I’m not saying it’s well done. I mean, if the psychological thriller aspect was intentional, then it was very poorly executed. It almost makes me wish that it had been intentional and that someone had managed to pull it off. After all, even though this movie is clearly ignoring Jaws 3 in its timeline, we’re still talking about a family that’s had more than its share of close calls with sharks. I can easily see Chief Brody camped out up in his shark watch tower, year round, thermos of coffee and a shotgun close at hand, obsessing over the shark for the rest of his life. I can see that sort of obsession taking its toll on him and on his marriage. On his wife. On his children. So his wife obsessing to the point of fantasizing that her entire family is in danger from the shark? That she’s the one who ultimately saves the day? Toss in the burgeoning romance between her and the pilot who brings them to the Bahamas and I could buy that. I want to buy that.

Unfortunately, even if someone involved with the movie did have that idea at some point in the making of it, it wasn’t really incorporated into what ended up on the screen. According to some reading I’ve done on the movie, apparently the whole revenge thing and the shark’s obsession with the Brody family was supposed to be due to a witch doctor using voodoo to kill them all off. I like my version better. It’s at least less culturally offensive. It does rely on the old “it was all a dream” trope, but that’s the least of this movie’s problems, to be honest.

I won’t say that the performances are bad. They’re adequate. Same for pretty much everything here. It’s all just adequate. Which means that there’s nothing to elevate the absolutely laughable plot to something other than bad. And they’re not self-aware enough about what sort of movie they’re in to take it to cheese levels. I mean, this movie has Michael Caine in it as the pilot who flirts with Ellen Brody. This movie has Michael Caine! And the best I can say about it is that the scenery is pretty and the performances don’t suck. And that it has Michael Caine, whom I do adore no matter what. I hope he made decent money from this and I wish it had been a better movie. I wish it had tried to go in one way or another, fantastically bad or chillingly good, because bobbing along in between just makes for a mess that nothing – not even Ellen Brody’s gigantic shoulder pads – can save.

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

Movie 523 – Jaws 3

Jaws 3 – August 5th, 2011

This movie was bought for a very specific reason: I have semi-traumatic childhood memories of it. I say semi-traumatic because while I remember being terrified of it as a kid, it didn’t carry over into my adulthood. I have no lingering fear of underwater tunnels or sharks or drowning. Just the memory of what happened while the movie was on. And looking back on it, it’s so clearly silly. So we bought the movie and I was remembering it correctly, but I’d also clearly glossed over quite a bit in my memories. Or maybe I was just hiding under the blankets for the rest of the movie. I can’t be entirely sure.

I’m not sure how old I was when I first saw this. I was younger than I should have been, that’s for certain. Maybe six? Maybe seven? My parents had gone to a wedding and were going to be out late and my regular babysitter’s parents were friends of my family so they offered to let me stay at their house until my parents got in. My babysitter could look after me for the evening, but not have to stay out that late herself. So when I arrived I was sent down to the rec room in the basement, where my babysitter and her older brother were watching movies. And this is what they were watching. I distinctly remember the older brother playing shark attack while I hid under the blankets on the couch after the shark attacks the Sea World underwater tunnels. I have no idea if I was terrified or thrilled. I do remember him coming at me with a red vinyl beanbag chair during the next movie (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes). Fond memories now, but at the time I remember wondering if a shark could really do that.

The Mythbusters crew did do a Jaws episode with all sorts of shark stuff, including ramming a boat with a shark stand-in, but I don’t think they’ve done this one. I suspect it’s a little out of their range, but hey, they could prove me wrong. Not that it matters. This movie isn’t going for realism anyhow. It’s going for a twist on the original premise of the series, which is more than I can say for the second movie. This one takes place some time later, with Mike Brody, Chief Brody’s eldest son, working at Sea World along with his wife or girlfriend (I didn’t note whether it was mentioned and it doesn’t really matter). Younger brother Sean shows up for a visit and it quickly becomes clear that Sean was traumatised by his childhood experience in the second movie and avoids the water whenever he can. And you know, I like that bit of continuity. It at least makes it clear that someone involved in the script was keeping track of the characters.

Of course there’s a shark to be dealt with here. In this case it’s a pair of great whites, a mother and baby, who end up inside the SeaWorld lagoon where the park has recently built a revolutionary new system of underwater tunnels that explore different areas of the lagoon like a man-made wreck. Guides lead guests through the tunnels, telling them about the animals they’ll see. Now, the baby shark gets captured, but it dies in captivity because the director of the park is obsessed with money and puts it on display well before it was safe to do so. This is a common theme in these movies, with someone in control doing something risky or refusing to do something safe because it will hurt their bottom line. I suppose it’s an easy way to go. I mean, we need some reason for the shark to start attacking and we need some reason for people to not be warned. After all, what do we do now when a shark shows up? We close the damn beaches.

So anyhow, the mama shark is pretty pissed that her baby got captured and then died, so she does what you’d expect. Well, she does what you’d expect if you know you’re watching a shark attack movie: She rams the tunnels, then the control room window. And I will now take this moment to talk about the 3D aspect to this movie. See, we don’t have a 3D version. Andy tried, but failed to get one, so we watched a regular 2D version but in places it was very much like watching a 3D version without the glasses on. Certain images would be popped out on the screen, clearly meant to look as if they were floating in front of it, reaching out towards us. When the shark attacks the control room there’s one of those and without the 3D it is so very distracting. The image quality of the whole movie suffers from being processed for 3D but not being viewed in 3D. It’s a pity, because it feels like the 3D thing is really this movie’s major reason for existing.

Anyhow, the shark attacks, people panic and the tunnels seal off, trapping a tour group inside. So really, a good chunk of the rest of the movie revolves around how to rescue the tour group while a giant shark is lurking in the water nearby. And let me say, that tour leader? Deserves a damn raise for keeping the group calm and relatively safe throughout the entire ordeal. I honestly don’t recall much in the way of specifics for the rest of the movie. People scream and the shark tries to kill people and the dolphins Mike’s wife/girlfriend/fiancee has been training help out and neither of the Brodys get chomped on so it’s all cool.

Overall this movie isn’t anything particularly special. It was meant to be a 3D scarefest, with shark bits exploding out into the theater and people jumping in their seats. It does try to do something new with the concept, which I appreciate after the snooze that was the second movie. But overall it’s just not that interesting. I wish I’d been able to see it in 3D, but I’ll live without it and besides, when I was a kid, watching the shark smash up the underwater tunnels, I wasn’t wearing any 3D glasses and it was terrifying enough. I’ve got those memories intact, so I can’t hate on this movie too much.

August 5, 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

Jaws 2

placeholderAugust 4, 2011

Jaws 2

“Just when you thought it was safe to do a shark week project for your movie blog…”

For the last three days of shark week Amanda and I are going to watch all three of the completely unnecessary sequels to the granddaddy of all shark attack movies: Jaws. I’ve seen Jaws 3 before, and I’ve seen the laughable end of Jaws: The Revenge before, but I’ve never seen this movie. I kind of think that most people haven’t. It’s an unnecessary sequel that was inevitable after the blockbuster success of the first movie.

I was amused because right at the very beginning of the movie I thought the girl playing Tina Wilcox – “Miss Amity Island” looked extremely familiar to me. I just couldn’t figure out where I knew her from. I thought it was something less than great – maybe a MST movie. I just couldn’t place it, so I checked IMDB, and damned if it wasn’t Ann Dusenberry – the star of Lies, which was a very cool psychological thriller my uncles made in the mid Eighties. It blows my mind that after all these years I recognised her even if I couldn’t place her.

This movie is mired in the seventies. Far more so than the first Jaws film. For some reason, even though the first film takes place in 1975 and features all of the fashions thereof during the segments that take place on land once the three lead characters take to the sea to hunt down the shark it becomes fairly timeless. This movie stays closer to shore – pretty much reprising the first half of Jaws but with more kids in peril. And oh, are the fashions displayed by this cast of teenage characters heavily dated, from hair to clothes. It’s impressive.

Amanda complained as we watched this, and I have to agree, that it brings nothing fresh to the Jaws world. Indeed this film is almost a re-make of the first movie except that it doesn’t feature the male bonding and adventure of the second half. Instead it concentrates on Police Chief Brodie and his attempts to convince the recalcitrant officials of Amity Island that there is a giant shark threatening the beaches. You may recall in the first movie the scene where Brodie’s son is riding a little boat in an estuary away from the beach and the shark threatens him? Well expand that single scene into a full length movie and you have this film.

Roy Scheider returns as Martin Brodie and his primary rival continues to be Murray Hamilton as Mayor Vaughn. When vacationers start to disappear and a killer whale with big chunks taken out of it washes up on a beach Brodie instantly knows what’s up: there’s another big shark out there. But there’s a big hotel development going up on the island and the pressure is on to show the place in the best possible light so naturally Mayor Vaughn resists any attempts to close the beaches. It ends up being a big show down and when Brodie causes a panic on the beach after thinking he’s spotted the shark (this scene was much cooler in the original Jaws with very cool cuts between Brodie’s POV and the dawning horror on his face – but what do you want with a lazy sequel like this) the local council fire Brodie for disturbing the peace.

Meanwhile all of the local teens are spending the summer taking day trips out in a variety of little boats and generally acting like teens (making out and stealing their fathers’ beer and such) so when everybody finally does become convinced that the new shark is real all the children are far away from the island and isolated on their little craft. Naturally it is up to Brodie, all alone with a little launch that somehow in the five years of being police chief for an isolated island town he has never learned how to drive, to defeat the monster and save any surviving children.

This was not directed by Stephen Spielberg, and it shows. Spielberg, in the first Jaws movie, very wisely gave as little screen time to the rubber shark as possible. This time around it is shown rather too much, and it is not at all convincing or horrifying. In an attempt (I assume) to make the monster more frightening or to give it character or something this shark becomes scarred and burned during one of its attacks, but the end result is that it looks even more fake than before. The “burned flesh” of the shark looks more rubbery and silly than ever before. It’s like people are being attacked by a poorly articulated singed muppet.

I said that this sequel was lazy and I meant it. It has nothing whatsoever new to contribute to the first film and re-treads the more tiresome parts of that movie. The first Jaws doesn’t really come to life until Quint, Brodie and Hooper set out to hunt the monster down – and this movie doesn’t seem to understand that at all. It’s more about the shark attacks than about the pitting of man against an unstoppable force of nature. Also, I have to say as a viewer jaded by years and years of monster attack movies the ending feels flimsy and unsatisfying. Perhaps in the day it worked, but now I am distinctly left wanting more.

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

Movie 521 – Deep Blue Sea

Deep Blue Sea – August 3rd, 2011

This is a terrible movie. I want to make it abundantly clear that I enjoyed maybe a total of five minutes of this movie, which leaves about 100 minutes that either bored me or irritated me. Andy, on the other hand, loves it. He told me today that we’d be watching a relatively good bad shark movie. And it’s fine that he enjoyed it. I get that he likes that it pisses on a few conventions and does some unexpected stuff. But it just didn’t cut it for me. In fact, it killed any enthusiasm I had for the rest of Shark Week and while I would normally now be writing my my review for yesterday’s movie – which I was too wiped to do yesterday and too busy to do today – I cannot manage it. Somehow this movie has sucked all the shark joy from my life. That’s pretty impressive. And pretty sad.

I think, perhaps, it’s that I found this to be a lazy movie. It flouts some conventions, but then it gives up. It’s got some comic relief, but then it gives up on that too (though I’m grateful for that). It tries for the intelligent monster thing, then forgets about it. It doesn’t bother to make the vast majority of the characters interesting at all. I’d almost say that last is intentional. After all, the movie attempts to surprise you as to who’s going to get chomped on by the sharks, so why do any character building to let you know who’s bait and who’s not? No, apparently it’s far better to just leave everyone as ciphers so we have no clue who’s doomed. Unfortunately this has the consequence of leaving the surviving characters totally uninteresting. How could they not have realized that would happen? There’s a couple of lines that might be character development for them, but when about two lines are all that I can recall when it comes to character development, that doesn’t speak well of the characters.

Now, I will give this movie a tiny bit of credit when it comes to the flouting conventions thing. There are four actors in this movie whose names I recognized, one of whom is a well known name, and of them two of them die and in rather short order. There’s a moment where you fully expect everyone to rally together to escape the lab they’re trapped in and then chomp. That’s cool. That was one of the entertaining moments for me. And I rather liked their techie character so whenever he was on screen I tried my best to pay attention. Alas, that’s not enough to make a movie enjoyable to me. Most of the movie was a series of scenes of flooding corridors and shark attacks in enclosed spaces. It was noisy and messy and unpleasant to watch.

The plot is a typical one. Working on the whole “sharks don’t get sick” concept, a bunch of scientists have been experimenting with sharks for medical research. But in order to get what they need they had to make the sharks’ brains larger. To do that they broke some laws or whatever and now the sharks are smarter than the average shark and they want a pic-a-nic basket. And by pic-a-nic basket I mean lab full of tasty scientists. They luck out with a hurricane, which strands the tasty scientists. One of the sharks had injured the lead tasty scientist and mid-storm the medical helicopter can’t winch him up in and he drops to the water where the sharks use him as a battering ram. Obviously the sharks planned it all! I realize the whole scientist-as-battering-ram thing isn’t typical, but the set-up of scientists creating monsters, then having to fight them when they become stranded alone with them thing is. And I suppose it was only a matter of time until the smart sharks started slamming themselves against the giant glass windows of the underwater portion of the lab and the hurricane was just lucky for them.

Anyhow, once the storm hits and the sharks break open the biggest window the movie is just one big mess. Aside from the convention flouting right at the outset of the disaster, everything seems incredibly typical. The place floods a bit, someone gets eaten, then the rest of the group moves on and get somewhere, which starts to flood and then someone gets eaten again and so on and so forth. Every so often we get some scenes with the comic relief and his foul-mouthed parrot until the parrot gets eaten and the comic relief meets up with the rest of the group. Then there’s absolutely no break in the monotony. Flood flood flood, chomp. Flood flood flood, scream. Flood flood flood, chomp.

Part of what made it so difficult for me to follow or care about was the visual quality, which was terrible. According to the movie’s trivia, it was filmed on super 35. I find this difficult to believe, since it looked like it was filmed on VHS. It was like watching a particularly badly filmed television show. Andy claims some of that is the television we’re watching it on, which didn’t have the sorts of inputs from the DVD player that he wanted. I claim that there is no way the television made the movie look like something off the BBC in the 1980s. I did a little reading on 35 and apparently processing can make a huge difference in its final quality, so I blame that. And then there was the sound, which Andy also blames on the inputs. But again, I think it’s still shoddy work on the part of the filmmakers. Every crash, splash and crunch – and there’s a lot of all of those – sounds like the same level. The resulting cacophony makes it impossible to follow the dialogue and I just plain stopped caring. After all, I’m pretty sure the movie didn’t care.

Watching this movie felt like a waste of my time. It has a few brief moments of fun and cheese but they’re fleeting at best. It’s an attempt to take a thoroughly typical, predictable and boring movie and inject some interest into it. For Andy, it succeeded enough to entertain him. For me, it failed miserably and bored me immensely. And I find it irritating when a movie so clearly doesn’t care if I’m bored. It makes me resentful. Hopefully the rest of our Shark Week will be better. And I don’t mean that I hope the movies will be good. Just that they’ll be more fun than this piece of drek.

August 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Deep Blue Sea

August 3, 2011

Deep Blue Sea

Fair warning: this review will contain spoilers for the movie. I try hard not to include spoilers in my reviews but most of what I liked about this movie that I loved so much the first time I watched it cannot be explained without resorting to them.

I first saw this when it was released on DVD way back in 1999 and at the time it astonished me with the way it flaunted the conventions of this sort of horror movie. As with Sharktopus this is a movie very aware of itself and its roots. Sharktopus, however, revels in its cheese and fulfills every expectation of the genre. As we watched that movie yesterday Amanda and I were easily able to predict exactly who was going to die because the characters fit so perfectly to the stereotypes you expect from a movie like this. Of course the evil scientist is doomed. Of course the pushy reporter is. Sadly so is the third wheel friend. This movie, on the other hand, revels in defying such expectations.

The moment in this film that I completely fell in love with it is when Samuel L Jackson’s character Russel Franklin, the charismatic CEO of the unfortunately named Chimera Corporation, is eaten by a shark when he is in the middle of a rousing speech. That single moment convinced me that this movie was something special and unexpected. This movie doesn’t just kill its only big-name leading actor – it does it in the middle of a “Here’s what we’re going to do” speech. Then there’s L.L. Cool J as the chef Preacher who complains that the brother always dies in this kind of movie.

What I did not remember when I watched this last time was the atrocious video quality. I suspect that part of the problem is the television we’re watching it on – Amanda’s parent’s TV on the Cape where we’re spending the night – which has a degree of latency that makes the picture ghost and look washed out during faster camera moves. That can’t account for all of the flat and ugly look of the film though. I don’t know if it’s just poor lighting or low quality film stock – but the whole film, despite being a big budget theatrical release, has a distinctly direct to video or made for TV look to it. It’s only a small step up from Megaladon with its all-digital sets. Still – I enjoy this movie. I stand by my assessment that this is better than your average shark attack movie. Although, I have to admit, the plot is fairly standard.

A research team on an isolated rig in the middle of the ocean has developed a cure for Alzheimer’s from a serum they extract from shark brains. In their hurry to generate as much of the serum as possible they genetically manipulate the sharks to give them bigger brains. For some reason the sharks use their bigger brains to wreak all kind of havoc, killing everybody they can reach and tearing apart the facility. The crew trapped inside are being picked off one by one as they try to find a way out of the flooded facility. It’s pretty standard “they tampered in God’s domain” stuff, really, which makes it that much more impressive that I enjoyed it so much.

I’ve watched a lot more cheesy shark movies in the decade or so since I last watched this one, but I still stand by my opinion that this is one of the better ones. Not as purely enjoyable as Sharktopus or as wonderfully awful as Sharks in Venice, but a worthy addition to the genre nonetheless. I like how it defies my expectations while at the same time being so typical a monster movie. I love Samuel L Jackson – because he’s awesome in everything he does. I even enjoy Thomas Jane, who was a no-name actor as far as I was concerned when I watched this and delivered a fun performance as the rebel-with-a-troubled-past and hero of the movie.

We’ve got three more movies to go in our self imposed Shark Week, and I’m afraid none of them are quite this good. Wish us luck getting through them!

August 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 520 – Sharktopus

Sharktopus – August 2nd, 2011

After last year’s Sharks in Venice I suspected that no terrible shark movie would ever be able to remotely compare. And I’m not saying that this movie is as horribly great as that one was, but it is magical in its own special way. It was definitely the perfect movie for us to watch on our anniversary. If any shark movie was to be watched today, this was it. This is a thoroughly ridiculous movie with a thoroughly ridiculous plot and premise and it knows it. It is completely and totally aware of just how laughable and horrible it is and it barrels its way forward anyhow, as if daring anyone not to find it hilarious.

I do apologize about this review. It’s several days late because I was so completely wiped after we watched it and then we watched Deep Blue Sea, which actually made me resent Shark Week and only now am I getting back to it. Which is just plain silly because I thoroughly enjoyed every cheesy minute of it. Oh, it’s not a good movie. But it is a magical movie. It’s one of those movies I think we need new terminology for because while it’s bad, it’s also wonderful. What do you call that? How do you describe that? Because there are bad movies that are just plain bad. There are cheesy movies that are cheesy without being fun. This movie? Is at the same time terrible and awesome because it is so terrible. It’s got a level of self-awareness that makes everything amazing. I don’t think I have enough superlatives for this movie.

First of all, let’s talk plot. This is a “we tampered in god’s domain” type plot here. Near the end of the movie one character actually describes the sharktopus as a crime against nature, and she’s one of its creators! A bioengineering firm has created a shark/octopus hybrid with a brain implant as a new weapon for the military. Supposedly it will allow the military access to areas they can’t send mechanical vehicles or regular soldiers into. So when a member of the military comes to see how they’re doing he of course tampers with a system the scientists warn him not to tamper with and the sharktopus casts off its control device and heads off to terrorize Puerto Vallarta. Since it’s a military funded monster, obviously the head of the project wants it captured intact, but since it’s a giant killer shark with tentacles, that’s obviously highly unlikely.

Really, the sharktopus is the point of this whole thing. It attacks bunches of people and it’s introduced by way of a different shark attacking a woman and then being eaten by the sharktopus instead. It pops out of the water to snack on a bungee jumper and it crawls over rocks to join in a folk dance celebration. By eating people. It yoinks a couple of painters down off their perch on the side of a ship’s hull and it drags a scantily clad beachcomber into the water just after she’s found a gold doubloon (which is then snagged by Roger Corman in a cameo). And no, this monster is not the most realistically animated monster I’ve ever seen. It’s almost painfully obvious how computer generated it is. But that is the point. While I have no doubt in my mind that there wasn’t a huge budget for this movie, I also highly doubt that anyone ever thought that the monster should be realistic.

But completely aside from the monster in the movie, there are the people. No one in this movie is out of the ordinary and the whole cast seems to know that perfectly well. There’s the head of the bioengineering company, played by Eric Roberts. He chews scenery and is nicely morally gray. His daughter, Nicole, is his star employee and has overseen the vast majority of the project. When it gets loose they call in Andy Flynn, a former employee who doesn’t get along with the head of the company and was fired some time back. He demands big bucks to come back and help them track the sharktopus down. And then there’s the brassy reporter from a trashy network and her skeptical but along for the ride cameraman. I think you can probably figure out who out of that group is doomed to be sharktopus food, right? Flynn and Nicole start out sniping at each other, so of course they’ll end up together and no one else really matters in the end.

The movie spends a lot of time following its monster around as it eats people. I mean, that’s what this movie is for and it delivers. It even gets a few shots in at our beefy hero, Flynn, and offs his best pal. Every time we meet a new unnamed character it’s pretty certain that they’re going to die. I suspect most of them are locals or tourists who were nearby when the movie was being filmed because the level of “acting” is laughably low. High school drama class low. But really the best marks of this low budget flick are the extras reactions to the shark attack. Clearly there were no practical props used to represent the shark and the tentacles were all added in post. It’s incredibly obvious. Which means it’s also incredibly obvious that these people had to writhe and spin and wave their arms and scream with absolutely nothing wrapped around them or stuck through them or anything. It’s fantastic.

In the end you know the sharktopus is as doomed as its victims were and you know that the survivors will be the burgeoning couple. There’s nothing innovative here, but there doesn’t need to be. This is a movie that has fully embraced its nature and run with it at full speed. It’s got a great balance of shark attacks to plot and the plot doesn’t try anything complicated or serious. And it’s very clear on its status as a cheesy movie. It even jokes about how of course the shark won’t come back to life! That only happens in the movies! It’s ridiculous, but it knows it. It’s cheesy but hilarious. It’s a slightly different creature from Sharks in Venice, but I think I’ve got to rank them side by side. Definitely, they are two shark movies for all others to live up to.

August 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharktopus

August 2, 2011

Sharktopus

It is the anniversary of my wedding to Amanda today. Last year on our anniversary we watched the spectacularly bad Sharks in Venice. This year we’re reviewing Sharktopus. This must say something about us. I have been looking forward to this movie for months. Ever since I heard the title I’ve been in love with this movie. It’s like Snakes on a Plane – the title really says it all. Then I saw the preview and I became even more convinced that this was the perfect ultimate cheesefest for today, and boy was I right.

This movie has EVERYTHING. It has a secret military project to build a perfect biological weapon (which goes horribly wrong of course.) It has beautiful women in bikinis getting eaten by a mutated shark-octopus monster. It has the sexy but smart daughter of the man in charge of the S-11 project who is out trying to re-capture the beast before it can kill again. It has the rogue war veteran who only cares about the money being offered by Sands to capture the Sharktopus. It has the hard-nosed female reporter determined to break the story and the alcoholic sea captain who is her only witness. It is frighteningly self aware – with characters actually making fun of the plot of the movie because it is so very predictable. It has the obligatory Wilhelm scream. It even features a cameo by producer Roger Corman (although his role is far smaller than in Dinoshark, which we reviewed a couple days ago.)

Sharks in Venice may have been the most hilariously badly made shark movie we own, but this movie is the absolutely best digital shark monster movie ever. It fulfilled my every expectation from its Mortal Kombat style digital dismemberings to its delightfully predictable plot. A number of the extras that the shark eats are clearly not professional actors and their line reads are hilarious – as is their flailing as the digital creature attacks them.

I was delighted with every aspect of this movie. Eric Roberts, the only big name actor in the movie, portrays the villain Nathan Sands with scenery chewing relish. The rest of the cast, non actors included, are completely invested in the film and bring it to wonderful life. A couple of the establishing shots are of strangely low quality with clear artifacing on the DVD we were watching, but balancing that out on the other hand there are these incongruously artistic segments of the film where director Declan O’Brien presents phone conversations between Sands and his daughter Nicole as a sort of dynamic split screen.

As an added bonus this movie works as a sort of companion piece to Dinoshark, which was also produced in the same year by Roger Corman. Both digital shark monsters for some reason end up menacing the same Mexican resort town. I guess Corman just got a bulk deal for filming there – and he’s always been one to save a buck in every way possible with his movie making. I’d say that Dinoshark is superior, just in that it has such a laughably silly monster, but both are fantastic examples of the genre of digital shark monster attacks. If you’re the kind of person who gets delight from watching a digital shark monster eating helpless tourists I can’t possibly recommend this movie enough.

August 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment