Sunday, September 22, 2013

SHARK WEEK (2012)

So September has been a pretty sad month for me.  The whole shark movie thing hasn't really turned out as expected and the last few entries have made consider whether continuing to blog is really worth it.  But I really feel that, if I just keep going, surely things will turn around and get better.


MOTHERFUCK.


But there's the light at the end of our shark tunnel.  I recently had a good experience with Brandon Cronenberg's ANTIVIRAL, so let's hope that Fred Olen Ray's bouncing baby boy can also maintain his family traditions.  I am going against critical consensus with this, but I found SHARK WEEK to be not so hideously bad.  Let's sound off on its weaknesses before proceeding...


The sharks in SHARK WEEK are typically Asylumish/SyFy-y CGI, rendered on the cheap, so sometimes they look like last-minute projects for animation class.  But, be fair, lots of the shark action here happens in the dark, which covers a lot of flaws, even if people will then bitch about not being able to see anything.  Also of note: this isn't AVATAR, so don't expect AVATAR-level continuity.  A girl goes from barefoot to flip-flopped and back a lot, and wounds migrate all over people's bodies and also bandages magically appear before a first-aid kit even shows up.  Again, this is a z-movie and this ain't your parents' space-time continuum.  If you can't handle it, why are you even here?


Plot: these two people are a narcotics tycoon named TIBURON (for gawd's sake!) and his consort, gamely played by Patrick Bergin and Yancy Butler.  They've kidnapped a bunch of people from all walks of life and they want to play a game.  The game is this: the kidnappees will run through caves and across beaches.  Each day, they must fight a different species of shark.  Theoretically, they could just avoid the water, but the landscape has been hilariously rigged with traps to ensure that they end up in water.  The first time this happens, I laughed so much that I fell off of my couch.


This is mostly explained in Patrick Bergin's 80s Hulk Hogan-style monologue, which tells you immediately to expect madness.  "They're only babies!  They're only less than two months old, but far more sophisticated and independent than humans twenty times their age!"


If the kids beat the sharks, they get a prize.  Sometimes it's sandwiches, sometimes it's bandages.  


All the while, Tiburon is calling the action via hidden cameras and microphones.  I love this aspect of SHARK WEEK a lot, since he's like a single-minded kid who only wants to talk about sharks and doesn't care about anything else.  "Do you know why most shark attacks happen in three feet of water?"  And the kids are like, "We are trying to not die right now!"  This movie one-ups L'ULTIMO SQUALO by having the sharks not only growl like lions, but by having them do it underwater in defiance of all of physics' so-called laws.  That's a fine example of the sort of high points that await you every ten minutes or so.  If you slough it out, you (the viewer) get a reward.  Here's another example:


AAAAAAA, LAND MINES, OMG!!!  I'm honestly baffled by the negative reaction to this on Netflix and IMDB.  What kind of movie did you think you were getting?  If the answer is not "one in which one dude lifts a large shark out of the water on a spear while his bro grounds and pounds it", that's the wrong answer.  


Clearly terminally flawed, but also terminally fun.  A warm, enthusiastic...

RATING: 5

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

L'ULTIMO SQUALO (1980)

IMDB keywords: surf champ, remake, rip off

Pretty boring keywords for a mighty boring movie.  L'ULTIMO SQUALO aka GREAT WHITE aka THE LAST SHARK has many aliases, like its fellow criminals.  It's derived its reputation from a lawsuit filed by Universal Studios that kept it out of US theaters and video stores for decades.  "Hey, you've got a shark in your movie and it's killing people, that's the whole story of JAWS!" said Universal and the courts somehow believed this.  Look, there are only so many ways that one can do a shark movie.  Unless you're doing SHARKNADO or GHOST SHARK, it's pretty much going to be a shark eating people in water.  You don't own the world, Universal!  


See what happens when you change the marriage laws?  These scenes of atrocity festoon the credits and ruin the good time promised by the bouncy, Eurotrashy L'ULTIMO SQUALO theme.  Don't worry, this guy gets offed in epic fashion by the shark.


Then buckle seatbelts for lots and lots of TALKING.  Let's spend twenty minutes meeting the characters!  Author Peter Benton is certainly not named Peter Benchley.  His wife Mrs. Benton is married.  And they have a daughter, Jenny, who seems fated to fall off every boat upon which she steps.  There's also a local politico, a camera crew there to cover a windsurfing regatta, and the best character: Ron Hamer, some sort of Scottish(?) grizzled fisherman.  SEE, UNIVERSAL, HE'S FOREIGN IN A DIFFERENT WAY!  THIS IS NOTHING LIKE JAWS!


The limitations of the budget are left out on the lawn for the neighborhood to see.  In a splendid meta moment, one of the camera guys says, "How can we show the shark?" and the other answers, "We'll just use stock footage, no one will ever know!"  L'ULTIMO SQUALO jimmies in very dark and grainy real great-white footage, including shots of a shark biting a cage when no cage has been introduced into the film!  The shores around whatever town this is are apparently just full of discarded shark cages.


FINALLY MORE SHARK KILLS!  This shark has a very ostentatious killing style and apparently especially dislikes mannequins.


This occurs during the town's windsurfing regatta, which is only the biggest event of the year.  Way to be a dick, shark.  And, yes, that is a Confederate battle flag in that shocked man's hand.  Italians know as much about America as we know about Italy.


Actually, according to Hamer, this shark isn't killing for food, just for the fun of killing. I was hoping that this would lead to the shark murdering people in creative Dr. Evil/CLUE kinds of ways and that actually sorts of happens in one scene, but then it's back to boring old biting.


Bet you miss that stock footage now, don't you?


The kills are really the only exceptional thing about SQUALO.  The very best one is hidden near the end, when the shark roars like a lion, then de-legs someone with incredible surgical precision.  Evidence here!  Spectacular, I grant you!  But it takes forever to reach this oasis and SQUALO isn't really a movie that gives you richly rotten dialogue to take the pain off the journey, so you have to sit through interminable silent underwater scenes and unconvincing conversations before the rubber shark pulls the legs off the fake man.  


I really think the Universal suit has caused this to be viewed in a better light than it really deserves.  This didn't make me feel abused, like BLUE DEMON, but even in the pretty-dire sharksploitation genre, there are better kicks to be had.  

RATING: 4

Saturday, September 14, 2013

BLUE DEMON (2004)


This not-really-accurate IMDB Nigerian prince synopsis is exponentially more entertaining than the real BLUE DEMON, which presents itself in this fashion on the DVD box:


After seeing this image, would you think, "Wow, this is most probably a comedic film!"  How about after seeing this?


These are great white sharks.  So from box to content, we've descended from heightened terror expectations to the CGI equivalent of Mr. Bill.  But, really, everyone should expect stupidity from non-JAWS shark movies, so let's give this BLUE DEMON a chance.  It certainly begins in full-on engagement with sharxploitation dumbassery: a bunch of sorority girls use bolt cutters to get into a government facility which has a lake or whatever in it.  They tell their new recruit that all of them have had to swim out to this pier as an initiation rite.  Since she doesn't say, "What, they fix the fence every time?", we can assume that she is too dumb to live and get ready for shed girlblood.  DENIED, but here's some dark wet flesh and ginormous white panties.


After this not-forbidding beginning, we switch to government scientists and BLUE DEMON reveals its true self.  


Oh, those gov't scientists!  Playing carnival games whilst at work in their wackily-decorated offices!  Yeah, this is one-half of our leads, a pair of divorcing scientists whose science work involves controlling great whites with large anime eyes so they can protect America against terrorists.  If they played this straight, BLUE DEMON might have worked and everybody would have been a winner!  But nooo, instead we get comedy antics that are just so campy and fun, you guys!


Like this general who is named REMORA, like those fish that hitch rides on sharks!  OMG, what if everybody had an aquatic name???  Dr. Jellyfish, Alderman Sockeye, I am laughing myself to death, literally.  The comedy staged for your enjoyment is of this stripe; see also when the lab assistant says that nothing gets by him and the lady scientist immediately tells him his fly is open.  "LOL"


If you want to know what it's like to be friends with an untalented comedian (like Paula Poundstone), watch BLUE DEMON.  It's so insistent upon its own cleverness that you almost feel obligated to try to laugh, but the effort just drains you and leaves you feeling numb and hollow and sad.


Too bad, because there certainly are flashes of bad-movie promise here.  The acting is surprisingly not-awful, although it's absolutely wasted on the crappy script.  The terrible CGI deserves to be showcased on a better stage than this.


So far, the worst of SHARKTEMBER.  


RATING: 2

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

SPRING BREAK SHARK ATTACK (2005)

After a prologue that's more like SPRING BREAK MILF ATTACK (who is with me on this?)


this film settles into its comfortable throne of sucking.  A college girl named Danielle is still being treated like a third-grade girl by her father.  He doesn't want her to live in a dorm, fraternize with boys, or go to Florida.  Apparently, he's okay with her handling saws and power tools, as she's scheduled to go work for Habitat for Humanity, but foxy Danielle foxily gets on a different plane or something and ends up with her bffs in Florida!  Her brother is already down there, doing a bang-up job of studying sharks.


Other side!  Once Danielle arrives, the shark attacks take a back seat to young adult mating rituals.  She meets Shane, who is sweet, but works like two jobs, and one of them is at a diner or something (EWW).  Then there is J.T., who is cute, but also kind of date-rapisty.  


The (attempted, don't worry) date rape scenes steal the spotlight for the wide middle of this movie.  I was kind of hoping for date-rape Russian Roulette when I saw that identical cups of 7-Up were being used, but I guess J.T. has developed a good instinct over his long career of date raping.


FINALLY SHARKS KILL!!!  At least one kill.  But it is a good one, although brief.  Fake sharks look beautifully fake.



There's some drama on the high seas, as Danielle is menaced by sharks while Shane and a shirtless J.T. argue about it.  Shane gives her the worst advice ever: stay still, don't move!  Because tiger sharks, being proficient scavengers, are totally frightened off by corpselike floating.


Spoiler: Danielle is not killed or de-limbed.  One of the cast shows up later as a rubbery doll carcass, but otherwise, most of SBSA is stubbornly bloodless.


By the time the ATTACK promised by the title happens, you'll be too numb to care.


This is not a good movie.  It's not even in the same zip code as one.  It was made for broadcast on CBS, so it's VERY soap-operatic in the worst ways (sad prom piano music, "cliffhangers" before commercial breaks, next to no blood).  It's also more concerned with who will win Danielle's maidenhead than who will survive the chomping jaws of cruising sharks and it has a third-period plot twist that makes SHARK NIGHT look like INCEPTION.  Worth it only if you are a huge fan of windsurfers sliding into stationary sharks' mouths, which is admittedly hilarious and the best.


RATING: 3

Saturday, September 7, 2013

THE REEF (2010)

IMDB keywords: predatorial horror, ripped in half, survival

Based on a true story, THE REEF is Andrew Traucki's follow-up to the well-received BLACK WATER and offers the same sort of natural thrills, just with a different species.  Boat transporter Luke invites his friends Matt and Suzie, and ex-Luke-girlfriend and Matt-sister Katie, to travel with him to a coral reef.  Also joining the crew is experienced seaman Warren.


The film wisely spends a lot of the early scenes developing these characters, especially the halting romance between Luke and Katie.  While not making them goody-good Mary Sues, it makes sure that we know they're generally good people.  So we'll care when the bad stuff starts!


And it does, when the boat hits a reef, ripping a hole in the bottom.  THE REEF does a great job at this point of setting up tension inside the capsized boat, as Luke has to go down to retrieve supplies.  These scenes, pulling dread from tightly-enclosed spaces, contrast swimmingly with the later stuff, where fear generates from an expanse of space.


Warren firmly decides against going in the water, even though staying on the boat means death by dehydration if there's no rescue.  This also helps to provide contrast and prep us, the viewers, for the inevitable fate of the swimmers.  If Warren, who knows the waters and what's in them intimately, chooses a probably painful death on the boat, we know that those who choose swimming are probably not going to have a great time.


Once we're swimming, the film gets really reminiscent of OPEN WATER.  We've got a small cast attempting to survive not only a marathon stretch to land, but also the great white that has noticed their presence.  Some of the underwater shots here are gorgeous and also effective in conveying just how fucking big the ocean is.  It's real big!  Which makes it pretty impossible to keep an eye out for stealthy predators.


This is a shark movie, but it's not SAND SHARKS and THE REEF never really stops focusing on character.  The two leads, Damian Walshe-Howling (who needs to marry Dee Wallace Stone) and Zoe Naylor, are especially excellent at reacting in a convincing way to their situation, but all of the actors in this deserve praise.  I loved the reaction of Matt (Gyton Grantley) after the initial shark meetup.  It's totally believable that someone would try to get the situation "back to normal" ASAP even at the cost of doing something incredibly stupid.  This is now a blog about screenshots of hugging.


The sharks are also great in their roles!  Most of the time, untrainable animals like great whites look bored when they get stuck in horror movies (always typecast), but THE REEF turns sharks' natural  sluggishness to its advantage.  The shark here always looks disinterested until it suddenly gets interested in eating more people.  You know it's coming, but you don't know when.  Also, this is perhaps the first movie to ever show the "bump and bite" technique of shark attack, in one of THE REEF's most memorable scenes.  It helps a lot that the film doesn't stuff the screen with sharks all the time.  You don't even get to see a shark until we're 2/3 done!  It makes it matter more when they are on screen.



As you can tell, I liked this a lot.  It's not god-tier sharksploitation like JAWS and it's probably a step or two below OPEN WATER, but it's definitely well-crafted and carefully-executed.  In contrast to most shark movies, which exult in idiocy, THE REEF takes itself and its material seriously.  And it proves that a serious approach can sometimes pay off very well.

RATING: 6

Thursday, September 5, 2013

THE OMEN (1976)

IMDB keywords: christian horror, moving in, lifting male in air


Confession: I'd never seen THE OMEN before now.  The last time I had a chance to do so, it was because my friend's very Southern Baptist girlfriend told me that I needed to see it, as in I needed to see it before the actual literal Antichrist for real was born and my soul was condemned to hell.  So I'm sure I said fuck off and went off to watch DEATH METAL ZOMBIES instead, so who won that round, Candi?  Maybe God should get better spokespeople.

But then Stacie Ponder said, "You need to see THE OMEN" to the Final Girl Film Club, so here we are.  Going into this, my expectations were that OMEN would be a more polite and genteel version of THE EXORCIST, and that prediction mostly came true.  It digs in the same religious dirt, but focuses on respectably scaring you and forsakes EXORCIST's vomity tides of transgression.  OMEN is easier to swallow because it's less weighty.  Let's discuss.


American ambassador Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is informed that his newborn baby has died, but the hospital has a very fine alternate baby in stock.  To avoid upsetting his wife (Lee Remick), Thorn agrees to take the stunt baby.  In other news, he receives a transfer from Rome to England.  All seems to be peachy in the Thorns' lives—they have a baby named Damien, plentiful water, and a dog...


...who presages a much different dog...


...who is a manifestation of demonic force, which is drawn to the Thorns' adopted son, aka actually the literal Antichrist (Harvey Stephens). Who names their child "Harvey"?  If you're new to this blog, you're also new to my undying hatred of child actors, especially when they're cast in villain roles.  But, credit where it's due, Harvey does decent work here, mostly because he's not grimacing or leering like a midnight horror host.  He mostly just looks sleepy or disinterested, which is the perfect choice for this film.  Damien's inhumanity isn't showy or active, it's more remote.  He looks at people the same way that people look at insects, like this:


The few scenes which do involve Damien's wails of woe are well staged...


...although no one outfreaks Lee Remick in this film.


Damien's diabolical nature is revealed as he repels animals (except dogs, so what does that tell you?) and attracts creeper nannies, but the real evidence arrives in the form of a shrieking priest, who recites upsetting poems at Mr. Thorn and demands that he "drink the blood of Christ!!!"  Again, God should probably hire better representatives, and so it takes a good long while for Thorn to accept the reality of what he's been told.


At this point, the film kicks into higher gear and what had until now been buoyed mostly by good acting and good-enough direction becomes a very good organic whole.  There are intimations of conspiracy, a lot of suspense, and a fight between a diplomat and a demonic nanny with good taste in pajamas.  You rule, second half of THE OMEN.


The acting across the board is very convincing.  The two leads really sell their relationship and get you invested in their characters.  Lesser actors might have treated the Thorns as throwaway roles until you get to all the screaming and dying scenes, but Peck and Remick give it their all throughout.  Billie Whitelaw also gets high marks as the nanny/apostate of hell.  It helps that the script gives them room to maneuver.  THE OMEN isn't really a film that probes for eternal truths or problems of evil (other than "Hey, this kid is evil and that's a problem").  It's mostly a popcorn movie done by seasoned pros, but the execution elevates it.  Credit the cast and director Richard Donner for delivering primo material and even occasionally some really striking visuals.


I would hesitate to put this on the top shelf of horror (it can't touch EXORCIST or TCM), but it's definitely very well done and worth your time.  

RATING: 8