Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception... until the screen is a white glaring rectangle

Friday, August 16, 2019


Leave it to Europe to deliver on the promise of HD cameras and non-union expressionist German handwerkers, taking the time to bring old masters' lighting and composition to even their low budget fantasy. Here are--if not quite a slew, at least a few--fairly interesting, more or less family-friendly (presuming your kids are cool), dark fairy tale-style forays into deep Jungian crypto-horror, hailing from the Emerald Isle, Germany and Italy. The accents might not always be there (they sometimes seem to be doing 'American' accents) but the lighting runs from good to decent - these aren't your average DIY SOHDV miss-terpieces, but legit little minor key gems, just looking for a rocky outcrop to nestle in amidst the sprinking waterfall between YA fantasy fiction and horror, waiting for the right mopey young person, reading Bronte or Keats while perched on a fractal-patterned tapestry spread over the mossy rocks, to catch the secret glint of.

That they are all findable in the rocky maze of Prime (in the US at least), is a blessing. Normally we'd be able to see these only at a 'Fantastic Film Festival' where sneaking out after ten minutes would be, well, you'd hate to do it since you know the filmmaker and cast are probably in the row behind you and you're the only non-crew/cast member there, and really, it's not them it's you, etc. One of the reasons I stopped submitting my own work at festivals was to avoid this very thing. Just know this: the genesis of this post began after my surprise at the loveliness of The Forbidden Girl's cinematography. The other two films listed were the only ones I could watch to the end. I've started, stopped and flicked around on, dozens of similar titles on Prime just to get to these three (I was hoping for at least five), so bask in your moment if one of these lost kittens are yours! The rest of us, bring your grains of salt, your huddled sage-and-sandalwood candles yearning to be lit!

(2013) Dir. Riccardo Paoletti
**1/2 / Amazon Image - B+

You'd be forgiven thinking this a UK production- the actors are all Brits, Welsh, Irish, more or less. But it's an German-Italian joint and--despite the near constant UK-style dinginess of the skies, filmed in Italy, so they say. The story has independent-minded Jenny (Daisy Keeping) spending a summer with her archaeologist father near an ancient Etruscan lake where he's been recovering ancient idols, small fetish totems that used to be tossed in as sacrifices to the spirits of the lake. He's been taking them out, but also throwing stones in, for some reason. Left largely to her own devices, though semi-bullied by a dimly evil au pair named Olga (Joy Tanner), escapes the dreary confines of the old-school house by reading Shelley down by said mysterious lake, a practice that soon draws her an audience of handicapped children with the kind of pale ghostly faces that raise all sorts of red flags for any normal person. In addition to the whole Etruscan statuary element (shoehorned into the narrative with the finesse of a frostbitten safecracker), there's passages from Shakespeare (guess which play? Hint: one of the pale urchins is a brooding older boy with Edward Cullen facial planes).

Enriched with mythic meaning, often to the point of anything else, writer-director Martin Gooch clearly knows his Maria-Louise von Franz, and ably uncorks the genie of archetypal psychology, as Jenny takes on the job of recovering the statues stolen by dad and throwing them back into the lake, and in the process finding a mysterious doorway hidden behind a log pile leading to a secret chamber, and the surprises she finds there are so WTF I feel I've said too much!

Fans of 70s-80s Italian horror will be pleasantly surprised to see ember-eyed David Brandon (Scarlet DivaStagefright) aging nicely into the sort of enigmatic dad role usually monopolized by Gabriel Byrne, and--thankfully--there's no romance with the doe-eyed Edward-clone, just the kind of Jungian archetypal challenges, triumphs and dark father pursuits we find in all the darkest coming-of-age crypto-Jungian fairy tales with teenage girl protagonists whose moms are either dead or in Florida. The underwater photography is great and for the most part Paoletti wisely keeps the less-successful CGI chimeras at a hazy distance.

Occasional missteps: the Medusa hair effect of one of the water nymphs, for example would have been much more effective if they moved languid like flowing seaweed (as Val Lewton would have done it) and the Etruscan statue tossing thing is kind of bum rushed past us, as if the writers sincerely hope we won't notice the stank of an upcoming social studies quiz creeping in like a dad trying to interest his children in opera during a long car ride.

Either way, fairly engrossing, with interesting use of pans and dissolves (as in the above, where a painting of robed figures seems to imprint itself on the twilit lake), a pretty riveting climax, lots of drug use (I can't say more), and lovely to see the still-Satanic eyed Brandon still at it and Keeping is a keeper as the can-do 'Nancy Drew on weird drugs' heroine. It's great to see movies where the new girl in town isn't saddled with cumbersome school alienation tropes ("Fitting in is so hard!") or romantic sogginess, just the right dash of Elektra complex. Jenny might get pissed when dad keeps ignoring her, but she finds things to do, and if the climax doesn't quite make as much sense as the filmmakers seem to think, at least they have the courage of their convictions, and one ends up feeling compassion for most everyone of the characters, save one....  

(2016) Written and directed by Martin Gooch 
**1/2 / Amazon Image - A-

Though on the surface it's yet another modernized fairy tale where the intrepid young daughter of a slightly-overwhelmed, gruff but lovable widower (Simeon Willis) helps him rescue some mysterious stones in order to save her from a horned monster of the ancient woods, there's a lot more going on here than just the usual trite nonsense we'd get in an American movie following the same beats (the dad doesn't mope around watching videos of his dead wife, and when he dreams of her, it's of their last moments together, drinking in a canoe rather than canoodling at a backyard picnic). She appears to both father and daughter as a ghost, warning them of coming danger.  By day, dad occasionally raises his voice and flies into overwhelmed fits while trying to follow the strange clues and fix breakfast for daughter Eternity (Scarlett Rayner), who's ever bothering him with random questions, but the pair can also share nice moments together (we applaud his knack for taking her on treasure hunts, even giving her maps he's carefully designed to find presents he's buried) and spend evenings outside looking up at the stars ("if I ever get to ill or too old to have a beer under the stars," he tells Eternity, "I want you to put me in a little boat, and set fire to it..." - hey we applaud that notion (and what else is AA, but that very burning boat?)

Fans of Irish horror will recognize this 'if you take things from out of the woods you had best return them' set-up from other films besides Neverlake, such as 2015's The Hallow, where a dad researching something in the woods and living right on the outskirts, unwittingly wakes up an ancient evil... That's all to be expected in a woosdy fable like this, and Gooch wisely keeps the focus on the brilliantly precocious and alert Eternity as she mucks about digging holes looking for treasure, not quite aware of the forces she's messing with (as when she hacks into a power cable) but able to meet the creepy gaze of the enigmatic neighbor with the shotgun, the Dickensianly-named Algernon Sykes ((Linel Aft) without so much as an imperceptible shiver.

But what really sells it is the well-tempered rapport between Eternity--her super long straight hair picking up impressions like a 10 year-old Maria Orsic--and her only-mildly overwhelmed and disheveled, vaguely taller-Ricy-Gervais-ish dad--they seem like both opposites and clearly related--with him gruffly giving her pointers for sticking up for herself against bullies, and gradually realizing he'll be totally overwhelmed unless he brings her along instead of finding a sitter. Once his investigation into the magic stones leads him to the truth, it's nice that he has no problem totally believing Eternity. How often do we see a dad have any other reaction other than either sleepy irritation or pasteurized  reassurance when his daughter starts screaming about something being under the bed? Not this dad! He gets down on his knees to look, and he's scared, and so is the score. This is a world where bumps in the night aren't just delusions. We've crossed over into fairy tale land but without ever being quite aware there was a door to go through.

There's an ecological message underlying things but it never gets heavy-handed. In this case the CGI is better modulated than in most such low budget films: branches reach out and victims of a woodland "Green Man" style horned guardian of the forest captures those traveling through and meshes them into the roots of trees - a pretty scary, well-done effect. There are also some terrifying parental dreams dad has, when he cuts off her iPad scrolling fingers in the dead of night, then wakes up to find he's done it for real! The fairy tale intensity of this all works to keep things uneasy and may scare children into realizing the emotional fragility of adults daily shut out of their kids' lives by cell phones. People straight up die in this film, even an innocent lady cop who spends the day wandering around the woods evoking a mix of Winona Earp's sister's cop girlfriend Nicole, and Amy Pond in her cop costume in the first Matt Smith episode of Dr. Who. (2)

My favorite bit is the third act, when both mom of the babysitter and dad finally believe the kids and they all go on an armed expedition into the woods to find the horned god, and there's even a Goth psychic (Anda Berzina) friend of the sitter (Zara Tomkinson) who drifts over to read tarot cards (and keeps drawing the Devil). As with Neverlake, strange country houses turn out to have hidden rooms deep within secret chambers accessible only from trap doors hidden in the base of closets or woodpiles.  By the end one has grown quite fond of all the characters (save one) and would for a nice sequel. Like Neverlake it has the air of a YA fantasy novel, and there are virtually no boys at all, just a few adult males pointing dad towards the horned truth, and the strange Mr. Sykes. Big old Bechdel score up in here, in short, to make up for the narrative bumps.

PS-= For what a visit from boozy relatives from across the pond, after some eccentric uncle played by Christopher Walken discovers a mummy druid priestess in the bog, check out another big favorite discovery of recent years, Michael Almereyda's The Eternal (1998)

Dir Til Hastreiter
*** / Amazon Image - A+

What a difference a talented ambitious cinematographer makes! Merely OK films become great, or at least worth a glimpse. 99% of the unknown stuff floating on Prime is shot on HD video, in this case it's the staggeringly pretty looking (especially for such a dismal and unfair imdb rating, a staunchly undeserved 3.4) movie that lets you know just how good digital film can look with the right painterly craftspeople at the helm. My observation through relentless slogging is that such brilliance is almost always the result of an Eastern European craftsman making it over to the west and getting their start in low budget films, knowing they will be future calling cards for Hollywood (like Vilmos and Lazlo) or staying home to deliver beauty that, like in Ivan Brlakov's stunning work The Bride, (also on Prime, which would be in this list but for its atrocious tone-deaf English dubbing), transcends the film it services. In this case, it's Hungary's Tamás Keményffy, who brings a golden dusk sharpness to German-Dutch production, The Forbidden Girl, a (filmed in English) tale of which I stumbled on knowing very little about, but was just drawn to the cover art, which suggested some dusky photography and imaginative make-up.

The result? It might be my favorite random discovery since Bitches' Sabbath (i.e. Witching and Bitching). It's a little rough around the narrative edges, but it's a nicely acted ands sometimes well-written tale of the anointed son of a deranged (Baptist-style, for some reason) preacher whose mysterious dream lover may well be either a witch or imprisoned by one, and all in a very matriarchal witchy situation as Toby McLift, the son (Peter Gaidot) of the apocalyptic preacher, is hired as a tutor in ann ancient, crumbling mansion that just happens to hold his true love chimera girlfriend whom he thought daddy killed before he was dragged off to an asylum. If he thinks he's going to have an easy time teaching her though (she has no memory of him) or rekindling their passion, he's wrong - as her guardian, a towering, supernatural Germanic watchdog malevolent spirit played Klaus Tange (Strange Color of Your Body's Tears) skulks ever within hearing range.

Hamburg-born, Strassberg-trained actress Jytte-Merle Böhrnsen is alive and wild as this forbidden girl Laura, a classic Jungian anima figure, whose kept in a tower, away from the eyes of strangers, though why her guardians should want a doe-eyed lovestruck mental case like British-born dreamboat Peter Gadiot up there as a tutor is anyone's guess, unless it's because he bears 'the mark' that will open doors to Hell or something. That's not really a spoiler if you've seen enough of these kinds of films. That's business as usual. But what's not usual is the great use of a crumbling mansion - scenes by a leaf-filled crumbling half-full indoor pool, for example, or along dark twisted hallways, and into small ditches around the property while formulating their escape. The dark father non du pair, forbidding superego injunctive character is played by the pleasingly weathered Danish actor . And in bed, withered and dying though slowly growing mysteriously younger with Gaidot's presence (ala Hasu, or I Vampiri), is the enigmatic witch Lady Wallace (Jeanette Hain). You won't need a copy of Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces to figure out what's really going on (or why even a tiny amount of sunlight let in, when a shade slips open, can set fire to ancient books and generally wipe these witches out. As the light creates a weird camera obscura image on the side of what looks like a transparency projector, we're forced to admit that, unconvincing as it is, it's all way prettier, better, and more genuinely surreal than Lynch's Twin Peaks: The Return

But these kinds of dark fairy tales are never about that - they're about the journey, these are the equivalent of the tales children love hearing over and over, because the story rings deep into the fabric of our unconscious tapestry, shaping the way we view the world and giving our dreams the narrative structure our unconscious is often not enough of a dramatist to provide, resulting in a jumble of characters and events that fade before they can be tabulated in the morning. Here we get the same balmy 'living all ages of life at once' thing we get in Valerie and her Week of Wonders, Lemora, and even Muhlholland Dr. to a weirder degree. It's not 'better' than those films, but it is certainly lovely to look at, with deep blacks and rich moody colors that evoke the saturated interiors of Next of Kin's old folks home, or the autumnal leaf-bedecked scenery of José Ramón Larraz films like Symptoms and Vampyres. 

Performances are all superb, especially Jytte-Merle Böhrnsen, so alive from one moment to the next that capturing a good screenshot for her was like asking fire to hold its flicker; and Hain, whose mastery of the sort of raspy, old world seduction where we believe she could hold both young and older men in her sexy cobra stare on separate floors at the same time. Tange is legitimately frightening yet also romantically tragic and Gaidot shows he's more than just a pretty face through Toby's spirited can-do gallivanting in the face of insurmountable supernatural cockblocking. There are some less-than-successful CGI elements, depicting a kind of shadowy quick-moving ghost creature (shown way too early) ever trying to steal back Laura to hell or wherever, prowling the long Overlook-style hallways with their murky lighting mix of candle light, gas lamps, and the occasional dab of electric light, the CGI black smoke whiffs don't overstay their welcome (except for some tacky fire effects here and there) or become bogged down in tacky Danny Elfman whimsy cues, though composer Eckes Malz's reliance on familiar orchestral and chorale themes does seem a missed opportunity for some good droning synths). The camera zips and prowls on padded feet so we feel like we're skulking around the mansion's spooky vastness on stocking feet in the dead of night, to get the lay of the vast land. It's a hard thing to get right, but by the end of the film we feel like we know all the ins and outs of this weird wondrous place, including how to escape it.

One of the story's many strengths is the total absence of a distinct black/white dichotomy. We empathize with the romantic yearning and sense of irrecoverably lost time in the sad eyes of the older pair of lovers and can't help but wonder whether the real villain is actually Toby in his blind determination to rescue Laura whether she wants to go or not.

Jeanette Hain
All together, taken as a triptych of what can happen when imaginative low budget filmmakers let loose with enough of a European sensibility their work isn't stepped on by a lot of second-guessing producers and Sundance script workshop class-infected superego second-guessing (where, in a misguided bid for 'structural logic' and 'integrity', one winds up passing the holes with the same tired cliches, or trusting gore, talking heads, exposition-heavy denouements, leering sleaze, and gross-out ugliness over beauty, open-handed symbolic Jungian resonance, brevity over clarity, and a cast chosen for their beauty, uniqueness, nerve and talent, rather than the dictates of an insecure, bossy girlfriend or not being able to say no to one's small town millstones. Sure some of the tropes may be as old as time, but there's a difference. A fairy tale never becomes cliche --that's the genius of the archetypal unconscious as delineated by Jung via Marie-Louise von Franz via the Brothers Grimm via Joseph Campbell, and upwards, from Disney to the MCU. You can tell the same story a thousand different ways and it's still fresh. Archetypal myths don't weaken with retelling, and children in fantasy movies needn't be doe-eyed drips or crass morons, and parents needn't be saints or sex offenders - there's a wealth of fantasy material that lies in the gulf between these poles. Childhood fairy tale wonderment and adult sexuality (portions of Forbidden Girl get pretty racy, but then again Germans aren't as prudish as us) go hand-in-hand. Wether it's delivering stolen ritualistic stones back into the hands of woodland spirits or shagging 300 year-old witches during arcane rituals, these tales take us home, to the real home. When told with the feeling of real danger, alive with real magic, the secret doors hidden in our gatehouses open, and along with the demons that spill out, comes everything we ever thought was lost, all those traumas too rough to recall in the same decade they happened, all those intense in-love moments that were so great they left you feeling hollow and lost for years after, vainly trying to get back to it, drowning your despair in so many  squirreled away by overly cautious ego lab rat synapses. 

Some of it is treasure. glints of gold reflected from the light above- but if it's worth the dredge, that's in the end up to you. Some people can't abide the loopy, dead end cul-de-sacs of dream logic. Maybe just my writing about these, lifting them up into the light, as it were, exposes their flaws at the loss of the allure of being undiscovered? What are dreams when written down and analyzed? Their obscure import fades once deconstructed by a good psychoanalyst. But am I a good psychoanalyst? If you said no, then dive into these loopy, dead-end dream logic pictures, before you forget them! 

2. Surprise! If you get those two references, thou art a geek

Monday, August 12, 2019

Air Auda Beya Lah: THE BEACH BUM (2019)

One of a trio of neo-'head' movies (along with CLIMAX and MIDSOMMAR) that marks 2019 as the year psychedelics became the new weed and weed became a nootropic, THE BEACH BUM signals the return to the ever-in-style bad boy auteur Harmony Korine, his stoned-ass hour has come! All three films make a successful conscious effort to capture the highs and lows of the psychedelic experience, in an array of settings (Climax being the worst trip ever; BUM being the best, MIDSOMMAR moving between both like Jacob's ladder angels), to not just use drugs to tell a story but to make the viewer feel like they are on those drugs, either via remembrance of one's own experience or -- well, I can't imagine the other way, would people watching these films who've never done drugs 'get off' from them or would it just seem like a bunch of idiots cavorting around in loud circles?

Furthering the sunglasses and turquoise Florida ecstasy-dilated forward kinetic momentum of his 2012 masterpiece Spring Breaker, Korine also shows his age. He's too old to party with college kids by now - so rather than oversexed coke dealers with pianos on verandas he's put himself in the headspace of an old stoner, sans guns, unless you count poetry as violence, and the occasional cold cocking a cripple with a beer bottle as somehow deserving of legal repercussion. Moondoggie doesn't. Sailing with the ocean wind at full speed, damn the too torpedoed to keep up with the headlong momentum of a poetic madman on an everything that comes his way binge, swapping out Saint Pete for the party-hearty Key West. Which is a 24/7 raging town where everyone knows and loves the Moondog (no relation to the famous NYC street musician - except perhaps subliminally). Once a literary lion, now a sun-trippin' chronic-bong-rippin' alleycat, Moon spends his days fishing on his crazy Rube Goldberg-does-gravity-bong-hits houseboat with a few naked girls, and at home with an understanding maid who helps him up when he passes out on the floor. Welcome to drop in on any party, make out with anyone's girlfriend, or rush anyone's stage, Moondog's wise enough to never bring bad vibes to his transgressive personal space invasions. He makes 'the Dude' seem uptight and reminds me of my previous parlay with enlightenment (see my 2012 Galactic Awakening and its ensuing poetry here). It's the kind of good vibrations awfully hard to maintain once reality sniffs you out like a police dog and sinks its judgy-wudgy fangs into your tender fetlock. Fame sure helps keep that dog leashed though, allowing the Moondog to sashay through life as if it's his own private dream where he only he knows he's dreaming.

Maybe he is, maybe we're seeing people's reactions to his antics through his own rose-colored shades, and there might be a different movie, through the eyes of a sober, weary soul who just wants to drink in peace, for whom Moondoggies' antics are just tiresome reminders of how much less 'fun' such behavior actually is (forcing the witness to re-evaluate how charming booze actually makes him). We see a bit of it in the way he does judge his daughter for marrying a straight-edge dillweed, but it should be clear enough to him why his daughter is so hungry for structure.

And indeed, it seems like a dryly self-aware fantasy for delusional poets, those of us who surrendered the dream of being the next Charles Bukowski or Hunter S. Thompson shortly after realizing the real world had no space for such people anymore, except as small chapbook distributing visiting professors who spend half the year traveling the country giving readings at tiny bookstores. In real lifethere's simply no more room in the pantheon of greats for us - the living rockstar poets of today, man. Times have changed, man. The idea that anyone could be famous for poetry in a party town like Key West is itself a fantasy, like going platinum for your self-produced album of mostly in-key acid rock jams.

In case you can't tell by my veiled bitterness, I had a mild taste of 'the' life back in Syracuse back in the late-80s and NYC in the early-90s, when I was doing radio and TV voiceovers; a time when someone like Maggie Estep could still get on MTV (so there was hope/ for us all / to rise / like dough / on flour-strewn boards / the rolling pin and the proving / the open mic salted but not too soured  / over thyme, etc.), but I needed far too much chemical enhancement to stay that positive for more than a few months straight without winding up getting strep throat or a massive flu (impossible to avoid up in Syracuse where the snow never melts and the heaters carry molds stretching back to the dawn of time). But I talked the talk and walked the walk, and I knew the Moondogs, and loved the drugs and sometimes could even stand listening the Grateful Dead or reading Wallace Stevens, But that's the genius of Moondog, he sails through life irregardless of the clammy claws of the social order. Even stripped of his riches, he finds wealth in an endless assortment of local color with which to run wild, never judging the violent anymore than the righteous.  Even forced into rehab, he finds a way to handle it - to just break out at the first opportunity and go deep underground. A real outlaw.

Matthew McConaughey is brilliant in the lead, playing an extension of the character he'd already perfected to the point of godliness 26 years ago in 1993's Dazed and Confused, the Zen floater on currents of non-focalized amorphous fraternal love and bliss that make him able to pull down complex poetically-phrased thoughts that stun and reduce his pot-struck cronies to near tears. We see how he's tapped into the same divine hedonistic source that made him so deft at pulling the tachyon potentiality strings that alerted his daughter to his presence behind the bookshelf in Interstellar (see 'Space is the Place: Sun Ra vs. Mathew McConaughey). He's a high brother. He reminds me of me in college, of course, thanks to the band I was in; I too had a rep where I never had to pay for drinks or covers, and would sell xeroxed copies of my chapbook for $1 each, and was welcome on any stage, to improv poetry over jams from my fellow bands, at least for a few years. All that went away of course, and its absence crushed me like an empty can, almost sending me on that long swim until Night of the Iguana saved my life. But I would have loved to show my dad this movie as if to say "see dad! You can get rich on poetry and unemployment."

Still, in the end it's a fantasy to imagine anyone could make enough money on a book of poetry to be able to please a cash-guzzling southern "literary agent." Coupled to this willfully fantasy-tinged view of the lucrative world of publishing (no doubt a beard for filmmaking itself, and the agent and friends' needling to finish his book being the rub that it's been so many years since party animal Korine's last movie), is the idea that with enough weed you can float past the consequences of busting out of a court-mandated rehab, stealing a boat and going on a wild crime and auto theft bender spree with a vaping felon (a thugged-out Zac Effron), breaking a bottle over a crippled man's head as he steers home in his electric wheelchair and robbing him, all without it affecting your pristine beach karma, because you're so filthy rich and famous it's an honor to be cold-cocked, like how it was once considered 'in fashion' to be robbed by Jean Genet. So though the cops are after him, the Dog never serves time or is caught - putting on women's clothes for the rest of the film (and what clothes, like he's Gloria Swanson on her 50th honeymoon) seems too make him invisible to cop eyes. Fleeing to his house in the Keys seems to wipe clean his slate. As with the ending of Taxi Driver, or the little 'ride to jail' escape dream shard by Edward Norton in Spike Lee's The 25th Hour, we've, somewhere along the line, crossed over into wish fulfillment fantasy.

One aspect of the brilliance of Korine's work, stretching back to his script for Larry Clark's seminal Kids (1995), is that he trusts his audience to navigate this kind of deceptive murk as it were the clear water of a tropical beach, that hides broken glass and invisible jelly fish -- which sting you without the music on the score changing from happy beach jams. He gives us in The Beach Bum, as he did in Spring Breakers, a morally bankrupt antihero on a truly endless summer, encouraging us to identify without emulation, to get a feel for the kinetic freedom of those willing to do whatever it takes to stay in the bliss of the moment, unattached to possessions so much as seeking intoxicants and never saying no to weird opportunities, nor even judging people's actions as right or wrong, to not go on a crime spree after seeing the film's ostensible heroes commit crimes and get away with them.

There's a brilliant druggy breathy moment between college students Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson (who funded their trip south by robbing an all-night cafe), and James Franco (the drug kingpin of "Saint Pete", who bailed them out when they got busted for drugs in their hotel room during their initial massive coked-out orgy) - the three are all twisted up in a weeklong naked threesome on beds of money, guns, and drugs, when suddenly the girls grab a gun and stick right in Franco's face, as if to say, sucker, we got you now, and are going to take all his cash and split. Franco is we're expecting to either get pissed off or panic, but he quickly brings himself back into the moment and starts fellating the gun. Is this something they improvised? Either way, it's brilliant - all with repetitive whisper ASMR whispery drug/sex talk. It's that kind of kinetic in-the-moment response that earns our admiration and makes both Breakers and Bum work as twin masterpieces of duplicating the best highs of the drug experience, they are the corbeille américaine nouvelle vague - as accomplished in their heedless momentum as Truffaut's one-two punch of 400 Blows and Shoot the Piano Player at the dawn of the swingin' early 60s. Of course those weren't separated by seven years in which Truffaut only managed to make two music videos. But there were so fewer drugs floating around then. The best one could do was expired US Army amphetamines and endless wine. God knows the shit Korine's been doing, it probably doesn't even have a name yet, just a molecular number.

There is a moment early on when, to inherit his share of his late wife's millions, Moondog must first publish his long-delayed new book of poetry. To motivate him, he's totally cut off, and even kicked out of their Miami mansion, essentially forced to look for hand-outs as he bums around with his typewriter in a pillowcase. Then, he's arrested and forced into a 12-month rehab but he escapes after a few days and never looks back, nor does he have to! Between that and the way his rather dubious poetry is so highly regarded that he can stagger up to the podium at the Pulitzer Prize award dinner and babble about his cock and be embraced like a scruffy saint, his daughter now laughing at his jokes again, his cash released and presented to him in a giant slab, lets you know this is the kind of fame imagined by a stoned poetry class freshmen ranting at his school's open mike nights, but he rants / to no avail.

To no avail.

But I know these Moondog types, I partied with them, and it's certainly true that they liven up their corner of the scene. As long as you don't expect coherence or to be your own center of attention, you're bound to have a good time when they're around. Certainly they're no mooches, unless they don't happen to have anything, which they seldom do as they're too generous with it so it's gone very fast (Jesus with the loaves and fishes they ain't). Still, we understand why Snoopp would give him a plane, a massive wad of cash, and a wheelbarrow full of weed, to make his getaway when the law closes in on Snoop's pleasure palace. At the same time, none of his new friends ever proves hard for the Dog to leave when he gets the least bit bored or called off on his magical road. He end up never having to shoehorn a glommer off of his leg, which alas happens quite often in real life. Everyone is as welcoming as they are understanding of the cosmic forces which draw him thither (or they're just happy to see him go).

On the other hand, for every one of the charming Dogs there are about 100 mooches. Magically, Moondog never attracts such needy barnacles. After I graduated I'd drift back to that scene and there was a would-be Moondog (but really just a joneser townie) named Doug E. Fresh (who actually looks a lot like MM does here, as far as facial hair, but with that angular, starving dog face so familiar to those of us whose parents could afford braces or complex proteins). He didn't do poetry but he did have raps, which were the nu-poetry in 1991, and he'd never stop reciting them. You'd hear him recite the same lame rhyme flow over and over through the night as he hit on each new girl at the party. I'm sure, in his mind, he thought he was as irresistible as Moondog, but that's the genius of having McConaughey in the role. Swap him out with, say, Robert Wuhl, Ethan Hawke, or Eric Schaeffer and see if he gets the same howda ya do without it feeling like someone is buying him friends.  (1)

I can't spoil the ending, nor do I want to give up many plot points since there are so few of them - let's just say that he walks it likes he talks it, and no amount of challenges in his late wife's will can prevent him from doing just as he pleases, whether that includes leading a chorus of homeless inside his wife's and his pearly gates, to go swimming and then trash his own living room (shades of 2017's Mother!) or celebrating... something by a kind of ritualistic self-immolation (and Korine loves to film outsider derelicts smashing rich people furniture, a tribute to his beloved Werner Herzog, and perhaps Bunuel).

It's all just a dream anyway, so why not do as thou wilt? Jonah Hill's accent as the super rich literary agent lets you know just how much of a fantasy this is, especially in this day and age. The only literary agent living that high on the hog today is JK Rowling's.

As I get older and older, the kind of in-the-moment hedonism, McConaughey displays here leaves me feeling both assured and slightly lost, not that I didn't get enough of a taste for that kind of life in my prime, but that I could never sustain it for long. Other people in my group could ride it all the way, and in some ways that wave is only now beginning to break. I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall during this shoot to see just what they were all smoking, if they actually smoked that much. Like Nick Charles with his drinking, one can really only smoke so much pot without hitting a kind of plateau and either crawling over to the TV to waste the rest of the day, crashing onto the beach, or going into a paranoid heart-racing tailspin. Nick's drinking consumption would probably kill a normal human being but it's a kind of fantasy of excess. Especially in this day and age, weed has become so strong most of us can barely handle more than a single hit or two before reaching that breaking point wherein it's no longer fun.

I'm sure that's not true for all of us. Couple guys I know... they could. But they sure ain't about to write poetry. The biggest weed smoker I know did get one to write memoirs, with my encouragement, when he was in jail, and he was a natural with lots of sharply-observed details. But he didn't have access to weed then, I assume. He stopped writing once he resumed smoking.

Thank god then, there's a man like Moondog, out there smokin' and livin' a dream.

Where will the crabs go,
when there's no more crotches like his?

A key element of Korine's mise-en-scene here is pace. For all its momentum, Spring Breakers would up in plenty of circular eddies, with sound bytes repeated over and over, like a breathy, coke shiver mantra, and dead ends like jail and the wearisome Catholic reticence of Selena Gomez. There's none of that here, just a forward march move of the Dog, so that even rehab seems like it's part of an incredible outlaw journey undertaken while stumbling genially forward. There's never a dead stop. We seldom, if ever, see Moondog either eat or sleep --he's never shown as starving, dizzy from lack of a decent meal, looking for a place to shit or pee, or throwing up from too much booze; he passes out once on the floor once early on, and his loving housekeeper rescues him but as soon as he's back on his feet he's off and rolling away the doobs.

Korine captures a very rare and difficult to do right interiority in his mastery of this style. Just as he did with Breakers, we're given the 'inside' view of a very high man. We don't get a 'true' external but we do sense that, with just a slight shift in the POV, Dog's antics might seem the height of uncool tragedy. We get glimpses of the underside to Moondog's shenanigans in the corners of frames sometimes, like the poor old lady in the wheelchair he sends flying across the veranda into wall while bounding into his daughter' wedding ceremony. It's okay because she's not really his mother, or something - and she's forgotten. We don't even see if anyone helps her back into her chair. Indeed, the way the other person in a chair we see is cold-cocked and robbed, we wonder if the Dog and/or Korine has an unconscious resentment against the physically impaired, which is uncool. On the other hand, there's his erstwhile dissing on the loathsome banality of his daughter's choice in husband, which he does right there on the wedding floor. On the other hand, he doesn't recognize him as the kind of straight edge type of spouse sought after by adult children of flaky drug-addled partying celebrity parents (ala Saffie in Absolutely Fabulous or Christian Bale in Laurel Canyon). In other words, her choosing a doofus is partially his fault.

What makes Korine's view unique, is that the Moondog gets away with it. Is it because he's a celebrity or because he's Matthew McConaughey?

A few years before I had my first drink there was a chapter on alcoholism in my middle school health class. Actually it was that textbook that inspired me to try and smoke weed for the first time, being up til then a depressive punk rock straight edge: on the very last page at the end they point out they quietly mention pot has no long-term negative effects and indeed might promote immunity health and that psychedelics have immeasurable therapeutic value when done in the right circumstances. Alcohol on the other hand was a poison en par with heroin as far as detrimental health value and erosion of competency. We learned on the other hand that, though weed made you stupid if done to excess, it was reversible. Quit smoking and all your brain cells would grow back.

In this health class was shown a movie on the dangers of booze we see is a girl in a high school play and she's a big success. On opening night and then during the curtain call, down the center aisle of the crowded assembly room comes drunk mom, in her bathrobe, staggering onstage to bring her embarrassed daughter a tattered flower bouquet, babbling into the mic about what a great daughter she is before crawling off to sleep in the wings. Ugh! We might also think of Norman Maine's drunken crashing of his wife's award speech (either at the Oscars or Grammys) in any of the Star is Borns).  Seeing such naked sloppy attention grabbing is--in those films--not unlike lifting the rock off a bug nest, for the disease thrives in hiding, the alcoholic ideally (if they have stock on hand) seldom gets out of bed, unless it's to pee, throw up, or find the TV remote. Like a cat, most of an alcoholic's life is spent sleeping, as the digestive system (liver, pancreas, kidneys) tries to get some food value out of the onslaught of toxins thrown its way in lieu of regular meals.

My point is a fine one, as one who knows both the inside and outside of those sprees (for once I got sober, my dad's behavior--for he was a steady drinker--neither as drunk nor as sober as me--went back to being rather hard to take at times. Repetitive- he had a period of about 1-2 hours - from cocktail hour (4 PM) to maybe 8 or 9 PM, when his sparkle would wear off and the scintillating wit would kind of run out and go back to the same old stories, like a TV channel that runs out of new programming so just replays the shows from earlier in the evening. He'd laugh --in the same spots in the same way--at the same jokes (even the same enunciations!) he'd made the night before, and even the night before that. Whether it was waxing rhapsodically over the tenor of Montgomery Clift's work in Judgment at Nuremberg or extolling the virtues of Frost/Nixon, laughing in the exact spots time and again. I learned I could never be a movie usher, with the same film again and again on in the background. Good lord, I can't even imagine.

Dialing it back, anyway, my dad ceased to be annoying once I too was drinking. I know too the cushy inside of that - I know what it's like to be all warm with whiskey mixing heroic grandeur and emotional sweep into the blood, so that every flourish of your hands in time with the sweep of some Bernard Hermann passage feels as if you're conducting the whole of Odessa across the steppes, a one man Dr. Zhivago of emotion and scope all encapsulated into your every head turn. What's genius about Korine's and McConaughey's excellent work on the Bum is that it captures that rush of genius feeling without the need to either back it up with genuine brilliant diegetic poetry or anything like actual consequences. We're so conditioned to presume that with the wife's dying will edict about getting his act together coupled with the judge (who even confesses she "used to be a fan") remanding him to rehab, that he'll emerge with a haircut and a suit and we'll have the other polarity, which is what--if Korine was a 19 year-old screenwriting student at some generic writing workshop, he'd be told is important for character arc (I can just see the teacher drawing a big half-circle on the white board and gazing hopefully at Harmony like he's a precious little five year-old), workshopping it all down until it's another 28 Days (2000).

Clearly, Moondog needs no lessons in learning boundaries or how to open up to people, he can just do it while getting lit with Snoop Dogg (Here called 'Lingerie' so we don't get our 'dogs' mixed).

Cigarettes helped obscure how unattractive that all looks from far enough away. Now in bars you can see all the way across the room, and smell the way proximity in a small space while drinking and being flushed with drink leads to a boozy mist in the air that smells like a tang. Luckily, we have Korine here to remind us how wondrous it all looks from close enough we're on the inside looking out, and everything sure is beautiful. The jokes keep coming, from Moondog shaking off his jealousy before it can blossom (when he sees wife and Lingerie making out on the dock) and goes deep into the fountain, swimming around while masterfully keeping his drink always above the waterline; or his temporary affiliation with Martin Lawrence's hilarious 'swim with the dolphins' boat guide, who winds up leaping in to a pool of sharks by mistake and has his foot bit off (which Moondog helpfully tosses into the ambulance before ambling onwards).

In the end, bro. It's all good. It looks great. And it even ends in such a way as we expect movies to end, with millions caught up in empty explosions and a cat in jeopardy. And along the way, Matt McConaughey is so very much his stoner self he all but smokes the film right in front of you.

And the cat lives!
(Visit my own site of trippy poetry here)

For a nice chaser to the Moondog's shaggy antics, check out the paralyzing bad trip energy of Michael Cera in two underseen little gems from Chilean director, Magic Magic and Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus. 
The other two psychedelic hits of the year: CLIMAX, and MIDSOMMAR

1. Astute readers will analyze my loathing for Doug E. Fresh as a kind of projected self-loathing anxiety (that was the Doug E. Fresh, and not an erudite, occasionally coherent mix of Mick Jagger and Zoot (from the Electric Mayem). Just having to write all that judgy stuff up there kind of shows I still worry about that. 

Ride on, Moondog - you never worry, or project, right down to your core of cores. 

Friday, August 02, 2019

Sharktopi vs. Various Things: Best of Syfy Shark Movies Part 2

Summer always brings three old familiar film re-binges back to casa de Acidemic: Marlene Dietrich-Von Sternberg films, Val Lewton horrors, and bad shark movies. For reasons known only to them, Syfy isn't deluging us with their Asylum and Offshoot giant and mutant shark movies this summer. Maybe because they don't have a Deep Blue Sea 3- Blewing Deeper, or an Arctic Sharktadon vs. Lobsterdamus (the visionary lobster who predicts a grim future of hot butter)or Sharknado 7 - Drowning Around. to debut. It doesn't matter, as no fan of this genre would remember having seen all their back catalogue, even if they had (cuz, you know). And most are still either Syfy 'on demand' or Amazon Prime. So just play catch up and leave it to me to make the notes, together we'll remember everything, and won't that be fun?


And believe me, like oceanographers themselves, I've only plumbed about 10% of what's down there, so am likely to be 'swimming' in the CGI depths for Julys to come.

As before, ratings are all relative to a certain level of badness and audience indulgence. The criteria is the ideal lazy Saturday afternoon half-nap - a certain level of humor and beachy vibes and Bechdel professionalism, i.e. women (as per the Corman tradition) capably playing professional people: sheriffs, scientists, grizzled shark hunters, as well as the usual lifeguards and screaming bathers. The ideal ratio, as per baking is just enough thrills to keep you watching but not enough to bum or stress one out. It should be witty without getting puerile and sexy without being tawdry or vulgar. Tough order? Not for (most of) these Syfy/Asylum shark bytes!

(2015) Starring Catherine Oxenburg

The third classic Casper Van Dien movie (after Starship Troopers and Modern Vampires)Man, he can do no wrong! He gets his own joke and knows to play his hand as a hungover charter boat captain, operating out of the scenic and tropical Dominican Republic, dead straight. His first mate and drinking partner Pablo (Jorge Eduardo De Los Santos) at his side, and one left-field fast ball after another beaning them square on the sconce, he becomes the hero by sheer chance But hey! This here is the kind of drinking movie when Casper might get his leg bitten down to the bone, but his main concern is whether or not he spilled his beverage.

We here at Acidemic salute that dogged concern for what really matters.

His troubles begin when he wakes up to find himself hosting a funeral at sea. One of the bereaved mourners is grabbed and sucked under by a malicious clawed tentacle, and Van Dien is blamed and jailed by his ex flaca, Inspector Nita Morales (Asylum regular Akari Endo). But what he mainly worries about is the other prisoners staying quiet so he gets his hangover slept off.

As we say in AA, I really related.

In a refreshing (and very Corman) gender update, the divine Catherine Oxenburg is a mysterious and unscrupulous doctor in genetics (i.e. a mad scientist) Dr. Reinhardt, who runs an unlicensed genetic 'undetectable' doping clinic, illegal even for the DR. Fans will remember Oxenberg as the girl who was almost sacrificed to Dionyn 30 years ago in Ken Russell's Lair of the White Worm, well here she's doing the sacrificing - on the altar of science! It's a great piece of ironic casting as her face bears the traces of having been subject to sad array of anti-aging processes over the past. Though she can really deliver science-flecked lines like "I merely inquire so I can coordinate the correct gene sequence for your physiology" as if they trip off her tongue, Oxenberg's flat Arianna Huffington-impression German accent quickly wears on the nerves. Still, seeing this decade-spanning horor cult semi-icon turn a has-been Dominican baseball player (Mario Arturo Hernández) into a 'whalewolf' via radical gene therapy, just to improve his swing is pretty rewarding. It gets sadder though when she feeds her devoted and very sexy nurse (Jennifer Wenger) to the ensuing monster, especially after she rocks a very groovy slow-mo walk to through the DR streets and into the office (poor Reinhardt doesn't live much longer, after he overhears her trying to pawn him off on a pet adoption agency.)

Pros: Caspar Van Dien and De Los Santos' drunken rapport as Pablo and Ray is very lived-in and dryly hilarious. I love that their approach to finding the sharktopus (in order to please the local voodoo priest (Tony Almont), who demands they deliver its heart for his juju) is to just hide out from his minions and get drunk. Genius! It's a great affront to the MO in these movies where, for some reason, it's up to one or two attractive B-list actors to save the world from some massive threat, even as that world remains totally unaware of it. Meanwhile his ex-novia shoots at both the wolf and the sharktopus; a local live dating competition show is compromised by monster attacks right onscreen, but it's all up to these two drunks and a lady cop to save the whole island, leading  Whalewolf on a mad car chase tour of all sunny DR has to offer, from their state-of-the-art docks and shopping malls to their brand new baseball stadium. That the pedestrians crowding the streets don't even look up from the phones while these giant monsters race past them makes it all extra surreal.

Cons: As usual, the quality of the CGI seems to steadily devolve as the film goes, as if the animator's wrist is getting tired. Once the climactic fight supplants Dien and Ray's drunkenness and avoidance of the crazy juju priest, we're like 'okay, what's next?'

Extra Props: Casper figures out who the Whalewolf is (or used to be) by his baseball swing!

(2014) Starring Katie Savoy

Naturalist Lorena Christmas (Katie Savoy) has a tight relationship with Sharktopus, having raised it from a pup at a local indoor/outdoor Sea World-style aquarium. But Sharktopus isn't ready to see the general public despite the naggings of Christmas' cash-strapped boss. Sharktopus especially gets irritable when CIA handler tough guy and black budget spook Robert Carradine puts a chip in its brain and lets it loose in the ocean to fight their already loose genetic weapon test creature Pteracuda (what a great plan!). But they don't even have control of that one for very long, since a snarky Russian spy has hijacked the signal and also the Pteracuda rips the chip out of Sharktopus during one of their tussles. Who could have predicted that?

Pros: Robert Carradine seems to be having fun here in B-movie central. I was never a fan of him in things like The Big Red One - way too ordinary, but here his ease and comfort in this slippery agent role is very refreshing. Naturally the three of them--Carradine, his muscle, and Lorena, will have to work together to reign in the collateral damage - which is ever worsening by the fact that the Dominican Republic's approach to monster control is to just go about their business. After all, it's just a giant shark with stinging tentacles. Akari Endo (the cop in Whalewolf) is the TV newswoman who disseminates information in case anyone's watching who's actually engaged in the affair. As with all the best DR movies, there's never a thought of calling in any national guard or riot squad - leaving it all to either a single cop car or a CIA analyst and his hostage. In this case it's all very current events as the real enemy is an evil Russian hacker is trying to hack into the chips and program one or more of the monsters to attack the nuclear reactor.

Pros: The first thing one notices is the animation is a slight but notable step above the normal (for Asylum, that is) with extra care taken to get the lighting right in both the fuzzy underwater and breeching action, as all the tentacles and fluttering wings send water beading out in all directions, glinting in the sunlight and so forth. There's a lot of moving parts when the two behemoths guys go at it, and they can make it from the depths of the ocean to high in the sky no problem, which leads to a lot of lighting changes, the water beading out in all directions, hitting the sunlight as all the tentacles and flapping wings furiously interact. Harryhausen would be proud!

Cons: By the time they're both on land, the animators, nearly exhausted, are phoning it in. Who can blame them?

Cameo: Conan O'Brien appears as a jerky yachtsman, clearly dressed in a nod to Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot while he's in disguise as a Shell Oil scion. His head is bit off and used as a volleyball. That never stopped Conan before!

Cons: Almost no women except in major roles, except Katie Savoy, who is ignored in her pleas for this or that but at least has a keen level of intelligence.

It makes me pretty mad when Robert and his man get the drop on the KGB spy but then turn their back on him so he can get the jump on them. Oy mios dios! 

(2018) Dir. Mark Atkins

A lot of the South African lunatic fringe Mark Atkins cast from EMPIRE OF THE SHARKS and PLANET OF THE SHARKS are back - including the bad guy #2 in EMPIRE, now Jonathan Pienar (the marvelous "Mason Scrimm" in EMPIRE) steals the show during his short early reign, evoking the holy power of Timothy Carey as the maniacal guy who gets to blow off one of the shark's heads with a 'boom stick' (a tribute to Hemingway) before he's ripped apart.  Sexy-ugly gutter-voiced Brandon Auret is William, a scruffy islander in the midst of a divorce but nonetheless hosting  a couple's therapy action vacation. His credibility is bound to suffer, but even worse in the credibility dept is the CGI of the shark, aside from some good deadness in the eyes (top image). He's the only one who doesn't really hide his South African accent. For the most part.

Pros: There's an interesting side project with a 40 year-old floating lab that no doubt is responsible for the mutation. Megan Oberholzer is a cute meteorologist who lets them all know a huge hurricane is coming their way and the whole island is about to be underwater. Her boyfriend is another beautiful South Africa blonde named Chris Fisher. "You're the smartest guy I know" she tells him. "That this has SIX heads, we have EIGHT heads! We ought to be able to outsmart it" -- "That's your reasoning?" says the smart freaked out black comic relief. Yes, there's time for hilariously over the top acting - Atkins gives most of the actors a chance to really lose their shit before they're eaten. The Timothy Carey lunacy of Jonathan Pienar; the crazy "I make good decisions!" shouting of the blonde couple, lapsing into Dutch, working each other up ("we got this!" / "we got this! It's GONNA BE OKAY!" Great stuff.

Cons - James, the redhaired bearded idiot is ridiculously miscast - it's unbelievable that this dipshit middle-aged ginger would be with a Strong Black Woman or that she would put up with his mess one bit. The idiot hero, after chopping off a head with a giant threshing blade, sending the rest of the shark/s running back to sea, immediately drops the blade on the ground. Nothing like getting rid of your one effective weapon in the midst of an all-out battle.

Meta - the weird sight of this tween in glasses talking about looking for his forever soulmate on eharmony. If you can't find a girl at that age you should just keep your virginity, or worse - that you'd want to find a soulmate so young. Jesus Christ! Sew some goddamned oats. He doesn't even the good sense to be gay. That this kid has found his soulmate already is disturbing - so is the idea that some of these couples are together - James -good lord, the idea he could get any kind of girl who wasn't a forty year old grandmother of five is not a pleasant one.

Conclusion- The shark animation eventually grows on one, especially when it gets out of the water and starts walking around on its heads like a scorpion (the sunlight glistening and reflective shadow work is pretty good and--rare for a shark movie--the animated sharks seem to incorporate real shark film into their movement - it's pretty close in rare moments to crossing the Uncanny Valley of sharkiness. In South Africa, they give a shit. And as the body count mounts and the survivors get crazy desperate. The music is always in on the deadpan joke and if you can handle suspension of disbelief that lets you imagine one of the heads ripping off another and throwing it up at the top of a lighthouse to knock out a jealous raging ginger sniper, then you're in the right place.

(2016) Dir. A.B. Stone 

Weirdly there's another Atomic Shark movie out there (I wish there a dozen more!), also from 2016 - so this one was changed in some markets to SALTWATER which is what imdb calls it. But to me it's SIN JAWS, unless the nifty poster above is probably for the other Atomic Shark flick. Whatever it's called, it's a cheeky web-savvy thrill ride that centers around a cadre of lifeguards who use drones to rescue bathers and track mutant sharks. The boss of the lifeguards is a douchebag who makes the hottie lifeguard go swimming to encourage bathers to go in the water, as if the ocean demands a percentage. He also doesn't approve of the use of drones, and so is made fun of by the smartass who can't swim but uses his drone to keep an eye way out and bring lifejackets out to people who've drifted out on riptides. Meanwhile the irradiated great white comes rolling in, setting people on fire if they swim within range. It glows rather nicely, if generically.

In addition to the use of drones, this very environmentalist and social media savvy employs all sorts of web based communication. ("We're nowhere near where we need to be yet - we're not even at four million viewers!") Jessica Kemejuk as a vain lifeguard selfie enthusiast with "87,000 followers and counting" and the silvery-gray eyed Maria Bonner as Felice, the camerawoman for the edgy environmentalist channel in scenic San Diego.

Pros: When he finally does go in the water, the drone nerd gets creamed by a pair of literally flaming parasailers after the hot shark belly flops up on their boat - practically setting the water on fire as it does so. The sight of a lip of flame shooting slowly up the rope to a parasailer, before turning the chute itself into a flaming radioactive meteor is pretty badass. 

And who amongst us doesn't love seeing the piercing blue eyes and hearing the centering growl of Jeff Fahey? Here he's driving around and drinking and trying to get cops to believe him about an atomic shark. He's only in the film three minutes but he still helps bump the score up 1/2 a star. Another half goes to the well-showcased abs of Rachel Brooke Smith (far left) as the environmentalist lifeguard Gina (the 'cute but doesn't know it' environmentalist is by now, I'm sure you've noticed, o patient reader, an Asylum SyFy shark movie staple.) "What would radiation do to a shark? Make it glow?" asks the far-left underground environmentalist TV host. "This shark would be radioactive - and emit very intense heat," notes Gina. They rendezvous a restaurant (with the great name of "Tales from the Dockside") where they're either extras or the next guests for a different (?) host, the bratty food critic Skip Forte eats a radioactive fish and bursts into mutant flame - as does everyone else who ordered the catch of the day - or handled it - it seems. Uh oh. Lots of funny throwaway gags meanwhile help keep the suspense and laughs evenly mixed.

Cons: the effects are terrible - folks vaporize right as the shark eats them in clouds of laughable FX. As with 5-HEADED SHARK ATTACK, there's way too much time spent with the tool - these tools need to get eaten faster. The pervy slob they steal the drone from, for example, should be fed unto it stat.

(2012) Dir. Christopher Ray

There's a certain artless schlock director who long befouled the lines of Corman's libsploitation trawler, named Fred Olen Ray. But this is made by his son Christopher, and for Asylum, so it's paradoxically more mature, slightly less tawdry, less 'augmented' and relatively less puerile. It's got bad editing but enough bikini clad heroines (young and natural rather than artificially augmented -as far as one can tell) in professional jobs to make it almost worthwhile.

As with dad's work, theres's way too much shouting and douche baggery-- but unlike dad's work, the scenery is nice, the photography is good. The story involves a large schooner hosting n semester-at-sea college  (though they're more like some shanghaied community college) who winds up crashed at an ever-shrinking island menaced by a two-headed shark. Carmen Electra meanwhile, earns a day's pay for lounging around on a yacht, pausing to help some of the kids on board when they're hurt.

Pros: As Kate, Brooke Hogan conveys a vividly realized characterization of a slightly 'out of her element' shy girl, the sort able to fix a boat and be courageous while the buff boys whinny and wave their limbs in panic, or snicker and try to hit each other in the nuts all day and one thinks hmmm the apple falls not far from the tree.

Cons: As with so many films (such as  5-HEADED SHARK ATTACK), we spend a lot of time waiting for the douche/s to get eaten. Eat 'em sooner!

(2018) Starring Daniel Savre
"Tradin' dreams for nightmares" / "drownin' in the deep blue sea" goes the interesting (low bottom synths) coupled score. "Fallin' from the light," and holding long vowels in a style seldom heard outside out of Fast and Furious end credits, though sans late inning rap beatz. Danielle Savre is " Misty Calhoun" - a sanctimonious sharkitecht hired by eccentric billionaire Michael Beach (doing his best Denzel impersonation) to wrangle the sharks he's using for underwater brain boost tests.

Everything else seems CGI - even, hilariously, and sadly enough, the dressing room.

The eccentric Denzel drinks some unnamed nootropics and they make him see geometry problems (is he stepping on the shark's supply? Scientifically that's not cool.) Jeremy Boado and Kim Syster) are (sort of black-Asian) married science partners also hired on for the trials ("Durant has a shady reputation" / "we'll be rich."/ "we didn't go into science to get rich"). Throughout the girls are the idealists and the boys are the practical ones, but at least these two do have a certain newlywed cuteness and do seem like actual scientists vs. the one-channel bitchy shark conservationist with the dubious name Misty Calhoun whose sole expertise seems to be acting all bitchy because "bull sharks are not lab mice!" I tell you, Misty, I don't think they feel the same way about you. Savre is very pretty but terribly one note. It's like she read that her character was idealistic and forgot to make her anything else, i.e interesting or appealing. What she really needs is better lighting as her complexion/make-up scheme seems to be straining against some long digitally-removed blemish. Her hair tells the story of a stressful shoot as does her lifeless performance at least when squaring against the suspiciously yellow tie-wearing big pharma recruiter. Meanwhile the Scott Walker (RIP - you beautiful himbo soul) role is filled Rob Mayes, a kind of hybrid of Mark Wahlberg and Collin Ferell (I think he's the guy who pushed around Scott Walker in a few Furiouses back)

Pros: Always good to see illegal 'finners' get eaten. There's A memorable death in the flooded phone booth slowly filling with water and blood, screaming, while his buddy watches horrified from atop a bunk bed that's right at the water line.

Smart Tip: Never threaten the boss when you're trying to escape a flooding complex with him.

(2016) Directed by a pair of Kondeliks

When a pair of nature photographers dive to check out a beaver dam, it turns out it's not a beaver damn at all, but a shark dam chock full of human corpses. Janelle Beaudry pulls up her partner, his whole lower half is gone. It all takes place in a single long day along the long river, which works very well for its 'flow' as everyone farther upstream is heading right towards this climactic corpse pile.  Jessica Blackmore is Kate, the game warden who teams up with her longstanding river nemesis, an irascible fisher outdoorsy poacher type named Carl played by the familiar-seeming Robert Craighead (he "saw a one armed man fist-fighting a hare krishna one time") to investigate the happenings. Meanwhile even farther upriver comes an outdoorsy team-building software company's best and palest. Jason London as a smarmy stereotype software CEO, the type whose whole company seems to be an excuse for him to make people be his friends until, finally, one of them learns he's run out of money and everyone else in the company is being fired while these guys are all away on the trip.  Most of the employees all are eaten in fairly short order no matter how much we like them, though. We hope he'll be first on the menu; he is not. The never are.

Pros: My favorite new (to me!) sharkstar, Kabby Borders (as seen starring so very nicely in 2017's TOXIC SHARK) is here as London's eager beaver assistant, fluttering behind and alongside him with clipboard, indulgent smile, and sublime mix of the outdoorsy and executive assistant garb in black power suit with an open midriff displaying her magnificent abs. She livens the whole film up. Though playing a cretin, London seems very comfortable. And it's nice having a woman game warden who is no nonsense without being a dick about it. Kate's begrudging rapport with her longstanding old salt nemesis is pretty endearing in its gruff way. I also like the sheer grim spectacle of a dam made of human corpses, though it's hard to believe those sharks wouldn't just wolf down all that meat. Then again, why would anyone suspect 'believability' with a title like "Dam Sharks"? Because bull sharks can survive in fresh water, that's why.

Cons:  When the game warden girl lets out a scream of rage after having to shoot a man getting ripped up by sharks, it's this week high-pitched scream like she done seen a mouse in the kitchen. It gets pretty gross when Kabby has to endure the sweaty come-ons of the limpid uber-nerd (who won't be swayed in his ardent wooing, despite a buddy warning him off with a frank talk about staying in his league). I've hung out with girls of that same hotness level over the years who've had to endure the same thing, as if their beauty requires them to endure one lame stuttering amateurish overture after another, which is why I hate John Hughes and Cameron Crowe movies (1).  Worse though is a pale, smarmy Jim and Pam type of passive-aggressive smart alecks (Matt Beyond the Gates Mercer and Neka Zang), will they ever get over their shyness to become more than close work buddies? Of course they will, but their passive-aggressive smirks and overly-indoor pallors are not comely. Why can't they be eaten first and Kabby live to fight another day?

Moral: When a hungry shark is in the water and you're safe on land - stay there. Then again, would there even be a movie if they did? Kabby! Kabby I loves ya.

See Also:
The Old Man and the Feminist and the Sea: ORCA (1977)
Great Acid Movies 1/300: MOBY DICK (1956)


1. Hughes teaches geeks that if you really love the prettiest girl in school (i.e. your naive enough to mistake your crush over her beauty for something unique to yourself) of course you'll get her, because you are special! So there is a constant parade of dumbass dorks and wallies, totally unconscious of their stepping out of their own class, hitting on her day and night, hoping their stuttering imbecile awkwardness will charm her with its mealy-mouthed sincerity, as John Hughes and Cameron Crowe promised. 
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