Because the screen is the only well-lit mirror in town

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wronger than the Storm: SHARKNADO, THE REEF

November. If it persists, talk to do your doctor.

If the 12 month cycle was Dr. Moreau's lost soul island, November would be the house of pain: "there's no twilight in the tropics," Moreau says, "darkness falls like a curtain." The hushed chill of dying leaves rustle around in the corners of streets like packs of shuffling Bed-Stuy crackheads; you absorb their shoulder-ache withdrawal and the cold of their torn feet as you pass them. The New York marathon ends on a cold Sunday evening; as your wobbly friends in their reflecting mylar disposable ponchos shine against the foggy grey afternoon, your pride in them is a little flicker of warmth in your freezing jitters. Going out to a bar to celebrate, sitting at a long table of celebrants with pitchers of beer and drams of Wild Turkey, none of which you can have as you're on the wagon, but you know that one shot and all that ache and misery would melt into an amber glow. Daylight savings has already begun; now it gets dark before you have a chance to emotionally prepare. Suddenly the couch is extra cozy and every fibre of your being says "Let's not go out tonight. Or this weekend. Or ever." With each missed party, another nail in the social coffin. But are you trembling? No. Why?


Apparently it was all the rage in "Twitterverse" but I saw it later, on Netflix. After work. Alone. I'm not going to pretend I was in on its "trending." But I will confess I needed it. Didn't want no boring bits or glum nonsense the night I first saw it under lots of Brooklyn stress of the type no runner's high can allay, only feeling warm and dry while watching Los Angeles get flooded with CGI sharks, in what feels almost like real time, snapping-up spoiled Beverly Hills brats and swimming along the freeway or raining from the sky with a rare-for-Syfy propulsive energy. Rather than blithe news cutaways there's long rides behind rainy windows as confused news reports crackle on the FM radio in Fin's SUV. Life goes on - even as LA falls apart under the rain of sharks, assholes still bicker and hardcore surfer exes overreact and have to save every endangered chum.

What else do you need to say? November. The bitterest, crushingest month demands a city fall in totem if its to spare us its crushing measure. We watch LA drown in sharks the way barleycorn huskers watch their effigies burn and family obligations rise like a prematurely buried Usher to wrest even the highest of kites back down to the beige carpets of a vacuumed earth. The darkness creeps up towards the end of lunch and by the walk home we're snared in the trawling net of cold autumnal night. Relationships crumble, jobs melt away, the windows are shuttered, the air conditioner taken hurriedly from the window... like a burglar.

The point is, SHARKNADO comes along, and a Ferris wheel rolls into the side of a four story international style apartment building like it's no big deal. Charlton Heston might drag that Ferris wheel roll out to three hours, but this film rushes along past it like an incoming wave that never recedes. Sharks in the bar, sharks in the traffic jam; "It's like old faithful!" and "We're gonna need faith to get through that." A douchebag boyfriend of the sulky daughter says: "Even if it is the storm of the century, Beverly Hill's rescue services are second to none!" And then he looks out the window, sees a shark in the swimming pool and then a wave crashes through and his head gets bit off. And there was much rejoicing. If you ever played the game as kids where you had to be halfway up the stairs to avoid getting eaten by a carpet shark then yes! Yes! YES! Meanwhile, the leader of the survivors, Finn, is a typical bleeding heart L.A.-er who has to stop to help everyone, even school buses that look empty as you pass. "This is your problem, Finn!" and we kind of agree, but then Boom! There's scared kids in there!

More points for trying. What a man that Finn, what a tool. The real rooting interest is in his barmaid who wants to be more but he's standoffish: the loyal hardscrabble Nova (Cassie Scerbo) who spends the bulk of the movie toting a shotgun and being like "Sharks.... why did it have to be sharks?" and later has her own 'Quint on the USS Indianapolis' yarn of how she got that sexy thigh scar. Sharks fly in the wind but there are no other fish nor even a shred of seaweed, and best of all, this apocalypse of sharkiness seems to follow these guys alone -- other cars continue to drive by, ignorant that the Hollywood sign is down to " Hol  o d". The bloody water gets a menstrual blood reference. And the biggest disaster of all, cell phone reception is gone. Oh, LA. Would it be half as funny anywhere else? The best aspect is this "half end of the world" weirdness -- car rental agencies are still in business, cops are cordoning off areas of downtown for no particular reason. There's no reason to panic unless you've been attacked, but meanwhile half a block down they're still waiting in line at the liquor store.

There's been a ton of similar bad films from the Syfy-Asylum complex, most third wave Corman generation ripoffs of Italian ripoffs of JAWS' rip-offs, which in turn reach back through cocktopus tentacles into the era of the 50s bug movie. Most of them suck. SHARKNADO doesn't. It's like it overheard every excited kid hanging out on the beach in 1974-78, every kid wistfully imagining sharks attacking them even on the beach, or the highway, or flying out of the sky. 'NADO took notes like these kids were holy prophets. And let Tara Reid stand as a lesson against growing up under too much sun and peroxide. Yea.

In the end, it's Scerbo's Nova who really stands out - neither a bimbo nor a bespectacled scientist hottie stereotype - with her Jersey girl hair and raspy voice and way with a gum, her crush on the one guy too self-righteous to get with her, she's a unique new creature in these sorts of movies, and may Syfy remember to keep her in the sequels; and remember too the uniquely comforting sound of a car radio giving out updates low amidst the conversation about what LA shortcut to take, who to rescue first, what Finn's problem is having to rescue everyone all the time, amidst the gentle flap of wipers, sound of rain and the roof, and shotguns being reloaded. I worry those things won't survive in the sequels to come, in favor of crazy cameos, wacky inserts, stoner dumbness, and all the other stuff sequels accrue like barnacles. And there will be sequels. They already have the sharks in the disc drive, after all, just waiting to be used again.

Sharks. It's not just that sharks are badass killers, it's that all these decades later and we're still afraid of the water. We can project our darkest unconscious fears right into the murky dark, right there as we lounge around under the beach sun. We all know the hard truth, even kids: the ocean takes it all. Soaks it all up it does, like a combination stress pillow and life jacket around your albatross neck, November.

Netlfix told me to watch THE REEF next, so I did. Hmmm not as fun. Maybe it's something in their accents and cheery disposition but it's hard to distance oneself from an Aussie in distress as easily as it is to laugh at the loss of Los Angeles. The money shots in THE REEF are not the attacks so much as the sight of great whites slowly materializing out of the crystal blue below the surface. Like a distant rider in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, they circle and you can't tell if they see you or not, their dead eyes betray no sudden interest. They just orbit lazily, then Bam! But there's only so many times you can do that and have the same groovy effect. After awhile all you have is a lot of anxiety even if you're glad to be relatively dry.

The other problem is the sheer stupidity of the outdoorsman boat dude. Why, if you're sailing in a really remote area especially, wouldn't you have some kind of radio or distress signal? Or goddamned lifejackets!  Australia is crawling with sharks, so wouldn't you have shark repellent? Mainly... life vests!! Why if you are all in the water and completely vulnerable would you swim towards the friend of yours being eaten? What are you going to do to help? You're just going to spread more blood in the water.

I doubt even SHARKNADO would argue that THE REEF (2010) is a better film, quality-wise. But aside from the stark blue scenery, it's a wee bit of a bummer, with wayyyyy too much acting. Do we see shark movies to get bummed out? No, SHARKNADO understands this. Your actors need to be either good enough to understand that too much screaming and hyperventilating in irrational panic can bum us out, or be bad enough you make it post-modern goofy fun because you do those same things. The Aussies have a great advantage when it comes to monster movies: their country is lousy with great white sharks and giant crocodiles, and god knows what nameless evils lurk in the Outback, but they should never forget what we want out of a monster movie, laffs. There's a baller Aussie croc film called ROGUE (2007) with the new queen of B-movie monsterdom, Rhada Mitchell, for example, that works a similar territory and is better for being so much hipper to our needs. And it's based on a true story, too. THE REEF is just blue water and screaming, but SHARKNADO is deliverance from the cold dark depths and up into the sweet, sweet shallows.


  1. So Erich my old mucker, 50 years ago today a murderer got away with murder and Lee Harvey Oswald became the biggest patsy in history.

  2. Geezer, you know as well as i do that the real killer is probably still out there somewhere, now 75 years old and living on nothing but beluga caviar and pink champagne, what a bizarre world ! ! !.


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