Cleansing the Doors of Cinematic Perception, for a better worse

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wronger than the Storm: SHARKNADO, THE REEF

If November persists, talk to do your doctor.

If the 12 month cycle was Dr. Moreau's island, November would be the House of Pain: "there's no twilight in the tropics," Moreau says, "darkness falls like a curtain." So does night in November. The hushed chill of dying leaves rustle around in the corners of streets like packs of shuffling Bed-Stuy crackheads during the walk home from work at five PM! You absorb their shoulder-ache withdrawal and the cold of their torn feet from the corner of your glazed thousand yard stare as you sweep past, muttering incessant vile oaths (you, not them). November: the New York marathon ends on a cold Sunday evening after Halloween is over --and thus all that is good in fall. You obligingly weave your way to the finish line to meet them, your wobbly friends in their reflecting mylar disposable ponchos shining 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--one single gulp-- and all that ache and misery would melt into an amber glow, all the pain converted to heaven in the time it take your leviathan blood to swim an arterial league. But No... No No November. Daylight savings begins like a long slow wet dog shudder; now it gets dark before you have a chance to emotionally prepare, the curtain that falls in Moreau's tropics. Suddenly the couch is extra cozy and every fibre of your being says "Let's not go out tonight. Or this weekend. Or ever." The sight of those shivery runners, high with endorphins (and later whiskey) they're the last you see of your crew. But with each missed party, another nail in the social coffin. But are you trembling? No. Why?

SHARKNADO.

Apparently it was all the rage in "Twitterverse" but I saw it later, or 'just now' 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, just now, under lots of Brooklyn stress and soggy socked sinking from the weight of atmospheric conditions. There was none, and soon I was feeling warm and dry while watching Los Angeles get flooded with CGI sharks, in what plays out like 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 inland-rushing tidal energy. Rather than blithe news cutaways there's long car rides with fellow drunks, looking out from behind rainy windows as confused news reports crackle on the FM radio. 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.

November. The bitterest, crushingest month demands a city (not mine) 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, before 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, at least that kite will fly, and the husk will burn. The darkness will creep up towards the end of lunch and by the walk home we'll be snared in the trawling net of cold autumnal night. Relationships will crumble, jobs melt away, the windows shutter, the air conditioner will be taken hurriedly from the window... like a reverse burglar. But first, the fire.

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. Sharks in the bar, sharks in the traffic jam; "It's like old faithful!" as water shoots up from the sewers. "We're gonna need faith to get through that" over a flooded dip under an overpass. 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 before he can react a wave crashes through into the living room 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 or on a chair or couch to avoid getting eaten by a carpet shark then yes - it's the best bit since TREMORS. If 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 them--well, that's LA too - he's it. "This is your problem, Finn!" - and we kind of agree, but then Boom! Turns out --there's scared kids in there, and a TJ Miller-ish bus driver mad out of his depth.

More points for trying. What a man that Finn, what a tool. The real rooting interest is in his barmaid Nova (Cassie Scerbo) who wants to be more than a maid - but he's not into it (What a mensch Finn is, to stay loyal to an ex-wife who's already got a boyfriend literally sleeping in his bed). As the loyal hardscrabble Nova, Scerbo's the emotional center of the film, the most interesting and non-cliche'd character. And she's also the source of larger-than-life wit and humor, a combination Brody, Quint Indiana Jones, a good Goldilocks Zone-hotness level (cute but accessible), toting a shotgun and pulling off lines like "Sharks.... why did it have to be sharks?" that would elicit groans in lesser hands. Later she even has her own 'Quint on the USS Indianapolis' style backstory to how she got that sexy thigh scar. There's also John Heard as a dissolute bar regular, using his stool as a shark bashing device, and others that come and go and are gone in a flash of dark CGI blood spatter.

Effects are serviceable without worrying too much about perfection. Sharks fly in the wind but there are no other fish nor even a shred of seaweed in the wind, not even a wood splinter, and best of all, this apocalypse of sharkiness seems to follow Fin and friends alone -- other cars continue to drive by, unaware of any problems, even ignorant that the Hollywood sign is down to " Hol  o d". And even the biggest disaster of all: cell phone reception is gone is handled. Would it be half as funny anywhere else than LA? Car rental agencies are still in business, cops are cordoning off areas of downtown for no particular reason. There's no cause to panic unless you've been attacked, but meanwhile half a block down they're still waiting in line at the liquor store. Priorities.


There's been a ton of similar junky films from the SyFy-Asylum complex: Corman Y-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 (ripping off Corman's originals). Most of them are pretty weak, effects wise, acting wise, script wise. But this one, it's different. It's like it overheard every excited kid hanging out on the beach in 1974-78, every kid wistfully imagining sharks 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, who makes it work as more than a high concept stunt. With her Jersey girl hair and raspy voice, way with a gun, and foolish 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 and who to rescue first. And remember too that--unlike the Dads of Great Adventure movies--this one is more wryly critical of unwelcome meddler Finn's bad habit of problem of having rescue everyone he meets, all the time, whether they want his help or not. The critique, Nova, and the gentle flap of wipers, sound of rain and the roof, and shotguns being reloaded --these are what makes this film so good. I worry those very things won't survive in the sequels to come, in favor of crazy cameos, wacky synergized marketing tie-ins, product placement, stoner dumbness, has-beens the producer owes a favor to crowding onto the Fin-boat, and all the other stuff sequels accrue like barnacles when something this low on the totem pole hits viral on Twitter. And there will be sequels. They already have the sharks in the disc drive, after all, just waiting to be used again.

Unlike real monsters--or people, or seasons--they don't go bad.

It's not just that these barometric eating machine projections have hit such a comforting firelight-style chord, it's that all these decades later and we're still happy to be reminded we were once 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, to make room for all the misery November has to offer.




Netlfix told me to watch THE REEF next, so I did, anxious to stay in the zone. Well, of course it's not as fun. Maybe it's something in their accents and cheery disposition but it's hard to distance oneself from a single Aussie in distress as easily the entire city of Los Angeles. The clear blue water under blazing sun is divine, but the money shots in THE REEF all occur under the surface. The story of a jaunty weekend boating expedition to some reasonably far away Aussie island in the a clear blue inlet (?) that ends up sinking and leaving the boaters dog-paddling around trying to make it to the island in one piece, it's not even the attacks themselves that rivet or make the gut sink, but the sight of great whites slowly materializing out of the crystal blue blankness around our frightened water-treading castaways. 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 and monotony commingle even if you're glad to be relatively dry. There's so much damned blue between the sky and the sea, you pray for red just to liven up the palette.

The other problem is the sheer stupidity of the outdoorsman captain. Why, if you're sailing in a really remote area with a bunch of people, wouldn't you have some kind of radio or distress signal? Or goddamned lifejackets! A goddamned flare gun. Anything!! Australia is crawling with sharks, so wouldn't you have something? Maybe shark repellent? Magnets? 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, gather his falling limbs? 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, we don't. (Though for me, I haven't even seen BLUE WATER for the same reason). SHARKNADO understands this. Actors need to be either confident enough to understand that too much screaming and hyperventilating in irrational panic can bum us out rather than make us scared, or be incompetent enough that it becomes fun to see them try to do either one. Here it's that they're good but not good enough to be bad enough that it's enjoyable.

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, including all manner of Dundee esque outdoorsy-worsy walla big knifed weirdos, 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 to REEF and is better for being so much hipper to our needs. And it's based on a true story, too. Take a note, November Netflix: THE REEF is just blue water and screaming, but SHARKNADO is deliverance from the cold dark depths and up into the sweet, sweet shallows. We can stand.

3 comments:

  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.

    ReplyDelete
  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 ! ! !.

    ReplyDelete

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