They're on Syfy Channel all this week! And they have plenty of interesting female characters. Giant monsters and strong, sexy broads: Roger Corman set the trend back in the 50s, fusing capable and cool female characters and engaging tropical scenery. And hey- all week Syfy is unleashing a ton of his offshoot label Asylum's shark movies, in advance of their new "last" Sharknado film (This Sunday!).
Sure, this feminism doesn't happen all the time (especially not with certain strip club loyalist directiors who shall be nameless) but, well, if you have it on in the background while taking an after work nap, who knows? You might be surprised to notice some great little oases of cool and Bechdel brilliance. So keep your chair gently rocking in the virtual ocean as you doze off (as always, put some cocoanut suntan oil under your nose and try to position yourself so some sun from a window shines in your face, to trick your senses that you're at the beach) and let these CGI sharks drag you deep!
For looks at the previous Sharknado Movies go here:
EMPIRE OF THE SHARKS
(2017) Music by Heather Schmidt
Written and directed by Mark Atkin, it's one of two films on SyFy that imagine the inevitable future after global warming hasput our whole planet underwater. The few remaining humans hold on via rafts tied-together to form ersatz floating villages. The sharks are getting very good at leaping up through the air and biting of people's heads as they stand on the shaky floating platforms. Other than these periodic highlights, alas, the EMPIRE depicted here isn't very nice, as it's run brutally by a ruthless thug played by John Savage who keeps demanding huger tributes of.... I'm guessing fish oil? From the villagers, who keep clamoring for more fresh water.
The pussy attitude of the villagers reminds me of the very clear difference between a well-armed populace like America's red states vs. the average Kramer-esque idealized 'small town' mentality. Wild roaming bandits would have a devil of a time in certain regions of the Southwest for example but could really raise the ruckus if the cops were gone from Connecticut, if you get mah drift, Anyway, it's still a bummer. It's like okay, we get it - these guys who work for Saxon are bad - you don't have to rub it in with tired scenes of systemic abuse: the flogging 'round the wheel of woe, the demanding twice the usual tribute in half the time, etc.--it's too much like our 9-5 weekday job man. Shark movies should be like vacations, where--by the end--we're fine with staying home. But EMPIRE isn't like a vacation, more like being dragged to one too many sadistic gladiator movies by a man who you're beginning to suspect isn't really your uncle.
Eventually a boatload of capable good guys show up --they're a nice mix of age, gender and race with weathered tans that look like they actually do live on the water. Things begin to look like they may soon perk up, but their attack on Savage's compound fails, and soon they're all being fed to the sharks again. Sigh. There's an innocent girl (Ashley De Lange) named Willow with a mysterious stone who can control the sharks so we get a lot of the old 'make the sharks kill this woman or I'll destroy your village! You have ten seconds!" suspense generator (known in screenwriter circles as 'lazy hack trick #4' - right after the "Don't you die on me!" mouth-to-mouth bit) As a concept it's not well thought out but suspense grinds on with these Savage-Willow countdowns anyway, thanks to Saxon's chops. Willow stares blankly at the water going "I can't" over and over and Saxon--right in her face--goes "you must! you must!" and somehow almost makes it work. Of course inevitably one's attention turns to one's drink or the newspaper, if those still exist in your satellite world, hopefully before lazy hack trick #1 occurs (the sudden cavalry rescue that saves the innocent girl having to get blood on her hands).
Pros: the pirate ship is manned by the well-named Mason Scrimm (Jonathan Pienar), a dynamite actor with a voice and manner evoking Timothy Carey -- his ship is coolly outfitted with human bone railings (were they his own idea? He seems like the type) and Saxon's compound has a nifty catapult. Another perk: some nice blonde hair-- good to know there's still peroxide in the future. The scenery--clearly the oceans around South Africa---is de-lovely, despite the dour goings-on.
PLANET OF THE SHARKS
(2016) Starring Lindsay Sullivan
***1/2 / Bechdel - A+
***1/2 / Bechdel - A+
Problem is, the sharks have grown highly organized, and big. There's nothing else left in the ocean, and they're relentless.
In the pic above--center-- is Lindsay Sullivan as the no-nonsense leader, Dr. Roy Shaw (!). Over the course of an almost realtime afternoon she coordinates both the launch window for both a HARP blast down into the magma under the shark zone, and the rocket that will launch co2 scrubbers into the upper atmosphere and refreeze the melted polar ice caps maybe. Christa Vissar costars as Dr. Caroline Munroe (!) who a) works on launching the HARP device and b) fucking up the ampullae of Lorenzini of the lead alpha shark, all of it coordinated from her boat's CB radio. There's lots of white knuckle suspense too as her colleague Dr. Shayne Nichols (Stephanie Baran) parasails a few leagues ahead of the badass alpha sharks to move a target dingy for the HARP. It's a very well done action sequence, with her riding along on the wind, surfing and flying, leaping up off the surface of the waves, as sharks jump up at her. Another great tense sequence: when the boat sails right into an oncoming HARP-triggered tidal wave, hoping to roll over it before it reaches megalithic heights.)
And if that wasn't enough Bechdel brilliance, consider Angie Teodoro Dick as the wild neopagan shamaness with the spear (right), leader of the rogue New Orleans voodoo style outpost, who deals with the advancing shark issue by a kind of savage Stomp performance on the floating docks, drawing the sharks in so she and her warriors can stab them with old school whaling harpoons. Their growling and chanting and thumping goes on about three minutes too long, but the initial bad vibe created by their eventual senseless shark slaughter is interesting in context, as is the dimly lesbian look Teodoro shares with the incredulous Dr. Shaw.
All in all it's a noted step up from most Asylum production. There's some craft, focus, and money clearly invested - somebody really put the time, energy and compassion into the mix this time. It's a film that understands that being serious doesn't mean you can't be wry and witty, and that most of what we want to see in these movies isn't bummer sadistic brinksmanship but crystal blue water, clear skies and pretty people with nice tans. We get all that in this one, plus a rooted feminist stance that manages to be totally invigorating rather then merely didactic.
And if both sides of the red/blue state divide can't cheer at the sight of a badass lady jumpstarting a Co2 scrubber rocket by jabbing two insulated leads into the electro-magnetic ampullae of a hyper alpha mutant shark, then we deserve extinction.
TRAILER PARK SHARK
(2017) co-writer Marcy Holland
An unscrupulous big game hunting property owner tries to clear out his hick trailer park (they're all squatters) by flooding it from the nearby river. In comes a shark... not just any shark either. As the crafty lead Rob (Thomas Ian Nicholas) notes "this shark has issues... electrical ones." The evil big game hunter sends a posse of good old boys on camouflage-netted jet skis to bump off the survivors. Who will emerge alive and what will happen to all the beer?
Pros: We meet the residents in a great tracking shot running all through the camp/park, which is almost more like the elaborate junk art paradise of Street Trash without all the bodily discomforts. Rob's girlfriend Jolene (Lulu Jovovich) has a brilliantly clear complexion and a perfectly spiky brunette home-cut (she manages to stay pretty dry for the whole thing). The script, though full of foul languge and rude inference, is also termite-perforated with genuine wit (more Mark Twain than Larry the Cable Guy) and strong female characters --they may be slightly trashy but they're smart and courageous and have their priorities straight, i.e. staying drunk no matter what. Rufus' girlfriend, April (Elise Berggreen, makes it to the roof of her trailer, pulls out her flask and says "I'm so glad I grabbed this instead of grandma's pearls --she would not want me to be sober for this situation." Later, when one of her neighbors gets electrocuted after using her TV antennae as a rescue pole, April looks around and says "Is this real life?". Though she has only a minor role, Tara Reid is a joy as a trash collecting trader ("one man's tragedy is another man's treasure") fishing with a net from atop her trailer. When Rob asks if she's seen Jolene, she notes "I ain't seen a soul since thing's got biblical." Her laugh's fake as hell but, ineffectually throw pink plastic flamingos at the passing shark then char it with a chainsaw, she's clearly having fun as the SyFy channel's go-to shark celeb.
It's clear this was all filmed in a really flooded area in Louisiana, no blue screen (except for the shark, which is, around 1/2 its scenes, pretty video game lame) and there are some good swampy magic hour shots of jet skis and boats maneuvering through the cypress trees. Andrew Morgan Smith's score is just right for the situation, playing things up big and John Williams grand, but just slightly awry, deadpan straight but in on the joke. If the sight of the bad guys zipping around the trees and trailers on their camouflage netting-covered jet-skis, faces hidden in Xtreme Sportz helmets and masks, hunting the most dangerous game, doesn't make you want to fire your AR-15 into the air and drink Mountain Dew in slow motion while draped in an American flag, then the blue state eco-terrorists win.
Cons: The sight of full beer kegs getting drained (not drunk, just drained into the water) for use as flotation devices -- what a tragic waste. "April ain't gonna like that," notes Rufus. Neither do we.
But hey, "This is for my big brown Dookie," says Rufus as they prep for the climactic bout.
And I believe him.
(2016) - Directed by Misty Talley
|you won't find it down there, Columbus|
Pros: The shark fins make real cool, psychedelic patterns in the current when they breach the brown Ozark water; there's a cool/hot MILF at the river party I wish to have seen more of. I think the brother saves her little baby. Tons of varied female characters (and hardly any dumb hunk types on the menu) full of pale lack-of-tans (as befits the swamp) and great lines like "this environment is ruining my composition"; The score has some of those classic Jerry Goldsmith Alien woodwind quarter note slow-mo flutters. A shark is drawn in through a woodchipper. The dynamic of this extended family is very nice - they accept Molly's need to be all flatline disinterested (though she does like grandma - even helps her cheat at Go Fish). The dad (Michael Papajohn - he was the survivalist in Tremors) is awesome, grandma is cool, mom is cool, even the older brother is cool.
Cons: Molly's boyfriend Curtis however is not cool; he follows her down there on vacation and is too idiotic to rate with a smart girl in real life (I know a similar Molly with the same problem - which makes it all the more painful) --we can only hope she doesn't let him follow her to college - (but hey, he probably won't - no spoilers or anything!) The actor who plays him is a little too broad and mono-dimensional - and doesn't have much grasp on any one situation or tenor. And I don't like his dumb crusty pony tail man-bun neither. Guys like him usually have weed - that's all they're good fer! But this nimrod seems like he's never bought a gram in his life.
MISSISSIPI RIVER SHARKS
(2017) Dir Misty Talley
The plot for this one centers around an annual river fishing contest that's the big event of the season for the redneck caricature of the fishing nut who cheats by planting a big cooler with a pre-caught monster catfish in it deep in the marshes. Various boats full of hopeful fishermen include the sad-eyed bearded hardware store owner (is that Richard Chamberlain under that beard?) and his daughter (Steele) a science major home from college who--to his chagrin--wants to take over the hardware store rather than become some fancy doctor. There's lot of attractive beards floating around, and some good gags.
When I'm nitpicking like this it lets you know overall it's pretty good, as the comb has to be finer-toothed to catch snags. Like, in this case one must ask not just why the spastic idiot comic relief fanboy would insist on throwing their last bomb (even though he's seen all the shark movies he's clearly learned nothing from them!) and worse why Cassie Steele as the level-headed daughter would let him. Naturally he screws up and the world almost ends, and Steele plays things way too intense for us to merely shrug off apocalypse as easily as that moron. Bt anyway, it also seems way too easy (and poorly edited) that they bagged all dem sharks in one fell swoop of a net in the first place (and the protruding fins look super fake).
Cool moments: A redneck who shrugs off being swallowed down to the ankles by a shark and being run over by a cop car at the same time (which gets the shark off him) -- the cop asks if he's okay, and the dude just spits out some teeth and waves them on past. Now that's why the Red States must never be maligned - badass shit like that! Another cool moment comes when London finally mans up and goes all Queequeg; another when a drunk redneck is sizing up a shark with a harpoon gun, misfires, and nails the deputy square in the chest. Hey, nobody's perfekt. My country right or wronged!
(aka SHARK ISLAND)
(aka SHARK ISLAND)
(2015) Dir. Misty Talley
Ross Britz is Jenner, the dopey softboy appetizer love interest. Cassie Steele is the lead sister, Amber. Steele also takes the lead in MISSISSIPPI SHARKS, which makes her a recurring Misty Talley favorite, it would seem. She's a fine actress -- blah blah ---but almost too good for the part (she explodes it outwards, like a depth charge). Sloane Coe is her kid sister Sophie, who's not a kid anymore, Amber! Her parents love her more than Amber, because Amber was a rebel and gave a baby away for adoption at 15. Jason London is the tough CIA guy with the family he never sees. The shark that's a zombie keeps coming back from the dead, infects other sharks, and all those who get bit or roughed up become zombies too. Time is running out for the mature lady doctor (Laura Cayouette) working more or less alone at the ubiquitous 'thought-long-closed-down' experimental clinic.
Pros: A cool shot has two dudes standing too close to a hottie getting sunned and she thinks (and so do we) that she's being ogled by these wallies, but they're staring at a dead shark right behind her. There's lots of well-acted backstory with the two sisters and over-protective parents -- we feel that dad's frustration he can't get a boat to go out to the island in the middle of the storm, but also the daughters' frustration their parents are so over-protective. There's a few great sudden attack moments.
Meta moment - a smash cut from a severed flying shark head taking out the hottie in her one fatal moment of altruism to a Pizza Hut pizza sliding onto the table TV commercial - so seamless as to be one continuous flying/sliding motion (this being a Weds. afternoon showing on SyFy --with the meta continuing outwards as right as I'm watching the storm in the film build up in the movie, a massive storm is going on outside with an amber alert flood warning lighting up my phone! Hot damn!
(2017) - Written by Ashley O'Neill
Pros: This one relies heavily on the gorgeous scenery and people - all of whom are - as per the needs of the health spa- in peak physical health and fertility. The comedy tries not to overflow the banks of horror, so 'MTV Singles' satire and the eco-awareness tragedy are all the more biting for being so downplayed (acting is either bad or good, never 'too much'). The place looks like paradise on earth, so the idea that the water is toxic and no fish survive, only an arsenic-infused toxic shark, is extra tragic and believable in a horrifying way (i.e. it's terrifying but still pretty). "All those years of polluting the ocean has finally come back to bite us, literally!" There's a pretty funny wipe-out off a four-wheeler along the shore, with a couple getting believably swept out in the crashing tide. Of the actors, Eturbi comes off the best, holding onto a very dry narcissistic through line in his arc ("he doesn't want them to use the word shark or 'arsenic' as it sets bad vibes in play in the universe). Owen Saxon also scores with an understated but still funny bit as one of the musclebound bros.
Big plus: Your mileage may vary but for me the pinnacle hottie in all these films is Kabby Borders (what a name!) as Eden (top center, left), who wears a fetching navy blue bikini with pink and aquamarine trim that matches her sandy blonde hair, sparkly blue eyes and tiny freckles. I'm a big fan too of the washed-out red of her T-shirt she wears in the first 1/3, as one sees 'believable' shirts like that, neither brand new or artfully stressed, so seldom. Of the whole cast as there's nary a trace of the busted weather-beaten broads we often see in these sorts of films, the type who can't seem to go gentle into their mid-thirties (too much sun and an addiction to Botox will get you every time). All the girls and boys here are young and hot but naturally so--they radiate health! Sie sind heimiche! The boys are all either wrly humorous in a deadpan way or only mildly irritating in an intentional way. This allows agitated viewers like me to just loll in the surfy rhythms and not have to worry this country's going to hell.
Pros: The director generously gives us long shots that catch Eden in that perfectly assigned suit, perfectly bedraggled blonde hair and flawless tan, testing the sea water for arsenic. Until it gets wet, her go-to chatty compadre, Audra (Christina Masterson)'s hair is long and lustrous, sparkling in the glittery sun and she has a subtly deft way with a wry line. As she sits with Eden, their collective white teeth blazing and hair rolling and shining--as the surf rolls in --we may begin to feel as relaxed and attuned to a higher power as we would if we were right there in the sand with them. And there's some nice natural real-time tracking shots as we follow bad news around the resort, from the infirmary where the first injuries get worse instead of better, down along the balcony and onto the beach, the staff's worried walking/talking dialogues overlapping with guests hoping each other will be okay. Then - lots of gaping, gasping and struggling to get out of the water before 'it' strikes again - and slow motion moments of processing grief and overwhelmed staff freaking out.
Though there's no conspicuous feminist strides, Angie O'Neill's script regularly surprises: one girl doesn't understand the word 'vapid' but it's not the one you'd think. The girls all talk mainly about getting laid but it's just to keep Eden's spirits up so she can get over her ex (who then shows up, unaware she's there--he's trying to get over her!) and in the end she still pushes him away to take it slow! He agrees! The shocks keep coming! "Take a hike in the rainforest and take some samples of whatever..." One of the hotties is a bookworm but doesn't wear glasses, etc. Eric Etabari is pretty hilarious as Reese, trying to play down the emergency as just some bad vibes, especially after one of the girls goes rabid and tries to bite him.
Cons: The ugly ass shark itself is great, lunging and snapping like a garbage truck on fins - but the toxic sludge spew is ridiculously bad CGI. A real low - it's not even shaded (there's only one sort of flat green). The bickering between Eden and her ex gets old almost as quick as it would in real life -- as if O'Neill is exploring the relationship side of 'toxic' as well as the literal (shark) side. Neither one is a good enough actor on their own to inspire the other out of a very forced kind of annoying, but then again, what other kind is there?
Meta-Bonus Round: When I first saw it, the commercial breaks were pretty well timed, so there were some nice jump cuts the munching sharks to mouth-watering close-ups of Burger King double Whoppers, or whatever.
FIVE-HEADED SHARK ATTACK
(2017) Starring Nikki Howard
Pros: Since there's so many heads to our shark this time, there's lots of young people and/or tourists and/or fishermen in the beautiful blue waters of Puerto Rico, all lining up in rows of four or more along the stern - which is very obliging to any 4-5 headed thing that might be hungry. More importantly, the film has attractive leads without the leering camera of some other directors (the camera still leers, but tries to be subtle about it) and it has temerity to spend most of its running time out in the clear gorgeous blue waters, with Howard going out of her way to seem like she's not going out of her way to seem serious and concerned. There's also a pretty great Air Jaws helicopter jump.
Cons: Though the two main 'final dudes' never stop wearing their baseball backwards (a frat boy red flag), the bad guy aquarium owner is worse. He tries to sound tough as he does his song and dance about how it's okay to put his team in danger since if they don't capture the monster for the aquarium then everyone's losing their job. Dude, that thing is as big as a whale - I doubt the boat could even tow it in - they don't even have anything to catch it with but a harpoon, yet on and on his rants go, fishtailing out into apologies once the team starts getting eaten. On and on he talks, voice in a conspiratorial whisper, teeth way too white for words, and we're like obviously you're all going back out there - or there's no movie, so let's get on with it.
Ah well, aside from the backwards baseball cap issue, the other two boys don't prove irksome, but slide conveniently in their slots (the weathered manly slightly salty and dissolute ex-boyfriend charter captain, the cute scruffy tech nerd) and let the girls work the emotional high wire, as nature intended. The captain and Dr. Angie even have some nice subtle 'history' chemistry -they know each other's little faults, but tolerate them. He even knows getting with her comes with the caveat he'll have to eat vegan, so our jealousy trails off to a dull splash.
PS - listen close and you will hear the occasional rip of John Williams' JAWS piano sneaking here and there in the soundtrack. It's okay, I won't tell him. He stole it from Stravinsky anyway.
|A simple counting of the row of obliging meals ahead lets you know this is a still from 5-Headed Shark Attack. |
If these sequels keep mounting, they're gonna need a wider boat.