Sharknado (2013)


The best worst film of the summer!

sharknadoAuthor: Written by a gentleman whose name is apparently Thunder Levin. This name is not, as you might imagine, a 21st century take on Alan Smithee. Mr. Levin is a real person who wishes his association with this film to be known; he also co-wrote and directed the recent piece de merde, Atlantic Rim — released the same month as the much more expensive Pacific Rim, but this one stars David Chokachi, previously known for Baywatch, and features Canadian First Nations actor Graham Greene, who should have known better but probably had a granddaughter who needed dental work or something. Anyway, Thunder Levin is proud of himself, and who can gainsay that? I’ve never had a film script produced, although apparently all I have to do is think of a plot that goes with the title Shark Tsunami.

Perhaps more worthwhile to consider is the production company in charge of this; The Asylum. This is a production company busily doing what I think of as “garbage mining”; they seek out niches of genres that do not appeal to people with good taste and exploit them for all they’re worth.  If you look them up on IMDB, you’ll see that they’re heavily invested in films that have the words “Shark” and “Zombie” disproportionately represented in their titles. They also have produced a number of coattail movies; for instance, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter came out in 2012 and so did The Asylum’s production of Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.  Similarly, Atlantic Rim and Pacific Rim, as noted above. It is a sobering thought that you hope to make money by appealing to people who are too stupid or forgetful to know what the exact name of a film is, or who fondly believe that someone has erred and released a brand-new film to Netflix 20 minutes after it came out in theatres.

Other Data:  July 11, 2013, according to IMDB.  The film has become well known for the social buzz which accompanied it.  “According to the Syfy network, Sharknado, which aired on Thursday night, brought in nearly 5,000 tweets per minute.  This … came within 2,500 tweets of Game of Thrones‘s Red Wedding episode when it aired in early June.”

Cast: Ian Ziering as, believe it or not, Fin Shepard.  Mr. Ziering is perhaps best known for his work in the original Beverly Hills 90212.  Tara Reid as April Wexler.  Ms. Reid is perhaps best known for being a drunken slut whose antics never fail to sell a few extra tabloids.  Her appearance in this film means to the mediaologically savvy that her career has now become a joke; people no longer expect her to act but merely to be sufficiently well known that someone will recognize her name when they see it near the title.  She made a film in Vancouver a few years ago that required her to pretend to be an archaeologist; it was perfectly obvious that she would need three or four tries to spell “archaeologist”.  Cassie Scerbo plays the beautiful girl with large breasts who is not Tara Reid. Supporting cast includes a bunch of people no one has ever heard of, playing roles like “Nurse”, “Beach Victim,” and “Beach Attack Survivor”, and Adrian Bustamante, who actually is an interesting actor.  He did a great job of playing Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace’s murderer, in a made-for-TV movie a few years ago.  This is proof that no matter how good you are, you have to work for a living.  Even Tara Reid.

About this film:

sharknado-attackIt’s called Sharknado. What can I tell you? Did you actually need a plot recap for Snakes on a Plane? The central premise is that a tornado, or waterspout, actually gathers up a bunch of assorted sharks and sprays them at high velocity all over Los Angeles. No, I’m not kidding; this defies everything that anyone knows about weather systems and marine biology, but what a high-concept premise, huh? This leads to a typical moment where an unpleasant character says, “Sharks in the swimming pool?  It’s impossiAAARRRGH!!”  People drive around during the sharkocalypse (sorry, it’s absolutely irresistible) for no really good reason except that if you stay indoors it’s hard to get menaced by a shark.  Sharks land on the roof of your car and try to chew their way through to get at you.  Sharks rain down on the beach and force innocent extras to bury their limbs in the sand and pretend that they’ve been amputated.

The opening sequence is saying something about the illegal harvesting of sharks’ fins for the Asian market, but it’s never mentioned again. Perhaps it explains why sharks appear to throw themselves suicidally into a series of waterspouts, so that they can rain down upon helicopter pads and SUVs in Los Angeles.  Ian Ziering plays a guy named Fin — hilarious, right? — who owns a bar. His ex-wife is Tara Reid, and after her new boyfriend discovers that, yes, there really ARE sharks in the swimming pool, Tara and the horrible bratty kids require rescue, because, you know, staying in the basement would be too sensible.  The rest of this plot is even more chaotic and incomprehensible.

There is a long sequence in the middle where a group who is speeding across town for some stupid but putatively urgent reason stops and spends what must be two hours rescuing children from a school bus by winching them up to an overpass. Because apparently the LAPD et al are occupied elsewhere. (You know if this really happened CNN and Fox would be giving you a blow-by-blow of the rescue in real time and their choppers would be interfering with the rescue efforts.) The chubby, nerdy bus driver says, “Gee, my mom always said Hollywood would kill me!”  He is then immediately splattered by a flying letter from the Hollywood sign that has been swept up by the wind. We are meant to laugh at this. The part I laughed at was when I realized that the producers couldn’t afford any kind of special effect so they settled for a spray of red paint onto the flying piece of sign.

CRO_money_Sharknado_07-13-thumb-598xauto-7238There’s a moment near the end where Ian Ziering, armed with a chainsaw, deliberately catapults himself into the mouth of a huge shark and then cuts his way out of its belly, emerging unscathed.  This is, of course, indescribably stupid and over the top.  The internet literature surrounding this film suggests that Thunder Levin, when asked by cooler heads if such-and-such a piece of dialogue or plot twist was not too indescribably stupid or over the top, replied, “It’s called Sharknado, for chrissakes!” I suppose since I actually picked up my remote control and invoked this film, I can’t complain that it’s too indescribably stupid or over the top.  I do intend to suggest it, though. Strongly.

As I have said elsewhere in this blog, notably about a film from the same production company, I enjoy bad art. I am, in fact, one of those incomprehensible people who likes to smoke a joint and put on a double bill of, say, Plan 9 From Outer Space and The Brain From Planet Arous and laugh my ass off. Given the success of this film, though (the Internet is saying they’re already making a sequel), I think it’s necessary to make an important distinction. The kind of bad art that I enjoy is art that was not created as bad art, but, like Ed Wood Jr., where someone set out to make a fine film and ended up with Glen or Glenda.  I have never enjoyed films like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes which deliberately set out to BE bad art; I don’t care much for the “nudge nudge wink wink” school of cinema.

Thunder Levin cannot possibly have made a good movie, given the raw materials; you cannot hire Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, restrict the budget to $2 million, and expect work at the level of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. As a character on Modern Family said recently, “Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice.”  It works the other way: Tara Reid could play a drunken slut and be the wrong choice. Not every film can hire Meryl Streep and play with $150 million worth of special effects; I get that. But if you’re restricted to making a small movie, I can’t see that there is any choice other than trying to make a good small movie, unless you are The Asylum. The Asylum deliberately casts actors who have more reputation than talent, trying to parlay a tiny budget into some kind of recognition factor. In the past they have used  Carmen Electra, Jaleel White, Tiffany, Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson.  This is not an accident; they’re trying to make you laugh at the spectacle of a washed-up 80’s pop star with little or no acting talent being menaced by either Mega-Shark or Giant Octopus.  In short, what this is is meretricious.  They’ve avoided the arena of “good” or “bad” filmmaking and settled for counting up the number of times someone tweets “OMG Lorenzo Lamas is such a cheeseball!”  In other words, apparently in the progression from direct-to-video to direct-to-Netflix, someone has realized that you don’t actually have to create a film at all — you merely have to create something that people will talk about as if it were a film.

I think it’s quite telling that even though I am one of the few reviewers who is willing to engage with a bad film and try and assess it rationally, I ended this experience wishing that I had not had the experience of watching this.  I can only hope that this fad for deliberately bad art will be over soon.  Given the fact that they can make money without actually spending much, I tend to doubt it, but I can hope.

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the one thing that made me laugh for the right reasons. Not content with the heavy-handed mockery of naming the central character Fin, the closing slide, in an echo of fine foreign movies of a certain vintage, says merely “Fin”.  THAT, I laughed at.

Notes For the Collector:

The film is currently being shown on television in Canada on Space and in the USA on Syfy.  If you do not live in one of those countries, or don’t have cable, you can purchase a copy on Amazon for about $11.99 as of September 3, 2013. Why exactly you would want to do that is a matter between yourself and your artistic integrity, but it’s there if you want it.

Killed by Clutter, by Leslie Caine

Title: Killed By Clutter (A Domestic Bliss Mystery)

Author: Leslie Caine

Publication Data:  First paper, Dell, 2007, ISBN 9780440335986.  Originally published in hardcover, heaven knows why.

About this book:

I don’t often pick up mysteries written after 1950 these days — and this is why.  Killed By Clutter is an example of what passes for mystery writing these days for the “cozy” market.  I don’t often bother reviewing books like this (frankly, I don’t often bother picking them up, let alone finishing them).  I admit that this book is not written for me; it is designed to appeal to a middle-aged woman with, apparently, limited reading skills and a poor memory for facts and characters.  I am none of those things. I should be kind, and leave these books to people by whom they are designed to be appreciated.

But honestly, this is just atrocious.

An elderly woman has a house stuffed full of crap and her relatives hire an interior decorator, the protagonist, to come in and clean up.  Don’t bother asking why they hire an interior decorator; the plot requires it, and it is merely the first of a series of ridiculous coincidences that will stretch the reader’s credibility further than a bungee cord. The premise of this series is that the protagonist solves mysteries while dispensing advice and information about interior decorating.  The author knows so little about interior decorating that she thinks a shoji screen comes from China, and one of the rooms she describes as being a triumph actually made me wonder if she was colour-blind or just picking interesting colour names out of a swatch book at random.  If I had to live in that room, I think I’d tear out my eyes with a fork.

The minute anything happens, all the other characters pop in like someone rang a Pavlovian bell, just so they’ll be on hand and able to act guilty.  (If I had anyone living near me who behaved like the murderer, she would be the subject of a serious restraining order and five-to-ten for burglary and grand theft before the action of the book begins.) People lie and steal, in ways and for reasons that make no sense except to confuse the plot, at the drop of a hand-knitted hat.  The police act like they cannot be bothered to solve two murders and avoid every sensible detective activity — they just about make the people who should be the principal suspects a cheering cup of cocoa but they don’t do anything sordid like actually question them impolitely.  It’s like they’re hanging around waiting to be told whom to arrest. There is a “Faberge egg” — the author has apparently never seen one, since what she describes looks more like a gaudy Ukrainian Eastern egg than Faberge — that pops up in suburban Colorado, merely to give everyone something for which to be killing each other.   And there is a “romantic subplot” that is so ridiculous, it’s beyond the limits of that already-strained bungee cord.  Honey, if you find a handsome, masculine, muscular interior decorator who dresses beautifully but seems strangely resistant to your romantic advances, you have not found a guy who is saving himself for your next long-term relationship.  What you have found is a gay man who is more likely to borrow your panties than try to get into them.

The plot is stupid; people are constantly acting against their own best interests and doing silly things for no reason at all.  Events occur for no more sensible reason than something needed to happen because things were slowing down.  The writing is turgid and awkward.  The characterization is mawkish and juvenile.  (Particularly loathsome is the blithe presentation of what the author apparently believes is a kleptomaniac. But the protagonist is a close second; she is constantly mentioning that she has work to do but never really does any, and has so little visible means of support that she might as well be a hooker.) The murders are offstage, tossed off in a few sentences, and nearly impossible to have occurred in the way they are described.  And the base of knowledge against which all this crap is displayed is entirely inadequate; it seems almost made-up, as if the author sort of imagined what the life of an interior decorator might be like without, you know, actually talking to any.  If this is what sub-literate suburban matrons are selecting with which to while away a few hours, heaven help us all.

Postscriptive note: I find, upon looking up the details of the hardcover edition, that this is from a line called “Thorndike Clean Reads”, which is described thusly:

“A mix of appealing, wholesome general fiction, mystery and romance titles. These are stories without graphic violence, explicit sexuality or strong profanity.  These are entertaining stories, full of encouragement, warmth and humor that you’d be comfortable giving to your grandmother!

  • Wholesome content without religious content
  • A mixture of clean mystery and romance titles
  • These stories do not contain graphic violence, explicit sex, or strong profanity”

That pretty much explains it all for me.  No graphic violence in a murder mystery <sigh> is the same old same old.  No one ever gets killed, they just “pass away” or “go to meet their maker”.  Honestly, how anyone can suggest that a murder mystery does not contain graphic violence is completely beyond me.  Don’t get me wrong — I am not an advocate of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction, as my regular readers know.  At the same time, anyone who thinks that it is possible to write about the most despicable crime in human existence, one person killing another, and make it “wholesome”, is just kidding themselves and defrauding the reader.  The ridiculous moral stance involved in dipping a brutal murder into a vat of potpourri to sanitize it is entirely beyond me.  One of the reasons why people read murder mysteries is because the crime is so horrendous that the community rises up and tries to bring the perpetrator to justice, usually in the person of an amateur detective, and the vicarious participation in such an uprising is supposed to be morally uplifting.  This sort of novel is a cop-out of truly epic proportions; it’s a gift-wrapped, beribboned dog turd.

“Comfortable giving to your grandmother” is a coded phrase that means you have to be senile to appreciate the virtues of this novel.  Thank goodness, I loathed it.

Notes For the Collector:

I paid $1.40 for this piece de merde and that was about $1.38 too much.  Someone at Thorndike Press lost their grip on economic reality and published this in hardcover (undoubtedly because lending libraries get more mileage out of hardcovers); someone on Abe wants $10.89 plus shipping for the hardcover first.  It was originally published in paper at US$6.99 and CAN$8.99, and Abe has dozens available for about $1.  The thing that astonishes me the most is that it is #4 in a series, and the series did not end here.

2012: Ice Age

I was recently asked why it is that I spend more time thinking about bad art than good art — at least, as far as blogging is concerned. There are a number of answers to this question. One is that there is a lot more bad art out there than good art, and it’s just as important to suggest to people what to avoid as what to experience. Another is that it is simply more fun to write about bad art because it allows the bitchy side of my nature to express itself, and apparently I please my readers more that way. The overarching reason is more complex; boiled down, it is that my feeling is one learns more about how to make good art by analyzing bad art than by analyzing good art.
For instance, in filmic terms, one can enjoy a film like Avatar because of reasons that are not readily apparent to the naked eye. The composition of shots, the excellence of the special effects/animation, the skill of the actors, the careful way in which the script is built from start to finish, the way in which the thematic underpinnings of the script accord with Joseph Campbell’s theories on heroism… all these things were created by people who are among the most skilled in the world at creating entertainment. It’s difficult to pick at an individual thread because the movie is so skillfully constructed, so seamless, that it’s just about necessary to be a master of the art oneself in order to appreciate the subtleties and outline them for others.
And then you have 2012: Ice Age, a 2011 made-for-TV movie from SyFy channel, which is possibly the polar opposite of Avatar.
Honestly, this film is simply so awful, so atrocious, that it’s like a lesson in how not to make a film. It’s the disaster-film version of Plan 9 from Outer Space, except that Ed Wood had better instincts than to make this piece de merde in the first place.
I wanted particularly to write about this because it is not often that I so thoroughly enjoy a movie — for all the wrong reasons. I was bellowing with laughter throughout the experience and, believe me, I don’t laugh that long and hard very often. Every single aspect of this work was so poorly done, so ill-considered, that it’s not just a product of too little money applied to too little imagination coupled with too little skill. This was the result of a staggering concatenation of bad choices; terrible production of a horrible script with inexperienced actors — I’ll be charitable and call them inexperienced — against a background of amateurish special effects and inexplicable cinematography. The sets are poor, the costumes are silly, the locations are ridiculous, the sound effects are poorly-timed. I’m willing to bet the production accounting was full of mistakes and the craft services truck was serving over-steamed hot dogs and tepid coffee.
The story itself is — okay, I’ll give it a shot. A pudgy little climatologist sees his daughter off on a plane from Maine to New York, only to realize that a volcano in Iceland has erupted. Apparently, in a process unknown to any science I’ve ever heard of, this causes 200-foot icicles to spray all the way to Maine and a wall of super-cold weather to freeze New York extras in their tracks. In a staggering display of idiocy, the climatologist, his wife and son decide to hop in the car and drive to New York to rescue the young woman, who has her own set of climate-induced problems. Needless to say, after multiple trials and tribulations, the day is saved and all’s right with the world. Every character acts as stupidly as possible, in order to increase the twists and turns in the story, and thus are constantly in danger, which results in a series of miraculous rescues and coincidental escapes that stagger the imagination. No, sorry. There is no imagination involved here. What this really is is a series of meretricious decisions based on “How little can we spend to fill some time?”
As I say, I roared with laughter throughout. How silly is this movie? One example will suffice, I hope. Near the beginning, the protagonist is dropping off his daughter at an airport. There is some “amusing” byplay whereby he’s about to be towed away from a no-parking zone, apparently in front of the main doors to a large airport. He drives away — and the camera pulls back to reveal what is fairly unambiguously a side street in an industrial area miles from any airport. Oh, and the location is completely different from what we saw seconds ago when he was being berated by a parking official; as is the degree of sunshine and the colour of the sky. (For all I could tell, they’re in a different vehicle.) The rest of this is filled with continuity errors and ghastly special effects lacunae of a similar magnitude. If you’re like me, you’ll cherish this movie as a prize of your collection; 99.9% of the viewing audience would be well-advised to stay as far away from it as possible. Consider yourself warned.