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Posts Tagged ‘rubber shark’

From Blake Lively’s Spanish for Surfers (forthcoming):

La recepción del teléfono es excelente en esta playa. – The telephone reception is excellent on this beach.

¡Que hermoso día! Sin duda, nada lo hará posiblemente puede salir mal. – What a lovely day! Surely nothing can possibly go wrong.

Espera, ¿qué es que en el mar preocuparse cerca de mí? – Wait, what is that in the sea worryingly close to me?

Me gustaría saber la palabra española para “shark”. – I wish I knew the Spanish word for shark.

¡Ay! – Ouch!

Por casualidad, yo soy un estudiante de medicina y por lo tanto no es completamente irracional para mí para aplicar puntos de sutura improvisados a mi herida por mordedura sangrienta. – Fortuitously, I am a medical student and so it is not completely unreasonable for me to apply improvised stitches to my gory bite wound.

Al menos las gaviotas son amables. – At least the seagulls are friendly.

(And so on.)

As I think I have mentioned, as a general rule I tend to stay clear of modern comedies and horror movies, mainly because neither of them really do it for me consistently. Still, the pickings are so slim at the moment that sometimes you have to waive a principle, and so I found myself going along to see Blake Lively in Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows – though, just to be on the safe side, I ensured things would not be too hairy by going in the company of a colonel from the Special Forces of a major Gulf nation. He had nachos.

the-shallows-poster

Blake Lively is one of those actresses who doesn’t appear to feel the need to be popping up in films all over the place, but who is generally worth watching when she does (I say this mainly based on my experience of watching her in The Age of Adaline, if we’re honest). In The Shallows, she plays Nancy, a surf-loving medical student who as the film starts is on her way to a secluded Mexican beach to indulge her favourite pastime. The audience’s suspicions are perhaps piqued when her guide, despite repeated questions, refuses to tell her the name of the beach, which is mostly likely The Bloody Beach of Toothy Death.

That said, the Bloody Beach of Toothy Death is very pleasant when she arrives on it and for a while the film looks like a commercial for shampoo and sunscreen, with some of the usual whistles and bells modern films tend to use to depict thoroughly-well-connected modern people sending texts and having video-phone calls. In the end, though, Lively hops on her board and heads off into the surf.
All is well at first, but then she happens upon the half-eaten carcass of a whale, and the large and bad-tempered shark responsible. The shark decides it would rather not eat the other half of the whale, on the grounds that Lively is a more appetising prospect (hmm, well), and has a go at eating her instead. Cue scenes of Lively being dragged underwater in a cloud of her own blood and the Colonel dropping his nachos everywhere.

Well, anyway, Lively manages to evade the hungry shark and clambers onto a worryingly small rock just above the level of the water, where she is alone except for a friendly seagull. Her predicament is an original one: she is only a couple of hundred metres from the beach (close enough to see her own bag on the sand), in fairly shallow water, but she has no chance of making it all the way to the breakers without getting chomped. What’s a girl to do?

The Shallows is one of those movies which is, let’s be honest about it, highly derivative to the point of arguably being some sort of exploitation fodder (there is rather a lot of Lively looking very photogenic in her bikini, even while theoretically suffering from the early stages of gangrene). Even based on the capsule description I just presented, you can probably start off the list yourself: most obviously Jaws, then moving on to include Open Water, any number of blonde-in-peril horror films, and even arguably touching on the likes of Gravity. The thing is that it blends together influences from so many different sources so seamlessly that it doesn’t just feel like it’s cashing in on any one of them in particular. It has its own sort of identity, even if it’s not an especially distinctive one.

The presence of Lively, as opposed to a generic scream queen in training, does lift the film a bit as she gives a very good performance, pretty much carrying most of the film single-handed – for much of the running time her only co-stars are a seagull and the shark, neither of whom can emote as well as her – and doing a fine job of it. Part of me wonders if the decision to go more mainstream with this film may not actually hurt its chances – it’s rather less of a horror film than I expected and more of a thriller, with commensurately lower levels of gore and grue.

Still, the scene with the improvised sutures was enough to set the Colonel chortling to himself and proferring nachos in my direction, and there is surely enough grisliness to satisfy anyone who isn’t a pathological gorehound. The film works hard to keep up a good pace and a sense of plausibility, even if this means it’s quite a long time before the shark turns up – lots of scenes filling in Lively’s not-exactly-essential backstory and family situation ensue – and the film itself having a comparatively bite-sized 86-minute running time. In the end, though, it works quite well – only in the very closing stages do things start to get even remotely silly. (I’m still not completely convinced about the manner in which the plot is ultimately resolved.)

The film works best when it’s about Lively and the shark, anyway. You can see what they’re trying to do by incorporating Lively’s various personal issues into the storyline – as mentioned, they’re trying to do what Gravity did, where Sandy Bullock’s physical predicament was kind of a metaphor for her emotional situation, something which worked so perfectly it elevated the film to an even higher level. Unfortunately, Lively’s personal problems aren’t so well defined, and being stuck on rock or a buoy being chased by a shark isn’t a natural realisation of them, metaphorically. As a result, they just make the film feel a bit over-egged and even a touch pretentious (given this is basically a girl-in-swimsuit-has-fight-with-hungry-fish movie).

Nevertheless, both the Colonel and I emerged feeling we had not wasted 86 minutes of our lives (plus about 20 minutes of trailers and commercials) and that this was basically a pretty good film. It’s probably not horrific enough for some people, and perhaps a bit too horrific for others, but for everyone else in between it is a very decent thriller, inventively directed, solidly written, and with an impressively capable central performance. You’re never really in doubt about what’s going to happen next, but the film plays with your expectations inventively enough to make it a fun watch for most of its duration.

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For the last week or so, and I expect this really is just a coincidence, I seem to have found myself firmly lodged in the Grotto of Duff Sequels, what with Bourne Legacy, Descent Part 2 and Expendables 2 all appearing in quick succession (although to be fair Expendables 2 is still better than the first one). I always try to look on the bright side and find the silver lining, and bearing this in mind I thought I was now acclimatised enough to Duff Sequels to take the plunge and confront what’s famously one of the Duffest Sequels of all time in another episode of Is It Really As Bad As All That? Ladies, gentlemen and others, I give you Joseph Sargent’s legendary 1987 offering, Jaws: The Revenge.

This is a film which has embedded itself in popular culture in a highly peculiar way. A much-loved stand-up comedy routine by the otherwise-obscure Richard Jeni dissects the awfulness of Jaws: The Revenge in some detail. Michael Caine (whose appearance in the movie is often used to criticise his ‘I’ll do anything’ 80s work ethic) is wont to declare that he has never seen the film, which he’s heard is awful, but he has seen the house the sizable paycheck bought him, which he knows was very nice. The ‘This time it’s personal’ tagline often used to ridicule improbable sequel ideas originated, so far as I can tell, with this very film. But what lies beneath all these barnacular anecdotes and memes? What’s the actual movie like?

Well, the story opens in snowy New England and the small town of Amity where the original was set. Roy Scheider’s character, Martin Brody, has cunningly died in order to get out of appearing (the film appears to indicate a shark gave him a heart attack), and the main character is his widow Ellen (Lorraine Gary). One of her sons is a marine biologist in the Bahamas, while the other has joined the local police (who have a huge picture of Roy Scheider on the wall just to ram home that this is still the same franchise). All is lovely and Christmassy until young Deputy Brody has to go out into the harbour and faff about with a buoy or something. Much to his surprise, a giant shark erupts from the waters and chomps off one of his arms before setting about sinking his boat. We cut back and forth from the travails of Deputy Brody to a choir singing carols on the shore, but this effect is curiously lacking in pathos: possibly because the impression given is that the cherubic singing is actually drowning out Deputy Brody’s plaintive cries.

Unfortunately, drowning is not an option for Deputy Brody himself, and most of him is gobbled up. Widow Brody is traumatised and jumps to the somewhat implausible conclusion that this was a personal attack on her family by a vengeful shark, following the events of the previous movies (though probably not Jaws 3D as that doesn’t appear to be in continuity with this one). Everyone tries to persuade Widow Brody to be more rational, but they are playing a losing game as – and this is the point at which Jaws: The Revenge casts loose from the anchor of reason and sets sail for the wildest oceans of Cinematic Crapulousness – the film indicates that she is right. How is this shark connected to the other ones? How has it acquired some kind of peculiar homing instinct for members of the Brody clan? Why, given that she’s convinced that she’s being stalked by – and let’s not put too fine a point on this – a fish, does she spend the rest of the film on small islands and boats, rather than somewhere safely landlocked in the middle of a continent?

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Marine Biologist Brody (Lance Guest) turns up for the funeral bringing with him Boring Wife Brody and Irksome Kid Brody, and together they persuade Widow Brody to come and spend the festive season with them in the Bahamas, which at least means the scenery is more cheerful for the rest of the picture. Flying them to the island is waggish pilot Hoagie, who is played by Michael Caine.

(At this point I must digress and reveal that an Italian teenager approached me a short while ago and, very politely, asked, ‘Has anyone ever told you that you look like Michael Caine?’ Somewhat flattered, as Sir Michael was a handsome fellow in his youth, I replied ‘Not a lot of people know that’ (he didn’t get it) and waved him on his way. Only later did it occur to me that the lad probably hasn’t seen any Caine movies except the ones he’s made for Chris Nolan, which means I must look like Michael Caine from the age of 72 onwards. I really must try to get more sleep.)

Caine engages in a colossal struggle with the inconsequential banality of most of the script, bringing pretty much his full firepower to bear. The result is that Hoagie emerges as a relentlessly quirky and charismatic fellow surrounded by a gang of mannequins. Just to keep the thing limping along between shark attacks, once she arrives in the Bahamas, Widow Brody starts to think she’s been a bit silly thinking there’s a shark out there with a personal vendetta against her. However, at this point, the damn shark turns up again (it puts in its first proper appearance about thirty minutes in, floating past the camera in all its static, polymer-based pomp) and tries to eat Marine Biologist Brody and his boat. But he elects not to tell Widow Brody about this on the grounds it might upset her.

Things continue in a similar vein, with Marine Biologist Brody’s marine biology research somewhat impeded by the fact he can’t set foot in the water without an enormous rubber shark with a double bass turning up, until the shark mysteriously vanishes. Crikey! But it turns out that Boring Wife Brody has taken Irksome Kid Brody to the beach, little realising the peril they face. However, Irksome Kid Brody is too small a target and the cartilaginous assassin winds up eating a rather winsome lady in a bikini instead. Confirmed in her earlier suspicions, Widow Brody jumps on a passing yacht and heads out to sea. Is she planning to take the shark on mano-a-mano (so to speak)? Or is she planning to sacrifice herself to it? Or is she simply doing something utterly irrational simply because the plot demands it? Hmm, it’s so hard to say.

Speaking of doing utterly irrational things, Marine Biologist Brody and his buddy use Hoagie and his plane to chase after Widow Brody, only to find the vengeful fish closing in on her boat. Rather than saying ‘Hey, she’s on a boat, she’s safe, let’s just radio for help,’ they quite properly decide to crash their plane into the sea and swim over to the yacht to be with her. The shark is clearly miffed by this and makes an exception to its Brody-only diet to eat the plane. It has a go at eating Michael Caine, too: Caine greets the lunging predator with a hearty cry of ‘Ohhhhh shit!’, but whether this is actually a comment on the quality of the special effects is not clear.

Marine Biologist Brody’s buddy, a zany Rastafarian, selflessly throws himself down the shark’s throat while lodging some kind of anti-shark gizmo inside it. There is some bafflegab about the gizmo giving the shark seizures, but the main result seems to be the shark sticking its head out of the water and roaring like a dinosaur. While the shark is thus occupied, and perhaps also distracted by flashbacks from the original Jaws which appear for no obvious reason, Widow Brody impales the shark on the front of the yacht. Everyone goes home smiling and has a long talk with their agent.

It would be great to get an insight into the creative process behind Jaws: The Revenge, if only to learn exactly whose idea it was to base the plot around a shark with a personal vendetta. I suppose that with some effort one could come up with a worse idea, and the creative minds at the film studio The Asylum have indeed arguably made careers out of doing just that, but the key thing is that Asylum movies like 2-Headed Shark Attack are made with a hurr-hurr-hurr-isn’t-this-ironic sensibility – while Jaws: The Revenge is quite obviously taking itself seriously as a drama. But the premise of the film is so totally absurd that there is no value in this.

I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as a bad film, only a boring one – and, to be perfectly honest, for much of its running time Jaws: The Revenge is actually deeply tedious to watch. The rubber shark does not put in many appearances and this leaves the script with the problem of trying to find things for all the characters to do. This, to be honest, is where the problems with the central idea really start to have an effect. The premise of the film is completely illogical and as a result it’s very difficult for the characters to respond to it in a credible way. Even if the characters were to react to the idea of a shark with a hit list in a rational manner – by organising proper shark-hunting expeditions or simply going a really long way inland – it would either kill the story or completely transform what kind of film this was. It’s almost as if the film-makers were fully aware of what a ludicrous central concept the film has and are doing their best to avoid examining it in too much detail, even when the characters would naturally do just that.

And so, most of the time, the characters aren’t even talking about the shark, but their personal lives, their hopes for the future, their careers – or even just making inconsequential chit-chat. It is all quite horribly dull. Even Caine, for all his twinkly-eyed blokeyness, is more annoying than actually likable. The sheer banality of the dry land sections of Jaws: The Revenge makes them at least as irksome as the bits with unconvincing rubber shark models, but it’s very clear that the film has nothing more to offer to fill in the gaps between them. As exercises in sheer cack-handedness go, it takes some beating, and it’s made even more disagreeable by the decision to restage scenes from the original Jaws and also include sepia-toned flashbacks to it (suffice to say that, 12 years on and in reused footage, Roy Scheider still gets the best line in the movie).

Announcing that Jaws: The Revenge is a terrible film is not breaking bold new critical ground. However, most of the hatchet jobs on this film don’t really look much further than the incompetent special effects and the sheer, absurd stupidity of the central idea of the film. These are both fair game for criticism, but what seems to me to be just as interesting is the more subtly toxic effect that the main premise has on the quality of the drama throughout the movie – it seems to show that when your main idea is as incoherent and implausible as it is here, every other aspect of the drama and characterisation in the movie is going to suffer as a result, and that awkwardly trying to pretend your film is not silly means that you will end up not making a silly film, but a silly and boring one. Which is what Jaws: The Revenge is.

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