Netflix

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

captain-america-civil-war

2016 – Half of the Avengers vote for Trump; the other half votes for Clinton. 

In my review of The Green Hornet, I took issue with the fact that one of the biggest fights was the two good guys beating each other up. Why not have your biggest fights be against the bad guys?

Well, Captain America: Civil War is basically a two-and-a-half-hour conflict (I won’t say “fight” because they fight for maybe a combined 10 minutes) between the good guys, and there is no bad guy. What a dumb concept that is, from a dramatic perspective: do we really think that Captain America will kill Iron Man? Or that Spider-Man will kill Ant-Man? Or that Falcon will kill Black Panther?

By the way, who the fuck are “Falcon” and “Black Panther”?!? And why is the guy’s name “Black Panther”? Panthers are black. That’s like calling someone “White Dove” or “Silver-Backed Silverback Gorilla.” Or is it because the guy is black?

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the plot.

Remember how Star Wars fans criticized the original trilogy because there wasn’t enough politics, and applauded the prequel trilogy for including a lot more politics? Well, the brains at Marvel were paying attention, because this movie is like The American President meets All the President’s Men. We don’t want plots like “supervillain threatens the world,” we want a plot like “the United Nations writes up an enormous treaty limiting superhero activity and the superheroes disagree over whether to sign it or not.”

That’s the actual storyline of this movie. The storyline is shit.

Oh, and there is a bad guy, but he’s the 14th-billed person in the cast. When you have a superhero movie with at least 13 superheroes and ONE villain (who is in no way super), you’ve got a problem. Carrying on the tradition of Marvel making its very few well-known cool villains as lame as possible, we get Zemo.

Not Baron Zemo:

Bad-ass

Bad-ass

No, just Zemo:

Suck-ass

Suck-ass

I mean, come ON. This guy is more of a nerd than the guy they got to play Spider-Man, who is supposed to be a nerd! He looks like The Miz’s gay younger brother. And the costumes… there’s no comparison. Super-cool Baron Zemo has a sick mask and nice fur highlights. Ultra-lame movie Zemo looks like he’s relaxing backstage at the Strawbridge and Clothier catalog shoot. He sucks, doesn’t do anything, and (not a spoiler, since it’s a Marvel movie) doesn’t die at the end.

The bad guy is shit.

Skipping about two-thirds of the way through the movie (because, honestly, NOTHING happens for the first two-thirds), we finally get what I presume everyone wanted: the big fight, Team Iron Man vs. Team Captain America, the world’s most well-known heroic characters all in one scene!

civil-war-lame-lineup

That’s obviously… uh… Swoop Man there on the left, and… um… Metal Arm on the right, and I think the other guy is Green Arrow, and… alright, I honestly only know Captain America and Ant-Man, who looks exactly like the Cobra Strato Viper with a silver helmet:

civil-war-strato-viper

But okay, maybe Team Iron Man will have all the well-known guys.

captain-america-team-iron-man

Since the one on the left is Black Panther, is the guy on the right Black Iron Man (he’s also actually a black guy)? Also, you have to note how ridiculously unbalanced these teams are. The fact that this is even a fight really strains credibility.

The hero vs. hero battle is decent, for a battle in which you KNOW nobody is going to die. But keep in mind that the rest of the movie is this:

"I make a motion for more long talking scenes." "APPROVED!"

“I make a motion for more long talking scenes.” “I second that.” “APPROVED!”

It’s like 12 Angry Men, with superheroes! Please note that the character who is a ROBOT is wearing a button-up blouse with a sweater. And nothing says “excitement!” like multiple carafes of water!

Everybody talks about how Spider-Man is in this movie and how awesome he is, but honestly, my cup runneth over with Spider-Man at this point. Tom Holland does a decent job, but he’s no Tobey Maguire. And Aunt May… let’s talk about Aunt May for a moment. This is Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-1

In the movies, THESE are Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-2 civil-war-aunt-may-3

And in Captain America: Civil War, this is Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-4

Aunt May… is shit. They had one – ONE – character who is universally accepted as an elderly woman, and they get Marisa Tomei (of hot The Wrestler sex scene fame) to portray her. Simply abominable.

Some readers think that I’m faking my dislike for these movies. I’m not. I genuinely did not like Captain America: Civil War in almost any way. I thought it was logistically ponderous, visually uninteresting, and dramatically flat – all the hallmarks of the increasingly bloated Marvel “cinematic universe.”

The movie I saw just before this one: John Wick: Chapter 2. It was like having the best sex of my life, then cutting my own balls off and vomiting into the wound.

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IT FOLLOWS

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2014 – After an ill-advised sexual tryst, Jay (Maika Monroe) is told she’s caught the worst STD imaginable: a shape-shifting supernatural creature who will relentlessly pursue her… unless she can “pass it on” to someone else…

This is a “rules” horror movie, like Gremlins (don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight) or The Ring (watch the tape and you die in seven days). Within the self-contained worlds of such movies, these rules function just fine. Unfortunately, killjoy know-it-all rules lawyer types flock to this genre like distressed patrons to the bathroom of a Chinese buffet.

Just look at the IMDB message boards for It Follows: “Trap it in a vault, then brick up the wall.” “Gay sex?” “Just pass it to a successful hooker.” “Semi simple problem to solve to be honest.” “What if you constantly stayed airborne?”

*SIGH* Yeah, you’re all geniuses. Now shut up. The point is, you have to accept a movie like this on its own terms. If you do, it’s a genuinely frightening and disturbing experience.

There’s a sense of bleak desolation that hangs over everything, even the few “happy” scenes. Our heroine Jay, her sister Kelli (Lili Sepe), and their friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi), live in Detroit, and the area hasn’t looked this bad since OCP ran things.

Jay, who seems to be the object of desire for every male character in the movie, decides to get intimate with her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). Things go well until he chloroforms her, ties her to a wheelchair, and explains that she’ll now be stalked by the titular “it.”

“It” moves toward you at a walking pace and can look like anyone, from a total stranger to a loved one – but most often like a creepy naked person. Once “it” catches you, you die and “it” goes back to following whoever came before you in the chain. Honestly, I don’t feel too bad for Jay. I’ve been told worse things on dates.

Fear, paranoia, and a sense of steadily encroaching doom pervade the rest of the whole production. While Maika Monroe turns in the best performance, balancing vulnerability with an endearing resilience, all of the relatively young cast does a fine job. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell largely eschews cheap “jump scares” in favor of steadily building tension and atmosphere.

What’s most fascinating, however, is Mitchell’s inspiration for the film – a recurring dream from his youth in which he was hounded by multi-level marketers. Mitchell acknowledges that he used “the basic idea and feeling” of this constant pursuit and harassment, and adds that his parents “got involved in a multi-level marketing scheme around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.”

When viewed through this lens, the movie becomes less a fable about the dangers of casual sex and more a cautionary tale about the agony caused by someone constantly hawking special makeup or “health” supplements.

Just as “it” follows its victims based on an ongoing chain of sexual encounters, so loathsome multi-level marketers pursue one person after another to add to their “downstream.” Just when you think you’ve satisfied them by ordering some junk jewelry or skin cream, BOOM! They’re back, having exhausted the rest of their pipeline. Just as “it” takes the form of friends and loved ones, you can easily come home one day to find your friend, your lover, or your spouse transformed into something monstrous, greedy, and inhuman.

Strains the mind a bit, doesn’t it? But filmmakers have used far more innocuous things as a source for scares. And like its own silent, faceless antagonist, the unsettling effect of It Follows will stick with you long after you’ve watched it.

AMADEUS

amadeus

1984 – Some unpleasant old man really doesn’t care much for Mozart.

When this movie first came out, it was rated PG and ran for two hours and 41 minutes. That, I would say, is plenty of time for a Mozart story. The version I saw on Netflix, which is a dreaded “director’s cut,” runs over three hours and is rated R.

Far, far too long. The director, Milos Forman, notes what was cut for the (shorter) theatrical version: “Whatever was not directly connected to the plot.”

I’m sorry… isn’t that what’s SUPPOSED to be cut during the editing process? Was it not Antoine de Saint-Exupery who observed, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away”? Sorry, Milos Forman, but I doubt any audience felt cheated that several interminable scenes of Mozart sweatily conducting music got left out.

This is one of the movies that everyone knows the plot of already: Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) is the court composer for Emperor Joseph II (noted sex offender Jeffrey Jones). When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) arrives in Vienna, Salieri is driven mad by the realization that, in comparison to Mozart, he’s a talentless hack. He contrives a circuitous and convoluted scheme to ruin Mozart’s career and drive him to eventual illness and death, involving dressing up as the ghost of Mozart’s father (Roy Dotrice).

It’s hard to believe, but this ridiculous plot sounds better as a concept that it does in actual execution. Amadeus won EIGHT OSCARS and was nominated for eleven, but I’m afraid I just don’t see it. There is a critical flaw at the heart of Amadeus, a flaw so glaring that the movie’s few merits are completely obliterated.

Simply put, nobody likes classical music. It is boring and no one listens to it. However, in this movie, all everyone does is listen to classical music and talk about how great it is. This is just not very realistic.

There are a lot of movies where people listen to classical music or go to an opera, but something important is usually happening. When the Emperor goes to the opera in Revenge of the Sith, for instance, he is intent on seducing Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. In Amadeus, the Emperor also attends the opera… but then he just talks about how much he liked the opera! Can you imagine if that’s what happened in Revenge of the Sith? “Hey, Palpatine, can you tell me more about the powah of the Dahk Syde?” “Not today, Anakin. I’d rather you focus on this weird musical that they’re performing in a language we can’t understand.”

Way back in my first review here, I made note of the distinct lack of fart scenes in The King’s Speech. I hate to say it, but here there are almost too many fart scenes. I’m sorry, but in a movie about jealousy, obsession, insanity, attempted suicide, and murder, what is the point of having Mozart farting? It’s hilarious, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a time and a place for fart scenes.

As an example: the scene where Salieri has Mozart’s wife (Elizabeth Berridge) come to his apartment and strip naked. There were several moments during this scene when a fart would have been like the grace note at the end of a fantastic symphony (perhaps even a Mozart symphony! BOOM!). Instead, we just had to endure a fartless boob scene – in my opinion, the worst kind of boob scene.

If you have an overpowering need to watch a movie where the people all wear ridiculous costumes and wigs, try Marie Antoinette (but only the parts with Rip Torn in it).

MAN UP

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2015 – When chronically single Nancy (Lake Bell) is mistaken for divorcee Jack’s (Simon Pegg) blind date, she decides to play along.  

If you’re looking for a clever, touching alternative to the execrable Silver Linings Playbook – a movie that doesn’t coddle its characters or talk down to its audience, a movie that’s dialogue-heavy but never feels tedious, a movie about real feelings and not trite Hollywood angst – look no further.

The real enjoyment of watching a romantic comedy is being able to picture yourself as one of the leads. If done properly, you should be thinking, “Hey, I’m not terrible-looking and have a sense of humor! If I played my cards right, this same thing could happen to me!” Man Up presents a dating scene that should be all too familiar to 30-somethings, a place where disappointment, divorce, and the inevitable cynicism are all too common.

Just about everyone can relate to Nancy’s situation in the opening scenes: forced into a disastrous blind date by a few well-intentioned friends. Her sister Elaine (Sharon Horgan) encourages her to keep her chin up and be impulsive. After an encounter with an obnoxiously chipper 20-something (Ophelia Lovibond), Nancy decides to do exactly that and allows an improbable string of circumstances to connect her with Jack. As you might expect, their date goes better than either of them could have expected… until an obsessed ex-neighbor and a vindictive ex-wife arrive on the scene.

The film takes place pretty close to “real time,” encompassing the events of one afternoon and evening. While a modest run-time helps keep the movie taut and crisp, it also helps itself by continually upping the stakes. While we enjoy watching the two leads move through their awkward first date conversations, we’re also kept in suspense by one sub-plot after another: will Jack find out that Nancy isn’t the “Jessica” he was expecting? Will creepy stalker Sean (Rory Kinnear) mess things up? Will Nancy make it in time for the speech at her parents’ 40th anniversary party?

Man Up is definitely written with a certain Generation X audience in mind – people in their 30s and early 40s who have been through the dating ringer, have faced ruined relationships and even failed marriages, and are yearning for the kind of connection their parents seemed to have. Millennials, a lot of whom live in broken households and think a “relationship” is three dates with someone you met on Tinder, won’t get it.

It also toes the line between a traditional romantic comedy and the more popular gross-out humor of today. There are a few scenes, mostly featuring the Sean character, that just don’t jive with the  overall tone of the movie. These slight inconsistencies are like the off notes that the doomed flutist was playing in Red Dragon in that they made me take notice, but fortunately not enough for me to want to butcher and eat someone.

Things recover quickly, though, thanks mainly to how charming Bell and Pegg are in their respective roles. There isn’t a lot of screaming and wailing, but there is a lot to appreciate about the acting. Paired with an overall positive tone and a strong cast of supporting characters, it’s enough to push Man Up into the must-see echelon on Netflix.

IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY

its-such-a-beautiful-day-title

2012 – A hat-wearing stick figure named Bill contemplates his life in the sometimes-beautiful, oftentimes-nightmarish world of his own failing memory.

That plot summary may not be accurate. The movie may be about something else entirely, or it may be about nothing. Think of it as the most depressing episode of Seinfeld you’ve ever seen, with no Jerry, Kramer, or Elaine. It’s just George, trapped in his own private world of insecurity, depression, and minutiae, striving to rise above the stale miasma of everyday life but lacking the insight and temerity to do it.

“But then he wondered if, realistically, this WAS his life, and the unusual part was his time spent doing other things.”

There’s a story being told here (Bill may be dying from some unspecified illness), but it’s told out of order and meanders down various unrelated tangents. We see most of the action through asymmetric holes cut out of the encroaching darkness. The images range from stark and simple, to beautiful, to horrifying. I don’t know what the technical term is, but I like to think of this animation style as “squiggly, like Dr. Katz.”

Despite the crudity of the images, some of them become unexpectedly beautiful. In one scene, when Bill receives a bad diagnoses, he removes his trademark hat and slowly runs a hand over his head. It’s heartbreaking.

its-such-a-beautiful-day-4

Writer, director, and animator Don Hertzfeldt mixes humor, horror, pathos, and hope in fairly equal measure, although the story has a tendency to veer into the grotesque and the bizarre.

"In the middle of the night she opens the drawer to find the preserved cat head from last week."

“In the middle of the night she opens the drawer to find the preserved cat head from last week.”

As the narrative slowly winds its way along, we discover that Bill’s memory is starting to fail him, and some of the things we’ve seen (including flashbacks to Bill’s childhood) may never have actually happened. There’s a lot of musing about the nature of time (“The passing of time is just an illusion, because all of eternity is taking place all at once“), life, and death (“Each cell in the body replaces itself and dies as the years pass“). You become convinced that it means something.

You have no idea what that “something” is.

Yes, it’s one of those movies: the kind that’s kinda quirky, funny, and depressing, but that ultimately leaves you with the suspicion that even the creator didn’t know what the hell he was going for. Kinda like a Wes Anderson movie.

As a long-time stick figure fan, I give It’s Such A Beautiful Day credit for the way it makes us care for poor Bill. For most viewers, however, it’ll seem too bizarre and disjointed to be regarded as anything more than a deep Netflix curiosity.

SHARKNADO

sharknado-title2013 – A hurricane drives swarms of sharks into downtown Los Angeles, where they feast on the surprisingly uninformed populace.

“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” – The Sopranos (paraphrasing H.L. Mencken)

Whenever I tell people that I enjoy watching bad movies, their first question is always, “Have you seen Sharknado?” No, I tell them. I like BAD movies, the ones that strive so hard to be good but fail so spectacularly.  Sharknado, I tell them, seems as though it’s trying to be bad.

The great bad movies are old shames for everyone involved. The creators try to deny their existence and don’t like talking about them. Sometimes the cast and crew were just collecting a paycheck. Other times, they genuinely thought they were crafting the next Citizen Kane. What cult fame they achieved later was often embraced only reluctantly and often bitterly. Sharknado, on the other hand, has continually played on its reputed wretchedness.

What’s shocking about this movie isn’t how bad it is, but how boring it is. Sharknado finds a way to make even a tornado filled with sharks tedious, bogging things down with a low-speed car chase and a truly interminable “rescue kids from a bus” sequence. The titular “sharknado” itself shows up with only 25 minutes left. We’re all familiar with the concept of “so bad it’s good” – but when something TRIES to be so bad it’s good, but ends up bad anyway… well, that just means it’s so bad it’s REALLY BAD.

The opening sequence, shot on a sunny day with horizontal spritzes of water standing in for a “hurricane,” involves a few nasty foreign types making some kind of deal for illegal shark fin soup. This makes their (spoiler alert) deaths by shark all the more ironic, you see? A whole little story begins and ends in this sequence, contributing nothing to the rest of the film other than “sharks are coming,” which we could have surmised already.

Once the actual plot gets going, we meet the insufferably-named FIN Shepard (Ian Ziering). He’s a surfer who also runs a bar with his rowdy best friend Baz (Jaason Simmons) and large-breasted bartender Nova (Cassandra Scerbo). When the hurricane hits (and it seems to hit with virtually no warning), this rag-tag gang realizes that the storm is driving a horde of sharks into the city’s streets and sewer system. They have to not only rescue Fin’s estranged wife April (the living corpse of Tara Reid) and children, but single-handedly save the entire city.

These sharks are your basic bad movie sharks. Their color, type, and size vary wildly from shot to shot (some are apparently capable of biting people in less-than-ankle-deep water). They roar. They can launch themselves twenty yards into the air. And their hunger for human flesh is so intense that they will strand themselves on dry land just for the chance to bite someone. The human characters are just as cliched, with a “divorced dad struggles to connect with his resentful kids” sub-plot that hits on zero cylinders. The film drags through one cheesy CGI shark attack after another, reaching its end, appropriately enough, at a retirement home.

I used to wonder why sharks are featured in so many bad movies, but now I know why: from an animation perspective, a shark is basically a big gray piece of shit with a mouth and fins. The body wiggles, the mouth opens, but other than that it has very few moving parts. It’s the lazy filmmaker’s dream.

Most of the performances are too vanilla to be laughable, although Cassandra Scerbo manages to make her character more sympathetic than most. Tara Reid looks awful and sounds worse, and Ian Ziering is so uninteresting that they have his character’s son actually save the day. The movie squanders a charming performance by Home Alone vet John Heard as a lecherous old barfly.

This is a bad movie for people who don’t know what a good movie is. Sharknado fools its viewers into thinking they’re in on the joke, when really the joke is on them (and they don’t know what the joke is to begin with). It isn’t clever enough to be a parody or homage, and isn’t bad enough to be legitimately entertaining. It’s a cynical, crass money-making ploy that has, amazingly, spawned FOUR sequels/spin-offs with smarmy titles like Sharknado 2: The Second One and Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! 

This is not the true spirit of bad movie-watching. It’s a hobby that’s all about discovering the hidden gems, the lost treasures. As soon as it starts to get popular and commercial, it’s ruined. There is no better example of this than Sharknado. Skip it and watch Zombeavers instead.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD

This still shot, viewed for 2.5 hours, features slightly more action than the film itself

This still shot, viewed for 2.5 hours, features slightly more action than the film itself

2007 – A movie about oil prospecting, inspired by an Upton Sinclair novel but somehow even less exciting.

While watching the 2.5-hour-long There Will Be Blood, I kept wondering: how can movie with so much time to convey its message still manage to say virtually nothing? Why are the performances so overblown? Why is the direction so ham-handed? Then I realized: it was a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.

All my questions were immediately answered.

Paul Thomas Anderson made Magnolia, which ranks as my least favorite movie of all time. This movie – the story of a guy who starts out as a ruthless bastard and ends up exactly the same way – isn’t quite as bad, but it’s still not good. The only possible reason to see it is to watch Daniel Day-Lewis doing his funny-voice-and-walk thing, but even his performance is… well, I’ll get to that.

So there’s this guy named Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis, really flexing his acting chops by playing a guy named Daniel). He’s your standard turn-of-the-century businessman, which – as anyone who has taken an American history class in the last 20 years knows – means he’s a just a real meanie. He has an orphaned kid who he calls his son (Dillon Freasier) so he can say it’s a “family business.” He attempts to pay people somewhat less than their land is worth. He pretends to be more religious than he really is. He drinks alcohol.

Clearly this Daniel Plainview character can take his rightful place in the villainous pantheon right next to Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader.

As part of his most ruthless scheme to date, he starts buying up oil-rich land near some middle-of-nowhere town. Horribly, this results in the dirt-poor town being able to afford bread and send their children to school. Damn you, Plainview!!!

Daniel Plainview RUTHLESSLY slaps a guy around and gets his clothes dirty

Daniel Plainview RUTHLESSLY slaps a guy around and gets his clothes dirty

But conflict – surely potentially bloody conflict – is on the horizon. Local minister Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) can somehow sense that Plainview isn’t such a great guy, and this initiates an epic power struggle. On one side is a wealthy, ruthless man with hundreds of henchmen, while on the other side is one wimpy bitch of a guy and the old ladies from his church. WHO WILL WIN?!? Along the way (and by that I mean over the next hour and 45 minutes of film), Plainview’s “son” goes deaf, and he meets a guy who claims to be his brother (Kevin J. O’Connor).

Throughout the viewing, I kept having to ask myself what kind of movie this was. It’s an incredibly long film, but it’s not an epic or a biopic. It’s shot like it’s a big, important movie, but the most important thing that happens is a guy drilling for oil. The real focus is the guy himself, Plainview. So it’s gotta be a character piece, right? It’s gotta be Citizen Kane, a classic rise-and-fall story.

The only problem is, there’s very little rise and no discernible fall. Plainview is an interesting character, yes, but he’s the same character for the entire movie. He doesn’t get an epiphany or a “Rosebud” moment. He’s challenged by the Sunday character, sure… but if you’ve taken an American history class in the last 20 years, you’ll know that Sunday is one of them hypocritical FAKE ministers anyway! So the real conflict is which guy is more of a jerk, and it’s the guy we know is the biggest jerk all along.

Daniel Plainview RUTHLESSLY puts a handkerchief over his face and does a funny voice

Daniel Plainview RUTHLESSLY puts a handkerchief over his face and does a funny voice

Daniel Day-Lewis seems to specialize in assignments like this. Don’t get me wrong: he’s a great actor. Take Lincoln (a movie that has a lot of the same flaws, come to think of it): he plays Abraham Lincoln to the hilt. But it’s almost as though he becomes so mired in becoming these characters that they get locked in stasis. Abraham Lincoln goes shuffling off to Ford’s Theater pretty much the same man he was in the opening scene. When There Will Be Blood mercifully ends, we’re nowhere closer to knowing what makes Daniel Plainview tick than we did when we first saw him. He’s a fascinating collection of mannerisms, but you need more than that to make an actual character.

For a movie where the very title promises abundant blood, there is a disappointing lack of it. They should have called it There Will Be Long-Winded Speeches, because that’s what about 80% of the dialogue is. Imagine a Shakespeare play comprised entirely of soliloquies – that’s There Will Be Blood. In those rare instances where real action does take place, it comes out of nowhere or makes virtually no sense, and it’s over so fast you’re left wondering what the heck happened. [Insert your own Bill Cosby joke here]

Someone should have told Paul Thomas Anderson that just because it’s filmed like an epic and acted like an epic, a movie can still be a complete snooze. There Will Be Blood has been in my Netflix queue for a long time, and it’s better off left there. No Country For Old Men is better.

ROBOSHARK

2015 – After it gobbles up a chunk of a UFO that crashed in the ocean, a great white shark transforms into a killing machine bent on destroying Seattle.

Several notes about this Netflix plot summary: 1.) it’s clearly an alien probe, not “a chunk of a UFO”; 2.) it doesn’t crash into the ocean, it intentionally flies into it to look around; and 3.) its motives are too murky to state that it’s “bent on destroying” anything.

Oh, boy. If the shark sub-genre isn’t dead, at the very least its mangled body is only being held together by the wreckage around it. Sort of like Mel Gibson’s wife in Signs. When someone fumbles a concept like “robot alien shark” this badly, maybe it’s time to take a break.

After the aforementioned shark swallows the aforementioned probe and becomes the aforementioned killing machine, it runs into a nuclear submarine. The crew is baffled as Roboshark unleashes its most potent attack: grabbing onto the propellers with its teeth and getting whipped around. “Come on, boys. Check your stats!” the sub commander shouts. Um… is “stats” the right word? Are these guys looking up batting averages and strikeout/walk ratios?

The destruction of the submarine catches the attention of the Navy’s Admiral Black (Nigel Barber – FirequakeSpectre), who is informed that the shark is now headed for Seattle. “Seattle… Starbucks, the Space Needle, hipsters, Microsoft, Nirvana,” the Admiral mutters. He’s a gruff, no-nonsense, arm-the-nukes, acceptable-casualties type, like the FBI guys from Die Hard. Odds are, the Admiral isn’t going to make it to the ending credits.

Meanwhile, weather woman Trish (Alexis Peterman – City Slacker) is griping to her husband Rick (Matt Rippy – Boogeyman 3The Dark Knight) that she has to cover a snow storm (which is constantly referenced but never materializes). Their daughter Melody (Vanessa Grasse – Roboshark) is watching a viral video of the shark attacking an amphibious plane.

ACTING.

ACTING.

“That is everything that’s wrong with the news today, it’s like totally fake and ridiculous.” – Trish

Trish and her Wacky News Crew (they’re like the kooky tornado chasers from Twister) head out to cover the impending snow, but spot two tents and a few military guys on the way and decide that it’s “some serious firepower.” What can they do but investigate?

The full might of the U.S. military/industrial complex.

The full might of the U.S. military/industrial complex.

Sure enough, they see more guys in fatigues carrying unlabeled boxes around and conclude that something big is afoot. Trish’s boss insists they get back to covering the weather, but news crew guy Louie (Isaac Haig – Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas EverLake Placid vs. Anaconda) encourages her to stick it to The Man and cover these probably-mutant-shark-related events instead. Watch out, viewers, it’s the WAAAAACKY NEWS CREW!

What delightful characters! (Kill me)

What delightful characters! (Kill me)

Roboshark starts swimming through the city’s jumbo-sized water system, drawing the ire of Rick and his team at the water… company? Rick is obsessed with calling a vague entity known as “dispatch.” “Dispatch. Dispatch, hello? Come on guys, dispatch!” “Dispatch! Get somebody out to T41.” Two seconds later: “Dispatch. Yeah, it’s Rick here. Get someone over to Junction T41 straightaway.” “Dispatch, talk to me!”

This is one of those movies where things seem to be happening, but they have no real direction. Even the characters aren’t convinced that anything important is transpiring. “This is starting to sound like one of those Syfy movies,” one of the news crew quips. “Mutant shark?” Rick demands. “Wasn’t that on Syfy last week?” Stop! This self-referential humor is killing me!

The shark attacks a Starbucks knockoff called “Coffee Time” and devours an obnoxious bicyclist (take that, bicycle enthusiasts!).

Truly tremendous.

Tremendous. Truly, tremendous.

Then it heads to a sewer treatment plant where it causes “the poop tank” to explode, showering a minor character in feces. HA! Take that, blue-collar workers!

Roboshark poop

Bad news: we’re only halfway through the film. Good news: we’re about to meet the movie’s most delightful character, a glasses-wearing computer magnate named (get ready for it) “Bill GLATES.” HAWHAWHAWHAWHAWHAWHAWHAW! I guess Bill Gates is the preferred tech industry target for parody since Steve Jobs is dead. In the plus column, one of Glates’s cadre of assistants is a red-head with a lip ring. I liked her.

Roboshark hot redhead

“Oh my God, It just ate Bill Glates! It just ate Bill Glates!” – Trish

At this point, I was falling asleep in my chair and had to rally to make it through. Basically, our heroes learn to communicate with Roboshark by using emojis, and it isn’t so bad after all. Along the way the movie turns into a hype track for social media. Melody “searches for Tweets about water outages and maps them” to find the shark (because people are always live-Tweeting their water outages). Our heroes upload a shark video and get five MILLION views in about five minutes.

Body being "buffeted by wind," hair untouched.

Body being “buffeted by wind,” hair and clothes untouched.

“Admiral, is that a bomber? You can’t bomb my family!” – Rick

Then again, the obnoxious cyclist gets devoured because he’s more concerned with uploading the footage from his GoPro than avoiding the shark. So maybe this is all some kind of subtle parody about how social media is blinding us to the reality of our situations. Everyone’s staring at their phones instead of fleeing the alien menace right in front of them. It’s a brilliant portrayal of our steady retreat from reality as we immerse ourselves in the ultimate delusion of a virtual world.

Or maybe it’s just dumb.

THE BABADOOK

The Babadook dead

2014 – A single mother believes she is being stalked by “Mr. Babadook,” the sinister character from one of her son’s storybooks.

I’m no stranger to kooky foreign films – I mean, I’ve seen Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. They’re fun! The people may look funny and wear unconventional clothes, but you can usually find a few moments that will keep you grounded (like when the fat guy from Dead Snow says, “I’m going for a shit”).

Unless, of course, you’re watching one of those really foreign foreign films where everyone acts weird and you’re completely baffled by the plot. The Babadook, an Australian-Canadian psychological horror film, falls into that category. I was lost. Perhaps the melding of two such alien cultures was too much for me. For one thing, I could have done with a few subtitles. Half the dialogue consists of a truly disturbing-looking little Australian boy yelling, “Mem! Mem! Is thees theh Bahbahduk? Theh Bahbahduk deed eet, Mem! Mem! Ees eet undah theh beed?”

Australia: much more depressing than you'd assume

Australia: much more depressing than you’d assume

As close as I can figure it, the movie is about a woman named Amelia (Essie Davis), who lives in a depressing Tim Burton-type town where all the buildings are old and the people dress in muted grays and blues and have rings under their eyes. Her husband got killed in a car accident (which is no surprise since the cars everyone drives are rattling shit-heaps), so she’s stuck with her truly awful son Sam, pronounced “Sem” or “Syyym” (Noah Wiseman).

More terrifying than the actual monster in the movie.

More terrifying than the actual monster in the movie.

It seems that in the rest of the world, every little boy is required to wear the following uniform: clompy lace-up shoes, knee-high socks, shorts, and any combination of oversize sweater, tie, and blazer. That’s a cruel thing to do to a child. Sam, however, is the kind of child you’d want to be cruel to. He’s highly annoying, screaming and writhing about and detested by every other child and adult in the movie, including his own mother. He makes dangerous “anti-monster” weapons and brings them to school. Amelia understandably wants to kill him.

There are almost two movies going on here. One movie is about a depressed mom and her mutant boy being picked on by the town’s more attractive, normal populace. The difference between our beleaguered “heroine” and everyone else is so drastic that it verges on parody. When Amelia visits her sister’s house, it’s bright, spotless, and populated by the Hot Bitchy Mom Quintet. Amelia’s house, meanwhile, is a cluttered, shadowy dump.

They'd get it.

They’d get it.

The other movie has a monster in it. Unflinchingly polite (it always knocks before entering) and unhealthily pale, Mister Babadook is the sort of vague, Canadian-ish monster that can be defeated by yelling at it loudly enough. But like a typical Australian, the thing shows up uninvited, loafs around the house, tries to kill the dog, and does unfunny impressions of the dead husband (these are all things I assume most Australians do – I’m basing it on information gleaned from watching Flight of the Conchords).

Babadook monster

I’m gonna get you, eh?

The Babadook arrives after Amelia reads Sam its traumatizing, self-published popup book. I won’t spoil exactly what happens because, let’s face it, I can’t. I have no idea what is going on. Why are there so many coats and hats hanging against the wall to provide false scares? What’s up with the palsied old woman next door? How come the monster seems really flexible and fast sometimes, but other times like empty clothes draped over a wooden frame mounted on a skateboard?

Maybe I’m just not cosmopolitan enough to understand this kind of art-house fare. At least it’s better than Life Is Beautiful.

3-HEADED SHARK ATTACK

3-Headed Shark Attack Poster

2015 – Do-gooder environmentalists team up with partying teens, former wrestlers, and Danny Trejo to defeat one of cinema’s most impractical monsters.

Contains spoilers

If you’ve seen 2-Headed Shark Attack, this movie is even worse. Light on the gore but heavy on the (maybe artificial) boobs, 3-Headed Shark Attack is a directionless, at times tedious affair. It’s as though the film’s titular menace devoured three movies, and this one is the half-digested dump it took afterward.

We open with a bunch of teens partying on an island-type landmass. A couple of them make out very unenthusiastically in a tent. Time Until Boobs: 1 minute 41 seconds

A nerdy hipster suggests, “I’ve got an idea: how about some day-time skinny-dipping?” A busty, possibly transsexual blonde agrees to do so if the hipster can swim “out to that buoy and back.” He only swims out to it but (s)he strips down anyway, giving us TWO pairs of breasts in the first three minutes of the movie. The shark (Time Until Monster: 2 minutes 34 seconds) then appears in approximately 2 feet of water and devours her/him. In total, it dispatches 8 people in the first 5 minutes!

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

Next we meet Professor Laura Thomas (Jena Sims), who works at the island research station “Persephone” studying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. One can only assume the station was named after the Greek Princess of the Underworld, which is an odd choice. Shouldn’t it be “Poseidon”? Prof. Thomas quickly strips down, giving us THREE pairs of breasts in the first seven minutes. Tragically, the movie just can’t maintain this breakneck pace, and we’re in a boob-less wasteland from here on out. Dr. Ted Nelson (Jaason Simmons, whose name I assumed was a typo) informs her that their new intern Maggie (Karrueche Tran, whose name I assumed was a sneeze) has arrived. Here’s the above-ground entrance to the underwater research station:

3-Headed Shark Attack station above

And here’s the station itself:

3-Headed Shark Attack station below

HOW is one structure possibly connected to the other? The hallways of the Persephone look suspiciously like the inside of any generic office building… and would an underwater facility really have drop-tile ceilings and cinder block walls? Maggie gets snubbed by the ill-mannered Dr. Leonard – and I don’t want to give anything away, but if you suspect that this minor social faux pas will result in a hilariously humiliating death for Leonard… you may just be right. New characters arrive in the form of four do-gooders from “Earth Pact,” who are all dressed like filthy bums. Look, I know they’re humble eco-warriors, but wouldn’t they have at least changed their shirts before the tour?

Dress for the job (in waste management) you want, not the job you have.

Dress for the job [in waste management] you want, not the job you have.

Meet Ryan (Scott Reynolds), Alison (Dawn Hamil), Omar (Rico Ball), and Greg (Brad Mills), who used to date Maggie in college before he dropped out. Prof. Thomas informs them that the station is located “half a mile under the ocean” (!!!), features a staff of 45 top scientists, and is full of all sorts of high-tech gadgetry. Like this:

SCIENCE!

SCIENCE!

Note how this gentleman is staring at his photocopies in confusion, as though he doesn’t quite trust the magic box that somehow conjured them out of thin air. The sign on the wall behind him says “DO NOT SHUT THIS DOOR,” and it’s either posted on a 1.) a wall or 2.) a closed door, so these can’t be the absolute brightest minds out there. In quick succession, we learn that 1.) pollution levels in the patch are elevated, 2.) the mutated research critters are acting up, and 3.) something big and fast-moving is approaching. Surely all these things can’t be connected, though. Right? That would just be silly.

Meanwhile Brad, the last member of the Earth Pact group (who is wearing THE most stained thermal shirt I’ve ever seen) spots a shadow in the water and blunders in. The shark, which is many times too large to hide in knee-deep water, launches itself into the air and devours him, presumably burrowing into the sand to escape afterward.

Seems... legit.

Seems… legit?

Remember that grumpy Dr. Leonard from earlier? Well, he’s on the shitter! HA! Here it comes, folks, he’s gonna get it! For some reason he can’t flush, so he stands up WITHOUT WIPING and surprise, the shark busts up through the floor and consumes him. Time Until Black Guy Death: 21:59. This prompts the following exchange between Prof. Thomas and her henchman Steve:

Steve: “We’ve initiated Stage 1 Security protocol.”

Prof. Thomas: “We need to move on to Stage 2, someone’s just died.”

So this station has two alert levels: one for when no one has died, and one for when someone has died. Good to know. The shark proceeds to attack the structure. Cut to a guy working at his desk. He stands up and is suddenly blasted through a cardboard wall by an explosion. What exploded?!? His laptop? Note the random nonsense writing on the yellow paper tacked to the wall.

3-Headed Shark Attack wall

A moment later the entire station explodes, killing the rest of the vaunted 45 research staff. Since they’re “cut off” from their normal escape craft (why?) and the island is sinking (WHY?), the group needs to reach the Earth Pact boat. Greg declares he’ll swim out to it and bring it closer. Omar objects, but Greg tells him to shut up and dives into the water. He makes it, but whoops! He doesn’t know how to start the boat. “That’s what I was talking about,” Omar opines. “I should have said something,” Ryan agrees. YA THINK? Maybe they should have sketched this thing out a little more in-depth. So Ryan runs into the water. Then Alison panics and dives in. Omar yells, “You’re not going out there alone,” and pursues her. These characters seem compelled to hurl themselves directly into the most dangerous environment possible.

The shark catches on to their clever “everyone get into the water” ploy and pursues them. “Pick it up!” Dr. Nelson yells, like they’re kids and he’s a middle school gym teacher. Omar gets eaten. THEN they realize that they can’t get the boat close enough to pick up the rest of the group. This was not the world’s best-conceived plan. So then Maggie states that SHE’LL run into the water to “distract” the shark, but Prof. Thomas one-ups her and sacrifices herself to the beast.

At this point, the movie could have been over. The body count is over 50, the research station that seemed so central to the plot is gone, and the cast has been whittled down to a few survivors. Unfortunately, we’re only a half hour in! That’s my real problem with 3-Headed Shark Attack – it’s constantly changing rails. Who are the heroes? Was it Prof. Thomas? Is it the tragically uninteresting duo of Greg and Maggie? Is it Max Burns (Danny Trejo) who hasn’t even appeared yet and spends most of the movie tooling around aimlessly in his boat? Is it Stanley (Rob Van Dam), who we encounter on the nearby “booze cruise” that looks suspiciously like an old-fashioned Mississippi River steam boat?

3-Headed Shark Attack steam boat

A sea-going vessel if I’ve ever seen one.

Yep, that’s right – after the whole movie being about scientists at a research station, it abruptly shifts focus to a bunch of unidentified teens on a party ship! It’s like starting a completely different movie: we meet the amply-racked Rosemarie (Brianna Ferris) and her fiancee, but it’s impossible to tell who she is or why we should care about her. There are 20 or 30 other people on the boat, but most of them seem to vanish into thin air. Did the shark eat them? Did they drown? Does the ship sink? There’s no way to tell.

The only memorable moment in this whole booze cruise sub-plot is when the shark attacks and the captain announces they don’t have any life rafts. “Sorry guys,” he mumbles, and, I mean, life rafts would have been nice, but at least he offered a sincere apology. You can’t be angry at the poor schlub. In the end, the script executes the most efficient clean-up I’ve encountered: the characters board two new boats. Boat 2 contains all the random characters we don’t care about, and Boat 1’s passengers are Maggie, Greg, and Stanley. Guess which one is destroyed by the shark moments later?

Our heroes finally decide they’ll lure the shark back into the garbage patch, where it will no doubt go insane and kill itself (?). It bites off Stanley’s hand:3-Headed Shark Attack Stanley

Luckily, it appears to regenerate moments later:

3-Headed Shark Attack Stanley handIt’s a mess. Despite featuring 70 – 80 deaths (conservative estimate), 3-Headed Shark Attack never gives us time to get comfortable with the story or grow attached to the characters. There are too many people, too much mayhem, and way too many “camera halfway in the water while someone swims” shots. It’s short enough to be worth a watch, but it lacks the meat to become a true classic.