Saturday, June 25, 2016

Marina Monster (2008)

Marina Monster (2008)
Dir.: Christine Whitlock
Cinema 4 Rating: 1/9

If I ever get the chance to make my own monster, shark, OR monstrous shark movie, I hope it's half as stupid as Marina Monster.

Farting and burping sounds when some characters appear in view of the camera. Clown horns punctuating "jokes" so that we are certain to understand they were meant that way. A foghorn-and-cowbell combination (or sometimes a couple of bass notes) that sounds when certain female breasts arrive onscreen (always covered discreetly). Cliched, noirish saxophone bursts when one character is seduced by another or when one particularly muscled character lifts his shirt. Cash register noises when another character makes drug deals over and over again. A rumbling sound (accompanied by a shaky camera) that occurs every time (and there are many of these moments) that a dock in the harbor is hit by the titular monster. Marina Monster is a cornucopia of ridiculous sound effects that are draped over a film where every other element can be charitably called "amateurish" but more often lends itself to a constant sad shaking of one's head while wondering if carrying on through the remainder of the film is a worthwhile option.

The character names are meant to be silly and parodic, so certainly this film is never meant to be taken seriously for even a second. How could you with names such as Earl Molar, Oceanna Anchor, Commodore Drip Molar, Commodore Skip Anchor, Zena Waters, Skipper Surf Toe, Rusty Winch, Aqua Foam, and Bibby Rigger? It was one of the rare aspects of this film that I found quite pleasant, wondering just how far the filmmaker, Christine Whitlock, would take the gag. Well, it would seem nearly into porn territory with other names like Stiff Mast (the muscle guy) and Limp Eel, but Marina Monster is far too chaste (except for some weird stepmother incest gags) and almost naive to go too far. I somewhat imagine Whitlock as being a cousin to the director of the film being made in 1976's The First Nudie Musical, who is called upon to helm a porn musical (titled Come, Come Again), but keeps giggling and hiding his eyes during the sex scenes.

But that feeling of a porn-level parody is certainly apt here when one considers that most of the cast seems to be filled with anyone who happened to cross Whitlock's path on the day the scenes were filmed. I might actually be more impressed with the outcome were this the case (and it is an interesting concept for an experiment), but it is also clear that there are many people in the cast -- the larger, speaking roles -- who at least have some theatrical experience. I'm not sure this extends to the actor playing the film's narrator, who introduces himself as Professor Squid -- that's right -- from a room with a white curtained backdrop, a whiteboard (and water bottle) on an easel, various shark drawings, and a table with a map of the bay, on which are placed toy boats and a toy shark. Professor Squid opens Marina Monster's story with this anti-shark rant:

"Today, we're here to talk about sharks, evil eating machines that live in the ocean... but not always! They're now in fresh water, eating people wherever they go. Hungry, evil sharks! In the bay, fisherman are noticing less fish. Bull sharks have been seen in the Mississippi River going as far north as Illinois, eating as they go in fresh water."

The location then switches to a harbor that I would guess is in Hamilton, Ontario, where director Whitlock lives and films her micro-budget movies. On a small dock, we are given the basic template for nearly every attack that occurs throughout the picture. An unidentified man sits on the end of the dock, swishing the water with a small net attached to a long pole. A second man in a stupid straw hat and floral print shirt is standing on the dock a few feet away. A girl in a bikini walks down the length of the dock and comes up to the first man and crouches down to ask him how the fishing is going. The girl says that she will see him in Jamaica (totally unexplained) and walks away. The second man, utterly without provocation, strides up to the first man and shoves him hard into the waters of the bay (mind you, the dock is about two feet above the water).

Suddenly, there is a shark seen on the surface of the water. The girl runs back to pull her friend out, but suddenly there is that low rumble and a shaking of the camera. The girl is thrown off balance into the water. The first man is then pulled underneath the water to never be seen again. The second man, still on the dock, is shaken into the drink by another rumble of the dock. Both he and the girl are then pulled under to the depths of the bay. We return to Professor Squid, who quips with a shit-eating grin: "Hungry little thing, isn't it?" The shark, clearly phony, is shown "swimming" on the surface as the film cuts to the interminable opening credits, nearly three minutes of mind-numbing regatta footage set to an exceedingly generic rock beat.

This opening attack sequence, where three or more people fall into the water in succession and get eaten by a largely unseen predator is repeated time and again throughout the film, though always with small variances in the number of people. I'm not quite sure why everyone is fishing with what amounts to a pool skimmer, but they are, and perhaps the various "no fishing" signs we are shown throughout the film might attest to the limits taken during filming. This also points to me that these dock scenes may have been shot on the sly and without permission of the harbor where they occur. Since there are no shots of the shark next to the docks or any gore effects at all, and people just jump or fall in and splash around before going under, I'd say it is likely this was the case. Also, the bumping of the dock by the shark is used pretty inconsistently, and so you get several scenes of people just simply falling or really jumping into the water without real purpose behind it. And most of these scenes are started with people getting into a small squabble over some imagined gripe or grudge, and then someone gets pushed in, leading to a chain reaction of falls and deaths.

In some ways, the repetition of these scenes is quite hypnotic, and instead of needing the story's plot to escape from the poorly filmed attack scenes, these attack scenes actually serve as a refuge from the terrible dramatics and dialogue of the rest of the film. That you will only go about three to four minutes before more people get eaten becomes a blessing. This film has a tremendously high body count for a shark film that isn't Sharknado. There are forty people listed as "victims" in the closing credits, and sure enough, when one counts up all thirteen attacks in the film, the final death toll is a solid forty. And yet, there is nothing in the plot about anyone actually trying to figure why people are disappearing, even after a couple of main characters see five people lose their lives.
  • By the 15-minute mark of Marina Monster, ten people have already been eaten, in between brief moments with the film's actual speaking characters setting up the plot of the film.
  • By the 30-minute mark, one would think there would be some investigation as to why 23 people have disappeared around the harbor area in a rather short amount of story time. 
  • It is 33 minutes into the film when the two lead characters, Earl Molar and his lady love Oceanna Anchor, realize that something horrid is going in the water. But still nothing gets done.
  • At the 40-minute mark, the body count is 35, and the film's reporter character, Lola Dent, who is investigating the embezzlement scandal at the core of the plot, finally mentions the "people missing from the piers and marinas in the bay."
  • 52 minutes in, we have the full 40 victims.
After most of the attacks, Professor Squid will chime in for a few seconds with a statement, often unrelated to what has just occurred, except that there happens to be a shark and he has eaten a few more people. Sometimes he is holding a toy shark or even a shark pool toy. Amongst Prof. Squid's -- ahem -- witticisms:
  • "Bull sharks are eating machines, hungry creatures that love to eat, and eat, and eat."
  • "Bull sharks in marinas find things to eat."
  • "Oh, my word! That teenage shark has an appetite, doesn't it?"
  • "My, what big teeth he has!"
  • "He just doesn't get enough to eat, does he?"
  • "Male bull sharks eat alone." (This one is odd because it is attached to only scene where the shark devours a single male victim.)
  • "Vhat, a little kosher meal?" (Interesting in that none of the victims in this scene seem to be obviously Jewish in any way whatsoever, not that they couldn't possibly have been. And if there were, how offensive would this be?)
  • "A bull shark is your worst nightmare."
But enough of the oddly inserted Professor Squid moments. Surprisingly, there is a ridiculously convoluted plot in Marina Monster built around an annual regatta event called the "Around the Bay" race. It's really not worth following through even the first scene, but the director's website insists it is based on Romeo and Juliet. (But sadly, no suicide parts.) Yes, there are a lead couple in the film that are secretly in love at the start of the film, and their respective fathers are each from a different rival yacht club. But for most of Marina Monster, we get no recognizable romantic feeling from these characters until very deep into the story, and really only after the shark is dispatched four/fifths of the way through the running time.

The real plot of the film involves Commodore Drip Molar, head of the regatta committee, who has squandered the yacht club's funds and needs to win the big race to save his ass. His current wife (his third) is fooling around with anybody she can get her hands on, including his son Earl, quite against Earl's wishes. (Her big come-on line is "My name is San-dee, but I'm smooth." It is one of many failed double entendres buried in this movie.)  Also, one of the Commodore's exes wants him back and is willing to blackmail him to get her wish. The Commodore is also deeply involved financially with a drug dealer (who looks like he stepped right out of Miami Vice) named Surf Toe. Part of the reason for the plot getting so confused is that new characters -- not counting the dock victims -- are still being introduced past the halfway point.

Every character seems to either have slept with the other characters, or wants to sleep with the other characters. Everyone flirts endlessly, saying odd pickup lines quite out of sync with the rest of the action going on around them. Most of the characters also think nothing of trying to seduce other characters directly in front of girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, and husbands. The camera, too, gets into the horny act. While women are certainly capable of creating exploitation films of both the softcore and hardcore varieties, it is still rather odd that the camera will almost unconsciously drift down to ogle the bosoms of various women -- whether said bosoms are worthy of ogling or not -- and will do so often when fading out of a scene. Since the film is not sold as a softcore product at all and actually has zero nudity in it, there is a great reliance on breast shots and the aforementioned comic sound effects that go with those shots. 

In one scene featuring otherwise unnamed and heretofore unknown victims, one young woman (definitely one of the fairer ones in the film) is never really given a closeup so that we really know what she looks like. But her breasts sure get a closeup. After her would-be boyfriend falls into the water, she runs along the dock and the camera stays tight on her chest and stomach for the entire run, until she too falls in to be eaten by the shark. It is scenes like this that really make me wonder what the aims of the filmmaker were in creating this film. As I mentioned, through her dialogue and scenario, she seems remarkably naive about sexual affairs. It is entirely possible that her goals were merely a personal "whim" (i.e., Whitlock loves titties), and were that to be revealed to me, I would be just dandy with it. Until then, the true meaning remains a mystery.

Also, my guess about the actors being friends of the director stems mainly from the fact that there seems to have been little thought given to just who should play what role, like she just said, "Hey, do you want a part in my film?" and then choosing a random name in the screenplay and saying, "Here... play this character." Couples seem truly mismatched, most of the cast is physically what many would term "sloppy" (there are four or five traditionally attractive females -- all playing shark victims -- in the usual cinematic sense), and even the lead parts seem to have been given to their actors "just because". That said, I guess that I do have to applaud Whitlock for putting just anybody in this film no matter what body type they possess, and in bikinis no less... and then pushing them off a dock to get eaten by a shark. It's like she is taking a stand against body-shaming, and then suddenly having a change of heart partway through that stand.

With around sixteen minutes to go in this seventy-minute film, we finally get the big "Around the Bay" race. This apparently consists of generic, absolutely non-thrilling sailing footage posing as a regatta race around the bay, all shot from far away from the boats. In fact, except for the bit that I am about mention in a few seconds, there is no attempt at all at showing an actual boat with one of the characters from the film manning it as they sail about on the waters of the bay. The closest we get is a shot of two boats in the distance, with subtitles underneath each boat telling us which one is Skip and which one is Drip.

There is, however, around the fifty-six minute mark of Marina Monster, a five-minute segment of the film where its visual style is completely at odds with the rambling, unintentionally hilarious stillness that precedes it. We get a real, close-up glimpse of the monster shark, a seemingly papier-mâché creation that, quite surprising, not only talks but sings, "Give me yum yums!" in a style that must have been inspired by Little Shop of Horrors. He only sings that line a couple of times before the hero arrives to dispatch him, but the appearance of the shark, as no-frills and handmade as he obviously is, came as a welcome relief to this viewer. So, too, did the use of green screen to film the scene of the hero and heroine both being menaced by and killing the monster shark. It looks amateurish and silly, but when matched against everything else in the film, it looks brilliant. It made me wish more of the film had been done in this quite obviously hammy and self-aware style. Naturally, the film doesn't want to be taken seriously at any point, but I would have ironically taken this film more seriously if they had gone out of their way to be a little more craftsmanlike in their silliness.

After forty murders and the revelation of a singing sea-beast, the shark action ends with over thirteen minutes left in the film. In the last decently filmed shot in the film, the Romeo and Juliet couple finally get their smooch on, in another green-screen shot with a pink background and scores of red heart-shaped balloons falling down all around them. It should be noted that Oceanna takes the initiative and dips Earl, planting the massive kiss on him. But after that, what else could they have to do for thirteen minutes? The film snaps out of its brief green-screen reverie and switches back to its previous dull business.

And this is where I tell you that this film is a sequel to another Christine Whitlock-helmed monster fish movie called Sharp Teeth, filmed in 2006. Some of the characters/actors in this film starred in Sharp Teeth as well, including the lead character, Earl Molar. That film was about a normal carp that was mutated into a monstrous killer by a bag of "Experimental Super Grow Fish Food". How do I know this without having seen Sharp Teeth except for a trailer? Well, in those final thirteen minutes, Marina Monster seems to decide to connect the dots with its predecessor and have a couple of characters from the first film show up at the end. Why? Really not sure at all. We get a couple of flashback scenes involving Earl Molar's buddy who is now a cop, and then another where we see a character who is now in a wheelchair due to what happened with the monster carp from Sharp Teeth. After this, the film switches back to Professor Squid again, who says "There are other terrors lurking in the bay!" with a strange intonation. Again, why? And once more, I am not sure. Was there supposed to be a third film to complete this trilogy of harbor-based marine terror?

Whitlock has only produced one other film since then, a Caribbean set "psychological horror" film released in 2013 called Days of the Iguanas. The movie doesn't even appear on IMDb in her filmography, but it is available on Amazon on DVD. I don't know if it has any connection at all with the first two films, but the line early on when the second shark victim tells the first that she will see him in Jamaica has me wondering.

I mentioned in the first line of this piece that if I made a shark movie of the low-budget and low-aiming style of Marina Monster, that I would be happy indeed if my film came out half as stupid as this one does. To be sure, I am envious of filmmakers like Whitlock and her ilk, who do what they have to do to get their goofy projects made, no matter the outcome. Back in Alaska, I had some friends recently take part in a horror spoof called Moose: The Movie, written and directed by other acquaintances. Against all odds, it not only managed to get a fair amount of press during its making and after it was released, but even garnered a couple of decent reviews. This is not par for the course for such projects, of course, and most low-budget, non-Hollywood-based directors have to settle for putting out a movie where everyone involved will basically just have to be excited that it ever got completed. There will be little in the way of tangible success, if any, and they are bound to take a severe critical ravaging from all sides, including dopey websites like mine.

Yes, Marina Monster is insipid and truly bottom of the barrel in every element of its creation. And even though it gets my lowest rating that I can possibly give such a film, that does not mean that I don't admire it in a small, strange way. That is, I wish that I had gotten the chance to make such a film, and to be laughed at roundly for doing so. It wouldn't matter, because I would have made a silly monster shark movie. There is a pride in just doing such a thing. But for now, I guess that I will just be happy that I survived two viewings -- yes, two -- of Marina Monster and feel none the worse for it.

Except for my eyes, which now just want to casually rest upon whichever poorly cast, sloppy bosoms happen to cross my path... DAMN YOU, CHRISTINE WHITLOCK!!! I've been cursed!


Sunday, June 05, 2016

Malibu Shark Attack (2009)

Malibu Shark Attack (2009)
Dir.: David Lister
Cinema 4 Rating: 3/9
Shark species: Goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni), but a prehistoric version, so it's OK that they do things a goblin shark can't. Right?

The goblin shark has a face that only a mother goblin shark could love. Or an ichthyologist. Or me...

With a long, flattened snout that looks like it was daddied by Jimmy Durante himself, jaws that stretch out forward to an improbable length, and a strange pinkish skin tone, goblin sharks seem like a nightmare scenario when seen in the light of day. But it's our light, not theirs, for the goblin shark goes largely unseen by human eyes. I suppose you could say, technically, such a thing about a great many sharks, since they live in the deep, and we only detect the slightest traces of their oceanic omnipresence from our surface world. But goblin sharks tend to live in the real deep deep, dining on fish and other sea creatures in the relative darkness of deepwater canyons and the seabeds of continental slopes. It's also a rather sluggish swimmer, and maintains its standard diet of fishes and crustaceans by use of ambush techniques. Such techniques are somewhat easier to do when it is fairly dark around you.

What goblin sharks don't do is attack man. Human interaction of even a glancing sort is remarkably rare with goblin sharks, and even in big fishing operations where sharks aren't the main target but still get pulled in certain numbers, goblin sharks are very rarely caught or even seen. Just a few here and there. Likewise, they are even less frequently captured on film, though much of what we know about them, outside of direct scientific expedition, is due to photos or film of specimens that have been accidentally caught (and often released) or from casual observances by divers.

But, because of the goblin shark's nightmare appearance, the impulse was bound to spooge out of sleazy Hollywood producers eventually that these sharks would be perfect for a horror film. Kind of like what they did to the cookiecutter sharks in Shark Night. And so, without the slightest thought given that they might damage the reputation of a mostly reclusive and non-threatening species, they gave us Malibu Shark Attack. In this 2009 direct to video feature, a 5.5. magnitude tremor off the coast of California, thought to have caused no damage initially, opens up -- in a manner that probably replicates the way such visions spring from the minds of low-rent moviemakers -- a deep sea rift. From a crack in this rift, a very convenient squadron of abnormally fast prehistoric goblin sharks were just waiting to make a direct beeline (or is it sharkline?) for the beach at Malibu, to start munching on swimmers in a manner that no goblin shark ever has. It's like they were all hanging out just under the rock, itching to get right into swallowing human beings in what is shown to be a natural instinct for them. While the film barely mentions the detail except briefly, Malibu Shark Attack plays hard off of the "prehistoric" angle, in order to give us goblin sharks that would display such an immediate impulse to destroy and devour non-stop (as opposed to their modern descendants). And, of course, swim in a relentlessly speedy manner ill-fitting to the natural physical limitations of their species.

The squad of sharks finds a diver who has the worst timing in the world, and they make quick bloody work of him. Then they munch some blonde nebbish free swimming off the side of a boat. The attacks are quick, and accompanied by a strange, short roaring noise, for whatever reason. (Sharks cannot roar, so knock it off, Hollywood...) While the violence builds as the sharks speed towards the coast, we are subjected to dull romantic business and infighting amongst the team of lifeguards patrolling the beaches at Malibu, including a post-La Femme Nikita (and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) Peta Wilson, looking fairly uncomfortable throughout the film. Wilson's character, Heather, has had an affair with the foreman of a nearby construction crew (Jeff Gannon), much to the chagrin of her lifeguard lover, Chavez (Warren Christie). We are supposed to care about this love triangle, but since both guys are assholes, why even start?

All of this filler, however, gets ignored pretty quickly once the sharks reach the beach area, which is about twenty minutes into the film. A pair of parasailing beachgoers are attacked when they dip briefly into the ocean, and when they are pulled back up into the sky, there is a pretty gruesome shot of the torn away flesh of one of the pair. Some of the blood drips down on the boats below, including the rubber lifeguard raft being driven through the surf by Heather. The blood splatters her, and Peta Wilson had to be thinking, "What has come of my career in such a short time?" Her raft is then bumped by one of the goblin sharks, and when she looks up, there are dorsal fins above the water coming from separate directions at her. Heather gets knocked out of the raft by the goblin sharks, but before they can collect their tasty prize, she is pulled from the water by Chavez, who is patrolling around on a jet ski.

At this point early on in the film, as the lifeguards call everyone out of the water, it seems that it would be pretty easy to end the film right here. With nobody in the water, and the sharks kept in it, how can there be a shark attack film? Unless the sharks turn out to be land sharks or something else ridiculous. 

Well, there is that bugger of a tremor I mentioned earlier on, and it turns out the early reports of "no damage" will have to be amended. The tremor has triggered a tsunami, which gets reported by the Coast Guard just as the sharks are starting to zip at ridiculous speeds for goblin sharks towards the beach. We then see some terrible CGI animation of what is described as a "100-foot high" wall of water heading towards the coast. Meanwhile, Heather and Chavez are headed back to the beach, with a particularly nasty goblin shark coming up fast on jet ski. As they reach the shore, one of the other lifeguards fires a rifle into the surf, first clipping a bit off the dorsal fin of the shark, and then sending a second shot straight through its head. The shark glides to a stop in the sand at the feet of the assembled lifeguards, and coughs up blood and some human remains to their great disgust. Barb (Sonya Salomaa), also a marine biologist, recognizes the species as a goblin shark, but says they were thought to be extinct. This means either she is a terrible marine biologist, because goblin sharks have been known to be with us in the modern age for a very long time, or she meant a prehistoric variety. (She never specifies... I am banking on the shitty scientist part...)

While all of the tourists seem to depart in time to escape the monster waves, the lifeguards decide the best course of action is to hole up in their lifeguard shelter in the middle of the beach. The wave hits, Malibu is flooded, and the lifeguard shack sits by its lonesome in the middle of the water, its office floor sticking up barely above the surface of the water. (This itself is annoying, since news reports have the area as being "under 30 feet of water"; the shack, at the edge of the ocean itself, seems to under no more than eight to ten  feet.)

The remainder of the drama will occur in Malibu Shark Attack on two fronts: first in the stranded lifeguard shack, and secondly, at the equally stranded construction area, where Heather's construction foreman lover and his co-workers will try to find a way across the water to safety. We get horribly match CGI where a goblin shark breaches fully out of the water in a manner that is mostly confined to great whites, where it grabs a construction worker bodily and pulls him down into the water depths for lunch. We get scene after scene of a couple of goblin sharks using their huge noses to smash their way through the bottom of the lifeguard house, forcing the lifeguards to climb to the roof. Everyone makes their escape, meets up with the construction guys, and it builds to a climax where much of the main cast both separately and together face off with each remaining goblin shark in a power tool versus serrated teeth battle for the ages. Or at least for 2009.

I guess my chief problem with the sharks in this film is that they seem compelled to just merely kill, not feed. You would think their hunger would have been sated pretty quickly, no matter how long they may have trapped in that underground rift or channel or whatever was opened up the earthquake. But, if they had survived down there since prehistoric times, there must have been a steady food supply to allow this species to propagate and make it to 2009 (the year this film was released). So why are they so goddamned hungry? And if they aren't hungry, were prehistoric shark just more murderous by nature? Maybe the filmmakers are suggesting that these individual goblin shark are millions of years old each and haven't eaten, literally in eons? Then the filmmakers are dumber than the biologist in their own movie.

Look... I get it. I understand the B-movie impulse, perhaps better than most people. Something happens in the news, and you figure out how to exploit to make a quick buck and to give your film an exciting angle at the same time. The goblin shark parallel seems to have been inspired by a 2003 tsunami off of Japan, where scores of goblin sharks allegedly washed up onshore. Not attack people, not eat lifeguards... just washed up onshore. But it seems that when they designed their villains for Malibu Shark Attack, they simply looked at a picture of a goblin shark, and didn't ask any questions related to how a goblin shark might actually behave. And because such filmmakers are only interested in dwelling upon the most notorious aspects of shark behavior -- namely, that a tiny handful of species will occasionally, and mostly by accident or curiosity, taste human flesh -- they tend to ascribe that behavior to all sharks automatically, from great whites down to cookiecutters. In this case, they wanted a scary-looking shark, nothing more, and goblins fit the bill. And so we get films like Malibu Shark Attack, where they try to get novel by giving us a species we never see as a beach villain in other films, but never use logic to figure out there is a reason why we never see this. Because the goblin shark, despite its appearance befitting a Halloween haunted house setting, is simply not that kind of shark.

Frankly, it is amazing that film producers haven't gotten to other more well-known sharks first. They haven't figured out a way crossbred a whale shark (a filter feeder, mind you) with an orca yet. Yet, that is.

Coming to a theatre near you... Killer Whale Shark!! And Sea World thought Blackfish was trouble...