Showing posts with label ocean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ocean. Show all posts

Mar 29, 2020


Man…remember Deep Rising? If you’ve seen it, of course you do. And if you haven’t, I pity that you’ve lived the last 20 years of your life without it.

Not that director Stephen Sommers went on to a career of critical darlings, but he did godfather Universal’s pre-Dark Universe reboot of The Mummy, which saw him direct the initial film along with The Mummy Returns. Though The Mummy series went on to make billions of dollars and even inspire a theme park ride, none of them managed to contain the same level of charm and unpretentious big-screen thrills of Deep Rising. They contained the same sense of adventure as was present in Deep Rising, along with the same wise-cracking hero. But with Deep Rising being an R-rated affair, we also got a healthy dose of beautiful violence.

Deep Rising is an amalgamation of a great many inspirations: the films of Ray Harryhausen, disaster flicks like The Poseidon Adventure, a twist of Die Hard, and fun monster titles from the atomic age such as the original Godzilla and It Came from Beneath the Sea. Treat Williams’ Finnegan is clearly modeled on The Evil Dead’s Ashley J. Williams, from the drab, makeshift, army/navy surplus wardrobe, to the shotgun strapped to his back, to his sardonic and cynical take on life. Williams (Treat, not Ash) rarely enjoys the lead role, as he’s done mostly character work throughout his career, but he sinks every tooth he has into John Finnegan, imbuing him with life and creating an absolutely lovable hero in the mold of not just a chainsaw-wielding Ash but also Indiana Jones.

Deep Rising boasts a solid supporting cast of character actors, including Last of the Mohicans’ Wes Studi as the leader of the mercenaries along with Silence of the Lambs’ Anthony Heald, who, to my knowledge, has never not played a dick. I like to think he and William Atherton grab drinks every so often and have a literal dick-measuring contest as they debate all the dick characters they’ve played over the years. Beyond them, there’s also the early on-screen appearance of a gorgeous Famke Janssen (The X-Men), playing the con-artist/grifter/femme fatale (because every sea monster flick needs one).

Horror films are rarely fun anymore; now it’s all slight teen thrillers about how scary the internet is. And that’s boring. Deep Rising is fun. 

Mar 24, 2020

THE RIFT (1990)

With a mere two films, director J.P. Simon has done more for my life than other filmmakers who have made actual good films that I liked reasonably well. The first of these discoveries was Slugs, bought on a whim at a local record-and-tape trader I frequented for the sole reason of seeking random and obscure horror films. With the cover art of a dead woman’s bloody face leaning against a bathroom tiled wall, and with a slug right next to her — obviously the culprit — well, I knew I had to have it. And it was a wonderful, slimy mess of a film. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me to look into Simon’s filmography; instead, I went on my merry way (and probably discovered Tourist Trap).

During this time, while perusing those “bad movie” compilations on YouTube, I became aware of the existence of Pieces, courtesy of Linda Day George’s repeated and increasingly dramatic screaming of “bastard!” into the sky above her. Again, such a fraction of the overall film was enough for me to know it was something I had to have. And I did. I’ve owned Pieces on multiple formats, including Grindhouse Releasing’s recent and beautiful Blu-ray release. It’s one which receives a decent amount of playtime because of how fucking happy it makes me.

Which brings us to The Rift.

Released in 1990 as Endless Descent, The Rift was originally destined for theaters before it did an about-face and instead debuted on video after a very select theatrical release. The finished film is your best explanation of why. The Rift is goofy as hell, but somewhat disappointingly, not as goofy as Simon’s previous goofiness. Ultimately the film falls somewhere into a no-man’s land; not quite dumb enough to be as celebrated as Pieces or Slugs, but certainly not at all good enough to be accepted by both critics and mainstream audiences, The Rift is just kind of there and only occasionally entertaining for all the wrong reasons. (The death scene for “Skeets,” played by John Toles-Bey, is definitely one of the highlights. And don’t start yelling “hey, spoilers!” because this was an ’80s horror film and Toles-Bey is black and them’s the rules.)

As usual, R. Lee Ermey plays a rigid and gruff military man (how non-traditional!) but manages to not come off as poorly as everyone else — and the entire film around him. Simon’s tendency to have actors loop most of their dialogue in post-production hinders nearly every performance, giving it that awkwardness of which only joint Italian/Spanish and American productions were capable. Jack Scalia suffers the most, as every line he recites seems to be tinged with disbelief and near over-enjoyment. Ray Wise is given very little to do except stare intently at a computer screen, at least until the third act, in which he’s…well…given more to do. Where The Rift doesn’t disappoint is with its less than effective employment of practical effects. Shots of the submarine submerged are hilariously model-like, and so many heads get blown off either humans or sea creatures that one can’t help but smile (because one is very sick).

The Rift is every underwater ocean thriller that came before it, taking its cue mostly from ones not-so-memorable. Deep Star Six, Leviathan, mixed with aspects of better sci-fi classics The Thing, Alien, and The Abyss — that’s The Rift. Not as well directed as Slugs (seriously, some of Slugs is downright great!), and lacking the grindhouse nastiness of Pieces, The Rift is a very okay way to spend 82 minutes. It’s hard to say how much rewatchability it has, except for the good parts, and it’s certainly not one of J.P. Simon’s more celebrated titles, but hey, if it makes someone out there as happy as Pieces makes me, then I’m glad for them. Internet high-five.

Not at all a “good” film, but sadly, one that also doesn’t quite scratch that “so bad it’s good” itch like J.P. Simon’s more celebrated titles, The Rift has moments of cheese that nearly reach the heights of bad moviedom. Things to love: the terrible dialogue, awkward performances, do-it-yourself special effects, and obviously nice helping of bloody chunkiness. Things not to love: too-long scenes of people staring dramatically at radar and looking shocked, or half-baked marital distress straight out of The Abyss that’s given very little room to breathe. The Rift is what it is, and what it is ain't great.

Mar 5, 2020


During 1999, there was one title in particular at the Sundance Film Festival that had people abuzz: The Blair Witch Project. The cheap and independently produced film made by a bunch of kids with very little experience managed to scare the hell out of attending critics and set off a bidding war by several major studios before mini-distributor Artisan Entertainment (now defunct and owned by Lionsgate Films) became the victor. The rest, as they say, is history. Not only did The Blair Witch Project change the way filmmakers approached the medium, it also added a new kind of film for which potential distributors should look — the cheaply produced thriller that, with clever marketing, had the power to be immensely profitable with little risk. Every year following, people were on the lookout for the next Blair Witch

In 2003, the same thing occurred at Sundance, only this film was Open Water, another cheaply and independently produced film made by inexperienced filmmakers with no-name actors. Based on a true story (unlike The Blair Witch Project, which only pretended to be), Open Water depicted a couple left behind in the middle of the ocean during a vacation scuba-diving trip, only to be slowly surrounded by sharks. While it didn’t capture the attention of the masses in the same way its witchy predecessor did, it still managed to make a splash with critics, who praised the film’s ingenuity and creativity in the face of budgetary restrictions. (Real sharks too, by the way — in the same water as the actors.)

And then along came The Reef several years later. The Australian production was a slicker product with a slightly higher budget, but also basically the same thing: shipwrecked people surrounded by sharks, each dying off one by one. It was an effective little number, even if the concept was a little less novel. (If we want to credit a sole inspiration for all of these sharks vs. people conflicts in modern cinema, maybe we can point to Quint’s stirring and still-famous U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue from JAWS.)

And this has led to The Shallows, which, again, explores the concept of one person being trapped in the middle of the ocean by a monstrous shark that WILL eat her, even IF there’s a giant whale just a few feet away that it could eat instead. (Sharks like whale meat so much that mass feedings have turned into orgies—just sayin'.) But instead of the independently produced version of this concept with a realistic and downbeat finale, The Shallows is very Hollywood, sticking the beautiful Blake Lively in a tight wetsuit, tighter bikini, and pitting her against an unrealistically behaving CGI shark. Along the way she becomes friends with a bird, talks to herself a lot, and manages to pull off the impossible, which I can’t expound upon without getting into spoiler territory.

As dumb as that all sounds (and it is dumb), The Shallows is easy entertainment and exactly the kind of film it set out to be. The film’s marketing was quick to liken it to this generation’s JAWS and that’s kind of accurate, except it’s essentially a feature length version of JAWS' final five minutes made for the instagram generation. When theaters were flooded with multi Saws and Hostels, the term “torture porn” was coined (but used incorrectly as often as “hipster” is today); spinning off from that, The Shallows is basically shark porn: camera close-ups of Blake Lively’s flawlessly toned and tanned body, intercut with ominous underwater shots or dark silhouettes housed in waves signifying the presence of a shark. “Did you see that?” audience members likely asked and pointed to the shadow in the wave. But no, the glimpse is gone; now it’s back to a close-up of Lively’s bikinied bottom, or side-breast, or tropical ocean water dripping off her blonde hair. It’s absurd and not exactly subtle; again, it’s easy entertainment, at which director Jaume Collett-Sera excels. Vaulted into the game following his better-than-expected horror film Orphan, this is the kind of playground where he’s best utilized. 

Amidst all the unnecessary and already dated speed-ramping, there are moments of genuine effectiveness, generally when Blake Lively’s Nancy is getting beaten up by the ocean. And this sounds like mockery, but it’s not; as she’s taken by the tide and rolled over sharp coral on the ocean floor, or during the first shark attack sequence, you imagine you’re feeling her pain. You cringe at the sight and your body tenses as if you’re about to feel shark teeth in your leg. Collett-Serra knows what he’s doing, even if he chooses to do it for concepts that are about 90% close to being real, actual films. And sequences like these are strikingly realized — especially the before mentioned initial shark attack.

Despite the modern age's well established dependence on CGI, the shark looks terrible. The dummy version is obviously a dummy, and the CGI version is more obviously CGI. They must know this, as the shark only features on screen for maybe less than a minute, with the usual fin and shadow shots doing much of the heavy lifting. Every appearance of the CGI shark is distracting. Because the audience (hopefully) knows the filmmakers didn’t use a real great white shark (they don’t take well to animal training, in case you never knew that), they immediately look to deduce “the trick”—to determine the “how did they do that?” of it all. Well, the answer is easy: computers. And from the looks of it, quickly, and on the cheap.

The Sci-Fi/Syfy Channel, especially their grating and brainless Sharknado films, have done enough damage to the killer shark sub-genre that The Shallows actually manages to leave a not-so-sour taste in your mouth as the credits roll. It’s popcorn entertainment at its truest definition, but sometimes a little popcorn is okay. Lively actually puts a lot of effort into what must have been a physically strenuous role, and the crew deserves accolades for filming almost exclusively on the ocean, which is extremely difficult just from a logistical standpoint. The Shallows won’t make you forget JAWS or Open Water, but it’s certainly better than Deep Blue Sea and Shark Night, and in the age of Sharknado and Mega-Shark versus Roger Corman, I’ll take it.