Speed 2: Cruise Control

Speed 2: Cruise Control

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Today’s feature is yet another truly reviled, unnecessary sequel: “Speed 2: Cruise Control.”

“Speed 2” was directed, produced, and co-written by Jan De Bont, who has had a significant career as both a director and a cinematographer, working on such films as “Roar,” “Twister,” “The Haunting,” and “Leonard Part 6.” The screenplay writing credit for “Speed 2” was given to two other people: Randall McCormick (“Titan A.E.,” “The Scorpion King 2,” “The Scorpion King 3”) and Jeff Nathanson (“Catch Me If You Can,” “Rush Hour 2,” “Rush Hour 3”).

Character creation credit for “Speed 2” was given to the writer of “Speed,” Graham Yost (“Mission to Mars,” “Justified”), who was apparently bumped from the creative side of “Speed 2” early on in the project due to a difference of vision from De Bont.

The cinematographer for “Speed 2” was Jack N. Green, who also shot such movies as “Unforgiven,” “The Net,” and, more recently, “Hot Tub Time Machine.”

The musical score for “Speed 2” was provided by Mark Mancina, who has composed music for such films as “Space Mutiny,” “Con Air,” and “Twister.”

The editor for “Speed 2” was Alan Cody, who has cut a number of comedy movies like “Corky Romano” and “Inspector Gadget.”

The massive special effects team for “Speed 2” included Mike Reedy (“Daredevil,” “RoboCop 3,” “TRON”), Tom von Badinski (“Epic Movie,” “Waterworld”), Al Broussard (“Mimic,” “Volcano”), Paul Stewart (“Tango & Cash”), Bruce Robles (“Lethal Weapon,” “Virtuosity”), Al Di Sarro (“Predator”), Craig Barnett (“Deep Blue Sea,” “Congo”), David Eland (“Cellular”), Mike Sasgen (“Torque,” “Demolition Man”), Timothy Vierra (“Small Soldiers”), Michael Tice (“Toys,” “Jaws: The Revenge”), and many, many others.

The visual effects team for “Speed 2” included numerous members of Industrial Light and Magic and Rhythm and Hues, two highly acclaimed effects studios. The film’s team thus had common elements with such productions as “Minority Report,” “Congo,” “Small Soldiers,” “Hudson Hawk,” “Titanic,” “Avatar,” “Pacific Rim,” “The Golden Child,” “Antz,” “Shrek,” “Deep Blue Sea,” and “Star Wars: Episode I.”

Aside from Jan De Bont, the other producers for “Speed 2” were Mark Gordon (“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Speed”), Steve Perry (“True Romance,” “Road House”), Michael Peyser (“Hackers”), and Glenn Salloum (“Twister,” “SLC Punk”), who was also De Bont’s longtime assistant.

The three art directors for “Speed 2” were William Ladd Skinner (“Rocky IV,” “Heaven’s Gate,” “1941,” “Rollerball”), Daniel Ross (“Casino,” “Jingle All The Way”), and Dan Olexiewicz (“American History X”).

Astoundingly, due to the amount of shooting necessary for “Speed 2”, the production necessitated a first assistant director, a second unit director,  a first assistant director for the second unit, a second assistant director, a second assistant director for the second unit, and two second second assistant directors. Try listing all of those credits three times fast.

The cast of “Speed 2” is headlined by Sandra Bullock (“The Net,” “Demolition Man”), Willem DaFoe (“Shadow of the Vampire,” “Mississippi Burning”), Jason Patric (“Sleepers,” “The Lost Boys”), Temuera Morrison (“Star Wars: Episode II,” “Green Lantern”), Bo Svenson (“Walking Tall Part II”), and Brian McCardie (“Filth,” “Rob Roy”).

speedtwo3The story of “Speed 2” picks up with Sandra Bullock’s character a number of months after the events of “Speed.” Keanu Reeves is long gone, and she is well into a new relationship. The new boyfriend, in an attempt to propose to her, decides to surprise her with a cruise vacation. Unfortunately, their ship is highjacked, and it is up to the couple to save the passengers from a raging computer genius with an axe to grind with the cruise line company.

Keanu Reeves was initially supposed to return and reprise his role from “Speed,” and the screenplay was written with that in mind. However, he turned it down, choosing specifically to not do another action movie. Bafflingly, there were almost no changes to the script after he declined, making the central romantic plot thoroughly confusing throughout the film.

Keanu’s departure also meant that the production was thrown into a bit of a casting pickle. Before Jason Patric was settled on, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bon Jovi, and Christian Slater were all apparently considered for the lead role.

One of the key differences between “Speed” and “Speed 2” is the amount of attempted humor, which is apparently something that Jan De Bont specifically pushed for to differentiate the film from “Speed.”

The dramatic finale sequence, in which the cruise ship runs aground through a coastal town, reportedly cost $25 million on its own, making it the most expensive stunt in history at the time. The entire town was built from scratch, and the entire front of the ship portrayed was real (it was run on an underwater rail), with only the back half being filled in with computer generation for the sequence.

speedtwo4Sandra Bullock has gone on record as saying that “Speed 2” is “the biggest piece of crap ever made,” a claim that many critics and audiences might agree with. The reception for “Speed 2” was incredibly poor, earning Rotten Tomatoes scores of 3% (critics) and 16% (audience), along with an IMDb rating of 3.7. However, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel both surprisingly gave the film positive reviews, going against the popular grain.

The budget for “Speed 2” was an outlandish (for the time) estimated $160 million. Through its theatrical run, it managed to pull in a tiny profit, grossing $164 million total. Interestingly, over 70% of the total gross came from foreign markets, and it was considered a major disappointment domestically in spit of making some money.

My biggest issue “Speed 2” is that Bullock’s character is immensely unlikable. The problem is primarily due to how much the screenplay tries to use her for comic relief, which she rarely pulls off. Part of that is on Bullock, but most of it is definitely the fault of the writing, which provides awful stilted dialogue throughout the film. That bad writing also negatively effects the relationship chemistry between Patric and Bullock, which the fans of the first movie are mostly already pulling against due to their attachment to Keanu’s character.

Unfortunately for the film, the absence of Keanu Reeves is constantly evident. Jason Patric, shockingly, lacks the same on-screen presence and charisma that Reeves provided, and Keanu isn’t exactly an inspiring figure to start with. If the movie hadn’t been a contractual obligation, Keanu’s decision not to return should have killed it before filming ever started.

speedtwo2“Speed 2” clocks in at roughly 2 hours, much longer than most would be willing to devote to a movie about a boat slowly inching towards a stationary object. The film could clearly have been cut better, and the pacing throughout the finale feels like the team was afraid to cut anything because of how expensive it all was. Frankly, the whole ending sequence seems to drag on indefinitely, with numerous false conclusions that make “Leviathan” look like a masterpiece.

One of the most baffliing aspect of “Speed 2” is how many people supposedly fail to see a gigantic cruise ship bearing down on them. The film features water skiers, sailboats, and pedestrians not noticing the presence and roar of a cruise ship until it is literally feet away from them, which is asking a little much from the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Speaking of which, the unspoken death toll from the events of the film must have been massive, given the number of buildings and watercraft crushed beneath the ship.

Overall, “Speed 2” certainly isn’t a good movie. Ironically, its biggest sin is being too slow, but the writing certainly didn’t do it any favors. The finale is a spectacle I suppose, but one that drags on a little too long for my taste. That said, Willem DaFoe hams his role up immensely, and livens up his segments.

speedtwo5When it comes to making a recommendation on “Speed 2,” I want to leave readers with a quick excerpt from Roger Ebert’s positive review. Despite the film’s flaws, he has a good point here:

Is the movie fun? Yes. Especially when the desperate Bullock breaks into a ship’s supply cabinet and finds a chainsaw, which I imagine all ships carry. And when pleasure boaters somehow fail to see a full-size runaway ocean liner until it is three feet from them. Movies like this embrace goofiness with an almost sensual pleasure. And so, on a warm summer evening, do I.

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Breakfast of Champions

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Today’s feature is the ill-received adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s lauded novel “Breakfast of Champions,” starring Bruce Willis and Nick Nolte.

“Breakfast of Champions” was written for the screen and directed by Alan Rudolph (“Buffalo Bill and The Indians,” “Afterglow,” “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”), based on the famous and acclaimed surreal novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

The cinematographer for “Breakfast of Champions” was Elliot Davis, who has done shooting work since for films like “Twilight,” “Legally Blonde 2,” “Lords of Dogtown,” and “Finding Graceland.”

The effects team for “Breakfast of Champions” included Chris Wells (“Torque,” “Looper,” “Captain America: The First Avenger”), Robert Stromberg (“Battlefield Earth,” “Fortress”), Richard Ivan Mann (“Spider-Man 3,” “The Happening,” “Tank Girl”), Steven Fagerquist (“From Justin To Kelly,” “The Terminator,” “Van Helsing”), Mark Breakspear (“The Last Airbender,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “American Sniper”), Rob Blue (“The Faculty,” “Small Soldiers,” “Bad Boys II”), Ray Brown (“Class of 1999,” “Ultraviolet”), and Bob Riggs (“Next,” “Green Lantern,” “Rush Hour 3”).

breakfastofchampions5The producers for “Breakfast of Champions” included David Blocker (“Frailty,” “Into The Wild”),  W. Mark McNair (“Into The Storm,” “Joy Ride”), and Bruce Willis’s brother David Willis (“Hudson Hawk,” “The Kid”), as well as Willis’s frequent producer and assistant Stephen J. Eads (“The Whole Nine Yards,” “Bandits”).

The editor for “Breakfast of Champions” was Suzy Elmiger, who has also cut films such as “Movie 43” and “Feel The Noise.”

The music for “Breakfast of Champions” was composed by Academy Award nominee Mark Isham, who also provided music for films such as “Next,” “Timecop,” “Point Break,” “The Cooler,” “Quiz Show,” and “A River Runs Through It.”

The cast for “Breakfast of Champions” is actually pretty impressive, headlined by Bruce Willis and Nick Nolte (who had previously starred in another Vonnegut adaptation, “Mother Night”). The accessory cast includes Albert Finney (“Skyfall,” “Erin Brockovich”), Barbara Hershey (“Insidious,” “Falling Down”), Glenne Headly (“ER,” “Dick Tracy”), Lukas Haas (“Brick,” “Inception”), Omar Epps (“House,” “Dracula 2000”), Vicki Lewis (“Mousehunt,” “Godzilla”), Buck Henry (“Catch-22,” “The Graduate”), Owen Wilson (“Anaconda,” “Inherent Vice”), Will Patton (“Gone In 60 Seconds,” “The Postman”), Chip Zien (“Howard The Duck”), Michael Jai White (“Spawn,” “The Dark Knight,” “Black Dynamite”), and Michael Clarke Duncan (“Daredevil,” “The Green Mile”), among others.

breakfastofchampions4The story of “Breakfast of Champions” primarily follows a used car dealer who is rapidly descending into madness, though segments also spotlight a struggling eccentric author and an assortment of other local characters in a Midwestern town.

An intriguing number of cast members in “Breakfast of Champions” also appeared in the previous year’s blockbuster, “Armageddon,” including Bruce Willis, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Patton, Owen Wilson, Ken Hudson Campbell, and Shawnee Smith.

breakfastofchampions2“Breakfast of Champions” had a production budget of $12 million, and didn’t even gross 500,000 in a very limited theatrical release, making it a massive bomb. It was also incredibly poorly received, earning a 4.6 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 32% (audience) and 26% (critics). Kurt Vonnegut himself has apparently claimed that the film is “painful to watch.”

The Entertainment Weekly review of “Breakfast of Champions” written by Owen Gleiberman included the following criticism of the film:

What thrived in the book was Vonnegut’s portrait of post-counterculture America turned into an ironic landscape of happy-face consumerism. Rudolph, in an act of insane folly, seems to think that what matters is the story. The result could almost be his version of a Robert Altman disaster — a movie so unhinged it practically dares you not to hate it.

Admittedly, “Breakfast of Champions” is clearly a difficult source material to adapt to the screen. However, Gleiberman hits on one of the key problems with this attempt: the story of the novel doesn’t matter nearly as much as the atmosphere and the tone, which are the elements that the film somehow totally manages to miss. The odd charm and screwball cynicism didn’t make the jump from the page to the screen here, even if the gist of the story did.

breakfastofchampions3To the credit of the filmmakers, there was at least an attempt to integrate the distinctive illustrations from the book into the film, but they just didn’t work in the same way. A lot of the humor of the novel comes in the form of the various descriptions of the sketches, which never comes through in the movie. The story and characters written by Vonnegut often require a lot of internal dialogue, which can be difficult to pull off on screen. Of the Vonnegut film adaptations I have seen, “Mother Night” does it the best, but it also doesn’t have to deal with the burden of being comedic.

breakfastofchampions6 breakfastofchampions7I’ve noticed that some people have praised Bruce Willis’s performance in the film, but I personally feel like he was strangely cast and not quite suited for the dramatic elements of the role. Throughout the movie, he seems to struggle in portraying the emotional spectrum and sporadic instability of his character. On the other hand, I thought Nick Nolte was fantastic in his seemingly limited screen time in the film, and was the only thing keeping me at all invested in the movie.

Some have claimed that “Breakfast of Champions,” for all of its flaws, is a striking visual movie. Personally, I couldn’t disagree with that assessment more. The movie just looks bad, particularly when there are any surreal special effects called for. They would have been better off not using effects at all than having ones that make the movie look cheap, which is what the case ultimately was here.

Overall, “Breakfast of Champions” fails to capture the surreal comedy of the source material, and winds up being a pretty dull watch. There are some decent performances, but the total sum product is nonsense in the worst possible way. I don’t recommend giving it a watch unless you are a die hard Vonnegut fan, or are just deathly curious.

Mac And Me

Mac And Me

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Today’s feature is the infamous McDonald’s commercial and “E.T.” knockoff, “Mac And Me.”

“Mac And Me” was written and directed by Stewart Raffill, who is best known for the films “Mannequin: On The Move” and “The Philadelphia Experiment.” The film was also co-written by Steve Feke, who has penned such flick as “When A Stranger Calls” and “Poltergeist III.”

The effects team on “Mac And Me” included Joseph Yanuzzi (“Ghost Dad,” “Saturday the 14th”), Steven James (“Leviathan,” “The Monster Squad”), William Forsche (“Dead Heat,” “Dolls,” “From Beyond”), and Martin Becker (“Suburban Commando”).

The cinematographer for “Mac And Me” was Nick McLean, who also shot movies like “Spaceballs,” “The Goonies,” and “Stroker Ace.”

The score for “Mac And Me” was provided by Alan Silvestri, who has accrued well over 100 composing credits for films including “Van Helsing,” “Super Mario Bros.,” “The Avengers,” “Forrest Gump,” and “Predator 2.”

The editor for “Mac And Me” was Tom Walls, who has cut a handful of movies including “Bachelor Party,” “House Party 3,” and “Surf Ninjas.”

One of the producers on “Mac And Me” was Mark Damon, who was a driving force behind the loathed “It’s Alive” remake, as well as films like “Short Circuit” and “The Lost Boys.” Another producer was R.J. Louis, whose credits include “Vegas Vacation” and “The Karate Kid.”

The cast for “Mac And Me” includes Christine Ebersole (“The Wolf Of Wall Street”), Jonathan Ward (“Steel Magnolias”), Danny Cooksey (“Salute Your Shorts,” “Diff’rent Strokes”) Laura Waterbury (“Better Off Dead…”), Bud Ekins (“The Next Karate Kid”), and George Flower (“Maniac Cop,” “They Live,” “The Fog”). In the background, sharp eyes might spot Jennifer Anniston (“Leprechaun”) in her first on-screen appearance, as well as Andrew Divoff of “Wishmaster” and “Air Force One.”

The story of “Mac And Me” follows a family of alien lifeforms who become stranded on Earth, and have to find a way to escape from evil scientists from NASA who want to experiment on them. As you might expect, they befriend a kind-hearted band of children along the way and become involved in an assortment of shenanigans.

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“Mac And Me” has regained a degree of cult notoriety thanks to the Hollywood actor Paul Rudd, who has repeatedly played a specific clip from the movie whenever he has appeared on Conan O’Brien’s late night talk shows.

“Mac And Me” is probably the best known of the many “E.T.” knockoffs that spawned throughout the 1980s, which include other infamous films like “Nukie” and “Pod People.”

The infamous dance scene in “Mac And Me” was filmed in a McDonald’s constructed specifically for filming purposes, and has been used for commercials, films, and training videos.

“Mac And Me” was made with a profit sharing agreement with Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities. Unfortunately, the film was a financial disappointment, failing to make a profit on its estimated $13 million budget, grossing just under $6.5 million in its total theatrical run.

“Mac And Me” won two Golden Raspberries at the 1988 Razzie Awards, but ultimately lost worst feature to “Cocktail” in a competitive year that also featured the much-loathed sequel “Caddyshack II.”

“E.T. and Me” was the initial planning title for the screenplay that became “E.T.,” and was clearly the inspiration for the title of “Mac And Me.”

Apparently, both Kim Basinger and Anjelica Huston declined offers to play the lead role in “Mac And Me,” with Basinger choosing to instead star in “My Stepmother Is An Alien,” another awful alien-themed comedy movie.

The reception for “Mac And Me” was astoundingly poor, and the film currently hold an astounding 0% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience score is a still-awful 38%, which lands along the same lines as the IMDb rating of 3.4.

One of the most frequent criticisms of “Mac And Me” that I have seen focuses on the flagrant product placement that is inserted throughout the film for companies and products such as McDonald’s, Sears, and Coca-Cola. The presence of product placement is more or less a staple in modern film-making, but “Mac and Me” lacks any degree of subtlety about the practice, placing it in an elite echelon with films like “Foodfight!” and “Torque.” Audiences will tolerate and even embrace a slight degree of product placement, but the more evident it is, the more people are likely to take issue with it. The fact that “Mac And Me” was already obviously a financial rip-off of another movie didn’t exactly give audiences or critics the incentive to be charitable, and people were brutal in their complaints about the excessive advertising in the film. One critic went to far as to refer to the film as “a 99-minute commercial occasionally interrupted by a not-so-good children`s movie.”

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It should come as no surprise, but the acting in “Mac And Me” is astoundingly terrible. This is partly due to the fact that so much of the acting load is put on to children, who are prone to be awful actors to begin with. However, the kids in “Mac And Me” struck me as awful even by child acting standards, and are honest difficult to watch and listen to.

The alien designs and effects in “Mac And Me” are frankly awful. “E.T.” wasn’t an attractive alien by any means, but he looks like a work of art next to the rubbery, bizarre appearance of the “Mac And Me” walking nightmare creatures. For a movie like this, the creatures should be a focal point with an immense amount of effort and care dedicated to them. Instead, it looks like the aliens were afterthoughts in “Mac And Me”, and even look worse than b-movie stop motion aliens from films like “Laserblast,” which was released a whole ten years before “Mac And Me” (on what was certainly a lower budget).

“Mac And Me” is, of course, a truly shameless ripoff of “E.T.,” and wasn’t even particularly well timed for a typical ‘mockbuster’ aiming to profit on the coat tails of a big budget success. I just can’t fathom how it took 6 years to get an “E.T.” imitation out into theaters, and why anyone thought it would be a recipe for success after so many years had passed? For comparison, most of today’s ‘mockbusters’ come out around the same time as the DVD release for their target movie, in the hopes that people will confuse it with the hit (such as “Transmorphers” and “Transformers”). At most, the gap between the blockbuster and the mockbuster is a year.

Overall, “Mac And Me” is a visually painful and intellectually dull experience, but it certainly holds a place in film history. The product placement and alien suits almost need to be seen to be believed, and I would consider it a justified “good-bad” classic for the sheer amount of wrong-headedness required on the part of the production and creative teams for “Mac And Me” to ever happen. For fans of bad movies, “Mac And Me” is worth checking out, but the experience isn’t necessarily going to be fun or enjoyable. It is more like required reading.

Water Foul: “Deep Blue Sea”

Deep Blue Sea

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Today, I’m going to be concluding this week’s spotlight on awful marine monster movies with a personal favorite: 1999’s “Deep Blue Sea.”

The three writers for “Deep Blue Sea” were the duo of Donna and Wayne Powers (“The Italian Job”) and Duncan Kennedy, an Australian who was inspired to write the initial screenplay by an experience he had as a child, where he witnessed the aftermath of a fatal shark attack. The event was apparently highly traumatic, and led to him having recurring nightmares throughout his childhood.

The director of “Deep Blue Sea” was Renny Harlin, who is best known for such action flicks as “Cliffhanger,” “12 Rounds,” and “Mindhunters.”

The cinematography for “Deep Blue Sea” was provided by Stephen F. Windon, who has done photography for “Furious Seven,” “The Patriot,” “The Postman,” and “Crocodile Dundee II” over his career.

The makeup effects team for “Deep Blues Sea” included Clinton Wayne (“Daredevil,” “The Perfect Storm”), Allan Apone (“Evilspeak,” “Going Overboard”), Chad Atkinson (“The Cell,” “Bubba Ho-Tep”), Jeff Dawn (“Total Recall,” “Last Action Hero,” “Terminator 2”), Jim Kail (“Anaconda,” “Ghosts of Mars”), Steve LaPorte (“Van Helsing,” “Caddyshack II,” “The Judas Project”), Michael Shawn McCracken (“Congo,” “The Midnight Meat Train”), and Matthew Mungle (“Daredevil,” “The Midnight Meat Train,” “Congo,” “Class of 1999,” “Roar”).

The impressive special effects team for “Deep Blue Sea” included Craig Barnett (“Speed 2,” “Congo”), Darrell Burgess (“Anaconda,” “Batman & Robin”), Walt Conti (“Free Willy”), William Dawson (“Waterworld,” “Drive Angry,” “Blade”), Michael Duenas (“Thor,” “Iron Man”), Eugene Hubbard (“Face/Off,” “Demolition Man”), Michael Clarke (“Interstellar,” “The Avengers”), Mario Vanillo (“The Last Airbender,” “The Prestige”), Jim McPherson (“Leviathan,” “State of Play,” “Escape From LA,” “Men In Black”), Rick Thompson (“The Aviator,” “Die Hard”), John Richardson (“Straw Dogs,” “Aliens,” “Superman”), Wes Mattox (“Daredevil,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Maniac Cop 3”), and Barry McQueary (“Ant-Man,” “Argo”), among many, many others.

deepbluesea6The astonishingly large visual effects team for “Deep Blue Sea” honestly has too many key people for me to list, but it includes common personnel with such diverse films as “Sphere,” “Van Helsing,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “The Abyss,” “The Omega Code,” “Red Planet,” “RoboCop 3,” “Small Soldiers,” “Space Jam,” “Iron Man,” “Pacific Rim,” “Judge Dredd,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Kazaam,” “Avatar,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Kangaroo Jack,” and “The Matrix.”

The dedicated animation department for “Deep Blue Sea” was composed of Steve Nichols (“Van Helsing,” “Guardians Of The Galaxy”) and Rick O’Connor (“Jurassic Park III,” “Signs,” “Battleship”).

The score for “Deep Blue Sea” was written by Trevor Rabin, who has contributed music to a number of other memorable films such as “12 Rounds,” “Torque,” and “Con Air.”

“Deep Blue Sea” featured three editors: Derek Brechen (“Stargate,” “The Patriot,” “Iron Man”), Frank Urioste (“RoboCop,” “The Hitcher,” “Road House,” “Total Recall”), and Dallas Puett (“Red Planet,” “Kull The Conqueror,” “2 Fast 2 Furious”).

deepbluesea2The cast for “Deep Blue Sea” includes Samuel L. Jackson (“Kingsman,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown”), Thomas Jane (“The Punisher”), Saffron Burrows (“Troy”), LL Cool J (“Rollerball,” “S.W.A.T.”), Michael Rapaport (“The 6th Day,” “True Romance”), Stellan Skarsgard (“Thor”), Aida Turturro (“The Sopranos”), and Jacqueline McKenzie (“The Water Diviner”).

deepbluesea3The story of “Deep Blue Sea” takes place on an experimental marine facility, where scientists are studying sharks for a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. However, when the project goes over-budget and ethical concerns begin arising, their primary benefactor comes to investigate the situation himself. From there, things rapidly go awry.

The role of the chef, which ultimately went to LL Cool J, was initially offered to Samuel L. Jackson, who turned it down due to it being too small of a role. Ironically, due to script changes, the chef role wound up being arguably larger than the character Jackson wound up playing in the picture.

“Deep Blue Sea” is likely best known for a dramatic twist, in which Samuel L. Jackson’s character is surprisingly (and brutally) killed in the middle of the film. This move was apparently inspired by Tom Skerritt’s role in “Alien,” according to Renny Harlin. In theory, because he was the most recognizable face, audiences naturally latch to him as a point of reference. Of course, when the character dies, it has the effect of pulling a rug out from under the viewers. Harlin used this same technique again in “Mindhunters,” in which two different recognizable (and assumed lead) characters are shockingly killed off early in the film.

deepbluesea4The plot of “Deep Blue Sea” is loosely based on the amount of real life medical research that has been done on sharks over the past few decades, but it also perpetuates some significant falsehoods about the creatures. For instance, the belief that sharks can’t get cancer has been recently debunked. Also, the popular myth that sharks have to continue movies to survive isn’t true across the board: some species are capable of pumping water across their gills without moving.

There have been a few other movies called “Deep Blue Sea” over the years, including 2011’s “The Deep Blue Sea” starring Tom Hiddleston, and a 1955 romantic drama of the same name starring Vivien Leigh. Neither of those movies involved CGI sharks, however.

The modified sharks featured in “Deep Blue Sea” are shortfin mako sharks, which are known particularly for their speed, and are the fastest among all sharks. In line with the movie’s plot, they are also one of the smartest species of shark, and have an impressive brain to body ratio. However, they are also particular ill-suited for captivity, which pokes a significant hole in the underlying concept of the film.

“Deep Blue Sea” was filmed primarily at the Baja Studios near Tijuana, Mexico, which were built specifically for the filming of “Titanic.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t been used for filming in a number of years, and the town where it is located has apparently been deteriorating over the past few years.

At the beginning of “Deep Blue Sea,” a bull shark is shown with a license plate stuck in its mouth. The license plate number and state match the same one that was featured in “Jaws,” which was a nice, subtle homage.

The submarine the appears in the background of the well room also appeared in “Sphere,” an earlier film that also starred Samuel L. Jackson, alongside Dustin Hoffman.

According to Harlin, it took 20 takes to film his very brief cameo towards the beginning of the movie, and he apparently hasn’t taken any on-screen roles since.

“Deep Blue Sea” had a particularly notable tie-in single and music video, performed by LL Cool J, one of the co-stars of the film. It is one of the most baffling and catchy themes I have ever heard for a film, and essentially retells the entire plot of the film from the sharks’ perspectives.

“Deep Blue Sea” featured a number of impromptu screenplay changes along the way, including combing two characters into what became LL Cool J’s chef character and expanding the role (allowing him to survive), ultimately killing off Saffron Burrows’ character, and changing how some of the sharks were killed.

deepbluesea5The estimated budget for “Deep Blue Sea” was $60 million, and it ultimately grossed around $164 million in its total theatrical run, making it a significant hit. The reception wasn’t quite as positive as those numbers suggest, though the film certainly has a cult following. It currently hold an IMDb rating of 5.8, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 56% (critics) and 38% (audience).

The biggest issue with “Deep Blue Sea” is definitely the poorly-aging CGI effects, but it is worth noting that the practical sharks look pretty good. As you might expect, there are some big drawbacks to mechanical sharks in regards to movement limitations and costs, and they are also notoriously fickle (I recommend reading about “Bruce” from “Jaws”). There are also some brief moments of CGI water in the background that, without fail, always looks awful.

There are undoubtedly some big problems with the plot of “Deep Blue Sea,” specifically regarding the impossible intelligence of the sharks. For instance, it is claimed that the sharks planned the flooding of the research facility in order to escape, which would require knowledge of the schematics of the building, the makeup of the fences, and the weather conditions. It is even possibly implied that one of the sharks operates a convection oven in order to flush out LL Cool J (a point of some contention). It is one thing for the sharks to be exceptionally smart, it is another thing for them to manifest knowledge they would have no way of knowing, unless the experiments made them psychic. Which, honestly, would be a hilarious twist.

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“IT’S AFRAID!”

Much like “Piranha” and “Humanoids From The Deep,” “Deep Blue Sea” taps into popular fears about genetic modification and the potential for science to go awry (there are definitely some “Frankenstein” nods as well). There is also a popular fear of sharks in the public consciousness since the cultural phenomenon of “Jaws,” which definitely adds to the atmosphere of “Deep Blue Sea.” It is fair to say that the film wouldn’t be the same with intelligent, giant rabbits, even if they were vicious and vindictive.

Something I particularly like about “Deep Blue Sea” is the concept and design of Aquatica, the floating research fortress. The aesthetic is always something I though was cool, and it doesn’t have the same overused “grates and pipes” look from “Alien,” “Leviathan,” etc. It is generally pretty sleek and polished, which makes it look more like a sparkling, new research facility.

Overall, “Deep Blue Sea” has plenty of problems, but the sheer “fun” factor is off the charts. The performances are great, the plot is cheesy, the atmosphere is fantastic, and if you can swallow the bad CGI, there is no way not to have a good time while watching this flick. Honestly, the CGI here still looks better than the “Sharknado” movies, well over a decade later, so it isn’t impossible to stomach. For people looking for a Hollywood cheese fest, a bit of nostalgia, or a top-flight shark thriller, “Deep Blue Sea” should fit your bill.

Water Foul: “Cane Toads: An Unnatural History”

Cane Toads: An Unnatural History

canetoad1Next up in my “Water Foul” spotlight on some of the worst aquatic monsters in film history is a little bit of non-fiction: the cult documentary “Cane Toads: An Unnatural History.”

“Cane Toads: An Unnatural History” might be my favorite documentary of all time. Errol Morris and Werner Herzog have nothing on this charming, weird little piece of film. The musical numbers, the excessively melodramatic tone, the off-kilter humor, the eccentric locals, the genuine educational aspects: it is damn near perfect from top to bottom. I wouldn’t in a million years consider “Cane Toads” to be a bad movie, but more people should see it, so I couldn’t help but take the opportunity to give it a shout-out. It is a goddamn riot. Also, if “Cane Toad Blues” doesn’t get stuck in your head, you have no soul.

If you happen to enjoy “Cane Toads: An Unnatural History” (why wouldn’t you?), then you’re in luck: there’s a sequel. As with most follow-ups, it isn’t quite as good as the first, but it is still more than worth your time to sit through.

Water Foul: “Mega Piranha”

Mega Piranha

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Next up in the “Water Foul” spotlight on the worst marine terrors in movie history is one of the lesser monster flicks produced by The Asylum: “Mega Piranha.”

The writer/director for “Mega Piranha” was Eric Forsberg, who has written such fantastic features as “Ghost Shark” and “Snakes On A Train.” He interestingly hasn’t done any directing work since “Mega Piranha,” which released in 2010.

The cinematographer for “Mega Piranha” was Bryan Olinger, who has worked on similarly low-budget flicks like “Area 407” and the “Sherlock Holmes” mockbuster, which is probably my favorite movie from The Asylum due to its ridiculous and bizarre plot, involving dinosaur hallucinations, an “Iron Man” suit, and complicated airships.

The editor on “Mega Piranha” was a guy named Bill Parker, who also cut The Asylum’s mockbuster sequel “Transmorphers: Fall of Man.”

The special effects on “Mega Piranha” were provided by Tom Devlin, who has also provided effects work for movies like “Daredevil,” “Sand Sharks,” “Club Dread,” and “Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.”

megapiranha3The visual effects team for “Mega Piranha” included Mark Kochinski (“Space Truckers,” “Hellboy,” “Red Planet”), Andrew Harlow (“Cloverfield,” “Children of Dune”), Guenever Goik (“300: Rise of an Empire,” “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes”), David Carlson (“Wishmaster,” “TRON: Legacy”), Yancy Calzada (“Evil Dead II,” “Demonic Toys”), Kevin Lane (“A Sound of Thunder,” “Avalanche Sharks”), and Scott Wheeler (“3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain,” “Scary Movie 2”).

The producers for “Mega Piranha” included Paul Bales (“Sharknado,” “Atlantic Rim”), Stephen Fiske (“Paranormal Entity”), and two of the co-founders of The Asylum: David Michael Latt (“King of the Ants,” “Santa Claws”) and David Rimawi (“King of the Ants,” “Supercroc”).

The musical score for “Mega Piranha” was composed by Chris Ridenhour, one of the go-to composers for The Asylum. He has also provided the music for the films “Sharknado 2,” “Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies,” “Transmorphers,” “Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus,” and the upcoming “Sharknado 3.”

The cast of “Mega Piranha” is led by Paul Logan (“Days Of Our Lives”), 1980s teen pop star Tiffany, and Barry Williams (“The Brady Bunch”), along with an awful lot of people whom I doubt anyone would recognize.

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Honestly, I didn’t recognize Tiffany either.

The story of “Mega Piranha” is not all that much different from “Piranha:” genetically enhanced piranha escape from an experimental facility into a central water system, a begin terrorizing the locals. The biggest differences involve the setting (a politically charged Venezuela) and the size of the piranha, which increases exponentially by the day.

“Mega Piranha” was created as a ‘mockbuster’ of “Piranha 3D,” the second remake of the 1970s “Jaws” knockoff “Piranha.” That means that “Mega Piranha” is technically a knockoff of a reboot of a knockoff. In another odd twist, the release of “Piranha 3D” wound up being delayed, so “Mega Piranha” aired before the film made it to theaters. That’s actually a bad thing for a ‘mockbuster,’ because they parasitically depend on the hype and advertising campaigns of the larger film to build an audience.

“Mega Piranha” is one of many monster-themed, CGI-heavy movies created by The Asylum for the Syfy channel, the most famous of which are the “Sharknado” and “Mega Shark” franchises. Rival schlockmasters and fellow Syfy channel contributors New Horizons Pictures (“Sharktopus,” “Dinoshark,” “Carnosaur”) made their own take on a piranha flick in 2012 with the hybrid “Piranhaconda,” directed by Jim Wynorski (“Chopping Mall”) and produced by Roger Corman.

The reception to “Mega Piranha” was, predictably, not good. It currently holds an IMDb rating of 2.4, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 8% (critics) and 16% (audience). The movie initially aired on Syfy in April of 2010, to a recorded 2.2 million views.

The CGI in “Mega Piranha” looks awful, to the point that the fish puppets in “Piranha” look far better, and that was in the 1970s. The production couldn’t even convincingly sink a boat with practical effects, or portray a helicopter, or even replicate an alligator head (which you can literally buy in many gas stations). It is honestly pretty pathetic to watch.

megapiranha7Another aspect of “Mega Piranha” that I just didn’t understand was the amount of really extreme color tinting, that struck me as totally unnecessary. It felt like watching “CSI” with the color filter taken to the max, which is an effect that can pretty much only serve to make your movie look awful (assuming you aren’t David Fincher or the Coen brothers).

“Mega Piranha” also inexplicably labels all of the characters when they appear on screen, which would would feel weird in even the cheesiest of action movies. That is the sort of practice that belongs in outdated sitcom introductions, not a horror/monster movie.

One of the strangest part of “Jaws” occurs after the climactic death scene, when the shark dramatically (and confusingly) roars as it sinks to its demise in a cloud of blood. “Mega Piranha,” in perhaps a misguided homage, has it’s monster fish roar constantly throughout the film, to the point that the movie sounds like the masses of lions in “Roar.”

Not to nitpick, but one of the key plot points in “Mega Piranha” is that the fish are reproducing at a rapid rate (roughly every day), and growing exponentially with each generation. As far as I understand math, doesn’t that mean that the species would rapidly burn out? At a certain point, there wouldn’t be enough food to sustain the population in a given area, and the competition would rapidly whittle it down. The short life span, dramatically increasing size, and rapid breeding would just serve to accelerate the process of the species dying out. Sure, people are in danger and it would be best to eliminate them, but the terror would only last a week at most (they explicitly state they will be as big as whales within a few days). Bigger isn’t necessarily better from an evolutionary and biological standpoint, something the movie (and the scientist characters) totally seem to miss. There is a reason we don’t have bus-sized sharks anymore, after all. In fact, the biggest issue facing the characters and the world of the film is probably how the piranha would wreck the ecosystems of the areas they pass through over the course of that week, which is never actually discussed in the film. Piranha of that size and number could wind up killing massive populations of whales in that short period of time, and that would be a serious bummer.

megapiranha4I don’t have to tell you that the dialogue and acting is bad in “Mega Piranha.” We all know those things are bad. If you have seen one movie from “The Asylum,” you have basically seen them all: they all function as variation on a mediocre theme, being played over and over again and again until we tear out our ears or start singing along, or maybe both.

“Mega Piranha” is a sort of movie that I generally find hard to enjoy. Companies like The Asylum and Troma don’t set out to make quality products, and try to pass off their lack of passion and exceptional incompetence with a giggle and a wink. I try to avoid them as a general practice, as earnestly made b-movies and Hollywood flops are just typically more interesting. The Asylum in particular is also very insulated, and tends to use the same crews over and over again, which results in all of their movies looking and feeling very similar. Just take a look at all of the crew credits earlier in this review, and look at how many of those credits are other Asylum flicks. Something that made the 1960s and 1970s Roger Corman movies so interesting is that he brought in fresh, interesting people straight out of film school to make many of his pictures: this resulted in the discoveries of people like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, James Cameron, and countless others. The Asylum doesn’t seem to comprehend that there is value to variety and vision, and instead clusters together like an isolated cult running a sovereign nation of schlock. It isn’t a good look, and they aren’t winning over a lot of new people for it.

If you like awful CGI monsters and the usual products put out by The Asylum, feel free to whistle right along to the tune of “Mega Piranha.” Otherwise, I suggest digging up something else. Even some of the more popular Asylum flicks, like a “Mega Shark” or a “Sharknado,” would be more worth your time than this.

Water Foul: “Piranha”

Piranha

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Next up in “Water Foul” is perhaps the most famous and beloved of the “Jaws” knock-offs: Joe Dante’s “Piranha.”

“Piranha” was directed and co-edited by Joe Dante, who has also been behind “Small Soldiers,” “Gremlins,” “The ‘Burbs,” and “The Howling.” He also runs the popular website “Trailers From Hell,” in which he has filmmakers and effects gurus talk about b-movies while narrating classic trailers.

The writers on “Piranha” were Richard Robinson (“Kingdom of the Spiders”) and John Sayles, who has since received two Academy Award nominations for his screen writing (“Passion Fish” and “Lone Star”). He also wrote a number of other notable horror and sci-fi movies, including “Battle Beyond The Stars,” “Alligator,” and “The Howling,” the last of which was also directed by Joe Dante.

The cinematographer on “Piranha” was Jamie Anderson, who has also shot films like “Small Soldiers,” “Bad Santa,” and “The Girl Next Door.”

The effects team for “Piranha” was headlined by creature designer Phil Tippett, who later worked on “RoboCop,” “RoboCop 2,” “RoboCop 3,” “Howard the Duck,” “Willow,” “Jurassic Park,” “Star Wars: A New Hope,” and “The Golden Child,” and Rob Bottin, who later did special effects on “The Thing,” “Total Recall,” “RoboCop,” “Se7en,” “RoboCop 3,” “Fight Club,” and “The Howling.” The rest of the team included Vincent Prentice (“Roar,” “Heartbeeps,” “Toys”), Jon Berg (“Gremlins,” “Laserblast”), Robert Short (“Chopping Mall,” “Splash,” “1941”), Chris Walas (“Humanoids From The Deep,” “The Fly”), Bill Hedge (“It’s Alive 3,” “Species”), and Peter Kuran (“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Lake Placid,” “Q”).

piranha2The producers for “Piranha” were led, of course, by b-movie king Roger Corman. The others were John Davison (“Grand Theft Auto,” “White Dog,” “RoboCop”), Japanese actress Chako van Leeuwen, and Jeff Schechtman (“Killing Zoe,” “Piranha Part Two: The Spawning”).

“Piranha” was co-edited by Mark Goldblatt, who has since become a proficient editor, cutting such films as “Super Mario Bros.,” “Enter The Ninja,” “Predator 2,” and “Humanoids From The Deep.” He also directed a couple of cult classics in the late 1980s: “Dead Heat” and 1989’s “The Punisher.”

The score for “Piranha” was provided by Pino Donaggio, who also wrote the music for “Carrie” and “The Howling.” He is best known, however, for writing the 1966 hit “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.”

The cast for “Piranha” included Bradford Dillman (“The Iceman Cometh”), Heather Menzies (“The Sound of Music”), Kevin McCarthy (“Slipstream,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), Keenan Wynn (“Dr. Strangelove,” “Twilight Zone”), Dick Miller (“Chopping Mall,” “A Bucket Of Blood”), Barbara Steele (“Black Sunday”), Belinda Balaski (“The Howling”), and Paul Bartel (“Eating Raoul,” “Chopping Mall”).

piranha4The story of “Piranha” takes place at mysterious, shut down government facility on the edge of a river. After two teenagers disappear in the area, the facility’s water tank is drained into the river in an effort to find the bodies, unknowingly releasing a genetically enhanced species of piranha created by the government into the water system. The rest of the film follows a desperate attempt to kill the murderous fish, and rescue the unknowing townspeople down-river.

“Piranha” was reportedly made for under $700,000, with only $50,000 of it spent on special effects. considering that the piranhas were portrayed by fish puppets on sticks, I suppose that is a pretty believable number.

Peter Fonda was apparently offered the lead role in “Piranha” due to his long-standing relationship with Roger Corman, but he ultimately turned the part down because of the low special effects budget.

Reportedly, the production of “Piranha” was plagued with issues, such as technical problems with the cameras, constant threats to shut down the production for going over budget, and the second unit making amateur mistakes that rendered much of the footage useless.

Universal Studios attempted a lawsuit against the production due to its extreme similarities to “Jaws,” but Steven Spielberg ultimately liked the movie, and apparently convinced the studio to drop it before it went anywhere.

An earlier, unrelated “Piranha” movie was made in 1972 starring William Smith (“Hell Comes To Frogtown”), which apparently doesn’t feature a whole lot of killer piranha action. It’s available on YouTube, but be warned that it has an abysmal 2.7 on IMDb.

The success of “Piranha” led to a number of sequels and remakes, including “Piranha Part Two: The Spawning,” “Piranha (1995),” “Piranha 3D,” and “Piranha 3DD.” The remakes were successful enough to even inspire a 2010 ‘mockbuster’ made by The Asylum: “Mega Piranha,” which, for those keeping track, is a knockoff of a remake of a knockoff of “Jaws.”

Piranhas, much like sharks, have a lot of myths that surround them, which were perpetuated by the “Piranha” film. The popular perception of piranhas as ravenous killing machines in North America apparently traces back to Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote about a school of piranha eating a cow while he was traveling in the Amazon. While piranha are certainly carnivorous, they aren’t a particular danger to humans, and attacks are rare: usually contained to specific conditions where food is scarce for the fish.

The reception of “Piranha” was mixed, though it is certainly regarded as a cult classic today. It currently holds an IMDb rating of 5.9, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 72% (critics) and 42% (audience).

It is estimated that “Piranha” managed to gross $16 million in its theatrical run, with a particularly high portion of it ($10 million) coming from international markets.

“Piranha” is undoubtedly a shameless “Jaws” clone, but it is probably the best of the lot of them. Watching it side by side with, say, “Devil Fish,” you can’t help but appreciate the quality of the work here.

A lot of people consider “Piranha” to be a bit of a “Jaws” parody, and I just don’t see it. It has some funny moments, but it is a pretty straight horror/monster movie, and the content is never played for laughs as far as I could tell. Particularly when compared to later Dante films like “Gremlins” and “Gremlins 2,” “Piranha” is about the most true and pure horror movie that the man ever made.

piranha3I can’t help but be a bit forgiving about the piranha effects, which are undoubtedly cheesy. That said, they look astounding for the budget, and the shots are similarly constructed and designed after “Jaws,” meaning that the audience doesn’t actually have to see much of them. Considering that, they serve their purposes just fine.

“Piranha” interestingly capitalizes on anti-government sentiments that had grown over the course of the Vietnam era, and makes specific references to biological and chemical warfare that was intended to be used in the conflict. Concerns about nerve gas, agent orange, and other ethically dubious tools of war were (and still are) a serious concern that sits in the back of many minds, and Dante uses that fact as part of the plot. Joe Dante has described the film as working with the concept of “the war comes home,” which may sound a little ridiculous for a movie about killer piranha, but the parallel actually works pretty well for the film.

“Piranha” bogs down a little bit in sections in order to just kill random people and throw extra gore into the mix, which was apparently an edict from Roger Corman, who felt that the film needed as much gore as possible to sell it.

Overall, “Piranha” is not an awful watch. It is fun to see where Joe Dante and the now-prominent effects workers came from, and the quality is pretty excellent for such a low budget flick. Clearly there was lots of crafty work done to make the feature what it is. For fans of b-movies, “Piranha” is absolutely essential. As good-bad watch, there are better options out there for sure. I hear an awful lot of bad things about the sequel, so your eyes peeled for a feature on that one soon.