Guest Blog: Syfy wins (and fails) with ‘Sharktopus’

9 11 2010

by Chris Imms

Before it became Syfy, the Sci-Fi Channel was known for making the worst science fiction movies ever. Such titles include Mansquito, Anonymous Rex, and Gargoyles: Wings of Darkness. When the Sci-Fi Channel changed its name, I thought it was the end of these movies that are so bad they become great. And indeed, since the switchover, the Syfy Saturday movies have been pretty weak. Until Sharktopus.

There are certain factors that make a bad B movie a great B movie. The first is a weak plot. In Sharktopus, a company named Blue Water creates an octopus/shark hybrid named S11. They tried to make other hybrids, like the Sharktowhale and the Octofish, and on the 11th try they created the Sharktopus. In traditional monster movie fashion the Sharktopus escapes, then travels to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and starts wreaking havoc. The Blue Water Corporation sends the hero, Andy Flynn, and some sidekicks to capture him.

The second thing a B movie needs is a combination of bad writing and bad acting. It should have such bad writing that you think a bunch of drunken lemurs with brain damage wrote it while high and on fire. Thankfully with lines like, “everyone, everyone, there is a killer octopus/shark hybrid heading this way, please leave the area now,” Sharktopus has bad writing in spades. But writing is only half of it—you need horrible acting as well. Half the people in this movie act like they were just pulled off the street, given lines, and filmed their scenes in one take, which may have happened. Plus, since the Sharktopus was CGI (more on that soon), these actors had to act with nothing there, making their bad acting even worse.

The worst acting in Sharktopus comes from the classic character actor Eric Roberts and movie lead Kerem Bursin. Eric Roberts plays the CEO of the Blue Water Corporation and wants the S11 captured—not killed—by any means necessary. Roberts may be the best actor of the bunch but says his lines like he is just doing it for a paycheck. In fact, in an interview with Attack of the Show!, he and his publicist stated that if they knew the writing was as bad as it was, he would never have been in this movie. But Eric Roberts’s lethargic acting does not compare to Kerem Bursin’s. Bursin plays Andy Flynn like the typical main character in a monster movie—no personality, he just wants to kill the monster. Bursin is the worst actor in this movie because of what he does with his clothes. Every time Andy gets mad or has to face the Sharktopus, he takes off his shirt. Friend gets killed, he takes off his shirt. Has to save a little kid, takes off his shirt. Fighting the final battle with the Sharktopus, the shirt comes off. After every shirtless scene, the shirt magically reappears on him to signal we are done with the important action scenes.

The third thing that makes a horrible B movie is bad special effects. The S11 just looked wrong. It had the head of a shark, the tentacles of an octopus, a beak protruding from its belly, and spikes coming from its gills. Instead of S11 they should have named it “overkill,” because that’s what it looked like. I think they ran out of money after creating the Sharktopus because at times he looks superimposed on the screen which makes his killing scenes all the more silly. There are over 20 deaths in this movie. If this film does anything right it is that it varies the types of death. There are bungee jump deaths, car deaths, yuppie boat-sinking deaths, best friend deaths, zip line deaths, hotel performer deaths, sun bathing deaths, camera man and hot reporter deaths, villain deaths. It’s like the writer had a dart board and just picked the type of death at random.

Sharktopus is one of the worst made-for-TV B movies I have ever seen. It has bad acting, bad monsters, bad killings, bad writing, and bad directing, but all that bad makes it good. I wanted to see the next killing. I wanted to see Kerem Bursin take off his shirt in anger. I wanted to see the spectacularly stupid ending (I won’t spoil it for you, but it has to do with a river and a computer password). I wanted Sharktopus to prove to me that the Syfy channel still has the magic to make a bad movie, and by golly, they have made the worst of them all. Thank you, Sharktopus, for making my Saturday that much better with your horribleness.

For Chris’s bio, see his first guest blog.


Guest Blog: ‘The Walking Dead’: a brain munchin’ good time

1 11 2010

by Eric Gray

Grimes, his ill-fated horse, and a street full of zombies.

I don’t read comic books. I can’t stand them really. Maybe I just don’t get the format, but it’s not really my thing. So, I’ve never read Kirkland’s work. But I did hear of it, and I followed the development of The Walking Dead television series closely. I was excited for the premiere, and I came away with a pretty clear statement: “That’s the best damn show I’ve ever seen.” And really, it was.

Another little thing about me, just so you can get some perspective about what I’m going to talk about. I’m a detail-oriented person. I notice the little things, and attention paid to the little things often define the line between something being “good” or “bad” in my eyes. Case in point, the new Star Trek movie? Bad on details, so subsequently I didn’t like it very much (for a buncha different reasons, but the detail was a killer). What about Terminator: Salvation? Loved it (although it seems like no one else—besides Jess—did), partially because the detail was there, down to minute stuff no one would ever recognize or think was important. But I saw it, and said to Jess, “Hey, you know that little so-and-so? That was in the third movie and they’re bringing it back here as a little tie in! Brilliant!” For me, The Walking Dead uses details to explosive effect. These choices make for a TV show like I’ve never seen on cable—never seen, period.

I’m going to skip plot for the most part, just because we don’t need it quite yet. The show just started, there wasn’t a lot of character development beyond meeting them, and we leave our hero, Rick Grimes, stuck in Atlanta, in a tank, covered with zombies. I am going to talk about the chances this show takes, and why it succeeds. First, the obvious: this show takes a BIG (honkin’ even) chance on violence. I’ve not quite seen violence like this on cable TV, ever. A couple of times, I had to remind myself that this wasn’t HBO or Showtime. Risks are taken from the very first scene, where we get a point blank shot to the head on a zombie kindergartner, complete with CGI bloodspray, splatter, and a ragged, oozing gunshot wound on the forehead. We both looked at each other and said, “this show just killed a kid, on screen, within the first five minutes, HOL-LEE SHIT….” This happened likewise with Bicycle Girl, the first real zombie Rick comes across. That was another one of those “holy crap, they just blew her brains out in an unbroken shot!” moments. Jess applauded the adultness of the show, but I’m actually curious as to why this ISN’T on Showtime or HBO.

On to the more subtle parts. The sound and visual design is pretty close to flawless. Shows don’t often like to be quiet, but The Walking Dead thrives on it. Background music (composed by Battlestar Galactica‘s Bear McCreary!) was used minimally, and more often, whole scenes played out in absolute silence, with only ambient noise. It was used effectively to add tension to scenes, and also really increased the impact of sound when it was used. The punctuation of a gunshot drives the point home; the shot is allowed to echo and reverb, making it just that much louder. Naturally, we get this to full effect when Rick fires off his gun inside the tank. Although the inclusion of the severe ring in the ears was a nice touch, I would imagine that ruptured ear drums would be more likely, as well as the very real danger of a ricochet.

No other show I’ve seen has taken such risks on filming, either. There were large stretches of the pilot where literally nothing happens, we’re left to just take in the whole vista of post-zombiepocalypse. The bleakness was apparent and frightening, especially when Rick wakes up in the hospital. The slight and occasional use of jump cuts adds a nice little distortion and sense of surrealism to the scene as well. I was glad to see that technique used to such an effect. Also, I’ve never seen a show choose to light a shot with just a single match, and allow the camera to plunge into complete darkness several times. The scene in the stairwell was by far the scariest part of the whole show. I want more of this in the coming weeks.

And finally, we have to talk about the zombies. We’ve seen the setup before, but that’s not really the point. It’s more about how it’s done. There’s a serious creep factor here. For instance, turning a corner in a deserted city and finding the street crammed from sidewalk to sidewalk with zombies? Yeah, that’s pretty damn scary. But viewers have to remember, this tale is not about zombies, it’s about the survivors. We have to look at this series as not redefining the zombie genre like 28 Days Later tried to do. Instead, this is a story of the human condition under extreme duress. The choice to make this a weekly series is a strong indicator in this regard. So, I would remind would-be detractors to hold off with their comments calling this “hackneyed” or “done before.” Yes, we have seen this premise before. No, we haven’t seen it quite like this.

The product of these various elements creates a television show that evokes the best that cinema has to offer. The Walking Dead is truly a cinematic experience—one I am glad to have seen, and one that I will continue to enjoy throughout its six-episode season.

Happy Halloween!

Guest Blogger Eric Gray on the ‘Shit My Dad Says’ premiere

25 09 2010

So, advance reviews were negative and the previews CBS ran made the show look “eh,” but still we sat down and tried the premiere of Shit My Dad Says. I’m refusing to type it out as “$#*!” or “[Bleep]” because doing so is stupid, and also because the unnecessary censoring kills any humor that could possibly be lurking in this sad, sad sitcom disaster.

The premise itself is promising. Shit My Dad Says on Twitter is a viral phenomenon, and often laugh-out-loud funny. I’m a big fan, which is why I was hopeful about the jump to prime time. Also, the casting didn’t sound bad; we got William “The Shat” Shatner as the gruff, no-holds-barred, blunt-as-a-sledgehammer dad. We hoped that having The Shat deliver those highly offensive nuggets of wisdom might constitute a hilarious recipe for success, but the show itself is a tragic failure. Here’s why:

1. Utterly neutered for prime time. The Twitter feed is HIGHLY offensive in just about every way imaginable. Those pearls of wisdom often contain copious amounts of swearing, and if they don’t, expect off-color remarks about race, sex, or religion. This is where the comedy lies. Dad is blunt to the point of excess. The social rules that govern the rest of us seem to be lost on him, so he just tells everything like it is. This would be all well and good, but when making the shift from uncensored Twitter to prime time broadcast television, you have to make concessions. The concession in this case was to eliminate the crudeness. The dad’s character on the sitcom is just as blunt, but the impact behind his words has been removed for the sake of broadcast TV. The writing takes absolutely no risks, and fails as a result. The show is rendered unfunny instantly.

2. Complete lack of chemistry. Brilliant sitcoms like The Office, 30 Rock, and Arrested Development work on the strength of the chemistry between the characters. This is apparent, even early in the shows’ runs. Shit My Dad Says has none of it. I mean absolutely none. Honestly, it wouldn’t need it so much if the writers could actually write what they wanted to instead of keeping it whitewashed to avoid fines from the FCC, but since they’re not taking risks there, they have to place overall success on the strength of the characters. No such luck, and worse, the show is working at cross-purposes. No one gives a shit about the supporting cast; the point is really to put Shatner in the driver’s seat and let him go to town. The writing prevents this from happening, so we’re left with a bunch of excruciatingly unfunny also-rans who ham it up along with a neutered Shatner (that sounds exceedingly wrong.)

3. It is all too familiar. There’s nothing new here, nothing interesting, nothing that really pushes the boundaries of comedy. The Twitter feed succeeds because it’s real, and we can all imagine ourselves wanting to say things like the dad does occasionally. I want to see that edge translated to the screen. The most promising little snippet we got was the interaction between Shatner and the DMV clerk, which had flashes of mild funniness. Otherwise, the jokes are stale, and the forced laugh track makes me groan. Oh, the set looked chintzy too, like a 21st-century take on the Golden Girls‘ house.

So, Shit My Dad Says as a sitcom fails pretty damn hard, and its kind of sad. There was brilliance in the idea of bringing that larger-than-life father character alive and building a show around him. William Shatner feels like the perfect casting choice as well. But, the result is paltry and wholly unfunny. My advice: read the Twitter feed, and buy the guy’s book. Half an hour spent there will satisfy your comedy cravings about a bazillion times more than this crapheap of a sitcom. Also, pay attention the the morals in those little new-age proverbs Dad spits out. We could all learn a little from his wisdom, regardless of the form he chooses to deliver it.

Eric Gray is a vehement critic of all things. Especially this show. When not hating on stupid sitcoms, he’s playing video games, thinking about video games, and trying to meander through his last year of grad school. Oh yeah, he’s also the boyfriend of Jess. Yes, the Jess who writes Jess Blogs TV. He thanks her for letting him be a guest blogger and hopes to return soon!

Want to write a guest blog? See how here!

Guest Blogger Chris Imms on ‘Ghost Hunters’ and ‘Ghost Adventures’: Geeky Ghosties vs. Frat Boy Frighteners

20 09 2010

To honor last Friday’s premiere of the new season of Ghost Adventures, guest blogger Chris Imms set out to compare two popular ghost shows. Go watch some TV that creeps you out—’tis finally Halloween season!

In 2004, at the height of TV’s reality boom, the SyFy Channel (then the less brandable SciFi Channel) aired a new reality show featuring two Roto-Rooter plumbers who, on their days off, explore haunted places looking for ghosts. The show was aptly called Ghost Hunters. Jump to 2008, when the Travel Channel was just coming into its own. The network featured food and travel shows, but it was looking for something new. Luckily, it came across a documentary featuring three 20-somethings who were finding proof of paranormal activity. After the documentary received high ratings on SyFy, a new reality show called Ghost Adventures premiered on the Travel Channel. The new season of Ghost Adventures began last Friday, so I thought it would be nice to take a look at the two shows that have corned the market in telling real ghost stories.

What started in a little shack in Warwick, Rhode Island, grew to a worldwide phenomenon that includes magazines, hotels, a clothing line, and two spin-off shows. Ghost Hunters features the adventures of Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, who created The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS for short) to try and find evidence of supernatural phenomenon. In the beginning, TAPS was based out of Jason Hawes’s backyard. The group’s use of high-tech equipment and its unique method of finding evidence set it apart from other ghost groups and made it perfect for a reality show.

The Ghost Hunters do not try to prove that ghosts exist in a place. In fact, they attempt just the opposite. Evidence is not taken at face value, but is scrutinized to determine if it could have a normal explanation using a scientific method and specialized equipment. However, as the show progressed, it became less like a reality show and more like a police procedural.

Ghost Adventures is a fast-paced show with high energy. It stars Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, and Aaron Goodwin, friends who gained fame with a 2006 documentary of the three of them trying to find supernatural activity in Nevada. The documentary’s footage of a full body apparition became Nevada state news. While Ghost Hunters is known for its scientific methods, Ghost Adventures‘s recognition comes from sensationalism. If the Hunters hear an unknown sound, scientific equipment comes out. But if the Adventurers do, unscientific curses come out. This highly excitable way of paranormal searching has earned them the name “the frat boys of the ghost world.”

Ghost Adventures feels very visceral because of the way it is shot. Ghost Hunters is filmed with at least three camera crews and sound people, but Ghost Adventures‘s sound and camera crew is just the three main guys. They are only people in these haunted places, and that adds to the fear. They know they are the only people around, so if they are not causing the sounds, what is? In Ghost Hunters, they are always checking to see who could have made the sound. When your first reaction is not fear, but instead debunking it, it dials down the scariness. When something happens in Adventures they know it is not them and that legitimately freaks them out, which freaks you out too. The problem is that they freak out a lot, which causes the cam to feel shaky. If you get motion sick, you may not want to watch this show.

Another reason I like Ghost Adventures is how they display evidence. With Ghost Hunters, three-fourths of the show features the guys collecting evidence and personal experiences at the haunted area. Then they go back review the evidence and try to match it with past experience. I find myself fast forwarding to the end of the episode because I do not like seeing the evidence twice. Ghost Adventures immediately shows you the evidence by replaying the last few moments of the experience with enhanced audio. Maybe I just don’t like waiting for paranormal gratification, but it creates a more thrilling show. When things start happening, you wait for the replay to hear or see “the good stuff.”

In the end I like and dislike both shows for completely different reasons. I like Ghost Hunters for its scientific way of ghost hunting, and how it tries to take something on the fringe of science and make it legitimate. However, I feel the process of gathering evidence is too dragged out, especially when they only have one case per episode instead of two. Sometimes I find myself flipping channels and hoping I come back to an exciting part, which usually doesn’t happen. On the other hand, I really like the unorthodox way Ghost Adventures is filmed, but the suspense sometimes turns into juvenile shouting and cursing and really detracts from the legitimacy of the evidence. In the end, I think there is room on TV for both types—one scientific show, one sensational—and I hope they continue for a very long time.

Chris Imms, a graduate of Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, majored in theatre studies. After graduating, he realized he hated technical theatre work and pursued his other loves, radio and TV. He has been in the “Newstainment” industry for the last 5 years, and has worked in morning radio and local television in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina. He is currently the producer of the Ron Smith Show, a talk opinion show which airs on weekdays from 9 AM to noon on WBAL Radio in Baltimore, MD. Chris is an avid fan of media, news, and pop culture. In fact, he claims that one of his first memories was Michael Dukakis’s failed tank stunt in 1988. He currently resides in Damascus, MD with his fiancée, Heather.