The smash success of Jaws lead to countless killer-sea creature knockoffs such as Mako, Orca, Tentacles and Jaws 2 (to say nothing of Jaws 3D) but the best was far and away PIRANHA (1978). Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies are hunting two disappeared (and eaten) teens when they unwittingly stumble on Operation Razorteeth, Kevin McCarthy’s leftover Vietnam War-era experiment in breeding piranhas that can adapt to cold water (they’d have been dumped in North Vietnam’s rivers but the war ended first). Now the piranhas are heading downstream and there’s a summer camp and a resort in their line of biting …
According to the DVD commentary by director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison, they were convinced this was a turkey of epic proportions. Instead, it’s a winner, which I think is partly because John Sayles’ script makes it less about a Jaws-style killer animal and more in the school of a 1950s monster movie (“If they reach the ocean, they can attack every river system in America!”) though with more gore — I’d forgotten kids actually get eaten in this one. It’s more generally a good script with better characterization and humor than a low-budget knockoff has the right to expect, and good direction by Dante. With Barbara Steele as a sinister scientist, Bruce Gordon as a general, Paul Bartel as an officious summer-camp counselor and Richard Deacon in a cameo. “People eat fish — fish don’t eat people.”
Julie Taymor’s THE TEMPEST (2010) lacks any of the magic she brought to Titus, despite the presence of Helen Mirren as Prospera, conniving to destroy her enemies and regain her dukedom with the help of Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) and Ariel (Ben Whishaw). The cast are good but the film spends too much time indulging in special effects. And I think Hounsou’s casting raises problems — for example his lusting for Felicity Jones’ Miranda evokes old racist tropes (for me anyway) about blacks hungry for white women. “As wicked a dew as ‘ere my mother brushed with raven’s feather from unwholesome fen, drop on you both!”
As a kid I caught glimpses of DAD’S ARMY on British TV, which made me curious to catch it when I found it on Netflix. It turns out to be a sitcom about the British Home Guard preparing for a possible German invasion during WW II, focusing on one small town where the defenders are, shall we say, not the A-list (pompous squad leader, conniving wheeler-dealer, elderly veteran, etc.). Very funny (it’s ranked as one of the Great British Sitcoms). “I was going to bring it up but then the girl started taking off her clothes.”
20 FEET FROM STARDOM (2013) is a documentary on backup singers, their contributions to famous songs and acts, the appeal of their subordinate role and the challenges of breaking out into an act of your own, which some have tried with varying levels of success. Darlene Love (pictured) gets a spotlight as someone stifled by Phil Spector so she found solo success much later than she deserved.). Like so many professions, the interviewees express concern their field may be fading in the 21st century due to tech alternatives and indy acts getting by on the cheap (“They just use their family as backup singers.”). Very interesting. “The record companies figured they already had Aretha, so they didn’t need her. That was just how they thought.”
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