Culture

Sharks, Skater Girlz and an Eight-Hour Movie

Yes, summer is over. Here are some ways you can forget. This week’s The Angler.

By Dorothy Woodend 31 Aug 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend writes about film and culture for The Tyee. Find her previous articles here.

So, here we are. The last official weekend of summer. The entire country is doing as little as possible, tumbleweeds are rolling through empty offices, and email bounce backs are everywhere. As September, and the grim reality of school and work looms on the horizon, folks might be in need of a little last minute escapism.

Here, at The Tyee, we got your back!

If you’re looking for a last minute summer film fling, there are plenty of fish in the sea this week. The good, the bad, and the truly terrible. So stick a worm on your pole, and prepare to reel in some prize catches, along with the occasional old rubber boot.

Boots first!

Sharks R Us

How hard can it be to make a giant killer shark movie? You only need a few basic ingredients. Start with the simplest and most obvious premise. If a 25-foot shark is good, than one three times as big is even better.

Add in a stalwart hero, rugged and fearless, but with a soft spot for small children and ladies with boobies. Jason Statham, who resembles a large talking penis, will do just fine. There is should be a beautifully resolute babe (Li Bingbing) to meet and match our hero in spunk and spark. If she can be dunked multiple times underwater, and still emerge with perfect hair and makeup, all the better. Sprinkle in a supporting cast of irascible but charming characters, including a tattooed lesbian (Ruby Rose), an obnoxious billionaire (Rainn Wilson), an adorable moppet (Shuya Sophia Cai) and a few expendable techies to add reddish colour to the mix. (This being a shark movie, somebody, probably many bodies, gotta die.) Top off it off with a heaping dose of extreme improbability, a few exotic locales, a dash of population in peril, and garnish it with a giant honking slice of finned monstrosity. Hey presto, instant dumber summer fun!

The Meg proves it’s not that easy.

Since the perfect shark movie already exists, every pretender to the throne will be judged next to its sleek perfection. There have been a few challengers but none have managed to touch the hem of King Bruce’s aquatic cape.

To be honest, I will watch almost anything that has sharks in it, but I didn’t hold out much hope for The Meg. Lowered expectations aside, Lord Almighty this is a terrible film. It takes some dedication to make something this horrendous. Either that, or everyone involved in the production was huffing glue.

To be kind, The Meg is the cinematic equivalent of the “Nailed It!” TV shows in which would-be pastry chefs are set the task of making themed birthday cakes or a batch of adorable crumpets. What ensues is a nightmare gallery of confectionary horrors that most often resemble a napalmed version of Sesame Street’s Torture Me Elmo, blackened, mangled atrocities that scream to be put out of their miserable existence. “Please bite my face off!” they plead. “Tear me apart, bludgeon me to death with your spatula, kill me now…”

In The Meg the raw ingredients are all there, but what ought to have been a delicious concoction of messing about in boats with a big fish ends up an evisceration. Blood, guts and any hope of narrative coherence slide into a soggy congealed mess that only sort of resembles a movie.

Any sentient creature will be rooting for the big shark after 20 minutes of watching action man Statham waggle his eyebrows at pretty oceanographer Suyin Zhang. BingBing does what she can with the role, but she no more resembles a scientist than a Ficus tree does. In addition to execrable dialogue and preposterous setups, there is simply no logic at work here. People fall overboard every few minutes, boats blowup and capsize and bad ideas like sticking a plastic cage in the water next to a bus-sized shark are embraced with wild enthusiasm. This makes the movie sound more fun than it actually is. By far the most painful part is the cringe-inducing scenes meant to induce some kind of emotional investment. Give me a monster shark any day, at least they don’t talk.

Really, the shark is the only creature with a lick of sense in this entire film. When you think about it from the shark’s point of view, it’s the humans that are the problem. After all, The Megalodons have been minding their own business for millions of years, going about their days, chewing on giant squid and generally having a gay old time. Until one day, a metallic thing comes shooting through the ceiling of their ocean home, loud, obnoxious and full of beings who insist on yammering on about their feelings, shining lights everywhere and generally just being a huge pain in the ass.

It would be perfectly natural to want to eat these creatures, to chomp them down like ketchup chips. But the moment you take a gentle bite out of one, all holy hell breaks loose and these pipsqueaks having the nerve to shoot you in the face with a poison-dart. Again, it’s a reasonable thing to wipe them and all their assorted buzzy machines out of existence.

But before we get to the part where humans are rendered into bite-sized chunks, we must endure the establishing of the premise. I will save you from interminable exposition, and sum it up in a few sentences. In the darkest depths of the ocean, there lurk prehistoric monsters, safely ensconced behind a protective thermocline cloudbank of super cold water that keeps them housed, like tigers in a cage. In short…

Humans set sharks free.

Sharks eat the humans.

Humans get mad.

Shark also get mad.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

The end.

Or is it?

If I were a shark the size of freight train, I wouldn’t think twice about killing all the humans, starting with shark finners , before moving on to people who insist on dressing up tiny dogs, women who complain about their extravagant weddings and anyone who insists in rolling around in a large inflatable beach ball.

Next to the humans, with their horrific hairstyles, and silly little dogs, The Meg seems sensible and calm, methodically going about the business of eating everything in sight. I’m with her.

Skate park sharks and junior high struggles

Skate-Kitchen.jpeg
Skate Kitchen ‘is a looping curve of a film, sheened with sweat, sex, freedom and, above all, motion.’ From Skate Kitchen.

There are far more horrifying things than being eaten alive. You could be in Eighth Grade again, consumed by agonizing anxiety and paralyzing bouts of awkwardness, coupled with acne so large it eats your entire face. I think I would rather be swallowed whole by a prehistoric shark; at least that way, no one will see you in a bathing suit. If you can take the pain, Eighth Grade is a good way to wind up the summer, with a lasting ode to teenage angst.

Another equally impressive film about the travails and trials of youth opens in Vancouver next week. Skate Kitchen is summer in a bottle, full of the firefly light and heat of the season. This is a looping curve of a film, sheened with sweat, sex, freedom and, above all, motion. It arcs through time and space, carving a line from innocence to experience, with all manner of bumps, bruises and tears along the way. “Skate or die, bitch,” says one badass chica. That about sums it up.

Crystal Moselle came to fame with her documentary The Wolfpack about six brothers raised in the confines of one New York apartment by their domineering father. In Skate Kitchen she turns her lens on a group of teenage girls, most of who are played by the real life members of a New York skate group that goes by that same moniker.

The story takes place through the experience of a girl named Camille. When we first meet our heroine she has just landed very hard on the edge of her skateboard, and blood is gushing down her legs. The girl has been credit carded, a term used to denote what happens when the edge of a skateboard meets the tender parts between your thighs. Welcome to the wonderful world of girlish skateboarding.

But despite her injury, Camille is not easily deterred from her passion and soon falls in a with a pack of like-minded young women, the members of Skate Kitchen, who not only inspired the story but also play thinly dramatized versions of themselves.

Moselle has an easy way with her cast, with camera work so intimate that it often seems on the verge of climbing up the nostrils of its subjects. This physical ease is met with a narrative comfort that assails everything from tampons to loneliness to the intractable difficulties of parent-child relationships.

With the women of Skate Kitchen, Moselle has found a veritable dream team. All of them are fascinating to watch as they swoop, jump and slide through the mean streets of New York City. Janay (Dede Lovelace), who offers Camille a place to stay, and tough-talking Kurt (Nina Moran) are particular standouts. But this is truly an ensemble affair, even as the bulk of the story is carried on the narrow shoulders of Rachelle Vinberg who plays Camille. As she takes in the action with the wary gaze of an introverted soul desperate for connection, the tangled skeins of identity, parents and friendship, weave around her. When to cut loose and when to stay are the underlying questions, but they’re so lightly offered they dissolve in mid kickflip. What endures, palpable and juicy as ripe fruit, is a sense of atmosphere. Like summer itself.

It is a rare thing to create such a tangy feeling, and even as you’re wondering where the action is headed the easy joy of simply getting there overtakes you. Just roll with it. Sassy as jays, the girls move easily between golden afternoons at the skate park to the blue light of city nights, slipping through the streets in elliptical patterns that seem to follow hidden ley lines. In their ragtag finery of hoodies, shorts and manes of wild hair, they look like ships at full sail.

In addition to the visual language of the film, the patois of the skateboarding world is equally rich, filled with idiosyncratic terms and hard putdowns that the girls hurl at the rival gangs of boy skaters.

In terms of a plot, the film sticks to the classics — parents don’t understand, girls will betray each other and boys are as unknowable and unpredictable as the sea. One moment they’re kissing you and the next they’re making smoothie moves on your best friend.

Smoking pot is a given, and sex is polymorphous and free ranging. As tomboy badass Kurt asks Camille with glee “Do you like dick or do you like pussy? Cuz I like pussy!”

Sex may be simple, but feelings never are. When Camille develops a crush on a skater boy named Devon (played by Jaden Smith), the former beau of her new friend Janay, things get complicated.

But in some fashion, all that human noise and drama is beside the point. This is a tone poem, and the heart of the film is the siren call of pure movement. Summer air flowing around your body, the heated bloom of sex, and the rush of freedom, more heady than anything else, embed in your skin. In the softness of the gloaming summer evenings, when the city smells like a mixture of caramel corn and tar and light and heat bath you like a benediction, you can be young and wild and free forever.

The film’s final scene lingers like perfume, composed of sweat, warm pavement and time free-floating, loosed from the earth and singing through the city streets.

If need even more skateboard action, mark your calendars for Bing Liu’s documentary Minding the Gap. After its premiere at DOXA Documentary Film Festival, the film returns for a run at the Vancity Theatre later this month.

Man-eating movies

At the Cinematheque, there is another giant man-eater this weekend in the form of Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s eight-hour monster. If this sounds like a labour of love, just in time for Labour Day, you are correct! Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day. runs a robust 478 minutes and packs in a vertiginous amount of drama. Made originally for German TV, this five-part series follows the life and times of a working man, his friends, family and the woman he loves. Cinematheque is offering the chance to watch it in manageable bites, or gulp it all down at once on Labour Day. Pack a lunch and get your Fassbinder on.

The Vancouver Latin American Film Festival also rounds out its run this weekend with a selection of extraordinary films. The Vancouver International Film Festival is also soon to be loose upon the world. But in the interim, there is the Fringe Festival, plays, concerts, art shows — a veritable sea of things to see and do in Vancouver and environs.

We’ll get to those things soon, but now that the smoke has cleared long enough to draw a deep breath, maybe it’s a good time to pause for a moment, and look back on the summer of 2018.

It was a strange one. When the entire world seemed to be on fire and red tides, green algae and grieving killer whales haunted the news, it was hard to escape the feeling of imminent doom. In such an age, it’s necessary to look for places of comfort and succour. Sometimes you really need a little sojourn in another time and space to sooth ragged spirits. But before you pick up the mantle of responsibility and enter back into the workaday world, it’s OK to be shark hunter, a shark, or, most frightening of all, a truly free and fearless teenage girl.

Happy summer Tyee folk!  [Tyee]

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