It’s here. Like the unstoppable turn of the cosmos, Shark Week is upon us once more. It’s a time to reflect, to forget our troubles, come together, and gleefully freak out about sharks like a bunch of 3-year-olds at SeaWorld (assuming the sharks don’t, y’know, wig out and eat a trainer in front of a sold-out crowd).
Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Shark Week, not because I don’t think sharks are cool (they are), but because it takes away from so many other, possibly more deserving predators (Helloooo, Cassoweek!). They’re not even that deadly, really, when compared to some of history's more prolific killers. Rats and fleas helped wipe out most of Europe in the 14th century. People forget that.
However, I DO like bad movies, and if there’s one upside to Shark Week, it’s that the Internet is emptying its arcane vaults of every shark-themed SyFy Original Feature and B-movie disasterpiece it can find with its grubby stub hands, from Super Shark to Swamp Shark and beyond. So, join me on the proverbial couch as we sift through these 10 pun-a-licious gems and search for the true meaning of this mass psychosis known as Shark Week.
Let’s get this one out of the way, since Sharknado basically ate the Internet a few weeks ago and is probably still lodged in most people’s brains. Supposedly, this is a movie about sharks, plucked from the ocean by a tornado, and hurled at innocent civilians. Fine. But from what I can tell, Ian Ziering plays a bartender named Fin Shepard, who, through a series of bizarre natural disasters, is able to find himself and become a leader in the community. It’s actually more like the story of Passover than people give it credit for.
Sand Sharks (2011)
“Just When You Though You Were Safe Out of the Water.” Oof. That’s a mouthful. Elevate your game, Mr. Tagline. This is basically Jaws-meets-Tremors, and I absolutely LOVE Tremors, even though that was just Dune without David Lynch and Sting in a plastic speedo. Unfortunately, this looks nowhere near as good as that Kevin Bacon masterpiece. Sand Sharksdoes push boundaries, and by that I mean it extends the range of the sharks about 15 feet up onto the beach, but wouldn’t that have happened at high tide anyway? “It’s a pre-historic sand tiger shark,” says a woman who looks and sounds much more like a scientist than me. “A predator that has evolved to wear sand like a coat and travel through it like water.” Ah, but can they breathe sand as well? PLOT HOLE! It’s worth noting that I’m not a scientist.
2-Headed Shark Attack (2012)
Admittedly, there really ARE two-headed animals in the world, so already, this film’s dedication to scientific accuracy has me excited. In this hard sci-fi epic, a boat full of attractive college students on a semester-at-sea (is that even a thing?) are hanging out on a tiny island (learning?) when they come under attack from a shark with TWO HEADS. I haven’t seen the whole movie yet, but I’d say their chances of survival are slim given the quality of leadership on this trip. “Spread out, but stay in this area”? Get it together, professor. As an added bonus, the producers of 2HSA (#2HSA. Make it happen.) saw fit to include not one or two, but three quasi-celebrities: Carmen Electra (once famous), Brooke Hogan ( formerly pseudo-famous-ish), and Charlie O’Connell from Sliders! That’s called “pedigree.” Respect it.
Super Shark (2011)
OK, this one is just lazy. I mean adding a second head took some creative effort. Super Shark is, sadly, just a really big shark. That’s the best you guys can do? Meh. What’s that? Bullets bounce off it? It can waddle a little on land? John Schneider’s face just about sums this one up. I’d award a few more points for the inclusion of a walking tank but that thing looks like a 2-year-old not only came up with the design for it but also did the animation and fight choreography. Outside does not endorse child labor.
This thing is the Titanic of terrible shark movies. Not only did the producers of Sharktopus shell out enough money to get Eric “Julia’s Brother” Roberts, they actually commissioned an original song to color their modern epic. A secret military experiment gone wrong? That’s a plot with balls. B-movie fans will agree that the creature itself is half the battle. Maybe even the whole war. At the very least, it’s the Gettysburg of the battles when you’re making a crap movie and the Sharktopus is the Union Army and then some. It’s got spark and wiggle. Go home, Super Shark. You’re done here.
Swamp Shark (2011)
Before you get too excited about Wade Boggs being in this movie, just remember that his IMDB bio introduces him as “Five-time American League batting champion Wade Boggs,” so you know he’s still leaning on that pretty hard. Moving on. What have we got here? From the looks of it, we have a shark swimming around killing people. Does this one do anything cool? According to Worried Man In Hat, “this isn’t a normal shark.” Oh? “It swims, it kills, and it’s out there!” I think he's mixing up sharks with something else. On the surface, the best thing Swamp Shark has going for it is the shift from beaches to bayou. But remember when the producers of Friends moved Joey to L.A.? That, too, was terrible.
Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009)
This movie came out all the way back in 2009, which is positively ancient by crappy meme-based shark-movie standards. MSvGO even spawned a sequel, Mega Shark vs. Crocasaurus. These roots run deep. If MSvGO illustrates one thing about the shark genre, it’s how little it’s changed over the past four years. Big CGI shark thing eats things while washed up actors, in this case Lorenzo Lamas from Renegade, scream in front of a green screen. There’s a slight twist here in that the shark is locked in an eternal battle with a giant octopus. I’m starting to feel terribly depressed.
Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012)
How did we ever get here? Before we even get into how dated this was, even a year ago; Joey Fatone what are you doing?!?! Sure, Backstreet was musically superior, but you can still do better than this. Moving on. In a JerseyShore/Jaws mash-up, it’s somehow the former that comes out feeling like the more tired reference. I guess if you were one of those purse-clutching alarmists who thought that the sudden rise of Jersey Shore four years ago was a sign of our impending social collapse, you might enjoy watching heavily-gelled beach bums get snatched up like so much popcorn. The rest of us can only stare up slack-jawed at the starry as a coifed guido screams the classic line, “I hate sharks,” down the barrel of an assault rifle. If you don’t believe in God, this movie won’t change that.
Jurassic Shark (2012)
Oof. I take back everything I said about Super Shark. This is so low budget it verges on performance art. The most famous person in this movie is the Jurassic Park reference, and they didn’t even stick in anything about cloning. It’s just a prehistoric shark who green-screens people to death. “We drilled too deep,” shudders one bloodied character. I know exactly how he feels.
Shark in Venice (2008)
Yes! Just when I was ready to swallow my keyboard, Stephen Baldwin stumbles back into our earthly dimension with Shark in Venice. I’ve watched the trailer 14 times and I still can’t tell what this movie is about. Is it about a shark terrorizing an idyllic Italian tourist trap? Or is it a film treatment of a forgotten Dan Brown novel? I’m pretty sure the villain mentions the Medici family a few times. Or he could be saying “Help me.” So many questions. So many Stephen Balwdin faces. If you watch one movie this Shark Week, make it Shark in Venice. This is what Kingdom of the Crystal Skull could have been.
In her latest documentary, The Crash Reel, which airs on HBO in July, two-time Academy Award nominee Lucy Walker opens a door into the life of former pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce as he recovers from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Think of it as the rise, fall, and brutally slow reinvention of a sweet kid who could be your son, nephew, brother, or best Frend (as Pearce’s crew referred to one another). If you can watch it without tearing up, you’re a harder man than I.
Pearce’s long recovery after a 2009, pre–Vancouver Olympics training accident (in the same Utah superpipe where freeskier Sarah Burke was later fatally injured) is a story of unbridled dedication and courage that’s both uplifting and utterly deflating. The Crash Reel forcefully swipes away the energy-drink haze that has clouded our collective consciousness into believing that today’s competitive action-sports scene makes any sense at all.
I’m talking, of course, about the very existence of 22-foot-walled superpipes, inverted snowmobiling at night, extreme-skiing competitions held in vertical rock gardens glazed in ice, and the rest of the SoCal-born foolishness that demands bigger air, one more spin, and razor-thin margins for error. As The Crash Reel fearlessly depicts, your payment for the smallest of mistakes is a broken bone or concussion for each year you’ve lived. Until that one injury that changes your very identity.
Pearce is firmly of the this-life-will-be-televised generation, so Walker has ample footage to work with, from first steps to first hucks in the Vermont woods to polished competition clips. The viewer is reminded of just how young X Games–style competitors are just prior to their stardom. There’s a dreadful tension in the buildup to Pearce’s fall that’s masterfully done, but for one quibble: perhaps to make those early scenes more taut, Walker weaves a parallel thread into The Crash Reel—the rivalry between Pearce and Shaun White. It’s a filmmaker’s device, and it’s unnecessary. The extent of the animosity seems overblown, if only because of the screen time it commands. And as a head-injury victim himself, with several concussions and counting, White hardly deserves demonizing.
Pearce’s story is enough. We see in wrenching detail the effects of his injury—memory loss, a newly irritable disposition—as they radiate outward toward those who care for him. (Walker appears to have had limitless access to the Pearce home in Hartland, Vermont.) And then the inevitable: warned by his doctors that even a small blow to the head could erase his hard-won gains, Pearce nevertheless vows to return to the slopes, even if only for fun. At one point, the mother of another brain-injured snowboarder—who, upon returning to competition, suffered a second, massively debilitating TBI—deadpans to Pearce, “Kevin, you had a great life before, but you’re given a totally different brain now. You can’t go back to who you were.” But Pearce does insist on going back, and we’re left waiting helplessly.
TBIs are getting a lot of play now, thanks to President Obama’s promise of a multibillion-dollar effort to map the brain. But for those of us in the skiing and snowboarding world, TBI is nothing new. I know six skiers recovering (because you never stop recovering) from brain injuries, most of them severe. As Walker powerfully depicts, the brain is not a blown ACL repairable with time and a scrap of pig tendon. A TBI is forever.
We’ve been led to believe that the creation of taller and steeper halfpipes is the natural progression of the sport. It isn’t. If you somehow come away thinking it’s OK to send a child—yours or one you only sponsor or write about—40 feet into the sky and hope that he or she returns to earth without shattering his mind, you’ve missed the film’s point entirely.
When science writer Jon Mooallem took a hard look at his daughter’s world, he noticed that his four-year-old brushed her teeth with a whale-shaped toothbrush and her hair with a fish-shaped comb. Kids, he realized, live in a world of idealized animals. The adult world, of course, is more complex. In Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America (Penguin Press, $28), Mooallem examines the disconnect between our arcadian animal love and the shameful ways we treat real critters. In Churchill, Manitoba, he witnesses climate change’s effect on polar bears—and sees the absurdity of media-driven conservation when he finds himself trapped with a gang of scientists in a tundra buggy chasing Martha Stewart, who’s there shooting a segment.
At a California wildlife refuge that serves as the only remaining habitat of the Lange’s metalmark butterfly, a naturalist rips out invasive weeds and tells Mooallem, “This place will never run on its own.” This is the hard truth of 21st-century environmentalism: humans are now godlike garden tenders. “If we choose to help [polar bears] survive,” Mooallem writes, “it will require a kind of narrow, hands-on management—like getting out there and feeding them.” Among a lot of environmentalists, those are fighting words. All respect to Mooallem for having the guts to say them.
Ben Hewitt made his name writing paeans to rural food systems and the iconoclasts who create them. Now, in Saved: How I Quit Worrying About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World($25), Hewitt covers his efforts to step away from the American financial machine, with the help of a 28-year-old wilderness-skills tutor named Erik Gillard, who survives on a four-digit income, lives in a handmade shack, and wears “McEnroe-era tennis shoes,” Hewitt writes. Occasionally, Gillard is heavier on platitudes than depth, but he’s a fun guy, and so is Hewitt.
Outside: When did you realize Erik might be onto something? HEWITT: One thing that interested me was his enviable lifestyle. He surrounds himself with people and things he loves. He has time for his friends. There are a lot of potlucks, a lot of singing.
How does he get away with it? He found ways to meet his needs outside the money system. He doesn’t earn enough to pay taxes.
Your title is Saved. Was there a moment when you felt saved by Erik? I can’t point to an epiphany, but processing my experiences has been transformative. Erik is the most innately generous person I’ve ever met. We went mushrooming for morels. Now, mushroomers are generally a secretive lot, but Erik took me to the best spots. To him these are things to be shared. When you get stuff for free or because of the abundance of nature, it’s such a rush. Who doesn’t like being able to forage a meal? That’s free food!
You now barter beef and chickens with your neighbors and try to source your meals from the wilderness. Any tips for those of us who might not live in the sticks? I highly recommend dumpster diving at colleges the day after the semester ends. Wear gloves. The amount of stuff frat boys throw away is unbelievable.
Do you ever think you might be romanticizing Erik? I do, but I try not to let him off the hook and to look at some of his contradictions. I’ve been privy to enough of his personal quandaries to see that his contentment is real. More than anyone I’ve met, he’s in control of his time.
You refer to the financial system as the “unconscious economy,” but you must hope some never quit it. I need people to consume enough to buy my books or I’m screwed.
Monday night, HBO will premiere Josh Fox’s new documentary, Gasland II, (9 p.m. EST) about the controversial practice of drilling into bedrock in order to tap natural gas deposits. Fox’s first film, 2010’s Gasland, became a runaway hit, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary thanks to compelling characters in hard-hit places like Pennsylvania and Wyoming, and shocking images of tap water on fire. Gasland II expands the focus to places like Louisiana and Australia, but still has plenty of footage of burning tap and ground water.
Fox is a leader in a growing army of fracking detractors, many of them environmentalists and community leaders who claim that it contaminates groundwater, makes people sick, and causes earthquakes. But the fame has brought him detractors of his own. His first film came under attack from the oil and gas industries, which released 2012’s Truthland, an industry-sponsored, pro-fracking film, as well as an 11-page document titled “Debunking GasLand.” Nevertheless, Fox’s image as a daring, muckraking filmmaker has remained intact (although the New York Times Greenwire blog said that Fox and the industry had “each made errors”). We caught up with him at Mountainfilm in Telluride, Colorado, where Gasland II played to standing-room-only crowds, to talk about the fracking industry, his transition to activism, and how he keeps it up after five years on the road with his films.
Outside: Were you an activist before all of this? Fox: I wasn’t a professional activist. I’m a theater guy and a filmmaker. So when my community was thrown up in the air by the gas industry, the way I could contribute was to do something in the film world. I never thought it would be a big deal at all. I thought it was just for the Delaware River basin. That changed.
How many miles have you driven in the course of these films? I’d guess 100,000 miles in two crappy Toyotas. One of them died. The other is the son of the first. And unfortunately you have to drive in that situation. We try to be fuel-efficient. It’s an old car. Not a new car.
Do you ever step back and think how much this has consumed your life? Do you ever think, “Oh shit, this is the only thing I do now”? Like Frank Finan [a Pennsylvanian who opposes fracking in his community] in the film says: To some people we’re just someone in the news. But this is a fundamental transformation of where you’re from. When you have your home on the line, you don’t have a choice. Today, I’m living in a completely different world than the one I was living in before I did this. And this is the simply the most meaningful way to live. I’ve been doing this for five years, now. But that doesn’t mean that life has been taken over by it. It means that life has in some ways become more full.
What motivates you? Making a good film? Exposing the truth? The film is just a tool, a thing that you craft. The film raises awareness. You have to obey completely different rules as a filmmaker and a journalist than you do as an activist. As a filmmaker, you have to tell a good story. You have an audience sitting there, emerged, wanting to know what’s next. As a journalist, you have to double-check all of your sources, all of the things you’re reporting on. You have to do the scientific investigative work to support what you’re reporting on. But, as an activist, you have to spend every single day of your life devoted to it.
Are you able to do that? When the camera is in your hands, you’re a journalist, but when you’re here at a film festival, you’re an activist? Of course. Because I’m going to be taken to account for any mistakes. Certainly, we don’t want to open up ourselves to a real mistake. There are no real mistakes in either film. The industry has spread a lot of misinformation. The film is about journalism. Once the film is done, you can go out there and talk to people.
Activism is just meeting people. Look at John [Fenton, a Wyoming cowboy and character in Gasland]. A six-foot-four-inch rancher and rodeo champion from Wyoming in a white cowboy hat, and me in a funny glasses and a Yankees cap. We’re a ridiculous odd couple. But he’s one of my closest friends in the world. That’s because we’re meeting not in a culture of something shallow, we’re meeting in a culture of something really important. That’s what real activism is.
When the industry came after you, were you surprised? I was deeply surprised that they attacked the film. It got us so much attention. The best thing they could have done was ignore it. We had no chance to win the Oscar. But when they wrote the letter attacking the Academy Awards, trying to get the nomination rescinded, all of a sudden we had a chance.
How do you deal with the attacks? Everybody has a different reaction. Tony Ingraffea gets super fired up when they attack him. He’s one of the geologists who used to work for the industry who we feature in Gasland II. He loves it. He’s the cement guy. The godfather of cement. You have to understand that they attack because they’re afraid. Because we can [create energy] another way.
And we know that. The fossil fuel industry perpetuates this myth that if we don’t use oil and gas and coal, our standard of living will go down. But it’s exactly the opposite. If we keep using oil and gas and coal, our standard of living will go down. What we’re talking about is two million projected new wells in the United States of America. That’s one well per 150 people. That’s insane. That’s handing over our quality of life to become an oil and gas extraction zone.
What do you see as that other way? I think it’s a question of consumption. We have to make some really clear cultural choices here. When you’re facing down the oil and gas industry, it’s pretty clear what matters in life. And when you see the waste in everyday life ... I remember when I was flying back from New Orleans from looking at the BP oil spill. I was on Jet Blue, which gives you unlimited snacks. And each of those snacks is wrapped in a plastic thing, made from natural gas. When you’re out on the Pacific and encounter all of those wrappers, that’s going to make an impression.
We have to start processing what we’re really made of in America. American character is not dead. American integrity and honesty are not dead. When we’re backed up against the wall against the largest corporations in the history of corporations, it’s there.