Review: Piranha (1978) by Jamie

Spoilers Ahead!

The Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’ has been and gone, you’ve watched Jaws and it’s sequels a thousand times and Mega Shark VS Giant Octopus has begun to lose it’s lustre so what the hell are you going to do when you’ve still got an appetite for killer fish? Well, there’s always a few films involving killer fish that aren’t sharks. That’s right, I’m talking about those other fish which people seem to have hyped up as being some kind of serial killing eating machines, Piranha.

I’ve always loved Piranha. Even if their reputation is massively, massively exaggerated, they still look fucking awesome. They look like the kind of fish that deserve to have said about them the things that people say about them. Despite my love of the toothy little bastards, however, I have never watched any of the films in the ‘Piranha’ series. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever watched any films about piranha at all. Still, if there’s any time to start, now seems to be it what with the recent release of ‘Piranha 3D’. So over the course of the next few days, I’ll be reviewing each Piranha film plus a couple from outside the series including the Asylum produced mock buster ‘Mega Piranha’. Anyway, let’s begin at the beginning for it is a very good place to begin with Joe Dante’s original film, Piranha from 1978.

Now there’s one thing that confuses me about this film. Why is it always touted as being a parody of Jaws? I understand that the reason it was made was because Jaws existed in the first place but a lot of nature horror films followed the sharks release into the cinema and they’re not all considered parodies. Yes, the poster for the film certainly parodies Jaws and the film is definitely funny but then so was Jaws. The main reason I don’t buy this film as a parody is that the titular piranha are an actual threat in the film. The kind of thing I would expect in a parody would be the piranha doing weird and wacky things but in this film they are presented as a real threat. There’s no sense of parody in the piranha’s behaviour whatsoever. There aren’t any even any characters that I would consider a direct parody of the characters in Jaws either. Sure there’s that guy who always appears in Joe Dante films (Dick Miller) playing the owner of the water park who’s kinda like the mayor in Jaws in that he doesn’t want to close his water park because of the money he loses but those characters are invariably always in films involving killer fish so again, not really a parody. Sorry I went off a bit there but I jut don’t think it’s fair to just label this film as a parody of Jaws. It has merit of it’s own.

Anyway, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about Joe Dante over the years it’s that he makes really good films about small things attacking people. Gremlins, Gremlins 2 and Small Soldiers (admittedly the weakest but still enjoyable) are all examples of this and Piranha is no exception. The basic gist is that the military had bio-engineered a new strain of piranha to use in the Vietnam war. The project was discontinued but the fish survived, studied under the watchful eye of Dr. Hoak (Kevin McCarthy). Unfortunately his watchful eye doesn’t prevent a pair of skinny dipping teens going into the piranha’s tank with predictable results.

The couples disappearance prompts the arrival of Maggie McKeon (Heather Menzies), a private investigator trying to find out what happened to them. She enlists the aid of local alcoholic Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) to guide her to where the teens may have gone. They head to the apparently abandoned military base and, finding stuff belonging to the couple, decide to drain the pool to see if they have drowned in it thereby releasing the mutant piranha into the local river. Hmm, guess Dr Hoak doesn’t have that much of a watchful eye after all. In fact he really, really sucks at watching out for anything.

The trio decide that they have to try and stop the piranha from reaching the summer camp down stream where Grogan’s daughter is in attendance. To do this they take a raft down river, hoping to reach the dam operator at the bottom in order to prevent him from flushing water through, granting the piranha access to the summer camp as well. As they travel they discover gruesome evidence that the piranhas are indeed incredibly vicious such as the half-eaten body of Grogan’s friend and a boy stranded on top of a capsized canoe after the piranha had eaten his father. Dr. Hoak meets his end whilst helping the boy onto the raft, perhaps hoping to make up for the mistake he made in creating the piranha in first place. Well, it doesn’t really. That boy’s father is still dead and so are you now, Dr. Hoak. The solution to death isn’t more death unless that’s what the voices in your head tell you in which case they are absolutely right and must be obeyed without question.

Anyway, they manage to prevent the flushing of the dam but unfortunately there is a tributary which circumvents it. Double unfortunately the military show up and prevent them from contacting the media in order to keep Operation: Razorteeth (The best name for a military project in the history of forever. In fact, I hope that the military is actually working on creating vicious, mutant piranha just so that they can use that name for real. That would be awesome.) top secret so there’s no way to warn anyone about the the school of killer fish heading for the summer camp and subsequently a summer water park (having it’s opening day no less, so you know it’ll be busy. What are the odds?) further down river. They even go to the length of having the local law enforcement lock them up so they can’t fuck up the secrecy of their little fish project.

I’ll be honest, this confuses the fuck out of me. They don’t even seem to do anything about the killer piranha heading for civilians so how the fuck they think keeping everything hush hush will work out well for them is anyone’s guess. Seriously, just admit you created a race of super piranha and they were accidentally released into the river. It’s going to go a lot better for you publicity wise than having the super piranha kill a bunch of people. Reporters will find out what happened, especially reporters in 70s America. They were all bolstered by the Watergate Scandal and that. They will find out that the piranha came from your facility and that you did nothing to prevent the deaths of innocent people. Shit will not look good for you, that’s all I’m saying.

Anyway, the piranha make it down stream and attack the summer camp though Grogan’s daughter is saved due to her fear of water and they head even further down to the water park with results that are just as predictable as those earlier involving the skinny dipping teens. There’s even bigger problems though. Grogan remembers that the pool in the research facility contained salt water meaning these super piranha can survive in the sea which further means that if these fish keep heading down river they’ll make it to the ocean and be virtually unstoppable.

Grogan and McKeown head to a smelting plant where Grogan intends to open the refuse tanks so that the industrial waste can kill the school. Unfortunately the control room is now underwater and so he must dive into the water in order to carry out his plan. He ties a rope to himself and tells McKeown to count to a hundred and then drive their speed boat away as fast as she can. He struggles to turn the valve that would release the waste and the school begin to attack him until finally he manages to release it and he is pulled away to safety. The industrial waste is released, killing the school and proving that pollution can solve any problem. Fuck you Captain Planet and that kid who‘s power was Heart. Heart? What the fuck is that about anyway? You know what eats hearts? Super piranha, that‘s what.

Oh, I guess the pollution didn’t completely work because it’s heavily implied that some of the piranha made it through when there characteristic sound effect is played over an image of waves breaking over the shore. My apologies to Captain Planet. Not you though Heart Kid. You suck.

So that’s pretty much it and you know what? It was a damn enjoyable film. You don’t really see the piranha that much which works to the films benefit because it kind of suffers special effects wise in the same way that Jaws did except more so because the piranha puppets are no where near as complex as Bruce the shark but hey, at least they worked under water! The acting is really quite good, Grogan in particular is a very enjoyable character and his general surliness is kind of endearing. McKeon is also entertaining. Her character is clearly quite intelligent yet also a little ditzy as well. Also she flashes her tits for a brief moment and they’re not bad. Not bad at all.

Too sum up, Piranha is just a damn fun film. It’s certainly far better a film than something dealing with it’s rather schlocky subject matter has any right to be and I’d probably be surprised if it where anyone else directing this other than Joe Dante. He just does this kind of thing really, really well. So if you haven’t seen the 1978 classic creature feature Piranha then I highly recommend it. Four pints out of five. Join me again tomorrow for a look at Piranha 2: The Spawning. This time the piranha can fly! Will it make the film any better? Who can say either way? Me and I will tomorrow.

Cinepub Presents SyFy Presents: Dinoshark Review Preview by Jamie
21/08/2010, 2:52 pm
Filed under: Trailers | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A preview for the review that will launch a new review series on Cinepub that takes a look at SyFy’s original movies. First up is Dinoshark

The Original Still Exists: The Karate Kid by Jamie

Well, the time has come and The Karate Kid remake has been released. I haven’t seen it yet since it won’t be released in the UK until July but I’ve certainly complained about it enough in everyday life which on reflection certainly seems a bit harsh but the trailer really, really irked me. There are times when a remake can lovingly make reference to the original whilst establishing itself as some new and separate or it can go ‘The Clash Of Titans’ route and seemingly take the piss out of the original. In ‘The Clash Of The Titans’ remake there is a scene where Perseus picks up Bubo, the mechanical owl from the original, and is told to just leave it behind. To me that just seemed completely unnecessary and disrespectful to the original. In the trailer for The Karate Kid remake it looks as though Jackie Chan is trying to catch a fly with a pair of chopsticks before simply killing it with a fly swatter. To me this smacks of ‘Leaving The Owl’ as I will now refer to it.

Anyway much has been made of the recent remake trend in Hollywood. There are those that feel as though the films that we grew up loving are just being taken, given a modern facelift and being released in the interest of nothing more than making money. Of course the fact that most of these remakes are of films that came out in the 80s, the decade of consumerism, makes that a little hard to take completely seriously though it certainly seems that in many cases that does seem to be what’s going on here. Still no matter what happens it is important to remember that the original films still do and always will exist. The movie gestapo aren’t going to come around and destroy the original films that these remakes are based on. It’s also possible that the simple fact that the remakes exist may inspire people to revisit, or perhaps watch for the first time, those original films and that can’t be a bad thing… Unless they remake Jaws. I will bring about the end of the human race if anyone ever dares to remake Jaws. This I promise you.

Anyway, that’s what this new series of articles on Cinepub is all about, remembering and looking back at those original films on which these remakes have been based and I’m going to start with a personal favourite, the aforementioned ‘The Karate Kid’ from that greatest of all years, the year 1984. Spoilers ahead.

Now, I suppose it’s only fair to begin by saying that I love this film. It may even be in my top ten films of all time. It’s practically perfect in my mind. However, I suppose if you had to criticise the film for anything, it’d probably be the plot. It’s a pretty standard sports/fight film plot. Underdog must train in order to beat seemingly superior opponent. Simple as that. It’s a story we’ve all seen time and time again. It’s what is built around this fairly simple plot that makes this one of my favourite films of all time.

The true backbone of this film is the relationship between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Kesuke Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita)… Still, I suppose we should get to the plot besides the whole underdog vs. seemingly superior opponent before we get into the relationships within the film.

So Daniel’s mother Lucille (Randee Heller) gets a new job in California

Yes, that’s right little mentally be-wronged boy from ‘The Wizard’, California. Anyway she moves herself and her son out there from New Jersey all the way to the aforementioned other state. Daniel’s pretty annoyed at being moved from one side of the country to the other but whilst moving in he’s actually invited to a beach party! And at the beach party he meets a girl that catches his eye, Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue). Yes, things seem to be going pretty damn well for Daniel but of course this wouldn’t be much of a film without a conflict now, would it?

Unfortunately the Cobra Kai gang which is headed by Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), Ali’s former boyfriend, stumble across the beach party and decide to crash it. Johnny decides to try and worm his way back into Ali’s good books, going so far as to steal her boom box. Daniel tries to defend her but is soundly thrashed by Johnny and his gang.

Still Daniel tries and persists with Ali and more thrashings from the Cobra Kai are dealt out towards him. All the while the friends who Daniel made on his first day at that beach party have abandoned him and so he finds himself developing a friendship with the janitor of his apartment complex, Mr. Miyagi, which really begins after Miyagi fixes Daniel’s bike after one of the aforementioned thrashings.

Over the months Daniel finally just kinda gives up on Ali and his only friend is Mr. Miyagi until the elderly janitor tells him that he should just go to the Halloween dance and try his luck with the girl he likes or as Miyagi puts it “To make honey, young bee need young flower, not old prune.” Which is an awesome quote. Daniel heads to the dance dressed as a shower and a prank ends in yet another thrashing but this time Mr. Miyagi sees the fights, intervenes and kicks the Cobra Kai’s collectives ass which leads Daniel to beg him to teach him Karate and also head down to the Cobra Kai dojo with him to try and get the bullies to let up on the beatings a bit.

So how does this meeting go? Well, the good news is that the Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) orders his students to leave Daniel alone. Unfortunately Daniel must now enter the local karate tournament with only a few months to train. I know what you’re thinking, well why doesn’t Daniel just not show up for the tournament? Wouldn’t that solve all of his problems? Unfortunately not. If that were to happen not only would Daniel’s beatings resume but Mr. Miyagi would be fair game as well. Yes, Sensei Kreese is such a douche that he would order his students to beat the shit out of an elderly old man.

And so Daniel-san, as Miyagi calls him, begins his training. Though the training seems odd to the young ninja wannabe because it mainly seems to consist of doing chores for the elderly janitor such as cleaning his car collection, sanding his patio and painting his fence and house. Finally pissed off, Daniel-san confronts Miyagi and the reason behind the chores becomes clear as all the movements that Miyagi had taught Daniel-san to carry out his tasks turn out to be karate blocking moves. Well played Miyagi. Well played.

Anyway, Daniel trains, Miyagi teaches, the two grow closer and Daniel also manages to grow closer to Ali though he can’t help but feel as though there will always be a gulf between them because she’s an uptown girl and he’s a back street guy, a feeling which isn’t helped by an incident at a country club. Still, through his training Daniel learns more than just karate from Miyagi. He also learns the importance of discipline and balance and uses these lessons in order to reconnect and build his relationship with Ali. He also learns that Miyagi once had a wife who died in childbirth whilst being held in Manzanar internment camp whilst he was serving America, the country that had imprisoned his family, in Europe, a service for which he was awarded the medal of honour. The combination of training and learning more about each other which leads them to developing a kind of father/son-esque bond.

Finally the tournament comes round and Daniel manages to reach the semi-final whilst Johnny manages to make it to the final. Sensei Kreese decides that he doesn’t want there to even be the possibility that Daniel might defeat Johnny and so orders his opponent, one of the Cobra Kai’s less cuntish students, to perform an illegal move against Daniel and damage his knee. The student reluctantly agrees getting himself disqualified and getting Daniel taken from the ring, effectively making Johnny the defacto winner.

Daniel is heartbroken but Miyagi tells him that he has proven himself. Still Daniel believes that if he doesn’t go out there and fight Johnny then his torment at the hands of the Cobra Kai will never end and he begs Miyagi to perform a pain suppression technique on his knee so that he can compete. Daniel hobbles back into the ring, the fight goes ahead and is boils down to a tie despite Sensei Kreese’s orders for Johnny to sweep the leg. Finally, barely able to even stand, Daniel performs the difficult crane kick manoeuvre and wins the match gaining the respect of Johnny and all of California. He’s the best around.

So yeah, that’s a basic outline of the plot and as I say it’s really the relationship between Miyagi and Daniel that provides the back bone of this film. It’s totally believable and totally moving. There was more than one point whilst re-watching this that I started to tear up a little. Moments such as when Daniel finds out what happened to Miyagi’s family and later when Miyagi throws him a little birthday party and gives him a few gifts. One is a Karate outfit including a symbol that Miyagi’s wife had made for him. The other is one of the classic cars from his collection. More important are the non-material things that Miyagi gives to Daniel. Things like balance, discipline and most importantly a father figure where he had none before. It’s truly believable and touching and most importantly at no point does it feel creepy that this young teenage boy’s best friend is an older gentleman. Mr. Miyagi is just a great teacher with regards to karate and life and we should all be so lucky as to have one.

Finally, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music in The Karate Kid. It’s an 80stastic mixture of 80s awesome wrapped up in a very 80s package. 80s. Yes, it may seem a little cheesy now but there’s a little gland in the back of the head of everyone who experienced even a small part of the 80s that makes us enjoy it’s music on some kind of level even if we don’t want to. And let us remember that it was the Karate Kid that gave us one of the greatest and most inspiring songs that the world has ever known, ‘You’re The Best’ by Joe Esposito.

Right well, this has gone of for much longer and taken much longer than I ever would have thought. Suffice it to say the original film is fantastic and no matter whether the remake is good or bad, the original will always be around to watch again and again. I give this film 4.5 pints out of 5. Laterz.

Last Year In Film: Milk by Jamie

As a straight, white male I don’t think I can claim that I have ever been oppressed. In fact in the entire history of my people you might have to go all the way back to the Roman invasion of Britain to even attempt to make a claim of oppression and a fairly flimsy claim it would be too. What hardships our people faced when the Romans brought us roads, sanitation and mosaics. To be fair though, they did call us wild savages and laughed when we painted our faces blue. That had to sting. Bastards.

So it’s with some trepidation that I come to Milk, the story of 70s gay rights activist and politician. It’s the same problem with films about black civil rights. I can empathise with the people in these films, be disgusted by the actions of the oppressors and I certainly believe that every one is entitled to the same rights as everyone else, regardless of race or sexual orientation but as a member of the group who’s never really had to deal with fighting for our rights, I find it kind of hard to relate to these films sometimes. Not the fault of the films of course, just a circumstance of birth.

With Milk it was even more challenging because, in general, the history of the gay civil rights movement isn’t as extensively covered as that of the black civil rights movement. I could probably name you quite an extensive list of films covering that topic but for films about the gay fight for equality, I could name two and they are both about the same person, this film and the documentary that preceded it, The Times of Harvey Milk, and I’ve only seen one of them.

Anyway, on with the film. It opens with archive footage showing the police raiding several gay bars during the 50s and 60s before going onto the story of Harvey Milk, a gay man living in New York during the early 70s on the day before his 40th birthday. A chance encounter with Scott (James Franco), a younger gay man, leads them both to move to San Francisco for a change of scene. It’s here that Harvey first develops an interest in politics and a hope for the improvement of the lives of gay people in America.

After several unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the position of city supervisor for his district, Harvey finally achieves his goal and becomes the first openly gay man elected to public office. It’s at this point that he meets Dan White (Josh Brolin) a man who he seems to get on fairly well with at first and the men come to an agreement to back each other during votes, in particular White asks Milk to support him on preventing a mental health institute from being built in his district. Harvey changes his mind after finding out more details about the proposition and White becomes determined to oppose him at every turn, leading to his own political downfall. Meanwhile Harvey goes on to greater and greater things, successfully leading the opposition to Prop 6 which would have banned gay people and those who support them from becoming teachers which further deepens Dan White’s feelings of failure. I won’t spoil the ending but if you know the true story at all, and chances are you probably do, then you know what’s coming anyway.

So what is there to say about this film? Well, the performances for one were all brilliant. From Sean Penn to Josh Brolin (who I think I’ve liked in everything I’ve seen him in since The Goonies) to every supporting character. Each actor brings something great to their role, no matter how small it is. The big question is, of course, should Sean Penn have won the Oscar for best actor? Well, I’m still not to sure about that. I’m kinda torn between him and Frank Langella as Nixon at the minute. Penn definitely deserved to be recognised for his portrayal of Harvey Milk but there’s just something that Langella brings to the former President that I feel would have been equally justified had he won the award.

Perhaps the most important thing about the film is the impact it had on me. Well, it certainly made me appreciate the struggle of the American gay community during those tumultuous times and provided me with enough history to help me understand just why the world is the way it is today and the part Harvey Milk played in that. And the ending is incredibly touching, particularly when mixed in with the archive footage. Which brings me to another good point. Throughout the film the action is interspersed with archive footage from the time and it’s far, far less jarring than the faux documentary interviews in Frost/Nixon. That being said I still think Frost/Nixon just beats Milk by a tiny margin as a slightly more enjoyable film. All in all, I certainly recommend Milk and I’ll give it four pints out of five.

Last Year In Film: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. by Jamie

Today sees the beginning of a new recurring segment on Cinepub, Last Year In Film. The concept is fairly simple, watching and reviewing all the Oscar and Razzie nominated films of 2008. And I do mean all of them. It’s going to be a massive undertaking and I hope that I can manage to pull it off before the end of the year. With that in mind let’s begin with the backwards-aging, Gumpesque saga known as The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, Benjamin Button tells the strange tell of the titular character who is born with what appear to be the signs of old age. His father, horrified by the baby’s appearance and the fact that it caused him to lose his wife during childbirth, abandons the baby on the steps of a New Orleans old folks home.

It soon becomes clear that Benjamin isn’t just one of those children with that extreme aging illness. Rather it seems as though he is actually aging backwards. Throughout his backwards life he has encounters with many interesting character’s and experiences the odd important historical event. He also experiences loss from a slightly different perspective and seems to gain a unique outlook on death, told as he was how he would die when he was a very young child.

The first thing you notice about this film is just how much it’s like Forrest Gump because that’s pretty much what it is but instead of being a little slow, the protagonist ages backwards. The similarities are striking. There’s a love interest who’s a free spirit who just wants to enjoy youth and not be tied down by their stodgier male counterpart until the good times have to come to an end (In Jenny’s case a son and terminal illness, in Daisy’s a severe leg breakage that ends her dancing career.), There’s the kindly mother figure who will try and do anything for their son and there’s the gruff alcoholic who he goes to war with whilst also being a boat captain and who seems to truly treasure his friendship. Fuck, there’s even a scene where Benjamin declares how he managed to get paid doing something he’d gladly do for free.

Despite all that, however, I really, really enjoyed this film and I think most of it is down to Brad Pitt and the character of Benjamin himself. In Forrest Gump, the character seems to stay exactly the same, almost oblivious to the changing world around him. Benjamin, on the other hand, seems to change quite a bit over the course of the film and, probably due to his odd condition, seems to adapt better to the changing world around him than anyone else. As Benjamin gets younger, he retains the knowledge that he has accumulated over the years and so, when he finally ends up looking like he’s in his twenties, there’s a wisdom in him that his appearance belies. Just like Benjamin himself says when he replies to Daisy’s comment about how young he is: “Only on the outside,”

There is, however, one major problem with this film that I cannot let go of. If you knew a dude who aged backwards is that the kind of thing you’d keep to yourself until you were on your deathbed? Hell no! You’d tell everyone you goddamn knew or at least I would. It’s like surviving the Titanic and never telling anyone about it until some treasure hunters decided to look for some precious stone that nobody knew you owned. Seriously.

Anyway, the special effects are great, the story’s pretty good if somewhat recycled and the acting is pretty much awesome all round and you’ve always gotta love a film that lets you hear the Louisiana accent for prolonged periods of time. I had a little trouble following it at first, unaccustomed as my ears are to it and the fact that my laptop speakers are shit, over the course of the film I got to grips with it. So there you have it. I’m sure some people will find the film a bit slow, maybe even tedious but it kept me pretty much hooked all the way through and the ending where Benjamin is finally going through childhood is truly, truly bittersweet. I’ll give it four pints out of five.


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