Let’s Talk About Sharknado 4!


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Last Sunday night saw the premiere of Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens!

For the fourth year in a row, SyFy and the Asylum allowed us to take a peak into the shark-filled life of Finn Shepherd (Ian Ziering) and his family.  Also for the fourth year in a row, the premiere of the latest Sharknado film was practically a national holiday.  Long before the film even started, #Sharknado4 was the number one trending topic on twitter.  I actually live tweeted the film twice, once for the east coast and then a second time for my friends on the west coast.  That’s right — I sent out over 300 tweets about Sharknado 4 on Sunday and I’ve never been more proud of myself.  Live tweeting the latest Sharknado is a lot like wishing someone you barely know a happy birthday on Facebook. It’s a part of the ritual of social media.  It’s like the Internet’s version of a Thanksgiving parade or a 4th of July fireworks show.

After four films, it’s easy to forget that Sharknado started out like almost any other SyFy film.  The first Sharknado film featured no celebrity cameos and very little of the self-referential comedy that has come to define the series.  In fact, I didn’t even see Sharknado when it first aired because it premiered, opposite a Big Brother eviction show, on a Thursday.  It was only on Friday morning that I discovered that Sharknado had become a phenomena, largely due to the fact that celebrities like Mia Farrow had decided to live tweet it.

After all this time, it’s easy to forget just how much we veteran live tweeters resented that attention that was paid to celebrities like Farrow, the majority of whom were virgins as far as live tweeting SyFy was concerned.  (The fact that the majority of Farrow’s Sharknado tweets weren’t that good only added insult to injury.)  The media acted as if those celebs had invented live tweeting.  They also acted as if Sharknado was the first entertaining and over-the-top film to ever premiere on SyFy.  Among those of us who had been live tweeting SyFy film long before the premiere of Sharknado and who had loved pre-Sharknado movies like Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Shark Week, there was more than a little resentment.

But you know what?  I watched Sharknado the following Saturday and I had a great time live tweeting it.  The next year, I made sure to watch and live tweet Sharknado 2 the night that it premiered.  The same was true of Sharknado 3 and I even ended up casting a vote on the question of whether or not April should survive that film’s cliffhanger.  With its cheerful absurdity and determination to continually top the glorious absurdity of each previous entry, the Sharknado franchise won me over.  In fact, the franchise won over not only me but hundreds of thousands of other viewers.  Sharknado has become very much a part of our culture.

As I mentioned above, Sharknado 3 ended with a cliffhanger and that alone indicates just how big a deal Sharknado has become.  Sharknado 2 was made because the first Sharknado was an unexpected success.  Sharknado 3 followed because Sharknado 2 had proven that the first one was not a fluke and that there was an audience for these films.  However, by the time 3 was in production, there was never any doubt that there would be a Sharknado 4.  Sharknado 4 also ends with a rather abrupt cliffhanger, leaving little doubt that there will be a Sharknado 5.  At this point, not doing another Sharknado film would be the same as canceling summer all together.

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As for what Sharknado 4 was about … well, does it really matter?  At this point, we know that there’s going to be another sharknado and that Finn is just going to happen to be nearby when it strikes.  We know that landmarks will be destroyed (in this case, Las Vegas is thoroughly ravaged during the film’s first 30 minutes).  We know that Al Roker will show up and say stuff like, “There are reports of a Lightningnado near Kansas…”  (Both Roker and Natalie Morales apparently survived being attacked by sharks during Sharknado 3, though Morales does have an eyepatch in 4.  Matt Lauer is nowhere to be seen so I assume he wasn’t as lucky.)  We know that celebrities will appear in a cameos and that the majority of them will be promptly eaten by a flying shark.  We know that Finn and his family will eventually have to use a chainsaw to battle the sharks and we know that at least one person will be rescued from the inside of a shark’s stomach.

We don’t really watch a movie a like Sharknado 4 for the plot.  We watch it for the communal experience.  Last Sunday was Sharknado Day and it seems like the entire world was on twitter, talking about Sharknado 4.  The majority of us weren’t tweeting about the plot.  Instead, we were acknowledging that we had picked up on the in-jokes and the references to other films.  When April (Tara Reid) showed up alive and was revealed to now by a cyborg, many references were made to the Terminator — both in the film and on twitter.  When we learned that David Hasselhoff has been rescued from the moon, it was time to make jokes about The Martian.  When it was announced that a sharknado was headed towards Kansas, I made a Wizard of Oz joke on twitter.  Three minutes later, in the movie, a house fell on a character who could charitably be called a witch.  We briefly got a shot of her feet sticking out from under the house.

(I should also mention that Gary Busey shows up, playing a mad scientist.  The fact that Sharknado 4 could find prominent roles for both the Hoff and the Busey says a lot about what makes this franchise so endearingly entertaining.  Considering that Penn Jillette was in Sharknado 3, you have to wonder if the franchise will eventually feature every single person who appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice.  Who doesn’t want to see a flying shark bite off Piers Morgan’s head?)

(Actually, as long as I’m mentioning stuff — here’s my favorite inside joke.  Finn and his family are driving through North Texas.  Just judging by the hills and the mountains in the background, this scene was not actually filmed in Texas.  Anyway, they stop off at a general store where Dog Chapman — the bounty hunter — sells them a chainsaw.  When the sharks attack Texas, a chainsaw-wielding army is waiting for them.  Among that army is Caroline Williams, who starred in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  On the one hand, everyone viewing will immediately get the chainsaw joke.  But only the dedicated horror fans will truly understand why it’s so brilliant that Caroline Williams was credited as playing a character named Stretch.)

At this point, the Sharknado franchise is no longer just a series of films.  Instead, it’s a deliriously over-the-top experience.  In these times of partisan rancor, it briefly did not matter if you were a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican.  For two hours on Sunday night, if you were watching and live tweeting Sharkando 4, you were a part of a gigantic family, a community of people with an appreciation for over the top silliness.  Sharknado 4 brought this country together.

That’s not bad for a film about a bunch of flying sharks.

If you missed Sharknado 4 the first time, catch it when it’s shown again.  Just make sure that you watch it with a friend, someone who you can trust to make you laugh.

And, for God’s sake, enjoy yourself!

Life’s too short not to enjoy a Sharknado film!

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #84: The Forbidden Dance (dir by Greydon Clark)


Forbidden_danceDANCE!

I love to dance, I loved to teach others how to dance, and I love watching other people dance.  If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, then you know that I can not resist a film that features a lot of dancing.  It doesn’t matter if the director is inept.  It doesn’t matter if the script makes no sense.  It doesn’t matter if the actors don’t have a bit of acting talent to use to their advantage.  As long as the film features a lot of dancing, I’m happy.

Seriously, people, when in doubt … DANCE!

Let’s take the 1990 film The Forbidden Dance, for instance.  Now, if I wanted to be nit-picky, I could probably find a lot to criticize about this film.  I mean, this film even has a pro-environmental message and you know how annoyed I can get with message films.  And you know what?  You can do a google search and you can find all sorts of insanely negative reviews of this film.

But you know what?

I don’t really care about any of that.  This is, at heart, a dance film.  It features almost non-stop dancing, so I really can’t be too critical of it.  Add to that, it also features memorable performances from Sid Haig and the late Richard Lynch.  Unfortunately, neither Haig nor Lynch get out on the dance floor because, if they had, The Forbidden Dance would have been legendary.

The Forbidden Dance begins in the Brazilian rain forest.  A tribe of Native Brazilians is happily dancing and basically not bothering anyone.  As we learn later on in the film, the dance that they are doing is called the Lambada and apparently, the Brazilian government tried to ban it “because it was too sexy.”

(Amazingly enough and according to Wikipedia, the Lambada apparently was an actual dance craze back in 1990.  The Forbidden Dance came out on the exact same weekend as a competing film about the Lambada.  That film was called, appropriately enough, Lambada.  Strangely enough, two years ago, I randomly reviewed that film for this very site.)

Anyway, all the dancing and the fun is interrupted by the arrival of Benjamin Maxwell (Richard Lynch), a mercenary who works for a Big Evil Corporation.  Maxwell tells the tribe that they might want to stop dancing and leave because the rain forest is going to be destroyed.

Naturally enough, the tribe’s king responds to this by sending his daughter, Nisa (Laura Harring), to America.  Accompanying Nisa is Joa (Sid Haig), a witch doctor.  However, Nisa and Joa’s attempts to invade the headquarters of Big Evil Corporation results in Joa being arrested.

(Incidentally, you might recognize Laura Harring from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, where she played a similarly mysterious character who was lost and hunted in Los Angeles.)

Left to fend for herself, Nisa gets a job working as a maid for a wealthy family.  And while neither Mr. nor Mrs. Anderson has much interest in the backstory of the help, their son Jason (Jeff James) is a different story.  As Jason’s mother complains, Jason doesn’t have much interest in anything other than dancing.  And, when Jason spots Nisa dancing in her bedroom, he becomes intrigued with her.  Ignoring the snobbish reactions of his wealthy friends, Jason asks Nisa to teach him the Lambada!

And hey!  Guess what!  There’s going to be a dance contest and it’s going to be televised!  What better way to get a platform to protest the destruction of the Brazilian Rain Forest then by winning the contest?  Standing in the way of this plan: Benjamin Maxwell (who, in one icky scene, demands that Nisa dance for him), Jason’s parents and friends, and the fact that, through a complicated series of events, Nisa ends up being forced to dance in the sleaziest club in Los Angeles.

So, look — there’s all sorts of things that I could say about The Forbidden Dance but it features a lot of dancing so I’m inclined to be generous towards the film, especially since Laura Harring and Jeff James both know how to move and look really good dancing together.  I mean, the word Dance is right there in the title. The film promises dancing and it delivers.  Plus, it also delivers Sid Haig and Richard Lynch at their demented best.

So, why complain when you can … DANCE!?