Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Old Movie Review - Barracuda (1978), and "Kobayashi Maru"

I probably should have left this one go until october, for my month long horror movie review-athon.  But, I'm not sure if it qualifies more as horror, or a documentary.  lol  It's not really supernatural in origin, more a sort of 70's B-movie that you might have seen on Syfy (if Syfy had been around then, which it wasn't) or the USA network (which was around in the 80's at least).

So let's sum up.  Some students and a professor from the local University are checking out water samples down by the ocean near a chemical plant when a bunch of security thugs come around to round them up.  There's a bit of a scuffle and the sheriff is called.  Turns out the chemical plant is polluting the local water supply in the area and it's affecting the barracuda.  The barracuda end up killing a few divers, and the local sheriff teams up with the marine biologist to try and find out what the heck-all is going on.

Barracuda, just in the rare case you are unfamiliar with the term, is a predatory fish that swims in schools in the ocean and can grow to 6 feet long.  Essentially, they are oceanic piranha (and I know you know what piranha are), but larger, and with a much less ferocious reputation, if not disposition.  If I can quote Jaws (1975), "You yell 'Barracuda!' people say 'Huh? What?'  But you yell 'Shark!'  You've got a panic on your hands on the fourth of July."

I mention the Jaws movie for two reasons.  One, the success of the movie inspired a number of fish-related disaster movies, from the popular and recently remade "Piranha," (1978), to this movie, starring a few rubber fish and some weak attacks.  Two, that quote above pretty much defines how poorly this movie did in theaters.  I'm pretty sure no one is ever going to remake "Barracuda," but I have been wrong before.

There's a few other reasons this movie might not have done so well.  There's a strong political message, which usually doesn't go over well with people who just want to watch a B-horror movie.  I mean, just speaking from personal experience, people who sit around and watch these movies don't attend too many political rallies.  I'm just sayin.  Also, the ending is generally depressing.  It wasn't a bad ending, and it certainly wasn't unexpected, but let's just say, the good guy didn't end up with the girl this time.  Also, for a movie called "Barracuda," the fish really weren't the focus of the movie.  The eaten divers were little more than a means to alert the town sheriff and the marine biologist to what was really going on, which, really didn't have anything to do with the barracuda, which makes for a bit of an odd movie, when all is said and done.  Also, there were absolutely no major stars in the entire movie, at least none that I could find.

Now let's talk about what the movie did right.  For no major stars, the acting was pretty decent.  It may have helped that I couldn't associate these actors with any other roles, so the only time I have ever seen these people in my entire life was in the roles they played in this movie.  In that respect, at least, they were completely believable.  The sheriff acted like a sheriff, the marine biologist was pretty stereotypical for the late 70's, the girls seemed spot-on...  I can't really think of anyone who seemed like they were "phoning it in," which I have so often seen roles referred to lately.  Even the fat deputy seemed like just that.. a fat deputy, and he spent more time sleeping in the police station during this movie than just about anything else.  But he was even believable while he was sleeping.

The story progresses very well.  It starts out with your basic plot device, the whole "chemical plant dumping pollutants into the water" story, which is so common nowadays that you automatically assume the people running the chemical plant are the villains.  Which, they are, but it's really not their fault.  As the story progresses, there's a lot of nighttime sneaking around, between newspaper reporters trying to get a good story, to the sheriff and the marine biologist trying to find out what's going on, which all makes for tense drama.  Sometimes I'll stop a movie to see how much time is left if the movie is boring and I want to get through it.  In this instance, I stopped it to see how much time was left in the movie to try and figure out how the hell they were going to wrap up so many loose ends.  I was surprised to note there were only minutes remaining.

Many of the scenes in this movie are done at night.  I've seen a lot of bad movies, and many of them will film something in the daytime hours and sort of drown out the color or the brightness and try to call it night.  Even in old, respectable movies I have seen this done.  You can usually tell pretty easily, because in the scene you'll see trees, rocks, grass, occasionally a shot of the sun in the background which the movie will try to pass off as the moon by adding a bunch of cricket sounds, but it never works.  There's no way you'd actually be able to see rocks, trees and grass in the background behind an actor in the dead of night.  The difference is, literally, like night and day.  All the night time scenes in this movie are obvious.  It's goddamn BLACK out there behind the actors.  They are lit up by boat lights, streetlights and door lights in many of the night scenes, but beyond them is the dead blackness that you'd expect to see outside your window at 2 am.  Which also adds to the tension.

I like the story, if not the political message.  However, the fact that this movie sends a political message of distrust about the government back in the 70's makes me wonder...  Just how far back does our distrust of the government go?  Distrust of the government is pretty common nowadays, but when did it start?  I mean there's always a few people who aren't going to like authority figures, and there's always a few wise people (like the founding fathers of our great country, for instance) who know that too much power in the hands of too few can lead to great problems, but when did the general mistrust of the government start to pervade the common man?  I think the 40's were fairly safe.  Everyone was pro-kill-the-nazi's.  The 50's were the golden age of television, so I don't remember any sci-fi movies from back in those days that had a government that was actively trying to mislead the people.  I think it was probably the 60's, maybe the late 60's, where the message spread among the poor and middle class folks that governments, and political figures in general, were pretty much lying to you on a daily basis.  After that, pretty much every monster or science fiction movie refers to it in one way or another, from close encounters of the third kind, to the recent Prometheus (2011) which pretty much tells you that even God is lying to you.  lol  Or at least, that's what one of the characters in the movie hinted at.

Political innuendoes aside, Barracuda was a decent movie.  There was some action, suspense, chicks in bikinis, decent acting, unfortunately no nudity, but a few hot chicks here and there.  I know I had seen it before, but it's been so long that I'd totally forgotten how the movie turned out, so rewatching it was a pleasure.  I don't know if i would cue this movie up again to watch it right away, but if you haven't seen it, it's a pleasant hour and a half.

Also, it illustrated just how cranky a person with low blood sugar can get, which really explains a lot of the behavior in my family.  Of course, I can't rule out insanity, which is as strong in my family as the Force was in the Skywalker clan, but, oh well.  At least I have a partial answer to an age-old question.  Why the HELL are people so grumpy around lunch and dinnertime?  lol

In other news, my prediction for a cooler, wetter summer was dead-on-balls accurate, to quote Marisa Tomei in "My Cousin Vinny."  I'm not sure what I know that other forecasters don't, or how I managed to predict the weather months in advance, but I guess, when you're this good, nothing is impossible.  lol  It's been pretty cool and pretty rainy lately, leading the weathermen to often quote their listeners complaint of "Where did summer go?"  There have been a couple weeks of warmer temps here and there, I mean, it IS summer, but we're not seeing anywhere near as much of that this year.  Early august temps should be well into the 80's around here, but instead we are generally in the low 70's.  Not good beach weather.  I think all the cool weather is aggravating my sinuses.  Not today, luckily.  If we drop down to 70 this evening, it'll be a miracle, but I prefer the heat to the cold anyway, so I'm good.

Not much else going on so far.  Slow month, so I'll probably try to crank out some movie reviews.  Horror I am saving for october, and yes, I am looking forward to my month-long horror movie review-athon then, but Sci Fi and action and fantasy movies are fair game this month.

Also, amazingly, I've been playing so many multiplayer games lately (and winning) that I've lost the will to cheat at single player games.  I'm sure I'll get it back.  It seems odd, but like I explained to my nephew recently, cheating at single player games is not necessarily a bad thing.  I mean, it's foolish in multiplayer games because (1) they generally kick cheaters if you get caught, and (2) it doesn't test your skill against others (or your cooperative tactics with them), which is what multiplayer games are about.  My nephew told me he looks at the difficulties in single player games as challenges to be overcome.  That's fine, and I am sure it makes most games enjoyable for him, but tiresome, boring treadmill challenges were never my thing.  Leveling up, for instance, bores me to tears, and does nothing for social gaming but separate those who have just started playing the game from those who have been playing it the longest, which seems ridiculous to me.  I mean, think about it.  You've got an old player, who has found many things to enjoy about your game, and plays it often, and you've got a new player, maybe someone who doesn't know much about the game, and is only trying it out to see how they enjoy it.  Wouldn't you WANT your experienced players to team up with the newbies to show them what's to love about your game?  That makes sense to me, but apparently, game makers who add level-based content into a game seem to disagree.  But I digress.  My point was, my nephew likes challenges, and seems to think that because I don't like repetitive challenges in games, that I'm flawed in some way.

But recently I busted out the ultimate example.  The kobayashi maru.  Oh yes.  The one from Star Trek.  The Starfleet Academy's vaunted Kabayashi maru test, which is supposed to test your mettle when faced with a no-win scenario.  Followers of Star Trek will immediately be able to recall that Captain Kirk was the only one who ever beat the no-Win Scenario.  If you remember the most recent reboot of the Star Trek universe, or the movie "Star Trek II; The Wrath of Khan" with Ricardo Montalban, both of them prominently featured the kabayashi Maru test.  The test, to sum up, puts you in simulated command of a star ship.  You get a distress call, but when you go to answer it, you are surrounded by enemy ships with absolutely no way to rescue the crippled ship and get away safely.  Captain Kirk planted a virus into the system to allow him to cheat during the Kabayashi Maru test, which allowed him to destroy the enemy ships, rescue the survivors, and escape the encounter with no casualties.  Kirk was accused of cheating in one movie, but says that he got a commendation for original thinking in another.  As Kirk himself says, he does not believe in the no-win scenario.  Neither do I.  I do not believe repetitive challenges in games trains you for anything other than playing the game the way they want you to, which, if you aren't the most skilled, most intelligent, luckiest, most tactfully-trained person in the world with the quickest reflexes, you aren't going to win.  And who does that leave?  The rest of humanity, because there's no one out there that perfect.  There's not a game out there nowadays that you don't lose at.  And that's fine, because the games have extra lives, and respawning, and save points you can go back to in the event of your untimely death, and even if they don't have all that, you can always start over from the beginning.  But as we all know, real life isn't like that.  Who the hell could ever beat Super Mario Brothers without an extra life or two?  Or Dragon Age origins without going back to a previous save?  Shit, I was cheating my ass off and I still went back to old saves.  But that's all crap, because it certainly doesn't train you for real life.  Real life should NOT be a challenge for you.  It should be easy, because in real life, there's no respawning when you die.  There's no going back to save points.  If life is a challenge for you, you're doing it wrong.  Because let's face it, we're all human.  Sooner or later, we're all going to fail a challenge, and some of us are going to end up dead or injured because of it.  That's life.  So what would you rather do in life, take the challenge the way they want you to, and probably die, or cheat your ass off and sail through life as a winner?  If only life had cheat codes...

So, yea.  My nephew started his usual "I feel more accomplished than you because I face the game's challenges and eventually beat some of them."  And I busted out with KOBAYASHI MARU, asswipe.  Enjoy your challenges.  I'm CAPTAIN FUCKING KIRK.  You go and restart your game from the last save point, trying to figure out where you went wrong, and I'll be on some tropical planet, having sex with a green-skinned Orion slave girl.  THAT'S what Kobayashi Maru really means.  It means I WIN!  KOBAYASHI MARU!

Until next time, wise readers.  I'll be here, living a challenge-free life.  :-)

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