Life Rants

Things My Brain Has Decided Will Cure My Insomnia: Covid-19 Edition

There are few things I love more than sleep, especially in times of stress. My tired, worried brain is always on board for the moments during the day when it doesn’t have any connection to reality.

Of course, the times when I am most stressed (and handling things worst) are inevitably when my brain decides lying awake and worrying is the best way to cope.

Here are some irrational things my exhausted brain has tried to deal with sleepless nights–none of which have particularly worked. Perhaps, at the very least, these thoughts will leave you with the comfort that you’re not the only one with a strange, questionably functional mind.

Time travel sci-fi TV with an Occupy Wall Street theme

Promotional poster for the TV show Continuum shows a woman holding a small glowing sphere with a stormy cityscape behind her.
Image by Rwtia64 on Continuum Wiki

You know how certain shows seem to jump from one streaming service to another before suddenly disappearing altogether? I made the unfortunate discovery this fate had befallen the Canadian time travel show Continuum, which was so great and (like so much sci-fi) incredibly underrated. And, as stubborn insomniac brains are wont to do, my brain decided re-watching the show in the night’s wee hours was the only thing that would help me magically drift off to sleep–and, naturally, paid to stream all 4 seasons. Who could have guessed the explosions, terrorist plots, machine gun fire, and hostage situations happening regularly on the show wouldn’t be particularly conducive to a restful sleep?

New wave pop of the 1980s

A cassette tape rests on a bright pink and yellow background.
Image by Kevin Sanderson from Pixabay

Aztec Camera has been stuck in my head since “Somewhere in My Heart” was unexpectedly featured in the first film of Shark Month 2020, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. Since then, my brain has decided the soundtrack of 2:00 A.M. includes The Jam, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Eurythmics, Madness, and the Smiths (ugh Morrissey, I know). So perhaps not so much new wave as British artists with a lot of feelings and suspiciously upbeat rhythms masking angry social commentary?

Relaxation apps

Screenshot of the Calm app, showing the sleep story Blue Gold, narrated by Stephen Fry.

I’ve tried the free versions of both Calm and Headspace within the past month and realized how strange the world of relaxation/meditation apps truly is. Calm is oddly committed to celebrity performances, including Stephen Fry narrating a stroll through the lavender fields of Provence and John McEnroe reading the rules of tennis. It also features a playlist of rain falling on leaves that’s been curated by LeBron James? Whatever the fuck that means. Headspace has its share of surreal experiences too, such as a soothing visit to an antiques shop that is home to a dog who trusts you intrinsically.

Video game playthroughs

Cover of the PlayStation game Spyro the Dragon, featuring a small purple dragon posing confidently.
Image by Emmaboo60 on Spyro Wiki

Obviously it’s incredibly soothing to listen to the gentle sounds of fictional dragons burning other animals alive and occasionally pushing them from cliffs. Though, honestly, I’m talking about the late ’90s/early ’00s Spyro games for PS1, so there is actually an innocent charm to all of this. And if it makes you feel any better, the creatures in the original game were actually gems that had been transformed to give the illusion of being alive…or something like that. Also making my insomnia playlist are the choice-based games Life Is Strange and The Wolf Among Us, which both involve difficult ethical dilemmas with some terrible unintended consequences. Friends tell me there are also marble racing competitions and Tetris world championships available on YouTube.

Sleepytime tea

A tin of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime herb tea shows a bear in a nightgown sleeping on an armchair.
Image by Washthebowl on Flickr

Honestly, this is the biggest crock I’ve ever bought into, and I want to light the rest of the box on fire. Not only does this tea taste absolutely awful, but it also has zero effect on my ability to sleep. In fact, the only thing this tea is good for is making you get up to pee like 6 times in the night. Fuck the lying fucking bear on the box’s art who was probably already in hibernation mode before drinking this goddamn tea in the first place.

With all of this being said, I have to count myself lucky. Along with my friends and family, I’m in good health. And I have been able to continue working from home (knock on wood). I’m sure there’s part of my brain that knows this and is trying to do its bit by taking worrying into hyperdrive. So, on the one hand, you may say all I’m doing is needlessly losing sleep by sitting around and stressing about the state of the world. But to you I say I’m a goddamn hero right now, doing my part to prevent the spread of a deadly virus for which there is no cure.

And yeah, not sleeping.

How are you coping (and staying safe) during the novel coronavirus pandemic?

Cover photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shark Lake, or: Who’s Ever Heard of a Shark in a Lake?

Current world events have created the paradox in which I’m ready for this month to be over while hoping it never ends–primarily because it’s shark month on the blog. If anything can distract you from a global pandemic, it’s the familiar sight of a fin cutting through the water and the inevitable bloody thrashing. RIP, all of those who overacted in minor roles as shark attack victims. It’s the last film of Shark Month, so let’s enjoy those committed performances while we can.

The Film:

Shark Lake

The Premise:

A small town sheriff attempts to save unsuspecting locals from a shark living in Lake Tahoe.

The Ramble:

In a small town on the edge of Lake Tahoe, there are shady dealings aplenty. Included is some kind of exotic animal smuggling operation that petty criminal Clint Gray (played by Dolph Lundgren who couldn’t be bothered to read the script, probably) has gotten mixed up in. When his place is busted by the law, Clint gets caught up in a high-speed chase, which ends with his van in the lake. Does the van also happen to contain a bull shark that was meant for a local mobster? I mean, duh.

On the night Clint is arrested by sheriff Meredith Hernandez, his young daughter will presumably become a ward of the state. However, feeling a connection with the little girl, Meredith somehow manages to adopt her or become her legal guardian or something along those lines? Look, I won’t claim to understand the adoption process on any level, but this feels doomed to fail if this kind of thing is typically allowed.

Two police officers in uniform look out across a lake.

Five years later, Clint is released from prison, which has Meredith freaking out. Though Clint is determined to leave his old life behind, it’s going to take more than a low thrill fight scene to keep the mob off his back. Concerned about Clint’s criminal record, Meredith has every intention of keeping him as far away from his daughter, Carly, as possible.

If that weren’t enough to keep Meredith busy, there seems to be a bear on the loose that has attacked and killed a man at the lake. Or could it be…something else?

Clearly it’s a shark causing trouble at the lake–if this film’s title weren’t enough to clue you in, the “well, actually…” guy at the bar puts on his oddly specific bear facts face and dazzles Meredith with his brilliance. He has a PhD, just so you know. And the kind of person who brags about having a PhD about 8 seconds after you meet them is obviously a winner. However, Dr. It’s Not a Bear does manage to help Meredith reach the conclusion that, against all odds, the culprit behind the attacks is a bull shark. How is this possible? Apparently bull sharks are the rare species that can adapt to the level of salinity in their surroundings.

A man in glasses sits at a bar, turning to speak with a woman sitting at a nearby table.

Unfortunately, this conclusion arrives too late for an unlucky couple of parasailers, who suffer a shark attack just as Meredith arrives with the instructions for everyone to clear out of the lake.

Meanwhile, a smarmy British shark expert arrives, proposing to solve the town’s shark problem as long as he can turn the results into his own personal reality show. This ends approximately as well as you’d imagine, though the film recorded does reveal there are not one, but three sharks living in the lake; the bull shark released 5 years ago was pregnant with 2 pups.

The drama really ramps up when Meredith’s mother nearly becomes a victim of the shark after the family’s dog makes a dash for the lake. So, yeah, this does prove that a dog really can help make you more active, but at what cost? Carly is kind of an idiot and uses this as an opportunity to find her father and enjoy some quality bonding time.

A man stands in a wooded area, clutching his bleeding shoulder.

It doesn’t take much for the cops to leap to the assumption that Clint has kidnapped his daughter and intends to flee to Canada with her (even though Mexico would be significantly closer). Clint takes off on his boat to bring Carly home, with Meredith in pursuit in a dinky little speedboat. What could possibly go wrong? And will the situation call for Clint to actually haul off and punch a shark in the nose?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I would like a written apology from the marketing team for this film, which features Dolph Lundgren prominently in all of the posters, trailers, and credits. Honestly, Dolph gets very little screen time, and his character feels almost tacked on to the main plot of the film.

And let’s talk about the “main plot” while we’re at it–god, is it a mess. This film isn’t really a shark film so much as a police procedural; an incredibly stupid police procedural. Not only are the writing and the plot really stupid, but the police themselves are so stupid that you could reasonably expect them to rush into the lake, commanding the sharks to freeze in their eagerness to make an arrest. The cops spend a significant amount of the film assuming they’re looking for a bear (and congratulating themselves for catching it) based on absolutely no evidence. And Meredith legitimately has a conversation in which she accuses the shark of being evil. Like…I honestly don’t know what to say? Hopefully she’s a vegetarian or Meredith is going to have a serious reckoning with herself about the nature of evil when she thinks about all of the cows she’s killed.

Things I still don’t understand after giving this film a reasonable amount of attention while viewing:

  • how/why Meredith had custody of Carly in the first place
  • what the mafia actually does in this town besides bitch about never receiving the shipments of live sharks they were promised
  • what the fuck the mafia is going to do with live sharks (and if the answer is feed snitches to them, why did we not get to see this???)
  • why Clint didn’t tell the police about the whole sharks in the lake thing earlier; surely there’s some sort of anonymous hotline he could’ve used?
  • why the sharks haven’t been chomping on human legs for the entirety of the past 5 years
  • what Clint’s relationship with the mafia is/was
  • whether Clint has any interest in actually seeing his daughter because of all the toxic masculinity/macho bullshit his character is made of

However, I will give this film credit for giving us a rather satisfying fight scene between Dolph Lundgren and a shark. You do have to wait for it, though. And suffer through the line “We cleaned up the lake and the street.”

Would my blog wife set this one loose to swim freely or punch it swiftly in the snout? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Last Shark, or: For Legal Reasons, I Have Never Seen the Spielberg Film from 1975

It’s been a difficult month for so many of us around the world. My contribution in all of this? Weekly reviews of terrible shark films because, of course, when things are tough, we can always rely on a shark to remind us of what’s really important. Staying inside, away from others, while the professionals get the job done. With only the occasional clueless politician thrown in for a touch of realism.

The Film:

The Last Shark

The Premise:

A writer and shark hunter team up to stop a shark terrorizing a small beach town in spite of its oblivious mayor. But the events in this film were no way inspired by Jaws. Not even a little bit.

The Ramble:

Though released in 1981, there’s no denying the groovy ’70s vibe featuring prominently here. No one embodies this more than our very daring, festively dressed windsurfer dude, the favorite to win big at this year’s local regatta. The event of the season for this small beachside town (unspecified), surely nothing can stand in the way of local tradition. Can it???

A windsurfer leans back precariously, crouching low on his board

After golden boy of the windsurf kingdom goes missing, local writer Peter becomes concerned something is amiss. Stereotypical crusty Scottish sea captain Hammer (for real), locating one distinctly chomped surfboard, teams up with Peter to track down a shark of unusual size and avoid tragedy.

Unfortunately, like the mayor in that most classic of all shark films, Mayor Wells is determined to avoid the disruption of the regatta at all costs. Up for reelection and eager to score some points by defending a beloved tradition, Wells decides it will be good enough to put up some sharkproof netting and have a few people on the lookout.

A man in a suit with 1970s hair swept back uses a white pointer to gesture to boats on a map of a small bay.

Naturally, the regatta becomes a bloodbath as the shark picks off the windsurfers one by one. While the mayor is under pressure to locate the shark, Wells has no interest in doing so. And, honestly, this does seem to fall outside of the scope of mayoral duties? However, his son, along with buddies that include Peter’s daughter, decides to take it upon himself to heroically save the day. Armed with shotguns, their plan is to lure the shark with a hunk of janky old meat.

Meanwhile, Peter and Hammer’s scuba diving quest to hunt the shark ends less than successfully. Worse, Peter’s daughter Jenny encounters the shark, suffering serious injury. I guess this is the point where Peter mentally puts on sunglasses and says to himself, “Now it’s personal.”

A man sits next to a young woman lying in a hospital bed, holding her hand.

At the same time, the mayor decides to take some personal responsibility and end the shark’s reign of terror. Taking his chopper out for a spin, Wells gets more than he bargained for. Sadly, so does the pilot when the shark takes down the entire fucking helicopter.

A man clings to the landing skid of a helicopter, screaming as a large shark with open jaws approaches behind him.

Throughout this whole ordeal, it should be noted, a TV crew is determined to capture all of the blood and guts on film. They even go so far as to hire a cowboy to take down the shark while the film is rolling. This, of course, backfires horribly when a bunch of youths, along with Peter’s wife, are standing on a boardwalk that the shark manages to detach. Can Peter save the day before the shark claims another victim?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

A subtle tribute to Jaws this is not. It more closely resembles a hammy ripoff that falls painfully short of its source material. Most of the shark attacks just made me giggle rather than shake in terror; the regatta is perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious of this film’s moments of suspense. The theme song itself feels like such a ripoff too, to the extent that it’s merely distracting instead of tense.

There’s some catharsis in seeing the idiots die when Jaws didn’t grant us this joy. Especially since Mayor Vaughn has been making the rounds in meme form lately, it feels so soothing to see a recklessly stupid politician actually face consequences. Too bad there’s so little justice in our reality.

Unfortunately, everyone who isn’t a sleazebag is completely forgettable, so it’s difficult to root for our heroes here. In fact, the shark has a smart, vindictive streak that part of me very much admires. And one of our beachgoers at the regatta is casually waving a Confederate flag at one point??!?! Forgive me if this particular human elicits no sympathy from me. Also aggravating: the number of times a woman screams shrilly. Peter’s wife in particular is painfully helpless, and I was sort of hoping for her death at times.

Would my blog wife toss this one a life preserver or knock it overboard? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, or: Lightning/Megalodon Strikes Twice

When the world no longer makes sense, there’s only one thing on the Blog Collab we can still rely on: awful B-movie shark horror. And this week’s pick sees a return to a franchise that has become legendary on the Collab. That’s right: it all started here for the Mega Shark franchise, and for Debbie Gibson’s film career–honestly, is it possible for a star to burn brighter than when facing off with an ancient shark?

The Film:

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus

The Premise:

After an ancient shark and octopus are unfrozen and unleashed on our oceans, it’s up to a small team of oceanographers to stop the creatures.

The Ramble:

For the US military, it’s all in a day’s work to fly a helicopter around the Arctic circle, dropping experimental sonar devices for kicks. In the spirit of truly great sci-fi films, our immediate concern is how this is going to affect the whales. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is unfavorably.

After the sonar drives them berserk, a pod of whales nearly takes out oceanographer Emma MacNeil’s submarine. Even more disturbing, the whales seem to have no regard for their own survival, as they blindly ram into a massive glacier. Worse, disturbing the glacier awakens the creatures trapped inside–one Megalodon (mega shark) and giant octopus.

A group of three scientists in white coats observe an off-camera whale, while three men in suits in the background look sternly on.

Later, Emma examines the body of a beached whale that seems to have met the wrong end of a propeller. However, on closer inspection, she discovers the animal was killed by a living creature…one with absolutely massive teeth. Meanwhile, a drilling platform off the coast of Japan is attacked by something large and tentacly that vanishes as quickly as it appears.

After being fired for essentially taking a submarine for a joyride, Emma seeks advice from her former teacher and mentor, the delightfully Irish Lamar Sanders. Using only the most sound scientific logic, Sanders argues that the creature is a Megalodon. People have been seeing sea monsters since the beginning of time…therefore, giant prehistoric sharks live among us?

Meanwhile–and I shit you not–the mega shark jumps out of the fucking ocean to take down a plane mid-flight. However, bad movie fans know immediately not to get too attached to any of the passengers on this flight, as there’s that one guy who proudly announces his upcoming wedding in two days. Goddammit, dude.

From the perspective of an airplane window, a shark flies through the air, leaping from the ocean.

After Megalodon takes out a huge US Navy battleship, the feds, who have been keeping an eye on the scientists for reasons, bust Sanders’ place. The feds/army/navy/I don’t really know which department coordinates responses to massive shark attacks essentially coerce the scientists to come up with a plan, along with Japanese scientist Dr. Shimada. The three agree to work together, despite the douchey dude asking for help making about 10,000 slurs against the Japanese. FFS, dude. Would you rather be racist or survive a giant shark attack??? Sometimes you have to choose, man. And by sometimes, I mean ALL THE TIME.

3 people look out towards the ocean: an elderly man with graying hair, a blonde woman with hair in a messy bun, and an Asian man wearing glasses.

The initial plan is to somehow contain the two creatures, you know, FOR SCIENCE. You know what this means: we’re gonna need a science montage. Sanders ends up getting the raw end of the deal here, as he continues to vaguely contribute by pouring different liquids into beakers. However, Emma and Shimada, who bond over (surprise) their love of the ocean, secretly hook up. But don’t worry–it’s at least partially for science. After their night together, the two come up with the ingenious idea of luring the creatures with pheromones.

3 scientists crouch in front of a table in a lab, smiling at a glowing substance in a beaker

Predictably, the first plan fails miserably, managing only to piss off the already volatile creatures. Honestly, how the fuck do you contain prehistoric sea creatures anyway? Everyone knows the only way to defeat a Megalodon and a giant octopus with an ancient feud is to let them fight each other. What could possibly go wrong?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I just can’t hate you, Mega Shark. Even though the films in the franchise have been a bit of a letdown in terms of the gory shark attacks we’ve come to expect from shark horror, there’s a sort of earnestness I can’t help but appreciate. For a film about a giant shark fighting a massive octopus, it’s quite sweet. The US government listening to science! Concern about climate change and its impact on our oceans! A belief in solutions to global problems that don’t involve blowing things up! Oh, 2009. I miss you.

I will concede that the special effects are not wonderful, and many of them seem to be the same animation but in reverse. There are also no real emotional stakes for the characters, which I would just expect narratively even as I admit having a planet to live on that hasn’t been taken over by prehistoric creatures is a reasonably strong motivation. I expected the film to raise the stakes with people and places the characters cared about falling victim to Megalodon, but (spoiler?) this didn’t really happen. I also really wanted some of the nastier characters here to meet up with our prehistoric shark friend, but we didn’t get any such catharsis.

However, I will give this film so much credit for the following moments that made my life infinitely better:

  • Upon firing Emma, her boss leaving her with the line, “Don’t love the ocean too much; it doesn’t love you back.” Which is both hilariously cold and utterly strange for what I presume is an oceanographer to say?
  • The moments when Megalodon leaps out of the ocean to mercilessly destroy, on separate occasions, an airplane and the Golden Gate Bridge. I honestly teared up a little because I loved these scenes so much.
  • Any time there’s underwater turbulence, and the cabin shakes to a degree worthy of any number of Star Trek episodes.
  • Shimada being an incredibly supportive boyfriend/one night stand when he refers to Emma’s plan–basically having a prehistoric shark fight a giant octopus–as “brilliant.”
  • The US Navy having the unquestionably American backup plan of nuking the fuck out of the ocean if the first plan fails.
  • The incredibly optimistic setup of a sequel…which clearly didn’t happen in the way anticipated yet starred Jaleel White, aka Urkel from Family Matters?!?!?!?!?

Did my blog wife sit front row center with popcorn in hand for this epic showdown or launch the nuclear missiles immediately to put us all out of our misery? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

47 Meters Down: Uncaged, or: Nothing But the Tooth

It’s April 2020, yet it feels like the end of the world half the time. In the Covid 19 edition of the Blog Collab, all we’ve got are films bonkers enough to distract us from our current reality. This week, we’re going back to our roots. That’s right–for our purposes, this week is Shark Week.

The Film:

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

The Premise:

Feuding siblings end up with much more family bonding than anticipated when a cave diving adventure yields dangerous encounters with sharks.

The Ramble:

Mia is having a rough time adjusting to her new high school, where she has been immediately branded a loser. Meanwhile, her sister Sasha is already set with a girl gang, avoiding publicly recognizing her social misfit sibling at all costs.

Determined to facilitate sisterly bonding opportunities, father Grant books a weekend shark tour on a glass-bottomed boat. Busy with an exciting new find as an archaeologist/excavator/diver/I don’t really know what this man’s job is, Grant will have to skip the tour in favor of exploring a series of underwater tunnels that are part of an ancient city. He doesn’t seem too broken up about it, to be honest. Though he’s ditching all of the family togetherness, Grant does give Mia an ancient shark’s tooth he’s uncovered, which may come in handy later (it definitely does).

Despite cancelling her plans with her posse, Sasha’s friends Alexa and Nicole show up to save her from what can only be a torturous tourist trap. Feeling at least some amount of loyalty to her sister, Sasha invites Mia to tag along for their adventure at a secret swimming spot (naturally).

Finding a small stockpile of scuba gear from their father’s dive, the girls plan to explore part of the underwater city, including a temple supposedly marking the entrance to Xibalba, the Mayan city of the dead. Always a stellar plan, ladies.

Admittedly, the underwater temple looks pretty flipping cool. However, it doesn’t take long for trouble to arise when Nicole is startled by a Mexican cave fish, which is blind and eerily colorless. After knocking down a significant part of the temple, the girls draw the attention of Grant’s assistant, Ben. He seems eager to help them out with the guide line he’s been using to retrace his steps (strokes?)…but, sadly, it’s not long before Ben becomes shark bait. And, like our Mexican cave fish friend, this is a special species that has evolved sightless–all the better to sense prey based on sound and movement.

With oxygen running low and determined sharks on their trail, the girls regroup to find Grant’s crew working nearby. Will this plan save them or is a more harrowing turn of events in the cards? Prepare to be astonished.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

You know, I didn’t hate this. Were the characters (more than) a bit underdeveloped? Was the weird high school bullying theme entirely unnecessary? Did I laugh out loud at some of the shark attack deaths? Clearly, yes.

However, I found this film genuinely suspenseful at times and creative in its approach to some of the shark scenarios. Since our protagonists were in the unusual situation of diving underwater for most of the shark attacks, the additional dangers of low oxygen, strong currents, and surfacing near steep cliffs with no way to climb up added interesting complications to the story. I also legitimately felt my stomach drop when two of our protagonists finally surface near a boat only to realize its crew are chumming the waters. Mia has some rather badass scenes as well that, while highly unrealistic, are pretty damn entertaining.

And, honestly, I can’t help but respect a diving crew that chooses the Carpenters as the soundtrack for their excavation.

Would my blog wife go along for a deep dive with this one or stay sensibly planted on solid ground? Read her review here to find out!