Sunday, March 12, 2006



I have been getting quite a few worried-sounding cards and letters from the rank and file, asking about a repeating theme in the books and movies I’ve been reviewing. Operatives have been talking about this issue in the chapter meetings, spreading the word AS WELL YOU OUGHT, and you’re right, I’ve put off discussing this one far too long. In a world where they publish a new Twelve-Step-oriented self-help book every frocking month, I feel it is only fitting to name this issue "OPERATIVES IN DENIAL."

(This is not to be confused with Operatives In The Nile. Everything is under control in the North African Sector.)

Miriam Caskey in Michael McDowell’s Blackwater series. The ‘Gentleman Guppy’ in Waterworld. Elphaba and Nessarose in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. Murai in Attack Of The Mushroom People. Max and Peaches in Lefcourt’s Ghost Crab. What do all these characters have in common? That’s right, they are all FIGHTING DESTINY and trying to keep their heads above water. They want to get up on dry land where they think they belong. Now, what are these blame-fool operatives up to, anyway? It’s a completely fair question, and here’s your answer at last: THEY ARE WORKING FOR US, THE SAME AS YOU ARE.

>> Miriam Caskey is a glaring example of a landfish who hasn’t found herself. She is raised entirely by the Monkey People side of the family. She certainly seems to think she is 100% human, but look at what she does with her waterless life. SHE MAKES MONEY FOR HER FAMILY. TONS OF MONEY. This of course is what makes it safe for her sister to reproduce and return her children to the river, where they belong. Remember when the sisters go on their first day trip to the Gulf coast? While her sister explores the ocean bottom for hours, Miriam stays on the beach and tans, totally unconcerned that the sister may have drowned. SHE KNOWS EVERYTHING IS ALL RIGHT. On some unconscious level, she is protecting the interests of the mother she claims to hate. And Elinor, her mother, knew it would work out this way. IT WAS ALL ARRANGED IN ADVANCE.

>> The Gentleman Guppy, a.k.a. Ichthyo-sapiens, to be discussed at length in another column. But let me put yet another spin on his puzzling behavior. Anyone paying attention can see that the humans in this movie, barely surviving on the surface of the ocean, are better off on Dry Land, and The Guppy takes them there himself. He then turns right around and heads for the open ocean again. COULD IT BE THAT HE IS PLANNING TO TAKE THEM ALL ASHORE, ONE BOATLOAD AT A TIME? Clearing the ocean’s surface of monkeys would be a helluva break for ALL the Gill Folk, don’t you think? It’s a big job to tackle, and this stoic feller is just the kind of finboy we’d need to head up the operation if an appreciable number of Naked Apes tried to colonize the ocean’s surface. It’s a real possibility that we WILL have to deal with this problem, once we succeed in completely melting the polar icecaps. Let me add that this is the only idea I can come up with that explains why the Gill Man in this picture ever warmed up to the horrid little Tattooed Girl. SHE DOES HAVE HER USES.

>> Elphaba. Let’s talk Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. This is a green-skinned woman of unknown provenance, deathly afraid of water, who was nevertheless raised in a vast swampland after her parents were lured there by a native of that region. Both her mother and her putative father were madly in love with this man. I’ve never heard of an operative who deals this way with married couples, but hey, this story takes place in Oz, where the rules are all different. Notice that the worse her dread of water grows, the more Elphaba wants her life to be over. When she finally faces her worst fear in that encounter with Dorothy and the mop bucket, she finds the release she has been seeking for years. Her whole life was sink or swim, anyway. She finally swam. Is it just me, or does the significance of her sewing wings onto monkeys become terribly sad in this context?

>> And Nessarose! The Witch of the East! Well, YOU AND I know the significance of a lovely girl born without arms who has trouble walking on land. Her father is almost certainly the Quadling glassblower from the Great Southern Swamps of Oz, meaning Nessarose is a Swamp Thing herself. She even has magical powers, learned from the landfish who recruited her. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, HER NICKNAME IS NESSIE! DO THE MATH!

>> Murai, the Matango Man. He finally got it right after trying to postpone the inevitable. As usual, love found a way. If you look at it from a recruiting perspective, Murai’s decision to eat the mushrooms on the trip home and address a panel of doctors in a half-transformed condition makes sense. From this point it’s a certainty that SOMEONE will send a boat full of intrepid researchers to Matango Island to raise the census there. And they will probably bring Murai with them to show them around. Or he may just be introducing the fungus to a whole new Pacific island chain, the clever dog. Either way, we win!

>> Max and Peaches. Peaches and Max. I can only agree that their behavior is disgusting and reprehensible. I cannot argue with the reality that their desire to become human again, as quickly as possible, is revolting. LET THEM GO BACK! All they do is kill each other off when they ARE in human form. HAVE AT IT; YOU’RE DOING US A FAVOR.

See, no matter what they THINK they’re accomplishing, the Operative In Denial is doing nothing but helping us out. Don’t lose any scales over these sorry specimens. They cannot hurt us. WE CANNOT FAIL.

ANY OTHER QUESTIONS? Call me 24 hours a day on the waterproof line.

Today’s topic: Nessie A-Go-Go


Directed by the redoubtable Chuck Comisky
Starring Patrick Bergin, Brian Wimmer, and Lysette Anthony

Where to begin?I rented this tape with low expectations and, well, I was not disappointed. Here's how it goes: A team of divers exploring the floor of Loch Ness for the "Expedition Channel" experience a low-level seismic disturbance, which apparently rips a hole in the Earth's crust. The head investigator is flung to his death into the new rift in the lake bottom and crushed under a terrifyingly huge, transparent computer-generated rock; his body is not found. Another "Expedition" employee flies in to investigate: Brian Wimmer, an actor I will always remember fondly as "that guy who tried to use psychology on Freddy Kreuger at the pool party that time," dressed up to look like a low-rent Indiana Jones. He and the surviving Loch Ness investigative team, who all have the high cheekbones and deep tans necessary for movie-industry scuba divers, set out to recover the body, save the TV series and Get To The Bottom Of This.

Well, the usual stuff happens. People start disappearing, and there are odd readings on the diving team's underwater gear suggesting that Something Big Is Moving Around Down There. A few drunks dynamiting for fish disappear, and the local crazyman (Patrick Bergin) tells us how his boat was capsized and his son eaten years ago by 'Nessie.' A guy on a glass-bottomed-boat tour of the Loch gets a blurry videotape of something long and reptilian slithering past the tourists' feet. Meanwhile, some pranksters hoping to freak out the tourists with a fake Nessie lose a compatriot to something that chews him up and spits him out. Some Neo-Druids having a ceremonial paddle in the Loch encounter...technical difficulties. The movie includes quite a few lines and sound FX intended to remind us of Jaws. They even have a scene with a couple of teenaged pranksters trying to freak out the tourists with a model Nessie. They don't neglect to show Wimmer's character with his girlfriend, Lizzie Borden (yes, Lizzie Borden) (played by Lysette Anthony), trying to convince the Coast Guard Constable to close the beaches, because "this was no boating accident." The Constable scoffs at the very idea, but soon enough holds a press conference announcing that they've found Nessie dead on the shore of the Loch, so everyone can calm down now, it's all over, nothing to see, folks. They open a morgue freezer to the press to show what looks like a baby Elasmosaurus and prove that the threat is gone. The local crazyman is there and gets quite angry because the creature that ate his son was much, much bigger. CAN’T YOU SEE WE’RE STILL IN DANGER, YOU FOOLS?

The diving team, as usual in this sort of film, breaks into the morgue at night for some kind of half-a$$ed autopsy on an Elasmosaurus. Instead of a Louisiana license plate they find an enormous bite mark on the dinosaur's hindquarters, making clear that their quarry is STILL OUT THERE -- apparently something large and toothy enough to eat Elasmosaurs.Well, we get to see it for ourselves -- a computer-generated Kronosaurus with a serious diastema, managing to look even phonier than the 60-foot Megalodon in Shark Hunter. It does harmonize aesthetically with the phony CG rocks and water we see throughout the film.

Well, ma’am, the crazyman shows up in a kilt and blue facepaint, carrying a spear and some explosive ordnance, just in case you weren't clear yet on the fact that he's a Scotsman bent on bloody revenge. He finagles his way into one of the team's diving suits and sets out to blow the Kronosaur to Kingdom Come. There's a showdown in which the taunts the Kronosaur into swallowing him, whereupon, a la Kevin Costner in Waterworld, he blows her up from the inside and collapses the breeding cave, ending the menace forever.Except we never find out what became of the Kronosaur's mate. Or pod. And we never find out what became of the baby Nessie's parents. And...

This film gets 'one fin up' for the sheer nerve of attempting to combine Shark Hunter, The Trench and Braveheart with Indiana Jones And The Fishtank Of Doom. It also gets 'one fin down' for lousy special effects, bad script, uneven acting and logical gaps big enough to pass thru an aircraft carrier.But it has a clean, innocent, naive B-movie feel that makes it well worth renting if your mind works in that particular way.

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