Del and Mladen review ‘Big Ass Spider
“Big Ass Spider” Starring Greg Grunberg, Clare Kramer, Lombardo Boyar, Lin Shaye and Ruben Pla. Directed by Mike Mendez. 80 minutes. Rated PG-13. Amazon Prime.
I’m shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you – that Mladen consented to review a movie rated PG-13.
Wasn’t it on these very pages he vowed to never again sully his pristine sensory apparati with a lowly PG-13-rated film? Wasn’t he worried that such unwashed entertainment might detract from his snarly joie de vie?
Yet here he is, slumming with “Big Ass Spider,” a PG-13-rated farce that even my cynical ass got a kick out of. I guess Mladen’s moratorium on almost-family-friendly films doesn’t apply to comedies.
Although I wouldn’t call “Big Ass Spider” a comedy per se. It’s more of a lighthearted romp … with a giant, man-eating spider that skewers half of Los Angeles, a military commander who wants to blow up the other half of Los Angeles, and a lowly exterminator who, despite his modest lineage and lack of leading man pecs, sets out to overcome this eight-legged nonsense, winning the girl and the day.
The gossamer-thin plot goes like this: A spider escapes from an experimental military facility and starts eating its way across LA. The more it eats, the bigger it gets. It takes up residence in a hospital – a veritable buffet for a large carnivore – which draws the attention of nice-guy exterminator Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg), who is a patient at the hospital after being bitten by – can you guess – a spider. The hospital agrees to write off his bill if Alex will write off whatever critter just sank its chompers into the staff mortician. Meanwhile, the military swoops in and declares martial law, allowing Alex to fall for a cute L.T., Karly Brant (Clare Kramer). Alex is determined to win Karly’s heart, despite her withering disdain for his, and sets off with sidekick Jose Ramos (Lombardo Boyar), a hospital security guard, to kill the now house-sized spider, save Los Angeles and make an impression on Karly.
“Big Ass Spider” is like “Godzilla” on helium. It’s all silly fun – except for the thousands of people who die – which lands the movie in the not heavily populated science fiction-horror-comedy category. You’ll find yourself giggling because the movie makes no attempt to take itself seriously, except for the pretty good special effects, and you’ll be rooting for Alex because he strikes you as the kind of guy who might park his battered van in your driveway to clean out the trap in your kitchen drain. He’s just a regular Joe, overweight, overworked and underpaid. Boyar is pretty funny as Ramos, the timid security guard who grows a pair of cojones over the course of the movie, though I’m surprised the Thought Police haven’t protested his caricature of Hispanic males. The other performances made less of an impression on me. They fit the standard models for their characters.
I had never heard of this movie until Mladen suggested it, and when I looked it up I also found several TV episodes of the same name. Don’t be confused – this is the 2013 movie by director Mike Mendez.
“Big Ass Spider” was favorably received by the public but of course, movie reviewers trashed it as schtick. I might have thought the same before I had that corncob removed from my ass. “Big Ass Spider” is not high art, not that high art is very entertaining. Like I said, it’s silly fun. I can think of far worse ways to spend 80 minutes of my life.
I give it a B.
Leave it to Del to try to upend my unfettered enthusiasm for a movie. Until I read his review, I had no idea “Big Ass Spider!” was PG-13. There’s at least one face melting and shots of faces that had already been melted. There’s blood splatter. But, there wasn’t big-ass swearing or, unfortunately, nudity. So, yeah, no R-rating.
Until Mr. Corncob Now Removed dropped the rating thing in my lap, my only beef with “Big Ass Spider!” was the spelling. Did the filmmakers want the movie’s title to be descriptive or reflect the fact the arachnid is a new species? The spider is large. It eventually grows a few building stories tall and wider than a boulevard. So, should the film title have included a hyphenated compound adjective, as in “Big-Ass,” to let the viewer know from the get-go that the movie is about a huge beast. If the goal was to simply name a specimen fresh to nature, “Big Ass Spider!” remains acceptable. I contend the movie title should’ve been hyphenated because the beast is a man-induced mutation, a combination of Martian DNA and a black widow-like (note the hyphen) spider native to Earth. “Big Ass” describes the spider, rendering the hyphen necessary. “Big Ass” isn’t the spider’s scientific name, which would have disallowed hyphenation.
“Big Ass Spider!”, hereafter referred to as “BAS!” to shield our moral readers from the cuss word “ass,” is a delightful farce that mocks sci-fi horror films by incorporating many of the tropes of the genre. Examples are:
- One person going after a creature he/she suspects to be dangerous by himself/herself, often in a dark, forbidding place where no one can here you scream
- A military officer saying, “God helps us now” or something akin to, “That’s my job”
- Radio communication failures
- Relationship banter amid a crisis between the likable but geeky, portly, and uncool-job wielding hero and an attractive gal at least initially uninterested in copulating with the good guy
- Coincidences such as protagonists continually bumping into each other through the movie or a solution to a problem materializing from thin, dry air
- Jump from your seat moments such as the creature moving as a blur in the foreground of a scene as the hero expresses fear and doubts about the wisdom of his/her choice to chase the animal
- Buxom females playing a sport that makes breasts bounce or gratuitous displays of cleavage via tight, low-cut T-shirts (more hyphens)
The advantage of a farce is that it can pull off the tropes by making them amusing. “BAS!” does that very well. The script is solid and the actors do the dialogue sincerely and mirthfully. They were enjoying themselves. The visual effects, both computer-generated and of material substance such as monster goo and webs, are surprisingly pleasing and when they’re not such as the “BAS!” fires, you don’t care because the film is a farce by design.
“BAS!” is not a B-movie, though it cost, I’m guessing, $8.37 to make. It’s significantly better than at least a couple of expensive A-movies and by those I mean Alien3, Prometheus, and Alien: Covenant. Sure, “BAS!” steals a little bit from the very good “Starship Troopers” and the excellent “Aliens,” but that’s the point. By mocking the good and the bad of sci-fi effectively, “BAS!” fulfills its purpose.
The movie also made the best of shooting in real-world locations that fit inside its, ah, limited budget. There was no travel to exotic locales to get the background of a lush tropical forest or towering mountains. When the action was outdoors, it was filmed amid the brownish hue of what I took to be Southern California. The spider’s raid on a park full of people was darned entertaining, including the child in jeopardy. I detest when movies put children in danger. With “BAS!” I was OK with it for some reason.
“BAS!” has a sparing run time of 80 minutes. In moviemaking these days that seems an unfathomably short duration. And, it’s also one of the reasons I give “Big Ass Spider!”, despite its misspelled title and PG-13 rating, an A. Everyone tied to making the film stayed true to its character, including length. One minute longer and the movie would’ve failed.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.
“Gravity” Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. 91 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“Gravity” is a stunning spectacle of special effects and a riveting depiction of the human will to survive. But its characters are thinly sketched and their motivations contrived, which pulls the movie from the lofty realm of a classic to the merely good, despite the “buzz” and Oscar talk.
In “Gravity,” Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a mission specialist, on her first space shuttle flight. She and old hand astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are part of a Hubble Space Telescope repair team which falls afoul of a Russian anti-satellite test gone wrong. The ensuing cloud of orbiting debris, traveling at thousands of miles per hour, destroys their shuttle and leaves Stone and Kowalski in orbit – alone.
They must make their way to the International Space Station, and from there a Chinese space station, all the while dodging a killer cloud of orbiting junk and racing against the clock before their oxygen is depleted. At every turn their efforts are thwarted by the expected and unexpected perils presented by spaceflight.
The star of “Gravity” is not Bullock but the special effects. We did not see the 3-D version but I expect it is spectacular. Even in 2-D you feel as though you’re floating above the earth with nothing between you and the ground but 150 miles of vacuum and 50 miles of air. For sufferers of acrophobia (like yours truly) the view was sometimes sweaty palm-inducing. Never in a movie did I feel as though I were actually there, and the claustrophobia of being confined to a spacesuit with no option to pop the helmet and take a breath of fresh air was so pervasive it almost became a third character.
And “Gravity” is an edge-of-your-seat thriller to be sure. Pauses in tension are few, and you’ll come out of the theater with aching muscles as you tried to help Bullock push this way and pull that. In that respect “Gravity” strikes me as more of an “Armageddon” and less of an “Apollo 13.”
As I said, the characters are thinly sketched, which may have been a necessity given “Gravity’s” narrative structure. Still, we get to know Dr. Stone somewhat but nobody else, including astronaut Kowalski. As you might expect under the circumstances Stone has a fatalistic view of her outcome and it is amplified by the loss of a child, requiring that she be coached and encouraged by Kowalski. That struck me as contrived and unnecessary. No matter how highly educated and motivated astronauts can be, and no matter what their burdens, when the issue at hand is survival every individual will behave predictably, and try to live. Bullock’s character does evolve during the movie, and that’s what all good characters do: They change as a result of their experiences. But in Bullock’s case the change seemed forced.
I found it puzzling Cuaron chose to abide by some scientific principles and ignore others. After reading astronomer Neil Degrasse Tyson’s enumeration of the scientific errors in “Gravity,” I came prepared to ignore them for the benefit of watching a great story. But during the movie I found myself distracted by the implausibilities.
Is “Gravity” the best movie of the year? Is Bullock’s performance worthy of an Oscar? I would say no on both counts. While “Gravity” is entertaining, and Bullock’s performance commendable, I didn’t come out of the theater with any lasting impression of either.
Still, it’s nice to see a film that isn’t a sequel and isn’t based on some “blockbuster” premise make its way to theaters and do well at the box office. Maybe Hollywood can take a lesson from “Gravity” and return to making films from original stories.
“Gravity” is one of my worst movie-going fears realized, a film promising action but delivering little more than maudlin introspection.
The movie betrayed me. It also betrayed Del, though he doesn’t fully accept it.
Del summed the plot nicely. A series of improbable events sires both the prospect of our heroine dying alone in space or surviving despite implacable odds.
Had “Gravity” fulfilled its promise, what I would’ve seen was an intelligent, nicely configured middle-aged woman give fate the middle finger as she demonstrated what training, technical prowess, and a will to live can accomplish.
In response, fate would’ve contributed not only dumb-ass Russians inopportunely blowing up one of their own satellites to create a hypervelocity constellation of space debris holing everything in its path, but also micrometeorites, sun flares, gravitons, an atmosphere salient jutting far into space that threatened incineration if entered, and an interesting sidekick for Stone rather than the quasi-cowboy-like character portrayed by Clooney.
Instead, the film yields sequences of free-floating, spin-induced disorientation and bodies slamming into solid objects such as space modules. Each bit of extra-atmospheric action is followed by moments of a person talking to herself about staying hopeful and alive. Hell, Stone even references Heaven at one point, though earlier she had said to herself that she never prays. This “no-one-in-a-foxhole-is-an-atheist” triteness only added to the movie’s superfluous feel.
Efforts to convey the spiritual impact of what Stone and Kowalski, and then Stone alone, faced were as empty as the vacuum of space. Kowalski’s seemingly unselfish and chivalrous suicide was nothing of the sort because it was unnecessary.
Suicide comes along again when Stone, ensconced in a Russian – there they are again – Soyuz vehicle, decides there’s no chance of surviving. She turns off the capsule’s oxygen supply and begins to pass out when there’s a knock on the capsule’s door. It’s handsome Kowalski waving to her through the door’s portal. The silliness of it just about exploded my head.
Kowalski, of course, is a figment of Stone’s oxygen-starved imagination. The apparition, after he takes a swig of vodka craftily hidden aboard the capsule by one of Kowalski’s cosmonaut friends, tells Stone how to make the best of a very, very, very, very, very bad situation. Yes, the capsule’s main engine is out of fuel, but its soft-landing thrusters have the juice to get her to the Chinese space station, which has a fully functioning return-to-Earth capsule.
A fiery atmospheric reentry scene and near-drowning later, Stone swims to the shore of a pristine lake surrounded by an idyllic land, not a single artifact of humanity in sight. Stone is going to get a fresh start was the message of the film’s last scene.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a journalist and author.
I got up this morning about 3:30 to use the bathroom. When I turned on the light I saw something move.
There, on the bathroom floor, stood a cockroach – not one of the cute TV commercial cartoon roaches that checks into the roach hotel but doesn’t check out. This was a bull, so big it didn’t care about its surroundings or the fact that I’d turned on the light.
I was paralyzed by fear. What to do? If I sprayed it the thing would go crazy, probably start flying around, crawl into a hidden nook then emerge once the lights were off to crawl into my mouth.
But I couldn’t squash it. When squashed roaches release a chemical marker that attracts other roaches – I read that somewhere. Besides, I didn’t want to get close enough to the infernal thing to squash it. And I no longer had a cat I could sic on it.
I decided to take my chances with the spray.
I went downstairs to fetch a can of Raid. When I came back, the roach was gone. I searched for it – from a distance – when suddenly it scuttled between my feet. I did the Crazy Dance; the roach did the Crazy Dance and scurried under my bed. Great. Now I’d never find it.
I circled the bed a few times, hoping it would come out, but when it didn’t I mustered the courage to get on my hands and knees and peer under the bed. There it was, nonchalantly marching across the carpet. I gave it a shot of insecticide and the thing went berserk. It headed for the other side and I jumped up and ran around the corner of the mattress to intercept.
When it came out I hosed it. The thing went bonkers and started running everywhere. I kept up my attack and its wings began to flutter. I took off for the door, ready to bail out of the second floor if that thing launched itself into the air.
I lost track of it for a moment, then BAM! There it was, skittering past my feet. I gave it another blast of Raid and it finally rolled over on its back and started doing one-legged backstrokes in circles.
God, what a nightmare. I soaked it again and it finally lay still.
Then I was faced with the problem of getting rid of it. No way was I going to touch it, not even with a wadded up paper towel. Roaches have a habit of springing back to life when disturbed from their death knells.
I went downstairs and got the vacuum cleaner. Plugged it in, detached the hose, turned it on and sucked that disgusting creature into the dust bin. Except I couldn’t see it in the dust bun.
Later that morning, I took the vacuum cleaner outside and dumped the dust bin in the trash can. No roach. And it wasn’t trapped in the filter, either.
That means it’s somewhere inside the vacuum cleaner and one day in the near future it’ll come tumbling out, giving me another fright.
With luck it won’t came scrambling out!
About the author:
Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”
Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.
As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.
Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .