Inside Pulse DVD Review – Swimming with Sharks



George Huang


Kevin Spacey……….Buddy Ackerman
Frank Whaley……….Guy
Michelle Forbes……….Dawn Lockard
Benicio Del Toro……….Rex
T.E. Russell……….Foster Kane
Roy Dotrice……….Cyrus Miles
Matthew Flynt……….Manny
Patrick Fishler……….Moe
Jerry Levine……….Jack

Cineville presents in association with Neofight Film and Mama’z Boy Entertainment a George Huang film. Original release date: 1994. Running time: 93 Minutes. Rated R (for some scenes Of psychological/physical torture and pervasive strong language).

The movie:

Everybody wants to be on a fast track to success. After gulping down numerous cups of coffee, and consuming a cream cheese bagel, these nine-to-fivers get in their cars and drive to work, only to hit rush hour traffic. So much for that fast track. More often than not you will find a person who hates his job, hates his boss, hates his life. He enters the job market with visions of success, only to wind up performing remedial tasks like taking lunch orders or making coffee. This can pertain to any profession, especially those within the movie capital of the world.

Swimming with Sharks is a film about a lowly personal assistant named Guy (Frank Whaley). He has the unenviable task of working for Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey), the V. P. of production for Keystone Pictures. Day after day Guy acts as Buddy’s “Mongoloid brain dead assistant,” taking all sorts of crap. It’s tormenting, to say the least. At one time Buddy was in the same position. Working as an assistant before becoming vice president. Consider their relationship some kind of cruel mentoring program where Guy endures verbal lacerations while trying to climb the corporate ladder.

And you thought your boss was a prick. Ackerman is the type of self-centered monster who probably dreams up ways to torture Guy throughout the day. When Guy is taking notes for his boss and has the urge to pee, Buddy tells him to sit back down then starts pouring a glass of water. But it’s not just in the workplace where Buddy insults his young protégé. Ackerman pages him at inopportune times ordering him to go back to the office and get his day planner or a phone number. When Time magazine lambastes Buddy’s latest action opus, he orders Guy to get every single copy in town. So like an obedient puppy, he does. Throwing them away at the office, Guy gets a call from Buddy. Bad news. Guy can’t simply toss the issues in a trashcan, he has to rip each and every one of them.

Compared to Buddy Ackerman’s chauvinistic stance, Guy keeps quiet, bottling his rage. Then one day he snaps. Perhaps it was the episode where Buddy taught his assistant a very important coffee lesson. “Sweet ‘N Low is pink. See. Equal blue. Sweet ‘N Low pink. It’s not the same thing, is it?” Or, it could have been the paper cuts he endured while ripping up the articles. Whatever the incident, it spurred Guy to the breaking point; where he felt he had to administer his own form of retribution.

When you are twenty-five you think you know everything. Guy may be fresh out of upstate New York, but he knows movies. Most of his greatest memories, in fact, come from movies. His first job was working in a theater where Indiana Jones ruled the box office. But a love for movies is not enough to succeed in Hollywood. You need to be cunning, ruthless. Have the motivation to do what the other guy won’t. It’s like what the beautiful, yet vivacious producer, Dawn Lockard (Michelle Forbes) tells Guy, “You got to give action to get action.” Surely, one cannot do that if he’s fetching coffee for Buddy Ackerman.

Dawn is in the movie biz, so she speaks from experience. Seeing Guy being yelled at, she can’t help but feel sorry for him. One day she asks him if he would like to go to lunch. Dawn went on the lunch date with an ulterior motive; she wanted to get on Guy’s good side in hopes to pitch her new film, ironically titled Real Life. But as the two are dining and talking, Dawn grows fond of Guy. The two begin dating, even spending an afternoon in a Laundromat. Because nothing spells romance like a woman folding your shorts.

A year or so before wowing audiences as Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey proved he was a rising star as Buddy Ackerman. His portrayal as the V. P. for production is spot on. He may be of small stature, but he’s quite the bully. Constantly yelling and swearing. With Buddy as the boss, every passing day is a constant reminder of the hell that is Guy’s life.

Writer/director George Huang lived the life of a production assistant for ten years. And during that time he amassed stories from friends and colleagues, taking notes and storing them away. It must have paid off because Swimming with Sharks cuts to the bone with its dark humor and veracity. Huang paints a portrait where executives, agents, and movie stars act like they do, because they can get away with it. And in many respects, he’s right. Hollywood is a cruel place. Swim with the sharks too early and you’re likely to be devoured. So be like the Buddy Ackermans of the world and forget everyone else. Serve your own needs first and your selfishness will be rewarded.

Score: 9.5/10

The DVD:

VIDEO: How does it look?

Having bypassed the first DVD release of Swimming with Sharks because it was not up to snuff – appearing in the dreaded “Full Frame” – I am happy to report that this special edition is in widescreen. Good thing, too. My VCR was about to eat my copy. Director George Huang got a great assist from his Director of Photography Steven Finestone. He plays with the lights accentuating the highs and lows of the film. Occasionally the blacks are a little dark in some scenes. But for a film produced in 1994, the quality has a good look. Few video imperfections and little dirt in the print. The film has its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16 x 9 television sets.

Score: 8/10

AUDIO: How does it sound?

For this DVD release three audio options are made available – 5.1 DTS Audio, 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Dolby Digital. Not sure if a film like this needed a 5.1 DTS sound track, but the superior sound quality can only help to boost Buddy Ackerman’s severe tongue lashings. With a movie like Sharks you shouldn’t expect loud explosions or car chases. It plays like a short play with few characters and lines and lines of dialogue. Enhancing the dialogue-driven film is Tom Hiel’s music. His compositions add another layer of intrigue to Buddy and Guy’s working relationship. It’s moody yet tranquil.

Score: 8/10

SPECIAL FEATURES: This is a special edition you schmuck!!!

Lions Gate Home Entertainment was kind to give this DVD the special edition treatment. Though the box art doesn’t specify this as anniversary release, George Huang’s comments make me want to believe we are celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Swimming with Sharks. And what a re-release it is.

You don’t just get one commentary track. Or two. The disc comes with three audio commentaries. Kevin Spacey, writer/director George Huang, and Huang with Frank Whaley.

Never hearing Kevin Spacey on the microphone, I didn’t know what to expect. Spacey came off genteel. He hadn’t seen the film for such a long time, so while recording his track it was like he was enjoying the film for the first time. During the presentation he stops speaking so he can enjoy the tomfoolery of Buddy Ackerman.

With three commentaries most likely you won’t listen to each track in its entirety. Best case scenario is to select the different commentaries while watching the film. This makes for an interesting time. You could be listening to Spacey explain the production problems – George Huang and crew had to contend with delays and the Northridge earthquake – then switch to Huang musing about his life as a production assistant. In one incident he had to call a cab for his boss. Why is this amusing? Well, his boss was in New York City while George was in L.A.

The George Huang/Frank Whaley track plays like two buds sitting back, cracking jokes about the making of Swimming with Sharks. From time to time, Frank Whaley brings up the topic of his hair: why is it so tall? Then there’s the make out scene between Dawn and Guy. Michelle Forbes is so tall that when compared to Frank she looks like a giant. Never missing an opportunity Frank tells Huang that it looks like he’s making out with his mother. Nothing like self-degradation.

In Back to the Tank: Swimming 10 Years Later, George Huang tells how he went about writing the script, drawing from his experiences as a Hollywood assistant for 8 or 9 years. Originally, he planned to take these stories and turn them into a coffee table book. But he had a chance encounter with a down to earth guy from Texas. His name was Robert Rodriguez. And it was Rodriguez who convinced Huang to just go out and make the movie. The 24-minute extra also features comments from Frank Whaley, Michelle Forbes, producer Barry Josephson and executive producers Jay Cohen and Stephen Israel. They reflect on how hard it was to get the film made. A total train wreck from the start. Let’s just say it involved acts of God, an overzealous still photographer, money issues and the challenge of getting the film sold.

Shark Tales: Life as a Hollywood Assistant begins with actor Jerry Levine, best remembered as Michael J. Fox’s wacky friend Stiles in Teen Wolf, telling the joke of the son who didn’t want to quit his job as the guy who cleans up after elephants. “What and get out of show business?” Over the next ten minutes the cast and crew discuss how power and money will mess with your head. Adding to the featurette are true tales by those assistants and interns who have survived Hollywood. A word of advice: if a producer asks for a sandwich with no mayo, you better be sure there is no mayo on the bread. Otherwise you will be fired.

The last featurette is Let’s Do Lunch: A Conversation with Colleagues (6:39). George Huang and friends talk briefly about being an assistant in Hollywood. Near the end of the extra, the assistant to Huang’s agent speaks out of turn. She inexplicitly says whenever she sees her old boss she gets on her knees. (I’ll leave room for your own interpretation.)

Subsequent to watching the film, the deleted scenes are a let down. Expecting deleted insults and catcalls, we get scenes that were justly omitted from the final cut. Some scenes are good. Like Benicio Del Toro’s deleted “Decaf? What’s the point?” line or “Guy’s 1st Cigarette”. But most scenes were scene extensions or filler material.

A trailer gallery is also included. Here you can watch six trailers back-to-back. They include: Beyond the Sea, American Psycho: The Uncut Killer’s Edition, The Rules of Attraction, The Big Kahuna, High Tension and The Devil’s Rejects.

Score: 7.5/10