Benjamin (serbanj) wrote,
Benjamin
serbanj

B-FEST 2015: Fluent in nine cinematic languages (including The Portugese)

This particular year's edition of B-fest has a few particular quirks by which I'll remember it compared to the Fests before and after.  It was the "I love the '70s!" edition of B-fest.  It was the year without shorts.  It was the most involved I've ever gotten my wife into the proceedings - Elissa, not a SF/F type nerd at all, and our mutual friend Jeremy, lasted 7 hours this year after making their debut last year.  It was about the most sleep-deprived I've ever gotten - as I described at length to anyone who would listen, B-fest ended up a week earlier than usual this year.  As a result, I had to scramble to get the weekend off, which I managed to do, but I was actually post-call (i.e. coming off a 28-hour work day) and was operating on about 1.5 hours of sleep heading into another sleepless night on Friday afternoon.  But primarily, B-fest 2015 was a chance to sit around watching bad movies in an energetic setting with a bunch of film and other nerds.  Yeah, every B-fest is memorable that way.  Here are the movies we watched.

The Creature With The Atom Brain (1955) - I'm enough of a nerd to know that this was B-fest's first black-and-white opener since 2007.  This movie starts with a zombie of sorts (he moves stiffly and talks robotically, despite not looking very dead) saying over and over that he's "from Donovan" and breaking a guy in half (shown in silhouette).  The movie couldn't quite keep up that pace after that.  Donovan in question is a guy whose plan for revenge on some associates who double-crossed him involves hiring a Nazi scientist to build him an army of zombies, which is probably how I'd approach it too.  The technology involved is sometimes useful, like a big TV that lets him see what his creatures see, and sometimes hilarious, like the padded tunned the two have to crawl through, clad in hazmat-type suits, every time they want to wake up one of their creatures.  Meanwhile, the detectives quickly figure out what they're dealing with using the usual police fluency with weirdly shaped beakers and Geiger counters (it's Radiocative, basically, and involves Science).  A fair amount of the audience humor here involved one character's little daughter, the subject of some horrifically inappropriate upskirt shots and close touching, and whose toy doll bears the brunt of one zombie's aggresion, accompanied by melodramatic close ups.  I've seen higher-energy B-fest openers, but this one was reasonable, and unlike the other films, knew when to keep things short.
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

Metalstorm:  The Destruction Of Jared-Syn (1983) - Not shown in 3D, although it was released that way.  This movie set the tone with its opening credits consisting of about an hour of cloud footage ("today, expect cloudy skies with a 30% chance of metalstorm").  The film proceeds to have our hero (a "Seeker" in pursuit of the villaineously hypenated Jared-Syn) drive around a lot and win the respect of an army of cyclops types or something.  He teams up with a similar looking drunken ex-Seeker for most of it, and they drive and walk around a bunch more ("look, guys, you can't both be Han Solo at the same time."  "Yes we can!  We're Han Duo!")  I've seen a lot of bad movies at this festival and even among that group, Metalstorm is very much one of them.  It's boring-bad rather than fun-bad, although we among the crowd did our best to have those group moments we come to B-fest for.  For instance, we had a loud extended call-and-response thing going in response to a guy up front who kept loudly demanding that someone explain what the hell was happening in this movie ("Okay, so there's only two passes available to get out fo Casablanca..."  "And this guy gets framed after a one-armed man kills his wife...")  Late-film highlight comes when the villain isn't so much killed as just kinda gets written out of the movie - he flees into some metaphysical warp nonsense.  Our youngest attendee (Skip's daughter) became very fond of referencing the absence of a metal-storm and the lack of destruction of anyone at all.  Also notable for the fact that until we wiki'd it after the end of the movie, we were unaware that it was supposed to be set on another planet.
Movie quality:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Decent

Frogs (1972) - Now we get into the stuff my group was looking forward to.  The title image of a human hand protruding from the mouth of the giant frog who's swallowed its owner was obviously way too great looking ot be realized on screen.  And it isn't.  Instead, the film introduces about twenty-five ludicrously dressed characters that it can then kill off one by one, as Nature strikes back against its enemies with a coordinated attack.  It sort of centers around causing suffering to the family patriarch, a guy who refuses to face his impending mortality, responds to a single snake getting into the house by shooting it with a revolver, and insists that his private island birthday party plans remain unchanged even in the face of a growing body count.  There are a lot of shots (or the same one, over and over) of frogs hanging around and croaking loudly, leading us to scream in mock-terror every time the movie showed a frog, at least until we got bored with that.  But the frogs don't really do much of anything, letting the rest of Nature - inlcuding snakes, spiders, turtles (?!) etc. do the killing while they just kinda croak in the background.  The frogs themselves act more as middle management types, really.  Best deaths included the komodo dragons locking a guy in a closed garden and asphixiating him by pushing over numerous loudly labelled bottles of "POISON" one at a time (Elissa - "is this the 'greenhouse gas' that everyone's worried about?").  In the end, partriarch guy falls out of his wheelchair accompanied by Strangelove references as frogs hop over him, his taxidermy collection looks down accusingly, and the film's last shot shows his house lights going off.  Nice touch, that.
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

Killdozer (1974) - An ABC TV-movie of the week, Killdozer gives a co-writing credit and a "from a story by" credit to Theodore Sturgeon.  It's actually a much more successful movie than nearly any other on the schedule because it confines itself (TV budget, after all) to a very limited scope.  There's a cheap looking meteor that turns a bulldozer into a killing machine, there's a construction crew who have to try to stop it, we're in remote South Africa so there's no way to get outside help or any more characters into the movie.  Okay, go.  Unlike something like that Jared-Syn movie, there's a logical progression to the stuff that happens as our heroes have various encounters with the Killdozer and adapt their battle strategies accordingly.  The main cast are about as distinct as you'd imagine - this guy is black, that guy is the foreman, that guy drinks too much, and so on.    Unfortunately, I was starting to nod off for a few seconds at a time so couldn't appreciate this one 100%, but caught maybe 98% of it.  Enjoyed several of the awesomely B-movie setpieces, including how often a giant smoke-belching machine manages to sneak up on and jump out at people, and its strategy of throwing dozer-loads of rocks down a cliff at its would-be victims.  Eventually, thinking of ways of executing a killer leads our two surviving men to stumble upon the correct method for expelling an alien force.  I won't ruin the ending, but it's as stupid as you'd think.
Movie quality:  Decent
B-fest rating:  Excellent

Yeah, crammed in four movies before midnight (mostly by moving a scaled-down raffle to lunchtime once again this year).  There was still time to fire up the film projector for the traditional forward and backward showing of The Wizard Of Speed And Time, accompanied by our own on-stage cosplaying wizard, rocking the robe of green.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) - So since Elissa and Jeremy stayed for most of this, I had to hang around and see the newbies' reactions to a B-fest style Plan 9.  We had fun with it.  It's always fun finding new faces to get stunned that someone would think a cloak over the face was an appropriate way to slip a towering not-Bela into his stupid movie.  The rote yelling actors' names without actually reacting to the movie that I used to complain about was much diminished this year, which I'm greatly in favor of.  However, this may be the year that the duellng-chant thing really takes off.  Besides the old wicker/rattan debate and its newer spinoff of "coffee!"/"tea!", this year we also got back-and-forth "Stunt!"/"Rock!" (just because), followed by "purse!"/"handbag!" in response to a guy's choice of hand luggage.  Went to brush my teeth for most of the end, but I can confidently say that Criwsell's terrifying true predication about future events that may have already happened remains as timely and sobering as ever.
Movie quality:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Excellent

Black Mama, White Mama (1973) - This movie tries to talk out of every side of its mouth.  It features one chick who's played by Pam Grier and one who isn't, in what starts as a ridiculously purile women-in-prison movie.  We're talking flat-out softcore porn stuff, naked women having tickle-fights while a lesbian voyeur guard watches and masturbates, that kind of thing.  (Best audience riff - "Yeah, I can see why this new season of Orange Is The New Black is getting such lukewarm reviews.")  Even after our two heroes escabe, handcuffed together, into the wilds of the Phillipenes, they initially mostly cat-fight in a manner designed to feature as much upskirt footage as possible (me: "they color-coordinated their underwear so we know who's the black mama and who's the white mama").  But as the running time proceeds, BMWM gradually abandons most (but not all) of the porn and makes a half-hearted attempt to be an actual movie about characters and violence or something, as the revolutionary mama reconnects with her comrades in arms and slowly inspires Pam Grier to be less apolitical and more engaged in the world.   Then most of the cast gets gunned down in the kind of ending that leaves a B-fest audience saying "well, that happened."
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

Yongary, Monster From The Deep (1967) - Okay, given the total lack of sleep situation referenced above, I knew I'd fall asleep in my chair a few times.  That just comes with the territory.  And I had this movie set as my potential emergency nap - not that I'd try to sleep, since I did want to see it, but that I'd let it happen if necessary.  And so I dozed.  The parts I did see looked pretty solid; a shameless Korean ripoff of Godzilla complete with a giant occassionally dancing monster, a military that has exactly as much success fighting kaiju as you'd think, SCIENCE! saving the day by dumping poison powder or something all over Yongary, and a pecocious boy who's in tune with the monster.  Said kid was kind of preternaturally calm, mourning the death of a unique creature despite being totally on board with the necessity of killing it.  A little sorry I missed so much of this one - I bet it was fun.
Movie quality:  [unable to rate]
B-fest rating:  [well, the parts I saw were quite good]

Avalanche (1978) - Roger Corman!  A cheaper version of a vintage '70s disaster movie (a sub genre that doesn't usually get much B-fest love), this movie has no money to work with, and therefore takes awhile to get to the point.  Like Frogs, an unhinged rich guy (Rock Hudson) pays for his disregard for nature, or at least his semi-coherent rants about environmentalists.  Hudson, Mia Farrow, and about twenty other one-note characters are s l o w l y introduced in a variety of often entertaining sequences, like one spurned wife who throws milk at her husband or a downhill skier who knows how to launch himself to land in a tree and wrap himself aroud it when the hillside collapses.  (I drew some laughter and some strong hostility for "he's a tree-hugger.")  Finally about five hours into the movie, a cheap looking avalanche happens and affects our characters one at a time.  Here there's a snuff element, as the movie loves throwing in ironic twists to the various deaths for no real reason (i.e. killing the suicidal chick who's just decided to live, having the plucky old woman who somehow survived the avalanche die in an ambulance crash, etc.).  The end of the movie is just non-stop mean-spirited carnage and it's pretty great - for my money the chef has the best death scene, but it's got plenty of competition.  This is a very fun movie if you're a terrible person, as most people were during the '70s.
Movie quality:  Decent
B-fest rating:  Excellent

Cloak & Dagger (1984) - Some folks sponsored some free Peet's coffee in the labby around this time, which was a nice new quirk for those who didn't want to wait until the traditional 9 AM Starbucks rush.  I abstained because I knew my body desperately needed at least a little more sleep before trying to replace it with coffee.  This film of '80s kitch (Atari games abounded) was the unfortunate victim of this, as I again missed more than I watched.  What I did gather from talking to people afterward: this is a wish-fulfillment thing in which an eleven-year-old gets enmeshed in an adventure.  Other than his even younger friend, his only help comes from an imaginary version of his favorite video game character, who coaches him in doing suicidally dangerous things, and ultimately learning to kill.  The ending has a bunch of running around the airport in which the kids have to convince the bumbling adults that there are terrorists around, and then a showdown in a plane in which the kid teams up with his father... who'd been the model for his hallucinatory hero.  Many had seen this as kids, and - to a Festie - those people invariably commented on how they viewed it totally differently through adult eyes, generally calling it unintentionally dark and something that couldn't get made today.
Movie quality: [unable to rate]
B-fest rating:  [kinda sorry to have missed so much of this one, too]

Andy Hardy's Private Secretary (1941) - This is one of about ten movies starring the Hardy Family - basically a celebration of growing up American and privileged - which were apparently a huge deal in their era.  Just for context, while this thing was doing huge box office numbers, other notable films released in 1941 included Casablanca.  Mickey Rooney is one of those kids who's president of every student group and has success basically fall into his lap.  But don't worry, his family and he are willing to reach out to the neighborhood poor kids and patronizingly buy them stuff... these kids, after all, are still white, and their dad's just fallen on hard times but is still a fundamentally white-collar guy who speaks "nine languages, including The Portugese."  Our hero has a variety of encounters featuring the kind of cringe comedy that never goes in style (he has to buy his "secretary" stockings without his gilfriend finding out about it, and navigate a women's clothing store to do it!).  Mickey's carelessness nearly completely fucks up his life and those around him, but there are always loopholes to remind him that he's rich and white, and therefore can go skipping off into the sunset.  I thought this was entertaining enough as a time capsule of white-bread entertainment of another era - one in which the girl students' academic and career pursuits is taken seriously without compromising the main character's ability to casually say things like "a woman belongs at home" and not be percieved as offensive.  It was interesting to see how many fellow Festies hated this one with a fiery passion, though.  The crowd as a whole definitely suffered.  Mickey Rooney didn't strike all of us as such a lovable scamp, what with the way he can tamper with government mail with no consequence, or the general lack of learning any lessons, ever.
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Decent

Can't Stop The Music (1980) - Aaargh.  CSTM is a musical bio-pic about the founding and marketing of the group Village People.  Mind you, I dind't say the movie is actually about the Village People.  Its protagonist, apparently an idealized version of the film's writer, is a struggling songwriter and music producer who puts together the group and tries to sell them through various palm-greasing.  Helping out is his ex-model roomate, who's willing to sleep her friends' way to the top.  Crises and triumphs come entirely from the business side of things, not based on the musical performances themselves.  This look at the boring side of the music biz makes up most the movie's two-hour running time.  Even when it's interrupted by admittedly high energy songs, well, I didn't really need a ten-minute version of the title track in the film's climactic celebration of Village People's first big gig.  Minuses include all the hijix involving cozying up to and/or kidnapping music producers, the self-congratulatory tone, the belief that audiences will give a shit about the marketing of a music group, and did I mention that this piece of shit is two hours long? A big, uh, plus I guess comes from an infamous mid-movie montage set to "YMCA" which... well, even the gratuitous side-boob shots fail to keep said montage from being the single gayest thing every committed to film.  That part alone is worth watching for its total excess.  Avoid the rest of the movie like the plague.  I sort of wish I could have, but, well, B-festers gonna fest.
Movie quality:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Decent

Alien From L.A. (1988) - Noted thespian clearly hired solely for her dramatic prowess Kathy Ireland stars in this story of an ordinary girl whose quest to find her father leads to the subterranean world of Atlantis, full of loudspeakers and TV screens.  You know she's ordinary because she starts the movie in comically baggy clothes and cartoonishly thick glasses.  Naturally, dedicated to playing out the "model in horn rims" cliche to the hilt, she breaks her glasses soon after entering Atlantis, seems to see just fine, and spends the rest of the movie without them.  The higher-ups are divided: some think they're under attack by an invasion from L.A., but a minority recognize that Kathy is indeed just a ditzy kid who landed there by accident.  I'll admit that I wanted to like Alien From L.A.; it's dated to a date during which I was actually alive, it has a fun premise and a few rudimentary hints of a sense of humor about itself.  Objectively, though, there's really not much movie there.  There's not much to Atlantis, and Kathy can company don't really see or do anything other than wander around the same few "underground" sets.  Still, I feel fonder of this movie than it has any right to expect.  Bitchin' left hook, movie.  We spent a fair amount of time doing more dueling chants; this time it was "Golan!"/"Globus!" in honor of the film's producers, whose body of fine work tends to show up a lot at B-fest.
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

Miami Connection (1987) - ...and, mind blown.  I'd never heard of Miami Connection, but apparently it's been making a resurgence.  There's this guy called Y.K. Kim who made this movie as a love letter to taekwondo, and its box office failure hasn't stopped him from building a small empire as an infomercial guy, motivational speaker, and taekwondo tycoon (probably the only person in the world who can be described as a taekwondo tycoon).  A few years back, some production folks fell in love with his little movie and gave it a big re-release and DVD, convinced that its exuberent DIY charms needed a bigger audience.  It's found an audience as a modern B-movie classic in the vein of Troll 2.  Bear in mind, I didn't know any of this backstory when the movie started playing, preceded by a baffling brief present-day infomercial about Kim.  I just knew that people were really looking forward to seeing this trendy (in the B-move world) motorcycle-ninja film.

A group of ethnically diverse dudes from "Central Florida University" (leading us to chant "C-F-U!" instead of "U-S-A!" in response to violence) have formed a band called Dragon Sound.  They just want to do what friends do - train in taekwondo, give each other shirtless bro-hugs, hang out on the beach, help each other meet estranged fathers, and of course, perform their '80s cheese-rawk songs denigrating ninjas and the "stupid cocaine."  A lot of the crowd knew the songs word for word.  However, the world's most ineffectual street gang doesn't care for the songs' subject matter, or the fact that the nerdy kid from the band is dating gang-leader's sister (said sister even sings lead on Dragon Sound's biggest song, the catchy "Against The Ninja").  So the Dragon Sound guys keep getting ambushed by gang members after their shows.  No big deal, because this is one seriously crappy gang - the groups from Undefeatable could take them with their eyes closed.  In about five fight sequences against our heroes, in which the villains generally have them outnumbered, I don't think a bad guy lands a single blow, ever.  The acting - and there are a few attempts at serious drama here - has to be seen to be believed, and overall generated tremendous amusement (Y.K. Kim himself is in the movie, as the kids' mentor and leader, and appears to have learned his lines phonetically).  Finally in the last 15 minutes the villains call down to Souh Florida for some marginally more competent help in the form of the motorcycle-riding ninjas who run a Miami drug cartel.  Yes, really.  The movie then ends in a satisfying ten-mnute orgy of violence and gore, followed by a quote from Kim about the need to renounce violence and achieve world peace.  How else could a movie like this end?  MC is probably the most singular of this year's films, and proves that being made by someone who knew what the hell they were doing is not a prerequesite for a deliriously entertaining movie.
Movie quality:  Decent
B-fest rating:  Excellent

Viva Knievel! (1977) - An action film starring a tired-looking Gene Kelly, and Evel Knievel as "himself," alternately portrayed as a know-it-all douchebag and an ubermench superhero.  You might think that it'd be awkward and pointless to dress up Evel's stunts with a plot and characters.  You might think that adding in a token love story, a disgraced former mentor (one last alcoholic character - overwhelmingly negative protrayals of booze was a major theme of this year's set of movies), his estranged son, unscrupulous saboteurs, an unscrupulous protege, and a drug deal involving smuggling stuff from Mexico might just come off as silly distractions from watching Evel jump over things.  You might think that, but you're clearly not a Major Hollywood Filmmaker.  VK was successful at being borderline coherent and featuring some good motorcycle jumps and explosions, which is about all an audience cares about as hour 23 of a movie marathon comes and goes.  We chanted "stunt!"/"rock!" a bunch more.  I just don't really have anything else to say about this particular movie - in our depleted states, it spoke for itself.
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

And done for another year.  A few fewer mid-blowing films this year than some years, but still some memorable ones, and also less horrific pain than we sometimes get.  To repeat myself, it's been so exciting getting famiy and non-internet friends into the fun over these last few Fests.  Same time next year!  And there's a good chance that next time I'll be able to sleep beforehand.

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