Benjamin (serbanj) wrote,
Benjamin
serbanj

B-FEST 2014: This was for me!

Another B-fest came and went all too soon this year.  What with the gainful employment (well, training program) and not living in Chicago, I couldn’t really justify doing much besides zipping in on the afternoon of the event and being gone the moment it ended.  This meant no big weekend; just B-fest itself, nothing social outside the friendly and familiar confines of Norris Center.  But it was a pretty good year for people inside.  Despite the diminished presence of the BMMB group, which hopefully isn’t a runaway trend, plenty of people still made it.  And as for the rest of the auditorium, well, even without names attached, there are many faces who keep coming here, year after year.  My designated new friends this time around were Megan and Tristian (add or remove vowels as necessary), both of whom I’d met casually over the years – and as the former pointed out, since we’re all in this together, we’re all friends for one day.  But found family of fellow geeks aside, did I mention I had my own company too?  My wife and a mutual friend dropped by for the Friday night portion, and that was a thrill.  Now, I had no illusions that Elissa would do anything like stay the whole time – her lack of appreciation for action movies and sci-fi in general would have to fight it out with her extreme sensitivity to unpleasant smells to determine what the biggest obstacle for her would be.  Nonetheless, she had a very good time overall and may well be back in years to come.


Robot Jox (1989) – We come kinda full circle here.  My first ever B-fest movie was Robot Jox back in 2004 – I walked in in the middle.  Ten years later, it’s opening the Fest, and my guests are walking in in the middle.  Good times.  The film is as batshit fun as I remember it, depicting a future in which either the USA or its thinly veiled replacement, “the Market,” settles its disputes with the Confederation (USSR, represented by a psychopath who starts bar fights and kills his defeated enemies) via giant robot battles.  The robots are prone to crushing spectators to death.  Character names include Achilles, Athena, Alexander, and... Tex.  There’s fun to be had throughout in a movie that’s not good or anything, but is never boring, what with the premise which never makes any sense, the preponderance of butts, and the silly espionage subplot.  But especially classic is the whole ludicrous ending sequence, which basically consists of both of our heroes more or less getting their asses kicked throughout the fight, briefly takes our giant robot battles into outer space with no buildup or reason, pays off the movie’s overriding theme of detachable robot hands, and degenerates into a weak fight between two dudes without robots at the end.  And then there’s that ending, apparently not the favorite choice of co-writer Joe Haldeman, which also in no way follows from anything that’s lead up to it.  It involves our mortal enemies exchanging a thumbs-up fist bump.  I mention this because thumbs would be a recurring motif of B-fest 2014 - we knew that not far away was Megaforce and its infamous thumb-kisses between the leads.

Whether it’s fair or not, I will take full credit for starting this year’s substitute “U-S-A!” chant; we sometimes replaced it with “A-la-ska!” in honor of the sovereign territory that everyone’s fighting over.

Movie quality:  Decent
B-fest rating: Excellent


Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964) – A last-minute substitute for The Amazing Colossal Man, this meant that everything non-short shown of Friday night I’d seen before (albeit either at B-fest or on MST3K).  This is a wretchedly lazy kids’ film that for some reason I’d remembered being in black and white – it's not.  Martians deciding that Earth has had Santa Claus for too long and that he’s somehow the key to making their own kids learn about fun, so they abduct him.  And a couple of random Earth kids, whose acting suggests that they learned their lines phonetically.  The good Martians are the pro-kidnapping ones, while the villains want nothing to do with Santa.  You figure it out.  This one drags a lot, but I was pleased that it did keep my guests’ attention, thanks to a mix of incompetent film-making and strong riffing from the crowd.  “Highlights” include the, um, “polar bear,” “let go of me, you Martian!,” and the fixation on hiding inside the “radar box” located next to the radar machine, the last of which became a Fest-wide running gag.

Movie quality:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Decent


At this point, for the first time in awhile, the organizers specifically slotted some time to show random shorts, on film – this used to be a central feature of B-fest but has died out with the transition to digital movies.  First up was an old silent short, called “The Gipsy’s Warning,” which involves a Gi(y)psy being handed the perfect setup to curse a dude, but basically just giving a warning.  It rivaled the shorts from B-fest 2008 for the title of oldest thing ever shown at B-fest.  I got a charge out of simply realizing that we were watching something that may well have been almost 100 years old, and probably predated the entire notion of a "feature film."  And, as someone tastefully pointed out, everyone who appeared in this short is now long dead.

A digression:  As we touch on ever year, there’s a sentiment – one I don’t really agree with – amongst the dwindling core of long-time veterans that B-fest has lost something irreplaceable in the transition from film to other forms of projection (mostly DVDs at the moment); that the medium of film is what originally made B-fest a unique event rather than a bunch of people watching movies.  I disagree because I’m a relative newbie compared to those people; to me, B-fest is about watching weird, quirky movies, some of which are much easier to find on DVD than on film.  Film devotees will reminisce fondly about times that films broke, colors were washed out, or reels were shown out of order; part of the experience.  Well, sure, but I contend that those were a side feature.  And we find new ancillary things to remember even in the digital age; computer update messages popping up during a movie, or volume being way off, or something else.  The reason for the digression is just to mention that the return of (also shown last year) the eight minute ǖber-compressed version of Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman was really only memorable for starting a trend, which didn’t settle down until after Megaforce, of stuff being WAY TOO FUCKING LOUD.  (“I remember that movie being longer.”  “I remember it being quieter.”)  Maybe it was an overcompensation for the way it took about half an hour to get the Santa Claus movie loud enough.


Megaforce (1982) -  I’ll get into it more if I ever get around to writing up older B-fest memories, but in large part due to mood, back at B-fest 2009, I never unabashedly loved Megaforce the way most of the crowd did.  This has always clearly been a minority view, though.  The group that sponsored this one, the Soylent Green Party, sent someone on stage to salute their deceased founder and formally retire the Soylent Green name; he said they specifically asked for a reprise of Megaforce because it was one of the most popular things they’d ever sponsored.

So, okay, this time I knew what I (and my guests) were getting into – lots of macho posturing, motorcycles, explosions, and the stench of 1982 over everything.  A heroic international super-secret super-force led by Barry Botswick (Brad from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) demonstrates its skills by doing things like leaving vistors in rattlesnake-infested areas and then shooting the snakes, or using baloons for rocket launcher target practice.  (Me:  “Megaforce – keeping the world safe from snakes and helium balloons, since 1983!”).  They’re called in for a surgical strike on a terrorist group in Gamibia; motorcycles, motorcycles that belch a rainbow of exhaust colors, and flying motorcycles all play a part.  Our group spent quite some time figuring out where the hell Gamibia was supposed to be located – presumably it shares a border with Madeupistan – given that it’s filled with Middle Eastern terrain, Russian style politics, and populated mostly by Hispanic characters.  But that’s not as important as the movie’s themes.  See, Brad gets constant close-ups of his crotch to an extend that I hadn’t always appreciated, as if to remind us that he is very manly and does not have a small package.  (As some astute attendees pointed out, during the infamous darkroom scene, his hand is hovering at groin level looking like a prehensile member; they provided a “censored” sign.)  His troops all unabashedly adore him, and Indian beauty queens (Star Trek’s Persis Khambatta) find him and his not at all small package irresistible.  His troops easily take out the supposedly badass terrorists, but Brad is just too much of a man for the governments of the world, who abandon Megaforce to its own devices.  But they’re Megaforce, and just too damn badass to die, and Brad has a not at all hilarious flying motorcycle and did I mention that he totally doesn’t have a small package and that he doesn’t look at all ridiculous wearing spandex?  No, we’re totally not constantly remembering that he’s most famous for being in Rocky Horror.

Yeah, so my point is that Megaforce makes a lot more sense once you realize that the entire movie is single-mindedly devoted to helping Barry Botswick feel like his penis is bigger.  Maybe I still don’t unabashedly adore Megaforce; sorry, folks.  But I think I appreciate it on a deeper level now than I did before.

In a fun bit of topical modification of the “U-S-A!” chant, we instead chanted “N-S-A!” whenever Megaforce was shown to have eerily advanced monitoring or communications equipment.

Movie quality:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Good


In B-fest tradition, we hit the stage to run along to a couple spins of “The Wizard Of Speed & Time,” once forward and once backwards and upside down.  I always forget how physically demanding it is.  The film shows more wear and tear every year, but it’s still ticking.


Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) - Traditional midnight showing; I mostly skipped it.  It was a good time for tooth brushing and futile attempts to rest up for the next run.  Also got to continue my bizarre arbitrary tradition of reading a few pages from a C.J. Cherryh book at some point during every B-fest (this year it’s Serpent’s Reach).


Thomasine & Bushrod (1974)  – As we hit the overnight the lack of sleep starts to kick in and all my memories get vaguer and blearier.  For the remainder of this whole post, please take it as a given that any memories I share lack precision because there were ongoing hypnogogic thoughts and flat-out hallucinations involved, overriding everything.  So, I was initially looking forward to this, never having seen a blaxploitation Western before.  But all the off-format blaxpo offerings I’ve seen have been on the disappointing side, and this one was no exception.  It was entertaining enough at first, with our titular lovers meeting up, having everyone in the known world try to double-cross them, and becoming folk heroes as they steal from rich white assholes.  But after about the fifth montage, the movie petered out big time.  If I remember right, the second half of the movie largely centers almost entirely around a third (and much duller) character, one who hadn’t even been mentioned prior to his appearance.  I felt I had permission to sleep for 15 minutes or so, which I did, and woke up in time to catch the denouement.  Meh.

Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Weak


Lifeforce (1985) -  Caught a nap during this one too, but was able to watch most of it.  At nearly two hours, this was one of the more grueling movies for me, especially coming right after T&B.  The short version is, there’s a space vampire that comes to earth and drains people’s “life energy;” the filmmakers crudely convey the monster’s irresistibility by making it a woman who’s constantly naked with lots of gratuitous T&A shots.  The long version is... well, I don’t care, but Megan et al were oddly impressed by how thoroughly the movie fake-explains the “science” behind what’s happening.  Lifeforce may have been released in 1985, but it’s an honorary ‘70s movie as far as I’m concerned.  It falls into the realm of a sub-genre I refer to as “Pretentious Horseshit,” a would-be epic that stabs at being art.  Of note, the effects are actually pretty damn cool looking (especially when the dessicated corpses explode), and there’s some real acting talent... although why they had the worst actor in the film be the guy to deliver reams of expository dialogue and be the star of endless flashbacks is beyond me.  This unhinged character has some of the movie’s more bizarre sequences.  At one point, trying to get a possessed woman to admit that she’s a vampire, tries to attack and/or kiss her while convincing other characters that “she *wants* me to force her,” while a cop calmly looks on.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t hallucinate that part, and it’s not something I needed to see at  2:30 AM when my mind couldn’t process it properly... or ever, really.  This character also later kisses Patrick Stewart on the mouth (which got close to a standing ovation from those awake) when a disappointingly brief appearance for the future Picard ends with him being possessed by the vampire and screaming a lot.  (As he is wont to do, Stewart totally commits to his ridiculous role, and elevates every scene he’s in.)  So, I can basically tell you that Lifeforce has just enough crazy to make up for how dull it gets, and just enough film-making skill to make its badness palatable enough for this timeslot on this night.

Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Decent


The War Of The Planets (1966) – There are several bits of Italian cheese cinema out there with that title.  This is reportedly one of the better ones, and sadly is *not* the one from the same geniuses behind B-fest 2010 "classic" War Of The Robots.  I kinda wanted some sadism.  But this fit the late night bill nicely.  We spend a very long opening at a space-Italian New Year’s party, where the wine flows freely; the sets look like what was considered “futuristic” while my parents were kids, and a few of my comrades in arms commented that they’re still mourning the fact that the 21st century doesn’t look anything like that.  For a long time, the major conflict is a vaguely anomalous reading (technically “negative readings” as in “negative readings?!  But that’s impossible!”) on some space instrument.  I got a few laughs for being part of a group of viewers endlessly having fun with the concept of “negative readings.”  Finally, a plot emerges as we learn that people are being possessed by monsters that only appear briefly as green lights – either it’s thematically demonstrating that Man is the real monster, or it saves the filmmakers any need to spend money on villains.  I also need to mention a brief moment towards the end of the movie, in which some of the good guys confront the cult of possessed guys in some sort of space cave lair and get offered food through Soylent Green driven food machines.  One character expresses his pleasure at the meal he’s been served by grinning and exclaiming “mmm, this is for me!”  For some reason this was hilarious, and I spent the rest of the film using “this is for me!” whenever anyone ate anything, or kissed anyone.  Anyway, spoiler alert – peaceful coexistence with aliens is impossible.  Or at least with these particular green-smoke aliens, because they’re all evil and stuff.  I don’t quite know what the fuck any of that was, but I think this was for me.

Movie quality:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Good


Kitten With A Whip (1964)  - The first full length B&W of the festival, other than Plan 9.  Okay, so this was a blast, made even more surreal by the aforementioned lack of sleep.  Apparently the Coen Brothers are big fans of this one, arguing that it’s more of a failed art film than a sleazy exploitation.  The basic premise is that Ann-Margret (okay, old people, what’s with the hypen?) plays a kid with textbook antisocial personality disorder, whose backstory changes depending on to whom she’s telling it.  She sneaks into a respectable would-be-senator’s home and starts gradually trying to take over his life through a mix of lies and seduction.  What the film tries to do with this is a gradual progression in which our straightman is inevitably drawn into the web of crime, in which each transgression is logical enough in isolation but leaves him a little more compromised and readier to take that next step.  In actual practice, of course, he basically just comes across as a moron; the mention early on that he has “a friend” on the police force in particular triggered a lot of incredulous yelling at the screen from my group over our hero’s repeated refusal to go to the authorities for help.  Then Ann-Margret introduces her gang of what the squares used to call “juvenile delinquents,” which includes this hilarious would-be beatnik prone to yelling at people to “coexist!”  I was way too tired to remember any of the dialogue, but the movie gets a few legitimately good one-liners in whenever senator guy makes fun of the ‘gang” members.  Then the movie takes us on a runaway to Tiujana, with the city being represented by a smallish soundstage where it’s hard to find a bottle of booze but easy for all the characters in the movie to be constantly running into each other.  I’m not describing it very well, but the whole thing has the effect of being a fascinatingly batshit portrayal of what someone, somewhere, imagined human behavior looks like.  Recommended.

Movie quality:  Decent
B-fest rating:  Excellent


Super Mario Brothers (1993) – Never saw this one back in the day, but always thought it was a stupid idea.  We had fun with the very brief rendition of the classic Mario theme before the opening credits; the only bit of actual Mario content in the movie!  Mario Mario and Luigi Mario are a couple of “brothers” separated by at least 30 years in age who work as plumbers in Brooklyn before stumbling into a schlocky dystopian parallel universe in which humanoids evolved from dinosaurs or something.  Dennis Hopper plays a human looking villain who happens to be named Koopa – as was pointed out, apparently he has to be kind of villain who kicks a dinosaur puppy (“Yoshi”) in case the audience didn’t gather from the rape threats that he’s evil.  His henchmen, the Goombas, are human size rather than little mushroom-owl-things.  Basically, it totally lack's the game's brightly colored environments,  no one goes through any pipes, no one bounces off anything’s head or throws fireballs, and the whole thing serves to piss off anyone who doesn’t like having generic action movies cash in on the name of their favorite childhood property.  But for me, that's not such a big deal.  SMB is really just an early ‘90s action movie that’s much like many others, and it was fast-paced enough to not be boring.  The references to the video games mostly take the form of little in-jokes or background details, and I was mostly able to smile at those.  I definitely heard some “SO MUCH PAIN” comments, as well as some people who found the movie to be a moral abomination because of their love for the games on which it is (very loosely) based.  But I also, as I was slipping down the isle to grab some coffee, heard people singing along to “Walk The Dinosaur;” it turns out that there are people of a certain slightly different age whose cherished childhood memories actually include this movie, and some of them came to B-fest too.  So, interesting mix.  I’m glad I saw this once, and probably will never feel the need to see it again.

This may have been the first time in history that Super Mario Brothers saw its end-of-credits stinger played to a mostly filled theater.

Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good


Care Of The Secret Service (1939)  - A B-movie by the original definition of the term (i.e. a cheaply produced thing less than an hour long specifically designed to fill out an afternoon at the movies.  It would have been shown along with a higher profile “A-movie,” a newsreel, and some cartoons or something).  This is the second time we’ve had a B-fest movie starring Ronnie Reagan, here busting up a counterfeiting ring.  This comes from a time in which “does not wear a hat” was a useful term in describing a target.  This one pretty shamelessly “borrows” from other other films (apparently outright recycling actual bits of film of some cases); I noticed two separate motifs taken directly from Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.  Highlights included the hilariously choreographed ‘30s fight scenes, with people flying across rooms, while lowlights included the odious designated comic relief character.  It helped that it was short, since by the time it ended, it was time.

Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Decent


Doctor Goldfoot & The Bikini Machine (1965) – Figured I’d sit this one out after catching the claymation opening credits, since it looked like an honorary “beach party” movie despite not being set on a beach.  I detest beach party movies, and figure I already did my time (with last year’s loathsome Beach Blanket Bingo).  Turns out that Goldfoot has a secret weapon, though, in Vincent Price, playing an off-kilter version of his usual mad scientist routine as he tries to take over the world with seductive robots or something.  In his first few scenes, Price is a star, quietly hamming it up by ever so slightly exaggerating what a straight performance would look like; he has great comic timing and the writing for his character is snappy and fun.  The rest of the movie seems to be worthless slapstick, but the parts of the music I heard were much better than in the beach party movies.  So the fifteen minutes or so that I actually watched – not bad at all, actually.  That said, again, I already did the whole zany comedy thing last year, so took a break for food.  It ended up turning it into a longer break than planned when I got a phone call from an old friend with whom I literally hadn’t spoken since before last B-fest, which ate up the rest of the time.  Hey, life is full of choices.

Movie quality:  [unable to rate]
B-fest rating:  [N/A]


Later than in past years, a raffle for door prizes followed.  Had three tickets this time, still didn’t win anything.  That’s seven years of nothing in a row now... the odds be ever in my disfavor.


The Deadly Mantis (1957) – Like in a Godzilla movie, when you know there’s a giant insect coming, a movie feels like it has the liberty to very slowly take its time in setting it up, giving the audience nothing to latch on to.  We had fun riffing on the very slow pans across a map, but then faced with a choice between more caffeine and more sleep, I took the rare latter path; had it been a new movie to me would have played it differently, but I’ve seen TDM before, albeit in MST3K form.  I woke up in time for most of the mantis action, and it was more competent than the Giant Claws of the world, with a solid puppet for the monster not looking too out of place in the war against military planes.  But I was finding it impossible to stay focused on anything that was happening.  Just didn’t hold my attention at all.  Wrong monster for the occasion?

Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Weak


Yor, The Hunter From The Future (1983) – As we exhaustedly headed into the final stretch, there were no more giant monsters to look forward to (breaking from tradition of, well, trying to end with a giant monster, preferably Godzilla).  As B-fest winds down, there are only two kinds of movies which make sense to program:  true backbreakers, or fun high energy films.  It helps if they’re weird.  Well, Yor was energetic.  Yor is a beefy barbarian hero, and he and his axe wander into action setpieces one after another where no one wears much, violence dominates, and everyone’s horny.  Although it’s not meant to be funny, I was kind of amused by the destruction Yor leaves in his wake; for awhile he has a perfect track record in that every tribe he encounters ends up getting exterminated within about twenty minutes.  But, just as the viewer is settling into the rhythms of this particular type of genre cheese, there’s a twist.  As the movie’s title hints at (and as Yor’s weird mystical necklace will lead to), this is actually THE FUTURE.  And that’s the basis for the rather abrupt transformation into a low-rent Star Wars riff featuring a villain who’s actually called Overlord (“And with a name like Overlord, I’m sure he’s a great guy!”).  This part is set in a dome filled with robot-soldiers that make the original Cylons look menacing (I and others got some laughs by comparing them to the Mario movie’s Goombas).  I’d totally watch this again.

Movie quality:  Decent
B-fest rating:  Excellent


Drunken Tai Chi (1984) – Okay, wow.  A kung fu comedy from Hong Kong had the potential to be a source of great pain or great joy.  Well, the cheers that starting flowing from the auditorium during the first jumpkick and wild pratfall answered that, as our hero beats up a bully in a sequence that upsets numerous fruit carts.  Those cheers got louder as our hero decides to have some fun at a fat woman’s expense, and she proceeds to teach him a thorough kung fu assisted lesson in humility.  Said cheers never really abated through fight after fight; very little time is ever allowed to elapse without the screen filling with senseless violence.  Eventually our hero’s family is rather abruptly killed and he joins up with the large woman and her perpetually drunk bucktoothed husband; he helps around the house and makes potions for erectile dysfunction with appropriately sproingy sound effects, whilst the drunk guy teaches him the ways of Tai Chi, a “soft” art which can conquer “hard” fighting techniques, the one piece of plot I understood.  If I had a complaint about Drunken Tai Chi – which I don’t – it would be that we couldn’t really riff much.  The film speaks for itself.  Half of the fights are comedic and involve things like using hand puppets as weapons, while half are deadly serious and involve characters getting killed.  Subtitles randomly appear for single lines of dialogue, generally not matching the spoken dialogue which has all been dubbed into English anyway.  This is one that I’m underselling because I can’t properly do justice to how grateful a sleep deprived audience can be for the existence of a movie.  And this was that movie.  As a B fest closer... glorious.

And speaking of coming full circle, DTC's last big fight has a fake-out in which the fighters toy with and reject the idea of calling it quits with the same thumbs-up first bump that ended Robot Jox.  Inter-movie synergy like this is amazing, when it happens.

Movie quality:  Good
B-fest rating:  Excellent


Work conflicts may again prevent soaking up B-fest 2015 as a complete weekend, but will make every effort to be there in some capacity.  And it is my long term intention to continue to be back, year after year.  Keep the movies coming.

As a final P.S., one of the later movies was sponsored by “H.E.L.P.I.N.G. C.H.I.L.D.R.E.N. T.H.R.O.U.G.H. R.E.S.E.A.R.C.H. A.N.D. D.E.V.E.L.O.P.M.E.N.T.”  Here’s the source for those to whom I spoke who didn’t know the reference:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XnS1BncrYM
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