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Thursday, January 30, 2014

B Fest 2014: Friday and Saturday, or, The Reason For the Season

The dawn came up sullenly on Friday morning; it turned out that there were services being held at the Ahlgrim funeral home in Palatine; that's significant because they have a miniature golf course in their basement as well as pinball and arcade games. But random goofs off the street can't go play there if there are people mourning their recently departed, and therefore the BMMB / B Fest crowd was not going to be able to sink some putts and shoot some pinball there this time around.
In lieu of a good plan (and with several people still asleep or suffering from the effects of overindulgence at the tiki bar and lobby party the previous night) the main force went out to the Omega for breakfast again. Really, I have no problem with going to the Omega for breakfast. If it wasn't six hours away from Casa Telstar I'd want to go there tomorrow. It's delicious and reasonably priced. Since I knew I'd be stuck in a theater with few healthy options I went for the healthy option:  my bacon was fried extra-crisp and I had water instead of hot chocolate.
Everyone split up and went their separate ways (the Nebraskans went to the Shedd Aquarium to look at fish and otters; the Iowan couple slept in till noon, and everyone else went off on their own missions as needed). My big plans were twofold:  1) Take a nap in the afternoon so I could stay up late that night, and 2) buy a toy chainsaw from Toys Backwards R Us for a stage sketch during the first film that could only be described as "extremely ill-advised". Toy chainsaws, by the way, are thirty goddamn dollars. But the batteries are included, so there's that.
Nap accomplished and everyone who needed a ride collected, I got myself and Jacob, Mary and David to the Northwestern parking structure with a minimum of stunt driving and confusion. We loaded up our theater supplies and staggered off to the Norris Auditorium about two hours before the event's start time so we could claim tickets and put our stuff on seats (reserving them for our group so we could stick together and bellow jokes in the same area). If you were at B Fest, we're on the left side of the auditorium about halfway down. If you go to the next B Fest, we'll try to be on the left side of the auditorium about halfway down--if you like the jokes in my reviews, stick around! I'll make plenty! If you hate them, sit somewhere else! Other people are probably funnier!
I made a few orbits of the room to hand out copies of the twelfth B Fest disc I've burned as a giveaway for the event (maybe one of these years I should ask A&O Films to subsidize buying the blank discs, cases and labels!) and basked in the feeling of homecoming. It takes a lot to get me to go to Chicago in the tail end of January, but walking into that theater and seeing all the same people I'd gotten used to seeing from years gone by (the BMMB isn't the only group of a dozen or so regulars at the Fest every year) makes every second of frustration, fatigue, cold and delay worth it. Plus lots of people say they like the CDs.
Mike Bockoven has a plan to document his mental deterioration each hour by taping himself describing how he's feeling all the time; he asks me to do a quick doomed Lovecraftian scholar impression as another thing to put into his podcast / audio blog post / whatever he's planning. I think I do all right, but you never really know with these things I tend to judge myself pretty harshly re: joking and humorousness.
After a brief technical-issues delay the Fest cranks up (and guys, please, could you have someone on the floor and someone in the projection booth with radios so you can turn down the volume on some of the more earsplitting selections?) with the first movie and I settle in for the long haul by hiding behind the stage curtains wearing a green luchador mask and cape (to go with my stylish jeans-and-nerdy-T-shirt ensemble that all the truly hip Fest attendees were rocking this year). Why? Because Mike Bockoven and I were gonna make with the funny.
I should digress here for a tiny bit. B Fest has always been held in a 275-or-so seat auditorium on the Northwestern University campus. The movie screen has a wooden stage in front of it; during the night, some attendees sleep on air mattresses or just the hardwood floor there and during the films people run up on stage to interact with the films. Two of the running stage jokes that have persisted for more than a decade are welcome sights:  Whenever a car crashes and explodes a tire will roll across the stage under the screen (I'm assuming the same people bring a tire every year, and they have to know at least roughly where the car wrecks are going to occur in each film, so they plan ahead). That's the first running gag. The other is a dummy made of clothing stuffed with newspapers that gets flung from stage right every time there's a body falling from a great height in one of the movies. The tire gets plenty of applause, but the audience goes nuts for the dummy falls.
And since the people going to B Fest like to poke good-natured fun at the movies, there are plenty of other silly things one can do on stage. From my own archives, I've held up gymnastics scores during a fight in Gymkata, taped red glow sticks to my shirt to salute Sho'Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem as he demonstrated "the Glow" in Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon, and dragged Jessica "Juniper" Ritchey on stage as a sacrificial victim during King Kong. And since I was familiar with the first movie, as was Mike, we decided to have a little fun with it. And now, on with the summary (True Confession:  I didn't keep track of what shorts were played or where, so I'm leaving them out of the summary):
I've seen this fucking movie three times in a theater now; twice at B Fest and once at the dollar show in Wheaton before I had a drivers' license. At B Fest everyone enjoyed the instantly dated Future Cold War setting and threadbare props. And during the first big stop-motion robot fight Mike and I slowly walked out on to the stage in Mexican wrestling gear to flail at each other. Both Mike and I wear glasses, and we couldn't do that under our masks, so a certain amount of trust had to be there for our fight choreography. I faked a Captain Kirk-style collarbone smack on Mike, who hit the ground and then punched me in the groin to win the fight. I had my reservations about this, but didn't want to look like a bully so I thought it'd be fine to let Mike win. The problem is that I didn't want to actually take an uppercut to the genitals. And Mike's justified and earned reputation is...well, he's the reason I coined the phrase "chaos field activated". But happily, even with the projector light shining in our eyes and the extremely limited vision in the masks, I didn't actually get hurt. Also, watching the fight scene from the movie in a YouTube clip later, I realized that we sorta-kinda reenacted it (this was completely unintentional).
And the second big robot fight ends with the evil Soviet mech extruding a chainsaw from its groin to kill the hero-bot. Which is why I had the toy chainsaw, and went out on stage to tuck it backwards between my legs and mimic the Buffalo Bill "Goodbye Horses" dance from The Silence of the Lambs. Of the dozen-plus people I asked about this idea, only two said it was a good or defensible thing to do in public. One of them later clarified his position:  "Oh, I wanted to see you do it. I just didn't think it was a good idea," and honesty is a great policy. And I already had the chainsaw, so I just went out there and did it.
Evil is defeated at the end and the Jox express solidarity; the lights went back up and we got the announcement that the next movie would be different from the one on the schedule. Melissa Kaercher (@chebutykin on Twitter) takes a duo-selfie of herself and me in the audience, and tweets that she's sitting next to me as if that is something to be happy about--a first for me. She's amazingly smart and funny and like the rest of the BMMB crew knows everything ever about movies.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
I don't know what the deal is, but every time the B Fest organizers have scheduled a Bert I. Gordon movie they wind up pulling it from the schedule. This year it was The Amazing Colossal Man but in years past we also missed out on Earth Vs. the Spider and maybe one other one that isn't leaping immediately to mind. I don't know what kind of weird blood curse is going on in relation to Gordon's films, but it's a bit weird. More than a bit. But there's also nothing I can do about it.
This is one of those legendarily awful movies with irresistible titles; if I were a kid and this showed up as a weekend matinee at the local second-run theater I would have seen it in a New York second. So would everyone I knew three decades ago. So would their siblings. Yup. And we all would have been pretty horribly disappointed.
The film is pretty talky and all the props and sets were made by the lowest bidder. So was the DVD; the picture was washed out in a way that Chad Plambeck immortalized as "they used the dirty sock filter on this one"; the props and costumes are visibly cheap and the shitty robot costume is only surpassed by the shitty bear suit. And the sound was warped, simultaneously mushy and too loud. But we were here to mock a terrible film, and mock it we did to the best of our abilities. Go us!
This is the point where my high school life mate Joel showed up and helped me beat up the movies. Thanks, Joel!
I'd seen this one three years ago at another B Fest; for that matter, I'd tracked down the theme song somewhere and put it on one of my giveaway CDs to commemorate its showing at the Fest. It''s not very good. But it's not very good in a really specific early-80s Hal Needham way and it's endlessly entertaining. And it's the only movie I've seen that gives Road House a run for its money in the Stupidness category. A tragically miscast Barry Bostwick grins and preens his way through a movie about a good-guy version of Cobra or Arachnos that intervenes in wars where freedom is threatened with their fantastic equipment like dune buggies that shoot lasers and motorcycles with rockets on the front windscreens. A whole hell of a lot of money was spent on it, and to be completely fair there are some great shots of the desert country where it was filmed (and I really do like the scene where all the vehicles and their smoke trails fill the entire screen edge to edge).
But it's also an action movie not just written for ten year old boys; it seems to have been written by one as well. Lots of juvenile humor pad out the running time when nothing's getting blowed up real good and Henry Silva cashes a paycheck as the leader of the evil Soviet-backed mercenaries (I beat his falsetto-surprised-happy scream of "ACE!" into the dirt for the rest of the weekend whenever I greeted a BMMB poster in the hallway or at the convenience store).
The "shadow puppet" scene where Barry Bostwick is backlit by a purple Kabuki screen and his hand gestures make it look like he has prehensile junk just killed the audience this time around (it was even better in DVD clarity than it was on the washed-out VHS dub they showed three years ago). And the flying motorcycle at the end will never look anything less than ridiculous. All around, a splendid time at the movies. And Bryan's friend Foy took things to at least one higher level by cosplaying Barry Bostwick's character; he is amazing.
The Soylent Green Party has been going to B Fest longer than I have, and they sponsored this movie in memory of their spiritual leader, who had died recently. I kiss my thumb to you, Soylent Green Party, and I hope the audience's enjoyment of your film proved to be a balm to your spirit.
I'm also really sorry that I said your eulogy was words, not deeds; that was likely a step or two over the line.
The Wizard of Speed and Time / Plan 9 From Outer Space
Mike Jittlov's self-produced special effects masterpiece is shown in its usual time slot of 11:45, then shown upside down and backwards. This is one of the most wonderful parts of the Fest and if you haven't seen it with several dozen attendees lying down on the stage and pounding their feet as live-action sound effects for the Wizard running you're really missing out.
And Ed Wood's infamous megastinker is also ludicrously, joyously entertaining. The B Fest crowd has worked this one into a Rocky Horror style audience participation event, with standardized callbacks about the patio furniture ("WICKER!" "RATTAN!" "WICKER!" "RATTAN!"), bafflement at all of Tor Johnson's dialogue and shout-outs to Bela Lugosi and his unconvincing double every time they appear. Also, whenever the flying saucers are on stage people fling paper plates about with vigor and abandon--some have jokes written on them and many don't. I got my 14 YEARS AND STILL NO BLOOD OF DRACULA plate back by sheer cosmic happenstance, but it got tossed by someone during cleanup so I don't have that particular souvenir. Some years I skip this movie and talk with my friends in the lobby and some years I sit in and bask in the camaraderie when everyone's on the same page and teasing the movie's shortcomings in the same way.
Thomasine and Bushrod
This movie looked like the backs of my eyelids; I hadn't been drinking any soda this year thanks to The Diabeetus and although I wanted to stay up and watch a Blaxploitation take on Bonnie & Clyde it just wasn't in the cards this year. ALAS! Although I heard it was more interesting than good or mockable, so I'm all right with missing it.
This movie, also, strongly resembled the insides of my skull while I was asleep. I'd never seen it before but I needed more than an hour and twenty minutes' rest before returning to the theater. But this turned out to be the right call, as I made it through the rest of the Fest without sleeping.
War of the Planets
I got up at 5 in the damn morning for this? It's just another Italian space opera with a greatly overestimated take on what NASA and other agencies would be doing in the 21st century.
Actually, the props, model ships, miniature cities and costumes are great, the Technicolor really pops off the screen and the Lovecraftian bodiless intellects possessing human astronauts are wonderfully creepy. But it's slow, talky, slow, redundant, and slow. Not a lot to make fun of that I remember, but at this point my brain is usually smearing itself along the insides of my skull in self-defense.
Kitten With a Whip
This one was the major happy surprise of the Fest for me and for many other viewers; Ann-Margret plays Jody, a conniving teenager on the run from a juvie hall who takes advantage of John Forsythe's straight-arrow Senatorial candidate from the second she lays eyes on him. He's too square and decent to realize just how many lies he's hearing from her, and only the existence of the production codes prior to the MPAA let him get away with his life and marriage at the end.
If Harley Quinn had been a character on the 1966 Batman show, this movie would have been Ann-Margret's feature length demo reel to play her. Surprisingly well made for a cheap crime thriller / trapped man in bad circumstances 60s noir, and with two lunkheaded beatnik accomplices along for the ride and to turn on each other when Jody gets bored with tormenting Forsythe's bland Everysquare hero. Double and triple-crosses ensue, and the last couple of shots were pinched for the end of The Man Who Wasn't There by the Coen brothers, who love this kind of campy overwrought Hollywood stuff.
Super Mario Brothers
Ugh. Damn it. Exhibit A in the "there will never be a good movie adaptation of a video game", and a real comedown after the previous nifty feature. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo play two brothers with a decades-spanning age difference who go to My First Gilliam Ripoff in the dimension of Dinohattan to rescue a kidnapped archaeologist who is also a princess. You know, just like NEVER HAPPENED IN THE GODDAMNED NINTENDO GAME, EVER. Much like the 1998 Godzilla made by Devlin and Emmerich, it's a film made by people who don't appear to know anything at all about the material they're adapting. Dennis Hopper is on autopilot as a germ-phobic dictator who wants a piece of meteorite to merge Earth with his alternate dinosaurs-and-fungus dimension in order to pillage our universe's resources. The color palate is bruised, dingy, grey and ugly (what happened to all the bright colors from the games?) and the two main characters only wind up in red and green outfits about five or ten minutes from the end. I also don't remember any car chases in the 1987 greybox game and nobody goes down a pipe to go to a warp zone. A completely misbegotten mess.
The audience was pretty punchy at this point, and mostly just sat in numb silence trying to reconcile the film with one of the all-time classics of video game entertainment. There's and end-of-credits stinger that I think remained completely unseen by every audience that sat in a theater to watch this other than the B Fest 2014 one.
Code of the Secret Service
And then we saw an honest-to-goodness B movie! This was made for no other reason than to nail down the second half of a double bill and the cheapness shows over every second of its barely one hour length.
Political Antichrist Ronald Reagan stars as a US Treasury agent tracking down the crime lord who stole a pair of engraving plates and plans to print his own money. His Agent "Brass" Bancroft is notable for failing to do anything useful for the entire film. The villain dies in a random car accident, and is also the one who blows up his own henchmen so he doesn't have to share the loot. The counterfeiting ring is uncovered by someone else and Bancroft loses every fistfight he's in. The comedy relief is provided by his fellow treasury agent and Melissa from the Minnesota contingent pointed out that the "hiding underwater breathing through a reed" scene was reused footage from I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang rather than spending any money on underwater cameras for this one.
Jacob from St. Louis manages to make the sickest joke of the Fest, hands-down, when Bancroft is shot by the bad guy:  "Are you impressed now, Jodie?" Congratulations. I was trying to think of a similar joke but you were faster, funnier and more evil than I could have hoped to be.
Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine
Starring Vincent Price! Frankie Avalon! Some guy who apparently was the comic relief in a lot of Elvis Presley movies! More than a dozen beautiful young women in bikinis!
This movie was wall-to-wall zaniness. I normally hate zaniness, but the movie won me over with its total shamelessness and its commitment to being as silly as it could be from start to finish. Frankie Avalon plays a bumbling secret agent who accidentally stumbles over a plot by mad scientist Goldfoot to create robot women that will seduce and fleece rich and influential men worldwide so that he can accumulate money and...well, I don't think the movie ever gives us anything after that "and". But he's obviously having a blast sassing his Igor (actually named Igor!) and if there was an Olympics for being bitchy, Price would have been investigated for performance-enhancing drugs based on this cheapie alone.
When discussing the film after the fact, the BMMB crowd decided we liked it so much because Goldfoot might be evil to the core but nobody gets killed and none of his bizarre weapons and death traps hurt anybody. It's a completely harmless movie about stock market and power-of-attorney fraud as well as the clear need for a pre-nuptial agreement if you're going to marry someone you met that day. My take:  Adam Sandler thinks this is what he's doing with all of his movies. And now, alas, I might have caused the prospect of a Goofy Voice Manchild Idiocy remake.
The Deadly Mantis
The first fifteen or twenty minutes of this one looked like me getting a sandwich from Subway and chatting with the Maryland attendees, who were kind enough to invite me over to their table for lunch while they, too, took a break from the Fest. A really cool puppet mantis monster can't save the parts of the film where people talk but it's short enough not to wear out its welcome and you could really do a hell of a lot worse.
Yor, Hunter from the Future
I'm not used to my Italian caveman / barbarian movies being so inoffensive. This flick had just about no sleaze in it whatsoever (Reb Brown shows off more skin than any of the female leads) and a couple plot twists that take it straight to Crazy Town. What seems to be one of those "The Flintstones was a work of serious scientific research" caveman movies turns into something quite else by the end of the second act. But along the way we get all kinds of cool puppet dinosaurs, bandage-swathed mummy people using burning forked branches as their trademark weapons, a rafting expedition, the extermination of two or three tribes and a love triangle that doesn't kill the more primitive (and brunette) character so that the two Aryan-looking cave people can hook up.
I also enjoyed the a capella take on Darth Vader's leitmotif whenever the evil overlord (named Overlord, just like Igor was named Igor in the last one) showed up. Some of the characters I figured to get their tickets punched made it to the end credits and overall this one showed a lot more effort than I expected. It was well appreciated 20 hours into the marathon, let me tell you.
Spoony, an online cult film reviewer that Jacob is a fan of, sponsored and introduced this film. It was his first B Fest and he found out that a good friend of his died by his own hand a couple days before. My sincere condolences for your loss, sir, and thank you for showing us this much better than expected caveman versus Darth Vader movie.
Drunken Tai Chi
Holy cats, this one was amazing. Apparently one of the less insane Yuen Wo-Ping martial arts comedies, it's got a startlingly young Donnie Yen as the lazy older brother in a family salt mine; his father and brother and murdered by a berserker assassin and Yen goes to live with his bucktoothed alcoholic uncle, learn Tai Chi as a "soft" style that counters the brute force of the villain, and fights ensue--actually, they never stopped from the beginning minute of the movie. This film was packed with incident from start to finish--there's four comedy fights (including one fought with a novelty boxing puppet and one where an oversized calligraphy brush is used as a rope dart to paint a sad face on someone's belly before Yen beats him silly) and half a dozen serious ones (the berserker elevates things every time he shows up). The jarring tonal shifts made the movie even more surreal, and one of those oddball twists of fate / hand of destiny events means that the hero saves the villain's son from a pair of kidnappers but they still have to fight to the death to satisfy honor by the end. I don't think there are ten minutes in this movie that aren't either someone getting their ass kicked or a training montage. Highest possible recommendation and a fantastic finish to a really solid B Fest lineup. Special credit to Bryan for correcting my joke during the ink brush fight and setting me up to be sarcastic ("How do you translate Ace Frehley into Cantonese?" "Actually, Tim, Peter Criss had the cat makeup." "I feel better not knowing that, actually.") and you probably wouldn't believe me if I said I led an audience singalong to "Cotton Eyed Joe" during the first act, but I did. Though I'm proudest of quoting The Dude from The Big Lebowski about everything being a travesty with you, man, after the funeral urn gets busted in the final fight and both combatants are blinded by a cloud of human ash.
After the final film credits rolled, about seventy percent of the audience was claimed in the Rapture, vanishing immediately. The sinners left behind decided to make a good impression by cleaning up all the discarded food wrappers, paper plates and water bottles on the floor and we returned to the hotel with plans to meet in the lobby in about an hour and going to dinner. I savored the first shower after B Fest (one of the undisputable pleasures of the weekend), and had to wash my hair twice in order to get the grease out of it. Following that my crowd went to Portillo's for Italian beef sandwiches, pasta, shakes, cheese fries and conversation. Several of us taped greetings for Jacob's friend Natasha, who had to bail out on her Fest vacation at the last minute and then it was time to go back to the hotel, read a bit and sleep the sleep of the comatose.

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