Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Atlas Sucked


Written by: Assholes
Directed by: Incompetents
Starring: A lot of embarrassed people collecting a check, and a few shitbirds who jumped on board this project because they agree with the utterly vile politics it espouses.

Most of us have unfortunately had one or another of Ayn Rand's sociopathic political wank fantasies crammed down our throats at some point in our lives. If you made it through both high school and college without being asked to write a book report to Rand's estate telling them just how awesome Rand was for a chance to win a scholarship (which you shouldn't be begging for anyway, you worthless sniveling moocher!), you're luckier than I. In our case, it was The Fountainhead we were forced to choke down like a Thai hooker gagging on Rush Limbaugh's sweaty scrotum. I even suffered the indignity of my favorite teacher telling me she was so excited for us to read the book because I reminded her of Howard Rourke! Right around the point he rapes his girlfriend and smashes one of her priceless pieces of statuary just because he feels like it, I started to wonder why she thought so little of me. At any rate, once was enough and I never read any more of Rand's poorly written idiocy, but when I heard there was a new movie based on her most prominent book coming out, and that every new bit of news suggested it was going to be a colossal train wreck, obviously I got excited. Check the header, folks. It doesn't say Cinemasochist for nothing.

For those unfamiliar with the story, I'll give you a quick rundown. Taxes on big business and the depletion of natural resources have made all methods of commercial transportation but rail too expensive to be practical any longer. Railroad magnate Dagny Taggart and steel magnate Henry Reardon team up to monopolize commercial transportation with the help of a magic engine abandoned in a factory by a mysterious figure named John Galt, who appears to be kidnapping all the great businessmen of America. Pretty soon, the evil government has taxed and nationalized the country to a standstill, and Taggart and Reardon follow the trail of breadcrumbs all the way to a Tea Party wonderland surrounded by a magic force field, where Galt and all the other CEOs can enjoy the fruits of their labor and give each other handjobs and sulk about how much it sucks to pay taxes and have to give all their hard earned money to people who actually work hard to earn their money.

If you said to yourself something to the effect of, “Wait a minute, a bunch of people living together in a moneyless barter-based economy where everyone is in some way an equally productive member of society sounds a lot more like a socialist commune than a right-wing fantasy camp”, you have a lot more common sense than Ayn Rand or anyone who has ever agreed with anything that ever drooled from her worthless fingertips. Although it's entirely possible she was the world's greatest con artist and spent every waking minute of her life laughing her ass off at all the rubes she duped while collecting the social security checks they helped pay for. That would explain why her books were so awful. You don't have to try very hard to write good fiction when your audience is comprised entirely of village idiots. They could have been written in crayon with half the letters backwards and it wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows.

Unbeknownst to many (including me), a film version of Atlas Shrugged has loomed over the movie going public like a precariously balanced mountain of dog shit, threatening to topple into our laps and ruin our dinners, since 1972. At first it was just a series of scripts that got blue balls for one reason or other, but within the last couple of decades it's been reported that over $20 million has been spent on aborted versions by various producers. So before we even get to 2010, when producers John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow began shooting just to be under production mere months before their film option lapsed (and to the surprise of absolutely no one the resulting product is considerably worse than Roger Corman's Fantastic Four movie made under similar circumstances), the budget of a reasonably funded independent movie had already been blown (no doubt with plenty of applications filed for local filming tax credits along the way).

After the first movie failed to make back much more than a quarter of its budget and got soundly trounced by critics and audiences alike, a private debt sale was required to raise enough money to start shooting part 2, which failed even harder than the first. Aglialoro refused to screen it for critics because he questioned their integrity. Of course it's the fault of the evil Jews who run Hollywood that no one likes your fuck-awful movies, John. Despite having a slightly larger budget than the first installment, part 2 looks even cheaper and shittier than its predecessor. Yet despite the Mighty Hand of the Free Market knocking Aglialoro and Co's dicks in the dirt twice, they refused to listen to the voice of their god, whose gospel they claim to be preaching, and went ahead on and made the third and final movie anyway. Almost half a million dollars of the $5 million budget was begged from a Kickstarter campaign, proving once again that no one who actually likes Ayn Rand has even the smallest inkling of a sense of irony or self-awareness. The movie made back less than twice what was raised from the Kickstarter campaign, this time failing to make back even one fifth of its total budget. And lo, the Free Market did speak, and yea it said unto the followers of the false prophetess, “Eat a bag of dicks.”

Upon the release of the second movie, myself, hetero life-partner Bob, and long-time reviewing compatriot Fistula sat down and watched the first two back to back. When the third one finally came out, we knew there was nothing for it than to watch all three in a row for some serious DEEP HURTING. Rounding out the cast with Rich and Jacob, we prepared ourselves to look into the mouth of hell. Or at least FOX News, which is about the same thing, really. Rich dropped the (TOTALLY LEGITIMATE) DVDs off at work Friday afternoon in case he was late to the party. Discs were labeled 1-3, with 1 having WHY scrawled across it in the handwriting of a broken man.

Knowing full well that both Tim at Checkpoint Telstar and El Santo of 1000 Misspent Hours (whenever he gets around to doing them, and I know the siren song will get to him eventually) will both do a far better job of writing proper reviews of the movies, this is going to be more of a chronicle of our pain. I had my computer on my lap through the whole ordeal typing notes. Settling in with a bottle of Schlitz (I thought it appropriate to tackle these turd burgers with a simple, blue-collar beer) and a tumbler of Woodford Reserve (I know, I know, but Rich brought the bourbon and I'm not going to say no to that), we begin our descent into badness.

Either Bob or Fistula (the verdict is still out, I'll let them rochambeau for credit) had a good zinger early on when, much like the first movie at B-Fest, everyone is talking more than paying attention and you can't hear yourself think, we were yapping over a lot of the dialog. “If you turn the subtitles on it just says, 'Get a fucking job you mooching piece of shit'.”

So, because it's the government's fault that multi-billion dollar companies destroyed the world's natural resources to the point that gasoline is forty-some dollars a gallon, trains are now the only feasible method of transportation. I wonder if Rand knows the railroad started as a huge government handout.

Blah blah boring boardroom power struggles and sibling rivalry...ah here we go! Reardon Steel's cocknozzle CEO gleefully throwing away memos from what I can only assume are steel working unions. Who needs happy, productive, well-paid and competent workers?

Pain level: 2. At this point we were paying more attention to the boxes of Wheat Thins Bob brought as a snack than we were the movie.

$20,000 a ton to re-rail an ENTIRE FUCKING RAILROAD!? Do the filmmakers have any idea how much a rail weighs? Ok, the average piece of finished railroad steel weighs 139 pounds per three foot length. For the sake of keeping this simple, since I don't have a map of Taggart Rail lines, we'll assume they're running one line from border to border of Colorado, 280 miles. This would require 492,800 pieces of 3 foot rail x 2 (it's not a monorail, remember), which gives us 985,600 pieces of rail. Multiply by your 139 pounds and you get 136,998,400, divide by 2000 pounds and we're at 684,992 tons, x $20,000 for a grand total of $1,369,984,000.00. Now, I realize Reardon's magical alloy is supposed to be lighter than steel, but they're also not laying a single straight line of the stuff. Hell, we know for a fact they had to build at least one bridge out of it too! So that already immense dollar figure is probably short by half, at least. And that's purely the cost of the rail material, not taking into account ties, spikes, frogs, switches, fuel burned by machinery, and the wages paid to those pesky mooching workers! The actual expenditure of this project could easily be ten times that figure or more. Asylum Films pictures put more thought and effort into the dimensional continuity of their monsters than the makers of Atlas Shrugged did on the economics of their fucking economics movie!

Ultra futuristic year of 2016, commercial airlines and trucking are dead. Rail is the only way to go. Funny since the people who love Ayn Rand philosophy are the ones who've been keeping us thirty years behind the rest of the world's rail technology.

So all the businessmen hate the guy who got the steel monopoly, just because they didn't invent unobtainium first? Are these supposed to be the people we're angry at, or rooting for? They're just as greedy and ruthless as Henry Reardon, they're just acting pissy because he beat them. Wait, aren't Galt and his followers just acting pissy because they don't like the way the world works? Why are these dudes any different? Oh, right, because they want the government to step in with anti-monopoly laws rather than just destroy the entire world's economy in a fit of pique.

Nationalization literally made ore disappear from Mexican mines? It's like they took every ridiculously hyperbolic thing FOX News and all the rest of the GOP pundits say about what will happen if the government is allowed to run any kind of program and took them at face value. It's amazing these people are even able to pour their own cereal in the morning.

Pain level: 3. Still trying to accept the fact that our heroine's name is Dagny Taggart.

Oh, the irony of a story about disappearance of natural resources made by drooling moron conservatives who blame it on having to pay taxes without ever examining the massive implications of what they're saying.

The CEO of a Fortune 500 company begging for work on the roadside with a sandwich board is probably my favorite hilariously earnest and utterly stupid image in a trilogy that is composed of pretty much nothing but hilariously earnest stupidity. Are you fucking kidding me? What does his resume say, “Ability to squander massive amounts of money on nothing, expert at committing tax fraud, no actual work experience”?

I'm a complicated man, and no one understands me but my money. GALT! You're daaaamn straight.

Showing huge teams of workmen doing the re-railing operation...DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THE IMAGES YOU ARE PUTTING IN YOUR FILM!? THESE PEOPLE ARE UNION WORKERS! I suppose they see the workers as nothing but another tool for the mighty CEOs of the world, but the complete and utter lack of self-awareness is just galling. To say the movers and shakers of the world are the only ones who contribute, only to show the hard working people required to put their plans into action just seconds later...I give up.

State Science Institute? Wait a minute...S.S.I.? Is Super Robot Red Baron going to have to fight John Galt and his army of evil robots? This may turn out to be a lot more entertaining than we previously suspected.

Pain level: 5. Realizing that I'm getting all worked up over Galt being a secret identity of the devious Professor Deviler for nothing. The closest I'm going to get to a giant robot in this movie is the crappy CG animated train.

Their train goes 250 miles an hour. Faster than any train has ever gone in this country. Shame on us, really. America! Where transportation is slower and less efficient than anywhere else in the world. Go Galt!

Pay people according to their needs rather than their contributions. So...the CEO's get fucking nothing and the people who do all the actual work make seven figures a year? Ugh. Fuck Teabaggers. Please, every Fortune 500 CEO go Galt and leave the rest of us to do things properly.

They discovered Galt's perpetual motion engine just sitting on a shelf in an abandoned warehouse. It's basically a thermos with a few bits of copper wire soldered to it. I've seen more advanced-looking pieces of tech in 60's Doctor Who. And of course they instantly understand the principles of its counfoundedly complex operation. How do the heads of a rail line and a steel company have a working knowledge of theoretical particle physics?

The oil baron left his oil fields as he found them before he went Galt. Which, for those of you with enough sense to not be watching along at home means he set fire to them before he left. So...you found it a blasted, flaming hellscape filled with toxic smoke did you, you fucking douchebazooka? I guess we shouldn't be surprised that a member of the I Got Mine So Fuck The Rest Of You party would implement a literal scorched earth policy as one final temper tantrum before stamping off to pout in his top secret tree fort.

Part 2

The Iron Alliance (or the three whiny steel barons who turned class traitor and became pro-government lobbyists) have come around, and now want to use the Galt Engine. They will use it to fuel their own mecha-robo, the Offshore Accountant.

All the characters are played by different actors. Dr. Stadler, previously an Indian, is now a bald white guy, and Laurent the Vampire has gained a foot of height and about a hundred pounds of muscle. It's OK, Guy Who Took Laurent the Vampire's part, you'll be in Godzilla in a few years so you have something awesome to put on your resume.

Government took over Wyatt Whateverthefuck's fossil fuel empire and hasn't produced single a lump of coal. Any other movie you'd think that was meant to be a dramatic exaggeration but you get the feeling these filmmakers don't have a self-aware bone in their bodies and mean it literally.

Wait a minute, Galt abducts a concert pianist? What the fuck are the millionaire CEOs going to do with a concert pianist in their Secret Treefort of Dickbaggery? Use him for target practice? How is he going to contribute anything meaningful to their communist...uh...I mean, totally right-wing Libertarian utopia?

Why the fuck would you have walls to your bedroom made of glass? That seems counterproductive. After a long night of drinking and you just want to get to bed, you're going to end up bleeding to death. I've had nights where I had trouble making it with nothing between me and the bed but air.

Do you see two assholes or a vase?
Reardon beats the law by arguing well and he can just do whatever the fuck he wants? How is he our hero? And how goddamn useless is the justice system supposed to be? ::watches five minutes of news from any given day:: Right, every bit as useless as it is in real life. The only reason this seems unrealistic is that he wasn't getting away with murdering a black guy on video in front of a hundred witnesses.

Michael Gross! Wait a minute, there are no Graboids in this boardroom! Can we shut this piece of shit off and watch Tremors instead, please?

Pain level: 4. Despite wishing I was watching an awesome monster movie instead of this garbage, I at least can take some solace in knowing not all the cool character actors showing up in these things are doing it out of some kind of ideological imperative. I know Gross is an anti-gun pacifist, so I seriously doubt his political views match up with much if any of the gobsmacking idiocy on display here.

I love how the shorter production schedule shows, even though they had more money. In the first one, we see actual railroad crews with huge machines laying ties and track and moving earth, and in the second one it's a team of four guys with tongs pulling up the condemned Reardon steel track and putting it in the back of a pickup truck.

Hearing the name of a character called Mr. Mouch pronounced for the first time. Me and Bob simultaneously: IT'S PRONOUCNED MOOCH!!! And this is how you can tell we've been friends for a looooong time.

So we're supposed to be pissed because the government is doing to the neocons what they've been doing to their workers for decades basically since Grover Norquist took over the GOP. Not so much fun when the shoe full of spiders is on the other foot, is it guys?

Pain level: 7. Four beers and two glasses of whiskey in and IT'S NOT GETTING ANY BETTER.

All the rich people die suffocating and on fire when they run a coal burning train through a mountain tunnel and it gets trapped halfway through. Jacob's response: GOOD! He's turning mean and bitter. Clearly we're rubbing off on him. Reminds me of Heartbeeps at B-Fest. YOU'ER GONNA DIE, BITCH, AND I'M GONNA WATCH!

Reardon is so torn up over the destruction and thinks if only he could have been there to help. Right. If Reardon had been able to help out he'd be out there holding the switch down with his own mighty CEO hands so the great rich people wouldn't die in the fiery crash LIKE THEY FUCKING DESERVE TO.

OK, so fossil fuels are so expensive that nothing but trains are feasible, and they're trying to rescue the trapped rich people by trains, except we saw in the last movie many massive industrial vehicles that burn enormous amounts of fossil fuels being used to re-rail the entire Taggart line with Reardon steel that AAAAARRRRRGH WHAT THE MOTHERFUCK!?

Pain level: 7. At this point I'm not sure if it's the alcohol or the movie making my vision blur.

So the government is both shadow conspiracy efficient and completely incompetent and bungling? Make up your mind!

Wait, now Taggart is hijacking a small plane? Majored in business, minored in theoretical physics, got a pilot's license in her spare time. Suuuure.

Uhh...so in 2016 fossil fuels have made commercial air travel all but impossible, yet personal VTOL aircraft are now a thing?

Ooh, it's like the end of 2001, except I understand it completely and really don't want to. My God, it's full of shit...

Part 3: The Shittening

The ones who needed the money most were the ones who got paid the most? What the fuck!? When has this happened in the history of the world, ever? For that matter, how could this be construed in any way as a bad thing? Will this actually happen next year? I sure as shit hope so, because there are a lot of Blu-rays and records and comic books and Godzilla toys I don't have yet and I could use a new car.

WHY THE FUCK AREN'T WE WATCHING A MOVIE ABOUT RAGNAR THE PIRATE!?

I'm really disappointed Reb Brown isn't playing John Galt for some reason. I think if he shrieked his entire speech at the top of his lungs while exchanging laser fire with Jon Stewart in a high-speed floor waxer chase this would be a lot more entertaining.

Pain level. 6: The time it took to change discs and open another beer gave me a minute to rest and drop my blood pressure a couple points.

THANKS OBAMACARE. When the government started making medical decisions for me...LIKE THEY DID NEVER.

Actual dialog: “This is a diagnostic device I developed here in Atlantis. Every doctor should have one.” Subtext: “But I won't share, so fuck them.” I feel I should point out once again that this movie's protagonists are a bunch of people who create devices seemingly on a daily basis that could change every country in the world into clean, healthy, productive places to live, but they refuse to do anything for the common good because there's nothing in it for them but massive, unholy amounts of riches which they're afraid the government will take away, so everyone should just build their own damn magic engines. And yes, I understand that neurosurgeons are phenomenally intelligent and talented people—in one very specialized field. I do not buy for a second that this qualifies them to be able to build functioning tricorders out of spare junk drawer parts in their free time.

You know what it's like to build something and how little recognition you get for it? Like making enough money to live ten lifetimes comfortably? That's not enough recognition? What, you want to wake up to a fucking blowjob every day? Fuck you people.

What the hell is an actress doing in Galtland? Was she forced to appear in a bunch of Federal PSAs against her will? The more you d'oh!

Oh, because he's a Robin Hood for rich people and he's a worthless fucking cunt. That's why we're not watching a Ragnar the Pirate movie. Fuck that guy too. I shouldn't be surprised. Although I think the filmmakers aren't real clear on what Robin Hood did. Ragnar isn't taking from the poor and giving to the rich, he's sinking ships loaded with the copper desperately needed to rebuild America's infrastructure. So he didn't just go on strike and take some great invention with him, he's actively trying to make the problem worse. Shouldn't that make him a villain even in the Galt cultists' eyes? Oh, right, I'm thinking about it again. I keep forgetting that it stops working if you think about it. Good thing the audience for this are a bunch of slavering idiots.

I'm glad they're giving us introductions to who the hell these characters are for the third movie since they look nothing like the people from the first two. They should just all wear name tags.

“So, John Galt, do you do all the maintenance on your Land Rover yourself?” “Hahaha, no, when it breaks down I just buy a new one!”

People have a right to a living, which CEOs are required to give them. Well, right on the first count any way. Unless you're looking at the world through Nestle's eyes, in which case you can eat a dick. Wait, no, you're not even entitled to a dick. And you better not think you're going to get any water to boil that dick in, unless you buy it in a bottle from us with some powdered milk. Good grief, this is fucked up on so many levels.

Pain level: 8. Didn't take long for the ultrastupid to build up momentum.

Crude but lethal devices AREN'T CROWD CONTROL! That's called murdering people. S.S.I. clearly needs Red Baron. He'd Elec-Trigger these Galt cultists back to the Stone Age.

Grapefruit special just doesn't have the same ring to it as Orange Blossom Special. [editor's note: I have absolutely no idea what this is supposed to mean because I was pretty hammered when I wrote it and I didn't leave any explanation for myself, but I like it as a non sequitur, so I'm leaving it in.]

They're going to decide how to save the harvest over dinner. They being CEOs, not actual farmers. Of course those peons couldn't possibly be trusted with the survival of most of the world's economic structure like they have been basically since commodities could be traded in large quantities on more than a town-to-town basis. I will fucking kill you all.

Sacrifice Minnesota. Do you fuckers understand agriculture at all? You do realize what part of the country all your food comes from, right? Sacrifice them to what? You want to rely on local farmers in the Northeast to pick up the slack!? Now, ignoring for a moment the obvious fact that you can't just grow any old crop any old where with identical results due to things like soil composition and climate and stuff that fucking third graders understand, let's look at some statistics, shall we? Now, these numbers are based on 2004 cash receipts for wheat because that's the first chart I found and I don't want to waste my entire day off looking this stuff up, so we're a little out of date, but it's not going to change so drastically from year that the basic idea here won't hold up. I'll grant you Minnesota isn't our frontline producer when it comes to wheat—North Dakota and Kansas are the undisputed kings there—so at least the filmmakers have some sense of scale in this in that they, probably purely by accident, didn't pick one of the big ones. Still, the idea that the Northeastern farmers are going to pick up the slack is, like every single other thing about these shitburger movies, completely and utterly stupid. According to those 2004 numbers, Minnesota produced 341,037 bushels of wheat, or around 4.62% of the nation's crop for that year. Of the thirteen states in the Northeast region, only five of them produced any appreciable amounts of wheat at all, Maryland leading the pack with 27,565 bushels (.37%) and West Virginia bringing up the rear with a meager 863 bushels (.01%). All five put together only turned out 62,500 bushels. For those of you with calculators and ten seconds on your hands, that means Minnesota produces almost five and a half times more wheat than all the producing Northeastern states combined. And remember, fossil fuels are so scarce and expensive that it's all but impossible to run any large vehicles like combines, tractors, and semi trucks, which probably means most of the farming in this movie's poorly thought out world is done by hand and by horse. Also, since they're expecting the Northeastern farmers to “pick up the slack” at the last minute for this year's harvest, that means they're counting on them to be able to pull five and a half times their regular annual crop out of their asses. Good luck, guys. You're going to have a rough fall.

Pain level: 10. Showing ignorance about farmers is the absolute #1 surefire way to induce a series of painful and debilitating rage aneurysms in this guy right here.

The ignorance level is so deep as to be almost immeasurable. The sonar is still waiting for the first ping to come back.

Find me five more than mid-level executives who ever invented anything. I dare you.

Even the Galt motor isn't played by the same motor movie after movie. It keeps growing and getting glowy bits added on. This may be the only part of the movie that actually shows a budgetary improvement from movie to movie. This time it at least looks like an acceptably vague piece of sci-fi tech. Once again, I'd like to point out that this magic engine could make the world a better place for everyone almost immediately. Not only would no one ever have to die of heat stroke or freeze to death or not have clean water again, it would literally save the planet as fossil fuels would be rendered obsolete overnight. This means that giving the engine to the people of the world would, in fact, also be a self-serving act because if humanity goes extinct due to catastrophic climate change, Galt and his merry band of assholes will all die too. But that would require anyone who buys into Rand's philosophy to actually think their actions through to their final outcome rather than throwing a temper tantrum like a spoiled toddler who wants some candy RIGHT NOW. What am I saying, I'm sure they abducted the one guy at NASA who builds all the spacecraft single-handedly while all the lazy moochers watch, and he's even now constructing them a ship shaped like a giant middle finger which will blast off just as the lava and the floods and the hurricanes reach Dickweed Gulch in a great heroic action sequence. And of course it has lots and lots of portholes so they can watch the huddled masses die horribly as they fly away into space only to realize that they have nowhere else to go and have to start drawing straws to see who gets eaten first so they can conserve oxygen until their giant middle finger crashes into the sun because no one will volunteer to steer the damn thing because why should he have to steer the ship for everyone else and they should all just get their own ships instead of being a bunch of lazy moochers. The end. Please?

I will never ask another man to live his life for me, nor will I live my life for another. In other words, I will never do anything useful ever, and I destroyed my world-saving engine because the gubmint wanted it. Fuck you, Galt, you worthless cock monger.

Dagny gives orders to a bunch of grubby rail workers and she and Galt immediately go to a closet to fuck. Are we supposed to infer that they literally get off on telling poor people what to do?

You know, at the end of the day, this is something of a fantasy for us liberals too. Let all the Randoids go Galt and be assholes to each other in a magic valley somewhere. While they're all arguing over whether Sean Hannity could beat up Glenn Beck or the other way around, we could fill the valley in with concrete or fire ants or something.

We're told the Taggart bridge succumbed to regulation over footage of a bridge collapsing. Are we supposed to take that as the bridge literally fell over due to regular safety inspections?

And as our heroes fly away in a helicopter powered by puppy breath (remember, no fossil fuels except when it's convenient to the plot) and lights and power all over the country go out and millions upon millions of people die as the world is plunged irreversibly into a Mad Max-style spiral of social and structural decay, I invite you to consider that this is meant to be a happy ending.

That's it. I'm spent. Happy Tax Day, everyone.

Be sure to check out Checkpoint Telstar's reviews as part of this Atlas Sucked Tax Day Reviewathon. It was going to be a full roundtable, but everyone else had the common sense to say no. 




Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Undead Legacy

Hankerin' for a hunk of flesh? Check out this new zombie anthology, featuring a story by my friend Andrew Bell.  He's a killer writer, with whom I was honored to share the pages of Dead Harvest last fall. He assures me that this tome will satisfy the most avid gore hound, so it fits right in around here. My copy is currently being packed in salt and shipped to my great hall in a sturdy coffin to ensure no harm comes to the handlers.
Keep America strong, support independent horror!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Animal (2014)


Written by: Thommy Hutson and Catherine Trillo
Directed by: Brett Simmons
Starring:
Elizabeth Gillies as Mandy
Keke Palmer as Alissa
Thorsten Kaye as Carl

Tonight on Wasting My Time So You Don't Have To Theatre, we present Animal for your consideration. This flick should have been called Lazy Bullshit Shortcuts instead. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised considering how much time and effort clearly went into thinking up such a clever title. It's like a big neon sign saying, “We didn't even fucking try!” right at the beginning of the movie.

I suppose I could tell you what it's about, but I imagine just by being told there's a horror movie called Animal, you already wrote a better one in your head in the time it took me to finish typing this sentence. Oh, very well. Two couples and the inevitable quirky fifth wheel friend go into the woods for a hiking trip. Alissa and Jeff are siblings, and Jeff's girlfriend Mandy is Alissa's best friend. Then there's Alissa's complete non-entity of a boyfriend Matt, and Sean, the aforementioned quirky guy. Mandy is whiny and hates hiking. Alissa is black and Jeff is not because instant diversity! Sean is gay, which is actually important later because he and Jeff were having an affair except that the movie didn't take the time to earn the right to that kind of interesting character moment and then it just gets completely ignored like Lisa's mom's breast cancer in The Room.

About an hour into their hike, Mandy's whining is interrupted by Jeff being eaten by some kind of monster. The rest of them flee blindly through the woods until they luck across a cabin occupied by some people we saw running from the monster in the opening scene. Vicky and Carl are trying to keep the place barricaded against the thing getting in, and Douglas is the requisite asshole who has realized that he doesn't need to outrun the monster, just his friends.

There is much made of checking the barricades for weak spots and reinforcing them. This draws the audience's attention to the fact that the barricades are slats of scrap wood nailed across missing windows with gaps between them at least a food wide and that they are, in fact, nothing but one giant weak spot, as illustrated by the monster effortlessly punching through them whenever the script calls for it. I was going to blame the production designer for that until I realized it was probably an intentional choice on the director's part so he could get some good shots of the monster lurking behind the squabbling characters so the audience would see it coming just before whatever stupid, repetitive argument the characters were having this time got interrupted by someone being eviscerated. You know, just so we can fully appreciate how clever he is. If that was the case, the PD should have swatted the director on the nose with a rolled up magazine and sent him to a corner to think about what he had done.

Eventually everyone is killed but Mandy and Alissa, and even though Alissa is the badass outdoors chick who has repeatedly stated her intention of killing the monster in revenge for her brother and boyfriend, she gets killed and Mandy is the lone survivor because she's the pretty white girl and is pregnant. Fuck you, movie.

Bland characters, paint-by-numbers plots, and passive racism are all things we horror fans are used to. Doesn't mean we have to enjoy putting up with them, but if the monster is handled right, watching a group of personality-free ciphers getting mauled can be enjoyable. Unfortunately, the ball was so thoroughly and comprehensively dropped on this one that I can't think of a single nice thing to say about the movie other than the monster had an interesting face. It's got hints of both insect and rodent, which is neat, but it still looks far too similar to the monsters from Feast. Couple that with the fact that the thing's body is clearly just some recycled monster suits from Feast (FX artist Gary Tunnicliffe worked on both movies), and this just draws the viewer's attention to the fact that, despite a few small changes, even the usually reliable Tunnicliffe was phoning it in and re-using old designs.

Even the sound design of the thing is lazy, just throwing in a bunch of generic monster roars that you'll recognize from dozens of other movies without bothering to make sure it sounds at all like something that would come out of a creature of this size and shape. The only sound it makes that comes off as remotely plausible is the coughing bark it makes as it calls out to its brethren in the surrounding woods that there's an easy buffet of thinly-sketched morons thoughtfully packed into a flimsy plywood box for their dining convenience.

Before our first glimpse of the creature, Sean brings up the Ohio Howl, which is supposedly a recording of a sasquatch moaning in the bayous of Louisiana (just kidding, it's in Ohio). Like his gay fling with Jeff and Lisa's mom's breast cancer, it's never mentioned again, but no other clue as to what the creature could be is ever dropped. One mention of an obscure Bigfoot recording that most people aren't familiar with is our entire backstory? Are we supposed to infer that these creatures are responsible for the Bigfood legend, then? That doesn’t make much sense considering it's no larger than a human and we even get several clear looks at its feet (yet another misstep to add to the list, as it looks like the thing is wearing shower shoes).

It's unlikely the thing is supposed to be some sort of escaped genetic experiment rather than a naturally occurring but previously undiscovered animal. It's right there in the title, after all. It's like the writers and director saw The Descent and wanted their own race of creatures hidden from mankind until now picking off spunky characters in the woods. Yes, there's more than one of the things. Trust me, I didn't spoil any surprises. Even the dullest of wits would have seen that plot twist coming a mile away. That doesn't matter anyway, because they forgot one key element that made the creatures from The Descent work; they evolved and lived in an uncharted cave system in the middle of nowhere and only came out periodically in small groups to hunt wild game. Sure, they had a few human victims now and again, but cavers go missing all the time and the Appalachian wilderness isn't a very forgiving place. Also, they looked like things that could have reasonably evolved in nature had a group of hominids been trapped underground and survived long enough to adapt over generations to thrive there.

Here, Hutson, Trillo, and Simmons are asking us to buy into a race of scaly humanoid rats with faces made of teeth, which are highly aggressive and voracious predators, breeding and hunting (and presumably dying and leaving remains, unless they bury their dead, but this piece of shit movie doesn't deserve to have the audience do that much work for it) in a forest so heavily used by hikers and campers as to have clearly marked and groomed trails, NO MORE THAN A COUPLE OF HOURS' WALK FROM A FUCKING HIGHWAY! AAARGH!

There was a time not long ago when the home video market was so flooded with fuck-awful Nintendo 64-grade CGI creature flicks that making a monster movie with a good old-fashioned practical effects man-in-a-suit monster was enough of a novelty to carry a lousy flick that would otherwise be dismissed as just another piece of crap. Unfortunately for the makers of tonight's movie, that time has long passed. The anti-CGI backlash has brought with it a wave of good, and a few great, monster flicks in the last decade and a half, and we fans once again find ourselves spoiled for choice. There is absolutely no reason to settle for half-assed shit like this anymore.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pig Hunt (2008)

Written by: Robert Mailer Anderson, Zack Anderson
Directed by: James Isaac
Starring:
Travis Aaron Wade as John Hickman
Tina Huang as Brooks
Howard Johnson, Jr. as Ben
Jason Foster as Jake

I don't know why pigs aren't used as monsters in more movies. They can be goddamn terrifying. My uncle is a pig farmer, and I can remember when we were little my cousins and I were always warned to stay away from the boar pen. When most people think of pigs, they think of cute little market pigs (which can still mess you up pretty good in the right circumstances), but these were big mean breeding boars that probably weighed six or seven hundred pounds and still had their tusks. We were warned to stay away from them not because they might trample us, or they might bite us, but that they might eat us alive. Pigs don't fuck around.

There are plenty of movies that have pigs in them, of course. Hannibal has trained hunting pigs, Paul Naschy's Human Beasts has some pig violence in it, and of course there's the movie called Pigs, which actually has very little pig action and is boring as hell. As far as I know, though, there are only a small handful of movies where pigs are the featured monster. There's the French eco-horror movie Prey (which could have done with more pig action), the South Korean black comedy Chawz (which could have done with being a better movie), the brilliant Australian flick Razorback (one of my all-time favorite horror movies), and tonight's movie.

Pig Hunt is a close second for the best killer pig movie out there, and when the only thing leading you is Razorback, that's high praise indeed. For those of you who have already seen Pig Hunt, you might wonder why I speak so highly of it when just a few sentences ago I was complaining about Prey not having enough pigs in it. After all, the monster hog in Pig Hunt only shows up for the last ten minutes or so of movie. Well, you almost never see the titular beast in Razorback either. Telling a good story with the rest of the movie makes all the difference in the world while you're waiting for the monster to show up.

John, his artist girlfriend Brooks, and his three friends Ben (who looks and sounds so much like Keith David I was surprised to learn they're not related), Wayne and Quincy, are traveling from San Francisco to a remote rural town in Northern California called Boonville to stay at his uncle's cabin and hunt wild pigs (which really do plague that part of the country ever since they were introduced to the area by Russian immigrants). It's a little unclear as to the military status of the group. John wears dog tags, but they're his uncle's (although it took listening to the DVD commentary for me to figure that out). Wayne wears one of those digitized-looking camouflage jackets that are currently in use, but there were no name, rank or unit patches to signify it was anything but a surplus store purchase. Ben, on the other hand, wears head to toe camo, but of a dated variety not in use any more. He's definitely wearing it just because he thinks it makes him look cool, which makes his, “Semper Fi” salute and donation of a dollar to a homeless Viet Nam vet petting a dead puppy really make you root for the pig.

If that and the opening credits playing over the painting “Liberation of Baghdad” by Sandow Birk didn't tip you off, this flick has a very strong anti-war thread running through it, specifically aimed at the Bush administration's monumental clusterfuck in Iraq. Indeed, the basic synopsis of the plot is a bunch of unprepared and under-equipped people with far too much confidence for their own good dive into a situation they don't fully understand and things go horrifically wrong. Sound familiar? It's only been on the news almost every night for the last thirteen years and we're still cleaning up the mess.

Anyway, the first hint of trouble comes when the group stop for gas at a little convenience store (run by blues legend Charlie Musselwhite, in the first of two great musical cameos!). Also making use of the facilities are the nameless Hippie Stranger and a few members of his harem of dope farming cult girls. When the Stranger pulls a huge gurhka blade to save Brooks from a rattlesnake. John shoots the snake with his crossbow before the Stranger can dispatch it, and of course Ben takes the knife as a threat and pulls his big macho Dirty Harry gun to show what a badass he is. In the first of several times American swinging-dick gun culture gets cut off at the knees, the Stranger claims his blade is never drawn without tasting blood. Ben retorts that his gun isn't either, to which the Stranger replies by slicing his arm open, wiping the blood on their car window, and drawing a smiley face in it. Ben holsters his weapon un-blooded and they hightail it the hell out of there.

Eventually they find John's uncle's cabin, which was clearly home to a mind broken by PTSD for a long time before being abandoned. In addition to pig bones and wreckage of hunting gear everywhere, the walls are plastered with articles on the Iraq war and graffiti written in what looks to be blood, with slogans like FALSE FLAG. The place is in no condition for visitors, so they camp in the yard for the night and wake to be greeted by two locals named Jake and Ricky.

Now, the obvious thing to want to call these two is rednecks, but this doesn't take place in the south. One could argue that redneck is a state of mind and that people from Northern California could be rednecks just as well as people from Texas, but producer and co-writer Robert Mailer is insistent on not calling them that. Being a Boonville native (much of the movie was shot in the woods near his home), he says in the commentary that after a generation of their young men came back broken from the war to find the economy had gone to shit and all their jobs were gone, there wasn't much for any of them to do but grow dope and smoke dope and get drunk and shoot pigs. As with any impoverished rural area, a lot of the population live pretty rough and are very self-sufficient when it comes to living off the land. Given how much shit they give John and his friends about serving in the war, it's obvious these two have really seen the violence Ben idolizes in his ignorance, and they don't have the time of day for false machismo. The only one of the group they seem to like at all at first is Quincy, the foppish foodie and camp cook. He doesn't pretend to be tough and he makes good coffee, which is good enough for Jake and Ricky.

Since everyone is out in the woods for the same reason—pig hunting—the two groups join together, and as they trek along we get to know Jake and Ricky a little better. Sure, they may be tweaky alcoholic coke-heads, but it quickly becomes clear that the Deliverance vibe we get from their first appearance was a ruse. They're just some good ol' boys out in the woods looking to get wasted and shoot some pigs. The first attempt goes pear shaped rather quickly, when Jake blows a pig call and they're ambushed by rather more pigs than they expected. Wayne gets kneecapped by a stray tusk, and when the chaos finally settles down, they only got one pig to show for it. Just before Ben can make the killing shot with his revolver, Ricky steps in and hacks the pig to death with a California hook (a rather innocuous nickname for a grappling iron duct-taped to a baseball bat). “Kill guns are for pussies,” he sneers.

As Ricky field dresses the pig, he discovers something alarming. It doesn't have the layer of fatty armor under the skin that most wild pigs have. In fact, aside from the sizable tusks and it already being as large as an adult pig, anatomically it's barely more than a piglet. This, coupled with the ominous signs posted around the forest reading “Death Walks On All Fours” and Quincy's discovery of a trio of half-eaten emus (Apparently there were several real hippie communes around Boonville that raised emus for meat, but the birds got loose and now run wild in the woods along with the pigs. It's not unusual in that area to be awakened in the middle of the night by an emu pecking at your door. They wanted emus stalking the group like the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park as yet another threat, but it proved to be too expensive.), suggest there may be some truth to the legend of the Ripper, a 3,000 pound monster boar that John's uncle had become obsessed with before he died (we know he was actually eaten by the thing because we saw it happen in the opening scene).

Things keep getting worse when they stumble across a huge marijuana plantation. Jake and Ricky unload a bunch of big garbage bags and start picking. John objects (why he doesn't just walk away and leave them to it I have no idea), and when Ricky tries to shoot him with his own crossbow, Ben finally makes some use of that gun he keeps waving around and puts a slug in Ricky's chest.

Jake runs back home to fetch the rest of his clan, and the chase is on. Quincy is killed by the hillbillies, but Ben is saved by the intervention of the Hippie Stranger. At first he thinks he really lucked out, being nursed by a bunch of pretty nekkid cult girls who ply him with dope and boobies. You can see the questions start to form in his mind when they start drawing symbols on him with wet ashes. And then he gets led out into big pen out back where Wayne is tied to a wall with one of his legs chewed off, and whispers to Ben, “It's eating me.” John and Brooks find the hippie compound not long after, followed closely by Jake, and then the manure really hits the fan. I mean, the movie's called Pig Hunt. Did you really think the Ripper wasn't going to be real?

Thankfully for practical effects fans, the Ripper is real both senses of the word. Not a single CG shot was used to bring the monster pig to life. He's a 100% physical effect, combining two guys in a big furry body suit stuck together like a pantomime horse (admittedly not entirely effective even in the brief glimpse we get of it) and an animatronic head that, while not exactly realistic in the same way that Bruce the shark didn't look exactly like a great white, is expressive and nasty looking and fantastic.

I said before that Charlie Musselwhite was the first of two great musical cameos. The second is the insane backwoods preacher at the head of Jake and Ricky's clan, played by none other than Les Claypool. Les happened to be walking through the building where the special effects guys were sculpting the giant pig and got curious, as anyone would. When he found out they were making it for a monster movie, he got excited and said he had to be in it. When Les Claypool asks to be in your movie, you damn well say yes. He also did a great theme tune called “The Boonville Stomp”, as well as a lot of the incidental music. It's this bizarre, unique and totally perfect music that, for me anyway, helps the movie to stand apart from the crowd, much like Russell Mulcahy's music video-inspired visual aesthetic did for Razorback. Without either thing, you'd still have a great horror movie, but it's that extra ingredient that really makes it special.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

B-Fest 2015 Part 2: The Frogs Made A Miami Connection But They Couldn't Stop the Killdozer

Tim's B-Fest mix CD saw us to the Northwestern campus in good stead, and we got right in without even having to wait in line to pick up our tickets. I put my name on a list to re-sell my spare if someone called in needing an extra, but alas, no takers. Since I was Festing solo, I opted to carry just a small lunch cooler packed with high-density nutritious food like mixed nuts, fiber and protein bars, and a couple of Bolthouse smoothies, rather than a big cooler full of junk food. Traveling light was nice, as I didn't need much extra seat space for storage, and eating real food instead of candy bars and Chex mix makes a big difference in not feeling like utter ass at the end of the Fest.

After a delightful chat catching up with Dr. Megalemur, the lights dimmed and the show began.


Creature With the Atom Brain: Some surprising brutality for a 50's flick, together with a quick pace and a fun script, kept the opening feature cooking along. It's still not a patch on an 80's Cannon or Chuck Norris actioner to get the crowd going, but I enjoyed it. Good use was made of the mix CD driving music gag. I'd still rather listen to the Roky Erickson song any day of the week though.


Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn: As many of you are aware, this movie contains no metalstorms, nor does Jared-Syn get destroyed. What it does contain are a lot of really lame 3D gags, one reasonably cool cyborg, and a lot of boring bullshit. I'm not sure how Charles Band managed to make this much post-apocalyptic mayhem so dull, but he did. It almost surely would have benefited greatly from having been Italian.

I headed down the aisle a bit to watch this one with Paul and Skip. We eschewed our usual down-in-front seats this year to stay nearer the rear exit of the theater for the reason that it sucks dodging an obstacle course of sleeping bodies and coats and stuff in the dark when you need the restroom. It sucks even more coming back in when your eyes haven't yet adjusted to the light and you just have to hope you don't crush anyone's fingers or kick them in the face. The downside to that is most of our crew were still up front, so I jumped back and forth a lot. Also, Paul's amazing cookies were down there. Dude does great things with sugar and flour and eggs.


Frogs: That's more like it. This is one of those movies that I can enjoy equally from a riffing standpoint or entirely on its own merits. Yes, it's not strictly speaking a good movie. Then again, neither are probably 80% of the other movies I love. I care not a whit for your “quality” nonsense. Give me Ray Milland and Sam Elliot fighting toads and monitor lizards any day. I did feel a little ripped off that they shut the movie off before we got to see the little cartoon frog eating the hand at the end of the credits, though. People can be so impatient.


Killdozer: The entry I was looking forward to most this year, I hadn't seen this flick since I caught it on the Sci-Fi Channel as a kid on my grandparents' giant satellite dish. I was surprised to discover it holds up pretty well. Since it's a TV movie, I figured there would be lots of long boring stretches of talking since talk is cheap, but there is a ton of bulldozer action. There's a lot to like about this one, provided you like watching a giant bulldozer smash stuff. Which I do. Skip and I ended up talking through most of it, but it's an easy one to watch with only half your brain because there isn't much to follow. The bit where they bury the guy who tried to hide in a metal pipe and got run over amuses me because they either buried the smashed tube with him in it, or tipped the tube up over the hole and just let the guy sort of dribble into his grave. Either way it's pretty damn funny.

Another friend from home was in attendance this year, albeit not as a part of our regular crew of lunatics. Jacob came over from his seat between most movies to visit and give his impressions of his first B-Fest. I particularly enjoyed his reaction to...

The Wizard of Speed and Time: The stage stomp is Malorie's favorite part of B-Fest, so it didn't seem right to stomp without her. Even just watching everyone thundering away on the stage made my thighs hurt.

Plan 9 from Outer Space: It's been a few years since I've stayed in the theater for this one, and I felt like it was time again. The chants, the plates, the Bela, the Tor! The lineup for the last few years has been so good that any chance for sleep had to be snapped up, but this year there was a big stretch coming up later I didn't care about so I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with Ed Wood's magnum opus. It's kind of like meeting up with an old friend you haven't seen for a long time. There's no awkwardness, no lack of things to talk about. You fall back into the groove as if you'd never been away.


Black Mama, White Mama: I had completely forgotten I'd seen this movie. Playing in the traditional blaxploitation slot, I was not looking for an Eddie Romero women in prison movie. Sid Haig and Pam Grier never fail to entertain, but I started fading about an hour into it. Sid was already dead, I knew the ending was a bummer, and I was ready for some rest.

Heading out into the lounge area, I had already been beaten to most of the good sleeping spots but found what I thought would be an ideal place beneath a picture window next to a heating vent. I figured I would get some warmth and have a pleasant nap. Two hours later I woke up shivering because the heat was apparently not on and the cold air leaking through the window had found its way under my heavy coat blanket/pillow and froze me out. I stumbled blearily through the lounge looking for refuge and found that someone had abandoned one of the couches. Score! I didn't wake up again until 8:00 when the Starbucks crew turned on their obnoxious new age ambient music. The longest stretch of unbroken sleep I've ever had at B-Fest still didn't quite prepare me for the innocuous stupidity of...

Andy Hardy's Private Secretary: Well, the last fifteen minutes of it, anyway. To the perverted minds of today, that title sounds like it should play in the old blue slot where we've had features like the porno version of Alice In Wonderland in past years. But this is gentle family drama with well-behaved upper class youth hijinks and a hefty side order of sexism. I'm so glad I didn't see the whole thing.


Can't Stop the Music: It's a disco musical dramatizing the fake story of how the Village People came to be. It's got full frontal nekkid schlong. It's two goddamn hours long. It's also a lot of fun at B-Fest. Sometimes the stuff you think you'd rather set your eyes on fire than watch can be the surprise standouts. Then you hit the 90 minute mark and remember it's two goddamn hours long. Even B-Fest itself decided it had had enough, when with about half an hour to go, a power outage not only shut the movie off but caused the screen to retract into the ceiling. Sort of the digital age version of when the film would snag and melt and break on the projector in past years. Sadly the DVD player remembered exactly where we were and we had to finish the movie once they got everything turned back on.


Alien from L.A.: An emotional roller coaster, going from fun to painful to fun and back again for maybe half the movie, before it settles permanently on painful and we all just twiddled our thumbs until it was over. All it really made me want to do was watch Danger Island again. I'm probably going to regret that decision when I get around to it.


Miami Connection: A terrible synth pop band who sing songs about friendship and tae kwon do, which they are also all proficient at, have to use their martial arts skills against a ninja drug cartel. Oh, and they're all orphans who live together in what appears to be a one bedroom apartment. It's certainly goofy and stupid and charming, but I think everyone else loves this movie a lot more than I do. Watching it with the B-Fest crowd greatly enhances its good qualities, but I don't think I could ever sit through it alone.


Viva Knievel: Evel Knievel and Gene Kelly must use the power of all-American stunt biking to defeat Leslie Nielsen and his drug cartel (sadly no ninjas this time, just some doughy white guys). Some cool stunts, as one would expect, but that's about it. It would have been nice to see the kaiju flick in its traditional closing slot instead of smack in the middle of my nap time. Granted I had watched Yongary just a week previous, but I'll take giant monsters over lame action movies any day of the week.

Just like that, it was over. Fond farewells were bid to those not joining us for the post-Fest trip to Portillo's (24 hours of nuts and granola left me ravenous for some greasy fried stuff). Tim made a lovely toast to absent friends, and it got us talking about how B-Fest is now only peripherally about the movies, and had we not made so many great and lasting friendships, none of us would probably still be driving to Chicago in the middle of January to watch some movies that we could just as easily watch at home. It's not a movie marathon any more. It's a family reunion.

May Tor bless you and keep you.
May Criswell make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
May Bela lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

B-Fest 2015 Part 1: Staring At Jade Carvings and Animals' Butts In Suburbia

The turn of the new year has seen some big changes in the Ragnarok household. Both Malorie and I are starting new jobs. Mine doesn't start until February 1, and so I have the week after B-Fest to run errands, get some writing done, and enjoy the biggest stretch of down time I've had since grade school and, barring a winning lottery ticket or getting lucky enough to become a full time writer, the biggest stretch I will probably see until I retire. Malorie's new gig, on the other hand, started the Wednesday of B-Fest week, and so it was that I set off for Chicago solo for the first time.

A recent update of my GPS maps seems to have altered something in the way Magic Voice sees the world, because barely more than an hour into the trip it took me in a different direction. Instead of taking Highway 20 all the way to the northern suburbs of Chicago, with a little jog at Belvedere to get around Rockford and some tollways, it swung me all the way down to Iowa City and in on a huge loop of interstates. It certainly wasn't as scenic and it definitely added some miles to the trip, with the tradeoff of actually being a little quicker because instead of crawling through a two hundred mile stretch of little towns with 25mph speed limits, you're rocking away at 65-70 the whole time. At the end of the day I think I still prefer the more rural Highway 20 route, but at least the mild panic that Magic Voice had flipped her lid kept things interesting.

I arrived at the Morton Grove Best Western around 2:30, where I met up with the inimitable Tim Lehnerer. Generosity was demonstrated and long-forged alliances were renewed as he presented me with this year's B-Fest mix CD (which includes some great music, as always, but this year also sparked a running joke that will be with us all for a long, long time in the form of the haunting driving theme from Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness) and another box of fantastic-looking books. I'm especially looking forward to reading Metal Rules the Globe. Then it was off to Half Price Books, where I had to show some restraint since although I've got one more paycheck coming from the old job, I am technically unemployed and as the new gig is partially commission-based, unsure of exactly how much money I'll be bringing in until I get good at it. Between trade-ins and a coupon, I got away with spending less than half what I did last year and scored a pile of really cool old Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp novels for dirt cheap, including The Land that Time Forgot, which I've been hunting for for ages.

Later that evening saw the arrival of Scott Ashlin and Jessica Ritchey, and Gavin Smith with his delightful lady friend Tori joined us for a delectable meal at the Palace restaurant. Phenomenal duck and almond pie, plus it's walking distance from the hotel and we all spent an entire day in our damn cars so no one wanted to drive anywhere. Not being on vacation like the rest of us slackers, Gavin and Tori had to skedaddle after supper, but the rest of us went back to the hotel for a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity. I also acquired all the currently available recordings of Scott's killer band, The Schismatics. Look them up, they kick ass. Think a punkier Iron Reagan and you'll be fairly close to the mark. Weary road warriors all of us, we turned in at a reasonable hour to meet up for breakfast the next day and being our suburban adventures.

Suburban adventures? I hear you asking. Well, yes. We've done the Field, the Shedd, the Art Institute, and so many other things in the city multiple times, and were feeling a little burned out on train rides and traffic fighting, so at the behest of Mr. Logistics Person, we headed into Chicagoland to seek new entertainments.

At the suggestion of one of the Best Western employees who always remembers the big dudes with glasses and Godzilla t-shirts who show up every winter, we checked out a diner called Kappy's. It was good, but not as good as Seven Brothers, which is, again, walking distance from the hotel. And of course nothing we've found so far is as good as the Omega Pancake House. From there we were off to the Cernan Space Center, which turned out to be one space suit, a couple of rocket engines, and a tack board with some articles ripped out of science magazines and pinned up. They can't all be winners. At least I got some neat glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs for myself and some freeze-dried astronaut ice cream for the kids, and perhaps the most ideal photo of Tim anyone will ever take.

Telstarman sensibly sets the anti theft system on his space capsule before turning his attentions to the conquest of Earth.
For all that the Space Center was a bust, our next stop at the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Arts was a resounding success. We learned some things about jade carving (despite looking incredibly fragile, it's only a couple of steps down the mineral hardness scale from diamond, which makes its ability to be worked in such fine and magnificent detail easier to understand), viewed many beautiful works of art, and got to look at a piece of rock that was 3.4 billion (yes, with a fucking B) years old. Mighty humbling, that is.

Chalcedony ghost skull is more metal than you.

Finally for Wednesday was Horrorbles, a horror collectibles shop. It occupies a tiny, odd little space with many cramped hallways and rooms, and it was really hard not to spend all of the money I have and ever will earn there. And then we went next door to Reel Art Collectibles, which was full of Godzilla and kaiju toys. Son of a bitch. I managed to restrict myself to a few Gamera chibis and the NECA Crimson Typhoon figure.

Back to the hotel to meet up with Jacob and Natasha, who gave me some lovely presents for my absent wife before we all headed off to the Himalayan for supper with Gavin (thanks for the Godzilla pen!), Edward, and his wife Melanie. Another round of Cards Against Humanity with Sampote Sands's Crocodile as background noise capped off the night.

Brookfield Zoo or bust on Thursday. The upside being it was a free day. The downside being that most of the large outdoor animals were in storage for the winter. We did get to see an Andean condor disembowel and devour a dead rat, and a black rhino taking a whiz, so that was fun. The reptile houses were a real treat, and I got a Mold-O-Rama alligator, but the real highlight was watching the otter run around chirping and being cute. If you don't love otters, you have a problem. The running theme for the day seemed to be that every animal we went to look at was dead set on presenting us with an unobstructed view of its butt. Of course, if I was put on display I would do nothing but moon my visitors too, so I can't really blame them.

Eyelash viper.

Exhausted but happy, we hit a little sandwich shop called Mr. Submarine for a late lunch, and then went to the Galloping Ghost arcade to spend the rest of the day reliving our childhoods. Well, most of us did. I never played many video games as a kid, but they did have the single greatest arcade game of all time: Lucky and Wild. For those not fortunate enough to have had one of these in your hometown arcade, it's a booth game where one person drives and shoots, with a second gun for a passenger. Or, if you're feeling wild and crazy, you can cram three people in and have two shooters while the driver just concentrates on dodging the un-dodgeable obstacles. You play as a pair of cops on the edge who play by their own rules, chasing down a variety of bad guys driving monster trucks, armored tractor-trailers with flamethrowers, Lamborghinis with laser turrets and the like, while their minions in black cars and motorcycles throw Molotov cocktails and grenades at you. Essentially it's Cannon Films: The Video Game. I have no idea how many quarters my friends and I pumped into that thing in high school, but it was a lot and it was money well spent. They also had a Godzilla/Ultraman cabinet that I had seen a console version of at G-Fest, which was neat, but my attention span for video games is fairly short so I spent most of the time playing pinball instead. The Creature from the Black Lagoon table is a beast.



Having downed an enormous and rather late lunch and feeling a little wobbly from either the van ride (typically as long as I'm not riding in the back the motion sickness doesn't get me, but it had been a long day) or the eight pounds of corned beef and garlic fries lodged in my gullet, I considered skipping the Hala Kahiki. I said last year that I had grown weary of the place, but this year it redeemed itself. I figure since I only get to see my B-Fest friends once a year, I should spend every minute with them that I could, and so I decided to give the tiki bar another chance. Since Malorie had to skip this year, Fistula and I decided to bunk together to save a little money. He had arrived while we were out, so we returned to the hotel to regroup and grab him and Lisa and Tim's friend Dave, both of whom had also arrived earlier in the day, and off to fruity booze land we went.

The past few years we've been stuck at the line of tables in front of the door rather than the back room we prefer, and this year was no exception despite Tim calling ahead for the group, but since this year was a sadly slim one for the BMMB regulars, we were able to keep up a lively round of chat. And for all that last year's waitress was surly and inattentive, the gal helping us this year was friendly and always right behind you the second your glass was empty asking if you wanted another. I stuck with lighter vodka drinks, figuring dark heavy rum would really do a number on my already questionable stomach. A few refreshing lemon and grape juice drinks settled things down nicely and before long I was back to full operational power.

Back to Jacob and Natasha's room to watch Daoism Drunkard, but despite the insanity of the watermelon monster, the events of the day began to catch up with us and we turned in to prepare for the Fest of B.

Friday morning saw Fistula and I driving into the city to do some galavanting with Scott, Jessica, and Lisa before the show. A visit to the Gallery bookstore and a used CD/DVD shop the name of which I can never remember, and then Scott aimed his van toward cinemasochist Heaven and we rode to our fate at the hands of A&O Films.