Saturday, February 1, 2014

B-Fest 2014 Part 2: For Tomorrow We Watch Bad Movies!

Once we settled in to our seats in the auditorium, one of Paul Tennessen's delicious cookies and a Bolthouse Farms fruit smoothie helped restore my body to its original, pre-whiskey factory settings. We got our tickets and shirts, and I put a copy of Colony of the Dark into the raffle prize pile, and had a couple of hours of chatting before the movie starts. Mike Bockoven got me all excited to see The Act of Killing, which had just been added to Netflix streaming. Mark brought his daughter Gaz along for the first half of the show, and she was really excited for her first B-Fest. Alas, there's never enough time to spend just visiting with all these wonderful people I get to see just once a year, and before you could say, “Push the button, Frank”, the movies began.

Robot Jox: The K.O. Brothers sponsored this one, and those boys have a knack for choosing good opening flicks (they also sponsored Best of the Best in 2012). This movie is a really startling mix of cheap, stupid set design and bad model work, combined with fantastic stop-motion robot fights by Dave Allen. Tim and Mike shadowed the opening robot fight dressed as luchadores, and when the evil Russkiebot sprouts a giant chainsaw from its area at the end, Tim went back up on stage with his costume plus a toy chainsaw tucked between his legs, and performed the Buffalo Bill dance from Silence of the Lambs.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: This was supposed to be The Amazing Colossal Man, and I was really looking forward to that one. I wish they would have told us why the schedule had to change at the last minute. I picture a squad of Burt I. Gordon's lawyers dressed up in S.W.A.T. gear abseiling through the roof of the projection booth, leveling guns at the A&O crew, yanking the DVD out of the player, maybe firing a couple of rounds into the projectionist's thigh for good measure, then being airlifted out by one of the space marines' landing craft from Aliens. Anyway, SCCtM is a fucking awful movie, and no one was happy about this. We riffed along as best we could, but things kinda ran out of steam towards the end and we all just sat there grinding our teeth and waiting for it to go away.

Megaforce: Now that's more like it. Barry Bostwick stars as Ace Hunter in a movie that predates G.I. Joe's rebirth as a series of increasingly ludicrous toy ads by a few years, and was no doubt an inspiration to the later series. You will never see a human being have more fun than Henry Silva as Duke, leader of the opposing mercenary team. Ages ago they soldiered together, and easily my favorite thing about this movie is that, though they are fighting each other with lethal force and wouldn't flinch from killing each other, it's nothing personal. They've both been hired to do a job, and do it they shall whatever it takes, but it's nothing more than a day at work. Past the fact they've been hired by opposing forces, they're still good friends and genuinely happy to see each other on the occasions they get a respite from blowing things up.

Fistula and myself have both seen this movie plenty in the last few years, because as part of his doctorate in communications studies, he put together a show something like a more audience-interactive version of a live Cinematic Titanic performance but with skits akin to MST3K host segments, which tied in to his study of riffing culture. The movie he chose was the eminently riffable Megaforce, and as groundwork for the show he, Bob and myself wrote a full riff script worth of jokes, so we were well prepared. He likes to go stag, as they say, meaning he didn't know this was on the schedule, but as a bit of serendipity, he showed up wearing his Ace Hunter costume from the show. Unfortunately, the sound had been turned up to compensate for SCCtM's virtually incomprehensible soundtrack, and it didn't get turned back down for a few more movies. Since Megaforce is virtually 90 solid minutes of engine noise and explosions, a lot of our material got drowned out and we wound up having to ease off or risk losing our voices far too soon into the Fest.
The Wizard of Speed and Time: Getting on stage and stomping along to this is one of my favorite parts of B-Fest. Beware the thundering of stenchy nerds.

Plan 9 from Outer Space: One of these years I'll stay in the theater for this again, but the movie after it was generating a lot of curiosity as no one had even heard of it before, and I wanted to have a fighting chance of staying awake, so it was nap time.

Thomasine and Bushrod: An old west blaxploitation version of Bonnie and Clyde with a dash of Robin Hood. It was maybe a little too serious for the typically wackier blaxplo slot, but it was an interesting oddity and I enjoyed it for the most part. It got a little draggy and repetitive toward the end. I wonder how influential it was on Django Unchained.

I wanted to at least watch the opening sequence of Lifeforce, but the people behind us started almost immediately ragging on the special effects, which for some reason really irritated me. I realize they're not exactly realistic, but they're certainly extremely cool-looking, and probably the least mockable thing about this bizarre flick. Compare them against the FX of any other big budget sci fi flick of the time and I think you'll find they more than hold up. To each their own. It was also still intensely loud, and I had bought and watched Scream! Factory's excellent Blu-ray of this one just months before. More nap.

When I was in college, there was a great little thrift shop near the campus called Trinkets and Togs. One year I got this huge, Russian-looking thick wool coat with a faux-fur collar there, and since it was so damn cold this year (Polar Vortex, while a great name for a band, is a fucking obnoxious bit of weather), that was definitely the coat to take on the trip. Best $5 I ever spent. Not only is it an excellent, warm coat, it's doubly handy at B-Fest because I don't need to bring a pillow to the theater. I just wrap the coat around my head, and the soft, fuzzy lining is a nice cushion, while the thickness of the shell cuts out all light and is a highly effective sound baffle. I'm sure I look like a weird homeless guy lying in a corner on the floor with my head and shoulders mummified in a giant coat, but what the hell do I care? I'm comfortable and asleep.

Kitten With A Whip: I woke up just in time for this one, which I had been hoping to sleep through, but I was well rested, early morning student traffic was picking up (how dare these students infest the student center at the college they pay exorbitant tuition to attend?), and so I headed back to my seat. I'd watched its episode of MST3K recently, and it's not one of their better efforts, so I figured the movie would be awful. You know what though? I think it's a weak episode because they weren't expecting the movie to be as good as it is. Turns out that on its own merits, it's a very solid little thriller with some fine performances, and it really holds up well. It was one of the more pleasant surprises this year.

Super Mario Brothers: I remember when this came out, I was really excited. I hadn't played the video games much (I grew up with no Nintendos or anything, so the only time I ever played video games was at friends' houses.), but all the magazine articles and things really played up the dinosaur and special effects aspects, and I love me some dinosaurs. I don't recall what I thought of it at the time, but I assumed it was going to be an awful kiddie movie that aged badly, and was expecting a painful slog of almost SCCtM proportions. Boy was I wrong.

I know a lot of people hated the hell out of it, but it's so fucking bizarre it's kind of hard not to love. It's dark and bleak and goofy all at the same time, and it has sweet fuck all to do with the game. The few things they did try to work in from the games, they came at from some really odd angles. Mario and Luigi have to enter an alternate dimension New York City ruled by germophobic dictator King Koopa, played by Dennis Hopper of all people, to rescue Princess Daisy and prevent Koopa from merging the two dimensions and taking over the Earth. The bits with the dancing goombahs crack me up.

Code of the Secret Service: Fuck you, Ronald Reagan, I'm sleeping through your shitty, boring movie. I do have some fond memories of his presidency, though. I never got to know my maternal grandmother very well, she died when I was 5. But I spent a lot of weekends with her and grandpa, and I learned just a few years ago that apparently I get a lot of my sarcastic sense of humor from her, which surprised me. Of course, you don't really pick up on those things when you're a preschooler. But one thing I do remember is she hated the fuck out of Ronald Reagan and every time he'd show up on TV she'd get all mad about whatever he was talking about and say over and over what an idiot he was. My grandma was awesome.

Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine: I slept through Reagan's shitfest in my seat to avoid missing this, which I was greatly looking forward to since I enjoyed the insanity of Beach Blanket Bingo so much last year. Vincent Price plays Doctor Goldfoot, a mad scientist building an army of sexy robot bikini girls to con rich men into marrying them so they can steal all their wealth. I really wish Vincent Price had done more comedy, because he is absolutely hilarious in this movie. The whole movie is a blast, though. A.I.P. main man Sam Arkoff is from Fort Dodge, Iowa, about 90 minutes from where I live, and us Midwestern boys love our corny humor right off the cob, as Chad says. Some people found Price's performance the only enjoyable thing about this movie, but I'm equally happy with doofy Jerry Lewis-style slapstick wackiness as I am with more sophisticated types of humor, and I loved the whole thing. Easily the highlight of this year.

The Deadly Mantis: One of the best giant monster puppets of any 50's atomic bug movie is unfortunately saddled with an aggressively boring movie. Thankfully it loaned itself to riffing better than I hoped, and I actually had a lot of fun with this one.

Yor, Hunter from the Future: Reb Brown is Yor, a caveman who discovers that he is the heir to the master race and has to fight some dinosaurs and a fake Darth Vader, because it's actually the future. Don't complain I spoiled it, it's right there in the title. It was fun, but not nearly as nutty as I was hoping. Of course, compared to Barbarians, any barbarian movie is going to be a little disappointing.  It does have maybe the greatest poster of all time though.

Drunken Tai Chi: Young Donnie Yen loses his family to a brutal assassin and has to go live with his alcoholic uncle and fat aunt (who kicks his ass in one of the most entertaining fights in the movie). Uncle Drunkie teaches him tai chi to counter the assassin's invincible style. This might be the only old school kung fu flick I've seen that takes such great pains to humanize the villain by showing what a good dad he is, and having Yen's character rescue the kid from kidnappers to give their final fight an extra element of tension. Of course, almost nothing is done with this added layer of depth because the movie is too busy bombarding the audience with one furious (and occasionally hilarious) fight scene after another. It's not nearly as insane as some of the Yuen Clan's other drunkard movies (check out Taoism Drunkard some time...holy balls is that a bonkers flick), but the breathless pace and enormous athletic talent of the cast make this one extremely entertaining movie, and it ended B-Fest 2014 on a very high note.

After cleaning up our area of the theater and heading back to the hotel to get some much needed soap and water action, most of our group hit Portillo's for supper. The last few years the tradition of a big farewell Sunday breakfast has transformed into a farewell supper. While we're all usually pretty fried by lack of sleep after the Fest, we all have such different drive times that it's hard to pick a time that's good for everyone to set off. Of course, it hasn't helped that the last two years Malorie and I have driven home into shit weather. Last year was an ice storm, and this year, we set out at about 6:45 to try to beat a blizzard home. We had a few shitty roads on the way, but the real nasty stuff didn't hit until I went to pick up the kids from my parents' house, when halfway there it went from a moderately heavy snow to one of the worst whiteouts I've ever seen in about ten seconds.

Again, thanks to Tim and Chad for the wonderful gifts, and as always, thanks to all our friends who make this such a special event. All those years ago, when we discovered B-Fest through, I couldn't have imagined it would lead to so many great and lasting friendships. I kiss my thumb to you all, and wish you all the best until next year, when Bela takes us under his cape once again to shelter us from the snow and the cold and keep us warm with the glow of brotherly love and lights our way with the flicker of the projector to the hallowed halls of McCormick auditorium. Skoal!

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