Sunday, January 29, 2017

B-Fest 2017: They Live, We Watch 24 Hours of Schlock

The vacation I always look forward to was a much needed relief this year, especially after the election and the overall shitty year that 2016 was, news wise.

On Thursday, Carl and I arrived in Morton Grove around 6:30. A nice surprise was that our room rate was cheaper than when I'd made the reservation, so the trip was off to a really good start. We didn't make it in time for the tiki bar meet up, but we knew we'd see our friends at the Fest. So we decided to get supper at The Palace. Carl and I both agree that it's the best Chinese restaurant we've ever been to. The service was wonderful, the food was delicious and you get plenty of it for your money's worth. I also appreciated how quiet it was. It was very calming. We went back to the hotel and hung out until we were tired enough for bed.

On Friday, we didn't have a whole lot planned. First, we went to Omega for breakfast. I had a delicious ham and cheese omelette with hash browns. The inauguration was playing on the TV above us and I tried my best to ignore it. I was on vacation. I needed to focus on having fun. After that we drove around town, trying to find places to visit. I browsed locations around us on the GPS and we found a cool music store called Raffe's Record Riot. Small businesses are a favorite of mine and this was such a neat little store. Carl found a lot of records and I picked up a few CDs, as well as a T-shirt from the shop. We headed back to the hotel to get our things for the Fest and then we headed for Northwestern University.

We arrived an hour and a half before the Fest began. We got our posters and shirts and waited for the doors to the auditorium to open. Dog House Drive-In gave out free pairs of sunglasses for the screening of They Live. Tim greeted us by giving us hugs and his latest mix CD. He welcomed us home and it really felt like it. I'm so glad we have our group of friends there. It just makes the trip that much more memorable. We got into the auditorium and got our usual seats.

Tim gave Carl his last full set of mixes that he'd made for the year and Carl was ecstatic to finally have all of them. It really meant a lot to him and that was awesome to see. I talked with Tim and some of our other friends for a bit. I went to my seat soon before the Fest began. The intro from one of the A and O students was really nice to hear. He said how much they all appreciated our enthusiasm for the Fest and that they're glad that they get to keep doing it. There were also two changes in the lineup. Both Yongary and Creature With The Atom Brain were repeats from 2015, so I was happy to hear that they were both being replaced with new films. The lights went down, the crowd cheered and we were transported back to the world of cheesy movies.

Hercules In New York (1969)-This was the second year in a row where a Hercules film kicked off the lineup and it's definitely the weaker of the two. While The Adventures of Hercules was consistently goofy and entertaining, Hercules In New York starts off strong and then slows down hard in the second act. The highlights of the film include the dubbing of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the scene where Hercules and his new friend argue with a cabby about paying for a two dollar fare in which Hercules throws the cabby across the street and then flips the cab over and of course, the infamous bear fight. But the second half of the film slows down and becomes very talky.

The Magic Sword (1962)-I really like this movie a lot. I first saw it on MST3K and watching it unriffed was still a ton of fun. I think it's one of Bert I. Gordon's best and I have a soft spot for old fantasy movies. This is one of the genre's best and most entertaining. And it has a happy ending, which is a bit silly, but it works for this movie.

Bloodlust! (1961)-This was the first episode of MST3K that I showed Carl. Not because it's an essential episode of the series, but because I happened to have it at home from the library and I wanted to introduce him to my favorite show as soon as I could. As for the movie itself, it's a bore, but I got a good laugh out of the audience hate watching the movie. I enjoyed the sarcastic applause whenever a character would go into another room. For about half of the movie, Carl and I drew on our paper plates for Plan 9. I assume there was some time between movies, because they replayed the final five minutes after the movie had ended. The audience reacted as if we were watching something much worse. Its worst flaw is that it's boring.

Empire of the Ants (1977)-Another Bert I. Gordon film! This was a pretty fun sit. I thought the giant ant effects were solid and there were actually characters I gave a shit about. We all found it amusing that there are several scenes where the ants can be clearly seen crawling up the background. One thing that was really annoying was the screaming sounds the ants made, because the volume on the auditorium's speakers was quite loud. One moment that I really appreciated was when a woman knees a man, who's trying to assault her, in the crotch and the crowd burst into applause, while chanting USA. It's a great feeling to be in a room full of people who respect women, especially at this point in time.

The Wizard of Speed and Time-My legs were pretty sore after this year's screening. They no longer played the film version, but instead played the digital version, which meant they showed it forwards, backwards and upside down. So it was shown three times instead of the usual two. We later found out that Mike Jittlov had heard that the short was screened at the Fest every year and that he really appreciated how we have such a positive and enthusiastic reaction to it.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)-It's still one of my favorite B-movies of all time. I listened to an episode of Movie Sign With The Mads a few weeks back on Ed Wood and I agree with Frank Conniff that Wood's films are quite watchable and that he had the soul of an artist.

The Last Dragon (1985)-Out of the movies I hadn't seen before in this year's lineup, this was easily my favorite. What a blast of insanity this movie was. It's part martial arts, part romance, part musical and it made for one of the most fun theater experiences I've had in awhile. The crowd had an amazing time with this film. I'll be buying the Blu ray for sure. Watch this one with some friends and enjoy. Other than another movie later in the lineup, this was the biggest highlight of the Fest.

Battlefield Earth (2000)-With the massively bad reputation this movie has, I was excited to see it with a crowd for my first viewing. This movie was so boring, that I was asleep through most of it. I was awake for some of the infamous moments from John Travolta, but this was such a dull movie and it made for a good choice to nap through. It would have been my worst movie of the Fest, if not for a movie shown later.

Action Jackson (1988)-It's a 80s cop movie starring Carl Weathers and Craig T. Nelson plays the villain. Yes, it was awesome. The stunt work is one of the best parts of the movie. There's a pretty impressive car chase about halfway through the movie and Action Jackson drives a car through a mansion during the climax. It's an overall good time.

Coffee was served at this point and it was quite good. Last year, I had a Surge at this point in the morning and that really didn't help. Coffee is my go to drink in the morning and the cup I had perked me up.

Malibu Express (1985)-If I were to pick which movie from this year had the worst protagonist, it would be this film. Our hero spends the majority of the film on his boat and he's very uncharismatic. When he is trying to solve the plot's mystery, I did not care at all. Andy Sidaris is known for his excessive filmmaking and there is an absurd amount of breasts in this film. When the film reveals its third act twist, I was so checked out, that I just wanted the movie to end. Luckily, it did. That being said, I'd watch it again before ever sitting through Battlefield Earth, or the next movie listed,a second time. This movie at least has some fun moments. 

The Gong Show Movie (1980)-To me, there isn't a worse kind of movie than a bad comedy. I absolutely fucking hated this movie. I spent the majority of it pissed off. It's one of the worst comedies I have ever seen. I slept though part of it and was angry that it was still going when I woke up. I went to the bathroom towards the end of the movie, hoping it'd be over when I got back and it still went on for ten more minutes after that. The one good thing about it was that there was a comedian who performed with a bag on his head. He was pretty funny, but his two minutes of screentime didn't make up for what a flaming pile of shit this movie was. Obviously, this was my worst movie of the Fest.

Gorgo (1961)-Here we go. A genuinely good movie. Of course I'm a massive kaiju movie fan, but this is a pretty solid movie for being a Godzilla knock off. It felt good to watch Gorgo's mother cause mass destruction for a half an hour. It took my mind off of how shitty the previous movie was and that we now had a horrible president in the White House. I also appreciated that the audience was mostly quiet throughout the film's third act. It was nice to just watch the movie.

Future Hunters (1986)-This movie was sponsored by Wheel Tree Press, who sponsored the incredibly dull Kansas City Bomber last year and luckily, this movie was a step up from that. It has more endings than The Return of the King and it really could have used some editing. The final hour is just nothing but action scene after action scene and it gets pretty irritating by the third time you think that the movie's going to wrap up.

Tarantula (1955)-B-movies from the 50s make for some of the best of the genre and this was one of the better movies of the Fest. It's a trim 80 minutes, the plot moves along nicely and the effects are solid. Check this one out if you're looking for a solid monster movie.

They Live (1988)-It was kind of odd seeing one of my personal favorite movies at B-Fest. I don't consider this to be a B-movie and instead think of it as one of the best sci-fi movies ever made. I did feel a little depressed at how much more relevant the movie is now than when it was made, but it was still great to see it on a big screen. Roddy Piper makes for an awesome lead and Keith David's a great supporting character. I'd say this is my second favorite John Carpenter film after The Thing. What made this such a memorable experience was that the audience was quiet for almost the entire film. It was just us watching the movie and that made me really happy. I found more to appreciate about the film as well. If you haven't seen this movie already, definitely check it out. It's amazing.

We went back to the hotel to shower off the 24 hours of funk and we then all met at Portillo's for the B-Fest family reunion supper. We talked for an hour and a half and it was so nice to discuss B-movies and other topics with people who appreciate them as much as Carl and I do. We said our farewells and went back to the hotel and passed out.

I just want to give a special thanks to my B-fest family, especially Carl and Tim. And Bryan, while you weren't here this year, you were very much missed. All of you mean a lot to me and you all make the trip that much more special by just having you all there. Until next year, lovers of schlock, I have come here to write about B-movies and express my appreciation for my friends and I'm all out of B-movies.

Monday, January 9, 2017

My Favorite Movies: Jaws (1975)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
Based on the novel by Peter Benchley

Roy Schider as Brody
Robert Shaw as Quint
Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper

I don't think there is a more influential or referenced blockbuster in film history than Steven Spielberg's first masterpiece. It's hard to think of what else to say about it that hasn't already been said, so instead of a standard review, I'll just be sharing my story of seeing the film and how it influenced me. 

When I was a kid, even before I saw it, I knew what Jaws was. I remember seeing the poster with that oblivious swimmer about to meet her doom. I was familiar with John Williams' iconic theme. So one day, I was at a friend's house and we found the movie playing on TV. It was maybe about halfway through the movie. The three leads had already set out on their hunt for the shark. Even though this was quite some time ago, I remember how tense it was not seeing the shark and being on the edge of my seat and when Quint met his grisly fate, I was horrified and in complete awe. I had never seen something so gruesome in a movie before and that scene burned itself into my brain. Hearing the sound of his bones crunching and seeing him coughing up blood in agony is still haunting to watch. This was most likely the moment that started my love for the horror genre. I later saw the full movie on TV and would occasionally watch it if it was on. While I didn't own it on DVD, I knew that I loved the film and that it was one of Spielberg's best. We even played selections from the score in band class.

It wasn't until 2012 that I finally bought the movie when it was released on Blu-ray. It had been a few years since I'd last seen, so it was like seeing it fresh again. It wasn't until then that I realized Robert Shaw as Quint is truly one of cinema's all time greatest performances. His USS Indianapolis speech is incredible and I get chills every time. As a kid, I enjoyed that shark scenes, but as an adult, it's our three lead characters that have become my favorite part. I watched all of the special features and learned a lot more about the nightmarish production this film had. It's one of the best success stories in film history, considering how perfect the final film turned out. The more I watched the movie, the more it became one of my all time favorites. My favorite movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Jaws is a very close second.

In the summer of 2015, I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen and it made for one of the most memorable times I've had in a theater. It was Liz's first time seeing the movie, so that was quite the way for her to see it and we saw it with Bryan and his kids. It's Bryan's favorite movie and he was probably even more thrilled to see it in the theater than I was. I've noticed that whenever I see a classic on the big screen, there's a lot more that I notice that I wouldn't on my TV at home. Seeing something like Jaws in the theater is the definitive way to see it. It's the original blockbuster and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Even though I've seen the film countless times, the climax still had my heart pounding and it was only more intense with a theater screen and surround sound.

It's odd to think that this was the first movie to be truly considered a blockbuster. These days, we're so used to seeing them all year round as they dominate the box office. But Jaws was one of those lightning in a bottle films. While so many movies have tried to replicate it, they've all failed. And there have been countless rip offs, too. The amount of shark movies made since it, has to be in the hundreds. The best Jaws rip off is Razorback, which is about a killer pig instead. It's actually fairly intense and it's pretty well acted. There are many blockbusters that I admire, but my favorites will always be Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and the original Star Wars trilogy. To me, those are the essentials.

Jaws is one of the most influential films ever made and for good reason. It takes a simple premise and makes something fresh and exciting about it. It's still just as tense of a movie 42 years later. The fact that the shark didn't work a majority of the time made for a blessing in disguise, because the movie is all the more terrifying for it. Once we finally see the shark in full view, it's a sight to behold. The practical effects hold up beautifully and they are something that CGI could never make look half as good. This is one of the best movies ever made and if you haven't seen it yet, get your hands on a copy or get to a screening. You're in for quite the experience.

Join the rest of the Celluloid Zeroes in our roundtable on the rest of the franchise and other films.