The King of Jazz (1930)

I always forget how hectic August becomes. Probably because I’m usually fixated on just surviving July.

Local Government: Artist’s Interpretation

As some of you know, I put a bit of bread on my table by working tech support at City government meetings, usually meaning sound, sometimes camera. August is the end of the fiscal year, so there’s a lot of budget crunching. Politicians like to be on the TeeVee, so damn near everything must be televised. Ergo, I get a lot of extra work in August. Whereas the money is extremely welcome, there is nothing that clears away the movie malaise I spoke of last time, like hearing a politician going off on the same subject a third time while the legal department tries once more to explain to them why something is being done the way it is being done.

Look, I already know I’m not going to get to watch every movie I want, or read every book, and I begin to actively resent anybody who willfully steals more of my dwindling hours on earth.

That is a major portion of the reason for my absence from this digital page; another is the approach of October, and the return of the traditional Hubrisween event. I am usually much further along on that project, and its time to buckle up, down, or under, or whatever the appropriate figure of speech might be. TL;DR: don’t expect anything on a regular basis from me until October, when you’re going to get heartily sick of me.

That being said, I actually managed to watch a movie! I did something!

Who…? What…?

Criterion recently put out a blu-ray of 1930’s The King of Jazz. Now, I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about film as I’d like to be, so Criterion putting out a movie I’ve never heard of is not unusual. On top of that, I’m not an aficionado of jazz, but I could have sworn that the King of Jazz was somebody like Duke Ellington. But, you know, it’s Criterion, so it’s going to be worth a watch on some level.

The King of Jazz, in this case, is Paul Whiteman. As mentioned earlier, I’m not a particular fan of jazz – I find it listenable, by and large, but other musical genres are closer to my heart. So I’d never even heard of Paul Whiteman. Since my viewing, I’ve done some research. He was quite popular in the 20s and 30s, where he picked up the sobriquet, and still has some renown as a band leader and musical arranger. His was the orchestra that premiered Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, and that orchestra was the farm team for musicians like the Dorseys, Benny Goodman, and and Bix Biederbecke. The aforementioned Duke Ellington speaks well of him. Jazz, as we have come to know it today, has a lot to do with improvisation; the jazz that Whiteman is monarch of is best described as “syncopated dance music”. Perhaps literally, white man’s jazz.

Not the King of Jazz I was expecting.

Hollywood had been trying to do a Paul Whiteman movie for years, with various starts and stops. This was apparently going to be a typical romantic comedy with musical interludes, but after many delays John Murray Anderson took over and made it a revue, complete with comedy blackouts and a cartoon. It’s an early two-strip Technicolor movie, and that opening cartoon is the first in that process; it’s made by Universal’s house animator, Walter Lantz, which animation mavens will instantly deduce from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s cameo.

The King of Jazz cost $2 million to make – and that’s two million in 1930 dollars – and was a colossal flop. After The Jazz Singer broke movies’ silence in 1927, there was an absolute glut of musicals. By this time, ticket buyers were sick of them, and apparently they absolutely hated revues. Which is too bad, because – much as I hate musicals – I actually wound up enjoying King of Jazz. The music is quite good, but it’s the audacity of the visuals – most of them quite trippy to my jaded eyes – that take it over the top.

Wait… where’s the King?

The first big number is “My Bridal Veil”, where a young bride, on the eve of her wedding, witnesses a costume parade of brides from every period of time. This is some gothic romance woman-in-nightgown-running-from-spooky-manse-with-one-light-on-in-the-upper-story stuff, but it’s played for pure spectacle and sentiment. One reviewer has mentioned it primarily exists for the elderly people in the audience. On the cusp of elderly myself, I can safely say that what 1930 needed was either more heavy metal or more techno.

One of the prize gems in Whiteman’s crown, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is introduced by several men playing a giant grand piano; the lid raises, and the orchestra is lifted up from within the piano (there is a lot of that 2 million on the screen).

“Ragamuffin Romeo” is an impressive contortionist dance number with a beggar putting together a girlfriend from scraps of fabric. It impresses mainly as a tribute to dancer Marion Stattler’s acrobatic abilities and flexibility.

John Boles was Universal’s big male vocalist at the time, and he gets a couple of solos, but the singer you’re going to notice – if you didn’t notice him in the Rhapsody clip above – is in Whiteman’s vocal trio, The Rhythm Boys – a very young Bing Crosby. In fact, Crosby was going to get one of what was ultimately Boles’ solos – “The Song of the Dawn” – but der Bingle was in jail for drunk driving at the time of filming.

The big final production number is perhaps the most egregious to modern eyes – every single form of white music in the world – from Scottish bagpipes to Spanish flamenco to Russian balalaikas (and their associated dancers) are lowered smiling into an enormous boiling cauldron and out of that soup Whiteman conjures – jazz music.

I am frankly skeptical of this origin story.

(The color here is sadly inferior to the new remastered version, but what do you want from YouTube?)

It’s 1930, and though Whiteman wanted to use black musicians, this was not allowed. There is only one person of color in the entire movie, a little girl in traditional pickaninny garb who is used, not actually as a punch line, but more a punctuation mark (There is one dancer used to illustrate African rhythm who is not actually black – it’s Frenchman Jacques Cartier, wearing a black lacquer of his own invention). Whiteman though, is so affable and self-effacing throughout, it’s hard to hold this or that odd misbegotten musical ancestry number against him.

Walter Brennan, comedian.

The comedy blackouts are mercifully brief (the comic songs are longer and much worse) but the best things about them is one of the actors: If you thought he was perpetually a dried-up old coot, here’s Walter Brennan at 36 years of age:

Okay, one last clip. If “My Bridal Veil” was for the elderly, “Happy Feet” was for the kiddos, featuring the Rhythm Boys and Al “Rubber Legs” Norman:

To show how spoiled I was by Criterion’s blu-ray, I feel like I have to keep apologizing for the quality of those clips – for a movie I didn’t even know existed a month ago. Before, they would been delightful to run across, a “huh, wow” experience. Instead, I’ll just leave you with this New Zealand preview for the restoration, which gives you a far better idea of the quality of Criterion’s blu-ray.

Distractable Me

The word “distraction” has been getting a workout in the last year or so, generally applied to actions of a *harrumph* certain administration. And I’m all like, dude, distractions is how I’ve been surviving that administration. Even when I’m properly medicated, I need something to keep my mind off the impending Second Civil War, in which I am probably going to die, because I’m on the side that hasn’t been stockpiling guns and ammo for the last umpty years in the hopes of someday shootin’ me some fellow Americans.

After the last few weeks, I found myself oversaturated with movies, so my usual distraction, watching movies while acting as a pillow for the Monkey Dog, was a non-starter. Don’t get me started on MoviePass, either. Oh, look, I just got myself started on it.

Good times, good times.

I admit, it got me into a movie theater more than any other year; I saw some movies on the very big screen that normally would have waited for home video. But corporate’s sudden decision that it could only be used once on any given movie went into effect just after Infinity War opened, and that was one I actually wanted to see again. Don’t @ me that I could have just paid for the extra ticket, I’m on a limited income, which is why MoviePass was ideal for me.

Apparently there’s a price increase coming in addition to blacking out movies for the first two weeks of release, so I’m pondering if I can manage five bucks over the new MoviePass charge for AMC’s subscription plan, which doesn’t have all the petty limitations of MoviePass. Maybe if I ditch that impulse-buy Shudder subscription. Though I’m really enjoying that…

In any case, Infinity War has hit digital, which means I finally have a shot at seeing it again. By Friday I may be over my movie malaise enough for the death of half a universe. That might cheer me up.

OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH

So, absent movies, what’s for distraction in my tiny life? Podcasts are, sadly, of limited use to me, though I enjoy them. Can’t listen to them while I work, my job involves sight and sound. My commute is not lengthy enough to justify booting one up. No, I generally listen to them at bedtime, which means I have to rewind the next day to see what I missed. In the current play (or as I said, replay) list: 80s All Over, The Projection Booth, No Budget Nightmares, LRC presents All The President’s Lawyers, Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man, Apocrypals, Uplifting Trance Sessions.

There’s my old friend, reading. Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, which was a fast, fun read. Picked up James S. A. Conroy’s Leviathan Wakes, the first book in The Expanse series, which is good, but is illuminating to me mainly to see how well the TV series opened up the stories and added a ton of depth to the characters. Maybe those things are harvested from later books – guess I’ll find out. Eventually.

The best thing about the Kindle Fire is having a book you can read in the dark. Yes, I use the Blue Shade setting.

Which I guess leaves games.

LINE UP TO DIE, MOTHER HUMPERS

I been reflecting what a difference a decade and more (almost two) makes. At the beginning of the century I was heavily involved in developing several video games, and I was playing the damned things near constantly just to keep up with trends and possibilities. Okay, truthfully, I’d been playing them since the Atari 5200, but that was the first time I’d been paid for that knowledge and experience (though my abilities as a storyteller helped, too).

I’ve left consoles far behind me – too expensive. My tastes have aged along with me, too, or perhaps they just got fossilized in those early days. My favorite flavor is still JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games). The RPG is going to be a given for me – my first insane gaming obsession was Dungeons and Dragons back in the mid-70s, when they were still just three cardstock-bound booklets. My next obsession was on the first Nintendo Entertainment System, Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. Although, I’m not a big fan of button mashing combat in the long run; I prefer turn-based combat, where everything stops while you issue commands. This means that slowly but surely the Final Fantasy series left me behind as they moved toward a more action-based combat system. This also explains why I absolutely freaking loved Battle Chasers: Nightwar last year. Characters I loved, turn-based combat.

Ah, so dear to my superdeformed heart.

There are a lot of JRPGs out there, most made with the RPG Maker software, and some of them are really good, and best of all, cheap. Almost all of them have the failing of a final Boss battle that is beyond ridiculous in difficulty. That’s a failing in professionally-developed games, too – I’ve abandoned more than a few when I hit a wall, and checked online reviews to find out that yes, Boss battles throughout the entire game were way overpowered. I don’t mind a challenge, but artificially lengthening your game time through opponents with a hundred thousand hit points and one-hit kill attacks is not something I’m looking for in my entertainment.

This desire for turn-based combat also means that my nemesis among game genres is real-time strategy games, where you have to manage a variety of systems at the same time while the game is actively trying to kill you. I can’t even do that shit well in real life, I’m not going to pay money to do it for supposed entertainment. The antsy little sidekick to that nemesis is platformers – I’m too easily frustrated by them.

Poking my head back into gaming after leaving that hornet’s nest alone for so many years has been a fun voyage of discovery. There’s been new terminology to learn. “Rogue-like” is pleasantly vague and seemingly applied to almost everything. “Bullet Hell” and “Metroidvania” are charmingly self- explanatory.

NOT CURRENTLY SUPPORTED

The downside to abandoning consoles and relying on my PC is twofold – one, keeping a PC up to spec to play games with gosh-wow technology. Not too big a problem, given my prejudices listed above. The other is when the faithful PC fails completely and I have to revert to a dumpster-dive model that can’t even accommodate my old mid-level graphics card. At least I can use my work laptop, which is also devoid of graphic muscle, so I’m limited to older, less-demanding games. No giving myself over to the occasional hack-and-slash adventure game.

Which leaves, hm… solitaire games. I wrote about those before, during my last period of having-no-movies-to-blather-about, almost exactly a year ago. So… puzzle games? I do enjoy a good puzzle.

So let me end this interminable ramble with my current distraction, a bizarre little, yet totally endearing, Czech puzzle game that’s as much interactive cartoon as game.

As you can tell from the above, Chuchel is some sort of hairy dust bunny creature with the top of an acorn for a hat, who is going to spend the game trying to get a nice cherry to eat. He has some sort of purple cat/dog/otter thing (who I am told is named Kekel), who either aids or hinders him in this quest. And if all other obstacles fail, there is always the Hand of God to come down and snatch the cherry, depositing it in the middle of another puzzle.

Chuchel has an astounding variety of alarm devices, and an endless supply of crap to throw at them.

It’s all non-verbal, in the great tradition of animated shorts from (just off the top of my head) the Croatian outfit Zagreb Film, utterly beguiling, and, as I am into approximately the twelfth puzzle, starting to get challenging. Still fun and hilarious, but challenging.

And just in case you didn’t know what I was talking about viz Zagreb Film, here’s a sampling – the last short even has a sort of proto-Chuchel:

There. We finally managed to make it back to movies after all.

 

Crapfest: The Milestone

Due to the arc of my life’s pursuits, I don’t have normal nightmares. In high school you usually get the didn’t-study-for-the-test nightmare. Instead mine were about missing the bus for a speech tournament. I aged into the actor’s nightmare of here’s-the-script-show-starts-in-twenty-minutes. What about the blocking? We’ll get it to you, plenty of time Oops, places!

So it came to pass that I actually had a dream about showing up to a Crapfest, but forgetting my movies. That was understandable, since I had apparently spent most of the day driving hazardous cargo through some dangerous roads in a third world country (Sorcerer comes back to haunt you at the weirdest times). So I immediately left to get the movies, which is when the meteor struck a few blocks away.

I’m still kind of pissed that I didn’t go to investigate that meteorite, no, the movies were too important.

Me, trying to drum up excitement for our 200th movie

I have only myself to blame. I had noticed that on the Letterboxd page I use to keep track of Crapfest offerings, we were approaching our 200th flick, and started drumming up that event like Kroger Babb with a new movie showcasing the miracle of childbirth. In the interest of transparency: Dave does not like that I count short subjects. Letterboxd does not have a means of crediting us for viewing five out six episodes of Pink Lady & Jeff, the very first episode of Hee HawBattle of the Video Games or Movin’ With Nancy. Yes, a definite case can be made it was not our 200th movie, but screw it, I was having fun.

How much fun? The 200th movie was on a flash drive, and I had altered the file name to, simply “200th Movie” to keep its identity a secret. There is a bag of DVDs, full of lamentable movies, that I used to bring to every Crapfest before moving to the Flash Drive of Doom; I brought this once more to provide a Bag of Red Herrings. I had one of those clickers that are used to count crowds at sporting events and the like so there would never be any doubt what number movie we were on. That’s how much fun.

We had the band back together again: Myself, Host David, Rick, Erik, Alan, Paul, and my son Max. Dave’s friend Eric-with-a-C had been threatening promising to come for some time, was apparently going to actually make it this time, so the movie Dave had on for background noise while we arrived was allowed to play out, to give Eric-with-a-C time to arrive, and that is how The Great Gabbo became Movie #195.

The Wrong Eric arrived early.

This is a 1929 early talkie. Erich von Stroheim is the title character, a stage ventriloquist who “does the impossible” by drinking and smoking while his dummy, Otto, sings a song. (a version of “the impossible” which seems to be the standard of ventriloquism these days, eh?) Gabbo also has a serious problem in that the only way he can interact with other people is through the dummy. This severely messes up his relationship with his assistant Mary (Betty Compson), who eventually leaves Gabbo’s abuse to become a singer. She still works at the same theater with the increasingly famous Gabbo, until he finally manages to tell her of his love for her, but haha, in the intervening years she’s secretly married her dance partner, who was actually nice to her. Gabbo loses it and rants at his audience, gets fired, downer ending.

One of my many friends smarter than me, Mark Konecny, pointed out that the early movies’ relationship to Russian and Yiddish theater traditions was rarely stronger, and indeed, Gabbo seems more interested in presenting lavish musical production numbers than its tale of an insane ventriloquist. One of these production numbers, now lost to time, was done in a process called MultiColor. That still didn’t help its box office at the time, as the movie was not, shall we say, well-received.

Here, have a taste of what we did not realize was going to set the tone for the evening:

Eric-with-a-C had not yet arrived, so we started without him. Sort of.

As you may recall last time, we started out with Who Killed Captain Alex?, a $200 action flick from Uganda that utterly gripped the Crapfest audience. VJ Emmie, who kept up amazing commentary during its hour length, plugged the sequel, Bad Black, about 45 minutes in. I haven’t been able to find Bad Black anywhere, even on Wakaliwood’s YouTube page, but I did find its opening sequence, promising a premiere at the 2016 Fantasia Fest. Here is movie #196, and thankfully, VJ Emmie is there:

Also thankfully, there are no production numbers. There were, however, plentiful production numbers to be had in some Beatles cartoons. There was still no Eric-with-a-C, you see. I try to stock the Flash Drive of Doom with some filler, and this was from the third season – 1967 – after Revolver had been released. Suddenly Saturday morning TV had a half hour where children could be exposed to dime-store psychedelia:

STILL NO ERIC-WITH-A-C so we moved on to #197, the truly horrific and embarrassing 1944 short, Eliza on the Ice, which showed even Mighty Mouse was not exempt from not-so-casual racism: (you’ve been warned)

Had I known the bent the evening was going to take, I would have made a special effort to track down one of the operetta-style Mighty Mouse cartoons, which were much better made, and ten (if not a hundred) times less offensive. But Eric-with-a-C finally arrived in the middle of this, and we proceeded to make him regret it.

We nipped into Erik (with a K)’s dinner offering, a spicy pork dish called (concentrates extra hard to get the spelling right) puerco pibil, served over coconut rice, and daaaaamn. Possibly the last good memory we would have of that evening. We moved on to #198, a movie which Erik had tried to get on the agenda several times, and on this night of nights, he finally succeeded: Birdemic: Shock & Terror.

Featuring the SCREENSAVER OF DEATH

As you all know, I watched Birdemic years ago. In fact, I think at least half, if not more, of the attendees had also already seen it. But here is the miraculous democracy of Crapfest: it meant each of these people got to experience the usually solitary pleasure I often derive from the event. It’s an experience honed from years of going to film festivals for the Cinema of Diminished Expectations like B-Fest and the late, lamented New Orleans Worst Film Festival. (edit: holy shit, apparently it’s back?) The joy of knowing what’s coming, and hearing the lamentations of the uninitiated around you. Paul was especially vocal in his dismay, and that was appreciated.

What’s that you say? There are no musical numbers in Birdemic? Pfft! You have apparently forgotten the singer who croons an entire fucking song to our young lovers in an empty Irish bar. So empty his band isn’t even there. Maybe it’s a sparsely attended Karaoke Night? Anyway, here’s the most entertaining version of it I could find:

Speaking of movies that hadn’t quite made it to the screen over the years, there was one Dave had been toying with showing many times, and by thunder, if I was going to hog the #200 slot, then #199 was going to be 1978’s Rabbit Test.

Yes, this was Joan Rivers’ first (and only) movie in the director’s chair, also Billy Crystal’s film debut. After his very first sexual encounter, he finds out he is pregnant (because the woman was on top, duh), and the twists that puts in his life. At first a celebrity, then excoriated as a devil (because male pregnancy will result in overpopulation), there’s material for a thoughtful flick there. In other hands.

What you get is a fairly chaotic, often wacky, and even occasionally funny movie where the biggest draw is picking out all the TV personalities who are onscreen (crossovers like that were fairly rare at the time). Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostley, Imogene Coca, Alex Rocco, Norman Fell, George Gobel, Keene Curtis, Fanny Flagg, Richard Deacon (wearing a toupee!), Tom Poston, Peter Marshall (announcing The Hollywood Squares has gone bankrupt because Crystal’s pregnancy rendered a lot of wrong answers suddenly right), Michael Keaton in a tiny role, and I’m pretty sure I spotted Dick Sargent and William Smith as Secret Service agents. It’s the most amazing lineup of minor celebrities I’d seen since The Phynx.

Was there a production number? Why, of course! Crystal goes on a world tour, meets the Queen of England (Charles Pierce) and The Pope (Jack Fletcher). Try to hang on through this scene, as we meet “A. Touch of Darkness”:

Did you make it through Jimmy Walker’s parody of Willie Tyler and Lester, with Billy Barty in blackface?

Compare with Eliza on the Ice. In 34 years, we didn’t make it very far. If at all.

Anyway.

Is it time? Is it the 200th movie? It is? Does it have production numbers? Of course! Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you…

Yes, The Apple. It had been repeatedly requested by Alan and Rick, and I thought it was time. Eric-with-a-C was unimpressed. Eric-with-a-C was however, impressed that when we named it Crapfest, we were serious about it. Too bad he hadn’t come all the times I had brought an actual good movie. Also, Eric-with-a-C was the one who recommended Teen Witch, so some payback might have been involved.

If you are unfamiliar with The Apple (I guess that’s possible), it is a notorious rock musical produced by Golan & Globus early in their career – the poor bastards thought this was actually going to be their ticket to Hollywood, not something like Enter the Ninja. In the far-flung future of 1994, the devilish Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) actually controls the world through his Boogalow International Music (BIM). Everyone loves his acts, and everyone has to wear the BIM mark at all times, in the most naked Mark of the Beast metaphor outside a christian scare movie. Dudes, when I said devilish, I meant it. He is almost foiled by a folk-singing young duo from Moose Jaw, Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), so of course he has to corrupt them and bring them to the Dark Side. However, on the signing day, Alphie can see what is really going on:

…and doesn’t sign with BIM. The rest of the movie is a musical struggle for Bibi’s soul, until, at the end, God flies down in a golden Rolls Royce and takes all the nice people away, the Disco Rapture. The end.

To say that The Apple bombed would be understatement worthy of a saint. It was hated and reviled, driving Menahem Golan to almost commit suicide. Check out the movie’s Wikipedia page – the story of its genesis as a too-expensive-to-produce stage show, about the musical business itself as a 1984 dystopia, until the Go-Go boys got their hands on it. It’s actually pretty interesting stuff. The entire opening number, “Paradise Day”, which cost $1 million to produce, was dropped, supposedly because Golan wanted to “not get too extreme with the religious overtones” (which is laughable when you see the movie as released), most certainly not because it was legendarily dreadful. I believe I first heard of The Apple through one of the Golden Turkey books, and saw the videotape once in the Sound Warehouse rental department. Was tempted, but probably rented Shogun Assassin again instead.

Then came B-Fest 2005, where a group of fans sponsored its showing. This was the ideal venue for my first viewing – in a reasonably packed house, with a bunch of people who loved movies (especially that kind), buzzed on caffeine and their own creativity. There was dancing in the aisles. Lyric sheets were handed out for singalongs. Everybody did the BIM. I bought the DVD on Amazon upon my return. That was the source for the Crapfest showing.

And this is where it gets weird, because honestly, I had never watched it again. And at Crapfest, it seemed kind of… streamlined. I recalled a Phantom of the Paradise-style subplot where one of Boogalow’s other clients sang a version of “Speed” and that song was BIM-ed up and given to Bibi (That’s right, we got to hear “Speed” twice). Those were missing. Sure enough, there at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, there was an original preview print floating around, with those scenes and longer cuts for other songs. It’s been played at places like Alamo Drafthouse. So hey there, all you cool cats from 13 years ago: we got to see something special.

And remember: all this is coming from a guy who hates musicals.

So there we had it. Our 200th movie. It was time to pack up and go home, right?

Oh, hell no. It was still relatively early.

As is traditional, every poster for this movie is ten times more awesome than the movie itself.

So Dave put on 1985’s Warriors of the Apocalypse, also known as Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain, because I swear to God he is on a mission to make us watch every Italian post-apocalyptic Road Warrior rip-off ever made. At least this time it was a Filipino post-apocalyptic Road Warrior rip-off, so that was theoretically refreshing.

This post-apocalypse couldn’t afford any dune buggies though, so our plucky band of warriors just walk around the rocky landscape in order to find other, supposedly less-savory bands of warriors to attack. In the skirmish that opens the film, a badass Filipino comes to their aid. They find out their new friend has fresh food to eat, and that he comes from the Valley of Life, just past Voodoo Mountain, and oh yeah, he’s 130 years old. Why, of course he’ll take them there!

Somehow these brainiacs had managed to miss that there were some mountains nearby with a jungle inside them, which has to be one of the nicest post-apocalyptic settings ever. There is the problem that they keep running into natives who want to run them through with spears, but fortunately our heroes have explosive bullets. Those don’t help them too much with the dwarves who keep coming back from the dead, though.

The guy in the center is Captain Hat, my & Max’s personal hero.

They are eventually led to a lost village of scantily-clad white women, but they have to wait until the full moon before the fertility gods will allow them to do what comes naturally. I’ll save you a lot of time and pain and reveal that there is still an atomic reactor under the village, which is why they have nice things like immortal dwarves and a queen with laser eye beams pew pew pew. Also, any men that our Filipino pal brings in from the outside world will get press-ganged into working the reactor (after they get the women pregnant to continue the tribe), resulting in a bunch of radiation-burned sorta mutants to rise up at the end. The Queen decides to raze the entire village and kill everybody with her eye blasts pew pew pew. Which seems only reasonable.

There was almost certainly a production number in there somewhere, as all lost civilizations made up of mostly women have to do one sometime. Frankly, this movie put certain parts of my brain to sleep, so that may have been wishful thinking or an hallucination.

But come on! Pew pew pew!

Surely that would be enough for everybody, you would think, Surely. Ha! You do not know this crowd! It was time for a movie with no production numbers whatsoever! It was time for… Gary Busey: Action Hero!

Bulletproof was made the year after Lethal Weapon, and the year before the motorcycle accident that arguably turned Busey into a non-superpowered Incredible Hulk. It’s produced by Fred Olen Ray, and directed by Steve Carver, who among other action flicks, gave us Big Bad Mama, two guys who are okay in my book.

As you noticed, Busey is the original McBain, a loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules (you probably also noticed a cleaned-up Danny Trejo in that clip). After the utterance of his catchphrase, above, he had our audience in the palm of his hand, by which I mean everybody finally shut up and actually stayed awake for the whole thing.

(The movie is called Bulletproof because that’s McBain’s nickname. Everytime he’s shot, he digs the bullets out himself and saves them in a mason jar)

I’m positive that is actually Busey.

Another thing we will find out is that McBain is ex-CIA. You see, there is a gathering of insurgents in Mexico, some of them Cuban and even (gasp!) Arab. And the magnificent plan cooked up by the spooks is to task Colonel L.Q. Jones to command a convoy delivering an experimental supertank code-named “Thunderblast” to “accidentally” stray into Mexico, and get captured. Since the Army captain in charge of the Thunderblast team is Darlanne Fluegel, McBain’s old flame (plus he also accidentally shot her husband in a dust-up with some mobsters), they will convince McBain to sneak into Mexico and, being McBain, kill everybody. Problem solved!

Yes, this is a remarkably stupid plan. I’m kind of pissed that it actually works. Eventually.

Good cast. Didn’t mention R.G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Rene Enriquez, William Smith (again!) and Thalmus Rasulala as McBain’s cop partner who actually does not get killed! (Radical!) Yes, this movie is stupid as hell, but it’s also entertaining as hell.

Don’t get used to that, Eric-with-a-C.

Look, I know what you folks are here for:

Who the hell wears a fur hat in Mexico? EVIL SOVIET BASTARDS, THAT’S WHO!

So we are now officially at 202. Only 98 movies to go to 300!

Sleep well. Butthorns.

There Are No Metaphors in Halloween Hell

Oh, hai there.

I’m medicated again.

It’s a sad truth in modern America that sometimes you try to go without your meds in order to pay other bills. Blood pressure pills seem pretty necessary, but we can probably go without this statin that’s seemed to have no effect for five years, we can probably tough it out without the mood elevator.

Until a week ago when I realized that I temporarily had a little extra money and likely the best thing I could do was get the refill on the mood elevator I had put off for two or three months. And I have to say that waking up the next morning without thinking of suicide was quite refreshing. (My doctor says it takes two or three days for the pill to take effect, but I’ve not found that to be the case. Maybe my serotonin imbalance was minor enough that it only needed a nudge in the right direction. In any event, one less dragon to fight)

While my writing has been the most visible casualty of the crushing mantle of despair, I haven’t exactly been slacking. Still watching Prestige TV With A Capital P, though Real Life work has put a crimp on the time allowable for that. Having finished the current seasons of Legion and The Expanse, my sense of symmetry told me I needed to find two other series to accompany the second season of Westworld, so it was time to start Sense8 and the first season of Luke Cage. I’d been putting Cage off to watch the Netflix Marvel series in order, but hit my usual getting-sick-of-Netflix-series-around-episode-8 wall with the first season of Daredevil. Really enjoying these series so far, although I’m only two episodes in of each.

DON’T DO IT DON’T DO IT DON’T YOU DO IT

Noted Canadian war criminal Doug Tilley (he made me watch Science Crazed) asked me to guest on one of his podcasts, Eric Roberts is the Fucking ManHe then asked me to be a participant in my own damnation by having me select the Eric Roberts movie we would be discussing. That’s harder than you might think – Roberts’ IMDb page lists 513 actor credits, with probably 200-300 in the last few years. He’s like the modern-day John Carradine.

I discounted all the movies where he played “The Devil” – there are several – as that meant he was likely on set for twenty minutes or so. But there was one that drew my eye, and that was Halloween Hell, where he is listed as playing “Count Dracula”. And it was on Prime Video. You can listen to that episode of the podcast at the site above, but you’re already here, so I might as well use my notes and grumble about the stuff I never got to in the podcast. (ERITFM likes to clock in at an hour, which is something I appreciate in a podcast, my fanboy love for The Projection Booth notwithstanding)

We start with a bunch of kids wandering through a warehouse with a video camera (you are going to become very familiar with this warehouse). They find a misshapen black statuette with Sculpey fangs (ditto the statuette). These teens are three guys and two girls, basically the Scooby Gang without the budget for a Great Dane with a speech impediment. One girl freaks out and tries to run, resulting a door magically slamming shut and The Demon (I think it’s a Type IV) appearing from the statuette and offing the kids one by one.

  1. We start with a disembowelment, shot at floor level, behind the victim. Classic movie cheat.
  2. A throat slash. First appearance of CGI blood, notable for its neon color.
  3. The demon presses a face mask on a girl’s head, then pulls it away, revealing that the other side of the mask was coated with blood. Oh, wait, I think he was supposed to be pulling her actual face off.
  4. The last girl starts flailing around on the floor and screaming while hoses pump blood through her clothes. This will be our first example of death by overacting.
  5. The last guy almost gets away, but the Demon shows up and get our B-movie deal sealed by my old favorite: facial lacerations are fatal.

Blah. Blah.

Eric Roberts tells us those deaths were “years ago” and remained unsolved. He then informs us that he is Count Dracula, and he is hosting a once-in-a-lifetime Internet event: He has the statuette, carved by Haitian slaves “from lava from the depths of Hell”. It houses a demon, and there will be six contestants who will spend 24 hours in a camera-festooned room with it, those 24 hours being midnight-to-midnight on Halloween. Each will earn $100,000 for getting through the day. The cost for the pay-per-view is a mere $24, “One dollar for each hour.”

The contestants are basically what used to be defined in Dynaman as “six good-looking young friends from all walks of life”:

  1. Nerd Boy, who wants the money to open his own high tech company and become Bill Gates
  2. Gothia, a Russian import and stripper exotic dancer, needs $100,000 worth of clothes and make-up
  3. Jessie – “The All-Star’s sweetheart”, who is given no motivation for the money
  4. Toby – who wants the money to start his country music singing career
  5. Rose – an undocumented immigrant who wants the money to go to nursing school and help her brother open a car repair shop (no stereotypes here)
  6. Mr. Jones – our token black who intends to use the money for an independent film

It’s the tusks that get me.

The statuette is in a room in that damnable warehouse which has been tricked out with the entire contents of somebody’s storage locker where they stuffed their Halloween decorations each year for the past decade or so. This is, I guess, meant to be ironic, but god it is cheesy.

Toby the country boy was obviously instructed to go over the top and given no further direction. When you do something like that to an actor, they keep trying to find the top, and getting no further instruction, keep going further and further out. In short, Toby looks like he’s being prepped to be the first to die, just to give us some relief. However, as Mr. Jones points out, “The Brother Man is always the first to go.”

This brings us to another bizarre sidetrip: Dracula is also running a website where you can bet on who will die and in what order. The janitor for the building where Drac is hosting his part of the show logs on to bet that Mr. Jones will be the first to die, causing the Demon to manifest and kill him by making blood gush from his scalp. In a few scenes, a woman will come in looking for the janitor, find his body, and she will be our next Death by Overacting.

Neither of these scenes are long enough to actually qualify as the sort of padding you do when your picture is not an agreed-upon length for distribution. It asks the question, is this happening to everyone who bets on the site? If it is, it would certainly mean more money for Dracula, since he’ll never have to pay out, but that’s never explored. If the Demon can just manifest anywhere, why the hell is the statuette even necessary?

Back at the reality show: we’re basically trying to make what is known as a “submarine film” here, with all the action taking place in a single room. The thing about those are they’re cheap, but you need to have crackling dialogue, something interesting for the characters to do. We don’t get the former, and for the latter, we have Toby singing a song, and strip poker. At least Friday the 13th had the class to switch that up with strip Monopoly.

(At one point, one of his “brides”, either “The Dragon Lady” or “Nectar-feel-ya”, asks Dracula “Where did you get him?” about Toby. “Texas! Where else?” which led me to a hearty “Fuck you movie!” which had been building up for at least a half-hour. Then I realized I could pinpoint within 30 miles which town Toby came from)

“You’re getting CGI everywhere!”

Mr. Jones does indeed get his throat slashed, with a fair amount of CGI blood sweetening so they don’t get the couch he’s lying on messy. Rose demonstrates why she needs to go to nursing school by attempting CPR on a guy with a cut throat. Jessie stabs herself in the eye with some dagger that was obligingly stuck in the wall. Toby and Nerd Boy start yelling to be let out or an ambulance to be called, allowing Roberts to have the best line of the whole movie, “Children of the night! What music they make!”

Now luckily, as our cast keeps getting whittled down, Nerd Boy, before showing up, had gone to a “Voodoo Lady” to find out about demons. “Voodoo Lady” is never given a name, so I dubbed her “Mama Machina” (first name Deus, middle initial X). She gave him some “magnets” (which look more like those stick-on lights for your closet you see on late-night TV)  and a steel urn to capture the Demon.

Guh.

This was written and directed by Ed Hunt, who I was familiar with from Starship Invasions, which I admit I had only seen because it was shown at a Crapfest. He also did Bloody Birthday and The Brain, which are both better regarded (I’ve seen neither, though). This is his first movie since 1988, make of that what you will.

Roberts makes sure Hunt gets his day rate’s worth. Almost all the rest of the money went for that Demon makeup, which is pretty damned good – which is fortunate, because he gets more screen time than Roberts. Also thrifty is the design choice that from the waist down he’s CGI flames, a type III floating torso, as Ray Stantz would say. As for the rest… I’ve seen worse. The script does them no favors.

Really, the tagline of this blog should be, “I’ve Seen Worse”. That doesn’t mean you have to.

 

 

More Nannydiddering (+ bonus Moana)

So in my pursuit of watching anything to distract me from our current hellscape and musings about the sweet release of death, I found myself thinking, “I should watch a Disney movie.” That’s one of the things I wanted to do this year: catch up on the despised “kiddie fare”. Not despised by me, certainly; one of the vows I made when I was a kid was that I would never stop watching cartoons. That’s about the only one of those promises I kept (becoming a mad scientist required some facility with math, it turns out). Luckily I didn’t specify that the cartoons had to  be cel animation (as in those days, teaching a computer to slur “Daisy, Daisy” was the height of technical artistic achievement) or I would be screwed.

Or reduced to watching nothing but my box sets of Jonny Quest and Frankenstein Jr. That could still happen.

Anyway.

Later for you, primitive DVD technology!

Remember back at the turn of the century when Disney put out The Black Cauldron on DVD? I had seen it when it was released theatrically in 1985 and wasn’t terribly impressed, but this was back when I had disposable income, so I bought it… and proceeded to forget about it. I guess I had foreseen that 18 years later I would have a mad posh to give it another chance and was simply planning ahead.

Settled in, pressed start on the player… and the disc wouldn’t cooperate.

I could soothe my minor disappointment with the memory that I had tried a similar venture with The Black Hole a few months ago and discovered that by golly I may have been younger when I saw it in the theaters and was disappointed, but I was still right. But my Disney mood was in danger of going unslaked! No big deal, as my wife is a teacher and that somehow means we must always have Disney on hand. So what would also fulfill my mission to scope out cinema for young’uns I had missed while watching four-hour Russian movies?

Well, hello Moana.

Hooray! Saved by modern blu-ray technology!

For the benefit of others who were distracted by *harrumph* more serious pursuits: Moana is the daughter of the chief of a South Seas island. As is required of all spunky heroines, she is a bit of a thorn in his side because she is fascinated by the ocean, and Pop has a definite policy against voyaging no further than the outer reef. This is really put to the test when the coconut trees fall to disease and all the fish leave the immediate vicinity. This appears to be due to the curse incurred when the legendary shape-shifting demigod Maui stole the Heart of the Sea from the goddess Te Fiti. Wouldn’t you know, there’s also a legend that someone has to cross the ocean to take Maui back to the scene of the crime to return the Heart. And we know just the title character to do it.

Now, Moana is a good movie, with a story that has remarkable depths. Playing about in the mythology of another culture always yields dividends, and reminds me of my youth when I was devouring books worth of exotic folklore from other nations. The voice acting from Auli’i Cravalho as Moana and Dwayne Johnson as Maui is superb. The graphics are frequently gorgeous. But it is, in the end, a Disney movie.

I mean, look at that. That is freaking gorgeous.

That means it’s a musical. I hate musicals.

I’m trying to figure out why that blindsided me here. I mean – just to reiterate – it’s a Disney movie. Disney movies have songs. In Moana, however, they move the story forward, yet somehow don’t seem very well integrated. I actively resented that Moana’s signature song got stuck in my head, but then I realized it wasn’t so much the song as the power of Ms. Cravalho’s pipes – she sings the living hell out of that song. I think… it’s the songs themselves?

I try to remember Moana’s song – “How Far I’ll Go” – and all I can come up with is Pocahontas‘ “Just Around the Riverbend”. The single villain song that we get – “I’m Shiny” (with Jemaine Clement, who’s got a great voice)? I can only come up with “Oogie Boogie’s Song” from Nightmare Before Christmas. I just don’t find the songs in Moana memorable at all, and that is a hell of a thing for a guy who hates musicals to have to say.

Really liked the rest of the movie, though. Do more non-European fairy tale stuff, Disney. Guess my next posh will go to Zootopia and aw, crap, that’s gonna be a musical, too, isn’t it?

Anyway.

Besides watching other “kiddie stuff” like LEGO super hero videos – shut up, they’re funny, and actually respectful of the source material – there’s all the (here come the quotes again) “prestige TV” I’ve been watching, so strap yourselves in for nannydiddering…

There are also cows.

I’m currently only two episodes away from the end of Season 2 of Legion. After a rocky start for me, the season has steadied into a much better, if somewhat infuriating, groove. We’ve had episodes focusing on one character or another, which is nice, and there are times that the series’ marriage of music to imagery is simply. splendidly unmatched. Homages/lifts from movies like A Clockwork Orange, Office Space and Eraserhead only add to the mix. We’ve been given more Aubrey Plaza in a most unusual way. Way way back in the day when I was reviewing Wild in the Streets, I wondered what happened to multi-panel layouts on movie screens, so prevalent in movies at the time, even in mainstream fare like The Boston Strangler – well, here they are again. Surprise!

A continuing fixture in this season has been mini-lectures on various forms of delusion narrated by Jon Hamm, which surely have some overall connection to the major arc, but as in all thing Legion, we are still uncertain. The one in Episode 9 about sociopathy in the digital age is a particular humdinger.

There has been, though, a singular lack of dance numbers.

And then of course there’s WHAT THE HELL

Legion fills a hole in my head that was left after Twin Peaks: The Return ended, which is gratifying, but also worrisome, in that there is another similarity that is gnawing on my brain: that all this fun, enjoyable stuff seems to be at the expense of the major story arc, and with only two episodes left in the season, I worry about a too-hasty conclusion to all these hectic threads (I don’t know why I was expecting anything different from Twin Peaks, I guess I’m just an old fool). Luckily, Season 3 was announced at the beginning of this month, so hey: more weirdness. Eventually. Chances are I’ll just watch the last two episodes this weekend, to coincide with the finale of Season One of Westworld, Leaving The Expanse the odd man out.

Speaking of which…

It’s slightly older news that there will be a Season Four of The Expanse, and as I catch up with S3, this has new importance to me. On Twitter, someone mentioned being interested in how the series would handle a narrative shift present in the novels, and I guess that’s happened now? Maybe? In any case, one of the books has obviously wrapped up, with the shooting war between Earth and Mars circumvented, and now there is a huge piece of alien technology in orbit near Uranus, and nobody knows what the hell it is, but, as usual, our main characters – who are finally starting to figure out that they really are the unluckiest SOBs in the solar system – are right in the center of it.

Are missiles supposed to do that?

I don’t much care for the personnel shakeup that happened, but also know that the characters lost are still kicking around in that universe somewhere. (Especially since one character we were pretty sure was dead is suddenly turning up and acting all Keir Dullea in 2010) The trade-off in story beats is worth it, I guess, as it’s given me one of the biggest kicks I’ve had in a long time: A massive generation ship – a massive church converted into a battleship – flying into the alien artifact, into the unknown, because every other faction has done so and it is vitally, politically necessary to follow – dang it, that’s just good science fiction.

Got a new favorite character, too, in David Straithairn’s Commander Klaes Ashford, a boisterous reformed pirate who’s the second-in-command on that church warship. It’s typical of the care shown both by the showrunners and the cast that I’m still uncertain of Ashford’s true motivations and loyalties, and damn if it ain’t interesting to watch. Not to mention that he’s managed to steal my affection away from characters I have two and a half seasons invested in!

If Season Four hadn’t been picked up, there would be cops outside the building right now asking me to put down my weapons. I’ve got the first two books on my Kindle, I guess I’ll be reading them soon. To try to alleviate the twitching after this season ends.

Westworld S1 ends for me this week, and at least with it I can move on to Season 2, not something I can say for those other series. No, I’ll be waiting for their return along with the rest of you, which occurs to me would be a way for the awakening AIs in Dellos to forge their emotions closer to human.

I’m starting to make some sense of those timelines I keep hearing people talking about in the plot, I mean now that I’m listening to people talking about the show. I seem to have developed a method of enforcing blind spots on social media when I perceive a show or movie I have not seen is being talked about. It’s far from foolproof, as I have movies spoiled for me on a regular basis (you bastards), but it enabled me to watch Season One blissfully ignorant of Bernard’s true nature until the fateful question, “What door?”

It also let Tessa Thompson be a surprise, so win/win

The Season One Finale awaits me this weekend, which I suppose will answer some questions but ask many more, to open up the next season. With Legion dropping out of my weekly rotation, I think it’s about time I started Sense8, don’t you? Then, when I run out of The Expanse, there is a better than even chance that I’ll indulge my new Noah Hawley fetish with Fargo, see how that goes.

Maybe I’ll even watch some movies.

Escape (I Get Out When I Can)

So here we are again.

After a period of semi-activity, you may have noticed we went dark last week. There are reasons for this. Folks don’t seem all that interested in my nannydiddering about TV, the only posts that generate traffic are the Crapfest posts – and sadly, reality dictates that we cannot have one of those every week – and I just didn’t have anything to say. Add to that our current antic-driven government is determined to actively break reality by declaring every day to be Opposite Day, allies are enemies, enemies are allies. People who used to wonder about Germany not taking to the streets during the rise of the Third Reich need only look out the window at our own empty streets to get their answer. As a race, I don’t think we are capable of redemption, let alone deserve it.

Also, as you may have noticed, it’s been a while since I could afford my anti-depressants.

So let’s use some movies to get as far the hell away from our current situation as possible, eh?

Can’t be any worse than what’s happening outside my window

One definition of “as far the hell away as possible” is Sherlock Gnomes. I’ve been a Holmes fan since my early days, so why not test my mettle with this? By way of establishing a baseline, I’m okay with the Robert Downey Jr. movies (though that is largely because of Jude Law’s Watson) and am rather ambivalent toward the Benedict Cumberbatch version (increasingly dependent on wackiness). There. Now to this movie.

This is a sequel to 2011’s Gnomeo and Juliet, and if, like me, you did not see that, you’re going to be okay (my wife informs me it was “charming”). The setup, if nothing else, is going to be familiar if you’ve ever been in the same room as a Toy Story movie. We’re dealing with the realm of ornaments, which, like toys, must freeze if a human looks in their direction. Okay?

The movie’s versions of Holmes and Watson are, no surprise, garden gnomes themselves; Moriarty is a renegade mascot doll of a pie company, who delights in smashing gnomes, hence the conflict. At the film’s opening, Moriarty is preparing to drop a dinosaur skeleton on some gnomes trapped in pie filling, only to himself fall victim to the plummeting bones. The gnomes are saved, thanks largely to the super-competent Dr. Watson (though it’s Sherlock who gets all the praise). Our garden gnomes from Gnomeo (including those title characters) move into a council house in London just in time for the apparent resurrection of Moriarty and a mass kidnapping of all the gnomes in London. So Gnomeo and Juliet must join forces with Sherlock Gnomes and Dr. Watson to riddle out Moriarty’s scheme and save the gnomes.

Directed by John Stevenson, who helmed the rather boss Kung Fu Panda, this is a solid kid movie that, when it is allowed to be, gets quite creative and delightful. To get one clue, the team must infiltrate Curly Fu’s Emporium in Chinatown, where the ruler is an enormous golden Lucky Cat (and whose salt shaker spokesperson is a wonderful vocal cameo by James Hong); then a trip to a toy underworld run by Irene Adler, who is voiced by Mary J. Blige. Irene gets a song that, unique among musical numbers in kid movies, did not have me yearning for the fast forward button. The movie also has some non-CGI animation representations of Sherlock’s memory palaces, which are good ways to break up what could have been some visual monotony.

While we’re talking about the voices, I should mention that Johnny Depp is Sherlock Gnomes and Chiwetel Ejiofor is a cracking good Watson. If there is one criticism I would lower upon Sherlock Gnomes, it’s that the major plot driving forward the story is a straight lift from the late Charles Marowitz’s play, Sherlock’s Last Case, which might not be obvious unless, like me, you played Watson in a production, but is nonetheless there. If you cast back your memories a bit, you might recall I’m also the guy who criticized Brotherhood of the Wolf for plagiarizing Richard L. Boyer’s Holmes pastiche The Giant Rat of Sumatra.

I am an astounding repository of information that does me absolutely no good.

Hard science fiction has been in short supply of late. Don’t come banging on my door with what-abouts and but-there-was-es. Most of what is being called “science-fiction” these days is stories from other genres dressed up with zap guns and rocket ships (and, needless to say, laser swords, or “light sabers” if you prefer). You’d think that a successful hard science fiction movie like The Martian would have given us more of the same at the local cinema, but no. It’s expensive and requires some effort.

There’s a reason when I discovered The Expanse midway through its second season I embraced it wholeheartedly. But that only shows that you have to go seeking it on smaller screens. That, also, requires some effort.

I tripped over a trailer for The Beyond mostly by accident. Most genre aficionados know that title belongs to one of Lucio Fulci’s more famous horror movies, so finding it applied to a science fiction flick is… odd.

In the near future, an anomaly opens up in Earth orbit, sucking a spacewalking astronaut right off the International Space Station. Several spheres of an inky, cloud-like substance shoot from the anomaly and take up residence in the upper atmosphere. Typically, some trigger-happy nations fire on the spheres, to no effect. Observation of the anomaly, called “The Void” (another trouble-making possible title right there, there have been at least 14 movies called The Void released in the last couple of years) reveals what seems to be another planet – The Void is a wormhole. Obviously, the only way to find out what’s up with those black spheres is to journey to that planet and ask some questions. The major obstacle to that would be surviving the trip through the wormhole.

Wouldn’t you know, the deepest reaches of the deep state military has been working on an Enhanced Human project, dubbed Soldier 2.0; a tough cybernetic body housing a human brain. Now the trick is to find a willing subject with the skills and knowledge necessary for the mission, who is also willing to become a robot for the rest of his or her now probably very-elongated lifespan.

I enjoyed The Beyond enough to not engage in any real spoilers, except to say that as we enter the third act, the science becomes a little too fantastic and elastic and cosmic and boy do I have questions but all the same it’s pretty cool. This is the first feature film from Hasraf Dulull, formerly known only as a visual effects supervisor, and man, does that show. The budget is pretty low, but the movie has the visual punch of something that cost multi-millions more.

Dulull poking his head out of his assigned cubbyhole also opens him up to the usual offhand cruelties of the online world, probably the most blatant being stuff like “as a writer, Dulull is a good visual effects supervisor”. That’s a bit of unnecessary snark – there’s nothing wrong with this script. The format is unorthodox, as it starts as a in-house puff piece on the head of the space organization and morphs into a documentary about the events that unfold around the Void. That’s a tough format for storytelling, and I’ve only seen it used well a couple of times – but in this instance, that comment really seems a case of “I need to find something bad to say about this or I’m not doing my job as an online critic”.

Eh, I’m probably guilty of the same thing. I’m tired and under-medicated. I’m sure someone will be more than happy to dig up my hypocrisy and wave it around, if that’s the case.

Anyway. I liked it.

So let’s go on to Dulull’s follow-up, 2036: Origin Unknown.

Despite the title, we start in 2030, and a manned flight to Mars. Despite the aid of an advanced AI named ARTi (voice of Steven Cree), the ship encounters a massive magnetic and electrical phenomenon, and crashes.

Okay, now it’s 2036, and ARTi is so advanced it’s devised a means of Hyper-Light radio transmission, which means it is now possible to remotely control a roving device all the way from Earth. Katee Sackhoff (in the midst of that peculiar curse where, if you are in a popular role on a successful sci-fi series, you will thereafter only get work in indifferently-budgeted sci-fi movies) plays Mackenzie Wilson, the human supervisor on the mission. Julie Cox plays Lena, the head of the Space Corporation running the mission. Oh, and they’re sisters. And their father was on that doomed mission.

In the course of the mission, it is discovered what caused the crash, six years earlier: an enormous cube, which, when activated by an outside source – in this case, a Chinese satellite on a collision course being shot down over the cube – the dang thing causes another ruinous electric storm and vanishes – only to show back up again in Antarctica.

This time around, Dulull has another writer to help, Gary Hall, and the result is a more normal storytelling format, though one that is not interested in explaining itself overmuch. I have a lot of questions – a lot – after that third act, and any unraveling I might do over the massive wad of threads presented would be way more work than the movie deserves, frankly. After an hour and twenty minutes of interesting sci-fi thriller the movie turns a sharp corner into extreme cosmic hoo-ha that doesn’t serve anybody very well, but it sure is pretty.

I’m interested to see what Dulull does next, I really am. But 2036 Origin Unknown feels like a step down from The Beyond. Like somebody holding a money bag just out of reach said, “Well, that was nice and brainy, but people want something with a hero they can cheer for, a human villain they can boo and shit blowing up. Do you have anything with shit blowing up?”

To keep this from ending on a completely dour note, let me add that I’ve journeyed to the realm of theaters twice this past week (as in “Hey, didn’t you say you were going to use that MoviePass card until it imploded?”), and I felt good about it both times. Solo: A Star Wars Story was just as much fun as everyone said it was, except for those grumbling fan boys who wanted The Last Jedi to be directed by Zack Snyder on a males-only set. It mainly brought home to me how much I want see more movies in that universe that have absolutely nothing to do with space wizardry, Jedis and Sith. I was so into the story as presented that when a certain bit of fan service cropped up in the end, I actively resented it. My theater had this in one of their small auditoriums, only 39 seats. It was a showing for me and three other people.

Then, today I went to see Hotel Artemis, in a larger auditorium, but still only three other patrons. I had seen the trailers and thought, “Hm, quirky crime drama” and noted that I would likely see anything with that cast (Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Sterking K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, and a surprise appearance by Zachary Quinto). What I was not expecting was near-future science-fiction, a sort of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Cyberpunk! It takes place in 2028, and none of the tech is outlandish. Sadly also not outlandish is the background being a city-wide riot in Los Angeles because the privatized water utility has shut off everyone’s water. I liked it but I didn’t love it. Would recommend it, but you’re likely safe waiting for disc or cable.

Oopsie, got dour again. It happens.

Let Us Remember Crapfest

These are mine and you cannot have them.

If there is one thing that doing Crapfests for mumblemumble years has taught us, they are best with a fighting chance at having the following day off. Therefore, the Sunday before Memorial Day was deemed excellent, and all participated except Paul, who was busy dealing with Real Life. Erik was back, with his burrito bowls, which meant that I ate better than I had all week, and that was a week in which I had made meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and roast asparagus. In trying to support his efforts, I had made a bean salsa that was well received, and if nothing else, in the time while the chicken and other ingredients for the Bowls were cooking, I rediscovered the youthful joy making of my own nachos with this salsa and the chips and queso Rick had brought.

But, although I am sitting here with a smile of gustatory nostalgia on my face, you are saying Can the balloon juice, professor, what about the movies? You obviously do not care for the finer things in life, but then, neither do we, which is why we have Crapfests.

Max is home for the Summer, and this fest brought Max’s very first contribution, Who Killed Captain Alex? It is very difficult to describe Who Killed Captain Alex? with mere words. It is a Ugandan action movie, shot on a reported budget of under $200. Some of the guns are obvious toys, but most are carved wood and other odds and ends slapped together and painted black. One character, a mercenary from Russia (who is quite obviously not from Russia) has a bandolier of bullets which are patently sharpened sticks. The whole thing is very like when a bunch of friends get together and make a movie for a goof, and director Nabwana IGG treats it almost the same – he rendered it off to a DVD master and then wiped his computer clean so he could make another one, because it was obviously never going to be seen by anyone outside his village.

Enter the Internet.

About the hardest thing our little group of Wakaliwood virgins had to deal with was the Video Joker, VJ Lemmy, who keeps up a running commentary on the movie. As the Wikipedia entry on The Cinema of Uganda informs us (you can tell I was impressed by Who Killed Captain Alex? because I was moved to do research):

Audiences go to video halls where narrators called “video jokers” translate the dialogue and add their own commentary.

so Lemmy is basically a one-man MST3K. At one point he exclaims, “This is how we watch movies in Uganda!” and apparently it is. He also tells us what movie we are watching every ten minutes or so, which seems absurd on the surface but is likely for the benefit of folks who just walked into the video hall a few minutes before. Lemmy is subtitled in yellow, while the movie’s dialogue is in white.

You want a plot? Come on. Okay, the Tiger Mafia is in control of Kampala, so the government sends in their best soldier, Captain Alex, to take control of the commandos and stop the Tiger Mafia and their leader, Richard. Alex’s men arrest Richard’s brother after a pitched battle, and Richard – after learning about it from a special TV bulletin – declares war to get his brother back. Captain Alex is killed, but nobody knows who did it, so his brother – a Ugandan Shaolin Monk – takes on the case.

(Erik: “I wonder if his name is Bruce.” (five minutes later) “Holy crap, his name is Bruce.”)

That’s a great gun, dude.

It’s also only sixty minutes long.

The thing is, those action scenes are actually pretty good. The muzzle flashes and spurting blood may be introductory-level After Effects digital hoohah, but it’s all heartfelt, decently edited, and the CGI helicopter fights at the end… well, they have to be seen to be appreciated.

Have you been good? Do you truly deserve this? Okay, then.

Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re reading this at work (naughty!) and don’t have a hour. Fine. here:

For those of you did watch the full-length video – no, we have no idea who killed Captain Alex. Nobody does. That’s why it’s art.

The food was ready. We ate (not for the first or last time that evening), and Erik brought out his entry: The Man Who Saves the World, or as it is better known around these parts, Turkish Star Wars.

It is called that because, rather famously, it nakedly rips off space battle footage from Star Wars and waves it in your face. Herein lies the very first problem, and probably the reason my only other attempt to watch this movie, many years ago, resulted in failure. We have a lot of cultural baggage associated with that footage, of course – we know who’s flying those ships, what the histories are behind them. The Man Who Saves the World makes no attempt to tell us which of the many vessels whizzing about are being flown by our two heroes, Turkish superstar Cüneyt Arkin and Aytekin Akkaya. They get shot down despite being our heroes, wind up on a desert planet ruled by a spiky Darth Vader wannabe, and aaaaaah who cares. Visit the Wikipedia page for the plot, because that’s the only way I – and hundreds (if not thousands) of others, including the guy who translated it into English – could figure out what was going on. Arkin also has the screen-writing credit, so blame him. Blame him early and often.

Spike Vader has a bunch of Cylon knock-offs and some life-size muppets who are disturbingly easy to pull apart and beat with their own disembodied arms and legs. There’s a mute woman and a prophecy and the most impractical freaking design for a magic sword ever (that comes with its own brain) which Arkin winds up melting down for armored gloves so he can relive his Lion Man glory days, anyway.

This makes me long for the high-tech majesty of Police Robot L in Starcrash.

Turkish cinema of the period (obviously) had a very noncommital and abusive relationship with International Copyright Law, and when we saw the movie was not going to meet us halfway with any sort of actual plot, the survival game became identifying what movie the soundtrack was lifted from at any given moment, Raiders of the Lost Ark being the main victim, but it was joined by Flash Gordon (even ripping off Max von Sydow’s laugh at one point), The Black Hole, and Silent Running.

It also had the first appearance that evening of the character I only refer to as “The Hippie from Birdemic”, a character who appears to offer an info dump that may or may not contain anything pertinent to the story, but certainly fills out the running time. This time it’s a priest who babbles on and on about Islam and lost tribes. Then we’re back to a welter of stolen space warfare and I think the good guys won, maybe.

Now it was time for Dave’s entry, or as he put it, “You don’t get to go yet, because Max counts as you.” This might seem reasonable, but it was still no excuse to put on 1978’s Matilda. Dave has seemingly become the guy who brings up movies played ad infinitum in the afternoon on HBO and Cinemax back in the day (see his earlier selection, Teen Witch).

Clive Revill, Elliott Gould and Art Metrano try to figure out how to get out of this movie.

Elliott Gould would like to forget that he plays down-on-his-luck fight promoter Bernie Bonnelli, who lucks onto the title character, a boxing kangaroo that can take on and best all comers. This leads into a plot where Gould has to convince Boxing Commissioners to allow sanctioned matches, as portrayed by Roy Clark (was it Alan or Rick who observed “This is probably the type of movie that won’t let Roy anywhere near a guitar”? Whichever it was, he was far too right), avoid the bumbling henchmen of mobster Uncle No-No (Harry Guardino), and completely screw over the worldview of his love interest (Karen Carlson), who works for the ASPCA, but eventually admits that exploitation of animals is A-OK, especially if that animal is a man in a suit.

A boy and his demon.

The “Hippie in Birdemic” character was under our noses the entire time in the person of Matilda’s caretaker, Billy Baker (Clive Revill) who reveals that if a boxing kangaroo is ever actually hit, it will never box again just before the climactic match with the world heavyweight champion. Nice timing, Clive.

You might have noticed I have spoken little of our title character. As mentioned, Matilda is a man (Gary Morgan) in a costume. This is spectacularly obvious from the get-go, no effort is made to conceal this fact, although Morgan does bounce up and down in every scene in a nod to method acting. The costume doesn’t even have the decency to try to mask Morgan’s legs, which, being human, the knees bend in the wrong direction. The head is immobile, impassive. If Quint were describing it, he would mention that it has “dead eyes, a doll’s eyes” which doubtless roll up when the kangaroo gets its first taste of blood.

Max found it frankly terrifying.

“Fook ‘im oop, Matilda!”

The IMDb does cough up this bit of trivia:

Producer Albert S. Ruddy once said of this movie: “We debated over using both a real kangaroo and an actor in costume and opted for the latter as cross-cutting proved too jarring for the viewer. However the costume was a $30,000 investment that paid off as it not only allowed freedom of movement, but we were able to program it with transistors to allow us to direct the actor’s tiniest gesture”.

If by “tiniest gesture” you mean “absolutely none”, then that is not a totally delusional quote. Matilda does manage to get in a few ear twitches and blinks, but doesn’t manage a curl of the lip until after the final fight. Maybe it took that long for the operators to get the hang of those $30,000 transistors.

Here, try to ignore that Robert Mitchum is somehow involved in this, and that in that final shot Matilda is staring DIRECTLY INTO YOUR SOUL:

So now it was my turn, and after Turkish Star Wars and Matilda, I was not about to apologize for what I was going to do, and what I was going to do was R.I.P.D.

I could tell you the plot of R.I.P.D., but it would be easier to just say “take the plot of Men in Black, substitute dead people for aliens, Ryan Reynolds for Will Smith, Jeff Bridges for Tommy Lee Jones, Mary-Louise Parker for Rip Torn, and omit the talking pug.” It is fair to say that this movie was the point at which America was actively begging Hollywood to stop trying to make Ryan Reynolds happen. I guess that path eventually leads to the Deadpool movies, but man, that period was rough going.

This is also the year that Jeff Bridges decided he was going to use all his funny voices.

Here’s that mercenary from Russia to remind you of back when we were having fun.

R.I.P.D. was one of the few times I’ve brought a movie to Crapfest without viewing it first; Max knew I had a copy (bought used, and I scrawled “Please! We’ll pay YOU!” over the price tag. Great fun at parties!) and asked that I wait until his return to show it. It’s not a truly baaaaaad movie, just excessively predictable, and kinda pathetic in that way that you can’t even make fun of it. How the hell you manage to do that with a movie that stars Jeff Bridges and features James Hong and Kevin Bacon is beyond me (please, nobody bring up Seventh Son). And now Alan hates me because he paid money to see it in the theater.

Aaaah, he probably hated me anyway. Also, Erik has unfriended me on Facebook.

It was decided that we could cram in one more movie before we all turned into pumpkins, and Dave thoughtfully provided The Great Bikini Off-Road Adventure. A return to Crapfest basics, as it were (as I told you last time, the roots of ancient Crapfest can be found in huge marble tablets that read, simply, T&A) .

We’re in Utah, and Uncle Duke’s (Floyd Irons) jeep tour business is in trouble, and you can bet it’s all due to the company that wants to strip-mine the desert (boooo!) He asks his niece Lori (Lauren Hayes) for advice (since she just got her “lawyer license”), as he needs to come up with ten grand in a month to stave off Evil Capitalists Inc. Lori and her vacationing girl pals take over the jeep tours, then discover that they can charge twice as much when they conduct the tours in their bikinis ($8! The Community Center is saved!). Then each tour ends up basically being a Playboy video, so God knows how much they’re charging by that point. Maybe as much as ten bucks!

Blackface Dynamite! Ask for it by name!

There’s an Evil Capitalist henchman whose job it is to sabotage the jeep tours, but fortunately for our heroes, he’s taken Bill Murray’s character in Caddyshack for his role model. Fortunately for him, the dynamite he keeps slinging around and inevitably sitting on is not the lethal variety, but cartoon blackface dynamite.

Soooo there’s a lot of boobage, some largely inept villainy, and a last-minute plot injection to get us to the finish line, when the Hippie from Birdemic informs us that a rock about to be dynamited by two more inept and theoretically comedic Evil Capitalist henchmen is a protected cultural artifact! There has also been an Indian shaman who shows up every now and then to gather the cast-off bikini tops; his appearances are always announced by that dramatic twang that opens Peter Gabriel’s “The Rhythm of the Heat”. He does some questionable magic to save the rock. Everybody lives happily ever after, and that included us, who went home satisfied, well-fed, and still hating Ryan Reynolds.

(Not so) Amazingly, YouTube does not have a trailer for this, but here is the very same version Dave employed. Join us in saying “Hi-Fi!” everytime those words appear.

“Hi-Fi!”