Superpowers: Telepathy

Telepathy (the ability to read the minds of other beings) is an interesting thing to contemplate.  There are a number of websites out there with “Top ten superpowers it would be terrible to have!” articles, and telepathy is always on there.  The reason why telepathy would be a bad thing to have, typically goes like this:

“Telepathy would be a terrible super-power.  It would be like being stuck in a room with a thousand radios, all set to full volume, all set to a different station, and being unable to turn any of them off.  A constant barrage of thoughts from everyone would drive a telepath insane, and unable to function at all.”

If you consider that telepathy is analogous to hearing, then that scenario is likely correct.   People assume that telepathy is similar to hearing because when we form thoughts, we form them in sentences as they would be “heard” by ourselves (to refine them) or by others (when we state them).  So naturally, mind-reading would be picking up on those audio sentences formed in our brains.

But what if it isn’t like hearing?

Of the five accepted human senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste), these can be divided into two categories: directed, and undirected.  Directed senses are things like sight, taste and touch.  In the case of these three, we can stop perceiving certain things without blocking the sense entirely.  We can choose to look away, not touch a thing with our tongue, or not touch a thing period.   If something is painful to look at, we can turn our head and look at something else.  If something tastes terrible, we can stop eating it.

(Touch is a bit more problematic, because we have to be grounded on the earth.  If we’re walking on something uncomfortable, we have to find something more comfortable to walk on, and that might involve walking further on the uncomfortable bit.  We can’t simply stop being on the one, and go to the other.)

Undirected senses are hearing and smelling.  In the case of these, if something is offensive to the sense in question, you can shut off perception to that sense (blocking one’s ears, holding one’s nose).   But that means blocking everything relating to that sense.  You put your hands over your ears, and yes, you no longer hear the unpleasant sound.  But you no longer hear anything else, either.  You do not have the choice of, “I will listen to this sound, and not listen to this sound.”  Your choice is to deal with the sound, or close off all sounds.  With sight, if you see something you would rather not, you can look away, turn away to something nicer.   You can say, “I will not look at this.  I will look at this other thing instead.”  Your sense of sight is still working.  Your sense of hearing is not.

So, back to telepathy.  What if it’s not like hearing, but more like sight?  What if a telepath, in the middle of a crowd, is not confronted with a room full of radios, but rather a room with a magazine rack.  Instead of a chaotic din of noise, he has a choice of reading material.  He can select a magazine, open it, read it, put it back, and select another.

The problem is this:  unlike people who have walked on the Moon, or climbed Mount Everest, or done any number of extraordinary things, being a telepath is outside the experience of every human being on the planet.  So far as we know, there are no telepaths.  No one has stepped forward to say, “You’re all goofy.  Telepathy is nothing like you imagine.  Read my book!”  Because walking on the Moon or climbing Mount Everest can be conveyed to us as human beings doing human things, only to an extraordinary degree.  We know what climbing is like.  We can imagine low gravity.  Those are not outside our ability to experience, or imagine.

You can’t say that about telepathy.  Telepathy is probably a unique experience, one impossible to convey to the non-telepathic.   It would be like someone blind from birth trying to describe the concept of “color.”  He might be able to convey certain things based on other senses – “red is probably like the smell of apple pie” – but the actual details are going to remain outside of his grasp.

The ultimate point of this, is this:  evolution doesn’t throw things out without a purpose, and without a point.  There aren’t any crabs with three claws, because that doesn’t help that crab survive.  Similarly, there aren’t any sponges or lichens capable of picking up short-wave radio transmissions because, again, such perceptions would serve no purpose and would simply pile on perceptions that these creatures could not use in their day-to-day quest to survive and reproduce.  (So that survival is passed to the next generation.)

“Usefulness” seems to be what evolution works toward.  An ability which did not give an advantage, but was instead a hindrance, would be corrected in the next generation.  If there were usefulness, though–

By the way, if any of you out there are telepaths, let me know.  I’ll be happy to edit this entry for you.

B-Fest 2011

Well, B-Fest 2011 is now concluded, and for the second time I was able to attend. I went last year and had a terrific time, probably the best bit of 2010—which is rather sad as there were still at least eleven more months in that year to go. (The year improved a great deal in December, in case you were wondering).
So I decided to go again this year. As in last year, it was a tremendous amount of fun; below is a summary of how the weekend unfolded.

Thursday

My flight to Chicago was delayed slightly (30 minutes or so), but Ken (High Priest of Jabootu) was able to pick me up with no trouble. Jeff Witham was already at Ken’s place, so we turned around and headed out to meet the usual cast and crew for dinner at Jameson’s steak house, then back to Ken’s Inner Sanctum for a double feature.

First up was Destination: Inner Space, a TV-movie from the late 60’s. While slow-moving in spots, this one had an interesting alien spaceship interior and a really cool monster. The creature was well-designed and very colorful, a change from the usual dour-looking gray, green or dark monsters. The most memorable scene was watching Scott Brady trying half a dozen times to buckle his scuba-tank belt. (He finally managed to do it.) Also, Mike Road, the voice of Race Bannon, was in the cast. Also had an incredible soundtrack which I still can’t get out of my head.

Next up was a Jack E. Leonard/Jayne Mansfield/Phyllis Diller comedy, The Fat Spy. I say “comedy” because I’m not sure how else to describe it—“indescribable” actually fits better. “Unbelievable” also works. There’s also Brian Donlevy and a bunch of rockin’ teens. Some people do things, others wander around, occasionally someone stops and sings. In a bit of ironic foreshadowing, I mentioned that this reminded me of Skiddoo.

Friday

The day started with the traditional breakfast at the L & L, though later than usual because we weren’t meeting up with anyone. One thing you get a lot of at the L & L is food, so it was unsure if we’d be able to get to Superdawg for lunch. So we returned to the Ken Cave and saw the last half of the Jack Benny film, To Be or Not to Be (TCM was celebrating Ernst Lubitsch’s birthday. That’s what I call classy.)
Superdawg was still a variable at this time, but I pointed out that we’d probably get far hungrier far sooner if we didn’t make the attempt. So we packed up the cars and headed to lunch. There, we met a couple of other folks whose names, alas, I cannot recall. Then it was off to the theatre.
We hauled our coolers and snack tower and bedding in and grabbed parts of the first four rows, and settled in to have our senses wrung.

The Films.

Puma Man. An Italian super-hero film, this one was silly, stupid and overlong, with some of the worst “flying man” sequences ever. Seriously, he looked like he was tumbling through the sky rather than guiding himself. Donald Pleasance plays an evil guy who does evil for unstated evil reasons. He’s always fun to watch. I do have to wonder why they chose “puma” as the animal; I know they’re big cats, but that’s all I could tell you. “Panther Man” sounds less silly and is also only two syllables; plus a panther is pretty well known to most folks. It’s like someone who had tentacles calling himself “Mr. Chambered Nautilus.” Also, once he became Puma Man, he never went back to being a civilian again.

Since this was the first film, it was pretty much drowned out by the crowd who were, I have to admit, more loud than funny at this point. Last year’s opener, The Crippled Masters, was so grotesquely startling that the crowd seemed stunned; I think next year should take a lesson from that. I know that crowd reaction is a big part of the fest, but this film gave them too many obvious targets. Not everything that one shouts is funny, y’know.

Top Dog. This is a weird combo of family dog comedy and Chuck Norris beat-em-up. Very professionally executed, and with a charming dog, I’m puzzled by the intended audience for this. Kids who would love the dog’s antics would be rather shocked by the brutal violence, while action fans would be impatient with the dog comedy. Maybe it’s a film for folks who are indiscriminate Chuck Norris fans. He’s not an actor but he does have a certain screen presence and does his couple of emotions (“confused” and “angry”) pretty well. The audience had fun with this one. Also, the police chief was clearly Asian, but his name was Irish. Were we supposed to notice that?

Mama Dracula. This one suffered from truly dreadful print quality—hello, Mill Creek!—as well as the fact that it didn’t really have a story, just a series of bizarre vignettes. (It reminded me in places of early Peter Jackson.) After a while, I stopped hating it and was able to enjoy it in a “Okay, what’s next” sense but this one was probably the worst film at this year’s Fest. Probably, I note. The audience remained baffled for the most part, and eventually became hostile, then finally resigned.

Next up was the yearly raffle. I didn’t win anything, but I was okay with that. The only item that really caught my attention was a DVD of Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster. Ooh, pick me!

Then came the two Fest perennials, The Wizard of Speed and Time and Plan 9 From Outer Space. I don’t think there’s anything I can really say about these two, though it was nice to see some little kids having fun on stage. The first 30 minutes or so of Plan 9 played without sound while the crew tried to fix the problem.

Blackenstein. A black Army vet has his missing limbs replaced through Dr. Stein’s new technique. He becomes a Frankenstein Monster, complete with brow ridge, and goes on a low-budget rampage. Aside from one loathsome male nurse, all his victims seemed to be random people. A strangely bland and uninvolving film, which left the audience somewhat enthused but clearly too tired to ramp up a lot of excitement.

Manos The Hands of Fate. In terms of film-making talent, or obvious lack of same, this was the worst film of the Fest, but I’d seen it a few times before so it didn’t affect me like I thought it might. The audience felt rather baffled and helpless. Watching the film is a bit like staring into the eyes of a cobra, only less cinematic.

Hot Stuff. A cute fire safety short from the National Film Board of Canada. Over and done before the audience really had time to build up anything.

The Manitou. Probably the best film at this year’s Fest, this takes a pretty unique premise and plays it pretty straight. Remarkably, for a 70’s film that delves into Native American mysticism, it turns out the white people were able to help, and not just there to be lectured. The audience was loud and, like Puma Man, rather obvious but I think they were too tired to sustain it.

Undefeatable. This would be my alternate nominee as Worst of the Fest, simply because it was really sadistic and unpleasant, two of my buttons. I suppose the film-makers could argue that the overlong and plentiful rape and torture scenes put the audience into the place of the victims, but c’mon—it’s a kickboxing film starring Cynthia Rothrock. When a person gets kicked in the face and starts screaming in pain rather than continuing the attack, you can talk to me about “realism.” The audience seemed to agree with my assessment, though the villain’s over-the-top comeuppance got a cheer.

I Accuse My Parents. Rather staid social problem film about drinking, mostly, with descent into crime and then turning around and ultimately taking responsibility…sort of. It turns out that the title means the lead character didn’t get enough hugs. Grandfather of today’s “it’s not my fault” attitude. Easy to mock—a little too easy, since the audience never really got worked up. The only black and white entry apart from Plan 9.

Night of the Lepus. Introduced charmingly by Liz, this is actually a pretty decent giant monster film. The acting is good and the tone is serious, and there’s never a moment when someone says, “Wait, wait, what if it’s giant carnivorous worms?” The effects work is really first-rate, especially blown up on a big screen. The problem, as you probably know, is the nature of the monsters. It is really, really hard to make giant bunnies menacing, tomato paste on their teeth or not. For the first time, both doctors from the original Star Trek rode in a helicopter together. Well received by the audience because, well, you gotta love it.

American Ninja. All the elements of a typical rock-em sock-em action picture are here, and the film works really well as a well-oiled machine. It’s a lot of fun, and it had the audience eating out of its hand.

Skiddoo. Wow, talk about ironic foreshadowing! I’d seen this one decades ago and hated it; I was preparing myself for a return engagement. However, the film turned out to be “better” than I remembered it. Instead of looking for a plot that never materialized, I started to enjoy the little bits and the performances. The audience got into it, and loved my favorite bit: the singing credits.

Cool as Ice. White rapper Vanilla Ice’s only starring role. It’s a typical 1980s musical plot—he’s from the rap world, everyone else is too stiff and proper to appreciate how he is “from the streets” and thus “authentic.” In the end, he proves himself to the girl and her father and defeats the bad guys. Oh, spoiler alert. Sorry about that. Aside from the ridiculous hair, he’s a handsome guy but it’s hard to tell if he has any acting talent. If you’re a gigantic Vanilla Ice fan, well I’m sorry to hear that, but this movie is definitely one you should see. Otherwise, he plays a colossal self-centered jerk—in other words, he could easily be the villain in another 80’s musical. I honestly don’t remember the crowd’s reaction, except that they found Ice’s attire and coiffure as ridiculous as I did.

Next up was some dumb black and white film with dirty hippies in it. This one stopped after a few seconds, and there was much rejoicing.

Mighty Peking Man. The last offering this year was a pretty decent King Kong knock off from Korea. It hit all the proper tropes and had an adorable jungle woman in it. Nicely done effects, though the attempted rape scene was pretty unpleasant and set Liz off on a rant about how all men are evil, etc. I’m glad there were no sharp objects around.

After that was the post-event party and Paul and Holly’s house. I had a couple of shots of something called “Kraken” and I don’t remember any of the rest of the evening. I’m sure I was witty, charming, profound and insightful, however, as Ken and I were up until nearly 3:30 AM talking about films of all stripes.

Sunday

After an enormous breakfast, we all returned to Paul and Holly’s and watched the jaw-droppingly amateurish Birdemic – Shock and Terror (to give it its full title). The special effects in this one would have fit right into The Fat Spy. In fact, watching those rockin’ teens get dive-bombed by falcons would have been a highlight, especially occurring as unexpectedly as it did in Birdemic – Shock and Terror. The guy who made the film is doing a sequel (in 3D), so maybe they’ll be rockin’ teens this time.

After that, off to the airport where Chicago security proved to be not quite the ordeal I was expecting. I slept briefly on the plane and when I got back, decided to watch Army of Darkness as a fitting cap to the experience.

With any luck, and a kind economy, I will endeavor to be back next year.

B-Fest 2010: The Motion Picture

B-Fest, Day 1 —

Well, it’s about 2:30 or so, and I’m sitting in the airport awaiting my 4:40 flight to Chicago, home of B-Fest (among other things). After years of reading about B-Fest, yes, I’m actually going, which means that buying the ticket and airfare actually meant something. This weekend will probably be the highlight of the year. (Yes, it’s only January. Same old me.)

The weather in Western North Carolina was gorgeous–probably 50s or so. I drove to the airport in short sleeves but brought along a heavy coat I knew I’d need.

The flight was decent. A couple of hours on a small plane goes down smooth thanks to Kindle. The view through the clouds, at times, made me wish I could have brought a canvas and paints—white cottony clouds hovering over snow-covered squares of farm. How come I’m always inspired when I can’t do anything about it? Descending into Chicago around 5, the city was a grid of orange lights that stretched on endlessly, punctuated with the odd dark expanse of trees, carefully squared.

At the airport, I was met at the airport by Jeff W, who took me to Ken B’s place. Ken’s place is like a treasure trove of DVDs ‘n’ stuff. Also with Ken were Andrew B (of Badmovies.org) and Joe B (of the sadly dormant Opposable Thumbs Films). While everyone I met was a terrific person, I have to admit it was a treat meeting Andrew, as I’ve been reading his site as long as I have Jabootu’s.

We all drove out then, first so that Jeff could buy a knife. Okay, I thought, I had no idea weapons would be needed–and I didn’t bring any! What would I do? Perhaps I would use my rapier-like wit! (Though I’m sure a rapier-like rapier would be better.) In the parking lot, there was a KAZANGO twixt a van and a two-door which the security guy ignored as long as he could. Drama!

After witnessing this tableau commenting silently on something pretentious, we wended our way to Jameson’s Charhouse for dinner and conversation, as well as meeting up with Tim and Julie, and Paul and Holly. A large social gathering? How did I survive? I don’t remember the answer to that, but I must have because I’m still here.

Paul and Holly were putting me up for the duration and a nicer couple you couldn’t meet. Spent the evening in conversation (raccoons, statistics, etc—you know the sort of thing). Slept fairly well, though the time change threw me off a bit and I had a couple of weird dreams, which I felt compelled to confirm were just dreams the next day (“I didn’t? Oh good…”).

B-Fest, Day 2 –

The day began with Ken, Andrew, Jeff, Joe, Holly and myself breakfasting (not break dancing) at the L& L diner, a B-Fest tradition. Excellent food, outstanding service. Ken warned us that we should clean our plates (of food) or there would be trouble. No one wanted trouble, so plates were cleaned!

More shopping ensued, as some sandwiches and groceries were required. Many of us waited in the van. In fact, we waited so long that the shoppers returned to find a trio of moldering skeletons! Actually, I’m just kidding about that.

Shopping completed, we returned to Ken’s World of More DVDs Than I Have (But Just Barely) and started packing up the snacks in preparation for the long B-Fest ahead. I tried to make myself useful, but perhaps was most useful in illustrating V.I. Lenin’s phrase, “useful idiots.” I happened to note a video of the wonderful Giant Claw and Ken, gentleman and scholar, said, “Take it,” Holy moley! I was now the proud owner of The Giant Claw! It was like being given a brain by the wizard!

Next, we went to another B-Fest tradition, Superdawg. Very good hotdogs, and then everyone gathered in a semi-circle with Ken in the center and talked movies. More folks were introduced but I fear my inadequate brain capacity has lost their identities. Sorry!

Then we drove to the theatre and started unpacking the plethora of snacks. We mapped out the Jabootu seats and claimed them against the world entire, I picked up my ticket (and learned where the bathrooms were) and we sat down to wait until 6 PM, when everything would commence. More folks were introduced, including The Well-Known Liz and her husband Charles, friend Ian, and friend Sally. And there was much visiting. Due to some odd defect in my hearing, whenever a lot of people are talking simultaneously, the sound tends to turn to a kind of dull roar; hence I didn’t participate as much as I coulda.

THE FILMS

Crippled Masters (1979)
Technical difficulties prevented the start of this for a while. For the most part, the action and plot made this a typical dubbed kung fu movie—but with the distinction that its two stars are actual cripples, armless and legless respectively. Lots of fights (with “Kill that paper bag!” sound effects) and training stuff, and a story that didn’t really matter–evil guy does evil, etc. For some reason, the bad guy’s hunchback gives a loud CLANK whenever punched or kicked, which is never explained–perhaps left for a sequel. Kind a kung fu X-Men (or ecch men, given the circs), complete with bald mentor.

Heartbeeps. (1981)
The announcement of this sent Andrew B into a murderous rage–justifiably, as it turned out. A largely static robot love story, it was also largely dull and predictable. The germ of a good idea was there, but it was quickly stepped on and crushed in a landslide of bad ideas badly executed. The sound level was set very low, but the dialogue was easily guessable if one were so inclined. Liz pointed out the various cute animals, and it did have Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov and Nigel Tufnel, but since they were all wasted there were no bonus points to be had. It’s hard to imagine this going through all the stages of getting made–except through inertia past the “oh crap, we’ve spent too much already” stage, or someone losing a bet.

Gymkata (1985)
This was a pretty well made variant on the martial arts “Survive the game” thing, the twist being that the kung fu here is gymnastics-based. The major failing here is the acting, bland and wooden (star Kurt Thomas, looking disconcertingly like a very young Mark Hamill) or rather broad and hammy (whoever played the king). Also, we’re never told anything about the other contestants, so we can’t care much when they’re killed. Oops, guess that’s a spoiler. One of them is a real meany, though, so we’re glad when he’s killed. Damn, another spoiler. Sorry. Also, how come a walled city full of crazy people with weapons haven’t killed each other off?

Next was the raffle, where a bunch of DVDs were won by various. There was also a laserdisk which I almost won by default. (Laserdisks are like cats: I love them, but don’t need another one. Also, they fight.) I didn’t buy a raffle ticket so, while admiring the bizarre prizes, I spent the time catching up on these notes.

One Froggy Evening (1955)
Classic cartoon from Chuck Jones. The man really could tell a (Michael Maltese) story very effectively with pretty much nothing but pictures.

Wizard of Speed and Time. (1979)
The first of the B-Fest perennials, accompanied by lots of feet waving in the air. Shown backwards and upside down—let’s see those DVDs try that! Ha ha ha, DVD losers. Speaking of losers, there was some lost car keys excitement! “Someone won a car!” was yelled out, and that was amusing.

Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959)
Another B-Fest perennial and the first film of the evening (not counting the shorts) that I’ve seen before. Very funny stage presentation, “What is Solarmanite?” which would be cool to have as a PDF. The story is too well known to comment on, other than this: the saucers survive an army attack because they have force shields. Couldn’t they shield us from the universe to prevent ragnorak? Also, since Eros’ ship was destroyed by stupid, stupid, stupid humans, shouldn’t we have been destroyed by the rest of the aliens afterwards? There are still two more ships after all, and, budget cuts or not, the fate of the universe is involved…

Ego Trap (?)
Another short cartoon told entirely through facial expression. I got a laugh when I yelled out “Too soon!” at the end. A fun cartoon though kind of too pink. Reminded me of the DePatie-Freling cartoons but a lack of credits precluded my triumphal, um, being-right-ness. Also, IMDB seems to know nothing about this film. It might have been “Ego Trip” but I’m pretty sure not. Oh well.

The Room (2003)
Another one I’ve never seen. With good reason, as it turns out; thank goodness I was spared this terribleness ‘til now. A vanity project by one Tommy Wiseau, who serves as writer, director, producer, executive producer and star, this is a long, pointless, endless movie about unlikable idiots. Some good audience participation (at least, better than what was on screen), but otherwise such a disjointed mess–scenes seem to appear in non-chronological order, but, surely NO footage could be discarded–that it gets my vote as “Dr. Least Fun” of B-Fest 2010. Johnny, you were such a saint, and everyone betrayed you! Also, despite the title, many rooms (and a rooftop) were involved.

Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)
Really, you can’t argue with breasts. Decent late night cable-type soft-core entry with good-looking women (who didn’t hesitate to get naked), great explosions and some blood. Not the sort of thing I’d seek out (or see twice) but fun, lively and it didn’t drag. The “let’s stop the story for nudity” bit made plot advancements seem little less compelling to the characters than I figured they ought to, but this film wasn’t made for the plot. I did appreciate that they took pains to explain why the characters couldn’t go to the police for help. I took my first bathroom break here, when a sports interviewer was quizzing Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson (not his real name). Got back to the theatre as the scene was ending, which I figured was worth a point or two in my favor. Oh, a huge plastic snake occasionally figured in the action (of the film). Enjoyable and the best entry so far.

Black Shampoo (1976)
I’ve never been a fan of blaxploitation, though I respect the opinions of those who are. This one has a twist in that the hero is not a gangster, pimp or vigilante but a hairdresser. All his (female) clients are more interested in sex than styling, so that element remains. A fair bit of nudity and a funky score overcome the predictability of the story and the unhurried pace (courtesty the 70’s and director Greydon Clark). Interestingly, race never really plays a part and the hero’s fellow salon members (flamboyantly gay) are the most fun characters.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)
I’d seen this one, once, a few years back and while I could appreciate it, it didn’t really rock me. I liked it quite a bit more the second time because I was aware of its stuffed nature. I still think the film is oversaturated with plot elements, and the fact that reels one and two were switched and no one noticed story holes is pretty telling. Still, it’s fun and impossible to mock.

Troll 2 (1990)
I’d seen this one just recently and it still holds up as bad, but “The Room” kind of kills any standard of bad-movie-judgment. Deborah Reed chews so much scenery that, were she teamed with John “Jaffar” Steiner, the two might tear a hole in reality itself. Great how the ghost guy pretty much does everything, because the kid star’s only real talent seemed to be super-whining and looking like someone had just kicked his Sleeping Beauty bobble-heads.

Live It Up! (1963)
Another one I’ve not seen, and the oldest non-perennial film thus far. A rags-to-riches rock & roll story with the usual problems (OMG I lost the tape) and many musical numbers. I’m probably exhausted but I found a lot of the British slang impenetrable, though the clichés made the story easy enough to follow. Still, an okay entry that didn’t overstay its welcome.

Fiend without a Face (1958)
The oldest film so far, and for my money, the best thing seen at B-Fest 2010. Invisible creatures suck brains from unsuspecting victims–and no, it’s not a political allegory. The film itself is taut and well-made, but the stop-motion knocks this one out of the park. B-Fest 2010’s Reigning Champ.

Sextette (1978)
Another vanity project, though not as awful as The Room. Had this been made in the 1930’s it would probably be high in Mae West’s filmography, without a single change in dialogue or plot machinations. Sadly, time marches on and Mae West, over 80 at the time, was just not as daring as she was forty years earlier. This was the second film that sent Andrew raving, howling for death with such power and fervor that I was tempted. But really, I just found it more sad than bad. Everyone has a sad, unsupportable delusion or two (“I am a hot mama”), but few have theirs open in theatres throughout the world.

War of the Robots (1978)
Desiring another bathroom break (the caffeine was catching up), I was glad to see this title because I was pretty sure I’d seen the film. However, panic set in during the first few minutes as nothing looked familiar. Was this something I had not seen, or had my previous viewing been really veiled by alcohol? The air of the familiar still hung over the production, and I did start to recognize some characters, so I decided not to cap my first B-Fest with a visit to the hospital for a burst bladder. This film went on for so long that I had to take another break, and did so during the climactic and dull space battle, figuring the film would be over when I got back. But no, there was at least another ten or fifteen minutes of repetition to go. This film won 2nd most bad from me, and most of the audience adjudged it Worst Film 2010.

The Giant Claw (1957)
If not for the ludicrous appearance of the title menace, this would probably be remembered as a formulaic but decent entry in the giant monster genre. But really, even if the model had been frightening in a good way, what can you do with a giant bird? The monster is seen as terrifying the entire country, but it’s just one bird. (I know Larry Cohen’s Q does the same, but he wisely confines the creature to one city.) The design of the bird notwithstanding, the team that built it obviously took time to make some nice touches, like the flaring nostrils. (Yeah, I know, bird nostrils don’t work like that, but this is a bird from space.) A good film with which to conclude B-Fest 2010.

And with B-Fest concluded, Liz and I took pride that neither one of us had fallen asleep through the entire length of the festival. The snacks and drinks were duly packed up, trash gathered, cars loaded, and souls taken to Paul and Holly’s house for the post B-Fest party.

At this point, I was pretty much running on fumes, but the conversations were wonderful. Ken, Ian, Liz and myself got a long discussion running on animal actors, the Alien films, James Cameron, which somehow mutated into philosophic, religious and political themes, and the place of the individual in the society in which he finds himself. I can’t recall any of my contributions but I suspect they consisted largely of pauses or interruptions.

Day 3 –

After a handful of hours of sleep (I apologize again to Sally for my snoring), the gang reassembled and Andrew made an incredible breakfast of omelets and pancakes. Should he ever leave the Marine Corps, he should open a restaurant. I was packed up and bundled off to the airport for my 1:40 flight home. Upon landing, I was greeted by the mounds of snow that had mercifully missed Chicago and headed southward instead.

I carefully removed my car’s new exoskeleton and headed home over the (fortunately) clear streets. I greeted my complaining cat and thought a quick nap would be nice…awakening some four hours later, I figured I should tidy up these notes and get them ready for posting. And here they are. A fine B-Fest concluded, I hope that I will attend again next year.

UPDATE: I knew I’d gotten some names wrong, thanks to Ken for the corrections.

We’re on the eve of B-Fest

So, after reading about B-Fest for years and years and thinking, “Boy, I wish I coulda been there!” I’m actually going to go tomorrow. So who knows? In a few days, when you read all the various participants’ diaries of films and moments, mine might be right in there with the rest of them.

I’m thinking, awesome.

Some recent sightings

Well, while I pause in the midst of more graphic creations, I’ve been seeing some pretty good films lately, what with all this spare time. As a super-special ultra mega bonus, all of the movies I’ve seen in the past two days were good ones!

Coraline I thought was very well done, nicely imaginative, though to be honest stuff by Neil Gaiman seems to be awfully one-note. It gets fairly close to the level of Henry Selick’s best known film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, though there seem to be quite a bit of bravura technically excellent stuff for its own sake.

I think Donnie Darko is one of those films that’s going to affect you based on your own identification with the title character, and I think further that folks will either love it or hate it. I loved it. I finally saw the “director’s cut” and, while almost all director’s cuts leave me cold, this one seemed to add to the story without making it overstay its welcome.

I’d never seen Groundhog Day before recently, and it lives up to its reputation. It’s rare when a comedy is both this funny and this profound. And I’ve never seen Bill Murray as good as this.

About midway through Let The Right One In, I was thinking this was the best vampire movie since Fright Night. When it was over, I thought that judgment way too limited. This is just a great film all around. Highly recommended, though if you’re squeamish it does get gruesome at times.

I first saw The Princess Bride in the theatre way back when. There’s nothing profound about this one, but it’s so well constructed and damned funny. Still holds up today.

So, what have you guys seen recently that looked, sounded and thought good?

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Knight…

So I went to see The Dark Knight last Sunday.   As always, whenever I see a film, I put all preconceptions behind me and simply watch the movie for what it has to offer.  Whether others think the film is good or bad is immaterial to me; it’s the movie that counts.

And I can say that The Dark Knight is a very good movie.  A very, very good movie.  There are flaws to be sure, but every movie has those, and on balance they don’t detract from the overall experience of The Dark Knight.  So if you haven’t already seen it, I recommend you do so.

So yes, it’s very good.   As to whether or not I “like” it, I’m finding it hard to say.  “Like” or “dislike” don’t really enter into the equation, since the movie basically kept me at arm’s length throughout.  “Liking” or “disliking” are things that I do when I’m caught up in a story with characters I care about.  Watching The Dark Knight didn’t give me that experience.  It was more like watching a sporting event–I admired the skill, precision and efficiency that went into this film.  The planning, the time and effort spent toward making everything work was evident.  It left me extremely impressed, but otherwise cold.

I had the exact same reaction to Batman Begins.  Very well put together, admirable for wanting to do things right, but never firing anything inside me that brought me into the story.  I never felt that I, personally, had a stake in any of the characters, that I could put myself into their shoes or that their fates could be my own–in much the same way that, watching a basketball game, I don’t feel that I can identify with the players on a personal level (for one thing, I’m a lousy athlete). 

Because I felt kept from really identifying myself with the characters, the flaws in the movie started nagging at me almost immediately.  For one thing, it’s simply too long.  I can think of at least two sequences that could have been dropped altogether–the bit with the accountant who wants to reveal Batman’s identity, and the final hostage situation in the abandoned building.  I’m pretty sure the Hong Kong sequence could have been eliminated, too.  But that’s irrelevant; while too long, the movie never feels too long.  I just felt it would have been much more effective if there was more focus to the story, and perhaps some of that time could have been used to shore up other elements.  One of which was the Joker.

Now, before you break out the pitchforks and torches, let me first say this:  Heath Ledger did an outstanding job, and the character was gruesomely fascinating.  As has been said elsewhere, when the Joker is on the screen, you can’t look away.  When he’s somewhere else, the movie starts to drag (just a little). 

No, the problem that I had with the Joker was that he was way too much of a deux ex machina.   His access to whatever material, locations or personnel he required was almost magical; he could literally do anything, in an incredibly short time-frame.  As an example, with the accountant sequence mentioned above, he had a massive counter-plan in place in a couple of hours or so.  No one could stop him, or even delay him for long.  His planning, and execution of those plans, went off without a hitch each and every time.  He knew the psychology of everyone in the city.  So who the heck is this guy?  Where’d he come from?  Why does he wear the makeup, since (unlike the traditional Joker) he doesn’t seem to need it?

We don’t know.  That, of course, makes him more frightening–he’s a true unknown, like Blue Velvet‘s Frank Booth.  But Frank Booth was believable; he didn’t run an entire city, he was a loathsome thug.  The Joker, for me, was far too much of an enigma.  In my mind, the lack of limitations diminished him.  There was no way for an ordinary person to escape, so again to my mind, there’s no point in trying to escape.  If he wanted you dead, you were dead, and that’s that.  He wasn’t so much a criminal psychopath as a natural force, like gravity.  It’s as if the universe created him because Batman needed a foe on such a level.  As a result, I found him a little unbelievable in a film that strives for believability.   (And I have to note that I especially didn’t believe what he told Harvey Dent, about how he was just a mad dog without a plan.  And I think the fact that Dent bought that argument made him a weaker character.)

It can be argued that Batman is similarly gifted, though he aims toward better ends.  But we see the infrastructure behind Batman; how he gets his resources, how he makes use of them.  The Joker simply shows up with everything neatly checked off and ready to go.  

So, instead of “like” or “dislike,” I’ll say this:  I admire The Dark Knight.  I admire its purity.  Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility, and make no mistake: this is one hostile film, both for the characters and the audience.  It’s dark, dark, dark and uncompromising. 

If it sounds like I’m slamming the film, I’m not.  I had a great time seeing it, and I think it’s a film well worth watching in a theatre.  It’s just that, for me at least, it comes up a little short against the Refrigerator, and I wanted the good parts to overcome the troublesome parts.

But just so we’re clear, here:  highly, highly recommended.

Cloverfield

So, as mentioned in the previous entry, I bought a ticket for Cloverfield a week or so ago (Fandango = cool).  And last night I sat in the theatre (which was nearly empty.  Sunday night showings = cool).   In accordance with what I’d heard about motion-sickness, I was at the far edge of the first third of the theatre, seating-wise.

The short version is, I liked it.

As I’ve said to many tedious degrees, I was worried about the quality of this film for one reason only–the release date.  What studio in its right mind releases a film in the middle of January?  Mid-January is dumping time, when those films that won’t win awards or set fire to the box office are released to wrestle over the tiny post-holiday scraps that folks still have in their wallets.  Maybe the success of this film–$41 million opening weekend–will change that; it would be nice to have an entire year to look forward to, rather than the obvious highs (Summer, pre-Christmas) that the studios typically target.

In a sense, I can see the “logic” of the studio’s thinking.  Here’s a film that’s very low-budget–around $30 million–with no stars and no big names behind the camera, other than co-producer J.J. Abrams.  They had little to lose, again by their logic, by releasing it when the competition would be somewhat sparse and uninspired.  What they didn’t count on, I think, was the incredibly clever marketing that really pushed the film into the public eye.  The advertising for the film seemed designed to intrigue, rather than mystify or annoy, and it avoided the “sure fire” gimmicky nature of, say, Snakes on a Plane.  I knew I wanted to see this film.

As for the film itself…

As everyone no doubt knows by now, the film borrows a page from The Blair Witch Project, in that all the footage seen comes from a singe camcorder wielded by the actual characters, rather than a separate director of photography.   This lends a huge amount of verisimilitude to the story, as well as a certain level of frustration at the lack of “professional” choice.   A number of times, I kept wishing the cameraman would focus on something he’d rapidly panned past (What was that?), rather than the faces of his friends or whatever random image he chose instead.  Still, this is his documentation of what’s happening to him and his friends so his choices were understandable.  Admittedly, like the Blair Witch “film students,” we simultaneously have to admire the willingness of our amateur cameraman to keep shooting, despite the chaos and death all around–long past the point, in other words, when you and I would have tossed the camera aside in order to concentrate on gettin’ our feets a movin’.  But I certainly wouldn’t have minded a little more footage of the monster.

But don’t worry; the monster gets enough screentime, and he’s entirely satisfying.  Because he’s almost always in motion, lurching between (and through) buildings, it’s hard to get a good grasp of exactly what he looks like, but there are a number of good shots of him.  And if you’ve seen the film, you know there’s one extremely good look at his face, from the worst possible vantage point of one of our heroes.

So, yes, I liked it, and I’m glad to see someone was able to wring another variant of the Blair Witch system.  It makes me think that there still are some creative minds in Hollywood who can see the possibilities inherent in an idea that, at first blush, seems unrepeatable.   More fool me for thinking it could not be so.  What’s nice is that there’s a lot less “idiot plot” than there was in Blair Witch; yes, there is an extremely questionable decision made, but the reasons given are valid.  No one acts like an idiot because the movie would be over otherwise.  (There are also some definite echoes of Blair Witch–I’m thinking particularly of a pair of shots toward the end.  You’ll recognize them.)

There are also, apparently, a number of little things that happen to the side of the image at important moments–not necessarily plot points, but things to think about.  I missed one of them (in the final shot) but caught a number of others.  What’s interesting is that these things are tossed in more as food for thought, as a way to keep the story open-ended, than as story elements, though they contribute as well.  It’s up to the viewer, then, to watch the camcorder footage and try to decide what to focus on, much as our heroes had to do.   This is definitely something I’ll want to watch again when it makes its way to home video, if for no other reason than to place all the puzzle pieces into a “narrative.” 

But even if you just want to watch a movie and not worry about puzzles and pieces, it’s still a pretty good film, and a very good addition to the “giant monster” genre.  One of the best of those, in fact, if for no other reason than “camp” is conspicuous by its absence.

Highly recommended.