Thirtieth Case Science Fiction Marathon - Friday, January 14th, 2005 at

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Awake In The Dark
What you're watching these days on the Big Screen and the Small Screen.

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Old January 13th, 2005, 01:12 PM   #1
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Thirtieth Case Science Fiction Marathon - Friday, January 14th, 2005

My favorite annual event in Cleveland. If you've never been, I can tell you it's quite an experience. It's like living inside of an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 for 36 hours: hilarious, grueling, mysterious, enthralling, taxing, illuminating, engulfing, and, when it's all over, simultaneously exhausting and energizing.
All the best,
Robert K S

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Old January 18th, 2005, 05:05 AM   #2
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How was it this year?

Rob Lohman,
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Old January 18th, 2005, 09:14 AM   #3
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Prior to the start of Marathon XXX, 18 Marathon veterans were honored for having attended 25 or more out of the last 30 years. The award ceremony music from STAR WARS blared over the speakers as the Marathon's director Brooke Scheppe garnished--er, adorned the old-timers with star medallions, certifying their seniority in geekhood.

Cartoon short: Rockabye Legend (1955)
Chilly Willie the penguin repeatedly got a fish-stealing polar bear in trouble with a vicious-but-narcoleptic guard dog; the polar bear quickly became an expert at singing canine-pleasing lullybyes.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The Marathon seems to enjoy kicking off with a fairly recent disaster-oriented flick with hissable villains and suspect technobabble to get the ball rolling. Two years ago it was the Burton remake of Planet of the Apes; last year it was The Core. The Day After Tomorrow fits well into this footprint, with a Dick Cheneyesque Vice President whose contemptible combination of ignorance and arrogance provide a serviceable foil to meterologist Dennis Quaid's warnings about the impending global superstorm. The customary shouts of "Jump her!" when pretty but fragile Emmy Rossum hit the screen were tempered over previous years; I think the guy who always used to take the lead in yelling it wasn't here this year. Somebody on the ball hushed the general chatter so that nobody missed the line that would send the house roaring:
"Nonsense," Dennis Quaid says to his wannabe navigator before setting out on the cross-country hiking trek through the Ice Age-inducing snowstorm. "With your skills we'll probably end up in Cleveland."

Cartoon short: Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)
In the first reel, "Most Remarkable Fellow" Sindbad, looking a lot like Bluto with a bandana, introduced us by way of a bombastic musical number to his fantastic island populated with conquered monsters; in the second reel, when Sindbad found out he had competition in Popeye for the position of World's Greatest Sailor, he sent his giant condor to wreck Popeye's ship and (of course) kidnap Olive Oyl. After forcing Popeye vanquish Sindbad's islandful of oddities one by ugly one, Sindbad and Popeye went mano a mano, Popeye not gaining the upper edge until he remembered his daily dose of vitamin spinach. Notable for its photoreal 3D scrolling backgrounds of canyons and caverns, produced by shooting lit miniature sets in Technicolor and then animating Popeye and co. on top.

Alien (1979)
The thrills and chills and even the groundbreaking special effects seemed tame and dated in the Ridley Scott classic, but shouts of recognition when the android Ash made his appearance--"Bilbo!"--made seeing this one again worthwhile, even if we were stuck with the "print from hell," thoroughly scratched in every direction and frought with obvious splices. I know there are brand new prints of this out there; why didn't we get one of those?

Cartoon short: The Vanishing Duck (1958)
The obscure Hanna-Barbera character "Little Quacker" joined the Tom & Jerry Household when he was brought home as a present to sing rounds of "Good Morning to You" like a broken record on helium. Pleasingly, Tom ate him in short order. "THE END," somebody in the audience shouted out. But the duck rolled up Tom's eye like a window blind and proceeded to show Jerry the secret of the Vanishing Cream by which the two of them could invisibly torment their tormentor. (Foreshadowing of The Invisible Man later in the schedule?) Tom eavesdropped the secret out of Little Quacker, though, and soon became invisible himself. The cartoon never explored the possibility for hilarity when all parties became invisible. Maybe it's because the audience would just have to constantly guess at what they were supposed to be seeing.

Surprise I
Mom and Dad Save the World (1991)
Veterans of the Marathon know that Surprise I is, by way of tradition, a big stink bomb, the type of movie regular people describe as "worst movie ever" and the deranged call "my favorite." For example, previous years held for this slot the likes of Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster, Tank Girl, Making Mr. Right, Howard the Duck, or Battlestar Galactica. I actually recall wanting to see this movie when it was being advertised on TV in its original release; I think I was 10 at the time. How glad am I that I didn't waste my money! Not worth it for Jon Lovitz's Emperor Spengo and his many absurd renderings in sculpture; not worth it for the too-short cameos by Eric Idle and Wallace "Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line!" Shawn; not worth it even for Jeffrey Jones's 90 minutes worth of clumsy pratfalls. What was the problem? Could a print of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey not be secured?

Cartoon short: Ub Iwerks's Skeleton Frolics (1937) in Technicolor.
When the title card came up, I thought this was going to be the classic original The Skeleton Dance, but it turned out to be a less-captivating remake in which the skeletons play musical instruments, swap heads, etc. one night in a graveyard. The original, produced by Iwerks 8 years earlier, was in black & white; this one was produced not by Disney but rather by Columbia. Still, could there be a more perfect lead in to...

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001)
I was more excited to see this one on the schedule than for any of the others; I'd wanted to see it ever since hearing about its acquisition by Sony a year ago. The magic of the Marathon is that the worst movies have the potential to be the most enjoyable; this intentionally dense spoof of '50s cheapy-creepy B-movies was the source of an endlessly reusable array of quotables that were to last the rest of the marathon, including:
"Betty, you know what this meteor could mean to science. It could mean actual advances in the field of science."
"Nothing I can put my finger on. Not something I can see or touch or feel. But something I can't quite see or touch or feel or put my finger on."
"I sleep now."
"Tip, tip, tip, tip, tip."
The movie also contributes greatly to the scifi lexicon by adding a new element to the periodic table: atmosphereum. Or perhaps atmosphereum doesn't differ all that much from Aludium Phozdex, the shaving cream atom, sought by Daffy Duck in...

Cartoon short: Duck Dodgers in the 24th and ˝ Century (1953)
Few classic cartoons are as beloved to the scifi set as this one, which features Marvin Martian back when he was still known as Commander X-2.
Duck Dodgers: Hah! Got the drop on you with my disintegrating pistol! And brother, when it disintegrates, it disintegrates.
[Dodgers squeezes the trigger and the gun crumbles and falls away into bits.]
Duck Dodgers: Well, whaddaya know... heh... it disintegrated!
All the best,
Robert K S

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Old January 18th, 2005, 09:16 AM   #4
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War of the Worlds (1953)
I remember watching this, the George Pal original, as a kid, and being stumped as to why this empty film was ever revered. Nothing happens. The aliens show up, they blast the heck out of stuff, they die. This movie seems to have set the standard for an entire generation of plotless disaster films. Will the Tom Cruise/Steven Speilberg remake add some stamp of newness to this tired story? Or will it be another A.I.? (aka "I see dead robots!")
I got to cheer when Ann Robinson's damsel-in-distress character Sylvia Van Buren had a line: "I teach library science over at USC."

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Nobody I meet seems to agree which film is worse, this one or the one that succeeded it, Nemesis. Either way, the legendary even-odd rule for Star Trek movies seems to have been obliterated with the release of these two back-to-back stinkers. Having seen it before, I sat most of this one out, preferring to get an early start on the delivery of bagels while they were still warm, and chat with folks out in the auditorium lobby.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
I'd heard about this film for a long time, probably mostly from AICN's Harry Knowles, but I never realized until seeing it how mistitled it was. In a work of cross-marketing genius, Larry Talbot (aka The Wolfman), portrayed by the role's creator Lon Chaney Jr., warns comedy duo Bud & Lou (as train station delivery boys) not to deliver a pair of crates containing the coffin-packed Dracula (reprised by Bela Lugosi for the first time since the original film, 17 years earlier) and the Frankenstein monster. But the packages do get delivered to a creepy mansion where Costello later takes Abbot for a date--there's a love triangle subplot involving Costello's girlfriend (who turns out to be in league with Dracula in a plot to--oh, never mind) and a sprightly insurance investigator who's also got the hots for Costello. At the mansion, the pair search the dungeons for the monsters that Abbott insists are mere myth, hijinks ensue, and... well, I'm not quite sure what happens in the end, since I couldn't keep my eyes open by this point. Anybody want to fill me in?

Evilspeak (1981)
This schlockhorror flick was a last-minute subsitution that just happened to be on-hand when it was discovered that the box with the reels for the actual selection, Real Genius (1985), actually contained Amélie (2001), but it actually turned out to be great (read: a terrible stinker that gets elevated to exalted status by the bons mots of the Marathon audience). A scrawny military school misfit (Ron Howard's little brother Clint) summons the devil via an Apple IIe to enact his vengeance on his tormentors. Think Carrie meets The Exorcist meets Revenge of the Nerds. DATA INCOMPLETE... HUMAN BLOOD REQUIRED...

Planet of the Apes (1968)
I slept through it, but remember it well as part survival story, part courtroom drama that would serve as startling antidote to the superstitious boasting of any rightist religious faction. How can we in America still be having school board wars over "intelligent design" when this film is pushing 40?

Predator (1987)
If you can name another scifi action flick that features two, count 'em, two state governors, I'll give you $10. And if you haven't speculated about Surprise II yet--customarily a recent release--then get to it.

The Invisible Man (1933)
Claude Rains was the Invisible Man, but the Old Lady Who Dumps the Diamond Overboard and Croaks was his girl, and Gandolf directed them both. A charmer for its time, and it ends satisfactorily--but I found time to snooze through part of this one as well.

Surprise II
AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Noting that both Alien and Predator were to be shown was enough to guess at this one, wherein we learn that the Predator species taught humanity to build pyramids so that they could use humans as sacrificial Alien-hosts for their hunting pleasure. And when the going gets tough, the tough go nuclear, blowing the place to bits. Paper-thin characterization, flawed plotting, and a low running time make this one to-be-avoided. When there isn't even enough to make fun of, you know your bad sci-fi film doesn't make the cut.

Soylent Green (1973)
It's people! PEOPLE!

Repo Man (1984)
Somewhere near the end of the Marathon, the vaults offer up quite a find: amusing, enjoyable, perplexing, and perhaps mysterious. A film that you'd scarcely have had a chance at seeing elsewhere, and one whose age puts it into some distant bygone era, yet by the same token makes every theme and statement prescient. This early Emilio Estevez vehicle (sorry), written and directed by Liverpudlian Alex Cox (who also has a writing credit on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), was that movie this year. The soundtrack, which includes efforts by The Circle Jerks and The Untouchables (who also appear in the film), would be a worthwhile listen on its own.

Frequency (2000)
The Marathon must end with a crowd pleaser, one that brings the Marathon full circle. Frequency does both, returning Dennis Quaid to the Strosacker Auditorium screen as a doomed NYC fireman who helps his policeman son in the future to solve a string of serial murders over a ham radio that links a 30-year span of past and present via the northern lights. Huh? Yeah, as a science fiction or time travel movie, it's positively stupid, but just try to keep the tears from welling up in the final few minutes.






Surprise III (unscheduled--not officially part of the Marathon)
The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue (1981)
Children were excused from the room as this, an homage to both the Marathon's roman numeral and the Case Film Society's long-dead but fondly-recollected tradition of showing adult films, was screened. Watching erotica in a large group tends to be more comedically cathartic than arousing; watching a porn as painful and ugly as this one, superficially packaged in a sci-fi wrapper, in a room full of exhausted geeks turns out to be a laugh riot. All the best lines from the previous films came back: "It's people!"--"Science!"--"Tip tip tip tip tip"... The film featured an actress I'd met in real life (Annie Sprinkle, who once brought her lecture as Ph.D. sexologist/educator to USC) and, something rare for a porn movie, a love story with a (no pun intended) happy ending.
All the best,
Robert K S

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