SXSW Chronicles: Big Ass Spider!

Out of Order didn’t want to take this one off my hands. Here you are, Internet!

It will help you imagine the rest of the movie if I tell you that those helicopters have no missiles and just hover there until the spider crushes them.


 “It’s a B movie,” they said. “Don’t expect too much,” they said. “Have a few drinks first,” they said.

 I tried to listen, except for the part about the drinks, but the trouble with Big Ass Spider! wasn’t expecting too much, but expecting anything at all, save the monster promised in the title.

There is a spider. It is big ass, big-ass, bigass, however you spell it.

There are also some human characters, two of whom are funny. One of those never appears after the first scene, which is clever and promising and in no way representative of the rest of the film. Instead, we get a stock parade of gruff general, pretty no-nonsense girl soldier, non-soldier girls with large breasts running away from things, grunts being sent into futile combat against an unkillable opponent, and a Hispanic janitor who is Hispanic.

I’d like to comment briefly on the grunts. Even in a horror comedy, it feels a little insulting to tell us that the Army’s main strategy in dealing with an eight-legged monster with tank-like armor is to throw out foot soldiers without a single rocket launcher between them. Director Mike Mendez’s attempt to inject some military pathos into the script later on falls even flatter than it should have following the abject and inexplicable massacre of so many helpless men. Soldiers are massacred all the time on film, of course, but even Transformers at least takes them seriously.

Anyway, sorry for the interlude, but it’s the only non-surface thing I could think to say about the flim. Props to Mike Mendez for making his vision reality without much of a budget, but writing a good screenplay costs exactly as much as writing a bad screenplay, and he took the low road. There are no surprises, precious few laugh lines, and no real logic in any aspect of the growing-spider situation (compared to Cloverfield or Aliens or even most bad modern monster movies). The spider looks okay, but is more in-your-face powerful than frightening after it molts into its first big-ass form. (There are many different forms, and we hear about them in absurd detail.)

Some say there’s an audience for any movie. I honestly do not think anyone reading this review would enjoy Big Ass Spider! Please do something else with your time.

SXSW Chronicles: Moon Hooch

Though I went as a music journalist, at the tender age of 19, I had no hope of entering most of the clubs of Austin, Texas, at South by Southwest. Acts I would not see over the course of the festival include: Paul Oakenfold, the Crystal Method, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Autre Ne Veut, Deadmau5, and (this one broke my heart) Snoop Lion.

But that’s alright. Instead, I saw these guys:

I’d been taking 30-second videos of street performers up to this point, but found myself rooted in place, unable to move save to capture the reactions of various dancers. I’m far from a skilled videographer, but I think the crowd’s joy comes through. Austin’s reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World aside, most of the buskers I saw were competent instrumentalists, but without much flair for showmanship or a catchy repertoire (though there were other notable exceptions). Who’d have thought two saxophones and a drummer were the magic recipe for success?

Once the band finished their set, I turned to leave. I dropped my pen, however (I’d been taking notes), and when I rose from picking it up, I saw that some new musicians had entered the scene.

I don’t know what those white tubes are called, but these guys were clearly veterans. (I saw them playing on the streets, often with other musicians, three of the next four nights.) You might not be able to tell from the video, but that drummer is grinning ear-to-ear behind his hair. How often does one get the chance to improvise a jam with two skilled strangers who play the same instruments as your friends, when your friends are both saxophonists? I wish my audio had been better: you could feel the brass in your bones if you stood close enough, and the rhythm was even catchier in person.

Once the jam ended, the young drummer stood to shake hands with the veterans, and his bandmates joined him. I stuck around to watch the conversation. Couldn’t make out what was being said, and eventually left. Then, heard a riff from behind me. The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. It stopped. Then, another riff, this one perhaps even more familiar to my generation. I turned around and began recording.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure, “Thrift Shop”, as covered by four saxophones and one drum set.

I approached the drummer after the set to thank him for what was, after all’s said and done, one of the five best concerts I saw in my time at one of the world’s largest music festivals. He told me that his name was James Muschler, and that the band’s name was Moon Hooch. They met at the New School, a college in Manhattan, where James picked up a BA in jazz performance before bandmates Mike Wilbur and “Wenzl” McGowen left school with him to play full-time (Mike and Wenzl also graduated, though I’m not sure if they were performance majors). Though they started out as buskers in subway stations, they were discovered by solo artist Mike Doughty and found themselves “playing above ground” and even opening for bands like Lotus and They Might Be Giants.

Wait, They Might Be Giants? Then what are you doing out here?

James ignores the question’s rudeness and gives me a straight answer, plus a big winning smile: “We started out on the streets. And now we’re bringing our music back to the streets.” Handshakes all around.

In short: These guys are wonderful. I just bought their album on Bandcamp. If you like funky dance music with a good story behind it, you’d be well-advised to do the same.