9/28/07

Throw Me the Idol and I'll Throw You the Whip!

Welcome, won't you?

Two days of viewing, and I'm still not done with Episode III. Part of this has to do with limited viewing time and part of it's because George Lucas' idea of action is to have his main characters stand in a hallway and discuss politics for an hour. I've been watching just enough to chuckle at the commentary, and then I stop before I get to the point where the story makes me want to rip my eyes from their sockets.

Thankfully, next week's rifftrax is something I won't mind watching all in one sitting. On Tuesday, October second, Mike, Bill, and Kevin will do their best to enhance the viewing of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a relic from the ancient days when Lucasfilm still produced good movies. The Rifftrax crew is on a roll, it seems, as the next rifftrax after that will be announced on Wednesday October third.

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9/26/07

Episode III Rifftrax is Here, Next Rifftrax to be Announced Tomorrow.

Welcome, won't you?

The post title says it all, really. The Episode III Rifftrax is available for NTSC versions of the movie. A note on the product page says that a PAL version will be along shortly. Expect a review early next week.

I'll be back tomorrow afternoon after they announce the next Rifftrax movie.

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Episode III Rifftrax Still Coming Soon

Welcome, won't you?

According to the official Rifftrax forums, Episode III has been delayed due to "technical difficulties." (The Rifftrax for Episode III, that is. The movie itself could only be very kindly described as a "technical difficulty," but George Lucas already released it anyway.) They hope to release it today instead, but whether or not that actually happens probably depends on how quickly these issues can be resolved. Announcement of the next movie to recieve a Rifftrax has been delayed as well, until after the Episode III Rifftrax can be released.

I'll post more information as it becomes available.

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9/25/07

What Madness Drives Her?

Welcome, won't you?

My review of the supremely silly cavegirl fantasy Wild Women of Wongo has been posted. In other news, the Rifftrax for Episode III will be released today. Expect a review for that one within a week or so.

Enjoy!

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9/20/07

Cavegirls Gone Wild

Welcome, won't you?

Guess what finally showed up in my mailbox? I have high hopes for the Film Crew's latest release, The Wild Women of Wongo, because it looks rather goofy to begin with. I'll be watching it in the next couple of days (depending on whether or not my toddler's stuffy nose turns into a screaming nightime fit) and I'll post a review early next week.

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9/17/07

Episode III Confirmed as the Next Rifftrax

Welcome, won't you?

It's official: The next Rifftrax will be for Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, a whimsical, colorful SciFi children's movie that features spousal abuse and mass infanticide. (You gotta admit it--George Lucas has class.) The release date will be September 25, 2007. The Riffers will be Mike, Kevin, and Bill. I'll be getting it the day of release and listening to it with the movie about a half hour at a time to avoid Prequel Fatigue.

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Next Rifftrax...Maybe

Welcome, won't you?

Check out this Youtube video; a parody of something I haven't seen, but funny nonetheless. It's purported to have been made by Rifftrax staff, and indeed I found out because a moderator linked to it in the official Rifftrax forums, but no one at Rifftrax has officially confirmed or denied this. The announcement of the next Rifftrax is scheduled for later today, but if the video's real, then we'd better hunker down for another cinematic beating from George Lucas, a.k.a. Darth Tedious.

I'll post again when we know for sure.

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9/13/07

Caught Up At Last

Welcome, won't you?

A Rifftrax review for the superhero television series Heroes has been posted. So has the review for Independence Day, actually, but I forgot to post about it when I did it yesterday. So now I'm all caught up with Mr. Nelson. The next Rifftrax will be announced on Monday (September 17, 2007), and will probably be released another week or so after that. I will then post a review for it (whatever it turns out to be) within a few days.

Enjoy!

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9/11/07

Almost There...

Welcome, won't you?

Comments have been added to the last Rifftrax list and the Film Crew list. Placeholder posts and a new Rifftrax list have been added to the site as well. With the review for Independence Day coming tomorrow and Heroes on Thursday, I ought to be all caught up to Mr. Nelson's prolific Rifftrax output before the end of the week.

Enjoy!

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Rifftrax 039-048

R039 Independence Day

R040 Heroes

R041 Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

R042 Raiders of the Lost Ark

R043 Spider-Man

R044 Next

R045 Missile to the Moon

R046 Transformers

R047 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

R048 The "Star Wars" Holiday Special

Wow, I handed out a lot of praise in this section, with only three of the above scoring less than three and a half stars. Part of this certaintly has to do with my own personal tastes, which run more towards big silly CGI extravaganzas and away from Mike's beloved 80's cliche-fests. A large part, I think, is film selection; usually a Rifftrax is funnier when there's more on the screen to make fun of. And then it's also likely that Mr. Nelson and company are simply getting better.

We've got a Star Wars at each end of the quality spectrum here. My favorite of the above is The "Star Wars" Holiday Special; far and away the funniest thing they've ever done. The worst one is Episode III, which I could only watch in small doses. Transformers and Spiderman are both really good, and though several of the others rated higher, I recommend Missile to the Moon to anyone nostalgic for "the old days" since guest Fred Willard riffs a lot like Joel used to.

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R048 The "Star Wars" Holiday Special

(1978, Children/SciFi/Comedy/Musical/Television/Holiday, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

Well, there you go. It’s not every day that you see the stupidest thing you’ve ever seen.

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

Chewbacca runs an Imperial blockade to make it home in time for Life Day.

Summary:

A long time ago, in a pot-filled decade far, far away...This... this film? No. This movie? This television special? Not really. Um... This thing? This object. This unholy mess? Closer. This putrid, rotting bantha loin...with commercials?

I feel that’s as close as I’m going to get.

Anyway, the plot of this putrid, rotting bantha loin with commercials is that Chewbacca’s family—consisting of wife Malla, son Lumpy, and father Itchy—wait anxiously back on the wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk while Chewy (Peter Mayhew) and his friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) struggle to get past an Imperial blockade in time for Life Day.

While they’re waiting, they call various friends to check on Chewy’s progress, including Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), C3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2D2 (R2D2). Various “entertainments” are “enjoyed” while they wait, including holographic acrobats for Lumpy, a holographic prostitute for Itchy (Diahann Caroll, servicing him in the living room under a hair dryer for some reason), and a cooking show for Malla (starring Harvey Korman as a large, shiny woman with four arms). Most of the above takes place in the wookiee language with no subtitles. The some of the latter portion contains helpful translation by a disturbingly low-cut Art Carney.

Imperial storm troopers interrupt the “entertainments” to search the house for no explained reason. In the course of the search, one trooper finds a box that plays a Jefferson Starship Video. Lumpy distracts himself from the chaos with a cartoon that stars Boba Fett and a very strangely drawn Han Solo. At gunpoint, the Imperials force the family to watch a video of Bea Arthur singing at the Mos Eisley cantina. (Harvey Korman costars as a man who drinks through a hole in his head.) The Imperials wreck Lumpy’s room for some reason. Lumpy retaliates by repairing some sort of console (aided by an instructional video of a seizure-prone Harvey Korman) and transmits a signal that requires the Imperials to return to base.

Gronk, Gronk, Grooooonnnnnnk! (repeat for twelve uninterrupted minutes).The Imperials leave as ordered, leaving one behind to guard the family. This lone trooper discovers Lumpy’s console and smashes it, and tries to kill the wookiee child. Chewbacca and Han finally arrive just in time to prevent him. Despite the fact that everyone carries some kind of firearm, no one fires; the supremely clumsy trooper simply trips and falls from the wookiee tree house. Han bids them all a Happy Life Day and leaves.

Home at last, Chewy and his family celebrate Life Day with little globes that transport red-robed versions of themselves into space, through a star, and into some kind of mist-filled wookiee collective consciousness. (I think.) Han, Leia, Luke, C3PO, and R2D2 are all there too for some reason. Leia sings a very strange song while the camera focuses on Chewbacca’s expressionless face, and then everyone returns to the real world for dinner.

The interspersed commercials include tons of union propaganda, a hilarious Fruit-of-the-Loom spot, an extremely suggestive pantyhose ad, and Tobor. Quoth the announcer, “Tobor is Robot spelled backwards!”

I’ve probably screwed up the order a bit, but I don’t think I missed anything. You never know what my brain may have blotted out in self-defense, though.

Thoughts:

First off, this is the funniest Rifftrax recorded thus far. If, for some reason, you plan on watching only one Rifftrax in your life, then this is the one. For instructions on how to see it, please see this post.

It's about time someone made those shameless wookiees cover up.Caveat emptor: this is also the worst film, er, putrid, rotting bantha loin with commercials to receive the Rifftrax treatment thus far. It’s not just bad; it’s exuberantly bad. Every THC-saturated particle of effort put into its creation seems to have been absolutely focused on badness. If you’ve imagined an Ed Wood film with guest stars and a budget then you’ve started to understand, but you still haven’t gone far enough. A feature-length version of Mr. B Natural with all the supporting cast replaced by excrement-flinging apes and flamboyant, hirsute, cigar-smoking men in Little Bo Peep costumes would have been less of an affront to good taste. Did I mention it’s bad? Let me get that out of the way now. It’s bad.

Why? Why would you broadcast anything that features twelve uninterrupted minutes of animals growling at each other? Why does Itchy have that bizarre lower jaw that reaches higher than his nose? Why is that horny old wookiee turned on by human prostitutes, and why couldn’t he go enjoy his guilty little holographic pleasure in private? (For that matter, why did the makers of this...this putrid, rotting bantha loin with commercials feel the need to add a virtual hooker to a children’s variety show anyway?) Why do I need to see Art Carney’s cleavage? Why did they need to imply Harvey Korman’s cleavage? Why do storm troopers like Jefferson Starship, and why do they force people to watch Bea Arthur at gunpoint? Why is cartoon Han’s face melting? Oh, and here’s a hint for you, Mr. CBS-makers-of-putrid-rotting-bantha-loins-with-commercials. It’s the body language that makes a wookiee expressive. Why would you include so many extreme close-ups of these creatures when their immobile latex faces make them look dead? And what’s the deal with all those come-hither looks Leia keeps casting at Chewy during her final song? And what the hell does Life Day celebrate, anyway? Why? Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

At least half the reason that this...this you know turned out so hilarious is the ebullient, awful strangeness I’ve just described. But I have to give credit where it’s due: without the heroic efforts of Mike, Kevin, and Bill, this profane creation is so unspeakably horrible that most people not inured by rabid Star Wars fanboyhood die of internal hemorrhaging soon after viewing. Here’s a small sample of the commentary: During the opening holographic acrobats, Kevin says, “I’m going to get a letter in the mail tomorrow, explaining that I’m now legally gay.” During the Jefferson Starship video, Bill urges Mike to give in to the singers demands and “Set the sky on fire.” Mike tries, but has forgotten his matches. Bill then urges him to give in to the singers secondary demand, to “take [him] higher than the diamonds in the sky.” Mike replies that he is not licensed to do so. When an Imperial officer commands Lumpy to clean his room, Bill shouts, “Cower before Darth Baby Sitter!” When the camera refuses to move from Chewy near the end, Mike cries, “Ladies and gentlemen, Chewbacca’s lifeless stare!” At the very end, Kevin’s final comment is, “That was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Mulholland Drive backwards and underwater.” It’s by far the best riffing they’ve ever done, and considering the subject matter, it needed to be. So go watch it, already.

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R047 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

(2001, Children-Fantasy, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

I CAN HAZ WIZARD?

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

The eponymous orphan fights the forces of darkness at wizard school.

Summary:

My name is Potter, and I am funky.Ten years ago, baby Harry survived a terrible attack by the dark wizard Voldemort. The assault killed his parents, but as she died, Harry’s mom cast a spell sealed by her own sacrifice that made Harry an anathema to evil sorcerers. This caused his attacker’s demise... but you weren’t supposed to know that yet. Sorry.

Anyway, the whole wizard community rolls out a sort of “ding-dong the witch is dead” celebration, during which Harry is spirited away by the wise wizard Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and left in the care of Harry’s more mundane relatives, the Dursleys. Advancing to the present day, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has grown up in a cupboard under the Dursley’s stairs, and despite the borderline abusive parenting techniques of his aunt and uncle, has somehow become a remarkably complex-free young man.

One day, Harry receives a letter delivered by an owl. His uncle confiscates and destroys it. More owls arrive with letters. Dursley destroys those too. When letter-bearing owls mob the house, they all go on vacation to a remote island to escape them. It’s no use; at midnight on Harry’s birthday, a huge hairy man named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) breaks down the door to deliver the letter personally. Turns out that Harry is a wizard just like his mom and dad, and has been invited to attend Hogwarts, apparently the premiere school of wizardry in the country. Why didn’t the Dursleys want him to know this? Who knows?

Harry hurries off with Hagrid to Diagon Alley, a Dickensian shopping mall for magical folk, hidden in downtown London. They purchase school supplies (including a wand provided by John Hurt) clear up some of the backstory (as noted in the first paragraph of this summary) and engage in ominous foreshadowing (i.e., their trip to the goblin bank to pick up something that turns out to contain the eponymous magic rock.) More enchanted shenanigans ensue as Harry boards an invisible train bound for Hogwarts, and meets his two best-friends-to-be, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson).

Seek the rats of NIHM.The school year progresses. Harry attends various wizarding classes, plays a wizarding sport, and breaks a lot of wizarding rules. Over the course of the year, he learns that a magic artifact called the sorcerer’s stone has been moved to the school to protect it from an evil wizard’s ghost—yes, the very same evil wizard who killed his parents. He finds the aforementioned ghost on the school grounds later, feeding on unicorn blood to keep itself from fading. After all attempts to warn the adults fail, Harry and his pals resolve to grab the stone themselves.

This leads to a longish sequence in which Hermoine uses her knowledge of magic herbs to escape man-eating plants, Harry uses his broom-riding prowess to catch a flying key, and Ron uses his superior gaming skills to play his way across a living chess board. Harry leaves the others behind to find the evil shade already at the last puzzle. (Oddly enough, he’s attached to the back of a teacher’s head). Harry solves the puzzle and tries to escape, but the evil-headed teacher traps him. Fortunately, the anti-evil spell his mom cast all those years ago is still in effect, reducing the teacher to ashes and forcing the ghost to flee.

At least, that’s the way Dumbledore explains it in the epilogue. Finally, there’s the end-of-school banquet where everyone gets rewarded for their flagrant and repeated violation of school rules, and then it’s back on the train home until next sequel...er, year.

Thoughts:

So long as J.K. keeps my secret, I'll be safe...I confess I don’t understand Potter-mania. Sure, I’ve read and enjoyed the books. Yes, I’ve seen and enjoyed all but the most recent of the films. But they’re not that good. They’re pulp. Superior pulp, to be sure, but that we, the public, should combine to make the creator of this pulp richer than the Queen astounds me. I mean, I’ve always liked and read this kind of fiction; where did the rest of you come from? Ursula LeGuin, Diana Wynn Jones, Susan Cooper, and Phillip Pullman aren’t multi-billionaires. So why is J.K. Rowling?

These unanswerable questions aside, I admit I like this movie. Its imperfections and inconsistencies are many (I’ve noted a few of them above), but film moves well considering the lengthy running time, and the story is charming and fun. I found myself wishing that I had gone to a wizarding school too—except, you know, without the dead parents and the vengeful wizard’s ghost. Surely this was the intent of the author and filmmaker, and by that measure it can be considered a success.

With so much whimsy and humor already mixed into the film, I had my doubts about the feasibility of a Rifftrax. I shouldn’t have worried. The film keeps it light even during the scary parts, and so do Mike, Bill, and Kevin. Most of the commentary runs parallel to it, making jokes about popular culture without mocking the events in the film, per se. Examples: the lolcats reference “I CAN HAZ WIZARD?” while the cat/witch McGonagall watches Dumbledore; the suggestion “Orko?” when Hagrid talks about the greatest wizard in the world; and an exhortation from one of the owls to “seek the rats of NIHM.” A notable exception to this is the Quiddich match, a nonsensical wizard sport that the Rifftrax crew mocks mercilessly, but for the most part, both the film and the commentary are lighthearted and fun, making them a pleasure to watch together.

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R046 Transformers

(2007, Action-SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

I guess what this movie is trying to say is: “Vroom, vroom, ba-dow!”

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

Shapeshifting robots fight over a magic cube.

Summary:

All we need is a little energon, and a lot of luck.I could try to summarize this for you in greater detail, but since there’s no discernable plot, it wouldn’t do any good. All you need to know is that Autobots are good shapeshifting robots that turn into cars. In contrast, Decepticons are bad shapeshifting robots that turn into everything else—which, confusingly, includes cars. As you might imagine, these two factions fight a lot. On the Autobots side we have Prime (the Peterbilt truck), Bumblebee (the Camaro), and Jazz (the most racially insensitive CGI character to grace the silver screen since Jar Jar Binks). On the Decepticon side we have... You know what? Never mind. I was a fanatical devotee of the original cartoon series, and even I had a hard time telling them apart. Especially when they were all crashing into each other in robot form.

These interchangeable robot aliens all want a vaguely defined MacGuffin called the Allspark, which I’m pretty sure is a magical cube that brings machines to life. Horny teenager Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has a handy map inscribed on his great-grandfather’s spectacles. This leads to a secret government base at the center of the Hoover Dam, guarded by a scenery-chewing John Turturro. There’s also a girl played by Megan Fox, and a bunch of cinematic (i.e. fake) hackers, a bunch of folksy soldiers, and John Voight as the United States Secretary of Defense, but none of them seem to have anything to do with anything.

Anyway, everyone meets up for about an hour of robot-fighting mayhem, after which the good guys somehow win. In the epilogue, Prime narrates a lot of portentous nonsense to the stars while Sam and the girl make out on Bumblebee’s hood.

Thoughts:

What's a MacGuffin?I’ll say this for Michael Bay: he knows how to pace a film. On the surface, at least, Transformers is the very model of a modern CGI thriller, jammed end-to-end with heroic battles, larger-than-life effects, and nonsensical SciFi jargon. The movie clocks in at one hundred forty-four minutes, and unless you have sensitive ears, you will not feel it pass.

Of course, if you do have sensitive ears, you’ll spend at least two thirds of it curled into a fetal position, silently praying for your own death. Mr. Bay is well known as a purveyor of overlong ‘splosion movies, responsible for such tympanic assaults as Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island, Bad Boys, and Bad Boys II. While the superior pacing of this film puts it above those just mentioned (at least, above the ones I’ve seen), continuity-wise Transformers is a significant step backwards. Supposedly continuous sequences switch abruptly from day to night between jump cuts. At one point, a pair of dueling robots leaves a land-bound freeway only to tumble several hundred feet off a previously unseen overpass. Even Armageddon made more sense than this.

Also, the story that all this noise supposedly serves is incoherently silly, leaving the characters high and dry—since nothing anyone ever does makes sense, no one can have any possible motivation beyond “the script told me to.” Even with this in mind, every last character depicted is a moron who reacts to every situation by behaving in the broadest, most illogical manner.

'I'm with stupid.'  'Hey, me too!'(The two exceptions: Bernie Mac as Bobbie Bolivia, a flamboyant used car dealer who recognizes Bumblebee as bad for business, and gets the hell out of the movie as fast as possible. Also, Agent Simmons, who is a moron, but John Turturro recognizes this and plays him as someone who makes bad choices out of bona fide idiocy.)

For Rifftrax purposes, though, a film doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be exciting, and the standard trio of Mike, Bill and Kevin are on hand to keep it funny. Kevin leads off by summarizing the film as “an ear-shattering hellstew of confusing images.” After the sixth or seventh consecutive chase through an abandoned warehouse, Mike notes, “The warehouse business is thriving, but the night watchman industry could use some work.” Near the end, when the boom box robot has accidentally decapitated itself, Bill observes, “There’s an inherent design flaw in the boomerang ninja star.” Yes, the movie’s bad, but it’s bad in a fun way, and the commenters capitalize on this for one of the funniest tracks available.

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R045 Missile to the Moon

(1958, SciFi, b&w or colorized)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Fred Willard

Do you suppose on the moon, they get crazy when there’s a full Earth?

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Scientists and convicts ride a rocket to the moon and find hypnotic blue women.

Summary:

She later died of terminal neck strain.The brilliant but erratic Dirk has built a functional moon rocket in his backyard. To his dismay, the military notices and declares all such experiments must take place under their purview. His partner Steve agrees, but Dirk would rather launch his rocket secretly than turn over his experiment. To this end, he bullies escaped convicts Lon and Gary—one of whom is “smart,” and the other “shrewd”—into helping him crew the rocket.

Steve notices something wrong and climbs onboard with his fiancée June. Dirk discovers them just after takeoff, and everyone suits up for the journey. Levers are pulled, unwelcome convict advances are rebuffed, and asteroid fields are navigated. Near the voyage’s end, turbulence shakes a box o’ batteries from a wall to crush Dirk’s head. His dying act is to pass a diamond amulet on to Steve, along with a cryptic admonition to convey his apologies to someone called “The Lido.”

On the moon, the intrepid explorers are forced to flee from barely mobile rock creatures into an oxygen-enriched cave. Almost as soon as they discover this, hot blue moon women take them captive. In the scenes that follow, Lon and Gary canoodle with blue moon girls while June becomes jealous of Steve’s apparent betrothal to another. This happens because Steve’s amulet causes him to be mistaken for returning moon native Dirk...though not really. Apparently, the Lido (i.e. queen) only pretends to think he’s Dirk so that she can steal his rocket and relocate their dying colony to an undefined planet.

How I wish this scene was really in the movie.Before this plan can come to fruition, however, the blue women have some sort of power struggle involving murder, hypnotism, and a marionette spider. An evil blue girl kills The Lido and ascends the throne while a friendly blue girl commits suicide to help the explorers escape. In the end, all the blue ladies asphyxiate, Gary’s greed for their diamond mines (did I mention those?) gets him fried, and the survivors—comprised of Steve, June, and Lon—escape to the rocket.

Thoughts:

What is it about SciFi films of the fifties that the friendly natives are always so eager to die that we might live? For a mid-century B-picture, Missile to the Moon is decently put together, but from off-the-shelf parts. The self-inflicted genocide certainly isn’t unique to this movie. Ada deliberately brings about the mass death of her albino Sumerian brothers in The Mole People to save the archaeologists. Exeter abandons his dying homeworld to save Cal and Ruth in This Island Earth. And I just got those two off the top of my head.

I think they meant to say 'Rocket'.Missile to the Moon, of course, has Zema. “Wow, that Zema sure is a heroic gal,” we are supposed to say to ourselves. “Asphyxiating herself and every last blue beauty queen of her subterranean moon colony so that our hapless American heroes can escape. That Elliott kid was a puss; he should’ve destroyed the planet as soon as E.T.’s ship was away. And the scientists in all those Black Lagoon movies should have killed themselves and the rest of mankind so that the creature could repopulate the Earth with his stolen female. If attractive alien women ever come to Earth only to find sinister government agents threatening them with death, I’m gonna help them escape in a way that annihilates the entire human race, just to return the favor!”

If you ever wanted to hear Mike and former MST3K host Joel riff a film together, look no further, as this is probably as close as we’re ever going to get. Mike’s partner on this Rifftrax is actually comedy and improv legend Fred Willard, whose commentary style reminds me a lot of Joel—laconic, bizarre, and off-the-wall. He seems prone to seize on something that has little, if anything, to do with the film, and harp on it for several minutes at a time. Space monkeys and Muppets were my favorites; during the latter, he angrily accuses Mike of not being a Muppet. Mike replies by sadly acknowledging his non-Muppethood. Other good comments come when the convicts think they’re about to be discovered hiding in the rocket and Fred, shouts, “Quick, put on a dress and pretend you live here!” Later, when a desk has yielded not one, but two firearms, Mike exhorts a third character, “Grab a gun; there’s one in every drawer.” They also dedicate some time to trying to figure out which convict is supposed to be smart, and which is supposed to be shrewd. If you’re looking for something hilarious to watch, this isn’t it; the film and the commentary together are amusing, but not particularly memorable. Still, it’s a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and fifteen minutes.

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R044 Next

(2007, Action-SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike and Bridget Nelson

Huh. That was weird. I’m glad we won’t be seeing that again.

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

Nicolas Cage can see the future!

Summary:

I see hot people.Frank Cadillac a.k.a. Cris Johnson (a.k.a. Nicolas Cage) can see the future—two minutes into his own, personal future, that is. He makes a comfortable living off this limited precognition as a psychic act in Vegas, supplementing on the side by cheating at cards and slot machines. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, everyone gets upset about this; “everyone” being casino security, FBI agent Callie Ferris (an unusually surly Julianne Moore), and an indeterminate number of European terrorists. Casino security has noticed that he never loses, and suspect him of running a scam. Agent Ferris has somehow figured out his abilities, and thinks he can help her foil the European terrorists, who have smuggled a nuke into Los Angeles. The European terrorists know that Agent Ferris wants Cris to help her foil them, which I guess is reason enough for them to try and find him first. All this leads to a high-speed car chase that includes several nonsensical flash-forward effects and ends, inexplicably, with Peter Falk.

(Let me pause right here for a moment to declare a moratorium on phrases that include words like somehow, for some reason, for no apparent reason, I guess, and inexplicably. They’re cluttering my prose, and if I don’t stop them now, they’ll take over the entire summary. Sufficeth to say that the movie is entirely illogical even by its own rather murky rules, and makes no attempts to explain anything.)

The sole exception to Cris’ two minute rule is Liz (Jessica Biel), whose future is open to him indefinitely. After weeks of searching, he finally finds her in a diner, and uses his ability to bum a ride to Flagstaff. Some obligatory exposition reveals her as a Do Gooder (i.e. a volunteer teacher of Native Americans). He eventually worms his way into her affections, and they make love in a roadside motel.

Check out my Malcolm McDowell impression.Shortly thereafter, the FBI and the terrorists catch up with them simultaneously. Agent Ferris tries to get around the two minute precognition thing by pressuring Liz into drugging Cris’ orange juice. Liz almost does it, but has a change of heart at the last minute. He proves his powers to her by knowing what’s on every channel before he flips to it, and then tells her how to help him escape. One long, messy downhill chase later, he realizes his plan will get Agent Ferris killed. He sacrifices his freedom to save her from the landslide he created.

In an odd display of gratitude, Ferris clips his eyes open and forces him to watch TV. Meanwhile, the terrorists kidnap Liz and stuff her into an explosive vest, which they plan to explode in two hours. Cris’ extended Liz-based precognition lets him see this on the news. He escapes FBI custody to find the place. Ferris catches up with him and arranges for him to flush out the terrorist sniper poised to gun him down. He leads them to the terrorist hideout, and one longer, messier fight scene later, his precognition helps the FBI rescue Liz and wipe out the terrorist cell. There’s just one problem: the stolen nuke isn’t there. Cris foresees the blast seconds before Los Angeles gets reduced to irradiated cinders...

But it’s okay, because everything that happened since the motel sex scene has been an extended Liz-based vision. Cris tells Liz he’ll be back in a week or so and strolls out the help the FBI.

Thoughts:

Jessica Biel steels herself against Cage's creepiness.The plot doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. No surprise there, precognition/time travel movies have plot holes built right into the premise—the good ones are just better at distracting us from them than the bad ones. This movie’s illogical precognitive gimmicks certainly qualify it as a bad one, but it doesn’t seem content with just that. Next doesn’t merely refuse to cover its paradoxes; it goes the extra mile by adding plot holes that have nothing to do with Cris’ powers. Peter Falk, for instance. What does he have to do with anything? More egregiously, why are the FBI/terrorists wasting so much time tracking down a man of such limited supernatural ability? Don’t they have better things to do, like, say, saving/destroying Los Angeles? Why does the French Resistance want to blow up Los Angeles anyway? Is this about that city’s perceived anti-mime agenda? Revenge for our government’s years-old freedom fries joke? Are they finally getting back at us for not pitching in during the French revolution? What?

At least it isn’t boring. The plot keeps moving even if reason and logic do not, racing from gimmick to chase back to gimmick until the movie finally shudders to a halt. (And you know you’ve horribly botched your movie when the best possible ending goes, “And it was all a dream...”). The film’s other good point: it’s relatively short. Comparing Next to the rest of Cage’s dismal recent career, the best thing I can say is that it’s better than Wicker Man. Not high praise, I know, but it’s more than this nonsensical turd deserves.

Bridget Nelson joins her husband Mike on the commentary track, and she is a goofball. I don’t know if it’s the comments she makes, the way she pitches her voice, or both, but to me she sounds like an intelligent, female version of Bullwinkle. And, since I happen to like Bullwinkle, this is a good thing. During Nicolas Cage’s lame mentalist act at the beginning, she says, “I don’t suppose there’s a chance he’ll get mauled by a white tiger.” Near the end, when Cage stops talking more than one word at a time, she says, “They went over budget and now they’re paying Nick by the syllable.” Throughout she says, “That was weird. I’m glad we won’t be seeing that again,” every time they use that stupid flash forward effect to indicate Cage’s precognitive visions. As the closing credits roll, Mike remarks, “They couldn’t figure out how to end it, so they just crashed the whole production into a pole and left it smoking by the roadside.” It’s an awful film, but not a boring one, and Mike and Bridget are good at what they do. I hope she joins him for more Rifftrax in the future.

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R043 Spider-Man

(2002, Action-Superhero, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

He has a sudden urge to save a runt pig.

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

A bite from a genetically engineered arachnid turns a wimpy teen into a superhero.

Summary:

[Insert arachnid-related wisecrack here.]Ninety-eight pound weakling Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) gains superhuman strength and agility overnight after he’s bitten by an escaped super-spider during a high school field trip. What to do with his newfound powers? His teenage logic breaks it down thusly: a) He wants a girl—specifically school hottie Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst); b) girls like cars; c) cars cost money; and d) professional wrestlers make money. He sews his own costume, calls himself The Amazing Spider-Man, and joins a cage match with a growling chunk of steroid-inflamed gristle named Bone Saw McGraw (Macho Man Randy Savage). Peter wins, of course, but he didn’t drag out the fight long enough, so the organizer refuses to pay him the promised fee. Peter takes revenge by refusing to stop the robber that steals the organizer’s evening take.

Karma’s got it in for our hero, though, because Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben happens to be waiting across the street to give him a ride home. The robber emerges from the building, sees a getaway vehicle, and kills Uncle Ben to get it. Peter chases the robber into an old warehouse and beats the crap out of him. The robber leaps out a window to escape, and dies three stories down. Peter vows never to turn his back on crime again.

This green stuff will prove my genius to the world!Peter grieves, graduates from high school, and begins a life of fighting crime while photographing himself fighting said crime for the local newspaper. Meanwhile, Peter’s best friend Harry (James Franco) has a wealthy scientist father named Norman (Willem Dafoe) who concocts super-soldier paraphernalia for the military. Threatened with funding cuts, he tests his latest experimental mixture on himself, emerging with super strength and a homicidal split personality. He dresses like a Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger, calls himself the Green Goblin, and murders everyone who ever slighted him. Of course it’s only a matter of time before he runs afoul of Spider-Man. They duel in a variety of public arenas, and Peter is forced to listen to a variety of stock villain speeches—such as the, “We’re Not So Different” speech, and the “Join Me, and We’ll Rule the City/World/Universe Together” speech.

Eventually, Norman learns Peter’s secret during an angst-filled Thanksgiving dinner, and proceeds to make Peter’s life a living hell. First, he attacks Aunt May during her prayers. Then he kidnaps Mary Jane and forces Peter to choose between saving her and saving a tram full of school kids. With a little help from the locals, Peter manages to save both, and then heads into another abandoned warehouse-type building for the Final Showdown. This ends when Norman accidentally skewers himself with his own rocket glider. Peter returns Norman’s corpse to his penthouse suite. Harry sees him and assumes that Spider-Man murdered his father. He swears revenge just in time for the sequel.

Thoughts:

She should have worn a thicker shirt.Spider-Man is, perhaps, one of the purest superhero films ever made. It’s not particularly deep, attempts no twists, surprises, or other plot-related shenanigans. The fight choreography sticks with a simple punch-kick-and-jump routine, attempting nothing particularly fancy. It’s got the origin story, same as in the comic books and TV shows. It’s got the same (or as similar as makes no difference) standard villain spouting the same standard villain speeches you’ve heard many times over. It’s got shrieking girls in danger, threatened loved ones, tragic deaths, and so forth.

Reading the above, you might think that I don’t like this movie—but I do. It sticks to the basics and it does them right. It’s got suspense in all the right places, as well as romance, jealousy, and awkwardness where necessary. It’s exciting all through the exposition and right up to the end. If I have to register any complaints (and knowing me, I do) it would be about the fight sequences and web-swinging scenes, during which real world physics suddenly cease to apply every time we switch from actors to digital effects. This is a minor quibble, though; the rest of the film shines. Who cares that it’s essentially a movie-length cliché? It is a movie-length cliché with style.

Naturally, superhero = ridiculous regardless of quality (which is why we’re discussing it in the context of Rifftrax) and Mike, Bill, and Kevin are all on hand to point this out. During a sequence where Bill and Kevin point out all the incongruities of Peter’s spider powers, Mike silences them with, “Look, just because he can do whatever a spider can, doesn’t mean he’s limited to doing whatever a spider can.” When Green Goblin shows up in his stupid green outfit, Bill comments, “He’s Zippy the Pinhead’s evil green twin,” while Kevin notes, “A stoned Jim Carrey has more dignity.” Also notable is the question posed by the cartoon theme song, “Is he strong?” When asked of Mike, he shrieks, “Listen, Bud; he’s got radioactive blood!” and then flies into a violent rage. Both the action and the quips fly fast and furious, making this one of the funniest Rifftrax currently available.

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R042 Raiders of the Lost Ark

(1981, Action-Adventure, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

Who insures these fruit stands, and how many billions do they lose each year?

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Super-archaeologist Indiana Jones fights Nazis for the Ark of the Covenant.

Summary:

A pulp-esque poster recalling the serials of the thirties and forties?  Check.Professional adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) has assembled all the necessities for a jungle expedition. Crumbling pieces of an ancient treasure map? Check. Bullwhip? Check. A team of traitorous and/or easily panicked porters? Check. An elaborate system of booby traps guarding a golden idol? Check. An opportunistic Frenchman with a company of angry native warriors waiting to steal his prize? Check. A humorous escape via a snake-infested aquatic plane? Check.

Indy returns to his university of origin disheartened and empty-handed to find a pair of government agents waiting to consult with him. World War II is on, and they’ve intercepted Nazi transmissions pertaining to an archeological dig in Egypt. A bit of exposition reveals that Hitler is seeking the Ark of the Covenant, a Jewish religious artifact that will grant invincibility to the army that possesses it. The Nazis have discovered a lost city, but need a medallion mounted on a staff to find the ark’s location within the city. Indy knows where the medallion is. The government agents hire him to get the Ark before the Nazis do.

Indy journeys to Nepal, where he meets his estranged former lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). She inherited the medallion from her father, but wants to string Indy along a bit before she gives it to him. This goes badly, as a frog-like Nazi agent named Toht has followed Indy to Marion’s place. The resulting fight sends the whole place up in flames. Toht sees the medallion, but the fire has made it too hot to pick up. He runs away to douse his burned hand in the snow. Marion recovers the medallion with a hot pad and agrees to help Indy find the Ark.

In Egypt, Indy calls on an old friend named Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) who promises to take Indy to a man who can decipher the markings on the medallion. But first, Indy and Marion take to the streets for an extended fight with hired Egyptian thugs. This goes on for a while, but eventually Marion hides in a laundry basket, which is loaded onto a truck, which explodes. Indy drinks himself into a stupor over her apparent death, until the opportunistic Frenchman from the opening scenes (named Belloq) shows up to taunt him. Belloq is working for the Nazis now, and Indy is far too much trouble to be allowed to run around loose. Before the hired Egyptian thugs can gun him down, Sallah’s children rush in to surround him and escort him to safety.

Either that statue is hollow, or he got that sand from a neutron star.Sallah takes Indy to the translator while they discuss the Nazis’ progress. They’ve somehow obtained a copy of the medallion (from the burn mark on Toht’s hand, but we won’t discover that till later), and have found a place to dig for the Ark. The translator interrupts to point out that the copy was only one-sided, while the medallion itself has two sides. The second side alters the measurements necessary to find the Ark. The Nazis are digging in the wrong place; Indy can still find it before they do.

Using the measurements from the medallion, Indy sneaks into the excavated map room in the lost city to discover the Ark’s location. In the process of sneaking out, he pops into a random tent and discovers Marion, who’s not dead after all. Indy explains that if he helps her escape now, the Nazis will comb the area and he won’t be able to get the Ark. He ties her up again and promises to come back for her after he’s found it.

Everyone else in the city is digging, so no one notices one more team arrive. Indy and his crew dig throughout the night, uncovering the Ark’s snake-infested resting place. Indy and Sallah drop inside, fend off the snakes, pack up the ark, and lift it out of the pit. Sallah climbs out, but the rope falls before Indy can escape as well. Belloq has finally noticed them. He taunts Indy again while the Nazis take the Ark and throw Marion into the pit.

Indy leaves Marion to fend off the snakes while he pushes a statue through the most fragile wall. They make their way out of the tomb and sneak through the Nazi compound, blowing up a plane and killing a platoon of soldiers in the process. Belloq loads the Ark on a truck for Cairo. Indy steals a horse to follow and hijacks the truck after a long, improbable chase. They load it onto a freighter bound for the U.S.

A Nazi submarine intercepts the freighter at sea. They steal the Ark and kidnap Marion, but no one can find Indy until the Nazis are leaving, when the sailors spot him clinging to the submarine’s exterior. Somehow he manages to hang on until they put in on an island. He mugs a pair of soldiers for clothes and weapons, and then threatens to blow up the Ark if they don’t release Marion. Belloq understands that Indy would never do such a thing to a priceless antiquity, and calls his bluff. They take Indy captive.

Later that night, Belloq performs a sacred Jewish ritual to open the Ark. The captive Indy sees it glow and tells Marion to shut her eyes. Apparently peeved that His sacred artifact would be put to evil use, the Lord God sends fire from heaven to consume Belloq and the Nazis. Indy takes the Ark back to the United States, where government agents stash it in a large warehouse filled with random top secret stuff.

Thoughts:

The patented Spielberg 'looking' shot.Shortly after the viewing I fell asleep, and shortly after that, I had a dream about a rough-and-tumble archaeologist with a pocket full of sharp cheddar cheese. It was so sharp that all he had to do toss a bit into his opponents’ open mouths while they were taunting him, and they would be immediately be overcome with the intensity of the flavor and fall to the ground. There were other elements to the dream as well—sinister herds of stampeding buffalo and so on—but I won’t bore you with them. The point is that the whole archaeologist-wielding-cheddar thing is utterly nonsensical, and therefore makes exactly the same amount of sense as an archaeologist with a bullwhip. In fact, thinking of archaeology as a full contact sport is pretty silly in and of itself.

Not that it matters, as the film is pretty much impervious to criticism. It’s been a classic of adventure cinema for more than a quarter century, and with good reason. It’s broad, goofy, anachronistic, and occasionally dumb, but excitingly so and—and this is important—never by accident. There’s no wasted space, no wasted scenes, no wasted dialog. Everything either reveals plot or character, and nothing ever bogs down. They don’t make movies like this anymore.

In cases where the movie is good but a little silly, the Rifftrax folk know how to deliver just enough to enhance the silliness even more. They go for the obvious jokes, of course, referring to Indy as Arizona Schmidt (Kevin), Delaware McGillicuddy (Mike), and Pennsylvania Dutch (Kevin). Toht is an easy target as well, as they note that he “sounds like a truffle hog” (Kevin), “looks like Elmer Fudd as an undertaker” (Mike), and “[looks like] Droopy of the S.S.” (Bill). My favorite comments are about the one-eyed Egyptian spy (“He’s the guy you call on when you need to spy on someone to your left”—Bill) and his traitorous screeching monkey (“It’s doing a Kelly Clarkson impersonation”—Mike). I’d recommend this one even without the Rifftrax, but Mike, Bill, and Kevin serve up a lot of quotably funny material to go with it. Watch, listen, and enjoy.

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R041 Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

(2005, SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

I don’t know who is fighting who about what.

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

Darth Sidious manipulates Anakin Skywalker into helping him overthrow the Republic.

Summary:

A third prequel!  Run for your lives!Let us assume, for the moment, that you are already intimately familiar with the Star Wars prequels. (Not a bad assumption, considering you’ve lasted this long. Episode II especially was not for the faint of heart.) Let us also assume, by extension, that you know what a midi-chlorian is, what the Jedi can do, and the name of Jar Jar’s alien race. Can we agree that this is frustrating, self-contradictory, and often irrelevant knowledge and move on?

Because, when you get down to it, this is actually a Rifftrax review, meaning that if I made an attempt to summarize this unholy mess, I might inadvertently distract you from the commentary by giving you the impression that there’s an engaging plot of some sort. There isn’t; trust me. It’s just the story of a guy, who’s a decent guy until suddenly he isn’t, at which point he starts murdering his friends and family for no readily explainable reason. Best just to sit back and let this hallucinogenic jumble of special effects and imaginary politics wash over you. Feel free to laugh along with Mike, Bill, and Kevin. (Especially when our hero disembowels all those preschoolers. That’s the funniest part.)

Going back to the assumption that you already know what I’m talking about—I don’t really care if you don’t, and really, you shouldn’t either—I will, in lieu of a summary, present you with the single, shining message I was able to divine from this cinematic morass:

The Jedi are all dense as rocks and approximately half as perceptive.

The guy on the right is moonlighting from Men in Black.Exhibit A: Our hero has emotional problems and anger management issues, and they plan to teach him to do better with a series of deliberate insults? Yes, Anakin’s immature, but where do you think he learned that? This Jedi Council seems pettier than your average PTA.

Exhibit B: The Force may help the Jedi masters “sense great fear,” but when it comes to noticing the bigger issues, like, say, the fact that their entire army is primed to turn against them at a moment’s notice, they’re helpless as newborn kittens.

Exhibit C: I thought the tiny green super-Jedi Yoda had set the bar of stupid fortune cookie wisdom impossibly high back in Episode I when he famously equated fear with evil, but he outdoes himself in this installment. When our heartsick hero comes to him for comfort and advice about his visions of loss, the master has nothing better to say than, “Let go of what you fear to lose.” Or, in other words, “I don’t care, and you shouldn’t either.”

So there you have it folks; the greatest of Jedi virtues is officially apathy. No wonder the Sith managed to yank the Republic out from under them like a cheap rug.

Edit 7/29/09: Just watched this one again last night (my brother wanted to see a Star Wars Prequel Rifftrax for some reason), and another aspect of this film pissed me off so much that I felt compelled to add...

Exhibit D: Obi-Wan's disappointed declaration near the end, "Only a Sith speaks in absolutes." Really, Obi Wan? Are you trying to tell me that I didn't just watch two and a half hours worth of unbending Jedi dogmatism contrasted against a Sith Lord preaching moral relativity? Thank you sooooo much for clearing that up. Now please go to hell and die. In a fire.

Thoughts:

My new colored contacts make me want to kill people.When it came out, many people hailed this as the best of the prequels, an assessment with which I must concur. Consider:

Episode I: Has Jake Lloyd and Jar Jar.
Episode III: Has no Jake Lloyd and only a few seconds of Jar Jar.

Episode II: Has that horrible, grating romance.
Episode III: Has approximately fifty percent less horrible, grating romance.

If Episode III invents any hideous flaws of its own, they would have to be the mass infanticide, the spouse abuse, and the graphic immolation scene. But, since the “Tell, Don’t Show” script reduces everyone in the film to an at least partially digitized non-entity, there’s no reason to care at all when these events occur. The rest of it is, unfortunately, more or less the same as the previous two. The character development still consists of actors reciting plot details in hallways for hours at a time. The action still involves digital effects endlessly flying every which way with no rhyme or reason. Taking away the things that made me cringe in the first two prequels simply leaves us with endless, unbroken tedium.

So yes, it’s the best of the prequels. But, as Bill Corbett says on the Rifftrax just before the movie, “That’s like saying, of the three times it’s happened, that was the best time I ever got stung in the eye by a wasp.”

Being well warned of the nature of Star Wars prequels before taking on this particular film, I approached it with caution. The tedium may be intact, but, fortunately, the riffing is too, with many good comments at the movie’s expense. Mike starts it off by pointing out the subtitle, Revenge of the— “Hey, they misspelled sh--.” Later, as the film bogs down in exposition, Bill exclaims, “What, did this movie OD on Ambien? Snap it up!” Near the end, when Anakin has finally turned to the Dark Side, Kevin notes that he went from “noble Jedi to decapitating toddlers without even check kiting as a warm up.” Also amusing were the comparisons of wookiees to ZZ-Top, and the addition of Speedy Gonzales noises to Yoda’s fight scenes. It’s a funny enough film with the Rifftrax, provided you don’t watch too much of it at a time.

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R040 Heroes

(2006, Drama/Superheroes/Television, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Disembaudio

Let's just reach into our bag of Things People Only Say on TV and see what we get.

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Various otherwise unremarkable individuals become aware of their extraordinary powers.

Summary:

Nice eclipse logo.  What does it have to do with anything?Having researched the subject on Wikipedia, I can state with a reasonable degree of certainty that Heroes has a plot; it just doesn’t come up during the first two episodes. What we get instead are several threads of plot, as the characters, their powers and conflicts, are introduced. In no particular order, these characters are:

Claire Bennet: A high school cheerleader in Texas with near instant healing powers. Simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by her abilities, she wiles a nerdy fellow teen into filming her while she jumps from the tops of grain silos and trots through flames to emerge unscathed on the other side. The flame incident happens at a train accident where she discovers a survivor and helps him through safely. The firefighters search for her at the school later, but Claire doesn’t want to make her powers public. She allows an opportunistic fellow cheerleader accept the glory. Things take a turn for the sinister when her cameraman informs her that the video tape chronicling her regenerative shenanigans has been stolen.

Hiro Nakamura: A geeky Japanese cubicle farmer with the power to alter time and space. He demonstrates this by making his clock go backwards one second at a time, and by teleporting into the ladies room of the local bar. Later, he teleports himself from Tokyo to New York, where he finds a comic book that details the discovery of his powers. He tracks the comic book to its creator, an artist named Isaac Mendez. Mendez is, unfortunately, indisposed (someone twisted the top of his head off like a jar lid and made off with his brain). The cops burst in and find Hiro in front of the corpse; they arrest him as a murderer. In the course of their questioning, Hiro discovers that five weeks have passed since he popped of Tokyo; he is not just visiting New York, but New York of the future. An explosion rocks the city. A shockwave rolls towards them, obliterating everything in its path. Hiro manages to pop back to his own time and place before it arrives.

Isaac Mendez: An artist whose heroin addiction allows him to draw the future. His most disturbing piece depicts the fiery destruction of New York. His long-suffering girlfriend/art dealer brings a nurse friend named Peter Petrelli to help him, but Peter discovers Isaac has painted a picture of him flying.

Peter and Nathan Petrelli: A hospice nurse and congressional candidate, respectively, with the power to fly. Peter has been imagining for years that he can fly, but has never dared to try until he sees Isaac’s painting. He calls his selfish politician brother Nathan out to see him do it. Peter jumps from a building. Nathan flies up to catch Peter before he can go splat. Peter is too heavy to catch, but fortunately he figures out how to fly too before anyone gets hurt. The second episode rehashes this as Nathan tries to convince Peter it was a delusion as a way to keep this story out of his congressional campaign, but Peter eventually learns the truth.

Hayden Panettiere is the new Sarah Michelle Gellar.Mohinder Suresh: An Indian geneticist with the power to deliver heavy-handed, self-important voice-overs. His father was working on a way to find people with special abilities, and moved to New York to become a cab driver while he searched for them. He was killed in his cab for unknown reasons, so Mohinder comes to take his place and resume his research. He meets a sinister man with horn-rimmed glasses who says vaguely threatening things about his father’s research, and a gun-toting utility man who attempts to bug his apartment.

Mr. Bennet: A sinister man with horn-rimmed glasses who investigates people with special abilities. His adopted daughter is Claire. Near the end of the second episode, we learn that he is responsible for the disappearance of Claire’s incriminating video tape.

Niki Sanders: An internet stripper with a brutal murderer hiding in her reflection. She borrowed a lot of money from the mob to get her gifted son into a private school, but hasn’t been able to pay it back on time. The mob enforcers come looking for her; they force her to strip on camera. She looks in a mirror and blacks out; when she comes to, the enforcers have been rather messily killed. She runs to recover her son from her sister’s house, but blacks out again. She wakes up four hours later with a new car, a clean house, and a map showing where to bury the enforcers’ bodies.

Matthew Parkman: A chunky cop with the ability to read minds. We meet him at a crime scene, where a now-brainless victim has had the top of his head twisted off like a jar lid. The little daughter is missing; but Matt hears her thoughts well enough to find her under the stairs. Matt hears the thoughts of the detectives as well, and under questioning, it is apparent that this means he knows more about the case than he should. They arrest him as a possible accomplice to the murder.

To be (of course) continued...

Thoughts:

It is how we roll.Heroes is repackaged X-Men, and doesn’t care who knows it. Of course many of the special abilities have Marvel Universe analogs: Claire’s regeneration works the same as Wolverine’s, Matt’s telepathy was cribbed from Jean Grey, and so on. But then, analogs are status quo in the comic book world, where companies routinely capitalize on the successes of their peers by adding people with different names and similar powers to their superhero continuities. Heroes takes this further, though, clinching their claim to copycat-hood with Mohinder’s opening lecture—a longish paraphrase of Patrick Stewart’s mutation speech from X-Men’s opening credits. The exactness with which they duplicate this story conceit reads somewhat like a challenge. To wit: “Yes, we’re just like the X-Men. Get over it.”

And you know what? I got over it. Because, when you get past the issue of originality (specifically: the lack thereof), Heroes is really, really well done. The series’ many good points include: a) a step back from comic books in that they refuse to give their characters silly names and costumes; b) lots and lots of heroes—a strength of being a television series. In a movie, if your cast gets to big, your plot loses focus; c) interesting characters. Not that they’re realistic. Oh, no. Comic books are all about broadly painted people with archetypal personalities and Heroes captures this, with just enough quirks to make them seem human; d) not exactly a plot, but threads of plot interwoven just enough to hint at something bigger. Granted, I’m biased towards this kind of show (I hope they give Bruce Campbell a minor role next season) but this is probably the best example of an hour-long scifi adventure program that we could hope for. I bought the first season on DVD after the viewing, and look forward to watching an episode every other day or so for the next couple of months.

This is not to say that the commentary isn’t funny. Quite the contrary. Any show about people with superpowers and broad, archetypal personalities is sure to possess a thick, rich vein of ridiculousness regardless of any other qualities it may possess, and Mike does his best to exploit it. Near the beginning, he notes the model-esque New York skyline by saying, “The Neighborhood of Make-Believe is really built up, now.” Later, he comments on Mr. Bennet’s creepiness by describing his signature costume piece as “eyewear from the Belltower Sniper line.” During Peter’s anguish while Nathan attempts to convince him that their powers are a delusion, Mike cries, “I don’t want to live in a world where congressmen can’t fly!”

Of note: For the first time since The Fifth Element, sentient voice synchronization program Disembaudio pipes up so often that he has to be given co-riffing credit. He has several lengthy tirades; the funniest is the one where he claims that he is the true star of Rifftrax, having hired Mike to make him look good by comparison, or “burnish my image.” These usually happen during the Peter Petrelli segments, as that character seems to have a penchant for lengthy, confessional, and usually irrelevant speeches.

So anyway. Good show. Good Rifftrax. What’s not to recommend?

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R039 Independence Day

(1996, Drama/SciFi/Holiday, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

This movie proposes that everyone on Earth is a total spaz.

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum save the Earth from hostile aliens.

Summary:

Take that, free world!Independence Day is not a complex or particularly thoughtful film, nor is it weighted down with plot. Quite simply: aliens arrive to wipe us out, but we wipe them out instead. It’s also a hundred and forty-five minutes long, so to fill all that extra time, we have a number of clichés disguised as subplots. Poorly disguised, as it turns out; apparently the filmmakers just stood clichés in every corner, hung bits of posterboard around their necks, and used a sharpie to write “subplot” on them. These demi-plots are as follows:

Demi-plot A: “President Lonestar.” Official-type government science guys notice things in space. These things are brought to the attention of official-type government military guys, who, in turn, bring them to the attention of Young Charismatic President (Bill Pullman). President Pullman urges calm as massive alien warships position themselves over every major city in the world...until his friendly neighborhood Antisocial Genius Environmentalist (Jeff Goldblum) finds a code in the satellite transmission indicating an imminent attack.

Everyone flees in Air Force One as all the major cities of the earth are simultaneously burned off the map. The President et al. relocate to Area 51, where the resident Half-Crazed Alien Specialist (Brent Spiner) shows them around his hoard of alien technology. President Pullman assigns Goldblum to take care of the alien problem.

As a warship approaches the base, the refugees concoct a half-baked scheme in which Goldblum and a Cocky Black Fighter Pilot (Will Smith) will fly a captured alien shuttle to destroy the mothership, thus confusing the other warships long enough for the Earth-based forces to bring them down. They succeed, and the earth is saved.

Demi-plot B: “Our Eccentric Jewish Savior.” Antisocial Genius Environmentalist Jeff Goldblum discovers a countdown code embedded within his cable company’s satellite signal. A rather large leap of logic indicates an imminent attack, so of course he must risk his life and the life of his Testy Jewish Father (Judd Hirsch) to drive to Washington D.C. and warn his Estranged Ex-Wife (Margaret Colin), who just happens to hold some kind of high-ranking cabinet position. She warns the president, who thoughtfully takes him along during the evacuation.

At Area 51, he discovers that the aliens have neglected to password-protect their wireless network, allowing him to upload viruses with impunity. Cocky Black Fighter Pilot flies him to the mothership to do just that. The virus brings down the alien network, which, in turn, brings down the alien warship’s shields, which, in turn, allows President Pullman et al. to save the Earth.

Despite the constant homoerotic banter, theirs is a platonic love.Demi-plot C: “Fro Picks Not Included.” Cocky Black Fighter Pilot is called away from his Sassy Stripper Girlfriend (Vivica A. Fox) to engage the alien enemy in aerial combat. His angst over whether or not to propose to her is verbalized by his Doomed Best Friend (Harry Connick Jr.) not because he is unsure of his love, but because he will not be selected as an astronaut if he marries a stripper.

Doomed Best Friend inevitably dies during the ensuing firefight. An alien fighter manages to shoot down Will Smith as well, but not before the latter has forced it to crash-land in the desert. Smith drags the captured alien to an impromptu RV refugee camp, and subsequently leads them all to Area 51. Once there, he volunteers to fly the captured alien shuttle up to the mother ship with Jeff Goldblum. He does so, shouting macho clichés all the way. Once the virus is delivered, he drops a bomb that blows up the mothership during his escape.

Demi-plot D: “Sex-Related Industry Professional with a Heart of Gold.” Sassy Stripper Girlfriend flees Los Angeles with her son, but is caught in the aliens’ initial city-burning blast. She manages to escape the worst of the slow-motion fireballs by hiding in a tunnel, venturing out the next day to resume her journey towards Cocky Black Fighter Pilot’s air force base. A fire truck is commandeered for this purpose, and she picks up other survivors along the way, including the Mortally Wounded First Lady (Mary McDonnell). They make it to the ruins of the air force base some time afterwards, where they wait for Will Smith to take a break from the prior demi-plot and bring them all back to Area 51.

Before he flies up to save the world, he and Sassy Stripper Girlfriend get married in an impromptu ceremony as Antisocial Genius Environmentalist and his Estranged Wife reconcile in the background. Mortally Wounded First Lady, of course, dies.

Demi-plot E: “Drunken Failure Finally Succeeds.” A Drunken Failure Pilot (Randy Quaid) flies crop dusters for a living until the aliens arrive. Having been kidnapped and presumably probed by the aliens many years before, he knows what to expect. He wanders the desert with a lot of other RV dwellers until he meets Will Smith out in the middle of nowhere. They give Smith and his alien prisoner a lift to Area 51, where a surfeit of fighter jets and a shortage of pilots lead President Pullman to recruit him for the final battle.

The aliens loom near, and the valiant pilots empty all their ammunition into the massive warship, so that they’re out of missiles when the vulnerable point finally reveals itself. The last missile is in the possession of none other than Randy Quaid. It misfires, so he flies his plane kamikaze-style right down the barrel of the warship’s city-burning gun. The gun explodes. The warship explodes. Information regarding the city-burning gun vulnerability is disseminated among the survivors of other militaries, and alien warships all over the world explode. Everyone parties down, even though the world’s infrastructure has been thoroughly decimated, along with ninety percent of the human population.

Thoughts:

Today is called the feast of Crispian...So, Jeff Goldblum can connect to the extraterrestrial wi-fi in a matter of seconds, and even hijack the mothership’s membranous LCD screens to display his Jolly Roger animated GIF, but I can’t get my Vista machine to acknowledge the existence of my XP machine. He truly is a genius. Independence Day is, of course, a “modernized” version of the H.G. Wells classic War of the Worlds, in that it substitutes the literary aliens’ susceptibility to terrestrial microbes for the cinematic aliens’ susceptibility to malicious script kiddies. I never thought I’d be in a position to say this about anything, but the Tom Cruise version was better.

Which is not to say that this version is no good. Sure, it’s so riddled with clichés that it seems like it ought to have been made in the eighties. Yes, deus ex machinas were in such abundant supply that I kept expecting Zeus to descend on a scaffold covered with cardboard clouds and vanquish the aliens with fiberglass lightning bolts. In the plus column, however, any two-and-a-half hour science fiction epic that manages to feel shorter than a Star Wars prequel must be doing something right. There are worse ways you could spend a Saturday night. Just switch off your brain and bring some popcorn.

The full triumvirate of Rifftrax (Mike, Bill, and Kevin) is on hand for the commentary. Full-blown clichéd irascibility flies every which way as grumpy government officials attempt to determine the nature of the objects in the sky, leading to Mike’s comment, “Everyone in this movie’s so irritated about having to do their damned job.” As the motor-mouthed Will Smith continues to fill his every second of screen time by spouting cliché after manly cliché, Bill wonders, “Does he have any unexpressed thoughts?” Near the end, my favorite quip comes when Smith and Goldblum encounter a problem with their commandeered spaceship and Kevin suggests, “Take the cartridge out and blow on it.” It’s a broad, goofy, overearnest film; bottomlessly awful of course, but in the sublime, laughable way of the best scifi B-pictures. In other words, perfect for Rifftrax.

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9/10/07

To Introduce Our Movie; That's What I'm Here To Do...

Welcome, won't you?

So the future lords of the Earth evolved from Cookie Monster? Who'da thunk? The makers of the classic SciFi Killers from Space, that's who. Read my review of the latest Film Crew release here. No review tomorrow; I'll be adding comments to the Season Lists for the Film Crew and the last chunk of ten Rifftrax.

Enjoy!

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9/7/07

Bourne To Run

Welcome, won't you?

Mike, Bill, and Kevin would have slapped me simultaneously for the horrible pun in the post title. But they're not here, so I did it anyway. The Rifftrax review for The Bourne Identity has been posted. I'll be out for the weekend, but tune in Monday for a review of the second Film Crew DVD, Killers from Space.

Enjoy!

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9/6/07

The Restaurants in Hell Aren't All That Great

Welcome, won't you?

Today's Rifftrax film dares to show us it's own unique, digital view of history. Gory, delirious, amber-filtered pseudo-history, actually, but if you've got a strong stomach, it's a lot of fun. Tune in tomorrow for Jason Bourne: Monogamous Amnesiac Spy!

Enjoy!

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9/5/07

Star Trek: The Next Line-up of Action Figures

Welcome, won't you?

Star Trek: Generations features Kirk and Picard together at last. Is it a fan's fondest dream come true? The inclusion of Kirk's painful, lingering death near the movie's close ensures the answer to that question is an emphatic "yes". Tune in tomorrow for inspiring choreography and acres of blood and entrails in the most gloriously overwrought comic book version of Greek history ever made.

Enjoy!

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9/4/07

It's Clobberin' Time, For What That's Worth

Welcome, won't you?

What happens when four disparate strangers confine themselves in an old penthouse to engage in sexual tension, superpowers, and petty escalating feuds? Only the best season of Big Brother ever! Or not. Sorry to get your hopes up.

Sadly, this is one of the very few situations in which a reality television version might have been preferable. I've just posted the my review of Rifftrax's treatment of The Fantastic Four, a gripping superhero drama in which the eponymous quartet sit around the house and bicker as if they were in an off episode of Friends. Come back tomorrow for long-awaited death of Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations.

Enjoy!

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