R059 The Sixth Sense
R060 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
R062 Ocean's Eleven
R063 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
R064 Iron Man
R065 The Happening
R066 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
R067 X2: X-Men United
R068 The Incredible Hulk: The Final Round
There were several firsts in this round of Rifftrax. First Disney film (Pirates of the Caribbean); first film with experimental elements (Memento); first and second M. Night Shyamalan films, with representative samples from the periods before and after the point at which his burgeoning ego began to crowd out his talent (The Sixth Sense and The Happening). I’d say first straight-out comedy, but the characters of Ocean’s Eleven tend to deliver smirks in lieu of punchlines. It can still be a first, though, as that film features the first lounge singer as guest riffer (Richard Cheese).
Most of the rest fall into the standard big-budget SciFi/fantasy/superhero territory they usually mine, with predictably rewarding results. My favorite is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets—a disjointed, overlong film whose commentary had me doubled over with laughter for much of the time.
Also worthy of note: the return of the very funny Rifftrax for The Incredible Hulk: The Final Round. Its phenomenal success as a free streaming Rifftrax killed its server of origin the first time around, now it’s available solely as a commentary track to those who can track down a copy of the episode on DVD.
R059 The Sixth Sense
(2003, Action-Superheroes, color)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett
I’ve always suspected the Devil was German.
In a nutshell:
A convoluted soap opera with superpowers.
“Convoluted” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Since X2 assumes knowledge of X1, perhaps you ought to start with my review of the last film in this series, if you haven’t already.
Up to speed now? Good. At the beginning of this installment, a blue-skinned teleporter mutant called Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) wanders away from his White House tour group and attacks the President. A bullet grazes Nightcrawler’s arm, driving him away. The President naturally begins to consider regulation of the “mutant problem” once again.
This is a source of consternation to mutant guru Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Fearing backlash, he cancels his secret mutant school’s field trip so that he can use his psychic mutant-finding room Cerebro to home in on Nightcrawler’s location. He sends ultrahot mutant ladies Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) to collect the would-be assassin while he takes Cyclops (James Marsden) to visit Magneto (Ian McKellan) in prison, hoping his old nemesis will know something about the attempt on the President’s life. They leave Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in charge of all the mutant kids back at the school.
Confused yet? I told you to go back and read up on the first film. If you haven’t done that yet, do it now, ‘cause this is the last time I’m stopping the summary for you.
Back at the White House, the President takes a meeting with mutant containment specialist William Stryker (Brian Cox), who requests permission to raid a mutant school he’s found in upstate New York. Yes, it’s Xavier’s school full of innocent mutant children. The President reluctantly grants permission, over the objections of fellow meeting attendee Senator Kelly.
Now we get to the secret plot-ed-ness of it all. I’m going a bit out of order here for the sake of the summary, but it breaks down as follows: Stryker knows about Xavier’s school because he owns Magneto’s prison, and has been torturing the elderly metal manipulator for information. Using the cranial fluid of his estranged mutant son, he’s found a way to brainwash mutants into doing his bidding. This includes the gentle, religious Nightcrawler, whose attack on the President served two purposes—scare the President into granting permission to raid Xavier’s school and lure Xavier into Magneto’s prison so that he can gas and capture the wheelchair-bound psychic.
With the school’s main defenders incapacitated and their ultrahot backup out of town, Stryker’s elite squad catches the school by surprise, but manage to dart and capture only six students before the metal-clawed Wolverine starts scything down astonished invaders by the dozen. This allows the extras to escape. Eventually Stryker arrives to tantalize Wolverine with cryptic comments about the latter’s unremembered past. Fortunately, principal students Rogue, Iceman and Pyro rescue him from this ill-advised and ultimately irrelevant bit of backstory.
They escape to Iceman’s parents’ house, who didn’t know that their son was a mutant and aren’t happy about it when they find out. The youngest brother goes so far as to call 911 while the others are distracted, inspiring a police raid. The angry Pyro sets everyone on fire, forcing the lifeforce-absorbing Rogue to stop him while Iceman douses the flames. Storm and Jean arrive to pick them up in their mutant jet. The cops call in military pursuit, who manage to fire missiles before the weather-controlling Storm knocks their fighter jets out of the sky. The telekinetic Jean disables one missile, but the other hits them, sending their vessel plummeting earthward...
Let’s pause and go back to Senator Kelly, who, as you recall (if you did your homework like a good boy and/or girl), died about two thirds of the way through the previous film. Hot blue mutant shapeshifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) has taken over his identity and used it to obtain details relating to Stryker’s plot and Magneto’s whereabouts. She spikes a prison guard’s blood with iron, thus smuggling it in to Magneto, who uses it to murder his captors and escape. Now determined to take revenge against Stryker, Magneto catches the X-Men’s falling jet. He convinces Jean to use her psychic powers to extract the location of Stryker’s base from Nightcrawler’s mind.
There’s a lot of amnesia and romantic triangle-related shenanigans here, but in the interest of getting to the point, I’ll skip ahead to the rest of Stryker’s plot, which involves using his son’s powers of illusion and a beefed-up version of Cerebro to trick the captive Xavier into killing all the mutants in the world. (There’s some tragic backstory here that explains his motivations, but it’s not that interesting). While Xavier unknowingly prepares to massacre all mutantkind, the others assault the base, fighting their way through to rescue the captured children, unbrainwash Cyclops, find out more about Wolverine’s past, and generally save their race from annihilation. The genocidal Magneto makes it to the false Cerebro first, but rather than shut it down, he alters it to affect humans instead of mutants. All the humans in the world thrash around in dying agony until Nightcrawler teleports Storm inside Cerebro to put a stop to it.
Having rescued Xavier and everyone else who needed it, they head back to the jet. But hang on, kids; the drama’s not done yet! Did I mention that the secret base is inside a dam? And that all the aforementioned fighting has weakened said dam? So now our heroes must escape before the water comes crashing down on them. While the others struggle to start their damaged jet, Jean sacrifices herself to hold off the water until liftoff. Both her lovers scream with grief for a little while, and then they head down to Washington to explain that the whole aborted “everyone in the world thrashes around in dying agony” thing was all Stryker’s fault. Now the filmmakers hint that Jean isn’t really dead, and we’re done.
X2 is just like X-Men, only more so, in that it should have collapsed under the weight of so many characters and plot twists, but didn’t. It’s not especially deep or thought-provoking, but manages to stay exciting and not too confusing, with the latter feat especially amazing if you look at the summary above. It’s a bit like a magician’s act, the way the twisting story keeps turning in just such a way to keep you from seeing the plot holes. Like the way Jean had to go outside the jet to lift off and hold back the water, when doing it from the inside would have kept her just as close to the action. Or the way no one thought of sending Iceman to freeze the oncoming flood instead. Or the way Nightcrawler couldn’t teleport to a place outside his line-of-sight for most of the movie, but manages it several times in rapid succession with no hesitation or apparent ill effects at the end. Come to think of it, how did he manage to rescue Rogue from falling in the middle of the film? Even if she was in his line of sight, their relative speeds would have smacked them into each other hard enough to reduce them both to mangled lumps of flesh and bone splinters...
Anyway, Bryan Singer directed, and if his departure after this entry has proved anything, it’s that no one else could have pulled this off. In fact, can we all agree to pretend that the series died when he left it, and declare all that embarrassing crap that went on in the third sequel non-canon? I know Jean was set up to come back to life and all, but without Singer to handle that for us, we’re much better off just letting her rest in peace.
The (ahem) usual suspects Mike, Bill and Kevin, are on hand for the commentary, and their best lines make fun of the characters powers and appearances. Regarding Wolverine, “Wolverines do not have hair fins and sideburns like Martin Van Buren,” (Kevin); regarding Jean’s ability to read dozens of minds at once, “Everyone is secretly plotting against her; finally a character I can relate to,” (Bill); regarding Storm, “Black transsexual Jonathan Winters!” (Kevin); regarding Nightcrawler’s accent and demonic appearance, “I’ve always suspected the Devil was German,” (Kevin); regarding Pyro’s dependence on cigarette lighters, “The first butane-based superhero,” (Mike). Actually, this Rifftrax reminds me most of the one for Spider-Man 3—very few actual laugh-out-loud moments, but quietly, consistently funny for the entire running time.
(2008, Adventure/SciFi, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
Did I hear Aztec Egyptian Zombie Shaolin warriors?
In a nutshell:
Indiana Jones survives a lot of improbable adventures on his way to meet some aliens.
The year is 1957. American soldiers drive along a desert road, drag-racing with perky fifties teens until they reach Area 51. At this point we discover that they’re really Soviet spies in disguise. The Russkies mow down this ultra-high security area’s four or five guards and enter unimpeded. Turns out they’ve had Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his pal Mac (a wide and non-digital Ray Winstone) stuffed into their trunk all along. Sword-wielding alleged psychic commie mastermind Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) orders them to lead her to a certain crate containing... um...
Okay, at this point it gets more than a little silly, what with the adventures in magnetic gunpowder, a Roswell-esque corpse, an ill-advised escape attempt, Mac’s treachery, a pointless high-speed vehicle whose track ends abruptly out in the middle of nowhere, nuclear testing, survival of said nuclear testing by hiding in a flying refrigerator... um...
Now the movie brings up McCarthyism, which costs Indy his job and then is never mentioned again. A young man named Mutt (Shia LeBoeuf) shows up with a letter full of cryptic nonsense relating to his mother (Karen Allen reprising her role as Marion) and grandfather figure (John Hurt as a highly respected professor named Ox). These have been kidnapped by Russians because there are aliens in the Amazon. After endless chases, escapes, and followings of clues, Indy and Mutt end up deep in the Amazon themselves, carrying the crystal alien skull of the title. At this point they are easily captured and reunited with Marion and the outhouse-rat-insane Ox. Marion “dramatically” reveals that Mutt is really Indy’s son, but anyone with half a brain has already guessed that by now.
Off again for further chases, escapes, sword fightings, crotch whackings, and just a few more followings of clues, during which we get the contractually required Indiana Jones Bad Guy Suffers Grisly Death™ scene, as Spalko’s most villainous henchman gets devoured alive by flesh-eating ants. Indy et al. plunge over several waterfalls and into the eponymous Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It is here that they must return their alien skull to a complicated fortress-thingy at the center of a ruined city guarded by native zombie ninjas.
They find their way to the center of the fortress and set the skull back on its skeletal alien neck of origin, only to be caught again by Spalko and her flunkies. Spalko, in turn, gets caught by the now-animate alien skeleton. Said alien is grateful for the return of his skull and offers them a reward. Spalko demands that he bestow upon her all knowledge, everywhere. Indy and friends hustle out the back while Spalko gets her wish. Apparently, too much knowledge can sizzle your eyes in your sockets before burning you to cinders while all your cronies get sucked into a vortex, because that’s what happens to Spalko and her men. Indy and friends make it out, all except for Mac, who gets sucked into the vortex too when he goes back to look for treasure.
They make it back to civilization, where Indy gets his job back, marries Marion, and (we assume) lives happily ever after.
I liked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Granted, it’s not as tightly plotted as Raiders of the Lost Ark or as much fun as The Last Crusade, but it’s also nowhere near as unpleasant as Temple of Doom. More than anything, it seems to be the product of two competing visions. From writer/producer George Lucas we get the hamfisted dialog, unbelievable situations, and an incomprehensibly overcomplicated plot. From director/producer Stephen Spielberg we get expert pacing and focused action sequences that always make it seem like exciting things are happening, even when nothing (that makes sense) actually is. In a nutshell, Lucas made it laughable, while Spielberg made it fun.
The commentary has enough good lines that I had enough to quote for this review within the first thirty minutes. As the false soldiers pass a diner called The Atomic Café, Mike says, “Come to the Atomic Café and try the Spent Rod Scramble.” While metal and non-metal objects get attracted to the magnetic alien corpse at random, Kevin explains, “The law of selective magnetism: it only works when things look cool or funny.” Bill and Kevin both make fun of Blanchett’s Emo Philips hair, and when she draws a sword, Bill dubs her, “Colonel Kutcherveineroff.” It’s not as funny as the best Rifftrax, but it’s very, very close.
(2008, Horror-ish/Political-esque, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
We’re already deep into Monty Python territory here.
In a nutshell:
Mr. Shyamalan believes we all deserve to die in the most comically horrific way possible.
The wind blows in New York. Everyone stops. A few people start to walk backwards. A young woman stabs herself in the neck with a knitting needle while a cop shoots himself in the head. Construction workers drop from an uncompleted building like overripe apples in a windstorm.
A vice principal interrupts the class of an overly goofy science teacher (Mark Wahlberg) with news of the incident. Everyone evacuates the city in an unhurried, casual sort of way. The science teacher and his estranged wife (Zooey Deschanel), loquacious friend (John Leguizamo) and loquacious friend’s daughter flee nonchalantly by train until it stops in a small town because they’ve “lost contact”. “With who?” Wahlberg asks. “Everyone,” comes the reply.
At the small town’s diner, newscasts and gruesomely comic cell phone videos indicate that large groups of people have become suicidal all across the northeastern United States. The power goes out. This seems to be reason enough for the first and only real panic scene of the movie, as everyone quickly and efficiently divides into small car-sized groups and motors the hell out of there. Wahlberg and Deschanel end up with Leguizamo’s daughter, while Lequizamo heads to New Jersey to look for his wife. He dies a hideous self-inflicted death just a few scenes later.
Our surviving protagonists end up with a guy I’ll call Crazy Hot Dog Man, who opines that after years of abuse, the plants have ganged up on humankind to emit a toxin that shuts down human survival instincts. Despite his wandering, off-center eye, and the fact that everything he says—including the preceding—is incoherent nonsense even by this movie’s standards, his theory is accepted as gospel by every other character thereafter, including the ones who never come into contact with him.
Soon they arrive at a place where the road has become impassable with the bodies of plant-assisted suicide victims. They turn back and meet a number of other motorists at a crossroads, each reporting the same thing about the roads in every other direction. Under the direction of a confused army private, they divide into two groups and hike cross country, away from the roads. The wind blows. The private walks a few steps backwards, shouts some nonsense, and then shoots himself in the head. Plant-addled suicide enthusiasts queue up behind him to take turns with his pistol when he’s done.
Wahlberg’s group hears the repeated shots from the other side of the hill, and for some reason they turn to him for direction. After several minutes of blind stammering panic, he somehow figures out that the toxin releases when the local foliage detects large groups of humans together, so he advises them to split up and try to stay away from other people. Then he takes his wife, his friend’s daughter and a couple of teenage boys and runs in a randomly chosen direction.
Several scenes pass, during which they pit stop in a model home, watch a man throw himself under a riding mower, and flee from another plant-induced suicide frenzy past a billboard that rather unsubtly states “You deserve this!” A paranoid old coot in a backwoods garbage house murders the two teenage boys with a shotgun, sending Wahlberg and his family fleeing even further into the wilderness. Apparently unmoved by their first insane hillbilly encounter, they stay the night with a crazy old woman who alternately welcomes and shrieks at them.
Next morning the wind kicks up while the woman putters in her garden. She stops, walks backwards a few steps, and then starts smashing her face through the windowpanes. Wahlberg flees deeper into the house while his wife and friend’s daughter shut themselves in a cabin out back. There’s a speaking tube that runs from the cabin to the house, so Wahlberg and Deschanel settle their marital differences and renew their love. Then, figuring that they’re all about to die anyway, they emerge from their hiding places to meet in the middle of a windy field to die together. Nothing happens, as a subsequent newscast lets us know that the plants had stopped emitting suicide toxins exactly one minute earlier.
Three months later, Deschanel and Wahlberg return to civilization to raise their friend’s daughter as their own. The lengthy and largely irrelevant denouement includes dropping the daughter at the school bus stop, news of Deschanel’s pregnancy, and the reemergence of the suicide toxin in France.
One of the ways I can tell that a Rifftrax is really good is by the number of times my wife gets mad at me for laughing too loudly after we’ve put the kids to sleep. Even without the Rifftrax, this is funniest movie released this year, at least of the ones I’ve seen. The Monty Python-referencing quote I used at the beginning of the review is from Bill, and though he says it mere minutes into the film, it applies to The Happening in its entirety. It’s a staple of Python comedy to portray characters with wholly inappropriate responses to outlandishly violent circumstances. Like how the foreman looks on, wide-eyed, while his construction workers start falling from the sky like big, fleshy drops of rain. Or how people wait in an orderly fashion to use the only available gun to shoot themselves one at a time. (This happens twice). Or how the zookeeper deliberately and patiently feeds himself to the lions. If auteur M. Night Shyamalan had the comic timing of Palin, Idle or Cleese, this movie could have been called And Now for Something Completely Different Part II. As it is, the fact that it clearly isn’t meant to be a comedy only makes it funnier.
That’s right, believe it or not, this is supposed to be a serious thriller. A serious scary thriller, though the lack of mystery and the oddly tranquil tone effectively kills any possible suspense. A serious scary thriller about issues, though what those issues might be, I couldn’t say, and Mr. Shyamalan probably couldn’t either. Something global warming-ish or environmentalist-esque, probably, though for all we see in the film, it could just as easily be an anti-vegetarian screed decrying a degenerate civilization built upon the savage ingestion of our photosynthetic brethren. Whatever it is, it’s our fault; that much is clear. We all deserve to die for it, in fact. The other message I take away from this film: rural Pennsylvania is filled with quiet, stoic, and mentally disturbed backwoods folk with alarming and unsettling worldviews. One of them is named M. Night Shyamalan.
Mike, Bill and Kevin have so much to work with here, and so many long pauses in the dialog to work with it in, that it’s tough to choose something to quote. They make fun of the dreamy, lazy pacing (“Aside from the psychotic death spore, it’s a beautiful day,”—Mike); the frequent lapses into unintentional comedy (“We now return to It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Night Shyamalan World,”—also Mike), and Mark Wahlberg’s casually unbalanced science teacher character (“Do they hire teachers out of Arkham Asylum?”—Mike again). With so much dead air to fill, and so little sense of impending doom to keep them down, they frequently burst into song, as in Bill’s rendition of the Simpson’s theme, “Die, Die-Die-Die / Death, Death-Death-Death / Die, Die,” and later, “Run away movie / Never come back. / Wrong way on an M. Night track.” Also amusing are there shots at the really lame villain, with Mike’s “There’s a cheap monster effect for you: The Wind,” and Kevin’s “Do you think that’s just M. Night going whoosh into a microphone?” I could go on and on. The lost half star is for Shyamalan’s off-putting self righteousness and the movie’s copious gore. If you feel like you can live with those, feel free to add it back on.
(2008, Action-Superhero, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
Oil can replaced by can of whoopass.
In a nutshell:
A playboy millionaire genius fights crime in a robotic suit.
Playboy millionaire genius weapons tycoon Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) chats up soldiers as they Hum-Vee him across a Middle Eastern landscape. A sudden terrorist attack decimates his escort. He tries to flee into the desert, but a rocket of his own design lands nearby. The subsequent explosion pierces his chest with shrapnel, sending him into unconsciousness. He wakes up, briefly, to see his captors make demands in an unknown language into a video camera. He passes out again.
Now it’s three days earlier in Las Vegas, where Colonel Rhodes (Terrence Howard) goes over Tony’s backstory with a glowing presentation at an awards ceremony. Tony isn’t there to accept the award, so his business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) accepts on his behalf. Afterwards, Rhodes tracks Tony down at a nearby casino to berate him for not showing up. Tony blows him off, picking up an accusatory female reporter on his way home.
Next day, Tony’s assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) hustles the reporter out the door and hustles Tony to his appointment with Rhodes. After some resistance, Tony meets Rhodes three hours late, and they fly to an undefined region of the Middle East for a demonstration of some of Tony’s weapons. Everyone is suitably impressed with the super-missile he’s created, and they pile into Hum-Vees to go back to the airport. Terrorists attack, and we’re back at the beginning of the movie.
Tony wakes up in a cave with a car battery beside him. This has been hooked up to an electromagnet that has been surgically grafted to his chest. His surgeon, a Persian man named Yinsen, is also captive. He explains that the battery/magnet combo is all that’s keeping the shrapnel in Tony’s chest from entering his heart and killing him. Their captors burst in and demand that Tony build them a super-missile from pieces of other Stark weapons, of which they just happen to have an enormous supply. Tony refuses.
A few torture sessions and brainstorms later, Tony agrees. While the terrorists think he’s working on a missile, he recruits Yinsen to help him build a miniature arc reactor to keep the shrapnel out of his chest, and maybe power a mechanical suit to help them escape. When they’re almost ready, the terrorists become suspicious and come to investigate. Yinsen sacrifices himself to give Tony extra time. Finally, Tony stomps out in clumsy metal armor, throwing flames and explosives while he sends terrorists flying every which way with super-powered mechanical punches. Tony’s suit makes a short flight into the desert, where he struggles out of it and wanders off. A search party finds him shortly thereafter.
Back in the States, a newly humbled Tony announces that his company will no longer manufacture weapons, much to the dismay of his stockholders and business partners. Leaving the details of repurposing the company to Stane, Tony recruits Pepper to help him install a new, more powerful arc reactor in his chest. Thereafter, Tony and his robots work on a new version of the armor, with more weapons, better flight capability, prettier colors and so on. When he’s finally finished, he ventures out to a party where he flirts with Pepper and trade barbs with the accusatory female reporter from the beginning. During the latter conversation, it becomes clear to Tony that the terrorists have so many of his weapons because his company sells to them on the sly. When confronted, Stane admits as much, and declares that he’s had Tony locked out of the company’s decision-making process.
Tony dons his newly finished armor and flies to the Middle East, where he smashes several terrorist weapon caches and defeats the terrorist group’s second-in-command. On his way back, alarmed US Military fighter jets engage him. He accidentally damages one during the pursuit, forcing the pilot to bail out. The pilot’s chute gets stuck, so Tony uses his super strength to unstick it before flying off into the sunset. Rhodes gets wind of the situation and covers it up for him.
Even so, news reports of the incident are enough to rouse Stane’s suspicions, so he flies out to meet with the terrorist leader. The terrorist leader offers the reassembled bits of the original suit in exchange for samples of the finished product. Stane paralyzes him with some sort of sonic device and takes the suit, leaving his mercenaries to wipe out the terrorist leader and his troops.
Meanwhile, Tony recruits Pepper to break into his former office and steal records of Stane’s misdeeds, hoping to find out where all his weapons have been sold so that he can track them down and destroy them. Pepper does so, discovering in the process that Stane was the one who hired the terrorists to eliminate Tony. The only reason they let Tony live is because they got greedy for more weapons. Stane walks in on her near the end, but she puts him off long enough to escape with the data and run to a nearby federal agent.
Stane realizes his peril and hurries to his weapons development department to check on the progress of his prototype. The technicians in charge reply that it’s finished except for the miniature arc reactor that makes it go. They have a giant arc reactor, and they know how it works, but only Tony has the expertise to make one that fits in the suit’s chest plate. Stane shows up at Tony’s place to paralyze him with his sonic device and yank the miniature arc reactor out of his chest. One interminable gloating session later, Stane wanders out again, leaving the reactor-less Tony to die.
With his last bit of strength and a little help from his robots, Tony crawls into his basement laboratory and reinstalls the underpowered arc reactor he made in the terrorist cave. It’s not enough to completely power the new suit, but Tony puts it on anyway to pursue Stane. Pepper, in the meantime, has gathered a cadre of agents, leading them to the weapons factory to arrest Stane. Stane has installed the arc reactor in his giant robotic suit; he uses it to swat the agents aside and go after her. Tony arrives, and the metal-suited nemeses do battle across the freeway and up into the sky. They end up on the roof of the factory, where Tony’s suit finally runs out of power. He instructs Pepper to overload the giant arc reactor below them. She does so; it blows Tony out of the way while frying Stane.
Later, with the media dying to know who this new hero “Iron Man” really is, federal agents provide Tony with an alibi to protect his secret identity. Tony announces “I am Iron Man” at the press conference anyway. Waiting through approximately ten minutes worth of end credits will net you an additional scene (also riffed) where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of S.H.I.E.L.D., arrives to recruit Iron Man/Tony into the Avengers.
Lots of summary for this one, but it’s only two hours long, which is actually pretty short for a superhero epic. And it’s good, too. Iron Man gives us reasonably well-developed characters that talk more or less like real people, a hero more focused on fixing his own mistakes than on an ambiguously general goal of “fighting crime”, and a villain who would rather maintain stock prices and earn decent profits than take over the world. Yeah, it’s a bit silly that they would have to dress in high-tech jousting armor and throw each other through walls to accomplish these goals, and several of the character names pass well beyond the borders of absurdity, but would the film have been quite as much fun if they didn’t? For a comic book movie, this is just about as good as it gets.
The above elements are both the Rifftrax commentary’s downfall and salvation. Mike, Bill and Kevin do lots of this kind of movie in no small part because any superhero film, no matter how much you drape it in seriousness, is hilariously dumb at its heart. Iron Man provides all kinds of opportunities for merriment. When Tony reveals his plans to bust out of the terrorist hideout with a robotic suit, Bill says, “He got those plans from Wile E. Coyote.” As Tony plays with his finished suit while he contemplates going after the terrorists himself, Kevin says, “The toughest part of gaining any power: deciding whether or not to go mad with it.” As Tony crawls to his basement with a gaping metal hole in his chest, Mike says, “If only he had a can of spinach to jam in that hole.” My viewing was only slightly marred by a stylistic problem. The rambling, semi-realistic dialog of Iron Man doesn’t seem to mesh with riffing quite as well as the more standard style employed by most films, as it often forces the riffers to talk over the top of the characters. It only happens every ten to fifteen minutes or so, just often enough to merit the warning. Every other part of it is funny as hell.
(2003, Adventure/Fantasy, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
Skelepirates! Or do you prefer zombuccaneers?
In a nutshell:
Contains Johnny Depp, two young and skeletally thin lovers, and a lot of undead pirates.
The introductory scenes introduce us to younger versions of our star-crossed lovers, as the crew of the ship upon which Elizabeth travels hauls Will’s soggy, unconscious body from the water. Young Elizabeth sees a golden pirate medallion around Will’s neck and steals it so that the ship’s pirate-hating captain won’t hang the boy.
Further introductory scenes reintroduce us to their young adult versions. Stick-thin Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) still treasures the pirate medallion she stole and pines for stick-thin swordsmith Will (a post-elf Orlando Bloom), even as her father Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) encourages her to marry the humorless Commodore Norrington, otherwise known as the pirate-hating captain of the opening scenes. Now, with all the boring introductions out of the way, we finally get to meet Jack.
Semi-renowned pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) sails into port on a half-sunk boat that immediately finishes sinking upon arrival. His attempt to jack a new ship out of the harbor goes awry when Elizabeth’s corset causes her to faint and fall into the water. Jack dives in after her, cutting off the corset so that she can breathe. He is, of course, arrested and imprisoned for piracy.
However, when Elizabeth fell into the sea, the pirate medallion she was wearing set off a magical shockwave. This draws the attention of a ghostly pirate vessel, which appears in the harbor that night to open fire on the city while the crew runs rampant through the streets. They find Elizabeth and take her and the medallion on board their ship, The Black Pearl. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) agrees to stop attacking the town in exchange for the medallion, but refuses to let her off the ship before they sail away. See, she gave her last name as Turner when she introduced herself, leading the pirates to believe that she is the daughter of the pirate to whom the medallion originally belonged, a Mr. Bootstrap Bill Turner.
This gets us into a bit of backstory in which Barbossa and his crew once sailed to a curséd island, on which they found a curséd chest filled with treasure of the curséd variety. They stole this treasure and caroused it away, discovering soon afterwards that they themselves had become curséd. Though they look normal at most times of the day and night, in moonlight their true skeletal forms appear. This undead condition makes them immune to all the things pirates love best—eating, drinking, fornicating, etc.—and they will do anything to be human again. In order to be rid of the curse, they have to wet each coin with a bit of their own blood and put it back in its chest of origin. They only lack one coin and one bit of blood. The coin is the one possessed by Elizabeth, and since they tied weights to Bootstrap Bill’s legs to confine his undead carcass to the bottom of the ocean, the blood they need belongs to his child.
Meanwhile, Will comes to with the realization that pirates have kidnapped his beloved. Unable to convince Norrington and Governor Swann to cooperate with his desperate rescue plan, Will springs Jack from prison to help him find her. They steal one of Norrington’s ships and sail to Tortuga for a crew. Then they set sail for the island that is, uh, curséd...
How does Jack know about the curse, you ask? Well, he was the one who originally discovered the location of the treasure-bearing isle, and was on his way to plunder said treasure when his traitorous first mate led a mutiny, leaving Jack marooned on a deserted island and sailing away with his ship. Of course the first mate and ship to whom I refer are Barbossa and The Black Pearl, respectively.
Jack and Will row into the treasure-filled caverns to spy on the pirates. Jack tells Will to stay put, but Will doesn’t trust Jack, knocking him out with an oar as soon as his back is turned. While Will sneaks further in, Barbossa takes a bit of Elizabeth’s blood and throws it in with the last curséd coin, but the curse is not lifted. He angrily throws Elizabeth down the pile of treasure to the water. Will sets her free and they escape together, taking all the pirates’ oars with them.
Barbossa discovers Jack, who proposes a bargain. In exchange for the return of his ship, he will tell Barbossa the name of Bootstrap Bill’s real child. Barbossa refuses, preferring to pursue and capture Will and Elizabeth aboard the fleeing ship. Will reveals his parentage to the pirates (yep, he's Bootstrap's son), bargaining the lives of Elizabeth and his crew in exchange for his. Barbossa agrees, marooning Jack and Elizabeth on a deserted island while imprisoning the rest of the crew in the brig. The pirates sail back to the island to break their curse.
The island of Jack and Elizabeth’s exile turns out to have a disused rum runner’s stash. Elizabeth gets Jack to drink himself into a stupor so that she can set the rest of the island’s liquor stores on fire. The smoke draws the attention of her would-be fiancé Norrington. In exchange for her hand in marriage, Norrington agrees to pursue the Black Pearl to the island and rescue Will. Jack goes into the cavern again to try and bargain for his ship. In exchange, he will deliver Norrington’s ship into Barbossa’s hands. Barbossa agrees and sends his crew to take over Norrington’s ship.
As soon as most of the pirates are gone, Will, Jack and Elizabeth (who sneaked in a little late) do battle with Barbossa and the remaining pirates. Eventually Barbossa tries to shoot Elizabeth, but is instead shot by Jack. This shot turns out to be retroactively fatal, as Will throws in the last coin with his blood just a few seconds later. With the curse broken, the undead pirates become alive again, losing their unkillable advantage. Norrington takes them all prisoner. Elizabeth, Will and Jack emerge from the cavern to find that Jack’s newly freed crew has absconded with the ship. Norrington takes them prisoner as well.
In the end, Elizabeth becomes affianced to Norrington, Will is pardoned, and Jack is sentenced to hang. Will rescues Jack from the noose at the last second, with a little help from a distracting and perfectly timed faint from Elizabeth. Jack and Will are quickly and easily recaptured, but Elizabeth intervenes. Norrington releases Elizabeth from her betrothal while Jack falls into the harbor. He swims out to meet the Black Pearl, which has come to pick him up.
I’m not sure which I find more implausible: Orlando Bloom as a blacksmith, or Keira Knightley in a corset. I mean, sure, most fashionable ladies wore them back then, but Keira hasn’t got a fat cell worth squeezing in her entire body, unless she’s hiding them all in her bone marrow. In a similar objection, even I’ve got more muscles than Orlando Bloom, and I was six feet tall and 120 pounds until I was twenty-five years old. Does this movie really expect me to believe that rail-thin Will has lifted hammers, anvils, and other huge blocks of iron all day every day for his entire adult life? And what does it say about me that I have more of a problem with the stick insect lovers than all the confusing undead pirate shenanigans?
Thankfully, none of this matters when we get to Jack. Arguably the most truly original pirate in the history of pirate movies, Jack Sparrow has the ragged nautical attire and scruffy facial hair demanded by his profession, but tempers his standard piratical jargon with a dreamy philosophical lisp while wearing Cure fan-levels of eyeliner and swinging his hips like a drunken prostitute. If the above description sounds like a homosexual goth pirate, well, no, he’s not that either. Jack is masculine, in an oily, filthy sort of way. He is also cheerful, eloquent, slippery and utterly untrustworthy. If you ran into him in a dark alley he wouldn’t hit you over the head and make off with your wallet. He’d invade your personal space by putting his face mere inches away from yours while he talked you round in circles until you gave him your wallet and walked away feeling like you got the better end of the deal. Fascinating, endearing, and infinitely likeable—really, the makers of this movie ought to be getting down on their knees every night and thanking the Gods of Cinema that Johnny Depp decided to be in their movie, because without him, Curse of the Black Pearl is almost as stupid and even a little sillier than the universally reviled Cutthroat Island.
Mike, Kevin and Bill have plenty to work with in this, their first foray into Disney territory. When Jack appears for the first time, Mike says, “Ms. Katherine Hepburn as Mary, Queen of Scots,” while Bill notes “His walk is John Wayne plus Carol Channing, divided by Daffy Duck.” When the Black Pearl first appears, Kevin sings his own version of the Love Boat theme, “Death, exciting and new / Come aboard, we’re dismembering you...” My favorite bit is Mike’s gay dance instructor routine during Jack and Will’s prancy little swordfight in the smithy. The commentary is a bit uneven, but that doesn’t mean that any of it is boring—the best sections are gut-bustingly hilarious while the worst sections are merely funny. It’s not among the best Rifftrax they’ve ever done, but it’s more than close enough.
(2001, Adventure/Crime, color)
Mike Nelson and Richard Cheese
King Hippo is fighting Soda Popinski...
In a nutshell:
Eleven thieves pull off an outrageously complicated heist.
Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is released from prison after serving five years for burglary and immediately starts recruiting for his next heist. To this end, he reconnects with his old partner Brad Pitt, whose character probably isn’t named Brad Pitt, but with so many names flying every which way, I could only ever think of the characters by their actors’ names. Seriously, the only reason I remembered that Clooney’s name is Ocean is because it’s the title of the friggin’ movie.
Clooney and Pitt fill the roles of masterminds. To fill out their criminal team, they recruit nine other over-exaggerated characters, including Elliott Gould, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Carl Reiner, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, and a few others whose names I don’t know and can’t be bothered to look up. Of course they need an inside man, a pickpocket, a technician, a demolitions expert, and an acrobat. Every heist also needs at least two elderly Jews; one because he’s a champion liar, and another because he can bankroll the operation. They also need two young Mormons, because everyone knows that Mormons are masters of strategic distraction as well as expert getaway drivers.
(I hadn’t ever heard that last stereotype before I saw this film, but I’m glad they told me. It’s nice to know I have some hidden skills to fall back on if my current job ever falls through.)
The target of the heist is a trio of Vegas casinos owned by a humorless man whose name probably isn’t Andy Garcia. I could go over all the rehearsals and false starts with you but it’s really only interesting in the context of the heist itself, which breaks down as follows:
Technician insinuates himself into the casino server room to plant a device that gives him access and control over the surveillance system. Liar checks into the casino hotel shortly thereafter, masquerading as a wealthy Russian. He uses Bankroll’s money to spend his way into Garcia’s good graces, and then insists that Garcia store a certain suitcase full of emeralds in the maximum security vault. Meanwhile, the Mormon boys pose as casino couriers, bluffing the guards into storing a large case in the vault.
Also meanwhile, Pickpocket shows up posing as a Gaming Commission officer, accusing Insider of falsifying his identity to get a job at the casino. This gets him past security. When the racially-charged playacting with Insider is finally over, Pickpocket pretends to forget his pager. Garcia is in a hurry to leave; he tells Pickpocket to find his own way out of the secure area. Having lifted the security codes out of Garcia’s pocket, Pickpocket takes the elevator down towards the vault.
Of course security has cameras in the elevator, the vault, the hallways, and almost everywhere else. In order to distract the guards from the unfolding shenanigans, Liar fakes a heart attack. While they’re tending him, Technician remotely switches the camera feeds to unremarkable prerecorded footage. He also intercepts their 911 call, sending Pitt and the Mormon boys in lieu of paramedics. They declare Liar dead at the scene and cart him away.
Also meanwhile, Clooney has been making trouble with Garcia’s girlfriend Julia Roberts, who also happens to be Clooney’s ex-wife. Garcia’s henchmen take Clooney to a room with no surveillance cameras and lock him in with a biker thug. Little do they know that the thug is in Clooney’s pay. He helps Clooney into air ducts and fools the guards outside by making “beating up” noises.
Clooney meets Pickpocket in the elevator shaft. Outside, Demolitions Expert interrupts the city’s power supply for a few crucial minutes so that they can slide past the sensors and down to the bottom of the shaft. They gas and bind the guards. Meanwhile, Acrobat pops out of the large case in the vault and recovers the false emeralds from Liar’s case. Demolitions Expert fashioned them earlier out of explosives; Acrobat fastens them to the inside of the door while Clooney and Pickpocket detonate them from the outside. Together they pack the money into large, unmarked bags.
At this point, Pitt calls up Garcia to let him know that they’re robbing his vault. If he lets them walk out with half the money, they won’t set off the explosives they’ve wired to the other half. Garcia agrees while secretly calling the police. His guards load the money into an unmarked van and then follow it to an airfield. Then he sends a S.W.A.T. team down to catch the thieves as they emerge. There’s gunfire, and the explosives send the rest of the money up in smoke. Disgusted, Garcia sends the S.W.A.T. team away.
Meanwhile, the casino thugs catch up with the van and find out that it’s remotely operated. Then the money inside blows up. Only it’s not money, it’s a bunch of flyers advertising prostitutes. Now we learn that Garcia’s call to the police was intercepted as well, and the S.W.A.T. team was really the thieves in disguise. They walked out with the real money in their equipment bags when he sent them away.
In the meantime, Clooney has crawled back through the air ducts to the room with no surveillance cameras and concluded his beating. Garcia storms in and demands to know if Clooney was in on the heist. Clooney feigns ignorance, but declares that he knows a guy from prison who can find out who it was. He’ll help Garcia track down the culprits if Garcia will promise to stay away from Clooney’s ex-wife. Garcia agrees.
Technician captures this exchange on the security camera and feeds it to the television in Julia Roberts’ room. Roberts realizes that Garcia loves his money more than her. She also realizes What a Fool She’s Been and rushes out to reunite with Clooney. She promises to wait for him as the police cart him away for parole violation.
Three to six months later, Pitt and Roberts pick up Clooney from the penitentiary. Roberts and Clooney declare their love for each other again as Pitt drives them away, unaware that Garcia’s thugs are tailing them in the distance.
You know how in the old cartoons, a character would don sunglasses and an ascot, take a long drag from an enormous cigar, and then throw back his head and exhale with a look of intense and aloof satisfaction? The main characters of Ocean’s Eleven look like that all the time. They’ve all got bags of charisma, oodles of aloofness, and miles of self-satisfaction. It is essentially a film of impossibly cool people doing impossibly cool things while entirely aware of how impossibly cool that is. Yes, it’s sidewalk-puddle shallow, but the heist is elegantly constructed and its perpetrators gleefully suave, so I liked it just fine.
And speaking of the impossible, heist films are ludicrously overcomplicated by nature, but this one takes the cake. You have to wonder about thieves whose plans are so elaborate that a single mistimed action or unexpected circumstance could completely derail the whole thing. The best thing about Ocean’s Eleven is that it doesn't just acknowledge this; it wallows in it. Rule number one of Ocean’s [Insert Number Here] is that no matter what complication arises, Danny Ocean has already thought of it and come up with an ingenious back-up plan. He’s a bit like the Adam West Batman in that respect; no doubt he has a small container of highly compressed frog repellent on his key chain just in case the heist gets interrupted by a biblical plague.
Sadly, this is one of the very few times when the film/Rifftrax experience appears to be less than the sum of its parts. As I said, I liked the movie well enough. The commentary seems decently written. Mike is funny as always and special guest (and comic Vegas lounge singer) Richard Cheese is not great, but passable. The elements just never seemed to mesh. There were a handful of giggles but no laugh-out-loud lines. (My favorite exchange comes when Mike makes up an absurd Mormon stereotype and then defends it to Richard by saying “Just because you’ve never heard of it doesn’t mean it’s not true.” But then, I’ve got personal reasons for thinking that’s funny.) The commentary and the film don’t even seem to be straining against each other, as was the case with Beowulf and Cloverfield. They just mix together into a kind of bland grayness. It’s not painful to watch, but with dozens of far better Rifftrax commentaries to choose from, you’d probably be better off watching one of them instead.
(2002, Crime-Drama, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
If you look really closely, you can see his thumbnail getting shorter as well.
In a nutshell:
A man with short-term memory loss hunts for his wife’s killer.
We begin with the film in reverse. Leonard (Guy Pearce) shakes the Polaroid of a bloody corpse until the picture fades. When it fades completely, he puts it back into the camera and takes the picture. Then the gun flies back into his hand from where he threw it. Now the bullet zooms out of the corpse to return to the gun...
The scene changes to black and white footage of Leonard in a hotel room. He explains that he woke up in the hotel room, but doesn’t know how he got there. He has a note taped to his thigh telling him to shave it, so he does.
Back to the color scenes, a little bit before the shooting. Leonard accompanies a man named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) into an abandoned building, and then beats him “for what you did to my wife.” Teddy protests that Leonard doesn’t know who he is anymore, and asks him to go with him down to the basement to find out. Leonard shoots Teddy.
And it goes on like this. The black and white scenes take place in normal cause-and-effect-based chronology. During this sequence we learn that Leonard has brain damage that prevents him from forming memories. He can remember everything up to the point of his wife’s murder, but his head got smashed into a mirror during the incident and now he can only remember a few minutes at a time before his mind goes back to the beginning again. He has to keep track of his hunt for the killer by means of notes and tattoos.
Leonard explains this to a man on the phone, whose identity he has already begun to forget, while he follows the notes he wrote himself to tattoo another note onto his thigh. Soon he’s telling the caller the story of a man named Sammy Jankis.
Sammy Jankis suffered from the same affliction as Leonard, but was far less organized. Before his accident, Leonard was an insurance claims investigator assigned to investigate the claim for benefits filed by Sammy’s wife. Leonard ultimately recommended denial of the claim, as he incorrectly assumed Sammy’s condition to be mental instead of physical. As a result, Sammy’s wife kept trying to cure her husband by making him do something, and then as soon as he forgot, making him do it again. Finally, as a diabetic, she asked him to give her three insulin shots in a row. Sammy didn’t remember doing it previously, so he obeyed her. She went into a coma and died.
Now, from notes tattooed all over his body, Leonard knows that his wife’s killer’s name is John G. or James G., and he’s a drug dealer. The caller tells him that he’s found the man Leonard wants, and offers to arrange a meeting. Leonard agrees.
Interleaved with the black and white scenes are scenes in color that move backwards in time. Each subsequent scene takes place before its predecessor, showing us the effect and then the cause, which was an effect of a different cause, and so on. Why did Leonard go into the abandoned building with Teddy? Because he has a note identifying Teddy as his wife’s killer. Where did that note come from? He wrote it himself, based on information he got from a woman named Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss). Why did she find this information for him? Because he asked her to find out the identity of the owner of a car with a certain license plate number. Why did she agree to do this? Because he ran a man named Dodd out of town for her.
Why did Leonard run Dodd out of town for her? Because she insulted the memory of Leonard’s dead wife until Leonard beat her up, and then she stole all the pens in the house so that he couldn’t write a note to himself about the incident. Then she went out into the driveway to wait until his mind went blank. And then she ran back in to show him her injuries, claiming that Dodd beat her up because Leonard sent her to speak with him.
Why does Natalie need someone to deal with Dodd? Because her boyfriend went missing with a lot of Dodd’s money. How does she know Leonard? Well, Leonard showed up at the bar where she works because a note in his pocket told him to. Those last two effect-and-causes won’t seem connected until I tell you that Natalie’s missing boyfriend’s name is Jimmy G...
Let’s switch back to the last black and white scene, where Leonard goes out to the hotel lobby to meet his mysterious caller. It’s Teddy, who sends him to meet a drug dealer named Jimmy G. at an abandoned building. At the abandoned building, Leonard accuses Jimmy of killing his wife and then strangles him to death. Only by the time he’s done strangling him, he’s forgotten why, so he drags the corpse into the basement and goes looking for help.
By now we’ve wandered back to the place where the black and white scenes meet the color scenes. Teddy shows up, but Leonard doesn’t remember him either, forcing Teddy to explain as follows: Teddy was the cop originally assigned to investigate Leonard’s wife’s assault. With his help, Leonard tracked down and killed the real John G. a year ago, but Leonard forgot because of his condition and began to search again. Figuring that he couldn’t stop Leonard from hunting, Teddy decided to use him to kill Jimmy so that they could steal all the money (well, Dodd’s money) from the trunk of Jimmy’s car. Furthermore, the story about Sammy Jankis is a lie that Leonard tells over and over again to condition himself to believe that his wife died in the assault, instead of later when she used Leonard’s condition to kill herself with an insulin overdose.
Leonard is enraged that Teddy would use him like this. He finds out that Teddy’s real name is John G., so he hides Teddy’s keys. While Teddy’s busy looking for them, he dresses up in Jimmy’s clothes and takes Jimmy’s car. Before he can forget that any of this happened, he writes himself a note to get a tattoo of Teddy’s license plate number, knowing that this will lead him to hunt Teddy in the days to come. As he drives off to the tattoo parlor, he finds a note in the pocket of Jimmy’s coat (which he now thinks is his coat) telling him to meet Natalie.
Of all the films I’ve reviewed for this guide, this was the most difficult to summarize. I apologize if I’ve gotten some of the order wrong, or made it sound too confusing. It isn’t really. Yes, the color scenes are presented in reverse order, but each scene clearly focuses on what caused the events of the previous scene, so you’re never lost about what’s going on. Add in the more straightforward black and white sequence and you’ve got an ingeniously constructed film that starts at both the beginning and the end and works its way from each side towards the middle. The whole thing blends seamlessly, an amazing accomplishment made even more amazing when you realize that a single misplaced or overly ambiguous scene could have sent the whole thing wrong.
Mike, Kevin and Bill are on hand for the commentary, keeping mostly to the background with short quips that relate directly to the action. And really, this is for the best, as the story will demand most of your attention. When Leonard tries push a door marked “pull”, Bill references a famous Far Side cartoon with, “Lenny graduated from the Midvale School for the Gifted.” When we see Leonard take a picture he’s been carrying around for most of the previous film, Kevin says, “Finally told: the sacred origin myth of this crappy Polaroid.” When Leonard strips Jimmy’s body, Mike says, “If you’ve gotten really good at de-pantsing a corpse, you need to take a really good look at your life.” When the end credits roll, Mike tries to get into the reverse chronology spirit by introducing the film. It’s a humorous and unobtrusive commentary, but the movie mostly drowns it out. Fortunately, it’s a good movie.
(2002, Fantasy/Children, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
Every Friday the truck pulls up and unloads another few tons of whimsy.
In a nutshell:
The iconic boy wizard returns to school for his second year/encounter with dark magic.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets assumes audience familiarity with the events of its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, so I’m not going to waste time by summarizing what went before. Here’s my review of the latter film, in case you need to refresh your memory.
Joining the story in progress, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has returned to the abusive care of the Dursleys, consisting of an aunt, uncle and cousin who collectively hate having him around but also can’t bear to let him leave. Don’t bother asking why; the author won’t get around to explaining this for another book or three. On one night in particular, Harry has been confined to his room and warned not to interrupt an important business dinner. Of course this is the night in which a self-mutilating little piece of CGI, a.k.a. Dobby the House Elf, appears to warn Harry not to return to Hogwarts, as there is a plot against his life. When asked for specific details about this plot, Dobby can only crack his head against the furniture, raising a ruckus and drawing the ire of the Dursleys downstairs. When Harry refuses to say he will not return to Hogwarts, Dobby smashes a cake all over the head of the Dursleys’ Very Important Guests.
Harry is, of course, blamed and punished, but it’s all right, because his friend Ron (Rupert Grint) and his brothers somehow sense his distress and rescue him with a flying car. At this point the already only barely existent plot goes into idle mode to make way for a barrage of whimsical encounters, during which we meet Ron’s wildly eccentric family, head back to the wizard-specific shopping mall Diagon Alley for school supplies, meet their narcissistic new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), and exchange sinister threats with school rival Malfoy and his father Lucius. You’d think they’d get back to the plot when school started, but no, there’s some more nonsense with the flying car and an aggressive tree, followed by the unexplained forgiveness of this flagrant destruction of property and violation of school rules.
We finally get back to the story when Harry starts hearing voices in the walls that no one else can hear. Soon afterwards, students start turning up petrified accompanied by threatening messages painted on the walls in blood. Harry discovers a magical diary in a haunted toilet. Said diary explains why groundskeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) is to blame, and indeed, the magical powers-that-be seem to have reached that conclusion as well, as Hagrid is carted away to wizard prison. Before he goes, he tells Harry to “follow the spiders” to find out the truth. This piece of advice almost gets Harry and Ron killed by giant, man-eating arachnids, but at least they find out that Hagrid wasn’t to blame after all. They also find out that the creature responsible for the petrifications is called a basilisk, and it emerges from a place in the school called the Chamber of Secrets, which could only be opened by the Heir of Slytherin.
There are a lot of other jumbled explanations, shenanigans and subplots that I could go into, but this summary is long and confusing enough already. Sufficeth to say that the Heir of Slytherin was Voldemort, who wrote the magic diary that falsely accused Hagrid, and whose failed attempt to murder Harry as a baby (again, see the previous book/film) transferred his power to speak to snakes to our eponymous hero. Harry uses this power to open the Chamber of Secrets, kill the serpentine basilisk (with some help from the deus ex machina bird), and destroy the diary. In the end, we discover that it was Malfoy’s father Lucius who planted the diary, which possessed a student, who opened the chamber and petrified all the other students, etc., and so on, whatever. Dobby the House Elf was Lucius’ slave, who could tell Harry there was a plot, but was magically bound not to tell what it was. Harry frees Dobby, all the petrified kids are unpetrified, Hagrid is released from prison, and then everyone applauds for the final twenty minutes of the film. That last statement was not an exaggeration.
Chamber of Secrets is, in my estimation, the least of the Harry Potter installments, both as a film and as a book. Novel-wise, Ms. Rowling appears to have been so enamored of her fantasy school setting that she forgot to make the book about anything until she was more than fifty pages in. The film follows suit by including as much of the non-essential prologue as possible so that it’s nearly an hour before anything of consequence bothers to happen.
Dobby the House Elf doesn’t help either. In earlier posts I’ve called him “the Jar Jar Binks of children’s literature,” a comparison I’ve subsequently seen elsewhere online, and heard made by Kevin during the Rifftrax commentary itself. I doubt anyone copied this statement from anyone else. I should think no one would have to. A hideous, computer-generated, rock-stupid comic relief character that contributes nothing to the story beyond vague and insistent feelings of anxiety and nausea? The comparison cries out to be made.
Once the plot finally starts and Dobby mostly drops out, the book staggers back to its feet and marches on without much in the way of further complications. Unfortunately for us, the movie does not follow suit. With only an hour-and-a-half left of running time to go—the last twenty minutes of which is clapping; I wasn’t making that up—the film attempts to compact the rest of the plot without leaving anything out, making the whole thing seem jumbled and perfunctory. Small wonder they got someone else to direct the subsequent installment.
Fortunately, the broadest, messiest, and most exuberantly bad films to receive Rifftrax treatment are often the funniest as well, and this one definitely fits into that category. When Dobby tries to get past his magical gag order to warn Harry at the beginning, he says “This is difficult to say,” to which Bill adds, “I’m your real father.” When the cake drops onto the head of the Dursley’s Very Important Guest, Mike says, “I guess I shouldn’t have served the Tort of Damocles.” When Harry accidentally ends up in a shop of dried hands and severed heads, Kevin says, “This is how creeped out I was when I accidentally wandered into a Bed, Bath and Beyond.” The commentary is consistently funny with a quotable quip every minutes, so much so that approximately forty minutes into the film I looked down and realized I’d found more than enough quotes for this review and stopped writing them down. Though the film itself is far inferior to its predecessor, somehow the Rifftrax for it is much, much funnier.
(1999, Horror/Drama, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
This is great! I hardly feel dead at all!
In a nutshell:
A child psychologist tries to help a little boy who sees ghosts.
Renowned child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) comes home from an award banquet one night to find a nearly nude former patient having a nervous breakdown in his bathroom. Malcolm tells his wife to hide while he tries to help the now-grown lunatic. A poor decision, as it turns out. The underpanted interloper pulls a gun and shoots Malcolm in the gut before turning it on himself.
A year later, Malcolm has apparently recovered, but his relationship with his wife is now strained. She wanders depressively around the house mostly ignoring him. Disturbed by this, but nevertheless driven by a need to work, Malcolm visits a former patient with symptoms similar to the man who shot him. Cole (Haley Joel Osment) is an introverted child with disturbing habits, like drawing dismemberments and scrawling violent profanity in his notebook.
Cole tries to avoid Malcolm at first, but their sessions get a little friendlier as the film progresses. A turning point comes after a couple of Cole’s “friends” lock him in a crawlspace, and he flips out. In the hospital, he confesses to Malcom, "I see dead people,” and said dead people won’t leave him alone. Quoth he, “They only see what they want to see. They don’t even know that they’re dead.” Doggedly ignoring the obvious, Malcolm makes soothing noises while making plans to hospitalize his young patient.
The film starts to share Cole’s visions with us, such as the suicide woman in his kitchen, the gunshot-to-the-head boy in his bedroom, and various hanging victims in the school stairwell. Malcolm can’t see them, but nevertheless decides against hospitalizing Cole. That’s what he did with underpants man, and it didn’t work out. He goes back to his records of underpants man and listens to a recording he made of one of their sessions. His past self had to step out for a moment, and the room got really cold, and a man started whispering in Spanish to the boy while he was gone. Malcolm realizes that Cole really can see ghosts. So could underpants man, and it drove him crazy.
Malcolm finds Cole and tells him that the ghosts aren’t really scary. They only want his help. All he has to do is listen to them. Cole takes his advice that night when a sickly girl ghost pops into his bedroom to vomit ethereal porridge all over his room. Cole runs away, then steels himself to go back and ask her what she wants.
Next day he and Malcolm take a bus to another part of town so that he can attend the ghost girl’s funeral. He wanders up to her room. The ghost girl appears and gives him a box. Cole takes the box to the girl’s father. The father finds a videotape inside. It’s a recording the girl made of one of her puppet shows while she was alive. The show gets interrupted when the mom shows up with lunch. Unaware of the camera, mom positions herself between the girl and her lunch so she can spike the porridge with cleaning chemicals. The father confronts his wife with it, determined to protect his younger daughter from similar abuse.
Cole begins to take his job of ghost assistance specialist seriously, and is soon doing well at school and with his relationship with his mom. Malcolm congratulates him and prepares to terminate their sessions. Cole tells Malcolm to try and talk to his wife about his concerns while she’s asleep. Malcom smiles indulgently, but decides to try anyway.
His wife is asleep when he gets home, so he starts talking. She responds, saying that she misses him, and asks why he had to leave. She shifts in her sleep, dropping his wedding ring on the floor. Malcolm lifts his hands to see that he is no longer wearing it. He realizes that he didn’t survive the shooting after all, and that no one but Cole has been able to see him all along. He says goodbye to his wife, and moves on into the afterlife.
Okay, I’m thinking that M. Night Shyamalan must have an evil twin, and that said evil twin has done away with his brother, planting him in a shallow grave somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. I’m also thinking that Dark M. Night has taken over his brother’s life and even now wields Light M. Night’s hard-won film industry influence to everyone’s detriment. It’s pretty obvious this happened in or around 2003, between Signs and The Village. How else do you explain the abrupt drop in tone and quality for all works after that year?
(I also believe this happened to George Lucas, but fixing the exact year is a bit more difficult. It could have happened at any point between 1983 and 1999.)
Is it possible that the man who made Lady in the Water also made this? That such a jumbled, tedious and arbitrary piece of celluloid shares parentage with a suspenseful, deliberately paced and often moving thriller like The Sixth Sense? Yes, it’s slow, but it’s never boring. Every scene leads to something, which then leads to something else and so one, continuously propelling the movie forward. It doesn’t shy away from grossness or gore, but it doesn’t rely on them for shock value either. The shocks come from the way they invade Cole’s life, not from the wounds that caused their death. I found the twist ending satisfying even though I already knew about it going in. It made sense in the context of the story without inventing new details, and it brought closure to the story in a way that a sunny reconciliation could not. In fact, if you have the patience to pay attention and let movie come to you, I heartily recommend any of M. Night’s films between 1999 and 2002. After that, well, I think it would be best for everyone if we all just pretend that he’s dead, and that subsequent films are the work of an impostor.
As I prepared to watch this film with the Rifftrax, I worried that the commentary would shatter the suspense, making the movie merely tedious. Happily, this is not the case. The Sixth Sense’s slow, quiet qualities work actually in the Rifftrax crew’s favor, giving them plenty spaces to fill with jokes. As our movie opens with Shyamalan’s trademark raspy whispers, Mike wants to know, “Do they have a cake in the oven?” Later, during a discussion about the director’s name, Mike demands that his co-riffers address him as “M. Late Afternoon Nelson.” When Malcolm scrawls a bit of Cole’s translated Latin prayer on a notepad, Bill strains to read it to us. “Out of the depths, I cry unto you oh Lars?” When Cole delivers the movie’s most famous line in the midst of explaining how dead people often don’t even know they’re dead, the camera zooms dramatically in on Malcolm’s face while Kevin whispers, “Must... not... put... two... and... two... together...” Even while working in concert, The Sixth Sense movie/Rifftrax combo requires a modicum of patience. If you’ve got enough to spare, it’s a thrilling and funny experience.
Welcome, won't you?
Still working my way through House of Wax (I hate Dead Teenager movies almost as much as I hate Torture Porn) so I only have a small housekeeping detail for you today. Those of you who follow of my practice adding comments to each show/season/section of ten Rifftrax will be happy to learn that I have just added more comments to the list page for Rifftrax 051 to 060. Those of you who don't won't care, and thus can ignore this post in its entirety.
Welcome, won't you?
Star Trek Phase II continues its five year mission to shoehorn in every peripheral alumnus of the original series still willing to reprise their role for an appearance fee. This week's episode focuses on Walter Koenig returning as Pavel Chekov in To Serve All My Days. And there are pre-forehead Klingons! Too bad they mostly just sit around and talk. The review has been posted here.
Welcome, won't you?
The Two Towers seems rather mistitled. Sure, there are two towers in it, but only briefly, and if anyone ever mentioned their names (Orthanc and Barad-Dur) I must have missed it. And if that weren't enough, peripheral towers abound. There's Minas Tirith, Cirith Ungol, Minas Morgul, whatever the hell that tower at Helm's Deep with the horn it it is called... On the other hand, the more descriptive Hobbits Creep Around Ineffectually While Big People Fight just doesn't have the same ring.
In case you hadn't guessed by now, the review for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has been posted.
Also: The Rifftrax Presents tracks for Faux Star Trek episode To Serve All My Days and Paris Hilton vehicle House of Wax are now available. Of note: Video On Demand versions of Star Trek Phase II episodes are no longer available. See the catalog pages for instructions on how to obtain the unriffed video file, then sync by hand with the Rifftrax.
And now, a pair of samples, behind the cut:
Welcome, won't you?
As followers of the Rifftrax blog may already know, Rifftraxer Bill Corbett has challenged Cinematic Titan Mary Jo Pehl to a riff-off. Apparently she has accepted, because on June 3, 2008 the pair will meet at sunrise, stand back to back, walk twenty paces, then turn and fire barbs at The X-Files: Fight the Future. I suggest you stake out a good vantage point now, and show up wearing your bulletproof vests. Tinfoil hats are optional.
...Mike, Bill and Kevin will reprise their live riffing of the Ed Wood classic Plan 9 from Outer Space at the Balboa Theater in San Diego on July 26, 2008. I suggest you go if at all possible.
Me? I'll be staying home, making do with the previously released commentary for that film. Now that I finally have the time and funds for this kind of thing, everyone appears to be avoiding the Bay Area. Mike, Joel, come back to San Francisco. I promise I won't bite, or try to hump your leg.
Oh, and welcome, won't you?
Welcome, won't you?
1) I hope you've managed to set aside five or six hours tonight, because the Mike/Kevin/Bill Rifftrax for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers comes out today. I've got to be up and about, so I probably won't be picking mine up until this evening. In the meantime, I've posted a sample behind the cut.
Update: It's available now. And here's a special note for the generous and thus far anonymous soul responsible for the gift credit in my Rifftrax account. You, sir or madam, are a prince or princess among men and/or women. Thank you.
2) Now that Wired.com has posted all the supposedly confidential information on the new Cinematic Titanic release, trying to keep the secret myself seems a bit silly. The trailer for Joel and Friends' take on the 1972 camp SciFi flick Doomsday Machine has also been posted behind the cut.