11/26/08

Turkey Surprise!

Is Mike's version of Jack Perkins gay?  Not even he knows for sure.Welcome, won't you?

No new announcements or releases today, just a suggestion for a little holiday viewing. This Thanksgiving, why not gather with friends and family to watch the Turkey Day version of Night of the Blood Beast? A well-riffed film prefaced by the hilarious short Once Upon a Honeymoon, with funny Thanksgiving-themed host segments dispersed throughout. Granted, it was only aired twice back in the nineties, and hasn't been released on home video, but anyone with a decent broadband connection and an understanding of Bittorrent* ought to be able to get it from the Digital Archive Project overnight.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
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*Please note that the author of this site and the maintainers of the Digital Archive Project only endorse Bittorrent as a method of MST3K acquisition where the episode in question cannot be commercially released for legal reasons. In other words, support the artists wherever possible. Our financial encouragement is what keeps the riffers riffing.

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11/25/08

Rifftrax 069-077

R069 The Dark Knight

R070 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


R071 Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

R072 Reefer Madness (Three Riffer Version)

R073 Little Shop of Horrors (Three Riffer Version)


R074 House on Haunted Hill (Three Riffer Version)

R075 Night of the Living Dead (Three-Riffer Version)

R045.5 Missile to the Moon (Three Riffer Version)

R076 Jaws

R077 Carnival of Souls (Three Riffer Version)

As you may have noticed, this chunk of ten is infested with Three-Riffer Versions. These are do-overs of ancient Mike solo commentaries, originally sold before Rifftrax was Rifftrax, and originally reviewed in the Video on Demand section of this guide. Carnival of Souls and Little Shop of Horrors are the best of these. Night of the Living Dead is the most re-written from the original riff, but I still don't like the movie. Missile to the Moon isn't re-written at all--Mike, Bill and Kevin simply re-read the original script from the Mike Nelson/Fred Willard version almost word for word. The official Rifftrax list doesn't even consider it a separate release, hence the odd episode number.

This leaves slim pickings for Rifftrax of the non-reheated variety, but thankfully they're all at least decent. The original Star Wars is the standout here; throughout, numerous references to the cringe-inducing sequels had me on the floor. Prisoner of Azkaban is a close second, while the other two (Jaws and The Dark Knight) are funny enough, but too distracting to allow too much attention to the commentary.

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R077 Carnival of Souls (Three Riffer Version)

(1962, Horror, colorized)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

Every minute spent listening to the organ is penance for our sins.

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:


Waterlogged spooks haunt a young church organist.

Summary:

Welcome to the Undead Cabaret![Summary borrowed from the first time I reviewed this film.]

The movie kicks off in Kansas with a cautious, low-speed drag race gone horribly wrong. A car full of boys accidentally nudges a car full of girls over the side of a one-lane bridge; volunteers drag the river for hours, but find nothing. Just as they’re about to give up, one of the passengers—a sodden young woman named Mary—hauls herself onto the shore.

Despite the trauma of the accident and the apparent deaths of her carmates, she remains unmoved by recent events, leaving town to start a previously accepted job as a church organist in Utah. En route, she sees an abandoned amusement park and several visions of a waterlogged zombie (played by the director, Herk Harvey).

Mary arrives and tries to go about her life as usual, checking in with her new boss and her landlady and fending off the advances of her oily fellow boarder. She remains troubled by visions of the undead, however, and sometimes no one can see or hear her. Throughout, her clergyman boss, doctor friend, and oily fellow boarder all remark about how detached she seems, as if she has no interest sharing her life with her fellow men.

The director, ladies and gentlemen.She eventually loses her grip on the real world; one day at church, she falls into a trance and plays creepy organ music while she hallucinates a tribe of watery undead dancing at the abandoned amusement park. Her boss calls the music “profane” and makes her stop. He fires her from her job and offers religious comfort in the same breath. The doctor friend and the oily fellow boarder are no help either. She tries to flee the state, but car troubles and further undead shenanigans prevent her.

That night she goes to the amusement park to confront her fears. She watches the water zombies dance; one of them with her undead self. She screams and flees, but the zombies pursue and capture her. Later, the police find her car, as well as the footprints of the chase through the sand, but the footprints vanish at a point in the middle of the beach. Even laterer, the volunteers back in Kansas finally find the car at the bottom of the river. Inside they find the remarkably well-preserved corpses of Mary and her companions.

Thoughts:

You'll find yourself wishing the actors involved really looked that good.So water zombies like ballroom dance and practical jokes? Kind of makes them less scary. I know I’m far more comfortable with a form of undead that doesn’t want to eat my brain, and is only liable to haunt me if I’m already undead myself. Still, though slow and largely plotless, Carnival of Souls is an effective and reasonably spooky horror film from the days when horror directors had to make do with mood instead of gore.

Commentary-wise, I think I have to take away Little Shop of Horrors’ “Most Improved Three-Riffer Do-Over” award and give it to this film. Not that the end product is any funnier; in terms of laughs per second, I think three-riffer Little Shop and three-riffer Carnival come out about the same. While Little Shop has good pacing and comedic timing to begin with, however, Carnival of Souls starts from much further down the riffability scale. That Mike, Bill and Kevin can make something this slow this funny is a minor miracle. A sampling of the commentary: when Mary struggles to explain her move to Utah to her coworkers, Kevin says, “I’ve heard that Utah is a glittering paradise, filled with scads of eligible bachelors.” As yet another shot lingers on the deserted Saltair amusement park, Mike says, “The mood of this thing would have been wholly different if she had become obsessed with, say, the St. Louis Convention Center during their wood flooring sale.” When the sheriff follows Mary’s footprints near the end and says, “And then nothing,” Bill describes it as his “three-word summary of Carnival of Souls.” Kevin steals the show when things slow down too much, occasionally taking his co-riffers hostage and sending Disembaudio into the movie with a list of demands. It makes the commentary hysterically funny in parts, while remaining at least reasonably funny all the way through.

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R076 Jaws

(1975, Horror/Adventure, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Why does our species have to be so delicious?

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


Three men head out to sea to hunt a killer shark.

Summary:

Mechanical shark not to scale.A drunken young man follows a libertine young woman from a beach party to the surf. While she strips naked and plunges in, he falls down drunk at the shoreline. A shark eats her.

The young man wakes the next morning and gets Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) to help him look for her. They find crab-covered leftovers of her washed up on the beach. The coroner labels it as a shark attack at first, but city officials step in and get him to change the cause of death to “boat accident” before Brody can close the beaches. It’s a summer town, you see. Closed beaches mean no tourists, and no tourists mean no income for the locals.

Of course it really is a shark, which catches and eats a local boy the next day. The boy’s bereaved mother offers a three thousand dollar reward for the shark, which draws would-be shark hunters from miles around. In the midst of the shark-hunting chaos, a shark expert from the Oceanographic Institute arrives to offer his expertise. This is Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss). He examines the young lady’s remains and re-labels it as a shark attack. The autopsy is interrupted by the news that the shark has been caught and killed.

These three are a boat accident waiting to happen.Down at the dock, Hooper measures the shark’s jaw and determines that it isn’t big enough to be the same shark that ate the young woman. His request to cut open the shark goes unheeded, as the mayor is desperate to label the shark incident resolved and salvage the tourist season. Brody takes Hooper back later that night; they cut the shark open to find no people (or pieces thereof) inside. Looking for the shark out in a boat at night, they come across yet a third victim with a huge bite-shaped hole in the side of his fishing boat. Hooper finds and loses a massive shark tooth.

Without the telltale tooth, the mayor refuses to believe them, forcing the beaches to reopen on the Fourth of July. People tentatively dip into the water. A fin appears and everyone runs, but it’s just a pair of kids with scuba equipment and a cardboard fin. While everyone’s sighing with relief, the real shark swims up the shallows of the estuary and eats a man in a rowboat.

With the mayor finally convinced, Brody hires a colorful seaman named Quint (Robert Shaw) to take him and Hooper out shark hunting. Hooper and Quint spend a lot of time playing pointless games of one-upmanship while the rest of the film chronicles their encounters, brushes, near misses and final showdown with the enormous shark. The shark ends up sinking the boat and eating Quint before Brody can feed it one of Hooper’s explosive oxygen tanks. Brody detonates the tank—along with the shark’s head—with a well-placed rifle shot. Hooper and Brody make a small raft out of barrels and start paddling back to shore.

Thoughts:

They're going to need a bigger boat.I listed this movie’s genre as a mixture of horror and adventure, but Jaws is actually two separate films: one horror and one adventure. Thankfully, they’re both good. The horror half is suitably frightening and the adventure half is suitably exciting, so the disparity in tone doesn’t matter that much. Each film even has its own separate mascot, in the form of an over-the-top supporting character. The horror scenes have the gaudily dressed Murray Hamilton (whose enormous credit inspires the comment, “King of all names!”) as Mayor Vaughn, whose dogged and insistent denial of his community’s shark problem stretches the early film’s credibility.

The adventure scenes stretch credibility even more with the unbelievably salty seadog Quint, who dresses like a homeless person and talks like a cartoon pirate. He’s got a loner/survivalist thing going on that makes him break the radio when they very much need it to call for help, and he deliberately destroys his own boat’s engines while pursuing their quarry. I’m not clear on his reasoning, here. Does he want to get them all killed? Sure doesn’t look like it when the shark chomps him down at the end. Maybe he knows he’s in an adventure movie and that a day-saving deus ex machina is more or less inevitable. That being the case, you’d think he’d know that the deus ex machina doesn’t usually kick in until they’ve killed off the most unlikeable character. Maybe he’s under the delusion that he’s more likable than Hooper.

The commentary starts off with Mike, Bill and Kevin discussing whether or not the shark’s attacks can be considered personal. (They conclude that the attacks are not specified as personal until Jaws 4, and thus all attacks in prior films are not.) As the opening scenes introduce our sleepy island hamlet, Bill comments, “Putting ‘Amity’ in your town’s name is like putting out a personal ad for more evil.” When the shark appears to start the final confrontation, Mike says, “I’m here on behalf of sharks everywhere to complain about Jabberjaw!” while Kevin speculates that “this is all leading up to the climactic scene where they get Jaws up on water skis and jump him over Fonzie.” The commentary is funny enough—about average for Mike and company—but certain films are too absorbing for something average, and Jaws seems to fall into that category. My attention sometimes wavered between the comments and the action, but I had a good time both places, so it’s definitely worth seeing.

Oh, and stick around at the end to hear Kevin (with backup vocals by Virginia Corbett) croon a shark-flavored love ballad that lasts until well after the closing credits have finished.

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R045.5 Missile to the Moon (Three Riffer Version)

(1958, SciFi, b&w or colorized)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Hey everyone, I just thought of something. Why are we doing this?

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:


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

Summary:

[Recycled movie, recycled summary. Here’s the first time I used it.]

Hey, how come none of them have been tarted up like blue beauty queens?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 fiancĂ©e 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.”

She later died of terminal neck strain.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.

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:

Once again, here’s the link to my original thoughts on the film. My opinions haven’t changed that much; it’s still a pretty standard example of a fifties space exploration/exploitation movie. It’s perhaps even ahead of the main pack in quality, if only by a hair’s breadth.

I think they meant to say 'Rocket'.Here’s something else that hasn’t changed—the commentary script. The Rifftrax catalog calls it a “reinterpretation”; i.e. it’s either exactly the same as the one read by Mike and Fred Willard previously, or it’s as close as makes no difference. This means that I could just point you back to the original review yet again for a random sample of the comments. Or I could just jot a few of the ones I liked from this viewing: When Lon and Gary first appear in the rocket, Kevin asks, “Hardened toughs, or a couple of guys who wandered away from the Apple Genius bar?” When they ask Dirk if he has a plan to get back from the moon, Bill responds, “We just jump and hope we land in an ocean.” When our heroes meet a rock monster, Bill compares it to “a manatee that got caught in a car crusher.” I prefer the previous iteration of this Rifftrax solely for the novelty of hearing Fred Willard’s voice, but aside from that, there’s no appreciable difference between this version and the last one.

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R075 Night of the Living Dead (Three Riffer Version)

(1968, Horror, colorized)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Zombies sound like Apple fanboys watching a Steve Jobs keynote.

Rating: **

In a nutshell:


Survivors of the zombie apocalypse hide out in an old farmhouse.

Summary:

The Mike, Bill and Kevin version has a happy ending.[Yes, I’ve recycled the summary again. Here’s the first time I used it.]

Barbra and her brother John visit a cemetery to deliver a wreath to a deceased relative’s grave. Barbra becomes nervous as the sun sets, leading John to tease her that the strange, slow man nearby is actually a ghoul come to take her away. She makes him stop and goes to apologize to the man, who seizes and tries to bite her.

John leaps to her defense, and in the brief scuffle that follows the man throws him to the ground. He strikes his head against a gravestone and dies. Barbra flees to their car, but John has the keys. She puts it in neutral and lets it roll down the hill. It crashes into a tree partway down, but the car’s momentum has given her a head start on her hollow-eyed pursuer. She flees across a field to an old farmhouse. Its only apparent occupant is the partially eaten corpse upstairs; this serves to further Barbra’s emotional collapse.

A pickup truck roars up outside, pursued by three more shambling creatures. A young black man named Ben gets out and runs to the house. He puts Barbra in a safe corner while he uses a tire iron to bash in the heads of all three creatures. He piles them outside the door, sets them on fire, and begins to board up the house. He and Barbra compare stories of their how they came to arrive, and reliving her recent escape sends Barbra into a nervous breakdown. Ben stops her from going back outside to look for John. She passes out on the couch.

Ben goes back to work while he listens to an expository radio broadcast. An announcer reports that unknown assailants have been killing people all over the nation, but no one knows why. The sound of the broadcast draws out Mr. Cooper and Tom, who’ve been hiding in the cellar all along. They have a protracted argument with Ben over whether the house or the cellar is more defensible, and it comes out the Cooper’s wife Helen, their sick daughter Karen, and Tom’s girlfriend Judy are down in the cellar as well. The radio mentions something about a television broadcast, so they find a TV and turn it on for further news.

This man was born to play a zombie.On TV, various news announcers, scientists, and experts confirm that the assailants are the animated corpses of the recently deceased, risen with a hunger for living flesh. This may or may not have been caused by the recent explosion of an exploration satellite, which returned from Venus covered in strange radioactive material. People are urged to try and get to the nearest designated shelter. The viewers wait through a list of such shelters, identifying the one nearest to them.

The plan they eventually come up with is as follows: Cooper will throw Molotov cocktails from the upstairs window, immolating the nearest corpses while Tom and Ben head outside to gas up Ben’s truck at the nearby pump. Upon filling the truck, they will go back for everyone else and zoom off to a shelter about seventeen miles away.

In practice, Judy can’t bear to let Tom go without her and rushes after him. The three of them fend off the attackers and make it to the gas pump, which turns out to be locked. Ben shoots off the lock with the rifle he found, but to do so he has to set his torch on the ground. The nervous Tom sprays gasoline all over the ground, the truck, and Ben’s torch. Ignoring Ben’s commands to stay and help him put out the fire, Tom and Judy drive off in the flaming truck, which explodes a few seconds later. The dead wait for the truck’s flames to die down before they feast upon Tom and Judy’s newly roasted flesh.

Ben uses his torch to fight his way back to the house. He kicks down the door, nails it back in place, and then beats up Cooper for trying to lock him out. There’s some more agonizing about what to do. It comes out that Karen is sick because one of the corpses bit her. They watch TV again, to see that a local sheriff has organized a posse. They’ve figured out that the living dead still need their brains to operate, and are sweeping through the area, shooting every corpse they meet in the head.

The power goes out, and the dead attack again. Cooper steals the rifle while Ben tries to hold them back. Ben leaves the door to take the gun back. He shoots Cooper, who stumbles into the cellar and dies. Meanwhile, the dead have seized Helen through the boards in a nearby window. Barbra rouses from her vegetative state to rescue her. Helen rushes downstairs to find her recently deceased daughter feasting on the flesh of her recently deceased husband. She screams while the little girl stabs her repeatedly with a garden trowel.

Upstairs, Ben and Barbra work to hold the rapidly disintegrating door against the hordes of flesh-eating monsters. Barbra sees John’s risen corpse with the others and lets the door collapse completely. The dead pull her outside while Karen surprises Ben from behind. He pushes her away before she can stab and/or bite him. He rushes down to lock himself in the cellar, where he puts down the corpses of Cooper and Helen when they try to rise.

Next morning, the sheriff and his posse reach the farmhouse, gunning down the crowds of walking dead still surrounding it. Ben hears the shots and emerges from the cellar to investigate. The sheriff mistakes him for a corpse, shoots him in the head, and burns his corpse with the others.

Thoughts:

My dad's tastier than your dad.Last time I watched this movie, I was impressed by how effectively it sustained an even, creepy tone, filling all its long silences with tension. This time the magic has worn off a bit; armed with foreknowledge of the film’s plot, the long silences have become merely boring. Not that Night of the Living Dead has lost all its charms. It’s still a claustrophobic and genuinely frightening film. Largely because of these qualities, I still dislike it.

The commentary has been given a major overhaul from Mike’s previous solo effort. Now freed from the burden of being informative, Mike, Bill and Kevin devote all their time to mockery. During one of Barbra’s initial conversations with Ben, Bill says, “I’m the black guy in a horror movie. I might as well head straight to the morgue.” As the undead crowd outside gathers, Kevin notes, “It’s like Black Friday at Wal-Mart, only with slightly less homicidal shoppers.” As televised scientists shake their heads and speculate about possible causes of the undead scourge, Mike adds, “We’ve agreed to rule out midichlorians.” I give it two stars on the strength of the riffing alone, but I freely admit I’m biased against this kind of film. Fans of zombie movies in general and this movie in particular will probably get at least another star’s worth of enjoyment out of it.

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R074 House on Haunted Hill (Three Riffer Version)

(1959, Horror, colorized)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

There’s something like forty-eight loose ends, but I’m sure they’ll all just work out in the end.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:


An eccentric millionaire throws a murderous party in a haunted house.

Summary:

I've got a great idea for a Rifftrax-themed film.  Mike invites Bill and Kevin to his house, gives them guns, and then takes away their bacon...[Another three-riffer do-over, another shamelessly recycled summary. A review of Mike’s solo version can be found here.]

A pair of floating disembodied heads opens the film. The first belongs to strange, nobbly little man named Pritchard, who declares that he has inherited a mansion where the spirits often drive the inhabitants to murder. The second belongs to eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), who says that his wife has asked for a haunted house party, and rented Pritchard’s ghost-infested manor for the purpose.

The guest list is as follows: a test pilot named Lance; a secretary named Nora; a journalist named Ruth; a psychiatrist named Dr. Trent; and finally Pritchard himself, who has not set foot in the house since the murder/suicide of the rest of his family many years ago. None of the above knows Mr. Loren personally, and none of them knows the other until they meet at the beginning of the party. They’re there because they’re all desperate for money, and Loren has promised them $10k a piece if they last the night.

Loren and his lovely young trophy wife Annabelle are in attendance too; some pre-celebration exposition alerts us to how much they loathe each other, each one wishing the other was dead. The party kicks off with a rambling tour given by the only marginally sane Pritchard, showing off the various bloodstains and acid pits. Secret passage shenanigans get Lance clubbed in the head while a spooky caretaker frightens Nora out of her wits. Nora wants to leave, money or no, but when Loren tries to give everyone their last chance to leave for the night, he discovers the caretakers have gone home and locked them in early.

His lips say 'no', but his eyes say 'I will murder you and make it look like an accident'.Loren hands everyone a loaded gun—or “party favor” as he calls them—and tells them all to have fun. Everyone goes to hide in their rooms. Fake severed heads, secret passages, and aborted stranglings fly every which way, driving Nora right to the brink of a nervous breakdown. These events culminate in her discovery of Annabelle’s corpse hanging in the stairwell. Everyone agrees that she could never have gotten that high without assistance, and accuse Loren of murder. Loren denies this; Dr. Trent cuts down the body and lays Annabelle to rest in her room.

Later that night, Annabelle appears outside Nora’s window; the end of her hanging rope slips through the bars like a snake. Nora shrieks and runs from the room. She tries to take refuge in the parlor, but the organ starts to play itself. Further attempts to flee finally trap her in the cellar with the acid pit.

Dr. Trent sneaks into Annabelle’s room to wake her up. Turns out she’s not dead after all, but was wearing a flying harness the whole time. They kiss, and Dr. Trent hides her while he goes to wake Loren. At Dr. Trent’s urging, Loren investigates the cellar. The hysterical Nora shoots him and flees the room. Trent sneaks in afterwards and starts to drag the body towards the acid pit.

Annabelle arrives a few minutes later to find the cellar empty. While she looks on, Loren’s skeletonized remains rise from the pit and chase her around the room until she falls into the acid as well. An alive and fully fleshed Loren emerges from behind a door to retrieve his skeleton marionette and throw it into the acid after her. The others arrive; he explains that Nora’s gun is loaded with blanks, and that he killed his wife and her lover in self defense. Pritchard’s paranoid rambling takes us into the closing credits.

Thoughts:

Haunted by marionnettes, aged housekeepers, and a ghoulish little leprechaun man, but not by ghosts.So... No ghosts, then. Huh.

I guess I could go on about the needlessly elaborate murder schemes and the dozens of unexplained loose ends, but hey, I’ve already done that once before. If you feel the urge, go ahead and check it out.

The reason we’re discussing the film again has to do with Mike’s current push to bring his friends Bill and Kevin in to revise the solo efforts of his past. Mike actually didn’t do half-bad on this one last time he made fun of it, and while there are plenty of new jokes, the best quips of his previous effort have also been recycled and shared. A few of my favorites: When Vincent Price makes his dramatic entrance, Mike says, “If you do get a Vincent Price in your home, don’t panic. Call animal control.” During the introduction scenes that follow shortly thereafter, Kevin notes, “Trapped in a building with people you don’t know, and were you to get to know them, you’d like them even less. He’s managed to simulate the experience of jury duty.” Later, as everyone creeps through the house with their guns at the ready, Bill says, “If you do run across a barely talking dog and some meddling kids, shoot to kill.” The experience improves a decent amount with the addition of extra riffers. Enough to warrant a second purchase of the same film? Maybe. I could go either way on that question. If you’ve never seen the first version and need to choose between Mike alone and Mike with friends, then you should definitely go with Mike and friends.

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R073 Little Shop of Horrors (Three Riffer Version)

(1960, Horror/Comedy, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Are you sure this is Little Shop of Horrors and not Little Shop of Half-Baked Shtick?

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

A flower shop worker raises a man-eating plant.

Summary:

They're mean green mothers from outer space.[Once again, the following summary has been shamelessly recycled from the last time I reviewed this film.]

Bumbling doofus Seymour Krelboin (Corman regular Jonathan Haze) works in a flower shop on skid row, but he’s really, really bad at it. So bad, that his growly boss Mushnik tries to fire him at the beginning of the movie, over the objections his sweet-tempered and brain-damaged fellow flower worker Audrey. A random, flower-eating customer stops by to graze and offer advice; an unusual or exotic plant would really bring in the customers, he opines. Desperate to keep his job, Seymour declares that he has just such a plant at home. Mushnik lets him go home and get it.

At home we meet Seymour’s domineering hypochondriac alcoholic mother, and Seymour’s football-jawed plant. He leaves the former at home while he takes the latter to the shop. Mushnik agrees that the plant is unusual, but remains doubtful about its anemic appearance. He gives Seymour one week to get it into shape.

Seymour stays at the shop that night to avoid his mother...er, nurse the plant back to health. No matter what he tries, the plant won’t eat or perk up until he accidentally pricks his finger over the jaws. The plant slurps down blood as Seymour pricks all his fingers to keep it happy. This makes it lush and green for a while, until it suddenly wilts again the next day. Mushnik flies into a growly rage. Seymour promises to make it better.

Seymour sits up the next night as well, but he’s run out of fingers to prick. “Feed me!” the plant cries. Seymour grows despondent at the constant demands of his talking, bloodthirsty plant, and stumbles out into the night. He pauses at the rail yard to throw rocks at a bottle. A bum pokes his head up just in time to get hit with the rock and fall across the tracks. Of course a train is coming. Rather than do something sensible, like, say, call the police or just walk away, Seymour gathers the dismembered pieces of tramp into a handy sack and takes them back to the shop. The plant begins to demand food again. It only takes a couple of minutes for Seymour to realize that he has a handy sack of food with him...

Suddenly, Seymour is standing beside you...Meanwhile, Mushnik and Audrey are out to dinner when Mushnik realizes he’s forgotten his wallet. He leaves Audrey at the, er, “diner” (actually someone’s house with checkered cloths thrown over a couple of tables) and returns to the shop just in time to see Seymour feeding bits of hobo to the plant. He determines to get drunk and call the police in that order, but the next morning, the plant has grown to enormous size, attracting huge crowds of admirers and flower-buyers. He obliquely asks Seymour if it’s going to need to eat anymore. Seymour doesn’t think so. Mushnik decides to leave it be.

But the plant does want to eat more. The next day, Seymour accidentally kills a sadistic dentist with his own drill during a violent tooth extraction. As he’s cleaning up the body, a masochistic patient (a young Jack Nicholson) shows up to demand a painful check-up. Seymour obliges him, and then drags the body back to the store that night to feed the plant. The next night, Mushnik himself stays up with the plant while Seymour and Audrey go on a date at hypochondriac mom’s house. A robber bursts into the shop to steal the day’s receipts. Mushnik tells him that they’re in the plant. The credulous crook climbs right in, and you know the rest...

By now, business has grown tremendously thanks to the enormous man-eating plant’s appeal to teenage groupies and skid row carnivorous plant fanciers. (Who knew there were so many?) Even the Society of Silent Flower Observers of Southern California has noticed. They want to give Seymour a medal as soon as the blossoms open. Seymour determines that this will be tomorrow night. He stays overnight again, this time to woo the lovely Audrey, but the plant’s constant demands offend her and she leaves. He refuses to feed the plant any more people, but the plant hypnotizes him into going out to look for likely subjects anyway. In this entranced state, he happens upon Leonora, a remarkably persistent hooker determined to get his business. An unlikely set of circumstances leads Seymour to accidentally bonk her on the head with a large rock. He carries her body back to the shop.

By now, so many people have gone missing that a pair of deadpan cops has gotten involved; they happen to be present the next evening for the medal ceremony when the blossoms open. They open all right, displaying the face of everyone the plant has ever eaten. The cops close in on Seymour. He shrieks, “I didn’t mean it!” and runs into the night. After a long chase across a field of tires and a large pile of toilets, he arrives back at the shop and curses his man-eating plant. He takes a knife and climbs inside, hoping, I guess, to stab it to death as it eats him. It doesn’t work; when the cops catch up, the plant has a new blossom with his face. “I didn’t mean it!” the blossom cries.

Thoughts:

Neither of whom are depicted here.My expanded thoughts on the film can be read in their entirety by heading back to my original review. For now, I will simply observe that someone appears to have directed the actors to behave as goofy as humanly possible, but neglected to provide them with actual jokes. I’d compare it to a seventy-minute sketch by an amateur improv troupe, but those at least have energy and immediacy going for them. Little Shop of Horrors amounts to little more than a canned and often arbitrary movie-length spaz attack. As I’ve said before, at least it’s not boring.

The commentary is vastly improved from Mike’s solo version, probably the most improved of any three-riffer do-over thus far. The fact that this film lends itself to mockery better than previous subjects might have something to do with it. Though Mike’s best solo jokes have, of course, been recycled, it feels like this one has a lot more new material to it as well. A few of my favorite comments: During the opening credits, Mike relates a little story about asking a female video store clerk for this film. “You should always pronounce ‘horrors’ with two syllables,” he advises. As the man-eating plant grows in size while shrinking in production values, Kevin says, “If the prop guy worked for free, he was overpaid.” When Audrey and Seymour eat at Hypochondriac Mom’s house, Bill notes, “The first course is a dish of salmonella in a light botulism sauce.” My favorite part comes near the end, when Kevin goes on a Tourette’s-style rant consisting entirely of tire puns. Mike puts a stop to it with (appropriately enough) a tire iron. It’s the best do-over thus far, and worth picking up.

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R072 Reefer Madness (Three Riffer Version)

(1936, Teen/Crime Drama, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

The lesson: Doing drugs can get you laid. You also get away with murder.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

An innocent young man stands trial for the drug-related murder of his girlfriend.

Summary:

The devil's weed, known to cause spontaneous homicidal rages.[Note: Following what has become my standard practice for these sorts of situations, I have once again shamelessly recycled the following summary from the first time I reviewed this film.]

We begin with five minutes of scrolling text—handwritten, hard-to-read text—detailing all the horrible things marijuana (sorry, marihuana) will do to you and your children. Did you know that this terrible narcotic is worse than crack cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and a Sudafed/Nyquil combo? It’ll rape your sisters, burn down your house, run over your dog, and steal your bible too!

This rant continues—if “rant” is the right word for anything spoken aloud by the blandest man alive—as Professor Alfred Carroll (not his real name) addresses a PTA meeting to further disparage the drug. Eventually this gives way to narration of an event that happened “not so far away, to children just like yours.”

Local teens Bill Harper and Mary Lane share a pure, wholesome love, filled with chaste study sessions, stilted Elizabethan dialogue, and clumsy fountain pratfalls. But alas, it is not to be, for Bill falls in with a set of well-dressed ne’er do wells at the local malt shop. Soon they’ve taken him back to their pusher’s apartment (a fast-talking Mafioso named Jack) where they smoke richly colored herb and let their primal instincts throw them into such hedonistic activities as giggling, dancing and Jazz.

One day Jack’s stash runs out, so he bums a ride from Mary’s brother Jimmy (also a dope addict) to pick up a new supply from the local drug kingpin. Jimmy, of course, is flying high on the devil weed and runs over an old person on the way home. The cops track the license plate to Mary’s house. She realizes what Jimmy must have done, but lies to the cops to protect him.

This man's way too tense to be a dope fiend.After a bit of sleuthing, she tracks Jimmy and Bill to Jack’s apartment. Jimmy’s not there, but Bill is; he’s fornicating in another room with another addict. Mary accepts a cigarette while she waits for him to emerge. It’s laced with drugs, and soon she’s ineffectually fighting off a party-goer’s unwelcome advances. Bill comes out and starts to pummel the would-be rapist. Jack tries to break it up with a gun. Bill fights him too, and the gun goes off and kills Mary.

Bill wakes up a short while later with the gun in his hand. Jack convinces him that he killed Mary, a story he makes sure gets repeated to the cops. Bill goes on trial for murder while Jack and the other party-goers go into hiding. By the time he’s found guilty, the fugitives have finally had a drug-induced fallout that ends with Jack’s violent death. One of the addict girls spills the true story to the cops before committing suicide. A judge overturns Bill’s conviction and commits the last surviving addict to an institution for the criminally insane. Professor Carroll returns for the heavy-handed moral, and then we’re done.

Thoughts:

That guy peeking through the smoke--is that Skeletor?Yadda, yadda, filmmakers know nothing about pot, rapeta, rapeta, pot bad but not in this way, etc., etc., etc. Again, head back to my prior review for my thoughts on the film.

Moving on to the current iteration of the commentary, Mike brings his partners Kevin and Bill back to re-riff another of his old solo efforts, and once again the best jokes from the solo version have been recycled. The old version was half straight commentary, though, so there’s plenty of space for new material. A few of my favorite comments: noting the character Bill’s wholesome, nerdy behavior before his fall from grace, riffer Bill says, “Bill puts the ‘wad’ in ‘gaywad’”. As the police commissioner and the local school principal conclude a long-ish, moralizing conversation about the evils of drugs, Mike adds, “Now let’s go get blackout-drunk at one of the many perfectly legal bars in the neighborhood.” Near the end, as an addict fugitive from justice begins to go homicidally insane, Kevin notes, “The ‘mellowing-out’ effect of marijuana clearly doesn’t work on that guy.” The riffing has improved, but it’s still a dreary 65-minute film that opens with ten uninterrupted minutes of scrolling text and narration and then ends with another fifteen minutes of moralizing courtroom proceedings. It’s entertaining enough with the commentary, but there appears to be a hard limit on how much this sort of film can be enjoyed while sober.

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R071 Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

(1977, SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

This will henceforth be known as St. Porkins’ Day.

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:


Luke Skywalker and friends rescue a princess and destroy the Death Star.

Summary:

And before that it was known as Le Menage Enchante.Here’s another film that probably needs no summary, but I’m going to give it one anyway.

A huge Imperial star cruiser pursues a rebel vessel, finally catching the smaller ship. Armored storm troopers pour in, capturing or killing all aboard. Masked villain Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) urges his men to find the “stolen plans”, demanding them of the newly captured rebel leader Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Fortunately, Leia managed to slip the plans in question to a trashcan-shaped droid (i.e. robot) named R2-D2 moments before her arrest. R2 and his humanoid droid companion C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) abandon ship in an escape pod, landing on the nearby desert planet of Tatooine. After a bit of purposeless bickering, they part ways, heading in opposite directions over the sand dunes.

Soon afterwards, both are captured and sold by small hooded aliens (called Jawas) to a moisture farmer named Owen. Owen sends his nephew Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to clean them up before they’re put to work; while doing so, Luke finds part of a recording Leia made, begging someone named Obi-Wan Kenobi for help. R2 claims that the recording is old, but still rushes off into the desert to deliver the message as soon as Luke leaves him alone. Luke and C-3PO head out into the desert after him the next day.

They find him just in time to be attacked by Sand People (papier-mache-headed aliens), which are, in turn, driven off by an old hermit who turns out to be none other than Obi Wan himself. Obi Wan (Sir Alec Guinness) takes them back to his place, where R2 plays back Leia’s recording in its entirety. Afterwards, Ben (which, I guess, is short for Obi Wan) reveals that Luke’s father was a Jedi Knight (sort of a magical outer space samurai) who served the Old Republic until Darth Vader helped th Emperor hunt the Jedi to extinction. He gives Luke his father’s old light saber (i.e. laser sword) and asks Luke to come with him to help Princess Leia.

Luke refuses, citing his moisture farming duties. He recants his refusal, however, when he comes across the smoking husk of his moisture farm, complete with the blackened corpses of his aunt and uncle. He and Ben hire a small freighter crewed by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and a wookiee (i.e. large furry alien) named Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to smuggle them off the planet.

Meanwhile, Darth Vader and his villainous overlord Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) torture Leia for information regarding the rebellion’s secret base. When standard methods fail, they decided to use their brand new superweapon—a moon-sized space station with a planet-destroying laser called the Death Star—on her home planet. Unfortunately, that’s just where Luke, Han and friends have been trying to go. Upon arrival, they find the demolished planet’s remains and, soon after, the Death Star itself. Their ship is quickly and easily captured.

A man who turns the world on with his smirk.They manage to hide out in one of the ship’s many secret storage compartments, finally mugging a pair of storm troopers for their armor and sneaking out into the Death Star itself. Ben wanders off to disable the “tractor beam” that prevents them from taking the ship and leaving again.

R2 hacks into the Death Star’s computers and finds the location of the incarcerated princess. Luke talks Han and Chewbacca into helping him retrieve her from her cell, but the noisy rescue brings pretty much every Storm Trooper in the Death Star down to the detention level after them. Leia leads her beleaguered rescuers down the garbage chute, ending the storm trooper fight and beginning another with the trash compactor’s resident tentacle monster. The tentacle monster flees when the trash compactor starts compacting. After a few tense, shrill minutes, our heroes narrowly avoid squishing when C-3PO and R2 finish fleeing storm troopers and plug back into the Death Star terminal to shut the compactor down.

Our heroes bicker, shoot things, split up, shoot more things, and then meet again near Han’s ship. This is still guarded by a squadron of storm troopers, but fortunately Ben has returned from his little tractor-beam-disabling field trip to duel Darth Vader near the hangar. This draws away the guards, allowing Luke and friends to re-board the ship. Having accomplished his mission, Ben allows Vader to slice him with a light saber, turning him into an invisible disembodied voice that instructs Luke to run. Their ship takes off, fends off a few Imperial fighters, and escapes.

They fly to the secret rebel base, but the homing beacon Vader hid in their ship draws the Death Star after them. With the Death Star’s plans recovered from R2, the rebels plan a targeted assault on the Death Star’s unprotected exhaust port. Han sees that the plan has little chance of succeeding, takes his “rescue the princess” reward money and runs. He changes his mind and returns after Imperial troops have decimated most of the rebel fleet (including provocatively named fighter pilots Biggs and Porkins), destroying Luke’s pursuit and disabling Darth Vader’s ship. With the help of his magic Jedi powers and Ben’s disembodied voice, Luke manages to hit the exhaust port and destroy the Death Star. Leia awards medals to Luke and Han shortly thereafter.

Thoughts:

Poor, deluded Sir Alec was desperately hoping that this would be the end of his involvement with the franchise.Bill caps off the Rifftrax commentary with a diatribe about how the substance of this, the first of the iconic Star Wars franchise, does not live up to the series’ monolithic reputation. Perhaps he is right. I contend, however, that this is a good movie. The names are silly, the dialogue stilted and the characters broad, but this bit of vintage Lucas stands head and shoulders above its modern offspring for one reason: simplicity. The clearly told story moves without stopping from one scene to the next and so on. Combine this simplicity with an insanely detailed mythos, plus the fact that no one in 1977 had seen anything like it before, and it’s easy to understand the film’s phenomenal success. It doesn’t stand up quite so well against the best of today’s technically superior and psychologically more complex fantasies, but it knows what it wants to do and does it well. If Lucas had only remembered how to do this when he came back to it more than twenty years later, his franchise might still be revered. As things stand, this particular movie’s near-mythic status is surely at least partially conferred upon it by the comparative wretchedness of its dead, bloated prequels.

The riffing shines. When storm troopers scour the rebel ship for the princess at the beginning, Mike suggests, “Maybe they should have stored her at another castle.” References to the prequels abound; when the droids land on Tatooine, Kevin says, “Genius! Thwarting Darth Vader by sending the plans to a planet covered in sand!” When R2-D2 meets Luke, Bill rasps, “I stood next to your mother as she died.” References to the storm troopers’ poor marksmanship come up as well, like when Mike observes that they “couldn’t hit a dead blue whale”, while Bill notes that they “could actually punch them from that distance.” The oft-repeated phrase, “I have a bad feeling about this,” is also the subject of ridicule, culminating in the trash compactor scene when Kevin remarks, “Once you find yourself knee-deep in garbage, do you really need ‘bad feelings’ to tell you that mistakes have been made?” It’s always a good sign when I feel compelled to go over my usual limit of one quote per riffer. Adding this excellent commentary to an already fun-to-watch movie is a sure recipe for good times.

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R070 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

(2004, Fantasy/Children, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

I’m not sure the rest of the kids get their money’s worth out of this school.

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:


Harry meets his escaped criminal godfather.

Summary:

Do wizards just randomly use futhorc instead of standard Phonecian characters?  I guess they do.Prisoner of Azkaban has some really steep prerequisites. First off, you need to have seen both the first and second movies in the series. Additionally, you need to have read the book this film is based on. I understand this might take you a few days, but you really ought to go ahead and do that now. Don’t worry. The review will still be here when you get back.

[This is where I sit back and twiddle my thumbs for a long, long time.]

Ready? Good. We start with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) still in summertime care of his abusive foster family the Dursleys. When a boorish aunt attacks his dead parents’ character, Harry loses his temper and turns her into a balloon. He packs his trunk and flees the house while she floats gently over the horizon.

A large black dog watches him menacingly in the darkened playground, and then a crazy magic bus appears for no particular reason. During a rather hectic invisible ride, Harry learns that convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from wizard prison in Azkaban. During his subsequent stay at a wizard flophouse called The Leaky Cauldron, he learns that Black escaped from prison specifically to hunt Harry down.

He does not learn why until well into his third term at Hogwarts—packed, as usual, with thirty-nine gallons of wizard school whimsy, fifty-eight tons of rule-breaking, and a new Defense against Dark Arts teacher (David Thewlis as the foreshadowing-ly named Professor Lupin). The school’s newest feature is a pack of soul-sucking wraiths called Dementors, all of whom seem to have it in for Harry for some reason.

Invisibility cloak shenanigans eventually net Harry the following secret backstory: Black was a friend of Harry’s parents, but betrayed them to dark wizard Voldemort, more or less directly leading to their deaths. Afterwards, he killed another of their friends, one Peter Pettigrew. Since baby Harry caused Voldemort’s death in turn, Black will hunt him down for revenge.

The illegitimate offspring of Shadowfax and Sam the Eagle.Lupin is the last of Harry’s father’s friends who is neither dead nor a criminal. He teaches Harry anti-Dementor spells to defend himself, while sneaking off to recover from an undefined illness at certain times of the month. In the meantime, another subplot that’s been simmering is the plight of Magical Creatures professor Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and his condemned hippogriff Buckbeak. An executioner arrives to put down the monstrous bird/horse down, forcing Harry and friends to flee Hagrid’s cottage.

In their flight back to Hogwarts castle they meet the giant black dog from the opening scenes, who seizes Harry’s friend Ron (Rupert Grint) and drags him through a secret passage beneath a homicidal tree. Harry and Hermoine (Emma Watson) pursue him, to find that the dog is really Sirius Black in disguise. He wants to kill someone, but not any of them. Lupin arrives soon after, having realized the truth. Black is innocent. The one who really betrayed Harry’s parents is the barely mentioned Peter Pettigrew, who has been masquerading for years as Ron’s pet rat. They turn him back into a human and force a confession from him.

On their way back to the castle with their prisoner, the full moon emerges, and a scene we’ve been expecting for quite some time now plays out as Lupin turns into a werewolf and attacks everyone assembled. Black turns back into a dog to prevent him. Pettigrew escapes in the confusion. They drive off Lupin, but now Black is injured. A swarm of Dementors arrive to suck out Black’s soul, but are driven off by an anti-Dementor spell from an unknown source. Black is taken into custody and Harry is taken to the infirmary.

Now for the deus ex machina. Turns out that Hermoine has had a time travel necklace all this time. She uses it to take Harry back in time to rescue Buckbeak, Black and their past selves from death with a well-placed anti-Dementor spell. Black and Buckbeak escape together.

Thoughts:

The only side of Rupert Grint's head you ever want to see.This is my second favorite of the Potter movies. It certainly has the most effective atmosphere of any Potter film thus far. You absolutely have to have read the book to make sense of it, though. I’m guessing that director Alfonso Cuaron recognized the difficulty of shoehorning each lengthening book into a two hour plus film while still retaining some semblance of coherence, and eventually decided that coherence wasn’t worth the bother. Exposition kills pacing, so in order to preserve the film’s tone and rhythm, Prisoner of Azkaban makes do without it. For people who’ve read the book, this isn’t a problem. New viewers, however, are left high and dry.

Mike, Bill and Kevin take full advantage of the wizardly silliness on display. When the abusive aunt swells into balloon-ness, Bill says, “They had mentos and pop rocks for dinner.” As she floats away, Kevin speculates, “If she farts, she’ll end up over Ireland.” During a one of Professor Lupin’s classes, Mike says, “I didn’t take Dark Arts, I took Dark Shop.” Whether or not the plot makes sense to you, the Harry Potter movies’ odd combination of whimsy and darkness makes for the best riffing fodder available, and the Rifftrax crew does not disappoint.

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R069 The Dark Knight

(2008, Drama/Action-Superheroes, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

The finest film, maybe the finest thing, ever created by human hands.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

The Joker plays mind games with Batman, eventually creating Two-Face.

Summary:

Batman has strategically defaced the aptly named Not Appearing In This Film Building.Robbers in rubber clown masks rappel down to the roof of a mob-owned bank. Technician clowns shut down the alarms and break into the vault while gun-wielding clowns deal with the guards and the customers. An irate bank manager pulls a shotgun and mows down two or three clowns before he runs out of ammo. Meanwhile, the clowns begin to kill each other, until only one remains. The clown takes off his mask, and he’s wearing makeup underneath as well, with scars stretching his mouth into a smile. The Joker (Heath Ledger) quips at the wounded manager before driving off in a stolen school bus with all the loot.

This heist has interrupted two schemes. The mob, who owns the banks, has been trying to launder the money. The police, led by Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) with assistance from Batman (Christian Bale), have marked the bills in an effort to trace the money-laundering operation. I won’t bore you with the details of the investigation, headed by Gordon, or the prosecution, headed by Gotham newcomer Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Sufficeth to say it involves Batman going to Hong Kong to extradite the crooked broker responsible for mob’s finances.

Meanwhile, the Joker has broken into a meeting of Gotham’s various mob leaders and offered to kill Batman in exchange for half of all their money. They scoff at him until the captured broker confesses to the cops, resulting in several hundred arrests. They put the word out that the Joker is hired.

The Joker immediately offs the police commissioner and the judge responsible for hearing the cases. He also makes an attempt on Dent’s life during a high-class fundraiser in Batman alter ego Bruce Wayne’s penthouse. Bruce has knocked Dent out cold and hidden him, so the Joker tries to take his frustrations out on Harvey’s girlfriend Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Bruce re-appears as Batman and punches every clown henchman he can reach, eventually catching Rachel as the Joker throws her from the balcony to cover his escape.

Cleaning up the last movie's villain.Soon afterwards, the Joker makes a televised announcement. Someone will die every day until Batman reveals his identity. People are staunch at first, but their support for Batman begins to waver as the days pass and the body count rises. Finally, Joker names the mayor as his next victim. This leads to a convoluted scheme in which the Joker’s men steal honor guard uniforms during the commissioner’s funeral. Gordon covers the mayor’s body with his own, and is shot instead. The Joker names Rachel as his next victim. The enraged Dent steals an ambulance with a prisoner in it and disappears. Later that night, Dent threatens his kidnapped prisoner with death unless he spills information. Batman finds him and tells him to stop. He’ll publicly reveal his identity at a press conference tomorrow to stop the killings.

At the press conference, Bruce is ready to step forward, but Dent doesn’t give him a chance, falsely confessing to being Batman. While transferring him to prison, the convoy comes under attack from a semi piloted by the Joker and his cohorts. Batman intervenes, flipping the truck and zooming towards the Joker on his motorcycle. He decides not to hit him at the last minute, and crashes. Before the Joker can pull off his mask, another masked man comes up behind and takes him prisoner. It’s Gordon, who faked his death in an effort to bring the Joker in.

Dent and Rachel both disappear from the scene of the crime, so Batman and Gordon interrogate Joker until he tells them where they’ve been taken. Joker gives them a pair of addresses, but intentionally mixes them up so that Batman goes to get Dent while the police race to rescue Rachel. Rachel’s explosive timer kills her before Gordon can arrive, while Batman rescues Dent just in time. Or, almost just in time, as half the skin on Dent’s face burns off during the rescue.

Meanwhile, the Joker has goaded a cop into reaching just a little too far. He holds a piece of broken glass to his captive’s throat while demanding a phone call. He uses this call to set off a bomb implanted in a jailed henchman’s stomach. He and his men flee in the confusion.

Dealing with this movie's villain.The next day, one of Bruce Wayne’s accountants has figured out his employer’s identity and plans to reveal it on daytime television. The Joker has changed his mind about wanting to know Batman’s name. He threatens to blow up a hospital unless the accountant is executed in one hour. Chaos ensues. Batman and Gordon rescue the accountant, but while they’re occupied, Joker visits the now horrifically scarred Dent in the hospital. A demented little speech finishes the job of driving Dent murderously insane, and the Joker gives him a gun. Dent flips a coin, and decides to let Joker live. They both leave the hospital, which explodes shortly thereafter.

More televised threats send the city’s people fleeing for the suburbs. The Joker stops two ferries headed across the river—one filled with ordinary people and one filled with transferred prisoners. Each is laden with explosives. Each ferry has been given the detonator for the other ferry. If one ferry blows up the other, that ferry can live. If neither blows up, they will both be destroyed at midnight. The passengers deliberate among themselves while Batman finally traces the Joker to a building skeleton nearby, guarded by clown henchmen with hostages.

Batman breaks in and discovers that the clowns are bound and gagged with empty guns taped to their hands, while the hostages are armed and ready to fight. He pulls the rest of the clowns out of sight and then fights off the S.W.A.T. team until they figure out that the Joker has tricked them into trying to kill the wrong group of people. Up at the top, Batman fights off the Joker’s dogs and then the Joker himself. The midnight deadline arrives, and each ferry has refused to kill the other. The Joker tries to detonate both, but Batman prevents him, finally catching the murderous clown. Joker taunts Batman, revealing that Dent has gone insane, and is out terrorizing the city even now.

Meanwhile, Dent has assumed his college nickname of Two-Face. He hunts down the mobsters and crooked cops who sold Rachel to the Joker, deciding each one’s fate with a coin toss. Eventually he kidnaps Gordon’s family and holds them hostage at the site of Rachel’s death. Gordon and Batman plead with him to let them go. Batman knocks Two-Face over the side of the building and then falls himself rescuing Gordon’s son. Batman gets up bruised but otherwise uninjured. He and Gordon realize they can’t let people know that the widely idolized Dent became Two-Face. Rather than let the Joker have this last victory, they decide to tell people that Two-Face’s crimes were committed by Batman. Batman flees while Gordon orders police pursuit.

Thoughts:

Warming up the next movie's villain.I strongly suspect that Christopher Nolan is incapable of making a lighthearted film. I suspect even more strongly that he is incapable of making an uninteresting one. Insomnia, Memento, The Prestige and of course the latest Batman movies all seize the viewer’s attention and hold it for the entire running time—even if, as in this case, the running time is approximately eleven hours long. This makes him something of a minor god to comic book movie fans, many of whom consider this movie scripture. And I confess, it’s certainly the best Batman film, maybe the best superhero film, and probably among the best comic book films ever created. But there’s a whole ocean of other tastes and genres out there. Holding it up as the pinnacle of cinematic achievement is a bit absurd, especially considering that the genre has foolish names, silly melodrama, impossible coincidences and illogical plot twists built right into its foundation. No matter how much you drape it in pathos and grit, you have to go in knowing that you’re about to see a man in a spiked hood fistfight a giggly clown.

With that in mind, however, this (along with Iron Man) is about as good as it gets. Nolan drops his characters into the comic book milieu and then punishes them over and over again with real-world consequences. It is not a fun movie. Puns aren’t on the menu, and the quips are half-hearted. There are set-piece action sequences, but at its heart, The Dark Knight is a deep and darkly fascinating drama about people who’ve pushed a conflict until it’s escalated beyond their control. Batman’s efforts to solve the problem of organized crime have attracted the Joker, who has now made things worse than ever. In the end, Batman realizes he’s not a hero, and can’t be if he wants to help his city.

There isn’t really anything wrong with the Rifftrax commentary, provided once again by Mike, Kevin and Bill. When the Joker asks if they want to know how he got his scars, Mike guesses, “You tried to kiss one of the Indigo Girls?” As Alfred the butler continues to make wry observations about Batman's situation, Kevin explains, “I’m English, sir. Congenitally droll.” Bill refers to Batman as “Die Fleder-Man.” Throughout, it’s fun to hear them bait people who worship the film and all it stands for. Still, they’re partially hobbled by the film’s grim tone, which doesn’t much indulge in as much silliness as the previous superhero films they’ve mocked. Nolan’s relentless pacing also defeats them in much the same way as it did during Memento; each scene demands full attention, often fading the commentary into the background. The movie is worth watching, certainly, and anything worth watching is worth watching with a Rifftrax, but The Dark Knight seems to sit right on the edge between “Too Grim to Laugh With” and “Too Absorbing to Laugh At”.

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11/24/08

I Suspect Leprechauns Are Trying to Poison Me

Aaaaaiiieeee!  I keel-a my bambino!Welcome, won't you?

Has your newborn son's syphilis-induced death ever caused you to talk like Super Mario while threatening your own life with a vegetable peeler? I know I have. Who hasn't? Rifftrax's latest short, Know For Sure, addresses this very problem. Review here.

Also, I've got my copy of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians Redux, and will be viewing it with friends and family over the Thanksgiving weekend. Pick yours up today. A review will be posted early next week.

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11/21/08

Spontaneously Generated STDs of the Forties

Dr. Bill breaks the news that Kevin has given Mike syphilis.Welcome, won't you?

Do you have syphilis? Are you sure? I mean, are you really, really sure? Of course you're not. Syphilis can strike anyone at any time. I mean, one minute you're just sitting at home, minding your own business, and the next minute, BAM!, you've got a life-threatening STD. The only way to Know For Sure is to watch the latest Rifftrax short, available here.

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11/20/08

Take Two

The red planet looms ominously over... What is that, a river of snot or something?Welcome, won't you?

It's "Ho" time down at Cinematic Titanic. (Referring to Santa's signature laugh, and not anything else you might be thinking of.) Now available for sale as a physical DVD or download is Cinematic Titanic's do-over of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Because those Scrooge-ish friggin' Martians didn't learn their lesson the last time, I guess. Grab yourself some goofy Holiday Cheer(tm) today!

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11/19/08

RVOD039 Shake Hands with Danger

(1970-ish, Educational/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

I shook hands with mediocrity, and I’m fine with it.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:


Construction machines are merciless, ravening creatures.

Summary:

The modern alternative to 'Bots aren't really that impressive.A road-tearer-upper machine (yes, I’m up on my construction equipment terminology) idles while a hapless technician climbs inside the tearing apparatus. His supervisor sees him and yells for him to get out of there. When the technician climbs out, the supervisor tells the machine operator to turn it on. They both look on while the tearing apparatus does what it does best. The supervisor turns to the technician and says:

Shake hands with danger! Ba-dow ba-da-dow dow!

In the scenes that follow we see technicians, machinists and operators frighten, maim and/or kill themselves through carelessness. Like the guy who accidentally lifts the rear of his boss’ truck with backhoe. (Ba-dow ba-da-dow dow!) And the guy who climbs to the top of a raised steam shovel and falls to his death. And the guy who was too preoccupied to completely disassemble a brake system and accidentally demolishes a house. (Ba-dow ba-da-dow dow!) Or the guy who sledgehammers a cracked metal pin and pierces his own chest with the shrapnel. And the machinist who grinds his own fingers off, and the technician who gets his arm ripped off by a bulldozer.

Shake hands with danger! Ba-dow ba-da-dow dow!

Thoughts:

A hand not long for this world...The Caterpillar Corporation would like their employees and clients to know that their products are designed to flatten, crush and otherwise manipulate insanely large objects. Getting wedged into, between, or just too close to one of these machines while in operation will horribly maim you, if you’re lucky. It’s essentially Red Asphault for construction workers, in that it’s an often graphic safety film designed to teach drivers and operators that their vehicles can effortlessly rip them limb from limb.

Actually, most of it’s pretty common sense stuff. If you have to be told not to climb inside a paving machine while the engine’s running, well, you’re probably that guy who keeps showing up in the emergency room because you’ve stuck your hand in the lawn mower again, trying to clear a blockage without turning it off first. What raises Shake Hands with Danger above Red Asphault and its “scare-you-straight” siblings are the catchy country guitar lick (ba-dow ba-da-dow dow!) and a deep-voiced Johnny Cash sound-a-like narrator. Both will stick in your head for days after viewing, even after the cringe-inducing finger-grinding and arm-ripping scenes have faded from memory.

This short is exclusive to the Best of Rifftrax Shorts, Volume One DVD, and features CGI versions of riffers Mike, Kevin and Bill. Mike gets to be a bobblehead-ish version of himself, while superintelligent toaster Disembaudio accidentally turns Kevin and Bill into a horrific popcorn/human hybrid and parrot puppet/human hybrid, respectively. The animation is a bit rudimentary, and the hybrid avatars look kind of disturbing, but fortunately we only have to look at them during the brief introduction. We only see their backs during the short film itself, and the animation is minimal enough that it doesn’t distract us from the action onscreen. If we have to see the riffers during the viewing, my first choice is still silhouettes, but Joel probably still owns the rights to that. My second choice is not seeing the riffers at all, while cheap CGI comes in a distant third.

The riffing works well. When a doomed technician climbs the slippery neck of a steam shovel for a long, long time, Mike says, “Danger's chattin' with some other people right now, but I'll just tap him on the shoulder and when he's free, I'll introduce you to him and then you can, you know, shake hands with danger.” As another technician accidentally runs a bulldozer through the side of a house and almost over a cliff, Kevin says, “Shake hands with danger? Hell, Harry ain’t even fit to wipe danger’s backside.” As the song repeats its title and guitar lick repeatedly during the recap, Bill suggests that we, “exchange terse emails with perilousness.” It’s a superior safety short with decent riffing, and though the CGI seems a bit wonky, it isn’t distracting either. Buying the whole DVD just for this short probably isn’t worth the entry fee, but if you haven’t bought the rest of the featured shorts yet, or if you just really want your shorts on DVD, this short’s worth a look.

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11/18/08

Snickt!

Double snickt!Welcome, won't you?

Wanna see Rifftrax's take on the most character-heavy big screen superhero drama available, at least until Watchmen comes out? Wondering why roughly whiskered mustelids wear their hair like salad bowls? Starved for the sight of voluptous women in skintight outfits throwing blue German demons around with their minds? Look no further than X2: X-Men United. Review here.

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11/17/08

Well, Some of Them Anyway....

Are those oddly rendered face-like lumps supposed to belong to Bill and Kevin?Welcome, won't you?

Rifftrax dips its toes back into the DVD market with the recently announced The Best of Rifftrax Shorts, featuring Down and Out, Patriotism, Buying Food, Right or Wrong, Drugs Are Like That, Skipper Learns a Lesson, The Trouble with Women, and It Must be the Neighbors. Since they've already released those as $0.99 VODs, they'll throw in a bonus DVD-exclusive titled Shake Hands With Danger, all for the low, low price of $14.99.

Is it a good deal? Well, as far as I'm concerned, anything that calls itself The Best of Rifftrax Shorts but doesn't include Safety: Harm Hides at Home or One Got Fat isn't worthy of the title, but that's just me. Also, the eight previously released shorts would only come to $7.92 at download prices, so the extra $7.07 plus tax and whatever they charge for shipping is for the exclusive short and the format. And since I could take or leave the format and I've already purchased the previous eight, pretty much the entire purchase price is going towards that one expensive exclusive short. Yes, I'm going to buy it, because I'm a completionist. Those of you who aren't have the above to consider. Now accepting pre-orders. Starts shipping on Thanksgiving.

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11/14/08

Updates from the Alien Temple

Meanwhile, on the ocean world of Manaan...Welcome, won't you?

Work on Darkstar creeps forward, as the development team reports completion of the Alien Temple level. (Check out their site and click on the news section.) I'm hoping that we get to see an MST3K alumnus as an alien, but I know it isn't likely. Still no word on a publisher or release date.

In Rifftrax news, I'll be watching X2 with friends tonight, and ought to have a review for you early next week.

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11/12/08

X2: X Up 2 the Streets

Co-starring the Thunderbirds version of Professer X.Welcome, won't you?

After successful riffs of both X-Men and xXx, Rifftrax fills the middle into another series today. Head down and grab the commentary for X2: X-Men United, the last hurrah before they ruined the franchise by recasting Vin Diesel as both Wolverine and Professor X. Review to come.

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11/10/08

Magneto? Cerebro!

Check out Xavier's marionnette arm.Welcome, won't you?

My schedule has recently taken a turn for the crazy, hence the lack of updates since last Wednesday. Things have not ceased to happen in the world of MST3K fandom, however, so this means I've got about a ton of things to post.

1) The next Rifftrax will delve back into ancient days of classic cinema (i.e. pre-2008 release date) as they continue another Superhero series. Mike, Bill and Kevin will dredge up painful memories of Sir Ian's cape and Hugh Jackman's nipples as they take on X2 this Wednesday. Yes, that's this Wednesday, November 12, 2008. Do not mark your calendars for a week from now.

2) The latest Rifftrax short, Good Eating Habits, was released more than a week ago, and I have just now gotten around to writing a review. (Posted here. In a nutshell: Chew early and chew often.) It's the funniest thing they've done in months.

3) iRiffs has launched, providing the riff-hungry masses with more amateur riffs than you can possibly imagine. Assuming, of course, that you can't possibly imagine a number over twenty. If you can, then I guess I can admit that there are only twenty-one in the catalog so far. There will be more to come, I'm certain.

To reiterate my iRiffs policy: I have trouble keeping up (both both financially and free time, um, -ially) with the commentaries issued by bona fide MST3K alumni and their approved lackeys. I will continue to update the Colossal Fan Guide with new reviews for Rifftrax, Rifftrax On Demand and Rifftrax Presents, (as well as Cinematic Titanic, etc.) but I draw the line at iRiffs. Some of my time and money has to be dedicated to eating and sleeping.

And now I'm off to dive back into my drifting piles of new work. Hopefully I'll be back soon.

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