Welcome, won't you?
The great minds who brought us educational mockery about syphilis, self-consciousness and construction equipment-related death have a new issue they want us to know about. Playing Together. Apparently there is such a thing as "playing" which, also apparently, can be done in groups of more than one person. I, for one, can't wait to see what it's all about. Who knows? It might just become the latest trend to sweep the nation by storm. Get it here.
Welcome, won't you?
Welcome, won't you?
Here's my review for the three-riffer version of Missile to the Moon. As indicated by the Rifftrax catalog and by my previous posts on the subject, it's pretty much the same as the last version. I like the prior iteration better simply for the Joel-esque quality of Fred Willard's voice, but there isn't really any rational reason to favor one over the other.
Welcome, won't you?
Get your teeth-gnashin' boots on, 'cause the Rifftrax for Jaws is here! Get ready to cling to the edge of your seat as Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss are menaced by a minor James Bond villain. Pick it up here.
You'll need your audience-votin' boots as well, because Mike and company have narrowed the field for their American iRiffer Idol contest to ten. Head down here to help out with the contest.
Keep those moon-walkin' boots handy, because a Missile to the Moon review ought to be coming shortly.
RVOD041 Shy Guy
RVOD042 Self-Conscious Guy
RVOD043 Reefer Madness (Three Riffer Version)
RVOD044 Overcoming Fear
RVOD045 Little Shop of Horrors (Three Riffer Version)
RVOD046 House on Haunted Hill (Three Riffer Version)
RVOD047 Night of the Living Dead (Three Riffer Version)
RVOD048 Missile to the Moon (Three Riffer Version)
RVOD049 Playing Together
RVOD050 Carnival of Souls (Three Riffer Version)
The first few shorts explore the issue of fear, shame and self-loathing in teens of the forties and fifties. Two of these shorts (Self-Conscious Guy and Overcoming Fear) also mark a (thus far) short-lived experiment in riffing shorts live, for free, in streaming video. Both shorts crashed their site, the second time for days on end, so they probably won't be doing that again any time soon. Most of the other entries in this section are redirection pages for the On Demand versions of Three Riffer re-riffs. Since these have all been simultaneously released as regular Rifftrax, the actual reviews are up in that section.
R078 Swing Parade (Three-Riffer Version)
R079 Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
R081 Planet of Dinosaurs
R083 Voodoo Man
R084 The Room
R085 Red Dawn
R086 Fast & Furious
R087 The Matrix Revolutions
R088 Dragon Wars: D-War
Lots of very funny riffs in this section, most notably for The Empire Strikes Back (a solid riff of a good movie), Twilight and Dragon Wars (hysterical riffs of terrible movies). Also notable in this section: a decent riff of revered classic Casablanca, and the much-requested and long-awaited riffing of fan favorite Red Dawn. Also, the dredging up of The Room and Planet of Dinosaurs, two very solid contenders for the prestigious title of Most Ineptly Made Film Ever.
This section has eleven films in it--Voodoo Man doesn't have a separate MP3 to go with the VOD, I kept it in the RVOD section. The Rifftrax staff doesn't think that way, though, so I've added it back into the chronology.
(2007, Fantasy-Sword & Sorcery/Horror, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
Finally, someone brought a Pokemon sensibility to a Lord of the Rings style battle.
In a Nutshell:
Korean mythology demolishes downtown Los Angeles.
Animated credits slide past the screen. A crazed Native American shrieks at cops from the side of a crater on the outskirts of L.A. A young reporter takes video of forensics experts uncovering a giant reptilian scale. He returns to his office and flashes back to when he was a boy, and his father abandoned him in a pawn shop with an old man who was a kung fu master in a previous life.
Within the flashback, the kung fu man flashes back five hundred years, when some sort of holy-ish thing fell from the heavens and marked a baby girl with a red dragon on her shoulder. This is very significant, because a band of cartoonish Sauron impersonators and their army of gungun-esque reptilians will stop at nothing to get it back. Flashbacked kung fu guy (your standard wise-and-bearded elderly Asian) trains a young man to protect the girl—called the, uh, Yu-Gi-Oh or something—until her twentieth birthday, when she will be sacrificed to a giant snake called the Great Gazoo. (Or, you know, Korean words to that effect.) Believe it or not, this is the good option. The bad option is to let the Sauron/Jar Jar army catch her and sacrifice her to Great Gazoo’s evil giant snake twin, B.A. Baracus.
Young trained Korean dude screws it all up when he falls in love with the girl and jumps of a cliff with her instead of sacrificing her. Why? Well, it’s something he decides to do after the flashback of the flashback flashes back to bits of earlier flashback, so, uh... I don’t know. We end up back in the “approximately ten years ago” flashback where the grizzled and now Caucasian kung fu guy dramatically reveals that the flashbacked young reporter is the reincarnation of the young trained Korean dude. He must find a girl with a red dragon mark on her shoulder and protect her until she can be sacrificed to the Great Googly Moogly or, er, something might happen maybe? Something bad?
Back to the present day, where the young reporter fiddles with the amulet the old man gave him as a prize for sitting still through the whole thing. He realizes that the dragon scale is a harbinger of, um... Well, he somehow knows the girl’s name is Sarah, and browbeats his jive-talkin’ black friend into searching a database of all the Sarahs in the greater L.A. area. No one is surprised when this well thought-out plan fails.
Cut to the aforementioned Sarah, who begins a series of disturbing nightmares and even more disturbing waking encounters with Sauron impersonators and giant snakes until she’s finally hospitalized. Oddly, no one notices the skyscraper-sized reptile until he’s chomped down several elephants, Sarah’s roommate, and half the hospital she’s staying at.
Reporter dude finally finds her (due to an unlikely set of coincidences and the friendly intervention of the shapeshifting kung fu guy) just in time to run away for two straight days while the Sauron Jar Jars join forces with the reawakened B.A. Baracus snake to slaughter every last inhabitant of downtown L.A. Flying Jar Jars finally catch up with our heroes while they attempt to flee to Mexico.
The preceding paragraph describes approximately half the film.
The final showdown takes place in an extra-dimensional desert, where the Saurian baddies prepare to sacrifice Sarah to their giant snake. Reporter guy is tied, Indiana Jones-style, to a nearby pole. He shouts at them until his magic amulet glows and turns the evil army to dust. B.A. Baracus is still intact, though. He’s about to eat them when the Great Googly Moogly finally shows up again. Identical CGI snakes fight until the Great Gazoo goes down for the count. Baracus looms up again, but Sarah pops her soul out of her body and sends him chasing all over the landscape like a kitten after a laser pointer. Her soul pops into Gazoo’s mouth; the good snake eats it and turns into a dragon, roasting his evil twin to death with his newly fiery breath.
Old kung fu guy shows up to smile and wave before fading into the afterlife. (So he was a ghost all along?) Sarah’s soul pops out of Gazoo’s mouth clad in a ridiculous conical dress and promises to wait for reporter dude in heaven before popping back in again. She probably won’t have long to wait, because as of the closing credits our hero remains stranded without food or water in the endless, featureless desert of another dimension.
Of note: This is a ninety-minute film called “Dragon Wars”, the last eight minutes of which are closing credits. The first and only dragon of the film appears somewhere around minute seventy-five.
I’d say this was the most laughably ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, but since December 2007 I can no longer say that about anything but The ‘Star Wars’ Holiday Special. If I hadn’t seen TSWHS, though, Dragon Wars would be a shoo-in. The CGI and cinematography look decent, but they’re pushed haphazardly together and often focus on the irrelevant. Though mostly bloodless, the movie has a higher body count than Total Recall. The script makes no sense. (When, exactly, did our leads fall in love? What do all those meaningless dream sequences have to do with anything? Why is that old lady trying to walk through a wall, and why do even the flashbacks of flashbacks of flashbacks have flashbacks?) And yet, through it all, it remains exuberant and inoffensive. It’s like someone gave millions of dollars and a crew of professionals to an eight-year-old and then told him to go nuts.
The riffers professed some difficulty with this one—during the introduction, Kevin asks the Comic Con panel that selected it for them to “go entirely to hell”—but damned if it didn’t turn out to be one of the funniest things they’ve done. Favorite comments: When the kid reporter interrupts the old man’s nested flashbacks to ask, “What are you talking about?” Mike says, “Thank you.” (This happens a number of times.) During the oddly one-sided battle with the U.S. military, Bill laments, “If only our tanks were made of dragons, they would be able to withstand those blasts.” When the magic amulet annihilates the evil army for no reason, Kevin muses, “The lesson here is: Just do stuff and stuff will happen.” When the dragon finally appears at the end, the riffers try to decide which celebrity voice to give it, finally settling on an Al Pacino impression that had me laughing so hard I could scarcely breathe. Here’s another one for the “riffs absolutely everyone must see” pile.
(2003, Action/SciFi, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
Remember guys, these movies are philosophical.
In a Nutshell:
Blam, blam, freedom of choice, zap, badow!
First, the backstory: It’s a grim, dystopian future where human minds live in a contemporary-ish computer-generated world called The Matrix while despotic machines use their body heat as a renewable energy source. A few humans have escaped The Matrix and now fight for their survival and the freedom of their fellows.
(I guess I should give you my standard sequel spiel about the film not being targeted towards viewers unfamiliar with the previous films, and then direct you to read my summaries of said films before proceeding, but I think you’ll find the details—endless pseudo-philosophical discourse and visually unintelligible kung fu—to be singularly unhelpful.)
Our story continues with kung fu superhackers Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) entering the Matrix to find the lost brain of their comrade Neo (Keanu Reeves). Neo is lost in a metaphysical train station run by the imaginatively named Train Man. Trinity and Morpheus are directed to Train Man’s employer, the Merovingian, by a newly recast Oracle. They try to bargain but end up fighting, ultimately holding a gun to the Merovingian’s head until they get what they want. Neo is freed. The end. Of this particular irrelevant thirty-minute subplot.
The remaining hour and a half divides itself evenly between the siege of Zion and Neo’s quest to, uh, do, you know, something. Zion, if you’ll recall, is the grimy underground hideout of the human resistance movement. People we’ve barely met hug and cry and scream and rattle an earsplitting rain of gunfire at the horde of robotic hell-spiders bearing down on them from above. Notable characters include that one kid with no hair and a sexy dreadlock lady who’s the girlfriend of someone we probably should remember from the last movie. Hell, he’s probably in this movie too. After a while, all those Somber Sexy Grunge People Under Duress start to look alike. Morpheus, Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and another guy arrive in a ship. This is cause for celebration. But not really. Everyone hunkers down and prepares to die. Are you following any of this? ‘Cause I’m not.
Neo, in the meantime, has borrowed another ship and had his eyes burned out by a guy named Bane, who’s actually hosting a fragment of an evil self-replicating program named Smith (Hugo Weaving). Gifted with psychic machine sight, Neo knocks Bane’s head off and continues his quest to the machine city on the surface. His super machine-destroying powers get them as far as the outskirts, where his driver, Trinity, crash lands on a rebar pincushion.
Nine hours of tender death scene later, Neo creeps on alone, finally meeting a giant baby-faced super god machine thingy. Super God Machine agrees to halt the invasion of Zion if Neo will reenter The Matrix and do battle with the traitorous Smith. Neo and Smith beat the crap out of each other until Neo finally gives up and agrees to let Smith copy himself over Neo’s personality. Somehow, this gives either Neo or God Machine (or both) the power to destroy all copies of Smith at once, allowing all the host programs and human minds to regain their original forms.
Later, the Architect and the Oracle discuss the future of Zion and the Matrix. They agree that, uh... Well, I guess the important thing is that the movie ends.
The good news: The Matrix Revolutions is nowhere near as wordy as its predecessor.
The bad news: It is much, much louder. Like, by a factor of a thousand, and that’s a conservative estimate. Seriously, Michael Bay only wishes he could make movies this loud.
The expected news: It makes approximately the same amount of sense. (Which, you may recall, was “none”.) The train station scenes break even the vaguest of previously established story rules, and deliver no insights or characters important to the later film. The Bane subplot isn’t necessary either. Smith is never established as a threat to both sides of the human/machine war beyond a line or two of dialog near the end. Similarly, the purpose of Neo’s journey to the surface is kept deliberately obscure until he arrives—because the filmmakers wanted us to spend most of the movie wondering what the hell he’s doing and why we should care, I guess. I’ve seen folks online try to explain the mechanism by which Neo defeats Smith at the end, but they tend to disagree with one another, and everyone relies heavily on conjecture. How can they do otherwise? Yes, it’s insulting when a filmmaker spells everything out as if we’re morons. But the opposite sin—giving out no details and assuming we’ll “figure it out”—is not only insulting, it’s appallingly incompetent.
The astonishingly bizarre news: The mechanical suits used by the Zion defenders provide less protection than your average moped—a machine whose operators are, at least, required to wear helmets.
For as loud and as plotless as this movie ended up being, there is a lot of quotable commentary. A few of my favorite comments: “Morgan Freeman in drag!” (Bill, re: the Oracle). “Aw man, I’m late and early!” (Kevin, re: the Train Man’s watch-covered arm). “The endless rave scene from The Matrix 2 goes on to this very day,” (Mike, re: The Merovingian’s nightclub). “If we stay in darkness much longer, I may have to remove my sunglasses” (Mike, re: the ubercool characters’ refusal to remove their tinted eyewear no matter what the lighting level). When we see the machines attack the Zion docks, Bill notes that it looks “Star Wars-ian.” “Bill, please,” Kevin corrects him. “The proper term is ‘crap’.” I could go on like this, but this is one you really ought to see for yourself. If the movie doesn’t rupture your tympanic membranes before the halfway mark, you’re likely to enjoy it.
(2009, Action, color)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett
Go to hell, physics!
In a Nutshell:
Vin Diesel and some other guys drive really fast.
Vin Diesel (whose character is probably named something else, as if that mattered in this kind of movie) and some other guys (also probable possessors of names) drive really fast in Mexico (I think), stealing gasoline tanks off the rear of a fuel truck. There’s jumping, swerving, crashing and exploding involved. Afterwards they party the night away with fistfuls of cash, gaggles of loose Mexican women and earsplitting Hispanic rap. For some reason, Vin sneaks out on his girlfriend in the middle of the night.
Some FBI agent guy chases another guy through an apartment building, eventually beating a name out of that guy. (Which guy? Who knows or even cares? Certainly not the movie.) The name in question is “David Park”, which I remember because about a dozen interchangeable FBI agents repeat it fifty million times despite its utter irrelevance to what passes for this movie’s plot. The other name I remember? “Braga”, because that’s the name of the mystery drug dealer everyone wants to catch. Vin wants Braga because one of his henchmen killed his girlfriend. (Did I forget to mention that? Sorry. The movie mentions it very briefly during a phone call with Vin’s Hot Sister right after the FBI Guy chase.) FBI Guy wants Braga because he’s FBI, which I guess is reason enough.
How will they catch Braga? By beating up co-workers, dangling random guys out of windows and growling incomprehensibly. Oh, and street racing. And by drinking and watching hot girls make out with each other. And more street racing. And more growling incomprehensibly. And by questioning FBI Guy’s loyalties. And blowing up cars. And hiding drugs. And by questioning FBI Guy’s loyalties some more. And by growling incomprehensibly some more. And with a red herring decoy Braga. And by hunting the real Braga into Mexico despite FBI Guy’s lack of jurisdiction. And, finally, with more street racing.
Did I mention the tunnels? If not, I should have. Tunnels feature prominently, though I could not, for the life of me, tell you why.
Anyway, Vin gets caught and convicted of previous street racing-related crimes and is sent up the river for twenty-five to life. FBI Guy storms out of the sentencing, apparently outraged that Vin’s assistance in capturing Braga did not buy him clemency. (Personally, I don’t understand why FBI Guy isn’t wearing prison orange right next to Vin. Didn’t we just spend most of the movie watching him commit those crimes too?) FBI Guy casts off his FBI-ness to hook up with Vin’s Hot Sister and a pair of random Mexicans to take down Vin’s prison bus just as the end credits roll.
I base my knowledge of the plot almost entirely off the FBI dialog, as nearly every other member of the cast speaks either in a grumbling rasp or a heavy accent. They’re not as impenetrable as the accents in, say, Werewolf, but it’s still a barrier understanding the dialog.
Not that the dialog matters. When your best lines consist of “Lock and load!” “It’s already too late” and “We’re not so different, you and I,” it’s pretty obvious you’ve been cribbing from the iconic Big, Dumb Action Movies of the eighties. At its heart, Fast & Furious is a Sylvester Stallone popcorn flick, with Mr. Diesel swapped into the Stallone part (incomprehensible mumble intact either way), updated slang and a dumbed down script. That’s right; I said “dumbed down”. It’s one thing to have a “We’re not so different, you and I” speech in your movie. It’s another thing entirely to use the phrase “We’re not so different, you and I” as the entire speech.
As you might guess, this leaves the spotlight to fall squarely on the action. And, I’ll admit, the action can get exciting at times. It can also get tedious and incomprehensible. I’d say it’s about fifty-fifty.
One of the most common reactions I saw on the Rifftrax forum when they announced this was words to the effect of “Aw, bleep. Now I have to watch Fast & Furious.” That was more or less my reaction as well, but I buckled down and watched it anyway. A sample of the commentary: During a particularly confusing chase sequence, something vague happens and Bill cries, “Hooray! Or, alternatively: Oh no!” When FBI Guy jumps through a window, Mike shouts, “Extreme defenestration!” Kevin follows up one of the movie’s many, many scenes of half-Spanish conversations with “Vaya con queso, baby.” Overall, the writing is sharp, the riffing well-timed and the target ripe for mockery. The fact that they got me to watch a Fast and Furious movie isn’t extraordinary in and of itself; like a good little fan, I watch everything they do. The fact that they actually got me to enjoy a Fast and Furious movie is remarkable, though, considering the wretched stupidity of the series and my indifference to automobiles. Against all odds, I find myself recommending it.
(1984, Action/Drama/Political/Teen, color)
Mike Nelson and Joel McHale
Killing in the name of a high school mascot—if that ain’t American, I don’t know what is.
In a Nutshell:
Teenage refugees from the Soviet invasion of Colorado engage in guerilla warfare.
Before the action begins, yellow text informs the audience of worsening conditions in the world at large, as food shortages and political upheaval contributes to the rapid expansion of the Soviet Empire. The black screen fades up to a Colorado high school, where a lecture about Mongol conquest techniques is interrupted by the arrival of Soviet paratroopers. These proceed to mow down an inquisitive teacher and fire their weapons into the school more or less at random. Yes, it’s a subtle, subtle film.
Teen refugee Matt (Charlie Sheen) jumps into the truck bed of his older brother Jed (Patrick Swayze) as he drives past. Robert (C. Thomas Howell), Daryl, Danny and the provocatively named Aardvark join them. Without stopping to ask what’s going on, they drive out of town to a gas station/convenience store run by Robert’s dad. Dad fills their truck with canned food, rifles, sleeping bags and so on and sends them into the mountains.
Weeks later, a few of the boys return to town to find it still occupied by Soviet forces. Jed and Matt find their father in a concentration camp, and promise to avenge him. A visit to a friendly local reveals that Robert’s dad was executed for helping them escape. The local gives them horses and food and asks them to take his fugitive granddaughters Toni (Jennifer Grey) and Erica (Lea Thompson) up into the mountains with them.
One day, a trio of Soviet sightseers heads up into the mountains to take pictures. They stumble across Toni, and chase her into the woods. The rest of the refugees start shooting, and the three Soviets are killed. The local commanders execute most of the refugees’ family members in retaliation. The refugees decide to fight back.
They start calling themselves the Wolverines, after the local high school mascot. Led by Jed, they plant bombs, shoot from the roadside and steal supplies. The local commanders execute locals after every attack, but this only increases the Wolverines’ determination. Soon afterwards, the kids are joined by a downed fighter pilot named Andy (Powers Boothe). He provides the invasion’s backstory, but by now that information isn’t all that relevant. He survives just long enough to teach them some rudimentary military tactics and then die (along with Aardvark) in a kamikaze assault on a Soviet tank.
The Soviets bring in a new specialist to deal with the Wolverines. He halts reprisals against the locals and sends commandos into the mountains after them. The Wolverines ambush their attackers and take a tracking device from the corpses. It points to Daryl, who breaks down and confesses. On his last trip into town, his dad (the mayor) turned him in to the Soviets, who tortured him and forced him to swallow a homing beacon. Jed tries to execute him, but can’t do it. Robert executes him instead.
Some time later, they find food “abandoned” by the side of an open road. They pick it up and eat it, until Soviet helicopters appear over the horizon. Soviet gunfire kills Robert and Toni while the others escape to their camp. Realizing that they do not have a hope of outlasting the Soviets, the last four Wolverines split up. Jed and Matt stage a final suicidal assault on Soviet headquarters to distract their forces while Erica and Danny make a break for Free America. Years later, a rock near their camp where Jed inscribed the names of their dead has become a national monument.
Okay, the scenario was ludicrous even at the time of its release, and much of the second half is pure action movie fantasy, but in spite of these issues, this is a powerful film. Occasionally stupid and often simple-minded, but powerful. I believe this has to do with the extraordinarily successful way it evokes the cold war dread of the eighties, that special paranoid decade when my social studies teachers liked to remind me that a Russian invasion or (more likely) nuclear Armageddon was due at any moment. Kudos to the filmmakers for inventing an invasion scenario that, well, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but looks real and scary enough to get us through the film. The kids depicted are a bit too lucky, too handy with explosives and automatic weapons to pass the plausibility test, but again, kudos to the filmmakers for making their terror and desperation seem real. Also remarkable (for a big, dumb action movie from the eighties): there are no romances. Kudos to the filmmakers for realizing that getting molested by enemy soldiers is more likely to give a girl a nervous breakdown than put her in a lovin’ mood. In fact, while my feelings about this film are kind of ambivalent, I have to admit (without dropping any qualifiers) that it’s probably the best paranoid teen action film about a Russian invasion the filmmakers could possibly have made.
Celebrity television show host Joel McHale (of E!’s The Soup) joins Mike on the commentary. His performance sounds the most spontaneous and unscripted of any guest riffer thus far. This gets kind of scattered and uncomfortable when he won’t let Mike finish his lines during the introduction, but he behaves himself better during the film commentary itself. A few of my favorite lines: When the Soviets start shooting up the school, Joel says, “Operation No More Pencils, No More Books commences.” When our heroes wander back into a half-destroyed town, Joel cries, “They replaced our town with Detroit!” When our heroes start to rain death down on the goofy Soviet invaders, Mike says, “I swear all these Russians learned how to die at Clown College.” I previously mentioned my apparently congenital dislike of Patrick Swayze movies. That comes into play here, but the rest of the movie was engaging enough to keep me interested. Mike and Joel keep things moving too, making the Red Dawn Rifftrax a reasonably entertaining experience.
(2003, Drama-ish/(definitely not supposed to be a) Comedy-Esque, color)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett
You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!
In a Nutshell:
Tommy Wiseau is right, while his ex-girlfriend and/or ex-fiancée is wrong.
Once upon a time, a lank-haired, saggy-faced man of indeterminate origin (probably European of some kind) named Tommy Wiseau decided to make a movie. Though nothing is known for sure, it seems almost certain that at some point in his past a woman hurt his feelings, and hurt them badly. So, naturally, Tommy decided to make the movie about how he is good and wise, while his fiancée is an evil, conniving adulteress. He wrote, directed, produced, starred in and (most importantly) financed the movie himself, then rented a billboard in L.A. to promote it for five continuous years. This cost him six million dollars. No one knows where he came from, or why he even had that kind of money.
The film itself defies description. I’ve covered the movie’s central conceit in the paragraph above. Tommy’s character is named Johnny, while the evil, conniving adulteress fiancée is Lisa. Johnny wanders the set saying “hi” to everything like a Eurotrash parrot with sunstroke, while the villainous Lisa sleeps with his spineless best friend Mark. Lisa’s mom is a shrill old bat with intermittent cancer, while their neighbor, a young teen named Denny or Danny or something, has an intermittent drug problem. And by “intermittent”, I mean that these subplots are brought up once each, and then never mentioned again.
What else? Um, there’s a psychologist named Peter whose actor got fed up with the slapdash production halfway through, causing his character to morph into a wholly different person named Stephen near the end of the film. There’s also a girl named Michelle who eats chocolate off of some guy’s weenis (offscreen, thankfully). At one point, men in tuxedoes play football in an alley space smaller than my bedroom. At the end, crowds of unknown people shuffle in and out of Johnny’s apartment on demand until the adultery comes out, causing Johnny to impersonate a Eurotrash chicken. Everyone leaves, and then the adultery comes out... again... or more, or something. Lisa leaves him. Johnny shoots himself. And everyone is very, very sorry that they would ever hurt the feelings of such a noble and majestic man. Especially Lisa.
Looking back at the newly competed summary, I realize I have failed to describe a major portion of the film’s running time. Let me take care of that now. There is sex in this film. It’s not terribly graphic sex, I’ll admit, one of the two things that save this film from being straight-up porn. But now I have to correct a previous statement: there is a lot of sex in this film. In fact, if ten minutes pass at any point in the narrative during which we are not subjected to onscreen coitus of some sort, I’ll eat my hat.
Which brings me to the other thing that saves this film from being straight-up porn. It’s not appealing sex. It is, in fact, the unsexiest sex I’ve ever seen captured on film. Yes, it’s worse than Joe Don Baker and Linda Evans in Mitchell. I will now pause for your obligatory horrified shudder...
[Insert horrified shudder here.]
...so please, for the love of all that is decent and holy, avert your eyes whenever the lovin’ starts. I am not kidding. The Rifftrax product page for this commentary strongly advises viewers to “look away” during these parts. “We are not just being coy,” they say. Disembaudio’s friend Walter (more on him in a moment) describes Wiseau’s naked body as “Weird Al as Rambo in UHF”. This is a frighteningly accurate description. Bill describes the actress playing Lisa as “the bloated corpse of Britney Spears.” This goes a little too far, but not by much. Don’t worry about missing anything. The riffers aren’t watching either, choosing, instead, to engage in unrelated shenanigans until the onscreen horrors have ceased.
Commentary during the non-sex scenes works pretty well. When Lisa orders a pizza laden with pineapple, artichokes, pesto and Canadian bacon, Mike calls it, “Domino’s WTF special.” While Johnny aimlessly wanders San Francisco, Bill supplements his normal dialog with, “Oh, hi sidewalk. Oh, hi newspaper. Oh, hi entrance.” As unintroduced characters pile up, Kevin references Mr. Wiseau’s rather unsubtle attempt to retroactively rebrand his film by advising them to “act like you knew this was supposed to be a comedy all along.” Surprisingly, for a film whose attempts at naughtiness will make you want to claw your own eyes out, the skits they designed to distract us from all the un-sex are the funniest parts of the commentary. For the first three or four occurrences, Disembaudio shows up with his rowdy, computer-generated friends and family members, gradually losing them all as they succumb to the horror of Wiseau’s vision. Other distraction schemes include a lengthy prayer to spiral cut ham, and a harrowing descent into Hee-Haw madness. If you can steel your soul to the incoherent awfulness, shutting your eyes and keeping them shut as necessary, this thing is hilarious. On the other hand, the movie is unrelentingly, irredeemably bad, with parts of it bad enough to render the viewer sterile. I’ve done my best to let you know what we’re dealing with here. Now you have to decide for yourself.
(1942, Drama/Romance, b&w)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett
Snoopy’s attacking! Run!
In a Nutshell:
World-weary bar owner Rick helps a former lover escape WWII-era Morocco.
In 1941 the Second World War, still in its opening act, sends refugees fleeing to Northern Africa, from there to Portugal and then (hopefully) the United States. Casablanca is an important stop along the refugee trail. People hoping to move on to Lisbon must have the right travel documents, be able to bribe the corrupt Chief of Police Renault (Claude Rains), or pay for forgeries from men like the unsavory Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) or the even less savory Ugarte (Peter Lorre).
As our story begins, Ugarte has murdered two German couriers and stolen a pair of blank Letters of Transit, apparently the holy grails of travel documents. He plans to sell them for a vast sum of money and retire, but he doesn’t want to have them on him in case he’s searched before the deal. To this end, he leaves them with the owner of the nightclub where he does his business, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). Unfortunately for him, Renault knows what he’s done and what he’s stolen. The weasely chief of police normally wouldn’t care, but it just so happens that a detachment of Nazi soldiers, led by Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) has arrived to demand that the thief be arrested and the letters recovered. Renault’s men make the arrest and drag Ugarte out of the night club, leaving Rick holding the letters.
Ugarte’s intended buyer arrives—celebrated Czechoslovakian resistance leader Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid), whose activities have upset a number of very important Nazis, forcing him to flee for his life. This is another reason Major Strasser has come to Casablanca: to lean on Renault for Lazlo’s arrest. Renault agrees and patiently awaits a pretext.
Lazlo’s wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) recognizes Rick’s pianist Sam (Dooley Wilson), and begs him to play her favorite song. Rick recognizes the song and starts to berate him, but Sam just points to Ilsa and leaves. Rick and Ilsa have an oblique conversation about Paris. He meets Lazlo, bids Ilsa farewell, and then waits until everyone leaves for the night to crawl into a bottle of bourbon and start the flashbacks.
It seems that he and Ilsa were desperately in love three years go in Paris. After numerous scenes of moonstruck motoring, lounging and drinking, Rick proposes on the eve of the German invasion. Ilsa tearfully deflects the question, but agrees to leave Paris with him the next day. The next day arrives along with a note from Ilsa, explaining that she can’t leave Paris with him or ever see him again. Ilsa arrives in the present day to try and explain, but Rick is too drunk to do anything but hurl insults. Ilsa leaves again in tears.
In the scenes that follow, Lazlo tries to find papers for passage to Lisbon while Rick stalks Ilsa to needle her about her betrayal. Lazlo eventually finds out the original letters of transit are probably with Rick, and he attempts to buy them from him. Rick refuses. When Lazlo asks why, he says, “Ask your wife.”
Ilsa sneaks back to Rick’s place that night while Lazlo is at the local resistance meeting. She explains how she thought her husband was dead when she loved him in Paris, but then he resurfaced and she had to go back to him. She still loves Rick, and she’ll stay with him if he’ll help Lazlo get to Lisbon.
Meanwhile, the police have broken up the resistance meeting, scattering the attendees. One of Rick’s revolutionary employees brings Lazlo back to Rick’s place. Rick sends Ilsa home before Lazlo sees her. In their subsequent conversation, Lazlo admits that he knows about Rick and Ilsa’s past history. He loves Ilsa too, but he’ll let her go with Rick if Rick will use the letters of transit to escort her out of danger. The police arrive and arrest Lazlo.
The next day, Rick goes to Renault with a proposition. He has no charges or evidence to keep Lazlo imprisoned now, but if he’ll release Lazlo long enough for Rick to sell him the letters of transit, he’ll be able to arrest him for possession of stolen documents. Renault agrees and arrives at Rick’s place that night in time to witness the transaction. However, when Renault tries to make the arrest, Rick pulls a gun. With Renault as his hostage, Rick escorts Lazlo and Ilsa to the airport to help them make their getaway. Ilsa still wants to stay with Rick, but Rick talks her out of it with a famous speech that boils down to 1) Lazlo needs her and 2) Casablanca isn’t safe for any of them anymore.
The plane takes off with Lazlo and Ilsa aboard, but Major Strasser arrives to try and call it back. Rick guns him down as he picks up the phone. The police arrive to find Renault, Rick and Strasser’s body. Moved by Rick’s act of selflessness, Renault tells the policemen to “round up the usual suspects”, effectively sending them away again. He and Rick determine to flee to France and help resist the Nazi occupation.
Sure, Mike, Bill and Kevin make fun of the accents and headgear, but the Casablanca Rifftrax is more of a continuous comedy routine running parallel to the film than outright mockery. Consider the following exchange:
[During a close-up of Bogart’s hand signing a check, then pulling back to get our first glimpse of the movie’s hero.]
Bill: An iconic movie character is about to be introduced.
Kevin: Jar Jar Binks?
Bill: Go to so much hell, it’s not even funny, Kevin.
Mike: Hey, don’t Bogart that cigar!
Bill: Mike, join Kevin in hell.
It’s representative of the rest of the commentary in that they’ve taken pains to mock themselves instead of the scene. In fact, while most of the Rifftrax I’ve watched mingle themselves with action in a way that makes them essential to my enjoyment of movie, this one seems more like a layer on top. A delicious layer, but no more than frosting to this film. It still has a great deal to recommend it, however, and I don’t regret seeing it.
I do have a bit of advice, though. Do not watch this Rifftrax if you’ve never seen the film before. I say this not out of reverence for Casablanca. It’s a quality film that deserves to be first experienced in its untreated form, but I’m not one of those cinema snobs who’ll wail and call you a heretic if you choose to do otherwise. My concerns are more technical in nature. This is a movie about secrets and conspiracies. It is a movie about intelligent, articulate men, many of them in odd foreign hats, huddling at corner tables while talking fast and low in their 1940s accents. Of the four who came over to watch this with me, three laughed at half and frowned in puzzlement at the remainder. The one who laughed at just about everything was the one who, like me, already knew most of the movie by heart. It’s hilarious, but with so many people all talking at once, you have to already know what’s going on if you want to follow it.
(1978, SciFi, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
The Least-Interesting Nature Hike You’ve Ever Been On: The Motion Picture
In a Nutshell:
Shipwrecked space travelers are marooned on the eponymous Planet of Dinosaurs.
Cheesy low-resolution dinosaur graphics float through space behind endless opening credits. The upper deck of a really cheap spaceship detaches moments before the main body of the ship disintegrates without warning. Hirsute talking heads on monitors shout incomprehensible jargon at one another. They crash in the waters of an alien planet; the crew manhandles each other’s polyester jumpsuit-clad buttocks while they jump through a porthole one at a time. A badly superimposed ship-like model slides downward through footage of a river, by which I assume the filmmakers wish to imply that the ship fragment is sinking. (By the rate and angle of descent, I’m guessing they also wish to imply that the river in question, thirty yards wide at maximum, is more than half a mile deep). The survivors heave themselves up on shore to take stock of their situation.
Their situation is not good. They’re on an uncharted planet, millions of light years away from the nearest inhabited planet and the top-heavy dim bulb redshirt in charge of the homing device lost her grip on it during the swim to shore. Shirtless Chuck and Top-Heavy Redshirt strip to their skivvies and swim out after it, but a pair of rubber jaws and a lot of fake blood pull Top-Heavy under. Shirtless Chuck abandons their last hope of rescue and retreats to shore.
For lack of anything better to do, Captain Lee marches somewhere between six and twelve bejumpsuited castaways across the countryside. Occasionally they stop to gawk at stop-motion dinosaurs that the makers of Gumby would be ashamed of, and once the smarmiest (and second hairiest) character gets gored and dumped over a cliff by a monoclonius. Dinosaur footage only takes up four, maybe five minutes of the travel scenes at best, though. The rest is walkin’ and restin’.
Sixty to seventy minutes later, the castaways finally arrive at their arbitrarily chosen destination. At Captain Lee’s insistence, they put up a palisade to keep out predators. The hairiest crew member, Savage Jim, rather reasonably protests that this defense is weak and porous. Then he less-than-reasonably demands that they arm themselves with primitive weaponry and head out to hunt the local tyrannosaur, thus proving their alpha predator status and warning all the other predators to stay away. The captain whines the rest into reluctantly hiding behind the palisade for a while, but then the local tyrannosaur shows up, stomps right through their poor attempt at a fence and chomps the Half-Shirted Slut.
Savage Jim takes command. First they stuff a stegosaurus carcass with poison berries and leave it outside the tyrannosaur lair, waiting just out of sight to see if he eats it. The tyrannosaur stomps out, ignores the poisoned meat, and chomps down Faux Jeff Foxworthy. Next, they set up another palisade of sharpened, poison-coated stakes. Struggling to regain his lost authority, Captain Lee irritates the tyrannosaur into leaving the others alone until the stakes are finished, and then leads the dinosaur through them. Impaled and poisoned, the T-Rex dies.
Years later, the last survivors and their children wear skins and live on dinosaur meat. Frizzy-Head Nurse opines that it doesn’t matter whether they’re rescued or not, but she’s paired off with Shirtless Chuck, while her only fellow female survivor Fragile First Officer had previously expressed a preference for Savage Jim. As the odd man out, Captain Lee would probably have a different opinion.
Director James Shea apparently studied at the Roger Corman School of Filmmaking. Sure, there’s the occasional special effect and a half-hearted action sequence or two, but mostly this film’s about walking. Walking and resting. Walking, resting and mustaches. Walking, resting, mustaches and form-hugging polyester. And, okay, maybe six or seven minutes of dinosaurs.
Also, more than any other film I’ve bothered to look up on imdb.com, Planet of Dinosaurs makes a very strong case against user-driven rating systems. As of right now, imdb rates it at an average of 4.3 out of 10, with most users scoring low and a large minority scoring high. However, at least one of the high scorers praises it for being “the first film to utilize flatulence as a soundtrack”. While I concede that this is an accurate statement, I'm puzzled as to why we need to consider it in the movie’s favor. I mean, if the movie was about flatulence, then sure, maybe (but probably not). It’s not, though. It’s barely even about dinosaurs. But hey, if fart-based film scores are your thing, and you don’t care about context... Okay, I guess what I’m trying to say is that imdb commenters tend to use rather suspect rating criteria.
Since so much of the running time is taken up with aimless wandering, much of the commentary has to deal with this. By the time the marching/resting/marching has gone on for twenty minutes at least, Mike says, “This is leeching every last bit of hope and joy from my soul. I wonder if that's what [the filmmaker] was going for?” A while later, Bill chimes in as the Captain to remind everyone, “The plan, once again, is to walk around silently without purpose.” Kevin fixates on the groovy hair and revealing polyester. “How did the cast of a seventies porn movie get their own spaceship?” he asks. The comment made most often had to do with the casual way the members of the cast touch each other at almost every opportunity: “You feel good. You been workin’ out?” By itself, Planet of Dinosaurs is one of the worst films they’ve done since Rifftrax’s inception, and yes, I’m counting all those dreary social guidance shorts and the raft of the moldy “classics” they re-riffed earlier this year. On the other hand, they’ve filled the movie’s many empty spaces fairly well, somehow managing, against its will, to keep the film from dragging. The riffers manage to pull the whole thing right out of “tedious” and just over the border of “reasonably entertaining”.
(2008, Romance/Horror, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
In a Nutshell:
A depressed young woman dates her supernatural stalker.
High school junior Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves out of Phoenix, Arizona—one of the sunniest places in the United States—to give her newly-married mom some time with her new husband. Bella’s destination is Forks, Washington—one of the most overcast places in the United States (and yes, that’s foreshadowing)—where her father is sheriff. She’s depressed by her mom’s marriage, depressed by the move, depressed by the expectation that the kids at her new school won’t like her. She gets to school and is immediately accepted into a circle of best friends while half a dozen boys begin vying for her favor. Needless to say, all this instant good fortune depresses her.
The one fly in the ointment is her new Biology lab partner Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a pale gentleman with red-rimmed eyes and Eraserhead hair. He is rude and dismissive the first day, disappears for a few days after that, and thereafter peppers her with friendly questions in a pointlessly hostile tone while intermittently stalking her. Bella reacts the way any angst-filled teen girl seeking the exact opposite of a healthy relationship might; she asks him to come to a beach party with her that weekend.
Edward is noncommittal for reasons that become clear at the party. The beach in question is on the Quileute Indian Reservation, and Edward’s family has an agreement with the tribe to stay off their land. Bella’s Quileute friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) spills the beans while hinting that the Cullen family might be more than human, but refuses to elaborate further.
Intrigued, Bella plans a visit to a bookstore in a nearby town to look up the old Quileute legends pertaining to Jacob’s story. She gets lost and ends up in the bad part of town, ending up cornered by a gang of ill-defined ruffians. Fortunately, her stalker is on hand to save her. Edward drives up and whisks her away. Their halting, intermittent conversation reveals a bit of mind-reading, but nothing beyond that besides a mutual interest in each other. He drops her off at home, where she reads her newly acquired book and looks up the legend online. She confronts him with it at school the next day. He is a vampire.
He admits his vampirism. Apparently, the reason he likes Bella so much is because her blood smells extraordinarily tasty, far more so than that of ordinary mortals. The sun comes out, and he takes off his shirt to show her why vampires don’t come out in daylight. (It’s because they sparkle like rhinestones). These appear to be reasons enough to begin a relationship.
Bella introduces Edward to her dad. Edward introduces Bella to his vampire parents, brothers and sisters. At this point I guess I should mention that the Cullen vampires only drink animal blood. This is important not only because it establishes the Cullens as “good guys”, but because a group of human-eating vampires show up during a game of vampire baseball. They just want to hang out and play, at least until a vampire named James (Cam Gigandet) smells Bella’s blood and decides he wants a snack. Edward hustles Bella away while the other Cullens try to hunt down James.
Bella flees back to Phoenix. James catches up and takes Bella’s mom hostage, warning her to meet him at a nearby ballet studio. Bella meets him there, and it turns out that James has only taken an old recording of her mother hostage. James tortures Bella until Edward and his family arrive to take him down. Bella’s been bitten by this time; Edward sucks the venom back out so that she won’t become a vampire too. They make up a story to explain her injuries and flight to Phoenix. Everyone heads back to Forks for prom.
Before anyone asks, I may as well admit that I’ve read the book and—despite the fact that I’m neither a teenage girl nor a middle-aged woman—I found it reasonably entertaining. Make of that what you will. Despite its theatrical release, the movie’s oversimplified characters, straightforward dialogue and obvious technological limitations give it a distinctive Direct-to-Video flavor, but it’s reasonably competent as well. Note that I didn’t call the movie “reasonably entertaining”. This is because it fails quite badly on one very important front.
Now, granted, teen love is fraught with awkwardness, angst and a whole host of other emotional discomforts. Yes, there’s usually suffering involved. What Twilight (the movie) fails to show us is the reason these two put up with the suffering. It refuses to satisfy any of the emotional and physical needs that might keep them together. Simply put, these two do not enjoy each other’s company. Physically, they can’t get it on because Edward is strong enough to squish her into jelly, and if they go too far, he’ll get excited and drain her dry. Emotionally, their conversations are either halting, incomprehensible affairs that trail off into nothing or intense, earnest talks about how their relationship isn’t healthy for either of them. When they gaze deeply into one other’s eyes, it’s to scowl, pout or twitch. I don’t care how many of their audible lines reference their undying love, the body language tells me that they can’t stand each other.
So, it’s a ridiculous and intensely angst-filled teen vampire movie with lots of long, unnecessary pauses. Add in its inexplicable popularity, and you’ve got perfect Rifftrax material. Mike in particular has a lot to say regarding the relationship model on display: “That look’s from the Guy You Alert the Flight Attendant About Collection;” “That look from the Guy in Car Peeping in Through the Yoga Class Window with his Binoculars Collection;” “He’s quoting from the Abusive Guy Handbook;” and “She loves him based on him not killing her. That’s healthy.” Bill has a few apt descriptions for Edward, including: “The love child of Matthey Perry and Powder” and “An off-brand version of Johnny Depp wearing body glitter.” When they start playing with the focus and the filters during the final confrontation, Bill complains of an acid flashback. The others respond that they see it as well, to which Bill replies, “You guys also see Jim Nabors riding a killer whale in space?” I laughed hardest during the car ride home from the book store, when the supposedly star-crossed lovers exchange panicked glances for far too long while the riffers whispered “Line?” to each other over and over again. When I have to quote more than one line per riffer, you know it’s good. I’m thinking it would be funny to round up my wife and her friends to watch it with me, and then see who laughs with me and who gets offended. Or maybe I’d just get in trouble with the missus. I’ll have to think about it.
(1980, SciFi, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy and Chad Vader
How are you going to defeat Vader if you can’t levitate a robot while standing on your head?
In a Nutshell:
Darth Vader hunts Luke Skywalker in an attempt to recruit him for the Emperor.
The original Star Wars trilogy was one of the founding fathers of Film Series That Don’t Pause for Backstory. As reference for the plot of the first film, all we get is a phrase or two in the flying wall of deep space text that opens the film. If you’re reading this, then you probably already know what Star Wars is, and what happened in Episode IV, but just in case you’ve recently awakened from a thirty-five-year coma, here’s a link to that review.
We pick up a few weeks (months? years?) after Luke and Han got their Death Star Demolition Medals. Imperial forces have hunted the Rebel Alliance across the galaxy, forcing them to take shelter on the inhospitably cold planet of Hoth. While scouting the environs around their new home, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) gets swiped by a Yeti and frozen in an upside-down position to await his turn at dinner. Judicious use of his Force powers frees him—specifically, his ability to telekinetically summon a lightsaber and then swing it wildly at his enemies. He collapses in the snow outside the Yeti’s den, and hallucinates a scolding from Obi-Wan Kenobi’s fuzzy blue ghost (Sir Alec Guinness). His friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) finds him and stuffs him inside the steaming corpse of a tauntaun (sort of a kangaroo/alpaca with mountain goat horns) while he sets up a shelter. Rebel speeders find them the next day, and take them back to base for treatment.
While Luke recovers, an Imperial probe droid lands on Hoth, transmitting images of the base back to its fleet. Darth Vader (body by David Prowse, voice by James Earl Jones) moves his fleet to attack the planet, strangling underlings with his mind as he goes. Led by Han, Luke and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), the rebels hold off the Imperial assault long enough for most of them to escape.
At this point, our narrative splits in two. Plot A follows Han, Leia, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and C3PO (Anthony Daniels) as they try to escape the doomed Hoth base in Han’s ship, The Millennium Falcon. The damaged Falcon can’t make the jump to hyperspace, and leaving them stuck with the entire Imperial fleet on their tails. They fly in and out of an asteroid field (and a giant asteroid field-based worm) in an effort to lose them, but it’s not until Han disables his own ship and disguises it as space garbage that they finally escape. They fly to the nearest space port to make repairs.
The nearest space port happens to be Cloud City, a mining facility administrated by Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). Lando offers his hospitality while his engineers fix the Falcon’s hyperdrive problem. While exploring the facility, C3PO discovers Imperial storm troopers, who blast him to pieces. Shortly thereafter, Darth Vader shows up at dinner with a lot of armed guards. Lando apologizes; a bounty hunter named Boba Fett tracked them to Cloud City, bringing the Empire with him. Lando had to sell out Han and Leia to save his city. Vader’s minions get to work making our heroes suffer to bait a trap for his true quarry. The man Vader really wants is nascent Jedi Luke Skywalker.
Luke, in the meantime, has spent all this time in Plot B, at the beginning of which he followed his fuzzy blue ghost master’s advice and flew with R2-D2 to the swampy planet of Dagoba. Here he receives more Jedi training from a wrinkled green Muppet named Yoda (Frank Oz). In a Force-induced vision, Luke sees his friends suffering and spurns Yoda’s advice to let them die for the sake of his training. Inexplicably—by which I guess I mean, “Through the power of the Force”—he knows exactly where they are, arriving just after Han is flash-frozen and packed in carbonite. R2 joins Leia and the newly reformed Lando to escape and attempt to rescue Han. For reasons that may have made sense to him at the time, Luke wanders into the freezing chamber to face Vader. They duel with lightsabers up and down the halls and catwalks of Cloud City. Vader finally cuts off Luke’s hand, cornering him at the end of a catwalk to confess “I am your father.” Luke doesn’t take the news well; he jumps into a deep shaft, which turns into a slide, which opens up and deposits him on an antenna below the floating city.
Meanwhile, Leia, Lando and company have failed to rescue Han, and are now fleeing for their lives in the Millennium Falcon. Luke calls Leia back with the power of the Force. Lando rescues Luke, R2 finishes repairing the hyperdrive, and Chewbacca flies them all to safety. Later, Luke gets a new hand while Chewbacca and Lando take off to look for Han.
The second Star Wars film (fifth in chronology) is the best of any Star Wars thus far. I’m guessing this is because it comes from a happier time—after Lucas had been recognized as an imaginative genius, but before his co-filmmakers lost the power to temper that genius with professional restraint. After he’d been granted freedom to do what he does best—design an extraordinary, fascinating universe—but before he got free reign to do things he’s no damn good at, like write and direct...
Though, okay, I have to correct myself here. Lucas has never been a great writer/director, but the original Star Wars and films like THX 1138 and American Graffiti show that he used to be at least competent...
What were we talking about? Oh, yes. Empire Strikes Back takes place in a happier time. Back when the action was exciting, the plot twists stunning, and the Force was ancient, mystical and (fortunately) inexplicable...
Though it’s a little bit like spider sense, in that it only shows up intermittently, explaining sudden flashes of knowledge to cover plot holes, and then disappearing to preserve surprises and plot twists for the audience. The Force, ladies and gentlemen! There’s nothing it can’t do... when it feels like it...
Where was I? Um... happier times? Back in the days when Yoda was actually wise...
Though, come to think of it, Yoda’s an excellent teacher of Jedi skills, but every time he looks at the big picture, he comes to precisely the wrong conclusion. He’s like a crazy right-wing junior high gym coach with pointy ears and bad syntax—able to show you the correct way to dribble and shoot, but his real-world advice involves refusing to pay taxes while stockpiling weapons and booze. In Star Wars terms, this is the guy who thought it would be a good idea for the most powerful surviving member of the entire friggin’ Jedi order to sit on his wrinkled green backside in some backwater swamp for two whole decades while the galaxy went to hell around him. The only reason anyone ever accomplishes anything, good or bad, in these pictures is because people usually ignore him.
So, uh, back when Yoda knew how to sound wise by merely implying his outrageously bad advice, instead of just blurting it out where anyone could hear...
Well, okay, it’s not a perfect movie. It’s a fantasy film that takes place in a man-made universe, and by their very nature, man-made universes are riddled with inconsistencies. The Empire Strike Back comes from a happier time, when the plot was simple and exciting and moved too fast to let its audience get bored enough to pick at its intrinsic flaws. It’s a fun movie, and fun movies get a lot more leeway from their fans in that department.
Mike, Bill and Kevin are joined by internet sitcom star Chad Vader for the commentary. Chad’s first appearance behind the Rifftrax microphone only yielded one comment every fifteen minutes or so, and these focused on his amusingly pathetic sitcom persona. He’s been all smart-ed up in this one, and it’s a good thing, because now he’s got as much air time as the big three. Though he’s still kind of an idiot (most notably during the Dark Side Cave scene when he shrieks “Nooooooooo!” at every opportunity), much of the time he’s every bit as incisive as his fellow riffers. A few of my favorite comments: During the Text in Space scroll at the beginning, Mike says, “I hope the Imperial Star Fleet doesn’t fly by, or they’ll totally find out where the secret rebel base is.” Regarding the strange gurgling noises of Luke’s tauntaun, Bill says, “Is he riding the Hamburglar?” When Kenobi’s ghost directs Luke to the Dagoba system, Kevin says, “I installed the Dagoba system on my computer last week.” During one of the many repetitions of Darth Vader’s signature theme music, Chad lets us know the words to that tune, “I am a friendly bunny named Fred. / Please come close and I’ll feast on your head.” The Empire Strikes Back is a fun and occasionally ridiculous film, and the riffers reel off one great comment after another, making this commentary a worthy successor to the excellent A New Hope riff.
(1946, Comedy/Musical, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
I’m an inveterate mule-worrier.
In a nutshell:
A songwriter and a singer open a nightclub while they fall in love.
[Summary recycled from the first time I reviewed this.]
Pretty much every scene falls into of three categories:
1) Plot: Half the film relates the story, as follows. Newly graduated from the conservatory of music, Carol Laurence searches for a job as a singer, but finds none. Eventually evicted from her apartment for failure to pay rent, she gives up and seeks employment as a secretary with Mr. Daniel Warren Sr. Her first task is to deliver eviction papers to his wayward son. Said son is Danny Warren Jr., a songwriter in the process of opening a nightclub, two occupations of which Mr. Warren Sr. does not approve.
The provocatively named Moose guards the nightclub door, stationed there specifically to prevent deliverers of eviction notices. The logic of this appears to be: “Even though we know about the eviction, they can’t force us out if we don’t let them deliver the notice.” (This wouldn’t fly nowadays. Would it have worked in 1946? Who knows?) Carol sneaks through the back door with the help of kitchen boys Larry, Curly, and Moe. Danny Warren Jr. sees her and is instantly smitten. He gives her an audition and offers her a job as a singer. She tears up the notice in secret and accepts.
Lots of unrelated stuff happens here, but eventually another of Mr. Warren Sr.’s minions makes it through and serves the notice, referencing the last girl sent to do it. Danny Jr. thinks Carol let the man in, and hurts her feelings. Fortunately, by this time a friend of the family has bullied Mr. Warren Sr. into reconciling with his son; he withdraws the eviction. Curly admits he’s the one who let the server in, and Danny professes his undying love for Carol in song.
2) Antics: The Three Stooges have been hired as kitchen boys in the new nightclub, under the watchful eye of the thick and vengeful Moose. They spend roughly a quarter of the film comically injuring themselves and each other as dishwashers, plumbers, and waiters.
3) Song and Dance: Another quarter or so of the film consists of the nightclub’s various acts, which include: a Jazz musician who urges us not to worry about our mules and later poses the musical question, “Why is your big head so hard?”; a lady singer in regalia so large as to render her completely immobile while she sings the slowest, most depressing songs of the set; and various dance pieces involving thin men in tuxedos twirling around underdressed women.
The Stooges are pretty much the only part of this movie worth watching. (Something I know I’ve said before. If it feels like I keep feeling like I’m repeating myself too much, it’s probably because lately I’ve had to review so many things twice.) Sadly the masters of physical comedy aren’t allowed enough screen time to keep my interest in the face of all that tepid romance and those boring musical acts. The only other element that even approaches them for entertainment value is the jazz band, whose songs are both animated and ludicrously strange. Give their pop-eyed lead singer an accordion instead of a saxophone, and he’d be the Weird Al of 1946.
The commentary has been extensively rewritten, mostly for the better. A sampling: When the Three Stooges peer around a wall, Bill says, “The last thing you see before you’re killed by a flying anvil.” Mike comments on a lady’s large, furry headgear; on her exit he says, “I have to take my hat in to be spayed.” As a dragging scene livens up with the introduction of the stooges, Kevin notes, “There's no circumstance that can't be made better by slapping Curly in the face.” Though not much can be done to save the romance scenes, the addition of the riffers makes a huge difference during the musical acts, which go from dreary to hilarious with comments about the strangely attired dancers, the soul-crushing despair of the immobile lady, and the extremely odd jazz. While Swing Parade isn’t among the best Rifftrax ever recorded, it’s certainly the best Stooge/Riffer combination.
Welcome, won't you?
I get my keys this afternoon, and will spend the next few days incommunicado while I transfer households. But before I go, here's my review for the three-riffer retread of Night of the Living Dead. It's one of the most improved thus far (and definitely the most rewritten thus far) but I still don't like the movie. Fans of zombie flicks are in for a treat, though.
Welcome, won't you?
Rifftrax brings us original material once again in the midst of the retread barrage with next week's release of Jaws. Mike, Bill and Kevin will take on vintage Spielberg and his mechanical shark Bruce on February 24, 2009, just one day after internet service is scheduled to be installed in my new home. Hopefully I'll have moved in by then.
Welcome, won't you?
So I went to see Cinematic Titanic last Friday. And then I wrote about it. At length. Posted here, if you're interested.
Also, I saw the new version of Missile to the Moon last night, and if they changed the script at all from the Fred Willard version, I didn't notice. I realize that between this and Night of the Living Dead, I'm two reviews behind now. I promise to rectify this just as soon as humanly possible.
I spent most of it sitting around the house. Well, sitting around the house and packing boxes, so it was the strenuous kind of house-around-sitting. Having to dig a four-year-old out of the boxes, then pry my belongings away from her and put them back into the boxes every few minutes only made it more so.
Also, I saw Rifftrax's three-riffer version of Night of the Living Dead--by far the most rewritten of the do-overs. I still don't like the movie, but the commentary's funnier this time. Full review sometime this week.
Also, also: I went and saw Blood of the Vampires performed live by the Cinematic Titanic crew in San Francisco on Friday night. Live energy and audience reaction can make any riffing seem funnier, but even allowing for that, this movie was something else. It features lovely Filipinas in ludicrous fake teeth, terrifying Catholic icons, and minstrel show-levels of racial cluelessness. Everyone dies at the end, but in a good way (I guess). It truly must be seen to be believed. The Cinematic Titanic folks were nothing short of vicious to it, and the result was hurts-your-gut-to-laugh-so-much funny. Afterwards, a huge knot of people clustered around a table in front of the theater bar to meet the riffers. I made brief and slightly awkward conversation with all five while they signed my weatherbeaten copy of The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. I'll post a more thorough report of the event soon.
Also, also, also: Rifftrax's three-riffer do-over of Missile to the Moon has been released. Head on down and pick it up.
Also, welcome, won't you?
Welcome, won't you?
1) I'm going to see Cinematic Titanic take on Blood of the Vampires this Friday in San Francisco! It's a good thing I bought this ticket last month, because between escrow and the Governator cutting my pay for no reason, there's no way I would have gone otherwise. (Confidential aside to Mr. Schwarzenegger: Your precious tax revenues don't pay my salary and never have. WTF?) The pre-recorded version of Blood of the Vampires will probably go on sale next month. Also, in announcing Saturday's show, they've let slip the title of another release-to-come: a kung fu/blaxploitation mash-up called Dynamite Brothers. If 'fro picks, swanky disco and hoards of Asian thugs aren't prominently featured, I, for one, will be very disappointed.
2) Something I forgot to include in last night's missive: A schedule of Rifftrax's ongoing cavalcade of three-riffer do-overs.
On February 17, 2009: A three-riffer version of Missile to the Moon.
On March 3, 2009: A three-riffer version of Carnival of Souls.
On March 10, 2009: A three-riffer version of Swing Parade.
And that appears to be the end of the do-overs--unless, of course, they take my suggestion and riff Forbidden Zone, but I think we all know that's pretty unlikely. So, no totally new material until late March at the earliest, unless they decide to drop a short on us in the middle somewhere.
3) Mike Salva is still making the rounds of the various cons with Max the Hero, as well as his new (non-MST3K-related) short Back to Life. His latest appearance will be on February 27, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at Megacon in Orlando Florida. Check it out if you're in the neighborhood.
4) I'm taking the rest of the week off to pack up my old house, so unless something new and exciting happens, I'll be back with a Night of the Living Dead review and a Cinematic Titanic Live report next Tuesday.
Welcome, won't you?
Three-riffer do-over madness marches onward with Mike, Bill and Kevin's reissue of Night of the Living Dead, now available in Video On Demand and Commentary-Only flavors. Is it as tasty as the brains of the living? Time will tell. Review early next week.
(1950s-ish, Educational, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
This movie should be called Watching Other People Playing Together.
In a Nutshell:
Small children Donny and Duncan wander their neighborhood unsupervised.
Small children Donny and Duncan picnic together in the park. After slight mishaps with their picnic trash and their bicycles, they head down to the playground to watch other kids play. Then they head down the public pool, but can’t go in the water until the swimming races and aquatic clown follies have ended. Throughout, a narrator gently gives us pointers on good sportsmanship and general stick-related etiquette.
Having apparently left the narrator at the pool, Donny and Duncan now purchase and eat ice cream bars while they parade in front of a pair of brightly lit, khaki-clad buttocks for several consecutive minutes. The narrator finally catches up to inform us, “You would like to play with Donny and Duncan.”
Archive.org puts this short’s release date as “circa 1950”, by which I assume they mean that they don’t really know. If I had to guess, I’d put the release date much earlier than that—early forties at the latest. The grainy, poorly contrasted film stock, the wandering piano score, the way the shots linger on the kids for long periods of time while they're not really doing anything. It all looks very much like it was made in a time when “being a film” was novelty enough to make it an object of awe, without the need for any intrinsic redeeming qualities such as “action”, “narrative” or “message”.
Not much actually happens in this short. When the narrator describes how the kids must turn in their clothes to the attendants before checking in at the public pool, Bill adds, “The same policies apply at the Neverland Ranch.” As we’re introduced to the tuneless piano, Kevin says, “A rogue silent movie score has been stalking them all summer.” When things grind to a halt near the end, Mike thinks that “someone just stuck a piano score on their home movies.” It’s got some good bits, but this mostly empty little film doesn’t inspire much in the way of funny commentary.