12/31/09

Dark Samples

Another product of the 'Row of Faces' school of poster-making.Welcome, won't you?

The Darkstar site has updated again; an event so rare, it's noteworthy in and of itself. Even more noteworthy, it's substantive. There's sample gameplay footage (which, of course, I won't see until I return to streaming video-land) and news about publication, which apparently won't happen until they finish clearing up the music rights issues. Head on down and click through to the "News" section for the whole post.

Also, I'll be incommunicado until the fourth of next month, so let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy new year!

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12/30/09

Quality, Freshness and Flavor

Pork, pork and pork.Welcome, won't you?

Now that Christmas is out of the way, it seems to be time to start releasing the non-holiday shorts from the Rifftrax Live show. Up today is Three Magic Words, the pig-meat-praising close harmony musical originally co-riffed by noted vegetarian Weird Al Yankovic. Sadly, Mr. Yankovic does not appear to have made it into the studio with them; the downloadable version only features Mike, Bill and Kevin. Grab it here.

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12/29/09

Assignment: Venezuela

Riffed for the the never-released MST3K: The Home Game

(1956, Short/Industrial, color)

This is like “A Very Brady Venezuela.”

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:

Venezuela sure is foreign, am I right?

Summary:

I want Venezuela on my desk by Friday morning!Our narrator arrives in Venezuela, having been recently transferred to the oil fields of Maracaibo by the Creole Oil Company. In the course of several long and rosy letters to his wife and kids, he tells them just how swell it is down near the equator, where every day is summer, the natives beautiful and/or friendly, and the modern conveniences almost as good as the ones they have back home.

Interspersed, we see him zoom from oil rig to oil rig on a large, Venezolano-crewed lake barge, drive to capital city Caracas for Spanish lessons, and negotiate the use of an aluminum hut for his soon-to-be-summoned family. Finally, his family arrives at the airport. When they’re all through customs, his wife and two small boys demonstrate their newly acquired command of the Spanish language as each berates the porter in turn.

Thoughts:

Yep, that time stamp stays there the whole time.Now, I’ve never been to Venezuela, let alone the Venezuela of 1956. I did, however, live in South America for a couple of years, so I’m pretty sure that a) Caracas only looks that good in certain neighborhoods, and even then, only from certain angles, and b) living in a metal shack near the equator isn’t quite the luxury he makes it out to be. Politically speaking, I guess moving to South America during the Cold War would have been better than moving to Somalia today, but you could say that of anyplace, really. If, one day, I told my wife, “Honey, I want to raise my kids where respect for civil authority is tenuous at best and fierce anti-American sentiment could break out at any moment,” I think she’d say no.

Assignment Venezuela was intended to be used with the never-released MST3K: The Home Game, a thing I hadn’t heard of until very recently, and later released directly to (now out-of-print) video by Best Brains. Armed with the knowledge of its existence, however, you can easily find it in the extras of Rhino Home Video’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 7. (If you, like me, never bought most of the collections because you already had copies through VHS releases, broadcast recordings and tape trading, you could just head down and watch it on youtube.) A few favorite comments: When we first see our interestingly-haircutted narrator, Tom refers to him as, “Our man in Venezuela, Pee Wee Herman.” Later, as he goes on about the luxuriously appointed Quonset hut he’s obtained, Crow says, “It’s like living in a B-52.” When he visits Caracas and notes how its residents go to Simon Bolivar square to revere the name of their liberator, Mike adds, “I think it was Zorro or something.” Throughout, they needle the narrator constantly after an errant speculation about the width of the lake proves wrong. It’s pretty long for an industrial short, about twenty-five minutes, but they keep up the pace for a reasonably pleasant viewing experience.

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Did I Mention the Fat Guy Was Also a Wizard?

The jolly housebreaker himself.Welcome, won't you?

'Twas the fourth day after Christmas and here on the site, a review was posted, ready to, uh, bite?

"Bite" works as euphemism for "read", doesn't it? Anyway, my review of the last Christmas short, The Night Before Christmas, has been posted.

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12/28/09

Live Show Coming Up, And Some Site Maintenance

The spears are to use on people who make fun of their miniskirts.Welcome, won't you?

A Night Before Christmas review is underway and will most likely be coming tomorrow. In the meantime, I've split the Rifftrax Video On Demand section yet again to accomodate it. Here's the newly truncated previous section, and here's the newly created one.

Also, it looks like Cinematic Titanic will be back in the Bay Area to riff Danger on Tiki Island at the Castro Theater in San Francisco on February 2, 2010. I've got my ticket. If you live around here, you can pick one up too. If you don't, there's a decent chance they'll be coming to a location within a few hour's drive of your home town sometime in 2010. Check their site for their live schedule.

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12/24/09

One More Stocking Stuffer

The jolly housebreaker himself.Welcome, won't you?

Pssst. The last Christmas-themed short from the Rifftrax Live show, The Night Before Christmas, has been released. That is all. You may now return to your regularly scheduled holiday cheer.

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Caught Up in Time for the Big Day

Our redneck-stompin' heroes.Welcome, won't you?

The two remaining reviews, for East Meets Watts and A Christmas Dream, have been posted here and here, respectively. I'd think of something amusing to say about them, but it's Christmas Eve, and I've got other things to do. As do you, I'm sure. Merry Christmas everybody!

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12/23/09

RVOD092 Parade of Aquatic Champions

(1940s-ish, Short/Newsreel/Sports, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

And the nearly empty warehouse goes wild.

Rating: **1/2

In a Nutshell:


Swimmers from the 1940s, won’t you?

Summary:

That one foley guy must have the sorest palms in Hollywood.A narrator introduces a long list of professional swimmers, each bellyflopping into the nearby pool in turn. I recognized the names Johnny Weissmuller (an early Tarzan) and Esther Williams (notable for her numerous appearances in the water ballet fantasy sequences so popular with the musicals of that era). Also noteworthy: a ten-year-old girl named Larry. Swimming races, water waltzes, fancy diving and unfunny aquatic clown antics ensue. Either the crowd was too bored to applaud or there wasn’t a boom mike near them. The filmmakers did, however, record one guy clapping in a large empty space and dub it in later.

Thoughts:

Parade of Aquatic Champions depicts a sporting event where people you don’t care about do things you only partially see. And even if you could see the whole thing, why would it matter? Competition is what makes a sport gripping. A football game where nameless players all wear the same unmarked jersey and run towards the same end of the field might entertain me in the Dadaist sense, but not for very long.

A couple of my favorite comments: Upon the promise of an aquatic parade, Mike says, “I’m scared of the Speedo-wearing clowns.” When the narrator notes how a participant celebrates his victory, Kevin adds, “Then he went mad with power, demanding that all sovereignty be given to him, the living spirit of Neptune.” This is the last of the shorts to originally appear in the Rifftrax Live Christmas 2009 show; being prerecorded both helps and hinders the studio version. It helps in that now all the jokes about “that one guy clapping in the warehouse” make more sense without audience reaction and theater acoustics muddying the laughable tacked-on “applause” sound effect. It hinders in that audience reaction and the energy gained from it were pretty much the only things keeping this turkey afloat. In the words of Bill Corbett, “Yes, it’s swimming. The thing your five-year-old always wants you to watch, only now you’re watching someone you don’t even know do it.” The unspoken question: why would we want to?

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Light Up a Beet in Honor of Christmas

I need you tonight.Welcome, won't you?

Two newly posted reviews for you today. The manic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the depressive Christmas Rhapsody. Read them here and here, respectively.

Reviews for East Meets Watts and A Christmas Dream are coming as soon as I can get them finished. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. We'll have to see. Also, there's one more unreleased Christmas short from the live show, The Night Before Christmas. If they follow the short-a-day pattern they've established thus far, it ought to be out today or tomorrow. I'll post again when and if it releases.

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12/22/09

Welcome To My Christmas-Themed Nightmare

Featuring a ragged voodoo-esque likeness of Carrot Top.Welcome, won't you?

Looks like Rifftrax is releasing the rest of the Christmas shorts backlog one at a time. Today's offering is a nightmarish Czechoslovakian stop-motion horror film called A Christmas Dream. My use of the words "nightmarish" and "horror" amounts to humorous exaggeration, yes, but not by much. Head on down, purchase, and embrace the madness.

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Fly, Fly, Fly!

Insert small robot into big robot.Welcome, won't you?

In less than a week, I've gotten three reviews and one event report behind. Truly, the holidays have been good to us.

In an attempt to rectify the backlog just a little, here's my event report for the Rifftrax Live Christmas show that went down last Wednesday and Thursday. Reviews for Rifftrax's Christmas Rhapsody and Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as well as Cinematic Titanic's East Meets Watts will be coming soon. Before Christmas? Maybe, but probably not. To sum up the future reviews, I would describe these offerings, in order, as "sort of okay", "awesome" and "badical"*.

-----------------------

*Meant as a compliment.

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12/21/09

Rudolph, I Need You Tonight

Why does he spend so much time showing us his backside?Welcome, won't you?

The short containing the biggest laugh of Rifftrax's Live Christmas show is now available for sale. Head on down and grab 1948's cartoon version of Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I'm curious about the three lines we missed after Santa's come-on scene.

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RVOD091 Three Magic Words

(1940s-ish, Short/Educational/Musical/Industrial, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

Here's three magic words: “Stop Singing That.”

Rating: ****

In a Nutshell:

A close-harmony trio teaches a young wife the virtues of pork.

Summary:

Pork, pork and pork.Spoiler warning! The three magic words in question are Quality, Freshness and Flavor. Now you know. And knowing is, well, you know the rest.

The purveyors of these magical, pork-describing words are a close-harmony trio known as the Jesters. They play the butchers at the shop where the descriptively named Mrs. Newlywed arrives in a panic. Her oblivious husband has boasted of her cooking prowess to three of his work buddies, and now there’s a bet going as to whether her real-life kitchen skills can live up to the hyperbole.

They can’t. The poor, vacant little trophy wife has never heard of Iowa and doesn’t know what pigs are, let alone how to prepare how the meat that comes from them. The Jesters burst into song. Quality, Freshness and Flavor are the answers, of course! Nodding uncertainly, Mrs. Newlywed stumbles home to find the Jesters in her kitchen, now dressed as chefs. They harmonize their way through the recipe until the viciously grinning Mr. Newlywed arrives with his three friends in tow. Yes, they’re the Jesters again, harmonizing away as usual. They dig in while praising her culinary skill in song.

Thoughts:

Man, it’s a good thing the Jesters showed up to save Mrs. Newlywed from embarrassing herself in front of... of... of the Jesters, I guess. The same guys who set the whole thing up by goading the rictus-faced Mr. Newlywed into making the bet in the first place. So, the whole thing was a con? A nonsensical conspiracy to push the other white meat on the recently married? A cyclical, self-contained paradox caused by a trio of time-traveling restaurant singers determined to get a free meal?

Speaking of paradoxes, Three Magic Words is something of an anomaly in that it’s the only formerly live short thus far to benefit from not being live. It might have been audience reaction muddying the precise timing required to riff a musical short, or it might have been something else altogether, but the studio version’s jokes seem clearer, more easy-to-follow and—despite the fact that they’re the same jokes—much, much funnier. A few of my favorite comments: When the Jesters sing of pork that “makes your heart sing,” Kevin looks at the fat-heavy dish on display and declares that it only “makes my heart explode.” When the Jesters specify roasting temperature as 328 degrees, Mike clarifies, “The temperatures at which stupid burns.” When the three sets of Jesters—butcher, chef and work buddies—pass the song around for the finale, Bill says, “Our hollow-eyed doppelgangers will fill you all on the rest.” Also amusing are the various other suggestions for the three magic words, such as “Stop Singing That,” “More Bacon Please,” and “No, Stop, Don’t.” The Rifftrax Live Christmas broadcast featured Weird Al riffing alongside them, but he’s not featured here. I missed hearing his voice, but everything else about the studio version is vastly improved.

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12/18/09

Small, and of No Account

Features Silent Night rendered as a joyless dirge.
Welcome, won't you?

The day after their live show ended, Rifftrax releases a studio version of one of the shorts they used. Those of you who couldn't make it are now free to enjoy the antics of a suicidally depressed young tree in Christmas Rhapsody. Grab it here.

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12/17/09

RVOD090 The Night Before Christmas

(1946, Short/Holiday/Animation, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

Oh no, honey. The Joker’s on our lawn.

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell
:

The famous poem, acted and occasionally animated for our viewing pleasure.

Summary:

The jolly housebreaker himself.‘Twas the night before Christmas, and so on, and so forth, not even a mouse. Because he’d been killed, stuffed and mounted to the floor. Cartoon egg things dance in the dreams of the youngsters upstairs, while our mustachioed protagonist hears creepy cackling from outside. Despite what must be near-zero outdoor temperatures, he sticks his head out the window to look at animated flying reindeer. Occasionally these dissolve into live-action close-ups of a sleigh, occupied by a certain red-clad embodiment of Christmas commercialism.

Santa pops down the chimney, stuffs the stockings with toys (shovels and swans and things) and favors us with an overexaggerated wink. He then waves his arms at the tree (which magically decorates itself) before popping back up and flying off again. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!

Thoughts:

All kidding aside, there’s really not all that much wrong with the short that isn’t wrong with the original poem. And to clarify, by “wrong with the original poem” I mean “good-naturedly poked fun at by the riffers (in the short) and by myself (in this review) because its age makes it seem old fashioned these days”. The exception, of course, is the lingering close-up of the clearly dead mouse, which may have seemed even more inappropriately creepy at the time.

A few of my favorite comments: When the poem states, “I had nothing to dread,” Bill adds, “Nothing to dread other than the creepy winking giant who just broke into my house.” During the magical tree decoration, Kevin adds a verse of his own: “Then Old Saint Nick waved his arms like a blizzard. Did I mention the fat guy was also a wizard?” As Santa trundles back up the chimney with his sack, Mike wonders, “How do you think the other saints feel about Nicholas here?” And finally, Kevin’s own version of the final lines—“And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘If you don’t like your presents, my butt you can bite!’” It’s not the funniest Christmas short of the 2009 Live Show batch, but it’s pleasant enough.

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Rifftrax Video On Demand 081 to 090

RVOD081 The Case of Tommy Tucker, Part 2

RVOD082 Women in Blue

RVOD083 A Circus Wakes Up

RVOD084 American Thrift, Part 1

RVOD085 Call It Free, Part 1

RVOD086 Maniac (VOD Version)

RVOD087 Christmas Rhapsody

RVOD088 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

RVOD089 A Christmas Dream

RVOD090 The Night Before Christmas

This section finishes the last section's dangling two-part short series (The Case of Tommy Tucker) and starts two more, but doesn't finish either. It also includes the just-under-full-length study in Mad Science/Vaudeville debauchery Maniac, the strangest, most explicit film I've seen come out of the 1930s. The last four comprise the new Christmas-themed shorts from the 2009 Rifftrax Live Christmas show, ranging in quality from the deathly paced Christmas Rhapsody to the hilarious unintentional double-entendres of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

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He Has No Bone of His Own

He likes to walkity-walkity-walk.Welcome, won't you?

The San Rafael theater's tape delay equipment apparently malfunctioned, so my sister and I rushed down to the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley instead, arriving with only two minutes to spare. Rifftrax Live was hilarious as expected. It differed subtantially from their previous show in that they favored substance over style this time around.

The interstitial material was all but non-existent--some introductions, a couple of shout-outs to a contest winner in the balcony, and a trio of early twentieth century toy commercials that have, um, not aged well. Let's just say that at some point in our nation's history, a child could watch, wide-eyed, while a large toy robot pushed a small toy robot (named Ding-A-Ling) into his, uh, I'd better stop there.

The other eighty minutes of this ninety-minute show is all riffin'. The first two shorts are repeats, and we've seen the gift exchange skit from the closing credits as well, but the vast majority of the material is new, and all but two of the shorts are Christmas-themed.

"Weird" Al Yankovic joins them to riff on one of the non-Christmas shorts, a hallucinatory little number in which the members of a close-harmony trio play three roles each to teach us the wonders of pork. Also noteworthy is the last short, a forties cartoon version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which contains a moment so pricelessly unsettling (and Kevin's reaction so pricelessly shocked) that the riffers lost three lines to the audience reaction.

If you haven't seen it yet, it's playing again tonight. I'll post a full write-up in the Events section next week.

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12/16/09

As Was Foretold

Sing the praises of pork!Welcome, won't you?

Those two things I told you about yesterday? They're happening today.

In the case of Cinematic Titanic's live DVD of East Meets Watts, it's already happened. Those of you who prefer properly pressed and cased DVDs can order it here. If you're okay with the burn-it-yourself method, you can grab a download from EZtakes.com. I started my download at about 10 p.m. PST last night and it was finished when I left for work at 6 a.m. this morning, so it came through at a reasonable speed. Between an upcoming business trip and tonight's event, I probably won't get to burn and watch it until the weekend.

And speaking of tonight's event, in just a few short hours, my sister and I will be heading down to San Raphael to see the Rifftrax live broadcast. Not exactly sure what the subjects are, but from the hints they've dropped, I'm guessing it will include some sort of Mike Nelson vs. "Weird" Al cage match set against a backdrop of musical Christmas pork chops. If you haven't already, grab your tickets now. If you can't go tonight, it'll rebroadcast tomorrow. I'll drop by with some quick impressions tomorrow.

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12/15/09

Two Live Crews

Kung Fusploitation.Welcome, won't you?

Nothing today, but tomorrow offers a plethora of potential delights. On the Rifftrax front, there's the live broadcast tomorrow evening, as well as the rebroadcast the following night. Featuring Weird Al, a bunch of Christmas shorts and some sort of porcine operetta. Click the banner near the top of the page for tickets.

On the Cinematic Titanic Front, two separate twitters and the product page promise release of East Meets Watts, a DVD record of a live riffing of a kung fu/blaxploitation, uh, thing. Will it be a DVD with download-to-burn to come? Will it be the other way around? Will it be both? Maybe we'll get an official announcement at some point.

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12/14/09

RVOD089 A Christmas Dream

(1946, Short/Holiday, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

She’s fully embraced the madness now.

Rating: ***1/2

In a Nutshell:


A demonic little rag doll invades a girl’s dreams.

Summary:

Hide your souls, they're not safe here.A little girl enters her room to see a Christmas tree, decorated with burning candles and sparklers. Three new stuffed toys await her beneath it. Delighted, she casts aside her “Tickle-Me Yahoo Serious” doll (Bill’s description) to play with her new toys.

That night, Santa enters her dreams, breathing life into the discarded plaything. The bizarre little toy capers and whines around the room on a stop-motion rampage, destroying everything in his path with his antics. Eventually he starts up an electric fan with the power of a hurricane, blowing most of the room away. The girl leaps out of bed to rescue the doll before it can get lost in an errant gust. The fan stops, and everything goes back to normal. Santa guides her back to the waking world, and she recovers the mop-headed little doll from the corner where she left it.

Thoughts:

At last, a short with the courage to make a stand on toy loyalty, surely the only cinematic treatise on the subject since, uh, any of the Toy Story movies, I guess. And The Mouse and His Child. And didn’t they make a Velveteen Rabbit cartoon at some point? Okay, so cartoons go on about this a lot, but this one is surely the most unintentionally creepy of the bunch, with a horrible nude little burlap creature on a wanton, destructive frolic set to a horror film carnival score. Maybe this passed for children’s fare in war-addled Czechoslovakia, but in America we demand, um, Japanese entertainment products, mainly. I forgot what point I was making. I suspect I may not have had one.

Some favorite comments: When we first see the candles and sparklers, Bill says, “Never let an arsonist decorate your Christmas tree.” When the dream begins and the toy starts to prance, Mike tells the girl, “That’s right, smile away your fear.” As the insanity builds and chaos reigns, Kevin urges, “Hide your souls, they’re not safe here.” Not much story here; just raw, incongruent creepiness, and the riffers capitalize on that to great effect.

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Which Darkstar Character Are You?

And this helps... how exactly?Welcome, won't you?

Via The Satellite News comes the latest update in Darkstar's decade-long quest for publication. If, by "update", you mean "survey". I think they want feedback on their new trailer (update 12/15/09: they actually just want some basic demographic information), so by all means, head down and give them some.

There's a brief Q&A with one of the Darkstar honchos on there too, assuring us that the game is complete and currently looking for a publisher. In other words, nothing's changed in the last year or so.

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12/10/09

Speaking of Live DVDs...

Where's Mike's nose whistle?Welcome, won't you?

A DVD of August's live broadcast (featuring special guest stars Veronica Belmont, Jonathan Coulton, and Rich "Lowtax" Kyanka) has been released. I already own one copy of Flying Stewardesses and two copies of Plan 9 from Outer Space, plus I was present at one of the live broadcast locations when it happened, but it was so much fun, I'll probably pick this up as well. Get it here.

Also, I watched the youtube sample of Cinematic Titanic's live performance of East Meets Watts last night. In the "pro" column, the movie looks deliciously goofy. (Someone uses the word "honky" non-ironically. Really.) The commentary is hilarious, and the live audience boosts the energy level significantly without stepping on the lines. The movie's picture quality is superb. In the "con" column, audio quality is not great. It's not bad--you can clearly understand every word they say--but it doesn't have the pleasant clarity of a studio production. Hopefully, watching it on a DVD instead of youtube will clear this up at least a little. Also, it looks awkwardly staged. The riffers are all peering over one another's shoulders towards the camera, and at some points they're more brightly lit than the movie. If the camera stays in that position the whole time, it might turn out a bit distracting. Overall, though, I think the pros are stronger than the cons. I was going to purchase one for review purposes anyway, but on the strength of the sample, I think I can recommend this one up front, at least to people who enjoyed their prior releases.

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12/9/09

RVOD088 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

(1948, Short/Holiday/Animation, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

Rudolph, I need you tonight.

Rating: ****

In a Nutshell:


The eponymous reindeer rises from obscurity to guide Santa’s sleigh.

Summary:

Why does he spend so much time showing us his backside?Anthropomorphic reindeer Rudolph would like to skate with a pillow on his butt, but his nose glows like a beet. (The previous sentence may have made sense in 1948, but I doubt it.) He heads home at the behest of his shapely reindeer mother, hanging his stocking at the foot of his bed before going to sleep.

Meanwhile, the whole world has gotten foggy, causing Santa’s sleigh to crash into trees and houses at every turn. One of the first houses on his list is Rudolph’s. Santa can’t help but notice how brightly lit his room is, despite the lack of lighting. Our hero wakes with Santa leaning over him in bed. “Rudolph,” says Santa. “I need you tonight.”

Rudolph joins Santa’s team, and the sleigh takes to the (suddenly cloudless) sky. Guided by the power of Rudolph’s beet-bright nose, they deliver presents to all the anthropomorphic children in the world. Next day, Santa summons a coliseum full of reindeer. He calls Rudolph forward and appoints him Commander-in-Chief. Of what? Who knows?

Thoughts:

I need you tonight.1948’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has more than its share of weirdness, but for a cartoon from the forties, it looks pretty good. The anthropomorphic deer in particular are extraordinarily well-drawn, looking simultaneously deer-shaped and uncannily human. Some elements are hilariously inappropriate—Rudolph’s hot deer mom, Santa’s “seductive moment”, the semi-obscene way he moves while driving the sleigh, Rudolph’s tendency to light the jolly one’s rear end from beneath—but the vast majority of these instances can be attributed to different connotations pertaining to different eras. To audiences of the forties, this must have looked amazing, multiple references to luminescent root vegetables notwithstanding.

A few of my favorite comments: When the singers proclaim that Rudolph “had a very shiny nose,” Mike adds, “It was greasy.” After the second comparison of Rudolph’s nose to a beet, Bill wants to know, “Are beets known for their illuminating properties?” When Santa calls his reindeer away from their dinner, Kevin shouts, “And quit eating venison. It’s creepy!” The most drop-dead hilarious moment of the short comes when Santa says, “I need you tonight,” and Kevin shouts, “Whoa!” One of the weirder, better animated shorts they’ve done combines pretty well with a very quotable commentary.

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RVOD087 Christmas Rhapsody

(1949, Short/Holiday, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

I am small and of no account.

Rating: **1/2

In a Nutshell:

The adventures of a clinically depressed tree, chosen for decoration at Christmas.

Summary:

Can't see through my pokerface.The camera takes a leisurely pass over a snowy mountain, finally ending up at a young tree. The tree begins to narrate. “I am small and of no account,” he says. He says it again. And again. And again. And so on.

While the little evergreen bemoans his accountlessness, the local forester’s children wander past. They cavort in a generic fashion until one of them stumbles across the tree. They summon their father, who agrees, and hands one of them an axe. They drag the newly felled tree back to their cabin.

As the children drape him in ornaments and garlands, the tree begins to revel in his newly beloved status, albeit in the same dreadfully depressed tone he used for his “small and of no account” soliloquy. The family dons their Sunday best to gather round the tree and mouth a full choir and orchestra rendering Silent Night as a joyless dirge.

Thoughts:

To say that the short is like spending ten minutes with someone who can only moan about his worthlessness would be inaccurate. The word “like” is the one I take issue with, here. It literally is ten minutes spent with someone who can only moan about his worthlessness, which is about as uplifting as you’d imagine. I’m pretty sure the narrator/tree voice guy thought he was conveying reverence, but in reality he sounds like his will to live can only be measured with negative numbers.

Mike, Bill and Kevin step up to deliver the commentary anyway. As the choir sings Angels We Have Heard on High over the opening, Kevin joins the chorus with “Po-o-o-okerface!” While the oldest boy and his mother struggle to straighten the tree, Mike provides them with an argument that culminates in, “You’re ruining Christmas!” While the family lays out a Nativity scene, Bill wants to know, “Which one is Stinkor, master of odors?” Mike gently reminds him that He-Man characters are not in the bible. The energy of the crowd at the Christmas 2009 live show made up for a lot, but the riffers are by themselves in the studio version. Christmas Rhapsody is gamely mocked but riffing against the short’s depressing tone is an uphill climb.

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A.K.A. Kung Fu Suckas

Kung Fusploitation.Welcome, won't you?

According to the J. Elvis's latest twitter, the next Cinematic Titanic will be the Kung Fu/Blaxploitation mash up East Meets Watts, to released on December 16, 2009. (Coincidentally(?) the same day as the Rifftrax Live Christmas show.) Word on the internet streets is that it will be a recording of a live show rather than the traditional studio versions they've been releasing thus far. Check out the youtube sample.

I won't know what it looks like until I get back to an internet provider that allows streaming video, and I don't know how I'll feel about the "recorded live" thing until I see it. On the one hand, live riffings tend to have a lot more energy. On the other hand, audio and video quality tend to suffer, and you can lose lines in the audience reaction. It's not impossible to have the best of both worlds--the last Rifftrax Live broadcast, for example, was far, far better than either of their prerecorded versions of Plan 9--but striking the balance between live show excitement and studio-quality production values can be difficult. Here's hoping they can find that balance.

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Rifftrax Live, December 16, 2009 (Broadcast from Escondido, CA, Viewed in Mill Valley, CA)

Sing the praises of pork!I got off work at five thirty, but the show didn’t start until eight. Enough time to head home and back real quick and then leave, or just head straight down and be an hour early. Pretty much the same drill as last time.

Well, except that this time my sister Laurel was home for the holidays. She joined me for dinner and little Christmas shopping before we headed down to San Rafael. We exchanged our Fandango printouts for tickets, got said tickets torn, and were then informed that the theater wasn’t ready yet. We went and sat in the arcade’s only available seats, a pair of uncomfortable plastic affairs facing decades-old driving games. Topics of discussion were her post-college plans and the rowdiness of my children.

We wandered back and showed our pre-torn tickets to the usher again. “Sorry,” he said. “The show’s been cancelled.”

At first I thought I’d misheard him. He had a bit of an accent, after all. Maybe his clearly intelligible English was just flawed enough to make “starts in twenty minutes” sound like “canceled”. I asked again. He answered again. If this was some imperfection of speech, it was a remarkably consistent one.

He pointed us to the front desk, where he said we would be “taken care of”. With a sinking heart and some trepidation, we returned to the front of the theater. Our torn tickets were taken and exchanged for free passes and apologies. How could this be, I wondered? Had the curse of Rifftrax live struck them again, despite the expertise of Fathom Entertainment? What were they going to do after all the nationwide publicity, not to mention the booking of Weird Al?

We turned to leave. The ticket taker must have seen our despondency; she looked at her watch and said, “They’re still going to play it in Mill Valley. You can catch it there, if you hurry.” We turned back. It wasn’t canceled everywhere? Just here? I started to ask questions. She called over a couple of managers—one to explain, the other to find me directions to the Mill Valley theater.

The explaining manager did his job almost perfectly in that when he was done, I had no idea what he had just said. I assume it would have made more sense given intimate knowledge of digital broadcast machinery and the theater’s internal politics. Between the technical jargon and the expression of resigned disgust on his face, it was my impression that someone had forgotten to push the “tape delay” button on the theater’s VCR.

He has no bone of his own.The other manager returned five minutes later with a mostly blank piece of paper. At its center was a postage stamp-sized map followed by three-point font directions. She explained that her computer was being uncooperative, and that this was the best she could do right at this moment. A bit of time might put it right, but if we wanted to get to Mill Valley on time, we needed to leave immediately. I thanked her and took the paper, nodding towards the line forming to my right. Most of the recent arrivals carried printed-out Fandango tickets for the Rifftrax show. She grimaced and scurried off the back for more directions.

A trio of ebullient coeds had come in right behind us in time to hear the first manager’s explanation. I shared my directions with them, and we all ran for the parking lot. While my sister squinted at the tiny map, the giddy young women swerved around us on the freeway, waving as they passed. I recalled the largest one mentioning something about her GPS. I pulled up close and stuck behind them all the way to Mill Valley.

The Mill Valley theater is one of those old-fashioned main street storefront theaters with only two or three screens in it. We parked in front and turned in a couple of our free passes for new tickets. We found seats less than a minute before the show started.

The show itself opened with very little preamble, a significant departure from the pomp and circumstance of their previous show. Mike, Bill and Kevin took their seats and bantered a bit. They introduced a contest winner and then got straight to the riffin’.

Batting first and second: a pair of repeats, comprised of Christmas Toyshop and A Visit to Santa. This was where we saw the night’s only technical glitches: some blinding screen glare and a film volume that would occasionally drown out the riffers. I already knew most of the lines (which probably marks me as a huge nerd; as if you needed any further confirmation) so it wasn’t too disturbing, and I have no way of knowing whether this extended to the broadcast as a whole, or just the Wednesday night Mill Valley viewing. Happily, this got fixed fairly quickly. The third short—Christmas Rhapsody, a low-key little film about a clinically depressed tree—was both visible and of the appropriate decibel level.

Insert small robot into big robot.Weird Al appeared, taking them to task for inviting a vegetarian to riff a film that extols the virtues of pork. Mike talked him into doing it anyway. “Pigs eat vegetables,” he wheedled. “What are pigs but compressed vegetables?” They riffed the musical pork short, in which the members of a close harmony trio play three roles each to teach a young housewife the virtues of pig meat. Weird Al left again. I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t do a song, but, oh well, I was there for Rifftrax, not the interstitial acts.

Speaking of which, interspersed with the shorts, the riffers gave each other presents—a trio of old toy commercials that have, er, not aged well. For Kevin, a robotic dog from the sixties. “It’s Gaylord!” the commercial proclaimed. “He likes to walkity-walkity-walk!” it went on. “He has no bone of his own!” it expounded. For Bill, a flight simulator that consisted solely of an airplane silhouette framed against a rolling background. The commercial’s repeated invitation to “Fly, fly, fly!” was echoed ad nauseum by Kevin during the subsequent banter. For Mike, the Ding-A-Lings, a set of boxy little robots that can insert themselves into the, uh, hindquarters of a larger robot.

More shorts followed; including one Bill went out of his way to describe as a “Corbett Christmas family tradition”. (It was about championship swimming.) Actual Christmas-themed shorts include a mostly staid version of The Night Before Christmas (“The Joker’s on our front lawn, honey!”), an insane and truly frightening little short about a stop-motion doll that invades a little girl’s Christmas-themed nightmares, and the 1948 cartoon version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The highlight of the evening came during the last short, when Rudolph woke up to see Santa perched on the side of his bed, leaning forward. “Rudolph,” said Santa. “I need you tonight.” “Whoa!” cried Kevin. Bill noted later that they’d lost three lines to audience reaction.

The shorts ended. The riffers brought Weird Al back out for a bow. Mike, Bill and Kevin’s Holiday Havoc skit from 2007 played over the closing credits. I drove my sister back to her car, and then I went home.

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12/8/09

A Triumphant Sort-Of Return to Sort-Of Television

Not the grass skirt kind.Welcome, won't you?

The Satellite News has already posted this, but it seemed noteworthy enough to repeat (along with links to the corresponding reviews). Five episodes of MST3K are now available to watch, free of charge, on Hulu. Hulu, for the uninitiated, is a site that streams movies and television shows on the web, funding itself the old fashioned way--with the occasional commercial break. The MST3K episodes in question are as follows:

Episode 402 The Giant Gila Monster
Episode 419: The Rebel Set
Episode 421: Monster A-Go-Go
Episode 504: Secret Agent Super Dragon
Episode 612: The Starfighters

I'm a bit curious about the thought process that went into the selection of Monster A-Go-Go and Starfighters. Were these the only other two episodes to which they had rights? Given the opportunity to expand the show's audience, I might not have chosen two of the dullest, grayest, most incomprehensible films ever to receive the classic riffin' treatment.

Hard to go wrong with the other choices, though. I can't say that any of the above are among my favorites, but Giant Gila Monster, Rebel Set and Secret Agent Super Dragon will certainly provide any discerning viewer with a good time. Head down and watch.

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12/3/09

Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?

Simultaneously one of the creepiest and most hilarous things I have ever seen.Welcome, won't you?

Sam Raimi did himself proud with his latest release, a top-quality horror film called Drag Me to Hell. If you've been following this guide a while, you might remember how I feel about top-quality horror films (riffin' or no, I hate 'em), so take my negative review with several large grains of salt.

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12/1/09

Drag Me to Wisconsin

That button's caption reads: 'Damnation Happens.'Welcome, won't you?

The Drag Me to Hell riff has been released. Pick it up here.

Also, look one post down for the Maniac review.

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He's a Steel Town Girl on a Saturday Night

It's aaaallllliiiiivvvvveeee... or something.Welcome, won't you?

There are lots of Mad Science pictures in the MST3K et al. catalog, but I do believe that 1934's Maniac is the first Mad Vaudevillian movie I've ever reviewed. It has naked breasts and eyeball mastication, but doesn't linger on them--good news for viewers who couldn't stand the extended coital retch-fests of The Room. Mike, Bill and Kevin seem fascinated by this hallucinatory specimen of early twentieth century depravity, treating it with equal parts reverence and scorn. Review here.

Also: Drag Me to Hell comes out sometime today.

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