8/31/10

[Insert Daniel Stern/Joe Pesci Joke Here]

I could try to work in a Catherine O'Hara joke if you like.Welcome, won't you?

Rifftrax's latest short is Alone at Home. Their catalog page already makes all the Macaulay Culkin jokes you could ever want, and several more that you couldn't, so I will forbear. Grab it here.

"Pardon My Dust" note: The Great Rifftrax Renumbering Project(tm) proceeds apace. Thank you for your patience.

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8/30/10

Somehow Something Went Wrong With My Huge Pan of Gasoline

Yet another speculative origin story for The Joker.Welcome, won't you?

If you didn't see it during the live show or purchase it online, you are missing out. Go and grab More Dangerous Than Dynamite, a hilarious and well-riffed little short about the dangers of washing your clothes with gasoline. You really should leave the gasoline wash to dry cleaning professionals, where countless safety measures make the practice (according to the demonstration they stage) every bit as dangerous, if not more so. But hey, better them than you, right? Review here.

"Pardon My Dust" note: you may notice some strange things going on with Rifftrax episode numbering over the next few days as I conform my list with the official list put out by the Rifftrax staff earlier this summer.

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8/26/10

Plaid, Horn-Rimmed Opulence

That unsightly torso is preferable to his later outfits.Welcome, won't you?

Fad Diet Circus is about fad diets, not circuses. And when I say "fad diets" I really only mean "fad diet", as it spends no more than fifteen seconds per diet until it gets to Atkins. And boy, does it have an axe to grind with Atkins. Review here.

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8/25/10

R083 Voodoo Man

Reviewed posted in the Video On Demand section of the site.

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Rifftrax Presents 011 to date

RP011 Die Hard

RP012 Tron

RP013 Ghost

RP014 Running Man

RP015 Batman Forever

RP016 Planet of the Apes (1968)

RP017 Footloose

RP018 Ghost Rider

RP019 Poltergeist

RP020 Armageddon

RP021 The Lost Boys

RP022 Jaws 3

Having gotten the ball rolling near the beginning of this project, Kevin and Bill now fade back to Rifftrax proper, leaving the Rifftrax Presents commentaries with entirely non-former-MST3K-cast-members. Joining Matthew J. Elliott (riffing an eclectic mix of Action, SciFi and Action/SciFi) and the Varney/Stratton combo (noted proponents of eighties cheese) we have Jonathan Coulton/Paul & Storm, Blame Society and That Guy With The Glasses. Of these, Blame Society (creators of Chad Vader) most match my own taste in humor and movies, but everyone puts up a valiant and funny struggle against their cinematic opponent of choice. Lots of worthy entries here, but if I had to pick a favorite, I'd have to go with Ghost Rider.

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R110 Highlander

(1986, SciFi/Fantasy/Action, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

There can be more than one.

Rating: ***1/2

In a Nutshell:


Immortal swordsmen strive to lop each other’s heads off.

Summary:

There can be lots of others.Connor MacLeod a.k.a. Nash (Christopher Lambert) sits sullenly in the crowd at a professional wrestling match while flashing back a filth-drenched 16th century Scotland. In the distant past, his young self cracks penis jokes with his cousins while marching off to war. In the twentieth century, his only slightly older self bolts for the parking garage.

In the garage he meets a man with mirrored sunglasses and a Spanish broadsword. Connor pulls a katana from his trench coat, and the pair duels up and down the rows of gigantic automobiles. Connor chops off Sunglasses Man’s head. Mystic lightning oozes from the body, smashes a bunch of headlights and windshields, and enters Connor. Connor hides his katana and runs before the cops can catch him at the scene of the crime. The cops catch him nearby anyway, but without a murder weapon or a reason to suspect him beyond his proximity to a headless body, they have to let him go.

Interspersed flashbacks continue the story of our ancient Scottish protagonist. Connor arrives at the battle where he meets the evil, skull-helmeted Kurgan (Clancy Brown). Kurgan stabs him through the chest. Connor’s many angry cousins chase him off before he can take his victim’s head. The MacLeod clan carries their mortally wounded kinsman back to their castle to prepare him for death, but Connor unexpectedly recovers. Believing him to be possessed by the devil, his clan drives him away. Discouraged, Connor finds a new girlfriend and a new castle.

Just when he’s starting to rediscover how much fun it is to be filthy and Scottish, a strangely dressed man appears. Allegedly named Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery), he’s an immortal just like Connor. Apparently there are a bunch of guys who can’t be killed except by beheading. When one of them beheads the other, he absorbs his defeated foe’s energy. Centuries of dueling will eventually whittle their numbers down until only one remains. That one will receive the prize: i.e., become mortal and omniscient.

Far from wanting to behead his new fellow immortal, Ramirez wants to train him. It’s this Kurgan fellow, you see. In case the skull helmet didn’t tip you off, he’s evil. If he gains the prize, all mankind will suffer. Ramirez figures the more good immortals there are to fight him, the better the chances of taking him down.

His gown is the grandest of all.Let’s head back to the twentieth century for a bit. Sexy forensic criminologist Brenda (Roxanne Hart) assists at the scene of the crime. She finds the discarded Spanish broadsword, as well as bits of Connor’s katana embedded in a concrete pillar. Somewhere around this point, a modern day Kurgan comes to New York and jumps Connor in an alley while the latter attempts to recover his sword. Connor fights him off with a bit of pipe while a snooping Brenda looks on. Turns out she’s an expert metallurgist and a bit of a sword nut in her spare time. Suspecting that the ultra-rare katana belongs to Connor a.k.a. Nash, she abandons her investigation to try and seduce a glimpse of it out of him.

Back to the sixteenth century. Ancient Kurgan shows up at the castle one day while Connor’s out. Ramirez has been regaling Connor’s wife with tales of his sexual exploits (which she finds fascinating for some reason), but tries to send her away when he senses Kurgan’s arrival. They fight while the castle collapses around them for no discernable reason. Kurgan wins and cuts off Ramirez’s head. Later, Connor returns and buries his friend. He stays with his wife until she dies of old age, then takes up Ramirez’s katana to, uh, journey in search of adventure?

In the twentieth century, Brenda discovers that Connor’s Nash identity was stolen from a stillborn infant, as were his seven previous identities over the course of several centuries. She barges into his antique shop to confront him. He confesses his immortality, which he proves by surviving after forcing her to fatally stab him. I guess she’s really into that--the next several minutes consist of gratuitous sex.

After a bit more exposition and angst, Kurgan kidnaps her and calls up Connor to gloat. Did I mention they’re the last two immortals in the world, and the winner will take the prize? No? Consider it mentioned. They fight on the roof of a building, then fall through the skylights and fight some more on the top floor of a warehouse. Brenda distracts Kurgan at a crucial moment, allowing Connor to slice off his head. Connor absorbs his essence, becomes mortal and omniscient, and uses his newfound power to make sweet, sweet love to Brenda in the modern Scottish countryside.

Thoughts:

Disturbing tongue not depicted.You might be wondering why all the immortals seem to be stuck in their mid-thirties except for Ramirez, whose body became fixed at nearly twice that age. For that matter, you might be wondering why a Spaniard cannot accurately pronounce his own name. Perhaps you’re curious about the way Connor flashed back to events he did not witness. Maybe you’re wondering why Kurgan thinks it’s sinister to lick people. Or why Connor thinks it’s romantic to go into a raspy nostalgic fugue state for several minutes and then poke his female companion in the face. Or why the end of the final duel had cartoon lightning monsters in it. If you are, might I suggest that you’ve put more thought into Highlander than the filmmakers ever did.

If you’re unsatisfied with Ramirez’s “why does the sun rise” non-explanation and are still wondering about the origin and purpose of decapitation-based immortality, stop. The very next movie in the series thoroughly addresses these issues. In fact, the explanation provided is legendary as the dumbest SciFi pseudo-explanation in the history of cinema, eclipsing even midi-chlorians for stupidity. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is. If you really want to kill that many brain cells, you can Google it.

Moving on...

I originally saw Highlander, lo, these many years ago, and prior to watching the Rifftrax I remembered only two things about it: swordfights and Queen. I suspect that’s all anyone ever remembers after a day or two. Queen, at least, has withstood the test of time: Freddie Mercury’s screeching has never been more bombastic, imbuing even the most thoroughly mediocre scenes with a measure of operatic drama.

The swordfighting, not so much. This is some of the worst sword work I have ever seen in a film, and to put that statement in perspective, I’ve seen Deathstalker. How na├»ve/indiscriminate/stupid was I at that age to think this was cool? It would have to have been a lot of all of the above, because I knew better; it was at about that age I got involved in community Shakespeare. I remember the fencing choreographer yelling at us to quit “windshield wiping”, i.e. bonking our foils against each other. This is what children do when they play at sword fighting with sticks. The object of a real sword fight is to hit the other guy with your sword, something the combatants in Highlander are only willing to do at specified intervals. Remember the tower fight with me, if you will, during which Kurgan held his broadsword almost entirely motionless while Ramirez twirled and clanked his katana against it. It was really quite nice of Ramirez to pretend his opponent was parrying.

It seems to me that Mike gets most of the good lines in this one. Regarding the fight choreography: “I see they both trained under the great master Benny Hill.” Regarding filthy, filthy Scotland: “I see the dung harvest was good this year.” Immediately after Connor’s abrupt and apparently sexy stab-myself-and-survive trick: “Is... this... your... card?” Kevin weighs in on Kurgan’s taunting with, “This dialog comes from a random evil guy word generator, doesn’t it?” Bill comments on the odd, floor-level swordfight cinematography with, “Mischievous squirrels stole the camera.” Interspersed are many, many, many riffs on the film’s most famous catchphrase, “There can be only one.” The fun commentary combines with a deliciously bad film for a good overall experience.

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R109 Birdemic: Shock and Terror

(2008, Horror-ish/Drama-esque/Romance-ish, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

I don’t think anyone told this movie it was in a movie.

Rating: ***1/2

In a Nutshell:


A software salesman and a supermodel survive a killer bird attack.

Summary:

SHOCK... and TERROR!Software salesman Rod meets supermodel Nathalie in a restaurant. They hit it off and have many boring conversations about nothing in particular while separately and simultaneously expending no effort whatsoever to become multi-millionaires. Eager to celebrate their newly obtained wealth and blossoming relationship, the happy couple drives from San Jose to Half Moon Bay, drinks in the cheapest bar they can find, and dances in said bar to horrible karaoke rap (a good-natured little ditty about, uh, incest?). Despite the fact that they’re less than an hour from home, they crash in a cheap motel. Way to live the life, guys.

We’re at minute forty-six, by the way. Minute forty-seven begins, the sun comes up and so do the killer birds. Said birds are 1990s-videogame-graphics-quality representations of golden eagles, which flap their wings slowly while hovering in midair and/or flying at three inches per minute in rigid formation. Rod has lost his keys (?) so he and Nathalie head downstairs to the room of another couple. This van-possessing couple produces anti-bird clothes hangers to beat the feathery interlopers away while they make for their vehicle. Said vehicle is, of course, well-stocked with automatic weapons and several hundred thousand rounds of ammunition.

Cower in fear, birds, for we wield the clothes hangers of doom! (+1 bludgeoning damage, +5 against feathers).The intrepid foursome endlessly circles San Mateo County, rescuing trapped orphans and raiding ruined convenience stores for supplies. The clothes hanger woman dies while taking a crap on the beach (how I wish I had made that up). Distraught, her husband/lover/significant other (?) forces a bunch of refugees out of shelter at gunpoint under the pretext of “rescuing” them. They all perish horribly when the eagles demonstrate a previously unrevealed ability to vomit highly caustic poison.

Having inherited the van, Rod, Nathalie and their two orphaned foundlings circle the county further, stopping occasionally for picnics and environmentalist claptrap. Two separate wandering “experts” identify the cause of avian aggression as global warming. One of them dons a facemask and pulls a gun to jump back into the fray. The other exclaims, “I hear a mountain lion!” and scampers off into the underbrush. Shortly thereafter, the woods burst into ridiculous CGI flames.

What else? Oh yeah, some more bird attacks. Our heroes finally run out of gas and decide to go fishing. After a nourishing meal of fish and seaweed, the birds attack again. Then they stop. Roll the end credits.

Thoughts:

So, birds burst into flame on impact?While many have compared James Nguyen’s Birdemic to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (current reigning Uncomfortable Ineptitude King), I don’t see that they have much in common. Sure, they’re both terrible films made by rank amateurs, but the similarities peter out after that. Wiseau’s pet project oozes passion—badly misused, awfully performed passion, but there you go. Nguyen’s magnum opus, on the other hand, is a dry, lifeless collection of only tenuously connected bits of film. Personality-wise, it’s practically a nonentity. If we must compare it to something, let’s measure it against its closest MST3K cousin, Manos: The Hands of Fate. Amateur cinematography? Poorly recorded sound? Surly non-actors with poor diction in every role? A script that sounds like they made it up as they went along? A lengthy, pointless driving sequence to start the whole thing off? Are we sure Nguyen wasn’t deliberately copying Hal Warren?

Also, exactly what route are these morons travelling? In the amount of time we see them driving, I could almost make it home to Santa Rosa. In the amount of time the film implies they’d been driving, I could get at least as far as Oregon.

Fortunately for us, the Rifftrax crew will sometimes reach into the bottom of the barrel and lift an irredeemable film, making it much funnier than it deserves to be. This is one of those times. A few favorite comments: Our first shot of a non-driving person (maybe fifteen minutes in) introduces us to Rod and his constant companion, Rod’s Walk. This prompts Bill’s comment, “Where’s that shop that sells instructions on how to walk like a human?” As moron Rod and his moron friend discuss the sensuous ways of womenfolk, Mike scolds, “Your air hump just gave us air herpes.” When Nathalie goes home to discuss her relationship with her oversized mother, Kevin asks, “You sure that isn’t both her parents in some kind of suit?” The numerous videogame references deserve special mention, with Kevin’s, “The aliens in Galaga look more like real birds than those things,” and his speculation on why the birds are so angry, “Maybe green pigs stole their eggs.” Also, after many, many rounds fired wildly at slow-moving bird graphics, Bill says, “I’m surprised the dog hasn’t popped up and snickered at them yet.” Also... uh. Okay. I won’t quote the whole commentary at you. If I have to stop myself from doing that, you know they’ve done a good job.

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Seaweed!

Featuring the Lovin' Spoonful.Welcome, won't you?

In the seventies, Civil War reenacters were, apparently, cool. Make of that what you will. My review of Library World can be found here.

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8/24/10

I Wash My Clothes in Elephant Urine

Hilarity and full body casts ensue.Welcome, won't you?

Apparently washing your clothes in gasoline used to be a thing? More Dangerous Than Dynamite suggests you shouldn't do it, but what does it know? Check out the imaginary fad action in the latest Rifftrax short.

Also, it appears I won't be able to go to today's Rifftrax Live rebroadcast after all. Apparently they only show it in three theaters near me, and by "near me" they mean "half a day's drive distant." Hopefully they'll release another Live DVD at some point.

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RVOD130 What If We Had a Fire?

(1970s-ish, Educational/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Actual fires would be far less funky.

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


A worried elementary school student crafts a fire escape plan for his family.

Summary:

No fire up there.  He must be jumping into it for some reason.A youngster walks through the burned-out wreckage of his friend’s old house and wonders, what would happen if his own house caught on fire? His mother brushes off his concerns, but his father thinks it’s an excellent question. Unable to come to a consensus over dinner, Father directs his son to stop by the fire station and ask the next day.

Swanky disco music kicks in for the fire station tour montage, after which the boy asks his fireman tour guide to weigh in on the fire escape plan question. The fireman waxes eloquent about the wonders of smoke detectors, sleeping with your door closed, staying close to the floor, and climbing out the window in case of a fire. The boy brings this information home to his father, who immediately installs a smoke detector and rope ladder. He drills his family over and over at all hours of the day and night, crawling, climbing and squeaking their way out of the house in the face of simulated danger.

Thoughts:

If you switch the score over to Blaxploitation funk every time an African American appears on screen, is that racist? I’m pretty sure it is, just like I’m pretty sure the makers of this film don’t mean any harm by it. By including an African American at all (as the firefighter, filling the short’s Wise Ethnic Person stereotype requirement) they seem to be trying their best to embrace cultural diversity. The funk just reaches a little further. “We just really get you, man,” it rather cluelessly states.

It’s far from unique to this film. Just off the top of my head, I can think of two other recently released Rifftrax shorts that do this.

A few favorite comments: When the firefighter tells him to go out the second story window instead of the door, Bill says, “Maybe you can fly, and you just don’t know it.” As family members wag their butts in the air while crawling during a drill, Kevin asks, “What middle-aged woman wouldn’t want to be filmed from this angle?” At the end, when the boy says that they’re house will probably never burn down, Mike adds, “Let me push my bucket of oily rags even closer to the radiator as a direct taunt to God.” It’s a decently amusing short. Not hilarious, but nothing wrong with it either.

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8/20/10

Real Life Interrupts

It's prime coop-paintin' season.Welcome, won't you?

As much as I would like to have provided continuous, uninterrupted review coverage, sometimes a road trip followed by unexpected home repairs overlapped with the nastiest flu I've had this year will put me a little behind. Here's a review for Decisions, Decisions, the short that asks: Do you still need to befriend the weird kid if he's really, really weird? What's the acceptable weirdness threshold?

In the meantime, they've released Library World, which sounds like some sort of Pagemaster/Cool World amalgam starring Kevin Costner, but probably (hopefully) isn't. Also: The Fad Diet Circus, which is probably about my former college roommate's refrigerator (i.e. full of dripping red meat and nothing else). I'll get to these as soon as I can.

Unfortunately, a piercing sinus headache kept me away from last night's Rifftrax Live show. I hope to catch the rebroadcast next week.

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8/19/10

RVOD129 Telephone For Help

(1970s-ish, Educational/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

And within hours, help is on the way.

Rating: ***1/2

In a Nutshell:


If it’s an emergency and you need help, telephone for it.

Summary:

Somebody wander off and get help just as soon as they can get around to it!A woman falls from a barstool while hanging drapes. Her nine-year-old nephew arrives and hurries to call an ambulance. With prompting, he tells the dispatcher his name, location and the nature of the emergency.

A little girl runs into a burning house to call the fire department while her mother beats back the flames with a garden hose. The better-organized girl already has her vital statistics written down next to the phone so she can blurt them at the dispatcher as soon as he answers. Fire trucks speed slowly and cautiously to their location.

A Little League game goes horribly wrong when a player’s leg bends the wrong way during a slide. The coach kneels beside him to keep the other players at bay and, I dunno, fan him with his hat or something. Coach tosses a dime to another player, who runs to the nearest phone booth. The kid doesn’t know any emergency numbers, so he dials zero and tells the operator the situation. She punches some buttons and moves some plugs, and soon he’s repeating himself to the dispatcher. Emergency personnel arrive just as soon as this information can work its way through the various channels of our pre-digital history.

Thoughts:

Hey, kids. Hypothetical situation: Suppose you’re outside, and you see smoke pouring from the garage. Do you a) run into the house, hoping the room with the phone in it isn’t on fire yet, or b) run twelve extra steps to a neighbor’s house and call for help from relative safety? Just curious.

Also, it kind of defeats your emergency preparedness short’s sense of urgency when no one seems particularly alarmed by your simulated accidents. The kids, the dispatchers, even the falling aunt all seem rather ho-hum about broken legs, house fires, and possible spinal cord injuries. The kids walk nonchalantly to their phones and struggle with the heavy dial. (“It seems to be taking every ounce of her strength,” Mike says of the girl.) The dispatchers take their information just as casually, repeating it back to their callers with in a near-incomprehensible mumble. Index cards are lazily sought in filing cabinets. Maps are lackadaisically surveyed. Eventually someone gets around to showing up at the right place and providing assistance. I dearly hope that in real life, even with that time period’s technological limitations, emergency crews took these situations a little more seriously.

A few favorite comments: When paralyzed aunt sends her nephew to the phone, Mike says, “And don’t try to call Batman this time.” As a dispatcher flips through index cards in a filing cabinet, Kevin says, “This looks like a job for my lemon bar recipe.” As smoke pours out of a neighborhood garage, Bill says, “Tommy Chong must be visiting.” There’s nothing particularly exciting about the short, but the riffers manage to push all the right buttons, making a lazy little emergency short highly entertaining.

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8/11/10

William's Disturbing Obsession

Made of rawhide, with guns for arms.Welcome, won't you?

Remember when Jim Carrey and Mike Myers murdered two of Dr. Seuss's most beloved contributions to juvenile literature? The makers of William's Doll do that to Charlotte Zolotow. Watch as a perfectly well-intentioned set of filmmakers make a charming little children's book seem unspeakably perverted. Review here.

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8/10/10

Redundant Repetition

Nicely, Nicely.Welcome, won't you?

In case you're still wondering, the riff for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble is well worth your time. Steel yourself for embarrassing hats, tiny shorts and fishbowl makeouts. Review here.

Not willing to let their pace flag, Rifftrax marches on with another short, this one titled Decisions, Decisions. Apparently it's about moving to a new city and making friends. With chicken coops? Grab it here.

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8/9/10

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

With kung fu grip and over a hundred fashion accessories.Welcome, won't you?

Did you play with dolls when you were a little boy? Sure, we all did, but we called them "action figures". Last Friday's Rifftrax short (I've been out of town) is William's Doll, apparently about a boy who refuses to excuse his pretend play with a gender-appropriate euphemism. Grab it here.

A review for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble is coming tomorrow.

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RVOD128 Alone at Home

(1980-ish, Educational/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Have fun neglecting me!

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


When you’re home alone, you have to be responsible.

Summary:

Don't worry, Junior only lost one limb...Kids, sometimes Mom and Dad can’t be home with you, and they’d rather not go to the extra expense of a babysitter. So don’t lose your key, make sure you get your homework done and try not to mess the place up too much. Most important of all, make sure your unsupervised status remains a deep, dark secret.

Throughout the explanation of the above, Blond Girl, Redhead Boy, and the Amazingly Thin African American boy demonstrate their ability to unlock doors, babysit younger siblings and remain calm during the inevitable absent-parent crises.

Thoughts:

Ninety-nine percent of the time, a reasonably responsible child of the depicted age group (I’m guessing nine to twelve) will be just fine. Homework done and the house clean by the time the parents get home is probably too much to expect, especially without supervision. Anyone who does this with their kids probably learns to be satisfied with minimal property damage and only minor physical injuries.

Not that I would ever, ever, ever consider doing this with my own children. Not that I think they’re incapable. This may be parental bias talking, but my middle daughter is probably especially suited to this kind of thing. It’s that one percent of the time that bothers me. Anyone can survive a series of boring, ordinary days, but you only have to screw up a life-threatening emergency once. My kids can wait until they’re a little closer to adult-sized.

A few favorite comments: When the narrator notes that there are lots of things to do while you’re home alone, Mike says, “Like wondering what it’s like to be nurtured and loved.” When a kid goes over what he’s supposed to do when the power goes out, Kevin says, “I built an open flame in the den and roasted our least favorite pet.” When the short ends after many, many warnings to avoid human contact when your parents aren’t home, Bill adds, “Remember kids: the world wants you dead.” Throughout, mockery is heaped upon the nerdy, emaciated black child, as Mike calls him “Jack Skellington,” and adds, “Even Urkel would pants this kid.” It’s a reasonably informative short, full of good advice for kids in this situation, and the riffers derive a lot of humor from pointing out how bad a situation it is.

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8/2/10

Sadly, I Will Be Elsewhere

War of the Insects.Welcome, won't you?

Still working on The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. In the meantime, Cinematic Titanic is coming to my town to riff War of the Insects tomorrow night, August 3, 2010 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Sadly, I will be out of town that day. For those that aren't, it looks like there might still be tickets available.

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