12/29/10

Do You Guys See It Too?

I'm tripping pretty hard right now...Welcome, won't you?

A new Rifftrax short was released last night. I think it was, anyway. I'm currently held upright by a cocktail of caffeine and cold medicine, so I'm not the most reliable arbiter of reality vs. fantasy right now. The graphic provided seems to depict an egg in a bow tie next to an egg in an apron, leading me to believe that this may be some sort of hallucinatory residual of last night's fever dream. If it is, I apologize for wasting your time. If it isn't, please head down to the Rifftrax site and check out Courtesy: A Good Eggsample.

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12/28/10

It Would Have Been an A-List Title in the Mid-Nineties

Meet the crew.Welcome, won't you?

A mild flu made this Christmas fairly mellow, as everyone just sort of hung around the house lightly coughing and playing with their new toys. This block of unexpected free time has worked in your favor, producing this review for Darkstar: The Interactive Movie. Long story short: fun game, old technology.

Please note that the review has been moved to the Miscellaneous One-Offs section.

Also, a certain Mr. Wade has asked me to point you towards his site, where he creates and sells old-fashioned illustrations based on MST3K films. The posters advertising the Great Vorelli are particularly enticing.

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12/22/10

I Should Have Waited Until Today

I'm wondering how they eat and breathe and other science facts.Welcome, won't you?

Those of you who failed to act on my earlier tip are now being rewarded for your forbearance. Strategy First's current sale eclipses their old one in terms of discount. From now until January fourth of next year, the coupon code "STRATEGYGAMER" will knock 50% off the price of any title in their inventory. That'll net you Darkstar for about fifteen bucks.

Should you buy Darkstar? The holiday season makes many demands on my time, so I probably won't finish it for another few weeks. But, since I seem to be shilling it every few days anyway, I suppose I ought to give you my impressions thus far. Check them out after the cut.

Pre-review based on two to three hours in the game:

It's a slow-paced adventure game in the style of Myst, set on a drifting starship. The story hook is trite (the main character has amnesia; we've never seen that before) but once you get into it, it’s absorbingly told. Clive Robertson performs player avatar John O’Neill like someone who’s been asleep for years and can’t quite wake up all the way, which is about as engaging as it sounds. All the other major parts have been cast with MST3K alumni, though, and these people are highly entertaining. The best so far includes Frank Conniff as SIMON the robot, who tends to show up and help you with puzzles after you’ve already solved them. Also, Trace Beaulieu as the missing first mate, who’s either your best friend or worst enemy, depending on how you interpret the clues thus far. J. Elvis Weinstein shows up in archive footage as the captain of a previous expedition, meeting certain doom with admirable nonchalant professionalism.

Puzzles are occasionally obtuse but always logical. Example: use of a scanner will show you which buttons on the security keypad opened it previously, but you have to trial-and-error your way through various combinations of them before you stumble on the right code by accident. The ship’s interfaces aren’t needlessly elaborate. Once you figure out which button does what, programming the systems to do what you want them to do is fairly straightforward. I like the fact that once you’ve found a switch (not always an easy task) often all you have to do is flip it.

Art design is gorgeous, well-detailed and full of objects you can interact with. I sometimes find myself wondering why a starship would need marble columns, original works of art with display lighting, sumptuous chaise lounges, wooden chests with puzzle locks, twisting secret passages and so forth, but hey, it makes for a fascinating exploration experience. In an adventure game that’s more important than realism.

Unfortunately, this beautiful game is rendered by ancient, wheezing technology that crashes at least once an hour, resizing my desktop to 1024x768 every time. The user interface is ugly, sluggish, unintuitive and in all other ways horrible. The icon for moving forward is the same as the one for interacting with objects, which makes the genre-required pixel-hunting more difficult than it needs to be. I figured out the interface after a while, but it remains inelegant and cumbersome, like trying to drive a luxury sedan with a hand crank instead of a steering wheel.

I find this extremely odd. Why is manipulating the spaceship easier and more fun than manipulating the person who’s manipulating the spaceship?

Bottom line: Beautiful, well-designed, old-school adventure game buried under obsolete technology and a bad user interface. So-so performance by the lead. Great performances from the supporting cast.

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12/21/10

RVOD147 Courtesy Counts a Lot!

(1976, Educational/Short/Animation/Children, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Good! Fresh nightmare fuel. I was running kinda low.

Rating: ***1/2

In a Nutshell:


Oddly animated creatures demonstrate the value of courtesy.

Summary:

Never forget!Kids queue up in a public building of some sort (school? museum? superior court?) waiting for their turn at a hand-cranked nickelodeon. The kid in front cranks away, taking his own sweet time until a larger boy becomes impatient and pulls him away from the viewer. They do not appear to have adult supervision of any kind, so no one does it anything about it. The bully puts his face to the viewer and starts a-crankin’

Roll the opening credits, accompanied by a tuneless courtesy-themed song that will be repeated many, many times. What should you do when your hot air balloon crashes into palm tree and you’re rescued by a cartoon giraffe? Thank it politely, of course. “Who forgot?” a chorus of children sing, “I did not! Courtesy counts a lot!” What should you do if you’re hunting butterflies deep in the trackless jungle, and you accidentally whack a rival lepidopterist with your net? Apologize immediately, of course. “Who forgot? I did not!” the children sing. What should you do if you’re a clown, so absorbed in your clown magazine that you ignore the terrified stampede of jungle animals going the other way, walking right into the chest-high toe of a fearsome giant? Say, “Please excuse me,” of course. The children repeat their all-too-familiar chorus. What should you do if you’re at a psychedelic concert of rose-colored anthropomorphic feline jazz musicians, and you’re really diggin’ the scene and groovin’ to the sound, baby, flailing around with your arms and legs until you accidentally punch a fellow concert-goer in the face, causing a humorous timpani sound effect? What’s that, child chorus? There’s a courteous, tension-resolving remark for this situation as well? You don’t say.

The bully looks up from the viewer, which has been occupying for nearly the entire running time of this eleven-minute short. Remembering the lessons of the child chorus in the nickelodeon, he apologizes to the patient but irritated crowd of children behind him. They forgive him instantly.

Thoughts:

I know I’ve missed a couple of the hypothetical situations in the summary above. I seem to recall something about a kid watching opera on TV while apologizing to a fly. And wasn’t there something about a fight between a cloud and the sun? And some sort of witch maybe? It made no sense at all, which is probably why it mostly fell out of my memory. But if that’s the reason, why do I remember any of this animated nonsense barrage?

I’ll give it this much though, the short gets its message across. “Who forgot? I did not! Courtesy counts a lot!” It counts so much that it absolves all guilt, averting any consequences and obviating the need to take responsibility for one’s actions. Those animated kids probably could have gotten away with bank robbery if they’d said “Please excuse me” after swiping the contents of the vault and shooting three tellers in the head. Someone probably should have mentioned that this only works for very minor infractions. You also have to be adorable and under ten.

A few favorite comments: While children turn the nickelodeon crank, Mike says, “Kids line up for archival footage of the 1889 World’s Fair.” When the title pops up during the opening credits, Kevin says, “Our court-ordered follow-up to ‘Might Makes Right.’” When a sympathetic cloud extinguishes the sun and comes down to rain on a flower at close range, Bill shouts, “Cloud urine!” The short is bizarre but at least it’s focused. A well-timed bit of riffing helps too.

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Holiday Rifftrax Review Extravaganza

By 'All New' they mean 'Mostly Old'.Welcome, won't you?

I have watched Santa Claus' Punch and Judy (review here), and, uh... The generation that gives us such a hard time about our popular entertainment being vulgar and violent has skeletons in its closet like you wouldn't believe.

I have watched Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (review here), and it seems my previous statement declaring The 'Star Wars' Holiday Special "the funniest Rifftrax recorded" was somewhat premature. I don't know what it is about inept and vividly strange Christmas specials that brings out the best in them, but I'm glad it does. If you haven't seen this already, you need to drop what you're doing and buy it right now.

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12/17/10

Santa vs. Bunny vs. Punch vs. Judy

This poster has higher production values than the film itself.Welcome, won't you?

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny has been released. Grab it here. In preparation for viewing I've been practicing my suspension of disbelief all day. Fearing that this would not be enough, I've also been suspending my expectations of quality, as well as my desire for traditional narrative. Sometime tonight I'll find out if I should have been suspending more.

Edit: If giant Floridian lagomorphs don't pack enough punch for you in the holiday cheer department, Rifftrax has also released Santa Claus' Punch and Judy, a heartwarming Christmas tale about disturbing puppets that beat each other over the head. Grab it here.

Also, Darkstar has finished downloading. So far I've only fiddled with the settings and, uh, am I wrong, or is the resolution really fixed at 1024x768? What is this, 1999? More later.

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12/14/10

Darkstar Coupon Code

I'm wondering how they eat and breathe and other science facts.Welcome, won't you?

Everything at StrategyFirst.com is 20% off if you use the coupon code "GAMER" at checkout. This brings the price of Darkstar down to twenty three dollars and change. I've purchased my copy, and will be downloading/installing it tonight. I'll start plugging my way through it in a couple of days, when I'm finished with Fable III.

Update 12/15/10 with gratuitous Star Wars quote: "Look at the size of that thing." Be warned, the Strategy First download of Darkstar is divided into twenty-two 640MB chunks. I could probably order a physical copy and receive it in the mail before it finishes downloading.

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12/13/10

RVOD146 Basic Job Skills: Handling Daily Problems

(1970s, Educational/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Here are the documents instructing you to f--- off.

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


People with problems at work should just solve them already.

Summary:

My workplace needs more explosive switchboxes.The main narrator—the overnarrator, if you will—introduces us to three sub-narrators, including the X-Ray technician, the restaurant manager and the construction foreman. These three Zen masters of the workplace go about their daily jobs shaking their heads at their hapless coworkers, who just can’t handle the pressure.

The groovy mediators of conflict take their various charges aside and dispense subtle advice. Previously fractured relationships are mended over cafeteria food, bowling and large shapeless piles of wood. Instead of flipping out, disgruntled employees talk to their managers and coworkers, who make everything better. Suddenly, the nurse can get her medicine cabinet filled on time, the junior cook actually gets to cook, and the angry supervisor stops being so angry. Oh, and the bookkeeper who’s so mad about being made a cashier learns to swallow her pride and do it anyway.

Thoughts:

To my mind, the angry supervisor bit best represents the short as a whole. To wit, “If your supervisor is being mean to you, he should probably be nicer.” Like the rest of the advice dispensed, it’s both basically true and entirely unhelpful. The problem lies in the way it tends to see workplaces as kindergartens, i.e. most problems can be solved with a hug and an apology, while the stickier issues can easily be taken to the nearest adult, er, supervisor for correction.

In a real world workplace, everyone’s an adult. This includes supervisors, who are just other adults, possessing the same basic attributes as their subordinates. Far from being easygoing and malleable like children, it turns out adults are prickly, stubborn creatures who know that you don’t know more than they do. Working with them is easiest when you find out where the prickles are and learn to work around them.

A few favorite comments: While motionless people are wheeled through the hospital, Bill identifies one as “another corpse for the grinder.” After describing a lengthy conflict resolution process Kevin, adds, “Then you fight with quarterstaffs.” When we meet the heavily mustached lead chef, Mike asks, “Shouldn’t he be dodging barrels thrown by a monkey?” It’s a heavily idealized short and a decent commentary, worth a look.

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12/9/10

Team Harpo

When did people start confusing 'sexy' with 'bored'?Welcome, won't you?

The Twilight Saga continues to wreak a bloody swath of destruction across the hearts of teenaged females and people of similar temperament. I'd call The Twilight Saga: Eclipse the best of the series thus far, but it would be a ridiculous statement, like talking up my favorite root canal. It implies quality, when all I'm doing is measuring the movies' relative levels of unpleasantness. The Rifftrax is good. Above average, even. At times it's a pity you have to watch the movie while listening to it. Review here.

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12/8/10

RVOD145 The Being On Time Game

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

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

He has the attention span of a goldfish who lives in a bowl of cheap tequila.

Rating: **1/2

In a Nutshell:


The avuncular Mr. Mack returns to teach little Cindy how to be on time.

Summary:

My androgynous partner is always late.Camp Counselor calls everyone away from the playground to begin the three-legged race, but Cindy figures she can get just a few more swings in before it starts. Naturally, she’s late, leaving her partner high and dry. Later, her mother sends her down to visit Mr. Mack at his shop. She skips there in slow motion, arriving fully ten minutes after five o’clock.

The couplet-spewing Mr. Mack scolds her with many, many variations on the hurry/worry rhyme scheme. He goes over such object lessons as the girl who was late for her own counting contest, and the boy who rushed out to meet his friends on the basketball court, forgetting the ball. Also, what would happen if her dad refused to wake up until he had only five minutes to get to work? Why, he’d eat, dress and bath in hilarious fast motion, still arriving far too late to satisfy his huge, stogie-smoking boss.

To prevent such mishaps, Cindy needs to plan ahead, getting things ready when necessary and starting early where possible. If unforeseen circumstances prevent punctuality, she should have her mother call ahead to let the appropriate parties know.

Thoughts:

The Being On Time Game puts forward the radical notion that if you have to go to that one place to do that one thing, when the time comes perhaps you should not go to that other place and do that other thing instead. It ain’t brain surgery. That’s probably a good thing, as neither Cindy nor Mr. Mack look like brain surgeons.

A few favorite comments: When Cindy refuses to join the race immediately, Bill says, “I’m not getting off this swing until I determine my own gender.” A close-up of a clock in Mr. Mack’s insanely decorated workshop gets us Kevin’s best stoner impersonation, “Time... whoa...” At one point Mike notes, “It’s hard to be on time when you travel solely by slow-motion skipping.” The short has sound, if a bit basic advice, but the rhymes are horrible and that kid always looks like she’s about to fall asleep. It’s dull, is what I’m saying, and the best the riffers can do is make it less dull.

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12/7/10

Boom

A boomer booming boomily.Welcome, won't you?

Unto the Least of These has been released to the general public. If you didn't get it as part of last Friday's live online preview, you can pick it up here. I did attend on Friday, so I've already got one. Here's the review. Wild booming chickens, everyone!

Also, I'm about halfway through a viewing of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. I'll post a review either Thursday or Monday. For right know, I'll just say that I've spent about a third of the time laughing, a third of the time cringing, and the final third doing both at once.

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RVOD144 Courtesy: A Good Eggsample

(1976, Educational/Short/Children/Animation, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Thanks again for the really imaginative name!

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


Depicts sentient, stop-motion eggs in bowties.

Summary:

Eggbert and his mom.  I'm guessing mom's name is Egglentine.Like a good little egg, sentient egg Eggbert collects the paper from the front lawn and returns it to his egg mother in front of their egg-shaped house before heading off to egg-shaped school in an egg carton school bus.

Sentient egg classmate Benedict, however, is not a good little egg. He shoves others out of the way to cut into line and won’t move over to let people sit by him on the bus. At school he lingers outside after the outdoor flag ceremony and doesn’t make into class in time for the indoor flag ceremony. At recess he steals balls, pushes people out of the way to run up the slide...

He falls off the slide, and runny egg white starts to ooze. The other egg children can only stand around and mock him, glad that the bully has finally gotten his comeuppance. Eggbert, however, gathers him up and takes him to the nurse. After school, Benedict emerges with a bandage over his crack. He tries to cut into the bus line, but Eggbert glares harder than any eyeless object has a right to glare. Chastened, Benedict goes to the back of the line. On the bus, he moves over to let Eggbert sit beside him.

Thoughts:

How about that playground accident? Despite the oddity of this absurdly egg-centric world and the meandering nature of the short, the filmmakers do a halfway decent job establishing the sentient stop-motion eggs as analogs of human beings. So watching one lose that much fluid at once is kind of disturbing. Courtesy is that important, folks! Be nice to people, or no one will help while you’re bleeding your guts out.

A few favorite comments: As Eggbert strolls quietly down the street, Kevin gives him an inner monologue. “Which came first?” he asks, “the chicken or the me?” While multiple flag ceremonies drag on, Mike urges the students, “Remember the egg martyrs who died in the mess kits at Normandy!” Bill notes the odd, noodling music with, “Soundtrack by a ferret on a Casio.” Throughout, the riffers imagine the whole short as a work of Batman villain Egghead. The short is bright, colorful, bizarre, and, sadly, mostly empty. The riffers fill the spaces where they can, and the result is reasonably amusing.

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12/6/10

Live Show Cancelled

This poster has higher production values than the film itself.Welcome, won't you?

Looks like the Rifftrax Online Live show scheduled for next Thursday has been cancelled, and considering their server capacity/popularity ratio, that's probably for the best. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is still on though, to be released as a VOD on December 17th, 2010. I'm looking forward to a hallucinogenic yet lag-free experience.

Also, it looks like Unto the Least of These hasn't been released to anyone but the people who showed up for last Friday's live pre-show, so I'll hold off until its public release before posting a review.

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12/3/10

Team Mustache Dad

A match made in heaven.Welcome, won't you?

The live online announcement/short is over. Traffic has once again all but annihilated the Rifftrax servers, but when I finally managed to load the right page, performance was smooth. The Rifftrax online experience appears to be teetering right on the brink of "functional". One would hope they've got a plan in place to handle the extra bandwidth strain a prime time audience will bring to bear.

Anyway, a disheveled Mike kicked things off by promoting the newly released The Twilight Saga: Eclipse commentary (grab it here) as well as the newly released Maniac DVD (review here). Then he announced the subject of the upcoming live show: Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (imdb here). A montage of scenes culled from that film followed, and believe me, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians looks lucid and high-budget by comparison. Then a break, and then the short: Unto the Least of These, which, as you might have guessed, is about wild chicken conservation. A downloadable version ought to become available just as soon as the main Rifftrax site recovers.

Once again: the commentary for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is available now, and tickets for the live online riffing of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny on December 16, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. PST ought to be available shortly.

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It's a Busy Day at Rifftrax

Rifftrax Live Online: Underestimating it's own popularity since 2008.Welcome, won't you?

Rifftrax's live online preview short happens at 1:00 p.m. today. Get your ticket now, if you haven't already. There'll be an announcement about the 16th's live show, and sometime today the Eclipse commentary ought to be out too. I'll post again later after the 1 p.m. event.

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12/2/10

RVOD143 Santa Claus' Punch and Judy

(1948, Holiday/Children, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Santa: Giving the gift of domestic violence for Christmas.

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


Santa just loves him some good old fashioned racist, misogynist puppetry.

Summary:

Giving the gift of puppet hate crimes in miniature.Poorly recorded children approach Santa one at a time to petition him for gifts. Santa complies with each request, and in some cases gives even more. One misguided youth, for instance, wants a toy Punch and Judy show. Santa gives him one, and then waves his arms to conjure a full-sized puppet theater into the room. Out pop Punch and Judy!

Punch and Judy are a pair of hideous European hand puppets who beat each other with a stick. This is their only means of communication. Other puppet characters are brought in to liven the proceedings. (Only two are on stage at any given time, for obvious reasons.) Punch and a cat beat each other with a stick. Punch and a monkey beat each other with a stick. Punch narrowly avoids being eaten by an alligator, which then beats him with a stick. Two nameless blackface puppets beat each other with a stick. Judy comes back at the end to raise the olive branch of peace and open lines of communication, fostering mutual understanding and appreciation to begin their relationship anew... Oh wait. My mistake. She beats him with a stick.

Thoughts:

Yes, this is a real still from the real movie.  Your jaw should be hanging open right now.  I know mine was.Did children actually like this? With no context or consequences attached to the violence and a lack of alternative entertainments, I’m sure many did, but I would note Kevin’s comment partway through the show: “I hear kids squealing, but I see kids sitting quietly.”

There are many possible nits to pick here, but I probably won’t get to any of them. Why speak of mere nits when there’s an elephant in the room? Of course the violence depicted against blacks and women is nothing short of reprehensible, even when partially obscured by puppet avatars. As metaphorical elephants go, this one is so large even the filmmakers of 1948 seem to sense its shape. I think they’re attempting to get around it by directing the violence almost entirely at Punch, while the blacks only beat up each other. Not that this helps any. The next time some curmudgeonly relative moans about how movies and videogames are so much more violent these days, I think I’ll mention Punch and Judy.

Much of the commentary’s humor has to do with the inappropriateness of the subject matter. Kevin starts us off by calling it, “Sequel to the Ice Cream Bunny’s Amos and Andy.” Bill feigns shock when the black puppets appear. “Minstrel puppet shows are for Easter!” he objects. When Santa magically dismisses them, Mike provides the incantation: “Back to the level of Hell where you reside, suffering the torments that fuel your violent rage.” It’s a good commentary coupled with a well-performed puppet show, but the uncomfortable subject matter both fuels the humor and overshadows it. It’s worth a look if you’re not easily offended.

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RVOD142 Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny

Reviewed in the regular Rifftrax section.

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