Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Total Riff Off 2: Steam-Powered Boogaloo

It's been quite the holiday season for Rifftrax.
It started with a trip to Balloonland that was really a warehouse filled with really ugly balloons, followed by footage of a holiday parade with an odd-sounding narrator. Then, thousands of people saw  the re-riffing of the 1959 Mexican movie Santa Claus in theaters.

Last night, it premiered its second Total Riff Off on Nat Geo Wild, where the crew mocks nature programming and one host in particular. The first half was another episode of Man V Monster with Richard Terry, where he searches for legendary monsters that usually aren't. This was the "Mekong Man-Eater" episode where something is biting people in shallow water in Thailand. At first, he thinks it's a cobra that's responsible. However, it's really another animal that he winds up respecting. The show plays up how much danger he seems to be, but isn't. Unlike the "Demon Bat" episode, this one seemed like an animal version of Law and Order, where the culprit at the start of the episode changed twice before the end.

Some of the riffs:

"I, Richard Terry"...
finder of non-existing bats

Terry is crawling in some underground caves
He really puts the "lunk" into "spelunking"

Terry mistakes a log for a snake as he tries to get to a submerged pagoda.
"That's a log, but for a split second, it got my heart going"
Richard Terry summed up in five seconds. 

Terry meets the suspected monster, a King Cobra, which is the longest venemous snake around
A veritable Manute Bol of death

Terry finds a catfish who could be the real culprit
"Some of these species of catfish can have really sharp barbs."
Some other catfish just trick you into dating them online.

There's also riffs on Batman, Chris DeBergh, Keith Richards, Andy Griffith and Rob Ford.

The second half was a parade of animals behaving badly and strangely. There's a cub climbing in a garage at Lake Tahoe, chimps attacking racoons, a turtle having sex with a shoe, a deer and a dolphin getting too frisky, a woman from India nursing a calf, sheep stampeding inside a cycling store, an orangutan who smokes way too much, and a sea lion snacking on someone's head.

The highlight, however, was seeing a pregnant elephant give birth, then kicking her newborn to wake it up. It's pretty graphic, as are the riffs.

Something's not right at the chimpanzee enclosure at the local zoo
Nick Nolte keeps stealing their food.

A horny buck gets too close to a blonde woman
He has Warren Beatty Syndrome

A leopard takes a dump into a Jeep
Still not as gross as any one minute of Real Housewives

A water moccasin is on the hood of a moving car
He's a teenager. Friends dared him to ghost-ride the whip. 

A turtle has a passion for a show that looks like a female turtle
Yeah, call me Dr. Scholl, baby

An elephant gives birth then kicks her baby to revive it,
I was wondering when you were going to squeeze my trunk and kind of whip my head around

An orangutan goes nuts at a zoo in Taiwan
He's mad about his bitter break-up with Clint Eastwood. 

There's other riffs on The Godfather, Paula Abdul, Guardians of the Galaxy, Seal, Wallace and Grommit, and Johnathan Lipnicki.

It was another very funny Total Riff-Off, and some fans think it should be a weekly show. That may not be likely because Rifftrax doesn't have the time and Nat Geo not enough shows. Having this more often than twice a year would be a good idea. Imagine a holiday Total Riff-Off with reindeer behaving badly.

The two new Total Riff Off episodes are now available for pre-order, along with last April's episodes, at

Friday, December 5, 2014

Rifftrax Takes On That North Pole Guy And His Friend Merlin

Sometimes, it's better the second time around.

That was true of last night's Rifftrax Live presentation  of the 1959 holiday Mexican movie, Santa Claus. It was first riffed on MST3K 21 years ago, but Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett updated nearly all of the jokes, and kept one from the first version that worked well.

Bill came out wearing what some may call a elf costume, expecting Mike and Kevin to also wear holiday costumes, but there seemed to be a failure to communicate. Actually, he said it's a "North Pole Guy" costume from Party City, and was very proud of his pointy shoes.

The plot of the movie, of course, involves Santa hoping to get toys delivered to all the good children on Earth while battling a pesky devil with big horns named Pitch. A poor girl named Lupita, a rich kid, and three bad brothers get involved, along with Santa's assistant Pedro, and Merlin the Magician after he decided to quit helping King Arthur.
This was also the uncut version, very different from the MST version, and an excellent print, too. The credits were in Spanish, and included the claim that the movie was filmed in "Mexiscope", leading to the riff that it's also the name for jalepeno-flavored mouthwash. Also, we got long scenes of Merlin making the sleeping powders, and a beefy shirtless blacksmith making a key that opens any door, There was also a dream sequence/dance number of evil Raggedy Anitas trying to convince Lupita to be evil. While the MST guys were wise to remove those scenes from the 1993 episode, it was still interesting to see them now.

The best part is taking certain scenes, and seeing how the two riffs compare. Let's start with Santa's helpers who are kids from around the world. In the MST version, Mike, Crow and Servo made fun of their nationalities. It wasn't the same case here, although Bill said at one point "Don't worry, Angelina Jolie is on her way to adopt them all." Here's how the singing Mexican kids were riffed:

MST:  They found a demon puppy. They found Chucky
RT:  The kid on the right is a marionette, right?

Santa gets mail

MST:  There's a dollar in every one. My chain mail scam worked.
RT:  Bring on the hate mail. It only makes Santa stronger.

Santa winds up his reindeer

MST:  Santa, you miracle worker
RT:  This is how GM plans to compete with Tesla

Pitch tries to get Santa to burn his hands with a red hot doorknob

MST:  What is this, Home Alone 2, The Quickening?
RT: And if that doesn't stop Santa, it'll stop Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci

Lupita gets her doll, as her mom thinks she saw a miracle

MST: In the name of Santa, Merlin and the Elves, Amen
RT:  Thank you, Craig

Why "Craig"? In the original riff, Mike and the bots think the mom said "Craig" instead of Christ when she tells Lupita the story of Christmas. In last night's show, they used the same riff, but expanded on it to claim Lupita and mom were praying to Craig.

Also, remember the riff contest, when fans were asked to riff on the dancing devils, led by Pitch?
In the original, Mike said "Oh, I suppose Hell got an NEA grant."  The winning riff should have been "Andrew Lloyd Webber's Paradise Lost" or "Choreographed by Beelzebusby Berkeley." Actually, the winning riff was based on "I Hope I Get It" from A Chorus Line. It still fit with the other two riffs.

There also a couple of good ones, like when the kids saw the odd puppets who kissed either other's hands and heads, Mike said, "Those two have finally snapped after heckling the Muppets." Another was when Santa used his sleeping powders on the rich little boy who missed his parents on Christmas Eve, Bill said, "So Santa is Timothy Leary for kids." There was also one warning Santa told his helpers as he left:  "Keep Merlin away from those lips" (aka the Tele-Talker).
Thanks to Satellite News, we should also mention the riff when Santa starts his journey, "Ride to Ruin and the World's Ending. DEATH!" That's from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Oh, and there was the comment that Santa's HQ was more like "a torture chamber designed by Dr. Seuss".
There were also riffs on Star Wars, The Polar Express, Tim Allen, Atari, Futurama, Reservior Dogs, Gilligan's Island and Ticketmaster,

Before that, there was another "At Your Fingertips" short called "Sugar and Spice". It taught kids how to make holiday ornaments and fake Easter chicks by molding slightly moistened sugar and letting it dry, The short explained kids can make art they can eat, leading to the riff  "just grab a slice of instant diabetes."

I was surprised about one thing:  towards the end, Mike riffed as Santa, "Oh, I forgot France. Oh well..." I was so sure he'd use that riff again, only this time Santa forgot Fort Worth. Oh, well, ho-ho-ho-ho...

After Rifftrax's success with that holiday film and Fun in Balloonland, they'll take on Nat Geo Wild later this month with the second Total Riff Off on December 16th. It'll include strange animal behavior and Man V. Monster, which is basically some British guy making a mountain out of a molehill.
As for 2015, maybe it'll take on Sharknado 2. Fans would pay to see that.

UPDATE:  Saw the movie on Retro TV's Off Beat Cinema. It has several parts missing like the opening credits, the kids of the world singing, most of the Dancing Dolls routine, and the blacksmith making the golden key.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What Christmas Music Would Be In Star-Lord's Walkman?

This is the first of many attempts to add some holiday cheer to this scene from Guardians of the Galaxy. It's safe to say that people who succeeded in making Li'l Groots for Christmas will add an ornament and a Santa hat. Besides, When part two rolls around in 30 months or so, he'll be Rockefeller Center Christmas tree-size.

The movie shows Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord or maybe Skye's Distant Cousin, owning two cassettes of music that his mom made him. The first became a big seller, while fans got a taste of the second one.
However, what if Mrs. Quill made him a mixtape of Christmas Classics?
If so, I have an idea of what she'd put on that cassette. If the tape was the Phil Spector Christmas album, it would be a winner right there. Still, I've come up with my idea of what the tape could have. As with the other tapes, it must be music before 1980. It does include some songs from holiday specials, also likely from his past.

Little Saint Nick Beach Boys
Santa Claus is Coming to Town  Jackson 5
Rockin Around the Christmas Tree  Brenda Lee
You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch  Thurl Ravenscroft
Run Rudolph Run Chuck Berry
Santa Baby Eartha Kitt
Holly Jolly Christmas Burl Ives
The Little Drummer Boy  Harry Simone Chorus
This Christmas Donny Hathaway
Step Into Christmas  Elton John
Christmas Time Is Here  Vince Guaraldi Trio
White Christmas  Bing Crosby
Feliz Navidad  Jose Feliciano
I Want to Come Home For Christmas  Marvin Gaye
Blue Christmas  Elvis Presley
The Christmas Song  Nat King Cole
Christmas (Please Come Home) Darlene Love
Happy Christmas (War is Over)  John Lennon

This is much bigger than the GoG soundtrack, which has eleven songs. I'll bet Mrs. Quill had a 90-minute Maxell tape that she wanted to use for a special occasion.It's a mix of holiday standards, some Motown, and songs from TV classics.

Of course, iPods and smartphones have made Walkmen a relic of the past, but Quill doesn't know this. If he ever was given an mp3 player, he'd have to take a hard look at his Walkman before giving it up. He'd also have a mixtape that could last for most of us.

Anyone who wants to come up with a better GoG holiday mixtape, please do.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rifftrax Has Fun in Balloonland With Its Sharp Needling

In the words of Tom Servo, "the Hell?"

That's all you can say about Fun in Balloonland, Rifftrax's new holiday offering whose cheesiness exceeds Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny and Magic Christmas Tree combined. For those who have attended holiday parades and didn't enjoy them, this is your chance at revenge.
It takes the daring move of combining a holiday pageant that takes place in a warehouse instead of PS 134 outside of Philadelphia with footage of the 1964 Gimbels Christmas Parade. (Note: for those who only know Wal-Mart, Gimbels was a department store that was a rival of Macy's in retail and parades),

Here are some clips:

It starts with a song with lyrics that almost make you appreciate One Direction. It's followed by a mom reading a story to a kid. She falls asleep, and he walks over and stands in front of a "Fairy Tales Book". That somehow gets him to Balloonland, where he "interacts" with the balloons, a guy who claims he's Neptune, and some mermaids. Also, a ballet spontaneously appears while kids lie on the ground, and there's a square dance where the kids sort of forget the song. What's really disturbing is at one point the kid wears gold lame shorts, something he shouldn't wear until he grows up to be Channing Tatum.

Someone thought adding balloon people to a third-grade Christmas play would produce something that would rival A Christmas Carol or Miracle on 34th Street,
Just in case, they decided to add footage from the Gimbels Parade, with a narrator who's had too much of a liquid version of turkey.
It's basically a home movie, but an interesting look at holiday parades before they went all show biz (Macy's being a big example, thanks to NBC). It also features the strangest looking balloon floats around, as the Rifftrax crew point out quite often.

The movie seems to end with the kid finally falling asleep, while Mom is also sleeping, but then they use outtakes to create  a "guessing game". Afterwards, you will, like Bill Corbett, wonder what the heck that was.

Now, time for the riffs:

A ballet breaks out with three kids, followed by a Good Fairy

Bill Corbett:  All right, Cindy Williams, let's start wrapping this thing up

The kid is in a square dance

Mike Nelson:  This is a little dance they call "See whose kneecap breaks first"

A balloon float featuring Scrooge and Tiny Tim appears

Kevin Murphy:  It's John D. Rockefeller and his son Dax Shepard, wearing Dad's hat

One of the bands appearing for the parade gets identified as:

Mike:  Please welcome the Didn't-Get-Invited-To-The-Macy's-Parade-In-Fact-Macy's-Called-Just-to-Laugh-At-Us Marching Band

Narrator:  I salute you, Grenadier Guard

Bill:  Just a brand of cheap gin she's drinking

There's also riffs on Game of Thrones, They Shoot Horses, Don't They, North Korea, 1984 (the book), Stratego, The Twilight Zone, and the owner of the NFL team in Washington DC, Daniel Snyder. There's also a callback to a riff Kevin made in the Christmas Shorts Extravaganza in 2009.

You've never seen anything like Fun in Balloonland, and it's unlikely you'd find anything like that today...except the opening would be a rap by Pitbull with much better lyrics.

The short is available now at Rifftrax's website, and there is a special section for the other holiday offerings it's created over the years.
The next big offering will be the re-riffing of Santa Claus in theaters nationwide on December 4th. Here's an updated trailer and a message from Kevin...

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Do You Own The Role, Or Does It Own You? Review of Birdman

While most people decided to go see Interstellar and Big Hero 6, I went to see a movie that's been called the comeback of the original Joel Schumacher Batman, Michael Keaton. After seeing TV ads for Birdman for weeks, I wondered if this is really an anti-super hero movie, and a cautionary tale about what happens when an actor's iconic role that he has tried to shake just won't let go.

Birdman is that, and more. It's a bizarre and touching tale of Riggan Thomson, who was known for playing the iconic Birdman three times...but not much after that. He's hoping a Broadway play based on Raymond Carter will change his luck. However, he's plagued by accidents, a pompous replacement, disasterous previews, and a critic that vows to destroy his play because she can.
All the while, he hears a familiar voice. It's Birdman, urging Riggan to bring him back.

The story is done as one long take, even though the story covers several days. You can tell where the cuts are, but the way it's shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is just amazing. It wouldn't a surprise to those who remember he won an Oscar last year for Gravity. More praise should be given to director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who has put together a tale that's part theater backstage politics, part pressure, and part fantasy. It could almost be an re-origin story not for a super hero, but a guy who wants to remind people he's still an actor, and a good one.

He pins his hopes on a play that he's written and directed, with himself as the star. When a falling light hits one of the actors, he gets Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) to replace him. He's a good actor, but also pompous. He makes moves on his co-star Leslie (Naomi Watts) and Riggan's daughter Sam (Emma Stone), and ruins the first two previews. In the third preview, Riggan accidentally locks himself out of the theater, and has to get back in only wearing his briefs.That gives him the kind of attention he wasn't seeking.

While Riggan hopes to be recognized for the right reasons, it's interesting the movie shows people still know him and like him for what he did as Birdman. The attention can be a double-edged sword, due to people taking pictures of him in his briefs with their smartphones. At least one fans asks for his autograph.

The movie also asks if an actor can own the role, or the role can own him. When we first meet him, he's levitating, as if he was Birdman. He also seems to use telepathy, which may may be one of Birdman's powers, to cause major damage to his dressing room. Then there's what he does on the morning of the opening of his play. Is it real, or in his mind? The answer may be obvious, but is it?
There's also a question of what is more important: making zillions in a comic book movie franchise, or having a career that is respected. These days, some actors have managed both, from Daniel Radcliffe to Jennifer Lawrence. That even includes Norton and Stone, who have been part of comic book franchises.

Speaking of which, Norton is really good as Shiner, who can be charming but also difficult. Still, you can't help but like him. Stone was also great as Sam, Riggan's daughter and personal assistant. She loves her dad, but she is still angry at him for his neglect.

This movie should get some attention when award season starts in January. It's a longshot for Best Picture except for the Spirit Awards, but Keaton is a lock for Best Actor, while Norton has a chance for Supporting Actor. Inarritu should be considered for directing and writing too. Can you imagine Keaton swooping in to get an Oscar? It's early, but some just might.

The movie has had a slow but steady expansion, doubling its screens to more than 460 this weekend, and raising more than six million dollars so far. It may not be a billion dollar blockbuster, but Birdman will get both prestige and popularity as a movie that says a lot about art, Hollywood, popularity, identity and eventually self-respect.