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.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Joel's Serving Real Turkeys Online Again This Year


Last year, Joel Hodgson, the man who invented the show that justified cable TV, served up a very special Thanksgiving meal online: five classic episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It ended with the bots, Tom Servo and Crow, about to share the Thanksgiving meal. People wept.



It was done to commemorate the 25th anniversary of MST3K, the show that created extreme movie criticism which is recognized as one of America's best industries. Just ask Rikk Wolf, Josh Way, Mary Jo Pehl, J. Elvis Weinstein, Bill Corbett, TV's Frank and Trace Beaulieu.

Actually, the 25th anniversary is still going on, since the show premiered nationally on the Comedy Channel around Thanksgiving of 1989. Shout Factory's newest MST3K set features classic Turkey Day bumpers, the story of how it started, and great movies (to riff, natch) including The Painted Hills, Jungle Goddess, Squirm and The Screaming Skull (with the Gumby short that really upset the bots).

This year, on November 27th, Joel will be serving up turkeys again, This time, according to the Nerdist, people are encouraged to choose the menu. You can tweet Joel at @JoelGHodgson to make your suggestions. I suggested It Conquered The World, one of the movies that haven't made a DVD set yet. However, you could suggest either of the two Godzilla movies the show has riffed (Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs, The Sea Monster), or maybe any of the Hercules movies. It's the price those characters should pay for attempting a comeback this year (one more successfully than the other).
The article says special guests may drop by, maybe some of the crew from Cinematic Titanic or an aging Mr,. B Natural. Knew your father he (?) did.
One person who should show up is Michael J. Nelson, the Modern Warrior Against Bad Movies. It would also be the first meeting between the two since Comic-Con five years ago. I still have the special pass from that panel.

Anyway, the show will be found at www.MST3KTurkeyDay.com. Expect this site to be more popular than football, parades, your aunt's famous rye bread dressing, and camping out overnight for Black Friday sales.

Of course, Rifftrax will have its own Thanksgiving event, Fun In Balloonland. This has been talked about previously in this site, but it's just as cheesy as you've heard. You can pre-order it before it arrives in three weeks.

So prepare for Thanksgiving the way your parents, or at least your strange uncle, did 25 years ago, and enjoy the kind of turkey you can't use for leftovers for the next month.

JOIN US!

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Green Halloween: Rifftrax vs. Anaconda


Two years ago, Rifftrax decided that monsters weren't scary enough for Halloween, and turned to insane birds with Birdemic, a low-budget knock-off of The Birds.

This year, it decided again that Mother Nature is more terrifying than the Wolfman, zombies and that creepy doll from The Conjuring combined. On Halloween Eve, it took on the 1997 movie Anaconda, with Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Kari Wuhrer, Eric Stoltz (sort of), Owen Wilson and Jon Voight. A film crew hoping to find an Amazon tribe meets a captain who claims he'll bring them to the tribe. What he really wants to do is hunt a large, man-swallowing Anaconda for big bucks. It's interesting one of the riffs refers to some of the cast as "MTV rejects", although Cube and J-Lo have done all right since this movie. Still, does Ice Cube always have that "today is a good day" catchphrase in all of his movies, including Ride Along?

Anyway, I saw the show at the Century Riverside 12 in downtown Reno, dressed in a Gizmonic-style jumpsuit and helmet. The movie was much more entertaining than the Godzilla show a couple of months back. It may be due to the length, only 90 minutes, but the Rifftrax crew were sharper with the jokes. While a few people may have liked Anaconda, even Roger Ebert, it was prime '90s cheese, back when movie studios hoped to make big bucks with CGI monsters.  The mp3 for this movie will be a best seller when it's available in 60 days or so. Hopefully by that time, I'll actually find the DVD for this movie. (Update: I did find it at WalMart in one of those four-movie discs).

Here's just a few of the riffs...

Eric Stoltz's character tells J-Lo's character they'd make a great team
Mike Nelson:  Your smugness, my great ass

The crew see fireflies in the jungle glowing, showing that they're ready to make
Bill Corbett:  Speaking of manly flashes... (that's only half of the joke)

Owen Wilson and Kari Wuhrer are about to make out
Kevin Murphy:  Being stalked by Jason Vor-hiss

The anaconda is caught in Voight's trap
Kevin:  A snake that screams like Jamie Lee Curtis. That is truly horrifying

And remember the clip that fans were asked to make a riff? This is the winning entry, as the snake bites Wilson and twirls around:

I'm very sorry. I was trying to swim up you urethra.  

The movie also includes riffs on Sir Mix-A-Lot, Voight's face, Jimmy Carter, Ken Burns, Roy Orbison, Grumpy Cat, Jimmy Walker, and Nick Nolte. It also comments on how cute it was to make Wilson look tough by holding a rifle. 

Before that, the crew had a short called Halloween Party, with a family that's a bit eager to celebrate the holiday. The story centered around the family dog eating the son's cat mask just before a costume contest. Mom saves the day by coming up with another costume, but her choice may have been worse. Here's the link to the unriffed version. 

That was followed by a preview of the second Total Riff-Off on the National Geographic Channel on December 16th. As expected, the gang will take on Man v Monster with Richard Terry again. They'll look at the "Mekong Man-Eater" episode where Terry investigates why farmers in Thailand are being attacked in shallow water. Here's a clip from that episode, and it looks like he's trying to make his own version of Anaconda without a mostly unconscious Eric Stoltz.

Also, remember when Mike mentioned he'd have a Thankgiving offering called Fun in Balloonland?
You can pre-order it now through this link. It will be released on November 24th, and looks like the next Turkey Day classic, As I said before, this movie about a kid interacting with balloon people from holiday parades makes "A Visit to Santa" look like The Empire Strikes Back. It's available for $9.99, and it is worth it. 

For more info on this and other Rifftrax offerings, plus a link to the next live show, Santa Claus on December fourth, go to rifftrax.com


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rifftrax vs. Godzilla '98: The Home Game


It's been two months since Rifftrax took on the 1998 version of Godzilla, or as it was produced, Sleepless in Jurassic Park.

Backers of the Kickstarter project, including me, just got the mp3 version of the riff for the movie. This likely made a lot of people happy, especially those who didn't hear the riff in theaters.

I've already made a review of the live show. Seeing the movie again with the mp3 actually made the movie better. There were a couple of riffs people may not have understood the first time, but it got easier the second time. There were at least a couple of new jokes, but only a few remarks about this year's version. A lot was also made on Emmerich's attempt to mock Siskel and Ebert by making them bungling New York City officials. Nice try, Roland, but rebooting Godzilla from scratch doesn't work out. At least the 2014 version admits its Godzilla probably came from 60 years ago, and the MUTO in that film may have said 'SCOOOOOOOTTTTEEEEERRR"

Here's some more riffs:

early in the credits
Bill Corbett:  Before Michael Bey'd, there was Roland Emmerich

Shot of NYC skylinw with the caption, "The City That Never Sleeps"
Kevin Murphy:  Ah, Las Vegas. Fort Worth?

Fishing Market starts its day
Mike Nelson:  Delivery for some guy named Oswald Cobblepot (makes more sense thanks to Gotham)

Godzilla heads for the fish that Nick the worm guy (Matthew Broderick) laid out for him
Kevin:  Ferris Bueller's second day off not as whimsical as the first

One of the eggs Godzilla laid at Madison Square Garden hatches
Mike:  Biggest disappointment since the Gobbledy Gooker

Audrey decides to broadcast on TV by using "an internet"
Mike:  An internet. Is that where they have the Google?

And of course, Godzilla's two painful cries, "PAAACCCKKKEEERS"  and "SCOOOOTTTEEERRR".

There's also riffs on Game of Thrones, Rodan, The Monkees, Bernie Goetz, Harry Knowles, Dr. Strangelove, Ernie Anastos (mainly for this), 4 Non-Blondes the Knicks, and this year's Godzilla.

The mp3 riff is now available soon at the Rifftrax site. Meanwhile, Rifftrax Live prepares for Anaconda on November 4th and Santa Claus (the 1959 version) on December 4th.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rifftrax Celebrates the Holidays

Let's be honest. The holidays do not start on the week of Thanksgiving. They start next Friday with Halloween. I've believed this ever since I saw the Grove Shopping Center in L-A finish building Santa's House the day before Halloween. Imagine trick or treaters trying to visit that house.

Now there's a new reason:  Rifftrax will be very busy with some new events, including revisiting another holiday movie.
It also starts next Thursday with its presentation of Anaconda with Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube and Owen Wilson. That event was made possible by its Kickstarter campaign a few months ago after getting funding for riffing the Jurassic Park-Sleepless in Seattle mashup that was the 1998 version of Godzilla. The riff for that, by the way, should be coming next month.
Anyway, the attack, I mean showing, of Anaconda will be presented in several theaters nationwide thanks to Fathom Events. Since the movie is 90 minutes, the show will include a preview of the return of Total Riff-Off, where the gang take on a typical show from the National Geographic channel. It was very popular when it was done on April Fool's Day, and it'll be interesting to see what they'll do when they have two more specials in December. Expect the host of Man vs. Monster being a likely target.

Then in November, it'll observe Thanksgiving with its take on Fun in Balloonland. As I said elsewhere online, it makes "A Visit to Santa" look like The Empire Strikes Back. It starts with a mom reading a bedtime story, which puts her to sleep. Then the kid dreams he's in a world filled with balloon people. Here's a look:



It's basically the worst movie about the Macy's parade, or any other holiday parade.  A guy called the Cinema Snob has his take on this, If Mike can top that review, he is truly the God of Riffing

The big news from its Facebook Q and A event is that the Christmas show on December 4th will feature the 1959 Mexican holiday classic, Santa Claus. That's right, little Lupita, Pitch, and the kid who's left alone on Christmas Eve while his parents go out and drink will all be there. Of course, MST3K fans know the movie when it first aired in 1993. It was later part of the Volume XVI DVD set. What's different is that the gang will likely riff on the whole movie, as they did with Manos, Hands of Fate. When Santa Claus was first riffed, they cut some scenes out, including this one where Lupita dreams about having a doll. Since Pitch set off the dream, it includes evil dancing that wasn't part of the MST version. See if you can riff on this:



Actually, if you use the Canadian Thanksgiving rule, you'd be justified to start seeing holiday specials after November first, including what Rifftrax has to offer.

You can learn more about next week's showing of Anaconda, Total Riff-Off, Santa Claus and more at Rifftrax's updated website. Enjoy!