Friday, July 11, 2014

Rock and Roll Is King, Thanks To Kickstarter

“Listen everybody, let me tell you about the rock and roll…”

When young girls in the South heard that lyric about 30 years ago, they cheered and squealed with delight.
It wasn’t for a rock group, but for a couple of handsome guys who changed pro wrestling in a big way.

Wrestling fan Michael Elliot decided to tell the story of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, aka the Rock and Roll Express, through a DVD set called Rock and Roll Will Never Die. Rather than wait until WWE Video get around to it, he made it himself through Kickstarter. It wound up being a three disc set that does a good job of recounting the history of the pair. Here's a trailer from YouTube:

He announced the project five months ago, and was able to get the project done quicker than most Kickstarter-made DVDs. It’s mostly Morton and Gibson recalling how they got together, and their experiences as eight-time world tag team champs. There’s also interviews with nemesis Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton), Tom Pritchard of the Heavenly Bodies, Bill Dundee, referee Tommy Young, Ivan Koloff and Jimmy Valiant. The biggest surprise was George South, a jobber with WTBS wrestling who gave some great insights about the success of the team.

The first disc covers the basic history of the Express. Ricky and Robert had wrestled with other partners before they formed a team in Memphis in 1983. Back then, they were the #2 babyface team behind the Fabulous Ones. They got their big break when Mid-South picked them up along with Cornette and the Midnight Express, and wound up having classic matches.
Both teams joined WTBS and Jim Crockett a year later. Ricky and Robert got there first with the famous match against Ivan Koloff and Krusher Kruschev  for the world tag team belts in July 1985, followed by Cornette and his team. Gibson says RnR really got a big pop for beating the supposedly unbeatable Russians, and that’s how they got popular very quickly. He says RnR were so popular that Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes were starting to be a bit jealous. He claims the idea of Flair wrestling Ricky for the World title was an attempt to break up the team. He also says the “Super Sizzling Summer Tour” idea was a way for Crockett to generate more money for the team while the rest of the crew got a vacation in Hawaii.
Gibson also says he and Robert were fired over a money dispute, but when they came back to WTBS, they weren’t as prominent as they used to be. There’s also the big run with Smokey Mountain Wrestling, and the feud with the Heavenly Bodies (Pritchard and Stan Lane, and later Jimmy Del Rey). It doesn't give a lot of details about RnR being in the WWE in 1998, but that's due to the WWE owning the footage, along with WTBS and Mid-South. Still, Elliott is able to use photos and short clips from Memphis, SMW and NWA house shows very well.

Disc two has several stories about the team's career, but also footage from WrestleCade and the “King of the Mountain” tournament from Smoky Mountain, and Gibson challenging Rob Conway for the NWA title. You even seen them in ads for heating and air conditioning

The third disc is a real treat. It has Ricky and Ken Lucas as the Southwest Tag Team Champs in 1982 in a TV match and two NWA tag team title matches with RnR and the Midnight Express with very interesting endings. There’s also the famous “loser leave town” match between RnR and the Heavenly Bodies from SMW. The ref bump and ending has to be seen to be believed. Also, Gibson is in an NWA jr. heavyweight title match from earlier this year against champ Chase Owens. This is also a must-see match.

Rock and Roll Will Never Die is a fairly good effort in honoring one of the most influential tag teams in wrestling history. While tag teams aren’t as popular these days, seeing the RnR in its prime is bound to excite fans of any age. Gibson hopes that eventually they will make the WWE Hall of Fame, along with the Midnight Express. That’s a good idea, but so would WWE Video doing a proper DVD for these teams. Until then, this is the next best thing.

And...they threw in an autographed 8 x 10 photo

Better yet, you can get it for 19.95 at High Spots and Amazon.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

Return of MST3K, But Still Not Everywhere

In the not too distant future, tomorrow, A.D...

Mystery Science Theater 3000 returns on over-the-air TV, but sadly not everywhere.
I was checking the responses of fans who learned that Retro TV will start carrying the show July 5th, starting with "The Mad Monster". While some were happy they have Retro TV, others were upset that they didn't have it, or used to have it until the local channel that carried it changed to getTV, Me-TV or AntennaTV. They were also upset that some movies that were in the original list were taken out because of rights issues. That includes "Time Chasers" and "Space Mutiny". On the other hand, it meant the addition of "Pod People" and "Secret Agent Super Dragon." One fan suggested "Mad Monster" was too weak an episode to start the return.

I am in the Reno area, where Retro TV is available...along with a semi-local weekend horror TV host named Zomboo. Let's just say his list of movies is similar to those who have been mocked at the Satellite of Love. I'm hoping to get cable...and my own place...before "Super Dragon" because it's one of the episodes I don't have.

Still, it's a great way to introduce movie mocking to a new generation who thinks they have no way to strike back after they unwisely spent 12 bucks on the latest Transformers movie, Amazing Spider Man 2 or Transcendence (nowhere nearly as good as a certain scene from Captain America's second movie). Sure, they may have heard of Rifftrax, but they may wonder how such a thing was invented. Well, thanks to Retro TV, they can find out how some guy and his two robots changed instant movie reviewing forever. Take that, Zomboo.
This will especially please the online-challenged. While these episodes can be seen on Amazon, iTunes or YouTube, not everyone can get used to downloading TV shows or movies. Seeing the show on cable TV, just like the old days of Comedy Central, can be a comfort for some.

What's interesting is that Retro seems to be interested in showing unriffed versions of previous MST3K targets. It's planning to show The Violent Years after MST3K, and Teenage Caveman in some areas. Maybe it's daring us to riff on these movies at home.

Anyway, MST3K airs Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 5 PM. Check for more info, including plans to run classic episodes of Doctor Who back in the days when he was a staple on PBS and the early days of SyFy,

Naturally, Retro TV will encourage you to ask your local station to carry the channel. If that doesn't work, you could circulate the tapes...or buy them on DVD....or download them online.
Man, things have changed, haven't they?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Keep Circulating the Digital Downloads

"Keep Circulating the Tapes"

Any fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 knows those words are the command that spread the word about the comedy series that pitted a man and his robots trapped in space against really bad movies, educational shorts or movie serials. It was part of the closing credits for the first four years of the show, before The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central was much easier to get on cable.

Sure, doing such a thing would be costly, inclujding the price of the VCR, tapes and postage. Still, for many people, it was the only way to see Gamera, Jungle Goddess, and even Manos riffed to oblivion.

Now, tape trading has been replaced by a click of the mouse. Most episodes of Cinematic Titanic, featuring the original MST3K cast plus TV's Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl (aka Dr. Forrester's mom), is available on Amazon video. Some Rifftrax movies are also available on Amazon Video or on the site itself. This, of course, includes fully-riffed bad movies and mp3 riffs on more recent movies including The Wizard of Oz and the Harry Potter series.

Most recently, Rifftrax has added some titles to iTunes, including Ghosthouse, Birdemic and The Guy From Harlem, for rent or download. That's along with the 76 MST3K titles also available on iTunes.

So instant gratification is better in our modern times, right?

Well, maybe. Aside from trying to get MST3K videos through the mail, I also traded tapes of wrestling shows that weren't the WWF. It was the only way I could see Owen Hart and Japanese wrestling (with ads, of course). I even traded with a guy from Canada to get episodes of Buffy for the first season and a half. The sense of anticipation made tape trading exciting. Now, it's all YouTube, Vimeo, and sometimes file trading. Rifftrax is starting to get wise that people may be making illegal copies of their stuff to give to others. That's why the gang says if someone got a Rifftrax mp3 or movie illegally, it would be nice to pay for it now.

So, maybe it's not a good idea to "keep circulating the tapes" anymore, for several especially. Besides, why trade tapes when you're a mouse click away from an MST3K episode you haven't seen in years?
However, if there's an episode or special that's not available anywhere, not even YouTube, that could be an exception. I still have both versions of MST3K, the Home Game, which was The Day The World Ended. You can't find that on YouTube anymore, but CheesyFlix still has it. Getting it this way is a good idea, but since it was never released commercially, circulating these tapes would be OK...if you have them.
Come to think of it, circulating the VHS tape "MST3K Last Dance" which showed footage of the last show from 1999 would also be acceptable...since YouTube and CheesyFlix don't have it either.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Review of How To Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup's Fiery Saga Continues

It's been five years since the weak son of a Viking chief changed his island by teaching people how to overcome their fear of dragons.
Now, he is looking for new challenges while trying to avoid another one. He also makes a major discovery and faces a dangerous enemy that will both change his life.

When How To Train Your Dragon came out in the winter of 2010, some wondered if an animated feature about a boy and his dragon would work. It did, in a big way, and now Dreamworks has made a very good sequel that may turn out to be a big hit this summer. It's already has a few sneak previews in the past week in Sacramento, and audiences have loved this movie and are likely to return when it officially opens next Friday.

When the story returns to the island of Berk, the locals aren't afraid of dragons burning their homes or stealing their sheep. They are enjoying a new sport called dragon-riding which may be more exciting that Quidditch. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), meanwhile, is busy flying with Toothless, and discovering what places are beyond his little island. He even has his own wing suit, which may have been a bit much for the movie.
Showing how his engineering skills improved his ability to ride Toothless, and changed Berk overall, would have been enough. What he's not eager to do is prepare to become the new leader after his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) retires.

The other characters haven't changed much. They're older, but still finding their way. Snoutlot (Jonah Hill) is still the brash hero in his own mind, Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) still has his "Magic The Gathering"-style of thinking, Ruffnut and Tuffnut (Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller) still fight. Astrid (America Ferrera) is still competitive, but also caring, and is destined to be Hiccup's wife and advisor. On the other hand, things have changed, symbolized by the fact that Stoick has his own dragon. That would have been unthinkable five years before. Then again, people who saw the spinoff show on the Cartoon Network are already aware of how these kids have grown. Here's a featurette to show just that...

Anyway, Hiccup and Astrid discover some dragon trappers led by Erit (Kit Harington, aka Jon Snow from Game of Thrones). They work for Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who wants to create his own dragon army and become more dangerous than that Red Death dragon that enslaved the other dragons on the first movie.

Hiccup thinks he can change Drago's mind, but Stoick says that can't be done. Years before, Drago tried to take over the island with his dragons. Hiccup also meets a mysterious Dragon Rider who flies better than he does. She is Valka (Cate Blanchett), who had been caring for dragons for years. She also has a very special connection to Hiccup, and this link will reveal exactly what it is.
Soon, there's a major showdown between Drago and Hiccup, with a result that changes everything. Consider it an "Empire Strikes Back" moment. Some may be puzzled about what happens afterwards, but just realize why it happened.

Dean DeBlois is back as director and writer for the sequel. He's hoping for a trilogy for Hiccup and Toothless, and the story certainly reflects that. In the first movie, Hiccup tried to show that people and dragons could live together through trust. The sequel breaks that trust, and upsets the balance, in an unexpected way. It's restored through another major change, especially in Toothless.

Of course, Gobbler (Craig Ferguson) is also back as comic relief. He also explains why he never got married, kind of. Some people may pick up on why. In the Sacramento showing, people laughed at the first part of his joke, but didn't quite hear the rest of it. Someone will, and that will lead to the usual reactions.
The animation style has also jumped in a big way compared to the first movie. The texture of the dragons' skins is more detailed, while their flying is smoother. Valka's refuge is also incredible, and not just because of the dragons.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a fine follow-up to the first movie, and sets up a lot of possibilities for the final part of the trilogy. It is certain to show Hiccup as the leader of Berk, eager to see what else exists in the world, and whether the dragons can still be part of it.

Finally, here's the first five minutes of the movie:

Friday, May 16, 2014

MST3K vs. Godzilla vs. Megalon vs. The Sea Monster

As you know, Rifftrax's plans to riff on the 1998 version of Godzilla in August have paid off, after the gang was able to raise more than 100 thousand bucks in less than a day thanks to Kickstarter (it's up to 143 thousand as of noon, May 16th). Many fans wanted this version to get the treatment because the big guy's nemesis is Matthew Broderick, and there's a dash of Jurassic Park after it reproduces and creates mini-Godzillas in the subways.

Longtime fans, however, know that Mystery Science Theater 3000 took on Godzilla twice, with two movies from the big lizard's lesser period. They were shown towards the end of season two in early 1991.
In both cases, adding Godzilla was an afterthought. He's not even the star of these movies, but a "supporting role" for the real "star"

Take a look at Godzilla vs. Megalon (2.12), which used to be part of Volume ten of the DVD series until Toho disputed the rights. The plot, such as it is, is that people from Seatopia (a knock-off of Atlantis with dancing girls wearing see-through gowns and Klan hats) decide it's had enough of the nuclear bomb tests from the surface world. So, it unleashes Megalon, which looks like a cross between a motorcycle and a beetle with a hood ornament and two jackhammers for arms:

Godzilla is there in the beginning when Monster Island gets the brunt of one of those tests. After that, we see a couple of scientists who are working on a new robot called Jet Jaguar. Their lakeside holiday with a young nephew is interrupted when the lake suddenly dries up. This leads to a battle between the scientists and Seatopia agents (including one that looks like Oscar Wilde), and Megalon flattening a big part of Tokyo.
So, they call on Jet Jaguar, who has suddenly become self-aware and able to grow to Ultra-Man size, to get Godzilla to help.  The Seatopians even ask for help from other aliens to get Gigan, but that doesn't work.

This leads to a big battle that seems silly to anyone over the age of ten.This attempt at a drop kick at Megalon says it all:

And here's Jet Jaguar and Godzilla celebrating their victory:

The episode is best known for lots of riffs on Japanese movies, which will serve Joel, Tom Servo and Crow well when they get assaulted by Gamera movies in season three. There's also a classic host segment that shows what would happen if Eugene O'Neill wrote a commercial for Orville Redenbacher popcorn. Of course, there's also Mike Nelson's "translation" of the Jet Jaguar song.

The other movie was Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, which aired two weeks later. In this one, some guy steals a boat to look for his brother, who has been missing at sea. He finds his brother at an uncharted yet busy island. There's some natives trying to wake up Mothra with the help of twin priestesses.

An evil army has taken over the island, and a large lobster called Ebirah is threatening everyone.

Then, the heroes find a sleeping Godzilla, who is awakened by lightning. This, of course, leads to Godzilla battling the oversized lobster. When Mothra is finally awakened, it helps out, too. the brothers are reunited, and the natives are rescued. Godzilla also escapes before the island is destroyed.
This movie was supposed to "star" King Kong, but they used Godzilla instead. Too bad he acts like King Kong in this movie anyway.
The version that MST got was from Film Ventures International, which explains the sloppy editing and the opening credits that have scenes from Son of Godzilla. The host segments include the Godzilla Geneology Bop, and a cameo by Mothra (aka Mike).

You can get either of these episodes through CheesyFlix, but you can see shortened MST3K versions of Megalon and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster through YouTube.