Friday, January 25, 2013

Manos, in the Hands of Rifftrax

When Mystery Science Theater 3000 unearthed the cinematic blasphemy that is Manos the Hands of Fate 20 years ago next week (January 30), no one realized how society would be changed, infected or just stunned by the existence of this movie. Torgo, a strange creature, would be a folk hero. The term "Master" would take on a new meaning that would never be considered by Doctor Who fans. What's worse, someone would make a short documentary about the making of this, uh, "movie" which turned out to less than accurate, another would restore an old print, and a crew would work on making a sequel, which somehow involves the little girl, Debbie.

What could be next?
How about riffing the movie again?
That's what the Rifftrax trio of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett did last summer in Nashville. It was recently shown again through Fathom Events as part of the Best of Rifftrax Live series. 
This isn't unusual. Rifftrax re-riffed a short about juvenile delinquency, while Cinematic Titanic took on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians again. So, why not take on Manos again?
OK, trick question. After all, it makes subsequent "movies" like Hobgoblins and Werewolf look like Pan's Labyrinth. It's still the only movie Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank regretted.
Still, Mike and the boys went all the way with this production. They even revived the skit from the original MST edition where Torgo delivered pizzas, but this time the Master was there, too. It was part of an effort to publicize the sequel, and a nice touch.

Rifftrax expressed how painful it was to revisit this movie, from the muddy cinematography to the dubbed voices, bad editing, bad acting and just the creepiness of it all. It's a bit darker than how Joel Hodgson took on this movie in 1993. Let's compare:

The family gets pulled over by a highway patrolman...

MST: Sorry, but you're not filming Manos the Hands of Fate in our town
Rifftrax: We're arresting the movie so soon?

They go to the road to the Valley Lodge, while we hear singing

MST:  Honey, please, not while I'm driving. OK. What about the Valley Lodge?
Rifftrax: Dionne Warwicke is drunk again

Of course, there's that couple who parks, makes out and drinks all through the movie, despite the highway patrolman interrupting. The couple's compared to a "typical job interview in Texas" and a white trash version of Edward and Bella (a classic bit, trust me, and another reason why Buffy beats Twilight...FOREVER!)

Torgo makes his move on Margaret, mentioning how the Master wants her as his wife

MST: (as Torgo) Look, lady, I got the moves of a wallaby
Rifftrax: Your husband's a corpse, and he likes you.

The Master's wives fight each other over whether they should kill the little girl

MST: Next on ESPN, Full-Contact Nightgown Wrestling
Rifftrax: It's compared to what happens in a book club when someone admits to not liking 50 Shades of Grey.

The Master confronts Torgo, who takes an hour to stand up

MST: Do something! God!
Rifftrax: Torgo, don't get up

They both see the wives fighting.

MST (Torgo to the Master) When are you going to kill me, boss?
Rifftrax: $10 on Wife #4

Torgo gets his hand burned off before he runs away.

MST: The Jamaican wings are ready, or "Charred Finger"
Rifftrax: ...and that's how a McRib is made

We also get jokes on The View, Thelma and Louise, The Wire, Texas in general (not just Fort Worth), Nick Nolte, Taken and Aerosmith. On top of that, they end the picture before the long closing credits. This is "quitting while you're ahead."

For some reason, they also portray little Debbie rather tipsy after she lays down in the couch at the lodge. It would have made more sense if the wives were drunk.
The best thing, though, is that the Rifftrax crew took on ALL of the movie. The MST version cut out several things, including the Master slapping his first wife severely, even drawing blood. You could also see and hear the movie better, which doesn't help actually.

Seeing Manos on the big screen was quite the experience, helped out by the commentary of the Rifftrax crew. Hopefully this, and the Plan 9 From Outer Space showing on January 31, will be available on DVD soon.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

How We Choose A President of Movies (Updated)

This weekend is an interesting one. While most people are looking forward to the AFC and NFC championships, there are others who feel a bit lost.

For movie buffs who may also be disgruntled Packers and Broncos fans,  it's the weekend in between the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. They may wonder whether they should see Silver Linings Playbook again, or why Amour, a Best Picture nominee and the favorite for Best Foreign Language Film, is shown in only 15 this country! More people should have the chance to know how good this movie may be. Hopefully, that will change after the SAGs.

The point is, the Oscar race is becoming more like a presidential campaign. Washington has PACs, the Oscars have Harvey Weinstein. The election has political parties, Hollywood has studios. Candidates lobby for votes in caucuses and primaries, actors lobby for votes from every critics society from Los Angeles to New York. Until this year, I never knew there were movie awards given out in St. Louis and San Diego.
This point was proven beyond all doubt when people heard about problems with the Oscar online voting system when nominees were chosen. There were complaints about not getting to the site or casting a vote, or not being able to get a paper ballot instead. Some people must have gotten flashbacks to Florida in 2000, and hanging chads. This is the real reason Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow aren't in the Best Director race.

There's also the lobbying from the press. Some reporters complained Zero Dark 30 allegedly argued that torture led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden, although others may argue the movie shows that the real key was a detail most people didn't notice. There were also comments that Lincoln, Argo and ZD 30 weren't historically accurate. That's not too different from political pundits nitpicking on candidates they don't like. Why else did we hear such comments on  Fox News and MSNBC?

So if electing a "president of movies" is just like choosing our president, what does that make the awards fans see on TV every January?
Never mind the People's Choice Awards. That's just a poll with trophies. The Critics Choice Awards would be the Iowa caucuses. The Golden Globes are the New Hampshire primary. The Screen Actors Guild Awards are just like Super Tuesday, since actors make up the biggest voting block within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In recent years, whoever wins in the Golden Globes often pick up the rest of the major awards right up to the Oscars. I can't remember three different people winning for one category, making the Oscar race truly wide open. It's just like what happened in last year's presidential race. We basically know who's going to be the major nominees a year before the election. It's been the same story for the most part in the major movie awards.
Who wouldn't want to be a competitive race right up to the Oscars? I was excited about whether Viola Davis could beat Meryl Streep for Best Actress last year. I would like to see a similar battle between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. If Lawrence wins in the SAGs, we may get that. However, Chastain may get the edge from voters who will support her as a way of supporting Kathryn Bigelow.
A similar situation could emerge in the Supporting Actor race. While Christoph Waltz earned his Golden Globe, I suspect others may support Philip Seymour Hoffman or Tommy Lee Jones instead because Django Unchained may have been too violent for them. If Hoffman or Jones wins next week, we have a race, and more interest.

While choosing the Best Movie, Actor or even Best Song in the major award shows every year may be just like how we choose a president, there's one fact that seems to prove they're not similar: we never find out how many votes each Oscar nominee received.

That may be true, but a campaign is a campaign. All that's missing is a negative ad campaign against nominees.
Then again, remember when Selma Hayek hosted Saturday Night Live? She seemed to invent negative ads so she could win in Frieda. It was a joke, of course, until it happens for real.

Update: Jennifer Lawrence did win Best Actress at the Screen Actors Guild awards last night. So we have a race come Oscar time, as we had between Viola Davis (who won in the SAGs last year) and eventual Oscar winner Meryl Streep. I still say Chastain wins at the Oscars thanks to the Best Director votes Kathryn Bigelow would have gotten. According to some, Ben Affleck also being snubbed may lead to more Best Picture votes for Argo.  For Supporting Actor, Tommy Lee Jones won, which means he may get the edge at the Oscars because Django may be too violent for some voters. The voting starts in a few days, and we'll find out who wins, and if Seth MacFarland can host a major awards show, in four weeks.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Best Director Should Have Been A Seven Person Race

It's been several hours since I and about 80 other people became the first people to see Zero Dark 30,  which showed how we finally found Osama Bin Laden. Sadly, how that story was told may have cost Kathryn Bigelow another Oscar. That's what happens when the Senate wants to investigate you for exposing alleged secrets.

If that were the case, when will Ben Affleck be investigated by the FBI for Argo? That IS why he's not up for Best Director, either, right?

Or did the Academy just screw this up...again?

Well, if Steven Spielberg winds up winning for Lincoln, it would make sense. I just hope he points out that he may have won, but two people who belonged in the race should have been there.

Maybe those torture scenes scared off Oscar voters from Zero Dark 30, but they didn't prove that the movie supports it. Remember, they happened in the scenes set before 2009. The movie reflected what methods the CIA were using, and how the wounds were still pretty fresh when Dan, played by Jason Clarke, was severely interrogating that detainee. When Obama arrived, the rules had changed.

The one who played the game, who we will always called Maya, never wanted to stop playing. Jessica Chastain is fantastic as the CIA agent who had been looking for bin Laden her whole life. Seeing her gain experience and confidence is fascinating. In her first interrogation, she stays in the back while Dan does the dirty work. Slowly, she steps forward, and takes over the job, even as she is nearly killed by one bomb and sees her best friend blown up by another, disguised as a possible lead to bin Laden. The movie also shows that looking for him can be just as frustrating as looking for any other horrible criminal. Mistakes were make, but it takes one break or a second look to change anything. This is one girl with a mission, and she will see it through for those who died, including her friends.

I liked two scenes where Bigelow shows how tough the job really is. One of the CIA staffers tries to find the elusive courier helping bin Laden in a crowded street in Pakistan. She pulls back the camera to show how tough it is to find him, much less his face.

The other scene is when Seal Team Six heads to Abbottabad to the place where bin Laden is...they hope. Seeing the soldiers blast through the place, then carefully look through each room, was very tense. Seeing them find bin Laden was almost a relief.

Despite all the controversy over Zero Dark 30, Bigelow was not tossed off the Best Director race because of politics. It may have been that for some voters, but maybe it was also the fact they had problems voting with the new internet ballots.

Why else was Affleck also snubbed?  His victories in the Critics Choice Award and Golden Globes may suggests that. Argo was a basic political thriller, where a CIA operative uses a fake movie project to get several US Embassy employees out of Tehran. The tension there was mainly the fear of being caught, or that the ruse may be exposed. What's so controversial about that?

Whoever wins Best Director at the Oscars should have an asterisk next to the name. While the list may be impressive, including two that made what could be the best indie and foreign movies of 2012, it will always be called incomplete.

For the record, I think Bigelow will get the Directors Guild Award, but Affleck's success shows the Best Director for 2012 may not be the one who will be holding an Oscar--or be allowed to compete for one.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2013 Oscars: Will They Be As Good As Nominations Show?

OK, since when have the nominations show for any awards show been just as entertaining as the awards themselves?
Answer: the Grammys these days. They're smart  to mix the nominations with good music.

Now, the decision to let Seth Macfarlane host the Oscars next month has apparently paid off. He and Emma Stone were entertaining, although one joke after the Foreign Film nominations may have been too early to tell. Seth even suggested having the nominations at 9 PM, instead of 5:38 AM to help out the AM shows back East. Well, mix in some movie clips, and you got a deal.

Now, as to the nominations themselves:

Kathryn Bigelow snubbed for Best Director for Zero Dark 30: apparently enough Oscar voters are just as sexist as the CIA agents Maya has to fight to find Osama Bin Laden.
Except for this: no Ben Affleck for Argo either.

The acting and screenplay nominations were as I expected, and most of the Best Picture choices. I was surprised by the love for Amour (not in Sacramento yet) and Django Unchained. I never thought Django would make Best Picture, but expected Waltz's nomination and original screenplay.

The Best Director race is the one big WTF part of this show. Bigelow had to deal with a sudden rewrite in the script when we did get Bin Laden. The movie was originally about how he got away. It would have also been almost patriotic to include her. I expect her to get awards from the Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes and Directors Guild, while she crosses her fingers for the film and Jessica Chastain. It wouldn't be the first time a director was honored by that person's peers, but ignored by the Academy. This may wind up to be the most unfortunate, especially if Zero Dark 30 gets Best Picture.

I'd like to blame this on the problems with the Oscar online voting. Apparently most would have preferred paper ballots, and maybe that would have changed things.

While The Avengers got a spot in Visual Effects, other sci-fi movies didn't exist in the eyes of the Academy. Naturally, this always happens. If you're funny or far space..forget it. Granted, Dark Knight Rises wasn't quite as good as Dark Knight (except for Anne Hathaway), but sound and visual effects were incredible. Maybe it would have gotten in, but Life of Pi may have gotten favor because it was able to recreate a CGI tiger so convincing it could almost eat Pi. Sorry, Batman.

So, my choices?

Hathaway and Lewis. Period!! After that....

Supporting Actor is a bit tough. I'd give it to Hoffman, but Waltz is VERY close behind
Chastain should have tied for Supporting Actress last year in The Help, but she'll have a tough battle with Jennifer Lawrence for Best Actress. Chastain will win.

Director seems to be a lock for Spielberg because the real competition is not there, but David O. Russell or Ang Lee could surprise.

Screenplay should go to Lincoln and Zero Dark 30.

Best Picture.........will be a movie. It'll be Lincoln, but should be Zero Dark 30.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Second Trophy Tour

Was it just two years ago that thousands of San Francisco Giants fans up and down California got a chance to see something they never saw up close before: a World Series trophy?

Well, we're getting another chance, like this fan:

Posing With The Trophies

The 2013 World Series Trophy Tour started in Sacramento this past January 8th, Unlike two years ago, it made only one stop at Sacramento City Hall. Last time, the team had two showings: the State Capitol in the morning and City Hall in the afternoon.

The tour started here:

The Start of the Line

The line started forming well before noon.

Coming Early For The World Series Trophies

Most wore Giants memorabilia, including jerseys of their favorite players...

The Bullpen's Moms?

This woman wore a big Giants blanket, as if she was prepared for a home game back in the Candlestick days...

Dressed For Candlestick Weather

In fact the line literally went around the block when the doors opened at around 2:30. Thanks to my ability to wait, developed when I waited HOURS to get an autograph of Quentin Tarantino at Comic-Con, it wasn't that bad.

Almost there

Even Mayor Kevin Johnson was there to welcome the fans who waited for this chance.

Mayor Kevin Johnson Welcomes Giants Fans

This time, I was not allowed to get a personal photo of myself with the trophies. I can order one through the team's website, like I did when I was at the Browncoats Cruise a few years back. So, here's a blast from my past in 2010...

Not Brian Wilson, but still

Notice back then, I had a piece of the 1989 World Series, plus the ticket stub to the last Candlestick game. This time, I wore an San Jose Giants jacket plus a World Series cap.

If you'd like to see both World Series trophies up close, click this link for the entire schedule.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In Sacramento, it's December 32nd, 2012

It's a tradition at Old Sacramento. Thousands of people gather to see fireworks and welcome the new year. There's no firm countdown, but when the fireworks explode, you say "Happy New Year". I've done this a few times, and play "Auld Lang Syne" on my iPod.

Since I had New Year's Eve 2012 free, I decided to go join the throngs after watching CNN ring in the New Year with the new traditional NYE hosts, Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper. We could always see Taylor Swift or whoever later on YouTube or DVR. It was around 35 degrees, but I wanted to brave the cold anyway

Then, I heard on News 10 that something happened at this bar....

Where New Year's Eve Was Cancelled

Bullets flew, two people died, three were injured, and thousands of people were told to go home. Instead of people cheering when the clock struck 12, the only people in Old Sacramento were police looking for the culprit who ruined New Year's Eve in the worst possible way

I sent to Old Sac around eleven a-m New Year's Day, and it was nearly deserted. There were some stores open, but it was mostly a few people and TV reporters...

Press gathers the day after the NYE that never was

At the foot of that picture was a New Year's Eve horn that went unused. Here's a closer look, which symbolized the whole night....

Leftover of a NYE celebration

I also woke up around eight a-m by the sound of someone setting off firecrackers. I wondered why until I later found out it was really the fireworks that weren't used the night before. (Update: Sacramento officials said they had to get rid of the fireworks as soon as possible because of the danger. That makes sense).

I was ready to welcome the new year with a Twinkie, Auld Lang Syne and a bottle of beer near Tower Bridge. Instead, I watch TV, switching Ryan Seacrest, Carson Daly, and an attempt by an L-A station to have its own West Coast version of ringing in the new year. It wasn't good, but hopefully they'll try again by using KTLA instead of KDOC, and getting better entertainment.
Having it at Grauman's Chinese was a good idea, but how they hoped to make a California version of Times Square didn't work out. They should try again. KRON did something like this way back in the 1980's.

Even though 2013 did not start off well, it doesn't mean the whole year's ruined. We can do better. There's plenty of time. I think when we welcome 2014 364 days from now, we'll make sure we will get to sing Auld Lang Syne from the Southern Pacific station to the Tower Bridge.