Thursday, October 31, 2013

ICWXP: More Bad Shorts, New Eyes, and a New Villain (Update: and a new van!)

It's been nearly a year since we last heard from our heroes known as Incognito Cinema Warriors XP, otherwise known as life in the zombie apocalypse that's not in The Walking Dead.

While Rifftrax just mocks bad movies, and Cinematic Titanic heads towards the sunset, ICWXP reminds us that the host segments, the comedy in between the movies, are very important. That's how we see Rick Wolf, TopsyBot 5000, Johnny Cylon, and Flux Namtari deal with being trapped in a movie theater in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

The episodes are becoming more ambitious, too. When season 2 started, the DVDs ran only 45 minutes. This new DVD runs a whopping 90 minutes, not including extras. In the commentary track, Rikk says mixing a real story with movie mockery, as MST did in the SyFy days, makes it different.

In "Fahrenheit Cine-A-Sorrow", there's some changes, like TopsyBot getting a new head and the lobby getting a new candy counter. The zombies seem to communicate through long moans that are actually profound discussions about existence...or World War Z. However, there's something else, as shown below....

So who's behind all this? We'll get to that later.
Cylon is trying to make a documentary about life at the theater, and tries to set off an argument between Topsybot and Rick. What happens is childish yet compelling, and it's all too much for Topsybot. He goes into an electric stroke, and finds himself in the ultimate Hell: an Adam Sandler film festival. Actually, he got a new head, paid for by fans.
Then Cylon interrogates Birkin, one of the Ludovico lackeys strapped to a chair. There's a mysterious brownout, which gives Spencer, the other lackey, a chance to escape from being forced to see "Soapy the Germ Fighter" over and over again.

Afterwards, we have the first short, "The Haunted Mouth", where Colgate uses the evil voice of Cesar Romero to threaten kids about the dangers of plaque. Here's the first couple of minutes...

Plaque basically dares kids to brush their teeth every day, and in a disturbing fashion that makes Topsy say, "Brush your teeth like a bad girl."

During intermission, Birkin tries to get away, and Cylon tries to communicate with the head of Professor Zedikiah Logan, still a rotting head but now with a teddy bear. It's great they've found a new way to use Zed, who hasn't been seen since "Bloody Pit of Horror" back in 2009. It can only communicate through blinking, but not for long.

The second short talks about the wonders of coal-fired power plants, and how they make life in Ohio wonderful.

There's also riffs that have connections with MST3K. When a storm is brewing, threatening the power grid, Topsy says, "Diarrhea is like Lake Erie raging inside you." That sounds familiar to hardcore MSTies.  Then, when Rikk asks who Jam Handy is (yes, the Jam Handy that gave us "Hired!"), Cylon says he's "someone who gets mad fun of by robots a lot".

Afterwards, they get another brownout, and their mysterious friend, Bottomless Epiglottis, says it's due to a computer virus. It can fix the problem, but it needs the password....from Zed.
After some "negotiation" with Zed, plus a special device that's provided by the late great Dr. Blackwood, they fix the problem. In fact, it gives Zed a new voice, which helps him express a lot of anger through very long words.

However, that's not the end. There's a new set of villains called the Order of Mortis, a cult that wants to take over the theater and lead the world to a new beginning. They've already recruited the zombie that was captured at the start of the show.

So how do they think the theater will help them fulfill their mission? Well, you'll never know unless you get the next DVD, right?

"Fahrenheit Cine-A-Sorrow" includes shorts on the new fan-funded candy counter, Zed's new eye, and a tribute to the Dickinson 6, which was used as the exterior to Cine-A-Sorrow. There's also a feature on how Topsybot got a new head, and was told to thank the fans, individually, who helped pay for them, and a visit to the Transworld Halloween convention in Saint Louis.

As mentioned before, Rikk comments on the action. He had planned two scenes with Flux, and some others, but that didn't work out. He also says creating that cult was needed to develop a major villain for the show. His comments do go all over the place, from how Dexter ended to what could have ended season two of the show but won't. It shows he's devoted to this show and so should we. If there's anyone who deserves a $60 million Powerball ticket, or a cable network, to keep this franchise going, it's him. 

"Fun With Shorts" has a short on Thanksgiving in this DVD. Here's the link to it. This episode will keep you going through Halloween, Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving.
Finally, there are easter eggs in the second (light up the straw), third (popcorn kernel) and fourth (lemonhead) chapter menus.

You can order a copy of "Fahrenheit Cine-A-Sorrow" plus other episodes, through this link.

UPDATE:   Rikk and the boys wanted an old van that they'll turn into the zombie killing leviathan, the "Necrogon". They raised 1500 bucks towards that plan, and early Halloween afternoon, this was added to their website:

They'll need to get the van zombie-fighting ready, and meet other needs in the future. You can chip in by clicking here, and get additional rewards depending on the size of the donation. If the season finale is really going to be two hours, including a whole movie, it'll take a lot of green to get it going.

One more thing, I got Supersonic Man, one of the latest Rifftrax VOD offerings. I wanted to know how bad it is compared to, say, Puma Man. This movies makes Puma Man look like The Dark Knight.

It's a European Superman knockoff with a bland European guy who talks into his watch to be a super hero, an annoying drunk, and Cameron Mitchel (and the guy dubbing him) over-acting. It makes you really appreciate Donald Pleasence, or Krankor for that matter. That's despite a scene where Dr. Gulik (Mitchel) tells a kidnapped scientist, "Today is a great day for science", and Kevin Murphy riffs, "Big Bang Theory has been cancelled".  There's also a callback on The Room, and riffs on Windows 8, "western music", Dog the Bounty Hunter, Charlie Brown, Costco, Kickstarter, Michael Bay and the Wiggles.  Mike also turns Supersonic Man's awful theme into a nice jingle for a local shopping center. Good thing he didn't try it with the theme song from the Spanish version.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Riffrax Live: Return of the Night of the Living Dead

The week before Halloween, the Rifftrax gang presented a ghoulish display of one man’s living nightmare….then showed the classic zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead.

A sellout crowd in Nashville, Tennessee and thousands more at theaters across the country enjoyed a night of cinematic horror, punctuated by funny comments. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett presented an improved print, and also improved sarcasm, of the classic George Romero movie. There were some jokes left over from the original DVD, but they took out the riffs about women, Keith Olbermann, Ron Paul, and the Steelers (since the movie was filmed near Pittsburgh). The new version added jokes about Crocodile Dundee, Game of Thrones, cab drivers who hate to go to Brooklyn, non-alcoholic weddings, Les Miserables, To Kill a Mockingbird, Nancy Grace, Microsoft Zune, Miley Cyrus,  Orville Redenbacher, and Birdemic.

It’s also fun to compare the original DVD  to the live show. Mike starts off with this comment during the long driving scene in  the opening credits: “If they pass a sign that says ‘Valley Lodge’, I’m leaving.” This was followed by…

The first zombie attacks Johnny and Barbara at the cemetery:

DVD: C’mon, lady, ward him off with your giant forehead.
Live: Knock off the fighting. What do you think this is, an Irish wedding?

Ben, the male lead, shows up at the abandoned house surrounded by zombies.

DVD: Apparently the zombies were emanating that weird mosquito noise
Live: Young President Obama, thank God you’re here!

He tries to comfort a stunned Barbara:

DVD: She’s got gonna sing, is she?
Live: Lars and the Real Girl had more chemistry. (TV’s Frank would be so proud)

A naked female zombie is seen from the back

DVD: How come every time a naked chick shows up at your doorstep she’s either a zombie or she just escaped from some lunatic’s basement?
Live: She’s not a zombie. She just likes to par-tay! (No gorilla grams, either)

The Coopers are in the basement, thinking they're safe, but Tom, who's upstairs, says he and Ben found a TV.
DVD:  You're still not allowed to come up. Just wanted to tell ya
Live:  We can watch The Walking Dead. (that was the most inevitable joke that night)

Tom asks Judy why she always has a smile for him

DVD:  I like marshmallows.
Live:  Dianetics

While the riffers are glad the zombies are not Instagramming the human remains they’re eating, they see a zombie enjoying an arm too much

DVD: It isn’t disgusting enough to eat corpses, now they went and got KFC.
Live: Tori Amos has gone feral.

The most tragic line of the show occurred when we see Helen Cooper dead after her zombie daughter Karen stabbed her:

DVD: Finds a spotlight as she’s dying. That’s true show biz spirit, folks.
Live: She’s been spade (or spayed). This got Bill fired for ten seconds.

Once this show is available on VOD, it’s certain to replace the DVD version as the definitive riff on this classic movie.

Before that, fans saw true horror in a new “Norman Krasner” short where he is told by his boss to write a speech and presentation with hardly any time to prepare. Just like the other shorts, everything goes wrong. The cleaning lady vacuums some of the slides then pours coffee on his notes. It ends, quite appropriately, with a sprinkler system pouring water on Norman just as his speech collapses in a pile of failure. These shorts were supposed to teach business people how to prepare for the unexpected, but with so many things going wrong for Norman, the moral seems to be, “we’re doomed, so why bother?” There’s jokes about Transformers 3 and Eeyore, while Norman is left asking the question, “Where the Hell is my dignity?”

It was also announced the first “Norman Krasner” short, which was given to certain backers of the Kickstarter project, will be available to everyone next month. I’ve seen it already, and have this review. It’s black and white and also a horror story.

Rifftrax had its traditional 30-minute “fun facts” show, including haikus, costume ideas like dressing as a Native American dressing as Johnny Depp, and the next great horror flick title: Freddy vs. Jason vs. Milo and Otis.

The winners of a caption contest were also announced. This is the picture…

My entry was: “They’re not only saying Grace, they’re eating her, too.”
It couldn’t compare to the winner, “Steve, the other white meat.”. Second place went to “Subway: Eat Flesh”, which I think should have won.

After Halloween, preparations for Christmas start almost immediately. Rifftrax will be ready on December 5th to take on, yet again, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. If it can re-riff Manos and Mr. B Natural, Santa on Mars, not to mention Droppo and Tor the Robot, aren’t safe either. 

One more thing: the closing credits included the names of people who donated at least $125 to the Kickstarter campaign. They were supposed to be included  after the Starship Troopers show last August.

One of those names: someone claiming to be Faith Lehane. According to the "Thanks" page, she's listed as "Faith L.", but the credits had her last name, too. It might be her, but you'd also expect Buffy to drop a few dollars to Rifftrax.

Maybe Rifftrax’s next Kickstarter event should be Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the movie….and Nick Brendon is invited to help out. Just an idea.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cinematic Titanic's Secret Episode: The Heat Blu-Ray

What if you mixed Miss Congeniality with Lethal Weapon, and got the guy who directed Bridesmaids as the cook? You'd get The Heat, a different kind of buddy-cop movie that did very well at theaters.
Now, what would happen if you added three guys mocking it from beginning to end?
You'd get The Heat Blu-ray DVD, revealed as Cinematic Titanic's secret episode...or a secret episode by the original MST3K trio. Either way, all movie riff fans should get this DVD.

Sure, Sandra Bullock as the by-the-book FBI agent and Melissa McCarthy as a wild Boston cop produced a lot of laughs. However, the Blu-ray adds more laughs with a commentary track from director Paul Feig, and from McCarthy's fictional family. The best option, though, is hearing Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and J. Elvis Weinstein commenting on it.

The riffs start at the opening 20th Century Fox logo ("You know you're a successful company when you've outlived your logo") to the ending credits where the trio explain how they know Feig (mainly because of Freaks and Geeks), which led to this.

They waste no time dissing Bullock, as FBI agent Ashburn leading a raid ("Don't shoot him. I want to adopt him and make him play football"), and McCarthy, as Officer Mullins, claiming she's the love child of a disturbing combination that not even Conan O'Brien could imagine in his "If They Mated" bit. Joel even compares her to the Tasmanian Devil. This is barely scratching the surface, too. They fire riffs on Samuel L. Jackson, They Live, the NRA, MASH, The Deer Hunter and Neil Sedaka. They also wonder how Feig could afford to include Jack White in the soundtrack. They also have classic comments about Bullock's driving, and the scene where both girls finally let their hair down after ordering a "Scotch and Tape".

I thought Bullock was too uptight and nerdy, but she makes up for it in the last 20 minutes or so. McCarthy really goes all out as the wild cop, and once you see her family it explains everything about her.
Even if you're not a fan of the comedy, hearing the original MST3K trio comment on it makes this Blu-ray one of the best entertainment bargains in years.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cinematic Titanic: The Last Picture Show

Cinematic Titanic Posters

More than five years ago, five members of Mystery Science Theater 3000 decided to riff on movies again. They started with a test show at Industrial Light and Magic, did a few DVDs, then took to the road. It fulfilled a need...a need for cinematic justice.

Now, while Rifftrax, the other major movie riffing movement, is still going strong, the CT guys are making their last tour. They attracted a sell-out crowd of 1400 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco this past Saturday (10/19). It was a little different from its previous visits, but still very funny.

Dave "Gruber" Allen, who recently posed at the Really Groovy Pope on Conan, did a fine job filling in for Josh (J-Elvis) Weinstein, who is still ill but hopefully will be back for the grand finale. Aside from two very funny lip-synch performances, he also took Cinematic Titanic to the next drama!

Here with the former Forresters, Mary Jo Pehl and Trace Beaulieu, they perform the final scene from A Doll's House in a very Midwestern way. The best riff: "Oh, Torvald"...and Dean.

Then, Cable TV's Frank Conniff talks about how his career has changed, when he joined Totally Biased as a writer and budding Andy Rooney. He wanted to stay with Current after it changed to Al Jazeera America, and even pitched a show called "Sharia Law and Order." He also talked about bad pizza and artisan ice cream.

Then Joel Hodgson arrived to thank the fans for supporting Cinematic Titanic. He then went on to describe the 7 PM movie, The Doll Squad. Picture Angel's Revenge as produced by Russ Meyer, or someone who thought he was Meyer. Here's a sample:

The movie drowned out the riffs at first, but the sound mixing sounded better from my seat. Since this will be shown on the tour, the only riff you can expect is that the boat captain is mistaken for Catfish Hunter. They also got in some riffs on the government shutdown and the BART strike.

A lot of people wore MST3K and CT shirts, but this guy has the best costume with a Gizmonics jumpsuit and hardhat. His costume was impressive. There was also a woman dressed as Tom Servo, and a ticket taker who wore a Firefly sweatshirt. In the spirit of Halloween, we have this picture of the Castro Theater organist under the disturbing-looking Sketchfest spotlight

According to one person who stuck around for the 2nd movie (as reported at Satellite News), The Astral Factor, Trace had a short film where he plays "Dr. Eff" hoping to make a monster named Frank. That's one way to get around copyright infringement. Then someone asked a very complex question about an MST3K episode. Joel gave the only answer he could: "Just repeat to yourself, it's just a show"

I did ask Trace if there would be DVDs of The Astral Factor and The Doll Squad, and it seems there won't be. He confirmed that fact at the Satellite News site. I still tweeted a request to tape the final performance in late December. After all, if The Band did and created The Last Waltz, so can Cinematic Titanic. However, there is one "lost episode" that still exists: it's a commentary on the blu-ray of The Heat. That's right, people are riffing on a comedy that some people liked. There will be a review of this before the upcoming Rifftrax Live event this week, but some random thoughts about losing CT. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

It's A Long Way Down: A Review of "Gravity"

Imagine if you're working hundreds of miles in space, and an accident destroys your space shuttle.
Then you're losing oxygen...and you can't get help from the ground. No radio. No rescue.

Certain tragedy? In nearly all cases, but it's the ultimate challenge for Ryan Stone, an engineer on her first space mission who has to find a way to get home in Gravity. There has been massive buzz for this movie ever since it premiered in Venice and Telluride a couple of months ago. It is well-earned. This is just so different from other sci-fi films in the past 20 years. It creates an realistic possibility that most of us wouldn't want to think about, much less face: what if you are marooned in space, without the spacecraft you had? How could you get back to Earth, and survive trying?

It starts out calmly: Stone (Sandra Bullock) and retiring astronaut Mike Kowalski (George Clooney) are in a spacewalk and doing some repairs outside the Space Shuttle Explorer. One of the other crew members is nearby, while he tries to flirt with Stone. You may not notice because the opening scene will stun you. It's almost as if Bullock and Clooney are really in space. It's that good.
Then they find out a Russian satellite has exploded, and the debris caused a chain reaction destroying many other satellites. While Kowalski says it means "half of North American just lost Facebook", the debris is headed their way. It damages the shuttle, and kills nearly everyone on the crew. Just Stone and Kowalski are left, and they have to somehow find a way to get down. However, they can't contact Mission Control because communications are dead. They are on their own.

Kowalski, a seasoned vet, does his best to calm down Stone, and get her through this impossible situation. However, a crucial decision forces Stone to find a way to get back to solid ground. It involves getting to a nearby space station, and then another, with skill, nerve, and belief. That road is not easy to complete, either.
Director Alfonso Cuaron, and his brother Jonas, came up with a great story of survival. At one point in the story, there is a sudden twist which was a big disappointment...until we learn that it isn't. Also, it's amazing how Cuaron gives us a sense of floating through nearly all of the movie. Floating is safety, keeping one above all the cares of the world. Once the satellite debris hits the fan, then we have a need to hang on to our lives. Seeing Stone and Kowalski trying to avoid floating towards deep space is just unnerving. When the debris flies towards the screen, you will blink, guaranteed. That's how good the special effects are. You also know what it's like inside the space suit, not just outside.

The main reason to see this is Bullock. She plays a role that has never been done before: an astronaut who has to get back to Earth without a shuttle. First she has to rely on Kowalski, and then on herself. At one point, she tries to be Kowalski's lifeline, hoping that she can save him somehow. Seeing her face as she sees the shuttle torn to pieces by the debris will haunt you for some time. However, you'll also be impressed on Stone's process of gathering enough inner strength to somehow escape.

It may be six months before Oscar season, but Gravity should pick up two or three tech awards easy. Bullock may also be edging ahead of Cate Blanchett for Best Actress, but it's still early.
Four 3-D stars, period.

Rifftrax vs. Starship Troopers, Part 2

In a perfect world, Rifftrax fans would be paying $14.95 for the VOD of Rifftrax Live taking on the chessiest sci-fi war movie ever, Starship Troopers.

However, Sony Pictures didn't see it that way in this imperfect world. So, the mp3 was just released, which means people have to go get the Starship Troopers DVD, and have the Rifftrax Live experience at home.

The mp3 is virtually the same as the live riff  last August. My review of the original live show is here, including the riffs. There may be some additions here and there, or maybe some riffs I missed the first time around.
So, here's some extra highlights:

The heroes are at a high school prom, just before they go to war:

This is like The Deerhunter with perky kids.

A PSA asks "Are you psychic?"

Ricky Gervais, Hindu God

The notorious shower scene, where you get a good look at Dina Meyer's breasts, but....

Don't show (Jake) Busey's little busey

Johnny Rico is whipped for a fatal accident during training

My name is Douche Douche-tay (a reference to Roots)

The soldiers are surrounded by a lot of bugs. We see Lt. Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside), who has one arm, in the middle of it all

The Hell with this. I'm gonna drum for Def Leppard

The finale, where Neil Patrick Harris approaches the "Brain Bug":

Really, bug? A whole movie about going to White Castle? 

The riffs also take on Captain Kangaroo, American Apparel ads, Caddyshack, Albert Knobbs, Scanners, Katy Perry and Double Dare. I also learned two things about Denise Richards, who plays Carmen: she has the most blank face I have ever seen, and when she wears her hair in a bun, she'd be Justin Bieber's identical twin.
Also, here's a link to a new trailer to the Starship Troopers riff

I'm looking forward to an updated riff of Night of the Living Dead in theaters on the 24th, which is six days before Mike Nelson's 20th anniversary of his first MST3K episode as host. While Rifftrax has released a great mix of pre-riffed cheesy movies, it should go back to its bread and butter: skinning disappointing recent movies alive. It should be mocking Star Trek: Into Darkness, Oblivion and obviously The Lone Ranger by now. Let's hope their day of reckoning will arrive.