Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rifftrax at the SF Sketchfest or the Dress Rehearsal to the MST3K Reunion

Suffering for me, fun for you--Rifftrax's new slogan (thanks, Kevin)

In two months, thousands of fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will gather at theaters near them to see history being made: Mike Nelson joining Joel Hodgson and Jonah Ray mocking bad movies in the ultimate passing of the torch. Not only that, most of the MST alumni will be there...and maybe two people that represent the future (fingers still crossed).

What will it be like to see up to ten people riffing at once? Actually, those who attended the San Francisco Sketchfest already got a good idea three months ago when Rifftrax had its annual Night of the Shorts. The event was released for streaming this week.

While it's the longest VOD offering Rifftrax has ever offered at just over two hours, the show only features seven shorts. Actually, one short is several depressing scenes from a marriage in Canada, and another is part of a 1949 serial with Batman and Robin. It was a chance to mock a superhero that was expected to make a big splash in the movies two months later. He wound up making something else, but that's another rant.

Actually, the selection of shorts is a very good sample of the kinds of shorts that Rifftrax offers on its website. The Trouble With Women and One Got Fat are from the first two DVD collections, while Dining Together was a Thanksgiving offering from last year that would really fit well (?) with Fun in Balloonland. It's too bad the narrator for Dining Together is more stiff than the voice of IBM's Watson. The drunk narrator from Balloonland would have been better.

The short that got the most attention was David and Hazel, a Canadian feature that shows how important it is to communicate. It's about a husband who stops at nothing to avoid talking to his wife, even when he's worried he'll lose his job in a merger. He gets upset when his wife serves roast beef ("What do you think we are, millionaires?", a line that generated lots of riffs), but can't talk to his son (although it could be that he was born with lockjaw). This was shown in two parts, with Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson riffing on part one (and showing what "great pals" they are) and Janet Varney and Cole Stratton taking on part two. It's safe to say this short was more tedious and depressing than Setting Up A Room in last year's Sketchfest.
They also mentioned Kevin and Bill made their own version of the last scene:

A short on improving pronunciation is "disguised" as a TV show with teens talking about stuff in a groovy way. The host explains how some teens are smudgers and grunters, which doesn't sound as cool as being a Rocker or a Mod. One of the riffers describes it as "Sesame Street if the Muppets were weirder looking". The fact the host uses the teens' mispronounced words against them doesn't help, either.

The real test, though, was bringing all the riffers back to take on chapter three of the Batman and Robin serial, "Robin's Wild Ride". Apparently that took place when their villain, the Wizard, hijacked their car by remote control.

Usually I single out some riffs, and this will be no exception. The live riffs for Trouble With Women and One Got Fat weren't changed that much compared to the original. However, Bill got in a "Gamergate" riff for the first, and an Eminem riff on the other.
Here's a couple from Dining Together, recreating way too many typical holiday dinners:
It's like chewing a piece of grandma
Daddy says you're easy. What does that mean?

On David and Hazel, he explains how he keeps his wife in the dark about his problems:
Just gotta keep her heavily sedated.
Or how he deals with his son having to choose between his paper route and the track team:
"Who do you think is going to help you make up your own mind when you're a man?"
There's also riffs on Glenn Miller, Requiem For A Dream and Cheers.

As for the Batman and Robin short, let's start with them puzzled that there are opening credits in front of them:
Holy Typography!
The DVD gets stalled in the middle, leaving the cast lost on what to do next.
"Somebody kick the DVD. Still faster than David and Hazel". Janet does volunteer to be a jury, but Cole says they're Two Angry Men short.
The best riff was when the Wizard's men hijacked a truck by pretending to have car trouble.
Why is the engine wearing a little gangster hat? Ah, gangsters!
There's also riffs on James Franco, Thomas the Tank Engine and Spencer's Gifts.

Aside from the stalled DVD, the riffing for the last short was pretty smooth. It's a great dress rehearsal for what's coming June 28th. The Sketchfest is available here, and the Rifftrax website has more shorts and movies available.
Also a reminder, the live riffing for Time Chasers is coming May 5th, about the same time some superhero movie gets an early premiere. Well, the heck with costumed guys who can't get along. They'll have to wait while we see if time travel is possible with a Commodore 64. Tickets for Time Chasers are available at the Fathom Events website.

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