Wednesday, August 31, 2016

TV's Frank: The Man and His Movies In New Book

For five years and 109 episodes, TV's Frank Conniff was the loyal lackey on Mystery Science Theater 3000 to insane scientist Clayton Forrester:  the punching bag, the guinea pig, the eternal victim to Forrester's delusional plans to take over the world so his mother will finally love him (which was equally delusional)
Yet, when Frank was taken away by Torgo the White (or maybe Magic Jack Perkins in disguise), Dr. F was totally lost without him. The movie version is proof of that.

That's how important Frank was. He went on to write for a teenage witch and riff more movies through Cinematic Titanic. He's now got a podcast with fellow Mad Trace Beaulieu, and also was in the MST3K Reunion show that will be Rifftrax's biggest seller when it's available in two weeks.

So, what could be left...except write a book?

Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life In No Way Whatsoever is a very long title for a short book, but he goes into detail about his life on MST3K, gets in some comments about politics like he does on Twitter, and tries to remember movies he may or may not have seen as a kid.
And sometimes he talks about the movies he had to see before they were accepted as experiments for the show. Of course, he recalls how Sidehackers forced the staff to see all of the movie rather than first first half hour. However, he also wonders if Catalina Caper would have been a better beach movie if there was more Little Richard. He compares Gilligan's Island to Vietnam while trying to discuss The Beatniks, and thinks Attack of the the Eye Creatures should be on trial (and not just because of those pervy Army guys).

He also makes a good argument about how we should praise Ed Wood for his movies, not to bury him, only because he tried to make movies (and unlike that Eye Creatures movie, he really did care).
However, he also apologizes (again) for exposing the world to Manos, the Hands of Fate, and suspects that maybe George W. Bush was the closest thing we had to President Torgo.

After each chapter, there's a special note from the Federal Bureau of Incoherence which explains some of the references to those too young or old to remember them. That even includes explaining a long-forgotten Disney musical about a family who has their own band, and their last name is NOT Partridge. Clearly, we need such an organization to explain other references to people who may not understand...especially with the current presidential election.

It's interesting that the list of movies Frank chose are almost all episodes during the Joel Hodgson era. The exceptions are The Brain That Wouldn't Die and Red Zone Cuba. Naturally, Frank doesn't talk too much about the movies, but he wonders why The Beast With Two Heads didn't get riffed by MST3K..or why the Oscars didn't even nominate it for anything,  It's too bad he didn't get deeper in his final season, especially his last episode, Samson vs. the Vampire Women.

This isn't the first time Frank has tried to write essays on MST3K movies. In the Episode Guide, he looked at several movies including Time of the Apes, which was also examined in this book. In the Episode Guide, he talked about the "time code" incident where the movie seemed to have more endings than the last Lord of the Rings movie. In his book, he talked more about how funny talking animals are on TV and the movies, and how Ronald Reagan may have wound up doing that if he didn't go into politics. Apparently the trauma from the "time code incident"is still too painful. The "TV's Frank Pix" columns are very funny and are worth looking for.

Til then, this book is a great look inside TV's Frank from his career on MST3K to his views on movies, politics and everything else. If only there was a fake autobiography by Clayton Forrester on how he ruled the world after he ruined everyone's self-worth through bad movies. Of course, he would write it the day before the first experiment back in 1988, and none of it happened, but it would be a great read.
Your move, Mr. Beaulieu.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review of Rifftrax's "Ruby": Carrie On, My Exorcist/Psycho/Tennessee Williams Puree

This tweet from Rifftrax says it all about the latest VOD title:

It's been days and we're still not sure
What IS Ruby?

Well, it was Piper Laurie's first movie after getting an Oscar nomination as Carrie's crazy religious mom. Judging by this character, it's hard to say who's more nuts: Margaret White, the mom who was driven insane by the shame of illicit sex that she enjoyed and convinced the product of that sin is her telekinetic daughter, or Ruby, a woman who lives in a former roadhouse in a swamp next to a drive-in that shows a movie that was made seven years after the movie is set. Then again, Ruby also feels guilty that maybe it's partially her fault the father of her mute crazy daughter got gunned down by the mob--who now works at her drive-in.

Rifftrax has several bad horror movies in its library, like The Last Slumber Party, Fever Lake, Sisters of Death, Terror at Tenkiller, Ghosthouse and Troll 2. However, none can compare with Ruby, made by a guy who decided to take chunks of Carrie, The Exorcist, maybe a dash of Sunset Boulevard and every Tennessee Williams play, put it in a movie blender and push "puree".

Ruby Claire was a singer who was in love with a gangster named Nicky and got pregnant by him. In 1935, they were about to have a rendezvous at a Florida swamp when several mobsters decided to shoot him down. She then went into labor, and gave birth to a daughter named Leslie

Sixteen years later, Ruby runs a drive-in next to the swamp, and the mobsters are her employees. No explanation why, of course. She drinks a lot and walks around in slinky clothes. Actually, she looks better than Mrs. White in Carrie. For some reason, the drive-in is showing Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (which should be an MST target someday since the title character is played by Alison Hayes, the evil bar owner in past MST target Gunslinger), which was made seven years after the movie is set. If the movie decided it was set in 1958, it would have looked a little better.

While people watch a movie from the future, the staff gets killed in pretty strange ways, One is found dead in a vending machine, while another is impaled on the drive-in screen. Ruby, meanwhile, is convinced Nicky has come back from the grave for revenge. He even possesses his mute daughter Leslie and literally speaks through her at one point. Thing is, when he does that, he tries to come on to Ruby. Yep, dead  Nicky is in Leslie's body trying to seduce Ruby. He didn't think this one out.
Still, he knows how to make his presence known, driving in his ghost car with bullet wounds on his face, or trying to talk to Ruby through the drive-in speakers.

There's a doctor of parapsychology played by Roger Davis who tries to exorcise Leslie, but only succeeds in seeing how flexible she is. Also, for some reason, the movie poster emphasizes Leslie over the title character...

In the end, Ruby decides to walk into the swamp to be reunited in death with Nicky, and looking damn good in a slinky red dress. Too bad the director decided at the last second to have Nicky's skeleton kill Ruby.
And you thought what happened to Zindy the Swamp Boy made less sense.

It's a miracle Piper Laurie washed this "movie" out of her hair and the rest of her body. She would go on to success in TV and movies (including an Emmy and a third Oscar nomination), but it's safe to say she'd rather not talk about making Ruby, unless she finds her way to a Comic-Con or two.

Enough of this, though. The important thing is that the Rifftrax crew gets in some really good riffs.

The start of the credits
Can we skip to the ending where Jason Voorhees jumps out of that water?

The projectionist notices something is wrong
Did I forget to pay the evil bill last month?

Ruby recalling the old days when she could sing and dance
This is if the Three Stooges made Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Ruby looks at her mute daughter Leslie, and wonders what she's thinking.
Are you thinking you look like Truman Capote in a wig and a nightgown?

There's also riffs on Back to the Future, Kenny Rogers, Zooey Deschanel, Swamp of the Ravens and Game of Thrones.
If you dare, you can find Ruby here, and other titles at

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

MST3K's OTHER New Network

We all know the new version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is coming to Netflix next year, but some fans may not be aware it will also join another network in a couple of weeks.

Comet TV, a sci-fi channel owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, has been around since last Halloween. It's been best known for showing cheesy sci-fi movies like Troll 2, The Raven, In the Year 2889 and Terrordactyl, along with Stargate SG-1, Johnny Sokko and both versions of The Outer Limits. Now, it's announced it will air Mystery Science Theater 3000 every Sunday starting September 4th, It already has its own section to the website which includes a complete episode guide. Does this mean all episodes will be airing on Comet?

Well, we do know that when it starts on the 4th, Comet will have Manos and Teenagers From Outer Space. (Update: it will air Attack of the Giant Leeches and Wild, Wild World of Batwoman on the 11th.) It's expected to have two episodes every Sunday night.
Thing is, Comet has NO press release on which episodes it will be airing, When Retro TV started airing MST3K a couple of years ago, it provided a list of episodes it would air. It's added another 26 this year, but didn't reveal which ones ahead of time. The ones that arrived were pleasant surprises, including Killer Shrews, The Beatniks, Swamp Diamonds, Hercules Unchained and Bloodlust.

If Comet is airing MST, will that mean Retro will let the Satellite of Love go? I have tried everything from social media to e-mails, but it's not saying anything. As of now, it's still on the schedule, and Retro could air Manos the day before Comet does.

I also sent an e-mail to Comet about its plans for MST3K. It says it answers every e-mail, and I am hoping that includes mine.

Fortunately, I have heard from fellow MSTies who have said Retro is keeping the show, and it looks like Retro and Comet will have two sets of MST3K episodes to show. So far, though, both packages seem to overlap. If Comet wants to stand out, it should promote episodes Shout Factory doesn't have. Imagine the excitement of showing Amazing Colossal Man, Rocketship X-M, Hellcats, Monster-A-Go-Go, or Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders. Even some titles it does have, including Catalina Caper or Space Travelers, would also be great.
UPDATE:  Comet told me through Facebook it's airing "a season of its best episodes". That could mean the top 22 episodes out of the whole series, but no specifics on which episodes it will offer.

It's surprising that as recently as three years ago, the only place to see MST3K episodes is through DVDs and YouTube..and circulating the tapes. Now, two over-the-air digital channels are showing classic episodes, and Netflix will present the next generation
These are good days in the not-too-distant present.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Review: Mothra Doesn't Soar High Enough in Rifftrax Live Event

After last June's historic MST3K reunion, it would be tough for the Rifftrax Three (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett) to produce another classic riff event.

They did their best with the 1961 kaiju classic Mothra, but the riffing didn't soar as it should. Much of the fault should be in the movie itself. While it's about a big moth, most of the movie shows an evil guy named Nelson from Rolisica (a heavily biased version of the US) stealing a couple of tiny singers known as Shobijn (Secret Fairies) to make money. He doesn't care that their god, Mothra, will kick serious kaiju butt unless he brings them back. It's also strange he seems to have control of Rolisican military to keep the girls although he's just a shady businessman. You might call this movie "Mothra: Not Without My Shobijin".
It's also interesting that instead of some pesky kid trying to defend the main monster, it's the press hoping to appease Mothra by getting the girls back. They really don't encounter Mothra until the end, when the reporters hope Mothra will be back soon to devastate the OTHER half of New Kirk City (not New York City, because it's not in Rolisica).

Some of the riffs were pretty weird, too. When Nelson sees the two girls, we hear this riff...
Do you know what Woody Allen would pay for these two?
That was a bit too edgy for some, but you should have heard the riff that followed a sign that says "The Secret Fairies Show". Let's just say it refers to two familiar leading men.

Other riffs...

Mothra as a larvae about to spin a cocoon
You call that a cocoon movie? Where the Hell is Wilford Brimley?

When they arrive in Infant Island, they're surprised to see a big forest.
It's a Bob Ross painting. So many happy trees.

A pesky fat kid finds the twins
The moon is wearing a hat.

Mothra finally shows up, fully formed
Its adorableness will destroy us all. 

There's also riffs on Pink Lady and Jeff (way too old of a reference), Hello Kitty, the Twilight books (damn vampire plants) Johnny Cash, Branson, and the Cowboy Junkies.

Before the movie, the crew took on a strange short about the importance of soap, Soapy the Germ Fighter. It involves a kid who hates to wash being visited by a bar of soap with legs but no pants. The crew was a bit disappointed Soapy didn't show the kid a world without soap, like Coily the Demon Spring showed "no springs, cuckoo" to some guy.
This is also the second time the Rifftrax crew took on a short that was also riffed by Incognito Cinema Warriors XP. Here's the link to how Rikk Wolf and his crew dealt with Soapy (at the 26-minute mark).

Although Mothra was funny, it wasn't as good as MST3K's take on Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, which also features the Shobijin trying to wake Mothra up after her tough battle with Ghidorah, and get her to help Godzilla stop some evil army or something. That was strange.

Next up for Rifftrax will be Carnival of Souls, about a girl who survives a car crash and encounters a spooky carnival. It's believed to be have influenced the films of George Romero and David Lynch, and has the most annoying organ music. Despite the fact its DVD has some impressive extras, it's also one of the first movies Rifftrax has targeted. The DVD used to be offered, but Yahoo View has it for your enjoyment. They're expected to present a restored and colorized 80-minute version when the show airs October 27th. The only question whether a color version will make the movie, or at least the organ music, spookier,

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review of Sausage Party: We Eat What We Are

So far this year, we have seen a world where animals live together in harmony (more or less), what pets do when their masters are at work, and an absent-minded fish look for her family. It's been a typical year for animation, and there's still Animal American Idol, a kid with two strings and another Disney movie yet to premiere.

Yet this year may be remembered for Seth Rogen deciding to produce a movie that has one of the most bizarre premises ever: what do food think before we eat them?

Well, they have pretty strange ideas about what life is all about..and maybe their sex drives, too.
But first things first.

Sausage Party had a successful sneak preview at Comic-Con last month, and scored 34 million dollars last weekend, just behind Suicide Squad. It's an interesting try at making animation for adults. It was more strange than hilarious, but you can't help but think the edible characters are pretty much like us.

As the meat, bread and produce at the supermarket see it, the customers are gods, and they take the food to "The Great Beyond". Somehow, they don't know what the "Gods" do after that.
The story features Frank, a hot dog voiced by Rogen, who hopes the fill the bun of Brenda, voiced by Kristen Wiig. The way she's baked, she is the Jessica Rabbit of baked goods. A short weiner named Barry (Michael Cera) is worried that he'll be able to fill a bun.

Anyway, they're hoping to reach the Great Beyond when a crazy jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) who was returned claims the Great Beyond is a lie. After a crash between two shopping carts, Frank and Brenda get separated from their friends. They do meet a bagel (Edward Norton) and and a lavash (David Krumholtz), who complain about shelf space in a familiar way, They also have to deal with a douche (Nick Kroll) who's mad that he lost his chance to reach the Great Beyond (or at least the woman who wanted to buy him).

As for the grocery items who do make the Great Beyond, they find out the hard way what the Gods really do. Barry tries to escape and winds up crossing paths with a guy that enjoys "bath salts" (James Franco).

Frank wants to know the truth about the Great Beyond, and learns it from Firewater (Bill Hader) and couple of non-perishable items (Craig Robinson and Scott Underwood). Brenda doesn't want to know because she thinks she's being punished for just touching Frank by the tips. She does get attention from Teresa (Selma Hayek), a lesbian taco shell.

So how can the food fight back against the Gods who buy them? There is a solution, but it's rather drastic. That's followed by an all-out orgy you can't unsee, and a pretty weird ending.

Seeing the secret lives of food is an unusual idea, and the movie pulls it off by making some comments about religion, and what we believe is the Great Beyond for us. The ending was weak, though. There were also too many stereotypes, especially how the Chinese and Mexican foods were portrayed. Then again, how can you come up with a happy ending for those whose destiny is being in our stomachs?

It's safe to say someone will come up with a better animated movie with lots of sex and profanities, but Sausage Party is a decent attempt at making Pixar After Dark.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Review of Suicide Squad or How To (Almost) Get Away With Bad Filmmaking

When DC comic book fans were disappointed by Batman v. Superman:  Dawn of Justice, they were hoping the next movie, Suicide Squad, would be the one to get the DC-verse back on track and maybe make the MCU look over its shoulder.

That hope continued through Comic-Con and all the promos. If it's gotten to the point that super heroes are battling each other, maybe some villains can be cajoled into helping their fellow man. After all, they can rub it into the faces of the hero that's always bugging them.

Well, it worked as well as B v. S, sadly. Despite really good performances by Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad fell flat because, like B v. S, it was another prologue to the Justice League movie that's really the beginning of the DC-verse. For one thing, the crew faces a villain worse than Zod and Lex Luthor Being the Riddler, and it was sort of the fault of the person who organized the squad. It also inserts two heroes that are featured in the Justice League trailer.

Anyway, the squad is organized by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who thinks that the best way to deal with an evil Superman is recruit the worst villains to fight against this threat. Along with Deadshot and Quinn (who still misses her Mr. J, played by Jared Leto) the crew includes Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Slipknot (Adam Beach), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje),   Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and anthropologist Dr. June Moone, or rather the monster that possesses her, Enchantress (Cara Delevigne). The guy directing them on the ground is Rick Flagg, played by Joel Kinneman. He only thinks he's in charge.

Here's where Suicide Squad makes its big mistake.  Waller thinks she can control Enchantress by taking its heart, while Rick thinks he can do the same by loving the human side of her. That's how Waller can get Enchantress to take some key intel from Iran faster than Dr, Strange can travel through portals in his movie trailer. However, she double-crosses them both and revives her "brother." They plan to build a machine that would destroy mankind.
Sound familiar? It's the same Big Bad plan that Batman v. Superman had. It's less complex than Lex Luthor combining his DNA with the body of General Zod to create Apocalypse, but it shows a lack of imagination. Besides, her plan is mostly making soldiers easily broken by Harley's sweet swings with her bat, while dancing in one spot to make her machine like a showgirl. This movie didn't need her, or the romantic angle Waller sort of encouraged.

Waller should have been the Big Bad. It was her idea to create the squad, so have her create a problem to justify her idea and make sure no one knows. Then have the Joker make things more complicated by trying to take over the situation. This would have forced Harley to decide whether to stick with the squad, or go over to Joker...or maybe get him to help when things go really wrong. That would have made things better, just enough to give DC fans hope as we wait for Wonder Woman's movie to be shown.
And why shouldn't Waller be the Big Bad? Viola Davis shows she's about as ruthless as anyone, trying to make her own Injustice League. Still, you have to wonder if Annalise Keating could have done better.

Instead, we have the squad squabbling with each other as they get through the disaster Enchantress has started. In fact, we only get to see her destruction sparingly until the final act. There are pretty good moments, like Diablo explaining how his power has cost him too much, and Harley recalling how she jumped into a boiling vat to show her devotion to the Joker. That was a nice callback to the 1989  Batman movie.

The biggest crime is that the Joker doesn't play a major role. We see him be evil and nuts. Leto's performance takes a bit from Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger's interpretations, but it's basically him being creepy. At least with Ledger, he went the extra mile because of the story. You think Leto will really make things interesting once he comes for Harley, but the story has other ideas. It may give Robbie a great opportunity to make Harley special by herself, but it ruined Leto's chance to show how special his Joker can be,

There are good parts in the movie, especially how the squad members are introduced. They also do a lot to show how Deadshot may be a very bad man, but he's also a loving father. It's because Will Smith plays him, and winds up being the most heroic of the bad guys. Maybe the Justice League will give him a call. You have to wonder if Deadshot would be darker if someone else played him.

Overall, DC fumbled again because Suicide Squad tried to be just like BvS only with bad guys and a Big Bad who was just like Apocalypse. Besides, couldn't Enchantress go all over the city to pick up parts for her Darkness Machine instead of having her "brother" do all the heavy lifting? If they took another route, like Waller causing the catastophe to justify the need for a Suicide Squad, it would have been better.

There is a post-credit scene that shows what the movie really is:  another prologue for the real start of the 'verse, the Justice League movie. At least all Marvel movies may be connected, but they are also their own stories. Warner Brothers and DC better figure that out fast, or the Guardians of the Galaxy will lap them twice.