Saturday, November 30, 2013

MST3k Month The Final: Conclusions/On Riffing

Well, it's been a fun month here. I got to celebrate 25 years of one of the most fun cult TV series out there. Sure, there were points that hurt - it's amazing how much the riffing numbs the pain of seeing Joe Don Baker have sex - but in general, this was a really enjoyable retrospective for me.

It was really appropriate that I started this month off with catching one of the final shows of Cinematic Titanic's tour. For those who don't know, Cinematic Titanic is one of the two offshoots through which the cast and crew of MST3k continued to do what they do best. Where RiffTrax includes Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy, Cinematic Titanic is/was the team of Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Mary Jo Pehl, Frank Conniff, and Josh Weinstein. While RT has the bigger national coverage, part of the tradeoff is that CT is more of a live venue experience. By this, I mean they will actually tour to different theaters, screen the film there, and do the riffs in front of the audience. The reason this was their final tour, and a side effect of the nature of their show, is that it was getting harder for everyone to keep the schedules lined up. Suffice it to say, I was really glad to get the chance to see them before they went (they may come back at some point, but for now, they're treating this as a farewell tour.) It was a very pleasant surprise to see how gentle time has been to everyone - both in terms of the fact they've physically aged well, but also in the fact they're still as entertaining as they were back when the show was on the air. Sure, we had a couple of minor callbacks to the heyday (Joel's bringing back "It stinks!" from Pod People was a nice surprise) but mostly, this was new material that showed they still had it after all this time. It was a great night seeing a team of consummate showmen (OK, more accurately four showmen and a that the term?) in the element where they operate best.

Why am I bringing this up?

Two reasons - the first, the above mentioned conclusions. Between this and the Rifftrax Live performances have seen (care of the simulcasts, admittedly) it's pleasantly surprising to see how everyone from the show's core cast and writers are still at it, even with the show over. They've found new ways to expand on the ideas beyond what they could do in the show format, and still kept the same magic that made the show great coming even nowadays. It makes a very encouraging sight to see all the old cast and crew aren't content to simply rest on the laurels, but rather keep working at what they started with the show 25 years ago.

The second leads to an interesting discussion point I had come to mind during this month. Now, as a general rule, when I watch a film for a writeup, I also make it a point to research what other information I can about it. You know, production history, odd bits of trivia, etc. The kind of stuff which, while it doesn't change how you watch a film, does make for some interesting things to keep in mind regarding certain aspects of it. Naturally, IMDb tends to be a good jumping off point in this regard. This then lead to an odd sidestop while I was looking up information regarding Danger: Diabolik.

I know that, as a general rule, IMDb comments are akin to YouTube comments with the text limiter turned off. That, as a general rule, they're one of those boards where the comments are best ignored, because there is always ALWAYS going to be that one case that leads you to walk away going "No. Really. What the HELL?" In this wasn't really one case. Rather, it was an entire five page debate raging starting from someone's anger that the folks at Best Brains would riff Diabolik as a movie. They saw this as a great personal insult, suggesting that the entire purpose of it was simply to tear down a movie out of some misguided spite - all while either failing to realize, or appreciate, the fact that they were doing the very same thing to the folks of MST3k. But then, the Internet isn't exactly great at the whole self-awareness thing.

Anyway, reading the comments, I was rather struck by the incredibly knee-jerk reaction this seemed to generate. For one thing, a lot of the flak was directed at Michael Nelson, which I found a bit odd, since they seemed to believe he was the showrunner- He wasn't. Even when he took over as host, Jim Mallon was still a big part of the show's controlling process. Further, they seemed to believe Nelson was doing this out of some spite towards Diabolik. This in particular told me they hadn't actually watched the show: if there's one thing about the later seasons I've noticed more on rewatching, it's that when they hate a movie, and I mean REALLY hate a movie, it shows. Yeah, they'll mock a lot in films in general, but certain films - Hobgoblins and Overdrawn at the Memory Bank are two great examples - the writers and riffers really, really, REALLY don't mask their hatred towards when they think they're bad enough. Their riffing of Diabolik was a number of things, but spiteful wasn't one of them.

If anything, the assumption that the show was simply picking on low-budget movies, at least to me, really showed me that those leveling the charge had never watched the show. Especially the earlier seasons, which were in large part carried by the cast and crew's love for the more bizarre of old films. They riffed on these movies because they enjoyed doing so. Yeah, not every movie was particularly loved (Manos, Monster a-Go-Go, Radar Secret Service, for a few examples) but several of the movies they riffed they actually admitted to liking (Gamera, The Magic Sword, and I Accuse My Parents are all examples there.)

The big crux of the problem in this debate seemed to be the idea that riffing is only done out of hate or insolence. That people only riff to denigrate and tear down a movie, and that films don't deserve such treatment. Personally, I disagree. Yes, there are certain films that don't lend themselves particularly well to riffing (if you can riff something like 12 Years a Slave or Schindler's List, you either have astonishing fortitude, or you might be a sociopath. That's for you to decide) but the fact is, there are a lot of good movies that can be riffed. Hell, I'll be the first to admit there are many movies I enjoy that are quite riffable (for some examples: Akira, The Warriors, the Evil Dead trilogy, the films of John Carpenter, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, the Star Wars trilogy...I could keep get my point.) The thing is, I don't see this as hurting the film, as some of these people seem to do (incidentally, one would think if you have the necessary sense of humor/levity to appreciate a 60s spy/theft film like Diabolik, you would be willing to acknowledge it's got a fair number of things in it you can joke about.) For me, it becomes more of a matter of, for lack of a better term, interactivity. It's a means by which one can enjoy a film experience in a way beyond just watching it, and in particular, enjoy it with other people. I'm not gonna try and say it's something everyone should do, it's entirely a matter of preference, naturally, but if you're in a group where everyone's on board with it, I don't see any reason not to. Being riffable does not make a movie bad. It means there's things in it that one could find humor in. Granted, on occasions, it can be used as a means to cope with a film you think is bad, but the act itself doesn't automatically make the movie bad.
It's akin to joking between friends. Yeah, you sometimes let some barbs fly you wouldn't say to a total stranger, but that context, they slide as just good natured joking around. It's the same thing here - if it's done in just casual joking, it's just that - it's not a desire to tear the film down to its foundations and salt the Earth in and of itself. It's just a sign of a more relaxed movie watching experience.

It's strangely appropriate that I find myself remembering the show's opening in my response to the people who are taking the idea of riffing as this great personal insult. I'm paraphrasing, but in the case of the manner of films that tended to grace the screens of MST3k:

Just repeat to yourself 'it's just a film, I should really just relax.'

Fade out. The audience goes fucking apeshit.

...oh damn. You guys are still here.

Well, thanks for sticking with me on this one. It's been a pretty interesting experiment for a month.

Got some promising possible ideas lined up for December. So we'll see what comes of those within the next few weeks.

Till then!

Friday, November 29, 2013

MST3k Month: Who Riffs Short Shorts?

MST3k Month: Who Riffs Short Shorts?

I will admit this was first inspired by the realization I had two extra days left to this month after all of the other planning. It dawned on me - several of the shorts featured on the show have become pretty famous in their own right, some even surpassing the movies they were attached to.

So, in coming up with ideas, I thought it could be fun to put together a list of five favorite MST3k shorts. What started as a pretty callous move for filler actually turned into a fun little piece to help wrap up the month in.

In further maintaining the brevity, I decided to have all five shorts fight it out to to the death to see who would get their picture featured. Coily put up a good fight, but underneath Mr. B's powder blue tunic beats the blackened, twisted heart of a killer.
Don't let that smile fool you otherwise.
Plus, I was up working the retail side of Black Friday this morning, who the Hell are you to judge me?!

...OK, got a little off course there.

As with the Mike & Joel lists, these will be posted in chronological order:

-Mr. B. Natural

Arguably the single most famous of the MST3k shorts, and for good reason - it's another case of when the show hits that great balance between a laughably ridiculous source and some brilliant riffs to play off it. In this case, care of a short put together by the well-intentioned people at C.G. Conn instruments. Wanting to make music appealing to kids (and, ya know, their instruments) they picked that time-honored marketing trick - the sexually ambiguous personification of what you want to sell. This time showing up to visit/guide/torment dumpy high school teenager Buzz. The entire premise lends itself to a lot of angles for Joel and the Bots (after Mr. B informs young Buzz that he awakened...let's go with him...Servo immediately responds "So I'm attracted to guys now?") Surprisingly, even with the bald-faced instrument hocking, they don't hit this angle up too much (the prize here being - Mr. B: "Well, sir--" Servo: "We duped 'em!") It's one of the most awkward and misfired attempts at turning kids on to music this side of Kidz Bop, albeit here being more mercifully short and considerably less tone-deaf. In short, it's just the right mix of unintentionally inept and 'pants full of unspeakable' madness that makes for great riffing.

-Circus On Ice

This short came at the front of the pretty infamous Monster a-Go-Go, which is an episode I tend to feel very mixed on overall. It has a few decent riffs, but the movie itself is just such a completely aimless, meandering mess that even Joel and the bots can only keep it afloat for just so long.  Fortunately, this episode DID have this short attached to the front of it, which does make it somewhat more watchable. Further proving their ability to take almost everything Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank could throw at them, this saw Joel and the bots taking on a somewhat bizarre ice skating gala. Besides playing on he sheer number of ways ice skating in and of itself could go wrong ("Vomit sprays out in a beautiful technicolor dream!") this is a show with some downright bizarre acts in it. Between humans acting as beasts of burden ("Yes, it's dehumanized objectified circus on ice!") and a group of soldiers 'bravely' wiping out the last dragon in existence (the short's words, not mine) the guys get a lot to work with. But the prize-winner here goes to one skit involving a deer being hunted and killed. This is the kind of act that smacks of performance art and interpretive dance gone hideously awry, and Joel and the bots have a field day playing up just how wrong it gets ("Oh mom! I don't wanna watch the circus on ice anymore--" "Shut up and watch the deer get slaughtered!") It's one of those acts that time has just allowed us to appreciate the weirder elements of THAT much more, and the riffs making the weirdness even more enjoyable.

-Hired! (duology)

OK, so technically I'm cheating here. Watch me not care. This one's worth it. A short split over two episodes on the importance of the importance of how to properly sell a car - we start the first half off with salesman Jimmy, who is something of a pushover. One can't really blame Joel and the bots for unloading on Jimmy - he is a TERRIBLE salesman (when asked to compare his car to competition, he replies "I don't know about those things, I just know Chevrolet is better." ... Yeah...) If anything, they also do the guy a favor by playing him up with a fake criminal record ("AKA 'The Pantsless Salesman'?! or 'The Piddling Peddler?!'" Of course, the verbal abuse of his pathetic marketing is but a prelude to the craziness to come, when Jimmy's beleaguered manager decides to complain about the failings of his salesman. Dear old Dad suggests he may not be entirely devoid of blame either - which is a good point, and valid...if only it came from someone who didn't seem to be completely insane. The boss's father's behavior is the strongest source of humor for the riffs in this movie - between his swatting at unseen insects ("Gah! Flying elves are back!") and randomly putting a napkin on his head, the man completely steals the thunder on the rest of the short. The fact that Joel and the bots still make the rest as funny as that segment further speaks to the writers skills with riffing.

-Why Study Industrial Arts?

"You know, it's fun to have an idea." "There. Wasn't it fun?"
This line really helps set the tone for the at times bland, at times outright creepy film strip about...well...exactly what it says. Attached to the infamous movie The Skydivers, this short espoused the value of taking shop classes in high school.
...OK, virtues isn't necessarily the best term. Anyway, Mike and the bots got some fun material out of this one: much of the later half, which, in true educational film fashion, amounts to "and we owe it all to..." tries to really play up the importance of shop class to a growing young man's future, while the 50s aesthetic of the film leads to an extra surplus of communism jokes. Though probably the biggest laugh of this comes care of Mike and the bots taking on the start of the film strip. As the somewhat awkwardly voiced narrator describes the joy he gets from shop tools, Mike and the others sense his disturbing affinity for tools in true serial murder fashion. This leads to, at least for me, one of the biggest laughs of the short, as all three riffers take turns spinning a disturbing/fetishistic take on the narrator's unusual reverence for his shop tools. It's one of those nice reminders there, as humor styles go, the folk at Best Brains can handle dark quite well when the need calls for it.

-A Case of Spring Fever

This is the last short the show ever had, and from the second to last episode of the show's run. This holds a curious spot among the MST3k shorts in part because they'd been making jokes about this one even back during the Joel years, but it took them almost until the very end to finally feature the short. It's even more a surprise it took them this long to bring this episode into the crosshairs when one sees its concept: a doughy man, frustrated with his couch, decides to cuss out the springs, hoping to never see another again. Enter one of the most bizarre of cosmic entities to hear his complaint, and, well, as Mike puts it best: "So one clod says something and the whole world pays?" Follow this up with Coily, the aforementioned imp making it a point to repeatedly torment the doughy man, and Mike and the bots have a great springboard to play off of. Even after Coily eases off, and Doughy McPastyjowls becomes the poster child for spring advocacy to the point of exasperation, Mike and the bots mine new ground in both his zeal and his friends' annoyance.
It's an incredibly warped spin on the old educational film trope of "You'll learn to respect this thing if it just vanishes from existence!" and it made a great piece to help send the show off with.

One more piece to go tomorrow. This month's been a lot of fun, and it's gonna be a bit of a shame to see it end, but all good things must do so.

Plus, it's not like I won't have other things to write on soon enough as it is.

Join me tomorrow for the final chapter of this 25th anniversary celebration.

Till then!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

MST3k Month: Arbitrary Listing Time - Mike Edition

First off, a happy Thanksgiving/Turkey Day to all the readers out there who celebrate it. Hope you guys have/had a good one (depending when you read this.)

Second, as promised, we now move into the second half of the show's run. After Hodgson had to leave the series, they found themselves in need of a new host. The job, as was set up by the end of Mitchell went to Michael J. Nelson as Mike Nelson. The humor remained largely the same (though some films definitely took a bit more of a beating in the later years) with the biggest change actually going to the dynamic with the bots. Where Joel was more of a father figure to them, for both their good and bad times, Mike is on more equal footing with the bots. As a result of that, he was pretty often made the butt of their jokes - though he got to dish some out from time to time as well. The changes in formula were minor, but enough that they have helped fuel the Joel vs Mike debates that have been a regular part of the MST3k fandom.

For my vote, it's a hard sell. Both are great, but with the strengths in different areas, so the comparison really becomes a matter of more which qualities does one want more in their episodes.

But I digress. You guys came here today for Mike episodes, so let's discuss some Mike.

...OK, Palance's outfit really doesn't even need a quote here.


I found out about this episode somewhat by accident years ago. Around the time I first really became aware of how easy/active/technically legit it was for people to stream episodes of the series online (I say technically since, while the people at Best Brains are OK with it, occasionally the rights holders on the original movies will step in) I would sometimes hunt blocks of episodes on a theme. This one, I found while going through some of the show's more fantasy oriented episodes. Without knowing exactly what it was about when it started, I could tell I was already in for some insanity as soon as I realized this was based off the infamous Gor books (once I got past the shock of realizing someone DID adapt those stories to film.) The movie really was perfect as an episode for riffing fuel - cheezy dialogue, wonderfully bad acting (the actor playing Marlenas in particular is unintentionally funny even before riffing), and a setting with a high, if somewhat creepy, level of cheesecake exploitation going for it. Of course, given the source, that was to be expected (once I heard the name to connect it, there was a moment of "...welp, they have their work cut out for them on this one.") The pinnacle of their riffing on the film's setting being during one of the skits, when they give us the now famous 'Tubular Boobular,' which pretty well sums up the movie's penchant for skin to a T. All this AND they get to work on their Jack Palance imitations to boot, care of his appearance as the oddly dressed high-priest Xeno. Like Mitchell before it, this is one of those films that just keeps digging itself deeper for Mike and the bots to work with, especially right at the start with things like the irritatingly wormy Watney Smith, and our film's hero, Cabot - who the movie's writers seem to fear you will forget, as his name is repeated early and often. Really, if you haven't checked this one out yet, it's worth giving a watch. Especially now, as it debuted in part of the show's Turkey Day block years ago.
Also, again, if Shout Factory's listening, an official release on this episode WOULD be greatly appreciated.

-Favorite Riff -
Crow: "You know, you can watch the outtakes for this movie."
Mike: "Oh, you mean in one of those World's Wackiest Bloopers shows?"
Crow: "No, Faces of Death."

-Favorite Skit - Even outside of the movie, Mike and the bots get a chance to further play with their Jack Palance imitations care of the fake autobiography Palance on Palance: Believe It Or Not. The imitations alone are pretty priceless. The progressively darker entries while making Outlaw just make it THAT much better. Without giving too much away, I'll just say a particular source of laughter in this bit for me is the gleeful emphasis Mike puts into the line "Spent entire paycheck on bunch of crack!" while still in the Palance voice. It's another great example of how delivery can make a line arguably more than the line itself sometimes.

and so on, and so forth...

-Space Mutiny

Another that went on to become a fan favorite and a classic. For very good reasons too, I might add. As low budget sci-fi goes, this DOES have a lot in it to make fun of. Not even just in the slipshod production, either. Most of the cast put themselves pretty firmly in the crosshairs on many occasions. In particular, Reb Brown has earned himself a place of honor in the MST3k rolls for the laundry list of nicknames his David Ryder receives over the course of the movie, including but definitely not limited to: Big McLargehuge, Slab Bulkhead, Punt Speedchunk, and Fist Rockbone. Surprisingly, they pass up the temptation to comment on the film's rather blatant recycling of effects from Battlestar Galactica, though they make up for that by poking fun at the film's overtly 80s aesthetic and soundtrack. This element in particular leads to an enjoyably twisted end credits sequence, where a song "with music rejected by the band Survivor" serves as a springboard for Servo and Crow to belittle Mike for being part of the 80s and, subsequently, blame him for this movie. Said berating ultimately culminating in a bizarrely thought out, and quite strongly visualized sequence of the sort of loser Mike would have been back in the day, all capped off with Crow's "You and your 80s. Your precious 80s!" This is one of those it feels odd to try and sell people on, as it's such a well known and well liked episode already. Like so many of their other greats, it's one where the writers take a lot of what could have simply been easy targets and still make it a point to put in the extra effort on the payoff. The result leads to a LOT of great riffs and yes, one of the best episodes in the show's run.

-Favorite Riff -
(As Brown starts a fire that kills off James Ryan's villain with a limp)
Mike: "Our brave hero roasts the disabled man!"

-Favorite Skit - Servo and Crow decide to do the movie one better with their own dogfight...using the Satellite's only remaining escape shuttles. Suffice it to say, the shuttles don't survive.

"Could you put my hair out?"

-The Final Sacrifice

Another where it feels weird to sell this simply because it's such a well known movie. As the so-named 'worst thing to come out of Canada', this is another where the writers had a lot to work with material wise, and thankfully were neither overwhelmed or taking the easy way out. The cast in particular gave them a LOT to work with here - between the ski mask wearing cultists, the almost cartoony Pipper, and the bizarre hero combination of Troy and Rowsdower, a lot of this movie's riffs really work best at the cast's expense. In particular, once the cast learn the name Rowsdower - he becomes almost as much of a punchline by name as the many pseudonyms of David Ryder before him. On top of this, the movie just further fuels the show's penchant for cracking on Canada to boot, so there's a string of that along with it - leading to a priceless sketch along the way. It does also help that this is considered, as movies featured on MST3k go, one of their more watchable films. Yeah, it's low budget and many of its concepts are rather ridiculous, but, like I said before, it still manages to work despite them. As a result, having the show riffing it in top form just takes an already pretty fun bad movie and makes it THAT much better as a result. If you haven't seen this one yet, fix that. Now. Yes, now. Go on. This article will be here when you get back.
...oh, and be sure to vaccinate for hockey hair before you go in. Trust me. You'll thank me later.

-Favorite riff -
Pipper: "Troy McGregor? Thomas's son?"
Troy: "You knew my father?"
Crow: "Knew him? He was delicious!"

-Favorite skit - Servo's attempt to defend Canada from Mike and Crow's abuse. It backfires in a BIG way, as Servo then delivers an exceedingly violent screed against Canada, crossing the line even for Mike and Crow. Mike calls for hate in moderation, as a weeping Servo apologizes in French, which is a sight all on its own that words can't properly sell the humor on.

(Insert Kevin Murphy's groaning sound here. Cause it really is one of the other great laughs in this movie.)

-Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders

As fun facts go, this was technically the last episode of the series ever shown, but not the show's finale. This is thanks to the fact that the episode itself was lost for a time (almost got stolen, actually.) By the time it was recovered, the show had ended its run proper, and this was instead aired as The Lost Episode.
I can only imagine what the writers on the show were thinking when they got this movie to work with, cause this is a genuinely bizarre feature even by the MST3k standard. This is thanks in no small part to director Kenneth J. Berton apparently deciding to take an earlier movie of his, a horror movie called The Devil's Gift, and graft a whole new piece of movie on it to sell as a family picture.
Yep, you read that right. This guy decided to repackage a horror movie as family fare. But it gets better - rather than simply have to deal with an awkward second half, Berton still leaves a fair amount of grim material in the first as well (including burning a cat alive and a man getting clawed up pretty badly, both played with a fairly straight face.) All this while framed around the idea that these two pieces of awkwardly stitched narrative are being told by grandpa Ernest Borgnine to his kid, who makes a strong bid for one of the worst child actors out there.
Suffice it to say, that premise alone inspires a fair number of choice zingers. Each new horror is accented with a Borgnine voiced grandfather, as the speaker for each is clearly relishing the joke while one of the other two accompanies as his weeping, traumatized grandson. It's a wonderfully sick running gag that perfectly encapsulates the insanity of this movie. Of course, even beyond its exceedingly dark side, they get a lot to play with in things like Merlin's odd performance and dialogue (and the fact no one seems to mind his 'wizard' look in this day and age,) a smug jackass of a reviewer in the first story that inspires a LOT of material, and the screamingly dated aesthetic of the second story, which was clearly made the better part of a decade earlier. It's an incredibly bizarre experiment of a movie with crazy that can be, and is, played for some great laughs. I'm really glad this episode wasn't lost to the ages, cause seeing this one for the first time years ago on Sci-Fi (back when it was still called that) it won me over right away with just how gleefully sick the humor on this one got.
...God, what does that say about me?

-Favorite Riff - Tom (as Merlin): "Remember to believe in magic - or I'll kill you!" - again, perfectly encapsulating this movie and everything bizarre about it.

-Favorite skit - There's a great spread on this one, but I have to give this to Mike ordering the Ernest Borgnine collection of children's books. The macabre escalation playing off the movie's dark side is another case of the show having a good sense of comic buildup. Probably one of the best parts of this is how they don't even go into the full horror of Fuzzy Bunny's New Blue Suit. Mike recoils, and the only clue we get is Crow's horrified "OH GOD! THEY'RE EATING HIS LIVER!" Only for the actual punchline of the skit to come in the wrong-footing as Mike and the bots are surprised to find out how strangely tasteful and happy
Dr. Blood's Orgy of Gore is as children's fare.
Would Borgnine's estate sign off on having his name attached if someone were to write these books now? Cause I'd buy them.

"GERONIMO--I mean, ME!"

-Final Justice

There's a right way and a wrong way to handle being riffed. Joe Don Baker will always remain the gold standard in how to do it the wrong way. His infamous beef with the show's writers over Mitchell has become the stuff of legend, to the point where Hodgson has admitted he's not entirely clear on the full details of it any more. So, when the time came in the show's final season to riff on another Joe Don Baker film, the writers at Best Brains opted to cry mockery and let slip the dogs of insolence. The result was simultaneously brutal and hilarious. This time around, Baker traded his would-be detective for a cowboy...which, admittedly, he passes for a BIT more easily, but not by much (as Crow coins it mockingly "Mom made me a real cowboy outfit!") Of course, where Mitchell was largely just inept in his detective skills, this movie's Geronimo (yes, he claims to be part Indian) is outright destructive. I'm not sure what inspired someone to keep casting Baker as renegade heroes, because he really just comes across as a jerk when does it. Which makes the admittedly somewhat mean-spirited riffing on this one feel less dickish, and more like fighting fire with fire. Incredibly hilarious fire. Even outside of the many barrages at Baker, the rest of the movie doesn't fare much better - especially thanks to its location filming in Malta. The carnival scene in particular inspires a lot of great bits (probably one of the highlights being Crow's response to an eery clown float: "SEE YOU IN YOUR NIGHTMARES!") I'm not sure if this ever escalated the Baker feud, but even if it did, it was worth it. Even among a mostly strong final season (...OK, there WAS Hamlet, but otherwise) this stands out as one of the greats.

-Favorite Riff - I have to give this to the alternate lyrics Crow and Servo give to the end credits song. Yeah, it's another long game one, but what can I say? It IS pure gold.

If I had to pick a runner-up...I think I'd have to give this to a nice bit of simplicity - Crow's reaction to seeing Baker's name in the credits:
"Oh, how I wish I was illiterate so I didn't have to read that."

-Favorite Skit - Crow's report on Malta. Well, more accurately his report that veers into a ridiculous and comic tirade against Maltese men. It's an incredibly random malfunction for a robot to have - but this IS Crow we're talking about, so it works well. Another great case of the show's writers having a good sense of comedic escalation, added to by Bill Corbett's building rage as he reads the report. The things the bots come to love and hate have always been kind of bizarre (though fun), but this is still among their finest moments in odd hangups.

Wow. Got this one done early (hey, it IS a holiday. Plus, the Turkey Day marathon is running now.)

Two days left to go, with writeups for each.
This part of the month is really a nice relaxer.

Till tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

MST3k Month: Arbitrary Listing Time - Joel Edition

With 25 movies done, I realized I still had a few days left till the end of the month. Not wanting them to just go to waste, I decided to try and take on one of the all-time great questions any MST3k fan gets to contend with - picking favorites.

Which should be easy...but damn, the show has a LOT of good moments. It's almost easier to put together a list of the weak episodes in the long run.
Still, I made a go of at least putting together a decent list of five favorites from each of the two 'eras.' Plus, for the Hell of it, five favorites from the shorts, which have become almost a category unto themselves.

All this culminating in one last review at the end of the month.

Oh, and as you can imagine, these aren't going to be quite as thorough as the 25 writeups were. One part cause the format itself isn't really about deep review (hey, they even say this within the show's main theme!) and one part because with Thanksgiving coming up, these are my designated 'ease off' write-ups.

Also, rather than attempt to rank these any more than they already are, I'll just be listing them in chronological order. So understand, where a film falls on this list is not a matter of ranking. know, given the nature of this show, adding extra captions feels futile. So in these moments, will be using a suitable riff from the episode from here on out.
...what? Can't I at least take that time off here?


The entire Gamera series are regarded as classic episodes, and for good reason. The material is both pretty fun on its own while also giving Joel and the bots a lot of material to riff (with some extra assistance care of the dubbing by Sandy Frank. For another good example fun at SF's expense, look up the Fugitive Alien episodes.) The first is no exception to that rule. While I enjoy the VS episodes, there is something about this one that just nudges it above the later endeavors. I think it's how Joel and the bots handle the concept of (as they would later coin the character type) the 'monster' child in this movie. With Gamera not having any monster to fight, young Kenny's affinity for him just comes across as a mix of a nuisance and downright creepy, leading to a LOT of great riffs about his behavior. These range from simply depicting Kenny as a jerk ("Let's see. What can I ruin next?") to setting him up as akin to an occult acolyte to the big turtle ("Gamera demands your immediate death!") The other sources of jokes in the episode are also quite good (things like Joel's mockery of one of the film's character's dub voices that leads the bots to threaten him after a while,) but I think it's the sheer extent they take the riffing on Kenny that really helps send this one into the top for me. It's a concept that's odd enough on its own, but doesn't look as bad when there's another monster to be the bad guy. Here, Kenny has no fallback for his idol to look good next to, so Joel and the bots are free to unload on the kid with relative impunity, and they do so with great results.

Favorite Riff - As part of the more demonically skewed riffs about Kenny:
Child (in film, referring to stones stolen from Kenny) "It's just...I threw them away. Into the river."
(Shocked look by Kenny)
Joel: (as Kenny) "DIE! DIE! DIE!"
(Crow and Servo start chanting a la The Omen)

Favorite Skit - Joel tries to ascertain the nature of Crow and Servo's hatred for young Kenny. Probably one of the best parts going to Crow's delivery on "Now when I see Kenny, I wanna give him a big snuggly huggly! ... and then squeeze him. and squeeze. AND SQUEEZE!" The gleeful malice Trace Beaulieu puts into the line as it moves on being a big part of where the humor from it comes in.

"Heeeere comes the Devil!"

-The Day the Earth Froze

The first of the now famous Russo-Finnish quadrilogy (you know, this set would be a nice follow up to the Gamera pack in the event anyone at Shout Factory is listening,) and still the most enjoyable to me. It's a good mix of the movie itself running at a nice lively pace, and the riffs likewise keeping in top form.
With a short on the circus, where Joel tries in vain to keep the bots from skewing the humor to the dark side, this episode is already off to a strong start. Then the movie itself kicks in, and this is another that lends itself quite well to the riffing. From a start which allows them to get a lot of the Finnish gags out of their system early, we get thrown into this bizarre but kind of endearing adaptation of The Kalevala. Once the story itself properly gets going, some of the best laughs of the film largely go to the movie's antagonist: the witch Louhi. Well, that and her fixation on the elusive Sampo, a magical device the movie is kind of vague on (the opening narration explains it, but the riffs override that,) leaving Joel and the bots to mull it over, and get a nice new running joke out of it in episodes to come.
It really makes me happy to learn this was one of the films picked for the 25th Anniversary release, cause it has held up very well among their greats.

Favorite Riff - The 'Total Failure' song. Easily.

Favorite Skit - Crow and Servo, inspired by the short, decide to pitch their own circus. Despite Joel's admonishing them otherwise, it inevitably turns into 'a dark carnival of the soul.'

"It's the latest chapter in the Taster's Choice saga!"

-Manos: the Hands of Fate

Yep. The classic. One of the most infamous movies they ever ran, and subsequently one of their funniest episodes. It really speaks to the abilities of the writers on this show that they could take a movie as rambling and bizarre as Manos and still get a lot of great riffs out of this. Alongside the added joke of the idea that this was the movie that made Dr. Forrester and Frank suspect they went too far (I'm gonna have to disagree, that line was crossed with Monster a-Go Go,) they just find a lot of great material to work with in this. From the wide array of gags about the Master's brides and the seeming obliviousness of the main family to the veritable fountain of humor that is Torgo, the reason this episode is on the list almost explains itself. It really is some of the best talent of the show in top form, trying to wrap their minds around a movie that, to this day, they still feel somewhat perplexed by.
Also, as a nice bonus, the movie is preceded by the conclusion to the priceless short Hired, giving us gems like "Gah! Flying elves are back!" and "I'm beginning to sober up and you're scaring me!"

Favorite Riff - Servo's entire mid-western monologue during one of the movie's last prolonged pieces of location porn. I'm not sure how much of that was written in advance and how much of that was improvised in recording by Kevin Murphy, but it is arguably among his best moments in the show's run - and for how long he worked there, that is pretty high praise.

Favorite Skit - This one's a tough choice, but I think I'm gonna have to give this to the group's roadtrip skit using footage from Manos. The traumatic breakdown from Crow and Servo that ensues while reminding them of the movie is priceless, culminating in a sad/funny "Oh, Daddy!" as the bots break down sobbing to Joel.

"They all laughed when I accused my parents and I kiiiillled theeeem
Let's see if they'll be laughing noooooooow!"

-I Accuse My Parents

This is another one of those movies where Joel and the bots take an outlandish concept pitched by the movie and run it all the way to the proverbial goal posts. I mean, yeah, like I said before, the movie is already pretty inadvertently funny on its own anyway. Leave it to them to not sit back and let their jobs be done for them, the writers took the ridiculousness into some other wonderfully bizarre areas. Things like a recurrent 'nagging guilt' voice whenever Jimmy lies, as well as one-upping him with their own ridiculous versions of Jimmy's lies, and their having a field day with Jimmy's parents and their hard-drinking circle of friends are but a few of the topics that get stoked for humor here with great results. Further adding to the fun, they start the episode off with an educational short on truck-farming, of all things, and get some great quotables out of it ("Praise the truck farmer! Worship him at the altar of your choice!")
Combining this movie with MST3k is like an insanity Reese's. Two great things that taste great together.

Favorite Riff - I can't not laugh when Joel and the bots roll out their "LIAR! LIAR! LIAR! *ZING*" to accompany each of Jimmy's latest exaggerations. The delivery is what really sells the joke.

Favorite Skit - Joel and the bots trying to get to the root of what makes Jimmy lie. Between the sheer ridiculousness of sources chosen ('bad haircut' for one) and the highly cluttered visual aid they roll out with all of their connection points, the result is pure gold.

"Our hero, ladies and gentlemen..."


My, my, my, my Mitchell. This is one of the single best examples I can give of someone going out on a high note. This marking Joel's final episode on the show, it was only fitting they have a suitably awful movie to send him off with. Fortunately, this one was as riffable as it was awful. The entire idea of Joe Don Baker as a detective alone was enough to give Joel and the bots plenty of ammo to run with (see their own lyrics added to one of the movie's instrumental tracks for a great example.) Paired up with some laughably Italian stereotypes, John Saxon literally escaping the movie in an edit, and the movie's now infamous love scene ("Oh, how I long for The Burning Bed right now!") this was the movie that just kept giving. At the end, it's a little sad to see Joel go (though considering the reason in-show for leaving, it beats the alternative...and even out of show, I respect the decision) but it's at least nice to see he left us in top form with a movie that they played for a LOT of great quotables and laughs.

Also, I have to admit, rewatching this, I really like how they closed off the episode with just enough of a sign the show would continue (the last words being Dr. Forrester asking future host Mike Nelson "What size jumpsuit do you wear?") It's a fairly minor part of the episode, but it really was just the perfect note to close it on, and a nice bit of lightness after the surprisingly emotional send-off for Joel.

and oh yes, this is the episode that inspired the much talked about and somewhat infamous grudge on the behalf of Baker towards the cast and crew at Best Brains.
Which did wonders for turning their barbs away... ...until the tenth season brought us Final Justice, anyway.

Favorite Riff - Picking a favorite for this episode is, to be honest, REALLY hard. There's a lot of great ones, but one that stands out above the rest is tricky.
Though if there's any one I think I've quoted more than any others, I think it goes to Joel and the bots adding lyrics to a fight scene in the movie:
Mitchell! (Ryyyyyyyye on the sandwich!)
Mitchell! (Heart pounding!)
Mitchell! (Veins clogging!)"

As just a sample, anyway.

Favorite Skit - This was one of those surprising ones, given the skits on this episode are definitely more story-driven than a lot of the other episodes, with this being Joel's last. That said, I have to give this skit pick to the first ad break, when Gypsy learns of Dr. Forrester and Frank's plan to kill Joel. Besides the 2001 reference, the deliberately stilted way Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff perform their evil laugh is, strangely enough, one of the funniest things in this episode for me.

That's it for tonight. Swing by tomorrow before the triptophane kicks in for my five favorite Mike episodes.
Also, if you can, see if you can catch the streamed MST3k Turkey Day celebration tomorrow.

Till then!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

MST3k Week the Fourth: "Siiiiiiiiiiign"

So we come to it at last.
25 years, 25 movies. This has been a pretty interesting spread of the proverbial good, bad, and ugly from the show's run. While it's been fun, I am looking forward to being able to take it easy on the next few writeups. But, that's getting ahead of things. With four titles left, let's bring the lion's share of this month on home:

This right here? This is about as close as they're gonna get to Wells's version.

11/23 - Riding With Death

Movie recuts - where cancelled shows and pilots that didn't get the green light can sometimes get a second life. OK, it doesn't happen often, but it hasn't stopped some people from trying over the years all the same. Which brings us to this title - which cuts together two episodes of the short-lived 1976 series Gemini Man. The series in question-VERY loosely based on H.G. Wells's The Invisible Man (to be fair, they give Wells a writing credit at least)-concerns one Sam Casey (Ben Murphy) a scientist who, in the pilot, is caught in a radioactive explosion. Now, in most cases, this would end in horrible death - either immediately or as a result of some pretty nasty tumors. Lucky for Sam, this movie's a graduate of the Stan Lee school of Radiology, so instead it just makes him invisible. Granted, said invisibility COULD kill him, but that's fixed with a radioactive watch that lets him turn it on and off at will - for 15 minutes at a time, anyway. What's a man to do with such a power? Well, apparently that's a pretty big hook into being a secret agent, cause that was the premise for this series - which ran for 12 episodes before going the way of Old Yeller.
From there, this movie was made, recutting two episodes of the show together, plus some footage from the pilot to set the story for anyone who didn't watch - which was presumably most people. The idea of cutting a TV series together into a movie isn't always bad, if you have the plot for it. Sometimes, if you have a good overarching storyline, it can be seen as a way to trim a lot of the fat the televised format resulted in, though sometimes it results in too much being trimmed in turn. The problem is, as far as I can tell in researching, there wasn't exactly an overarching story in Gemini Man. At least, not that this film's concerned with - instead, it takes two of the 'case of the week' stories to stitch together on the basis of one of their recurring characters: country singing trucker and later racer Buffalo Bill Joe Hickens (as played by country singer Jim Stafford.) They attempt to further mesh the two stories together by giving the first several added bits of voiced over dialogue making reference to the antagonist of the later storyline, but considering they never actually tie it into the first story - involving Sam being asked to truck along a new hyper-efficient fuel that's actually designed to explode so its designer could take a payoff from big oil - all it really has to buoy it to the second half is introducing Buffalo Bill. Which is a bit unfortunate, since on its own, the truck story could make a decent made for TV movie in better hands, but here it's mostly just tedious and largely forgotten once they segue into the next episode. Granted, it's still more memorable than the second storyline, in which Sam joins Bill on the racing circuit to find out a former defense worker turned saboteur (Ed Nelson.) In both cases, it seems like Sam's invisibility is the only thing he has going for him to explain why he's a spy. Most of the rest of the time, he really just seems to go with the flow of the story and follow his boss's instructions. Besides the awkward story graft, the film is Okay, if nothing spectacular. Casey's an alright lead, if a little hard to believe in the science capacity at points, and Stafford, while laying the hillbilly on a bit thick, at least appears to be more invested in his role than most of the rest of the cast. Most of the rest are really just average, with the exception of Katherine Crawford as Sam's friend/female lead Abby. While I've seen worse performances, it's hard to deny she is low-balling this one, though it DOES lead to easily one of the funniest line reads in the whole movie ("I wonder who would be going to Switzerland...and with ten million dollars...")
For as many snares as this film has in its problematic assembly, I do have to give it this much: thanks to its decision in the shared focal point between the two episodes, one could pitch this as one of the lesser known pronounced examples of emphasized bromance in television/film. I wouldn't stake money on it, I'm just saying the means are there if someone wanted to try and run with that angle.

To make this better and worse, picture Lugosi yelling "JAZZ HANDS!" as he does it.

11/24 - Bride of the Monster

Confession time - this spot was originally going to go The Killer Shrews. On thinking it over, however, I felt like just using The Violent Years wasn't really a proper representation for Ed Wood. He only really worked on some of the script, and as a result, it doesn't have quite the same distinctly weird feel that makes his films work so well. So, I made a judgment call and, thanks to the good folks in the public domain, fired up his 1955 tale of love and atomic supermen, Bride of the Monster.
OK, I also picked this cause it felt like doing a Wood movie without Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson was a missed opportunity.
Anyway, this is the point where I'll further admit I'm really not as versed in Wood's films as I should be. I've seen the classic Plan 9 From Outer Space, naturally, but there's many of his films I've not yet seen - though I do have a copy of Glen or Glenda I'd found as a freebie I should get around to firing up. Of what little of his work I've seen, I think this might actually be my favorite. I say this with all respect to Plan 9 (such as it is) but something about this wonderful craziness just nudged it over for me. I think part of it's just the whole premise - Lugosi as an expatriate mad scientist dabbling in atomic energy who lives with his mute giant (Johnson) and keeps a giant octopus in his lake. There's something about how straight-faced the movie plays the whole idea, which feels like it got pitched as a joke, that wins me over in part. Of course, the wonderfully cheesey acting and dialogue certainly help matters as well. The one problem with Ed Wood's films is that it's always tough to pick a favorite bit of dialogue - between his writing and the cast's delivery, you're guaranteed a lot of gold to work with. Lugosi in particular has a LOT of gems in this, thanks in no small part to his delivery on the lines. One of my picks going to his assertion to one test subject that he will be "as big as a giant, with the strength of twenty men! ... Or, like all the others, DEAD!" Of course, compared to the rest of the cast, I will give him points for making an effort. But, again, that's half the charm in an Ed Wood movie. Beyond Lugosi's lab, we have our heroes, including a squabbling couple whose conflict resolution results in the kind of ultimatum that would only fly in a 50s movie (Loretta King's Janet is backed off of her threat to call off her engagement by the prospect of giving back the ring. Again, only in the 50s.) On investigating the disappearance of two men in the woods, Janet and boyfriend Dick Craig (Tony McCoy) each make their ways to the sinister lab of Dr. Vornoff and his experiments in atomic supermen: the culmination of which leads to probably one of the best/weirdest sights to come out of this entire month - Lugosi successfully trashing Tor in a fight. From here, and because of the producer's desire to include an anti-warhead message, we come to a climax in which Vornoff's efforts make for an insane, but memorable, look at the proverbial horrors of the atomic age.
Before closing, I should also mention a tidbit as far as this film's production history. For anyone not familiar with Wood lore, this movie has gained something of a spot of fame in the director's film legend for the above-mentioned octopus. Most notably the stories that he and his crew allegedly stole the prop from the John Wayne movie Wake of the Red Witch. I have to admit, it's a fascinating little story, although the alternate tale - that Wood and his crew rented the prop, and the awkward motions aren't a result of failing to steal the whole thing but rather not renting the full rig, seems a bit more plausible. Whichever the case, it certainly does explain the incredibly awkward filming of the octopus attacks within the movie, and regardless which version you subscribe to, makes a fun little story on its own.
That said, again, this is one of Wood's gems. By no means is it a good movie, but it's a bad movie that's still pretty fun to watch, especially with company.
Plus, it's in the public domain (and available for legal download with a quick Google search) so why not give it a look if you're curious? There's worse ways you could spend 70 minutes.

In this alternate history, Raul Julia lives long enough to see what Tumblr does with him.

11/25 - Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

OK, with this I take back almost everything I said about Raul Julia in Street Fighter. Yes, the movie was a mess, but 1) he's at least fun in it, and 2) it's still an overall better movie than this.
Of course, I will acknowledge that's not entirely the fault of the filmmakers. This was put together as a made-for-TV movie in 1983 with funding from New Jersey's public broadcasting, which really only stretched things just so far. This was part of what was hoped to be a longer series of science fiction works, but as you can imagine with this funding, this was the last of the run.
The low budget really only covers just so much of this film's backside, however. The biggest enemy of this movie is actually its jumbled mess of a script, which sets up a couple of interesting ideas, but never really seems to know what to do with them. Julia appears Aram Fingal (I'll give you all 30 seconds to process that name) as a lowly desk jockey in a dystopian future where his interest in 'cinemas' lands him in trouble for not doing his work. Before I continue I just want to say that I can't help but feel this movie's got all the potential for a drinking game in it. At the very least, taking a shot any time someone says 'cinemas' would be enough to develop a good buzz in the first fifteen minutes that should coast the viewer through the remaining sixty-five minutes. Anyway, to cure Fingal of his interest in 'cinemas', they send him to a psychological rehabilitation they refer to as 'doppling': essentially taking a vacation in the body of an animal. The intervention of one rather creepy child sends Fingal on a trip that leaves him trapped inside the company's main computer (where he makes the most of his time by creating a mini-universe for himself heavily patterned on the movie Casablanca) and risking potentially upending everything. All the while, a harried technician (Linda Griffiths) with an equally bizarre name (Appolonia James, for the record...yeah...) desperately tries to relocate his old body and get him back into it before he does any further damage.
For anyone who thinks this doesn't sound that confusing, trust me, the full movie is a mess. The script is heavily afflicted with the old science fiction cliche of "bury any questions under a lot of technical sounding things" which, rather than help things, make the movie even more of a confused heap. When the chairman of the sinister NoviCorp (Donald Moore, playing almost every villainous fat man you've ever seen in film here) decides to intervene, his motives are muddled as he repeatedly fluctuates between wanting to get Fingal out of the system alive to maintain his company's stock and having Fingal eliminated before he sees too much of the company's inner workings. The film has a hard time keeping its story straight on this point, though I will admit, seeing it unriffed does make it a little easier to follow than the cut MST3k did. I've heard the film was allegedly unable to complete filming, which explains some of the holes, though I haven't found anything to affirm the truth to this story. In either case, the damage is done at this point - regardless the reasons, the movie's script is a king-sized helping of techno-jargon and a narrative that feels like it has narrative elements from Total Recall and Brazil while capturing the appeal of neither (yes, I realize it predated both, but for lack of a better point of reference/comparison...)
I do want to give them some points for recording the film on video so they could work with digital effects. It results in the film looking rather cheap at times nowadays, but it was still an interesting experiment for them to work with at any rate. Just one that time didn't really do much for.

If there's a way to make this picture any more 1960s, I don't know what it is.

11/26 - Danger: Diabolik

and so, we round out this part of the month with the final movie to be featured in the show's 10-year run. This was a pretty pleasant surprise, really. After the show started with The Crawling Eye, a movie that worked as an episode almost entirely thanks to the riffing, it was nice to see them round out with a film that, even outside of the riffing, is still pretty watchable. Based on the popular Italian comic series Diabolik, this adaptation by Mario Bava concerns the titular thief in his various exploits of theft, murder, and love. True to Bava's direction, one of the biggest strengths of this movie is its visual style. Paired with cinematography by Antonio Rinaldi and a soundtrack by the legendary Ennio Morricone, this has all the makings for a pretty wild ride on paper alone. The choice of casting for the famous thief was, at least for me, one that called for some adjusting. This isn't because I think John Phillip Law is bad in the role, actually. For a character who is largely a cypher, Law does make him at least an interesting one to watch. It was more thanks to this month's viewing and having previously seen him as the villainous Kalgan in Space Mutiny. It made it REALLY weird to watch this and have that voice in the back of my head going "and here's Kalgan having sex with a woman on top of a pile of money." Actually, most of the cast in this are pretty enjoyable in their roles. The one disappointing role, though this may have been thanks to the dub I was watching of the film, was Marisa Mell as Diabolik's girlfriend, Eva Kant. I'm not sure who dubbed her role for this, but the performance in that regard is painfully flat at points. That said, learning this part almost went to Catherine Deneuve was a bit of a surprise, though it did leave me wondering what could have been if she'd gotten the part. Character actor Terry-Thomas inadvertently nets himself some extra brownie points in his role as a minister of the interior - the various odd tics and gestures he plays the role with make what could have been just a talking head into a more memorable persona.
The only area where this film really takes much of a hit is in the overall narrative, most notably in its episodic nature. The individual storylines are all pretty solid - especially in the ways that Diabolik carries out his heists (fans of Lupin III should find some fun in this aspect of the movie, though Diabolik is  bit more ruthless) but the stories really don't connect particularly well. Each feels like it could make for a solid enough story to try and build a whole movie around, but the overarching plot of the police attempts to capture Diabolik, in particular determined Inspector Ginki (Michel Piccoli) never really feels like a strong enough thread to hold the movie together. It's fitting in a strange way at least - Diabolik's parts of the film are all strong and on point while the police are the ones who can't keep themselves in one piece around him. In particular their parts relying on using the newspaper and press conferences to advance their narrative makes them feel detached from Diabolik's stories. Even with them crossing paths a couple of times during the movie, the police raid on Diabolik's lair feels like it showed up from another film considering how loosely they seem to be attached to this story.
The cohesion issues aside, this is up there with the kaiju movies and The Final Sacrifice on the more fun standalone movies from this project. It also has me curious to see if any of the original Diabolik comics have been printed in English or not. It's a mix of some great legends of 60s Italian film into a wildly psychedelic tale of gangsters, detectives, and one strange but fascinating super-thief.  It's also a great example of one of the rules I think more people need to keep in mind about MST3k - just cause you can riff on a movie doesn't make it a bad one. Even the showrunners admitted several of the films they showed were actually pretty good, and this is another great example of it. It's a pretty fun movie, but also quite riffable. It's nothing to be ashamed of on its own, depending on what you get riffed on.

Whew. That was a lot of movie sign to go through.
Have to say though, it was still very worth it.
Keep an eye out over the next few days for a few general MST3k-related writeups to take us to the end of the month!

and in the long shot anyone attached to the show should ever read these: I'd just like to say, as many have already done so - thanks. Thanks for 25 great years and counting on bringing great laughs, a fun sense of audience participation, and introducing people to some of the more wonderfully bizarre films that would otherwise have gone unnoticed (though whether you consider saving Manos from obscurity something good or bad remains to be seen.) All the best to everyone and the best of luck on your future endeavors, will be following them with optimism!

Till tomorrow, folks!

Friday, November 22, 2013

MST3k Week the Third: "Movie"

Well, that's enough from the good films for a bit! Back to the hurting!

Actually, this week's spread was pretty enjoyable as the Deep 13 offerings go. Not necessarily GREAT, but at least nothing this week that really dragged too badly.

But, I'm getting ahead of things.

"Well, I spoke with the DM about his handing out those extra sheets last week. Based on his laughter, I wouldn't bet too high on most of us making the end of this campaign."

11/16 - The Magic Sword

So, we've covered Ed Wood and Roger Corman, but surprisingly, neither takes the prize for the director whose work was most featured on the show. That prize goes to one Bert I. Gordon, director of this feature. This is also one of the more curious standouts in that it's among the list of movies that the showrunners looked back on and actually thought was pretty good- all things considered.
That said, I can still see why they featured it - the movie offers quite a bit to riff on. The ridiculously over the top, turban-wearing Basil Rathbone as the villainous Lodac alone is enough to sell the movie for riffs. Factor in things like Estelle Winwood and her two-headed assistant and Lodac's army of what appear to be coneheads and the movie just lends itself quite well to mockery.
Riffs aside though, yeah, this actually isn't as bad as some of the other movies the show has roasted alive over the years. The story is pretty boilerplate sword and sorcery, albeit with a nice little creative twist making it a spin on the St. George and the Dragon story. Amusingly, of the seven knights patterned on saints, George is the only one who fails the big requirement of 'saints usually have to be dead.' Then again, George in general is rather bland compared to most of the rest of the cast. I say this with all respect to Gary Lockwood (whom more recognize as Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey,) but really, he's just your classic lovestruck young man who goes on a quest to win over a princess (Anne Helm) in whom his interest is actually rather creepy: he's been watching her for years, she doesn't know who he is. Probably the funniest thing about the whole quest is that moment when you look back at it in all and realize just how little of the plot is actually a success because of George. If anything, his mother Sybill (Winwood) seems to be the one who really gets things done in the film: it's the magic items she bestows on George, including the other knights, that allow him to succeed. Of course, even with that in mind, he soundly burns through all of those knights to do so, but I digress.
This does up the amusement in its own weird way, at least for me. The big hero of this quest is actually the least useful member of the team - yes,  more than the turncoat, who at least helps set up Lodac's downfall later. He's the living embodiment of 'right place, right time' played to an inadvertently comedic extreme.
That odd plot loop aside, it's just a pretty light piece of fantasy, really. Even at its worst, it's only just average. But in general, it still manages to maintain a  fun atmosphere at points that leads me to see why the showrunners were pretty good about this one.
On a side note: I was surprised at one of the scenes from this that was cut from the episode. Not in terms of shocking subject matter, but more because I was genuinely surprised the showrunners passed up an incredibly riffable, if somewhat creepy moment in which Helene (Helms) is tormented by a pair of genuinely unsettling dwarves. It's the kind of moment that lends itself so well to riffing that even though I hadn't seen the episode in a while before watching this, I could tell the scene was cut, since I'd have remembered that.

In the complex world of tokusatsu social politics, this is what's known as 'You Done Walked Into the Wrong Neighborhood'

11/17 - Godzilla vs Megalon

As I've explained here in the past, Godzilla was a regular part of my childhood. Godzilla vs Megalon, in particular, is one of the first I really remember well. So I was braced for something of a nostalgia buffer on this one. The resulting film actually worked out even better than I was expecting here, for reasons I didn't fully expect. Rather, watching this one, I was struck by much the same effect I had when I first watched episodes of the old Adam West Batman TV series years after I had first seen them: they are still fun, in part now for all of the genuinely insane bits that never fully sunk in as a kid when I watched it before.
In particular, the big fight at the end of this one, which is inadvertently hilarious on several levels. Between seeing the not-quite-Ultraman hero robot Jet Jaguar get the everloving crap beaten out of him by Megalon and returning monster Gigan, with the two high-fiving afterwards, and the downright goofy gestures Godzilla makes as he runs in to the fight, and finally Godzilla and Jet Jaguar's downright thuggish behavior in dealing with Megalon after Gigan retreats (Jet Jaguar holding Megalon's arms behind his back while Godzilla does flying kicks into his chest is decidedly less than heroic behavior) there's a lot of craziness in this title fight.
Outside of the monsters, the plot on this one in general is pretty wild as Godzilla movies go. Megalon is summoned by the embittered people of Atlantis (who apparently have a hotline to the Nebula M aliens to justify bussing in Gigan) who have decided the people on the surface had their shot, and the day we rolled out nukes we crossed the line. As their monster runs rampant on us, the world relies on an inventor, a racer, and precocious little kid to save know, movie logic. It's definitely not an intricate plot. More to the point, the whole thing is a giant piece of fan-service on many levels. The movie had actually started life as an entirely separate Tokusatsu piece with Jet Jaguar as the title hero (part of a bid by Toho to get a new name onto the superhero craze being kicked off by the likes of Ultraman and Mazinger Z, both of who show influence on ol' JJ) fighting Megalon. As the project went on, the higher-ups started to have doubts about where things were heading. Hoping to make the most of the project, they rewrote the works as a Godzilla movie and even worked in fan-favorite Gigan (in the way explained above...yeah...) There's a lot about the film that's pretty clearly engineered just for audience appeal. Despite that, the movie doesn't really suffer for it. In fact, the whole thing is a pretty breezy, if somewhat insane, piece of robot on giant monster action. The fan-service never really feels like it's arbitrary, so much as it feels like the people behind the movie were enjoying running with it as well, which is the kind of thing that can go a LONG way in making something watchable, if not high art.

OK, I try to keep an open mind about creative reinterpretations. But with this as a sample, I'm REALLY not so sure about this new low budget Lord of the Rings retake.

11/18 - The Final Sacrifice

Speaking of not great, but surprisingly watchable...
Before I go into this one any further, I'd like to take a moment to offer a big thanks to my friend Kurt (who you can find on Twitter) who was able to hook me up with a copy of this movie. For as popular as the MST3k episode has been, the movie itself is an absolute pain to find unriffed. Prior to his assistance, the only copy I'd come even close to finding was a VHS version selling for $300 on Amazon. Your guess is as good as mine.
Anyway, I have to admit - I enjoyed this movie more than I probably should have. There's really not a whole lot particularly good about it: it's a very low budget student film, the acting is bizarre, the plot is rambling, the characters by design are downright ridiculous, the music only adds to the oddity, and the post-production borders on non-existent at points (though hearing the birds just left in on general shots is an inadvertent nice touch in a way.) On no technical level is this a good movie. Despite that, it's still a surprisingly fun ride. Yes, Troy is one of the strangest depictions of a young man in film, and Zap Rowsdower...well...the internet has written entire figurative reams of text on the appeal and greatness of the denim-clad warrior that is Rowsdower. He's just such a bizarre choice for a hero in almost every respect: between his mullet, the copious denim, his beat-up truck, and his love of drinking and firearms, he's like the end result of a failed experiment by Canada to clone Brock Sampson. In many ways, he's arguably the strongest part of this movie. Even before the MST3k riffs adding to the fun, he's just such a strange but enjoyable hero right there. Made even better by the fact that the cult leader he's pitted against looks like a normal-sized Richard Kiel whose voice sounds like it was run through a modulator make everything he says sound imposing and threatening (in theory, anyway.) The one other standout in this being the secondary character known as Pipper. He's mainly there for some information dump, but frankly, his eery vocal resemblance Dr. Teeth of The Muppets fame is worth his being in the movie alone.
This is really one of those films that hits a strong balance of elements that it really didn't intend to. It's far from a great movie, but the weirdness all balances in just such a way that what should be a bad movie is actually a pretty fun, if nonsensical, adventure movie.
The Hell with it, I'll say it - I'd watch a series based on the adventure of Troy & Rowsdower. Like one of those low-budget 90s shows where the two would go from town to town, solving occult problems and stopping villains in ski masks.
Why? Why did this show never happen?!

Was there any doubt this would be the scene from this movie I'd screencap?

11/19 - Space Mutiny

This may be the worst thing to come out of South Africa this side of apartheid.
OK, that's a bit extreme, but this movie IS pretty bad. But it was at least the kind of bad that, like a lot the films this week, lends itself VERY well to riffing. I have to admit, this is one where I feel a little bad busting on the movie after learning some of the backstory. Most notably the fact that director David Winters wasn't actually there for much of the filming. He was called away due to a death in the family and most of the production was helmed by an assistant director. By the time he got back, the damage was done, and, to add insult to injury, there was no way he could have his name removed in favor of an Alan Smithee. He didn't even get to dig the grave, but he still had to lie in it.
And what a grave he had to lie in! Right from the get-go, this movie is off to a bad start with its now insanely dated computerized titles and soundtrack. Then, as you start recovering from that, the movie hits you head-on with special effects lifted wholesale from Battlestar Galactica. I'm not talking just explosions mind you, they lift the dogfights, complete with the ship designs, right out of the series. It's actually surprising to me that the movie never got sued for this, though I wonder if that's because the show was already dodging fire from people accusing them of ripping off Star Wars. Or, more likely, they figured the movie punished itself.
Anyway, from there we go to a story that manages to dance between making sense and being nonsensical all at once. The loose main narrative that the title comes from is straight forward enough- on a remote ship for colonization, a core group of officers plots to take over the main ship, deviate from there mission, and use this to settle into a good life at the expense of everyone else on board. Then one gets into some of the nature of how their mutiny is found out, in particular a plot involving a team of alien visitors who seem to exist solely for t&a, and that seemingly simple plot has become tangled up in some genuinely convoluted extra elements. This is even before getting into the problems with production and the wonderfully bad acting involved. Actually, the bad production values DO yield one rather amusing story: working with their low budget, the film crew tried to work around having sunlight shining into what were supposed to be space ship sets by filtering the points of sunlight with an orange glow to give things more of a 'tech' look. Post-production apparently missed the memo and color-corrected them right back to normal sunlight. Besides that, we have a memorably bizarre cast, lead up by Reb Brown (the man who would be 70s Captain America) in an apparent defiance of sleeves and sporting one of the best/worst war cries in film. Opposite him, we have John Phillip Law and James Ryan (Funny because that's the name of my dad- Editrix), each looking like somewhat slicker versions of one another to such a degree that I suspect the reason they gave the latter a cane was to further differentiate them. Though to his credit, Law DOES have the advantage of a rather entertaining maniacal cackle, but I digress on this point. Throw these into a blender with some outfits and music that are so screamingly 80s you can feel cocaine burning in your nostrils, and you have at least a teaser trailer taste of what Space Mutiny has to offer. Again, it's easy to see why, when this movie ran, the episode was a hit. It's not a good movie by any means, but it's another that lapses into 'so bad, it's good.' While the riffs are some of the best stuff (series best, according to many), some parts of this are just funny on their own. If you don't at least feel a LITTLE amused at the final showdown between Brown and Law - a high-stakes, winner-take-all duel to the death in slow moving versions of two cars akin to bowling alley polishers, then I worry for you.


11/20 - The Deadly Bees

Fun Fact: this movie was the one featured in the first full MST3k episode I ever saw.
On its own merits, it's kind of an odd one. It's not as memorably bad as the likes of The Final Sacrifice or Space Mutiny, but it's not a good movie either. I give it points for arguably being the very first 'killer bee' movie, at the very least. But really, it's mostly just OK. This was the closest this week gets to a 'Just there' movie, all things considered. Though thankfully not one I've had to force myself through quite like I did with The Crawling Eye. The movie largely concerns itself with a burned out pop singer who gets sent to recuperate on an island (cause if there's one thing British horror cinema has taught us, it's that nothing bad EVER happens on remote islands.) Shortly after her arrival, people start dying from being swarmed by bees - and so suspicion comes to the man she's staying with, who just happens to be one of two people who raises bees on their property. Yeah, Agatha Christie this is not. The film actually does a relatively decent job of throwing viewers off the scent for a bit at least (a game that would have almost been more interesting had they been able to carry out their initial plan of casting Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee as the two bee, really.) There are really only three big problems the movie has going for it. The first of these, and the less pressing, is a completely extraneous plot involving two British bureaucrats who've apparently been warned that a man is developing his own strain of killer bees. At first, this seems understandable - they want to set up the idea from the title early that someone has made lethal insects. The problem is, the bureaucrats really don't do much of anything in the overall story. They occasionally comment on what's going on, but only really become an active piece of the story at the VERY end - one of their agents arrives on the scene as the end credits are rolling. It's the kind of thing that you could mostly cut from the movie without losing anything barring the rather odd arrival of the agent at the very end. The other, and more pressing problem with the movie is the fact it has no real sense of suspense or tension. For a horror/mystery piece, that is a BIG mistake to be making, as it really makes it hard to get involved in the long, slow process being carried out. This is arguably an even bigger sin to me than the fact this movie's effects have aged terribly. That one's problematic, don't get me wrong - especially one sequence where the 'bees' are actually pretty clearly coffee grounds in water. But bad effects can, in theory, be overlooked if the story is worth it. Just ask anyone who's ever watched classic Doctor Who (and with that, I just made someone's hit list.) On the other hand, a mystery that fails to really hold up its suspense or interest may as well not exist.
That did come out harsher than I intended it to. Sorry, but I had to be blunt. The riffs make this watchable at least, but on its own, it's really not that strong.

"I don't know why I'M the bad guy here! I thought we discussed this and agreed this year's costume them was Spinal Tap."

11/21 - Cave Dwellers

We're back to the memorably bad again, with another film born out of the legacy of a better class of movie than it turned out to be. This is one of those strange cases in film where someone actually took a sequel and repackaged it as a self-contained film, albeit one that didn't try to hide the fact it was a sequel. Made to cash in on the success of Conan the Barbarian and later Conan the Destroyer, this is actually a repackaged version of the second film in the Ator quadrilogy. For the record, when I say 'doesn't try to hide the fact it was a sequel' I mean they don't just make reference to past events - they completely recap the first movie in a full montage narrated by Ator's mentor (in terms of how effective it is in bringing you up to speed...well...let's just say Crow wasn't entirely joking when he commented "Even Tolkien couldn't follow this!") As far as this narrative goes, however, the movie plays out like a giant heap of pre-history fantasy cliches, with an especial emphasis on the ones director Joe D'Amato cribbed from Conan. In the title role, Miles O'Keefe makes for an imposing presence on just build, but he never quite gets the imposing element they were trying to emulate from Schwarzenegger, nor does he get the moments of crazy either. Meanwhile, Ator's mute sidekick Thong (Chen Wong) is mostly just...there. He proves useful near the end, but for most of the film he's more like a sentient Chekhov Gun, just travelling with Ator and killing anything he misses. Of course, for being a mute plot device, he's still the better of Ator's two sidekicks. In comparison to Mila (Lisa Foster), he's like a masters class on acting. Of course, some of this may also be thanks to the fact that this movie is dubbed into English from Italian, which certainly effects the quality of some of the performances. As far as who gets it worst in the dubs, that's a tough call: both the film's antagonist Zor (David Cain Haughton) and Ator's mentor Akronas (Charles Borromel) both get some pretty memorably terrible dubbing. In the case of the former, Zor chews scenery like it's the finest bubble gum the world has ever produced, savoring every fresh jaw motion. For the latter, Akronas's dub performance reads like a parody of a parody of William Shatner, with a glut of dramatic pauses and awkward emphasis at the wrong times. Of course, these bad performances can only do just so much to hurt a story that's already pretty badly off to begin with. It starts off relatively (keyword there) focused, Ator going to save his mentor and his mentor's invention from Zor's evil plotting, but it takes a very long way around with many of its actions. Further, the setting is an absolute mess chronologically and geographically, combining cavemen, the archetypal Conan-esque swordsman, Mongol warriors and fully armored samurai to clash in environments that look strangely similar (well, disregarding some inadvertently priceless errors in filming, anyway.) It's the kind of film it's fun to beat the ever-loving Hell of, as the SoL crew proved. On its own, it's a pretty shameless ripoff, but one almost doesn't mind since it pays well enough through its own failures.

OK, there's really no need to riff Pumaman flying. He does it all for himself.

11/22 - Pumaman

Before I start, I just want to give you all this one fun fact: Donald Pleasance was once quoted as saying he considered this to be the worst movie he ever made. Considering some of the projects he had agreed to over the years, THAT should tell you something about what to expect here.
Man, there's so many things weird about this movie I almost don't know where to begin.
I should probably start with the fact we have a superhero whose origin story is the embodiment of the line "I'm not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens." No. Really, the entire Pumaman lineage is born out of aliens messing with the Aztecs ages ago, and apparently still meddling with the human race generations later. Of course, it's also their meddling that leads to the trouble here in the first place, since the whole conflict in this movie is based on their technology landing in the hands of Pleasance's Korbas. From there, we move to the current heir of the Pumaman himself. For starters, Walter George Alton reminds me eerily of a young John Saxon, who is not normally who I think of when I think superheroes. From there, we get to how he uses his powers. I do have to give the Pumaman some points, since he appears to be ahead of the curve in terms of superheroes acting like jerks in the interest of getting the job done. It seems like the Pumaman often can't resist using his powers for less than heroic ends, such as flying off with one man and threatening to drop him for information. From there, he then leaves the guy hanging elsewhere. Sure, the man is a criminal, and it gets results, but still...dick move, Pumaman. In fact, much of the Pumaman's progress comes as a result of prompting by latter day Aztec priest Vadinho (Miguel Angel Fuentes,) rather than direct volition. When Pumaman does show his own volition, the dickishness ensues.
All while set to a soundtrack the likes of which you used to hear on those hand operated film strips they used to show in elementary school way back in the day.
The whole narrative is a strange mix of a familiar superhero origin story tied with enough odd touches of its own that are headscratching in their twists. Probably one of the biggest of these being a mid-movie reveal of a completely new superpower that doesn't particularly fit the puma motif and really only seems to serve as to give the writers an out for an otherwise fairly hard to escape situation they wrote themselves into. It's hard NOT to feel like they mined the idea figuratively out of their backside. Surprisingly, I'm not sure it's the worst superhero movie I've ever seen. It's down there, but rather than raging in this case, I'm more struck with an amused disbelief at just how ridiculous the whole thing turns out to be. I imagine it wasn't meant to be, but it is. I'm still debating whether to say it quite makes the level for 'so bad it's good' but they at least are making one HELL of a good try for it, however accidental, and I will give director Alberto De Martino that much at any rate.

All in all, a pretty fun week for these.
Four more to go until the 25 mark and then we get a few days of general writeups till the end of the month. This has been a heady dose of bad film, but I have to say, still been a rather fun month so far.

Looking forward to the big finish this week!
Till then!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

12 Years a Slave: ...I'm Sorry, I Can't Be Cheeky On This

Hey, I warned you guys last time. This isn't a happy one.

The more I see of his work, the more I find myself with two key thoughts regarding director Steve McQueen. On the one hand, I think he's a good director - actually, that's selling it short. I think he's a great director and give him some serious points for being among the few out there who can still tell the stories they want their way in a system where that's a regular uphill battle. There's not many directors out there that would be allowed to get away with something like, for a good example, the 17-minute single shot conversation in Hunger, but McQueen not only did it, but carried it off like a master. On the other hand, and in something of a tradeoff of his being able to tell the stories he wants to...well...damn. They're very good, but also very unpleasant to sit through at times. I commend him for this, to be perfectly honest - the willingness to tell something that won't necessarily be a feel good story, but you still think is one that needs to be told I think is admirable, but it tends to mean seeing it once is usually more than enough. Those images will stay with you whether you want them or not, which is both a good thing, and something of a drawback, depending who you ask.

Fortunately, this allowed me to brace for it somewhat on seeing his latest project, 12 Years a Slave. Based on the autobiography of the same name, the film concerns the story of one Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor,) a free black man who, under the pretense of performing for a traveling show, was kidnapped and sold into slavery. As the title suggests, he lived as such for over a decade before finally being able to tell anyone who believed him and escape.

With subject matter like that, you can already see what I mean about this being a hard film to watch. Slavery is a tricky topic to address in film, largely thanks to the temptation to soften the edges for a greater audience appeal. Being one for running on his own terms, McQueen doesn't pull away at any point, and the film is a stronger piece for it. Even from the get-go, the movie makes it clear what you're in for, actually starting with a brief sequence of some of Solomon's life as a slave before flashing back to show us the man he once was and how he got there. It really helps further hammer home one of the key elements the film doesn't want you forget - despite what the culture of the time said, these were people who were taken, often against their wills, denied their lives and histories, and worked in brutal conditions. We don't linger long on Solomon's life as a free man, but we see enough of it to appreciate what he's taken away from. It's a small piece of the overall film, but still vital.

The rest of the narrative is, as I said before, a very frank look at the industry of slavery. From Solomon's kidnapping on, we're treated to the entire process by which slaves were essentially dehumanized, sold, and broken down on plantations. One of the other small pieces that really caught me here is actually shortly after Solomon's kidnapping. We see him talking with another kidnapped free man, while the third member of their group had been born into slavery. The difference in psychology they show compared to this third man is both sad and horrifying, moreso when one remembers how common practice this was back then. Once sold, we see Solomon under the care of two different masters with two different temperaments (played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender respectively.) Successfully achieving another of the trickier balances in slave film, McQueen actually handles the contrast between these two with a surprising amount nuance. Cumberbatch's Mr. Ford could have been made into the archetypal 'nice master,' with all the problems that the cliche brings with it. Instead, while the film does show him as somewhat more benevolent, it does still remind us that, benevolent or not, he IS part of the slave industry. Further, in that culture, his benevolence is treated as a sort of weakness. Even when Solomon runs afoul of one of Ford's workers (played by an appropriately weasley Paul Dano,) Ford does not protect him, and sends him to another plantation. The other plantation...well, as Ford is the benevolent, if powerless, side of slavery, Fassbender's Epps is the harsher side of the culture. This in particular is where the film's harsh edge hits hardest, most especially with a subplot involving another slave, Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o) who has been the recipient of Epps's affections - earning the ire of his jealous wife (Sarah Paulson.) Epps runs his plantation with a mindset of force and 'breaking' the slaves, and this mentality is ingrained in all the years Solomon spends on the Epps plantation. The one area where the narrative hits a bit of a setback, and this is still a fairly minor one, is with regards to Solomon's finally escaping, with the help of an abolitionist working on the plantation. It's not even that the scene is badly written or directed, it's rather the decision to cast Brad Pitt (who helped produce the movie) as the abolitionist. Much of the rest of the cast, as I will go into shortly, are well suited and blend into their parts well. Pitt, meanwhile, is really just Pitt in period costume. It doesn't ruin the movie, but it is a bit of an awkward element in an otherwise strong movie, though one the film thankfully recovers from in its finale. Said finale further dodging some potential cliches in its own way - while McQueen doesn't completely shut down the happiness that comes from Solomon's reunion with his family, he also makes it a point to remind us, both with text, and with a haunting scene as Solomon is being taken away from the plantation, that he is one of the lucky ones-The very few lucky ones. We feel some relief that he is free again, but are also reminded that slavery and the brutality on that plantation will continue, and many others will suffer even after his suffering ended.

This isn't to say McQueen is the only strong aspect of this movie. As I've mentioned some above, the cast are phenomenal with the possible exception of Pitt. In the lead role, Ejiofor has a lot to take on in this part. As far as how he did, I find myself agreeing with the other critics who have said that the next Best Actor Oscar is all but his to lose at this point. As much as McQueen's direction, much of this movie hinges on Ejiofor's performance, and luckily he can support the weight. Probably some of his strongest moments aren't even in his dialogue delivery, but in pure expression. The amount of emotion he can put into just his demeanor and face in any given scene is impressive, such as at the end of the film when he is first reunited with his family. The scene itself is fairly light on dialogue, but the rush of emotions that Ejiofor conveys rushing to him are downright heartbreaking. For a scene that is, within the overall theme of the movie, a fleeting moment of happiness, however bittersweet, he makes it shine. The other standout in the cast has to go to Fassbender, continuing his running work with McQueen, this time in yet another role that shows his versatility. This time around, he delivers a strong, but incredibly disturbing performance. Like I said above, his mentality is driven by use of force, and he embodies that well. Epps is a ruthless, brutal person, and Fassbender doesn't let up. While I'm not sure I'd call him as definite in the running for Best Supporting as Ejiofor is for Best Actor, he is certainly a strong contender. From there, much of the rest of the supporting cast hold up their parts very well. Probably one of the strongest in this regard goes to Nyong'o, who is downright heartbreaking in her role as Patsey. It's one of those roles that you don't expect to stand out at first, but as her story progresses, one can't help but be both impressed for her and feel bad for her character. In particular, the climax of her story (which I won't reveal much here) takes the prize as one of the most uncomfortable moments I've had in a theater to date. From there, Cumberbatch's turn as Ford is arguably the best work I've ever seen from him, and convinced me he is capable of range after all. Paul Giamatti, in a smaller part, still manages to stand out in his brief role as a slave trader - a mix of being both watchable in his sales pitch, and utterly despicable in just what he's selling. Also of note, and as a rather welcome surprise, the film brings back the two leads of last year's Beasts of the Southern Wild - Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry in two supporting roles. They don't have major parts, but it is a very nice surprise to see the two back again, as they're both very promising as new talent.

It's actually kind of funny in a way. For as hard as this movie is to watch - and I'm not exaggerating when I say I'd have a hard time see this again anytime soon, there is still a LOT I could say good in its favor. Its very hard subject matter to work with, and McQueen handles it deftly, providing nuance while also not softballing one of the darker periods in America's history. Pair his ambitious, unique vision with a phenomenal cast, and I don't mind saying right now this is currently my pick for the best movie I have seen this year. Granted, we're still getting into the 'big guns' time of year, but this has already set the bar very high.

Well, I managed to do one of these without resorting to cheek. I guess it CAN be done.
...OK, besides that.

Keep an eye out tomorrow, as week 3 of MST3k month continues. It's been a pretty fun month for that.
God, I feel wrong invoking 'fun' with this movie.

Till next time!