31 May 2006

MST3K (K11)

K11 - Humanoid Woman - Wow. As soon as the movie got into space, I had no idea what the hell was going on. It could've been that the riffing was interrupting important plot points, but I think it's more likely that this movie is hard to follow in its original form. There was yellow pollution everywhere. There was a dwarven bad guy alien. There were people with fancy beards hanging down one side of their face. Most of all, there was killer foam with bad vibrations. A lot of killer foam. If I don't have nightmares about this killer foam tonight, I will be very disappointed.

I think JatB were just as mystified as I was, as the riffing was sparse in this episode. It was not one of their finer moments, even in KTMA terms. The host segments -- which I looked forward to just for some brief respite from the psychological onslaught of the movie -- were brief and not terribly funny. This Sandy Frank feature does not make an appearance in season 3. That's too bad. It would've been interesting to see JatB tackle this movie with the absolute full strength of their wits.

I have given up hope of ever seeing the voicemail return. (5/10)

film d. Richard Viktorov & Nikolai Viktorov [as Richard Victor] (1981)
mst d. Vince Rodriguez (29 Jan 1989)

30 May 2006

MST3K (K10)

K10 - Cosmic Princess - (aka Space: 1999: "The Metamorph" + Space: 1999: "Space Warp") I think Joel must have flipped the "riff" switch on Crow's back to "more" because this is the first time Crow has seemed like himself since this KTMA stuff began. He's finally talking as much as a cable-era episode and he's actually funny like Crow should be. I'm pleased to see this piece of MST finally fall into place after watching frozen Crow and untalkative Crow occupy the SOL for the past six episodes.

Servo continues to interrupt Joel's jokes, which grates my cheese. I much prefer Joel's humor to Josh's. Half the time the laid-back, soft-spoken Joel is about to make a crack, the then-teenaged, very loud Josh butts in with his own thought. He's gonna have to get a lot better before I'll feel sorry when he leaves 1.5 seasons from now.

This episode was also aired on the day of Super Bowl XXIII, which JatB mention as Crow and Servo tackle each other. Man, they beat the hell out of the bots in these episodes. I notice that Crow just got a new paint job after walking around with white "freezing" speckles for weeks. Servo trashed his right shoulder in this ep. I wonder if they'll repair that before K11 or let it slide like Crow's paint?

Still no callers. (6/10)

film d. Charles Crichton & Peter Medak (1976)
mst d. Vince Rodriguez (22 Jan 1989)

28 May 2006

OLR: Immortal (Ad Vitam) (2004)

A beautiful and detailed sci-fi world, but the random video game cut scene reject characters grated. (7/10)

d. Enki Bilal

[thanks Bill Shatner]

MST3K (K09)

K09 - Phase IV - Ah, memories of 7th grade science class when the teacher, without warning, popped in a tape of The Hellstrom Chronicle and blew most of the class's mind. There was never any danger of that happening with this film. It's slow and, due to both the script and the MST3K crew's audio guy, hard to follow. The concept had potential as a kind of Cujo-Assault on Precinct 13 (the original) combo, but it wasn't executed anywhere near as well as those two films.

For the first time in any episode that I can ever remember seeing, the film gets a genuine compliment. "Nice photography, though," says Crow when we're presented with yet more footage of ants crawling around. He's right. The insect photography was very nice. Especially eye-catching were the shots that caught the light gleaming through the odd ant with the semi-translucent green abdomen.

Probably as a result of the slowness of the film and JatB not being used to tackling non-Gamera movies anymore, the riffing was light in spots and the guys felt out of practice at this sport. Still no callers in the host segments, either, but they advertised the phone number in huge letters this time, so I have hopes for K10. (5/10)

film d. Saul Bass (1974)
mst d. Vince Rodriguez (15 Jan 1989)

OLR: Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)

Seems to be missing the bite of the novel, but entertaining in its own right. (7/10)

d. George Roy Hill

OLR: Silent Running (1971)

Kind of a sci-fi Lorax, but with a crazy space gardener. (6/10)

d. Douglas Trumbull

27 May 2006

Marx (1938)

1938 - Room Service - This film barely registers as a Marx Bros. film. Sure, the Bros. are present and inhabiting their usual personalities. Sure, there's a Zeppo-ish straight man for them to bounce off of, as well as a clearly defined upper class bad guy. Somehow, however, the Bros. are muted. Groucho doesn't seem as sharp, Harpo isn't as insane and Chico fades into background most of the time. I wasn't surprised at all to learn that this was a Broadway play not written for the Bros. It feels like a standard issue comedy of the era and most of it takes place in the stage-like hotel room.

Another disappointment was Lucille Ball. One of the great female comedians joins the Bros. on a picture, yet she's barely in the film and exists only for exposition. True, this is thirteen years before "I Love Lucy," but it's still disappointing.

The Bros. tried to spice things up with their brand of comedy, but they weren't able to transform this film into their usual madcappery. All was not lost. There are a handful of decently funny scenes in film. The only time they get actual room service was classic Marx as they scramble to consume the food as fast as possible. Harpo repeatedly saying "ah" for the doctor using a squeaking cupie doll got a laugh from me. I thought Donald MacBride did a great job as the perpetually irritated Wagner.

Lucky for the Bros. and us, this is their only RKO film and only script not written specifically for them. (4/10)

d. William A. Seiter

26 May 2006

MST3K (K08)

K08 - Gamera vs Guiron - Despite Joel announcing this particular movie in the last episode, the Mads play with our hopes by pretending to have a non-Gamera movie to show. I notice in this segment that Dr. F has a stethoscope around his neck. That solves one mystery: he's got an M.D. in mad science. I'd pegged him as a mad psychoanalyst.

No callers!? The best part of the KTMA host segments was missing in this episode. Will the voicemail make a return, or are we transitioning to Still Store letters? I hope there are more birthday invitation-, misunderstanding-, accidental swearing-filled audio messages in the future.

Whew. The last Gamera movie (until August or so, anyway). I like giant monsters just fine, but five of the same in a row begins to wear on a guy. I'm looking forward to diving into the non-repeated, all-original KTMA movies coming up. (5/10)

film d. Noriaki Yuasa (1969)
mst d. Vince Rodriguez (8 Jan 1989)

23 May 2006

MST3K (K07)

K07 - Gamera vs Zigra - Finally, Crow gets unfrozen and joins Joel and Servo once again. Unfortunately, Trace seems to be a little out of practice after his absence. He has much less to say that his companions. Josh, on the other hand, is downright yappy, often interrupting Joel and talking during the movie's dialogue. Even with 33% more wisecrackers, this episode wasn't quite as funny as K06. I'd probably chalk it up to the holidays and minds being elsewhere.

I'll give Josh his due: his Soviet version of a comedian trapped in space was pretty funny. It was also nice to see the Mads for the very first time (excluding the shot in the credits) in that scene. It's odd to see Dr. Forrester sans mustache and green coat. I also suddenly got a strange urge to drink Pepsi® brand soft drinks when they appeared.

Joel appears to either have seen this movie before or he did some homework before they shot the theater scenes. Towards the end, he predicts the little girl's request for Coke and Gamera's musical ability. I thought the KTMA days were all ad-libbed, but perhaps by this point Joel was getting wise to the idea that things could be better with preparation? (5/10)

film d. Noriaki Yuasa (1971)
mst d. Vince Rodriguez (31 Dec 1988)

OLR: According to Occam's Razor (2001)

Mora gets his family riled up about UFOs in order to shoot a crappy Blair Witch take on the subject. (4/10)

d. Philippe Mora

OLR: Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

Interesting parallels to our own era, but not put together that well. (6/10)

d. George Clooney

22 May 2006

OLR: Capote (2005)

Not much for biopics, and the subject was an unappealing narcissist. (6/10)

d. Bennett Miller

21 May 2006

MST3K (K06)

K06 - Gamera vs Gaos - Things are starting to fall into place. The jokes are much more frequent this outing; I probably laughed more during this episode than during K04 and K05 combined. And, finally, Josh got me to crack up a few times. The voice changing routine he did with Joel was actually funny and showed some comedic skills on Josh's part. It didn't hurt that Servo's new voice is more like Kevin Murphy's and less like Pee-Wee Herman's. I think this is the episode where Servo first gets his first name, which Josh uses with delighted aplomb every chance he can.

My prediction from K05 was correct! A caller did ask about the missing Servo. There was some robot name confusion on the caller's part and Joel went over why Crow was frozen again instead of explaining Servo's whereabouts. The caller prior to that complained about having two Gamera movies in a row. I've been wondering about that. Did playing five of these films in a row drive away new fans? And, why are they out of order? Season 3 fixes both of these problems. I wonder if the complaining caller tuned out and taped over his copies of K01-K03 due to his disappointment?

You have to love the boy calling to invite JatB to his birthday party. Joel setting up a "Happy Birthday" banner on the SOL and Servo wishing him well: this is what makes MST3K special.

Towards the end of the movie, my sister-in-law and her 8-year-old daughter joined me to watch. SIL is the same age as me and laughed frequently as Gamera battled Gaos. Surprising to me, my niece giggled at one of the jokes herself. When Gamera was about to dump Gaos in the volcano, Joel makes a crack about roasting a chicken which made her crack up a bit. Maybe there's hope for future fans? (6/10)

film d. Noriaki Yuasa (1967)
mst d. Vince Rodriguez (18 Dec 1988)

[watched at Brother-in-Law's house using an Xbox 360]

20 May 2006

Marx (1937)

1937 - A Day at the Races - Maybe I'm nuts, but I found this to be the most enjoyable film from the Bros. so far. Everything works like a well-oiled machine, from Groucho and Dumont's love-hate relationship, to the lavish MGM musical numbers, to Chico and Harpo's game of charades.

What about the big jazz number in the middle? Isn't that more "thirties-style racism," as I noticed in Duck Soup? Some people certainly see it that way. A commenter on another blog calls it "That embarassing happy darkies musical number." Another commenter on yet another blog describes it as (3/4 down the page, 18th paragraph) "the kind of scene that makes modern day audiences cringe like crazy, what with all the goggle-eyed smiling blacks who sing and wave their hands in their air and drink moonshine, and whatnot" and declares the scene "INCREDIBLY offensive." What I find incredibly offensive are those descriptions by these supposedly enlightened individuals. "Goggle-eyed"? Jesus.

I see that scene more as a statement on the Bros.' class allegiance. The Bros. stand for the little guy. Harpo and Chico always play lower class characters and all three Bros. use their wits to tear at the upper class establishment. This is illustrated as well as it ever is in the musical number prior to the jazz scene. There, the Bros. raise hell at a stuffy theater populated by tuxedo-clad elites. Harpo, in particular, demonstrates his contempt by playing the piano so furiously it disintegrates. In marked contrast, the jazz scene has Harpo leading an ever-growing crowd of revelers. White, black -- it doesn’t matter -- all are working class folks that share a love of music and are in need of cheering up. Another indicator of the Bros.' intentions for this scene is the fact that they knew it would be cut out of the film for Southern audiences, but shot it anyway (as noted at the end of the 6th paragraph in the film's Wikipedia article). Yes, the scene ends with the Bros. in blackface, but I think Harpo makes a positive statement by only painting half of his face.

I dunno. It's pretty complicated stuff. As the blog link in my Duck Soup review said "race relations during the 1930s were considerably less simplistic than most people realize--and certainly no less murky than they are today."

Supposedly this is the last good Marx Bros. film. Hopefully the rest aren't too bad, as I still have six more to watch. (8/10)

d. Sam Wood

[watched at Brother-in-Law's house using an Xbox 360]

MST3K (K05)

K05 - Gamera - Joel goes it alone! The man makes a very valiant effort, but even during the parts where the jokes are frequent, it's just weird to see only one silhouette in the theater. Instead of a man quipping to his friends beside him -- something we all do -- we've got a guy talking to himself -- something the crazy homeless guy downtown does. Of the three trapped on the SOL, Joel is easily the funniest at this point, so we are lucky on that.

The explanation for why Joel is alone is a good example of the classiness of the program. Being an ultra-low budget show on an ultrahigh frequency channel few were probably watching, they could've not bothered to explain anything. Instead, they shot a small scene with Trace before he left for wherever he had to go which explained Crow's absence from the theater. Crow makes a fine Christmas tree. Although, I suppose Servo's absence from the theater is never explained. He makes appearances in the host segments -- non-frozen and talkative, even -- but inexplicably never follows Joel into the theater. I wonder if someone called the voicemail line asking about that? Maybe K06 will reveal all.

One thing I've found myself doing during both K04 and this episode is cracking mental MST-style jokes during the frequent silent sections. I guess my brain's already on MST-autopilot and is attempting to raise the joke quota to normal levels. I've never seen the season 3 versions of these episodes, so I have no reference for what the cable versions are like. It'll be interesting to compare the pairs of repeats. (4/10)

film d. Noriaki Yuasa (1965)
mst d. Vince Rodriguez (11 Dec 1988)

[watched at Brother-in-Law's house using an Xbox 360]

18 May 2006

MST3K (K04)

K04 - Gamera vs Barugon - The slow start had me a little worried for the remaining 17 KTMAs I have to watch. Like a lot of the silence-filled DVD commentaries these days, I think JatB got sucked into watching the movie and forgot about cracking jokes. Once the giant monsters started fighting, they warmed up and the comments became more frequent. They are, of course, nowhere near as funny as they will be in later years. I've only ever seen one Josh episode before this (Rhino's release of 106), but between that episode and this, he hasn't made me laugh so far. The Pee-Wee Herman voice for Servo didn't help. Neither did the impossibly annoying Gypsy voice he does. I wonder if he'll get better and funnier with more practice?

Having never seen any of the KTMA episodes before, I was surprised. It really wasn't as bad as Net lore makes this era out to be. It probably helped that I enjoyed the movie by itself. It's the kind of crazy the Japanese are great at providing: giant, spinning, flaming turtles attracted to the death-ray-rainbows of giant, freeze-tongue-endowed lizards. Awesome.

The host segments are incredibly short, but I love the voicemail segments. It's too bad those didn’t last into the cable era. It's more fun to hear a fan's voice than to see a Still Store of their letter. Speaking of fans, you have to hand it to MiSTies. The copy I have of this 18-year-old UHF show broadcast in only one market in the entire country only one time is amazing. In my years of movie collecting, I've gotten much, much worse and been happy. (5/10)

film d. Shigeo Tanaka (1966)
mst d. Vince Rodriguez (4 Dec 1988)

17 May 2006

MST3K (opening thoughts)

Tomorrow I begin A Year on the Satellite of Love. In the spirit of Kevin Murphy's book A Year at the Movies, I'm going to watch all of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the space of twelve months. This will be 194 episodes, 1 movie and 6 specials. That adds up to about 307 hours of my life or 3.5% of my year. I'll need to watch 15 episodes every 4 weeks, which comes out to slightly more than one every other day.

Why start right now? If I keep to my schedule, I will get to 512 by Thanksgiving. "Mitchell" is a perfect episode to force my in-laws to watch with me on Turkey Day. It's also a great episode to celebrate the most high of MST holidays.

I don't remember the first episode of MST3K I ever saw. I didn't watch the Comedy Central episodes regularly. Instead, I'd just happen to catch the show playing late at night and would settle in for a couple hours of solid chuckles. I didn't really become a MiSTie until Rhino began releasing DVDs. Remembering my late night laughs, I grabbed their first two releases (506 and 513) and loved them. When the second wave of Rhino DVDs included the ultra-hilarious "Mitchell", I became hooked. I immediately sought out the movie DVD (buying what was likely the local Media Play's last copy ever) and I began taping and trading episodes from the Sci-Fi Channel.

After years of buying every Rhino release, trading, ordering DVD-Rs online, and downloading DAP releases, I'm about to have a complete set of episodes (Rhino's Volume 9 is in the mail and will end my long collecting journey). I'm looking forward to seeing the dozens and dozens of episodes I've never even laid eyes on.

I'm also interested in getting a sense of the longevity of the humor in MST3K. Based on the seven writers that IMDb has birth years for, the humor of MST3K was written by people born between 1956 and 1964. Boomers, in other words. As such, many of the cultural references they made on the show were created to make people of that generation laugh (themselves, in the writers' room). I fear that -- in addition to the torturous legal issues that will likely prevent the show from ever being rerun on TV -- this referential humor will make the series inaccessible to younger fans. I was born in 1977 and feel like I'm barely able to catch 75% of the cultural references. For people younger than that, it can only get worse. As I watch, I'll be curious track how much of the humor is referential (820: "Man, Sherry Lewis has got it going on!") and how much is pure comedy (820: "Reef Blastbody! Big McLargehuge! Smoke Manmuscle! Roll Fizzlebeef!"). Does MST3K have legs? Will it be funny in the future? Or, when I try to show episodes to my future kids in 2018, will they force me to turn it off? I hope to find out in one year's time.

16 May 2006

Marx (1935)

1935 - A Night at the Opera - Made at MGM and Zeppo-free, still this film still feels like a Marx Bros. movie to me. It probably has a slightly more standard plot than the Paramount films, with more concentration on the two lovers than ever before. There was probably slightly more of the soundtrack dedicated to sappy loves songs as well, but the regular doses of comedy helped alleviate that quite well.

I was glad to see the return of the Harpo and Chico musical numbers. It was particularly great to see, what appeared to be, the kids' authentic joy at watching the Bros. perform. Their smiles at Chico's fingerwork on the ivories were as entertaining to behold as Chico's actual fingerwork. I chuckled loudly at the kids' reaction just to Harpo's appearance, which made them all break out into laughter. You could see also the Bros.'s joy at performing for the kids. Hopefully, we'll see more like this in future films.

Favorite moment of the film: the look on Harpo's face when the cooks on the ship continue to pile food upon food on his plate. (7/10)

d. Sam Wood & Edmund Goulding

13 May 2006

OLR: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Excellently creepy middle, but these things eventually have to end somehow. (7/10)

d. Mark Pellington

10 May 2006

Guest OLR: Dr T & the Women (2000)

I guess he didn't learn from Prêt-à-Porter. (4/10)

d. Robert Altman

08 May 2006

Guest OLR: United 93 (2006)

Bloody Sunday on a plane. (6/10)

d. Paul Greengrass