Merry Christmas, if that's okay

24-Dec-08 9:37 AM by
Filed under Films; Comments Off on Merry Christmas, if that's okay

Tis the season to be thankful, and I count among my blessings my many friends, be they Calvinists, atheists, Methodists, humanists, Jews, or Hindus. We are a diverse lot, which is easy to notice in this season of festivals too numerous to count. And so, in Showbits' annual tradition, I call upon the talents of MST3K to wish everyone a happy holiday:

Last-Minute Costume Ideas

31-Oct-08 10:54 AM by
Filed under Humor; 1 comment.

We can always count on MST3K to help us celebrate the holidays. Just as they always have a special Christmas message, today they help us dress up for Halloween:

It's hard for me to top the costume I wore to work four years ago… but every Halloween is a new opportunity. Perhaps this year I'll carve a Death Star jack-o'-lantern! (Hat tip to meancritter)

RiffTrax Roundup

05-Sep-08 9:45 AM by
Filed under Films, Humor; 6 comments.

It's been nearly two years since the launch of RiffTrax, the licensing-free way to turn any Hollywood blockbuster, good or bad, into a comedy. RiffTrax is the brainchild of Mike Nelson, former host and head writer of the cult TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which aired for ten seasons. After that run, his idea was to use the Internet as his vehicle to continue selling his unique brand of mockery. How did that work out for him?

Very well, apparently, as RiffTrax has since expanded into a veritable empire of satire. There are now so many people and products under the RiffTrax umbrella, it's hard to keep up with them all. So, for those who are new to the scene or perhaps haven't been paying close attention, I offer this rundown of all RiffTrax has to offer:

RiffTrax: The mainstay of the service — audio commentary MP3s that you play along with your DVD, producing a MST3K-like experience — continues to relentlessly assault the best and worst of Hollywood. I have 30 of their 70+ recordings, and oddly, I've found that the better the film, the better the RiffTrax. For example, Transformers was such a miserable standalone experience that even RiffTrax's satire couldn't save it. But favorites have included The Sixth Sense — laughing at such a serious and macabre film was a truly odd experience — Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Spider-Man 3. That third film I watched with someone who had never seen the film before. I asked him if RiffTrax distracted him from the core plot; he offered, "I highly recommend watching a movie you've never seen with the RiffTrax commentary. It's surprisingly easy to tune the voices out when you want to hear the movie. And the riffers do a fairly good job of not speaking over the more important dialogue."

RiffTrax Presents: As mentioned, RiffTrax was founded by former MST3K host Michael J. Nelson, who eventually added his former co-hosts Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett to the RiffTrax cast. For some reason, they've found the need to use this separate brand name, "RiffTrax Presents", for commentary provided without Mike. Usually these riffs are served by Kevin and Bill, but the occasional guest riffer, such as Mary Jo Pehl (Mrs. Forrester) or Matthew J. Elliott show up — though reception to that latter riffer has been less than stellar. By contrast, Kevin and Bill's take on Star Trek New Voyages: World Enough and Time was one of the best riffs I've enjoyed so far.

iRiffs: Continuing the trend of offering riffs by lesser-known personalities, iRiffs feature none of the MST3K talent but are instead provided by third parties through RiffTrax in a joint financial venture. I've not tried these riffs yet, though I'm curious to experience Speed, as it's written and performed by the same team that I previously heard do a live riffing of TRON.

RiffTrax On Demand: Throwbacks to MST3K, these public service announcements, usually B&W and about ten minutes long, sell for only $1 each. Best of all, the public-domain video is included, with no need to sync a separate MP3. The crew worked overtime to pump out a record-breaking ten shorts in the month of July, dubbed "Eat Our Shorts".

RiffTrax DIY: This free service (which I first blogged about a year ago yesterday) offered audio clips from Mike, Kevin, and Bill for users to mix into their favorite YouTube videos, thus producing custom homebrew riffs that nonetheless featured recognizable and talented voice acting. The site, which never left beta, is currently down, putting all its user-generated riffs behind closed doors — though at least one enterprising fan salvaged such work and imported it to YouTube. (Be sure to check out the Batman fan film Dead End) I hope to see RiffTrax DIY return soon with an improved interface and more functionality, including inbuilt import and export functions.

RiffTrax Live: This summer's ComicCon played host to a screening of Plan 9 From Outer Space for which Mike, Kevin, and Bill provided live commentary. The group is willing to reenact this showing, but there must be demand. I requested a Boston screening and was immediately placed on a mailing list for the coordinating group, Eventful.com. I removed myself from the list but checked on the results today: only nine other people have petitioned for a Boston screening. Maybe if there was an easier process for the fans to cast their votes?

RiffTrax Ringtones: The voices of Mike, Kevin, and Bill are now ringtones for your cellular phone or other mobile device. Since I own neither, and any sampling of the ringtones requires a purchase, I don't know just how darn cool these must be.

Bill, Mike, and Kevin are... The RiffTones.RiffTones: Now we know why this moniker wasn't used for the RiffTrax Ringtones. The RiffTones are what you get when Mike, Kevin, and Bill set their witty repartee to music. As part of a competition called "Masters of Song-Fu", they competed directly against Jonathan Coulton of "Still Alive" fame. Charged with producing "a song about the moon", both camps recorded tunes that are excellent in their own special ways. Encore, encore!

RiffTrax Blog: Once an outlet for only official announcements, the RiffTrax Blog is now a daily source of madness and mayhem for all things Swayze and bacony. Complete chaos and random mayhem, it is the best opportunity you have to engage this terrible trio directly, as they regularly respond to commenters and each other.

Riffstaurant: Just as Scott Adams manages Stacey's Café, so too is Mike Nelson branching into the food service industry. Instead of suggesting "Very good, sir," waiters (who are all named Mitchell) mock your ridiculous menu selections. Meals begin as the finest sirloin and is then butchered until it's little more than a Quarter Pounder. And you can expect nothing, from the kitchen to your seats to the revolving door, to actually work — no springs! … Okay, so there is no Riffstaurant. So sue me.

That's all from RiffTrax. But speaking of MST3K, that property is alive and well in home video format. MST3K: The Movie was re-released to DVD this past May, and a special collector's tin of assorted episodes releases this October, commemorating the show's 20th anniversary.

Finally, for all your ongoing RiffTrax and MST3K-related needs, check out Satellite News. Their daily blog follows the continuing careers of any and all MST3K alumni and also features regular trivia and discussions about favorite episodes. deep ape is a similar site and offers mostly the same news but with a smarmy spin; unfortunately, it is less consistent than Satellite News and lately not been updated in nearly a month.

Now, where's Torgo with my pizza…

Once Again On This Island

24-Jan-08 11:17 AM by
Filed under Films; 3 comments.

The year that Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie debuted in a staggering 26 theaters nationwide, I spent the summer working my first job at Blockbuster Video. Courtesy channel surfing, I was vaguely familiar with the MST3K TV series, so when the movie received a wider release on VHS, I sought it out during my Friday night shift. Our one copy was rented out, so on my dinner break I called the local mom-and-pop store to ask if they had MST3K: The Movie. "Hmm… no, that doesn't sound like something we'd carry. You might want to try Blockbuster."

I eventually did get my hands on the VHS version and laughed until I cried. I immediately shared it with everyone I could think of, and when I bought my first DVD player three years later, MST3K was one of the first discs I bought. It's essentially a high-budget episode of the television show, but the jokes are spot-on (and occasionally a bit more risque than TV would permit), the editing of This Island Earth (featuring the Professor of Gilligan's Island) incisive, and the running time, though shorter than an actual episode, was just the right length to make for an engaging introduction to the series. I even showed it in a high school film studies course I taught, as I felt it essential for these up-and-coming geeks to graduate with an awareness of the rich heritage of B-films. I eliminated it from the course's next iteration, though, as some of the humor did not seem appropriate for the classroom, and the movie's substance was not as weighty at its curriculum brethren, such as Wit or Fail-Safe. (Its place in the course was occupied the next year by The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.)

The movie still holds a prominent place in my video library, especially since the DVD was discontinued eight years ago, with used copies now fetching triple-digit prices on Amazon and eBay. So I was happy to read yesterday's report that MST3K: The Movie will be re-released this May 6th. This is good news for MST3K fans and those curious to see this quintessential episode of a cult classic. With the promise of additional features, extras, and commentary, the lust for the movie's original edition will surely plummet — but it's better for the film to be valued by fans than by collectors, so the renewed availability of the disc is something my devalued copy will happily accommodate.

Festive, Fun, and Sexy!

24-Dec-07 8:00 AM by
Filed under Humor; 2 comments.

As per our annual tradition, we here at Showbits wish you a very merry holiday season, courtesy our friends at RiffTrax:

Hat tip to Satellite News.

Mighty Max

05-Nov-07 12:01 AM by
Filed under Television; Comments Off on Mighty Max

All good things must come to an end — but as sad as it is to see our favorite casts and crews disperse, it gives them and their fans new opportunities. Yet it's the old collaborations that seem to generate the most excitement, heralding a return to the golden days of yore; observe the success that is RiffTrax, born of the genius that brought us Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Another such project featuring the talents of Michael J Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett is Max the Hero, a 12-minute animated cartoon currently playing online and at various festivals. Though all three actors lend their voice talents to this short, most comical is Bill Corbett playing the title character with the same blasé arrogance that made Crow T. Robot so irascibly lovable. Once Max's main plot starts to play out, there are some good lampoons of superheroes and fanboys, making the crude animation and somewhat crass opening sequence worth getting through.

Tip of the hat to deep ape, an all-MST3K, all-the-time blog. Surf over there, and to Satellite News, for news of other recent projects, revivals, and spin-offs featuring the stars and characters of Mystery Science Theater 3000 — including one that goes live today!

Send In the Clones

09-Aug-07 11:46 AM by
Filed under Films, Television; 2 comments.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, the television series that for ten years lampooned terrible B-films, will see its twelfth DVD collection released this October, reports TVShowsOnDVD.com.

Since I was a latecomer to the series, the three Comedy Central-era episodes in this set are unknown to me. More appealing is the inclusion of episode 811. When I was taking a college course on bioethics that steered one day toward cloning, I offered to lend the professor a film about cloning. I didn't warn him it was the MST3K version of Parts: The Clonus Horror. My thoughtfulness was acknowledged the next day when I was late to class and Prof. Shannon stopped his lecture to address my classmates: "I would like to thank Mr. Gagne for lending me what is very possibly the worst film I have ever seen."

Years later, when I first read the plot description for the 2005 film The Island, I was sure it was a remake of Clonus (which is a pretty bad idea for a movie; shouldn't you rip off the greats, not the awfuls?). A few months later, I wasn't the only one to think so: the producer of Clonus (interviewed for a bonus feature on the above DVD set) filed a lawsuit against The Island's producers, claiming copyright infringement. The case was settled out-of-court a year later for a seven-figure sum.

I'd ask for a RiffTrax version of The Island — but that would just seem redundant.

The Return of Statler & Waldorf

08-Jan-07 12:23 PM by
Filed under Films, Television; 7 comments.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 was perhaps the most ingenious television program ever aired. It took old B-movies and "completed" them, as some might say; that is, it introduced entertainment where, despite good intentions, none previously existed. By adding an audio commentary track, MST3K lampooned the film, pop culture, and themselves more quickly and effectively than an average viewer could irritate his audiencemates with his own jokes.

Even constrained by copyrights and other legalities, the show trashed enough duds to last ten memorable years. It's now been eight years that we've been without MST3K. Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese and Kevin Murphy's A Year at the Movies were great books — but they still left me wistful for the days of yesteryear.

Fortunately, the Best Brains crew reunited in 2006 to launch RiffTrax. For $3/pop, they'll sell you an MP3 to play alongside a DVD that you provide. Since RiffTrax isn't selling the actual movies, there's no licensing fees, thus opening a trove of previously untouchable titles for them to mock.

This was how I recently watched X-Men (click for sample) and The Matrix. (more…)