Hulk LAUGH!

17-Oct-08 1:04 PM by
Filed under Films; Comments Off on Hulk LAUGH!

Michael J. Nelson is THE HULK!It's Friday — and what better way to start your weekend than with a RiffTrax? As if this week's release of the Iron Man riff weren't attractive enough, the generous geniuses that brought us MST3K have now delivered a FREE riffing of an entire episode of the Bill Bixby series The Incredible Hulk.

It gets even better: not only is no purchase necessary, but neither is any downloading or syncing. This riff comes with audio AND video in one tidy package, streaming at you courtesy Hulu. Check it out at RiffTrax.com. (Available in the USA only)

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…

Riff Treks

10-Feb-08 10:02 PM by
Filed under Films, Star Trek; 4 comments.

I admit it: I'm a Star Trek fanboy. Almost anything bearing the Star Trek name is instantly fantastic — it's just a matter of degree. Within that realm is a wide variety, from the awesomely fantastic (Deep Space Nine, First Contact) to the pathetically fantastic (Nemesis), but I'll still be first in line for all of them. Such zeal may make me a laughing stock… but I've found the most valuable trait of any hardcore geek is a healthy sense of humor.

Over the years, there have been multiple instances when the combination of geekdom and comedy intersected with brilliant results. The most mainstream occurrence was in 1999, when an all-star cast including Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Tony Shalhoub appeared in the feature film Galaxy Quest. The trailers of the time made the movie look like weak sci-fi fare intended for the unsophisticated masses, so I didn't see it until 2002 — at which time I wished I hadn't waited so long. I rewatched it this weekend and was again impressed with how much fun it was.

Galaxy QuestGalaxy Quest doubles as the name of a fictional cancelled television series, its cast of washed-up has-beens since having taken to the tour circuit, making their living signing autographs and reciting famous lines. But their reruns have been misinterpreted as historical documents by an alien civilization that has made into reality all elements of the show (think "A Piece of the Action"). These xenoforms abduct the thespian crew of the NSEA Protector to help their new ship and stave off extinction at the hands of a tyrannical despot (whose vehicle my 80-year-old movie buddy immediately identified as reminiscent of the Doomsday machine — a fitting homage!).

As an amalgam of fantasy and reality, Galaxy Quest succeeds in mocking the synonymous Star Trek as well as its actors and fans. Via the show-within-a-show device, everyone gets their turn: from the pomposity of William Shatner to the inevitable expendability of the red shirts to the obsessive fanboys. Even Star Trek alumni had the sense to appreciate the film.

It's likely many fans of Home Improvement saw Galaxy Quest as a Tim Allen vehicle, but I can't imagine the film being nearly as entertaining for those who have not seen Star Trek themselves. And if you're lucky enough to be one of those veterans of the original material, there are more hands-on opportunities to lampoon the franchise. RiffTrax, the downloadable audio commentaries from the talent that brought you Mystery Science Theater 3000, has thus far parodied 49 movies, and Star Trek has the dubious honor of being three of them. For a limited time, you can buy all three Star Trek RiffTrax for $8.99. Though admittedly that's a savings of only one dollar, it's still a great excuse to grab the MP3s to play alongside The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country, and Generations — the latter of which is sampled here:

Don't ever laugh at a Trekkie — but by all means, please do laugh at yourself. As Data would say, "It's a wonderful feeling!"

2007: The Year in Review

04-Jan-08 12:19 PM by
Filed under Films; 3 comments.

It's time for a brief look back at 2007 — brief, because my theatergoing is not what it once was. The number of movies I saw in theaters has fluctuated wildly since a decade ago, though it seems relatively constant over the course of this millennium:

1995: 22 1996: 43 1997: 70 1998: 53
1999: 37 2000: 30 2001: 12 2002: 16
2003: 15 2004: 11 2005:  9 2006: 14

This past year was very similar to its predecessor, with me taking in 15 theatrical films. It is not the prohibitive cost that keeps me from seeing more movies: a genetic condition permits me free tickets to any movie, anytime. It's more a matter of the time investment and working around the theater's schedule, whereas I can watch as much of a DVD as I want, whenever I want. Theatergoing also has a more social element than sitting at home in my pajamas, so I'm further limited by other people's geography and availability. Add in the fact that I don't have TV service and thus am not exposed unwillingly to commercials and trailers, and it takes some other rare factor, such as brand recognition, to make me aware and interested enough to warrant seeing a film.

Of the 15 films I saw in 2007, the best were Live Free or Die Hard, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. (I'd include Star Trek: The Menagerie as a theatergoing experience, but it technically was not a movie.) All three were rock'em, sock'em good action flicks that may've relied on tried-and-true formulae, but executed with finesse and humor.

This year's most disappointing movies were Spider-Man 3, 300, The Simpsons Movie, and The Golden Compass. And downright loathsome was The Transformers, which I recently saw the RiffTrax version of. Sadly, even Mike Nelson and crew could not improve on The Transformers, as I found it even more tedious on a second runthrough. Again, each of these films was based on an existing property, which perhaps led to high and ultimately unfulfilled expectations.

Which of 2007's films did you enjoy the most or least? Did I miss any you recommend?

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!

The Power of RiffTrax in the Palm of Your Hands

04-Sep-07 12:44 PM by
Filed under Humor; 1 comment.

I've previously blogged about what the masterminds behind MST3K are up to these days: RiffTrax, which gives us a whole new way to lampoon and enjoy Hollywood's best (and worst).

This weekend, RiffTrax presented its fans with a new gift: RiffTrax DIY. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett have recorded hundreds of sound clips that you can drag and drop to any time index in any video, using their Web-based editing tool. This free product creates the potential for fans to apply the style and wit of Mike, Kevin, and Bill to design MST3K-style parodies of any practically video in existence! Budding artists have already used it to riff on everything from Batman & Robin to Sailor Moon. (Me, I just used it to mock my brother) Any riff made through September 6th is also eligible for fantastic prizes!

The genius of the tool is that it can import any YouTube video. In fact, this is required to use RiffTrax DIY, as stated in their FAQ: "RiffTrax DIY does not store or host any videos. All videos are provided courtesy of other websites. If you wish to Riff your own video, you need to host it on YouTube and come back to RiffTrax DIY with the URL." Apparently, what RiffTrax does is save your custom audio overlays and play them with someone else's video track — just like a real RiffTrax! And completely free of copyright infringement, too. The downside is that the site currently does not check to see if a video has any riffs enabled before saving it to the DIY directory, creating the potential for the site to become cluttered with YouTubers looking for a new distribution channel.

The site is currently in beta. The designers are aware of bugs such as the longer riffs cutting off during preview; also, I hope in later versions, watching your own movies when logged in as yourself will not count toward its number of views. More sound effects are also coming, which is great: even the hundreds currently available don't take long to hear.

Features still to come include the ability to upload your own audio riffs, and to export your final product. I question the value of either of these options. First, anyone who can record and upload their own audio probably has the hardware and software to be doing their own editing, without the need for RiffTrax DIY. Second, YouTube doesn't allow video exportation; why should RiffTrax? Not only that, but I'm such a fan of RiffTrax that I want people to have to go to this site to watch these riffs. The traffic is well-deserved!

So go ahead and get riffing — and reply here with your favorites!

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.