Saturday, July 31, 2010

S02E08 - Lost Continent


An experimental nuclear rocket somehow veered off course during an important experimental launch and crash lands somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. A couple of Air Force pilots, a mechanic, and several scientists are sent on a mission to see if they can retrieve it. During their search they find themselves on an island emitting a strange radiation, and after climbing the island's massive mountain they discover they have landed in a lost world.

Movie Review

Rock climbing. Rock climbing rock climbing rock climbing rock climbing. Rock climbing rock climbing rock climbing? Rock climbing rock climbing rock climbing rock climbing rock climbing rock climbing! Rock. Climbing.

Okay, so the first paragraph may be dabbling in a bit of hyperbole, but there is a reason why this film is infamous for a particular portion involving, yep, rock climbing. Remember how I said that The Ring of Terror was one of the worst examples of padding that I have ever seen? Well, Lost Continent doesn't quite get to that level, but it certainly exploits the proud B-movie tradition of film padding as much as it inhumanely can.

First of all, what kind of plot would require this kind of extensive padding? Well, how about a blatant ripoff of The Lost World, with dinosaurs existing where humans do not go? The concept itself is not absurd (much), but some of the additional plot devices, like a nuclear rocket happening to crash on the island and some tacked on anti-nuclear screeds, do stretch the limits of believability one has to endure. Even so, one would think a decent story could be derived for this kind of setting, even one based on a previous story, right?

Wrong! Oh, so wrong. After the crashing of the nuclear rocket (with reused footage from Rocketship X-M, interestingly enough), the film takes its sweet time actually getting to the island with some characterization that ultimately adds nothing of value to the story, and then takes its sweet time getting to the actual lost part of the lost continent (i.e., the peak of the island's giant mountain). So how do they accomplish this lengthy padding? With rock climbing. Twenty minutes of rock climbing. True, there are some pauses here and there for some unnecessary exposition, but for twenty full minutes the audience is forced to endure watching the characters make their way up the mountain with boring shot after shot after shot of rock climbing. Again, it doesn't reach Ring of Terror's level of absurdly unnecessary story, but it's still an endurance test to watch people do something that adds nothing to the plot.

And even after the end of the rock climbing sequence, the film still pads the story with meaningless encounters and lots and lots of walking through obvious jungle sets. This film is so determined not to show anything related to the actual plot that it's a complete chore to sit through. And adding to that chore are the film's characters, or the hollow caricatures that are meant to represent the characters. From the heroic pilot who cannot trust others to the painfully unfunny comic relief to the laughably stereotypical scientists, no one stands out as interesting in this film. Oh, sure, some semblance of actual character development is made late in the film, but it's flimsy at best and insultingly shallow at worst.

So is there anything good that can be said about this movie? Well, some of the effects shots showing dinosaurs looked all right, but those can be attributed to the movie One Million B.C., movie makers' favorite source of dinosaur stock footage in the 1950s, so it's not exactly a compliment. Oh, but here's something that he movie should be complimented on: they killed the annoying comic relief character, and thanks to some screwed up editing, none of the characters offered any kind of mourning or eulogy for him. So there's that, at least...

For a movie shot over the course of eleven days, Lost Continent isn't a completely worthless result (kind of like Rocketship X-M), but its negatives far outweigh its positives. And rock more rock climbing...please...

MST3K Review

This isn't one of MST3K's strongest episodes riffing-wise, but it does have some good gems that are enough to elevate it a little higher than average. Many of these gems are found, predictably, in the infamous rock-climbing sequence. You can hear the frustration in Joel and the bots' voices as they are forced to endure one of the most agonizing twenty minute segments of film shown in the series thus far. There are some other moments outside this sequence as well, but Lost Continent will forever be defined by rock climbing.

Rock climbing.

Stinger Review

After an unexpected stinger break in Wild Rebels, the stinger returns here with an incredibly weird conversation moment. One of the characters, talking with one of the scientists, says a string of sentences that seem unrelated to each other and respond to unanswered words by the silent "doc." The way he delivers these words makes these unnaturally flowing sentences even more awkward. Like The Ring of Terror, it's not the most memorable of stingers, but unless Best Brains crams the entire rock climbing sequence in, there's nothing else available in this film.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

S02E07 - Wild Rebels


After a fiery crash at a race track sends his entire livelihood up in smoke, a race car driver seeks a new way of life, only to accidentally fall into the company of a biker gang. Known to the police as local robbers but always managing to escape prosecution due to lack of evidence, the biker gang sees the driver as their new wheel man and hope to use his talents in their biggest heist yet.

Movie Review

Well, at least Wild Rebels did not make the same mistake that The Sidehackers did and name itself after the sport that it showcases at the beginning. Beyond that, the film doesn't do much else right, but I have to say that this is not that bad of a movie. Rather, it is merely incredibly generic, showcasing barely any creativity or unique thought from beginning to end.

With both being (essentially) biker films, it's difficult not to compare Wild Rebels to Sidehackers, which aired only a few episodes prior in the second season. And there are a lot of similarities between the two: deranged biker gangs with insane leaders, a bland and unlikable protagonist, a sport superfluously attached to the protagonist to give the illusion of depth, a shallow love interest...and those are just the obvious similarities. If there's any major difference between the two, it's that Rebels doesn't resort to the shock tactic of a brutal rape sequence.

In addition to Sidehackers, the movie also shares a few common moments with another season two episode, Catalina Caper, in that it likes to pad the film with dance scenes and terrible music. Sure, these moments do not appear as frequently as in Catalina Caper, but their presence is jarring enough to disrupt any flow in the paper thin story.

But is there really anything in this film that stands out, that gives it some semblance of a personality? Well, the biker gang, while ridiculously cliched, is also a bit bizarre. The leader speaks like an English major constantly consulting a thesaurus, which is movie logic for suggesting he is somehow intelligent. The two other male members are idiots in their own special ways, and yet the all-intelligent leader sees nothing wrong with them. And the girl...well, she likes to hump anything that moves, apparently, and her silly addiction to committing crime for "kicks" is nothing more than a flimsy excuse for lazy writing.

Oh, and I have to give props to the score composer who came up with the typewriter-esque song that plays whenever the gang commits one of their heists. Why? Because it's insanely goofy, which fits these moronic bikers to a T. Sadly, that's the only notable film score piece in the entire movie, as all the other songs, vocal or otherwise, are either unmemorable or horrible.

I hate writing about these types of movies, because they give so little to really work with. Wild Rebels is nowhere near the worst film ever made, but its lack of effort and poor craftsmanship make it little more than a generic piece of cinema destined for the trash heap. And in any case, it's still better than The Sidehackers.

MST3K Review

After two fun episodes, Joel and the bots seem to be on cruise control with episode, as the jokes didn't hit the high level of quality as often as before. Perhaps the film's status as a not-bad-but-not-good movie didn't give them much to work with. Yes, there were some excellent laugh out loud moments, but they were not as frequent as I would've preferred.

Regardless, the folks of MST3K seem to be comfortable in their more rapid-fire method of delivery in their riffs, which means it only takes one truly bad movie for them to find their mojo once more.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

S02E06 - The Ring of Terror


Short: After failing to kill his adversary, the mad scientist rescues his captured chauffeur from the police and maintains a bit of a lower profile, though he does share the secret of his emerging power with his assistant-chauffeur. Meanwhile, the heroes continue to work on an antidote for the mad scientist's strange paralyzing formula while dealing with a spy ring that hopes to steal the scientist's creations for themselves.

Film: A graveyard keeper narrates to his cat the sad tale of a young man who supposedly knew no fear. A promising medical student who showed no signs of fear at anything - snakes, cadaver dissections, etc. - his courage will be tested at a fraternity initiation that looks to tap into a dark secret he has kept from almost everyone he knows.

Movie Review

Unlike the last time, The Phantom Creeps doesn't skimp with the cliche in its cliffhanger ending resolution: our hero manages to escape from the car just before it barrels off the cliff. After that...well, who the hell cares? A complete mess of a narrative in the second episode, the third episode is even worse, showing front and center the writers' inability to care about structure, plot, or anything interesting.

We still only care about one character, the mad scientist, and that's because he has the good fortune of being played by Bela Lugosi. And we still have no good idea where the story is going, as new plot points are introduced while others are left hanging. Some might call it complexity, but for a serial series like this, simplicity is preferred, especially when one tries to crap a good story into such a relatively short window of time. The opposite was true in Radar Men from the Moon, where the story was padded beyond belief. Here, ridiculous plot point upon ridiculous plot point is shoved into the story without concern for its overall effect on the narrative, making it suffer as a result (not to mention boring).

Apparently this third episode of The Phantom Creeps is the last one shown on MST3K, which I think is for the best. Let it be snuffed out quickly rather than painfully extend its death a la Commando Cody's serial shorts from season 1.

As for the movie...egads! What a wretched piece of cinema this movie is! The Ring of Terror shouldn't even be called a movie, even though it meets the basic requirements (more or less). What this movie really is, however, is a TV episode. A thinly stretched TV episode. A TV episode of what, you may ask? Let's find out and postulate.

The movie starts out with a framing device, an old man who is the keeper of a graveyard telling a story to his cat about one of the graves. It's the owner of this grave whose story he tells, and it's this story that takes over the bulk of the film. What happens is one of the biggest offenders of padding I've ever witnessed in a movie. The movie, I'm guessing, is meant to be some kind of horror story, but the only "horror" takes place at the very end with scattered "jump scares" here and there that are more comical than terrifying. Everything else is just an extended back story for the protagonist, a medical student who has a reputation among his friends for not being afraid of anything.

And oh, god, how horribly unnecessary the back story is. It tries its hardest to build up the main character's history, but all it really does it slow the film down to a crawl as it struggles to find anything relevant to the final big moment. You could likely excise 80% of the film and you'd still have a coherent story - that is how bad the padding is here. And the eponymous Ring of Terror? It appears a couple times briefly about halfway through the story, and then briefly again at the end. But its appearance is so laughably superfluous that I'm thinking it was put there just so the filmmakers could name the film something other than "Boring Medical Student Who Dies At the End From Fright."

Oh, and let's talk about the medical student...or students, I should say. Every student in this film is nowhere near college age, and watching a bunch of adults acting like teenagers is hilariously awkward. Outside of this, though, every "teenager" (including the protagonist) is forgettable. Oh, wait, scratch that, not all of them. There are a couple of overweight characters whose weight and constant eating is a running gag throughout the film. Now, I'm okay with fat jokes for the most part, but the filmmakers were unusually cruel to these two, especially in portraying them as pigs that eat all the time. But I suppose they had to pad the film with something other than uninteresting discussions about our hero's bravery.

Can I talk about padding again? Because really, there's nothing else to talk about this stretched out premise. Let me count the ways that this film pads the run time of this cinematic abomination: 1) show how brave our hero is by making him kill a snake; 2) show the two fat people dancing awkwardly; 3) show a professor demonstrate an autopsy...for faaaaaaaaar too long; 4) manufacture some conflict between the hero and his girlfriend about his work to become a doctor; 5) show people we don't care about go through their fraternity initiations; 6) make the hero walk through the cemetery and mausoleum for (again) faaaaaaaaar too long before he finally reaches the film's climax.

And for what? I'll tell you what: a Snopes article. Yes, an urban legend ending. Remember the famous hook on a car door urban legend? Well, Ring of Terror decides to one up that and show our hero dying by being frightened of a hand that supposedly reaches out to grab him. All that buildup...for this. What a waste of celluloid.

This shouldn't be a movie. It shouldn't. It should really be a TV episode for a series, like Tales from the Crypt, only the framing device storyteller is an old guy with a cat and the horror story is a bland recreation of an urban legend. Come to think of it, that's a terrible idea, which likely explains why it was made into a film to begin with.

MST3K Review

While the riffing was not as good as Rocket Attack USA, Joel and the bots had a lot of fun with this episode, especially regarding the elderly "teenagers" of the movie. There were a few noticeable lagging patches here and there, but overall it was an enjoyable bout of riffing. The short didn't get as much attention, though, likely because Best Brains was growing sick and tired of The Phantom Creeps. And honestly, who could blame them?

Stinger Review

Instead of going for the low punch and poking fun at many of the fat people jokes in the film, the stinger instead opts for one of the "teenagers" spouting a bizarre line reading of the phrase, "Weird? Yeah, I guess that is the word for it. Weird." The isolating camera shot only makes it more awkward. Not the most memorable of stingers, but from a movie this dull, it's the best they could've found, I suppose.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

S02E05 - Rocket Attack USA


Short: After successfully faking his death, the mad scientist is unsuccessful in retrieving his wife and instead accidentally kills her. Convinced that his enemies are at fault for her death, he makes moves to utilize his inventions to gain revenge. But those who oppose him still seek to find the secret to his discoveries before they fall into the wrong hands.

Film: Tensions between the USA and Soviet Russia are at a fever pitch, and it is believed that a nuclear war is approaching. With the recent launch of Sputnik, America fears that a nuclear strike from Russia is imminent and sends a spy to Russia in order to learn more. When he discovers that Russia plans on firing a nuclear missile, he quickly sets out to stop it. But can he destroy it in time?

Movie Review

I must say...I am very surprised. Surprised that in the second episode of The Phantom Creeps, the cliffhanger was not resolved how I imagined it. Instead of the protagonists bailing out of the plane with parachutes at the last minute, they are still inside the plane when it crashes, with the crash actually killing one of them (the mad scientist's wife). Unfortunately, it also introduces the absurdity that the other protagonist survives the plane crash with nary a scratch on him, so perhaps predictability would've been the best route here.

Outside of this aversion of cliche, The Phantom Creeps is terrible, perhaps even worse than Radar Men from the Moon. Okay, perhaps not that bad, but it still has numerous problems. Outside of the overacting (poor Bela Lugosi), the plot is a tangled mess. It seems that the writers for this serial series had no idea what kind of story they wanted, so they simply sat down at their typewriters, began typing, and never stopped. There seems to be no genuine motivation behind these characters' actions, just generic reasoning and blind acceptance.

And the characters...what characters? Outside of Bela Lugosi, who is sadly nothing more than a caricature here, none of the actors give anything even close to a motivated performance. They all seem as bored as I did while watching this, and they leave no impression about themselves. Hell, I can't even remember any of their names five minutes after the short's cliffhanger, which is the predictable car-run-off-the-road stunt pulled by Commando Cody (twice!). And this time, I doubt they will give any surprises.

And now for the movie...or is it really a movie? I've identified several films on MST3K before that I don't consider to be real movies, but Rocket Attack USA shows those symptoms more strongly than any other film I've seen so far on this show. This isn't a movie more than it is a propaganda piece. Instead of a plot, we get precariously strung together skits that try to resemble a plot. Now, this kind of editing may have worked if they had done it all the way through the film (it still would've been bad, but at least it would've showed some competence), but things are completely derailed in the last portion of the film that shows this movie's true intentions.

What am I talking about? First, let's discuss the portion of the film that could, in one sense, be considered a movie. Even this section of the film is stretching the definition, as it's not so much a narrative as it is a collection of segments stitched together by narrations. The story practically jumps from narration to scene to narration to scene, from overview of things to focused story and back again. It's incredibly jarring, giving the viewer no time to get attached to any of the characters, who might as well be played by finger puppets.

The story told between the narrations could've been potentially intriguing - a spy story told within the backdrop of the Cold War - but instead it's a painful bore. It's only near the end when there's anything resembling something interesting, and even then it's poorly executed. The story also ends on a very down note (from the US's point of view, at least), with both of the main characters killed without completing their mission. Normally that would be the end of such matters, right?

Not at all, because as soon as this narrative ends, the film tacks on the most overblown piece of propaganda this side of "Reefer Madness". In an effort to scare the audience about the dangers of nuclear war, the final handful of scenes in Rocket Attack USA show several idyllic scenes of Americana before Russia launches its nuclear missile at New York City, sending people into a panic as they scramble for shelter. The last scene is that of the missile actually striking the city, killing millions, and the narrator pleading with the audience not to make this scene "the end" in real life, or something.

Coupled with a painfully disjointed story, this propaganda piece completely destroys any narrative in the film. It could've likely worked better as a stand alone short, although its kitsch would still be painfully obvious today, but as part of the film's actual story, it fails miserably in adding anything to the movie as a whole.

Notice that I haven't really discussed any other aspect of this film, like the acting, the direction, the dialogue, etc.? That's because the ridiculous nature of this film's patchwork story overshadows everything else. Sure, I could mention the acting is predictably wooden, there is a shoe-horned love scene between two of the protagonists, and the characters often make mind-numbingly stupid decisions, but none of that is even worth mentioning compared to Rocket Attack's pathetic narrative.

In short, a completely worthless of piece of cinema that should only be watched by those who desire a full-length 1950s era propaganda piece.

MST3K Review

Damn, now this is what MST3K is all about. From the very beginning (the short) to the very end (the propaganda portion of the film), Joel and the bots were firing on all cylinders. Riffs came left and right with no mercy, and their timing was impeccable. Contrasted against season 1 episodes and even the first few episodes of season 2, this episode hit all the right notes and never let up. A classic episode of season two, as well as the series as a whole.

Stinger Review

For the first time in the series, MST3K introduces the stinger, that beloved short scene from the film that plays at the very end of the credits. Selected as the most bizarre and goofiest moment of the movie, the stinger is meant to end each episode on a final laugh without any help from Joel and the bots, to show that the movie often doesn't need to be riffed to be humiliated.

For the first stinger, Best Brains couldn't have selected a better stinger than the scene of the blind man walking nonchalantly down a street as air raid sirens blare, only to woodenly cry out "help me" when someone runs past him. It's so badly acted and so awkwardly directed that it doesn't make sense no matter what the context is. In other words, the perfect stinger.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

S02E04 - Catalina Caper


A priceless Chinese scroll is stolen from a museum, and the thieves make their way to the beaches of Santa Catalina Island in California. There, a group of teenagers on vacation become mixed up in a deadly game of international theft as the scroll lures several people toward it. While the mystery goes on, beach parties are held aplenty.

Movie Review

For the first time, MST3K provides us with a comedy in a film that was trying to be funny, as opposed to unintentionally being funny. So of course, since Catalina Caper is on this show, it fails miserably in any attempt at being funny. Oh, it's funny in some ways, but not in the way the film makers intended, I'm sure.

The first thing that becomes apparent upon watching this movie is that it isn't really trying to be a movie but a showcase for young girls in bikinis. Released near the end of the beach party film craze, Catalina Caper makes no bones (or does it? *ba-dum-tish*) about its agenda. In over half the scenes in the film there are young girls wearing next to nothing and shaking their moneymakers to cheesy dance music. Are they necessary to the plot? Of course not, but they're there for a reason, and everyone knows what that reason is.

In addition to the T&A, there are songs. Horrible, horrible songs sung by either local bands or a real singer with no shame, i.e., Little Richard. While Richard's song is a bland piece of dreck that hardly damages his actual musical career, the other songs are hideous tunes that only a local band could come up with. I hope the bands in this film got paid well for the advertising here, because their horribleness will live on for eternity now.

And I'm not even counting the opening song, a mushy piece of pap called "Never Steal Anything Wet" sung over a cartoon intro reminiscent of Moon Zero Two and (yep) The Pink Panther. Again, this film doesn't have the benefit of Henry Mancini doing the score, but at least Catalina Caper's opening tune is more tolerable than the blaring choirs of Moon Zero Two.

Now for the comedy...but what comedy? The only funny moments in this movie come from unintended ridiculousness, and the moments that are meant to be funny fall flat on their face...literally. Much of the failure here has to do with the two characters designated as the comedy relief. The first, one of the thieves named Larry, is a doofus with the brain of an eel, and his idiocy and cowardice is somehow meant to be amusing but ends up annoying. The second, an insurance investigator called Fingers O'Toole, is worse. Apparently, he is meant to be the Peter Sellers of this film, but he has none of Sellers' charisma or talent. Every fifteen minutes or so the film cuts to a shot of Fingers being a clumsy oaf: tripping over gangplanks, dropping his briefcase into the ocean, using a fishing pole to accidentally remove a girl's bikini top, awkwardly riding a skateboard...he's a nonstop pratfall. And he isn't funny. At all. He has no comedic time and his exaggerated actions are just silly and unnatural. His catchphrase is "I don't believe it," and I don't either.

Outside of the alleged comedy, there are several things wrong with this film. Naturally, with this being a beach party flick, the women are treated as nothing more than accessories. But there's an even more bizarre thing wrong with this flick: the complete lack of minorities (outside of Little Richard, of course). Trying to find anyone that isn't white is like playing Where's Waldo?, and while it's refreshing not to see any minority stereotypes like in Jungle Goddess, not seeing any minorities at all while all the white folks resemble Hitler Youth is kind of unsettling.

And what about the story? Ee gads, they really didn't seem to care about it, did they? Oh, it makes sense, but it's still a convoluted mess made up of coincidences, conveniences, and contrivances. The film seems to see itself as a mystery caper, but there is no mystery: we know who stole the scroll, and we know what the thieves ultimate plan is. The only thing we don't know (but can easily guess) is the identify of Fingers, and his idiotic pratfalls make him too annoying to care about. No, there is no mystery here, just a lot of poorly written scenes to (ironically) pad out the film so the real padding (the hot half-naked girls) can eat up more screen time in between. The final few minutes of the film do try to resolve things, but do so too quickly for a satisfying payoff. But considering this film's true purpose, would anyone really be that disappointed?

It's amazing how, when it comes to bad movies, the serious movies are usually unintentionally funny and the comedies are unintentionally unfunny. Catalina Caper is no exception.

MST3K Review

This being the first comedy film riffed by Joel and the bots, their style of jokes is noticeably different than their usual fare. Some have pointed out the inherent difficulties in trying to make funny a film that has already tried (and failed) to be funny, and I can see where they're coming from. There are some good strong riffs in this movie (one in particular being my favorite of the series so far*), many of the riffs focus on the movie trying to be funny and fake-laughing at the poor attempts at humor, then wondering why the previous scene was meant to be funny. Talking about why a movie fails to be funny isn't funny in itself, unfortunately, but I suppose there's little one can do with such painful attempts at humor.

*A woman is getting changed behind a rock, and a boy on the other side of the rock has his back to the rock. Says Crow, "Looks like he's stuck between a rock and a hard place."