Sunday, August 7, 2022

"The Wonder of Reproduction" & A Tribute to The Pumaman (MST3K Special)


The Short

Learning all about the birds and the bees...from fish!

Let me tell you, with a title like this there were a number of ways this short could have gone and not all of them (0.01% of them) would have been family friendly.  I didn't expect it to be about a bunch of kids bugging some dude about seeing his new fish, but here we are.  How did these fish get here?  Well, it's the wonders of everyone's favorite social activity:  reproduction!

Just be glad we don't have to blow bubble nests or keep our eggs in our mouths, otherwise sex would be much more awkward than it already is.  I built a bubble nest once.  That date did not go smoothly.

This short is from a series of educational shorts called the "Wonder Series."  Whether every short is fish related or if this is just a one time deal, I couldn't tell you.  I'm not sure how many kids are interested in fish reproduction (unless they're a little too into The Little Mermaid), especially if what they know about human reproduction is up in the air.  All I know is I don't like fish.  Their giant eyes creep me out.  The less I know about how they have sex, the better.

Emily's crew takes on this short, and for the most part they keep it clean.  There are a lot of openings for some blue humor and it seems on the tip of their tongue, but this is a family show so restraint is probably for the best.  Still, if you're trying to please family audiences, then maybe a reproductive short isn't your best bet for material.  Emily's crew does well with the short regardless, though it's not a riot by any means.  It feels a bit safe to me, and while that's good for a few chuckles, openings for better jokes make me long to hear them.  But, you know, family show.  Maybe RiffTrax wouldn't have been afraid to take the shot.

Thumbs Up
👍


The Livestream

This livestream is less a celebration of an episode but rather a celebration of...upscaling, I guess.  Something that has been happening behind the scenes of the Gizmoplex is something that Joel Hodgson and Matt McGinnis refer to as "surgical enhancement."  Basically this means that they're working on a sort of digital remastering of the episode library of the original series.  Now, since the classic series was filmed and released in standard definition, there isn't a lot you can do, but they're working on making the best possible picture quality for these episodes anyway as our home media experience becomes more scrutinizing with video quality.  We have 4K home media discs now and TVs are up to 8K now (despite there being very little 8K content at the moment).  To expect classic Mystery Science Theater to meet those standards is unreasonable, but making the episodes look as sharp as possible is a prospect worth looking into.  Not to mention that new episode transfers could potentially drive traffic to the Gizmoplex for classic era MSTies who don't give a damn about new episodes.  It's something that could boost the MST library for a few decades in streaming.

So what is this, exactly?  Mostly it's an upscale.  Those of us who have seen classic MST on blu-ray releases has an idea of what it can look like (at least the better transfers), though they're also working on enriching the colors of the films and episodes.  Joel hosts an opening intro to this stream showing a side-by-side comparison, showing how faded Pumaman originally when the episode aired in the 90's while also showing off how colorful the enhancement is.


It looks fine.

Look, I'm of two minds of this.  I think altering the looks of the movies could potentially collide with the comedy of the episodes, since some jabs could mock the prints of the films themselves which would ruin the punchline.  Embarking on something like this is a thankless task that could potentially hurt the episodes.  But as stated above, video quality gets more important for media watchers by the year so there is a payoff, even if it could be a limited one.  So sure, work your library how you can.

But please, for fuck's sake, don't crop it.

What really grinds my gears about this stream isn't the remastering itself, it's that they cropped the episode.  They zoomed in to try and minimize the theater seats as much as possible, and it's not even enough to take away the full frame experience, so cutting off even that much is pointless.  However it should be noted nothing is cropped during the host segments (and I did ratio comparisons to confirm this) so all we're losing is a batch of black at the bottom during the theater segments.  But no matter what is cut off from the picture of the episode, altering an aspect ratio is something that doesn't sit well with me.  I even get pissed off watching Gamera vs. Guiron and seeing how the video on the film in that movie is stretched vertically.  I don't want it and if this is what "surgically enhanced" is bringing to the table, I'm not buying.  Luckily Joel does stress that the original versions of the episodes will still be available to viewers who don't want this.

So the last few paragraphs are just me wasting time getting to the point of me saying I don't care.  But there are probably people that do, so do it for them.


While the "enhancement" is the star of the show with this stream, let's not forget that Pumaman is a great episode (review here).  This stream doesn't have much to offer it except a few cute new host segments with Emily, Jonah, the Bots, Pearl, and Synthia.  Bonus host segments feature the Bots trying to get superpowers in a variety of Marvel and DC related means, Crow throwing around conspiracy theories, and just about everyone debating the pronunciation of "Pumaman."  And like the Gamera vs. Gurion stream, we conclude with a bonus feature from the Volume XXIX collection, which is an interview with Pumaman himself, Walter George Alton.

This stream is less a friendly episode rewatch and more a look at more of what the Gizmoplex can offer the series in the long run.  I don't have much use for it myself (at least not in the way featured here), but I do appreciate the effort and think it could be for the best.  I just ask that they don't fall into the darker traps of what projects like these can do, which they disappointingly already have.  I hope they can pull themselves out of it, though.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

1307-Gamera vs. Jiger


Onscreen Title:  "ガメラ対大魔獣ジャイガー"  ("Gamera vs. Giant Devil Beast Jiger")
Film Year:  1970
Genre:  Kaiju, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Director:  Noriaki Yuasa
Starring:  Tsutomu Takakuwa, Kelly Varis, Katherine Murphy, Kon Omura
MST Season:  13
Host:  Jonah

The Movie

*I HAVE SURVIVED WATCHING THIS MOVIE UNRIFFED*

A Gamera movie without a Sandy Frank dub?  What is this nonsense?

Like most of the original Gamera movies, Gamera vs. Jiger was originally imported to the US by American International Television, which it played under the title of Gamera vs. Monster X.  The Sandy Frank imports happened over a decade later, and Gamera vs. Jiger was one of the titles overlooked by the producer (along with Gamera vs. Viras and Gamera:  Super Monster).  That's why this film wasn't on the original Mystery Science Theater, because their deal was with Sandy Frank and he didn't have the rights to this movie.  It's a little bit of a shame, because Jiger is one of the more enjoyable Gamera entries.  Like any of the original Gamera movies, it's not a great movie, but it is a solidly goofy execution of its formula with some fun expansions upon it to put it ahead of the pack.

Gamera vs. Jiger was scripted around the anticipation of Japan's Expo '70 in Osaka at the time, working it into the storyline to show off locations of the grounds.  The movie sees a mysterious totem being removed from its site on Wester Island (get it?), which unleashes the monster Jiger from its slumber.  Gamera appears to try and subdue the monster, but Jiger proves to be a powerful opponent for the turtle, finally bringing the mighty Friend to All Children down by planting an egg in Gamera's lung with her stinger.  The only way to help Gamera is by venturing inside his body, and the two new Kennies of the movie, Hiroshi and Tommy, take the charge by getting into a minisub and piloting it straight down Gamera's throat and curing the big lug.


All the Gamera movies surrounding this one features the turtle squaring off against cosmic threats (Gamera vs. Viras, Gamera vs. Guiron, Gamera vs. Zigra, Gamera:  Super Monster), which is a lot of outer space to tangle with.  It's almost refreshing that Gamera vs. Jiger not only chooses to keep its story earthbound, but also tackle inner space as well.  The wacky premise of "going inside Gamera" makes Gamera vs. Jiger a bit of treat for this franchise because it allows the filmmakers to do something different.  Noriaki Yuasa isn't a daring enough director to take full advantage of the situation, as he doesn't entirely seem to comprehend that there is a whole world of setpieces open to him with this new opportunity of exploration.  He even sets up the idea that the minisub might see danger if it ventures into Gamera's stomach but instead of exploring that idea they just veer away from it.  Instead the kids just play around in Gamera's lung (which looks like a cluster of artichokes) and get chased by a mini-Jiger.  Yuasa is playful enough to make the situation amusing but with this scenario the audience almost yearns for it to go a bit further.  But in a series this formulaic, one takes innovation however they can get it.

The kaiju action is amusing in that traditional absurdist Gamera style and there is quite a bunch of it this time.  Gamera fights Jiger a grand total of three times throughout the film, almost punctuating each of the film's three acts with a brawl between the two beasts.  The first happens when Jiger is unleashed, where Jiger sticks pins in each of Gamera's limbs ensuring the turtle can't retract into his shell and fly away.  After Jiger rampages through Osaka, Gamera is back for round two but meets Jiger's stinger leading to the Fantastic Voyage twist of the movie.  As Gamera revives, he takes the totem and impales it straight into Jiger's forehead.

Children's entertainment, folks.

It's actually fascinating to me that Gamera films are squarely aimed at kids but they're so nonchalant about death and destruction as they are.  One could probably make the same claim about the Godzilla series but even as Godzilla became a bit more self depreciating and catering to younger audiences, it always seemed to embrace the weight of the circumstances in which it was portraying.  Gamera vs. Jiger features a scene in which Jiger incinerates the entire middle of Osaka and everybody with it, and the movie just plays it as...


While Gamera vs. Jiger is held back by limitations, the truth of the matter is all Gamera movies are held back by limitations.  They're made cheap and fast with ideas so wild that it's hard for them to unearth potential without certain resources at their disposal or maybe fresh blood behind the camera.  Yuasa makes movies with spirit, you got to give him that, and one can't say a Yuasa Gamera film isn't distinctly a Yuasa Gamera film (the one non-Yuasa Gamera film of the original Showa series, Gamera vs. Barugon, is distinctly non-Yuasa).  Gamera vs. Jiger is what you'd expect from a Gamera movie but, based on what formulas it has established for itself, it's playing more outside the box than usual.  Gamera vs. Jiger may not offer much more than the traditional Gamera film with a few new flourishes but it's probably my favorite of the original series.


The Episode

We're halfway through this new Gizmoplex season of Mystery Science Theater and I feel I've seen enough to hope it's the first of many.  I started out cool on this season with a pair of episodes that had their moments but were unmemorable, however in the months since have seen the series on a smooth incline.  Emily's run smashed expectations with the wildly funny Beyond Atlantis and Jonah's crew unleashed the hilarious horrors of Munchie on us.  This culminated in an episode that was just pure joy from top to bottom in Demon Squad, which gave me something that no other episode has given me so far this season and that's the desire to rewatch immediately.  Beyond Atlantis and Munchie were both solid, don't get me wrong, but I haven't had an urge to revisit them, especially with new MST content on the horizon to fill the MST voids in my life.  Demon Squad, on the other hand, I have watched four times since it debuted and each time just fills me with ecstasy.  Has the new season peaked?

Not if an old friend has anything to say about it.

So, as I have made note of in the last two seasons, the relaunched Mystery Science Theater is not above going for a shameless nostalgic power play in a movie selection (Hercules and Ator, respectively).  Gamera is one that I didn't think we should have expected, but during the Kickstarter I started noticing little clues that seemed to be falling into a pattern, such as an out-of-the-blue renewal of the Gamera license by Shout Factory to bring both the DVD box set back in print and also those episodes to streaming coming just months before the Kickstarter launched, which eventually saw the announcement that Joel wanted to announce select movie titles during a live stream of Gamera vs. Guiron during the campaign.  That announcement wound up not happening, as they did a last minute delay to a later stream where they announced Demon Squad and Robot Wars instead, but then wound up announcing Gamera vs. Jiger the day after the Kickstarter ended, vindicating my hypothesis.  I'm not a conspiracy theory guy, but I'm still absolutely certain they wanted to announce this movie during the Gamera vs. Guiron stream but ran into overtime on negotiation.  I mean, not to knock Demon Squad and Robot Wars, but those two titles didn't really set the fan anticipation on fire.

But Gamera is back, baby!  Turtle soup is finally back on the menu!

Jonah and his Bots are the ones tackling this movie, even though original Gamera episode host Joel is back on the show.  While the purist in me is bummed to see that the cycle of Gamera episodes being hosted by Joel is broken, it's also somewhat of a christening for the new blood to be able to take on the beloved icon.  Adding some cushion is the fact that Gamera vs. Jiger is likely my favorite of the original Gamera series, which gives them a soft and watchable movie to work with.  But the writers for the show have been vocal about how they were unable to edit this film for the MST version, due to insistence by the rightsholders, which means we're here for the full ride.  Blessing and a curse.  On one hand, sometimes the editing of the films can be unfair.  Demon Squad's editing wasn't entirely plot friendly, but Gamera vs. Jiger can play out without having to worry about that.  And the movie is only eighty-three minutes long, so this isn't some impossible task as the film still runs shorter than the average MST episode.  At the same time, you can see several parts of this flick they could have cut to improve the pace of the film, while sometimes the jokes tend to run on at several points to fill the movie's dead air.  This isn't an obvious problem, mind you, because they take it like professionals and constantly keep the flow smoother than it probably should be.

Still, this episode runs one hour and forty-eight minutes, which makes it the longest episode in the history of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  The only other episodes that ran over an hour forty are episodes from the KTMA days, and even those didn't run that long.

(For prosperity's sake, the shortest "episode" is still The Movie/This Island Earth, and you can thank Universal on that one.  Shortest actual episode is Lords of the Deep, which is the only one to run less than eighty minutes.)


"Your move, Charles Darwin!"

While the weight of "too much movie" seems to be a concern for the people who make this show, Gamera vs. Jiger is an argument that they probably shouldn't worry about it.  The episode is wildly funny and impressively is able to keep that humor momentum consistent.  While I did feel they were running out of steam toward the end, it wasn't really enough to kill the mood that they had successfully created by reintroducing this beloved series and just hitting hard with everything they had for about three-quarters of the episode.  I loved modern reference barbs at Gamera's flying saucer mode, which is referred to as "a flying Roomba."  I howled as they notice that Gamera can't seem to land without crashing, to which Crow asks "Did Gamera just defeat himself?"  I enjoyed the crack at the sudden appearance of American excavators in this Japanese monster movie where Servo claims "It's a lovely day for some light colonialism!"  I even loved Crow's pun about the movie's "SUB plot."  One of my favorite bits of the entire episode happens during a lengthy "Gamera is in pain and chewing scenery" sequence, which you know would have been a scene on the chopping block if they were allowed to edit this movie, but they plow through it as if Gamera is putting on a Broadway musical number, which is absolutely inspired.

And also, I did not expect a reference to The Critic.  I lolled.  "BUY MY BOOK!  BUY MY BOOK!"

(Warning for the weak-stomached:  a fairly graphic scene featuring an elephant's trunk being cut open with parasites spilling out is in this movie and is absolutely gross.  The guys are just as disgusted as we are, but they do their best.  "And that's lunch!")

The host segments aren't the strongest of the season, but I got some solid chuckles out of them.  Donna St. Phibes is back, but unfortunately she doesn't have anything to say about the monsters in the film but instead examines X-rays of Jonah and the Bots before feeding a giant Brain monster, a reference to a movie shown on one of the Live tours.  Jonah and the Bots also put together their own Expo and later make fun of the voice of the little girl from the film (who's voice is funny but not as extreme as they think it is.  They also close out with a fun little Irish pub song eulogizing Jiger, which is no Mother Crabber but a lot of fun on its own terms.  The Invention Exchange is cute, offering up a TV show lie-detector test and a plasma microwave.  Meanwhile, Kinga seems to be going on vacation with Pearl and leaving Max in charge.  Shenanigans ensue?  I think we'll find out next time!

Gamera vs. Jiger very swiftly became one of the best Gamera episodes of the series, probably second only to Guiron in my books, as I laughed nonstop and may even have peed a little at several points.  Like Demon Squad, I already have a hankering to watch it again, even after watching it twice for this review.  If that's the method of measurement for what makes my favorite episodes of MST3K, then so be it.  I have no scientific method to any sort of critical theory or analysis method, I just go where my gut tells me.  And my gut tells me I'm going to be watching this episode a lot.

I kind of hope that there is a lesson they can learn from this episode where they shouldn't necessarily be afraid of the film they're showing.  They should trust the audience's attention span more and trust their writers to work with it.  I get the desire to keep things tight, like avoiding when RiffTrax takes on a two-hour-plus blockbuster which can really wear you down, but they can afford to keep things loose as well.  We're in the streaming era of the show so hitting specific runtimes shouldn't be a factor.  I'd love to see them open up to pushing episodes to an hour forty-five on a regular basis, especially since most of us classic era fans used to sit through this show for two hours straight with commercials.  And I certainly hope the door is open to bring Gamera vs. Viras to the series in a proposed fourteenth season.  And if we make that play, we should give Emily's team a crack.  It seems only fair.

Then we highjack Mike and make him watch Super Monster.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Classic


The Livestream

The Gamera vs. Jiger livestream is unique, because for once everything goes off without a hitch.  Matt's not on mute, nobody is having trouble joining in, the Gizmoplex isn't crashed for over an hour...I'm impressed.  Good job, guys!  Keep it up!

Anyway, previous livestreams have usually revolved around onscreen talent fucking around and completely throwing uniform event structure out the window (Emily, Conor, Kelsey, and Yvonne more than anyone else) and fun talks with people who have worked on the films themselves.  Tonight is something different, as it's more of a tribute to the MST3K writers' room and the fun, colorful people who inhabit it.  Tonight's guests feature producer Matt McGinnis, host Jonah Ray, and writers Lesley Kinzel, Kennedy Allen, and Ross Bryant as they discuss the writing process of the series.  Kennedy and Ross haven't yet participated in these streams yet, so it's fun to have some fresh faces on the screen and they're funny people, so I'd like to see them on more (Kennedy mentions the only other episode she worked on was Demon Squad, so that's probably not going to happen, while Ross says he worked on The Mask, so maybe...).

Discussion starts off with a little bit of storytelling as Lesley, Kennedy, and Ross all tell of how they met Joel and how he asked them to be a writer on the show.  Moving on to writing for this specific movie, one thing they love to harp on is the little girl, Susan, who they claim is the evil entity of the film, which they claim has malevolent looks throughout (and they're not wrong).  They also discuss the girth of the film, which they were not allowed to edit down.  Matt and Jonah claim it was excruciating, while Kennedy and Ross seem accepting but worn down by it, and Lesley just says she was happy to be there.  Jonah and Ross seem to have mostly found the monster fights repetitive, having to find different jokes for similar looking fights.  Jonah also points out the scene (that upon first glance I was already certain they wanted to trim out of the movie) where a wounded Gamera just stumbles around for a full minute and the thought process it took to get to the song, which they called "Gamera's Lament."  I'm really glad they talked about this scene specifically, because it's the moment in the episode that really stands out as being both brutally long in the film but hilarious in the riffing approach.

This livestream is a bit shorter than previous ones, running less than fifty minutes, which they attribute to the length of the episode.  Also they decide to not do the traditional "Backer Thanks," because of the lack of cast members on the stream to do them (though they do have Jonah, so...).  It's a pretty swift stream and it goes down easy.  There is not a whole lot to talk about in a recap, but these are fun personalities having a fun conversation.  And it ends with Matt plugging the next event as A Tribute to Pumaman, which he claims is "specially enhanced."  Now I have to know what that is.  Jonah claims it has walkie talkies instead of guns and more Ewoks, while Matt plays along by saying they sing Yub Nub at the end now.

Yub Nub to the Pumaman theme?

Yub, Nub-Nub, Yub-Nub-Nub-Nub-Yub-Nub...

This I gotta see!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

"Sleep for Health" & A Tribute to Gamera vs. Guiron


The Short

This short was initially written partially by Kickstarter backers as a riffing seminar reward tier for the 2015 Kickstarter for season eleven, but due to some undisclosed "legal reason" (per Kickstarter update) they weren't allowed to release it.  I'm not sure what this legal reason is, but it doesn't seem normal.  The idea that this short could possibly be under some copyright seems almost asinine, as it's older than the other shorts we've seen so far and is in much worse shape.  If I were to speculate, I'd say it might not have meant to have been released at all, but they decided to produce it as one of the shorts for this season to acknowledge all the backers past and present.

Either way, I didn't care for it.

Sleep for Health is a bit of a silly film about the importance of sleep to the human body, displaying sleep practices and what sleeping looks like, even detouring a bit into the subconsciousness for dreams.  I don't know if I learned anything from this short, though I imagine it's for young children who don't understand why bedtime is so important.

The short is a bit of a snoozer, but the riffing doesn't exactly wake me up.  Riffed by Joel Hodgson with Conor McGiffin and Kelsey Ann Brady, riffs feel barren and without a large comedic push behind them.  Revealing that the script was partially written by amateurs doesn't come as a surprise, because a lot of jokes lack power or precision.  And there are patches where nothing is happening and a joke can easily fit into a space but Joel and the Bots offer nothing.  What makes it even worse is the audio of the short is very soft, which makes dead air feel even more startling.  The short is consistent in feeling like a missed opportunity.

Now, I don't want to be completely down on this short because I'm betting the riffing seminar was a lot of fun for those who participated and the existence of this short feels like the fruit of everyone's efforts.  Because of that, I'm going to say it has value and I'm glad it exists.  And I did get a couple of laughs at some good lines, such as Crow's growing concern for the family's baby which was seemingly erased from existence as the short went on.  It's cool that this happened, but it's just not up to the standards I'm used to setting for this show.

Thumbs Down
👎


The Livestream

It's been a while since we had a Tribute event.  We didn't even have one last month, as the Gixmoplex came in hot with three straight new episode premiere events, likely to drive customers to it.  But it's funny to think that our "Short of the Month" selection skipped last month entirely.  But we're back to these small appetizers again.  The intro tickled me this month, as Pearl lumbers onscreen, clearly exhausted, and is seemingly irritated that she picked out a short about sleep.


Post short, we are celebrating the triumphant return of Gamera to Mystery Science Theater in two weeks by paying tribute to the fan favorite Gamera entry, Gamera vs. Guiron (review here).  We have some small delightful host segments as Jonah and Emily make their way through the lumbering beast of a kids' kaiju flick.  Jonah and his Bots take some time to learn Japanese in the event of a monster attack before discussing what their counterparts would be like on the counter-planet Terra (setting up a Mirror Universe parody where everyone has facial hair).  Meanwhile, Emily tries to prep up a monster emergency kit just in case of an attack, though the Bots derail Emily's attempts at kaiju safety.


This event was supposed to be paired up with a brand new Jackbox competition billed as "Crow vs. Servo," which I'm assuming was meant to be a team of Hampton and Kelsey (and maybe Bill?) pitted against a team of Baron and Conor (and maybe J. Elvis?) in another live comedy video game competition similar to what we saw during the 2021 Kickstarter livestreams.  Soon after they started branding this event as such, they cancelled it, claiming it would have made the event too long.  Fair, I guess, as the last Jackbox was very extensive.  But it was also hilarious, so I'm bummed about that.


Instead of anything live, they last minute replaced the event with a bonus feature from the Volume XXI:  MST3K vs. Gamera box set, which was called So Happy Together:  A Look Back at MST3K and Gamera, which was an overview of MST's history with the Gamera franchise featuring discussions with Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and J. Elvis Weinstein.  It's a very good featurette and it's a solid opportunity for people who don't own that box set to see it, but it's also only twenty minutes long and that's all they're offering.  It's a bit of an anti-climax to what could have been a wildly entertaining evening, but I suppose we have to understand why it should be this way.

Anyway the Jackbox event is being rescheduled for later this month as a bonus for people who purchased this ticket.  I'll likely add that onto this review when that is released.  Unfortunately I don't have anything more substantial to add about this event, but there was hardly any substance to it.  The short was lacking, but at least we had a great episode and the new bonus segments were fun.  It's not their finest hour in these Gizmoplex events, though.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

1306-Demon Squad


Film Year:  2019
Genre:  Noir, Horror, Fantasy
Director:  Thomas Smith
Starring:  Khristian Fulmer, Erin Lilley, Leah Christine Johnson
MST Season:  13
Host:  Joel

The Movie

*I HAVE SURVIVED WATCHING THIS MOVIE UNRIFFED*

There's this Jack Black movie from a while back called Be Kind Rewind where he and Mos Def are video store employees (remember those?) who accidentally erase every tape in their store.  To try and save the impending disaster of customer service they decide to "home brew" remake every movie they have starring themselves using a home camcorder.  The results of their "remakes" are about what you would expect, but the people of their little community absolutely love them and they become an unexpected hit.  To be blunt, I always thought that movie was kinda dumb.  In some weird way however, Demon Squad made me appreciate its premise a bit more.

Demon Squad in several ways reminds me of the type of movie Jack Black and Mos Def would make in Be Kind Rewind, only maybe by people who look to be a bit more professional.  This movie certainly wasn't made by two dipshits with a VHS tape, though by the standards of indie filmmaking by 2019 standards this film is very low tech.  Like lower than the cost of an episode of Mystery Science Theater (even original series...maybe not KTMA).  For low-budget filmmaking, this movie is more ambitious than something like Clerks so it stretches its money pretty thin.  If I were to compare Demon Squad to any film featured previously on Mystery Science Theater it would be Final Sacrifice, and I mean that as a favorable comparison, mind you.  That movie was made by film students who had access to some equipment and went out and made something.  Demon Squad has that same vibe, as if they could be filming on their local street and the director is telling all the actors "Okay, say your lines quick and let's beat it before the cops come."  In spirit I'd say it's also close to Time Chasers, where it's clear the filmmakers have a very specific movie they want to make, don't have a lot of money to do it, but decided "Fuck it, we'll do it anyway, and have fun making it."

The film's story does come off like it was adapted from fan fiction lying around for the TV show Angel or the comic series John Constantine:  Hellblazer that has been reformatted with original characters to avoid getting sued, while also paying homage to established film noir tropes that most audiences would likely be familiar with ("A mysterious woman walks into the cynical detective's office..." ect).  Demon Squad tells the tale of supernatural detective Nick Moon and his assistant Daisy who are recently visited by the beautiful heiress Lilah Fontaine, who hires them to search for her missing father.  As the duo dig deeper into the mystery, things become more nefarious and complicated than they initially appear.


Surface level, there is a lot that can be dismissed about Demon Squad.  The cinematography is soft looking, the music is barren, the sound quality is both inconsistent and often trashy, and its story feels more like a riff on pop entertainment than anything with high artistic merit.  But that's only if I approach this movie like a film critic, which I pride myself in not being because fuck that noise.  Demon Squad isn't a normal movie and I feel shouldn't be judged like it is.  It's a movie with certain limitations and resources made by people who got their hands dirty and took the time to put together something with what little they had.  They even had the audacity to put in make-up, puppets, and special effects, sometimes crude ones, but this is an example when bonus points for effort should be awarded.  This is a movie where it seems like its own existence is a reward for the people who made it.

What probably crosses Demon Squad over into its own level of enjoyability is its cheekiness.  Everyone involved in the production knows this whole thing looks and feels kind of silly, so there is a level of taking it just serious enough to make it feel like a narrative but goofing around just enough for them to feel like they're admitting to the audience "We know what this is, just play along."  And for a movie this low on the totem pole of cinema, I'd actually say that there's a good argument that can be made that the acting in this movie is pretty solid.  It's community theater style acting, but it's charismatic community theater style acting.  The big drawback to the actors is that they feel like they're at war with the sound equipment, which drains out their line delivery to the point where sometimes it sounds garbled up.  Some of the make-up effects might have ate up the boom mic budget, not sure.

The worst thing I can say about Demon Squad is that it's a movie that will provoke a cynical reaction from cynical viewers who will dismiss it immediately.  However, and I cannot stress this enough, it is not a cynical film itself, which is something I can't say for a lot of films on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  It's people with a camera having fun, and they can't guarantee that the audience that stumbles upon their creation has a good time but they're clearly of the attitude "If you get it, you get it."  There is something innocent and pure about that, and I'm personally in favor of it.


The Episode

It seems hard to believe.  Nearly thirty years after it aired on Comedy Central, Mitchell is no longer Joel Hodgson's final episode.  I'm still processing this information, but the Father of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back in the driver's seat.  He no longer has Kevin Murphy or Trace Beaulieu at his side, but this is an event nonetheless.

Was it worth it?  Was it worth taking away his classic final episode for the nostalgia sell on the new season?  I'm going to say yes.  I laughed a lot during this episode and I enjoyed seeing him back in his classic role, which he makes it feel like he had never left.  It doesn't scratch my list of top ten Joel era episodes, but Joel has a lot of solid heavy hitters under his belt and that was always unlikely.  The downside?  Now my nostalgia is weeping for a new Mike episode.

So, how is Joel back?  I believe last we checked in on him he was managing a hot fish shop.  But at the end of Doctor Mordrid we saw Dr. Erhardt travel through time to pick up an old host from the series and it was either Joel or Mike.  Judging by the surprise on Kinga and Synthia's expressions, they must have been expecting Mike.  Unfortunately while Erhardt succeeded in bringing an old host onboard, he botched going to the past and snatched Joel up in the year 3000 instead, because Joel is living a thousand years in the future?  And he's trapped on the Satellite of Love again in this time?  I don't know what's up with any of this and it's a bit convoluted and odd, but considering Dr. Kabahl is a character from the future as well, maybe all of this is going to tie up in a neat little package by the end.

But whatever reason Joel has for being over a millennia old, it's fun to see him back, even without his Bots, so the Mads just steal Emily's and give them to him.  They are certainly showing the strengths of the flatimation format with this episode, because the green screen allows them to change their Satellite of Love set in an instant.  They created a new flatimation set based on Joel's second through fifth season SOL bridge design and it looks adorable.  They even created a new version of Joel's doorway sequence, which looks far more charming than the reformatted hallway from the Netflix seasons.  Joel's host segments feel like they're ripped out of a classic episode of the series, as they use the bar from the movie to set up a Cheers parody, play improv comedy for the Mads, and have a fun Invention Exchange where he turns Tom Servo's head into a mood ring inspired light (while Max has drill gun lassos or something).  He also gets to meet Pearl for the first time, which absolutely blew my mind because I don't think I've ever realized these two characters never crossed paths (not even in Soultaker).  Also he tweaks Servo to his factory voice setting.

Factory voice setting?  Oh, did I not mention this?  J. Elvis Weinstein returns to the series, not only as Erhardt, but he also voices Tom Servo for half the episode.

If you're nerding out right now, you're my kind of MSTie.

This isn't exactly a surprise really.  Jonah let it slip last year that they were looking to get J. Elvis and Bill Corbett to play Servo and Crow in Joel's episodes last year before Bill publicly said he had been approached but turned down the offer.  A few livestreams back Joel talked about riffing with both J. Elvis and Conor McGiffin in his theater segments, which was an odd combo to throw out since they were both Servos (J. Elvis had played Crow in two episodes of KTMA, but honestly it would have been weird if they had brought him back to voice Crow.  I mean, I know Kelsey Ann Brady's Crow is divisive, but no thanks).  J. Elvis riffs the second half of the movie, while Conor riffs the first half, and the role of Crow is relegated to Kelsey Ann Brady throughout the entire episode.  Since Joel's episodes were filmed after Nate Begle departed the series, Kelsey doesn't appear to be dubbed in this episode.  Oddly enough, despite being a puppeteer who has handled Crow, she isn't listed as his puppeteer in the credits, which cites Grant Baciocco (who plays Waverly and handles Hampton Yaunt's Crow).  I'm assuming Kelsey voiced Crow similarly to how Hampton Yaunt voices him, with a mouth controlling trigger while she watches from off-camera.  At any rate, I think Kelsey's riff delivery is a vast improvement on her previous episodes, because she's allowed to play him as she would play him instead of retrofitting herself over someone else's performance in post.  Her riffing delivery in this episode is fabulous and it definitely has me more excited for the future of her on this series.

Speaking of riffing, it's about time we discussed the movie portion.  Now, I have no idea how it was decided who was hosting what episode this season.  Someone could have read all the titles out loud and Joel, Jonah, and Emily could have yelled "DIBS!" at any moment, or they could have picked them out of a hat.  But whatever the case may be, Demon Squad is a very interesting film to give Joel.  This movie is a bit different than the types of films he has riffed in the past, even taking Cinematic Titanic and the live tours into consideration.  If you were to sort every Mystery Science Theater film by release date (which I have done because boredom and curiosity), the most recent film that Joel had tackled before Demon Squad was 1987's Robot Holocaust, which he riffed all the way back in the first season.  Skipping two whole decades of film, now he has Demon Squad on his riffing resume, which is currently the most recent film on the series (taking that title from last season's Atlantic Rim).  When he announced he was coming back for this season and they later announced the films for the year, I would have assumed he would have wanted to take films that would call back to his time on the show, like Gamera vs. Jiger and The Million Eyes of Sumuru.  Instead he threw us a curve ball to keep us on our toes.

I'm on the record saying I get a kick out of this movie.  This is my third time watching it and I still think it's the cutest thing I've ever seen (I even own it on DVD at this point).  But when you have a movie that looks like it's held together by duct tape and superglue, then there is a lot to make fun of.  The movie has a lot of dramatic pausing, allowing the riffers to get their little additions in, while the somewhat tacky production value can provide some reliable fodder.  They add their quips to the movie's own quips, as Nick Moon does his badass one-liner over a bad guy and says "The doctor is in," and Joel continues "And there's a copay!"  His assistant Daisy sasses him about her being the only applicant for her job, to which Joel responds "Another LinkedIn success story!"  I adore the riffs on Daisy's premonition power, where her eyes turn white as she reads people, which prompts up Crow's quick prophecy "WINTER IS COMING!"  One of the biggest laughs of the episode for me was a romantic scene between Nick and Lilah where they're about to kiss, but Nick hands her a gun instead, causing Crow to lay out the most perfect line "I brought protection!"  Sometimes the most on-the-nose thing you can say is still the funniest.

And of course, one of my favorite lines of the season:  "It's the Men's Warehouse repo men!"

A part of me wants to play it cautious about overrating this episode.  I have several unique factors that are inclining me to love it, the first of which is that I think the movie is an absolute joy, which not everyone else will see it that way so buyer beware.  I thought Doctor Mordrid was a blast too, though I was more refrained on my enthusiasm for that one because the commentary was weaker.  Also this episode plays with an obvious nostalgia toybox by bringing Joel Hodgson and J. Elvis Weinstein out of riffing retirement and playing out the episode like the golden days.  I was smiling ear to ear for ninety minutes straight.  Will others?

But the hell with it, I throw caution to the wind because I AM the wind, baby!  A good MST episode is partially about its mojo and whether you can groove with it and Demon Squad is full mojo and I am fully in sync with the tune.  This is an episode I'll be giving full marks to, because a fun movie and a lot of laughs are too good for me to pass up.  I see this becoming a favorite comfort episode in the future.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Classic


The Livestream

Hello darkness, my old friend...tech issues are back in the Gizmoplex, knocking this stream back a good solid eighty minutes after it was supposed to start.  This time we didn't even have White Dot to entertain us!  I want my money back just for that alone!

Nah.  As far as I'm concerned I've already gotten my money's worth.  This season has been steadily improving after it's middling first two episodes and it got to a point where I got an episode I consider S-tier.  Beyond Atlantis and Munchie were close but each had at least one aspect that tempered them for me.  Demon Squad isn't a perfect episode either, but I'm on top of the world when I watch it and I roll with laughter.  This Kickstarter has already paid off.

Still, don't stop making those remaining seven episodes, dammit.

But while everything is off to a late start, our folks at the livestream make it worthwhile to stick through it.  Our stream tonight is cut into halves, one to talk about the show and one to talk about the movie.  It's understandable, because they're in a situation where they have an episode that has a lot to talk about on their end while they once again managed to score special guests involved in the film itself.  The first half has host Matt McGinnis bring out returning original castmembers Joel Hodgson and J. Elvis Weinstein to discuss returning to the theater after all these years.  Emily Marsh is here too, who only has a slight cameo in the episode but wrote for it as well.  They have some questions for J. Elvis about reprising his roles as Servo and Dr. Erhardt after all these years.  J. Elvis doesn't seem to think it's that big of a stretch, claiming Erhardt isn't that deep of a character so it was pretty easy.  They also talk about Servo's voice tinkering in this episode, which Joel claims was a callback to the early days when J. Elvis would change Servo's voice and they'd write it out as Joel messing with his voicebox.  

Joel also gives some insight as to why Demon Squad was selected as his big return movie, which is not an overly complicated answer, where it just came down to film selection scheduling and they thought the riff script would work for Joel.  Slight peek behind the curtain, this question was asked by someone named "Thomas," but that Thomas was actually Demon Squad's director Thomas Smith who posted the question on the Discourse's Q&A forum.  That's fun that they had his question picked and they slyly played coy about who asked it (or Matt didn't notice, either or).

But J. Elvis kicks off after a half hour, and Matt wheels out the special guests for the night (not that J. Elvis isn't special...oh you know what I mean!), who are the filmmakers responsible for Demon Squad:  director/co-writer Thomas Smith and his wife and co-writer/co-star ("Daisy") Erin Lilley Smith!  I was excited to see them tonight, because I've had pleasant interactions with them on social media for the last few months and they are absolutely lovely people who have a ton of interesting tidbits on this movie.  They have done interviews about how it came together (here is another one made last year after they found out it was going to be on the show, unfortunately Erin didn't get a song in the episode like she wanted) and have shared some photos and factoids on Twitter that were fun to see.  It was great to see them discuss this movie with this group of wonderful people who brought their film to a new audience!

Thomas and Erin have so many fun facts about this movie, as I hoped there would be because it's such an interesting and scrappy production.  There is a bit of discussion about how they came up with the concept, claiming Nick Moon was a side character in an abandoned story that they decided to set an entire movie around.  They discuss their inspiration, which ranges from The Maltese Falcon to John Constantine to Kolchak the Night Stalker.  A lot of excellent tidbits come from special effects work, as they confirm that some of the make-up did come from a Spirit Halloween store like Max claimed in the episode, and also talked about their Frankendemon prosthetic, which they called a budget buster.  They also point out that this creature was also used in Star Raiders, which was a RiffTrax Live event a few years ago and now I totally have to rewatch it.

Joel can't help but admire what they were able to do with so little, especially the green smoke effects.  Thomas and Erin even point out an effect that nobody noticed (including myself) where they weren't allowed on the upper story of the house that was used as Lilah's mansion, but cheated a shot where one of the villainous Stitchers was looking down from above by green screening the actress and compositing her into the image.  It's totally seamless and this info actually floored me.

They talk a bit about the locations they worked at and Joel can't help but ask if a riff was correct about them filming in a Burger King basement.  They say no, but another riff about the bar previously being a Pizza Hut is right on the money (which is amazing that they hit a bullseye on that, if you think about it).  Speaking of locations, one of the Discourse members brings up that he was a regular patron of that bar and offered photo evidence to back it up, which brought some spectacular reactions from Thomas, Erin, and even Emily.


Emily can't mask her joy during this livestream, because she is like me and is a fan of this movie.  She talks about how she enjoyed watching a movie that was her generation of cheesy movies and even Conor McGiffin texts her to tell Thomas and Erin "Thank you for making a movie that was actually fun to watch."  Full agreement here.  TEAM NICK MOON!  You can tell Emily is touched by Thomas and Erin talking about how they met and not only became a couple but started making zero-budget films together.  She also excitedly looks up Thomas and Erin's first film, The Night Shift (no not the Ron Howard directed Henry Winkler/Michael Keaton/Shelley Long movie), after the duo casually mention it and claims she's going to find it ASAP.

I think Emily is one of those people who I would just crash on the couch with, find some garbage on Tubi, and just shit talk an entire night away with.  This is my entire vibe, man.

I had so much fun tonight.  This episode is already a favorite of mine and sitting down with the cast and crew of both the show and the movie and see them get into a delightful roundtable discussing all facets of the show that make me love it so much.  I'm almost disappointed we have to wait a full month for another episode, but they've been spoiling us with the biweekly scheduling lately.  Maybe I need the tribute event and accompanying short to cool down.

But even considering that, all I can say after this livestream is "Demon Squad 2 when?"

#RestoreTheNickMoonVerse


Oops, wrong screenshot!

Saturday, June 11, 2022

1305-Doctor Mordrid


Film Year:  1992
Genre:  Fantasy, Superhero
Director:  Albert Band, Charles Band
Starring:  Jeffery Combs, Jay Acovone, Brian Thompson, Yvette Nipar
MST Season:  13
Host:  Emily

The Movie

*I HAVE SURVIVED WATCHING THIS MOVIE UNRIFFED*

"Based on an original idea by Charles Band."

lol.

Doctor Mordrid is probably a more interesting movie today than it was when it was released.  As of this writing, the Marvel Cinematic Universe under Disney has become the indisputable king of the blockbuster of the last decade, with their latest release at this point in time being a sequel to their magical sorcerer superhero Doctor Strange.  What does this have to do with Doctor Mordrid?  Hold on to your capes, we're getting there.

Since the first Avengers film broke box office records in 2012, it's hard to remember a time in which the yearly top grossers didn't feature at least one property based on a Marvel comic, but there was a time in which Marvel was pawning off its movie rights to bargain bin studios.  Their first feature film, Howard the Duck, had huge pedigree in producer George Lucas and distributor Universal Studios, but alas the film wound up a box office disaster while chief competitor DC Comics had already had hits in a handful of Superman films and were about to unleash the pop culture phenomenon of Tim Burton's Batman upon the world.  It was hard to convince the big studios to take a leap with their properties after this, but they managed to pay a few bills by making a few low budget films based on The Punisher and Captain America with not so picky producers who just wanted the title more than the property.  Hell, at this point there was production by Roger Corman on an ultra-cheap Fantastic Four movie which (unbeknownst to the crew filming it) was never going to see official release.  Marvel's most popular character, Spider-Man, was languished in development hell with legendary crap factory Cannon Group, who tried unsuccessfully to make a movie in the 80's before complicating the rights of Terminator director James Cameron's attempt to adapt the property in the 90's before washing his hands of it and making Titanic instead (which was probably the best decision ever made in history).  Eventually that film would get made to Marvel's first massive box office success (no, Blade and X-Men don't compare to the money this pulled in) under Evil Dead director Sam Raimi, who incidentally directed this year's Doctor Strange sequel.

Still with me?  Okay, here we have Doctor Mordrid.  It might not shock for anybody to learn that Doctor Mordrid originally was being set up as a Doctor Strange adaptation when Charles Band initially showed interest in doing a film adaptation of the property.  For whatever reason, a deal was not made, though a film that was heavily influenced by the character and was stylized after comics in general was put into production as "Doctor Mortalis" with, get this, comic book legend Jack Kirby on board as a concept artist.  Eventually the project settled at Band's Full Moon studio and was turned into Doctor Mordrid, a film that rips off Doctor Strange in many, many ways but legally can't be Doctor Strange.

This film has Jeffery Combs playing the totally-not-Stephen-Strange wizard Anton Mordrid, who has spent the past century trying to subdue his totally-not-Baron-Mordo fellow wizard Kabal from unleashing hell on Earth.  Mordrid's hunt for Kabal leads him into the path of a tough but lovely police consultant who happens to live in the building Mordrid resides at and the two connect as they hunt for the deadly wizard while Mordrid keeps his unearthly secrets from her sight.  Kabal's power begins to rise with the aid of punk cultists and Mordrid finds that his final battle with Kabal might happen sooner rather than later.

The question at large is exactly how copyright infringing is this movie?  Since no legal action seems to have been taken against it, I guess just enough of it is different from the source it's derivitave of to not be worth a court case.  But if you're a fan of comics at all, you can definitely see Doctor Strange's DNA in this movie.  You can tell what characters are supposed to represent comic counterparts and see the playful stuff added to the film to try and make Mordrid his own character, but how successful that is would be arguable.  There are more similarities to Marvel's lore in Doctor Mordrid than there are between Pacific Rim and Atlantic Rim, the latter only really taking the robots vs. monsters concept and running with it.

As a movie without knowledge of its ties to any source material, Doctor Mordrid is charming trash.  Doctor Mordrid is a playful, low budget, good vs. evil fantasy that clearly thinks all fantasy should be marketed towards children but denies that audience the pleasure by shooting straight for an R rating with a scene of full frontal nudity (which was cut from the MST version).  Instead it aims straight at that cult audience that just wants a good time.  Doctor Mordrid, despite its childishness, is indeed a good time.

A lot of the heavy lifting in this movie is done by the cast, who play this movie straighter and with more effort than the movie probably deserves.  Cult icon Jeffery Combs is fabulous as our mystical hero, giving Mordrid the mischievous mystique that only Jeffery Combs can provide.  Bit character actor and Highlander baddie Brian Thompson rocks a blonde mullet and tries his best to resemble Fabio and this is probably one of the most suited-to-him roles I've ever seen him play.  I also need to give a shout out to our female lead Yvette Nipar, who is tragically given little to do other than to be the audience's surrogate eyes-of-discovery in the film and be the token love interest, but she does all of this with grace and excellent screen presence that made me yearn for more of her character.  Richard Band also needs to be mentioned for his score to the picture, which is actually a quite a good riff on the types of scores Danny Elfman would produce for a movie like this.  In fact, there are more than a few cues that sound like Elfman himself lifted for his score for Spider-Man in 2002.

That being said, the movie does feel a bit scant.  It runs barely longer than 70 minutes and I was disappointed to see it end.  The movie could have used a bigger finale, though I'm not sure how you could top stop-motion dinosaur skeletons wrestling.  Maybe it's just me, but it feels like the fact that Doctor Mordrid is only present in this conflict as an astral projection slightly cheapens it, as to while there is peril to reality there is no immediate mortal danger to Mordrid himself.  When Kabal is defeated, it feels a bit unearned, as heroic showdowns would have more weight if Mordrid were present in person to deliver the final blow himself.  Instead Kabal is knocked the hell over by a mastodon tusk.  The movie's most pleasurable climax then comes when Mordrid's lady friend kicks a man frozen in time square in the testicles.  Now that's how you should win the day!

However this movie came about, and whether you consider it an honorary Marvel movie or not, Doctor Mordrid is fun for fans of low budget silliness and is well worth watching if names like "Charles Band" or "Jeffery Combs" tied to a movie excite you.  I know they do excite me, personally.  Doctor Mordrid is a flick that does the bare minimum of what a hero movie should do:  entertains for an hour then disappears into the night.


The Episode

Offering a peak behind the curtain, when the line-up of films was announced for MST's new season, I watched a most (but not all) of the films in preparation for this blog so I could at least get the film reviews in the tank and ready to go.  Doctor Mordrid was a film selection that I fell in love with, because it was such a stupidly fun movie on its own and my gut told me that it would make for a great episode.  But my gut also told me both Beyond Atlantis and Munchie were going to be difficult to make funny, so I'm not sure we should be putting stock into that anymore.  I need to just lay back and trust this team to do their jobs.  But those high expectations remained and Doctor Mordrid does fail to meet them.

Kinda.

Let's just say "I wasn't laughing as much as the last two episodes" is a disappointing assessment, but it's not a damning opinion.

The thing about Doctor Mordrid is that the movie can be more fun than the simple act of making fun of it.  Because of that, the riffing does struggle to overcome the doofus charisma of the film that they're trying to make more entertaining.  That being said, while the episode can coast on the entertainment value of the film itself, the riffing can be quite funny.  I love the commentary on how Mordrid has lived in New York for hundreds of years only to have Emily respond "And thanks to rent control laws I still only pay four bucks a month for this apartment!"  As someone summons the villain of the film they suddenly shout out "Jesus Christ!" only to have Servo call out (commentating on his appearance) "No, Rick Flair!  WOO!"  GPC2 gets a few good shots in during her brief theater appearances, as she does a fairly perfect Aladdin reference to the reanimated dinosaur at the end claiming "Ten million years can give you such a crick in the neck!"  The end credit riffing is fun, as Emily and the Bots debate whether or not Doctor Mordrid is a Christmas movie (ala the Die Hard is a Christmas Movie debate).  There are also riffs in this episode that I feel are destined to become underrated but secretly the most hilarious lines for the moment, such as Kabal's "Communist Manifest-Stone" and a well placed reference to the musical Cats that had me laughing for days.

This is another one of those episodes where just about every host segment is a recreation of a scene in a movie, which can be fun, though Doctor Mordrid starts weak and gets stronger.  Tom Servo parodies Mordrid's lecture early in the film evolving it into a crappy stand-up act, which reminded me of Servo's locust stand-up from Beginning of the End and was about as funny (read:  not very).  A bit more successful is Emily playing Mordrid as a landlord, but even that wears thin.  Continuing to get better, there is a bit where Crow parodies the hypnosis story from the film on Emily and Servo, which is pretty solid.  The episode ends on a fair high when the Bots form their own super team and Emily is enlisted to be their easily defeated opponent, who's power is losing.

Over on Moon 1, Kinga and Max get another visit from Dr. Kabahl, the Strange Financier from the Future.  They note that his name is similar to the name of the villain in this movie and wonder if it's a coincidence.  Time will tell if that goes anywhere, but in the meantime Kabahl asks them to bring one of the original hosts back to host new episodes.  Apparently Kinga and Max need to time travel to do this, which makes little sense but whatever.  This sets up a new Mad appearance by the great J. Elvis Weinstein as Dr. Erhardt, who travels to fetch either Joel or Mike, Kinga and Max don't care because they're both doughy white guys from the midwest.  This is to set up Joel's return to the series as he hosts the next episode, Demon Squad, and has another to be determined episode later this season before joining Jonah and Emily in the theater for the all-host special The Christmas Dragon.

Man it's hard to believe in two weeks we'll have a new Joel episode.  That's absolutely wild.

To an extent the riff of Doctor Mordrid feels like it's a little too content to stay afloat with the watchability of the movie and take it easy, saving gutbusters for harder movies like Munchie.  I would have wished for a little more stamina during this movie though just to push it over the top.  I still think Doctor Mordrid could have been the best episode of the season, but I will settle for it just being a fun episode.  Laughs are laughs, and I had a good time.

Good


The Livestream

I was happier when this livestream didn't exist.  I want to thank Doctor Mordrid screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner for joining in on the conversation and providing insight to the film.  But his debunking that this flick was not originally written as a Doctor Strange film meant I had to alter my review of the film, and I had that in the bag for months!  I had watched a bunch of this season's films to prep up my reviews for them, and I did discuss this being a Doctor Strange adaptation.  Then Joyner, this blessed man who wrote this fun movie, dropped this bombshell on my life and my heart sank because I almost felt like I needed to start from scratch.  Luckily he did confirm that the film was Doctor Strange influenced and stemmed from an attempt from Band trying to get the license in the 80's, so I didn't need to change it as much as I initially thought I'd have to.  In the end I had to rewrite an entire paragraph with updated info and make wording corrections.

In addition to our special guest, our panel includes producer Matt McGinnis, host Emily Marsh, Crow voice Kelsey Ann Brady, and writer Tim Ryder.  A lot of discussion tonight is about the film itself, which is probably understandable because they have a gateway to some insight on the production.  Not only that, Matt notes that the fanbase response to this movie after it was announced was through the roof.  I can vouch for that, because I was one of the fans who was really excited!  He also claims the writers were really excited for this particular movie and they all claim writing the episode was a fun experience.  They have questions for Joyner, who happily answers them and praises the production as exceeding his expectations, as his initial expectations were more based on what Charles Band normally produces.  I'd definitely agree with him here.  Doctor Mordrid has exceptional looking production value compared to the type of films Full Moon normally produced.  Just comparing the film to the other Full Moon production of this season, Robot Wars, Doctor Mordrid is a much more smartly crafted movie that knows what's it's capable of.  Tim's primary question for Jayner comes from writer Tammy Golden, who is convinced that Jeffery Combs and Brian Thompson have never met each other because they don't share a scene where they're both in the same frame and facing the camera (if the characters are together in frame, one normally has their back turned).  Jayner just says they were on set together and that's that.

I'm siding with Tim and Tammy on this, because this movie is suspiciously framed.  When I did my screenshots I was hoping for a good one with both Combs and Thompson, but I couldn't find one in the entire bloody film.  Eventually I settled on the one above, and just silently wondered the same thing they did.  Coincidentally this echoes a talking point on modern filmmaking, specifically this year's Doctor Strange film, where Elizabeth Olsen and John Krasinski share a scene together in the film but were never onset at the same time.

Interestingly enough, during this livestream I had felt like I had seen C. Courtney Joyner before but I couldn't quite place his face.  It turns out he was a regular contributor to Daniel Griffith's documentaries for the Mystery Science Theater DVD sets, and I did that meme from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood where Leonardo DiCaprio points at the TV in real time.  He talks about being involved in the process and his love for the films and even his love for the MST series.  He thinks that this show is a fun work of film preservation in it's own way, where it introduces almost forgotten films to new audiences.  Tim Ryder then brings up a discussion on the Discourse forums about fans that collect films unriffed.  I'm happy to report I am one of those fans, and I have a list of my films in that very thread.  And yes, Doctor Mordrid is one that I own (on blu-ray!).

Almost as a "Prove it!" question, Joyner is asked what his favorite episode is.  He then goes to the early, early days of the series and cites he loved how fresh the show seemed at the time and names Robot Monster as his favorite episode, which is fair enough.  He also cites Cat Women of the Moon, which was never on the show (but it was on RiffTrax).  He might be thinking of Women of the Prehistoric Planet though and got titles confused because they sound so similar.

There is not a lot of talk about the episode itself, so Emily and Kelsey sometimes feel like they're taking a backseat in this stream (Kelsey is pretty quiet for most of it).  Emily does have interjections about what she loved in the movie, including her love for the character Gunner.  But there are also points where they discuss their favorite roles of Jeffery Combs, of which Emily just says "Star Trek" (in which Jeffery Combs has played about a hundred different characters for, so which one?) and Kelsey just responds "I'm NOT looking at IMDB!"  It almost seems like Emily and Kelsey are here just as a requisite of on-screen talent reading the backer names throughout the stream, which they do well.  For this particular episode it seems appropriate, because the movie is unquestioningly the star of the hour.  But it's a shame because one would like to see them integrated into the festivities more.

But this was a fun stream because I love learning about these curiosities at the center of the series, and Joyner is a splendid storyteller, and even discusses calming Jeffrey Combs' nerves over an audition for The Frighteners by showing him Meet the Feebles, which was also a Peter Jackson film.  And I do love everyone coming up with their own superhero knockoff, as Kelsey rips on Mystique with "Mistook" and Emily brings up Arm-Fall-Off-Boy, to which Matt pitches his idea for a movie starring the character.  Interestingly, Arm-Fall-Off-Boy has already been in a movie, as he was played by Nathan Fillion in last year's The Suicide Squad.  He was renamed TDK (short for The Detachable Kid), but he still had those arms fall off!

And as far as I'm concerned, any stream that brings up Arm-Fall-Off-Boy is a success.