Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour (B). The principal creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Hodgson, is on the road doing live shows in venues around the country. I think I heard this is supposedly going to be Hodgson’s last road show. Anyhoo, my sister and I caught the show last weekend in Dallas’s fancy opera house. The show is basically a live recreation of an episode of the MST3K TV show, with Joel and his two robot sidekicks (Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo) riffing on a terrible movie and occasionally taking little breaks to do (allegedly) comical skits. The terrible movie for our show was a cheesy 1986 Karate Kid rip-off called No Retreat, No Surrender (featuring a young and villainous Jean-Claude Van Damme, Timecop), and the riffing was very amusing. I’d probably give the show a B+ or an A- based on the riffing, but the skits were unfortunately unentertaining (just like they usually were during MST3K’s TV run). Note that Joel is the only person from the original show involved in this production; the robots are voiced by two new guys, and two new actresses participated in the skits. I think it was a pretty clean show, too, if you’re thinking about taking the kids. Definitely worth catching if they come to a town near you. Looks like they’re about to do a bunch of shows in Florida if you’re down that way!
Untamed Youth (B). This delightful youth-exploitation film from 1957 stars blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren (Girls Town) as a would-be rock-and-roll singer. Unfortunately she and her sister are arrested in some backwater burg, and the crooked judge sentences them to be slave labor on a farm run by the judge’s co-conspirator. Entertaining episode, and the disc features a short interview with Mamie as a bonus feature.
Hercules and the Captive Women (C). This is a cheesy European Hercules flick from 1961. The title is inapt because there are no captive women in evidence. Sure, the evil queen of Atlantis is trying to sacrifice her daughter to the gods throughout the whole movie, but that’s just one woman. (Apparently the movie was sometimes called Hercules Conquers Atlantis.) Anyway, this is a pretty average outing for Joel and the robots, and the extras on the disc are also unremarkable.
The Thing That Couldn’t Die (A-). Now we’re getting somewhere! Mike and the bots have a great time skewering this 1958 horror cheapie. A cute-ish blond girl is doing a little water-witching around her aunt’s dude ranch when she discovers an old chest containing the 400-year-old head of some evil guy who got himself executed by Sir Frances Drake. The head can hypnotize people into doing its evil bidding, and of course its top priority is getting the water witch to find his long-lost body! The riffing is great, and even a couple of the host segments are funny as Mike encounters the supposedly super-intelligent Observers.
The Pumaman (B+). Another fan favorite, this is a super-cheesy 1980 superhero movie about a guy who supposedly has the powers of a puma and who must use them to fight evil forces led by the great Donald (Halloween) Pleasence (whose name is misspelled Pleasance in the credits). The guy is more Greatest American Hero than Superman, and his Aztec mentor constantly has to bail him out of trouble. The extras on the disc are a bit unusual. One is a complete and unriffed version of The Pumaman; why anyone would want to watch it, I can’t imagine. The other is a lengthy interview with the actor who played the Pumaman. He was a New York City lawyer who tried acting for about ten years and then went back to lawyering. He was a good sport to be interviewed for the disc because he really didn’t appreciate the MST3K guys making fun of this movie!
Destry Rides Again (B). I wasn’t sure what to expect from this 1939 Western starring Jimmy Stewart (Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation) and Marlene Dietrich (Witness for the Prosecution)—I had never heard anything about it and saw it pretty much on a whim. But I must say that I rather enjoyed it—much more than the Dietrich movies in “The Glamour Collection” that I watched so long ago. It’s rather tongue-in-cheek, as Westerns go. It’s set in a typical rough-and-tumble Western town, with a typical villain, his typical gang of ruffians, and an atypical saloon songbird named Frenchie (Dietrich) who helps the villain fleece people in crooked card games. When the town’s sheriff disappears under not-very-mysterious circumstances, the new sheriff sends for assistance in the person of Tom Destry (Stewart), son of a well-known lawman now deceased. But Destry quickly becomes a town laughingstock when he refuses even to carry a gun. Can he defeat the bad guys with nothing more than his wits? And maybe woo Frenchie on the side? It’s sort of goofy, but enjoyable. Worth a look, especially since it’s only 95 minutes long!
The Movie Snob takes in another Fathomevents event.
Rifftrax Live: The Giant Spider Invasion (A-). This is the last Rifftrax Live event of the year, and it’s a good one. The opening short clip is fairly meh; it’s a bizarre explanation of how the nation’s telephone system worked back in the days of party lines and rotary phones. Did I mention it involves lots and lots of creepy marionettes? But the main event more than makes up for the lackluster appetizer. The Giant Spider Invasion is a uniquely terrible 1975 monster movie starring Alan Hale (Skipper on TV’s Gilligan’s Island) as the sheriff of a small town that’s getting invaded by some extraterrestrial tarantulas and one truly giant spider that will eat you if you cooperate by climbing up into its mouth. They riffed this movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and it was one of the all-time great MST3K episodes. This all-new riffing experience from the Rifftrax guys was just as funny. If you can’t catch it at the theater (there’s an encore performance tomorrow night), it’ll be worth downloading from the Rifftrax website. Warmly recommended . . . unless you have arachnophobia.
The Muppet Movie (C). I’m continuing my romp through the classics with this recent offering from fathomevents.com. Although I enjoyed the muppets TV show in my youth, I never saw this, their first theatrical release, which came out in 1979. Turns out I didn’t miss all that much. It’s the story of how Kermit the Frog (voice of Jim Henson) decided to follow his dream of being an entertainer, left his swamp, and hit the road for Hollywood. It’s a road-trip movie, with Kermit picking up a band of oddballs (Fozzie Bear (voice of Frank Oz), Miss Piggy (Oz), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), etc.) along the way while simultaneously being pursued by a fast-food-frog-legs entrepreneur (Charles Durning, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) who wants Kermit to be his front man, er, frog. The jokes and sight gags really aren’t all that funny, but the frequent musical numbers tend to be better (especially Kermit’s wistful “The Rainbow Connection”). There are loads of celebrity cameos, including Edgar Bergin, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Big Bird, and even Orson Welles, but only Steve Martin’s rude waiter is very funny. I’m glad I saw it, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. (I might look for “The Rainbow Connection” on iTunes, though.)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (B). Well, I’m trying to get back into the swing of regular moviegoing, so I decided to see if the Magnolia Theater is still running its classic-movie series on Tuesday nights. Lo, it is, and I caught this 1969 Western this past Tuesday. I had never seen it before and still don’t quite know what to make of it. It stars Paul Newman (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as the outlaws of the film’s title, and as best I can tell from extensive Wikipedia research the movie is actually fairly true to history. It’s the late 1890s, and Butch, the Kid, and their Hole in the Wall gang are making a living robbing banks and trains—until they irritate some big plutocrat and he hires a very dangerous posse to bring them to justice. So, in the interest of self-preservation, they make some unusual career choices after that. Although IMDB.com categorizes the film as “Biography, Crime, Drama,” it has a strong comedic element, with Newman providing lots of amusing dialogue, Redford being amusingly laconic, and an oddly jaunty soundtrack playing in the background. (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” won an Oscar.) And yet, there is quite a bit of shooting and killing, albeit with very little blood visible. Katharine Ross of The Graduate fame drops in for a while as the Kid’s love interest, but Butch shows more interest in her than the Kid ever does, and really this movie is a bromance between Butch and the Kid from start to finish.
Anyway, the film held my interest, but I still think it’s kind of an odd bird. It’s #73 on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American movies, so I guess it’s a classic.
Rifftrax Live: Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine (B). The movie riffers were at it again recently, and, although you can’t see it in the theater like I did, you can download this treasure directly from the Rifftrax website if you so choose. The show opens with a short about telling the truth (although the real lesson seems to be “don’t throw rocks at a towel hanging on a clothesline right in front of a window”). It’s fine. The feature is a low-budget sci-fi movie that I have to assume went straight to video. Casper Van Dien of Starship Troopers fame stars as Han Solo Saber Raine, a roguish mercenary/spaceship pilot who gets hired to help rescue a prince and princess who have been captured by some bad guy in a mask. Yes, it is a cheesy Star Wars rip-off in the vein of Krull or Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, but somehow it got made in 2017. The riffing was average, but the fact that it was ripping off a beloved 40-year-old movie from my childhood made the movie strangely endearing to me. And Casper’s blond sidekick was kind of cute.