Rifftrax Live: Star Raiders

A new review from the Movie Snob.

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.

Rifftrax: Octaman

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax: Octaman (B-).  I caught the latest Rifftrax live show last night, and if you are so inclined you can catch a rebroadcast at your local theater on April 24.  As you call tell from my grade, I’m not going to insist that you go.  It’s OK, but it’s not one of the gang’s greatest hits.  The appetizer is a short featuring McGruff the Crime Dog in an anti-drug screed.  It’s fine.  The main event is a monster movie that resembles a lamer version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  (No surprise, since writer-director Harry Essex also wrote the screenplay for . . . Creature from the Black Lagoon.)  The riffing was fine, but it never reaches giddy heights.  Octaman is only 80 minutes long, so the whole show was only about an hour and thirty-five minutes long.  One of the funniest bits was the song the guys sang at the very end of the show recapitulating the whole movie in three short verses.  Let’s see if the next Rifftrax live show, Star Raiders on June 6, is better.

Mystery Science Theater: 25th Anniversary Edition

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

I have more time on my hands these days, so I’m digging into my large collection of unwatched Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs.  This collection, which would be Volume XXVIII but for the 25th Anniversary Edition tag, contains six episodes rather than the usual four.  I think the last two episodes described below had already been released on DVD as standalone episodes.  Anyway, let’s get to this solid but not spectacular collection….

Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition (Volume XXXVIII).

Moon Zero Two  (B-).  This first-season offering features a 1969 production from Hammer, the famed low-budget British horror studio.  The movie is a cheesy “western in space” set on the moon in the early 21st century.  A charisma-free space jockey is recruited for two seemingly independent jobs—help a nefarious plutocrat crash a sapphire-laden asteroid into the far side of the moon and help a beautiful woman find out what happened to her missing brother, a mining prospector on . . . the far side of the moon.  Although the movie is generally terrible, the core ideas aren’t awful, some of the special effects seem pretty okay for the era, and female lead Catherine Schell really is gorgeous.  (She would go on to appear in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and TV’s Space: 1999, and she kept acting regularly into the 1990s.)  Anyway, the riffing started out pretty strong in this one, but it petered out as the movie went along.  Hence, the lukewarm grade.

The Day the Earth Froze (B).   This is a decent episode.  It starts with a short about a trip to the circus.  The main course is a weird old Finnish-Soviet movie based on a Finnish fairy tale.  A witch kidnaps a fair maiden to coerce her brother, a famed blacksmith, into building the witch a gadget called a “sampo” that can apparently make whatever you want it to.  Then the fair maiden’s boyfriend tries to steal the sampo, leading the witch to steal the sun, thereby threatening to freeze all the nice villagers.  Solid riffing, solid episode.  The real prize on the disc, though, is a short documentary featuring interviews with the original cast members about how MST3K first got started on a local cable channel in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  It really was interesting.

The Leech Woman  (C).  The riffing is only average on this weak 1960 horror movie about a woman who gets hooked on a potion that temporarily restores youth—but unfortunately requires an ingredient that can be obtained only by means of murder!  Extras on the disc include a decent documentary about many (or all?) of the people who acted or provided voice work on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a short interview with Mary Jo Pehl about her life post MST3K.

Gorgo (B).  Next up is a cheesy 1961 Godzilla ripoff set in Ireland and London.  Decent riffing makes for an above-average episode.  One of the movie’s stars, William Sylvester, actually went on to have a major role in 2001: A Space Odyssey as Dr. Heywood Floyd. And Leonard Maltin makes a special guest appearance on MST!

Mitchell (B).  This was the last MST episode featuring Joel Hodgson as its host.  Joe Don Baker (Mud) stars as Mitchell, a disheveled slob of a cop who plays by his own rules, bucks the police chief, and makes it his mission to nail some sleazy guy for murdering another sleazy guy who was burglarizing the first sleazy guy’s house.  Pretty good riffing, plus Linda Evans (TV’s Dynasty) co-stars in the movie and has to endure a sex scene with the unappealing Baker.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (B-).  This was the first MST episode to feature Mike Nelson, who had been a writer for the show for a while, as the host.  The film is a 1962 horror movie about a doctor who has been dabbling in unorthodox experiments.  His love for weird science pays off when his fiancée is decapitated in a car crash; he puts her head in a lasagna pan and keeps it alive in his laboratory while he creepily trolls various nightclubs for a suitable replacement body.  Amusingly, the final title card at the end of the movie changes its name to “The Head That Wouldn’t Die.”  The disc contains a short feature about Joel Hodgson’s leaving MST and a short interview with an actress who appeared (very briefly) in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

Rifftrax: Space Mutiny

The Movie Snob is back.

Rifftrax: Space Mutiny  (B+).  Ahoy, gentle readers!  I have not blogged in a while, owing to various family-related issues that have kept me out of the theaters.  But my sister was in town last week, and we managed to hit the multiplex for the latest Rifftrax live show.  You can catch a re-broadcast of it this coming Tuesday, June 19, and I give this one a hearty thumbs-up.  The opening short was pretty lackluster, something about a boy and his dad visiting a mysterious magic shop that may actually be magical!  But the main event is Space Mutiny, a 1988 sci-fi cheesefest that was actually riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in 1997.  The riffers did a fine job, but the movie alone would have provided plenty of laughs.  The plot is largely incomprehensible, but it’s something about a mutiny aboard a giant spaceship that happens to look exactly like the 1978-79 era Battlestar Galactica.  Don’t miss it!

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the megaplex.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle  (C).  Ugh!  I’m on Day 10 of a cold.  So I looked for some cinematic comfort food, and I settled on this sleeper hit that’s still hanging on from the Christmas season.  According to IMDB, it has grossed about $370 million domestically on a $90 million budget, so not bad.  I didn’t see the 1995 Robin Williams version, so I had no expectations (except that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be likable, which he of course was).  It was a mediocre experience—utterly predictable, but with a few amusing scenes here and there.  Four high schoolers get sucked into a video game, where they are given new bodies reflecting their in-game avatars.  It’s somewhat entertaining that they are cast against type: the nerd becomes beefy Johnson (Moana), the jock becomes diminutive Kevin Hart (The Five-Year Engagement), the awkward loner girl becomes Lara-Croft-esque Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), and in the oddest twist the beautiful social-media queen becomes . . . Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels).  They have to complete a quest to “win the game” and escape back into the real world.  The suspense is less than minimal, but as I mentioned there are a few laughs here and there.  And Gillan is very attractive, so there’s that.  Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language (most of the latter two arising, I believe, from the situation of a high-school girl’s consciousness getting stuck inside a middle-aged guy’s body).

Metropolitan

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Metropolitan  (A-).  Well, your reviewer was feeling a bit under the weather, so I wanted something light and cheery.  I had fond memories of this 1990 indie flick but hadn’t seen it in years, so I pulled down my unwatched Criterion Collection DVD and gave it a spin.  Suffice to say, it was as good as I remembered it being.  It is about eight young people—four girls and four guys, early college-age, as best I can tell—who gather almost every night in Manhattan over one Christmas break to go to various debutante parties or balls or whatever they are.  We don’t see too much of the parties themselves—the focus is on the after-parties, where the youngsters earnestly discuss all sorts of things you might not expect, like Jane Austen, the existence of God, and the relative merits of the bourgeoisie.  Hm, I’m not really selling the movie very well.  There are plenty of romantic complications too as sweet and inexperienced Audrey gets a crush on group newcomer and professed socialist Tom, who is still hung up on his ex-girlfriend Serena, who was last known to be dating the repellent Rick Von Sloneker.  And the dialogue really is very funny, at least if you think it’s funny to hear lines like “Ours is probably the worst generation since the Protestant Reformation” delivered by very young people with drop-dead seriousness.

Writer-director-producer Whit Stillman went on to make two other excellent films in the 1990s, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, (starring Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale).  Enough people took notice of his work to result in the 2002 publication of a book called Doomed Bourgeois in Love: Essays on the Films of Whit Stillman.  Stillman then went quiet for a long time.  Then in 2011 he released Damsels in Distress, which I thought was good but not as good as his prior work, and then in 2016 he released the better Love & Friendship.  IMDB.com doesn’t show that he has anything new in the works, but I’m holding out hope.  If you are new to his work I recommend you start at the beginning and give Metropolitan a try!

The 39 Steps

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The 39 Steps  (B).  Well, I intended to see a movie at the theater today, but I got some bad information from the internet and wound up seeing nothing.  So I decided to get some use out of my DVD collection and pulled down The Criterion Collection edition of this 1935 Hitchcock thriller.  Robert Donat (Goodbye Mr. Chips) stars as Hannay, an ordinary Londoner caught up in a web of intrigue when he takes a beautiful woman back to his flat one evening and she turns out to be a spy—and gets herself murdered that very night!  Suddenly, Hanney is on the run—wanted by the police on suspicion of murder and by sinister spies who are trying to steal British military secrets.  On a train to Scotland he has a meet-cute with Pamela (Madeleine Carroll, Secret Agent), and they later team up to try to foil the foreign plot.  The film is not terribly suspenseful but has some pleasant romantic-comedy aspects to it.  And at 86 minutes, it’s quite efficient.  I didn’t watch all the extras that Criterion packed onto the disc, but a short feature about Hitchcock’s film career in England before moving to Hollywood was interesting, and a critic’s discussion of The 39 Steps itself was also interesting and entertaining.