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 (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.
Alan Parsons Live Project. As I get on in years, it surprises me when I find myself going to a rock and roll music concert. Until recently, the last concert I saw was The Zombies, which was right about three years ago. But a couple of weeks ago I ended that drought by seeing an old favorite of mine, British rocker Alan Parsons. If you’re not familiar with him, he started out as a technical guy on some Beatles albums and, most famously, on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. Then he formed his own studio band called The Alan Parsons Project, and they scored several top-forty hits back in the 1970s and early 1980s. Their biggest hit was “Eye in the Sky,” but they had decent chart success with other songs like “Time,” “Games People Play,” and “Don’t Answer Me.” Their instrumental “Sirius” has become famous as the music that gets played before the game at Chicago Bulls home games. Anyway, I was a fan of the Project’s light, radio-friendly psychedelia, and I bought like ten of their albums back in the day.
Anyway, Parsons eventually decided to do some touring, and back in the 90s I actually caught his live show at Dallas’s since-demolished Bronco Bowl. Now he’s touring again, and some buddies and I saw him at the Theatre in Grand Prairie. Although Eric Woolfson, who sang lead vocals on songs like “Eye in the Sky,” died several years ago and had a remarkable voice that no one else can really evoke successfully, it was still quite a good show. The band played for about an hour (including almost all their top-forty hits), took an intermission, and then played the entirety of the Project’s 1977 album I, Robot. Unfortunately I had to leave before the encore, but the internet indicates that the band probably came back and played “Games People Play” and “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” to wrap up the night.
In sum, it was a solid show. Any Parsons fans out there should check out the show if it comes to a town near you.
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!
Rifftrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party (B). Last night Fathom Events delivered another live show by the Rifftrax usuals (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) and a slew of guest stars (Mary Jo Pehl, Bridget Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and a fellow who was new to me named Paul F. Tompkins). I assume that by now you know what these shows are–comedians who specialize in riffing on bad movies and other video material. This time around they aren’t riffing a full-length movie, but rather a bunch of “educational” shorts from I don’t know when–roughly the 50s through the 70s. Although this wasn’t one of the riffers’ greatest performances ever, I did think it was a solid outing with plenty of decent laughs. I would say the funniest shorts were (i) an old black-and-white number about a woman who graduates from secretarial school and works her way up in some bland office job, (ii) another black-and-white film about a surly high-school boy whose conscience is trying to get him to stop griping about everything, and (iii) a p.e. film featuring a bunch of dejected elementary-school kids being forced to roll and bounce big rubber balls around for no apparent reason. I know they sound terrible, but they’re pretty funny when the riffers make wisecracks about them throughout! The show will be rebroadcast on June 20, so head on over to fathomevents.com if you want more information.
Rifftrax Live: Samurai Cop. (B+) This is a solid effort by the riffers at Rifftrax. (I saw the live show last night, but you can catch a rebroadcast next Tuesday night if you like!) They started with an amusing short, an old black-and-white educational film in which a surly student learns about good manners from a preachy chalk drawing come to life. Samurai Cop itself is a terrible 1991 knock-off of Lethal Weapon and other buddy-cop movies. A Japanese gang with almost no Japanese members is getting into the L.A. drug scene, and a muscle-bound samurai cop with long, flowing hair and no discernible martial-arts skills comes up from San Diego to help out. He and his African-American sidekick mostly drive around shooting people, but the samurai cop occasionally takes a time out to awkwardly hit on or make out with various women who are unfortunate enough to cross his path. The riffing was very funny, and the movie was amusingly inept in its own right, so I give it a solid thumbs-up.
Be aware, however, that the Rifftrax show is rated R. I was surprised to see that on my ticket, and it turned out to be because the movie has a lot of profanity in it–also some clumsy sexual banter, and some scenes in which the hero and heroine make out while wearing very small swimsuits. (According to IMDB there is nudity in the original movie, but the Rifftrax folks deleted that out.)
To my surprise, the red-headed gal who runs with the bad guys in this movie was Gates McFadden’s stand-in on Star Trek: The Next Generation and actually had small parts herself in no fewer than 43 STTNG episodes! How about that?
Rifftrax Live: Time Chasers (B-). Well, I didn’t actually see this 2016 show live; I just recently saw it on DVD. But I was really, really looking forward to it because the guys riffed Time Chasers back in their Mystery Science Theater glory days, and in my mind it was one of the funniest MST episodes of all time. Time Chasers itself is a hilariously low-budget 1994 time-travel movie about Nick Miller, a nerdy physics professor in Vermont who turns his little single-propeller airplane into a time machine with what looks like a Commodore 64. Unfortunately Nick’s physics prowess far exceeds his common sense, and he rashly sells his invention to an evil corporation called GenCorp, embodied by its tangibly evil CEO J.K. Robertson. The scene in which Nick visits the CEO in his “office” – a stairway landing in what I’ve read is the opera house in Rutland, Vermont – is one of the all-time greats. So, Nick has to do more time traveling to try to stop himself from selling the time machine to GenCorp in the first place.
Unfortunately, the riffers just don’t do as good a job shredding Time Chasers as they did on Mystery Science Theater so many years ago. While watching the movie, I often remembered the wisecracks from the MST version, and the new jokes just weren’t as good. Don’t get me wrong—it was still an entertaining experience, if only because the movie itself is such a target-rich environment. I just thought the Rifftrax version didn’t live up to the MST original. There’s also a short about a chimpanzee that becomes a fireman, but it was nothing in particular to write home about either.