RiffTrax is ten years old, and to celebrate they put together their latest RiffTrax Live event packed to the gills with most of the cast of MST3K, leading to an amazing entry of RiffTrax Live. Not only do we get Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, but they are joined by Mary Jo Pehl, Bridget Jones Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Joel Hodgson, and newcomer Jonah Ray, making this the largest collection of MST3K alums performing at the same time ever! Some of it even helped erase the bad taste that was left in the mouths after the MST3K revival Kickstarter that came as news for practically everyone in the original cast except Joel, but mostly it was just a hilarious time that was one of the best RiffTrax Live events ever!
From the start there were MST3K songs during the preshow slides (usually it’s a mix of funny songs from various artists), and the large volume of slides referenced a lot of RiffTrax episodes over the years including things like Setting Up A Room, Manos, and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. There were even references to a some of the RiffTrax VODs I haven’t even had time to watch, which shows not only how behind I am on RiffTrax watching but also how familiar I am with bad cinema that I recognized what they were from. That’s a weird thing to be happening, but it is.
To start, each group of riffers got their own short, followed by the megariffing session where everyone came out. Mike, Keven, and Bill started things off with a ridiculous mess of a car safety short – A Talking Car, about a careless child brought before a tribunal of talking cars, one of which seems to want to feel that kids blood ground beneath its tires. Luckily for the kid, the two cooler-headed cars prevailed and we aren’t witnesses to child murder. Not that I would have been sad had this annoying child been destroyed. The kid is accompanied in the dream car tribunal by his loyal dog (it is unclear if the dog is also dreaming this), and the dog will growl and bare its teeth practically every time the old cranky car that wants the kid dead talks. Later the trio also tackled Shake Hands With Danger, a ridiculously gorey safety short that I saw them do live years ago and it was just as hilarious this time out.
Bridget Nelson and Mary Jo Pehl paired up for a short about the kitchen of the future in a modern home, and how you women can conspire to teach your husband to buy you a new kitchen. Which in this case meant buy a new house with a new kitchen inside it! It featured Darren McGavin (best known to modern eyes as the dad from A Christmas Story) as the husband, and of course there were plenty of references to that as well as other good lines. Mary Jo and Bridget have become a regular team at RiffTrax with their own series of shorts that focus more on the types of films they’d make the girls watch in home ec back in the 1950s.
Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu were up with More Dates for Kay, which I think is supposed to be a followup to the MST3Ked short What To Do On a Date. A hapless young lady who mopes around at home complaining that she doesn’t have a boyfriend gets a talking too from her older (married!) sister, who talks about her friend Kay (why this married, older woman is friends with a high schooler is not addressed!) The advice switches from basically go out and have fun and meet people and be friendly to the bizarre like do favors and pretend to be interested in every random boy that comes along in the off chance one asks you out. Also, the sister is totally not approving of Kay’s calling of boys. Frank and Trace straddle the border of working dirty with some of their lines (the short makes it soooooooooooo easy to turn everything sexual it’s crazy!) and Mike, Kevin, and Bill even joke about how Frank is dying to go blue but can’t. Probably the best riff of the night.
Jonah Ray and Joel Hodgson come out for Americans At Work: Barbers, an AFL-CIO joint about how barbers and hairdressers are totally valuable workers, and also women take forever to look good. There was a hilarious running gag with a hairdresser who looked like Frankenstein that just got funnier and funnier. Jonah did well and showed he’ll do a good job as the new MST3K host, despite a line flub that got its own riff by Joel.
Then it was time, the Riff-a-palooza! Everyone came out for a special short with the 1950s Superman selling saving stamps to young children! Shockingly, though we finally got Joel and Mike riffing at the same time (and everyone else!), this wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, because the short itself was pretty darn tepid. Far too talky and not enough cheesy. Luckily, they seemed to pick up on this while putting the show together because we got a second short that was also riffed by everyone, and it was a recurring favorite: At Your Fingertips: Grass! That short is so awesome it alone is worth the price of admission, even with a lot of repeated lines. And now we can finally find out if corn is grass or not!
Before I got I want to also mention there was a ten years of RiffTrax highlight video that was great and hopefully shows up online somewhere (and also reminded me there are a few of the mp3 riffs I haven’t watched yet, either!) Overall, this show ruled, the non-Superman shorts were largely amazing, and it was great seeing the old gang back together, even in a new together form. Hopefully this leads to more collaboration between the groups with more RiffTrax and more guest spots on the new MST3K. If you are someone how is more cautious with what you spend your money on but are a nominal fan of MST3K, it is well worth your dollars to go either see the rebroadcast or get the VOD when it is released.
Disclosure: I donated to the Kickstarter for this RiffTrax.
Superman vs. The Elite
Written by Joe Kelly
Based on “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?” from Action Comics #775 by Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, and Lee Bermejo
Directed by Michael Chang
Superman has been a cultural icon for 80 years, he’s survived several waves of popularity of comic books, multiple reboots and revisions to his story and character, and still remains popular world wide despite the world being far different than the one he was introduced to. In fact, one of the major things people write about Superman is how he seems to be a character from another time. Back when things seemed simple and a super powered guy could just punch his way to the right answer. Now things are complicated, because we think about the consequences of actions and about the causes of problems, so just punching things is usually out. This is helped in part by characterizations of Superman by people who don’t really know what to do with him, turning him into a boy scout tool of the government or a deadbeat dad. One of the plot points of Superman Returns was Lois Lane winning a Pulitzer for an article basically saying the world didn’t need a Superman.
Where some media interpretations of Superman has failed, he has gained a pretty solid characterization in the numerous animated projects from DC comics, across tv and dtv films. The Superman presented is a man who does his best to balance power and responsibility while stopping threats of immense power (and they usually have to be, because Superman is just invincible otherwise!)
So it’s natural that the animated DC movies would cover What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way? from Action Comics #775. Written by Joe Kelly (with pencils by Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo), it’s a story about how the world seems to have changed, how heroes that are willing to kill (a line Superman doesn’t cross) have gained traction, and just how much Superman holds back in the hope of inspiring people to be better. Superman takes his responsibility as a role model seriously, and holds himself to the highest moral standard. Some of the themes are also present in the awesome Kingdom Come story (another tale I hope gets the animated treatment!)
The Elite is a team consisting of four members. Manchester Black is the leader, he has a Union Jack tattooed over his chest (I thought it was just a shirt until it was specifically pointed out!) The Hat is an Asian mystic who can do magic tricks and summon supernatural creatures thanks to his magic hat. He’s also constantly drunker as the movie goes on. Menagerie has some sort of alien biosuit that allows her to turn into creatures. Coldcast is a large man wearing chains that has electromagnetic powers. Aside from Manchester’s long tragic flashback, the other three Elite don’t get much in the way of characterization and pretty much follow Black’s lead.
aka یکه بزن aka Little Hero aka Yekeh Bezan
Written and directed by Reza Safai
Three Iranian Supermen (including a Superwoman!) Now that got your attention, let me deflate your joy for a bit by explaining that three characters dress up as Superman and fly around for a few minutes in the middle of the film, powered by a magic wand that also turns them into Tarzan characters and gunfighters out of an Old West movie. But, still, Iranian people running around dressed as Superman is not something you expect to see. The global image of Iranian cinema is a bunch of art house films all banned in their home country, but readers of TarsTarkas.NET know that Iranian cinema is much more than that. As we saw with Shab Neshini Dar Jahanam/A Party In Hell, pre-Revolution Iran put out a wide degree of cinema, including fantasy elements. There is even a term for these silly films, Filmfarsi, coined by Iranian film critic Houshang Kavoosi. Filmfarsi movies are low-budget populist fare that takes tropes and queues from other countries’ movies, particularly Indian cinema. The genre still continues today, though now the stories are worked around the censors, requiring directors to either tow the line or be very creative in their subversion.
Our focus is on 1967’s Yeke Bezan (The internet tells me that translates to Little Hero, but there is no giant octopi firing babies at genderbending kung fu starlets!) It is a goofy comedic fantasy film with roots all over. The long sequences of characters punching and shooting at each other seems lifted from Hollywood’s serials, giving it a common feel to the Turkish Super Hero movies that also feature large-scale “borrowing” of American pop culture. The characters break out into song, with beats that fit right in with Indian film. They even follow the Indian character breakdowns: A Handsome Hero, a Behrouz as his sidekick, a good girl who the hero ends up loving, and a bad girl who hangs out with the villains. Both the Handsome Hero and Behrouz spend time chasing after the bad girl, who we know is bad because she wears towels while talking to the men!
In fact, there is a large amount of attractive women who shuffle through the film. 1960s Iran must have been a swinging place. Like several countries, the cinematography when women are on screen focuses on specific parts of their bodies, here it is either their bare backs (in the case of the bad girl in towels mentioned above), or more often, their legs, with the women almost exclusively wearing short shorts.
Overall, Yeke Bezan is interesting to watch because it’s unlike what you think films from Iran would be like, but it’s similarities to other genre cinemas of the time will also preview how much you will enjoy it. If you like the midstream Turkish Superhero movies that spend more time punching and goofing than superheroing, then Yeke Bezan will be up your alley. Otherwise, you’ll probably be bored for half an hour, entertained for 20 minutes, then bored for the conclusion of the film.
Writer/Director Reza Safai is hard to find information on, partially because he shares a name with an up and coming actor/director named Reza Sixo Safai. I don’t know if they are related, all I can definitively find out about Reza Safai is he directed a string of fifty‐two Filmfarsi movies from 1961 to 1978, but his career cratered out after the Revolution. He wrote, produced, and even acted in many of those films. There was a brief attempt at a revival post-Revolution, but he ran into censorship problems. He was efficient with resources (aka cheap), would extend filming hours to cut down on the number of days on location, made promotional material out of outtakes, and often had one film shooting while another was processing in the lab. Reza Safai at one point dated starlet Mercedeh Kamyab, a fact that was more important than mentioning his actual career in at least one book about Iranian cinema.
Despite the goofy Filmfarsi cinema getting critical disdain, Yeke Bezan is a cinema classic in Iran. So much so that it was even remade in 2004 as Sharlatan (Charlatan), which follows the original plot rather closely, including the magic wand turning them into Superman scenes! So that’s two Iranian Superman movies! The film follows the original close enough I stole some of the character names from it to use for characters here. If anyone who has seen Yeke Bekan can help out, that would be great. I fully expect someone to stop by 7 years after an internet hero fansubs Yeke Bekan, outraged that I got a character’s name wrong. Sharlatan is released on DVD with English subtitles, unlike Yeke Bezan, which was taken from an internet rip of a vcd rip of a VHS tape that is probably second generation of a degraded negative that has two obvious missing scenes. With no subtitles, but at TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles!
The fun part of doing research on Yeke Bezan was that even though I drew a blank on a lot of things I tried to discover about this film, I stumbled across several other exciting things. Needless to say, expect a whole pack of obscure Iranian fantasy films to appear in the next few months, and hopefully more once I identify what movies are on a few mystery posters. I did get a few of the cast, but some of them are mysteries. Frank Myrqhary and Hassan Rezaei are listed in the credits, I’m not sure who is who.
But for now it’s time to get farsi, filmfarsi, with Yeke Bekan!
“You can’t control a living thing without destroying what’s alive about it” — Zor-El
That quote is key for Superman Unbound, as Superman deals with a new threat to Earth, a threat from Krypton’s past that threatens the galaxy at large in addition to his adoptive home. Brainiac travels the universe capturing cities in bottles and then destroying their planet of origin, in an attempt to absorb all the knowledge in the universe. In order to prevent new knowledge from existing, Brainiac keeps the cities in the same state they were when they were captured. No one ages, everything stays the same, they are trapped in purgatory. As you can imagine, Superman is not okay with this fate befalling Earth, nor is he fine with leaving the lost Kryptonian capital of Krandor as a bottle decoration in Brainiac’s ship.
Superman: Unbound is based on Superman: Brainiac by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Brainiac presented here is a cold, calculating monster that is an unstoppable force in the galaxy. He’s been at it for decades, adding city after city to his collection and leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake. Brainiac brings up echo of the Borg, as he arrives in a lone ship (though his is shaped like a black skull), his robot troops adapt to the local defenses and absorb the knowledge of his victims. They both carve out cities from the ground, and Brainiac is more machine parts than organic at this point. But he’s also just one guy, as opposed to a collective consciousness. The motivations are similar but also different.
We begin with seemingly normal situations on Earth, massive violence in Metropolis (committed, they say, because Superman will obviously be busy with an earthquake in South America that happened a bit ago!) The heavily armed thugs manage the best the surprisingly militarized Metropolis police, but what they don’t bank on is Supergirl showing up to ruin their fun. Lois Lane (who volunteered to be their hostage) provides the snark as Supergirl rips through their defenses, joined by Superman, who faster than a speeding bulleted his way back to the US in time to take out the last of the bad dudes.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
Written by James Krieg
Based on Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert
Directed by Jay Oliva
Flashpoint became the even that subsequently rebooted the DC universe into The New 52!, as the covers say. Basically, everything got rebooted, and was done so with less of a notice than you would like to wrap up storylines in dozens of comic books. This resulted in some things being a bit more rebooted than others, but all that continuity you knew and loved was once again thrown out the window by the latest DC reboot. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox doesn’t get into the continuity situation (except a brief costume change at the end), but deals with the storyline that causes it, leaving the actual fallout for the eventual sequels like Justice League: War. It lacks the excitement and fun of some of the animated DC flicks, though does have a few bright points to offer.
Flash is a character that, like Batman, is overshadowed by his villains. I say this not because I don’t really care for Flash, but because I find the dynamics of his villains far more interesting. Captain Cold and the Rogues are a cool team dynamic, working together for profit while avoiding excess casualties, even if they occasionally get sucked into more bloody affairs simply because they walk in the criminal underworld. Flash is potentially one of the most powerful heroes on the planet, and they regularly do battle with him. They even fight against other super-villain teams that try to control them. However, Professor Zoom/Reverse Flash/Eobard Thawne is simply an Evil Flash from the future who is a jerk. Sadly, the tale here turns the Rogues into petty thugs easily tricked by Professor Zoom, who then orchestrates manipulating Flash into altering history and continues to taunt Flash even as the future Professor Zoom comes from ceases to exist. C. Thomas Howell puts in a good performance letting the creepy sociopath shine through, but he’s stuck with what is there in the script to deliver, and Professor Zoom never becomes a classic villain.
The biggest problem with Flashpoint is that it was never really that good to begin with. The series wasn’t terrible, but it never really turned into a classic story that will survived through the ages. The only real continual allure is the alternate reality itself, and even some of that is a bit corny. We already had alternate versions of the Justice League members not that long ago with Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and despite the limited screen times, many of those characters felt more developed than the inhabitants of the Flashpoint world.
The fact the event was used to justify the rebooting of all of DC continuity makes it a lightning point of controversy, as some of the rebooting caused arguments of their own (Superman’s marriage went kaput, many dead characters sprung back to life, a few established female characters suddenly became giant slores) in addition to the general idea of everything getting reset yet again in DC. One theory was the resetting was a ploy to gain new readers, though if that was true, it didn’t seem to pan out too well, but much digital ink was spilt as various factions argued throughout the internet.
Categories: Movie Reviews, Ugly Tags: Andy Kubert, animated, Batman, Batmania, C. Thomas Howell, Cary Elwes, Dana Delany, Dee Bradley Baker, Geoff Johns, Hynden Walch, James Krieg, James Patrick Stuart, Jay Oliva, Kevin Conroy, Kevin McKidd, Michael B. Jordan, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman, Sam Daly, Steve Blum, super heroes, Superman, Vanessa Marshall
Justice League: Doom
Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Based on JLA: Tower of Babel by Mark Waid
Directed by Lauren Montgomery
The Justice League is under attack, except this time it’s by one of their own! Okay, not really by one of their own, but by the very plans Batman developed to deal with members of the Justice League.
Justice League: Doom is based loosely on the JLA: Tower of Babel storyline by Mark Waid, Justice League: Doom changes things up enough to be a different take while providing a nice adaptation of the overall themes. The main villain is changed (from Ra’s al Ghul to Vangal Savage) and some of the Justice League’s lineup is different, but the feelings of betrayal by a paranoid Batman remain.
Doom is not direct sequel to Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, but follows it with very similar character designs and voices. Many of the DC Animated films are their own shards of a loose continuity that exists purely to tell that exact tale. It’s a perfectly fine way to operate, allowing the general mythology of the heroes to exist and leaving toom for the specifics needed to make the stories work and be unique. The return of many of the familiar voice actors helps sell the loose familiarity and provides a comfort to longtime fans so they aren’t put off by Batman sounding weird or something.
Justice League: Doom is one of the better DC Animated films, dividing enough characterization between the different members to give each of them their own take, while still keeping a focus on Batman. Switching the villain to Vandal Savage helps push a more minor villain into focus and provides an excuse to make the full range of the plans make more sense than eliminating reading and talking.
Categories: Bad, Movie Reviews Tags: animated, Batman, Batmania, Bumper Robinson, Carl Lumbly, Carlos Alazraqui, Claudia Black, Dwayne McDuffie, Grey DeLisle, Kevin Conroy, Lauren Montgomery, Mark Waid, Michael Rosenbaum, Nathan Fillion, Olivia d'Abo, Paul Blackthorne, Phil Morris, Robin Atkin Downes, super heroes, Superman, Susan Eisenberg, Tim Daly