Mst3k Assignment Venezuela

Kind of busy right now, so for today’s Saturday entertainment, here’s a small Mst3k treat.

This was a short that wasn’t connected to any specific episode. Instead it was created for the planned ‘Mst3k CD-Rom’ project that was never completed. The short, however, found its way into the fan community and eventually onto DVD. I now present it to you (excuse the substandard sound and the big time indicator in the upper left).

The short tells of an American engineer working for Creole oil and his experience of relocating to Venezuela and discovering all that that then-vibrant and growing country had to offer. From our perspective, it’s actually a little heartbreaking: this is what Venezuela used to look like before Socialism.

But even with that, the riffing is still firing on all cylinders. Enjoy!

Budweiser Swamp

In the mid-late-nineties, Budweiser beer started a new advertising campaign, consisting of a trio of frogs just croaking the syllables of their name. It became hugely popular and all-but iconic. Then, after a few variations, an actual story developed, played out over the course of the commercials (especially during Superbowls), involving a self-impressed lizard named Louie scheming to take the frogs’ place.

The surprising thing is that, if you string the commercials together, it’s not a bad little short film, largely due to the great voice acting on Louie and Frankie the lizards (courtesy of actors Paul Christie and Danny Mastrogiorgio) and some strong dialogue (“All my hard work has paid off!” “Louie, you hired a hitman.” “…Yeah, with my own money!”).

On top of that, you have a pretty decent example of basic story structure here. We open with a false order (a status quo that seems stable, but contains the seeds of disruption): the frogs are the champions of Budweiser and Louie is jealous. There’s a rising action: Louie lets his resentment of the frogs lead him to increasingly heated rhetoric and finally desperate action. There’s a chance to turn back via his buddy Frankie’s repeated warnings. There’s a turning point that changes the status quo from false order to disorder: Louie hires a hitman to assassinate the frogs. There’s a unexpected result – the assassination attempt fails to kill the frogs, but leaves one of them incapacitated, allowing Louie to get what he wants after all. Then there’s the climax and logical result of the action, where Louie achieves his dream…only to ruin it through his own personal flaws, the same ones that led him to such desperate measures in the first place. Finally, Louie receive his comeuppance, first by being beaten up by the frogs and then by seeing himself replaced by the character he respects the least and never bothered to take seriously, but who ends up outdoing him completely while being a more reliable performer, thus restoring the status quo to true order.

As Frankie says, this isn’t Shakespeare, but as a bare-bones and very funny illustration of story structure, you could do worse.

The Mikado

I am rapidly becoming a full-bore Gilbert and Sullivan fan. Their plays are some of those works, like the writings of Shakespeare, Pope, and Dickens, that really show off the English language to its full power of rhythm, sound, and turns of meaning. As well, of course, of being set to absolutely beautiful music. I like musicals in general, but Gilbert and Sullivan are to a modern Broadway show what Rembrandt is to a comic book artist.

So, for your Saturday pleasure, I offer a full recording of The Mikado, one of the best such recordings that I’ve found (all too many recent versions of the play have the actors in western garb or even modern dress, which…just why? What happened to you?). This one features a great cast, including the immortal John Reed (who offered yesterday’s rendition of ‘Nightmare Song’ and was a foremost G&S performer for many years) as Koko. I also especially love Kenneth Sanford as Poo-Bah (“Oh, my proto-plasmic ancestors!”), who will forever be my definitive image of the role.

(I actually watched a version once which, while quite good, featured a thin Poo-Bah, which is like having a thin Falstaff!)

Set aside a few hours to be happy and enjoy!

San Francisco International

On Saturdays I like to offer some form of entertainment. Sometimes it’s my own fiction, other times it’s bringing attention to something that I think is worth your time.

For today, I’m offering one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows: Mystery Science Theater 3000, episode 614: San Francisco International. This, I think, is a fairly decent ‘introductory’ episode to MST3k: the movie is a lame TV pilot from 1970 (it actually went to series and ran for one season, though with a slightly different cast), cheesy, but not unwatchable, especially compared with some of the other films that appeared on the show.

The premise of the show is that it’s a melodrama about the trials and adventures of the workers at San Francisco International Airport. Think of it as a 70s disaster movie…with no disaster. I guess I can see something like this working, but you’d have to really try at it, get some very strong writers and charismatic actors. Or play it as a workplace comedy perhaps. Otherwise it’s just watching other people doing their jobs with a patently forced emergency every week. Like, the first regular episode of the series involved a military shipment of poison gas, and the next involved a general who might be assassinated. How would you keep this up for even one season without audiences either laughing over how disaster prone this airport is or else resolving never to fly again? And remember, this was filmed at the real San Francisco International Airport. I wonder who signed off on that idea? “We’ll do a show that depicts us having a deadly crisis every week: that’ll bring in the customers!”

On second thought, they should have had that guy as a character on the show. Though maybe that’s who the Pernell Roberts character is meant to be: the guy who does dramatic publicity stunts to try to draw attention to airport issues. I’m guessing his real-world counterpart didn’t keep his job for long.

That said, I actually enjoy the movie quite a bit. It’s unoffensive and there are some engaging scenes, mostly involving the effortlessly in charge Clu Gulager as the airport security chief. Both the thieves’ plot and Gulager’s ploy against them are genuinely clever. And as the guys point out, there are a *ton* of veteran character actors and TV mainstays in this thing: Pernell Roberts, Clu Gulager, Van Johnson(!), Walter Brooke, Tab Hunter, Dana Eclar, Nancy Malone, and so on (amusingly enough, this contributes to the ’70s Disaster Movie’ air, since those were usually stuffed with major stars. Here it’s stuffed with TV and character actors). Overall, the film goes down pretty easily: the kind of thing you might turn on as background noise while you’re doing something else.

It brings out some excellent riffing from Mike and the bots throughout (“Jeez, ever since Vatican II, you guys…”), though the best comes in the finale, where a sequence involving a troubled kid stealing a plane elicits some gaspingly-funny riffs (“The faces of those you’ve wronged will be showing up on your left”).

Enjoy

The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect Summarized

“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

-Michael Crichton

Or, as Scott Adams puts it:

Fraud Presenter  - Dilbert by Scott Adams

Weirdness Epic

I think I’ve mentioned before my fondness for Ross’s Game Dungeon, one of the more unique game-review pages on YouTube. Rather than striving for ‘relevance’ with reviews of the latest triple-A games, Ross tends to aim at more obscure, odd, or interesting games, old or new.

It’s hugely entertaining for two reasons: one because Ross comes across as very genuine, like he’s just a guy talking about things he likes. He’s open about the fact that he just picks games to review or topics to cover because they seem interesting to him. The other is that his sense of humor is very much to my taste. A lot of it is of the ‘say something utterly outrageous with a straight face’ variety which I adore. He swears sometimes, though not very often and it always feels warranted, not just a cheap way to get laughs.

Like most people, I found Ross through his Freeman’s Mind series: a playthrough of the original Half-Life where Ross narrates his interpretation of the famously silent protagonist’s thoughts on the events. That’s a brilliantly hilarious series as well (“Give peace a chance! Or at least stand still”), but I’d recommend any viewers who haven’t played the game itself and have any interest in doing so should play the game first to get the full experience (I swear I will do a full Half-Life essay at some point).

I also find many of his videos on other topics to be interesting. I don’t like when he gets onto global warming or peak oil (which happens sometimes, though he at least tries to back up what he says with research), but his talks about, say, improving the GUI or VR are great, and I especially appreciate his efforts to sound the alarm on games being destroyed (see his Games as a Service is Fraud video for an excellent summary of the problem).

Here’s an nice, low-key episode to give you an idea of what Ross is all about: Puzzle Agent

But for Saturday, I’m going to present what I think is his magnum opus in terms of game reviews: possibly the weirdest, most surreal, most insane game ever made. And I mean literally insane, as in some viewers might find this hard to watch because the game honestly feels like its internal logic and aesthetic sense is that of someone with legitimate mental illness. Not just ‘quirky’ or imaginative, but genuinely insane. I can’t even think of any other examples of that sort of thing that I could compare it with.

Put it this way: the instruction manual for the game includes a statement from the developer that “This game is not the fruit of a sick man’s mind.”

They actually felt the need to assure people of that in the introduction to the manual.

This on top of a truly surreal, slightly disturbing artistic and musical sense and…well, it’s really hard to convey just what this game is like. Ross describes it as “The Odyssey of Gaming,” an utterly unique epic of weirdness that very few souls have explored, let along conquered. You really have to experience it for yourself, and the best way to do so is with Ross as your guide.

I give you Armed and Delirious. Proceed with caution!