It Came From Rifftrax: You’re the Judge

I would call this one ‘charming;’ vintage 60s high school romance used to promote Crisco shortening (seriously).

The plot has two high school girls trying to tempt the objects of their affections to a party by goading them into a cooking contest. The girls use Crisco and produce a sumptuous meal, while the boys use cooking oil, which, coupled with their general incompetence in the kitchen, results in barely edible mess. (“And he went on to be the head chef at Arby’s”). One girl’s father serves as the judge (despite the title, you the viewer are not the judge) on the grounds that he’s a man and will be prone to side with the boys.

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“Our lives had descended into I Love Lucy-themed madness.”

This is one of those where I enjoy the film itself as much as the riffing. It wouldn’t make for a bad sitcom episode. Not a great one either, but it’s a fun, zany little tale of girls trying to maneuver reluctant boys into romance (“Look, we want to bang you, you thick headed doof!”). The characters even have some personality to them, like when the shorter boy tries to bowl with the pie dough then nervously resumes reading off the direction after he knocks over the flower tin. I also like the brunette’s momentary uncertainty about the correct pronoun in the opening narration (‘personality’ doesn’t necessarily mean I remember their names; this is just an advertising short after all: let’s not go overboard here). At the very least it feels like the actors have all worked together before, which is a point of quality in a film like this.

The riffing mostly complements the story nicely, with comments on both the overcomplicated and seemingly unnecessary nature of the scheme (“See Coronet’s 12-part series ‘Calling Boys at Home'”) and frequent riffs on the Crisco influence, as well as the, shall we say, generous amount of it being used (“Two cups of shortening?! Dear God, they won’t live through the night!”).

They also give some standard ‘sexist 1960s’ jokes, which are admittedly a little annoying, but they don’t pop up too much. It’s somewhat balanced by riffs pointing out how ridiculously incompetent the men are (“Reverting to chimphood before our very eyes”).

Of course, these were the days when there was actually something approaching balance in the comedy; where men and women were about equally likely to be portrayed as ridiculous one way or another, and there seemed to be little to no actual animosity about it (see also The Dick Van Dyke Show and other contemporary sitcoms). We’ve come a long way down since then. But that’s another story.

Overall a very strong short. If you like artifacts from the ‘50s and ‘60s, you’ll probably enjoy the film itself and the riffing just adds an extra layer of fun. Definitely recommended!

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“You realize you have breasts, right? These are teenage boys; it’s not difficult!”

 

It Came From Rifftrax: “Remember Me”

As a lifelong fan of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ and its follow-up ‘Rifftrax’, I figured I’d start writing up a few of my thoughts on their various projects.

“Remember Me” is a short designed to teach customer service practices. It focuses on the Customer: the Least Respected Man in America, as he runs a gauntlet of ridiculously awful service personnel, including a grocery check-out clerk who goes on break while he’s standing in line, a teller who wastes time flirting with the man in front of him and then inexplicably suspects him of check fraud, and a copy repair man who apparently needs at least two weeks to fix the office’s only copier (“How am I going to xerox my suicide note now?”). In such situations, the short implies, you can either take a stand, complain, and demand service, or you can sit there and take it while silently seething that you will have your revenge.

The short recommends the latter course.

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“I just add them to my dark list of pain.”

This, of course, leads to a lot of fun from the Rifftrax crew as they have a field day both with the man’s spinelessness and his creepy assertions that he’ll win in the end. “He has a femur collection, doesn’t he?”

The line of abuse he goes through is funny as well; literally every service this man tries to use takes the opportunity to ignore, snub, or insult him somehow. It’s as though he’s been arbitrarily dropped to the bottom of the social ladder. “Trying to shop here; I should spit on you!”

To be fair, the point the short wants to make is that if the customer meets with bad service, even if he doesn’t complain he’ll just not come back, and he won’t recommend you. Which, like a lot of these shorts, is perfectly true and reasonable, especially as it’s apparently directed at service personnel themselves. But the way it’s presented, with the man suffering abuse after abuse without a word just makes it seem like he’s winding up for a bombing spree or something. “I scope out various bell towers.”

At the end, Bill “Crow” Corbett offers quick advice to both service providers and customers. To customers, he reminds them that tipping is often a big help (“Make it 20% or more and we’ll lick the soles of your shoes clean”). And his advice to service personnel:

“Do your f(bleep)ing job.”

(The USCCB might also find this advice helpful, but that’s a topic for another time).

In summary, this is one of my favorites and a great source of ten-minutes of humor. Highly recommended!

 

The Star Wars Holiday Special

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One of my personal holiday traditions is to open the season with a viewing of The Star Wars Holiday Special, courtesy of Rifftrax (I’m not insane enough to watch it ‘pure’. People have died that way). In case you haven’t heard of it, the year after the first Star Wars became a sleeper hit, someone had the idea that the way to keep the Star Wars interest alive was…to put on a holiday variety show, including musical numbers and a line of guest stars. It’s a charming, low-key family-friendly program that includes such delightful scenes as a musical number by Jefferson Starship, a holographic acrobatics show by dancers in bizarre costumes, and Chewbacca’s aged father watching a porno film given to him by Art Carney.

You think I’m making that up? How could I make that up? How could any sane person not drugged out of their minds have possibly made that up? In their defense, that seems to be exactly the explanation behind the special: everyone was high as a kite. Carrie Fisher in particular is visibly unsteady on her feet, while Mark Hamill is buried under tons of makeup to cover up injuries from a recent car crash and Harrison Ford can be seen loosing interest in the special as it goes on. Interestingly, the established Star Wars characters actually have very little screen time: Art Carney has a much bigger role than any of them, and it’s mostly just Chewy’s family hanging around their house growling at each other in un-subtitled gibberish (and, again, watching porno films). The whole thing is just…strange. It’s worth watching at least once just to gawk at the sheer madness of it all.

All that said, I will say it has one or two good points. Most notably, of course, is Bea Arthur’s surprisingly effective sequence as the owner of the Cantina bar. She gets a few laughs from her deadpan delivery and actually decent material. I really liked her reaction when the Empire’s curfew forces her to shut down her bar early: it creates a real headache for her and she has to exercise some tact to follow the rule without alienating her customers. She also lends some real emotional weight to the scene where she bids her staff goodnight. The whole sequence feels remarkably honest and human considering all the insanity going on around it.

On a related note, I like that we actually get a view of how the Empire looked from the point of view of the ordinary people in the galaxy. There is a real sense of the characters having to tiptoe around the Imperial troops and maintain a low profile or pay the price. Incompetent as the special is, it really does create a sense of people living under an oppressive government and making the best of it. In other words, it does a better job of conveying a sense of danger and consequence than the prequel films did, which never convinced us that there would be anything lost if the villains triumphed.

I also rather enjoyed the commercials included in the Rifftrax version, including a few short newsbreaks. I find that sort of thing fascinating; like going back in time.

You will note that I’m citing the commercials as one of the highlights of this special, which gives you an idea of how painful it is. Of course, Mike, Kevin, and Bill turn all that pain into sheer entertainment (“Finally, the humans are gone and the twisted, depraved rituals of Life Day can begin!”), and I think it’ll remain a staple of my holiday viewing for a long time to come.

Happy Life Day, everybody!