Monday, July 28, 2014

Film Crew: The Giant of Marathon

Movie:  (1959) An Italian sword & sandal epic loosely based on the Battle of Marathon.  Olympic athlete and rising star Phillipides is drawn into political intrigues in Athens on the eve of a Persian invasion when he meets a young girl and her scheming father and fiancĂ©.  When the Persians arrive, he goes on a mission to enlist the Spartans and returns to hold off the fleet with only the small Sacred Guard.

First released:  10/09/2007 (on DVD)

Opening:   Mike covers himself in pudding fixing a technical problem, when Honcho calls in from a private moonshot with Rita Moreno to request “sweaty, sweaty men.”  

Lunch Break: Bill, a self-described history “knower”, gives a demonstration on the historical Battle of Marathon using Mike and Kevin’s lunches.

End: A Stupid Hat contest.  Mike goes with Basque Beret and things go downhill from there.

Extras: First, "An Apology from Mike Nelson" to ancient Persians, Italians, Norwegians, and Basque.  This is a good template for anyone making an apology for something they’ve said on social media, as most celebrities have by now done.
Second, "Commentary by Walter S. Ferguson."  Walter (Mike) was a bit player in the movie and points out his many appearances playing a variety of characters, animals, costumes and scenery.  This bit is surprisingly long—about 7 ½ minutes.

Availability: Hulu, Amazon, Amazon instant, and Netflix.

Reminds me of:  all of the sword & sandal films, but most specifically Hercules Unchained:  the two male leads are the same actors!

Stray observations:
And so we come to the end of the Film Crew.  This was my favorite movie of theirs, similar to several enjoyable Hercules films from MST days.  This does have long, drawn out battle scenes but the Crew’s commentary takes us through them quite nicely.
Although the DVD came out after the movie 300, thanks to being produced almost two years earlier there are no riffs about it!  Kind of a wasted opportunity.
Cast and crew roundup:  Steve Reeves (Phillipides) and Sergio Fantoni (Theocrites) played almost identical roles in Hercules Unchained, and that film also included Gianni Loti (Teucro/Sandoni) and Daniele Vargas (Darius/Anfiarao), while Ivo Garrani (Creuso) also played Pelias in Hercules.  Alan Steel/Sergio Ciani plays the Spartan Euros; he was not only Steve Reeve’s body double but went on to succeed him as Hercules/Maciste in Hercules Against the Moon Men!
The only way to tell the films apart is the female leads!  Mylene Demongeot (Andromeda) had a long career as a French blond sex symbol, and Daniela Rocca (Karis) a rather brief career.  Strangely I thought Karis was supposed to be older and more sophisticated than Andromeda, but Mylene was two years older than Daniela. 
(Mylene has an amusing quote on IMBD from her experiences on set: “Having been bound once to the prow of a ship in Cinecitta for one of the gladiator movies I made there, I could only hear the director instructing me in a megaphone: ‘Be sexy! Be sexy!’ Whatever that meant!”   All I can say is, mission accomplished.)
Callback: A Stupid Hat contest was also a host segment in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.  Bill also asks “are there really such things as women anymore?” as did Crow in Host Segment 1 of Hobgoblins.
Fave riff:  “Package for you, sir.”  Honorable mention:  “How do you say ‘pretentious ass’ in Farsi?”

Next week:   Cinematic Titanic and the “Legacy of Blood”!

(This week I will also try to post a few final thoughts about the Film Crew.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cinematic Titanic: The Wasp Woman

Movie: (1959) Ex-model Janice Starling’s company is in trouble as she is no longer young enough to be the face of the business.  A mysterious scientist offers the chance to develop an anti-aging formula based on wasp royal jelly; while the other staffers are suspicious, Janice begins to experiment on herself with horrific results.
Or as Trace puts it, “It’s called The Wasp Woman.   The title is synopsis enough.”

First released: August 7, 2008 (DVD, download); live performance that April.

Opening:  A little more discussion between the Titans and the overseers.  Apparently everyone is living at the underground base they film at.  Also some references to Susan Cabot’s real-life woes.  

Skit: Mary Jo stops to call a board meeting.  Only Trace escapes unscathed.

Skit: Back by popular demand, it’s Frank Conniff’s Hollywood Cavalcade!  This time featuring “legendary jerk” Buddy Rich.

End: Everyone just wanders off as Joel places the nanotated disk into the Time Tube.

Extra: No extras.

Availability: on Hulu, Amazon and Amazon Instant. 

Reminds me of:  Any one of the many Season 3 Corman features, but particlularly the female-centered ones like Gunslinger, Swamp Diamonds and Viking Women versus the Sea Serpent.

Joel’s and Frank’s Take:  here.

Stray observations:
This is hands down my favorite CT film.  The classic Corman qualities make it seem like it would have fit in well on MST.
The film seems very Mad Men-like now, with lots of board meetings and 50’s attitudes.  No riffs about that though.  It does a good job with a limited number of actors and locations, and gives most of them little character beats; the secretaries chatting, for instance. 
The prologue with Zinthrop getting fired was filmed and added about a year later than the rest of the film.  While the riffing is great (“Walking’s great exercise!  Not a good way to open a movie, but it’s great exercise!”)  it really does muddle a plot point—without it the audience is really unsure if Zinthrop is a conman, or a quack. 
Zinthrop experiments on dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rats.  Maybe it really was time to go to human trials.  The injection he shows Janice actually seems to transform a guinea pig into a white rat.  Which is weird.
Incidentally, this film does pass the Bechdel test.  It seems very focused on the female characters, and the men seem particularly bland. 
Credits watch:  Buddy Rich played by comedian Dana Gould. 
Cast and crew roundup:  I notice with most of the films we’ve covered that the actors tend to have long, busy careers and the actresses maybe have a five year run and that’s about it.  This is a good example; Susan Cabot has the lead here, and it’s her last movie!  Lovely Barboura Morris was in a number of Corman films, particularly Bucket of Blood.  Both were in Viking Women versus the Sea Serpent, while Morris was also in Teenage Caveman.  In contrast, excruciatingly bland Fred Eisley was very productive for decades.  There were other Corman regulars like Bruno Ve Sota (Giant Leeches), Roger Corman himself (doctor in hospital) and his brother Gene (Barker).  We saw Frank Gerstle (detective) just a couple of weeks ago in Killers from Space.
Since everyone was focused on aging:  Susan Cabot (Janice) was 32, and is supposed to be 38-40 going on 22.  Barboura Morris (Mary) was 27, while Fred Eisley (Bill) was 34 and Bill Roerhich (Cooper) was 48.  Michael Mark (Zinthrop) was about 73!  He was from Belarus, if you wondered about the accent. 
Callback:  Someone “makes their own gravy.” 
Fave riff:  “What happened to ‘Mates, then kills’?”  Honorable mention: “I hate Mondays!”

Next week:  Film Crew wraps up with Giant of Marathon!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Film Crew: The Wild Women of Wongo

Movie:  (1958) A bizarre prehistoric fable about two tropical tribes, one composed of ugly men and beautiful women, the other the opposite.  Once they finally come into contact the women must overcome their tribe’s opposition to finding more attractive mates.  Also another tribe of ape men attacks, sort of.

First released: (on DVD) 9/11/2007 

Opening:   The Film Crew is frozen solid as the AC on too high.  Honcho calls from Paul Allen’s Caribbean island and orders them to supply the commentary track for “The Wild Women of Wongo.” 
Lunch Break: Kevin’s map of Wongo, showing where it is relative to Middle Earth, Atlantis, Lidsville, and possibly Tatooine.

End:  Bill has invented a device for matching you with your ideal mate (in all of history) based on physical attractiveness. Very Gizmonic!

Extras: First, the Crew is ordered to “Dance!”;  Second, the Crew says goodbye, Wongo-style.  Or at least tries their best.

Availability: Hulu, Amazon, Amazon instant, and Netflix.

Reminds me of:  Umm… maybe the Finnish trilogy, since they are also colorful, fantastic and largely nonsensical.  And maybe Catalina Caper, as a light beach movie with many scantily-clad young people.

Stray observations: 
This was a weird one, one of those locally-made, incredibly idiosyncratic films that showed up back in the day.  It was filmed entirely in at-the-time undeveloped Florida, where that coral castle still exists.  There is a lot of potential commentary to be made on the movie’s use of traditional female roles, judging people based on attractiveness, and blind obedience to authority figures, whether hereditary royalty or religious institutions.  Probably.
But mostly it is the world’s whitest tropical tribe (several of them are redheads!).  The attractiveness is a little vague for the men— the Wongo women are attractive in a very 1950’s way, while the Wongo men are “brutes”, but generally still in good shape.  Maybe they just didn’t shave?  The Goona men, as the Crew say, look like a Gold’s Gym (or at least a 1950s men's fitness magazine).  The Goona women, by contrast, are a real motley crew, with a fat one, a tall one, and (I think) some moles thrown in for good measure.   
The blue hair on some of the Wongo men is also bizarre.  I think it was a case of all the actors being about the same age, so they 'greyed' the actors playing older characters. 
The priestess transmogrifying and then leading the dancing is indeed a very strange scene, which lead to Extra #1.  Why didn't they just have the dancer do the whole part if the first woman couldn't dance?
For me, this was the Film Crew’s roughest movie, but offset by some fun sketches.  I was a little surprised it made it to #3.
Cast and crew roundup:  Most of the cast and crew were one-trick-ponies, and this was the only film they worked on.  A few had decent careers, but the most notable was probably one of the nameless Wongo women—Joyce Nizzari, who later that same year became a Playboy Playmate, and went on to a modestly successful acting and modeling career.  IMBD also states that in fact the director was a friend of famed playwright Tennessee Williams, and that he was in fact directed most of the film!
Callback: “I’ve never wanted to stuff dollar bills into a movie before” was also used in Hollywood After Dark.
Fave riff:  “I’m sure I saw a penis when she stood up.”  Honorable mention: “They should have baited the traps with Men’s Health magazines.”

Next week:   Cinematic Titanic meets Roger Corman’s “Wasp Woman”!

Thursday, July 10, 2014


So we reach a one-month-later point.  Hope some of you have enjoyed looking back at these films!  I think the Film Crew and early Cinematic Titanic movies were some of my favorite post-MST work by both groups.   Coming up i'll finish taking a look at Film Crew, and continue with Cinematic Titanic in order of release.

If my write-ups are not quite up to Satellite News (let alone the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide!) standards, i can only say that i'll keep trying!  Unfortunately most of the things we'll be looking at have less (and then even less) of the skits, characters and other things that can be discussed with old MST episodes, so i've focused more on the movies themselves.  I encourage anyone stopping by to leave a comment.  That sense of shared enjoyment is part of the whole experience!

Upcoming schedule:
  1. July 14: "Wild Women of Wongo" (Film Crew)
  2. July 21: "The Wasp Woman" (Cinematic Titanic)
  3. July 28: "Giant of Marathon" (Film Crew)
  4. August 4: "Legacy of Blood" (Cinematic Titanic)
See you next Monday!

edited to add: i will also try to catch the Rifftrax Live of "Sharknado" on Tuesday, and will post a quick notice about it if i make it! 

edited again to add: sorry, the live show was a bust!  The show stopped about a half-hour in and couldn't continue due to technical difficulties.  We'll see if i can make it to another show this summer.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cinematic Titanic: Doomsday Machine

Movie: (1967/72) A spy discovers that Red China is preparing to use a doomsday device.  The US and USSR decide to pool resources and staff an about-to-depart Venus exploration mission with females, in case the world needs to be repopulated.  Unfortunately after the end of the world things take an even darker turn.

First released: 6/19/2008 (DVD, download)

Premise: We get a brief background at the start.  According to one of the assistants shepherding the riffers, “there’s a rift in the electron scaffolding that may cause these movies to be lost to future generations.”   Also, they like their old TV show.  

Opening: The silhouettes of the riffers are escorted into the theater by a couple of assistants, who relay the premise and offer to provide robots.  As the riffers speak a headshot is provided for identification.  There is some discussion of the credits and backgrounds of some cast members.

Skit: Trace has something to get off his chest, but Joel’s countdown is hard to ignore.

Skit: Mary Jo ponders what would happen if only three riffers would be allowed to live.  Luckily, a Thunderdome is provided.

End: Everyone wanders out at the end credits.  Joel inserts a “nanotated” disk into the “time tube,” which is also shown on the spine of the DVD.

Extra: No extras.

Availability: on Hulu, Amazon (DVD) and Amazon Instant.  The original download service (EZTakes) does not seem to still be available.

Reminds me of:  First Spaceship to Venus, with touches of Rocketship X-M and Monster-A-Go-Go.

Joel’s and Frank's Take:  here.

Stray observations:
This is a strange one.  As Joel’s write up describes, the movie goes completely off the rails for the last 13 minutes, although I would argue that following up the destruction of the earth with attempted rape/murder-suicide was already taking the film in a darker direction.
Starting off, you have what would seem to be a reasonably entertaining cold war spy film, with an attractive female Chinese agent.  This lasts all of about five minutes, followed by some vaguely misogynistic astronauts being dismissive of last minute female additions to their crew.  Okay, maybe something there, and the press corps briefing and countdown stuff is fine, the spaceship set is laughable and the external shots seem to be switch between at least three different spaceship models.  However the lighter vibe is quickly ruined by Major Rapist, who quickly goes from berating to flirting to attempted rape. 
The Noah’s Ark theme is quickly complicated by unexpected radiation, and suddenly the crew has to be pared from seven survivors to only three.  The three are chosen impersonally by the computer… the computer programed by the old man, who is oddly chosen to be the only male survivor.  Okay, now it’s getting into Alive territory, but luckily the others rebel and/or kill each other.  With the crew now down to five, rational thought seems like it might take over, but suddenly it’s time to send out the comedy relief guy and his Russian girlfriend (all these relationships seem to blossom off-screen) to fix a mechanical problem.  Great, two men and one woman to repopulate the human race—good plan. 
Even here, there is a last-minute attempt at a decent resolution with the pair finding a lost Russian spacecraft, but then the lights go out and another pair of actors find a frozen tomb, lose contact with the parent craft, and eventually are told (in the second deus ex machina in a row) by the ‘collective consciousness’ of Venus that the others are dead, and they will have a new future beyond the universe.  And… that’s it (“suddenly, there was no monster”).  Thirteen out of eight-three minutes or about 16% of the movie run time is padded with dull material that makes no sense.  It’s a bit of a cross between last year’s Gravity and Mullholland Drive.  This is hard going for the riffers, sort of their “sandstorm” or “rock climbing”, but as always they make the best of it.
Cast and crew roundup:  Reliable Lee Sholem, second director (brought on for the added final minutes), was also director of Catalina Caper.  You could hardly imagine a greater range for his last two films, but there you go.  Grant Williams, best known as The Incredible Shrinking Man, was also the dimwitted Bob in Oozing Skull.  These were two of his last films.  Most of the cast had a long list of TV guest appearances, while Essie Lin Chia evidently had a long career in Hong Kong cinema, including an appearance in Black Samurai that looks interesting.  (That is not, sad to say, the upcoming East meets Watts.)
Callbacks: "This is like watching someone watch Manos: the Hands of Fate."  & “A gumball machine head on a robot? I’m sorry but that’s lame.”
Fave riff:  “I’ll take ‘things a rapist might say’ for $400.”

Next week:  Film Crew struggles with the “Wild Women of Wongo”!