Rifftrax: The Best Of Rifftrax Shorts, Vol.1
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Remember the instructional films your teachers used to show you whenever they wanted to sneak out for a smoke, or just nap in the back of the classroom? They're back! Only this time, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and RiffTrax.com are there to exact revenge with their signature brand of hilarious running commentary! We offer you 9 shorts about safety, hygiene, and the difficulties of relating to women.
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Much like before our three wiseguys sit off camera (no silhouettes this time) and heckle the film by inserting their own dialogue & pointing out some of the more absurd moments. Although there is a pile of discs available right out of the gate (including Plan 9 from Outer space, Little Shop of Horrors and Swing Parade) I think the two short compilations are probably not only the best for people new to the series but also have to be considered two of the best comedies released in the last few years. The educational short Drugs are like that will have tears flowing down your cheeks from the laughter.
After the death of the film crew project (following shout factory's acquisition of the MST3k catalogue) it's good to see the guys out there mocking films again. With so much garbage flooding the theaters we need them now, more than ever.
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This single DVD collection puts together eight short films which had previously been for sale via the Rifftrax website plus one bonus short.
1) Down and Out -- A typical factory worker safety training film. The multiple slapstick accidents are mostly fodder for encouraging workers to use their common sense. And if common sense was a commodity that could be easily transferred upon people using television, this film probably would have been very successful.
2) Patriotism -- This early 1970s film, narrated by Bob Crane, teaches children about how to be patriotic in their everyday lives. Fortunately, it turns out that virtually everything you would ever dream of doing is a form of patriotism.
3) Buying Food -- This short film is exactly what it sounds like from its title: rather trite, silly explanations about how one should and shouldn't purchase foodstuffs.
4) Right or Wrong? -- One part choose-your-own-adventure story and one part introductory ethics course.
5) Drugs are Like That -- This REEFER MADNESS type film is aimed at teenagers and children. As you may expect, it's a rather heavy-handed screed pinning all human suffering and unhappiness at the foot of drug abuse.
6) Skipper Learns a Lesson -- In this short about teaching children to embrace diversity, Skipper the dog is an incredible misanthrope who hates all those around him.
7) The Trouble With Women -- This 1947 instructional film isn't quite as awful as its title would suggest. It's not a pure rant against the female gender; instead, it's a guide for male bosses about how to handle the influx of women into the workplace in a post-WWII America.
8) It Must Be the Neighbors -- Every problem in a neighborhood can be blamed on someone else. Usually the guy who has a load of filth and junk in his yard.
9) Shake Hands With Danger -- Another safety instructional film where those unfortunately workers who ignore common precautionary measures end up dead or mutilated in various gory ways. This Rifftrax features an animated Mike Nelson, and Bill Corbett in the form of a cartoon inflatable parrot with Kevin Murphy as an anthropomorphic box of popcorn (I'm not making that up). The jokes are funny, but I didn't quite see the purpose of the animation. I suspect this was an experimental attempt to recreate something like the old shadowrama effect, but for me it was just more of a distraction which subtracted the size of the viewable image without really adding anything.
The jokes and riffs are quite funny. The big question I suspect most fans are interested in is whether these Rifftrax releases match up to what we remember from "Mystery Science Theater 3000". One thing I've missed (which I think is also applicable to The Film Crew and -- to a lesser extent -- Joel Hodgson's Cinematic Titanic DVDs) is the sheer breadth of material which the writers drew on for inspiration on the old show. With fewer writers, it seems that the jokes are taken from a smaller pool of references.
So, I'd place this release at about the level of an average episode of MST3k. While this may sound like hollow praise, I'd put an average episode of MST3k well above the comedy output we see from most sitcoms. I'd recommend this to any fan of MST3k or even to anyone who never caught the show when it was running. It's great to hear Mike, Kevin and Bill once again making fun of incomprehensible and dated old short films.
The trend continues with Rifftrax first volume of shorts. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett slide right into these short films with relish and keep the laughs coming fast and furious.
Here are my descriptions and ratings out of 5.
Down and Out - is a simple safety film. If you've ever suffered through these before, then you'll find plenty to enjoy including how to avoid stepping on sidewalk chalk, how to use giant prop tools and of course how to wander around the work place completely oblivious to your surroundings. The poor dope in this video probably ended up in traction by the end.
4 out of 5
Patriotism - A 1970's film that explains to you, the child, how to be patriotic. Luckily all you have to do is clean up the neighbor's yard, write to your local city or state representative about traffic hazards or just keep off the grass when the sign says keep off the grass. Yeah, I don't know how it's patriotic either, but Bob Crane says it is, so he must be right... right?
3 out of 5
Buying Food - Bill explodes into a panic when he forgets how to buy food, but this movie saves his bacon with helpful hints like don't buy a metric ton of oysters for dinner, or read the labels of cans to find out what's inside them. A very helpful film for anyone who is out witted by one celled animals. A highlight of the disc.
5 out of 5
Right or Wrong - A warehouse is vandalized. Suddenly we are thrown in a moral quandary: will the night watchman turn in the delinquent kids? Will the owner press charges? Will the one child who is caught turn in his friends? Will you really care? Not really. One of the few weak shorts on this set.
2 out of 5
Skipper Learns a Lesson - Skipper the dog hates other dogs that don't look, sound or smell like him. Well guess what Mr. Racist Dog, you're going to get yours! Not only is the whole short film exceedingly goofy, but the Rifftrax team has a field day with this one.
5 out of 5
The Trouble With Women - It seems that a nebbish man has a problem working with women. Well he goes to his boss and complains. We get examples of how women just aren't as good as men, and how his boss tries to change his mind. Oddly enough this seems too short to really milk laughs out of. Has some really funny moments but they are too few.
2 out of 5
Drugs are Like That - Two kids with hearing problems discuss how drugs can screw up your life. All the while a disembodied voice points out strange facts and Legos are used as a visual aid. This short gets funnier and funnier as it goes along and the riffing team is in top form. My favorite of the disc.
5 out of 5
It Must Be the Neighbors - Is disease spreading around your suburb? Then blame the neighbors! Ignore the fact that you have mosquito breeding grounds in your back yard and your trash cans are falling apart. It's up the neighborhood kids to get things back into shape.
3 out of 5
Shake Hands with Danger - This time we get a safety film from the 1970's revolving around construction equipment. There is musical voice over by a guy trying really hard to be Johnny Cash, and lots of maiming and death. Seriously you get bloody chunks in this film. The song "Shake Hands with Danger" is worth it alone, but the rest of the short is pretty funny as well. This is the episode that contains the computer animated avatars for Mike, Kevin and Bill. Kinda odd, but not too distracting.
4 out of 5
Total grade: 4 out of 5
Now I know that when it comes to MST3K, my five star episode can be someone's one star episode. I do think that if you enjoyed the work of these three gentlemen (especially their more recent and more snarky work), you will enjoy this disc. It's a solid 100 minutes of entertainment and makes for great viewing with friends. It's also a great place to start for anyone new to Rifftrax - there is enough variety here to keep everyone laughing.
That's a rare feat in my house as I have a 7 year old who enjoys big explosions and a surly 17 year old who thinks anything I like she shouldn't. And a husband who lost all patience for me and my Mystery Science Theater 3K days.
So when I put in this DVD I was alone.
As the DVD played on and my laughter became THAT contagious my audience gradually increased to 4. And everyone loved it. I had to skip backwards a few times too so they could each see the episodes that they had missed.
By the end of the DVD I had a couple tissues on the table from all the tear wiping I had to do.
I will definitely be buying more Riffs!
At the head of the class is "Patriotism", narrated by Bob Crane of "Hogan's Heroes" fame and pioneer of the celebrity home sex video craze perfected by Pam Anderson. Just the sight of Bob Crane smiling at children planting a tree is hysterical enough, but Nelson, Murphy and Corbett shoot it into the stratosphere. Another can't miss subject is "The Trouble with Women", where an uptight supervisor can't seem to stand women...at least in the workplace and raises his rather minor concerns with his big-nosed boss. And "Buying Food" is flat out ridiculous for it's obvious subject matter (it's good to buy food that you will like and in the proper size...duh!) and very poor acting.
Sadly, "Down 'n Out" grows tiresome quickly after the jump-suited lead falls 20 times in the first two minutes, showing the life-threatening dangers of sidewalk chalk and well-placed stairs. "It Must Be the Neighbors" doesn't live up to it's title, yet is still somewhat entertaining as a lesson in group think.
The extra "short" with Mike, Kevin, & Bill appearing in "3-D" animated form to blow apart the credulity straining, gut-busting, "Shake Hands with Danger" featuring a 3rd rate Hoyt Axton-ish title theme strumming over really stupid workers getting dismembered right 'n left.
Also listen for the DVD Menu theme sung by "The Rifftones" and titled "Do the Ball Point".
"Down and Out" attempts to teach us safety by showing an unfortunate klutz resembling Kramer from Seinfeld tripping over every imaginable object for eight minutes. Instead of educating us, we laugh at the poor sap all the way through it. It's like a guide for class clowns.
"Patriotism" features television star, radio star and amateur pornographer Bob Crane telling white kids (and token minorities with no lines) to be proud of what they do which seem to be mostly folding American flags and harassing local government with threatening letters. When the short runs out of ideas, it just films stuff -- leaves, ducks, trees, flowers. Too bad Bob Crane never ran out of ideas of stuff to film in his spare time.
"Buying Food" show us that this complicated task should be left to women since we men can only buy houses, cars, beer, and other things that don't require the use of something called a "shopping list". I'm going to try that technique so I'll stop buying oysters and cake like poor Henry. The short proves that different grades of products look the same on deteriorated 8mm black and white film.
"Skipper Learns a Lesson" (in color for a special reason) features a racist dog (no, really) who doesn't like the "funny looking" kids on the neighborhood. He also doesn't like the "funny looking" dogs either. Could these prejudiced thought patterns apply to human behavior? You be the judge... because the short never says. The dogs are just adorable and they get almost all of the lines.
"Right or Wrong? (Making Moral Decisions)" places us directly in the first-person moral conundrums we experienced in "Cheating" from MST3K season five. The short promises not to judge, apparently to let the troublemakers in the classrooms reveal themselves by openly sympathizing with the kid. If you hear creepy voices telling you right from wrong like these people do, seek psychiatric help immediately.
"Drugs are Like That", featuring anti-homosexuality advocate "Miss" Anita Bryant, starts with an arty film noir introduction and follows with screaming close ups and spacey slow-motion photography to appeal to those "artsy" kids who are at risk for drug use. The controversial short takes the issue of drug abuse head on by showing stupid children playing with Legos, eating Oreos, running down sidewalks and a baby sucking a pacifier to suggest drug use might be quite harmless. Do not show to your children.
"The Trouble with Women" starts off by plugging Alcoa's aluminum products (?) and shows that women need men to show them how to use oscilloscopes. Our hero Brad at first thinks women are lot of trouble in the work place but it turns out he had just never spoken to a woman in his entire life.
"It Must Be the Neighbors" shows how galvanized steel garbage cans and their tendency to rust was a common cause of petulance, epidemics and domestic disputes in the 50's. Are your neighbors starting a yellow fever plague? Set your children loose to investigate them!
The riff of "Shake Hands With Danger" creates a new widescreen format with the guys as 3D animated characters in front of a movie screen, a great (yet expensive) advance over the silhouettes of MST3K. The short is lazy dumb guys doing their best to outwit dangerous machinery and losing (like sticking their hand into a grinder), all to the theme from Dukes of Hazzard.
All are densely riffed with line after line of brilliance that will take you back to the best days of MST3K.