‘Mystery Science’ alums know bad movies better than anyone

When it comes to enduring bad movies, the comedians of “Cinematic Titanic” have more experience than most. Featuring five founding members of cult TV hit “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” “Titanic” continues the tradition of making fun of the foibles of B-movie bombs like “Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks” and “The Oozing Skull.” The crew will take their show on the road for a 19-city tour this fall starting Sept. 15-17 in Minneapolis; details can be found at cinematictitanic.com.

We talked to Titanic’s Frank Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Trace Beaulieu about what makes a movie truly wretched.

Originally published Aug. 26, 2011 on MSNBC.com. Read the complete article.

Cut! Cut! Movies so bad, you had to leave

This summer has seen its share of fizzles and outright flops, with films like “Green Lantern,” “Cowboys & Aliens,” and “Conan the Barbarian” failing to strike a chord with audiences. But it takes a special kind of movie to make you so bored, irritated or offended that you just can’t stand watching it anymore.

As the owner of the Heights Theater in Minneapolis, Tom Letness has seen his share of walkouts. “They don’t like it, they’re bored, they’re offended. Those are the big three.” Letness thinks that most bad experiences could be avoided if moviegoers did a little due diligence beforehand. “I’d say the bulk of the people know what they’re getting into, but there’s a number of people that just don’t,” he says. “It surprises me sometimes that people come into a film cold, and know nothing about it. I remember I showed [2008 Holocaust drama] ‘The Reader,’ and there was a guy who walked out mainly because he was offended by the male frontal nudity. He said, ‘That’s unacceptable.’ I was just like, ‘Well, whatever, I guess you’ve never looked in a mirror then.’”

We asked a variety of movie goers to tell us about the films so bad that they just couldn’t stay till the end.

Originally published Aug. 25, 2011 on MSNBC.com. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Brain of Morbius”

“The Brain Of Morbius” (season 13, episodes 17-20. Originally aired Jan. 3-Jan. 24, 1976)

The first thing we see in “The Brain Of Morbius” is a monster. That’s not exactly unusual on Doctor Who. It’s a man-sized insect, crawling out of the wreckage of its crashed spaceship and obviously wounded or even dying, across a rocky, fog-shrouded landscape. (Longtime viewers will recognize it as a Mutt from the Jon Pertwee-era serial “The Mutants,” which is also a clue that this creature, grotesque as it looks, isn’t the villain of the piece.) The thing that tells us we’re getting into some darker territory than usual is that this monster is being stalked by another monster. A hulking, hook-handed ogre looms out of the shadows and brutally murders the poor creature with a wicked-looking blade. The scream is horrible.

So where have we landed this time? Well, the planet itself is Karn, a desolate place near the Doctor’s homeworld of Gallifrey, and thus tied to his personal history in a way rarely seen on the show up to this point. We’ve also landed, in terms of our trip back and forth through the ages of Doctor Who, right in the middle of the early Fourth Doctor era, the time of the remarkable three-year partnership of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes—what I like to think of as the “Sci-Fi Gothic” era, and for my money, the high point of Doctor Who. “The Brain Of Morbius,” credited to the pseudonym “Robin Bland” but written largely by Holmes (drastically revising Terrance Dicks’ original idea), is a gloriously lurid gem, and maybe the quintessential story of the Hinchcliffe era. And despite some plot holes, it’s also my single favorite Who story.

Originally published Aug. 21, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Time Warrior”

“The Time Warrior” (season 11, episodes 1-4. Originally aired Dec. 15, 1973-Jan. 5, 1974)

Considering that it’s a show about a guy with a time machine, Doctor Who went for a very long time without visiting the past. “The Time Warrior,” which brings the Third Doctor to the Middle Ages, was the first story since Season Four’s “Evil Of The Daleks” to take place in a historical setting. The Doctor and his friends engaged in plenty of time travel, but it was all between contemporary Britain and the future with its dazzling array of spaceships, ray guns, and aliens. The show’s first three seasons, on the other hand, were full of trips to the past—about half the series consisted of stories where the TARDIS crew were entangled in ancient history, and ran into people like Roman emperor Nero and King Richard the Lionhearted. But they were never as popular as the sci-fi thrillers, and dropping them was a conscious choice on the part of the producers. It seems shortsighted to eliminate half the potential story lines. But the historicals had a lingering bad rep among the Who behind-the-scenes crew, apparently because they had a hard time seeing them beyond their educational mandate from Doctor Who’s original mission statement—they felt like school, in other words. “Time Warrior” scriptwriter Robert Holmes certainly felt that way: He’s quoted in the DVD extras as saying “I hate Doctor Who in history mode because I think it’s too whimsy and twee.” Instead, he came up with a compromise that’s become the default method ever since for the way Doctor Who deals with the past: The pseudohistorical, in which the setting is in the past, but the story line emphasizes science fiction over historical accuracy, and generally doesn’t involve real historical figures. It wasn’t the first time the show had done this—”The Time Meddler” and “Evil Of The Daleks” both had strong sci-fi elements. But “Time Warrior” marks when the show’s creative staff got a handle on how a pseudohistorical should work. It helps a lot that Holmes’ story is full of lively humor, a memorably repellent yet strangely compelling villain in Linx the Sontaran—and of course there’s the introduction of the Doctor’s new sidekick, feisty journalist Sarah Jane Smith, played with intelligence and charm by Elisabeth Sladen.

Originally published Aug. 14, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Mind Robber”

“The Mind Robber” (season 6, episodes 6-10. Originally aired Sept. 14-Oct. 12, 1968)

The great thing about Doctor Who‘s format is its flexibility, something that the program took far more advantage of in its early days than it does now. The TARDIS can take you anywhere in time and space, which means that it’s child’s play to segue between a Wild West gunfight, a moonbase threatened by malevolent cyborgs, and the bloody murk of the French Revolution. In doing so, the show didn’t just change settings, it changed genres, most often between straight-up science fiction adventure and historical costume drama. Especially in the William Hartnell era, Doctor Who often pushed as far as it could from the science-fiction underpinnings that made its genre-hopping possible. But “The Mind Robber” takes the show somewhere farther than it’s ever gone—not just out of its physical universe, but out of its storytelling universe, and into the overarching nature of fiction itself. At the time, that didn’t sit well with its viewers, many of whom were confused and irritated by what they saw as an unnecessarily silly and fantasy-laced premise. But the reputation of “The Mind Robber” has, quite deservedly, grown over time. No serial so closely embraces Doctor Who‘s roots as children’s literature, with the possible exception of Hartnell’s “The Celestial Toymaker.” And yet, “The Mind Robber” is also one of the series’ most genre-breaking and forward-thinking stories. If it’s sometimes sloppy and doesn’t make total sense, that actually has the weird effect of strengthening what’s at the heart of the tale: This is a story about the Doctor in which the main threat is to the Doctor’s ongoing narrative itself.ways, from helping to define the Doctor by defining who his enemies are, to establishing a tradition of dramatically revealing a serial’s main villain as the cliffhanger of its first episode.

Originally published Aug. 7, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

Top bananas: Best and worst of “Planet of the Apes”

When the chimpanzees come to rule the world Aug. 5 in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” it won’t be for the first time. “Rise” reboots one of science fiction’s most enduring series, which ruled 1970s sci-fi before “Star Wars” thanks to its mix of action, satirical humor, and twisty endings. Here’s a look back at some of the best, weirdest and most memorable moments of the original “Apes” series.

Originally published Aug. 1, 2011 on MSNBC.com. Read the complete article.

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