MST3K 11×14: No goose in this one

“Edgar R. Burroughs? They’re really trying to spread the blame around.”

The movie: At the Earth’s Core, which feels like it might have been better if they had come up with the idea themselves instead of adapting a book

No smoking in the giant drill, but you’re taking along your fine china? Okay then.

I suspect if this movie were made today, the guy would have gotten the girl somehow or else she would have ended up dead. Not sure which era of movie-making that reflects more positively on.

All the host segments are good here. The meta backhanded compliments as Crow and Tom tell Jonah he’s pretty okay for not being Joel or Mike, the steampunk robots (although Crow is just eh), the camaraderie, fun songs, the approaching and actual wackiness, and what’s this? Dynamic camera angles for the big finale? Yes please. Everybody’s clicking, Cynthia certainly included.

Max confesses the movie is kind of fun, and it seems likely the riffing team thought so too: A lot of fun references here, ranging from Carol Burnett to Hungry Hungry Hippos to Tim Burton, and fun riffs in general.

That was quite a shock ending, and Kinga’s reaction is flawless. Not a hint of humanity there, without coming off as a monster. So, was Jonah not sure if he’d want to come back, or was Joel not confident of getting a second season, or did they just want to do something different?

I say hidey-hole.

Push the button: A strong ending to the season. Overall it’s a pretty good, enjoyable season, especially if you allow for the actors settling into their roles and relationships.

Top of the top episodes: Reptilicus, Yongary, Wizards I, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

The not-so-great: Loves of Hercules, Wizards II

The episode I mainly remember as “Oh, and that one happened too”: The Land That Time Forgot

Funniest invention: Probably the Afterlife Alert in Time Travellers

Funniest host segment: Probably Gypsy’s time travel safety lessons from the same episode

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#12: The Millennium Falcon was brainwashed by Hydra during ESB

Straight from a disturbing part of our subconscious, it’s . . .

The Top Eleven Plot Twists We Want To See in The Last Jedi

11. The heroes get into a fierce sabers-vs.-blasters fight, but Mara Jade comes out of nowhere, tells Luke, “I got your back, hon”, and turns the tide. WOOHOO!

10. Kylo Ren either grows a spine or gets over himself.

9. A battle for an orbital robotics factory ends with the factory exploding, with droids and droid bits spraying in all directions. Stopping the DVD at the right frame reveals: droidekas, V.I.N.CENT, Bender.

8. While dealing with her late husband’s belongings, Leia finds Han’s stash of C/7 Voyager fanfiction.

7. There’s a subplot about trade disputes and it’s absolutely gripping.

6. Finn goes to Endor’s moon to recuperate from trauma he feels because of all the evil things he did as a stormtrooper, and finds he shares a love of show tunes with Wicket III. And yes, that leads to the final celebratory scene at the end of the trilogy in exactly the way you expect.

5. “Shoot, Rey! SHOOOOOOOOOOT!”

4. Snoke turns out to be a fist-sized human-salamander hybrid who just sits really close to the holoprojector.

3. Artoo dresses up as Darth Vader for Halloween Death Day and totally scares the stuffing out of everyone.

2. Remember all that nonsense about midichlorians boosting your Force powers? Turns out that was just propaganda from the eugenics-industrial complex.

1. Luke has no deep philosophical convictions about wanting the Jedi to end. He’s just been depressed since the last Quizno’s within a parsec closed its doors.

Void Pyramid: it’s pretty okay

Void Pyramid is an old-school computer game released in 2016 by A. Hagen, Shea Kennedy, and DJ CJ Buckets (don’t blame me, I’m just reading off of the credits screen). It’s free on Steam and elsewhere. In this game, you are a lowly Egyptian banished to the Void Pyramid by the Prime Pharaoh. Your mission is to escape the Pyramid. Since the V.P. gets its name from being a pyramid that flies through the void of outer space, and since it’s filled with random encounters that want to kill you, rob you, and devour your soul, this is going to be a difficult task.

Combat is very simple, there being a few permanent powerups that may or may not appear in any given game, plus a couple of combat items that can be bought. Mainly you mash the attack until the enemy is dead. If you play at all cautiously, survival should not be an issue. The game’s attraction lies elsewhere.

Part of the fun is good old-fashioned stat grinding so that you can win fights more easily, pass stat tests, and thereby penetrate deeper into the labyrinth. And I think the game is well-balanced in this regard.

The stats themselves are worth mention. There are the usual Attack/Defense/HP, but there are also three special stats that make the game much less grindy. Brawn increases the chance that you will insta-kill an enemy, taking you straight to the reward message. Wits increases the chance that you will get a proper reward from winning a combat. By default, a combat earns you perhaps 1-20 Deben, the currency. There is a chance to get a “reward”, however, in which case you either win about 100 Deben or a stat increase. Since increasing a stat costs 100 Deben, Brawn increases the chance you’ll zip through the next combat without risk, while Wits helps you gear up to survive future encounters. Both are very helpful in decreasing the sense of unfun grinding. There is also Agility, to help when a pickpocket tries to relieve you of your consumables.

But the main fun comes in being clever. The game makes it very clear within the first few rooms that you should pay careful attention to the graphics, crude though they might be. Paying attention will allow you to get through rooms, discover hidden passages, solve puzzles, and find caches of goodies. Thinking about the rules of the game is also necessary to solve the game completely: there is a list of artifacts that are hidden within the Pyramid, and getting each requires a different method. Admittedly, I felt the need to look two or three of them up, but all were achieved in ways I could be reasonably expected to try.

Although combat may be monotonous, the environment is not. As might be expected, the Pyramid is divided into several sections, each with their own visual scheme and background music. Individual rooms often have their own environmental hazard, such as one screen with several blacked-out hallways to choose from to get from the west entrance to the east exit, each hallway containing increasingly dangerous enemies as well as statues to bump into. The enemy sprites are entertaining, ranging from “scary” to “freaky” to occasionally funny.

The descriptions of items and surroundings are also welcome, often supplying some indirect world-building to expand upon how strange the game’s world is to us. I mean, really, ancient Egypt and space travel.

Replay value exists, but is limited unless you’re really into the game, as the game itself is about the right length for feeling like I’d gotten a full experience out of it. The special “permanent power-ups” I alluded to above are probably the main attraction in this regard. (I found a knife that boosted my crit rate, as well as a shield that blocked most enemy crits. Those were pretty sweet.) Three classes cause you to start with different levels of stats, but you should be able to eventually grind all your stats to whatever level you need them. Mainly, I would guess their effect is that different early areas are accessible earlier or later based on what class you take. The end of the game, as an Internet FAQ makes clear, varies depending on several factors, so that adds some replay value, as one tries to get better (or simply different) results.

It’s free and it only takes up a few MB, so if you like this sort of game, I recommend giving it a shot. It’s no world-shattering experience, but it is well-designed on all counts, and worth killing some time with. For me, it’s the sort of game I play through once and enjoy, then leave untouched until an idle afternoon years later, when I remember it and think “Hey, I enjoyed it that one time, why not give it another go.”

MST3K 11×13: Christmas Insanity III: It’s Italy’s Turn

“Can’t believe this is in the Bible!”

The movie: The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, an import that should have been seized by Customs

Now, I don’t consider myself a MST3K buff. I’ve probably watched less than half of the episodes. But I will still say it: I’ve seen the previous two Christmas MSTs, I’ve seen a lot of other episodes, this season included, but this is the first one I’ve seen where I genuinely wondered about the sanity of the people behind the movie.

This is not a logical movie. This is not an illogical movie. Somehow, it exists in a universe separate from logic. It creates, drops, ignores, and distorts its trite storylines and tropes at will. Nobody ever suggests the lawyer try to collect on his bills. In fact, the lawyer ignores his practice to work as a janitor, to earn enough money to pay that rent that’s so outrageous that less than a month’s pay for a janitor and mall Santa in a tiny department store are enough to pay it off. Nobody comments on the idea that someone could buy the North Pole from the Inuit, or out from under Santa, or . . . you get the idea. Mrs. Claus refers to her husband in private as “Santa”, which I guess is standard in these movies but makes just as much sense as referring to your spouse as “CEO” or “Mayor”. The little boy in the snow at the end talks exactly like a 40-year-old man. And on and on.

The intro animation is cute, even if the accompanying song isn’t all that. The Prune song is just, wow. The actors desperately try to make something out of a nothing song there. I got a strong Gene Wilder vibe from the head elf in this bit, go figure.

One thing the movie has going for it is the Dickens-level names . . . except how are we supposed to take a lawyer named Whipple seriously?

As for our riffing heroes and villains, everyone seems to be gelling now. The inventions and host segments are typically just okay, but well-executed, and everyone is their character rather than playing their character. It’s great.

The riffing falls into the category of consistently solid with some highlights. Ragging on the movie’s faults is balanced with more creative input. I, too, am beginning to understand this whole “broke lawyer” thing. And I hope that the lyrics to “Good King Wencelaus” are more easily found online today than when I went looking some years ago.

Push the button: It doesn’t match SC or SCCtM for spectacle, but this is insane and funny enough to go into the Christmas rotation with them both (my favorite is Santa Claus). The host segments just tend to be a little weak.

Next up: the last episode of this season! Will they finish with a bang or a whimper? And when will Netflix announce Season 12?!

nuWho Season 1 wrap-up

As the first part of a relaunch of a beloved series that had lain fallow for nearly a decade, this season had its work cut out for it. It succeeded by knowing its universe, using the canon and its rules to good advantage, showing a genuine appreciation for the material, and above all by just being really good television. Hopefully the Star Trek: Discovery people have taken notes.

Christopher Eccleston plays a very mercurial Doctor, and I think that’s appropriate. It gives him unpredictability without having to mystify the plot or technology or anything else central to understanding the show. And there should be a level of unpredictability here, to keep new viewers tuned in long enough to fall in love with the show. He’s also a menacing Doctor, physically intimidating, one who is not afraid to throw his full presence or intelligence around when there is need. He gives a strong performance in every single episode, and any worries he might have had about hurting his career never seem to cause him to hold back. I’m glad we got John Hurt for the anniversary special, but I can understand that fans would be anxious for Eccleston to have another turn in the role.

Before this rewatch started, I didn’t get the love for Rose. I figured she was just the first companion, forever to be missed, who apparently had some romantic subtext to get the ‘shipping types excited. After watching the whole season, Billie Piper has won me over. I’m looking forward to her dealing with this new strange person the Doctor has become.

Mickey, as I mentioned in an earlier review, was also just sort of a bit character who popped up in a few episodes I’d seen. Noel Clarke plays him well: not the brightest or most ambitious, so a suitable character to stay behind. But he’s a sound chap (as the British totally still say), and devoted to Rose, so that her rejection of him is painful to watch for his sake. And yet, as we see by the last episode, one can’t entirely blame Rose for leaving him, as she’s far outgrown him.

Jackie started as a bit of an annoyance (intentionally so) and likewise rounded out into a proper character by the end of the season, when her daughter’s life and happiness are on the line and there are no annoying facades to be raised. Full points to Camille Coduri for taking a relatively small role and putting so much life into it.

Jack Harkness . . . I’m still not sold on. He’s likable enough, he just doesn’t feel like he fits as fully in this universe. John Barrowman plays him a little more broadly than the other main and secondary characters, and that might be part of the issue. The other part is that I am simply not the intended audience for The Romantic Antics of Omnisexual Han Solo. And that’s okay. I don’t want him to go away, and he works well enough in his plot threads, I just don’t perk up and lean forward when I see him onscreen.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this season, for me, aside from the characters, is how detailed every episode feels compared to some of the much later series. There are a lot of what I call “wrinkles”: bits of set dressing, throwaway facial expressions, background activity, minor plot curveballs, et cetera that either aren’t necessary to the plot or contort the plot in little ways to make it feel more of a real story, a real world, to draw one in. The music, likewise, shows a lot more effort than in the Matt Smith years. I think Matt Smith’s first season is great (spoilers!), but I can understand people, shall we say, not feeling satisfied with how the program was progressing by that point without regard to whether they liked Smith’s take or not.

What about the “Bad Wolf” story arc? Well, it wasn’t really a story arc at all. The structure itself is pretty weak. However, Bad Wolf is a fairly unsettling phrase to have following one around through space and time, and it wasn’t pushed as more than some bit of weird trivia until the last few episodes, so it was executed about as well as could be hoped . . . aside from Rose’s silly sweeping gesture in “The Parting of the Ways”.

It falls to the last episode to properly wrap the season up by itself, then, and it does so in two ways. One is by completing Rose’s character arc, as she takes it upon herself to save the Doctor regardless of cost to sanity and life. The other is by drawing in details from many of the earlier episodes without regard to the “Bad Wolf” meme — “The Empty Child”, “Father’s Day”, “Boom Town”, and naturally “Bad Wolf” off the top of my head. These are alluded to in minor but significant ways, and it’s enough to feel like the season is all coming together properly. Enough to feel like it was worthwhile having the story arc in the first place.

Overall the season was consistently good, except when the Slitheen got involved. As I said in the “World War Three” review, that’s frustrating, because the Slitheen are mostly competent opponents and their visual design is, well, fantastic. And these episodes have good ideas and good bits in them, too. They just have too much stupid bogging them down.

Final scores:
4: (3) The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Parting of the Ways
3.5: (1) Father’s Day (adjusted up)
3: (3) Rose, The End of the World, Dalek
2.5: (1) The Unquiet Dead
2: (2) The Long Game, Bad Wolf
1.5: (2) World War Three (adjusted down), Boom Town
1: (1) Aliens of London

Average rating: 2.69 out of 4
Number of “watch it again” (3-plus) episodes: 8/13
Number of “never again” (sub-2) episodes: 3/13
Number of episodes set in the UK: 8/13

Least favorite episode: Yeah, still “Aliens of London”.
Favorite episode: I will give “The Empty Child” the edge over “The Doctor Dances” if I must choose a single episode. The first one feels like it has a lot more going on and is super-spooky, whereas the second has the beautiful ending.
Worst episode: After rereading my summaries, I will stick with “Aliens of London” being worse than “World War Three”. I could make a list of points about each episode and see which sticks out the worse, but they’re such a bewildering mix of good and idiotic that I will spare myself the headache. If you need a reason: “World War Three” develops Jackie a little and has less obnoxious foley. There, I even used a fancy word, now it’s over and I never have to talk about the Slitheen mess again.
Best episode: Basically the same list as for favorite episode. The Child Dances two-parter stands above everything else. “Parting” is up there, and gets difficulty points for tying the season together, but doesn’t have the plot to match.
Disappointing episode: “The Unquiet Dead” just didn’t deliver all the fun I wanted. It’s partly on me, because sometimes I want ghosts to be ghosts and monsters to be monsters. Let me soak in the supernatural creepiness a while longer before you whip off the mask to show that it was Old Man Alienface the whole time. This show simply is not interested in following that route (see “Vampires of Venice” preview and Capaldi’s haunted house episode). But this episode could also have been a little stronger in the plot.
Surprise episode: “The End of the World”. I don’t like blowing significant bits of the planet up (one reason of many I’ve never liked ID4), but this episode worked hard to win me over. It might get a 3.5 score if I were less chary with half-points.

Things Doctor Who has made scary forever:

  • Mannequins
  • Children wearing gas masks