Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: Rifftrax - Shorts Assemble!

I recently got another Rifftrax DVD for my birthday, this one titled "Shorts Assemble!" There are no superhero shorts on here, which is a shame because it's not like they don't have "Rescueman" and at least two "Safety Woman" shorts to choose from, but it's not like "Order in the Shorts" had a lot to do with educational films about the law, either. This one is a pretty good collection--as always with these educational films, a big part of the fun isn't even the riffing so much as it is the chance to immerse yourself in the utter insanity of a world where everyone has a monomaniacal obsession with whatever topic is under discussion, and the frequent ability to warp reality on a whim. Let's break it down short by short and you can decide whether it's worth your hard-earned scratch, okay?

Corky the Crow: This is basically about a group of kids who decide to trap crop-devouring birds and then train them, presumably to attack their enemies. It's got a weird framing sequence where a teacher discusses the events of the short, which she's presumably projecting with her mind. It's kind of creepy weird, and the riffers have plenty to work with.

Live and Learn: Small children "reenact" dangerous and possibly fatal play activities in ways that really seem like they're being endangered all over again. Gasoline, rooftops, scissors and twenty-foot cliffs are involved, as well as copious amounts of bandages. I cannot stress enough how creepy this thing is. The riffers barely need to anything, as you will be shocked into horrified laughter simply due to the callous indifference to children's safety on display in, ironically enough, a children's safety short.

Maintaining Classroom Discipline: I feel like I'd seen this one before, but my roommate may have bought the streaming/download version and shown it to me. Basically, it's about a teacher who shrieks unrelentingly about how terrible his class is until they openly hate and disdain his attempts to instill knowledge into them, then the narrator magically rewinds time to show how much easier everyone's life would have been if he hadn't been such a jackass. Amusing if only because the actor playing the teacher really gets into his kid-hating role.

Nutrition - The All-American Meal: Basically just a solid ten minutes or so of people explaining how terrible Americans are for liking fast food, coupled with stream-of-consciousness still photography of people, food, and people eating food. After a while, the sheer absurdity of the random images of people all over the world and throughout history interacting with edible things in some way will give you the giggles even if the riffers gave up and stopped talking altogether, but thankfully they don't and there are some excellent jokes.

Perc! Pop! Sprinkle!: It's an exercise video for kids, designed by someone who's clearly skipped breakfast and is absolutely obsessed with things like coffeemakers and toasters. Their deranged attempts at coming up with toaster-themed exercises are absolutely hilarious, although the poor kids who had to do this garbage probably didn't think so. A genuine classic.

Safety With Animals: Another film that has a deeply ironic, highly dubious relationship with its own title, this one shows various kids teasing animals until they get attacked, while the narrator explains what they're doing wrong and how it's likely to result in an incident with a headline involving the word "maul". Half the fun in these is listening to the reactions of the riffers that aren't even so much jokes as clear and righteous indignation over the obvious and callous indifference to the fate of these poor kids.

Story-Telling - Can You Tell It In Order?: Clown. Scary clown. Scary elderly clown in a void of pitch darkness, telling stories about small children getting undressed and going to bed. I kind of blacked out after that from sheer, incoherent terror, but I'm given to believe it just goes on like that with the clown occasionally pausing to make sure you're remembering the horrific events in the right order. NOT for coulrophobics, but truly something to behold for everyone else.

The Clean Club: The highlight of the disc. A trio of creepy Claymation germs hang out in a small child's hair follicle and perform a spoken word song about how lucky they are to be hanging out on a dirty child, as opposed to all the other children whose household objects came to life and forced them to exercise basic hygiene. Just as they think they're safe, though, the items in the kid's bathroom demand compliance to the rituals of cleanliness, and they're ruthlessly murdered by talking soap and shampoo. As strange as this sounds, it does not fully convey the experience of "The Clean Club". This is the platonic ideal of absolute crazy educational shorts.

The Toymaker: A toymaker makes two puppets that look different from each other, then has them engage in vicious race-baiting for several minutes before allowing them to realize that they're nothing but animated extensions of his own personality, and that it's foolish for them to fight. Looks like nothing so much as an insane person bickering with his hands. Great fun.

What Makes Things Float?: Probably the closest thing this disc has to a dud, primarily because there's really not a whole lot of "sizzle" to explaining why a sponge floats and a lead weight sinks even without devoting what feels like hours to the topic. When most of the jokes are variants on, "This is boring and you're explaining it to us like we're morons," you can tell you're not in for the best time. Still, there are some good jokes in among the variants on the theme, and it's not totally skippable.

On the whole, I'd have to recommend this one pretty highly. There's a lot of cheerfully deranged material that lends itself to riffing, and at least one short I'd put on my all-time best list. No superheroes, but this one will definitely save you from a few hours of boredom.

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