On Two Views of Michael J. Nelson

It’s true that my eyes see very differently when I’m not wearing my glasses.  My left eyes is far more myopic and misanthropic.  My right eye has a wider field of view and can take in an entire scene, weighing all the pros and cons before rendering judgment.  Also, they see slightly different colors.

This is the story of those eyes.

Out of the Left Eye


A long time ago I found out that Michael J. Nelson, best known for his long-running stint with Mystery Science Theater 3000 and now for Rifftrax, had written a book about bad movies.  It was titled Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese.  This is the extent of what I knew, but based on my love for MST3K and Rifftrax, I kept the link to the Amazon ordering page carefully marked so that I could avail myself of his written comedic genius.

After reading the Medved brothers’ Golden Turkey Awards books, I was left still wanting more.  So I turned to Nelson for the continuation of that fix.  And, sadly, I’m still left jonesing.  Or nelsoning.  Whichever makes more sense.

In Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese, Nelson is funny and observant and clearly knowledgeable about movies.  What’s the problem, then?

The problem is that Nelson’s book is made up of reviews.  Just reviews.  Reviews that you might find in your cool alternative weekly, if they could afford someone like Nelson to write said reviews.  They never strive for being anything other than ephemeral evaluations of movies or actors or directors.

And it’s not as though Nelson limits himself to recent films.  No, he travels back and forth in time like a yo-yo… time machine.  But his remarks about his subjects are surprisingly superficial and, for the most part, highly subjective.  Now, a critic can’t escape his or her own tastes, but individual tastes aren’t all, and though I don’t think Nelson means it to come off this way, in this book his tastes are all.

All of this is probably to be expected.  The book is really a series of comedic sketches using movies as a prompt, and though there is criticism of the movies under discussion, the main focus is humor.

Which would be fine, I think, except that I wanted depth.  I wanted facts.  I wanted specifics about each movie, how the acting was horrible, why the plot and the script were ill-conceived, and where exactly, everyone involved went wrong.  In short, I wanted more Golden Turkey Awards.  Which, in all honesty, is probably not Michael J. Nelson’s fault.

Out of the Right Eye

Rifftrax Reefer Madness

A long time ago, actually only a few days ago, I found out that Rifftrax – the current livelihood of those yet-to-be-canonized saints of comedy, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, and, indeed, Michael J. Nelson – was going to be doing a live Rifftrax performance that would be beamed to theaters across the nation! And, so, Megan and I found ourselves at our local theater in a mostly full audience watching the Rifftrax players take on Reefer Madness (from 1938, alternate title Tell Your Children).

It was amazing.

Now it was a live performance in that Kevin, Bill, and Mike were in a theater somewhere doing their riffing live, but they were reading from a script.  What made it so amazing was simply their humor and the fact that we were seeing it on the big screen with (virtually) hundreds and/or thousands of people at the same time.  And their humor.

Now the live-ness I think I could give or take.  If I was in the same theater as the Rifftrax guys, then yes, there’d be a direct connection between them and the audience and that would heighten the experience, but as a live broadcast (one with several visual blackouts) where we couldn’t watch both them and the movie at the same time – even when they put the movie to the side and had three smaller screens focusing on the guys upper bodies – it was little different than watching a Rifftrax or MST3K episode at home.

But since I would gladly pay for the privilege of watching either of those in the theater, I have no complaints to lodge here.

In fact, they’re doing a show for Halloween where they’ll be riffing Vincent Price’s House on Haunted Hill.  Megan and I will be there, or we’ll be square.  We’ll be square anyway, actually, just to mess with your head.

Through Both Eyes


What makes the difference between the two is the layering.  With Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese, there’s just one voice riffing in loneliness against the memory of a movie.  With Rifftrax (and MST3K) there’s the movie that you’re watching and the riffing happening simultaneously, occupying as much of your mind as your able to allow.  And that’s where the humor shines – taking apart the debacle you’re watching with your very own eyes, providing those comments that you wish you’d had yourself, and now, through the miracle of movie magic, you can pretend you did have had.

Ah, I love grammatical humor.

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