Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hack Frauds and Tums Festivals: Red Letter Media

by Rob DiCristino
Why the YouTube pioneers continue to stand above the imitators.

One of the best things about the F This Movie! community is that we’re eager to recom-mend the work of other artists and shows we really connect with and enjoy. Commenters are constantly shedding light on new stuff, Patrick’s yearly appreciations of the Shock Waves crew are always well received, and Adam Riske remains a vocal supporter of Dana Buckler’s excellent How is this Movie? podcast. With that in mind, I thought it was long past time I shared my affection for Milwaukee-based YouTubers (for lack of a better term), Red Letter Media. Indie filmmakers in their own right, the gang first gained notoriety in 2009 with their Star Wars Episode I review, a 90-minute video in which co-founder Mike Stoklasa delivers a thorough, funny, and insightful breakdown of that film’s shortcomings through the ironic guise of the crass and disgusting sociopath, Mr. Plinkett. Along with further Plinkett reviews, RLM’s work has since expanded to web series like Half in the Bag (which reviews new releases), Re:View (which high-lights old favorites), and Best of the Worst, a round-table discussion of B-movie oddities. Their videos have been appointment viewing in my house for years, immersive and comfy hangouts with people who have come to feel like friends.
It’s worth noting that Red Letter Media is not for everyone. Much in contrast with the warm and fuzzy “Movie Love For Movie Lovers" vibe we cultivate in these parts, these guys have no qualms about calling shit out for being shit, often defaulting to a cynical and fatalistic point of view about the movie business and its products. Nor are they above juvenile jokes or trolling their audience, which leaves most of their videos decidedly NSFW. That willingness to be sloppy, however, is part of the group’s overall ethos: there’s no pretension or forced sophistication in their delivery. They know they’re just another bunch of thirty-ish white guys talking about movies on the internet and that — despite making full-length, low-budget films like Feeding Frenzy (2010) and Space Cop (2015) — their perspectives as Hollywood outsiders are about as amateur as our own. In fact, their new series The Nerd Crew — a savage takedown of mindless, circle-jerking movie podcast culture — pokes fun at its target while acknowledging its own culpability in the virus that target spreads. With all that said, their videos clearly reflect a level of wit, care, and production experience far above that of the standard computer-camera-reaction-to-an-exclusive-unboxing-experience garbage that clogs up YouTube.
Though it exhibits a healthy dose of snark and world-weariness, RLM’s best work also shows off their intense (and often defensive) love for filmmaking and storytelling done well. In fact, standout videos like their Half in the Bag on Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill are memorable not because they take the piss out of a bad movie (in the vein of some-thing like We Hate Movies or How Did This Get Made?), but because they draw attention to the insincerity that led to its production in the first place. That HitB episode spends almost an hour brilliantly dissecting the complex web of product placement and corporate synergy that exists where Jack and Jill’s screenplay should be, making it far more interesting than hearing “Adam Sandler is so dumb” over and over. A similar situation arises during their Annabelle: Creation review, in which Stoklasa and co-host Jay Bauman expose a conspicuous “contest” inviting aspiring writers to submit their screenplay ideas to Warner Bros., who would then claim the option on the work for next to nothing. While some critics are professional contrarians, overeager to prove how much smarter they are than the films they’re reviewing, these guys genuinely want movies to be good and take it personally when they’re corrupted by corporate hackery.
They’re also the first to celebrate B-movie masterpieces like Hollywood Cop, Miami Connection, and Xtro (Hi, Dennis!). Interesting is always better than boilerplate, they insist; ambitious is always better than lazy. Bizarre offerings like Neil Breen’s Double Down and John De Hart’s Geteven get just as fair a shake as the Avengers and Boyhoods of the world, further demonstrating the gang’s egalitarian approach to criticism. “Most entertaining for whatever reason” is the governing principle when deciding Best of the Worst, which means that the goofy and fun Chopping Mall will always win out over the – perhaps – technically superior Exorcist II: The Heretic. They celebrate the work of B-movie stars like Don Dohler (director of Nightbeast), Cameron Mitchell (star of Space Mutiny and Terror in Beverly Hills), and have even befriended schlock auteur Len Kabasinski (Curse of the Wolf, Fist of the Vampire). They’ve become so notorious in the film community that when their review of American Ultra called out screenwriter Max Landis’ bratty tirade against the popular rejection of “original” filmmaking, Landis joined them in studio for a follow-up conversation (and even stayed for an episode of Best of the Worst). Though they remain outsiders, RLM’s influence is clearly being felt in the right places.
In the end, this praise is all secondary to my affection for their personalities and respect for their critical voices. Our media landscape is varied enough that we can afford to be choosy about the voices in our earbuds, and finding that select group that really works for us is a rare gift. Stoklasa, Bauman, and Rich Evans (sort of the core Freudian trio of the gang) cultivate an environment that blends astute cinema literacy with everyman populism. Bauman is the Spock, the expert on directors, aesthetics, and history. Stoklasa is the McCoy, frequently following his gut and sussing out a film’s cultural relevance rather than relying on a strict list of pros and cons. Evans – often playing butt monkey to the group’s crueler jokes – is the secret Kirk, the one who reconciles the two extremes into a cohesive, digestible conclusion. It’s a satisfying combination which, when coupled with the constantly changing show formats and new gimmicks (my favorite being BotW’s Plinketto Board, a method for choosing a video that recalls The Price is Right) keeps things endlessly fresh and interesting. For these reasons — and many others — Red Letter Media remains my go-to background noise for working, writing, or looking for a temporary respite from the scalding, unforgiving hellscape of everyday life. What more recommendation do you need?

26 comments:

  1. The Nerd Crew is my favorite. There's a YouTube show I watch that reminds me of what they parody. This show reviews movies from 1 to 100 (because Rotten Tomatoes even though it shows they don't understand Rotten Tomatoes) and sometimes they're all "A 47? It really sounded like that would be a 58 from your review???" or "A 58, so you're going rotten on this one?" and the other guy is like "I just couldn't get it to fresh. Couldn't get it to fresh!" as if they are not the ones who could get...it...to...fresh...themselves.

    I also love Half in the Bag. The Annabelle Creation episode (as you mentioned) is a gem.

    Great column!

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    1. Me personally, I agree 110%. The show is very cool.
      It reminds me of all my favorite gameing youtube and twitch channels and that makes me clap.

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    2. I, for one, personally love the message by "Adam RiskeNovember 30, 2017 at 9:08 AM"

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  2. I agree with Adam above, The Nerd Crew has got to be one of their most anticipated shows now, not just because they so rarely do them, but because they are so hysterically on point. And not to be a hypocrite, but i too watch some of these other popular "Round Table" discussion shows on YouTube who, ironically, also praise RLM for parodying the very thing they themselves do! It goes to show how much RLM is respected.

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  3. RLM is also a staple of my weekly viewing, especially when I'm cooking. BotW is my favorite, and I'm always delighted when they find a worthwhile gem among the dreck. They've pointed me to several oddities that I would never have considered watching and sharing with friends. Their knowledgeable crassness makes them so much more interesting than the many dude-in-front-of-a-red-or-blue-plane reviewers on YouTube. I also love The Nerd Crew, especially that toy-festooned set and Rich Evans's occasional lapses into knowing despair!

    I cannot help plugging one of my other favorite YouTube commentators: Lindsey Ellis. She started out in the obnoxious orbit of The Nostalgia Critic but has since severed that tie. She contextualizes her commentary with film history and knowledge without feeling pretentious. She's also cultivated this weariness, like she wants to stop talking about movies but is addicted.

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    1. Great shoutout. I'm as honest as I possibly can when I say that Patrick Bromley (and by extension the whole FTM gang), the overrated hacks at RLM (chief among them Mike and Jay) and Lindsey Ellis are my personal TOP 3 in homemade Interwebz movie criticism. I've been following all of them for years and have no intention of stopping. All of those peeps legit broadened my understanding of movies as art, as pop culture and as industry, and I would recommend them to anyone anytime.

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  4. Only just got into the RLM thing recently BUT one show I do always watch on the old YouTube is Welcome To The Basement and it always entertains me, much like the wonderful folks here at F This Movie! Even the bad films they watch are given a level of respect rarely and sadly seen these days on the internet!!

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  5. Has anyone else here watched any Movies With Mikey? His show has some of the best analyses of movies he loves. Well edited, funny, and insightful. Love it.

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    1. i think i saw a couple of videos from the guy a while ago, but for some reason i never followed him. i'll check it out again.

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  6. i like RLM, but i don't like their parodying of stuff, like the nerd crew. but when they start talking seriously about movies (annabel and jack&jill episodes are the best) i really like their input. that's why i like the RE:View episodes

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    1. Agreed. Love Half in the Bag, even when they increasingly struggle to find a new way to articulate that the latest MCU flick is good, but not any kind of classic. I also love RE:View for its earnest, great discussions, and I also steer far clear of The Nerd Crew.

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  7. I've been watching them for years now (binging on all their past BotW episodes helped me a lot through post-op recovery some time back) and I'll even listen to their movie commentaries without having the film they're talking about playing.

    Watching them has actually made me a more intelligent film watcher. They've educated me to recognize when I'm being manipulated by Hollywood.

    The Kirk/Spock/McCoy analogy is DEAD on, by the way.

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  8. I wonder what ever happened to ( Jessie i think her name is ) the Woman in the last photo with Wizard and them. tho Mike Jay and Rich are the Creme OF The Creme of the whole thing. no mentions of Wizard or Jack ? great article !

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    1. Love Jack, Josh, and Jessi (wherever she may be)! I had a paragraph about Pre Rec and the greater RLM-verse, but I cut it for clarity and focus. Thanks for reading!

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    2. I read something a while back that Jessi just decided she didn't want to be on camera anymore.

      Occasionally her voice pops up in the background on some of their stuff.

      I know she was still with them at least a couple years ago because we'd emailed each other over a T-shirt and tumbler order.

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    3. Reddit got weird with her. Not sure what was posted, but some creepy shit ended up on there so she stopped doing stuff on camera. Pretty sure she is still there behind the scenes.

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    4. I had also heard something along those lines.

      The internet giveth, the internet taketh away.

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    5. People say that but I'm not sure if it's just rumours. I miss her either way. She was funny and I loved her laugh combining with Rich's laugh, spiralling upwards like two deranged bats.

      Josh and Jack seem to be much more accepted now, I'm glad to say. Jack is as chaotically entertaining as the other three, and Josh's slightly more serious re:Views are some of the best they put out.

      I watch all their videos, and then re-watch them and have them on in the background when I'm working.
      The only other channel I do that with is Jenny Nicholson's.

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  10. Thanks to everyone who recommended their other favorite review shows. I’ve got a lot to catch up on.

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  11. Of course you had to find a way to bring up Star Trek ;)

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  12. I love RLM. Favorite Half in the Bags Jack & Jill, BvS, Star Trek into The Darkness, ByeBye Man & Movie 43 review is just perfect find it, watch it.

    My favorite BOTW is the Christmas Special from 2013 with Elves, Santa Claus, and Christmas Vacation 2. The Santa Claus review shows how much fun they have together.

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  13. I just can't get enough of these hack frauds! Hell, as i'm typing this I'm wearing my BotW t-shirt! Mike, Jay, and CO have brought me countless hours of laughter, entertainment, and insight from all the wonderful content they've created over the years. Previously Recorded's (Rich Evans and Jack Packard) videogame videos and streams on Twitch.tv have also been something I love to watch. Being able to interact with the great Rich Evans and Jack Packard's shiny noggin every Wednesday and Sunday has been a real treat. I'm so glad I discovered RedletterMedia and Pre-rec! They're all VERY cool!

    P.S. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAIDS!!!

    P.P.S. Seriously though I love these guys! <3

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