It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing, Judge Erich Asperschlager is NOT Kung Fu fighting!
Our reviews of Cinematic Titanic Live: Danger On Tiki Island (published June 25th, 2010), Cinematic Titanic Live: Rattlers (published August 7th, 2012), Cinematic Titanic Live: The Alien Factor (published April 23rd, 2010), Cinematic Titanic Live: War of the Insects (published December 28th, 2011), Cinematic Titanic: Blood Of The Vampires (published April 21st, 2010), Cinematic Titanic: Doomsday Machine (published August 20th, 2008), Cinematic Titanic: Frankenstein's Castle Of Freaks (published April 23rd, 2010), Cinematic Titanic: Legacy Of Blood (published April 29th, 2010), Cinematic Titanic: Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (published May 7th, 2010), Cinematic Titanic: The Oozing Skull (published August 20th, 2008), and Cinematic Titanic: The Wasp Woman (published May 7th, 2010) are also available.
"Now to break the Fourth Wall…with my fist!"
Even before the first Cinematic Titanic DVD hit the web, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Joel Hodgson, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein were performing in front of a live audience. Taking the idea of movie riffing that they perfected on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Hodgson and crew decided to debut their first selection, The Oozing Skull, as a private performance for Lucasfilm employees. That was in December of 2007. Later that month, they released Skull as a direct-to-DVD episode, and have been rolling along every since. Alongside their next six episodes they performed what they'd written in theaters across the country in front of a fanbase eager to see their comedy heroes in action. But what about fans who couldn't make it to one of their shows?
Thankfully, the Titans care about us home-bound fans, too. Cinematic Titanic Live: East Meets Watts is their first Live DVD, and it gives home viewers a taste of what the group's wildly successful stage show is like. It's a rollicking, energetic, sometimes messy affair, and a worthy addition to Cinematic Titanic's expanding library of comedy goodness.
How better to capture the thrilling event that is a Cinematic Titanic live show than with a '70s action flick that mixes kung fu with Blaxsploitation? East Meets Watts (originally titled Dynamite Brothers) is alternately hilarious and highly offensive. It pairs a jive-talking brother who goes by the nickname "Stud" with a just-off-the-boat Hong Kong fighter who has a score to settle. The unlikely duo is arrested for separate infractions by a crooked cop, who makes the mistake of handcuffing them together. They escape in tandem and head to L.A. There, they become embroiled in some sort of turf war between an Asian drug kingpin and a black mobster called "Smiling Man." There's fighting galore of the hand-to-hand and gun variety, double crosses, unclear alliances, and a romantic subplot between Stud and a mute barfly named Sarah. It's a stir fry of dramatic action that manages to be both overly simplistic and confusing as heck. Good thing the Titans are there to sort the whole mess out.
And by "sort the whole mess out" I mean "mock East Meets Watts with a fury reserved for racist rednecks who enjoy beating up handcuffed minorities."
If you've seen any of the Cinematic Titanic studio releases, you know the basic set-up for the live show. The five performers sit on either side of the movie screen (Trace, Joel, and Mary Jo on the left; J. Elvis and Frank on the right). For the performance, the scaffolding is replaced by comfortable chairs and music stands. Because watching the Titans face towards the screen would be a subpar home viewing experience, they are filmed from a more head-on angle and occupy either side of the widescreen picture with room for a direct feed of the movie in the center. It's a nifty layout for DVD.
You can tell the audience is psyched to be there, and the Titans feed off that energy. The jokes come fast and furious, and unlike the punches thrown in this movie, most of them hit. The '70s setting of East Meets Watts allows for some good ol' fashioned Quinn Martin riffs, but most of the humor comes from the Titans walking a fine line between funny and offensive. There are jokes about "kung pao collard greens," a chase scene that turns "into The Benihana Hill Show," and an Asian boy band called "Out of Sync." Because the movie is so steeped in racial stereotypes, though, these gags—which would probably come across as culturally insensitive in another context—point out just how crazy East Meets Watts is. To the Titans credit, they know when lines have been crossed. Their simultaneous spit-take when the racist cop drops the "N" word is the perfect reaction—it's also one of the biggest laughs of the night.
Fun as it is, the live show isn't flawless. The Titans flub more than a few lines. At one point, Joel drops a riff about 45 seconds too early. His mea culpa is heartfelt and saves the laugh, but some of the missed lines cause those jokes to fall flat. Still, the fact that this is a live performance covers over what few sins there are, and the Titans have such a darn good time goofing around, making each other laugh, and playing to the audience that the good vibes are infectious. I somehow doubt that an in-studio episode would have an exchange like this one—Trace: "Hey, Joel…rock climbing!," Frank: "Hey Trace…pandering!"
Cinematic Titanic: East Meets Watts is the first episode to be presented in widescreen. It's a welcome step up for the series. Unfortunately, the picture suffers in some places, perhaps because of the format shift. The title menu is a pixilated mess and a step backward from the other episodes' clean black and white animated menus. The performance footage itself, though, looks good, and the direct-feed presentation of the movie means that it looks the best it cans. The only extra on the disc is a collection of trailers for the previous Cinematic Titanic episodes.
While I certainly hope the Titans don't abandon the proper studio releases, I'm glad they are having so much fun with the live show that they want to share it with the fans who can't be there. East Meets Watts is not only a successful experiment in live-to-DVD riffing, it's hilarious—although you might not want to invite that ultra politically correct friend of yours over to watch. You know who I'm talking about…
This is the kind of movie you watch, and then an hour later want to watch all over again. Not guilty!
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