|Founded||Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S. (2004)|
|Headquarters||Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States|
|Key people||Mike Stoklasa
concert, wedding, and corporate videos
Red Letter Media (stylized as RedLetterMedia) is a film/video production company operated by independent filmmakers Mike Stoklasa (previously of GMP Pictures) and Jay Bauman (formerly of Blanc Screen Cinema). The company was formed by Stoklasa in 2004 while living in Scottsdale, Arizona, but is now based in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Stoklasa himself attracted significant attention in 2009, through a 70-minute video review of the 1999 film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The review was posted in seven parts on YouTube, and presented by his character "Harry S. Plinkett". While Stoklasa had published other video reviews for the Star Trek films in The Next Generation series prior to this, The Phantom Menace and subsequent Star Wars prequel reviews were praised for both content and presentation.
Stoklasa has produced other works under the RedLetterMedia banner, including short comedies and web series (The Grabowskis); three review-based web series (Half in the Bag, Game Station 2.0, and Best of the Worst); and concert, wedding, and corporate videos. His low-budget features have been largely horror and comedy, and have included Feeding Frenzy, The Recovered, and Oranges: Revenge of the Eggplant. Bauman, who had directed Stoklasa in several low-budget features under the Blanc Screen Cinema banner, has been a director and producer working with him on most of his projects. In addition, Stoklasa has employed colleague Rich Evans to be a full-time actor and stagehand for their projects.
Stoklasa created his first video review for Star Trek Generations after watching the film again some time in 2008. He noted that he thought it was a "shitty movie" and "completely messed up the transition to the big screen from what was a really great TV show", inspiring him to share this view with others. Stoklasa found his own voice to be too boring for the review and adopted the persona of Harry S. Plinkett, a character he had previously used in several short films (originally played by Rich Evans) and since further developed within the reviews.
Mr. Plinkett is an old man (claiming to be born in 1906) suffering from polio and bordering on senility and psychosis, a mannerism that Stoklasa deemed was necessary in order to keep the viewer interested in the reviews and guessing what may occur next. Plinkett first appeared in "You’re Invited! The Olsen Twins Movie", a short film that incorporates clips from the film The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley in which the Olsen twins accept a phone call from a man named Mr. Plinkett. The Plinkett character also adds a sense of humor to avoid making the reviewer sound too much like a nerd or armchair critic. Mr. Plinkett speaks in a manner that has been compared to both Dan Aykroyd's character Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers and Ted Levine's character Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. The character seems to live, or at least have lived, in Teaneck, New Jersey, having made references to its police department (in his Star Trek review) and the Cedar Lanes Cinema (in his Revenge of the Sith review).
Through side comments in narration, flashes of disturbing images, and cuts to live scenes filmed by RedLetterMedia, Mr. Plinkett is implied to have murdered his various ex-wives, and shown to hold women captive in his basement. He claims to have had a disappointing son who hanged himself in a gas station bathroom, and an "adopted" son he kidnapped from a grocery store parking lot. Mr. Plinkett also has a fondness for Totino's Pizza Rolls, and he encourages feedback by promising to mail one to viewers who leave comments on his "webzone".
Among the low-budget features produced and directed by Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman through RedLetterMedia include the talking fruit action film Oranges: Revenge of the Eggplant, made in 2005 and available on Netflix; The Recovered, a horror thriller starring Tina Krause; and more recently in 2010, Feeding Frenzy, a genre-spoof of puppet monster movies like Gremlins. Feeding Frenzy featured Rich Evans as Mr. Plinkett; Evans originated the character in short films, and this feature was filmed before the popularity of the Phantom Menace review. Mike Stoklasa's short films are usually dark comedies. The Mr. Plinkett character, then played by Rich Evans, appeared in several of the short films, starting with "You're Invited" and including "The Cleaning Lady."
Mike Stoklasa created and starred in five seasons of the web sitcom The Grabowskis, opposite Dixie Jacobs, about an exaggeratedly trashy and unpleasant sitcom family. Early installments of the series were only a few seconds long, but grew to full episode length over time.
The Star Trek Generations review was met with many favorable comments, inspiring Stoklasa to continue to review the other three Star Trek: The Next Generation films—First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998), and Nemesis (2002). Inspired by these, Stoklasa proceeded to create his review for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, citing his personal dislike of George Lucas due to the creation of the "Special Editions" of the original Star Wars movies that marred Stoklasa's memories of the original films. Stoklasa does not believe that Lucas "ruined [his] childhood" but instead "disappointed [his] adulthood" through Lucas' direction of the Prequel trilogy; Stoklasa comments that Lucas did not have the same amount of control during the filming of the original trilogy that he had during the prequel trilogy, ultimately resulting in more memorable movies. He believes that Lucas continues to "devolve" the Star Wars franchise to target specifically younger audiences instead of the wide range of appeal that the original trilogy had. While contradictions in continuity are to be expected in science fiction and fantasy franchises with long established histories like Star Trek, Stoklasa has stated that it is virtually impossible for writers working in those franchises to write viable stories that avoid such contradictions entirely, and while he does focus on such gaffes for material in his reviews, he states that what truly irritates him is sloppy writing, in particular writing that exhibits traits such as poor character motivation, lapses in common sense or questionable logic, in order to advance the film's plot. Touching upon the Star Wars prequels as an example, Stoklasa says:
"The Star Wars prequels are the best examples of this where you’re mesmerized by all the visuals and excitement on screen, but if you really stop and listen you’ll realize that almost every line and every action makes no sense and is just there to get to the next special effects scene."—Mike Stoklasa, "RedLetterMedia’s Spin on the Crazed YouTube Reviewer", PopMatters, March 2010
Stoklasa has since created reviews for the James Cameron films Avatar and Titanic, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Baby's Day Out (which was referenced at the end of the Attack of the Clones review), the children's movie Cop Dog (originally mentioned in a short update video), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He also created a satirical short film review of J. J. Abrams' Star Trek and later followed it up with a full-length review.
Stoklasa has released audio commentary tracks done in the Pinklett character for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier' which are available for download.
In an interview, Stoklasa stated that in creating a review, he and a friend would watch the film only once while taking notes and frequently pausing the film to discuss scenes. After that, he would write a 20-30 page script for it in the Plinkett character, voice it, and edit it together along with some improvisations.
The Phantom Menace review
Stoklasa's review of The Phantom Menace was published to YouTube on December 10, 2009, and quickly became popular, receiving over 4 million views since its release. The video was widely linked to by many people across the Internet, including celebrities such as Damon Lindelof and Simon Pegg. In comparison to his earlier Star Trek movie reviews which lasted from 30 to 40 minutes, the Phantom Menace review was a 70-minute creation. The review took between seven and ten days to complete.
The review contains several elements that have been considered insightful. Stoklasa points out that the film has no real protagonist or strong characters in general. He demonstrates this by asking his friends to describe characters from the original trilogy and Phantom Menace without referring to the characters' physical appearances or occupations. Juxtaposed with the archetype and personality descriptions they give for the characters Han Solo and C-3PO, Stoklasa's friends are unable to verbalize much on the Phantom Menace characters Qui-Gon Jinn and Padmé Amidala. Stoklasa points out that many of the decisions made by Jinn's character are highly questionable and jokingly considers the possibility that Jinn is an alcoholic; he further points out that the character himself is unnecessary save to have a final climactic lightsaber battle. He notes Lucas' attempt to add more concurrent plot elements in each of the successive Star Wars films and calls it "The Ending Multiplication Effect". Unlike many other fans and critics, Stoklasa only makes passing comments about the widely unpopular character Jar Jar Binks, though Plinkett does dismissively refer to him as a "cartoon rabbit". In a later interview, Stoklasa called Binks the "most realistic and understandable thing" in the film compared to all of the film's other problems and what most moviegoers could easily focus on when pointing out the film's faults.
Jon Carroll of The San Francisco Chronicle lauded the video's humor and Stoklasa's insights into filmmaking, despite the occasionally sophomoric tone of Mr. Plinkett. Even without the Mr. Plinkett voice, the analysis and critique from Stoklasa was considered to be "plenty fascinating", but with it, the review becomes a "deep-dish analysis packaged like a gonzo stand-up comedy routine". The review was considered to be "an epic, well-edited well-constructed piece of geek film criticism" by Peter Sciretta of /Film. Damon Lindelof, in a Twitter message on the video, noted that "Your life is about to change. This is astounding film making."
To coincide with the release of the 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace, RedLetterMedia created a version of the review in 3D that can be viewed with standard red and cyan glasses. He also released an audio commentary track for the film done as Plinkett, which offered more criticism.
Attack of the Clones review
Stoklasa's review of Attack of the Clones was previously announced by a trailer posted on January 6, 2010; the 90-minute review consisting of nine parts was posted to YouTube on April 3, 2010. The review gained similar recognition shortly after its posting. In the review, Stoklasa presents his thoughts on the questionable romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala, the miscasting of Samuel L. Jackson, and numerous visual allusions to Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The video also continues the subplot of the prostitute, Nadine (Jocelyn Ridgely), locked in the basement from the Phantom Menace review, which is built up in the last minute or so of each part. Nadine is forced to watch Attack of the Clones with Plinkett, and at the end of the review she escapes from his house.
Within the first 48 hours of its posting, the first part of the review was pulled from YouTube based on a copyright infringement claim by Cartoon Network. Stoklasa was unsure of the reason for the claim and consequently whether to counter the claim or let it go, even after seeking legal help. Stoklasa commented that while using copyrighted clips as part of reviews and commentary is generally considered fair use, he was unsure how Lucasfilm would take a full deconstruction of the film. Stoklasa moved forward on the Attack of the Clones review only after Lucasfilm had remained silent about his Phantom Menace review. Furthermore, if the matter was not settled, he would have been unlikely to proceed with his plans for a similar review for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Neither Lucasfilm nor Cartoon Network responded to the matter, but the claim was later retracted and the first part of the review was again available on YouTube. Stoklasa believed this was a combination of media coverage about the review, including interviews with MTV and fans writing to the parties involved to request its return.
Revenge of the Sith review
On December 31, 2010, Stoklasa released his 110-minute review of the Revenge of the Sith. The review had less content regarding the Plinkett-Nadine subplot, as Stoklasa felt it was already too long. The subplot was instead split into a separate short film and was released on March 10, 2011.
The review was noted by film critic Roger Ebert in his blog, who said, "I was pretty much sure I didn't have it with me to endure another review of [Revenge of the Sith]. Mr. Plinkett demonstrates to me that I was mistaken."
Stoklasa's reviews have been considered part of an emerging art form that hybridize mashup with video essays, as they use a combination of footage from the movie in question, other related sources (such as clips from the original Star Wars trilogy movies for his Phantom Menace review and clips from documentaries about the production of the film), still images including title cards, and short, live-action segments. The combination of the Mr. Plinkett character and other elements used to present the reviews have been considered "a very clever attack on a certain kind of dumbass fanboy style of film reviewing".
The reviews have also been criticized by some Star Wars prequel fans. Stoklasa stated that he feels "Star Wars to some people is like a religion so they respond to attacks on it as such." A prequel trilogy fan wrote a 108-page point-by-point rebuttal of the Phantom Menace review, which Stoklasa mocked in an announcement video for his Revenge of the Sith review.
Half in the Bag
Half in the Bag is a regularly released series in which Stoklasa and Bauman do more traditional movie reviews. Stoklasa has described it as a cross between Siskel and Ebert and a 1980s sitcom, with him and Bauman as Lightning Fast VCR Repair employees sitting in Plinkett's (Rich Evans) living room as they discuss newly released movies, as well as some cult classics, comic book conventions, and other film projects they engage in. The characters do this while charging Plinkett $50/hour to pretend to fix his VCR, fending off his frequent questions by claiming they are waiting on parts, or sometimes by simply attempting to murder him. Guests come on the show from time to time as well, sometimes as characters such as cops, paranormal investigators, George Lucas, etc., while others, such as Alexandre O. Philippe, the director of The People vs. George Lucas, appears as themselves. Stoklasa also stated that this new series would not replace the voice-over Plinkett reviews. The first episode premiered on March 12, 2011 with a review for Drive Angry and The Adjustment Bureau.
Best of the Worst
Another regularly released web series produced by RedLetterMedia is Best of the Worst. In each episode three films which they believe will be terrible are viewed and afterwards they have a panel discussion. Many of the films are sent into the show by fans and can range from low budget horror films to instructional videos. Some episodes feature the "Wheel of the Worst", in which a wheel is spun to select which films will be watched. The Daily Herald praised Best of the Worst for being RedLetterMedia's most entertaining series.
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