|Founded||Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S. (2004)|
|Headquarters||Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States|
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); several review-based web series (including Half in the Bag, Best of the Worst and ReView); and concert, wedding, and corporate videos. His low-budget features have been largely horror and comedy, and have included Feeding Frenzy, The Recovered, Oranges: Revenge of the Eggplant and Space Cop. 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 has been described as "cranky", a "schizophrenic" and "psychotic" whose voice has been characterized as "a cross between Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers and The Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill". The character has also been described as illiterate. He mispronounces words like "protagonist", and brags that he has never read a book and has no intention of doing so. He also displays ignorance of history, as when he confuses the Cuban Missile Crisis with World War I, and the Nazi invasion of France with The French Revolution. 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. Glimpses of human remains and hostages seen in his basement indicate he may be a serial killer. 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". However, while seeming oafish and moronic, the Plinkett character appears to demonstrate an astute understanding of film history and criticism, referencing numerous other films as examples to demonstrate his viewpoints. His voice and other traits were intended to incorporate a sense of humor to avoid making the reviewer sound too much like a nerd or armchair critic. 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). Furthering the New Jersey connection, he also has a fondness for gambling in Atlantic City, as some reviews give his mailing address as a slot machine at a casino in Atlantic City.
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.
There are two different versions of the Harry S. Plinkett character. While Plinkett was originally portrayed on-screen by Rich Evans, the character is voiced by Mike Stoklasa in the various film critiques commonly referred to as the "Plinkett Reviews". This has given rise to a number of continuity conflicts, which RedLetterMedia has sometimes addressed via self-aware humor in its videos. For example, in the trailer announcing the release of Plinkett's review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when asked by Emperor Palpatine, "when is your next review coming out?", Evans' Plinkett appears confused and says he doesn't do film reviews. The action then cuts to Stoklasa's Plinkett (always seen from first-person perspective, and thus never appearing on camera) watching a stripper. The trailer concludes with Palpatine using "force lightning" on Evans' Plinkett and exclaiming, "Die, fake Plinkett!" However, in the Revenge of Nadine short film, Evans' Plinkett and Stoklasa's Plinkett are implied to be one and the same, with Evans' Plinkett adopting the psychotic and murderous attitudes of Stoklasa's version of the character. However, this may simply have been done because it would have been too awkward to not show Plinkett's body in the film.
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 (currently only available for DVD rental, not for streaming); 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 dislike of the prequel trilogy, and how it influenced a trend of films characterized by CGI spectacle, in lieu of the live-action stunts and meticulously crafted sets that characterized films of earlier decades. 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
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 Plinkett character for Star Wars, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which are available for download. He has also created two brief video reviews based on the first two teaser trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII), which he notes builds on a previous comment about having Abrams direct a Star Wars film from his earlier Star Trek commentary.
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 5 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 30 to 40 minutes, the Phantom Menace review had a total run time of approximately 70 minutes. 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 come up with similarly ardent descriptions for 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. He further suggests that the character is entirely unnecessary to the plot and overall story 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, which he refers to as "The Ending Multiplication Effect". Stoklasa then illustrates the chaotic and confusing nature of ending the film by pulling together four concurrent plot threads, each with a radically different tone, unclear objectives, and an overall lack of proper character motivation.
The review cuts among clips from The Phantom Menace, behind the scenes footage from the film's making-of documentary The Beginning, as well as the Plinkett sub-plot (which shows the character to be a murderous, emotionally unstable slob obsessed with Totino's Pizza Rolls). Stoklasa also uses cutaways to unrelated still shots that he uses to make analogous comments or to inject additional irreverent humor.
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 that steps in the poopy". 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 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.
In the review, Mr. Plinkett notes that the only character he liked was Palpatine, as he was the only character who ever showed any charisma or clear motivation. Additionally, he again laments the use of blue-screen effects and the simplicity of the filming, claiming that there are only two types of scenes in the movie: Scenes done in shot, reverse-shot; and the "mind-numbing action sequences that the fanboys crave".
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". Patton Oswalt, in an interview with Esquire, noted that the Mr. Plinkett reviews are an example of "amazing film scholarship" on the Star Wars prequels that demonstrate how much of the Star Wars universe is squandered by them. The Daily Telegraph called the reviews "legendary" and described them as being more popular than the actual films.
Literary critic Benjamin Kirbach argues that Plinkett enacts a kind of détournement by recontextualizing images that would otherwise serve as Star Wars marketing material (such as behind-the-scenes footage and interviews). Defined by Guy Debord as "the reuse of preexisting artistic elements in a new ensemble", détournement is a way of generating meaning out of cultural texts that is antithetical to their original intent. Kirbach argues that Stoklasa uses this tactic to construct a subversive narrative that frames George Lucas as "a lazy, out-of-touch, and thoroughly unchallenged filmmaker".
Kirbach also argues that Plinkett's popularity can be explained, in part, as a form of catharsis. Because he is portrayed as insane, the Plinkett shtick "legitimates our nerd-rage by literalizing it". But aside from raw catharsis, Plinkett's insanity also serves as a critique of the film industry itself. By fictionalizing his critic, Stoklasa constructs a character who is unable to speak at a safe distance from the text he analyzes. "Plinkett becomes the figure of a consumer culture that has been force-fed Hollywood schlock beyond its carrying capacity," Kirbach writes. And furthermore:
Stoklasa's major conceit—that someone would have to be "crazy" to watch movies the way Plinkett does—also implies a barely hidden inverse: that the film industry has induced a consumerist fantasy in people who don't watch movies this way. Plinkett's obscenity and jokiness are without a doubt designed to garner viewership, but they are also Stoklasa's apology for—or defense against—a culture that already construes his level of passion as pathological. This central irony leads us to question what is actually more insane: the consumer who rejects the expressions of a massive culture industry, or the massive culture industry itself. Plinkett satirizes the kind of consumer such a system generates: psychotic, sexist, homicidal.
However, 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." One 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 himself and Bauman as VCR repairmen who discuss movies.
The show often features the Harry S. Plinkett character as portrayed by Rich Evans. This iteration of the character is often referred to by fans as "Fake Plinkett", though Stoklasa has noted in interviews that Evans was the first person to portray the Plinkett character, with Stoklasa later portraying the character based on Evans' original performance.
Best of the Worst
Best of the Worst is a regularly-released series in which members of RedLetterMedia watch and review multiple films ranging from B-movies to instructional videos, sometimes sent in by fans. After viewing and riffing on the films, a rotating panel of four sit discuss what they have just watched, typically expressing further contempt and/or ridicule for what they have just seen, though occasionally offering praise for films that show uncommon quality and/or effort. Panels typically consist of any combination of Mike Stoklasa, Jay Bauman, Rich Evans, Jack Packard, Jessi Nakles, Josh "The Wizard" Davis, and/or special guests. Panel participants then individually decide upon which film or video represents the "Best of the Worst". Viewing material that is deemed to be insulting, offensive, or especially poor is often destroyed in a creative fashion. Methods of destruction have included dissolving a VHS tape in acetone, forcing a DVD through a paper shredder, dragging a tape around the streets tied to the bumper of a car, and cooking a tape on a charcoal grill alongside cheeseburgers.
Some episodes feature the "Wheel of the Worst", in which a wheel is spun to select which films/videos will be watched. Wheel selections are often videos that are either extremely bizarre (such as "Dog Sitter", a movie apparently made to appeal to dogs), or have little modern relevance (such as Chinese-language instructional tapes about how to use AOL). The Daily Herald praised Best of the Worst for being RedLetterMedia's most entertaining series.
The show occasionally features other gimmicks to randomly select viewing material such as the "Choose-And-Lose" or the Plinketto Board.
Best of the Worst also introduced a new recurring character known as "Scientist Man" (played by Mike Stoklasa in a lab coat and glasses). Scientist Man attempts to explain things in a pseudo-scientific way, often mincing his words, and clumsily creating hazardous work environment situations such as spilling acetone on his clothing.
Much of the comedy in the scripted portions of these episodes comes from meta, exaggerated behaviour and dialogue and slapstick gags. Much of this is deliberately done in such a way as to lampoon the same type of humour in conventional comedy productions.
On May 24, 2016, the company released the first episode of a new series called "re:View". Compared to the company's other shows, the format is a much more stripped down and straight forward approach to film critique. Two members of RedLetterMedia sit in front of a red curtain and offer thoughts and insight on a "classic" film such as Tremors, Eraserhead, and Ghostbusters. Clips of the film being discussed are interwoven, typically to lend emphasis to a specific point being made, or to showcase some of the most memorable moments from the film.
RedLetterMedia also produces original feature-length films, such as Feeding Frenzy and Gorilla Interrupted. On October 26, 2015, the company announced via a short video posted to their website that they had completed their feature-length film, Space Cop, which had been in production for at least seven years dating back to 2008. Space Cop stars Rich Evans in the titular role alongside Stoklasa, who wrote and directed the film. Space Cop was made available on January 12, 2016 on blu ray for $25 through RedLetterMedia's Bandcamp page, with the first run selling out in a matter of hours.
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