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|Founded||April 23, 2004|
Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.
|Total views||620 million|
Updated: May 2020
|Footnotes / references|
Red Letter Media, LLC, stylized as RedLetterMedia on YouTube, is an American film and video production company operated by independent filmmakers Mike Stoklasa (formerly of GMP Pictures) and Jay Bauman (formerly of Blanc Screen Cinema). The company was formed by Stoklasa in 2004, while he was living in Scottsdale, Arizona, but is now based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (as of 2020). It attracted significant attention in 2009 through Stoklasa's 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 was presented by his character "Harry S. Plinkett" (often shortened to "Mr. Plinkett"). While Stoklasa had published other video reviews of several Star Trek films before that, his The Phantom Menace and subsequent Star Wars prequel reviews were praised for both content and presentation.
Numerous other series have been produced by RedLetterMedia, including several review-based web series (Half in the Bag, Best of the Worst, and re:View), short comedies (The Nerd Crew) and web series (The Grabowskis, Previously Recorded). Low budget features produced by and starring Stoklasa and Red Letter Media affiliates have been largely horror and comedy, such as Feeding Frenzy, The Recovered, Oranges: Revenge of the Eggplant and Space Cop. Alongside Stoklasa and Bauman, Red Letter Media also employs Rich Evans as a full-time actor and stagehand for their projects, while he later on got involved in the commentary aspect of the show as well. Stoklasa, Bauman, Evans, and their friends Jack Packard and Josh Davis appear as cast members for the vast majority of their releases.
Stoklasa created his first video review for Star Trek Generations after watching the film again in 2008. Stoklasa believed his own voice sounded "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). The character first appeared in You're Invited! The Olsen Twins Movie, a short film that incorporates clips from The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley, in which the Olsen twins accept a phone call from a man named Mr. Plinkus, a name Stoklasa and Evans either misheard as, or altered to, Mr. Plinkett.
Plinkett has been described as "cranky", a "schizophrenic", and "psychotic" with a voice that has been called "a cross between Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers and The Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill".
The Star Trek Generations review was met with many favorable comments, inspiring Stoklasa to review the other three Star Trek: The Next Generation films—First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998), and Nemesis (2002). Inspired by these, Stoklasa created his review for Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, citing his dislike of the franchise's 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 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), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,Star Wars: The Force Awakens as well as its sequel The Last Jedi, and the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. 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
Stoklasa's review of The Phantom Menace was published to YouTube on December 10, 2009, and quickly became popular, receiving over five 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.[by whom?] Stoklasa believes 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 colorful personality descriptions they give for the characters Han Solo and C-3PO, Stoklasa's friends are unable to come up with similarly definite descriptions for the Phantom Menace characters Qui-Gon Jinn and Padmé Amidala. Stoklasa believes 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's 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.
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 and other related sources.
Literary and cultural 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". Plinkett enrolls George Lucas in an ongoing Oedipal drama as the castrating father figure, a father figure we are invited to rage against owing to his flagrant ineptitude. But aside from raw catharsis, Kirbach claims that Plinkett's insanity is also 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 further:
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.
In an interview with Esquire, comedian Patton Oswalt 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.
However, the reviews have also been criticized by Star Wars 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 fan wrote a 108-page-long point-by-point response to the Phantom Menace review, taking issue with many of Stoklasa's criticisms, which Stoklasa mocked in an announcement video for his Revenge of the Sith review.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whilst critiquing CinemaSins' Everything Wrong With ... video of his film, Kong: Skull Island, for bad film criticism masked under the guise of "satire", praised Red Letter Media for good film criticism and satire, stating that "Red Letter Media's Phantom Menace review IS satire. They lampoon a certain type of nerd culture AND their takedown is accurate & thoughtful. Red Letter Media's critiques hold up under scrutiny. CinemaSins just wants to shit on things for the sake of shitting on them."
Red Letter Media also produces original feature-length films. Among the low-budget features Stoklasa and Bauman have produced and directed on Red Letter Media are the action-comedy 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 Feeding Frenzy, a 2010 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. Stoklasa's short films are usually dark comedies. Plinkett, played by Evans, appeared in several of them, starting with "You're Invited".
Stoklasa created and starred in five seasons of the web sitcom The Grabowskis, opposite Dixie Jacobs, about an exaggeratedly trashy and unpleasant sitcom family. Installments of the series were only a few seconds long at first (comically giving more screen time to the lengthy intro than the episode itself), but grew to full episode length over time.
On October 26, 2015, the company announced via a short video that it had completed the feature-length film Space Cop, which had been in production for at least seven years.Space Cop stars Evans in the titular role alongside Stoklasa, who wrote and directed the film. It was made available on January 12, 2016, on Blu-ray for $25 through Red Letter Media's Bandcamp page. The first run sold out in a matter of hours.
Half in the Bag is a regularly released series in which Stoklasa and Bauman review films in a more traditional format, albeit with a haphazard and fourth wall breaking overarching plot. Stoklasa has described it as a cross between Siskel and Ebert and a 1980s sitcom, with Stoklasa and Bauman playing VCR repairmen who discuss movies whilst finding increasingly convoluted ways of avoiding their scheduled repair work on Mr. Plinkett's VCR.
The show often features Plinkett portrayed by Evans. Tim Heidecker, who hosts a satiric movie review show On Cinema, makes a cameo in episode 37 as the owner of the VCR repair shop who bequeaths employment to Jay and Mike.
Graham Linehan praised Red Letter Media in an interview with British comedian and writer Richard Herring on Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast. He spoke particularly about the Half in the Bag review of Jack and Jill, which he described as "brilliant".
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Best of the Worst is a regularly-released series in which members of Red Letter Media 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 to discuss what they just watched, typically expressing further contempt or ridicule for what they have just seen, though occasionally offering praise for films that show uncommon quality or effort. Panels typically consist of any combination of Mike Stoklasa, Jay Bauman, Rich Evans, Jessi Nakles, Jack Packard, Josh "The Wizard" Davis, 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.
Canadian visual effects artists Colin Cunningham and Jim Maxwell, who have worked on numerous television series' and feature films, frequently appear as recurring guests. Special guests on the show have included screenwriters Max Landis and Simon Barrett, comic book artist Freddie Williams, actors Macaulay Culkin and Patton Oswalt, comedian Gillian Bellinger and indie film auteur Len Kabasinski.
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 made to appeal to dogs), low budget instructional films, educational films and those which have little modern relevance (such as Chinese-language instructional tapes about how to use AOL). Videos featured on Wheel of the Worst are most frequently found on VHS tapes. The Daily Herald praised Best of the Worst for being Red Letter Media's most entertaining series.
The show occasionally features other gimmicks to randomly select viewing material such as the "Choose-And-Lose" and the Plinketto Board. Another subsection of Best of the Worst includes the "Black Spine Edition" where the group randomly selects VHS tapes which are missing informational or identification labels on the side of the cassette.
Sometimes the crew will review a specific film which they have previously viewed off camera and recommend to fans of poorly-conceived and poorly-executed B movies. They refer to reviews of this nature as their "Spotlight Series". The first of these reviews featured the film Hollywood Cop by director Amir Shervan was released on YouTube on June 21, 2017. In this format, low budget indie movies Suburban Sasquatch, Lycan Colony and The Last Vampire on Earth have also been featured.
In 2019, the crew introduced a 'Hall of Fame' for Best of the Worst, intended to represent the best things that have appeared on the show. There have only been three additions to the hall of fame thus far; actor Cameron Mitchell and low-budget films Surviving Edged Weapons and Creating Rem Lezar.
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 Red Letter Media sit in front of a red curtain and offer thoughts and insight on a film that they both enjoy. Films chosen for this feature are often either cult classics such as Pink Flamingos, Freddy Got Fingered and Martin, or well renowned genre-defining films like The Thing 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. re:View has also featured Star Trek films and episodes, a particular favorite of Stoklasa's.
For an episode featuring The Guest, the screenwriter of the film, Simon Barrett, appeared as a guest and spoke about many behind the scenes aspects of the production. A similar insight into the background of a film the Red Letter Media crew enjoyed was shared in a two-part interview series with Samurai Cop lead Matt Hannon, though this occurred prior to the creation of the re:View branding and format. Former child star Macaulay Culkin made a guest appearance in a 2018 episode reviewing Hackers, and has continued to recur in both this series as well as Best of the Worst.
The first episode being uploaded to YouTube on 5 January 2017, The Nerd Crew parodies pop culture "fanboyism" and video series such as Screen Junkies, Collider, and The John Campea Show, with Stoklasa, Bauman and Evans playing "manchildren" demonstrating excessive enthusiasm over Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and other content aimed primarily at a juvenile audience.Product placement, native advertising and general subservience to entertainment mega-corporations are all satirized.
Since 2012, Red Letter Media has produced commentary tracks for various films, releasing them on Bandcamp. These began with three commentary tracks by Stoklasa as Mr. Plinkett, but the company has since released tracks by Stoklasa, Bauman, and Evans as themselves.
In July 2014, Red Letter Media affiliates Rich Evans and Jack Packard began a YouTube Video game review channel under the name Previously Recorded or Pre-Rec. Videos from the channel have been featured on the Red Letter Media website alongside other Red Letter Media content, and the channel has been referenced in numerous Half in the Bag and Best of the Worst episodes. On July 22, 2018, the duo announced that they would be broadcasting their final live stream on July 25, 2018 and then the channel would be put on hold for the foreseeable future afterwards.