Monty Python is one of those institutions you were either introduced to at a young age and you join in the obsession, or they completely pass you buy. Given watching Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) was my introduction to the troupe, you can guess where I land on that spectrum.
The film takes a more is more approach to the joke count. The jokes bombard the viewer and it is hard to keep up. To be sure, many of them don’t land, in fact I would say most of them don’t. But every so often something stands out from the base level of silliness, with a level of inspiration that makes it plain why the Monty Python crew are held in such high regard by many. Unlike many of the great comedies, the jokes are really only on one level though. They mainly come from the witty silliness of the script. There is the occasional thematic hit, on religion for example, but even these are kept very light rather than genuinely subversive. This lack of subversion does date the film somewhat though with jokes using Jewish slurs, focused on a potentially trans character and some iffy rape jokes sticking out. This is not to say they were designed to offend, but they feel more dated because there is little attempt to make subversive points through the use of these ideas.
Despite the comedic writing being quite tight, perhaps the most endearing element of Monty Python’s Life of Brian is the slapdash, slightly anarchic quality that it has. Random storylines come and go with nary a care in the world, the comical Judean People’s Front takes centre stage and actors play a procession of different roles. It’s not really the kind of film where performances particularly stand out. But John Cleese’s manic energy and effort in each scene is tops. In addition, Graham Chapman as Brian, brings a charming boyish naiveté to that role. There are a couple of cracking tunes as well. I loved the opening theme whilst the final song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” which accompanies perhaps the film’s best visual joke, brings back personal memories as it was the song that closed my pop’s funeral.
Verdict: All things considered, Monty Python’s the Life of Brian did make me giggle a fair bit. So on one level, mission accomplished. But beyond that, there is not really that much there, which is perhaps why this review is on the slightly short side. It’s a very well done, silly comedy. Not much more to say than that really. Stubby of Reschs
Upon release, Borat (2006) was something of a cultural phenomenon. The film introduced the antics of Sacha Baron Cohen to a far wider audience and threatened to unleash (or re-unleash) a style of comedy predominately focused on tricking unsuspecting bystanders into being part of the action. It also proved to be probably the most quotable film since Anchorman (2004), and there was a time there you couldn’t go anywhere without copping someone’s annoying as shit Borat impersonation.
Unlike Anchorman, at least to my mind, the cultural impact of Borat seems to have waned a fair bit. Revisiting the film now, it is easy to see why. When it was released, I was right in the film’s target audience, being a male in my late teens. Even then, I found the film quite mean spirited and a little wary of what it was trying to achieve. Fast forward nine years and those concerns have well and truly crystallised. This is an awful film. The way that Baron Cohen interacts with (predominately) well-meaning regular people, comes off as profoundly mean. The film is also far less satirically biting than I recall too. Really, the only part that lands is Borat’s interaction with the horrific jocky college bros on a road trip. Baron Cohen intelligently paints them into a corner, exposing their shocking prejudice and typical ‘white dude’ outlook on life. You can almost hear them wailing that women run the world and that the social justice warriors are ruining their comic books and rape jokes. That sequence is immediately followed by the only other sequence that threatens to deliver a similarly biting punchline, when Borat visits an evangelical mega church. But in reality, the salient points made here really only come from the sheer insanity of the parishioners, not anything to do with Baron Cohen’s skill as a performer.
The major downfall of the film is that it never regularly achieves its goal of skewering American society. In that light, the film’s racism and misogyny becomes a little harder to ‘enjoy’. In fact, many of these aspects of the film (the portrayal of Kazakhstan for example) really add nothing to the supposed satire of the film. As horrible as all that is, the interactions that Baron Cohen has with members of the public leave me feeling the most uncomfortable. Most of the film is Borat annoying or triggering physical altercations with people going about their day. For every time that works and achieves a point, there are four or five examples of him harassing really quite sweet people, such as the driving instructor who goes totally out of his way to be polite and supportive of someone he thinks is new to the country. This same dude also totally subverts expectation when he launches an impassioned defence of women’s rights when fed lines you have to suspect were designed to elicit a different outcome. This is all the more frustrating as Sacha Baron Cohen is a distinctly skilled, not to mention ballsy, performer. He is just much more successful at displaying this skill in material that is not his own, Hugo (2011) and Talladega Nights (2006) the two examples that spring immediately to mind.
Verdict: Borat is less intelligent, satirical and funny than I recall. In fact, there is rather little of all three on display. It is an exceptionally mean spirited film too. To be clear though, that naked fight between Borat and his overweight, overhairy producer is still pretty funny. Schooner of Tooheys New
If there’s a film I see named by comedians as being influential more than any other, it’s Groundhog Day (1993). Similarly, the film’s director Harold Ramis and star Bill Murray, have an aura that seems to hold sway more in the comedian community compared to the broader public sentiment.
Often the exact reasons as to why these differences in standing preserve are intangible. But Groundhog Day also makes plain many of the reasons why. Whilst zany and offbeat, the film is impeccably and very tightly structured. The repeating structure is a framework from which Ramis and Murray can weave their magic. To achieve this, the script from Ramis and Danny Rubin cleverly builds slight layers on top of itself. It references and slightly tweaks aspects from the ‘day’ before. This is a major reason why the simple plot of Murray’s egotistical and rude TV weatherman Phil being stuck in a time loop, waking every day in a two-bit town that he despises, never becomes numbingly boring like so many of the film’s imitators. The script reflects the film as a whole. It is boisterous and thoughtful, as is the way the film is put together and progresses through musical choices and the editing. Not only that, what is such a tired plot structure actually feels very fresh here, with the script exploring all the nooks and crannies that the concept presents. The structure is used to novel ends, with the generic ‘arc’ or change of a character we expect in basically all films, technically compressed into a single day span.
There is little doubt that a couple of the film’s plot points jar a contemporary sensibility (or perhaps just my contemporary sensibility). For a time that Murray’s character simply uses his predicament to bed women. At one point he practically tries to rape his love interest, and whilst he does in a way get his comeuppance for these acts, it is not as direct as it maybe could have been. Later on though, the manner in which Phil respectfully interacts with Andie MacDowell’s Rita and uses his ability to re-live the same day in their relationship, feeds into the core arc of the film. Those earlier moments, simply using his ‘skill’ to get into the pants of hot women around town, don’t serve the same narrative purpose. Murray’s reputation as one of the supreme comic performers is supported by this film. Right from the get-go, you can sense his comedic timing and rhythm. His whole body conveys that, his subtle movements and just the way he carries himself. These talents allow him to have the audience in the palm of his hand, whether he’s being the jerk you love to hate or the silly clown making you roar with laughter. Whilst she does not do much of the comedic heavy lifting in a ‘straight’ role, MacDowell has a really nice naiveté to her character that suits the plot and allows the audience to better appreciate the arc of Phil. The other standout performance is Michael Shannon in a wonderful two scene or so effort, mainly because it involves a Wrestlemania reference.
Verdict: This really is an exceptionally funny film and perhaps career best work from Ramis and Murray. Whilst there are occasional beats that are now a little dated, this is one of the smartest comedy scripts ever brought to life and is one of those classics that you need to track down if you’ve never seen. Pint of Kilkenny
I have been whinging about it pretty endlessly, but in case you managed to avoid all of that, I have had a busted back for much of the past couple of weeks. I returned to work a few days ago, but before that I was relegated to the lounge room floor, unable to sit up to write or go to the cinema. As much as I love lazing around watching movies, being able to nothing else for that extended a period of time is enough to test anyone’s resolve. Luckily though, I stumbled upon the first season of Rick and Morty (2013) which has been a total highlight and allowed me to well and truly keep my sanity.
Somehow this show managed to pass me by until now. It’s created by Dan Harmon, the somewhat controversial genius behind Community and is essentially a reimagining of the Back to the Future trilogy, which is my favourite film series of all time. For all that though, the show is better than I could have imagined and one of the most hilarious pieces of television I have ever seen. It is so smart, the vulgarity (which general comes from Grandad Rick, a terrible influence) is actually funny and it brings high concept sci-fi ideas to each episode. The odd(ish) couple at the centre of the show really provides everything it needs. Rick is one of those classic animated characters of the past couple of decades who brings the huge laughs with his zaniness, crudeness and substance abuse programs – think some form of variance on Bender, Homer Simpson and Cartman and you are on the right track. But in young Morty, the show has a straight man who is also hilarious as well as providing the real heart of the show. He is a somewhat awkward teen, going along with his grandad’s incredibly dangerous space-based adventures to win his favour. But as the season progresses, the character really grows into a keen offsider and at times potential leader himself. You never feel like he is just there for the character of Rick to bounce off, Morty is an equal partner and elevates the show a lot. Hopefully that continues, because often the shows featuring some of those characters I mentioned above, fall back on the cheap knowledge that the audience will crack up at whatever one character says and does, instead of building up a satisfying cast.
We are in something of an extended golden age for TV cartoons. Obviously kicking off with The Simpsons, but also featuring so many others such as Futurama, Bravest Warriors and heaps more. Rick and Morty holds its own with any of those. And for a film or sci-fi buff it may even surpass them, nailing clever references throughout. There is one episode that functions as an extended parody of an Elm Street, and there was something I found totally side-splitting about the way that the Freddy Krueger character called everyone “bitch”, just as he does in the actual films. There are also extended references to Jurassic Park (1993), Inception (2010) and basically every other big sci-fi property of moderately recent times. I only rarely watch commentaries on TV shows and films. But I can’t wait to revisit these episodes with the commentaries from Dan Harmon and occasional special guests such as Matt Groening, that are on the Aussie blu-ray release.
Verdict: Rick and Morty plays like the love-child of Futurama, Back to the Future and the best bits of South Park that you never realised was missing from your life. If you have the slightest interest in any of those things, the work of Dan Harmon or just truly hilarious sharp comedy, then give this show a shot. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Let’s face it, even if you enjoyed Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) like I sorta did, I don’t think too many were screaming out for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2014). That said, this trailer actually has me kind of excited by the premise. Time travel films are always telling the audience the potential disastrous time space continuum knock on effects that time travel can bring. This film is actually going to explore that notion. Sure, I’m doubting it will be ‘hard sci-fi’ in its approach, but it is at least a somewhat novel approach to the plot. Though I have to say my initial enthusiasm wavered a fair bit when I realised John Cusack did not feel it worthwhile to come back for this. So I’m on the fence with this. Hopeful, but no Cusack sucks.
There seems to be little middle ground in the reactions to this first Dumb and Dumber To (2014) trailer. People either outright hate it with a passion or seem ultra enthused with the humour contained. I think I fall into the rare middle ground. I loved the joke at the start explaining the time lapse between the first film and this one. But then it sort of regressed into solely consisting of jokes that were lifted unchanged from the first film. Oh and a truly crass sequence involving an elderly woman. I don’t mind the recycling of jokes, because you would expect those beats to reappear throughout the film. I just hope the Farellys haven’t lost sight of the rambunctious silliness that made the first such a classic for people around my age and don’t make just another crass comedy that are a dime a dozen these days. What do you all think about this one?
Woah almost totally forgot a trailer for this weekend. Here it is, though don’t get me wrong, simply based on what is on display below They Came Together (2014) looks pretty woeful. It sort of seems like a really obvious approach to material that needs a little panache and originality to really succeed. But there is one simple reason why I will still be keen to see it when it comes out: Amy Poehler. If you are a fan of Parks and Recreation (if you haven’t seen it, please give it a try), then you will know that Poehler is possibly the best comedic performer working today. Any movie she is in, not to mention one rocking a reasonable supporting cast headed by Paul Rudd, has a great chance to be hilarious. So here is hoping Poehler and co can make this way better than the strange, bad, trailer suggests.
I remember quite a while ago, when I was first beginning to explore the world of classic cinema, I had this notion that comedy was, more than other genres, fundamentally connected to the time it was made. By that I meant that all the comedies I liked at that point were less than 20 years old, and I felt that without the societal connectedness of what was made in the silent years and immediately after, I would not find them amusing. I remember watching Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved from Drowning and having these thoughts really blown out of the water. Attempting to tidy up the files on my computer, I came across this review I wrote of it at the time. It is pretty raw, this was just when I was starting up the blog, but hopefully it is still worth a read.
I found Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) really quite funny, a lot funnier than most of the ‘comedies’ I have been subjected to the past few years. The story is exceptionally simple. Man saves bum from drowning himself, invites bum to stay in his house, chaotic hijinks ensue. That’s about it really, but this is a comedy after all, not an Iñárritu film and the plot is serviceable enough. Some of the early, outdoor scenes shot by Renoir are quite beautifully rendered. This got me thinking about comedy films today and how little effort is (seemingly) put into making the films beautiful ones. There is a perception that comedic films cannot be artistic or ‘worthy’ ones, a perception that judging by this film did not exist in the 1930s. Jokes in this film take on a number of forms; there is slapstick, witty punchlines, amusing social comments and a hell of a lot of sexual innuendo. The only time that the film fell a bit flat for me was when there was an over-reliance during the middle section on slapstick, with Boudu’s rudeness and stupidity becoming increasingly over-the-top (and the character risked becoming an oafish Homer Simpson style caricature). However this period of the film also provided what is probably its most hilarious sequence when Boudu tries to clean his hands of the stubborn shoe polish he has gotten all over them.
But if Boudu is a simply drawn character then the character of Monsieur Lastingois is a wonderfully complex one. Initially I thought him seedy – his affair is exposed very early on, then (being a struggling student with a 2nd hand book addiction) my opinion of him skyrocketed when he allows a student to have two books from his store free, exclaiming “your name is youth.” And obviously the bravery he shows in rescuing Boudu whilst everyone else watches on makes him somewhat of a hero. All the while though he is carrying on his affair and using a telescope to check out the physical attributes of women as they walk by his window. Modern comedies could again learn something from this film and actually take the time to create interesting characters rather than the cardboard cut-outs we are generally provided with. He is also endlessly forgiving of Boudu for his ungratefulness, rudeness and even the seduction of his wife. In another amusing scene, the only time he tries to remove Boudu from his home is when he perpetrates the heinous crime of spitting in a prized volume of Balzac. There is heart to go with the humour here as well. See the reactions of the main characters to Boudu’s final act of defiance; or the heart-rending early scene where our bum has lost his dog and no one will assist him in the search, but then they all (including two police officers) jump to help an attractive upper class lady caught in the same predicament.
A sublime film with a distinctive charm whose shortcomings in story and an at times overly simplistic protagonist are more than surpassed by a great variety of humour, beautiful cinematography and some of the other characters being fantastic. I loved a vast majority of this film more than many others I can recall. If, like I did you struggle to believe a film made well over 70 years ago could make you chuckle, then I highly suggest you check this out.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
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