Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Even Better Than The Real Thing...NOT!!!

I loved watching the Monty Python troupe. I loved the Flying Circus television series and marvel at how so many of the skits (dead parrots, silly walks, and killer jokes) make me laugh today as if watching them for the first time. Their material and their performances are timeless - the borders around comedy started to blur as these six gentlemen provided something completely different, indeed. John, Michael, Eric, the two Terry's and the late, great Graham Chapman are deserving of their legendary status for that series alone.

Of course they also provided some feature films (I've always regarded The Holy Grail as my favorite knee-slapper), with none being as controversial as the 1979 release Life of Brian. The story of a chap born in a manger and visited by Wise Men who were in the wrong place in the right time created an uproar among many Christians on both sides of the pond. In England, local councils took advantage of provisions allowing them to ban the film in their jurisdictions. Eventually, the heated attitudes over the movie lead to a television showdown between two members of the troupe defending the film against Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, both of whom had just seen the film...sans the 15 minutes at the start, covering some important story lines.

Holy Flying Circus is a 2011 British television film that recreates the Life of Brian controversy as a docudrama...or make that a docucomedy...

...for this movie tries to cover serious subject manner as if it was itself a 90 minute Monty Python sketch. Director Owen Harris and his team assembled an undeniably talented cast of performers, with the resemblances to the actual Python gang ranging from impressive to almost eerie. (I could swear at times that really was Eric Idle and not Steve Punt on the screen.)

Harris and screenwriter Tony Roche consistently drop in Pythonesque touches throughout the film - serious moments are interrupted by Gilliam-type animations coming in from nowhere; surrealist moments abound and, in true Python style, the roles of the major female parts (surrounding Michael Palin's world) are performed by the male actors in drag doing multiple characters.

So how did all of this work out...or not? For the first thirty minutes of the film I was longing for the real troupe - this cast was talented and the Python brand of humor was spot-on... but it was like drinking a twelve dollar bottle of  Bordeaux when you know in your heart-of-hearts that Chateau Margeaux Grand Cru is the real deal. Why settle for less? At the same time, there was some serious historical information (death threats included) that was being interrupted by some less-than-funny sequences which just seemed to be there to show that the director and his cast had the whole Python schtick down pat. Yawn.

The second third of the film had me more optimistic and hoping that this flic could really deliver. The values at stake were fully entrenched with what the Python gang felt was on the line and some of the comedy bits seemed more inspired and less rehashed. (The bargain basement light saber/sword fight between puppet versions of the Palin and Cleese characters was a scream...but it was the first and only time I really found myself laughing out loud at what I was viewing.)

By the time the last thirty minutes unspool, you find yourself in the "sober" debate that takes place on the Friday Night, Saturday Morning tele show, which is where the unease between serious argument and comic follies really becomes uncomfortable...and simply, plain doesn't work.

As much as I really wanted to like this film, I can't recommend it. I've seen some enthusiastic reviews for it from across the pond but from where I stand Holy Flying Circus sits as a tribute film that would have been better served by a serious, analytical Python doc with several Life of Brian scenes spliced in. (As a side note...but a rather significant one...several members of the Python troupe were unimpressed by this production and it's "inaccuracies".)

As far as the real debate (hosted by Tim Rice) that took place between Palin/Cleese and their detractors go, there are several uploads available for your's one of them.

I say this film tastes - NOT HOMEMADE.

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Joneses (and this film) Are Not What They Seem

The Joneses have just moved into a (seemingly) well-heeled suburb and brought everything their new neighbours would desire...and then some. All the men at the country club want to hit their golf balls with the same drivers swung by Steve Jones (David Duchovny) - the ladies of the hood drool over the frozen gourmet treats served by Kate (Demi Moore) - Mick Jones (Ben Hollingsworth) always draws a crowd of his new buddies when he brings out his high-end skateboard... and the girls at school can't believe the latest designer goods Jenn (Amber Herd) has on display.

"On display" is a good way of putting it - the Joneses are not a real family but rather a group of unrelated sales people put together by a marketing company to shill the expensive products put out by their clients. But things don't always go picture perfect for this "unit": there's the pressure put on by their boss (Lauren Hutton); the chilliness cast out by unit leader Kate; the fact Jenn lets her nymphomaniac tendencies run away when an attractive older male is around...and it doesn't help that Mick's inertia may be from harboring a lifestyle secret of his own.

I have read in some places that amongst the relatively few who have had a chance to catch this 2009 production that a smattering are disappointed that the black comic elements re: conspicuous consumption were not pursued with more "bite". Others seemed to find sections of the film (particularly the ending) suffering from excessive melodrama and sappiness. And some have speculated (probably correctly) that The Joneses release came too early during a recession where watching spending sprees may have made for awkward viewing. (Well, the economy still stinks in a lot of ways but you can't say you don't see the points that are made about how we are marketed to all around us now.)

Count me out of those sentiments - The Joneses works in the way I think director/co-writer Derrik Borte intended with his first feature. The points regarding mindless materialism are made early and often, so there is no need to keep hitting the audience over the head with it repeatedly. The zeitgeist issues serves as a backdrop to what this film is really about - a very human story about a guy who is uncomfortable with the skin he finds himself living in and, in spite of the economic successes he is achieving, feels the need to question what has true meaning in life. It's a responsibility in carrying the storyline that Duchovny is up for - he turns in a terrific performance and is the reason why this film succeeds as well as it does. The rest of the cast is fine but it's the former X-Files star who has to do the heavy lifting and he carries the load well.

Overall, an entertaining film which may strike some as being a little too light in some places and a little too heavy in others...but, still...these Joneses are worth keeping up with.

I say this film tastes - SURPRISINGLY SUBSTANTIAL.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Scanner Cop Didn't Blow Up Real Good

In his still formative years between The Brood and Videodrome, David Cronenberg directed the first of the Scanners films that have spawn several cheap (and often direct-to-video) offshoots. These tales of people possessing powerful telepathic and telekinetic abilities have resulted in five films in all. While the original was far from Croenberg's best work (among other issues, it suffered from a woeful lead performance by Stephen Lack, who couldn't keep up opposite the powerful Michael Ironside), it still set the bar for the Scanner family of films.

After producing a few of the sequels that were directed by Christian Dugay, Pierre David decided to take the helm himself for Scanner Cop and it's follow-up.

Sam Staziak witnesses the mental instability that has fallen his scanner father, who is killed in a confrontation with the police. One of the officers, Peter Harrigan (Richard Grove), befriends the orphan and in what appears to be an all too easy and convenient manner, arranges for he and his wife to adopt the youngster.

Fast forward 15 years and Sam (now played by Daniel Quinn) is not only graduating as an officer himself but finds his foster dad as the police commander. Both have their hands full as some otherwise normal citizens go on a murderous rampage against men in blue. A demented genius (the late Richard Lynch) has found a way to program people to see their worst enemies and fears when they see a police officer approaching them.

While Lynch is kinda fun as the heavy, Scanner Cop doesn't feature a showdown between waring opposite factions as much as it is a race against time for the title character - the longer he goes without the meds that help turn off the powers he possesses, the more a chance he will devolve into the insanity that overtook his father. Unfortunately, Daniel Quinn just isn't a strong enough performer to convey the desperation his character is dealing with.  

Scanner Cop isn't a's just under-cooked. The acting is too pedestrian, the special effects are cheap without being fun or imaginative (and not enough exploding heads, for sure), the plot developments are predictable, the villains are nasty but not menacing enough, and the levels of violence waffle between being gory and strangely reserved. Best I can say is that the film is well-paced but you can find other movies of this direct-to-video era that are worth one's time far more than this. Based on this work, I'm not inspired to view the sequel, Scanner Cop II (aka Scanners: The Showdown).

I say this film tastes - UNDER-COOKED.