Monty Python and the Holy Grail


It's only a flesh wound.

It’s only a flesh wound.

(1975) Comedy (Rainbow Releasing) Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Connie Booth, Carol Cleveland, Neil Innes, Bee Duffell, John Young, Rita Davies, Avril Stewart, Sally Kinghorn, Mark Zycon, Elspeth Cameron, Mitsuko Forstater, Sandy Johnson, Sandy Rose, Romily Squire, Joni Flynn. Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones

As a film critic, one of the questions I’m most often asked is what is my all-time favorite movie. Although the answer can vary according to my mood, the film that I find myself giving as that answer is this one.

In the dark ages, King Arthur (Chapman) has been given a quest by God to find the Holy Grail. He gathers around him worthy knights, such as the valiant Sir Lancelot (Cleese), the chaste Sir Galahad (Palin), the bookish Sir Bedevere (Jones) and the not very valiant Sir Robin (Idle).

On their quest to find the Grail, they will face fearsome foes like the Knights Who Until RECENTLY said Ni (Big points if you can remember AND pronounce what they say now), the temptresses of Castle Anthrax, the Black Beast of Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh and most fearsome of all, the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog (vanquished only with the aid of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch). With his faithful servant Patsy (Gilliam) at his side, King Arthur will yield to no valiant knight to reach his goal. No foe too deadly, no quest too dangerous, no shrubbery so lush that he won’t find that darn Grail.

Later fashioned into the successful Broadway musical Spamalot, the movie remains one of the most influential when it comes to modern comedy movies. Repeatedly breaking the fourth wall and sending most comedy conventions sailing out into the air (only to land on a hapless page), the madmen of Monty Python appear to stumble through the movie but as we watch it unfold we realize that we are watching either the most cleverly plotted and mapped out movies or pure improvisational genius. It scarcely matters which one.

The late Graham Chapman as King Arthur provides the film’s straight man (although he has his share of zingers) and grounds the movie for the most part until at the end of the movie it goes whizzing over the cliff and shatters on the rocks below. The movie doesn’t so much conclude as end, which does frustrate a few non-fans but considering all the anarchy that preceded, is kind of fitting.

Listing all the amazing sketches and bits in the movie is nearly impossible but there is nary a false step in any of them. Terry Gilliam’s animations enhancing the movie and acting as bridges between sometimes wildly varying parts. Neil Innes contributes music and songs including the hilarious Ballad of Sir Robin with such memorable lines as “When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled” which might well sum up certain political figures I will not name here.

I will say that Monty Python doesn’t appeal to every comedy taste. They are far too manic for some, too anarchic for others and too dry for others still. I am proud to say that I’m a Python addict and have been since an early age, thanks largely to this film and their TV show Monty Python’s Flying Circus which in my boyhood aired on our local PBS station in Los Angeles long after the series had been canceled by the BBC; I urge you to catch some of those episodes which are readily available if you can.

We are not likely to see the like of Monty Python again. They were a group of men whose sum was greater than their parts and each member fit perfectly into the role he was given. With Chapman’s untimely passing in 1989, Monty Python is no more – not really. Although the Pythons have gathered again (often with an urn supposedly containing his remains), they aren’t quite the same. Still they continue individual and as a group to shock, push the envelope of comedy and poke and prod the staid and stodgy cultural monoliths of Britain with a sharply pointed stick, and that is a good thing because frankly I’m too lazy to do it myself.

Not all of you will agree with my assessment of the movie but I don’t care. It is the only film I’ve seen in a theater more than twice, the movie I’ve watched more often than any other and yet it still never fails to make me laugh. I will admit that nostalgia plays a part in that but still, comedies for the most part have a limited shelf life – you can only laugh at the same jokes so much. This movie has kept me laughing for almost 40 years (not non-stop) which is an accomplishment. If you haven’t seen it, see it and form your own opinion. If you have seen it, see it again because the Pythons can use the cash. If your local art house screens a revival showing of it, by all means see it on the big screen – there’s nothing quite so awe-inspiring as seeing the Big Head of Light Entertainment in all its divine glory on as big a screen as possible. The IMAX people should take note. Either way, you may love it, you may hate it but you WILL form an opinion of it and it might just change your life. It certainly changed mine. Now go away or I will taunt you a second time.

WHY RENT THIS: The funniest movie ever made. Period.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t get their humor, you won’t like the film. If you do, you’ll watch it again and again and again. Some find the ending too abrupt.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a surfeit of foul language, crude humor, violence, sexuality, nudity and taunting.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was partially financed by sales from Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon. The band was huge fans of the troupe and would frequently halt recording of the album to watch their television show.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The 2-Disc Collector’s Edition has a sing-a-long track for the film’s songs, the screenplay in text, two scenes dubbed in Japanese with the fractured English subtitles below, a performance of the film with Lego, a bit on which Palin as a representative of the Ministry of Foods explains the many uses of coconuts – including how to make clip-cloppy horse sound and a “Follow the Killer Rabbit” feature in which when the rabbit graphic appears on-screen you can select it to take you to corresponding documents and drawings.. Finally, there’s a pretty nifty featurette in which Palin and Jones take us on a tour of the various locations used for the film. The Extraordinarily Deluxe edition contains all of this, a CD of the film’s soundtrack (which contains a lot of audio excerpts from the film as well as some album-specific stuff), a quiz, and subtitles for people who don’t like the movie (taken from Henry IV, Part II). The Blu-Ray contains most of this, but also has a nifty iPad app that syncs up with the film and includes interviews with the surviving Pythons about the specific day of shooting for that scene. The app is $5 and only works on the iPad however.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $127.9M on a $365,274 production budget; even given adjustments for inflation this was a major blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blazing Saddles

FINAL RATING: 44/10

NEXT: 2 Guns

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Florida Film Festival 2012


That time of year is upon us as the Florida Film Festival will return for its 21st year on April 13th through April 22nd. The FFF’s unique combination of exciting films, delicious food and fun make it one of the most laid-back, enjoyable film festivals anywhere. It is also one of the best-curated – two out of the last three years the movie I chose as best of the year was one I saw right here at the Florida Film Festival. That gives you an idea of the quality of the films selected year after year.

Why go to a film festival? Aren’t they for film snobs so they can get together and watch subtitled and indie films while looking down their noses at mainstream movies? Maybe at some festivals but not this one. The people who attend the Florida Film Festival are film lovers; their only criterion is that the movie have something to offer. Sure, they might turn up their noses at movies that aren’t made well or don’t have anything in particular to say but for the most part the people who are regular attendees at the FFF are people who see a lot of movies, mainstream as well as independent.

And these aren’t all movies about 20-something hipsters in complicated relationships while living in lofts in New York City; at the FFF you’ll find children’s films, horror movies, classic films, action films, hysterically funny shorts, compelling documentaries and musicals. There is literally something for every taste in movies and every kind of story imaginable. If you are a little open-minded and like to have a good time, this is the party you’re missing and trust me, it’s one you want to go to.

There are special food events where celebrity chefs show off their skills; there are movies that take special pride in our Florida home as Florida-bred filmmakers show why this area is rapidly becoming a spawning ground for great filmmakers. There are midnight movies showing the best in genre filmmaking from around the world. There are short films from around the world and around the corner, both animated and live action (and just for the record, the most recent winner of the Oscar for Animated Short Subject was screened at last year’s Florida Film Festival).

So what do they have in store for us this year? A wealth of great movies – over 170 features will be screened during this year’s Festival. Some of the ones I’m looking forward to are Renee, the locally made film covering the story of Renee Yohe, the inspiration for the charity group To Write Love On Her Arms (it is also the opening night film) and Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary covering the world’s only three Michelin star-rated sushi chef. There’s also the latest horror film from Don Coscarelli (auteur of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep) called John Dies in the End. There’s the Norwegian sexual coming of age film Turn Me On, Dammit! and the Canadian schoolroom drama Monsieur Lazhar (which was also nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar this year although it didn’t win), not to mention the Paul Simon documentary Under African Skies and the sophisticated animated feature A Cat in Paris.

Some that I’m planning to see (among most of the ones above as well) include Salt of the Earth (the sequel to Mid-August Lunch), the thriller Headhunters, Luc Besson’s biopic of Aung San Suu Kyi (the pro-democracy activist and Nobel laureate under house arrest in Myanmar) The Lady and the French box office record breaker The Intouchables. Those whose tastes lean towards classic movies will be thrilled to hear that among those classics screening this year include Marriage Italian Style, To Kill a Mockingbird, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Liberty Heights.

Of note is the Rick Springfield documentary Affair of the Heart. Made by local documentary director Sylvia Caminer, it set a Florida Film Festival record by selling out it’s Thursday night screening in less than an hour (it doesn’t hurt that Springfield will be making an appearance at the screening). There are a few tickets left for the Saturday noon screening on April 14th if you’re still looking to see it – it’s supposed to be an amazing documentary and from the clips I’ve seen it is going to appeal to his fans and non-fans alike.

And I could go on and on – but you get the point. There are some really good movies, several of which are most likely destined for my year-end top ten. There is the good food not only at the Enzian and Eden Bar but also at events hosted by Luma of Winter Park, Whole Foods Market and of course the Opening Night Party, featuring food from some of the best restaurants in Central Florida. There are great venues including the Enzian itself, The Regal in Winter Park Village and Central Park in downtown Winter Park. You can find more ticket information for the Festival and information about all the movies and shorts being screened at their website here.

So keep an eye on Cinema365 for more information about upcoming celebrity appearances at the Festival, reviews of the movies being screened and further preview information about the Festival. This year looks to be bigger and better than ever and we wouldn’t want you to miss a thing.

Tickets for individual films run at $10 apiece (once they go on sale – see website for details) and packages start as low as $50 (and usually include goodies like posters or programs) or you can go whole hog and get yourself a pass which gets you into any and/or all screenings. Those start at $450 and go up to $1000 a pass (for the film lover who has everything – and wants more). So yeah, ten bucks a ticket isn’t all that bad and even if you just pick a single film to see, you’ll be hooked for life. There’s nothing quite like a film festival and there are none quite like the Florida Film Festival. See for yourself – you’ll be thanking me for it later.