Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monty Python and The Holy Grail ( Fun Facts)

Did a little digging around the trivia pool for this film learned a few interesting bits.
First and most funny, is that Terry Gilliam started out directing this film, and due to a very mutual disagreement between he and the cast, decided to walk off set and take a nap under a nearby tree.
Terry Jones took up the directorial mantle from that point onward. Which is why they both have director credits.

Reportedly the UK band Pink Floyd was so enthralled by MP's humor that they donated proceeds from their "Dark Side of the Moon" album to help pay for the filming of the "Holy Grail"!

The inspiration for the "Killer Rabbit" scene in the film is actually based in some artistic reality. In several churches through out England, " A knight running away from a rabbit" is actually a symbolic device used to denote cowardice! Notre Dame has three medallions with this theme as well.

The scene with the "Black Knight" was initially played by John Cleese, but then after his first leg gets cut off, Cleese was replaced by a one legged silver smith/ local actor. Which helped greatly for the no-legged scene as they only had to dig a small hole for his one leg.

The representation of God in the film was actually a photo of a 19th century cricketer W.G. Grace.

Graham Chapman, unbeknownst to his fellow cast mates was suffering greatly due to his alcoholism, and during the filming of the "Bridge of Death" scene had to be replaced by the 1st A.D. for the shot. Chapman was suffering from the DT's and since they were in a remote filming location, there was no alcohol around for miles!

And lastly due to refusal by the Scottish Department of the Environment, permission was denied to shoot at many of the chosen locations, so most of the varying castle shots were all filmed at Doune Castle. The closing scenes at Castle Aargg were shot at the recently rebuilt Castle Stalker.

I can't imagine there are too many folks out there that have not seen this hilarious classic. But if there is I highly recommend you watch this film and more succinctly buy the DVD. Make sure you get the Special Anniversary Edition. There are oodles and scads of extras on it. Terry Jones and Michael Palin revisit many of the filming locations, recant tales from the experinece of getting some of the more dangerous shots, and share private off screen jokes.

There are other really cool features like the lyrics to all the songs, great interviews with the cast, some extra Terry Gilliam goodies and a whole lot more. If you are an avid collector or just a fan of Monty Python, this is a must own!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Joyuex Noel- War and Peace

This is a great adaptation of the true events that occured on Christmas Eve during World War I along the front lines of Europe, where enemies called an unofficial cease fire in honor of the holiday.

It is a well done effort by French writer/director Christian Carion. There are not many well known actors in this film other that the romantic leads played by Diane Kruger, who you may know as Abigail Chase of the National Treasure film franchise and Benno Furman a talented actor, who like Kruger, was born in Germany.

Though Furman has done mostly foreign films, he did star in a rather interesting movie with Heath Ledger called " The Order" or as I like to call it, " A Knight's Tale 2", because it has three of the principle actors from Brian Hegleland's film in it, Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon and Mark Addy.

Though the characters played by Kruger and Furman are more or less fictitious, they are for the sake of this story the catalyst for the unexpected truce. Both are opera singers, Furman a drafted private in the German army, and Kruger his love come to entertain the men on Christmas Eve.

Music ends up becoming the universal language and bond of humanity that brings the opposing sides together on the holiest of nights.

The story and the true events that it is based upon, are enough to make this film interesting, but what makes this even more endearing are the little details and re-occuring gimmicks and gags.
Pay close attention to the cat (Felix) and the French Lieutenant's aide de comp Ponchel and his alarm clock. There are a bunch of comical and poignant references strewn about the story line, which add just the right amount of comic relief when needed, and also add a bit of irony towards the end when consequences are met in the light of post truce realities.

Overall, it is a very entertaining and introspective look into warfare and how civilized men deal with it. And how propaganda is raised in order to justify the killing of other races. And the icing on the cake is the musical score, which is very chilling and at the same time uplifting!

No real extras on the DVD, other than a post production interview with the director, but for the true film buff and collector, I think is a film you will watch again and again.

Terry Gilliam - Deals with the Devil

The reknowned animator and director of Monty Python fame, Terry Gilliam has completed his film "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" and currently is presenting it at foreign film festivals this summer. Reportedly will begin to appear in theaters around Europe at summers end. Hopefully reaching the United Stated shortly there after.

Gilliam has had a brief history of production curses that has halted one of his films "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" for many years now, and the dark shadow that has passed over the filming of "Dr.Parnassus" in regards to the untimely death of Heath Ledger during principle production. Gilliam was able to finish the film, and release it with the blessing of Heath's family. Ledger played one of the incarnations of the character named "Tony", which is also shared by actors Colin Farrell, Jude Law, and Johnny Depp.

The main role is played by veteran actor Christopher Plummer, who makes a deal with the devil played by the mysteriously funny and foreboding singer turned actor Tom Waits. The story is a basic Faustian Fairy Tale, where the good doctor makes his deal with the devil to gain immortality, but as usually when dealing with the devil, it comes at a price.

So many centuries later, the Doctor is touring with his travelling troop of players, entertaining the crowds, and giving them more of a show than they expect.

This promises to be yet another captivating tale of dark and depraved humor courtesy of the creative genius that is Terry Gilliam's imagination. The man who brought you such classics as
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail", "Time Bandits", "Brazil", "Adventures of Baron Munchausen", "The Fisher King", "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "The Brothers Grimm", which also starred Heath Ledger.

It may not be a box office blockbuster, but it should attract the usual fans and cult followers. And much in the way the recent film tribute to Bob Dylan "I Am Not There" where several actors, including the late Heath Ledger got crack at playing the folk singer, it should be interesting to see how the combined efforts of Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp play out in the making or breaking of this role.

And if for no other reason, you get to see Heath Ledger in his final role!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Being There- A Chance Viewing

I thought since I brought this film up with the 1900 review, I would talk about this delightful if not bizarre little gem of a movie. "Being There" stars Peter Sellers, as this sheltered simpleton, who predating Forrest Gump, manages to find his way into interesting situations.

Though this was not the last released film, it was reportedly the last film Sellers did, which makes the ending even more appropo. And given the hardships the man endured in his personal life towards the end, it is somewhat poignant. Apparently it took Sellers nine years to make this picture happen, and fortunate for us he did!

The story is about a simple man, named Chance played by Sellers, who spends his entire life in servitude to a wealthy man as his gardener. He tends to the plants and the flowers with a Zen-like rapture, and this is all he knows other than his love for watching TV. But this all comes to a crashing end, when his employer dies, and Chance is unexpectedly turned out into the streets.

As he wanders the lonely harsh streets of Washington DC, still trying to comprehend what has happened to the world he knew, he ends up stumbling into great fortune in the form of a limousine, that unfortunaely hits him. Inside is the wife of a very influential man, Eve played by Shirley MacLeane.

Guilt ridden she takes him to her home, where he is introduced to her husband an advisor to the President and a wealthy corporation owner. Both Eve and her husband Ben mistake his nonsensical blatherings about horticulture for being Zen like proverbs of profound wisdom.

They become enthralled with him and Chance finds himself in the center of great power. Like a lamb lost in a wolves den. And yet in typical "Fortune Favors The Foolish" kind of way, Chance is uplifted above it all, in more ways than one, and placed in a position of power. ( Oblivious of course to the fact that he is even there in the first place!)

But again much like Forrest Gump, he spews out simple truths, so simple that they are revered in a morally bankrupt world of business and politics as sermons from a prophet. And yet you the audience see that he is merely talking about how he tends to his garden. But like Forrest said, "Stupid is as stupid does!" The people he meets become instantly enthralled with him and mistake him for something he is not, which is...someone who should be giving advice.

But he speaks with such assured earnestness, that they assume he is speaking in metaphors about life, and they in turn each conclude a different meaning to his words. And great hilarity ensues! Including a very controversial scene with Ms. MacLeane in the bedroom.

But all done in good fun. And though there is some lighthearted moments in this film that make you laugh, there are some incredibly tender moments in this story that make you think!

The ending will make you either laugh or cry or both! A must see!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Legend of 1900

This is a great little hidden gem of a film by Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore, and stars Tim Roth, whom I feel is a genius at his craft and yet somehow, very underrated. This movie is right up there with another great unknown classic "Being There". ( Which starred the comic genius Peter Sellers, and was also his last film. )

I mentioned these two films together because their themes are similar, though their story lines are different. They are about characters lost in their own worlds, and somehow unaffected by the world around them, and yet would be lost should they venture out beyond the comfort zones of what they know.

In Legend of 1900, a wandering minstrel play by Pruitt Taylor Vince, a very likeable character actor, and herald to Roth's character, begins this tale literally at gun point to relay a rather remarkable tale, about a man that never existed, one Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon Nineteen Hundred.

Vince plays trumpeteer Max Tooney, who made a living playing in the dance band aboard the ocean liner S.S. Virginian, travelling across the Atlantic ocean between New York and London. And on his first trip across he meets 1900 in a rather remarkably choreagraphed scene that would have rivaled the grace of Fred Astaire and the comedic genius of Buster Keaton. Tooney is treated to the ride of his life aboard a grand piano as it rolls about the ballroom dance floor as the ship is tossed about by a great storm. All the while serenaded by the lilting sounds of 1900's playing.

1900 you find out was orphaned aboard the ocean liner by his mother, travelling to America, hoping to make a new start for herself. But it isn't long before he is adopted by the ever funny and charming Danny Boodman Sr., played by the equally charming Billy Nunn, a mechanic aboard the ship. And soon 1900 takes to his true calling in life,which is the piano.

The remarkable story behind 1900 is that since he has never placed a foot upon land, he technically doesn't exist in anyplace in the world but on this ship. And he gains an amazing perspective on life and the world, through the eyes and stories of every passenger he meets during his travels. 1900 manages to have quite a few adventures while on board, including a rather memorable and thrilling musical duel with the jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton, played by the rather intense and menacing Clarence Williams III.

This film is charming, funny, poignant and sad all at the same time. Tooney relays the story to an old pawn shop owner, who magically seems to own the only recording of 1900's sweet playing, and now Tooney's trumpet, which he just hocked.

As the audience you learn that in present time, the Virginian is due to be scrapped, and while Tooney tells his tale , you wonder as does the shop owner, what happened to 1900? Did he ever depart the ship? The ending is bitter sweet, and very cathartic.

Tim Roth delivers probably one of the best performances of his life, as does Vince who plays off of his character very well. This is a must see movie, and if you are a fan of Tim Roth, or just great story telling, a must own DVD. I also recommend checking out the Peter Seller's film "Being There".

Farewells to Farrah, and the King of Pop!

Sadly we say goodbye to two very noteable Pop Culture Icons from the 70's and 80's.

Michael, despite his excessive eccentricities towards the end of his life, was a talented singer and song writer, and that is how I will choose to remember him! And he did star in The Wiz so technically he was an actor as well. Definitely enjoyed his music videos back from the Thriller days! Hopefully he is finding some peace now!

And a teary goodbye to the most beloved Angel- Farrah Fawcett. She was a heart throb to many, and also for a time Mrs. Steve Austin - The Six Million Dollar Man (Lee Majors) . She was indeed a huge part of Pop Culture, and will be greatly missed. Will always remember her fondly in "Logan's Run" wasn't her best or biggest role, but she looked hot! And of course she will be remembered by many as Jill Munroe of the ever popular television show "Charlie's Angels ".

And also a quick mention, and farewell to television legend and Pop Culture icon, Ed McMahon, the beloved side-kick for so many years of the Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show. Guess I won't be getting sweepstakes junk mail from him anymore. Hiiiiyoooooo... and rest in peace sir!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Little Hero, Big Surprise!

This is a fantastic film, directed by Andrew Stanton ( Finding Nemo, Monster's Inc.) He hits another one out of the park with this brilliant and so loveable tale, of a post apocalyptic service bot WALL-E ( Waste, Allocation, Lift, Loader- Earth Class) who discovers the first signs of life on Earth, other than his beloved pet coachroach!

But more than this, it is a love tale between the charming WALL-E and EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) a robot who is sent to earth to scan for lifeforms. Which is ironic since she seems quite bent on shooting anything that moves and asking questions later. And yet the two make a very cute couple!

The great thing about this film besides the oustanding animation and effects, is the endless string of jokes and gags strewn about the film. I find the more you watch it, the more you discover. I have seen this a bunch of times, and I find that you always seem to catch something you missed before.

The android characters are all fully animated in their expressions, it is amazing how much the animators are able to convey with simple gestures and movements. Brilliantly done. The film takes you from the lonely desolation that is WALL-E's world, to the outer reaches of outer space to hook up with the AXIOM the life support vessel that contains the remaining human population. The ship is Captained by the funny and talented Jeff Garlin who has pretty much the biggest speaking part in the film. Another small homage and gag is the ship's computer, the voice is supplied by the lovely and talented Sigourney Weaver. ( A humourous homage to her role in Galaxy Quest.) Another classic Disney film.

This is a must own on DVD, besides having the opportunity to watch this classic Pixar film over and over, there are some incredible extras in the Special Features. Including extended scenes and an animated short featuring another WALL-E cast member BURN-E.

Overall, the film is filled with stunning imagery, funny homages to other great films and Pop Culture icons, great laughs, and a feel good love story between two droids! It's a "can't miss" classic!

Year One- Small Fun!

Year One is the latest film by comedic legend Harold Ramis. The man still has the chops for humor, his writing skills are sharp as ever, but to be honest hasn't really directed anything hysterically funny since Groundhogs Day.

But when you have written so many masterpieces like Stripes, Caddyshack, Animal House and Ghostbusters, you don't have to make as big a wave in comedy with each film you work on. Resting on well earned laurels is acceptable.

This film has the potential right off the bat to be a laugh riot, but ended up being a nothing more than a mild public disturbance. The cast is well chosen with Jack Black and Michael Cera, and a few other well known character actors like Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, David Cross and the ever larger than life Vinnie Jones.

The cast is good, the jokes are passable and the premise was again, worth the making of the movie. The problem is in the dismount. The film starts out with the comedic odd couple as cavemen of sorts, bumbling their way through life in almost an ode to Mel Brook's History of the World style of events, that ends up witht the duo in a Babylonian-esque realm fighting for their lives.

Black and Cera are a great team, Jack with his maniac baffoonery and Michael with his dry whiny straightman persona. The pair launch their way through one light hearted disaster after another, suffering little or no real consequences , while trying to rescue their friends. A simple enough plot.

The problem occurs when the film just sort of ends with a Rocky IV kind of ending. Bad guys lose, and hero makes unrelated altruistic speech at the end. I blame Stallone! Not a laugh riot, but there are a few really funny gags sandwiched in between.

I would like to see Jack Black and Michael Cera work together in the future, I think their chemistry made this film more succesful than it really deserves to be! And I do love Harold Ramis' body of work, but the best I can say about "Year One" is you might get a laugh or two, when you rent this on DVD in six months!