Monty Python And The Holy Grail & Life Of Brian IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s special DOUBLE IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Cameron of Cameron’s Pit Of Terror. He also reviewed Pan’s Labyrinth HERE. Thanks for the reviews, Cameron! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Monty Python classics Monty Python And The Holy Grail, IMDB rank 84 out of 250 and Life Of Brian, IMDB rank 162 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

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Simply utter the words ‘Monty Python’ to anyone and they’ll either spend the next hour reciting phrases about dead parrots and the Spanish Inquisition in a faux-English accent (even if they’re English themselves), or they’ll groan and shake their head. There is no inbetween. Yet none of them will say “Who?”. Monty Python have created for themselves the definition of a cult following, all around the world. Monty Python’s Flying Circus, first screened on BBC in 1969, was a sketch show made by and starring the 6 middle-class young men with a razor-sharp sense of humour that was anarchic, satirical, self-referential, often completely stupid, and most of the time a combination of all of these. The naïve BBC didn’t know what they’d signed off on, but audiences loved it. Running for four series, the troupe found themselves making a big-screen outing, based on the legends of King Arthur; Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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I wasn’t alive until many years after this film was released so I can only imagine the reaction in cinemas as it opens with the ‘wrong’ film; Dentist on the Job starts before a projectionist is heard muttering about playing the wrong film. The ‘correct’ film starts now, but the opening credits have been tampered with by, for some reason, Swedish pranksters. If anyone sitting in the cinema had any preconception that they were going to be watching a straight-forward, linear movie with a few funny jokes they would by that point have stood (or sat) corrected. This subversive, completely barmy tone is carried throughout the film with constant wordplay and downright stupidity, but there is such a devoted commitment to the silliness that makes it far funnier than most other comedies, even today. The plot is rather bare – if dissected it’s perhaps a collection of sketches set around a vague storyline, but in practice it manages to feel somewhat coherent, even if you have no idea why what’s happening is happening. Most fans of this film (myself included) could recite the movie from beginning to end, but somehow on repeat viewings it still manages to be eye-wateringly hilarious. This provides a welcome contrast to The Flying Circus – as anyone who has sat through whole episodes or indeed whole series, if they’re completely honest, will attest to it can be hit and miss at least; often the humor is derived directly from the fact that a sketch is not working, that they simply ran out of ideas, or jokes that aren’t particularly funny the first time are dragged out. Such is the case with such a unique brand of surreal humour spread out across 45 episodes. In this film, however, there isn’t a single joke that misfires, the timing and delivery from the crew (who play almost every part) is just perfect. Despite the film being consistently silly, there are a number of surprisingly clever jokes at the expense of the social systems of the era and of other similarly-set historical films. There are moments where the society of the film’s setting is explored and the Pythons’ keen eyes for finding the absurd in everyday life & people makes it feel like it could actually be one of the most authentic depictions of medieval Britain on film. Made on a ridiculously low budget, the stories from behind the scenes tell tales of stress and despair but on screen it appears to embrace the limitation, most notably with the now ubiquitous coconut hooves providing two long-running gags, special effects being provided by Terry Gilliam’s paper-cutout animations, and an ending that takes the previously mentioned subversion to an extreme. Looking at it critically, it could be argued that it looks like a group of friends wrote a script and threw together a movie with whatever limited resources they had available. But I think that the long-lasting, timeless appeal is that that’s precisely what it is.

With The Holy Grail proving a huge success, the Pythons were unable to give an interview without being asked what their next film would be about. Legend has it that Eric Idle became tired of saying, truthfully, that they didn’t have one planned and told them their working title was “Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory” to shut them up. Soon however, it occurred to the group that they should make their own brand of Biblical Epic, and thus was conceived Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

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With a budget more than 10 times greater than The Holy Grail and the group now having experience in making a feature film, this is a very different film. With a much more linear, fleshed-out plot, on paper it is a ‘proper’ film, having the confidence to be funny through the script rather than with bizarre fourth wall breaking, such as with The Holy Grail’s opening sequence. Despite county councils around the UK, America and beyond sharpening their pitchforks regarding the blasphemy of this movie, it isn’t at all blasphemous in the sense of mocking the teachings of Christianity, actually depicting Jesus a handful of times in a manner nothing short of respectful. It is, however, a scathing depiction of those who follow religion blindly. Perhaps it was this troubling mirror image that was the root of such outrage. At any rate it was banned in a long list of places, including all of Ireland and Norway, prompting the Swedish publicity to read “So funny it was banned in Norway!”.

Picking up from a sequence in The Holy Grail where a left-wing peasant chastises King Arthur, a massive portion of this film features ‘The People’s Front of Judea’; a pitch-perfect lampoon of far-left political groups with their infighting (I did have to double-check that I didn’t accidentally mix them up with The Judean People’s Front), unawareness of their own contradictions, and aimlessly taking offence on behalf of other men. “Or women”.

All this talk of how terribly clever it is doesn’t do it the justice of acknowledging how funny it is as well. While the above politically charged moments are in themselves hilarious – and not in a high-and-mighty, sneering sense – for every one of these there is at least one ridiculous character or event in keeping with the classic “Pythonesque” humour of The Flying Circus’ high points and The Holy Grail. The budget allows them to transfer the screenplay to the screen without noticeably cutting corners and giving a production value to the final product that could stand aside certain Biblical Epics, yet the sense of fun from The Holy Grail isn’t lost. The 6 pythons still play a vast number of characters, Terry Gilliam provides one or two surreal animated sequences and there’s a feeling here, even more prevalent than in The Holy Grail, that they’re having a great time making it. One scene in particular features Michael Palin’s Pontius Pilate growing more and more angry as his prisoners and guards laugh at his friend Biggus Dickus’ name (see, it’s not all high-brow humour); as he taunts the guards, Palin himself is visibly an inch away from cracking up. It doesn’t even feel like it needs excused as a campy, old-school charm, the hilarity is truly infectious. Every bit as quotable as The Holy Grail, the film ends on what must be the most recognisable image from all of Monty Python’s work: the crucifixion of a number of characters singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. It encapsulates the whole movie; it comes completely out of nowhere, it is absolutely hilarious at face value but has a very cynical undercurrent to it that once or twice boils to the surface, cheekily poking at certain feelings within many of us without being so harsh that it stops us from laughing, rather forcing us to laugh at ourselves. It is this carefully balanced humour that prevents the more politically charged moments from being cruel.

The Pythons produced two other films in the form of sketches tied together, making these two their only ‘proper’ films. The big question for many fans of these films is often “Which one’s your favourite?” and I couldn’t pick.  Individually they are fantastic, but taken together they provide three hours of non-stop laughter, such a wide variety of humour with a number of ideas and a general tone linking them. I wouldn’t hesitate to say both of them are amongst the funniest films ever made, so to pick a ‘favourite’ would be an injustice to the other.

But it’s probably Life of Brian. No, The Holy Gra- *thrown into a ravine*

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National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985) Guest Review

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This review for the John Hughes Blogathon comes from Diane of Tvor Travels. Thanks for joining in on this, Diane! Let’s hear her thoughts on National Lampoon’s European Vacation. 🙂

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John Hughes was a force to be reckoned with back in the 80s in particular. He wrote so many wonderful films, many of them focusing on young people, “coming of age” type stories like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink just to name a few. But he also gave us some really good comedies,
family sitcom types like Mr. Mom and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, all featuring some of the funniest people on screen from that decade and into the 90s. In 1983 he introduced us to the Griswold family who set out to drive across country to a fabulous family theme park, encountering odd characters, odder relatives and one ludicrous situation after another. It was a huge hit so naturally, there was a sequel.

This is the second installment of the “Vacation” movies featuring the Griswold Family headed by Clark who’s well meaning but a bit of a bumbling doofus. But you know? He loves his family even if they’re not always grateful for it.

The movie opens up with the
Griswolds competing on a television game show called Pig in a Poke which they win when the answer to a question happens to be Clark’s name, uttered by his wife, foiling the all time winning family! Their prize is a vacation to Europe and we’re on the road again. Beverly D’Angelo again plays Clark’s wife, Ellen, and this time, Dana Hill and Jeremy Lively play the two teenage kids.

The Griswolds head off to Europe on a “luxury” grand tour but not before Clark and Ellen get frisky and video record their little session while trying out the brand new video camera, which by today’s standards is the size of a suitcase! That’s going to come
back to haunt them. Audrey the daughter doesn’t want to leave her
boyfriend for two weeks but Rusty, all hormonal as teenage boys are, just wants to get laid. But it’s a family vacation, by God, and we’re going to enjoy it!

The problem comes when none of the arrangements appear to be the
luxury level they were led to believe, from the grotty hotel rooms to the old rental cars. As always, Clark is so clumsy and confused that there’s a string of bruised bodies in his wake
including a British man on a bicycle they keep running into over and over everywhere they go. The bicyclist starts off being stereotypically polite, minimising his injuries and of course by the end he’s in a rage and he is played superbly by ex-Pythonite Eric Idle.

In London, there mistaken identities, driving on the “wrong” side of the road (that old chestnut!) and traffic circles that have them driving around the Houses of Parliament all day “Look, kids! Big Ben!” I still chuckle about that every time I see the famous clock tower now! In Paris, the language barrier means the whole family is the butt of the rude waiter’s jokes. In Germany while trying to find his relatives, of course they end up in the wrong house but are oblivious because they don’t speak German and then end up annoying the hell out of each other. Finally, in Rome, the
family become subject to yet another thief, the family isn’t speaking to each other and Ellen is splashed all over the
billboards as a “hot housewife” from *that* video, but they all pull together when danger threatens and you know they’ll end up forgiving each other by the time they head back to the U.S of A.

Clark waxes eloquent on all manner of subjects that make him sound officious and banal, ignorant and ridiculous but that’s the charm of Clark Griswold. Whether he’s oblivious of an insulting French waiter, knocking over ancient monuments, falling for a scam by a thief who runs off with their video camera (remember that naughty video?), shaking with frustration or ostracized by the family after one too many mess ups, you still like him. He’s
not one of life’s winners, but can he really be a loser when his heart is in the right place? When he just wants to spend time with his beloved family and keep to his precious schedule? When he wants everything to be perfect for them? You can’t help
feeling sorry for him at the same time that you’re laughing at him.

This is probably the weakest of the first three Vacation movies I’ve seen. I have not seen Vegas Vacation, the last installment but I’ve heard it would have been better left unmade. Unsurprisingly, John Hughes wasn’t involved in that one. It might have done better if he had been. It’s full of cliches, the “Ugly American Tourist”, that sort of thing, rather than original,
funny situations. I think the movie suffers from not having some of the excellent cameos and a really quirky secondary character that Clark can bounce off like Randy Quaid’s “Cousin Eddie”. It was partly filmed in London, Paris and Rome so you do get some
authetic city views which I always enjoy. The cameo with Eric Idle was brilliant, but that could be my fondness for all things Monty Python speaking here.

There are a couple of funny moments in this movie but it feels more forced and it’s not as good as the first one and the utterly brilliant Christmas Vacation which came next. Hughes redeemed himself there but Sequel Mania ruined more than one of his great ideas. I blame Hollywood.

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