Decades Blogathon – Death At A Funeral (2007)

As promised, the re-blogged review of Death at a Funeral (2007), brought to you by Gill of the blog Realweegiemidget. It can be found on Three Rows Back! Thanks everyone!

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Decades 17Welcome to Day 1 of the Decades Blogathon – ‘7’ edition – hosted by myself and Tom from the brilliant blog Thomas J!The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the seventh year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and for today I’m very pleased to welcome Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews, who is covering 2007’s British black comedy Death At A Funeral.

After a tip off from a good friend and blogger I heard the Decades Blogathon was looking for posts for its yearly extravaganza. Being late to joining last year, with my review of About Last Night (1986), I was keen to join this year’s fun. I requested to do this movie, a dark British comedy with a favourite TV actress Keeley Hawes from Ashes To Ashes (2008-10). I envied Hawes for…

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The Lady in the Van

'The Lady in the Van' movie poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Alan Bennett

Directed by: Nicholas Hytner

The Lady in the Van is really good if you like watching movies about the elderly, the homeless and the incontinent. (Spoiler alert: I don’t mind them.) Maggie Smith, who is the lady in the van, is a real piece of work in this British comedy about London playwright Alan Bennett and the homeless woman who parked her van on his driveway and stayed put there for 15 years.

Mancurian director Nicholas Hytner takes from Bennett’s book of the same name, a book that has already seen a stage production with Smith in the titular role as the housingly-challenged Miss Mary Shepherd. Hytner’s adaptation is a modest farce generally concerned with the struggle between two main characters as one fights for their right to be and the other fights for their right to be in peace.

The film was shot on location in the northern London district of Camden Town, at the very house and driveway where the squatting happened. While observing Shepherd and Bennett’s interactions, Van ruminates on a variety of personal and social issues, not least of which being the nation’s treatment of the homeless — controversy over squatter’s rights emerges as one of the more intriguing narrative cruxes. But it’s also a measuring stick for personal growth. Bennett seeks more recognition for his West End plays that aren’t doing so well. And like Bennett we would like to know what befell Shepherd to put her into such dire straits.

The film certainly feels like it’s adapted from a play. You can imagine the set. There are only so many people we keep seeing out and about and they show up in such regular intervals it seems a little too coincidental. The world feels oh-so-small and quaint and controlled as they come and go from stage left and right. It’s a piece that revolves around one unusual prop — her hideously yellow van (well, it was once a morose mixture of green and gray before she “painted” it). And there’s a brilliant narrative device that splices Jennings’ performance into two distinct manifestations: he plays Bennett, the perpetually distracted writer and Bennett the tenant, who is desperate to figure out how to get rid of the cantankerous old woman. Much of his time on screen is spent arguing with himself and Jennings really makes it amusing.

As much fun as Jennings is this is still Smith’s show. Dressed in layers of tattered rags and under makeup that gives the impression the woman has traveled many more miles and endured very hard times indeed, Smith is essentially mummified for the part. Visually its amusing (sort of) but even this wardrobe can’t conceal the gravitas of a performer with the kind of experience Dame Maggie Smith has. She teases out just enough vulnerability as a former Nun now facing life on the street, coloring a complex character with shades of empathy — if only just shades — that keeps us entranced, despite a lethargic pace.

Van isn’t anything flashy on the outside (save for that oddly out of place Monty Python-esque segment towards the end that takes place in a cemetery) but on the inside it is surprisingly cozy and well worth spending an afternoon with, unlike its titular character. She’s certainly no uptown girl.

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Recommendation: One for the Maggie Smith fans, The Lady in the Van pairs farcical comedy with heartfelt drama about life on the streets. Offers an interesting look at a transient way of life, a lifestyle that doesn’t make its way into too many films sadly (you might have to go to Sundance and other high-profile film fests to find more like it). Performances invite you in and consistently entertain, with Jennings making for a lovable put-upon and Smith a stubborn force to be reckoned with.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “I am not the carer. She is there, I am here. There is no caring.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)

In my third week of rummaging through the DVD shelves, I stumbled upon a little oldie that likely no one has ever heard of. And by ‘no one’ I mean quite literally the opposite. In fact if this is the first you’ve read about this film, don’t let the cold shoulder surprise you. 😉 Now, saying this anthology is well-known isn’t the same as saying it’s been well-received by everyone. The humor presented is of a . . . well, let me go into those details more below.

Today’s food for thought: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

Serving up philosophical conversation starters since: March 31, 1983

[DVD]

E-hem. Life. It’s for the living.

Let’s sit here for a minute and bask in my incredible profundity. But in all silliness, I can’t pretend like I can compete with Monty Python‘s bizarre yet ingenious embracing of platitudes such as, “what is the meaning of life? Why are we here?” I just don’t have the talent to make the mundane seem insane.

I was here before, some time ago, attempting to soak up all that this British force (or is that farce?) of comedic nature had to offer in its final feature presentation. Forgettable feels like the wrong word to use here but I was surprised in my most recent watch how many segments I felt like I was experiencing for the first time. I think it’s true of most things Monty Python that some jokes/skits land completely firm-footed while others simply crash and burn. This is certainly true of The Meaning of Life anyway, and even while it manages to avoid by a wide margin the comedy doldrums I regret to say that I will probably be forgetting those same parts in a few weeks’ time.

Of course, the opposite still holds true. That which The Meaning of Life succeeds in parodying or, to crib a British expression, taking the piss out of, has always been difficult to scrub from the memory. As much as I might want to pressure wash the walls of my brain of the images of an engorged Mr. Creosote or that particularly hasty live organ donation scene, these images and concepts are stains I can’t get rid of. All of this is to say that when Monty Python is good, it is very, very good. Fortunately, for this last full-length feature installment, the positives (still) outweigh the negatives.

The anthology unfolds chronologically, striving to answer that ever-elusive question, and while those fish in the fish tank are never impressed by how John Cleese and his cohorts go about it, the rest of us who weren’t born with gills are more often than not intrigued by the process. It encompasses the various stages of the human experience, beginning with a segment called ‘The Miracle of Birth,’ during which it is made quite clear that the film was made in a different time given its callous attitude towards women, and concluding with a section surprisingly entitled ‘Death.’

In the meantime, we pop in on a Yorkshire family who has been burdened by a surplus of children thanks to the Catholic church’s disapproval of the use of protection; visit a British public school where boys are taught the finer points of engaging in sexual intercourse (also rugby); get invited to possibly the most inappropriately-timed birthday celebration on a War World I battlefront; learn that one doesn’t have to be dead to be an organ donor; and sit down to dine with the world’s most obese man (shudder).

Given that this is the fifth and final feature film, it’s no secret that a certain level of tolerance for racy and downright offensive, crude humor is required to make it through these bonkers 107 minutes. As well, any hope for narrative cohesion should be all but quashed from the outset. Ideally The Meaning of Life isn’t anyone’s first experience with the gang; hopefully you’ve had some previous exposure, and have come to accept certain realities about Monty Python. One of those realities is that their style values quantity over quality in terms of how gags are delivered, and while some are painfully effective — Cleese’s public school sex ed course being arguably the highlight — other segments, such as The Meaning of Life Part IV (‘Middle Age’), where a middle-aged couple visit a Medieval dungeon-themed restaurant, and the latter half of Part VI (‘The Autumn Years’), a restaurant staffer’s attempt to offer his take on the meaning of life by taking us back to his childhood home register as awkward and unfunny. And then of course there’s the realization that some of the scenes are just plain weird, a la ‘Find the Fish.’

Yet the entire package ultimately works because of the troupe’s camaraderie. Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin endlessly feed off of one another. Each have their time in the spotlight, no one seems selfish or egotistical enough to feature more prominently than another. Of course, that’s not the same as saying that all skits pay off equally, but if ever there were a group that epitomized comedic chemistry it would be this lot. The Meaning of Life might not be the most consistent production but it’s superior to the gross-out brand of comedy you’ll find in modern films.

Recommendation: Monty Python is known as one of the most influential comedic groups of all time, their impact on the world of satirical/parodical film and stagecraft at large akin to what The Beatles did for music. If that’s not enough to recommend a watch, I don’t really know what is. But I suspect these kinds of films don’t really need much of an endorsement. You’ve either seen them or you’ve given them a wide berth. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

TBTrivia: John Cleese has gone on the record as saying this film was “a bit of a cock-up,” and all the other Pythons agreed that this film is not of the same quality as their previous two (The Life of Brian and The Holy Grail). 

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Photo credits: http://www.aveleyman.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Decades Blogathon – Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

1975

Hey all, second-to-last day in the Decades Blogathon! We can’t believe it’s already almost over, but time does fly when you’re having fun! To bring the guest reviews to a conclusion, I would like to feature Rob from the prolific MovieRob and his take on a comedy classic. Anyone who hasn’t given his site a look yet should do so after reading this great review. He’s got so much to offer. Take it away, Mr. Rob! 


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“Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.” – King of Swamp Castle

Number of Times Seen – At least 10 times (cable, DVD and 11 May 2015)

Brief Synopsis – King Arthur and his trusted knights of the round table are sent on a quest by God to find the Holy Grail

My Take on it – This is quite a difficult movie to review without spoilers because there are so many classic scenes and jokes in this movie that make sure that this movie works so well.

This movie is basically an amalgam of different skits making fun of life in medieval times strung together to make a hilarious tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

This is my favorite of all of Monty Python’s movie because it is so funny and quotable and can be watched over and over again and again and I’ll never tire of the jokes.

The theme music is short and sweet and is truly the perfect companion for this medieval journey.

The best way to show you how great this movie is, would be to show you some clips of the very very funny scenes in the movie.

If you haven’t seen this movie, be forewarned that these scenes are filled with spoilers.

If you have seen this, enjoy these scenes again!!

My favorites are the Witch and the Dennis scenes even though they are all spectacular

Bottom Line – Hilarious vignettes that properly make fun of the way medieval stories are told.  My favorite MP movie of all time because it is sooo quotable and gets me laughing hysterically every time I watch it. Very catchy theme music that works so well within the framework of a medieval quest. Highly Recommended!

MovieRob’s Favorite Trivia – During production, the troupe became increasing irritated by the press, who seemed to always ask the same questions, such as “What will your next project be?” One day, Eric Idle flippantly answered, “Jesus Christ’s Lust For Glory”. Having discovered that this answer quickly shut up reporters, the group adopted it as their stock answer. After production completed, they did some serious thinking about it, and realized that while satirizing Christ himself was out of the question, they could create a parody of first-century life, later realized in Life of Brian (1979). (From IMDB)

Rating – Oscar Worthy

Mortdecai

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Release: Friday, January 23, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Eric Aronson

Directed by: David Koepp

Charlie Mortdecai has a sensitive gag reflex. He endearingly calls it a ‘sympathetic gag.’ After seeing Johnny Depp embrace an entirely new level of bizarre here, I’m pretty sure I’ve developed something similar, except mine’s not out of sympathy. I’m genuinely disgusted by how bad this movie is.

If like me at my apparently most vulnerable you were unfortunate enough to stumble into a theater only to have Johnny Depp harass your sense of humor and goodwill for slightly more than an hour and a half, you might agree that there is a huge difference between the gags featured in decent comedies and the ones provided here. Two types of gags activating two completely different parts of your body.

The apple of Charlie’s eye, his so-called great love Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), gags in the film because she is taken aback by her man’s interest in sprouting hair on his upper lip. A fashion faux pas at the very least, the mustache might be the funniest bit of the entire film. Mortdecai is an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. If anyone’s in need of an explanation as to why I would willingly put myself through something that sounds this bad, I need only to refer you to some of the media I have included with this review. I hardly gag in response to a mustachioed Olivia Munn. No siree. Nope.

A plot synopsis is as follows: Depp aims to get to the bottom of the theft of a particular Goya painting, or something or other. As a man who dabbles in more than just facial hair and beautiful women, his character caricature is both financially and personally invested in the stolen art. His recent coming into debt compels him to find it, as does a recent visit from Inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor, the poor chap), a man who has had a thing for Johanna ever since he first laid eyes on her. (When she’s saddled with a douchebag of Mortdecai’s stature, who can blame him?) Together, the art snobs and Constable Can’t Get Any travel the world over to locate the missing Goya, thought to bear a code somewhere on it potentially leading to a stash of untold amounts of Nazi gold.

The prime suspect is — well, it doesn’t matter who that is. Essentially everyone’s a suspect, even Mortdecai but after he’s kidnapped by Russian mobsters and his very ability to reproduce is threatened in no small way — how about some electrocuted bollocks to go along with this heaping helping of what the fuck? — it’s clear that Mortdecai, in spite of himself, hasn’t actually taken the precious artwork for himself. Jock will back him up on that, too. Jock (Paul Bettany), referred to as Mortdecai’s man-servant no less than 70 million times because repeating already lame jokes always seems to do the trick with audiences, is a good bloke despite his zipper problems. That he’s always got Charlie’s back takes precedence over his incredible womanizing abilities. Believe it or not, he’s the most likable character of the whole lot. I’m still scratching my head though as to why he signed on for this one.

People are going to be gunning for Depp after this one. That much is certain. But his colorful performance actually triggered some chuckles deep within. Maybe I feel dirty for admitting that. But he’s not the overriding issue with David Koepp’s impossibly dumb movie. The real killing blow is Mortdecai‘s inability to realize it’s potential. Or to even care about it! It can’t take itself seriously for even one second. Majority of the gags do not land, save for the physical ones that land on the floor; the characters are off-the-map ridiculous (Olivia Munn as a nymphomaniac — makes sense, if you’re going to cast someone that beautiful she may as well be a sex addict too; Jeff Goldblum is in the frame for all of two minutes, but suddenly collapses after being poisoned — I’m not sure if that was in the script or just his subtle way of saying “get me out of this farce”); the humor is too low-brow and monotonous even if occasionally it strikes a nerve. Nothing scatological here, but nothing memorable either.

An adaptation of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s comedy anthology, Don’t Point That Thing At Me, this movie is elegant in its failings. It’s difficult to imagine this squeezes out any of the zest of that book series. Unfortunately this is a production so feeble in its construction and so ill-advised in its overwhelming inanity it’s highly unlikely I’ll get around to checking out the source material. For higher-quality entertainment, you’d be better off getting your balls zapped by some angry Russians.

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1-0Recommendation: This was pretty bad. I . . . I don’t know if I recommend Mortdecai on any level to anyone outside of those with a penchant for s. (I think that’s what led me into this theater, along with the three other poor saps that were there with me. Here I was, thinking my taste in movies was pretty decent . . . )

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

Quoted: “I had no idea I was so deep in Her Majesty’s hole!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com  

The World’s End

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Release: Thursday, August 22, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

All this charming British camaraderie had to come to an end some time. The triumvirate of genius creators Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost decided that it would do so during a pub crawl. Typical blokes, they are. Fortunately, their keen sense for blending outrageous satire with an interesting, heartfelt story doesn’t fail them here, either, for their third and final installment in their “Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.”

Wright returns to direct the giddy pair of Brits in The World’s End, another delightful satire in which a group of lifelong buddies led by Gary King (Pegg) attempts to conquer the Golden Mile — a goal they had all had as youngsters** to drink a pint at each of the 12 pubs located in their hometown of Newton Haven. But as they make their last attempt at this epic night, strange things begin to happen around them and they realize that now that they’ve returned to their childhood, everyone — and everything — seems to be just a little bit. . . . off.

There will be debate until the world’s end about whether or not this film is “the best” out of the three — or even, which one in this pack of comedies actually gets that distinction. Regardless of the superlative, its quite obvious that these fellows consciously put forth quite the effort to provide another quality product, even if they might not have broken new ground necessarily. They could have easily said ‘Sod it, let’s make an easy cash-grab,’ and when they walked away from the set, their credibility may still have been more-or-less in tact. . . .the next big project (another Star Trek for Pegg, perhaps?) laying in wait. However, this was absolutely not the case with the final installment here.

There’s a certain intelligence that underlies this trilogy of goofy outings that seems missing from a great many comedies. With Shaun of the Dead, they completely flipped-upside down onto its own decaying head the zombie/horror genre itself, making one of the most comical and enjoyable spoofs in recent memory. With Hot Fuzz, the buddy-cop actioner is joyfully challenged with a hilarious twist of its own, as a small-town cop learns that not everything is as peaceful and calm as it first would appear to be. And now, we’ve been handed a film that spins the sci-fi/supernatural thriller in another, otherworldly direction as well.

Because it’s the final film under this particular guise for these guys, the film wastes little precious time in launching us into the headspace of the grubby Gary King, who, after all these years is still as gung-ho about getting smashed with his mates at the pubs in town. Claiming it was one of the formative nights of his young adult life, Gary is woefully blissfully unaware that life is passing him by. When he goes to all of his mates to see what they think of the plan, they all appear to have moved on and had families, gotten promotions, etc. But Gary looks past it all with a wink and a nudge (and a few amazing throw-away lines) that end up leaving the others indignant and the audience reeling with laughter. Yes, indeed it is Pegg who steals the spotlight in this show. This time it is he who is a little bonkers, at times going stark-raving mad about reliving his memories to the bitter end. “Or the lager end,” as he amusingly. . . muses.

Meanwhile, Nick Frost subdues himself in a straight-edge performance as Andy, Gary’s “former” best mate. As we get into it in the earlygoing, we notice how good the writing here is again: we quickly surmise that the tension between them likely stems from something Gary did long ago; that there is a legitimate reason for Andy to be so ticked off at him from the get-go. Gary’s antics and general manchild-esque demeanor offer no apologies though, and it makes the character perhaps Pegg’s least-amiable one to date. Fortunately, he’s still downright funny in the role, and as the story unfolds, while we can empathize for Andy after Gary’s been seen doing some pretty inane things, it’s much more fun to watch Gary check off each pub on the list, and listen to him wax nostalgic about the good ole days in the meantime.

Filling in the hilarious cast this time around, we have Paddy Considine playing Steven; Martin Freeman as Oliver; and Eddie Marsan taking on the role of Peter. Each contributes often and consistently to the bickering that is ongoing during the pub crawl, all of which is mostly aimed at Gary for his demonstrable lack of concern in doing anything but getting drunk. They’ve all moved on with their lives — most have families, respectable job titles, and such. This actually becomes a steadily more compelling theme as the general atmosphere becomes more and more strange. The limits of everyone’s friendships are put to the test as they all realize that the world around them in a much more general, profound sense, is changing for the worst.

When you throw in a few interesting cameos from the likes of Rosamund Pike (who plays a potential romantic interest for Steven) and Pierce Brosnan (an old teacher from years ago, named Guy Shepherd) the entire atmosphere gets a little giddy, reaching its fevered pitch by the time they all stumble into a pub named The Beehive. This is where the truth of the gang’s reality is set straight for them once and for all, and where a real rift divides in the gang. Unfortunately I can’t say anymore in fear of revealing too much of the goodness, but suffice it to say, this film only gets better (in my opinion) as it progresses. The World’s End is a rare gem in that regard, considering this is also the third film in a pseudo-franchise that, in the hands of anyone else other than Wright, Pegg and Frost, might have worn out its welcome much, much sooner. While it may be bittersweet that the Cornetto trilogy is over, what the future holds for the lot of them is surely nothing less than extremely promising.

I’ll cheers to that one, boys!

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4-0Recommendation: For the legions who have loyally followed the journey of the highly-enjoyable Pegg-Frost comedic duo, this will be the furthest thing from a disappointment, or even much of a come-down from the last two films. In a way, the addition of a third film will excitingly fuel further speculation as to what’s next for both the actors and director Edgar Wright, as well as it will ignite controversies over which one of the Cornetto films was truly the most delicious. I loved these films and everything they represented, and it’s a shame to see them go. But at least it went out with a big, blue bang!

Rated: R

Running Time: 109 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com