The Princess Bride

Director: Rob Reiner

1987

“Rob Reiner’s friendly fairy-tale adventure The Princess Bride delicately mines the irony inherent in its make-believe without ever undermining the effectiveness of the fantasy.” (739, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

The Princess BrideNow The Princess Bride has an enormous cult following but it is one of those films (much like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986, John Hughes) that I ever really understood the appeal of. I have given it a number of tries across the years and it just does not appeal to me. You would think that a fantasy film from the 1980s would be right up my street but this one really isn’t. The humor is reminiscent of the Monty Python films, which as you may know I am equally ambivalent of. It’s not the sort of humor that makes me laugh, I think it is base and juvenile and it just does not seem funny to me in the slightest.

“The colorful characters and adventures are, at their best, like live-action equivalents of Disney animated features, with lots of other fond Hollywood memories thrown in.” (739) The characters may be live-action equivalents of Disney animated features but they do not translate very well. Animation gives the directors and writers the leeway to do things that would appear completely ridiculous in a live-action movie. The Princess Bride attempts to make these larger than live characters fit in the real world but falls short in my opinion. I’m not saying that it cannot be done because it can – but it is nominally done most successfully by Disney (the most recent success that jumps to mind is Enchanted, 2007, Kevin Lima) There has to be a subtlety to the performance that results in a successful film, which seems to be severely lacking in The Princess Bride.

“Not even the crude ethnic humor [-…-] pricks the dream bubble, and the spirited cast has a field day.” (739) They certainly do go for it – overacting seems to be the watch word. While I guess the mood Reiner was going for was very much a tongue-in-cheek one but it just doesn’t wash with me. There isn’t really anything that made any sort of positive impression on me. But please by no means let my opinion colour your perception of the film – watch it for yourself and come to your own conclusion. After all that’s what makes cinema, and the arts in general, so interesting – everybody has their own opinions and one person’s masterpiece can be another person’s disaster.

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Life of Brian

Director: Terry Jones

1979

“While trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid accusations of blasphemy by clearly establishing that Graham Chapman’s Brian is “not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy,” Life of Brian plays fast and loose with New Testament characters, and along the way makes both satirical and moral points.” (641, Karen Krizanovich, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Of all the Python’s the one that I would actually choose to watch would be Life of Brian, and on top of that I also find it funny unlike the others.

“Although, the movie, like all the other Python films is essentially a collection of surreal, violent, and very funny sketches held together with a loose narrative thread, this one has – for obvious reasons – a strong story.” (641) It feels more cohesive and put together than Holy Grail, which is most likely because there is a stronger sense of narrative. Life of Brian clearly benefits from having one director this time round, resulting in a more singular vision. In the capable hands of Terry Jones there is a much stronger sense of visual aesthetic – and none of the crazy, if wonderfully crafted, animation elements that Gilliam bought to Holy Grail.

Life of Brian is wonderfully satirical with the signature dry humor Python bring to their most memorable sketches. And thankfully less of the puerile humor that I just don’t see the point of.

Graham Chapman is once again the unwitting hapless hero though a more engaging one than Arthur on Holy Grail. There are some very memorable and clever sequences in Life of Brian – particularly the brilliant ‘Well what did the Roman’s ever do for us’ speech. The stoning scene highlights the oft-times irrational attitudes towards the subject of religion in general, and blasphemy in particular.

Despite it’s extremely silly nature I love the fact that Caesar cannot say his r’s, along with a friend named Bigus Dickus – who also has a speech impediment when he appears. I was practically crying with laughter during that scene.

If I ever have to recommend a Monty Python film to someone still naïve in the knowledge of the comedy troupe it would definitely be Life of Brian – mainly because it is the only one of their films that I actually find comical and therefore their best work in my opinion.Life of Brian

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Director: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones

1975

“The process of making the movie had aspects as darkly comical as a typical Python sketch. For one thing, the two directors didn’t make a compatible duo; they had different visions of the movie’s style, and Gilliam resented Jones’s tendency to reduce the grandeur of his set designs with cramped camera setups.” (590, David Sterritt, 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die)

Monty Python's Holy GrailNow while I am British and therefore naturally understand that elusive British humor, one thing I have never really grasped is the humor of Monty Python. They have moments of shining brilliance where they truly are hilarious but for me these moments are rare. For the vast majority of the time I find them absurd and puerile. And this was certainly the case with Holy Grail. The only moment I found funny was their first interaction with the French – the now infamous “I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

I can completely see how and why this (and other Python offerings) has achieved cult movie status. It’s got easy costumes to recreate that are instantly recognizable. And lord knows it’s quote-worthy. Add to that the other elements such as the horses being coconuts and you have the recipe for an instant cult movie.

Despite not being a Monty Python fan I do have to give them props. They are a hard-working group with almost every one of the core actors, like John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, taking on at least 2 additional roles.

“Like much of Monty Python’s best work, Holy Grail is a keen-minded parody with a political edge, debunking a foundational myth of Western power while playing Brechtian havoc with traditionalist ideas ranging from benevolent despotism to chivalric masculinity. And oh yes – it’s a laugh riot.” (590)

Holy Grail is a completely bizarre film with a very loose narrative that is actually narrated as well. It’s a mish-mash of techniques with real time action and animation often sharing the same scene. It does look quite dated now but I actually think that adds to the film’s cult status and appeal – if you’re a Monty Python fan that is. A lot of the time I found myself getting frustrated with the film due to its outrageous and ridiculous nature.

Brazil

Director: Terry Gilliam

1984

I am finding it really difficult to actually form a review about Brazil which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the film (all 7 times I have watched it in the last 6 months in order to try to write this post!!) I just can’t really work out how to put what I want to say into words. I think part of this stems from the fact that Kim Newman wrote a really good piece on it in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and I agree with most of his points. In fact so much so that I can’t think of a better way to put it then he does. So below are the points I connect with the most from Newman.

Brazil“Made significantly in 1984, and in parallel with the Michael Radford film of George Orwell’s eponymous novel, Brazil is set “somewhere in the twentieth century,” in an imaginary but credible oppressive state that combines the worst features of 1940s British bureaucracy, 1950s American paranoia, Stalinist or fascist totalitarianism, and the ills of the 1980s (such as an obsession with plastic surgery).” (Kim Newman, 712-713, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) So it is very much a backward looking film despite being set in the future – a common theme in dystopian narratives. The color palette reflects the dystopic nature of the film with everything being very washed out, uniform and grey with the exception of Sam’s mother, Ida, and her friends lifestyle which is the complete opposite and embraces all of the technicolor excess of the 1980s.

“Whereas Orwell’s Airstrip one is built on an impossibly and horribly effective system of state surveillance, the worst aspect of Gilliam’s invented dystopia is that it doesn’t even work. The plot is kicked off by a farcical mistake as a squashed bug falls into a printer so that an arrest warrant intended for terrorist heating engineer Tuttle (Robert De Niro) is applied to an innocent Mr Buttle (Brian Miller), and the grimly utilitarian city is falling apart even without the possibly state-sponsored terrorist bombs that periodically wreak appalling carnage.” (712-713) The cast is made up of numerous notable actors with Robert De Niro, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent, Michael Palin (a Monty Python alum) and Jonathan Pryce as the protagonist, Sam Lowry.

Brazil Sam Lowry Jonathan Pryce“Sam enjoys romantic flights of imagination (scored with the Latin-flavored title tune) in which he is an angelic superhero knight facing up to Gilliamesque creations […] in order to rescue a dream girl (Kim Greist), one whose waking-life doppelgänger is a truck driver intent on shaking things up to redress the wrongs done to the Buttle and his family.” (712-713) There seems to be a recurring theme in Gilliam’s work – one where a dream or a fantasy world exists side by side with reality (like in The Brothers Grimm, 2005, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009, and to some extent Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, 1998) And Brazil certainly fits into that theme. The main thrust of Brazil is Sam’s increasingly frantic attempts to escape the grey drudgery of normality for the brightly colored dream world and his dream girl. Sounds simple enough although along the way these two worlds have a habit of merging resulting in the fantastical, if creepy, elements transporting themselves into the mediocre paperwork obsessed world Sam currently inhabits.

Brazil Ida Lowry Jim Broadbent“The gruesome black humor and bizarre visuals (embodied by Katherine Helmond as a surgery obsessed matron with a succession of shoe-shaped hats) exist alongside a credible – and horribly fact-based – depiction of a regime that charges its victims for the electricity and labor that goes into their own torture, as represented by the family man specialist from “Information Retrieval” (Michael Palin) and the desperate, middle-management paper-shuffler (Ian Holm).” (712-713)

Apologies for such a mediocre review but I really struggled with this one. Hopefully it won’t put any of you off watching Brazil if you haven’t seen it before because it really is a film worth watching. I would suggest going into it with an open mind and just letting the film take you where it will. It’s an unusual one but then would you expect anything less of Terry Gilliam?