Sunday, January 31, 2010


The Terry Gilliam project continues, with a movie made back when Monty Python was still practically a going concern. And it seems strange that I've never seen it, since I've seen all the other Monty Python stuff I could get my hands on.

As it happens, I think I was correct to skip it. It's mostly an excuse for Terry Gilliam to cover Michael Palin in gunk and then hide him behind clouds of smoke. There isn't really a plot, and the jokes kind of feel like somebody who's heard of Monty Python and wants to give it a try without really understanding it. There are a lot of pointless non sequiturs and things that are intended to be funny because they're so strenuously peculiar and unexpected. Wacky!

That's really all there is to say about it, I'm afraid. It's only interesting in the sense that you can watch Gilliam's directorial sensibilities evolve. It's mostly darkness and smoke machines at this point.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

What with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus coming out, I've decided to watch all the movies directed by Terry Gilliam. There are only three I haven't seen (counting the Imaginarium itself), and several of the ones I have seen are among my favorite movies ever. So this shouldn't be too hard! First up, we have Mr. Gilliam's directorial debut, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which he co-directed with Terry Jones.

I have, of course, seen this before. Many, many times. I've worn out two videotapes of this movie. I want to emphasize that I'm not one of those people who quotes it all the time. I used to be, but I got over it. The quotes are always there in the back of my head. Always. While watching it this time, I got almost ten minutes in without quoting along, but then "Dennis! There's some lovely filth down here!" leapt unbidden out of my mouth.

So obviously I can't be objective about this movie. I love everything about it, and I've reached the point where I'm watching the backgrounds because I've already memorized what happens close to the camera. I've read a bit (read: everything I could get my hands on) about the making of Holy Grail, so I know that Gilliam was mostly interested in making things look right and covering actors with filth, while Jones's directing efforts were more about the actors and the funny. In later Monty Python movies, they sensibly decided that Terry Jones would be the Director, while Terry Gilliam would be Production Designer. Meanwhile, Gilliam would go off to start directing on his own on Jabberwocky, which I will watch for the first time now. Exciting!

Incidentally, I thought "Spamalot" was fine, although it wasn't as funny as the movie.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sita Sings the Blues

I am going to attempt to talk about Sita Sings the Blues without reference to the way it was made, the way it was distributed, or the many interesting questions it raises about Copyright and Fair Use. Those are all valid topics of discussion, but I feel they've been amply covered elsewhere. Instead, I shall be focusing solely on the movie itself.

...this is a fantastic movie. It retells the Ramayana, a story from India's myth/history, and it does it in several different ways at once. The characters all have six or seven different appearances, so that the viewer quickly learns what the core elements are. Sita could look like this or like that, and the story could go in these directions, but she's always Sita. As if to back up the idea of a story being told in different ways, we occasionally see classical shadow puppets acting out a conversation by modern residents of India, telling the story, getting confused, and disagreeing with each other on the order of events.

One of the threads is a very cartoony (and adorable!) Sita singing the blues songs of Anette Hanshaw. It's not even that much of a stretch, since Sita's man Done Her Wrong, which of course is one of the main themes of the blues. I like that section a lot, not just because Annette Hanshaw turns out to be terrific, but because most of the movie is a mash-up of different versions of the Ramayana, and the addition of something from the twentieth century shows that the basic themes are, in fact, universal. You can add blues to the pot with no problem at all. That also applies to the Modern Day section, which is about Nina Paley (the filmmaker) and the end of a relationship.

Sita Sings the Blues takes a classic story and retells it in a thoroughly modern way. It shows how the story is applicable and meaningful for people living today, and it does it all exceedingly entertainingly. It's beautiful and a lot of fun.

(And, yes, it was made all by Nina Paley on Nina Paley's home computer, and it's got a groundbreaking distribution model and the use of Annette Hanshaw songs presents interesting questions about copyright and Fair Use. There's more information on the FAQ. Happy now?)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Worlds Greatest Dad and Funny People

I liked Judd Apatow's Funny People a lot more than I thought I was going to. I keep thinking I'm sick of Judd Apatow Movies, but it turns out I like the ones actually directed by Apatow himself. That's just Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and now Funny People. All those Will Ferrell movies that made me get sick of him aren't my problem.

Aaaanyway, I don't think Funny People is a comedy. It's a drama about comedians. Adam Sandler is the old, jaded successful comedian who lives all alone (and now let's talk about the character he plays! Zing!) and Seth Rogen is the young up-and-comer who's going to Open Mike Nights and kind of stinking up the place. It's got a lot of jokes that aren't supposed to be funny, since they're told by characters who are either trying out jokes or just not funny in the first place.

As usual, I enjoy Adam Sandler more when he's not doing his usual Adam Sandler Thing. He actually does it a bit in this movie, but they're bits his character did in his theoretical Enormous Comedy Successes. There's a lot of crossover between Funny People and reality. All the footage of Young Adam Sandler's Character goofing around is actual Young Adam Sandler, shot back when Judd Apatow was his roommate. And then I'm fascinated by the fact that Apatow's wife and kids are also in the movie. His daughters do well, but I have to assume the roles were written for them. And Seth Rogen has great chemistry with them, presumably because he's met them before. Why, I bet the dogs were actual Apatow Dogs!

Okay. Getting distracted. Gotta focus. I liked the movie. That's my point.

And in other "dramas starring comedians" news, I watched World's Greatest Dad, directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite and starring Robin Williams. If it's a comedy, it's extremely black. What with the autoerotic asphyxiation halfway in. It's like, let's say, a darker, less-funny Heathers. Robin Williams doesn't do any of his usual Robin Williams-y stuff, which is nice.

So I'm prepared to declare that I like dramas starring comedians. I wonder if people will start making comedies starring dramatic actors. I bet that won't be as good.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 Movies

Every year, I find some list of movies that were released that year and decide which ones I liked the best. Here's 2009's list, if you want to play along. These are movies released in 2009 that I saw in 2009. St. Trinian's was released in the US in 2009, bt I saw a UK DVD in 2008, so it doesn't get listed.

This, as always, is in order from "The movie I most enjoyed" to "The movie I least enjoyed". This is not the same thing as ordering by quality, you understand. Sometimes a good movie will just entirely fail to grab me. And sometimes I'll greatly enjoy a terrible movie. I accept this about myself. So let's get started!

Inglourious Basterds
Black Dynamite
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Star Trek
The Hangover
Michael Jackson's This Is It
Funny People
Big Fan
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Ninja Assassin
Whip It
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Every Little Step
American Swing
District 9
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
House of the Devil
Drag Me to Hell
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
I Sell the Dead
The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Hmm. 33 movies, which is up a bit from the last couple of years. And I enjoyed a lot of them. I think I really liked everything from Anvil on up, which is pretty good. The top movie was definitely Inglourious Basterds for me. One of the things I like about it is that I can totally understand if someone didn't like it. I feel no pressure to argue people into it. But me personally, I enjoyed it from top to bottom.

So that's it! I thought 2009 was a very enjoyable year at the movies.