Monty Python Live (mostly): I went to the movies and a fish slapping dance broke out

 

Cineplex Entertainment’s Front Row Centre Events presents Monty Python Live (mostly)
starring John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin

By Barbara Goslawski

I’m a huge fan of Monty Python so call me biased if you want but, I thought that this live stream / film was a laugh riot. I only experienced a couple of jaded critic moments but in the grand scheme of things, they are so minor as to not warrant mentioning.

Monty Python, The Flying Circus/Comedy Troupe, formed in 1969, moved from sketch comedy eventually to feature length movies. Irreverent, outrageous and embracing the fringes, they somehow end up with a show on the BBC in the 1970’s. Completely off-kilter, their fan-base nevertheless grew. Legions of die-hard fans watched this skewed social wit and are still inclined to launch into spontaneous re-enactments. The Dead Parrot sketch, you say? I’m betting that 8 out of 10 of you could recite at least part of it verbatim.

From the sacred to the banal, Python pilloried everything and everyone in its wake with expert comic precision. Shocking at the time it aired on TV or showed in a cinema, the material is fairly familiar now. So why would one go to see their reunion, Monty Python Live (mostly),taped live in front of an audience? Well, because it’s Monty Python and it’s live and that means there will be unexpected fun. With them, that’s just to be expected.

This presentation is a celebration really, and part of the enjoyment comes from the fact that they had as much fun performing as we did engaging. They’ve still got it, except that now the old codgers know exactly how to expertly play with the foibles of performing before an audience. And with each other.

The best part is that the members of Monty Python spend much of the time in this film satirizing their very existence as a troupe staging a reunion. Right there, live on the spot, they maintain a straight face (mostly) in performances that range from subtle teasing about the exact wording of a particular sketch to playing with elements of the medium itself. It’s all hilariously self-conscious in the best Monty Python fashion. There’s a long set change, for example – one of the most boring elements of any performance – that’s covered in classic Python fashion.

In the end, watching the members of Monty Python perform their greatest hits live has that nostalgic visceral charge, but it’s difficult to predict how it will register with the uninitiated. But then again, that’s just a quibble. This is an all-out, bravado laden, loud and proud last hurrah. And I laughed so hard at points I think I peed a little. And so, Monty Python has indeed ceased to be. Long live Monty Python. Oh yeah, and think twice before reading the U.K.’s newspaper, The Daily Mail. Insiders’ joke. Go on, be an insider; it’s in Monty Python Live (mostly)

Cineplex is presenting the reunion show again on July 23rd and 31st at theatres across Canada.

They are also showing the Meaning of Life (July 24), Monty Python’s Life of Brian (July 27) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (July 30).

Snowpiercer: The Mother of Summer 2014 Blockbusters

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Snowpiercer: The Mother of Summer 2014 Blockbusters
Starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer

By Barbara Goslawski

Korean cinema’s master manipulator Bong Joon-Ho is at it again in his latest film, Snowpiercer. Bong has long displayed an unerring talent for high calibre composites – of moods, styles and stories – a director who could intermingle the macabre with the bitingly satirical, action with humour, always adding touches of melodrama, suspense and noir just for accent – invariably leaving us with head-spinning imagery and a healthy flurry of thoughts, ideas and feelings.

Snowpiercer, his English-language debut, is no exception. This sci-fi action-charged blockbuster is also a disturbing meditation on human fault lines. Bong may not be the most obvious choice to summer fans of the big action-packed moviesbut he certainly has a number of tricks up his sleeve: his visual mix of the eerie with the transcendent is second only to his carefully timed, glorious explosions. Breathtaking in its scope, Snowpiercer will satisfy the thrill-seekers and thinkers alike.

In the not-so-distant future, an experiment to mitigate global warming goes horribly wrong, plunging the world into a new Ice Age instead. Survivors pile onto a train, benevolently supplied by a mysterious benefactor. They then spend seventeen years hurtling through frozen lifeless landscapes across the world, across the same tracks, over and over again incyclical fashion. The inhabitants seem trapped in a predetermined destiny, a combination of fascist nightmare and morbid circus fair.

The real story begins in the tail section, the slums so to speak, where people live in abject conditions and are subject to torture if they exhibit even the slightest inclination towards overstepping their constraining, tyrannical, social restrictions. Our hero, Curtis (Chris Evans), finally steps up to lead what shapes up to be a rag tag, but increasingly angry and defiant, mob (which includes Octavia Spencer in an inspired performance). Little do they know that the laws of nature are in play in the events on the train, and in its oversimplified predetermined trajectory.

Not surprisingly the rebels must literally and figuratively knock through walls and gates (and get past Tilda Swinton’s manically determined and deluded character) to accomplish their task, to confront the man in charge (Ed Harris) in their attempt to progress to the top, or the front of the train. They are fighting for their lives and have hopes of establishing a more just society by overtaking the evil forces that have overpowered them. This seemingly straightforward narrative is nevertheless full of twists and turns. Snowpiercer grotesquely and ironically hints at the devolution of humanity as opposed to an evolution or even revolution. There are unnerving surprises while the bitter irony hangs in the air above the action: are they really moving forward?

The overarching absurdist yet deeply alarming universe which Bong creates harkens back not just to his earlier filmsbut to literary classics such as Animal Farm, and especially to major historical world missteps that still resonate to this day (such as the supposed communist ideals underpinning so many dictatorships, and the ever-present wars where lives have proven expendable). Political satire is the lifeblood of Bong’s work, couched as it is in a vigorous eccentricity and an eye for the remarkable. In Snowpiercer, history is referenced as a mere repetition, a disturbing game that unnervingly races across the same track. It is also a fed by a twisted force that is inescapable and central to human existence: an actual law of nature which is intolerable when applied to human behaviour. It’s an ugly truth but a truth nonetheless.

As we learned in Bong’s previous triumphs, The Host and Mother (Madeo), it is not the monster without that must be feared but that evil within that must be guarded. Whether it is an infection that permeates a being (The Host) or, more realistically, a depravity that lives within, Bong has an impeccable instinct when rendering it visually. It is so undeniably shocking, especially in Snowpiercer, what happens to an individual pushed beyond his/her limits. One need only to remember what that darling mother in Mother (Madeo) was driven to do when she perceived an unbearable threat.

The ending is both unexpected and shockingly suitable in this context. What begins as a fight for all that is fair becomes a dystopian construct carefully manufactured to maintain what is revealed as an imaginary notion of the common good. Not so much a bizarre spectacle in the collective kapow of films this summer, Snowpiercer’s originality will nevertheless leave you satisfyingly breathless. And its truth will continue to haunt.

Opens in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary on July 18, 2014

Gender-bending Cyborgs: Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell introduced by Mamoru Oshii

GHOST IN THE SHELL 2.0 (Kōkaku kidōtai)
Mamoru Oshii
1995, Japan, 82 min.

By Barbara Goslawski

Introducing and discussing his most famous film, Mamoru Oshii will be present for a rare screening of Ghost in the Shell on Saturday, July 12 at 9 p.m at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The film is part of the retrospective, Techno/Human: The Films of Mamoru Oshii, which runs from July 12 to 25.

Mamoru Oshii’s dazzling Ghost in the Shell is an anime masterpiece, a revelation. Tough and gritty, the film whips up a fantastical narrative that continually wrangles a realist edge. It’s the 21st century and humans have fused with machines. Imagine the struggle to retain a sense of humanity within a cold artificial context and you’ll only get a hint at the battles that rage across every conceivable level of this film.

Adapted from the manga by Masamune Shirow and made in 1995, Ghosts has a profound relevance that resonates both stylistically and philosophically in contemporary art and society. Veterans and novice fans of this form alike will find this to be one trippy experience.

True to form, Ghost in the Shell, is a complex synthesis of traditional cel and more innovative CG animation. It`s a sci-fi, fantasy, action-adventure set in a world populated by cyborgs. They are, however, mere shells really that are capable of being invaded by ghosts, renegade spirits that invade their carefully composed and regulated inner hubs. In this film, cyborg public security agents from Section 9, led by Major Motoko Kusanagi, a female borg construction that morphs into the deadliest of superheroes, pursues the elusive hacker known as the Puppet Master, a slippery entity capable of the most dastardly shell invasions. The complex labyrinth of political intrigue and identity politics that results is vital in its cultural resonance.

More than a technological marvel, it is Oshii’s carefully measured direction in this film (precise at times, explosive at others) that coaxes greater depth. Ghosts in the Shell is not just a masterpiece of animation – a genre which by its very nature and formal essence makes anything actually possible – it is also a brilliant film. Technique is as central here as is handling of the subject and the respective subtexts. Urban Japanese landscapes are transformed by the animation into complex futuristic visions that are as fresh today as they were when the film was made. Photos and traditional cel pictures had computer generated images inserted and laid overtop of them. The perspective, and subsequent imagery, is simply stunning. (And yes, Hollywood filmmakers were quick to copy shamelessly. The Matrix would not exist without this predecessor). Made in 1995, Ghosts has informed our current ideas of cyberspace. It even seemed to predict it.

A cyber thriller with a philosophical subtext is nothing new these days. Oshii’s futuristic foresight is, however, still relevant. Profound meditations on self-identity weave throughout the film’s scientific realities. While events in the plot are filtered through this cyborg vision, moments of genuine humanity escape. Characters struggle with weighty questions about their own human essence even as they transform into the very machines that govern their being.

The most insightful element of Ghosts is the even deeper level of enquiry into issues of gender. Twenty years ago, morphing between the stereotypical gender divides was relegated to the margins of art making. Transgender identity was a foggy notion. Today, as we are often reminded in our everyday lives, gender fluidity is becoming an acceptable norm. In Ghosts in the Shell, this new reality is not only recognised as necessary, it becomes a vigorous state of being.