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

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

Ceci n’est pas un list (2013)

The Great Beauty (Swide)

By Barbara Goslawski

I love other people’s year-end reviews and ‘Best of’ lists.  I enjoy the debate that happens within and between these lists as each individual, and group, sets out their own parameters for a coherent overview. But god, I hate composing my own. However, I just needed to find a way to view 2013 and communicate it clearly to others while providing a meaningful point of view.

This is by no means a “Best Films of 2013” list. These are, in no particular order, my picks that provided me with “Holy shit!” moments – those serious cinematic experiences that make this sometimes cynical Cinephile stop in wonder.

A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhang-ke)

Sophisticated visual and thematic depth inform an intricate narrative scheme to lift the four seemingly unrelated tales into a profoundly universal sphere. Teeming with unforgettable moments and images and tropes, this film demanded my attention right from the outset. A wealth of cinematic riches in a single masterful vision, I’ll still be bubbling over with newfound enthusiasm after my tenth or twentieth viewing.

Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)

Family stories, family lies, family secrets: fact and fiction blur in this illuminating and deeply cogent investigation into the nature of personal truth. Bold, yet not brash.

Jingle Bell Rocks (Mitchell Kezin)

I love Christmas as much as the next person but it has become increasingly difficult to understand why in the face of relentless commercialization. Force of habit, it seemed, until this film poked through all the cloying sentiment and provided an alternative view worth sharing. This film bears repeat viewings as my future holiday tradition. Yes, the ending is kinda predictable but sometimes it’s lovely to see things come to fruition.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Another intricate Coen Bros. puzzle portrait of a time, place and person that zigs when you expect a zag, and keeps the tone refreshingly complex and yet familiar. Startling in the manner in which they can mix unrelated conventions into an unlikely mix to reimagine genre and expectations, proving once again that it’s not always easy to label a Coen Bros. film. Thankfully.

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)

Yes, he’s usually more obviously cutting-edge, but a slight stare inwards quickly reveals that Korine is cleverly lampooning the very façade that he builds up. Over the top, of course, but unexpectedly refined at its core.

Siddarth (Richie Mehta)

This director made some brilliant aesthetic and dramatic choices while operating within a landscape that would have tempted others to remain myopic and sentimental. Shocking in its subtlety, and haunting in its erudite mix of poetry with realism.

The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)

A love letter to Rome, it’s also a piercing celebration of a modern society in an ancient city, in all its glories and pitfalls: finally the term Fellini-esque has a thoughtful implication. The film is a decadent banquet that also provides necessary palette cleansers.  It’s the proverbial wild ride, but one that lands in an unexpectedly gracious place.

15 Reasons to Live (Alan Zweig)

Another admitted list-avoider, Zweig’s solution is to incorporate input from others even as he masterfully shapes the delicate trajectory of this film, such as it is. The film moves more with an emotional logic, acumen being a matter of course. Understated but nonetheless uplifting (and no, Zweig has not gone sentimental on us).

Gloria Victoria – 3D (Theodore Ushev)

Russian constructivism in animated 3D motion. Slight gestures and shapes echo and repeat upon themselves to take on meaning in an ever-increasing rhythmic push to bring forth the lifeblood of its subject.

Impromptu – 3D (Bruce Alcock)

The magic of a single line animated and moving through time, while simultaneously encapsulating and realizing a world of possibilities. Simply glorious.

Portrait As A Random Act of Violence (Randall Okita)

Revelling in the joy of pure movement, a simple act becomes a moment of transformation. Not an easy experience to put into words and yet the metaphoric implications abound.

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée)

Two magnetic powerhouse performances are intricately knotted into a context where it becomes obvious that the filmmaker knew when to step back and not interfere. I rarely credit performances for being intrinsic to the creation of a great piece of cinema, but this film’s filmmaker-actor dynamic turns what would’ve been a great film into an outstanding one.

Oldboy review

Oldboy poster (Wikiedpia)

By Barbara Goslawski

It’s as if Spike Lee didn’t even have a fighting chance. His latest endeavour, Oldboy, is a remake of Park Chan-wook’s film of the same name, a modern-classic South Korean revenge-action-thriller which won the celebrated Palme D’or (2003). Notice that I didn’t call it Spike Lee’s Oldboy or refer to it as one of his “joints.” That’s because, although slightly reworked for American audiences, it is almost an exact replica of the original. In fact, Spike Lee’s effort really has no identity as a film in its own right. Park’s film has simply been re-made. Whatever personal touches Lee may have added (admittedly few considering his last few films) are lost opportunities lingering in the air of the cinema.

But I should temper my frustration with the admission that Josh Brolin’s performance in the lead as Joe Doucett is almost strong enough to salvage this effort. Almost. Oldboy tells the story of a man who is kidnapped, and mysteriously imprisoned in a hotel room for 20 years (15 in the original). When he is suddenly released, he naturally seeks to find out why and to exact vengeance on an unseen enemy. Unseen until the last quarter when, unfortunately, Sharlto Copley steps up to the plate to deliver a jaw-dropping spoof of Austin Powers attempting a serious role.

Is it even fair to compare a remake to its predecessor: two different cultures; two different points-of-view? Of course, details change in the transfer. Spike Lee turns Doucett into a hard character to like at first: a train-wreck of an alcoholic as selfish as he is angry. Once trapped, we almost expect an easy answer.  It’s got to be someone he’s insulted.  In the remake there is greater attention placed on vengeance on which this film relies.  Otherwise, the film would move too slowly for its target audience.

In Park’s film, Oh Dea-Su is an ordinary man caught up in a shockingly unusual situation. The strength of that film is its pacing and the director’s rigid control: like a lion playing with its prey, Park deliberately relies on a repetitive structure, one that accentuates the psychological torture of the imprisonment and the seemingly never-ending restriction.

Regardless of where one stands on the whole issue of how to judge a remake, you just can’t escape the urge to compare in this case. Lee is constantly harkening back to the original in this film. There are endless direct references that remind us that this film is a remake. Seriously, does Doucett have to be tortured with Asian dumplings?

There is nothing in the new version to convince me that it was logical for Spike Lee to remake it. Since Do The Right Thing, he has not had much in the way of a style that anyone can speak of. Plenty of justifiable anger but no characteristic methodology behind it: just confusing attempts to be artsy (mostly with odd camera angles). In Oldboy, Lee uses a lot of extreme hand-held close-ups – not only is Doucett’s inner turmoil exposed, but we are drawn into his point-of-view. This at least helps us bond with him while imprisoned. Otherwise, Lee’s style in this film is pretty sloppy; nothing noteworthy, just pedestrian filmmaking. It’s got a dark, gritty look but that’s about it. And one of the most cartoonish, painfully melodramatic endings I’ve ever seen.

Oldboy is now in theatres.

Only God Forgives review


By Arthur Yeung

The dreamteam consisting of director Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising) and leading man Ryan Gosling (The Notebook) who delivered us Drive dazzle again with Only God Forgives. Julian (Gosling) must confront his brother’s killer and mother played by an amazingly villainous Kristin Scott Thomas, who arrives in a typically exotic-looking Bangkok to bury her eldest son and rejuvenate the family’s drug empire. Between punches of eroticism and flashes of gore, not all audience members will be down with the subtle pacing and meticulous art direction. But those who succumb to Refn’s world where the hero rarely breaks his stone-face and wooden gait (aided by the dressiest and most versatile pair of black boots) will find a lot to chew on in this highly stylized film.

Opens July 19 in theatres Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and VOD.

Frameline returns to Radio Regent from Summer break on Thursday, August 29.

Spring Breakers review: Grrrls on Top


By Barbara Goslawski

Spring break is the epitome of excess. In the movies, this yearly ritual lends itself to simplistic depictions of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll variety. It also raises the shackles of us feminists who don’t want to see another exploitive film about girls. Until now. Harmony Korine in Spring Breakers toys with these conventional trappings to the point of spinning this genre on its head. The result is oddly exhilarating in a completely unexpected way: Korine creates a film that I can only describe as uncomfortably brilliant.

Read the rest of Barbara Goslawski’s impassioned review here.

Frameline returns to Radio Regent from Summer break on Thursday, August 29.