Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a witty, hilarious romp of a film that stars Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.

Holy Grail tells the story of the quest King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable go on to acquire the Holy Grail. On the adventure, the knights encounter weird people and things as they seek out the grail. The knights who say “Ni” need a shrubbery and the poor nuns in a neighboring castle just want someone to love. Each knight has his own personality trait, but all of the characters are wacky and hilarious. One of my favorite scenes in the film involves Lancelot (John Cleese) as he encounters a castle with nuns that haven’t seen a man in years. The nuns keep trying to convince him to stay with them so they can all be fulfilled by having a romantic fling with him. The way that clueless Lancelot reacts to this is both honest and hilarious. He works very hard initially not to be in the company of these bizarre women. But when he realizes their true intentions, he has to be dragged away kicking and screaming by other Knights of the Roundtable.

The film, which was made in 1975, was directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones and is a testament to all that is great about British comedy. I love the idea that a group of people could mix political jokes about oppression into a film about the search for the Holy Grail. Everything about this film is silly and whimsical and it’s the perfect thing to watch if you need to unwind after a hard day on the job. The biggest positive of Holy Grail is that its premise is absurdly simple, but its jokes are complicated.

While I cannot say that the characters do anything other than make me laugh, there is a lot of fun to be had. I saw this film at the Art Theater with a moderately filled house. The great thing about seeing the film at the Art is that you can catch jokes you probably missed when you watched it at home, because each individual audience member has his or her own keen sense of humor and laughs at different times during the movie. This increased my enjoyment of the film tenfold because I was around people who appreciated and understood the same type of humor.

The bottom line is this: Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a film that deserves the attention of everyone who enjoys comedy on some cellular level. The cast is a superb group of British men who not only know how to make audiences laugh, but also know how to give us unexpected thinking moments. This film is a joyful romp at the movies. “Ni,” I say to you.

 

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Prometheus

Prometheus is one of those films that people will either love or hate. It returns to the universe of the Alien film series, only this time the film doesn’t build off of action scenes pitting soldiers against Xenomorphs, but rather favors a philosophic approach allowing audiences to ponder the question of how the Xenomorphs got involved with human beings to begin with.

The plot of Prometheus is pretty simple. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) has a research team of explorers and archeologists that includes her boyfriend Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Green) and an android named David (Michael Fassbender). The entire team is searching a ship to try to determine who created human beings and if human life can be extended by working with our ancestors, if any living versions of them exist. Prometheus asks these two questions throughout the film, but fails to give us anything resembling concrete answers. Director Ridley Scott, instead, offers us basic tropes of sci-fi horror in that the explorers investigate the ship and discover biological weapons that they test and dissect. The biological weapons turn out to be organic life forms that can injure or kill people, and those life forms slowly kill members of the research team in various ways.

The major problem with Prometheus involves Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. Once people begin dying from her team, she still finds it absolutely necessary to learn where human beings come from and how they came to exist. If I were leading such an expensive space expedition, funded by the Waylan corporation referenced in later Aliens films, I would have had the presence of mind to leave the ship I was exploring and the planet it is on as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the film’s screenwriters, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, do not share my point of view. I would have enjoyed this film a lot more had the writers considered the question of what it means to be human and what other small things we hope to learn as a result of speaking with our ancestors.

Prometheus relies heavily on visual effects to enchant the audience and, for the most part, it works. I saw the film in 3D and it was a feast of visuals for my eyes. But I had a problem with the fact that suspense is cranked up every time things seem a bit too quiet and then of course someone is attacked. In the original Alien film, suspense and silence were used as a fake out to make you think something was going to attack people. I miss that style of filmmaking in Prometheus.

Ultimately, Prometheus is not a prequel, but rather a movie about the origins of human life set in the Alien universe. Had Ridley Scott focused more on answering those humanity questions, this movie would have been more than just mediocre summer sci-fi fare.

 

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Men In Black 3

Men in Black 3 is what Men in Black 2 should have been. Men in Black 3 stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents J and K, respectively, trying to continue to protect the earth from the scum of the universe.

In this entry in the series, an alien called Boris The Animal (Jermaine Clement) seeks revenge on Agent K for blowing off his arm with a freeze gun. After attempting to destroy Agent K in the present, Boris travels to 1969 to kill him and successfully complete an invasion that Agent K stopped before astronauts went to the moon.

When K doesn’t show up for work, Agent J realizes that something is wrong and learns that K was killed by Boris in 1969. J then goes back in time to prevent the death of his partner and save the Earth from an invasion by Boris’ people, the Boglodites, in the present.

Josh Brolin is very effective as the younger K in 1969. All of the mannerisms of Tommy Lee Jones’ characterization of Agent K are on display in Brolin’s performance, right down to Jones’ unique Texas speech pattern. It is something truly remarkable to witness. 

This film really shines through when it works to examine the friendship between Agents J and K. You can really tell that J puts a lot of effort into his relationship with K. K is also noticeably more sullen in this film and what I love most is that, unlike previous films, there is a concrete reason for why he is so incredibly emotionally void with J.

Barry Sonnenfield, who has directed the previous two entries in the series, shows that he is a solid action director. But his real skill is focusing on the emotions that his lead characters face. He failed at that miserably in Men in Black 2, where the only point of emotional resonance was Agent J’s unrequited romance with Laura Vasquez.

This movie was reported to have been filming without a fully finished script and, if that is to be believed, then what they achieved is nothing short of miraculous. My only problem with MIB3 is the amount of screen time given to Tommy Lee Jones’ past Agent K. I would have liked to have seen a few more interactions between Agents J and K in present day.

I think special mention for an important character in the film should go to Griffin, an alien with precognitive powers. Essentially, Griffin can see into the future and his power provides the film with most of its laughs. Additionally, I think the casting of Alice Eve and Emma Thompson as younger and older versions of new MIB chief Agent O is a stroke of genius because both actresses proved particularly adept at handling the film’s comic demands.

Men in Black 3 is a return to form for Smith, Jones, and Sonnenfield. I loved the action scenes and the look of New York in the 1960s when J arrives. Let’s hope that the MIB continue to protect the Earth again sooner, rather than later. Men in Black 3 was everything I wanted in a summer science fiction film.

 

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