The So Metaphorical Monthly Review of February 2020

A busy weekend means this post is later than normal. As for the title, yeah, I saw Parasite. (I highlight that just so you don’t go expecting any actual metaphors later in this post.)

Also, as I write this I’ve realised Parasite is the first Best Picture winner I’ve actually seen at the cinema since, of all things, Crash. And the only other one is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. What an elite club to be a member of…


#13 Booksmart (2019)
#14 The Nightingale (2018)
#15 Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)
#16 Tag (2018)
#17 Shoplifters (2018), aka Manbiki kazoku
#18 A Star Is Born (2018)
#19 Blockers (2018)
#20 Emma. (2020)
#21 Yesterday (2019)
#21a The Crimson Permanent Assurance (1983)
#22 Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
#23 Us (2019)
#24 Escape Room (2019)
#25 The Equalizer 2 (2018)
#26 All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
#27 Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
#28 Parasite (2019), aka Gisaengchung
#29 Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
#30 Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

All Quiet on the Western Front

Parasite

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  • So, I watched 18 new feature films in February.
  • That makes it the best month of 2020 so far. Okay, it only had one to beat, so, looking further afield, it’s the best month since last August.
  • It also surpasses February’s average (previously 12.83, now 13.2) and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 12.75, now… 12.75, because I also watched 18 films last February. Fancy that).
  • Passing #25 means I’ve passed the quarter-way point already. But the last time I didn’t get there in February was 2014 (when it took until April), so it’s not that noteworthy an achievement. Especially as, since last year, I’m meant to be aiming for 120+ films in year.
  • But, good news, I’ve reached the quarter-way mark for 120, too! Ending February at #30 means so far I’m behind 2016 and 2018, but marginally ahead of 2015, 2017, and 2019.
  • Lots of 2018 films this month — to be precise, nine of them, or 50% of my viewing. That’s because I’m making use of my annual month of Now TV / Sky Cinema to catch up on some misses, and as they get a lot of recent stuff first, currently that means it’s mainly 2018 misses with a smattering from 2019 (overall, 61% of this month’s viewing was via Now TV).
  • Monty Python aficionados may have observed that I’ve chosen to list The Crimson Permanent Assurance separately from The Meaning of Life. It’s commonly presented as part of the film these days, but even then it’s still separated from the main feature. It was independently nominated for a BAFTA back in the day, too, so it sort of is part of the film and sort of isn’t. And anyway, while we can argue whether it counts as a standalone work or not, the fact it’s a short means I don’t give it a full number, so even if you do disapprove of listing it separately, at least it doesn’t affect my count for the year.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: anti-war WW1 classic, and early Best Picture Oscar winner (so an apt choice for this month), All Quiet on the Western Front.
  • As best I can tell, All Quiet on the Western Front is the only film I’ve ever seen from 1930. That’s noteworthy because the only other year since talkies came along for which this is true is 1932. Quite how I’ve ‘missed’ those two years, who knows. (If we go back into the silent era, there’s still only a few more years I’ve missed; but, as we’re talking about years with feature films, it gets a little more complicated for that period.)
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Booksmart, The Nightingale, and Yesterday.



The 57th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
This month’s viewing includes the most recent winner of the Palme d’Or, the first-ever non-English-language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and the movie Letterboxd users have rated the #1 of all time… all of which epithets describe the same film, of course: Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. It’s an awful lot of pressure to put on a film the first time you watch it. I thought it was great, but how great I’m not sure. So a clearer pick here is All Quiet on the Western Front, another Best Picture winner that has stood the test of time — 90 years and counting.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
In contrast to such greatness, there was plenty of choice for the weakest movie this month. On balance, I think the dishonour belongs to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again — even by the lowly standards set by the first movie, this follow-up is a mess.

Big Name Star Popping In Near the End of a Crummy Musical for a Couple of Minutes to Sing Part of a Song or Two …of the Month
By coincidence and the vagaries of fate, I saw Meryl Streep do this twice this month. Both were in films released in 2018, so this recognition only comes 14 months late.

Best Musical Number of the Month
They may’ve lavished A Star Is Born and Mary Poppins Returns and Mamma Mia 2 with money and star power and all the tricks of modern moviemaking, but the best song-and-dance number I saw this month remains Monty Python’s Every Sperm is Sacred.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
No doubt bolstered by its BAFTA wins and predicted (but unmaterialising) Oscar glory, this month’s top new post was 1917.



With an end goal of 50 in mind, my Rewatchathon stays on course this month…

#6 Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)
#7 Christopher Robin (2018)
#8 The Karate Kid (1984)

I still quite like Christopher Robin. Yeah, it’s just the plot of Mary Poppins remade with Winnie the Pooh, but I like Pooh bear a lot so that doesn’t bother me too much.

Some thoughts on The Karate Kid on Letterboxd, and I intend to do a ‘Guide To’ post for it some day — mainly because I enjoyed it enough that I’m intending to watch the sequels, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, so I’ll number and review them as new films.


Normally I start this section with all the films I missed on the big screen, but the big news nowadays is surely Netflix’s rollout of Studio Ghibli’s back catalogue (seven last month, seven today, the final seven on April 1st). The ones I hadn’t already seen, and still haven’t, from their February lot are Kiki’s Delivery Service (which I own on Blu-ray anyway), Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, and Tales from Earthsea. Also new to Netflix and on my radar last month were Lady Bird, Hostiles, Proud Mary, and Year One (which I only notice because it was on my ‘50 unseen’ in 2009). One of their originals caught my eye, too: The Coldest Game. Sounded like a genre that’s up my street, but that’s literally all I know about it. Considering the variable quality of Netflix originals, the fact no one seems to be talking about it probably doesn’t bode well.

Over on Amazon Prime, higher profile additions this month include Emma Thompson comedy Late Night and Luc Besson actioner Anna. Also drawing my attention was Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, returning to the streamer after five years away (that’s another from an old ‘50 unseen’ list); Super Size Me 2, the much-less-talked about sequel to the much-talked-about documentary; Anthony Hopkins / Ryan Gosling thriller Fracture (a film I was just about aware existed but had ignored; but, in the sea of mediocrity that’s added to Amazon, that recognition was enough to make me read the blurb and note the decent score it holds on IMDb); and Spy Game, which I’ve seen (it’s in my 100 Favourites, even), but only own on DVD, so here’s my chance to rewatch it in HD.

And, as I mentioned, I’ve currently got Now TV for a little bit yet, so some of the stuff I’d particularly like to catch on there includes Burning, The Kid Who Would Be King, The Wedding Guest, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Crazy Rich Asians, and Mary Queen of Scots. Plus, all the Karate Kid sequels. And, drawing my attention away from that limited-time offering to something else I’ve paid for, I’ve got rentals of Hustlers and Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw that expire in March (both of those were on my most recent ‘50 unseen’, incidentally).

Away from the internet, I got a bit carried away with Blu-ray purchases this month — there are 16 I could list here. Top of the pops is Joker. Also, Criterion’s release of Roma, which I got more for the special features than the film itself (because I can watch the latter on Netflix in UHD). Also on the rewatch list were Gods of Egypt in 3D (like I said would happen); one of my favourites from last year, Searching, which I got new for just a couple of quid; and Phantom Thread, which I also mentioned last month when it came to Netflix, but I finally got on UHD disc (in a two-for-one with Angel Heart). But the biggest single chunk belongs to 88 Films release of Jackie Chan titles, of which I picked up six this month, including four in a sale (Battle Creek Brawl, Dragon Fist, Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin, and To Kill with Intrigue) and two newer releases (Crime Story and The Protector).

Finally, ending where I normally begin, the stuff I missed on the big screen. I nearly went to see Birds of Prey, but I’ll surely buy it for my disc collection eventually so I decided to save the money and wait. I’ve already pre-ordered The Lighthouse, which didn’t come to my local at all. I was never likely to bother with Dolittle or Sonic the Hedgehog, though I’m sure I’ll catch them on streaming sometime. I’m less sure about The Call of the Wild, thanks to that terrible looking CG dog. I’m all for using effects for stunts and stuff, but when it’s also in regular scenes interacting with humans, it just looks fake. Finally, The Invisible Man just came out to strong reviews. I don’t normally bother with horror on the big screen (I prefer to get scared in the secrecy of my own home, thanks), but I’m tempted to make an exception.


More ticking off misses from 2018/19 courtesy of Sky Cinema. Cinema trips seem unlikely (maybe for Mulan), with my attention on the month after and the return of Britain’s best-known secret agent.

The Past Months on TV #51

When I mentioned in September’s monthly review that I hadn’t posted a TV column that month, I was intending to get one up within a few days. As it turned out, for various fundamentally unimportant reasons, it’s taken until now — so, really, this one covers two months.

Much like my film viewing, my TV watching hasn’t been as prolific as normal, including some regulars falling by the wayside (no Twilight Zone again). But there are still a few things worth talking about.

Stranger Things 3
Stranger Things 3On what you might unkindly call a superficial level, the third season of Netflix’s signature series was thoroughly entertaining — it’s frequently funny and exciting, with cool moments aplenty (especially in the last couple of episodes), and many enjoyable callbacks to both ’80s pop culture and within the show itself. But dig any deeper and it begins to seem less surefooted, with what felt to me like muddled themes and character arcs, and a sense that the mythology was treading water. I don’t particularly object to the way any characters were treated, nor the destinations any of them reached (especially as a fourth season was inevitable, so wherever this run finished up was only ever temporary), but I didn’t feel like they were being guided anywhere with any real purpose. There’s something to be said for storylines like that, but when you’re trying to play some kind of redemption arc, or a coming-of-age tale about burgeoning independence (or whatever), I feel like you need to be a bit clearer-eyed. But hey, I still enjoyed it a lot — it’s a fun watch, and I imagine even more so if you have nostalgic memories of an ’80s childhood — I just think there’s still some room for finessing.

Watchmen  Season 1 Episode 1
WatchmenAlan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen is a seminal work of the form — I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about that at this point. Over the past decade it’s been adapted into a film, and both prequelised and sequelised (I think? I dunno, I stopped paying attention) in comic books, to varying degrees of success and controversy. So when HBO announced they were bringing it to TV, there was much trepidation. Early promises that it wasn’t a remake or prequel or sequel, but instead a ‘remix’, just added to the confusion.

Now it’s finally here, it’s clear that such bold reports were perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Well, I say “clear” — I’ve only watched the first episode (two have aired, out of nine) so there’s plenty of room for things to change, but (so far at least) it seems to be definitively set in the world of the comic book (and not the movie, which made some significant modifications to the climax) and in 2019 (whereas the comic is set in the ’80s). So it is a sequel… but it’s not a direct sequel, because very few of the original characters have a part to play (yet, anyway). So it’s a new story set in the same world… albeit one where the events of the first story have had a massive impact, and some of the same thematic concerns are coming into play — not to mention a load of familiar iconography. Okay, maybe “remix” wasn’t a wholly terribly epithet after all.

Anyway, it’s early days, but there’s a lot of promise and potential here. Reading the original before viewing may not be essential, but it’s going to help a lot (besides which, it’s a damn good book). And if you want to go even further down the rabbit hole, be sure to check out the tie-in Peteypedia website, which provides a lot of extra info to help bridge the gap between book and series.

Catherine the Great
Catherine the GreatHBO and Sky Atlantic have teamed up for this lavish four-parter about the life of the famous Russian ruler, conceived by and starring Helen Mirren. The big bucks those broadcasters are known for are all over the screen here — it looks suitable sumptuous, with grand locations that positively shine, especially in UHD. Unfortunately, nothing else about the production is up to scratch. The writing is thoroughly mediocre — it most reminded me of The Tudors, although that seemed to know it was a bit of trashy fun, whereas I think Catherine the Great wants to be taken very seriously. But the dialogue is uninspiring, the characters uninteresting and underdeveloped (we’re told the relationship between Catherine and Potemkin is some great love affair, but they strop around like moody, jealous teenagers), and the flat performances do nothing to elevate any of it — and despite her general acclaim, Mirren is probably the weakest of the lot. Pretty, then, but vacant.

Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes
Dad's Army: The Lost EpisodesThe BBC’s 1970s policy of junking programmes because they supposedly no longer had commercial value is a familiar topic for Doctor Who fans, who’ve spent decades hoping and hunting for copies of missing episodes. But it was an organisation-wide policy, so Who was far from the only show that suffered — Dad’s Army was another. It’s a perennially popular sitcom here (even today repeats land among the most-watched programmes of the week), so you can see why it made commercial sense to invest in recreations of the missing episodes — especially as there’s only three of them.

The pre-broadcast press and ads emphasised heavily that these were intended as a tribute (presumably because that attempt at a feature film revival from a couple of years ago went down so badly). The sense of affection for the original seeps off the screen, from the faithfully recreated set to the performances, which ably tread the fine line between flat impersonation and respectful imitation. By that I mean the cast were clearly trying to play the roles as they were originally performed, but without getting stuck in a rut of mere emulation, instead injecting a reasonable amount of their own interpretation of the characters.

So, taking the project as it was intended — as a loving salute to the original programme, which also plugs a gap in its record — The Lost Episodes should be classed as a success.

Also watched…
  • The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco Season 1 Episodes 1-4 — ITV’s cancelled period crime drama is revived in this US sequel/spin-off, because it was relatively popular on the other side of the pond. Unfortunately, this iteration does look and feel like cheap US network filler. It’s gently watchable enough, if you don’t mind that sort of thing.
  • Japan with Sue Perkins — The former Bake Off host pops over to Japan for a two-part exploration of modern cultural quirks and fads. Open-minded and consequently insightful, I feel like it could’ve been a longer series to dig in even deeper. Maybe a more indicative title, too — by getting so specific, it was hardly the overview/travelogue of Japan that you might’ve expected.
  • Monty Python Night — BBC Two marked the 50th anniversary of arguably the most influential comedy troupe ever with an evening of archive-derived programming. So, that was two repeats — of documentary Almost the Truth: The BBC Lawyer’s Cut and the first-ever episode of Flying Circus — and one new programme that was compiled from archive interview clips, Python at 50: Silly Talks and Holy Grails. If you missed it… it’s no longer on iPlayer because I’ve been so tardy in posting this column. Sorry.
  • World on Fire Series 1 Episodes 1-2 — Now, here’s a good idea: a returning series that follows multiple loosely-connected characters in multiple different countries as they make their way through World War 2. I’m not convinced by the execution so far (it feels remarkably small-scale for a premise that’s all about scope, and visually it looks a bit too “TV” for a major prime-time series in the present climate), but, eh, we’ll see.

    Next month… the golden compass leads us to the northern lights as His Dark Materials is readapted for TV.

  • Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)

    2016 #107a
    Marv Newland | 2 mins | streaming | 1.37:1 | USA / English | U

    At the risk of my blog becoming some kind of film-watching Inception, with a host of viewing goals within viewing goals (the titular one; “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” / Blindspot; all those ones I mentioned in my review of Home on the Range), here’s something new I’m setting out to do (in a vague, loose, ‘will get there one day’ kind of way):

    Regular readers will surely remember iCheckMovies, the movie list website where you can check off films you’ve watched and see how many you’ve seen on particular lists, like the IMDb Top 250, or They Shoot Pictures’ 1,000 Greatest, or 179 other ‘official’ lists (or 8,603 user-added ones — seriously). Obviously you can use this as an empty-headed list-completing exercise (and some people do), but it’s also a way to motivate watching well-regarded movies, and to discover new ones.

    (What does this have to do with Disney’s dear deer meeting Tokyo’s greatest monster? I’m getting to that.)

    There are several lists in particular I have my eye on, for one reason or another. Getting around to some more films on those lists was part of the motivation behind my selections for this year’s WDYMYHS, for example (most of the motivation, if I remember rightly). However, even while I’m a decent way through completing some lists, I happened to notice last night that there are a handful of those 181 official lists on which I have precisely zero checks. 26, to be precise, which in some ways sounds like a lot, but in others is only 14%. Naturally, this inspired one particular thought: to endeavour to get at least one check on every single list.

    (The bereaved fawn and gigantic lizard are coming up imminently.)

    There are pretty obvious reasons why I’ve never seen any films on many of those lists — quite a lot are country or continent specific, and as Western film viewers we’re notoriously poor at having seen movies from, say, Africa. The lack of acclaimed films I’ve seen from the likes of Belgium, Finland, Holland, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Portugal, and Spain is my own fault though, I guess. Anyway, this is something I intend to rectify in the coming days / weeks / months / years / decades — however obscure some of my missing lists may seem, there’s at least one film I’ve heard of on all but one or two of them, so there’s that.

    Anyway, I started with the easiest list of all lists: Best Cartoons Ever – A Gift List From Jerry Beck. This list contains “the 50 greatest cartoons of all time, from a poll of 1,000 animation professionals conducted by author/film historian Jerry Beck for the 1994 book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals.” There’s all sorts of famous stuff on there, from 1914’s Gertie the Dinosaur, to Mickey Mouse’s debut in Steamboat Willie, to acclaimed classics that appear on multiple other lists, like Duck Amuck and What’s Opera, Doc? But I started with possibly the shortest of the lot: 92-second one-gag short Bambi Meets Godzilla.

    I say “one-gag” — there’s one headline gag, but I’d argue there are at least five jokes slipped into the film’s minute-and-a-half running time. Describing the ‘plot’ would be pointless, especially when it would be almost as quick for you to watch it yourself on YouTube; or, if you really want, a couple of years back a fan restored/remade it in 4K with 5.1 surround sound (seriously), which you can watch here. It loses a lot of its charm in that form, if you ask me. Either way, there are less amusing ways to spend 90 seconds of your time.

    Why is this film notable? In fact, is it notable? Well, it was voted in to The 50 Greatest Cartoons by some of 1,000 animation professionals, so there’s clearly something there. It was created by animator Marv Newland while he was a film student in L.A., after a live-action project he’d been planning to submit was scuppered (according to Wikipedia, uncited, that was due to the loss of “an essential magic hour shot”). Newland created the short animated gag in his room and submitted that instead. It’s a pretty straightforward piece of animation — black-and-white line drawings, some text, few moving elements — with a couple of music tracks on top (Call to the Dairy Cows from Rossini’s William Tell, which you might not know by name but will certainly recognise, and the final chord from the Beatles’ A Day in the Life).

    Maybe it’s the subversiveness that makes it significant? It comes from an era when that must have been a factor, surely — there’s a certain Monty Python-ness to it, and it was made the same year Flying Circus first aired. Perhaps it just has some familiarity — I’ve seen comments by people saying it was regularly screened at sci-fi conventions throughout the ’70s, and it was attached to film prints and VHS releases of Godzilla 1985. There are even two sequels, Son of Bambi Meets Godzilla and Bambi’s Revenge, which weren’t made by Newland and are apparently hard to come by. I suppose Beck’s book must explain its inclusion, but if anyone has a copy of that to hand then they’ve not bothered to quote its entry online.

    Anyway, for what it is it’s very effective, but it is slight, so I shall give it:

    3 out of 5

    Brazil (1985)

    aka Brazil: The Final Cut

    2015 #100
    Terry Gilliam | 143 mins | DVD | 1.78:1 | UK / English | 15 / R

    I normally aim for a “critical” (for want of a better word) rather than “bloggy” (for want of a better word) tone in my reviews, just because I do (that’s in no way a criticism of others, etc). Here is where I fail as a film writer in that sense, though, because I’m not even sure how I’m meant to review Terry Gilliam’s dystopian sci-fi satire Brazil, a film as famed for its storied release history as for the movie itself.

    It’s a film I’ve long looked forward to watching, utterly convinced it was “the kind of thing I’d like”, but then almost put off by the fact that I should like it. I was rather pleased when it finally popped up on this year’s What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen because it’s precisely the kind of film (or “one of the kinds of films”) that project was meant to ‘force’ me to watch. And, thankfully, I did really enjoy it. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s massively imaginative in both its visuals and its storytelling, and its influences on the 30 years of dystopian fiction that have followed is… well, fairly clear, because it also has influences of its own, so whether future works are influenced by the original influence or whether the influencee has become the influencer is an over-complex matter for over-complex people to discuss ad infinitum.

    I can tell you, factually, that there are at least four versions of Brazil: differing European and American theatrical versions; the “Love Conquers All” version (which according to the Criterion DVD is a cut for syndicated TV that made all the changes Gilliam refused to make, but may never have actually been released outside of that box set (IMDb implies it was never shown)); and the “Final Cut” that Gilliam assembled for Criterion in 1996 that is now the version released everywhere always (to the best of my knowledge). I’m sure there’s a thorough list of differences somewhere, but one good anecdote from Gilliam’s audio commentary tells how the ‘morning after’ scene was cut from the European release so last-minute that it was literally physically removed from the premiere print. (Gilliam regretted it immediately and it was restored for the video release.)

    I can also tell you that I now struggle to read the word “Brazil” without hearing the “Braaziiiil” refrain from the soundtrack.

    Brazil was 30 this year, but its particular brand of retro-futurism hasn’t dated, and its themes and issues are as relevant as ever. It’s a bit of a head trip of a film, which is what one should always expect from the guy who did the cartoons for Monty Python, I figure. I don’t know if it always gets its due in the consensus history of sci-fi cinema — in “best ever” lists and that kind of thing — though I’m not doing anything today that will help improve that.

    The best I can say is that, if you like a bit of dystopian SF but have somehow (like me, until now) missed Brazil, that’s a situation you want to rectify lickety-split.

    5 out of 5

    Brazil was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2015 project, which you can read more about here.

    It placed 8th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

    This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

    Braaziiiil…

    Monsters University (2013)

    2015 #48
    Dan Scanlon | 100 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | U / G

    Monsters UniversityPixar’s fourth sequel is more Cars 2 than Toy Story 3.

    Taking the heroes of the enjoyable Monsters, Inc. back to their college days may have sounded different, but it just feels uninspired much of the time. It’s not bad per se, merely dully predictable, and not remarkable, memorable, inspiring, or entertaining at a level signficiantly above “passable”.

    The possibly-unintentional highlight is a repeated music motif that I swear is Monty Python’s Every Sperm is Sacred. Surely that can’t be deliberate in a family-friendly Disney movie, but it was all I could hear every time it played, which was often.

    3 out of 5

    Pixar’s latest, Inside Out, is out in a ton of territories now, in the US tomorrow, and in the UK on 24th July.

    And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)

    2013 #51
    Ian MacNaughton | 85 mins | DVD | 1.78:1 | UK / English | PG / PG

    And Now for Something Completely DifferentThe first Monty Python theatrical release (four more would follow; five if you count last year’s A Liar’s Autobiography) is a compilation of re-shot sketches from the first two series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

    Designed to launch the sextet to a US audience who wouldn’t have seen the TV series, And Now For… contains around 40 sketches, including two of their most famous: the Dead Parrot sketch and The Lumberjack Song. I have to confess, I’m really a Python neophyte — to be precise, I’ve seen Holy Grail twice, Life of Brian once, and only stray sketches in documentaries and clip shows and the like. As such, almost the entire film was new to me (the only exceptions being the aforementioned pair), so I can’t tell whether the re-shoot impaired or enhanced the quality. (In fact, I say “re-shoot”, but the film was shot between series one and two of Flying Circus, so this is actually the first performance of the series two sketches.)

    The Dead Parrot sketch clearly isn’t as good — it feels like Palin and Cleese re-enacting past glories, robbed of much energy by not being shot as-live in a single take. The Lumberjack Song, on the other hand, seems to survive fine. The rest is as much of a mixed bag as sketch shows ever are — it’s become a cliché to call them “hit and miss”, but it’s true. Over 40 years on, the Pythons’ style is still so leftfield, experimental, absurdist and irreverent that one man’s hilarity will easily be another’s bafflement. LumerbjackFor my money, it becomes a bit tiring watching sketches for so long, even with the attempts made to link them together — it doesn’t form a narrative, so much as a series of casual crossovers that would make re-arrangement in an edit impossible. In and of themselves, however, many of the skits hit their mark.

    Director Ian MacNaughton also helmed the TV series but, freed of the constraints of BBC studio filming, he mercifully does more than point-and-shoot. Sometimes this doesn’t work (an early sketch, “Marriage Guidance Counsellor”, is initially shot from bizarrely high angles followed by some very flat compositions), but other times it comes off beautifully: a long track-and-pan throughout “Nudge Nudge” is flawless.

    Perhaps this is showing my Python inexperience again, but, considering how everyone goes on about the brilliance of Graham Chapman, he’s far from foregrounded here. Cleese, Idle and Palin seem to get the most material; Chapman is often a kind of straight man (in fairness, often among the rest of the troupe acting this role for the benefit of a lead); Jones doesn’t do much at all, which is perhaps why he later moved toward directing. Of course, this perception could just be the result of the sketches chosen; or, for all I know, he was more talented as a writer than performer; or perhaps he came into his own later (he’s the lead character in both Holy Grail and Brian, of course). But, on this evidence alone, I don’t think Chapman would be the one to draw anyone’s attention. In fact, the thing that most struck me about the cast is that, while most of them look familiarly young, Eric Idle looks about 15.

    And now...Reportedly the Pythons didn’t consider the film a success, hampered by interfering higher-ups and a ludicrously low budget (according to Wikipedia, this was “so low that some effects which were performed in the television series could not be repeated in the film”!) Ironically, US reviews were mixed and the film did little business at the box office (a 1974 re-release, after the TV series had turned up on PBS, was a greater success), while in the UK it was popular enough to turn a profit, despite the fact it contained nothing new for British fans — “indeed many were disappointed that the film seemed to belie its title.” Indeed.

    It’s difficult to know what And Now for Something Completely Different offers fans today. With the TV series readily available on DVD, I imagine it more often pays to re-watch the original versions. Equally, as noted, this is technically the first outing for some. Perhaps it’s just a curio; a different perspective on familiar material. For newcomers… well, as one, it’s difficult to say how much it offers a grounding in the Pythons’ material. Is it a best-of? Some of their most famous stuff isn’t here (presumably it came in the latter two series), and almost an hour-and-a-half of sketches gets a bit much. Indeed, it’d probably work better in more bite-size chunks; say, 30 minutes at a time.

    3 out of 5