Reviewed: Yellowbeard (1983)

yellowbeard_poster2 of the 3 Pythons that appear in this film said it was the worst script that they had ever read. The other one wrote it, starred in it, and then died. That Python is the late great Graham Chapman. Yellowbeard is another mediocre film with an outstanding cast. The casting call includes half of Monty Python, Peter Cook (who also shares a writing credit), Spike Milligan, Cheech & Chong, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, James Mason and David Bowie as a shark.

As a kid I loved this movie. Its coarse risqué humour was a delight to my pre-adolescent mind. It also helped that it had all these people in it that I knew were funny or great in their own right so this must be the greatest comedy of all time! Sadly the re-watch didn’t substantiate these beliefs.

It’s a well-worn pirate story. A switched on yet unassuming boy finds out that he is actually the spawn of one of the worst pirates on the high seas. He gets drawn in on an adventure to find some treasure and finds that it ain’t such a bad life. The usual tropes are subverted in a comical way to give it flavour but what we’re left with is a handful of talented people working the best they can with what little they have.

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The title character was apparently written by Chapman for Keith Moon originally but Moon went and OD’d before that got a chance to happen. Chapman plays the leading man well in a film like Monty Pythons’ Life of Brian or Holy Grail. His straight man in a world of lunacy hits exactly the right notes for him to pull you along for the ride. In this however, it doesn’t quite work. His is the main role but his robust obnoxiousness as a pirate becomes grating. Our ‘everyman’ protagonist, Dan (which was more likely the role Chapman was meant to play) is weak and quite unremarkably played by whats-his-name who went on to do things like something you never watched and that other thing you never heard of with that other guy.

Cleese and Idle put in solid performances and Cheech & Chong do very well as evil (yet very silly) Spanish conquistadors.

Maybe watch this under the influence of something.

Reviewed: A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (2012)

11167097_800Graham Chapman is dead and has been for a number of years. Before this however, he did a number of things that he felt were worth writing about in a particular fashion that leads you to wonder how much of it was actually true. What is true is that he befriended a young John Cleese prior to the invention of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the rest of that part is history. This story fills in bits of the before and after moments of this particular Python.

This film exists because at some point or other, after having written his memoir, Chapman decided to record himself reading it and through the magic of technology he is able to narrate as well as star in this film posthumously. A handful of the other lads drop in to take care of various supporting roles with a standout cameo by Cameron Diaz getting rather silly as well.

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The nature of a written memoir is often segmented – dropping in and out of the authors’ life at given moments – and this is no exception. The way it’s been handled in this one is by giving each segment a different animation style (by the way, this is animated. Did I mention that? I’m pretty sure I should have).

Each segment has been given to a different animation house to interpret it in any way they choose which means we have some rather drastic changes in visual quality every now and then. Some is very good and some… well, not so great and it’s because of this that I can’t run out and tell everyone that this is essential viewing.

Actually, I’m pretty sure this will only really appeal to Python fans who want a little insight into the mysterious life of Chapman (fans of the man himself will no doubt already be familiar with the original book) or those that need one last dose of Python before the rest of them end up the way of the ill-fated Norwegian Blue.

Reviewed: The Croods (2013)

the-croods-a-dreamworks-movieRecently, I’ve been of the mind that when it comes to quality blockbuster family animations, we’ve hit a bit of a slump. I know it happens sometimes but it was making me depressed. No longer were the brightly coloured posters of new kids’ films filling me with wonder and delight – more an overwhelming sense of ‘meh’ as I gazed at the overenthusiastic smiles of whatever uninspired character happened to star in this particular one. I’ve covered how I feel about Disney/Pixar’s part in this here.

The year hasn’t been a total letdown though. Paranorman rocked and it feels like these guys (Laika) have been picking up the slack where the other three majors (Disney, Dreamworks & Blue Sky Studios) had dropped the ball not just with inspired animation but storytelling too.

The last few flicks that came out of Dreamworks after Kung-Fu Panda 2 gave me cause to think that they’ve lost the magic as well. With nothing to offer but a handful of sequels and the only original title in the last two years being the frightfully disappointing Rise of the Guardians (despite its decent voice cast and guiding hand of Guillermo Del Toro), things were not looking good.

And then this; The Croods.

As I sat back and watched the story unfold, I breathed a sigh of relief as my cynicism subsided. All is not lost. They’ve managed to deliver a surprisingly heartfelt tale following the last caveman family on the planet that must learn to evolve or face extinction.

The writing on this one has been brought to us by co-directors Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch) and Kirk De Micco (Space Chimps) with a credit to John Cleese for developing the story. Space Chimps never really worked for me but Lilo & Stitch is one of my favourite Disney films ever and Cleese? Well, it’s John freakin’ Cleese!

The story follows the exploits of the last Cro-Magnon family who up until this point have succeeded in not dying by hiding in a cave and experiencing as little as possible. The metaphor is a little ham-fisted on that front but the real magic of this one lies in the relationship between father and daughter.

Eep (Emma Stone) is the rebellious teenage daughter that every father fears having. She’s headstrong and knows what she wants which scares the hell out of Grug (Nicolas Cage) because what she wants is exactly what’s bad for her in his eyes. And then she meets a boy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a Homo Erectus with ideas and other scary talents which only compound Grug’s fatherly over-protectiveness.MV5BMTY4MDA1MTgzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjcxODAwOQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_With possibly the smallest cast list ever, the chemistry between the characters is pure alchemy but it’s Cage’s performance in this which helped remind me why he’s great despite the long list of terrible film roles that he’s chosen over the years. He brings an energy and warmth to this caveman with limited mental capacity that I haven’t seen from him in quite a while.

The animation is strong with a perfect balance of spectacle, slapstick and character development that many of its peers are lacking these days. See it with your family before they make a sequel.The+Croods+

Reviewed: Spud (2010)

spudI had no idea what this movie was about when I picked it up and put it in my player. I only did this was because it’s been far too long since I’ve seen John Cleese in a new film and upon seeing him on the cover I was sold. I didn’t think I was the kind of person that did that but I guess it just goes to show how much I know.

Anyway, I’m glad I did it. This movie was made in 2010 apparently. It’s also set in a South African boarding school – something I didn’t realise until about 15 minutes in where I was thinking, “a) Where the hell is this set and b) what the hell kind of accent is that?”

So yeah, set in 1990’s South Africa just before Nelson Mandela was released from prison and although this backdrop is present, the film only skims over the politics of the times. The story is about John “Spud” Milton (a kid from a lower class family) and his first year at an exclusive boys’ school. Low income isn’t his only drawback – he’s also awaiting puberty. Something that EVERY other boy in the school is well into and this is where he gets his nickname “Spud” when they see that his balls have not yet dropped.

Having a hard time of it through hazing and the like, Spud’s only escape is reading and it’s through this interest that he sparks up a friendship with his English teacher, “The Guv” (Cleese) who takes a shine to him and opens up a whole new literary world for him as well.spud new 2_image_lowresThere’s not much else to say. It’s a standard Coming-of-age story where the main character, despite all odds learns to adapt and overcome but it’s a fun ride nonetheless. Oddly enough, the time period it’s set in gave me a slight feeling of nostalgia (despite the fact I never grew up in South Africa and that I would only have been 10 and not 13 back then).

Cleese is perfectly cast (and the only name actor you’ll know due to the rest of them being South African) and the kid who plays Spud nails it but there’s something lacking in everyone else but that may have something to do with where it was filmed and the relatively unknown film industry that they have there.

Check it out, if only for John Cleese.