Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Interview

Year 7, Day 239 - 8/27/15 - Movie #2,133

BEFORE:  Everybody was buzzing about this film late last year, since the real Kim Jong-Un was threatening to blow up theaters that screened it.  Silly Korean dictator, we don't need you to come here and threaten theater audiences, we've got enough Americans doing that already.  Another foreigner trying to come here and take American jobs...

So I felt I had to get it from PPV when it became available, since I didn't know if any cable channel would dare to eventually run it.  Seth Rogen carries over from "The Guilt Trip", he'll be around for a couple more days.

THE PLOT: TV host Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip into an assassination mission.

AFTER: My wife watches that "Team America" movie about once a year, which featured a puppet version of Kim Jong-Il, and had some good moments.  It's sad for "The Interview" that they did more funny things with a marionette North Korean leader than this film does with real actors.  It's also sad that people rallied behind this film as a patriotic cause, declaring no foreign dictator had the right to curb Hollywood's releases - I'm guessing none of those people took the time to WATCH the film before they made statements supporting it.  

You'd like to think that actors and directors would get better over time, let's say people who've made a few comedies should, all other things being equal, learn from their experiences and you might expect their later comedies to be funnier than their earlier ones.  Not so in this case - this film has jokes that go on too long, other jokes that don't land, and some that just go nowhere at all. 

There's a tiny bit of insight into how an American celebrity could be wooed into a bromance with a foreign dictator (you're not off the hook yet, Dennis Rodman), but that's about as clever as this film gets.  Before long it devolves into poop jokes, dick jokes and anal sex jokes.  Whatever promise it had of being clever just got tossed away.  It probably wouldn't have done much business at the box office at all, if Kim Jong-Un hadn't started complaining about it.  He could have watched the film die a quick death if he had only kept his mouth shut.  

There are several plot holes you could drive a tank through, but the worst NITPICK POINT to me is: If the U.S. government could deliver these guys the exact supplies they needed via a drone drop, then they could have just as easy taken out Kim Jong-Un with a drone strike.  There was no need to send human assassins, and they could have spared us all a lot of bad comedy.

Also starring James Franco (last seen in "This Is the End"), Lizzy Caplan (last seen in "Mean Girls"), Randall Park (last seen in "Larry Crowne"), Diana Bang, Timothy Simons, Reese Alexander, Anders Holm, with cameos from Eminem (last seen in "8 Mile"), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (last seen in "Lincoln"), Rob Lowe (last seen in "Mulholland Falls"), Ben Schwartz, Bill Maher (last seen in "Delivery Man"), Seth Meyers (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Brian Williams.

RATING: 3 out of 10 margaritas

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Guilt Trip

Year 7, Day 238 - 8/26/15 - Movie #2,132

BEFORE: This seems like it would have made a great film for Mother's Day, but I was busy watching "The Butler" then, and I don't want to put this off until next year, because placing it here it leads me to some films that are perfect for a Back to School chain.  I've got to consider the big picture, after all.  Tom Virtue carries over from "Return to Me", where he played a doctor - here he's cast as "Mature Singles Man".

THE PLOT:  As inventor Andy Brewster is about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime, a quick stop at his mom's house turns into an unexpected cross-country voyage with her along for the ride.

AFTER: At first this seems just like your average road-trip film, God knows we've seen a bunch of these in the last few years, like "Due Date", "Identity Thief", "We're the Millers" and "The Hangover" films.  But it's the first one I've seen where a man goes on a road trip with his mother, so at least it has a relatively newish angle.  

Quite simply, no one can get under your skin like your mother can.  Even if she's the loving, nurturing type, then those are exactly the qualities that will come to annoy you over time - because there's a fine line between mothering and smothering, and most mothers seem like they get sort of "all in", and then there are no lines she won't cross, no personal questions she won't ask, and so on.  

This can, in many cases, lead to a catharsis where the son may take in one annoyance after another, and eventually explode - and that's exactly what happens here, to great comic effect.  From my experience, this is a natural part of growing up - I went through it around age 17 (and if you knew what a sweet, charitable woman my mother is, you'd understand what a rat bastard I probably was then) so if we assume Seth Rogen's character is 30 here, then the confrontation between son and mother is long overdue.  It seems like he's been avoiding it by living far away from her, but when she mentions an old boyfriend whom he was named after, he takes the opportunity to invite her on a cross-country trip.

In a way, he meddles in his mother's life, by not telling her the real purpose for the trip.  I can't decide if this makes him a hypocrite, or if turnabout is fair play. 

I think what surprised me here was Streisand's ability as an actress - I'm used to seeing her acting silly in older movies like "What's Up, Doc?" or "The Owl and the Pussycat", or acting silly in newer movies like "Meet the Fockers", and she always came off as sort of a human cartoon.  But here she felt real, like a real overbearing mother, but one with faults and issues, and I think she was able to deliver lines that would have seemed very silly if delivered by someone else.  She's simply the most believable thing about the film, while I was aware at all times that Seth Rogen was an actor playing a part.  Maybe it's that really fake nervous laugh that he's taken to doing.  

The highlight of the film was probably seeing Streisand's character try to eat that giant steak challenge in Texas - the one that's a 72 oz. steak, plus potato, plus salad, plus roll and you have a 1 hour time limit and if you succeed, it's free.  Conventional wisdom says a skinny woman doesn't have a chance at succeeding at this, but conventional wisdom is wrong - watch some of today's competitive eating contests, and they're dominated by skinnier people.  Fatter people simply don't have as much room for their stomach to expand - there was a woman this past April who ate THREE of these 72 oz. steaks, plus all the trimmings, in under 20 minutes, and she only weighs about 120 pounds.  That's impressive, and a little scary.  (Yeah, I realize Streisand probably did this with the help of "movie magic", like editing, but it was still fun.) 

Also starring Barbra Streisand (last seen in "Little Fockers"), Seth Rogen (last seen in "This Is the End"), Adam Scott (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Brett Cullen (last seen in "42"), Ari Graynor (last seen in "Celeste and Jesse Forever"), Colin Hanks (last seen in "W."), Yvonne Strahovski, with cameos from Nora Dunn (last seen in "Miami Blues"), Rick Gonzalez (last seen in "Laurel Canyon"), Casey Wilson, Kathy Najimy (last seen in "Hope Floats"), Miram Margolyes, Creed Bratton, Danny Pudi (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier").

RATING: 6 out of 10 ceramic frogs

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Return to Me

Year 7, Day 237 - 8/25/15 - Movie #2,131

BEFORE: I hate to dip into the romance pool again, because I don't want to run out come February, but I need the linking - James Belushi carries over from "The Pebble and the Penguin".  Already this summer I watched "Moulin Rouge" and "Down By Love", and in any other year I would have saved them for the Valentine's chain.  I'll have to search the listings for some more love-oriented films over the holiday break.  

THE PLOT: A man who falls in love with the woman who received his wife's heart must decide which woman it is who holds his heart.

AFTER:  Series of contrivances: 1) the film follows two people, a man whose wife dies in a car accident, and a woman in need of a heart transplant - so when the heart goes from there to there, it just happens to travel between the people we're already invested in, then 2) the donor's husband and the recipient happen to meet, and fall for each other, and 3) through the biggest contrivance of all, they later find out about the connection they have.  This happens via a letter that the heart recipient wrote to her donor's family, which she happens to find in his possession.  

The film never explains the letter, or lets the audience know its contents, and we have to bring our own knowledge to the film that this sort of letter is usually written anonymously, because God forbid the film take a minute to mention that fact.  By failing to mention it, one might easily mistakenly presume that she knows the name of the donor, and he read the letter and knows the name of the recipient, so how come they don't recognize each other's names when they meet later on?  Really, would it have killed them to show her writing the letter, or getting instructions from a hospital staffer about being careful not to sign her name? 

You have to go back to ancient Roman or Egyptian civilizations to learn where the human heart first became a symbol of love and emotions - but since then, we've learned that it's just a part of the circulatory system, and it's probably more accurate to say that love happens in our brains.  But the symbolism has persisted for some reason, even though it's not supported by the facts - kind of how like we still say that the sun rises and sets, when it really just stays in one place while the Earth rotates.  (I can change people's perceptions one at a time, but I doubt we'll be seeing brain-shaped Valentine's Day cards or cakes any time soon.)

To its credit, the film doesn't get all gooey after the reveal, or treat the heart like it is the working seat of emotion, because that would have been a very silly direction to go.  Suggesting that she fell in love with him because of some residual feeling in the heart she got would be like expecting someone with a corneal transplant to be able to recognize people that the donor knew by sight.  

Nor does the film get all caught up in the odds against the situation, which would imply kismet or karma or fate or some divine providence, and this would have been a silly direction too.  I mean, the best you can do with that is have the characters say, "Wow, what an amazing coincidence!" and that's something of a story dead-end also.  

But without going in these directions, what to do after the reveal?  It seems like they were left with making every character sit down and look overwhelmed, while discussing how overwhelming the situation seemed.  But having everyone stare into space while contemplating the meaning of it all seems like a cop-out, I need to see more in a story. 

Oh, sure, we get to see him make good on his promise to his dead wife, so the gorillas at the zoo get a new habitat.  But that seems a bit disconnected and off-topic.  There used to be a Showtime series called "Red Shoe Diaries", in which David Duchovny appeared in each week's framing elements, with a dog, reading an anonymous letter he got in response to a classified ad asking people for their stories of lost love or erotic encounters.  Duchovny's career was red-hot at the time, so I think women might have tuned in to see him, but he was never involved in the love-making scenes, so I'm betting they were frequently disappointed. 

This film sort of feels like a lost episode from that series, we've got the dog and the anonymous letter and Duchovny staring into space, wondering how people find each other and what it all means.  But at least his character got to be in the relationship this time, and not just read about it.  

NITPICK POINT: An Irish Italian restaurant?  Sure, because everyone wants their lasagna to come with a side of cabbage.  You people in Chicago are so weird.  Like, you don't need to put pickles AND relish on your hot dogs, one of those would be plenty.  And why celery salt?  

Also starring David Duchovny (last seen in "The X-Files: I Want to Believe"), Minnie Driver (last seen in "Circle of Friends"), Carroll O'Connor (last seen in "Kelly's Heroes"), Bonnie Hunt (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Robert Loggia (last seen in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"), David Alan Grier (last seen in "Bewitched"), Joely Richardson (last seen in "The Patriot"), Eddie Jones, Brian Howe, Tom Virtue (last seen in "Hitchcock"), with a cameo from Don Lake (last seen in "Grudge Match").

RATING: 4 out of 10 sizable donations

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Pebble and the Penguin

Year 7, Day 236 - 8/24/15 - Movie #2,130

BEFORE: One more animated film, then I can move back to more adult fare.  But while I'm in the neighborhood, I'll get to this one, because Will Ryan carries over from "The Little Mermaid", here he voices two characters.  I met Will about 15 years ago, when web-sites were still sort of a new thing, and I'd just designed my boss's site (this was before you needed to know Flash or Java or whatever) and Will was looking for someone to design a site for a character he'd created.  I don't remember if we just didn't connect on the particulars or if I lost interest, or web-sites became too complicated for me to continue to understand.

A lovable but introverted penguin named Hubie plans to present his betrothal pebble to the bird of his dreams.

AFTER: It's so funny, I was just talking about animator Don Bluth two nights ago, because I thought that some of the characters in "The Swan Princess" resembled his work, and now here's a film directed by Bluth.  Well, he wasn't satisfied with the final film and he had his name removed from it, but he's one of the the film's directors.  Don Bluth and Gary Goldman left this production halfway through (another bad sign) in order to start the studio that eventually became Fox Animation (1994-2000), a division of 20th Century Fox Animation which produced only one hit film, "Anastasia". 

This is apparently a real penguin mating ritual - the male searches the beach for a "perfect" pebble,  and when the female accepts it, they've mated for life.  For this reason, many people have noticed the similarity between penguin and human courtship, only humans do this with much shinier rocks.  See, penguins are exactly like us! 

Well, not exactly.  Most penguin species are monogamous, but research shows that some females may have up to three partners in a season, ditto for some of the males.  And if a mate fails to return to the nesting area, or mates arrive there at different times, their prior relationship doesn't prevent them from finding new mates - so I wouldn't call that exactly mating for life.  Wait, cheating on their spouses and having rebound relationships, maybe penguins ARE just like us!  

Certain breeds, like these Adelie penguins, do build nests out of pebbles - so it's possible that the behavior of collecting pebbles for the nest, which would happen around the same time as courtship, has been misinterpreted.  It's all a big myth or urban legend.  After all, what would a female penguin DO with a pebble, it's not like she wears it on a big ring on her flipper!  

Really, it's just a jumping-off point here - Hubie, the stuttering penguin, is too shy to talk to his ideal mate, Marina, but eventually bumps into her (literally) and makes contact, then spends all day and night looking for the perfect pebble (which gets provided by a very timely meteorite) and then everything looks like it will go well, until the big, strong rival penguin sends him floating off on an iceberg, and he's got to find his way back.

I'm right on point with this week's other animated films - both "The Swan Princess" and "The Little Mermaid" feature perfect lovers who get separated, and they have to find each other again.  And Drake, the evil penguin, has designs on the lovely female (just like Rothbard in "Swan Princess"), and apparently this will allow him to take control of Penguinland, somehow.  And once again, there's a complicated time limit - Ariel had just three days to make Prince Eric fall in love with her, and here Hubie's got to get back to propose to Marina before time runs out, or else she'll have to accept Drake's pebble, or be banished.  They just don't take kindly to single lady penguins in Antarctica, I guess.  

This then just turns "The Pebble and the Penguin" into a simple road movie, where Hubie meets other penguins on a human ship, and teams up with Rocko, the rockhopper penguin, to get back.  Rocko has a desire of his own, he wants to be able to fly.  Hubie and Rocko have to dodge leopard seals and killer whales on their way back, and again and again they keep bobbling that pebble and nearly losing it.  Really, don't they ever figure out that holding on to it with their slippery flippers just doesn't work?  Jeez, just put it in a bag or wrap it in your scarf or something.  (umm, yeah, penguins wear clothes in this film, deal with it.) 

There are some OK songs, written by Barry Manilow, but none that stand out from the rest, so in the end they're mostly forgettable.  There's nothing that's the equivalent of "Under the Sea" or "Kiss the Girl", that's for sure.  This is just a simple film that had the bad luck of being released before penguins became popular due to "March of the Penguins", "Happy Feet" and "Surf's Up".

Once again, I worry more about the message that's being sent out to the kids.  Are we creating a generation of young men that feels like they can't win the heart of a woman without a shiny piece of jewelry?  It might have sent a more positive message if Hubie had lost the pebble, really lost it, and Marina accepted him anyway.  Sure, she said that's "it's not the pebble, it's the penguin", but I noticed that didn't prevent her from accepting the pebble when he found it again. 

Also starring the voices of Martin Short (last heard in "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"), James Belushi (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Tim Curry (last seen in "Congo"), Annie Golden, Alissa King, Neil Ross, Stevie Vallance.

RATING: 4 out of 10 sheets of music

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Little Mermaid

Year 7, Day 235 - 8/23/15 - Movie #2,129

BEFORE: Well, it's as good a time as any to admit that I've never seen the film that sort of kicked off the Disney renaissance of the late 1980's.  I was busy that year graduating from college, trying to find work in the big city, and distancing myself from childish things.  And without offspring, there's been no real hurry to get to every kiddie movie out there, this is really just for research purposes, and to finally cross the damn thing off the list.

Two members of the musical chorus carry over from "The Swan Princess", Susan Boyd and Sally Stevens.  Once I hit a run of animated films, it's usually pretty easy to link between cast members, because they all seem to draw from the same pool of voice-over talent. 

THE PLOT:  A mermaid princess makes a Faustian bargain with an unscrupulous sea-witch in order to meet a human prince on land.

AFTER: Beyond the animated fairy-tale aspect, this film has a lot in common with "The Swan Princess" - in last night's film, a young girl was transformed into a swan by an evil magician trying to take over her father's kingdom, and ruin her relationship with handsome Prince Derek.  Here we have a young girl transformed from a mermaid into a human by an evil magician trying to take over her father's kingdom, and ruin her relationship with handsome Prince Eric. (Hmmm....)  This last week's really been about fantasy creatures like dragons and dwarves and such, and transformations, like that guy in the "Hobbit" film who could turn into a bear.

Oh, there are differences between last night's film and this one - Ariel the mermaid enters into this bargain to become human quite willingly, even though it's a really bad deal - she gets to be human for three days, in exchange for her voice, but there's no guarantee she can romance the Prince in that time, a great chance she'll end up being enslaved by Ursula, and there's not even a mention of how to get her voice back.  How the heck is she supposed to connect to this guy without speaking (Hey, hey, keep it clean, kids are watching...) when her voice is the thing that attracted him in the first place?  

But both films also changed the endings of their original stories - because fairy tales used to be so much more depressing and bleak, like Cinderella's stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet to fit them in the glass slipper - in the original Hans Christian Andersen story of the Little Mermaid, she doesn't just magically have her voice taken away, she has her tongue cut out.  Plus, when she's given the ability to walk on legs, she always feels as if she's walking on knives and her toes are bleeding.  That Andersen was a sick puppy...

So, I understand the need to make the story a little happier, but to what effect?  What's the message being sent to a generation of little girls, that they should have their bodies altered in order to win the love of a man, which is the most important thing in the world?   That doesn't seem like it's helping girls have positive body images.  That a man won't fall in love with a woman unless she's quiet most of the time?  Again, it's sending out a strange message.  It's bad enough that we've raised a generation of girls on Disney princess stories, and 99.9% of them will never get to be princesses, but will they grow up expecting to be treated as such?  I'm all for teaching girls they can do anything they want, but they'll simply never be royals.  

Once again, I feel like there were some shortcuts taken with this plot, though maybe not as many as in "The Swan Princess" - do we ever find out WHY Ursula wants to take over the undersea kingdom?  Besides just the fact that she's evil, I mean.  IMDB says there were deleted scenes that explained she was King Triton's sister, and why she was banished - that would have done the trick, sure.  But if she's one of the mer-people, then why does she have tentacles like an octopus?

NITPICK POINT: Who takes a marble statue with them on an ocean voyage?  Even though it's a gift for the prince, that doesn't seem like a good idea.  That wooden ship's not going to float as well with a big marble statue on the deck, assuming the deck can even support its weight.  

NITPICK POINT #2: The mer-people derisively call the humans "fish-eaters".  Well, they live underwater, what do they eat, just seaweed?  How do those mermen get all those muscles if they're not eating protein?  I would think that they'd HAVE to eat fish to survive, and they'd more properly call the humans "cow-eaters" or something.  

Also starring the voices of Jodi Benson (last heard in "Toy Story 3"), Samuel E. Wright (last heard in "Dinosaur"), Christopher Daniel Barnes, Buddy Hackett, Kenneth Mars (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), Pat Carroll, Edie McClurg (last heard in "Frozen"), Rene Auberjonois, Will Ryan, with cameos from Nancy Cartwright (last heard in "The Simpsons Movie"), Jim Cummings, Kimmy Robertson, Rod McKuen, Frank Welker.

RATING: 5 out of 10 scallop shells

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Swan Princess

Year 7, Day 234 - 8/22/15 - Movie #2,128

BEFORE: I've got the same linking problem again today, things very nearly came to a dead end again, but I still have an out - John Cleese carries over from "A Liar's Autobiography", but I have to move from adult-themed animation to more kiddie-oriented fare.  I think it's fairly obvious that I was hoping for more films with Benedict Cumberbatch, like "The Imitation Game" or even "The Penguins of Madagascar", which would have been a perfect lead-in to this (mostly) bird-oriented animation chain.  But those films aren't available to me yet, so I had to devise another path out from those "Hobbit" films.

THE PLOT: A power hungry sorcerer transforms a princess into a swan by day in this tale of everlasting love.

AFTER: This film represents an attempt made in 1994 to "Disney-fy" a classic story, the ballet "Swan Lake".  It got buried at the box office by Disney's re-release of "The Lion King", so either Disney perceived this film as a financial threat, or just wanted to take out some revenge on any animators who jumped ship to work for another company.  Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong.  They killed almost every Don Bluth film by programming against them, and I was ready to believe that this was a Bluth film too, because some of the palace soldiers look suspiciously like Dirk from the "Dragon's Lair" videogame - and Bluth had a reputation for having too many cartoon animals in a human-based story, which also happens here. 

The problem was, by the time that other companies got their act together duplicating Disney films, the House of Mouse had already moved on to the next level, having released "Beauty and the Beast", "Aladdin" and "Lion King", while this most resembles a combination of "Cinderella" and the Disney film I'll get to tomorrow.  

It's a valiant effort to make the plot of "Swan Lake" accessible for kids, but I think there's only so much that you can do - doing a side-by-side of the two plots, it's clear they felt that they had to go with the alternate ending, because the original one just won't make the kids feel happy - and thus begins the process of forcing every story to end with "happily ever after", which comforts kids in the short term, but does nothing to prepare them for the real world.  

They also had to monkey a lot with the introductory story - in the ballet, Odette is the queen swan who transforms into a human girl, and here she's a human girl, raised to marry Derek, who gets turned into a swan and has to find her way back to human.  The spell is overly complicated as well, it seems like she's a swan most of the time, except she's a woman when the moon sets, or the sun goes behind a cloud, and gets alternate Thursdays off, or something.  A lot of the details were missing, and the villain's motivations were really confusing.  Plus, a NITPICK POINT: the moon doesn't always appear at night, or rise and fall at regular daily times, though for convenience's sake, the fairy-tale moon seems to always shine at night, as if it's always opposite the sun, and both orbit the earth.  

Like, why does the villain need to marry the princess to get the kingdom?  If he's such a powerful sorcerer, why can't he just take what he wants?  Why go through such a convoluted spell turning her into a swan just to get her consent - there must be a better strategy to get what he wants.  Same goes for the deception at the ball, transforming the hag to look like Odette, just to get the Prince to swear a vow to her.  It's that old bugaboo about how the devil has to trick people to signing things away voluntarily, so in the end you question just how powerful the devil really is.  

If anything, evil Count Rothbard resembles a Bond villain here, in that he'll lock someone up in a castle but then leave and conveniently not notice that there's a hole in the wall that could enable a rescue attempt.  It was also very odd that Rothbard's singing voice didn't match his speaking voice at all - I can understand that not every actor is a singer, but if you're going to have two people playing the same character, their voices have to at least be close.  Rothbard's song, "No More Mr. Nice Guy" is probably the highlight of this film, it's the closest they come to matching the madcap, irreverent tone seen in films like "Aladdin".

There are many other things that sort of get glossed over, like story shortcuts - why does Odette miss Derek, but not her father or anyone else?  What leads Derek to believe that Odette is alive, when everyone else believes she's dead?  And why does he think that practicing hunting is going to help bring her back?  I could go on and on...

Also starring the voices of Jack Palance (last seen in "Treasure Island"), Howard McGillin, Michelle Nicastro, Sandy Duncan, Steven Wright (last seen in "Speechless"), Steve Vinovich, Mark Harelik (last seen in "42"), Dakin Matthews, Joel McKinnon Miller. 

RATING: 3 out of 10 summer visits

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Liar's Autobiography

Year 7, Day 233 - 8/21/15 - Movie #2,127

BEFORE: Surprisingly, the third "Hobbit" film was very nearly a dead end for me.  Even with a cast of 13 dwarves, 5 elves, 3 wizards, 1 dragon, and thousands of orcs, it shared NO actors with anything else on my list, until this film fell into my possession.  I've got no more Martin Freeman films, no more Ian McKellen films, no Cate Blanchett films, nothing with Orlando Bloom or even Hugo Weaving.  So, on to the 2nd tier - Stephen Fry carries over from both "Hobbit" films, providing the voice of Oscar Wilde in this animated film.

THE PLOT: An animated, factually incorrect biography of Graham Chapman, one of the founding members of the comedy group Monty Python.

AFTER: Really, this is my sneaky way of getting some Monty Python into my watchlist - I'd seen just about every Python film out there before starting this process, and they're not really making more films together as a group, so this is as close as I can get.  Chapman recorded himself reading his autobiography aloud before he died, because it's much more difficult to do that sort of thing after, and a production company made this film to go with the audio tracks, with many voices provided by nearly all of the other members of the troupe.  

Whether the film is 100% accurate about Chapman's life is not really the point - no one remembers their past accurately, anyway, and Chapman's no longer around to confirm or deny anything, so it's more of a challenge to capture his spirit rather than quibble over this minor detail or that.  

It's great to see that not even death is taken seriously by the Pythons - I remember a few years ago they gathered for a round of publicity appearances connected with a documentary series about them, and they'd taken to appearing on stage with an urn that supposedly contained Chapman's ashes, and eventually someone would trip and knock the urn over and spread the ashes all over, making a huge mess.  

Obviously, I'm a huge fan of these 6 guys, in and out of the Monty Python group, and I've had the pleasure of meeting three of them over the years at various book signings in Manhattan (Gilliam, Cleese and Palin), but I never met Chapman.  Chapman was the only "out" member of the group, he was gay way back in the 1960's, before it was acceptable, and then passed away in 1989, before it became fashionable.  One can only hope that he really enjoyed himself in the span in-between.

At a time when the stereotype was that gay people were not capable of forming commitments, which honestly is regarded as just so silly these days, Chapman had a long-term partner, David Sherlock, and together they adopted a troubled teen as their son - and this was in 1971, way before most gay people had the legal rights to do things like that.  But then Chapman started giving interviews during which he referred to sex as "something very fun for two or more people to do, provided they are both clean, and it doesn't lead to procreation" the gay rights groups probably said something along the lines of "Thanks very much, but please stop helping us." 

Chapman did speak about his relationships with women, some of which were sexual, but when he took stock of the number of people in public that he was attracted to, he felt it was somewhere around 70% men and 30% women.  Most people of any orientation just aren't that self-aware, so kudos to Graham for figuring himself out.  Even to this day, people who are bi-sexual are fairly misunderstood, even among gay people who wish that they'd just make up their minds already and get off the damn fence.  

The 1970's were truly a different time - and in some ways it seems like it was a more liberating time, there was more acceptance, but in some ways it also seems like there was more ignorance.  I mean, think about New York or London in the swinging 70's, before AIDS, before herpes - places like that, it was like anything goes, right?  But there was so much people didn't understand about what it meant to be gay, or what it meant to feel like a woman in a man's body, or a man who wants to wear a dress, they were just lumped together as deviants, or called "poofs" (Chapman's word, not mine).  Chapman even threw himself a "coming-out" party, only to have one or two of the other Pythons try to convince him that he was mistaken about himself, that he didn't "fit the profile".  

Now, the film itself has some rather adult moments, which I know freaks out some people, who think that all animation should be made for kids 13 and under, and there's simply no place for sex in a cartoon.  Bollocks, pure bollocks.  I've spent two decades working for an animator who draws sex scenes all the time, and even though it's sometimes a tough sell in America, his films do just fine in other countries, where they don't have the same hang-ups.  Think about Japanese animation, with all their tentacle porn and characters who change genders back and forth - they're light-years ahead of us on the adult animation front.  

Besides, would you rather have your kid looking at cartoon breasts, or the real thing?  They've got to grow up and get used to them sooner or later, and women in Europe walk around topless all the time, and kids there eventually get used to seeing that, and then it's no big deal.  I think in our repressed American society we try to shield kids from seeing nudity, and this creates teens who become sexually desperate, and they can't wait to become sexually active at any cost, usually before they're ready.  Or we create a generation of repressed, overly horny men who become dangerous and possibly abusive - if only they'd been eased into sexual maturity, like through animation, so they wouldn't go crazy upon turning 16, or led to feel like their sexual desires were dirty or somehow wrong.

We've got a situation now in NYC where there are "topless" women walking around Times Square, posing with tourists among the various superheroes and Sesame St. characters - and the Daily News headline read, "Topless women defile Times Square".  Believe me, if you knew Times Square during the 1970's or 1980's, you'd have seen a lot more than just a couple of titties.  But right there, they used the word "defile", which clearly shows a bias against the beautiful female form - why not "Topless women ENHANCE Times Square" or "Topless women BRIGHTEN UP Times Square"?  Why does the news always have to be so damn negative?  

Plus, a few points: A) These women are NOT topless, they're wearing body paint.  From a very basic technical point of view, there is a layer of paint on top of their breasts, so they are not exposing themselves.  B) Even if they WERE topless, which they are not, women do have a legal right to go topless in public in NYC - this was established years ago by activists who pointed out that if a man can walk around without a shirt, then legally, so can a woman.  C) If anyone is breaking the law in Times Square, it's people dressed like Batman or Elmo who are not paying anything to DC Comics/Time Warner or Children's Television Workshop for the legal right to dress as those characters.  In fact, the "topless" women have even more of a right to be posing with tourists for tips, because they're not violating any copyrights, they're simply being their own attractive (presumably) selves.  D) If you make topless women posing for tips illegal, you HAVE to also make walking around as Batman or Elmo posing for tips illegal too - you can't mandate what constitutes street art, and what doesn't - it's completely subjective. 

I just don't want to live in a world where we make naked women illegal - I can't even imagine it.  If you don't want your kids to see naked boobies, maybe don't bring them to Times Square?  Plus, you can't keep sheltering them!  Would you rather your son sees his first pair of naked breasts in a magazine, or out in the open streets, where he can be allowed to feel that it's maybe OK to look at some tits?  He's got to be allowed to experience these things as part of his maturation process, or the first pair of tits he sees will be on the dead hooker that he has to carve up.  Your call.  (That's what Freud believed, anyway...)

Anyway, see this film, unless you're a prude or a prick who can't condone images of gay sex.  Because after a while, nearly everything becomes a metaphor for gay sex.  I was telling someone the other day about those old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials from the 1970's where one person would be walking down the street eating a chocolate bar, and another person would be walking down the street with an open jar of peanut butter (because that's what you did back then, I guess) and they'd bump into each other on the corner, with the bar of chocolate ending up in the jar of peanut butter, and I guess maybe I wasn't describing it very well, because it started to sound a little sexual and maybe a bit perverse.  Hey, you got your "chocolate bar" in my "jar of peanut butter"!  (See what I mean?) But hey, that's how candy bars were created, and maybe how love connections were made.

It's a bit disjointed because the style of animation changes every four or five minutes, but that's probably a necessity of the process.  It takes much too long to make a complete animated feature in just one style (trust me on this one) so the trend now is to make these feature-length "mash-ups" where different animators handle small segments, and they all get edited together.  There's a feature based on Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" out in theaters right now, made by the same principle, with 6 or 7 different animators who each supplied segments that were 5 or 6 minutes long.  

It's great to hear the classic Monty Python song "Sit on My Face" again, but, really, they overused it. It's heard in this film about 6 or 7 times, and thus loses its shock value and most of its effectiveness.

Also starring the voices of Graham Chapman, John Cleese (last heard in "The Big Year"), Terry Jones, Michael Palin (last heard in "Arthur Christmas"), Terry Gilliam (last seen in "George Harrison: Living in the Material World"), Carol Cleveland, Cameron Diaz (last seen in "My Best Friend's Wedding"), Lloyd Kaufman, with cameos from Eric Idle, David Frost.

RATING: 5 out of 10 wrestling moves