Aug 1, 2014

[Movies] Holy Flying Circus (2011)

There are four official feature-length Monty Python films in existence, but Life of Brian tends to stick out for quite a number of reasons. Beyond how funny it is and how some people consider it to be some of the best comedic work that the Pythons have ever created, it also stirred up quite an amount of controversy back in the day given its subject matter. Then again, I suppose there is no light way of creating a comedy film that involves "a" Messiah, but not necessarily Jesus.

Holy Flying Circus is a strange little comedic creation that attempts to give us more of a "behind the scenes" look at how the Pythons dealt with the initial backlash that the film received upon its release. But not content with creating a straightforward documentary or dramatic recreation of events, it seems they decided to make the film feel more like an  homage to the Python's distinct brand of often surreal comedy.

Thus the movie follows the style of the old Monty Python's Flying Circus show in terms of how it tackles various scenes and characters. And whether this was done well or not, it was certainly interesting and a nice way to try and be different and yet also respectful, in a manner of speaking.

Synopsis: Holy Flying Circus is a 2011 BBC television comedy movie written by Tony Roche and directed by Owen Harris. The movie is described to be a "Pythonesque" retelling of events surrounding the release of Monty Python's Life of Brian.

The movie begins with work already having been completed on Life of Brian and the Pythons are set to finally release the film after so much work. Their film distributor recommends that they first release the movie in America in order to take advantage of the legal protection offered by US freedom of speech laws. At first this has everyone rather excited to see how America will react to the movie, nothing truly prepared them for the size of the backlash by various Christian groups to the content of the movie.  And when they eventually release the film in the UK, they find similar opposition trying to get the movie shut down.

Meanwhile, we get glimpses of other groups as well. We see a Christian group in the UK try to determine how to work against the movie's release. Elsewhere, we also learn about the efforts to change Friday Night, Saturday Morning to be more hip and accessible. Then they figure that one way to capitalize on current events is to stage a debate of sorts about the Monty Python movie with Tim Rice as host / moderator. The Pythons initially argue back and forth whether or not the debate is a good idea but eventually they agree and have John Cleese (Darren Boyd) and Michael Palin (Charles Edwards) represent the group.

First up, excellent casting choices all around, but naturally we have to pay additional respect to the choice of Boyd and Edwards as Cleese and Palin respectively. Apart from generally looking like the people they're trying to represent, they also capture a lot of their speech patterns and just the overall feel of who they are. Thus it was certainly a great performance without necessarily going too over the top. And it was direly important to get the two characters just right given that they were the faces of Python during the actual debate.

The "Pythonesque" treatment to things was a little hit-or-miss throughout the movie. I could clearly appreciate what they were trying to do, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they accomplished it all the time. Part of the challenge, I suppose, was how the various Monty Python episodes used to flow on a very loose sort of stream of consciousness thing. This movie had a firmer narrative structure and it had a definite story that it needed to tell and so it wasn't as easy to get out of the narrative to be funny in an out-of-the-box way and then go back to the story right after.

I did enjoy the unusual fact that Michael Palin's wife was played by Rufus Jones, who also portrayed Terry Jones in the movie. If anything, that definitely felt like a Python way of going about things and one that generally made sense. Some of the fantastical bits were still fun (like that big fight between Cleese and Palin), but they also act as a reminder that no one can do Terry Gilliam quite like Terry Gilliam. And when I say this I'm referring to both his brilliant animation and just his presence on-screen.

The movie is rather light viewing and is a decent enough dramatization of the original events. But one has to remember that this is not at all mean to be a truly accurate retelling of things from a historical perspective. It's really a comedy piece that seems to have something to say about the nature of censorship and religion but I'm not sure if it manages this all that well either.

Holy Flying Circus is decently funny and makes a decent attempt of talking about this period in Monty Python history in a unique way. Some bits will drag and you'll wonder why you've stuck around this lone while other bits will have you genuinely laughing at the end results. So the movie gets a good 3.5 silly bits worked into the movie out of a possible 5.

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