Film Review: Monty Python Live (Mostly)

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 5 August 2014.

Last month, legendary comedy troupe Monty Python performed 10 sold out performances at London’s O2 Arena. With the first show selling out in 45 seconds, tickets for Monty Python Live (Mostly) were extremely hard to come by. Luckily for the majority of the planet, the final performance was recorded and will premiere in Australian cinemas this week.

Bringing together John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones for the first time in 30 years (Graham Chapman checked out in 1989 but appears in video sequences), the live show consists of a selection of classic Python sketches and songs, with some added modern references and new song verses.

For dedicated fans, this is a hilarious greatest hits compilation and a fantastic way to become reacquainted with the now much older Pythons, none of whom appear to be slowing down, at least on stage anyway. Newcomers might be tested by the lengthy run time (2 hours and 40 minutes, including a 20 minute interval) and wonder what the fuss is all about.

Monty Python Live (Mostly) is just one of a growing array of special events coming to cinemas. Audiences now have access to opera (New York’s Met Opera), theatre (Driving Miss Daisy with Angela Lansbury), television milestones (Doctor Who: Deep Breath – the debut of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor) and live performances (Andre Rieu Cleans Out His Sock Drawer). Although I’m for anything that draws more people into the cinema, recorded live performances suffer from an audience disconnect and the Monty Python reunion is no different.

Although the camera angles offer cinema audiences undeniably the best seat in the house, there is no substitute for live atmosphere. The video sequences, some new, some old, designed to give the cast time to change between sketches, drag. The etiquette of cinema-going frowns upon participating in the many sing-a-longs featured in the show, although I couldn’t resist the finale, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Sorry if you were sitting near me.

The Dead Parrot, Argument Clinic, Four Yorkshiremen and Nudge Nudge are just a few of the classic sketches recreated on stage. A full orchestra accompanies the Pythons in such iconic ditties as Every Sperm is Sacred, The Lumberjack Song and I Like Chinese. A two storey stage, rolling sets and an all singing and dancing ensemble bring a big Broadway musical feel to the proceedings.

Monty Python Live (Mostly) features many celebrity cameos from the likes of Eddie Izzard and Mike Myers, as well as a surprising appearance from Professor Brian Cox and the legendary Professor Stephen Hawking in the Galaxy Song. The show also features Carol Cleveland, the only female (unofficial) member of the troupe.

Barring retirement funds needing another top-up, this is likely to be the last time to see Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin share the same stage. For fans of classic British comedy, this is a must-see (but take a packed lunch and a cushion). For newbies, a marathon of classic Python movies before the concert film is recommended.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:42  Leave a Comment  
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Never Tear Us Apart: An obituary to INXS

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th November 2012.

Aussie music fans were not at all stunned last week with the not particularly shocking announcement that INXS were calling it quits after 35 years as a touring act. On the final night of a tour supporting Matchbox Twenty in Perth, drummer Jon Farriss informed the Perth crowd that they were witnessing the last live performance of the band that at one time were Australia’s biggest musical exports.

My earliest memory of INXS involves dancing along to Original Sin during a sleepover at a mate’s house. The year was 1984. The album was Throbbin ’84 (on cassette). At the time, neither of us even knew how to pronounce INXS. As far as we were concerned they were “ink-sus” (rhyming with sphinxes).

A few years later, MTV arrived on our shores, though not as we know it today. Pay TV was still a few years away. MTV first aired in Australia as a three hour late Friday and Saturday night music show on the Nine Network, hosted by Richard Wilkins, complete with mullet. Each year, as a special, the MTV Music Awards was also broadcast. I still have the 1986 awards on videocassette somewhere which features an in form INXS performing What You Need.

In 1987, INXS released Kick and the rest is history. Selling over ten million copies worldwide, Kick is a perfect forty minutes of pop. Featuring the singles Need You Tonight, Devil Inside and Never Tear Us Apart, the album launched the band into the stratosphere and for a few short years INXS was arguably the biggest band in the world. I really must put the special edition Kick 25 reissue on my Christmas wish list. I love that album.

Flashforward to the mid-nineties and INXS had begun to lose their shine. Creatively the band had not been able to match Kick and sales had slumped. It was during preparations for their “comeback” tour in 1997 that Michael Hutchence committed suicide in a Sydney hotel room. I had front row centre tickets for the first of these comeback gigs at the State Theatre. What a bummer.

Rather than retire the INXS name, the remaining members continued to tour with a succession of singers, making them one of those rare creatures in the music industry: a band that transformed into their own cover act.

I finally caught INXS (with ex-Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens) live in Cardiff on a double bill with Blondie. It simply wasn’t the same. Michael Hutchence had a unique stage presence and charisma that was irreplaceable.

A little later, a new singer, Canadian J.D. Fortune was promoted to vocal duties via a TV talent search. Although his Michael Hutchence impersonation wasn’t bad, J.D. only lasted one album before being dropped for Irishman Ciaran Gribbin.

As far as I’m concerned, INXS ceased to exist in 1997 with the death of Hutchence. It has taken 15 years for the other band members to understand this but I think deep down most fans would agree with me. Just like The Doors without Jim Morrison or Queen without Freddie Mercury, INXS were simply not the same without their charismatic frontman.

Published in: on December 25, 2012 at 08:50  Leave a Comment  
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Shooting the Shat

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 12th April 2011.

So you’re a controversial Hollywood actor, some would say a has-been, currently between jobs and looking for a gig. What do you do for a little income? You book yourself on a speaking tour and hope that your fans will shell out to see you do something you’ve never done before. That is, be yourself.

No, I’m not talking about Charlie Sheen. I’m referring to Captain James T. Kirk himself, William Shatner. The Shat premiered his William Shatner Live speaking tour in Sydney last week and over two thousand fans parted with $150 or more to pack the State Theatre just to be in the same room as the man also known as T.J. Hooker and Denny Crane.

In his introduction, Shatner acknowledged being nervous about his first ever speaking tour, especially after hearing the reports of walkouts and poor reviews for Charlie “Winning” Sheen’s similar enterprise the week prior. I’m pleased to report that Bill’s show did not disappoint and ended with a standing ovation.

I remember meeting Batman’s Adam West and being slightly underwhelmed. I have a dedicated and autographed picture which I’ll treasure forever but I certainly got the impression that West was just there for a payday and had better things to do. That certainly wasn’t the case with Shatner, who seemed genuinely pleased to be in Australia and meeting his fans.

I attended a private Q & A session prior to the show, where Shatner introduced us to his wife, Elizabeth Martin, who is 28 years his junior. Both previously widowed, the couple breed, ride and show horses. Being a little younger than her husband, Martin admitted meeting Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Picard, Patrick Stewart and wondering how it was possible a spaceship could have two captains.

The main show consisted of an interview by host Jonathan Biggins, followed by questions from the audience sent via twitter. There was also the opportunity in the foyer for fans to submit questions. It was via this method that I managed to end up standing in front of a sold out State Theatre audience with a microphone talking to William Shatner.

In response to my question, Shatner confirmed that he will not be appearing in the new Star Trek film. He also added that he was disappointed to not have been included in the recent Star Trek reboot which featured Leonard Nimoy reprising his role as Spock.

Shatner was surprisingly candid throughout the show, explaining the events leading up to the tragic death by drowning of his 3rd wife, Nerine Kidd. He also discussed his close friendship with Nimoy and the animosity which still exists between himself and some of his Star Trek co-stars, particularly George Takei.

The Shat also revealed himself to be an environmentalist, making a passionate impromptu speech for saving Mother Earth. Heavily involved in environmental charities, he also told an amusing anecdote involving an amorous gorilla propositioning him during an appearance.

Infamous for his spoken word interpretations of pop classics such as Mr Tambourine Man and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Shatner ended the show with a special performance of Men at Work’s Down Under.

Having turned eighty this year (but looking sixty thanks to a little work I presume), William Shatner shows no signs of slowing down. With a successful live show on his hands and the second season of his new sitcom $#*! My Dad Says to record, The Shat looks set to continue going where no actor has gone before.

Peter Young and the Column of Words

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th March 2011.

A throwaway line during a movie review in the UK has inspired the production of a low budget film in Australia. During a review of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief on BBC Radio Five Live last year, respected film reviewer Mark Kermode made fun of the film, criticising it as a knock-off of the Harry Potter franchise. It was so derivative that, according to Kermode, it may as well have been called “Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins.”

Kermode, along with radio host Simon Mayo, command a loyal and sizeable UK audience via their two hour movie review and interview show every Friday, which is also available to the rest of the world via podcast. Naturally, this witty title took the imagination of listeners everywhere and following many texts and emails to the show, a few fan produced posters for the proposed film appeared online.

Late last year, Australian writer and director Jeremy Dylan announced that he would be putting his own money on the line to actually produce the film and in January, the world premiere of the low budget satire Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins was held at the Dendy cinema in Newtown.

Starring Andrew Griscti as the title character, the film follows the adventures of Benjamin, “a nerdy, skiffle-loving redhead from Cockfosters” who finds out that he is a wizard and is soon whisked off to an island in Australia to be trained in magic by mentor Pentangle and Bavarian filmmaker Werner Herzog. Sound familiar?

Whilst the film is a broad satire of the Harry Potter franchise and the Percy Jackson not-quite-successful-enough-to-be-a-franchise movie, it is also packed with in-jokes from the radio show. Sniddlegrass loves skiffle because Mark Kermode plays bass in the skiffle / rockabilly quartet The Dodge Brothers. The character of Werner Herzog is based on the real eccentric German filmmaker of the same name (Rescue Dawn, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu the Vampyre) who famously was shot by an unknown assailant with an air rifle during an interview with Kermode, brushing it off and continuing the interview with the comment, “it was not a significant bullet.”

Of course, the low budget nature of the film means that the cast is composed of unknown actors, with the exception of famous actor, writer and comedian Stephen Fry (Gosford Park, Alice in Wonderland, V for Vendetta) who somehow was convinced by the director to narrate the story.

Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins is currently available via digital download for the reasonable price of $10. It will also soon be out on DVD. Other screenings worldwide are being demanded by supporters and fans.

The film itself is worth a chuckle or two. Despite being restricted by its tiny budget, it is hard not to smile throughout the seventy minute running time. I would definitely recommend that you familiarise yourself with the banter of Kermode and Mayo’s radio show before you see the movie. There are plenty of hilarious clips of Kermode’s famous rants online.

Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 07:03  Leave a Comment  
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