Saturday, September 15, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Controversial Lives

On his OutQ talk show last week, Frank DeCaro ran down a list of the ten funniest movie comedies of all time, as ranked by a recent survey that determined each film's rate of laughs per minute. #10 was Monty Python's Life of Brian, the British troupe's controversial 1979 religious satire. It is the only Python film on the list, and one of only two movies honored that were produced prior to the last decade (the #1 spot was deservedly claimed by 1980's Airplane!).

Holy Flying Circus, new to Blu-ray and DVDfrom Acorn Media, is a very clever, frequently hilarious recounting of the international brouhaha that erupted when Life of Brian was originally released. This docu-drama/-comedy, written by In the Loop's Oscar-nominated Tony Roche, is told and filmed in a Pythonesque style replete with silly walks, cross-dressing and animated vignettes a la Terry Gilliam's eye-popping work when he was with MP. Adding to the similarities are the actors cast as Monty Python's former members, most of whom are dead ringers. This is particularly true of Darren Boyd as John Cleese, Steve Punt as Eric Idle and Charles Edwards as the extremely nice Michael Palin. (Much is made in the film of Palin's all-consuming niceness.)

Life of Brian does not make fun of Jesus Christ, contrary to the popular sentiment of the time generated primarily by people who hadn't seen the film. Nonetheless, Monty Python endured global accusations of blasphemy and the troupe was split on how best to respond to them. Eventually, Cleese and Palin agreed to be guests on a BBC talk show (hosted in Holy Flying Circus by musical lyricist Tim Rice, amusingly personified by the similar-sounding Tom Price) alongside an Anglican archbishop and British commentator Malcolm Muggeridge. This confrontation serves as the film's climax.

The release of Holy Flying Circus is nothing if not timely given current tensions between the U. and pretty much every Middle Eastern country over a low-budget movie, Innocence of Muhammed, that reportedly depicts the Muslim prophet in a negative light. Without belittling Islam or the present situation, I found one of Cleese's lines in Holy Flying Circus insightful. "It's good to be offended;" Cleese says, "It reminds us that we're alive." If you're not easily offended, be sure to watch this smart docu-satire (as well as Life of Brian if you never have) ASAP.

I finally had a chance to view Somewhere Between, the new documentary about children adopted from China that I mentioned here a few weeks back. It is now playing at the Landmark Nuart Theater in Los Angeles following a successful New York run and after winning several notable film festival awards. Intimate and compelling, the film follows four girls raised in the US and the various unique struggles they undergo in adapting to our culture while yearning to know their origins and homeland.

Deeply Christian and home-schooled, Haley Butler firmly believes that "God does everything for a reason." The doc reveals Haley's seemingly miraculous (though some will be tempted to call it "accidental" or "coincidental") discovery of her birth family during one of her and her adoptive mother's regular mission trips back to China. It's a riveting sequence, but nearly as riveting and deeply moving is the experience of another adoptee, Fang "Jenni" Lee. Fang discovers and becomes connected emotionally to a little "girl in pink" she discovers in a Chinese foster home. The toddler has cerebral palsy but Fang makes it her personal mission to find parents in the US willing to adopt her "little sister."

All four of the teens' stories and experiences featured in Somewhere Between are enlightening. As one of their advisors states in the film: "Adoption is something you carry with you your whole life. You can run from it, but it runs faster than you." My only gripe, as the new uncle of a recently-adopted nephew from China, is that an adopted male isn't featured. Fewer boys are put up for adoption, and those that are usually have severe physical or mental disabilities. However, there are other Chinese-born boys growing up in the US who deserve to have their stories told, too. Perhaps director Linda Goldstein Knowlton, who herself adopted a girl from China, can make a male-focused sequel down the road.

Reverend's Ratings:
Holy Flying Circus: B+
Somewhere Between: A-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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