Saturday, October 31, 2009

On DVD: "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs"

It’s just plain unfair to compare the films of Blue Sky Studios to those of Pixar, simply because both outfits are trafficking in family-friendly computer-generated animation. Pixar doesn’t just outpace Blue Sky in terms of technical acumen and storytelling skill—they’re outdoing pretty much every other studio in town, animated or not (name me five live-action filmmakers who could have pulled off the first twenty minutes of Up and I’ve got a nice shiny quarter for you). Blue Sky, the house behind the Ice Age trilogy and Horton Hears a Who, have always positioned themselves as the Warner Brothers to Pixar’s Walt Disney, the crowd-pleasers engaging more in slapstick and sheer fun, without quite so much artfulness. On those terms, it is more accurate to compare them with Dreamworks Animation, the pop culture-riffing, low comedy-embracing creators of Kung Fu Panda and the Shrek films. There, the comparison is apt—particularly in critiquing the third film of their signature series, where both Shrek the Third and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs find a brand watered-down and showing its age.

The first Ice Age was a genuinely funny and clever movie, mixing its Looney Tunes-style slapstick with inspired voice performances by stars John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, and (especially) Ray Romano, whose dry, nasal delivery was somehow a perfect match for Manny, the big lunk of a wooly mammoth it inhabited. A little of Leguizamo’s lisping, manic sloth Sid goes a long way, but his energy was nicely balanced by Leary’s growling but good-hearted saber-toothed tiger, Diego. The sequel, Ice Age: The Meltdown, added Queen Latifah’s Ellie (a female mammoth) to the mix, as well as her opossum brothers (long story) Crash and Eddie.

Dawn of the Dinosaurs finds our heroes settling down into a life of domesticity. Manny and Ellie are expecting a baby mammoth, and Manny is preparing by attempting to baby-proof just about everything. Diego fears he’s losing his edge; when he’s easily outrun by a snarky gazelle (Bill Hader), Diego decides he has to leave the herd because he’s become too domesticated. Sid, meanwhile, longing for a family of his own, discovers a trio of dinosaur eggs that he ends up keeping and trying to raise on his own; when the dinosaur mother comes to retrieve her young, she takes Sid too.

So as with the first two films, Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a quest movie—Manny and the gang’s search and rescue of Sid. The primary addition this time around is Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), who lends his voice and considerable spark to the character of Buck the one-eyed weasel, a thrill-seeking jungle adventurer who helps them on their journey (of a butterfly they encounter, he notes: “I knew that guy when he was a caterpillar. You know, before he came out”).

As before, the animation and character designs are lovely—the big, fluffy mammoths, the angular saber tooth, etc.—while the slapstick is mostly successful, particularly the wordless scenes with Scrat the squirrel, which frolic in a conspicuous silent movie aesthetic. But much of the verbal humor falls flat. While Sid’s sweet attempts at parenthood are charming and occasionally amusing (“I’m a single mother with three kids!” he pleads. “I could use a little compassion!”), and Romano gets off a couple of good lines (“All right, well, good luck with the slow descent into madness, we gotta go…”), poor Leary mostly plays boring straight man, and Crash and Eddie primarily function as a distraction. The climax works, pulling its threads together nicely with a lovely wrap-up, but it doesn’t make up for the dearth of real laughs (and by real laughs, I mean ones that aren’t based in bodily function and fluid) along the way. It’s a sweet enough kids movie, but it doesn’t deliver the goods for grown-ups.

As with the Shrek movies, the Ice Age series is starting to feel like a TV sitcom in its twilight years, leaning on its past successes and the comfort-food quality of its familiar characters without working up much in the way of new inspiration or genuine laughs. Though it has its moments, Dawn of the Dinosaurs is ultimately a throwaway.

"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" hit DVD and Blu-ray on October 27th.

Friday, October 30, 2009

On DVD: "Champions Forever- The Definitive Edition"

Is there a sports figure who has been more thoroughly documented than Muhammad Ali? The three-time heavyweight champ was one of the first professional athletes to fully capture the attention of mass media, and to understand how he could utilize it. Reporters loved him because he made good copy; he gave funny, sharp quotes, his story was dramatic, and his charisma was palpable. Because he was such a compelling figure, and there’s so much great footage of him in action (in and out of the ring), you can trace the bulk of his career through the documentary films that have taken him as their subject: from the early days in Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami to the “Rumble in the Jungle”, seen in the brilliant Oscar-winning doc When We Were Kings to the Thrilla in Manila to his tragic final fights, seen in the excellent new ESPN documentary Muhammad and Larry. (Michael Mann’s biographical feature Ali helps fill in some of the blanks as well.)

But Champions Forever pre-dates them all, its primary (in fact, its only) advantage over those films is that director Dimitri Logothetis was able to capture Ali’s thoughts on his most famous bouts before his Parkinson’s nearly grinded his ability to speak to a halt. To be sure, his speech has slowed here, but he still has his considerable warmth, charisma, and good humor (the camera captures his “Wanna see it again?” joke, among many others). His discussions and memories of fight strategies are lucid and enlightening, and his grin remains downright infectious.

The film also includes his contemporaries Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, George Forman, and Larry Holmes, opening with Holmes’ 1988 loss to Mike Tyson, the heir apparent (at that time, anyway) to Ali. The film then moves back to profile each of the eventual champions—their humble beginnings, and how they entered the ring. Though the four contemporaries get some screen time, Ali is the documentary’s primary focus; it walks us through his early triumphs, his conversion to Islam, his controversial anti-draft stand, and his subsequent return to the sport. His story is intercut with the rise of the other fighters, and their thoughts on their own styles and how they faced off against Ali.

As a clip show, Champions Forever is fantastic; there’s amazing old footage of Ali’s amateur and early professional bouts, as well as his early pro fights (good lord, he was so young and so fast), and a great clip of him joking around at a weigh-in. Most of the important fights get at least a mention, though few are delved into in great detail. And the contributions of his fellow fighters are significant (especially during an enjoyable, and sometimes tense, roundtable interview).

So as a document, it’s invaluable—to see these clips, to hear these guys remember these fights. But as documentary filmmaking, it’s strictly paint-by-numbers; though it’s full of iconic moments and tremendous stories, it never sucks us in the way that the best sports documentaries (and, for that matter, the Ali docs listed above) do.

With its wide focus and conventional style, Champions Forever might serve as a worthwhile introduction to Ali for younger audiences, or a pleasant stroll down memory lane for old fans. But it suffers in comparison to the many Muhammad Ali documentaries that have followed it; those films offer penetrating analysis and genuine tension and insight, while this one is more like a greatest-hits reel.

"Champions Forever- The Definitive Edition" is currently available on DVD.

Today's New in Theaters- 10/30/09

Hey, great news if, like me, you're kind of broke here at the end of the month: nothing worth spending your money on in the theater this week!

Michael Jackson's This is It: The reviews thus far have been surprisingly good (well, not all of them), but I'm sorry, this just feels like Sony and MJ's backers ghoulishly squeezing one last drop of blood from his battered corpse. (Paint quite the picture, don't I?) It might be worth seeing (particularly if you trust Roger Ebert, which I usually do), but I can't make myself pull the trigger on what seems like a particularly well-promoted piece of exploitation.

Gentlemen Broncos: I was among the minority that didn't particularly like or attach to director Jared Hess' big breakthrough, Napoleon Dynamite; his latest is sitting at a meager 11% on the Tomotometer (though Armond White likes it, of course), so I think it's safe to take a pass.

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day: Though it was recommended by people I trust, I could never work myself up to seeing the original, so it's pretty safe to say I can hold off on this one for a while.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Loose Ends: ESPN, Ebert on indies, and new trailers

- You'd have to search far and wide to find a bigger sports-hater than me; I grew up in the Midwest, where the viewing of and participation in sports is pretty much required, and I grew to loathe both. And yet I love sports movies, particularly sports documentaries--the brilliant When We Were Kings, for example, is probably one of my favorite docs (if not favorite films) of all time. So, improbably enough, I've found myself watching ESPN lately. In celebration of their 30 years on the air, they've started 30 for 30, a weekly series of one-hour documentaries by acclaimed filmmakers, one for each of the years they've been on the air. All of them so far have been worth watching--Mike Tollin's Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFC? and Peter Berg's King's Ransom were both very good (the former more than the latter), while Barry Levinson's The Band That Wouldn't Die was just excellent. But the best of the bunch so far has been Muhammad and Larry by the great Al Maysles and Bradley Kaplan. Ali remains the most compelling sports doc subject of them all (aside from When We Were Kings, we also had the recent Thrilla in Manilla and Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami), and this film is just extraordinary, combining extensive footage Maysles shot at the time of that 1980 bout--a brutal, unfortunate showcase of the fall of a legend which certainly contributed to his Parkinson's--with modern reflections by those involved. It's fantastic. Here's a schedule of its remaining airings and the upcoming shows (including repeats of the ones they've already aired). These are well worth watching, and (as I can attest) they're not just for sports fans.

- Roger Ebert's blog has become a must-read, not only for his film essays but his personal revelations (his tale of his thirty years of sobriety, and what led him to that point, is a terrific read) and political tracts. But his most intriguing (and terrifying) entry of late was this one, from a little over a month ago, about the dire state of American independent film distribution.

- New trailers, kids! The collaboration of Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon on the last two Bourne films led to a rare intermingling of skillful, intelligent filmmaking and box-office action movie success. They're reteaming for next spring's Green Zone, and it looks fantastic:

- Sure, Invictus looks like potentially formulaic Oscar bait. But it's Damon and Morgan Freeman and it's directed by Clint Eastwood, so I'm sure as hell seeing it:

- And finally, here's something awesome: Somebody cut a trailer for The Wrestler to make it look like a grindhouse movie:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Today's New DVDs- 10/27/09

Monty Python: Almost the Truth; Monty Python: The Other British Invasion: Hey kids, it's Python Tuesday. Today we have the simultaneous release of the epic new six-hour documentary Almost the Truth and the slightly older, more narrowly focused Other British Invasion. The former is the better of the two, but both are enlightening and well worth a look for fans.

Whatever Works: I surrendered to my fate as a lifelong Woody Allen fan and apologist years ago, but even I'm mistified by the general hostility towards his latest. Many critics seized on the fact that was an old script that Allen wrote in the 70s and reworked for star Larry David, as if this made it musty and out-of-date; to the contrary, it is a bit of cinematic archaelogy, taking us back to a Woody that was looser, jokier, and funkier--and David is a great Allen protagonist.

The Achievers- The Story of the Lebowski Fans: In its best moments, this homemade documentary isn't really about The Big Lebowski at all; it's about the very nature of fandom, and how popular culture can create a common language that allows those less skilled in social interactions to relate with each other and form genuine bonds.

Orphan: I missed this one in theaters, and can't imagine I'll make my way to it on DVD anytime soon. It's fronted by people I like (Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Fermiga) and who doesn't like a good creepy kid movie (though Fermiga appears to be making a career out of them)? But something about it rubbed me the wrong way--it looks just a little too obvious, particularly in the look of the evil girl. Of course she can't just be bad; she has to be a scowling refugee from a Grimm Brothers fairy tale.

Z: I caught this one on the big screen at Film Forum last year and it kind of knocked my socks off; the fact that it took this long for Criterion to snatch it up is frankly surprising, since it's right in their wheelhouse. Rich says they do right by it, though.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On DVD: "Andy Barker, P.I.: The Complete Series"

Andy Barker, P.I. lasted all of six episodes, while According to Jim made it to 182. That single sentence may contain everything you need to know about the current state of network television comedy, but I suppose I’ll write the review anyway.

In all fairness, Andy Barker may very well have been too quirky and odd for network success. The brainchild of Conan O’Brien and co-creator Jonathan Groff, the single-camera, laugh track-free absurdist riff on detective fiction might have done better on cable or premium TV (where the noticeably similar Bored to Death is now thriving)—perhaps there it would have been better appreciated by a niche audience. It marked star Andy Richter’s third attempt at a starring vehicle, after the longer-lived but similarly mistreated Andy Richter Controls the Universe and the loved-by-no one Quintuplets; unlike his first show, which took a few episodes to nail its particular tone, Andy Barker roars out of the gate strong and never falters. It’s a shame an audience wasn’t there to follow it.

Richter plays the title character, a CPA who is starting his own practice in a strip mall, where his neighbors include video store owner Simon (Tony Hale) and Afghani restaurant owner Wally (Marshall Manesh). In the pilot episode, he is mistaken for the previous resident of his office space, tough-talking private eye Lew Staziak (Harve Presnell). But he finds he has a knack for the detective biz, so he pursues it as a sideline while continuing to work as an accountant, occasionally inter-mingling the two disciplines.

O’Brien and Groff hit the jackpot in their casting; the show is overstuffed with able, uproarious supporting players. Hale, best known for his iconic turn as “Buster” on Arrested Development, is very funny as a would-be sidekick; he gets to show some range, which is good, but his Simon ultimately shares Buster’s relentless need to please, and that’s a quality that’s welcome. Manesh’s Wally is an enjoyable comic creation; his kebab restaurant is decked out with red, white, and blue on every vertical surface; “He went a little overboard with the patriotic stuff after 9/11,” notes Simon. Clea Lewis, as Andy’s sweet and supportive wife, is a charmer, though Presnell (the gruff father-in-law from Fargo) pretty much steals the show—he growls his noir patoire through clenched teeth, jabbing Andy and Simon with perfectly-aimed insults and spewing uproariously inappropriate non-sequiturs at will. But Richter is the star, a generous and charismatic performer who shows here (as he did on Andy Richter Controls the Universe) that he’s more than capable of carrying a show on his doughy shoulders.

Excepting the pilot, every episode pulls its title from a classic mystery tale (“The Lady Varnishes,” “Dial M for Laptop,” “The Big No Sleep,” etc.). Of the bunch, the funniest is probably “Fairway, My Lovely,” in which one of Andy’s clients, a sloppily oversized fellow in terrible health, dies of a heart attack during their golf meeting. His wife insists that it was foul play, because he was desired by so many women; every time this information is confirmed, he flashes back to a slow-motion shot of the portly gent running across the golf course, hero sandwich in hand, and then replies with a perfectly timed, “Really?”

That episode also showcases the series’ other masterstroke; when you strip away the goofiness and parody, these are actually pretty good mysteries. Goff and the show’s writers understand that, in some peculiar way, the show works better by situating it within the real world, and by making Andy a genuinely nice guy who’s actually good at what he does; the comedy comes from his gee-whiz reactions to crime and vice (seeing a set of blackmail photos, he exclaims with genuine shock, “These are dirty!”), and from the character comedy of the excellent ensemble cast.

There is one element that feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Nicole Randall Johnson (from MADtv) guests on the pilot as newspaper archive clerk who Andy bests; on the next episode, she shows up at his office and announces that since he got her fired, she works for him now. Johnson is a brilliant comedienne with a welcome, arid-dry wit, and Simon displays an immediate (and funny) attraction to her that seems a promising running gag. But she disappears after that episode with no explanation; on the commentary track, the producers muse that she couldn’t get away from MADtv, but it seems odd to leave her role hanging as they do.

Some of the jokes are a touch obvious (like Hale’s slapstick roll across the hood of a car in the pilot episode, or a week marijuana/munchies payoff in “Dial M for Laptop”), sure, and the device of ending episodes with an unresolved cliffhanger is clever, but inconsistent (it’s only done intermittently, on half of the shows). But each episode builds terrific comic momentum (stuffing in running jokes and throwaway bits), punctures the usual clich├ęs, and spices up the inevitable action climaxes with funny twists (like a golf cart chase or a misfiring antique gun). When we get a “ticking clock” episode, the clock isn’t a bomb, but the income tax filing deadline. And when Andy is working two cases at once (as every detective must do), one of them is the search for his daughter’s favorite stuffed toy. Director Jason Ensler shoots the show stylishly, delving into the dark and shadows without spoiling the jokes. Andy Barker, P.I. is a little gem of a show, waiting to be discovered and appreciated.

It would be easy to pinpoint the speedy dismissal of Andy Barker, P.I. as yet another example of network impatience (NBC had pulled the plug by the fourth airing), but that’s all sour grapes. I’ll choose to be thankful for the episodes that we got, and the fact that they got out with the show’s purity intact. What the hell, they only did six episodes of Police Squad! too.

"Andy Barker, P.I.: The Complete Series" hits DVD on Tuesday, November 17th.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On DVD: "Monty Python: Almost The Truth (The Lawyer's Cut)"

Hey, look at me, post #300! Whoop-de-doo! Hurray for that.

And now for something completely different...

Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut) is a documentary series that knows its audience. It runs six hours, and that’s quite a bit of screen time to devote to anything; on top of that, the story of England’s most popular and influential comedy troupe isn’t exactly an unknown story. They’ve been the subject of several previous documentaries, from the 20th anniversary duo Life of Python/Parrot Sketch Not Included to the recent Monty Python: The Other British Invasion and countless books, including the bulky, comprehensive The Pythons, a coffee-table oral history with a more-than-passing resemblance to the companion book to The Beatles Anthology. Now, it would seem, they’ve made a documentary series that rivals the Fab Four’s in its sheer volume and exhaustive detail.

But that’s the thing about us Python fans: we’re an obsessive lot, and even though we may know most of this stuff, even though we’ve probably seen these clips dozens (if not hundreds) of times before, even though six hours is a helluva lot of time to watch anything, when I heard that there was a six hour documentary on Python, my immediate response was as follows: “When do I get to see it?”

Having done so, it gives me great pleasure to report that Almost the Truth is a joy to watch, an insightful and thoroughly entertaining jaunt through a rich and unreasonably funny body of work. Perhaps most importantly, it takes itself with exactly the right degree of seriousness; it has a sense of humor about the many documentaries that have preceded it, its epic length, even its title. It is, in fact, exactly as irreverent as you’d like a Monty Python doc to be—starting with the blowing-up-the-suits legal disclaimer and opening theme, a riff on the Life of Brian theme song, sung by Sonia Jones (who sang the original) and changing with each passing episode (by episode five, the lyrics are along the lines of “Python/ I’m so fucking sick of Monty Python/ and this documentary…”).

The first episode, “The Not-So-Interesting Beginnings,” fills in the details of the six men’s backgrounds and their social and cultural influences, including The Goon Show and Beyond the Fringe (both glimpsed in perfectly-chosen clips). As the title indicates, this kind of “I met Mike at Oxford” business can be something of a chore to get through, but here it’s done in such a way to spotlight that Python wasn’t a thing that just happened—it was the natural culmination of their satiric influences, their college revues, and their earlier TV work.

That show takes us right up to the forming of the group for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which is the primary focus of part two, “The Much Funnier Second Episode.” Here we see how the show came together, with the surviving Pythons remembering their disastrous pitch meeting, recalling the influence of Spike Milligan, and showing some amazing artifacts (including the original title brainstorming sheets). There are a surplus of great stories (“The Lumberjack Song” was written in “about twenty minutes”), and the first appearances of some of the all-star fans who pop up throughout the series, including Steve Coogan, Russell Brand, Simon Pegg, Dan Aykroyd, Tim Roth, and Stephen Merchant (co-creator of the original Office). Through their reflections and the insights of the Pythons (but, significantly, without any pushy narration), the sociological and political overtones of their work are examined, but in an enlightening and enjoyable way—thoughtful, but without over-intellectualizing. They also make a legitimate (and successful, or at least as successfully as these things can be) attempt to explain what, exactly, it was that made them so very funny.

Episode three, “And Now, The Sordid Personal Bits,” continues with the Flying Circus years, dealing with their BBC battles over censorship and archiving (amazingly, several innovative BBC series—including those of Milligan and Peter Cook & Dudley Moore—were “wiped” to recycle tape), and their first attempts at live shows and vinyl (including the marvelous prank of the alternating grooves on the Matching Tie and Handkerchief album). But, as promised in the title, the primary focus this hour is the personalities—who each of them were, what they did, and what they brought to the troupe. From there, it flows beautifully into the tales of troubled Graham Chapman (seen mostly in clips from a candid and thorough 1980 TV interview), and the group’s reactions to his homosexuality and, later, his alcoholism. Indeed, his drinking put a real splinter in his writing partnership with John Cleese, which may have ultimately been a factor in Cleese’s decision to leave the show before the somewhat uneven fourth series.

“The Ultimate Holy Grail Episode” begins with some of their struggle to cross over to American audiences (covered in greater detail in the Monty Python Conquers America hour of the Other British Invasion set), including their unsuccessful first film, And Now For Something Completely Different. But this one is mostly about their most iconic film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail: how it came to be, how the funds were raised (it was partially financed by English rock bands, including Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd), and the lengthy writing process. The shoot itself is recalled in great detail by the Pythons, with the help of some splendid behind-the-scenes footage; they vividly relate the struggles of shooting the difficult picture on a low budget, and the occasionally contradictory co-directing relationship of “the two Terrys” (Jones and Gilliam), as well as dealing with a leading man (Chapman) who was at the height of his alcoholism. The stories of the difficult post-production (they went through 13 cuts) are fascinating, but the most surprising revelation comes at the end: Holy Grail was one of Elvis’ favorite movies, one that he would watch repeatedly and quote from liberally (they even interview “Memphis Mafia” member Jerry Schilling for confirmation).

Episode five, “Lust for Glory,” deals entirely with their 1979 film Life of Brian, starting with the journey of the story; they booted their original idea of an outright parody of Christ himself to a broader spoof of religion and biblical epics. “The most blasphemous things got edited out,” notes Eric Idle, though several of them are relayed here (and are awfully funny, at least if you’re not too rigorous in your dogma). Not surprisingly, the suits were scared of the idea and its controversial overtones; their first deal for financing fell apart, and the film was ultimately rescued by fan George Harrison, who formed the (ultimately prolific) company Handmade Films specifically to bankroll Brian, mainly because he just wanted to see it (“It’s the most anyone has paid for a cinema ticket in history,” Idle notes with a grin). Of the resulting film, Jones proclaims, “It’s not blasphemous at all… it’s heretical!” but that didn’t prevent a fierce controversy on both sides of the pond. We get a riveting clip of Cleese and Palin debating the film with would-be censors on a BBC chat show, and footage of the subsequent furor in the States (which, incredibly, appears to have been initially precipitated by Strom Thurmond’s wife). The hour ends as the film does, however, with “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (and an explanation of how they came up with that beautifully subversive closing number).

The final episode, titled “Finally! The Last Episode (Ever) (For Now…)” begins with recollections and clips from their rollicking Hollywood Bowl shows before moving on to their final collaboration, the 1983 film Monty Python and the Meaning of Life. Again, we have the marvelous opportunity to hear about wonderful material that never came to be, as well as their internal struggles to come up with a script that worked, and had a definitive “theme.” British comic and actor Sanjeev Bhaskar (one of the most articulate of the Python followers interviewed) makes a fine point—at least in the eyes of this Meaning of Life defender—about the popular, accepted opinion of that final film, and how that consensus doesn’t quite match up with how the film actually plays (uproariously, for the most part). The episode—and the series—reaches its emotional pinnacle with Chapman’s 1989 death; the memorial service, seen in clips and supplemented by the group’s memories (“We lost all of our Britishness,” Cleese recalls) are genuinely powerful. This is the series’ greatest achievement, really; because of the length, and its attentiveness to the group dynamics, we really feel as though we’ve been through at least some part of this with them.

During that last hour, as they’re beating and punching away at that Meaning of Life script and trying to mold it into something that satisfies their desire for comic perfection, we realize that the entire documentary, taken as a whole, is in fact one of the most thorough and detailed examinations of the creative process that’s ever been put to film. These masterworks of comedy didn’t come easy (okay, it sounds like maybe “The Lumberjack Song” did, but aside from that…); throughout the series and each of those laboriously assembled screenplays, there were struggles and compromises that tested the bounds of their friendships and collaborations. As the series closes, and we glimpse each of these talented men toiling away at their various craft, we’re struck by how remarkable it is that they even came together in the first place, and what a rich legacy they’ve left us with.

There’s not a lot of wiggle room here; if you’re not a fan of Monty Python, I can’t imagine why you’d contemplate settling in for a six-hour documentary profile of them. But for fans, Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut) is absolutely indispensible; by the time I’d finished watching the documentary and its bonus features, all in one sitting, I would have been perfectly happy to pop disc one back in and start the whole thing over. Sure, much of the material is familiar, and a good chunk of the episodes on Holy Grail and Life of Brian feel like bonus features for those films’ DVDs. But it’s not often that you get to watch as entertaining and stylishly-constructed a documentary as this one; the fact that it’s about one of my favorite subjects sure doesn’t hurt.

"Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut)" finished a week-long airing on IFC last week; it arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, October 27th.