Not the Messiah — a couple more reviews

Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy), the oratorio based on Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979; my comments), has been making its way through a few American cities lately. Here are a couple of the newer reviews.

First, Stephen Brookes of the Washington Post:

Most of the world’s great oratorios, it’s probably fair to say, don’t generate a lot of belly laughs. But then again, most oratorios don’t feature a Bob Dylan imitation, a troupe of bagpipers, three stuffed sheep and a musical leaf-blower — all of which appeared at Wolf Trap on Thursday night in Eric Idle’s hysterically funny new production, “Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy).” . . .

Du Prez conducted the National Symphony Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Washington with a light touch, and there were fine turns by the four soloists, particularly the young tenor William Ferguson in the role of Brian. But it was Idle himself who stole the show (his dead-on Dylan impersonation will go down in musical history). After the show closed with a singalong of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” the audience brought him back for three curtain calls.

Second, Richard S. Ginell of Variety:

Have Idle and Du Prez gone to the well one time too many? Not really, for while the 75-minute piece contains several fond references for Python fans — including a paraphrase of the notorious “Lumberjack Song” — Du Prez has come up with a mostly new score.

Furthermore, the main point here is a satire on oratorio form — in particular, the perennial pleasures of Handel’s “Messiah.” In doing so, Idle and Du Prez are continuing a fine old British tradition of classical send-ups dating back to Gilbert and Sullivan and, even more pertinently, the uproarious Hoffnung Festivals of the 1950s. . . .

Du Prez’s score, whose roving style he accurately labels “iPod Shuffle,” has some timebombs imbedded within. You think he is writing serious songs in a banal popera manner, and things suddenly make a turn toward the loony bin: “I Want to Change the World” breaks into rockin’ gospel, and a bagpipes band eventually takes over “You’re the One.”

Sometimes the detonation takes a while; you have to wait a bit too long for “The Final Song” to undermine its Lloyd Webber-ish rhetoric. And there are only a few direct homages to the model, with “We Love Sheep” the most obvious (a reference to “Messiah’s” “All We Like Sheep”). . . .

The piece is inconsistent; there could have been more sustained hilarity, and the most memorable thing in the score remains the classic, chipper holdover from the film, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” But Gerard Hoffnung may have found some worthy successors here.

Believe it or not, there is a third reference to Hoffnung in Ginell’s review, too — because Hoffnung once “introduced a vacuum cleaner as a soloist”, thus setting a precedent of sorts for Idle’s use of a keyboard-operated leaf blower.

Click here for some reviews I quoted when the oratorio had its world premiere in Toronto fourteen months ago.

A long lost childhood memory, on YouTube.

One thing leads to another, and the news that Morgan Freeman was injured in a car accident last night — thoughts and prayers, etc. — prompted Karina Longworth to reminisce about one of Freeman’s earliest acting gigs today, which in turn prompted me to seek out a piece of my childhood on YouTube just now.

And here it is: Rita Moreno singing ‘It Only Rains Where I Am’ on the classic kids’ show The Electric Company (1971-1977):

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

I don’t know what it says about me, but this song evidently made a much, much bigger impression on me when I was a child than just about anything else on The Electric Company; even as an adult, after all but the most famous elements of that show had faded from my memory, I would sometimes find myself singing a few lines from this song for no particular reason — though in my memory the song became ‘It Always Rains Where I Go’, which may be a slightly more accurate description of what happens here.

At any rate, when mp3s became all the rage several years ago, I made a point of searching the internet for a copy of this song — and I found it! But it was not until today that I actually watched this segment, for the first time since I was in grade school.

I actually cheered today when Freeman appeared at the end of the segment and spoke his punchline — which is not included in the mp3 that I found several years ago. The segment ends exactly the way I remember it, except I had forgotten that Freeman was playing someone so classy (note the cane, the suit, the accent). As one who often doubts his own memories, it was nice to know that I had gotten this detail right, at least, after all these years.

It’s all a question of managing expectations.

Headline in the Hollywood Reporter, last Tuesday:

R-rated comedies suffer at boxoffice

Headline in the Associated Press, today:

Hollywood strikes gold with R-rated comedy wave

They’re both right, of course.

AUG 6 UPDATE: And now, back to the Hollywood Reporter:

R ratings might help comedies

Confused yet?

Canadian box-office stats — August 3

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Journey to the Center of the Earth — CDN $7,540,000 — N.AM $73,140,000 — 10.3%
Mamma Mia! — CDN $9,040,000 — N.AM $87,975,000 — 10.3%
Step Brothers — CDN $5,740,000 — N.AM $62,966,000 — 9.1%
The X-Files: I Want to Believe — CDN $1,510,000 — N.AM $17,060,000 — 8.9%
Hellboy II: The Golden Army — CDN $6,210,000 — N.AM $71,273,000 — 8.7%

The Dark Knight — CDN $33,650,000 — N.AM $394,887,000 — 8.5%
Hancock — CDN $17,330,000 — N.AM $215,995,000 — 8.0%
WALL·E — CDN $15,200,000 — N.AM $204,222,000 — 7.4%
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor — CDN $2,740,000 — N.AM $42,450,000 — 6.5%
Swing Vote — CDN $232,071 — N.AM $6,300,000 — 3.7%

A couple of discrepancies: Hellboy II: The Golden Army was #10 on the Canadian chart (it was #11 in North America as a whole), while Space Chimps was #10 on the North American chart (it was #16 in Canada).

Paradise Lost and sympathy for the devil.

Here’s another delayed reaction, on my part, to a report that may or may not have come out of last week’s Comic-Con.

One day before director Scott Derrickson took part in a panel to discuss his upcoming remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, MTV Movie News posted an interview with him that touched on a completely different subject altogether: his long-gestating adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Some excerpts from the story:

Imagine the most evil creature that ever existed, a villain who commits atrocity after atrocity, who has scarred the world and each and every creature in it, a scoundrel so heinous he makes Heath Ledger’s anarchist Joker look like Mother Teresa. Now imagine that you like him.

Director Scott Derrickson says that when you see his upcoming adaptation of “Paradise Lost,” the epic 17th-century poem by John Milton about the Fall of Man, you won’t be able to help but have sympathy for its bad guy: the devil.

“What’s interesting to me is that you cannot help but feel that his initial feelings of being disgruntled are merited, and I feel a lot of empathy for the Lucifer character in the beginning of the story,” said Derrickson, who wrote and directed “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” “I would want the audience to be sympathetic with him at the beginning, and what happens — what he’s up against and what he’s wrestling and struggling with — you certainly feel that.” . . .

“In the movie, Satan goes from being a completely good being [an angel] to becoming the most heinous kind of evil, and you really have a hard time knowing exactly where he crossed that line because you were with him,” the director said. “What is interesting about that story, in the way Milton laid it out, is that people jump off with him at different points and some never at all. Properly done, it’s a story that tells readers a lot about themselves.

“You have to respect that Milton created the first anti-hero with that poem, and certainly this was preserved in the script,” Derrickson added. “At what point does love turn to jealousy, jealousy turn into hate and hate into evil?” . . .

Add up all the challenges — the evil character at its heart, the theology, the visuals, the epic story line — and adapting “Paradise Lost” is no easy task. For his part, though, Derrickson can’t wait for the opportunity.

“It would not be an easy movie to make, but it would be groundbreaking,” he said. “It’s really worthy of the attempt.”

Incidentally, when I last mentioned this film a year and a half ago, I suggested that the producers could address the “nudity problem”, with regard to Adam and Eve, through some sort of digital effect. What that effect would be, exactly, I don’t know — but the actors wouldn’t have to be really naked, and it would be a lot easier to obscure the nudity if the filmmakers so desired.

Since then, we have seen the trailer for Zack Snyder’s upcoming adaptation of Watchmen, which features some digital nudity in the person of Dr. Manhattan, the footage of whom is based on a motion-capture performance by Billy Crudup. So there would now be a high-profile precedent for doing that sort of thing.

Angelina Jolie’s naked-but-still-high-heeled seductress in Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf (2007) could also be cited as a precedent, I suppose, but that entire film was animated, with no live-action, so it’s sort of in a different category. Still worth noting, though.

Boy, that arm gets a lot of abuse.

Today was Peter O’Toole‘s 76th birthday, so in honour of the occasion I finally got around to watching a copy of How to Steal a Million (1966) that I took out of the library ages ago but hadn’t gotten around to seeing yet. And as I watched, I noticed an interesting parallel between this and one of O’Toole’s earlier films.

In How to Steal a Million, Audrey Hepburn accidentally shoots O’Toole in the arm after he sneaks into her home, and in the following scene, she prepares some iodine for his wound:

Compare this to the scene in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) where O’Toole is also shot in the arm, this time by a Turkish soldier who presumably wanted to hit him in a much more lethal place:

Are there any other examples of this in his filmography, I wonder?

As for How to Steal a Million as a whole, it’s a light, frothy confection — part heist film, part romantic comedy — of the sort that Old Hollywood was still churning out while New Hollywood was getting ready to take over the industry. There’s a scene in the film where Hepburn is reading an Alfred Hitchcock magazine, and in some ways this film feels like the sort of thing Hitchcock would have made in the 1950s — though by this point, he had moved on to grittier stuff like Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).

The two main reasons I was curious to see this film are O’Toole, of course, and the director, William Wyler.

O’Toole spends most of the film in quiet, witty banter mode, and he never quite gets the chance to explode the way that he did in other films of this period, such as Becket (1964) and The Lion in Winter (1968) — so there is something oddly restrained about his performance here. You can almost sense him dialing things back so as to fit within the genre. And just to show how conscious this film is of its debt to earlier movies, O’Toole even mimics an American gangster-style voice at a couple of points, to tease the Hepburn character about her interest in the heist.

Wyler, for his part, had been directing films since the silent era, winning three Oscars along the way, but he was on the verge of retirement here, and it shows. Not only was he working in a familiar genre, he was working with familiar actors, at least two of whom had earned Oscars under his direction; he had previously worked with Hepburn in Roman Holiday (1953) and The Children’s Hour (1961), and he had worked with Hugh Griffith, who plays Hepburn’s art-forging father, in Ben-Hur (1959).

Nothing here is up to the calibre of those films, alas, but you can’t really blame these people for wanting to spend time together on a movie set at least one more time before bidding farewell to the business. (Hepburn, too, pretty much retired a year or two after this; she was called out of retirement a few times over the next few decades, but this movie came near the end of an otherwise unbroken string of films going back to the early 1950s.)

How interesting, though, that they should share this last fling with an actor like O’Toole, who was just getting started back then.