MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1974). Already a worldwide sensation thanks to their BBC series Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-1974), the Monty Python troupe — Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin — next tried their hand at cinema, with two of the resultant films eventually achieving cult status as well as routine mentions on various publications' "all-time best comedies" lists. One is 1979's Life of Brian; the other is this deranged send-up of medieval tales, specifically the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. There's a semblance of a plot — Arthur (Chapman) and his knights must, you guessed it, find the Holy Grail — but this is really just an excuse for the boys to engage in their unique brand of humor, which includes mimicry, dress-up (each team member plays approximately a half-dozen characters apiece), dry wit, slapstick and glorious non sequitors. The classic bits are numerous: Arthur's gruesome battle with the Black Knight (Cleese); Lancelot (Cleese again) slaughtering everyone who gets in his way as he attempts to rescue a damsel in distress; the Knights Who Say "Ni"; the "three questions" at the Gorge of Eternal Peril; the killer rabbit (hilarious); and many other vignettes which fans know by heart.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Gilliam and Jones; separate audio commentary by Cleese, Idle and Palin; extended scenes; outtakes; the "educational" short How to Use Your Coconuts; a LEGO version of the Knights of the Round Table; select scenes in Japanese (including one revealing that "the Holy Grail" became "the Holy Sake Cup"); and sing-alongs.
THE MUPPETS (2011). Yes, it may be true that The Muppets is a film for the whole family, but here's a cruel suggestion, at least for the initial home-theater viewing: Put the kids to bed early. After all, what grown-up weaned on a steady diet of Muppet episodes and movies wants to interrupt their jaunt down memory lane by having to escort weak bowels to the bathroom or hungry mouths to the refrigerator? Jason Segel, a self-proclaimed Muppet devotee who co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, plays Gary, who takes his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and his equally Muppet-obsessed brother Walter — who, incidentally, happens to be a puppet himself — to Los Angeles for vacation. When they stop at the old Muppet studio, they're shocked to see it dilapidated and abandoned; they're even more upset when they discover that ruthless businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to buy the property, tear down the studio and drill for oil. In an effort to save the hallowed ground, the trio head off to find Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest of the gang. On the down side, Walter's pretty much a drip, both as a character and a Muppet, and instead of even creating him in the first place (when you think about it, he's not really necessary to the overall arc), I would rather Segel and Stoller had spent more time on the already established puppet personalities. And the cameos, by and large, are a disappointing lot. 1979's The Muppet Movie gave us comedy titans like Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Bob Hope and Madeline Kahn; this film can only counter with Ken Jeong, Zach Galifianakis, John Krasinski and Selena Gomez. Running the risk of sounding like Statler and Waldorf, though, I had best stop with the naysaying. At any rate, the majority of the film is pure pleasure, full of knowing winks to the franchise's time and place in history: the bouncy "Mah Na Mah Na"; Kermit's celebrity Rolodex, long outdated ("May I speak to President Carter?"); a reprise of the lovely "The Rainbow Connection" (just try and not tear up during that moment); and the creation of '80s Robot, whose computer-related gag provided me with the biggest screen laugh I enjoyed in months. The tune "Man or Muppet" grabbed the Best Original Song Oscar, although the non-nominated ditties "Pictures in My Head" and "Life's a Happy Song" are arguably better.
Extras on the "Wocka Wocka Value Pack" (which contains the Blu-ray, the DVD, a Digital Copy and a code to download the 15-song soundtrack) include audio commentary by Segel, Stoller and director James Bobin; a making-of featurette; eight deleted scenes; the Muppets' screen test and first read-through; and The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made (In Muppet History — We Think).
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (2011). Break out those No. 2 pencils, cuz it's time for a pop quiz. Which line of dialogue is not spoken in the latest celluloid adaptation of The Three Musketeers? A) "What would you like me to put on your headstone? 'Little shit'?" B) "Your horse took a dump on the street." C) "Find my sword. It's the one that says 'Bad Motherfucker' on it." The correct answer is C, although given the other liberties taken with Alexandre Dumas' classic novel, nothing included here would have surprised me. I'm hardly a stickler for movies remaining faithful to their source material, but this Musketeers is a travesty, even worse than the dopey 90s version that thought nothing of casting Charlie Sheen as Aramis and Chris O'Donnell as D'Artagnan. Perhaps not since Robert Duvall danced around a campfire with a dead deer balanced on his head in 1995's misguided take on The Scarlet Letter has a film so savagely violated a literary chestnut. Director-producer Paul W.S. Anderson is best known for those Resident Evil movies starring his real-life wife Milla Jovovich, so it's hardly unexpected that he stages this as a slick video-game adaptation, complete with an excess of CGI and a fondness for those slo-mo Matrix-style action sequences that wore out their welcome somewhere around the time Kelly Clarkson was winning the first American Idol championship. Jovovich, in fact, is showcased in many of these interludes, as her Milady de Winter, heretofore only known for scheming and blackmailing behind the scenes, has been transformed into a kick-ass warrior. Yet at least she possesses a smidgen of pizzazz; not so dull Logan Lerman, whose demographic-friendly casting — he's a young American cast adrift in a sea of European actors — as D'Artagnan makes me wonder why they didn't go ahead and cast Justin Bieber or a Jonas brother in the part. Faring even worse is newcomer Gabriella Wilde as his love interest — her line readings prove to be even less animated than those of 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL. Clearly, Anderson and his scripters felt like simple swashbuckling antics would be boring to modern audiences, so in addition to Milady's reincarnation as Lara Croft, a couple of airships — yes, airships in the 17th century — have been added to the narrative. The film's conclusion sets up a sequel, so if it indeed gets made, I expect the Orient Express and at least one Aston Martin to figure in the action.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Anderson and producers Jeremy Bolt and Robert Kulzer; deleted scenes; and access to scene-specific features such as interviews, behind-the-scenes info and the "Musketeer Fight Meter."
THE WAR ROOM (1993). "Every time a Democrat comes along who has some ideas, the Republicans ambush him. That is standard procedure." That savvy statement, spoken before the 1992 presidential election that found Bill Clinton thumping George H.W. Bush, was made by James Carville, the Clinton campaign manager and star of this invigorating documentary that illustrates in often amusing detail how the team managed to overcome petty hostilities and seize the day — and the White House. The movie offers ample pleasures: a rare chance to see an animated Al Gore; Carville's popping blood vessels as he rails about how the mainstream press gave papa Bush a free ride on Iran-Contra but hammered Clinton about Gennifer Flowers; the cool-under-fire George Stephanopolous talking a Ross Perot supporter out of reporting that Clinton fathered an illegitimate black child; the sharp comments by Bush staffer Mary Matalin, so much Carville's equal that it's easy to see why they became a couple and eventually got married (and are still married to this day); and Carville's exasperation when told — on election night, no less! — by a waiter that the special on draft is Busch beer. Made by the celebrated documentarians D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars) and Chris Hegedus (Startup.com), The War Room earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
DVD extras include 2008's follow-up documentary Return of the War Room, also directed by Hegedus and Pennebaker and featuring discussions with Carville, Stephanopolous and other war room vets; a panel discussion hosted by the William J. Clinton Foundation, featuring Carville, Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan, journalist Ron Brownstein, and an appearance by Clinton himself; and an interview with strategist Stanley Greenberg on the evolution of polling.
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