Tag Archives: John Cleese

The Set of 400: #51 – My Favorite Champagne Improvement

Today! Because I wish I were you people seeing this for the first time –

The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Directed by Jim Henson

Starring Jim Henson (x2), Frank Oz (x9), Jerry Nelson (x5), Dave Goelz (x5), Richard Hunt (x2), Charles Grodin (x2), Diana Rigg (x2), Jack Warden (x4), John Cleese (x4), Peter Ustinov (x2), Peter Falk (x5), Robert Morley, Steve Whitmire (x5), Louise Gold (x3), Caroll Spinney, Erica Creer, Kate Howard, Della Finch

The second feature Muppet film and the first released after The Muppet Show ended, The Great Muppet Caper had a higher degree of difficulty than any other film in the series, before or since. Figure, it’s the only non-adaptation film that doesn’t in some way incorporate putting on a show or show business as the backdrop (Muppets From Space is the only other one close, and that has a lot of Piggy’s aspiring journalism career at center). So they’ve crammed the familiar characters into oddball new roles – weirdly, again, journalism, but of the print variety, plus hotel management – albeit with their same names, and more fourth wall breaking than any other movie to explain this conceit. It had only been two years since the smash hit original Muppet Movie, and they didn’t have terrific Paul Williams songs to eat up a bunch of the run time (Muppet Caper‘s songs are still great, though). This one needed tons of jokes and cameos and a strong narrative to succeed, and it came through on all counts.

As a kid, I probably liked this Muppet outing best, or had it in a very close contest with Takes Manhattan. It’s a lot sillier than the original film, but still keeps the gang largely together unlike Manhattan. The England setting produces a bunch of fun gags (like The Muppet Show, Muppet Caper was filmed in and near London) and it features the most action packed finale of the franchise – a sequence not even attempted to be equaled by any successive movie until Most Wanted – which largely functioned as the Muppet Caper to 2011’s Muppets as Muppet Movie. Does that makes sense? I didn’t get to talk about Most Wanted on this list because it missed the cut off date, but I’m afraid people skipped it, as it got lost in theaters. Go watch Muppets Most Wanted, it’s pretty fun.

It’s the Kermit-goes-to-a-Siberian-prison-camp-run-by-Tina-Fey film you never knew you needed

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The Set of 400: #81 – My Favorite Insulting Frenchman

Today! Because this is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who –

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Directed by Terry Gilliam (x4) and Terry Jones (x2)

Starring Graham Chapman (x2), John Cleese (x3), Eric Idle (x2), Michael Palin (x4), Terry Gilliam (x2), Terry Jones (x2), Connie Booth, Carol Cleveland, John Young, Sandy Johnson

For the longest time, the only Monty Python product I liked was Life of Brian. Meaning of Life then and now is a little too all over the place for me, Holy Grail I felt was bizarrely over-praised, and I had no access to the Flying Circus whatsoever. Really, circa 1992, how were people seeing that show? Did it still air late on PBS? Because I just never saw it. Even now you never see it on television, so you better pony up for that gigantic DVD collection!

But in time, I came around to the cult of Holy Grail. I was probably rejecting it for its massive popularity until I was well along in college. Like, everyone knew that one guy who would quote this movie endlessly, and out of context The Knights Who Say Ni just aren’t funny. Hell, most Monty Python bits aren’t funny when your dumb buddies are dead-parroting the lines. No one much seemed to talk about Life of Brian, so for reasons discussed back in #251, that was the one I adopted early. My gateway into Holy Grail, oddly enough, was straight up buying the DVD around 2002 – because I was still buying a lot of discs in those pre-streaming days (Okay, I still buy a few here and there). On that Special Edition was a closed caption feature “Subtitles for People Who Don’t Like the Film (taken from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part II)” which I found hilarious, and ended up getting me solidly hooked on the movie. Weird, right?

I don’t know, this just squarely appealed to me

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The Set of 400: #238 – My Favorite Steamroller

Today! Because apes don’t read philosophy –

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Directed by Charles Crichton

Starring John Cleese (x2), Jamie Lee Curtis (x2), Kevin Kline (x3), Michael Palin (x2), Maria Aitken, Tom Georgeson, Patricia Hayes, Stephen Fry

You could make a case for a number of the Pythons having the best post-Python career – Eric Idle has worked consistently and to great effect in movies and TV, Palin has done extensive documentary work around the globe, Terry Gilliam is a world class director with a number of great films under his belt, but for my money the winner is Cleese, for two big reasons: 1) Fawlty Towers (okay, made sort of in the midst of Monty Python films in the ’70s) and 2) his writing, uncredited co-directing, and starring in this, an amazing hybrid of British and American styles of humor. This discounts his terrific cameo turn in The Great Muppet Caper, which I suppose is third.

“I thought you said the pets were dead.”

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The Set of 400: #251 – My Favorite One Cross Each

Today! Because he’s not the Messiah! He’s a very naughty boy –

Life of Brian (1979)

Directed by Terry Jones

Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Sue Jones-Davies, Kenneth Colley, Spike Milligan

For the better part of my life, I swore I was more a Life of Brian Python fan than a Holy Grail one. And maybe coincidentally (but maybe not), for the better part of this same period of time, I considered myself somewhat more religious than I do now. I mean, I’m still kinda religious, in a very basic way, but not, like, going to church on Sunday and helping them fund the lawsuits. Still, I think when you’re more ingrained in the whole God culture, Life of Brian resonates in a wholly different way. Eight years of Catholic school, folks!

Nowadays, well – not to spoil it, but Holy Grail is a good distance down the road on this list, while Life of Brian is here. Not to take anything away from this movie – it’s still hilarious – but previously I regarded this movie as a brilliant, incendiary dismantling of organized religion and their somewhat ridiculous origin stories. In watching now, it doesn’t quite hit those notes as hard for me, and in comparison to the much more quotable and iconic Holy Grail, it pales a bit as a movie. Blow-for-blow it may be funnier, and has a far more satisfying ending, but doesn’t feel quite as earth shaking as it did when I was fifteen.

Still, that ending!

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