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Monty Python's Flying Circus: The Complete Series Review


Essential
In the history of sketch comedy, Monty Python's Flying Circus stands as The Beatles of humor. Not only were members Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, and Terry Gilliam geniuses at the short skit format, but they redefined the configuration and expanded its realm of possibilities. Celebrated like rock stars and elevated to the status of gods, such success begs the question: does the origin of this myth --- i.e. the TV show from several decades ago -- still hold up. The answer, without a doubt, is a resounding yes.

Spread out over four series (the UK answer to seasons) from 1969 to 1974, the group created 45 fantastic installments of pure British lunacy. From slapstick to scathing satire, the ridiculous and the surreal, the former Oxford and Cambridge grads took the British Broadcasting system by storm and the maelstrom is still going strong almost 40 years later. By now, fans all have their favorite bits -- the "Dead Parrot" sketch (a customer returns to a pet shop to complain about his lifeless purchase), the "Spanish Inquisition" (in which members of the famed Church torture tribunal use such horrific devious means as the comfy chair and the soft pillows to elicit confessions), and the "Ministry of Silly Walks" (pure physical comedy greatness in motion). While the troupe would go on to create three of the greatest big screen comedies of all time, the TV show equally illustrates their range as well as the reasons for their longevity.

Continue reading: Monty Python's Flying Circus: The Complete Series Review

Oliver Twist (1948) Review


Very Good
The canonical movie version of Dickens's Oliver Twist, this is as straight-up and authentic as it gets. Oliver asks for "more," ends up adopted, joins a street gang, and pretty much comes full circle, without surprise and with apt attention to period detail. The movie, however, remains mired in controversy due to Alec Guinness's Fagin, which drew such rabid charges of anti-Semitism (check out his nose) that it was banned in Israel. Definitely the version to see before you subject yourself, say, to Polanski's bloated 2005 version.

The Rocking Horse Winner Review


Excellent
The Rocking Horse Winner - based on a D.H. Lawrence short story - is a little like a long British version of The Twilight Zone. Directed in 1949 by the almost completely unknown director Anthony Pelissier, the film is about a boy named Paul (John Howard Davies) who gets a rocking horse for Christmas, which gets him excited about horse racing. At the same time seemingly unrelated events begin to unfold: The boy's mother (Valerie Hobson) begins to display wanton materialism and a drive for money, which in turn begins to literally pervade the house in the form of reverberating voices which call for there to be more cash.

When Paul hears the phantom-like voice ringing through his room it is like a clarion call to action. He gets atop his rocking horse and begins to ride. The second voice he hears - when he feverishly rides his rocking horse - is one that tells him which horse will win at the local racetrack. (It's all very peculiar to be sure, but don't most good stories ask for improbable suspensions of disbelief?)

Continue reading: The Rocking Horse Winner Review

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