Tag Archives: Stephen Fry

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In Canada we have only two seasons: winter, and construction. We are right in the middle of steaming, stinking construction season here in Ottawa, and we’re facing a weekend where the 417, a major highway and our main east-west artery, will shut down entirely. This after a flood season has left our infrastructure crippled and our commutes doubled. Which sort of makes the opening scene of Hitchhiker’s seem a little more likely. In order to make way for an intergalactic superhighway, a little lowly planet called Earth has to be demolished. We meet our hero Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) just minutes before the Earth’s destruction. He learns that his good pal and towel enthusiast Ford Prefect (Yasiin Bey, then billed as Mos Def) is in fact an alien who can call in a favour to save his friend, but erm, nothing else of human history (don’t worry, the dolphins have already defected – so long, and thanks for all the fish).

They meet up with a clinically depressed robot, Marvin (Alan Rickman), an egomaniacal president, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), and most improbably, Arthur’s Earthling crush, Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). Together they’re going to zing around the universe, searching for the Ultimate Question, the meaning of life, a single solitary spot of tea, new chapters for an ambitious encyclopedia, and any remaining shreds of life as they knew it.

Director Garth Jennings bit off more than he could chew trying to adapt Douglas Adams’ influential and beloved work, but you can hardly blame him for trying. Is the movie always coherent? Of course not. If you aren’t familiar with the book, you might find it hard to keep up. If you are familiar with it, there are no doubt bits and bobs that you’ll miss. It is not so much a faithful adaptation as an ode to it, with Adams’ blessing, and mostly by his own invention (such as the sneeze religion helmed by John Malkovich – achoo!). But if it’s a little sloppy, well, what else can you expect from a movie with an improbability drive?

Ivan Reitman and friends actually optioned the film as far back as 1982, thinking it might make an interesting vehicle for Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray (this is no doubt true). But then Ghostbusters came calling and they were off on a tagent, and Hitchhiker’s languished in development hell, at one point with Hugh Laurie and Jim Carrey slated to appear (I’m less thrilled with that pairing, personally). Douglas Adams wanted Hugh Grant for Dent but I’m so, so glad it went to Freeman instead, who plays the everyman so perfectly he is often overlooked.

In 2005’s finished product, Sam Rockwell steals the show as Zaphod Beeblebrox, basing the character on likely unequal dashes of Bill Clinton, Elvis, and Vince Vaughn. Personally, watching it in 2019, I saw all kinds of his George W. Bush in the role and it gave me a whole new appreciation for a performance I already loved.

Anyway, it’s inevitable that a film adapted from such a great book would fail to live up to it, but I actually give it a lot of credit and find it highly watchable and highly entertaining. So many of the little jokes really do work on the screen, and everyone involved is clearly relishing the opportunity to be involved. It’s hard not to find joy where so much exists.

 

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Duck Duck Goose

Peng is the self-proclaimed best flyer in his gaggle. He’s a loose canon, an inveterate bachelor – the kind of gander who’d rather stick to himself and fly solo (other than that attractive goose, JingJing, but her dad’s a real pill). When he accidentally plows through a whole flock of ducks, he’s labelled as “not family friendly” and is asked to leave the park. This is ironic because a) Peng is voiced by Jim Gaffigan, often styled the “family friendly” comedian because of his clean humour (and his 5 children), and b) Peng’s about to act as a “mother” to a couple of ducklings, Chi (Zendaya) and Chao (Lance Lim), who happen to imprint upon him.

Peng is not exactly in this arrangement for selfless reasons, but he agrees to help the ducks migrate south. He’s injured and can’t fly, they’re small and helpless, and he figures MV5BYmYzODQ4YjktYTI0OC00OGI2LTkyN2YtYTYwZTkzOTRkYzgyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_if he can’t take to the sky to dodge predators, at least he can outrun two fluffy baby ducks. Not exactly honourable motivation.

In addition to Jim Gaffigan, who is a favourite of mine, the voice cast comprises several other stand-up comics, like Greg Proops, and Natasha Leggero, and all-around funny folk such as Carl Reiner, and Stephen Fry. This movie is a Netflix original, and newly released, and couldn’t come at a better time, comedy wise, since Just For Laughs is just starting up down the street from us in Montreal, where we’ll be seeing other favourites of ours like Will Forte, Maria Bamford, and Tig Notaro.

Anyway, given even this very vague set up, I bet you know how the movie unfolds. It feels like an 80s sitcom in a lot of ways: unlikely dad is in over his head with hilarious parenting issues, has as much to learn from the kids as they do from him. Sound familiar?

For the most part this movie is a throw-away. It’s not garbage but there’s nothing new about it, and nothing particularly good. It’s adequate animation, a predictable, bare-bones script, some charming characters, a couple of laughs. Kids may find it acceptable, although it’s not as flashy or frantic as most other cartoons. It’s generic and safe and it stays just on the other side of bad thanks to a heartwarming ending.

The Hippopotamus

Based on Stephen Fry’s raucous novel, The Hippopotamus is about a drunken poet who hasn’t actually written a poem in decades. Spectacularly fired from his more recent newspaper job, Ted Wallace (Roger Allam) is hired by his ex-girlfriend’s daughter Jane to investigate a mystery.

Wrangling an invitation from his godson David (Tommy Knight) to Swafford Hall, Ted’s off to the English countryside to look into a strong of recent…miracles? Jane was on her 1227022_The-Hippopotamus-600x337.jpgdeathbed with cancer when she first went out to Swafford to convalesce in a peaceful setting. Instead, she experienced a miraculous recovery, her health and strength returning until she seemed to be in complete remission. She’s not the only one talking about these spiritual healings, so in addition to Ted, Swafford is welcoming all kinds of guests who are sneakily looking for their own miracles.

Turns out that it’s David who’s responsible for the “laying on of hands”, only he’s not just using his hands. The, erm, colourful assemblage of guests are pretty desperate and ready to swallow just about anything, so the whole household’s a twitter with whatever’s going on. Ted, ever the skeptic, is determined to get to the bottom of it. He’s sure it’s a hoax, but we’re sure he’s a drunk, bumbling fool, so who’s right?

Dubbed a “comedy of manners” it does have a distinctly English feel to it. I usually adore British comedies but I didn’t have the patience for this one. Sure there are some great zingers but it’s really kind of a mess and all the characters besides Ted are cardboard cutouts, which means tonnes of voice-over explanation is required, and that gets quite tedious. This film lacks energy and this viewer was left bored.