Hot Docs Reviews: 'Finders Keepers', 'Monty Python: The Meaning of Live'

Finders Keepers
(USA, 81 min.)
Dir. Bryan Carberry, Clay Tweel
Programme: Nightvision (International Premiere)
Give Finders Keepers the prize for the strangest subject of Hot Docs 2015. This bizarre yet true film is almost too crazy to believe. It's wild not so much for the story as it is for the characters, and directors Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel find in Shannon Whisnant and John Wood two hilarious foils that even the most talented of screenwriters would struggle to script convincingly.

The gist of the spat between Shannon and John is that Shannon bought a smoker that was in a storage unit put up for auction and inside the item was a bonus prize: John's foot, which John had amputated following a plane crash and kept as a souvenir to memorialize his father who died in the crash. A ridiculously messed up legal battle ensues as Shannon fights for his bounty (he was charging folks three bucks to see the foot and smoker) and John fights for his lost limb.

This crazy story could only happen in America as the two loudmouths fight over a rotting piece of human flesh. Finders Keepers hilariously confronts the American fanaticism with property and entitlement, and challenges the idea between legal ownership and position to find that bizarre moral element that provides the other tenth of the law. The characters themselves are larger than life counterparts who speak in grandiose, self-promoting hyperbole with Southern drawls and jumbled idioms. (Shannon talks about all that 'perspired' in the affair.) Finders Keepers is often uproariously funny as the two parties wage a bitter war of words. The film sometimes accentuates the cartoonishness of the characters to the point of mockery, and some viewers are bound to feel a bit sheepish when Shannon confronts a reality show director for making him the butt of the joke, but the characters are in a farce of their own doing. The film highlights a preposterous grudge match of human stupidity, so it's okay to laugh at these fools, rather than with them, just a little bit.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Screens with:

(USA, 14 min.)
Dir. LukePoling, Adam Roffman
Programme: Shorts (International Premiere)

Finders Keepers finds a perfect companion for obnoxious Americana in Spearhunter. This gut-bursting short chronicles the fame of the top spear hunter in America, Gene Morris, a true boor of the American Right. This guy is the Crocodile Hunter of big game as his ex wife, past lover, and a game warden talk about his serial animal killing with a delightful self-consciousness of the absurdity of Gene’s machismo. It’s a funny take on masculinity and an even funnier look at our need for self-serving glory. 

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Monty Python: The Meaning of Live
(UK, 92 min.)
Dir. Roger Graef, James Rogan
Programme: Show Me the Funny (Canadian Premiere)
Calling all dead parrots and knights who say 'Ni'! The funny men of Monty Python return in the backstage doc Monty Python: The Meaning of Live. Prepare to giggle, snort, and guffaw as John Cleese, Terry Gillian, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin rehearse and perform a live greatest hits show to pay off Terry Jones' mortgage.

The film charts the careers of comedy’s greatest band of merry men as the surviving members of Python revisit some of their best material and create new laughs to go out with a grand finale. The comics are just as funny in their interviews as they are on stage and on screen, and Monty Python: The Meaning of Live is a fun look at show business from some born performers. The film covers little new ground (much of Python’s story was recently chronicled in A Liar’s Autobiography) but it’s still a lot of fun to simply watch the comics rehearse and do some spontaneous shtick between acts. Their accounts of the horror of playing a gag to dead air and grumpy audiences, moreover, shows the importance of creating a thick skin to get ahead in comedy and to be able to laugh at oneself to improve the material. It’s no wonder they’ve lasted as long as they have. Python fans will be grinning from beginning to end, as will new recruits who’ve been living on a desert island and are watching these skits for the very first time.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Please visit www.hotdocs.ca for more info on this year's festival.