The Princess Bride


The Princess Bride

True love's kiss always comes complete with horse and sunset.

(1987) Romantic Fantasy (20th Century Fox) Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Peter Cook, Mel Smith. Directed by Rob Reiner

 

Some romances have a fairy tale quality to them – brave princes, fair princesses, monsters and magic, quests and daring rescues. Okay that doesn’t happen much in real life but sometimes we all love to feel as if our romance is fairy tale-esque.

Buttercup (Wright) is the daughter of a simple farmer who has the farmboy Wesley (Elwes) wrapped around her finger. It isn’t too long before they fall deeply in love with one another. However, Wesley cannot marry Buttercup as a farmboy, so he sails across the sea to seek his future. His ship is taken by the Dread Pirate Roberts and sent to the bottom of Davey Jones’ locker and Wesley with it.

Buttercup is inconsolable. However she attracts the eye of Prince Humperdink (Sarandon), heir to the throne of Floran. She becomes engaged to marry him but remains sad and unhappy. She will marry him but her heart belongs to the late, lamented Wesley.

Then one day while she is out for her daily horseback ride she is abducted by three men – Vizzini (Shawn) the Sicilian mastermind, Inigo Montoya (Patinkin) a Spanish swordsman looking to avenge his father who was murdered by a six-fingered man some years back, and Fezzik (Andre), a giant from parts unknown.

They ride for Gilder, the sworn enemy of Floran with the Prince and his right hand man, Count Rugen (Guest) hot on their heels. Also right behind them is a mysterious man in black who catches up with them and in turn dispatches Montoya, Fezzik and Vizzini. He then takes Buttercup who guesses him to be the Dread Pirate Roberts – which turns out to be correct. But in her attempt to escape she discovers he is also Wesley, who has assumed the identity of Roberts when the pirate using that name retired.

But with the Prince right behind them, they run into the Fire Swamp to evade capture. Sadly, although they survive the Fire Swamp, they do not evade capture and they are taken  back to Floran where the Prince prepares for his wedding and the Count prepares to torture Wesley. Will true love win in the end? Only with the help of Miracle Max (Crystal) and his buttinsky wife Valerie (Kane) will the heroes save the day, rescue the princess and allow true love to triumph. That and a holocaust cloak.

Let’s start out by saying this is one of my very favorite movies of all time. Not a single misstep is made, nothing feels wrong from the framing device of the devoted grandfather (Falk) reading to his sick grandson (Savage) to the haunting score by Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler.

Reiner assembles an impressive cast who all inhabit their characters impressively and the fact that they are given a marvelous script full of great dialogue helps immensely. Who can forget Mandy Patinkin repeating “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” as he fights Count Rugen, the six fingered man, to the death. Who can forget Wesley begging Buttercup “Gentlyyyyyyy!” as they are reunited or his regular “As you wish” whenever she asks something of him.

There is a certain cheese factor in the somewhat low-budget special effects and sets. This is meant to be a Grimm’s Fairy Tale with a slightly modern twist, pre-Shrek but minus the pop culture references. The cast is without exception top-notch with Elwes giving a career-defining performance. Wright made her film debut here and has since gone on to a long and acclaimed career of 25 years.

Patinkin, one of the more versatile actors out there, channels Errol Flynn (down to the moustache) and has a genuinely affectionate chemistry with the late Andre the Giant, who remarked later that he had never felt so accepted as he did on the set of this movie. You can feel the camaraderie of the cast come through onscreen – this is the type of movie that leaves you with as good a feeling as it is possible to come away with from a movie.

This should definitely be at or near the top of the list for romantic movie night viewing. This is a movie that understands love, understands its magic and is able to translate that to the screen. If you aren’t in love when you start watching this film, you will be by the time it’s over.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the most romantic movies ever, with great wit, panache and Andre the Giant.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You are freaked out by Rodents of Unusual Size.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few items of mildly crude humor and a few scary moments of Andre the Giant flambé but this really is perfectly fine for kids of all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Max and Valerie are named for original author William Goldman’s parents. And by the way, the Dread Pirate Roberts was a real person – Bartholomew Roberts, also known as Black Bart. He was a very successful 18th Century Pirate. Inconceivable, no?

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There have been several DVD releases of the film, including a Special Edition (2001) which includes home movies taken on set by Elwes and a Dread Pirate edition (2006) that includes that and a featurette on the real Dread Pirate Roberts, a featurette about fairy tales and their similarities, a tourist brochure for Floran and an interactive trivia game. The 20th Anniversary edition (2007) strangely contains none of these things but does have featurettes on the swordplay in the movie as well as a bit on how folklore is incorporated into The Princess Bride and how it compares and contrasts to other books in a similar genre. All of these are available on the Blu-Ray release (2009) which makes it the best choice for extras.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $45.7M on a $40M production budget; the movie was unable to recoup its production budget during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: An Affair to Remember

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore


Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Even dogs can't save this movie from going to the dogs. Ahem.

(2010) Family Fantasy Comedy (Warner Brothers) Christina Applegate, Michael Clarke Duncan, Neil Patrick Harris, James Marsden, Bette Midler, Nick Nolte, Joe Pantoliano, Katt Williams, Chris O’Donnell, Paul Rodriguez, Sean Hayes, Jack McBrayer, Fred Armisen, Wallace Shawn, Roger Moore.  Directed by Brad Peyton

In Ghostbusters, a sure sign of the end of the world according to Bill Murray was cats and dogs living together. I wonder what he would have made of this.

A disgraced ex-police dog named Diggs (Marsden) is recruited into a spy agency called DOGS by Butch (Nolte). The fearless leader, Lou (Harris) informs them that there is a rogue former agent of their rival cat spies CATS named Kitty Galore (Midler) who has developed a secret weapon that would drive all the dogs on the planet insane, forcing them out of their long ensconced spot as man’s best friend and giving the cats a base to eventually overthrow mankind as the dominant species. Using high-tech gadget and good ol’ dogged determination (couldn’t resist), Diggs and his partners go after the bald sphinx Kitty and try to stop her fiendish plot.

That’s really all the plot you need to know. This is more or less a sequel to the 2001 family film Cats and Dogs which I found rather clever and charming, with effects that looking back seem a little bit low budget by today’s standards. The sequel has been percolating for awhile and it took nine years for it to finally bubble onto the big screen, where it was received with a bit of a thud. Live action/talking CGI animals are more or less commonplace these days.

There’s a pretty solid voice cast and a ton of references to the James Bond series (see below) which makes this at least a little more palatable to parents and grandparents who intend to use this as a babysitting tool. Unfortunately, most of the amusing bits about the concept are pretty much covered in the first ten minutes and quite frankly, there are a lot more butt sniffing jokes than most humans should be allowed to experience in their entire lifetimes.

Kids are going to like the cute puppies and kitties, but quite frankly I think kids are a bit more sophisticated about their entertainment these days than they were even a decade ago. They seem to go more for CGI puppies and kitties rather than the real sort, even if they have CGI lips mouthing CGI dialogue.

This was about as forgettable as family entertainment gets and I’ve seen some pretty awful family films over recent years. Here, nearly every human is a complete nincompoop and not even kids can save us – our salvation lies in the animal kingdom, which is embarrassing to say the least.

I have this off-the-wall theory – all me crazy – but that if you treat kids with respect and not like little morons with hands inside their parents wallets, not only will you make a movie that parents will want to take their kids to see but that kids will love as well and will want to see it several times. When you talk down to kids – just like when you talk down to anyone – they tend to tune you out.

That’s kind of how I felt here, like I was tuning out the movie. That’s a shame because there are some moments worth enjoying, and Bette Midler is pretty good as a megalomaniac. A little less Bond and a little more personality of its own would have served the movie better.

WHY RENT THIS: Dogs and cats are cute.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Clever concept wears out its welcome. Even kids might find this low-brow.

FAMILY VALUES: This is rated PG for “animal action and humor” but really truly? This is fine for kids of any age. Seriously.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are a number of James Bond references herein; from Police Captain Flemming (after Bond author Ian Fleming) to Lazenby (after former Bond George Lazenby) the character played by Roger Moore (himself an ex-Bond) to Paws (after Bond villain Jaws) and even the main character of Kitty Galore is a take-off on Bond girl Pussy Galore.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a Looney Tunes animated short featuring the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in “Coyote Falls” which is significantly better than the main movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $112.5M on an $85M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Horrible Bosses

Toy Story 3


Toy Story 3

Buzz and Woody discover that Jessie has a bigger cut at the merchandising than they do.

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Michael Keaton, Ned Beatty, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, R. Lee Ermey, Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg, Blake Clark, John Morris, Jodi Benson. Directed by Lee Unkrich

For many, the Toy Story movies are a warm reminder of childhood, either experiencing the movies as children themselves or being transported back to childhood as an adult. Eleven years after the second movie in the franchise (still the only sequel Pixar has made, although there are plans for sequels to Cars and Monsters, Inc in the next two years) would there be a demand for Woody, Buzz and the gang after all this time?

Years have passed since the adventures of the first two movies and Andy (Morris) is getting ready to leave for college. As time has gone by, many of his toys have fallen by the wayside – either having been donated, handed down to his sister Molly or thrown out, leaving only a few remaining holdovers; Hamm (Ratzenberger) the caustic piggy bank, Rex (Shawn) the unselfconfident dinosaur, Mr. Potato Head (Rickles) and his wife (Harris), Jessie (Cusack), the rootenist’ tootenist’ cowgirl in the West, Buzz Lightyear (Allen) the greatest toy ever made and of course, his best friend Woody (Hanks).

Andy is cleaning out his room before he leaves and has a hard time deciding what to do with his remaining toys. They’re old and worn-out and most people would throw them into the trash but Andy is not most people. He can’t quite let go just yet so he elects to take Woody with him to college and earmarks the other toys for the attic, but his mom (Metcalf) mistakenly throws them in the trash. Woody manages to help rescue them, and the toys, thinking that Andy no longer wants them, elect to go to Sunnyside Day Care as donations where maybe they might have a future, despite Woody’s attempts to persuade them otherwise.

Sunnyside is run by a strawberry-scented teddy bear named Lotso (Beatty) who seems kindly and welcoming at first. He has quite a set-up where toys will be played with forever in an ownerless world. At first glance, it seems like heaven for the toys but it quickly turns out to be the other place as Lotso assigns them to the Caterpillar Room where the youngest tots are gathered and unspeakable things are done to the toys. Lotso is revealed to be a tyrant running the toys of Sunnyside with an iron fist. Will Woody help his friends – his family – escape? Will Barbie (Benson) find romance with Ken (Keaton)? Why is Buzz speaking Spanish?

I can’t say this is a game-changer when it comes to animated features, but it is a marvelous movie nonetheless. Unkrich has managed to recapture the magic that made the first two movies classics even without the late Jim Varney (who passed on in 2000) as Slinky Dog (Clark, a close friend of Varney’s in real life, takes over the role). There is a bittersweet quality here that is only hinted at in the first two movies (especially the second); the essence of growing up and putting aside childish things. The last scene in the movie is one of the best in the series and should this be the last Toy Story film (and there’s no sign that it will be), it’s a marvelous way to go out, bringing things full circle in a sentimental but not over-the-top way.

The look of the movie is pretty much identical to the first two so in a way this is a step backwards for Pixar in that it doesn’t hold up against the magnificent animation seen in Wall-E for example, but it really doesn’t need to. The look of the movie is like going back home again in a lot of ways and seeing that things are exactly the way you left them.

They did add 3D and IMAX to the mix which to my mind didn’t really enhance the movie overly much; if you can take or leave either of those things I’d advise you to check out the standard version while you can; no need to spend $3-$10 per ticket just for those bells and whistles when the standard version works perfectly well.

I don’t really need to go over the voice characterizations. Most everybody who cares about movies has seen at least one of the Toy Story films and knows how good this cast is. Keaton and Beatty make fine additions and interact with the existing cast very nicely. There are some really clever moments (like a brief appearance of the Pizza Planet truck, or a train full of troll orphans) and some genuinely affecting moments that tug on the heartstrings without being manipulative.

The movie succeeds on all levels. Kids are going to go bananas for it – if you’re a parent, be resigned to demands to see it three or four times this summer. For adults, the underlying themes of memory, loss and growing up will hit home. After setting a Pixar record for the biggest opening weekend, the answer to the question I posed in the first paragraph is a resounding yes. More to the point, this is a summer family movie that will please everyone in the family and bear repeated viewings. Andy may be moving on, but given how good Toy Story 3 is it’s a good bet that the rest of us won’t be.

REASONS TO GO: Recaptures the magic. Ending had Da Queen in full-on bawl mode.

REASONS TO STAY: It doesn’t really break new ground nor does it measure up to Up or Wall-E but that doesn’t mean it’s not terrific.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for every audience.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Unkrich co-directed Toy Story 2 with John Lasseter and edited the first two Toy Story movies prior to being named director on this one.

HOME OR THEATER: Oh, big screen, definitely.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Paper Heart

New Releases for the Week of June 18, 2010


June 18, 2010

Woody and Buzz, together again at last.

TOY STORY 3

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, R. Lee Ermey. Directed by Lee Unkrich

If you think that there is a glut of computer animated features, you have Toy Story to blame. That was the very first all-computer animated feature. It established Pixar as a major player in Hollywood and spawned an equally successful sequel; the only one Pixar has made to date. Now, they’re going the three-quel route with Andy having grown up and gone to college. His mom donates the toys to a day care center, which turns out to be bad news as there is some nefarious goings on there. Still, Andy wants Woody back, which seems a little creepy for a college boy. Still, after nearly a decade’s absence, Buzz, Woody and the gang are back which is cause for celebration in itself.

See the trailer, featurettes, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Rating: G

Jonah Hex

(Warner Brothers) Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Shannon. This DC comics adaptation pits a disfigured cowboy and bounty hunter out to gain revenge against the man who maimed him and killed his family. There are elements of the supernatural involved in this gritty western which is based on a character not very well known outside of comic book fandom; it’s surprising, given that better known characters like Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Arrow and Swamp Thing are all languishing in development hell that this got greenlit, and even more surprising that Warner Brothers has not promoted it very heavily. Still, the trailer looks very promising.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (For intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content)

Please Give

(Sony Classics) Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Rebecca Hall. A Manhattan couple purchases the apartment next door in order to eventually expand their own apartment. However, the elderly woman who resides there has to die first, which leads to a good deal of liberal guilt and as the couple begin to get involved with the lives of the elderly woman and her granddaughters, their own lives and ambitions begin the evolve. This is the latest film from director Nicole Holofcener who also directed the wonderful Friends With Money. It opened in limited release elsewhere in April.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and nudity)