A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 268 – The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride – November 23rd, 2010

Alas, tonight we are having to cheat a tiny bit, but for a thoroughly unavoidable reason. A couple of weeks back I had a nasty bug that knocked me down for a good couple of days, at least two of which were spent feverish and gross and achy. And then I recovered and Andy didn’t seem to be getting it and we thought hurrah! He’s missed it! And then no! The fever struck this weekend and it didn’t seem to be going away, so when I got home from work tonight we packed up a laptop and a notebook and headed off to the urgent care department at our local hospital to make sure nothing was lurking. Like pneumonia. The good news? No pneumonia! The bad news? Late movie and late reviews. But in the name of health, which I think is an understandable and excusable reason.

When we knew we’d likely be at the hospital for a couple of hours, making watching a movie difficult or impossible, we decided to watch something we knew by heart. Something beloved and wonderful and comforting. Something we could review before we watched it while it played in our heads. So we picked this movie. It is instantly recognizable. It is the sort of movie that people from many walks of life can quote from at length. You don’t need to be a geek to know or enjoy this movie. Hell, you don’t even need to really know the movie much to know the most common quotations and references. You can’t really escape this movie, even if you’re not particularly fond of it.

Now, I’m sure there are people who don’t like it. I don’t understand that, and I don’t agree, but I don’t know how I’d argue with it. Because really, this is quite well made. There’s excellent writing, good acting, fairly high production values. It would have to be a matter of personal taste, and I don’t argue with personal taste. After all, there are people who think Punch Drunk Love is brilliant and it pissed me off mightily, so yeah. Taste is subjective. It’s just the nature of it. So I would hope that those who don’t like it can just be secure in the knowledge that I, for one, won’t insist that they watch it one more time, just in case they magically like it this time! And in return, I would ask for no on to harsh my squee, okay? Okay.

Because seriously, I love this movie. It’s a sort of alchemical reaction of eminently quotable lines delivered by the perfect cast playing fantastic characters to the hilt in a story that incorporates absolutely everything. And really, it does have everything. The bulk of the movie is the story of Westley and his true love, Buttercup and how they’re parted and then have to face off with henchmen and villains in order to be together again. But it’s presented as a story read aloud by a grandfather to his sick grandson. The grandson starts out reluctant, but when his grandfather tells him that the book has “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…“ he says okay and before he knows it, he’s as wrapped up in the story as the rest of us, following Westley as he chases down Buttercup’s kidnappers, dueling with Inigo, wrestling with Fezzik, unwitting Vizzini and eventually facing off with the vile Prince Humperdinck. It is a thoroughly enthralling tale of swashbuckling and evil plans and true love and it not only has some fantastic plotty scenes, but some of the best cinematic swordfighting ever.

When I was in high school I did a lot of theater. Unfortunately my schedule never allowed me to take the theatrical fencing class offered by one of the theater teachers, but I hung out with everyone who did and I know for a fact that she showed the duel between Westley and Inigo as an example of amazing movie fencing. And really, watch it. It’s a wonderful scene. Mandy Patinkin as Inigo is absolutely fantastic and Cary Elwes gets to be dashing and witty. It’s wonderful to watch. So there’s the swordfighting, and that alone would make me happy to watch this movie. But there are also the lines. I think everyone gets something quotable, really. I could list them, but let’s face it, if you like this movie you know the best lines (okay, all the lines) already. The most well known are things like Inigo’s “My name is Inigo Montoya” bit, the wedding ceremony, and Westley’s “To the pain” speech, but everyone else gets a line that makes me grin. One of the first times Andy and I hung out together we ended up quoting Miracle Max and his wife together, spontaneously. And every actor delivers a great performance here. Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon, plus cameos from Carol Kane and Billy Crystal? That’s a hell of a cast. And they mesh together brilliantly to produce amazing scene after amazing scene.

By the end of this movie, when true love triumphs and our heroes ride off on their white horses, it’s all just been so perfectly wonderful that I can’t help but smile as I listen to Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack. There is not a single thing about this movie that I dislike. It’s a fantastic movie. It’s a fairytale. It’s a book adaptation that is so perfectly crafted that reading the book feels like watching the movie feels like reading the book. It’s a melding of formats that is the sort of thing other book-to-movie adaptations strive to reach and usually miss. So, I’m sorry if it’s not your thing. It’s mine. And it’s a cultural touchstone that’s not going anywhere. It’s a classic. It’s perfect. And if I was going to watch a movie after getting home from an evening spent in a hospital waiting room? This is the best one to watch.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Princess Bride

November 23, 2010

The Princess Bride

The flu that has been plaguing me for the last few days is starting to scare me. My fever hasn’t reduced and I’m weak and woozy from days of an over 100 degree temperature. So as a result I’m writing this review from the hospital, where I finally decided I needed to go since I didn’t seem to be getting better. Since the circumstances of my night are so awful we chose not to continue to watch awful movies in support of Desert Bus and have substituted one of our precious favorite movies.

There are a few movies that are so perfect, so wonderful, that we have reserved them for the absolute worst days. This is amongst the best of them. A movie that I, and practically every one of my friends, can recite from memory. Indeed one of my earliest memories of my wife involved waving goodbye to some mutual friends and doing the “Bye, bye boys. Have fun storming the castle” exchange. It’s one of the things that first made me realize that she was the kind of cool person that she is.

This actually works quite well as a movie to watch when I’m not feeling well, since it involves a grandfather reading a story to his sick grandson. All of the action and adventure and comedy in the movie is couched in this sort of device. I remember that when I first watched this film in the theaters I was irritated by the segments with the grandfather and grandson since they broke the flow and took me out of the fantasy, but they have grown on me somewhat. Mostly because in the years since falling in love with this movie I have read the book, and been completely blown away by how perfect the adaptation is. The concept of the book is that the story of the Princess Bride is a lengthy and baroque tome that the author’s grandfather used to read to him as a child. When he finally found it and read if for himself he was shocked to discover that the core tale of swashbuckling and adventure he remembered from his childhood was buried in lengthy minutia that his grandfather had omitted. So the book we have is the much edited version that concentrates on the adventure and expunges all the unnecessary trappings. So the flow of the book is very similar to that of the movie, except that instead of breaking off to visit Fred Savage in his bedroom the author will pause to explain that there’s a lengthy section omitted here regarding current fashion trends in Gildur.

So we have a sick young Fred Savage who is visited by his grandpa Columbo, and his grandpa reads him the story of The Princess Bride. It’s the ultimate swashbuckling tale of adventure in a fantasy land and it’s full of a wry wit that makes it such a joy to watch. More important than the tale of true love between the beautiful Buttercup and the farm-boy Westley, and the obstacles in their path is the constant witty repartee between the many wonderful characters in the movie.

This is the ultimate ensemble cast movie. Every single role in the film is iconic and memorable, and everybody has wonderful and quotable lines. Who could forget Wallace Shawn’s “Inconceivable!” or Mandy Patinkin and his “You killed my father – prepare to die.” or every single perfectly delivered line from the enormous and wonderfully mealy-mouthed Andre The Giant? And every one of those iconic moments and bits of dialog appears in exactly the same way in the book as well. I can think of only a couple small changes from the book to the movie – an extended sequence of Inigo and Fezzik breaking into the Pit of Despair and a slightly less upbeat ending to the tale because the book holds closer to the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts “Life IS pain, Highness. Anybody who says differently is selling something.”

Rob Reiner truly has a flair for this kind of adventure. I remember seeing promotional materials when this came out that made a great deal of the sword fighting for example. This movie features one of the most famous and wonderful fencing duels ever filmed. They talked a lot about all the training and choreography that went in to making it the best dual it could be. This is a special kind of fantasy film in that it doesn’t actually involve much magic. There’s the power of true love of course, and the miracle pill, and the ROUSes, and the Machine, but within the context of the world these all just fit and nothing seems exceptional about them.

The charm and joy of this movie is simply infectious. From the classic Mark Knopfler score to the brilliant screenplay, to the wonderful performances absolutely everything about this movie is thrilling and delightful. And this movie played an active part in my meeting my future wife. It made a stressful evening much more tolerable.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments