The Princess Bride

Cary Elwes and Robin Wright in The Princess Bride

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

22 February

 

 

Ladislaus the Posthumous born, 1440

On this day in 1440, Ladislaus the Posthumous was born. His father, Albert II, had died four months before and so it was that Ladislaus became Duke of Austria and head of the house of Habsburg as soon as he arrived in the world. Ladislaus grew up under the protection, as a prisoner more or less, of Frederick V, who was the de facto ruler of Austria. Meanwhile John Hunyadi ruled Hungary in Ladislaus’s stead, and George of Podebrady fulfilled the same function in Bohemia. At the age of ten, Ladislaus swapped one guardian for another after Ulrich II, the Princely Count of Celje, freed the boy from Frederick V. Ulrich then took over ruling Austria in Ladislaus’s name. At the age of 13, Ladislaus was crowned King of Bohemia, and Ulrich became governor of Hungary. It was after commotion caused first by the murder of Ulrich by the Hungarian Ladislaus Hunyadi, then by Ladislaus the Posthumous’s reprisals against Hunyadi (he had him beheaded) that Ladislaus, aged only 17, died of a mystery illness. Poisoning was suspected at the time, though 20th century scientists ascertained it had been leukaemia.

 

 

 

The Princess Bride 1987, dir: Rob Reiner)

Director Rob Reiner was on something of a roll when he made The Princess Bride. The previous year he’d directed Stand By Me, one of the great films about teenagerdom. Two years later he’d make When Harry Met Sally, one of the great romantic comedies. Sandwiched between we have a film which didn’t quite fit an easy category at the time but now looks, in retrospect, like the template for Hollywood’s “kiddie films for grown-ups”. Like the other two mentioned films, The Princess Bride is brilliantly written, by the brilliant screenwriter William Goldman in this case, whose pet project it was. It tells the entirely fairytale story of a beautiful princess kidnapped by a ne’er-do-well and rescued by the stable boy she fell for years before, though he is now disguised as a pirate. Swordplay, giants, torture chambers, a wicked prince, a questing suitor, The Princess Bride is the full medieval sword and sorcery shtick, though Goldman relays it all at ironic distance – this is a story being read as a bedtime treat by grandfather Peter Falk to grandson Fred Savage, who is mostly concerned that the story might have kissing in it. The casting within the fairy tale continues to be spot on – Mandy Patinkin as a cheesy Zorro, Cary Elwes as the stable boy, handsome, clean of cheek and as blond of hair as the princess, Robin Wright. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane provide an extra layer of comedy as a pair of old necromancers who can bring the dead back to life, when they get the spell right. Looked at now The Princess Bride looks like a dry run for Shrek – a good story for kids with whispered side jokes for the adults. It glories in what Hollywood can do and it’s alive to its shortcomings too. Auteurists will lump it in with Reiner’s work, but it’s really Goldman’s film and his screenplay is bursting with writerly smartassery and plot curlicues (hence the pirate business). Depending on your point of view this either works against the forward drive of the film, or it enriches it, making this a film worth watching repeatedly. Certainly the performances are – Mandy Patinkin alone is worth tuning in for.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The template for future Hollywood product such as Shrek and Toy Story
  • One of Reiner’s golden run of movies including Spinal Tap and Misery
  • British comedian cameos by Peter Cook and Mel Smith
  • The finest hour of Cary Elwes

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The Princess Bride – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

25 March 2013-03-25

Writers/stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram in Sightseers. © studiocanal

DVD and Blu-ray out in the UK this week

 

Sightseers (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Serial killing never looked so deliberately dowdy as it does in Ben Wheatley’s excellently funny and very British comedy about a couple (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also wrote) whose tour of pencil museums and the like is interspersed with grim, impassive slaughter. Think Natural Born Killers, towing a caravan in the rain.

The Hunt (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Thomas Vinterberg’s powerful 1998 drama Festen, the first of the pared-back Dogme films, examined the skeletons that rattle around in bourgeois closets and he’s at it again in this drama about a teaching assistant (Mads Mikkelsen, a long way from Bond villainy here) accused of sexual misbehaviour by a five year old. What follows is a witch hunt in grand The Crucible tradition, though Vinterberg’s real concern is the way the middle classes use certain forms of language – think “inappropriate behaviour” – to close down rather than open up understanding.

Great Expectations (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

David Lean’s great 1946 adaptation can rest easy, this version of Dickens’s great novel about a young oik turned into a gentleman thanks to a mysterious financial endowment joins the long list of forgettables. David Nicholls did the rewrite, turning it in the process into something similar to his novel One Day – the story of a horrible young man who has it all, discovering along the way that there’s more to life than simply being a cock. Except, in the shape of Jeremy Irvine, our hero Pip remains a cock to the end. There is good stuff in Mike Newell’s film and the further down the cast list you go the better it gets, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane, Ewen Bremner and Olly Alexander all standing out. But the top end of this Great Expectations is a classic of miscasting and misdirection. Irvine I’ve already mentioned, then there’s Helena Bonham Carter’s Miss Havisham, simply horrible rather than deranged and as for Holliday Grainger’s Estella (remember Jean Simmons’s Estella in Lean’s version – cold as hell and consequently hot as hell?), the expression “vinegar tits” jumps to mind.

Boxing Day (Independent, cert 15, DVD)

The latest collaboration on adaptations of Tolstoy stories by director Bernard Rose and actor Danny Huston sees them tackling Master and Man, Huston playing a property speculator spending Christmas being driven from one empty house to the next by an uppity British loser (Matthew Jacobs). If it’s not as great as a previous Tolstoy adaptation by Rose/Huston, Ivansxtc, the central relationship between the two men, which swings between resentment and shut-the-fuck-up, is really something to behold.

Starbuck (Signature, cert 15, DVD)

A warm, funny, engaged and clever French Canadian comedy about a sperm donor being tracked down by the hundreds of offspring he sired single-handedly (obligatory masturbation joke). Starbuck is like a good Richard Curtis film – it’s well cast, has strong incidental characters funnier than the lead (think Rhys Ifans in Notting Hill), which leaves a nicely shambolic Patrick Huard to do the dramatic heavy lifting.

Turn Me On, Goddamit (Element, cert 15, DVD)

It’s the girls who want to get laid, not the boys, in this refreshing Norwegian comedy about a teenage girl in a nowhere town whose life consists almost entirely of school, boozing in the bus shelter and masturbating to phone sex. Made with a wide-eyed innocence that heads complaint off at the pass, this is a surprisingly gentle, very charming comedy. 

The Princess Bride (Lionsgate, cert PG, Blu-ray)

It’s 25 years since William Goldman’s fairytale comedy starring elfin Robin Wright, handsome Cary Elwes and hilarious Mandy Patinkin came out and halfway through rewatching this restoration on Blu-ray I suddenly realised that it more or less supplies the plot template and most of the characters for Shrek. I’m sure the lawyers were there before me.

Thale (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)

This tense fantasy thriller about a Norwegian police clean-up team finding a mythical creature in a hidden cellar is this year’s Troll Hunter. Unexpected, refreshing, atmospheric and tightly plotted, it’s beautifully shot with vivid colours and unusual deep-focus photography, oh the wonders of digital. Even if you hate this sort of thing, it’s worth watching, and if you do hate this sort of thing you’ll be happy to hear it’s only a short 75 minutes or so. I found some comments from its director, Aleksander Nordaas, over on Pirate Bay underneath the magnet and torrent links to Thale, pointing out to the freebooters who are downloading his movie that he poured his heart, soul and all his money into this film. Not chiding them, not busting their balls, just asking nicely if they would also consider spending a bit of coin through the legal channels. How amazingly even-tempered he is, as well as talented. I hope some of them did – in spite of Thale’s unfathomably low IMDB rating, Nordaas really deserves to make another film.

Thale – at Amazon

 

The review for Thale first ran in the DVD/Blu-ray reviews for 4 March. The film is in fact out on 25 March. I got my dates wrong. And it is such a good film it’s worth repeating. SM

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013