Film Review: THE QUEEN OF SPAIN (Spain 2016)

The misadventures of a Spanish crew during the filming of an American movie in 1950’s Spain.

Director: Fernando Trueba
Writer: Fernando Trueba
Stars: Penélope Cruz, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE QUEEN OF SPAIN arrives after its Gala Selection at Berlinale 2017. The film is the sequel to Fernando Trueba’s 1998 drama THE GIRL OF YOUR DREAMS which also starred Penelope Cruz in a story set during the Spanish Civil War with Josef Goebbels falling in love with Macarena Granada. The film, though not many are familiar with in North America won seven Goya Awards including best film and best actress for Cruz. But what is more well known, is that Cruz and director Trueba worked together on the 1992 film BELLE EPOQUE which won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. With that, THE QUEEN OF SPAIN aroused sufficient interest to get commercial distribution.

The film is not as good as the other two, and in fact quite a disappointment, considering the film’s setting and its ambitious political intentions. Trueba injects lots of comedy and melodrama and the kind of goings-on during the filming of a movie. The film is fun to watch but could have developed into much more.

There are many stories – in fact a few too many on display in the film. The most important of all is to the one considering Cruz’s character but a film director, Blas Fontiveros (Antonio Resines) that has got into a lot of political trouble in the past. He suddenly appears at the start of the film, like a ghost as everyone though him dead, but is arrested. With so many people in the new film that he has helped in the past, they decide to spring him. The new film that is made is an American Hollywood film shot in Spain by director John Scott (Clive Revill) who is so old, all he can do is shout ‘action’ or ‘cut’ between his naps. The main star from Hollywood is Marcarena Granada (Penelope Cruz) who falls in love with a grip (Chino Darin) on the set. Other subplots include the dandy American actor, Gary Jones (Cary Elwes) and an assorted Spanish crew including a couple (a lesbian and gay man) who marries for convenience.

The setting is the nostalgic age where Hollywood came to Spain. Clearly director Trueba hates politics and Franco for that matter and has a sort of love/hate relationship with Hollywood as depicted in the film. The McCarthy witch hunt in which screenwriters were banned from working in Hollywood is given a nice touch in the film. One such writer arrives in Spain and works under an assumed name.

THE QUEEN Of SPAIN is a well intentioned film which has taken too much on its plate. It still is an entertaining romp – a tribute to the nostalgic filmmaking times of the 50’s – a film in a film. Following its premiere in Berlin, which was met with a long standing ovation, the film was nominated for five Goya Awards held this past March, including a nomination for Cruz as best actress.


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1987 Movie Review: THE PRINCESS BRIDE, 1987

Movie Reviews

Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring: Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Andre The Giant, Billy Crystal, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn

Review by Virginia De Witt


A young boy is home sick from school, when his grandfather arrives and begins to read to him from a story book. The tale of Buttercup and Westley, who live in the faraway land of Florin, then unfolds. They fall in love but are separated, and Buttercup believes Westley has been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Years later, Buttercup, now betrothed to the villainous Prince Humperdinck, is kidnapped on the eve of her wedding. A mysterious man in black appears to do battle with the kidnappers and save Buttercup. Westley eventually reveals himself to Buttercup as the man in black, who has survived his encounter with the Dread Pirate Roberts, and together they set off to escape Humperdinck and his men, only to be caught and separated again. The Princess Bride, Buttercup and her true love, Westley, eventually endure many tests and trials before their ultimate and inevitable reunion.


This adaptation of William Goldman’s 1973 novel of the same name, is as heavily indebted to the history of the movies as it is to the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, which its title and its core story are meant to evoke. William Goldman was a successful Hollywood screenwriter, e.g. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969), when he wrote this children’s book and he, along with director, Rob Reiner, made it into a deeply affectionate tribute to the Saturday matinee idols of their youth, particularly to the swashbuckling films of Errol Flynn. It is a swiftly paced, beautifully shot and often funny adventure fantasy, that is aided greatly by its large cast, as well as Goldman’s imaginative writing.

The story itself is the proverbial roller coaster ride which never lags and features every familiar figure from the world of fairy tales, from giants to a wicked prince; a beautiful princess in waiting to a wizened old wizard. Goldman throws in a few inventions of his own along the way – in the Fire Swamp, for instance, where Buttercup and Westley hide from their pursuers, they must battle Rodents of Unusual Size, monsters which are fun to watch and which conjure up memories of cheap horror flicks. The film is memorably shot by Adrian Biddle who successfully evokes a technicolor story book landscape. Florin is a world unto itself of gauzy meadows and moonlit waters, and which features Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher standing in for the Cliffs of Insanity where the Man In Black first does battle with the three marauders who have kidnapped Buttercup.

The key to the film’s success, however, is its cast, which Rob Reiner has directed with a sure hand. This is especially true in the comedic interludes, which dominate the film except for the love story between Westley and Buttercup. Their story is always presented in iconic fairy tale terms, as when Westley earnestly declares to Buttercup on his return from his encounter with the Dread Pirate – “Death cannot stop true love. It can only delay it for awhile.” Cary Elwes as Westley, seems cast as much for his resemblance to the young Errol Flynn as for his acting ability, but he achieves the requisite romantic chemistry with Robin Wright’s Buttercup. She has a lovely natural honesty in the part that makes even the most shopworn of romantic cliches seem fresh.

Every other situation is played for laughs and Reiner is assisted by a group of wonderful comic actors. As a result, he manages to strike a winning balance between humor and romance. William Shawn as Vizzini, one of Buttercup’s inept kidnappers, is a scrappy little gnome of a bad guy, constantly in everyone’s face, arguing and complaining. Mandy Patinkin as Montoya, one of Vizzini’s partners in crime, who is seeking revenge for his father’s death, is like a figure out of comic opera, sporting a campy accent and dueling his way through the film. Chris Sarandon as the wicked Prince Humperdinck and Christopher Guest as Count Rugen, his equally repugnant co-conspirator, are perfect comic villains, always more silly than scary. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane have a wonderful cameo appearance at the climax of the film as Miracle Max and his wife, Valerie, an ancient bickering couple who live in a tree but kvetch like Borscht Belt comedians.

In the framing story, Peter Falk as the grandfather and Fred Savage as his grandson have a gently funny rapport. The intermittent return to them throughout the telling of Buttercup’s story is not intrusive as it might have been, as Reiner sets an appropriately light tone for this material. We’re never really in doubt about the outcome of the tale and therefore don’t resent a bit of meandering in its telling.

“The Princess Bride” is a re-imagining of the fairy tale, from the point of view of a writer and director saturated in the equally powerful world of classic adventure movies. Together, William Goldman and Rob Reiner, create a magical combination of fantasy, romance, comedy and action that has not dated in the least.


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Film Review: SUGAR MOUNTAIN (USA 2016)

sugar_mountain_movie_posterDirector: Richard Gray
Writers: Abe Pogos, Abe Pogos (story
Stars: Jason Momoa, Cary Elwes, Anna Hutchison

Review by Gilbert Seah

 SUGAR MOUNTAIN is the location in Alaska where two brothers device a scam in order to get the money to pay off debts and have a new go on life.

Deep in debt to a local thug (upcoming actor Jason Momoa soon to be seen on AQUAMAN and JUSTICE LEAGUE), Miles (Drew Roy) persuades his girlfriend Lauren (Haley Webb) and brother Liam (Shane Coffey) to help fake a disappearance in the Alaskan wilderness around the town of SUGAR MOUNTAIN. The plan is to sell the story. But unknown to Liam, who is the main subject of the film, Miles has also other secrets that get in the way. Worst still, Liam is in love with Lauren. While the town works together to find Miles, the local chief of police, Jim Huxley (Cary Elwes) begins to suspect foul play. As he closes in on the truth, Liam struggles to conceal the hoax, and in the process exposes a secret that rocks him and Lauren to the core. Now the two are struggling to stay one step ahead of a sadistic thug and the tenacious cops before Miles is gone for good.

Performances are believable by the relatively unknown young cast. It is good to see Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) nine in the role of the cop father after a long absence in films.

Being shot in Alaska, the film is expectedly gorgeous to look at. From the first scene of Miles lost in the mountains of snow to the boat (the Viking) cruising down Alaskan waters to the mountain sides where the search for Miles is carried out, cinematographer John Garrett never fails to astound. Garrett won the 2015 Emerging Cinematographer Award recipient (American Society of Cinematographers). There is also a remarkable shot scene where the couple find themselves close up to an angry bear.

The script by Abe Pogos based on a story by Pogos and Catherine Hill is interesting enough with sufficient plot twists towards the end. But the film would have world better if it was darker and more violent. One expects these elements in a film advertised a a dark thriller. But most important is the happy ending that is credible enough. The film works best when the audience is not sure what is happening on screen is part of the plan or going on for real.

SUGAR MOUNTAIN is a tough sell being a small budget movie released in the month of December in stiff competition with the big league films like ROGUE ONE, FANTASTIC BEASTS, DR. STRANGE, MOANA as well as smaller budget critical acclaimed hits like MOONLIGHT. To be fair, SUGAR MOUNTAIN is not a bad film, but it is not that remarkable a film either. But it is an earnest film, with a lot of effort put in and is a welcome change in a month where thrillers are noticeably absent.


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