1987 Movie Review: THE PRINCESS BRIDE, 1987

THE PRINCESS BRIDE,  MOVIE POSTERTHE 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

SYNOPSIS:

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.

REVIEW:

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.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE,1987

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Movie Review: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 1993

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time


THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 1993
Movie Reviews

Directed by Henry Selick
Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Paul Reubens
Review by Jane Hopkins

SYNOPSIS:

Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. One day he stumbles into Christmas Town, and is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween — but alas, they can’t get it quite right.

OSCAR nominee for Best Visual Effects

REVIEW:

The first feature-length stop-motion film, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was a breakthrough when it was first released. Since then, it has been followed by other successful movies using the stop-motion technique, such as “Corpse Bride” and “Coraline.” With newer technology on their side, these more recent films feature even smoother, more lifelike movements than those in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” However, even if its animation is not quite as advanced as the films that followed it, “Nightmare” still stands out with its meaningful story, memorable characters and gorgeous music.

Based on Tim Burton’s book, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” tells the story of Jack Skellington, the adored king of Halloweentown. But Jack has grown tired of frightening people, and thinks there must be something better than spending all year planning the next All Hallow’s Eve. When Jack accidentally stumbles upon a jolly new holiday, he decides to replace this “Sandy Claws” fellow and run things himself. Unfortunately, the world may not be ready for Jack’s brand of Christmas cheer…

Burton’s story is obviously an homage to Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but the two stories are very different. True, they both revolve around the idea of hijacking Christmas, but unlike the Grinch, Jack Skellington is a gentle soul from the get-go. He doesn’t want to ruin Christmas; he just wants to become part of something that has made him feel alive again. The tragedy is that he nearly winds up destroying it – and himself – in the process. Burton takes Seuss’ classic tale and twists it, changing a tale of redemption into one of longing. ”

With the current popularity of CGI, stop-motion animation is an overlooked technique. To be sure, it is more time-consuming and less fluid than computer animation, but that doesn’t necessarily make it inferior. In fact, there is a whole different level of care and artistry that goes into stop-motion animation. Basically, when you have to move a puppet’s arm in twenty-four tiny increments just to equal one second of footage in a ninety-minute film, there just isn’t room for shortcuts. There is devotion in every frame of this remarkable film, and it all amounts to a visually enthralling experience.

While it is certainly possible to connect with computer-animated characters – as Pixar has shown time and time again – there is something to be said for the use of puppets. These complex models, built around flexible steel armatures and fitted with a range of expressive faces, have a presence to which pixels cannot compare. Although there’s a bit of jerkiness to the characters’ movements, that just reminds us that they’re physically there. It doesn’t take long before we buy the creatures of “Nightmare” as living, breathing beings – and considering our hero is a skeleton, that’s really saying something.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a twist on the Disney musicals of the 90’s, with ten songs provided by composer and former Oingo Boingo front man Danny Elfman. These songs, with their clever lyrics and hummable tunes, perfectly capture the overall tone of the film: a brilliant balance between exuberance and melancholy. Elfman even sings the part of Jack Skellington, and his beautiful voice should be a pleasant surprise for those unaware of it. The score is just as fitting as the songs. By turns exhilarating and brooding, it keeps the storybook atmosphere alive.

The voice acting in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is marvelous all around. Catherine O’Hara takes on two roles, playing the wistful heroine Sally and the scheming witch-girl Shock. There are other Burton regulars in the cast: Beetlejuice’s Glenn Shadix plays the very literally two-faced mayor of Halloweentown, while Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman) lends his familiar voice to puckish trick-or-treater Lock. As the speaking voice of Jack Skellington, Chris Sarandon really doesn’t get enough credit. Although it’s a real treat to hear Danny Elfman sing Jack’s songs, most of the character’s real warmth and nobility comes from Sarandon’s thoroughly likable take on the character. Rounding out the cast are Broadway’s Ken Page as the villainous Oogie Boogie and Edward Ivory as an understandably incensed Santa Claus.

The design of this film remains very faithful to the illustrations in Tim Burton’s book, down to the stunning Spiral Hill. The dreary, angular Halloweentown is, as others have noted, a wonderful nod to the dreamlike landscapes of German expressionism. By contrast, with its rounded shapes and bright colours, Christmastown is the perfect glittering confection to chase Jack’s gloom away. Our hero’s first glimpse of it is ours as well, and after the shadows of Halloweentown, this new world is truly dazzling. Yet, by the end of the film, it’s interesting to note how much more appealing Jack’s hometown really is. Although not nearly as colourful as Christmastown, Halloweentown’s residents have cheer to spare, and frankly, it just looks like a more interesting place to live. The brighter world proves a good place to visit, but the enchantment doesn’t last forever. Jack eventually realizes to which world he truly belongs, and it makes sense when he returns to his old home.

What makes this film so powerful is that it can appeal to kids and adults alike. While classified as a “children’s film,” the plot and characters still resonate profoundly with mature viewers. At the heart of all the spookiness lies a very human problem: Jack Skellington is questioning his purpose in life. After years of admiration and success, he can no longer remember what made him love his job in the first place. He craves something new to inspire him, and when he finds it, he thinks his problems are solved. Yet although he’s excited at the novelty of his new discovery, it still can’t truly fulfill him. These are concepts that become all the more meaningful with time, so although kids understand this film, the core issues have an even deeper impact on the adults in the audience.

Sixteen years after its release, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” has acquired a kind of cult status. In 2006, just in time for Halloween, it received a 3-D upgrade for a brief theatrical re-release, which has since become an almost annual deal. From more recent cameos in the “Kingdom Hearts” video games to his constant presence in “Hot Topic,” it seems Jack Skellington’s popularity has only increased. His quest for a purpose still inspires old and new fans alike, guiding them through a rewarding journey of discovery. And in “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” there is so much to see and hear along the way.

As a side note: Contrary to popular belief, Henry Selick directed “Nightmare,” not Tim Burton. One of the most frustrating things about this misconception is that advertisers use it to their advantage. Some of Selick’s subsequent films, such as “Monkeybone” and the superb “Coraline,” are credited in ads to “the director of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’” Given the title “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the confusion is understandable. However, because of the general belief that Burton directed “Nightmare,” Selick sometimes seems to miss out on the recognition he deserves. He is a highly imaginative filmmaker in his own right, and it would be a shame to overlook him because of some tricky advertising.

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday: Joanna Gleason

joannagleason.jpgHappy Birthday actor Joanna Gleason

Born: Joanne Hall
June 2, 1950 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Married to: Chris Sarandon (22 July 1994 – present)

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

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