The Princess Bride (1987)

Director: Rob Reiner Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn

In present-day 1980s, when a boy is sick in bed his grandfather tells him the story of The Princess Bride, a tale set in the distant country of Florin. Buttercup is separated from her true love, Westley, and is forced to wed the sneaky Prince Humperdinck. However, Westley won’t rest until he’s got Buttercup back.

Although I’ve read the original book of The Princess Bride, by William Goldman, I’d just never got around to watching the film. I had heard mixed things about the film but as someone who has read the book, I think that definitely helped me to appreciate the film more as all the strange jokes and non-sensical moments make a lot more sense with the extra context that the book provides. My brother hates the film and hasn’t read the book, and I have a feeling he doesn’t like it because you can understand the jokes a bit more if you know the tone and style in which the book was originally written. It’s an obvious thing to say and this applies to most films, but I would certainly suggest reading the book first if you can.

The book and film are made to be a spoof of traditional romantic adventure stories, and I love the way all the sets and costumes look a bit crap because it adds to the fun in a very camp sort of way. If you don’t know it’s a spoof going in I think it would look like just a terribly made film, but with that in mind its general low-budgetness is all part of the joke. The script is very over-the-top but the actors get the delivery just right, in the sense that it’s not overtly comical but there’s a clear underlying sense that nothing is being taken very seriously.

The film is a cult classic from the golden-age of cinema, and I can see how a lot of people would have serious nostalgia for it. Although The Princess Bride pre-dates myself, it has a lot of actors in it that I recognise from other stuff I watched growing up and even now, so it does have that nostalgic value.

This is definitely a family film and is very easy to watch and chuckle at. Don’t expect anything ground-breaking or Oscar-worthy, but if you want a film that can guarantee satisfaction all round, The Princess Bride is a good shout.

4 stars

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Pretty Woman (1990)

Director: Garry Marshall Cast: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo, Ralph Bellamy

After a chance meeting when asking for directions, wealthy businessman Edward hires a prostitute, Vivian, for a week to attend events with him as his plus one. This being a Hollywood movie, they end up falling in love- but will it ever be able to work out between them?!

The answer to the above question is, of course, yes. Despite my cynicism though,¬†Pretty Woman is an enjoyable and feel-good movie with a reliable formula to win over audiences. It’s definitely more rom than com and I could have done with a few more funny moments to improve it, but it’s not sickeningly romantic. Having a prostitute as the protagonist brings a different twist to the classic boy meets girl setup, and it’s refreshing to see her unashamedly flaunting her sexuality rather than the usual timid high-school nerd chasing the handsome sports star scenario. Plus, Vivian would have ended up fine on her own in the end if her and Edward hadn’t got together- she didn’t necessarily need the man to give the story a happy ending nor does she have to change herself to win him over (apart from buying some new clothes). Strong independent woman, amirite? Edward is also an appealing male protagonist: although he’s a successful businessman it’s no secret that he’s lonely and ultimately unfulfilled in his current lifestyle. It’s very easy to root for them as a couple.

Although the storyline is primarily about a man who hires a prostitute for a week it’s mostly a family friendly movie, and while it’s rated a 15 it would probably be suitable for kids slightly younger. In short, I would have no qualms with watching this with my parents so it can’t be that scandalous.

Easy plot, non-stressful storyline, classic 90s fashion, likeable characters- I’m going to hate myself for using this expression but it’s ideal for a “girls night in” (urgh). Plus there’s nothing like getting your own back on someone by buying a sassy new outfit- watch it just for the satisfaction of that classic shopping scene.

3.5 stars

John Wick (2014)

Director: Chad Stahelski Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki

An ex-assassin is forced back into work when a gang rob him in his own home. Unfortunately for them, his wife has also just died so he’s on the rampage.

You know those days when you’re already in a bad mood, it’s raining, it’s Monday, and then a colleague that you don’t like anyway does something to set you off? We’ve all been there, John Wick, we’ve all been there. Aside from the clearly very relatable nature of the film, John Wick is a very slick and very cool movie with the perfect balance of action and storyline. I remember when I watched¬†Top Gun way back I loved the action scenes but there just weren’t enough of them, while there was far too much romance and bleurgh that just was not interesting. John Wick however provides just enough characterisation for us to sympathise with John and to know who the baddies are, but most of the film is just super-cool fighting and shots of New York. Because of this, there is very little plot and it’s extremely easy to follow, but you don’t necessarily always want intricate storytelling which takes effort to follow- especially with such amazing cinematography and style to keep you entertained.

Now, mention Keanu Reeves and it’s fair to say many people will be put off. However, in this he’s perfect for the part. Keanu’s not known for his dramatism and ability to convey deep emotion, but that’s why he works so well in this. He’s great at the action sequences (not too different from the Far-Eastern style that inspired The Matrix), and his serious and unflappable nature befits an assassin well. Willem Dafoe makes almost a cameo appearance, because he’s in it so little. Not totally sure his character added much to plot and whether anything really would have changed if he was taken out, but still he was pretty cool so we’ll let him off.

I would absolutely recommend this as the perfect Saturday night at home movie. Easy to follow, beautifully shot, loads of action, no time wasted on romance and drama- and did I mention very cool?

4 stars

12 Angry Men (1957)

12-angry-men

Director: Sidney Lumet Cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Martin Balsam

Twelve jurors are tasked with deciding on the case of a young boy who is accused of murdering his father. While eleven are confident of his guilt, one doesn’t think the evidence is enough to convict the boy for sure, and it’s up to him to convince the others.

As I’m gradually ticking off films in IMDb’s top 250, 12 Angry Men was next on my list. I had to build myself up to watch it, because I knew it was one of those films with lots of talking that requires attention throughout- and finally got around to it on a relaxed Sunday evening.

Actually, it turned out not to be as much of a difficult watch as I’d thought. It didn’t feel too long (after all it is only about an hour and a half), and as the jurors changed their mind one by one there were clear pointers to show the plot moving on. With it being a group of twelve middle-aged white men, and the film in black and white, it started off slightly difficult to identify certain characters individually. However as the film progresses each juror shows their particular personalities, and fairly soon I was able to pick out who was still saying guilty or not guilty. The script is obviously split up between twelve different people so each character doesn’t necessarily get many lines, but still the writing allows for their different personalities to come through.

The issue I did have- and this may well be just me- was that once one person picks a hole in the prosecution’s argument, there’s clearly an element of doubt and so they have to go for not guilty. The main character’s points were enough for me to doubt the guilt of the accused, but it took more than that to sway the other jurors. Not having ever been a juror myself, I can’t say how realistic this would be. Having said that, some of the characters (notably the last one to sway to not guilty) had personal reasons for starting off with a guilty verdict, however unreasonable, which adds to the characterisation and so gives the film some depth.

As I say, this is a thinking person’s film and there’s a lot of dialogue, so don’t watch it when you’re tired or looking for something to watch lightly. If you’re in the right frame of mind, it’s easy to follow and enjoyable. Definitely one to watch to examine different characters and how a script can build up characterisation.

4 stars