Tuesday, December 18, 2007

THE PRINCESS BRIDE (20th Anniversary Edition)

Written by Pollo Misterioso

Everyone loves a good story, especially one that can stand the test of time. Twenty years later, after two decades of filmmaking, The Princess Bride (1987), a simple fairy tale, is still entertaining and heartwarming, a true testament to its timelessness and perfection of a well told story.

The Princess Bride tells a story within a story, framed by a grandfather reading his grandson the book. When the grandfather begins The Princess Bride, we follow along, as the narrative unfolds in front of us. We are introduced to the lovers of the tale, Westley (Cary Elwes) who is a poor farm boy and Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn). They are separated when Westley leaves to find fortune but word gets back that he is killed at sea. Five years later it is announced that Buttercup is to wed the evil Prince Humperdink and ultimately marry into the royal family. It is when she is kidnapped by three robbers, that the rescue of Buttercup becomes priority for both Humperdink and a mysterious man in black, who is most obviously Westley, also Dread Pirate Roberts, in disguise. Westley is challenged by the robbers, one of whom is a talented swordsman who goes by Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), leading them with wits is Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) and the other a giant named Fezzik (Andre the Giant)—two of them ultimately team up with Westley to help each other in their quests.

The story is simply a tale about true love, and everyone is involved someway in the fight for it. Besides our main characters, the sub plots provide much of the intrigue and entertainment. Inigo Montoya has been searching his whole life for a six-fingered man, a man that killed his father and according to him, must prepare to die.

This film is brilliantly cast, even down to the smallest cameo roles; these actors embody their characters. Inigo is such a wonderful character and Mandy Patinkin gives him such life and warmth, the Spanish accent helps. Robin Wright Penn sparkles on the screen, being that she is easy to photograph but her performance is heartfelt and believable. Billy Crystal makes an appearance in one scene as Miracle Max, and even this character plays an important part of story. The care and attention given to these characters makes it believable that they live on in their fairy tale world.

The Princess Bride is charming for its clever way of making fun of its own genre. Very subtly, through dialogue and plot points, it satirizes the familiar story that it plays upon. The film makes fun of iconic danger spots, namely The Cliffs of Insanity, or the Pit of Despair, also the danger comes in all sort of sizes, from giants to the ominous Rodents of Unusual Size.

Most importantly, this film has heart—from the relationship of a grandson to his grandfather, all the way to the fantasy love story of Westley and Buttercup. Fantasy can change lives, being that it cures the little boy of his illness by the end of the film and this film can cure the decades of bad film that have followed. Like an old story retold at bedtime, The Princess Bride is as reliable now as it was the first time.

The extras that accompany this film share the nostalgic love for The Princess Bride, with featurettes “The Princess Bride: The Untold Tales,” with interviews with cast members and “The Art of Fencing,” which gives background information of the swordfights in the film. The DVD features the official The Princess Bride game, called “True Love and High Adventure” but the game, definitely geared towards children, calls for Internet play as well, so the game is incomplete. Hopefully the purchase of this DVD is for the movie and not the interactive game, because then it is worth the purchase.


Written by El Puerquito Magnifico

First Run Features has released Moments With Fidel, a rarely seen film from the Cuban Film Archive, as part of their Cuba: Paths to Revolution series. It’s a collection of archival footage that highlights some of the more important moments in the Cuban leader’s lifetime, from the toppling of Batista’s imperialist regime in 1959, to present day.

I reviewed this movie hoping to learn a bit more about a subject in which my knowledge is sorely lacking. The fact that this movie was not made in America made it all the more appealing, as I knew it wouldn’t be tainted by an anti-Castro slant. I was hoping to get a more balanced look at this controversial figure than the American media typically provides. Moments With Fidel didn’t quite deliver on all counts, but it did offer a little more insight into Fidel’s motivations.

The filmmaker seemed to assume that the viewer had a decent knowledge of Cuban history. As I mentioned before, I have only the vaguest knowledge, which worked against me, as I couldn’t keep up with a lot of the information. I didn’t walk away with any more knowledge of Cuban history than I did before, but I did get to see a bit more of the personal side of Fidel Castro. Footage showcasing visits to a schoolyard does not show the vile dictator we’ve been taught about on the news. Rather, it shows a very genuine man who cares about the people and the culture of his country. Politicians can stand on a pulpit and lie through their teeth, but seeing Castro play baseball and basketball with a group of school kids shows both a love of the game and a free spirit. You can’t fake that.

I was also impressed with various speeches that were part of the documentary, speeches in which Castro was more than willing to admit mistakes the Party had made, and accept responsibility for setbacks that had befallen the people of Cuba. In a world where leaders are quick to pass the buck and blame everyone but themselves, it was shocking and refreshing to see this very humble behavior. Again, I walked away feeling like there’s a lot more to this man than we are usually told.

The extra features on this DVD release are three rare films. My Brother Fidel is a 1977 conversation between Fidel Castro and a 92-year old man who met Cuba’s national hero, Jose’ Marti. The First Delegate recounts the history of the Communist Party of Cuba, and Condemn Me, It Does Not Matter discusses Fidel’s role in the Moncada Assault of July 29, 1963. Once again, it seemed that a slightly more than rudimentary knowledge of Cuban history was necessary, and I felt a little lost watching these short documentaries.

Despite my lack of knowledge and mild trouble with these films, I still enjoyed them. At the very least, you will get to see another side to a man so often maligned in the American press, and perhaps learn a little something. On another note, it’s worth it just to watch Castro deliver a speech to the Cuban people. His oratory skills, even though he speaks a language I do not understand, are inspiring and captivating. I was very glad to spend just a few moments with Fidel.

The Best Of Crank Yankers Uncensored

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

It must have sounded like such a great idea for a show. "We'll make some crank calls and re-enact them with puppets." It's certainly unique. It's a step above The Jerky Boys and slightly different than the similar guest comedians featured on Dr. Katz and not nearly as clever as the interviews of Creature Comforts animated as zoo animals. Crank Yankers started as a Comedy Central show and has moved to MTV2 in recent years. The set-up is simple and opens itself to many possibilities. A number of comedians make actual crank calls in the guise of a recurring character. The calls are re-enacted with additional props to add a visual element to the verbal comedy of the phone call. In theory, the visual element of the puppets should help flesh out any lack of comedy in the phone call. It does work but really only in small doses.

The Best Of Crank Yankers Uncensored is three hours and over 50 phone calls of the Comedy Central episodes of the show. The cast of characters has grown with each new season of the show. Each comedian portraying their different characters have a unique method of trying to keep the callers on the line as long as possible. The problem is that often the character is a one-joke character and the bits go on past the point that they continue to be funny.

Special Ed (Jim Florentine) relies on repetition of phrases and the occasional "Yaaaaay!" Ed is annoying from the very beginning of each call, often calling men "Miss" or women "Hey, Mister." It's his affection of being mentally retarded that usually gives the "mark" a little patience with him.

My favorite character is Gladys (Wanda Sykes). Her bit is that of an African-American women who is usually angry or needs help because of a unique situation that she is in. She's had a turd in the back of her car that she picked up after being towed or been glued to her toilet seat. These scenes play well because the situation is so absurd and played seriously that it's hard for the "mark" to tell if she's telling the truth or not. The more they don't believe her, the more indignant she becomes.

Boomer and The Nudge (Jimmy Kimmel and Patton Oswalt) are obnoxious morning DJs. Their calls to unsuspecting "marks" are just over the top enough to be believable. Their fast-talking banter is usually generic enough to convince the "mark" that they are from a real radio station. Trying to get a man to put his hands down a coworkers pants is funny but it goes on at least a minute too long.

Spoonie Luv (Tracy Morgan) is the least funny character included in this collection. Like some other Tracy Morgan characters, he's completely in his own world. The characters lewd suggestions such as what he wants to include on a note with some flowers he is sending is stereotypical and usually proves to make the call an obvious prank.

The best character for the actual prank call is Adam Carolla's Mr. Birchum. He's perfected this character on radio for years. Mr. Birchum always starts as a believable 62-year-old Vietnam veteran who's missing three fingers on one hand and part of a leg. For example, when he calls the "mark" about being abducted, he starts off very mild to gain the "mark's" trust. Once they believe him to be a serious caller, he turns the conversation to stranger and stranger topics until the "figure it out". The experience he's had with the character shows in the complete back-story that he can pull out at any time of the conversation.

The prank call is a dying art. Done well, it's an impressive offshoot of improvisational comedy. But it's still typically a one- or two-joke format. While the puppetry here is unique, it's not enough to save a bit that outstays its welcome. This Comedy Central release doesn't contain any extras. It doesn't really need them. Three hours of prank calls are really too many and you become numb to the jokes. There's a Tenacious D puppet video at the beginning of the disc. More non-prank call scenes may have made this disc more enjoyable. Experienced in small doses, this series reminds us that there are lots of talented improvisational comics around today, but this isn't the best format for their comedy.