The Princess Bride – review

     I watch a lot of films. A lot. I have always loved film and television and, though it is impossible to see everything  – I have to work after all – I have seen a fair few films. Having said that, there are still a lot of films that I have not seen, films that a person who considers himself a bit of a film buff, should have seen. This is a little embarrassing. 

    Apocalypse Now, American Graffiti, The Green Mile, Super 8, Saving Private Ryan, Oldboy, A Beautiful Mind, Three Colours: Red, are a few of the classic films I have missed or never bothered to watch over the years. 

    A film that is considered a classic, often quoted in film blogs, podcast and videos, is the 1987 comedy/fantasy, The Princess Bride. Made over three decades ago, the film is about a grandfather coming to read a story to his sick grandson. Now showing on Netflix, the premise of an old relative connecting with a younger one, separated by two generations, is a pertinent one, especially in this age of distraction. 

   A mom (Betsy Brantley) comes into her young son’s (Fred Savage) bedroom to see how he is feeling after a bout of sickness. The boy, who is playing a video game, tells her he is feeling a bit better. She tells him that he has a visitor, his grandfather (Peter Falk). The boy is not overly excited. His grandfather always pinches his cheek, which he does not like. 

   The grandfather comes into the bedroom and pinches his cheek. Mom leaves them alone. The grandfather gives his grandson a present, the boy opens it eagerly but is disappointed when he sees it is a book. The grandfather tells him that the book has been read to sick boys through several generations of their family. 

   He begins to read the story. Buttercup (Robyn Wright) is a beautiful young woman who enjoys nothing more than horse riding and bothering local farmhand, Westerly (Cary Elwes). No matter what task Buttercup asked of him, Westerly would carry it out without complaint, only ever replying ‘as you wish.’

   After a little time, Buttercup fell in love with him and he with her, but as Westerly was only a poor farmhand, he felt that he would have to leave the farm and go and seek his fortune. He promised that he would come back for her. Shortly after he had left, Buttercup heard that he had been killed and fell into a depression. 

   Five years passed and she had become a princess, chosen by Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) to be his bride. She did not love him. Whilst out riding in the forest, the princess comes across three men; Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), Fezzik (André the Giant) and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). The men kidnap her. 

   Vizzini is confident that no-one knows that they have got the princess, but Montoya points out that a ship is following them. They try to escape over a mountainous pass, but their pursuer continues to come after them. Vizzini tells Montoya, who is an expert swordsman, to kill their pursuer. 

   The pursuer is masked, so they do not see his face. When he gets to the top of the mountain, he and Montoya duel, but not before Montoya tells him the story of the six-fingered man, a person he has been seeking his whole adult life because he killed his father. The two duel and Montoya loses. The masked man does not kill him, instead knocking him unconscious and carrying on his pursuit of the princess. 

   Vizzini, seeing the masked man is still coming, tells Fezzik to kill him. The masked man bests the giant Fezzik and catches up with Vizzini. Meanwhile, Humperdinck, an expert tracker, is also following after the princess and has an entourage with him. Back with Vizzini, the masked man outwits him, getting him to drink poison.

   He takes the princess, goading her about her past love. She angrily pushes him down a hill. As he falls he shouts, ‘as you wish.’ And she realises that it is Westerly. They get back together and try to get away from the Prince and his entourage. The Prince catches up with them. Buttercup promises to go with the Prince if he will let Westerly go free. The Prince agrees.

    Humperdinck tells his right-hand man, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) to hide him until after the wedding and then kill him. Rugen has him held in a secret dungeon where he is tended to by the Albino (Mel Smith). He is told by the Albino, that Rugen likes his torture victims to be in a fit state before torture. 

    Humperdinck is told by Buttercup that she would rather die than not be with her beloved. He tells her that if he comes back, she can marry him. He then tells Rugen that he had paid Vizzini to kill her at the wedding banquet, but he will now kill her himself on their wedding night. 

    Buttercup confronts Humperdinck again. She does not believe he is looking for Westerly. Angered by her words, he goes to the dungeon and kills Westerly. Montoya and Fezzik are looking for Westerly having heard his cries when he was being tortured by Rugen.

They come across the Albino and find the dungeon. They find Westerly dead. Montoya takes him to Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) to try and revive him. Miracle Max says he is not quite dead and, with the help of his partner, Valerie (Carol Kane) they concoct a potion to revive him.

    The three, Montoya, Fezzik and a still incapacitated Westerly, go after Humperdinck. Montoya finds out that Rugen is the six-fingered man. When they get into the castle, he goes after him. Westerly looks for Buttercup. Montoya fights and kills Rugen. Humperdinck finds Buttercup with Westerly and threatens to kill him.

     Westerly convinces Humperdinck that he will leave him crippled and embarrassed. Humperdinck believes him and is tied up. Westerly admits he was too weak to fight and the four leave Humperdinck to his misery. The grandson finds that he loved listening to his grandfather read the story more than playing video games. The end. 

    The Princess Bride is a film beloved by millions. Written by the legendary screenwriter William Goldman, who has written more than a few classic films – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, A Bridge Too Far – to name a few. 

    From his own book, Goldman fashions a delightful tale that is expertly directed by another Hollywood legend, Rob Reiner, a man behind the camera of such classics as, When Harry Met Sally, Misery (script by Goldman), Stand By Me and A Few Good Men. 

    At around one hundred minutes long, The Princess Bride, with its unusual storytelling style, hurtles along nicely. With the sporadic interruptions from a soon to be Wonder Years famous Fred Savage as the grandson and an already famous Peter Falk, his crumpled detective Columbo a mainstay on television throughout the seventies and eighties. 

    A simple story, well told, The Princess Bride has all the elements of a good story; humour, suspense, drama and relatable characters. It is a film that makes filmmaking seem easy, but, as a person who watches a lot of films and has even made a few shorts, I can tell you it is not. 

   The Princess Bride is a film that, even after all these years, is an enjoyable watch for a Sunday afternoon.   

The New Legends of Monkey – review

Monkey was a late seventies Japanese television series that aired in the early eighties here in the UK. Quickly gaining popularity, it became a cult hit, with every teenage schoolboy – as that is what I was when it aired – rushing home to see it. Less violent than another martial arts series of the time, The Water Margin, Monkey told the story of three gods – Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy – and a monk – Tripitaka – who journey across China in search of ancient scrolls in order to save the world from demons. 

    As is the modern way and – some would say – the laziness of present-day production companies, remakes are a popular and – as long as they remain lucrative – will always be used as a proven route to a successful show. 

   The Legends of Monkey is the modern remake of Monkey. Though not a beat for beat remake, The Legends of Monkey is inspired by the cult classic and takes not only the premise but also retains the same characters, with even the boy monk, Tripitaka, being played by a woman. Originally played by the late Japanese actor, Masako Natsume, the modern incarnation of Tripitaka is played by Luciane Buchanan, a New Zealander of Tongan descent. 

   The production is a joint venture between the Australian Broadcasting Company, Television New Zealand and Netflix, reflecting the affection and popularity of the original show in that part of the world. 

   Chai Hansen takes the title role of the mischievous and egocentric Monkey, with Josh Thomson being Pigsy and Emilie Cocquerel, the only notable departure from the original series, with her taking the role of Sandy originally played by the male actor Shiro Kishibe. 

   This Antipodean interpretation of the show retains other elements of the original that made it so beloved around the globe, namely the fighting and the humour. Having made the decision to keep the central story premise and setting, there was the very modern and not at all unexpected furore over the casting of the actors. Wherein the original show had an entirely Japanese cast portraying a Chinese story – it was, after all, a Japanese production – the show was made in a very different time. It was pre the internet age, before social media, it even predates Netflix by almost twenty years. 

    That being said, the production boldly decided against casting any Chinese actors, casting predominantly from New Zealand and Australia. Not being Chinese myself and having little knowledge of how even how the original series was received in China – if it was even aired in China – this is not really an issue I feel I can confidently comment on. From my point of view, however, maybe it is the heightened sense of race-erasing that is in the media or my love of the original series, but when the show was initially announced and the cast was made known, this was the first thing that I noticed. 

   Still, I wanted to watch the show and give it a chance. I am glad that I did. The series is, as is the Netflix model, a ten-episode binge-able watch. Like the original show, they keep it short with each episode less than half an hour in length, comfortably sitting in sitcom territory. As it is a martial arts comedy, the drama is kept to a minimum, being just enough to carry the story but not so much as to be heavy or overwhelming. Truth be told, none of the elements that make up the show are dominant. The comedic moments are chucklesome as opposed to laugh-out-loud, the martial arts is competent without ever becoming truly dynamic. 

   The sets and costumes are good and show good production values, whilst the effects, though not of a Hollywood standard, are credible enough so as not to pull you out of the story. The strongest thing in Monkey is the aforementioned cast. They all inhabit the roles in a way that pays homage to the original show without parodying it. The supporting cast is also very good, with Rachel House as Monica, the gruff cyclopic innkeeper, a standout.

   Though not an unmissable show, I do feel that The New Legends Of Monkey is good enough to deserve a second season. I for one would be happy to see the further adventures of Monkey, Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy. Here’s hoping.