The Princess Bride – a movie for all ages

“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us together today.” Although this line is picking on people with speech impediments, in the context of the movie “The Princess Bride” it is quite comical, as it is uttered by the magnificently attired priest who is conducting a wedding service for the bride to her unloved groom. It is so unexpected it becomes farcical. And, that is one of the reasons why this Rob Reiner movie is so entertaining. It does so many unexpected things and all ages will enjoy the story, as narrated by a grandfather, Peter Falk, as he reads to his grandson played by “The Wonder Years” star Fred Savage.

The story fascinates as it begins with true love between a young girl played by Robin Wright in her first movie (before “Forrest Gump” and “House of Cards”) and a farm hand played by Cary Elwes, who would go on to star in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.” They get separated and she catches the eye of a hated prince played wonderfully by Chris Sarandon. The prince’s greed, though, overtakes his lust and he sends her off for a visit to another land where he asked three interesting hired assassins to kill her, so he can blame the other country and grow his realm.

Without giving away too much of the movie, the Dread Pirate Roberts enters the picture to save her and has to ward off the assassins, the prince’s henchman, and torture. The three assassins are played wonderfully by Wallace Shawn, whose catchphrase is “inconceivable,” Andre the Giant (the former pro-wrestler) and Mandy Patinkin as a swashbuckling Spaniard out for revenge for his father’s death. Andre the Giant turns out to be quite the comedic actor in several scenes. Patinkin’s passion for vengeance is also room for comedy and heroics.

But, other actors play wonderful roles in large cameo parts and other scenes. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are quite funny playing Miracle Max and his wife. Christopher Guest plays the prince’s henchman quite well, especially as he is inquiring into the pain reactions of the Dread Pirate Roberts in his contrived torture chamber. Mel Smith has a fun cameo as the torturer and Peter Cook, is the magnificent lisping priest.

Yet, the idea to have Falk read the story to Savage makes the movie feel like a fairy tale. Especially when the dream scenes are read and Savage reacts rather annoyed to the story. The story includes perils such as the fire swamp with its ROES, Rodents of Enormous Size, as well as fighting off the talents of three assassins and even overcoming death. We learn the difference between “Mostly Dead” and “Totally Dead” from Miracle Max. Yes, it is silly especially when the future princess is booed by a character played by Margery Mason, which turns out to be one of the dreams that Savage does not care for.

Reiner’s directing and casting of this wonderful movie make it a treat for all ages. His inclusion of Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) in developing the soundtrack and writing the best song “Storybook Love,” which was sung by Willy DeVille, makes it even more special. I have tried to stay away from much of the plot for those who have not seen the movie. If you have not and you have children or grandchildren, rent this movie, make some popcorn and turn the lights low. If you have seen it, still follow the above steps, as the kids and all in the family will get a treat.

Billy Crystal – 700 Sundays is worth the watch

On HBO, they are currently airing a wonderful show put on by comedian Billy Crystal called “700 Sundays.”  Crystal is at his poignant, funny and reflective best as he chronicles his life through years of Sundays growing up in his house. He takes you through his impersonations and stories about his many relatives who had their charmingly, imperfect mannerisms. His mimicry is how he got started on his journey to becoming a comedian. But, he also walks you through an important piece of Americana, as his dad and uncle were pioneers in helping integrate jazz music and musicians into more people’s lives.

In fact, when his dad passed away when Billy was age 15, people like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louie Armstrong and others were in attendance at the funeral. Billy also spoke fondly of his time with Billie Holliday, the tremendous singer. He said she called him “Mr. Billy” while he called her “Miss Billie.” He reminisces about her taking him to see his first movie – “Shane.” When he speaks of his dad’s record label Commodore recording Billie’s most powerful song “Strange Fruit” which is a protest song, he takes great pride in his family’s involvement in what some voted the most impactful song of the 20th century. Here are some of the lyrics:

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

With some of the news items in the US the past few days of two racists getting headlines, I felt the timing of hearing his story about these powerful words are even more compelling and should be read and heard.

The show is a must see. It will leave you spent as he makes you laugh, cry and remember. He is so vivid in explaining scenes and settings. He makes you see, hear and smell the sights, sounds and fragrances of the place he is describing. The jazz segment is memorable, but there are other terrific segments in his storytelling – the death of his father and mother, helping his mother study for a new line of work after his dad died, falling in love with his long time wife and balancing the good with the bad things that happened in his life. Nice job, Mr. Billy. Thank you for the walk down memory lane.