Rating: The Good – 66.7 Genre: Action, Adventure Duration: 113 mins Director: Jan de Bont Stars: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes
Jan de Bont’s second directorial effort after the smash hit Speed upped the ante on the action by following a bunch of storm-chasing scientists through tornado country as they attempt to figure out the secrets of the twister. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton lead the ragtag pack of adrenaline junkies as the estranged married couple competing with a highly financed rival scientist (a slithery Cary Elwes) who stole their methodology. The action is everything you’d expect from the man who shot Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and the relatively early CGI effects still hold up to this day. The tornado sequences themselves range between formidable and unlikely as writer Michael Crichton takes his usual liberties in adapting science for the screen. Hunt and Paxton are more than comfortable with each other and add an understated charm to the movie while a young Philip Seymour Hoffman puts in a memorable shift as the “crazy guy”. There’s plenty of humour courtesy of his and everyone else’s antics and a neatly developed assortment of characters (an often ignored strength of Crichton’s screenplays) ensure it blends seamlessly with the plot’s progression. Incidentally, Twister was the first movie released in DVD format and so it not only scores as an enjoyable action adventure but it also holds a position of some significance among the geekiest of movie fans.
Rating: The Ugly – 67.4 Genre: Action, Sport Duration: 107 mins Director: Tony Scott Stars: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Duvall
Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer take the Top Gun formula and apply it to the racetrack in what turns out to be a surprisingly enjoyable piece of fluff. Tom Cruise top lines as the hot shot speedster laden with daddy issues who, after rocketing to stardom, develops a crisis of confidence after he barely survives a crash. It’s the Top Gun story right down to the grinning nemesis (Cary Elwes as opposed to Kilmer) but a tad less maudlin and with two special additions. First is presence of Robert Duvall, the seasoned mechanic who reluctantly takes the Cruiser under his wing. It’s his nous that lifts the entire drama by lacing the movie with grizzled sentiment and wise humour. Second is the drafting of Robert Towne to write the screenplay which gives the characters and their dialogue the kind of traction that rarely grace such hot air storytelling. Nicole Kidman offers strong support in an equally capable female role and though it resulted in one of modern Hollywood’s more atypical romances, she and Tom share a rather solid chemistry as the driver and his doctor girlfriend. In a nice twist on the intimidating rival trope, Michael Rooker scores terrifically as the older driver who, after being knocked off his pedestal by the cheeky Cruise, forms a tentative friendship with him – their wheelchair race alone makes this dramatic tangent worthwhile. As you’d expect from Scott, the driving sequences are wisecrack funneled and testosterone charged but thy’re shot and cut with a more coherent style than his films often exhibited. A suitably rousing rock anthem soundtrack wraps them up into neat little action package and though you may feel a tad guilty for falling for the director’s unabashed heavy handedness, you’ll find yourself amusingly entertained all the same.
Rating: The Good – 86.5 Genre: Fantasy, Adventure Duration: 98 mins Director: Rob Reiner Stars: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright
True fairy tales should be completely immune to cynicism and The Princess Bride comes as close to this standard as any modern story. Full of all the classic themes of romance, adventure, and revenge director Rob Reiner and writer William Goldman serve up a tale that has universal resonance. On top of which, there are layers of rich humour which meet the most mature sensibilities ensuring this story can be adored by children and adults alike. The film begins as a young Fred Savage sits in bed recovering from a cold as his grandfather Peter Falk reads him the story of The Princess Bride. From that point on, the film swings softly and seamlessly between Buttercup’s world of giants and R.O.U.S.’s (rodents of unusual size) and the boy’s bedroom where grandfather and grandson engage in some well timed relief and low key meta-analytical repartee.
The true strength of the story within the story is the characters and from the first moment of entering this world, we are beguiled by an array of original, quirky, and instantly memorable characters each reflecting one of the many universal themes Goldman’s tale visits. Robin Wright’s Buttercup is exquisite in appearance and demeanour alike while Cary Elwes is as dashing a hero as any. He is fantastic in a role that required everything from romantic whimsy to intricate fencing. He’s even responsible for some outstanding physical humour towards the end. Chris Sarandon is suitably boo-hissable as the evil king and there are a host of top names from the US and British comedy worlds all perfectly placed and bang on form. Undoubtedly however, the most memorable character is Mandy Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya on a life long quest to avenge the murder of his father. His performance is just perfect and he gives his character’s quest a real touch of immortality as he draws on the honour and passion inherent in his character’s arc to sublime effect.
In truth, there’s not one person involved in the cast or crew that isn’t on top of their game here. However, Reiner’s almost zen like direction and Goldman’s magical yet efficient script deserve special mention. The story moves forward with a soft yet unfaltering momentum as if every frame and scene was abundantly obvious to Reiner before he shot it and every twist and turn in the story to Goldman before he wrote it. And it does this all the while shifting between drama, action, and moments of timeless humour and also between the world of the princess bride and the young boy whose grandfather is reading him the story. The Princess Bride is a near miracle of a movie and it will stay with you forever no matter what age you are when you first see it.