Washingtonians can catch four screenings of The Princess Bride at the AFI next week.
The Princess Bride
Every now and then, a movie comes along that has a rare blend of comedy and drama, adventure and sensitivity, entertainment, and artistry. A film that somehow manages to navigate the multiple factions and compromises of big-budget moviemaking and emerge with something approaching perfection. The Princess Bride is one of those perfect storms of a movie where everything happened exactly right in all quarters.
William Goldman’s script, adapted from his own novel, is a rousing adventure, even as it slyly skewers the genre. More important, it has memorable, quotable lines, delivered by actors who burn their lines into your brain with their impeccable timing. All you have to do is say the word “inconceivable” in conversation, and anyone who’s seen the film probably immediately has Wallace Shawn spitting the word out running on a tape loop in their head. The rest of the cast is pitch perfect, from Mandy Patinkin’s vengeance-seeking Spaniard to Christopher Guest’s cruel six-fingered man to the lovably gruff Peter Falk overseeing the whole thing. Rob Reiner, in the midst of an impressive directorial run that had started three years earlier with This is Spinal Tap, displays a light touch that lets the impressive cast and well-crafted script do all the heavy lifting.
Stalwart indie auteur John Sayles returns with a historical war drama about a conflict not often covered in the cinema: the Philippine-American War, which was fought between 1899 and 1902, after the US took control of the country following the Spanish-American War. Anyone familiar with the politics of Sayles’s filmography should not be surprised that he uses it as an opportunity to not only look with a critical eye on the imperialist attitudes that drove that war, but also to examine parallels to modern military occupations by the US. Sayles concentrates the story not with one band of fighters or the other, but rather with a small village that is often caught between the warring factions.
On a week where the other two major releases are a horror film about a secret moon mission and a 3D shark attack film, neither of which were screened for critics, likely because the studios already know what those critics are likely to say about them, The Debt stands out as the thinking moviegoer’s multiplex choice for the week. The Helen Mirren-starring thriller is a remake of a 2007 Israeli film, about the actions of a group of Mossad operatives in East Berlin in 1965, where they have been sent to catch a Nazi fugitive. Two of the agents ended up together, and their daughter has written a book about their exploits, but the official account of what went on begins to be called into question when, in the film’s 1997 present, something terrible happens with the third portion of the trio. Director John Madden lets things unravel in a narrative that hops back and forth between the past and present.
Jim Henson continued to indulge the darker doors of his mind that he’d thrown wide open with The Dark Crystal in this, regrettably his last feature film. How a film made by Jim Henson and George Lucas, and starring David Bowie managed to tank as badly as this did upon release is a mystery, though perhaps parents thought it a little too scary for kids used to the more subtle subversions of The Muppet Show and its various spinoffs. As with many excellent films that just lack vision in the studio marketing department, it went on to assume its rightful position as a cult classic, making it a perfect film for E Street’s midnight series, where it’s been held over to this weekend after last Saturday’s midnight screening was canceled by Hurricane Irene.
This Other Eden: Ireland and Film
The National Gallery of Art just kicked off this extensive series looking at cinematic depictions of life in Ireland, both in narrative and documentary forms, which runs throughout the month of September. They have three films on the schedule for this weekend. First up is a film recognized as one of the definitive documentaries about Ireland, Rocky Road to Dublin, in which journalist-turned-director Peter Lennon teamed up with the genius French cinematographer Raoul Coutard in 1967 to create a sharply critical look at the state of the country at the time, so much so that the Irish government managed to unofficially ban it for over 30 years.
Next is The Quiet Man, in which John Ford brings the eye for sweeping vistas he developed through years of shooting westerns to this Technicolor romantic vision of Ireland, with John Wayne starring as an American of Irish derivation returning to the motherland to reclaim the family farm, who falls in love with a local played by Maureen O’Hara. After that it’s the film from which the series takes its name, This Other Eden, an Irish-made film from the late ’50s that also features an outsider (English this time) coming to Ireland and falling in love, not without some conflict along the way.
DVD Pick of the Week: Daguerréotypes
If you’re unfamiliar with this 1976 documentary from French master Agnès Varda, there’s a reason: it’s never been released in the USbefore. Much as she did with The Gleaners and I—a film much more familiar to American audiences—Varda turns her camera on a particular population and allows us an intimacy with the people who make up the group. In this case, the subjects are the shopkeepers on a little segment of the Rue Daguerre in Paris, where Varda herself lives. In fact, if you’ve seen Varda’s most recent film, the autobiographical Beaches of Agnès, it may be familiar, as she continues to live there today. Daguerrèotypes is Varda’s look at the people in her own neighborhood, frozen in time as in the photographic process that the title’s double meaning implies.
Special Features: A 21-minute film revisiting the street where Varda made the original film, 30 years later, as well as shorter featurettes about the film, and an essay from critic Haden Guest, director of the Harvard Film Archive.
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