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Last week The Princess Bride turned 30 and it returned to theaters this week as part of the Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies partnership (more classics are on their way to your local theater so keep an eye on the Fathom Events website for updates).  We’re big fans of The Princess Bride here at borg.com–more than five years ago it made 3 of our 4 lists of all-time favorite fantasy films.  This week’s screenings included Ben Mankiewicz interviewing director and producer Rob Reiner, and what shines through is Reiner’s enthusiasm for the film, three decades later.  He’s had several hits, from This is Spinal Tap to A Few Good Men, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and The American President, and more, and now in theaters is his latest–LBJ.  But so few films are beloved like The Princess Bride.

Why does it work so well?  Part of the film’s success is due to its sincerity.  It’s true to its source material, William Goldman’s novel The Princess Bride–the favorite of the author’s works.  Reiner tells a story of the difficulty in getting novelist William Goldman to sign over the film rights.  After countless big names were denied, Reiner was successful by agreeing simply not to change the story.  Goldman, who won Oscars for his screenplays to All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, also penned the film adaptation, further ensuring his original vision.  The story is bookended as only a fairy tale could be told (with a few interruptions) by Peter Falk’s Grandpa and Fred Savage’s Grandson, just having storytime.  The Grandson’s 1980s room provides plenty of nostalgia for kids from the period–a “Refrigerator” Perry poster, a Cubs pennant, Burger King The Empire Strikes Back drinking glass, He-Man action figures–this Chicago kid had a fun room.  But the family bonding is the thing–an old book keeping a story that bridges generations, inside the movie and out, told by an old man with glasses, gray hair, and a fedora.  And the story is sweet and about love–nothing in the movie is embarrassing or gross or disturbing–it’s safe territory to kick back and have a good time–for everyone.

Rob Reiner’s humor must also be a big component of the film’s success and appeal.  His choices, his casting, his own humor comes through, no doubt influenced by a lifetime in film thanks to his comedy dad Carl Reiner.  Carl belonged to that classic comedy school that also includes Mel Brooks.  It’s Brooks’ Young Frankenstein that The Princess Bride reminded me of the most in the theater.  What Young Frankenstein was to classic monster movies, The Princess Bride was for the fantasy film genre.  Is The Princess Bride a parody?  It doesn’t have those obvious, direct ties to specific classic scenes like Young Frankenstein, but it’s an homage to several–from Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood to Zorro and from Ivanhoe to Captain Blood and Sleeping Beauty.  The Pit of Despair, where Cary Elwes’s Dread Pirate Roberts is tortured, looks as if it could have been designed by the same crew as the laboratory set in Young Frankenstein (it didn’t but it did share its set designer–Richard Holland–with fantasy classics Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal).  But Rob Reiner’s humor is his own.  He never sits on a joke like the old masters of Hollywood comedy.  He leaves a laugh and keeps moving, which keeps in step with classic fantasyland storytelling.  You can laugh but the goal is the goal:  Rescue the Princess!

The classic archetypes are there: the Princess (Robin Wright), the Farmboy Hero (Elwes), the Three Woodsmen (Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant), a Wizard (Billy Crystal), a Crone (Carol Kane), an Albino (Mel Smith), and plenty of Villains including the Evil King (Chris Sarandon)–with a classic “rescue the Princess” plot.  But the movie is also unique.  What else has Rodents of Unusual Size?  The accents of Wallace Shawn as Vizzini and Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman?  An ad-libbing Billy Crystal partnered with a wonderfully badgering Carol Kane (Humperdinck! Humperdinck!)?  A real giant?  Two brave, swashbuckling heroes and two key villains (don’t forget Christopher Guest’s Count Rugen).  And the quotable lines!  It surely has as many big lines as Caddyshack: As you wish… My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my Father.  Prepare to die… Never get involved in a land war in Asia!…  Inconceivable!…  I do not think that word means what you think it means… Mawwiage! … And an endless litany of “boo”s.  The Pit of Despair!  The Cliffs of Insanity!

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jean claude van johnson

Sometimes you vote and your nominee wins.

That’s what we were hoping when Amazon Studios asked audiences last August what series they wanted to see move forward with a full season.  The underdog contender was a pilot called Jean-Claude Van Johnson, starring 1980s and 1990s B-movie superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme.  If you’re a fan of Van Damme, you probably would agree he has never failed to deliver a solid Van Damme action flick, whether it’s Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Lionheart, Double Impact, or TimeCop, or whether it’s Van Damme as a villainous voice on Kung Fu Panda 2, or star villain among a bunch of other “has-beens” in Expendables 2, Van Damme always delivers as promised.  We thought he did it again with a great series pilot last year.  And Amazon Studios agreed.

Amazon Studios has released a new trailer and a teaser plus a firm release date for season one–it’s available next month.

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as a meta-Jean-Claude Van Damme in Jean-Claude Van Johnson.  We reviewed the incredibly fun pilot here at borg.com last year.  Jean-Claude is a retired action hero, going through the motions, living the life we would expect of this famed, otherworldly-superhero-acrobatic-martial-artist-extraordinaire known as the “Muscles from Brussels”.  He awakens to a ho-hum average day, among all the products which have licensed his name (JCVD soap, after shave, slippers, an iron statue, etc.), with the obligatory supermodel exiting his bed.  He moves on to a Ramen noodle restaurant for lunch only to encounter a lost love, played by 39-year-old ex-Weeds and Royal Pains actress Kat Foster (Van Damme is 57).  She is leaving for a gig in Bulgaria and shuns his affections.  This prompts Van Damme to visit his agent, played by Phylicia Rashad.  She has some lame (and quite funny) acting parts for him, but–no–he wants to return to his other job.  It turns out Van Damme was doing what many of us dreamed about over the years–a story where these movie tough guys were actually put to the test in real life.  That’s right, Van Damme was America’s real-life answer to James Bond.  As Johnson, Van Damme was the world’s most dangerous undercover operative.  And he’s back.

And he has plenty of disguises.

Here is the new teaser and full-length trailer for Jean-Claude Van Johnson:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Young Leland Melvin wasn’t the type of kid who dreamed about flying in outer space.  But he was guided by good parents and developed the right stuff to work for NASA for more than a quarter of a century that culminated in two space shuttle flights to the International Space Station.  Melvin has written his memoir and it has been published in a version for kids and a version for adults.  Harper Collins and Amistad Press’s Chasing Space is a book that every school library should carry, a book kids should read to understand that you can be anything you want to be.

Melvin credits a good mind-set for his ability to adapt to new situations and succeed in whatever he put his mind to.  But even with hard work, life manages to get in the way sometimes.  Unforeseen circumstances stopped him in his tracks at several points in his many pursuits, including college, where he was almost expelled for an alleged ethics violation.  In high school football he made a mistake that his coach allowed him to redo, resulting in him getting a scholarship to college.  His girlfriend and he were pulled over and a racist police officer tried to get him thrown in jail.  He played football for the Detroit Lions, but a recurring hamstring problem knocked him out of the sport.  He got another chance at football, this time for the Dallas Cowboys, but his leg stopped him again.  Only after returning to graduate school work did his career in science take hold, and once he graduated NASA was practically waiting for him.  But his pathway to space was tripped up by a problem with his ear while training.  And despite it all, and being one of the first African-Americans to forge a path where few had gone before, Leland Melvin worked hard, mentally and physically, and overcame everything thrown in his way to become one of only 550 humans to leave the planet and become an astronaut.  He is known by many as the astronaut that had his formal NASA photograph taken with his two dogs, Jake and Scout, who would later join him and Cesar Millan on an episode of Millan’s Dog Whisperer show.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis with Leland Melvin (left) and crew of STS-129.

Melvin flew on the Space Shuttle Atlantis during missions STS-122 and STS-129 and worked closely with astronauts that were lost on both the Challenger and Columbia disasters as well as current astronauts like Peggy Whitson and Suni Williams, who have continued to set new records in space aboard the International Space Station.  In Star City, Russia, Melvin worked closely with and trained alongside former Navy SEAL Bill Shepherd–the famed astronaut “who knew how to kill somebody with a knife”–as Shepherd prepared for the very first long-duration flight by an American and becoming the first commander of a crew based at the International Space Station.  Melvin even helped Russian scientists translate tech manuals into English in Moscow.  Surprisingly astronaut training for Melvin included extreme survival training and adventure hikes across America and giving talks around the world, learning to stretch the boundaries of his own abilities.  When one of his crews was without a medical officer, he volunteered and trained to add that role to his list of duties.  He spent months stitching up cadavers and working on emergency room patients to be ready for any kind of emergency in space, training under the eye of famous skilled surgeon Dr. Red Duke, the doctor that had admitted President Kennedy and Governor Connally at the Dallas hospital in November 1963.  All these seeming tasks and trials are not obvious things the average person thinks about when they hear the word “astronaut.”  Yet all prepared Melvin to be able to think on his feet should a problem occur, and that according to Melvin’s account, is the way of astronaut training.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Elmore Leonard’s 30th novel would become one of his most widely known stories.  Leonard, the “Dickens of Detroit” and one of America’s greatest crime authors, wrote 45 novels before his death in 2013, including Westerns like 3:10 to Yuma and later popular works Get Shorty and Be Cool, but his own favorite film adaptation, and the best screenplay he’d say he had ever read, was Quentin Tarentino’s Jackie Brown, the film adaptation of Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch.  Although Jackie Brown will likely not go down as the most popular of Tarentino’s films–that will probably always fall to Pulp FictionJackie Brown is probably his best work, a straight crime thriller without all the over-the-top operatic bloodbaths of his other films.  It’s also one of the most faithful film adaptations you’ll ever see, keeping most of the dialogue and sequences from the novel.  Rum Punch is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and Jackie Brown celebrates its 20th anniversary next month.

Only a few chapters into Rum Punch and it’s easy to understand why Tarentino acquired the screen rights to adapt the novel for film.  The characters are edgy and typical of the pulp crime genre, yet they are also unique in their depth.  Leonard weaves Jackie, Max, Ordell, Louis, Melanie, and Ray into an intricate and fulfilling caper and con job.  Jackie is driven, determined, and a little rough on the edges.  Max is a straight shooter and ex-law enforcer who plays by the rules.  Ordell and Louis have years of crime between them and are moving beyond the petty crimes of their past.   And the book is filled with cool–cool people, cool ambiance, cool talk.  The biggest difference between book and film adaptation is in Leonard’s handling of the relationship between Jackie Brown and bail bondsman Max Cherry, played so well by Robert Forster in the film.  Jackie Brown sketches what may be one of the best modern romances on film–a subtle and almost teenage infatuation between the two film leads that culminates in a simple kiss at the end of the film.  Jackie and Max seem to care sincerely for each other, and the film leaves Max to return to his life of writing bonds while Jackie drives off into the unknown.  But the original novel left open whether the two characters would go off together, while making them a romantic couple early in the story.  In the novel Max has been estranged from his wife for a few years and he’s finally getting to filing the divorce papers.  But Max doesn’t have much to drive him until Jackie shows up and they end up in the sack, almost taking away from something Tarentino was able to tap into to make more touching for the film.  Leonard gives Max and Jackie individually second chances and an opportunity to start anew with each other–if only they’d just take it.  Leonard leaves the question open–is there a happily ever after in the cards for them?  But Tarentino has Max watch as Jackie drives off.  It’s a gut punch–there’s no happy ending here.  The viewer can’t help but imagine him getting into the car and going after her, after the credits roll.  Which is better?  That answer is in the eyes of the reader.

But there are other differences worth noting between the novel and the film.  Leonard’s heroine is a blonde woman named Jackie Burke.  Initially Tarentino was nervous about discussing with Leonard the re-casting of the lead to Pam Grier for his film, but Leonard was in favor of it.  And the name shift was simply because Tarentino thought Jackie Brown was a cooler name than Jackie Burke.  Rum Punch, the title of the 1992 novel, was the term used to identify the scheme that Ordell (played in the film by Samuel L. Jackson) was using to bring money into the U.S. from Jamaica (this is the same type of arms purchase scheme and players that were the focus of this month’s new Tom Cruise movie American Made, reviewed here).

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iBoy is a 2017 Netflix original movie that may appeal to fans of Unbreakable and Attack the Block starring Bill Milner (Dunkirk, X-Men: First Class) as Tom, a teenager in London readying for exams, who is friends with Lucy, played by Maisie Williams (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones) who he has been infatuated with but never asked out.  After he finally works up the nerve he arrives at her apartment to find masked thugs attacking Lucy’s family and raping her.  His instinct is to run and call the police, but they shoot him in the head as he’s running away and they leave Tom for dead.

A dark and serious film with a sci-fi twist, iBoy is based on the 2010 novel by Kevin Brooks.  The film does not stretch much beyond its title, but it does offer up a British teenage thriller where the two survivors (Lucy of rape and Tom of the hole in his skull) grow together to help each other with their trauma, using sci-fi as a storytelling device.  The sci-fi element makes Tom a superhero in the realm of Bruce Willis’s masked vigilante in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable or Rami Malek’s hacker Elliot in Mr. ROBOT.  When the bullet hit Tom’s head it went through his smart phone, leaving bits of the phone technology in his brain permanently, too dangerous to be surgically removed.  Those bits soon allow Tom to tap into the electrical power and communications grid and he learns quickly how to harness his power to avenge the pain caused to Lucy, who stays home from school and doesn’t want to leave her apartment.  But Maisie Williams’ Lucy gets her own opportunity for revenge once the higher steps of the criminal underworld ladder begin to hone in on Tom as the mastermind that is putting them in jail one by one.

More drama than thriller, the film offers up a fairly simple plot, yet those intrigued by the life of teens in a big European city in the realm of Attack the Block’s street thugs will see that drugs and guns cause trouble for inner-city kids everywhere.  The visual sci-fi element–Tom pulling data from people and machines from all across the city–is nicely done, and the production overall is something better than a typical made-for TV film.

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We had a first look at Chadwick Boseman in the role of T’Challa, the ruler of the kingdom of Wakanda whose alter ego is the Black Panther, in last year’s great superhero mash-up Captain America: Civil War, and a teaser trailer back in June.  Next year Marvel Studios is giving Boseman his own solo movie in the big screen release of Black Panther, based on the comic book superhero created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pages of Fantastic Four.  The latest preview of the film arrived today.

T’Challa must defend his kingdom from being torn apart by enemies outside and within.  Boseman, who portrayed both Jackie Robinson in the 2013 biopic 42 (reviewed here) and Thurgood Marshall in last week’s release of Marshall (reviewed here), brings along an impressive supporting cast.  Adonis himself, Creed star Michael B. Jordan will play Erik Killmonger, Star Wars: The Force Awakens stars Lupita Nyong’o is Nakia, and Andy Serkis is Klaw, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s Forest Whitaker is Zuri, The Hobbit and Sherlock’s Martin Freeman is Everett K. Ross, and Green Lantern’s Doctor Waller, Angela Bassett is Ramonda.

Creed’s Ryan Coogler directs the film with Creed’s Hannah Beachler providing some impressive production design work and Ruth E. Carter (Marshall, Selma) created some incredible new costume designs for this new Marvel world.

Here is the latest trailer for Black Panther:

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How often does a young actor get a week where he is featured in two studio trailers?  Last week that was Charlie Heaton, the 21-year-old actor known for his role as Jonathan Byers, the awkward teenage brother of missing kid Will and son of Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers on last year’s hit retro series Stranger Things.  He’s back in the final preview for Season 2, premiering on Netflix next week.  One of the questions that fans of Stranger Things will be watching for this season is whether Jonathan and Nancy finally get together this year.

Last week 20th Century Fox released a trailer for the next Marvel Studios X-Men spinoff, The New Mutants.  Based on a three-issue story arc from the comic book series in 1984, this very different X-Men story is being marketed as Stephen King meets John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  A horror film blending with the superhero genre but without supersuits or supervillains, it focuses on five mutant kids including Sam Guthrie aka Cannonball, played by Heaton.  Doctor Who and Game of Thrones viewers will also notice Maisie Williams co-starring in the film–she will play the character known as Wolfsbane.

Even the feel of The New Mutants has a retro vibe, which is probably why Stranger Things’ co-star Heaton was cast in the film.  Check out these two new trailers featuring Charlie Heaton, the final Stranger Things season two trailer and the first trailer for The New Mutants:

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

A contender for this year’s best fantasy novel is Curtis Craddock’s debut fantasy An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors.  Don’t let the cumbersome title fool you—this is a smoothly written, elegantly crafted, and highly entertaining read!  Poised as the first in a series, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is a political fantasy–and historical fantasy–reminiscent of classic Guy Gavriel Kay novels like A Song for Arbonne or Tigana.  Set in the fantasy world of The Risen Kingdoms, with superficial similarities to Europe’s 17th century Baroque era, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors presents a world constantly on the brink of war, twisted with layer upon layer of intrigue, with only one firm villain and two clear heroes—and a whole cast of in-betweens, whose shifting loyalties form the uncertain foundation of the tale.

Onto this stage steps Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs of l’Empire Celeste.  Born with a physical disfigurement, Isabelle has grown up in her father’s court, suffering his abuse and brutal magic, almost entirely friendless and alone, and nearly ignored.  In this atmosphere, she’s able to pursue her true passions of science and mathematics, becoming (secretly) one of the foremost mathematicians of her day.  Her only loyal companions are the man charged with guarding her since birth, King’s Own Musketeer Jean-Claude; and a curious handmaiden, Marie.

Thanks to her disfigurement and low esteem at her father’s court, Isabelle believes life will hold no more than this—until foreign machinations thrust her into international politics.  Talked into accepting Principe Julio de Aragoth’s marriage proposal, and believing this is her chance for peace and love, Isabelle and Jean-Claude set sail into a more treacherous journey than they bargained for.

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Moviegoers will hear a different kind of “BOOooo!  BOOOooo!!!” in theaters this coming week.  The Princess Bride turned 30 this past week and TCM Big Screen Classics is back again partnering with Fathom Events to round out a major year of retrospective screenings.  You’ll have two days only to see Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya, Fezzig, Miracle Max & Valerie, Prince Humperdinck, Vissini, and Grandpa back in theaters, tomorrow, October 15, and Wednesday, October 18.

The Princess Bride?  Back on the big screen?  Inconceivable!

You can also get in on a “twivia” contest for great prizes.  Check out the contest here.  Accompanying this return to theaters is a 30th anniversary home release of the film (which does not appear to offer any updates to prior versions), available in a Blu-ray and Digital HD combo and on DVD.  Fans of the film should take a look at one of the better behind the scenes looks at any movie in The Princess Bride–A Celebration, previously reviewed here at borg.com.  It has some great Polaroid photographs from director Rob Reiner.  And if you haven’t read the original story to your kids or grandkids, get William Goldman’s classic novel, still in print and available here.  Goldman won Oscars for two other all-time greats: All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

You can’t beat this cast and the actors who were all at great places in each of their careers–Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, André the Giant, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Peter Falk, and Fred Savage.  For the younger generation: yes–that is the same Robin Wright who starred in Wonder Woman earlier this year and Blade Runner 2049, in theaters now.  A true classic, last year The Princess Bride was added to the National Film Registry, which identifies and preserves select films typifying the American film heritage.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The new courtroom drama and biopic Marshall hits theaters across the U.S. beginning today.  Director Reginald Hudlin (Boomerang, House Party) recounts a case in the life of Thurgood Marshall, one of the leading U.S. Supreme Court Justices in the history of the bench.  We meet Marshall, played by Chadwick Boseman, midway through the beginning of his career as lawyer and civil rights crusader.  After he already sued one law school for discrimination and graduated from another, he began defending individuals that were targeted as criminals based on race, and at the beginning of the film Marshall is struggling to justify to the NAACP, the organization that employs him, that his ongoing fight is worth the resources of the group.  Marshall needs a win for his own reputation and for the NAACP.  Plus, there is a man accused of a crime whose life is at stake.

The biggest surprise in the new courtroom drama is the risk-taking by Hudlin and Boseman in showing Marshall from his introduction not as humble and endearing, but cocky, abrasive, and confident.  Not the quiet Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, or the lazy and arrogant Lt. Daniel Kaffee of A Few Good Men, the film establishes upfront that the young Thurgood Marshall, the future first African-American member of the U.S. Supreme Court, was already a brilliant and savvy attorney and outspoken and fearless even early in his career.  We only learn of the difficult rise he had in his life before the film takes place via stories told by Marshall to local counsel Sam Friedman, played by Josh Gad, as the case procedure unfolds and more facts surface.  Echoing his performance as Jackie Robinson in the biopic 42 (reviewed here previously at borg.com), the Marvel Studios Black Panther actor plays Marshall as decisive and determined.  The audience has no doubt he’s going to succeed, but the drama is in how he makes the system work for him and his client, risking Friedman and his firm or anything else that gets in the way, to get a favorable verdict.

Before Marshall won 29 of 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, before he successfully argued the landmark 20th century case Brown v. Board of Education–the famous school desegregation case–Marshall had to learn how to win with the deck always stacked against his clients.  The message is historically important and delivered without the preaching that often accompanies biopics.  But it would have served Marshall’s legacy better had Hudlin, and writers Jacob and Michael Koskoff, selected a case with universal impact.  Like the obvious: Brown v. Board of Education.  The matter-specific case selected instead is a bit unfortunate from a storytelling standpoint because it so closely mirrors the case in To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the great American novels of all time and also one of the great American films about jurisprudence and race.  Those familiar with Harper Lee’s 1960 novel may feel some deja vu.  But there’s no mimicry here per se, Lee’s novel was derived from an actual case from 1936 and State of Connecticut v. Spell was a real case that is used to attempt to showcase Thurgood Marshall, the man, the lawyer, and the civil rights crusader, in an introductory sense.  But the question remains: Why select a Marshall case that the master lawyer didn’t even get to argue?

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