OBTW

Oh, By the Way…

Archive for the category “Reviews”

The Princess Bride (PG, 1987)

True love is never easy, but you get the feeling it’s never faced quite as many obstacles as in The Princess Bride. Directed by Rob Reiner, based on William Goldman’s book of the same name, and adapted for the screen more or less faithfully by the author himself, the movie features Cary Elwes (Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Ella Enchanted) as Westley, a young man who must do battle with Rodents of Unusual Size, scale the Cliffs of Insanity, take on a giant (Andre the Giant, that is) in a wrestling match, and more to save Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn), his one true love, from being forced to marry the evil reigning prince. Add in the swashbuckling efforts of Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya and appearances by Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Christopher Guest, Mel Smith, and Billy Crystal, and you have an action/adventure/comedy/romance/fantasy to please all audiences.

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A Very Long Engagement (Un long dimanche de fiançailles) (R, 2004)

Fans of Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain) will recognize A Very Long Engagement as the work of an old friend. Still, though directed by Amélie’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet and featuring many of the same faces as that 2001 effort, Engagement is a decidedly different love story. Audrey Tautou’s (The Da Vinci Code) assertive and heartsick Mathilde is anything but the shrinking flower of her scheming and heartsick Amélie, though her comic timing and moments of poignant vulnerability are just as good. The tone is set by quick shifts between violent scenes of World War I trench warfare and gleeful 1920s Paris, both a far cry from contemporary Montmartre. And though Amélie features a fairly tangled web of mystery and love, neither quite reaches the epic proportions of Mathilde’s stubborn refusal to believe the official story of her fiancé Manech’s (Gaspard Ulliel, Paris, je t’aime) death in No Man’s Land and determined detective work to uncover the truth. Along the way she delves into the lives of several other characters, superbly played by the likes of Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs) and Marion Cotillard (La Vie en rose). If Manech were dead, Mathilde says, she would know. Do you believe her?

Invisible Cities (Le citta` invisibili)—Italo Calvino

Calvino’s almost unclassifiable novel is framed as a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan (reminiscent of Scheherazade and Shahryar in One Thousand and One Nights) in which Polo, intrepid traveler, updates the last Khan on the fragile state of his Mongol empire. From the short framing passages, Calvino transitions into 55 fantastic one- to three-page descriptions of cities, from Argia, where earth replaces air, to Zobeide, which draws men to it with a siren-like dream only to trap them within its ugly streets. The sections read more like short stories—indeed, more like poems—than like a novel, but whatever Invisible Cities is, it demands to be savored.

The Secret Agent—Joseph Conrad

With apologies to Messrs. Conrad and Kurtz, this is the book for all of us who find it harder to read Heart of Darkness than Herodotus. Based on a real attack in London’s Greenwich Park in 1894, the novel follows Mr. Verloc and a group of anarchist terrorists as they plan a dynamite outrage in newly-industrialized 1886 London. The Secret Agent also details Verloc’s domestic life, complete with a beautiful younger wife, a mentally disabled brother-in-law, and a mother-in-law who wields guilt to greater effect than the terrorists’ explosives. Conrad’s Dickensian bent toward caricature lends this early narrative of modern terrorism, beloved by the Unabomber and noted as one of the three works of literature most cited by the American media after 9/11, some much-needed (though still undeniably dark) levity.

 

Mostly Martha (Bella Martha) (PG, 2001)

Mostly Martha was the inspiration for 2007’s No Reservations, but don’t hold that against it. The German original is set in contemporary Köln, and features The Lives of Others’ Martina Gedek as Martha, the neurotic, workaholic head chef of a high-end restaurant. When her boss forces her into therapy, Martha just cooks for her shrink. When her new downstairs neighbor flirts with her, she’s awkward and terse. As lonely as she is a loner, Martha must readjust everything when she becomes the guardian of her niece, Lina (Maxime Foerste), and her boss hires a playful Italian sous-chef (Sergio Castellitto, most recently of Paris, je t’aime and Prince Caspian) to split her duties in the kitchen. By turns tragic, comic, and romantic, Mostly Martha is not only a great story, but a foodie’s dream to watch.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—Lewis Carroll

Dear world,

I know you think you know this story, but I wish you would really read it (having had it read to you in your infancy doesn’t count). And then reassess your opinion of Dave Eggers. I’m just saying.

She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled `ORANGE MARMALADE’, but to her great disappointment it was empty:  she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.

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