#354. Gigantic!

How often do we catch ourselves staring upward at an object, in awe of its immense size? When tourists first experience the towering heights of the skyscrapers of New York, they come to grips with the scale of such structures. Sometimes, even the most mundane things in life can be awe-inspiring (or at least attention-grabbing) when reimagined as larger versions of their smaller counterparts. While some of this fascination with gigantic items stems from the art world, there have been many films that have delved into the idea that size matters. In the past, this required building sets to make the actors on the screen seem much larger than they were. Today, CGI can accomplish this task. Even so, some amount of visual trickery is needed to make the actors appear larger than life. This week’s two films examine what it means to be gigantic!

The Iron GiantThe Iron Giant
Year: 1999
Rating: PG
Length: 86 minutes / 1.43 hours

Giant robots are usually a sub-genre of science fiction often promulgated through Japanese manga and anime. While they cornered the market on giant monsters and the giant robots built to fight them (a la Godzilla (1954) and Power Rangers (2017), respectively) America is finally starting to catch up with such films as Pacific Rim (2013) and its sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018). Granted, most of the American giant monsters and robots before this point were in the form of enormous apes or alien invaders, like the eponymous King Kong (1933) or Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). All these giant robots and monsters were created in a variety of methods to make the audience think they are enormous, but there’s been at least one true giant to grace the big screen. In his best-known film role, Andre the Giant played the part of Fezzik in The Princess Bride (1987).

Upon the cusp of the start of the cold war, tensions are high between the United States and the Soviet Union. When a giant alien robot falls out of the sky and lands near a small town in Maine, the United States government is obviously suspicious of Communist involvement. However, what young Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) learns upon finding this Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) is that the robot is a calm and docile being with no understanding of the world he now inhabits. The robot does not want to be seen as an enemy, but his automatic defense mechanisms are activated to protect him from the assault of the United States military. Despite Hogarth showing everyone the robot is harmless, a trigger-happy government agent launches a nuclear missile against the robot that would likely wipe out the small town. It’s up to the Iron Giant to save the day and show he’s a hero, not a villain.

Honey, I Shrunk the KidsHoney, I Shrunk the Kids
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Size is all about perspective. While humans think anything larger than they are is gigantic, an ant would find humans to be tremendously enormous. Plenty of films explore this shift in perspective. From the superhero comedy of Ant-Man (2015) to the social commentary of Downsizing (2017), being shrunk down makes the entire world seem bigger in comparison. Some family-friendly films explore this idea as well, including Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Epic (2013). Despite knowing how to interact with our human-sized world, like The Borrowers (1997) or The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), sometimes the humans shrunk down to these sizes have difficulty adapting. When toy cars are large enough to be real ones, and building blocks can be used as a shelter, it takes some problem solving to fashion the tools needed to survive.

Eccentric inventor Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) is having trouble with his shrink ray. Every time he tries to shrink something, it explodes, thus making the ray gun too dangerous to use on humans. His children, Amy (Amy O’Neill) and Nick (Robert Oliveri) are tasked with cleaning up the house before their mother comes home. Meanwhile, the Szalinski’s neighbors, the Thompsons, are preparing for a fishing trip. Ron Thompson (Jared Rushton) accidentally hits a baseball through the Szalinski’s attic window and is caught by his brother, Russ (Thomas Wilson Brown), and forced to apologize to the Szalinskis. However, when the kids go up to find the baseball, the laser shrinks them down. After Wayne accidentally takes the kids out with the trash, they have to find their way back home in the wilderness that is their backyard. If they can gain Wayne’s attention, they just might be returned to normal size.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 enormously entertaining movies

#194. Weddings

It has been noted that one of the defining features of a play or musical, to determine whether or not it is a drama or a comedy, is whether or not it ends with a wedding. In case you haven’t figured it out, the comedies end with a wedding. Sometimes multiple weddings. One of the “big four” life events (the other three being: getting a job, buying a house, and having a child), a wedding should be full of joy and merriment. Sometimes those who attend a wedding take the joy and merriment to the extreme. At any rate, these feelings make for a “feel good” ending to any romantic comedy, which is why they are often seen as a cliché scene before the credits roll. This week’s two films are romantic comedies that have to do with weddings, be it a job performing at them or attending a multitude of them.

The Wedding SingerThe Wedding Singer
Year: 1998
Rating: PG-13
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

Despite most romantic comedies ending with a wedding, there are a rare few actually about planning and putting on a wedding. There are too many roles in wedding planning that often become cliché, but still garner laughs. There’s the intrusive mother-in-law, the panicked bride, the uncertain groom, the control-freak wedding planner, and the drunk uncle. The list goes on. However, one of the rare wedding positions is that of the Wedding Singer. Live music at a wedding has quickly become a thing of the past, but back when you had to hire a band to play at your wedding, you needed to include a singer so the guests would know what song is being played by the musicians. I’ve always been impressed with live musicians who can take requests, but even these members of a wedding’s cast of characters are looking for love themselves.

In 1985, Robbie Hart (Adam Sandler) is making a living singing at a reception hall that often is booked for weddings. While working there, he befriends one of the waitresses, Julia Sullivan (Drew Barrymore). As they are both engaged to other people, their friendship blossoms without the need to impress each other romantically. Unfortunately, Robbie’s fiancée, Linda (Angela Featherstone), is unpleased with his lack of drive to pursue a career as a rock star and leaves him standing at the altar. Furthermore, as Robbie gets to know Julia’s fiancé, Glenn (Matthew Glave), he finds out Glenn is not faithful to Julia, which causes him to punch Glenn in the face. After a misunderstanding with Linda, Julia decides to marry Glenn as soon as possible, which prompts Robbie to rush to the airport to clear up the situation and profess his love for her.

Four Weddings and a FuneralFour Weddings and a Funeral
Year: 1994
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

What’s interesting about Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) is that, while it contains many weddings during its plot, the end of the film doesn’t quite have the wedding you would expect. This is definitely not the norm. In fact, even Wedding Crashers (2005), a film about going to a lot of weddings, ended with both main characters getting married. Perhaps it was this deviation from a standard formula that earned Four Weddings and a Funeral its Best Picture nomination. Or perhaps it is that this film took it to the extreme and ended with six weddings, instead of the standard of one. At any rate, the comedy that surrounds weddings will always provide fodder for romantic comedies for years to come. After all, we’ve all been there, either at the altar or in the audience.

We all have that set of friends who seem to be in a lot of weddings, but never as the bride or groom. Charles (Hugh Grant) is no different. Over the course of four weddings and a funeral, he consistently runs across Carrie (Andie MacDowell), to whom he becomes quite attracted. After being the Best Man at the first wedding, he finds Carrie is engaged by the second wedding. The third wedding of the set is that of Carrie and Sir Hamish Banks (Corin Redgrave), which finds Charles quite depressed that Carrie is now off the market. During this wedding, one of the guests dies of a heart attack, thus initiating the one funeral in this otherwise happy set of occasions. The fourth wedding happens almost a year later as Charles is set to marry Henrietta (Anna Chancellor), but learns at the last minute that Carrie and Hamish are now divorced. Will he go through with this wedding, or will he pursue Carrie?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 wonderful weddings

#052. Rob Reiner

If there’s one aspect that the films of Rob Reiner exhibit, it’s that of being self-aware. While the majority of his work is in comedy, he does it in such a way as to poke fun at the genres his movies reside in (much like Mel Brooks does). He pulls apart the genre and looks at its roots so that he can create a story that will show how ridiculous some of the trappings of particular genres really are. Take his work, When Harry Met Sally . . . (1989) for instance. On its surface, it shows all the elements of a modern romantic comedy. And yet, how Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan interact is something more realistic than a story that is coincidental, cliche, and hackneyed, like many romantic comedies tend to be. He was aware of the limitations of the genre and found a way to fix one of its significant flaws. This week’s two movies highlight two more of Rob Reiner’s genre-aware films.

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
Year: 1987
Rating: PG
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours

First up is the fantasy genre. Usually set in far off lands with strange beings and pre-renaissance structures, fantasy stories can go one of two ways. First, it can be the adventure story of a man on a mission. Secondly, it can be a story of true love. The Princess Bride (1987) is definitely the latter, but with elements of the first (since there are no defined boundaries in this genre). What really makes The Princess Bride self-aware is its dialogue. The characters act and speak in such a way that is comedic, but still within the confines of a fantasy film. Perhaps this is why much of the movie’s dialogue is quoted, even today. At any rate, a storybook story like this really shines with the final piece of the puzzle: framing. With framing, the story can exist in its own world, but with a link back to reality.

The framing of The Princess Bride is that of a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading a “kissing story” to his sick grandson (Fred Savage). On a farm in the land of Florin, Buttercup (Robin Wright) falls in love with the farmhand, Westley (Cary Elwes). However, when Westley is rumored to have been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, Buttercup resigns herself to marrying Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon). Yet, before she can get married, she is kidnapped by some outlaws, only to be rescued by a man in a black mask: the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup is enraged that she was saved by the man who killed her true love, but once she learns his true identity, she willingly returns to Prince Humperdink in order to protect him. Now, can the Dread Pirate Roberts make it to the wedding in time to stop Buttercup from marrying the prince?

This is Spinal TapThis is Spinal Tap
Year: 1984
Rating: R
Length: 82 minutes / 1.37 hours

With the success of the television show, The Office, the “fake documentary” has really reached the forefront of popular culture. Even with its American adaptation (which has been more successful than its British predecessor) and the somewhat spin-off of Parks and Recreation, the genre of the documentary is used to tell a story by blatantly breaking the fourth wall. And yet, decades before the fake documentary (or mockumentary, for short), Rob Reiner created a film that really defined the mockumentary genre that we know today. By using the structure and styling of a documentary on a fake subject, Reiner created something that was aware that it was a documentary, without actually being a documentary about anything that existed.

This is Spinal Tap (1984) follows the hair metal band known as Spinal Tap as they try and make a comeback by staging an American tour of their music. Following them along with camera in tow is Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) who is their biggest fan, and is ready to document their tour for posterity. Unfortunately, the documentary camera is non-discriminatory as it shows quite a few failures that cause the band to start to unravel. With amplifiers that go all the way to 11, miniature sets of Stonehenge, and black-on-black album covers, the loudest band in existence is on a downward spiral during a trip that was supposed to garner them more groupies than they would know what to do with. Even though DiBergi wanted his film to be a rockumentary, it inevitably captures the band’s demise.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 unorthodox examinations of genre

Bacon #: 2 (Sleepless in Seattle / Tom Hanks -> Beyond all Boundaries / Kevin Bacon)

#051. Modern Fairy Tales

In recent years, it seems the fairy tales we all grew up with are seeing a resurgence in popular culture. Television shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time have taken a lot of these classics and fused them into intertwined storylines. This revival has also been seen in the film world as well, with retellings of “Snow White,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Beauty and the Beast” having been released in the last few years, some even so far as to have two versions of the story released in the same year (Mirror, Mirror (2012) and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)). And yet, while it seems the realm of fairy tale stories has been bled dry, occasionally you will see a new story appear which would fit well in the fairy tale category. This week’s two films are stories that were created recently (i.e., not derived from any of the Grimm works) that can easily hold their own against any classic fairy tales.

Year: 2007
Rating: PG-13
Length: 127 minutes / 2.17 hours

At the base of a strong fairy tale are two elements: fantasy and love. The fantasy realm engages the imagination of young children and gives them something that older audiences would immediately pass off as impossible. Of course, a lot of fairy tales in their original context were not meant as pleasant stories for children, but that is beside the point. The aspect of love can be applied across a wide range of situations and does not restrict itself to the romantic (or “Eros”) form to produce a good fairy tale. Still, this emotional aspect is perhaps one of the reasons that fairy tales survive for so long, especially when you combine them with a fantasy element. We all want that happily ever after, so these stories give us some semblance of hope.

Stardust excels in both of these elements; even if some of its “love” aspects are a bit unorthodox. The story begins with Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox), and his desire to impress his unrequited love, Victoria (Sienna Miller) with a gift. When he sees a star fall from the sky and land outside his hometown of Wall, he decides that this would be the perfect gift. Of course, at the same time, witches wanting power and two princes wanting their inheritance are searching for the exact same star, with the hopes that it will allow them to advance in the world. After finding that the star has taken the form of a human woman, Tristan drags her back home, but eventually finds himself in the middle of the battle for the star, as well as being truly in love with someone other than Victoria.

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
Year: 1987
Rating: PG
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours

An interesting note about Stardust is that the director (Matthew Vaughn) wanted to make it like a mix of Midnight Run (1988) and The Princess Bride (1987). Considering how much The Princess Bride has influenced popular culture, it’s no wonder that 20 years later, directors are still trying to recreate the magic that Rob Reiner brought to the screen in 1987. And to think that the story it originated from has only been around since 1973, it makes one wonder how many great stories are out there, just waiting to become the next fairy tale (for reference, Stardust‘s story was written in 1998). After all, The Princess Bride is probably the most quoted movie of all time, which just goes to show how timeless it really is.

Once again, The Princess Bride follows the two elements of a successful fairy tale: fantasy and love. Even to the point of being about “wuv . . . twue wuv.” In a realm known as Florin, many strange aspects of the land include men with six fingers, giants, fire swamps, and rodents of unusual size (although I think these still don’t exist). The pure love of Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes), torn apart by Westley’s alleged death at the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts, forces Buttercup to settle for marrying Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon). But when the Dread Pirate Roberts enters the scene, and his true identity is revealed, it’s a race against the clock to stop the Princess Bride from sealing her fate with the prince. Will there be a storybook ending?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fairy tales written recently