Tag Archives: movies

Groundhog Day

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If you needed any further proof of my family’s quirkiness, don’t worry, you’re about to get a truckload.

Groundhog Day, as I’m sure you know, is a holiday surrounding the legend that if a groundhog sees its shadow on the 2nd of February, there will be six more weeks of winter. No shadow: early spring. Utter myth, but it’s a nice little story for elementary school teachers to tell the first week of February.

Years ago, Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell starred in an adorable little romcom named after this holiday. The premise of the film is that Bill Murray’s character, Phil, is a total jerk until he finds himself reliving the same day—Groundhog Day—over and over again until he gets an attitude adjustment. Andie MacDowell plays the angelic female figure he reforms for. Hilarity ensues.

Being a Bill Murray film, it’s extremely quotable. Since our family uses movies quotes as our primary means of communication, we latched onto this film and can quote it backwards and forwards. The need to watch it on a yearly basis is next to zero, since we can recite the sucker backwards and forwards. But nothing is better than a shared laugh, so we watch it over every year anyway. Every year, at or near the actual day, we watch the movie and eat junk food. It’s tradition.

This year, as you already know, February 2nd fell on a Saturday. Saturdays are the only days I can come home during the semester. This only meant one thing: I would be coming home on Groundhog Day, and the festivities would commence.

This year we may or may not have gone a little overboard. We adapted quotes from the movie into elements of the meal. For example:

“Don’t mess with me, Pork-chop.” We had pork-chops.

“Sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist, please.” “[To bartender] The same. [To Phil] That’s my favorite drink!” We don’t drink in our family (nor do we endorse the habit), but we did grab some sparkling cider. It was yummy.

There’s a moment in the movie after Phil discovers he can do whatever he wants without having to face the consequences (the advantage of reliving the same day over and over) where he goes to a diner and orders all the pastries they offer. His table is piled with cakes, pies, waffles, doughnuts, ice cream, etc. The most memorable part of this scene is when he shoves a whole slice of cake into his mouth and chews, slowly. In honor of this shot, we bought doughnuts.

The main course this evening was burgers made from ground pork. Ground. Hog. Groundhog. Groundhog burgers. Yup. They were delicious.

Needless to say, we are stuffed and we laughed altogether too much over a silly movie we’ve seen every year for who knows how many years. But we had fun. Together. And after all, that’s the really important thing.

To top it all off, it snowed today. Even though the groundhog’s forecast called for an early spring, we got a blast of flurries this afternoon that were truly smile-worthy. All in all, this day couldn’t have gotten any better.

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Saving the Daylight

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Exhausted people everywhere have been looking forward to tonight for a very, very long time. Tonight we get an extra hour. Yes. An extra, glorious hour.

How am I spending this hour? Frankly, I’m spending it trying to wait off a sugar high so that going to sleep is possible. And what am I doing while I wait for the Halloween candy to slip out my bloodstream long enough for the melatonin to slip in? I am watching Anastasia. With high school students.

Saving the daylight, one movie at a time.

Dud Night

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I have mentioned in previous posts the long-held Rambler family tradition of Saturday Movie Nights, so I won’t tell you again the nature and origin of this fabulous family fest. But, traditions being what they are, there are bound to be some variations on a theme every now and then.

In our search for our weekend film choices, we have landed upon many duds. By “dud,” I mean something that looks like it will be really good that turns out to be really not.

Daddy and I are great at picking out duds. On vacation Dad picked up something thinking it was Snow White and the Huntsman and it turned out to be some B-rated teen movie that looked and sounded like a high school project that got out of hand. My problem is selecting films that looked cute in the trailer but turned out to be either poorly made or political rants or, still worse, poorly made political rants.

The Lorax, for instance. I thought it would be another Horton Hears a Who, which surprised everyone in my family with its charm, exquisite score, and clever dialogue. But instead of the warm and fuzzy funny film we were hoping for, we got landed with a bold-faced rant against everyone who so much as thinks about using natural resources. I’m all about hugging trees, guys, but you won’t hear me belting out a half-baked musical number crying out against all forms of capitalism. The trailer lured me in with its depictions of cute fuzzy animals, but the movie left me cold. The same kind of agenda exists in WALL-E, but at least the good folks at Pixar had the grace to be subtle.

Yes. Tonight we had a dud night. Those happen occasionally. Thankfully, watching the bad films gives us even more opportunity for family bonding. Either we’re laughing together at the atrocious special effects and acting, or we’re hashing through our objections to the film’s message. Good movie or bad movie—it’s win-win at the Rambler household.

Saturday Night Nonsense

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Few things are more entertaining than watching teenagers watch movies. Especially chick flicks. The commentary is often more amusing than the movie itself. Never in any other environment will you see the perfect combination of annoying and amusing.

Movie watching doesn’t happen much in the dorms. We’re only permitted to watch them under a certain set of circumstances. But for the high school students on the hall, a few allowances have to be made. Movie night on move-in weekend is an absolute necessity.

Unfortunately, no one in the room has any concept of what’s going on the in the movie. Everyone is talking and nobody is listening. But that’s the way it’s done.

Here and There Again: a Fangirl’s Tale

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Is anyone else as excited as I am about the upcoming release of The Hobbit? If you are, do a little cheer right there at your desk. I know I do. I and every other fan of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings has been holding their breath for the past four years in anticipation of the prequel. Let me tell you, that’s a long time to hold your breath.

When it comes to all things Tolkien, I tend to let my geek flag fly. The Lord of the Rings was my Harry Potter growing up. I own the extended editions of all three movies, have read the books multiple times, and own several action figures (all hobbits). My girlhood crush was Samwise Gamgee, and if my mythical future boyfriend knows me well enough, he’ll know an Evenstar pendant will be in order at some point.

The odd thing is that I almost like the production videos for the movies better than the movie itself. My mother and I are bonus feature junkies—we watch the bonus features for the extended cut all the way through every year. We know the names of the production staff by heart and love to watch them talk about what they did to make The Lord of the Rings awesome. Some people quote the movies—we quote the bonus features.

Naturally, my mother and I hover in rapt attention before her computer screen when a new production update video is posted to The Hobbit blog. We literally cheered when we saw Richard Taylor, the head of Weta Workshop. We also cheered for Dan Hanna, the guy who supervises the art department, as well as the brilliant artists John Howe and Allen Lee, who not only do concept art for the films but illustrated editions of the books as well. They’re familiar faces to us, and we eagerly await being able to get ahold of some kind of special edition of The Hobbit, just so we can hear them talk in those beautiful New Zealand accents.

 Mother and I finished our annual trek through the LOTR films, and tomorrow we start the bonus features—all gazillion and one hours of them. We’re crazy fangirls. And I know that we’re not the only ones out there. Forums, vlogs, blogs, and facebook pages across the globe are buzzing for the release of The Hobbit come December. People are donning cloaks, reaching for the walking staves and preparing to return to Middle Earth for another foray into the epic adventures that await them.

And Mother and I will be on the front row, doing what we do best.

Nerding out.

Movie Night

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For every Saturday night for as long as I can remember, my family and I sit in front of the television with our dinner to watch a movie.

This tradition has evolved considerably since I was younger. It used to be called “Picnic Night,” even though we weren’t exactly picnicking in the traditional sense. There was no basket, but there was a blanket on the ground, but we weren’t outside. Rather we were in front of the T.V. with the latest animated feature. These were the days before I appreciated the value of a live action film. We would always get Little Caesar’s pizza: cheese for me, something more complicated for my parents.  Dad would sit at the end by the wall, his back against the paneling. Mom sat in a rocking chair situated behind the blanket. I sat at the end opposite my father, and would flop to my stomach the minute my food was done, my chin on my balled-up fists, staring goggle-eyed into the screen.

Even when we moved to Europe, we continued the tradition. Some American military friends of ours let us borrow a T.V. Video tapes and VHS’s were calibrated differently in Europe, so at first we couldn’t find a place that would rent us movies we could actually watch. But after a while we found a car dealership that also happened to rent out American movies—in English—that we could play on our borrowed VCR. We got frozen pizzas that tasted exceptional.

Years later we migrated to the couch on the other end of the room. We went from pizza to hot dogs. For whatever reason we stopped doing a rental movie and switched to checking out old BBC shows on VHS. We went through Peter Whimsy and Miss Marple and I distinctly remember a summer of nothing but Rumpole of the Bailey, which was filled with political commentary from the 80’s which I didn’t understand but still found uproariously funny.

Then we went through a phase where we watched B horror movies made in the sixties that were about as scary as brushing your teeth. There was this one about brain-shaped aliens from outer space that could only be killed if you lobbed an ax through the top middle portion of their brainy bodies. Somewhere around this time we stopped doing hot dogs and did a kind of free-for-all night instead, where it was different every week.

I remember a time when we did nothing but dig through the five dollar bargain bin at Wal-Mart and see if there was anything interesting. We’d buy instead of rent. As a result we have a whole section of our DVD collection devoted to Movies We Watched Once and Knew We Would Never Watch Again.

And then came the summer of Star Trek. We bought all seven seasons of Star Trek: the Next Generation and watched every episode in order. It took us a whole summer, but we did it.

Now it’s Redbox. They’ve got a vending machine for everything these days. Redbox dispenses rental movies in nifty little red sleeves that you get to keep for twenty four hours and then you stick it back in the slot in the machine. There’s one at practically every drugstore. Tonight we watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. For the first time in nearly a week, I got to chew my food.

But no matter what we choose to amuse ourselves with, the heart and soul of the practice is essentially the same. Us, as a family, regrouping at the end of a week to share some laughs in front of the television set and compliment mom on her cooking.

Variation on a Theme

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Speaking of Pixar movies, I watched Up tonight.

I sat there with my significant other on the floor of a friend’s house, starting up at the screen, shoveling down popcorn while once again, the opening eight minutes of the movie made me bawl like a baby.

I’ve heard it said a thousand times, and chances are you all have too, but it bears being said more than once: Up tells a better love story in eight minutes than Twilight did in three whole movies.

‘Nuff said. There’s more to love than what most people in the film industry would like you to believe. Real love is friendship set on fire. Real love is selfless. Real love is not possessive. Real love values the other over itself. Real love gives. Real love lasts.

Edward and Bella ain’t got nothin’ on Carl and Ellie.

Fandom too Far?

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As long as there have been movies, there have been fans. Fans are funny creatures that tend to obsess over one thing for too long. Fans cluster themselves into groups called fandoms. The fandoms are based on the thing the fans in the fandom are fans of. For example, there’s a huge Star Wars fandom, an equally huge Lord of the Rings fandom, a Star Trek fandom, a Harry Potter fandom, and so forth.

There are even more obscure and specialized fandoms. There are fandoms for Marvel and DC comics, with little splinter fandoms for Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and all of their other friends in tights. There are huge fandoms for cartoons from the 90’s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hey Arnold, Doug—the list is eternal.  

Fandoms are like kingdoms: occasionally, they wage war against each other like little wanna-be gangs. There are actually people out there who religiously assert the superiority of Harry Potter over The Lord of the Rings. I’ve heard people get more heated about Star Trek vs. Star Wars than about Democratic vs. Republican.

But of all the fandoms, the most celebrated, intricate, controversial, and complicated is the mammoth Disney fandom. Divided into a billion splinter fandoms, the Disney followers could almost be described as more of a culture than a mere fandom. Just about every little girl is a Princess fan at some point in her life—and many of them still are late into their thirties. Some are Pixar devotees, gathering up Toy Story memorabilia and tying balloons to their chimneys. Some are huge fans of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, not for its title character, but for its sly narrator, Clopin.

But the kingpin of Disneydoms (Ha. Coined a word.) is the massive group of fans of The Lion King movies. These people have their own fan art website, their own Lion King Wikipedia, online stores, a thousand and one fan videos on YouTube, 2,372 works of fanfiction (a written fictional work based off the story of the movie), and 125,008 works of fan-made art logged in the nation’s largest fan-art site, deviantart.com. Not only that, but the Lion King fans have generated a whole universe and history apart from the movie canon, tracing back Simba’s family tree for up to five generations before the first movie happened.  And five generations after him. There’s even a whole back story about his son, Kopa, who died under mysterious circumstances at the hands (paws?) of one of Scar’s distant relatives. Go. Figure.

Personally, I find it all fascinating. People get really excited about stuff that really, honestly, doesn’t really matter that much. But it still makes them really, really happy.

The writer of this blog has no further comment. Other than to say that Dumbledore ain’t got nothing on Gandalf.

So Much for the “Eureka”

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I’m having a moment. It’s one of those moments that you see in movies about writers or journalists. You know, that moment when the down-on-her-luck aspiring writer stuck in a deadbeat job has that instant of inspiration that leads to the manuscript that finally lands her a book contract. Like when Gilbert tells Anne to stop writing in such haughty language and start writing dialogue the way people actually talk. Or when Julie starts to write a blog about her experiences cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook. Or at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings when Bilbo writes “Concerning Hobbits…”

I’m reading an article about a woman who was told her unborn child had Down syndrome. The article explores her resentment towards God, the opportunities she had to abort the baby that she turned down, and finally seeing her daughter for the first time and absolutely falling in love with her. It briefly describes one woman’s journey from hating her unborn child to loving her unconditionally, regardless of what anyone thought. This mother has started a book about her experience and wants to reach out to parents in similar situations. Children—people—need to be loved, no matter how “fit” society deems them to be.

As I read this article, my writerly soul had a thought:

This would make a great play.

Now I want to get in contact with this family and interview them; ask them if they would mind me using their story for a play that would honor the message they want to send to the world. No email address was listed with the article, so I turned to the page where the editor and staff writers are listed. Still no addresses. Just a form email address for changing your mailing address.

Rats. So much for the “eureka.”

How ‘Bout Them Resolutions?

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Well, well, well. One week ago today we celebrated the dawn of a new year, calmly dismissed the idea that this year might be the world’s last, and embarked on our many sets of resolutions and vows to fit into last summer’s pair of jeans.

So here we are, a week later, and I’m wondering how many people are still feeling the same level of resolve that they felt last Sunday night or Monday morning.

I know that I have spent the past week in keeping myself very busy. Thanks to a cheap fixture in the toilet in my now-deceased grandparents’ house, my family and I have been dealing with 240,000 gallons of water, houseful of damaged furniture, and the lovely folks at Nationwide. And, thanks to the same cheap fixture, almost nothing has gotten done as far as The Book is concerned.

So, utterly exhausted from a week of packing boxes and sorting through the possessions my grandparents accumulated after 63 years of marriage, I collapsed on the couch and watched Ghost, one of the few good live-action films released in the nineties (providing you have a DVD player with TVG installed). Call it ironic, but we found the movie in one of their closets.

One of my resolutions is to expand myself culturally this year. That’s why.

As for The Book, it will become a weekend priority. I’m half tempted to post “teaser” paragraphs at The Risible Rambler to spark reader interest and get some critiques. If I weren’t so paranoid that someone would steal my story, I’d do it. In my wildest dreams I see some editor from Harper Collins surfing the web one day, reading it, and leaving a comment asking for my email address and offering me a contract.

Then I wake up, take my vitamins and tell myself to calm down and get real.

I want to finish Part 1 of the three-part novel by Monday night. Forget resolutions for the year, I just have resolutions for tomorrow.

Pixar Spoken Here

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Surprisingly enough for a family of English majors, none of us speak straight English at our house. We speak in Pixar.

When walking through Walmart, we’ll hear a wailing kid in a checkout line, and Dad will say, “You mean that happy child?” [Toy Story]

“Why do I not have a surprised feeling?”[Up] I say with a roll of my eyes. Then I’ll say, grinning, “I wonder if he speaks whale?”

“Ooh! Ooh! I speak whale!” [Finding Nemo] Mum interjects.

Laughing, I’ll croon out, “Caaaaaaaaan yooooooooooou help us fiiiiiind his soooooooooooooon?” [Finding Nemo]

Dad looks at me askance. “The sixties weren’t good to you, were they?” [Cars] Smirking, he’ll pick up something off the shelves and say, “Do you think I should get this garden hose nozzle?”

“Dad, that’s not a nozzle, it’s a sprinkler head.”

He’ll point to the label. “Look. Nozzle.” Then, quoting again, “Don’t you think I know a rock when I see a rock? I spend a lot of time around rocks!” [A Bug’s Life]

I’ll shake my head and say, “You are a sad, strange little man. And you have my pity.” [Toy Story]

“Yeah, yeah. Hey, Miracle Gro is on sale!”

“Squirrel!” [Up] Mom exclaims teasingly.

Playing along, Dad hugs Mom and says, “I have just met you, and I love you!” [Up]

Mom laughs. “You nut!”

“Yup. I’m definitely detecting some nuttiness,” [Ratatouille] I say with a smile. We laugh our way through the checkout line, where the cashier looks at us like we have lobsters crawling out of our ears.

“You guys hungry?” Dad asks. “Wanna stop at Subway?”

“Is the Popemobile catholic?” [Cars 2] Mom answers.

“Just don’t eat the pistachio ice cream. It’s done turned.” [Cars 2] I warn.

“Well, then, follow me!” He grabs the cart and scoots off.

“Wait up!”

“Come on, guys! Just follow the sultry sound of my voice!” [Monsters Inc.]

As Dad buys us our sandwiches, Mom and I go to get napkins and condiments. I slip and my handful of mustard packets goes flying.

“Fly away, Stanley! Be free!” [Cars]Dad says as he watches the little yellow packets soar across the restaurant.

When we finally sit down at the table and unwrap our subs, I look at my parents and sigh, “I love our family.” [The Incredibles]

Because my family is pretty awesome…even if we’re not all that original.

There’s Something to be Said for Old School

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As a child of the 90’s, nothing takes me on a better nostalgia trip than watching an old Disney movie. The late eighties and early nineties was the Disney Renaissance, back when animated films were truly works of art.

I love today’s computer-animated cartoons. Really, I do. I cried along with everyone else at the end of Toy Story 3 and the beginning of Up. The characters are carefully crafted digital puppets that are manipulated frame by frame in digitally constructed sets filmed with virtual cameras. Those films are works of art in their own way. Don’t get me wrong.

Computer animated films, for the most part, can have great stories, loveable characters, and compelling plots. It takes a lot of hard work and hundreds of dedicated artists to make those films. But the artistry of the animated film has been lost. Once a digital character is created, you don’t have to recreate him for every frame. The computer provides the coloring, the lighting, the camera angles—all of the things that, once upon a time, a single animator had to figure out and draw on his own with only the help of his pencil, his paint, and his wits. Nowadays, the computers do the “hard part” so all an animator has to think about is manipulating a digital puppet—which is tricky, to be sure—but the human touch that made the old films magical is absent from today’s cartoons.

Nothing compares to the artistry of the old hand-animated films. Every character was hand-drawn, hand-painted, frame by frame, each frame with consistent style and color and executed with fluid motion. Every background was hand-painted, brushstroke after excruciating brush-stroke. Each frame is a photograph of a series of painted clear sheets placed on top of each other; one for background, one for one character, one for another character, another for foreground, another for lighting, and probably several other that I’m forgetting. Not only was every animated film an incredible artistic feat, but a theatrical and dramatic feat as well. Admit it, you cried the first time you saw Mufasa die, too.

Watching the older cartoons feels like you’re opening a book and watching the illustrations come alive and tell the story. Computer animated films, at least in the mind of this writer, do not inspire the same amount of childish wonder.

If you want a case study, take my film guru dad for an example. He watched Megamind and forgot about it. When Mom and I watched Beauty and the Beast last night, he was either watching it over our shoulders or singing along.

That said, we own every Pixar film ever made and watch them more often than anything else in our collection. But that’s an essay for another day.

 

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and Cookies, Oh My

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Somewhere in the last few anxious days before Christmas, my mother and I run out of things to watch. December 22nd found us staring, brows furrowed, into the cabinet where our DVD collection is housed, eyeing our selection of Christmas movies.

Miracle on 34th Street?” I ask.

“We watched that on Monday,” Mom replies. “What about Santa and Pete?”

“I’d love to,” I say, “But I’ll need to send a search-and-rescue team to the depths of the VHS cabinet. They may not be back for a few days, and even then, chances of recovery are sketchy.”

“Hmm, never mind then.” It’s a shame. We both really like that movie.

Christmas with the Kranks?”

“Eh, we saw that.”

“We could see it again.”

And so on it goes. Our favorite thing to do together over Christmas break, aside from shopping and baking cookies, is to watch movies and snack on cookies. And because it’s Christmas, of course we want to watch Christmas-ish sorts of movies. This year, however, we ran out of options too quickly. We couldn’t watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas because Dad likes to watch it with us, and he was busy. Christmas Carol we save for Christmas Eve. Aside from that, we were sunk.

Then my eye happened to stray next to the TV, where I saw one lonely case that wasn’t red, green, or sparkly. I pulled it out. It was still in its plastic wrapper.

“How about Joe vs. the Volcano?”

Ok, so it was a stretch. There’s absolutely nothing festive about Joe vs. the Volcano, starring a very thin Tom Hanks and an even thinner Meg Ryan. But it was a Christmas gift to my mom from the couple that bought our old house, so I suppose that in that sense, it was kind of…very kind of…Christmas-ish.

It’s hard to go wrong with a pairing like Tom and Meg. Even my dad likes their movies, and that’s saying something. There are very few actors or actresses who I like to watch pretend falling in love with each other more than Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. There’s You’ve Got Mail, where they’ve met before and don’t fall in love until the end, and then there’s Sleepless in Seattle, where they’ve been in love the entire time and don’t meet until the end. Tom is funny, Meg is charming, and just about anyone who watches them banter circles around each other for 90 minutes is bound to have a grand ol’ time.

Their first movie, however, leaves a little to be desired. Joe vs. the Volcano is a cinematic enigma of a romantic comedy that will leave you waiting for the punch line that never manages to arrive. All, I repeat all, of the characters, including the three played by Miss Ryan, act like squirrels with ADHD, yet the leading couple still manages to come across as endearing and lovable. The plot is fairly straightforward; there’s this dude (Hanks) who’s been told that he has five months to live, so he accepts an offer from a rich guy to go sacrifice himself to a volcano god after living the good life for a couple weeks. Shenanigans ensue. Chances are if the movie had starred anyone other than Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, we wouldn’t own it, and I wouldn’t watch it. Things got better for those two after they met Nora Ephron.

All that to say this: Mother and I watched Joe vs. the Volcano for kicks and giggles, and are eagerly awaiting tomorrow and the day after, when Daddy will be available to watch the real Christmas movies with us.

Inconceivable

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People used to take classes on how to talk. Being able to begin and maintain witty and relevant conversation at parties and other social functions was the way one moved up in the world. One had to be well-versed in current events, political issues, popular literature, and of course the intricacies of current music in order to be “up-to-date” and culturally savvy.

Nowadays, having the upper hand in the conversation is much easier. You don’t have to talk about politics, religion, or even music to generate engaging conversation—in fact, such topics often cause more contention than is socially comfortable. No, you oughtn’t talk about any of those touchy and sometimes vague subjects. Lean in closer, my readers, and let me whisper to you the key to delivering brilliant conversation in modern-day America:

Quote The Princess Bride.

I’m serious. Ninety-nine percent of America has seen this film, and most of them have memorized large portions of the dialogue. The next time you’re in a room (or subway car or bus station or elevator or cardboard box) with several people you’ve never met in your life, all you have to say is “anybody want a peanut?” Before you know it, you’ll be carrying on a long and brilliant conversation, although most of it will be completely unoriginal…and rather disjointed.

“I’ll call the brute squad!” “I’m on the brute squad.” “You are the brute squad.”

“I’m not a witch, I’m your wife! And after what you just said, I’m not sure I even want to be that anymore!”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaas yooooooooooooooooou wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiish!”

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

“This is true love. Do you think this happens every day?”

“Is this a kissing book?”

“Mawwidge. Mawwidge is what bwings us togethaw today.”

“Never go up against the Cicilian when death is on the line!”

“I am not left-handed!”

“He’s only mostly dead.”

“You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you.” “You seem a decent fellow. I hate to die.”

Scintillating, I know. Never was so much corny genius poured into one cinematic work. But if none of this is familiar, and if you haven’t seen this movie ever, not even a part of it, in your entire life…my friend, that is simply inconceivable.