Tag Archives: jamie lee curtis

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: These thieves double-cross.

Four colorful characters commit a London diamond heist orchestrated by George (Ton Georgeson). After the crime is committed Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her lover Otto (Kevin Kline) call the police and have George turned in as they plan to abscond with all of the diamonds themselves. However, George with the help of his stuttering henchman Ken (Michael Palin) had the diamonds removed from the secret safe that Wanda and Otto thought it was in, so when the couple comes back to retrieve them they find that they’re gone. With George now in jail Wanda decides to seduce George’s lawyer (John Cleese) with the idea that George most likely told him where the loot is stashed, but this causes jealousy with Otto who is highly insecure and doesn’t like to be called stupid.

The story could probably best be described as a comical variation of The Asphalt Jungle in which a crime is successfully committed only to have all the participants turn on each other afterwards. This concept works for the first 45 minutes, but then wears itself out making me feel more of a backstory and a longer set-up was needed. These people are also not very likable and it would’ve been nice to see at least one of them do something, even if it was just briefly, that wasn’t completely underhanded.

Curtis is miscast as she has a very strong and grounded personality in real-life, which always comes through in the parts that she plays, so having her portray such a superficial woman willing to do anything for money seems out-of-sync. Her character is portrayed as being calculating and crafty, but she’s really quite one-dimensional as all she does is use her body and sex appeal to get what she wants, which seems sexist to presume that sex is the only ‘weapon’ that a woman can use and never her mind instead. A truly clever lady would be able to come up with more imaginative ways to manipulate a man and not just immediately feeling the need to prostitute herself. It also made me wonder what she was going to do when she got older and her looks faded as she seemed to have no ‘plan-B’.

Kline gets the showy role and it was enough to net him the best supporting actor Oscar. The character initially comes off as being quite obnoxious, but if you accept the fact that he is extremely insecure then it works and is even somewhat funny particularly the way he spies on Wanda when she’s with Cleese, but by the second half his antics turn too dark making him psychotic and I no longer found him amusing or enjoyable at all.

Palin’s character suffers a similar fate. Initially he’s this dimwit that everyone else overlooks, so you feel like cheering for him. Yet his constant stuttering becomes an overplayed one-joke that seems to mock those in real-life who may suffer from the same affliction. His character loses his appeal when he becomes all too willing to kill off an old lady to silence her as a witness. His inept attempts at killing her becomes the film’s running gag and turns this initially witty movie into slapstick nonsense similar to a live-action version of a Wiley E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoon.

Cleese is enjoyable as the a proper British barrister stuck in a loveless marriage and the scene where the film cuts back and forth between Cleese and is wife getting ready for bed and the way Kline and Curtis also gets ready for it is the funniest, most inspired moment in the movie.  His character though starts to take over the film by the second half even though it worked better when it gets played as an ensemble comedy and the way he goes from being a nebbish to sexually liberated is not interesting. I felt his blossoming romance with Curtis was too forced and having Curtis fall in love with him simply because he could speak in different accents, which is enough to get her overtly aroused, is quite contrived and ridiculous.

I would’ve liked some situation, other than the initial crime itself, put in that would’ve forced these characters to get along and have shown a different side to their personalities instead of just their devious/desperate one, which gets too protracted. The constant double-crossings run-out-of-steam making they’re shenanigans increasingly more strained as it goes along until it becomes just a big cluttered comical mess that despite a few good chuckles doesn’t seem worth it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Charles Crichton

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Terror Train (1980)

terror train 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer wears different disguises.

Some frat boys decide to play a nasty prank on a vulnerable student named Kenny Hampson (Derek McKinnon) which causes him to have a mental breakdown and be sent away. Now, three years later the same group of college kids gets together on a train for a raucous New Year’s Eve costume party. The problem is so does a mysterious killer who after killing each of his victims puts on the disguise that they were wearing making it impossible to track him.

Supposedly the idea for the film is the brainstorm of executive producer Daniel Grodnik who after seeing both Halloween and Silver Streak woke up one night with the inspiration of combining the two films and making a slasher movie aboard a train.  I admit when I first saw this film many years ago I thought it was pretty cool, but now upon second viewing it seems formulaic and predictable. It takes too long to get going with the first hour spent focusing on the doings of stereotypically jaded college kids who aren’t very appealing. The scares are few with the only real intense part coming at the end when the Jaimie Lee Curtis character locks herself in a cage and the killer tries desperately to get into it. The gore is also sparse and not impressive including a decapitated head that doesn’t look anything like the victim’s.

There is also a lot of glaring loopholes including having the killer murder someone inside one of the train’s cramped bathrooms and then managing to clean up all the blood, which would have taken a lot of time seeing how much there was of it, and then carting off the dead body without anyone noticing. During the climactic sequence Curtis’s character stabs the psycho in his eye, but later when the killer gets unmasked his eye and face look fine without any indication of scratches or cuts.

Curtis is a fine actress, but her presence did nothing but remind me of Halloween and they would have been better off casting someone else. Ben Johnson, who is technically listed as the star, adds some much needed stature and it is nice having a middle-aged character not portrayed as a clueless out-of-touch drip like they usually are in these types of films. Hart Bochner looks and acts like the perfect caricature of a smart-ass frat boy and its fun seeing him turn from cocky and arrogant at the beginning to desperate and frightened at the end. Magician David Copperfield is on hand essentially playing himself and some of his magic tricks are the most interesting part of the movie.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Halloween (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Michael Meyers comes home.

On Halloween night in 1963 6 year old Michael Myers stabs to death his older sister Judith. He is taken away to a mental institution, but fifteen years later he escapes and comes back to his hometown of Haddonfield to stalk three teenage women (Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles) on Halloween night.

I first saw this film 25 years ago when I was in College and thought it was cool, but now on my second viewing I’m not quite as impressed. There are still some good things about it, but also in my opinion some glaring loopholes. I’ll start with the things I liked.

Cinematically it is a well mounted thriller. The lighting is perfect. The dark shadowy interiors create the feeling of menace and the little light that is shown has a bluish tone and resembles authentic moonlight. The music by director John Carpenter is distinct and has an effective up-tempo beat almost like a warning siren. The editing and pacing is great. It builds the tension nicely and has some creepy imagery.

One of the scenes I always found to be the creepiest is when Tommy, the young boy that the Curtis character is babysitting, sees from across the street Michael carrying one of his dead victims from the car to the house. In fact all the long shots showing Michael are the most effective. Somehow it was a combination not only of the way the actor walked in the costume, but his mask as well, which was apparently a William Shatner Captain Kirk mask that was painted all white.

The fact that there is never any reason given for why Michael became the way he did is also good. There are many similar true-life crimes where even after the murderer is interviewed by the psychiatrists they still can’t always come up with a satisfying explanation. Movies that try to show the reason behind why the bad guy becomes murderous usually end up being contrived and clichéd.

The three actresses looked too old for teenagers and in the case of both Loomis and Soles where already in their late twenties. Loomis though is kind of funny in her part especially with the way she interacts with Lindsey (Kyle Richards) the young girl that she is babysitting. Curtis is good and although I respect her right to going natural with the gray hair that she now sports I still felt she was at her most attractive when she had the long red hair like she has here.

On the negative side there seemed to be too many story elements that didn’t make sense. For instance Michael is institutionalized when he is six and then escapes fifteen years later and is able to miraculously drive a car even though he was never trained. The book version of the movie explains this anomaly by stating that when Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) would take Michael to sanity hearings over the years that Michael would watch very closely how Loomis operated the vehicle and thus ‘learned’ how to drive, but that still doesn’t make sense because watching how something is done and then finally doing it yourself are two completely different things. Besides if watching how somebody drives where enough then every child who watched his parents drive could learn it and there would be no need for driving schools. Also, Michael escapes from the asylum without any explanation, which seemed way too convenient.

When Dr. Loomis shows up in town and tells the sheriff (Charles Cyphers) that there may be an escaped mental patient in the vicinity the sheriff comes up with the logical step of warning everybody about it, but Loomis disagrees and his reasoning is ridiculous. Also, when Laurie (Curtis) gets a call from Lynda (Soles) that sounds like she is being murdered Laurie doesn’t do the most sensible thing and that is to call the police and let them investigate it. Instead she decides to go over to the home in the middle of the night and investigate it herself, which not only needlessly puts her in a dangerous position, but also leaves the two kids that she is supposed to be watching home alone in bed, which is something a good babysitter should never do.

I also had some problems with the setting itself. Now of course the town of Haddonfield is fictitious, but the state of Illinois isn’t. It is situated right in the middle of the Midwest and there are no palm trees anywhere within its borders and yet I spotted a few lining the streets especially near the beginning when Laurie is seen walking home from school. I didn’t buy into the idea that the Meyers house would stand vacant for 15 years either. There are a lot of homes that have murders committed in them that do not remain abandoned, or considered ‘haunted’. In some cases the original house is torn down and a new one is built in its place such as the infamous John Wayne Gacy house in Des Plaines, Illinois, which is now being occupied by a new family. The neighborhood in the film looks nice and well-kept. The other homeowners wouldn’t stand for a building being abandoned for that long as it brings down the property values.

When I first saw this movie I got a real kick out of the part where Michael kills a man and then hangs him by a knife on a wall and stares at the corpse in a child-like way. However, on second viewing I don’t think the blade of the knife would have been long enough, or strong enough to go through a man’s body as well as a wooden door.

The opening sequence where we see Michael killing his sister from his perspective didn’t completely work with me either. I liked the idea of seeing the action through the two eye holes of the mask that Michael was wearing, but I think if someone is stabbing someone else that they would be looking at what they are doing, but instead the eye holes remain fixated on the sister’s face during the stabbing that is being done on the lower parts of her body, which looked stilted and unrealistic.

Now, I know this movie has a large legion of fans and some may take umbrage to my negative points, but hey, I take my film criticism seriously and feel I need to say it the way I see it. That is not to say that I ‘hated’ the movie either. I still liked it overall, but when given the issues that I described above I can only give it 6 points.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray