A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
This film is a predecessor to one of my favourite comedies, Fierce Creatures, as it features the same four main cast members: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin. Overall, I didn’t find it as funny as Fierce Creatures, though I did laugh a lot at the scenes where Cleese and Curtis’s characters get caught with their pants down, which are staged very well. I was also impressed by Michael Palin’s acting range, as his performance here couldn’t be more different from the one in Fierce Creatures – and his character gets a few good laughs too. Rating: 3.5/5.
Something quite different: a silent film – and the first film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture! I first learned about this one from Bill Bryson’s book One Summer: America 1927, where he goes into some detail about the making of it. Detailing the escapades of two young pilots during the First World War, the film was made using huge numbers of extras and revolutionary aerial photography for the time. Some of the dogfights use very wide shots that give a great sense of realism; watching these scenes now, you look at some of the stunts and think, “How the heck did they film that at the time?!” And it’s not just the special effects: the story has a lot of compelling drama, and even some effective comedy here and there. It’s shamelessly patriotic, but it manages to show off the harsh and bloody side of war as well as its heroic, awe-inspiring portrayals. And with it being a silent film, the acting has to be very emotive, though it sometimes looks a bit corny through modern eyes. Nearly a century on, Wings is still a very watchable film and I would highly recommend it, both for its stand-alone quality and historical value. Rating: 4.5/5.
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)
I was in the mood for a comedy again when I chose to watch this; I saw a couple of other Pink Panther films years ago and really enjoyed them. I don’t know if it was because those films were actually better or my tastes have changed with age, but I didn’t find this one very funny or even interesting overall. What story there is gets very stretched out: it’s mostly just Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau going from one slapstick situation to the next, and even though I knew what to expect, I just didn’t laugh all that much. I actually found the scenes with Commissioner Dreyfus and his escalating mental breakdown much funnier than anything involving Clouseau here. Rating: 2.5/5.
Stand By Me (1986)
This is an adaptation of the Stephen King novella “The Body”, and it’s very faithful to the source material aside from having a more positive ending. I liked the original story a lot, and it works very effectively on screen too. The four main characters – Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern – play off each other very well and have a complex friendship; there are several moments where they conflict with each other, both in the teasing way of teenage boys and in more serious ways, but you never doubt that they have a close bond. The overall journey has some great emotional moments as the boys think and learn, and some adventurous points: the scene where they cross the railway bridge is suitably tense. It’s a simple story viewed from a distance – four boys walking to find a dead body – but becomes deep and compelling through its use of the characters. Rating: 4.5/5.