Film Review: Trading Places (1983)

Also known as: Black or White (working title)
Release Date: June 7th, 1983 (limited)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliot, Paul Gleason, Kristin Holby, Bo Diddley, Jim Belushi, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Frank Oz, Giancarlo Esposito

Cinema Group Ventures, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me. I lost my job, I lost my house, Penelope hated me, and it was all because of this terrible, awful negro!” – Louis Winthorpe III

Since I watched The Blues Brothers a week ago, I wanted to revisit this movie, as well. I’ve been on a John Landis comedy kick, as of late.

Like The Blues Brothers, this was one of my favorite comedies, as a kid, because it featured two comedic actors I loved and still do.

While these aren’t my favorite roles for either Dan Aykroyd or Eddie Murphy, they’re still iconic and the guys had tremendous chemistry. So much so, I had always whished for a sequel to this. I kind of hoped it would happen after this film’s villains had cameos in Coming to America, which saw them potentially get their lives back.

Speaking of the villains, played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, they were superb and charismatic for being total pieces of shit. They contributed just as much to the greatness of this picture as the two leads.

However, I also have to give a lot of credit to Denholm Elliot and Jamie Lee Curtis. The two of them rounded out the group of protagonists and formed a solid team alongside Aykroyd and Murphy, as they fought to take down the two rich bastards that were going to completely destroy them.

The story sees a commodities broker have his life ruined by his two bosses over a one dollar bet. That bet sees someone from the furthest end of the social hierarchy take his place to see if he can overcome his environment and succeed at the level that a man born into privilege could.

Essentially, Aykroyd and Murphy play switcheroo but neither are aware of why. Once they find out, they decide to work together to teach the villains a hard lesson. In the end, they outwit them at their own game and walk away with their fortune, leaving them broke.

The film does a pretty amusing job of analyzing “nature versus nurture”. While it’s not a wholly original idea and has similarities to the classic The Prince and the Pauper story, it at least makes the switching of lives involuntary and with that, creates some solid comedic moments.

Even though this isn’t specifically a Christmas movie, it takes place over the holiday, as well as New Year’s, and it’s a film I like to watch around that time of year.

Trading Places has held up really well and it feels kind of timeless even though it is very ’80s. It’s story transcends that, though, and the leads really took this thing to an iconic level, making it one of the best comedies of its time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as other films with Dan Aykroyd or Eddie Murphy.

Film Review: Terror Train (1980)

Also known as: Train of Terror
Release Date: October 3rd, 1980
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode
Written by: T.Y. Drake
Music by: John Mills-Cockell
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Vanity (credited as D.D. Winters)

Astral Bellevue Pathé, Sandy Howard Productions, Triple T Productions, 20th Century Fox, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Well, you know what they say: cold hands, warm heart.” – Mitchy

This was the second film I watched in a New Year’s Eve slasher double bill that I hosted at my house. The first was New Year’s Evil.

Terror Train is the better of the two pictures. The main reason is that it is more imaginative. Also, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis while she was at the height of her run in the slasher genre. Plus, the killer uses different disguises, one of which looks like movie critic Gene Shalit dressed as a train conductor, as seen in the film’s poster.

While you pretty much know who the killer is and why he wants to kill these college kids, you still aren’t entirely sure if the killer is the horrible victim of the prank gone bad in the opening of the film. There are some swerves, here and there, and the overall plot is decently constructed, which is more than you can say for most slasher pictures.

This movie also features a very young David Copperfield. Obviously he plays a magician but those bits where he does tricks are pretty cool to see. I have always liked Copperfield and seeing him perform within the movie is a an extra treat.

One thing I like about this picture is the atmosphere. The film is pretty dark throughout but there is vivid lighting and a sort of mixture of neon highlights and a chiaroscuro lighting and shadowing style. The movie has a kind of subtle neo-noir vibe to it but it is probably more of a call back to the Italian giallo style of the ’70s. Those giallo pictures were very early versions of what would evolve into the standard slasher film framework.

Terror Train has this cool characteristic where it sort of pulls from classic horror, film-noir, giallo and even German Expressionism in the use of shadows and angles to create a feeling of disorientation. I don’t necessarily think that any of that was intentional, at the time, it is just a film that came out during a transitional period and wears its influences on its sleeve whether it knows it or not.

The film itself isn’t as exciting as its stylistic flourishes but it is still a slightly better than average slasher flick in a time when these films were pumped out like E. L. Fudge cookies at the Keebler factory.

Jamie Lee Curtis is good in this and you also get to see her play opposite of Hart Bochner, who is probably most remembered as that yuppie douche Ellis in Die Hard.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: New Year’s Evil (1980)

Release Date: December 26th, 1980
Directed by: Emmett Alston
Written by: Leonard Neubauer, Emmett Alston
Music by: Laurin Rinder, W. Michael Lewis
Cast: Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Grant Cramer, Chris Wallace

Golan-Globus Productions, Cannon Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I’m a man of God, not a man of violence!” [stabs biker] – Richard Sullivan

For New Year’s Eve, I decided to have a New Year’s themed slasher double bill in the theater that is my home. Some friends and I watched this, as well as another 1980 slasher movie that also takes place on this holiday, Terror Train.

New Year’s Evil is a fairly entertaining slasher flick but it is hardly a classic and fails in certain areas.

One problem I have with the film is that there isn’t a lot of mystery as to who the killer is. It is pretty obvious that the men in the main character’s life are responsible. You immediately know that her son is a total freak with mommy issues and he even mentions that he is going to call his father when he’s upset over how his mother has blown him off while she is preparing for a big night.

As slashers go, the killings aren’t that great and really, the slasher himself isn’t great either. There isn’t a lot of imagination here, just slashing and some occasional boobies. Granted, this film came out very early in the slasher genre’s height in popularity and some tropes weren’t as established as they would be in the years that followed.

I do like this film for its ’80s MTV type feel. The music is cool, the party looks great and there is a good level of ’80s cheese, as this was a film that really felt like it represented a cultural shift between the punk rock ’70s and the new wave ’80s.

This is a good movie to kill some time with, especially for a slasher aficionado that hasn’t yet seen it. It’s a bit underwhelming and a bit too drab for something that looks so lively and colorful on its surface. Still, it’s not a complete waste of time.

Rating: 5/10