John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Maria Aitken, Tom Georgeson, Patricia Hayes, Geoffrey Palmer, Cynthia Cleese
Charles Crichton (story), John Cleese (and story)
A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood.
A devious con woman (Jamie Lee Curtis) plans to rip off her gangster boyfriend by seducing his moronic thug (Kevin Kline) and his stuffy lawyer (John Cleese). The trouble is that the stolen diamonds are hard to find.
$115.418 thousand on 3 screens.
Runtime: 108 min.
Release Date: 3/23/1999
PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 16, 2006)
While Rhett Butler may have uttered the most famous cinematic profanity, his comment to Miss O'Hara doesn't stand as my favorite use of foul language in a film. That honor has to go to Kevin Kline's Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, a character who occasionally yells an outraged "Asshole!" at those who offend him, usually because they happen to be driving - appropriately - where he wants to go.
Kline earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his work in Fish. While he deserved it, I can't help but feel that it slights the rest of the cast. Kline offered terrific work, to be certain, but so did the other actors, and I remain somewhat unclear as to why Kline received the extra attention.
No matter - at least someone was recognized, which is an achievement since this kind of film usually gets the cold shoulder come Oscar time. When this kind of attention occurs, I'd best not quibble with it.
Still, I do want to emphasize that Wanda worked not because Kline operated in a vacuum. The rest of the cast also provided very strong performances. Jamie Lee Curtis showed a surprising flair for comedy as she plays Wanda, a rather mercenary young lady who will do whatever she must to make a big financial score. Especially when one considers that Curtis made her name as a "scream queen," her deft touch here seems especially fine.
Two old "Monty Python" veterans round out the main cast. John Cleese played it relatively straight as barrister Archie Leach and Michael Palin took a broader route as stutterer Ken. The film took a lot of heat for Palin's portrayal, as many found it to be an unnecessarily cruel stab at folks with vocal disfluency. To be honest, they're probably right; the film took comic advantage of Ken's problem and it wasn't really necessary for the story. Granted, the movie exhibited empathy to Ken's difficulty by making him the brunt of jerky Otto's taunts, but I still thought the stuttering angle seemed without strong merit other than as a cheap plot device at times.
It probably didn't help that Ken was at best a semi-good guy. He's definitely portrayed as a nice fellow, but he is a criminal and an aspiring killer, after all. Ironically, that latter aspect of his personality indicated to me what a funny film Wanda really was. Fact: I love dogs and hate to see any harm happen to them, on or off screen. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but be amused at the horrible ways that the dogs owned by the object of Ken's homicidal ambition bit the dust. It may not sound like much, but for me to be less than traumatized by the ill-fates of poochies is rare enough. To actually laugh at the sight of a flattened pup seemed remarkable.
Of course, it helped that these incidents - like much in the film – were depicted in a rather cartoony matter. In many ways, the movie took its comic inspiration - especially in regard to how it depicted violence – from classic cartoons. For God's sake, a character was actually run over by a steamroller! Bizarrely, 1988 was a big year for cinematic steamroller crushings, since one also featured prominently in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Wanda didn't approach the cartoonishness of that film, of course, since it doesn't actually include 'toons, but it used the same kind of energy and effect. As a result, we got a movie that lived in the best of both worlds. It stretched reality when it desired but it stayed in a clearly recognizable environment and with mainly reasonably human characters. Wanda wasn't the greatest comedy of all time, but it's a witty and fun film that neatly overcame a few weaknesses.
The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C-/ Bonus D-
A Fish Called Wanda appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. While not a total loss, the image was terribly unimpressive.
Sharpness seemed quite erratic. Some scenes looked reasonably distinctive and well-defined, but many others showed mild softness. Though the lack of precision wasn’t atrocious, it gave much of the movie a loose look. Light examples of jagged edges and shimmering occurred, and I noticed some edge enhancement. As for print concerns, I noticed specks, marks and other flaws with some frequency. This wasn’t a consistently dirty film, but it showed more defects than I’d like.
Colors varied from decent to drab. I found very few examples of vivid hues, as the tones usually looked flat and wan. Black levels tended to be a bit muddy, and shadows were somewhat dense and opaque. Though none of these tendencies were overwhelming, they added up to a very lackluster transfer. I almost gave the image a “D+” but thought it was watchable enough for a “C-“ – barely.
Similar qualms greeted the monaural soundtrack of A Fish Called Wanda. Wasn’t 1988 awfully late in the game for single-channel audio? Sure, Woody Allen continues to use mono, but he does so as a Big Artistic Statement. I see no logical reason – other than cheapness – for Wanda to be one-channel.
I could more easily forgive the soundtrack’s lack of ambition if it actually sounded good. Unfortunately, it's a fairly lifeless track. Dialogue remained intelligible throughout and usually seemed mildly warm, but it also often displayed a light edginess that created a bit of distortion; expect to hear some slight crackling during much of the speech. The music lacked that sort of problem but seemed vaguely flat and bland. The score failed to present any dimensionality or impact. Effects sounded decent but also came across as moderately drab. Like the picture, I almost gave this one a “D+”, but again, it was just good enough to merit a “C-“.
Wanda offers some limited supplements. We get a decent trailer and a booklet with some fun production notes. Also, an Easter egg exists. If you click on the aquarium "treasure chest" on the right-hand side of the screen, you're "treated" to a screen saver-type program that shows the titular fish swimming about your TV. Basically, you also get the same thing if you leave the main menu running, except the "hidden" version lacks the music and text of the main screen. It's not much but your cat may enjoy it.
A Fish Called Wanda is a tough recommendation. On one hand, I like the film quite a bit. It's funny and clever and should hold up well to repeated viewings. However, picture, sound and extras are all somewhat weak. I'd have to say it's one of those "if you can get it really cheap" titles. Don't spend too much on it, but if you find it heavily discounted, it's worth your while.
To rate this film visit the Collector's Edition review of A FISH CALLED WANDA