Four Frames – Trading Places (1983)

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally-recognised magazine and website that offers an intelligent take on cinema, focussing on how film affects our lives. This piece is part of the Four Frames section, wherein the importance of four significant shots are discussed, in this case from John Landis’ comedy classic Trading Places.

It’s a pity it took the global financial crisis for politicians to wake up to the lessons espoused in Trading Places.

The legacy of John Landis’ 1983 classic screwball comedy is such that it inspired the so-called ‘Eddie Murphy rule’ contained within Obama’s 2010 Wall Street reform to stamp out the sort of shady insider trading depicted in the movie.

Trading Places

Sadly, it’s pretty much the only positive thing Murphy’s name has been attached to for many years, although back in the early 80s both he and fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus Dan Ackroyd were at the top of their game.

Murphy is superb as wise-cracking street hustler Billy Ray Valentine, who is lifted out of the gutter by super-rich schemers Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche) and unwittingly trades places with pampered commodities executive Louis Winthorpe III (a career-best turn by Ackroyd) to satisfy a bet over nature vs nurture.

Trading Places

Winthorpe affirms Randolph’s suspicion that he would “take to crime like a fish to water” if stripped of everything he holds dear by infiltrating the Duke’s Christmas party dressed as Santa Claus to frame Valentine, whom he holds responsible for his plight. When that backfires he’s left with nothing but a whisky bottle and a gun.

Landis earlier emphasises just how far Winthorpe has fallen (and makes a sly observation of how the poor might as well not exist in the eyes of the super-rich) by having him stand outside a restaurant getting pissed on by rain and dolefully looking in as Valentine hits it off at a business dinner.

Trading Places

Valentine, meanwhile, sees the Duke’s true colours when he overhears them gleefully discussing their “scientific experiment” and their illegal plans to corner the frozen concentrated orange juice market.

Perceiving that “the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people”, Valentine and Winthorpe team up to hit the Duke’s where it hurts.

Trading Places

Not for nothing is the film set in Philadelphia – the birthplace of the US Constitution where the idealism of equality and opportunity for all is thrown into stark relief by the opening credits which cut between the lowly 99% and super-rich as the city starts another day.

Just as in the comedies of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra, Trading Places has an old fashioned charm and a resonant political and societal message etched into each frame.

It also just goes to show how little has changed when a 30-year-old satirical comedy lampooning the unfettered capitalism and rampant hubris of Reagan-era big business feels as timely now as it did then.

Review – Cockneys vs Zombies

Cockneys vs Zombies

Cockneys vs Zombies – Probably the most entertaining British zombie film since Shaun of the Dead

It might be about as subtle as a boot in the Jacobs, but Cockneys vs Zombies is far more than its attention-grabbing title and probably the most entertaining British zombie film since Shaun of the Dead.

Brothers Andy (Harry Treadaway) and Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and their ragtag gang are half way through robbing a bank to save their granddad Ray’s retirement home when a zombie apocalypse strikes London’s East End. Meanwhile, Ray (Alan Ford in full-on “Laaandan” mode) and his friends (including stalwarts Honor Blackman and Richard Briers) fight to keep the walking dead out of the home.

More often than not, films like this can be all title and no substance. While Cockneys vs Zombies can hardly be considered genre-defining it knows its strengths and plays to them. Writer James Moran isn’t afraid to have a laugh at the expense of East End clichés and stereotypes, be they Dudley Sutton’s ridiculously convoluted cockney rhyming slang, football hooligans (despite them being dead) or Lock, Stock… gangsterisms. Hell, even ex-EastEnders actress Michelle Ryan gets a major part.

Cockneys vs Zombies

Hamish (Richard Briers) outwalks the undead in Cockneys vs Zombies

Moran and director Matthias Hoene subtly subvert the perception of the elderly in our society as being more than people waiting to die, while also giving us one of the most amusing scenes of the year when a zimmer-framed Briers tries to outrun a zombie.

You’d have to be dead not to find this ‘zomedy’ funny.