Mark Burger’s DVD Vault

by Mark Burger


52 PICK-UP (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): John Frankenheimer’s 1986 adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel is a savage, nasty blackmail saga that truly captures the Leonard touch and remains arguably the best film ever produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the Israeli-born cousins who ran the Cannon Group (into the ground) during the 1980s. Roy Scheider plays Harry Mitchell, a successful Los Angeles businessman who’s being blackmailed over an affair with a young stripper (Kelly Preston in an early, and very good, performance). When he refuses to pay, the ante is upped when she is brutally murdered… with his gun, no less.

John Glover deserved an Oscar nomination for his unforgettably slimy turn as Alan Raimy, the craftiest of the blackmailers, but don’t ignore the strong contributions of his cohorts in crime, Robert Trebor and Clarence Williams III (who would go on to work with Frankenheimer several more times).

In addition to the extortion angle, the film captures nicely the emotions of Harry’s strained marriage, with Ann-Margret giving one of her best performances as the cuckolded wife, Barbara, who (naturally) becomes embroiled in the plot herself, especially when Harry starts turning his foes against one another.

The screenplay, by John Steppling and Leonard himself, has its share of wicked moments – especially Preston’s death scene, which Glover has filmed and gleefully screens for a horrified Scheider. Although this film received some solid reviews, it was not a box-office success and only found its audience later on video – and gave Frankenheimer a much-needed boost at a time when his career needed it the most. Rated R. !!!1/2


ARCHANGEL (MTI Home Video): Before becoming Bond, Daniel Craig plays a scholar tracking down Stalin’s secret diaries in present-day Russia in this watchable but uninspired adaptation of Robert Harris’ best-seller, originally made for British television. Rated R. !!1/2

ATTACK FORCE Z (Image Entertainment): Early starring roles for Mel Gibson and Sam Neill lend the principal cache for this fact-based 1982 World War II melodrama, filmed in Taiwan. This Australian production was originally intended for director Phillip Noyce, but Tim Burstall took over at the eleventh hour. Top-billed John Phillip Law is joined by Chris Haywood and John Waters, both big names Down Under for this grim outing, which nevertheless has a cult following. Eric Jupp’s score is also a bit much. !!1/2

COMING TO AMERICA (Paramount Home Entertainment): A special collector’s edition of the 1988 John Landis comedy starring Eddie Murphy as an African prince who seeks his bride in the United States. Murphy and co-star Arsenio Hall play multiple roles, and the supporting cast is great (James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, a pre-“ER” Eriq LaSalle, Frankie Faison, Calvin Lockhart), but it’s pretty predictable all the same. Like most of Murphy’s films at the time, it was a huge box-office hit. Rated R. !!

THE GARDEN (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Lance Henriksen, Brian Wimmer and Adam Taylor Gordon star in this rural shocker directed by former actor Don Michael Paul. A big buildup, with some interesting moments along the way, ultimately goes absolutely haywire – and not in a good way. Sean Young and Claudia Christian are on hand, as well. !

HOW TO EAT YOUR WATERMELON IN WHITE COMPANY (AND ENJOY IT) (Image Entertainment): Joe Angio’s engaging and thorough documentary feature tracing the life and career of filmmaker/playwright/provocateur Melvin Van Peebles. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Melvin sing “Achy Breaky Heart” and Sheryl Crow. ) !!!

KOMODO VS. COBRA (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Executive producer Michael Paré and “Survivor”‘s Jerri Manthey encounter the title terrors on a remote island in this cheesy slab of Jurassic junk from director Jay Andrews (AKA Jim Wynorski). Note how the guns never run out of bullets and how most of the profanity is obscured by jungle sounds. Even with the bad CGI effects, you’ll be rooting for the monsters to eat the cast even faster. Rated PG-13. 1/2

MINI’S FIRST TIME (HBO Video): Writer/director Nick Guthe’s leering black comedy stars Nikki Reed as a teen temptress who plans to bump off her booze-soaked mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) after seducing her stepfather (Alec Baldwin). Kevin Spacey was one of the producers of this occasionally wicked effort, which also features Jeff Goldblum and Luke Wilson. It doesn’t add up to much, but there are some sardonic laughs and Reed is extremely easy on the eyes. Rated R. !!

TRADING PLACES (Paramount Home Entertainment): The “Looking Good, Feeling Good” edition of John Landis’ hilarious 1983 comedy, starring Dan Aykroyd as a blueblood and Eddie Murphy as a street hustler who switch places thanks to the nefarious machinations of the Duke Brothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy). Everybody’s in top form, including Jamie Lee Curtis (intoxicating) as a hooker with a heart of gold, Denholm Elliott as Aykroyd’s butler and Paul Gleason as the Duke’s hatchet man. James Belushi, Frank Oz, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Cobbs, Bo Diddley and Jamie’s sister Kelly are also on hand. Everything clicks in one of Landis’ best films, which also acts as a superb showcase for Murphy. Elmer Bernstein’s score earned an Oscar nomination. Great use of Philly locations, too. Rated R. !!!1/2

UNDER MILK WOOD (Sundance Channel Home Entertainment/Hart Sharp Video): A loosely constructed series of vignettes based on Dylan Thomas stories, released in 1972 and featuring a star-studded cast including Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (then married), Peter O’Toole, Vivien Merchant, Glynis Johns and Victor Spinetti. By turns whimsical, romantic and tragic. Thomas fans have a big head start, but if ever a voice should read Dylan Thomas, it’s that of Burton. Rated PG. !!!

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock 92. Copyright 2007, Mark Burger