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Trading Places: 'Looking Good, Feeling Good' Edition

Paramount Home Video
Movie A
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

This has long been one of my favorite comedies. It is one of the best that the '80s had to offer, and Eddie Murphy was just a total god at the time. He and Dan Aykroyd made for a great comic team, and director John Landis was at the height of his career.

Aykroyd plays a financial wizard who, as the result of a joke masterminded by his inhuman bosses, the Duke brothers (a terrifically evil Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche), winds up trading places with a homeless man (Murphy). Murphy becomes a successful businessman while Aykroyd winds up on the streets in the company of a too-beautiful-to-be-believed hooker (Jamie Lee Curtis). The two eventually discover that they are the butt of a cruel joke, and they conspire to ruin the Dukes.

While Murphy was great in 48 Hrs, this is the film that cemented his stardom. He has a moment where he looks into the camera that goes beyond funny. There's a magic to his work that has only emerged sporadically since. Aykroyd basically saved his career with this flick after the abysmal Doctor Detroit. His drunken Santa could very well be his career highlight.

Special Features: In a making-of documentary, Murphy claims that the last time he had fun making a movie was with this one, because it's all been work since then. That's a mighty believable statement. There's a rather useless deleted scene and some great interviews from the past. During some archival interviews, Landis calls Murphy a "hip negro," something he would surely die for if he said the same thing in Murphy's presence today.


Coming to America: Special Collector's Edition

Paramount Home Video
Movie B+
Special Features C+
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

I still think Eddie Murphy deserved an Oscar nomination for his work in this film. As an African prince coming to America in search of a bride, he's firing on all pistons. This is also the first time he played multiple parts in a film, and thanks to amazing work by makeup artist Rick Baker, it's a tremendous success.

This was Murphy's second teaming with director John Landis, and they (allegedly) almost killed each other on the set. They would later re-team for Beverly Hills Cop 3, and by then, the magic was gone. The production was also overshadowed by a plagiarism lawsuit from writer Art Buchwald, who claimed the producers stole his story.

This is actually a movie where Arsenio Hall was funny. He, like Murphy, got to play multiple characters, and he excels. His brief moment as a horny preacher is a crackup.

There's no denying that Murphy has become a little jaded over the years. Last year's Dreamgirls shows that he's got plenty left in the tank, but the magic is lost in his comic performances. (Norbit, anyone?) The guy is only 46 years old, with many possible years left in his career. It would be nice to see him get some of that sharp, nasty comic magic back on a consistent basis. It looks like we'll have to watch a few more family comedies first.

Special Features: Some documentaries and vintage interviews, but nothing about all the on-set chaos. That's a documentary I'd like to see.


Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Anchor Bay
Movie B
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 6.75 (out of 10)

A glance at the DVD cover for this one had me thinking it was just another schlock horror film co-starring Robert Englund. A few moments into the film, I realized I was in for a pretty decent treat.

It starts as a news documentary, with a team covering the anticipated arrival of one Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), who plans to return to his childhood home on the anniversary of his death and kill a bunch of teenagers. The film takes itself seriously, proposing that the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees are actual existing serial killers, and Leslie is the heir to the psycho-killer throne.

What makes this movie so funny is that Leslie is a fun-loving, good-looking prankster type who, nevertheless, takes his impending killer fame very seriously. He invites the news crew along for the ride, showing them the tricks of the trade, like how to catch running prey while walking.

While the film qualifies as a spoof, it doesn't do it in a sophomoric way. The laughs come from treating such a ridiculous subject so seriously. Much of the film's success is due to Baesel, who gives an electric performance. Even when the film loses a little bit of its juice toward the end, Baesel remains consistent.

The movie changes modes between being a documentary and an actual stylized slasher thriller. The transitions aren't always successful, but they are ballsy, to say the least. This is an impressive directorial debut for Scott Glosserman.

Special Features: An actor's commentary, deleted scenes and making-of documentaries.

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