TRADING PLACES & COMING TO AMERICA Get Anniversary Releases [Blu-review]

Two of the finest comedies of the ‘80s return to home video

Growing up in the UK, there were obviously swathes of American film and TV that failed to land on our shores, and as such failed to register within my consciousness. A child of the ‘80s, there were a number of comedies that did thankfully, and one of the most memorable and constant presences in that time was the effervescent Eddie Murphy. Decades later, even with the bad taste of Norbit still lingering in the mind, much of Murphy’s output is still revered, and to celebrate Paramount are re-releasing two of his finest works, each a collaboration with revered director John Landis. Trading Places and Coming to America both arrived on Blu-ray and digital HD June 12th to celebrate their celebrating their 35th and 30th anniversaries respectively.

Trading Places

Celebrating its 35th anniversary, TRADING PLACES pairs Murphy with Dan Aykroyd in director John Landis’ sidesplitting social satire. A small-time con artist switches roles with a big-time stock market maven as part of an idle bet between two mega-rich brothers. But when the truth comes out, the consequences are pure comedy gold.

John Landis worked from a smart screenplay by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod that tells the tale of the wealthy Duke brothers, who decide to use two unsuspecting pawns to settle an argument. Is a person’s success dictated by his innate natural abilities, or is it informed by their environment? Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) is one of their most successful traders; he has wealth, a beautiful fiance, and a beautiful home. Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) is a homeless con artist who ends up drawn into the Dukes’ scheme, playing the pair to switch their positions in life and see the results.

There’s much about the ‘80s that has dated horribly, but Trading Places still soars, and the themes it deals with seem even more relevant today. On release it served as a critique of the “greed is good” Reagan era, the differences between the haves and have nots, the Wall Street elites and the lower classes. This “experiment” existing is a damnation enough of the abuse the 1% can wield, but the film goes further, looking at underlying social issues of class and race. Landis shows a deft hand in exploring these things, and the darker moments are not lost amidst what primarily is a screwball comedy. The biggest selling point is the rapport between Aykroyd and Murphy. They play off each other beautifully, and have wonderful support from a pitch perfect Denholm Elliot, and especially from Jamie Lee Curtis, who is utterly captivating, no small achievement for anyone sharing a screen with two of the most talented comedians of the ‘80s.

The Package:

The transfer itself is adequate; no restoration or upgrade to the image quality over older releases seems apparent, which is a shame. There are a nice number of special features included, though:

  • Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places: Insights and interviews, short (19 min) but informative.
  • Trading Stories: A compilation of a number of interviews, likely from around the film’s original release.
  • The Deleted Scene: Commentary by Executive Producer George Folsey Jr.: Always appreciate when a deleted scene is given context.
  • Dressing the Part: A look at the costume design.
  • The Trade in Trading Places: Interviews with stock traders, a slightly odd piece to have.
  • Trivia Pop-Ups — Optional play during the movie: Nifty addition, trivia tidbits in the way Pop Up Video used to work. Adds something different for when you watch the film for the hundredth time.
  • Industry Promotional Piece: Weird promo piece featuring director John Landis discussing the film prior to its release.
  • Digital Copy

Coming to America

In COMING TO AMERICA, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2018, Murphy reteamed with director John Landis to play a pampered African prince who disguises his identity to roam the U.S. in search of a bride. The film also stars Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones and features a variety of cameos, including Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy from Trading Places.

Coming to America is revered by many as Murphy’s finest film. Warm, funny, eminently quotable, it seeped into popular culture and has remained there since its release. It was even paid homage by many during the recent release of Black Panther, with many of the outfits seen at screenings around the country. Again with director John Landis, it’s another look at class and society, with a riches to rags tale. Young Prince Akeem (Murphy) of Zumunda looks to leave his sheltered life behind, as well as an arranged marriage being forced upon him by his parents King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) and Queen Aeoleon (Madge Sinclair). He takes his reluctant friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) with him to experience the normal life of a commoner in New York, living in a run down apartment, taking jobs working in a McDonalds knockoff, and shortly thereafter Akeem falls for the owner’s daughter Lisa (Shari Headley). While beginning his courtship, he struggles to conceal his true identity from her while surviving the different lifestyle he has chosen far from the royal court.

Murphy is magnetic here. The film shows off his talents, his range, his improvisation, and his mimicry, with Hall raising his game too playing the downtrodden, reluctant friend dragged along on this journey of discovery. Much comedy is drawn from the fish out of water tale, as well as the cultural clashes between these royals and the new class and social structure they encounter in ‘80s New York. Jones is truly regal, while John Amos is brilliantly cast as Mr McDowell. There are too many supporting actors to reel off (special mention for Eric La Salle and his soul glow), but perhaps the best is Murphy himself, stepping up with the assistance of various prosthetics to play a host of colorful characters. While commonplace in the decades that followed, this showed one of the first times he deployed this tactic. The result is a great showcase for his talents. The film could certainly use a little tightening in parts, a 2-hour runtime lagging somewhat, but it remains so damn watchable, and rewatchable. Sexual Chocolate!

The Package:

Like Trading Places, the visual quality of the release is fine, clearly not the result of any restoration efforts. Grain is pretty natural, but there is a variance in quality throughout. Again, there are a decent amount of extras included, but there is a sad lack of any material featuring contributions from Murphy himself.

  • Prince-Ipal Photography: The Coming Together of America: A decent making of featurette, running around 25 minutes, it draws from Landis, screenwriters costume designers, and producers to detail the production.
  • Coming: Details how the film was conceived and developed. Some nice insights as to the balance of scripting and improv, as well as how the film has entered pop culture since its release.
  • Fit for Akeem: The Costumes of Coming to America: Detailed look at the costume work for the film, with focus on the more ornate royal outfits.
  • Character Building: The Many Faces of Rick Baker: Featurette with the makeup magician Baker and how he worked on the film to transform Murphy into a number of different characters.
  • Composing America: The Musical Talents of Nile Rodgers: Director and composer share their intentions for the score, with contributions from Rolling Stone and Billboard magazine writers.
  • A Vintage Sit-Down With Eddie and Arsenio: Early promo piece from the film’s original release. Amusing interplay between the pair.
  • Photo Gallery: Stills and behind the scenes images.
  • Digital Copy

Trading Places and Coming to America are available on Blu-ray and digital HD from June 12, 2018.

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