A Movie A Day #316: 52 Pick-Up (1986, directed by John Frankenheimer)


Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider) is a businessman who has money, a beautiful wife named Barbara (Ann-Margaret), a sexy mistress named Cini (Kelly Preston), and a shitload of trouble.  He is approached by Alan Raimey (John Glover) and informed that there is a sex tape of him and his mistress.  Alan demands $105,000 to destroy the tape.  When Harry refuses to pay, Alan and his partners (Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor) show up with a new tape, this one framing Harry for the murder of Cini.  They also make a new demand: $105,000 a year or else they will release the tape.  Can Harry beat Alan at his own game without harming his wife’s political ambitions?

Based on a novel by the great Elmore Leonard and directed by John Frankenheimer, 52 Pick-Up is one of the best films to ever come out of the Cannon Film Group.  Though it may not be as well-known as some of his other films (like The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, Black Sunday, and Ronin), 52 Pick-Up shows why Frankenheimer was considered to be one of the masters of the thriller genre.  52 Pick-Up is a stylish, fast-paced, and violent thriller.  John Glover is memorably sleazy as the repellent Alan and the often underrated Roy Scheider does an excellent job of portraying Harry as a man who starts out smugly complacent and then becomes increasingly desperate as the story play out.

One final note: This movie was actually Cannon’s second attempt to turn Elmore Leonard’s novel to the big screen.  The first attempt was The Ambassador, which ultimately had little to do with Leonard’s original story.  Avoid The Ambassador but see 52 Pick-Up.

A Movie A Day #167: Stick (1985, directed by Burt Reynolds)


Stick (Burt Reynolds) is a veteran car thief who has just gotten out of prison.  No sooner has Stick arrived home in Florida then he accompanies his friend, Rainy (Jose Perez), on a drug deal that goes bad.  When Rainy is killed, Stick goes into hiding.  He manages to get a stable job, working as a chauffeur for an eccentric millionaire (George Segal).  He gets a new girlfriend (Candice Bergen) and starts to bond with his teenage daughter (Tricia Leigh Fisher).  Stick wants to go straight but, before he can, he knows that he has to confront the men who murdered Rainy.

Stick starts out strong.  The first half of the film finds Burt, who was often as underrated as a director as he was as an actor, in pure Sharky’s Machine mode, mixing the steamy Florida atmosphere with quirky character comedy and hardboiled action.  Adapting his own novel, Elmore Leonard wrote the screenplay and Stick seems like a classic Leonard hero, a criminal with his own moral code.  

But then Stick falls apart during the second half and it becomes obvious why both Reynolds and Leonard often cited this film as being one of the biggest disappointments of their careers.  Universal Studios disliked Burt’s first cut of the film and brought in a second screenwriter, who beefed up the action scenes and added the subplot with Stick’s teenage daughter.  Reynolds reshot the second half of the movie, no longer playing Stick as a tough criminal but instead as another variation on the Bandit.  The end result is a very disjointed movie, with Burt looking bored.

It does not help that the movie’s main villain is played by Charles Durning, who wears an orange fright wig and several Hawaiian shirts.  Durning was an actor who gave many great performances but never was he as miscast as when he played a drug dealer in Stick.

More Of Bronson’s Best: Mr. Majestyk (1974, directed by Richard Fleischer)


Mr_Majestyk_movie_posterWhat happens when you combine the great tough guy writer Elmore Leonard with the great tough guy actor Charles Bronson?

You get Mr. Majestyk, one of Bronson’s finest films.

Vince Majestyk (Bronson) may be a former U.S. Army Ranger instructor and a decorated Vietnam vet but now that he has returned home to Colorado, all he cares about is running his watermelon farm.  With a lucrative harvest approaching, Majestyk hires a group of unionized Mexican migrant workers, led by the fiery Linda Chavez (Linda Cristal), to pick his crops.  When a local criminal named Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo) shows up and demands that Majestyk hire his drunken crew instead, Majestyk does what Bronson does best.  He gives Kopas an ass-kickin’ beat down.

After Kopas charges him with assault, the local police arrest Majestyk and, despite his request that he be allowed three days to finish harvesting his crop, Majestyk is thrown in jail.  Also in the jail is a Mafia hitman named Frank Renda (Al Lettieri).  Renda may be a tough guy but nobody’s tougher than Vince Majestyk.  When Renda’s associates attempt to hijack a prison bus, Majestyk ends up hijacking it instead.  Majestyk plans to hold Renda hostage until the police agree to give him his three days of freedom so he can get back to his farm.  Renda even offers to pay him off but Majestyk doesn’t care about his money.  He just cares about melons.

Because he was the only 1970s action star who could be believable as both a decorated combat veteran and a no-nonsense watermelon farmer, Charles Bronson is the only actor who could have brought Mr. Majestyk to life.  Before he became an actor, Bronson worked for a living.  From the age of ten until he enlisted in the Army, Bronson worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines, earning one dollar for each ton of coal that he mined.  Though Bronson was never a great actor, his legitimately working class background allowed him to bring an authenticity to a role like Vince Majestyk that most other actors would have lacked.  When Bronson says that all he cares about is bringing in the harvest on time, you believe him just as much as you believe him when he’s beating up Paul Koslo or hijacking a prison bus.

The rest of the cast is full of good 1970s actors who have never really been given their due.  Al Lettieri may be best known for playing Sollozzo in The Godfather but he also does a good job as Frank Renda.  Paul Koslo plays another one his sleazy villains here and does a great job as Bobby Kopas.

Mr. Majestyk was directed by Richard Fleischer but, with its colorful characters, working class hero, and modernized brand of frontier justice, the film is clearly the work of Elmore Leonard. Though Mr. Majestyk is credited as being based on a novel by Leonard, Leonard actually wrote the screenplay before the novel.

The combination of Elmore Leonard and Charles Bronson makes Mr. Majestyk one of the best action films of the 1970s.

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Happy 100th Birthday Glenn Ford: 3:10 TO YUMA (Columbia 1957)


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Actor Glenn Ford was born 100 years ago today in Sainte-Christine-d’Auergne, Quebec, Canada. Yes, the All-American star was actually Canadian, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1939. That same year, Ford signed a contract with Columbia Pictures and began a long, prosperous career with the studio. After getting noticed in films like HEAVEN WITH A BARBED WIRE FENCE, SO ENDS OUR NIGHT, and TEXAS (his first Western), Ford took a break from acting and joined the Marine Corps to serve in World War II.

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After the war, Glenn Ford was one of Hollywood’s top leading men. He hit it big with 1946’s GILDA, co-starring Rita Hayworth in what may very well be the first true film noir. Soon he found himself the hero in a string of successes: FRAMED, MAN FROM THE ALAMO, THE BIG HEAT , BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, JUBAL, and TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON. But my favorite Ford role casts him…

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Arleigh’s Top Ten (……TV Shows) of 2012


With each passing year my TV viewing habits have begun to change. I used to watch mostly network shows with the occasional premium cable channel series here and there. In the last couple years it’s been more of the opposite. I watch less and less of whatever the top networks are showing and instead have taken most of my TV viewing pleasure from basic and premium cable channels. Only one show from the big networks makes my Top Ten TV shows of 2012.

The ten shows I’ve picked as best of 2012 arrive on this list in no particular order. They’re just numbered to keep things organized…

  1. Community – This show is the only network series to make my list and it’s well-deserving. The show has garnered such a huge cult following that seems to confuzzle those who still haven’t jumped on the Community bandwgaon. The show’s hilarious and full of pop-culture and geek culture references that each new episode we see something crazy and new from showrunner Dan Harmon and his crazy crew of writers and and, even moreso, talented ensemble cast. The fact that despite low ratings each season it’s been on the air since it premiered just show’s the power of it’s fans to tell the NBC network to keep the show for another season (maybe another more after this upcoming 4th). Plus, the show has Annie’s Boobs.
  2. Justified – This was the series that premiered three years ago with a pedigree that most networks would kill to have on it’s show. You had acclaimed tv screenwriter Graham Yost as series creator and showrunner. The show was adapated from a series of Elmore Leonard novels featuring the character of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (who also had critics favorite Timothy Olyphant in the role). The first two season’s were major hits for the series. This past year’s third season couldn’t match up to the great season 2 that earned Margo Martindale an Emmy for her role as the devious and cold-blooded matriarch of the Bennett Clan, but it did more than hold it’s own by introducing an outsider to the mix of Kentucky-grown characters in Neal McDonough’s Detroit mobster and deviant criminal mastermind Robert Quarles. the interaction between Olyphant’s Raylan Givens, McDonough’s Quarles and Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder was some of 2012’s best tv moments.
  3. Doomsday Preppers – This series has become a sort of guilty pleasure for me, but despite that label it’s also one of the best shows on TV. The premise of the show may sound ludicrous and hilarious at first glance. I mean it’s a series that details in each episode a couple of families who have taken to extremes their attempts to prepare for whatever doomsday will befall in world in the near future. See, it sounds like a reality tv show that’s tailor-made for what elitists would consider the redneck and uneducated section of America. The truth of the matter is that the show’s ludicrous premise also is it’s strength. We may laugh, at first, at the families who have gone to extremes to create survival shelters, home grown food stocks and other means to survive a catastrophe. While we laugh the show does point out that whether a disaster happens soon or later the very survival preparations and techniques these families make become learning tools for the viewing audience. We won’t need to go to such extremes, but the fact that we laugh at these people while we have no clue how to survive when catastrophe strikes means the joke is on us and not on the Doomsday Preppers.
  4. The Walking Dead – Speaking of doomsday, this show on AMC seems to be the show that, like it’s zombified monsters, survives it’s own producers and writers attempts to kill it off. This year saw the second half of the show’s season 2 minus it’s original creator and showrunner as Frank Darabont was fired. The show continued to pull in great ratings despite being on basic cable and writing that tended to lean towards average with frustrating characters the audience would rather see die than survive the show’s zombie apocalypse. But something miraculous happened this year and that’s the show’s newest showrunner in Glen Mazzara simplified Darabont’s more deliberate and existential narrative style and tone for the show. Under Mazzara the show’s first haf of the 3rd season saw more action and characters actually becoming more complex and nuanced. There’s been less exposition dumps to tell the audience what’s going on. The show has also amped the danger towards the characters as we saw not one but  many characters die before the season even hit the halfway mark. The show’s writing still has a ways to go, but no show on TV can match The Walking Dead in sheer tension and watercooler moments that fans (and even detractors) were left wanting more and more everytime a Sunday ended.
  5. Sons of Anarchy – The show by showrunner Kurt Sutter that was original billed as “Hamlet meets Hell’s Angels” had one of it’s better season in 2012 as we saw the biker gang SAMCRO finally split into two camps. On one side is the former President of the club Clay Morrow (played by Ron Perlman) and newest club President Jax Teller (played by Charlie Hunnam), the son of the club’s original founder John Teller, standing on the opposite side. The show returned to it’s Shakespearean roots in 2012 as we saw Jax try to maneuver SAMCRO away from it’s illegal enterprises and away from the clutches of the not just the CIA, but the Mexican cartels, rival biker gangs and inner-city crime lords. The series saw the departure of a fan favorite character in one of the most brutal and vicious deaths on TV, but also one that was necessary to push Jax into becoming more ruthless and cold-blooded in dealing with his club’s enemies. Sons of Anarchy is also aired on the FX Channel which makes it such a powerful bookend to it’s fellow series in Justified for the basic cable network.
  6. South Park – Matt Stone and Trey Parker continues to insult all and everyone. The show benefits from this and it hasn’t changed in 2012. The show looked to be slowing down after an uneven 2011, but came back strong in 2012. There’s nothing else to be said other than a show that can come up with an episode that has Honey Boo Boo and Michelle Obama in the same episode and make it all come off as hilarious and thought-provoking deserves to be on everyone’s top ten tv shows of 2012.
  7. Deadliest Catch – Discovery Channel’s long-reality series about crab fishermen in the dangerous waters of the Bering Strait and the Arctic Circle continues to be one of the best reality series on TV. It’s simple premise of just showing the rigors, dangers and the toll the job of crab fishing in the Arctic Sea continues to lure fans old and new alike back to the series each new year. It’s definitely a show that puts down anyone who thinks they have a hard job. Nothing is harder than a job these men do where every moment can literally be the moment that something will happen that will take their life. It’s must-see TV (well except for Lisa Marie with the pitching ships and heavy seas and stormy waves).
  8. Boardwalk Empire – The show that details the rise and fall and rise again of Atlantic City’s man behind the scenes Nucky Thompson during the 1920’s continues to be one of TV’s best shows and continues HBO’s almost two decade of fine, quality original tv programming. We find Steve Buscemi in fine form as the corrupt city treasurer Nucky Thompson whose actions in season 2 creates major ripple effects for 2012’s season 3. While the latest season wasn’t on the same level as 2011’s season 2 it’s uneven slow burn for most of it’s season 3 run culminated in a bloody and tense-filled affair as Nucky’s penchant for surviving leads to an almost Michael Corleone-level of retribution by season’s end.
  9. Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin. A Clash of Kings. Three baby dragons. Peter Dinklage. Arya and Stannis Lannister. Battle of Blackwater Bay. Neil Marshall. Sexposition. Ice zombies. Nothing else need to be said. One of the best shows of 2012, if not, the best show of 2012 period.
  10. Archer – The most out there and down right funny show on TV in 2012 was the FX Channel’s animated series Archer. It’s a an animated series that spoofs the spy franchises like James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the like, but also being one of the raunchiest shows on TV and making it all come off as hilarious. Whether it’s the title character’s child-like behavior despite being the show’s top spy or the pyromaniac and autoerotic-fixated agency secretary Cheryl, the show’s cast of characters are all so memorable that the show doesn’t even need to have celebrity guest stars to try and pull in viewers, but they do it anyway with one being Burt reynolds himself playing as himself and bringing back memories of why Burt was considered the “star’s star in his heyday””. The man is just smooth as velvet and cool as ice.

So, these were my Top Ten shows on 2012. The FX channel definitely made it’s mark by getting three shows into the list with HBO running second with two. I know there’s a major omission of Breaking Bad in this list, but I thought the new season (really just the first half of the final season with the second half due later in 2013) was a letdown after blockbuster of a season 4. It seemed more like a first half that was table-setting for what looks to be the show’s final 8-episode this year to put the show to bed on a blaze of glory.