Kingsman: The Golden Circle (****) – Viva Las Vegan

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle – 2017

Director Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman
Starring  Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Edward Holcroft, Bruce Greenwood, Emma Watson, Sophie Cookson

So the question about the sequel is what you can do to surprise your audience. The first time I heard that Firth was going to be reprising his role as Harry (Firth) in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, my heart sank a little. Having him come back is ridiculous enough on its face. We now know that no one is really permanently gone if the groundswell wants them back. That it couldn’t have been at least kept a secret made the whole movie melodramatic, no matter what happens. Imagine how different The Empire Strikes Back would be if we went back to Ben in the promotional materials. Luke’s development would not be expected at all.

That’s the way I saw Eggsy (Edgerton) before watching this film. Fortunately, Matthew Vaughn starts the second Kingsman film with the mindset on further pushing Eggsy’s learning curve. The events that conspire to leave Eggsy and Merlin (Strong) together are a nice beginning for those who enjoyed seeing how they survived the first story. In the first act, we see Eggsy has stayed with the Princess. That is even more of a surprise for those who expected him to be coming home to Roxy (Cookson). It’s a strong Moneypenny on steroids feeling, seeing the smoldering Cookson in her conservative Kingsman uniform. It is even worse when we think now it likely will never happen.

The antagonist this time is an entertaining (for her) Moore as Poppy, a drug kingpin. Moore is way less shrill than I am used to seeing her, but then, she knows she’s not in contention for an Oscar here. Her plan seems kind of silly. I can’t say there aren’t more than a few people who would agree with the President (Greenwood) hanging back a beat or two. For the second time in a row, I can’t wait to see the plan work.

There is an occasion for the Kingsman to head to the US and visit their cousins, The Statesmen, lead by Bridges, Tatum, Pascal and Berry. I can’t say that the Statesmen add anything substantial to the mix, other than Pascal with his lasso.

The economy of characters dictates with the introduction of so many new characters, it is necessary to get rid of some others. This will be a tough sell for many, especially given the return of Harry and the presence of an Alpha Gel making no one truly being gone.

I enjoyed this film, even if it, surprisingly seems less violent than the original. It’s still one of the most violent films of the year, but it’s quite a comedown.

There is another more potentially more offensive scene regarding a tracking device placement. I cannot speak to this other than to say I would not like to have the same thing happen to me. Comparing this to the “If you save the world” statement of the Princess in the first film is to compare apples to oranges in the Garden of Eden. The mystery to me is that a film maker like Vaughn would have a need to go for shock at this stage in his career. There is so much more to enjoy in this film than a scene of that nature.

In a more refreshing sense, Elton John makes his best movie appearance ever. I say this only knowing about 4 films that he’s been in and never watching in him more than in this film. Every scene he’s in is not one you’d expect of one of his status.

There is no dip in quality or effort in this film. If you enjoyed the first one and can willingly suspend disbelief when it comes to characters that come and go, you should have no problems here. Vaughn’s sense of humor, understanding of visual flair and development of character is still on point here. I do think it would be interesting to see if he can curb his riskier tendencies to input juvenile references for a point. That may just land him a Marvel or Star Wars film. That would be a sight to see.

(**** out of *****)

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Leatherface (*) is a product of diminishing returns…

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Leatherface – 2017

Director  Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Screenplay Seth M. Sherwood
Starring Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Vanessa Grasse, Finn Jones, Sam Strike, Sam Coleman, James Bloor, Jessica Madsen

It comes from a place where someone that’s a fan of the series really wants to show us that they’ve thought about everything logically, when the original story didn’t demand that much in the way of logic or explanation. Characters are given an amount of reason or motivation that isn’t required. Why do they do this? Well, we’re going on movie #8, with this, its second attempt at a prequel. This one is a pre-prequel, so to speak. They gotta talk about something with all of that killing they’ve been doing.  Or do they?

This one starts off in 1955. The Sawyer family is still sick and demented. They kill a guy horribly for “stealing” from them. Next thing we see are the kids leading half of a romantic couple to her death in a barn. That teenage girl happens to be the daughter of Texas Ranger Hal Hartman (Dorff) isn’t good for the Sawyers. Hartman takes all of the rage out on Mama Verna (Taylor) by stealing her kids away to Gorman Reformatory.

Ten years pass and there is a breakout. One of the Sawyers, Jed (Strike), escapes with his friend Bud, two other inmates and one of the nurses. What happens for the next two hours is wholly unnecessary in explaining what made Leatherface the thing he is by the time we first see him.

His mother / aunt is a freak, to be sure, but damn, no one in this movie is anything less than 3 cans short of a six-pack. As for the non Sawyers, what is the point, when they aren’t in the family? Why do we need any peripheral stories to distract from the story of a family of freaks who feed off of passers-by?

Rob Zombie’s Firefly Films took the wind out of that, story, so they tried a something different, and whiffed. There is an attempt at subterfuge that leads the viewer to a dead-end when you try to make sense of what you’ve seen in the past. Unless someone goes through a growth spurt past age 18, it is as ridiculous as anything else in the film.

This film is a mess, stylistically too. It takes place mostly in the dark, as if they’re trying to hide that their slashed budget required they film in Bulgaria. I am not sure it would have helped to shed any light on it though. To say this series has gone far enough is pointless. They can keep going around in circles in the woods for the next 40 years and people will still find ways to put these films out.

(* out of *****)

 

 

American Made (***1/2) Liman and Cruise in Scorsese mode

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American Made – 2017

Director Doug Liman
Screenplay Gary Spinelli
Starring Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones, Alejandro Edda, Mauicio Mejia, Connor Trinneer, Jed Rees

Watching Tom Cruise move through the quick cuts of Doug Liman’s story about Barry Seals secret life of transporting weapons, taking pictures for the Feds and drugs for the cartels is entertaining as hell. It doesn’t matter that it amounts to what the director calls “a fun lie based on a true story.” The general principles behind the story are true, for the most part. Our government working against its own best interests is not a new story, nor is it all that surprising. If you want to see a lighter take on a dark period that wreaked havoc on our society even to this day, you could do worse.

Liman isn’t breaking new ground here. He’s essentially making a Scorsese based on real life drama. We get to see an almost comical series of interested parties making use out of a guy who is extremely good at getting airplanes in and out of remote locations. Whether you find this amusing will depend somewhat upon your experience with the result of all of the laws broken and drugs that were brought into this country. This man’s actions affected an astonishing amount of this country’s citizenry.

My perspective is informed by my pessimistic nature and the thought if it wasn’t happening one way, it would have happened some other way.

Liman handles the material expertly. In fact, this is significantly better than two of
Scorsese’s more popular versions of this type of story, Casino and Wolf of Wall Street. Some of the scenes are absurd and their truth can rightly be questioned. Riding away from a crash landing in a neighborhood while covered with cocaine is first on my mind in this category. The acting is solid, however, and the script doesn’t perform any miracles, but doesn’t try to get all that fancy, either. The affect overall is a good movie.

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Cruise navigates the content quite easily. His charm is reserved to some flashes of that grin here and there. His main job is to just be amazed that not only he hasn’t been caught, but the another group wants to throw money at him. He might have done more with this if he’d had any actor or character to challenge him more than Gleeson, Wright  or even one of the cartel kingpins.

Essentially, if you love Goodfellas, you’ll like this one. If it’s not your cup of tea, skip it.

(***1/2 out of *****)

 

 

Atomic Blonde (***) – John Wick for chicks

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Atomic Blonde – 2017

Director David Leitch
Screenplay Kurt Johnstad based on The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, Sam Hart
Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Til Schweigher, Eddie Marsan, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave, Roland Møller

 

There have been a few efforts to make Charlize Theron into an action star. Some of them good, like Mad Max Fury Road, The Huntsman, etc. while others, like Æon Flux, weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. This time around, using the physics intelligence of David Leitch, a stuntman, action coordinator and half of the team that revived Keanu Reeves career with John Wick and John Wick 2she’s doing the smart thing by not aiming high with her kicks.

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Based on a graphic novel I will likely never read, Atomic Blonde is about the underworld of Berlin just before the end of the Cold War. There is a list that is compromised, double agents who kill other agents and cross even more agents and tons of carefully scripted, but altogether exhilarating fight scenes. Theron looks absolutely vulnerable, yet altogether plausible in a role that requires her to fight about 1/3 of the number that Reeves faced in the first John Wick film, maybe 1/5 that of the second.

The point to the film is not the plot. It really doesn’t matter what’s going on. There is absolutely no resonance when one of the guys in the briefing room threatens that the cold war could go on another 20 years because of the MacGuffin. We know the wall is about to fall, no matter what. Absolutely no one cares why Theron’s MI-6 Agent Lorraine Broughton is made to face the onslaught of men in scene after scene. The importance to the viewer is the originality of the backdrops, choreography and kills.

In this capacity, Theron has it in spades. The same feeling we have in Reeves’ films, Leitch brings into Theron’s performance. First, it looks like she’s doing her own stunts, and damn she looks tired about the same time you’d think being beaten about the body, head and neck would make one wear down. She trained extensively, even with Reeves, who was in the midst of filming the latter Wick film. She even cracked her teeth from clenching. Sounds like dedication, and it shows.

She’s not knocking people out with one punch, or anything along those lines of bull. She fights ferociously and dirty. She uses anything she can, hitting men repeatedly. Very few of her punches, while effective, are critical blows. This forces her to have to fight the same people at different times throughout sequences.

Every one of the fight scenes are finely attuned, while looking real, for the most part. I particularly enjoyed the fact that men she fought and severely wounded in earlier parts of the film found their way back for another round at later times.

What I didn’t enjoy as much were all of the interrogation scenes. Giving the Tarantino effect of showing the scenes out-of-order doesn’t do much for suspense when one sees which persons made it out of the fight scenes before they happen. A more inspired storytelling technique would have served everyone better.

McAvoy is okay as Percival, who is Broughton’s Berlin contact. We know he’s shady. The story never stops pounding this point through. I am not a huge fan of McAvoy at this point, and I suppose it may be that I find his recent trend of characters to have exposed instead of expanded his range. He’s fine, though, if you like him.

The rest of the speaking parts (read: those not getting a knife, kick or bullet from Broughton) are all unspectacular. If we aren’t seeing great fights, we’re being bored with exposition. It’s a trade that some feel is necessary. I think not. If anything, her experience on Fury Road showed that if you have a good momentum, you can thrive without being bogged down by the same story warmed over.

The soundtrack is loud, and occasionally fitting of the mood and the action. It’s a little on the predictable side, but I am sure there are some out there who haven’t heard multiple versions of 99 Luftballoons, Major Tom or Der Komissar.

In all, it’s a good film that could have been great. What motivates a woman so glamorous as Theron to continually put herself in the line of fire is a mystery to me. If she keeps at it with this kind of coordination, I won’t mind her trying.

(*** out of  *****)

 

The Midnight Meat Train (**) before he was Bradley Cooper and after he was Clive Barker

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The Midnight Meat Train – 2008

Director Ryuhei Kitamura
Screenplay Jeff Buhler based on the short story by Clive Barker
Starring  Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, Ted Raimi, Vinnie Jones, Tony Curran

Watching The Midnight Meat Train is a weird feeling. Looking back at Bradley Cooper before he found his acting mojo, he still seems like a kid here, even though he was already over 30. He has more than enough intensity to make up for any charismatic shortcomings. Still, it’s almost like watching someone else.

The story is ridiculous. Cooper, as a photographic “artist”named Leon, is set up with a potential sponsor (Shields) who gives him some marching orders on who and what to look for to make his art worth putting ion a gallery.

He then takes it upon himself to head out in to the city at night in search of new subjects. In the process, he makes his way into the subway and stops an assault. The girl he saves then kisses him, gets on a train, and then is quickly overcome by the “Subway Butcher,” named Mahogany (Jones).

His girlfriend Maya (Bibb) sees pictures of the girl and points out that she has been reported missing. Thus starts a spiral that leads Leon, May and their friend Jurgis (Bart) into the path of Mahogany.

It’s a script that writes itself. The only thing you get to look forward to are the incongruities. Why are some people butchered gruesomely, and others left hanging, so to speak?  What are the markings on the chest? How does the train get cleaned up so quickly. How in the hell is the butcher himself looking spick-and-span by the time he ambles home?

We aren’t watching this for logic, then, are we. I don’t think I have ever seen a Clive Barker story that cornered the marked on rational thinking. The point here is to get gruesome, cruel and to splatter everywhere.

None of the actors, outside of Cooper, are anywhere close to Oscar caliber here. In that way it matches everything else about the film. We are not looking for Bill Shakespeare, as my friend the Grouchnapper might say.

So for those who like blood flying to and fro, I suppose there might be something of value here. Ted Raimi has a particularly memorable scene, and they can’t kill some people fast enough. The fight scenes are too disjointed to get much enjoyment from.

There is a legend about this film, for no other reason than that it was shelved shortly before its theatrical release and relegated straight to video. Some say it was an injustice. I think it was likely the most clinical dissection of the film possible. It’s as good as anything Barker ever wrote, and that’s not saying much.

For all the positive press received for the film Kitamura hasn’t exploded onto the scene since this film. His star has held steady in the middle of the road. As neat as it is for a head that’s been beaten off to look back at one’s body and it’s killer in high def, I can only think every blow I have ever received to my head resulted in blurred vision at best.

As for Cooper, he’s probably lucky this one didn’t hit it big. He didn’t have to wait much longer after this for The Hangover, and it’s all been a smooth train ride since then. If this had resonated beyond the horror at home crowd, he may never have found his true calling as an actor.

(** out of *****)

Blade Runner 2049 (****) chooses life

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Blade Runner 2049 – 2017

Director Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto

There is a very strong theme in Blade Runner 2049 that helps to make its predecessor a better film. Of course, just defining what version of the movie Blade Runner is the predecessor would be a boon for those who enjoyed the series. In this particular case, we’re going to go with The Final Cut, as discussed with my friend WeMissE earlier this month. In that version, the last thing we see is a decisive Deckard (Ford) picking up the girl and heading to the elevator.

Picking up 30 years later, we have a new Blade Runner, named K, who is hunting down the rest of the Nexus 8 model Replicants, who had escaped an attempted purge shortly after the events of the first film. What happened to the rest of the Model 6’s, or even Model 7’s for that matter remains unasked and unanswered.

In an effort to avoid giving anything away, it can be stated that one of the 8’s is found right off the bat. He presents a twist right away. This will likely be common knowledge soon, but it was nice for me not to know right away, so I will not ruin it. If the first thing we learn is not enough, a bigger secret is revealed shortly there after. The knowledge of the secret sets K off on a voyage of discovery which leads him to ask questions more overtly, but no less entertainingly than with Harrison Ford’s Deckard.

On the side of humanity, we have Robin Wright’s Lt. Joshi. Her motives are simple, whatever it takes to keep the bio-engineered humans in line. She is not a cruel person, but her methods are blunt and merciless. She feels knowledge of the secret is a powder keg necessary to extinguish before it explodes.

In their own category of interest, we have Niander Wallace (a wholly overcooked Leto) and his number 1, Luv (Hoeks). They follow K’s progress closely, interfering when they need to. It’s made very obvious who that bad guys are from the beginning, the other mystery is only a little harder to figure.

Mystery is not the main point of Blade Runner, though. It’s atmosphere, feeling and, to a lesser extent, philosophical questions on the nature of existence. What makes a human, human?  What makes a Replicant potentially more so?

As the evolving K, Gosling has never been more suited for a role. His look , a mixture of earnest curiosity and casual disconnect conveys the drive of someone looking to connect the dots. Whether you know what is coming up or not, it’s easy to follow and be drawn into his quest. While it’s never quite clear the connection he has with his virtual girlfriend, Joi (de Armas), it the sense of yearning is easy enough for us to connect. His reaction to others is interesting, too. His sense of vulnerability, even when there are things he’s clearly superior at, gives more to the plot than a million words could.

Hoeks is the most riveting presence of the rest of the cast. Her Luv has a clear sense of purpose that is a fresh contrast to the rest of the cast. She marches through the film like Famke Janssen in Goldeneye, only without the ridiculous puns.

Dave Bautista’s somber performance as Sapper Morton is frustrating, if for no other reason than for the potential he shows with the character. One can see how nice it would have been to see more of him by watching him in the short 2048 – Nowhere to Run.

Blade Runner 2049 is a beautiful film. It is ponderous and vastly close in its recreation of the world created by Ridley Scott. While the original is good, with elements of noir and questioning of the way we treat those we deem different than us, it doesn’t give us enough of its most interesting character, Roy Batty.

This time, we have the benefit of more interesting characters, and a plethora of wonderful scenes that allow for us to enjoy the vast landscapes of futuristic earth and Ryan Gosling’s expressions.

Harrison Ford is better, too. You can actually feel his affection for Rachel now, when before it seemed like she was just an outlet for his desire, then. His take on love is a unique avenue.

One can feel the continuity between the films, but moreover this film feels like an improvement on the original by fleshing out and reinvigorating the story, with the same screenwriter in Fancher. Villeneuve understands and appears to love the world he’s inherited and he treats the viewer intelligently by not treading over the same ground.

The journey of Gosling is offset by the action scenes, especially between Replicants. There are no real amazing feats, but enough things that seem like they’d be hard to do. It does present a curiosity that has not been answered in two films.

What does it take to kill a Replicant? Sometimes its a well placed shot. Sometimes a few hits in the right places. Sometimes, a knife being run up the side through the rib cage doesn’t even do it. Near as I can tell, the only thing that does end one is when the plot point requires them to be gone.

As for the freaky creator figure, Wallace is on par with Joe Turkel’s Tyrell. He is more annoying, for all of Leto’s need to make sure he’s completely method. He has so few scenes where he actually moves, it’s funny to hear he spent so much time actually blinding himself. In the end, he moved his head around weird and talked in a stupid tone. Not any of this added anything to the film. I am sure that he got something out of it, but the audience does not.

If there is something else to observe, it’s that there still seems to be no role for a fully functional woman. This time, we have a toothless authority figure (Wright) who is drawn to K. We have a completely doting and pliant Joi, who provides nothing but (literally) hollow platitudes and dedication to K. That leaves my favorite, Luv. She is straight badass. None of these characters develop in any way.

The simple argument is that they are peripheral characters. The first film has Deckard and Batty taking the journey, and 2049 has K and Deckard again. If we follow simple logic, it is just he economy of characters. We can’t care about Rachel, Zhora or Pris or their counterparts because the story is not really about them. Until one of them has died…

Like I said, it’s not so much a criticism as an observation.

The film is longer by 3/4 of an hour, but this is augmented by the gorgeous camera work of Roger Deakins. The soundtrack works better for me and seems less dated. One finds it very easily drawn into the investigation with K. We know where he’s intending to go, but we never quite know where he’ll end up.

There’s a lot here for people who loved the first film. For those who just liked it, like yours truly, this bridges some gaps. Not sure where they can go with the next film, if there is one with the same writer, it is sure to be interesting.

(**** out of *****)

 

Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown (****) and Victoria & Abdul (***): Two pieces of a life continued

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Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown – 1997
Victoria & Abdul – 2017

Director (HMMB) John Madden, (V&A) Stephen Frears
Screenplay (HMMB) Jeremy Brock, (V&A) Lee Hall
Starring (HMMB) Judi Dench, Billy Connolly, Antony Sher, Geoffrey Palmer, Richard Pasco, David Westhead, Gerard Butler
(V&A)  Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Olivia Williams, Tim Pigott-Smith

Seeing that Dame Judi Dench had reprised her role as latter-day Victoria 20 years after her first go-round must have been interesting to some. The first film grossed about 9 million world-wide, and this time it’s bordering on 5x that much. The passage of time has helped, one would guess. There is a much deeper appreciation for one of the best actresses of our time. Also, one could guess, there has been a swath of people who enjoyed the first film through other media. After having watched both in one day, I am glad that there can be sequels to movies about a Queen in the twilight of her reign, even if the sequel amounts to a little less of the same.

The first film, Her Majesty Mrs. Brown, is a measure of acting by three actors.

Dench earned an Oscar nomination for her role as Queen Victoria. To be sure, she gives a complete performance here. She’s a woman who’s given everything that she doesn’t quite want and by now mostly expects in her life. The thing she wants most, however, is the her husband. When we see her first, she’s in her third year of mourning Prince Albert. The film immediately brings in someone her husband had an immense fondness for in Scottish servant, John Brown (Connolly). The power of the film is presented in their subtle development of their relationship. It is really quite impressive because Connolly’s Brown is not a subtle man in the slightest.

Running earnestly roughshod through the lives of Victoria and her court, he ruffles feathers and gets panties in a bunch. While he never quite wins over the rest of the household, he certainly does win the affections of the Queen. It is a testament to Madden, Connolly and especially Dench that this never trips into areas that are really unknown. We see that there is genuine affection between both of them, but the public face is never quite revealed. This is the strength of the film and story. The public face of Victoria is never more than propriety, but it is never shown to be someone locked in the castle, either. She is a monarch, to be sure.

For his part, Connolly is incredibly engaging and committed to the performance. That he did not receive more substantial roles as a result of this film is a crime. He shows strength, perception and vulnerability in his role as a man who doesn’t realize he’s reached beyond his station in life. I truly enjoyed Connolly in this and every role I have seen him in and hope that somehow we see more of him.

The third winning performance is that of Antony Sher as Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Sher’s performance is a surprise to me, but apparently not to those who have seen him perform live. His Disraeli is a man of most lethal cunning, kind of Bill Clinton for the time. To be sure, you’d rather have him on your side, than working against you. It’s apparent that he’s got more going on than he reveals no matter to whom he is speaking. His charm, however, is undeniable. It’s born of intelligence that most around him just don’t have. If one compares the way Brown works the rest of the people in his life and is so completely out-maneuvered by Disraeli, the effect is immense and obvious.

To be sure, he is not a villain. He is the prime minister of a country whose constitution requires a monarch. More importantly, his party requires her conservative influence, which is lacking in the years since her husband’s death. Sher reveals all of the measures of these influences, and throws in a little arrogance for good measure. It’s a role I have enjoyed more with the passage of time.

Madden would go on to win an Oscar for directing in his very next film, Shakespeare in Love. He would also achieve modest financial success with many of his films until striking gold with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel. His talent is in coaxing great performances out of good actors and classic performances from great actors. There are some beautiful scenes, but nothing that brings as much wonder as seeing the balance of power shift between Victoria, John, Benjamin and the people that surround them.

His portrayal of the people surrounding The Queen and Brown is more nuanced than one might expect, after years of Julian Fellowes productions come and gone. We are given subtle looks of concern and a smattering of ignorance. More importantly, we see John Brown overstep his bounds among the servants and the family, essentially presenting himself on a perch from which to be knocked off. When he does finally get a beating, two smart things happen. The director doesn’t make it obvious who may have done it and he also doesn’t play pity points for Brown. This only serves to make his relationship with the Queen less black and white. And that is good.

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Somewhat more obvious and less dramatic are the events of Victoria & Abdul. Historians and anglophiles alike were granted a repeat showing of the relationship between Brown and Queen Victoria. In life, it seemed an even more questionable relationship between what was possibly a charlatan and his target demographic: an older, forgotten person. Whether there is a certain truth to it, or it was the product of subtle historic racism is a question worth asking. It’s not a question that is asked as much here.

This time, we see an older, more defeated and seemingly lost Victoria, who confides to missing both her husband and John Smith terribly. This rings curious when one considers how distant she was toward the end of Smith’s life. Dench, however, is up to the task of making us relate to her misery. The opening shows the viewer an old, overweight woman who is being pushed through each day. The scene in the dining hall is a comic masterpiece, from the little boy running screaming his head off, to the adults running and screaming their heads off, to the Queen eating in a rapid pace compared to her guests right up to the point when she falls asleep mid meal.

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The meeting and eventual friendship of the Queen and Abdul Karim (Fazal) seems a little rushed, compared to the straightforward negotiations between Smith and Victoria. The script appears to have its mind on other things, such as establishing the fact that Abdul is not a Hindu, but instead he is a peaceful Muslim. To the film’s credit, the scenes feel less political and more instructional.  There are no sideways jabs at Muslim phobia, it’s just plain old British panties in a bunch and the teasing of potential ribaldry.

This is also the place where the film differs from the more dramatic John Smith. It feels like Dench is the only actor that is caught up in a drama. Everyone around her seems to be in a comedy. This works, for the most part, if you’re not expecting Shakespeare. And I do mean Shakespearean comedy.

The scenery and images are sublime, and seeing Dench’s extension of her character works right up until the point where she gives her last speech, removing any of the doubt of her cognitive abilities.

It would have been more interesting if they’d left the question of her senility out there unanswered. And maybe if Abdul had some amount of depth to his character, maybe some question of his sincerity…

There’s none of that here, though. We get Fazal playing straight up and honest, to the point that his buddy and partner Mohammed (Akhtar) keeps thinking they have a chance to go home soon. This would lend itself to everyone being straight up. Having the Queen insist on calling him Munshi (teacher) removes any amount of character he might have accumulated in working an angle. Everything that happens makes him look the part of a puppet on a string. This is to the detriment of the story, but it works as comedy.

What doesn’t work as much is Izzard as the woeful Bertie. His character, as written, is even more incompetent than he was in Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown. Westhead’s Bertie takes a tongue lashing from Brown, but is otherwise rather unspectacular. In the new story, Izzard, Hall and Frears never pass up an opportunity to make Bertie appear to be the most incompetent of boobs.

The rest of the cast spends most of their time looking worried, offended or both. There is one particularly effective scene when Miss Phipps shows herself to be the lone voice of reason among the staff. For her trouble, she is granted the reward of giving the Queen an ultimatum that she had no part in deciding.

This is Dench’s show though, and she doesn’t waste her opportunity. Her understanding of the character is complete, to the point where we feel we literally know the Queen of England through the latter half of her life in watching these two films. The growth she shows from the first until the last scene feels authentic and weathered. Madden and Frears allow her the freedom to look completely uncomfortable with her lot in life.

It’s unclear whose decision it was to make it look like the Queen was completely washed from the sins of the oppression of the British Empire over their subjects. It’s a thin line to walk, making her so innocent, observant and wise at once. It doesn’t serve the story, but it definitely gives us the ability to see how brilliantly she can play it.

These films are not to be missed, if you want to see a master at her best. If forced to choose, I will take Connolly, Sher and Dench over Dench by ostensibly by herself.

Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown (**** out of *****)
Victoria & Abdul (*** out of *****)

Adams and Jefferson on Movies: The Exorcist and its true sequel, Legion (Part 2 – Extended Editions)

 

ExIII Legion

CoolPapaE:

First off, watching both stories at least twice in the space of a week, I can almost smell cigarette smoke wafting everywhere in my imagination. I know it was a different time, from 1990 and back, but seeing the different situations where cigarettes are presented became nauseating. Everyone had to just smell horrible. In part one, it’s funny seeing the priest Karras giving Chris (Burstyn) a cigarette. My priest as a kid in the 70’s, Father Donahoe, couldn’t wait to get out of service to light up. I never did see one of the other parishioners bum a cigarette off of him.

Karras Cig

Later there is a scene where Karras and Dyer swap a single cigarette back and forth as Father Dyer attempts to console him upon the loss of Karras’ mother. And that takes place in a small room over a bottle of Chivas Regal.

Exorcist III‘s Dr. Temple (Wilson) never has a cigarette out of his hand, no matter where he is in the hospital. In fact there is one scene when he leans over an ash tray and uses one cigarette to light the next. In his case, the cigarette is part of the character. It’s clear that Dr. Temples rather large ego has been damaged with his connection to the Gemini killer, and we see his obsession as a sign that he is indeed worse off than his patients when it comes to psychosis.

The cigarette usage through every version of the film make me ever so thankful they passed laws to prevent smoking in public buildings.

WeMissE:

Yes, the smoking was at times humorous, at other times repulsive.  I chuckled at the scene in the original film when Regan’s doctor comes out of the room where he has just administered one of those horrific, antediluvian tests, and has to stop and light a cigarette before he can share the results with Chris.  This poor woman is in anguish over her daughter’s condition, yet he can’t utter a single word until he gets that cancer stick crammed in his cake hole.  You are right that the constant chain-smoking was part of Dr. Temple’s character  in the sequel.  That unnatural, affected way that he always held the cigarette upright, almost level with his mouth, made me want to grab it from his hand and put it out in his eye.  Good God, that was annoying!

exIII temple.jpg

As far as the differences between the original and director’s cut.  In the case of the original film, I would say that the original theatrical release was already a nearly flawless film.   But the added scenes are nice.   In some cases, scenes that existed in the earlier version are just elongated.  The Iraq prologue with Father Merrin is fleshed out a bit more.  There is also an additional sequence with Regan being administered a medical test.  I like this scene because it adds to the progression of her condition, and reinforces the idea that the doctors were just following a diagnostic playbook, moving from test A to test B, and so on.   The so-called spider-walk scene, where Regan walks down the stairs in a position that seems to defy both anatomy and gravity, is definitely unsettling.

Perhaps the most interesting addition, and possible unnecessary one, is the conversation between Fathers Merrin and Karras on the stairs, after round one with the demon.  In the original film, they are just shown sitting in silence for a couple of seconds.  The extended version has Merrin offering his explanation for why the devil chose this girl, and what his intentions are.  Friedkin believed that the entire movie speaks this message.  Blatty, however, felt that the scene was integral to the story.   I do like the fact that when Merrin says the demon will make them doubt the existence of God, the camera is in close-up on Karras, who is experiencing those very doubts at that moment. But I tend to agree with Friedkin, that the priests sitting in silence is more powerful, and the message is not lost.   What do you think?

CoolPapaE:

Spot on. We know through the film that this is Karras’ test, from the moment that we see him with his aging mother. And what else is there to test a priest with than on his faith?

It is nice to have the spider-walk scene back, sans the wires that they lacked the ability to remove back in the original release. I also enjoy the padding to the Iraq scenes with Merrin. There are more subtle additions, like the dimming of the lights of Chris’s arrival home being accompanied by demonic imagery are also welcome.

The descent into madness for Regan is kicked off in a more intriguing way with the doctor revealing her first burst of profanity at the coaxing of Chris. The scene is a clever way of introducing the beginnings of the trauma to come.

The most incredible aspect to the updated release is the remastering of the sound and the film. There is a clarity I have never before experienced with the film, given that I never watched it in the theater. It adds a whole new dimension to the fear and agony.

Contrast this with the The Legion cut of Exorcist III which is a rough cut, to say the least. Most of the film’s additions are in the form of off-center, VHS dailies that are intriguing as much for what is missing as they are for what is there. First of all, where is Jason Miller? The haunted face of Father Karras is one of the key components that ties together this film to its predecessor. It’s Karras’ body and wounded soul that is paraded in front of us, with Dourif’s Gemini killer taking the reigns from within. In all the combination was off-putting in the best way.

The original cut seems to replace Miller completely with Dourif, making him the corpse of Karras as well putting him in the pictures of the young priest on the wall in the restaurant with Kinderman and Dyer. This would have damaged my experience of the film, to be sure. As good as Dourif’s performance is, I am glad that change was made, for whatever the reason.

Other scenes as added make the story more complete, like the explanation about the discovery of Brother Fain in Karras’ original coffin. It’s kind of strange to consider that no one bothered looking in the coffin before placing it in the ground, but I digress.

The ending is a strange compromise, too. I very much appreciate the complete removal of Nicol Williamson’s strange Merrin facsimile Father Morning. It was a strange, tacked on scene that served the purpose of satisfying the movie studio. It is replaced with the straight up murder of Dourif’s Karras by Kinderman. A little melodramatic, to be sure.

I do wish that they could have wedged in the “I Believe” scene, and maybe it was there in Karras’ original vision somewhere.

WeMissE:

Watching the so-called director’s cut of the sequel raised just as many questions as it answered.  In between the two versions, one could cull together the pieces of a pretty good film. But there is still something lacking.  You already touched on the absence of Jason Miller from the director’s cut.  If the film had been released that way, I would have been so confused.

I couldn’t agree more that the movie loses nothing with the elimination of Father Morning.  That character was so clearly created to remind viewers of Merrin in the first film.  And really, an exorcism is out-of-place here.  That is not the kind of confrontation that is going on here.   This is much more about Kinderman.   I suppose it would have been nice if Scott’s final speech could have been included in the director’s cut, but overall I prefer the more quiet, and sudden ending of the director’s cut to the bombastic original version, which again seemed an attempt in some ways to echo the original film.

So in the case of the original movie, we get an extended cut that doesn’t need to exist at all, but still doesn’t detract from the power of the movie.  In the case of the sequel, we get a director’s cut that absolutely needs to exist, and yet still leaves the viewer somewhat unfulfilled.

 

 

 

Golden Sombrero: To Live And Die In L.A. (*) is just awful

livediela

To Live and Die in L.A. – 1985

Director William Friedkin
Screenplay Friedkin & Gerald Petievich based on the novel by Petievich
Starring Willem Dafoe, William L. Peterson, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, John Turturro, Darlanne Fluegel, Dean Stockwell, Jane Leeves, Jimmy Hart

“You ain’t my partner.  You ain’t even my fuckin’ friend!”

If they took every horrible thing about 80’s action movies and wrapped them into one package, you’d have To Live and Die in L.A.. Well, the soundtrack is good, at least. The cast is pretty good, too. They’re just not good at all in this film. Roger Ebert’s 4 star review helped to give the film a lift over the years, to the point that it has a 94% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Anyone who watches the film from the perspective of a rational human being  would barely be able to justify not laughing hysterically, much less giving the film half of that respect.

What’s wrong with the film?

Let’s start with the script. The film centers around Secret Service Agents. At first you’d think their job is protecting President Reagan, since you hear him giving a speech as one of the agents, Richard Chance (Peterson) interrupts suicide bombing jihadist. The terrorist’s plot is further foiled by his partner, Greene (Hart) in a ridiculous display that should have ended up getting him killed. Instead, we have Greene telling Chance he’s getting too old for this shit as he rubs his shoulder afterward.

So, they’re protecting the president, right?

No, they’re tracking down Eric “Rick” Masters (Dafoe), a counterfeiter who is arrogantly displaying his prowess throughout the L.A. underworld…or maybe at the gym. Greene does one last stupid thing before he’s supposed to retire, and now Chance arrives just a few hours later with all the agents Greene should have had with him. Too late, his partner was shot in the face, with as cheesy a special effect as you could imagine in 1985. Really, though, there’s something wrong when a shotgun blast looks the same as a revolver blast did in 1971’s The French Connection.

We then find the agents breaking more laws and causing more damage than anyone they are trying to arrest. Part way through the film, one of the agents asks another why he doesn’t just go over to Masters’ house and shoot him. It would have caused a whole lot less grief for the characters, and the viewers.

Let’s talk about characters.

Chance takes the opportunity for revenge as a license to act like a complete asshole to just about everyone. His passion plays more like someone who’s beyond a coke binge. Peterson has charisma, but Friedkin pushes it to the side as often as he lets it shine. Several of his character’s decisions are downright stupid.

First, he lets his partner go off on his own for no justifiable reason. Next we see him busting a mule, Carl Cody (Turturro) in one of the most hilarious action scenes imaginable. First, he fires a shot past his target, then he inexplicably lets his guard down (not for the last time) as the guy knocks his gun away with a briefcase. As he’s cuffing him, a cop comes behind  and he completely turns his back on Cody while showing his credentials. Lucky for him Friedkin’s edit job made it to where Chance had already cuffed him before hand.

In Chance and his new partner Vukovich (Pankow), I think the French Connection director was going for an updated version of Popeye Doyle and Cloudy Russo. The result is painful to watch. Pankow, is clearly not a physical threat in any manner as Scheider’s Russo. In fact, he seems more like the kid brother who keeps asking you to wait as he tries to keep up. I spent more of the film thinking about his incredibly large forehead than I did enjoying his constant complaints to Chance about the laws they were breaking in pursuit of Masters.

As a duo, Chance and Vukovich could not be any less competent. They constantly take their eyes off the ball in crucial moments. Why? Mostly to provide a way to advance a chase, so they have something else to do. As officers of the law, I wouldn’t have these two watch a warehouse.

The plot is so obviously pointed towards having the two involved in a giant mess of a car chase, it’s incredibly funny to hear that they only netted $50k afterwords. The chase itself undoubtedly caused 20x that amount in damage. The car chase is the best thing in the film, until you realize it’s only so / so. Most of the time, Vukovich is moaning in the back seat. Did he get shot? No. He’s sad because someone they kidnapped got shot. It’s even dumber than that when you realize that the guy was a fellow agent.

Chance’s character feels like a complete mess. One can see moments where Peterson, in his second film after Michael Man’s Thief 4 years earlier, seems completely cognizant of his place in the scheme of things. The next thing you know, he’s forcing his informant / love interest to succumb to his “charms,” while eloquating about how good Quintin Dailey and Orlando Woolridge are compared to Michael Jordan. These days, we call that rape and bad basketball analysis.

Other highlights include figuring out the bellhop is a terrorist, confronting him and then offering to put his gun away so they can “talk.” Then there’s the time he ponders the thrill of cliff diving while driving against traffic.

Defoe is good and slimy here. He’s exactly what he should be, right up until he makes the fatal mistake of prolonging the final battle. Even at the time when I watched this as a teenager, he was the character I remembered most vividly. His character gets the benefit of being able to string two thoughts together without being sidetracked with guilt, a sudden realization or the desire to take his gun off the target. How he didn’t come out on top in this story is completely puzzling. Well, not really. The bad guy can’t really win, can he?

Speaking of the bad guy…William Friedkin might be the poster boy for how ego – among other things – can destroy a promising career. By the time he made this film, he had a steady stream of disasters in his wake. This was his 4th attempt at a comeback, after Sorcerer, The Brink’s Job, Cruising and Deal of the Century failed to resonate. It’s hard to figure out who else to blame for the failings of this movie than the guy sitting in the driver’s seat.

It’s clear when watching this film compared to The French Connection, there was a precipitous fall in execution, skill, just plain attention span with the man behind the camera. There are so many lapses in the story, the most consistent thing about it is the inconsistency. There is no one in this movie that I would purposely follow for more than 5 seconds, much less the 2 hour running time.

Which leads me to the question of why did I give it one star? The star is exclusively owed to the soundtrack, which is incredible, given the circumstances. The group Wang Chung, hired by Friedkin after he heard their previous album, wrote the majority of the music after watching a rough cut of the film. This serves it well, especially in the elongated opening sequence(s) and the chase scene.

The title song is the best song they ever produced in their long, and somewhat mediocre career. It adds more resonance and character than any of the characters deserve. I still don’t understand what the songwriters were seeing when they wrote such tender lines as:

I wonder why we waste our lives here
When we could run away to paradise

There is no sense that any of the people in this story would know the difference between wasting their lives and spending time in paradise. They seem to bring their own hell with them.

It’s pretty clear to me that Ebert was judging this film on its chase scene, his ignorance of counterfeiting and his seeming affinity for Friedkin, despite his flaws. His instinct for Peterson was a little bit higher in praise than I would give, but the guy has exhibited staying power. What everyone else was thinking when they praise this film, I have no clue. And I don’t want to waste any more of my life finding out.

(* out of *****)

 

Adams and Jefferson on Movies: The Exorcist and its true sequel, Legion (Part 1 – Theatrical Versions)

The Exorcist

CoolPapaE: 

In all honesty, I have had a lopsided feeling about the theatrical releases of these films for a long time. Watching them with you today helped right the ship a little bit. For the longest time, the movie in my wheelhouse had been the awkward but well acted Exorcist III. The reasons included the fact that the film came out right around the time we graduated and, frankly, I just grew warm to Scott’s and Flanders performances. There also was the feeling that it must be a pretty good film, given the person who wrote and directed it intended it to be the one true sequel to the original, Oscar nominated film. And really, even then I kind of felt like Friedkin was a little full of himself.

Time has made clear which is the superior film overall, when at many of its best points, the sequel mimics the ambiance of the original, right down to the sparse, almost non-existent score. So many films that have followed the original Exorcist have amped up the same themes, only more obvious and lacking much of the nuance.

Really, though, it’s amazing to consider this film as subtle. At the time, many thought it should have been given an X-Rating. The shock is there, to be sure. Many of the things that happened to and came out of the 12-year-old Linda Blair have not been seen on-screen since. That’s not what I am talking about, though.

One scene that differentiates it for me is when Fathers Merritt and Karras (von Sydow and Miller) take a break after their first, particularly brutal session together with Regan (Blair) and the Demon (McCambridge). Merrick decides to leave the room and Miller is set to leave with him. Instead, the camera stays with him as he tries to collect himself. A lesser film would have turned on the music to a creepy tone and seen the possessed turn to him and say something. Instead, we get his facial expression and her back. The result is more disconcerting than anything we’ve seen. It’s a man in complete turmoil over a crisis of faith.

the-exorcist-pic-42

Similarly, the Blatty directed sequel has effective moments of solitude. In particular, Father Dyer and Kinderman (Sanders and Scott) have a lunch in a Washington restaurant including such luminaries as Larry King and C. Everett Koop. When discussing the murder of Thomas Kintry, we see the camera move back and forth between the two men. We don’t need music to understand the wincing (starting at 1:10). These are hardened old men who still feel pain in the suffering of others. This is acting one doesn’t ever see in a  horror film, and it’s one reason why this film which is at least 50% works as well as it does.

WeMissE:   

I have always been a fan of the original movie, but every time I see it I notice more of its nuance.    This hardly qualifies as a horror movie as they are considered by today’s standards.  It has more subtlety and sentiment than any other movie of the genre that comes to mind.  I just wanted to mention a couple of the things that I noticed for the first time, watching it this time.

First of all, there are several scenes involving doctors, specialists, and psychologists.   They administer some tests that look medieval by today’s medical standards, and they attempt to rationalize and explain everything.  Every specialist is quick to offer a theory.  When Father Merrin arrives, he does not theorize, he does not ask questions.   He just begins putting on his garb, like a soldier of God girding up for battle.  The way Father Merrin is used in the movie is quite brilliant.  First of all we get the prologue in Iraq. Here we are shown, through a series of images with very little dialogue, that Father Merrin is uneasy.  He senses some disturbing presence, and it is one he recognizes.  Any other film would have had five minutes of exposition in which Merrin explained how he had performed an exorcism in the past, and so on.  We get the pleasure of reading of his past experiences in his eyes, as he watches two dogs fighting, as he stares at a strange horned statue.

Then Merrin disappears for over an hour.  We almost forget his existence, the rest of the story is so compelling.  When the church consents to the exorcism, they do so with the caveat that Merrin attend, because he is the only priest with known experience.  We then get a wonderfully filmed scene which shows a young priest run to Father Merrin and hand him a letter.  Obviously this is the letter summoning him to the exorcism.  He holds it in his hands for several seconds, turns it around, his body slumps a little in resignation, and he puts it in his pocket, unopened.  This is done in one uninterrupted long shot.  He doesn’t need to open it, he’s been preparing for this moment since he left Iraq.  His arrival at the house is made all the more iconic by the fact that he has been unseen for over an hour.

The_Exorcist_3

In Exorcist III, we also get moments of great subtlety.   The best scene in the movie plays out in a long shot, over several minutes, with almost no dialogue.  Blatty was taking a page out of Friedkin’s directorial book.  However, in several other scenes Blatty uses extremely conventional camera-set ups and cutting, and I think they diminish the film’s potential in a few cases.  Perhaps it is because he was a novice director, maybe he didn’t trust his ability to let scenes play out in long shots, over several minutes.  Maybe the studio’s re-cutting of the movie had some effect.  But the elements of a very good movie are all here, and the spirit of the original movie can be felt in moments.

CoolPapaE:

Yes, the elements are there. And it’s very frustrating. I enjoyed this film a lot more before re-watching Friedkin’s masterpiece. This time, it a little embarrassing. Especially the scenes surrounding the confessional. The priest’s cheesy reaction at hearing the confession is one thing, but the hysterical screaming of the lady being consoled almost comically by the man while the two kids looked on is laughable. It’s like something out of the files of Police Squad! and completely takes you out of the mood of the film.

Counter this with the long shot scene at the hospital with Nurse Keating, when we get to see the tension unfold almost helpless to do anything at all so far away. It’s like a different director entirely.

The one thing Blatty was most successful in carrying over is the sparse soundtrack. Both films do an excellent job of setting the mood just by allowing the shock of characters to settle soundlessly. If there is one thing that makes these films so directly connected to one another, it is this. The Keating scene is a wonderful example of this, all the way to the end, when you get one blaring tone which really brings home the shock.

exIII keating.jpg

Jason Miller is one actor who is in both films and he is excellent in both. He gets more to do in the first one. Really the film is as much about his journey as anything. The movement from assured member of the clergy to someone who doubts everything to one who makes the most Christ-like decision of self-sacrifice. The path is harrowing and it shows on his face.

We see an older, haunted face in the second film and it completely resonates. His spirit is drained, for the most part. Once more there is a journey, but this time it’s Kinderman who is pushing forward.

Which brings me to one awkward point between the two stories. There is an insistence that Kinderman and Karras were good friends, even going so far as to show them in one of those awkward mash-up pictures one only sees in movies. Since Kinderman only met Karras in his investigation of Burke Dennings, and Karras dies maybe a week later, it would stand to reason that they were never close.  This friendship doesn’t serve the story at all, since Father Dyer could have been the “close friend.” It really is only there to ratchet the tension once we meet “patient X.” I would think a passing resemblance to someone he knew but was not close to might have been as effective, if not more so. It’s an artificial bridge that I don’t think was necessary.

WeMissE:

Yes, I hadn’t noticed that strange implication that Kinderman and Karras were close friends when I watched the movie before, and it really makes no sense.  The truth is that Father Dyer and Kinderman became friends through Karras’ death.   A minor detail, but a strange decision nonetheless.   You talked about the haunted of face of Jason Miller and I think that is a great way of putting it.  One of the things that struck me in both films is that all of the priests have a world-weariness about them.  These are not the movie priests one is used to seeing, with kind, benevolent smiles.   They have grim, tired looks of resignation.  Somehow this helps with the overall tone of the movies.  This certainly doesn’t mean that the priests are bad, but rather that the world is bad.  These are priests who have seen evil, in forms both large and small, but find ways to carry on.

I have always been a big fan of Ed Flanders as an actor, and he had that quality of resignation and resolve in every role he played.  His Emmy-winning portrayal of Dr. Donald Westphal on TV’s St. Elsewhere is for my money the best performance ever in a dramatic show.   And his Father Dyer here has the same qualities.  This is a man who thinks the world is a pretty dark, foul place.  But he’s going to try to do a little bit of good, in his short time here, because it’s all he knows to do.   One wonders how much of that world-weariness was acting in the case of Ed Flanders, because he took his own life in 1995, shortly after his 60th birthday.

The absence of musical score is something that today’s filmmakers could learn from. Audiences have become so conditioned to an aural assault, that moments of quiet are actually more intense by contrast.  I also noticed this time how little we hear the famous “Tubular Bells” music in the first film.  It is so closely associated with the movie, and yet it is only heard three times through the entire course of the film, primarily over the closing credits.  And it is never used in a moment of terror, or fright.   The first time we hear it, Ellen Burstyn is just walking down the street on a sunny winter day.   Just that few seconds of music goes a long way in setting the tone of what is to come.   William Friedkin actually hired Lalo Schifrin to score original music for the movie, but when he heard it he fired Schifrin.  Snatches of this rejected score can be found online.  Friedkin made the right choice;  Schifrin’s score lacks subtlety, and to me is a blatant rip-off of Bernard Herrmann’s famous Psycho score.

CoolPapaE:

Ultimately watching both films in succession shows for me the difference between an experienced filmmaker and one that is creative, while maybe not as seasoned. Blatty only directed two films in his life. This was to be his last, and understandably so, if we take into consideration the amount the film was messed with during and after production. There is a clear set of scenes that seem tacked into the film and have no sense of space. I know a few of the scenes, like the exorcism with Father Morning, was not intended originally. I am thinking this  is just a result of input given from a studio to a person who lacked the gravitas to push back.

Friedkin, on the heels of his Academy Award win for The French Connection and directing his 6th movie, was never going to wield his power as effectively again. This film is as pure a vision as one could imagine. The film feels lean compared to today’s standards. The only places that seem out-of-place now are a matter of taste, perhaps. It’s not even the standards of decency which caused such a stir back when the film was released.

If perhaps they’d only swapped Regan out with the doll more fleetingly, or perhaps given us a glance at the actual death of the detestable Burke Jennings. It works exceptionally as it is, though.

WeMissE:

I understand your desire to see Burke die, he is such a pompous ass.  But I kind of like the way that Burke’s and Father Merrin’s deaths happen off-screen.  I think it gives more weight to Karras’ sacrifice, which we do get to witness.

So we are left with a film that is a classic, by pretty much any standard, and a film (with Exorcist III) that is full of moments that don’t quite add up to a cohesive whole.  Maybe the director’s cut will help to fill in some of the missing pieces.