Vulgar Display of Power Pt 4 (the Exorcist: The Beginning, 2004)

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Where was there to go, but back to the beginning? Father Merrin is on an archeological dig and having a crisis of faith.  He is brought into see a Christian Church where none should be. Within the church they find a sarcophagus. All this work seems to set free a demon that is controlling the local animal population (mainly hyenas) and seems intent on  reigning down destruction.

So…the movie is not really the interesting things.  See, Morgan Creek had hired Paul Schrader (screenwriter of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and the Last Temptation of Christ) to write and direct the film. His intent was to create a intelligent psychological thriller. He was very vocal about this and when he turned in his completed film, the studio had a heart attack.  Where was all the blood and guts?!

Schrader was fired and they brought in Renny Harlan. Harlan looked at the film, claimed it was “absolute shit” and said they would need to start from scratch. The studio signed Harlan on, almost the entire film got recast (in part because most of the cast refused to come back, the main exception being Stellan Skarsgård) and a completely knew story was created. They reshot about 90% of the film.

Renny did not, in the end, provide a superior product. The film is far more obsessed with gruesome imagrey and excessive violence than any of the previous films. It lacks any of the thoughts and nuances of the issues of faith and doubt in the first and third films. Harlan seems wholly uninterested in that.

A lot of the visuals have pretty bad digital touches and there are sequences that are meant to be dramatic that are downright comical.

The Exorcist: the Beginning was received…to say the least, poorly. Harlan gave the studio what they wanted, but he is not a director you go to for the thoughtful explorations mixed with horror that you need for the series.

And so, the studio got an idea when it was time to release the film on DVD. Why not also release Schrader’s cut?  And that is how we got…

Hope in Retreat (Dunkirk, 2017)

Dunkirk_PosterThe Nazi’s are on the march across Europe.  In the French city of Dunkirk, the Allies have been beaten back.  The British and the French are trying to get out before they are overtaken by the Nazi armies.

The British are waiting for ships to arrive and bring the troops home.  But they are facing regular air barrages from the Germans.

The Allies recruit boats from local small boat captains.  They go on their way to try and retrieve the soldiers, and at the same time, a small group of British pilots try and provide the boats cover.

The film starts with breaking down the story into three parts.  Earth (where the soldiers wait), sea (following a boat on it’s way to Dunkirk), and air (following three pilots).  When you see the immense number of soldiers waiting for rescue, it becomes clear why Nolan made this choice.  On the ground, we follow Tommy and Gibson, two very young soldiers.  They are trying to get on a ship, and end up getting bumped to the front of the line when they risk their lives carrying a wounded soldier on a stretcher to a medical boat.  But the soldiers face a horror as German planes bomb the ship and they can only watch as a ship full of wounded men sink into the sea.

We also get to see the concerns of the top officers who are trying to get their soldiers out.  While they are making every effort, they are given some instructions that trouble them.  Specifically, they are told to leave the French soldiers behind.

The sea focuses on a small vessel driven by Mr. Lawrence, Peter and George.  Early on, they pick up the only survivor of another ship that has been sunk.  This soldier (Cillian Murphy in a role credited only as “Shivering Soldier”) is terrified when he finds out they are going to Dunkirk.  We never see exactly what he has witnessed, but he is adamant they return to Britain.

Air is focused on pilots Farrier and Collins.  They are two of three planes trying to shoot down as many Germans as they can and save as many soldiers as possible.

On it’s face, Dunkirk seems like an odd choice of World War 2 Events,  Most World War 2 films seek to focus on the great victories, especially against great odds. And, certainly, there is an aspect of that here.  But Dunkirk was a moment in which the Allies faced a defeat and had gone into retreat.

However, it is clear to see why the British see this as such an important moment of their history.  This is about finding hope and unity in moments of great defeat. It does not shy away from the cruelty of war, even though it is never as graphic as say, Saving Private Ryan.  Nolan looks at the demons of war, but also sees where humanity can shine.  We see men, both soldier and citizen uniting to survive.  To get back alive and rebuild.

Nolan’s use of audio, both in sound and the music, are in top form here.  The intensity is constantly building as music blends with the sounds of ships and planes.  Much of Dunkirk was actually filmed on the beach of Dunkirk, adding to the reality and weight of the film.

Nolan has created a powerful epic that looks at the destruction, both physical and emotional, war will do…and sees where humanity can triumph in the face of that adversity. And he manages this looking at a moment when the good guys were facing a resounding defeat.

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