Vulgar Display of Power Pt 5 (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, 2005)

the_Exorcist_Dominion_PosterSo, Paul Schrader completed his Exorcist movie.  The studio did not like it. They hired Renny Harlan to make a whole new movie. It bombed. To try and recoup their losses, they released Paul Schrader’s film shortly after the Exorcist: the Beginning hit DVD.

So…uh…what did we get?

Well, the basic concept is the same as what we got from Renny Harlin’s film. There is a church discovered in Kenya where one should not be (in other words, it pre-dates the recorded arrival of Christianity in the region). Father Merrin, suffering a crisis of faith after a traumatic experience in World War II is the lead archeologist.

He finds himself facing off against a great evil that he will one day face again in the future.  But this is pretty much where the similarity ends. There is no twist here as Merrin finds a young man with several physical deformities.  The young man turns out to be more than they thought as Merrin and his friends attempt to save the boy and maybe even correct his weakened condition.

Dominion is definitely more thoughtful and nuanced, saving much of it’s special effects for the big exorcism battle between Merrin and the possessed young man.  the film focuses heavily on the tension between the African locals and the occupying colonizing forces overseeing the excavation of the church. The film is pretty careful to avoid presenting the tribesmen as savages.  They are certainly seen as superstitious, but not without reason. They believe the church houses evil, and the film certainly does not deny that.  Merrin deals with tragedies within the small community of more westernized and Christian Kenyans.

There is a bit during the exorcism in which it is suggested the demonic has infected the entire region with the exploding conflicts between the military forces, the tribe of the region and the small modernized village.

The film has some more gruesome moments, and the exorcism is a bit of a spectacle.  But the film is hurt by some rather weak digital effects (the digital animals look downright awful).

While Schrader clearly was going for something more thoughtful (and generally succeeds) the film is nowhere near as powerful as the first and third entries in the franchise.  Dominion is significantly better than the Exorcist: the Beginning  It is, however, not a great film, and the franchise closes with a bit of a whimper.

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…

What If the Piranhas Were Tiny Sharks??? (Deep Blue Sea 2, 2018)

Deep_Blue_Sea_2_PosterSpielberg’s Jaws begot Joe Dante’s Piranha which begot more man eating fish movies.  One of the most fun of these films was the 1999 smart sharks thriller Deep Blue Sea.  A fun film starring Thomas Jane, Samuel Jackson, Saffron Burrows and LL Cool J, Deep Blue Sea has become a bit of a cult classic.  In spite of painfully dated (and weak) CGI sharks (though the mechanical sharks used in the film are quite impressive) the film still holds up as a solid b-movie thriller.

So, to capitalize on the success of the original, nineteen years later we have a sequel.  Shark conservationist Misty is hired by the billionaire Carl Durant to offer her expertise with his special project involving sharks. She is introduced by “loving” shots of her diving with sharks in a sexy wet suit accompanied by a theme song that literally contains the phrase “the Deep Blue Sea”.

Along with Misty is a scientist couple Leslie and Daniel Kim. Durant is using genetically modified sharks to try and create a powerful serum. The purpose of the serum are vague, and Durant is revealed to be injecting himself with the serum and it appears to be destroying his mind.

The plot is essentially the same.  The characters are trapped in a sinking research lab besieged by super smart sharks. Oddly, we do not see them deal with the sharks all that much as the main threat is actually the babies of the lead shark. The babies hunt in a big pack and behave like the piranha in the Piranha movies.

These changes don’t really make the film feel all that fresh…and the motive of Durant is laughable terrible.  In the original film, the obsessed scientists were trying to create a cure for Alzheimer’s.  It was a noble cause where you could totally understand the risks they took. But in Deep Blue Sea 2? Durant’s goal is to create a serum to genetically modify people to prepare for the coming robotic/AI takeover. He is trying to prepare for the arrival of Skynet.

The movie also has a lot of callbacks to the first film, but all they do is remind you how much better those scenes were in the original.  Probably the only area where the film has an improvement is the CGI sharks look better.

Deep Blue Sea 2 is a prime example of the “Unnecessary Sequel”. It fails to live up to the original and yet cannot even manage to be the realm of so bad it is good. It comes close to that edge, but never manages to fall over it.

The Legend of Some Guy (The Legend of Hercules, 2014)

Hercules_Legend_PosterYears ago Queen Alcmene for her husband’s lust for power terrifying and pledged to Zeus to bear his son, with the purposes of ending the King’s reign.  Their first born, Iphicles, grows up to be a selfish brat, jealous of his more loved younger brother.  Hercules seems oblivious to his brother’s petty nature, even allowing him to publicly take credit for Hercules deeds. Hercules is happy as long as he has the love of the beautiful Princess Hebe.  But one night, the King announces that she is to be married to Iphicles.  Hercules and Hebe run away together, but are caught.

As punishment, Hercules is sent to Egypt with a regiment of the army.  There, they are ambushed and only Hercules and General Sotiris survive.  They are sold into slavery and end up fighting in gladiator combat.  They use this to get back to Greece so he might save his beloved.  But once they return, it becomes clear that he has a larger destiny.

Part of this is learning to accept his status as a demi-god and embracing Zeus as his father, which he rejects earlier in the film. Oddly, while the film presents the gods as very much real, we never meet a human visage for any of them.  They move through the elements and speak through flesh and blood humans.

To be honest, this film represents a problem I see in attempts to bring myths to film in modern films.  These films seem more influenced by movies than their original stories. The Legend of Hercules feels like a direct to video sequel, and it’s inspirations are all based in films.  This is more of a Gladiator meets 300 (with a scene borrowed from the story of Sampson).

It is incredibly dependent on every action scene doing that “picture pauses mid action, but camera is still moving” effect.  It happens repeatedly during pretty much every action scene.  The end result is a loss of any real identity for the film, rather looking like a knockoff of better works.

Lutz’s Hercules is not a particularly exciting take on the character.  Sure, he is impressively muscular, but that is about it.  The story the filmmakers tell hardly echoes the rich history of the character.  Sure, there is a bit where he fights a lion…

And mind you, it is not wrong to decide to tell an all new story…but then the new story will have to rise to meet the expectations set by the legend.  And this film does not manage such a feat.

Sharks Got Brains (Deep Blue Sea, 1999)

Deep_Blue_Sea_PosterScientists may have cracked the code for an Alzheimer’s cure. but they need to keep their funding.  Rich business man and adventurer Russell Franklin needs convincing, so he is visiting their research facility.  The facility is a floating fortress, with most of it being below water.  The reason for this is that the research involves sharks.

It is the weekend, so it is a bare bones staff of scientists, a shark wrangler, an engineer and the cook.  The shark wrangler, Carter, has a checkered past and this concerns Russell in the beginning.  As a storm approaches, they try and prove their success with Russell.  Russell (as well as Carter) is startled to see just how smart the sharks seem.  When a tragic accident forces the team to try and medivac out a scientist, the storm interferes and gives the shark an open.  In a freak series of events, the facility is heavily disabled.

The crew is forced to outwit the sharks and try to reach the top of the facility, which is sinking fast.  Russell is stunned when Dr. McAlester confesses they broke laws regarding genetic research and have genetically altered the sharks’ brain structure, making them larger and smarter.

The cast of characters are pretty stock characters, I mean, Samuel L. Jackson’s Russell Franklin is the type of guy you expect him to be.  Cause this is Sam Jackson.  He is quietly intense, but also loud and bombastic.  Carter (the Punisher’s Thomas Jane) is calm and smart, rarely rattled.  Preacher (the cook) is kind of the stereotypical Black Movie Guy.  Sarcastic attitude and brief comments about God (the character’s backstory includes being a failed pastor).  But LL Cool J has fun with the role.  At one point Preacher believes he may not make it and grabs a video camera to leave a legacy…it is not quite what you expect.

The sharks are a combination of digital and practical.  The mechanical practical sharks actually look really good.  The digital ones vary from scene to scene.

Easily one of Renny Harlin’s better films, Deep Blue Sea is a fun thrill ride of a film with a good cast.

 

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 4 (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, 1988)

a-nightmare-on-elm-street-4-the-dream-master-1988Renny Harlin has not made many great films, oh sure, he is no Uwe Boll*, and he can at least lay claim to directing Die Hard 2: Die Harder (until a Good Day to Die Hard, the least of the Die Hards, yet still quite entertaining).  But with NoES 4: the Dream Master, he helped push the Nightmare Franchise farther down the goofy tracks it was put on by the third film.  At this point, Freddy is more a prankster whose punchlines always end in a cruel death for the audience.  Kind of like Larry the Cable guy, but all crispy.

Kristen (Patricia Arquette unwisely did not return…look what that choice did to her career.  But Tuesday Knight-not kidding- stepped in to take over the role.  Blondes are pretty interchangeable, right?) and the other survivors of the last film have been skating along okay and are in school, making friends.  Kristen even has a boyfriend, martial arts enthusiast Rick (Andras Jones).  The film wastes no time, because the audience sure isn’t going to care about the new characters, they want to see Freddy get all stabby.

For no discernible reason, Freddy does get back. First he kills Roland Kinkaid (Ken Sagoes), whose tough guy exterior fades real fast when he wets his pants.  Then Freddy pays a visit to Joey (Rodney Eastman)…now if you saw the last Elm Street, you know Joey cannot refuse a attractive topless blonde.  He is also delusional enough to think these women want him-rather than he is in a dream.  Here, he looks at a pin-up on his wall, and the water bed starts to shake, and when he looks up, the poster is blank.  Yeah, Joey, that is not a good sign.  He pulls back the sheets to see the hot blonde in the water waving to him. Yeah, not a good sign either-especially when she swims away.  Joey’s last incident with a hot almost naked blonde went badly…this one goes worse, because Freddy pops through the mattress and cuts little Joey to ribbons.  Now, usually, the movies try and make the death “appear” natural…not this one…mom walks into the room pulls back the sheets and Joey is trapped under the plastic-drowned.  Huh?  Is this a danger of water beds I was previously not aware of?!

Anyways, Kristen freaks out, she starts telling her friends about Freddy.  This time around, it is not the adults, but the kids who laugh Freddy off.  Kristen’s gone nuts! Just because her two friends died overnight is nothing to be weirded out by.  But Rick’s shy sister Alice (Lisa Wilcox) tells Kristen about a poem that speaks of the Dream Master-but she can’t remember how it ends, and that sucks for Kristen, because she might have been able to defeat Freddy…and the audience would have benefited, as the movie would have been shorter.  Alice recommends that Kristen just go to her happy place if she finds herself in a nightmare.  Ah, yes, that will do the trick.  In the meantime, Alice daydreams about boldly hitting on her brother’s football buddy Dan (Danny Hassel).  Alice is teased by her buff, weightlifting friend Debbie (Brooke Theiss) who also has the hots for Dan.  Hen there is the bookish friend Shelia (Toy Newkirk).

Kristen has an argument with her mother after work and discovers that her mother has drugged her (a very popular move by parents in the Elm Street films).  After yelling at her mother “You just murdered me, mom!”  (Heh, kids can be sooooo melodramatic) she stumble into her bedroom and finds herself at Freddy’s dream house.  Crap.  She remembers Alice’s recommendation and goes to her happy place-the beach!  Of course, if you see a little blonde girl you do not know building a sand castle?  It is not a good sign.  Apparently Freddy can find Kristen’s happy place.  Freddy is not actually ready to kill Kristen, as it turns out, if he does so now?  He can’t keep killing.  Kristen is the last Elm Street Kid.  Lucky for Freddy, Kristen has a dream power to pull other people into her dreams, allowing Freddy a loophole.

And that means poor, shy Alice is pulled into Kristen’s dream, Kristen passes her power on to Alice, making her the new dream conduit Freddy needs.  And Alice is not empowered enough to stand up to Freddy…at least, not before a bunch of her friends are dead.  Freddy works his way through her friends and brother, and each time a friend dies?  She gets their dream power.  No wonder she does not try to hard to save them!  Anyways, after Shelia and Rick get killed by Freddy, Alice Dan and Debbie decide to fight back.  Alice picked up her brother’s martial arts abilities, so she isn’t any wimp.

Unfortunately for Debbie; Freddy traps Alice and Dan in a repeating dream loop so they cannot get to her.  This, of course, lets Freddy enact another gruesome kill.  It turns out the dream loop was happening in a vehicle and Dan ends up in the hospital (you can see where this is going, right?).  Alice is in full bad ass mode and flies into Dan’s dream to save him from being diced.  The doctors, being somewhat more efficient than in other Elm Street films, save Dan-leaving Alice to fight on her own.  It takes the whole movie-but she remembers the end to the poem-evil is going to see its reflection and will die.  Yes, she shows Freddy his face in the mirror and that is how she defeats him.  Seriously, all the souls he collected over the years from Elm Street (apparently it is a really, really, really long street) crawl out of Freddy just leaving his clothes on the ground.  Then Alice and Dan start to date and forget about their dead friends.

Unlike three, the Dream Master has a somewhat less pedigree behind the camera.  The writers include William Kotzwinkle (this was his first movie), Brian Helgeland (okay, he did go on to write L.A. Confidential) and Jim & Ken Wheat (who wrote the Ewok Adventure: Battle for Endor and wrote Elm Street Four under a single pseudonym) and the previously mentioned Renny Harlin.  This is certainly a slick and imaginative film, with extravagant dream sequences where girls turn into cockroaches, a girl gets the life sucked out of her and a kid gets sucked into a water bed.  But it is just not good.  The story is very on the nose.  Alice has a mirror crowded with photos, as her friends die, she removes them and sees more and more of herself in the looking glass (get it?!).  The special effects are the strongest part of the film, and in the end the dream sequences overwhelm any story and character development possible.

Oh, and by the way, if you are going to create a poem?  Show some freaking originality, people.  Seriously, this is the poem that Alice has trouble remembering:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
the Master of Dreams my soul to keep,
in the reflection of my mind’s eye,
evil will see itself…and it shall die!”

I remember that one from:

“Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And If I should die, before I wake
I pray all my toys break so none of the other kids can play with them.”

This addition of the reflection theme just does not work…and it never returns to the franchise…because previous films had Freddy able to look at his reflection and…well, not die.

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