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…

Yo Ho Ho, It is OVER! (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2007)

Pirates_of_Caribbean_Worlds_End_PosterHoly. Crap.  THIS. MOVIE. IS. SO. LONG.

Like, super long. It is ten minutes shy of three hours.

Anyhoo, picking up where the last film left off, the Kraken ate Jack Sparrow and now Elizabeth Swann, Will Turner and Barbossa are trying to rally the troops to find and return Jack from Davey Jone’s locker so they can stop Davey Jones.

And this ends up taking over an hour.  We see Sparrow in the afterlife and boy is he bored.  And frankly?  So was I.  This sequence is just excruciatingly long.  There are so many subplots, it just gets tiring and uninspired.  I found myself constantly wondering about how much longer we had to go.

The films seem to want to position Jack as some magical key to the universe, rather than some lucky idiot.  But really, the whole lunatic rockstar thing is wearing thin at this point.  If you cut about an hour of the film or a little more, this might be a lean and fun adventure.  Instead it makes the the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King look sleek.

Filmed back to back with Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End tries be a massive epic, but it really only accomplishes feeling ridiculously bloated.

The visuals are quite good, as are the action scenes.  But the road the story takes is so meandering as it is hard to not get bored through great portions of this film.

Yo Ho Ho! Let’s Go For Another Ride! (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, 2006)

Pirates_of_Caribbean_Dead_Mans_Chest_Poster“Abandon Ship, or Abandon Hope”, declares Kevin McNally’s Gibbs. Disney was full of hope they had a franchise after the hit of Curse of the Black Pearl. To make sure they could recapture the magic, they kept on the director, writing team and…of course… Johnny Depp and Captain Jack Sparrow.

Will and Elizabeth are engaged, Norrington has left the British Navy and now a bigger threat has arrived.  A man who seeks to destroy the Pirate Scourge.  His first act is to arrest both Will and Elizabeth, though this is a trap to try and force their hand in locating Jack Sparrow.  Who they want because they believe he holds the key to a bigger weapon against all pirates.

Jack Sparrow is finding himself trying to avoid a debt to Davey Jones (who gave him the Black Pearl to captain for thirteen years, even if Barbossa took over a mere two years into the deal). He must serve 100 years upon Jone’s ship the flying Dutchman which ferries those who die at sea to the afterlife.  Bootstrap Bill (Will Turner’s Father) comes to warn Sparrow that his time is up.  But when Davey Jones sends his leviathan beast after Jack, they decide to beach the ship and hide on an island.

Will Turner is searching everywhere for Jack, but the best people seem to be able to do is say where they heard he was headed.  He discovers the shipwrecked boat on a remote island and encounters Jack and the Black Pearl crew. They meet with witch Tia who tells them of a way to defeat Davey Jones, the cursed captain of the Flying Dutchman. Setting out to find the heart of Davey Jones, the crew re-unites, including Elizabeth Swann and the disgraced Norrington.

While Will and Elizabeth are played up to be the thread for the series, Jack Sparrow was the standout character for audiences in the first film, so the writers make sure we got a lot more Jack.  Elizabeth is gone from the film for a good forty-five minutes, stuck in a prison cell. She is relegated to the prize that drives Will, which is rather unfortunate.  Once she joins back up with the crew, she becomes much more active.

The visual design of the film is terrific.  As with the Curse of the Black Pearl, we have cursed pirates, but this time they are more elaborate.  Jones and his crew are connected to the sea so intensely, that they are blended with sea creatures.  Jones’ head is an octopus, with his tentacles serving as a beard.  Bill Nighy is terrific in the role, giving a darkly comic performance.

The film actually brings back almost the entire surviving cast, and everyone seems rather comfortable in their skins.  The film has a lot of fun action sequences and of course many, many narrow escapes.  But the extra focus on Jack also starts to run the risk of making the character more annoying than amusing.  The film also is starting to try and set up an “epic” tale thing for Will, Elizabeth and really Jack.  One character even notes that Will has the air of “destiny” about him.

This film is a lot of fun for the most part, and I would say it comes out pretty favorably in relationship to the first film.

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.

 

Elves! But DARK Elves (Thor: The Dark World, 2013)

thor_the_dark_world_posterThor’s post Avengers story stays outside of the world of S.H.I.E.L.D., Iron Man and Captain America.  It focuses squarely on Thor, Jane Foster and Asgard.

The story opens with Odin telling the tale of how the universe had once been in darkness, and after a time, the dark elves sought to plunge the universe back into the darkness.  They were stopped by Odin’s father who had their weapon (the Aether) hidden deep below the ground of…somewhere.  Jane Foster is doing the whole “Chasing Anomalies” thing and stumbles on the Aether which she absorbs.  Thor shows up because suddenly the Bifrost Bridge has been restored.  He brings her to Asgard, the Dark Elves show up, things go very badly and Thor is forbidden from heading out of Asgard.  So Thor frees the imprisoned Loki for help in slipping out “unnoticed”.  This is one of the film’s big set pieces.  Eventually Thor tries to destroy the Aether and is unsuccessful, and the dark elf Malekith gets hold of it.

There is a battle on earth which nearly succeeds in destroying everything.  But Thor saves the day (with help from none of the Avengers) and the universe does not blink out of existence.

Thor: the Dark World is not terrible.  It has some real fun moments, mostly provided by Loki.  And the action scenes are very well done.  Taylor is a pretty accomplished television director, including Game of Thrones.  He is able to frame exciting battle sequences.  Hemsworth is likeable as Thor, Hiddleston’s Loki is entertaining as usual.

The film attempts to really show Jane Foster is a scientist.  There is a cute moment where Jane asks if a magical piece of Asgardian equipment is a quantum field generator.  The person working it states it is a “Soul Forge”.  Jane asks if the Soul Forge transfers molecular energy from one place to another.  The person responds, “yes”…and Jane  quietly tells Thor proudly that it is a Quantum Field Generator.

Loki gets most of the best character moments, both in humor and drama.  But the story has holes.  Why do the Elves want to erase the universe?  Why not bring in the Hulk to fight the nearly indestructible Berserkers?  If it is not Odin on the Throne towards the end…just where is Odin. It is pretty average, especially in comparison to Captain America: the Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.  It also does nothing to advance the characters beyond where they already were.  It is primarily to introduce the Aether, which will be part of the third Avengers film.

Hammer Time (Thor, 2011)

thor-posterAs Marvel worked their way to the Avengers, they had a bit of an issue.  Thor is supposedly a god, as are all his friends and family.  How does this fit into the Marvel world?  Their resolution was that they are mistaken for gods, but really their magic is just science we do not understand yet.

Thor is introduced as a brash young man, a drunkard who cares more for fun than responsibility. This frustrates his father Odin to no end.  On the other hand, his brother Loki is a schemer who wants to rule.  All of this leads to Thor being cast from Asgaad and his powerful hammer being taken from him.  Thor discovers he cannot wield the hammer until he proves himself worthy.  After being found by scientist Jane Foster and her team Darcy and Erik Selvig, they find themselves being watched by S.H.I.E.L.D., specifically, Agent Colson.  They have found the hammer, which nobody can move.

The film is a fish out of water story.  And Hemsworth, who was not a name brand actor at the time, had a certain charm he brought to the role.  Of course, eventually Thor must get his hammer and put an end to Loki’s plan.

The human characters suffer in this film.  Clark Gregg knows his role backwards and forwards.  And Kat Dennings has a lot of fun as Darcy.  Stellan Skarsgård is entertaining as father/scientist figure.  kay, it seems like it is mostly Jane Foster.  The film tried to set her up as the smart scientist, but she really spends hr time mooning over Thor.

The Asgardians are a fun lot of both character actors and name talent.  Anthony Hopkins brings a regal presence to Odin, while Renee Russo brings wisdom and motherly compassion to both her sons.  The Warriors Three and Sif are strong warriors, but also know celebration.  Tom Hiddleston plays a Loki who is both very likeable and duplicitous.

The film makes some choices that seem rather counter intuitive.  Supposedly the destruction of the Bi-Frost severs the connection from Asgard to earth, but that does not last long.  Nor is it really ever explained.  In addition, a big plot whole is…if Thor has never been to Earth before this…how are there legends of his exploits??  Unlike Captain America: the First Avenger, Thor feels more like it is busy setting things up for the Avengers than being it’s own story.  It is an enjoyable film overall, but it feels like it could have been stronger, especially considering the talent at the directorial helm of Kenneth Branagh.

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