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MGM

MOVIE INFO

Director:
William Friedkin
Cast:
William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Turturro, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, Darlanne Fluegel, Dean Stockwell
Writing Credits:
Gerald Petievich (novel), William Friedkin, Gerald Petievich

Tagline:
A federal agent is dead. A killer is loose. And the City of Angels is about to explode.

Synopsis:
Federal agent Richard Chance (Petersen) has a score to settle, and he's through playing by the rules. Whether that means blackmailing a beautiful parolee, disobeying direct orders or hurtling the wrong way down a crowded freeway, he vows to take down a murdeous counterfeiter (Dafoe) by any means necessary. But as the stakes grow higher, will Chance's obsession with vengeance ultimately destroy him?

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$17.307 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Korean
Spanish
Cantonese
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 2/2/2010

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director William Friedkin
• Deleted Scene and Alternate Ending Featurettes
• “Counterfeit World: The Making of To Live and Die In LA” Documentary
• Photo Gallery
• Trailers


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


To Live and Die in LA [Blu-Ray] (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 10, 2010)

Although I only saw 1985’s To Live and Die in LA once back during its time of release and never watched it again, the movie stayed with me strongly. As I’ll discuss, it did things differently than I expected, and that made it very memorable. Would it still pack the same punch years later? No, but it nonetheless presented a fairly well made crime drama.

The movie opens on December 20 in some unspecified year during the Reagan presidency. In a quick prologue, we meet Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William Petersen) and his partner Jimmy Hart (Michael Greene) as they deal with an Islamic suicide bomber at the president’s hotel. After this short introduction, we see that Chance is a hotshot thrill-seeker – he gets his kicks as he bungie-jumps off of a bridge – while Hart will retire in another three days.

The film then introduces an artist and counterfeiter named Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe). When Hart investigates Masters on December 22, the counterfeiter’s team kills the agent. Chance and his group find Hart’s corpse two days later, and this sends Chance on a single-minded mission to arrest Masters. Along with new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow), he pursues this agenda, one that leads him into potentially shady and unethical directions.

Since a lot of the pleasure from LA comes from its surprises, I’ll stop my synopsis there. Actually, the fact that the movie’s best elements stem from its subversion of the standard cop drama make it tough for me to discuss what I like about it without providing spoilers. Nonetheless, I’ll try my best.

Suffice it to say that LA blew my mind when I saw it in 1985. In many ways, it follows a very standard course, but that’s what makes its twists so stunning. It follows many of the usual conventions but provides some of the least expected turns I’ve seen.

Much of the success for those twists comes from William Friedkin’s direction. No, this isn’t The Exorcist or The French Connection; by 1985, Friedkin’s best days clearly remained behind him, and LA doesn’t approach the heights of those almost documentary style flicks.

However, Friedkin brings a matter-of-factness to LA that works. It takes events most films would present in a bombastic and operatic manner and reduces them to the ho-hum in some ways.

And this is where it becomes really tough not to spoil anything. This subject is also the reason LA plays somewhat poorly on second viewing. Granted, I’d not seen it in almost two decades, and I remembered it mainly for its shocking twists. There was no way these could impact me now like they did back then. Still, since I knew what was coming, I didn’t find much tension in the film. Some movies can overcome that lack of surprise, but without it, LA seems more ordinary than I recalled.

It also appears God-awful dated in many ways. As I alluded, I liked the objective tone of Friedkin’s earlier work. He didn’t beat the viewer over the head in his best flicks, and he doesn’t do that here either. However, despite some period-specific styles, Exorcist and Connection don’t seem dated as films. Friedkin avoided cinematic trends of the era for those, but he doesn’t do so here.

The biggest offender comes from the fairly terrible Wang Chung score. Remembered mainly for their two big pop hits – “Dance Hall Days” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” – the Chung offer a synth heavy piece that firmly cements LA as a work on the mid-Eighties. Like Tangerine Dream’s score for Ridley Scott’s Legend, the material hasn’t aged well at all, and it actively distracts at times. LA also has a very Miami Vice look to it that sticks it in its period. Many elements of the flick just scream “1985”, and that keeps it from working well on occasion. The best films overcome period concerns, but LA can’t.

Still, To Live and Die In LA generally offers a gritty and well-executed crime drama. It doesn’t pack the punch it did in 1985, but it seems like a fairly interesting piece, especially for new viewers.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

To Live and Die In LA appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A transfer with some moderate ups and downs, LA occasionally betrayed its age, but it mostly looked pretty solid.

Sharpness was usually fine, and more than a few sequences offered terrific delineation. A couple of shots seemed a little iffy, but the vast majority appeared concise and accurate. I saw no issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement remained absent.

Source flaws became my main complaint here. I witnessed occasional specks and a blemish or two. While these weren’t dominant, they create some mild distractions.

Many Eighties films suffer from muddy colors, but those of LA mostly came across well. The tones occasionally demonstrated a little of the era’s flatness, but usually the hues looked fairly dynamic and vibrant. They never became runny or messy and mostly were distinctive and tight. Black levels also looked a bit erratic but usually worked fine. For example, the shots at the dance club where Masters first talked to Lanier were somewhat wan and murky. Otherwise, blacks mainly seemed fine, and low-light shots generally appeared well defined. Shadow detail appeared fairly clean and visible. Some aspects of the transfer looked excellent, but a smattering of concerns dropped my grade to a “B”.

As with the picture, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of To Live and Die In LA presented an inconsistent piece. On the positive side, it featured a well above average soundfield for a movie from 1985. It seemed surprisingly active as the mix added a lot of different elements. Stereo imaging for the music was somewhat lackluster but generally appeared acceptable. Effects spread nicely across the front. They were a little more speaker-specific than I’d like, but given the age of the material, I easily forgave that. The pieces moved moderately smoothly across the speakers, and the surrounds contributed a great deal of information to the track. They kicked in nicely during action sequences and provided pretty engaging environment through the whole flick.

LA lost points due to its erratic audio quality. Much of the dialogue sounded decent, but the mix included some of the worst looping I’ve heard; a lot of dubbed lines integrated poorly. Mild to moderate edginess also affected many lines, though I felt they always remained intelligible. Music varied from reasonably robust to thin and shrill. However, that mostly related to the source material. The pop production of the day favored a bright trebly sound, so the lack of bass didn’t come as a surprise. Effects presented some fairly good low-end but they were moderately dense and didn’t sound tremendously realistic some of the time. I also noticed occasional examples of distortion. Ultimately, LA did enough right to merit a “B-“, but the generally flat sound quality caused concerns.

How did the picture and sound of this Blu-ray compare to the 2003 DVD? The audio remained consistent, as the lossless DTS-HD mix couldn’t overcome the era-related pitfalls. The visuals showed good improvements, mostly in terms of definition, as the Blu-ray appeared crisper and more concise.

This set packaged the Blu-ray Disc with the 2003 DVD. This meant almost no extras on the Blu-ray. It provided trailers for LA as well as Hart’s War, The Usual Suspects and Bulletproof Monk.

On the DVD, we open with an audio commentary from director William Friedkin, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. At the start, he tells us that he won’t talk about the story, and he keeps to his word. That comes as a relief, for during prior commentaries, Friedkin often did little more than narrate his films.

He avoids the trend for LA and offers a somewhat spotty but generally good examination of the movie. Among other topics, he gets into the flick’s origins, its casting, his editing techniques, how and why Wang Chung did the score, and cinematographic concerns. Friedkin provides some nice discussions of work on the set and really gets into the challenges of the big car chase, particularly in his attempt to not just rehash the famous pursuit from The French Connection. Friedkin lets too much dead space appear, but this doesn’t become a true annoyance. The director gives us a nice look at his work and his film in this fairly solid commentary.

Next we find a documentary entitled Counterfeit World: The Making of To Live and Die in LA. In this 29-minute and 30-second piece, we get the usual mix of movie clips, footage from the set, and interviews. These contemporary clips offer information from Friedkin, co-producer/editor Bud Smith, propmaster Barry Bedig, stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker, and actors William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, and Darlanne Flugel. We also get notes from author/co-screenwriter Gerald Petievich and Petersen on the set in 1985.

They cover why the project appealed to Friedkin and the others, spontaneity of the shoot, approaches to the roles, making fake money, Friedkin’s style with actors and with camera set-ups, fight choreography, the chase scene, the ending, and other issues. Some of the information duplicates topics detailed in Friedkin’s commentary, but the program expands these areas well. It doesn’t feel like a great documentary, but it gives us a good perspective on the making of the movie.

After this we get an Alternate Ending Featurette. This eight-minute and 25-second piece presents comments from Bud Smith, Petersen, Friedkin, and Pankow, and it also shows us the scene itself. They tell us about the sequence, why it was shot, and why it was discarded. Filmed only as a compromise with the studio, it’s indeed pretty terrible and inappropriate for the flick.

In addition, we discover a Deleted Scene Featurette. It runs four minutes and 10 seconds, and we find information from Friedkin and Pankow. It involves an attempted reconciliation by Vukovich with his estranged wife. We learn why Friedkin cut it; interestingly, he notes that he wishes he’d kept it.

In the Stills Gallery, we get a mix of publicity shots and images from the set. 59 of these appear in all. The trailers domain includes both the theatrical and teaser ads for LA plus “Other Great MGM Releases”, an area with clips for La Femme Nikita, Fargo, and Dark Blue.

1985’s To Live and Die In LA doesn’t represent the best from William Friedkin. However, despite some very dated moments, it mostly holds up well, especially for first time viewers. The Blu-ray offers pretty good picture and audio plus a small but informative set of extras. Because it combines the DVD with the Blu-ray – and does so for a reasonable price – this becomes a nice release.

To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA

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