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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 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
Spanish Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 12/2/2003

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


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RELATED REVIEWS


To Live and Die in LA: Special Edition (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 14, 2004)

Although I only saw 1985ís 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 Iíll discuss, it did things differently than I expected, and that made it very memorable. Would it still pack the same punch 18 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 presidentís hotel. After this short introduction, we see that Chance is a hotshot thrill-seeker Ė he gets his kicks as he bungie-jumps off of a bridge Ė 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 counterfeiterís team kills the agent. Chance and his group find Hartís 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, Iíll stop my synopsis there. Actually, the fact that the movieís 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, Iíll 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 thatís what makes its twists so stunning. It follows many of the usual conventions but provides some of the least expected turns Iíve seen.

Much of the success for those twists comes from William Friedkinís direction. No, this isnít The Exorcist or The French Connection; by 1985, Friedkinís best days clearly remained behind him, and LA doesnít 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, Iíd 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 didnít 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 Friedkinís earlier work. He didnít beat the viewer over the head in his best flicks, and he doesnít do that here either. However, despite some period-specific styles, Exorcist and Connection donít seem dated as films. Friedkin avoided cinematic trends of the era for those, but he doesnít do so here.

The biggest offender comes from the fairly terrible Wang Chung score. Remembered mainly for their two big pop hits Ė ďDance Hall DaysĒ and ďEverybody Have Fun TonightĒ Ė the Chung offer a synth heavy piece that firmly cements LA as a work on the mid-Eighties. Like Tangerine Dreamís score for Ridley Scottís Legend, the material hasnít 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 ď1985Ē, and that keeps it from working well on occasion. The best films overcome period concerns, but LA canít.

Still, To Live and Die In LA generally offers a gritty and well-executed crime drama. It doesnít pack the punch it did in 1985, but it seems like a fairly interesting piece, especially for new viewers.


The DVD 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 single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A transfer with some moderate ups and downs, LA occasionally betrayed its age, but it mostly looked pretty solid.

Sharpness varied. The movie generally seemed acceptably detailed and concise. However, more than a few shots looked a bit soft or ill defined. Those didnít become dominant, but they occurred more than Iíd like. I saw no issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering, but some mild to moderate edge enhancement popped up at times during the film.

Despite the movieís age, print flaws caused very few issues. I noticed a little grain and some very occasional specks. Otherwise, the movie stayed clean and without problems, which came as a surprise given its vintage.

Many Eighties films suffer from muddy colors, but those of LA mostly came across well. The tones occasionally demonstrated a little of the eraís 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. Despite the mix of issues, LA maintained a good image for its age and earned a ďBĒ.

As with the picture, the Dolby Digital 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 Iíd 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 Iíve 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 didnít come as a surprise. Effects presented some fairly good low-end but they were moderately dense and didnít sound tremendously realistic some of the time. I also noticed occasional examples of distortion. Ultimately, LA did enough right to merit a ďB-ď, but the generally flat sound quality caused concerns.

Although I didnít expect any significant extras for To Live and Die in LA, it includes a pretty decent roster. 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 wonít 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 the 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 flickís 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 doesnít 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 new 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, Friedkinís 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 Friedkinís commentary, but the program expands these areas well. It doesnít 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, itís 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 heíd 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 ďOther Great MGM ReleasesĒ, an area with clips for La Femme Nikita, Fargo, and Dark Blue.

1985ís To Live and Die In LA doesnít represent the best from William Friedkin. However, despite some very dated moments, it mostly holds up well, especially for first time viewers. The DVD offers pretty good picture and audio plus a small but informative set of extras. LA definitely merits at least a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9032 Stars Number of Votes: 31
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