A look at the Michael Caine classic and the new remake; plus U-571,
THE SKULLS on DVD and "The Exorcist" visits the Mailbox!
An Aisle Seat Entry By Andy Dursin
Michael Caine's sleek, edgy performance as Jack Carter was the defining
element of Mike Hodges's highly-regarded -- if not altogether classic --
1971 British gangster thriller GET CARTER, which this year celebrates its
30th anniversary with an excellent DVD release courtesy of Warner Home
Video, and which less successfully was transported to the U.S. for its
slick but superficial remake, which opened last weekend starring Sylvester
Caine's Carter is a tough, mean dude, a professional thug who returns
home after his brother's suspicious death. Inquisitive yet unrelenting
in his pursuit of vengeance, Carter uncovers a tangled web of corruption
and cover-up, with local gangs and his own pursuers trailing after him
at every turn.
If there's a definition for the word "cool" in terms of gangster
pictures, GET CARTER is pretty much it. Caine's performance is justifiably
considered one of his best, while Hodges's script (adapted from Ted Lewis's
novel "Jack's Return Home") and direction slowly lure you into
its lurid world of crime, one with as much internal violence as there is
on-screen in the brutal, R-rated picture (which originally received an
X at the time). Roy Budd's music is only present in the film for a handful
of minutes, but his motif and opening theme are supremely memorable --
a perfect example of economic underscoring in early '70s cinema.
Capturing a mood and tone that few films of its kind have been able
to live up to, the original GET CARTER is a supremely memorable and haunting
work offering solid performances, tough action, and vivid settings.
The original (***1/2) gets a sparkling new transfer on DVD from Warner
Home Video ($19.98), enabling the viewer to see the original 1.85 aspect
ratio for the first time on video. The audio commentary by director Hodges
(who has struggled ever since in making consistently good films), Caine,
and the cinematographer will be of much interest for fans of the film,
diving into the picture's enduring significance in the genre and accentuating
the characteristics of Caine's anti-hero. A lengthy international trailer
has been included, along with a "music trailer" -- a four-minute
sequence that intercuts the film's opening credits with Budd himself at
the electronic keyboards, playing his theme while the movie is projected
in the background.
It's a fascinating extra for film music buffs, who will also appreciate
the mono music-only track (which can be accessed during the film), though
again, there isn't a whole lot of underscore in the picture to begin with.
Surprisingly, the opening notes in the new, decidedly American GET
CARTER (**1/2) happen to be exactly the same: Budd's music has been
incorporated throughout Tyler Bates's techno-oriented music score, and
if you think that's the biggest surprise the movie has in store, you would
However, to give the movie some credit, this Morgan Creek/Franchise
production (which carries no less than four opening studio logos on-screen!)
is nowhere near as bad as its reputation would have you believe. The script
by David McKenna is surprisingly faithful to the source material, incorporating
some dialogue from the original and, more or less, adhering to the plot
of its predecessor.
Sylvester Stallone is obviously no Michael Caine, but Sly is adequate
in the Carter role, which has naturally been softened a bit in the remake.
The biggest shift in the story is the expansion of the relationship between
Carter and his niece (the cute Rachael Leigh Cook), which in the original
was limited to five minutes at the beginning of the film and a later, significant
plot development. Here, that story element has been altered to make Carter,
and the situation, more sympathetic, which naturally causes this picture
to lose the grit and unrelenting air of death that permeated throughout
Still, it terms of Americanizing the plot, GET CARTER works fairly well.
The overcast Seattle locations give the movie a healthy dose of atmosphere,
and while director Stephen Kay seems to be straining at times to craft
action scenes a la Michael Bay or David Fincher, the movie works because
the story still hooks the viewer. The supporting cast is excellent, with
Alan Cumming and Mickey Rourke as the men with the answers Carter wants,
Miranda Richardson in a somewhat limited role as Carter's sister-in-law,
and Michael Caine himself in a couple of sequences as a local shady businessman
who employed Jack's late sibling.
And, of course, there's Sly, who doles out the punishment in a traditional
American way, as opposed to Caine's calculated and determined mode of revenge.
It's a study in contrasts all the way, and naturally there is far less
nuance in the new version, but as remakes go, the new GET CARTER isn't
all that bad -- a compliment considering the glut of re-dos we've been
seeing of late.
New On DVD
One of last spring's box-office hits, U-571 (***1/2, $29.98)
hits DVD on October 24th in a highly enjoyable DVD presentation from Universal
that boasts, unsurprisingly, one of the finest transfers and potent digital
soundtracks you're ever going to hear on the small screen.
A movie that quietly made $80 million (and possibly more if the studio
had supported the picture's advertising more during its theatrical run),
director Jonathan Mostow's second feature is an improbable but highly entertaining
WWII submarine thriller -- not a true story (as Europeans told everyone
in a public outcry last April), but a composite of several different incidents
used to create a rousing, old-fashioned patriotic programmer.
Mostow's first feature -- the Kurt Russell thriller "Breakdown"
-- had plenty of thrills and prevented a close examination of its illogical
plot holes by moving so quickly that viewers didn't think about the gaps
in the script until they were driving home. This directorial trait serves
him equally well in "U-571," a fast-paced, energetic action picture
that plunges the viewer deep into combat and never lets up. The modest
special effects, atmospheric cinematography, and adequate performances
all help create a visceral sense of realism, even if the disappearance
of several characters will leave you wondering about their absence when
the movie is over.
Universal's DVD is an absolute winner when it comes to its sound design.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is incredible, but the DTS track (also available
on the DVD) is even more astonishing: the discreet rear channels are employed
right from the get-go and the movie's intricate layering of sound will
make this, hands down, one of the top demo discs to show off your home
theater system. The 2.35 transfer is likewise superb, capturing the movie's
gritty cinematography without an abundance of grain or haze.
The supplements are fascinating, detailing the meticulous production
of the submarine replicas and diving into the tough shoot the cast and
crew endured in Malta and Rome. A commentary track with Mostow is included
along with a bounty of extras centering on the production and real-life
history of WWII sub combat, encouraging further reading and enhancing the
presentation of this terrific DVD.
Also out on October 24th from Universal is a Collector's Edition of
another spring box-office success, THE SKULLS (**1/2, $29.98), the
teen variant on "The Firm" that was heavily scrutinized by critics
for its juvenile plot and lack of believable characters -- but what were
they expecting, "Three Days of the Condor"? This silly and at
times gleefully absurd youth thriller is at least as good as the bottom
half of the John Grisham adaptations and presents solid, mindless entertainment
for kids and other, undiscriminating viewers (who shall remain almost nameless).
Joshua Jackson of "Dawson's Creek" (and the "Mighty Ducks"
trilogy) gets his first top-billed performance as a student at a "Ivy
League college in Southern New England that's not Brown" who is indoctrinated
into a hush-hush society so secretive that they place a big Skulls logo
on the top of their fraternity house. Leslie Bibb, of the surprising hit
series "Popular," makes for a cute, believable heroine to compliment
Jackson's typical "happy-go-lucky" persona, while Craig T.Nelson
and William Petersen appear as two of the most powerful "Skull"
It's all ridiculous, unbelievable, and predictable from the get-go,
but director Rob Cohen has been to the brink of "A list" directors
and back, and obviously was hungry enough to infuse sufficient energy in
this trite material to make it watchable on a purely "so bad it's
good" level. He also dragged Randy Edelman along to do the score,
resulting in a polished production that's a guilty pleasure from start
Universal's DVD is filled with some amusing extras, included a handful
of deleted scenes, a promotional featurette, and a commentary with Cohen
("Dragon," "Daylight," "Dragonheart") that's
quite entertaining since the filmmaker seems to be convinced he's making
a strong statement about inequality in Ivy League schools. Come back to
Finally, Universal has rolled out a supplement-free DVD of the indie
house favorite BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER (*1/2, $24.98), a colorful
but empty-headed comedy with cute Natasha Lyonne sent off to a "sexual
deprogramming" camp run by Cathy Moriarty and RuPaul after her parents
suspect that their daughter has lesbian tendencies. Ouch!
Director Jamie Babbit has an eye for outlandish visuals and primary
colors, but this simplistic farce is tough to take, right down to a score
by Pat Irwin that tries desperately to mimic quirky, Elfman-ish motifs.
Lyonne is appealing but this "it's good to be gay" comedy makes
BRING IT ON, another recent cheerleader epic, look like "Citizen Kane"
by comparison. Pretty much for fans of Lyonne or RuPaul (who appears out
of drag as one of the camp counselors) only.
Universal's DVD features a strong 1.85 transfer and 2.0 Dolby Surround
mix. A theatrical trailer is also included.
>From Mark Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I think you may be one of the few who enjoyed the revised Exorcist,
particularly the more upbeat ending. I saw the film for the first time
on the SE DVD a few years ago, and was amazed at the film's power.
The new version is for me a mixed bag, perhaps more so because Friedkin
seems to have stepped back and allowed Blatty to reinstate the footage
which was originally shorn for good reasons. For a lengthy set, the two
irritable filmmakers were shown arguing the changes in the DVD's documentary
section, and the points of view were quite clear: the writer who felt the
dialogue, his favorite scenes, and characters were left short-changed;
and the director, who felt the extra material harmed the film's pacing
and added unnecessary information.
In that respect, I wouldn't say this new version is the Director's
Cut, but the Producer's Cut, with Friedkin staying quiet because a) in
the last 10 years, he's made some dreadful films and needs some credibility,
b) and it's a chance for a new generation to see one of the films that
established him as a filmmaker worthy of respect. Warner Bros. also sensed
a great way to make some extra money from an old movie, and rather than
release the original, decided the 'new and improved' version was a better
choice - with more DVD sales to come.
(There's also the film's rather weird DVD history. First as a DVD
title containing the widescreen and p&s versions, though with the 5.1
track only present on the latter. Then as a widescreen SE with an incredible
array of extras, documentary and restored 5.1 track, and now the inevitable
ersatz Director's Cut, which in itself implies 'version integrale'. Warners
also mucked around with the vhs tape's marketing, offering the film alone
or in a boxed set, with the latter being the only way to acquire - at that
time - the ltd edition cd.)
Having seen both versions, I did enjoy the subliminal flashes and
the philosophical exchanges. The extra hospital footage, however, really
slowed down the film, and harmed the first hour's pacing.The material,
while interesting, merely served to add more information, designed to maintain
a general level of unease. Friedkin's filmmaking style is disjointed, yet
there's a structure to the final product, replete with carefully placed
emotional and informational shocks. The medical scenes just prolong the
As presented in its full length on the SE DVD, the spider walk sequence
never really worked, and the reduced version in the new film works well
and is utterly terrifying. The sequence, however, is so shocking (enhanced
by a very loud musical stab) that it doesn't give us time to absorb the
mother's latest devastation. The walk is so intense and so weird that it
somewhat mutes the subsequent bedroom episodes, which were clearly constructed
to form a gradual flow into terror.
I understand Blatty's preference for the new ending, but it's just
awful - The Exorcist is not a nice movie, and it was designed to scare
the hell out of people using two clever formulas: establish the characters
in all their recognizable, identifiable lives, and then subject them to
unreal horrors; and to inflict these horrors in frank, graphic fashion
that not only brutalize the characters, but raises the level of violence,
language and imagery for an audience used to formula studio pictures.
(What's rather interesting, however, is that Blatty himself would
also find difficulty with his own directorial ventures. Exorcist 3 was
tampered by Morgan Creek, unhappy with Blatty's dialogue-heavy cut, and
Blatty himself seemed to have made 3 versions of The Ninth Configuration
- a movie that also pushes the limits of characters & dialogue, and
explodes in violence without a happy ending.)
The revised Exorcist can certainly be credited with exposing new
audiences to a brilliant horror film and a style of filmmaking that clearly
illustrates why the movies from the seventies were so groundbreaking. Its
continuing performance at the box office (#3 in Canada this weekend) shows
the power of a well-made movie. There's just a number of issues the new
version raises, and the reviewers should take into account both the filmmakers
statements on record, and the economical realities of studios always looking
for a new way to exploit an aging back catalogue. Warners' publicity makes
it seem the film has Friedkin's full blessing, but I'm willing to bet there's
a few things he wishes weren't in the 'director's cut.'
Mark, your points are well-taken. However, having known a good friend
who worked with Friedkin on that 1998 Warner video release, I can tell
you with confidence that this version DID go ahead with his approval, and
despite some of his stated objections to the excised footage in that special
edition DVD, he also has contradicted himself over those same sequences
at various points. One day he says the ending is better in its original
form -- then Blatty says Friedkin admits the movie would have worked better
in its restored form. Years ago, Friedkin vehemently objected to the possible
restoration of the cut scenes; but even in the DVD documentary, you can
tell his comments had been somewhat tempered over the years. There have
been other times when he changes his mind so radically you wonder just
who the quote is coming from!
The bottom line is that, if the movie can keep making money, I don't
doubt that Friedkin was just happy to go along for the ride. I sincerely
doubt that this project went ahead without not just his blessing, but virtual
Not only that, but I think Friedkin played a major role in re-editing
the footage. The last line of the movie (a quote from "Casablanca")
remains excised, and something tells me that wasn't Blatty doing the cutting
there. Ditto for a sequence in which Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn tour
Washington, D.C. -- another scene Blatty reportedly wanted restored but
remains cut from the new version. The new hospital footage does slow down
the film, but the first sequence where Blair is examined is a vital addition,
and I appreciated the other changes as I had mentioned in my review last
As far as the movie itself goes, I don't think anyone is referring to
this as a "Director's Cut," which it isn't. The new version's
subtitle ("The Version You've Never Seen!") gets that point across,
and like you said (and I wrote in my review last week), it's closer to
being a "Producer's Cut." However, saying that Friedkin was simply
a helpless passenger watching his movie being re-edited by the studio is
likely far from the case.
One thing's for certain: I'd love to see Blatty's original cut of EXORCIST
III, particularly since Warner botched the current DVD release of the compromised
but still compelling theatrical cut ("remastering" the movie's
potent Dolby Surround mix into a muddled Dolby Digital 5.1 track minus
the surround information!). The way the studio continuously tries to mine
further funds from their library, you just know another version of this
one (with the original cut) will hopefully be around the corner.
NEXT WEEK... Halloween is coming up, and we dive
into a plethora of new genre DVDs including FINAL DESTINATION (with Shirley
Walker commentary), BAD MOON, PITCH BLACK and other treats. Email me at
email@example.com and we'll catch you