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Title: To Live and Die in L.A.

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :4stars:

HTS Overall Score:81

“To Live and Die in L.A.” is one of the most interesting films to grace the rather up and down career of director William Friedkin. He’s made some AMAZING movies over his long and varied career, with such household names as “The Exorcist”, “The French Connection”, and “Sorcerer”. He’s also had his fill of blockbuster fluff pieces like “Rules of Engagement”, “The Hunted” (a surprisingly good film) and a few others. But the man has had his share of incredibly horrible movies as well. We all remember “Jade”, the movie that pretty much sunk the career of David Caruso, and the bizarrely entertaining “Killer Joe”, which will forever make you look at cooked chicken legs differently. “To Live and Die in L.A.” is one of his stranger works. It was almost a return to form for his take on hardened cops and robbers like “The French Connection”, but was only a mediocre box office success. However, this was to be the last solid film from the director before he embarked on a couple decade long stint of making largely mediocre films (well, except for the horror/thriller “Bug in 2007” and 2011’s insanity that was “Killer Joe”).

“To Live and Die in L.A.” is your basic cops and bad guys story in the big city. We have tough and gritty cops trying to track down a famous counterfeiter with all of the genre clichés rolled up into one big bundle. Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William Petersen, most notable for playing in CSI for the first 2/3rd of the shows run) is tracking down a criminal named Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe) who’s counterfeiting millions of dollars of funny money in the L.A. district. After his partner ends up dead at the hands of Masters, Chance takes it REAL personal. With a new partner at his side (agent John Vukovich, played by John Pankow), the secret service agent is out for blood. The only thing is, he may not exactly be the most level headed guy out there. His version of taking out Masters includes doing whatever it takes. Even if that means him and his partner engage in kidnapping, theft, and the eventual murder of an innocent.

Friedkin’s little cop film engages in the age old theory that there is never black and white, just differing shades of grey. ESPECIALLY in our heroes. Chance is out for vigilante justice with a vengeance and there is very little that would make him one of the good guys, except for his insatiable need to avenge his partner and bring Masters to justice. He’s messing around with a confidential informant on the side, and has this sort of “James Dean tough guy” attitude to him (something which Petersen has a bit of a problem pulling off at times). While he’s wanting justice and vengeance, his character starts down a path that ultimately reveals him as a very ethically checkered fellow. The same goes for Masters and the CI that Chance is seeing. Masters is twisted and vile, but there is a sense of nobility and soft treatment of those he cares about. The CI seems like a nice enough girl, but there’s enough of the crook in her to keep her character from not being the angel she seems to be at the beginning.

The film also engages in several annoying tropes from the 80s. The main one is the HORRIBLE score from the one hit wonder 80s band, Wang Chung, which just oozes a sort of goofy and clichéd tone throughout the serious flick. Then there’s Petersen trying to play chance as a 80s bad boy, complete with leather jacket and saying lines like “he was the most righteous guy I knew” and “yeah, it’s groovy”. Petersen does a solid job as agent Chance, but there are quite a few times where it looks like he’s posturing and trying TOO hard to be a mixture of 80s bravado and James Dean from “Rebel without a Cause”. There’s a wide array of great actors in the film, including Willem Dafoe as a young man and John Turturro in one of his few non comedic roles. Even Robert Downey Sr. makes an appearance as Chance’s boss!

Friedkin does better when he goes back to make the action and drama more palpable then when he’s slathering the screen with cheesy 80s dialog and the overly dramatic bits. The film is given a heavily textured look, with the trademark association of lots of good film grain and stylistic use of action scenes. The movie is not overly bloody, but there are little flashes of incredible violence that pop out of nowhere and then settles back down to a less visceral style. The action sequences use a lot of first person camera angles, such as the famous car chase in the film, and gives it a very unique look.


Rated R by the MPAA

Video :4.5stars:
The 1.85:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray is actually a rather nice upgrade from the 2010 MGM release. That release suffered a bit too much from black crush and wonky colors. Something that is remedied here with the color grading fairly intact and the crush gone from the shadows. I’m kind of nervous about Friedkin sitting down to oversee a new master, as we all know about the debacle that happened when he played with the original “The French Connection” Blu-ray at the beginning of Blu-rays rise to dominance. However, that error has not been duplicated and the Blu-ray looks magnificent. Colors are bright and vibrant with the bright “fake” blood showing up in all of its faux glory and the fine detail is usually excellent. The film is very naturally grainy thanks to Friedkin’s use of the Arri flex cameras, but that never distracts from the image, but rather gives it an organic and wonderfully textured feel.

Audio :4stars:
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track that’s on the disc appears to be the same mix as the MGM release, but Shout has also given us the theatrical 2.0 track in DTS-HD MA lossless audio as well. Both are perfectly fine, but I find the 5.1 track to be a little bit inconsistent with the rear support. The front three speakers get a healthy workout with the action oriented bits and some scattered gunfire, but the music is what livens up the experience to full 5.1 experience. LFE is night and clean, but rather constrained as the movie was not cooked nearly as hot as modern mixes are. Dialog is always crisp and clear, but there was a slightly brassy sound to it every once in a while that I couldn’t put my finger on. The 2.0 track shares many of the same similarities, but naturally kicks off the back channels. LFE support is about the same between the 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, but that’s not surprising considering the mild use of it in the 5.1 mix as it was.

Extras :4stars:

• Taking A Chance – An Interview With William Petersen
• Wrong Way: The Stunts Of To Live And Die In L.A. – An Interview With Stunt Coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker
• So In Phase: Scoring To Live And Die In L.A. – An Interview With The Band Wang Chung (Jack Hues And Nick Feldman)
• Renaissance Woman In L.A. – An Interview With Actress Debra Feuer
• Doctor For A Day – An Interview With Actor Dwier Brown
• Audio Commentary With Director William Friedkin
• Deleted Scene And Alternate Ending
• Counterfeit World: The Making Of To Live And Die In L.A.
• Still Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
• Radio Spot
• Optional English SDH subtitles

Overall: :4stars:

I’ve been super pleased with the Shout Select lineup form Shout Factory. This is the 8th film that they’ve put out under the label and one of the more impressive ones. Given a 4K remastering and restoration supervised by William Friedkin himself, the video is a definite step up over MGM’s old Blu-ray from 2010. Not to mention the huge array of extras that have been added to the disc as well. Shout has always had good extras on their disc (for the most part) and their Shout Select line has been a nice set of films that are given the special collector’s edition treatment from beginning to end. If you have the film I don’t mind saying that this is definitely a worthy upgrade if you’ve been mulling it over. It has the better extras, gorgeous packaging and an impressive remastering in the video department. The movie itself isn’t perfect, but it’s a good return to form for Friedkin before his next slump (directorial wise at least). Recommended.

Additional Information:

Starring: William Petersen, Willem Defoe, John Pankow
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: William Friedkin (Screenplay), Gerald Petievich (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Studio: Shout Factory
Rated: R
Runtime: 116 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: November 22nd, 2016

Buy To Live and Die in L.A. On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Recommended for a Watch

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