The Exorcist II: The Heretic 1977 ***

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John Boorman still retains a mystique as one of the great British directors; films like Point Black, Deliverance, or even later work like The General are true classics. Even his Excalibur project now finds itself rehabilitated though referencing by Zack Snyder amongst others. But he was also capable of valuing the idea above the commercial, and that unfettered creative impulse led to such strange work as Zardoz and  The Exorcist II: The Heretic, a truly bizarre film that’s satisfactory neither as a Boorman film or as a sequel to William Friedkin’s horror sensation. Linda Blair returns as an older Regan, and Richard Burton turns up as a priest, but the emphasis moves from religion to science, and telekinesis is a fresh theme that sits uneasily in the mix. Plagues of locusts, James Earl Jones dressed as a giant insect, some weird dream sequences, Africa, there’s a slew of ingredients here but none of them gel, and the real horror must have been amongst Warner executives who watched this potential tent-pole money-spinner crash and burn. That said, The Exorcist II made a decent whack of cash before word got out; it’s a film that, like Zardoz, requires several attempts to mine something worthwhile from before the most earnest critic eventually succumbs to mirth and despair. It takes real talent to make a truly awful movie; viewing Exorcist II is like viewing the ruins of a temple to an unknown god, a brain-boggling, dreamlike, mystifying experience.

Becket 1964 ***

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Taking inspiration from Jean Anouihl’s play, Peter Glenville’s 1964 drama derives its story from one of the key clashes between church and state. Henry II (Peter O’Toole) has a great friendship with Thomas Becket (Richard Burton); they enjoy a drink, and carousing with women, even though Thomas has leanings towards the church. Henry imagines that making his friend Archbishop will allow him to have his own behaviors rubber-stamped by the clergy, but he reckons without Thomas Becket’s strong beliefs, and the schism between the two men threatens to tear the roles of state and church apart. Becket as a film clearly plays fast and loose with historical detail, but the heavyweight performances, as well as a brief but impressive appearance from Sir John Gielgud, make for compelling viewing.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/becket/id588317095

Circle of Two 1980 ***

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Jules Dassin was a master director (Rififi, The Naked City, Topkapi), and combining him with a major star (Richard Burton) and an up-and-coming starlet (Tatum O’Neal) for a meditation of life and love must have seemed like a great idea. Circle of Two, however, is a misfire of such spectacular proportions that it ends up as near comic genius. Burton plays Ashley St Clair, a painter in his sixties who shuns the canvas for afternoons watching sex-film at his local cinema. Amongst the patrons is Sarah Norton (O’Neal) who is keen to get away from her overprotective family and her stalker boyfriend, and hopes to fashion a romantic idyll with St Clair. Dassin clearly understands that a relationship between a 15 year old and a 60 year old has exploitation potential, even if the connection is chaste and not sexual, and plays in the direction of good taste, washing Circle of Two in glutinous photography, lush music and dialogue that aims to demystify the artistic process but instead provides comic delight in it’s literary floweriness; the monumentally awful ‘Ach, said Bach’ recurring line of dialogue will haunt impressionable audiences forever.

The Man With The Iron Fists 2012 ***

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Quentin Tarantino and ElI Roth’s influence is obvious in this wonderfully slapdash martial arts epic from 2012, with writer/director RZA uncorking the gore as limbs, arterial blood and heads fly like silly string in feudal China. With various parties chasing hidden gold, the action centres of the brothel of Madame Blossom, with those pursuing the prize including Blacksmith (RZA), Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and expatriate Brit Jack Knife (Russell Crowe). The plotting doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but that’s not a problem when the action is so baroque, with Crowe clearly having fun as a kick-ass Richard Burton and Byron Mann sending himself up to great effect as Silver Lion. The Man With The Iron Fists is a better comedy than a thriller, but it captures the cheerful, anything goes feeling of a Shaw Brothers film to good effect, and even if the film lacks a happy centre, there’s a driving will to entertain that pays off in the end.

The Wild Geese 1978 ****

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Producer Euan Lloyd pursued his dream of making great British action movies through the 70’s and 80’s with some success, notably this boisterous romp about a group of mercenaries in Africa. Hired on dubious grounds by Sir Edward Matherson (Stewart Granger), The Geese parachute into Rhodesia to rescue president Julius Limbani. Doublecrossed and left for dead, it’s up to the mercenaries to fight their way out. Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris are amongst the soldiers of fortune, and after a patient build-up, The Wild Geese delivers plenty of explosions, one-liners and some interesting political discussions. Well filmed by Andrew McLaglan from Reginald Rose’s script, based on Daniel Carney’s book, The Wild Geese features big names and big action, old school style.

1984 1984 ****

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Filming in the year in which it was set, Michael Radford took on the task of adapting Orwell’s seminal guide to individuality versus totalitarianism, and made the bold move of filming it like a period piece. Focusing on 1984 as Orwell might have imagined it, rather than putting a futuristic sheen on it, Radford gets right to the core of the novel, with John Hurt perfect as downtrodden Winston Smith, and Richard Burton a mighty presence as O’Brian. Suzanna Hamilton is also a good choice for Julia, but it’s Radford’s careful selection of the material that makes 1984 work so well; ironically the Eurythmics singles on the soundtrack seemed to create more of an impression on the pop culture of the time than the film.

Staircase 1969 ***

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Charles Dyer’s acerbic play is opened up for the screen by Singing in The Rain director Stanley Donen, with Richard Burton and Rex Harrison stretching their range by playing a gay couple who operate a barbers shop in 1969 London. The endless bitching, mewling and backstabbing of 1960’s gay stereotypes are present, but Donen’s film rises above that, with pathos as the couple fight, re-unite, issue ultimatums and generally bicker their way through some exquisitely arch, camp dialogue that has to be heard to be believed. A theatrical experience, but one with two ‘out-there’ star performances that are well worth seeing.