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Match Cuts: “Bad Santa”

Match Cuts: “Bad Santa” (photo)

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In Match Cuts, we examine every available version of a film, and decide once and for all which is the one, definitive cut worth watching. This week, in honor of Jake Kasdan’s bad teacher movie “Bad Teacher,” we’re looking at Terry Zwigoff‘s bad Santa movie “Bad Santa.”

EDITIONS:
Theatrical Cut (2003): 91 minutes
Unrated Cut (a.k.a. “Badder Santa”) (2004): 98 minutes
Director’s Cut (2006): 88 minutes

THE STORY:
Career small-time criminals Willie “Tugboat” Soak (Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus “The Prince” Skidmore (Tony Cox) perform an ingenious annual hustle: they get jobs as a mall Santa (Willie) and his elf (Marcus, who’s a little person), then rob their employer blind after everyone else goes home on Christmas Eve. Willie’s a good safecracker and a terrible human being: a cruel, vulgar, self-centered sex-addicted, alcoholic mess. In Phoenix for the holiday season, Willie finds his dark worldview lightening thanks to a Santa-fetishizing bartender (Lauren Graham) and an irrepressible Kid (Brett Kelly) who thinks Willie is really Santa Claus and offers him a place to hide out from the cops. But even if Willie finally gets into the Christmas spirit, he still has to contend with an increasingly annoyed Marcus and a suspicious head of mall security (Bernie Mac).

REASON FOR MULTIPLE VERSIONS:
Though Terry Zwigoff’s contract initially gave him final cut (at least according to this interview), he wasn’t completely happy with the version of “Bad Santa” that was released in the fall of 2003. And he was even less happy with “Badder Santa,” the unrated version that was released onto DVD to capitalize on the film’s popularity and to rake in a few extra bucks in the home video market.

For Zwigoff, “Bad Santa” was always less of an outlandish comedy and more of a darkly comic character study about a truly screwed up individual. But it wasn’t just up to him. Screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, executive producers (and uncredited rewriters) Joel and Ethan Coen, and distributors Harvey and Bob Weinstein all had a hand in shaping the finished product of the film. Thanks to the success and continuing popularity of the movie they all made together, Zwigoff got the chance to finally release his own version of the material in 2006, when his Director’s Cut came out on DVD.

KEY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MULTIPLE VERSIONS (SPOILERS AHEAD):
The Unrated Cut of “Bad Santa” is about eight minutes longer than the Theatrical Cut, but really the only major difference between the two is an extended version of Willie’s time in Florida in between his two gigs as Santa. In both the Theatrical Cut and the Unrated Cut, Willie tells Marcus he’s done with their scam: he’s going to take his cash, open his own bar, and live the good life down south. Cut to Florida, where it looks like Willie has improbably made his dream come true…

In the Theatrical Cut, that scene’s quickly followed by one where Marcus calls Willie and tells him it’s time to regroup for another holiday season. In “Badder Santa,” Willie’s adventures in Florida continue a little longer: he steals a car by pretending to be a valet attendant; he breaks into a mansion and steals cash out of the safe; he spends the money on scratch-off lotto tickets he hands out as tips at a strip club. Eventually, after Willie takes one of the strippers home, Marcus’ phone call finally comes.

Most of the other differences between “Bad” and “Badder Santa” are pretty minimal: more vulgarities in Willie’s anti-child tirades, more thrusting in Willie’s sex scenes. The differences between those two cuts and Zwigoff’s Director’s Cut, though, are huge. And they begin right from the opening scene. Here is Willie’s introduction from the Theatrical and Unrated Cuts (and it’s got lots of profanity, so beware NSFWers).

Zwigoff’s version plays out exactly the same way except for one key difference: no voiceover whatsoever. According to the director, the scene was scripted to play silently, and the voiceover was only added in post-production because test audiences weren’t sure whether they should laugh at Willie or be disturbed by him — which was exactly what Zwigoff intended. On his DVD commentary, Zwigoff explains why he took the voiceover out of the Director’s Cut:

“I didn’t think the writing was on par with the rest of the script. The original writers didn’t have anything to do with it. It just told you what to think in a very clumsy, inelegant way… Billy Bob is a good enough actor to tell you what you need to know with just the expression on his face.”

The lack of a voiceover radically changes the scene. Without Willie talking about having to live in “shit-ass Mexico for 2 1/2 years for no reason,” you focus purely on the visual aspects of the scene. And they do convey a lot of information: it’s Christmas and everyone is happily sharing the holiday together except for the one guy in the Santa costume, who is drinking alone and watching the merriment with disgust and sadness. What was a very funny introduction becomes an almost existential meditation on loneliness.

Most of Zwigoff’s changes fall along these lines. There’s less of David Kitay’s original score and more classical music. Gone completely are subplots that lighten or soften Willie’s character (like the Florida bartender gag), along with any lingering whiff of sentimentality. If you’ve seen the Theatrical or Unrated Cuts you’ll remember a lot of schtick involving the Kid’s advent calendar. He first shows it to Willie the morning after he moves in. Willie later destroys it in a drunken rage, and later still when he’s started to take a liking to the Kid, he repairs and returns it. In Zwigoff’s cut, the advent calendar — even the words “advent calendar” — don’t appear once. Nor does the famous boxing scene, where Willie and Marcus teach the Kid how to defend himself from neighborhood bullies. As I recall, this was a big part of the “Bad Santa” television marketing campaign. This whole scene is gone from the Director’s Cut:

Wherever Zwigoff can make things darker, he does. A particularly good example comes during (SPOILER ALERT!) Bernie Mac’s death scene. In the Theatrical Cut, Marcus’s wife kills Mac’s Gin by running him over with their van. in the Unrated Cut, the van doesn’t quite do the job, so Marcus finishes him off by zapping his head with some jumper cables. In Zwigoff’s version, that doesn’t do it either, so Marcus drags a moaning, bleeding Gin behind the van, where his wife backs over his head. The van bounces with an enormous thud and Zwigoff cuts to a bubblegum balloon exploding all over a crying kid’s face. Merry Christmas!

IF YOU ONLY WATCH ONE VERSION OF “BAD SANTA,” WATCH:
The Theatrical Cut. In Zwigoff’s mind, “Bad Santa” is an ultra-dark character study. In my mind, “Bad Santa” is the “Bad Santa” that I saw in the theater in 2003. And that movie was a comedy, and a damn good one at that. I respect the hell out of Zwigoff for sticking to his guns and believing in his vision. And his vision of the movie is an interesting one. I’m glad we got to see his Director’s Cut. Fans of the original should definitely check it out.

But despite its creator’s best intentions, “Bad Santa” mutated out of his control into one hysterical movie. Zwigoff didn’t remove all the comedy scenes from the Director’s Cut because they weren’t funny; he removed them because they were too funny. Which, when you think about it, is kind of a crazy thing to do. I like those scenes (the one where Willie becomes a “bartender” in Florida, in particular). I even like the opening voiceover. Is it obvious? A little, yeah. But as delivered by Billy Bob Thornton, in a performance that really deserved an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, it’s also uproarious. And it’s not like the Theatrical Cut of “Bad Santa” is a tame movie: you still get to see Willie blaspheme, slander, fornicate, berate small children, attempt suicide, and piss himself (on more than one occasion!). “The Sound of Music,” this is not.

Anyway, that’s my preference. You can let your mood determine your viewing selection: Theatrical Cut for lighter evenings, Director’s Cut for those times when you hate humanity like cancer. Either way, you can definitely skip the Unrated Cut. The pacing’s sluggish, the timing’s off, and the whole experience doesn’t have the same snap as the Theatrical or Director’s Cuts. If you loved “Bad Santa” in the theater but were more lukewarm about it when you saw it again at home, odds are you were watching the Unrated Version. The Theatrical Cut’s my favorite, the Director’s Cut is fascinating and bleak. True to its title, the Unrated Cut is definitely the “Badder” Santa.

The Unrated Cut and Director’s Cut are available together on a single disc Blu-ray. Currently, the Theatrical Cut is only available on DVD. Which is your favorite cut of the film? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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