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Match Cuts: “Daredevil”

Match Cuts: “Daredevil” (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 the new Marvel Comics superhero movie “Captain America: The First Avenger,” we’re looking at the Marvel Comics superhero movie “Daredevil.”

EDITIONS:
Theatrical Cut (2003): 103 minutes
Director’s Cut (2004): 133 minutes (listed at 124 minutes on the box for some reason)

THE STORY:
Blinded as a boy in a construction site accident, Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) prowls the streets of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, defending its people as the masked vigilante Daredevil. Matt can’t see, but his accident boosted his remaining four senses and gave him an extra sense to boot, a “radar sense” that allows him to map his environment by interpreting the movement of sound waves. By day, Matt is a lawyer; by night he seeks the justice he doesn’t find in the courtroom as Daredevil. It’s a sad, lonely life until he meets Elektra (Jennifer Garner), the karate expert daughter of a Greek billionaire (gotta love comics). With their shared love of tight leather and beating the shit out of people, they seem like kindred spirits. But New York’s crime Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) is looking to get even with Daredevil and Elektra’s father, and he sends a deranged hitman named Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to break up the happy couple.

REASON FOR MULTIPLE VERSIONS:
All Hollywood movies are the product of collaboration between many different people. But from the sound of “Daredevil”‘s two audio commentaries — one for each cut — all the different people in charge of “Daredevil” had different ideas about what the film should be, and their collective vision for the project was about as clear as Matt Murdock’s. 20th Century Fox hired Mark Steven Johnson to make “Daredevil” on the basis of his screenplay and his take on the character, which was dark and bleak. Then they tested the film and discovered that audiences preferred the relationship between Affleck and Garner. In order to put the focus more squarely on the love story and to accelerate the film’s languid pace, they demanded major cuts. The studio’s shortened version opened in February of 2003 and did well enough at the box office to convince them to release (something close to) Johnson’s original cut on DVD.

KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MULTIPLE VERSIONS (SPOILERS AHEAD):
The “Daredevil” Director’s Cut is not one of those cash-in b.s. jobs that’s basically the theatrical version with a couple extra shots of gore or nudity. It’s an extensively different movie. There are subtractions as well as additions, and the film isn’t simply longer, it also has a drastically different tone.

As we already covered, the dictum from up on high at Fox about the film was to focus on Matt and Elektra. Not surprisingly, the most interesting changes between the two cuts of the film occur during the characters’ romance (You can watch the scene I’m about to discuss on YouTube; it’s not embeddable). In the Theatrical Cut, Matt and Elektra meet on the street, and he takes her to his favorite spot in the city, a rooftop with a beautiful view of the New York skyline. It starts to rain, and Matt uses his radar sense to “see” Elektra’s face as the sound of the water drops hitting her skin. It’s a beautiful moment, but it’s almost immediately ruined by the call of duty: Matt’s hypersensitive ears overhear a crime in progress nearby and he tells Elektra he has to go. He’s about to dash off when Elektra asks him to stay with her. Our hero’s torn, but Jennifer Garner ultimately proves to hot to resist, and the film cuts to a tasteful PG-13 love scene. Matt awakens the next morning in his bed with a big smile on his face. He didn’t stop that crime, and people probably died, but hey — dude got laid. All’s well that ends well.

It turns out everything in that sequence after Elektra pleads with Matt to stay was a reshoot ordered by Fox to beef up the love story. In Johnson’s Director’s Cut, Matt leaves Elektra on the roof and throws one of the Kingpin’s thugs a hellacious beating (maybe his blue balls are hypersensitive too). Only after he kicks the crap out of the goon does Daredevil notice a kid cowering in the corner, freaking out that some dude dressed as a Leather Daddy Satan is using his father’s face as a punching bag. “I’m not the bad guy, kid,” Daredevil tells him.


In general, the Director’s Cut plays up that sense of moral confusion — is Daredevil a hero or just a screwed up guy with special powers? — that was present in the Theatrical Cut but sublimated to make room for more action and romance. One of the most effective and interesting shots in the entire movie is only available in the Director’s Cut. The only way Matt Murdock can fall sleep at night is by using a sensory deprivation tank to shut out the sounds of the world. After another evening as Daredevil, Matt is about to lay down and go to sleep when he hears the sound of a woman crying out for help. Matt’s too far away to rescue her in time, but to him it sounds like she’s laying on the floor of his apartment. He sits and listens to her murder and then shuts the sensory deprivation tank’s lid. This beat, missing from the Theatrical Cut, reinforces just how much being Daredevil sucks. His powers don’t free him from his disability, they only make him feel more helpless.

It turns out that the man (played by Coolio) wrongfully accused of that woman’s murder becomes a client of Matt’s law practice, and his systematic efforts to prove his innocence form an extensive subplot that’s completely missing from the Theatrical Cut. The best of these scenes see Matt and his partner Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau) doing a kind of “CSI: Daredevil” routine in the victim’s house. Matt smells the ammonia used to clean the carpet and realizes the crime happened inside and not outside as the police believe. He touches a desk and feels the imprint left by a pen on paper, perhaps a clue to the murderer’s identity. The fact that the entire mystery subplot was removed from the film without anyone noticing tells you how unimportant these scenes are from a narrative perspective, but they do give us a fuller picture of Matt’s life and his powers.

Those are the big changes but there are lots of other little ones: more conversations between Matt and Foggy, several confessional scenes between Matt and a Catholic priest (in the Director’s Cut Matt doesn’t get laid, so I guess he doesn’t have as much to confess), a lengthier introduction for Bullseye involving an amusing run-in with an airport metal detector, and more graphic violence in the fight scenes. There’s also this scene, which more fully establishes just how powerful and dangerous the Kingpin really is:

IF YOU ONLY WATCH ONE VERSION OF “DAREDEVIL,” WATCH:
The Director’s Cut, though there’s a fundamental flaw with both versions of the film. “Daredevil” was designed by Johnson as a serious examination of the price of superpowers on a man’s soul. Matt Murdock makes bad choices, uses his gifts selfishly, and ultimately pays for it with the lives of people he loves. Unfortunately, the action sequences are the worst kind of “Matrix”-lite cartoonish wirework. Characters jump and flip without any sense of gravity or reality. So on the one hand, it’s a gritty look at what it might be like for a real person to grapple with godhood. On the other hand — “WEEEEE! We’re bouncing on see-saws!”

So, admittedly, neither version of “Daredevil” is all that great, but the Director’s Cut is clearly the better of the two. It minimizes the cartoony elements and beefs up the hero’s anguish and moral ambiguity. It expands Matt Murdock’s character and his world so that his whole story doesn’t just revolve around his crush on this girl and his need to avenge her death. Since Johnson’s intended arc for Daredevil was about him coming to grips with the fact that vengeance won’t bring him peace, that’s pretty important.


Both versions give us ample evidence of why superhero comics can be such a fruitful place for creativity and why superhero movies sometimes are not. The best “Daredevil” comics by artist Frank Miller (“Sin City”) were written at a time when the title was unpopular and in danger of cancellation. With nothing to lose, Marvel gave Miller creative carte blanche. No wonder, then, that his issues were so bold and risky. The “Daredevil” movie is a classic example of cinema by committee. Audiences liked Garner and Affleck, so they threw away the spine of the movie for more love scenes. “The Matrix” sequels were all the rage, so they patterned their fights after it, even though that made no logical sense for the kind of movie they were making. It doesn’t take a blind man to see those were mistakes.

The “Daredevil: Director’s Cut” is available on Blu-ray and DVD. 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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TREMORS [US 1990]  FRED WARD, FINN CARTER     Date: 1990

Better Off Fred

5 Roles That Prove Fred Ward Should Be In Every Movie

Catch a Tremors movie marathon Saturday, April 30th on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Fred Ward has always exuded a tough but likeable on-screen “bad-assitude” that has enabled him to enjoy a career spanning five decades. Before he had a recognizable “that guy” face to movie fans, he was cast alongside Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz. Not many actors can play both Henry Miller and David Spade’s dad in Joe Dirt with equal aplomb. Before you catch IFC’s Tremors marathon, check out some roles that prove Fred Ward can hold his own with the Van Dammes and Stallones of the world.

5. Wilkes, Uncommon Valor

Due to his rugged, determined look, Ward was often cast as cops, crooks and military men. It’s no surprise that he appeared in Uncommon Valor, the 1983 film where Gene Hackman puts together a ragtag squad of ex-Vietnam vets to rescue his son who was left behind in Laos. Sure, the movie pretty much set out to make a Vietnam version of The Dirty Dozen, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining in its own right. Ward fits right in with a cast of ’80s era tough guys, including Patrick Swayze, Randall “Tex” Cobb, and Tim Tomerson. Ward’s character Wilkes was a tough-as-nails Vietnam Vet who was a “tunnel rat” during the war. There’s a funny training session scene that provides a comic relief moment where Wilkes captures every one of the guys in the unit, including Gene Hackman’s Colonel Rhodes, by hiding under water. Eat your heart out, Rambo.


4. Earl Bass, Tremors

Not many actors can pull off lasso-tossing an explosive in order to lure a huge worm creature with snake tongues out of the desert sand, but Ward pulls off moment with zero camp. His Earl Bass, the tough but average Joe ranch hand turned hero, didn’t need Kevin Bacon’s long hair and exaggerated Southern drawl either. Ward and Kevin Bacon made a great team trying to save their town from the Graboids, elevating the humor in this out-of-this-world (or under-this-world) horror comedy.


3. Sgt. Hoke Moseley, Miami Blues

In a movie where Alec Baldwin completely shines as a psychotic (and highly entertaining) criminal using Miami as his own personal joy ride, Fred Ward gives an equally great performance as the grizzled Miami cop who’s seen one too many cases. After being attacked by Baldwin’s character in his own home, Ward’s Sgt. Hank Moseley loses his badge, his gun and his dentures, which really pisses him off. (And nobody plays pissed off better than Ward.) Baldwin’s Junior goes on a crime spree while using Moseley’s identification. Moseley’s wily veteran slowly begins to figure out what Junior is up to through sly conversations with Baldwin and his overly trusting hooker girlfriend, memorably played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. An underrated action comedy that is all the better for giving us a pure shot of uncut Ward awesomeness.


4. Gus Grissom, The Right Stuff

“An astronaut named Gus?” That was the question asked of Virgil Grissom in The Right Stuff by the executive from Life magazine. Who better to play a fearless, rough-around-the-edges astronaut who refused to be called Virgil than Fred Ward? The Mercury Astronauts were the best of the best, and in the film they were played by a group of great actors who were all perfectly cast to portray the brash group of American heroes. In the film, Gus was blunt and to the point and far from loquacious (his character would never use that word) but when he did speak up, it had meaning. In another pivotal scene, in which Deke Slayton was relaying to the other astronauts what Gus was trying to say about beating a monkey into space, it’s Gus’ response that summed up his character perfectly: “F***in’ A, bubba.” Nobody could have delivered that bad-ass line better than Fred Ward. In fact, “F***in’ A bubba” should have been added into the dialogue of every character he played.


5. Remo Williams, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins might have gotten ahead of itself with that title as we never got to see the adventure continue, but it had everything you want in an action movie, starting with Fred Ward. Of course, it also had Joel Grey in heavy makeup portraying Korean martial arts master Chiun, but the less said about that unfortunate bit of dated cultural stereotyping the better. Based on a series of pulp novels, Remo Williams was supposed to be an American alternative to James Bond. In an alternate, much cooler universe, it would have propelled Ward to action movie superstardom. In the film, Ward starts out as a NYC street cop recruited to be a government assassin. His face was altered through plastic surgery (to look less like a generic actor and more like Fred Ward with a clean shave) and then he is given the name Remo Williams. There is a lot of humor in this film, which mostly comes through the interaction between Ward and Grey. Chiun teaches Remo the ways of Sinanju, the ancient Korean marital art which enables you to not only dodge punches but point blank range bullets as well. (Let’s see Mr. Miyagi do that.) Anyone who caught this movie during one of its many TV airings during the ’80s remembers the thrilling fight scenes that takes place on the Statue of Liberty. Only Ward could pull off a turtle neck sweater/leather jacket combo and still look badass.

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Scarface Al Pacino

Nose Dive

10 Crazy Facts You Might Not Know About Scarface

Say hello to Scarface this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection/Universal Studios

We learned a lot from Scarface. Don’t get high on your own supply. Never trust anyone. And definitely don’t bring a gun to a chainsaw fight. So what happened behind the scenes during the making of this cultural sensation? We nosed around and found some things about Scarface you might not know, which you can catch this month on IFC. Say hello to our little facts below.

1. Brian De Palma almost directed Flashdance instead.

Scarface Brian de Palma
Everett Collection/Universal

Producer Martin Bregman offered De Palma a chance to direct Scarface while the director was filming the 1981 cult classic Blow Out.  Initially De Palma said “yes,” but then politely declined as he was too busy. He signed on to direct Flashdance instead in the hopes of getting the producer to greenlight his script on the Yablonski murders. De Palma made it about two weeks into pre-production on the dance flick before quitting.  Bregman offered Scarface to De Palma again, and the rest is history. What a feeling!


2. Michelle Pfeiffer was hangry throughout the shoot.

Scarface Michelle Pfeiffer
Universal

The actress would give a star-making performance as Elvira Hancock, the chic wife of gangster Tony Montana, but her experience behind the scenes wasn’t quite as glamorous. Pfeiffer ate very little on set to maintain Elvira’s slinky, cocaine addict look. When production stretched from the predicted four months to six, Pfeiffer was frequently starving and irritable. Might we suggest a Cubano sandwich?


3. Al Pacino’s performance was inspired by Meryl Streep.

Scarface Little Friend
Universal

It may seem hard to believe vulgar, violent cocaine kingpin Tony Montana has much in common with the reigning Queen of the Silver Screen, but Pacino saw something useful in one of Streep’s most iconic roles. Streep’s Oscar-winning turn as the titular holocaust survivor in Sophie’s Choice made a serious impression on the actor, citing her deep commitment to the tiniest details of playing someone from another country and world as his largest influence on how he played Tony. Who knew Al Pacino is a Meryl Streep fanatic? Stars really are just like the rest of us!


4. Oliver Stone was fighting his own cocaine addiction while penning the script.

Scarface Cocaine
Universal

Hooked for a year or two prior to beginning work on Scarface, Stone realized his work was getting “shallower” and bank account smaller. He and his then-wife moved to Paris as a means of cutting off his access to the drug. Stone wrote the screenplay “cold sober” in a dark room while living in the City of Light.


5. F. Murray Abraham had firsthand experience as a gangster.

Scarface F Murray Abraham
Everett Collection/Universal

As a teen in El Paso, TX, Abraham was a self-described “hoodlum.” Long before he was causing trouble as henchman Omar Suarez, the young Abraham ran around with a local gang stealing cars, getting into fights, and occasionally going to school. All that changed when the speech and drama teacher at his high school gave him March Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to read in front of the class. He was hooked, and his gang days were over.


6. Al Pacino’s hand got stuck to a gun barrel.

Scarface Machine gun
Everett Collection/Universal

In addition to accidentally being cut by a rogue shard from a plate thrown by Michelle Pfeiffer, Pacino suffered another injury on set. During a rehearsal for a gunfight, he mistakenly grabbed the barrel of the prop gun after firing several rounds, and his hand got stuck to the hot barrel. The burns were so bad, Pacino couldn’t work for two weeks.


7. Glenn Close wasn’t “slutty” enough to play Elvira.

Glenn Close
Sony

Al Pacino wanted Close, whom he knew through the New York theatre scene, as Elvira. However, producer Martin Bregman wasn’t convinced she was “slutty enough” to play the coked-out sex symbol. Close wasn’t the only high profile actress turned down for the coveted role; other contenders included Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Sharon Stone, Kelly McGillis, Melanie Griffith, and Kim Basinger, all of whom presumably didn’t possess sufficient levels of sluttiness according to Mr. Bregman.


8. Tammy Lynn Leppert disappeared shortly after filming.

Tammy Lynn Leppert
Universal

The 18 year-old actress, model, and former child beauty-queen appeared as Manny’s (Steven Bauer) distraction while he was in the lookout car during the infamous chainsaw scene. Leppert was last seen in Cocoa Beach, Florida on July 6, 1983 just five months before Scarface hit theaters. Authorities speculated Leppert may have been three months pregnant at the time of her mysterious disappearance and that her missing persons status could be tied to several serial killers and drug trafficking networks around the area. Her current whereabouts are still unknown.


9. F. Murray Abraham’s mother didn’t approve of Pacino’s foul mouth.

F Murray Abraham
Universal

Scarface is full of expletives with the F-word being used well over 200 times in the nearly three-hour film (the scorecard feature on the Platinum DVD edition reportedly averages its use at 1.32 f–ks per minute of the film). It’s no surprise many were turned off by the kingpin’s profanity laden mouth including wife Elvira onscreen and F. Murray Abraham’s mother. After a screening of the film in 2011, Abraham’s Italian mother asked the actor to “tell Al not to use that language. It’s not good for the Italian people.” Cuban drug dealers may be tough, but you really don’t want to mess with an Italian mama!


10. The infamous chainsaw scene was based on a real incident.

Scarface Chainsaw
Universal

Screenwriter Oliver Stone spent several months in Miami with local law enforcement and the DEA doing research and was drawn to a particularly gruesome real case. A major drug smuggling ring headed by Mario Tabraue (who became one of the major inspirations for Tony in the film) dismembered Larry Nash with a chainsaw and burned his body in July 1980 after discovering he was an informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Tabraue was eventually arrested in 1987 as part of the FBI’s “Operation Cobra” at his home in Dade County while his wife threw $50,000 cash out the back window, which was caught by a federal agent. By the time Tabraue’s drug ring was busted up, it was worth over $75 million. Say goodnight to the bad guy.

See what Scarface would look like as a sitcom below.

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Breaking-the-girl-web

Iceland Bound

Watch Fred Armisen’s Dreamy Music Video For El Perro Del Mar’s Red Hot Chili Peppers Cover

Fred returns to Iceland in his new music video

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Photo Credit: El Perro Del Mar

Created by two seasoned musicians, Portlandia often uses music as its satirical base. But while the show allows Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein to shine as masterful comedians and occasional singers, Portlandia has yet to offer a dreamy full-length music videos shot in Iceland. Fortunately, Fred was able to make that happen by directing the music video for El Perro del Mar’s down-tempo cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Breaking the Girl.” In the video, a valet in Los Angeles attempts to track down the owner of a lost car key all the way to Iceland. In addition to directing the video, Armisen also stars as the globetrotting valet.

Fred — who is no stranger to music videos, having directed clips for artists like Neil Michael Hagerty & the Howling Hex and The Helio Sequence — recently spoke to Rolling Stone about working with El Perro Del Mar (the musical alias of Sarah Assbring) and his love for the Chili Peppers’ music. Documentary Now! fans also know that this isn’t Fred’s first trip to Iceland. No word on whether he attended an Al Capone Festival on his return visit.

Check out Fred’s sweetly relaxing music video for El Perro del Mar’s “Breaking the Girl” below.

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