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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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Rocky IV Paulie Robot

Mr. Roboto

5 Reasons Rocky IV Is Too Rotten to Miss

Catch Rocky IV Friday at 8P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: MGM/UA/YouTube

When Rocky IV was released in 1985, the critics were not kind. (While it wasn’t around back then, the film’s 39% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself.) Less of a movie than a jingoistic music video starring a robot and a steroid-addled, monosyllabic Russian baddie, Rocky IV is a far cry from the Italian Stallion’s humble origins.

Still, more than any movie ever made, it exemplifies the whole “so bad its good” genre. This movie was made for us, the great-unwashed masses of the 1980s, who loved the band Survivor and hated those Commie bastards. Before you catch Rocky IV on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, let’s take a look at some moments that make this flick a “too rotten to miss” classic.

5. That Opening Shot

Rocky IV
United Artists

It takes all of 30 seconds for the audience to know they’re in for one ridiculous rollercoaster ride through a Cold War conniption fit of good vs. evil. Gone is the subtle tone and grounded reality of the first Rocky. In its place we see two gloves, one emblazoned with the American flag, the other with the Soviets’, hurtling toward each other. When they collide, sparks fly, and we witness an explosion decades in the making.

In case the symbolism is too subtle for you, director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone is trying to hint that this movie will be the clash of civilizations we’d all been waiting for, but instead of nuclear bombs, a humble palooka from the streets would be duking it out in the ring with the ultimate representation of coldhearted Communism. If it were up to us, this opening shot would’ve won Best Picture all by itself.


4. So Many Montages

Rocky IV has a running time of 91 minutes and 20 seconds. Its eight montages (yes, EIGHT) run a total of 29 minutes and 10 seconds. That is one third of the movie solely dedicated to montages. (Considering Stallone’s contempt for all things Soviet, we have to wonder if he knows it was a dirty Ruskie who invented the montage.)

During one of the many, many montages, director Stallone actually flashes back to a scene that had happened a minute and half prior, creating the impression that he might actually flashback to the montage we were just watching in the same montage. Stallone clearly loves a good montage set to an inspirational ’80s song, and so do we. Which brings us to…


3. A Soundtrack Full of Pumped Up ’80s Jams

Speaking of montages, they are set to the score of some of the cheesiest hits from the mid-’80s. For once, we’re spared tracks from Frank Stallone, with Stallone replacing his rocker brother with synth-y singles from Survivor, John Cafferty and Kenny Loggins. And of course, Robert Tepper, possessor of an ’80s mullet that could topple empires, crooning “No Easy Way Out.” The music in this movie is one step away from being a parody of the music in this movie. If you ever want to know what cocaine can do to the human mind, just listen to this soundtrack.


2. Rocky Ends the Cold War

Rocky IV speech
United Artists

In one of the most misguided, self-congratulatory, and immediately dated moments in cinema history, good ol’ galoot Rocky Balboa single-handedly ended the Cold War four years before the Berlin Wall came down.

To quote the Italian Stallion himself: “In here…there were two guys… killing each other. But I guess that’s better than millions. What I’m trying to say is… if I can change… and you can change…everybody can change!” And just like that the Soviet public, generals and even the Premier himself rose to their feet in applause, realizing what fools they’d been. This guy beat Mr. T for Heaven’s sake. He knows what he’s talking about!


1. Paulie’s Robot

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath and really consider this for a moment. Rocky IV has a robot butler in it. A movie franchise that began back in 1976 exploring the gritty reality of a bum fighter trying to prove himself somehow limped along long enough to turn into a weak Short Circuit rip-off in which an alcoholic mooch with a history of domestic abuse now gets his coffee served to him by a robot. A robot that he has programmed with a “sultry” lady voice!

Stallone was inspired to include the real life robot Sico in Rocky IV because of the work it did to help autistic children like his son Seargeoh. That’s all very moving, but doesn’t explain why he decided to write a scene where Paulie dubs poor Sico “the love of my life.” It’s a testament to Rocky IV‘s “too rotten to miss” status that Paulie’s robot girlfriend/personal servant isn’t even the craziest thing that happens to Rock and the gang.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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Gray's Anatomy

Everything You Need to Know About the Movie That Inspired “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”

Brand new Documentary Now! airs Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom Pictures

This week Documentary Now! spotlights a master monologist with “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything.” Before you tune in at 10P this Wednesday on IFC, check out our guide to Swimming to Cambodia, the 1987 film that captured writer/performer Spalding Gray’s acclaimed one-person show.

Spalding Gray 101

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures

Actor and renowned monologist Spalding Gray spent two years on stage perfecting his Obie Award-winning “Swimming to Cambodia” monologue. In it, Gray tells the story of his eight weeks in Southeast Asia while shooting the 1984 Academy Award-winning movie The Killing Fields. He had a small role, but the experience gave him several anecdotes about hanging out with the film crew and experiencing the local culture, all while searching for “the perfect moment.”

Directed by the Silence of the Lambs Guy

Hannibal Lecter
Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme took Gray’s two-night, four hour performance and crafted it down to 85 minutes. His use of dramatic lighting, stylish camerawork and a score by performance artist Laurie Anderson was praised by critics and earned the film a cult following. No stranger to groundbreaking docs, Demme also directed the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which Documentary Now! pays tribute to in this season’s episode “Final Transmission.”

All about the Voices

While it may have been a one-man show, Gray created a repertoire of characters all with distinctive accents. (He portrayed conversations between himself and others just by turning his head.) Our favorite impressions are of his demanding girlfriend Renee and Ivan Strasberg, the South African director of photography on The Killing Fields who, as depicted by Gray, sounds a bit like a Jamaican surfer.

The Original Cranky New Yorker

In one memorable scene, Gray rants about how his noisy upstairs artist neighbors are driving him and Renee crazy. Even in the mid-’80s, there were New Yorkers complaining that the city wasn’t what it used to be.

Show and Tell

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures/YouTube

A big fan of visual aids, Gray used pull-down maps to illustrate his travels. This helped to bring Swimming to Cambodia to life, since he’s basically sitting at a desk the entire time.

Inspired One-Person Shows

Gray’s groundbreaking performances in Swimming and other documentaries like Monster in a Box and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Gray’s Anatomy (about Gray’s struggle with a rare eye condition) paved the way for future one-person shows. (We wouldn’t have everything from Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” to Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” without him.) Even Doc Now! star Fred Armisen got into the one-person show act for his recent SNL monologue.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Spalding Gray when “Parker Gail: Location Is Everything” premieres Wednesday, September 28th at 10P on IFC. 

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Burning Heart

10 Reasons Why Rocky IV Is the Ultimate Rocky Movie

Catch an all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/Everett Collection

Sure, most people love the first Rocky for its heart, gripping boxing scenes and the classic training montage. Or, you might love Creed for being both a return-to-form and a new exploration of the Rocky mythology. Maybe the thrill of seeing Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the same movie makes Rocky III your top pick. Well, sorry, you’re wrong: Rocky IV is the greatest of all the “Italian Stallion”‘s movies.

Before you watch the all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC (with Rocky IV airing at 8P as part of Rotten Fridays), check out a few reasons to appreciate the fourth installment as the king of the series.

1. The Greatest Opening Ever

How many openings are able to sum up the entire conflict of the film in less than a minute and without a single line of dialogue? And how many of those movies have exploding boxing gloves? Just try to watch the opening sequence above and not be completely psyched for the pumped-up flick to come.


2. Montages!

We all know that the best part of any sports movie is the montage, and Rocky IV doesn’t give you one measly montage. There’s a recap of the previous films montage, a getting to Russia Montage, two training montages and an ending fight montage. That’s five montages! There’s probably a montage of montages snuck in there, too.


3. There’s a Full James Brown Musical Number

This movie is so packed with memorable moments, it’s easy to forget one of the first things that happens in the film: Apollo comes out to fight Drago dressed as a shirtless Uncle Sam, while James Brown and a full band play “Living in America.” To drive home the number’s patriotism, there are dancers in tuxedos and top hats, weird unitards and bowler caps, and bedazzled showgirls with headpieces for miles. Oh, and don’t forget the giant tentacled dragon statue on the stage. This is how every boxing match should start. Heck, this is how we always want to enter a room.


4. The Soundtrack

The Rocky IV soundtrack doesn’t just feature James Brown — it has rock anthems galore, all of which make you immediately want to hit the gym. From “Heart’s on Fire” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band to “Sweetest Victory” by Touch to multiple Survivor jams, you’ll get pumped and stay pumped. Even the instrumental score rocks! Sure, sometimes it sounds like it was made on a kids Casio, but this soundtrack never quits and — to quote Robert Tepper — never takes the easy way out.


5. Abs!

Rocky IV weights

Every Rocky movie shows off Stallone’s incredible physique, but Rocky IV really ups the game. Not only do we get Dolph Lundgren mostly shirtless looking like a man machine, but we get a wide variety of scenes of Stallone doing impossible tasks. Stallone’s crazy dragon fly crunches, aka a thing no human should be able to do, automatically take this movie to the top.


6. Two words: Ivan Drago

Ivan Drago
United Artists

Not only does Rocky IV explore the global conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, but it encapsulates all of our fears of the Cold War in one perfect villain. Ivan Drago only trains with machines and science and looks like he stepped out of an Aryan Nations recruitment poster. He also only responds in short, cold phrases like “If he dies, he dies,” or “I must break you.” There’s never been a villain who we so clearly want to get the crap beat out of than Ivan Drago.


7. Rocky Makes Chores Look Badass

Rocky saw
United Artists

Rocky doesn’t need to be hooked up to machines to become the perfect fighter. All he needs are huge tires and some outdoor chores to do. No one’s ever looked cooler chopping wood and using tractor parts. Half of his training is lifting an old wagon, probably to fix a broken axle. If anything, this film inspires us to take care of that gardening work we’ve been neglecting.


8. Rocky’s Beard

Rocky IV Beard

Stallone’s beard game is truly on point in Rocky IV. And this isn’t some “I forgot to shave, here’s a little stubble” look. No, we get full out, lumberjack-style beard action. Does any other Rocky movie have our hero looking like an old Russian aristocrat? Another point for Rocky IV.


9. There’s a robot!

Again, there’s so much to Rocky IV, you probably forgot about the robot. Well, Rocky has some money now and he’s not going to spend it on frivolous things for himself. He’s going to buy Paulie a robot! The best part of this scene is how truly disturbed Paulie is by this new technology until he gives it a sexy lady voice.


10. Rocky Ends the Cold War

If you’re still not convinced that Rocky IV is the greatest, answer this question: Does any other Rocky movie bring peace between the US and Russia?

By the end of the film, Rocky rises up to beat the seemingly undefeatable Drago. He fights so well, that even the Russians begin to appreciate his skills. Then, instead of using his victory to prove America’s superiority, he gives a rousing speech of “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change!” The whole crowd goes wild, including all of the Russian government, who we assume give up Communism immediately based solely on Rocky’s words. Stallone’s call for international reconciliation through brutal fighting and a variety of montages makes this if not one of the greatest films of all time, certainly the greatest Rocky of them all.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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