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Match Cuts: “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”

Match Cuts: “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (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 “Planet of the Apes” movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” we’re looking at fourth film in the original series, J. Lee Thompson’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.”

EDITIONS:
-Theatrical Cut (1972): 86 minutes
-Unrated Cut (2008): 87 minutes

THE STORY (SPOILERS AHEAD):
At the end of the second “Apes,” “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” the Earth of the far future is destroyed. In the third film, “Escape From the the Planet of the Such and Such,” two surviving talking chimps and their baby are thrown back in time to the 1970s. At first, they’re hailed as celebrities, but later they’re considered portends of a future where man is enslaved by beast. Humanity hunts and kills the chimps, but their baby is saved by a kindly circus man with a death wish named Armando (Ricardo Montalban).

Ten years later, every dog and cat on Earth is wiped out by a virus. Lonely, stupid humans replace them with apes, then make the apes slaves when they turn out to be highly intelligent and easily trainable. Eight years after that — holy lord, the premise of this movie is complicated — Armando and the grown baby chimp Caesar (Roddy McDowell) take their travelling circus to the capital city of the totalitarian military state of the future. Caesar is horrified to discover that his ape brethren are treated like slaves, and after he lets fly some angry words (“Lousy human bastards!”), Armando is arrested. Hiding out amongst the ordinary gorillas and chimps at “Ape Management” where slaves are trained (i.e. tortured and conditioned), he forments plans to strike back the cruel men who took his adopted father away from him.

REASON FOR MULTIPLE VERSIONS (MORE SPOILERS AHEAD):
All of the “Planet of the Apes” films are major bummers but “Conquest” is bleak even by the downbeat standards of the rest of the series. The entire conflict between man and ape works as a thinly veiled metaphor for the racial strife of the late 1960s, as the predominantly white skinned forces of the government repress and mistreat a class of slaves. Loaded imagery abounds: boats from Africa, slave auctions, police in riot gear, and so on. All of this was still a fairly touchy subject back in 1972, as was the content of its original ending, in which the apes strike back at their human oppressors in violent and bloody fashion. Test audiences reacted to the horrifying finale with — what else? — horror, but out of fear that their film was too bleak and too bloody to be commercial, 20th Century Fox recut “Conquest” to secure a PG rating and improve its chances at the box office. A few years ago, when “Conquest” was released on Blu-ray as part of a “Planet of the Apes” box set, the original “Unrated Cut” of the film was included as a bonus feature.

KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MULTIPLE VERSIONS (EVEN MORE SPOILERS AHEAD):
To get that all-important PG rating, the studio removed just about any shot that featured splattering blood from the nearly 30-minute long ape uprising that concludes “Conquest.” That includes one memorable and disturbing moment, available in the Unrated Cut, in which Governor Breck (Don Murray), the evil, turtleneck-wearing overlord of this dystopian future, makes a vain attempt to prove his superiority over the rebelling apes by grabbing one of his command center’s gorilla servants and shooting him in the face.

Both versions of “Conquest” conclude with the apes successfully overrunning Ape Management, and grabbing Breck and his goons. Caesar stands before the defeated humans and his assembled ape troops and delivers an impassioned speech about his plan for the future. “From this day forward,” he yells, “my people will crouch and conspire and plot and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall — the day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind! The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends!” Meanwhile, the lone voice of reason from humankind, Breck’s African-American assistant MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) pleads with Caesar for mercy as “a descendant of slaves.”

In 1972, audiences next watched Caesar make a stunning about face: seconds after giddily describing a future in which humanity is enslaved to apes, he decides to listen to MacDonald. He gives a second speech, reversing most of what he’d just said. “Now we will put away out hatred,” he says. “Now we will put down our weapons. We have passed through the Night of the Fires. And who were our masters are now our servants. And we, who are not human, can afford to be humane. Destiny is the will of God. And, if it is man’s destiny to be dominated, it is God’s will that he be dominated with compassion and understanding. So, cast out your vengeance. Tonight, we have seen the birth of the Planet of the Apes!”

Good to know Caesar knows the title of the film. This ending was, frankly, a cop out designed to placate audiences who were unprepared for a movie that championed humanity’s downfall. The original ending on the Unrated Cut is significantly less hopeful and significantly less confused:

One other small but important difference between the two cuts: Caesar is swayed from his bloodlust by MacDonald and an ape slave named Lisa (Natalie Trundy). In the Theatrical Cut, Lisa pleads “No” at the decisive moment, making her the first normal ape to speak on the Planet of the Apes. In the Original Cut, Lisa looks on sadly but doesn’t vocally object as Caesar orders Breck to his death. So the Theatrical Cut shows that the apes are osmotically learning language from Caesar, while the Original Cut leaves the question of how the apes pick up speech for future films.

Lastly, “Conquest”‘s alternate versions IMDb page is incorrect: the Unrated Cut on Blu-ray (at least the Unrated Cut on the Blu-ray I have) does not begin with a pre-credits sequence in which an escaped ape slave is hunted and killed by police. Both versions begin identically: with the credits over apes learning menial tasks like shining shoes and pouring drinks. Not sure where the info on IMDb comes from — “Conquest”‘s Wikipedia page verifies that the alternate intro was in the script, but never made it into the finished film.

IF YOU ONLY WATCH ONE VERSION OF “CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,” WATCH:
The Unrated Cut. The Theatrical Cut has a certain lunatic charm, though, since trying to fashion an upbeat ending out of full-on racial warfare is a fool’s errand. A plausible non-violent finale might have been possible, but it would have required massive reshoots that the film could not afford. Instead they just had McDowell redub his lines and inserted them over extreme close-ups or wide shots so audiences couldn’t tell that Caesar’s lips didn’t match his words. But while Caesar is ordering his soldiers to treat the humans humanely, he’s standing, sweaty and manic, in front of his broiling inferno. That’s an appropriate backdrop for the crazy brutal ending, but not for the last minute mercy ending.

There isn’t that much different about the two versions. One runs 86 minutes with less blood and more thematic backpedalling; the other runs 87 minutes with ape headshots, bloody human carcasses, and an antihero who finishes what he starts. Still, the Unrated Cut is preferable. Conquest should not be cheerful. If you have a movie about apes kicking the shit out of humankind, you might as well go all the way with it. The full scope of the violence and the uncensored hatred of Caesar’s message really brings home the darkness of this story and the “Planet of the Apes” franchise as a whole. There’s nothing happy about these movies. They work best when the studio keeps their stinking paws off the editor.

Both versions of “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” are available on a single-disc Blu-ray. Which version of “Conquest” is your favorite? 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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