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"Payback" redux

Nationallampoon73_2 The essential difference between the Mel Gibson vehicle Payback released to theaters in 1999 and the version found on the Payback: Straight Up - The Director's Cut DVD (Paramount, $20, HD-DVD and Blu-ray $30) can be summed up thusly: In the new version, they shoot the dog.

It is a sign of just how misguided Hollywood studio logic can be that despite Payback's ridiculously high body count and cartoonish approach to violence, one of the sticking points that led first-time director Brian Helgeland to walk away from the film - which was extensively altered, and not for the better, after his departure - was the insistence by executives that a scene of a dog being shot (off-camera) simply had to go.

It was that sort of inane decision - along with the inclusion of a new third act and hammy voiceover narration designed to make Gibson's anti-hero more sympathetic - that made Payback seem so generic and forgettable during its original release.

Payback_4 Helgeland's version, which is presented here for the first time, is shorter, tighter and infinitely more memorable, sporting a wickedly cynical sense of humor and a mean, unsparing attitude that are a much better fit for Donald E. Westlake's source novel (the same book, by the way, that inspired John Boorman's cooler-than-cool tough-guy noir Point Blank).

The DVD, which includes extensive interviews with Helgeland and Gibson about the recutting of the film, is a fascinating, uncommonly candid study of how Hollywood studios, in their attempts to make movies more audience-friendly (i.e. commercial), often end up draining what would have made the films memorable in the first place: Their spirit and originality.

Viewing log

Monday Apr. 23

Payback: Straight Up - The Director's Cut (2007)

Wednesday, Apr. 26

Tears of the Black Tiger (2000): Made in Thailand, this visually sumptuous western/romance/revenge drama/parody/splatter flick is, simply put, the darndest thing I ever saw.

* The Godfather (1972): Little-known bit of trivia: The horse's head was real.

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Peter Debruge

Ha, this dovetails nicely with my review of Year of the Dog, which flouts conventional Hollywood wisdom and kills off three dogs.

It also explains why The Hollywood Reporter dedicated nearly a page to reviewing the new Payback director's cut DVD (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/film/reviews/article_display.jsp?&rid=9095 ) -- an odd move, considering how seldom they cover home video. The critic, Glenn Abel, even begins by calling it "this spring's best new action movie," but the rest of his review is pure twaddle. Maybe I should give Payback a chance.

In other news... You've gotta get yourself one of these Godfather-inspired horse head pillows from the twisted folks at Kropserkel: http://www.kropserkel.com/horse_head_pillow.htm

Juan B.

OK, but was the horse already dead, or did Coppola & Co. kill it?

ReneRodriguez

Unlike "Apocalypse Now," no animals were killed during the making of "The Godfather." The horse was slated to be turned into dog chow by a major pet food manufacturer when Coppola and his art director contacted the company what they needed, picked out the horse they wanted (while it was still alive) and then waited for the manufacturer to do their thing and ship them the remains (basically, the head).

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