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15 Intense Facts About Cape Fear

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In 1991—long before the term "gritty reboot" came into this world and lost all of its meaning—Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro teamed up to make a gritty reboot of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 thriller Cape Fear. De Niro played Max Cady, a vengeful sex offender who, once out of jail, attempts to torture his lawyer, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who he blames for his 14-year imprisonment. Juliette Lewis made what was for many a first impression for the ages as Sam's daughter, Danielle. The impressive supporting cast included Jessica Lange as Leigh, Sam's wife, and cameos from actors who were in the original, including Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck (in what would be his final film). Here are 15 facts about Cape Fear in honor of its 25th anniversary.

1. STEVEN SPIELBERG TRADED THE MOVIE TO MARTIN SCORSESE FOR THE RIGHTS TO SCHINDLER'S LIST.

Martin Scorsese was apprehensive about making Schindler's List after the controversy surrounding his previous two films, Goodfellas and The Last Temptation of Christ. Steven Spielberg, on the other hand, said he "wasn't in the mood" to make a movie about a "maniac." So, once Scorsese promised Spielberg that the Bowdens would survive in the end, they traded. Spielberg had Bill Murray in mind to play Max Cady. Scorsese had other ideas.

2. THE SCREENWRITER PASSED ON THE PROJECT, BUT SPIELBERG DIDN'T NOTICE.

Spielberg had originally contacted screenwriter Wesley Strick (Arachnophobia) about adapting the original 1962 screenplay by James R. Webb, which was based on John D. MacDonald's 1958 novel The Executioners, but Strick wasn't interested. "They sent me the original movie and I watched it and didn't like it very much," Strick admitted. "It seemed like sort of a failed Hitchcock, which doesn't really turn me on. And also I didn't like the vigilante implications of the story—you know, there comes a point when a man's gotta be a man with a gun and shoot this guy down. It's not a message I ever wanted to send in a movie."

Strick planned to pass on the project, but found himself unable to say no to Spielberg when they met in person. "I didn't want to insult him and tell him I didn't think it was a good movie idea, but I wanted to convince him that I wasn't the writer for it, in a sort of polite [way]," Strick explained. "So we sat there and we talked. Actually I did most of the talking; I kind of explained what aspects of the story bothered me, and he listened, and then when it was all over he stood up and said, 'Well, I'm really glad that you're coming aboard.' And he shook my hand, and as I shook his hand back my mouth moved, my lips moved and I said 'Me, too.' It was like, in person, I was unable to say no to him, and I remember driving home thinking, What have I done?"

3. SCORSESE MADE THE SCREENWRITER TAKE OUT THE PARTS THAT WERE "TOO CLEVER."

When Scorsese took over, he kept Strick, but made him take out all of the overly clever dialogue. "Anything that smacked of television, all the dialogue he perceived as being 'clever,' everything that was too well reasoned, too neat, too clean, with ideas that were somewhat predigested—he wanted it gone," Strick told The New York Times. Strick's new boss insisted on 24 drafts before filming began.

4. IT COULD HAVE STARRED HARRISON FORD AND ROBERT DE NIRO.

Scorsese asked De Niro to ask Harrison Ford to play Sam. Ford told De Niro he would only be interested in working on the film if he played Cady and De Niro played Sam. De Niro said no to that.

5. NICK NOLTE REALLY WANTED THE PART.

Nick Nolte wore a blazer and tie to the Goodfellas premiere, with the hope that Scorsese would see he could play the part of Sam Bowden. "He had played this bear-like man, very big and rough, and I didn't think he would be right for Cape Fear," Scorsese admitted. Only after "several" discussions between the two did Nolte win the role. For research, the actor spent many weeks in public defenders' offices. For the climatic scenes in Cape Fear, he channeled the primates in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey because, according to Nolte, the cast and crew were "all trying for a very primal image."

6. REESE WITHERSPOON BLEW HER AUDITION TO PLAY DANIELLE. SO DID DREW BARRYMORE.

"It was my second audition ever," Witherspoon said in 1999. "My agent told me I'd be meeting Martin Scorsese. I said, 'Who is he?' Then he mentioned the name Robert De Niro. I said, 'Never heard of him.' When I walked in I did recognize De Niro, and I just lost it. My hand was shaking and I was a blubbering idiot.''

Drew Barrymore auditioned for the role, too, but believed she overacted for one of Scorsese's assistants. In 2000, she called the audition "the biggest disaster" of her life and said that Scorsese thinks she's "dog doo-doo" because of it.

7. JULIETTE LEWIS WAS THE FIRST ACTRESS TO BE INTERVIEWED BY DE NIRO FOR THE ROLE OF DANIELLE.

Juliette Lewis first met De Niro for an interview in a room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "It was to my advantage because I knew that was not a normal situation for [De Niro], interviewing young girls," Lewis said. "I could tell he was a little uncomfortable. I mean, all the other girls came in with their moms." Lewis had herself declared as an adult at 14 to be free of child actor labor laws. "So I said something to put him at ease. I summed everything up very quickly, meaning I didn't tell him an elaborate story of all the pieces of [crap] work I'd done. I said, 'If you want to see if I can act, just look at this movie-of-the-week I've done.'" Moira Kelly, Fairuza Balk, and Martha Plimpton also auditioned, but Lewis won out.

8. DE NIRO BECAME A GYM RAT.

To prepare for the role, six months before shooting began De Niro and his longtime trainer began hitting the gym six days a week, for two to three hours per day. Once filming started, he worked out for five hours a night. De Niro suggested that Scorsese hold off on shooting any scenes that showed off the actor's muscles until the very end of production, so that he could be as fit as possible, and the director agreed.

De Niro also reportedly paid a dentist $5000 to grind down his teeth, then another $20,000 after filming wrapped to have them fixed.

9. DE NIRO AND LEWIS DIDN'T REHEARSE THEIR MOST FAMOUS SCENE.

Scorsese put one camera on De Niro and one on Lewis for the long scene, which was filmed three times. The first take was the one used in the final cut. Lewis did not know De Niro was going to stick his thumb into her mouth before kissing her. She only received a nonchalant warning from her director that De Niro was "going to do something."

10. ILLEANA DOUGLAS BASED HER CHARACTER ON THE PREPPY KILLER'S VICTIM.

In the early morning hours of August 26, 1986, 18-year-old Jennifer Levin was murdered in Central Park by Robert Chambers, who came to be known as the "Preppy Killer." Illeana Douglas had that infamous crime in mind when preparing to play the role of Lori Davis. "I was the one who suggested my part," Douglas said of her role in Cape Fear. "The original part was called 'The Drifter.' She didn’t even have a name. I was in school when Jennifer Levin was murdered in Central Park by Robert Chambers, and I was profoundly affected by that ... In the back of my mind, 100 percent it was based on Jennifer Levin. I tried to put myself in the position of somebody who’s new to New York, who’s young, who doesn’t see anything bad coming."

11. DOUGLAS'S TORTURE SCENE TOOK TWO VERY LONG DAYS TO SHOOT.

Filming the scene in which Cady tortures Douglas's Davis was no small task. It took two days to complete the scene, and the first day lasted 17 hours. "It really hurt," Douglas told The AV Club. "My arms really were quite banged up. At one point, De Niro hopped off the bed and started whispering to Marty, and I thought, 'Oh my God, they’re going to fire me! I’m terrible!' I’d been crying for hours on end; I’ve never cried so much in my life. Then De Niro hopped back on, and Marty came and said, 'Bob says you’re done.'” It was like Stephen Boyd in Ben-Hur—like, 'Just take him off. He’s done.' I could barely walk, and my arms were all cut up from thrashing around, and then De Niro complimented me. He said that Charles Grodin was a p*ssy, because he couldn’t take the handcuffs when they did Midnight Run. I thought that was a supreme compliment."

12. GEORGE C. SCOTT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN IT.

George C. Scott was scheduled to appear in Cape Fear, but ended up needing an angioplasty after a heart scare while shooting another movie. He never made it to the Fort Lauderdale set.

13. THE HOUSEBOAT SCENES WERE SHOT INDOORS.

Cape Fear's houseboat scenes were shot indoors, on a soundstage made just for the production, and featuring a 90-foot water tank. Rain and wind machines helped capture the torrential storm. "It was hard making that commitment to build something so big," producer Barbara de Fina said. "In the overview, I guess the amount of money we spent to build the tank we'll save by not having to worry about things like weather and tides and alligators." In post-production, miniatures of the houseboat were shot in England.

14. ELMER BERNSTEIN RECYCLED SOME MUSIC.

Composer Elmer Bernstein adapted Bernard Herrmann's 1962 score from the original Cape Fear, even though Bernstein admitted that Herrmann probably would have hated the idea. "He would have killed me," Bernstein said. "He would have yelled and screamed with no question." Bernstein said he was in a state of depression for weeks working on the score because the movie was "so depressing." When Bernstein needed music for scenes not from the original, he "did something else which Herrmann would have hated. As part of the music for scenes for we which didn’t have ... appropriate music in the original, we used some of [Herrmann's] rejected music to Torn Curtain in the score, which was also very effective.”

15. PREVIEW AUDIENCES WERE CONFUSED.

After Scorsese noticed a lot of preview screening audience members wrote that the movie "skips around a lot" on their comment cards, he added shots to connect some of the dots, including one of Max's arm grasping a rope off of the houseboat. Originally, Cady fell off the boat and got back on with no explanation as to how.

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Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in May
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Netflix is making way for loads of laughs in its library in May, with a handful of original comedy specials (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Tig Notaro, and John Mulvaney will all be there), plus the long-awaited return of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here’s every new movie, TV series, and special making its way to Netflix in May.

MAY 1

27: Gone Too Soon

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Amelie

Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures: Season 1

Beautiful Girls

Darc

God's Own Country

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous Live at Radio City

Mr. Woodcock

My Perfect Romance

Pocoyo & Cars

Pocoyo & The Space Circus

Queens of Comedy: Season 1

Reasonable Doubt

Red Dragon

Scream 2

Shrek

Simon: Season 1

Sliding Doors

Sometimes

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Carter Effect

The Clapper

The Reaping

The Strange Name Movie

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V: Season 2

MAY 2

Jailbreak

MAY 4

A Little Help with Carol Burnett

Anon

Busted!: Season 1

Dear White People: Volume 2

End Game

Forgive Us Our Debts

Kong: King of the Apes: Season 2

Manhunt

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey

No Estoy Loca

The Rain: Season 1

MAY 5

Faces Places

MAY 6

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

MAY 8

Desolation

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives

MAY 9

Dirty Girl

MAY 11

Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 3

Evil Genius: the True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Spirit Riding Free: Season 5

The Kissing Booth

The Who Was? Show: Season 1

MAY 13

Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife

MAY 14

The Phantom of the Opera

MAY 15

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 4

Grand Designs: Seasons 13 - 14

Only God Forgives

The Game 365: Seasons 15 - 16

MAY 16

89

Mamma Mia!

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Kingdom

Wanted

MAY 18

Cargo

Catching Feelings

Inspector Gadget: Season 4

MAY 19

Bridge to Terabithia

Disney’s Scandal: Season 7

Small Town Crime

MAY 20

Some Kind of Beautiful

MAY 21

Señora Acero: Season 4

MAY 22

Mob Psycho 100: Season 1

Shooter: Season 2

Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 2

Tig Notaro Happy To Be Here

MAY 23

Explained

MAY 24

Fauda: Season 2

Survivors Guide to Prison

MAY 25

Ibiza

Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life

The Toys That Made Us: Season 2

Trollhunters: Part 3

MAY 26

Sara's Notebook

MAY 27

The Break with Michelle Wolf

MAY 29

Disney·Pixar's Coco

MAY 30

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4

MAY 31

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern

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20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. WILD WILD COUNTRY (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary that touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights—should be your new obsession. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. FLINT TOWN (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. MAKERS: WOMEN WHO MAKE AMERICA (2013)

Narrated by Meryl Streep, this three-part series covers a half-century of American experience from the earliest days of second-wave feminism through Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination in the 1990s. Ellen DeGeneres, Condoleezza Rice, Sally Ride, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and more are featured, and the series got six more episodes in a second season.

Where to watch it: Makers.com

4. THE JINX (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. One was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO

5. MAKING A MURDERER (2015)

The second major true crime phenom of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. WORMWOOD (2017)

Speaking of good conspiracies: documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. FIVE CAME BACK (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011)

If you can’t afford film school, and your local college won’t let you audit any more courses, Mark Cousins’s 915-minute history is the next best thing. Unrivaled in its scope, watching it is like having a charming encyclopedia discuss its favorite movies. Yes, at 15-episodes it’s sprawling, so, yes, you should watch it all in one go. Carve out a weekend and be ready to take notes on all the movies you want to watch afterward.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

9. UGLY DELICIOUS (2018)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people through the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. JAZZ (2000)

A legend of nonfiction, Ken Burns has more than a few docuseries available to stream, including long-form explorations of the Civil War and baseball. His 10-episode series on jazz exhaustively tracks nearly a century of the formation and evolution of the musical style across the United States. You’ll wanna mark off a big section of the calendar and crank up the volume.

Where to watch it: Amazon

11. THE STAIRCASE (2004)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. (Netflix just announced that it will be releasing three new episodes of the series this summer.)

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

12. PLANET EARTH II (2016)

The sequel to the 2006 original is a real stunner. Narrated (naturally) by Sir David Attenborough, featuring music from Hans Zimmer, and boasting gorgeous photography of our immeasurably fascinating planet, this follow-up takes us through different terrains to see the life contained within. There are snow leopards in the mountains, a swimming sloth in the islands, and even langurs in our own urban jungle. Open your eyes wide to learn a lot or put it on in the background to zen out.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. CONFLICT (2015)

Experience the too-often-untold stories of conflict zones through the lenses of world class photographers like Nicole Tung, Donna Ferraro, and João Silva. This heart-testing, bias-obliterating series is unique in its views into dark places and eye toward hope.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. LAST CHANCE U (2016)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. There are two full seasons to binge and a third on the way.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. VICE (2013)

Currently in its sixth season, the series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens.

Where to watch it: HBO

17. CHEF’S TABLE (2015)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. No shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. NOBU’S JAPAN (2014)

For those looking to learn more about culture while chowing down, world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa guides guest chefs to different regions of Japan to ingest the sights, sounds, and spirits of the area before crafting a dish inspired by the journey. History is the main course, with a healthy dash of culinary invention that honors tradition.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

19. THE SYSTEM (2014)

Should a jury decide if a child is sentenced to life in jail without parole? How can you go to jail for 20 years for shooting your gun inside your own home to deter thieves? These are just two of the questions examined by this knockout series about the conflicts, outdated methods, and biases lurking in America’s criminal justice system. Insightful and infuriating, it makes a strong companion to Ava DuVernay’s 13th.

Where to watch it: Al Jazeera and Sundance Now

20. BOBBY KENNEDY FOR PRESIDENT (2018)

It won’t be available until April 27 (so close!), but it’s well worth adding to your queue. This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

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