Justice League: Injustice (2021)

Justice League : Injustice (2021)

The cover to Justice League: Injustice.

Film: I really love DC comics. For as long as I can remember I’ve have had DC comics, toys and shirts, but as a company there is one thing that DC has consistently done since the mid-eighties that really gets my goat.

The consistent opposition of Batman and Superman.

Sure, in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series it made sense, but every quality writer (and hack) has seemed to decide that that opposition, even though Miller’s work isn’t part of regular DC time, is the standard between them.

The murder of Lois Lane hits Superman hard…

I always thought that Batman and Superman were the ultimate team, the brains and the brawn, but the way DC plays Batman now is he’s really not much better than Lex Luthor: a rich man afraid of an alien who demonstrates acts of humanity better than actual human beings, and whose pro-activity makes them a better person than they could ever be.

The Injustice video games are fantastic, and I’ve played them a ridiculous amount of time, and considering the cornerstone of the story in that is that opposition, it might make me somewhat of a hypocrite, but it’s the quality gameplay I remember rather than the story. As a caveat I must admit that in my over 40 years of comics reading I have never read an issue of the DC comic Injustice because I have no interest reading a story based on a game that I payed more attention to the mechanics than the story… please ‘X’ to skip? No problem.

The story has been obviously popular though, and even though it’s a trope that fans love even though it’s been beaten to death, as a collector of the DC Animated Blurays I certainly felt an obligation to purchase it, so here we are.

Injustice is the tale of a fallen Superman. After the Joker kills Lois Lane, and destroys Metropolis, Superman goes crazy-8 bonkers and pulls the heart out of the gleeful Joker, and blames Batman partially for Lois’ death as he never had the stones to properly ‘take care’ of the Joker.

… but not as hard as he hits the Joker.

For some reason, Batman decides that this isn’t justice (even though the Joker has killed and escaped so many times) and the Justice League divides into those who think Superman did wrong, and those who think Superman did something fair and just, and so the battle begins with many surprise deaths at the hands of the rogue Kryptonian.

Who is right? Who is wrong? The conversation will possibly continue long after the story has finished, and this story stars SO many DC characters: Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Green Arrow, and so many more. For a full list, check out the roster of any Injustice video game!

To the credit of the writers, the story doesn’t end up with Batman acquiring some kryptonite but is instead an emotional appeal to the man that Superman once was, and it is far more satisfying. Unfortunately, what is a promising set-up relies on multiverse rubbish and the appearance of Plastic Man and is all executed with probably the worst character design of any DC Animated feature to date.

Score: **

The menu screen to Justice League: Injustice

Extras:

Adventures in Storytelling – Injustice: Crisis and Conflict is a fascinating round table with producers Jim Krieg and Rick Morales, director Matt Peters and writer Ernie Altbacker. It’s a detailed look at the themes and even the politics of the story and entertains and informs thoroughly.

A Preview of Reign of the Supermen and A preview of The Death of Superman are shorts that look at other features from the DC Animated movies.

There is also two animated episodes, Injustice for All parts 1 and 2 from Justice League. Not sure of the connection except for the name, but whatever.

Score: ****

WISIA: Nope, but I’ll play the games again!

The Bat and the Cat discuss their plans to take down the Man of Steel

This review was done with the Australian release of Justice League: Injustice.

Whiteout (2009)

Whiteout (2009)

The cover of the UK release of Whiteout

Film: One of the big problems with comic to film projects is compression.

If one is making a film of say, Spiderman, a cinematic script writer needs to look at 50 odd years of history and compress that into 2 odd hours of movie. Some writers attempt this by directly adapting a story, others just try to get a ‘feel’ for the character and others try for an amalgam of tales. Some would say that this is why many comic to film movies didn’t work, and why the modern comic movie DOES work as it simply gets its inspiration from the original work.

Ideally what one would do is to get a story that is a one off, like a novel! Whiteout is a comic written by Greg Rucka, who has written for DC’s Wonder Woman and Action Comics, and illustrated by Steve Leiber, who has illustrated Detective Comics and Conan and is published by independent publisher Oni Press.  Whiteout was popular upon its release in 1999 and to date has produced a sequel, Whiteout: Melt which earned an Eisner Award in 2000 for Best Limited Series. A third series Whiteout: Thaw, renamed Whiteout: Night, is yet to be published.

The film adaptation of Whiteout was directed by Dominic Sena who also directed the Nic Cage vehicle Gone in 60 Seconds and the Travolta/ Jackman thief gumbo Swordfish.

Kate Beckinsale as Stetson

Whiteout starts in 1957, with a Russian transport plane crashlanding into the snow after a gunfight between the co-pilot and a security team who are responsible for guarding ‘something’ results in the pilot getting his brains blown out.

Flash forward to now, and we are introduced to US Federal Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) who, after a disastrous experience with a traitorous partner, has worked in a research station in remote Antarctica for 2 years. The station is in a part of Antarctica that becomes so cold in the winter that planes aren’t allowed in or out for three months, and so the majority of the workers leave for that period. Stetko has decided to leave her position as ‘town sheriff’ permanently, and make preparations to leave for the last time. Unfortunately, her last days are marred by what appears to be a body seen by a pilot in a fairly remote part of the area which she has to investigate.

She grabs the Station’s doctor ‘Doc’ (Tom Skerrit) and they, along with a pilot Delfy (Columbus Short) fly out to the remote area where the body was seen, and what they find is not an accident victim, but the corpse of one who has been… murdered.

The body mysteriously abandoned in the snow.

So the story begins, and we have Stetko having to solve a murder in only a few days, and when it becomes compounded with the mystery involving the aforementioned crashed plane, and a case of gangrene to contend with, she has her work cut out for her.

The film on the surface appears to be quality, but somewhere along the line, just doesn’t click. There is nothing wrong with the acting, the story is a fine murder mystery, the direction is good, but for some reason it just doesn’t all gel.  I think it might be just that it has all been seen before, and the film doesn’t really offer anything new to the table. Essentially we have a Wild West sheriff attempting to solve a Holmsian mystery on the set of John Carpenter’s The Thing. I suspect this problem with it stems from the producers being dazzled by the visuals of the comic, but didn’t really see that it was a fairly average mystery story, and when those clever drawn visuals are removed, the story can’t quite hold its own.

Think of it this way; would the film Sin City have been so clever if they had made a straight up colour film adaptation, or would it have been a collection of fairly generic noir (without the noir) stories. I love that film, but am well aware that a good percentage of my affection for it comes from the visuals.

It has all the elements of a great thriller, with a pretty good cast to boot, but somehow, tragically, falls flat.

Score: ***

The Whiteout Bluray menu screen

Extras: After the disc starting with trailers for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, The Hurt Locker, The Keeper, and a Snickers advert starring Mr. T (remember them? ‘GET SOME NUTS!’) there’s a couple of decent extras on this disc:

Whiteout: The Coldest Thriller Ever is a traditional ‘making of’ documentary. It shows behind the scenes footage and has interviews with various cast and crew. Work-a-day DVD and BD extra stuff.

Whiteout: From Page To Film is a look at this process of writing and drawing the comic, and how it was adapted to the screen. There are some good insights into how an adaptation can work, or not work.

Deleted Scenes: At about 4 minutes you can see that these deleted scenes don’t really show too much extra, though they one shows both an appearance by writer Greg Rucka, and a look at just how mundane Carrie’s regular policing of the station are.

Score: ***

WISIA: Watch it once and give it away.

This film was reviewed with the UK Bluray release.

The killer kills again!

Black Widow (2021)

Black Widow (2021)

The cover to the Australian 4K steelbook

Film: I’ve always been a fan of low powered/ intellectual heroes. Even though I do dig Superman, and Shazam, I do really love the heroes that spend their time saving the day with nothing more that training and skill. It’s why I love characters likes James Bond, Jack Reacher, Alex Cross and I guess I’ve always loved the idea of an ordinary person making a difference, and maybe wishing that perhaps one day I could make a difference to someone’s life in such a heroic way.

To that end I’ve always loved Daredevil, who had a MCU based Netflix series a few years ago, and even though he does have powers with his sonar ‘sight’, a lot of his character comes from his intellect and his agility. It was in Daredevil comics that I first discovered, and fell in love with the character of Black Widow: a strong, non-powered hero who risks everything for her definition of good.

I was extraordinarily happy when Black Widow turned up in the MCU in Iron Man 2, and was even more happy when it was revealed that she was played by Scarlet Johansson, who I loved in things like Ghost World and 8 Legged Freaks.

This movie is the reward that Scarlet Johansson deserved, as her character wasn’t just a hero, but a moral backbone and solid support to the rest of the Avengers, and her appearance in the brilliant spy-thriller Captain America: Winter Soldier turned her into more than that. This film was written by screenwriter Eric Pearson (Godzilla vs Kong and Thor Ragnarok) from a story by Jac Schaeffer (Wandavision) and Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) and was directed by Lore’s Cate Shortland.

Natasha (Scarlet Johansson) is on the run after the events of Civil War

Black Widow starts in the mid 90s, with us being introduced to a young Natasha Romanov (Ever Anderson), who lives in Ohio with her ’sister’, Yelena (Violet McGraw) and ‘parents’, Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachael Weisz) who we discover very quickly aren’t a family but instead are Russian sleeper agents. They are discovered and have to quickly escape, and we see that perhaps Alexei is more than he seems, and the family return to their Russian handlers, and are separated.

Flash forward to not-quite-modern day Natasha (Johansson), who is on the run from the American government after the events in the dreaded Captain America sequel Civil War (seriously, that was a Captain America film? Shouldn’t it have been an Avengers movie, or just called Marvel Civil War?) who after receiving some mail from her safe house in Budapest, is attacked by a masked villain who seems to know the Avengers every move, including everything from her own repertoire.

It’s not Natasha that our nemesis is after though, but instead a parcel that is amongst the Budapest mail, that would appear to contain a chemical antidote to a particular form of mind control, and was sent to her by Yelena (Florence Pugh).

Natasha returns to Budapest to find Yelena but very quickly they are attacked by a gang of well-trained women who will seemingly stop and nothing to obtain/ kill them, under the leadership of the aforementioned villain known as the Taskmaster.

This leads the to discover that the training ground that perverts young women, including the both of them, into operatives known as ‘Widows’, the Red Room, is still in operation and so they decide to tear it down once and for all, but they need the help of Alexei and Melina, who may have information to help them find the boss of the Red Room, Dreykov (Ray Winston).

The villainous Taskmaster!

I actually feel sorry for Johansson with the release of this film. Ready to come out just as the global pandemic hit, it was delayed and delayed and then unfortunately dumped onto Disney+, not giving it the opportunity to be the success it perhaps should have been, and garnering a female hero in the Marvel universe the superstardom she may deserve. (yes, I’m aware that Captain Marvel exists but let’s face it, it was shoehorned in so the Avengers actually stood a chance against Thanos).

Johansson continues to play Black Widow as a full-tilt action hero, but with heart and soul. She’s easily the most rounded of all the characters in the Marvel movies and that’s a tribute to her acting ability. She’s probably one of the best cast in the Marvel films.

The addition of Pugh, Weisz and Harbour is refreshing too. These are three actors who have been chosen due to their abilities to act rather than fulfilling a body ideal! He’ll, Harbour even promotes his so-called Dad-bod and can still be a superhero. The best thing about it is that they have been built around Johansson’s character and really feel like a real family, and not a reel family.

There is one problem with this film and that’s cinematic history. Sure, as a Marvel machine movie under the control of The Mouse ™ it was going to have lots of people see it, especially seeing as how the Marvel movies now have a requirement to see everything other wise you’ll miss out on key points to enjoy the total soap opera of it all, but the basic plot line of a Russian school training women to be secret agents has been seen in film before. Before you Marvel Zombies jump on me and say she was around before the other things, yes, I know that (I am a comics fan of 45 years standing), but MCU exclusive fans may not know that and if they don’t know the history they will just see this as a copy of Salt or Red Sparrow, which is a shame.

Thankfully the script is still full of mystery, action and heart, tells a great story about how strong family bonds can be, and that ‘family’ can mean more than who a person can be related to by blood, but can have a greater meaning of support, trust and experience. Shortland’s direction really showcases all this brilliantly, and it’s juxtaposition of some of the very male-gaze shots of the female cast, particularly some Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque low angled butt shots, make for an unusual visual gumbo that works perfectly.

There are finer details of the film though which are are great addition to Black Widow’s legend. Where she got her training, what her and Hawkeye were doing in Budapest, the so-called ‘red in her ledger’ are all touched upon but not so heavily that this film requires too much knowledge of other Marvel films to make sense. Like the Antman film it does sit outside as an action film by itself.

That’s not to say there isn’t some references back to the comics either; Alexei refers to another character as ‘Big Bear’ and his alter-ego, The Red Guardian, had a teammate in a Russian version of the Avengers in the comics who was a ‘big bear’ named Ursa Major.

It’s a great action film, and Harbour plays a great comedy part to the seriousness of the entire situation. It’s not as bombastic as other Marvel films but it has more heart than most of them and the redemption of Black Widow’s past is a solid addition to her legend, and makes her sacrifice in Endgame a worthwhile one.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the 4K release

Extras: As usual, we have a bunch of extras on this disc, but they are all too short. Considering that Widow is FINALLY getting her due after a career supporting the other Marvel heroes, it’s a shame there was a ‘comic to film’ history of the comic character done for the disc. That seems to be something lacking from a lot of the Marvel disc releases as they distance themselves more and more from the source material.

Sisters Gonna Work It Out looks at the chemistry between Johansson and Pugh, and the way the characters worked together on screen.

Go Big If You’re Going Home looks at the story and the locations and set design of the film. It’s a bit of a confused hodge-podge that wants to tell a lot but doesn’t have the time to tell any of it appropriately.

Gag Reel. The Marvel Gag reels stopped being funny at about Ant-Man. They don’t need to be on here anymore as they look more like deliberately acted gags.

Deleted Scenes: there are 9 deleted scenes, some of which have some beautiful cinematography and it’s a shame to see it wasted, but as usual, the film doesn’t suffer with their absence.

Score: **1/2

WISIA: It’s a Marvel movie, I rewatch Marvel movies, even when they are as bad as Thor Ragnarok, so yeah, it’ll get rewatched.

Yelena (Florence Pugh) gets his with some red gas!

This review was done with the Australian 4K release, with the extras reviewed off the accompanying Bluray.

Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 (2021)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of Batman: the Long Halloween Part 1

Film: Sometimes the best Batman stories are the ones that have a limited lifespan. Year one, The Dark Knight Returns and their ilk all stand up and really put Batman on the map, both as a flawed hero and an obsessed human being who’s obsession makes him more a bad guy than a good guy.

Myself and a few friends used to host a podcast called the Nerds of Oz where we predominantly talked about comic movies, but also other nerdy stuff, and one of the members of the podcast crew, Shane, says that this graphic novel/ limited comic series was one that made him really sit up and pay attention to just what Batman can be, and it turned him into an obsessive collector who just two days prior to me watching this Bluray, bought every single Batman ‘66 action figure, vehicle and play set from McFarlane toys.

Batman was a serious part of my upbringing as well. I still have memories, and photos, of me going to school EVERY DAY when I was in kindergarten, dressed in a Batman Halloween costume, and could only be addressed as ‘Batman’ whilst wearing it. When you consider that my stori in relation to Shane’s is 40 years prior, you can tell that Batman consistently been THE superhero that fans want to see on screen, whether it be due to the very fact he is someone who just stood up and said ‘Enough’ in regards to injustice, or whether you’re a furrie who likes to hang out in black leather on rooftops, getting your kicks from beating people up.

The Bat-man himself!

Anyway, this film, Batman: The Long Halloween Part One, is a part of the amazing DC animated features that have been coming out for well over ten years, and personally I think in most occasions have been more entertaining than the Marvel or DC live action movies because they lean much more heavily into the ‘real’ world of the comics, rather than thirty Hollywood writers adapting stories to what they feel the ‘general’ public could digest easily… you know, with that typical lack of respect some production companies have for the cinema going audience.

Dumb it down to make it more palatable to the masses… I’m looking at you, Thor: Ragnarok.

Ok, so I’ll tuck my soapbox aside and look at this film.

Halloween night in Gotham City always brings out the crazies… actually, every night in Gotham brings out the crazies, but Halloween seems to see the population rise.

Batman (Jensen Ackles), Captain Jim Gordon (Billy Burke) and DA Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) have come together to investigate the murder of the nephew of gangster Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone (Titus Welliver), who was about to roll over on the crime family in court.

Problem is though, it’s just the beginning of a series of murders that take place on holidays, and after being hospitalised by the Falcone gang, it might appear that Dent himself is the prime suspect and may be leading a double life… and if you know who Dent becomes, double is exactly the name of his kind of trouble.

Gordon and Batman go to the Calendar Man (David Dastmalchian) in Arkham Asylum, who offers them some cryptic information, but quickly they discover the Joker (Troy Baker) has escaped, and the last thing this investigation needs is a wild card in the deck…

Calendar Man explains the situation.

The first thing I’ll have to say that I really liked about this feature was the new take on the animation style. I got a real ‘Archer’ feel from it, with nice hard black outlines that don’t deter from the realism that it’s going for. There’s a real smoothness to the animation too that makes it almost feel more like live-action, which really gave the story a lot of gravity.

The design of the whole production is really amazing, borrowing styles from Batman the Animated Series, Anton Furst’ s designs from Tim Burton’s Batman and David Mazzucchelli’s art from Batman Year One. It’s weird that they decided to ignore Tim Sale’s style from the comics, but at least that gets seen in the opening credits.

The story is fantastic (so far); it’s a classic gangster/ crime drama, but with Batman villains thrown in for good measure, just to remind you that it takes place in the DC universe. The inclusion of a a-grade villain like Calendar Man is simply exquisite, especially to transform him into an almost Hannibal Lector advisor in the crimes.

I can’t comment on whether or not there was much difference between this and the source material, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed the story… let’s hope Part 2 doesn’t screw it up.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the Australian Bluray release

Extras:

DC Showcase: The Losers is one of the short animated features that they slip on as extras onto these discs, and I love them because, as the title suggests, they ‘showcase’ characters who may not be popular enough to get a full feature. This is not the Losers seen in the 2010 movie of the same name (starring Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Idris Elba) but instead based on the original comics created by Robert Kanigher, which told of Navajo pilot Johnny Cloud and his platoon and their adventures in World War 2. This tale sees them trapped on an island with dinosaurs and a traitor… a lot of fun, and some nice visual tributes to Jack Kirby’s artwork here and there.

A Sneak Peak at the Next DC Animated Movie, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2 looks at the second part of the story, available on a future release.

There is also previews of other Animated films, such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. Also from the DC Vault, we have two episodes of Batman the Animated Series; ‘Christmas with the Joker’ and ‘It’s Never Too Late’. I find these extras occasionally irrelevant as most people collecting these discs would be collecting all of DC’s animated product, so ‘previewing; something that came out three years ago seems superfluous, and most of us would already have the episodes on season collections of the series’s. I do appreciate that they try to make the episodes relevant to the story, and I do find myself revisiting them, so I shouldn’t be too harsh.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: I’ll have to watch it again when I watch part 2! Seriously thoigh, it’s a good, engaging mystery where Batman is actually being a detective instead of most modern-day iterations where he’s just a thug-like vigilante. I look forward to watching it again!

The whole thing starts with a murder…

This review was done with the Australian Bluray release of the film.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release

Film: Marvel comics of the 70s were some of the best comics ever made, and I really dig everything they did at that time. Actually, Marvel were heavily influenced by cinema at this time as they had their horror characters, their blaxploitation characters (like Power Man and Black Goliath), chop socky guys (like Shang Chi and Iron Fist) and their supernatural line, which included Satana, Man Thing and this guy, Ghost Rider.

OK, so I am the guy who liked the first Ghost Rider film: I need to point that out straight away. I am aware that that may have some of you not read my reviews at all anymore, but for any of its faults: it had the fucking GHOST RIDER in it… oh, and Eva Mendes in some outfits that were so tight you can almost count the hairs on her… well, they were pretty tight.

This new production, under the Marvel Knights line (a lower budget, more violent, less mainstream part of Marvel films) was directed by the team of Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine, who brought us the Crank films and Gamer and written by Scott M. Gimple (episodes of The Walking Dead), Seth Hoffman (episodes of House and Prison Break) and David S. Goyer (Dark City and the Blade films… amongst others).

Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze

This reboot of the Ghost Rider tale sees Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), the alter ego of the demon motorcyclist Ghost Rider approached by Moreau (Idris Elba), who is working for a religious order to stop the devil in his human guise Roarke (Ciaran Hinds) from kidnapping a boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan) from his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) for his own hidden reasons. Of course, Roarke has a mercenary working for him named Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) whose efforts to get the boy are assisted by a gift, a dark, evil gift…

… and then throw in Highlander Christopher Lambert as a tattooed religious fanatic and you have an absolute blast!!!

This film had a lot lower budget than the previous outing, but it is such a different film, with such a different vibe that a larger budget possibly would have been detrimental to the dirty look it achieved. The look of the main character, Ghost Rider, and his motorcycle, are so much fierier than in the first film. The skull is charred and the fire belches a thick polluting smoke that is echoed in the emissions from the motorcycle as well. His leathers aren’t smooth like in the first film, they bubble and pop, giving the fire real weight and you can almost feel the heat from it.

The Ghost Rider on his flaming hellcycle!

Most of the performances in the film are good, except, I hate to say it, for Cage’s. He is supposed to be a man haunted by a demon within, but sometimes it leans into vaudevillian which doesn’t really suit parts of the film.

The story is a little generic, and plot points will jump out at seasoned film goers well before they happen. That is not to say there aren’t some interesting moments (keep your eye out for a tribute to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, a joke about Twinkies’ use by dates and the Ghost Rider ‘hellifying’ a gigantic piece of digging equipment) but the direction is the hero here. Taylor and Neveldine deliver their hectic style seen in the Crank films, which suits the character perfectly and is a blast to watch.

Missed opportunity for comic geekdom department: there is a son of Satan in this and they didn’t call him Damien Hellstrom? Marvel fans will know what I mean!!

A pretty good film that is slightly better than the first film due to the manic direction and maniac performances. It knows its limitations, attempts to exceed them and does so well. Comic fans should dig it.

Score: ***1/2

The menu screen of the Australian Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Bluray

Extras: Straight up I want to say one thing that pissed me off about this release. Columbia, in their wisdom, has decided to release two different Bluray releases of this film: one has the 3D and 2D versions on two discs, and the other version has the 2D version, a DVD and a digital copy… so why not a combo of all?!? I like my digital copies of films, and whilst I don’t have a 3D TV, I like to get the 3D versions in case I get one in the future, so what do I buy here? What will end up happening are probably both, or I’ll download a digital copy from iTunes. Either way: Columbia are bastards.

Due to this, I was unable to watch the Riding Into Another Dimension 3D Featurette as it was on the 3D disc and unwatchable on my equipment… sorry!

The Path to Vengeance is a great 6 part documentary looking at the trials that Neveldine and Taylor and their cast and crew had to getting this made. It’s an interesting look at filmmaking in Eastern Europe and the director’s take the whole thing with a great sense of humour.

The Deleted Scenes are cool: essentially unnecessary but interesting if only for the semi-finished CGI featured in them.

Director’s Expanded Video Commentary is the best director’s commentary ever. It features Taylor and Neveldine standing in front of the film and commenting, stopping the film for ‘making of footage’ and picture in picture stuff with alternate shots and making of bits. It’s a really interesting and innovative commentary that has a wry sense of humour as well. It does; however, double up on some of the info given in the The Path to Vengeance doco.

Score: ****

WISIA: Probably just after watching the first one, so yeah, I’d watch it again.

Johnny Whitworth as Blackout

This review was done with the initial Australian Bluray release

Ghost Rider (2007)

Ghost Rider (2007)

The cover to the Australian release of Ghost Rider

Film: I am a massive fan of the ‘comic-movie’. Having read comics for over the past 40 odd years, I’m interested in any comic to film adaptation, be it a lowbrow comedy like High School Confidential, or a super budgeted blockbuster-y extravaganza like the Juggernauts that are the Marvel and DC products that we see today. I am always interested to see filmmakers takes on characters from my favourite literary art-form. Sometimes they can be super-duper adaptations, like Sin City, or Captain America Winter Soldier…and sometimes they can be Judge Dredd (the Stallone one, not the Urban one): either way, I am always keen to see where the producer’s will take a popular (or in some cases unpopular) license.

One thing I never understand though is unnecessary changes. Do some of these filmmakers feel a need to personalise a character for the sake of the audience, or is it for more egotistical reasons that makes them want to feel the character is their own? Ghost Rider is another example of unnecessary changes, but lucky for me most of it worked.

Ghost Rider tells the tale of Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) who, as a youngster, sold his soul to the Devil (Peter Fonda) in exchange for the life his father, a cycle stunt rider who has been diagnosed with lung cancer and is dying. The Devil, of course, cures him, but allows him to die in a motorcycle accident, which causes Johnny to become hellbent on self destruction, including throwing away a relationship with the lovely Roxy (Raquel Alessi).

Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze

Flash forward to now, and Johnny (now played by Nicolas Cage) is still trying to destroy himself, until he meets up with Roxy (now played by Eva Mendes) again. He tries to re-ignite their love, but is unaware that the Devil’s son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) is challenging his father’s rule, and that the Devil will soon call upon Johnny to fulfill his contract with him, by becoming his demonic hitman on Earth, which will no doubt play havoc with any potential of a personal life. After a chance meeting with the Caretaker (Sam Elliott), who seems to know more about his curse than he is letting on, Johnny learns how to use the powers of… THE GHOST RIDER!!

My biggest problem with this film was some of the characterizations. Nic Cage as Johnny Blaze was great… never before have I seen an actor play a two dimensional character so well, and his emotions swung from moody to brooding to angst-ridden with ease. Eva Mendes was wonderful as a cleavage that could speak. Seriously, I don’t think I heard a single world that came out of her mouth, as her role is a purely visual one!! Wes Bentley as Blackheart… well let’s just say that one of comic artist John Romita Jr’s most wonderful visual images was adapted into a skinny emo boy, and didn’t necessarily feel as oppressive and evil as he was in the comics.

Eva Mendez as Roxanne

Now though, we get to the performance cream, Peter Fonda as the Devil was inspired, and his longing looks at the motorbike were a grand harking back to his Easy Rider days. I suspect though, that his portrayal of Satan may be quite easy for him, and I suspect he may have been playing himself, as is Sam Elliott’s take on the gravelly, tobacco-chewin’ Caretaker.

As far as the film itself is concerned, it is a great time, if you don’t take it too seriously. Many movies rely on more than the stars abilities and this is one of them. The special effects are nothing short of brilliant! Anyone who goes to a film that features a burning demon riding a hog, who fights with a semi-sentient chain and doesn’t have a good time…well, perhaps you should be reading the reviews at Disney’s website. This review, as the title says, is for the extended version of the film, and to be quite honest, I couldn’t tell what scenes were extra ones! I saw this film at the cinemas, and the extras scenes don’t change the film, like say the extended cut of the Daredevil film, but just add to the scenes already there, like the extended cut of the Fantastic Four film.

There’s probably only one real unforgivable sin committed by this film, and that is that it’s Rebel Wilson’s first appearance in a movie. Truly scary.

While the performances may have been lacking somewhat, every time that flaming skeleton riding a Harley with burning tires comes onto the screen, you tend to forgive and forget.

Score: ***

The menu screen to Ghost Rider

Extras: After the fantastic extras on the DVD 2-disc set, these are somewhat disappointing.

There are 2 commentaries, both of which are interesting looks at the making of and ideas behind this film. The first is performed by director Mark Steven Johnson, and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack, and the second is by producer Gary Foster. Also on this first disc are trailers for Spider-Man 3 and Stomp the Yard.

The next features on the disc are a series of Makings of. The first is titled Spirit of Vengeance, which deals with mainly the nuts and bolts of the making of this film, and showcases some of the locations in Melbourne Victoria, where the majority of this film was made. The second is titled Spirit of Adventure, which showcases the stunts of the film, and the last is titled Spirit of Execution, which is all about the post production of the film. All in all these come together to make a complete making of production, and feature interviews with Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Sam Elliot, and many more, and are a complete look at the stuff needed to make a movie.

There’s also trailers for Spiderman 3 and Surf’s Up…. Yeah, this Bluray is THAT old!

Tragically, on the Bluray they have dumped the amazing 4 part doco about the comic book version of the character. A bad choice, in my opinion, as it was a thorough look at the character. Actually, these comic to movie docos seem to now be frequently absent from Bluray releases which is a damned shame.

Score: ***

WISIA: It has this weird irresistible charm that doesn’t require the knowledge of 30 different Marvel films to follow what’s going on. I’ll watch it again when I wanna watch Marvel but without the weight.

A victim of Wes Bentley’s Blackheart

Shadow Student Council Vice President Gives Her All

Shadow Student Council Vice President Gives Her All

In general, I like to read a manga before I watch an anime, but Prison School was an exception because, quite frankly, I couldn’t believe the images/ cosplay/ rumours/ spoilers/ vinyl statues that I have seen.

I watched the anime first and what I found was a sexy and hilariously archaic parody of school that wouldn’t have been uncomfortable in the company of 80s teen comedies like Porky’s or Animal House. This led me to the manga, which I found the first collection to be pretty average, story wise, but the art was nice, and I’ll stick with it because I know what is coming from watching the anime.

Of all the characters in both the anime and manga, the one that sticks out more than any of the others, is one of the baddies, the Shadow Student Council Vice President Meiko Shiraki. Why does she stick out? Well, she’s tall, with silver hair and glasses, and an extraordinarily large breast to waist to hip ratio, can’t seem to find clothes to fit her appropriately (well, except for stilettos) and sweats profusely… and I mean SWEATS whenever she is under any kind of pressure.

Of course, this means mangaka, Akira Hiramoto, presents her in the most obtuse of positions, showing off her enormous breasts, buttocks or labia majora, usually covered in perspiration and generally before executing some cruel form of torture on an unexpected male pupil. She is the sexy straight man of the baddies, and is amusing to see in her various displays.

What we have here with Shadow Student Council Vice President Gives Her All, is a series of 14 short manga vignettes showing Shiraki is various high pressure situations, such as a maths exam, trying to get back to a steeping cup of tea before it spoils, eating a mega-curry and several others. Some of the other characters peek in here and there, but these mostly wordless stories show her under pressure and then relieved of it.

It’s ecchi of the highest order for sure, and there is no doubt that the art by ReDrop isn’t sexy and over the top as the idea of the manga would suggest, but the stories themselves just aren’t engaging or, for that matter, very good. Actually they are less than not very good.

Considering Shiraki was the Darth Vader scaled villain of the piece, this is the equivalent of finding that major cinematic villain dancing on stage at Disneyland to MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This!’ and it’s a big disappointment. I imagined this to be some kind of a story about other horrible things she has done to people, but it’s just putting her into situations where she gets sweaty, or naked.

I’m not sure how successful this was, but considering that I, as a fan of manga and don’t mind a little ecchi in my comics, am probably the target market, and I don’t like it, when you can probably take that as a pretty big failure.

This manga was published by Yen Press.

Score: *

WIRIA: No.

The Avengers XXX: A Porn Parody (2012)

The Avengers XXX: A Porn Parody (2012)

Film: I didn’t know, until a few years ago, about the so-called ‘77 Rules of the Internet’.They exist, I swear!

The way I was introduced to them was via Rule 34: If is exists; there’s porn of it. No exceptions!

I laughed when I first heard if this amongst a group of friends, and so I whipped out my trusty smart phone and started searching… Overwatch porn: heaps. Pokémon porn: yep. Fidget spinner porn: I kid you not, but yes indeed.

Humans love to get off with the weirdest stuff. As nerdy culture has become more prevalent, it was only a matter of time before it became more regularly available as porn, and us us comic nerds are more exposed to sexy cosplay versions of Captain Marvel and Batgirl, it was certainly only a matter of time before someone in the prom industry came up with the idea of doing a regular series of films with superheroes in kind.

That man was Alex Braun. Honestly it’s not surprising at at all that eventually PornHub would be covered in cosplayers having various forms of intercourses in costume… what can I say, I’m a thorough researcher… but that’s a couple of independent homegirls doing it, Braun’s films are flat out, 100% obviously Thor, and Captain America, and She Hulk etc. There is a disclaimer at the beginning where it’s pointed out that this is a parody and not a genuine Marvel movie.

Anyway, for a film that goes for about 120 odd minutes, but only 15 minutes of that are actual story, whilst the rest is best all the sex stuff.

The story goes that after the Hulk and the Abomination destroy the city, the Hulk disappears with Iron Man in hot pursuit, leaving the rest of the Avengers to hang out at the ‘Avengers warehouse’ with nothing to do.

So basically they pair off and root. First off it’s Black Widow (Brooklyn Lee) with Hawkeye (Eric Masterton), followed by Sharon Carter (Phoenix Marie) and Nick Fury (Lexington Steele). Next, the Scarlet Witch (Danni Cole) and Ms. Marvel (Lexi Swallow) have a bit of all girl action in the gym before She-Hulk (Chyna… yep, from the WWE) and Thor (Brendon Millar) go at it. Finally, because they don’t get to go on a mission to find something in the ice in the Arctic (or Antarctic, I get them mixed up), the non-Spiderman-sounding Spiderman (Xander Corvus) and Ms. Marvel (Lexi Swallow again) decide to end the sexy part of the film before we lead into a shocking revelation…

This film is such a weird thing, and I mean over and above seeing beloved character from comics swapping fluids, as it creates a weird universe with both the comics and the movies, with some elements coming from either. Some of the costumes are on-point for the comics, whilst others are ok versions of the movies ones… maybe even store bought. The effects are surprisingly good too, as I imagine the SPFX on adult movies aren’t normally too high.

This isn’t a great film, but it is t supposed to be. As pornography, it’s sexy and titillating to seeing ’superheroes’ doing the nasty… let’s face it, most nerds have talked about how Superman and Lois would do it, or if Reed Richards isn’t just the greatest lover in the world due to his flexible body, but as a film with a solid story, it’s below average. If you do come across it (excuse the pun), watch it as a curio.

This film was reviewed on DVD, presented in a 1.78:1image, and with a Dolby digital 2.0 audio track.

Score: **

Extras: There are two extras on this disc:

A 47 image slideshow featuring stills from the film, and trailers for The Incredible Hulk: A Porn Parody, Threeway, and Unleashed

Score: *

WISIA: Nope. We’re done.

The All-New X-men: Ghosts of Cyclops

It would be a boring review if it were to start with something as terrible as a ‘look up convoluted in the dictionary, and you’ll find the history of the X-men as an example.’ Yep, boring, and lazy reviewing as well, so we won’t do that.

That’s not to say it’s not the absolute truth though. The X-men was nothing short of an absolute brilliant comics in the 80s, but it’s, and more specifically Wolverine’s, popularity came in the 90s at a terrible price.

Sure, the X-men cartoon was amazing, even though it starred lame jerk Gambit, but the comics were truly some of the worst in the history of comics as Marvel, close to going bankrupt, did everything from emulating comics industry bad-boys Image Comics’ style, to deciding that almost everyone was a bloody mutant.

Thankfully, since the turn of the century, and with the popularity of the X-men films, Marvel have attempted to clean up the mutant part of the Marvel universe… even if the films, also, became someone convoluted and confusing.

One of the interesting things that Marvel did was use their time travel deus ex machina (a cure-all for so many awkward story ideas) to attempt to ‘fix’ things by having the original X-men pulled out of time and transported to ‘now’ so they can not become who they do. Jean Grey, Marvel Girl, could be confronted by her possession by the Phoenix Force, and Scott Summers, Cyclops, could perhaps find himself to not become the seemingly megalomaniacal leader of all mutants.

Unfortunately, the ‘all-new’ Scott Summers is so horrified by his future self, that he wants to avoid being Cyclops at all, so he goes off-grid, separating himself from the All New X-men (whose ranks include the new Iceman, Beast and Angel, Wolverine (ex-X-23), Kid Apocalypse and Idie), until a mutant terrorist group called The Ghosts of Cyclops rise up in an attempt to continue Cyclops’ work, and Scott finds himself in a position where he has to reveal himself to stop them.

Story: This story is written by Dennis Hopeless who has given us an interesting take on the X-Men, and the exploration of a young man’s fear of becoming something horrible is an interesting look at the normally stoic Scott Summers character. Unfortunately, the second part of this trade paperback is a fairly stock standard cliff hanger starring the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, that only has half the story and therefore becomes somewhat anticlimactic.

Score: ***1/2

Art: The Official Marvel Try-out Book Winner Mark Bagley is Marvel’s version of Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful. Bag key seems to have consistently been working for Marvel since the 80s and he offers the same quality of work that he always has, which is reminiscent of John Byrne’s 70s work. It’s is functional, reads easy and looks nice. The end if this book also features some alternate covers by Ron Lim, Ed Piskor, Pascal Ferry, June Brigman, Janet Lee and Rob Liefeld.

Score: ***

Doctor Stone Volume 1

Doctor Stone Volume 1

I’ve been trying to get through the embarrassing amount of manga I haven’t read, and was reminded, whilst looking at the pile, that a friend of mine had suggested that I, with my interest in science, sci-fi and teen movies, would probably appreciate a series with story by Riichiro Inagaki and art by Boichi called Dr Stone.

It’s just an average, but when a weird flash of light turns everyone to stone, mankind’s history comes to a catastrophic halt. Senku, a super intelligent high school student, kept his consciousness alive by counting nonstop for several thousand years before achieving the will power to burst out of his stone form… but not without his skin maintaining a couple of cracks from his stone form.

A year and a half later, his friend, Taiju, who is super strong but somewhat of a dummy, managed to break out through his not-stop thinking about the love of his life, Yuzurina, whom he was on the way to meet when the flash happened, and is now also stone.

The two start to research a ‘cure’ to the stone disease, and are on the right track when they are attacked by lions, and have to release the toughest fighter they know, Tsukasa Shishio, who subsequently dispatches the lions.

They also release Yuzurina, but soon they discover that Tsukasa and them have different values.

Whilst Senku and his pals are attempting to get life back to where it was all those thousands of years ago, Tsukasa thinks that all adults should be killed so the children can start the world over again… and so he starts smashing the stone adults…

This manga is extraordinarily surprising. At its surface, it’s a sci-fi mystery, but once you start dipping into it, it seems to be a massive moral story, but unusually with the GOOD guy wanting the corporation fuelled society back so he can indulge in his scientific and technological exploits. The writing is extremely tight, though occasionally leans into a bit of American catch-phrase-isms.

The art is extraordinarily beautiful, and all the characters are, probably deliberately, statuesque, and the action scenes are a joy to the eye.

Score: ****