Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic 4 (2015)

Film: Those Marvel films that are around now, they are bloody fantastic, aren’t they… well, except for Thor Ragnarok which is a lowest common denominator, slapstick comedy piece of populist cinema made for people who don’t respect comic books as an art form and think it’s ok to throw a much loved character through a comedy filter for lowbrow ‘laffs’.

Ahem, excuse me.

Well due to a bunch of contractual stuff, there were (before the Disney juggernaut purchased everything on the planet except for DC, Star Trek and Firefly) a bunch of Marvel properties that were still owned by other companies. Sony had (and still has) Spiderman and his amazing friends and enemies, and Fox were the proud owners of the X-men and this part of the Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Four, once the proud owners of the tagline ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’.

This was the fourth attempt at a Fantastic Four film. The first was the doomed and not-officially released Roger Corman junk pile that ruined careers, then we had the successful, but more PG-friendly than the modern Marvel films, 2005 film and its sequel, which weren’t too bad and certainly truer to the comics than this catastrophic film that holds up neither as a comic-based film or even as a good movie at all!

You probably know the story, but this has some unnecessary tweaks.

Childhood friends Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) are invited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to help with an experiment in pan-dimensional travel he is performing with his scientist daughter Sue (Kate Mara), engineer/ mechanic son Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and experiment detractor Victor Von Doom (Tony Kibbell).

Unfortunately, an accident happens during the experiment and they are exposed to a radiation that gives them powers beyond human imaging… well, unless your name is Jack Kirby or Stan Lee… Richards escapes the facility that’s experimenting on them but the others start being forced to work for a government agency, until they realise there is a bigger threat coming, and they need to all be involved…

This film tries to cram into its terrible script an anti-corporation activist message, Fast and the Furious styled car culture, teenage geniuses and some fairly high-concept sci-fi… it seemingly seemed to be an attempt to be a non-version of a Marvel film and wanted to sit amongst other sci-fi films of the time like Lucy, The Martian and Transcendence. Whilst the FF comics did sit amongst some of those themes, it never felt so ham-fisted as in this film.

I do have to say that having pan-dimensional travel, something we know nothing about as it really only exists in theory, being the reason for the 4 to get their powers was a clever idea. Considering the comics were created before we went to space properly, we did not know that ‘cosmic rays’ existed and that they won’t give us powers. Another issue was using Doom as the bad guy again when clearly the concept of pan-dimensionality, a concept referred to as ‘The Negative Zone in the comics, would have leant itself to a better idea of something following the 4 back to our dimension, like the characters of Blastaar, or even better, the metal clad insect-thing Annihilus.

The aesthetic of this film is pretty amazing. The technology all looks legitimate, and the cast do the best they can with a script that doesn’t reek of the same legitness. I have to admit to liking the idea of some of the members requiring ‘containment suits’ instead of usual superhero costumes, and there’s a nice little tip-of-the-hat to the ‘4’ symbol from the comics hidden here and there too.

The soundtrack by Marco Beltrami and Phillip Glass is wonderful at setting the mood throughout the film.

It’s a case of too little too late though. There were legends of Trank being erratic on set, which are unfounded and rumours of studio interference that was untenable, but usually brought on by a studio being unhappy with his work, so I guess it was to be expected that this would be a die-cast turd.

If you haven’t seen this, don’t bother watching it unless you want to see just how bad a comic-based film can be. If you are a film student, watch it so you can understand how to screw up the final act of a film and avoid it happening to your projects. I honestly don’t understand why a simple superhero film about ‘family’ is so hard. If you want to watch a good Fantastic Four film, watch The Incredibles which steals….ahem, ‘borrows’ liberally from the ideals of Kirby and Lee’s original creation.

The only reason this film gets a single ‘*’ is because of my affection for Kate Mara.

Score: *

Extras: The disc opens with a preview for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, before hitting the menu.

Powering Up: The Superpowers of the Fantastic Four looks at the FF and Doom’s powers and how they were realised for this film. This film is pretty effects heavy and their powers are so different it does make for an interesting cgi featurette.

The Quantum Gates explores the Quantum Gates, the invention that takes the scientists to another dimension.

Planet Zero investigates the design of Planet Zero, the other-dinemsional planet.

The Score obviously looks at Betrami and Glass’s magnificent score.

Concept Art just looks at some still images of the art for the Gates and the planet.

The tragedy of watching these extras is all the creators involved were really invested in the film. I feel sorry for them

Score: ****

WISIA: No… oh, unless I needed a Kate Mara fix, but I’d probably watch Transcendence instead.

Slither (2006)

Slither (2006)

The Umbrella release of Slither with amazing slipcase by Simon Sherry

Film: James Gunn is certainly one in a million. Most people know him from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad, but his career before that was SO much more fun, and honestly, creative.

There’s an amazing two pack of films that I suggest to anyone who doesn’t know his work, and that’s his superhero film Super, starring Rainn Wilson, and this film, Slither.

Slither tells of the small town of Wheelsy, and after an argument with his wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) finds himself in the woods, potentially about to commit adultery after being reunited with a school friend, Brenda (Brenda James), but unfortunately, Grant ends up having a dart shot into his abdomen by something that appears to be not-of-this-earth.

Michael Rooker and Elizabeth Banks as Grant and Starla, respectively

Grant collapses and we see, via X-ray, the dart burrow it’s way up into his head.

The next day, Grant is a changed man: he is quieter, and is desperate to collect as much meat as he possibly can, and Starla has noticed the change. Grant revisits Brenda, and with two newly grown tentacles, impregnates her with, what we find out later, to be thousands of leech-like brain slugs.

Whilst all this is happening, Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), a childhood sweetheart of Starla’s, is investigating Brenda’s disappearance, and obviously, all this quickly collides as the slugs invade the town, and burrow into the mouths of everyone they comes across… will he and Starla survive?

This film is extraordinary in that the fun is a gory, gross out horror movie, that still has elements of laugh-out-loud comedy. The story is solid, and doesn’t overexplain where the ‘thing’ came from initially, except for in some interesting hive-mind flashbacks.

A brain slug tries to take over Emily (Matreya Fedor)

You can really see Gunn’s early career at Troma influencing this film, except for the budget. The humour is sophomoric (thankfully) and the gore is sudden, disgusting and surprising. There is a body bisection that still, after many if watches of this film, delights me to no end.

The cast is also fantastic. Fillion is charming and likeable and Banks is just adorable as well. Special mentions have to go to the appearances of Lloyd Kaufman as the town drunk, Jenna Fischer, a TV crush of mine from the Office, as the police receptionist (who also starred with Gunn in the film LolliLove) and Gunn himself as the most awkward of school teachers.

Gunn’s slick writing and directorial style is present here as well. The script is full of old school jokes, some of which may not sit well with a 2022 audience, but fit for the location and time period, and the direction has some really interesting angles which really makes the film fun to watch. The effects don’t sit as well as they did, but that’s to be expected and if you are able to overlook some of those bits of CGI due to age… this movie is almost 20 years old remember, so even though the practical effects are great, some of the CGI isn’t so perfect, but it’s all still very effective.

This film is a beautiful throwback to films like Henenlotter’s Brain Damage or Stephen Herek’s Critters and could be watched alongside them and not seem at all out of place, even though this film was made 20 years later.

I think I really like this film because of its 80s/ drive-in influences, and was more than happy to revisit it! This Bluray from Umbrella Entertainment is from their ‘Beyond Genres’ imprint and has a pretty awesome slipcase by Simon Sherry.

Score: ****

The menu for the Bluray release of Slither

Extras: A bunch of fun extras on this disc that were on the original DVD back in the day.

Audio commentary with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion is interesting and charming and full of lots of reminiscing about the films of the 80s and the making of this film.

The Slick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither: Making of Featurette is a quick ten minute look at the origins and making of the film.

Who is Bill Pardy? starts as an amusing set of outtakes of Fillion, saying ‘I’m Bill Pardy whenever he screws up, but then turns into an amusing roast of Fillion by the cast and crew.

Slither Visual Effects Progressions looks at the different plates the CGI went through from the initial filming to the resulting effect.

Bringing Slither’s Creatures to Life:FX Featurette goes through all of the practical effects used in the movie, ad is quite fascinating!

Slithery Set Tour with Nathan Fillion is a brief bit with the ever charming Fillion filming some behind the scenes stuff with his particular brand of comedy.

The Gorehound Grill: Brewin’ the Blood is basically a recipe for the blood used in the film.

The King Of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman’s Video Diary is a little bit of home video made by Lloyd Kaufman, the King of Troma, and the man who directed Gunn’s script Tromeo and Juliet, who was invited by Gunn to have a cameo in the film.

Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes as usual are an interesting watch but ultimately not necessary.

Gag Reel is one back from the old days when gag reels were actually funny and not staged like the modern day Marvel ones.

Score: *****

WISIA: I will easily watch this film at anytime!

Nathan Fillion takes aim!

This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment Bluray release.

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.

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

Boss Level (2021)

Boss Level (2021)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release

Film: The whole ‘a day gets repeated over and over again’ is a trope that horror, sci-fi and comedy love. Personally, I think it’s for the opportunity of cheap laughs, showing the protagonist get injured/ die/ kill people over and over again without repercussions. Thankfully it would seem that most filmmakers KNOW it’s a trope that is quite derivative, and that gives them an opportunity to mix up the story a little, like with slasher film Happy Death Day and it’s sequel.

Boss Level is a surprising beast. Directed by Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eddie and Chris Borey, Boss Level should be a low budget piece of trash that pushes a ‘new’ action movie stars with a bunch of nobodies… but this stars Frank Grillo from the Marvel movies, and includes Mel Gibson, Maggie Q and Naomi Watts, and is as entertaining as dumb violent action gets.

Grillo and Watts

Boss Level tells of ex-special forces muscle-bound himbo Roy Pulver (Grillo) who wakes up every single day to find a bunch of assassins trying to kill him. Pam (Meadow Williams) tries to shoot him, the German Twins (Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson) try to blow him up, Kaboom (Aaron Beelner ) also tries to blow him up (but with explosives, whereas the German Twins use bazookas), Smiley (Michael Tourek) tries to spear him, Guan Yin (Selina Lo) tries to cut him up… you get the idea: there’s a lot of people out to get him!

‘I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this!‘

Roy’s problem is, every single one of them have succeeded in killing him, but the second he dies, he wakes up back at the beginning of the day, with all the knowledge that he had been killed over and over again, and no matter how many times he tries to survive.

He does continue to try though (but only after a few depression episodes where he just allows himself to be murdered), and eventually starts to work out that he is very deliberately stuck in this time loop, but what does it have to do with his ex-wife Jemma (Watts) and her boss, Colonel Clive Ventor (Gibson)…

This film, like all these types of films, as I stated earlier, exist to show the funny side to how ridiculous the concept is, and the torture of the lead character is completely for our own amusement, especially when you think he’s achieved something that gets him away from one baddie, only to fall to some other fatal mishap. Let me tell you as well, these are some bloody and violent mishaps too! Roy even talks in a voiceover about how he’d prefer to be shot rather than stabbed because stabbing hurts more!

The mix of actors in this film is great too. Grillo’ s performance is hilarious, action-packed and even tender at times. Watts (who I have a crush on for years) is still a solid support and Gibson’s magical villain is spectacular. The wonderful array of assassins is fun and funny, and they even cop some of the deaths just as bad as Grillo does. Selina Lo’s Guan Yin is a particular highlight and her beauty combined with violent swordsmanship is a grand juxtaposition, and her exclamation whenever she kills is fantastic too.

Honestly there’s not much to NOT like about this film, but it’s essentially like a Fast and the Furious film: you see it for the spectacle rather than an intelligent story. I will say though that it’s sudden sci-fi U-turn is both expected and surprising.

Score: ***

The menu from the Australian Bluray

Extras: None.

Score: 0

WISIA: It was dumb fun, so it’s definitely getting watched again!

This review was done with the Australian 2021 Bluray release.

Guns, guns, guns.

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: ***

The New Mutants (2020)

The New Mutants (2020)

Film: A strange thing happened to the 13 year old me in 1983… no, not pubic hair and the realisation that boobs are amazing… no, I became a ‘proper’ comic collector. I had been collecting comics for almost a decade at this point, but comics were something I rolled up and shoved in my pocket, and carried around in cardboard boxes with little regard for comic company, numbering or continuing stories.

I just liked the pictures with the words.

In 1983, though, I picked up something special whilst at the local news agency with my mum, who was doing her lotto: the first issue of a comic which would change my life, The New Mutants.

The New Mutants told of teens, some the same age as me, who upon hitting puberty, discovered that hidden in their DNA was a horrible secret/ curse of special abilities that if untethered, could accidentally kill others. Thankfully, they were taken on by the kindly teacher Professor Charles Xavier, who at his private school would just teach them and protect them, would also train them to use their powers, but unlike his other team, the missing (at the time) X-men, he wouldn’t allow them to become ‘super heroes’… but they are strong-willed teens, so obviously THAT wasn’t going to happen!

Imagine my excitement, then, when it was announced that 20th Century Fox was going to make a HORROR film based on my favourite comic of all time! Imagine my disappointment at the constant delays, some COVID-related, and some due to the Disney buy-out of Fox, and other because it was getting some bad press, even though no one had actually seen it.

The New Mutants FINALLY got a release in late 2020, where it was unceremoniously dumped… even though it was part of the successful but floundering (well, except for Deadpool and the magnificent Logan) X-men series… to DVD and Bluray (in the companies defence, it was right during COVID lockdowns and few, if any, cinemas were actually open). Tragically you can tell it was dumped by the fact that bother the symbols for Marvel, and it’s parent company Disney, and not mentioned on the front of the packaging, and are a tiny part of the back cover, which is a resounding ‘we are embarrassed by this movie’.

At the risk of spoiling the rest of the review, they are wrong.

This film was directed by Josh Boone, the director of teen drama The Fault in our Stars, who had envisioned it to be the first in a trilogy, which is now obviously abandoned, and was based on a script by him and Bad Grandpa’s Knate Lee… please don’t let those credentials scare you off… and is based loosely on the comics Demon Bear Saga, written by Chris Claremont, with art from Bob McLeod and Bill Sienkiewicz.

The New Mutants tells of Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a teenage girl who has been admitted to a hospital after a tornado destroys her community, and her father is killed by… something…

At this institute, she discovers that the doctor in charge, Dr. Celia Reyes (Alice Braga) intends on keeping her there until she understands and can learn to control her mutant powers of being able to make people’s worst nightmares come to life.

Maisie Williams and Blu Hunt

Dr. Reyes already has a group of kids at the institute though: the quiet, but lycanthropic Rahne (Maisie Williams), the Brazilian hothead, Roberto (Henry Zaga), southern boy Sam (Charlie Heaton) and Uber-bitch, is-she-actually-a-demon Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), and quickly, Dani discovers that she is being held with these others, in a cage if sorts.

The problem with cages, though, is sometimes they keep what’s outside, outside, but they also trap everything inside, perhaps even whatever it was that killed Dani’s rather… and with 5 super powered and erratic teens, that could be a dangerous mix!

Roberto’s girlfriend is a hottie!

Now this film isn’t your traditional ‘Bang! Pow!’ Superhero movie, oh no. This takes all that bluster and works it down to something that you saw in some of the X-men films, especially with the horrors of Rogue’s (Anna Paquin) powers which caused he to be unable to touch the skin of another human being: getting your powers for the first time would be horrible. Mix with that the difficulties of puberty and a bit of sexual chemistry and you have an absolute cracker of a movie.

It reads very much like a super powered, horror version of The Breakfast Club, and honestly this probably does tap into my love of that John Hughes film, with maybe a little of A Nightmare on Elm St 3: The Dream Warriors thrown in for good measure.

The cast, for me, are an absolute dream. Maisie Williams, hot off her time as Anya in Game of Thrones, Charlie Heaton, the creepy hot guy from Stranger Things and Anya Taylor-Joy, my current obsession, and star of The VVitch and hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. In a weird piece of chance, and I guess it’s what a good casting person does, the cast somehow both fit, and don’t.

The story is a great introduction to these characters, and choosing to make this film with horror and teen elements is just as clever as making Deadpool a full-tilt comedy. It was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy and it’s a shame we’ll miss out on that as this film quite heavily leans into a future appearances of X-men baddie, Mr. Sinister.

Just because this film was dumped by Disney, please don’t assume it’s anything bad. It’s great!

Score: ****

Format: This movie was reviewed on the Australian release, region B Bluray copy of the film. The 1.85:1 image and 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track are fabulous.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s a bunch of extras on this Bluray:

There are 7 deleted scenes which the movie really doesn’t miss at all.

Origins and Influences sees Boone, Lee and Sienkiewicz talk about the New Mutants comic. For me this is an unusual featurettes as Boone and Lee talk about how much they loved the New Mutants comic but it started off as a usual superhero comic, which for me, it definitely did not. Towards the end, it became boring and generic, but at first it was a proper school for people learning to control their abilities. I do appreciate it did become something unique when Sienkiewicz could really unleash his art style into it.

Meet the New Mutants introduces us to the cast and the characters they play.

Audio commentary with Boone and Sienkiewicz is really fascinating. To hear two storytellers from different areas of creative storytelling coming together and discussing a project they both worked on in different media. It’s so refreshing to see a comic creative get such a voice in a commentary. Normally in most superhero movies, a tiny bit of lip service is paid to the source material, or poor Stan Lee was forced to tell one of his oft-told tales again, but this really feels like a tribute to the comic. Fantastic.

There’s also the teaser and theatrical trailer.

Score: ****

WISIA: Oh boy, it’s so good it’ll get regularly rewatched!

Anya Taylor-Jot is Magikal

The Spirit (2008)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Spirit (2008)

Film: While many comic’s fans may have never read The Spirit, they would at the very least be aware of the legend of comics craftsman Will Eisner. Eisner’s abilities with a comics board and the visuals that he displayed upon them are legendary and surpassed by no-one. His skill in relating a story in drawn visuals has influenced many, MANY cartoonists and filmmakers alike. His name is synonymous with the craft of comic writing and drawing, that the comic’s version of The Academy Awards is known as The Eisners.

Frank Miller is one of those people who were greatly influenced by Eisner. Not so much from an artistic point of view, though that is there, but more the way Eisner treated the images and ‘spirit’ of the city the characters resided in as a character as well, and his want of having the main character’s relationships with women being volatile and good guy/ bad guy barrier blurring. Take a look at Millar’s Elektra Saga from Daredevil and you will see what I mean.

Millar’s understanding of Eisner’s work and friendship with the man made him the perfect person to write and direct a film based on this character.

The Spirit tells of..the Spirit (Gabriel Macht), a no-nonsense, two fisted, supposedly ex-cop who is seemingly unstoppable. He spends his days residing in his crypt, but at night defends his city from those who choose to abuse her and her citizens. One of those abusers is a crime boss known as the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), another unstoppable soul who seems to have a ‘spiritual’ relationship with the Spirit.

While in pursuit of a treasure of great importance to an experiment he is performing, the Octopus, with his scientist partner Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and her cloned lackeys (all played by Louis Lombardi) crosses paths with the Spirit’s old flame and professional thief Sand Serif (Eva Mendes) who is tracking down a treasure of her own. Of course they end up with each other’s objective, and then the fun really begins.

Does the Octopus’ experiment have anything to do with the Spirit, and if so will it be his undoing?

Frank Miller has made a beautiful film that is full of classic noir imagery, and scenes reminiscent of many classic directors work, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Aldrich; sometimes deliberate, and sometimes just to this viewer’s eye. The over the top performances he gets from Samuel L. Jackson and Gabriel Macht are totally cartoony, but are brought down to earth by the absolute gravity of Dan Lauria. His ability to get actors to act at their peaks is apparent as well, even Eva Mendes, who I occasionally find lacking in  ability (though she makes up for it visually) really exceeds any role she has previously played.

Speaking of babes, Miller has scored some spectacular woman to play the menagerie of femme fatales  from The Spirit comic, even though the character of Sand Serif was somewhat merged with the absent P’Gell. The afore mentioned Mendes is at her absolute sexiest as Serif, and her competition here are other gorgeous actresses such as Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Sarah Paulson, Stana Katic and newcomer Seychelle Gabriel, all of whom really steal any scene they are in… a special mention for exploitation fans must be Scarlett Johansson dressed as a Nazi.

The combination of P’Gell and Sand Serif is not the only liberty Miller has taken with Eisner’s comic. The comic never revealed the Octopus as anything other than a pair of gloves, so his decision to show the Octopus in full is as brave as Judge Dredd taking off his helmet or making Aliens Vs Predator films suck. He also dumped the idea of the Spirit’s sidekick ‘Ebony White’ who was one of those unacceptable Negro characters: you know the ones, big lipped ‘Yes Massa’ types.

The end credits are cool. From a visual point of view they show a series of Miller’s storyboards with the credits over them, and from a soundtrack point of view, Christina Aguilera does a beautiful cover of Marlene Deitrich’s Falling in Love Again, which she sang in The Blue Angel in 1930.

The film looks great, but unfortunately suffers from 2 big problems. The first is that the story is choppy, and the film feels like it has no flow: the term ‘Mad Woman’s breakfast’ comes to mind, which is a shame as the story is potentially a good and fun one. The second problem is its identity. It looks SO much like Sin City that the whole film feels like a cut sequence from that film. Enjoyable, but flawed.

Score: **

Format: The film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and is an amazingly detailed image: a credit to bluray. The soundtrack on this is spectacular and will take full advantage of your sound system. Presented in DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Commentary with director Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. It’s an excellent commentary, which the two performers exposing themselves as lovers of comics, film, each others work and of the film they created together. They do occasionally talk about re-doing excised effects for the DVD (and Bluray I imagine) but judging by the fact that they are NOT there, I assume it never happened.

The Green Room is more or less a traditional ‘making of’ type extra. It covers the origins of the film, Will Eisner’s and Frank Miller’s artwork, how actors reacted to the green screen aspects of the filming and the special effects. It’s fairly brief for what it has to cover, but covers a lot!

Miller on Miller is a queer little feature which has Miller himself recounting tales of his life and career, looking at his work on Daredevil and The Dark Knight and others and his love of city based characters. He also takes a very brief look at the history of comics, and the career of Will Eisner. For Miller fans it is a decent feature, though he does recount tales that he previously discussed on the extras for Daredevil and Elektra, and for those not familiar with Miller will find it even more interesting. What I found interesting about it though was his decision to dress like Freddy Krueger for the interview.

Alternate Ending with Voiceover by Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson is an animated storyboard, but with  dialogue spoken by the actors.

History Repeats is an excellent look at Eisner’s creation of the Spirit, with interviews with some of my personal heroes like Denis Kitchen and Neal Adams, and how he changed the world’s appreciation of comics.

We also have the theatrical trailer.

Score: *****

WISIA: It has enough surface appeal to perhaps give it another go, but essentially, watching either Sin City films again is a better option.