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

Kill Chain (2019)

Kill Chain (2019)

The cover to the Australian release of Kill Chain on Bluray

Film: There is a quite hilarious website called phrasegenerator.com, and I just love it. Basically, it randomly generates various things like political rhetoric (it generated: I want an America where greedy doctors and filthy hobos can’t sabotage our iPhone apps.), sports quotes (Talk about Ronovich – all speed no agility and 5 foot 6 – he’s gotta fork to the quarterback sneak and work the rushing opportunity.), academic quotes (The hypocrisy of codependency is really quite dogmatic in its agnosticism) and my favourite, action movie titles (here’s a few: Soldier of Trouble, Extreme Extremism, Instant Punishment).

Why point out this website? Well it seems to me that modern direct-to-video (DVD, Bluray, whatever) simply MUST use this website to come up with titles for their new releases. It’s close to the end of 2021, and Bruce Willis’ latest release is called ‘Out of Death’, Karen Gillian’s (from Doctor Who and the Marvel movies) in ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ and speak-of-the-devil Nicolas Cage newbie is titled ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’. Surely… SURELY, these titles weren’t to be taken seriously. The only title of anything I remember being as silly is the zombie-hating cheerleader video game Lollypop Chainsaw, and that being a title from Super and Slither’s James Gunn, you just know it must be very tongue in cheek.

Arâna (Nicolas Cage) welcomes some uninvited guests to his hotel

Why does this preamble exist? That would be because I have just gotten my hands on the film ‘Kill Chain’, a film that essentially takes its title from a military manoeuvre, but is probably BETTER known as the video game trope of getting bonuses for kill bad guys without getting killed.

Still, though, it sounds like a randomly generated title.

Above that, It does have a some pedigree. It’s written as directed by Ken Sanzel, who has written or directed or produced lots of action movies and TV including episodes of Numb3rs, and 1998’s The Replacement Killers. Is it a fine pedigree? Let’s find out!

Kill Chain tells of Arãna (Cage), an ex-hitman/ mercenary who has been ‘left’ a hotel called Hotel Del Franco in Colombia by someone who he refers to as ‘his only friend’. One night, he is visited by a pair of mercenaries who are there to ‘finalise his account’, but they don’t realise what they have walked into is a black hole of violence and surprises, and a night that has been a long one for Arâna, and his patience has worn very thin.

Renata (Annabelle Acosta) gets a little bloody

This is a bizarre thing, this film. It’s slow and deliberate, with smacks of violence that pop up here and there that in a post-John Wick world are possibly a little cumbersome and not choreographed as one would like but occasionally are quietly brutal. The tension does build nicely at times but doesn’t always pay off.

The bizarre thing is… I like it. The odd walk around to get to the point, the fact that most of the characters have no names, the origami-styled folding story… it’s all somehow good. It has an extremely small cast, and has such a small amount of locations, it could have been a stage play!

I have to say how much I liked the soundtrack, composed by Mario Grigorov. Sometimes it’s a pumping modern-day interpretation of a John Carpenter synthwave soundtrack, and at others, a flowing end-credits giallo track from the 70s. I loved every second of it.

Score: ***1/2

The menu screen to the Australian Bluray release of Kill Chain

Extras: Sorry, but it looks like even the extras have been executed!

Score: 0

WISIA: I’ll definitely watch it again as it has a weird DTV, low-budget appeal to it. It’s cumbersome, but strangely engaging.

Enrico Colantoni has regrets about being a hit man.

Color Out of Space (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of Color Out of Space, from Umbrella Entertainment

Film: Here’s a bit of personal horror history, and something I have mentioned in previous, and no doubt will mention in future reviews: I am typing this review because of H. P. Lovecraft. I was a monster movie fan, and a fan of ‘old’ (called ‘classic’ these days) films when I was a teen, and then I watched Stuart Gordon’s screen adaptation of Re-animator, and my need for horror was transformed into what could only be described as ‘an unhealthy obsession’.

Since then I have consumed SO much Lovecraftian horror in book form, video games, spoken word records, comics, toys… hell, even board games which is a more recent obsession (currently sitting on about 15 board and card games based in the Cthulhu world) and I just can’t get enough!

So I’m guessing you can imagine my excitement when I heard that ex-actor, now meme legend Nic Cage was starring in a film based on Color Out Of Space, and then my rising excitement when the trailer was released and we saw that it borrowed the colour palette from Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond (another Lovecraft story). Throwing in the rebirth of Hardware director Richard Stanley certainly piqued my interest as well, even though I wasn’t an obsessive fan of his work.

I was very excited indeed which meant that my expectations were now really really high! Can the film live up to these expectations? Surely it could not!

Nicolas Cage as Nathan

Lavinia Gardner (Madeline Arthur) is a teen Wiccan who had been forced into a treechange by her father, Nathan (Nicolas Cage)and mother Theresa (Joely Richardson), along with her two brothers, Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard). It a seemingly lovely quiet life, farming their alpacas until a meteorite, emitting an indescribable colour, lands on their property.

As you would expect, weird stuff starts happening: time starts fluctuating, odd pink flowers and insects start appearing all over the property, and things start changing, including Nathan, and when a hydrologist, Ward (Elliot Knight) investigating the local water finds ‘something’ in it, things really start to accelerate and the family unit starts to fall apart… but is this the start of a greater, perhaps apocalyptic event?

The meteorite/ alien thing/ weird weirdness

Stanley has created something pretty special here. Lovecraft had isolation as a theme in many of his stories, and to start with a family isolated from society when something strange happens, whose events then cause them to be isolated from each other really nails that down. The layering of being isolated even amongst a group of people seems really relevant in 2021 too. That anxiety of not knowing what is happening and not being able to find support in others because they don’t know what is happening either is almost frightfully prophetic.

There’s no doubt that Stanley has a magnificent cinematic eye, and his cinematographer (one of the great unsung heroes of cinema) Steve Annis translates it perfectly. The scenes of the forest are lush and feel like they are full of magic, and the scenes where we witness the actual ‘color’ are intrusive on the eye, and transform the natural beauty into a synthwave nightmare, that honestly, I really love… most of my automatic lighting in my house is set up in this colour scheme!

The effects in this movie are as horrible as they are beautiful. As I said in my opening preamble, the colour palette is borrowed heavily from Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond, but their is also a liberal dose of John Carpenter’s The Thing in the practical effects, and some CGI that is, if you’ll excuse the pun, out of this world.

In general, the cast are great, except maybe for Richardson who doesn’t seem to have much to do and is almost more a piece of scenery. Arthur is an absolute revelation and I’ll be looking into her other films for sure, and Cage doesn’t chew the scenery, he CONSUMES IT, like a bulldog eating a bowl of porridge.

There was a lot of fun stuff relating to Stanley as well. After watching the Lost Souls doco, I realised that several of the characters emulate/ display elements of his personality and life style (from what I could ascertain). There’s a cheeky bit of footage of Brando from One Eyed Jacks too… so I guess Stanley finally got to work with him?

This is a great return for Stanley, and I really hope he gets an opportunity to do more Lovecraft stuff but please not a sequel: this finishes nicely. Apparently this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy but due to some personal stuff which I’m not going to go into here, it’s been cancelled. If Stanley WOULD entertain the idea of a sequel, another Re-animator perhaps? Either way, this film was great and I look forward to more product.

Score: ****1/2

The menu to the Australian release of Color Out of Space

Extras:

Hot Pink Horror: The Making of The Color Out of Space obviously looks at the making of the film, and the chance the producers had taken on getting Richard Stanley, who hadn’t directed a film for 20 years, to direct this movie. It also explores the employment of the other cast and other aspects of the production. It’s an interesting take on why people are employed in films.

There is also 8 deleted scenes and a trailer.

Finally, the full length documentary ‘Lost Souls: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau’ which looks at his career and the collapse of his career whilst making his version of Island of Dr. Moreau in the 90s. It’s an interesting documentary in so much that Stanley seems to be under the impression that both the opportunity came, and disappeared due to his visiting a mystic who cast a spell to assist in the production. It’s not just about Stanley’s vision, it’s also about the egos that also all seemed to be trying to disable the production after his departure. This was previously released separately, and would probably be a better extra on a release of The Island of Dr. Moreau, but I’ll take it.

Score: *****

WISIA: It was a great watch so I look forward to seeing it again!

The colour does strange things to poor Theresa (Joely Richardson)

NIC-TOBERFEST 2021

Charge your steins with your favourite ale, lager or stout and grab your tightest lederhosen because it’s time for NIC-TOBERFEST 2021!

Nic-Toberfest is the To Watch Pile’s celebration of everything Nicolas Cage, the hero’s hero! This month you won’t get your usual Wednesday reviews, you’ll also get a couple of extras too… that’s SIX… SIX reviews of Cage films, in which each one sees him in a nuttier role than the previous, and that’s not to mention a double feature (not Cage films unfortunately)for Halloween, one on Halloween and one on All Saint’s Day.

I hope you find it as exciting to read as I did to write!

Drive Angry (2011)

One from the re watch pile…

Drive Angry (2011)

Film: Straight off the bat I need to say one thing: I do not like the 3D gimmick in films. I do not see 3D films at the cinemas, and have no desire to watch it at home. Sure I wouldn’t have minded seeing this in 3D to be able to review its 3D aspect, but whilst my TV and BD equipment is pretty damned good, I am not 3D capable. Quite simply, if I wanted to see something in 3D, I’d go outside instead of sitting in my lounge room eating popcorn and drinking Coke.

Drive Angry is directed/co-written by Patrick Lussier and written by Todd Farmer, who, between them are have a fairly prolific horror breeding having worked either together or apart on My Bloody Valentine 3D, Prophecy 3, Jason X, Dracula 2000 and a whole lot more. I will however point out that ‘prolific’ doesn’t always equal ‘quality’. This time though, with Drive Angry 3D, they are on a winner.

This film tells the tale of John Milton (Nicolas Cage) who has escaped Hell… yes, Hell… with the sole purpose of saving his grandchild from evil cult leader, Jonah King (Billy Burke), whose symbol seems to be a cross between a traditional pentagram, with the crown from the New York Kings gang mounted on top of it. Along the way, Milton meets Piper (Amber Heard), an ass-kicking truck stop waitress with a heart of gold and an absolute rip-snorter of a car who joins him, somewhat involuntarily.

Whilst they are in hot pursuit of the cult though, they have their own pursuers. First there is a charmer known as The Accountant (William Fichtner), an agent of him downstairs who is seeking to reclaim Milton, and Cap (genre stalwart Tom Atkins), a very angry cop who wants to see Milton and Piper dead, at any cost.

Of course, all their paths inevitably collide at a crossroad of sex, violence and automotive fun.

The character of John Milton (get it?) bares more than a little resemblance to the comic character Blaze, who along with Ghost Rider, in the early Nineties was the star of the Marvel comic Spirits of Vengeance, and I can’t help but wonder if Nicolas Cage didn’t notice it too when taking this role, being the huge comic fan he is. Funny thing is, a few years later Marvel re-invented Ghost Rider to drive a super hot car… I wonder if they put these two together?

While on Cage, this role was simply made for him, and I couldn’t imagine another person on the planet that could have played it. Somewhere along the line he plays it as a mix of (again) Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider and Memphis from Gone in Sixty Seconds, which I guess means he is yet again playing an aspect of himself.

Special mentions need to go out to Billy Burke, Amber Heard and William Fichtner. Billy Burke, who I only had ever seen in the Twilight films, proves himself to be much more than the flaccid wet blanket he plays in that series and seems to relish the role of Jonah King. Amber Heard is at her most beautiful, but is also firmly in ass-kicking potty-mouth mode and even I admit that I was shocked by the capacity this lovely young lass has for foul mouthedness. The winner of the entire cast, though was William Fichtner: his role as the Accountant was played so damned cool that he has set a new benchmark that the Fonz could never even aspire.

I have to also say something about the music soundtrack of this film as well: it is an amusing and eclectic bunch of songs that fit perfectly. No doubt you will chuckle along to all the music cues, from Fuck the Pain Away by Peaches to That’s the Way (I Like It) by KC and the Sunshine Band.

Actually, the only thing about watching this film that annoyed me was the lame 3D stuff that was thrown at the screen: not all of it was fake or invasive, but just enough of it was slightly annoying. The rest of the film was a brainless blast!

This film is a bloody and sexy example of supernatural car porn that kicked my arse all over my lounge room. A ton of dumb fun.

Score: ****

Format: Spectacular picture, as you would expect from a new film on Bluray, presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Sexy as Hell soundtrack presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Between shotguns firing and engines rumbling, your neighbours are going to think you’re a having a Texan brouhaha in your living room.

Score: *****

Extras: Drive Angry: Cast and Crew Insight is like a half a commentary, with just pop up screens featuring cast and crew discussing various aspects of the film. Personally I think I would have liked a full commentary instead of this seemingly half-assed effort. Some of the comments were occasionally interesting though.

How to Drive Angry is a traditional making of, but disappointingly featured a lot of the stuff that was used in the Cast and Crew insight pop up video stuff. Still it is a better way to see this stuff as it felt much more complete.

There are a couple of deleted scenes that aren’t missed from the film, and wouldn’t have added anything really anyway.

Score: ***

WISIA: Probably not. It’s a fun watch with some funny stuff but I could think of better things to watch again than this.