Monday, February 27, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Review

Every now and again a person's preferences of enjoyment will be tested. For example, a seafood connoisseure  may come down with a nasty stomach bug after downing a rotten oyster, or an avid outdoorsman may find themselves held up in a full body cast for awhile following a moment of carelessness on a mountain or very tall tree. In this way, "Ghostrider: Spirit of Vengeance" certainly challanged my love for comic book movies. With a plodding, predictable storyline, a host of bland forgettable characters, and a redundant slew of queasy action sequences that in my opinion, were the visual equivalent of enduring a spin and puke ride at a local fair, Ghostrider SOV is a movie that should probably be excised from all respectable cinemas as quickly as possible.
Like many fans I couldn't believe it when a learned that Ghost Rider of all movies was getting a sequal. The first movie had its moments but overall was a pretty cheesy affair and didn't do much to advance the genre it represented. However, my interest was peaked a little when I learned the movie would take place in Eastern Europe and offer a dark, less altruistic take on the character. And for the movie's many pitfall's, those are probably the two things that I thought worked best in it's favor. The Turkish setting, with it's wide, shrub ridden plain's and lonlely, sweeping vistas add a sense of scope and scale and descolation to the film while the rider himself, with his seared black leather biker gear and ugly charred death's head is definately more of the dreadful, grim reaper-like figure he really should have been all along as opposed to the the goofy quasi superhero he was in the first film.
Believe it or not, I thought the story the filmakers were trying, and I emphasize the word "TRYING" to tell was actually not half bad. Johnny Blaze, who is struggling with the ramifications of his curse as the devil's personal bounty hunter, has fled to Eastern Europe, were he is lives a hermetic, transient lifestyle in hopes of suppressing The Rider's hunger for blood. Meanwhile, a mother and her young son are on the run from your generic outfit of rough looking hardcases intent on capturing the boy as per the orders of there nefarious benefector who just so happens to be "GASP!" THE DEVIL! I know, just go with it. We later learn through exposition, that similar to Johnny Blaze, the boy, Danny's mother made a deal with the father of lies in a moment of desperation. That if he would spare her life, she would conceive for him an earthly son who would share all of his dark power. It seems that the devil has taken many human forms over time though his abilities on earth have always been limited due to the frail composition of human bodies. So the devil's objective is to inhabit Danny's body so he can have an avatar on earth that will never have to be scrapped for a newer model. An underground religious order recognizes how important the boy's safety is to the future of mankind so one of their emmisaries enlists a reluctant Johnny Blaze to protect the boy from the devil and his foot soldiers and bring them to the order's secret headquarters in the mountains with the added incentive that they will remove Blaze's curse if he suceeds in delivering them safely. Now this sounds like the premise to a pretty cool movie frought with a lot of thrills and high stakes "cat and mouse" suspense. Unfortunetly, what I got istead was a lame duck, almost wholly devoid of anything very entertaining beyond some iffy CGI and Nickolas Cage being his crazy Nicholas Cage self.
Crippling any inkling of tension or drama was the movie had absolutely no sense of pace or flow. The action scenes are terrible, with awkward, haulting pauses in them that absolutely kills any sense of momentum the film had going. The only exception being the climax of the film were Ghostrider dukes it out with former fall guy turned super villain Blackout on the hood of a car.  That action scene, which takes place in broad daylight to boot, is pretty decent, but the others? All garbage.
Not helping things any is that the supporting characters are as intolerably boring as the movie itself. Despite all its campiness, at least the first Ghost Rider boasted a pretty memorable supporting cast to back up Nicholas Cage. Peter Fonda was crafty and menacing as the devil, Sam Elliot was rugged and cool as the mentor figure/former Ghostrider. And Eva Mendes was smokin' hot as the requisite damoiselle in distress. Heck, even Cage's honky tonk road manager managed to be somewhat entertaining. But in Spirit of Vengeance all the characers are just soooo boring and uninteresting. Blackout, who has the power to make things rot decay with the merest touch has some cool, effects driven scenes but is others wise pretty much a "run of the mill" supervillain. Christopher Lambert of former Highlander fame has a small part as the head priest of the secret religious order but is not in the movie long enough to leave much of an impression. Really, the only ingredient that keeps the ship from sinking is Cage, who manages to come off as likeable and charismatic even while spouting cheeseball lines like, "so your the devil's baby mama?"
If you are a sucker for superhero movies like me, and feel compelled to see Ghostrider SOV despite the million and one red flags out there about how bad it is, then I suppose you should go ahead give it a try. Though I would suggest that you sneak a flask of hard liquor in the theater with you to make it at least interesting. Otherwise, I would strongly recommend you to send old flamehead on his way.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chronicle Review

In a genre that has been mined to the extent comic book/superhero based movies have, it has grown increasingly challenging for filmakers to bring anything fresh and original to a table that includes graniose tales of valor such as Thor, era spanning character examinations such as Watchmen, and gritty cinematic masterpieces such as The Dark Knight. However, with Chronicle filmakers achieve the seemingly impossible feat of breaking the mold of the typical  "been there done that" superhero origin story we have all seen a million times before while still remaining faithful to the familiar heart and soul these films posesse, which, good or bad, always leave us coming back fore more.
The movie focuses on three high school seniors Andrew, Matt, and Steve. Andrew is very much the social outcast of the group. Aloof and introverted, he quietly suffers a wave of near constant opposition from both bullies at school and an abusive, alcoholic father at home. The fact that he has started carrying a camera with him everywhere does not help matters much either.
While Andrew is the loner, Steve on the other hand, is Mr. popularity. A model student and star athlete with charisma to spare, Steve is a shoe in for class president and has his sights set on an eventual career in politics.
If Andrew and Steve represent two personality extremes, than Matt is probably the most "middle of the road" personality wise. He is not a reclusive oddball like Andrew, who is also his cousin, while at the same time he is not a super outgoing social butterfly like Steve. I found Matt to be a near perfect representation of a typical late teens guy, shallow, self-involved, and uncertain of what course he wants to take with his life. That all changes later on as he is the character that undergoes the greatest change throughout the course of the film.
Early on in the movie, Matt coerces Andrew to go with him to a party. While there the two cross paths with Steve who persuades them to accompany him to check out something he happened to notice fall from the sky into the woods a ways off. The three embark into the forest were they discover a strange aperture in the earth leading to a metorite made of crystalline that erriely alters in color like a giant mood ring. They each come in contact with the mysterious space rock before promptly high talining it out of there when it starts to vibrate and come alive with some kind of elecritc charge.
After a narrow escape, the three discover that their brief exposure to the sattelite has somehow granted them with telekenetic abilities, allowing them to control and manipulate objects using only the power of their minds. Equally excited and curious, they begin to experiment with their newfound abilities moving baseballs, legos, etc. before field testing their abilities out in public in a series of very mischevious, very funny pranks with a telekenetic twist.
Like working out a muscle, the boys grow sronger and stronger in their abilities until they can eventually manipulate the weight of their own bodies and defy the laws of gravity itself . This leads to some of the most truly thrilling and breathtaking flying sequences I have ever seen performed in a movie. You vicariously experience the indescribable rush of giddy exhileration the boys feel as they tear through the clouds like demigods, laughing like maniacs playing tag and catch with a football over a thousand feet in the air. This was a blast to watch and was definately my favorite part of the movie.
The boys growing camraderie and friendship that is especially epitomized in the flying sequence give a raw emotional gut punch to the remainder of the film as events take take a very serious turn later on. What began as harmless fun and playful adolescant shenanigans quickly tailspins out of control as one of the boys tries using his powers to save the life of an infirm loved one, and later lashes out violently against society as a whole after his attemtps are botched after going to such extreme lengths to prevent the inevitable.
What ensues is a chaotic, high stakes battle for life and death through the streets of downtown Seattle as one character is pushed over the edge and takes a tragically villainous turn while another's conscious is awakened to the heartrending responsibilty of having to save his good friend from himself. Even if that means doing the unthinkable.
I really enjoyed this movie a lot. The young actors who play Andrew, Steve, and Matt each do a fine job and really make you feel an investment in the characters. The scenes showcasing the trio's telekenetic abilities are just a lot of fun to watch and marvel at both from a technical perspective as well as just plain geeky wish fulfillment of what it would actually be like to be able to manipulate matter and fly around like Superman. The "found footage" approach to how the movie was filmed can be a bit jarring at times but ultimately works in the story's favor giving a rough authenticity and documentary like feel to what is otherwise a pretty straight forward and uninvolved narrative.
In closing, I think this film has enough to please both hardcore fans of the genre and average Joe movie goers alike. In a medium dominated by epic blockbusters, Chronicle is truly a rare gem that dares to be different.