Tag Archives: hell

Ghost Rider & Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – Review

3 Sep

I remember way back in 2007 going to see the movie Ghost Rider when it first came out. I didn’t know anything about the character, but the fact that it was a Marvel movie and featured a hero with a flaming skull riding a motorcycle seemed pretty cool. The fact is is that the character of Ghost Rider is really cool, but the movie was all around unmemorable. Since I first saw it 8 years ago, I’ve finally gone back and given it another go having not remembered any of it. I also decided to check out the sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance directed by Neveldine/Taylor, who directed the two Crank films and Gamer. My conclusion is that these two Ghost Rider movies should come with directions that say, “Turn off your brain, and add alcohol.”

Let’s take a trip back to 2007 with the first Ghost Rider.

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When Johnny Blaze was a teenager, he sold his soul to the devil, or Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), in order to save his father dying from lung cancer. The devil cured his father, but he still ended up dying by the devil’s will. Now and adult, Johnny (Nicolas Cage) works as the world’s most renowned stunt rider. Even with all of the fame and fortune, Johnny can’t get the pact he made with the devil out of his mind, and isn’t surprised when he shows up once again commanding Johnny to hunt down his son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) and send him back to hell. Now given the powers of the Ghost Rider, Johnny begins his hunt. When Blackheart makes it personal by kidnapping Johnny’s childhood love Roxanne (Eva Mendez) and threatens to unleash thousands of demonic souls on the world, the Ghost Rider is forced to ride like hell to complete his mission.

Let me just get a very unpleasant fact out of the way. Ghost Rider was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson who was also the writer and director the Marvel flop that was Daredevil. Now that’s pretty bad news, and Johnson didn’t seem to really get it together for Ghost Rider. I’d even go so far as to say Daredevil is more memorable, which is an odd thought. Watching the movie again reminded me why it was so unmemorable. There’s not really a whole lot of action, and the down time which seems to stretch on and on isn’t anything interesting. The screenplay seemed desperate to make Johnny Blaze into a relatable character, but he’s really not very deep at all. This probably adds to why all of the dialogue sounds either forced or said without much feeling, and that goes for everyone in the movie.

Like I said before though, the Ghost Rider is a really cool character which gives the action scenes a good kick. One particularly cool scene has the Rider using his chain to latch onto a building and ride right down the side of it. Unfortunately, Blackheart as a villain isn’t that exciting at all and Wes Bentley’s version of hamming things up doesn’t really work. The bottom line is that this movie really isn’t good, and I can’t even say it’s so bad that it’s good. All I saw was a cool anti-hero thrown into a movie with a lot of useless talk, bland characters, and a few action scenes spaced too far apart. A movie based on a comic book character really just shouldn’t be this boring.

Five years later in 2012 a sequel was put out called Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It’s a sequel that we really didn’t need, nor did people seem to want it. Nevertheless, being directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor made me curious to see how they could inject their hyperactive style to this character.

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Some years after the events of the first film, Johnny Blaze is hiding out in a secluded area of Eastern Europe. This is the only way he knows how to control the monster inside him that turns him into the Ghost Rider. His seclusion is disturbed when he is found by a priest named Moreau (Idris Elba) who pleads with him to find a young boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan), and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido). The two are being hunted by Nadya’s ex-boyfriend Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), who was hired by the devil (now played by Ciarán Hinds) to deliver the boy for a prophesied ritual. In return, Moreau promises to rid Johnny of his curse, which is all the motivation he needs to find the mother and son before they fall into evil’s grip.

This movie has been panned by critics and audiences alike in an overwhelming way, which, despite my curiosity, made me hesitant to watch it. Now, I may be committing some kind of sin against movie criticism by saying this, and I apologize in advance, but Spirit of Vengeance is far superior to the original. In fact… I sorta…kinda…liked this one. I’ve heard numerous complaints about the story, the effects, and the acting so I’ll just address them one by one. The story is very straightforward and most certainly unoriginal, but it’s at least functional (unlike a certain Marvel film that came out this year). The effects are what I expected from Neveldine/Taylor. They’re way over the top and almost cartoonish, which is the kind of effects and editing I saw in the Crank movies and Gamer. Finally, the acting is also serviceable, and there’s even a few great scenes of Nicolas Cage going absolutely nuts.

I understand that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s one thing, but I don’t really understand why it’s hated so much. There’s more action sequences in this movie, and all of them play out like their fueled by an insane combination of cocaine, LSD, and rage. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s anarchic and almost nonsensical editing style also give the movie a jolt that moves it along much faster than the original, which in turn makes the movie much more entertaining. Being released by the Marvel Knights production company, the same company that did The Punisher: War Zone, the budget is relatively small and the material is darker than most Marvel films. That being said, this movie is just so much damn fun.

Even though the Ghost Rider is a unique and unusually awesome Marvel character, he hasn’t really gotten the big budget treatment that he deserves. The first movie is stuck in the mud, and the second movie is pretty much ignored. Personally, I could do without the first one, but I embrace Spirit of Vengeance, and I’m not ashamed of who knows it… Maybe just a little.

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Hellraiser Series – Review Part 1

29 Oct

The next two reviews of mine are going to be on the longer side since I’m going to be reviewing the Hellraiser series in bulk, you could say. There are nine films in this series with four of them getting theatrical releases, and the rest being direct to video and DVD releases. This is also a perfect example of the studio system making a mess of a story with so much potential and relevance and turning it into a load of derivative drivel. What better place to start than with the original 1987 film, Hellraiser.

When an antique puzzle box is stumbled upon by a scumbag, Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman), a portal to hell is opened releasing the masters of pain and pleasure, the Cenobites, to bring you into a world of torture and suffering that has never been experienced before. When Frank’s extended family move into the house that was used as the portal, Frank is brought back to life. Now relying on his former lover and wife to his brother, Julia (Clare Higgens) to bring back humans for feast on an regenerate, his niece Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) once agains opens the puzzle box. The Cenobites want her, but after learning her uncle’s secret, Kirsty is prepared to make a deal with the Lead Cenobite (Doug Bradley).

This is a unique horror movie that blends psychosexuality, gore, and pure terror into a narrative filled with its own interesting mythology. The first time we see the Cenobites pulls us into the story in one of the best prologues to a film I have ever seen and when we hear more and more about them, the interest grows and gets the viewer excited for the sequel, but we’re not there yet.

I really don’t have any complaints about this movie other than the acting at times. Doug Bradley and Clare Higgens knock their roles out of the park, but the rest of the cast is less than stellar. One other noteworthy performance is Oliver Smith, who plays Frank when he comes back to life and is nothing but muscle and bone. Everything else is excellent and has marked Clive Barker as one of the masters of the horror genre whose name should be synonymous with Wes Craven and John Carpenter.

In 1988, a sequel was released. This was Hellbound: Hellraiser II.

 

Soon after the events of the first film, Kirsty wakes up in the Channard Mental Institute led by the mysterious Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham). Unbeknownst to everyone, Channard has a strange obsession with the puzzle box called the Lament Configuration, which was used to summon the Cenobites before. He soon opens the portal to hell allowing himself, a resurrected Julia, Kirsty, and patient Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) to enter the twisted underworld of ultimate pain and ultimate pleasure.

While Clive Barker still acts as a producer for this film, it is a lot different than its predecessor. First off, one can’t help but notice the implementation of a bigger budget. Stepping into hell does cost money after all, but I can’t help but miss the impressive simplicity  of the original Hellraiser. The audience is still treated to more pools of blood and gallons of gore, which is always great.

 

In many sense, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a step up from the first, but in other ways it isn’t quite the same experience as the first. It gets bogged down in special effects and I don’t really get the feeling of a strong cohesive story, rather it seems more episodic. Still this is a worthy entry into this series, and certainly better than the train wreck of a movie that is Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.

 

After the events of the second film, “Pinhead” (Doug Bradley) finds himself trapped in the Pillar of Souls with his only escape being to absorb the souls of others. Enter reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell), who is tracking the activities of the Lament Configuration. Once enough souls have been collected, Pinhead is released and begins to wreak havoc on earth, recruiting other cenobites in the process.

This is the worst movie of the series. It is truly a disaster in every respect. First of all, the acting is beyond awful, causing me to laugh at the most inappropriate of times. Second of all, Pinhead acts like Carrie when he gets out, just killing everyone in the room. This is very out of character, and doesn’t work at all. Finally, the movie turns into a joke in the third act. The cenobites are a bunch of wise cracking assholes with what seem like super powers. What happened to the chains? I guess it just wasn’t cool enough. This is the movie where Pinhead gets his name, and Clive Barker has come out and said he hates the nickname.

 

This is an immature excuse for a horror movie that doesn’t hold a candle to the previous films, or even most of the other films in the series. It’s a chore to watch, and it’s unfortunate that to understand everything in the next installment, you need to see this one. Luckily, redemption can be found in Hellraiser: Bloodline.

 

Past, present, and future blend in Hellraiser: Bloodline. The history of the Lament Configuration is explained with its creator being a toymaker in the 18th century, and then follows this lineage to the year 1996. John Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) is the descendent of the toymaker and is targeted by the demon Angelique (Valentina Vargas) and Pinhead (Doug Bradley). Finally, in 2127 on the Space Station Minos, the final descendent has a one on one battle with Pinhead while the rest of the crew have to deal with the hellish cenobites.

This was a very enjoyable entry for me. I had a great time seeing the progression of the Lament Configuration from its beginnings to humanity’s last stand against the cenobites. This felt like a pleasant return to the Hellraiser series. Pinhead gets a much larger role, and arguably has some of the best lines (“I AM PAIN!”). The cenobites also look a lot better and certainly not the joke they were in the third.

 

After the first film, I think Hellraiser: Bloodline is my favorite. There’s a lot going on forcing the plot to keep moving, and the whole story in space doesn’t feel cheesy or forced. This is what the Hellraiser series is about and I strongly recommend it.

This is all of the Hellraiser films that were released in theaters. My next review will be for the direct to video and DVD films in the series, and trust me, I have a lot to say about them. Keep a look out for it.

Spawn – Review

19 Jul

Even while I was a kid I still loved movies, but there were a select few that I really loved. There was Star WarsMighty Morphing Power Ranger: The Movie, and then there was Spawn. Until recently, I forgot all about Spawn, so I decided to revisit one of my favorite childhood movies and see how it stood up to the test of time.

 

Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is one of the best assassins in the business, but he’s beginning to realize that he needs to settle down and focus more on his wife and prospects of a family. His boss, Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen), offers him one last job. While on the job, Wynn betrays and murders him. Instead of simply dying, the devil Malebolgia (Frank Welker) and The Violator (John Leguizamo) offer him a deal to lead the hellish army and prepare for the apocalypse. Now Simmons is reborn as Spawn, and must decide who to fight for: good or evil, redemption or revenge.

Cool story, right? I can’t say I know anything about the comic books or the HBO animated series, but I would definitely like to check them out. As of now, all I have is this mess of a movie. I can see the obvious appeal it would have to me as a kid, but now it is borderline horrible. Once I started it, I was ready for it to end.

The problems here are many. For one, Spawn is a great anti/super hero, with a great origin story and powers. These powers and abilities make for some cool scenes in an otherwise bad movie. I feel like we don’t even really get to see him make use of these abilities until towards the end of the movie. That’s fine since this is an origin story, but that would be like having no web in Spider-Man or shield in Captain America. Instead, we get very quick uses of these powers that could have been so much more satisfying.

Let’s talk about the writing. Wow. Movies like this give me confidence in my aspirations of becoming a screen writer. The dialogue and character development is so cliché and generic that there is no possible way it could have been more bland. Martin Sheen is the CEO of a large corporation who talks tough. Surprise! He’s a villain that we’ve seen in hundreds of other movies. Thank goodness there is a nice family backstory that somewhat supports the character, Spawn’s, story arc. The characters and the writing were entirely two dimensional.

 

It’s one thing to talk about the writing in Spawn, but I almost can’t even mention the special effects. Before you say anything: yes, I realize this movie is from 1997 so the effects can’t compare to todays. Fine. But, look at Jurassic Park and The Phantom Menace (the only time I will positively talk about this movie), which only came out three years later. When Spawn is in hell, I could swear that it wasn’t finished. There’s no way that the special effects artists looked at the “finished” product and said, “Yeah, that looks good.” The only really cool effect is making John Leguizamo look like a short, fat clown.

It’s so disappointing to look at a movie that you used to love and have it let you down after years of not seeing it. This is exactly what Spawn did for me. The character and story seems really cool and interesting, but it was certainly not given ANY justice here. I’m going to start finding the comic books and watching the animated series in hopes that it will wash the hellishly bad taste that the live action film left in my mouth.

 

Drive Angry – Review

21 May

Guns, sex, explosions, violence, gore, and loads of dirty language. Sounds like your typical 1970s grind house flick to me. But here we are in the second decade of the new millennium, but Drive Angry certainly is grind house. No one wanted to see this in the theaters with me, so I had to wait until now to see it, and to be honest, I was not at all disappointed.

Milton (Nicolas Cage) is angry. Milton is dead. Milton has also escaped from hell and is looking for blood, and lots of it. With the help of  Piper (Amber Heard), and out of work and angry waitress, they must track down and kill Jonah King (Billy Burke), and insane cult leader who killed Milton’s daughter and kidnapped his infant grand daughter to use as a human sacrifice. While all of this is happening, Satan’s right hand man, The Accountant (William Fichtner), is hot on Milton’s trail with a mission to bring him back to hell.

Does the plot of this sound absolutely ridiculous? Well it is, and so is the movie. From the opening scene, Drive Angry is a non stop roller coaster that makes you feel like your riding the bullet that is shot out of hell’s most sacred weapon, the Godkiller. I’m sure that some of the people reading this review will think I’m full of shit, but I really did enjoy this movie. It has a perfect blend of grind house style action and comedy.

Drive Angry is certainly not a showcase of acting talent. Nicolas Cage is ok, but can cross the line and deliver some really cheesy dialogue that wasn’t natural in the least. Amber Heard looks nice and does a pretty good job. Billy Burke brings a lot of character to Jonah King and would have been the best character in the movie, if not for William Fichtner. Fichter’s Accountant is hysterical, menacing, and hands down my favorite character of the movie. Every time he came on screen, I knew I was in for a treat.

The story was full of imagination that I really appreciate. While this may not be the most original movie in the world, it definitely has more creative talent than a lot of Hollywood films being cranked out solely for money. That was part of the joy of watching Drive Angry. I felt like the film makers were in control and were doing whatever they had to do to make the movie exactly what they wanted it to be. It’s refreshing to see something that was made out of creativity and love of the genre, rather than a stereotypical action flick that follows a certain set of guidelines.

It’s important to be in the right mind set before watching this film. This isn’t a big budget Transformers – like blockbuster. The special effects aren’t always great, but they joy comes from the absurdity of the action. There are so many times when I was laughing at what I was seeing or shaking my head in pure disbelief. Being too critical of this movie would be missing the point. This isn’t so much a movie to dissect, than to just turn your brain off and have fun for 2 hours.

I understand that a lot of people are going to pick Drive Angry apart. I’m content with saying it’s one hell of a fun ride. It’s not the most intense or ridiculous over-the-top action film I’ve ever seen, but it is a really good time. If you want to watch a movie with interesting character development that explores deep themes, then watch something else. If you want to have fun with a movie that knows it’s crazy and doesn’t care, than Drive Angry should definitely be an option.