Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Year 5, Day 197 - 7/16/13 - Movie #1,488

BEFORE: Last film with Nicolas Cage, and the last film before Comic-Con.  I've got 24 hours before my plane takes off, and I could probably squeeze one more film in, but the linking is telling me to wait.  I don't see an actor connection to the next film on my list, so I'm going to try and watch one or two films in San Diego and improve the connections at the same time.  Besides, I should probably devote some time to proper packing, seeing as I just spent an hour searching the house for my iPad, which I only use at conventions to play films and take credit card orders.  I usually keep it in a milkcrate by my desk with some graphic novels, but since it wasn't there, I was convinced for a while that I took that crate to my storage unit, and I'd need to make a trip there tomorrow morning.  I finally found the iPad in another comic book box, so I'm not freaking out as much.  (Yes, I should probably set up the iPad to do other things, like watch movies, but I haven't had the time.  Too busy watching movies...)

THE PLOT:  Dave Lizewski is an unnoticed high school student and comic book fan who one day decides to become a super-hero, even though he has no powers, training or meaningful reason to do so.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Super" (Movie #1,094)

AFTER: I waited a good long time for this one, or at least it feels like it - it wasn't available anywhere when I did my last superhero chain, and I was starting to wonder what the hold-up was.  Was it because the word "ass" is in the title?  Finally it appeared on PPV in late 2012 and I picked it up for $1.99.  I'm thinking that was a bargain.

I'm tempted to cry foul at the violence here, which is graphic and extensive - and some of it is directed at a little girl, for chrissakes.  But she gives as good as she gets, and then some.  What should I make of the image of a girl, age 12 (at time of filming) shooting guns, killing bad guys, even slicing off their limbs?  And yet people seemed to have more of a problem with her saying the F-word and the C-word, but I digress.  I realize it's all special effects, and the little girl didn't shoot or stab anyone, but still...is this inappropriate or entertaining?  Can it be both?

The title character is one of those nebbishy teens, the everyman, who wonders why people don't put on costumes like comic-book heroes and go out and fight crime.  Then, when he gets beat up, he realizes why people don't put on costumes and go out and fight crime.  But he hooks up with a father/daughter team who are much more professional in their methods, and their mission to take down a drug kingpin.

There's more, of course, but I don't want to say too much.  The stunts are impossible, the violence is over-the-top, and the plot has some nice turning points.  This turned out to be either the most ridiculous superhero film, or the coolest thing I've seen in a while.  Can it be both?

This represents the new age of superheroes, where they appear in YouTube videos and have web-sites and MySpace/Facebook profiles.  Heroes for the generation raised on "Kill Bill" and "300".  Kids who've had to witness terrorism, school shootings, and inner-city crime.  Is this what we get as a result?  A little girl who plays with knives, swords and guns?

It still comes off as disconcerting - like that Onion headline that read "Cute kitten thinks of nothing but murder all day".  But I'm afraid to give the film a lower rating, because I don't want Hit Girl mad at me...

I think that with all the furor over school shootings, or kids having access to guns, this film walks a very fine line.  Or maybe it erases it completely.  With some people trying to link violent video-games to violence in the real world, it's a little weird to see a character shooting people in a "real" situation in a style very similar to a first-person shooter simulation.  It's almost like the film is trying to provide the link that legislators are looking for, and I'm not sure that's the connection that the movie + videogame industry wants made. 

There's an odd paradox with superhero movies, since there are no real superheroes, any movie or comic-book reality that portrays them with powers is automatically not ours.  But when you open up a Marvel or DC comic, you might see people within that reality reading comic books.  Why would they have comic book heroes in that world, when they have the "real"  thing?  And in a case like "Kick-Ass", if the real people get inspired by comic books to become heroes, isn't that putting the cart before the horse?  I think they worked neatly around this, though, by portraying costumed heroes with no superhero powers.  So it's a world without costumed heroes...until it isn't.  

I think this is a good place to stop for a bit, and process what I've seen today.  5 days at Comic-Con, plus a 6th day to travel back, then I'll probably have to catch up on sleep, so if I don't catch a film in San Diego, I'll post again in about a week.

Also starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (last seen in "Nowhere Boy"), Chloƫ Grace Moretz (last heard in "Bolt"), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (last heard in "Paranorman"), Mark Strong (last seen in "John Carter"), Michael Rispoli (last seen in "Summer of Sam"), Clark Duke (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine"), Lyndsy Fonseca (ditto), Yancy Butler, Xander Berkeley (last seen in "Billy Bathgate"), with cameos from Elizabeth McGovern, Craig Ferguson (last heard in "Winnie the Pooh").

RATING: 8 out of 10 x-rays

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Year 5, Day 196 - 7/15/13 - Movie #1,487

BEFORE: Just two days until Comic-Con now, I'm planning to put my chain on hold after the next film, though I'm going to try and catch a screening of "Iron Man 3" while in San Diego, either at the convention or in a theater.  I should be able to block out two hours for a film somewhere during a five-day trip.  Nicolas Cage carries over again from "Season of the Witch" as we hit the real comic-book films.

THE PLOT:  As Johnny Blaze hides out in Eastern Europe, he is called upon to stop the devil, who is trying to take human form.

AFTER: Hmm, that's funny, I was about to mark this as a FOLLOW-UP to "Ghost Rider", then I couldn't find that film listed in this project.  So I must have watched it before 2009.  Not to worry, this film is just as appropriate as a follow-up to "Drive Angry" - both feature Nicolas Cage with supernatural powers, trying to prevent the ritual killing of a young child.  Of course, the presence of a cabal of monks also hearkens back to "Season of the Witch", plus the villain here uses dark magic and is able to place his soul in other vessels, which sounds a lot like Voldemort - so there's a shout-out to last week's "Harry Potter" wrap-up as well. 

I kinda dug this one, though I know it got a bad rap and did poor box-office.  OK, so it didn't make back its budget theatrically, but that still leaves DVD and cable, right?  I guess Ghost Rider is considered a 2nd-tier superhero, and really only the top tier heroes seem to do well in films.  Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Avengers and X-Men have all done well, but Green Lantern, Green Hornet, The Spirit, The Shadow, not so much.  Which is a shame because a motorcycle riding demon with a flaming skull head should come off as pretty cool.

Plus, the movie should look a lot cooler than the comic, just because it, well, moves.  A car chase should look better on film.  Stuff burning up and exploding looks better on film.  I don't know why Ghost Rider's skull is gray here and not white, but that's a minor point - I guess the white bones didn't read well on camera, or someone figured that since his head is on fire, the bones should look burned.

The comic books usually stick with the standard flaming motorcycle, but the film suggests that the Ghost Rider could use ANY vehicle for his purposes, and in fact shows him controlling a flaming truck and also a large piece of construction equipment, which looked really cool.  So visually the film has the advantage, but what about the story?

Turns out there are only so many different comic-book plots, and they just keep using them again and again.  Hero fights villain, hero dies and comes back to life, hero has to go on a quest.  It's all pretty basic Joseph Campbell-type stuff.  When you know the formulas, this film just comes off as a quest/chase combined with a standard loss of power.  And anytime a hero loses his superpower, it's just a matter of time before he needs to (or is forced to) get the power back.

But even though it's a little by-the-numbers, I'm willing to cut this one a little slack, because it hints at the larger aspects of the Ghost Rider story.  Fighting an agent of the Devil and his minion is pretty typical, but the question is raised about Zarathos, the demon who gives him his powers.  What is a demon but a fallen angel?  And they've riffed on this in the comics, too - it explains how Johnny Blaze is able to use the power of a demon to do positive things.

The kid he's trying to save here is named Danny, and it's shown that he has some otherwordly powers as well.  When they updated the Ghost Rider character in the comics a few years back, they retired Johnny Blaze and gave the powers to a teen named Daniel Ketch, so I'm wondering if this is hinting at the plot for the next film.  Even if Nicolas Cage doesn't sign on, they can just age this Danny kid by a decade, give him similar powers, and go on from there.  Smart.

Also starring Idris Elba (last seen in "Prometheus"), Ciaran Hinds (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"), Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Fergus Riordan, Christopher Lambert.

RATING: 6 out of 10 bottles of wine

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Drive Angry

Year 5, Day 195 - 7/14/13 - Movie #1,486

BEFORE: The annual Feast is going on in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - that's the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, but we just call it "The Feast".  I'm sure the religious aspects of it are very important to some, and the fund-raising aspect is important to that parish, but we just go for the food.  And the lifiting of the Giglio, but mostly the food.  We had dinner there on Wednesday night, and as with any street festival, the first night is always the best, partially because all the oil in the fryers is fresh, but also because at that point I haven't had a great calzone or sausage + peppers hero in about 51 weeks.  I usually follow those up with some coconut shrimp and lemon ice, and we get some fried Oreos to take home.  For some reason, I seem to gain weight this time every year.

As stated, Nicolas Cage carries over from "Season of the Witch".

THE PLOT:  A vengeful father escapes from hell and chases after the men who killed his daughter and kidnapped his granddaughter.

AFTER: Maybe I should have saved this chain for October, with all the monsters, demons and witches that have been populating my movies for the last week.  Oh, well, too late to turn back now.  Besides, in many ways this film plays like a comic book, with resurrected people with healing powers, Satanic cults, impossible stunts and over-blown violence.  It's a bit like "Sin City" mixed with "Ghost Rider" with a little of "Red State", all directed by Tarantino. 

Hollywood action films have a long history of defying reality, especially when it comes to stunts and such.  How many times have we seen cars fall off a cliff and explode on (or even before) impact?  What about villains shooting hundreds of bullets at the hero, missing every time, thus allowing him to get off that ONE bullet that finds its mark?  Or a thousand other impossible things?  And yet instead of crying foul, audiences just keep demanding more.  And bigger, and louder.  Movies take people to far-off lands, into the ocean depths, and across the galaxies, and we all say, "Wow! That was great!  What else have you got?"

I say this to preface a film with a heavy buy-in.  A man escapes from Hell - though how, exactly, we're not quite sure.  That would have made a great beginning for a movie, I'm just sayin', instead of starting the story after he's already done that, and then we all have to play catch-up.  His daughter got mixed up with a cult after he died, and now his infant granddaughter is in trouble.

Turns out the Devil doesn't like it when somebody escapes, so he sends the Accountant after the guy.  The Accountant is a great, complex character - it makes sense that someone needs to do the bookkeeping in Hell, since it is a giant cosmic prison.  How else do they keep track of time served, or punishments endured?  Turns out the Devil also doesn't like it when people sacrifice babies in his name, so now the Accountant has two problems.

It's hard to nitpick when a film just goes ahead and sets up its own mythology, its own set of rules for how things work in the afterlife.  Who am I to say otherwise?  Whatever needs to happen to bring about a suitable conflict and resolution here, the movie just says, "Well, that's the way the cookie crumbles..."  And along the way there are huge explosions and impossible stunts, lots of people get shot, and everyone has a good time.  The audience, that is, not those people who got shot. 

The last song before the credits sounded very familiar - it was a cover of "Alive", which is a Meat Loaf song from "Bat Out of Hell III".  Very appropriate usage - and you can't stump me when it comes to Meat Loaf.  Great job avoiding the obvious and overused "Highway to Hell". 

Sequel, please!

Also starring William Fichtner (last seen in "The Longest Yard"), Amber Heard, Billy Burke (last seen in "Fracture"), David Morse (last seen in "The Long Kiss Goodnight"), Todd Farmer, Jack McGee.

RATING: 6 out of 10 bullet holes