Poisoned Earth pt 4 (The Color Out of Space, 2020)

Color_Out_0f_Space_2020_PosterRichard Stanley has returned after nearly a 20 year absence from theatrical filmmaking. And I must say, it is a welcome return.

Using a modern setting, Stanley and writer Scarlett Amaris stick closely to the source material.  The meteorite falls near their home and starts to infect the land around them.  The trees seem to have an unearthly sway and there is beautiful unearthly lights.

The family’s youngest son starts to hear a voice from the family well.  There are weird noises and the animals start to behave in an odd fashion.

I like that the family in the film is in less conflict with each other.  It really sells the terror that they seem to really love and care for each other. Cage gives a really good performance here, not as bombastic as Mandy, but very much a man trying to protect his family in the face of a pending implosion.

The effects are quite good, and Stanley shows a real understanding of how to use digital to enhance his practical effects.

The Color Out of Space is a strong return for Stanley and easily one of the best Lovecraft adaptions committed to film.

You Can Never Have Too Much Spider-Man (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2018)

Spider-Man_Into_PosterA few years ago, after the big Sony hack, Sony and Marvel resumed the failed talks about  Spider-Man films. It resulted in the very fun Spider-Man: Homecoming, pretty much run by Marvel. But Sony still holds the rights to do with the Spider-Man characters what they want.  And so…that gives us this animated feature.

Miles Morales lives with his mom and dad, but is starting life at a new school. After a frustrating week, he goes to see his uncle Aaron, who takes him to a hidden place where he can do some street art. Miles gets bit by a Spider-Man. When he witnesses a tragedy and finds himself having to make a promise to Spider-Man moments before he is killed…with no idea how to do it. Until he stumbles across Peter Parker…Spider-Man???

They discover that whatever the Spider-Man of Mile’s Morales’ world was trying to thwart has actually brought several Spider People into Miles’ world. But the world may end and so they have to team up to send everyone home and stop the destruction of the Spider-Verse.

And you know what? This only sounds confusing.  Because the movie manages to make everything pretty darn simple. Our focus is on Miles, and even the Spider-Man we meet in the beginning is a celebrity. We don’t get to know him. We just get glimpses, enough to know he was a real hero.

The film also gives us intros to each character that are a whole lot of fun. Each Spider-Man has a unique look and artistic style. And it even impacts how they interact with the world they are in. Spider-Man Noir speaks in dark pulpy fashion and is always in black and white. And he is perplexed by color.

Jake Johnson’s Spider-Man is one whose life went a bit off track compared to the Spider-Man of Mile’s world.  Spider-Gwen is keeping the world at bay, avoiding really connecting to people. And Spider-Ham is just hilarious.

This movie has a lot of heart, there are genuinely touching moments. Moments between Miles and his father, Peter and the life he has left in his universe (wondering if it is even worth going back to). Miles and Gwen, Miles and Peter….

But the film is also ridiculously funny.  I mean, seriously funny. And part of that is in how the movie makes use of its medium. I cannot recall another animated film that took such grand opportunity to put it’s possibilities on full display.

In my book? This has been the best of all the Spider-Man movies. I want more with these characters. I want more movies with this version of Miles and his family and all the other Spider-People. This was a genuinely fun movie and I recommend checking it out. Sony raised the bar here…And I did not expect that.  But Marvel better pay attention.

 

Serious Teens (Teen Titans Go To the Movies, 2018)

Teen_Titans_GTTM_PosterWhen the Titans fight a giant balloon, the day is saved by Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, who are all on their way to the premier of Batman’s new movie. The Titans are informed that they are a bit of a joke, and not really deserving of an invite. After sneaking into the premier, The director of the film announces that the entire DC Universe is getting movies. Everyone. Except the Teen Titans…and especially not Robin.

Robin obsesses with how to get a worthy arch villain to make him memorable. They think they have a lead when they run afoul of the villainous Slade. Slade is a master manipulator and has a name that is fun to say very dramatically.

Having brought the Cartoon Network cartoon to the big screen, they try and make it a big enough deal for the jump. And you definitely see a difference in the budget with the animation.  It all looks good, and they have fun with applying various artistic styles.

The story is pretty predictable and the film hits all the expected beats. This is all about the juvenile jokes, sight gags and a few musical numbers. Oh, and an endless series of easter eggs. Frankly, is a running joke regarding the Challengers of the Unknown mean anything to the film’s target audience?

That said, it is passable entertainment, but this is not a film like the Lego Movie, which can be rewarding entertainment for parents in the audience…but it is likely kids who like the show will have a good time.

Summon the Spirit (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, 2011)

ghost-rider-sov-posterIt was a little surprising that Ghost Rider got a sequel.  Or is it a reboot.  The film is never really clear.  It simply ignores the previous film, yet stars Nicolas Cage again.  This time it is directed by the guys behind Crank.  The trailer showed Ghost Rider pissing fire.  Which just seems so crazy that it sets high expectations for hilariously absurd action.

Considering the movie has gun toting monks protecting the son of Satan from Satan, it seem like the film will be all kinds of crazy.

And yet…for being a movie from the the guys who made Crank and Crank 2?  It is remarkably tame.  Oh, there are things about the film that work.   There are jokes that land, action scenes that are exciting to watch.

The story is not very complex, a young mother is trying to keep her son out of the hands of his father…the devil.  The kid could be the Anti-Christ, so along with the help of some monks, she is keeping him hidden.  But the devil’s henchmen are closing in, until Johnny Blaze shows up.  He gets into all sorts of battles with the henchman and starts to bond with the kid.  Idris Elba shows up to be bad-ass with the promise of curing Blaze of his curse.  Guess what happens when he is cured?

If you suggested he realized it was a mistake and gets his power back…you would be right.

The effects are good and there is even some creative uses of the Ghost Rider’s abilities.  The Ghost Rider actually looks really cool in the film.  As I said, there are jokes that land, for example, the devil resurrects a henchman, but gives him the power to cause things he touches to decay.  Which becomes a problem when he tries to eat food…until he finds a Twinkie.

And yet, the film gets too slow at times, and the characters are very stock types.  The story is not compelling enough to give you concern for where it is going.  There are no real points where the film gives us a surprise, it is in fact quite a by the books tale with no twists or turns.

It Burns! (Ghost Rider, 2007)

Ghost-Rider-PosterNick Cage huh?  Well, that seems like a marginally less odd choice than playing Superman.  Tim Burton tried to make that happen.  Do you also remember a time when Cage was a highly praised actor from quirky Cohen Brothers films?  If not, you probably were born after Michael Bay’s seminal the Rock.  That is the film that altered the trajectory of Nick’s career that careened out of control resulting in…

Ghost Rider.  Ghost Rider is both a supremely odd and obvious choice and for a film.  As any thirteen year old boy can tell you…drawing a biker with a flaming skull for a head is really cool.  On the other hand…live action could render such an image rather…goofy.  The end result though is that, for Nick Cage’s career?  This was a major step up from the Wicker Man remake.

Written and directed by the man who brought us Daredevil four years earlier, the film opens with young Johnny Blaze (who looks nothing like Nick Cage), a circus stunt performer.  He discovers his father has cancer.  To save his father, he makes a deal with Wyatt from Easy Rider (Peter Fonda) who is actually the devil.  His father is miraculously cured of cancer-only to die the next day in a fiery motorcycle crash.  That wily devil.  At this point, the nature of Blaze’s end of the deal is not quite known.  He meets with his one true love Roxanne Simpson (the younger version played by Raquel Alessi, who actually looks like she could grow up to be Eva Mendez) and tells her he must leave.

Blaze becomes a famous traveling stunt cyclist, Evil Keneivel style.  Which as apt, because I am pretty sure, motorcycle stunt daredevils have not been in fashion since the 1970s…when, you know…Ghost Rider was created.  Anyways, he rides in a big tour bus with his crew which includes Marvel Movie Veteran Donal Logue (Blade).   I like Donal…this is a good sign.

Johnny is tormented by an alter ego nobody else is aware of, so they think he is just kind of going crazy.  But when he feels the presence of Evil, he bursts into flames and gets a bad-ass motorcycle.  His superpowers include tentacle like chains, a fiery skull head and the Penance Stare.  Basically, he looks deep in your soul and if your soul is bad?  You are tormented with the emotions of your victims or something.  And your eyes turn to stone.  Or something.

Meanwhile, Blackheart-the Son of Satan, y’all- comes to our plane of reality with a few elemental themed demons (as in earth, water and air).    They start killing bikers, cuz that is what demons do.  But Blackheart has a plan, he wants to upset the throne of hell and rule the world.  The devil is not keen on this, so he calls on the Ghost Rider-who it turns out is actually the Devil’s Bounty Hunter… DUM DUM DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM!!!!!

Roxanne shows up in a tight dress to wow Johnny as she is now a reporter.  They share the typical “I have not seen you for years!” stare.  Johnny, tortured as he is, causes all the warm and fuzzy feelings to return to Roxanne.

Johnny gets into a fight with Blackheart’s demon thugs, and then causes all sorts of havok downtown, riding his motorcycle up the side of buildings and such.  This is, admittedly a pretty awesome sequence.  Roxanne, intrepid reporter realizes the Ghost Rider is Johnny Blaze.  Meanwhile, Blaze seeks out sacred soil-a cemetery.  There he meets another Marvel Movie Veteran-Sam Elliot (last seen in Ang Lee’s the Hulk).  He is the mysterious caretaker who seems to know a whole lot about Johnny’s curse.  This is beautiful stunt casting.

He reveals the specifics of Blackheart’s plan and provides an important artifact that both the devil and Blackheart need or want.  They ride off together, and we discover Sam was also a Ghost Rider.  Johnny finds out that Blackheart has kidnapped Roxanne (dammit…this is why you don’t fall in love, people!).  He finds an old city in Mexico that apparently holds the worst souls-because this was the most evil town in the world or some other.  After dispatching of the henchmen, Johnny finds that Blackheart is absorbing the souls into himself(?).  Johnny needs to stop him by sunrise.  Johnny realizes that he has the ability to beat Blackheart now, since Blackheart finally has a soul.  He performs the Penance Stare and destroys Blackheart.  The Devil shows up and Johnny declares he will use his curse to fight the devil, he will own his curse.  The devil gets mad and Johnny rides away.

As previously noted, this was directed by the same guy who directed Daredevil, Ghost Rider’s biggest setback is…well…it does not feel nearly as crazy as it should.  You have a guy in black leather, chains and has a flaming skull for a noggin.  That just screams for insane and crazy action.  Own the goofy stuff, don’t be so serious.  And there are moments that seem to reach for the brass ring, like the Ghost Rider speeding up the side of a tall building.

And it wastes some good talent in dull by the book roles.  Logue’s Mack is a typical “concerned friend” whose real duty is to be tragically killed by the villain.  Mendez’s Roxanne lacks much personality (and I suspect -along with Mendez herself-she was chosen as much for her comic book babe proportions as anything else).  The script presents a character who is like a blander Lois Lane.   In spite of a great casting choice, Elliot is given a thankless task.  He is nothing more than the needed exposition mystery man.

Really, Peter Fonda seems to be the only one having any fun.  And what a great choice to play the devil.  And that is where the film really falls short.  It is simply is not much fun.  It stars Nick Cage, and has every opportunity to let him cut loose…and they don’t.

I think it is worth noting that this came out around Valentines weekend…like Daredevil, it was promoted as a date movie.  Like Daredevil, it was not really that romantic.  When it comes down to it, Ghost Rider is guilty of one of the worst sins of a comic book movie.  It holds back and keeps it’s heroes and villains tamed.

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