Comics

Ghost Rider (2007, Mark Steven Johnson), the extended cut

Watching former–I don’t know, he wasn’t really an indie, so something like pre-hipster hipster–wunderkind Wes Bentley in material like this movie (where he finally finds his appropriate level, skill-wise) is kind of amusing. Is it amusing enough to get through the whole movie, especially since Bentley doesn’t show up until twenty-five minutes into it (remember, he was supposedly going to be Spider-Man at one point)? No, because it only occurred to me I should be so amused by Bentley’s plummeting when he showed up. I needed something to amuse me, since his acting and the script are both so awful.

It’s also amazing what the MPAA will give a PG-13 if the intended audience are red state voters. Ghost Rider‘s got some positively nightmare-inducing grotesque imagery (but no swearing).

Watching Peter Fonda and Bentley “act” opposite each other… someone out there–presumably Mark Steven Johnson–thought they were doing a good job. He thought he’d written a good scene even, instead of something so laughable, it plays like a joke commercial on an episode of “Family Guy.” Worse is Johnson’s attempt to make Ghost Rider a story about fathers and sons, which is a bit like he did in Daredevil, only Daredevil seemed like a real movie, various absurdities aside. Ghost Rider seems like–given Nicolas Cage has been in it for three minutes thirty minutes in–a bunch of live-action video game cut-scenes.

In one neat thing, maybe unintentional, Cage’s friend, played by Donal Logue, resembles Cage’s (filmic) father, Brett Cullen. Cullen’s only in it in the flashback but he’s sturdily good, giving Johnson’s lame dialogue some life.

Cage’s unsteady Southern accent. I don’t know what to say about it. Other than someone should have noticed and had him loop his lines.

Johnson’s actually a Panavision throwback–he shoots it in 1950s and 1960s-style (pre-Leone?). He uses the widescreen to fill it with as much information as possible, instead of actually composing meaningful shots. I don’t even mean that one as an insult.

I’m trying to figure out why I’m still watching Ghost Rider, almost forty minutes in. Maybe because Ghost Rider hasn’t shown up yet.

Johnson treats the romance between Cage and Eva Mendes like a romantic comedy, something for Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Cage almost achieves charming, but Mendes is terrible. Not just in the romantic comedy attempts either, but on every possible level. I hope there’s a scene with her and Bentley though, just because it’d be so bad I can’t even imagine it.

Anyway, forty-two minutes and still no flaming Ghost Rider. I’m not turning it off until then–which I think Johnson considered, since he slaps two flashbacks on the front of it, taking up fifteen or twenty minutes.

His face burns off. PG-13.

And there it is. At forty-eight minutes, Ghost Rider shows up. At fifty, I turn it off. I can’t believe I made it. (I do need to point out, even though Ghost Rider’s smaller than Nicolas Cage because he’s just a skeleton, he still fills out the clothes like he’s got skin and muscles).

Leaving Las Vegas. Bringing Out the Dead.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson; screenplay by Johnson, based on the Marvel Comic character created by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog; director of photography, Russell Boyd; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Steven Paul, Michael De Luca and Gary Foster; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze), Eva Mendes (Roxanne), Wes Bentley (Blackheart), Sam Elliott (Caretaker), Donal Logue (Mack), Peter Fonda (Mephistopheles), Matt Young (Young Johnny), Raquel Alessi (Young Roxanne) and Brett Cullen (Barton Blaze).


Superman (1978, Richard Donner)

I love how the end of Superman, with the spinning back of the earth, causes so much trouble for people. My fiancée–before Marlon Brando had even gotten the kid into the spaceship–made me stop the movie twice (I had to tell her to stop, though I love her line about Superman having just as many plot holes as the Bible) to make observations about its inconsistency. So, two major inconsistencies in the first ten minutes. I was more concentrated on Krypton’s apparent lack of atmosphere and the effect it’d have on the three criminals (wouldn’t they suffocate before the Phantom Zone got them?). My point being, Superman is rife with dramatic inconsistencies and silliness, the world-turning being one of the lesser ones.

I’ve probably seen Superman six times as an adult, maybe seven (this viewing is the fourth time since 2001), so it’s kind of hard to write about it like it’s tomorrow’s bread. I notice things, every time I watch, and sometimes I’ve noticed them before and sometimes I think I have or haven’t. Superman‘s an incredibly watchable film, because it works so damn well–I can’t think of a film where the music was more important than this one. John Williams’s score literally makes the film. Something about the epical storytelling and Donner’s use of cranes and his short on dialogue, but not short in running time scenes, makes Williams’s music essential. Without it, Superman wouldn’t just not work, it’d be funny looking. There’s music for most of the movie, with the exception of the Daily Planet scenes. The other superior technical aspect of the film is the editing. Donner shot some great coverage for the film and editor Stuart Baird puts it all together beautifully–that scene in the cornfield and the Superman finding Lois in the car scene are both editorially magnificent. I never thought about it before, but in a certain way (not narratively) Superman‘s got a lot in common with 2001.

Other things I noticed this time was Donner’s great close-ups of Terence Stamp at the beginning, which I’m sure I’d noticed before, but never really appreciated, especially since it’s a movie called Superman‘s first real scene. Glenn Ford gets better with each viewing… The infamous “Can You Read My Mind?” flying dance number, which has become, in the last couple viewings, my favorite scene in the film. Also a big fan of the interview scene and the helicopter scene from the cinematography angle. I think the last time I watched it, I appreciated Superman ignoring Marlon Brando for Glenn Ford (something Bryan Singer ditched in the latest “sequel”), and I appreciated it again this time.

It’s amazing to me, the film I’ve seen, man and boy, fifteen or twenty times, about a flying guy in blue tights, still has so much to offer.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

The Punisher (1989, Mark Goldblatt)

Back in the late 1980s, The Punisher was part of that period’s comic book movie wave. Most of these films had little to do with Batman’s success and most of them failed, both commercially and artistically. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of course, succeeded financially. Watching this Punisher film (I have no interest in the new one) again–I’ve seen it multiple times, as the teenager looking for the action film where cars inexplicably blow up, and again as an adult, when it came out on DVD–I noticed just how much of it did succeed. The key to The Punisher is forgiveness. One has to forgive the bad opening credits (with tinted action shots from the film), the direction, and the music. Once those three factors are forgiven, and the viewer can accept the film as a 1980s action film, The Punisher can offer a lot… really. Well, at the least, it can offer quite a bit.

Director Mark Goldblatt edited a number of 1980s action films–The Terminator and Commando–and The Punisher is a well-edited action film. It’s Goldblatt’s direction. He doesn’t know how to frame a shot, doesn’t know how to move a camera, doesn’t know how to direct actors. His previous directing experience including second-unit work on Robocop and it shows in The Terminator. There are some very Robocop-influenced shots in the film… The lack of good framing hurts The Punisher the most (except the terrible score), since there’s only one bad principal performance–Nancy Everhard is way too spunky. The rest of the performances are good. Jeroen Krabbé is particularly excellent in the film–oh, another problem with the film, though it’s not really its fault–the costumes, bad 1980s jackets and such. Sorry. Krabbé wears a terrible denim jacket at the end and I couldn’t let it go. But anyway, he’s great as the crime boss. Louis Gossett Jr. is great as well, as the Punisher’s old partner. As for Dolph… Dolph’s pretty good. He’s not great (his accent breaks in at a few inopportune moments), but he’s got a few great scenes in the film, particularly when he’s working with kids and he and Gossett have a good scene together. He also manages to deliver the Punisher sound bites well.

There’s a certain amount of right-headedness working for the film. The wrong-headedness, which runs rampant of course, includes the Punisher running around with Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. It looks really silly. The film works because of the writing. Boaz Yakin has probably dropped the credit from his filmography (maybe not though, I mean, Dirty Dancing 2 is on there), but it’s a well-constructed script. The film moves fast (though it’s not particularly engaging for much of the middle), slowing down for the occasional action sequence, but Yakin gives the characters some meat, particularly Gossett’s. He lets Gossett tell a character-defining story, a device I always like. Given how much Garth Ennis’s relatively recent (three years?) handling of the Punisher character has changed my view of the character, its limits and its possibilities, Yakin does a great job. The film puts the Punisher alone a lot, something comic book movies have never been comfortable doing, and it works out. Lundgren does make some silly expressions, but the emphasis (and his performance) work out, overall.

There are fifteen more minutes of The Punisher out there (I always expected a special edition DVD to tie-in to the recent adaptation, but it never happened) and they might be what the film needs–more scenes without guns. The film’s a difficult proposition in the first place and the handling of it, given its era and the budget and the cast and crew, has a lot of problems. So its relative successes become prominent. They make it a memorable film, which is odd–remembering a Dolph Lundgren film because it works… to a degree.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Goldblatt; written by Boaz Yakin, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru; director of photography, Ian Baker; edited by Tim Wellburn; music by Dennis Dreith; production designer, Norma Moriceau; produced by Robert Mark Kamen; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Dolph Lundgren (Frank Castle), Louis Gossett Jr. (Jake Berkowitz), Jeroen Krabbé (Gianni Franco), Kim Miyori (Lady Tanaka), Bryan Marshall (Dino Moretti), Nancy Everhard (Sam Leary), Barry Otto (Shake), Brian Rooney (Tommy Franco) and Zoshka Mizak (Tanaka’s Daughter).


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