GHOST RIDER (2007)
Comic book based Ghost Rider is a silly and uneven supernatural/action flick, about stunt rider Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) who makes a deal with the Devil (Peter Fonda) to save his sick father (Brett Cullen) and becomes Satan’s bounty hunter. When the Devil’s son (Wes Bentley) rebels and seeks to enslave the earth and overthrow his father, The Ghost Rider blazes into action against the forces of evil…for the forces of evil.
Nic Cage gives his usual performance switching back and forth between somnambulant and insane. Eva Mendes is pretty and hot, but not much else, as his love interest Roxy. Wes Bentley is almost laughable as the Green Day member-looking villain, Black Heart…and the lack of a strong bad guy really weakens this comic book based tale. In supporting roles, Peter Fonda is suitable creepy as Old Scratch and the always good Sam Elliott appears, basically to deliver exposition as a former Ghost Rider, but still delivers the film’s best performance. Ghost Rider’s pacing is as uneven as it’s tone and the film comes across as hokey as it’s overused CGI. The Crow mixed the supernatural and the comic book just perfectly, by taking the material very seriously and playing it straight. Rider misses the mark by choosing a more campy approach and that keeps the supernatural elements from being effective. Director Mark Steven Johnson, from his own script, takes a much lighter approach than his Daredevil flick, which makes no sense considering this story has even darker elements. It’s as if he couldn’t take the spooky material seriously and decided to just have fun with it and that neutralizes any impact. The film should be intense and spooky, but it’s campy and silly. Johnson has a good visual eye, so at least there’s that and the FX are adequate, but most of the CGI looks like CGI…and some of the action set pieces look like theme park stunt exhibits from one of Johnny Blaze’s stunt shows. The movie always looks like a movie and thus never really draws us in to it’s world.
Flick takes place in NYC on Christmas Eve where pretty executive Angela Bridges (Rachel Nichols) is the last one to leave the office. She gets to the parking garage to find her car won’t start and the building is now locked down. Those are the least of her problems, as she is trapped inside the building parking levels with psychotic parking attended Thomas (Wes bentley). The deranged man apparently has had his twisted eye on her for some time and will do anything, and to anyone, to impress/keep her.
Film is directed by Franck Khalfoun (the Maniac remake) from a script by he, Grégory Levasseur and Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D, Crawl). It’s a well made thriller that is basically one long cat and mouse game. Angela continually tries to evade and escape Thomas, while the unhinged attendant tries to reacquire her after she initially gets away from him. It’s made even more difficult on Angela as she is scantily clad, barefoot and handcuffed and Thomas has the security system and a Rottweiler at his disposal. There are also a few casualties along the way, in his pursuit of his obsession, though body count is minimal. Rachel Nichols makes a really solid and resilient heroine, though Bentley is simply missing a strong threat factor, despite all the creepy and homicidal things he does. Sometimes he’s a little too over-the-top and thus more silly than scary. Things like his Elvis obsession don’t help. Despite being a nut, he comes across as kind of a wuss. There is never any doubt as to who is going to come out on top here and thus it’s not as suspenseful as it needed to be to really work. It’s entertaining enough, but there should have been more intensity and tension and it all leads back to Thomas simply being a weak villain.
FINAL GIRL (2015)
Final Girl is an entertaining and stylish thriller about a girl named Veronica (Abigail Breslin) who lost her parents when she was eight and is taken in by a man named William (Wes Bentley). She’s trained for the next twelve years to be an efficient killing machine and then unleashed on her first assignment. There are four young men, led by the charismatic Jameson (Alexander Ludwig), who like to lure young women in the woods and then hunt them for sport, while wearing tuxedos. Veronica is to set herself up as their next victim and then find a way to take these serial killers out…but the odds are against her. Tyler Shields’ directorial debut is a bit too stylish for it’s own good at times, but overall this is a fun flick as we watch Veronica play a dangerous cat and mouse game deep in the woods with these four arrogant killers. There are some good fight scenes with petite Abigail Breslin holding her own quite well and making an impression once again. The rest of the cast are good with Ludwig being a detestable villain and Bentley making a mysterious figure as Veronica’s handler, William. A simple story and script written by four people that might have been a bit more fun had they kept us in the dark for awhile about Veronica’s origins, but it does entertain and still photographer Shields does give it an intriguing visual style. Not great, but fun and an interesting debut for Shields. Also stars Cameron Bright, Reece Thompson and Logan Huffman as Jameson’s fellow frat boy killers.
THE STRANGER (2015)
Written and directed by Guillermo Amoedo and produced by Eli Roth, this flick is a strange and somber take on the vampire genre. A stranger (Cristobal Tapia Montt) arrives in a small town and stops at the home of Peter (Nicolás Durán) and his mother (Aleesandra Guerzoni) inquiring about a woman, Ana (Lorenza Izzo) who died around the time Peter was born. An encounter with a group of thugs leads Peter to believe this stranger, Martin, is something more than an average man. Now as Peter becomes fixated wit this man, he begins to learn there is something very unnatural about him and his reason for being there and Peter may be involved closer than he would like. The film certainly has some very effective moments and there is some effectively gruesome violence, too, but the film was a bit too somber to really draw one in. Even with the subplot of a vicious thug (Ariel Levy) and his dirty cop father (Luis Gnecco), who complicate things for Peter and Martin, the film is a little dull at times and never rises about moderately intriguing. The vampire aspects are treated more like a disease than a curse and the reveals are seen coming miles away. Not really a bad movie, but nothing overly memorable or thrilling.
Lovelace is a well made if not somewhat flawed biography of Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), the first bonafide porn superstar who appeared in the equally legendary adult film Deep Throat. While I’m not quite sure that the narrative structure completely works, the film is elevated by some really good performances all around from it’s good cast. The film’s story is basically told twice. First we have a fun look at girl-next-door Linda Boreman who comes from a home with an overbearing mother (an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone) and upon meeting her future husband Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), embarks on a journey into making the adult film classic Deep Throat…a film that basically ignited the porn industry’s growth into the billion dollar industry it is today…and becoming an overnight sensation herself. The first half of the film portrays it from the outside appearance of this wide eyed girl becoming a star practically overnight by making one of the most infamous porn films ever made. She even gets to meet Hugh Hefner (James Franco) who tells her she has what it takes to be a true star away from porn. But then we jump six years later to Linda getting ready to publish her memoir “Ordeal” and then we jump back to the beginning to see the true story of what happened including the horribly manipulative and physically abusive treatment by husband Traynor, who forced her into prostitution and then the production of the legendary porn flick all to fund his own life of excess. We then see how she was physically abused and forced into sex acts with other men for money in some very effective and horrifying sequences. We get to see the effect on her and how it ruined the relationship between her and her parents for many years until she finally got the courage to leave Traynor and the adult industry and start on a path to a new life that included releasing her memoir and becoming a feminist as well as a wife and mother.
And this is where I feel Lovelace had it’s biggest problem, I just don’t think telling the same story twice from two different perspectives really worked to the benefit of the story. At a little over 90 minutes that basically gives us 45 minutes to cover the same events twice instead of telling the full story from start to finish and covering more ground. I appreciate the concept of telling the story from first the public’s point of view of what happened, to then showing us how it really was, but to me the mood shift is very jarring from the more entertaining perspective of her rise to infamy and then this harrowing and heartbreaking story of her abuse at the hands of her slimy husband. Both halves taken individually are done well and are effective, but don’t quite work as well as a whole. A more traditional narrative might have better suited the material.
But what makes this film really worth seeing are the good performances from the actors. Seyfried gives her best performance yet and is exceptional at presenting both the public and private sides of Linda Lovelace’s life during her fame and then her escape to living a somewhat normal life and crusading against porn and domestic abuse. Sarsgaard is equally good portraying the charming man on the outside and the insecure and abusive monster that lurked behind closed doors. A man who had no problem selling his wife to a room full of scumbags for a gang bang. As her parents, Stone is almost unrecognizable and also gives one of her best performances as Linda’s overbearing mother Dorothy and Robert Patrick gives an emotionally filled performances as her father John, who cares deeply about his daughter, but appears afraid to assert himself in front of his wife. The supporting cast are equally solid with Juno Temple as Linda’s friend Patsy, James Franco as Hugh Hefner, Hank Azaria as Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano and Chris Noth as Deep Throat investor Anthony Romano, who starts to see Chuck for who he really is.
Overall I liked Lovelace, especially for the performaces. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman do a good job recreating the era and giving the scenes the emotional depth they need, it’s just that the narrative structure robs us from appreciating the emotional contrast of seeing both sides of the story as it occurs instead of revealing it all in one big flashback. The script by Andy Bellin seems solid, but again, we have the narrative issues it’s structure causes. A good film, not a great one, but one that does still have an impact and is really made worth watching for an exceptionally good cast. Also stars Wes Bentley, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale and Debi Mazur as Dolly Sharp.
3 porn stars!