Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance


 

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Nicolas Cage may be laughing now but he won't be when he shows up on another Conan O'Brien Homeland Security Threat Alert sketch.

(2012) Superhero (Columbia) Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Fergus Riordan, Anthony Head, Christopher Lambert, Spencer Wilding, Sorin Tofan, Jacek Koman, Cristian Iacob, Jai Stefan. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

 

This is a movie that is just going to make you stammer. On Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor: “Didn’t they direct Crank? That-that-that was so good!” On Nicolas Cage: “But-but-but-but…didn’t he win an Oscar? Didn’t he make Raising Arizona? Peggy Sue Got Married? Adaptation? Valley Girl?” All true. Throw those expectations out the window.

Johnny Blaze (Cage), the Ghost Rider has fled the United States and his curse of turning into a flaming headed demon who extracts vengeance (and the souls) of those who deserve it which is pretty much everybody. He is living in the Balkans now, skulking in the darkness. He is approached by a drunken French priest named Moreau (Elba) who tells him that he is needed to help protect a young boy that the Devil is after; should he fulfill his end of the bargain, his order will help him get rid of the curse. Having nothing better to do and 90 minutes of screen time to fill, he agrees.

Said boy is named Danny (Riordan) and he is the son of the comely gypsy Nadya (Placido) who wants him back. Denis Leary-esque thug Ray Carrigan (Whitworth) – who has a history with Nadya – has managed to steal the boy after blowing up the Ghost Rider with a grenade (they just don’t make demons like they used to). Still, you can’t keep a good Rider down and Blaze steals the boy back which hacks the devil off .

Satan, going by the name Roarke (Hinds) – and he’s about as far from “Fantasy Island” as you’re going to get – is pretty cheesed off so he turns the dead Carrigan into Decay, a demon that rots everything he touches – everything except Twinkies which are immune. Take that, snack food naysayers – who knew an armor made of sponge cake and filling would grant the wearer immunity from demonic powers?

Anyway it’s all leading to a ritual that must be performed on the solstice blah blah blah blah blah…you know the drill. The odds are against them but you know ol’ Flamehead will save the day. This is, after all, a Marvel Comic book adaptation.

And folks, I’m here to tell you it is the worst Marvel movie since the largely unseen 1994 Fantastic Four film that was made to retain the rights to the comic for Constantin Films (who would finally make a big budget version in 2005), and that’s saying something. This is Steel bad. This is Catwoman bad.

Neveldine and Taylor have made some nifty action films but you get the sense they were hamstrung by the PG-13 rating imposed on them by the studio. While there is some of the out-of-control seat-of-the-pants filmmaking that characterized their first movies, mostly they resort to clever camera angles and loud pulsating hard rock to turn the movie into an hour and a half long Megadeth video. This isn’t nearly as much fun or free-spirited as their earlier works; not only is it not anything goes, it feels more like nothing does.

Cage has gotten his fair share of flack for his overacting, but he sets a new bar here. Remember those Conan O’Brien bits about Nicolas Cage performances being the new means of setting Homeland Security threat levels? Cage has produced a whole new threat level. There’s a scene where he interrogates an Eastern European Eurotrash club owner about the whereabouts of Carrigan that has simply got to be seen to be believed. I honestly believed his head was going to explode (and it pretty much does in CGI when he transforms into the Rider). And while we’re on the subject of acting, can we not find a juvenile actor who could act? Riordan delivers a performance that compares unfavorably with Jake Lloyd’s wooden extravaganza as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And no, that’s not something you want said about your acting.

In fact, much of the CGI owes as much to Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes as it does to Marvel Comics. Cage’s eyes bug out like a wolf checking out a female – I half-expected a wolf whistle and an “Ah-OOOOOOO-Gah!!!” to accompany the transformation. He also spits out bullets machine gun-style at one of Carrigan’s thugs. When you can’t do a comedic scene as well as a 70-year-old cartoon, even with all the modern technology at your disposal, you’re doing something terribly wrong.

This is simply an embarrassment. I didn’t think the first Ghost Rider was as bad as it was made out to be but this one is far worse than you can imagine. Other than Placido who is sweet to look at, and Hinds who is at least having fun chewing the scenery as a Wall Street Beelzebub, and Lambert as a tattooed monk, there really isn’t a lot to recommend this movie, other than to serve as a warning that not all Marvel movies are necessarily good.

REASONS TO GO: Film is a bit better-looking than the first Ghost Rider.

REASONS TO STAY: Cage just…oh my God. Overacting doesn’t even cover it. Story is predictable and dull. Too much “look ma I’m directing” in the action sequences.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, some darkly disturbing images, and plenty of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eva Mendes was approached to reprise her role from the first movie but perhaps wisely she declined.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 15% positive reviews. Metacritic: 32/100. The reviews are a train wreck.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wicker Man (2006)

TATTOO LOVERS: Lambert sports a face full as do several of the other monks. Cage as Johnny Blaze doesn’t have any per se but his flaming skull would make a wicked awesome tat.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: Shame

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Woodhouse


 

            Halloween in New York City can be a little wild for the uninitiated. In all respects, Andrew Woodhouse would be considered anything but wild, but he always had a soft spot in his heart for the holiday.

            You would never know it. Woodhouse was CEO of the Woodhouse Group, number three in the Fortune 500 and the biggest privately held company on Earth. Andrew, “Woody” to his close friends, had everything you could imagine; mansions in the Hamptons, Nassau, Cannes and Fiji, a massive apartment on Central Park, yachts, limousines, private jets, everything you would expect a man whose net worth was nearly half a trillion dollars to own.

            He had been born into celebrity; his father was Guy Woodhouse, the movie star. In the 70s and 80s Guy was as big as Burt Reynolds and had done equally well on television, Broadway and the movies. Oddly, Andrew didn’t inherit the matinee idol looks of his father; some said he favored his late mother who has committed suicide when Andrew was only five years old.

            His life had been charmed all along. Private school education followed by a degree at Columbia and an MBA at Yale. He’d worked at Haliburton and Goldman Sachs where he’d risen to the position of Executive Vice President at the relatively young age of 31. After that, he’d branched out on his own with a venture capital company that owned sizable chunks of such companies as Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Dell, Microsoft and Wal-Mart. Nearly everything Andrew touched turned to profit as glowing articles in the Wall Street Journal and Fortune had opined. Forbes magazine had even proclaimed him “the face of 21st century capitalism.”

            Now, in his 40s, he regularly hobnobbed with presidents and CEOs. He was married to a former Miss Georgia who still had the figure of a woman half her age and regularly wore her bikini just to remind him she could. There are those who would say Andrew Woodhouse was blessed.

            There are just as many people who would say Andrew Woodhouse was cursed. He always seemed to profit at the expense of others. Bill Gates called him “the biggest son of a bitch in America” while others had nicknames that were less complimentary than that. The Woodhouse Group had spearheaded the subprime mortgage market but had gotten out just before it nosedived. Lawrence O’Donnell likened the company to “a schoolyard bully who was smart enough never to throw the first punch so some other kid gets blamed for their disturbances.”

            Andrew’s chief advisor and right hand man was Woodhouse Group CFO David Sapirstein, an older man who was said to resemble actor Ralph Bellamy. Sapirstein’s father had delivered Andrew; their families had been close for years. In fact, David’s dad had introduced Andrew’s father to his second wife after the suicide of his first.

            Things just seemed to happen in Andrew’s favor. When an opportunity came to make money, Andrew always seemed to be around it. If he had a rival for that opportunity, something would happen to take the rival out of the running. When a politician, crusading journalist or law enforcement official made noises about looking into Andrew’s financial empire, something would happen to the offending person. Sometimes it was a scandal of their own; sometimes it was a tragic accident. No matter what it was, Andrew always came out smelling like a rose.

            Andrew’s personal life seemed beyond reproach. His publicists proclaimed that he neither smoked nor drank alcoholic beverages stronger than an occasional glass of wine, nor had he experimented with drugs – ever. He’d had his share of romantic entanglements in college, they said, but what young man hadn’t? Unlike some of his contemporaries, there were no illegitimate children, at least that anybody knew about.

            Andrew’s reputation had been taking a beating lately, though. The economic meltdown had made people less well-disposed towards CEOs, particularly ones that were as wealthy as Andrew Woodhouse. MSNBC had named Andrew one of the architects of the economic meltdown, mainly for his support of sub-prime mortgage lending which his company had profited greatly from.

            However, no congressional investigation would find any evidence of wrongdoing. As one investigator commented in an official report, “While you can certainly accuse the Woodhouse Group of being unethical and of showing questionable moral judgment, they cannot be accused of doing anything illegal. They are experts at exploiting loopholes in the law for their own advantage.”

            He arose every morning to virtually the same routine. He was customarily awake just before dawn. He would brush his teeth, put on his gym clothes, and go for a run, either in his own private running track in the Woodhouse Building in Manhattan or at his Hamptons estate if he were staying there. He would usually do two to five miles depending on how busy his day was, then would always return for a simple breakfast of orange juice, dry toast and a single hard-boiled egg which he ate while reading the financial news, often with CNN, MSNBC or Fox News on a nearby plasma screen television. He would then shower, dress and head to work at about 7am.    

            Once there he would get on his computer and look at whatever e-mails his staff had deemed worthy of his attention. Usually at about 8 or 8:30 he’d call a meaning of his executive team, which David would normally run. While Andrew participated, he tended to listen to whatever others said, and then would weigh in with an opinion after both opposing sides had made their cases. Andrew’s opinion was law at the Woodhouse Group.

            Most of Andrew’s day was conference calls, board meetings and signing off on whatever program his advisors thought would be profitable. Sometimes Andrew would veto a project without explanation; he simply had a sense about such things. His employees had learned to trust it, although they didn’t always like it.

            He would have a light lunch at about 11:30, followed by more meetings until three. Then he would leave the office, head over to a private club for a few drinks and some appetizers, then home. Normally he would have dinner at home, although he and his wife Marcy would go out to some of New York’s finest restaurants.

            After dinner, it would be home where he would do a little work until 10pm, at which time he would usually retire although not always. Andrew didn’t need a lot of sleep to be at the top of his game; he had been that way ever since he was a kid. Sometimes he went days without it, and you’d never know it by looking at him. Sleep is something he did when he was bored and Andrew was easily bored.

            The thing was, his whole carefully ordered life was a façade. The mask of a responsible conservative businessman was the cover of a true monster. Not only were his publicist’s assertions that he never smoked, drank or did drugs a complete fabrication, there were plenty of other things he did that were far worse.

            Andrew had started by raping a few co-eds in college, usually getting them drunk first. If they raised a stink, he or one of his father’s associates would pay off the girl. If she didn’t want to be paid off, normally they’d meet up with a horrifying accident. He used people for pleasure; his own pleasures were perverse and often grotesque. He’d gone through a long string of women from the famous to the unknown, most of them for a single sexual encounter. He’d had the wives of diplomats, the daughters of tow truck drivers, the girlfriends of his best friends and single girls of all shapes and sizes. In another stroke of amazing luck, he’d never contracted a disease and never gotten anybody pregnant.

            The marriage to his wife was more or less for show. She had peccadilloes of her own, but he did fuck her from time to time. He was particularly brutal with her, and she lived in fear of those occasions where he would decide to be with her. Marcy was his second wife; his first, Katherine, had burned alive in her bedroom when her bed sheets caught fire when she fell asleep while smoking in bed. Andrew had been conveniently out of town when the tragedy occurred but there were still whispers, mainly due to the fact that most of the people closest to his dead wife were completely unaware that she smoked.

            Andrew had a lot of parties, some in private hotels, and others at his various homes. Most of the time, Marcy wasn’t around when he had them. There were usually a lot of women, high priced call girls most of them. Andrew had a great cruel streak in him, one that turned vicious upon occasion. A lot of these parties had ended up with dead hookers and a whole team of employees who specialized in deflecting any scrutiny that might come Andrew’s way.

            David, as well as most of Andrew’s closest advisors, disapproved of his lifestyle but allowed it to continue since it took place behind closed doors. David had at one time been a regular at Andrew’s parties but he was an old man these days, and had his fill of banging hookers long, long ago. He would sometimes lecture Andrew about the dangers of having his true nature exposed, but Andrew would just stare at him with a curiously flat expression and David knew enough not to push it. Andrew had a dangerous temper and a genuine willingness to do violence upon whosoever angered him.

            The world was more or less Andrew’s oyster, but that had been the intention from the beginning. You see, Guy Woodhouse wasn’t really Andrew’s father; his father came from someplace far different. Guy had merely raised Andrew, as much as anybody could.

            Andrew was, in fact, the son of Satan, the anti-Christ. There was none of his mother in him, other than the little bit he had eaten when he had discovered her body. She had supposedly slit her wrists in her bathtub, but the wounds were actually inflicted by her five-year-old son who had eaten some of her flesh after she bled out. The Castevets, the closest friends to the family, had discovered her body with little Andrew calmly taking bites out of her flesh. They had called Dr. Sapirstein who had made sure that the medical examiner would never see the cannibalism that had been performed upon poor Rosemary’s body.

            All was for the protection of Andrew who grew up arrogantly thinking he was untouchable. The problem was, he was essentially right. The network of people protecting him was powerful and far-reaching. There were none who even suspected who Andrew really was. An obstetrician, a Dr. Hill, had heard from Andrew’s mom that the Castevets were part of a coven but he had died when a bus hit him while crossing 7th Avenue when Andrew was less than a year old. People who had any shot at putting two and two together usually didn’t survive very long.

            Andrew knew the plan was really coming together, but the ultimate goal was in plain sight. Soon he would run for president; 2012 had always been his goal for that.The world needed to be in utter turmoil before he became president; it was necessary for him to usher in his father’s dominion on Earth.

            Time was ticking down and Andrew knew his era was coming, he could feel it in his bones. Soon the world would be his; hell, it always had been. It would just become official. The funny thing was that the ancient Mayans had figured it out long before he was born. December 21, 2012 was when the world would end, according to the Mayan calendar.

            Andrew didn’t know for certain if that would be the date – he was rather more partial to June 6 but that was up to his father, not him. Still, Andrew liked the family business; he stood to inherit quite a bit from it.

            His one quirk was that he never appeared in public without his sunglasses, or without special contact lenses. Nobody other than the Castevets and Dr. Sapirstein, not even David, had seen his naked eyes. It was said he had his father’s eyes, and Andrew believed it. He had seen so much with those eyes, and they were truly windows to his soul. As such they were portals to the ugliest side of human nature. They were the best indication of his true nature. The world truly was his oyster, and he meant to consume all of it.