Actor Nicolas Cage has a lot in common with his superhero counterpart Ghost Rider featured once again on the big screen in the pseudo-sequel Spirit of Vengeance. Much like the daemon-infested crime fighter Cage has the power to make anything he touches explode into a wild blazing inferno thanks to his unique performance techniques. Cage does not simply deliver a line he detonates it; He does not simply react to his co-stars he executes an interpretive dance; He does not simply throw a punch he unleashes physical armageddon. Occasionally the style provokes unintentional laugher but in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance anything less would be unrealistic.
The new adventure finds Ghost Rider aka Johnny Blaze a former stunt man cursed after begging the Devil to save his father's life hiding out in Eastern Europe where he believes his soul-sucking alter-ego can remain silent. But Blaze's TLC session is cut short when Moreau (Idris Elba) an Algerian priest with connections to the Devil's latest diabolical plan arrives. Seems Satan who walks the Earth under the alias Roarke is hellbent on inhabiting Danny the young son of Nadya who made her own deal with the Prince of Darkness. If he succeeds Roarke will continue existing in the world of man—so of course it's up to Ghost Rider to put the kibosh on the end-of-the-world scenario.
If you didn't see the first Ghost Rider movie don't fret; the sequel isn't confined by any established mythology nor is it that concerned with the logic of its own story. Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor employ a manic eye for action displayed in earlier films like Crank and Gamer shooting motorcycle chases shootouts and flaming skull transformations with adrenaline-infused camerawork that should leave anyone susceptible to motion sickness running to the bathroom. The 3-D transfer of the movie is a non-factor the post-convereted stereoscopic effects rarely intrude on the zippy camerawork. Unlike the Crank films Ghost Rider contends with its script dragging when the movie tries to explain what the heck is going on and only picking up when the directing duo and Nic Cage are allowed to play.
A host of solid supporting actors breath traces of life into half-baked villain and characters—Ciaran Hinds stands out as Roarke playing him like a forgotten Dick Tracy baddie—but at the end of the day Spirit of Vengeance is all Cage's show. With the fire of hell burning inside Blaze is in a constant fight against himself and Cage embodies the monstrous struggle with cockeyed rage and growling vocals. Neveldine and Taylor make the most of their larger-than-life lead and Cage spends most of the film teetering on the edge ballistic fury. That's not to say the movie doesn't take its quiet moments–a scene between Cage and Elba where Blaze begs Moreau to remove the Ghost Rider curse is surprisingly dramatic—but the movie has goals: to rattle you at 100 miles per hour.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance isn't as fun flashy or poignant as some of its recent comic book contemporaries but for 90 minutes Neveldine and Taylor revel in the ridiculous wringing their character and lead actor for every ounce of mayhem. This is a greasy gritty grunge Ghost Rider purposefully disgusting and low-fi. While a stronger emphasis on story would only help the spotty action flick Spirit of Vengeance proves a decent alternative to the faithful boyscouts and friendly neighborhoood superheroes that fill our big screen blockbusters. Ghost Rider belches magma pisses fire and plays nasty—you probably already know if this movie is for you.
Deep in the Carpathian mountains a team of scientists stumbles upon the entrance to a vast and intricate underground cave system--one that just screams "Explore me!" But this isn't your Aladdin Cave of Wonders garden variety filled with treasure and a genie in a lamp. Oh no. This Cave is deep treacherous and well possibly crawling with any number of things that could kill you. No matter. Biologist Kathryn (Lena Headey) believes there might be an entirely new ecosystem waiting to be discovered (what fun!) so she and her team hire experienced cave diver Jack (Cole Hauser) and his team to help them get in there. But what they all don't realize is that these ancient caves actually do contain brand new species of subterranean life both small and very very great. And could it be that some of the more deadly creatures have mutated from--gasp!--human life forms? Yeah they are about to get into some serious trouble.
How sad for Cole Hauser. He's a fairly serviceable actor with a penchant for solid action flicks (2 Fast 2 Furious) but he's picked bad scripts lately. Paparazzi? Please. Same goes for Morris Chestnut who plays Jack's right-hand man. He started out strong in Boyz N The Hood but had the unfortunate duty of being terrorized by giant snakes in last year's horrid Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. Also braving the big bad Cave are Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) as a spitfire rock climber; Eddie Cibrian (TV's Third Watch) as Jack's hotshot brother; and Daniel Dae Kim (TV's Lost) as a photographer. Only Headey (who also co-stars in this week's The Brothers Grimm) seems to add a bit of credibility as the earnest biologist. But really that isn't saying much.
The one positive thing you can say about The Cave is that it looks pretty darn authentic. With the help of professional speleologists and cave divers director Bruce Hunt--known as Australia's premier commercial director--paints a realistic view of what these caves represent and what dangers cave divers go through to explore them. Shot entirely in Romania the cave system described in the movie apparently exists in the Carpathian mountains and some do indeed contain various new species of life. Of course none of these creatures are big enough to rip your head off and gnaw on your remains--at least none that they have found anyway--but you never know. Nice thought. But all the pretty pictures and why-would-you-want-to-go-in-there? moments don't make up for a lackluster scarefest. The twist at the end is mildly compelling but perhaps The Cave would have been better suited as a documentary on the exploration of these Romanian caves for the Discovery Channel. At least you could fall asleep on a comfortable couch watching it.
When Alien was released almost a quarter of a century ago moviegoers lapped it up to the tune of $78.9 million--enough to make it the second highest grossing film of that year. Renowned film critic Pauline Kael who wrote about the Alien phenomenon in The New Yorker noted: "It was more gripping than entertaining but a lot of people didn't mind. They thought it was terrific because at least they'd felt something; they'd been brutalized." Now in an era utterly saturated with the genre the film still assaults audiences on a level that has yet to be matched. The story in Alien: The Director's Cut remains the same: seven crewmembers of the commercial ship Nostromo are awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate an S.O.S. distress call from an alien vessel. Unbeknownst to crew the distress call is actually a warning. When three crewmembers leave to investigate the abandoned ship they unsuspectingly allow an alien life to board the Nostromo a galactic horror that begins to kill the crew one by one--leaving only one exceptionally tough woman.
Ellen Ripley (a very young Sigourney Weaver) who leads the fight for survival against the alien has to date returned for three sequels: James Cameron's 1986 Aliens which earned Weaver an Oscar nomination for Best Actress David Fincher's 1992 Alien3 and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 1997 Alien Resurrection. For fans who have followed Ripley's evolution from a by-the-book crewmember to a hybrid half-alien half-human clone it's exciting to revisit the roots of her character and understand what fuels her revenge. The rest of the ensemble including Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas Veronica Cartwright as Lambert Harry Dean Stanton as Brett John Hurt as Kane Ian Holm as Ash and Yaphet Kotto as Parker seems just as appropriately cast today as it probably did then and even 25 years later the crew of the Nostromo doesn't look like a '70s interpretation of futuristic space workers.
To revisit the set of Alien's Nostromo director Ridley Scott (Matchstick Men) and his team of archivists sifted through hundreds of boxes of film footage discovered in a London vault. From this material unseen in almost 25 years Scott selected new footage which then underwent digital restoration matching it to Alien's newly polished negative. The result is six minutes of additional footage which goes to show how little improving the original film needed. The most palpable addition is a scene in which Ripley stumbles upon "the nest " where she discovers that her crewmates have been cocooned by the alien. But the rest of Scott's additional footage is so subtle that even diehard Alien fans will have a difficult time pinpointing the new material which consists mainly of new shots of the slimy and metallic alien. The Director's Cut also features a brand-new six-track digital stereo mix which strengthens the film's slow but intense cadence with its pulsating beats. But remastered or not the film remains as gripping today as it was when it was first released in 1979.