Best Picture Showcase Live Blog

So ready for the day. I will be posting pictures and brief comments during the showcase. They have to be brief because I am using my phone, but it should be fun. If you can’t make it out to the movies today, please check in and see what is going on with our movie orgy. Talk to you soon.

The Live blogging with my phone is not working well.

Warhorse was better than the first time I saw it.

Moneyball, was great, I can’t believe I did not see it until today.

Tree of Life is something I will have to do an extensive post on, because I need to spew all the bile it built up in me.

We are on a dinner break and will go back for The Descendants. 

Ghost Rider 2 Spirit of Vengeance

I am afraid I have to admit that the main reason I spent $40 taking Amanda to see this and buying popcorn and coke is the stinger at the end of the trailer above. I forget exactly which movie Dee and I were seeing, when we saw the trailer, but Amanda, Allison and I saw “Shark Night” back in September, and the 3D flame-throwing Ghost Rider provoked  such a big laugh that we were committed then and there to seeing it. At that point we had never watched the original Ghost Rider from four years ago. I had recorded it off the satellite, and had it on DVD, but we never got around to it. Nicolas Cage is a guilty pleasure at our house. He can be a terrific actor, or a huge ham, chewing up the scenery. We like him in both kinds of movies. Last year he was in the ridiculously stupid and equally fun, “Drive Angry in 3D”.   So this looked promising.

In anticipation of the arrival of the sequel, we got out the prior film and watched it a few weeks ago. It may very well have been the worst movie I have seen in five years. It should have been fun and self depreciating and stupid action. Instead, it lay there like something the dog dropped off and no one wanted to admit was smelling up the house. It certainly lowered our expectations for the “Spirit of Vengeance”, after all, there are very few sequels that live up to the original much less exceed them. What chance was there that this movie would stink less than the awful original? However, we were reminded of the scene in the trailer where we see “Ghost Rider” relieving himself and that gag had exactly the tone and humor we had expected the original to have so we took a deep breath and plunged in. I am happy to report that the experience was much better than we had any right to hope for. This movie is substantially better than the one that preceded it. That is not really saying much, but it is a start.

Getting to the point, “Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance ” is not a good film. The story makes jumps which have no sense to them, there is not much tension built up and when there should be dread, there is only the hollow sound of mild anticipation. We get no sense of character development from anybody in the story. People are killed off left and right and there is no reason to care if they deserve the fate that the Ghost Rider brings them or not. One character who opens the movie with a pretty good action scene, seems to be someone we can root for, but he is drawn in the vaguest terms possible. He appears to be a priest of dubious origins, and he is smarter than the other characters in the story, but we have no sense of why.  There is a prophesy that is referred to several times, and we are never told what it says. The mother and child that the “Rider” ends up playing protector to (much like Terminator 2), are introduced but never given anything to do except be the focus of the bad guys pursuit. The kid does get one chance to shine when he is denied a request to open a car window, (there is a complicated action sequence that follows) but after that, he mostly just walks through the movie.

So, if it is not a good film, why did we still feel satisfied with the expenditure of time and money? It is simple, there are three or four good action scenes and an equal number of bad jokes that are right up my alley. Cage gets to grimace and mug for the camera in a funny transition from Johnny Blaze to the Rider, while on a motorcycle. The combination of CGI and Nic Cage facial ticks, was certainly worth part of the admission price. I also liked the long title sequence which told the necessary parts of the original story in a clearer, more interesting manner than the whole first movie. There was a nice combination of comic book animation, still shots and voice over. Skip the first movie, you don’t need it, everything that is important was in this nice recap. In the middle of the film, is maybe the best “Twinkie” joke I ever saw in a movie. There are also a few clever social jabs concerning the form that the devil takes. Let us not forget the money shot from the trailer, which is repeated a second time for an even better laugh. 

No one involved in this movie will want to highlight it on their resume, but it won’t cause anybody to skip applying for a job because they did this movie. If you see the film, I don’t think you need to hang your head in shame. Be careful about recommending it to the wrong people however. Not everyone will have the demented taste to appreciate the few gems of wit in this otherwise stupid film. “Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance” does not rise to the level of craptastic that “Drive Angry in 3D” does, but you won’t have to scrape your shoes off after you leave the theater as you had to with the original.

Come back tomorrow for the live blog from the Best Picture Showcase. Four Academy Award Nominated Movies all in one day at the AMC annual event.

The Woman in Black

So when we saw this trailer months ago, it got me going immediately. I like a ghost story that is Gothic and creepy without a lot of actual violence. If it is told in a suspenseful way, it can give you some goosebumps for a couple of hours and a jolt to make it all pay off. The last really excellent ghost story I remember seeing was “The Others”, and before that “The Sixth Sense”. When the story is right and the actors are up to it, a movie that tries to chill you with your own imagination and a bit of visual prompting is a lot of fun. “The Woman in Black” is not up to the standards of those last two films I mentioned, but it does give you the right amount of tension and a couple of very creepy moments.

From the beginning of the movie, you know this is not going to be right. For some reason that Stanley Kubrick discovered back in 1980, little girls dressed in old fashioned clothes and playing silently, freaks people out. The dolls these kids have would give you nightmares, without even adding the things that happen afterwards. Later there are images of toys that seem otherworldly and ominous, even though they are supposed to be charming and amusing. Like little girls in old fashioned clothes, monkeys just bug. My daughter Allison would not like this movie at all because it has the creepy monkey toys and some clown like images. That’s all she needs to know this is not her cup of horror tea. Give her Zombies and Aliens and she is fine, but werewolves and ghosts do not go down as smoothly. Amanda on the other hand decided she could not wait to accompany me on my birthday trip to the movies, and she watched eighty percent of the film from behind her hands and the flap of her jacket as she pulled it across her face.

Daniel Radcliffe is trying to make the leap from Harry Potter to regular movie actor and he does a fine job with this film. He is the main character and is featured far more than any other element in the movie. I thought he was a little young to be playing the part of a widowed father of a four year old, but once the story got going and the scenario was set up, I did not think about his youthful appearance again, I merely saw him as the character that he was playing. Early turn of the twentieth century English lawyer, handling the estate with a spooky reputation, calls for a demeanor that is serious but also open to the world of the paranormal. So maybe it is not that big a jump for Mr. Radcliffe. Anyway, I thought he was fine and sold the fear and dread very well.

Much of the credit for the suspense in the movie must go to the set designer and the musical score. While the cobwebs sometimes seem cliched, the dark corners of the mansion, the weird furniture and the horrifying toys and letters create a mystery and discomfort that fits exactly with the tone of the story. The score is sparse and quiet with only occasional bursts of energy designed to goose up our reactions. Most of the time the music sets the stage in a low key manner that is not tuneful but rather mournful. There are some good optical effects to tingle the nerves but they never go too far in making the spirits anything other than ephemeral. While there are the usual jumps, quick cuts and flashes to shock us, they are timed well enough that even though we know they are coming, they usually work.

What flaws exist in the story have to do with the complicated back story and the attempt to resolve that story that seems to come out of nowhere. Near the end of the tale, a deadline suddenly looms, and our protagonist needs to find a solution for the haunting in a timely manner. The theory seemed rushed and the actions that follow are mostly out of character because of the quick time limit that arrives. Like all good ghost stories there is also a kicker, and here it grows out of the back story and shows how manipulated we were by the attorney’s fight to put a spirit to rest. You will not have a huge number of surprises but there will be an acceptable amount of shrieks to make this a good date movie, that will not simply be remembered as “Harry Potter and the Haunted Mansion”.