Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Capsule reviews: Spellbound, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Spellbound (1945, Alfred Hitchcock)

Spellbound treads familiar Hitchcock territory in that it mixes romance with mystery. In the 1945 picture, Ingrid Bergman stars as a brilliant psychoanalyst working at an institution in the state of New York. Gregrory Peck arrives, presumably, as its new head, but the viewers slowly learn that the individual is an imposter, an amnesiac to be more precise, one who may or may not have killed the actual doctor who was scheduled to arrive. Bergman has the hots for him and therefore attempts to rid him of his amnesia and discover the truth.

This particular Hitchcock picture is curious given that it stars Gregory Peck, an actor one would think had collaborated with Hitchcock more often (like Sean Connery. Only one film in his case too) and that it features a strange and exciting dream sequence whose visuals came from the mind of great 20th century artist Salvador Dali. Watching Spellbound, it is almost frightening to witness someone out act Peck. Oh yes, that actually happens in this movie. Ingrid Bergman is such a stunningly fluid actor. Her sense of timing and of tone for each and every scene is second to none. She was arguably the greatest actress of her time and is among the greatest actresses ever. She nails the big moments, but it is the little head turns, smiles and glances through which one can tell she is a real pro. Peck is obviously quite good, playing the more difficult role, perhaps the more showy role, but Bergman absolutely commands the screen. The relationship between the two stars is the film's strongest element for the story, even though its crux is fun (amnesia) is a little bit more plain than what Hitchcock typically offers. There a few too many stretches where it feels as though the story has slowed down to a bit too much. On the flip side, psychoanalysis is used as a detective tool to unravel a mystery, which is an interesting angle that replaces the usual detective work. Michael Checkhov is amusing as an old mentor of Bergman's. The aforementioned dream sequence is a neat piece of flourish, with some fascinatingly strange imagery (as to be expected), although it is disappointing to learn that the original plan set up by Dali and Hitchcock was to have far more of them, some of which were quite intense, but producer David O. Selznick nicked the idea. Oh well.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012, Neveldine and Taylor)

A pointless sequel to a film that was just as poor. Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) is now in Eastern Europe instead of the United States. Satan (Ciaran Hinds) has taken on human form and is on the hunt for his son in order to transfer his powers to him, which does not sit well with the boy,s mother (Violante Placido). A drunk French priest (Idres Elba) helps them in their quest to defend the planet from hell itself.

From I have seen of Neveldine and Taylor's work, I like what they do, there off the wall visual and tonal style permitting them to take audiences on for some wild rides only so few films dare to dream of, but past successes can only forgive so much, and they shall not be forgiven for making Spirit of Vengeance. This is like Ridley Scott making Robin Hood. One knows that all the ingredients, especially the director, are right there on paper to make a great film (relatively speaking), yet it never gels. In fact, in the case of Spirit of Vengeance, is never even comes close, offering the fleetest of moments which may be describe as vintage Neveldine and Taylor moments which would fit the potentially crazy world of a Ghost Rider picture. The most egregious fault is the lack of exciting in the action sequences. Everything is so lifeless, so devoid of any sense of imagination. The closest the directors ever come to creating something memorable is when they have the protagonist take control of a gigantic construction work machine, which then of course turns into a construction machine from hell, just as the rider's bike typically does. To be honest, there is one bright spot: Johnny Whitworth, who plays the devil's hired goon if you will. He is the only one in this movie who realizes its terrible so best make the most of it and just be funny. This is without question the biggest dud thus far of 2012 and, honestly, it will genuinely be difficult to top this.

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