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The “Ghost Rider” directors talk Easter Eggs, inner demons, and the superhero brawl they’d love to film

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” roars into theaters this weekend, bringing audiences a reinvention of the skull-faced, motorcycle-riding Marvel character as seen through the lens of “Crank” directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Although Nicolas Cage returns to the role of Johnny Blaze that he first played in 2007’s critically panned “Ghost Rider,” the new film has been described as anything but a straight-up sequel by the studio, and looks to offer a more kinetically-charged, darker take on the character that blends intense action and horror elements.

In the film, Johnny Blaze is tasked with rescuing a boy named Danny from the demonic forces pursuing him across Eastern Europe. Along with a host of bad guys armed to the teeth with all manner of heavy weaponry, Ghost Rider must contend with a vicious supernatural villain who can decay anything he touches and a demon who may or may not be the devil himself. This is all in addition to Johnny’s own internal struggle with the demon that lurks inside him and yearns to exact fiery punishment on the wicked.

IFC spoke to Neveldine and Taylor about the new film, and got their take on bringing Ghost Rider back to the big screen, some of the movie’s comics-friendly plot points, and the two superheroes they’d like to bring together in a perfect world.

IFC: I’ve noticed over the last few years that the filmmakers and actors who take on certain comic book movie projects tend to have a pre-existing connection to the character — whether it’s one of their favorite characters from back in the day, or just a character they discovered recently and pursued. What was your connection to Ghost Rider? Why did this particular film appeal to you?

BRIAN TAYLOR: Well, it’s kind of the same connection Nic has to the character. We all have demons, and that’s what the Ghost Rider is. Johnny Blaze has a demon — but it’s a real one. Anybody who has a dark side and struggles with it can relate to what the Ghost Rider is, so of all the heroes it seemed like the perfect one for us to take on. Also, we like to wear leather.

MARK NEVELDINE: And motorcycles… [laughs]

IFC: After the poor performance of the first film, a lot of people were surprised when Sony announced that it was making another Ghost Rider movie. When you two came on to the project, what elements did you focus on changing this time around? Were there any particular parts of the first “Ghost Rider” that you identified as problem areas?

NEVELDINE: We didn’t look at it that way, actually. I didn’t see the first movie, but it wasn’t about changing things with this one, it was about starting from scratch again with a script David Goyer wrote years before the first movie came out. So it really was its own thing. When we got on board, we said, “Hey this is what we’d like to do with it,” and Sony said they loved the aesthestics of what we wanted to do with the skull, the rider, and the motorcycle, and this dark demon that he’s battling with — like he’s battling an addiction. They dug all of that, and we just put our stamp on it and made it.

We’re super happy the first movie was made, though. I think a lot of kids loved it and it was kind of the Disney version of the Ghost Rider. I’m actually going to watch it the night before our movie opens to finally see it. I’m excited about it. [“Spirit of Vengeance”] is really a reinvention of Ghost Rider.

IFC: One of the big questions surrounding the film right now is whether the boy named Danny is actually supposed to be Danny Ketch, the character from the comics who eventually becomes Ghost Rider after Johnny Blaze. Danny’s last name is never mentioned in “Spirit of Vengeance,” so what’s the deal? Is he Danny Ketch?

TAYLOR: We threw that in there to drive people crazy talking about it. Is he Danny Ketch? We don’t even know yet. Did J.J. Abrams really know how “Lost” was going to end when they started it?

NEVELDINE: He probably did.

TAYLOR: [Laughs] Well, we don’t know the answer to that one yet.

IFC: Outside of the Danny might-be-Ketch, are there any other elements from the Ghost Rider comics that managed to fit into the film? I know the villain was based on the character Blackout, right?

TAYLOR: Yeah, we never actually call the villain Blackout, but fans of the comic will recognize him as an altered, evolved version of Blackout. For the most part, Ghost Rider is a character who’s so cool, but he’s never been done the way you really want to see him — even in the comics. The stories written by Garth Ennis were really cool, but with the exception of those, you always wanted something different from the Ghost Rider. You always wanted him to be darker, scarier, or weirder, so we really didn’t use the first movie or the comics as a jump-off point. We just tried to do the coolest version of the character that we could with what we were handed.

IFC: There were a lot of familiar horror-movie elements in the film, like the way Ghost Rider lurches around at varying speeds and just suddenly appears in front of his victims. It’s something we see a lot in modern horror films. Was there a conscious effort on your part to make this more of a horror movie than a superhero movie?

NEVELDINE: Yeah, we wanted him to be frightening. We love those horror elements, because they feel like a natural part of the character. When you think about this character, he should frighten the person he’s standing in front of.

TAYLOR: He is more of a horror character than a superhero. A lot of that stuff we came up with while talking with Nic, too. There’s a particularly inexplicable and insane moment when Ghost Rider kills all of the guys at the quarry, and when the smoke clears you find Ghost Rider levitating in the air, slowly spinning around like a clock or a compass. That was something that came out of us batting around an idea with Nic that the Ghost Rider inflicts psychological warfare on his victims as much as he does physical, and a lot of what he does is similar to the demonic presences in “Evil Dead” and “The Ring” and movies like that. They’re fucking with people’s minds and want to destroy your brain before they destroy your body. [Ghost Rider] does a lot of stuff like that because he’s a demon from another dimension, and you will never understand why he does it. Humans will never understand why he does what he does, and you’re sort of in awe and horror of it at the same time.

IFC: So, if all goes well with your reinvention of the character, would you be interested in returning to the character for a sequel? Do you feel like you have more Ghost Rider stories to tell?

TAYLOR: As always, it’s up to the fans. If people embrace this movie, I’m sure they’ll want another one. The challenge for that would be: Can we make as big of a leap from the second movie to the third as we did from the first movie to the second?

NEVELDINE: There’s a lot of territory still to cover, though.

IFC: There’s been more than a few people who have suggested that you guys should do more comic book movies. If you could have your pick of any characters in the comic book world, who would you want to make a film about?

TAYLOR: We would love to answer the age-old question of who’s stronger, Hulk or Superman.

“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” hits theaters Friday, February 17. The film stars Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, and Fergus Riordan.

What do you think of the “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” directors’ answers? Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Very NSFW

The Brockmire Premiere Is All Truth

Watch The First Episode of Brockmire Right Now for Free

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At long last, the Brockmire pre-premiere has arrived. Which means you can watch it right now—on IFC.com, at Funny Or Die, on IFC’s Apple TV and mobile apps, on Youtube, on Facebook, on the AMC apps, and right here. So grab some headphones and get watching.

No seriously, get headphones.

Because whether he’s giving a play-by-play or ruminating on the world around him, Jim Brockmire calls it like he sees it. And how he sees it is very NSFW. His take on life is actually quite refreshing, even to the point of being profoundly sage. For proof just look at these pearls of unconventional wisdom from the premiere…

Brockmire On The Internet

“If I need porn I just buy a nudie mag, like my father and his father before him.”

Brockmire On Sex-Ed

“Kids, a strap-on is a belt with d— on it that mommies use to f— daddies.”
Brockmire-Strap-On

Brockmire On The Perfect High

“Somewhere between 10 cups of coffee and very low-grade cocaine.”
Brockmire-Perfect-High

Brockmire On The Tardiness of Spring

“Old man winter’s reaching his hand inside your coat to give that thing one more squeeze.”

Brockmire On Keeping Perspective

“I thought I hit rock bottom in a handicap restroom in Bangkok where a Thai lady-boy snorted crank off my johnson while a sunburnt German watched us on the toilet”
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Brockmire On Humanity

“If you want to look directly into the gaping maw of oblivion, don’t look up to the heavens. Just look in the mirror.”
Jules-never-seen

See these nuggets and more in the first episode of Brockmire, and see the whole season beginning April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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