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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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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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