Darke Reviews | Constantine (2005)

So it is fortuitous that this review was requested. I had been wondering what I would review for todays post and this works out perfectly as the TV series just premiered friday as well. I am going on record saying when I first heard of this film – I refused to see it. Absolutely, Selene as my witness refused to even consider seeing this film due to the casting of Keanu Reeves as the titular character. I was a minor fan of the comic book character having enjoyed him in The Books of Magic and various other appearances with DC/Vertigo characters I knew and loved. I knew certain things of him were absolute.

  • Blonde.
  • Welsh/British
  • Chain Smoking
  • Bi Sexual
  • Witty

Of Keanu’s things he can do in a film to portray the character, chain smoke. He technically could be bisexual, but the film didn’t address it. We saw the british accent once…yeah and it was laughable. This was one of the worst possible castings I have ever come across. I was resolute in my not seeing of this film until I was one day – almost literally – tied down and forced to watch it on DVD.

So how does it do once I take off the glasses of raw seething hatred?

Let’s take a poke at the director a moment. This was his first feature film. He had just come from being a music video director and went right into this. Since then he has given us I Am Legend (I’ll review that some other time when I am feeling the need to cut myself and do that instead), Water for Elephants ( I have no comment on this, I haven’t seen it), and The Hunger Games Catching Fire. Ok, so its clear he has evolved, but did he do a bad job here? Honestly – no. He does a good job of getting performances out of his actors and controls the shot in rather inspiring ways at times. He lets angles distort our perceptions and appropriately uses colour and the visual effects to maximum effect.  There are a lot of good decisions here that show serious potential and I can see how he eventually directed Hunger Games. I can also sense a lot of studio interference.

When we talk about story we have characters created by Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis for the original comic and a story by Kevin Brodbin for this. Brodbin never got much work. He did the 1996 Seagal movie the Glimmer Man, this, and the woefully underrated Mindhunters in 2004. He took a stab at the screenplay and an additional writer was brought in to fix it up if I had to guess based on the second credit of Frank Cappello.  I can’t imagine why he was brought in having really only done Suburban Commando before. Yet by their writing powers combined they actually nailed the essence of Constantine and the hidden world within our own. The movie probably has one of the best representations of a world within a world that normal people don’t or can’t see. I could watch this, The Craft, and Mortal Instruments and they almost fit seamlessly.

Ok, now this is where we usually talk about cast. I will get to Keanu last. We have a young Shia LaBeouf, mostly being Shia, but not entirely terribad. Moving on. Djimon Hounsou plays Papa Midnite, a noted character in the Vertigo verse and he nails it with all of his usual charm and screen presence. He has weight and lets it go full throttle for this film. Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) is our catalyst as a LA Cop with a british accent, possibly adding to my fury at Keanu, since they were able to obviously get someone from the UK into the film. While some of these cast members are interesting and do their best, nothing really compares to these two: Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare. Swinton (Narnia, Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive) is Gabriel, the archangel. She uses her vaguely androgynous looks to maximum effect and is both beautiful and offputting as an angel might be. She has some of the best dialogue in the film and devours scenery like someone coming off of a fasting. Peter Stormare as Lucifer? One of *the* best performances of this character I have ever seen. Talk about scenery chewing, nothing compares to this, nothing in this film anyway. Overall, he is up there against Viggo Mortensen in the Prophecy for raw creepy pasta levels.

The visual effects in the film are remarkable strong for 2005 as well. Only one real effect is an absolute fail with the bug guy on Figueroa, aside from that there is a definite elegance on how they choose to evoke effects. The fire looks good from the Dragons Breath. The wings of demons flying by windows look good. The make up effects are *really* good, but of course they came from Stan Winston Studios and had bloody Ve “Face Off” Neill as make up department head. Even their vision of hell and the demons is not something I’ve quite seen before. Even the flying tracking shots, while a mix of cg and real work fairly well.

Now on to Keanu. Whew. I didn’t hate it. There I said it. I Didn’t hate it. While he still lacks most of Constantines charm and wit I blame that on script as much as acting. He still isn’t John Constantine, but he is the american cousin if he had one. He gets the sarcasm, the nihilism, and the chain smoking down. He gets people around him, friends, dying as par for the course, but the reality is he isn’t a bad Constantine. He isn’t great, but I will admit he got as close as the script, the studio, and his talent could allow. That of course is the downside, he isn’t great and was limited by his talent. Keanu is not charming. He doesn’t really have much in the way of charisma, even in John Wick he isn’t charismatic or charming but fun. Here we are missing some of the fun, and all of the charm.

TL;DR time.

From a purely comic book loyalty standpoint, they got a good Constantine story here. It fits, but they fubar’d the casting so badly that it was nearly unwatchable by the fanbase that could have supported the movie. If you take off those fandom goggles and just watch the film as an adaptation of John Constantine Hellblazer, then …and only then you might enjoy the film.

It is a better film than most give it credit for and Keanu is its greatest strength and weakness. He does pretty damn well for the role, but misses it just enough that it doesnt work. I do think people should give it a shot, but for the love of all that is holy in your life do not compare it to the source material. Consider it instead a Supernatural Mystery with Religious overtones.

So do I regret not seeing it in theatres? No. I think I would have hated it out of hand and never given it a shot for a decent review, coming back later I think I can be honest in saying Constantine: Not too bad actually.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Man of Steel (2013)

As a warning this may be one of my longest reviews to date, but I also believe this movie is one of the few that deserves to be talked about and thought about. There are bones of contention scattered through the film by many fans and some critics and I want to lay them to rest from my point of view. So I am going to break tradition for me and give the TL;DR upfront.

SEE MAN OF STEEL. At the moment this is the absolute must see film of the summer. Pacific Rim and Lone Ranger haven’t come out so this is the movie to beat right now in every respect.

Why? That’s what you may be looking for in my review.

Director Zack Snyder, best known for 300 and Watchmen (and lamented for Sucker Punch) with writer David S Goyer (the last three Batman films, Blade films and Dark City) have departed from the hyper realism of Nolan’s Batman universe and given us the Man of Steel of this era. To take liberties with a line from  Dark Knight, this is the Man of  Steel we need, not the one we deserve.

Henry Cavill (best known for the 300 knock off Immortals), plays the titular character with all the complexity of a modern hero. He has internal anger, he has his reserve, he isn’t entirely the boy scout of the 1930’s and he has fear and he has doubts. Cavill expertly delivers the range of emotions and conflict of a man with two homes, two worlds and of a man who belongs to both and neither. An alien wherever he goes this Clark Kent is guided by his conscience and the words of his two fathers. He is a literal god among men who can shake the pillars of heaven with a passing glance and yet turns the other cheek when confronted with those he could so casually defeat. It amazed me to see the nuance to a character like this and to let him become human for the first time, not in the genetic or literal sense; but in the sense that he has the emotional frailties and concerns of man raised as a human by humans living with humans but never quite human. To quote one of the animated series, “I live in a world made of cardboard, always holding back, afraid to break something, someone.”

This is that Superman. That being said, this is also the first time ever that we get to see the rest of the line I just quoted, “Never allowing myself to lose control even for a moment or someone could die. But you can take it, can’t you big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you how powerful I really am.”

He does and we are amazed. We get the slug fest we have as an audience been waiting for ever since Superman hit the silver screen. For the first time in 75 years we are treated to watching our big blue boy scout have an aerial fight. Have a fight that is appropriately epic for him. We get to see him moving with super speed and believe it. We watch him break the sound barrier, we watch him fly and we watch him be the Superman we have all been clamoring for. The effects have finally gotten to the point where we can as fans of the character see this fight for his life and the life of the planet and people he loves.

Lets talk supporting cast as there are some nitpicks many have had.
Lois Lane – played by Amy Adams (you don’t need me to tell you who she is). She is missing some of the snark and sass that we have come to know from recent animated outings and this most certainly is not Margo Kidders portrayal. This Lois Lane actually IS an investigative reporter who isn’t happy unless she’s in a free fire zone. She is smart enough to follow the bread crumbs and put what she needs together. She also shows, perhaps due to writer bias, a sense of journalistic integrity that we have lost in our media outlets; choosing what stories to run with and what not to run with. She doesn’t flinch at the strange or danger itself and all but runs into it. This makes the new Lois Lane the partner our man of steel needs. She isn’t the Damsel in distress (as much) because she is an active participant in the story. She is also the one person that can support HIM. That’s a strength that should not be undercut or under emphasized. It takes big shoulders to be the Man of Steel, it maybe takes bigger ones to be there for him when and if it is needed.

Perry White / Jenny Olsen – This is perhaps some of the most controversial casting. I only need a moment here. Get over it. There’s nothing central to these characters that couldn’t be changed. Perry is still the editor and he lets you know he is in charge. He cares for his people and his paper – in that order. Jenny -…aka Jimmy – exists, in a future film they may be more important but right now, they exist. Deal with it.

Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. This deserves an extra moment because of a scene that was shown in the trailers. People are up in arms about JK telling young Clark “I don’t know maybe” when asked if he should have let kids die. I am not a parent, but I want you to consider raising someone for thirteen years as your own. You know full well that they are not of this earth but you have made them yours. You know at any moment people will come to take him away, take your son away if his secret is let out. You know that people are afraid of what they don’t know and that though they cannot hurt your son physically there is a lot of other types of harm that can be done. This is the Jonathan we have. A loving father who wants his son to be a good man some day, to be safe and to have no harm come to him. No matter the price he has to pay all he wants is to protect his son.

All of the other major characters in the film are played equally complex both good and evil, who believe in what they are, what they do and why they do it.

Lets talk FX and I know this is a long review. This may be one of the few flaws in the movie. They are not perfect. They made a man fly and it looks far better than it did in the 80’s with the Reeves versions; yet it isn’t always quite clean and the line of the green screen can be seen ever so slightly to the discerning eye. Does it affect much? No. Its still awesome to watch him break the sound barrier and fly across continents its just not “perfect”. There are other flaws in the FX during some of the fight sequences where I could tell CG was used in place of the characters. While much cleaner than the FX in Matrix 2 and overall better executed I could tell. I hope you can’t.

Camera work – FOR GOD FRAKKIN SAKES – STOP WITH SHAKY CAM. I am going to do a new series called Rants from the Darke and this will be my first major rant. IT ISNT NECESSARY and in fact hurts your film. The quick zooms to bring you into the action from a wide pan and scan shot into a close up are a bit jarring in 3D. I will see it in 2D tonight and hope that it’s not as bad.

Those are the two areas the movie lacks, aside from some small pacing issues and deus ex machina occurrences. Aside from that, it’s really the epic superman reboot we have been waiting for.

It leaves one final question for those who go – does the world need superman? Is Superman still relevant other than to make money for DC comics who can’t get their cinematic act together?

As many of you know I am a sarcastic witch when I want to be, I am cynical and jaded to the world and have one of the lowest opinions of humanity one can have. I say Yes to the question. The movie tells us that the S on his chest is the symbol for the house of El. It means Hope in Kryptonian. I think we need a little hope. I think that as a country and a species we are in a world of polarized extremes with only a few bright spots in the dark. That while we are not “teetering on the brink of the abyss”; that we need heroes. We need that which is good and represents the best of what we can be. That while heroes that kill are sometimes needed and wanted, we should hope for more we should want more. I think we need a hero that doesn’t kill unless he has no other choice. A hero that is there to protect the people even if it could mean his own life.

I believe we need a Superman, I believe we need a little hope. Collateral damage of fights aside, I want a world where I can look up in the sky and see not a bird, not a plane but Superman.

This movie gives me that world and I am happy for it.