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.

 

 

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Darke Reviews | The Mummy (1999)

When doing reviews of certain movies that are remakes, I like to do Old vs. New. A true compare and contrast with points for each as to why one is better than the other. I blame Nostalgia Critic for setting me on that kind of track and he should relish the blame. This time, however, I felt that I should do each review separately so I could give proper credit and praise to the founding material which is over 80 years old and be able to highlight all the nods, homages, and little tells I noticed in the remake that show a certain respect or love for the original. In this case The Mummy, that was released in 1999, really feels like a spiritual successor to the original with quite a few callbacks to the source. I praised the original yesterday and in it’s own context and against films of its time it is a fantastic film. The media and medium has evolved over the years that we feel that we need more to our films, better and worse, and that brings us to this remake of The Mummy.

Director Stephen Sommers has an interesting track record when it comes to his films. If I tell you he did the live action Jungle Book with Jason Scott Lee, you might barely remember that. If I tell you he directed and wrote Catch Me If You Can, you will probably think of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie – and sadly be wrong. If I mention Deep Rising (a review coming later this month) you start to get an idea. If I say Van Helsing, your eyes might start rolling. If I say GI Joe: Rise of Cobra – you will start screaming something about the physics of ice in water. The man has a very specific tongue in cheek style when it comes to his films. He doesn’t seem to take anything too seriously, which can be to his detriment, but also seems to have a very specific love for the films he makes even if it appears careless. He is driven by the imagination of a fourteen year old boy and has budgets in the tens of millions of dollars to play with it. Where Zack Snyder has similar issues in addition to a healthy dose of misogyny, Sommers steers clear of it and just keeps the movies fun and the women in them strong and true to their nature. I can tell that Sommers not just liked, but loved the Universal Monsters as a kid. I really imagine him as the leader of the Monster Squad in his neighborhood.

This love probably explains his writing credit as both Screen Story & Screenplay. The other two writing credits, not including the original 1932 credits that are referenced, go to Lloyd Fonvielle ( Cherry 2000) and Kevin Jarre (Tombstone, Glory, Rambo: First Blood Part II). When you look at the film it’s hard to tell where the person who gave us Tombstone (the Kurt Russell version) had a hand in it much less Fonvielle with his limited work. Their powers combined, however, not only captured the essence of the original; but added a world level threat to the epic feel of the movie. Also where the 1932 film focused on the Imhotep/Anck Su Namun (different spelling this time) love story, this one also brings back the sense of adventure that captured the world in the modern age of exploration.  ADVENTURE really should be capitalized as that is the spirit of the film as much as anything else. Your child brain imagines going on these expeditions, discovering lost tombs, buried treasures, and uncovering mysteries of the past in a true swashbuckling manner.

The movie significantly expands the cast of characters as its net of horror and story grew wider as well. We have Brendan Fraser as our Adventurer and treasure seeker Rick O’Connell. Rachel Weisz is our heroine but far from a damsel in distress, as Evie Carnahan. John Hannah (Spartacus) is our Shaggy and Scooby Doo in this mystery as Evie’s brother Jonathan. I’d be willing to bet their last name is a play on Lord Carnarvon, the man who backed Howard Carters expedition in 1922. This time the creature, still named Imhotep, is played by Arnold Vosloo – with only a bit more historical accuracy as to whom Imhotep was. Rather than cast Anck Su Namun as the same actress for both the past life and current, the role went to the Venezuelan beauty Patricia Velasquez. A new character is introduced to the story and an old name changed dramatically in Oded Fehrs Ardeth Bay, who played a guardian of the tomb.  The villains lackey, Beni, was played by frequent Summers character actor Kevin J. O’Connor.

From a technical standpoint the movie is very much a product of its times. The CG isn’t all that hot, but they do some creative things we had not seen before with it. Sadly we’ve seen it too much since then. The film also wisely used a lot of practical effects to help the story along. When it went practical the notes were hit near perfectly for whatever tone they wanted and the effects looked good. The CG for quite a few effects mostly came off comical, and while I hope that was the intent if it wasn’t there’s a huge disconnect. Sadly this level of computer work seems to not evolve through any of Summers later works; which becomes especially problematic when you look at GI Joe ten years after this one.

TL;DR

This movie is not scary. It is fun. It is just plain, ol fashioned, adventuring fun. It has problems true, but also has a lot of heart and humor to it along with some honest tension and a reasonably well crafted story. Brendan Fraser’s natural charisma is probably the biggest key to this, but everyone does their part.

I really do recommend this one if you need a beer and pretzels night with a bunch of friends.

If you really want to treat yourself though? Watch the original and then this one and look for how many lines of dialogue, set pieces, character names, and story elements are kept from one to another. It’s more than you’d guess.

 

Darke Reviews | Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)

No one can accuse director Sam Raimi of not having a visionary mind full of wonder and weirdness. To be perfectly honest I think Tim Burton could learn a thing or two from Raimi these days. The man who in 1981 brought us the original Evil Dead and showed us low budget horror at its finest and in 2002 brought the worlds most famous web slinger to screen and made more than a few of us believe in heroes again has taken us to Oz.

I am a fan of Wicked and the story of Galinda and Elphaba. I am a fan of the brilliance of Victor Fleming’s 1939 spectacle with Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton. I need to let you know now, this is neither of those stories. This is a new Oz.

This is an Oz with water faeries, witches, Winkies, China Dolls and let us not forget flying monkeys This is an Oz with impossible cloud formations and even more impossible geography. One where the day is warm, kind and clearly magical; and where the night is intimidating, menacing and you know you don’t want to see what goes bump in the night.

The opening of this movie in a 1905 Kansas made me smile. It could be because I was a carnie for a summer once and that in a century some things never change. It could be the nice call back to the original and a hint of things to come. One twist(er) later and we are in Oz. The CG landscape while bright and colorful was jarring in it’s rendering. I had trouble accepting the world at first but it grew on me as I realized what it was for – Wonder.

Oz is Wonderful. Not the man, he’s a bit of a schmuck. The land of Oz is truly wonderful. When I stopped caring about the CG and listened to the reeds play carnival music. When I saw the majesty of the Emerald City given form more than a painting it started. What truly sold me was the China Doll. I’ll be damned if the FX team didn’t do an amazing job. There were only a handful of times where I knew she was CG rather than Practical, but I truly lost myself in a world with a China Doll who could walk, cry and may be one of the most memorable and endearing characters in the movie.

That isn’t to say that James Franco as Oz isn’t good, he turns in a performance we know he is more than capable of as a man who doesn’t know what he is capable of. Rachel Weisz is ravishing as Evanora the Guardian of the Emerald City and gives us what we expect, but surprisingly she is upstaged by Mila Kunis. Mila’s turn as Theodora, sister to Evanora, was for me nothing but heart breaking as she devours scenery like pop corn. Some have said Michelle Williams as Glinda is a bit flat but that is only in her delivery and dialogue. Let’s be honest Glinda isn’t exactly the most dimensional person in the world no matter what version you like. I do disagree that she’s flat though. Her performance isnt to be found in the dialogue. It’s Michelle’s body language and expressions. This is a woman who knows her face, her shoulders and blocking and can use it.

Was the CG heavy handed at times and took me out of the world? Sure.

How about the 3D? This one uses it in interesting ways a few times, some tricks I haven’t seen done. A lot of it is the classic “thing coming at your face” but there are some nice depth of field effects. I don’t think you will miss much if you can’t stand 3D. If you could go either way, see it in 3D and let me know what you think?

Can I take Kids to it? – Yes. Yes. Yes. This movie is for them more than Jack the Giant slayer ever could have hoped to be.

Will I get something out of it as an adult? No promises, but I know I did. The movie made me smile, it made me laugh, it let me look at the world and remember what movies are here for. To let our minds wander and wonder. Let that inner child that watched the Wizard of Oz and saw someone travel by Bubble or Broomstick and go “that would be cool”.

So there it is, I recommend this one for kids of all ages; inside and out.

I plan to catch this one again, sans 3D with friends later. Making this one of the few movies I will see more than once in the theatre. Between this and Beautiful Creatures earlier this year ((see it damnit)) – I think some directors have realized we don’t always need darkness. Sometimes we do need a Wonderful Wizard.