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 | Snowpiercer (2014)

What you haven’t heard of this one? S’okay most folks haven’t. It has been travelling the indie circuit for awhile without a true mainstream release. This is due, in large part to the conflict between the writer director and one of the production companies. When I start going through the cast though, you will probably be scratching your head wondering why this didn’t get a main release. Part of the argument was that the director did not want to shave time from the movie.

Was he right?

Let’s talk about him. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong is the man behind the camera. He has done nothing that most folks stateside have seen, with the exception of The Host (no not that one, the other one). You’ve probably seen it on Netflix if your queue looks like mine. I cannot talk about his body of work or influences as regrettably I haven’t explored south korean cinema as much as I perhaps should. What I do have to say is that he was a brave man to go toe to toe with  low budget schlock powerhouses The Weinstein’s at what was once Miramax. He would not compromise and for that alone he deserves praise. His direction as well in the film were above par.

Did the script support him?

I certainly hope so as he is one of the writers. This is one of those films that breaks the normal rules of writers. You have three writing credits for source material, one for screen story and two for screen play. That’s right, this one is based on a French graphic novel Le Transperceneige first published back in 1982. so fair credit to Jacques Lob,  Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette for providing inspiration. Joon-ho Bong gets both the screen story credit and a screenplay credit. The screen play is shared with Kelly Masterson, a playwright who apparently (per IMDB) was in seminary before going into theatre. In short no one in the writing is someone you’ve heard of.

In long (er); I hope we do hear more. The plot revolves around a classist society living on a train after the end of life as we know it. In a, not so subtle, jab at global warming our solution was “Ice-9” more or less. The world froze. People hid on this miracle train and the entirety of humanity is stuck on this mobile platform. Some folks just aren’t happy with their lot in life and want more than they have. He who controls the spice…er engine controls the world.

The cast is what pulls this together though. Chris (Captain America) Evans plays Curtis, our charismatic leader and main character. Much of the film, rightly, is focused on him with appearances by Tilda (Only Lovers Left Alive, Narnia) Swinton, John (188 acting credits) Hurt, Jamie (Turn, Jumper) Bell, Octavia (The Help) Spencer, and others. Evans, to be blunt, is incredible. There’s no Captain America here. There’s no Johnny Storm. There is a very troubled man who has a drive that only gets stronger the longer the movie goes on. Every expression, decision, and action he takes is made compelling by his performance. Everyone else is good, but he is incredible.

Two additional actors, Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, both formerly of The Host (2006 version) also should be mentioned. Neither are known state side except by a certain group of cinephiles. I’ve actually seen Kang-Ho Song in a vampire movie called Thirst. He’s good and I want to see more of him.

From a technical standpoint the movie doesn’t have to do too much heavy lifting. A few model shots of the train enhanced by CGI cover the bulk of the digital work. Make up and costuming are solid as well.

There will be those that compare this to other films in the dystopian future genre. That is inescapable. What this has different than them? Balls. Pure Balls. It is a brave film that had it truly been made stateside would not have gone in directions this went. So, back to the original question, was he right?

TL;DR

Yes, yes he was. The movie has very little fat on it and there is not much of its two hour running time that could be sacrificed. It would have lessened the film to do so.

Should you rush out to see this one? well…yes and no.

Someone I hope to call a  friend one day, Doug Walker, recently gave his own video review of the movie from last week that should not be named. He talks about how safe it is. How  gullible we are for giving it $100m. ( NSFW – thatguywiththeglasses.com/vide… ). He’s right. Movies like that get attention, ticket sales, and hollywood attention.

Movies like Snowpiercer? They deserve it. They take risks. They give us something we haven’t quite seen before. We need more of this and less of that.

So should you go see it? Yes, yes if you want to support films that deserve your money and deserve recognition.

Should you see it? No. The film is technically an action film and a violent one at that; but it has enough of a cerebral element and tonal quality to it that it is not right for all audiences.

I do recommend this movie. I liked it, but it’s not for everyone.