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Another CONSTANTINE Review And A Note From Lauren-Shuler Donner!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

This is perhaps the most exhaustive review of CONSTANTINE that we’ve gotten in yet, and I have to say... I’m really looking forward to the movie. I think it sounds cool as hell.

Hey all, thought I'd drop a note about a test screening in Pasadena last night for the new Keanu Reeves movie "Constantine". Just to provide a little background, I'm in the visual f/x biz, and was on the way to a Buena Vista screening on Monday night in Pasadena for "The Life Aquatic", when I happened to walk past a guy handing out fliers for the movie "Constantine". Which was a good thing as it turned out, because after 40 minutes the Disney folks couldn't get the sound and image synced up on "Life Aquatic" and had to cancel the screening. But I've seen the opening 5 times now, and I think I'm going to have those damn pink fish stuck in my head for weeks until I find out what happened to Steve Zissou and his crew.

Anyway, I'd heard a few bits and pieces about Constantine, mostly because I remembered they held a dog-and-pony talk at Comic-Con this year, which I didn't attend because I didn't feel like fighting the thousands of people in the auditorium waiting to get of glimpse of a celebrity. By the way, it cracked me up to watch the Wayan brother(s) stroll through the Con floor with bodyguards like someone was going to touch them or something. Is it me, or is Comic-Con becoming more Hollywood and less Comic every year? But I digress...

So, other than a vague kernel of knowledge that Constantine was a Big Budget Warner Brothers comic adaptation I was totally in the dark about the film. I hadn't read the comics, and I hadn't even seen the trailer. In fact I came to work yesterday morning (at an unnamed Studio, not Warner Brothers), and could only get one person interested in going to the screening with me. Suffice it to say that Warner's as some pr work to do to get this movie out in the public consciousness beyond the comic/Internet crowd.

We sat down in a packed theater, full of a random assortment of people, and I wasn't sure how the screening was going to play. A person behind us was eating something that smelled like bad fish, and the crowd was pretty rowdy. It didn't seem like a geek crowd with a lot of reverence for the source material, but more like they just pulled random people off the street. Which is what they did. The PR guy gave us the ypical intro about us being one of the first audiences in the world to see the film, and how the effects work was incomplete, yada yada yada...And the lights dimmed.

The first thing I should mention is the quality of the print we saw and what stage it was in. The print looked like some kind of digital intermediate, with minor pixelation and compression artifacts, but it wasn't awful. It had a very gritty look, which I think in part was due to the rough state it was in, but hopefully they'll retain that vibe in the final version. The cinematography is moody, and the look reminded me of the first "Blade" film, with a bit of the visual style of Michael Mann's Los Angeles from "Collateral" thrown in. There was a lot of incomplete and temp music as placeholders, but nothing really distracting. For once I was glad to see a test screening that didn't either use Hans Zimmer's Gladiator tracks or the Danny Elfman Scissorhands score as placeholder material. The effects work was surprisingly good and polished for an early screening, and I heard from a friend that Tippett has already finished a lot of their work on it. Thankfully there was no CG that was terribly distracting or obnoxious to pull you out of the story, ala "Blade 2". I have no idea what they're planning on adding as far as CG, but I hope it's not much more. What they had worked well. The Supernatural characters are generally played as non-effects driven, human characters, so hopefully they're not going to do something stupid like add horns or obnoxious glowing flames to any of them. Much like Pacino in Devil's Advocate, it's refreshing to see pure Evil played as a regular guy (or gal). By the way, there is a nice little bit part by Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of Bush, as the demon Balthazar. I didn't know who he was until I read the credits later, but he comes across well. There are subtle effects and some nice reveals of the Supernatural characters which let you see the world through Constantine's eyes, but it wasn't all in-your-face f/x work, like End of Days or the Mummy films. And the Hell stuff looked very promising, with a bit of a What Dreams May Come, painterly feeling. As someone who works on f/x for a living I can be overly critical, but I think they're taking a good approach with the balance between what you see explicitly and what is implied under the surface or in the visions the characters have. I can't wait to see the final, polished film just for the visuals.

I won't go into any major plot details or spoilers, and not having read the comics I have no idea how true it was to the original. I read somewhere that Constantine wasn't an American in the comics, and this film is firmly set in a dark, stylized Los Angeles, which looks like it exists outside of a specific period it time, much like the original "Blade". And it works. The nice thing about the original "Blade" and "Constantine" is that they play the world and the environment they're in as if they're 100% real. It's not a self-parody. It's not winking at itself in little homages to other films. And I love that the Director didn't feel the need to explain how and why they're in this world or what the rules are, but instead drops you straight into it at full speed. The beginning of the film plays out as if you stepped into the climax of the Exorcist, with very little exposition. Keanu shows up at an apartment building to exorcise a demon from a young girl, and mayhem ensues. The great thing is that it's all played straight. This is what Constantine does. This is who he is. Hey, watch out for that Soldier Demon over there. They don't lead the viewer by the nose and explain every aspect of the story up front. Slowly, over time, and through the interactions with other characters, you begin to piece things together and understand what's going on. But as with "Collateral", we're thrown into this guy's life during a short period, and we get to see and experience events as he does, almost as if it's in real time. Which brings me to the main character, Constantine.

I suppose a lot of how well this film does will come down to how you react to Keanu. Personally, I don't mind his acting in a lot of his films. I buy him in "Bill and Ted". I dug him in "The Matrix". I thought he kicked ass in "Speed". Yeah, his accent sucked in"Dracula" and pretty much ruined that movie for me, among other things. Here, he seems to be channeling Clint Eastwood through Neo. There is a lot of brooding and smoldering, with a sense of deep angst and turmoil. He usually looks like he just ate something really bad and is trying hard to digest it. But hey, I bought it. It seemed to work for the character. It's not an extremely dialogue-heavy film, but what exposition there was I thought he generally pulled off well. Your mileage may vary depending on how much Keanu baggage you bring to the table. And yeah, at times there are a bit too many similarities to the Matrix films, especially with some of the dialogue, thematic imagery and composition of the shots. Yes, he's playing another Christ-like martyr character. But if you look beyond all that I think there is much more to the film than a sort of shallow Matrix rip-off. The supporting cast was also good. I'll pay to see anything Rachel Weisz is in, and she doesn't dissapoint here. She plays twin sisters Angela and Isabel Dodson who hold a psychic connection to the spiritual world. She gives a believable, subtle performance which serves as a good counterbalance to the grim, brooding Constantine. Djimon Hounsou has a great role as Papa Midnite, the "Oracle" of this story. And Max Baker is also fun as Beeman, the "Whistler"/gadget guy in the film. Which brings up my only serious complaint in the film. They fell into a few too many cliched roles and story devices we've all seen a million times now. Did they have to use the same gun as Van Helsing? I'm sure it's probably from the comic, but it looks like they just took it and painted it gold. At some point these movies have to start getting away from the requisite Blockbuster Film cliches. At least in Constantine those moments were brief and somewhat underplayed, and the Bowling Alley set was a cool, original design for a Gadget Headquarters/Library of Knowledge. But there is no doubt that you're going to be recognizing some of the same characters and imagery you've seen many times before. Oh well, it's a postmodern world I guess, and there's not much we can do about that. At least in Constantine it was well done unlike some of the tripe Hollywood puts out like Van Helsing and Catwoman.

The other fantastic performance worth mentioning was Tilda Swinton as the Arch-Angel Gabriel. She was great, and brought a refined, underplayed nuance to the role. The only character I didn't really care for was Chaz Chandler, Constantine's disciple/trainee. He came off a bit flat and his storyline was a bit too cliched and calculated for my taste. It was like the writer threw him in as the obligatory sidekick but someone forgot to make us care about him. Funny sidekick dialogue. Check. Yearning to go out on his own that can only end in tragedy. Check. Keanu as subordinate father figure. Check. Lastly, I'm not sure who played the Devil, but my friend recognized him from other stuff he's been in and he was great. Not quite as over the top as Pacino in Devil's Advocate, but suitably creepy and loathsome. I hope they're going to keep most of his performance as is, and not replace it with some CG trickery.

The bottom line is that I think Warner's has a winner here. I don't know how it's going to play to the Comic crowd, but I had a great time. It's more thoughtful, suspenseful, and has better supporting characters than your typical big budget action film. The writing is good, and only crosses the line into camp/cheese a couple times, and that probably had more to do with Keanu's delivery than anything. There weren't any groan-inducing moments in the crowd I saw it with. It was actually pretty scary and everyone seemed to be digging it. All of the obnoxious people in the audience shut right up after the opening sequence and I didn't hear anyone cracking wise after that. I'd say if you liked the vibe and tone of the original Blade you'll probably like this. It's one of the better comic book adaptations I've seen, although that list is growing every year it seems. Constantine aims for the jugular and delivers a pretty good wallop while mixing in a thought provoking story about good and evil, angels and devils, and the price of salvation. I'll close with my favorite line from the film, when Constantine is talking to Angela about God's role in the world, and how he goes about doing things:

John Constantine - "God is like a kid with an ant farm. He doesn't really have a plan.

And we also got this letter from the film’s producer, Lauren Shuler Donner, about an unrelated matter. Sorry we didn’t get it up quicker, but it’s worth reading:

Dear Harry and Drew,

It's great to make movies but it's also great to give back. I have arranged an auction with E-bay, AOL and IN Style starting Nov. 15 for one week to benefit Hollygrove, a child-centered organization that serves abused and neglected children. Hollygrove houses abandoned children and also provides children at risk with psycological, educational and emotional support. It is an incredible organization that is in dire needs of funding. Therefore, I and many filmmakers have donated such items for sale such as :

The actual Wolverine CLAWSand case that Hugh Jackman wore in "X2" .

The 32 piece crystal chess set from "X2" - yes, the actual prop.

The "Daily Bugle" newspaper from "Spiderman" and Laura Ziskin.

A helmet from Tim Burton from "Planet of the Apes".

The bridal dress worn by Alysson Hannigan in "American Wedding".

The overcoat worn by Tom Hanks in "Road to Perdition" from Jeffery Katzenberg.

The 2 piece drum majors outfit from "Drum Line".

Ally Sheedy's ankle length black velvet skirt from "St. Elmo's Fire" .

A golden telescope used by Jim Carrey's charachter Count Olaf in "Lemony Snickett: A Series of Unfortunate Events".

"ELF" (sized ) costume from Toby Emmerich from the movie "ELF"

A life preserver from "Titanic"

A framed costume drawing from "Pirates of the Caribbean" donated by Jerry Bruckheimer.

And many many more items.

Please please I beg you print this letter and show the link to our auction and help these less fortunate children.

With gratititude - Lauren Shuler Donner

Thanks, Lauren. And thanks to our guest reviewer as well.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 19, 2004, 3:14 a.m. CST

    Hey, Talkbackers...

    by Demon Disco yourselves a favour: if you've never read Hellblazer then do yourself a service and rectify the situation RIGHT NOW! Then go see the movie. I'm pretty sure I know which one you'll warm to more...

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 3:50 a.m. CST

    MORIARTY!!! Where's the Link?

    by dampen666

    Hey Moriarty, you posted the letter, but where's the link to the auction? Get your act together!

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 3:59 a.m. CST

    "The "Daily Bugle" newspaper from "Spiderman" AND Laura Ziskin"?

    by Tall_Boy

    Holy shit, they're giving a person away on ebay! Now that's a hellova auction! "Come and get your Larua Ziskin! Best offer!" "Screw that, I Want a copy of the Bugle!"

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 4:03 a.m. CST

    Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors

    by faceless

    Hey...Remember Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors?! That shit was tight!!!! I dunno about a movie....but that shit was tight!!......and SilverHawks!!!!!.....oh and i hear that the dude who wrote Catwoman is writing Transformers....sup with that?

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 4:09 a.m. CST

    Is it me...

    by Lazarus Long

    ...or does the "drummers uniforms from Drumline" just look so sadly out of place on that list? Not that St. Elmo's Fire is some masterpiece of film, but at least it has some kind of Brat Pack sentimental value for a certain crowd. I don't know how many Nick Cannon fans will have the money to bid for Hollywood leftovers on eBay, but maybe some rich Mommy or Daddy will get them for their teeny bopper kids. I wonder if the helmet from Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes is one he was wearing on the set while directing--you know, the one that distorted his brain waves and caused him to make one of the worst pieces of shit in film history? Personally, I think the best thing on there is the chess set from X-Men. Not that ANY of the items are really worth owningl, but hey, free chess set.

  • Hmm... I don't know. Just exactly what is a producer worth on the open market these days?

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 7:21 a.m. CST

    Hey, watch out for that Soldier Demon over there.

    by BurlIvesLeftNut

    Seriously. He's right behind you and his pants are unzipped.

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 7:35 a.m. CST

    Here is the LINK

    by Barney Hood best Revd barney Hood

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 7:49 a.m. CST

    A great movie needs your help

    by Bcphil

    I can tell you that everything I am hearing about this movie is positive and some of the earlier reviews puzzle me to say the least. For one this is the role Keanu Reeves was born to play. A marginal anti hero that talks with mesmerizing simplicity but fights with pronounced elegance. The SFX for this movie will no doubt be the best for any movie that comes out in the 4th Qtr of this year or 1st quarter of next, trust me on this. In regards to much of the criticism regarding an "American" playing an English character, we need to give Keanu a chance. All reports I am getting are that he portrays this role so convincingly that ten minutes into the film there is no problem with suspension of disbelief, in fact many are saying this adaption far surpasses the original stories in the comic books largely because of Keanu's magnificent job of immersing himself in this character and making you instantly believe and care about what happens to him. In terms of acting, many are reporting that Rachel Weisz gives a career performance in this movie, portraying two different characters and showing a wide array of emotions rarely seen in dark action movies. Let's not forget this movie also has of the greatest "unknown" actor's of our generation, Peter Stormare as a certain fallen angel we all love to hate. After seeing this movie most will agree that his performance of Satan is far and away better than anything by DeNiro or Pacinio and a supporting actor nod could be in the future. I would encourage you all to give this movie a chance and see it on opening weekend if there are any tickets left, it will no doubt be a roller coaster ride of fun and scares as the forces of heaven and hell wage war with the earth as there battlefield!!

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 9:10 a.m. CST


    by Lizzybeth

    Y'know, if they had just changed the character's name, I would be fine. There doesn't seem to be any resemblence at all to the comic character - John Constantine is an English, blonde, drunk, charming, smart, lovelorn, trench coat brigade magician on noone's side but his own. Keanu's character looks and acts very different from the comic, and the plot is clearly made up whole cloth (well, I missed some Hellblazer trades so I could be wrong on that). I wish they would have named him something else, then maybe I could enjoy this flick. But of course then we'd complain about how they ripped off Alan Moore.. there's no pleasing me I guess. ;)

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 9:32 a.m. CST

    another link

    by dr.bulber

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 10:01 a.m. CST

    not Dr Hump!

    by Homer Sexual

    See, I am fairly certain this Dr Hump also posted "Catwoman" raves here, including references to Sharon Stone's "purrfect" performance. Just seeing Dr. Hump's plant makes me think the entire review is a plant (and I don't go around yelling "plant! plant!" either). I think this movie is going to flop. I don't think it will draw in enough of either the general audience or the comic geeks (which I am). I'm with Lizzybeth, if it was anything but Constantine I would be happy to give this movie a chance, but it appears to have absolutely no connection to the character beyond being about a shady guy who uses magic and, I imagine, smokes (is this movie the Dangerous Habits storyline?) I hate to be so negative, but I cannot support a movie that stars Keanu as Constantine and, even worse, makes Constantine American. Just can't do it. But I do get good giggles reading Dr. Hump.

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 10:11 a.m. CST

    Reaction so far has been mixed...

    by Lost Skeleton

    ...but I do want to see this flick. I am in the mood for something dark and moody.

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 11:28 a.m. CST

    Hey guys, if you have money, there's some pretty cool stuff in t

    by Ribbons

    ...not trying to be a prick, but hey, if I could afford a golden telescope I'd sure as hell be all over it. I'm checking out the auction as is.

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 1:14 p.m. CST

    Why no mention of The Evil Dead remake on ithis site??!!!

    by rectalscan

    Seems like this site would have the news posted all over?

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 1:27 p.m. CST

    "Why no mention of The Evil Dead remake on this site??!!!"

    by The Killer-Goat

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 1:37 p.m. CST

    Never read the book

    by The Killer-Goat

    but at this point it's too late for me to do the same thing everyone else does when they hear about a comic/book-to-film adaption: run out to read up on the printed material JUST to make a comparison when the film opens. I'll just have to read the comic when life leaves me the time. But Constantine showed up enough times in Swamp Thing to see that Reeves wouldn't have been on my list of actors to play this part. I certainly agree that with as many apparent changes to the main character and background, it should have been called something else.

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 5:19 p.m. CST

    A stealth marketer needs YOUR help

    by FranklinCobb

    Hey, thanks Hump, your is oddly the only shining happy positive thing I've read about what will likely be a big pile of poop. SHILL, BABY~!

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 5:53 p.m. CST

    Hasn't _anyone_ read this comic?

    by drfinkelstein

    The reviews are interesting to read, but so far I think every single one of them has admitted 'I've never actually read the comic, but...'. Constantine is such a great character, cynical, both his agenda and his powers largely a mystery. I only hope some of that has remained in the silver screen version. But apparently I won't know till I see it myself, because no one else has @#$@ing read the comics.

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 7:41 p.m. CST

    Chaz Chandler?

    by joe brady

    Is that the character's name? Wasn't he a music producer?

  • Nov. 19, 2004, 8:18 p.m. CST

    Hellblazer in name only

    by MrCere

    I have no hope at all the Keanau can play a proper John Constintine. The fact the set it in LA and made him an American tells me all I need to know. Do Americans hate British films or characters or settings? Should Shaun of the Dead have been set in Pasadena? 28 Days Later should have been Philly? Dumb ass studios! I doubt I will see this show but I will still read Hellblazer.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 2:22 a.m. CST

    Chaz Chandler was an Animal

    by SkynetIsHere

    Original member of Newcastle '60s rock band The Animals...the character is so named as a homage to his rockin' counterpart.