Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Ahhhh... another great night at the Egyptian. Director Francis Lawrence joined us at the end of the movie for a great Q&A. He’s an engaging guy who reminded me of Will from ALIAS to an almost spooky degree, enough so that I momentarily considered grilling him about his departure from the show. He was remarkably modest about what he pulled off with CONSTANTINE, but he deserves to strut a bit. Although I’m not sure I’d argue that it’s a great script, I think the filmmaking is tremendous. The best comparison you can make to anything in the Marvel stable so far is with BLADE, and this is a more self-assured film overall than the first BLADE was. If DC/Vertigo Films can pull it together and find someone to make a sequel that turns things up to the same degree that BLADE 2 did, then CONSTANTINE could be a franchise worth watching.
I’ve been getting in letters since last night from people who were there who wanted to share their impressions, and I thought I’d share a few with you. First up, it’s Cbabbitt, our favorite video store clerk in LA:
Hello, Keanu Reeves gives Satan the finger towards the end of the slick, occasionally entertaining, but ultimately bland and forgettable new Warner Bros. comic book adaptation CONSTANTINE.
Something occurred to me during this deliciously mischievous sequence: 1) Keanu Reeves is the only thing that kept me interested in this film. 2) Keanu has more confidence in himself as an actor than ever before(’cause he knows the Matrix films ruled, just as I do) and 3. Keanu is just really fucking cool. The audience laughed and cheered after this particularly bad-ass sequence which in my opinion was something this film desperately needed. In fact, the last 20-30 minutes of this film was quite good. That’s when the screenwriters decided to do something interesting with the story.
I’m not going to give away specific details about the plot since I’m sure this is the 100th review sent in from last night’s screening and you’ve probably read the synopsis far too many times... ..In short, John Constantine is a demon-slayer trying to buy his way into heaven, Rachel Weisz is a detective investigating what she thinks is the murder of her sister, Satan is very interested in one of these characters and all hell breaks loose.
Actually, I would of loved it if all hell had broken loose, but unfortunately that never happened. Maybe I was expecting something different. I’ve never read Hellblazer and I probably never will. I simply loved the trailer. It looked like an interesting, vicious, frightening supernatural thriller starring an actor I admire. To my surprise, this film was not very interesting, vicious, or frightening at all. It was a standard supernatural thriller with many cool visual ideas, one explosive action piece, and a bad-ass main character.
Actually, first time director Francis Lawrence did a wonderful job executing a script that was obviously lacking. There’s nothing truly awful about this film and I credit him for that success. In the hands of a less talented director this film could have been a complete disaster. Lawrence managed to get fine performances from all of his actors, give the film a dark, moody atmosphere, and deliver some extremely effective CGI f/x. The film starts to drag about 40 minutes in. I mean, really drag. As in, this is really fucking dull and tame and I don’t give a fuck about that woman’s sister and it really doesn’t matter that Constantine’s friends are killed cause I didn’t like ‘em anyway and what the fuck is the deal with “the chair” and Rachel Wiesz’s sob scene was fucking lame and I want to see Keanu whoop some more demon ass instead of listen to all this fucking whining and.....ugh...sorry. It’s really not that bad.
Let me be clear about this: The last 30 minutes saves the movie. Peter Stormare is absolutely awesome! Really, the sequence between Constantine and Satan is worth the price of admission and like I said, Keanu is extremely cool as this character. The visual effects are exceptionally well done in places and the acting is quite good. I just loved how much of a prick Keanu was even in the simplest ways. Angela: “Are you going down?” Constantine: “Not if I can help it” Basically, everything about Constantine the character works, everything else is average. Nothing spectacular, nothing truly horrible.
An interesting Q & A followed the film with director Francis Lawrence. It will be interesting to see what he does next. Thanks for the screening, it was a fun night.
And the EGYPTIAN THEATER JUST FUCKING RULES!!
This is yet another film based on a comic book-but one I've never read or even heard of before this. It is quite dark in tone dealing with the eternal battle between good and evil, angels and demons, demonic possessions and the like. I always try to go into films with no expectations. This film has a kick ass trailer-but so did ELEKTRA and we saw where that got us. So not having any idea what I was in for I must tell you I really dug this horror/action flick though it is definitely not for everyone.
Keanu Reeves has been very good in some roles and very bad in others. He's very good as antihero John Constantine, who makes his "living" battling demons, performing exorcisms and other unpleasant tasks. Despite his performance it occurred to me that the film would have made an excellent vehicle to bring David Boreanaz's character, ANGEL, to the big screen due to many similarities in subject matter and character elements. One thing that surprised me was the amount of humor which was very welcome.
The film was helmed by first time director Francis Lawrence who got his start doing music videos. I feared this would lead to a style of constant and unnecessary camera movement, flashy over-editing and other ADD symptoms used by such hack directors as Michael Bay (who should not be allowed anywhere near a sound stage). This is definitely not the case. The film is beautifully staged and shot. There are an incredible number of really nice touches in every aspect of the movie from bits of business to production design that indicate a very sure hand was guiding things. I was astonished this was the guy's first feature. He obviously has a bright future ahead of him and I look forward to his next effort.
Not knowing what I was getting into is both good and bad. I was expecting perhaps a little more action and more scares than were delivered. The CGI demons aren't all that scary but the humans possessed by them are quite impressive and disturbing due to excellent makeup and CGI effects work. The depiction of hell is quite awe inducing and terrifying at the same time. So I would say I had more of a feeling of suspense and dread rather than terror.
The rest of the cast is also excellent. Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf (a little underused I felt), Pruitt Taylor Vance, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare (what actor wouldn't want to play Satan?) and more are all perfectly cast and deliver great performances.
I don't know how fans of the comic will respond as I understand there were major changes made. If you are a fan of the horror or action genres I think this film is well worth a trip to the theater to see. I cannot stress how important it is that you see the film from the very beginning all the way to the end of the credits.
Thanks to director Lawrence, the folks at AICN, and the American Cinematheque for putting on a great show!
Admittedly, not everyone liked it. In fact, this guy just plain hated it:
I know you've been receiving a lot of email about Constantine, but I wanted to chime in as representative of a different demographic: the non-fanboy above the age of 35. Everyone on the site knows the general plot, so I'll dispense with explaining it. Let me just say that not only did I dislike this movie in cinematic terms, but it was such ponderous, confusing fanboy crap that I began to take it personally.
Things seem to happen in the film so that teenagers will run home and say, "dude, it was totally rad the way Keanu like, shot that dude and stuff. And the way the bad guy was like, totally all weird and stuff, it was TOTALLY RAD!!"
Every shot cared about only one thing: looking cool. It's not enough that Constantine needs to pay a visit to Hell, but he has to pour water in a bucket (because water looks TOTALLY RAD when all lit up and stuff), pick up a cat (because then we can see a TOTALLY RAD close up of the cat's eyes!) and channel the cat (still not sure why he has to hold a cat, probably because it looks TOTALLY RAD!), while travelling to Hell.
At the end, using a power we had absolutely no idea he possessed, Constantine puts his forearms together and, using CGI effect that were TOTALLY RAD, he flies to Hell. I think the forearm-deal had something to do with tats on his forearms, but we were never introduced to these tats and have no clue as to their meaning. The story seems to exist as a means of getting us from one piece of TOTALLY RAD CGI coolness to the next.
The film includes lots of pretenous relgious babble, the work of a writer who knows nothing about religion, but he's sure seen a lot of movies with religious themes, like The Exorcist. The story is muddled, partly because the "rules" of this world were so damn confusing.
Anyway, I can go on and on. Constantine is just horrible. Fanboys may like it because it's like, TOTALLY RAD! But those who hate posing for the sake posing will hate it. At the screening I went to, there was seriously groaning at the end. But these are critics. Dudes who like films that are TOTALLY RAD may like it. May these people grow up quickly.
PS: If you can survive the ordeal, stay for the entire end credits. There's a brief bit at the end.
For the most part, though, people enjoyed themselves, like this guy:
IN SHORT: Classy horror-noir marred by "comic book movie" narrative and the fact that practical effects ALWAYS look better than CG in horror. Keanu turns in a performance worthy of Shatner or Chuck Heston. A revelation or sorts. Hot Peter Stormare action! Amazingly restrained direction suggests great things in the future, and CONSTANTINE suggests great things from VERTIGO films, hell even WB/DC films!
Another week, another Egyptian AICN screening. At first I wondered why AICN was going out of its way to promote this one, but I understand now. I too feel complelled to chime in, mostly because I'd never have given CONSTANTINE a chance if not for good buzz, and this film deserves an audience. If you're on the fence, let the word get out that CONSTANTINE is a damn good movie! In fact, considering its a first-time director's feature debut, its an amazing achievement that shows RESTRAINT (the guy did MUSIC VIDEOS?!?!)!
But for me, CONSTANTINE will live in my heart as as Keanu Reeves movie in which there was a revelation somewhere in the middle where I realized "Holy Shit, Keanu channels the same kind of performance that defines some of the best Sci-Fi and Horror classics - the semi-stilted overacting of William Shatner in Star Trek and Charlton Heston in The Omega Man!" and if this sounds like faint praise, its not. There's an oddness and charm to those actors' performances that become endearing, a sort of comfort that works really well in a fantastic world. It jibes a bit with the conventional hero ideal, but also allows some interesting opportunities for comedy to seep in and attains a believeability I think playing it straight never could. I think this realization set in when a world-weary Keanu starts to explain the dynamics of God and Satan's wager for the souls of humanity – it totally felt Chuck Heston.
I have no beef with Mr. Reeves, in fact I LOVE him in the right role, and I always felt like his Neo worked mostly because deep down, Keanu really believed in all the pseudo-philosophical sci-fi exposition he churned out. I can buy him as a world weary P.I. of the supernatural, mostly because this is NOT AN ORIGIN MOVIE and he gets right to the action! THANK GOD! Its the movies biggest strength - we're immeadiately thrust into a world, and in one scene the dynamics are set up - BAM! Constantine doing his thing. BAM! "Get me a mirror." BAAAAM! "Chaz, move the car..." I love seeing a character who knows it all, has seen it all, and suddenly comes face to face with SOMETHING that rattles him! Definitely gets you into the narrative right off the bat, and Constantine's opening demonic possession does just that! It is the best establishment of a comic hero since the Blood Rave in Blade, and even the same joy of Hellboy's first encounters. Its strange - I really don't miss the comics' hero as much as I thought, perhaps because its not officially HELLBLAZER (kind of like BLADE RUNNER's title distancing it from DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?) and I can live with seperate universes in comics and cinema.
An amazing supporting cast fills the movie- Tilda Swinton's Angel Gabriel almost steals the movie's climax, she channels some ferocious misguided ambitions. Her last scene with Keanu is almost the inverse of Clive Owen's confrontation of Julia Roberts in CLOSER (y'know, "That's the spirit! Now FUCK OFF."). Djimon Hounsou and Gavin Rossdale chew the scenery in such a way that it elevates Keanu, unfortunately he spends more time with Rachel Weisz' love interest and... she just doesn't bring the best out of him. Its a bummer, there's a whole stable of REALLY fun side characters who don't survive, and now that I think about it, all the performances outside of Rachel Weisz really feel noir, but there's no femme fatale. Instead, Hollywood's standard diluted damsel in distress.
I don't want to knock the film Francis Lawrence directedtoo much. The framing of shots FEEL like comic book panels, and many of the effects shots are stunning for their hesitation to show off! Great moments, like when John Constantine hears wings and sees the silhouettes of an entire flock of demons behind the window shades, or even REALLY subtle moments, like when the psychic Priest is in the morgue and there is a slight bit of mist coming off him in the cold freezer, but not the dead bodies around him! Little touches show the care going into this movie's desgin, (I loved the crab that preceded the demon composed of insects and crustaceans!) and there is a bar that is probably the most fun dive of supernatural characters since the Mos Eisley cantina... or at least the House of Pain in Blade 2... really, I could believe in this world a lot, and its more impressive in many aspects than full fantasy worlds.
Problem is... its a really good film noir, a really good horror movie, and a really good comic book movie. But it still hasn't found a complete balance between them all. There's a richness to the world, and it isn't a glamourized LA or the seedy world of a movie like SE7EN, but for an R rated movie, the action felt tame. I was surprised at the lack of gore, mostly because of the subject matter. At the Q&A later, the director mentioned it was the religious TONE of the film that got the R. For me, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the occasional swearing that got the MPAA hot an bothered, but the action was no more intense than HELLBOY or SPIDERMAN 2... it just had demons and angels too. As the director said (a really GOOD Q&A despite some standard lame-ass questions) make them ELVES and ORCS, and you've got fantasy, but religion is REAL! I'm just warning some of you, don't go in expecting a HARD "R" BALLS TO THE WALLS MOVIE. Instead, we benefit from good characters and script that isn't watered down...
...which brings me to the real problem that is: the script is still only good. It loosely follows the Ennis (I think) Hellblazer series where he's got cancer. We know this because, in the introductory shot, John Constantine has a cigarette... and we're treated to a CU of the cigarette. And more.. and more... CIGARETTE SHOTS. I got the point, but you could have a CONSTANTINE DRINKING GAME and be completely fucked up if you took a shot was centered around a cigarette, ash tray, or cigarette falling out of John's hand... and you'd be about 20 minutes into the FILM! My real beef is that so much time went into one of the BEST fantasy/reality NOIR worlds, and instead of the CHINATOWN (hey - the poster BEGS comparison) of fantasy-noir, we're forced into a THE WORLD IS AT STAKE AND OUR HERO MUST STOP ARMAGEDDON plot. The main villain is faceless almost the whole movie, so it really doesn't feel like a threat... and Hell never completely comes to Earth... so all the minions of Hell (LOVE the design... still CG monsters...) never become a full threat to Constantine. In fact, during a spectacular scene he takes out an entire SWARM of these demons in a moment evocative of PITCH BLACK when the french guy illuminates the entire swarm around him that is COMPLETELY BADASS!
As for the CG - just when I was accepting the CG demons we get the one performance that schools Tilda Swinton's Angel Gabriel - Peter "Stormy" Stormare... and I realized that no CG can ever be as fascinating as a great actor (even Gavin Rossdale in practical slimy gore FX looked so cool and believeable!). The director described it as "a guy on the street you wouldn't notice but when you look at him he looks like he wants to have sex with every man, woman, child and animal around," and that pretty much sums it up. He has a moment involving his toungue and Keanu's face that I thought would suddenly have CG, but no, its just him and a creepy homoeroticism that no computer could amplify. Its worth the price of admission for the finale involving him and a Keanu spilling blood from freshly-slit wrists.
Back to the plot - if it had just been a minor demon causing havoc upsetting the balance, and the Spear of Destiny subplot had been removed, all the same character developments could have taken place. Think about Chinatown, Touch of Evil, even Maltese Falcon, and its about the characters going after each other or one goal, never some chain events larger than the whole of them. As a result, right when we are getting comfortable with the supporting cast, the plot forces us to ditch them to stop THE EVIL. Even the XFiles' best episodes stand tall vs. the overbearing weight of the movie. The apocalypse felt like excess baggage, and is becoming a major problem with Comic Book movies in general. I'd love another Constantine, but one confident enough in its well established characters to be a great HORROR NOIR and ditch the comic book side.
I say this not to discourage ANYONE from checking out one of the best releases so far this year, but because if this series continues it could lead to a sequel as amazing as Spiderman 2. There are cinematic moments of bliss for your money, of note the opening exorcism, the "Rachel Weisz vs. office building cubicles and walls" shot from the trailer, and the best hero vs. mass of supernatural bastards since the blood rave in Blade, and none of them pull punches! I'd love to see where characters go, and VERTIGO, DC and WARNER BROS. deserve to reap the benefits! If so, they damn well better prove their worth by going the next step and not holding back. As for Fancis Lawrence, I'm looking forward to what comes next, this beats the hell out of a first film like TORQUE because its got what Hollywood movies have been lacking in general, and that's CLASS.
Thanks again AICN!
One last one:
Hola, Moriarty. It's that most useless of spies, Wolffman Jack, here to talk about Keanu and those dreamy eyes... or maybe they're just vacant. Either way today's subject is Constantine.
The look of the film is great. Certainly influenced by the Matrix (at least a bit) and Director Francis Lawrence's time spent in music videos. A bit gritty, the occult underworld of LA is shown in interesting patches.
The acting, yes, I said the word acting in a Keanu movie is good. Nothing great, but everyone is at least awake and invested in portraying these characters.
The CGI, despite Rachel Weisz's presence, is much better than the crap they put into the Mummy films. Hell, while not very similar to the hell of the comics, is at least visually arresting. It helps that we don't hang out there for a ton of time as well.
The ideology of the story is at least closer to the comic and I love that you have fallible angels and stupid demons in a hollywood story. Lawrence did mention that the ratings board gave the film an R for the tone of the film. This movie isn't particularly gory or profane, but he made a point about how as soon as you mention angels and demons, the board doesn't rate you like it's a fantasy, but as if these events are happening in the real world. If, as Lawrence suggested, this movie dealt with orcs and elves instead, it'd probably be a PG-13. THought that was interesting.
Lawrence isn't afraid to leave silences in the film and it makes for a very inobtrusive soundtrack that still hits when it needs to.
Lawrence suffers from some of the problems that first time music video directors have: excessive use of camera tricks, a strobe light sequence that really had no point as far as I could tell, etc.
Pacing isn't the best. The intro excorcism is good, but then the story bogs down into slow, slow territory. Not really heating up till the conclusion. With a more experienced director and a different editor, (not to mention script) this thing could be tighter.
This is not the John Constantine that fans of Hellblazer love. He's not English, he's not blonde, and he's not nearly as sarcastically clever as the John in the comics. The latter being the true tragedy. Which brings me to everybody's favorite.
How you can take a character who's as cool as Constantine, with as many stories available to steal from and come up with this script, boggles my mind. It's cliche in parts (many), leaves characters two dimensional and glides over parts of John's history that I want to know about and see onscreen. John's origin is given like two minutes of screen time. WTF? Are these guys trying to start a franchise or what? Why isn't this an origin story? Lawrence said that the script wasn't in a good place when he became involved and I hate to say, it still isn't.
Alright, there's my two cents. Overall I'd give this bad boy a C+. Interesting visuals and a director who could grow into something we'll salivate over, but this could've been fantastic. There's a couple laughs and just a little of the Constantine you like in the comics, but overall, it's a missed opportunity and I can only hope that whoever has Watchmen and V for Vendetta comes through better.
Thanks for the screening Moriarty. Pretty good questions, the same can't be said of some the people in the Q&A. I'm looking forward to Old Boy. See you then.