October 17, 2012

Constantine (2005)

"Constantine tells the story of irreverent supernatural detective John Constantine, who has literally been to hell and back."

What the Hell is wrong with Roger Ebert? He only gave "Constantine" 1.5 stars out of 5 and then spent 90% of his review retelling the story in his own words. Pretty lame stuff, but he's already earned a small fortune by leeching from people with the ability to actually make films so what does he care? Probably about as much as I don't care for anything he has to say. Just to do something different on my blog though, I'm going to go through his "negative Nancy" criticism of "Constantine" and refute it.

Let's see how Roger begins his critique:

No, "Constantine" is not part of a trilogy including "Troy" and "Alexander." It's not about the emperor at all, but about a man who can see the world behind the world, and is waging war against the scavengers of the damned. There was a nice documentary about emperor penguins, however, at Sundance this year. The males sit on the eggs all winter long in like 60 degrees below zero.

Hmmmm, nobody thinks "Contantine" is about the Roman emperor who created Catholicism as the vessel to carry the word of God and control the unruly masses. Most people don't have a Classical education and have never even heard of him. Those who do also know that Constantine the Great was emperor from 306 to 337 A.D. and isn't even from the same period as either "Troy" or "Alexander" (which are only a couple of thousand years apart themselves). No, nobody expects "Constantine" to be part of a sword and sandals trilogy, we all know that it's based on a comicbook which we've never read. As for the penguins, what do they have to do with anything?

Keanu Reeves plays Constantine as a chain-smoking, depressed demon-hunter who lives above a bowling alley in Los Angeles. Since he was a child, he has been able to see that not all who walk among us are human. Some are penguins. Sorry about that. Some are half-angels and half-devils. Constantine knows he is doomed to hell because he once tried to kill himself, and is trying to rack up enough frames against the demons to earn his way into heaven.

Actually, Roger, none of them are penguins and you aren't funny. Thanks for retelling the story though because we never would have worked that out by watching the movie ourselves. By the way, "chain-smoking" is when you light a fresh cigarette with the smoldering butt of the previous one. Constantine never does that anywhere, he likes flicking his Zippo lighter open far too much.

There is a scene early in the movie where Constantine and his doctor look at his X-rays, never a good sign in a superhero movie. He has lung cancer. The angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) tells him, "You are going to die young because you've smoked 30 cigarettes a day since you were 13." Gabriel has made more interesting announcements. Constantine has already spent some time in hell, which looks like a post-nuclear Los Angeles created by animators with a hangover. No doubt it is filled with carcinogens.

More storytelling? I thought Roger Ebert was some kind of great movie critic not a synopsis writer. Oh dear. "Constantine" is not a superhero movie, it's a supernatural action movie/comicbook adaptation with a huge $100,000,000 budget.

Tilda Swinton is perfectly cast as an angel, really looks the androgynous part, and is completely disturbing in a "Should I fancy her or be terrified of her?" way. It's probably her most iconic role and Roger Ebert dismisses her with one misquoted line. Gah! Constantine smoked from the age of 15 not 13.

As for the "post-nuclear Los Angeles" jibe, that's exactly what it was meant to look like. It's all explained during the "Making of" featurettes on the DVD. "Animators with a hangover?" I doubt it, but all that hard work coding images probably gave a few of them eye-strain and headaches. You should try it for yourself one day, Roger, instead of stuffing your fat face with popcorn. None of it looks bad to me or over 900 reviewers on the IMDb who think the effects are amazing.

The half-angels and half-devils are earthly proxies in the war between God and Satan. You would think that God would be the New England Patriots of this contest, but apparently there is a chance that Satan could win. Constantine's lonely mission is to track down half-demons and cast them back to the fires below. Like Blade, the vampire-killer, he is surprisingly optimistic, considering he is one guy in one city dealing on a case-by-case basis, and the enemy is global.

Yeah, we know. Why don't you just tell us the whole story, Rog? Sure, Constantine is a bit like "Blade", so what? He's not black or a half-vampire. He doesn't even look like Sting or come from Liverpool like his comicbook form. What's the point? His optimism is out of place? He's actually rather pragmatic for a "superhero". Wait. Isn't Constantine supposed to be "depressed" according to the second paragraph of the "review"? "Depressed" and "optimistic"? How does that work?

We also have no idea what the sports reference is to because we're movie fans and couldn't care less about grown men being overpaid thousands of times more than a doctor earns just to fight like little babies over a bag of air on a field. If you are going to use an analogy, make it one that people understand.

Constantine has a technical advisor named Beeman (Max Baker), who lives in the ceiling of the bowling alley among the pin-spotting machines, and functions like Q in the James Bond movies. Here he is loading Constantine with the latest weaponry: "Bullet shavings from the assassination attempt on the Pope, holy water from the river of Jordan, and, you'll love this, screech beetles." The screech beetles come in a little matchbox. "To the fallen," Max explains, "the sound is like nails on a blackboard." Later there is a scene where Constantine is inundated by the creatures of hell, and desperately tries to reach the matchbox and get those beetles to screeching.

Again, we know. How is this criticism in any way? But yes, I do love all the weaponry and the humourous way some of the items are introduced. It's called "entertainment". "Beeman" was a character made-up just for the movie so make of it what you will.

Rachel Weisz plays Angela Dodson, an L.A. police detective whose twin sister, Isabel, has apparently committed suicide. Isabel reported seeing demons, so Angela consults Constantine, who nods wisely and wonders if Isabel jumped, or was metaphysically pushed. Later in the film, to show Angela that she also has the gift of seeing the world behind the world, Constantine holds her underwater in a bathtub until she passes out and sees the torments of hell. No bright white corridors and old friends and Yanni for her. You wonder what kind of an L.A. cop would allow herself to be experimentally drowned in a bathtub by a guy who lives over a bowling alley.

More storytelling and blah, blah, blah. Strangely enough, the kind of L.A. cop who allows herself to be "experimentally drowned in a bathtub" is one who is beside herself with grief/guilt over her sister's death and will try anything to find out why it happened. Did you miss that part, Roger? Nobody else did.

It's also worth noting that Rachel Weisz is awesome in the role. She's English but manages to pull off a perfectly legitimate American accent which is incredibly difficult. She's quite pretty too.

Together, they prowl the nighttime streets. At one point, Constantine needs to consult Midnite (Djimon Hounsou), a former witch doctor who runs a private nightclub where half-angels and half-demons can get half-loaded and talk shop. There is a doorman. To gain admittance, you have to read his mind and tell him what's on the other side of the card he's holding up. "Two frogs on a bench," Constantine says. Could have been a lucky guess.

Nope, it couldn't have been a lucky guess as Shia LeBoeuf's character, Chas Kramer, finds out when he attempts to bluff his way in. You have to know the answer, that's the point. It's a bar full of angels, demons, and psychics with supernatural abilities. What password method would be more appropriate? A secret handshake perhaps for those who have hands not paws?

What would have worked here is some condemnation of how weak Shia LeBoeuf's character is for most of the movie until he gets chance to cast off the comedic aspects and shine for a moment later. That would have been too much like reviewing though, wouldn't it?

There is a priest in the film, the alcoholic Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince), whose name, I guess, is product placement. Strange that there is a priest, since that opens the door to Catholicism and therefore to the news that Constantine is not doomed unless he wages a lifelong war against demons, but need merely go to confession; three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, and he's outta there. Strange, that movies about Satan always require Catholics. You never see your Presbyterians or Episcopalians hurling down demons.

I think you'll find that Father Hennessy is a conflation of three characters from the "Hellblazer" comicbooks, and the one whose name he uses actually eats himself to death originally. Product placement? Hardly. A little word play on his alcoholism? Of course.

Talk about missing the point of the story completely! Constantine can't earn his way into Heaven by fighting demons or repentance. Confession may be good for the soul but Constantine's is already doomed. He's a suicide destined for Hell when he dies. Ever get the feeling that someone didn't watch the movie or remember what he wrote a couple of paragraphs ago?

Of course, most movies about Satan require Catholics. It's the "one true church" and all that jazz. If it wasn't for Catholicism (and the aforementioned Emperor Constantine), Christianity wouldn't have such a recognisable form. Post-reformation times, there are around 500 different Christian denominations, but none of them have the iconography (and idolatory) of Catholism. If you want a Christian minister in a movie, you need to have him in black and wearing a dog collar. It's the first thing people think of. Also, on the contrary, you do see Presbyterians and Episcopalians hurling down demons just not in the movies. Seeing people quietly praying instead of screaming Latin words doesn't have the same entertainment value. Baptists have been shown to be just as effective in "The Last Exorcism", but I'll give you that one because it was only recently.

The forces of hell manifest themselves in many ways. One victim is eaten by flies. A young girl is possessed by a devil, and Constantine shouts, "I need a mirror! Now! At least three feet high!" He can capture the demon in the mirror and throw it out the window, see, although you wonder why supernatural beings would have such low-tech security holes.

Why not give away an entire scene and spoil it for everyone? To answer the question with another, why would supernatural beings not have high-tech security either? They are narcissistic, vain and evil, that's why. They think they are invincible. Pride, however, comes before a fall. It's a proverb, look it up. It's an important plot point.

Reeves has a deliberately morose energy level in the movie, as befits one who has seen hell, walks among half-demons, and is dying. He keeps on smoking. Eventually he confronts Satan (Peter Stormare), who wears a white suit. (Satan to tailor: "I want a suit just like God's.") Oh, and the plot also involves the Spear of Destiny, which is the spear that killed Christ, and which has been missing since World War II, which seems to open a window to the possibility of Nazi villains, but no.

Finally, something approaching a real critical comment!!! Yes, Keanu Reeves does have a "deliberately morose energy level in the movie". It's called acting, that's what he does and what has made him an A-list celebrity. His character is morose for a reason. So would you be if you knew you were going to Hell to be torn apart over and over again for all eternity. He's also a rude asshole with a cold demeanour but a kind heart. Constantine is a multi-layered character hidden under a two-dimensional one which Keanu Reeves excels at bringing to life. That's what should have been said.

So what if Constantine keeps on smoking? It's even mentioned by his doctor. As if closing the stable door after the horse has bolted will make any difference once you have inoperable lung cancer! If you are addicted to smoking, it isn't that easy to stop even though you know it's killing you.

All Roger Ebert got from Peter Stomare's outstanding performance as Satan was that he wore a white suit. Jesus wept! This is what famous movie critics get paid for? I might as well say, "Roger Ebert has grey hair. Now send me $20,000 for stating the obvious!" Why no mention of Gavin Rossdale's equally sinister performance as Balthazar? Wasn't there some snarky comment Roger could make about the dapper way he was dressed?

Yes, the plot involves the Spear of Destiny. It also appears in a lot of other movies which don't contain Nazi villains. Google is your friend for that one. If you want more of the same, read Trevor Ravenscoft's "The Spear of Destiny: The Occult Power Behind the Spear which pierced the side of Christ" or even James Herbert's "The Spear". Those will sort you right out.

Roger Ebert, you are an overpaid idiot! "Constantine" is a great movie with a cult following which you will never have. Your time is over, dinosaur. Go watch penguins dressed up as football players and leave the movies to people who aren't too burnt out to enjoy them.

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