Constantine (2005): A Decent Adaptation Buried Under Weird Pacing and Stilted Dialogue

Constantine

       “Constantine” is one of those strange films that doesn’t quite work. There are some great moments in it, especially when it felt like the amazing character Constantine was there (Keanu Reeves managed to pull it off when he was given good dialogue), but the weird pacing, clash of tones and overall stilted dialogue keep this film from ever reaching good. Constantine is a fascinating character who is driven by outsmarting the greater powers than himself, he’s a deal maker and cynic and I wish we could have seen more of that, as well as the personal nature of most of the stories in the “Hellblazer” series where his story is told.

     The film was directed by Francis Lawrence, written by Kevin Brodin and Frank Cappello and produced by Akiva Goldsman, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Michael Uslan, Benjamin Melniker and Lauren Shuler Donner.

     The story involves Constantine (Keanu Reeves) facing his mortality as he learns he has terminal cancer  as Detective Angela is pulled into his world after the mysterious suicide of her sister (Rachel Weisz plays both characters). As Angela discovers the magic that exists in her family forces plot against the world as Constantine and his allies must work to save it and prevent the end.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is one of the best parts of this film! There are half-demons and half-angels, and it takes place on the world stage in a world full of broken people. There are not heroes in this and that is part of what it makes it so fun.

Cinematography – The CGI is a little dated but the style of it is still amazing. I loved how Hell was done and how they presented seeing things that are hidden from us in our world. Philippe Rousselot did a great job.

Introduction to Constantine – We are introduced to Constantine as he kicks a warrior demon out of a girl. His interactions with the people and the demon is straight up Constantine. He’s standoffish, business all the way through and after takes out. Even his friends  give him space.

Hell – Hell is a twisted version of our world above and further below you have people consuming and being consumed. It was a very creative take on Hell and added terror to the demons we met.

Luficer – This Luficer is the threatening salesman and it works. He has power to how he speaks, with an heir of threatening kindness. I liked the white suit and the detail of him leaving behind black wherever he walked was great at giving him an otherworldly feel. He ends up punishing his son for breaking out and dealing with the half-angel Gabriel to try and take over and nearly takes Constantine until God protects him when he offers his life for Angela’s sister.

Chas Kramer – Shia LeBeouf was so much more likeable before “Transformers” and his later stuff. In this he’s Constantine’s driver and shows that he’s been studying up on how to fight demons too in the final fight, even though he does die he gets a lot of humanity and shows he isn’t just a fan, he wants to be respected.

Papa Midnite – This character is cold and cruel and after is chill and acts like an old friend again with Constantine. I like both versions of the character and just wish he’d been written more consistently. Djimon Hounsou does a fantastic job.

Constantine – Keanu can act when given the chance and he shows it here. We see him mad, sad, empathetic and all the emotions of a man dealing with death. His character also gets an arc too as his friends all die to Gabriel and Mammon but God protects him in the end when he finds belief and stops smoking since he got 2 chances as he kills himself twice over the course of the film (first to end the torture his parents were putting him through, second for the meeting with Luficer).

Okay: Constantine’s Arc – the arc was too easy, he is a cynical guy who knows that there are tons of higher beings out there but knows they can’t be counted on (even God drops the ball on letting his friends die and all the people who died from the fallout of Mammon and Gabriel getting their plans together) so him becoming a sudden believer made sense in the simplest of arcs but didn’t feel quite true to the character…so putting it at okay.

The Cons: Angela Dodson – Rachel Weisz is usually always the damsel and she is here too. She learns how to have psychic powers and is used by the villains almost immediately. It’s annoying and I hated that her character only seemed to exist in this role.

The Dialogue – The dialogue is stilted and sometimes characters will make comments that are meant to be jokes but it just ruins the tone of the scene and makes the pacing feel choppy.

Tone – The tone is thankfully largely dark but the moments of attempted humor don’t always work when they try go light hearted, I almost think this was meant to be a PG-13 movie but because they went for the R it just made the tone jarring.

Pacing – Thanks to tone and dialogue the pacing doesn’t flow all the time. The pacing of the opening and middle are fine but right around the end and leading up to the climax there are scenes that linger and it ruins the pacing.

    This is a film that is worth seeing once or renting and that is it. The great moments where Constantine is the cynical anti-hero of the comics make this film a lot of fun, and Keanu has more range than he is given credit…I think he suffers from having films with bad scripts or off tones, as this film does, but he is still a positive of this film. There were moments he felt like the Constantine in the comics, even though Constantine finding God and quitting smoking felt out of character, in all the “Hellblazer” comics I’ve read, nothing close to that happens. He makes deals and cons higher powers, he doesn’t give them worship. Still, I get why they did the arc, Constantine’s growth when it happens is hard write, so these writers took the easy way to write growth rather than writing something more complex, but given that they wrote the dialogue, the story is going to be brought down regardless. Rent it if you like Constantine, DC and Vertigo comics and films or like Keanu Reeves, but don’t go in expecting a good film.

Final Score: 7 / 10

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Batman & Robin (1997): Bad Puns, Writing, Acting and an all Around Disaster

Batman and Robin

    “Batman & Robin” is the worst movie I have ever watched. Rarely have I ever seen something that had no redeemable aspects to it, as even Michael Bay films have explosions and action when you can actually see the action happening. This…the actors, script, score and characters are all awful. I usually try to look for something positive to say about a film as some bad things have some redeemable traits in the end, this was film where I couldn’t find any. I’m honestly surprised this film didn’t kill more film careers…at the very least Schumacher should have realized that he can’t direct. This film is a travesty.

    The film was directed by Joel Schumacher, written by Akiva Goldsman and produced by Peter MacGregor-Scott.

    The story, if it can be called that…involves Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) working to stop Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the new villain Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) from destroying Gotham. Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) arrives in town as well when Alfred falls ill (Michael Gough).

  There is nothing good to say about this film so I won’t even bother listing Pros and Okays, this film sucks all the way through.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack doesn’t know if it wants to be Burton or Adam West’s “Batman” score. It’s chaotic and unfocused and doesn’t do anything to present our characters and scenes and just blends together in a score of awfulness. Elliot Goldenthal did a horrible job.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is awful…we get close ups of people’s faces and other times we have shots that are just bland and boring. There is no character in any of the scenes and it brings the entire thing down further.

The Writing – Akiva Goldman is an awful writer…maybe this film was just a fluke, but it is a pretty horrendous fluke. None of the characters have clear motivation, the drama is contrived ranging from love venom to contrived family drama…nothing works, it sucks.

The Characters – Related to the writing, the characters are nothing like their comic counterparts…and I would have settled for corny Adam West versions of these characters as that could have worked if that was the story we were given. Instead our characters kill and are supposed to be intense and cool, and just come off looking silly…from the designs of the suits, to the dialogue…nothing works about them.

Bane – Bane is a skinny prisoner who is pumped full of venom to become a big guy. He can just repeat words and is just muscle. There is nothing good about this character and he is easily defeated by the tube on the back of his head getting pulled out. What a waste of a fascinating character from the comics. This one is just muscle and could have been replaced by any goon.

Alfred – Alfred is dying, and I wish I cared but we never see our characters deal with him dying. He looks pained at times but Schumacher can’t give it the weight it deserves so it just becomes a footnote in the script as Alfred is relegated to just another body at Wayne Manor. Also they save him thanks to Mr. Freeze so what drama was there in dealing with mortality just goes away. Poor Michael Gough for being in this…

Barbara Wilson / Batgirl – Batgirl like Robin is presented as a rebel and badass but just comes off as stupid. The way she speaks makes her sound like an airhead and she doesn’t really help her case when random goons she is racing trick her and Robin leading to them almost getting killed. Making her Alfred’ niece was just contrived too. We learn nothing about this character and she contributes nothing to the picture.

Dick Grayson / Robin – Chris O’Donnell, you are an awful Robin. Your character was annoying in “Batman Forever” and here you are even worse. In this his punk tendencies and clashing with Batman are played up as he “loves” Poison Ivy. Seriously, this guy a joke of a character. Everything he does nearly leads to him getting killed and he just ends up getting captured or hurt. Screw this character.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – George Clooney is the worst Batman. His dialogue feels stilted and unnatural, he doesn’t feel disconnected like Bruce Wayne should and the only defining trait he has is that he is protective of Robin. His suit is also awful too as it has nipples and a cod piece. Clooney looks the part but he can’t act it at all, and he’s a great actor and this crappy script ruined him too.

Dr. Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy – Uma Thurman is a good actress but she is awful in this. Her character is a walking sex object and she has no character but a strange crush on Mr. Freeze and wanting to kill humanity. Her motivations are never fully explored and she’s all the worst aspects of what Hollywood does to their female villains. She only fights using sex and she is the only villain who gets punished in the end. Seriously, this script and this presentation of her character are awful. Poison Ivy is an interesting character (like Bane) but this script clearly didn’t know how to write her at all.

Mr. Freeze – Arnold makes bad puns, he loves his wife who is frozen but it’s unbelievable because his performance feels completely phoned in. It doesn’t help that he changes immediate at the end after learning about Poison Ivy’s betrayal…the tragedy of Mr. Freeze is one of the best stories to come out of animation and the comics but all of that is turned to crap as Mr. Feeze is just a gigantic buffoon whose plans change on a whim and is easily manipulated by clearly untrustworthy people (Poison Ivy). Also his costume looks awful and his goons fight with hockey sticks…really. Screw this movie for ruining another great character who may never see good live action film because of the film.

The Jokes – This film has so many bad puns, and they are one liners. It is just awful as there is no charm to any of it and all the puns feel forced. I am huge fan of puns as anyone who knows me can attest, but it is possible to do them wrong and this movie is a shining example.

The Ending – The power of friendship beats the baddies and Freeze implies he’s going to torture or do worse to Poison Ivy, you know a kids movie.

     How could so many things go wrong? Shumacher’s “Batman Forever” was at least mediocre, this doesn’t even strive for that. I can see why Tim Burton didn’t want to produce this crap and feel bad for everyone connected to this film. The acting, writing, filming and soundtrack are all just awful and there is nothing redeemable in this. The film even tries to kill Alfred but we care so little about the characters around him it doesn’t matter. Even with that, they just bring him back to life. This is a movie that could have done camp well, instead it didn’t know what it wanted to be and became an atrocity of a picture. This is a film that is only worth watching to take down as all the things not to do in film making are on display here. Seriously, Schumacher showed just how bad of a director he could be in this and Akiva Goldsman’s script is just a travesty. Let this film be a cautionary tale that it doesn’t matter how great your characters are in the comics (all the characters in this film) they can still be ruined on screen if their stories are put into the wrong hands.

Final Score: 0 / 10. Worst film I’ve ever watched.

Batman Forever (1995): A Bit Too Campy, A Cluttered Cast and Moments of Good

Batman Forever

   “Batman Forever” is okay. At moments it is fun and looks as if it could be more (whether fully embracing the dark or fully embracing the camp) but since it can’t really decide on what it wants to be it never becomes better than okay and never reaches good. One thing this film showed as well is doing Robin in a Batman Film is hard. Batman has always been the more interesting character and it is a difficult thing to write a good sidekick, especially when you only have a running time of 2 hours. So without further ado, here is the review.

     The film was directed by Joel Shumacher and written by Lee and Janet Scott Bachler along with Akiva Goldsman and was produced by Tim Burton and Peter MacGregor-Scott.

     The story involves the escape of Two-Face (Tommy Lee-Jones) from Arkham, the rise of the Riddler (Jim Carrey) and what Batman (Val Kilmer) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) who is made an orphan by Two-Face do to stop them.

The Pros: The Color Contrasts – I like the use of color in this film. At times it feels like it was filmed in a comic book even though the cinematography isn’t great. The use of color worked despite the cinematography.

Two-Faces’s Goons – Black and Red masks…these guys look awesome and actually manage to be a threat sometimes, not many Rogues Goons can say that in any Batman film.

Alfred – Michael Gough owns this role and is great being the father figure to DIck Grayson and Bruce Wayne. I can see why they kept him around for so long. He really inhabits this role really well.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Val Kilmer is a pro, and was a safe choice for Batman. He was a major action star at the time so choosing him to feel this role made sense. He bring humanity to the character even if doesn’t really elevate Bruce Wayne or Batman to great the way future and past actors did.

The Message – Batman heals beyond his trauma and chooses to be Batman because he wants to be, not because he has to be. This is really awesome and could have been presented a lot better.

Okay: Dr. Chase – I like the idea of the character (her being a Doctor and trying to help Bruce Wayne) but her execution ends up being nothing more than a love interest to be saved, even though she’s presented as being able to take care of herself. Nicole Kidman was a waste of talent.

Edward Nygma / The Riddler – Jim Carrey works at times when he isn’t over the top, but other times he is just too campy…and I didn’t get the character. He came off as trying to hard but he had moments of brilliance inbetween the ham, which is why I’m not putting him down as a con. He was alright but not good.

Harvey Dent / Two-Face – We never get to know what lead to Two-Face snapping beyond the acid on the face and I never believed in his friendship with Bruce Wayne (they seem to imply it existed but we never see Harvey recognize Bruce at all). This was a missed opportunity and could have made this character good. Instead he is okay. He like the Riddler could have been so much more, just like this film.

Cinematography – The color contrasts are great but their are no unique shots in this. Nothing stood out and nothing really unique was presented. It was safe, so just ended up being mediocre.

The Cons: Dick Grayson / Robin – This Robin is a punk and there is nothing likable about him. He steals from the person who took him and doesn’t respect the wishes of the person who is caring for him and steals his stuff. This was the first film where Robin didn’t work. At least in the Adam West show he worked as the Wonder Boy on some strange level.

The Riddler Plot – Stealing everyone’s intelligence through television…it feels like it is trying to be smart but just comes off as stupid.

To Kill – Batman seems to not want Robin to get revenge against Two-Face but ends up killing him anyway…sure Batman, what were you trying to teach Robin exactly? That you get the kill?

The Soundtrack – Elliot Goldenthal is awful. This film feels half assed and stolen from the old Adam West show while at the same time trying to be Burton and failing at both. Seriously, I don’t want to hear anymore of this music.

The Writing – This script has some of the most terrible and wooden dialogue in any comic book film. Fingers on a chalkboard would be an apt comparison.

Tone – This is a film that doesn’t know if it wasn’t to be  camp and fun or dark…at times we have old 60’s sound affects, which the score doesn’t help, yet we have Two-Face or Riddler murdering someone in the next scene. What exactly did the movie want the audience to feel?

   This film didn’t have many pros because so much of it was safe. I think this was largely a reaction to the sexuality and maturity in the past Burton films so the studio wanted to play it safe, which is probably why Shumacher was chosen, as he’s never been a good director. This also explains the need for 3 writers as it gives a written by committee feel to the film. This is a film that can’t find it’s soul or tone and suffers for it. It isn’t a terrible film, but mediocre is not exactly an endorsement. This is a film that could have been so much more given how great of villains Two-Face and the Riddler are and the possibilities in any Dick Grayon story.

Final Score: 7.2 / 10