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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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014): Selling the Revolution

Mockingjay Part 1

 “The Hunger Games” movie series is in many ways superior to the books. We see aspects of characters we never saw before like President Snow or Plutarch and visually get to see much more of Panam. In the lead up to Part 2 of “Mockingjay” I’ll cover the films and explain why to me they lend much more to the books even though we don’t see as much into Katniss’s mind. They add more in the best way possible, even if the final product isn’t always great (“Catching Fire”).

      I enjoyed a lot of things about this film but thing that splitting it into 2 parts was not needed. When Nolan can put out a 3 hour movie a book that isn’t all that long should be able to be completed in at least that time (“Hobbit” at most should have been two films). I’ll get into the details of what I think in the assessment though in regards to “Mockingjay Part 1.”

    The film was directed by Francis Lawrence, produced by Nina Jacobson and John Kilik and written by Danny Strong and Peter Craig. The film is of course based off of the book of the same name by Suzanne Collins.

     The film picks up where the story left off after “Catching Fire,” with Katniss in District 13 dealing with the loss of Peeta and being given the choice to become the symbol of the revolution against the Capital or to give up. When it’s revealed that Peeta is being used as the Capital’s mouthpiece her situation becomes more dire as District 13 sees her as a traitor and she realizes that 13 must act if the revolution is going to have any chance of success. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The soundtrack – The music in this one is amazing! From Katniss’s hang man song and the lived in feel of the soundtrack that rises to heights during the pivotal battles and goes quite when the scenes demand it.  James Newton Howard did a great job.

Plutarch – RIP Phillip Seymour Hoffman. For one of his last performances he truly owns this character and role. In the last film we didn’t know him or his motivations but in this we see how driven his character is at painting a narrative to defeat the Capital. We see it in him putting Katniss out in the field to get the moments of passion needed and in how he is able to get President Coin to compromise and work with Katniss. In this we see just how well he sees the big picture and he’s around to give Katniss the wake up calls she needs to get out of herself throughout the film. I don’t remember him being as present in the books, but getting his perspective gave so much to this film.

Cressida – Natalie Dormer is fantastic in this role! Her character is one who fled from the Capital in order to join the rebellion because of how Katniss’s actions during both Hunger Games inspired  her to leave her life behind. She is great as we see how passionate and driven she is and in how she tries to keep Katniss focused and keep Plutarch’s narrative going as we see her interviewing Finnick at the end as he tells the story of how he and other victors were used as playthings in the Capital and the secret of poison that Snow used to get rid of rivals and keep power.

President Coin – Julianne Moore is great as this very complex character. We see some of her ruthlessness in the rules that District 13 has but we also see her kindness as she reaches out to Katniss on multiple occasions. In the books she was just a force of nature who Katniss didn’t trust…Moore makes her an actual character who functions as more than just as an antagonist. I liked this, it was an improvement from the book.

Effie – Effie has some great moments as she grows beyond her privilege and grows to value the human connections she has. She still knows she’s awesome which gives some great scenes with characters and she is still professional and all about her job which I think helped her character adapt. Elizabeth Banks did great.

Finnick – This character was one of the few things I liked about the book and the film as he always struck me as complicated and his ego was all show. We see more that in this as his vulnerability really comes through and you see just how much the Capital hurt him using him for favors. His story is tragedy, though he does get his love again at the end of film. Sam Claflin owns this role.

President Snow – Snow is evil and he knows and is willing to go to any lengths to keep power. That comes through in this though we could have seen more of other District fights and the cruelty that Finnick speaks about. The human we saw in the last film is still there but he has fully embraced the role of antagonist in this film and he is a good antagonist as we see his plans be successful on quite a few occasions. Donald Sutherland continues to rock this role.

Katniss – Jennifer Lawrence got famous from this role for a reason…she knows this character and it shows. In this we see her strength, vulnerability and conflict as she faces the hard choices that come with rebelling and being the symbol of a rebellion. Curious to see if they’ll change anything in the books in Part 2 as we actually didn’t get as much character growth from Katniss as we could have because of how the scenes were stretched.

Okay: Peeta – Josh Hutcherson did alright but he does not have the charisma he needed to carry his role as the Capital’s mouthpiece. His best moment is the moment where he’s vulnerable and when he’s crazy at the end. Beyond that I wouldn’t really call his performance good. For what it’s worth it wasn’t bad either though.

Okay/con: The Ending – The Ending is much better than the cliffhanger that was “Catching Fire” but still feels unfinished. This is my biggest issue with breaking movies up as it leaves things empty or forces stretching of scenes which was also another problem with this film. The ending is powerful but the speech feels hollow in that we don’t know how many other Districts have come over because of Katniss’s actions. We only really see 8 so it is still small and in the rising action phase even though it ended with President Coin giving a great speech and Katniss left facing a broken Peeta. The ending of Part 2 may redeem it and make it a pro, but taking it as it is…it is unfinished.

The Cons: Slow Start – The beginning is really slow. We are given some good action of flashbacks with Peeta and Katniss facing her trauma…but it doesn’t go anywhere. It takes others to force her into action rather than herself.

Not Enough of the War – I wish that we could have seen more of the war beyond the rescue of the tributes and a few fight sequences. There is war going on all over, show us more of this suffering world.

    This was a really good film and I would highly recommend it. It might be the best in the series but I’ll know that for sure depending on how Part 2 goes and after rewatching and reviewing the first two films. The actors got this even if the script doesn’t always and the world is still so rich even if we don’t get enough time in it. I am looking forward to seeing how it ends, even if I wish it had just been one film. If you like the books, chances are you will like this film and it is worth taking a look at.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10.