REVIEW: CONSTANTINE (2005)

CAST

Keanu Reeves (Speed)
Rachel Weisz (The Mummy)
Shia LaBeouf (Transformers)
Tilda Swinton (The Chronciles of Narnia)
Djimon Hounsou (Stargate)
Max Baxer (The Island)
Pruitt Taylor Vince (Heroes Reborn)
Gavin Rossdale (The Blign Ring)
Peter Stormare (American Gods)
Larry Cedar (Deadwood)
April Grace (Lost)
Jhoanna Trias (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)
Valerie Azlynn (Julia X)
Kevin Alejandro (Arrow)
Michelle Monaghan (Mission Impossible 3)
Laz Alonso (Avatar)

Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz in Constantine (2005)Ever since he was young, John Constantine could see things – things that humans aren’t supposed to see. After a childhood spent in and out of mental hospitals, John finally discovered the truth behind his gift. After attempting suicide, the young man traveled to Hell, where he learned that demons are indeed real. So are angels. As he’s aged, John has become more and more aware of these “half-breeds” – part human, part spirit – that roam the planet, influencing the living. They are never really a threat to individuals, since the powers in both Heaven and Hell have an agreement. No real emissaries of good or evil can visit the plane of reality. It’s a truce between the sides called The Balance. And John tries to maintain said symmetry.Keanu Reeves in Constantine (2005)When the twin sister of police detective Angela Dodson kills herself, it somehow leads to John. It seems that the angel Gabriel and Satan’s emissary Balthazar both have a connection to the case, and the reasons are horrifying. It appears Satan’s son is trying to find passage into this plane, and it’s up to John to stop his progress. But with minions manipulating the forces toward a final showdown, all John can do is try and put the pieces together. It may not be enough to prevent the bringing of Hell on Earth, which is what Satan’s son would do if Constantine doesn’t stop him.Keanu Reeves in Constantine (2005)With all it has going for it, Constantine should be better. It has a powerful graphic novel lineage (DC Comics/Vertigo’s Hellblazer titles are no slouches, after all), a leading man with a track record in genre fare (even if the Matrix movies were more Wachowski than Reeves) and the aforementioned supernatural sensation of The Bible to tip the scales. But somewhere along the line the movie loses its way, failing to maximize the potential in its premise. What we end up with is a big budget spectacle that cries out to be epic, yet only ends up being enjoyable. Maintaining entertainment value is not necessarily a bad thing – there are dozens of clunky would-be blockbusters out there that would give their eye candy teeth to be half as engaging as this film.Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz in Constantine (2005)A lot of the problem with the film comes in pacing. First time director Francis Lawrence  mistakes slowness for seriousness, trying to add gravitas to his narrative by drawing things out. Sometimes, it works, but more often than not, the languid plot velocity grows tiresome.Keanu Reeves and Djimon Hounsou in Constantine (2005)Surprisingly, Lawrence takes the opposite approach with his set pieces. Each of our leads (Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz) takes a trip to Hell, and each time, we more or less race through the region. Stunning shots of distant fiery landscapes barely get time to register on our retinas before Lawrence and his CGI minions make with another supped-up sequence. The notion of giving the Underworld a post-nuclear fall-out feel is indeed unique, and it is one of Constantine’s many marvelous attributes.

REVIEW: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008)

CAST

Keanu Reeves (Speed)
Jennifer Connelly (Hulk)
Kathy Bates (Misery)
Jaden Smith (The Karate Kid)
John Cleese (Rat Race)
Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
Robert Knepper (Heroes)
James Hong (Blade Runner)
Sunita Prasad (Hardwired)
J.C. MacKenzie (Dark Angel)
Lorena Gale (Smallville)
Patrick Sabongui (The Flash)
Roger Cross (First Wave)
Hiro Kanagawa (Heroes Reborn)
David Richmond-Peck (V)
Ty Olsson (Izombie)
Kyle Chandler (Argo)
Rukiya Bernard (Van Helsing)
Alisen Down (Smallville)
David Lewis (Man of Steel)
Bill Mondy (Blade: The Series)
Brandon T. Jackson (Tropic Thunder)
Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica)
Ben Cotton (Stargate: Atlantis)

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The movie’s first act shows the most potential. Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is swept away from her with a police escort, by flustered agents who inform her that even they don’t know why she’s being picked up. She’s rushed into a room crowded with other scientists and engineers and told that not only is something from outer space going to impact Earth in the middle of Manhattan, but it’s going to happen in less than 80 minutes. I always question the way government officials act in movies, but there’s a palpable sense of tension and paranoia, and even a few good character touches (. A better movie would have played out closer to real time; the concept that Earth might be destroyed with such little forewarning is a really great idea (although there’s a shade too much 9/11 imagery here). Sadly, it barely makes up the first twenty minutes. At the end of it, a giant swirling orb touches down in the middle of Central Park, and an alien creature steps out, only to be shot by an overzealous soldier.The creature is taken to a hospital, where its’ strange, placenta-like shell melts away to reveal what appears to be a human being. Instead it turns out to be Keanu Reeves, playing an alien creature named Klaatu who somberly informs the President’s first-hand aide (Kathy Bates) that he’d like to address the United Nations. Bates’ character is problematic. She plays it as reasonably as she can, but as written, she’s yet another trigger-happy, kill-all-the-aliens caricature straight out of endless alien invasion movies that prevents logical characters from doing logical things. She refuses his request, and they tell Helen to drug him so they can interrogate him. She fakes it instead, injecting him with saline instead of sedative, and Klaatu makes his escape.During the escape sequence, Scott Derrickson’s direction goes into hyperdrive, using flashy editing and CGI to amp up the excitement, but it feels forced and unnatural. It happens several times, all in isolated bursts (Robert Knepper’s thankless and stereotypical military commander is the worst offender, popping up occasionally to yell in a Texas accent). Only part of the spectacle, like the swarms of tiny bugs that eat up everything in their path (as seen in the misleading trailer), feel integrated with the story. The effects themselves are hit-and-miss. The giant orbs, shown on the movie poster, are stunning to look at, and those swarms of bugs are eye-poppingly cool, but most of the effects that integrate real actors look weak.I’ve always thought of Keanu Reeves as a more physical actor than an emotional one , and it’s almost endearing the way he doesn’t seem to “get” the joke in regards to his flat acting style, which the producers of Day 2008 have ably exploited in having him play an emotionless alien. I liked him in the movie, but those who already dislike him as an actor aren’t going to have their minds changed. Jennifer Connelly does a fairly good job during the first half of the film, but as the bits of characterization from the first act peter out, it’s like she’s acting into a vaccuum; she puts plenty of emotion out but none of it registers. Will Smith’s son Jaden plays her step-son, and his primary mode is “whiny”.The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)Klaatu’s goal in Day 2009 is to save the Earth, which is bad news for its inhabitants. “If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives,” he tells Helen. Yet the film doesn’t want to be a “message” movie, so no obvious examples are shown lest the audience get upset. I felt The Day the Earth Stood Still was better than expected but the commercial aspect of its existence overpowers its low-key successes. Derrickson’s version misses ample opportunities to explore the nature of meeting a creature from another planet, and the times it does breach the topic it doesn’t have anything to say.Keanu Reeves in The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)The 1951 original is a social landmark, and even won a Golden Globe for promoting International Understanding. The new version is entertaining, but the fact that it can’t emotionally connect to its audience, much less connect other people, is going to leave many fans rightfully disappointed.