Saturday, February 26, 2005

From Hell: A Review of CONSTANTINE

For a film about the mighty eternal forces of good and evil doing battle on Earth’s (or contemporary LA’s) soil, Francis Lawrence’s CONSTANTINE never really makes you feel as much is at stake. Perhaps it’s my fault. While I consider myself an intelligent enough person, I will admit to feeling perplexed in contemplating the fuzzy storylines that coarse through the film’s 121 minutes. Maybe in having not read “Hellblazer,” the comic novel on which the film is based, I missed out on cues and points that only faithful readers were privy to; I was merely an outsider given a glance into hardcore fanboy-dem. But if so, isn’t it the filmmaker’s responsibility to bring me, the graphic novel zero, into the club?

What I can flesh out is that John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is an exorcist/ detective who has been cursed with supernatural powers since childhood. At one point, in his teenaged years, it led him to an attempted suicide and a rare return ticket from hell. In an effort to get back in heaven’s good graces – time is running short, he’s terminally stricken with lung cancer – Constantine methodically helps the possessed free their inner demons in an effort to quell his own. A cynical detective, Angela (Rachel Weisz), seeks out Constantine’s services when her twin sister, Isabel (Weisz), commits suicide amidst odd circumstances. Together, the two get caught up in a much larger battle that involves, among other things, the Sword of Destiny (damn Nazis!), the migrant worker who stumbles and wields said sword, questionable angels, alcoholic priests, a bowling alley pin monkey, the son of Satan, Satan himself (Peter Storemare, in an odd turn), and a rock star playing Balthazar (Bush’s Gavin Rossdale), a conduit of hell on Earth. That’s quite a buffet considering the film could be viewed as the most expensive anti-smoking ad ever produced. Truth!

Besides its hazy plot, CONSTANTINE rests its (un)success on a couple of things. One is Reeves feeding his inner-Steve Decker, to play a weary, chain-smoking, noir-ish, beaten-down detective. It’s a role that the actor is a bit too pretty and young looking (he is 40, though!) to pull off. Secondly, Lawrence, a music video veteran (aren’t they all these days?) making his feature film debut, has an eye for some interesting visuals and shots; immediately, the breath-taking shot of Isabel’s initial suicide comes to mind. However, the CGI demons and hellscapes feel too forcibly scary to truly terrorize. In this current pop-culture landscape, something organic or less-is-more, tends to raise the hairs on my back; not yet another ogre-ishly ugly demon. Lastly, the film hinges on the fact that both heaven and hell cast minions (“half-lings”) into our “middle” stage that can influence us mere mortals by only “whispering” sweet goods and evils in our ears; not to mention reliance upon general hokey religious symbolism (look at the character’s names above) and dogma. Please. If that’s what it takes to maintain cosmic and religious balance, I’m moving to Canada.

So in the final analysis, I’m not so sure anymore that it’s my fault for not “getting” or particularly “liking” CONSTANTINE. Heck, I never read any of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (don’t shoot me!) but enjoyed the hell (no pun intended) out of the films. What I am sure of it is that like the film’s protagonist, CONSTANTINE dips into Hades, aspires to join the heavens, but ultimately will lie, forever forgotten, in cinematic Purgatory.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Your Movie Dude's Diary: A Review of DIARY OF A MAD, BLACK WOMAN

February 25th, 2005

Dear Diary,

Wow! Been awhile since I last wrote, things have been real busy. Remember my neighbor, Mrs. Neugeborn from 4H, and her little Yorkshire Terrier, Buttercup, who would leave me little smelly “treats” outside my door? Well, consider that bitch’s wagon fixed. I slipped a Grade 9 cyanide pill into one of her doggie treats. That Grade 9 stuff does more than just kill. It'll give you the explosive and violent runs just before it finishes you. Buttercup's last “treat” is sure to be her best!

Let’s see what else. Oh! I went to go see Darren Grant’s DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN today. While that guy Grant directed the film, it actually belongs more to Tyler Perry, who wrote the play that the movie is based on. He also wrote the screenplay, produced the film, scored some of the music and starred in it, too – in three roles! The story revolves around Helen (Kimberly Elise), a beautiful African-American woman (Duh…look at the title!) who gets quite a shocking 18th wedding anniversary gift from her uber-successful lawyer husband, Charles (Steve Harris): dumped for a hot Latino bird and literally kicked out of her house without a penny! Having no work experience (why do so many women seem to be not employed in movies today? What is this, 1955? Get a job!), prospects or people to turn to, she goes back to her old ‘hood in Atlanta and seeks refuge at her grandmother, Madea’s house. Guess who plays Madea? Tyler Perry! Yup, taking a page from Eddie Murphy’s NUTTY PROFESSOR diary, Perry dresses up as an old, gun-toting, tell-it-like-it-is matriarchal maelstrom. Madea lives with her even crazier brother, Joe. Guess who plays Joe? Did you say Perry? You’re so smart! Especially for a diary. Anyways, Helen ends up meeting a cutie boy-toy, Orlando, who lacks her ex-husband’s money, but yet is much bigger where it counts…in his heart! When a sub-plot twist enables Helen to have revenge on her ex, it forces him to come to depend on her. He then reforms and grows to appreciate her. By then, she must choose between her converted husband and Orlando, the man with the big heart.

That “choice” is a defining element of this DIARY, dear diary. Reading Molly Haskell’s definitive film criticism book, “From Rape To Reverence: The Treatment of Women in Film,” the “choice” film is a sub-category she uses for the so-called “women’s film” genre, of which DIARY would be a contemporary member. It is by no means a comedy, despite Perry’s Murphy-like effort; which are the best parts of the film. They are also part of the problem for a film that is otherwise highly soap-operatic and problematically melodramatic. Specifically, Orlando was so sweet to the point of being saccharine. Heck, he even plays the “cuddle-instead-of-making-love” card. Yuck! He’s too-good to be too-good-to-be-true. Plus, the film has a highly religious influence, complete with many “what would Jesus do?” type questions. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it is presented in such a manner that it did not connect with this pop-culture fed blue-state baby. Sigh.

At least, like Helen, I have my own revenge to look forward too. Maybe Buttercup is feeling the effects right now. I’m gonna go have a quick listen to see if I hear any explosions behind her door. If not, I think I’ll relax in a goat’s blood bath and drift away by reciting “I’m the prettiest of them all” over and over.

Until next time, thanks for listening, diary, about DIARY; and let’s keep the dog-poisoning and goat’s blood thing to ourselves, shall we?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

You Can Exhale Now: Your Movie Dude's Official Oscar Predictions

Pssst. You. You in an Oscar pool? Yeah? You wanna win? Good, good. Come closer. Now, read below.

Editor's note:
These are Your Movie Dude's predictions, not who he wanted to win. If it was up to him Paul Giamatti would win Best Actor and Finding Neverland wouldn't sniff an award except Best Gilded Crap. This is an especially tough year, as their is no clear-cut runaway TITANIC, RETURN OF THE KING, or DANCES WITH WOLVES. The cumulative domestic box office of the best pic noms is the lowest in forever. Which means you need me even more! The predictions are based on the psychic statuette bio-rythyms that only Your Movie Dude is tuned into. Comments are available if necessary, look out for overusage of "momentum," "consolation," and "buzz."

Personally, I'm a huge fan of SIDEWAYS (What pathetic critic isn't?). But Clint's pic has more momentum.

Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, RAY
This isn't brain surgery, the man's on a roll. I would have voted for Paul Giamatti or Don Cheadle.

Best Actress: Hilary Swank, MILLION DOLLAR BABY
This is toughie (my gut was nagging at me to pick Imelda Staughton in VERA DRAKE). Every year there is an upset in one of the actress categories, but it's usually in the Supporting category (see below).

Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman, MILLION DOLLAR BABY
My personal vote would have been for Thomas Haden Church. But BABY is far out-distancing it's competition in key categories: late season awards, buzz momentum and Oscar-nominated box-office resurgence.

Best Supporting Actress: Natalie Portman, CLOSER
This category is a perennial wild card. Anything is possible. I have a gut feeling for the pick and any gut filled with booze, various cheeses and fried foods is never wrong.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, THE AVIATOR
There are a few Oscar rules to note: 1. Best Picture often translates to Best Director; 2. Oscar likes actor/directors (both of which point to Clint). However, as mentioned above, this is not like any other year. Although by far not his best film, I think Marty wins doubly based on consolation for past wrongs and as second place for this year's Best Picture.

Best Screenplay (Original): ETERNAL SUNSHINE (Charlie Kaufman)
If there is a tenant in heaven, ETERNAL gets the nod. Screenplay is usually the one place where a small film will get noticed and ETERNAL was one of favorites of the year; the rare occasion where my gut and my heart lie together. Awww!

Best Screenplay (Adapted): SIDEWAYS (Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor)
See above re: small films. This is where SIDEWAYS collects it's consolation prize. Congrats to BEFORE SUNSET on the nod.

The rest (aka "The Guess Landmine"):

Art Direction: THE AVIATOR
Visual Effects: SPIDER-MAN 2
Original Song: "Believe" THE POLAR EXPRESS
Animated Feature: THE INCREDIBLES
Animated Short: BIRTHDAY BOY
Live Action Short: TWO CARS, ONE NIGHT
Costume Design: THE AVIATOR
Cinematography: THE AVIATOR
Best Documentary: BORN INTO BROTHELS
Best Documentary, Short Feature: SISTER ROSE'S PASSION
Foriegn Language Film: THE SEA INSIDE
Sound Editing: SPIDER-MAN 2

In sum, I think THE AVIATOR will carry a ton of the "technical" awards usually awarded to the biggest epic. The rest are educated guesses (industry jargon for "bullsh*t coin-flipping"). Good luck!!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

"Lost" and "The Office:" Perfect Together?

If you watched the February 9th episode of the TV series "Lost," and had your razor sharp pop-culture ears tuned in, you may have caught a quick reference to the hit BBC show, "The Office." In his flashback, Charlie, the lovable - but drug addled - bassist from the fictional rock band Driveshaft (You are everybody!), gets taken home by a pretty 22 year-old English girl, Lucy. When Charlie asks her where her rich father is, she says he's off buying some 'paper company in Slough'; Wernham Hogg, the infamous setting for "The Office," is a paper company in Slough. Coincidence? I think not. A brief marriage of two of the best series from the past few years to grace a television screen? You betcha! Keep those ears open.

Hitch: A Movie Review

If we’ve learned anything of the “Queer-Eye”-ified world of reality television, it’s that the common man is dirty, poorly dressed and couldn’t make a peanut-butter sandwich if you spotted him the bread. Taking a swift glance around my own dank dwelling, well, perhaps they’re right. How can one secure true love if one’s unmentionables are dangling precipitously from one’s lamp? In the pre-metrosexual era, that answer may have been “pay for it.” But, as luck would have it, our current makeover-obsessed culture has thankfully readied our acceptance – in cinematic form, of course – of the urban date doctor, HITCH, to cure the love ills of the quiet, good-hearted, late-blooming, slightly unkempt, modern male.

It is important to note for the purposes of the film, that Alex Hitchens (Will Smith) will only help a guy if he is truly, madly and deeply in love with a women; boorishly wanting to “bang” a member of the opposite sex does not qualify you for his services. Due to his rather funny past as a wallflower and victim of cruel heartbreak, Hitch fully arms his clients – teaching them to dance, getting their backs waxed - with the confidence to engage in a dying art: romancing the girl of their dreams. Hitch’s latest project is projected as his most difficult: an overweight, asthma-stricken nebbish, Albert Brennaman (Kevin James), a junior accountant who has fallen head-over-heals for one of his clients, Allegra Cole (Amber Valleta), a beautiful celebrity socialite. While helping out Albert, Hitch meets and falls for a hard-working gossip columnist Sara Melas (Eva Mendes) whose initial resistance and verbal return-serve capabilities pierce his veneer of suave intelligence and eternal bachelorhood. That Sara trails Allegra’s evening escapades for good copy is no coincidence; indeed it is the collision of these two conflicts that ably fill-out the rest of the movie’s narrative.

Director Andy Tennant (SWEET HOME ALABAMA, ANNA AND THE KING) does a yeoman’s job in keeping the proceedings light and fun, easing, at times, his characters and their dialogue into a playfully quick rat-tat-tat. Mr. Smith is quite charming without being too cutesy in the title role and Mr. James easily sheds his “King Of Queens” skin – almost outshining his co-star - for a very funny, physically intense comedic turn. The two actors find an excellent on-screen chemistry that works well. First time screenwriter Kevin Bisch’s script features some really witty repartee and steers its story away from the murky, maudlin depths of melodrama or sentimentality.

Besides the considerable debt the movie owes to the very now “new you!” pop-culture landscape, HITCH, is truly a movie of its own time. I’m pretty sure that ‘“Google-ing” someone’s name’ – among other contemporary references – will sound downright archaic and laughable to anyone who watches the film on HD-DVD-On-Demand in 2025. The movie hinges upon the majority of its audience projecting onto – rather than identifying with – its attractive thirty-something main characters: their lavish New York apartments, restaurants and tastes are highly sophisticated, urbane and affluent. HITCH is also a film whose foundation is built on several accepted stereotypes, both cinematic and more broadly social. It doesn’t take a genius to hypothesize – from the film or my description above – the religious background of the Albert Brennaman character. It’s also trite, at this point, to show that white men can’t dance and, to a lesser extant, aren’t generally as hip as their African-American brethren. Lastly, it’s a by-now embedded cinematic double standard that a career-driven woman – in this case the Sara Melas character – cannot possibly have time for love, while all of Michael Douglas’s high-powered executive characters have more than enough time for both. Indeed, it is her aggressive careerism that is partially responsible for the break in her relationship with Hitch. And yes, I know, this is just a movie.

Romantic comedies, more so than other genres, are by definition predictable: boy meets girl; boy falls for girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl back; they live happily ever after, the end. Of the specimen’s better examples, of which HITCH is one, the best compliment you could pay it is that you’ll enjoy the breezy ride: it is a rare date movie that women will love and the men who take them won’t hate. While I am certainly no date doctor, I feel more than self-assured in prescribing it as is the perfect Valentine’s Day cure.

*** out of *****

official website/imdb

Monday, February 07, 2005

Movie References In Commercials: Keep Those Ears Open

I saw a Mastercard commercial tonight that features a young man awkardly calling a girl he had just met and leaving a message on her answering machine...only to call a few more times when he gets cut off by said answering machine. Sound familiar? If it does, than you'll know what I mean when I say that you and me and the bottle makes three tonight. If it doesn't, then you probably weren't between the ages of 16 and 30 when Doug Liman's Swingers injected itself into the pop-culture pantheon ten years ago. For further proof, the young man in the commercial's name is Mike and the girl he's calling is named Nikki; the same names of characters involved in the same situation in the film.

If you see this or any other similar homage, throw a shout out; they are out there.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Hide And Seek: A Movie Review

Do you like games? I like games, and I know one, too. It’s called HIDE AND SEEK. You know it? Good.

Ready? Go….

Ten Mississippi: HIDE AND SEEK stars Robert DeNiro as David Callaway, a widowed, passing-middle-aged psychologist whose passing-middle-aged wife Allison (Amy Irving) kills herself in a bathtub at 2:06am, five minutes into the movie.

Nine Mississippi: Dakota Fanning stars as Emily Callaway, David’s young daughter who understandably goes catatonic at the sight of her mother floating in a bath of her own blood. I’m not sure, though, if it explains why she dresses and acts like the world’s youngest Goth teenager for the rest of the movie.

Eight Mississippi: To start fresh, David takes Emily away from the horrors of the big city and into tree-lined quiet backwoods town of Woodlawn, NY (pop. 2206…number connection?!?!). Did I mention that Emily’s parents were passing middle-age while she was still pretty young? Just checking.

Seven Mississippi: In the country, funky things begin to happen to the Callaway clan. Emily mopes and grows detached (freaky kid-drawing alert!). David ineffectively tries to help. Emily responds by making play-dates with her new imaginary - but equally murderous – friend, Charlie.

Six Mississippi: Dolls heads mysteriously get disfigured. Emily says its Charlie’s fault. Disturbingly personal messages appear in the bathroom scrawled in red crayon in child’s handwriting. Charlie’s fault. The family cat bites it. Guess whose fault it is? Yup, Charlie’s. David is distraught.

Five Mississippi: Elisabeth Shue plays, well, um, Elisabeth, the local, cute, divorced thirty-something townie who has a thing for David. A passed-middle-aged guy whose wife offed herself and has a daughter that looks like she stepped out of a bad Marilyn Manson video? What, was my number not listed?

Four Mississippi: The Callahans’ country neighbors are a bit odd; the town sheriff is spooky; heck, even the real estate agent who sold David the house is shady and all the while, Katherine (Famke Jannsen), Emily’s confidant and doctor and David’s protégé, senses that something might be amiss. Tension builds, albeit slowly.

Three Mississippi: The twist almost-ending. A very interesting twist which I, for one, did not see coming. I use “almost-ending” because there are still about twenty minutes of movie that follow it. A good twist ending should deliver a knockout blow that sends you reeling out of the theater. In this case, the big reveal renders the final act inevitable and lifeless.

Two Mississippi: Removing, for a sec, my tongue from digging aggressively into my cheek, I’d like to say that HIDE AND SEEK is a decent thriller/horror outing. Cliché-filled horror is not all bad if it serves to create some building suspense, a few chills and a good twist almost-ending, all of which appear here. Plus, Ms. Fanning’s acting chops are more than a match for Method-maestro DeNiro; in most scenes she is given more room and emotion to chew on. It is, however, also the kind of movie that the more you may think about afterwards (say, for example, if you are writing a review about it), the less logical sense it makes.

One Mississippi: If you dig this genre, but are having a hard time clawing through the haze of horror schlock that seems to get released this time of year, then look-up the times that HIDE AND SEEK is playing at your local megaplex and-

Come out; come out; wherever you are!

official website/imdb