DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Constantine, The Sea Inside , The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Time to Leave


Title:  Constantine

Release Date:  2005

Nationality and Language: USA/English

Running time: 121 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company:  Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow

Director; Writer: Francis Lawrence  (written Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Story Kevin Brodbin, based on DC/Hellblazer comics


Cast:   Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia La Beouf , Djimon Hounsou

Technical: Panavision 2.3

Relevance to doaskdotell site:  angels?



I was intrigued by the idea of a movie about people interacting with angels (both good and bad). Now here the story is really somewhat manipulative and superficial. John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), chain-smoking (and that is depressing, seen in an attractive man) his way to “another” death, this time from lung cancer, seeks to exorcise the demons living just below the surface (or maybe in a parallel universe mathematically adjacent to) modern day Los Angeles. Officially, he is a private-eye (and no Magnum P.I.), unofficially he is an exorciser and demon-hunter. He meets a police officer (played by Rachel Weisz) who has lost a twin sister (also played by her) to suicide—supposedly from jumping from the roof of a mental institution (shown). The movie drifts into moral philosophy—committing suicide does condemn you to hell, of course (I remember a discussion like that with a woman in the workplace at a Texas company back in the 1980s). Actually, there is a good reason that it should. After all, your own pride demands you to be what you want, not what God wants you to be, and what you would be if you had Faith, so refusing to follow God’s will is a denial of Faith, of Belief, and therefore a denial of Grace—Jesus’s gift of salvation for your sins. So you keep the responsibility for your sins and are condemned. Simple??


Now angels are supposedly forbidden to interact with people on this plane—or are they? That point was confusing. It seems like some angels go half way. Constantine has been there before, it seems, and he knows that he is really on disciplinary probation (you know, progressive discipline—counseling, verbal warning, written warning, termination). Now Constantine sometimes looks like he should be on probation. Reeves is a handsome, agile, charismatic man—he was such in The Matrix movies—but he looks a bit weathered here, with the furrows and crow’s marks in his face; when he walks barefoot in the electric chair scene, it appears that his legs are balding (that’s the penalty for heavy cigarette smoking). This is a not a good time for A Walk in the Clouds.


So the half-angels are back to fight the Battle in Revelations, perhaps.  That has been done before—and some of it is rehashed here, with the look of a mix of The End of Days and What Dreams May Come. They build masks with half-faces that could come from various horror films, or even result from Ebola virus. And, right below The Erasure (that’s what Clive Barker would call it), a replica of downtown LA burns like a Christmas fire. There is at least one good guy, Charlie Chandler, played by a boyish, larval Shia La Beouf (Holes and I, Robot, and The Battle of Shaker Heights). He seemingly does not survive the mayhem at the end, unless you sit through all of the credits.


Now, I am intrigued (for the purposes of my own fiction novel writing) by the idea that a person could be recruited to give birth to an angel, or even become an angel. Perhaps a virus (particularly a retrovirus) could transmit all the necessary traits or “information.” Maybe the virus would have to pass through various people and only convert those properly chosen into angels, who could go on forever, could take on the memories of all their past incarnations (like the original 144,000), and visit other planets, whatever is out there (especially Titan, where they could be “trained”). Perhaps it would be a sexist world and only men would be angels. If you can’t have children, then you are either gay or a priest (or both). Of course, this would all make sense only for The End of Days.


Maybe I shouldn’t give away my trade secrets.


The Sea Inside (“Mar adentro”) (2004, Fine Line features/Studio Canal, dir. Alejandro Amenabar, PG-13, 125 min) is an ambitious and spectacular film from Spain dealing squarely with the right-to-die issue. Here, I am reminded of the year 1993, shortly after President Clinton took office, that Dr. Jack Kervorkian and his assisted suicide trials competed with gays in the military, abortion, and Waco as front-page social issues. The treatment here, however, is much more dignified and epic. Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem), now a quadriplegic for 27 years, lies in bed in a sweater, cared for by relatives. He has hired a lawyer Julia (Belen Rueda), herself afflicted with a major degenerative disease that causes her to have strokes, to argue his right to die in Spanish courts. Much of the story concerns her. A local friend Rosa (Lola Duenas) argues for him to stay a live. His computer-literate teenage nephew Javi (Tamar Novas), who apparently helped him get wired to the outside world, seems like a solid older adolescent, rather like the character Martin in Seventh Heaven, but is starting to feel overwhelmed by the irrationality of it all. Ramon wants to die because he has lost his freedom, and he feels like life in an insult to his will. In the courtroom drama late in the film much is made of the fact that Spain is now a secular society that respects private property, and life is a kind of property. The judges don’t buy it. There is also an earlier sequence involve the Catholic Church, and the older priest (apparently on a televised broadcast) humiliates the protagonists by claiming that their patchwork did not constitute a “loving family.”


But all of that does not make film. The movie takes off when it leaves the cottage and explores the Galician scenery. In one sequence, Ramon imagines flying over the nearby, rainswept coastal mountains, which may be roughly like the landscape of Ireland, not the Spain we usually think of. It is a spectacular, Imax-like sequence (the film is shot in full wide-screen for the outdoor sequences, although as a result some of the intimate close-ups in the bedroom scenes seem to have too much space to fill). It rains a lot in the film, to great effect (as in the original film of Rain). (Galician climate is marine and cool: there is a line “nights get cold even in June” and “we’re ready for early autumn”.) Barcelona is also shown, as is the Atlantic Ocean itself in the final scenes where Ramon rents a hotel room overlooking the ocean (at sunset) in order to drink is dose of potassium cyanide, alone. (The drug used in injection executions is potassium chloride, to stop the heart).  I have traveled by bus between Bilbao and Donesta/San Sebastian [with its famous circular beach], further East in the Basque country, but the landscape there is similar. (Pedro Almodovar used Galicia as a major location in Bad Education, also. Among tourists it is relatively little known.)


Why does the Spanish film industry raise big money for films on cutting edge issues when ours usually does not?


This film reminds me of one of the first movies I ever saw (with my parents), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952, 20th Century Fox,dir. by Henry King, based on the story by Ernest Hemmingway) with Gregory Peck as the dying author. I remember the image well of his lying, his leg infected, in a tent as he recalls his episodic life as a writer, where he ran around the world looking for stories about other people.  Structurally movies like these also recall The English Patient. PBS echoes this film with a one hour NOVA special “Volcano Above the Clouds” that documents a modern climb, with the supersized plants.


Time to Leave (“Let temps qui reste”, 2005,Strand/Pathe/Studio Canal/Fidelite, dir. Francois Ozon, France, 85 min, R) fuses thanatology and gay issues, but not with what you expect. Romain, 31 (Melvil Poupard), an attractive and successful fashion photographer in Paris, visits his doctor and finds out that his illness doesn’t come from AIDS, but from some unspecified and already metastasized cancer, maybe a non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It’s already in his lungs and liver. The doctor wants aggressive treatment (whole body radiation, extreme chemotherapy, maybe a bone marrow transplant) but it has less than a 5% chance of working. Romain decides that it is better to leave his life a young and attractive man. He does cocaine and smokes cigarettes. He is still young, and hasn’t gone bald in the legs from the tobacco use, and he probably didn’t even get this tumor from it. (“Thank you for smoking” which in this film is really excessive). He recycles through his life, and kicks out his mouching lover, visits the leather S&M bars, and then goes on the road, and meets a woman Laura (Jeanne Moreau) with a sterile husband. In a threesome, he gives her a child, and even includes the child in his will. Some critics call this plot development homophobic, that he redeems himself with biological progeny (like “normal” (!?) people), but one can turn this around and say that a heterosexual couple needed a gay surrogate to fulfill itself. The child will have two daddies. At one point, there is a line, “in a few years they will let gays adopt.” I thought that in France they already do. He gets on a train, sees a woman nursing a baby, and gets off in a town that looks like Lourdes (which I visited in May 2001) and buys some things. A visit to the grotto there would have been interesting, but it turns out that he is on the Mediterranean, on the Riviera. He lies down on the beach and takes some pictures. In the sunset, it is time to leave as he is alone on the beach. The ending reminds one of “Death in Venice.”   







Related reviews:  Ordinary People (1980)  Million Dollar Baby (2004) Romeo and Juliet (1968), The English Patient (1996)  Death in Venice   Swimming Pool (2003)  GLBT films


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