Sunday, February 27, 2005
By Reymundo Salao
Just Another Film Junkie
The Guardian, February 26, 2005
Not so long within the first few minutes of the film CONSTANTINE, and there is a brief appearance of a small Philippine flag hanging by a room in a Los Angeles apartment. Later on, there is a scene where a young woman (a role played by Filipina, Jhoanna Trias) possessed by a demon tells the protagonist Constantine "PAPATAYIN NATIN SILA!" suddenly the audience reacted in surprising exclamation, some of them asking themselves if their ears have deceived them that they heard the Filipino language in possibly one of this year's potential blockbusters.
But seeing and hearing Filipino is not the only big deal about this film. CONSTANTINE is highly anticipated, and indeed it satisfies with its intriguing enigmatic energy, its horror-supernatural adventure, and even its eye-candy factor. But nowadays, special effects really don't matter as much anymore. Gone are the days when action-adventure films would pointlessly attempt to outdo the other by pushing the limits of visual effects, trying to create the most flawless fantastical visual stimulation. Nowadays, it has to be the storyline-concept that has to be solid and attention-grabbing. Such is the case of CONSTANTINE, which is based on the DC-Vertigo adult-comicbook series HELLBLAZER. To begin with, Hellblazer (just like all of the other Vertigo comicbooks like DEATH and SANDMAN) is already one helluva-profound series, about John Constantine, a working-class mage, a con-artist, a thief, former punk, a bastard hero, and a chain-smoker who is dying of lung cancer. And because he has spent his younger years unguidedly dabbling in the occult, black magic, and a very rotten personality, his soul is doomed for hell. Now that he is faced with the imminence of death, he is in a desperate quest for salvation, trying to buy his way into heaven, primarily, by helping people as a sort of a supernatural detective, exorcising half-breed demons that mischievously wander the Earth, and sending them back to hell.
The film version has some understandable alterations that stray a bit from the original Hellblazer. In the original comics series, John Constantine is British, and the setting of the entire saga primarily revolves around Constantine's own urban home, London. In the movie, however, Constantine is American and its setting is Los Angeles. The comicbook Constantine is also dirtier, more foul-mouthed, and has blond hair (Its writer Alan Moore, along with it's artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben, intended Constantine to look just like the rock musician Sting). But Keanu Reeves does give a satisfactory performance that can still give the title-character he plays the same bad-boy-coolness reputation it deserves. It was rather refreshing to see Reeves break away from playing a goody-goody guy role, one that freely whips out the dirty finger and be nastily rude even to such a hot chick as Rachel Weisz. Weisz plays the role of detective Angela Dodson, whose twin sister appears to have committed suicide. Her denial and disbelief over her sister's death led her to Constantine who discovered that demons from hell were somehow responsible for her sister's death, and that they were planning to prey on Angela next, in preparation for the coming of the son of the devil, the one that will rule the Earth with blood and pain.
The film was directed by Francis Lawrence who has made a remarkable leap from his past achievements of making music-videos, to such an intriguing epic, one that already has a cult (comicbook) following. The noir look worked really well, along with the gritty atmosphere of the movie, with elegant urban settings, and the damp aura that looks as if you can smell the places. It felt like it was directed by master directors of grit, goth and horror, like David Fincher (Se7en), Alex Proyas (The Crow), and John Carpenter (The Thing, They Live). No flashy stunts, just the right tone of gloom and well-placed darkness. The film also stars Djimon Hounsou as Papa Midnite, Peter Stormare as Lucifer, and (90's rock band) Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, whose first acting performance was unimpressive but adequate. This film should not to be compared with the Matrix, although its trailer has a very close resemblance, even a seemingly twin format with each other. Constantine is far much deeper, it reaches the depths of hell.
Probably the only clear weakness of the film is its hasty rush of obscure references. The film begins with no gradual introduction, just the swift jump into the details. Some of those unfamiliar with deep supernatural ideas may tend to be hastily lost in all the hellspeak language of the film. Its other weakness is its unavoidable resemblance to the Christopher Walken film "The Prophecy". Fortunately, a tiny resemblance, and ultimately, though, this film ends with its own unique flavor.
Heavy on references to Christian-based context, that being the war between Heaven and Hell, Angels, Demons, sins, and redemption, the lingo of this film may be easy for the regular Filipino viewer to digest. Although there may be some scenes that may make conservative Christians cringe, like when the angel Gabriel utters the four-letter F-word. Sure, let's just claim that it's a different Gabriel from the one mentioned in the Bible. Aside from those tiny details, the film would still be something your Christian Lola may like watching. Sure it should, it preaches salvation. It even preaches that dabbling in the occult is just going to lead you to demonic misery, probably a redundant moral lesson that stands in many horror films. But in this film, it hits close to simplicity; Do not try to look (into hell, into the devil), for it looks back. Dabble in the occult, and you may get yourself damned to hell, just like Constantine. Stop smoking too, just like Constantine's dilemma, that trip to hell might come sooner before he can attain redemption.
Be wary, though, that this film is rated-R for violence and demonic images, probably the thing that Brunei wouldn't tolerate. The movie has been deemed unsuitable for public viewing, Ahmad Kadir, the secretary of the Brunei government's Censor Board. But for Filipino viewers, anything horrible is fine, just as long as it has an end where evil fails and the good triumphs.
SUPERB HARD-EDGED ACTION!
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 review
Just Another Film Junkie
by Reymundo Salao
Precinct 13 was a police precinct that was set to close down by the end of the year, and on new year's eve, it was going to have its final day of operating as a police station. While the remaining cops inside were having a little new year's eve's party, they were disturbed by some visitors. A prison bus of convict detainees in transit to the next jail facility had to drop by the precinct and spend the evening till the snowstorm would calm down. Among the prisoners was the infamous cop killer Marion Bishop. Later that evening, an army of armed men began storming through the Precinct and wanted Marion Bishop. But the cops of the precinct would not let that happen, and so they fortified the dilapidated precinct and fought back.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 was directed by Jean-François Richet who did a fine job keeping up to the reputation of the John Carpenter original. It was hard-edged and heavy on action-suspense with characters that may seem like action movie stereotypes but maintain an overwhelmingly cool presence that make them extremely likeable. Along with the action, the suspense was also teeth-grittingly immense. It may be due to the marvelous balance of sound and music by Graeme Revell, that vividly captures the emotional mood of the film.
(SPOILER ALERT) ASSAULT has got the finest line-up of performers, with Lawrence Fishburne as the infamous cop killer Marion Bishop, Brian Dennehy as an old-timer policeman on his way to retirement, (HBO-TV's "The Sopranos" and "Joey" actress) Drea De Matteo as the hot slutty-looking secretary Iris, popular rapper Jeffrey "Ja Rule" Atkins as a convict named Smiley, who often refers himself to the third person, and Aisha Hinds as a tommygun-toting gangbanger. There's also the steamingly-attractive Maria Bello as a cop shrink, whose character has had an interesting twist when she ironically becomes the one who's psychologically-troubled when the explosions begin. John Leguizamo plays a junkie convict. Leguizamo is always perfect for playing crazy loudmouth loonies, although it may be a bit redundant for him to take on another role as this, his character still does fit perfectly well with the entire storyline. Gabriel Byrne, as always, plays a charismatic role, even when he plays a villain who's determined to execute all who stand in the way of their plans. And then there's Ethan Hawke who plays the central role as Sgt. Jake Roenick, a jaded cop, hiding behind his depression, alcoholism and (what seems to be) anti-depressant pills, who has a chance to redeem his pathetic self by leading the survivors through a night of siege. Ethan Hawke, who does have a notable acting reputation, is magnificent in this role! Hawke has always had that reputation of playing emotionally deep characters in previous films, and in this film, he takes on such emotional depth with a heavy dosage of moody darkness; noir-like, cynical, lonely and deeply scarred. His transition from his sense of apathy, to the resurfacing determination to be a leader is dramatically interesting to watch. Even the very first scene of the movie where he is undercover as a drug-dealer is remarkably witty. The way he delivers his lines that are heavy in wit, thanks to a well-written script by James DeMonaco. But all credits should indeed ultimately pass to the master writer-director who made the original ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 movie in 1976, the movie of the same title from which this remake is based from, John Carpenter. Indeed this film is worth watching. Superb hard-edged action! A fat-fisted thumbs-up for this film remake!
Friday, February 25, 2005
JOHN CARPENTER'S ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13
Everytime these new action movies come out, you get to instantly comparatively figure out the iconic film classics from which many of these seems to be patterned from. Maybe you've got to ask the question, what storyline, what plot for an action movie would still be original in this day and age? Perhaps one choice filmmakers do, nowadays, is to take these original iconic classics and remake it. But many are displeased with movie remakes, citing examples of the "Planet of the Apes" remake, the "Swept Away" remake, which have only degraded the reputation of the original. It asks the question, why remake a perfectly good movie in the first place?
Perhaps as an homage, for these remakes don't usually copy the entire storyline anyway. In the long run, only the good, successful ones deserve to even be regarded as legitimate remakes. Examples of this are the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake, and now, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.
Way back before DIEHARD introduced us to the thrill concept of action under siege, John Carpenter introduced us to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 which is about a Police Precinct under siege, and the survivors inside, both cops and detainees must fortify themselves, united to fight the villains that intend to massacre them. John Carpenter has long been regarded as one of the masters of horror. But some may have missed the idea that John Carpenter is also the master of antiheroic machismo. From Snake Plissken (of Escape from New York and L.A.), to the clumsy antihero in Big Trouble in Little China, to the hard-ass protagonists of "Vampires" and "They Live" (where 1980's wrestler Roddy Piper discovers that aliens have secretly blended with our society), to the heroes of "Ghosts of Mars", where we see macho heroine Natasha Henstridge gets into (an equally balanced) fistfight with Ice Cube. John Carpenter's heroes are so un-vain, un-beautiful, sort-of-slobs, rude, and have some sort of psychiatric problem, yet these heroes look really cool brandishing some high-powered firearm. His heroes defy the conventional. It defies the boring clean-cut heroes that conform to masculine beauty and polite virtues. In the film "Escape from LA", the protagonist Snake Plissken decides to end modern existence by detonating an EMP device destroying all electrical devices on the planet (one of my all-time favorite movie endings). Only a John Carpenter hero can do something like that.
John Carpenter's first action movie where we can trace his love for anti-heroes is the 1976 movie ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 which is a claustrophobic, bloody, and exciting action movie about a police station under siege by a bad-ass LA gang. The film topbills Kurt Russell, whose role in this film was the obvious shade basis for the Snake Plissken character in the "Escape" movies. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 became a classic in the genre of action. So much so that 9 years later, it has spawned a remake that has a stellar cast that includes Ethan Hawke, Lawrence Fishburne, and Gabriel Byrne, among others. And deservingly, it was a magnificent remake that is very much worth watching. Watch out for my review of that film next issue, entitled "SUPERB HARD-EDGED ACTION" I guess from the title of the review alone, it should entice you to get on this magnificent action flick.
Friday, February 04, 2005
by Reymundo Salao
Just Another Film Junkie
The Guardian, February 5, 2005
Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) is the process by which the dead can communicate with the living through the white noise of household electronic audio and video appliances. This is a ghost manifestation through radio and television, when phantomlike images appear in the middle of television static or a ghost's voice is heard through radio static. Such an occurrence is claimed by many experts as a fact that is actually studied by science and metaphysics. In the trailer for the film "White Noise" wherein EVP is given a brief explanation, some of the actual EVP recordings were presented. Audio recordings of the voices of individuals who already died before such recording was done.
EVP is the subject of the film "White Noise" which is directed by Geoffrey Sax and stars Ian McNeice, Deborah Kara Unger, and Michael Keaton. Although some aspects of the film are a bit cliché, the film works nicely, especially with Keaton's performance. Michael Keaton is one of those great actors that can evoke such strong emotions. The protagonist of the movie is Jonathan Rivers (played by Keaton) who was struck by tragedy when his wife died. And when he stumbles into the knowledge of such a study as EVP, he becomes all too interested with the process when he realized that such a phenomenon does work, and that he can communicate with his dead wife. Later on, his interest became an obsession as it took over his life. Rivers began to delve deeper into the supernatural darkness, which was already beyond his comprehension.
Moviegoers should expect that this movie is based on a factual phenomenon, so one must not expect the kind of menace that movies like the Ring or the Grudge can bring forth. The film plays more on the enigmatic suspense and mystery sensibilities. But indeed there are several tweaks and sweeteners to give the movie a bit more excitement and suspense. Those who are dead serious and curious of the study of EVP and the facts surrounding it, should expect that this film is not only about the study of EVP, but also of a protagonist whose loss is so bitter that it leads him down a dark path that he would surely regret.
Perhaps it is an offspring from the hype of Asian horror film genre, as some critics would point out, but "White Noise" is based on what already exists as a factual phenomenon, and that is what gives it its chilling factor.
Ever stayed up late watching TV and have had that paranoid thought what if the TV suddenly went out of frequency and all static, and then some ghastly figure appeared on the screen and a faint voice from the other side was heard through the audio? Oh the paranoid thoughts that comes to my mind after I watched this film.