Tag Archives: Rachel Weisz

Francis Lawrence’s Constantine

So they chose a dark haired, American Keanu Reeves to play John Constantine instead of some sassy blonde British Sting doppelgänger, big whoop. I mean if that really cheeses you off as a fan of the comics to the point where you can’t enjoy this wonderful film then fair enough. This iteration of Constantine makes its decided departure from source material and opts to give us a gorgeous dark LA Noir fantasy full of striking imagery, genuinely frightening set pieces, intense character work from a host of cool actors and a slick, oily visual feel that accentuates the supernatural tone beautifully. Keanu is basically an icon of cool, between The Matrix and recently introducing John Wick to the world this guy is kind of a cultural talisman of epic genre films and for me this stands with the best. Constantine is an exorcist, detective, damned soul, chain smoker, extreme ghostbuster and all around cynical badass, here solving a mystery with biblical implications relating to an LAPD officer (Rachel Weisz), her ill fated clairvoyant twin sister (also Weisz) and a fearsome series of events that could spell the end of the world. John has allies in snarky cab driver Chaz (Shia Leboeuf in his ‘back in the day’ phase), mysterious club magnate and sorcerer Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou), eccentric entomologist Beeman (Max Baker), hard drinking clergyman Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) and demonic concubine Ellie (Michelle Monaghan). He’s up against some gnarly foes of this world and others including nasty hellhound Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale channelling Harvey Dent), a possessed Mexican immigrant (Jesse Ramirez), the treacherous Angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton in mercurial androgynous mode) and big baddie Lucifer himself played by a kooky, darkly dapper Peter Stormare in what has to be one of the coolest and most captivating portrayals of the devil cinema has to offer. Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, The Hunger Games) has big budget, flashy effects sensibilities and while there is a fair amount of visual sizzle and large scale spectacle here the tone is often one of suffocating darkness, unseen dread creeping down narrow hallways stifling both light and space, eerie close quarters settings and a claustrophobic aesthetic that refracts the hellish elements of this story into the forefront brilliantly. John’s trip to hell with assistance from a cat is one stunner of a sequence, as is his explosively violent, gory n’ gooey showdown with Balthazar and an opening exorcism that launches a full length mirror, demon trapped inside, onto an LA street in broad daylight. His flippant confrontation with Stormare’s Satan has to be my favourite scene though, it’s such a classy, stylish, well acted and creepy-funny bit that caps off this story not with a huge bombastic action sequence but rather a clipped, ironic and altogether biting exchange of dialogue between these two great actors, who would go on to have another priceless little Easter egg scene together in John Wick 2. So say what you will about this film and I hear ya with legitimate grievances regarding fealty to the comics but that don’t bother me, I love this dark, unique, creepy, baroque jewel of a film too much. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Larysa Kondracki’s The Whistleblower

Larysa Kondracki’s The Whistleblower requires a strong stomach to sit through some of the true life atrocities depicted, but it also begs that one doesn’t look away, or the efforts of one intrepid UN worker (Rachel Weisz) would have gone unheeded, because almost everyone else besides her turned a blind eye when scores of young woman in post war Bosnia were being held captive and brutalized in the illegal sex trade. I can’t think of anyone more adept than Weisz at playing someone this relentlessly compassionate; there’s just something in her warm brown eyes, comforting voice and genuine aura that that camera and dialogue practically melt over. Horror like this almost always follows the fog of war, when the barriers of civilization have taken a hit and the darkness they held at bay roams free for awhile, plus it’s hard to keep track of people after something like that wipes records, destroys towns and fucks up infrastructure. In any case, Weisz’s Kathryn Bolkovac discovers dozens of underground brothels where young girls are held, raped and tortured by mercenaries every day. Her boss at the UN (Liam Cunningham in a chilling portrait of casual indifference) tells her to lay off and they they’re “whores of war, that’s how it works.” Faced with that kind of betrayal from her own people snaps something in Kathryn and she feels deeply compelled to launch her own personal crusade to save the girls, but it proves to be a dangerous task when she realizes that not only do organizations not really care, but some may actively have interests in stopping her. Using contacts in various departments including Monica Bellucci, a kindly Vanessa Redgrave, Benedict Cumberbatch and a fantastic David Strathairn, she gradually gets to the centre of this evil maze, towards truth and freedom for hundreds of innocent girls. The great thing about this film is that it functions as both a superbly exciting political thriller in the vein of Bourne, but really it’s a deeply human, very personal and harrowing study of evil taking root in a region, as the light that Kathryn keeps in her heart wth which to fight it. This is represented in a key relationship between Kathryn and a young Bosnian girl named Raya (Roxana Kondurache, phenomenal) who she takes a special interest in and becomes poster child for these girls. Also, it’s a very carefully researched true story too and that always makes events like this far more affecting onscreen. Just go in with the right mindset and guardrails up because the scenes of sexual abuse and torture are almost unbearable, but necessary to the story arc. A winner in every sense of the word.

-Nate Hill

Jim Sheridan’s Dream House

Imagine the potential for a concept like Dream House, and then look at how badly, how royally they fucked up the script and eventual film that came after. It’s like someone had a really cool idea for a thriller that could have been something great in the vein of Shyamalan or Hitchcock and it just ended up a flat, lifeless, boring exercise in.. well… not much. Sadder still is the talented, first rate cast stuck in it, and when you consider the director has a heavily Oscar nominated film from back in the day under his belt, it boggles the mind. Okay, maybe the last two points are unfair, artists sometimes don’t have control over what projects cross their desk, but I would have jumped ship at the premiere if I were them, paycheque in hand. The premise is certainly interesting: a publisher from New York (Daniel Craig) moves with his wife (Rachel Weisz) and two young daughters to a quaint manor in quiet New England to get away from it all. The house, naturally, has a troubled past and is sorta kinda haunted, in one of those twisty roundabout ways I can’t say without spoiling the whole deal (*cough* The Others). Craig has to solve the mystery of a brutal crime that took place in his new home, avoid freaky stalkers that seem to follow his family, and with the help of a kind, benevolent neighbour (Naomi Watts), figure out just what’s going on. There is a twist, that shows up midway through the film instead of near the end and because of that feels entirely like a silly gimmick once we know, a misjudged pacing decision if there ever was one. The thing that sucks is there are well done aspects; the acting from everyone is great, the cinematography and production design beautifully done, it’s just story that takes a nose dive, and almost right off the bat, too. The payoff and resolution for such an ‘out there’ setup just feels dry and voided of the mysticism and otherworldly spookiness that the film set you up with, and the result is you just feel cheated. Not even capable actors like Elias Koteas as a shady hitman and Marton Csokas as an even shadier businessman can bring antagonists with enough life into the fold, and their thankless presence is wasted. After this film I kind of wish I watched it again without any sound or subtitles on like a silent version, because the imagery and visual element is too good to be wasted on a script as badly drawn and executed as this.

-Nate Hill

Fernando Meirelles The Constant Gardener

Fernando Meirelles’s The Constant Gardener is a film you just can’t get enough viewings of, it’s such a dense, sumptuous and emotionally complex piece that each revisit rewards with new angles on story, perspectives on character motivation and comprehension of subtle, hazy moments in the performances that you didn’t pick up the first few times because the visual element just overwhelms you at first. This is a cool flick for me because it’s based on a book by John Le Carré, a spy novelist whose work I often find too dry and lacking in warmth, but not here, I saw this during it’s theatrical run way back when and have loved and felt connected to it ever since. It doesn’t hurt that it stars Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, two of the most intuitive, brilliant performers of their generation, and if there’s a duo who could do justice to a story like this, it’s them. Fiennes plays Justin, a reserved, introverted diplomat in Africa. Weisz is his wife Tessa, a fiery, outgoing humanitarian worker. They couldn’t be more opposite, as we later learn through fragmented flashbacks, but the film throws us in the deep end by telling us right off the bat that Tessa has been murdered. So begins an elliptical mystery shrouded in a poignant love story, a conspiracy thriller that uncoils patiently, each clue spreading the seeds for ten more. Tessa was working in the field researching the actions of drug companies in this third world region, she may have been having an affair, and she was pregnant. The stakes couldn’t be higher, but so is the risk for Justin to become too entrenched in a quagmire of lies, red herrings and dead end crossroads, and, just like Tessa, lose his way. Who really knows what’s going on in such a chaotic part of the world? Does Pellegrino (Bill Nighy) the mysterious CEO of big pharma? Perhaps Sandy (Danny Huston) Tessa’s friend from the embassy? Or is it Dr. Lorbeer (Pete Postlethwaite, excellent in the haunting third act), an elusive aids worker, who holds the secret to her death? It’s not easy resolution this film is interested in, but rather overturning more stones that lead to more mysteries until one feels wonderfully beguiled, a true sign that script and edit are firing on all cylinders. Many things are hinted at, including whether or not the drug companies are illegally testing non FDA approved prototypes on poverty stricken locals under the guise of medicine, which seems just scary enough to be true. The film dangles answers just out of reach, and even in the eerie eleventh hour where Justin finds himself stranded in a desolate plane of Africa, you get the sense that the resolutions he comes too are only the half of it, if that. Meirelles also directed City Of God, another film set in an unfortunate area of the world, he brings a jagged, splintered perception to the editing and narrative, a perfect garnish to the already impenetrable nature of Le Carré’s literary work. Cinematographer Cesar Charlone (also responsible for City Of God) films with elemental grace and captures the light brilliantly. Weisz and Fiennes bring out humanity in Le Carré’s work that he probably didn’t even know was there, and are beacons in a weathered storm of indifference and injustice. Not an easy film to absorb, but what it withholds in straightforwardness (which is a plus quality in my books anyways) it makes up for in beauty, mystery and nuance. One of the best films of the last few decades.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Stephen Norrington’s Death Machine 

Stephen Norrington’s Death Machine whips up a knowing, near meta grind-house schlocker that harvests names, ideas and actors from other well know horror classics and churns out a wonderful little pastiche that’s clearly in love with every project influencing it, as well as the genre. In a giant m, imposing corporate high rise, the collective minds of future tech enterprise brainstorm the next best thing, but all of the are bested by creepy, psychotic designer Jack Dante (Brad Dourif) an antisocial lunatic who has designed an appropriately razor-adorned monster equipped with cunning AI, primed to tear the building, and everyone in it, to shreds. This includes the looney board of directors who all bear names lovingly similar to that of various creative minds in the horror/sci-Fi industry. Scott Ridley (The always maniacal Richard Brake), Sam Raimi (The Machinist’s master of everything unsettling, John Sharian) John Carpenter (William Hootkins) and even a pair of characters called Weyland and Yutani, all references are here and they’re not subtle whatsoever, part of the film’s charm. Dourif’s moniker is no doubt based on Gremlin’s pioneer Joe Dante, and speaking of Brad, he’s a flat out beastly delight as he turns loose a mechanical nightmare of a creation for all to be sloppily slaughtered by at some point. Bureaucracy is lampooned between decapitations and corn syrup gore, the film is never short of dark humour to garnish it’s violent pandemonium. The film is displayed a lot like Alien, and the creature itself looks not unlike a bionic xenomorph with the ability to change into all sorts of elaborate shapes, all the better to hunt you down through the tight crawl spaces and narrow ducts that made up most of 1989’s cinematic architecture. Director Norrington would go on to make his own horror classic in 1998’s Blade, and here he earns his stripes as both a vetted disciple of the genre and a thrifty low budget wizard. Watch out for Rachel Weiss, of all people, as a random board member who’s seen briefly. A howlin’ good time. 

-Nate Hill

CONSTANTINE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Constantine (2005) marked the feature film debut of music video director Francis Lawrence who, judging by the look of this movie, would like to follow in the footsteps of David Fincher. For his first time out, Lawrence takes on the daunting task of adapting the excellent comic book, Hellblazer. Its main character, John Constantine first appeared in the pages of Swamp Thing, during an illustrious run by Alan Moore. Eventually, Constantine got his own series with the launch of DC Comics’ Vertigo line. Jamie Delano was the primary writer and fleshed out the character’s backstory, his friends (like Chas the cabbie) and family. These stories typified late 1980s comic book horror and provided a bridge between Moore and the next creative heavyweight to tackle the character, Garth Ennis. His run on Hellblazer is where the movie gets most of its material from. Constantine is a chain-smoking, hard-drinking guy suffering from terminal lung cancer. He becomes embroiled in a complex war between Heaven and Hell with humanity caught in the middle.

The movie moves the comic’s setting from London to Los Angeles with John Constantine no longer being a blond-haired Englishman who looks like Sting to a very un-British-looking Keanu Reeves. The opening sequence introduces Constantine as an expert demon hunter trying to get back in with the good graces of God and the way he figures it, buy his way back into Heaven, but it isn’t that easy. We meet him as he exorcises a nasty demon from a young girl (a snazzy CGI updated riff on The Exorcist) while his twentysomething sidekick, Chas (Shia LeBeouf) waits in the car and perfects his Travis Bickle routine. Despite these cliches, this introduction is quite impressively shot and Lawrence successfully establishes this supernatural world and wisely limits Reeves’ dialogue, conveying most of what we need to know through the visuals.

Angela (Rachel Weisz) is a police detective whose twin sister has just died, committing suicide in a psychiatric hospital. Angela suspects foul play and this leads her to Constantine. They learn that demons are finding a way to crossover into our world and it has something to do with the Spear of Destiny (the weapon used to kill Jesus) being instrumental in summoning the son of Satan. To make matters worse, Constantine is rapidly dying from lung cancer and this gives his mission a certain sense of urgency.

Fans of the comic book are probably not going to like this movie. Constantine is supposed to be world-weary, a sarcastic drunk and womanizer but Reeves doesn’t quite pull it off. He presents a more sanitized version of the comic book character and even that feels forced. Another major betrayal of the character is having him wield a gun (a cool-looking crucifix shotgun), something that the Constantine of the comic would never do. Guy Pearce or Clive Owen would have been a much better choice to play Constantine.

Rachel Weisz is also miscast as Constantine’s potential love interest. Her line delivery throughout the movie is flat and lacks passion. She has zero chemistry with Reeves (didn’t they learn anything from Chain Reaction?) and someone like Fairuza Balk or even Drea DeMatteo would have been much better in this pivotal role. On the plus side, alternative rocker Gavin Rossdale plays a very dapper Balthazar who looks like he stepped right out of a GQ photo shoot. He has a lot fun chewing up the scenery and his confrontation with Reeves is one of the highpoints of the movie.

Lawrence certainly knows how to establish atmosphere and does an excellent job of presenting a seedy, Los Angeles underworld populated by bars filled with demons, dilapidated apartments and grungy city streets slicked with rain. Thankfully, he doesn’t fall into the trap of shamelessly ripping off Blade Runner’s (1982) dystopic cityscape. If anything, his vision of Constantine’s world is like an episode of the television show Angel on big-budget CGI steroids. He also is able create an effectively creepy mood throughout. For example, there’s a nice, throwaway scene where Constantine and Angela are on a city street when all the lights systematically go out as a slew of nasty, winged demons swarm all over them.

constant2Despite the miscasting of Reeves and Weisz in the two main roles, Lawrence’s take on Constantine is actually quite entertaining, even more so if you haven’t read the comic book. However, fans of the series will have problems with the major liberties the filmmakers have taken with the characters – especially Constantine and Chas. Like most comic book adaptations, this film only sprinkles certain elements from the source material, just enough to vaguely resemble it while watering it down for mainstream consumption. It’s a shame because in the right hands, Constantine could have been more like Hellboy (2004) instead it’s closer to the flawed, missed opportunity of The Punisher (2004).

THE BOURNE LEGACY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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With The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) came a satisfying conclusion to the popular spy franchise as its protagonist finally came to terms with who he was and how he came to be a government-trained assassin. Never one to let a lucrative franchise die, Universal Pictures soon started to develop yet another installment. However, Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass – Ultimatum’s star and director respectively – felt that there was no more story to tell and bowed out, leaving the studio with quite a dilemma. So, they went back to the architect of the series, screenwriter Tony Gilroy. He had written the first draft for Ultimatum before two other writers were hired while he tried his hand at directing. He had made waves in the press about not being particularly thrilled with the direction the third film had taken and so I’m sure he saw The Bourne Legacy (2012) as a chance to make this franchise his own and no doubt itching to bounce back after the lackluster box office of his last film Duplicity (2009).

The problem Gilroy faced was getting people interested in a film no longer starring the series’ beloved lead actor. However, he wisely cast a completely different actor with Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) who, thankfully, doesn’t play a rehash of Jason Bourne. Gilroy also wisely acknowledges what came before by having the ending of Ultimatum overlap with Legacy. In doing so, this installment isn’t a remake but rather a reboot/sequel hybrid that exists in the same world created in the first three films.

After Jason Bourne exposed the United States government’s top secret operations, Blackbriar and Treadstone, the CIA bigwigs enlist retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to cover their tracks. This involves eliminating all operatives in other clandestine undertakings, chief among them Operation Outcome. It is one of the Department of Defense’s black ops programs that provides agents with green pills that enhance their physical skills and blue pills that enhance their mental capabilities. One by one, these agents are killed except for Aaron Cross (Renner), who’s been on a training exercise in the remote wilderness of Alaska.

The CIA also tries to kill the scientists that researched the pills by brainwashing one of them (Zeljko Ivanek) to shoot his co-workers, save Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who narrowly survives. This is a chilling scene as Gilroy ratchets up the tension with the killer coldly gunning scientists down like some kind of mild-mannered (yet frighteningly lethal) Manchurian Candidate. Naturally, Byer and his crew create a cover story for the media of just another crazed rampage by a lone gunman. As it turns out, Marta originally administered Aaron’s meds and so he seeks her out to get more pills and get some answers, while Byer tries to kill them. Once they are on the run, Gilroy cranks up the paranoia factor as simple tasks like boarding a plane are a nerve-wracking experience as any fellow passenger could be an incognito government operative sent to kill them.

Aaron Cross is a much chattier character than the taciturn Bourne and, unlike him, Aaron knows exactly who he is. Once a good soldier, he now questions what he’s doing and why he needs to be dependent on these pills. This latter dilemma manifests itself more and more as the film goes on with Aaron conveying, at times, the desperation of a junkie looking for his next fix. With The Bourne Legacy, Renner completes a trifecta of high-profile action films that include Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) and The Avengers (2012). The supporting roles he had in those two films were just warm-ups for Legacy where he finally gets to headline his own big, Hollywood blockbuster and pulls it off.

Rachel Weisz’s Marta is not the damsel in distress she initially appears to be as the scientist quickly acclimates to her predicament – being on the run with Aaron – and even helps him take out the occasional bad guy. Not surprisingly, Aaron and Marta’s relationship is initially an abrasive one as he demands more pills and answers from her, but she soon realizes that without his help she will most certainly wind up dead before the day is out. It is an uneasy alliance that you would expect from two people thrown together in a desperate situation but over the course of the film they learn to trust each other. Weisz plays a convincing scientist, adept at spouting the technical jargon that comes with the role, but she also has some touching scenes with Renner as his character becomes as dependent on her as she is on him. The Bourne Legacy is a nice change of pace for the actress who hasn’t been in an action-oriented franchise since The Mummy films.

Interestingly, the idea of drug-induced government operatives eerily echoes, albeit on a much larger scale, a storyline in the fourth season of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy falls in love with a college student by the name of Riley who is actually a pharmaceutically-enhanced government agent, and much like in the Bourne films, this top secret operation is eventually exposed and then covered up by the government. Once Riley realizes the true nature of the operation, he goes rogue and even begins to feel the detrimental effects of the drugs he was on – his pain receptors shut down and he must seek treatment. Sound familiar? Now, genetically enhanced government operatives are nothing new. Comic book superhero Captain America is also enhanced through genetic engineering but the similarities between The Bourne Legacy and this storyline from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are quite striking.

For those not crazy about Paul Greengrass’ frenetic, often disorienting hand-held camera action sequences in The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and Ultimatum, will be happy to know that Legacy is, by and large, devoid of them. Gilroy shows a good sense of geography and skill at choreography during these scenes, in particular, a dynamic and tense battle in Marta’s home between her and Aaron and a team of assassins sent to kill them. With this sequence – and others – Gilroy creates a real sense of danger and scary intensity as one feels that Aaron and Marta’s lives are really at risk.

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The Bourne Legacy could be seen as an opportunistic cashgrab by a studio afraid to let a lucrative franchise lie dormant but I don’t think Tony Gilroy sees it this way. In addition to delivering a rousing spy thriller, he raises some interesting questions about the culpability of pharmaceutical companies that research and create performance enhancing drugs and this is touched on in an early conversation between Aaron and Marta where he chastises her for claiming ignorance over the true purpose of the drugs she helped create, pointing out that they control him. Gilroy’s skill at writing smart dialogue comes into play during this scene and throughout the entire film as he creates an intelligent and exciting thriller that opens up the world he first helped create in The Bourne Identity (2002). That being said, he doesn’t deviate from the template established in the first film as our heroes are tracked with state-of-the-art surveillance technology by government officials barking orders in a control room all the while the protagonists traverse the globe looking for answers and evading the bad guys. While, Legacy is not as good as the first three films – Matt Damon was just too good at eliciting our sympathies and, at the time, those films were a fresh alternative to the Bond franchise – it is very well done and a promising start for a new series of films with a new protagonist to root for.