CONSTANTINE - Hell wants him, Heaven won't take him... But I know someone who will sit on his face.
Keanu Reeves is what I like to call a "furniture actor" - He serves his purpose of taking up space and is quite nice to look at. Don't get me wrong, Keanu was brilliant in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but unlike Sean Penn moving from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Keanu need not write any Academy Awards acceptance speeches, for his fate will surely remain as furniture. Which is okay. Especially when appropriately cast.
Constantine is based on a comic book and it shows. Left on the outside of such mysteries as the purpose of Keanu's tattoos, his sidekick's penitence, and the reason for Keanu's strange mini-blinds, I wish I had read a little of the source and you will too. The filmmakers either assumed only fans of the comic would see this film (forgetting what a sweet piece of furniture Keanu is) or they simply do not care to cater to us non-comic readers. Nevertheless, this film entertained the Hell out of me. (Pun intended.)
The Spear of Destiny is found by a filthy Mexican randomly digging holes. The spear is necessary to wreak hellish havoc on earth and discovered wrapped in a Nazi flag. The Nazi connection is never explained, but y'know, Satan and Hitler... Best friends forever!
SATAN: So where are you staying?
HITLER: Um, I can't really say... (whispers) On the phone.
SATAN: Right, right. So do you still have that Spear of Destiny I loaned you?
HITLER: Oh... Yeah... About that...
HITLER: Sorry, man, I didn't have time to pack!
SATAN: I'm not even gonna ask about my George Foreman Grill...
Exercising a demon ala The Exorcist at the film's beginning, Keanu flips the snotty evildoer the bird and smirks, "For your boss," just before sending it back to Hell. Meanwhile, the twin of Keanu's soon-to-be love interest jumps to her death, spurring the sister, a very disturbed and sensitive detective, to track down some answers. Detective Angela was a true delight, not just because she's hot as Hell (pun it up) in black bra under white tanktop, but because her placement in the film left me repeatedly imploring Keanu, "Say my name! Say my name, Bitch!"
My best friend, Vickie, otherwise known as "Keanu Reeves' Restraining Order #217," lived vicariously through Angie with me as we enjoyed Keanu's chain-smoking and dry flirting. Keanu has got it goin' on! Boy was born to play concepts of characters and should never stray into boring old drama requiring him to both speak and emote simultaneously. Through a visit to the androgynous Angel Gabriel, we learn Keanu is desperately trying to gain an all-access pass to Heaven as lung Cancer kicks his ass. But due to a great faux pas from his teenage years, Gabriel sweetly informs Keanu, "You're fucked!"
Lord have mercy! But He won't. Apparently, the Catholics are right. Detective Angela and Keanu team up, and after Keanu battles attacking demons outside his apartment, Angie barfs all over the sidewalk like it's Prom night. Keanu says in his famous monotone, "Happens to everyone the first time," and just as I'm wondering if he means his co-stars vomit, he adds, "It's the sulfur."
With the sloppily explained use of water and a strangely cooperative cat, Keanu goes to Hell to look for Angela's dead twin. Nothing new about this particular Hell, just the usual - Fire, demons, extreme heat, and of course, it's set on the streets of L.A. When Keanu returns, his body smoking like extinguished cigarette butt, Angela gasps, "How is this possible?!"
As though ad-libbed, Keanu replies, "I need to eat."
Cut to a late night snack. (This movie has got it all!) Keanu educates his lovely Catholic counterpart on the balance of Heaven and Hell adding, "God's a kid with an ant farm. He's not planning anything."
Keanu and Angela have something in common other than sex appeal - They see dead people. Or something like that. Few things are clear in this visually appealing film, which the deaf will certainly enjoy more than the blind. As Keanu blows demons away with his golden demon-blaster, I feel like I'm watching a commercial for the video game. Gabriel has a great pedicure. Mr. Gwen Steffani (otherwise known as Gavin Rossdale) plays a faggy demon who wants to either fuck or eat Keanu. However, all the demons look like aliens when Keanu blows away bits of their human faces. A marvelous character actor, whom Vick and I ran into at Trader Joe's in Hollywood on a tofu run last year, shows up as a nasty little Satan. After extinguishing a cigarette in his own blood, Keanu flips the man himself the finger and Satan returns the gesture with an ending that actually surprised me, leaving the story wide open. I think I smell a sequel! Or is that just the sulfur?
MANA - BEYOND BELIEF
Eat Your Art Out!
Like all New Yorkers who can read and form sentences, I love art. Manhattan is an art lovers dream. Right? Though much more blessed on culture, I have suffered through mucho shit in this city and its "art." Christo and Jean-Claude, renowned "artists" have polluted our grayish, struggling-for-Spring hotspot with what first made me ask the question, "What's with all the construction in Central Park?"
Tourists clamor to this thankfully temporary "work of art" named "The Gates," asking me to take their picture under garish, orange flags, no matter how quickly I pass through these arches of Men At Work mess with my eyes on the ground. After years of aspiring art interpreter, I have repeatedly thrown in the towel, chalking up all sorts of New York City "art" as another case of The Emperor's New Clothes. An old, chubby critic on the N train told his friend of Central Park's exhibit, "It's not art, but it's nice to look at," reminding me Americans simply like clutter and color, the bigger the better. Sometimes a compost heap is better than an empty space... In America. Which is probably why you won't see this film touring our country anytime soon.
Mana - Beyond Belief was just what the doctor ordered after Christo and Jean-Claude's rape of my favorite people-watching grounds. Peter Friedman, one of the film's two directors also responsible for films such as Silverlake Life, Death By Design and There Are No Direct Flights From New York to Marseille, prepared us before the screening at The Walter Reade Theater with, "Don't take it too seriously," which is exactly how I like my artsy film.
I did not expect to be so entertained by ninety-two minutes of any film lacking a story, but describing Mana is like retelling some sort of drug trip. Deficient of such tales in debauchery, I have to compare it to another trip. Like my non-stop solo drive from Pittsburgh to Jacksonville one August in a truck with no power steering, no air conditioner, and no radio, I saw things! However, the voices never started up with Mana as they did on my roadtrip, but the film still cast quite a spell on me. "Mana" is the Polynesian word for "power that resides in things" and was best translated by Roger Manley, the film's other director (also photographer, author and curator) with, "Mana is authority and prestige."
A frail, aged Native American disappears around a monster-mound of sand. We hear a door creak open and shut and the whole audience laughs at trickster reality. Cut to a shot through that door on the other side of this sand igloo and we experience the Native American's ritual with crystals and smoke. Children and adults exalt a boulder in Burma with bits of gold paper pressed to its face as a monk presses his bald head to it in silent prayer. Far away Goddesses are whittled and sculpted with simplicity only to be covered in flashing lights. At the Cherry Blossom Festival drunken Japanese businessmen sing and joke, remaining even when it rains. Throughout the film we are presented with a variety of objects and the people who use them for inspiration, protection, healing and straight-up love. All over the world people are lured to some hunk of joyous matter. Until the sacrifice.
I believe there is power in all acts of passion, but I have a strong opinion of anything involving cruelty, from fraternity initiations to sacrificial offerings. Naturally, when they take us to the obvious fate of a Benin goat used for such a ritual, I was relieved when they cut ahead to just its smeared blood. On the streets outside the slaughter, people gather for the return of their ancestors' ghosts. A boy wears a t-shirt reading, "Coke Is It!" as a costumed character kicks up dust dancing in grass skirt and gigantic fallacy.
And suddenly we're among Christians, which seemed an obvious pick for a film so concentrated on worship, except by the time the directors present us with Jesus, my mind is so open I suddenly get what makes people love the guy - Like any great film we spend two hours in, from Malcolm X to Boys Don't Cry, we want to relate to a suffering character. We want to press our misery to theirs. We are constantly looking for characters to suffer and rejoice through. Thus is Jesus' great appeal.
In Berlin we laugh again with yet another Emperor's New Clothes art exhibit of The Man in the Golden Helmut. Once believed a Rembrandt painting, it was a jewel in Berlin's tourist attractions crown, drawing busloads of shutterbugs. Later disproved as Rembrandt and moved to a less prominent spot, the filmmakers shot multiple tourists passing the painting now deemed mediocre, without giving it a glance. Mana, like money, is proven easy come, easy go.
Throughout the film we never know for certain where we've landed until people start speaking, which made all the places feel remarkably similar. Based on my experiences among foreigners, from cues of The Statue of Liberty to Disney World, I have never found travelers from other countries to be fans of personal space. This was something I just could not comprehend, especially in extreme heat and annoying lines. But watching this film I realized other countries double their Mana pleasure by engaging as though the whole crowd is kin. I grew envious of this ability after being raised in a country where we're constantly reminded to lock our doors, watch our neighbors and buy lots of cereal. Where is America's Mana?
Whisked back to The United States for Elvis fans, I was at first disappointed to land home after so much new. But in Memphis our Mana shortage is resolved with another comical, colorful world few of us imagined. Pop stars are the Mana of America! Oh goody! After what feels like a musical number, we are rushed along to a shadowed collector of such items as President Woodrow's brain, Hitler's fingers and alien corpses. A closer look at America's Mana leaves me realizing that goat sacrifice was not so strange after all. Grease on the chin of a mechanic in New Mexico who loves his car (quite possibly more than his mother) brings back the image of a child at the film's beginning with a smudge of gold paint on her face after a long day of gilding that enormous rock. And there it is, the simplest message of all: No matter where we are, we're all similar in our need for something glorious to not necessarily define, but empower us. The biggest question this beautiful film left me asking is which came first, the Mana or the egg? Would Elvis or Christ be anything without their fans? That boulder certainly didn't paint itself gold. A good film such as this will leave you walking down the Westside with your mind open to all sorts of new ideas. But no matter how hard you try, if you're a real New Yorker, I'm sure you'll agree The Gates of Central Park quite lacking in Mana... No matter how many tourists gather with cameras.
Mana - Beyond Belief will play this March in Austin, TX at South By Southwest, then onto Canada where I hear they don't even lock their doors!
|Angie is wearing a kick-ass custom-made t-shirt. Email her for details and YOU could be wearing one too!|