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00586 – Dollar Theatre Dilemma

MovieHype00586 – Dollar Theatre Dilemma


So, you wanna see a movie this weekend, but you aren’t really up for taking out a second mortgage to pay full-fare at the theatre. You’re in luck! There’s always the Dollar Theatre (or its Canadian-they-have-no-idea-how-to-accurately-set-prices-based-on-the-exchange-rate equivalent, the Five Dollar Theatre). The question is: what to see? Luckily, I’m here to help.

On tap
CLOSER
CONSTANTINE
CLOSER

I’m not convinced that the print of CLOSER I saw was the completed theatrical cut, so some of my criticisms—the cinematography was a bit vague, the soundtrack had gaps and the voices were at times muted—may be invalid. But those are niggling concerns in the greater scheme of things.

CLOSER left me extremely cold. Told about four people who serially cheat on each other with each other, the film plays out like an emotional S&M club. These people seem to thrive on the pain they cause each other, and revel in their own unhappiness.

Admittedly, this is presented in a brilliant fashion, but I have to ask: why would anyone want to watch this? There is nothing redeeming here in a moral or “living life” sense, so we’re left with deciding if the performances alone are worth it, or else there is massive truth presented here that makes it worthwhile.

Let’s deal with the performances first. Most reviewers praise all four characters to the hilt. I found Jude Law and Julia Roberts to be somewhat generic, in the sense that I am sure fifty other actors could have given us the same emotion. On the other hand, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen—both of whom were nominated for Oscars and actually won Golden Globes—are real stand-outs. Especially Clive Owen. This is the third performance of his I’ve seen in a year, and I can virtually promise he will be a household name soon.

Owen’s Larry has some of the best dialogue, and is the most interesting character; alarmingly straight-forward and frank about all manner of filth.

This brings us to the second question: the one all deep relationship movies strive for: truth.

Almost every review I’ve come across goes on and on about how true-to-life these characters are. Maybe it’s just me, but I can hardly conceive of treating people this badly, and I’m by no means perfect. I think there is great truth in the notion that we all have more self-loathing than we realize, but the way it comes at us in CLOSER, where sex is used as a weapon not against your partner who’s cheating on you, but for her lover. It’s like watching a Trent Reznor video.

There is also something here that bothers me: the notion of honesty in relationships, as CLOSER sees it. The four characters make a big show about being honest about their sins, no matter what. This reminded me of the liberal pseudo-morality movement that you do what’s in your heart, without thinking of who gets hurt.

There are different types of honesty. Succumbing to a moment of weakness and having an affair is bad. Doing it so casually and then immediately “confessing,” doesn’t strike me as honesty, but just another way to hurt someone.

It’s almost comical how these characters “love” whomever they are with so desperately. It’s not real love. It’s that kind of hedonistic obsession that we would expect from Romeo or King David. Again, maybe it’s me, but I can’t fathom how you could love someone that much and then cheat on them as a matter of course. Or fall out of love with them just as quickly.

It’s possible that I’m just not the right person to “get” CLOSER’S emotional resonance. While I’ve screwed up numerous times when it comes to women, I’ve never set out to deliberately hurt someone. I never took immense pleasure in being hurt. Maybe I have something to learn.

I can’t recommend this film, although for what it is there’s not much to criticize. The acting, plot, and dialogue are often brutal, which is the intent. I was never quite sure if the filmmaker was condemning these horrible people, or sympathizing with them. I fear there may be a little of that, and there are zero redeeming qualities to like in these monsters. I suppose some might say they are all too frail and human, as are we all. But here’s the acid test: I wouldn’t want to spend the day with any of these pricks, and one of the characters is played by Natalie Portman, whom I’ve obsessed over for years! That has to count for something.

One final note: I was talking last night to Ginella about using movies as emotional short-cuts to tell us what we need to know about a potential boy/girl friend. For example, if a girl totally hated PULP FICTION, found now humor, and didn’t “get” it, she’ll probably not like me, and I’m not likely to be keen on her.

Now that I think about it, CLOSER might have some value as a new relationship barometer. If the person you like sympathizes, empathizes, or defends the actions of any of these characters, get the hell out of Dodge.

CONSTANTINE

Do you ever feel defensive about liking certain movies, or every seeing a bad film? Every Tuesday Koz and I talk about what we’ve seen the previous week, and sometimes he doesn’t even want to tell me, knowing that a verbal tongue-lashing is coming. (He claims it’s his wife’s fault.)

I feel like I need to explain why I would see a movie like CONSTANTINE. For one, it’s based on the popular Vertigo Comics series HELLBLAZER, which I was a reader of for some time. Also, my boy Djimon Hounsou was in the film, and since I’m writing a part for him in one of my scripts, I wanted to see what he’d do. Also, I heard that Rachel Weisz might be naked, and Lord knows you don’t pass that up.

All of those were subsidiary issues, however. The real reason was that I’m currently working on a screenplay that includes a lot of created mythos (a mythology as to why the movie-world works the way it does), and since CONSTANTINE does as well, I was curious to see how they handled it.

Not well.

The movie is about John Constantine (played even more depressed than normal by Keanu Reeves), who battles half-breed demons here on Earth. Constantine is one of the few people who can “see” these half-breeds, and he’s worried that full angels and demons may soon cross over onto our plane. You see, it seems that God and the Devil made a wager for all of mankind, with the rules of the game stating that neither Heaven nor Hell can have direct influence. That’s what the half-breeds are, influence peddlers for their respective sides.

If what I just wrote seems very confusing, try watching the film. From my perspective, not very much was done to explain what’s happening here. The movie is hard-core Catholic in its initial theology, but that’s only a launching pad to tell the wild story. I mention this because suicide is a huge theme here (in case that kind of thing makes you squeamish).

I have to say that I was pretty disappointed. The set-up sounds spectacular: Earth as a cosmic chess-board, with both sides making moves and one man trying to bridge the gap. Constantine’s pathos (another four dollar word, which basically means the source of his suffering) is that he’s trying to “earn” his way back into Heaven, by taking out as many half-breed demons as possible. “It doesn’t work that way,” Gabriel tells him, which is what I remember from Sunday School, but then she also gives Constantine a parting shot, “Basically, you’re fucked.”

This isn’t all that comforting to someone banking on Post-Trib, but it’s mostly boiler plate to propel the story along.

If only that had been done better, CONSTANTINE might have been another cool franchise for Reeves. I’ll give him credit for this much: he understands that his strength is picking cool Sci-Fi kinds of movies, where his stoicism (a nice way of saying limited acting range) is a positive. It worked in the MATRIX movies, and to a lesser extent in THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE. Actually, this movie and that are a bit similar. Except there we quickly understand what’s going on, and the story tells itself. Here I don’t know what they were doing.

More’s the pity.

On second thought, stay home; rent a movie.


Hyperion
March 11, 2005

Credits
Thanks to Koz
Thanks to Ginella

Call to MovieHype fans
I have plenty of MovieHype columns on tap, but I want to hear from you. Do you have a particular movie, or a movie subject you want me to tackle? Write and let me know

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