HELL'S ANGEL: Keanu Reeves.
When it comes to art — and especially fiction and film — the line between the artist and the work can sometimes become razor thin, with viewers finding it easy to question just how much of what they are seeing on the screen is “real” and how much is imagined. These days, a brave few filmmakers are even breaching that line (a good example was screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation,” which, in the end, purported to be a movie about how “Adaptation” got to the screen).
The latest example of this cinematic magic show is Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education,” opening Feb. 25 at Market Street Cinema. A film within a film (which might just be somewhat autobiographical on Almodovar’s part), it plays with the audience’s expectations in ways that you don’t see coming until they’re slapping your face.
Set in the late 1970s, “Bad Education” is about Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez), an independent filmmaker in Madrid, who is looking for a script to direct as a follow-up to his hit debut. Unexpectedly, he is approached by a young man named Angel (Gael Garcia Bernal), who turns out to be his old friend Ignacio. As boys attending a Catholic boarding school, Enrique and Ignacio had helped each other discover their blooming homosexuality. All the while, Enrique had only been able to stand by helplessly while Ignacio was sexually abused by their literature teacher, Father Manolo (Daniel Gimenez Cacho). As an adult, Angel/Ignacio has come calling to bring Enrique a short story called “The Visit,” which is about their experience as boys in school, their love of movies, and Ignacio’s film noir fantasies about visiting Father Manolo and blackmailing him.
Touched by the story, Enrique decides to make it into a movie, with Angel/Ignacio in the lead role as a transsexual who confronts Father Manolo. It is at this point that we realize, kind of startlingly, the first hour or so of “Bad Education” has in fact been a film within a film: scenes from Enrique’s film of Angel/Ignacio’s story, “The Visit” (and to put an even deeper twist to it, it’s probably at least partially autobiographical, in that during the later 1970s, director Almodovar was a drag queen/filmmaker, deeply invested in post-Franco Spain’s cultural renaissance, the Movida).
The performances here are top notch, especially that of Mexican actor Bernal, who is a good-looking guy but who makes maybe the most unconvincing woman I’ve ever seen. As for the plot, though I sometimes felt like I needed a pen and paper handy to keep straight what was past and what was present, and what was “real” and what was imagined — not to mention what was imagined by Angel/Ignacio, and what was imagined by Enrique — in the end, I felt satisfied by the result. This is a movie that’s supposed to make you think deeply about the nature of film, and, in the end, it does that. While “Bad Education” might only — truly — make perfect sense in the mind of its creator, it’s the thought that counts in terms of the audience.
— By David Koon
Bless me readers, for I have sinned. My confession: I’m a sucker for a movie with the Devil in it.
There is just something about movies that tinker with the idea of Satan. He is always dressed like the Great Gatsby, or a regular at Studio 54. He always talks with an accent, and has perfectly styled hair. As seen in the first cinematic treatment of Ol’ Splitfoot — “Paradise Lost” — the way we often portray the Devil in art is the way we see sin in our lives: intoxicating, alluring, dangerously beautiful.
With the amount of thought I’ve given the topic — and being a comic book fan to boot — you can bet I all but scampered to see the latest incarnation of the Devil Does Hollywood: “Constantine,” staring Keanu Reeves. Based on the DC Comics series “John Constantine: Hellblazer,” the results were about what I expected — predictable plot, pseudo-mystic dialogue, a Devil who looked like the groom in a New Jersey wedding, circa 1981. Still, it’s good popcorn fare, sure to enthrall fans of the two-dimensional “Constantine.”
Here, Reeves plays John Constantine, a man who has seen demons and angels flitting among us since he was a child. A suicide attempt as a teen-ager landed him in Hell for two minutes until paramedics brought him back. Not wanting to return to the Cosmic Penalty Box, Constantine has spent his adult life trying to win back the salvation he lost by killing himself, currying God’s favor by acting as a kind of metaphysical policeman, “deporting” demons who go against the rules of the grand Balance of good and evil by directly inhabiting or assaulting humans. Oh yeah: He smokes a pack and a half of Chinese cigarettes a day, has incurable lung cancer, and has six months to live.
Soon after the titles roll, Constantine is approached by Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), a regular ol’ detective whose twin sister, Isabel (also Weisz), recently took a walk off the roof of the mental hospital where she was committed. Seeking to get Isabel sprung from Hell, Angela lets Constantine lead her into his dark world. With help from voodoo priest Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) and a prophecy from the Bible of Hell (didn’t know they had those down there, did you?), Constantine soon learns that Isabel’s death is part of a plot to bring Hell on earth through the birth of the Devil’s son.
While Keanu is playing Keanu here, as he does in every movie since “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” Hounsou and Weisz milk their flat-as-pancakes characters for every last drop of complexity. Too, though the appearance of the Thunder From Down Under (Peter Stormare, playing El Diablo with sweaty, over-the-top glee) was a bit long in coming for my taste, it was well done. The effects are top notch, the plot doesn’t leave too many loose ends hanging, and the message of fiery damnation might get a Saturday night viewer to church on Sunday morning. All in all, not a waste of $7.
— By David Koon