Seen at the Movies: Almost everything about the graphic novel adaptation Constantine, starring Keanu Reeves as the cigarette-smoking, lung cancer-ridden, demon-fighting title character, is tired, tired, tired, from the age-old good vs. evil template to the grimy urban look. Nobody ever seems to freshen up in this film, which splits its time between a Blade Runner-inflected downtown L.A. and a digital hell filled with the kinds of demons that haven't been re-imagined since Bosch, and certainly always have the same appearance in these CG visions. Speaking of hand-me-down ideas, can't anyone for once rethink the snarling, head-spinning, bile-spewing Exorcist model for representing demon possession? Or is Constantine, which comes mighty close at times to religious porn, intended as parody?
One really horrendous byproduct of the digital revolution in film is the opportunity it's given for relatively easy exploitation and squandering of earlier artists' groundbreaking and original effects work. I guess that's what you have to expect from a debuting director like Francis Lawrence, whose career up to this point has been in music videos. But I was really shocked to see the great DP Philippe Rousselot's name on this film—his dank, greenish imagery and tricked-up shooting of Naomi Shohan's grungy sets is probably what was requested, but that doesn't keep Constantine from being a remarkably ugly film. Such respected creature designers and visual effects artists as Stan Winston, John Fink, and the Tippett Studio's Craig Hayes are all credited, but nobody's going to convince me they weren't operating on auto pilot. One nice touch: Tilda Swinton plays a wittily coiffed and costumed (by Louise Frogley) winged angel Gabriel, who taunts and flirts with Constantine, and finally gets his comeuppance from the Devil himself (Peter Stormare). Angels getting smacked around—that's my kind of movie.--John Calhoun
Seen on Broadway: Following its much-praised mounting last summer of Donald Margulies’ Sight Unseen, the Manhattan Theatre Club is debuting his latest tale of artistic angst, Brooklyn Boy, with Daniel Sullivan encoring as director and the Biltmore as venue. Failing upwards this time around is a Jewish novelist, Eric Weiss (Adam Arkin), whose first commercial success triggers rounds of self-doubt, recrimination, and second guessing, roughly one episode of each per each of the play’s six scenes. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Dinner with Friends still knows how to serve up good, rueful laughs, and a couple of the vignettes touch raw nerves. In comparison with its tartly precise predecessor, however, Brooklyn Boy coasts largely on empty calories, with characters that hover near stereotypes and a full-circle climax that’s close to cloying. The production is well-acted (including Arkin, in a thanklessly reactive role) and professional in every way, but for all its autobiographical underpinnings it feels processed, second-hand, and slightly evasive. The unblinkingly candid Sight Unseenstruck me as fresh; the new piece is the one that seems like a revival of worn-down material.
Brooklyn Boy pivots on Ralph Funicello’s uniformly fine sets. Onstage is a replication of Weiss’ childhood home, a Sheepshead Bay apartment building. From its first floor roll out the play’s different environments, as if summoned from the author’s imagination. At Brooklyn’s Maimonides Hospital Weiss trades barbs with his cancer-stricken father, Manny (Barney Millerveteran Allan Miller), who belittles his son’s literary achievements; in its cafeteria, Eric tries unsuccessfully to avoid a dimly remembered friend, Ira (Ayre Gross, excellent), who suspects the writer has based a character on him. The play then moves to an apartment at St. Marks Place in Manhattan, where Eric spars with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Nina (Polly Draper)—it’s the show’s one clichéd environment, its barrenness mirroring Nina’s own. In Act II, Eric heads to LA to work on a screen adaptation of his novel, "Brooklyn Boy," where in his Mondrian suite he tangles with a young, painfully self-aware groupie of sorts, Alison (the superb Ari Graynor); next up is a tussle in a Paramount office when executive Melanie (Mimi Lieber) and actor Tyler Shaw (Kevin Isola) try to alter the book for Hollywood consumption ("Imagining Jews is much easier than actually seeing them," she explains to the disbelieving Eric). The play concludes amidst the bric-a-brac within the Weiss family apartment, where Eric reconciles himself to his past and his forgotten faith. [At this point in the season, after several productions delving into Judaism, I could advise Eric on the necessary rituals.]
From scene to scene Chris Parry provides even, consistent layers of light, and another Sight Unseen alum, Jess Goldstein, seems more comfortable with the day-to-day clothes of these characters than the Speedos and bikinis of Good Vibrations. Michael Roth’s sound design is fine but his original score sets an unfortunately safe and sappy tone right from the start. [PRG provided the lighting, Masque Sound the audio, Great Lakes Scenic Studios the scenic elements and Scenic Technologies the automation.] Not for nothing is Brooklyn Boy dedicated to Herb Gardner, whose plays trafficked in the same brand of exasperated sentimentality. –Robert Cashill