Constantine: TV Review

If you’re not getting enough televised horror from your cable and streaming outlets (THE WALKING DEAD, PENNY DREADFUL, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, AMERICAN HORROR STORY, SALEM, etc), broadcast network NBC has something for you: following GRIMM on Friday nights, CONSTANTINE is an adaptation of DC’s Hellblazer comic series, starring Matt Ryan as John Constantine – a scruffy Irish scrapper who dabbles in the dark arts, rescuing victims from malicious supernatural entities and perhaps rescuing mankind as a whole (though this remains to be seen).
Midway through the show’s initial slate of thirteen episodes (no more have been ordered, though the show may yet be renewed for a second season), CONSTANTINE has established itself as engaging and reasonably entertaining, if uneven and frequently confused about its direction. Its strength lies primarily in the basic premise and the conception of its titular character, a world and somewhat cynical man, possibly damned, whose skills have made him a somewhat reluctant warrior in a battle against Evil – a battle that may save his soul not only from eternal damnation but also from the personal guilt he feels over a past failure.
From episode to episode, regardless of the strength of the stories, Ryan inhabits the role as if he were born to play it. His John Constantine walks a fine line – just enough cynicism to give the character a believable edge, just enough hint of empathy to humanize him without dulling that edge. His performance has been more than enough to hold attention while the show finds its legs, which have been a bit wobbly so far – partly because of producer uncertainty, partly because of network interference.
To date, we have seen a major supporting character introduced, dispatched, and replaced, leaving behind a plot device (a map indicating future confrontations) that figures into the stories so infinitesimally that it could easily be discarded. We have also seen some fiddling around with episode air dates, resulting in minor but regrettable continuity problems.
The only continuing story arc is the “Rising Darkness” – a suggestion that weekly phenomenon are part of build-up toward some kind of apocalyptic confrontation. So far, this idea has seen little development, coming across more like a lip-service attempt to suggest a connection between otherwise disparate story lines. It does not help that, since this is the first season, we have no baseline comparison to make between Constantine’s past opponents and his current foes – who, we have to accept on faith, are suddenly much stronger than expected.
There are a few hints that the arc is heading somewhere, including a bombshell prediction at the end of Episode 5. Unfortunately, because NBC aired at least one episode out of order (Episode 6, the Halloween-themed “Rage of Caliban,” was clearly supposed to air the month before its November 28 debut), the development seems erratic; the show seems to be treading water when Constantine causally mentions the Rising Darkness at the end of the episode, without any of the concern one would expect in light of previous events.
We have to give the producers credit for trying to craft a show that stands or falls on the strength of its individual episodes. Unlike shows (such as THE WALKING DEAD) that adopt the soap opera format to hook audiences into tuning in each week to see what happens next, regardless of whether what happened before actually warrants a further look, CONSTANTINE’s stories are largely self-contained. Though not all have been compelling, “A Feast of Friends” (Episode 4, November 14) and “Danse Vaudou” (Episode 5, November 21) have proven that CONSTANTINE has can at least occasionally reach its full potential.
CONSTANTINE is not squeamish about about delivering its weekly quotient of horror. The computer-generated special effects are nicely done, and the impact is surprisingly powerful, even visceral, for a network show. (Ironically, the character’s chain-smoking is far more circumspect, and his bi-sexuality is so far completely submerged.) We also rather enjoy the way the show’s archetypal battle of Good vs. Evil plays out in relatively human terms, lending a sort of streetwise credibility to the otherwise incredible events.

Michael James Shaw as Papa Midnight with Matt Ryan as John Constantine
Michael James Shaw as Papa Midnight with Matt Ryan as John Constantine

The supporting cast and guest stars have yet to make a memorable impression, except for Michael James Shaw as Papa Midnight (a voudoun priest who is alternately an antagonist and an ally to Constantine) and Emmett J. Scanlan as police detective Jim Corrigan (who all DC fans know is destined to become The Spectre, should the show last long enough).
Overall, we get the impression that CONSTANTINE is attempting something along the lines of what has been seen in PENNY DREADFUL, pitting highly flawed and tormented human characters against demons both literal and personal. It has to be said that the writing seldom if ever reaches the heights achieved by John August in the Showtime series. We should also note that, although fans may be pleased by the television show’s more faithful depiction of the comic character, the movie version of CONSTANTINE (2005) with Keanu Reeves was actually more effective screen version of the material. Still, once one wipes these comparisons from the slate, CONSTANTINE is good enough to survive on its own terms, and we hope to see it return next season.

The Last Exorcism Part II: Review

The Last Exorcism Part 2 one-sheet
Sitting down to write a review of THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, I find myself somewhat in the position of the modern satirist, who finds the real world has become so ridiculous that there is little room to push the envelope even further for comic effect, rendering the concept of satire almost redundant. In my case, reviewing THE LAST EXORCISM PART II is virtually redundant because you, dear reader, have already viewed it. Oh, you may not have paid for a ticket yet, but believe me, you have seen it all – in other, earlier – though not necessarily better – movies. But then, this is hardly surprising. After all, if the previous film offered the last exorcism – the end of the line, done, finished, all over and used up – then we have only ourselves to blame for expecting anything new in PART II.
What is mildly interesting is that what we have seen before is not necessarily from THE LAST EXORCISM. In fact, PART II makes a laudable attempt to distance itself from its predecessor, using the previous film’s plot only as a back story and abandoning the pseudo-documentary stylings in favor of a more conventional approach that focuses on the soul survivor of the confusing conflagration that consumed the characters at the conclusion of Part 1.

Ashley Bell as Nell, a fragile soul seeking to escape her traumatic past.
Ashley Bell as Nell, a fragile soul seeking to escape her traumatic past.

This time out, Nell (Ashley Bell) is the central character, attempting to recover from her traumatic past while evading evil forces that may be pursuing her or may exist only in her mind. (One guess: which turns out to be correct?)  Bell provides an award-worthy performance as a lost and fragile soul, struggling to come to grips with unpleasant memories and to find a place for herself in a modern world that makes her feel like a stranger in a strange land (after years couped up in the creepy cabin of the first film).
Nell's past shows up in the form of a masked man, who seems to have wandered in from the set of EYES WIDE SHUT.
Nell's past shows up in the form of a masked man, who seems to have wandered in from the set of EYES WIDE SHUT.

The inevitable problem with this scenario is that generic demands trump satisfying drama. No matter how much the opening scenes engage our sympathy, it is all for naught – simply a set up for the sturm and drang to come, during which THE LAST EXORCISM PART II jettisons everything that worked in order to parade a few well-worn shocks across the screen like has-beens on a decrepit vaudeville stage, before proceeding to the sadly predictable finale.
I say “predictable,” because (as I indicated above) you have seen it before, along with almost everything else in the film – and almost all within the past couple months. Seriously, if you have watched more than a few horror movies this year, you have seen THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, almost from beginning to end. Don’t believe me? Well, read on…
WARNING: Major spoilers abound.
Stop me if you've heard this one: a demon levitates a teenage girl above a bed.
Stop me if you've heard this one: a demon levitates a teenage girl above a bed.

  • We start with a reasonably well-staged set-piece of a couple alarmed by an unexpected intrusion, which turns out to be a feral-looking child, hunched on all fours atop a shelf (MAMA).
  • The child – well, young woman – turns out to be orphaned, or at least abandoned, with a supernatural force pursuing her and protecting her (also MAMA).
  • There is a spooky cult, seen at the end of the previous film, that wants to drag her back into the fold (essentially PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 – which was last year, but still…).
  • We know our girl is being targeted by evil forces because she levitates above her bed (also PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4).
  • Also, a flock of birds go kamikaze on the windows of a building she is in (apparently having flapped over from DARK SKIES).
  • The dilemma, it turns out, is that the young woman must decide whether to renounce the darkness or join forces with it (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES).
  • Helping her in this effort is a sympathetic black female supporting character, who can offer a little non-Christian spiritual support because this is the South, where they have all the voodoo stuff (also BEAUTIFUL CREATURES and come to think of it, kinda sort THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: GHOSTS OF GEORGIA).
  • In the end, the exorcism proves ineffective (THE LAST EXORCISM), and the invading entity gains purchase within the body of an innocent victim (INSIDIOUS).

Nell listens to erotic moans emanating through the walls of a motel room she is cleaning. Needless to say, sexy stuff is the devil's gateway into your soul.
Nell listens to erotic moans emanating through the walls of a motel room she is cleaning. Needless to say, sexy stuff is the devil's gateway into your soul.

If you don’t mind re-watching a virtual montage of other horror movies, THE LAST EXORCISM PART II is interesting for a while, although its slow build-up is more “slow” than “build-up.” The spook scenes more or less sustain themselves in the first half, when the filmmakers keep to relatively believable phenomena that could be explained away as dreams, hallucinations, or coincidence. But the urge to supply a fright-filled finale pushes the film beyond its ability to sustain credibility (a roomful of levitating knifes seems lifted from an Italian EXORCIST rip-off, circa 1979.)
It is almost an article of faith among contemporary horror films that Evil is all powerful and unstoppable, so much so that resistance is futile; the characters might as well give up and resign themselves to their fate before the film even starts, saving us the trouble of wasting our time to see them reach their inevitable end. Back in the 1970s, this sort of cynicism made some kind of sense in the context of the disillusionment engendered by Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the threat of mutually assured nuclear annihilation; today, it merely seems arbitrary.
I suppose that, if one were in a sympathetic frame of mind, one could find an argument to justify THE LAST EXORCISM PART II’s final turn of events, which offer just a hint of rebellious joyful anarchy – bordering on self-righteous glee – which results from overthrowing one’s oppressors. Somewhat miraculously, Ashley Bell engages our sympathy almost strongly enough to make us vicariously endorse this conclusion (somewhat in the manner that we root for Carrie White’s prom-night revenge).
In THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, even the church seems in on the conspiracy.
In THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, even the church seems in on the conspiracy.

Unfortunately, the scenario is too contrived to support this reading credibly. Everyone is suspect – possibly part of the evil conspiracy, as evidenced by an unnerving trip to a church, where a chaplain offers not so soothing spiritual comfort in dialogue carefully calibrated to obscure whether he is talking about God or demonic Abalam, who wants to find a home in Nell’s body. Furthermore, the alleged representatives of the Power of Good (called the “right-hand path”) are too closely akin to the incompetent Jedi from STAR WARS, EPISODE III: THE REVENGE OF THE SITH, who seemed to almost deliberately drive Anakin to join the Dark Side of the Force. Poor double-crossed Nell – we are led to believe – has no choice but to accept Abalam, because everyone else is so afraid of what will happen if she accepts Abalam.
Except, you know, her would-be boyfriend, whom Abalam forces to commit suicide (nice, effective way to earn your potential victim’s sympathy and convince her to submit willingly!). And her sympathetic therapist. There’s also the nagging problem that Abalam, we are told, is weak without Nell as a vessel for his power – until the script needs him to be so powerful that he cannot be exorcised,* scaring the Right-Hand Path into attempting to kill Nell in order to prevent Abalam from entering her and fulfilling an apocalyptic prophecy.
On her fingers, Ashley Bell optimistically counts future LAST EXORCISM sequels.
On her fingers, Ashley Bell optimistically counts future LAST EXORCISM sequels.

Is it any wonder the poor girl goes a little bit off the rails at the end? I mean, who wouldn’t – the script (if not the devil) made her do it. Too bad the switch from victim to victimizer feels like a half-hearted afterthought, targeting a handful of (mostly off-screen) victims. Instead of a cathartic explosion of apocalypstic proportions, we get a joy ride, a few computer-generated flames, and some rock-and-roll on the soundtrack.
This, it seems, is how the world ends – not with a bang but with a music video.
THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (March 1, 2013). CBS Films, 88 minutes, rated R. Written by Damien Chazell and Ed Gass-Donelley. Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly. Cast: Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, David Jensen, Tarra Riggs, Louis Herthum, Muse Watson, Erica Michelle, Sharice A. Williams, Boyana Balta, Joe Chrest.

  • Yes, there is an exorcism in THE LAST EXORCISM PART II. Which means that THE LAST EXORCISM did not, in fact, feature the “last exorcism.”

Laserblast Podcast 3:37.2: Total Recall, Indiana Jones, Bait

laserblast composite
It’s the return of the Cinefantastique Laserblast Podcast – featuring news and reviews of horror, fantasy & science fiction available on home video. In this installment, CFQ correspondents Dan Persons and Steve Biodrowski look at Tuesday, September 18’s current crop of releases, including INDIANA JONES: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES, CABIN IN THE WOODS, and the complete seventh season of SUPERNATURAL. Also, they offer reviews of recent releases, BAIT in 3D and the “Mind-Bending” Blu-ray edition of TOTAL RECALL (1990). Finally, they take a look at the 2001 Canadian documentary, THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY, a look at horror makeup effects in general and at makeup artist Greg Nicoter in particular; it’s not available on U.S. home video yet, but CFQ fans should eagerly await its arrival so that they can see Biodrowski’s 10 seconds of fame as one of the interview subjects.

Fox to Bring 'The Spectre' to TV?

Spectre! _ WrathDeadline reported that the FOX Network has optioned the DC Comics supernatural hero The Spectre as a potential TV series.
Brandon Camp (JOHN DOE) has been commissioned to write the script and if greenlighted, executive produce  along with Bill Gerber (QUEEN OF THE DAMNED).
The Spectre was created by artist Benard Bailey and writer Jerry Siegel (co-creator of Superman). Debuting in More Fun Comics #52 in 1940.
The Spectre was originally the ghost of murdered police detective Jim Corrigan, permitted to return to a kind of life and required to function as a supernatural crime-fighter.
Spectre_MF52In more recent years, DC has presented The Spectre as a kind of Avenging Angel or non-corporeal spirit, the very personification of  Vengeance. He’s now considered  an immortal  being who only possessed the resurrected body of Corrigan, and later inhabited the bodies of former Green Lantern Hal Jordan (ridding him of his possession by Parallax) and Crispus Allen, a Gotham City policeman( killed by a police technician coincidently named Jim Corrigan —though not intended to be the Golden/Silver Age character).
He’s been a part of The Justice Society, and sometimes comes to the aid of other superheroes when they are faced with occult forces.  Without regularly uniting with a human host, The Spectre can lose all sense of perspective and become increasingly harsh, erratic,  cruel and violent.
Thus far. The  Spectre has only appeared in animated form, such as in BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, voiced by Mark Hamill, and the  DC SHOWCASE: THE SPECTRE solo short, voiced by Gary Cole. (Included on the JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS DVD.) 
Warner Brothers Television and Gerber Productions will produce, should Fox commission a pilot or series.

The CW's 'Secret Circle'

The CW announced its Fall schedule, with just one new genre show, the “teenage witch” drama THE SECRET CIRCLE.
THE SECRET CIRCLE will join THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on THURSDAYS, while spy-fi series NIKITA will take the departed SMALLVILLE’s Friday 8:00 PM slot, before the returning SUPERNATURAL.

THE SECRET CIRCLE – “Cassie Blake was a happy, normal teenage girl – until her mother Amelia dies in what appears to be a tragic accidental fire. Orphaned and deeply saddened, Cassie moves in with her warm and loving grandmother Jane in the beautiful small town of Chance Harbor, Washington — the town her mother left so many years before—where the residents seem to know more about Cassie than she does about herself.
As Cassie gets to know her high school classmates, including sweet-natured Diana and her handsome boyfriend Adam, brooding loner Nick, mean-girl Faye and her sidekick Melissa, strange and frightening things begin to happen. When her new friends explain that they are all descended from powerful witches, and they’ve been waiting for Cassie to join them and complete a new generation of the Secret Circle, Cassie refuses to believe them—until Adam shows her how to unlock her incredible magical powers. But it’s not until Cassie discovers a message from her mother in an old leather-bound book of spells hidden in her mother’s childhood bedroom, that she understands her true and dangerous destiny.
What Cassie and the others don’t yet know is that darker powers are at play, powers that might be linked to the adults in the town, including Diana’s father and Faye’s mother—and that Cassie’s mother’s death might not have been an accident.
The series stars Britt Robertson as Cassie Blake, Thomas Dekker as Adam Conant, Gale Harold as Charles Meade, Phoebe Tonkin as Fay Chamberlain, Jessica Parker Kennedy as Melissa, Shelley Hennig as Diana Meade, Louis Hunter as Nick, Ashley Crow as Jane Blake and Natasha Henstridge as Dawn Chamberlain.
Based upon the book series by L.J. Smith (author of The Vampire Diaries book series), THE SECRET CIRCLE is from Outerbanks Entertainment and Alloy Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Television and CBS Television Studios with executive producers Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries, Scream, Dawson’s Creek), Andrew Miller (Imaginary Bitches), Leslie Morgenstein (The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl) and Gina Girolamo. Elizabeth Craft (The Vampire Diaries, Lie to Me) & Sarah Fain (The Vampire Diaries, Lie to Me) were executive producers on the pilot which was directed by Liz Friedlander (The Vampire Diaries, 90210).”

CW Renews 'Vampire Diaries', 'Supernatural'

Vampire Diaries_promoEntertainment Weekly reports that The CW announced early renewals of it’s genre series THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and SUPENATURAL for next season.
VAMPIRE DIARIES is no surprize, as it’s the network’s number one show this year. SUPERNATURAL is holding it’s own, now in it’s sixth season—and since SMALLVILLE has it series finale after ten years on May 13th, a show to anchor the difficult Friday night schedule is much needed.
The fact that both shows are produced by or in association with CW half-parent Warner Brothers Television couldn’t hurt, either.

Smallville, Supernatural Return Tonight

SMALLVILLE and SUPERNATURAL return from hiatus tonight, Friday, Feb.4th.
Chloe Sullivan (Allision Mack) returns to Metropolis, after her mysterious disappearance, though the captured and  released ‘Justice Leaguers’ are unsure if she can be trusted in Collateral.
 On SUPERNATURAL’s Like A Virgin:

“Dean and Bobby anxiously wait for Sam to wake up to see if Death was able to restore his soul without causing Sam to lose his mind. Meanwhile, Dean and Bobby investigate a disappearance of virgins and discover dragons are behind the kidnappings.
Bobby sends Dean to a doctor who owns the only weapon in the world that can slay a dragon, but Dean must prove himself worthy enough to take it.
Phil Sgriccia directed the episode written by Adam Glass.
SMALLVILLE airs at 8:00 PM/7 Central, followed by SUPERNATURAL at 9:00 PM/7 Central  on the CW Network.

'Season of the Witch' — Trailer

Opening tomorrow, January 7th is the medieval supernatural action thriller SEASON OF THE WITCH.

” Nicolas Cage (‘National Treasure’, ‘Ghost Rider’) and Ron Perlman (‘Hellboy’, ‘Hellboy II’) star in this tale of a 14th century Crusader who returns to a homeland devastated by the Black Plague. A beleaguered church, deeming sorcery the culprit of the plague, commands the two knights (Nicloas Cage, Ron Perlman) to transport an accused witch to a remote abbey, where monks will perform a ritual in hopes of ending the pestilence.
A priest, a grieving knight, a disgraced itinerant and a headstrong youth who can only dream of becoming a knight join a mission troubled by mythically hostile wilderness and fierce contention over the fate of the girl. When the embattled party arrives at the abbey, a horrific discovery jeopardises the knight’s pledge to ensure the girl fair treatment, and pits them against an inexplicably powerful and destructive force.”

Directed by Dominic Sena (KALIFORNIA) from a screenplay by Bragi F. Schut (THRESHOLD) , SEASON OF THE WITCH also stars  Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore, and Robbie Sheehan. Fan favorite Christopher Lee also appears.
From Relativity Media

'Smallville: Icarus' – Clip

Here’s a preview clip from this Friday’s episode of SMALLVILLE, Icarus, and the offical description:

The VRA (Vigilante Registration Act) is in full effect, and things take an unfortunate turn of events after the Green Arrow (Justin Hartley) tries to stop a mugging, but is attacked by citizens for being a super hero. Clark (Tom Welling) discovers that the civilians who attacked Oliver were all marked with a darkness tattoo.
Carter Hall (SG-1’s Michael Shanks) and Star Girl (Britt Irvin) return to help Clark deal with Slade’s (BSG’s Michael Hogan) re-emergence after he kidnaps Lois (Erica Durance).
Cassidy Freeman also stars.
Mairzee Almas directed the episode written by Genevieve Sparling.

KNEEL Before... err, LOIS!
KNEEL Before… err, LOIS!

The spoilerific stuff:
Clark Kent proposes to Lois Lane, and this episode may be the last we see of Hawkman on the show. Given the episode title, one might suspect it’s a dramatic exit. Time will tell.
This is the mid-season finale; the show wont be back until 2011.
SMALLVILLE airs Friday at 8:00 PM/7 Central, followed by a new episode of SUPERNATURAL, Appointment In Samarra.

The CW to test fly DC's 'Raven'?

Raven_DCVariety reports that The CW has signed V (The ABC Series) producer Diego Gutierrez to develop and write a Warner Borthers Television pilot for the DC super hero Raven, who’s previously only appearred in comics and on the animated TEEN TITANS.
Created by Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez, Raven  is Rachel Roth, a human/demon hybrid who lived for years in an alternate dimension. She has  telepathic/empathic ablities, and the power to teleport, as well as and send out an astral body to eavesdrop or do battle.
The article suggests that the show would be a non-spin off replacement for SMALLVILLE, which ends it’s 10-year run in 2011.