Thursday, January 14, 2010

Movie Review: The Crow

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The Crow (1994 Dimension Films Dir. Alex Proyas)




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Everybody got that? Because they’ll screw this up later.


Let’s get this out of the way, first things first. This is not a great movie and it was never going to be a great movie. It’s a cheap movie, made at a time when comic book movies were thinking about being in vogue for a while. Consider that the work done to complete the movie despite the death of the star more than doubled the budget to a still paltry 15 million. So this could have been a real piece of crap, nothing more than a cash in, and the fact that it’s remotely watchable is something of a minor miracle. Now, having said that, do I think this movie is bad? No, not at all. In fact, I think it’s pretty good. If you’re even a little, tiny bit gothy, male and don’t like vampires, there is only this and Sleepy Hollow for you. There are just some places where it could have been better if someone had decided to throw a little more cash in at the start and had the star survived the process. For the most part though, what you’ve got here is a movie that manages to avoid or at least minimize the pitfalls of a tiny budget and a product that almost no one had even heard of much less cared about before the film came out. However, let’s not pretend this is a perfect movie, it’s not. It’s got some pretty serious flaws, although for the most part I really do enjoy this movie.

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No body knows… the trouble I’ve seen.


The movie starts on Devil’s Night in a city that I think is supposed to be Detroit, since that’s where the comic takes place and they mention Motor City and the name Detroit a few times. Only this is no Detroit I’ve ever seen. It’s actually kinda sad, because Detroit doesn’t look this good, or built up. The Motor City wasn’t good enough at being itself to make it into a movie. Actually, I think almost everything on this movie was done on sets and back lots at the Screen Gems Studio in Wilmington, North Carolina as an economy move. At the time it was owned by now defunct Carolco Pictures but was built for DEG. I mention that only because I find it interesting and because it’s nice for people to know where we are standing. Also, I wanted to complain about Detroit not being Detroit enough to play Detroit in a movie about people in Detroit. It doesn’t even look like Detroit, none of the land marks are there. The Detroit river is missing, none of the famous Detroit buildings are in evidence, no freeways. If anything, this looks more like Paris than it does Detroit. I guess Europe was more gothy than America and Detroit wasn’t Detroit enough to be Detroit. Detroit, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit. Have we reached semantic satiation on Detroit yet? I sure hope so, only by saying Detroit over and over again can the word Detroit have about the same meaning as the city does to people who don’t live in Detroit. Detroit is not a well-loved city, even by the people who live near it, it’s all very sad. Detroit, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit.

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The movie has a sloooow opening.


Where was I? Oh yeah, still in the first five minutes of the movie. A couple gets killed because… actually it’s not clear why at first. It will be, before the end all will be explained, but for now, we don’t know. Shelly and Eric were killed the day before their wedding day, which would have been Halloween. A police officer and a little girl seem to be the only ones who are touched by these two deaths. There is a problem right away with the little girl’s voice over. First, the whole thing sounds more pretentious than it is since its worded just sort of wrong. It sounds like someone went for a vacation up their own ass and sent this as their travelogue diary, but really it’s just setting up the main conceit of the movie. Second, she’s speaking in a metered tone that makes you think it’s some kind of poetry, even though it isn’t. This frustrating to listen to, but I blame the director and not the actor. Third, she says “Then sometimes, just sometimes, a crow can bring that soul back, to put the wrong things right” and EVERY SINGLE TIME I hear myself mutter “And hope that the next leap, will be the leap home.” Yes, I know it’s stupid! Doesn’t stop me from doing it though. Anyway, the narration doesn’t get any better, but there isn’t very much of it. Actually, the girl playing Sarah gives a pretty good performance, seeing as she’s more or less the only representation of a decent human being besides the cop we saw a moment ago. Any shortcomings associated with the character aren’t her fault in my mind.

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When you have templates on hand, pimpin’ can be a breeze.


We find that in the year since Eric and Shelly were killed, Sarah and the cop (named Albrecht) have bonded a bit. Sarah makes a mention that Shelly and Eric took care of her and it seems Albrecht has taken up the responsibility in the interim. None of that’s really important though, because what’s really going on is that a crow has decided to wake Eric up and send him on the road to vengeance. In this movie, the bird serves primarily as a psychopomp and familiar in the Beastmaster tradition. In the book, the bird is more of a conscience, trying to keep Eric on track and prevent him from spiraling in on his pain. Interestingly, the crow in this movie is played by ravens, specifically a raven name Magic who also turns up in the TV mini-series The Stand. The bird guides Eric back to the old apartment, where we get the first hint that Eric absorbs strong memories through touch. Eric flashes back through the attack, where T-Bird’s gang killed Eric and raped Shelly. Got to say, for Detroit, a lot of white people here. There are maybe four blacks in this whole movie. Not the Detroit I know, where blacks make up something like 80% of the population. Not only was Detroit not picturesque enough, it also wasn’t white enough. Either that or there are still segregation laws that we don’t have in Detroit. In Detroit we segregate without any laws, it just happens. Hey, edgy racial relations commentary! Detroit, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit.

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Even a vengeance obsessed ghost man needs a kitty.


So our boy now proceeds to get himself dolled up in his signature make up. As I remember, the make up is reminiscent of the comedy/tragedy masks of French Gothic actors. In fact, they use a tragedy mask in the movie as an inspiration for the make-up design. Of course the putting on of the make-up isn’t a simple little thing though, it’s done as another part of the emotional turmoil the character is going through. Everything is done as a reaction to the pain the character is feeling so we’re required to get inside his head on a regular basis. This works better in some scenes than in others. The book spends half it’s time in Eric’s head, while the movie spends more time with the two human characters who are barely represented in the book. There is a girl, the daughter of the junkie who sleeps with Fun Boy, but she’s only on one page, maybe two. There is an Albrecht, but again he’s only in the comic like twice. The movie greatly fleshes out all the characters from where they were in the book.

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If you repeat just one more Chuck Norris “fact”…


So where are we? Ah yes, Tin-Tin. Only 18 minutes into the movie at this point by the way. There is a problem here, and the problem is Devil’s Night. In Detroit, Devil's Night is the night before Halloween, and its premise is that a lot of vandalism happens that night. Not soaped windows or TP in the trees, no in Detroit we set fires. Not little fires, not burning leaves, but houses. In the 80s, there was a spate of arson, mostly in abandoned buildings, set by property owners unable to sell the houses and wanting insurance money. That extended into all sort of crimes and Devil’s Night was just a bad night to be out and about. It calmed down in the 90s and today it’s more or less been stamped out. However, the point is that Devil’s Night happens on October 30th, and this story starts on the 29th. The problem is that the makers of the movie seem to be a little confused as to the order in which their own movie happens. When Tin-Tin first sees Eric, he mentions “Halloween ain’t until manana.” which would lead one to think that this is Devil’s Night, except that its clearly stated that the next day is Devil’s Night. It probably doesn’t matter that much, but it’s always bugged me that they can’t figure out what day this is.

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Look either you have to come up on the ceiling or I’m going to have to come down there and frankly, I’m having to much fun to come down.


Anyway, Eric beats up and kills Tin-Tin, after explaining that he’s quite upset with old Tinny. He even says “You killed her on Halloween” even though it’s explained at the beginning that it’s Devil’s Night. Anybody in Detroit would have said Devil’s Night and not Halloween because they are two different days. Of course, as we’ve said this is only a shadow of Detroit and not really Detroit at all. Detroit, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit. The scene is actually pretty cool, the fight is performed well, it works like it’s supposed to and it sets up the pattern for how things are going to go from here.

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OH YES! It just started kicking in.


From that scene we cut to the chief baddie, a guy named Top Dollar who lives above a nightclub. He and his sister, with whom he has an interesting relationship, are up there talking about death and wanting to cut some girl’s eyes out. They get waaaay to into eyes in this movie, and there will be more than one scene to get squeamish about if you have eye phobia. From there we see Sarah again, who is disappointed in the amount of time her mother spends with Fun Boy. The guy playing Fun Boy does look a good deal like the character as he’s drawn in the book. That’s about all the similarity he has, because they act completely different, but that’s okay. While the movie deviates quite far from the book’s narrative, the spirit is ever present. This is one of those adaptations where adhering to the letter of the book would have likely made a really lousy movie.

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OMG! The colors!


From there, we have Eric going to see Gideon at his pawnshop. This actually plays out very close to how it plays out in the book, although it is cross cut with the police finding the remains of Tin-Tin. Eric finds the ring that Tin-Tin pawned and then smashes up Gideon’s shop, before interrogating Gideon and the burning his place to the ground. He meets up with Albrecht, tells him the plot of the movie and then vanishes. This leaves poor Albrecht wondering what the hell just happened. We then get Eric meeting up with Sarah, who realizes who he is because he mentions the title of one of his songs to her. I really hate this bit because while it’s the only time there is rain in this movie, she says something about wishing it would stop raining, which is the prompt for him. But it never rains in any other part of the movie as far as I know. NO RAIN! Albrecht works out who Eric is by looking up the old file, so now both the humans in the story know who Eric is.

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Umm… this isn’t really what I had in mind for tonight.


Eric shows up to get Fun Boy, and while dealing with him manages to also deal with Sarah’s mother. He does this by squeezing the morphine out of her veins. This is… I guess, supposed to also cure her of her addiction and turns her into a good person from here on out. I’m not sure how exactly that’s supposed to work, but it seems to turn her from one of the monsters to the third actual human in the movie. As is the pattern of this movie, Eric then goes to hang out with Albrecht after the killing. Instead of just going to kill everyone on his list, he plays around and talks to people who aren’t on the list. The pattern is something like those of a slasher movie. He stalks, kills, and then backs off everyone else can have some plot for a while, and then he reappears and kills a little more. Lather, rinse, repeat. Instead of a mask, he’s got make-up on. Also, he plays better music.

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No, not Transformers 2. Anything but that!


We then happen upon T-Bird and Skank, the last two members of the killing crew. T-Bird gets into his car and Eric deals with him. There’s a decent action scene, but it’s not worth talking about really. The only important point about this is that Eric has gone from simply killing his victims to terrifying them before killing them. See, instead of just whacking T-Bird, he makes him drive full tilt through the city. The problem is, again, the city. The roads are too narrow, the buildings too high and looming, the alleys are too wide, it’s almost not even an American Cityscape we’re looking at. It’s certainly not Detroit, I can tell you that. Anyway, the drive has the effect of scaring the crap out of T-Bird, before Eric finishes him off. Skank watches the whole thing, bringing unneeded and unwanted comic relief to a scene that is pretty much rendered useless by its presence. The scene of Eric actually killing T-Bird works a little oddly, although surprisingly it does work despite Skank being around. I think this is one of those scenes that they had to make up without Lee since instead of reminding T-Bird, Eric just lets him babble through the whole scene about everything they did. It makes for a good scene though, as clearly Eric has completely unnerved T-Bird and reduced him to a jibbering wreck.

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Legally, every review of The Crow must have this screen cap.


After that, we have to have some story for a while. Sarah’s mother tries to make up for years of neglect, Sarah calls bullshit, but then decides to give it a try. Albrecht gets suspended, mostly because the cop always has to get suspended in these movies. Sarah then runs over to Eric’s old pad where he’s hanging out and they have a moment. It doesn’t really work, but that might be again because I think Lee isn’t actually in this scene. I do like it when she finds the cat and says “I thought you were dead. You’re not dead… are you?” I keep wanting to make excuses for bits that involve Eric that don’t work because most those scenes don’t seem to actually have him in them. We then have a few more scenes of story before we get to the good stuff again. The bad stuff is that Skank has more screen time, and he explains everything to Top Dollar in another misguided attempt at humor.

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He just realized he’s been caught wearing silly make-up.


Pretty much, from here on out, it’s all action more or less. We’re just waiting for the plot to resolve itself now. Top Dollar makes a speech about it being Devil’s Night and how they need to burn more than ever before. It’s a pretty pointless scene, only existing to show that Top Dollar is the boss of the operations. I don’t understand why, since it insinuates that nothing happens in Detroit without his say so, and that’s just not true. Crime happens all the time without asking if it’s okay. Detroit isn’t really owned by anyone, because there is no one big left to care. Anyway, Eric walks in, they exchange a few words and the chaos begins. Eric takes out all the gang members, save for Top Dollar and his sister who escape, in an action sequence that takes out just about every baddie in the whole damn world, or at least all of them in the room. Eric manages to whack Skank, and then leaves to go back to the church where he first appeared. Before doing that he… passes some trick or treaters? Do they trick or treat on the 30th in other cities? Because in Detroit, where this movie allegedly takes place, kids aren’t even allowed out after dark on Devil’s Night, something about violence and vandalism. If this were Detroit, they would know that, but since they’ve clearly never been to Detroit, they don’t know jack about Detroit. Detroit, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit. So Eric goes back to the church where his grave was, says goodbye to Sarah and decides to lay down and have a nap before the scene fades to black and the credits- OH HELL! THERE’S ANOTHER FIFTEEN MINUTES LEFT!

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A typical goth in the wild.


So, here’s what happens. Top Dollar, his sister and his bodyguard somehow follow Eric to the church, kidnap Sarah, and use her to trap Eric. They shoot the bird, which cancels out Eric’s invulnerability (hey kids, just like Superman and kryptonite) but Albrecht comes along and they two of them fight the baddies and save the girl. Top Dollar admits that he ordered Eric and Shelly’s deaths, and then Eric kills him. I don’t mind telling you that the whole thing feels tacked on. Emotionally, it doesn’t work at all for me. Having him kill Top Dollar be the boss of all crime is there to make The Crow a superhero instead of just a guy looking for revenge. Even if he does kill Top out of revenge, it’s tainted and the crime of opportunity from the book works better. Years later, a similar thing was done to V for Vendetta with similar “meh” results. I know vengeance isn’t a really noble ideal, but when the whole book is predicated on the idea, swapping it for more conventional heroic motives hurts the whole things. It’s a shame really, because before that it seemed like they really got it. I assume some suit announced that this bit at the end needed to be there. It doesn’t matter, it ends soon enough.

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HERO SHOT!


Okay, so now Eric says goodbye to Albrecht and Sarah before laying down by the grave and take a nap. Shelly comes for Eric and they presumably fly off to whatever Rock N’ Roll Heaven they’re headed for. She doesn’t get a single line of dialogue, outside of flashbacks, but then Shelly is just an idealized idea anyway. Even in the book, she’s just this perfect blonde chick that Eric loves. She kisses him, they vanish, end of Eric. The movie should have got to this point about fifteen minutes ago. The crow comes back for one more scene to give Sarah the engagement ring that got lost somewhere along the way. Sarah has one more voice over, which still sounds like she’s reading poetry even though it isn’t. And then, finally, the movie ends. Which is a shame because until the “Big Ending” this wasn’t boring or dull at all. It’s just these last few minutes that have dragged by for me. Otherwise, the movie is pretty good, except for all the places were it isn’t of course. Those bits that aren’t so good suck donkey balls. However, as the idea of it being a musical with Michael Jackson as the Crow was seriously floated at one point, it makes complaining seem irrelevant. We should be glad they came as close to the spirit as they did. Also, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit.

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And all she gets is a single shot in silhouette.


Official Score:
63 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.



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