Series Link 06.08.10: The Crow
Series Link #22: The Crow
Sure, the characters who became the Crow suffered a lot but I think watching some of the sequels counts as more suffering for the viewer
Frequently when reviewing movies I notice I’m missing sequels here and there from classic series. In line with one of my key film watching beliefs I’ll be making a point of tidying up some of my sequel history. The belief in question being that as long as I enjoyed the original I’ll watch any sequel made of it. I don’t know where this belief came from but it’s one that seems to work out for me quite frequently and there are many film series where I have enjoyed multiple sequels based on my love and respect for the initial instalment (Alien, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Rocky etc).
For this twenty second Series Link I thought I’d take a look at a series I’m aware of but beyond the first film have never seen. Considering how much I love the first film in the series this should be quite the surprise but with this particular series I don’t think the sequels have found much of an audience at all. Which is unusual but not so much so when you consider that the star of the first film died during the filming. So the initial film has garnered quite a strong cult following but the subsequent films in the series don’t have the same iconic figurehead. And therefore didn’t get the same exposure.
Series Link #22
How many films?
How many films had I seen before doing this column?
Only the original, which is a first for Series Link and part of the reason why I decided to take this series on.
11 years from the original to the 4th film. There was also a 1998 TV series made of the movie called The Crow: Stairway to Heaven starring martial artist Mark Dacascos. It only lasted one season (22 episodes) and was essentially a remake of the film. A re-make of the original film is scheduled for 2011 release.
The Crow (1994)
The original received a huge amount of press because of the unfortunate death on set of the star of the movie; Brandon Lee, son of the legendary martial artist and movie star Bruce Lee. It’s not often the leading star of a movie is shot dead on set. Not only was it a tragic death but a pity for all us filmgoers who were denied a career from Brandon Lee that, with the release of The Crow and his breakthrough role in it, was about to take off. There are parallels to Heath Ledger and how Ledger passed away shortly after plumbing the Gothic depths with a character based on a comic book. The Crow is a hard movie to pin down. The one thing everyone remembers about it, beyond the darkly Gothic feel, is the great soundtrack. Included on it were songs by The Cure, Rage Against the Machine, Jesus & Mary Chain, My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult and Jane Siberry who provided the haunting lyrics to “It Can’t Rain All the Time”.
This isn’t the same sort of mopey Gothic movie that you get sometimes. A lot of Goth films tend to wallow in their own self pity. The Crow has moments like that but a whole load more of Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) being almost whimsical about life and death and then reigning down a fire of vengeance upon those who had wronged him. Like a Gothic Charles Bronson. There are thrilling action scenes and some genuinely moving performances. Ernie Hudson is terrific in support and Michael Wincott is perhaps at his career best as unnamed bad guy “Top Dollar”. The film is a combination adrenaline rush and sentimental trip down memory lane watching it nowadays; some 16 years on. It felt dated very quickly with the likes of Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting changing the face of pop culture and cinema in the mid 90s but in retrospect it has a classic neo realism about it.
Director Alex Proyas would go on to become one of the most unusual and unpredictable directors in Hollywood. First attempting the surreal Dark City (“no more, Mr Quick”) then moving onto the Hollywood A-list and shooting both I, Robot and Knowing. Its always pleasing to see someone deserving move on to bigger and better things. He must have been pleased with the results of this effort, Lee’s tragedy aside, as The Crow captured the mind of a generation of Goths and based on a tidy $15M budget went on to gross over $50M in the US alone, the same again overseas and became a bigger hit when the video/DVD was released. Everyone has a copy of this movie.
If you really start to think about The Crow beyond its face value entertainment it really gets to you. The thought of a man coming back from the grave to avenge his own death and protect his loved ones is intense enough but couple in the actor dying on set and the film reaches a whole different level. It’s creepy and beautiful and hard to describe. It’s a movie that leaves the viewer with a lot of different emotions. I’ve always found the part where Eric talks about Shelley to be quite hard to watch. Brandon Lee put so much emotion into that scene, and practically every scene, that you wonder how good an actor he was or perhaps he was channelling his own loss into the role. The Crow may have seemed a little lightweight just a few years after its release thanks to the uber-real movies of the 90s, which tended to echo the same films of the 70s but in retrospect it does stand the test of time.
I love so many different things about The Crow I find it hard to put it all into words. I love the soundtrack. I think the music fits the emotions onscreen and even when it doesn’t I still feel touched by it. “Big Empty” by Stone Temple Pilots is in the movie and I can’t listen to that song without feeling a sense of loss. I love the gang and how they deserve what happens to them. I love how the film borrows from classic literature. “The Raven” and “Paradise Lost” are both quoted. I love how the script is so loaded with quotable passages. I love how Eric Draven has elements of Batman about him. I love how David Patrick Kelly is clearly playing a hugely intelligent character who just enjoys mayhem and destruction so much that he can’t help himself. And up to this point I loved how The Crow stood alone. A perfectly told tale of revenge.
But this is Hollywood. Two years later they’d already made a sequel.
The Crow: City of Angels (1996)
When I was compiling the figures I was shocked to learn that the Crow’s sequel actually had a box office run! It even turned a profit of about $5M! How about that shit? It goes to show if you have a franchise brand name you can make a movie even without having your lead actor. Or any other original actors. Or the director. Tim Pope went behind the camera for Crow 2. He’s most famous for directing the video to “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles. A lot of directors started out making music videos though so it’s unfair to label them all the same way. David Fincher started out in music videos. He got his break in 1992 shooting an Alien sequel. Even after this Spike Jonze made Being John Malkovich after a successful career in music video. There are success stories. Tim Pope isn’t one of them. He actually made a very different film to that one released by Miramax but they decided to re-cut it to make it more like the original and Pope is said to have “hated” what was left.
The writer on Crow 2 was David S. Goyer. You may recognise the name as he’s been involved in a lot of big projects since this. This was his 7th movie script (3rd cinematic release) and 2 years later he’d work with Crow director Alex Proyas on Dark City, which finally showed his worth as a writer so he didn’t have to take jobs like writing a sequel to a movie that didn’t need a sequel. Goyer would go on to work on the Blade series and Chris Nolan’s Batman reboot series. He’s directed four of his own movies. Much like Pope I imagine Goyer wasn’t thrilled with how Crow 2 panned out. It felt very much like Miramax wanted initially to do something creative with this follow up but then reined it in when they started getting nervous about the potential for box office failure. So the public got a re-hash instead of something original.
Vincent Perez took over as “The Crow” character, this time named Ashe Corven. The handsome Swiss actor is best known for his performance as Marius in Queen of the Damned, an absolute abortion that ruined the concepts in Anne Rice’s fine vampire book. He became well known in Hollywood circles for his role in Cyrano de Bergerac as Christian. His choices of Hollywood films have been limited but he’s not selected good properties. There are plenty of other familiar names in Crow 2 including Mia Kirshner (Black Dahlia), Punisher Thomas Jane and both Ian Dury and Iggy Pop. Iggy was due to appear in the first movie but couldn’t and agreed to make the sequel instead.
Originally I had no desire to watch a sequel to the Crow. I thought it was totally unnecessary. And the opening 10 minutes entirely reflect that. We’re introduced to Sarah (Mia Kirshner), the character who narrates the movie and is a tattoo artist who works for Ian Dury. She’s a grown up version of the Sarah in the first movie. Elsewhere we meet Judah Earl (Richard Brooks) who represents the bad side of things. He’s a drug pusher and gang leader. Among his gang is Iggy Pop. The mood is the same as the original film BUT the appearance of everything is a little too bright and it’s a different kind of art. The original was shot in dark monotone with the aim of making the film seem more like a neo-realist movie. But this film is too bright with an extensive colour palate. The most obvious comparison I can think of is Crow is Batman/Batman Returns while this is Batman Forever/Batman & Robin. Sometimes change is nice and makes it easier to distinguish between characters and movies. But this change in appearance makes the film depressing without being stylish. 15 minutes in Ashe (Vincent Perez) is brought back to life and it is his performance that will define this movie.
And unfortunately he plays it like he’s on stage. Perhaps he’d seen some of the more overblown comic book performances that preceded this one and figured that would be the best way to play a comic book character. Who’s going to argue with Jack Nicholson? Even when he’s wrong? One can’t help but feel Perez was selected because he looks a bit like Brandon Lee. The flashback bits are lame. They don’t have any of the warmth and joy of the first film. Then Sarah paints Ashe up like the Crow so he can strike fear into the hearts of those who destroyed his life. Lee’s transformation into the Crow character seemed more organic. It doesn’t help that the colourful, rather than black & white, approach to filming leaves him looking a little lame after the makeup is applied. As he begins his pattern of revenge they seem dead set on copying Tim Burton’s Batman rather than the first Crow film. But their intent combined with a lack of ability makes this film come off as a Joel Schumacher knock-off. Then some palm trees explode. Yanno, because it’s LA. Although I’m not really sure what is achieved by setting the film in Los Angeles. It just serves to make everything look brighter and warmer. There’s no real purpose behind it all.
There’s also little point to Richard Brooks weird S&M fetishes. Or having Iggy Pop play a role where acting is essential. I kinda lost my love for Iggy Pop when he started making insurance adverts on TV. And here he’s overpowered and outwitted by Sarah. Yeah! What a badass, huh? I wonder how Ashe will overcome these odds! Once he’s past Iggy he has to deal with Richard Brooks in a sarong. Or Thomas Jane in a bad wig. The first film felt like both a tale of revenge and an uphill challenge as each opponent that the Crow faced felt tougher and more dangerous than the one before. Throwing knifes, whole gangs with guns and people who’d been careful in their research. It’s a pity because some of the lines from Goyer’s script are really good. In particular Ashe’s “a murder of crows” line and his previous diatribe at Tom Jane where he shouts “you always have a choice” in response to him saying that he had to choice and had to “leave no witnesses”. However; there’s no escaping the feeling that Crow 2 is basically just The Crow only not as good.
As the film progresses at least some fight scenes kick in with Vietnamese martial artist Thuy Trang getting to rumble with Perez. Oddly enough it wasn’t in the script and was added at the request of Thuy. It remains her cinematic finale as she died in a car crash a few years later having never made another film. She’s perhaps better known as the Yellow Ranger on the Power Rangers TV show. A character she played for 80 episodes. This is the one fight scene in the film where it feels different to anything in the first film. The second film ultimately suffers from a lack of talent. The pacing is off. The actors assembled aren’t good enough (although Thomas Jane is quite entertaining). The film feels rather amateurish and lacking in good ideas. I do like the connections made with Sarah to link it to the first film but I don’t rate anything else that’s going on. I was tempted to go and find the uncut version to see if Tim Pope’s vision was any better but I really don’t want to watch the film again in any format. So Tim Pope hated this film after seeing how Miramax butchered his cut? I hate it too, Tim, I hate it too.
The Crow: Salvation (2000)
Having totally fucked up the Crow franchise after one film they at least waited 4 years before attempting to re-launch it. Indian director Bharat Nalluri was handed the opportunity after Rob Zombie left the project due to “creative differences”. I imagine Rob wanted to include a bunch of gore, swearing and nudity. This would have taken it away from the original somewhat but couldn’t have done any more damage than the crappy sequel did.
The 3rd film sees Alex Corvis (Eric Mabius) framed for the murder of his girlfriend Lauren (Jodi O’Keefe). He gets the chair while the actual murderer with a scar on his arm gets away with it. Mabius is better known for his work on Ugly Betty. This may be a skeleton in his closet but definitely in Kirsten Dunst’s who starred alongside Mabius as Lauren’s sister Erin. Also on hand are Fred Ward and William Atherton making this, perhaps, the most star studded Crow movie. That is up for debate. That depends, of course, as to whether you’d rather have this cast or Danny Trejo & Tito Ortiz. In which case you want Wicked Prayer. I’d take Fred Ward personally. The plot has the crow bringing Alex back to life to get his vengeance against a bunch of crooked cops, which is perhaps the least Crow-like of the plots for these movies.
Much like City of Angels this film has too bright a colour palate. This becomes particularly obvious when we see the burned face makeup and it the filmmaker allows us to see too much. Less is more! Mabius doesn’t help anything by being incredibly bland as Alex Corvis. I just don’t care about him at all. So it’s too bright, they don’t get the Alex Proyas vibe from the first film at all and the central character has no personality. That’s not ideal. At least some of the long range shots of the city look a bit Crow-like and when we get into the city proper this film becomes tonally a lot more like the original. Similar music, similar sets but Alex Proyas made the first film so great with his action sequences, camera angles and colour palate and none of that is prevalent here.
Seeing as Rob Zombie was previously attached to this it doesn’t come as any surprise that there’s more boobies in this movie than any of the other Crow films. Also in a move away from the music-centric first film you only hear music when the crow is flying around. My mate Giz suggests that’s because he had his iPod on. Despite being better than City of Angels that’s no major achievement. It doesn’t help matters that Mabius looks nothing like the previous incarnations of the crow. Neither in his features or his attire. If the film was a stand alone effort it might be ok. But it’s not. It’s a sequel. One that likes Joker-esque makeup and comedy punches coming in through car windows. At least they have a good crow sign (in blood) unlike every one in the second film. One made of glass. Who gives a shit about glass?
The best scene in the movie is where William Atherton and Fred Ward have a sit down chat. It’s like the DeNiro/Pacino scene from Heat. When you get quality actors together they can produce even when the script isn’t any good. Like Alec Guinness in Star Wars. Proof that you CAN say this shit. However the other actors aren’t capable of getting the same emotions across in their scenes. Like I said before; Crow: Salvation isn’t a great movie but it does have boobies in it. It lacks the expressionist styling’s of Alex Proyas’ original, as do all the sequels, but it’s the closest in style to the original. For that it does kinda make the grade as “not bad” and is arguably the best of the Crow sequels by some distance despite its failings. Even though Eric Mabius is rubbish.
The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005)
This is the film that made this Series Link column possible; the 4th entry in the Crow continuum. And when I first saw the cast for this film I was frankly amazed at the collection of fuck-up’s they’d managed to get their hands on. Who casts Ed Furlong AND Tara Reid (and Tito Ortiz) in the same movie? That would be director Lance Mungia who previous feature film experience extended to a movie called Six String Samurai, which is about a guitar playing samurai…in an alternative Vegas after the Russians won the Cold War. Yeah…what? So Lance gets himself a second shot with this film some 7 years later. Dimension Films made this and actually released it at the cinema. I can’t find any box office figures for it so let’s just call those “minimal”. It went to DVD after about a week.
The cast does intrigue me. Ed Furlong plays the “Crow” character Jimmy Cuervo while David “Angel” Boreanaz plays his adversary called Luc Crash. Jimmy’s girlfriend character, as this is just a rip off of the original Crow movie, is played by Emmanuelle Chriqui who you might recognise from Entourage where she played E’s steady girlfriend Sloan. If you don’t watch HBO then you probably know her best for her role in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Ed Furlong is of course famed for his role as John Connor in Terminator 2 but wasn’t able to reprise it because he was such a fuck up. In his own words he was “going through my own thing at that point” whatever that means. He personally feels this Crow movie is “the best one since the first one”. The only positive thing I can say about Furlong going into Wicked Prayer is that he was at least sober by this point having been in rehab. But let’s face it; a lot of entertainers and performers are much better on drugs than when they go cold turkey.
Also involved in Wicked Prayer were Macy Gray, Danny Trejo and one of the great legends of debauchery Dennis Hopper. We start out following War (Marcus Chong), Famine (Tito Ortiz) and Pestilence (Yuki Okumoto) as they attack striking miners. Sniper Lola Byrne (Tara Reid) then frees Luc (David Boreanaz) from jail and there’s your cool bad guy gang. Which makes you wonder; who are we supposed to be rooting for here? This is amplified by meeting boring, monotone voiced slacker Jimmy. The only remotely good thing about him is his hot Native American girlfriend played by Emmanuelle Chriqui. She’s the one who provides narrative and substance while Jimmy mopes around and hopes for the best. So she gets cut up by Tara Reid and Eddie gets strung up and his heart cut out (still beating, haha). The whole thing is just mean spirited. The great thing about the first film was the set up. They got a gang to mess up the couple in order to scare everyone else. They were unfortunate victims. Here the killers know their victims and want to perform a satanic ritual upon them. Which is pretty weak.
Sidenote; how lame is it that they named the evil couple Crash & Byrne? What the fuck is that?
The whole thing just feels idiotic. Then they gatecrash a wedding to shoot the priest and destroy more lives. It’s all very horrible and pointless and makes me feel sad. It’s puerile and crass. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse Ed Furlong turns up in the Crow makeup and makes you realise just how great the performance of Brandon Lee was in the first film. The makeup itself is ridiculous and often the lines are even worse but Lee just made us believe (like Chris Reeve made us believe a man can fly). His delivery was exemplary, his timing perfect and his approach to the role was on point throughout. Furlong can’t even make it through one sentence without looking like a fool. I think his 3rd line as the Crow is “ouch” after someone shoots him. And then it struck me. We’re only 45 minutes in and this movie’s runtime is 100 minutes. 10 minutes later I’m watching Tito Ortiz beat up balloons with a baseball bat and I’ve lost the will to finish this.
It’s easy to ask the question; what’s so bad about this film? But it’s so much harder to pinpoint just one thing in particular that makes Wicked Prayer such a terrible viewing experience. I guess I’d just have to settle for EVERYTHING. They basically try to remake the original film whereas Salvation at least had different ideas at play but instead of being faithful to the style of the first film they just go for as much bloodshed as possible in an attempt to scare the viewer into rooting for their good guy. Which I guess is the same thing Rob Zombie does except Rob Zombie goes full out with it. Total carnage; blood, foul language and tits everywhere. Wicked Prayer just has depressing scenes of horribleness. One after another. And you can’t root for the hero. You just can’t. Because it’s Ed Furlong and he’s a really, really bad actor.
The Crow (1994) ****1/2
The Crow: City of Angels (1996) BOOO!
The Crow: Salvation (2000) **
The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005) BOOO!
The Crow $50M
The Crow: City of Angels $17M
The reason why I avoided the sequels for so very long was due to their obvious inability to live up to the original film. Having seen the sequels nothing has changed really. City of Angels is a tacky, gaudy and unnecessary lesson in how not to make a sequel. Salvation is marginally better with some original ideas but suffers from a common problem all the sequels had; a failure to replace the enigmatic Brandon Lee. Wicked Prayer is perhaps the worst of a motley crew of failures thanks to some unusual casting choices and a horrible production. This is one of those bad experiments where you think “what’s the worst that could happen?” and it does. Recommended viewing; the first one.