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Messy story has a Predator (Brian A. Prince) crash landing on Earth right in the middle of a covert operation by military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). His men are killed, The Predator is captured and eventually McKenna is taken into custody by a black ops unit, only after sending his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) some of the Predator tech as security. Biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to examine the creature and discovers the species is using various collected DNA, including human, to improve themselves. What they don’t know is that their captive is a traitor and a massive 11 foot tall tracker has been sent to earth to eliminate it. When The Predator escapes, McKenna, a band of psychotic army inmates and Casey, must team up to evade slimy government operative Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and get to Rory before The Predator…or the monster that hunts it…finds his son and ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski) first…still with me?
Flick is directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3) from a script he co-wrote with Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad) and it is a bit of a mess…though a fun one at times. One basic problem is that the film jumps around a lot with no transitional scenes to give us the illusion that characters traveled from one place to another or learned something that they suddenly know at a later point. While Rory is a savant with the alien technology, other characters including his dad and Munn’s Casey, suddenly know their way around the Predator technology when necessity serves. Let’s just say Black uses a lot of conveniences to move his story along. He also doesn’t seem to take his own story very seriously, as there is an overabundance of humor and it seems to overshadow the more serious moments, keeping the movie from building some real intensity. On a more positive side, Black doesn’t shy away from the gore and there are some very enjoyable action scenes. There is also some fun character banter and it is entertaining to see Predators stalking the suburbs on Halloween night…though they could have made better use of that aspect, too. Still, the film starts to feel like it’s being made up as it goes along once the mega-Predator arrives. The second half especially feels like they are not following a story, but going from one scene to another. The flick also starts out fairly seriously and then seems to get sillier and sillier as it progresses, till it ends in a goofy climactic confrontation of clichés and SPFX. It just doesn’t seem like Black trusted his own material enough to play it straight and tough like the first classic. Even the AVP films took themselves serious enough to get us to buy into them, even if they ultimately disappointed.
The film has an eclectic cast which works even if the material is weak. Boyd Holbrook makes a fine enough hero, though it seemed like he needed a bit stronger screen presence. Olivia Munn proves, after impressing as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse, that she makes a solid action hero and when not left out of that action babysitting Rory, she can kick ass with the boys. Sterling K. Brown is OK as the government bad-guy. It’s a cliché role, but he works hard to make him a good bad guy despite being two dimension-ally written. Tremblay gives another good performance as the bullied and autistic Rory who has a gift for understanding the alien language and technology. As McKenna’s back-up, Trevante Rhodes is good as the soulful Nebraska, Keegan-Michael Key is fun as the joker of the group Coyle, Thomas Jane is solid as a soldier suffering from PTSD and touretts, Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones, John Wick) is good as the Irishman Lynch and Augusto Aguilera is amusing as the weird but likable Nettles. Rounding out is Yvonne Strahovski as Rory’s tough and protective mom and Jake Busey in an amusing role as the son of Predator 2‘s Peter Keyes, who was played by his father Gary Busey.
Overall, this was a bit of a disappointment yet, not without it’s entertaining moments. There was some cool action, some solid FX and the cast of eccentric characters worked well together. Unfortunately the script is weak and the director favored goofy humor and allowed the film to jump from place to place, where it should have taken itself a bit more seriously and a smoother narrative would have made things flow a lot better. The second half seems to be made up as it went along and despite a cool new Predator, the film was more silly than scary. Your move.
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A couple who tragically lost their own child, Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jessie (Kate Bosworth), adopt young Cody (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), a boy who lost his mother (Courtney Bell) and has been bounced from family to family…even abandoned by the most recent one. The Hobsons soon find that Cody has a special ability, his dreams become real. At first they are enchanted as their home is filled with swarms of butterflies and visions of their dead son, Sean (Antonio Evan Romero). But, their wonder turns to terror as not all of Cody’s dreams are happy ones and a malevolent entity manifests through them into their home.
While this may be director Mike Flanagan’s most generic film to date, his skill as a filmmaker makes it better than most of the recent PG-13 horrors that it resembles at times. Co-written with Jeff Howard, the script may be filled with familiar elements, but is given some really nice emotional weight by Flanagan and his cast and he also delivers what most of today’s cookie cutter horrors don’t, some legitimate chills and scares. Flanagan and his actors portray a heartbroken family who still haven’t gotten over the accidental death of their son. They have a chance to regain some of their happiness by adopting a little boy, who has had his own traumatic loses. This alone is well done and we feel for the couple and the boy and on it’s own would suffice as a drama of a special boy finally meeting the right family. But this is no drama, it’s a horror and Flanagan gives us a little boy terrified to go to sleep for visits from “The Canker Man” usually end in someone he cares about vanishing. When this malevolent entity arrives, Flanagan brings out the chills, just as he brings out some more Spielberg-ian wonder when Cody dreams of far more pleasant things, like butterflies and Sean. There is also a nice air of mystery as there is more to Cody’s story and whens it’s investigated, we get some surprising revelations about the boy’s past and who or what this entity is and why it haunts Cody. Again, the story elements may be familiar, like in Flanagan’s Hush, but the skilled filmmaker makes it work. Not everything is perfect. The film does get a little too sentimental for it’s own good at times and yes, some of the spooky imagery has become a little too commonplace in these types of horror to be fully effective. The story also gets wrapped up in a bit too neat of a nice little bow, but the film succeeds far more than it doesn’t. We also get some nice and atmospheric cinematography from Michael Fimognari and an equally effective score by Danny Elfman and The Newton Brothers.
As mentioned, the cast does solid work in support of Flanagan’s story. Bosworth and Jane are very good as the Hobsons. The pain of their loss is portrayed well, especially by Bosworth who’s Jessie is still in therapy and still having a hard time moving on. We almost understand when she manipulates Cody to see Sean again. Jacob Tremblay gives another good performance. We really like Cody and obviously feel sympathy for his fear of sleeping and share his fear when his malevolent dream demon appears. The film also stars Annabeth Gish as an adoption agent who knows a bit more than she tells the couple and Absentia’s Courtney Bell appears in a brief flashback role as Cody’s mom and is very sympathetic in the part.
Overall, this was an entertaining film from a filmmaker who has yet to disappoint. Even with some familiar material and with a lesser aggressive tone than his Hush or Oculus the film gives us some good chills and scares. It’s a film that is meant to be more mainstream friendly than his other work, but he still gives it an intensity and emotional depth most of it’s peers don’t have. Before I Wake may be PG-13, but it’s not aimed at teens like pretty much everything else these days. It’s also not perfect. It sometimes is a bit too familiar and a bit too sentimental, especially in it’s wrap-up. Even so, Flanagan gives us some solid entertainment that far outweighs the common elements that today’s generic horror movies parade out on home media and in theaters to the point of repetitive banality.
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Flick opens in 1985 where the members of the Heaven’s Veil cult, under the leadership of the charismatic Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane), all partake in what appears to be a mass suicide…all but one five year-old girl, Sarah (Ivy George from Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Krampus). Twenty-five years later Sarah (now Lily Rabe) is all grown up and still haunted by that fateful day. She is contacted by filmmaker Maggie Price (Jesscia Alba) who wants to make a documentary about the cult and wants to return to the place where it all happened, with Sarah as her guide. Maggie has a personal investment in investigating the event, as her dad was one of the FBI agents who arrived at the site and what happened there drove him to suicide as well. Once at the compound, Maggie and crew are led to a secret house beyond the grounds that the authorities missed…a house were all Jim Jacobs’ secrets are hidden…and a house where something still roams it’s halls.
Directed by Phil Joanou (Three O’Clock High, State Of Grace) and written by Robert Ben Garant this supernatural horror is a bit of a mixed bag, but an entertaining enough one, thanks to heavy atmosphere from Joanou. A lot of suspension of disbelief is also required to enjoy this. But, if you can get passed the far-fetched notion that generators, lights and even electrical devices like VCRs and projectors, would actually function…and the film stored there would still be watchable…after being left for over two decades in an overgrown and musty old house, than this can be a spooky little flick. Director Phil Loanou gives this horror some really spooky atmosphere and some legitimately creepy bits, along with some nicely executed jump scares and it’s only in the last act were it looses it’s grip a bit. There is a nice reveal in that last act that adds some weight, but the film also goes a bit overboard with it’s supernatural story and while Joanou maintains the atmosphere, things get a bit convoluted when it’s haunting story crosses into murder, resurrection and revenge. It was working on simpler level and it tries to accomplish too much in it’s final third and it does get a bit silly and messy. Still, there are enough moments earlier on to make this worth checking out and even in those climactic moments, the unsettling atmosphere does remain and it helps alleviate how preposterous it all gets. Obviously, characters also do some dumb things to put themselves in harm’s way, but it is the rare horror flick where that doesn’t happen, so we’ll cut it a break on that point.
The cast are fine. Jane seems to behaving a good time and is quite disturbing as Jacobs. He keeps him mostly grounded in the flashbacks…his conviction in his beliefs and charisma giving credence to his following…until the last act requires him to go over-the-top and he does so appropriately. Alba is good as Maggie. A driven young woman who has a personal stake in unlocking secrets to this horrible event. She also keeps it grounded, which worked better for the character. Lily Rabe is convincing as the emotionally troubled survivor, though her odd behavior does prematurely signal she may have a hidden agenda, aside from simply aiding this film crew. The supporting players all range from decent to adequate and none of them undo Joanou’s atmosphere, which helps when things get loopy.
Overall, I am going to cut this flick some slack as the atmosphere and creepiness prevalent in the first two thirds worked very well. I liked the initial story and while it did loose me a bit in it’s final act and went a little overboard with certain elements, director Phil Joanou kept the atmosphere going. There was a nice reveal in the final third that helped even the balance as things got a bit silly and the cast showed restraint when needed and went over-the-top when called for. Not completely successful with what it tried to accomplish, or anything new, but a veteran director demonstrates that a skilled hand can make a film far better than it should have been with it’s uneven script and overambitious ideas. Worth a look.
This week’s double feature needs little explanation. The first Crow flick is a classic and simply a great comic book movie and it’s first sequel, City Of Angels is actually a decent film on it’s own and kind of underrated as it gets a lot of flack for simply having the audacity to be a Crow film without Brandon Lee. It has it’s flaws but, is still entertaining if you cut it a break for trying to tell a new story with a new central character and actor. Together with the first flick they make a cool night of dark themed heroics from beyond…
THE CROW (1994)
The Crow is a bonafide film classic and one of my all time favorites and one whose story of revenge from beyond the grave is made all the more haunting by the tragic on-set death of it’s leading man Brandon Lee. Though, I think this would have still been a great flick without the notoriety of Lee’s accidental demise but, you can’t deny it adds a chilling effect when watched.
Based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, this supernatural superhero flick tells the ill-fated story of rocker Eric Draven (Lee) and his fiancé Shelly Webster (Sophia Shinas) who are murdered the night before their Halloween wedding when Shelly’s well-intentioned battle against tenant eviction gets the attention of bizarre crime boss Top Dollar (Michael Wincott). His thugs T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), Tin-Tin (Laurence Mason), Skank (Angel David) and Funboy (Michael Massee) kill Eric and then brutally rape and beat Shelly who dies a day later. But, Eric and Shelly’s love ran ran deeper then life itself and on the first year anniversary of their murders, Eric returns from the grave as an invincible avenger guided by a black crow and one by one starts to hunt down and slay the the fiends responsible for the death of he and his true love. But, Top Dollar has otherworldly assistance of his own and when he finds the source of Eric’s power, it now becomes his weakness and possibly the end of his quest for justice and revenge.
The script was written by David J. Schow and John Shirley and they really captured the essence and tone of O’Barr’s tale. Then when you add director Alex Proyas to the mix, you get a visually stunning and atmospheric adaptation that really nails the graphic novel’s look and feel. Proyas also gives us some great action sequences choreographed by star Brandon Lee and master stuntman, martial artist and stunt co-ordinator Jeff Imada, which make this a gritty, violent comic book come to life. But, it’s not all visuals and action as Proyas also gives this movie a heart and soul. Despite all the gunfire and explosions, the film is about eternal love and we are treated to flashbacks of Eric and Shelly’s relationship so, we get the full effect of how much these two meant to each other and it really is what makes this work so well. We believe Eric loved her so much that he would cheat even death to avenge the wrongdoing of those responsible for ending his happy life with Shelly. We are right along with him rooting for him to take out the despicable villains and once we realize Eric has an exploitable Achilles’ Heel, it adds some tension and suspense as our hero can be made vulnerable and be stopped by those he seeks to destroy.
The film is populated by some colorful characters, brought to life by an eclectic but, strong cast. Lee shows that he could act as well as kick ass and he had the charm to be a leading man had his life not come to such a sad and early end. His Eric is charismatic, strong and sympathetic as well. Despite his being driven by rage to avenge Shelly’s cruel death, there is still a melancholy that makes him as sad a figure as he is imposing as a vengeful force. Perfect casting and sadly proof of a potential that will never be realized. Shinas is seen briefly in flashbacks but, her Shelly is sweet and kind and we see why Eric loves her. Wincott makes a strong and very eccentric villain, sort of a modern day pirate with a taste for the supernatural provided by his spooky half-sister and lover Myca (Bai Ling). He makes a formidable foe as do Kelly, Mason, David and Massee as his detestable yet, oddly likable gallery of rogues that one by one meet Eric’s wrath. Rounding out is fan favorite Tony (Candyman) Todd as Top Dollar’s bodyguard Grange, Jon Polito as dirtbag pawnshop owner Gideon, the always good Ernie Hudson as Eric’s only ally, a cop named Albrecht who investigated the couple’s death and got busted down for it, Rochelle Davis as a young girl named Sarah who was a friend of Eric and Shelly’s and provides an emotional ground for the avenging rocker, and Anna Levine as Sarah’s mom and Funboy’s girlfriend, Darla. All really give their supporting characters three dimensional life and it all adds up to what makes this comic book movie a classic.
On the production side, there are some really effective visual effects on a moderate budget that give us a gritty and rundown near future Detroit where the film is set. It is a no man’s land of crime and violence bathed in darkness, shadows and almost endless rain. The cathedral setting for the climax is especially noteworthy as it gives the final act a Phantom Of The Opera-ish feel and… in my opinion… far better utilizes the setting then Batman did five years earlier in it’s similar climax. Finally, while Alex Proyas certainly gives this flick a heavy gothic tone, we get a really effective score by Graeme Revell which includes some great songs, from various artists, producing a film score and soundtrack that are as equally classic as the movie they represent. The music and songs interact with the story to a point of being almost another character.
Overall, I could pick out some of the film’s minor flaws but, what’s the point. The film is a classic and it is no small feat that the filmmakers where able to craft such a solid flick when their leading man was killed with weeks of filming yet to go. Considering how the film was reconstructed and the FX crew used alternate scenes to extract their star and include Lee in footage he was not there to film, I think we can cut it some slack that there is a film at all and it wasn’t scrapped as was one considered option. But, it would have ben a crime to not let the film world see Lee’s last and best work and like his on-screen hero and the legacy of the man who played him, this flick will live on. A great movie that remains strong and entertaining even now.
The film also has some personal resonance with me, as well, as Brandon Lee and I were the same age when he died and it impacted me deeply for reasons I, even today, can’t fully explain. There is now talk of a remake but, I can’t seeing it having the impact this one has had, even if it turns out to be a good flick.
4 classic crows.
THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS (1996)
This review is of the director’s cut and not the original theatrical version which is 7 minutes shorter…
In hindsight, it might have been best to leave the success of The Crow as a testament to Brandon Lee’s legacy and let it go but, money talks and a sequel was made, opting to tell the story of a new character then try to recast a part already immortalized by Lee. The film gets a lot of flack for trying to continue the Crow series without Brandon Lee and Eric Draven but, while the film does not come close to matching it’s predecessor, I think it is actually pretty entertaining and succeeds in having it’s own personality and feel. Given a chance, it’s not as bad as it’s bitterness fueled reputation makes it out to be.
This film takes place years later in an equally seedy Los Angeles and tells the story of single father Ashe Corven (Swiss actor Vincent Pérez) who is gunned down along with his son Danny (Eric Acosta) when Danny mistakes gunshots for Day Of The Dead fireworks and runs straight into an execution being carried out by the four henchman of crime boss Judah Earl (Richard Brooks). The story also includes a now grown up Sarah (Mia Kirshner)… who, aside from Eric and Shelly’s cat Gabrielle, is the only character to return from the original… who is a tattoo artist living in L.A. and has premonitions of Ashe and his impending return accompanied by the crow. She is there to guide him when he rises from his watery grave to exact revenge on Earl and his minions Curve (punk icon Iggy Pop), Nemo (Thomas Jane), Spider Monkey (Vincent Castellanos) and Kali (ex-Power Ranger, Thuy Trang). But, Ashe’s quest for vengeance has complications as Earl has also discovered the secret and weakness of the crow’s power and Ashe is starting to fall for Sarah, knowing that the completion of his mission will return him to the realm of the dead. Will being torn between wanting to stay with Sarah and yearning to see his boy again give his adversaries a deadly edge over the undead avenger?
The sequel was this time written by frequent comic movie scribe David Goyer and directed by feature film newcomer Tim Pope who does a good job in giving the film it’s own distinctive look and feel despite glaring plot similarities. The film follows what is now the basic Crow formula with a wrongfully murdered person returning to avenge a loved one and battling a foe with an interest in the supernatural. The original had Draven battling Top Dollar and his weirdo half sister Myca, while here it is Ashe going against Earl and his sooth-sayer Sybil (Tracy Ellis). The only real difference is Earl is far more sadistic then the brutally practical Top Dollar and Sybil more of a pawn than a willing participant unlike the gleefully sadistic Myca. The film uses the same ‘kill the crow, kill the man’ plot device to weaken the invincible Ashe as in the last film, as it also again presents Sarah as hostage bait to lure our hero in… and it is already wearing out it’s welcome. But there is a lot of pluses too, the film does give us another cast of colorful villains and there are some very well done sequences of Ashe taking them on one by one, including his battle with the vicious martial arts expert and she-devil that is Trang’s Kali and his mythology laced showdown with Iggy Pop’s wacko Curve. Pope’s action scenes are styled differently and help give the film it’s own flavor. The director also gives the film a lot of strong atmosphere, it has an even spookier edge then the previous film as this one is also set at Halloween but, focuses more on the Latin “Dia de Los Muertos” which gives it a far more spiritual tone and aura. The original was centered around the destructively festive ‘Devils’ Night’ but, here it is the mournful Day Of The Dead celebrations that add a more somber tint to Pope’s canvas.
The cast are fine, though, not all as lively as those Proyas had to work with. Vincent Pérez certainly looks the part especially with the face paint and his brown leather outfit and motorcycle. His accent does get in the way and he tries hard to give Ashe his own personality and while he isn’t as memorable as Lee, he actually does OK on his own. Kirshner is pretty but, bland as the grown-up, emo Sarah. Her delivery is very monotone and her gloominess kind of goes against the feelings of hope given her by Eric at the end of the first movie. Our bad guys are fun with Brooks making a strong villain whose Earl actually echos his Jubal Early character from Firefly that he would play six years later. But, Early had more restraint and an odd whimsy despite being an equally dangerous man. Pop and Thrang’s baddies stand out the most among the thugs while Castellanos and Jane really aren’t given much to do aside from meeting their doom at Ashe’s hands. Pop’s Curve is delightfully demented while Thrang’s Kali is a sadistic dragon lady with a taste for sadism and twisted nursery rhymes. Last but, not least, is the late Ian Dury as the cantankerous Noah, the owner of the tattoo parlor where Sarah works.
As for the rest of the production, the film looks really cool yet, drastically different then the first flick and the model work and visuals are more then satisfactory. Graeme Revell contributes another strong score that echos the first film’s just enough yet, adds more haunting choral vocals and it also comes with a really good soundtrack of music from various artists that is a good listen on it’s own.
Overall, I like The Crow: City Of Angels, it’s got it’s flaws and was never going to live up to the instant classic that the first became. But, especially with it’s director’s cut, it is actually a decent enough flick on it’s own and has enough of it’s own style in telling the classic Crow story of revenge after death. Sure it’s ending is a little overblown but, when all is said and done, when cut some slack for not being what it couldn’t possibly be, it is an entertaining enough sequel that doesn’t dishonor what it follows. Give it a chance if you haven’t seen it. Followed by two direct to home media sequels, the weak The Crow: Salvation with Eric Mabius and Kirsten Dunst and the abysmally awful The Crow Wicked Prayer with Edward Furlong and Angel’s David Boreanez.