Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Butterfly Effect (2004)

Everyone has moments in their lives that they'd like to have a second chance at. Maybe you'd make an attempt to keep the girl that got away. Maybe you'd take the job that would lead to fame and fortune. Maybe you'd skip school on the day two psychos in trenchcoats turn the school into their own personal firing range, or miss the flight that ended up crashing into a skyscraper.

But what if you could actually go back in time and take the path you hadn't gone before? Would that path lead you somewhere better, or would you end up somewhere worse than where you started? That concept is the basis for the sci-fi drama The Butterfly Effect, an exercise in chaos theory that not only looks at the past being altered, but the consequences of such changes and the effects they can have on the present.

Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher) is a college psychology major that, via a series of unexplainable blackouts, has repressed a number of traumatic childhood memories. While reading one of the journals he kept in his youth, he's jerked back into the past and experiences one of his repressed memories. When he asks his longtime friend and girl of his dreams Kayleigh (Amy Smart) if she remembers what happened in his flashback, she ends up getting extremely offended by Evan bringing up the demons of the past and runs away. If somebody you hadn't talked to in a few years showed up where you work and asked you about your pedophile father forcing you and your friends to do kiddie porn, you'd probably be a wee bit offended too.

Anyway, Evan discovers the next day that Kayleigh killed herself after their talk, and he begins to delve deeper into his journals. He soon learns that by concentrating on individual journal entries, he can will himself into that page of his life and relive the moments he'd forgotten. He decides to use his newfound power of time travel to go back to his repressed memories and change the way things went. The only problem with his plan is that with every time he changes something in the past, he returns to a present that is nothing is like he remembered it. Something inexplicably worse happens after even the most insignificant of changes, yet Evan continues to return to his youth and attempt to repair his mistakes until he can finally set things right.

The Butterfly Effect is quite an experience. Drawing inspiration from the Ray Bradbury short story A Sound of Thunder, in which a time traveler drastically changes the future after accidentally squashing a prehistoric insect, the entire movie is centered around the eternal question "what if?" What if we could go back and stop something awful from happening? What would be the consequences, both good and bad, of our actions? The movie can understandably grow confusing thanks to the numerous jumps between time periods and the ripples that they create, but it works. The story is very gripping, and the actors make sure to grab the viewer and retain their interest. Many thumbs up to the writer/director duo of Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber for crafting such an intricate story that showed more than a glimpse inside the human psyche.

The extremely well-crafted script by Bress and Gruber was made all the better by the fine cast. For someone seemingly typecast as a goofball thanks to That 70s Show, Dude, Where's My Car?, and Punk'd, Ashton Kutcher proved himself to be a great dramatic actor too. Sure, the main focus was on how the supporting cast was affected by his actions, but Kutcher was the glue that held it all together. The supporting cast was also stellar. Amy Smart had to play the adult Kayleigh in a multitude of roles (ranging from down-on-her-luck waitress to well-to-do sorority sister to sleazy crack whore), and did a great job in each scene. Ethan Suplee is fine as Evan's headbanger roomate Thumper, while Eldon Henson has a few intense scenes as the adult version of Evan's best friend Lenny.

Each of the child actors nailed their roles as well, with the standout among them being Jesse James (no relation to the cowboy or host of Monster Garage) as the teenage version of Kayleigh's psychotic brother Tommy. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear he's a serial killer in training. He's that convincing. Meanwhile, I'm starting to think Eric Stoltz is being typecast as sleazy characters. He was a drug dealer in Pulp Fiction, he was a college professor that trades oral sex for passing grades in The Rules of Attraction, and he's a child-abusing pedophile here. I wonder if Marty McFly would have been some kind of deviant in Back to the Future if Robert Zemeckis hadn't replaced him with Michael J. Fox.

As good as The Butterfly Effect is, it essentially equates to a two-hour display of the crappy things in life. There's child pornography, suicide, mental illness, violence involving children (both committed by and against), and animal cruelty all graphically displayed for everyone to see. It's a hard-hitting drama that makes us look at things we don't usually want to see, a grim reminder of just how messed up the world is. The Butterfly Effect is a drama quite different from the kind I'm used to seeing. But with great direction, intriguing writing, and a stellar cast, The Butterfly Effect gets four stars and a strong recommendation.

Final Rating: ****

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Punisher (2004)

Ninety-nine percent of comic book heroes are light and happy. No matter what the heroes are up against, there always seems to be a smirk underneath the surface. While most heroes bask in the lighter side of things, there are a few that exist in darkness. One could make an argument that Batman is one of these. A young boy witnesses the murder of his parents, and lives a double life in adulthood: a millionaire playboy by day, a vigilante crime-fighter by night. However, one character isn't much better than the criminals he seeks to bring down. Sometimes referred to as Marvel's "angel of death," he stands as the purest definition of antihero there is. One could say that he's a big amalgamation of Batman, John Rambo, Charles Bronson from Death Wish, and Michael Douglas from Falling Down. He's violent, mean, and doesn't care about consequences because he has nothing to lose. He is The Punisher.

Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) has it all: a loving family, a great life, and an adventurous job as an FBI special agent. So adventurous, in fact, that the Bureau has to move him around every so often for his own protection. Finally retiring to live a normal life with his beloved wife Maria (Samantha Mathis) and young son Will (Marcus Johns), he takes one final undercover assignment before settling down as a family man. Unfortunately, the assignment turns sour and ends in the accidental death of a young man named Bobby Saint (James Carpinello).

As it turns out, Bobby is the son of powerful Florida businessman and money launderer Howard Saint (John Travolta). And like most people involved in organized crime, Howard and his wife Livia (Laura Harring) aren't exactly the forgiving type. The Saints dispatch a squadron of goons led by family consigliere Quentin Glass (Will Patton) and Bobby's twin brother John (James Carpinello in a dual role) to the Castle family reunion in Puerto Rico and have the entire Castle family is massacred, including Maria and Will. Frank chases Glass and John out to a nearby pier, but wouldn't you know it, he's out of ammo. He gets cornered and ends up on the business end of a few gunshots and an explosion, but somehow manages to survive. He floats ashore and is found by island native Candlearia (Veryl Jones), who nurses him back to health.

Frank emerges from seclusion five months later and starts stocking up on firearms like he's getting ready to host an NRA convention. He takes up residence in a squalid apartment building in Tampa's industrial district, becoming more and more detached from humanity while existing on a diet of sardines and Wild Turkey bourbon. Despite his reclusive and eccentric behavior, Frank is immediately embraced by his three curious neighbors: Joan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a waitress at a local diner who's spent her whole life being done wrong; Spacker Dave (Ben Foster), a little runt with an inferiority complex and a face full of piercings; and Bumpo (John Pinette), a tubby guy who spends most of his time cooking for Joan and Dave and listening to old vinyl records of operas.

But I can totally understand them immediately welcoming him to the neighborhood. Who wouldn't want to make friends with Frank? I know I'd like to hang out with an alcoholic with homicidal tendencies caused by watching his family tree get chopped down. Anyway, Frank enlists disgruntled Saint lackey Mickey Duka (Eddie Jemison) to give him the inside scoop on things, and begins to make life for the Saints a living hell. Even with Saint's goons and hitmen like the musically-inclined Harry Heck (Mark Collie) and a blonde behemoth called "The Russian" (Kevin Nash) after him, nothing will stop Frank from achieving his ultimate goal: making sure Howard Saint learns that no evil deed goes unpunished.

The movie is a lot deeper than I thought it would be. From the trailers and commercials, I expected a generic mindless action movie, but I was surprised. Sure, there's explosions and fights and guns, but there's more to it than that. Thomas Jane's Punisher is a far different movie than Dolph Lundgren's Punisher, that's for sure. Inspired by the Garth Ennis-penned "Welcome Back Frank" comic book storyline and drawing obvious inspiration from the films of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Don Siegel, we are presented with the story of a man whose sole purpose in life is to get revenge on the criminals who stole his loved ones from him. I'll be the first to admit, that kind of character is starting to get played out. Batman did it. Charles Bronson (all five Death Wish movies), Vin Diesel (A Man Apart), Brandon Lee (The Crow), and Uma Thurman (Kill Bill) have all done it. Clint Eastwood and just about every other spaghetti western hero ever has done it. An old lady even did it in Troma's Surf Nazis Must Die. Despite seeming like a retread of a cinematic standard, The Punisher makes it work.

Visually, the movie is astounding. The direction of Jonathan Hensleigh and cinematography of Conrad Hall give the movie a spaghetti western feel with a 21st-century action movie spin. I absolutely loved Carlo Siliotto's dramatic score, especially during the more intense scenes; the recurring theme throughout the movie was exceptionally great. I have no complaint with the "soundtrack hard sell" songs either. I don't care how many times I hear "Broken" by Seether and Amy Lee, it never gets old. I'd also like to give great big thumbs up to stunt coordinator Gary Hymes and his crew. Almost all of the stunts were practical effects, and the fight scene between Frank and The Russian is the big standout. There's a reason I consider it my favorite cinematic fight scene from 2004, folks. It was that fun to watch. Written by Hensleigh and Michael France, the script is good for the most part. As said before, it's very obviously inspired by the "Welcome Back Frank" comics.

Unfortunately, there's a few bits that don't make any sense. If Harry Heck and The Russian (and eventually, the goons) know where to find Frank, why not just plant a bomb in the place and blow it up? Even if Frank didn't get exploded, he'd have one less place to hide. And where are the police? They find out Frank's alive in one scene, where he more or less tells them that he was gonna get some hardcore, deadly vengeance. One would assume that at least one homicide detective would put two and two together once the bodies bodies of various gangsters start showing up in the morgue. Besides, you'd figure somebody would have reported the very violent aftermath of the Frank/Harry Heck chase scene. And Joan falling for Frank... what was that? That's just oddly written character development. The dirt on his wife's grave has barely settled, and she's ready to jump his bones. Yeah, okay, whatever. I can imagine her thinking, "The mob murdered your family? You poor guy. Does that mean there isn't a Mrs. Castle?" I guess Joan isn't the kind of girl that likes to take things slowly.

On the acting scope, I enjoyed what the cast gave me. Thomas Jane had the right look and delivery for the part, and had me going with him every step of the way. John Travolta did a great job too, playing everything cool all the way to the end. He wasn't that much of a villain for the first two acts, but once we hit the finale, he just turned into a cold-hearted monster that kills everyone in his way. My big complaint is Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. I have no problem with her performance, but I question the casting department's decision. Take a look at her, and you tell me if you think she looks like a waitress living in a third-world hellhole of an apartment. I certainly can't complain about her or her acting ability, but maybe she'd be more convincing if she looked like Velma from Scooby-Doo. Or at the very least, less like a supermodel.

So we've got two separate Punisher movies. Which one do I prefer? They're both worth watching, but for my money, I'll side with Thomas Jane's. The movie serves as a good introduction into the Punisher mythos, while the other just drops us right into the middle of Frank Castle's criminal-killing routine with very little history. Jane's Punisher wasn't as insane as Lundgren's Punisher, and that's a big difference. Frank becomes the Punisher here, while he's been doing the vigilante thing for five years in Punisher '89. Oh well, I guess that's what Punisher 2 is for. Three and a half stars for The Punisher, Sutton says check it out.

Final Rating: ***½

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Punisher (1989)

Comic book movies have been around for a long time, going all the way back to the Superman serials in the 1940s and 1950s. It seems like you can't go a few months nowadays without a high-profile movie based on a comic book being released. Most of them are awesome, but let's face it, there's been a lot of less-than-stellar comic book movies. Steel and Judge Dredd are prime examples. And the truth of the matter is that most bad comic movies have been based on Marvel properties. Before Blade and X-Men, Marvel had to deal with Captain America, a bad '70s TV-movie based on Doctor Strange, and a Fantastic Four movie produced by Roger Corman that has only seen the light of day through bootleggers at comic book conventions. And let's not forget the epic disaster that was Howard the Duck, which many consider one of the worst movies ever made. Another Marvel movie lost in the shuffle was The Punisher. While the Punisher movie released in 2004 was a modest hit, the one released in 1989 didn't get a theatrical release in America. Instead, it went directly to video, not stopping to pass "Go" or collect 200 dollars.

Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) was one of the finest police officers to ever wear a badge. Presumed dead after a Mafia-placed car bomb killed his wife and children, Castle has become a one-man army labeled "The Punisher." Living in the sewers as a shadowy vigilante, Castle is a killing machine responsible for the murder of 125 mobsters in the five years since the death of his family. With many of the families decimated by Castle, lead gangster Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbé) comes in to bring the separate families together as one unit. His plan soon attracts the attention of the Yakuza, Japan's most powerful crime syndicate, who decide to take over the interests of Franco's families. Yakuza boss Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori) orders her troops to kidnap their children and gives the mobsters an ultimatum: let the Yakuza run the show, or the kids meet the business end of a Yakuza beating. Castle is informed of the mass kidnapping and stages a daring rescue that includes demolishing an underground casino, getting captured and tortured, and hopping on a bus and being chased by Yakuza thugs.

The rescue is successful, but Castle ends up getting caught and arrested. He's stuck in a maximum security prison, where he's interrogated by his former partner, Jake Burkowski (Louis Gossett Jr.). Jake's spent the better part of the past five years hunting for Castle, and isn't exactly happy that his friend is going to be convicted and sent to the electric chair. What's to stop his defense attorney from pleading not guilty via insanity? Ol' Frank watched the murder of his family, walks around naked in the sewers, suffers from extreme insomnia, and has morbid conversations with God about the morality of killing people. Throw in the fact that he's essentially a serial killer that targets mobsters, and the guy's got a big bucket of issues.

Luckily for Frank, he's intercepted by the Mafia while being transported to his arraignment hearing. Franco asks Castle to save his still-missing son from the Yakuza, but Frank not-so-subtly informs him that he's not interested in the business proposal. So Franco does what any good mobster does: he threatens to kill Jake if Castle doesn't play ball. Rather than let Jake die, Castle decides to kill two birds with one stone in a climax that settles the age-old debate of who would win in a fight: the Italian Mafia, the Japanese Yakuza, or the pissed-off Swede with the giant cache of machine guns?

The movie definitely has its ups and its downs. Dolph Lundgren is stellar as the Punisher, playing the role as a heartless psychopath that's completely detached from both society and reality. He had the look down, too. But in all honesty, I can't decide if he looked like a badass vigilante or a heroin junkie. (Or if he looks like a badass vigilante strung out on heroin.) Maybe if they'd given him a trenchcoat and let him wear the trademark Punisher skull, I could tell. But anyway, Dolph fits the role really well, and it's a shame the movie didn't hit American theaters. If he had, he'd have more than one role that he was known for. I thought Rocky IV was awesome, but I'm willing to bet that Dolph would want a little fame outside of one role. Then again, what would you rather have stuck on your résumé for the rest of eternity: Rocky IV or the Masters of the Universe movie?

Anyway, the supporting cast is also commendable, with the notable ones being Louis Gossett Jr. as the stereotypical "ex-partner who's the only one who knows what's going on" and Nancy Everhard as Jake's sidekick Sam. Kim Miyori plays her role as well as could be expected, but she wishes she were only half as cool as Lucy Liu in Kill Bill. Wait a second, an idea's forming. The Punisher: A Quentin Tarantino Film. Somebody call QT and see if he'd direct a Punisher movie, because I'd see it a zillion times.

The movie is severely lacking in the character development department, but with this style of movie, it doesn't matter. The movie is just a vehicle for Lundgren to be a big brooding tough guy that rarely speaks while he wreaks havoc on a major scale. Sure, the movie might be based on a comic book, but it's just the same as any other action movie from the 80s. Just take Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone out and replace them with Dolph Lundgren, and that's what you've got here. Everything from Mark Goldblatt's direction and Ian Baker's cinematography to Dennis Dreith's score are very typical for genre movies at the time. What separates The Punisher from movies like Commando and the Rambo trilogy is how cheap some of the sets look. The movie supposedly had a $10,000,000 budget, but I guess most of it went into buying guns and setting up the pyrotechnic effects, because the sets near the end of the movie look like they were made for fifty bucks to use on a public access TV show. But what can you expect? It's all getting blown up in the end, so who cares what it looks like?

Boaz Yakin's script also has some weird political commentary on the Japanese. We're supposed admire them because ninjas are cool, but we should hate them because they're coming in and usurping everything. The Yakuza come in and start displacing the mobsters, sort of like how everything in the 80s had that little "Made In Japan" sticker on them instead of "Made In The USA." Maybe this Boaz Yakin dude has something against Japan, or maybe it's just a weird coincidence. But it's an 80s action movie, so it doesn't have to be nice or make sense or anything like that. Besides, the Japanese goons in the movie aren't exactly physically intimidating, so Dolph has an extremely easy time killing them until they die.

Yes, folks, there is much havoc to be wreaked, bullets to be shot, stuff to be exploded, and bad guys to be killed. If you like that, this movie's for you. If not, you're not missing out on much. If you're looking for the definitive Punisher movie, go with the one from 2004. Two stars for this one.

Final Rating: **

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)

You've all heard my "horror movie sequel" spiel, probably enough times to make you sick. But horror movies and sequels are like peanut butter and jelly; they just go together naturally. Unfortunately, a great number of sequels don't advance the story, instead opting to recycle and rehash the previous movies in the series until it descends into self-parody. But the Ginger Snaps films are different, very different. The original, a modern day cult classic, is in my opinion one of the best werewolf films ever made. The sequel that followed, while not as good as its predecessor, was a respectable effort that advanced the previous film's story nicely. However, the producers of Ginger Snaps 3 decided not to follow up on the very intriguing ending of the second film, instead choosing to go in a completely different direction... a prequel?

Our story takes place in the snowy wilderness of western Canada, circa 1815. On the verge of starvation and freezing to death, orphaned siblings Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) are searching for shelter when they come across a decimated Indian village. Nobody's around, save for one old woman (Edna Rain), who cryptically tells them, "kill the boy, or one sister kills the other." The woman gives them a pair of distinctive necklaces and they leave the village, but Brigitte stumbles into a bear trap soon thereafter.

It isn't long before they're found and seemingly rescued by a mysterious Indian hunter (Nathaniel Arcand), who leads them to a nearly-empty trading fort exclusively populated by men. Under constant attack by wild beasts outside their walls and with their supplies dwindling, the men inside the camp are starting to go a wee bit stir crazy. Some have turned to drinking, others are insanely optimistic, and others follow the twisted view of God held by the misogynist/racist preacher Reverend Gilbert (Hugh Dillon).

Despite the protests of the fort's residents, the sisters are welcomed into the camp by their leader, Wallace Rowlands (Tom McCamus). Unfortunately for the girls, Wallace has a dark secret. His dark secret soon comes back with a (most literal) bite, and as in the first movie, Ginger gets infected with lycanthropy. The gang inside the fort soon start getting all cabin fever-y and begin staging a mutiny, and the Fitzgeralds leave the fort to seek help from the hunter and the old Indian woman. What happens there leads to a fiery climax that sees Brigitte forced to make a decision between her love for Ginger, and her own fear of death.

Seemingly taking inspiration from the Canadian Indian legends of the Wendigo, the film is quite different from its two predecessors. While the original Ginger Snaps is a clever allegory for the terrors of adolescence, and Ginger Snaps 2 is a werewolf-ized tale about drug addiction, Ginger Snaps Back is a gothic fairy tale. Its as if a Brothers Grimm story came to life. There are also some odd spots as well. Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins play the Fitzgerald sisters, as they do in the previous movies, yet they aren't the same. The Ginger and Brigitte seen here are familiar, yet new. It's a case of "The Fitzgeralds of Two Worlds."

On the plus side, the revamped Fitzgeralds and the new setting make things fresh and interesting. The script, written by Christina Ray and Stephen Massicotte, is intriguing, yet certain parts hold it back. I did enjoy the new take on the sisters's "together forever" pact from the first movie, and the fact that the sisters wear the same necklaces they did in the first Ginger Snaps. Unfortunately, while the various modern colloquialisms and profanities are funny, they pull the viewer out of the well-crafted environment. Yeah, I really doubt they dropped F-bombs in 19th-century Canada.

The script also suffers from having several very forgettable moments, but all in all, it makes for a very fun film, which is elevated by the fantastic acting. Just like in the previous movies, Isabelle and Perkins are the shining stars of Ginger Snaps Back, the two biggest highlights of the movie. The supporting cast is strong as well, but none of the characters are very likable. The woman-hating priest is the biggest victim of this, but just about every character (with the exception of the two Indians) had qualities that just made me not like them.

However, the movie benefits from wonderful direction and beautiful cinematography by director Grant Harvey and director of photography Michael Marshall. The costuming is also great (if all girls in 19th-century Canada are this cute, somebody point me in the direction of the Wayback Machine), and the gore effects by KNB EFX are outstanding. However, Alex Khaskin's score was almost non-existent. It's not a minimalist score... it just isn't there. That's a shame, because the first two movies had absolutely gorgeous scores that reveled in the melancholy nature of the series, yet this one is lacking that feel.

While I thought the movie was entertaining, it just wasn't the same as the prior two. That's not to say it wasn't good, but it didn't strike the same chord with me as the first two movies in the series did. Perhaps my problem is that I was wanting more of the same when I should have been expecting something different, I don't know. But all in all, even though it wasn't what I anticipated, I can't really complain. I'm a big fan of the Ginger Snaps saga, and the third part is no exception. Taking its flaws into consideration, I'll give Ginger Snaps Back three stars. It's a fun movie, but you might want to check out the original first.

Final Rating: ***

Thursday, January 6, 2005

The Crow (1994)

Movies based on comic books are nothing new. Most of the time, the source material is well-known and cherished among comic readers. When you see Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, or X-Men, you automatically connect them to comics. But occasionally, a movie comes along that's based on a comic so underground, you probably didn't even know that the comic existed. Such was the case with The Crow.

Created by James O'Barr in 1989 as a way to cope with the death of his girlfriend, The Crow is a tale of sorrow, revenge, and ultimately, a love that transcends death. An underground success in the comic world, the film adaptation became not only a cult classic among the Goth subculture, but also as a farewell to a promising young actor cut down before his prime.

We begin with some brief narration to set up the world we are about to enter. People believed that when someone dies, a crow would carry their soul to the afterlife. But sometimes, the soul carries a great sadness that refuses to let it be at peace. And in some rare instances, the crow will give the soul a new life, so that it may right a wrong.

With the exposition out of the way, we open in what looks like Detroit on October 30, known as "Devil's Night" because of the annual wanton acts of violence and arson that plague the city every Halloween Eve. Would-be rock star Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancée Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) plan to get married the next day, but four gang members break into their apartment and attack them. Eric is shot and thrown from a sixth-story window, while Shelly is brutally raped and beaten to death. Because of the senselessness of their deaths and the strength of their love, a mysterious crow resurrects Eric exactly one year later. With the crow as his guide, he exists as a shadowy avenger, refusing to rest in peace until he makes the four gang members and their leader (Michael Wincott) pay for their sins.

The Crow is the kind of movie you'd think would appeal solely to disillusioned teenagers that spend all day listening to Nine Inch Nails and looking like Robert Smith from The Cure, but many of the movie's underlying themes are universal. Love, death, and revenge are all things we can relate to in some form. While the "guy gets revenge for a loved one's murder" thing has been done in more movies than one can count, this one is a little bit different. For one thing, the hero is already dead. That's a pretty big deal, wouldn't you say?

But seriously, the most important difference is the movie's tone. Movies like The Punisher and Kill Bill: Volume 1 were all about the action. Stuff goes boom, people get killed, that's pretty much it. What separates The Crow from movies like that is the giant melancholy cloud that hangs over the movie. The movie is so sad, like someone made a movie about having their heart crapped on. It looks like it's just another slick action movie, but appearances can be deceiving. There's a lot of emotion under the surface: Sadness and heartache, anger, and an intense love that refuses to let the confines of death stand in its way.

The film's visual style is a testament to the hard work of director Alex Proyas and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. The movie looks much like a mutant cross between comic books, rock videos, and 1940s film noir. With odd architecture and effective lighting, it's as if the work of Edgar Allen Poe jumped onto celluloid. And they've apparently done homework from other genres, because the shootout that concludes the second act looks like something from a John Woo movie. The soundtrack is also great, almost becoming a character of its own. The use of various songs enhances a lot of scenes, as does the score by Graeme Revell. Holy crap, is Revell's score awesome. It's just absolutely beautiful in its gloominess.

The script, written by David Schow and John Shirley, could have used a few touch-ups. The film is most effective when there's little to no dialogue, when it just lets the music and imagery tell the story. A lot can be communicated through just the soundtrack and an actor's expressions and movements, folks. It's also like they tried to lighten the movie a little bit with some comic relief, much of which just seemed forced and unnatural. Fortunately, that's barely a minor complaint, so it's no big deal.

Meanwhile, the acting is awesome. The late Brandon Lee is very obviously the highlight of the cast, conveying his character's varying emotions excellently. The part was extremely well written, and he makes it better. Lee shows a potential that makes his death much more sad, as he could have had an absolutely brilliant career had the accident that claimed his life not happened. Despite having a minor role in retrospect, Michael Wincott was fun as Top Dollar, the crime kingpin that ordered the deaths that set up the movie. Tony Todd (who appears as Top Dollar's sidekick Grange) is also fun to watch, but he's awesome in everything he's in. Also getting a thumbs-up from me are the actors who play the four thugs: David Patrick Kelly ("T-Bird"), Angel David ("Skank"), Laurence Mason ("Tin-Tin") and Michael Massee ("Funboy"). Each of them take the obviously one-dimensional characters and give them more depth than was scripted. Good job, guys.

My biggest complaint about the acting is the performances of Ernie Hudson (as Eric's police officer buddy Albrecht) and Rochelle Davis (as Eric's perpetually-bummed friend Sarah). I like Ernie Hudson, but not even he could save this stinker of a role. I don't have a problem with the character existing, but it's just so horribly written that Ernie can't help. And Rochelle Davis gives a wooden, stilted performance, but I can forgive that because she had no prior acting experience prior to The Crow.

As has been said in a few other reviews, The Crow could be called the comic book movie's answer to Hamlet. It's a grim, action-filled tragedy, and if you haven't seen it, you're missing out. The movie is astounding, and any flaws stumbled upon are forgivable. Sadly, there's also an unfortunately ironic subtext to the movie. For those of you who don't know, Brandon Lee was accidentally shot and killed by a malfunctioning prop gun while filming a scene with Michael Massee near the end of production. Lee's death was so profound, Rochelle Davis left acting permanently, and Crow creator James O'Barr gave every cent he earned from the movie to charities.

And in his death, he had many similarities with his character. Like his character, Lee was only days away from his own wedding when he died. And like his character, he seemingly returned from the grave a year later upon The Crow's release to score a hit movie. And like his legendary father Bruce, his life was cut short before his full potential could be realized. Brandon had "star in the making" written all over him. But if he had to go, fate couldn't have picked a better film to let him say goodbye. Five stars, for sure.

Final Rating: *****