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Was I Nuts ? – The Crow: City of Angels

The Summer Revisit of 1996, with it’s original host of disappoints, comes to a close as it must; a week or so later than intended and with a film I’m pretty sure I’m going to find unbearable.

As has been previously discussed here, 1994’s The Crow was a perfect creation for a suburban white kid like myself entering his teens. It had violence, a bit of goth weirdness and a bunch of rock music. So, when The Crow: City of Angels was announced, I was basically the target audience. Having read a few of the comics, the notion of the character returning in a different persona, with revenge once more being sought for and by a person taken from life too soon, didn’t ring as merely a cash-grab.

Plus you know, a soundtrack with Korn, White Zombie and Seven Mary Three; what could go wrong? I’m going to regret this me-thinks.

The Film

Released to blisteringly bad reviews on August 30th, 1996, The Crow: City of Angels opened at #1 on the box-office charts, raking in a decent $9.78 million. However, that ended up being roughly half of the entire domestic gross ($17.92 million), or roughly about one-third of what it’s predecessor managed to garner.

The film was directed by Tim Pope, he of many a music video for The Cure, which makes sense. It remains his sole feature film credit. Once more finding it’s source in the James O’Barr comic book, City of Angels stars Vincent Perez as Ashe Corven, a young man killed by a drug-lord. Ashe’s end comes violently, with his son Danny (Eric Acosta) being caught in the chaos. The horror of it all is too much, and Ashe’s soul is unable to cross until the next realm without settling the wrongs done to he and his blood. Plus, you know, he’s got to wear leather, make-up and kill people in a manner that leaves little crow-silhouettes.

While Alex Proyas made a film heralded for its melancholy and eerie aura, Pope’s movie was seen by many as an example of music video directors failing to crossover, for the Finchers/Gondrys/Jonze’s were and have always been the exception and not the rule.

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The Memory

City of Angels came at a time where it was near-impossible for me to hate a movie I was excited to see. I might be bored by the film. I might find the film annoying in huge parts. I might immediately forget the film’s details.

I wasn’t going to say – or honestly feel –  it was bad though.

Though I recall my dad taking me to this R-Rated picture at my St. Mary’s County movie theatre, the only real element of the project that sticks in my brain is the goofy Crow symbols that accidentally get made. In the original movie, Brandon Lee’s character creates these vicious calling-cards of his destruction, as the titular symbol is painted in blood on rusted walls or via an inferno on a dilapidated dock. City of Angels, if memory serves, has the same image, just miraculously appearing on the forehead of a man who’s skull was cracked open.

What hangs deeper in the recesses of the ol’ brain is the soundtrack for the movie, which I basically had on repeat for the summer along with Metallica’s “Load” and Better than Ezra’s “Friction, Baby.” The album had the right amount of droning misery that was a perfect prescription for a teenager who just moved from San Diego, California to a town where the big thing to do was go to the Wal-Mart.

The Expectations

Well, I’m zero-for-three on revisits in this project, meaning that on some level, what was once garbage remains garbage. I never watched any of the subsequent straight-to-video adaptations of The Crow and there has never been much in the way of, “You know, City of Angels is super underrated.” I’m hoping for a couple nice visual touches and for that Hole cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” to be used in a cool manner.

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The Verdict

The Crow: City of Angels can barely be labeled a film. There is less plot here than in Andy Warhol’s Empire. Director Tim Pope and – egads!!! – David S. Goyer slightly repurpose the skeleton of the original and little else. We once more have a handsome, young dead guy with black hair, a criminal kingpin who hires terrible help and hangs with a woman who knows mystical stuff, the aforementioned Crow symbols and a hero who literally laughs in the face of danger.

They do bring to the party one Thomas Jane as baddie in a terrible wig named Nemo.

Really, this whole endeavor comes across as schlocky fan-fiction given a small budget by a Hot Topic store manager. The first film took the steps to, you know, build up characters. Yes, more than the at least one that is traditional. Brandon Lee’s Eric Draven wanted to help people amidst his vengeance, as his past humanity bubbled under the scars and cold flesh that currently roamed the land. Vincent Perez gets none of that. His Ashe Corven has the unfortunate back-story of being murdered, along with his son. That’s about it for details. His dead kid gets more shading, as at least we found out the boy liked to paint. Ashe is a walking trench-coat with hair so feathery it’s meant to look like, presumably, the feathers of a crow itself. Yay.

He cackles here and there while attempting to butcher those that led to his downfall, but it never reads as unnerving like it did in the first movie. Here, the giggles read goofily, akin to when children pretend to be crazy by throwing their hands up in the air and bellow “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!”

This could still work though. Pope’s career in music videos could just skip past traditional storytelling into something arthouse and enigmatic. Sadly, that’s not the case either. We have a lot of dusty sound-stages and streets smothered in dry-ice to such an extent that the only logical conclusion is the Executive Producer’s brother-in-law must work in the dry-ice business and really needed help this year. Instead of a fresh flair for visuals, we have slow-motion and a crow flying past palm trees, which as it tends to happen, leads to said palm trees exploding into a fiery ball of what-the-fuck. The movie can’t even determine how to use its soundtrack properly, just throwing in a few of its notable covers here or there. Well, we do at least get Iggy Pop playing a villain who wanders into a club where an Iggy Pop song is playing in the background. So, there’s that. Plus, there is Eva Green 1.0 Mia Kirshner.

So at this end of this 1996 project, it’s fascinating to see that Hollywood was often so bad back then too. With 2016’s summer being quite thoroughly trashed, it’s a reminder of the ebs and flows of the studio system and that it’s always, always, always a fool’s errand to claim the death of cinema when there’s a fresh batch of films around the corner and that the goods are typically just outside the obvious purview.

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