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The Crow

This atmospheric action thriller is dark, a little depressing, and deeply touching.  Based on a comic series, it tells the tale of a man who comes back from the dead in order to achieve justice for his and his girlfriend’s murders.  It’s a story of revenge, full of violence and mayhem, nudity and language.  Definitely not for kids, it is fun in a different kind of way.  It’s very cathartic to watch our hero take on the city’s underbelly and come out on top, all in an effort to get back to where he belongs, in the land of the dead with his beloved.  The acting, music, tone, and pace are all superb, stitched together in a way that holds your attention without moving too quickly.  The settings and special effects are presented with a very graphic novel sort of look, and that suits the story very well.  The deep tragedy is interlaced with bits of hope and light, and everything ends on a bittersweet note.  I can’t recommend this one to anyone who is opposed to cursing and violence in their movies; that’s all part of the environment and most of the characters here.  But if you’re looking for something darkly poetic and soul-searching, with a heaping helping of cathartic revenge thrown in, you’ll love this one.

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The Craft

This is one phenomenal fantasy tale about budding witches and the darkness that stems from their psychological problems.  Four teenage girls tap into powers that feed on their inner selves.  Only one of them learns how to bring out the light and end the madness that erupted from their witchcraft.  It’s a dramatic film, full of angst and fear and personal tragedy.  It has a neatly packaged ending and excellent special effects, and the acting is top notch.  The soundtrack is well-chosen; most of the songs tend to evoke a sort of feminine tone.  Overall, it all comes together in a way that feels both empowering for women and clearheaded about the pitfalls that come with power, no matter who’s holding it.  This movie might be a bit scary for the youngest viewers, but it will hold the attention of anyone else.

Cowboy Bebop

One of the best anime series ever made.  This brief show revolved around a group of bounty-hunting ne’er-do-wells who each have complicated pasts and unique personalities.  The animation is astoundingly well-done, with detailed backgrounds and smooth movements.  The faces and bodies of the characters are all unique, as well, setting them apart from the usual anime figures.  Everything is done in a realistic style that lends a beauty to even the darkest moments.  The music is memorable and appropriate, and each episode comes with its own storytelling style that is propelled by the song choices, sometimes jazz or blues or rock or country, depending on the pace and tone needed.  It’s as much a sort of musical or operatic show as an action show, with the music telling the story as much as the plot points.  Each episode could stand on its own as an amazing story, but altogether, it makes for an epic tale.  The voice acting and the characters are sympathetic and believable, and it all comes together seamlessly.  The world of Bebop is handed over bit by bit in the same way that the characters’ pasts are revealed, and there’s a lot to take in.  In the end, not every question is answered, although most of the important backstory pieces are provided.  The series finale is tragic, but it suits the feel of the show.  There could have been so much more, but it’s all tight and smooth and leaves you wanting more, which the best shows always do.  There’s plenty of violence and blood and some nudity, so this one isn’t for the kids.  But the psychological and philosophical discussions are perfect for anyone who likes a show that makes them both think and feel.

There was also a theatrical movie based on the series that seems to take place somewhere in the middle of it.  It’s more of a standard action flick, without the poetic beat led by the soundtrack of the series.  The music is still pretty good but all over the place and with no consistent style, and the animation is pretty good too but is more CGI than hand-drawn.  The story is slower-paced, probably due mostly to the fact that the film is four times as long as an episode of the series.  There are a few other minor inconsistencies, particularly in the character and behavior of the main protagonist.  It’s still an interesting story with some humor and plenty of action.  Just don’t expect the same atmospheric beauty and style of the series.

Cool Runnings

Based loosely on a true story, this movie follows Jamaica’s first Olympic bobsled team during the late ’80s.  It’s not the most accurate historical film, but it has plenty of humorous moments and sympathetic characters.  The acting is stellar, including John Candy’s surprisingly serious role.  It’s very entertaining and very well put together.  It’s good, clean fun for the whole family.  There could easily be a few complaints about the historical inaccuracies, especially the more dramatic moments, but the story is compelling.  It’s worth a look whether you like historical movies, comedies, or sports films.

Contact

This is one slow burn of a movie.  It takes forever to get anywhere, but somehow you can forgive it for this.  It gives you time to learn about the characters and see some unsung acting skills get put to use.  It doesn’t answer all of your questions, though, about the characters or the universe or anything, and that’s kind of the point.  Ostensibly about making contact with aliens and discovering the secrets of the universe, this story is really about faith.  Unconfirmed, unreasonable faith.  This can be a bit grating to those of us who live by evidence and science and logic.  The main character is forced to learn in the end about the importance of believing even when you have no evidence.  It’s a bit ham-fisted, honestly, and some of the analogies feel forced and inaccurate if you’re not religious.  The point seems to be that even science requires leaps of faith.  The science, math, and technology used in the film feel accurate and a bit overly technical, but this lends credence to the story.  The cinematography is impressive, and everything comes together well.  The search for aliens might seem quaint by today’s blockbuster standards (this movie came out in the late ’90s), but it’s more of a human-focused story, anyway.  The ending is a little anti-climactic, but again, this is part of the focus.  This is where my biggest complaint comes into play, though.  Spoiler: Our main character can’t prove that she met the aliens, and so nobody knows or cares about what really happened.  After all of her hard work, this feels incredibly disappointing.  We’re supposed to believe that she’s happy just knowing the truth herself, and her religious boyfriend was right all along about religion being the only way to bring meaning to a person’s life.  If you are religious, you’ll find this uplifting.  If you’re not, you’ll find it annoying.  Whether you watch this film may depend on your own faith, rather than how good it is.

Constantine

Based on the same comic book series that the tv show was based on, this Keanu Reeves flick is dark but still a lot of fun.  There are action scenes, tons of special effects, and a story that raises questions about morality and religion.  Mostly, the plot focuses on our title character trying to both save the world and his own soul.  The demons are trying to take over, and he’s trying to hold them off.  There’s sort of a neat, well-packaged ending, which is more than the comic character ever got.  The actors do pretty well with what they’re given to work with, considering it’s mostly just an action film.  The effects are fantastic, and the music lends an epic tone to it all.  It’s not quite as deep, dark, and thought-provoking as either the comic series or the tv show, but it is eye-catching and entertaining.

Congo

This adventure story about a talking gorilla, a long-lost ancient city, and plenty of intrigue and mystery is attention-grabbing and exciting.  The story is fascinating and full of detail, and the actors fill their characters with realism and humanity.  The cinematography and environments are beautiful and eye-catching.  Since the bulk of the story takes place in Africa, there is plenty of racial diversity.  There is, unfortunately, only one female character, but she’s well-played and well-represented.  There is an unnecessary stumbling block early in the story about political machinations in the center of the continent that portrays Africa as rather backwards and war-like, but to be fair, many of its countries experience war and political upheaval on a revolving basis.  I don’t know whether the portrayals of native Africans or their languages and cultures are at all accurate, but they lend a believability and interest to the film.  The whole thing starts a little slow, but that gives you time to get to know the characters and get drawn into the story.  There is plenty of action and excitement in the second half of the movie, and answers to the mysteries are provided.  If you’re looking for something fun and a little exotic to watch, this is a well-done example of such a thing.