Box Office Preview: The Movie that Shall Remain “Nameless here for evermore,” Jason Statham, Pirates! and the next Apatow/Stoller/Segel Comedy

The Raven

Let’s just get this out of the way, this movie looks like shit, which is unfortunate given some of the names involved. “The Raven” was directed by James McTeigue, who was an assistant director for the “Matrix” trilogy before making his directorial debut with “V for Vendetta” in 2006. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson (“Braveheart,” “Gangs of New York,” “Harry Potter”), and stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe’s death is shrouded in mystery, so the filmmakers took more than a few creative liberties in this fictionalized account of the writer’s last days. When a serial killer begins using his work as the inspiration for a series of gruesome murders, police enlist Poe to help bring the assailant to justice.

Reviews have been bad, hovering around 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and not without reason. Edgar Allan Poe was a fascinating human being. In 1836, at age 27, he married his 13 year-old first cousin. The man was a great many things: author, poet, alcoholic, opium addict, and the inventor of detective fiction. He uneqivocally was not an action hero or some macabre version of Sherlock Holmes. With such an intriguing life story, there was no reason to make him into such.

“The Raven” is the 241st film or television adaptation of Poe’s work. That leaves you 240 options that might not be garbage, so pick one of those. Or, better yet, pick up some of his written work, which is in the public domain (that means it’s free).

Safe

In “Safe,” Jason Statham plays Luke Wright, “the Big Apple’s hardest cop, once up on a time.” Now, he’s a a second-rate cage fighter who drives fast, kicks ass, and always has a wry one-liner up his sleeve. That is, Jason Statham plays Jason Statham doing Jason Statham things, only he’s got an American accent (sort of). In this case, his excuse for coating the streets in blood is protecting a 12-year-old Chinese girl who’s memorized a valuable code from some Russian mobsters. Purely by coincidence, they’re the same Russian mobsters who murdered his wife.

“Safe” couldn’t have a more appropriate title. It’s another formulaic Statham action movie that’s split critics right down the middle because even though you know what’s going to happen, you can’t help but be entertained. Perhaps Aaron Hillis of The Village Voice put it best: “Safe” is a “preposterously enjoyable—or enjoyably preposterous—action-thriller.”

If “Safe” is your style, go and enjoy it, you’ll get no argument from me. But since you already know the endings anyway, you might as well rent “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” instead.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

This 3D stop-motion film from the creators of “Wallace and Gromit” and “Chicken Run,” has received widespread critical acclaim. The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a delightful romp whose varied pleasures should please kids all along the age spectrum.”

“The Pirates!” stars Hugh Grant as the Pirate Captain, “a dreamer with grand notions, a blustering optimism and a deficient skills set,” who could be Wallace’s ancestor. The Captain yearns to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award, but always loses out to rivals like Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek).

The Captain’s rag-tag crew includes a number of faces (or voices) familiar to those partial to British television. There’s Martin Freeman, who’s been cast as Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming adaptation of “The Hobbit” and played Tim in the UK version of “The Office,” and Ashley Jensen, Ricky Gervais‘ co-star in “Extras.” Along the way, the group enlists the help of Charles Darwin, played by David Tennant, best known for his role as the tenth doctor in the BBC’s “Doctor Who.”

The film was released a month ago in the UK, albeit with a different title: “The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists,” which is also the title of the book the film is based upon. Strangely and sadly enough, Sony Pictures felt the need to alter the title for the American release, because God forbid science or gasp evolution, be considered fun. Think of the children!

The Five-Year Engagement

It’s hard to go wrong when Judd Apatow’s name follows “produced by.” Take that home, throw in a screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, add some Chris Pratt and Alison Brie, baby you got a stew going!

Along with writing the film, Segel and Stoller, who’ve previously teamed up for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Muppets,” starred in and directed “The Five-Year Engagement,” respectively.

Segel plays chef Tom Solomon, who proposes to his girlfriend Violet (Emily Blunt) after a year of dating. A wrench gets thrown in their plans when Violet gets a job at the University of Michigan, delaying the wedding by two years. Of course, this is the five-year engagement, so ultimately that time gets extended further.

Segel and Blunt are well supported by Pratt, best known as Andy in “Parks and Recreation,” who plays Tom’s best friend, and Brie, of “Community” and “Mad Men” fame, as Violet’s younger sister.

All this sounds fantastic, but the critical consensus is that “The Five-Year Engagement” is good but not great. While the film has its moments, it’s far from the best work of its relatively star-studded cast and crew, and it runs a bit long. As Bullz-Eye’s Jason Zingale put it:

Beginning where most romantic comedies usually end, you can’t fault “The Five-Year Engagement” for trying to deliver a fresh take on the genre, but although it boasts some really funny moments, like most Judd Apatow productions, the movie doesn’t know when enough is enough. The ensemble cast saves it from being a total disappointment, but the film definitely isn’t as good as it should have been.

Much like a stew, “The Five-Year Engagement” seems like it’s made up of leftovers. It’s not greater than the sum of its parts. Zingale says “Stoller and Segel appear so dead set on including every single one of their ideas that it drains the movie of some of its charm… ‘The Five-Year Engagement’ does just enough to keep audiences entertained, but with the talent involved, you’d expect better.”

That said, while “The Five-Year Engagement” may be average relative to some of its cast and crew’s previous work, Apatow, Segel, and the rest remain among the comedic juggernauts of our time, so even their middling productions are well worth the price of admission.

  

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