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.

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Doctor Who 5.13 – The Big Bang

And so we come to yet another season finale of the greatest science fiction series ever created. This is the recap I’ve been both anticipating and dreading writing in equal parts since first seeing “The Big Bang” some weeks ago; anticipating because of how much I adored this finale, and dreading because there’s no way I can do it justice in a mere recap. It’s not even an issue of space or time (or is it?), it’s a matter of the story, as well as the 12 episodes prior to it, being too dense to dissect thoroughly. You’ll have to forgive that this doesn’t resemble a recap proper, and I instead ramble on about other issues.

I didn’t go into “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang” expecting a whole lot, conditioned as I am on Russell T Davies’s extravagant-yet-ultimately-lightweight season finales. Don’t get me wrong, they were most always a great deal of fun, but they most always left me somewhat wanting – excepting Season Three’s Master trilogy, although I’m not sure that’s in line with popular opinion. Oh, and “The Parting of the Ways.” Wait a minute…I loved most of his finales! But I often felt as if they didn’t go as far as they could. Part of the way through the current season the Pandoricrack, as I’ve come to call it, started to annoy me, and I began not so much resenting the thread, but rather simply dismissing it – assuming that whatever it was about wouldn’t be terribly thrilling. It turned out to be not only thrilling, but strange and deep and stimulating. This was Steven Moffat’s trademark “Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey” taken up to 11. (Maybe next year will go to 12?) This two-part finale forces viewers to go back and reexamine most of the season, and that isn’t something that can really be said for the Davies finales, which isn’t to imply they’re inferior. More on that later…

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Doctor Who 5.12 – The Pandorica Opens

From the very first scene, “The Pandorica Opens” is an ominous piece of work. France, 1890. Vincent van Gogh (Tony Curran) writhes in mental torment, presumably in the last days of his life. It appears that he actually did paint another piece, and it’s somehow tied to the Doctor. After the Doctor and Amy left Vincent at the close of “Vincent and the Doctor,” the Time Lord asserted that “we definitely added to his pile of good things.” Maybe they did, but it appears they added to his pile of bad things, as well. The implication even seems to be that by introducing Vincent to his universe, the Doctor may have played an inadvertent role in the artist’s suicide. Dark stuff indeed. But what is the painting? Bam! All of a sudden we jump to London in 1941 and we’re with Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) and Professor Bracewell (Bill Paterson), who now have the van Gogh painting. Bracewell insists that it’s Churchill’s job to deliver the art. Bam! A containment facility in 5145. River Song (Alex Kingston) is on the receiving end a phone call from Churchill meant for the Doctor. Swiftly she makes an escape thanks to the hallucinogenic lipstick. Bam! The Royal Collection, still in 5145. Presumably we’re back onboard the Starship U.K. and the van Gogh painting waits for River, having been added to the collection by Churchill 3200 years prior. Liz Ten (Sophie Okonedo) makes a reappearance. Bam! Still in 5145, River blackmails an alien dealer into giving her a vortex manipulator. Through this series of efficient sequences, it’s as if Steven Moffat is asking, “Have I got your attention now?” He most certainly does.

In the TARDIS, Amy (Karen Gillan) ponders the wedding ring, while the Doctor (Matt Smith) hatches a plan to take her to the oldest planet in the universe to see the oldest piece of writing, which is chiseled onto a cliff face. The TARDIS doors open and the translators show the words as “Hello Sweetie.” Bam! Britain, 102 AD. The TARDIS arrives in front of a Roman army, and Amy mentions that Roman soldiers were her favorite topic in school. A soldier, whose face is smeared with lipstick, mistakes the Doctor for Caesar and takes the pair to see Cleopatra, whom River is impersonating. Finally we get to see the painting, which shares its name with this episode, and it’s a vision of the exploding TARDIS, painted exactly as we’d imagine van Gogh would paint such a vision. (Surely poster prints of this will be available for fans to hang on their walls any day now? I know I’d buy one.) Finally, seven minutes into the episode, we get the opening credits.

And thus begins what’s easily the most ambitious setup for a season finale the new series has yet done. “The Pandorica Opens” is positively cinematic in scope, direction, editing and, of course, writing. These setup installments were never this good in the Davies era, and it’s almost a shame it isn’t the season finale proper, as it would be an unbearable, months-long wait to see the resolution to everything this episode does. It would be the “Doctor Who” equivalent of Part One of “The Best of Both Worlds,” which ended the third season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In fact it’s somewhat strange that “Doctor Who” – a show infamous for its end of episode cliffhangers – has yet to end a season on any kind of serious hang (stuff like regenerations or Donna suddenly appearing in the TARDIS doesn’t really count). The feeling I got watching “The Pandorica Opens” is the exact same feeling I got while watching the last 20 minutes of “Utopia” from Season Three – only this thing kept up that level of intensity for nearly a whole hour.

The episode shifts into an almost “Indiana Jones” type of piece for a while, as the trio of time travelers make their way to a secret area beneath Stonehenge, to find the massive Pandorica prison, which is somehow tied to the exploding TARDIS. Whatever’s housed in it is the most feared thing in the entire universe. As with the Romans, Amy mentions that the story of Pandora’s Box was a favorite of hers as a child. This catches the Doctor’s attention, but there’s too much going on for him to focus on it. The box finally begins opening – from the inside, no less, but it’s a process that could take hours, as there are many locks and mechanisms to work through, and so the tension continues to ratchet upwards.

The Doctor: “Think of the fear that went into making this box. What could inspire that level of fear? Hello you. Have we met?”

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Hamlet

As a self-professed fan of all things “Hamlet,” my interest was immediately piqued when the BBC announced that they would be producing a modern day update of the Shakespearean classic with “Doctor Who” star David Tennant in the title role. Everyone knows the story of “Hamlet,” but if you don’t, this isn’t a bad place to start as it’s a pretty faithful adaptation with some strong performances from its cast. Tennant played the Danish prince in the most recent staging of the play by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and though it isn’t the best Hamlet to date, he brings a whimsical madness to the role that injects some much-needed energy into the story. Unlike previous incarnations, Tennant’s Hamlet is crazy from the start – a victim of paranoia who believes he’s being spied on by his murderous uncle via the CCTV cameras installed throughout the castle.

And indeed, there’s a bit of truth behind his madness, as the newly anointed King Claudius (Patrick Stewart, also reprising his role from the RSC production, and who recently spoke with our own Will Harris about the film) keeps a watchful eye on his nephew. But while Claudius initially comes off looking more like a worried patriarch than an evil stepdad, he eventually reveals himself to be the villain he truly is in subtle moments of guile and wickedness that capitalize on the veteran actor’s commanding screen presence. The rest of the cast pales in comparison (particularly Peter De Jersey, who is horribly miscast as Horatio), although Mariah Gale does get to chew some scenery once Ophelia loses her marbles (and her clothes).

Despite setting the story in present day, the film feels very much like a period piece. Director Gregory Dorn is careful to update the material without changing the meaning, and though it’s been filmed on a movie set, there’s an air of theatricality to the production that proves why “Hamlet” is better told on stage than in film. All in all, it’s one of the finer adaptations in recent memory. It still doesn’t come close to besting the Kenneth Branagh-directed version, but then again, there’s a good chance nothing ever will.

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Doctor Who 5.4 – The Time of Angels

After being so thoroughly underwhelmed for the past two weeks, “The Time of Angels” almost leaves me speechless. I wish I could just write, “Man, that was so fuckin’ cool” and be done with it, since anything I’ve got to say isn’t going to make it any cooler. With this episode, we’ve finally gotten to material with major promise – probably even beyond promise, but since it’s only part one of a two-parter, everything could fall apart in the second half. But man oh man, what a setup!

The opening sequence – which begins with a man tripping balls – sets the stage for a whacked-out adventure. He’s been dosed with hallucinogenic lipstick by River Song (Alex Kingston). Was the field he was standing in part of the hallucination, or was it a part of the spaceship Byzantium? Clearly River has been up to something on the ship, but we don’t find out what that is straight up. 12,000 years in the future, the Doctor (Matt Smith) is showing Amy (Karen Gillan) a museum, and pointing out all the objects he’s had in hand in saving, which is really quite funny, and vaguely romantic, but mostly just boastful and stodgy on his part, especially since what Amy really wants to see is an alien planet. They come across an ancient home box on which some Old High Gallifreyan is written – it amusingly says “Hello sweetie.” The Doctor steals the box from the museum, which leads him to a rendezvous with River right outside the Byzantium. River, on the run from powers that be, releases an airlock and flies straight through the waiting, open TARDIS doors, and lands on the Doctor. The Byzantium flies away, and River issues a single order: “Follow that ship!” It’s an exhilarating start and very James Bond-like, directed by Adam Smith with precision and thought, as is the rest of the episode.

The sequence that follows it, set in the TARDIS, is equally entertaining, although on a more intimate level. The bickering back and forth from the Doctor and River is reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana I (Mary Tamm) from the early Key to Time stories, although whereas that relationship was two Time Lords getting to know one another, this one is, at least from River’s POV, rooted in familiarity. One really nice touch that gives me huge giggles is how River hangs her heels on the TARDIS scanner. I love that. Also, the fact that the TARDIS only makes the grinding noise it makes when it materializes because the Doctor leaves the brakes on. Hilarious, as is Smith’s impression of the sound. And of course the blue stabilizers, which the Doctor dubs “blue boringers.” Priceless dialogue here, all the way around.

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