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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What Else Ya Got? “Ninja Assassin”

James McTeigue’s “Ninja Assassin” certainly has its share of problems (the acting is subpar and the script is even worse), but while it definitely chooses style over substance, that style features so many killer action sequences that it’s still worth checking out. The Blu-ray release smartly hews towards those strengths, resulting in a nice collection of bonus features that fans of the film will definitely appreciate.

The Myth and Legend of Ninjas

This 18-minute featurette delves into the history of the ninja, using interviews with real-life ninja masters to discuss how the warring states of Japan during the 16th century led to the demise of the ninja. There’s also a brief discussion about the various kinds of weapons used (some basic and some so specialized that only a certain clan was proficient in it), as well as how ninjas have become a pop cultural icon in comic books and movies over the last few decades. It’s not a particularly well-made special, but diehard martial arts buffs will enjoy it nonetheless.

The Extreme Sport of a Ninja

By far the best of the bunch, this stunt featurette offers a brief glimpse at the making of every major action sequence in the film. Though the stunt team consisted of the usual suspects, it’s also revealed that other likeminded athletes (like free runners and gymnasts) were also recruited and trained as stuntmen in order to provide the ninjas with a unique style. There’s so much raw awesomeness packed into this 10 minutes that by the time it’s over, there’s a good chance you’ll want to change career paths.

Training Rain

This featurette follows the grueling martial arts and body fitness training that Rain was put through in order to transform him from a Korean pop star into a super-ripped badass. The stunt guys have nothing but praise for the wannabe actor, admitting that his background in dance helped him pick up and memorize the complex fight choreography so quickly. The comparisons to Bruce Lee are mostly unwarranted, but it’s easy to see why these guys are so impressed.

Additional Scenes

You’re not really missing anything here, as most of the so-called deleted scenes are mostly just missing bits from events that still take place in the film. There’s a brief flashback to the ninja camp during the Laundromat scene, another where Raizo jacks a car, and two more involving the Europol characters getting chewed out by their respective bosses.

The story doesn’t really benefit from any of the additional material, so they were probably best left on the cutting room floor. The other extras, however, are all interesting in their own right, and they more than make up for a lack of an audio commentary or proper making-of featurette. The two-disc set also includes a digital copy of the film and a sneak peak at the upcoming “Clash of the Titans” movie. It might not be Warner Brother’s finest hour, but it’s certainly more than I would have expected from one of the studio’s less successful films of 2009.

  

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No one wants to be a turkey on Thanksgiving

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson allow themselves a smooch in Even as the president pardons a pair of prime gobblers who will  instead be going into show business at Disneyland, there’s a good chance that at least one major release this weekend may meet a less charitable fate as a fierce battle rages for the #2 spot. Yes, the #1 spot seems to be reserved, trade mag prognosticators jolly Carl DiOrio and Pamela McClintock agree, for “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”

Between repeat hardcore “Twilight” fangirls, their friends, and curious onlookers it really seems like a lock for the continuing vampire/human/werewolf romantic menage, considering the film’s spectacular $142.8 million domestic performance last weekend. Which is not to say there won’t be some success to go around this tme. Considering the longest official holiday weekend on the calender — and a “black Friday”-depressing economy that may put many folks in the mood to delay their shopping as long as possible — it seems more than very likely that there will be some nice money to be made at the nation’s multiplexes tonight through Sunday. (Hardcore talliers will be concentrating on the three day period starting Friday.)

The obvious favorite for the #2 spot, if only because it’s going to be booked into 922 more theaters than the next biggest wide release, is Disney’s PG-rated all-star comedy “Old Dogs.” With John Travolta and Robin Williams headlining with a premise that sounds like “Two Men and Two Six Year-Olds” and not much else in the way of broadly appealing, family-friendly comedies out there, this sure seems like a  sure thing in theory.

The slapstick-laden comedy, however, scored an abysmal 6% “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but what of it? Director Walt Becker’s previous all-star comedy outing, “Wild Hogs” — the two films actually rhyme — was roundly reviled by most critics and then grossed over $168.2 million domestically.

John Travolta and Robin Williams are

Still, wouldn’t we all rather to win pretty? Our own David Medsker makes a salient point:

…You would think that Disney might step up their game a little bit after seeing just how successful their partners at Pixar have been by not taking the easy way, by using their early success to branch out and make some highly entertaining but also downright challenging movies (“WALL·E,” “Up,” “Ratatouille”). Disney got a taste of that themselves with “Enchanted,” and even “Bolt” to a lesser extent. Most of the time, though, it’s balls to the groin, and gorillas cuddling humans singing Air Supply….

As the quote attributed to H.L. Mencken goes: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” On the other hand, some have given it a darn good try. We’ll see.

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