The Raven DVD Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

The Raven (2012)

Starring John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Pam Ferris and Kevin McNally

Directed by James McTeigue

James McTeigue’s The Raven has two interconnecting premises, the first of which is a fictionalized account of Edgar Allan Poe’s (played by John Cusack) still mysterious and controversial death. The real Poe, on his way to New York City, has made a surprise pit stop at Baltimore. Just like the one in the movie, he was found on a park bench in that city, wearing ill-fitting clothes and incoherently mumbling about a man named Reynolds. Theories about his death vary from different diseases and substances that were plentiful during the Antebellum. This movie’s supposed to tell what happened to Poe that led him to his mysterious death. The second premise is that during his stop, a serial killer has victimized members of the city’s population, while also copying plot points in Poe’s stories. Edgar is the prime suspect but he’s helping with the solving of the cases. So it’s also basically like watching libraries worth of Vincent Price and Hammer material within one movie with a 2012 time stamp. The source material and McTeigue’s glossy, ‘modern’ approach to it unfortunately gives us a pulpy movie.

And since there are murders you can assume that we have a buddy cop movie on our hands – yay! The real Poe had phases on relying on substances during his worst days, this script relies heavily on the account that he was a rabid, a violent drunk, a label disputed by his peers. Other actors considered to play Edgar were Ewan McGregor and Joanquin Phoenix who, as we know, had better things to do with their time. So Cusack’s stuck in this role, an actor who has played midlife crisis roles in better movies than, ahem, Hot Tub Time Machine. The script demands him to abscond others for being Philistines and Cusack decides to yell the word ‘philistine’ which yes, we get the irony but I wish he gave everyone, including me, earplugs before he ruins his vocal chords.

Since Cusack is the loud one in this dynamic, the more quiet one is Baltimore Detective Emmett Fields, played by Luke Evans. Both actors don’t lean back and realize how ridiculous their movie is, and this obliviousness is more pointed with Evans because his performance is mostly humourless. Other characters rounding out the story are Edgar’s love interest played by Alice Eve, an actress too good for most of her movies. But she’s delightful to watch as she recites Poe’s ‘Annabelle Lee’ falls in love, no matter which loudmouth gross person she’s falling in love with. There’s the love interest’s father, Mr. Hamilton, played by Brendan Gleeson, the most Southern of the performances, incorporating twangs within certain parts of his speech without overdoing it (Maryland, although loyal to the Union, is still part of the South). Then there’s Pam Ferris playing one of the Baltimore ladies, and she, just like any Children of Men cast member, gets a pass.

Again, this is trashy, and Lucas Vidal’s ill-fitting electronic musical score and McTeigue’s little visual effects don’t help me in liking whichever effect this movie is trying to instill in me. But that doesn’t mean that McTeigue doesn’t try to insert moments of beauty within it. The CGI used for transforming sets are barely noticeable – the movie doesn’t use what it doesn’t need. There are, at least, some aesthetically pleasing moments in the movie. The first is when Edgar is lecturing the Baltimore ladies about poetry. I don’t want to go on Armond White territory, comparing pulpy movies to classics, but then, I can’t help noticing the medium shots of the ladies remind me of ones in the party scene in Luchino Visconti’s Il Gattopardo, showing these women in various degrees of facial beauty despite coiling themselves in the time’s fashions. There’s something authentic in showing that the upper classes don’t all look like starlets. There’s also another scene where Edgar lunges at a door, cape flying behind him. These beautiful bits come with period movies and I’m a sucker for moments like that, no matter what else comes in between.

The DVD comes with French audio, French and English subtitles, and helpful audio commentary from McTeigue and the movie’s different producers. Along with these special features, The Blu-Ray has deleted and extended scenes, various featurettes about shooting the movie, about Poe, the cast, the music, as well as the theatrical trailer.

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New to Blu:Grosse Pointe Blank Review

Sometimes when you watch a film for the very first time, for one reason or another, it just sticks with you and it adds itself into your individual cinematic lexicon, becoming a beloved film to you personally, and when your feelings are shared with the masses, it’s a great shared feeling of enjoyment.  Out now on Blu-Ray for the very first time from our friends at Hollywood Pictures Home Entertainment, we go back 15 years for the anniversary edition of a delightful black comedy that enthralled and entertained a generation.  Get ready to go back and revisit Grosse Pointe Blank.

Grosse Pointe Blank

Starring John Cusack, Minnie Driver and Dan Aykroyd

Directed by George Armitage

In Grosse Pointe Blank we meet Martin Blank (Cusack) a contract killer who is stuck in a personal and career rut when his 10 year high school reunion roles around and gives him the chance to rekindle a relationship with an old flame (Driver) and pull off one final job.  Things are really looking up for Martin to get back on track, that is until his arch rival (Aykroyd) joins the party to not only finish the job that was once his, but to once and for all blow his competition away.

As the ultimate high school reunion that we all wish we could go to, Grosse Pointe Blank is still a hell of a lot of fun even 15 years later.  With its nostalgia themed satire with some liberal sprinklings of ‘John Woo-esque’ violence throughout this is a laugh filled adrenaline ride that goes to show that you may never be able to go home again, but you can always shop there.  The script which Cusack had a hand in co-writing crackles with wit and intelligence as our protagonist searches for a quick, swift spiritual kick to the head.  Director Armitage keeps the action and the laughs going at a very healthy pace and it all holds up surprisingly well all these years down the road as the story of Martin looking for any kind of personal redemption that he can grab on to while validating his current job status all at the same time.  With the laughs and the tension filled action kept at a relative yet tenuous and constantly self aware balance throughout the film, it’s the stellar ensemble lead by Cusack that propels this into incredibly memorable territory.

As Martin Blank, John Cusack turns in one of the more memorable performances of his entire career, riding the line of the manic neurotic self involved guy who is looking to restart his life and also happens to be an assassin for hire. Cusack had always been a likeable leading man, but with Grosse Pointe Blank he pulled off a full fledged reboot of his career since the days of him holding a boom box over his head in “Say Anything”. Equal parts romantic comedy leading man and emotional edgy assassin, the moment of pure epiphany that has him silent when he stares into a baby’s eyes while David Bowie is a real master class in expressing genuine emotion without saying a word.  Minnie Driver matches him step for step as the love of his life that he let get away and she was undoubtedly at the peak of her popularity at this time. Cusack also shines in his scenes with Dan Aykroyd, as Cusack clearly revels in playing the straight man role making their interplay all the better. Aykroyd also bites into his role with gleeful abandon.  The supporting cast rounds out with some familiar faces including Jeremy Piven pre-Entourage, Alan Arkin, Joan Cusack and Hank Azaria but this film really begins and ends with Cusack as he melds a sociopathic hit man into a very likeable guy that you end up rooting for by the end of it all.

The only special feature on this release is the theatrical trailer, but given the how key the use of music is in this film, the sound is excellent and in concert with a solid HD transfer. This film looks a good as it ever did.

Ultimately, Grosse Pointe Blank is a fantastic story of redemption and keeps life in perspective no matter what your chosen profession is, and even 15 years later it is still a smart and hilarious film.

Grosse Pointe Blank is now available on Blu-Ray for rent and at all major retailers across Toronto and Canada.

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