Friday, May 4, 2012

“The Raven” – Theater etiquette.

There are certain things that people should not do at a theater. There’s the obvious stuff – talk, yell “fire!”, answer a cell phone, bring a baby, talk. More annoying (and less common) stuff includes drinking alcohol out of a paper bag, bringing a blind friend, sitting in the center of a row and getting up to go to the bathroom more than once, using a light-up pen to tally the number of curse words in the film, and the latest addition – clapping because a man was sawn in half by a pendulum. This wasn’t the bad guy being sawn in half, he was an innocent victim of the bad guy ten minutes into the film. I haven’t been this scared by the crazy people in the audience since I witnessed people laughing at Bridesmaids.

Featuring John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven is anything but a comedy. The film begins by telling us the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe’s death, then proceeds with two writers’ hypothesis explaining those circumstances. Although broke and unable to write new stories for his employer, he is able to pursue a relationship with Emily Hamilton whose father hates Poe. The plot thickens when the police find a couple of bodies surrounded by elements of Poe’s stories. The police question Poe and convince him to help with the investigation. Soon thereafter (read: predictably), the killer abducts Emily and instructs Poe to write about murders that are going to happen, as well as leaving clues for Poe to follow, or Emily will die.

At its heart, the film is a murder mystery/horror story similar to 7even, but not nearly as gruesome or disturbing. The plot integrates a number of Poe’s works, but unless you are a Poe aficionado you won’t know any better. If you can name more than The Raven and The Telltale Heart, you’re more knowledgeable than I. This is probably the biggest flaw with the movie because, unfortunately, most people are going to miss those references (especially because the typical American audience is filled with barely literate Neanderthals). Fortunately, the characters try to help by mentioning the names of the stories being referenced at each murder scene, though, that still might not be enough for those illiterates.

The writers kept the story pretty tight and don’t leave any loose ends. The important characters are developed well enough so that we care what happens to them. Cusack’s portrayal of Poe is easily the best part of the film. He brings life and likeability to a person most people liken to a mortician, if not the grim reaper. He doesn’t insert any of the dry humor or silly characteristics typical of his usual roles. The rest of the cast deserves credit as well, filling their roles nicely and never overplaying anything. As good as Cusack was, Eve did a very good job while she was buried alive after her abduction. If you are uncomfortable with tight spaces, you will squirm in your seat during the scenes when she’s in a tight space.

(Disclaimer: I think Alice Eve (Emily) is gorgeous, plus she’s Australian, so she basically can do no wrong in my book.)

My one complaint with movie is that the writers use anachronistic language. The film is set in Baltimore in 1845, but there was some modern lingo sprinkled in some of the scenes. Most of the time, the actors would be speaking the way we would expect for the era, then suddenly drop a couple of F-bombs. Maybe this really was the way people spoke back then, but it upset the scene every time it happened. In another scene, the killer twice tells Emily to “shut it,” which I’m sure was not uttered before 1999 and definitely not by a murderer.

Actually, I had a second complaint – I didn’t believe the killer’s motivation. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say it’s less than convincing and Poe, himself, would have scoffed at it.

I had no expectations going into the movie so I was pleasantly surprised. The pacing was good, there were no superfluous scenes or characters, and I never found myself bored or checking my watch. Getting back to the writers’ hypothesis, it’s an interesting take on a story that has intrigued people for more than a century.

Before the screening began, we were given the “privilege” (the organizer’s words) of having some random dude perform The Telltale Heart. Apparently, he couldn’t be bothered to memorize the poem (instead, he read it from the book he was holding) and his acting was slightly less believable than a four-year old throwing a tantrum in the grocery store. This was the most uncommon and most annoying breach of theater etiquette, and planned, no less. Had this guy met the wrong end of bladed pendulum, I would waive my rule for the crazy clapping guy.

Rating: Ask for one dollar back because, other than their being ravens in the film, the title makes very little sense.

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