Movie Review: The Raven

I hate John Cusack. He’s such a lifeless, insipid and monotonous actor. Serendipity? A romanticism of a story that not only wouldn’t happen, but makes love way more difficult than it needs to be. Just ask the girl out on a date! Geez! The Contract was so bad and so, just no. I don’t even want to talk about it. No care was given for that whole production by anyone. Finally, while I haven’t watched all of 2012, I’ve watched enough to know it’s terrible and while Cusack isn’t the thing that started the fire, he didn’t help anything either. I’m doing my absolute best to avoid his films at all costs.

I almost saw The Raven in theaters and then I thought better of it. “Why waste money on a John Cusack film? Why, in the name of your own sanity, would you do that?” So I didn’t go and I didn’t regret it.

I played football yesterday and did not have fun at all, so being pissed, I had three options to burn off steam: 1) Walk to the gym and shoot hoops and I didn’t feel like that 2) Shoot things…in video games, mostly Call of Duty. My friend’s X-Box was unavailable. Which left me with 3) Watch a movie.

I don’t like watching bad movies, but at the same time, I find a certain level of satisfaction in railing on a film on my blog for you fine compatriots and creating new catchphrases and divulging my wrath onto a film’s flimsy shoulders. I wasn’t looking for a grotesque film or a film that only angered me more, just something to pass the time and deflate my bubble. The Raven was one of the first Netflix films that popped up.

Edgar Allan Poe was an odd man who very few understand even today. Has anyone watched The Following with Kevin Bacon? I did for a while and the show started to get really dark, almost too dark, which ironically, is what I think happened whenever someone got to know Edgar Allan Poe on more than a superficial level. His writings were maniacal, borderline psychotic, making you wonder if the man was capable of committing the crimes he described. At the same time, there was a certain fluidity to his work that few have been able to match. His mastery of the macabre, or quality of having a grim or ghastly atmosphere, was incredible and not appropriately respected at the time. He struggled through life but everyone knows the name Edgar Allan Poe.

Following this film and prior to this review, I read through the Wikipedia biography of Poe just for giggles because the film got me interested in the famous persona.

John Cusack, I hate you so much. The fact that you’ve gotten to Hollywood and probably make more in a year than I’ll make in an entire life disgusts me. You’re a terrible excuse for an artist. With all that said, good job.

Cusack exudes quick-witted, joshing language in the earlier segments and gives us a brighter aspect to the Poe we know. Probably not historically accurate, but not far-fetched. I could see a struggling writer performing these parlor tricks. There are some impressionable love lines between Poe and his one-and-only Emily Hamilton, played by the lovely Alice Eve from Star Trek: Into Darkness. Alas, we won’t be with the two lovebirds for long. A murderer starts killing people in the same manner as some of Poe’s writings, so Poe, with the aid of detective Fields (Luke Evans), must track down the killer and put a stop to it once and for all.

Kind of corny, huh? Sounds like a mix of The Following and Castle. Cusack and Evans take their work seriously and don’t give up on it, which is both admirable and partially effective. I’m still watching but some of this dialogue can’t get out of the gate. It clutters and clanks around the starting gate while the genre’s more effective counterparts gallop ahead.

There’s too fine a line between dialogue and plot points. The Raven is rudimentary. Driven by its need to solve the murders, the script never grips the characters and immerses itself in them. We’re talking about Edgar Allan Poe, one of the greatest literary minds in history, yet his character is largely ignored. Had it not been for the endless name dropping and physical likeness, it wouldn’t be hard to forget Poe and imagine our protagonist to be a struggling poet who has found success in writing works of gothic violence. The need for Edgar Allan Poe in this story doesn’t exist. In fact, retaining Poe is probably The Raven‘s greatest hindrance.

As I voiced wrote above, our knowledge of Poe is limited. That is not an excuse to pen a poor fictionalized account of how Poe met his end. If you’re going to fictionalize/create a story, create the character. Screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare (not making that up) did the product a disservice by aiming their sights below this form’s potential. This wasn’t going to be a best actor opportunity by any means, but give us a story that Poe himself would have approved of. Make it dark, gory and suspenseful. Read The Tell-Tale Heart for inspiration. Sculpt the horror, paranoia and bewilderment that Poe used as the bedrock for his pedestals. Produce a work that only Stephen King could match.

Perhaps the writers did not have the talent to accomplish such a feat. Director James McTeigue’s inability to acknowledge the failings convince me that The Raven was purely an economic venture. When money is your primary purpose, I lose respect for you. Greed is such a barren ideal and contemptible value. There’s more to life than currency. Something tells me that Poe understood that. Most great minds do.

I almost would have preferred if The Raven wouldn’t have been about a series of murders and would have instead turned its gaze on the love of Poe and Hamilton. I wished to see how they made their love work despite her father’s hatred of Poe and the dire financial circumstances Poe found himself in. The Raven needed a subplot of some kind desperately. Its stern gaze ahead made it totally oblivious to the story angles around it. Ahead was corroded copper, but to the side there was bronze that they missed out on because of their overconfidence.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Gone GirlMulanGuardians of the GalaxyDawn of the Planet of the ApesTransformers: Age of Extinction)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2Young Guns)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too.(When the Game Stands TallBlack Hawk DownRed Dawn(2012)MaleficentRise of the Planet of the Apes)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Dead SnowRubberHansel and Gretel: Witch HuntersAnchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyThe Transporter)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Expendables 3HomefrontG.I. Joe: RetaliationVantage PointThe Starving Games)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBilly MadisonA Haunted House300: Rise of an EmpireCowboys and Aliens)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark WorldThe Sum of All Fears)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (GallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafeWatchmenClash of the Titans)

My score for The Raven: 65.

The Raven may feature my favorite John Cusack role, but an ill-used duo of Luke Evans and Brendan Gleeson plus an over-polished story and a lack of propulsion in the film’s final third drop this into the mid 60’s. Still hate you, Cusack.

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