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The Raven: Suspense-less Thriller Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s Work
A deranged groupie has taken Edgar Allen Poe’s (Cusack) literature a little bit too literally. He goes on a killing spree using different murders from Poe’s stories as inspiration, where each murder contains a clue to the next. The murderer starts improvising though and kidnaps Poe’s girlfriend, Emily (Eve), to draw the author closer in; taunting him. The murderer orders Poe to write a story and publish it in the newspaper where he works, based on the murderous actions. In the story, Poe both immortalizes the killer and shapes his future actions.
This is a film with a decent concept that just doesn’t work out. Making a murder-mystery out of bits of Poe’s literary tales could have been pretty interesting, but it basically boils down to us hopping from one gruesome murder to the next. There isn’t even much connecting one murder with the next. Also, by having Poe translate the murderer’s escapades into fiction the film has a very strong going-through-the-motions vibe, killing any sense of suspense or tension.
The characters aren’t much better either. Cusack’s character of Poe is a depressed alcoholic with a raging ego and an insufferable sense of superiority – basically a cliché of an artist. Eve’s character Emily is pretty and, unfortunately, doesn’t get much of a chance to transcend that trait seeing as she’s stuck in a box for most of the film. Also, Poe is at least double her age and is probably old enough to be her father. Their relationship is kind of creepy and you wouldn’t be wrong in completely empathizing with Emily’s father who does his best to keep them away from each other. Luke Evans plays Detective Fields, the officer in charge of the investigation and the man who first makes the connection between the murders and Poe’s stories. He does a decent job not least because he isn’t saddled with the ‘artistic,’ heavy-on-the-synonyms dialogue that Cusack has to deal with.
At the very least, the film looks good even though it’s not as extravagant as other period films. It has a very Gothic feel with its bleak palette and reams of fog unfurling everywhere, which does manage to give the film a vaguely foreboding feel. The murder scenes are pretty gory, the costumes look good and are sufficiently showcased in the scene of a ball.
The film is disappointing on two levels: it squandered a cool concept and it ended up a completely by-the-numbers thriller.
Considering its controversial and much talked-about source material, Fifty Shades of Grey – Sam-Taylor Johnson’s adaptation of E.L James’ best-seller – is surprisingly safe, shockingly uninvolved and tediously uninventive for a movie that was supposed to deliver – and show – so, so much more.
The story is centred on a young literature student Anastasia Steele (Johnson) who agrees to step in for her sick roommate, Kate (Mumford), and do the interview with handsome and the mysterious twenty-seven year old billionaire, Christian Grey (Dornan).
The two are quick to connect and it’s pretty clear that both of them are immediately taken by one another; she likes his good-looks and raw aura of masculine intensity and he is intrigued by her innocent beauty and clumsy ways. After being stalked and rescued from a drunken night out Anastasia realises that there is no escape from his peculiar – and intrusive – charms and soon gives into the idea of being seduced by the handsome young tycoon.
Dakota Johnson – the beautiful offspring of actors Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson – is definitely the only success of the entire production. Gutsy, beautiful and surprisingly funny and her innocent-like ways – not to mention her gorgeous baby-blues – and she carries her side of the story relatively well. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the handsome Irishman and ex-Calvin Klein underwear model, James Dornan. Physically, he is the perfect casting choice, but his monotonic, almost robotic, delivery is unconvincing and what on paper should be a complex character is never really explored. It’s something that maintains a certain air of mystery, yes, but leaving such little room to explore his motivations isolates the character in a way that doesn’t allow auciences to truly ingest his relationship with Anastasia.
In its adaptation from book to screen, Fifty Shades of Grey never really knows what it wants to be and its lack of drive, focus and identity. Lying somewhere between a romantic comedy and soft porn, the script is as hollow and instead of grabbing the story by its horns and allowing it to dip a little further towards the darkness, it ends up taking a more safer-route, ultimately, boring us all in the process.
In its adaptation from book to screen, Fifty Shades of Grey loses the drive and identity that made the book one of the most divisive best-sellers of the decade. Lying somewhere between a romantic comedy and soft porn, the script fails to embody the book. Granted, said book shocks much more than it incites reflection, but the film even fails on that.
It was just a question of time before E.L James’ fictional smash-hit found its way to the big-screen; few books have stirred as much controversy in recent times. It’s rare that a film adaptation has the potential to better than the book on which it is based – this was the case here and, while it can be argued that it is indeed better, it’s still a less than satisfying viewing experience.
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chillingly and satirical short story, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, Brad Anderson’s madhouse thriller serves up a star – studded cast frolicking in plenty of morbid fun in the unnerving but equally flimsy, Stonehearst Asylum.
Written by Joe Gangemi, Stonehearst Asylum is set in late 1899 and is centred on Edward Newgate (Sturgess); a recent medical school graduate of Oxford University who is looking to gain clinical experience at the titular mental institution. Arriving there on Christmas Eve, Edward soon meets the establishment’s mad superintendent, Dr. Silas Lamb (Kingsley), whose unorthodox way of providing care bemuse Edward. Lamb’s methods – which allow for his patients to seek their own healing methods and do whatever they see is a fit – doesn’t sit well with the fresh grad and he finds himself in more than one awkward situation with patients.
All soon becomes clear, however, when Eddie discovers hostages locked in the basement and a grave secret that he must admit no knowledge of in order to help rescue the imprisoned.
Shot in Bulgaria, the film carries an unnerving energy. Sadistic electroshock treatments, violent rapes and random patient sedations are just some of the tools of torture which Stonehearst Asylum is using to induce fear and horror and for the most part, it does accomplish its goals.
However, although its costumes and set-design – not to mention its sprawling landscape – are a nice example of a period-piece done well, there is a problem with the suspense and this nagging little feeling that it could have been all a little bolder and a little scarier.
Luckily though, its A-list cast which includes the scenery-chewing Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine help elevate the film and it’s only the over-the-top antics of Kate Beckinsale and the fragile performance of Jim Sturgess that let the side down.
Adapting Edgar Allan Poe is no easy feat, but Stonehearst Asylum uses a very particular type of British black comedy well, providing a fun, if underwhelming, viewing experience. On the back of cult successes like Session 9, The Machinist and The Call, Anderson carries a reputation for creating eerie and subtly sinister worlds in his films. He achieves this here, to an extent, but beyond the aesthetics exists an occasionally flat film.