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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.
The follow up to Carlos Saldanha’s vibrant animated feature, Rio – a film that grossed over half a billion dollars at the box office - finds the Brazilian-born filmmaker returning to the pulsating streets of Rio Di Janeiro, before setting off into the wilderness of the Amazon.
Picking up some time after the end of the first film, Rio 2 finds the Blue Macaws, Blu (voiced by Eisenberg) and Jewel (Hathaway), happily married and living a carefree life while raising their three hatchlings, Carla (Crow), Bia (Stenberg) and Tiago (Gagnon), at the Blue Bird Sanctuary.
However, their children’s overly-domesticated habits begin to worry Jewel, who is fearful that her children are slowly losing touch with nature and what it means to be a bird. So, when she hears that there may be a flock of Blue Macaws living in the Amazon rainforest, the family decides to fly across for a vacation and a bit of an investigation.
Once there, not only does the family discover that there is more of their kind in the world, but that the flock is led by none other than Jewel’s long-lost father, Eduardo (Garcia). Jewel soon finds herself toying with the prospect of moving her family there for good, while Blu – who now must prove himself to Jewel’s apathetic and unconvinced father – isn’t too sure whether he’s ready to give up his life in Rio. Meanwhile, Blu’s lifelong nemesis, Nigel the Cockatoo (Clement), who is no longer able to fly, follows the family to the rainforest in search of revenge.
Eisenberg and Hathaway return to reprise their roles as the lovable Blu and Jewel and, although their shared chemistry can still be felt throughout, it seems that their second outing is not as charming as their first. Clement is hilarious as the grouchy Nigel, while all of the supporting characters, excluding Chenoweth’s hysterical performance as Gabi – a poisonous frog hopelessly in love with Nigel – aren’t given much of the spotlight, apart from indulging in a few impromptu sing-offs, including yet another cringe worthy rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
Just like the original, Rio 2 dazzles with its vibrant and bubbly tone; the opening scenes of the New Year’s Eve celebration on the bustling streets of Rio Di Janeiro are breathtaking and Saldanha, succeeds in adapting the alluring and captivating magic of Brazil.
The story, unfortunately, is not as engaging the second time around and Saldanha seems to have sent the story on a downward spiral the minute he decided to step out of Rio and move his flock of birds into the back woods of the Amazon rainforest.
There are still plenty of thrills and spills, but had it not been for the infectious Brazilian music and a handful of interesting characters, this would have been a complete washout.
Expanding from his 2006 short film, Oculus: Chapter 3- The Man with a Plan, director Mike Flanagan – along with help from writer Jeff Howard – approaches the subject of the supernatural with a considerable amount of imagination and manages to deliver some scares in the relatively unnerving ghostly thriller, Oculus.
The story follows the troubled lives of Tim (Thwaites) and Kaylie Russell (Gillan); a pair of siblings who witnessed the brutal death of their parents over a decade ago. Tim is convicted of the murders and is sent into protective custody and a psychiatric hospital, while Kaylie remains in a pit of despair without her family.
Years later, Tim is released on his twenty-first birthday and is now looking to rebuild his life and move away from his turbulent past. However, Kaylie has become convinced her brother was innocent and that something unnatural is at play.
Kaylie, who works at an auction house, has recently come across the very same oversized, 400 year-old mirror that she believes is responsible for their parents’ deaths. Moving back to their old house and installing surveillance equipment, Kaylie and Tim hope to record evidence of the supernatural being.
A Blumhouse Productions creation – the same people who brought you Paranormal Activity – Oculus, as luck would have it, steers clear of the increasingly overdone found-footage approach, despite what its trailer might suggest. Instead, director Mike Flanagan seems inspired by the horror films of the 70’s and 80’s, like recent flicks, The Conjuring and Sinister, and paints the mood of the film with a slow-burning tone of dread and an ominous fear of the unknown. The film transitions between the past and present wonderfully, all while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Gillan, the Scottish-born actress known for her role in TV’s Doctor Who, proves to be a relatively solid lead and manages to paint Kaylie with an equal blend of self-determination and fear, while Thwaites’ doe-eyed qualities comes across as a little too sappy.
Sadly, Oculus is not without faults. The film is never fully realised as a story and although it provides its share of scare, it’s all really rather forgettable.