Movie Reviews

What’s New In Movies: The Raven, Safe, Bernie

Movies in Theaters April 27th, 2012

This weekend brings us the transformation of a poor alcoholic horror fiction writer into a handsome action star (The Raven), the latest cinematic smackdown courtesy of Jason Statham (Safe), a bittersweet look at the long, hard road to marriage (The Five-Year Engagement) and the latest twisted Texas tale from director Richard Linklater (Bernie).

Perpetually broke, drunk and morbid scribbler Edgar Allan Poe (made action star handsome by John Cusack) turns detective in this period thriller that finds the author of such gothic classics as “The Black Cat” and, well, “The Raven” joining a young Baltimore inspector (Luke Evans) in the investigation of a series of murders seemingly inspired by the writer’s own stories. As a piece of meta-fiction, The Raven has a clever enough scenario to warrant some curiosity, and Cusack has done well in this genre before (he was called upon to do little but react to a bunch of spooky CGI for two hours in the haunted hotel thriller, “1408,” and looked great doing it), but the real wild card here is director James McTeigue, the Wachowskis’ go-to second unit director who’s somehow so far managed to make his solo big-budget genre movies (V For Vendetta, Ninja Assassin) look Syfy Channel cheap. The Raven might ultimately fly on premise and charm alone — and, with Cusack playing a tortured storyteller turned tortured murder suspect, that might be enough to make this a satisfying warm-up to the summer movie season.


One thing’s for sure: Jason Statham doesn’t look like he’s going to be expanding his horizons and appearing in a Merchant-Ivory period piece anytime soon. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Someone’s got to be cinema’s go-to ass-kicking Brit, and no one’s better at it than the guy who gets to bang Rosie Huntington-Whiteley every night (off-camera only, that is, at least as far as we know). Pairing Statham up with a cute little girl (Catherine Chan) in need of Statham kind of protection is a brilliant touch, and one bound to tug at a few heartstrings as this effortlessly cool guardian angel beats the holy hell out of the Triads, Russian mobsters and corrupt NYC cops who want the priceless numerical code stuck in the wee one’s memory. Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, who previously scored an audience-pleasing touchdown with Remember the Titans, which means he should do just fine with calling the shots on a top-notch Statham smackdown; meanwhile, the rather random and totally awesome supporting cast includes Chris Sarandon, Robert John Burke, Anson Mount and James Hong (who once shot a blue glowing laser beam out of his mouth in Big Trouble in Little China). Bring the fury.


Did you hear the one about the nicest guy in town who ended up murdering the meanest woman on the block? Richard Linklater reunites with his School of Rock star, Jack Black, for this twisted Texas tale, a true-crime story about Bernhardt ‘Bernie’ Tiede, a small-town mortician who befriends and eventually murders an insufferable rich widow (Shirley MacLaine, who looks like she pulls out all the stops). Almost everyone in town thinks the old bat had it coming, but crusading district attorney Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey, one of the most beloved of Linklater alums thanks to his unforgettable turn in Dazed and Confused) is determined to bring Bernie to justice. Black, sporting a child molester moustache and a big shit-eating grin, looks to be nicely underplaying in this low-key dark comedy; the fact that the director of Slacker and Waking Life made a movie about a murder scandal that’s the cinematic equivalent of easy listening should come as no surprise. Bernie may end up struggling to find the right tone as laughter is mixed with horrendous wrongdoing, but ultimately it’s all cool, man, if not quite all good.


Jason Segel and Emily Blunt find that getting engaged is easy but actually going through with the biggest party they’ll probably ever plan is a rather difficult endeavor in this latest raunchy R-rated comedy with a heart of gold (indeed, the trailer almost immediately lets you know that this comes “from the producers of Bridesmaids“). Like most of its Apatowian companion pieces, The Five-Year Engagement is probably going to seem even longer with a running time of 124 minutes, but Segel and Blunt should keep things cute and cuddly as one of contemporary cinema’s most endearing odd couples; after all, these two have nothing but chemistry after previously playing romantic partners in Gulliver’s Travels and sharing at least a few frames in The Muppets. Hopefully there’s a lot more of Chris Pratt, as Segel’s best-man-in-waiting, than just his slideshow of the groom-to-be’s past lovers set to “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” though that scene alone probably makes the whole thing worth the price of admission. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, who’s currently two for two with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek — there’s no reason to think he’s not going to continue his comedy winning streak and deliver another rollicking tale of mad love in a mad world.


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