“The Raven” – 2 STARS

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Have you ever had a movie that you didn’t really respond to but you had a hard time pinpointing why? This is the case with me after watching the 2012 period thriller “The Raven”. This is a movie that intrigued me from the start although I did keep it at an arm’s length. While the components for a unique crime thriller seemed to be there, I still never felt myself drawn to hurry up and see it. So as you can see, my fence straddling with “The Raven” started early. Well now I have seen this widely slammed movie. Is it as bad as the vast majority of critics made it out to be? I don’t think so. But unfortunately it’s missing some major pieces that are vital in making this kind of movie work.

In case you don’t know the story, it’s set in 19th century Baltimore, Maryland. A brutal and grisly double murder puts the police on the trail of a serial killer who patterns his crimes after the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Lead Detective Fields (Luke Evans) at first suspects the eccentric Poe (John Cusack) but eventually calls on him to help in the investigation. It’s a cat and mouse game as the two sift through the clues left at every new and horrible crime scene, each tied in to Poe’s writings.

The stakes are raised for Poe after his fiancé Emily (Alice Eve) is kidnapped and used as a pawn by the killer. Now this is a direction the story takes that should give the movie some emotional kick but that’s not the case at all. Poe and Emily’s relationship is cold and lifeless. They try to throw in some tension with Emily’s father (Brendan Gleeson) who despises Poe, but that does little to liven things up. Emily’s capture does lead to some of the movies most intense moments. But the underplayed romance between her and Poe strips the movie of a genuine and much needed sense of urgency.

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I guess that leads into where my real problems lie with “The Raven”. It moves at a sharp pace. It captures the dark and moody tone that it’s going for. The crime scenes are perfectly unsettling. But in the end so much of the story feels manufactured. The relationships feel manufactured. The urgency feels manufactured. Even the ending feels manufactured (and a bit unsatisfying as well). But perhaps the biggest sin this movie commits is its overall lack of suspense. It’s hard to call a thriller a success if it lacks suspense. “The Raven” desperately tries to muster some but I don’t ever remember feeling it at any point in the movie.

I think “The Raven” is a movie that has some good ideas, but it doesn’t do much with them. It’s not a sloppy or lazy picture. But it also fails to step outside the bounds of conventionality, something that the material afforded them the chance to do. Now it’s decent enough to keep you in your seat, but it never does anything to put you on the edge of it. Again, I guess that’s where my biggest problem lies. There’s nothing suspenseful that grabs you and keeps you glued to the screen. That’s what I want from a thriller and I just didn’t get enough of it here.

REVIEW: “Men in Black 3”

Let me preface this review by saying that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the previously two “Men in Black” movies. But I was certainly in the minority. The first “Men in Black” earned just under $600 million at the box office. The sequel brought in another $440 million. Obviously expectations are high for this third installment and it’s $300 million budget. Both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back as is director Barry Sonnenfeld and Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer.

It’s been almost 10 years since we last saw Agent K (Jones) and Agent J (Smith). K is still the stiff-as-a-board, emotionless, straight-shooter, J is still a rapid-fire wisecracker with attitude to spare, and aliens are still on earth masquerading as humans. They both still serve as operatives working for a secret agency commissioned to protect the Earth from alien threats. This time their main threat is an alien named Boris (Jemaine Clement). Agent K apprehended Boris back in 1969 and put him in a lunar prison designed specifically for him. But Boris escapes and travels back in time to kill Agent K before he is able to thwart his original plan. After noticing K’s absence and a difference in the timeline, J travels back to 1969 a few days prior to K’s death to protect him from Boris.

The movie starts off looking and feeling just like a “Men in Black” film. Funny exchanges between K and J and alien confrontations get the movie off on the right foot. There’s also a really cool time travel sequence as J heads back to 1969. It’s here that the movie both introduces it’s biggest asset as well as hit it’s biggest speed bumps. Josh Brolin plays the younger Agent K and he is fantastic. I swear there were times where I completely believed I was watching a younger Tommy Lee Jones instead of someone doing a Tommy Lee impersonation. Whether it’s his accent, his nicknames, or facial expressions, Brolin nails a 29-year old Agent K.

But while Brolin shines, the story really spins it’s wheels. There are a few back-in-time set pieces and late 60’s details that are fun but they get lost in the story that’s really pretty flat and lifeless. The humor loses it’s pop and seems to rely much too heavily on Will Smith’s quick wit. There’s great chemistry between Brolin and Smith but even it gets bogged down in the sometimes drab exposition. I have to admit, I found myself struggling to stay focused and interested in what was going on especially when an all-knowing alien named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) enters the picture. I did enjoy Emma Thompson and Alice Eve as the older and younger Agent O and the movie is a visual delight. I just wish there was more energy and substance to go with the movie’s stronger points.

While I did have issues with the middle of the movie, it was almost made up for by a really good and surprisingly tender ending. There’s no way I can go any further without spoiling things, but I’ll just say that it makes you look at all three “Men in Black” movies from a different perspective. The ending is well conceived and even though there were a few questions that immediately came to mind, it really worked for me.

“Men in Black 3” most certainly isn’t a great movie but it’s definitely an upgrade over the almost unwatchable second film. Then again, that’s not really saying a much. MiB3 starts off strong and has a nice ending but it’s what’s in between that keeps it from being as good as it could be. Brolin is the highlight and he’s a lot of fun to watch. There are also some other pretty good performances. As I mentioned, the visuals are high quality, exactly what you would expect. But none of these pluses can outweigh the minuses. There’s just not enough substance or humor to make this anything more than an okay movie.

VERDICT – 2 STARS