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The Raven Still Sits in Greatness

Cusack and crisp dialogue make this a moody classic.

The Raven isn’t really based on Edgar Allan Poe’s famed poem of the same name. Rather, it’s a sendup of his best writing, a greatest hits compendium of the macabre, murderous plotlines that Poe weaved into his short stories.

Fellow English majors take note: This flick alludes to a libraryful of Poe’s works, many of which are quoted outright by John Cusack (who plays Poe here). The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Cask of Amontillado and a bunch of others are referenced in this picture, the stylishness of which is going to create a whole new generation of Poe fans.

The eloquent dialogue here is both crisp and rife with sarcasm, in a dark, 19th-century way. For instance, Poe refers to fellow bar patrons as “mouth-breathers” and “mental oysters” here, writing which reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson. The rapid-fire delivery of that polysyllabic manner of speaking made it difficult to take quote notes on my mobile device (but I did get some). The whole movie is eminently quotable, which is a delight.

Stylistically Poe is a real treat. The lighting and scenery is beautifully done, while director James McTeigue took pains to paint a truthful portrait of Baltimore in 1849. I never thought about what a horse-drawn ambulance or police wagon might look like, or how firefighters might operate two centuries ago, but now I know.

A serial killer in Baltimore is murdering his victims in the exact same manner that Poe’s stories outline. Initially considered a suspect, the American gothic writer (Poe was the inventor of that dark genre, as well as being an early science fiction enthusiast ) instead joins forces with the police department in attempting to foil future killings. We’re shown Poe’s grisly vision here with each murder that transpires, and a police captain that can’t seem to crack the case, even with Poe’s predictive help.

A side plotline involves Poe’s burgeoning romance with Emily Hamilton (played by Alice Eve), a love affair not approved by Hamilton’s rich father (Brendan Gleeson). The chemistry between Cusack and Eve is palpable.

Those following these reviews will recall that I proclaimed 2012 the hairiest year ever in Hollywood, and folically this one follows the hirsute lead of and : Cusack himself wears a goatee reminiscent of HBO’s Kenny Powers (of Eastbound & Down), while other characters sport muttonchops, beards and even a grease-ended, Rollie Fingers-style mustache.

Quotable moments

“People love blood. They love death” — Poe’s editor.

“I’ve got nothing left — I’ve used up all my tricks” — Poe with writer’s block.

“I can’t help it. I despise people who despise me” — Poe.

“We are in dire need of your unwholesome expertise” — Detective Fields, seeking Poe’s help.

“Regardless of what you think of me, I am a master of my art” — Poe.

“You know I find you as revolting as some of your stories” — Emily Hamilton to Poe.

Other observations at the moviehouse

  • The preview for this summer’s The Dictator, featuring Sacha Baron Cohen, was funny once. But after seeing it every week, I’m convinced it’s not going to be as funny as I once thought. By the way, is it too early for an Osama Bin Laden comedy? Just asking.
  • Why didn’t they think of this one before? The Chernobyl Diaries is a horror movie set in that awful nuclear plant. Think The Blair Witch Project meets The Toxic Avenger. It looks pretty scary, but who isn’t afraid of the fallout after a nuclear meltdown?
  • They previewed Chernobyl and The House at the End of the Street (HATES for short, about the people who buy a house where horrible atrocities once happened. Yep, we’ve heard this one before, like twice a year) before Poe because they figured I like horror movies. But as I mentioned before, I went to see Poe because duty called. All English majors are required to see this one.
  • Out of curiosity I counted the reviews I’ve written for the Patch. This is the 32nd one.
Flora Dora May 01, 2012 at 01:30 PM
I am enamored of Edgar Allen Poe. I frequented his home/cottage many years ago when I lived in the Bronx. He was easily as weird as his tales!
Tom Saaristo May 01, 2012 at 04:19 PM
I was heavy into Poe in high school, specifically 10th grade. I wrote papers on him in English and drew pictures of him and my interpretation of his writings in art class. I must have really tapped into his world pretty successfully because I won art shows and my pieces were published. I don't think I could ever write a poem in his form that would do anyone or anything any justice, but my admiration of him was unmatched among my peers at the time
Dave Wilson May 01, 2012 at 08:19 PM
I am hearing from a lot of people that they like(d) Poe, so I am surprised Hollywood hasn't made more movies out of his works? Especially in this era of remake madness.

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