Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

The Instant Movie Club: The Raven

Every week, your friends at Culture Blues get together to watch a movie from their Netflix Instant queue. Then, they dissect human hearts and answer a series of discussion questions. This is The Instant Movie Club.

This week we’re watching The Raven. John Cusack stars in this somewhat fictionalized account of Edgar Allen Poe’s last days as the writer investigates a string of grisly murders inspired by his stories.

Next week:  Thief. James Caan stars as a jewel thief looking for one last score in Michael Mann's feature debut.

Guess what was the best part of this movie?

An opening title card informs the audience that Poe’s final days remain a mystery. What follows is, presumably, an account of those days. How does The Raven function as a tribute to the writer’s life and legacy?

Jeremiah White:  It’s weird that his last days remain a mystery yet this movie sees him investigate a series of highly publicized crimes while constantly in the company of the police and some rich, powerful guy (what is Brendan Gleeson’s deal? is he just a big time social butterfly?). And then he writes and publishes a bunch of stories that pretty much cover his last days. So mystery solved I guess! Anyway, Poe’s stories are only superficially related to the murders and there’s very little discussion of the nature of Poe’s stories and how they could lead to this. As for Poe, he starts as a pompous, condescending blowhard before quickly morphing into a bland civilian-expert crime solver who compares unfavorably to the likes of Castle and the dude from Numb3rs. The blowhard was irritating, but at least he wasn’t boring.

Jeff Hart:  Why is it that Hollywood’s approach to classic authors is to always make them blowhards, shouting ‘philistine!’ at the local curmudgeons, and generally acting more like pro-wrestling heels than delicate poetry writing introverts? I’m thinking of Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale here – which works, because that movie is good and a comedy – whereas Cusack’s Poe sucks in all forms, hindered by a terrible screenplay and a shrill performance. The Raven basically ends up as an obsessed fan horror movie, so any misinterpretations or stretches of Poe’s fiction can be attributed to the psycho committing the crimes. That said, this all seems pretty rote for the guy that thought up the Cask of Amontillado – in fact, all of The Raven’s imagination is borrowed – and it sheds the same amount of light on Poe’s life as that vampire hunter movie did on Abraham Lincoln.

Well no one’s going to make a movie just for Poe scholars. How does The Raven work solely as a serial killer thriller?

Jeremiah White:  Is that a joke? The connection to Poe is the only thing anywhere near interesting about this mess. The police-work on display mostly consists of Luke Evans eliminating suspects based on eyeballing the size of their hands. The killer exists only on the periphery, popping up for chases or a death-from-above throat slashing. This typically involves him being present at the very moment Poe and company arrive, even though they got there via free-form spit-balling sessions that could take anywhere from minutes to hours. And the whole thing ends when the killer simply decides to be caught because at the rate things are going, his captive is going to die before Poe solves the case. There would be something funny about Poe being such an incompetent detective that the killer has to give himself up, like he was just sitting there for days glancing at his watch and sighing, waiting to explain himself. Instead he’s holding corpses upright in underground tunnels. Unfortunately, there’s nothing funny about The Raven.

Jeff Hart:  Like Jeremiah said, the procedural aspects are routinely bungled by a slipshod timeline and investigative contrivance. However, in the interest of writing something positive, I did enjoy Poe’s final exchange with the killer (even if the reveal was a letdown). I like the idea of this literary-minded weirdo going around and messing with popular sci-fi/horror writers, trying to give them inspiration, or show them up, or whatever he was doing. Despite how lousy The Raven was, I’d probably sit through a loosely connected sequel where our serial killer hunts Jules Verne.

Would you like a pet raccoon?

Jeff Hart:  Finally! We get to the really interesting part of The Raven! I did some research following the movie and apparently raccoons can be domesticated – sort of. If you get them young enough, they’ll learn commands, can be litter box trained, and will not attack you all the time. Except, when they become adults, they WILL ATTACK YOU SOME OF THE TIME. And they’ll definitely attack strangers. On the pro-side… they will cuddle and sleep on your chest. So, yeah, get me a raccoon. The rabies vaccine is cheap, right?

Jeremiah White:  Well, that certainly was informative. Put me down for a big fat no. For one, I assume they shed. That's a dealbreaker. Second, the whole attacking me some of the time thing. Not really down with that. Also, how am I going to harvest all the human hearts to feed the little guy?

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