Erik P.'s Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

The Raven
The Raven (2012)
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Generally one should trust film reviews that are objective and based in fact and evidence. Reviews steeped in personal opinion and preconceived prejudices lend themselves easily to criticism and are often declarations of emotion rather than solid argument. As a rule, I try to be objective.

Of course, rules are meant to be broken. How else can we account for "The Raven?"

A quick tangent: I go to the University Edgar Allan Poe attended and I can tell you, from first hand experience, how much the University cherishes his time spent in Charlottesville before he dropped out. We have T-Shirts with his picture that are captioned "Dropout," and his room on the lawn is preserved as it (supposedly) was during his time as a student.

Studying English there, as I do, I have learned an entire semester's worth of information on Poe just by tangential diatribes from my professor's. I found it interesting, then, when every one of my professors advised his students to stay away from "The Raven." "Don't watch it," they said, "it's sacrilege."

In Charlottesville they take their alumnus seriously.

I tried my best to go into this film with an open mind, willing to accept the absurdist fiction sure to be thrown into my face. And so I did.

The film attempts to blur the lines between truth and fiction. It's the only way they could present the audience with an interpretation of Poe's death while completely stomping on his memory.

I won't go into the numerous historical inaccuracies. It's not a historical drama; it's highly fictious.

It's an interesting concept, though. A Poe who is called upon to consult for the police as they chase a killer who is seemingly inspired by Poe's stories (I kept track for you: "Tell-Tale Heart," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Mystery of Marie Roget," "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," "The Cask of Amontillado") gives the story a "National Treasure-ey" vibe. The kicker? The killer captures Poe's fiancÚ, giving Poe a stake in the killer's capture. It's meant to be a movie hidden in the guise of a Poe short-story, but all it ends up being is a reminder that Edgar Allan Poe wrote a ton of short-stories.

The film, sadly, does not live up to its premise.

It's called "The Raven," because, of course, any movie that depicts Edgar Allen Poe must make an allusion to his best-known story (that's the "Tell-Tale Heart" for you math nerds). And, of course, Poe is going to quote excessively from his short-stories. As if creating authentic Poe dialogue was beyond what a Wikipedia search can produce.

The film doesn't know what it wants to be. It's a fictional reality, to be sure. But it's also based heavily in the Poe legend, and instead of creating a macabre mystery out of the pages of a Poe collection; the film is more of a formulaic hack job.

Is it ironic that one of the writers of the film has the last name "Shakespeare?" Is she tired of hearing that joke about her work? Regardless, for a film that depicts one of America's most respected writers, the film was poorly written. I seriously question the amount of research that went into crafting this script, which-for a history film-really says it all.

The writing is terrible, and the plot is more formulaic than a calculus test, but what ultimately buries this film is the acting. Simply stated, John Cusack is the worst. He lives his life as if it were still the 80's, when he was still a relevant actor in the Hollywood system. This role feels desperate, as if playing Edgar Allan Poe in a decent-to-terrible movie would reinvigorate his career (but not at all). The female lead, and Poe's fiancÚ, Alice Eve may not be a terrible actor, it's just that she has shown her audience's no reason to think otherwise. She looks unnatural in front of a camera, like she knows she is on camera and doesn't know how to compose herself. My biggest issue with her-and it's going to sound shallow-is the way she holds her mouth open. It's a wonder flies don't flock to the accessible warmth. Other than her physical attractiveness I don't see a reason she should ever be in movies.

Overall, I found the film to be unnecessary. There is enough unused material in Poe's cannon to create a great film. "The Raven" was an attempt to take too much of Poe and yet leave much to be desired.

The filmmakers took Edgar Allan Poe and made him uninteresting. As if neutering the legend of an artist is something that people would find appealing.

Early in the movie Poe promises to his patrons a drink to any man who can finish his quote from "The Tell-Tale Heart":

"Quoth the Raven," he provides.

"Piss off," they say.

Sounds about right.

Zero Dark Thirty
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Films are often judged within the cannon of the auteur. You are never just watching a Steven Spielberg film, nor could you ever just read a William Faulkner novel. Similarly, after 2009's "The Hurt Locker," one can never just watch a Katherine Bigelow film. The argument can be made that this doesn't matter, that each film exists within itself, within its own universe. I would argue the opposite. You watch "Lincoln" and you compare it to "Arimstad" or "Raiders" or "War Horse." You read "As I Lay Dying" and compare it to "The Sound and the Fury." They never just exist; they exist within the context of everything that has come before it.

Before ZDT there was "The Hurt Locker." They were different films, with different plots, and different actors, but a similar topic: the Iraq War. This war, had you watched a news cast in the last five years, has dominated the American consciousness and pervaded politics. With war, films that depict the specifics don't usually exist during the life of the conflict. Kathryn Bigelow has broken this mold, twice. Her two films, "Hurt Locker" and ZDT are not only quality artistic achievements, they are significant cultural constructions. They are more interesting because they are a learning experience. We are entertained, and yet we are also engaged. There is almost a documentary quality to Bigelow's last two films. It feels as though the films know more than they should, and we as an audience are privy to classified information that we must immediately forget, less some government agency comes to terminate us.

The film itself is tremendously satisfying. It's not as much a story about the death of Osama Bin Laden as it is a portrait of Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her struggles to achieve the/her goal. The film proceeds with an almost business-like seriousness as leads are chased and work is done. If you want to catch Bin Laden you don't stop for coffee and chat it up with your girlfriend. Or, maybe you do. But if you do you open yourself up to mistakes while simultaneously losing focus. It's how a bomb goes off in a hotel killing hundreds, or how a car bomb detonates in a U.S. military base. You can't lose focus, you have to keep your mind on the goal at hand. It's why this movie is suffocatingly serious: it didn't have the time to be anything else.

The material from which Bigelow is privileged to work is superb. The writer, Mark Boal, perfectly dramatizes the manhunt for Bin Laden. He grabs our attention at the credits with 9-1-1 calls from inside the World Trade Center on September the 11th, 2001, and he keeps it until the end when Maya breaks down into tears. He makes our heart pound with excitement, with anticipation, and with horror. He quickly breaks the audience's tension with a well scripted joke or piece of humor, before ratcheting up the stakes yet again. It's not overly demanding- it let's take a collective breath of air- but it makes no mistake as to what the mission is. The emotional investment is high, and, ultimately, so is the payoff.

The performances in this film demand high praise. Chastain is good, not great, and the film suffers as a result. Narratively Maya's character development is there, however, Chastain as Maya left something to be desired. Her performance was lethargic as if she was somehow detached from the gravity or weight of her character. For her the dots were all there, they just weren't fully connected.

Of particular note are Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler. Both men ooze masculinity and power that played very well against Chastain. Clarke, for one, plays a detestable human-being. A torturer and a silver-tongued government official capable of getting what he wants in ways that he wants. Chandler is somewhat of a fish out of water, clearly ignorant to his place at the dinner table. He thinks he has a seat when in reality he is at the command of others.

In that respect Chastain shines. By and large, she is an ardent believer in herself and her process, speaking out to her superiors and generally not giving a damn about the opinions of others. She wants Bin Laden and nothing can get in the way of that. She invests so much into the search for Bin Laden that she comes close to breaking down at several points. It's the human capital she invests, and her robot-like approach to the manhunt that makes her outflow of emotion at the end so powerful. She spent years, as she says, doing nothing but Bin Laden. The pressure on her is extreme. Her job is either done well or its a failure. There is no mediocre. No silver lining. You catch him and hope to avenge those affected by him, or you don't and you can't.

In the end she gets her man, but from her tears we can't tell if it was worth it.

There Will Be Blood
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Sorry patient followers, but after a noticeably quiet absence (slightly due to a Hangover-style liquor induced blackout, but mostly by spending 5 weeks in Europe) in which All of the Lights was turned off, I have returned to once again, as if I ever really stopped, force-feeding my opinions down throat's. Right or wrong as they may be. But mostly right...

Today finds me at odds with a movie widely considered to be the best of 2008, There Will Be Blood. Based, in principle, on the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!, the film tells the fictional story of Daniel Plainview, from his start as a lowly mineral prospector to a tyrannical oil tycoon, and the personal relationships he destroys as a result of his monumental greed and inflated self view.

It has now been three years since the film was shafted at the 80th annual Academy Awards by a Cohen Bros. Production (yell at me all you want, I can't hear you anyway), but that is neither here nor there. It's just out there for you too see that even though it has been considered the best movie of that year, it didn't win the right awards to prove it, a la Social Network. However, in my eyes, this is the best film of this past decade, and for the following reasons:

Daniel Plainview (expertly played by Daniel Day-Lewis, in an Oscar winning performance- but more on this later) is the kind of character that any writer wishes they could have dreamed up. He is the worst kind of person, in fact as the minutes drag on we, as the audience, come to see him as the incarnation of what is wrong with the world (depending on your politics). His Cortezian (a word I just made up) greed, and desire for money make him the embodiment of capitalistic system where those in power have gone crazy with it. All this, plus he is a huge dick, shooting down and breaking the spirit of preacher man Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, of Little Miss Sunshine fame) and making life near impossible for his adopted son. And yet, despite my best efforts to despise him, I found myself rooting for the man to get what he wants. Even if it is power and land, and even though I know I shouldn't want to. I couldn't help it. Daniel Plainview is a tremendous character, and his life is one hell of a story.

Paul Thomas Anderson puts this film on his back and really accounts for 75% of the film's viewing pleasure. As the writer of the screenplay (based on a novel, not necessarily adapted from) and the director, he rivals a world class pastry chef. He puts together a winning recipe for Rhubarb pie but has to ultimately leave it up to the oven to cook the desert to perfection. The actors being the oven. From his mind he has created a world of greed and with an unforgiving air rivaling that of only Citizen Kane. From a purely visual standpoint his direction gives the audience the idea that they are watching the world's greatest western, when in fact the two bear no semblance. And within these breathtaking views of arid wasteland lie the film's best moments. The symbolism. Tucked in within the films 156 minute run time are competing religious and fiscal undertones, each at the forefront at one point or another. It's these two main forces that really drive the film forward and it's at their intersection where a life is destroyed.

Seeing as I mentioned Daniel Plainview, the juicy character first, in my glowing admiration for this film, it would be easy to discount the role that Daniel Day-Lewis and the other main actors play in this film. Easy, but ultimately ignorant. DDL as he will be known from now on to me, absolutely kills in this film- channeling everything Daniel Plainview is on paper, on screen. He takes it up a level as well, adding little idiosyncrasies and personal flourishes that make this character memorable, demonstrating to everyone why he is films greatest contemporary actor. Paul Dano is memorable as well, playing both Eli and Paul Sunday, the children of a landowner who is eventually bought out by Plainview. How he doesn't have steady work as a Hollywood actor is beyond my comprehension, and an issue for another time, and another place.

I can give this film no further praise other than to say it has been the best film I have seen. It takes risks with character and story that actually provides for a much improved film (much in the same way The Social Network portrayed Zuckerberg and Facebook), while still taking aim at life's biggest unanswerable questions- does god exist? what makes a person bad?- and searching for the answers.

The Green Hornet
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Seeing the news that a Green Hornet film was in the works did not surprise me. Hollywood has a fascination with comic book films at the moment, and rightfully so because they are in 3D and make a ton of money. However, as evidenced by this film and the upcoming Thor and Green Lantern, not to mention Dark Night Rises and the new Superman, Hollywood is taking this cash cow of a genre to the well until the well runs dry. Honestly, when I heard that Seth Rogen was going to write and star in this film I vowed not to see it. Its not that I dislike Seth Rogen, I do like watching him on talk shows and etc. I just don't like watching him on a movie screen. He is known as an 'every man,' making us non-hollywood stars feel better about ourselves because he isn't all that attractive but he still gets hot women and has millions of dollars. No, that doesn't make me feel any better about myself, sorry. I would say that his only future in the industry is as a writer, not an actor, but after having to sit through 2 hours of Green Hornet I would have to retract that statement.

Filled with such gems as "oh my god you just punched that guy in the face," "wow, that was cool" and "this is so awesome," its a wonder why this film was even put into production. From the very beginning the scene is set for an unrealistic, cliched action film, substituting one-liners for character exposition and never justifying any decisions made by any of the characters.

The two Michel Gondry films I have seen before The Green Hornet, Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine, I really liked. They both had a unique style that separated them from other films accomplished by angling camera shots in certain ways. In Green Hornet, he sells out; conforming to Hollywood mainstream and thereby losing his identity, and the thing that made his films entertaining to watch.In addition to the mediocre directing and woefully constructed script was the shoddy performance of the films actors. Forgetting for a moment my dislike of Seth Rogen, his poor performance was largely due to his characters writing. There was no character exposition, meaning that (unlike good writers) Rogen crafted the character around the story instead of crafting the story around the character. Dramatic films are meant to chronicle the life of the protagonist through the most important moments in his life; comedic films are meant to expose parts of society that do not make a great deal of sense. Because this film is both (or neither) and doesn't feature a likeable, humanized central character, the audience is not drawn into the film and we as an audience feel no empathy for Bert Reid when his life starts to crash down on him.

The best part of the film is the small cameo appearance made by James Franco, about 5 minutes in. It marked the first and last time I laughed, and was easily the most memorable moment of the film. Jay Chou's Kato was a dim bright spot, his spotty English ruined what could have been a funny side kick cliche. Cameron Diaz is terrible, she walks through the whole film with a shit-eating grin on her face proving again that she is one of the industries most overrated talents. Coming of his Oscar winning campaign as Col. Hans Landa is Christopher Waltz, the films main antagonist. It is clear that he played his role admirably, sticking to the script and trying hard to give his character human qualities that the writing didn't, but after watching him in this movie you begin to wonder why this man has an Oscar.

The Green Hornet is about as fun as a bee sting and as boring as living in the 1700's. If you are a screenwriting student, this is exactly how not to write a film script. A below average effort overall, The Green Hornet is the personification of what is wrong with the film industry these days: Comic book adaptation, converted from 2D to 3D to inflate revenue, hastily created by people who have no business working in this genre (Gondry directing action, Rogen writing superhero, Diaz acting) and leaving me wishing I had my money back- but happy that I didn't shell an extra 5 bucks to see it in 3D.

The Eagle
The Eagle (2011)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Written by Jeremy Brock, scribe of 2006's 'Last King of Scotland' and directed by Kevin Macdonald, director of the same; 'The Eagle' is an ill-conceived, mess of a film that fails to capture the grandeur and excitement of a 2nd century adventure epic. This film has flashes of brilliance, however the script is rather inconsistent and the film fails to capture any sort of climatic buzz, making its viewing a non-worthwhile experience.

Featuring a career effort from Channing Tatum (which really doesn't mean much), and an above average performance from co-star Jamie Bell, 'The Eagle' focuses principally on the relationship these share as they venture together in search of a lost golden emblem- the Eagle of the Ninth Legion. This relationship starts off fractured as Bell's Esca is saved from death by Tatum's Marcus and is purchased to be Marcus' slave; but the two eventually reconcile and, literally, walk off into the sunset.

The films basic premise, or the 'story' is actually an interesting one, but the film itself is just not that compelling- and there are several reasons for this:


Lack of character dimension Static lead performance Cliched moral premise
What became immediately evident through the films first few plot turns is just how one dimensional Marcus and Esca are as characters- dimensions of course being inner character conflicts that drive action forward. For the entire film Marcus (Tatum) is obsessed with finding the missing eagle and bringing honor back to his family's shamed name. Great character motivation, but not a dimension. He is stubborn in his pursuit of redemption but has no character traits that conflict or get in the way of his desires. This results in a bland film where the stakes are never raised nor does anything adversarial occur. Who knew Channing Tatum could be so boring?

Piggybacking on the last part, Channing Tatum was, again, the weakest part of a Channing Tatum film. He doesn't understand how to convey emotions, and no spaced-out, talentless, over-hyped movie star doesn't count. But because a film is generally the story of a character, it is hard for the audience to connect with the film if the protagonist is lifeless. (Let's aside for a moment- Tatum is a terrible actor, obviously, but from his first on screen role in the Amanda Bynes comedy 'She's the Man,' he has improved by leaps and bounds. He has improved so much that I think there will be a time when he is in a movie that isn't terrible, or maybe that is just wishful thinking.

Cliched moral premise? Who even cares? The audience cares, though they might not realize it while watching. All films have moral meanings- it is the entire point of film, to send a message through an entertaining, not outwardly critical visual medium. Therefore every film starts with a message but it is only the great films that effectively incorporate the message into the story. I will not go into to specifics because this could easily be another post altogether. In 'The Eagle' the moral message is somewhere along the lines of following one's dreams, which has to be the most cliched phrase in the history of the world- utilized at every high school and college graduation speech since the beginning of time. Yes, cliches carry some inherent truth but they also make for static films that cause us, the audience, to see into the future of the film and know how it ends. Something that is bad for obvious reasons.

'The Eagle' is a frayed, historical bore, leaving me somewhat disappointed (its what I get for expecting big things from a Channing Tatum movie). One of my favorite genres of film, great historical epics have become few and far between these days, possibly spawned from the American public's lacking desire for films with educational substance. On the flip side, if these films are going to be this poorly made, I say bring on the comic book films. I just hope this doesn't come back to haunt me.