Most Anticipated: The Raven

25. The Raven (R) - Runtime: 110 minutes
Starring: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans
Director: James McTeigue

I had really high hopes for this movie. When I first heard about this movie - I thought it was going to be a really cool thriller where Edgar Allen Poe lives out his last dies sinking into madness - believing that a killer is out to get him. I had just finished reading the novel Drood, a story about Charles Dickens last days who becomes obsessed with this mysterious man named Drood. Alas, my hopes were set too high - this movie was a HUGE let down. While John Cusack does a good job playing the part - there was just too much suck in this movie to recommend.

The story starts off well enough - someone gets killed and the police chief comes to find out that it resembles one of Edgar Allen Poe's deadly stories. At first suspicious of Poe, he finally realizes that Poe isn't the killer, but is just the inspiration and recruits him to help with the investigation as more gruesome murders occur under the guise of Poe's stories.

Unfortunately the movie does a piss poor job of re-creating these death scenes from Poe's fiction, with the exception of the first double murder. One guy gets killed by this swinging axe that keeps lower itself - he soon gets cut in half and supposedly it's a take on the Pit and the Pendulum? It's possibly the dumbest murder scene I've seen in a long time and the CGI blood doesn't help. The rest of the murders (actually now that I think about it, there's one more murder - LAME) aren't shown and have no real connection to Poe. So basically the whole movie loses it's steam after the first scene. I found myself not caring whatsoever about what's going to happen.

And I found myself not caring about Poe himself. Cusack does a good job acting as Poe - but dear god, his character is probably one of the most pretentious twats I've seen on screen this year. His first appearance in the movie is him drunkenly stumbling around the bar, berating the customers for not knowing who he is. You'd think he'd grow as a character and learn to be not such an ass, but he does this throughout the whole movie. The movie tries to make him more sympathetic and quirky by giving him a pet raccoon, but it ends up being a weird distraction that adds nothing to his character.

And then the movie itself is just boring a dull and somewhat confusing. This is solely the director's fault - because I had to rewind the movie twice to figure out what the hell just happened. There's one scene where Poe's insufferable girlfriend gets kidnapped, but I didn't realize this until the next scene when everyone's scrambling around trying to find his girlfriend. I skipped back to see what I missed, but you don't actually see her get taken away - one second she's dancing with Poe and the next chaos ensues and you hear Poe scream "Emily!" and then the movie jarringly cuts to the next day. There's more scenes like this in the movie that I scratched my head at, wondering what just happened.

While this movie had a lot of potential to be a really good psychological thriller, instead it lowers itself to a really awful made-for-tv serial killer movie. And you know what? You're better off watching the TV show Castle, because at least that show knows how to keep you invested in the mystery. The Raven should have been at least a good movie, but fails to even rise to the level of mediocrity.

Rating: Avoid Like the Plague!

Most Anticipated: Looper

2. Looper (R) - Runtime: 118 minutes
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
Director: Rian Johnson

Easily my favorite movie this year, Looper offers a compelling time-traveling story that blends into a thrilling action movie and at times morphs itself into a compelling, taught drama. Back when I wrote my most aniticipated list, Looper fell was number 2 simply for two reasons: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rian Johnson. JGL has blown up in the past year, thanks to an amazing streak of great movies - (500) Days of Summer, Inception, 50/50 and The Dark Knight Rises. He's a versatile actor and also one of the few actors I'll throw down my money to see, regardless of what movie he's in. And then there's Rian Johnson, a director who I really think is going to blow up after this movie. Brick is hands down one of my most favorite movies and I'd recommend it to anyone who has a love for movies. His second film Brothers Bloom didn't get as much love, but it's still a good movie. But with Looper, Johnson delivered his best film yet.

I won't go into too much detail because part of the fun of the movie is discovering how everything unravels, but the gist of it is that JGL plays Joe, a hired gun who takes care of the mob's future hits. Time travel has been invented thirty years from when the movie takes place and Joe makes sure to kill a body that technically doesn't exist. But things get complicated when they send back Joe's future self to be killed by young Joe. Obviously old Joe escapes and all hell breaks loose.

The movie does a great job at selling the time travel premise. Instead of spending the whole movie trying to figure out the logic, the time travel takes a backburner to the action and character development. The only other time travel movie that does this right is 12 Monkeys - a fantastic drama that doesn't make a big deal out of the time traveling shenanigans but instead focuses on creating some great characters and drama. Johnson isn't worried about the setting too much as he is about what happens to young Joe when he's being hunted down by his bosses while trying to hunt down his old self.

There's some fantastic performances in this movie - Willis is usual bad ass self, but JGL proves once again he can act - and do a good Willis impersonation (although Maggie says Bruce Willis should be the one who should have changed his face to match JGL). Emily Blunt shows up about halfway through the movie and proves her chops as a single mother living day to day on a farm. But the absolute standout of the movie is Pierce Gagnon, who plays Blunt's enigmatic son. This kid's got some issues and is an absolute terror at times. His performance is simply amazing.

As for the setting - I loved that the film went in a direction I wasn't expecting. Instead of showing us how the world has evolved with technology - the better part of the film takes place on a low-tech farm. It's a surprising - and refreshing - contrast to the gritty urban and Blade Runner-esque vibe of the city from the beginning of the movie. Johnson did a great job of making the world feel lived in and gritty. Johnson is surely on his way to becoming a great director and he has a keen eye for creating some great stories.

This is my favorite movie this year, no doubt. From the setting to the characters, to the wonderful performances, Looper doesn't confine itself to just being a science fiction film. It's more than that and you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't go see this movie right away!

Rating: See It!


Most Anticipated: The Master

39. The Master (R) - Runtime: 137 minutes
Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

I absolutely love PT Anderson. I thought There Will Be Blood was the best movie from 2007 and should have won Best Picture over No Country for Old Men (a fantastically great movie, too!). So I was eagerly awaiting his next masterpiece, The Master. The hype surrounding this movie was immense - was this movie about Scientology? And how would Joaquin Phoenix fare, back from his fake retirement? At the time I was watching this movie, I felt immediately betrayed - this wasn't the movie I thought was advertised. In fact, throughout the whole movie I was feeling bitter about the direction it was taking and how slow it was going. But after a day or two and reading more and more about the movie (thankfully The Daily Dish had an exceptional ongoing discussion about the movie), The Master has grown on me. I really did enjoy it, I just didn't realize it at the time.

The movie focuses on Freddie Quell, a veteran of WWII and a lazy drunkard who will find pretty much anything to quench his thirst (at one point there's a flashback to his naval days as he unscrews one of the bombs to get the fuel out so he can drink it). He's a man who only has two things on his mind: sex and booze. One night he stumbles onto a boat only later to be found out by Lancaster Dodd (such great names!), a man who has founded a worldview (basically a cult) that tries to pursue a higher state of being for mankind - The Cause. On the boat, Dodd finds a faithful companion to help him further his goals. The movie slowly (and I mean slowly) follows these two around as Freddie tries to learn from the Master while Dodd himself is trying to gain more validation in the world.

The movie doesn't focus too much on Dodd's Cause, however, one of the best scenes in the movie revolves around Dodd's processing procedure. In this scene, Freddie is asked questions and he cannot blink or hesitate and if he does, the questioning starts over from the beginning (they are as common as what's your name? to have you slept with anybody from your family?). We see him stumble and fail, but immediately get back to answering the questions. It's a compelling scene - Dodd trying to pull something out of Freddie that Freddie does not want to give up. Credit PTA for making this part so riveting. I was frozen in my chair the whole time.

The acting is superb - Joaquin Phoenix is enigmatic - he mumbles and stammers through his lines which is annoying at first, but you understand who the character is much better because of it. And Hoffman is superb - you don't quite understand how this man became this powerful and has everybody under his spell until the scene where he's dancing around singing and clapping. Freddie just sits in the back, watching it all happen and imagines all the women in the room naked. The movie is chock full of this sexual deviancy and there is enough to interpret the movie as sexual fantasy/empowerment.

In fact there's a ton of layers that can be peeled away at the movie - there's a lot to dissect and after watching the movie I recommend reading this small article at Vulture on five different interpretations of the movie. It's incredibly riveting stuff and I highly recommend any movie lovers should watch this. It's a great showcase for some powerful acting and directing. It's truly a bizarre movie that needs to be chewed on for a while and possibly seen a second or third time to really unwrap the whole package.

This is a movie that moves slowly and if you're looking for more of a thrilling drama that dishes on Scientology, this movie is not it. It's a character study and a well-directed film that raises more questions than answers. I won't be surprised if the movie earns a ton of Oscar nomination - it's most definitely deserving of it. I wouldn't call it my favorite movie this year, but it's one of the year's best, no doubt.

Rating: See It!

Most Anticipated: Total Recall

13. Total Recall (PG-13) - Runtime: 118 minutes
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale
Director: Len Wiseman

If you're thinking about how much you loved the original Total Recall, you can just forget about that movie in this remake. This movie stays closer to the original story it's based on and does not take place on Mars at all. To be quite honest, I found this refreshing. Too many times a remake tries to play it safe by just recreating the movie. Unfortunately, the new Total Recall doesn't quite make the impression that the original did.

Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a simple man leading a simple life until he visits Rekall - a place that injects new memories into your brain. Of course, Quaid supposedly turns out to be a rogue government agent whose memory was wiped and this whole Rekall experience messes with his head. Is he really just living out a fake memory or is there something more sinister afoot? The movie actually does answer this question almost too straight forward. I was hoping for more ambiguity to the ending, but, alas, this is just your standard run-of-the-mill action flick.

So if you're just looking to pass some time with some cool action and CGI, then Total Recall fits the bill. Everything else in the movie is a bit of a mess. From the ho-hum plot and characters that you really could care less about to the bland sets and world - Total Recall doesn't exactly give you reason to notice it. Which is really too bad - this movie had a lot of potential, but it plays it safe and just delivers an action flick without any thought to it.

As for the cool parts? Kate Beckinsale is insane in this movie. She's just there to kick some ass, and she does it very well! I enjoyed her role very much, but there was way too many wife jokes in the movie. Because Kate plays Doug's fake wife, the movie goes out of its way to make sure you know this in every scene  ("I give good wife" was one of the worst lines I've heard all year!). Jessica Biel is the woman helping Doug escape and take down the evil President (played by Bryan Cranston - who should have had more screen time!) and she's somebody I could have cared less about.

The movie does have some great action scenes - the car chase particularly comes to mind - and it's an action flick I would recommend if you're just looking to pass the time. However, there's been better action movies and better science fiction movies lately that this one just gets lost in the shuffle.

Rating: Not Worth Paying For!