Beauty and the Beast: Old and new it stands out of time…

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Beauty and the Beast – 2017, 1991

Directors: Bill Condon (2017) and Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise (1991)
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos (2017) and Linda Woolverton (1991) based on the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Starring:  Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson (2017) and Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Rex Everhart, Jesse Corti (1991)

Disney has been remaking their animated classics for so long now, I can’t remember a time when they weren’t. I think it may have started with 101 Dalmatians but in all honesty most of them are not good enough for me to go back and research. Over the last few years, the most notable have been their attempts to put women on the screen as real life princesses or (in Angelina Jolie’s case) should have beens. The one that everyone will talk about and remember has just arrived.

Everyone’s real hero of the Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger (no one wants to imagine she really married the doof who shall not be named) is now as likely and deservedly remembered as Belle. Although not being considered a singer before being cast in this musical, Emma Watson creates her own version of the role that Paige O’Hara mastered a generation ago.

The question of whether the movie update is necessary is immaterial at this point. A more pointed question would involve a contemplation on whether or not live action should include as much if not more animation than the original animated film. I am not going to discuss that either, though. I am really just here to celebrate both films, since, miracle of miracles, they both turned out to be pretty great.

To do this, I am just going to discuss the elements of each film that stand out more for me than the other. At this point, can we really review a film that everyone will see and love…except for those who insist on pointing out flaws. Well, I will try, but it will all feel like quibbling when I throw criticism to the side and just say it is a classic despite them.

First thing is first. What parts of the new film are not as good?

  1. The first time we see Belle’s village: For a second, I got a sickening feeling. Everything seems so close and claustrophobic, it felt like I was watching the recent redo of The Smurfs. There is no feeling of span in the town and it feels like Belle is walking in a really tight circle. The empty bookstore feels bigger than the whole confines of the village.
  2. Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury as Lumiere and Mrs. Potts can’t be beat: It is a personal preference, as McGregor and Thompson do well in the same roles. To McGregor’s credit, he just moved forward with his much less distinctive voice and personality. While it isn’t as memorable, it works. Orbach completely mastered the role, though, making Lumiere seem older and more virile at once. Thompson is a blander version of a character one would normally consider to be quite bland. No one ever made us sit down, make ourselves comfortable and have some tea like Lansbury.
  3. The ballroom scene. Especially true after the remastered version of the original pumped it up about 200%, there is just no beating the myriad colors and sweeping grandeur of the original. It’s one of the great animated scenes in cinematic history.
  4. I just wish they would not have cast Stanley Tucci. It’s so tiring to see him in every movie, even when they give him bad teeth to inhabit.

So what was made better in the new film? Surprisingly, quite a lot.

  1. LeFou: Gad is an inspired casting choice. His nuanced performance works in every way possible. The original was barely a placeholder for Gaston, to the point where I wondered why he was even included in such a large musical number. This time around, the character is fully fleshed out, an improvement in every way. The only time it doesn’t fit is when the residual lines from the original make it necessary to have him be somewhat illiterate and ill-informed. It is quite likely the LeFou has read most of the same books as Belle.
  2. Maurice: Good Lord I hated Belle’s dad in the original. I would have thrown him in the loony bin or old folks home right off the bat if I had to listen to his babbling. Totally moronic and typical Disney Dad, with his head in the clouds while missing every possible thing on the ground. He even thinks she should hook up with Gaston. Kline presents a slightly preoccupied, but deeply saddened man. He is completely aware of his daughter and he wants to protect her from the horrors he’s experienced, while showing her the beauty he sees in life. It’s completely understandable how they could be related in this version of the tale. She enjoys the same things he does, with her own spin. Incredible that Disney finally gets a Dad right, for once.
  3. The night-time trip to Paris: This adds a completely new dimension to Belle, her father and heretofore absent mother. This scene has a great song (How Does a Moment Last Forever) and in its inclusion, we allow a moment of true bonding between Belle and the Beast. This is the kind of scene upon which romances are built and it makes what follows all the more meaningful.
  4. Letting Belle get plastered by the snowball: It was always a little weak to have Beast hoisted by his own petard in the original.

To delve any deeper, you really have to just accept the differences between these two as just trades for each medium. Human Again (from the restored version) is traded for Evermore. The wardrobe is now an opera singer instead of a maid. My eldest noticed that Philippe was a different sort of horse. The library is remarkable either way. Gaston is as delightfully deplorable now as he was in animated form. Alan Menken is a treasure. I don’t know how he keeps drawing classics from this well.

It would be unfair to not recognize Watson’s achievement. Paige O’Hara has created, in all truth, the best Disney Princess. Instantly memorable for her pluck and her voice, all other Princesses have yet to reach the bar she set. Watson wisely avoids the pitfall of trying to match O’Hara’s voice and instead applies her own spin on the character. The songs and her performance are equally good and entirely different. I found myself hearing her voice in my head for songs that I have heard for a quarter century with O’Hara’s. She’s elevated the live action princess role that Amy Adams created so effortlessly and placed her own stamp on cinematic history, between this and Potter.

Dan Stevens is a little old, even for a 27-year-old Watson, but the role works, especially if one considers the time passing under a spell. It’s close enough and not yet creepy. His voice in Evermore is remarkable and nearly worth the price of admission on its own.

Celebrate these films. They are gifts to humanity. There have always been beauties who were drawn to beasts that they had to learn to understand. There have always been beasts who are society’s winners that smart girls know to avoid, too. This film has brought hope to many a bookworm girl and boy that they will someday meet and learn to accept one another. And grow. Everyone wants to feel like they can do that.

Both films (***** out of *****)

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The Girl on the Train (***) has a familiar track

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The Girl on the Train – 2016

Director Tate Taylor
Screenplay Erin Cressida Wilson based on the novel by Paula Hawkins
Starring  Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Édgar Ramírez, Lisa Kudrow

The Girl on the Train is a movie that feels like it probably was quite well enjoyed by all of the stellar cast that volunteered to be in the film. It’s filled with more than a few choice roles for women – even Phoebe from Friends has a pivotal role. That their enjoyment does not translate to a greater success is a shame.

Emily Blunt has the choicest role, though, as Rachel Watson. Rachel is a sleepy dreamer, who has created a fantasy about a married couple that she sees on her daily train rides to and from New York City. By the first time we see her, she’s already created several scenarios for who this beautiful woman (Bennett) is, what she does and who she loves. Upon closer examination, we are fed bits and pieces of who Rachel is, who the object of her fantastic vision is, and who that seemingly happy couple is living two doors down are that hired the woman as a nanny. The couple consists of her ex-husband, Tom (Theroux) and his lovely new wife Anna (Ferguson). They got together before Rachel and Tom divorced.

The movie goes through great pains to show us how messed up Rachel appears to be. She is an alcoholic, and that is among her better traits. She is a creeper, with seemingly no connection to reality. She stalks her ex-husband’s family, even going so far as to take their child outside once, if only just to hold for a while.

The story jumps around. Going from time forward to the past with assorted flashbacks in between. We get to know more about the other characters. Megan is the girl who Rachel has been watching from the train. Saying she has issues is an understatement. She’s even seeing a psychologist. Anna, she seems very sleepy a lot of the time. What is going on with her?

The problems of each of these women seem to intersect nicely with Rachel’s erratic behavior. Then Megan disappears.

Watching this story, it is easy to connect the dots when one considers there is not one image that the director does not intend for us to see. It becomes a contest of wills to see how much one can force oneself to enjoy the film for the performances, which are all more than adequate to push us through one labored scene to the next.

Blunt is the clear standout, as she commits herself so completely to the role, she is almost hard to watch. She is clearly physically and emotionally ill. She has horrible blotchy skin and her breath is almost visible.

Bennett is equally good. Her intensity and motivation perfectly matches her character’s history. She is recognizable in the most painful way. She’s one that could make all men nervous and attracted at once, without ever really being seen by them. Bennett could parlay this and Magnificent 7 into quite a career, if she picks the right parts.

Ramírez has a choice role as Megan’s psychologist. His character and performance cuts beyond what one would picture of a therapist that looks like he does.

Ferguson’s character seems like it was a bit underserved by the story. Anna is played with a seeming reservoir of emotions being unearthed by the unfolding events. Where she ends up just seems like it’s short of the character and actresses potential.

The rest of the cast is pretty much what one could expect from a movie like this. None of it is all that bad, but every bit of it is foreshadowed enough to take the steam out of the mystery.

Taylor was an overachiever in his early directing efforts. This time around, he does very little to distinguish himself as anything more than an average director. There is nothing here that exceeds the grasp of someone directing a Lifetime drama. He is capable of way more.

(*** out of *****)

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (***1/2) – So it ends…

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The Hobbit – The Battle of Five Armies

Director Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom, Aidan Turner, Billy Connolly, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro based on the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Around the time that George Lucas was putting out his joyless prequels, Peter Jackson started us out on a joyful quest with The Lord of The Rings. Each of the films burst at the seams with character, brilliant animation and a concise screenplay. Changes were made here and there, things were cut out for reasons of streamlining the story. There were some outlandish moments, like when Legolas took a ride on an Oliphant, but overall, the films paid almost as much attention to gravity as it did the source material.

Now, at the end of Peter Jackson’s joyless prequel trilogy, the quest feels more like a financial obligation. We’ve committed the funds to see the first two, might as well see the last one and get it over with.

The first two films have been a progression steadily downward. The weight of added characters and story lines to push one book to two, then eventually three films have made the enterprise of a delightful story into a bloated animated collection of wholly unrealistic scenes that barely connect to one another, much less to anything of the universe Jackson created in the first film series.

Luckily there is not much more he can do to Middle Earth. The story that is left to tell leaves little room for embellishment. In short, they have to slay a dragon, argue about the spoils of a Dwarf Kingdom and then fight a big battle. We also have the Jackson story lines: inter-racial lovebirds Kili and Tauriel (Turner and Lilly) and the rebirth of Sauron. He has no more need to add more baggage. At 144 minutes, it feels like a sort of parole for the viewer as compared to the first two that came out over 161 minutes each.

Story execution is mixed. The death of Smaug (Cumberbatch) is mercifully brief. There is a lot of scrambling by the townsfolk and the remaining dwarves and then there is one of those monologues that lasts just long enough for Bard (Evans) to get off a clean shot. The interplay between Bard and his son works well here and pays off in multiple ways.

Back to the Lonely Mountain, we discover that Thorin (Armitage) has been afflicted with dragon sickness, making him doubt everyone around him and ramps the greed up to 11. It is easy to extend the idea of dragon sickness to Jackson. Viewers don’t need to make too big a leap to see themselves in the position of his Dwarf companions; struggling between the loyalty to the master who leads them to the promised land, and incredibly uncomfortable and bored with him now that they are forced to live there.

Thorin really wants the Arkenstone, and Bilbo (Freeman) has it. After negotiations go sour with the people of Laketown and Thranduil’s Elves due to King Thorin’s spiraling madness, Bilbo gives the Arkenstone to Bard. This goes nowhere too.

Thankfully, at Dol Guldur, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman (Blanchett, Weaving and Lee) arrive to rescue Gandalf (McKellen) from Sauron and the Nazgul. This scene is new to the book’s story, but it fits well within the sequence of events. It’s a nicely played resolution to the subplot as well.

Back at the battlefields below The Lonely Mountain, as the battle is about to start between the Elves, Men and the newly reinforced Dwarf army led by Thorin’s cousin Dain (Connolly), the orcs surprise them and begin to attack from two sides, splitting the newly joined 3 forces.

From here, Jackson just lets loose. Some of his better sequences, along with some of his worst take place within the ravages of the battle. The original is kind of a free for all, so for this viewer, it is fine if Jackson wants to add some structure to it. Attempting to inject some levity and tension throughout, we see some really neat things. In particular, Thorin’s battle with Azog and Bolg’s battle with Kili. Unfortunately, both of the battles go on too long and become convoluted.

Convoluted is the best word to describe Legolas’ continued fight with Bolg. It goes on forever and defies any sense of physical space whatsoever.

One of the best scenes from the original trilogy is the battle with the giant ogre within the Mines of Moria. That scene set up the foundation for much of what is to follow. The best thing about it is seeing how incredibly hard it was to take just one of those things. Then to see many of them falling over in unison with phantom punches is disturbingly sad and indicative of a “let’s get it over with” type of laziness.

The singular scene that stands out as a plus with an ogre is when assaulting the city next to the Lonely Mountain. As the troops of orcs run towards the wall, one ogre bearing a large helmet of rock attached to his head runs directly into a wall and breaks through. Immediately he bounces back from the blow, stands for a second and then falls back, out cold.

The pacing of the majority of the film is uneven. So much is going on, it’s impossible to figure out whether it’s momentum or kinetic confusion that the viewer is witnessing. Even so, this film is definitely the best of a bad second lot. Given that the first series is nearly perfect, this one doesn’t even belong in the same conversation.

(***1/2 out of *****)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Opportunity Lost and Exhausted

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – 2013

Director Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom, Aidan Turner
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro based on the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Who remembers this beautiful moment from Attack of the Clones?

I can remember when I first saw the movie Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.  For me it was to be an elixir for a tepid (read: bad) first installment.  They had promised more action, they promised a dark turn, and they promised less Jar Jar.  Somewhere around the point where Anakin called Padme “Milady” for the 12th time and then proceeded to try balancing on a poorly animated fattened cat of some sort, I realized the feeling of dread creeping over me.  Fighting every impulse to flee, I stuck out the garbage to the bitter end and boy did it make me bitter.  I knew at this point that the series was damaged beyond my hopes of restoration.  Even when the third installment ended up being not that bad, it was too late.  Even now, with a solid new director some new and good old ideas, the series has lost its luster.

The Hobbit reached this point for me right as they threw Bard in the clink.  We’d spent nearly a half hour there by this point, and Jackson was telling us that we were about to spend some more.  And what a boring time it was proving to be.  So many side stories over the first two films had taken liberties to the extreme, while, inexplicably cutting the charm out of some of the book’s best moments.

Among them, the meeting of Beorn, which mirrored in the most delightful way the original introduction of the Dwarves to Bilbo.  What had been one of the more colorful characters in the Tolkien mythical world abridged into a grouchy, hairy and lonely man-bear.  Even more appalling, the charming and lyrical showdown between Smaug and Bilbo (Cumberbatch and Freeman) is abbreviated painfully, turned instead into a keystone cops episode when the dwarves are drawn in for some wacky hi-jinks.  The story reaches low levels of absurdity as flames shoot everywhere but, like the A-Team, poor Smaug can’t hit anything.

Somehow and quite improbably, the lithe dragon loses his ability to avoid the most obvious calamity.  The makers to turn the dwarves into heroes that we are punished with the most ridiculous set of circumstances executed with the same penchant for ignoring the laws of physics as Jackson has shown since King Kong.  So inane is the last 20 minutes of the film, it almost undoes completely the even pacing and impressive action sequences of the first half of the film.

The better moments include the spider webs of Mirkwood forest, the subsequent capture of the party by the Wood Elves.  Their escape within the barrels on the water, and the heroism of Legolas and Tauriel (Bloom and Lily), while incredible is fun enough and close to the spirit of the novel.  Even the burgeoning romance of Tauriel and Kili (Turner) is somewhat of a delight, and to see how it turns out, gives one reason to see the third part.  Gandalf turns into a detective, taking on the mission of discovering the puzzling evidence of the Necromancer.  His findings seem a little premature, but overall, most of the Unfinished Tale called “The Quest of Erebor” is covered here to neutral effect.  Showing Radagast,  once more with his bird poop hair, turns it into a net negative.

Overall though, the second entry should have been a stronger than the mess it ends up being.  They have worked too hard on the dwarves, with Gimli’s model deemed not sufficient to base a film (or three) on.  There could be a few differences among them, but Thorin has gone from venerable old man in the source material to another version of Strider.  They’ve changed the tenor, and somewhat the true honor of the proud, stubborn race to the point when we see Legolas’ father (Pace) treat them cruelly, we wonder why he would, because they are all such nice guys.  The Orcs are everywhere yet again, and there still is no difference between them and the goblins, even if there was, slightly, in The Lord of the Rings films for a time.

A typical Thorin as Strider scene

At this point, the third film is an inevitability, just like The Revenge of the Sith.  Even if the film meets the source material closer in spirit, the damage is done psychically for those who saw the opportunity for Peter Jackson to carry out something on par with his original homage.  He took some liberties in the first series, but none of those took away from the essential spirit of the novels, and the quiet observation that the littlest, most insignificant things can make the biggest difference.

As with the first Hobbit film, Freeman is game to the challenge, and his performance is on par with the dignity that most ascribe to Bilbo.  It’s just a shame to see him watching the dwarves make asses of themselves avoiding massive jets of fire, not even needing to hope that Smaug will stay just right there so their clunky plan can work perfectly…or not.  The effectiveness of Cumberbatch as the great winged beast is muted the moment his standoff with Bilbo leaves the mental arena where it excelled originally and it becomes an all out party of pranks with the Dwarves, who really shouldn’t be there.  It’s at this point I begin to feel that its me who shouldn’t be here.  I hope I can shake this feeling before There and Back Again.

(**1/2 out of *****)

Fast & Furious 6: High Tech Lemonade

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Fast & Furious 6 – 2013

Director Justin Lin
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson,Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Sung Kang, Luke Evans, Gina Carano, John Ortiz
Screenplay Chris Morgan

Into the void of PG-13 summer action sprang forth the 6th film in the Fast & Furious franchise.  There is a point to all of this speed and fury, I am sure of it.  To date, the most interesting point in the series happens in the credits of this film, which harkens back to the 3rd, seemingly throwaway episode, Tokyo Drift.  The rest of the films have been a progression from “…stealing DVD players, trades up, ends up heisting over $100 million in Rio,” as stated so eloquently by the film’s generic bad guy, Owen Shaw, played with almost no memorable traits by Luke Evans.  Evans has the ability to be great in films that should be mediocre (The Three Musketeers) as well as the ability to hide his charm completely (The Raven).  Here he is all charm no greatness.  What he does have is a fast, flat car with tires that don’t pop when flipping bigger cars.  The car doesn’t slow down at all, either.

That’s the movie, though, isn’t it?  Muscle cars, and musclebound guys.  Both facets are most capably represented in the form of Vin Diesel, who is at home in all the glorious hogwash.  He rips through the clichéd script and action sequences with a beautiful smugness that shows he is in for the ride of his life, even if it comes in 20 parts.  Judging by the struggle he’s had to make Riddick into a practical commodity, it make take 20 parts to keep his other projects going.

Truth is, as powerful of a supporting cast as is present in the Fast & Furious series, none of the other cast, outside of Johnson, have the ability to carry a film.  In this way, it’s kind of a supporting actor’s version of The Expendables.  That might be cutting it a little or a lot short.  The latter series is a continued act of desperation to salvage the career of Stallone, whereas, the Diesel series feels more homogenous, and like there is an overall plan, even if the scripts are rip offs of films like Point Break, The Italian Job or The French Connection.  At this rate, the next theft should be Citizen Kane.

Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster look like an awesome runway couple.  It still doesn’t look like she’s had a baby, and I haven’t seen either of these kids in anything outside the series since it started.  Walker get’s his own sequence inside the clink here, and even if it is a bit superfluous, it still looked cool.

Gibson has the Transformers series going for him, and he may be approaching Samuel L. Jackson numbers in the next decade if his luck holds out.   My favorite scene in the film occurs when he and Kang get their asses kicked by one bad guy.  It takes a confident pair of actors to not be the swiftest onscreen and still keep smiling.

Chris Hayes doesn’t do much this round.  He’s there to figure stuff out on computers and exuberantly remind the rest of the crew when things are not going well.  I’ll take that.

Michelle Rodriguez is back, with the requisite memory loss required for many characters who die off-screen.  There is a pleasure to behold when she goes up against MMA fighter turned actress, Gina Carano.  The first one is a draw.  I will give you one guess who wins the rematch between the girl Girl Fight and the mentor from Fight Girls.

Dwayne Johnson doesn’t do much here but glower, trade clichés with Diesel and fight the big guys.  That leaves Evans for Diesel in the end.

Let’s be frank, this stuff is crap.  The amount of tough guy language uttered in this film make Die Hard 2: Die Harder look like Bard.  For all the talk of family, going it alone, and this one’s on me, there is the feeling of comfort food.  It makes you dumber, bit by bit, but it also feels good.  I haven’t tried watching any of the films twice, though.  I don’t want to risk Cabin Fever in my homey utopia.   

I will leave you with some of the coolest dialogue in the film.  It’s verbose, but concludes with perhaps Diesel’s best delivery in the series:

Owen Shaw: You know, when I was young, my brother always said, “Every man has to have a code.” Mine: Precision. Use what you have, switch them out when you need to until you get the job done. It’s efficient. But you? You’re loyal to a fault. Your code is about family. It makes you predictable. And in our line of work, predictable means vulnerable. And that means I can reach out and break you whenever I want.
Dominic Toretto: At least when I go, I’ll know what it’s for.

I can’t wait for the next chapter.

(***1/2 out of *****)

The Raven: Is this John Cusack?

The Raven – 2012

Director James McTeigue
Starring John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kevin McNally, Sam Hazeldine, Pam Ferris, John Warnaby
Screenplay Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare

There is a movie here, a damn good one…somewhere.  Cusack bears a resemblance to Edgar Allan Poe and the idea of a true serial killing spree based on his macabre works is intriguing.  The execution of this film, however, is atrocious.  Stumbling along from scene to scene, there is absolutely no charisma exhibited by any of the characters.  The plot is a mess, albeit an inspired one.

Many actors were tied to and eventually passed on this project.  Jeremy Renner and Ewan McGregor as Inspector Fields and Joaquin Phoenix as Poe.  Could the film have been better with any of them in the role of the protagonists?  I doubt it.  The problems here are much more than acting could fix.

The script does not allow for any sense of development for any of the characters before the jarring events begin to reduce people into things.  This is perfectly exemplified by one of the scenes featuring Poe at a poetry reading.  In the midst of revealing an absurdly wonderful interpretation of a woman’s poem, he is brought in for questioning by the police. For the rest of the film, we have Poe just telling people how he is a “master of his art,” while those who would have no means to judge him otherwise just nod blankly in agreement.  In this way, Cusack has nothing to push back on.  His performance is muted, like shouting into a void.

Part of this void is the character of Inspector Fields, played with a bland acceptance by Luke Evans.  Evans is an actor with a limited range.  When used correctly like in The Three Musketeers, he is quite entertaining.  Here, he is more of a confused but willing child.  One never gets the sense of him as anything more than someone to be awed by the events. Because of this, there is no real sense of justice or authority to any of his actions, and no real belief that he has anything of a motive to just hang around in the presence of Poe.

The casting of Brendan Gleeson is a mystery to me.  What he can bring to a film is not in any way needed here.  His role could have been carried out by anyone, literally.  As Captain Hamilton, all he does is play a middle-aged guy concerned about his daughter.  There are no other layers. His daughter, Emily (Eve) provides a haunted presence through much of the film.  Indeed, she fits well within the framework of someone caught in the web of a Poe reflected-tale.

The rest of the cast is a nameless, ineffective group.  Seeing Cusack amble back and forth among them makes me wonder where it is his career has gone.  He has been a great actor in some absolute gems (Grosse Pointe Blank, Say Anything, Being John Malkovich, The Grifters), as well a solid contributor in some good films (Hot Tub Time Machine, High FidelityCon Air, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) and the lead in some trash (Serendipity, America’s Sweethearts, Must Love Dogs).  Then there is this.  He’s done so many films in his career, there is no real sense of who he is as an actor.  He used to be relatively easy to identify with.  In this film, it feels like you are watching person you can’t quite remember.

Why is it, exactly, that he would take a role in an incomplete script such as this, when others without his résumé would avoid them?  Anyone who follows Cusack on Twitter (@johncusack) knows that he is one who is apt to spend many hours a night following his muse.  He is approaching 9,000 tweets with over 1,000,000 followers.  Describing himself as an “Apocalyptic shit disturber and elephant trainer,”  he is a reservoir of thought and feeling.  I guess you have to go where you think the money is, once in a while.  It isn’t here.