Max Dupain, The Bride, 1936
Table of Contents
I was a HUGE zombie fan, too. The greats like the “Living Dead” biggies (Night, Dawn and Day), the Italian splatter of ZOMBI (“We are going to eat you!”) and the goodness of the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD were firmly locked as faves. But the recent waves of zombie hordes have muddied the waters greatly. The likes of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, ZOMBIELAND and THE HORDE are getting lost in the much and mire of complete crap like the DAY OF THE DEAD remake – resplendent in it’s under-scripting and over-bullshite 3D and leaping dead.
Well, THE DEAD (2010) marks the return to old zombie form and was WELL worth a viewing! And…there’s no mention of zombies in the title. Thank you for that.
We have a classic set up here, but with a small twist that takes us in new and interesting directions. Zombies. They’re here. We’re trying to get away. But, we’re in Africa complete with wide expanses of nothing for miles and miles. Our two heroes are both trying to get somewhere – one to a U.S. military base so he can get home and another to an African base so he can find his son. The pairing is fantastic and very “old school”. Differences are set aside to reach a new set of very important goals.
The zombies themselves were a throw back to the 1979 Lucio Fulci style of ZOMBI zombies. Extremely slow moving and driven. They shuffle along at an extremely slow pace. This makes things a bit easier, but also is a perfect device for ramping up tension. There are scenes where we see several zombies off in the distance while someone is trying to complete a task. They shuffle closer…and closer…and closer and, while the danger isn’t immediate, it creates a lovely sense of urgency. I found myself stomping my feet at times wishing the heroes would hurry up and get the HELL out. And, if a zombie mob does happen to slip up to you, classic zombie mob rules apply. They are slow, but a group up close and personal is deadly.
Dread and doom, heat and time and personal drive are played out really well. The characters of Lt. Brian Murphy and Sgt. Daniel Dembele are well rounded and believable. I’d even say that non-horror lovers (that can take some scares and gore) would enjoy this film. It has a strong story and a lot of well rounded character development.
Edgar Allan Poe died in Baltimore in October 1849, by most accounts in a state of dissipation and despair. “The Raven,” a new movie directed by James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”; “Ninja Assassin”), differs from most accounts by imagining Poe in his final days as a heroic crime fighter, tracking down a diabolical serial killer with the tenacious ingenuity of the special agents on “Criminal Minds.”
Since Poe is widely credited with inventing the detective genre, it seems only fair that he should have a chance to do a little sleuthing of his own. That seems to be the intention of a sadistic murderer whose grisly and ingenious methods are drawn directly from some of Poe’s tales. This homage is horrifying to Poe (who is played by a wild-eyed, wild-maned and furiously energetic John Cusack) but also perversely flattering. Someone has read the work of this notoriously vain, ambitious and competitive writer closely and has been inspired to imitation.
That “someone” can equally refer to Mr. McTeigue and the screenwriters, Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare. The fannish obsessiveness that animates “The Raven” is its most appealing attribute, and even Poe scholars can forgive it for discarding the biographical record in favor of playful, gruesome fantasy. There is a geeky pleasure in matching the on-screen murders to the tales they replicate, as in a Gothic version of “Jeopardy!” “What is ‘The Cask of Amontillado’?” “Who is ‘Marie Roget’?” “What is ‘The Masque of the Red Death’?”
And “The Raven” might have worked best as the pilot for a creepy, old-style television series, featuring the writer embroiled in a different one of his own narratives each week. In addition to Poe himself Mr. McTeigue also pays tribute to Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations from the early ’60s, the best of which stand as perverse masterpieces of low-budget, over-the-top Grand Guignol. There is abundant blood, feverish overacting, and an atmosphere of hysterical Victorian Americana. Baltimore is envisioned as a city of mist and wet stone, dark wood, rotted gentility and ambient corruption, a place that seems to know that, in 150 years or so, it will be the setting for “The Wire.” (The Jimmy McNulty of 1849 is a dogged, handsome cop played by Luke Evans.)
The film’s heart is in the right place (which is to say beating insistently under the floorboards). Its literary bona fides are certainly in order, and the filmmakers’ affection for the boozy, wanton world of mid-19th-century print culture — for the inky swamp of sensationalistic newspapers and scurrilous magazines from which American literature sprouted — is very much in evidence. But if Poe was the drunken, tragic bad boy of American letters, he was also a meticulous and disciplined craftsman. And it is on this score, rather than in matters of biographical detail, that “The Raven” lets him down.
“There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story,” Poe writes in “The Philosophy of Composition,” a great, mad essay from which young scribblers may still profit. Most writers plod through the “striking events” of the narrative and fill in the gaps with dialogue, description and commentary. “I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect,” Poe says, emphasizing the singular. “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?”
“The Raven,” unfortunately, does not settle on just one, preferring the usual moviemaking practice of multiplying effects until they pile up into a welter of breathless incident and preposterous exposition. Poe’s motive in seeking the killer is not just wounded literary pride, but also love, for his sensible fiancée, Emily (Alice Eve). (Her grouchy, wealthy father is played by Brendan Gleeson.) The couple’s devotion does not quite square with Poe’s louche, alcoholic temperament, and Mr. Cusack works himself into a lather trying to reconcile the contradictory parts of an incoherent character.
In, I am sorry to say, an incoherent movie. Poe wrote love poetry, literary criticism, humorous sketches and science fiction as well as “tales of mystery and horror.” “The Raven” tries to blend all of these motley genres together, and though the effort is valiant, the result is a mess. I suspect Poe’s review of it would have been much more savage than mine.
“The Raven” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Graphic, gory violence.
Opens on Friday nationwide.
Directed by James McTeigue; written by Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston; director of photography, Danny Ruhlmann; edited by Niven Howie; music by Lucas Vidal; production design by Roger Ford; costumes by Carlo Poggioli; produced by Marc D. Evans, Trevor Macy and Aaron Ryder; released by Relativity Media. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes.
WITH: John Cusack (Edgar Allan Poe), Luke Evans (Detective Emmett Fields), Alice Eve (Emily Hamilton), Brendan Gleeson (Capt. Charles Hamilton), Kevin R. McNally (Henry Maddox), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Officer Cantrell) and Jimmy Yuill (Captain Eldridge).
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THE STORY: “The Cask of Amontillado”
Illustration by Harry Clarke
Presented by Story of the Week | Library of America
The Raven (directed by James McTeigue and starring John Cusack) opens this weekend in theaters. The movie is the latest of many attempts to adapt the works of Edgar Allan Poe for the big screen; it depicts a serial killer whose methods are inspired by various Poe stories. Although none of us at The Library of America has seen the movie, we do hope that it attracts new readers to Poe’s fiction and poetry.One story used in the film is “The Cask of Amontillado,” which is not only one of Poe’s most famous works but also one of the best-known revenge fantasies by any author. What is not as well known is that the story itself was an act of revenge. For several years Poe had been feuding with a former friend, Thomas Dunn English. Their quarrel began when, in 1843, Poe publicly ridiculed English’s poems; things escalated from there. Three years later, Poe sued English for libel for a letter that appeared in a newspaper (Poe won $225 in damages), and English published a novel, 1844, or, The Power of the S. F., featuring a Poe-like character named Marmaduke Hammerhead—a journalist who “never gets drunk more than five days a week,” becomes famous for publishing “The Black Crow,” grows increasingly crazy as the novel progresses, and ends up in an asylum.One of Poe’s responses to this malicious portrayal was “The Cask of Amontillado,” pitting the scheming Montresor against his buffoonish nemesis Fortunato. The author Andrew Barger has noted some of the story’s references to English’s novel, to wit: “A chapter of 1844 takes place in an underground vault” and “English uses the phrase ‘For the love of God’ in 1844 and Poe spits it back to him in this story.” The motto of Poe’s fictional Montresor family is Nemo me impune lacesit(“No one insults me with impunity”); it could just as well serve as a theme for Poe’s own career.Incidentally, another Poe story that probably included a caricature of Thomas Dunn English (among other writers) is “Hop-Frog,” which we featured previously on Story of the Week. In a number of interviews, John Cusack cited this story as his own personal favorite—but he has revealed that you won’t see it in the movie. “I’d have loved it if we’d used ‘Hop-Frog,’ but we couldn’t fit that one in.”
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Jack White live at Webster Hall NYC April 27
[After Introductory Bullshit, Actual Show Starts at 9:40]
On April 27, Jack White kicked off the 2012 American Express UNSTAGED music series with a performance at Webster Hall in New York City.
Directed by filmmaker Gary Oldman, the show was streamed online in partnership with YouTube and VEVO.
The Playlist (courtesy of Dangerous Minds)
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (The White Stripes song)
Freedom At 21
Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes)
Two Against One (Rome cover)
Top Yourself (The Raconteurs song)
I’m Slowly Turning Into You (The White Stripes)
Blue Blood Blues (The Dead Weather song) (With “Screwdriver” Riff Intro)
Take Me With You When You Go
I Cut Like a Buffalo (The Dead Weather)
Weep Themselves to Sleep
Trash Tongue Talker
You Know That I Know (Hank Williams cover)
We’re Going to be Friends (The White Stripes)
Hello Operator (The White Stripes)
Carolina Drama (The Raconteurs song)
Catch Hell Blues (Fragment) (The White Stripes)
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes)
Goodnight Irene (Leadbelly cover)
And thanks to @mattstaggs
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Crux Spes Unica
Forgotten (Fallen Angels)
My Pet Skeleton
Under The Crescent Moon
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Special Bonus: The Saturday Night Covers That Didn’t
Original photographs, l-r, by Ellen Rogers, Colette Saint Yves, and Unknown