This Week at the Movies

'The Five-Year Engagement,' 'Bernie' and 'Sound Of My Voice' are all solid, but 'The Raven' is an average thriller.

“The Five-Year Engagement” is just as raunchy as a handful of recent Hollywood comedies of which I was not a fan, namely “” and “.”

But what sets the romantic comedy apart from that crude pack is its sweet-natured tone and obvious love for its characters, rather than using its leads – Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) as objects for humiliation.

In the film, the couple has decided to wed, but a variety of circumstances primarily revolving around Violet’s career as a psychologist have prevented them from tying the knot.

“Engagement” works not only because Segel and Blunt are funny and endearing, but also because the picture surrounds them with a smorgasbord of well-drawn supporting characters, including lothario best man (Alex), Violet’s overbearing mother (Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver) and an overbearing professor (Rhys Ifans).

The film provided more laughs than any other I can remember this year and could be the funniest I’ve seen since last summer’s “.”

Nearly as funny as “The Five-Year Engagement,” but certainly more peculiar, is Richard Linklater’s “Bernie,” which is apparently based on a real incident, proving the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.

Jack Black gives an inspired performance as the titular character, a Texas funeral director whose doting on elderly widows makes him the toast of his small town.

One day, Bernie manages to achieve the seemingly impossible by befriending Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), an egregiously unpleasant tycoon’s widow.

Before long, Bernie has become Marjorie’s traveling companion and manservant. Her demands become increasingly outrageous, but Bernie’s agreeable manner prevails – that is, until Marjorie pushes it too far and ends up in a freezer case.

The town’s publicity-craving district attorney Danny Buck Davidson (a hilarious Matthew McConaughey) attempts to bring a murder case against Bernie, but the funeral director’s popularity requires that the trial is moved to another county.

Linklater, a Texas native, combines an offbeat true crime story with faux documentary interviews of the town’s denizens, most of whom believe Bernie couldn’t have committed the heinous crime of which he is accused.

I’m not sure that Linklater is aiming for anything higher than a chronicle of this strange tale. In other words, it’s neither an examination of the criminal justice system or small town life.

But the film’s performances, off-the-wall characters and witty script are enough to make it worth seeing.

The weekend’s other major release – “The Raven” - attempts to combine truth and fiction, but with only moderate success.

Author Edgar Allen Poe died in 1849 shortly after being found wandering the streets babbling incoherently. The great writer – played in this film by John Cusack – was an alcoholic and opium user.

In this new film by James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”), we are asked to believe that Poe was discovered on the streets of Baltimore in a state of decline after attempting to halt a serial killer inspired by his stories.

Cusack gives a brooding performance as the author, but “The Raven” provides him little with which to work.

The film’s sole purpose appears to be depicting reenactments of grisly scenes from “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” And the picture features the type of deranged killer who goes to great lengths to set up elaborate, diabolical murders just to torment his object of obsession – in this case, Poe – and only exists in Hollywood movies.

“The Raven” offers a few clever set pieces, but not much else.

For a creepier – and headier – experience, I’d recommend “Sound Of My Voice,” a low budget thriller that follows two investigative journalists who attempt to film a documentary on cults by joining one.

The film provides little in the way of back-story. At its beginning, we meet Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) as they prepare for their first meeting with Maggie (Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the film), the cult’s leader who claims to be a visitor from the year 2054.

The picture’s eeriest moments are the group sessions between Maggie and her followers during which she asks them to prove their loyalty in a variety of ways.

And much of the film’s suspense revolves around whether Peter, a cynic, and Lorna actually begin to believe any of Maggie’s claims.

“Sound Of My Voice” is a short, tightly wound thriller that picks up momentum as it moves along. It’s proof that you don’t need millions of dollars or even special effects to make a convincing science fiction thriller.

"The Raven" is playing at . "The Five-Year Engagement" is playing at Douglaston's Movie World.

"Bernie" is playing at the Angelika Film Center and "Sound Of My Voice" is screening at the Sunshine Cinema.

Michael Feiner May 01, 2012 at 11:05 PM
I saw "The Raven" and actually liked it. It was very creative and entertaining. John Cusack was excellent as Edgar Allan Poe and the movie was worth seeing just to see his performance. Most of the cast were very good plus the heroine played by British Actress Alice Eve, was so beautiful that I wish I could have had the opportunity to have saved her myself. Poe is my favorite poet, I really enjoy hearing his works recited by professional actors. I disagree with Nathan's appraisal of the movie, I would have given it a more favorable review.


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