Summer is here! Well, almost. And by "summer" I mean "summer movie season," which kicks off May 4 with the arrival of Marvel's The Avengers. No fools when it comes to making a buck (or hundreds of millions of bucks), Hollywood crams in a few last smaller-ish films before the floodgates open, and they're certainly about to open — Dark Shadows, The Dictator, Battleship, Men in Black 3, and Prometheus all come out before summer actually begins in mid-June. (Side note: fuck yeah, Prometheus!)
All in good time. There's something for almost everyone this weekend: a rom-com, a murder mystery featuring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe, and a Statham (Statham (n): a bare-bones action movie in which one grizzled-yet-handsome antihero distributes as many ass-beatings as possible.) Read on, popcornheads.
The Five-Year Engagement In 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall, viewers were treated to the startling, tragicomic sight of Jason Segel’s naked front side as his character got brutally dumped by the titular perky, put-together heartbreaker. In The Five-Year Engagement, which he reunited with Sarah director Nicholas Stoller to co-write, Segel once again sacrifices dignity and the right to privacy, this time in exchange for fake orgasms (his own), ghastly hand-knit sweaters, egregious facial-hair arrangements, and various other exhaustively humiliating psychological lows — all part of an earnest, undying quest to make people giggle uncomfortably. Segel plays Tom, a talented chef with a promising career ahead of him in San Francisco’s culinary scene (naturally, food carts get a cameo in the film). On the one-year anniversary of meeting his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), a psychology postgrad, he asks her to marry him in a meticulously planned, gloriously botched proposal scene coengineered by Tom’s oafish friend Alex (Chris Pratt), little realizing that this romantic gesture will soon lead to successive frozen winters in the Midwest (Violet gets offered a job at the University of Michigan), loss of professional stature, cabin fever, mead making, bow-hunting accidents, the titular nuptial postponement, and other, more gruesome events. The humor at times descends to some banally low depths as Segel and Stoller explore the terrain of the awkward, the poorly socialized, and the playfully grotesque. But Segel and Blunt present a believable, likable relationship between two warm, funny, flawed people, and, however disgusted, no one should walk out before a scene in which Violet and her sister (Alison Brie) channel Elmo and Cookie Monster to elaborate on the themes of romantic idealism and marital discontent. (2:04) Marina. (Lynn Rapoport)
The Raven How did Edgar Allan Poe, dipsomaniac, lover of 13-year-old child brides, and teller of tales designed to make the flesh creep and crawl, wind up, at age 40, nearly dying in the gutter and spending his last days in a Baltimore hospital, muttering incoherent imprecations about a mysterious fellow named Reynolds? In The Raven, director James McTeigue (2006's V for Vendetta) makes the case for a crafty, sociopathic serial killer having played a role in the famous yet impoverished writer’s sad, derelict demise. Recently returned to the dark, thickly fog-machined streets of Baltimore, Poe, vehemently embodied by John Cusack, is chagrined to learn from one Detective Fields (Luke Evans) that someone has begun using his macabre stories (“The Pit and the Pendulum” to particularly gory effect) to enact a series of murders. When the killer successfully gains Poe’s full attention by seizing his ladylove, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), the pileup of bodies inspires a few last outbursts of genius. The trail of literary clues feels a bit forced, and Cusack’s Poe possesses an admirable quantity of energy, passion, and general zest for life for one so roundly indicted — by everyone from his editor to his barkeep to his sweetheart’s roundly repellent father (Brendan Gleeson) — as a useless, used-up slave to opiates and alcohol. But the script is smart enough and the action absorbing enough to keep us engaged as Poe attempts to rescue Emily and the film attempts to rescue Poe’s reputation through imagined heroics of both the pen and the sword. (1:50) California, Presidio. (Rapoport)
Safe The poster would be slightly more on-point if its suave thug of a star, Jason Statham, were hiding behind the scrunched-faced Catherine Chan rather than the other way around — because at times it’s tough to see this alternately enjoyable and credibility-taxing action flick as more than some kind of naked play for the Chinese filmgoer. Jamming the screen with a kind of frantic kineticism, director-writer Boaz Yakin seems to be smoothing over the problems in his vaguely stereotype-flaunting, patchy puzzle of a narrative with a high body count: the cadavers pile like those in an old martial arts flick — made in Asia, it’s implied, where life is cheap and spectacle is paramount. Picking up in the middle, with flashbacks stacked like firewood, Safe opens on young math prodigy Mei (Chan) on the run from the Russian mafia. A pawn and virtual slave of the Chinese mob, she holds a number in her head that they want. To her rescue is mystery man Luke Wright (Statham), who has had his own deadly tussle with the same Russian baddies and is now on the street and on the verge of suicide, believe it or not. It’s tough to wrap your head around the fact that any of Statham’s rock-hard tough guys could possibly crumble — or even have a sense of humor. You’ll need one to accept the ludicrous storyline as well as the notion that a jillion bullets could be fired and never hit his superhuman street-fighting man. (1:35) Various theaters. (Kimberly Chun)
Also worth checking out: Willem Dafoe as a taciturn man tracking down the last Tasmanian tiger in Aussie import The Hunter (see Dennis Harvey's review), and great new doc about a grunge-era survivor at the Roxie:
Hit So Hard Along with Last Days Here, which screened earlier this year as part of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, Hit So Hard is one of the most inspiring rock docs in recent memory. Patty Schemel was the drummer for Hole circa Live Through This, coolly keeping the beat amid Courtney Love's frequent Lollapalooza meltdowns after Kurt Cobain's 1994 death. Offstage, however, she was neck-deep in substance abuse, weathering several rounds of rehab even after the fatal overdose of Hole bandmate Kristen Pfaff just months after Cobain (who appears here in Schemel's own remarkable home video footage). P. David Ebersole's film gathers insight from many key figures in Schemel's life — including her mother, who has the exact voice of George Costanza's mother, and a garishly made-up, straight-talking Love — but most importantly, from Schemel herself, who is open and funny even when talking about the perils of drug addiction, of the heartbreak of being a gay teen in a small town, and the ultimate triumph of being a rock 'n' roll survivor. (1:43) Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)