Mini review Monday – The Raven, Safe, The Covenant

Twenty-five to 30 hours of travel time between South Africa and Vietnam, as well as some much needed downtime while on tour, means you often catch a movie or five. Here are some mini reviews of recent (or not) releases that I managed to watch while on holiday.

The Raven:
What could have been a serial killer thriller with stylish historical oomph ends ups being a disappointing, derivative effort.

It all starts off well enough though, with a couple of harrowing Saw-style torture-death combos and the introduction of Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) as a drunk, artistically frustrated and self-destructive wreck. The writer has to sober up and sharpen his wits though when a murderer starts choreographing kills based on Poe’s gothic tales. Too-earnest Luke Evans is the scowling police inspector at Poe’s side.

The Raven is pretty much just The Bone Collector transplanted into the gloom of 19th Century Baltimore. What starts out as an interesting cat-and-mouse game ends up feeling convoluted and exceptionally irritating. The last third of the film seems to consist entirely of characters running around in the dark screaming “Emily” (the name of Poe’s love interest) over and over and OVER again. What a letdown. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see this in the cinema.

Yes, it’s another Jason Statham actioner, but this is one of the better ones. Seriously. Avoiding the full-blown ridiculousness of the Transporter series, Safe actually bothers to introduce the characters before unleashing the badassery, and it makes a difference.

So we meet Statham’s Luke Wright, a former cop and lacklustre MMA fighter who has had everything taken from him by the Russian mafia. Passively accepting this abuse, and clearly atoning for something, he leads a miserable shadow life as a bum. This is until a chance encounter with a little Chinese girl triggers a surge of purpose.

Mei (Catherine Chan), you see, has genius-level math skills which have made her an important asset for the Chinese mafia in keeping their financial records untraceable. And when she memorises a page-long code, she’s pursued by both mobs and the corrupt authorities. Fortunately good-hearted Luke steps forward as her protector.

The fight scenes are appreciably coherent and hard-hitting. And flashes of wry humour seal the deal. Safe’s plot gets a little overcooked towards the end but ultimately this is 90 minutes of satisfying action escapism.

The Covenant:
The Covenant isn’t a new film at all – it was released back in 2006 – but it deserves a special mention for its sheer awfulness. Seriously, this teen-orientated supernatural thriller has leapfrogged straight up my list of the worst movies of all time.

Notable for pre-stardom appearances of Taylor Kitsch and Chace Crawford, this one is a disaster in every department. And sadly it doesn’t even latch onto the homoeroticism of its swimming scenes to cross over from appalling to amusing.

Anyway, on paper The Covenant sounds passable enough. In rural New England, four families hide a secret: namely that the firstborn sons of every generation – all of whom look like underwear models here – inherit “The Power.” These male witches must master this addictive magic or lose their life force to it. Matters are complicated when a fifth son emerges and the characters unleash the full might of their powers... by tossing energy balls at each other. Wow.

Really, everything is just wrong about this beefcake brother to The Craft. The acting is awful, the CGI-effects horribly dated and the supposed mystery is non-existent. Director Renny Harlin – who should know better! – relies entirely on low-angle shots to supposedly generate suspense. Worst of all, the film ends abruptly with no sense of resolution whatsoever.


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