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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2012

John Cusack and Tom Cruise highlight this week's releases

WASHINGTON POST

The Raven (R, 110 minutes, Relativity): John Cusack playing Edgar Allan Poe seems like a good idea, but then Cusack-as-Poe walks into a bar and starts talking. Nothing in the actor's cadence or attitude suggests the story's 1849 setting.

The Raven seems content to steal a famous figure's name and leave any stabs at authenticity to the set and costume designers.

The movie's conceit takes a tidbit of biographical fact -- Poe died under mysterious conditions, having been found on the streets in a state of delirium. The booze-weakened author helps hunt a serial killer he himself has inspired.

Director James McTeigue was much more successful capturing graphic novelist Alan Moore's mood in V for Vendetta than he is conjuring the suspense of Poe. But viewed as simply another Hollywood thriller, The Raven builds up a decent head of steam as time runs out for our hero's imperiled fiancee.

Extras include commentary by McTeigue and producers Marc D. Evans, Trevor Macy and Aaron Ryder. Also, on Blu-ray: deleted and extended scenes, five featurettes, including a look at the musical team.

Rock of Ages (R, 111 minutes, Warner): That this affectionately mocking homage to acts such as Journey, Guns N' Roses, and Pat Benatar comes by way of Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, and Tom Cruise makes Rock of Ages an unusually enervating experience.

Cruise's Stacee Jaxx is a mash-up whose presence at a Sunset club called the Bourbon Room is guaranteed to bring the bar out of financial insolvency.

It's into this maelstrom of caricatured mayhem and excess that a wide-eyed singer named Sherrie (Hough) arrives one night, fresh off the bus from Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, a bunch of censorious squares is gathering to squash the rebellious vibe and shut down the Bourbon.

As much fun as it is to watch Cruise wink at his own star persona, and as welcome as its wackiest moments are, Rock of Ages never attains Bic-lighter-worthy transcendence.

Extras include If You Build It, They Will Rock It featurette, Any Way You Want It music video, and Def Leppard live at the premiere footage. Also, on Blu-ray: extended version; Rock of Ages: Legends of the Sunset Strip hosted by Bret Michaels, The Stories We Sing featurette, Defining a Decade, hosted by Hough and Boneta.

A Cat in Paris (PG, 70 minutes, Cinedigm Entertainment Group): This French-made film (in English for an American audience) isn't exactly a kiddy flick.

The pretty, hand-drawn pictures will appeal mainly to sophisticated animation fans, and its dark, somewhat scary story of a fatherless girl in jeopardy might prove a little too intense for very young viewers.

At a little over an hour, it's a slight but visually charming adventure. The "cat" of the title has a double meaning. On one level, it refers to an actual feline -- Dino, a fiercely independent kitty who belongs, in theory only, to a child named Zoe. By night, Dino's second home is the city of Paris, whose streets and rooftops he haunts with his other master, a cat burglar named Nico (Steve Blum).

Nico becomes Zoe's protector after her father is murdered. A a bad guy with a good heart, or at least a soft one, he gets to star in one great, climactic action sequence set among the gargoyles of Notre Dame.

The story -- by writer Alain Gagnol, who directed with Jean-Loup Felicioli -- is neither deep nor complex, but it's so good-looking, without a drop of CGI or 3-D.

Extras include The Many Lives of a Cat video flipbook, Extinction of the Saber-Toothed Housecat animated short; original French-language version with English subtitles.



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