Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Axe not what your country can do for you…

(2012) Horror Action (20th Century Fox) Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Jimmi Simpson, Robin McLeavy, Alan Tudyk, Marton Csokas, Joseph Mawle, Erin Wasson, John Rothman, Cameron M. Brown, Frank Brennan, Jaqueline Fleming. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

 

Our nation’s 16th president is widely beloved, considered our most courageous and visionary president and for good reason. He led our nation through its darkest hour, freed the slaves and in general kept the nation together even as it was coming apart. He also rid the country of vampires. Yeah, that was him.

Of course, you might not be familiar with that last part but don’t worry. This isn’t a history lesson. It’s rip-roaring bloodsucking entertainment from the man who directed Night Shift and the man who wrote the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Abraham Lincoln (Walker) watches as his mother (McLeavy) is murdered by Jack Barts (Csokas), whom Abe’s father (Mawle) crossed when he protected his impetuous son from stopping Barts from whipping an African-American boy. Young Abraham wants revenge but his more level-headed dad makes him swear not to do anything foolish which Honest Abe does…until his father passes away.

Going to a bar to gather some liquid courage, Abe runs into Henry Sturgess (Cooper). Eventually, Abe discovers that Barts is a vampire and his guns are ineffective against him. Lincoln is saved by the intervention of Henry, but not before permanently scarring Barts by leaving the ball of his pistol in his eye.

Sturgess heals Abe’s wounds and tells him that the vampires have mostly been hiding out in the South as plantation owners, using the slaves as a food supply. Abe, studying for the law, is also trained by Henry in the fine (or not-so-fine) art of vampire hunting – and not a Scooby in sight (obligatory Buffy reference considering the subject matter). Having had a bad experience with guns, Abe prefers the silver-coated axe as his weapon of choice.

Sturgess sends the newly martial arts-trained Abe to Springfield to practice law. There he meets shopkeeper Joshua Speed (Simpson), who hires the young man and allows him to stay in a room above the store. The two become fast friends but coming back into Abe’s life is Will Johnson (Mackie), the young boy Abe saved from whipping years ago. Also in his life; Mary Todd (Winstead), the fiancée of rising political star Stephen Douglas (Tudyk).

By night, Abe kills local vampires and chafes for the chance to get his hands on Barts. Finally, when Sturgess finds out that Abe has been making friends and fallen in love, he warns him that he’s making a horrible mistake – these people will be endangered by the things Abe does at night. And that’s just what happens. Once Abe finally gets his hands on Jack Barts, people – okay, vampires – take notice. In particular, Adam (Sewell) who is the leader of the vampires here in the States, a creature who has lived since the days of the pharaohs and who is eager to establish a nation of his own for his kind – the Confederate States of America, for one.

He and his sister/enforcer Vadoma (Wasson) hatch a plan to bring Lincoln to them, kidnapping Will and bringing him to their New Orleans plantation. Abe and Speed rescue him by the skin of their teeth, but Abe determines to fight Adam in a less direct way – through politics. Abe’s determination and vision leads him to the White House.

However, Adam has been busy as well, allying with Jefferson Davis (Rothman) to supply vampiric troops to overcome the numeric superiority of the North as well as their armament. With unkillable soldiers, Adam and the Southern generals decide to put an end to the war by invading, leading to a place called Gettysburg. Realizing that the only hope of defeating the army of the undead is to arm his own troops with silver ordinance, Abe, Will and Joshua set out on a desperate train ride from Washington to Pennsylvania. The entire nation’s future hangs in the balance but Adam knows he’s coming.

This is an idea that does tend to stretch one’s tolerance for fantasy. That it has been largely unsuccessful at the box office speaks more about the imagination of the moviegoing public than that of the specific filmmakers here. The movie is certainly filmed in dark tones with bright moonlight. There is certainly a gothic feel to the film but with more of an action sensibility than, say, Dark Shadows.

The special effects are okay, though not ground-breaking in most senses. However, there are a couple of scenes which are done rather badly – the scene where Lincoln chases Barts through stampeding horses – where the horses look like something out of a computer game, complete with a dun-colored sky. It looks fake and pulls the audience right out of the reality of the film.

I have no problems with fudging with history to suit the needs of the story, although here some of it was, I thought, unnecessary. Making Will Johnson a lifelong friend instead of someone he met in Springfield (which is, as I understand it, what actually happened) or having Joshua Speed as part of Lincoln’s inner circle in Washington (in reality he declined to leave Springfield and sent his brother James whom Lincoln liked less in his stead) doesn’t really make the story any easier – it’s just simpler to write it that way.

Mackie is a fine actor who brings some gravitas to the role of Johnson. Simpson as well, who is channeling Christian Slater to my mind, gives Joshua Speed a fairly ambiguous role which aids the story nicely in the last reel. Winstead is an underrated actress who has done admirably well in a bunch of movies that haven’t been as good as her performances. It’s no different here; hopefully she’ll be cast in a movie that’s worthy of her talents soon.

The main problem here is Walker. He might be a fine, capable actor but this is a part that is almost impossible to pull off to begin with – Abe Lincoln as an action hero? Doing Matrix-like moves while wielding an axe like something out of a Tsui Hark movie? Uhhhhh…it’s kind of entertaining, I have to admit, while you’re watching it. Thinking about it now, reading it on paper…sounds kind of dumb. The other issue is that Walker has moments where he really carries the essence of the Great Emancipator. At others though, he seems to be floundering, not quite sure how to capture Lincoln’s natural self-effacing demeanor and homespun humor.

This is entertainment, pure and simple. There is no moral message, and if you take this as a history lesson you’re clearly insane. This is meant to keep you on the edge of your seat for a couple of hours. Nothing more, nothing less. The movie isn’t always successful at it but it succeeds more than it fails. If you’re willing to give the concept a shot and throw logic and history out the door for two hours while you’re in the air-conditioned cinema, then you might actually be surprised at how good this is.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of action and some nifty effects. Mackie, Cooper and Winstead are all solid.
REASONS TO STAY: Walker’s performance is a bit inconsistent. Too many liberties with history and facts. Some of the CGI is surprisingly poor.
FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of violence as well as a hint of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The man in the film’s final scene who is approached in a similar manner as Abe was recruited was played by book and screenplay author Seth Grahame-Smith.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/2/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 34% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100. The reviews were mostly bad.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Near Dark
GETTYSBURG ADDRESS LOVERS: Walker recites the speech here in a re-creation of the address.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The American Experience series begins

The Simpsons Movie


The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons are startled by the first part of "Lights! Camera! Action!"

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Albert Brooks, Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Marcia Wallace, Joe Mantegna, Tom Hanks. Directed by David Silverman.

When they made their debut 20 years ago on Tracey Ullman’s short-lived sketch show, who’d have thought The Simpsons would become national cultural barometers? That’s exactly what happened though. Just after their 18th season, America’s most dysfunctional family took a crack at the big screen.

The pollution in Lake Springfield is getting out of control. After Lisa (Smith) nags the city fathers enough, joined in by a new Irish boyfriend named Colin (MacNeille), the mayor (Castellaneta) authorizes a no-dumping zone in the lake.

In the meantime, Homer (Castellaneta again) has picked up a pig for whom he’s developing an unnatural affection for. A depressed Bart (Cartwright) finds solace in the house of Ned Flanders (Shearer), who is more of a father to him than the self-involved Homer. As the pig’s droppings begin to accumulate, Marge (Kavner) demands that Homer dispose of the waste properly. As he’s about to do that, Homer is distracted by a free doughnut giveaway – curse those free doughnuts – and as a shortcut to doughnuts, dumps the waste into Lake Springfield.

That’s enough to tip the Lake into full-blown toxicity. Mutant squirrels convince President Schwarzenegger (Shearer) and his smarmy EPA Chief Cargill (Brooks) to imprison the entire town within a dome. Nothing can get out, nothing can go in – except Maggie (Smith), who discovers a sinkhole that allows egress. Still, it’s a good thing that FEMA wasn’t in charge – the dome would have been late and full of more holes than a fishnet.

Anyway, once the good citizens of Springfield find out that Homer was responsible, the town arrives on their doorstep with torches and rope. The Simpsons barely escape, and are forced to flee to a new life in Alaska. Still, when the family discovers that the government plans to destroy Springfield, Marge is eager to get back and save the town. However, when Homer refuses, the family splits up. Homer must now find his inner Simpson, rescue his family and save Springfield. Is there time for ribs too?

The question you always have to ask in a situation like this was “why make a movie of something that is available on television?” The evaluation has to include whether a big screen is necessary for the story, and will the experience be enhanced in a movie theater as opposed to one’s own home. In the case of X-Files: Fight the Future, the criteria were met. Here, however, it’s hard for me to say unreservedly that this is a movie that cries out for the big screen.

There are some scenes that make for nice movie viewing – the Doming of Springfield, the trip to Alaska, Homer’s encounter with the Northern Lights spring to mind – but for the most part, the movie doesn’t do much more than give us a few obscene gestures and sequences that wouldn’t make it past the network censors. I agree, there are some really awesome laughs, like Homer’s scorn at the Itchy and Scratchy movie and Maggie’s barroom brawl, but the ratio of big laughs is about the same in any typical episode of the series.

I really liked Marge’s videotaped sequence – that was truly a tearjerker – but for the most part the performances were solid as always. The thing I didn’t like was the scale. It just didn’t seem so epic that they couldn’t have done it as a two-parter in the show.

It took 158 drafts to get to the script they eventually used. Plans for a Simpsons movie have been in motion for nearly 15 years now; something tells me, they could have used a little more time to get it right.

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s the Simpsons. Some good laughs. Alaska, the last unspoiled wilderness.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Never delivers a compelling reason for this to be a movie and not a TV show.

FAMILY VALUES: If you feel comfortable having your kids watch the TV version, there’s nothing here that is any worse than on the broadcast edition.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: During the month of July 2007 when the movie was released, a dozen 7-11 stores throughout North America transformed themselves into Kwik-E-Marts, with several items made famous on the TV show for sale including Duff Beer and Buzz Cola.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: A parody of the “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” intermission cartoon and appearances of the Simpsons characters on live television are included.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Passengers