End of Summer – The Rest of the Movies

Obviously all the summer movies cannot be winners. I missed Snow White and the Huntsman, The Campaign, The Dictator, and Ice Age 4: Continental Drift. Here are the ones I caught that just didn’t work for me.

Dark Shadows: What should have been an ideal setup – revive a gothic soap opera as a movie directed by the man who did Sleepy Hollow – is instead a recipe for disaster. Unsure whether to make a gothic horror story, a fish out of water drama, a 70s redemption story, or a parody, Tim Burton made an unholy fusion of all of these, ineptly scripted by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter: Wow another great director, another epic disaster. Seth Grahame-Smith takes a great idea and totally screws up the script (hint: name-checking is not the same thing as writing). Director Bekmambetov has some nice visuals in the two action setpieces but nice visuals also don’t mean you have a good film.

Battleship: At least no one seemed to expect Battleship to be any good. Guess what? It wasn’t. The word farcical comes to mind.

The Watch: The unfortunately titled Neighborhood Watch got retitled after the Trayvon Martin incident. I liked the Costco setting but I don’t think I had an actual out loud laugh during the whole film. Neither did the three or four other people in the theater.

Total Recall: If you are going to remake a movie then either figure out what made the original tick (Schwarzenegger, the Martian setting, pure cheese) or have something original to say (like Carpenter’s remake of The Thing). Total Recall ditches Mars for an utterly generic futuristic city. The action is generic, the leads are generic, the script is generic – all this seems very odd to me as director Len Wiseman also did the very stylish Underworld series. Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy are wasted here.

The Bourne Legacy: The Bourne Legacy was so close. It had some very intelligent moments, which is what I look for in a Bourne film. I also loved the idea of a side story. Unfortunately the movie came across as more of a set up for future Bourne movies than a film in its own right and the whole exercise came across as a bit crass.

A Tale of Two Visualists – Timur Bekmambetov & Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

I have been blessed this summer to catch an inordinate number of movies thanks in part to wonderful bargains. Speaking of which I went to Best Buy yesterday and bought Spider-Man 2 on Blu-Ray for $9.99 with a FREE ticket for the new The Amazing Spider-Man movie and The Mummy (1999) on Blu-Ray for $7.99 with a FREE ticket for the new The Bourne Legacy so it looks like my lucky thrifty streak will continue (that and $5 Tuesday at our local Epic theater).

Recently I got to see two incredibly similar films: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and Dark Shadows. I love vampire movies but both of these left a lot to be desired. The picture above was more entertaining than Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

One-line Review: Funny premise ruined through indifferent acting, poor direction and extremely poor writing.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012) – Rated R for violence throughout and some sexuality.

“At the age of 9, Abraham Lincoln witnesses his mother being killed by a vampire, Jack Barts. Some 10 years later, he unsuccessfully tries to eliminate Barts but in the process makes the acquaintance of Henry Sturgess who teaches him how to fight and what is required to kill a vampire. The quid pro quo is that Abe will kill only those vampires that Henry directs him to. Abe relocates to Springfield where he gets a job as a store clerk while he studies the law and kills vampires by night. He also meets and eventually marries the pretty Mary Todd. Many years later as President of the United States, he comes to realize that vampires are fighting with the Confederate forces. As a result he mounts his own campaign to defeat them.”

I guess the most salient point to bring up is that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is unabashedly serious. Despite a wonderfully ludicrous premise, there is no tongue-in-cheek here. Honestly there is almost no humor to be found in the movie at all. I thought the movie should have been played as The Princess Bride where everyone seemed in on the joke. There is no problem with a movie being earnest – Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans is an action adventure film transplanted into the French & Indian war era, is deadly earnest and yet works great on an adventure level and on a romantic one.

Timur Bekmambetov’s strengths as a director are in the visual arts. His Nightwatch and Daywatch films are visual marvels and his American debut in Wanted was fun in its visual absurdity (though the narrative suffered from having been severely toned down from the graphic novel). Handing the reins of a vampire tale set during the civil war era to Bekmambetov seems a natural fit, especially since Nightwatch and Daywatch featured supernatural creatures.

The visuals in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter range from good to marvelous but none of the scenes create a sense of intimacy. There is a spectacular fight in the middle of a herd of stampeding horses as well as an equally spectacular fight aboard a train crossing a burning bridge. That is about all the good I have for Abraham.

The other fight scenes are often done as a blur of movement, presumably to convey the speed of the vampires (some of the vampires just disappear). Unfortunately this is just a variation on the shaky cam action scene so the action ends up being less than satisfying…and this is an action movie.

The vampires themselves are disappointing. For creatures that hide who they are, they attack constantly in full view of crowds during broad daylight and when they attack they don’t look human at all though the CGI effects are very unimpressive – well executed just not well thought out. If you want to see a modern vampire movie with a new variation on vampires, try 30 Days of Night. The 30 Days vampires are scary.

Despite having a whiz-bang premise, the writing is simply dreadful. The ideas are good – Abraham Lincoln fighting vampires is awesome and many of the ideas are simply extrapolated from that so I suppose I should just say the central premise is good. Unfortunately dialogue ranges from flat to obvious to cornball to historical. The script is written by Seth Grahame-Smith who adapted his own novel.

Benjamin Walker is interesting as Lincoln but he has no presence. He comes across as very bland which is neither a good take on Lincoln nor a vampire-slayer. That’s okay though because everyone in the movie comes across as bland. The two main antagonists don’t feel menacing in any way and really just feel an excuse for the two action setpieces. I don’t believe I have ever seen a big budget movie that was so poorly cast.