Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

(doing my best to leave spoilers out)

It’s a good movie. It’s definitely enjoyable. Unfortunately for its box office prospects it’s not a popcorn movie- the requisite for which is pretty much just massive CGI with little to no plot. “Leave your critical thinking at the door” kind of action, like the MIB franchise (which I admit is what I consider “Hollywood dreck” from a creative standpoint; as a cinephile, however, I appreciate it for what it is: large-scale, fun, CGI spectacle). I really want this movie to do well, but as a mix of contemporary history and vampire action flick they would've been just as well off naming this "Abraham Lincoln: Box Office Poison."

I think the biggest complaint I hear about this movie is people saying “Hollywood’s gone too far” or something to that effect. That the idea of a President- an iconic historical figure, someone integral to the creation of our very country- can be reimagined in a supernatural environment is laughable. In a previous post, I railed against that limiting, dream-killing, unimaginative mentality, so in order to not beat a dead horse on that subject I’ll simply address it this time with: Fuck that, this is what Hollywood is all about! It’s easy to make up shit about tornadoes taking people to magical lands of elves and faeries, or interplanetary galactic rebellions. But when you splice fantasy and history together? When you take actual historical reality and add mythology to it? That is just as good storytelling if not better, because you have an existing framework that you have to work within. You can’t just make it up as you go along. And in this case there are actually two sets of constraints: our history itself, and the generally accepted “rules” of the vampire mythos. No mean feat to craft a story that conforms to both.

Some of the plot twists you could see coming a mile away1. Which isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just subpar storytelling. And this movie has a story to tell. Saying that not all movies have a story to tell may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. Some movies (the aforementioned “popcorn” movies, shoot-em-ups, comedies…) seek only to entertain. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I love me some Boondock Saints. But this movie is telling a story. And that in itself proves to be a formidable obstacle: Lincoln’s actual life would be enough to fill hours and hours of screentime; adding a creative fantasy flourish to an already dense narrative leads to inevitable plot holes and unanswered questions2. But again, if you’re willing to take this movie at face value, if you’re willing to let Hollywood tell you a story that’s this preposterous, you have to expect that to come with the territory.

Sure, the movie comes equipped with some tired clichés: the “training” montage is pure Action Movie 101 cheesetasticness. You don’t have to love it, but damn, don’t hate; this is what you go to the movies for- for “what if” imaginary scenarios. You and I both know that martial arts are an anachronism here, as foreign to 19th century America as sushi, but fuck does it look cool. This is Timur Bekmambetov at his best. And although it may not be his most visually arresting movie (Daywatch), there’s plenty of style here. The fight scenes are amazing to watch so just go with it. Say what you want, but the image of a 50-year old Lincoln swinging around an axe like a goddamn samurai is amazing. That’s what Hollywood is all about- creativity. And if you insist on being closed-mindedly resistant to the thought of Lincoln- who, in actual real life, was an adept axman and strong wrestler- being a flashy fighter, if you insist on not stretching the boundaries of what’s possible, I have one word for you: Quidditch.

The love story is uninspired, boring. There was nothing to really draw the audience in, to make it remarkable or even interesting. In fact, if it wasn’t a part of history it probably wouldn’t have been included. Kind of a waste of opportunity to deepen the story, or at least the characters. Which was probably my biggest complaint- WAY underdeveloped characters. For example, Speed: why did he like Lincoln so much?3 (PS- Yeah McPoyle!!!)

If this was just a Civil War era vampire drama, it’d be a middle of the road entertaining-but-not-incredible vampire movie. A hell of a lot better than Van Helsing, probably better than Underworld. Maybe somewhere near From Dusk til Dawn for sheer entertainment value. So leave your bullshit preconceptions at the door and enjoy it.


1)      Henry being a vampire
2)      like, How did weeks at a time, and ultimately two entire decades, go by with absolutely no vampire activity in his life? Especially when he had established himself as scourge of the undead?
3)      Speed even became an advisor later in Lincoln’s life. Also, did Lincoln never meet anyone else again in his life? Two decades later, his circle of friends still consists of Speed (the first person he met in town), William (his childhood friend), Mary (his love), and Henry (the man who saved his life). Not very dynamic for such a charismatic man.

There were some unnecessary plot devices. They liked to quote each other, for one thing. I think there were 3 times in the movie that someone said “A wise man once told me…” and then repeated some pearl of wisdom that one of them had spoken earlier. And when Abe proposed to Mary, the camera stayed on his axe as they walked away, just in case you didn’t get that he was leaving that part of his life behind. Also, his “A-ha!” moment about silver weapons for his troops at war was more of a “Duh!” moment for the audience.

There were definitely some ridiculous elements- Mary standing on his hat was implausible at best; 2 men sharing an axe to fight in tandem was just goofy; the stagecoach rescue/sideswipe was absurd. But take the good with the bad. Some were downright unforgiveable though- that CGI horse stampede was horrible. And I say this as a man who went along with the “infected” from I Am Legend (just as a frame of reference). Sooooo bad. They ran with horses, and I kept thinking “OK, the horses will be gone soon and we’ll get back to some physical combat.” But no, they kept running with the horses. They ran across the horses’ fucking backs. Dude actually picked up and THREW a horse at Lincoln. Ugh. And lastly, the train/bridge scene… remember the scene in Speed? Where they all had to lean or some bullshit so the bus could jump the gap in the freeway? Remember how fucking retarded that was? This is about as bad.

But all that being said, I still think it’s a good movie. A fun movie, to be sure. A hell of an interesting concept. It just took itself a bit too seriously. It needed to tread a little more into Dark Comedy territory. Near the end, when 50-year old Lincoln realizes he has to come out of vampire hunting retirement and he begins to practice his weaponry, he drops the axe. That scene wasn’t presented as funny, more as a measure of his mortality, his faded skills. But it WAS funny. And at the end when Mary calls up from the carriage “We’re late for the theater.” That’s darkly comedic shit right there. If it was presented as such, and if there were more of it throughout the movie, it’d be a much better show.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An open letter the moviegoing public of America

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter comes out next week. And you need to go see it. If you’re anything like the (admittedly small) cross section of moviegoers that I’ve witnessed react to the trailer, you likely think this is the dumbest thing to come out of Hollywood since, well… ever apparently. I’ve heard people laugh at the trailer, remark on its supposed idiocy, scoff & deride it. All the while not being able to figure out why they seemed to hate it so.

We are a fickle bunch, to be sure. We bitch about overdone franchises with pointless sequels (Transformers, Pirates), unnecessary reboots (Spider-Man), unwanted remakes (Footloose), lack of original ideas (Battleship) adaptations that were being clamored for by nobody (Dukes of Hazzard), adaptations that didn’t need to be movies at all (Simpsons, X-Files)… and yet for the most part we throw our hard-earned dollars at this dreck at the very same time that we mock it.

From a pop culture perspective we love vampire movies. Always have. We love vampires when they’re the framework for nothing more than a teenage love story (Twilight). We’ve had vampires in pretty much every genre. From the classic interpretations (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), to comedy (Love at First Bite, Once Bitten), period piece (Interview with a Vampire), comic book sensibility (Blade, Van Helsing), teen/coming of age (Lost Boys, Buffy), sci-fi (Lifeforce), to every angle of modern-day horror (Fright Night, Near Dark, Dracula 2000, From Dusk til Dawn)… and even the worst of those have never been met with the sheer derision that seems to be brewing for Abraham Lincoln.

You guys love True Blood, for fuck’s sake! And that’s the same fucking thing- vampires in the south! Why are you so resistant to the idea of an actual historical figure interacting with them? Genre mashup is an amazing storytelling device. This is satirical revisionist history at its finest. Directed by Bekmambetov and produced by Burton!!! At the very least it'll be visually amazing. Unfortunately the population at large seems vehemently opposed to such genre mashup. Movies about vampires are ok, and movies about history. But people can't seem to appreciate a little creative crossover.

If this was just another vampire period piece set against the Civil War and the rise of our nation, I have no doubt that it would be much more palatable to the audience at-large. In fact, people would probably enjoy it. But for some reason, making it about an actual historical figure just destroys any credibility it could have from a pure storytelling perspective. You people loved it- LOVED it- when the President of the United States (albeit fictional) fought aliens in Independence Day. Why not give an actual President a little creative license?

My concern is that this will be Scott Pilgrim all over again. A fresh new movie based on fringe literature that brings an innovative story to the screen like we haven’t seen before- or at least in a long time. And what did you guys do with that movie? You shunned it. Office Space bombed at the box office and went on to become a cult classic. Big Trouble in Little China- one of the boldest examples of genre mashup- found a place in American cult-cinema. All I’m asking is that you keep an open mind.

We constantly bitch that we want something new, something different. And when we get it we mock it incessantly. This movie could very well suck. It could be boring. It could be tedious and plodding. It could be a complete piece of shit. But it definitely won’t suffer from lack of originality. And for that alone it should earn your business.

Hit me up, we’ll go see it together, and I’ll even pay for your fucking ticket.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Never thought I'd say this, but Moonrise Kingdom was too "Wes Anderson-y". All the familiar affectations of his films are there: kids acting like adults, quirky camera work, quirkier music, adults with extremely dysfunctional relationships, characters with odd affectations... but this time it's just too contrived, too forced. It's like Wes Anderson trying to make a Wes Anderson movie. And for his fans who thought he went too off-course with Life Aquatic (what with the gunplay and all), this one has its own jump-the-Wes-Anderson-shark moments. Particularly in the finale when our three main characters are dangling precipitously from the church tower. And then all of a sudden it's over and everyone's safe. One of the endearing traits of his characters is that everyone is so matter-of-fact about their respective flaws/quirks/affectations. But this time it never felt quite right. Everything is a metaphor. The woman who works for Social Services is addressed as Social Services. It also marks the second time that he's killed the dog. As  much as I hate to say it, I'd say pass on this one.

Monday, June 11, 2012


I’m sure I missed a lot, and noticed some things that I will forget to bring up. I’m not a theologian, I’m not a critic. I’m just a guy with a love of movies and disdain for doing my actual job while I’m at work. And I love to write.

Prometheus is a story about faith, about the meaning of life, about where we came from. A story about curiosity and our insatiable need to ask “why?” When we do get an answer, we often aren’t satisfied… we want more. The movie itself is testament to that. Because more than just a story, it’s a philosophical jumping off point. Its purpose seems to be to raise as many questions as it answers. And to anyone fluent in pop culture, this much should have been evident as soon as the screenwriting credits were displayed: Damon Lindeloff. Anyone who knows much at all about Lost (and based on its popularity, that’s probably a pretty good proportion of moviegoers) should realize immediately that our journey won’t be straightforward, nor will it tie up all of our loose ends in a pretty bow. It will challenge you, challenge your beliefs.

As with previous installations in the Alien franchise proper, there are characters with several opposing (and secret) agendas: Shaw out to prove our creators are real; Vickers out to prove the opposite, and perhaps something more; David, seemingly interested in preserving (or at least studying) a new species; Weyland, looking to cheat death.

The angle of David intentionally infecting Holloway isn’t ever directly addressed, and in retrospect might not make a ton of sense. It wouldn’t result in Weyland reaching his goal- which is David’s primary purpose. Although it does provide yet another backdrop to bring the issue of faith into clearer focus- when the two debate the origin of life, Holloway’s (perhaps unsatisfactory) answer as to why humans created artificial life was a rather blasé “Because we could.”

The presence of the Aliens themselves, and the associated Easter eggs, is only tangentially important. This movie is definitely related, but it’s more concerned with the reality of the universe as a whole; the Aliens are here more as a treat, a nod to fans of the franchise, as opposed to the centerpiece. Aliens themselves aren’t the focus, just a piece of the mythology that Ridley Scott has built.

The religious undertones are unmistakable and omnipresent, right down to the movie taking place during Christmas. From Western eyes at least, what better parallel than the birth of Christ for humanity finding its own true birthplace?

We also have a scientist, Shaw, who wears a cross. In flashbacks to her childhood she had a conversation with her own scientist father about death and what it means. The father, in explaining Heaven and its various counterparts in major religions, says he knows it’s real because he chooses to believe, a theme recurrent throughout the movie. Not only is it a theme, it’s also a request implicit in the movie itself- if you choose to believe in the answers this movie gives you, you will no doubt be satisfied.

Some of the elements are heavy-handed. For example, Vickers. Her icy, impersonal demeanor is reflected almost too on-the-nose in her choice of living quarters, especially when one of the crew members points out as much- that she lives in a self-sustained escape pod, away from the rest of the crew. It’s clear she has no belief in otherworldy life, especially beings which may have themselves created us. Yet she accepts that some people do believe- when asked by Shaw why they even bothered to invite them along if expedition rules prevent the scientists from attempting contact, Vickers replies “we wanted a true believer.”

Ultimately, in addition to being a solid movie, Prometheus can be seen as a metaphor for the audience as believers or cynics- do these answers satisfy you? Are you Vickers, or are you Shaw? It could be argued that neither one met a fitting end: Vickers, literally crushed beneath the truth she acrimoniously resisted; and Shaw, taking yet another step in her Sisyphusian journey to find answers that she undoubtedly won’t want to hear.

The Engineers themselves- our very creators- aren't too different from us. The place they've led us to is essentially an abandoned military outpost for their biological weaponry.

Beyond that, Ridley Scott has proven that he’s still got it when it comes to Sci Fi. He’s old-school, as evidenced by the fact that his future has a society that is incredibly advanced but still uses combustion engines and wheeled vehicles- details not lost on the sci fi literati. He ultimately never answers the question of why the Engineers created us (or the far more interesting why they subsequently sought to destroy us) because sometimes not knowing the answer to a question is much more liberating.

Sure, you could nitpick some of it. I’m not above that myself (, but if a movie doesn’t take liberties with the boundaries of what they expect you to accept, then I’m willing to suspend some disbelief. Could Shaw have done everything she did after abdominal surgery? Doubtful. But I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, that maybe the surgical machine contained advanced healing agents, or at the very least incredibly strong painkillers. And it was clear early on that Weyland was still alive and that Vickers was most certainly related to him. But these elements didn’t detract from the story, they didn’t derail the message that the movie was trying to deliver.

I don’t recall the exact dialogue (because I had all this other minutiae swimming around in my head), but near the end when Shaw asks David what he’ll do once Weyland is no longer around to program him… I recall David saying something to the effect of “Well then I’ll be free.” And I may be reading into it, but he seemed to have a bit of trepidation at the thought.

To those of you who expressed displeasure/contempt/frustration with Prometheus: What were you expecting? You got everything you could’ve possibly wanted- the origin of the Aliens, the origin of our very species. The only reason I can think of for all the hate- or perhaps more accurately, disappointment- is that it wasn’t the answer you hoped for.

Basically, the movie itself can be summed up, in my esteem, by the clip of old cinema David was watching early on, when a character in another movie said “the trick is not minding that it hurts.” You have to be able to stand the hurt of not finding what you were looking for.