Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Every once in awhile a movie will come along with a title and premise so absurd that you just have to check it out. It started with Snakes on a Plane, and most recently it was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I recently had the chance to check out the latter, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected.

The best thing about movies like this is the title basically sums up the story. It is simply a film about Abraham Lincoln hunting vampires. As IMDb explains: “Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.”

These days, anything remotely associated with vampires garners a lot of attention, so who better to bring Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel (he also penned the screenplay) to life than Timur Bekmambetov, who directed both Night Watch and Day Watch. With that said, bringing in such a heavy hitter in the vampire industry debunked the notion that the film was going to be sloppy and silly just to cash in on the genre; in fact, I found the opposite to be true.

I actually expected Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to be ridiculous and poke fun at itself; instead, the movie actually takes itself seriously. While this initially seems even more absurd, I was impressed with how well the filmmakers were able to make it work. Don’t get me wrong, the movie wasn’t great, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as one might think. Personally, I came to think of it as a really good "B" movie.

Let me start with the things I enjoyed. First and foremost, I was impressed with the performances. Benjamin Walker may not be an A-list star, but in my opinion he did a great job as Abraham Lincoln. His talent, combined with good looks, will no doubt pave the way to future opportunities in Hollywood.

Dominic Cooper was solid as always portraying Henry Sturgess, while Mary Elizabeth Winstead made a convincing Mary Todd Tyler. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Jimmi Simpson, who played Joshua Speed. I’m not exactly sure as to why, but I really enjoyed his routine and felt he complimented Walker nicely.

Another thing I enjoyed were the visuals. While the film is not true to history (there are vampires involved after all), I found the sets, costumes and the like reminded me of the Civil War era. Historical accuracy was not the movie’s strong suit, but they polished it up in other ways and made it work.

Likewise, I enjoyed most of the action sequences, though there were a few that seemed to be in the film just to spice up the 3D offering (i.e. fighting atop stampeding horses and atop a train).

Balancing things out on the negative side of things, aside from the aforementioned corny action scenes, were a few weak spots in the story. The origin and specifics surrounding the vampires in the film was not properly fleshed out; likewise, the hard and fast rules regarding vampires was spotty. For example, in the film silver is deadly to vampires, a quite common theme in the genre, but it appeared villains in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter were able to walkabout in the daylight. Attention to detail is important, but there were cases in the film where it was certainly cut.

For what it’s worth, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s success at the box office was lukewarm in its opening weekend. The film, which cost an estimated $70 million to make, brought in just $16.5 million and debuted in the number-three spot behind both Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted ($20.2 million) and Brave ($66.7 million).

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter proved to be entertaining. As previously mentioned, it wasn’t anything great, but in this case I think entertaining is about as much as anyone could ask for. 

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 58%

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Monday, June 18, 2012


Hype. It has the potential to make a movie a success, but is oftentimes leads to bitter disappointment. While there has been a lot of hype surrounding this summer’s movie lineup, I’m hard-pressed to think of one with hysteria than Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi film in three decades, which I recently saw in Imax 3D.

The big question surrounding the film, at least with hardcore Ridley Scott fans, was: is this a prequel to Alien? The answer wasn’t very clear prior to the film’s release, though IMDb provides a satisfying explanation:

Was originally conceived as a prequel to Ridley Scott's Alien, but Scott announced his decision to turn it into an original film with Noomi Rapace (who was already set to star) still in the cast as one of five main characters. Some time later it was confirmed that while the movie would take place in the same universe as Alien and greatly reference that movie, it would mostly be an original movie and not a direct prequel. “

I enjoy the Alien franchise, though I wouldn’t classify myself as a fan boy. With that said, I was expecting an action-packed film set in space with a unique storyline. Given Scott’s success with Alien, I don’t think my expectations for the movie were extreme. Unfortunately, it would meet only one of my expectations . . . it was set in space.

I hate to say it, but Prometheus was lackluster. It had a few exciting moments, but on the whole it took its time to flesh out the storyline, which is basically the search for the origin of mankind intertwined with aliens and disaster. The origin question is ultimately answered, but the “why” of it is left unresolved. It’s a big topic to tackle, and I wasn’t really satisfied with how they handled it.

As I mentioned, the film takes it time to lay out the storyline, and as a result other things are sacrificed, most notably character development. Was David, played by Michael Fassbender, a good guy or a villain? Who were the other people on the mission and what purpose did they serve?

Likewise, the film did a pretty bad job of foreshadowing. For instance, it is randomly revealed that the main character is unable to have children. Minutes later it is revealed that she is pregnant. “That’s impossible,” she says. Of course she ends up being knocked up by an alien baby, an unnecessary and off-putting (remember I saw this in Imax 3D) “birth” scene ensued, and the whole debacle plays a major role at the end if the film.

Another thing I wasn’t thrilled about was Guy Pearce playing Peter Weyland, an aged and dying billionaire intent on “meeting his maker.” While I generally like Pearce, I don’t understand why they would hire a young actor to don cosmetics and portray and old man. The prosthetics looked cheesy and fake, and I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t cast an experience veteran for the role like Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins, etc.

The film did have two highlights in my opinion. The first was excellent special effects, which worked well in the Imax 3D setting. The second were the performances. Granted, the character development was weak, but the talent did a good job with what they were given.

It’s no secret that I like me some Idris Elba, and he was highly entertaining in his supporting role as Janek. Likewise, Fassbender was spot playing the part of an android, and he continues to drive my belief that he is one of Hollywood’s best new talents. Finally, I was impressed with Noomi Rapace in the lead role. I know she did Sweden’s version of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, though I’ve never seen it. That aside, she did a fine job in Prometheus and I expect we’ll see more of her in American cinema.

It wasn’t that Prometheus was bad, because it wasn’t. The problem is that it wasn’t very good. For a film with so much hype and expectation, I left feeling unsatisfied as nothing stood out as overly special. It pains me to say it because I wanted the film to be good, but I think most people are going to feel the same way I did.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 64%

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Men in Black III

I remember way back in 1997 when a movie billed itself as “Protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe.” Called Men In Black, it starred veteran TommyLee Jones and a rapidly ascending actor by the name of Will Smith. It was a hit, as was the Men In Back II sequel in 2002, but could the franchise support a trilogy ten years after the last film? That’s the question I asked myself when Men In BlackIII was released on May 25.

Ten years is a long time in between films, and oftentimes it proves less than satisfying (i.e. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of theCrystal Skull). Could Smith, who is now one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, reprise one of the roles that helped make him a household name? Not only that, how would he do after not having made a movie for three-and-a-half years (his last was 2008’s Seven Pounds)? Could the 65-year-old Jones keep up with the demands of a sci-fi action/comedy? So many questions surrounded MIB III, and the simple answer to them all is this: If you liked the first two films, you’ll like the third installment.

For those who don’t know the premise of MIB III, IMDb explains: “Agent J travels in time to MIB's early years in the 1960s, to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.”

I can’t say that I was thrilled with the time-travel storyline prior to seeing it; in fact, it seemed to me like it might be a cheap excuse to lighten the load for Jones, who as I previously mentioned is getting up their in years. If that was the case, I knew I’d be disappointed as a Jones fan.

While Jones’ role is less than in the first two MIBs, he still puts in a strong performance in the beginning and end of the film. In the middle, Josh Brolin is brought in to play the role of a young Agent K. Now Jones is about a unique actor as you can get, so it seems like a tough task to find someone to fill his shoes. His grizzled deadpan and endearing bluntness are mesmerizing and emulating it almost seems impossible. I thought there was no way Brolin could pull off a convincing younger version of Jones, but I was wrong.

As it happens, Brolin does a tremendous job with the part. He was able to pull off Jones so well that the character transition was flawless. Brolin, who has truly become a remarkable actor, leaves himself out of it and give way to the character, if that makes sense. 

In other performance news, Smith doesn’t miss a step reprising the role of Agent J. What you saw in the first two films from him is what you’ll see in MIB III. The supporting cast was also solid  thanks to strong performances by Jemaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Michael Stuhlbarg and Mike Colter.

What made the film commendable, at least for me, was the emphasis on continuity. Instead of switching things up, like bringing in a new director, they stuck with what’s worked in the past and brought back BarrySonnenfeld, who directed the first two films. Interestingly, Sonnenfeld makes a cameo in the film as a guy watching the Apollo 11 launch on a couch while drinking a cup of coffee.

My only qualm with the film, at least as far as continuity is concerned, was the disappearance of Rip Torn, who played Zed, the director of MIB, in the first two films. In MIB III, it is revealed that his character has been killed off. I can only presume that it is related to Torn’s recent legal troubles involving alcohol. It’s understandable the studio would move away from it, but his absence doesn’t go unnoticed.

There wasn’t anything revolutionary about MIB III, but it was on par with the first two films in the franchise. Thanks to a little twist ending, that proves satisfying, I imagine this will be the last MIB film, though I could be wrong. Either way, if they left it as a trilogy they’d be going out on a strong note having put together a well-constructed finale. 

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 69%

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