Tuesday, June 26, 2012

DIGGING IN WITH TWO FANGS: Abraham Lincoln and Underworld: Awakening

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

So we drove an hour to the north and parked ourselves in front of the nearest “Drive-In” screen for a double feature presentation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with Prometheus. It was a Friday Creature Feature in the classic tradition! I was happy, munching on snacks with my family and enjoying the general atmosphere of a Drive-In theater.

Lincoln was a fun little trip through re-imagined history, starting with a sweeping shot of the Washington Memorial fading backwards through time to its early construction. It’s a nice little fade shot to bring us backward through time, very epic in the majesty of our country’s great history. And we’re brought straight to the river where men are working, kids are playing, and vile dastardly doings are going on. The future Sixteenth President is a young boy whose defense of a friend leads to the later vampire attack that kills his mother. He grows up wanting a taste for revenge, but doesn’t yet realize the terrors that await him. After discovering that vampires are real, Lincoln starts to train himself and learn how to identify and kill the undead menace. His early years are documented as he juggles school, work, and his night time forays to destroy the bloodsuckers. We also get to see major historical moments through the prism of his struggle with the vampire menace. There are bits from his great debates supporting abolition, the courtship of his wife, his rise through the political quagmire that is ultimately all a part of his struggle to end a vampire tyranny.

Let’s face it; this is just cheap b-movie fun and not really any deeper than what it promises to be in that regard. It doesn’t need to be anything greater, either. It’s the 16th President wielding an axe and chopping up vampires! How could that NOT be kinda’ cool? The performances are good, the story is fairly compact, and the revisionist history is kind of amusing. Confederate Vampires marching on Union soldiers is an interesting sight to behold, have no doubt. There are moments where the movie does offer more than cheap thrills, though… the moments where he stands over the bed of his dying son, the choices he’s forced to make when actually holding the highest office, and his confessions to friends about his true mission carry serious pathos which the actor delivers well on. Although there’s far too much CGI for my taste, most of it works for the film as it stands… the vampires leap and hiss and casually smash through solid walls with reckless abandon. Mostly; the movie fits into the “fun horror” category, even though it does threaten to lose that identity on occasion. I can easily see this movie making my top ten lists at the end of the year, but we’ll see.

4 out of 5.

Underworld: Awakening

I’m not entirely sure I even know where this franchise is trying to go at this point. We still have the “Matrix” action feel mixed with gory blood and monsters in what I can only describe as a fairly typical “Gothic-Punk” setting. The Vampire Seline returns to the narrative in a story that takes place shortly after her and Michael manage to overcome Marcus in his bid to do nasty stuff. The humans have discovered the existence of Lycans and Vampires. They institute a “cleansing” slash and burn to destroy all of the creatures, capturing Seline in the process and holding her in frozen hibernation for 12 years. She gets free, lots of action, lots of blood, and monsters running about trying to slaughter everything in their path. But while we have plenty of blood, plenty of grue, plenty of monsters and other such junk we are completely devoid of an interesting story.

The story of this film is dependant on the audience sympathizing with monsters, which is hard to do when you see these monsters simply mowing down the police and innocent bystanders with all the concern of swatting a fly. Vampires fighting Lycans is a good formula, but this film tries to introduce the human element as villains but it ultimately doesn’t really work in the context of this story. Seline isn’t likeable when she’s just killing everything the screenwriter puts in front of her. Later revelations might make things a little more palatable in hindsight, but we’re still just watching her mow through people throughout the early portion of the film. What also doesn’t work is Kate Beckinsale herself, ten years older and still trying to pull off the Black-PVC-Rubber-Leather semi-bondage gear just doesn’t really work at this point. Whatever she had in the first two films simply isn’t there for the fourth leap, with much of what she does coming off as awkward. They introduce a “daughter” for Seline, who doubles as not only a character but also a MacGuffin device for the villains of the film to push the flimsy plot forward. This also doesn’t work because there’s almost a vacuum of emotion coming from Beckinsale in scenes with the “daughter”. She’s a vampire, not a Vulcan.

What made her work in the previous films was that she wasn’t just willing to kill people without good reason. The whole reason Michael is supposedly spared is because she doesn’t want to think of herself as a monster, she’s a soldier fighting a war with an identified enemy. She doesn’t want to pull out her guns and start shooting in a busy subway because she doesn’t want to harm innocent lives. What made her stand out from the other vampires was that they had long ago embraced their monstrous natures while she still struggled to hold on to her humanity. The first few moments of this film completely wipes that humanity off the board when we see Seline going out of her way to absolutely slaughter the humans sent to kill her. We see several scenes where she can move unbelievably fast, where she can leap large distances and yet not once does she just try to leave. She attacks people non-stop, sometimes even going back to make certain they’re dead before moving on to the next wire-fu kick and slash.

There are some additional characters including the usually excellent Stephen Rea as a villainous “doctor” sort, but it feels like the director told all of the actors to deadpan every line with all the emotion of a broom. Rea is mopey in his villainy, his lines delivered with wooden dismissal, and every twist isn’t just out of the blue it completely goes against everything established in the first act of the film. There is a new vampire coven hiding just outside the city, but they can be pretty much boiled down to “whiney losers” dressed in goth clothing. They all hate Seline for betraying them in the first two movies and show this anger by letting her stick around and lounge about. The only exception being a vampire who wants to “fight” against the human oppression… he has a real name, but I’ll call him McRebel. Yawwwwn… didn’t we see this theme more justifiably addressed in the X-Men movies? The difference being that the X-Men Mutants were just people who happened to have special abilities while vampires are BLOOD FEASTING MONSTERS!!! Tyranny has nothing to do with it! There is something very justified in destroying a race of creatures that have placed humanity on the menu here.

Let me also talk about Officer Everyman. He’s the veteran officer who makes it to the scene of a few murders winds up allying with Seline. Exposition forces him to try and put the vampires and other monsters in a sympathetic light by explaining his wife was a vampire who died in the “purge”… I am not supposed to laugh at him, and yet I am. I am supposed to identify with his pain, but the premise is so unbelievably stupid. He offers to help Seline, jeopardizing his life and career for no better reason than this expository scene regarding his deceased wife. He should be afraid of these monsters, but he only sees them as having the same rights and emotions. They’re MONSTERS… he’s tossed about and is ridiculously out of his element during the combat scenes, but none of this wakes him up to the harsh reality that he’s gotten involved with a war between monsters.

So the action is pretty much the only thing worth watching the film for, and there’s fun frivolity all around. The movie sort of exists while it’s on, but it’s nothing anyone is ever going to really care about too deeply. I liked watching it, but I couldn’t take the film seriously at all. It’s going to be another guilty pleasure film for me because I can see so many faults with the direction, the pacing, the acting, and the special effects. Split review score… a long time since I’ve given one of those.

The movie is a 2, but I’m giving it a 3.5 for my personal tastes.

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