Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Hell of a name, am I right?

I feel like I’ve been getting a 3D crash course lately. After having gone a few years with my only 3D experience being Avatar, I have now seen three 3D movies in the past month or so, including Prometheus twice. I’m almost adjusting to it, and watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter last night had my first experience of going long stretches of the movie without constantly being aware that I am watching a 3D movie.

That doesn’t mean I’m totally on board though, and by the time this movie got to its totally chaotic train going over a burning trestle action finale, I’d kind of had enough.

That being said, this is actually a really excellent movie. I would use the colloquial phrase “awesome” in fact. It’s awesome. Not the most profound review, but, really, it’s appropriate.

This revisionist history and literary trend has been going on with books for a while, but this is really the first movie to cash in on it. There was that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novel and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Ab Lincoln started as a book too. Well, he started as a real man, a US President in fact, but you get the idea.

I like the whole concept of these mashups, I have to say. I like the element of playful fun, I like that they take the piss out of canonical classics and rigid history. I suppose some might take offense to them, but let’s face it, I like that about the concept too. I don’t know any of these stuffy, perhaps Victorian, naysayers fainting over the thought of a zombie in an Jane Austin novel, but if they are out there, they can go fly a kite. That’s right, I said it.

Societal rebellion aside, Ab Lincoln is also just a lot of fun. I like the mashup idea also because it automatically sets the stage for a movie that is going to be about having fun. For me the movie still took itself too seriously (I could have done with some more blatant humour and ridiculousness) but it’s still aware of what it is and it plays to that. And that works really well.

To me this is a new genre of exploitation film, and that gets me excited. It is exploitation because it’s promising thrills based on watching these classics get torn apart in a bloody, axe delivered mess. It has an element to exploit, in this case getting to see the 16th president of the United States of America behead a bunch of vampires. Don’t get me wrong, I would have much preferred a low-budget, grindhouse type movie with ridiculous violence and a stronger sense of irony, but I still think this Hollywood version is a heck of a lot better than a lot of the other crap they come up with.

It also, in a way, takes to town stuffy historical movies that are really, in all honesty, action flicks, like Braveheart or The Last Samurai or whatever. I see this movie as saying let’s call it like we see it and deliver the goods without trying to dress the film up as “important” or “accurate”. Let’s just see Lincoln flinging an axe around.

So there, that’s what I like about the idea of the movie. The movie itself is a lot of fun, generally. I enjoyed the aspects of linking the vampire stuff into real history. I thought the Gary Cooper-looking Benjamin Walker was great as Lincoln, and I always enjoy Dominic Cooper and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The fight scenes are generally great and the 3D is mostly excellent, especially during scenes like Gettysburg. As I said before, the climactic finale is a bit much, but hey, that’s the way these things work, right?

Mainly I enjoyed watching Abraham Lincoln hunt vampires. If you think you might enjoy that also, then you will like this movie. That’s what it comes down to really.

More mashup movies please Hollywood. Thank you.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is in theatres now.

We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo (2011), directed by Cameron Crowe

This is a movie about a family that buys a zoo. And then they say to each other “We bought a zoo!” a whole lot. Seriously. I have to say though, I’m a big fan of the literal title. This one isn’t quite as bang on as Hobo With a Shotgun (about a hobo with a shotgun) or even Cowboys and Aliens (which featured, primarily, cowboys and aliens), but I’ll take it. And it’s not entirely literal because really, I didn’t have anything to do with the purchase of this zoo. Don’t include me in your zoological financial transactions. I just signed up for a movie, nothing more. Just so we’re clear.

This is also the movie that everybody made fun of when it came out. We don’t take to kindly to sentiment and innocence in our culture these days, so when a movie by Cameron “The Sappy” Crowe staring Matt Damon as a single father who moves his family to a zoo and, it looked like, learns how to love again came out, people threw up a little in their mouths.

Here comes the honesty train: I kind of liked it. Granted it’s been a bit of a crummy week and I was in just the right mood for something innocent and hopeful. But still, it was sweet. Shut up.

By no means is it perfect, or a great movie. It’s far too long, has one to many ‘uh-oh, are they going to be able to get the zoo open?’ obstacles (that rain sequence was entirely unnecessary) and is, no question, sappy. But come on. They buy a zoo! There’s tigers and peacocks. How cute is that?

Let’s be honest about what saves this movie really: it has the cutest little girl in the world in it. She’s seven and her name is Maggie Elizabeth Jones, and even as a fully grown adult male with something left of my youthful masculinity intact (debatable) I gotta say: cute as a God-damn button. If this little girl doesn’t make your heart melt like T-1000 then you are made of sterner stuff then I (and mimetic poly-alloy).

Not that one little girl is reason enough to make a movie, but without her We Bought a Zoo would never hit those high notes. Crowe has always been good with casting, though, and this is a great example. We understand why Damon’s character, Benjamin, is trying so hard to do right by his family. Not that he shouldn’t for an ugly, boring daughter, but we get invested as an audience because we instantly fall in love with her too. She’s so well-spoken and adorable. Maybe it’s cheap but it works.

And who doesn’t like Matt Damon? He could play Pol Pot and I would still probably root for him and want him to be my best friend. Then again, that would be a really strange casting decision.

Only Scarlett Johansson looks out of place. Not only because she’s 27 (my age) and Matt Damon is 56 (okay, 42. But seriously Matt, back off dude). And not only because she is clearly a movie star goddess and is cast here as someone who spends most of her time cleaning up monkey dung. Beautiful, and not-beautiful, people can clearly do whatever floats their beautiful, and not-beautiful, boats.

Yet still, I never quite believed her. It’s probably just me and it is because it’s SCARLETT JOHANSSON playing a zookeeper nerd. Kevin James is a bit of a stretch (for other reasons. I mean, you need a degree right?) but Johansson? I’m probably just jealous. I would buy a box factory if Scarlett Johansson worked there.

The other portrayal I really question is John Michael Higgins as Walter Ferris, the crotchety, stickler of a zoo inspector. He is set up as the comical villain of the movie who may prevent the zoo from being opened. Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems to me a zoo inspector is probably a pretty important thing to have. Not only does he make sure the animals are being treated well but he assures the safety of the visitors. Dude asks for higher fences on the lion enclosure though (which are like three feet high, by the way) and we’re supposed to treat him like the dean from Animal House.

Really they should have never been allowed to open. They (spoiler) let a grizzly bear get loose and it wanders into town. If I had been the zoo inspector I would have shut that whole place down before someone gets mauled. I mean, what if it was Scarlett Johansson? What then?

Still, if you feel like getting off your supercool, ‘I don’t believe in feelings’ high-horse (or zebra) and watching a nice, sweet, innocuous movie that might make you smile, then I’m going to recommend this one. It’s even good for kids (although when did we start letting people say ‘s@#!’ in PG movies?), with more then enough laughs and gags for the older folks. And it’s got a good heart. I may have even got misty eyed. Shut up.

We Bought a Zoo is available on DVD and Blu-ray.