Anthony Mackie

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

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2012

20th Century Fox

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Produced by Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton and Jim Lemley

Screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith based on his novel “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

Two things before I jump into this review:

1) I’ve read on the Internet and heard from friends of mine about how historically inaccurate the movie is. Folks, if you’re expecting historical accuracy from a movie titled ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER then you most certainly are watching the wrong movie. You need to be watching 1940’s “Abe Lincoln In Illinois” starring Raymond Massey as Abe Lincoln. Seriously. It’s an excellent movie that I’ve seen about two or three times now on Turner Classic Movies. It’s well worth your time.

2) People complaining that the movie wasn’t like the book. Sigh. Folks, haven’t we grown past that by now? True, I haven’t read the book but now, having seen the movie I plan to. But from what I know of the book the only way it could have been done justice was as a six hour miniseries on HBO and Showtime. Would that have been better than the 1hr. 45 minute movie we do have? I dunno. But I do think it worth pointing out that the same guy who wrote the book wrote the screenplay. I like to think he’s an intelligent enough writer to have realized that novels and theatrical movies are two different mediums and what works for one may not necessarily work for the other. Bottom line is all I know is that I enjoyed and respected ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER the movie for what I got out of it: It’s a superhero movie in historical/vampire/horror movie drag.

We’re introduced to Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) as a boy living and working with his parents on a southern plantation owned by Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) Barts is a vampire who kills Lincoln’s mother and the grief stricken youth sets out on afailed attempt to get revenge ten years later. He’s rescued by the professional fearless vampire killer Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) who takes on the young man as an apprentice. Lincoln is no good with conventional weapons like guns or knives but he’s a regular Jet Li with an axe. Henry develops an unconventional fighting style for Lincoln using the axe and then sends him out into the world to kill vampires. Well, Abe does that in spectacular style and he also finds time to enter politics and romance Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)

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Now here’s when things get more than a little wacky: turns out there’s this vast secret vampire empire led by The First Vampire, Adam (Rufus Sewell) that controls the southern United States. Slaves are used not only as labor for the humans but as food for the vampires. The movie gives us the outrageous notion that Lincoln became President and fought The Civil War not just to end slavery but to break the back of this secret vampire empire. The tide of The Civil War is turning against The North but President Abraham Lincoln has one desperate ploy left: a trainload of silver that is deadly to vampires that he has to get to the Union Army at Gettysburg. Armed with his trusty axe as well as his faithful sidekicks (Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson) can Honest Abe defeat Adam and his vampire hoard and still get to Gettysburg in time to deliver his address?

I think the thing I admire most about ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is that no matter how silly and how ridiculous things got, the actors kept a straight face and played the material with respect for what they were doing. And yes, it is an outrageously silly movie. It’s the kind of movie where even though this takes place in 19th Century America, everybody and I do mean EVERYBODY knows Kung Fu. Abraham Lincoln takes hits to the chest that throws him a good fifty feet but he gets up as if nothing happened and proceeds to kick vampire ass with relish.

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You won’t get a bad word out of me about the acting. Benjamin Walker looks and acts so much like Liam Neeson in some scenes it’s scary. And he gives the role all he has. In fact, he gives it more than he really has to but to me that only showed how committed he was to selling us on his incarnation of Honest Abe Lincoln as Vampire Hunting Superhero. Anthony Mackie, Dominic Cooper, Jimmi Simpson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead all turn in solid performances. If there is a complaint I have it’s that Rufus Sewell isn’t given enough to do. But then again, I never think Rufus Sewell is given enough to do.

The action sequences are absolutely jaw-dropping if totally impossible and again, that’s what lends to the superhero aspect of the movie. There’s a fight Honest Abe has with a vampire in the middle of a stampede of hundreds of wild stallions that has to be seen to be believed and the entire train sequence near the movie’s end has already become legendary.

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So should you see ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER? I say yes. It’s a really bizarre mixture of outrageously mashed-up historical/fantasy material married up to serious acting and flavored with incredible action/fight sequences that you would expect to see in a Hong Kong Kung Fu flick. You might not like it but I can guarantee you one thing: you will not be bored. It’s got an amazingly strong visual style and more than any movie I can think of in recent memory it plays like a live action graphic novel. I had a good time watching it and I think that if you approach it in the right mood, you will too. Enjoy.

Rated R

105 Minutes

The Adjustment Bureau

2011

Universal Pictures

Directed and Screenplay written by George Nolfi

Produced by Chris Moore

Based on the short story “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick

There’s nothing I love better than being surprised by a movie.  I’ve seen so many for so many years that I admit I’ve gotten pretty cocky about being able to tell how most movies are going to go about thirty minutes in.  I’m happy to say that didn’t happen with THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU.  How could I have guessed that a paranoid conspiracy thriller was just a disguise for a love story about the nature of free will?

David Norris (Matt Damon) is a politician from Brooklyn, NY running for the United States Senate.  He’s embraced by the public who love his youth, his energy and his boyish optimism.  None of that helps when an embarrassing incident from his past catches up with him and he loses the election.  It’s when he’s at this darkest moment that he meets Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) who’s hiding in a stall in the men’s room.  They hit it off to such an amazing degree that David is inspired to go out and give a concession speech that’s better than most victory speeches.

David goes to work for his campaign manager with an eye to make another Senate run a few years down the road and believe it or not, one day while riding the bus to work he sits right down next to Elise.  This despite the best efforts of a group of men who dress like Madison Avenue advertising executives led by Richardson (John Slattery).  They carry small black books whose pages are filled with complicated designs that shift and move on their own.  They have the ability to teleport great distances simply by walking through certain doorways.  They can influence and cause seemingly random events to occur.  They can read minds.  They make cryptic references to ‘The Plan’ and they seem extremely interested in keeping David away from Elise.  Indeed, they go so far as to explain to David who and what they are.

They work for The Adjustment Bureau and their job is to make sure that everybody’s life goes according to ‘The Plan’.  David asks if they’re angels.  “We prefer to think of ourselves as caseworkers.” replies Harry (Anthony Mackie) who is unusually sympathetic to David’s case.  He’s certainly an easier caseworker to deal with than Thompson (Terrence Stamp).  Nicknamed ‘The Hammer’ he’s called in to deal with David’s case when despite every effort of The Adjustment Bureau, David keeps meeting Elise.  David’s screwing around with ‘The Plan’ as he and Elise were only supposed to meet once and never again.  And if David keeps on screwing around with ‘The Plan’ then Thompson is going to be forced to demonstrate to David exactly how he got his nickname…

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU really blindsided me in a good way.  I expected automatic weapons and car chases halfway through the movie.  Instead what I got was a really intelligent discussion between David and Thompson on the nature of free will and does mankind truly possess it or not.  Due to the acting power of Matt Damon and Terence Stamp it’s a discussion just as thrilling as any car chase.  Not that we don’t get a great chase where David learns how to use the doors himself and with Elise is pursued all over New York, trying to stay one step ahead of Thompson and The Adjustment Bureau.  It’s just that the whole point of the movie isn’t chases or explosions.  It’s about a man willing to defy forces greater than himself for True Love.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch “Mad Men” with a straight face after this movie since John Slattery looks as if he came right from the set of that TV show to do this movie.  He’s quietly amusing, playing Richardson as an overworked bureaucrat who just wants the paperwork to be straight.  Anthony Mackie has a pivotal role in the movie that he’s more than able to handle and it’s from his character that we get a lot of the information about The Adjustment Bureau and how it works.

But the movie wouldn’t work without the chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.  Yeah, their Meet Cute is an eye-roller but given what is learned later on, it makes sense.  If the chemistry between them doesn’t work, it’s not going to sell the story.  Fortunately, it did for me.  Their courtship is sweet and simple.  It’s the outside forces trying to keep them apart that complicate things.  Matt Damon really is a wonderful actor.  He can do comedy and drama and he never appears to be working hard at either.  Emily Blunt I’ve enjoyed more in movies like “Sunshine Cleaning” “Boudica” and “Charlie Wilson’s War” but that’s not to say she isn’t good here.

So should you see THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU?  Absolutely.  It’s a remarkably smart movie with good, solid performances and a mind-bending premise solidly rooted in a love story where the protagonists truly deserve to be in love because of what they do, not just because the girl can crinkle her nose just so cutesy-poo or because the guy’s a hunk.  Highly recommended.

106 minutes

Rated PG-13