Weekend Roundup: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Magic Mike review

This sweltering heat must be doing the cinemas some good as people want to cool off in the air-conditioned movie theaters. Whilst the last two weekends were dominated by movies targeted for kids (Brave, Madagascar 3), this time adults packed theaters to see two R-rated movies: Ted and Magic Mike. The former starring Mark Wahlberg and a foul-mouthed Teddy bear as his BFF earned a whopping $54 mil, which is the highest debut ever for an original R-rated comedy (per Box Office Mojo). With a budget of only $50 mil (half of it probably went to Wahlberg), it’s obviously a very profitable debut for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.

Here’s a review of a movie I saw last Friday night, and thanks to my colleague Susan M. for her review of one of her most-anticipated movie, Magic Mike.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I’ve been curious about this movie from the first time I heard about the book of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith. The author himself is adapting his novel into the movie, which tells the *secret* history of one of America’s most famous presidents, supposedly based on Lincoln’s own diaries of his um, nightly activities.

The story spans 45 years of Lincoln’s life, starting with him as a young boy working at a plantation. It shows that even from a young age, Abe’s got a certain fondness for the axe as he tried to defend his friend Wil who’s being beaten by his master, Jack Barts. This incident leads to Barts to poison Abe’s mother which of course sparks the vengeful spirit in him to kill as many vampires as he could.

Now, how does an ordinary man do that? Well, fortunately for Abe, there’s Henry Sturgess to the rescue when he tried to kill Barts years later and discovers that he’s a vampire. Sturgess not only saves Abe’s life but offers to train him to accomplish his mission, that is to kill as many vampire as he could. We’ll learn of Sturgess’ motivation soon enough, which comes at the same time Abe learns that his best friend too, is a vampire.

The fight training scenes are actually pretty cool and the movie lives up to the name swiftly as the fast-learner Abe soon gets to put that silver-coated axe to good use. Those vampire chopping stuff are done in Timur Bekmambetov’s slo-mo style (as you might’ve seen in Wanted) and they’re very, very bloody. The vampires aren’t sexy or cute like in True Blood or Twilight, they are freakish looking with their long and pointy teeth, just as we imagined these bloodsuckers to be.

Newcomer Benjamin Walker is quite believable in the lead role. The lanky 6’3″ 30-year-old certainly looks the part but he’s also instantly likable which helps the audience to sympathize with his character and his mission. He’s got a nice chemistry with Dominic Cooper as Sturgess and also his best friend Wil (Anthony Mackie), but less so with his love interest Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The romance isn’t convincing at all, but no matter, it’s not that kind of vampire movie. We see Timur’s movie for his spectacular fight choreography and on that note he delivers. Lincoln is portrayed as some sort of superhero battling a dozen of vampires in this Southern mansion and blood splatters and splashes everywhere as he masterfully wields his weapon of choice. As you know I’m not keen on horror or bloody sequences, but when done in such a stylized way, it sort of takes the edge off and it’s actually less scary.

Now, I’ve always thought the tone of the movie should’ve been more tongue-in-cheek just like what the title suggest, instead it’s more of a straight-laced adaptation and they tried to align the scenarios with actual historical events such as the Gettysburg address. Fortunately, it’s not completely devoid of whimsy and I think the movie overall is rather fun. Yes it’s silly and preposterous in more than one occasion but you’ve got to remind yourself that you are seeing a movie with a historical figure combined with ‘vampire hunter’ in the title, so logic-defying scenarios should be expected.

Still, there are scenes that are wildly ludicrous even for a historical fantasy, and the horse stampede scene immediately springs to mind. That scene involves a horse being thrown at Abe, yes you heard it right: A HORSE, in the midst of a huge stampede with dozens of horses charging forcefully and Barts actually throws the horse at him! Now, not only does Abe survives that, he proceeds to mount one of them (not sure if it’s that same one thrown at him or not as things are happening pretty fast) and rides the thing whilst wielding that ax at Barts in the process!! As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also able to jump from horse to horse to capture his nemesis… and wait ’til you see that sensational axe gun. Say what you will about this movie, but that scene alone to me is worth the price of admission!

And finally, the villain. Dashing Brit Rufus Sewell is no stranger for playing a baddie but surprisingly he’s never played a vampire before. A shame really as he’s quite good at it and his dramatic eyes seem almost otherworldly. He brings a certain sophistication and suave-ness to his role of Adam (which was written specifically for the movie). Now, you’ve seen vampires being bloodthirsty or romantic, but politically-inclined? Now that’s an idea. Adam is more of a politically-minded vampire… “It’s time we have a nation of our own,” he declares in that sexy, raspy voice of his. Rufus has this smirk on his face the entire time and he seems to be having the most fun in this movie. I wish he had more screen time here and that his character could’ve been a bit more developed, but still he’s always great to watch.

The always watchable Alan Tudyk also has a brief role as Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic Party nominee for President in the 1860 election who lost out to Lincoln. He was also Lincoln’s romantic rival as he briefly dated Mary Todd.

Final Thoughts: I actually enjoyed this movie more that I thought. The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel looks beautiful and there are some really cool shots of Lincoln with his iconic hat and long coat. The action sequences of the slo-mo vampire chopping scenes did seem excessive though that it became tiresome. But the likable cast certainly helps and somehow the story managed to keep me engrossed from start to finish. I wouldn’t even mind renting this again when it’s out on Blu-ray.

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Magic Mike

If you’re going to see Magic Mike because you want to see a bunch of (mostly) naked men writhing around on a stage, well, you’ll get that. But as a warning, you’ll also get a somewhat uneven portrayal of a lifestyle filled with women, drugs, and desolation.

Let’s start with the good: Channing Tatum saves this movie from being horrible. He’s an excellent movie flirter and a bona fide movie star. Plus, he’s a great dancer (Step Up, anyone?). It’s hard to take your eyes off of him not just because he is ridiculously good looking, but because he makes you sympathize with his character, Mike, an “entrepreneur” who moonlights as a stripper. In Tatum’s limited range, he not only excels, he totally owns it; he knows what he is, he doesn’t try to be more, and he isn’t embarrassed by it.

Alex Pettyfer was also great in the role of Adam, an impulsive lost soul who is living with his sister, going from job to job until he meets Mike at a construction job (one of Mike’s entrepreneurial businesses that we only see or hear mention of once throughout the movie, hence the unevenness mentioned earlier). Mike takes Adam under his wing and soon, “the Kid” as he becomes known, is sucked into the world of Chippendales-style male stripping. But where Pettyfer excels is in portraying the dark side of the business: the lure of money, the drugs, the seedy women.

Then there’s the bad: Matthew McConaughey. He’s probably never been happier since he spent the majority of the movie in leather pants with his shirt off. He appeared so sweaty in almost every scene he was in, you could practically smell the body odor coming off him. And enough with the bongo playing and “all right, all right, all right.” He literally has no range. If you’ve seen one Matthew McConaughey movie, you’ve seen them all. His character, Dallas, is the owner of the club and a former stripper himself. He definitely plays a smarmy strip club owner to perfection, I’ll give him that.

Matt Bomer, as beautiful as he is, is rather unremarkable in the role, unfortunately. And don’t ask me about Joe Manganiello, who is the equivalent to Pamela Anderson, in my book. There is no presence. Sure, he’s fun to look at, but so what?

As for the script, there are several parts of it that don’t make any sense and could have used some serious editing, if not outright trimming completely. The female lead in the film, Cody Horn, who plays Alex Pettyfer’s sister, appears to have the same relationship with her brother as she does with her love interest Channing Tatum. Their opening scene together, at home, is so sexually charged, you feel gross the moment it’s revealed that they’re related. Horn’s character, Brooke, has a bizarre obsession with her brother throughout the film that made me uncomfortable. And her acting was stale and wooden.

It’s also ridiculous when Tatum’s character confronts Olivia Munn, his casual sex partner, and finds out she’s engaged. Her fiancé is sitting beside her. He graciously excuses himself when Tatum shows up at the restaurant. In what world would that actually go down??

That said, it’s not like Magic Mike didn’t have its moments. The depiction of the lifestyle seemed realistic enough. They addressed the drug culture involved in the profession, the desolation, the loneliness that comes from connecting only with people on a purely physical level – these stark realities were indeed portrayed rather honestly, although I’m not really sure if the message actually landed. And the dance scenes were hilarious. I especially loved the Fourth of July tribute when the guys took to the stage in camouflage, and the “It’s Raining Men” routine, complete with umbrellas and rain boots.

Overall, I really liked Magic Mike. But the problem I had with it was not necessarily with the film itself, but more the response to it. There are those who will argue that this is simply the female equivalent of when men hit up strip clubs. No way. When a man goes to see a woman take her clothes off, she’s inferior to his paying power. When a woman goes to see a man take his clothes off, is he inferior to her paying power, or is she still inferior to the power of what’s in his pants? It’s not like she’s leaning back in her chair, controlling the situation. None of those women in the theater or in the club are in control of anything. They are hysterical, horny, and subordinate. Nothing about that suggests assertion. I don’t have anything against a good time. But don’t sell it to me like this is some kind of reversal of misogyny and there’s empowerment to the exercise. You watch those faces and there is nothing empowering about how these women are behaving.

Besides, if this really is about flipping the exploitation over to the other side, how is it that there were multiple long shots of bare breasts and only one shadowed glimpse of a c*ck? This is a movie about male strippers and there’s not one head shot of a free swinging penis? Meanwhile Olivia Munn has her shirt off for an entire scene, and another blond woman, with an ample bosom, romps around a bed for a scene. Doesn’t seem very equal to me.

Final Thoughts: All this being said, I enjoyed Magic Mike for what it was – an entertaining summer movie with a super hot lead character.

– Review by Susan M.

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Have you seen either one of these movies? Do share your thoughts in the comments.