Monday, May 13, 2013

DVD(s) of the Week: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

What with actually getting out to the cinema last week, and wanting to write up some other stuff, I missed writing up last weeks DVD watching, and so I'm rolling it together with this weeks viewing excitement. Which is handy, as whilst very, very different in many ways, both films are solidly "B-list" in our expectations, films we rented to pass a happy couple of hours, but not ultimately be heavily anticipated when they dropped through the postbox. In their own ways, they're both more interesting than I expected, but not always in a good way.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World opens with announcement that the last hope is lost, and all life on Earth will be wiped clean by a giant asteroid in a couple of weeks. It then goes on to use this as the framing device to pair up odd-couple lovebirds Kiera Knightly and Steve Carrell, as he attempts to reach the  love of his life that "got away" and attempts to help him. Along the way, giant asteroids isn't the only looming inevitability.

A bit like Silver Linings Playbook, this was a film that seemed to sold to audiences as a quirky, but laugh-a-minute RomCom, but is equally mis-sold. There is some jokes, sure, and both Carrell and Knightly have great deadpan delivery which gets some laughs out of a pretty bleak situation, but the tone is distinctly bittersweet, even without the impending death of the whole of humanity. The quiet stoicism and determination to make the most of the last days of life reminded me of On the Beach, but with laughs and less debilitating radiation sickness.

Despite the relatively big names attached though, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World feels like one of this quirky, indie comedies that crop up from time to time - a bit ragged around the edges but all the more charming for it. Its certainly doesn't hit all it's targets, and doesn't quite manage the sweeping, tear-jerking emotional finale it was clearly aiming for, but there is a lot to like none-the-less.

Another film that wasn't quite what I expected was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. So this is a movie about the titular President of the United States, regarded as one of the "Great Men" of American history, and tells the story of his secret life hunting Vampires. Indeed, it recasts the Civil War as a war against a Vampiricly dominated South, and leaves no metaphor unused, nor historical event un-re-written. Cameos from actual historical figures in Lincolns life? Check! Key events in his life recast as Vampirically influenced? Check! Pump-Action Gun-Axe Action? Check! ...wait, what?

Here's my problem with the film - it doesn't seem to know that it's gloriously stupid. I mean, it's called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He does martial arts. He uses anachronistic weaponry. It recasts the dark and bloody history of the American Slave Trade and Civil War as a war against the forces of the undead, including - I kid you not - regiments of Vampires fighting for the South at the Battle of Gettysburg. It's stupid. In a potentially great way. So why does it take itself so seriously?

The movie is at its best in the sort of madcap, heightened action sequences you'd expect from director Timur Bekmambetov, all blurs of motion punctuated with slow-motion zooms. Theres a stand-out fight on the top of a train, two of the heros sharing a weapon to beat of waves of Vampires. But outside of the actual Vampire Hunting, there is a nagging sense that the film think's its more than it is - and it makes it ponderous, and sludgy when it should be light, and excitingly, and uncaringly, ahistoric. Which is a shame, really.