One Abe struggles to overcome silliness as another battles against grinding cynicism

 
Stephen Dinneen
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DARK HORSE
Cert 15
***
Dark Horse takes the indie template dragged into the mainstream by films like Juno and Superbad, removes the Hollywood niceties and replaces them with a bleakly funny desperation.

Abe is an overweight man-child who collects ThunderCats dolls and still lives with his parents. He’s the kind of guy nobody speaks to at a wedding. He sparks up a somewhat dubious relationship with the equally stunted Miranda, who is the kind of person who gets chatted up at weddings by losers like Abe, while everybody else is off having a good time.

It’s an essentially sour look at suburban America, in which everybody is unhappy and most of them are clinically depressed. Some hide it better than others, which, given the amount of verbose introspection we get from Abe, may well be a good thing.

The deeply black humour stems from their mutual despair – Miranda coming to terms with giving up her self respect and settling for a slob like Abe; Abe settling for a woman who clearly isn’t into him; Abe’s parents realising their son is a waster.

A toupeed Christopher Walken, whose face is beginning to resemble a malevolent Norwegian woodcarving, provides many of the laughs, with a wonderfully understated performance as the stoic father.

To his credit, director Todd Solondz doesn’t blink, even as Dark Horse gallops at breakneck speed towards a brick wall. The result is a messy, often unpleasant but refreshingly honest middle-class melodrama.

FILM
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER
Cert 15 | By Steve Dinneen
****
YOU CAN almost hear the pitch for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: “It’s mostly slow-motion shots of the 16th President swinging a big axe...” “Great, where do I sign?”

But pulling off a project as inherently ridiculous as this is no mean feat: too many knowing winks or ironic sneers and your audience will quickly lose interest. Play it too straight and the entire project will drown in mire of self-conscious implausibility.

Timur Bekmanbetov’s adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel walks the tightrope pretty well. It’s not great, but then it’s called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – it was never going to stand next to Gone With the Wind.

It works, for the most part, thanks to Benjamin Walker, who is about as convincing as the eponymous President you can hope, given the premise. He looks like he really believes it, like his brain has developed a kind of Stockholm syndrome in a desperate bid to make sense of the absurd situation it has found itself in.

He hacks and slashes and leaps his way through increasingly over-the-top action sequences, none of which, barring an impressive fight amid a stampede of wild horses, feels particularly original. More often than not, Lincoln’s real battle is against is against the profligate overuse of CGI.

The fun, though, lies in spotting how the formative events in Lincoln’s life are given a vampire-red lick of paint: the death of his mother (not, in this version, from milk sickness); his entry into politics; his wife’s latter-day madness. Indeed, the entire civil war becomes a battle against shadowy vampiric forces. Heavy Union losses at Gettysburg? Yup, that was vampires too. IT’S ALL VAMPIRES. To call it “clever” would be giving it rather more credit than it’s due but it has a certain rat-like cunning that it’s hard to resist smiling at.

Sometimes it goes too far – at one point the head bloodsucker opines: “I’m a slave to eternity, you to your conviction, others to the colour of their skin”. Taking one of the bleakest episodes in human history as the basis for a zingy speech is, at best, rather insensitive.

For the most part, though, you get what you expect. Say the title back to yourself. Like what you hear? Then you have a pretty good idea of whether this movie is going to agree with you.