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‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’

Audience:
L – limited adult audience

 

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Don’t bother to bite this bit of lunacy

The 16th president of the United States uses his trusty ax to split a lot more than rails in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (Fox). From a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (based on his 2010 novel), this goofy mash-up of American history is not for the squeamish, as the Great Emancipator – recast as our country’s first superhero – slashes his way toward truth, justice and the American way.

The narrative begins with the young Lincoln (Lux Haney-Jardine) in the shelter of his trademark log cabin, watching as his mother Nancy (Robin McLeavy) dies from a mysterious illness. Mummy was bitten – not by a deadly bug but by a vampire. (History is more prosaic, attributing Ma Lincoln’s demise to a malady called milk sickness.) Years pass, and adult Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), consumed by a thirst for revenge, crosses paths with equally bloodsucker-averse mystery man Henry (Dominic Cooper). Henry becomes Abe’s mentor, training him in the art of vampire hunting. For the uninitiated, this involves a good deal of stabbing and shooting, as well as the lopping off of undead heads.

The most effective weapon, we are told, is silver. Ever since Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of it, the metal has been cursed. Lincoln’s ax is given a silver blade, and soon we’re on our way to Vampire Central: New Orleans.

According to Grahame-Smith’s back story, vampires have been around for some 5,000 years, wandering the earth in search of a place they can call home. Seems they’ve found one in the American South, where they own the plantations and keep the slaves. This gives Lincoln another motive for their eradication. Not so fast, Henry tells his protege. “Real power comes not from hate but from truth,” he says. “If vengeance is all you seek, you will never be able to save mankind. Fight this war with me, not for one man but for the whole world.”

And so Lincoln puts his ax aside, takes up the law and enters politics. He vanquishes his rival, Stephen A. Douglas (Alan Tudyk), and steals the heart of Douglas’ fiancee, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Mary is a feisty lady and handy with a rifle. (The latter quality, at least, is presumably quite untrue to the real-life Mrs. Lincoln, who was the refined, if not always stable, scion of an aristocratic Kentucky clan).

Before long we’re in the White House, and the Civil War erupts. Adam (Rufus Sewell), the chief vein-drainer, strikes a deal with Confederate President Jefferson Davis (John Rothman) to defeat the Union Army at Gettysburg. Lincoln, however, has other ideas: He rearms himself, rounds up as much silver as he can, and faces his destiny.

The tone of the movie is, for the most part, so serious that viewers ignorant of American history might easily be lulled into thinking this is how it all really happened, were it not for the occult overlay. The film contains relentless bloody violence, fleeting upper female nudity, and the occasional use of profanity and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

(By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service)

‘Brave’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Pouty princess treads every ‘witch’ way

Hell hath no fury like a Scottish princess scorned in “Brave” (Disney). This 3-D animated adventure carries a worthy reminder for rambunctious teens: Evil actions have dire consequences.

Directed by Brenda Chapman (“The Prince of Egypt”) and newcomer Mark Andrews, “Brave” is Pixar’s first fairy tale and its darkest film to date, which suits the atmosphere of myths and legends. Parents should be warned that the action sequences may be too intense for young children.

“Brave” also marks a number of other, rather unwelcome firsts for Pixar: Much of the slapstick humor is bawdy and ample jiggling cartoon cleavage is on display, as are bare buttocks when the menfolk remove their kilts.

The setting is medieval Scotland, with its lush landscapes and mighty castles rendered in colorful detail. King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) leads a peaceable kingdom with his devoted wife, Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson), at his side. They have four children: a set of mischievous young triplets named Harris, Hubert and Hamish, and a teenage daughter, Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald).

With unruly red hair to match her wild nature, Merida longs to be free from the customs and conventions expected of a royal princess. A tomboy at heart, she prefers using her bow and arrow to preening and bowing in royal robes.

Mother and daughter clash frequently. “A princess strives for perfection,” Queen Elinor reminds Merida. “You can’t just run away from who you are.” But thoroughly modern Merida wants to decide her own fate, whatever the cost. When three suitors are presented for her hand in marriage, it’s the last straw. Merida breaks with her mother and flees to the forest. There she encounters will o’ the wisps – fairy spirits which, legend holds, light the path to your destiny.

In her case, Merida is led to the cottage of the (wisecracking) Wise Woman (voice of Julie Walters). She’s a woodcarver with a particular obsession: bears, rendered in every shape, size and situation – including an unfortunate imitation of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man” from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. In truth, the Wise Woman is the local witch, and Merida, seeking revenge, buys a spell to change her mother’s mind about the arranged marriage. She winds up changing a whole lot more, wreaking havoc on the entire kingdom.

As she tries to undo the spell, Merida learns the hard way that selfishness and revenge are wrong, and family, duty and honor are paramount. Still, she insists, “Our fate lies within us. We control our own destiny.”

“Brave” is meticulous in its period detail, with one key exception: There’s no place for Christianity, which was the dominant religious and philosophical force in medieval Scotland. Merida’s insistence that destiny is self-controlled, moreover, ignores the role of divine providence. We are meant to look to God for guidance in all our actions, not rely simply on our own moods and desires, nor are we ever to do anything contrary to his will, such as breaking the Fifth Commandment.

The film contains intense action and scenes of peril, the use of sorcery, brief rear animated nudity, and some rude humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested, some material may not be suitable for children.

Pouty princess treads every ‘witch’ way

(By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service)