Phuket Entertainment: Impaling history

PHUKET: Film-makers love revising history to suit a story. Some, such as Oliver Stone, weave their fabrications so subtly into the weft and warp of historical accuracy that they can become instant conspirators. Others, such as Quentin Tarantino, strip history down to its underpants and strap a silly hat on its head, before shooting it, blowing it up and, just for good measure, burning it to the ground.

A problem that arises (for all except Mr Tarantino) is that not every cinema-goer flunked history at high school and, for every schmuck who leaves the theater, cooing: “Wow, I had no idea JFK was abducted by aliens!”, there are at least an equal number frothing at the mouth and already composing letters to the editor about how JFK wasn’t left handed.

World leaders have always been fine fodder for film fictionalization. In recent years we’ve had a rather toothless attempt at Bush Junior (W); learned that Maggie talked with Dennis’s ghost (The Iron Lady); and had an almost indecent amount of Tony Blair (Michael Sheen made him look far more handsome than he really was in The Queen and The Special Relationship). Then Roman Polanski cast Pierce Brosnan as a thinly veiled version of the former Labor leader in The Ghost Writer.

A film-maker’s problem with modern world leaders is that their every move is obsessively catalogued and compulsively analyzed.

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This is why director Phyllida Lloyd didn’t have Dennis Thatcher’s ghost terrorizing a royal tea party. And Oliver Stone’s imagination was only unleashed on a single Dr Strangelove-esque scene in W (with Richard Dreyfuss, as Dick Cheney, frothing rabidly about his plans for a new world order).

No, if film-makers really want to give history a reboot, they have to go back to a time about which we know some of the facts, but few of the details.

This is what director Timur Bekmambetov has done to the 16th President of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tells the so-called secret history of one of history’s best known and revered leaders. Having discovered that his mother was murdered by a vampire (and did not succumb to milk poisoning as history chronicles), young Abe
wanders the wilderness with a silver-edged axe, hacking down any vampire he happens across.

Along the way he discovers that the vampires are using slaves as a food source, and that launches him on a new crusade – to end slavery to starve the undead.

The whole thing comes to a head when the vampires attack the Union Army at Gettysburg and President Lincoln leaps into the fray with silver-sheathed bullets and bayonets.

Mr Bekmambetov is best known for his adrenalin-fueled assassin flick, Wanted, but came to the note of Hollywood because of his two very well composed Russian
vampire films, Night Watch and its sequel Day Watch. So you can be sure that his vampires are believable and the action is heart-pounding.

Lead actor Benjamin Walker works hard to give Honest Abe the tenor and demeanor for which he is renowned, and the movie is beautifully lit and brilliantly choreographed.

But the whole thing seems a shoddy shot at Mr Lincoln. As clever as the idea is, it somehow cheapens the sacrifice and real horror of the battle to end slavery and the American Civil War.

There are many, well-documented and supposed, reasons why the North fought the South, but none suggest that Lincoln dragged his country into its bloodiest conflict because of a personal grudge.

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a fantasy film on its lack of historical accuracy. After all, it’s just a cinematic romp and, if history gets in the way, run it through with a silver bayonet and leave it to bleed at the back of the library.

Author Seth Grahame-Smith (best known for introducing zombies into Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) has knitted together an enjoyable enough tale and, for the historically savvy, there are a few “Aha!” moments. Unfortunately, on screen the fantastical supersedes its historical framework to the point where, beyond that occasional “Aha!”, the Lincoln element is almost redundant.

You cannot help but think it could have been done with a far more subtle stroke; that the vampire hunting should be an embellishment to Lincoln’s career, not its overwhelming focus.

If you would like to see how blood-suckers and the Oval Office can be seamlessly rendered into a fictionalized history, watch the highly under-rated Netherbeast
, in which the ageless Robert Wagner plays an undead President James A Garfield.

Meanwhile, this reviewer will sit and wait for Hollywood’s next big-budget, Michael Bay history-breaker – Angela Merkel versus the Werewolves.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Genre: Action Adventure
Phuket Release: July

July books release
Gold by Chris Cleave, Simon & Schuster
With the Summer Olympics just around the corner how better to ignore it all than by delving into a novel about two athletes going for gold at their last Olympics.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, Penguin.
The second book in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy. The first book, A Discovery of Witches, was a bestseller in 2011.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian, Doubleday
Chris Bohjalian’s love story is set in Syria in 1915 and present-day New York, and follows a woman’s discovery of her family history and its connection to the Armenian genocide.

— Alexander Maycock

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