Friday Flicks: What Says Summer More than a Movie Called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

Grab some popcorn and check out the movies you should see (or avoid) this weekend.

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Tagline: President by day. Hunter by night.

Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the history-horror mashup novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, gets to adapt his own book for the screen (ka-ching!) in a film that purports to delve into the legendary American president’s secret journals. What do we learn? Only that “Honest Abe” had a double life as history’s greatest ever hunter of the undead.

Tasked with bringing the story to the big screen is Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov, the auteur behind the Russian-language vampire flick Night Watch and the 2008 Angelina Jolie thriller Wanted.

But if ALVH can even begin to match the creative (and downright fun) of Night Watch (which if you haven’t seen, you really should do something about ASAP) then all might not be lost. Sadly a 30% score on Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t augur well. “The historical epic and the monster movie run on parallel tracks, occasionally colliding but never forming a coherent whole,” writes TIME’s Richard Corliss. “This cod-historical horror movie … is long on speculation, emancipation and decapitation, but is essentially a lot of balls,” amusingly notes Time Out London. But Roger Ebert strikes a rare voice of hope for Bekmambetov by concluding that “what it achieves is a surprisingly good job of doing justice to its title, and treating Lincoln with as much gravity as we can expect, under the circumstances.”

TIME REVIEW: TIME’s Richard Corliss Gives His Verdict

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Tagline: Nice knowing you.

In a plot point too far out there for even the most ambitious episode of The Office, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is set around an incoming asteroid threatening to end life on Earth. Why the reference to The Office? Because this film stars Steve Carell, as a guy whose wife leaves him during the inevitable panic. Carell decides to spend his final days seeking out his high school sweetheart and sets out, accompanied by neighbor Keira Knightley, on a pre-apocalyptic road trip.

Opinion is mixed as to whether Seeking will be out of this world or will simply crash and burn. “The end of the world can’t come fast enough in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a disastrously dull take on the disaster-movie formula,” slams Variety. The Village Voice piles on, calling Seeking a Friend “by turns bizarrely affectless and then prattlingly manic, much like its dual protagonists.” But once again Roger Ebert is in forgiving mode, noting that the movie “amounts to sort of a romantic comedy, although it makes no promises of providing a happy ending.” And TIME’s very own Mary Pols is quite possibly the biggest champion out there: “When Seeking took hold of me, completely and without warning, I was digging for tissues. It’s a lovely surprise for the official start of summer.”

PHOTOS: Steve Carell


Tagline: Change Your Fate.

Pixar has been rightly praised for producing a near-unbroken string of enjoyable, engaging and often groundbreaking films, but the fact remains that no major feature in its 25-year history has had a female lead. Until now. Brave tells the story of a Scottish princess called Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), who isn’t interested in the traditional feminine activities expected of her. “I’d rather die than be like you,” she says to her mother at one point, which isn’t the kind of dialogue you’ve come to expect from the Pixar (hey, if they’re finally going to break out of its female-fronting slump, they may as well really go for it). In defiance, Merida turns to a witch (Julie Walters) who is able to cast a spell so the young Princess can try and define her destiny once and for all.

The project benefits from the usual Pixar goodwill, perhaps from reviewers eager to forget the dire misfire of last summer’s Cars 2. “A 10th-century traditionalist finds her inner Susan Sontag,” concludes The Village Voice (which we think was a compliment). “Capturing the haunted greens, golds, blues and grays of a Scottish castle and the deep forest around it … Brave is another pictorial triumph for Pixar,” notes Salon. And Variety is similarly smitten, gushing that “the studio has fashioned a resonant tribute to mother-daughter relationships that packs a level of poignancy on par with such beloved male-bonding classics as Finding Nemo.”

LIST: TIME’s Top 10 Films of 2011

To Rome With Love

Woody Allen’s latest film was originally slated to be called The Bop Decameron. Perhaps he figured that the putting of a city in the title of last year’s Midnight In Paris did the trick – it took in a ton of money and resulted in a Best Picture Oscar nomination – so he’s at it again in the form of To Rome With Love.

And as with Midnight in Paris, Allen is able to pull in a stellar cast (Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, himself) as he sets about telling a bunch of different stories based in the beautiful Italian capital. The plots rarely intersect, so you’re left in the capable hands of Baldwin and Eisenberg’s architect (as both current and younger versions), Penélope Cruz’s prostitute and (among others) Roberto Benigni’s blue-collar worker grappling with sudden fame.

But the critical reaction doesn’t make you think Allen will be in the frame for Oscar glory next year. “Allen the writer-director has gone tone-deaf this time around, somehow not realizing that the nonstop prattling of the less than scintillating characters almost never rings true,” is the view of The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s time to pack up the Vuitton and come home, Woody. Your inspiration is thin, you’re running out of euros, and you’re having a bad day,” pans the New York Observer. But across town, the New York Times is far more positive: “One of the most delightful things about To Rome With Love is how casually it blends the plausible and the surreal, and how unabashedly it revels in pure silliness.” And perhaps TIME’s Mary Pols nails it best of all, noting that, “I may have been mystified grappling with why nothing coalesced from the various narratives, but I didn’t suffer much trying.” In other words: when it doubt, enjoy the view.

PHOTOS: Woody Allen’s Life and Career

NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: All this week’s releases have their merits but it never pays to underestimate  Pixar, which is why there’s nothing Brave about choosing the princess flick as our favorite.

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