Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (July 7/12)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter follows the title character (Benjamin Walker) as he discovers that vampires are planning to take over the United States (and are, in fact, responsible for the death of his beloved mother), with the movie subsequently detailing Lincoln's progression from fledgling assassin to vampire-killing politician. It's an admittedly (and blatantly) ridiculous premise that's employed to surprisingly watchable effect at the outset, with Walker's strong performance initially compensating for the less-than-accomplished special effects and for Timur Bekmambetov's consistently wrongheaded directorial choices. (Bekmambetov's ineptness is especially problematic during the movie's action-oriented sequences, as the filmmaker suffuses such moments with a myriad of momentum-killing tricks - including handheld camerawork and an overuse of slow motion.) It's clear, too, that the movie benefits substantially from the chemistry between Lincoln and his mentor, Dominic Cooper's Henry, and there's little doubt that the film is, generally speaking, at its best during the pair's irresistibly over-the-top training sessions. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter doesn't begin to palpably begin to wear out its welcome until somewhere around the halfway mark, as the comparatively low-key nature of the protagonist's exploits are jettisoned in favor of an increasingly (and incongruously) epic story involving vampires in the Civil War. It's tedious stuff that results in a progressively stagnant atmosphere; once the movie rolls into its overblown, special-effects heavy, and flat-out interminable climax, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has finally established itself as a missed opportunity that's rarely, if ever, as much fun as its title might've indicated.
Celeste & Jesse Forever (July 28/12)
Written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, Celeste & Jesse Forever follows married couple Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) as they attempt to remain close friends despite their decision to divorce. (It goes without saying, of course, that complications ensue as both characters begin to date other people.) Filmmaker Lee Toland Krieger does a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the pervasively affable proceedings, with the almost compulsively watchable atmosphere heightened by the two leads' charismatic work and by the inclusion of several laugh-out-loud funny instances of comedy. (In terms of the latter, Elijah Wood, cast as Celeste's colleague, puts a frequently hilarious spin on the gay-best-friend stereotype.) It doesn't hurt, either, that Jones and McCormack's screenplay boasts plenty of relatable truths that effectively elevate the film above its similarly-themed brethren, and, by that same token, the sprinkling of genuinely moving moments (eg Celeste delivers a touching speech at a friend's wedding) within the narrative ensures that Celeste & Jesse Forever possesses more depth and resonance than one might've expected. The engaging vibe does, generally speaking, compensate for the movie's somewhat underwhelming third act, with the continuing emphasis on Celeste's rock-bottom exploits draining, to a certain extent, the energy from the otherwise engrossing proceedings. It's worth noting, however, that the whole thing does recover for an admittedly strong finish, with the end result a better-than-average romantic comedy that benefits substantially from the efforts of its personable stars.