Bernie, Sturgis, The Day After, Brave, and Abe the Vampire Hunter!

With two special events in Lawrence, an indie film from a prominent director, and two big summer openings, there's a lot to check out this weekend at the movies.

I guess you could say the movies inspired a new obsession for me. Because of a movie I saw four years ago called "Air Guitar Nation," I'll be competing for the title of 2012 Kansas City Air Guitar Champion on Friday night at The Beaumont Club. It's a hobby and sincere passion (especially in the face of upturned noses and pure hate): Spreading the gospel of competitive air guitar.

This is the last I will speak of it, but if you want to see something obscenely ridiculous and surreal, come to The Beaumont Club tonight and bear witness to the US Air Guitar KC Regional. The winner will represent the area at Nationals and the winner there reps the U.S. in Finland at the World Air Guitar Championships.

Opening at Liberty Hall this weekend is "Bernie," the new film from Austin, Texas rebel Richard Linklater. Reuniting with Jack Black, his star from "The School of Rock," this new movie has been rolling out slowly across the country and promises to be another unusual film from a director who can't be tied down to one genre or even any identifiable themes.

The plot summary says: In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she's alive. Stars: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. Somehow I'm getting the idea that this ain't gonna be "Weekend at Bernie's." So far, "Bernie" has made very little dent in the mainstream media -- even with its big stars -- but critics have universally praised the character study, and especially Black's performance.

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is also out today in Lawrence, so all you history buffs beware. If you’ve ever wanted to see Abraham Lincoln fight a blood-sucking vampire in 3D while twirling an axe on the backs of a full-on horse stampede, however, this is your movie. Action movies are known for being over the top, and more than any film in a long while, it’s hard to fault "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" for having unrealistic action scenes. As you can probably tell by the title, this is not a movie that’s interested in depicting reality.

Instead it revels in its fraudulence, wearing it like a badge. In this movie—based off of the book by Seth Grahame-Smith who also wrote "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"—the South is full of slave-owning vampires who start the Civil War as part of a plot to take control of the country. There are two reasons why this ridiculous movie with zero high-minded aspirations works. First, the actors play it completely straight and they let the mashup of history and mythology be its own joke.

Secondly, director Timur Bekmambetov outdoes himself with some truly jaw-dropping action set pieces. Besides the vampire attacks being particularly violent and sometimes pretty scary, there are no limits to the amount of choreographed mayhem and near-misses onscreen. It’s like the actors and props are part of an elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption, held together with duct tape and CGI. Usually I applaud movies that don’t use 3D as a gimmick, but since this whole film is a gimmick, it’s tough to complain.

A new exhibition at Watkins Community Museum of History called "The Day After: Living in Fear?," examines the famous 1983 made-for-TV movie -- which was filmed in Lawrence and surrounding areas -- and the dent it made in the on the worldwide consciousness.Shown on TV during the height of the 80s Cold War with the USSR, this nuclear holocaust aftermath picture had a tremendous impact on American culture and is still talked about today.

To celebrate its 30th Anniversary, "The Day After" will have public screenings twice. Thursday, June 28 at 6 p.m., the movie will be shown at The Watkins Museum with a cast and crew reunion and Kansas Public Radio on hand to record memories from those involved in the filming. "The Day After," which starred Jason Robards, JoBeth Williams, Steve Guttenberg, and John Lithgow, shows again Saturday, June 30 at 1 p.m. at the Spencer Museum of Art. Both events are free and open to the public.

John Sebelius is working on a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Kansas, but Saturday June 23 at The Granada, he'll be showing his recent short film "71st Annual Rally," an installation of his artwork, and "Searching at Sturgis," an artist narrative/documentary that examines his personal experiences as an outsider attending the 70th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

More about psychology of crowd dynamics than a straight-up documentary, "Searching at Sturgis" was completed in 2011. The event, titled "John Sebelius: Still Under the Influence" starts at 9 p.m., features live music performed by DCal throughout the night, and is free

Oh yeah, and there's also this little computer-animated film by some studio called Pixar that's out today. It's called "Brave," and it stars Kelly Macdonald as the voice of Merida, the impetuous daughter of a Scottish king and queen. She's a master archer, but she must undo a curse and find her courage before its too late.

I didn't get to screen the film early, but reviews are pretty solid, if not spectacular for a Pixar movie, so far.


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