Movie Review: Vampire Academy (2014)

May 15, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

vampire academy

I didn’t see the trailer and I barely saw the poster, but I knew just from the title that Vampire Academy, based on the bestselling book series, was likely going to be crap. Considering that it barely recovered 50% of its US$30 million budget and that it received scathing reviews from the critics, it’s likely that this will be the only one we get in the franchise. It is derivative and essentially a mishmash of Harry Potter and Twilight with a dash of Mean Girls (it’s directed by the same guy, Mark Waters) and/or Gossip Girl, but having said that, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as it has been made out to be.

First of all, I just need to point out that Zoey Deutch, who plays the protagonist Rose Hathaway, is the real-life daughter of the legendary Le Thompson. Yes, Lea Thompson! Man I am getting old. Anyway, Rose Hathaway is a “Dhampir” one of three types of vampires in this story’s universe, and all they do is try and protect the “Moroi,” of which her best friend Lissa (Lucy Fry) is one. Who are they being protected from? The Strigoi, the evil vampires. Rose and Lissa run away on their own but are brought back to St. Vladimir’s Academy, the so-called Vampire Academy. It’s basically Hogwarts for vampires.

And yes, unfortunately there is an obligatory romance, between Zoey and her Dhampir instructor Dimitri, some Russian dude who is way too old for her. The romance doesn’t dominate, which is good, but the focus of the film is somewhat fuzzy. There are Hogwarts-like moments of the Moroi trying to learn magic, and there’s plenty of Gossip Girl bitchiness. It’s all a little tongue-in-cheek with direct Twilight references (like how vampires don’t shimmer, etc) and good for an occasional laugh or two.

But the lack of focus and originality does hurt Vampire Academy, which straddles uncomfortably between spoof and a legitimate teen story in its own right. I find it difficult for anyone who considers themselves a fan of any of the film’s inspirations (Twilight, Harry Potter, Mean Girls, etc) taking it seriously and may even be irked by the similarities. On the other hand, if you like to take the piss out of those films then you might enjoy some of the jokes, but apart from that there’s not much else to hold on to. The action is pretty standard and the plot twists and revelations range from predictable to “meh.” And none of the characters are genuinely likable. It’s about as close to an uninspired mishmash cash grab as you can imagine.

I was personally annoyed with the division of vampires into three categories so that the “good” and “bad” vampires are determined by their breed. I had the same problem with the zombie romance Warm Bodies, which had two types of zombies — it’s a trite and arbitrary design to help us connect and sympathize with monsters we identify as “bad”. Say what you want about Twilight, but at least vampires were vampires, and it was up to the individual whether they wanted to be good or evil.

Anyhoo, Vampire Academy is unoriginal, derivative and bland, but it’s not that bad. If you go in with low expectations and like jokes taking stabs at Twilight then you might accept it as passable entertainment.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Woman in Black (2012)

March 5, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Lots of awesome posters for this film -- this is my fave

Looks like Daniel Radcliffe might have a decent career after Harry Potter after all.

I was really looking forward to Radcliffe’s first post-Potter feature, the gothic horror The Woman in Black, not because I’m a fan of the kid but because it looked freaking awesome. Based on an 1983 novel by Susan Hill and set in the early 1900s, it tells the story of a struggling young lawyer (Radcliffe) struck by tragedy who heads to a small town to take care of some legal work, only to discover that it might be cursed by the titular character.

I’m a big fan of ghost stories and this one did not disappoint. In fact, I can’t think of a better ghost-related horror film from the last few years off the top of my head.

The story and progression is about as traditional as you can get: main character goes to new place, weird stuff happens and he has to unravel the mystery behind the haunting. In that respect The Woman in Black brings nothing new to the table, but as they say, it’s all in the execution.

Old dilapidated English mansions, freaky toys, pale kids with haunting stares, weirdos, psychos and shadows all over the place — the atmosphere is so brilliantly spooky it kept me on the edge of my seat even though it’s not a fast paced film.

And don’t worry, it doesn’t just rely on atmosphere — The Woman in Black also has some terrific ‘boo’ moments and some visceral scares too. Coupled with the perpetually grey, dreary backdrop, it creates an inescapable sense of dread that seems to keep pulling you deeper and deeper. And at a brisk 90 minutes, it never outstays its welcome either.

The film reminded me a little bit of the underrated Insidious from last year, except it’s set in the scarier gothic era and doesn’t crumble into silliness in its second half.

While it’s difficult to picture Radcliffe as anyone other than the boy wizard, he does do a great job here as the damaged but likable protagonist. Yes, his face seems doomed to be forever trapped in that bizarre transitional phase between child and adult, but I think with more performances and films like this he’ll have a long and successful career.

4 out of 5 stars!

What kind of fantasy novel are you writing?

August 26, 2011 in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing

Source: readingbookinfo.com

It’s been an exciting few weeks around here for an assortment of reasons I won’t go into, which means my catatonic fantasy novel is being pushed even further back in my list of ‘things I must work on soon’.

I started this novel about 10 years ago as a bored student who had read little fantasy and had zero idea what made a good fantasy novel and even less of an idea on how to write one.  And yet I wrote slabs here and there, developed character biographies, planned, planned and planned some more.  Most of the writing took place over the space of two years, but it’s been one of those projects that can get neglected for years at a time — and it has been.  I guess I am one of those millions of people out there who would love to reach their goal but haven’t yet been willing to (or developed the discipline to) put in the hard work necessary to get there.

My dreams of becoming a fantasy novelist are still very much alive, but the expectations are no longer the same.  Having now read more fantasy and with a better understanding of what makes a good book and how to produce one, it has actually gotten much harder to write.  I also know now what a difficult industry it is, how poorly the industry is performing right now, and how bleak the future is looking for the majority of aspiring novelists.   Not to say it can’t be done, but hard work alone won’t be enough.

Simply being a good writer and writing a great book isn’t going to cut it.  These days, it’s all about the market — and the marketing.  You really have to identify your target market and write specifically for that market.  Sometimes you get lucky and the book has cross-market potential (say Harry Potter), but if you don’t have a clear target market you’ll find it difficult to find a publisher willing to take you on (especially if you are not an established writer).

I find it’s a catch-22 situation: you want to write something that is different to what is already out there at the moment to distinguish yourself from the pack, but publishers are seldom willing to take on books that they can’t comfortably squeeze into a particular genre.

And that’s just to get published.  What about sales?  Of course, paranormal romance has been big since Twilight, and I suppose that’s not really fantasy any more because it kind of become a standalone genre.  It seems every second book on the shelf involves vampires, werewolves or other mythological creatures these days.

More recently, thanks to the HBO series Game of Thrones, epic fantasy is starting to really pick up again, especially those with dark plots that feature demented themes and characters.

When I was in writing workshops, the general consensus was that if you want to sell these days, you ought to target the ‘young adult’ market.  According to Wikipedia, that’s roughly the ages of 14 to 21.  But apart from the Harry Potter clones (ie teenagers playing around with magic and magical worlds) and Twilight clones (ie teenagers falling in love with magical creatures), I can’t really think of any young adult fantasy sub-genres that have been hugely successful in recent years.

Every week I am coming across more and more people who are writing fantasy novels, and the majority of them either doing something generic or one of the above.  And that got me wondering — where the heck does my fantasy novel fit into all of this, and should I be doing anything to change it?

Back before I knew anything about anything, my intention was just to write a good fantasy yarn.  I thought I had a good story, a few interesting characters, and didn’t think about much else.  I suppose if I had a particular slant, it was to make the novel less like the sprawling fantasy epics that give me headaches just trying to decipher the blurb on the back cover.  I wanted to write something lighter, more straightforward and action-packed, like a thriller with a fantasy setting.  I wanted to appeal to the RPG geeks who like the idea the these fantasy worlds but are either too lazy or find it too tedious to read 1000+ pages for a good story.

I still want to keep that idea in tact, but I’m wondering whether I need to rewrite the damn thing so that it fits more into a particular category.  Because right now, it’s not really anything.  On the one hand, I could go ‘George RR Martin’ and make it a more ‘adult’ fantasy with more violence, gore, treachery and sex (and let’s face it, the geeks love that kind of stuff).  On the other hand, I could go the ‘young adult’ path and make my protagonists younger, make the story slightly more sanitised, and maybe even throw in a little more romance.

They would make completely different books, but I can’t figure out which one would be more appealing to the wider market.

Anyway, that’s my aimless rant for the day.  If you too are writing a fantasy novel, what kind of fantasy is it?  Does it follow the trodden path of those before you, or is it something drastically different?  Are you writing with a specific target market in mind or do you not care?  And what makes you think your novel is special enough to be published or potentially become a bestseller?

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2D) (2011)

July 20, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

At last, 10 years after the first film and 4 years after the book series ended, the Harry Potter film franchise is no more.  As expected, there was a ridiculous amount of anticipation for the eighth and final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (let’s call it DH2), and though I consider myself only a moderate fan of the series (both book and film), even I was very excited at the prospect of watching the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort on the big screen.

It’s not often that a franchise lasts for this many number of films and manages to maintain a certain level of excellence all the way through.  So is this final film the best of the lot?  Kind of.  Not really.  Yes and no.

Part of the reason why it’s so hard to review this film is because it’s impossible to view DH2 as a standalone film.  You can’t even really lump it with DH1, which I thought was nothing more than a pretty set-up for the grand finale.

In terms of excitement, DH2 is undoubtedly the best of the series.  After a small but slow build up at the beginning, the remainder of the film races at you at full blast.  It’s everything you could have expected from a finale that has been gradually building up for 10 years.  The extended siege on Hogwarts rivals some of the biggest fantasy epics in cinematic history (some may disagree but I think that includes Lord of the Rings).  It’s thrilling, visually stunning and wonderfully executed (thanks to director David Yates) and acted (especially Alan Rickman as Snape, who really held this franchise together for all these years).  Heck, even the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson put on quality performances (a far cry from their debuts).

Accordingly, in a way, I guess you could say that splitting the final book into two films was justified (apart from financially), because despite the 130 minute running time, DH2 was never boring (unlike DH1).

On the other hand, DH2 wasn’t a complete story, and as such, must be viewed in light of everything that came before it.  If you haven’t read the books, seen DH1 or even the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you can forget about it.  I’ve read all the books and seen all the previous films but even I struggled at times to remember/piece together what was going on.  Characters came and went without introduction and the majority of the secondary characters were reduced to fleeting cameos.

Of course, this is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone because of the marvellous action and special effects — despite some frightening scenes for the kiddies — but I believe to appreciate everything and feel the full emotional impact of the finale you have to be a ‘true’ fan (ie, one of those hardcore nutters that dressed up and camped outside the cinema).  Hence for me, a mid-tier fan, DH2 couldn’t have been more than just a ‘very good time’ that was fun to experience but lacked a deeper connection.

This is why I still think the franchise would have been better served had DH1 and DH2 been combined into one kick-ass 3-hour+ epic that got rid of all the fluffy ‘time fillers’ so we could enjoy the full story of the Deathly Hallows in one sitting (I know some places screened the two films back-to-back, but the combined running time of 4 hours and 36 minutes is waaaay too long).

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed DH2.  Despite its shortcomings — some unavoidable and others not — this was a fitting conclusion to a magical, consistently high standard film franchise.

4 stars out of 5

PS: My favourite book and film of the series is still the third one, The Prizoner of Azkaban.

PPS: I intentionally watched this one in 2D, and I’m glad I did.  I’m at the point where I am starting to wonder whether I should even consider watching a 3D movie ever again.  Dark, uncomfortable, and most of the time 3D adds nothing positive to my film experience.  I don’t get the fuss.  And judging from this article, looks like I’m not the only one.  That said, I am surprised by the number of people supporting 3D in the comments section.

PPPS: A bit of a spoiler, so read on only if you’ve seen the film or read the book.  Remember how the book had this controversial ‘epilogue’?  Well the film includes it, and as expected, it also sucked.  One of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.

Pardon the delay

July 17, 2011 in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study

A quick one.  I just got back from our nation’s capital (Canberra) as part of a surprisingly good short vacation.  Contrary to popular belief, there is actually a lot to do there!  So some exciting posts will be coming shortly.  But I’ve still got a few China posts left, which I might try and finish off first.

I also watched the final Harry Potter movie today, so I have to give my two cents on that too.  In short, a fitting finale for a wonderful franchise, and a pretty good film in the grand scheme of things.

Lastly, some great news.  Got a great grade for my masters project (the best possible grade), which gives me a load of confidence moving forward.  I still have to finish the darn thing though, amongst other things.  A lot of big changes coming up in my life.  Not sure if I am ready to tackle them all head on just yet but I don’t really have much of a choice!  I do perform my best under extreme pressure, so maybe it will do me some good.

Stay tuned.