Movie Review: Wolves (2014)

November 13, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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There have been a plethora of werewolf and vampire movies and TV series hanging around ever since Twilight took off, and I don’t think the unimaginatively titled Wolves, a Canadian production looking to ride the wave, has gotten the message that too much is just…too much.

Wolves is technically not a bad effort. It just fails to provide anything new or even attempt a creative spin on the familiar teen genre. Lucas Till, whom some of you might remember from the two most recent X-Men movies as Havoc, plays Cayden Richards, a happy teenager and jock who suddenly discovers that he is a werewolf. He ends up on the run and lands in the town of Lupine Ridge, a town full of his breed, to find out the mysteries of his heritage. Naturally, he meets a hot young girl (Merritt Patterson), and the two fall for each other because there’s no one else around. No love triangle is refreshing, but it’s also kinda boring.

However, the focus of Wolves is, thankfully, not on the romance. It’s more about tensions between Cayden and a dangerous pack of wolves led by Connor, played by Game of Thones’ Jason Momoa. The big fella is the headliner for the movie but he comes across as fairly bland. In fact, most of the film comes across as fairly bland. There’s werewolf sex and werewolf fights, but the story itself is not interesting or distinguishing enough for Wolves to avoid the label of a wannabe attempt.

On the bright side, it’s solidly directed by writer/director David Hayter (who penned the scripts for X-Men, X-Men 2 and Watchmen) in his directorial debut, and the wolves look more like traditional werewolves than the big dogs they’ve become thanks to Twilight.

Still, it’s hard to determine what Wolves was aiming for other than another run-of-the-mill teen wolf flick. It was made for a minuscule budget of US$18 million. It is, as far as I know, not based on any best-selling books. It doesn’t appear to have any major rising stars or teen heartthrobs, unless you put Till (who looks more “unusual” than handsome in my humble opinion) or Momoa (who is too old) in those categories. And it appears to be a standalone with no prospects of a sequel.

Perhaps it will give those suffering from Twilight withdrawal symptoms a shot in the arm, but for everyone else, Wolves should either be watched as a DVD rental when the options are limited or a late-night cable entry when there’s nothing else to do.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Vampire Academy (2014)

May 15, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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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 Legend of Hercules (2014)

April 2, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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First of all, The Legend of Hercules is the Hercules movie starring Twilight beefcake Kellan Lutz, not the yet-to-be-released one with The Rock. Secondly, despite everything you’ve heard about it, The Legend of Hercules is not THAT bad. Its 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is misleading because it means only 3 out of 100 critics thought it was a good movie, not that the average rating of the movie is 3 out of 100 (or 0.15 stars out of 5). In truth, The Legend of Hercules is just terribly average and lacking in originality, and likely inferior to that other Hercules movie. But it’s not THAT bad. Really.

Where do I start? In ancient Greece, of course. King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins from The Expendables 2) is the king of the world, but he’s also a selfish, warmongering dude who’s extremely villainous. His estranged wife prays for guidance and “boom”, she’s doing the naughty with Zeus, who is apparently a wham-bam-thank-you-mam kinda fellow. The result is a baby who would grow up to become Hercules (Kellan Lutz).

I’ll stop there, but essentially Hercules is the story of a prophecised half-man, half-god pretty boy who has to find the strength within himself to take on the evil regime of his adopted father and wimpy half-brother while finding time to woo a pretty blonde lady played by Gaia Weiss. Without giving too much away, the film is part Gladiator, part The Passion of the Christ, part Braveheart and part Thor – in that order.

That’s one of the biggest problems with The Legend of Hercules – it feels derivative and lacking in passion. It borrows liberally and shamelessly without putting its own twist or stamp on things. The pedestrian script doesn’t do the film any favours either, but despite the Herculean efforts of director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) the film can’t quite shake its “cash-grabbing” vibe.

The film was made for US$70 million, which is a relatively small budget for a “blockbuster” like this. And it shows. From the weak special effects (like the bizarrely fake-looking lion) to the overall look of the sets and its visual texture, The Legend of Hercules is lacklustre all over.

To be fair, however, I did enjoy some of the action sequences in the film, both in and out of the gladiator arena. They were well choreographed and occasionally exciting, and it helps that Scott Adkins is a professional martial artist who knows what he’s doing. The scenes of Kellan Lutz doing his best impersonation of Kratos from God of War were fun too.

Speaking of Kellan Lutz, aka “charisma vortex”, it seems more than plausible that he’s the biggest reason the film has been a worldwide flop. He seems like a nice guy and a fine physical specimen who looks like he just jumped straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch print ad, but it might come as a shock to many of you that he CAN’T ACT.  He has two facial expressions — blank, for when he doesn’t need to do anything, and an ape-like grimace for every other emotional expression. He’s basically the opposite of Daniel Day-Lewis.

I don’t profess to be an expert at judging male aesthetics, but Lutz is also one weird looking dude. There are some angles where he appears conventionally handsome and others where his face looks like an orangutan stuffed into a glass cube. The orange fake tan doesn’t help either.

Still, he’s an upgrade over Liam Garrigan, who plays Hercules’ half-brother Iphicles. Garrigan, I’m sure, is a good-looking man in real life, but here he sports a haircut that makes Tom Hanks’ rug in The Da Vinci Code look like a masterpiece. With a hairstyle like that you might as well have stuck a sign on his head that says “wimpy, gutless, jealous older brother with inferior complex who will die and no one will care.”

Anyway, as much as I have shit all over it, The Legend of Hercules is not THAT bad. For all its flaws, the fight scenes are solid and it’s only a merciful 99 minutes long. If you treat the bad script, bad dialogue, bad haircuts and Kellan Lutz’s performance as comedy, it’s actually not an unentertaining movie.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Host (2013)

May 1, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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There is only a handful of times in a life that one will see a movie that is so laughably pathetic that they don’t even know how to react to it. The Host is one such movie.

Based on a book written by the skilled pen of Stephenie Meyer, the author who bestowed upon us the Twilight Saga, The Host tells the story of how mankind has been mostly taken over by an alien race. These aliens, who look like big dandelions and are called “Souls” (convenient), inject themselves into human bodies and use them as hosts (hence the clever title). The consciousness of the original human owner is erased and replaced by the alien, who still retains the human’s memories and knowledge. One particular alien called Wanderer takes over the body of a young girl, Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), whose consciousness refuses to subside and battles the alien for control of the body. The alien is moved by this wonderful love Melanie had as a human with Jeremy Iron’s son, Max Irons, but there’s also some other dude (Jake Abel from I Am Number Four – Kevin Bacon’s son?) that fancies her — cue patented Stephenie Meyer love triangle.

It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Twilight. Shudder.

I can imagine this kind of story working as a novel, but as a film (especially one that is merely hoping to cash in on Twilight‘s popularity) it just had no chance. I tried to give The Host a genuine shot, but the plot had more holes than Prometheus and the love triangle made the one in Twilight seem like the greatest love triangle of all time. I found myself either shaking my head or bursting out in laughter from the unintentional hilarity for almost the entirety of the torturous 125-minute running time.

Technically, the visuals and the direction of Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, In Time) are fine. Even the performances from the all-star cast (which also includes William Hurt and Diane Kruger) are not too bad, considering the lines they had to spew out. But there is little anyone could do when the source material and the screenplay and dialogue are so awful. For starters, Saoirse Ronan has conversations with herself all throughout the movie because she is, um, trapped within herself. Trust me, it’s stupid.

Then there are the questions. Of all the relationships in the world, the alien is moved by one between a young girl and guy who have known each other for a couple of months? WTF? Why does Wanderer (“Wanda”) go from hated enemy one second to the most beloved and trusted ally the next? Why does Jake Abel go from wanting to kill Wanda one second to wanting to make out with her the next? Why does she have to make out with people for contrived reasons? (There is, I swear, one scene where the guys take turns making out with her). The list goes on.

And the ending, which I will not give away, is the icing on the cake. You have to see it to believe it.

What else can I say? The Host is dull, lacking in tension, excitement and heart, and just plain absurd. Avoid it if you dare.

0.5 out of 5…

Book Review: ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ by EL James

January 13, 2013 in Book Reviews, Reviews

Fifty Shades Freed

Fifty Shades Freed is the perfect title to the third and final book of EL James’s 50 Shades Trilogy. After struggling with to get through this book for months, I can finally say, “I have been freed!” Freed from one of the worst pieces of crap I have ever read.

You may ask why I would read something I find so horrible — and trust me, I have asked myself that question several times — but the Fifty Shades trilogy is actually an excellent lesson in bad writing and how to avoid it. I may not be a good writer, but I sure know terrible writing when I see it. This is not to say James is necessarily a bad writer. As Anne Lamont wrote in Bird by Bird, almost all writers start off with shitty first drafts. All of Fifty Shades is, essentially, is a shitty first draft. It could have been pared back,  fixed up and improved significantly with two or three (most probably more) rewrites, but instead, we were given the product in practically raw form. And it’s ghastly.

I had tried to defend the first two books of the series to some degree, but I simply cannot think of one redeeming feature about this one. The first entry, Fifty Shades of Grey, was at least fresh and had some interesting dynamics as our protagonist, Anastasia Steele, is courted by the enigmatic, impossibly handsome and super rich Christian Grey. The second book has the couple reconciling after a brief break up and then has them “getting to know each other” a little better, before ending with a really bizarre epilogue that foreshadowed the rise of a nasty villain in the final book.

Well, this so-called villain turned out to be completely pathetic and incapable of generating any tension whatsoever. He/she was a completely different person to the character that James had described and depicted in the first book and a half. It just made no sense at all. Even when this villain made a final appearance for the “climax” it was still incredibly lame, and again, made no sense at all. I can’t say too much without giving away the “twists”, but whole thing made less sense than Mulholland Drive multiplied by Primer.

To insult readers further, instead of explaining why a certain part of the story didn’t make sense in the aftermath of the climax, James added an “author’s note” at the end and inserted an additional conversation to fudge the plot back into coherence. Unfortunately she needed another dozen authors notes to explain all the other stuff that remained inexplicable.

Enough with the villain, who is, to be fair, only a tiny part of the book. The majority of Fifty Shades Freed is still devoted to the unbearably saccharine relationship between Ana and Christian. I tried my best but I just couldn’t find anything real about their relationship, their emotions or their personalities.

Ana loves Christian so much and Christian loves Ana so so much. They can’t live without each other despite their respective flaws. Christian is so unbelievably beautiful and domineering and rich and a sex god. Ana can’t believe how lucky she is. Women can’t stop making passes at her man and she can’t stop rolling her eyes at them. James keeps telling us the same things over and over, rubbing it in our faces and shoving it down our throats — for 1,500+ pages.

But having them constantly and repeatedly tell each other how much love is in the air doesn’t make us feel that love. In fact, the more times they said it (almost every second page, really) the less convinced I became. To James’s credit, she does tone down the pointless email conversations and the inner goddess/subconscious gymnastics that irked me so much in the first two books, but to be honest I still had to regularly break out the speed reading I learned in high school (which had not been utilized for fiction in more than a decade) just so I could get through the worst sections.

As for the sex — there wasn’t a whole lot, and what was left behind lacked the passion of the earlier entries in the series. If Fifty Shades of Grey was all hot and heavy between two horny teenagers, then Fifty Shades Freed is like an old couple who have been married for 60 years and lost their libidos long ago.

Without arguably the best part of the novels working its magic, Fifty Shades Freed was more or less a fantasy diary that simply went on and on aimlessly and kept rehashing the same things. I don’t remember ever reading something so repetitive and tedious. There probably was an attempt at plotting, but it sure didn’t feel like it. The efforts at creating tension were horrendous — SPOILER ALERT — with the car chase and kidnapping the most laughable examples.

To top things off, at the very end of the book there is a retelling of the first encounter between Christian and Ana — but this time, from Christian’s perspective (I believe it was attempting to mirror what Stephenie Meyer tried to do with Twilight until it was leaked online and she scrapped it). If there was ever any charm to this Christian fellow, James’s misguided attempt at his male voice pretty much destroyed it. Instead of remaining this enigmatic, tortured soul with a heart of gold, Christian Grey turned out to be, as feared, an obnoxious prick with only one thing on his mind.

Good for James and the millions she has raked in, but personally, I’m just glad it’s all over.

0.5/5

 
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