Skip to main content

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy
(2014)

My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.


I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping to be a contender. The first of Richelle Mead’s series, one whose title helpfully requires zero work on the reader’s part to divine just what it is all about, was published in 2007. The sixth instalment came in 2010, and the series has sold over 8 million copies, so I guess it deserves to be labelled popular.


The school setting obviously takes a leaf out of Buffy’s book (I know, vampires weren’t really attending school in then series) but, since it’s the also part of the Twilight vogue, I’m sure there were ready sources of inspiration for this vampire education all over. And, you know, the kids can relate. Mead’s take has half-breed (not actually vampires) offspring of humans and vampires (Dhampir) acting as guardians for the (good) vamps (Moroi). Which seems like it’s the wrong way round, but what do I know. The Dampir also have magic abilities (which is handy), able to control the four elements (only one each though, I believe). There are also bad vampires (the standard sort, before Anne Rice came on the scene), Strigoi, who are undead and drink blood.


Rose (Zoey Deutch, daughter of Lea Thompson – Marty McFly’s mum – and Howard Deutch – director of, er, Some Kind of Wonderful) is a guardian-in-training, Lissa (Lucy Fry) is the Moroi princess (vampires have royalty, of course) she protects. They have a strong bond, but only a lesbian one unless you’re keen on Vampire Academy fan fiction, and Rose is able to experience the latter’s thoughts. Which sounds like a recipe for Whedon-esque whip-smartness but mostly flounders. Lissa meanwhile can bring the dead back to life; rules are up for grabs and any shit goes.


The movie almost surprises in the first instance by starting mid-story (and avoids extended flashbacks), with the two girls on the run, but can’t take credit as this was part of the novel. That might encourage the picture to feel very “busy” but it’s also because neither Waters is able to focus on the main story until quite a late stage; there are threats to Lissa’s life, school bullying, an Angel-esque smouldering older love interest (Josh Hartnett-alike Danila Kozlovsky as Dimitri) for Rose and an age-appropriate one for Lissa (Dominic Sherwood as Christian).


The pervading sense of familiarity may be part of the reason this one didn’t catch on, although there are more particular problems in execution. The leads are desperately poor shows, particularly Deutch. She fails to bring a lightness of touch, stumbles through her witticisms and fails to sell herself as best buds wirh Rose and romancing Dimitri. I don’t particularly want to be hard on her; her mum’s a great actress and her dad, well he directed Some Kind of Wonderful. Fry seems to be concentrating so hard on her perfectly aristocratic RP accent she forgets to put in a performance. As a result, it’s hard to tell how much of this is down to Daniel Waters’ script; no one is able to carry the dialogue.


Well, no one central. There are some decent thesps on the periphery; Olga Krylenko has fun as a disciplinarian headmistress, Gabriel Bryne cashes the cheque but that’s still more value than most can muster, Joely Richardson gives it some amusing regal and Claire Foy does dotty. The best of the youngsters is Sami Gayle as chief (school) antagonist Mia, but she’s the only one you could imagine holding her own in Heathers (Sarah Hyland is also good as the geek girl concealing a really pretty girl as if you didn’t notice, but she’s more Clueless).


Generally, one would expect better from the combined forces that brought us Heathers and Mean Girls. The school setting doesn’t have enough bite; a wicked streak is required but it feels passé, more Harry Potter with spot of blood licked off walls than “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw”. As noted, Academy threatens to become interesting (only threatens) when the plot kicks in during the last 20 minutes. But that’s nothing to do with the teen angst bullshit with a body count plot, which is the opposite of what you might reasonably expect (before which there are a series of twists, none of which take much to guess). Little of the dialogue sticks in the mind, aside from “She writes Twilight fan fiction”. Which only serves to highlight that Vampire Academy has a cheek trying to come over all superior.


Daniel Waters’ work on Heathers and Hudson Hawk made him the skewed humourists to watch in the early part of the ‘90s, and he at least made Batman Returns the most peculiar movie in that franchise while Demolition Man became a likeably random Stalloner. His work here feels indistinct, though (the reverse of Sex and Death 101), strictly a bill-paying job. As for brother Mark, I never pegged him as a great, but he was at least a competent hand; Mean Girls is well observed, and he also showed a surprising flair with kids’ fantasy The Spiderwick Chronicles. On paper he doesn’t seem like a bad choice, but everything about the execution is off. The action is leaden, while the staging and cinematography shouts TV movie on a number of occasions.


That the Weinsteins produced this may explain everything. For every picture of theirs (and this was also true of their former Miramax) that gains plaudits and garlands there are many more where Harvey Scissorhands couldn’t resist butchering it in the blinkered (since he never has in all his many meddlings) belief that he could improve it. It’s alleged that Harvey had Vampire Academy cut down to the essentials, which would explain a lot; I’m more inclined to give Mark Waters the benefit of the doubt than say David Ayer for the messed up Sabotage, but Academy comes unstuck with the leads and deteriorates from there.


As always happens when Harvey gets his chubby mitts on a movie, he eviscerates it, loses interest, and then dumps it to die a slow disinterested death. The legions of the devoted have been trumping up a crowdsourced sequel but I’d be as dubious of that as the announced City of Bones one. Which led to the much more likely avenue. Bones has been announced as a TV series and, if Vampire Academy has a chance of adapted life beyond the limits of this misfire, that seems more likely. Lacking in wit, miscast and mangled, this pretty much what you expect from Weinstein pictures that aren’t aiming for Oscar glory, and also from a good few of them that are. The teaser poster warned “Prepare to be tested”. It was right.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.