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Vampire Academy (2014)
Let's look at the positives...
This is not a great movie, but it's certainly not bad. Here's some of the good that may have been overlooked...
You immediately get the notion that there is a lot of information to relay to an audience that may not be familiar with the books (myself included), and the movie does a fine job of presenting said information in easily-digested pieces that even a guy like me can accept.
The 2 teenage girl protagonist characters are refreshing examples of teenage girls with enough depth that you actually care about them. (I can thankfully report that they are far more role model worthy than "Twilight's" Bella character.) Rose, the rebellious fighter-type, kicks ass, has a quick wit, and bends the rules without being too unrealistic. By contrast, Lissa is the (literal) princess-type who is a reluctant heir, well-mannered, and amazingly vulnerable despite being powerful in her own way. These two characters create a fine base to build the movie around.
The story itself unexpectedly turns into a mystery that, ultimately, is satisfying when all is said and done.
The cast, on the whole, does an 'okay' job, but it's lack of strong, well-known, well-established actors may have hurt this movie's quality overall. The shining star in this movie is clearly Zoey Deutch who does a amazing job at believably and perfectly portraying a girl who can kick butt, crack wise, be an honorable protector, and still be a fallible teenage girl at the end of the day. I look forward to seeing more of her.
This movie is far from perfect, but by the end of it, I didn't feel like punching someone in the face for it. (Which, I must be honest, is typical for this movie genre) I have seen thousands of movies and I know BAD movies. This is not one of them.
In the end, "Vampire Academy", while only being above average, at least presents a unique vision into an over-saturated, over-visited intersection of teen fiction and fantasy. 6 out of 10.
Do yourself a favour. Read the book!
So a friend told me how the book was very different from the movie, and made me read the book... and boy was he right. But more about that later...
I recall seeing one of the producers say in an interview that due to all the superhero movies out, they intentionally went for a more "realistic" approach. I kept this in mind as I watched this movie. That said, I can only say that it's good, not great.
James McAvoy, who I've been a fan of since "Rory O'Shea Was Here", does an acceptable job as the movie's main character. However, I couldn't help but notice his accent seem to be just a little off here and there, which was a little distracting for me. Morgan Freeman and Angelina put in some reliable, albeit unremarkable, roles. And Common, a guy who has more on screen gravitas than most actors, is sadly underused.
The action scenes, which are vital for a film like this are very good. There are plenty of "okay, that was pretty cool" moments for adrenaline junkies out there. (Fyi: McAvoy actually did the "on the car hood" stunt with no CG. Nice job.) The story is good, but considering the original story, it would have been really hard to make a horrible movie. The special effects do a good job of making you believe in the unbelievable and some interesting camera-work and slow-mo also do well to enhance the experience.
All in all, above average, but not outstanding. 6 out of 10 BONUS COMMENTARY: The real tragedy about this movie is what it COULD have been. The original comic book wasn't about him being an assassin, you see, it was about him training to be a supervillian! That's right, in a superhero world, he's the Green Goblin, or Lex Luthor, or even the Joker! Now imagine what that movie would have been like! Additionally, they had to train him to be a cold-hearted, homicidal, remorseless bad guy. The book, which is definitely not for kids, is chock full with so much f-you, in-your-face, unapologetic violence this version of the movie would have been looking at an R rating for sure. Anyway, if you get a chance, track down the book and have a read. You can thank me later.
Miss Cast Away (2004)
The ONLY way to make this movie fun...
Do the following: Get a copy of this movie and a friend. Wager the friend $10 that they can't sit through this entire movie. They cannot divert their gaze or be distracted by anything. Now watch your friend. Win or lose, you get $10 of entertainment.
It angers me to no end when people see a movie and are quick to give it 1 out of 10, or sum up their thoughts with "it sucked". (And when asked "Why?", they respond, "Just because." Arrgh.) That is why this movie exists. It's sole purpose is for me to say, "There! THIS is a horrible movie! THAT is 1 out of 10!".
This movie is absolutely appalling.
While the recent trend of movie parodies has forced them to become increasingly formulaic, this movie falls short in every single aspect. It's not funny. It's not entertaining. And for some of the parodies, it's completely inaccurate! Horrible acting. Unfunny dialogue. A witless story. Terrible "special effects". One INANE gag after another. And to make matters even worse, there isn't even gratuitous nudity to somehow make it even fleetingly worthwhile.
This movie leaps past idiotic, stumbles over stupid, and lands face first on moronic. Even I, who loves a good "check your brain at the door" movie, found myself physically agitated watching this. This movie isn't even "Hard Ticket To Hawaii" so-terrible-it's-good bad... IT'S JUST BAD.
NOTE: I actually challenged a friend to watch this as described above. Not only couldn't he make it all the way through, but he had a headache and needed a couple minutes afterward because he felt a little ill. True story.
I could not accentuate this rating any more... a resounding 1 out of 10!
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Finally, Dreamworks Animation has a classic.
After various 3D animated movies ranging from lacklustre "star" movies ("Madagascar"), boring tripe ("Shark Tale", "Bee Movie"), and over-rated, over-hyped overkill ("Shrek"), Dreamworks can finally be proud of a truly great film. (Sidebar: I actually enjoyed "Flushed Away" and "Over The Hedge".) First, the bad. If I could complain about ANYTHING it may be a few of the voices. Besides Po, Shifu and Oogway, the rest of the cast seemed pretty 'phoned-in'. Thankfully, those characters are pretty inconsequential so they're not really missed.
Now the good... or rather great. While classic kung fu movies are poked fun at, Kung Fu Panda does an excellent job of treating the genre with great respect in a movie geared towards kids. And while it IS kid friendly, it is not dumbed down to the point where it's childish. All the classic elements of those great kung fu flicks are there, while still keeping it pleasantly G-rated.
Let me get this out of the way: this movie has some of the greatest 3D animated fight scenes. Ever. What elevates them from good to great is that while I expected the unbelievable, gravity-defying stunts that are REQUIRED of a good kung fu movie, there is an amazing amount of 'realism' to the physics in this movie. Just watch the jailbreak and you'll understand.
Speaking of animation, the cinematography, character design and backgrounds are all done very, very well. Whether it's flying through the air alongside a leaping character, the painting-like backgrounds, or the wonderful opening sequence (reminiscent of Samurai Jack), they're all beautiful. Snap zooms, slow-motion, and flying cameras are also used with great skill to further the experience.
Even the music and sound is outstanding. Asian drums rumble in the background of intense fights... stones shatter and crumble away... fight sequences rise and fall with each of the music cues, or is that the other way around? Beautiful.
What helps make this a new classic in my eyes is what it doesn't have. There are no Matrix, Spiderman, or other dated references. There are no inside jokes related to the voice actors. There isn't even any double entendre or unnecessary crude humour. Much like "Finding Nemo" or "Monsters Inc", there's just plenty of pop-culture-free goodness that is terribly entertaining.
The last great part of this movie is often the most overlooked part of a good family film... heart. This movie has oodles of it. Other movies have tried to have a lesson in the end like 'be yourself' ("Shrek"), or 'the value of friends' ("Madagascar"), or... 'be yourself' ("Shark Tale"), but "Kung Fu Panda" has genuine cinematic moments with dialogue that carries real weight. Best line: Oogway regarding yesterday, tomorrow and today.
So, finally, as a complete sucker for Pixar animation, I'm glad that another animation company can actually put proper thought and execution into a FAMILY movie. What else can I say? Congratulations Dreamworks. 10 out of 10.
Are junkies really this pleasant?
WARNING: This movie is unapologetically Canadian... which, in this case, is a good thing. Especially when this film could have been set in any city, town or village in the world.
I expected a low-budget, independent attempt at art. And what starts as out tragic and dark, grows into a fun, "what can happen now" sort of adventure that is surprisingly amusing. Yes, it's goofy at times. Yes, it borders on ridiculous, too. But dammit, it's fun. It carefully dances on the fine line of gross tragedy and outright slapstick, but doesn't quite cross the line either way.
The production value is fairly high, even if the budget wasn't. (The gritty darkness really suits the adventures of two junkies, anyway.) Scott Speedman and Wes Bentley build a real chemistry that grows on you and it's really good to see Bentley in a role that is FINALLY likable. Taryn Manning also does a good job, although I fear she's going to get pigeon-holed into similar roles. She deserves better. The rest of the cast does a solid job with no obvious weak link.
Finally, people are going to draw a lot of similarities to other movies. I would like to think of this as a strange cross between "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" and "Dude, Where's My Car?", with it leaning favourably toward the Dude side. It has a couple of introspective, deep moments, but balances it out with lighter, playful moments the rest of the time.
Really, if you ever "got the joke" of "Dude, Where's My Car?" or even found some sick humour out of the head trip of "Fear And Loathing..." check out "Weirdsville". You may be pleasantly surprised. 8 out of 10.
Why so harsh?
As of this writing there were 13 votes: 10 people that rated it 8 to 10, and 3 people that rated it a 1! Overall rating: 2.1 Harsh.
Ready for some name dropping, here's the premise: four different women work on the same "Martha Stewart" type TV show and their many, little, real day-to-day issues. Now it would be EASY to lump this into a "Sex And The City meets Pop-Up Video rehash", but let's not do that. Instead, for a Canadian produced show, it's pretty good.
Acting, writing, production value and even the "tips" are all pretty good. Not "great", but hardly bad! Hell, if you happen to sit back and hold judgment until the end, you'll find that you MIGHT get a chuckle and at the VERY LEAST find at least one handy little tip. Check it out. Why not? 8 out of 10.
American Soldiers (2005)
Well, the costumes look pretty good...
...it's also noteworthy that it's not simply, as is usually the case, of Americans good, non-Americans bad. However, EVERYTHING else is weak.
Cliché's abound in this would-be attempt at a dose of reality: the black soldier named Jackson, the Hispanic soldier from Miami, the anonymous Southern-drawled soldier, and the sarge who everyone would give their life for, who everybody calls, well, Sarge. The bad doesn't stop at characters: some bad wound makeup, soldiers looking like they're holding a gun for the first time, and bad guys who NEVER take cover and can't hit ANYTHING with an RPG all compound the ridiculous notion that all of these poignant moments are "typical" in ONE DAY.
Every single story element has been executed hundreds of times before and BETTER. Crappy writing coupled with horrific acting really blend together to create plenty of "did they really just say that" moments.
Bottom line: if this is supposed to be army propaganda, it's too silly to capture any sense of pride of the army. And if it's supposed to be entertainment, it's laughable. 1 out of 10
Do you REALLY remember?
For those that remember this gem of a show, do you remember that CUCUMBER is an anagram? This may help... WARNING: I might not have gotten the words EXACTLY right and you may experience an intense "ohmygodirememberthat" feeling :)
Come and sing a song of the forest,
Let us sing a song about animal kind,
Water, air and land throughout the forest,
Searching for some answers, seeing what we can find.
Children's Underground Club of United Moose and Beaver, for Enthusiastic Repor..orters
Children's Underground Club of United Moose and Beaver, for Enthusiastic Reporters!
A good piece of Canadiana...
Why is the movie rated so high???
Okay, if you like 'movies' I would say avoid this movie. If you like 'films' I would warn you that this movie is still pretty bad in my eyes.
***Spoilers Within*** It's not often a movie angers me so. However, it's not what you might think; I actually wanted this movie to get on with its inevitable climax ASAP! Now, I believe that a movie/film should have 1 of 3 things, a story, a point or a message. This film has none of them. The story crawls along and ends well, does it end? The point could be the style(?). And a message? The irony is, being a fan of such films as 'To Die For', 'Finding Forrester' and 'Good Will Hunting' I find myself asking what was the message of this movie? To show how boring your average teenager's life is? To show how cruel a teenager can be? How messed up? How being a teen isn't easy? Or maybe a warning for those parents who just don't listen to their kids' cries for help? Please!
And if you're going to site the style of this film, I have a problem with that too. Gus Van Sant's combination of...drawn... out... achingly long camera shots and slow moving character development (if you can call it that) simultaneously bore the viewer and develop nothing.
For those of us that survived those tumultuous teen years, this movie is almost insulting in its isn't-this-tragic shock value. This movie is chock full of characters you don't care about, a predictable outcome and even a character that is completely useless (Benny). (I refuse to buy the argument that the emptiness of the characters was supposed represent "realness"?)
The fact that the talent are not actors explains a lot. The banal improvised bickering of the popular girls or the phys. ed teacher is grating on the viewer.
The only part that I did like was the overlapping of lives from one teen to another. Well choreographed and incorporated seamlessly, it seemed to be the ONLY thing that seemed realistic. (C'mon, the shooters like violent video games, are Nazi fixated AND a little homosexual? Isn't that pushing the cliché envelope past its limit?)
For all those that loved this movie I make this promise: I WILL watch this movie again, and if I see what you all gush about, I will withdraw this comment. Until then, final thoughts... This movie fails to entertain, educate or even hold interest. Style does not create substance. Two-dimensional characters. A painfully slow pace. An ending that is hardly that. Shots that are three times longer than they need to be. And a complete lack of satisfaction at the end of it other than: some stuff sure did happen to those kids, huh? Sorry, 2 out of 10.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Wow. Just wow.
I'm a comic book fan and film buff. Have been for years. But I NEVER rushed out to see this movie in the theatre. In fact, I waited until I could watch it on DVD. Why? Mostly because the first movie, while good, didn't really strike me as 'great'. But there I was on my day off; no wife, no talk-during-the-movie friends, and most importantly, no audience to prompt me to laugh or groan or when to say 'whoa'... and I was whoaing. A lot.
Picking up where the first movie left off, this is undoubtedly one of the greatest superhero movies ever, even surpassing the first. But despite being a great comic book movie, it is SO much more... it is a great 'FILM', comic book or otherwise. Good character development and interaction, perfect integration between live action and CG, a beautifully developed bad guy, strong performances, great cinematography and visuals, pathos and even an ending, that while leaving it open to sequels, DOESN'T make you feel cheated in the end!
I truly believe that ANYONE could watch this movie and enjoy it. Incredibly-choreographed fight scenes, an involving, realistic story, romance and a sprinkling of comedy are all balanced together nicely in an unbelievable movie. And now that you've read all this you're gonna be disappointed, right? Let me leave you with the same thought process that I had when I sat down to watch it: just remind yourself of everything that happened in the first movie and think, "Sure, anybody with superpowers has it easy, right?" 10 out of 10.