Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Vampire Academy (Part 1)

You ever wonder what Mean Girls would have been like if Lindsay Lohan had been a vampire? Yeah, me neither...”

This is going to be a strange one. Vampire Academy is based on a series of books written by Richelle Mead, another saga of supernatural teenagers and all their lovely drama. I've never read the books so I honestly can't say what their quality is, but each new book usually tops the best seller list so there has to be something there of interest.

What's odd is the creative team behind this one, the Waters Brothers Mark and Daniel. Mark directed it, which is a good pick as his resume has a healthy history of mixing teens and the supernatural. Mean Girls, Freaky Friday, Just Like Heaven, and the Spiderwick Chronicles... I'd say the man knows his stuff when it comes to the Young Adult demographic.

Daniel on the other hand... whoa. I'm not sure you could find a writer with a more erratic career than he has. He wrote the excellent Heathers, one of the most fun movies ever in Demolition Man, the BIZARRE Batman Returns, the Godawful Adventures of Ford Fairlane, and then The Room of the 1990s in Hudson Hawk.

Some varying styles to say the least. This either is going to be a very witty and clever film or just a jaw droppingly terrible one. Sink your fangs into your favourite Dhampir and let's watch A Ghoul Versus Vampire Academy!


The film begins with WAY too many studio credits for a film this small, set to M.I.A.'s “Bad Girls”. We see a station wagon driving down a road at night, containing the Dragomir family consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Dragomir, their teenage children Andre and Lissa, and Lissa's best friend Rose Hathaway. We find they're actually listening to “Bad Girls” on the radio, which is kind of hard to believe the prim and proper British parents would be rocking out to this.

Right off the bat I have to give the film points for establishing everyone's names and identities immediately in might actually be a world record. The parents don't get names besides Mr. and Mrs. Dragomir, but they're adults in a fantasy story so who cares about them?  Mr. Dragomir says “I think the tune is rahther catchy” in his posh British accent, going to crank it up when a car from the oncoming lane smashes into them head on.

Rose wakes up in bed gasping. Was that just a dream then? In the next room she can hear Lissa crying out, going to wake her up. Apparently they were both having the same dream about the accident because Lissa talks about how weird it is having Rose in her head. Rose quips that by now Lissa should know that weird doesn't even begin to cover their lives, and holy crap they're getting the exposition out of the way in record time!

Rose starts to chastise her for not dreaming about naked guys when she notices Lissa has a poster of American president Jimmy Carter on her wall. Lissa explains it's her attempt to blend into “Oregano” society, Rose correcting her that they're in “Oregon”. Goddamn movie, slow down! I can't keep up with these character profiles disguised as teenage girl dialogue!

So do you want to go get something to eat? I think we should eat Chinese, which is my favourite food ever since I was 9 years old and my powers first manifested themselves, giving me super strength and agility!”

No, I think I'd prefer Italian. As long as we don't order anything with garlic in it, as you know that's my biggest weakness and can cause my powers to fail at a moment when they're the most needed!”

Lissa says she's still adjusting, because after all it's been less than a year since they ran away from the academy and two years since the crash. NO ONE TALKS THIS WAY MOVIE. Lissa wonders if their being on the run is even worth it since she doubts the academy even remembers them. Rose notices Lissa is looking faint so she offers her bare neck to her. Lissa grows fangs and digs in. Now THAT'S a good friend, it's hard to find one that'll let you drink their booze let alone their freaking blood.

Rose notices someone outside watching them. Lissa asks if it's strigoi, but Rose says it's the guardians instead. They leave their apartment through the alley, finding two men in black suits outside looking around. Rose turns a motorcycle into a giant Molotov cocktail to distract them and kicks their asses with her ninja skills. Hmm, nice and practical!

The young women are about to jack a car and head to Canada when a man in a trench coat approaches them, addressing Princess Vasilisa Dragomir. He introduces himself as Dimitri Belikov, here to return her to St. Vladimir's Academy. Rose runs at him, but he hits her with the world's WORST slow motion palm strike that sends her flying into the air. I'm guessing the film's thirty million dollar budget didn't go towards the special effects.

She's in the air so long Dimitri is able to run underneath her and catch her body. Rose figures this is a good time as any to do some more exposition, so she starts narrating. Lissa is a royal member of the ancient race called the Moroi. They don't do any of the traditional vampire things, nor do they sparkle. Taking a shot at Twilight, eh movie? That's kind of biting the hand that feeds you, isn't it?  The Moroi don't live forever either, though they do need to drink blood. Rose is a dhampir, which is a half human half Moroi.

The dhampir, better known as the guardians, are the protectors of the Moroi. Rose's narration takes place over Dimitri and his fellow guardians driving her and Lissa to Montana. Rose comes out of her narration to complain to Dimitri about being handcuffed to the car, and not even six minutes into the movie I pretty much hate her already. Why? Everything she says is a “witty” one liner. EVERYTHING.

Dimitri pulls up the hair on the back of the neck to show off his tattoos for no good reason other than giving Rose the chance to tell us more about the world. His tattoos are “molnija marks”, indicating he's killed six strigoi which apparently is a big deal. Her and Lissa share a telepathic joke much to Dimitri's disdain.

They arrive at a gated off compound, Dimitri talking into an earpiece to open the gate. He gets no answer, only crackling static. That'd be a funny twist if humans have taken over the compound and we get a reverse horror movie here.  Suddenly a body drops onto the car, and men start smashing the car windows and grabbing everyone. The attackers are some kind of vampire zombies because vampire werewolves would be just plain stupid.

The battle leads into the woods, leaving Rose and Lissa alone. Rose breaks her handcuffs and goes outside to investigate where everyone went. A strigoi, whom these freaks obviously are, appears and starts advancing on her. Rose breaks character and suddenly turns into a terrified damsel in distress, just standing there too scared too move. The guardians return from the woods and kill the invaders.  Rose starts narrating again that those beings were the strigoi, the bad vampires. 

The strigoi can only be killed by a silver stake and they're the worst of the worst. We get a flashback of a young Rose in a classroom watching a video of a strigoi dancing to what was likely dubstep.  Dimitri takes them inside the gates, Rose saying goodbye to her life of Facebook and iPhone 5s. Wow that is some terrible dialogue. Also, who was she Facebooking? Weren't they on the run and trying to avoid contact with everyone?

We see the academy is basically Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as Moroi and dhampir comes from all over the world to get their education. Along with general knowledge of the world, dhampir learn how to kill while Moroi learn how to use magic based off the four elements.  Although I give this movie another point for showing they learn stuff like math and science. That always bugged the hell out of me you never see Harry Potter taking a math or english lesson, those kids had to be pretty freaking dumb by the time they graduated!

Quick Hermione, we need to solve this number puzzle so we can stop Voldemort's latest plan! What's two plus two?!”
Uhhhhhhh...”

Rose explains there are twelve royal families of the Moroi, that alternate leaders in the vampire world. The current is Queen Tatiana, but Lissa is “in the mix” to replace her. As they enter the school grounds, Rose complains about being back at “Vampire Academy”. Lissa takes offense to this, because Rose knows how she feels about the “v word”.

They're taken to meet with Headmistress Kirova and OH GOOD GOD it's Olga Kurylenko. I didn't think it was possible, but she's gotten worse as an actress. As she ponders a punishment for the two girls, Gabriel Byrne arrives to save us from her TERRIBLE line reading. He is Prince Victor Dashkov, the head of one of the twelve royal families. Gee, I wonder if the only big name in this movie who has a history of playing bad guys is going to turn out to be the bad guy?  Rose comments on his condition, as he looks like his skin is rotting off. He says his Sandovsky's Syndrome has gotten much worse, and oddly Rose doesn't narrate what the hell that means. Maybe her inner voice is exhausted from earlier.

Victor helpfully tells us he's the provost of the school and best friend of Lissa's father as he asks Olga to have sympathy on the girls. I wonder if exposition is a class at the academy or if it's a vampire thing in general?  Olga drones on and on, Rose not listening like the rest of us as she looks around the room. Her eyes rest on a bookshelf full of staff records, the camera pointing out one has the name Karp on it. This prompts Rose to ask where Ms. Karp is, Olga ominously informing her that she "no longer is part of institution”.

Rose asks why this is and Olga sets acting back at least a decade with her jilted response. I don't know who I admire more, Olga for just not giving a fuck about trying to act or the director for saying “yeah whatever, when do I get my check?” Victor starts talking about how his condition has taken the Dashkov family out of contention, and that Lissa is a possible successor to the throne.

Which we already knew. We're only twelve minutes in this thing, huh? I want to talk about this entire scene for a second. It really doesn't make a lot of sense, I get the impression they took a much bigger conversation and hacked it up to get the important stuff going without the transitional dialogue that got us there. Either that, or every character has severe ADHD.

Speaking of ADHD, Olga then transforms into an entirely different character as she tries to molest Rose right in front of everyone. Uh... Dimitri breaks this incredibly awkward moment by telling Olga that Rose and Lissa have “the bond”.

Olga says that's impossible but Dimitri says he's confirmed it. Dimitri stands up for Rose, saying she should continue to be Lissa's guardian because the number of female guardians have gotten so low. And then I have no idea what's going on next, Lissa starts apologizing to Olga as the camera focuses SUPER CLOSE on her face while her voice gets all echoy. I think she's using the Jedi mind trick or Olga, because Olga then says Rose can stay at the academy BUT no parties, no socializing, and no fun. Great, so now Olga's the crusty old dean from every frat house movie ever.

As Rose and Lissa go to leave, Olga gives Rose a telegram from her mother. Rose is more interested in narrating about how Lissa just used “compulsion” to save her ass. This gives way to another flashback as Rose helps Lissa practice her magic when they were originally at the academy. Lissa hasn't declared which element she's going to study, which I guess is a really big deal to her people. Rose gets excited when Lissa's magic works, going to high five her. Lissa leaves her hanging because Rose should know how she feels about high fives. Oh my God, is this going to be her “thing”?

They're interrupted by Ms. Karp, who is a fucking weirdo to say the least. She says it's fine Lissa hasn't declared a magic yet, because she never did and look how she turned out!  As Karp walks away, both women talk about how much they like her. Rose says what she likes best about her is that she's not strange or creepy at all, which is supposed to be sarcasm but I don't think the actress quite understood that in the script and read it straight. A crow flies by them into a statue, gravely hurting itself. Lissa uses her powers to heal it, as Rose notices Karp ANGRILY watching them from a window. Lissa passes out from the effort of using her powers as the flashback ends.

Lissa goes to get a drink of water from a fountain as the prerequisite Popular Kids use their powers to make the water blast her in the face. They all laugh like this is hilarious, which it was... in kindergarten One of them, Aaron, breaks away from the group to talk to her. He's Lissa's ex-boyfriend, apologizing for the actions of his current girlfriend Mia. He says Mia is jealous but deep down she's really sweet.  Mia illustrates this by walking up to Lissa and saying “Back off BITCH, he's mine now!” Lissa quips it must be WAY deep down.  WHOO, comedy!

Meanwhile Rose is catching up with her old friends at a training session, including her good friend Mason. She starts bragging about how awesome she is, and he kicks her ass in like one second. Mason is the GREATEST HERO IN THE HISTORY OF EVER! Rose's eyes suddenly turn shiny and she has a POV vision of entering a church. Ah, she's seeing what Lissa is doing thanks to their bond.

Some dark haired asshole walks in and ridicules Lissa for... I don't know, something. Conversations in this movie don't really flow at all. But I'm sure they'll find a way to tell us exactly what's going on in the next few sentences. Rose saves the day as she starts talking to herself about how the boy is Christian Ozera, whose folks turned themselves into strigoi.

Christian and Lissa drone on, as Christian also changes characters mid-scene into a much nicer guy. The only thing important in this scene is Lissa mentions strigoi can't enter holy ground, which will probably be useful later on. As Lissa tries her best to put the audience to sleep, Christian is staring at her straight creeper style.  He tells her he has a theory on what she did for blood involving her and Rose while they were on the run. Lissa asks him to not share his theory with anyone else.

Later that night Rose meets with Dimitri for training in a scene set to Haim's “The Wire”, so that's ANOTHER point I have to give this movie for doing something right. Rose asks if they can go easy since she's worn down from the previous training session, Dimitri responding by slamming her hard to the mats. Hmm, at this point it's a toss up who I love more: Mason or Dimitri. I gotta go Mason because so far he's the only actor in this movie with any charisma whatsoever.

Our next scene has Rose and Lissa heading to the “cafeteria”, which Rose ACTUALLY NARRATES as “it's time for the cafeteria scene”. Wow.  Rose asks if you've ever wondered what happened to the one friend of yours had that was obsessed with vampire books and shows? Yeah, she grew out of it and got into goddamn Doctor Who. Oh wait, Rose wasn't talking to me was she? Or was she? WHO EXACTLY IS SHE NARRATING TO?

We are introduced to the human feeder program, where human civilians sign up to give Moroi their blood in exchange for the thrill of a vampire feeding off them. This was an AWESOME IDEA... when Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it fourteen years ago.  Rose introduces us to the human feeder program, where human civilians systematically giving their blood to the Moroi. Rose hates this, but Lissa reminds her all humans are there of their own free will. The humans sign a one year maximum contract and get their memories compulsed when it's up.

This movie does not give one single IOTA about establishing its world whatsoever. What is the Moroi's relation to the outer world? Does the entire human race know about them? If not, how do the feeder humans know about them? It's not like the academy can put out a Craigslist post for vampire groupies because they have no internet. How come Lissa has more powers than just elemental ones? Why is not declaring your magic specialty such a big deal? How come Moroi bites don't leave marks?

For that matter, what do the Moroi do once they're out of school? Why do they have sex with humans? Does that mean the Moroi blend into the human world or do they just stay sequestered in their little societies? Rose says there's Moroi and dhampirs all over the world, that's a lot of supernatural beings to stay hidden. Oh, the dhampir! Why are there so few female guardians left in the world? Why do the dhampir serve the Moroi so diligently? Wouldn't they resent being raised to be bodyguards and nothing else?

What is hell is Sandovsky's syndrome? What does it do? Is it related to the strigoi at all? What's the deal with the strigoi? What's their motivation or are they just mindless beings that feed on Moroi? Why did Christian's parents turn themselves into strigoi? How did they do it? How come a strigoi can't enter holy ground when none of the other vampire rules apply to them?

We see a clinic full of human freaks getting fed on by vampires. Lissa sees one of her old feeder friends Norrine, sitting next to her and immediately chomping down on her arm. Come on movie! They JUST said the humans can only be there a year, and Lissa's been gone for over a year so how can that woman still be there? Unless they meant a TOTAL of a year and Good God why am I trying to make sense of this?  Rose runs into Victor at the clinic and chats with him, Victor asking her to keep an eye on his daughter Natalie, who is introduced as the Clumsy Awkward Nerd Girl.

Lissa catches up with Rose after she's done feeding, telling her what Norrine's been up to. She mentions she writes Twilight fan fiction, Rose asking if Lissa has read any. Lissa replies “oh God no” with utter disgust in her voice, making this the second shot the movie's taken at Twilight. Which is fine, but they really should have made sure their movie wasn't worse before they did that. I wonder if all this Twilight bashing was in the book, as it was published in 2007 when Twilight wasn't yet the “pop culture phenomenon” it'd go on to become.

Natalie walks up to Rose and Lissa to say hi, and we find out not only is she the Clumsy Awkward Nerd Girl, she's ALSO the Talks A Million Miles A Second Girl.  The three young women go to... church? Eh? I don't recall reading about the Moroi in the Bible. Rose makes googly eyes at Jesse, the Hottest Boy in the School. I think I'm going to turn off the Cliche Counter off for awhile, I don't want it exploding like the last one did. Natalie has a crush on Jesse's best friend Ray, who mocks her nonstop but of course that doesn't phase her.

Rose flirts with Jesse as the bells chime church is about to begin. Mason talks to Rose after Jesse leaves, and this sure as hell better be the beginning of a love triangle because I'm lost and confused without one! A young adult vampire story without a love triangle is like a day without the sun or a Michael Bay movie without explosions. It's just not natural.

At church they listen to a sermon about St. Vladimir trying to follow God's path despite his powers. This is just flat out weird. By St. Vladimir do they mean Vlad the Impaler, who was the inspiration for Dracula? Or is this something else?

The preacher says Vladimir was helped by the bond he had with his guardian, shadow-kissed Anna. This causes Rose to have a flashback of Ms. Karp calling her shadow-kissed as well. An explosion outside the church interrupts the sermon, everyone running out in the hallway to see the memorial to Lissa's family desecrated with the words “Leave or Die” written on it.

The next day Rose and Jesse meet up in secret to make out. He keeps interrupting her to ask about things like iPhones and hashtags, and BLOODY HELL this movie is going to be dated in a few years. Jesse tries to bite her as it makes sex better, but Rose says he's never let a guy degrade her like that. This causes him to deduce Lissa was biting her for blood while they were on the run. Dimitri arrives to cockblock Jesse and end this stupid scene.

Rose has another flash of Lissa-Vision, as the princess finds a dead fox nailed above her door. The guardians search the area but can find no evidence of who did it. Rose thanks Dimitri for not ratting hero out to Rose, as we see they both are starting to have feelings for each other. Ooh... upping the ante on a love triangle with a love quadrilateral! This movie IS original!

Rose, Lissa, and Natalie all attend a class where Mia intentionally lets the professor see a note she's passing. He reads it out loud because this is elementary school apparently, reading how Lissa killed the fox on purpose to distract everyone from learning she was using Rose as a personal feedback. This causes the entire class to murmur to each other. 

The professor says Dhampir-Moroi mastication is a very serious allegation. Damn that's a big word for this movie that I actually had to look up the definition to.  It's a fancy word for "chewing", not biting like Lissa was doing to Rose but just because I have time to look up words doesn't mean the writers of this movie did!  Ray pipes up, saying the teacher left out the best part of the note where he and Jesse had a three-way with the “dhamp-tramp” Rose. Ray's clothes suddenly burst into the WORST CGI flames in the history of recorded cinema.

The professor orders Christian to stop it, Ray's clothes extinguishing themselves without even a single mark on them. The professor orders Christian to the office, where hopefully he gets detention and we end up with a Vampire Breakfast Club because at least that'd be mildly interesting.

After class Lissa gets mad at Rose for letting Jesse uncover their secret and storms off. Mason gets in on the storming off action himself after confronting Rose about Jesse. Rose uses her Lissa-Vision, which is what she actually calls it, to see where Lissa went. She finds her in the church yelling at Christian, mad at him for setting Ray on fire despite the fact she seemed a bit flattered when he did it in class.

Christian points out Ray at no burn marks, then starts ranting about how they need to start using their magic to fight the strigoi. So does this mean the strigoi are organized and trying to overthrow the Moroi? I got the impression they were just random mindless creatures, but Christian makes it sound like they're in a huge war against them. Lissa reminds him this is forbidden.

Queen Tatiana arrives for a school assembly, and have you noticed how pretty much every scene in this movie just kind of...ends? There's almost no attempt to link them or have them flow in a cohesive manner. Queen Tatiana is dressed in a cheap costume they likely stole from a local high school's production of the Wizard of Oz, which is also apparently where the “actress” is from too. Wait, hold on a minute. Is that... JOELY RICHARDSON?!?

Ohhh, that's sad. She is a FANTASTIC actor, but you'd never guess that from her performance here. I'm thinking after a few days of seeing what the movie was like and realizing her contract was legally binding, she went into FULL ON “I don't give a single fuck” overdrive mode. Whereas Jeremy Irons struck back at the filmmakers in Dungeons And Dragons by giving the greatest over the top performance of ALL TIME, Richardson's is a borderline suicide note.

I CANNOT emphasize how much this scene feels like a high school play. Tatiana calls up Lissa in front of everyone where she berates her for all the crap she's pulled lately, because how dare she get a fox nailed above her door. After the assembly Rose and Natalie talk about how Tatiana crossed the line, and here's a sample of Rose's “wit”:

Natalie: After all that Lissa has been through, to be shamed by our queen bee?
Rose: Don't you mean queen bee-atch?

They head to Lissa's room, which they find empty with “If You Stay Bewhere” painted in blood. I don't know why, but I find it endearing they spelled “beware” wrong. Rose has Natalie LICK THE BLOOD on the wall so she can tell where it came from. Good God, first we have the angel in the Prophecy licking blood and now this? Has no one ever heard of a forensics team?

All Natalie can tell is the blood is from more than one person, and I really hope she goes to get an AIDS test after this. Lissa arrives, concluding Mia must be behind all of this. Rose says they should be focusing on finding Ms. Karp instead because... I don't know. There's this horribly undefined subplot about how Rose and Lissa can't remember why exactly they left the academy but it's like they keep forgetting about it every few scenes.  Rose leaves, bumping into Christian on the way out. He was coming to make sure Lissa is okay, but Rose tells him to stay away from her. He tells her Lissa likes him, and Rose replies with this line:

“Lissa used to like Hot Topic too, and then she turned twelve”.

Ahhh, there it is. This line made me curious enough about the books, so I actually downloaded the first book to see how loyal the movie was being to it. The book has ZERO references to Twilight or Hot Topic, which leads me to believe Daniel Waters wrote this entire movie as a middle finger to the entire genre. I mean the guy is in his fifties now, this entire supernatural teen genre has to be such nonsense to him. I could be totally wrong, after all this is the guy who wrote Hudson Hawk so I could be giving him WAY too much credit, but there is definitely a tone to this movie that makes me feel I'm right. Also, making fun of Hot Topic customers is MY gig Vampire Academy, OKAY?

Christian says he was only being concerned, Rose saying there's a fine line between concerned and stalker. Jesus Christ, what did he DO? It was clearly established Christian was going to the church long before Lissa was, if anything she's stalking HIM. Rose tells Christian to go away because it's what Lissa wants. Nice, 37 minutes into the movie and I DESPISE our “heroine” now. Well done movie!

He started off a little rough, but Christian has been a nice guy who has been helping Lissa through the bad time she's had since returning to the academy, as well as defending the honour of her AND Rose. Rose just comes off as a complete bitchy sociopath here.

The next morning Rose FINALLY reads the telegram Olga gave her after a couple of scenes teasing her opening it. Yeah, it's only been a few days why not? She meets Dimitri outside for more training and some monotonous line reading on his part, during which we learn Rose's mother is one of the most badass guardians in the world. Dimitri asks what the telegram said, and this ought to be good after all that build up!

“Glad you're alive. What you did was inexcusable. Mom.” Oh. Huh.

They talk for what seems to be forever, the only worthwhile information that Rose knows nothing of her Moroi father. Rose goes back inside the school, where she runs into Mia. Rose tells her the world beware doesn't have an “h” in it, Mia furrowing her brow at her like “WTF are you talking about?” Rose makes a note of this as she meets up with Natalie, who tells her Mia and Aaron are going on a field trip to a hemoglobin factory later that day.

WHAT?! The vampires take field trips? Does this actually mean the human world knows about their existence? Or do they just pretend they're a normal school? If so, how do they deal with state inspection drills? Also, what the hell is a hemoglobin factory? Is that a human thing or a Moroi thing? I googled it to no avail, so it must be a Moroi thing. Also, I am completely bored to tears by this movie so am trying to grab onto anything to stay interested.