Tag Archives: harry potter

Movie Review: Vampire Academy (2014)

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)

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!

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

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.

Movie Review: I Am Number Four (2011)

No, I Am Number Four is not a sequel, nor is it the fourth film of a franchise.  It’s a semi-children/adolescent sci-fi film based on the first (and currently only) book of the new hot novel series by Pittacus Lore (pen name of Jobie Hughes and James Frey — yes, that James Frey of A Million Little Pieces infamy) that attempts to cross-appeal to the general population (in the vein of Harry Potter, Twilight, etc).

I can’t speak for the book because I’ve only had a cursory glance of it in a bookstore, but if the movie is any reflection then it can’t possibly be very good. The story feels strangely familiar: aliens destroyed by other evil aliens send 9 gifted children to Earth; the evil aliens chase and start killing the kids off, one by one. Guess which one they are up to?

However, the premise is not the issue here, because any premise has potential — it’s the characters and the development of the story that lacked punch.  Alex Pettyfer, who plays Number Four, is not a bad actor, but his character is not particularly likable or sympathetic.  As of now, the character is just not very interesting.  He needs more charisma, more heart — he needs to be more than just your typical angst-driven teenager.  Maybe we’ll get to see more of that if this film does well and they decide to continue the series.

The love interest, Sarah Hart, is cringeworthy not just because her character is a horrible cliche, but it’s also because the actress playing her, Dianna Agron, has little more in her repertoire other than a flirty smile.  Aussie Teresa Palmer, who plays Number Six, put on the absolute worst American accent I’ve ever heard for a mainstream movie.  Why can’t she just be Australian?  As for Timothy Olyphant — he’s still rather serviceable, but is it just me or was he Hitman not that long ago?  And now he’s already the greying, ageing babysitter for the protagonist?

Anyway, I Am Number Four is adequate in some respects — the action sequences and the special effects are fairly good — but it’s still a somewhat uninspiring film that is more Percy Jackson than Harry Potter (and at least Percy Jackson had that whole Greek mythology thing going for it).  The characters and the way the story unfolds is all very ‘cookie-cutter’, and I longed to see something I didn’t expect.  It didn’t happen.

I could be wrong, but right now I just can’t see this film franchise coming close to replicating the success of Harry Potter or Twilight, or even Narnia.  The second book (and potentially second film) would have to take it to a whole new level for that to be remotely possible.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I) (2010)

I am what you might call a bandwagon Harry Potter fan.

I have never been into the series as much as the fanatics, but I have followed the hype and read all the books (I think starting from when Goblet of Fire came out) and watched all of the movies.  I thought they were all pretty good, more enjoyable than your average book or film, but nothing I would put in my ‘all-time’ lists.

Nevertheless, I found myself excited to see the first part of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (let’s just call it HP7), directed by David Yates (who also did HP5 and HP6) and with a screenplay by Steve Kloves (who has adapted all seven books).

So far, reviews have been rather mixed.  For Potter fanatics, the first half of this final film is everything they could have hoped for and more, not only because the film is beautifully shot but also because it is more faithful to the source material due to the extra running time.  For non-fans, HP7 probably comes across as a boring (because of the extra running time), confusing (because it assumes knowledge of all previous films/books) money grab (well, because it is).

For me, a relatively minor fan of the series, HP7 leans more towards the former than the latter, even though all the negatives mentioned above are present.  Much like HP6, the film is incredibly dark and bleak (visually, stylistically and in terms of plot), but probably even moreso because Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is finally back and is out to destroy his nemesis Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and all those who stand in his way, including Harry’s best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson).  With only half of the book and 146 minutes to play with, Yates has created a finely paced film that is more in-depth than the previous efforts.  There is more time for character development (particularly the relationship triangle between Harry, Ron and Hermoine), and thankfully, the once-were-babies actors have developed into fairly decent thespians.  Radcliffe, Grint and Watson all put in their best performances of the series.

The action sequences are also as good as anything we’ve seen before.  Of course, there’s the marvellous special effects, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that, unlike the previous six films, this one takes place almost entirely outside of Hogwarts, giving us a glimpse into the other parts of the Potter universe.

On the downside, truth be told, there really wasn’t a need to break the story into two parts.  HP7 (the book) was not even the longest of the series, and could have easily been squeezed into a single film with a 2.5-3 hour running time.  This would have meant a faster, more exciting film than what we’ll end up with, without the boring bits in the middle.  Speak of which, there were a few slow parts.  When I read the book, I remembered there was a long chunk where the kids were wandering around the countryside not knowing what they should be doing — I found that a bit slow in the book and it wasn’t that much better in the movie.

Moreover, non-fanatics ought to brush up on their knowledge of the series before watching the film.  If you go and watch the seventh film of a series without having watched any of the preceding six, then you deserve to be confused.  However, even as someone who has seen all the movies and read all the books, I had trouble remembering certain characters and their complex histories.  Bear in mind, the last book was released 40 months ago and the last movie 16 months ago.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one!

But perhaps the most disappointing thing about HP7 is the ending, which I suppose was impossible to please fans anyway.  It ends on a relatively tame note that felt somewhat anti-climatic — even though it does promise A LOT for the next one.  For me, it felt kind of empty having gone through 146 minutes and not having even touched any of the really good stuff in the book.

When it’s all said and done, HP7 is another fine addition to what will already go down in history as an excellent, consistently high-quality film series.  It gives the fans what they want, which is lots of Harry and his world, with a bold promise of better things to come.  It is difficult to rate it as a standalone film because it isn’t, but taking all things into account, HP7 is still a enjoyable ride.

3.75 stars out of 5!

PS: Did I mention I’m so glad this movie was only released in 2D?

Movie Review: Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief (2010)

Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief (also known as Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – too long for my liking) was not as bad as I expected.  That doesn’t mean it was good though.

The usual reaction to what seems like a Harry Potter rip-off is to not give it a chance, call it derivative and find ways to discredit the film.  The thought did cross my mind initially, but I went in with an open mind and a clean slate.

However, while I enjoyed the premise of the “Olympians” and the exploration of Greek mythology (I love that stuff), and the film does have some innovative moments and a bit of excitement, Percy Jackson (based on the best-selling book series by Rick Riordan) is riddled with character and plot issues.

The acting is certainly no worse than say any of the first few in the Harry Potter series or The Golden Compass or Twilight, but the three central characters (Percy, Grover and Annabeth) all lack charm.  There isn’t much to these teenagers and they are there to simply push the plot along.  I was, however, surprised to see such an all-star supporting cast (having not really heard of the book series much), which includes Catherine Keener, Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman and Rosario Dawson.

Anyway, my biggest gripe with Percy Jackson is the contrived plot.  I’m usually quite forgiving when it comes to such things, but when almost every event is skewed for a forced purpose that lacks sense or logic, it can be very irritating.  There are lots of “coincidences”; convenient and fortuitous things that occur just when the characters happen to need something.  I haven’t read the books, so I’m not sure whose fault this is, though I read somewhere that there are significant differences between the novel and the film.

Naturally, this leads to lots of plot holes.  You don’t even have to look for plot holes or inconsistencies or failures in logic – because they are absolutely everywhere.  They are so glaring that you can’t avoid them even if you wanted to.  I know this is supposed to be a fantasy, but if it’s set in the real world, I would expect there to be at least a little bit of real world logic.

Further, the tone of the film is very uneven.  There are a few half-decent (though mostly lame) jokes thrown in there, but Percy Jackson chops and changes between dead seriousness and kiddish fun, often without a transition period.  It just feels weird, and part of this may be because Percy is supposed to be younger in the books (like 12 or something), but in the movie he is, and acts, a lot older (like 16 or 17).

I probably sound harsher than I was trying to be in this review.  Percy Jackson is not totally horrible and there are enjoyable moments, but there are too many problems with it for me to give it anything more than 2.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: SPOILER ALERT – a few of the things that irked me.  One, why did everyone think Percy, who, at that stage had done absolutely nothing except be a normal teenager, stole the lightning?  There was absolutely no evidence, not even circumstantial, to suggest that he knew anything about it.  Two, how the heck did Luke manage to steal the lightning?  I assume it must not have been easy.  Three, why do those kids at the camp fight with real swords and weapons and actually get seriously hurt?  There is no way people don’t lose limbs and die from those ‘training’ exercises.  Am I the only one that thinks there is something wrong with this?]

Movie Review: Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

HP6 is very much Daniel Radcliffe's movie
HP6 is very much Daniel Radcliffe's movie

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (HP6) is a difficult film to review.  As part of the overall Harry Potter series, it’s perhaps one of the better ones.  But as a standalone film in its own right, it is rather weak.  Nevertheless, I’m sure it will satisfy the millions of Potter fans worldwide that are still crazy about the series even though it has been a couple of years since the final book.

Like the previous film, HP6 is directed by David Yates.  However, unlike most of the previous films (at least from memory), there’s no initial padding this time, no new introduction to the characters.  Yates wastes no time and gets right into the story from the get-go.  Hence if you are seeing a Harry Potter film for the first time (as unlikely as that may be) or if you are not a fanatic and some of the details in the series are a bit fuzzy (much more likely), it may take you a while to figure out or remember what the heck is going on and who everyone is.  I suppose if you are watching the 6th film of a series as the first, you deserve to be confused, but for people like me who have read the books and seen the earlier films once each and is not nuts about it, you kind of wish there would be a little padding at the start to get you up to speed.

HP6 is a reflection of the coming of age of the characters and the dark times they live in.  Yates recognises the tone of the story he is working with and that the majority of fans that have grown up reading Harry Potter have become a lot more mature.  I’m sure if you go and watch the first couple of films in the series you’d be shocked how different they are.

Visually and stylistically, it’s probably my favourite of the series.  It’s incredibly dark, grey and gloomy, with almost a complete absence of warm colours.  At times, the mood of the film plays out like a horror movie, and for the first time in memory, there are seriously creepy moments (that may even frighten adults).  There are a couple of scenes I can definitely see giving younger children nightmares.

That said, Yates has still injected some of that typical JK Rowling humour into the film, and I’m surprised to say that it has blended in rather well, particularly in the middle parts.  There are also the inevitable romances that have no choice but to come into play, though Yates does his best to make them seem less forced.

It’s been too long since I read the book to recall if the film is completely faithful to it, but I believe the main touchstones are there.  However, whilst in the book series you have to wait until the final book to learn the truth about the titular character’s (the Half-Blood Prince, not Harry Potter) intentions, in the film it is made pretty clear from the start.  The hints were too obvious.  At least they were to me.

As for the acting, I don’t know what is going on, but for the first time in the series I can honestly say Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were all decent.  Same as for Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, Jessie Cave who plays Lavender Brown and Evanna Lynch who plays Luna Lovegood (who does a particularly good job).  Seems like the kids have learned how to act, although I cannot help but say that most of the kids who have been mainstays on the series (with the exception of Emma Watson) must have been hit with either a weird, ugly or awkward stick while growing up (in some sad cases all three).  Let’s just say there were quite a few ‘what happened to him?’ moments.

One thing I should mention is that HP6 is really Daniel Radcliffe’s film.  From memory, he’s never had to carry a film like he had to in this one (having always had Grint and Watson to share the load).  This time, he has substantially more screen time than the other two and he takes it in his stride.  I’m not sure a younger or less experienced Radcliffe would have been able pull it off, so full credit to him.

As for the adults, new Potions teacher Professor Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent, dominates the film along with Michael Gambon’s Albus Dumbledore and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape.  All three do a solid job.  Unfortunately this means that most of the other adults have little more than cameos.

So that’s the reaction of the minor fan in me to the film.  However, the truth is, HP6 is a film that has no proper beginning and no real end, starting and finishing with unattended loose ends.  It’s also a film with a story where, let’s face it, nothing really happens.  It’s not much more than just a filler for the final film(s).  And if you really think about it, not enough of the film is focused on the Half-Blood Prince for him to be the titular character.  Apart from the mandatory Quidditch sequences, a short scene in the middle and the final climax, there is actually very little action.  Much of the film is focused on the personal growth of the children, their hormones and their relationships.  Hence I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people found the film boring or pointless.

Nevertheless, even if there are some glaring issues with it, as a semi-Potter fan, I found the film rather enjoyable.

3 out of 5 stars