Vampire Academy (2014)

Here’s the thing. It’s almost impossible to release a YA book or film these days without someone saying that it copied off Twilight or Harry Potter or whatever. Vampire Academy was no exception. Desperate to squeeze those last dregs of profit from the whole vampire craze, it was doomed from the start and I’m not going to lie… this movie sucked. (Sorry, obligatory vampire pun!).

That being said, it was an admirable effort. With a slew of witty one-liners and endless fight sequences, and a charismatic central character, I felt like this would have been better suited as a TV series.

Summary

The film takes place in Montana, where our main characters attend the boarding school, St Vladimir’s Academy. In this world, there are three subgroups: the Moroi (good vampires), the Strigoi (bad vampires), and the dhampir (half-Moroi/half-human; who spend their entire lives protecting the Moroi).

tumblr_myfxyoLbyP1rprk8wo9_250Rose Hathaway is a dhampir who must keep her best friend, a royal Moroi called Lissa Dragomir, out of harm’s reach. Following the death of Lissa’s family in a car crash, the they form an unbreakable psychic connection, and run away from their school (dubbed ‘Vampire Academy’ by its pupils).

Finally, a Russian dhampir called Dimitri tracks them down, and they are forced back to their former lives at Vampire Academy, where they must deal with the consequences of their actions: the mysterious disappearance of their teacher, Lissa’s spooky power to control minds and resurrect dead animals, Rose’s crush on her mentor, and a ton of petty high school drama that nobody really cares about.

In a shocking twist, a trusted friend of the Dragomir family is revealed as the bad guy. Along with his daughter, Natalie, they pushed Lissa to the brink of insanity with dead animals in the hopes that her powers of healing would cure his illness. After this plan fails, he escapes imprisonment and leaves his newly-turned Strigoi daughter to be staked by Rose and Dimitri.

The film ends with Lissa making a passionate speech to the school about blood and family, while Rose and Dimitri are forced to accept that they could never become an item.

Characters

Readers were annoyed when it was announced that Zoey Deutch would play Rose tumblr_n0y0a2Yxcu1sejk9do1_250Hathaway. Despite this pressure, Deutch has successfully captured the same personality as book!Rose. She proved herself as a charismatic and versatile actress, mastering the comedic timing perfectly with her snarky remarks, and establishing her badassery from her fight scenes with Dimitri and other characters.

However, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Lucy Fry‘s portrayal of Lissa Dragomir. Perhaps it was the fake accent, a completely stereotypical view of what people think a British accent should sound like. An awful one, if I may add.

Danila Kozlovsky, who played Dimitri, killed it with the fighting scenes. I was never a fan of the Rose/Dimitri pairing in the books and thought they would be better suited as friends. While he seemed to share a great on-screen chemistry with Deutch, their ‘sweet-sassy-molassy’ love scene felt way too awkward on the big screen.

From the casting news, I thought that Dominic Sherwood had the right looks, but he proved himself to be more than just a pretty face, playing the silent and brooding Christian Ozera, who quickly transformed from creepy attic troll to badass fire starter.

I was also impressed by Cameron Monaghan, who played Mason Ashford, and his witty dialogue and play-fighting with Rose provided much enjoyment. Meanwhile, Sami Gayle was the perfect Mia, even though I suffered from a lot of second-hand cringe thanks to her character: “Why were you in hospital? Pregnant? Herpes? Maybe your baby has herpes!”.

A Film for Feminists?

Vampire Academy might seem like another vapid teen movie, but it is unique in one sense, through the representation of women. For one thing, it passed the Bechdel Test, showing two females who can hold a conversation without talking about men.

tumblr_n15zf6VXT21tt2f9lo6_250At the center of all this drama, there is a love story between Rose and Lissa. Not in the romantic sense, but instead, a profound bond between two best friends. This is surprisingly rare in the YA genre, but the VA writers thought it was so important that they renamed the film ‘Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters‘.

Another example includes the prom scene. Mason Ashford expects a reward for solving the blood-on-the-wall conundrum, but Rose doesn’t swoon and fall into his arms like a damsel-in-distress. She doesn’t give herself to Mr Nice Guy. She is free to make her own choices over her sexuality, free to shamelessly pursue people like Jesse because she finds them good-looking. The film even makes references to the term ‘slut-shaming‘ in Lissa’s final speech- a term which I have never heard being used in fiction and despite the failures of the film, this was actually something that they actually did right.

Quotes

Kirova: Rose Hathaway is wild, dangerous–
Dimitri: Insubordinate.
Rose: Right here, folks. Right here.

VictorDon’t take this the wrong way, Rose, but I probably should have killed you.
RoseThere’s a compliment in there somewhere.

Rating: 2/5

A special thanks to dailyshadowkissed, vaupdateseverdeenkattniss for the GIFs.

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Divergent (2014)

In a near-futuristic world, a teenage girl must lead a group of rebels to fight against a government seeking to control them. Along the way, she falls deeply in love with another member of the resistance. Does that sound familiar? It should, because I just described the plot to most YA films these days.

I mean, don’t get me wrong… I love a strong female lead as much as the next girl, but there comes a point when the dystopian genre becomes repetitive and all-too-predictable, such as Hollywood’s latest teen drama, Divergent.

Summary

The story takes place in future Chicago, where everybody is separated into five factions based on their personality type. Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Abnegation (the selfless) and Dauntless (the brave).

Tris is Abnegation. She was raised to put other peoples’ needs before her own. At the age of sixteen, she takes an aptitude test to determine the rest of her life, where it is revealed that she is Divergent – a mixture of Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless. The Divergent are extremely rare, and because their minds can’t be controlled by the faction leaders, they are viewed as a threat (one that is punishable by death).

divergentDuring the Choosing Ceremony, she picks Dauntless and joins a group of crazy jocks who wear black and jump out of moving trains. But her new life creates a new set of problems. She must complete a series of initiation tests to become a true Dauntless, facing the challenges set by the ruthless leader (Eric), falling in love with her mentor (Four), and learning about the Erudite leader (Jeanine’s) plan to overthrow Abnegation and eradicate all Divergents.

At the climax, each Dauntless member is injected with a special mind-control serum, placing them in a trance-like state and turning them into Erudite’s perfect little soldiers. Due to her special ability, Tris is immune and tries to stop the Dauntless from killing the Abnegation. Ultimately, she reverses the serum’s effects and jumps onto the train to escape Jeanine’s soldiers, becoming an fugitive along with Four, Marcus Eaton (his father), Peter (another initiate) and her brother (an Erudite)…

Characters

When I first heard the casting news, I was shocked. Outraged, even. Saoirse Ronan was the perfect Tris in my mind, not some unknown actress! But the film convinced me that Shailene Woodley was the right choice, especially in the knife toss scene, when Tris took Al’s place as target practice. Shailene brings the character to life on screen by presenting both the selfless Abnegation and the fearless Dauntless, and turning her into a likeable character.

divergentWhile Tris was the central focus, it was hard to ignore her love interest (Theo James), following the Hollywood tradition of casting ridiculously handsome Englishmen for their YA characters (see: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Jeremy Irvine, Robert Pattinson). Although the balcony kiss was too forced for my liking, the sheer intensity of the eye contact between these two characters brings a whole new level of chemistry.

As the main antagonist, I felt that Kate Winslet lacked a certain villainous edge as Jeanine Matthews. Jai Courtney was far more convincing as the borderline psychopathic Eric, and it wasn’t surprising that the audience cheered when Tris shot him in the leg. However, the most interesting side character was her mother, Natalie Prior, a secret Dauntless badass. Her death brought me close to tears, reminiscent of Simba and Mufasa in Lion King.

Soundtrack

divergent Junkie XL successfully threw together a collection of pieces which added that extra layer to the film. As a book reader, I was initially excited to see how the film would play out. In one scene, a wide-eyed Tris walks into the Choosing Ceremony and a remix of Ellie Goulding’s ‘Hanging On‘ plays in the background, and it sent chills down my spine. So much that I searched for the entire soundtrack on Google later that night.

That being said, I am still disappointed at the musical decisions behind the big kiss scene. Ellie Goulding’s voice in the background seemed to kill the mood entirely, and I had to ask ‘dude, is this really appropriate for two people who jump off buildings and throw knives at each other?’.

Quotes

PeterYou wouldn’t shoot me.
TrisWhy does everybody keep saying that? [shoots him]

Four: What makes you think you can talk to me?
Tris: It must be because you are so approachable.

Four: My name is Four.
Christina: Four? What – were one to three already taken?

Rating: 3/5

A special thanks to tripriors, diverg, uriahsunderwear for the GIFs.