‘Vampire Academy’ appeals to Freudian instincts

The Waters brothers are no strangers to dark comedies starring high school. Screenwriter Daniel Waters’ known for writing “Heathers.” His younger brother Mark Waters directed “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls.”

Now, the siblings have teamed up to deliver a new dark comedy: “Vampire Academy,” based on the best-selling young adult fantasy novels by Richelle Mead.

The story — which takes place in a very dumbed down version of White Wolf’s “Vampire the Masquerade” role-playing universe — follows two girls united by a bond deeper than friendship. Seventeen-year-old Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is a spunky, Buffy-esque Dhampir — a half-human, half-vampire assigned to guard the mortal and magical Moroi vampire bloodline with her life. Her best friend, Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), happens to be a Moroi princess and the last of the Dragomirs, (her family died in a car accident). The two attend St. Vladimir’s Academy, a posh vampire boarding school where they train in fighting or magic.

But since this is high school, and therefore (as media suggests) a microcosm of “hell,” the two are tangled in the usual gossip, backstabbing and melodrama over boys. Lissa likes Christian (Dominic Sherwood), a broody Robert Pattinson and young Christian Slater look-alike. Rose likes her Russian fighting instructor, Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky). But being a teenager’s tough, especially when boys and social popularity aren’t their only priorities. Dead animals on doorsteps and bloody messages on walls suggest you-know-who, I mean, an enemy darker than adolescent tomfoolery (Don’t worry, there aren’t any giant snakes like there are in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”).

“Vampire Academy’s” entertaining if you don’t think. Unlike “Twilight’s” weak and insipid heroine Isabella Swan, “Vampire Academy’s” Rose is brave and sassy. But despite a biting line about how Dhampirs and Moroi don’t sparkle in sunlight, “Vampire Academy” resembles every other vampire soap opera.

The appeal lies in the same vein as HBO’s “True Blood” or CW’s “Vampire Diaries,” even if we’re ashamed of them: our primitive Freudian instincts of love and death — qualities inherent in the beasts’ very nature.

“Vampire Academy” was directed by Mark Waters and written by Daniel Waters, based on Richelle Mead’s book.

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‘Bella Swan’ and the Huntsman

Although Robert Pattinson has made great strides to overcome his fame as the “Twilight” saga’s Edward Cullen (with leading roles in films such as “Remember Me” and “Water for Elephants”), it’s hard to see Pattinson’s “Twilight” and real life love-interest, Kristen Stewart, as anyone other than Stephanie Meyer’s heroine, Bella Swan. This is most apparent in her new movie “Snow White and the Huntsman,” where Stewart is typecast as another pale, damsel in distress.

This newest adaption of the classic Brothers Grimm tale has Stewart as the fair princess Snow White and Charlize Theron as the evil queen, Ravenna. After being told that the princess rivals the queen in beauty — and also that consuming Snow White’s heart will keep her youthful forever — Ravenna becomes keen on capturing and harnessing Snow White’s heart. However, although Snow White has been locked in the castle since her father’s death, she manages to escape into the dark forest after a blunder with the queen’s brother (Sam Spruell). Furious with the turn of events, the queen summons the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to apprehend the princess. However, once the Huntsman finds the princess, he decides to protect her journey her rather than arrest her for the queen.

Although the film is titled “Snow White and the Huntsman,” perhaps the movie should be called “The Queen and the Princess” (this movie trailer seems to agree, portraying Queen Ravenna as the lead and Snow White and the Huntsman as supporting characters). Theron carries the movie as Ravenna: a queen as cruel, vicious and human as Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), the ice-cold blond queen from George R. R. Martin’s and HBO’s “Game of Thones” series. While Stewart’s performance as Snow White is lackluster, Theron as Ravenna is hateful. In one scene she is surrounded by dead bodies she just consumed. “I should have killed her when she was a child,” Theron confesses in one scene. “Where is she?” she demands madly in another. However, as much as you want to hate the Queen, you can’t help but feel empathy for her.

“I, too, lost my mother when I was a young girl,” Ravenna tells a young Snow White. “I can never take your mother’s place, ever.” Some of Ravenna’s late mother’s parting words: “You’re beauty is all that can save you, Ravenna. This spell will make your beauty your power and protection.”

With touching scenes like this, you almost feel sorry for the queen.

“I was ruined by a king like you once,” Ravenna tells the king right before she stabs him in bed on their honeymoon. “I replaced his queen, an old woman. And in time, I, too, would have been replaced. Men use women, they ruin us and when they are finished with us they throw us to their dogs like scraps.” (With King Robert’s favorite hobbies as whoring and hunting, I think wife Cersei Lannister would agree with these sentiments, don’t you?) If sympathy is not what you feel, at least you understand her motivations.

As much as the character of the queen is fully fleshed out, other pieces in the movie don’t add up. For example, the movie begins with a narration by Hemsworth the Huntsman, but doesn’t conclude with one. Instead, it concludes with Stewart’s awkward smile (smirk? grimace?) as she sits before her full court. It is also unclear how the relationship between Snow White and the Huntsman resolves — even though it’s the title (and therefore subject?) of the film. Most of all, however, it’s unclear why Stewart was cast in this film.

If not for the flattering statements and reactions from the cast supporting her, it would be hard to see Stewart’s “rare beauty” and “fairness.” Sure, Stewart has moments with children and forest animals (she growls at a monster, dances with a dwarf and pets a great white stag’s muzzle), but perhaps it’s too hard to see Stewart as the epitome of good (especially when it’s easier to see her smooching her vampire boyfriend). Instead, her pureness is suggested, coaxed and reinforced through words and repetition: “She is life itself,” says Muir, one of the dwarves. “… Where she leads, I follow.” After all, how would Stewart’s cry for blood and war be moving if not for the people (or dwarves) rallying in support of her? If not for the undying love of William (Sam Clafin), her childhood friend; and the Huntsman — who both kiss her, hoping to revive her from the queen’s poisoned apple? If not for the queen — who considers the princess to be her greatest adversary? Stewart’s acting seems stale as the apple she chokes on, but perhaps that’s because the viewer’s mind is poisoned by “Twilight.”

“Snow White and the Huntsman” was directed by Rupert Sanders; and written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini.

‘Dark Shadows’ deserves an early grave

Normally, I am a fan of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton — after all, their alliance produced classics like “Edward Scissorhands,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Alice in Wonderland.” But although “Dark Shadows” held all the usual Tim Burton eccentricities (such as characters with papery pale skin and dark eye shadow and quirky personalities), the unrequited vampire love story is far from my favorite film.

“Dark Shadows,” which is a parody of the mid-1960s TV series by the same name, follows Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a 19th century Englishman who lost his one true love to another woman’s spite. The woman, Angelique (Eva Green), just happened to be a witch with an obsessive love towards Barnabas, cursing Barnabas with an allergy to both silver and sunlight as well as a plight of blood as sustenance. But alas, after being locked in a coffin for 196 years, Barnabas is back.

Once again, Johnny Depp plays a character a little out of touch with the modern world. But compared to his more whimsical roles as Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka, Depp as Barnabas feels ancient. His stiff mannerisms feel uncomfortable next to his laid-back, hippie, 1972 Vietnam War era counterparts. In one scene, Depp’s character is talking to Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Moretz), his distant teenage relative, about courting a modern woman. It’s like watching your dad talk to you about the birds and the bees. You can’t help but cringe, feeling embarrassed and trying to tune out. Perhaps that’s why the film itself felt uncomfortable, ridiculous and shallow. I felt like Moretz’s character, watching her great great great great grandfather make a fool of himself. Sure, you love him no matter what, but ooooh, Johnny, did you have to do that?

Perhaps the problem is not with the acting but with the plot. When you have a.) a womanizing playboy who hooked up with the wrong woman, and b.) the wrong woman just happened to be obsessed with you that rather than kill you, she makes you a vampire so while everyone you love dies, she can still attempt to woo you, perhaps melodrama is to be expected. It’s petty conflicts like this that drive the movie. In one scene, Depp and Green have wild, passionate sex, breaking every piece of furniture in a room. In another exchange, Depp slaps Green across the face as she breaks like a china doll. But even if it’s melodrama that the movie is after, I don’t sympathize with many of characters.

Roger Collins (Johnny Lee Miller), one of Barnabas’ more recent descendants, is timid preferring to run away rather than raise his son. David Collins (Gulliver McGrath), Roger’s son, has such a minor role that despite being declared mentally unstable and able to see ghosts, he is hardly visible. Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), David’s psychiatrist, has her own mental infliction, seeking eternal youth and beauty. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the motherly figure that’s trying desperately to hold her family together, but that even feels one dimensional.

There are bright spots to the dark shadows of the film. Fifteen-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz, known for recent roles such as the childhood friend of Hugo in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” and the superhero Hit-Girl in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick – Ass,” departs from her younger and more innocent kid roles and displays maturity as a young actress — slamming doors, slouching, listening to music and well, acting like a regular teenager.

Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), David’s nanny, seems like a spunky, innocent bystander with a tragic past in the beginning of the movie, but by the end, she pulls a Bella Swan, jumping off a cliff and asking her Edward Cullen to make her vampire.

The film does features a great, funny montage to the Carpenter’s “Top of the World” though, and Alice Cooper was recruited to give a private concert. Perhaps if the film featured more of this light-hearted comedy found in the earlier half of the film rather than the sickening stalker-ish love that is notorious in Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight,” the film come off as less trite and the shadows would actually have some depth.

“Dark Shadows” was written by Seth Grahame-Smith and John August; and directed by Tim Burton.

To view this post published in Imprint Magazine, click here. 

The Reduced Works of William Shakespeare

“Beware the ides of March” because a month later on the 15th of April at 8 p.m. at The State Theatre, the Reduced Shakespeare Company “prevented” “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged.”

The comedic trio, made up of narrator and host Mick Orfe, resident Shakespearean scholar and secret twi-hard Michael Faulkner and the young Google-and-Wikipedia-educated Matt Rippy, promised to present the complete works of William Shakespeare, all 37 Shakespearean plays in 97 minutes. Pointing to all the exits in event of an emergency, Orfe pulled a gas mask out of his pocket, thus preparing the audience for a fun, laugh-filled flight into the life of Shakespeare’s plays.

To thread together the Shakespearean experience, the trio gave a haphazard performance as three stooges who barely knew what they were doing. Starting this endeavor to conquer the Bard’s plays, Matt Rippy gave an informative index-card presentation on Shakespeare’s history; however, when Shakespeare begins to invaded Poland in 1939 and ends up committing suicide, hilarity ensues.

In a true commedia de arte style, the three stooges used a variety of props as well as slapstick humor. In their version of Romeo and Juliet, while Faulkner, Rippy and Orfe shared the roles of Benvolio, Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, Prince Escalus, the nurse and the apothecary, wigs, skirts, swords, crowns and other quick costume changes were used to illustrate the different characters. While male actors frequently played multiple characters as well as all the female leads in the Elizabethan era, the fact that Rippy as Juliet and Orfe as Romeo refuse to share a kiss becomes a great source of humor. Furthermore, as Rippy and Orfe illustrate the famous “balcony scene” where Romeo visits Juliet at night, Faulkner finds himself as the surrogate balcony as Rippy places his skirt over Faulkner’s hunched figure.

Yet Romeo and Juliet is not the only disastrously hilarious performance of Shakespeare. When Rippy mistakes the word “moor” to mean the dock where one ties ships, the three person RSC cast transition to a rap about Othello.

In an attempt to abridge much of Shakespeare’s material, the trio reduces Shakespeare’s 16 comedies from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream to The Tempest to one giant blurry mess, a segment that the RSC calls “Four Weddings and a Transvestite.” Meanwhile, the RSC combines the Bard’s historical plays from Henry IV to King Lear in a football game representing the passing of the crown.

Covering 36 plays in Act One, a brief intermission followed; by then, Rippy didn’t want to finish the last play Hamlet, fleeing from the stage as Faulkner chases him. “I will not bring vomitless Shakespeare to people of Ithaca,” Rippy tells The State Theatre audience as people laugh. A running gag for Rippy’s female cross-dressing characters is that they continue to barf on the audience.

The three-man crew then becomes a one-man entertainment while Orfe does standup. Singing Dylan’s piece “Blowing in the Wind” on the guitar while attempting to cover the Bard’s 157 sonnets, Orfe passes a sheet throughout the audience hoping for Faulkner and Rippy to return.

Luckily, Faulkner drags Rippy back onstage, convincing the other that they will visit Ithaca’s Buttermilk Falls; however, Faulkner also confides to the audience that Rippy is unaware of the fact that there is no buttermilk in Buttermilk Falls.

The RSC also found other ways to personalize their performance in Ithaca, even making a Bombers reference, the school mascot of Ithaca College. While the RSC’s presentation was scripted, the trio continued to find ways to make “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged” an interactive experience.

To view the complete tour dates of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, click here.