Who would of thought there was yet more teenage vampirism than you could put a stake into? Vampire Academy is based on a book series by author Richelle Mead, and so given that the film is not utterly awful (though it helps a lot if you like American high school romances), we can expect a slew (there are six books) of films to follow. Mead has created her own vampire lore, and sadly director Mark Waters does not show the same finesse in handling the ponderous chunk of exposition as, say, Chris Columbus in the first Harry Potter movie. Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is a Dhampir, half human/vampire, guardians of the Moroi, peaceful, mortal vampires living discretely within the human world. Her mission is to protect the Moroi princess Lissa Dragomir from the bloodthirsty, immortal Vampires, the Strigoi. Inevitably, there are conflicts between romance and friendship, duty and desire, the whole thing surgically targeted at a female teen audience.
Kate Winslet is Adele, a woman living alone with her son. Her husband has gone and her life has become increasingly insular and depressed. One day, persuaded to go on a shopping trip by her son, she is all but abducted by escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin), who hides out in her home. A romance quickly blooms, and man, woman and child create their own fragile world of affection that they all know cannot last as police gradually tighten the net. The setup is vastly improbable, and this is yet another example of absurd stories being held together by the sheer force of the leading actors’ performances. Winslet is in fine form, producing a nuanced portrayal of a woman starved of love and hungering for an emotional connection. Brolin is solid, if a little too good to be true, and if you can stomach the heavy dose of The Bridges of Madison County sentimentality, Labor Day makes for an excellent date flick.
A feel good movie that does what a feel good movie is supposed to do. It does nothing else, providing nothing that will surprise audiences in the presentation of the story of Paul Potts, a manager of a mobile phone outlet who became a minor celebrity after winning Britain’s Got Talent in 2007 with his renditions of various operatic classics. Directed by David Frankel, who brought us The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, and starring James Corden and Alexandra Roach, One Chance is a craftsmanlike piece of work, hitting most right notes most of the time. We follow Potts on his journey to Italy, where his instructors confirm his father’s opinion that his operatic ambitions are no more than a dream, but against all the odds, the shy and often bullied telephone salesman finds his way into the big time, courtesy of reality television. There is no point in the movie where you don’t know what will happen, but the central character is sufficiently likable and the supporting cast proficient, that you can easily sit back and enjoy the ride.
An American remake of South Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s Korean thriller of the same name shows respect for the original, but fails to get to the heart of its material. Directed by Spike Lee, the film is an exploitation flick that ticks along pretty well for the most part. Josh Brolin plays Joe, a man who has been abducted and kept in solitary confinement for 20 years. Then he is released, and must find the reason for his abduction and take vengeance for what has been done to him. There is considerable mayhem in the process, and the performances are generally good, but Lee is primarily interested in the opportunities for violence that the revenge drama provides and loses his grip on the moral conflicts that where the driving force behind Park’s original.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
This is a conventional biopic with little originality in the way it presents its story. It takes Nelson Mandela from his time as a fiery young activist through his long incarceration in Robben Island and his emergence as the elder statesman of the anti-apartheid movement. This is very much an authorized life, and takes in such a broad span of history that it can do little more in terms of storytelling than join up the dots. It does so effectively enough, though director Justin Chadwick’s (The Other Boleyn Girl ) rather pedestrian narrative and the often melodramatic tone can be annoying. One thinks of the much more light-footed Invictus, and by comparison Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom takes itself far too seriously. What holds the audience through the history lesson is the towering performance of Idris Elba (probably best known for his role as Stringer Bell in the TV series The Wire) and Naomie Harris, who both have enormous presence in their roles as Nelson and Winnie Mandela, providing an emotional core that almost manages to compensate for the lack of real insight in the screenplay.