All posts by Jesse

Top 10 Reasons Spider-Man 3 Is Better than The Amazing Spider-Man

When Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man premiered in July 2012, the general reaction seemed to be: well, it’s better than Spider-Man 3, obviously. A few passionate defenders called Amazing a better, more faithful representation of the Peter Parker and Spidey of the comic books than the Sam Raimi take, but for the most part, the movie seems to have been met with something between an affectionate shrug and an encouraging smile. But at least it was better than Spider-Man 3. Obviously.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (for serious, you guys still aren’t going with The Spectacular Spider-Man for a sequel title?) opens this weekend to kick off the summer movie season, and while the early reviews seem a bit more mixed than its predecessor’s, it almost certainly won’t be treated with the same level of derision as Spider-Man 3. Obviously.

Now, I haven’t seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2 yet. There will be a SportsAlcohol.com editorial summit on Friday night to determine what the deal with this movie is. But I have seen The Amazing Spider-Man, and the thing about that movie is: it’s not as good as Spider-Man 3. Not nearly.

The thing about Spider-Man 3 is: it’s actually pretty good.

Not as good as Spider-Man and certainly not as good as Spider-Man 2. To be sure, Spider-Man 3 is the weakest of Raimi’s de facto trilogy, and has two major problems that feed into each other: overcrowding and retconning. Before we get to the good stuff, these problems should be addressed.

The supposed problem of villain overcrowding has been noted at least since Batman Returns in 1992, and indeed, the first series of Batman movies seemed to add bad guys indiscriminately for easy stakes-raising. But as Christopher Nolan’s Batman series has shown, multiple villains don’t have to mean jammed-up storylines: that trilogy managed to include Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, the Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Mr. Zsasz, Bane, Carmine Falcone, and Catwoman. Some had bigger roles than others, of course, but that’s pretty much the same number of villains that populate the Burton/Schumacher films.

Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 adheres more to the Schumacher model of villains, only it’s applied to the entire cast. Apart from the introductions and transformations of Flint Marko (the Sandman) and Eddie Brock (Venom) and the revival of the Green Goblin in the guise of Harry Osborn, Spider-Man 3 adds Gwen Stacy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and her police-captain father while continuing to utilize its beloved supporting characters (Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Curt Connors) and, if anything, upping the screentime afforded to Harry Osborn and Mary Jane Watson. The movie also serves its themes of internal conflict by having several main characters toggle back and forth between personalities, essentially piling on additional characters even when familiar ones are onscreen: Peter Parker bonds with an alien symbiote that brings out a dark side to his personality. Harry Osborn loses his memory (and thirst for vengeance against Peter/Spider-Man), then regains it. Mary Jane has a real flirtation with Harry, then is manipulated by him when he re-evils.

The movie has so little actual room for its characters that it ret-cons them into the earlier films whenever possible. Flint Marko turns out to be involved in the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben, just to give him some convenient incentive to seek symbiote-encouraged revenge. Less of a direct retcon but perhaps even more ridiculous, Bernard Houseman (John Paxton), the Osborn butler for the entire series, decides late in the film to come forward and tell Harry that his father was a murderous lunatic and that Parker did not kill him, and for some reason this and only this can convince Harry to renounce his evil ways (and for some reason Bernard did not see fit to share this information sooner).

Individually, most of the movie’s characters get a moment or three where they shine. Narratively, though, Spider-Man 3 is a mess. Both of the overcrowding and retconning stem from a script that seems unfinished at best; check out that patchwork bit where local news narrates Spider-Man’s big climactic fight with Venom and Sandman. There is also, as mentioned, some whiplash-inducing twists and reversals between Peter, Harry, and MJ in terms of who is wronging who and for what reason.

AND YET: Narrative is overrated sometimes. Spider-Man 3 is a lot of fun and far more good than bad. It came out a year after X-Men: The Last Stand, and for some reason that movie got a pass as a mild disappointment from a lot of fans, while Spider-Man 3 is still held up as something as a disaster. It’s not a disaster! It’s a pretty good movie with a pretty weak script! Surely you’ve heard of this practice before. It also takes Spider-Man to some new places, which is a lot more than I can say for The Amazing Spider-Man insisting that it’s taking a different approach while more or less remaking the first Raimi movie with a minimum or imagination. If we’re going to say that Marc Webb didn’t make a terrible Spider-Man movie, then we as a culture need to admit that Sam Raimi never made a terrible Spider-Man movie.

And so:

Ten Great Things about Spider-Man 3, In No Particular Order

Continue reading Top 10 Reasons Spider-Man 3 Is Better than The Amazing Spider-Man

The 25 Best Hold Steady Songs of All Time (For Now)

A couple of weeks ago, the Hold Steady, a Minneapolis-by-way-of-Brooklyn indie rock band that sings about lost teenagers, drifting adults, various scenes, and other bands, put out their sixth record, Teeth Dreams. It’s their first album in four years, and basically the only time any of the band’s fans have had to wait any real appreciable amount of time for something new; the first five came out in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010, never more than two years apart. This daunting pace was eventually slowed by some lineup shifts, extensive touring, lyricist and singer Craig Finn taking a solo-record detour, and, you know, life and stuff. The first three Hold Steady records are, to this fan’s ears, basically masterpieces, and the others are pretty damn good, too; it’s probably inevitable that the band would need a break from eighteen-month album cycles.

In celebration of this fresh batch of songs, the editors of SportsAlcochol.com decided to poll some other Hold Steady fans and come up with a definitive Top 25 Hold Steady Songs (So Far). Fourteen people, including many writers and zero professional music critics, composed top ten lists that were either weighted (if ranked) or distributed equally (if not). Points were tallied, songs were ordered, ties were broken by number of list mentions, cases were made, and, probably, feelings were hurt.

With a band that so smartly engages with the pleasures and dangers of nostalgia, there’s a very real danger and palpable pleasure that a list like this becomes a catalog of greatest hits from everyone’s favorite couple of albums — mid-aughts nostalgia for nostalgia about a time, nonexistent for anyone participating in this poll (as far as I know) when the eighties almost killed us. As to whether that actually happened, well, read on. Individual top tens seemed like the right number to ask for, given that, by my count, the band has fewer than 100 original tunes — but it nonetheless forced us all to make some hard choices. I will say that while no songs from Teeth Dreams made the list, consider this: “Oaks,” the new album’s nine-minute closer, came close, outscoring several stone-cold Hold Steady classics in the process. That seems to me a sign that this band will continue making great songs for years to come. My personal pick for a future classic: “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” the propulsive narrative that opens Teeth Dreams with classic severe understatement. The point us: we compose this list not to eulogize the band on the tenth anniversary of their debut record, Almost Killed Me (it came out April 20, 2004), but to pay tribute as they set out on their latest tour.

Continue reading The 25 Best Hold Steady Songs of All Time (For Now)

Let’s Talk about How I Met Your Mother

So How I Met Your Mother came to an end this evening. I have thoughts. You probably have thoughts. My wife definitely has thoughts. Maybe let’s talk it over in this open thread?

Open questions:

-Loved it?
-Hated it?
-Can we leave Ted alone now or does everyone just hate him more?
-Other finales you loved/hated/did it better/did it worse?
-Is there an optimal number of seasons for a really good show to run?
-It’s seven seasons, isn’t it?

A Talk with My Cousin about the Divergent Movie

I wrote a bunch about Divergent the week it came out, and then I found out that my thirteen-year-old cousin Abby is super into Divergent so I decided I should interview and get the scoop about what I was missing by only seeing the movie. Abby reads a lot and is awesome. Herewith, our chat:

JESSE: So when did you first read the Divergent books?

ABBY: Over the summer.

JESSE: How did you find out about them?

ABBY: I saw one of my friends had read it, and I saw stuff on the internet that said they were really good books.

JESSE: And I assume you’ve read all three by now?

ABBY: Yeah. It was quite the wait to get to read Allegiant though. That came out in October.

JESSE: Did you know then that a movie was coming out?

ABBY: I can’t quite remember…I don’t think I knew then but after I had read it I saw something online.

JESSE: And generally you were super happy with how the movie came out?

ABBY: Yeah, pretty much. Only a couple scenes I thought would have been really good to be put in the movie.

JESSE: You mentioned something about a butter knife scene. What was that about?

Continue reading A Talk with My Cousin about the Divergent Movie

Things I Wish Happened in the Divergent Movie

-Definitions of words explained 60% fewer times

-Zipline sequence shot with real IMAX cameras

-Zipline sequence shot entirely as POV to avoid bad green screen

-Someone pointing out that Tris may be Divergent, but her hair is Dauntless

-Billy Zane cast instead of poor and weirdly shaped substitute Jai Courtney

-Long sequence with Shailene Woodley alone in dystopian wilderness a la the first half hour of Riddick

-Longer bird-fighting sequence, possibly including bird-fu (not to be confused with bird flu)

-Miles Teller cast in one of the main roles tailor made for an actor with genuine charisma

-Four contracts bird blu

-Ending with cut to title card DIVERGENT. By “ending” I also mean possibly individual scenes, not just the movie

-More complicated scheme of mirrors that would necessitate at least 25 more takes to the camera

are you nervous 2

are you nervous

Fake Spoiler Alert: The Divergent Movie

The movie Divergent comes out this week. Before the movies of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games came out, I read the books to orient myself in the beloved world of these properties. I have not read Divergent. But I have seen the trailer a bunch of times. I am seeing a press screening of the movie tonight so I thought I should explain what I think this movie is going to be like.

What I Assume Happens in the Movie Divergent Based Only On Watching the Trailer a Bunch of Times

Backstory delivered by opening narration: 100 years ago, there was some kind of war, possibly topiary in nature. Then someone declared color-war and divided everyone by their shirts.

Shailene Woodley plays a character who I think is called Tris, a girl who gets up on roofs and admires the peace topiary while also kind of wondering what it all means, also is maybe kind of Amish or something. She is almost ready to go to vocational school and her affectionate boss at the barn where she works is played by Ashley Judd.

On orientation day, everyone and their families, or bosses if they don’t have families, goes to hear a lecture from Kate Winslet’s character, who I will assume is called the Peacekeeper. She explains the rules of color-war and then all the teenagers, even the ones from the Amish districts, have to go get tested to figure out what team they’re on. So the teens get tested on skills such as getting injections, knowing object permanence in a world of mirrors, dog-hugging, and hitting floors when you fall on them.

dog hugging

Continue reading Fake Spoiler Alert: The Divergent Movie

What about Veronica Mars, though?!

It happened: the Veronica Mars movie came out. A large percentage of SportsAlcohol.com staff and contributors saw it together in Manhattan on Friday night. We were not able to record and transcribe the many conversations that followed. But we thought it might be nice to open a discussion thread on here for virtual reactions, however belated. I’ll kick in a few of my major comments below, and I hope others will respond and/or throw in their own.

Obviously, this thread will have spoilers.

True Detectives: Companion Pieces for Veronica Mars

Much of this week’s Veronica Mars discussion has revolved around proposing various love interests for Veronica, both because the show has a rich cast of characters that are fun to defend, make fun of, or outright disparage; and as a countermeasure to the myopia of seeing Veronica Mars as a show about a girl and her on-again/off-again boyfriend who started a bum-fighting ring one time (THAT WE KNOW ABOUT).

What Veronica/Logan stuff obscures, for me, is the strength of Veronica Mars as an amateur-detective show, and now, yes yes yes, an amateur-detective movie. Admittedly, this comes from a bias as strong as any shipper: I love movies and TV shows about amateur or semi-amateur or non-traditional detectives. Maybe books, too, but I don’t have a lot of experience with reading detective fiction, unless Encyclopedia Brown counts. I never got into the Hardy Boys and I only read part of one Easy Rawlins novel, although it was pretty good; I just put it down and forgot about it and wound up moving on something else. Our book expert Cristin will favor us with more in-depth book companions to Veronica; here now is a brief recent history of a genre I didn’t know was my favorite genre until Veronica Mars was about halfway through its run.

Continue reading True Detectives: Companion Pieces for Veronica Mars

The SportsAlcohol.com Hit Piece: Lorde

Witch-ay Woman

In a move that pays off approximately one Beyonce per decade, I decided to give Lorde a listen. I’d heard a lot of good stuff about her, and I try to occasionally branch out from my indie-rock geekery. It’s super fun to actually like a popular music artist because those albums are super-easy to find at Best Buy or used-CD bins (note to the youngs: used CD bins are boxes of CDs… wait. CDs are things with music you can buy on Amazon or in in stores where… wait. Stores are places where… oh, fuck it, look it up). Contrary to the indie-rock stereotype, I am always in the market for stuff that is easy to like. I was so excited when I thought that maybe Nicki Minaj would be really good.

I was a little skeptical about Lorde because of the praise she’s earned in publications such as Rolling Stone, but then her album (albums are like mp3s, but like, in an order and stuff) was two dollars on Amazon. I would buy almost any popular album for two dollars. I’m often tempted to buy albums I know for a fact I don’t like if they’re two dollars. Plus, no matter how big-boxy it is to buy an album from Amazon for two bucks, I can know for sure that the royalty Lorde gets from that single copy Amazon-discounted copy will be roughly a thousand times higher than what she’d get if I listened to her album on Spotify three or four times. Never say I never did nothin’ for ya, Lorde, he said, when tossing her the equivalent of two quarters, or: the total amount of money your twenty favorite artists have earned from you listening to them on Spotify, total, in their and your lifetimes.

Anyway, I bought the Lorde album and listened to it a bunch of times and now I have an opinion about Lorde and the dominant opinion is: Lorde needs to be taken down and also I shouldn’t listen to this album very much anymore except maybe “Royals” and perhaps “World Alone.”

It’s not that Lorde or Pure Heroine are all that bad. But the cred Lorde seems to be accruing needs to stop or at least slow down a little. Yes, I will acknowledge the coolness of Lorde being a (a.) seventeen-year-old (b.) female (c.) from New Zealand (d.) who looks sort of like a witch and (e.) helps write her own songs that are then (f.) only marginally overproduced in that trendy faux-minimalist sort of… OK, now it sounds less like I’m acknowledging her coolness and more like I’m writing a takedown! Now we’re in the spirit! The general problem with Lorde is that she gets instant cool cred the same way that the record industry embraces anyone who is successful.

I might sound like a cranky Generation Xer here — and I seriously don’t know if I’m in the Generation X or the millennial boom or maybe, just maybe, a sub-generation I just invented called the Third-Greatest Generation (the top two are NOT the ones you’d expect) — but we need to stop giving young people awards for just showing up. I’m not complaining about, like, Participant ribbons here. Participant ribbons are reasonably honest. They say PARTICIPANT and are given to people who participate! I would be happy if Lorde showed up on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a ribbon that said PARTICIPANT.

But Lorde gets way more credit than that, sort of like how Taylor Swift gets infinite cred for kinda-sorta writing her own songs — even for lyrics that other people have basically already written. I’m not suggesting that Swift wrote “so casually cruel in the name of being honest” after hearing Paul Simon sing that “there’s no tenderness beneath your honesty.” Actually, I’m suggesting quite the opposite: I’m sure Swift hadn’t heard the Paul Simon song. And that’s fine. But you don’t get full credit for re-discovering and re-phrasing that idea. And you certainly don’t get credit for not phrasing it as well.

But that’s another story for another post that tries hard to reconcile how much I love “We Are Never Getting Back Together” with Taylor Swift’s authenticity, which I do not question so much as classify under “authentic self-regard” (see also: Roberts, Julia). Let’s get back to Lorde.

Lorde’s voice is weird.

I don’t mean weird like truly eccentric or wild, like Bjork or Corin Tucker or Nicki Minaj in-character. I mean that somewhere between her native accent and her vaguely American-accented singing, her tongue starts to sound heavy. Her vowels are rounded and some of her consonants come out muffled together, like she’s only singing out of the very front portion of her mouth. It has a weird slurry-baby effect and yeah, it’s a little unnerving to hear a teenager drop truths while sounding like a drunk baby.

Lorde’s songs pretty much all sound the same.

Everyone loves “Royals” for the way Lorde rolls her eyes at music-industry materialism…

Actually, hold up. Let me clarify something.

Lorde is overrated but not racist.

There was a big internet thing recently about whether “Royals” is secretly or not-so-secretly racist because it dismisses elements of culture that are coded as black. But while several of the images in “Royals” seem to be derived from hip-hop videos, the idea that no one is allowed to mildly bag on perceptions of hip-hop culture strikes me as enormously ridiculous. Not least because hip-hop covers a far broader spectrum of songs and styles than what Lorde describes — fair to say that when she says “every song’s like,” she’s referring to a rhetorical “every” song on Top 40 radio, not “every” song in hip-hop, which is not mentioned in her lyrics.

Of course, a lot of “every” song popular in 2014 does have some kind of hip-hop influence — which is exactly why trying to parse out some racism “Royals” seems like a fool’s errand. That complaint misses how mainstream the culture the song describes actually is. It makes sense that Lorde, as a teenager, focuses on that kind (that is to say, hip-hop-influenced) materialism and consumption, rather than, say, Old White Male materialism and consumption.

In fact, despite the rap-video imagery in the lyrics, a lot of what she’s singing about also recalls the flood of the we-invincible-cause-we-drunk party anthems of the last few years — songs that have further mainstreamized a sensibility that might have once been more identified with a particular strain of pop hip-hop, but is now pretty much pop culture at large, especially in the music industry. I get that these trends are often most exploited and encouraged by an old-white-male offensive line up at the executive level, but does this make any artist or any song further down the food chain automatically above reproach? You could call Lorde a hypocrite for appropriating hip-hop-lite beats in a song that seems to knock hip-hop culture, or you could admit that it is, in fact, OK to say that 200 songs about swigging Cristal are not necessarily that interesting without throwing the artist babies out with the shitty music bathwater. Look, a lot of mainstream music made by black people fucking sucks as bad as a lot of mainstream music made by white people. It’s part of the universal law of music suckage.

Anyway, back to:

Lorde’s songs pretty much all sound the same.

Everyone loves “Royals” for the way Lorde rolls her eyes at music-industry materialism. On her album, a few tracks after “Royals,” in which we learn that she’s “not proud of her address,” “we’ll never be royals,” and that she’s not interested in what “every song’s like,” there’s a song called “Team,” in which we learn that Lorde and her crew “live in cities you’ll never seen on screen, not very pretty but we show them how to run free,” and that she’s “kinda over gettin’ told to throw my hands up in the air.”

I, on the other hand, am kinda gettin’ over what an iconoclast Lorde is and now wondering if maybe she is a little racist. (Still probably not, but still.)

Even on the songs that don’t repeat themselves lyrically, there’s a very clear sound on Pure Heroine that gets very clearly exhausted. The album’s basic formula, moody but accessible beats plus Lorde’s voice, is reasonably appealing but even after a mere ten tracks, it feels a bit like an extended remix of itself. Basically, she sounds like a sassier Lana del Rey, but less self-consciously lush and “cinematic.” As it happens, this makes her somewhat more tolerable than Lana del Rey (GATSBY EXCEPTION INVOKED, by the way). But it does not make her a major sonic adventure. I don’t know a lot about production, but the Postal Service Lite beats on this record don’t seem like the height of electrosophistication to me. “World Alone” is particularly Postal Service-y in its vocal melody and multiple beat kick-ins. And it’s easily one of the best tracks on the record. I also like the way she uses the phrase “like yeah” in “Tennis Courts” because I’m always in favor of people using that phrase, but when she sings “it’s a new art form/showing people how little we care,” I don’t even think I’m learning about how today’s seventeen-year-olds think, because millennials seem, if anything, to care a lot, sometimes about good things and sometimes about bad things. Showing how little we care, on the other hand… isn’t that back in Gen-X territory again?

(I couldn’t tell you; I’m a Third-Greatest.)

I’m not sure if Lorde’s rediscovery of Gen-X and Postal Service beats is more or less impressive considering that…

Lorde is a music-biz lifer.

Lorde RS

Here is a quote from the Rolling Stone cover story on Lorde:

“I think my whole career can be boiled down to one word I always say in meetings: strength.”

Feminists, rejoice! Lorde says the word “strength” at meetings! I wonder if these meetings literally begin with Lorde sitting down at a big conference table and just announcing: “Strength.” And then the marketing execs have to go from there? Or does she follow it up with other key words that she only sometimes says in meetings, such as: “robust.” Or: “disruptors.” Or: “low-hanging fruit.”

I don’t mean to bag on Lorde for taking meetings. But it is funny just how little difference there is between her career arc and, say, Katy Perry’s or Justin Bieber’s.

The Rolling Stone article goes into matter-of-fact detail about how Lorde won a school singing contest with a classmate, the classmate’s father sent their recordings around, and Lorde’s voice caught the attention of the head of A&R at Universal Music New Zealand. Her development deal “went nowhere” after three years. As Rolling Stone dramatically phrases it: “The idea of a music career could have floated away.” (NO, I imagine we are meant to cry out. LET NO IDEA OF A CAREER FLOAT AWAY!) But in a turn the magazine terms “fortuitous” but seems more like “what happens when you have a development deal with a major label,” a local manager heard Lorde and offered her his songwriter client as a collaborator. Then they made some songs that the label wasn’t crazy about, but despite the label’s disinterest they took it to the internet, guerilla-style, which is much easier to do when you are guerilla-style disseminating professionally written and produced songs with major-label backing.

If you haven’t done the math yet, this means that crazy from-nowhere success Lorde has been doing this since she was twelve years old. This makes her slightly more of a novice than Miley Cyrus. Slightly.

That’s not to say we should get hung up questions of authenticity. Miley strikes me as enormously mannered and self-conscious, from the Lady Gaga school of explaining why what you’re doing is subversive and interesting, but I still like “Wrecking Ball.”¬† But I think pretty much everyone would agree that Lorde is hyped as the real deal because of her age and hairdo and ability to think in complete sentences. If we’re talking about music, she has about as much good material as Miley or Katy Perry or anyone else with one or two good songs and a lot of stuff that sounds like those other songs but not as good.

In other words: “Royals” is a pretty good song but it’s nothing you couldn’t say at meetings.

Major Cultural Event: Vampire Academy (2014)

Before I talk about Vampire Academy, let me get some stuff out of the way:

Vampire Academy is about an academy for vampires so obviously during the movie you wonder if Vampire Academy has rival schools that play them in sports and stuff, and think of additional schools such as:

Mummy College

International School of Werewolf Studies

Frankenstein Country Day

The Gill-Man Institute of Technology

The Mortal Instruments: Campus of Bones

Unicorniversity

But apart from that train of thought, I went into Vampire Academy ready and willing to take it as seriously as I needed to take it. Most of the movie, as it turns out, is an exploration of how seriously you should be taking Vampire Academy and, by extension, the life you’ve lead that resulted in you sitting in a movie theater on a Monday night watching Vampire Academy.

The presence of who are now billed, apparently, as the Waters Brothers, suggests that one should take the movie itself seriously (because a team-up of the guy who wrote Heathers and his brother who directed Mean Girls seems so natural that it also seems like some kind of a trick) while allowing the movie itself to not take it too seriously (because Heathers and Mean Girls are both very funny movies that puncture high school melodrama with non-vampire fangs). Daniel Waters and Mark Waters are ideally equipped to make a movie that casually and charmingly tear down the romantic dopiness of the Twilight series and replace it with snappier expressions of adolescent angst.

If they ever go back and make a movie about smart-mouthed vampire teenagers at a boarding school, I still think that could happen.

But Vampire Academy is not so much a movie about smart-mouthed vampire teenagers at a boarding school as it is a budget would-be franchise-starter based on a series of popular YA novels. So yes, some of the vampires are smart-mouthed and some of them are teenagers and there is a boarding school involved, but those easily understandable descriptions are too meager for the complex, multi-generational, heavily detailed and completely fucking pointless mythology that this movie is built around.

Here is a little tip for screenwriters and YA writers and pretty much anyone putting pen to paper about teenagers and magic, years too late to save Beautiful Creatures or The Mortal Instruments or any other movie I’ve seen in the past year-plus that chokes on mythology and then turns blue and purple on screen as the mythology stays lodged the throat of its corpse:

Mythology is not cinematic.

It sounds cinematic, I know! Mythology! Maybe you picture Greek Gods or centaurs or minotaurs or Middle Earth when you hear the word! But mythology is not just the fun of centaurs and/or minotaurs. Mythology, if it is made into a crucial component of your movie, is actually just a form of exposition, or at least requires a fair amount of it. And exposition is usually non-visual information. And movies, at least in theory, are a visual medium. So while mythology may make your movie sound grand and epic, it may actually weigh your movie down with information about something that is so clearly made up that no one really needs additional information about it.

Of course, as with mythology, there are ways to cleverly work exposition into your movie. I to this day cannot believe that people have a problem with Ellen Page’s character in Inception, supposedly because she exists to have the rules of the Inceptionverse explained to her and to ask questions on behalf of the audience. But the thing is, Ellen Page’s character asks way smarter questions than I would ask about this stuff, and is also a character with thoughts and opinions, and who moves the story along quite handily. She is the proverbial new kid being shown around the cafeteria on the first day of school. Hey! Speaking of that: Mean Girls! Mark Waters directed a movie that used voiceover, exposition, and a high school version of mythology (more like anthro, I guess, but still) very, very well.

Vampire Academy goes as far as to actually tee up a cafeteria-intro scene and call attention to it, and then, I guess because Daniel Waters imagines he is poking at convention here, then doesn’t actually have that scene where we meet a bunch of Vampire Academy students, organized by lunch table. I guess he thought that would be too clich√©, or beside the point, or maybe there is so much goddamned mythology in this movie that there is no room for anything else that takes up more than half a minute. It engages in a lot of “world-building” while ignoring just how much world-building the title has already done: it’s a school for vampires! Got it! Done! But this movie would rather explain the hierarchal process by which Vampire Academy administration happens to be formed than, you know, have anything to do with vampires going to boarding school.

Here’s what I was able to glean: there are three types of vampires at and around this academy, except one kind aren’t really vampires. There are the bad vampires, who are presumably not welcome to matriculate, who want to kill the pretty good royal vampires (who don’t kill humans, at least as far as we can see), and the non-vampires who protect said royal vampires. This movie is about Rose (Zoey Deutch), a non-vampire protector who has bonded with pretty good vampire Lissa (Lucy Fry). So a semi-reverse-slayer, basically. Rose can sometimes see what Lissa sees, a power that allows her to both better protect her and absorb even more exposition, in part concerning a mystery about who is trying to intimidate and/or kill Lissa and/or Rose. There are also, by my rough estimate, forty to fifty boys in the movie, subject of various crushes and entanglements that the movie finds far less interesting than the (again, by my rough estimate) one thousand different types of royal vampire families who blah blah blah blah arrrrgggghhhh. There’s one who looks like a lil’ Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, one who got my attention by also being named Jesse (SUCH a hot name right now), and then Rose naturally, by which I mean creepily, falls for the one who’s actually an adult man. In general, the I-hate-high-school backstabbing and gossiping and hooking up feels like an afterthought as Important Mythology Characters jostle for screentime with characters who might actually be funny or affecting. The gossip in Vampire Academy conceals itself within the elaborate mythology, which could be a sly joke if the delivery was remotely interesting.

Vampire Academy 2

The most disappointing thing about Vampire Academy (the movie, not the higher-ed institution) is that Zoey Deutch, who I’d never really heard of before, is quite good in it. She’s the one who displays the most frequent signs of Daniel Waters wiseassery; at least fifty percent, if not closer to seventy percent, of her wisecracks don’t really land, but they come a lot closer to landing than they should because there’s something appealingly brusque and no-nonsense about Deutch’s delivery. I may have mentioned Ellen Page earlier because Deutch has a similar fast-talking vibe, and she looks like Page crossed with Rose Byrne. Her performance and character in this particular mythology-flooded enterprise left me with the odd sensation of thinking, boy, I’d like to watch a whole movie about her instead — during a movie where she is, in fact, the main character.

So Vampire Academy isn’t painful to watch, mainly because of Deutch and the stray good lines Daniel Waters feeds her and a lucky few. But it plays uncomfortably like a pilot for a show that gets better seven or eight episodes in, shortly before its cancellation. It also gives the distinct impression that I could read Vampire Academy books all day every day and still not learn a goddamned thing about Vampire Math, Vampire Art, or Vampire Biology. I guess it’s off to Vampire Summer School for me. In related news, be sure to check out SportsAlcohol.com Presents: Vampire Summer School, coming to an e-reader just as soon as we can make up a bunch of stupid backstory.