Tuesday, April 22, 2014

PCP in Theaters - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

As a comic book fan, I'll see pretty much any superhero film, no matter how good or bad. Fortunately, when the films wind up actually being good, it's a nice bonus for me because at least I didn't waste two hours of my life by seeing the film.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - 2014, rated PG-13. My rating: 9 out of 10.

Marvel Studios has done a great job of building up the characters in their film universe tied to The Avengers. CA:TWS is Cap's (Chris Evans) first film since the events of The Avengers, and it is a far better film than his first one, since we now know the character a lot better than we did a few films ago.

Here he's back, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. alongside Scarlett Johannson's Black Widow and Samuel L Jackson's Nick Fury, in a story that if you strip away the superheroes and special effects, is really almost a cold war spy thriller. Something sinister is going on within the halls of S.H.I.E.L.D. (man that is annoying to type out all the periods), something that will have far reaching consequences for both the cinematic Marvel universe, as well as it's TV expansion Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Externally to the agency, Cap also has to deal with the mysterious Winter Soldier, a bad-ass that can go toe to toe with Cap in a fight. I'd say more, but I don't want to spoil the plot on the off chance that you haven't read the spoilers on the internet already, and instead encourage you to go see this film in theaters. It was easily better than Iron Man 3 or Thor 2, (which I've seen but won't be posting the reviews for until this summer), and is the best film in this universe since The Avengers itself.

I will say that aside from the great thriller plot, and the awesome and fun action sequences, including a memorable one in an elevator, I also enjoyed the little shout-outs and moments of humor. Black Widow had some very funny moments in the film, especially her running efforts to find Cap a date. There was also a Stephen Strange mention, and an awesome shout-out to Samuel L Jackson's Jules from Pulp Fiction late in the film. The film also has not one but two post-credits sequences, one setting up the events of The Avengers 2, and the other for Captain America 3. Given the success that Marvel has had with the characters in this universe, I'm looking forward to this August's Guardians of the Galaxy, just to see how that all fits in with the story they have planned. But while you're waiting for Guardians, go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier, if you haven't already. It's definitely one of Marvel's best films to date.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PCP in Theaters - Divergent

My wife and I went to the movies for her birthday, and since nothing particularly interesting was out yet (we saw this the week before Captain America: The Winter Soldier hit theaters), we went to see yet another film based on a young adult book series. At least this film, unlike the recent Vampire Academy, was actually not too bad. Actually, looking back at my last four in-theaters reviews (this, Vampire Academy, Catching Fire, and The Hobbit part 2), I've gone to four straight young adult fiction adaptations in theaters. I guess I'm still a kid at heart.

Divergent - 2014, rated PG-13. My rating: 8 out of 10.

Apparently young adult fiction these days falls into one of two categories: it's about the supernatural such as vampires, werewolves, or witches (Twilight, Harry Potter), or it is set in a post apocalyptic future (Divergent, Hunger Games). If you write a successful book in one of these two genres, it's pretty much guaranteed to be turned into a film (although whether or not that film will be successful is another story).

Fortunately for this film, and the audiences that watch it, it is one of the better entries in the pantheon of young adult novel adaptations to hit theaters recently. I haven't read the book series the film is based on, so I cannot comment on how close or divergent the film is from the novel. What I can tell you is that the film does a decent job of explaining the new world the series takes place in, and it helps that the actors in this movie are some pretty talented ones, including Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd.

Shailene Woodley stars as Tris, the heroine of our story. Set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is split into five distinct castes based on the personal attributes that you most identify with at a very advanced personality test. Upon taking the test, Tris learns that she does not have one clear-cut attribute, but is instead divergent, having multiple attributes. Apparently this is not a good thing and she has to keep this fact a secret, lest she be targeted for death. She decides to join the military caste, Dauntless, and the film shows her training to be a soldier in this society.

I don't want to go into too much more plot detail, in part because it's kind of hard to explain without watching the film or reading the books, and in part because I don't want to give away any spoilers. What I can tell you is that I did enjoy exploring this unique society, and I am looking forward to visiting it again in its inevitable sequel, thanks to the film's box office success. I really only have one quibble with the film, which I don't know if this will be addressed in a future film in the series or if it was covered in the books that I have not read. My quibble is they never explain how the apocalypse in question came to pass, or what kind of apocalypse it was. Also, the film is set in Chicago, and there are some parts of that setting that are unbelievable to me as a resident of the Chicagoland area. In one establishing shot, they show the majority of the skyline is still intact, but all of the outer sprawl is completely gone, turned into a grassland. I know just how dense that sprawl around Chicago is, and how many tall buildings the suburbs also hold. I just don't understand what kind of apocalypse lays waste to the entirety of suburbia but leaves the skyline intact. If you know the answer to this riddle, feel free to tell me in the comments.

Other than that minor complaint, over all I enjoyed the film, and can't wait until the next one in the series, Insurgent. Fortunately, I won't have to wait long, as that one is scheduled for next March. I guess I know what my wife and I will be seeing on her birthday next year!

All right, that's all for today, thanks for stopping by! Check back soon, I'm hopefully going to see Captain America: the Winter Soldier this weekend, so I'll try to get a review up for that soon!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

PCP in Theaters - Vampire Academy

As I said back on my "I'm going on hiatus again" post, I knew I'd be seeing a couple movies in theaters before the blog returns full-time in the summer. Well, I saw Vampire Academy in theaters, all the way back on Valentine's Day, but I've been so busy that I wasn't able to write my review in detail until recently. At this point, you probably can't find this film in theaters anyway except maybe at the dollar theaters, because it didn't do too well at the box office anyway. But, it'll be on DVD soon, so if you really want to watch this movie, you'll be able to do so from the comfort of your own couch.

Vampire Academy - 2014, rated PG-13. My rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Marketing pro tip: don't mention the phrase "they suck" in the context of your film's advertising, as it makes it way too easy to mock the film itself if it isn't that good of a film.

I hadn't read the teen book series that the film was based on, and based on this film I don't have any intent to go and do so either. Like many films lately, VA was an attempt to find the next Twilight or Hunger Games franchise, but unfortunately for every hit at the box office, there's a flop or two as well, like this or Beautiful Creatures or the Mortal Instruments. All I knew about this film going in was that it was from the writer of the teen classic Heathers and the director of Mean Girls, so I figured that a film set in a high school couldn't be that terrible with that pedigree.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. The film wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. Working in its favor was the fact that it created a new variety of vampire mythology, compared to traditional vampire films (and hey, no sparkling either, a joke pointed out by the film itself in one of its funnier moments). Zoey Deutch stars as Rose, a half-human, half vampire known as a Dhampir. Dhampirs are the bodyguards of the good vampires, the Moroi, who have witchcraft like super powers but are not great at fighting. Rose specifically protects her best friend, Lissa, a princess of the Moroi nobility, from those that want to harm her, including the "bad" vampires, the Strigoi. Also working in the film's favor, in addition to the new mythology, are some of the scenes set at the school, especially in the cafeteria. Those parts of the film were some of the better scenes, which is likely due to the writing from Daniel Waters.

Too bad they couldn't stay at the school cafeteria all of the time since those, scenes were some of the best, but the film couldn't decide if it wanted to be a teen high school movie or an action/horror movie, so it felt uneven and schizophrenic. The CGI was also pretty weak looking, but the film did have a microscopic budget so that makes sense. Also, because of the unique mythology of the vampire hierarchy in this series, the film had to rely on way too much voice-over from Rose to explain what is going on to the audience, which hurts the film significantly. And, the film telegraphs it's bad guy in an extremely obvious way, so you can see the "twist" coming a mile away.

Overall, the movie ended on a nice sequel hook with a nasty looking army of Strigoi not far from the school, but based on how this bombed at the box office, we'll never get to see that attack happen on screen. If you want to find out what happens, I guess you'll have to read the books, but I don't plan to do that myself. If you do read them, let me know if they're worth the time.

Alright, that's all for today, thanks for stopping by!