Wednesday, June 15, 2016


As with the video generation before it companies releasing DVDs straight to video has created a niche market for various stars. These stars have name recognition for some but perhaps not the majority of moviegoers. That’s a shame because many of them deserve better than they’re getting, some doing better work in small budget films than many major stars.

One such actor is Dominic Purcell. His first major break that I was aware of was as the main nemesis of Wesley Snipes in BLADE: TRINITY. A year later he became more recognizable as Lincoln Burrows in the now famous TV series PRISON BREAK. More recently he’s starred in the new CW series DC LEGENDS OF TOMORROW. But in between these items he’s starred in a number of low budget action films and done a great job in each. Why he’s not making a bigger splash is beyond me.

This week Purcell arrives in GRIDLOCKED. He plays David Hendrix, a SWAT team leader demoted to street cop and not pleased with that position. Worse yet he is now saddled with a temperamental bad boy young actor on probation after punching a member of the paparazzi. Brody Walker (Cody Hackman) is a stereotypical character here, the obnoxious brat styled young actor who had fame to fast and abuses it at every chance he can. As he tags along with Hendrix he wants to know more about when he can shoot a gun rather than take something useful back from their time spent together.

Hendrix is no piece of cake either. Resentful of being stuck with Walker he does everything he can to ignore him. That is until one night when Walker shows up at Hendrix’ apartment, six pack in hand and tries to call a truce. Hendrix breaks down a bit and takes him to the training facility for SWAT to show him what their real world is like.

Unfortunately they’ve picked a bad night to do so. While Hendrix and his old squad are in the midst of an exercise, their own Hogan’s Alley test area, a team of mercenaries takes out the power and ignites an EMP cutting off any and all access to phones. As a gun battle follows the old guard at the facility Sully (Danny Glover) is shot and reveals to Hendrix what this group might be after. As the two teams go head to head, skirmish after skirmish the leader of the group is revealed, someone who has bad blood with Hendrix. Just who will survive this night remains to be seen.

Where the plotline of the spoiled and incompetent movie star partnered with a tough as nails cop has been done before the best thing about it here is that it’s used to put the ball in motion but isn’t the centerpiece of the film. That makes it work so much better than expected. Instead the writers and director have chosen to make the film about the assault on the training facility filled with enough backstory to make it believable and involving.

Purcell’s character fits his appearance and skills as an actor. He’s an imposing figure to look at with a tough as nails attitude that oozes from every pore in each scene he’s in. And yet there are moments when with just a subtle adjustment of body language or quick smile you can see there is more to Hendrix than meets the eye. That’s the sign of a good actor.

Perhaps the weakest character here is Brody. Hackman doesn’t have the chops yet to pull off this character even though he gives it a decent try. As written the character is far too clich├ęd and it would take someone with more skill to pull this off. Even Michael J. Fox in THE HARD WAY (1991) wasn’t able to quite achieve it. When I read that Hackman was a five time karate champion before going into film I wondered why those skills were never used here. It might have made for a more interesting character.

The movie offers some great fight sequences, some over the top gun battles and a plot that may have a few holes in it but not enough to make it unenjoyable. The rest of the cast does a great job in their roles and for being a film on the low budget end every penny shows on the screen. I’ve seen bigger budget films in the past year with more major special effects that haven’t compared to this one. So if you’re in the mood for a solid action film that will keep you involved from start to finish then give this one a shot. And keep in mind that Dominic Purcell is far better than the roles he’s been getting.
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Friday, June 10, 2016


When you read the word Disney your thoughts are immediately filled with the joys of childhood, of an amusement park filled with wonder and more than anything of movies, mostly animated films that are cherished and loved to this day. Face it, when you watch a classic Disney feature cartoon you’re taken back in time to when you first saw that movie and a smile creeps across your face. What’s nice to know is that tradition carries on to this day, perhaps not in the old 2 dimensional style many of us grew up with, but that gold standard of excellence in execution coupled with great storytelling continues. ZOOTOPIA is a perfect example.

ZOOTOPIA opens in a world where animals all get along, predator and prey no longer facing off against one another. Young bunny Judy Hopps dreams of becoming a police officer in a world where while the animals get along most are limited to positions deemed acceptable to their species. Determined to live her dream she joins the police academy and through hard work and determination becomes their top cadet. Place in to ZPD via a work program Mayor Lionheart has instituted she finds herself assigned…to traffic duty. She may have made the squad but her size and the expectation of a rabbit are such that she becomes a meter maid.

As she performs her duties she comes across Nick Wilde, a fox con man she confronts but can’t prosecute. He may frustrate her with his wiliness but their chance meeting offers her an opportunity to see the world as it is rather than how she wants it to be.

A case of right place wrong time happens and Judy chases down and arrests a weasel who has stolen goods on him. Rather than a commendation the police chief, not a supporter of her being there, instead tells her she jeopardized lives and abandoned her post and demands her badge. Before she can turn it over they’re interrupted by the wife of a missing person, an otter named Emmitt. One of 14 missing animals the chief begins to brush her off but Judy tells her she’ll find him. As he begins to request her badge once more Mrs. Bellwether, the assistant to the mayor thanks Judy for helping. The chief strikes a deal. Find the missing otter in 48 hours or resign.

Judy then sets out to find the otter, solve the missing persons problem and save the day. To help her circumvent the system that the chief has locked her out of she recruits Nick via blackmail to help her. As the pair run down a list of suspects and clues they begin to bond as well as discover a nefarious plot going on behind the scenes that is deeper than they realize.

The plot may sound more adult than one would expect but it is told in the Disney style of aiming at children while making it accessible for adults as well. Pleasing both groups yields a great story told in such a way that kids will love every minute of it.

But it’s not just the story that makes a great Disney movie. It’s the visuals first combined with that story and there is an abundance of visuals to behold her. The most breathtaking is Judy’s journey into Zootopia, a city made of various land masses relating to the different animals that live there. From desserts to tundras to rain forests, all are represented in glorious and dazzling colors and visual that bring them to life before your eyes. The same holds true from start to finish in this movie that is a delight for the eyes.

Not only that but there are tons of small items placed throughout the film that will have you going back to watch it more than once just to spot them all. Everything from funny references to other Disney movies to incidental items that flesh out the story and the world of Zootopia. It is this attention to detail that makes this movie a sum of all parts and worth repeated viewings.

ZOOTOPIA is a movie for the entire family not just in that kids will love it but in that adults will fall in love with it as well. The central idea of different types learning to live with one another is a lesson great for kids to learn and is presented in such a way as not to be preachy but influential in an entertaining way. More than anything this film is pure Disney and that’s something to be proud of. This is an add to the collection film in so many ways.

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It hasn’t been that long since movie goers were treated to the film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s turn on our famous president with ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. Grahame-Smith has written several novels now that take a well-known subject or book and adds something supernatural to it. That LINCOLN was the first to be made into a film is surprising since the book this film is based on was published first. But with the success of that first film this one has been made. But is that a good thing or bad?

The book and film take their source material from the famed classic novel by Jane Austen that focused on the morality and lifestyles of the landed gentry in England, focusing on a family whose daughters are seeking matrimonial partners. As if that wasn’t enough of a story this time around the setting is altered in a world where a zombie plague has taken on most of England and those that have survived not only have to deal with the day to day life of noble men and women but the chance of getting eaten by zombies as well.

The Bennet family has five daughters all at an age where they are ripe for marriage. Elizabeth, the second oldest child, has the possibility of being courted by Mr. Darcy, a friend of Mr. Bingley who is interested in Elizabeth’s older sister Jane. As the courting goes back and forth it also includes Parson Collins, a cousin of the Bennets who has his eye on Elizabeth as well. If this wasn’t enough an ex-friend of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Wickham, also has eyes for Elizabeth.

Mr. Bingley throws a ball for the countryside and all attend only to have it interrupted by a zombie attack. Rather than become the demure ladies that are expected the Bennet sisters are fierce warriors capable of taking care of not only themselves but those around them as well. Armed to the teeth they take down zombies left and right during the attack.

A traitor to his/her own kind exist among the loaded gentry and has sided with the zombies in the hope of some sort of co-existence between the living and the undead. The zombies are fairly harmless until the taste human blood and can exist on pig’s blood. But the chances of them never being exposed and what would happen after are the main fear of the remaining humans.

So the story here basically moves back and forth between a romance and horror film with comedic elements surrounding both. Does it work? In some cases but for the most part this film has jumped on the zombie bandwagon as the genre is fading from sight. With the exception of the still popular THE WALKING DEAD zombies have once more fallen out of favor and have grown tedious rather than horrifying. The same holds true for the gore effects that accompany these films. They may be well done and offer a few new sights for gore fans here but for the most part they’ve become boring.

The movie has a nice look to it and the set design and costuming are top notch. Unfortunately due to the subject matter my guess is that Oscar will not come calling for those who worked in those departments here though no matter how good a job they’ve done. The cinematography is excellent and we get clear views of all that goes on even though most evening shots inside are illuminated in the scene by candles only. The acting is well done by all involved and the direction is fine. But in the end it still feels as if something is missing.

I will say that my biggest complaint was the sound. Once again we have a movie where every sound involved is blasting from the speakers with the exception of dialogue, the one thing that we want to hear above the rest and as clear as possible. My viewing experience with this film ended up with subtitles running throughout just so I could know what the actors were saying. For some reason this seems to be the norm rather than the exception these days with most Hollywood films. I remember reading how Robert Altman was hailed when he championed this sort of sound mix beginning with his film MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER. For me it becomes a distraction rather than something that helps in developing a mood or setting.

Some will enjoy this movie because they love Jane Austen and the romantic novels of her time. Some will love it because they still crave zombie films. And some will find it interesting to watch and see how the two genres are combined, one of the higher points of the film and the novels. In the end though the movie is one worth watching but not something I think I would want to keep around and watch over and over again. It might be worth a rent though and possibly better than some of the alternatives.

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