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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On the chance that you’ve never attended or perhaps never heard of Fathom Events you’re missing out on something fun. The company puts on special screenings in theaters across the country of various events that bring everything from classical opera to riffing on bad movies by pros to classic movies brought to the big screen once more. The only down side to note is that to discover what is coming you have to visit their web site or sign up for word about upcoming events.

I was fortunate enough to attend a recent showing they had at the nearby Regal Coldwater Crossing Stadium 14. The show this time around? KISS ROCKS VEGAS. In the latter part of 2014 the rock band KISS took up residence at the famed Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas. When a band does this it usually means that they appear there for an extended period of time rather than tour across the country. Fans can then flock in for a few days to take advantage of Vegas and attend a show by their favorite artists at the same time, in this case KISS.

The way Fathom Events handles this is to sell tickets to the one time only performance/screening. In this case the cost was $15 per ticket which may seem high but not quite when you consider the cost of a live performance for the band or the fact that in some cities the band won’t be performing nearby (not so here as KISS is coming to Ft. Wayne in the near future). What you end up with is seeing what amounts to a live video taped performance, much like the videos for sale at stores across the country for bands, but on a huge screen rather than your TV. Add to that a more than likely louder sound system and you have as close to an actual performance as you can get.

This particular show opened with a short film of the band discussing how they came to choose this location, the set design that was developed for them there and how it differed from the stadium/arena shows they are known for. The venue is nowhere near as large as those so several things had to be toned down and new items added to make up the difference. The end result is a spectacular stage show that equals if not rivals their bigger shows. Large screens on both sides of the stage, screens the move up the back and out over the front audience, a scaffold halfway back in the venue and the assorted flash pots, flamethrowers, sparklers and confetti cannons make for an eye opening experience.

Once the short film is finished we get the opening credits and the band being brought in by helicopter s the now familiar “You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the land…KISS!” announced as the stage front parts and the band files out to the steady driving beat of “Detroit Rock City”. Decked out in their leather costumes with the famed kabuki style makeup the band dives right into a lively performance of some of their greatest hits. At only an hour and a half the odds are a few favorites might not make it but those that do remain memorable for fans.

Following songs in order were “Creatures of the Night”, “Psycho Circus”, “Parasite”, “War Machine” during Gene Simmons offered his fire breathing skills to perfection, “Tears Are Falling”, “Deuce”, “Lick It Up” which featured a masterful combining of the classic riff from the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” solo. They continued on with “I Love It Loud”, “Hell or Hallelujah” and then into “God of Thunder” during which Simmons once again took center stage to pull off his blood spitting/flying demon persona for fans in wait. Next up was “Do You Love Me” and “Love Gun” during which Paul Stanley was hoisted to the catwalk in the middle of the venue to sing and perform in a more up close moment for fans. The show ends with “Black Diamond” before the band comes out to do a two song encore with “Shout It Out Loud” and “Rock and Roll All Night”.

Early on Simmons comments about how fortunate the band is to have the fans they do, how after 40 years their songs had touched so many lives and become the inspiration for memories of those fans. I can relate as I listened to that final song and remembered cruising the streets with my cassette deck blaring “Rock and Roll All Night” to a cool summer breeze.

If this show happens to play again I would suggest fans making a point to be there. It’s sad to report that there was only a crowd of 12-15 people in attendance but again I mark that up to lack of advertising. Upcoming events include screenings of the original GHOSTBUSTERS, WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, the original PLANET OF THE APES, THE KING AND I, ANIMAL HOUSE, THE LABYRINTH, DR. STRANGELOVE and THE SHINING. Another concert is on tap with the final performance of Motley Crue. Upcoming operas include Tosca, La Boheme, and Cosi Fan Tutte. Individual events include the 2016 Drum and Bugle Corp competition, a National Theater live performance of FRANKENTSTEIN and a Mystery Science Theater 3000 Reunion show. Check out more information at