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By Vernor Rodgers
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"ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP"

Pity the poor zombies. Not too long ago, they had zoomed to the top of the horror hierarchy as the scariest and nastiest bringers of terror. But these days they just seem to be the backdrop to drama- or comedy-enhanced horror. In "The Walking Dead," for example, when beloved characters like Glenn and Herschel are killed by humans rather than the revived dead, it's a sign that their glory is fleeting. But that must be expected. After all, zombies are a tough sell to maintain a movie -- motivationally one-dimensional (BRAINS!), lack of personalities and beset by enormous hygiene issues.

Ten years ago, "Zombieland" hit the theaters, featuring a mismatch of four apocalypse survivors who end up forming an unlikely and shaky alliance. And of course, the movie was driven by the humor and human charm of these characters rather than the ravenous ghouls. There was Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), the nerdy, socially inept guy who has managed to stay alive by adhering to a set of rules (Cardio, meaning be in shape to outrun the zombies and Double Tap, which means making damn sure the zombie you killed really is dead). There was Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the gun-toting bad-ass who's really a softy inside. Then there were Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), two sisters adept at conning people and who strive to be independent but find themselves reluctantly in need of allies like Columbus and Tallahassee.

A big plus for "Zombieland: Double Tap" is that the director of the original, Ruben Fleischer, is back as well as the two script writers, Brett Reese and Paul Wernick, now joined by Dave Callaham. This ensures that the texture of the movie stays intact and that the characters remain consistent.

The movie opens with the four people dispatching zombies by the dozens before settling into the now abandoned White House. A few years of communal bliss have passed but there is a restlessness in the household. Columbus and Wichita are an item, but it seems awkward and there is a cloud always overhead reminding them that if it were not for the zombie apocalypse, no way in hell would they be in a relationship. Tallahassee for now seems to be the most content, but he is a road warrior and lone wolf at heart, currently and comfortably surrendering to paternal instincts on being a father figure to Little Rock.

But it is Little Rock who is the most discouraged, deprived of the social interaction with peers of which she is being deprived. Seeing her sister so unhappy, and plagued by her own doubts about a life with Columbus, Wichita agrees it is time to leave.

So once again it is back on the road for the sisters, with the dangers therein, while Columbus mopes around and Tallahassee offers little sympathy. In reality, Tallahassee longs for the open road again and does feel a duty to go out and make sure the young women are safe.

Boosting "Double Tap" are the introductions of new characters that enrich this adventure.

  -- Madison (Zoey Deutch) is a nice touch as the stereotypical dumb blonde Columbus and Tallahassee encounter in a mall. She is cute and delightfully silly, and Tallahassee theorizes the only reason she has survived so far is that zombies are in search of what she doesn't have -- brains. Later she ignites jealousy in Wichita.

  -- Berkeley (Avan Jogia) is an unlikely survivor in the apocalypse that the sisters encounter. An embracer of the hippy culture, he flirts with death being armed only with a guitar and bag of weed. But his refreshing attitude enchants Little Rock.

  -- Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch) are mirror images of Tallahassee and Columbus, with Flagstaff, like Columbus, living by decrees and Albuquerque being the guns and ammo arm of this duo.

 -- Nevada (Rosario Dawson, carrying over some of her toughness as Gail in "Sin City") is an Elvis Presley fan intent on keeping the memory of the The King alive and not afraid to kick some butt to achieve that.

As in the original, we see the positive effects of Columbus' rules and again Columbus provides the voice-over narration. There are a couple of hilarious and gruesome Zombie Kills of the Week as well as an update on the evolution of the zombies which include classifications as Homers (really stupid ones), Hawkings (smart) and Ninjas (silent and deadly), and the most feared ones that are dubbed T-800s because they are nearly impossible to destroy, much like the T-800s in the "Terminator" movies.

"Double Tap" is a howling packet of fun. We have grown fond of those four people and now a couple of more have enriched the group. Be sure to stick around for a mid-credit scene that hints of the possibility the zombie apocalypse might have been triggered by the announcement of a third "Garfield" movie.

"ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/ZlW9yhUKlkQ

 

"BLACK AND BLUE"

Pretty much a standard good cop vs. bad cop thriller, "Black and Blue," is elevated by a strong and physically taxing performance by Naomie Harris as Alicia West, a veteran of deployment in the Middle East who returns to her native New Orleans and becomes a police officer.

Already getting a reality check while on patrol with her partner  Kevin (Reid Scott) about how she is negatively perceived in her old neighborhood now that she is a cop, Alicia volunteers to take on another shift when an officer calls in sick, and joins a grizzled veteran officer, Deacon Brown (James Moses Black) on patrol. When she almost tragically mishandles a disturbance on the street, she is counseled by Brown, who lets her know she may be black, but putting on that officer's uniform makes her blue and naturally not one to be trusted in the community.

Unfortunately, as street wise as Brown is, he has dirty hands and when he meets with some drug dealers and undercover cops, he instructs Alicia to stay in the police unit. But gunshots lure her into the abandoned facility  where the meeting is taking place, and she witnesses the execution of the drug dealers by one of the narcs, Terry Malone (Frank Grillo from two of the "Purge" movies). In addition to being a witness to the killing, Alicia also has her body cam going, which records the crime. Shot while trying to flee, Alicia manages to elude the pursuing officers, but when she seeks help in the neighborhood, she is shunned. And Malone uses his ties to drug dealers to get the word out that Alicia shot the drug dealers.

Before long, Alicia has only one ally in "Mouse" Jackson (Tyrese Gibson), and even he is reluctant to get involved at first.

"Black and Blue" becomes a deadly cat-and-mouse pursuit and the only mysteries to be revealed are who among Alicia's former peers (including an ex-best friend Missy (Nafessa Williams), a single mom with ties to the drug dealers, will come through in the pinch, and will Kevin turn out to be a friend or enemy.

The screenplay by Peter A. Dowling, who scripted the Judy Foster thriller "Flightplan," and the direction by Deon Taylor ("The Intruder" featuring Dennis Quaid earlier this year) keep the movie clipping along at a brisk place. But there is the obligatory speech by the bad guy, Malone, feeling compelled to explain why he is now a crooked cop, the usual "it's not really my fault" rationale.

Harris injects heart into this action-thriller as Alicia West, a young woman with a firm set of values that she never abandons despite the perilous circumstances in which they have led her. Gibson adds strong support as Mouse, one who has benignly accepted the way things are but becomes inspired by Alicia to muster up some courage and fight the odds.

"BLACK AND BLUE" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/QCfSeVCr7ng

"COUNTDOWN"

Just a matter of time before the home technology we have incorporated so heavily into our lives has become the basis for a new genre of horror in which computers, the internet and mobile devices are instruments of death. We have seen this with "Unfriended" and "Dark Web," and even the "Paranormal Activity" series has used surveillance cameras and PCs to illustrate sources of terror.

"Countdown," the feature-length movie debut of writer-director Justin Dec, presents a new premise in which an app, Countdown,  is being offered that supposedly lets the user know when he or she will die. Kind of morbid but definitely something that may attract people, particularly younger folk blithely immersed in their confidence that they are immortal.

At a party several young people decide to download the Countdown app to their mobile devices. While most of them are informed they have several decades of life left, one girl, Courtney (Anne Winters), gets grim news that has just hours to live. Everybody scoffs, of course, but Courtney does get spooked, especially later when her drunk boyfriend, Evan (Dillon Lane), insists he is able to drive her  home. Nevertheless, Courtney opts to walk. Evan indeed has an accident and if Courtney had been in the vehicle she would have been killed. But she dies anyway, apparently murdered by some entity.

"Countdown" has some elements of the "Final Destination" movies in that it seems futile to try and cheat death.

Later in the hospital, Quinn (Elizabeth Lail), a newly certified nurse, has Evan as one of her patients and he is shook up because his mobile device, also with the Countdown app, has predicted he will die in a couple of days, likely when he undergoes a pending surgery.

Curious about this app Evan mentions, Quinn downloads it to her device and learns her clock is ticking close to the end -- about three days. When Evan indeed dies, Quinn is understandably shook up. Now the movie assumes some elements of "Happy Death Day" in which a person faces a deadline to try and stop whatever horrifying power is causing this.

In her attempts to find a way to stop this scary prospect, she meets Matt (Jordan Calloway), a young man also facing a rapidly approaching mortal deadline.

Together they try to figure out if they can possibly foil the app's grim prognostications. Their efforts lead them to Father John (P.J. Byrne, who interestingly was the guy who got his head crushed by a Buddha statue in a massage parlor in "Final Destination 5"), a bookworm priest who theorizes that whoever wrote the code for the app managed to encrypt a curse from centuries earlier.

Quinn and Matt find that every strategy they use doesn't work, and when Quinn's younger sister Jordan (Talitha Bateman) also downloads the app and has her pending death just hours away, the stakes increase.

"Countdown" is a pretty decent horror movie that like others dealing with this electronic and social media era, serves as a cautionary tale about how these devices can lead to all sorts of trouble.

The acting is competent, with Lail presenting an attractive Quinn, dedicated to her job but haunted by a family tragedy that has her on the brink of being alienated from Jordan and her father. Calloway is a decent young man also carrying a burden of guilt over something he did as a child.

"Countdown" does get a bit bogged down by a side story about a doctor (Peter Facinelli) who is a sexual predator, but other than that presents some compelling ideas about trying to alter fate and whether the selfish mistakes made in your life eventually will catch up to you.

"COUNTDOWN" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/S6O4iy3Twwo

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