Film Review: The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Also known as: Mark of Zorro (working title)
Release Date: July 10th, 1998 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: John Eskow, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher, Maury Chaykin

David Foster Productions, Amblin Entertainment, TriStar Pictures, 136 Minutes

Review:

“There is a saying, a very old saying: when the pupil is ready the master will appear.” – Don Diego de la Vega

Wow! I forgot how ridiculously fun this movie was. That’s probably because I haven’t seen it since the theater and for whatever reason, I just never got around to seeing it again. Also, I haven’t seen the sequel either but I’m going to rectify that very, very soon.

To start, Antonio Banderas was pretty damn perfect as Zorro. Almost too perfect, honestly. But then, Anthony Hopkins is also pretty close to perfect as an aged Don Diego a.k.a. the most well-known Zorro.

If that’s confusing, it shouldn’t be. You see, this is a movie with two Zorros in it! Yes, two!

Hopkins’ Don Diego is at the end of his swashbuckling career due to his older age but also because he was imprisoned by an evil bastard that stole his daughter and raised her as his own. The villain also carried a grudge because Don Diego had the child with the woman he loved.

Upon escaping prison, Don Diego still has a score to settle and he must bring down the villain. However, he meets a young man with an enemy of his own, who is the right hand of the big villain. So Don Diego takes the younger Alejandro Murrieta and trains him to be the next Zorro.

Over the course of the story, Alejandro falls in love with the villain’s daughter, Elena. Elena, by the end of the story, learns that Don Diego is her true father and shit hits the fan in one epic, incredible finale.

This motion picture truly embodies everything a Zorro story should have: adventure, action, romance, swashbuckling and a lighthearted, playful style of humor. Again, Banderas was perfect as this story’s primary Zorro and it’s as if he was born to play this character. Additionally, his chemistry with Catherine Zeta-Jones and camaraderie with Anthony Hopkins are immensely enjoyable.

Man, I just loved the hell out of this and even though I haven’t seen the sequel, it’s kind of a shame that this didn’t become an ongoing franchise with Banderas as the lead. Although, there have been rumors that Quentin Tarantino wants to bring Banderas back for a Zorro meets Django movie. Tarantino actually wrote a comic book miniseries that featured both characters. I reviewed that here.

Rating: 8/10

Comic Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadows of the Vampire

Published: November 23rd, 2016
Written by: Jim Zub
Art by: Nelson Daniel, Max Dunbar
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR

IDW Publishing, 136 Pages

Review:

This is the third story in Jim Zub’s run with these characters and it follows up those Baldur’s Gate stories quite well, leaning into the strengths of the series and making these incredibly likable characters even more likable.

Also, this continues to develop these characters while also strengthening their bond.

In this story, we get werewolves, other creatures and ultimately, a showdown between these awesome heroes and a powerful vampire lord.

Like the previous volumes, this is fun, energetic and thoroughly entertaining. Jim Zub has the right sort of vibe for sword and sorcery, especially the more lighthearted stuff.

I also like the art, here, and it’s consistent with the other two books before it.

All in all, these continue to be great and fans of action fantasy with a bit of humor should just give them a read.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter (1990)

Release Date: October 25th, 1990 (Germany)
Directed by: George T. Miller
Written by: Karin Howard
Based on: The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Jonathan Brandis, Kenny Morrison, Clarissa Burt, John Wesley Shipp, Martin Umbach, Thomas Hill, Noah Hathaway (uncredited archival footage)

Cinevox Filmproduktion GmbH, Bavaria Film, Warner Bros., 89 Minutes

Review:

“Ahh, but have you ever read a book twice? Books change each time you read them.” – Mr. Koreander

While I never saw this as being as great as the original film, I did like it back in the day when it came out. It’s been ages since I’ve seen it, though.

Ultimately, this picks up where the first film left off, which actually only adapted the first half of Michael Ende’s classic children’s book. This does take some extreme liberties, though, and there are still some cool things from Ende’s novels that weren’t properly adapted. Granted, some of it may be too bonkers for the medium.

While I think that the sets and most of the special effects are pretty well done, this still looks cheaper than the first movie, which also came out six years earlier.

Because of the passage of time between films, the kids were all recast. While I generally like Jonathan Brandis, I thought that his Bastian just wasn’t on the level of Barret Oliver’s. Additionally, I liked the spunk of the new Atreyu but Kenny Morrison also wasn’t on the level of his predecessor, Noah Hathaway. As far as the Childlike Empress goes, the new actress looked noticeably older, which was odd, as she isn’t supposed to age.

One casting change that I did like, however, was John Wesley Shipp as Bastian’s dad. In the original movie, he was played by “Major Dad” Gerald McRaney, who did an okay job but he was only featured in one or two short scenes. Here, the dad discovers the book and realizes that his son is inside it, trying to save an entire world. When I was a kid, I loved Shipp in this even more because he was starring in The Flash at the same time.

Overall, this is a much weaker film than the first but it isn’t a total dumpster fire like what came after. Also, there’s still enough here to enjoy.

Rating: 6/10

Documentary Review: Closed for Storm (2020)

Also known as: Closed for Storm – The Story of Six Flags New Orleans (complete title)
Release Date: November 7th, 2020 (New Orleans Film Festival)
Directed by: Jake Williams
Written by: Jake Williams
Music by: Matthew Jordan Leeds
Cast: Jake Williams (narrator), various

Bright Sun Films, 78 Minutes, 57 Minutes (festival cut)

Review:

Closed for Storm tells the story of a once great theme park on the edge of New Orleans. It was unfortunately wrecked hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While it started out as Jazzland in 2000, it was bought by Six Flags and renamed Six Flags New Orleans in 2003.

Six Flags had big plans for the park but once Hurricane Katrina hit the area, priorities in New Orleans, in general, changed.

Additionally, the park was flooded and had incredible damage. Over time, it was looted and vandalized and Six Flags decided to cut their losses. Today, it just sits there, vacant.

This documentary interviews people that were involved with the theme park, those who were regular visitors and those who live in the surrounding community, who were promised a lot from the development of the park but now have an eyesore in their backyards that has had the opposite effect of what was promised to them.

This is also a sad story about the death of a piece of Americana. It reminded me a lot of the recent documentary I watched called Jasper Mall, which told the story of a once busy and successful shopping mall that has, in recent years, just barely been able to stay afloat.

Also, growing up in South Florida, I lived through a similar situation when Hurricane Andrew put the nail in the coffin for Six Flags Atlantis, just north of Miami. It was a place I loved to go to and tried to coerce my dad into taking me a few times per year.

I enjoyed this documentary quite a bit and it does leave you with some hope regarding the defunct park. People keep coming up with plans for the site and it’s probably only a matter of time before a trigger is pulled. Although, it probably won’t become another theme park. Just like Six Flags Atlantis was steamrolled and turned into a shopping center.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The War of the Roses (1989)

Release Date: December 4th, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Danny DeVito
Written by: Michael J. Leeson
Based on: The War of the Roses by Warren Adler
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Marianne Sagebrecht, Dan Castellaneta, Sean Astin, G.D. Spradlin, Roy Brocksmith

Regency International Pictures, Gracie Films, Twentieth Century Fox, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I think you owe me a solid reason. I worked my ass off for you and the kids to have a nice life and you owe me a reason that makes sense. I want to hear it.” – Oliver Rose, “Because. When I watch you eat. When I see you asleep. When I look at you lately, I just want to smash your face in.” – Barbara Rose

When this came out, I remember my mum rushing out to see it based off of her love of Romancing the Stone and to a lesser extent, The Jewel of the Nile. I then remember her coming home upset because it didn’t have a happy ending and in fact, had a really dark, tragic one. While my mum was a fan of comedy and romance pictures, she was never too keen on black comedy or dark humor in general.

I had never seen this one until now. Sure, I had seen scenes and knew how it would end but I was always kind of disappointed that in the final act of the Douglas-Turner-DeVito trilogy we didn’t get another fun adventure movie akin to their previous films together. I’m still kind of bummed we never got a third Romancing the Stone film but Turner wasn’t happy with The Jewel of the Nile and most people saw it as a big step down.

Anyway, this certainly isn’t a bad film and I find it more palatable than my mum did. But I’ve also always loved dark humor because I was a teenage male in the ’90s and everyone was an edgy boi in love with edgy shit. Also, watching Turner start to go off the deep end in this reminded me a lot of another one of her movies I love: Serial Mom.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this. It’s hard watching this married couple fall apart, though. Also, by the end of the story, neither of them are good people. They just become obsessed with trying to hurt one another and its a game of escalating one-upmanship that ends in their demise.

Some of this really stung because the performances were so good and after the setup and their backstory, it’s hard watching things fall apart and to the extreme extent that they do. I also think that in my mind, as it’s still fresh, and in many people’s minds, we were still in love with the couple we got in their two other movies.

Danny DeVito was just kind of there to be the eyes and ears of the audience, observing and ultimately reporting and telling the story to a client in his office. DeVito starts out as this sort of sleazy lawyer but evolves, as the tale rolls on.

In the end, this isn’t the way I wanted to see this creative partnership between these three great talents end but for decades, this was it. At least Kathleen Turner popped up as Michael Douglas’ ex-wife in his show The Kominsky Method, which I’ve heard is good. I’ll probably give it a watch down the road. Danny DeVito appeared on the show, as well.

Rating: 6.25/10

Book Review: ‘The Untold Legend of the Batman’ by Len Wein, Jim Aparo & John Byrne

This was a paperback book I had when I was a kid and it may have actually been the first Batman comic that I read, as I got this when I was really young.

This paperback is a collection of a three-issue comic book miniseries of the same name. Except, here, the comic is in black and white and reformatted to fit this medium, having just one-to-three panels per page.

The Untold Legend of the Batman is a bit strange, as its details differ from the continuity of the actual comic book series. Events in Batman’s past are slightly altered but it was still a fun read and the origin of the Caped Crusader wasn’t so different that it wrecked anything. At worst, it’s still more accurate than many of the film and television versions of the hero’s backstory.

I really dug the art in this, especially with it being presented in black and white, as it allowed the linework of both John Byrne and Jim Aparo to really standout on its own.

This was a really fast read but it was still worth hunting down and giving it a look again.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: The Jungle Book (1967)

Release Date: October 18th, 1967
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry
Based on: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Music by: George Bruns
Cast: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, John Abbott, Louis Prima, Bruce Reitherman, Clint Howard

Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions, 78 Minutes

Review:

“What do they call you?” – Baloo, “His name is Mowgli, and I’m taking him back to the man village.” – Bagheera, “Man village? They’ll ruin him. They’ll make a man out of him.” – Baloo, 

While I always liked The Jungle Book it wasn’t one of the films that popped into my head when thinking of Disney’s greatest classic animated features. However, seeing it this time, the first in a few decades, gave me a new appreciation for it, as seeing it through the eyes of an adult made it a richer experience.

The reason for that, is that even though I can relate to Mowgli, I have more appreciation for Bagheera’s point-of-view and also have grown away from my more care-free ways that Baloo exhibits. Well, until Baloo has to ultimately let the kid move on and live his life.

The magic of this film is that it can connect to anyone through the youthful Mowgli but it has the ability to speak to the adults watching it in a way that the kids also probably understand but can’t fully connect to until they’ve actually experienced more in life.

Also, this is just such a fun and jovial movie that its music really stands out for this era of Disney pictures.

I also like the art style and the lush colors and environment.

It reminds me a lot of the film before it, The Sword In the Stone, in how this plays more like two friends going on random adventures where the main plot is just kind of secondary. Except, this does that better and overall, provides a more memorable and emotional bond.

The Jungle Book is simply great. It’s a positive, fun, coming of age story that has some of the best tunes in the history of Disney films.

Rating: 8/10