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

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

Vids I Dig 835: Razörfist: The Shadowcast No. 1 – The Living Shadow

From the mists of mystery emerges The Shadowcast! In this first episode, we explore the origins of the Dark Avenger with the very first pulp story: THE LIVING SHADOW, and review The Knight of Darkness’s first film appearance in the rare 1931 DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE Film Shorts!

“Your life,” said the stranger’s voice slowly, “is no longer your own. It belongs to me now. But you are still free to destroy it. Shall we return to the bridge?”

“I don’t know,” blurted Vincent. “This is all like a dream; I don’t understand it. Perhaps I did fall from the bridge, and this is death that I am now experiencing. Yet it seems real, after all. What good is my life to anyone? What will you do with it?”

“I shall improve it,” replied the voice form the darkness. “I shall make it useful. But I shall risk it, too. Perhaps I shall lose it, for I have lost lives, just as I have saved them. This is my promise; like, with enjoyment, with danger, with excitement, and— with money. Life, above all, with honor. If I give it, I demand obedience. Absolute obedience. You may accept my terms, or your may refuse. I shall wait for you to choose.”

“I accept,” he said.

-‘The Living Shadow’ (Walter B. Gibson, 1931)

Comic Review: The Expendables Go to Hell

Published: October, 2021
Written by: Chuck Dixon, Richard C. Meyer
Art by: Graham Nolan, Jason Johnson, Kelsey Shannon, Butch Guice, Daniel Brown
Based on: The Expendables franchise by Sylvester Stallone

Splatto Comics, 50 Pages

Review:

Out of all the comics that I’ve backed through crowdfunding, this is one of the few that I anticipated the most. Not because I’m a massive Expendables fan but because it was really neat seeing Sylvester Stallone work with comic crowdfunding maestro Richard C. Meyer a.k.a. Ya Boi Zack and writer Chuck Dixon, who wrote some of my favorite G.I. Joe stories. Since G.I. Joe is very similar to The Expendables, it makes Dixon a pretty solid choice for this project. Plus, he had already worked with Stallone before.

Additionally, I really liked that this featured art by Graham Nolan and a sweet as fuck cover by Kelsey Shannon. There were other variant covers as well but the Shannon cover just nailed it for me and he’s also a hell of a nice comic creator in an industry full of psychotic, narcissistic shitheads.

So while I might not be a massive Expendables fan, I still enjoy the hell out of those movies because they feature so many badasses from the action films of my childhood. Also, they’re just fun, insane movies with a bunch of likable alpha males trying to out alpha each other while also being brothers on the field of battle.

The story is pretty self-explanatory, as it sees the Expendables actually go to Hell. Once there, they learn that Hell is constant war and they find themselves at odds with tyrants of the past while also having some historical heroes becoming their allies. Also, some of their deceased friends and foes appear.

The comic is pretty straightforward, doesn’t waste time and just gets to the action. It’s a pretty cool comic if this stuff is your cup of whiskey.

All in all, I was really happy with it and thought it was certainly worth the wait.

Now if we could only get an Expendables and Jawbreakers crossover or that long-awaited sequel to Stallone’s Cobra that I’ve been dying for since 1986.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The Sword In the Stone (1963)

Release Date: December 12th, 1963 (London premiere)
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Bill Peet
Based on: The Sword and the Stone by T. H. White
Music by: George Bruns
Cast: Rickie Sorensen, Karl Swenson, Junius Matthews, Sebastian Cabot, Norman Alden, Martha Wentworth

Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Sounds like someone’s sick. How lovely. I do hope it’s serious. Something dreadful.” – Madame Mim

This was one of my favorite animated Disney films to watch growing up. Although, I wouldn’t consider it to be one that’s near the top.

This tells the story of a young King Arthur, called Wart in this, as he meets Merlin the wizard and learns many lessons from him. Although, the film plays more like an anthology of comedy skits with a very thin overall narrative.

However, in the end, it all comes together nicely and we see Wart pull the legendary sword from the stone and thus, become the first king in a new lineage of royalty.

I do like the humor in this and the sequences are still enjoyable. It would be really hard not to like Wart and Merlin and their adventures.

The animation is also good and it kind of shows a change in what was the typical, standard Disney style. This visual change started with One Hundred and One Dalmatians but then again, Disney really experimented with the visual style of Sleeping Beauty, a few years before that. But I like the ’60s style, as well as how they started to color their films a little more vividly.

The Sword In the Stone is an amusing picture but I can also see why it hasn’t stuck in people’s minds historically like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio and others. But it’s also unique in that it treads similar territory to Disney’s “princess” movies but from a boy’s perspective.

Rating: 7.25/10

Comic Review: The Evolutionary War

Published: 1988
Written by: Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Louise Simonson, Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, Mark Gruenwald
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 704 Pages

Review:

It has been years since I’ve read this giant crossover event that happened in the Marvel annuals over the summer of 1988. I really dug the hell out of it when I was a kid and I’ve always liked the High Evolutionary as a big villain, even though this was really his only major story.

Being that I still own the physical copies of all these issues, I figured that taking them out of their protective bags and boards and thumbing through them once again would be a fun experience.

Overall, this is one of the best large crossover events that Marvel did in the ’80s, where these things started to become the norm. I think I liked Atlantis Attacks slightly more but I’m going to revisit that one in the very near future, as well.

This is spread over eleven issues and there are two others that tie into this but aren’t a part of the main arc. However, the main arc is sort of a loose one, as the scheme of the High Evolutionary weaves in and out of these issues without most of the heroes coming into contact with one another. In fact, it isn’t until the final issue where a group of former Avengers come together and realize what’s happening and with that, they foil the High Evolutionary’s plans.

Sometimes the main arc is just very minimally wedged into a story like with The Punisher annual, which sees Frank Castle fighting drug lords in Latin America. Knowing what we know already, we see Castle fight a robot that we know is associated with the High Evolutionary and we know that the drugs being pushed by this specific cartel is tied to the High Evolutionary’s experiments.

Being that these are annuals, there are always main stories and then shorter backup stories tacked on to the end of the issues. The backup stories in these tell the origin of the High Evolutionary and recap everything he’s been involved with up to this point. These were all rather good and interesting and it shows the character as a sort of high-tech Dr. Moreau from the famous 1896 H. G. Wells sci-fi/horror novel The Island of Doctor Moreau.

In the end, this was a hell of a lot of fun to revisit. The writing and art were handled by a team of Marvel’s best creatives from the era. I dug the art a lot and it was damn consistent throughout.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Jungle Cruise (2021)

Release Date: July 24th, 2021 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, John Norville, Josh Goldstein
Based on: Walt Disney’s The Jungle Cruise
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, 

Davis Entertainment, Flynn Picture Company, Walt Disney Pictures, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, McGregor! Had a girlfriend once, she was cross-eyed. Didn’t work out. We could never see eye to eye!” – Frank Wolff

I watched this on the same day as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. While that film didn’t do much for me, except help solidify the fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is nowhere near the level of greatness it once was, this film actually ended up being a lot of fun and much more enjoyable.

This isn’t a great effort by Disney and in fact, this is basically a paint-by-numbers Disney adventure film. However, just as enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, albeit not as much as the original film, I also enjoyed this in the same sort of way.

Honestly, this has a lot in common with a Disney Pirates movie in that it has treasure hunting, fantastical villains, a well-paced, action-packed story and a lot of water… this time the world’s biggest river system instead of an ocean.

I also thought that Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt worked really well together and through their performances and their characters, you can kind of see an homage to Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen. However, Blunt’s character brings her brother along and it makes for a trio of heroes that also plays homage to the trio from The Mummy films with Brendan Fraser. Funnily enough, Dwayne Johnson was the villain in the second of those Mummy movies.

Anyway, out of everyone in this, I really, really loved Jesse Plemons role. The guy is one of the most talented actors of his generation and he has an exceptional range. The dude really can do anything. However, I believe that this is the first time I’ve seen him actually be comedic. He plays one of the film’s villains, a German prince that just happens to own a submarine that can traverse the Amazon River basin. He’s jovial, a bit psychotic and delivers his lines with an over-the-top German accent. There’s one scene where Plemons’ pronunciation of “jungle” creates a similar, hilarious scene akin to Steve Martin’s “hamburger” scene in his first Pink Panther movie.

Beyond the acting, some of the writing is cheesy as hell but a lot more jokes land in this film than they did in Disney’s Shang-Chi. Johnson’s skipper likes to use an extreme overabundance of puns while giving Amazon tours but the failure of the bad jokes are really the jokes themselves. However, some of the references didn’t make since as the film takes place during World War I and there is a pun about concentrated orange, which wasn’t invented till 1945, the final year of World War II. But then again, modern Disney writers don’t care much about research.

The film, as I’ve said, is action-packed and most of it is really good. This is a fantastical story with all sorts of supernatural characters and situations but almost all of the action was pretty grounded, all things considered. This wasn’t a total shitshow like Shang-Chi, where people without saddles or reins were riding dragons that flew and twisted at ridiculous speeds. When something crazy did happen here, there was a real reason for it and an explanation given, such as in the scene where Johnson falls to his death but miraculously survives, mostly unscathed.

I don’t know what the plans are going forward but I wouldn’t be opposed to a sequel. Granted, I’d rather see these characters go on an adventure to somewhere entirely different and I don’t know how you fit that into the Jungle Cruise concept. Unless, they use these characters and tie them to some other classic Disney ride.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Also known as: Steamboat (working title)
Release Date: August 16th, 2021 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Written by: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Joel P. West
Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, Tony Leung, Tim Roth (voice, uncredited), Mark Ruffalo, Brie Larson

Fox Studios Australia, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“I was hired to play a terrorist. And then turns out they were actually terrorists, the producer got blown up by Iron Man, and I was arrested!” – Trevor Slattery

So this is now the third Marvel movie that I haven’t seen in the theater following Captain Marvel and Black Widow. And like with those other two, I’m glad I didn’t waste money on this because it’s a so far below where the MCU was at its peak that it’s almost sad to see where it’s all going now.

To start, I thought Simu Liu was fine as the title character and I like Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung and Ben Kingsley in pretty much everything but I’ve never seen someone suck the fucking air out of the room like awkward ass Awkwafina.

Christ, man… she’s the worst actress I’ve seen sine Rob Zombie’s wife. I also heard she’s a comedian but every joke this “Asian Jeff Gordon” threw at us, landed flatter than steamrolled pancake. She just wrecks nearly every scene she is in and she is in most of them. The fact that she sounds like an 82 year-old woman is also really distracting. But let me not just single her out because she’s not the only negative thing in this picture.

To start, I get that this story centers around China but the use of subtitles to open the film with all the fantastical backstory, wasn’t necessary. This is an American movie and Marvel shit is heavily geared towards kids. Five year-old Timmy ain’t reading that shit and no one in the theater wants to listen to his mom trying to audibly read it out loud to him and the dozen other kids. But Disney obviously did this to pander to China, who didn’t even want this movie because it was “offensive”, starred an “ugly” lead from their perspective, and was obvious pandering. It nearly wasn’t released but once it was, it didn’t do well there and Disney, as is becoming the norm lately, were left with egg on their face.

The film also suffers from trying way too hard to be cool. It starts with the shitty rap music used to introduce the main character, which just plays as a cheap attempt at old Disney execs trying to come off as hip. Then there is the friends hanging out in San Francisco sequence, which comes off as cringe CW teen drama bullshit. Then it just continues to try and double down on modern urban music over a traditional score… well, at least for the first half because the second half is almost a different movie altogether.

Getting back to pandering, the film tries to do it with the woke crowd but also fails in that regard. One thing that really sticks out is when Shang-Chi’s sister talks about how her dad wouldn’t let her train with the men, so she watched them and taught herself better. Then, in the next scene, she grabs her dad’s shoulder and gets taken down in one fucking move. It was embarrassing (see for yourself).

So then we meet Ben Kingsley, the fake Mandarin from Iron Man 3, and the second half of the movie starts, which goes from urban kung fu flick to fantastical, mythological kung fu flick. I like the second half better and thought that the film started to pull something worthwhile together before it decided to shit all over itself, again.

To get to fantasy China, though, they had to take an ancient passageway through a magical forest. However, they had to use a BMW, in what felt like a blatant advert, to move fast enough to “stay in the pocket” of trees opening a rapidly moving, little clearing. If they didn’t stay in the pocket, the trees would’ve apparently ate them. What’s really baffling about this and, as we’ve seen with The Rise of Skywalker, Disney doesn’t expect its audience to think about the details. But we’re not all as fucktarded as the “creatives” at Disney. If we were, we might not think that this is really stupid because BMWs didn’t exist in ancient China and horses wouldn’t have moved fast enough to “stay in the pocket”. But whatever, just watch the movie like a brainless consumer.

Once we get to fantasy China, we get lots of fancy CGI creatures that look cool but also make the film kind of overly fantastical and cartoony, after we just spent an hour watching a generic Iron Fist episode set in a realistic, urban atmosphere. It’s kind of jarring to the senses but it’s also where this story begins to find its own unique space within the larger MCU.

We meet Shang-Chi’s aunt, Awkwafina makes more bad jokes, Ben Kingsley is just there, and they all start training for the big showdown with Shang’s evil dad, who should’ve just been the real Mandarin operating in the shadows but he’s instead just a generic Asian crime lord with fancy bracelets called the “Ten Rings” but unlike the comic, aren’t actually rings, they’re bracelets.

Anyway, Shang-Chi’s official superhero costume looks like some club shirt he bought on Etsy for $65 that will fall apart after one rave. His sister’s outfit is about the same, and everything just sort of looks generic and like a Canadian television production.

The fight breaks out, it’s alright but eventually we get a big battle between two large ass dragons. So the movie has two dragons in it but neither of them are Fin Fang Foom?! Fuck you, Disney. Talk about a wasted opportunity.

So one dragon is basically Falcor from The NeverEnding Story with red streaks down its body and the other is just some generic, multi-armed abomination of a dragon that looks like it was designed by my nephew Max, who is repeating third grade this year.

The good guys win and Wong from Doctor Strange shows up to introduce them to Captain Marvel and Hulk, who is back to being Banner with no explanation, and they discover that the Ten Rings, now in Shang’s possession, are sending out some beacon. Whatever. I don’t care about the future of the MCU anymore.

All in all, I thought this was okay. It’s better than Black Widow and Captain Marvel but it’s definitely a bottom five MCU movie. It probably would’ve been better if Awkwafina was nowhere near this thing and if the writers actually read a comic book before “adapting” this character and this pocket of the Marvel universe.

Rating: 5.5/10

Film Review: The ‘Harry Potter’ Film Series, Part II (2007-2011)

Release Date: June 28th, 2007 (Order of the Phoenix), July 7th, 2009 (Half-Blood Prince), November 11th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), July 7th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Michael Goldenberg (Order of the Phoenix), Steve Kloves (Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Based on: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Music by: Nicholas Hopper (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince), Alexandre Desplat (Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Tom Felton, David Bradley, Jason Issacs, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, John Hurt, Imelda Staunton 

Heyday Films, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes (Order of the Phoenix), 153 Minutes (Half-Blood Prince), 146 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), 130 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 2) 

Review:

As I said in my review of the first four Harry Potter films, the series improves as it moves on. So I was much more enthused going into the back half of the saga and especially, after the third act of The Goblet of Fire, which sets up a much darker world with the resurrection of Voldemort and the death of a teenager at his hands.

These films are really f’n good and honestly, I was never really into Harry Potter because of how wholesome and whimsical it starts out but as the kids age, that stuff sort of fades away. Sure, there are still some of those moments but it isn’t overdone to an eye-rolling level like the first two pictures, especially.

Additionally, all the kids are much better in this stretch. They feel like real friends because after years of working together, they were. Their bond feels much more real and genuine and the love they have for each other transcends the films, which is exceptionally rare for actors this young and with this little of experience, only really having the previous films in this series under their belts.

It may have been hard to see it in the first few movies but when you look at the total package from start-to-finish, these movies in regards to its young stars, were perfectly cast. It’s also kind of amazing that they were able to pull this off over eight films in a decade, keeping everyone on board. And I say that as someone that grew up loving the Narnia books and just always wanted a film series that made it to the end. None have.

What’s even more amazing is that the other kid actors who aren’t the main three, all grow and improve over time, as well. It’s actually cool seeing these characters and the actors grow up before you, onscreen. I don’t think that it’s something that could ever be pulled off again, as well and as perfectly as it was done here.

Plus, the adult actors were superb in every way. In this stretch of films, they really take a bit of a step back, as the kids emerge as the new leaders of this universe. However, the adults know how to support them in their quest to vanquish evil and reign in a new day.

I had seen all of these films previously but never did get to see the finale. Now that I have, my overall opinion on this series has changed. The finale is one of the best film series finales I have ever seen and it makes everything before it, worth it. Even the early, overly whimsical movies are justified and actually make the strength and growth of Harry, by the end, more meaningful. I mean, damn, dude was just this innocent, happy kid, despite his terrible home life, and he rose to the occasion, became a true hero and didn’t make excuses for or succumb to the hardships he faced along the way. He had doubt, he had fear but he always stepped up to do what’s right.

In the end, I love the total package of this franchise and I really should’ve seen them in the theater over the years. The Deathly Hollows – Part 2 is especially exceptional and honestly, a masterpiece for this sort of film. In the end, it’s one of the greatest finales of the epic adventure genre and a perfect conclusion.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Rating: 8.75/10

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Rating: 9/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 1 – Rating: 9.25/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 2 – Rating: 10/10