Zorro is a rare superhero who doesn’t come from comic books, and indeed he predates the 1938 invention of Superman. He was created in 1919 by pulp novelist Johnston McCulley. The “Zorro” film series, of which the two Antonio Banderas-starring entries are the 10th and 11th American outings, dates back to 1920. Arguably, Zorro is not a superhero (he has no superpowers and did not originate in comics), but he’s listed as such enough times that I’ll categorize him as a proto-superhero for now and let the debate continue.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” (NBC) isn’t “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” … or “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” … or “Zoey 101.” Watching the pilot episode of the series (which will return Feb. 16, in its regular Sunday slot), I could never forget that it is trying to cash in on the current popularity of musicals and that it uses a title that evokes things people already like. That said, this series — whose producers include “Freaks and Geeks’ ” Paul Feig and “The Perfection’s” Richard Shepard (who directs the first episode) — is far from terrible.
Iimagine director/co-writer Jake Kasdan and his four lead actors, upon finishing 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” – the surprisingly great sequel to 1995’s dull “Jumanji” – got together and said “That was fun. Let’s do it again.” So two years later we have “Jumanji: The Next Level,” which does give us one fresh angle but mostly coasts by on its proven premise.
These were my 10 favorite movies of 2019, a year when superheroes continued to dominate but when we also got prime slices of action, comedy and history – plus one of the most masterfully haunting horror films in a long while:
National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” came out 30 years ago this month, and it has only grown in status as a holiday classic since. Here are 30 random observations after my latest viewing:
Writer-director Jeff Wadlow, taking the reins from Matthew Vaughn, delivers a funnier and more focused “Kick-Ass 2” (2013). It’s formulaic, but that makes it better than the flailing 2010 original, the primary value of which is to introduce us to purple-haired Mindy/Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and green-suited Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
The Knight Before Christmas” (November, Netflix), like most of TV’s recent holiday movie catalog, is so uninspired that I wonder if the sets, locations, casting and costumes come first. Then an exec assigns a writer — Cara J. Russell in this case – to churn out a screenplay with the boardroom-approved punny title and then they go from there.
Let It Snow” (November, Netflix) comes from a 2008 novel co-written by coming-of-age chronicler John Green. It’s adapted by Kay Cannon (“Pitch Perfect”) and two other writers for this who’s-who of Gen Z actors. Although I only recognized Kiernan Shipka (“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”) and Jacob Batalon (the best bud in the MCU’s “Spider-Mans”), the talent level is surprisingly high. Down the road, “Let It Snow” could play as a classic of young actors breaking out, except that the overall movie is too safe and predictable.
There were many ways “Good Boys” could go wrong, from over-reliance on the shock value of tweens dropping F-bombs, to kids who can’t act, to recycled “American Pie” gags. But this latest entry from writers Gene Stupnitsky (who also directs) and Lee Eisenberg – the writers of the underrated “Bad Teacher” (2011) – turns out to be both the raunchiest and cutest comedy of the year.
Kick-Ass” (2010) has the game pieces in place but loses the game. It’s colorful, for sure, with the green scuba-suited titular teen, the purple-haired 11-year-old Hit-Girl, McLovin coming over from “Superbad” to play Red Mist, and Nicolas Cage chewing scenery as Big Daddy. But director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn, who perhaps learns some lessons here before helming the excellent “X-Men: First Class” one year later, delivers a two-hour film that feels like four hours because it never finds the right pace or tone.