Tag Archives: B

SHAZAM!

Producer: Peter Safran
Director: David F. Sandberg
Writer: Henry Gayden
Stars: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Cooper Andrews,Marta Milans, John Glover, Evan Marsh and Carson McCormac
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

B

One could hardly imagine a more drastic alteration in the so-called DC Universe than the one represented by “Shazam!” Instead of the dark, gloomy world created by Zach Snyder, David F. Sandburg’s jovial superhero movie resembles the spirit of the animated “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” way more than “Suicide Squad” and its similar cousins. It’s very much a live-action cartoon, in spirit and style.

As the picture itself admits with a brief stop at a toy shop, “Shazam!” is like a version of “Big” in which the kid isn’t only turned into an adult with an adolescent’s mindset, but a superhero besides. He’s fourteen-year old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), an orphan who’s run away from countless foster families to search for his birth mother (Caroline Palmer), from whom he got separated at a carnival years earlier, when he was only four.

He’s now assigned to a Philadelphia group home run by likable, loving couple Victor and Rosa Vasquez (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans), who already host a bunch of kids who become Billy’s surrogate siblings: Mary (Grace Fulton), Eugene (Ian Chen), Pedro (Jovan Armand), Darla (Faithe Herman), and—most importantly—Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a wise-ass disabled boy with a motor mouth and an obsessive knowledge of superheroes, which he teaches to his new roommate. He’s also the target of campus bullies Burke (Evan Marsh) and Brett (Carson McCormac).

After defending Freddy from them and taking refuge in a subway, Billy finds himself mystically transported to the underground temple of the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who endows the flabbergasted kid with his powers—the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury, or in acronym form, Shazam. By uttering that name, Billy becomes the muscled, superpowered hero, dressed in a red suit with a white cape, who was originally called Captain Marvel when Fawcett Comics introduced him in 1939 and is here played by Zachary Levi. (The character was transferred to the DC brand after a lawsuit, and the name later ceded to Marvel. Thus the Captain Marvel now on screen in a separate movie.)

In a series of mostly amusing scenes Billy/Marvel (or, if you prefer, Shazam) learns the extent of his powers and turns into a showboat who actually does public performances for money. (One of the problems of Henry Gayden’s slapsticky script is that teen Billy is actually much more mature than the “adult” he turns into. The makers might have recalled that one of the attributes he’s given is the wisdom of Solomon. Of course, had he been too solemn he wouldn’t be so kid-friendly.)

Of course, a hero without a villain to confront would violate the universal law of balance (at least in the comic-book universe), and so we also get Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who as a youngster (Ethan Pugiotto) bullied by his father (John Glover) was deemed by the wizard as not “of pure heart” and therefore unworthy of the powers he could bestow. Obsessed with compensating for his loss, he finds his way back to Shazam’s temple and instead becomes the opposite of the hero—the vessel of the seven deadly vices, malevolent CGI critters with terrible destructive instincts.

Needless to say, hero and villain will do battle—indeed, they’ll engage in a series of battles, culminating in a big one at another carnival, where Billy/Shazam will not only finally marshal his full powers but realize that he needs the aid of his new family to succeed, having finally come to terms with the truth about his birth mother. A spoiler here: not only does Captain Marvel Jr. make an appearance, but some others as well—including a special cameo from another DC stalwart in a coda at the close.

One can to observe that these last-act fight scenes, while decently executed, and larded with some good gags—the best involving Sivana’s obligatory final speech—are as overstuffed as the heavily padded costume Levi wears. They drag the picture out unconscionably; with the final credits (spiced up with two added scenes, the first pointing toward a sequel and the last a dig at another DC superhero) it runs over 130 minutes. Younger kids may well get a bit fidgety before it’s over.

Still, “Shazam!” is good-natured fun that hews to a rather old-fashioned comic-book sensibility rather than trying to drag the character into the modern era of serious, oh-so-sensitive superheroes. Gayden provides plenty of jokes, Sandberg plays most everything with a light touch, and Levi has a field day as a big lug who relishes every bit of the absurdity. Strong and Hounsou play their parts without winking at the audience, as they might well have done, and the youngsters are an agreeable bunch. Angel is adept as the slightly sullen Batson—his amazed scene with Hounsou is especially well-done—but the real sparkplug is Grazer, who goes completely overboard with his mugging but remains endearing anyway. Though it might make you groan a bit, his double triumph at the end is well-deserved.

On the technical side, the picture is spic and span, as brightly colored as a pre-“Spider Verse” animated feature. Jennifer Spence’s production design embraces artificiality, and Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography is awash with vibrancy. Michel Aller’s editing might have been crisper, especially toward the end, but Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is winningly zippy.

Gomer Pyle, a big fan as you might recall, would probably shout “Golly!” over the result.

STORM BOY

Producer: Michael Boughen and Matthew Street
Director: Shawn Seet
Writer: Justin Monjo
Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Jai Courtney, Finn Little, Trevor Jamieson, Morgana Davies, Erik Thomsen and David Gulpilil
Studio: Good Deed Entertainment

B

There are plenty of boy-and-his-dog movies, but here is a boy-and-his-pelican film. You might be forgiven for assuming it was the only one; in fact, however, “Storm Boy” is a remake of a previous adaptation of Colin Thiele’s 1964 children’s book, and it proves winning family fare, though one with dark, brooding undercurrents that Bruce Young’s gorgeous widescreen cinematography only partially dissipates. The result is a mixture of laughter and tears that can appeal to young and old alike.

The titular character is Michael Kingley (charmingly cherubic Finn Little), who lives with his reclusive father Hideaway Tom (Jai Courtney), clearly still grieving his wife’s death, on a remote stretch of Australian beach southeast of Adelaide during the 1950s. After witnessing local hunters brutally killing off pelicans, the tyke finds three chicks in a nest and, with the help of an aboriginal man named Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) living nearby, takes them home and aims to raise the motherless birds himself.

Anyone who’s ever seen the “Opie the Birdman” episode of the old Andy Griffith Show will be able to predict what follows. Michael is surprisingly successful in bringing the fledglings to maturity, and his father suggests that it’s time to release them into the wild. With a heavy heart the boy does so, but one of them, Mr. Percival, returns and becomes his loyal friend and companion.

Mr. Percival attains a measure of fame when he’s instrumental in rescuing Tom during a storm that suddenly comes up as he’s sailing his small fishing boat. But though most of the townspeople celebrate the pelican, the hunters do not, and tragedy results, compounded by Tom’s decision to send his son off to school, which causes a rift between them.

All of this is related in the form of flashbacks shot by Young in lustrous images that revel in the sun gleaming on the sea and the pelicans in dizzying flight. These are juxtaposed with a contemporary plot thread involving a much older Michael (Geoffrey Rush), who relates the story to his teenaged granddaughter Maddy (Morgana Davies) as they spend time together at the family’s seaside mansion.

Kingley, now a well-to-do retired businessman, is a key figure in a vote by his company’s board of directors, headed by his son-in-law Malcolm (Erik Thomsen), to allow a mining firm to lease a parcel of pristine land for development. Malcolm is pushing for quick assent to the deal, but Maddy, an ardent environmentalist, opposes the idea, and Michael’s lengthy conversation with her—shown in bits and pieces that lead to successive flashback sequences—represents his own inner debate about whether he should vote for the deal or thwart it, as well as his attempt to encourage Maddy to reconcile with her dad, as he never did with his after being forced to leave the coast for school.

The juxtaposition of time frames, shuttling back and forth between past and present, gives the film a rather jagged rhythm, especially since the construction aims for a “Scheherazade”-like quality, with Rush’s Kingley coyly leading up to a “but” moment before the next flashback is launched. Still, the push-and-pull effect has the positive result of enhancing the feeling of aching nostalgia that permeates the tale, and it does lead to a conclusion, both on the shore and in the boardroom, that’s satisfying, even if loose ends remain.

The makers certainly show great affection for the material. There is no hint of condescension in either Monjo’s script or Seet’s direction, and the production design by Melinda Doring and costumes by Louise McCarthy are unobtrusively on target. Rush and Little make Michael a charmer at both ends of the age spectrum, and Courtney provides a sturdy presence while Jamieson brings a good deal of likable energy to Bill (David Gulpilil, who played the character in the earlier film, has a cameo here).

Special kudos are due the pelican wranglers, whose work with the birds pays ample dividends. The sequences of the pelicans in flight are lovely, but their interaction with the humans is all-important to the piece, and it’s beautifully realized.

“Storm Boy” is definitely old-fashioned, but its quietly engaging tone is a relief by comparison to today’s frantic, overbearing type of children’s entertainment.