Archive | August, 2019

Shazam! (2019)

16 Aug

https___images.saymedia-content.com_.image_t_share_MTYzMTU3NzAwMjg3NDczMjg5_Shazam.jpg

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What could happen if a 14-year-old boy was given superhuman abilities? That’s the premise that “Shazam!,” based on the DC Comics superhero, wants to play with, as our teenage main character, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), becomes a superhero after taking the power of the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). Actually, it’s six 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. Put the names of all six Greek gods together and you get the acronym “SHAZAM!” Oh, and he also transforms into the buff adult body of Zachary Levi and dons a red superhero wardrobe with a lightning symbol on the front, so therefore, we get kind of the “Superman” version of “Big.” (There’s even a reference to “Big” midway through the film—you’ll know it when you see it, if you’re a fan of “Big.”)

A little background—Billy has been searching for his mother (who lost him years ago) for the longest time and has hopped from one foster home to another because of his search which involves him getting into trouble one time too many. He’s taken in to another foster home, with a couple who seem like loving parents. But that’s not enough for Billy and neither are his foster siblings, including his roommate, the physically disabled geeky foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the adorable, energetic little foster sister, Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman). But he still feels the need to help them out any way he can, such as protecting Freddy from some bullies. While running from said-bullies, he happens upon the Wizard Shazam, who has searched for the right soul to hand his powers to—now that he’s dying, he has no choice but to give them to Billy.

Now in the form of Shazam, Billy lets Freddy in on the secret as they test his new abilities (and record before uploading it to YouTube to gain popularity), and of course, they have the time of their lives. (And luckily, Billy doesn’t stay in superhero form all the time—he can transform from boy to hero to boy again to hero again by simply saying the name “Shazam!”) But before long, Billy learns the obvious—with great power comes great responsibility. After rescuing passengers of a runaway city bus from certain death, Billy learns of an even bigger problem: a supervillain, spawned from Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who spent his life searching to obtain the Shazam abilities after they were denied to him as a child. (Wizard Shazam kept testing different people around the world and turned them down as soon as they proved unworthy.) Now, he’s obtained the controlling powers of the Seven Deadly Sins, who come to life and wreak havoc on humanity. Billy has to stop doing dumb teenager things with his superpowers and go up against Sivana and the demonic beings to save the day.

The villain is the weakest part of the movie for me, but at least the clever screenplay (written by Henry Gayden) has as much fun with him to make it better—for example, he has his typical villain monologue far away from where Shazam can hear it and he’s completely unaware. (I always wanted to see that in a superhero film.)

Speaking of which, what makes “Shazam!” most enjoyable is its lightheartedness and its ability to score laughs by playing with superhero-movie conventions, especially when Billy and Freddy continue to test the superpowers to see what Shazam can and can’t do. But I was surprised by a lot of the dramatic portions of the film as well. “Shazam!” can be heartfelt with emotional weight and depth, especially in the scenes in which Billy looks for his mother and bonds with is foster siblings (who are all distinct and very likable), and it doesn’t feel like it belongs in a different movie. The broad comedy and heavy drama in this superhero flick work surprisingly well together. Credit for that not only goes to the actors, who put their all into their work, but also the guidance of director David F. Sandberg (best known for horror films “Lights Out” and “Annabelle: Creation”).

Oh, and it can also get pretty intense, especially when it comes to the Seven Deadly Sins…they perform a massive slaughter at an office meeting before terrorizing little children! (Parents, the PG-13 rating has warned you.) Inconsistent? Perhaps. But it reminded me of an ‘80s family-adventure that didn’t care who it was made for.

Being a film set in the DC extended universe, you’d think it’d be more about setting up the next DC film, which is something many of its installments fell victim to. But all that’s cared about with “Shazam!” was telling its own story (with only a few brief mentions of Superman and Batman). With effective writing, a fun spirit to it, and a wonderful, engaging performance from Zachary Levi as well as all the young actors, “Shazam!” is an extremely fun and well-made lighthearted superhero fable.

Advertisements

Creed II (2018)

16 Aug

creed-ii-pic-1542929659.jpg

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Remember “Rocky IV?” Of course you do—how could you forget that epic silliness that stuck out like a sore thumb in a franchise that was so riveting in its grounded reality? (It’s the film that’s too goofy for me to hate.) Well, as much as we like to mock it (in good fun), we have no choice but to accept it as canon in the “Rocky” timeline. After all, it is what ultimately killed off the character of former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed…at the hands of a Russian super-boxer (whose “I must break you” became a popular phrase). And then, “Creed” came along in 2015 and introduced us to Apollo’s son from a secret affair, Adonis “Donnie,” who was born after Apollo’s death and has grown up to be trained by Rocky Balboa to make it as a fighter in his own right. Thus, we had no choice but to accept Apollo’s cause of death as part of the continuing “Rocky” story.

And now comes its sequel, “Creed II.” Who should return for this one? That same Russian super-boxer himself, Ivan Drago (again played by Dolph Lundgren), and his son who challenges Donnie to a fight. Well, this should be interesting—how can you take Drago seriously in a movie?

“Creed II” found a way.

Yes, as silly as the setup sounds (the son of Apollo Creed goes up against the son of the man who killed his father in the ring), it’s remarkable the amount of development and care is given to Drago after all this time. He still has minimal dialogue (though it’s still more than his mostly-silent performance in “Rocky IV”), but he gets across what’s happened to him after Rocky took him on in the ring in his home country. He lost his belt and his cred in Russia, his family has gone through shame, his wife (Brigitte Nielsen) has left him, and he has raised his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), on two things—boxing and vengeance. With clever writing (and fine understated acting from Lundgren, on top of that), this boxing equivalent of a supervillain has now become (gasp!) a character. Who would have thought?

“Creed” seemed like the perfect sendoff to the “Rocky” franchise—a great way to say goodbye to the wonderful character of Rocky Balboa (who Sylvester Stallone has portrayed wonderfully all this time, despite the franchise going back and forth with hits and misses). But while Rocky is still alive, there is still more to explore with him in “Creed II,” such as wishing he would connect with his estranged son and training Donnie (Michael B. Jordan) just as Mickey taught him in the past. Plus, as the title suggests, this isn’t Rocky’s story anymore—it’s Donnie’s. And Donnie still has some growing up to do.

Now that Donnie is regarded as the new heavyweight champion of the world, this is where Ivan and Viktor Drago come in. They arrive in Philadelphia to challenge Donnie to a fight with Viktor, and there’s nothing Donnie would like better than to give a Drago a piece of his mind to avenge his father. But as Rocky points out, Viktor was raised entirely on hatred, which will make him an even more intimidating force to brawl with in the ring. But Donnie isn’t backing down.

In the meantime, Donnie has proposed to his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and wants to start a family with her. The love story between Donnie and Bianca has that sweet touch that made the love story between Rocky and Adrian in the first couple of “Rocky” movies so special. That’s because while Donnie has a large amount of confidence in many things, it’s Bianca that makes him the most nervous because he’s afraid of letting her down.

Both of these opponents—Donnie and Viktor—have something to lose. Donnie could suffer the same fate as Apollo; Viktor could lose everything just as his father did. Even when “Creed II” follows the same formula that leads to a climactic fight, what’s more important and interesting is that I actually care about who wins in the end, just as I did with the best of the “Rocky” movies.

It’s always nice to see Stallone in his most comfortable role of his career (the role that gave his career a major boost to begin with), but it’s even better to know that he had a hand in screenwriting again, writing the script with Juel Taylor after Ryan Coogler took over both writing and directing for “Creed.” If we get a “Creed III,” which seems likely, I’ll be interested in seeing what else he can come up with for the beloved character of Rocky Balboa.

Speaking of directing, Steven Caple Jr. (who previously made a Sundance hit, The Land, unseen by me—though, I’m sure I’ll check it out soon enough) does a more than capable job keeping the story as grounded as possible, which helps us accept a universe that now has to allow Ivan Drago as a “real person,” more or less.

Even if the fighting scenes aren’t very original (especially after the groundbreaking one-shot fight in “Creed”), a lot of “Creed II” works because of what’s happening outside the ring. For a sports movie, especially one that involves boxing, that’s a definite plus. The heart is still in this franchise, and I’ll happily see “Creed III” if and when we get it.