Shazam! – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a family-friendly entry to the cinematic DC universe, Shazam! is your ticket!  Lighthearted, funny, and full of positive messages, this film will appeal to kids and adults alike.

That being said, I didn’t think it was all that great.

Let me explain why.

First of all, I would like to say that Zachary Levi absolutely shined in Shazam!  Like Paul Rudd, there is something unarguably likable about this man, so he proved the perfect actor for the role.  Levi’s a big fella which made him more than capable of filling the hero’s boots, but he’s also got a playful side to him that allowed the audience to believe there’s a teenage boy  in there.

Furthermore, the children acting in this film were wonderful, too, especially the two leads, Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer.  These two young men were really fun to watch in action.  They also have a foster family other children, all of whom were distinct and entertaining in their own right.  The script and the actors did a nice job of keeping these young characters both charming and likable.

Lastly, I’ve got to rave about the costume.  When the still first came out, folks were bashing the Shazam costume.  Let me tell you — it looks great on film.  I think it may be my favorite super hero costume yet to grace the big screen.  It’s modern yet classic, streamlined yet flashy, warm yet very, very cool.  Much of the film takes place in the daylight, so you really get to see it in all its glory.  Whatever team created that costume should be proud.

However, I do have some issues with the film.

My biggest complaint is that you’ve already seen the best parts.  The didn’t save anything for the actual film — they gave you all the best stuff in the trailers.  The best lines, the best jokes, the best “wow” moments … you’ve seen them all already.  That really disappointed me.

Also, it took way too long for Zachary Levi to arrive.  The movie starts with a focus on the villain, and it’s a good twenty minutes before we even get to Shazam.  Once Levi appears things liven up quite a bit, but it took awhile to get there.

Finally, the resolution is pretty apparent early in the film.  You probably guessed this from the trailers, but the focus on family is a driving force of the plot.  This isn’t a bad thing–not at all–but it also didn’t offer much else.

In fact, that’s Shazam’s greatest misstep.  There are no goose-bump moments.  When Wonder Woman climbed out of that trench and charged the enemy — goose-bumps.  When Arthur Curry walked out of the waterfall in the Aquaman costume — goose-bumps.  When Superman and Batman stood toe to toe for the first time ever on film — many, many goose-bumps!  Shazam! didn’t have a moment like that.  Shazam’s journey in the film has been done hundreds of times before.

Of course, I don’t think I’m the target audience for this movie.  Shazam has always been aimed at kids.  What fourteen-year-old doesn’t fantasize about being a big, strong, independent adult?  I’m really excited to see what my students think of Shazam!  Will it appeal to their sensibilities more than mine?  We’ll see.  After all, the entire plot really revolves around two teenage boys along with their foster brothers and sisters.

If you’re looking for a fairly innocent family film, though, this could be for you.  There is a little bit of profanity, so be warned, and I’m told there is one violent moment that struck my friends as tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film.  Apparently, this occurred while I was in the bathroom.  I’d have no problem taking my ten-year-old to it, but I would probably keep my six-year-old out due to language and some scary monsters.

So while Zachary Levi is really fun to watch, and while there are some very funny moments, I’m afraid the best parts of Shazam! were already shown during the trailers.

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The New Joker Trailer Proved Me Wrong

Did you know they are making a standalone Joker movie?

Truthfully, when I first heard about this film, it sparked not one bit of interest from me for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I believe the Joker is one of those characters that exists best on the fringes.  The less we know about him, the better.  The Dark Knight nailed his character by telling us virtually nothing about him.  To devote an entire movie to his origin, I thought, would weaken his character and provide too little content.

Secondly, I’m one of the few people who really enjoyed Jared Leto’s take on the Joker.  I’m not yet ready to cast that Joker aside in favor of this new one.  I appreciated Leto’s Joker because it was both classic and unique at the same time.  I’ve never encountered a Joker quite like that, yet his look struck me as comfortably familiar as well.  The contradictory interpretation suited Joker nicely.

Furthermore, I heard rumors that this Joker would not connect to any of the other DC movies and would, for all intents and purposes, be a standalone in an alternate reality.  Now listen, I’m a fan of the DC Multiverse.  I’ve often said that Warner Brothers needs to lean into this concept and really play up the Earth 1, Earth 2, etc. concept.  Fans would easily be able to grasp it.  However, the initial description of the movie didn’t sound like the Joker at all.  For example, they gave him a name, Arthur Fleck, and placed him in the 1980s.  Worst of all, it was said he would just be a failed comedian who loses his mind and dons the makeup.  No mention of Batman.  It’s been argued that Batman is the driving motivator of Joker’s mayhem, especially because it was partly Batman’s fault that the Joker fell into the vat of chemicals resulting in his madness.

All of these things deterred me from thinking I would like this movie.

And then, this morning, the first trailer dropped.  If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look …

I was wrong.

Totally.

Utterly.

Completely.

Wrong.

They are doing everything it takes to completely win over my interest, and that’s by giving me the totally unexpected.  I did not anticipate the unsettling tone regarding Fleck’s descent into madness.  And though I knew Joaquin Phoenix could act, I did not think he’d deliver such a disturbed character.  I could not predict changing the Joker’s “look,” though ever so subtly,  would render him even more terrifying.  They have captured something with Joker, something profoundly … creepy.

This trailer validates taking the film into a remote part of the DC Universe.  While you could argue the fact that this movie doesn’t even have to be the Joker, it could be any clown-based criminal, the fact that it is an iteration of the classic villain makes it all the more ominous.

After all, we know just how awful the Joker really is.  We know that this Fleck character is destined to become one of the most evil fictional villains in pop culture.  Watching him get beaten up and kicked by life time after time after time in the trailer’s short time span really strikes a nerve because we know that many of our mass murderers were similarly bullied in life.

Which leads me to my only real concern about Joker.  Because it’s so clearly detached from the other DC movies, I don’t mind the thorough exploration of his origin.  I actually think it’s totally appropriate to display every single life-altering tragedy that drives a man into criminal insanity in this context.  However, I am worried that they are going to make him sympathetic or even an anti-hero.  I don’t want to feel bad for the Joker, and I say this because he is so heinous.  Mind you, I’m generally not against villains being sympathetic.  But Joker?  No, we can never feel sad for the Joker.  (Of course, Joker has proven me wrong in every other facet, so it will probably do so again in this case as well.)

Joker seems to have tapped into something very special.  It’s unafraid, primal treatment of such a visceral character appears to be creating a film full of raw, unflinching emotion.  I know it certainly struck a nerve with me.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.

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The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – A Movie Review

My kids and I loved the original Lego Movie, but none of us were super excited for the sequel.  I’m not really sure why, to be honest.  We realized yesterday that it may not be in the theaters much longer, so we made our way to the show to catch it before time ran out.

The verdict?

We all loved The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part even better than the original!

This is a streamlined, funny, easy to digest movie with some great one-liners, catchy music, and a message that personally touched my heart.

The most superficial morality lesson is to be true to yourself.  It reminds kids not to let anyone else determine one’s actions–do what you know is right and you’ll always come out on top.  However, there was also an underlining message about growing up.  I’m not sure either of my kids caught it because I tried to talk to them about it and they seemed at a loss.  Because the movie takes place five years later, Will Ferrell’s children from the original, Finn and Bianca, are now further along in age.  Though they both still love Legos, they are in very different places in terms of how they like to play with their Legos.  This is the driving force of the film’s plot, and I absolutely cherished it.  It meant so much to me because I see the same thing happening with my own children.  I see my ten-year-old try to play with my six-year-old, but it can get frustrating for big sister because, well, little sister is only six.  This chasm seems to have been too great for Finn and Bianca, and it’s driving Emmet, Lucy, Batman, Unikitty, MetalBeard, and Benny apart as a result.  Of course, the movie has a happy ending, and it struck a chord with me because my kids continue to play together despite their age differences.

Are you convinced yet?  Is that a little too introspective for you?  Well, rest easy, the movie is also flat-out hilarious.  There are pop culture references galore, especially if you love Will Arnet’s Batman.  Oh, the mom appears in this one too, and you’ll love the actress portraying her.  They even pull a great gag involving Lego bricks that every parent will instantly relate to.

Admittedly, the song Everything Is Awesome catapulted The Lego Movie into everyone’s consciousness last time around.  This second part hasn’t reached mainstream success in terms of music, but the tunes are great nonetheless.  Listen closely to all of the songs’ lyrics–I was rolling!

Again, I’m not sure why we weren’t jazzed to go see this.  Maybe the brand got a little diluted with The Lego Batman Movie quickly followed by The Lego Ninjago Movie?  Those two spin-offs definitely felt repetitious to me in terms of story and theme, but not to worry, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part breaks with those previous themes and creates something totally new.

If you and the kids haven’t seen The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part yet, I urge you to go check it out while it’s still in theaters.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Captain Marvel – A Movie Review

The good news is that my original concern regarding Captain Marvel seems unfounded.

The bad news is that Captain Marvel is a wasted opportunity.

Allow me to elaborate.

I won’t go into too much detail about this movie for fear of spoiling it for you, but I will discuss some broad strokes.

First of all, Captain Marvel has some top-tier talent.  Brie Larson, Samuel Jackson, Annette Bening, and Jude Law all play significant roles in the film.  These are high-caliber actors and actresses.  Yet … they weren’t enough.

The fact is, Captain Marvel delivers a story revolving around the Kree and the Skrulls, two alien races at war with one another.  You’ve seen the Kree before in Guardians Of the Galaxy.  They were a nice little means to an end in that movie.  In Captain Marvel, they are front and center, and I couldn’t have cared less.

That’s the major misstep of Captain Marvel.  The story is predicated upon a war that the audience is neither invested in or familiar with.  It was very hard to follow, and, honestly, I found myself bored through much of it.  The movie focused upon a lot of ambiguity, a lot of chases, a lot of fights, a lot of glowy things, and very little actual story.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t like the character of Captain Marvel.  She’s got a ton of potential in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and, with a different story, I think Brie Larson could have knocked it out of the park.  Unfortunately, though, the movie couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be.  It had inspiring moments, but it didn’t necessarily deliver an inspirational message.  It had some funny moments as well, but it wasn’t a comedy or even an action-comedy.  It had tons of action, but much of the action seemed pointless.  I’m actually still struggling to concisely say what this movie was even about.

If anything, I would say Captain Marvel suffered from the same ailments most prequels do, and that’s the need to explain why X, Y, and Z happened in the other Marvel movies, and to lay the groundwork for future installments.  In the end, I don’t think Captain Marvel ever got to be its own story.

Oh, there’s also the problem of bad–really bad–dialogue.  The film is just one cliche after another and you can actually predict most of what comes out of Captain Marvel’s mouth.  Along those lines, the Skrulls have Australian accents.  Why not?  An alien race from the depths of space?  Sure.  Australian accent.  You bet.

It’s not all bad, though.  The special effects are great, and when Captain Marvel is at full power, it’s something to really behold.  Unfortunately,  those moments don’t make up for a talented cast who never got the opportunity to make us care about their characters as they raced from one place to another while spouting poorly written lines in a confusing, directionless film.

While I firmly believe Marvel needed a movie with a female lead, I don’t believe the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed Captain Marvel to progress its epic story.

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A Star Is Born – A Movie Review

You may have noticed a trend in which I’ve been watching a lot of movies recently released on DVD that I wanted to see in the theater.

A Star Is Born is yet another example of one such movie.

I should start by mentioning that I haven’t seen any of the previous iterations of this film.  I have no idea how much it stuck to the source material, nor did I have an inkling as to how it would end.

More on that in a minute.

Here’s what I do know: I loved this movie.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I loved this movie.  On paper, I should just like this movie, not love this movie.  The story is not original (I mean that figuratively, but you could also take it literally).  The romance between Jack and Ally is not, on the surface, especially unique.  The ending of the film isn’t even breaking new ground.

So why did a story I’ve seen so many times before mean so much to me?

The answer to that is Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are absolutely the reason this movie struck such a chord with me.  I believed in their characters’ relationship.  I found myself inextricably emotionally tethered to both of them.  I cared about their health, I cared about their careers, I cared about them.

I generally like both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, but they are not sure-fire hits with me on any project they release.  This isn’t a blind faith kind of thing.  They had to win me over with A Star Is Born, and they did.  Oh, boy.  Did they ever.

I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but the general plot is that Cooper’s character, Jack, a nationally revered musician, happens across Gaga’s character, Ally, in an unlikely place.  A connection instantly forms, followed by a friendship.  Jack is impressed with Ally’s vocals, so he invites her up on stage with him.  From there, you guessed it–a star is born.  Their friendship quickly (very quickly) becomes romantic, and the case could probably be argued that they both experienced love at first sight.  Ally’s career takes off on its own, Jack suffers some health issues, these two things influence their relationship and, ultimately, bring about the film’s conclusion.

Like I said, I won’t spoil it for you, but the aforementioned conclusion?  It destroyed me.  I’m still rattled by it.

I’ve seen both Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite, and, in my opinion, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga gave much stronger performances than the Best Actor and Actress winners–Rami Malek and Oliva Coleman.  Not only did Cooper and Gaga act, sing, and play instruments, but they made me believe in their world in such a way that neither Malek nor Coleman achieved.  They made me forget about Cooper and Gaga and see only Jack and Ally.  Cooper and Gaga made me invest at such a deep level that they provoked a potent emotional response.

My only complaint about A Star Is Born is the pacing of the film.  I realize this can be a little difficult due to time constraints, but I never got a great sense of how much time passed within the duration of the film.  As a result, everything felt like it happened really quickly.  Their relationship, Ally’s rise to fame–it seemed to occur within months.  I realize this can’t possibly be the case, but the film never quite indicated the span of time between important moments.

This small complaint isn’t enough to negatively impact my opinion of the film, though.  In fact, as of right now, I would pick it as the real “Best Picture” winner.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Green Book, BlacKkKlansman, Roma, or Vice, so I can’t state that as objectively as I’d like.

It’s probably obvious, but I absolutely recommend you see A Star Is Born.

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My Unpopular Concern Regarding Captain Marvel

There’s a lot riding on Marvel’s latest installment, Captain Marvel.  With this being the final chapter leading into what we can only believe to be the end of the current iteration of Marvel movies (a journey that’s lasted over ten years), Captain Marvel has to get it just right.  I have three concerns I’d like to discuss with you.  The first two probably won’t be a factor.  The third could very well be a reality.

First and foremost, Marvel needs to prove they can produce a film featuring a female lead.  Captain Marvel is a great character to achieve this goal, though many wonder why Black Widow hasn’t already gotten the call to action.  To me, it’s rather obvious.  Centering a movie around a former Russian assassin sounds like an engaging concept, but not when Disney is your corporate owner focused on creating family-friendly super hero films.  Captain Marvel has the potential to rival Wonder Woman in terms of charisma and broad appeal, but I think she’s fighting an uphill battle because the average person just doesn’t know her.  I personally don’t believe Marvel has a standout female hero at all that the general public is aware of, and this saddens me, but hopefully Captain Marvel will change that.

Secondly, Captain Marvel can’t–simply cannot–act as a deus ex machina that changes everything at the last minute leading into Avengers: Endgame.  I’m already suspicious of Nick Fury only now deciding to “beep” Captain Marvel after failing to do so for an alien invasion, a murderous robot, an angry Norse god, and a rampaging green Goliath, but that’s fine.  Story elements can’t be predicted, especially when creating a ten-year odyssey.  My hope is that they will explain Captain Marvel’s absence, and that they won’t have her execute her own version of the finger snap.  Infinity War needs to have real repercussions.  I’m not so naive as to believe Spider-Man or Black Panther will stay dead, but I feel that if Captain Marvel reverses time or undoes death than the last ten years will have been a sham.  For the record, I don’t believe they will do this in Captain Marvel, but the possibility does concern me.  I think the creators behind the Marvel movies know how to satisfy the audience without cheating their story.

Along those lines, the Skrulls better not pull the kind of shenanigans they do in the comics.  If you’re not familiar with this alien race, they are capable of shape-shifting.  They have literally posed as super heroes in the Marvel Comics Universe for years.  Just read Secret Invasion if you want an infuriating example of this.  This is the scenario that causes me the most apprehension because I think there is a good possibility that they will spring this one on us.  Imagine a story where the Skrulls were so deep undercover that they didn’t even know they weren’t human.  Envision a plot in which the undercover Skrull super hero dies due to Thanos’ snap, but then the real super hero is freed from Skrull detainment to rescue the universe.  It would be a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of situation.  Marvel has done this sort of thing in the comic books, and it made me feel very cheated.  If Captain Marvel is simply a vehicle to lead us into a Skrull invasion that will culminate in Endgame

As it happens, I’m seeing Captain Marvel soon.  You can expect my review immediately thereafter.  I’m excited to see it, but I’m also somewhat leery due to the Skrull element of the film.  We’ll know soon enough!

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Bohemian Rhapsody – A Movie Review

It wasn’t until this movie started getting mentioned for Oscar nominations that I gained an interest in it.  Honestly, while I like Queen well enough, I had no interest in seeing a biopic about the band.  I kind of figured it … wouldn’t be good.  How many movies about real bands have been good?

Back in November, though, people were giving it good buzz.  I heard that it had great energy and really focused on the music.  During the last few months, however, I heard critics from Pop Culture Happy Hour and The Ringer talking about how Rami Malek was ultimately just doing an impression of Freddy Mercury–that there wasn’t much acting to it.  In fact, they claimed his prosthetic teeth were doing all the work.  (Those chompers really were extremely distracting.)  Furthermore, they complained that the movie played it pretty safe and seemed intent on painting Queen in the best light possible.  Of course, they were also critical of director Bryan Singer’s reported erratic behavior and alleged past misconduct.  His behavior apparently led to his dismissal before filming concluded.

The Oscars seemed to side with popular opinion and declared it a “Best Picture” nominee.  It didn’t win that award, but Malek did pick up a “Best Actor” trophy and the film won three more Oscars in technical categories.

Well, by this point I had to see Bohemian Rhapsody for myself.  As soon as it became available at my local library, I checked it out.  My wife and I just finished it, in fact, and, yeah, it’s a crowd pleasing piece of work.

If you love Queen music, you’re going to really enjoy this movie.  If you like feel-good movies where everything works out in the end, this movie is for you.  I won’t lie–I had a great time watching it.

But, with that being said, it definitely does paint the band in a positive light.  They have a little tiff here and there, but for the most part the movie depicts them as supporting one another, forgiving one another, and loving one another as family.

There’s nothing wrong with that, for sure.

It also delves into Mercury’s homosexuality, drinking, and drug use, but rather innocently.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it all felt very sanitized.  Of course, this makes total sense when making a film aimed at pleasing a mass audience.  Knowing Mercury’s ultimate fate, the movie wanted us to hold him on a pedestal in the end.

I’ve heard the critics complain that Jim Beach, the band’s longtime manager, acted as a producer on this movie, and that the surviving members of Queen fought hard to make the band look as good as possible.

That makes perfect sense from their perspective.  And, frankly, as an audience member, I’m okay with it all.  I’m not watching Bohemian Rhapsody for a history lesson–I’m watching it for fun.  If they gloss over some darker moments of reality and create a little dramatic tension for effect, I can accept that in this particular circumstance.

The point is that one should not take this movie as gospel.  It is not necessarily accurate in many cases, so the viewing audience should not treat it as a documentary.  It’s a fun, exciting movie based on a real man, but that doesn’t make it scene-for-scene truth.  (Rolling Stone has a list of mistakes committed by the movie HERE.)

Don’t let this misinformation stop you, though.  Like I said, I found it immensely entertaining and have no problem recommending it to others.

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