Shazam: Fury of the Gods

Posted on March 16, 2023 at 9:28 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of action, language, violence
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style fantasy/superhero peril and violence, teacher killed, continuous peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 17, 2023

Copyright Warner Brothers 2023
I loved the first “Shazam” movie because it was — and this is a term you don’t hear often in connection with comic book movies — endearing. Asher Angel winningly played the young Billy Watson, searching for his lost mother and running away or being kicked out of a series of foster homes until he finds (1) a wizard who selects him as the first one in hundreds of years worthy of the powers of the gods that make up SHAZAM (that’s Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury), and (2) a foster family we will understand before he does that is truly his home. Billy was a bit of a rogue, but that was because he was used to fending for himself. And it was a lot of fun to see a young teenager for whom the adult male persona was as much of an adjustment as the superpowers.

That film ended with Billy granting superpowers to the other five kids in the foster home, ranging in age from kindergarten to about to start college. So this movie loses some of the sweetness of the first in juggling adult and young versions of five of the six characters plus not one but three new supervillains, the goddess daughters of Atlas, played by “West Side Story’s” Rachel Zegler, “Charlies Angels'” Lucy Liu, and classically trained Shakespearean actress Dame Helen Mirren. Plus dragons, unicorns, and monsters. So that’s a lot of clutter and especially a lot of CGI that overwhelms the plot and all-but obliterates the tenderness of the first story.

Still, it is fun to watch (Helen Mirren!), all the way through the two extra scenes, one at the very end of the credits.

Billy (Zachary Levi as the superhero) is glad to be part of a team of superheroes, and insists that all six of them have to be together on all adventures. This is making some of the other five feel smothered, especially Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer as teen, Adam Brody as superhero). He calls his superhero version Captain Everypower, enjoying his freedom from the crutch he needs as his old self, and very tentatively making contact for the first time with a girl named Anne, new to his school. The oldest of the foster siblings, Mary (Grace Caroline Currey as both human and super versions) would like to go to college. But Billy, because of his history of trauma and abandonment, sharpening as he is about to age out of the foster care system, cannot let them go.

Two of the Atlas daughters, Hespera (Mirren) and Calypso (Liu), in a scene reminiscent of the first “Black Panther,” enter a museum in Athens and steal the pieces of the Shazam staff that was broken by Billy at the end of the first film. They use it to restore their powers and search for the golden apple that they will use to replant the Tree of Life from their realm, even though its impact on our world will be total destruction.

So it is back and forth as various characters gain and lose powers and waver in their goals and loyalties. The weaker parts of the film include Billy’s fixation on Wonder Woman, which is weird and a bit creepy, and the murder of a kind teacher, which is jarring in the world of this story. The look of the film is fine, especially the lair (so labeled), with a mysterious room of doors that deserves more exploration, and a fabulous library with a sort of proto-Google and Alexa, a magical pen that writes answers and takes dictation. Freddy and the wizard (Djimon Hounsou) play more of a role in this film. Grazer has an exceptional sense of timing and Freddy is one of the series’ best characters. The creatures are not as well-designed, though the dragon flies well. The mid- and end-of-credits scenes give us a sense of what comes next. I hope chapter 3 will return to more character and story.

Parents should know that this film has extended comic book-style action violence (meaning no blood or graphic images), with scary monsters and constant peril. A teacher is murdered. Characters use some strong language.

Family discussion: Which superpower would you want to have? What made Billy deserve to be granted powers?

If you like this, try: the original “Shazam” and other DC movies including “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman”

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If Not Now, When?

Posted on January 7, 2021 at 3:18 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Addiction
Violence/ Scariness: Fight scene, angry confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 8, 2021

Copyright 2020 Vertical Entertainment
Meagan Good and Tamara Bass co-produced, co-directed, and star in “If Not Now, When?” with a screenplay by Bass. It is the story of four friends who come together as one of them is facing a crisis, and then support each other as each of them faces difficult decisions about life, work, parenting, and romance. Sound soapy? It is, but not because those issues should be dismissed as, in the words of Stephen H. Scheuer’s 1958-1993 guide to movies, “for the ladies.” Plenty of films make clear that those are foundational life questions that everyone struggles with. But the script is the weak point in this film, with exposition-heavy dialogue that too often tells instead of shows.

As we might expect, the strong point of the movie is the performances. Bass and Good understand actors, starting with the casting, and they give them the space to bring more life and emotion to the script than it merits.

In a brief prologue, we see the four friends in high school, working up an elaborate dance routine for a promposal — which is quickly declined. But they’re not bothered. It is clear that they are just as happy going with each other. Tyra (played as a teenager by Li Eubanks), asks them to wait while she goes to the bathroom. It turns out she is in labor. She has not told anyone she is pregnant, not even her friends. They stay with her and promise their support.

Fifteen years later, Tyra (Good) is being discharged from a hospital following an accidental drug overdose. Her friends and her husband, Max (Kyle Schmid) stage an intervention, telling her she needs to go to rehab because she is dependent on opioids. She refuses until she sees her 14-year-old daughter Jillian (Lexi Underwood), who found her unconscious and had to call 911. She reluctantly agrees to go, though at first insists that she does not have a problem.

While she is in rehab, we spend time with the three friends. Suzanne (Mekia Cox) is married to a bitter, unfaithful, alcoholic former football player. She loves another man but won’t leave her husband because she is pregnant, and, more important, because she wants everyone to think her life is perfect. Patrice (Bass), a nurse, is drawn to a doctor at her hospital, but is afraid he will reject her when he learns more about her. Jillian thinks of Patrice as a second mother, and is living with her while Tyra is away.

And Diedre (Meagan Holder), a gifted dancer, is weighing two offers, a dream job choreographing a pop star’s tour and a chance to reconcile with her ex (McKinley Freeman as Jackson), the father of her son. Other than the football player, the men are all gorgeous and pretty much fully devoted to supporting the ladies they adore. With over four different stories and ten characters, including children, there is not enough time to give enough depth to most of them to make us invest in their stories. Much of the film has no score other than some on-the-nose needle drops. Oddly, the lyrics of one say “you are what you choose to be” but another says, “I’ll be different for you, baby.”

Trya’s story gets the most attention, and the most interesting relationship in the film is between Tyra and her counselor at rehab, an exquisite performance by Valarie Pettiford. But the movie really comes to life only when the women are talking to each other, renewing their connections and providing the support that only those ride-or-die friends for decades can give. Good and Bass clearly share that connection, but it is only intermittently that it comes across in the film.

Parents should know that this film includes drug addiction and alcoholism, infidelity, some violence, sexual references and situations, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Why was it so difficult for these women to admit their problems? What made Tyra change her mind about cooperating with treatment?

If you like this, try: “Waiting to Exhale” and “Now and Then”

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Interview: Michael Ealy and Meagan Good of “Think Like a Man Too”

Posted on June 22, 2014 at 9:32 am

ealy goodI am a huge fan of Michael Ealy and Meagan Good and it was a lot of fun to talk to them about “Think Like a Man Too.”

Meagan, I loved your performance of Bell Biv DeVoe’s classic “Poison!”

MG: It was an evolution. Initially the song was supposed to be En Vogue’s “Never Gonna Get It.” We were all excited to learn the words and everything and then they were like, “You know what, we want to do ‘Poison’ instead.” We actually went into the studio and recorded it and all of us girls sounded like pretty bad except for Taraji who really sings. And then we got the set and we literally just sang to our own voices basically. And we did it for two days and it was like the easiest thing because you don’t have to do anything, just come to work, show up, have fun,be silly, laugh, joke, crowd surf, whatever it is you’re doing that day, it was just a lot of fun. It was actually just like going to a party.

Michael, I have heard that the hardest thing for actor is to play a nice person and your character is the nicest person of all of the characters. With so many colorful characters around you, with Kevin Hart being so extreme, how do you create a character who is nice but doesn’t get lost in all the hubub?

ME: I think it’s knowing who you are playing with. Like you said, Kevin Hart is at decibel 10 throughout the film and if you don’t have something to kind of ground that it could be a bit overwhelming. And having done three films with Kevin I know exactly where I need to be in every scene and it’s usually the straight guy, I think of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.  And I have so much fun doing it. Dominique’s sincerity was in my opinion in the words especially in the first script, so love to Keith and David for writing such a character that is kind of endearing in that way.

Meagan, your character is very fashion oriented.  How did you create her look?

MG: Shout out to  Salvador Pérez Jr., who did an incredible job.  I really wanted to do something that I felt a little bit out of the box and I wanted her to kind of have more like a rocker vibe and something that was like a little ‘vintage-y’ but a lot more on the edgy side and with that rocker-esque thing. So we did a lot of cuffs and we did a lot of shirts that were cut out in the side and just different stuff like that and for me, I felt like there is always that girl but she doesn’t always get represented. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

You can tell me.  Behind the scenes, did you guys have some real fun in Vegas?

ME: The first two weeks I think everybody was like, “Yeah, we’re going to party. We’re going to do Vegas. We’ll do Vegas, get some stories.” And literally that work schedule just kind of knocked all of that out. We did like the first week, we hung out with Kevin at a party but that was about it and after that it was like we need to film  in the casinos during the off hours , when there are still people in there playing but it is not nearly as crowded. That’s when the casinos gave us permission to shoot. So we would have to sleep from five or six in the evening until midnight, wake up, go to work, go do hair and makeup, be ready to shoot by 2:00 AM. So our hours were so off at a certain point, we were starting to become vampires, it was just crazy. And then we did all the daytime stuff and it was just awkward. And we were there for two months.  Vegas is a place you stay for two days.  Needless to say, we all kind of got to the point where it was like, “Yeah…  How many days left, I’ve got to get out of here.”

Meagan, you had to be angry and frustrated in a comic way without going over the top.  You kept the character sweet and gave her a lot of depth. And all of that opposite Romany Malco, who has a lot of energy, too.  

MG: I think me and Romany have very good chemistry. We both kind of refer to ourselves as aliens because we are the same kind kind of awkward in a way which works out very well. But I think it’s the chemistry and I also try to be very conscious of not being in the way. I did not want to be that girl that’s always like, “He’s not doing what I want him to do.” Just whining and being obnoxious.  I tried to be very conscious of that and still be sincere with the frustration and anxiety but not play it in a way that comes off obnoxious; which is kind what I believe in real life too,  just bring it all the way back, to be honest but relaxed.

So are we going to have a third one?

MG: We hope so.

ME:  It’s up to the fans. It really is up to the fans, I mean we weren’t anticipating a second one so the fans dictated the second one and the fans dictate the third one.

You encourage people to Tweet and Facebook to get the word out. How has social media changed the way that people find movies? Are you guys both on Twitter?

MG: Yes.

ME: Yes. I joined right before the first film at the request of my publicist. I remember talking to Meg  and neither of us were really enthusiastic about it and then we both got TV shows and you have to push and you have to interact with your fans weekly. So you just kind of get better at it almost naturally and then you kind of see the power. So the things that you are able to do, the charity organizations that you work with and what you are able to do not just for your own self promotion. It is a powerful, powerful tool and I do think it is a good way to motivate people and create some sort of movement and I think the social media effect on Think like a Man was probably like responsible for about 70% of the box office. That was one of the most powerful campaigns on social media that I think there ever was.  We all learned on the first that you can just buy into the system, reach out to the grassroots and watch what happens.

What are the most important lessons people have learned from these films about male/female relationships?

MG: My gosh, that we are very different! Which I think is important. I think it’s very important to recognize that in a real way because what’s common sense to him is not common sense to me. What’s common sense to me is not common sense to him and so if you can really understand that then you can start to understand the person better or if you are not seeing eye to eye on something, there is more of a respect level just because you understand that you see it very differently, not just that you disagree.  The interesting thing is that people walk away saying, “Well, I am a Dominique” or “I am a Maya” or “ I am a Maya mixed with Lori” and people kind of see themselves in our relationships.

ME:  Yeah. That’s the coolest part.

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