“Shazam!” Delivers DC Its First Home Run

 By Michael Omoruan 

             The latest installment in the DC Cinematic Universe is here and it brings out the inner kid in all of us. Though a superhero film on the surface, at its core “Shazam!” is about family and finding one when you least expect it. There are very few movies being made currently about adopted children, let alone a superhero movie. The film has just the right amount of realism in it, even with magic wielding characters.

             Released on April 5, “Shazam!” tells the story of a foster kid named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who has recently been adopted by the loving Vasquez couple. His first thought of the couple and the other children they have taken in is that they are just another family that he wants to escape. However, after befriending Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Batson starts to grow attached to his new home. 

               After fending off some bullies that start beating up Freddy, Billy tries to lose them. When he does, he soon meets an old and withered man named Shazam the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou). The wizard has been looking for so-called “champions” to take on his role for ages and believes he has found one in Batson. After much-expected hesitation and questioning, he finally succumbs to his demands when he is asked to speak his name. When he does, the power of mythological gods who make up his name, such as Achilles and Mercury are imbued in him before he becomes his adult self, played by Zachary Levi.  The film’s plot is reminiscent of 1988’s “Big,” starring Tom Hanks and even makes a quick reference to it during a fight scene.

            Angel as Batson plays the role of a foster kid well, especially when his character hesitates to hang out with or acknowledge the kids he meets at the Vasquez residence. When Batson becomes Shazam, Levi’s attempts to recreate or mimic Angel’s acting choices and lines are believable. He nails the comedic scenes very well, which makes sense given his background in shows like NBC’s “Chuck” and movies like Disney’s “Tangled.” It feels very much like what a kid given powers in the modern day and age would do. The serious scenes are effectively moving, such as when Freddy feels that Billy has let the powers he’s been granted go to his head.  

              Sandberg knocks it out of the park once again. After helming horror films like “Lights Out” (2016) and “Annabelle: Creation” (2017), “Shazam!” marks his first foray into superhero films. An increasing trend has begun that more and more well-known horror directors are being given the reigns to direct big-budget superhero films. Notable examples are James Gun’s “Guardian of the Galaxy” films, James Wan’s “Aquaman” (2018), and Scott Derrickson’s “Doctor Strange” (2016). Sandberg’s background in horror shines through in his lighting choices and use of dark imagery and cinematography when filming Mark Strong’s character, Doctor Sivana. Sivana’s powers are similar to that of Shazam’s, but also include the ability to conjure huge beasts that represent each of the seven deadly sins. 

               Once offered the same abilities as Batson by Shazam the Wizard, Sivana was unable to resist the temptation of stone gargoyle-looking creatures and is cast out. Sivana grows up to become obsessed with returning to the Wizard, interviewing potential champions to find out how to return to him. After returning to him, he embraces his role as a villain and starts exacting revenge on those who mocked him. The film touches on the theme of embracing family through Billy’s journey to find his biological parents. The acting chops of the main cast and the screenplay, written by Henry Gayden, are executed near perfectly. 

 

               Shah Mazhar, a mathematics major at Queens College, said, “I felt like a kid watching it and it was super comic accurate.” Daniel Encarnacion, a computer science major at Lehman, said, “I really enjoyed it. I thought it was well rounded, lighthearted, and funny but also had some deeper moments as well. Honestly it was the best movie DC has done. In my opinion, it was better than Captain Marvel because Zachary Levi was able to be a more endearing character.

Grossing $125 million domestically and over $200 million in foreign box offices, it comes as no surprise that audiences everywhere are falling in love with this film. If you dig superhero films or are just a sucker for heartfelt family films, check this one out at your local theater.

The cast and crew of Shazam at Wondercon: (L to R) Stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and director David F. Sandberg. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The cast and crew of Shazam at Wondercon: (L to R) Stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and director David F. Sandberg. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Highlight of ‘Unbreakable’ Franchise Can’t Save It from Mediocrity

By Michael Omoruan

Host Yvette Nicole-Brown leading a Comic-Con panel with the cast and crew of Glass: Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan and stars Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Sarah Paulson, and Anya Taylor-Joy. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Audiences who fell in love with the stars of the first two “Unbreakable” films will likely be nonplussed at how their talents are wasted in “Glass,” the third movie of the trilogy. An example is the role of Kevin Wendell Crumb, played by James McAvoy, who is far and away the best part of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” franchise. 

While “Unbreakable” tells the story of how David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the sole survivor of a train crash, comes to terms with gaining superpowers after meeting Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). “Split” focuses on the character Crumb, another disturbed individual, who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. Crumb has over 20 programs living in his head that are referred to as “the Horde.” He also happens to be a serial killer. 

The intricate ways that McAvoy contorts his body and performs as each of Crumb’s individual personalities is mesmerizing. He was criminally underrated in “Split” and overlooked during awards season as well. “Glass,” sets 19 years after “Unbreakable.” Only weeks after the events of “Split” in 2016, his roles as Patricia, the motherly personality, and Hedwig, the infantile personality are true crowd pleasers. However, the film overall is still underwhelming.  

Released on Jan. 18, it opens with Crumb still at large abducting and murdering teenage girls. David Dunn is now the owner of a home security store he runs with his son. A chance encounter between the principle characters leads to a brief confrontation until Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) places them in the same mental health facility. When the two arrive, they meet Elijah Price whose alter ego is the eponymous Mr. Glass.

The film starts off well enough with Dunn returning to his security store after vindicating a pedestrian on the sidewalk, a move reminiscent of the character’s vigilantism in “Unbreakable.” But it begins to go downhill shortly after. In the first half, Jackson is devoid of any of the charisma and charm he originally had in his role as Mr. Glass. When he finally does have time to showcase his acting, the film starts to falter. Willis isn’t given much to do which results in anticlimactic scenes between him and Jackson or McAvoy. The scenes do little to advance the plot or develop the characters that many audiences love.

Offsetting these weaknesses, the score for the film by West Dylan Thordson is a highlight, drawing on the themes of “Superman,” “Avengers,” and many other superhero film scores as an inspiration. The lighting for the film was great as well. The purple, green, and yellow lights for Glass, Dunn, and Crumb, respectively are well executed. 

Although the ending is bittersweet, there are fun scenes that fans will enjoy. As expected, Shyamalan has a twist in the film that will take viewers by surprise, so if you’re a fan of his previous films or love the cast, you will find some enjoyment in this.

Malek Shines as Mercury in Queen Biopic

By Michael Omoruan

A poster for the UK release of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Photo courtesy of Flickr.

According to a report from Deadline, the biopic on the British rock band Queen was in its development stage for almost 10 years. Now the wait is finally over. The film, called “Bohemian Rhapsody” after one of the band’s most well-known songs, features Rami Malek in the lead role of Freddie Mercury. Best known for his Emmy award-winning portrayal of Elliot Alderson, an introverted cybersecurity engineer on USA Network’s “Mr. Robot”, Malek plays one of the most charismatic and legendary performers in rock ‘n’ roll history. He plays the role almost effortlessly, from Mercury’s humble beginnings as a baggage handler to his set at the Live Aid benefit concert.

Malek is joined by Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor; Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon; and Gwilym Lee as Brian May, who were Mercury’s bandmates. A cameo appearance from Mike Myers is a golden nugget for Queen fans. In 1992, Myers starred in “Wayne’s World”, a motion picture spin-off of his “Saturday Night Live” character, Wayne Campbell. In the iconic scene, Campbell, along with his best friend Garth Algar, played by Dana Carvey, sing along to the Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Garth’s AMC Pacer.  However, in the film “Rhapsody”, Myers plays EMI record executive Ray Foster.

In an interview Myers gave on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he described the character as “fictional,” based on a number of record label executives who doubted that anyone would enjoy the ambitious, revolutionary sound of Bohemian Rhapsody. In this role, Myers crushes it doing what can be best described as Shrek if he were raised in Liverpool during the 1970s.  

Ironically, this cast was not part of the original vision of the film. Instead, according to Deadline, big names like David Fincher, director of “Social Network” and “Gone Girl”, were. Eventually, 20th Century Fox settled on “X-Men: Apocalypse” director Bryan Singer to helm the film, which was plagued with production issues. After halting production due to his inability to arrive on set in London, Singer was replaced by “Eddie the Eagle” and “Rocketman” director, Dexter Fletcher for the remaining scenes.  Although Singer still holds the title of director, Fletcher was given the executive producer credit. 

Various audiences were on the edge of their seats after seeing the embodiment of timeless classics like “We Will Rock You” and the eponymous title song. The sound mixing and cinematography was impressive. The dazzling display of lights brought it all together and the Dolby theater speakers made it feel like a live performance was taking place. 

The film brilliantly conveys the dark side of fame and fortune, as well as Freddie Mercury’s promiscuity. When Malek comes to terms with his AIDS diagnosis, the audience sees his true acting ability, as the vulnerability in his eyes is palpable.  All of the band members were played exceptionally well, and one can definitely foresee Oscar nominations for Malek and costume designer Julian Day. The issues and conflicts that halted production on this film are barely noticeable. Anyone who’s a true a rock n’ roll fan or loves a great biopic will love this one.

Gaga Wows Audiences in ‘A Star Is Born’ Remake

By Michael Omoruan

The promotional poster for the film. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The film, “A Star is Born” tells a great, compelling story brought to life by its extraordinary cast and outstanding soundtrack. Released on Oct. 5, the movie was co-written, directed, and produced by Bradley Cooper, who also stars in this modern remake of the 1937 film which featured Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. In his updated version, Cooper, known for his lead roles in “American Sniper” and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, plays a rock and roll superstar named Jackson Maine who stumbles upon Ally Campana (Lady Gaga), in a drag bar.  

Aside from cameo appearances in Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete Kills” and “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” this film marks Gaga’s first starring role, alongside acting legends Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay. Maine and Ally develop feelings for one another as the film progresses and their chemistry builds. However, Maine has a problem with substance abuse which starts to cause conflict in their relationship. 

With little to no dialogue, Cooper is able to evoke emotion. In a scene with Rez, Campana’s agent, Maine is faced with a tough ultimatum and his internal conflict is evident. Cooper also sings well himself during the concert scenes, with his gruff, old timey rocker voice shifting to belt out vocals that shock the audience. Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Campana, whose nervous, uncertain nature seems relatable and realistic.

Cooper’s directorial debut also draws Oscar-caliber performances from the rest of his cast, which includes comedy legends Eddie Griffin and Dave Chappelle. They play old friends of Maine who show up in a crucial moment of the film. Chappelle’s character, Noodles, offers advice from his time in the spotlight to guide Maine on the right path, displaying great dramatic chops.  Sam Elliott plays Maine’s brother Bobby with just enough subtlety, sharing amazingly intimate scenes with both Cooper and Gaga. One of his lines summarizes a core theme of the film, “Music is essentially any note between twelve octaves… It’s the same story told over and over. All that the artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.” 

In its realistic showcase of romantic relationships, while at times satirizing the entertainment industry, “A Star is Born” is comparable to 2016’s modern musical “La La Land,” which also has a great soundtrack. If you enjoy emotional, heartfelt romantic films, definitely check this one out at your local movie theater.