Movie reviews: 'Shazam!' brings classic comic book zaniness to the big screen
Richard Crouse, Contributor, CTV News Channel and CTV News Digital
Published Friday, April 5, 2019 7:00AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 5, 2019 7:10AM EDT
SHAZAM!: 4 STARS
Superhero films come in all shapes and sizes. In the recent renaissance of the do-gooder movie we've seen comedies, political thrillers, period pieces and all-out action films. Iron Man quips, Batman broods and Doctor Strange is simply surreal. "Shazam!," the new Warner Bros. adaptation of a DC comic, adds new textures to the genre's palette, sincere zaniness.
At just fourteen-years-old Billy (Asher Angel) has already been through the wringer. Passed from foster home to foster home he finally lands with Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews), a loving couple who open their house and heart to Billy, motor mouth Freddy (Dylan Grazer), cutie Darla (Faithe Herman), timid Pedro (Jovan Armand) and brainiac Eugene (Ian Chen). "They seem nice," jokes Freddy, "but trust me it's real Game of Thrones around here."
Billy's life takes a metaphysical twist when ancient wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), protector of the realms from the Seven Deadly Sins and keeper of the Rock of Eternity, plucks him from obscurity to be the champion of the world. "Say my name so my powers may flow through you," he instructs Billy. The wizard needs an heir to do battle against a malevolent army lead by Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a vengeful baddie once rejected by the ancient wizard because his heart was not pure enough, who threaten to "spread poison on everything they touch."
It's a big job that comes without much of a roadmap. Billy knows that when he says the word "Shazam!" he morphs into a grown man (Zachary Levi) complete with a red suit and extraordinary powers. "I applaud your choices today," says a stranger on the subway. "Those shoes. That belt. And that cape. It shouldn't work but it does."
Trouble is, he doesn't know how to harness his newfound abilities. "Superpowers? Dude, I don't even know how to pee in this thing!" That's where Freddy, a fan of the real-life superheroes who help keep his home city of Philadelphia safe, comes in handy. Together they navigate Billy's life as a superhero in exactly the way most teenager boys would — in a series of ever escalating stunts à la "Jackass."
Will that be enough to prepare the youngster do battle with Sivana and his band of Deadly Sins come-to-life bound-and-determined on destroying the planet?
"Shazam!" is a big-time superhero movie that feels more like an indie flick. The names of digital artists and special effects crews outnumber the cast by about 10,000 to 1 but the film still feels surprisingly intimate given the genre. Themes of the importance of community, of finding your logical, if not biological, family, help make this feel personal, more down to earth than some of the other recent high-flying caped do-gooder movies. Like many other superhero movies it's a bit too in love with its CGI in the climatic action scenes but director David F. Sandberg remembers to include some humour and some heart into the carnage.
The appealing cast — including memorable turns from Angel and Herman as the sweeter-than-sweet Darla — is headed by Levy. As the grown-up superhero with the attitude of a teenager he retains the glee and awe of a young boy discovering his powers. It's a classic comic book situation come to life and Levy pulls it off with charm.
"Shazam!" forgoes the dark tone of some of the other DC movies, opting for a kid-friendly feel. It's more akin to the Christopher Reeves Superman movies than "Man of Steel," filled with fun, humour and moral focus.
PET SEMATARY: 2 STARS
Released almost exactly 30 years to the day since the original film hit screens, "Pet Sematary," starring Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz as a couple who discover a mysterious burial ground in the woods near their new home, is a remake of one of Stephen King's scariest novel adaptations. The 1989 movie was so scary King, the master of all things terrifying, says it was the only one of his films that genuinely scared him. Will the remake offer up the same kind of undead thrills?
Exhausted from years as a night shift emergency room doctor in Boston Louis Creed (Clarke) is looking forward to spending more time with his family, Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and children Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), in their new, rural home in Maine. "The whole place is ours?" asks Ellie. "I even got them to throw in a forest as a new backyard," jokes dad. The move offers the change the family so desperately needs but then tragedy strikes when their beloved family cat Church is flattened by a truck on the country road in front of their home.
Their helpful neighbour Judd Crandall (John Lithgow) suggests they bury the cat in a secret spot known as the "Pet Sematary." Local folklore has it that the eerie burial ground has supernatural powers. "Kids used to dare each other to go into the woods at night," says Crandall. "They feared it." The Creeds soon learn there may be some truth to the legends when Church comes back but this time he isn't so cute and cuddly. "There is something in those woods," Crandall says. "Something that brings things back. Sometimes dead is better." (SPOILER ALERT) Later when the stakes are raised, and daughter Ellie is killed, the limits of Louis's love are tested.
Horrifying things happen in "Pet Sematary." Undead filicide, patricide and lives taken too soon but as awful as some of things that happen on screen are, the movie isn't scary. The idea of much of what happens will send a shiver down your spine but the actual rendering of it doesn't. Perhaps it's because we've been desensitized by "The Walking Dead" but the idea of the dead coming back to malevolent life doesn't have much of an impact here. There are some jump scares but they are more uncomfortable than actually chilling.
As a study of grief it works better. Louis's extreme actions are driven by anguish but because so much of what happens feels generic it's hard to care about any of the characters, alive or dead. Like the pallid cover of the title song The Ramones made famous in 1989, the new film is a pale imitation of the original.
CARMINE STREET GUITARS: 4 STARS
As promised "Carmine Street Guitars," the new documentary from Ron Mann, is about guitars. Beautiful stringed instruments hand made with love by artesian Rick Kelly. But it isn't just about guitars. Sure, we hear music, solo performances by pickers and grinners like "Captain" Kirk Douglas, Lenny Kaye, Eleanor Friedberger, Charlie Sexton and Bill Frisell, but it's about tradition and the personal connections between creators and their instruments.
For decades Kelly and his shop Carmine Street Guitars has been a Greenwich Village landmark. Untouched by modern conveniences like cell phones and computers, Kelly uses tools handed down from his grandfather, salvages old wood from New York landmarks like McSorley's Old Ale House — the "bones of the city," he calls them — to create one-of-a-kind instruments he says have a resonance that newer materials cannot duplicate. With him is apprentice, Cindy Hulej, a woodworker who burns beautiful designs into the faces of the guitars she creates.
It's a slice of life doc, a week in the life of the shop as musicians come in, hang out and talk about guitars. Mann creates a rhythm that echoes the slow pace of life inside the store. Kelly is soft spoken, an old-school artist in a rapidly changing city, somehow dodging the homogenization that is putting people like him out of business. His icy demeanor toward a high rolling real estate agent tells you everything you need to know regarding his feelings toward the people who value glass and steel over heart and soul.
"Carmine Street Guitars" is an ode to tradition, to artistry, to slowing down. It's an understated hang-out movie that has as much resonance as the old wood Kelly uses to make his guitars.