REVIEW: SHAZAM! (2019)

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SHAZAM! (2019)

Latest flick from the DC Comics cinematic universe is based on one of their outside the Justice League characters and is more geared towards kids, though it has a few rough moments. Movie finds orphaned Billy Batson (Asher Angel) running away from foster home after foster home to try and find his real mother. His latest place of residence is a foster home run by Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews). Here he’s befriended by Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is partially disabled and a real superhero fan. His superhero know-how comes in handy when guardian wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) chooses Billy as a champion to take his place as a protector and to hold his power. Now all Billy has to do is say “Shazam!” and he transforms into a muscular adult superhero (Zachary Levi)…but in body only. Learning how to be a hero is tough enough on it’s own for a kid, but Billy/Shazam is challenged by the bitter and angry Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who was rejected by Shazam as a child and now wants revenge…and has seven powerful demons to help him get it.

Flick is directed by David F. Sandberg, who cut his teeth on horror flicks like Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. This probably comes in handy as the script by Henry Gayden, from a story by he and Darren Lemke, features the before mentioned demons and thus a few spooky sequences. Sandberg does a good job at the sentimental and silly stuff, too, though in both cases, the script throws in a bit too much of it. The schtick of a 15 year-old kid being in an adult superhero’s body wears out it’s welcome after a while with numerous scenes of Billy/Shazam acting like a brat and using his newfound fame to get himself attention and money. Probably what a kid would do, true, but here it’s drawn out a bit too long. The whole film could have been a bit tighter and wouldn’t have missed about ten minutes or so removed. There are some fun bits and the flick has heart, but it can be over-sentimental at times, too and really goes for all the clichés about trust and family, though superhero flicks in particular can get away with being cliché. It’s oddly one of the things endearing about them. The climactic confrontation with Sivana never really gets all that exciting and Billy learning that he doesn’t have to fight alone is exactly what we expect to happen. The flick overall is very predictable. Not a bad movie, but one that could have used a little tightening, a little more excitement and less repetition with it’s hi-jinx.

There are no complaints about the cast. Zachary Levi is a hoot as the teen in an adult body imbued with superpowers. He’s charming and funny and even if the bratty hero bits are the focus for a bit too long, Levi is fun in the part. His overstuffed costume is a bit off-putting, but otherwise Levi is a good fit for the role. Asher Angel was very good as Billy. The film’s sentiment may get schmaltzy at times, but Angel is endearing and likable and handles the emotional requirements very well. Grazer is also likable as the partially disabled nerd who has a strong interest in superheroes and now gets to be BFF’s with one. Mark Strong makes a solid though unremarkable villain. He’s a very reliable veteran actor and it was cool to see DC give him a second chance at villainy after the prospects of his being the evil Sinestro in a Green Lantern sequel dried up. The rest of the supporting cast are also good and all perform well in their roles.

Overall, this is a flick that tries hard and doesn’t miss the mark by too much. It has some fun sequences and a likable cast, but maybe plays out it’s schtick a bit too long and might be a bit too silly at times for some tastes. The film feels like it could have been a bit shorter and tighter, without harming it’s story and drags a bit midway through. It’s loaded with clichés which make it a bit predictable, but still has a lot of fun bits and with lead Levi being perfectly cast as the kid in a hero’s body. As a superhero version of 1988’s Big, at least they had the respect to pay that film a nice homage. Stay after the credits for two additional sequences.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) kids in a hero’s body.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: GOOSEBUMPS 2-HAUNTED HALLOWEEN (2018)

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GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN (2018)

Sequel has two boys, Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) finding an unfinished book by R.L. Stine (Jack Black) in an abandoned house. Upon opening it, they accidentally unleash the evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Mick Wingert). Slappy now plots to bring Halloween to life and starts bringing monsters into the sleepy town of Wardenclyffe, New York. Can Sonny, Sam and Sonny’s sister Sarah (Madison Iseman) stop Slappy’s evil plot!?

Film is lackadaisically directed by Ari Sandel (The Duff) from a story and script by Rob Lieber and Darren Lemke. It’s a weak script that replays a lot of the same schtick from the first flick, yet not as energetic or fun. Black’s appearance as Stine is basically an extended cameo and the movie as a whole seems a very uninspired effort. It has the definite feel of a paycheck job for those behind the camera. There is some very cool Halloween imagery, some amusing bits and Madison Iseman (Tales Of Halloween, Jumanji) does make for a feisty and resilient heroine. The rest of the cast seem to be having a fun time, but the film itself isn’t as buoyant as it’s predecessor. A mediocre follow-up to a surprisingly fun first flick. Also stars Wendi McLendon-Covey as Sonny and Sarah’s single mom.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

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GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

When his mother (Amy Ryan) accepts a vice principal job in Madison, Delaware, high schooler Zach (Dylan Minnette) is forced to move there with her from New York. He finds he has a reclusive and unfriendly neighbor Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) with a pretty teenage daughter named Hannah (Odeya Rush). When sneaking into Shivers’ house one night to check up on Hannah, who he feels is being imprisoned there against her will, he finds out that Shivers is actually famed horror author R.L. Stine. Zach also discovers that opening Stine’s original, locked manuscripts actually releases the creatures within into the real world. With evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy (also voiced by Black) accidentally released, the diabolical doll unlocks all the rest of the monsters into the streets of the unsuspecting town. Now Zach, Stine, Hannah and Zach’s new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee), have to somehow find a way to get all the monsters back in the books…books that Slappy is gleefully burning.

Goosebumps is a clever and fun family horror from director Rob Letterman from a script by Darren Lemke based on Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s story. It amusingly combines not only a number of Stine’s ghoulish creations, but involves the author himself in the mix. It’s never really scary, but it is a lot of fun, especially a scene involving lawn gnomes which evokes some of the best bits in Gremlins. The characters are all likable and while the scenario is played fairly seriously, there is a lot of humor added to the mix as our heroes battle a wide assortment of Stine’s creatures running rampant on this small Delaware town. To a degree it’s nothing new. We have seen creatures come to life from the written page before, but it is an entertaining movie with it’s heart in the right place and fans of Stine’s tales should enjoy the parade of his characters marched out across the screen. If there is any fault with that, it is that only a few of them get any more than a few moments of screen time with Slappy being the main villain with a few secondaries like a werewolf and a giant praying mantis. On a production level, while the CGI can be weak at times, Letterman has a nice visual eye, especially scenes set in an abandoned amusement park, and it is all photographed well by Javier Aguirresarobe. There is also a buoyant and spooky score by legendary composer Danny Elfman, which adds nicely to the atmosphere of spooky fun.

The cast all have a firm grasp of the nature of the material. Black is amusing as the reclusive and egotistic Stine and also gives voice to the villainous Slappy and the mischievous Invisible Boy. The young cast shine as Minnette, Rush and Lee all provide their high school stereotypes well, as the new boy in town, the adventurous girl and the eccentric sidekick respectively. They are all quite charming with Ryan Lee showing a flair for comedy and Minnette and Rush having nice chemistry together. It’s an example of a solid cast making the material work very well.

I had fun with this. It’s not a classic and I’m not all that familiar with Stine’s stories, but it was entertaining in the style of something like the 80s classic Monster Squad. It has some shaky CGI, but the characters it represenst do have some life and personality and the human characters are quite endearing, as is the cast. A fun night on the couch and something kids and Stine fans will probably have a good time with.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Slappys.

Columbia Pictures' "Goosebumps," starring Jack Black.

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