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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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lights out



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Lights Out is based on the same name spooky 2013 short film by it’s director David F. Sandberg, expanded to feature film length by writer and producer Eric Heisserer. It tells the story of a women named Sophie (Maria Bello) who has a history of emotional problems that has her now talking to what her daughter, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) first think is an imaginary person. Soon, though, a malevolent entity starts to appear with harmful intent towards both Paul and Rebbeca. As they investigate this malicious presence, they find that “Diana” was once quite real and despite having a skin condition that made her allergic to sunlight, she had a reputation for being pure evil and was feared by those around her. She was also institutionalized as a girl at the same time as their mother and Sophie was her only friend till she died. Has Diana returned from the grave to bring grievous harm to anyone who stands between her and reuniting with Sophie, including Sophie’s own children?

While far from a masterpiece, Sandberg actually delivers a fairly effective and spooky little movie with some legitimately creepy sequences beyond the plethora of jump scares. For the most part he gives Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) a presence of malice and this helps make her a threat whenever the lights go out…and they often do. As she was allergic to the sun in life, Diana now cannot stand light, which gives Sandberg many opportunities to keep us looking nervously in dark corners and being wary when power outages occur or flashlights grow dim. And for the most part, he has a good time with it. There are a few silly moments too and there are far more jump scares than outright chills, but it’s entertaining enough and works more than it doesn’t. The PG-13 rating keeps things from getting too gruesome, but there is some violence and the film has an intense last act to keep us in our seats. Sandberg shows he might have some potential and we’ll have to wait to see if he can scare us beyond his original short concept and it’s feature film expansion.

The cast also helps make this work by presenting very likable characters. Palmer, already a prolifically working actress at 30, is a strong-willed and very endearing heroine. Rebecca comes across as a bit selfish at first, but her feelings toward her family come though as she takes on this vicious specter to save her mother and little brother. Gabriel Bateman is very likable as the young Paul. He is a brave little boy who loves and sticks by his mom despite her illness and is ready to fight along with his big sister. Maria Bello is sympathetic as the mentally troubled mother, Sophie. She knows she isn’t well and that she is under Diana’s influence and Bello portrays her conflict and emotional pain well. Rounding out is Alexander DiPersia as Rebecca’s boyfriend, Bret, who is caught in the middle of the paranormal drama. Another likable edition to the cast of characters. The film’s spooky opening scene features an appearance by Lotta Losten, who was the star of Sandberg’s original Light’s Out short. (Which is posted below the trailer.)

As said, this is not a great film by any stretch, but is an effective and sometimes spooky little flick that knows how to manipulate us with it’s plot elements. It is a bit formula, but director Sandberg shows some potential and keeps us creeped out enough to forgive him when he falls back on familiar tropes and jump scares. A good cast helps him along and makes this a fun flick for a night on the couch…with the lights out, of course.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 light switches.

lights out rating






BONUS VIDEO: Here is both the trailer and the original short on which the film is based…