Review of “Shazam!”

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14-year-old boy in the foster care system of Philadelphia. When he was four, he got separated from his mother at a Christmas carnival. When his mother couldn’t be found, he was put in foster care. Billy’s dream is to be reunited with his real family, not the fake family in foster homes. Billy has run away from nearly two dozen of them in the search for his mother. Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) was raised by a verbally abusive father (John Glover) and an equally vile older brother. In 1974, as a child, Sivana was magically transported by a wizard to be offered great power, but he proved to have an impure heart when he was tempted by the Seven Deadly Sins and was returned to his family. He dedicated his adult life to returning to the wizard and gaining the power of evil. When Sivana figures out how to return to the wizard, he finds him weak and unable to stop him. Sivana takes the Eye of Sin and is made enormously powerful by the Seven Deadly Sins. Billy is sent to live with a new family that has four foster children. One of them, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), walks with the aid of a cane. Freddy is being picked on and beaten up by a couple of older, bigger bullies when Billy intervenes. The bullies chase Billy, but he escapes via a subway train. On the ride, everyone in the car disappears and odd symbols appear on the electronic sign. When the train stops, Billy is greeted by the same wizard who tells Billy he must be the new champion to fight against the evil Sivana is about to unleash on the world. To gain the wizard’s power, Billy must hold his staff and say the wizard’s name: Shazam!

An early complaint about DC’s superhero films was they were too dark and depressing, along with being not very good. None of those complaints can be made against “Shazam” as director David F. Sandberg and writer Henry Gayden have produced a film that shines with humor and positivity without being saccharine and preachy. They also provide character development and growth for both the hero and the villain. As an origin story of a second-tier character, this compares favorably to Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Ant-Man.” Maybe DC has finally got their act together.

Zachary Levi is terrific as Shazam. I know his original name was Captain Marvel, but that requires a deep dive into various lawsuits and legal rulings I don’t want to get into. DC settled on naming the character Shazam during one of their recent reboots. Anyway, Levi is great. He embodies the spirit of a damaged youth suddenly given enormous power, and he behaves the way you would expect. He acts like a jerk. Using his powers to impress people and make money, Billy lives out his fantasies until he is faced with the threat posed by Dr. Sivana. He then runs away and doesn’t want to face the responsibilities of being a superhero, as you would expect an immature child to do.

Levi is a great deal of fun to watch as Shazam. He’s a playful dope and a weak-willed coward. He turns the modified Billy into an amplified version of the pre-super powered character, and he does it believably. It’s a performance that, in any other non-superhero movie, might be considered for awards season. Since he’s wearing a cape and a skin tight body suit (with fake muscles underneath and a glowing lightning bolt on his chest), Levi will have to settle for at least a couple of sequels and an appearance in a team-up movie should DC decide to try making another Justice League film.

As Billy’s new foster brother, Jack Dylan Grazer is fantastic as Freddy. The usually optimistic young man with a bum leg practically steals the movie from Angel and Levi. Grazer is a dynamo with an infectious laugh and love of life despite his problems. Freddy is Billy’s guide to the world of superheroes and he’s an enthusiastic coach and cheerleader. Grazer also is effective when the story calls on Freddy to tell Billy the truth about his obnoxious behavior while he’s also being honest about the hurt he feels regarding his lot in life. Grazer being so good in the film shouldn’t be a surprise as he was, for me, the stand-out character in 2017’s “It” as the hypochondriac Eddie. If he can avoid the pitfalls of being a talented child actor, Grazer will have a very long and productive career.

If there’s an issue with the film, it’s the hero’s learning curve for using his powers. There are abilities Shazam has he only figures out late in the movie, such as flight. That only shows up due to an attack from the villain. There are other powers he discovers early on, like shooting lightning from his fingers, that he doesn’t use when it would appear to prove useful. The inconsistencies of his using his abilities and not using them doesn’t make much sense.

That’s a minor quibble when you compare it to how good the movie is, not only from a story point of view, but also visually. The CGI used to create flight and the battles during it looks amazing. While there are shots similar to those in “Man of Steel” during the flying fights, the quality of the work in “Shazam” is vastly better. Faces look more lifelike. Movement is more natural. Considering “Man of Steel” had a budget more than double “Shazam,” it’s improved visual quality implies either major software advances or a more qualified effects team.

“Shazam” is rated PG-13 for language, intense sequences of action and suggestive material. There are several fights in the film. Some are between superpowered characters and others are just regular people. There’s only a little blood, but a character has an eye replaced by a glowing orb in a violent way. The suggestive material is a couple of visits to a “gentlemen’s club” we never see the inside of, and comments made about it. Foul language is scattered is consists mostly of variations on “s**t.”

If you want to put some thought into it, “Shazam” is a story of damaged characters and how they react to their damage. Some seek out world domination while others are looking for a family to belong to. Sex and relationship advice columnist and podcaster Dan Savage tells people they have a biological family and a logical family, and sometimes the logical one loves you more. While this movie is more about super heroics, it also says something about finding peace with your weaknesses, shortcomings and situation. We may not be able to fly and shoot lighting from our fingers, but we can find peace and help others to do the same or just not add to the pain of others. That can be heroic in a quieter way.

“Shazam” gets five stars.

Four new films are vying for your entertainment dollar. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:




Missing Link—

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Review of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”

Since joining the secret intelligence agency the Kingsman, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has found a purpose to his life, a beautiful girlfriend, Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alstrom), and a close group of friends from his old days to keep him grounded. He still has strong feelings of sadness over the loss of his mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) but he focuses on the happy memories. While leaving the Kingsman tailor shop that is the front for spy agency he is approached by former recruit Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft). Eggsy thought Charlie was dead from their last encounter but he survived and is back with a high-tech metal arm and a desire for vengeance. Eggsy and Charlie fight inside a moving car and Charlie’s metal arm comes off. Eggsy is able to escape Charlie and the other bad guys in three SUV’s following him and must use the underwater capabilities of his car to enter a Kingsman secret base. What Eggsy doesn’t know is once he has left the car Charlie’s metal arm comes to life and plugs into the computer terminal. It transmits the locations of all Kingsman offices and addresses of agents to Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a ruthless drug dealer with plans to expand her business. With the information, Poppy launches guided missiles, destroying all Kingsman facilities and killing most of their agents. The only ones that survive are Eggsy and tech wizard Merlin (Mark Strong). Merlin initiates the doomsday protocol and discovers a bottle of Statesman whiskey in a secret safe. The bottle guides them to the Statesman distillery in Kentucky where they run into Tequilla (Channing Tatum) while checking out an overly secure storage facility. It turns out the whiskey factory is a front for an independent investigative organization similar to the Kingsman. Led by Champagne, who prefers to be called Champ (Jeff Bridges), the remaining Kingsman agents are taken in and aided in their mission to stop Poppy Adams from forcing the legalization of all recreational drugs after she has spiked all the drugs she sells with a virus that will kill all users. Unless her demands for legalization are met she won’t release the antidote that will save everyone including Eggsy’s girlfriend. The existence of the Statesman is a surprise but that Harry is still alive and in Statesman custody is an even bigger shock for Eggsy and Merlin.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” doesn’t mess with the formula that worked with the first film ”Kingsman: The Secret Service.” If anything this sequel turns up everything to a proverbial “11” and while that may work in some films it proves to be a bit distracting and a detriment in this case.

The film is a bit all over the place, zipping from one locale and group of characters to another. Just as we get comfortable with one scene it is immediately replaced with another. From mountain vistas to a painfully obvious CGI Statesman headquarters, the movie is a bit like a jittery child that can’t stay in one place for too long before moving somewhere else.

This is the fault of a story that is scattered like a shotgun blast. The script by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn is chock full of plot points that send the characters all over the world on mostly meaningless side missions. Side missions are fun in video games but can feel like an utter waste of time in a movie. With a running time of two hours 20 minutes, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is over stuffed with asides that could easily have been cut out.

The action and gadgets in the movie have been upgraded and made more outlandish in the film. Attaché cases that double as machine guns and bazookas are fairly banal when compared to a car that can convert into submarine or a watch that can hack any device with a microchip. The mechanical arm used by one of the bad guys also seems over the top since it is merely strapped to him with belts and Velcro but can pull down stone columns and propel a bowling ball through a wall. Obeying the laws of physics is probably asking too much of a campy spy movie but giving some thought to how something might work and react in the real world would be nice.

It would be easy to dislike “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” if you give it too much thought; however there is plenty to find enjoyable in the film. First, it doesn’t ask too much of the audience. There is a crazy lady with a crazy plan that just might work unless the super spies can stop her. The story is fairly straight forward even if the script throws in a great deal of needless running around. Second, the characters are all fairly likable. Even Julianne Moore’s Poppy is sweet and charming until she’s not. I enjoyed the way Moore’s character is able to order one of her henchmen to kill another and do it with a smile. It’s a disarming trait that softens the edge of what could have been a shrieking monster. Third is the discovery of how Elton John may be the next elderly action hero. I know this is farfetched but John, playing himself as a captive entertainer in Poppy’s hideout, is very funny in the movie. He is given the opportunity to do both comedy and action and succeeds wildly at both. Of course, his action scenes are largely comprised of CGI (especially when he does a flying karate kick) but they work well within the loose structure of the story. Elton John appears to have been willing to do whatever director Matthew Vaughn asked and what shows up on screen is great.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is rated R for language throughout, drug content, sequences of strong violence and some sexual material. A main part of the story is how everyone’s drugs are spiked with the virus so we are shown people using pot and one person using meth. Other people show up with symptoms of the virus that aren’t shown using drugs but that’s the only way they could get the virus. There are numerous shooting and stabbings throughout the film with some more bloody than others. There is one awkward sex scene that is a little troubling to watch. There is no graphic nudity but there is a suggestion of a sexual act that is done during a mission. It felt like a forced scene that could have been handled another way. Foul language is common throughout the film.

It’s doesn’t live up to its predecessor but “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is a fairly enjoyable spy romp that continues the hyper-action and violence of the first film. There isn’t a jaw-dropping church scene like in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” but the discovery of the Statesman and the reveal of Harry still being alive and how that happened is almost as good.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” gets four stars out of five.

This week there are four new films hitting screens at your local multiplex. I’ll be seeing and reviewing one of the following:

American Made—


A Question of Faith—

Til Death Do Us Part—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Listen to, subscribe and review The Fractured Frame podcast available where ever you get podcasts. Follow The Fractured Frame on Twitter @fractured_pod. Send emails to

Review of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

For weeks, the only thing anyone heard about as far as movies were concerned was “Fifty Shades of Grey” and how it would dominate (pardon the expression) the box office over Valentine’s weekend. It lived up to expectations tying up (again, pardon the expression) over $81-million in ticket sales. While the rest of the competition was mostly spanked (see apologies above) there was one new movie that managed to pull in a respectable amount of money despite lacking any whips, riding crops and blindfolds. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is what I saw and I suggest you see it as well.

Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is an intelligent young man who seems to be wasting his life with alcohol, drugs and petty crimes. He’s approached by a Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a dapper gentleman, who tells Eggsy he knew the boy’s deceased father. Hart is a member of a secret British intelligence organization called the Kingsmen. Hart, whose code name is Galahad, operates out of a tailor shop. While the average patron can be fitted for a custom-made suit, a Kingsman agent can access specialty weapons and an underground pneumatic transport system that goes directly to a villa in the English countryside, the headquarters of the Kingsmen. Galahad informs Eggsy his father was a Kingsman and died on a mission when Eggsy was a very young boy. Galahad encourages Eggsy to try out for a recent opening due to the death of an agent codenamed Lancelot. Lancelot died trying to rescue Professor James Arnold (Mark Hamill), an environmental and global warming expert who had been kidnapped by Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and his accomplice Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). Gazelle has prosthetic legs armed with razor sharp swords which she uses to kill Lancelot. Valentine, a tech billionaire, has been trying for years to get politicians to do something about carbon emissions without success. He has developed a new plan and approaches many celebrities and world leaders for their support, offering them deals they cannot refuse. For those who turn Valentine down, they are locked up in his mountain headquarters. While Valentine wants to save the planet, he doesn’t care how many billions of people have to die to make his plan succeed. Eggsy and several other young people are led through the many tests and trials to become a Kingsman by Agent Merlin (Mark Strong) while Galahad continues his investigation into Valentine’s plan.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” has a very light, jaunty feel to it. It doesn’t take itself seriously and is able to create both humor and excitement, often simultaneously. The film succeeds at being entertaining for several reasons. First, the story moves at a quick pace, rarely staying in the same place for very long. The filmmakers know the target audience doesn’t like taking the time for a huge amount of backstory so much of that is handled in a few sentences at appropriate times. This cuts down on long scenes of exposition and keeps the plot moving forward.

A second reason is the cast. A film like “Kingsman: The Secret Service” rarely has a group of actors with this many A-listers. Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine and Mark Hamill all in one film based on a comic book is not something one sees every weekend. The lesser known members of the cast, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson and Sofia Boutella, are a nice garnish to an already stellar mixture of actors. Everyone in the film is excellent and they all seem to be having a great time.

The script seems to have its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. The style and tone of the dialog, usually delivered in either an upper crust or working class British accent, just feels like fun. Even when the movie has its bloodier moments, and there are plenty, the script manages to keep things light. It also doesn’t mind taking a look at other films of the genre, including the granddaddy of them all the “Bond” series. Firth’s character makes reference to the darker tone of the most recent films and says he prefers the earlier incarnations of Bond. The movie seems to pay homage to those films with the number of gadgets a Kingsman has at his disposal. I won’t try to mention them all here but they run the gamut from classic (knife popping out of the toe of a shoe) to fantastic (a bulletproof umbrella with other built-in weapons). Some of these gadgets are more believable and hence more effective than others. Still, one must suspend some disbelief if the movie is to be enjoyed. The film uses technology heavily throughout the story including the main plan of the villain. The movie may actually depend too much on gadgets to keep the action moving. A spy movie should be mostly about the spy doing some spying. That isn’t so much the case here; however, this is a minor fault when compared to how entertaining the rest of the film is.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content. There are numerous violent and bloody deaths in the film including numerous head shots, limbs severed, a person cut in half down the middle and numerous images of heads exploding. Surprisingly, the exploding heads are handled in a rather tasteful way. There is very little gore and it mostly looks like colored smoke billowing up from the neck. There is an early passing reference to sex then late in the film we get a brief glimpse at a young woman’s backside with the understanding that anal sex is about to occur. Foul language is common throughout the film.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a spy film populated with very interesting characters including Samuel L. Jackson’s lisping villain and Sofia Boutella’s blade runner prosthetic wearing henchperson. It also features an exciting story, terrific action and likable characters about whom I wanted to know more. While it depends a bit too much on technology and not enough on the human aspect, there are still characters we root for and want to see triumph. It may never win any major awards or be considered a classic but it is a fun way to spend a couple of hours in a movie theatre without feeling like you need to take a shower afterwards.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” gets five stars out of five.

This week, four new movies (assuming the expected snow melts in time for me to get out) vie for your entertainment dollars. I’ll see and review one of the following:


Hot Tub Time Machine 2—

McFarland USA—

Still Alice—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “The Imitation Game”

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant mathematician who usually rubs people the wrong way due to his complete lack of social skills. When he’s called into the office of Cdr. Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) to discuss working on a top secret project for the British Government during the Second World War, he nearly talks himself out of the interview. Eventually, Turing convinces Denniston that he’s the right man for the job and he’s introduced to the rest of the team who will try to devise a way to break the Nazi Enigma code machine. Turing immediately alienates the rest of the group and sets himself apart to work alone. The leader of the group, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) files a formal complaint against Turing hoping to get him removed from the team. Turing writes a letter to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and is suddenly put in charge. Turing continues to be inapproachable and brusque with his co-workers while he builds a machine that he believes will be able to sort through the trillions of possible code combinations of Enigma. Deciding he needs more help, Turing puts a crossword puzzle in the local newspaper with a phone number to call for anyone who can solve it in less than 10 minutes. Several people succeed including Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), the only woman who responds, and they are invited to take a test. Giving the respondents another crossword to solve, this time in less than six minutes, Joan and another young man are the only ones who succeed and are then told about the top secret work they will be doing by Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), a member of the British intelligence agency MI-6. Joan and Turing become friendly as she doesn’t attach any personal insult to his odd personality. Joan is able to show Turing that he needs to work with his team and that won’t happen unless they like him. Turing makes awkward gestures of friendship to the group which breaks the ice and leads the team to begin helping with the machine. Despite all the secrets with which they are dealing, Turing has the biggest secret of all: He’s a homosexual, which is illegal under British law, and that would get him banned from working on the project and sent to jail.

“The Imitation Game” is joyous and heartbreaking, thrilling and infuriating, funny and sad. Told in a series of flashbacks that look at Turing’s unhappy childhood, his work at the Bletchley Radio Factory that was a front for his secret military work and the period after the war when a burglary at his home started in motion the events that would lead to his pleading guilty to gross indecency and lead to his chemical castration, “The Imitation Game” is perhaps a perfect movie that I wish had ended differently. Not that the ending needs to be changed; it’s history that needs an overhaul. Turing is the father of modern computer science. His codebreaking machine is thought to be responsible for shortening the war in Europe by over two years and saving an estimated 14 million lives. His work is the basis for research into artificial intelligence. He should have won at least one Nobel Prize and been taught in high schools all over the world. Sadly that isn’t the case because of who he loved—other men. Turing is ultimately a tragic figure and the perfect subject of a movie. He knew both great triumphs and enormous tragedies and the prejudice of the time led to him taking his own life in 1954 at the age of 41.

Benedict Cumberbatch is my favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar. His portrayal of Turing is mesmerizing. When Turing is working out problems, either mathematical or personal, his thought process can be seen streaming across Cumberbatch’s face. His eyes dart from side to side yet never lock on anything as the biochemical computer in his skull races to find a solution. Cumberbatch is so good in this role it will be difficult for him to top it. Yet, I think he probably will as he is constantly full of surprises. The intensity and emotion of his work in the film is incredible. There’s very little left to be said.

I can see Keira Knightley being nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as Joan Clarke. Knightley plays the part almost like Joan is Turing’s big sister. She understands his genius as she is nearly as smart as he is and his inability to behave normally. For both of them, being normal is highly overrated. Knightley’s role as Joan may be overemphasized when compared to the historical record; however, Joan in the film is the conduit by which Turing becomes something understandable. Turing is at first glance an unlikable character. While we know he’s a genius he knows it as well and he doesn’t mind reminding anyone who will listen how smart he is. Joan is able to soften Turing’s rough edges and show the audience the decent guy on the inside. Her guidance in the film leads to the breakthrough that made Turing’s machine work. Knightley brings her usual grace and poise to the role of Joan. She also adds a touch of fun as she gently prods Turing to be a more likable person.

The rest of the cast is also excellent with special mention to Mark Strong. Playing the MI-6 agent Stewart Menzies, Strong is especially sneaky and at times frightening. Strong’s performance gives the audience the impression he could make anyone disappear and there would be no questions which is perfect for a shadowy character in World War II. While Menzies at times uses questionable tactics, Strong is able to make these seem suave and mysterious. Charles Dance plays Cdr. Denniston as a no-nonsense military man with little time for Turing’s personality peccadillos. Once Turing is working at Bletchley Park, anytime Denniston is on screen usually means trouble. Dance plays the role as if he was a king and Turing was a peasant. That apparent desire to be the undisputed ruler of the Bletchley project means the two are going to clash and Dance is able to make the character both dislikable and sympathetic. While not on screen that much, Dance makes the most of his performance.

“The Imitation Game” is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking. There are a couple of dirty jokes told that leave out most of the dirty part. Concepts of homosexuality and its perception in British society at the time are a central theme. Several people are shown smoking cigarettes. There are no language issues.

It’s rare that a movie without spaceships, aliens, monsters and other flashy special effects grabs and holds my interest the way “The Imitation Game” did. It’s a story that, despite some historical inaccuracies, needs to be told to everyone. If you live in a free country, Alan Turing is probably at least partially responsible and this film about his life and contributions is a spectacular piece of work. SEE IT!!!

“The Imitation Game” gets five stars out of five.

Another historical figure gets the big screen treatment along with the third in a series of action films. I’ll see and review one of these, both of these or something else entirely. You never can tell as I’m unpredictable.



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