IMDB may have the director of 2017’s Justice League as Zach Snyder, but that was far from his original film.
The origins of the “Snyder Cut” are now well known: When the film was being finished in early 2017, Snyder had to back out after the tragic suicide of his daughter, Autumn. Joss Whedon (who helmed the first two Avengers films for the MCU) stepped in, and the film was changed drastically. The film’s 4 hour run time was basically cut in half to two, the tone of the film was much lighter, and composer Thomas Holkenborg (better known as Junkie XL) was replaced by Danny Elfman.
It is not much of a secret that the DC universe has not made the best of films, with the exception of Wonder Woman (and possible Man of Steel). It is true that superhero films can be better when darker and have more depth, but it is a fresh reminder that they can also be fun. Enter Shazam!, which I would wager is the best film in the DC line up to this point.
Directed by David F. Sandberg (whose recent films, Annabelle: Creation, and Lights Out, were in the horror genre), Shazam! starts off with two flashbacks: one involving a young Thad Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto) who is transported via a magic 8 ball (oh how I miss those) to the cave of a magic wizard (Djimon Hounsou, who Marvel fans may recognize as Korath). He is looking for someone to pass his magic to, provided they are pure in heart. While young Thad may look like he is pure in heart, he fails, and is transported back to his father and older brother (who are not the most loving).
Fast forward to the present day, where we meet Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a runaway orphan who has spent most of his life looking for his mother after losing her at a carnival when he was younger. He is given new foster parents, Victor and Rosa Vasquez (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans), who already have a couple of foster kids on hand. The youngest is Darla (Faithe Herman), a super loving and always talking tike. Eugene (Ian Chen) is an adorable computer geek. Pedro (Jovan Armand) is kind but very reserved. The oldest is Mary (Grace Fulton), who takes the others under her wing as she is in the process of finding out which college to attend. Finally there is Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, most recently seen as one of the “Loser’s in 2017’s IT, and proves again here is one heck of a young talent), who, despite having a crutch, cracks one liners like a pro.
One day, Billy is summoned by the wizard, who tries again to pass his powers on. While the Wizard is still looking for one with a pure heart, Billy assures him that he is not the right choice (even going so far as to say no one really has a pure heart). It is discovered that the wizard has been holding off the seven deadly sins (gluttony, envy, lust, pride, greed, wrath, and sloth) from re entering the world and wreaking havoc. Eventually, the Wizard convinces him, and has Billy say the his name, Shazam!, turning him older and with powers (as well as into Zachary Levi, who is clearly having the time of his life in the title role).
We are then treated to half an hour or so of Billy learning of his super powers (with Freddy’s help, since he is the only one who knows about “this caped crusader stuff”). In this time, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing quite a lot at the shennanigans that these two get themselves in (such as finding out what beer really tastes like). Meanwhile, the adult Thad (Mark Strong) has found his way back to the mystery cave, and has started to cause his own chaos. He becomes something that every DC film has basically lacked (unless you count Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad): a good villian.
Parents, the movie is PG-13, with some casual swearing (since the kids are mainly middle school age), and some suggestive material (the kids end up at one point in a “Gentleman’s Club”, though we never see the inside of it). There were even times I was thinking the film may even have been PG, so I would think ten and up would be okay.
The source of the power Billy possesses, of course, is in the name Shazam! (so much so that I have to always end it with an exclamation point). The same, of course, is true with God (only much more so). In Exodus 3, Moses asks God what name he should use when he reports back to the Israelites. God’s answer is one of my favorite moments of the whole bible: “I AM WHO I AM” (verse 14). The same also can be said of Jesus. If you bring the name of Jesus Christ up in a conversation, it does have quite an affect. Some people still cannot get over what to do with Jesus. If you want a quick primer on the argument for the resurrection of Jesus, click here. Speaking of authority and one’s name, the movie is also a nice reminder of how power (like the word of God) is not as effective if not shared. Romans 10:14 says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
The film does have some flaws (it does run long at times, but not terribly so), but it is a nice big leap in the right direction for DC films. Shazam! brings joy and life back to this universe with a beating pulse from its own (mostly) pure heart.
Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.
I went back and forth as to whether make the traditional top ten, or go with twenty. I decided on the latter for a few reasons. First, in a great year for movies, there were too many to ignore (and even at twenty, films such as Wonder Woman, Detroit, Mudbound, and Darkest Hour did not make it). Second, so what if I added more than ten? If you really want see just the top ten, here is a trick: skip down to number ten, and go from there (though you will be missing a lot of great films along the way).
A passion project for director/actor James Franco, The Disaster Artist tells the tale of another passion project (and cult favorite), The Room. Franco is so wonderful in the role of the aloof Tommy Wiseau that it goes beyond comedy and becomes very human. It truly tears you apart!
Renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, is full of electricity. As always, his dialogue snaps like fire crackers, no doubt due to the wonderful casting of greats such as Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.
The most recent film I have seen as of this writing, Faces Places is the unique documentary about legendary french film maker Agnes Varda and her friend JR (whose eyes she has never seen). They go around meeting people as they post big pictures of their subjects on vast walls. As in all great films, it goes far beyond that. It reminded me a lot about Errol Morris’s masterpiece, Gates of Heaven.
Even with an all-star cast including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Hillary Swank, Seth Macfarlane, and (especially) Daniel Craig, a film like Logan Lucky could have gone wrong on so many levels. Thankfully, the script is so tight that every moment is real, authentic, and down right ludicrously hilarious.
A prime example of a movie you either love or hate, I am on the former when it comes to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. No, we did not get any “answers” to questions we may have had, but so what? It was a Star Wars film that gave us new twists and turns we had not seen before, plus was much better than the overrated Rogue One.
From one sci-fi sequel to another, Blade Runner 2049 is full of a lot of questions that are also unanswered. What no one will question is the gorgeous scope of the film, thanks in part to cinematographer Roger Deakins (who may finally get his Oscar now).
In one of the best years for superhero films, my pick still goes to Logan. A swan song of epic proportions, Hugh Jackman truly goes out swinging. Or clawing.
Even if the film was rushed, Steven Spielberg’s The Post has a fire burning in the soul, which shows in the cast led by Hollywood giants Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It is a movie that, had it not been made, I would not be reminded of the right I have to be typing these words in the first place.
How wickedly devilish is the film I, Tonya! So fun, and self-aware of itself, it gives a stellar Margot Robbie performance, and heaven knows how wonderful Allison Janney is as one of the worst mom’s in recent cinema history.
As Miguel tugs at the guitar strings, so does Coco tug at our heart-strings. Which, by now, is totally the standard Disney/Pixar films have set for all animated films (and others in general).
One of the most original scripts in recent memory, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is full of outstanding wit and charm. It is also more proof why Saoirse Ronan is truly one of the best actors of her generation.
Of all the movies I saw this year, I fought the hardest (okay, fought myself) for Wonder to be in the top ten. Based of the book of the same name (which I highly recommend), this wonderful fable of why it is important to #choosekind is something I cannot imagine parents not taking their kids to.
Very few, if any, director has a current positive track record than Christopher Nolan, and Dunkirk is no exception. Packed with more than enough tension and grit, it is as fitting a war film as they come.
At only around an hour and a half, few films of this (or any) year have given me more questions than that of A Ghost Story. Like a pool, you soak in it, look at the reflection, and see all the questions you want answered. Multiple viewings are needed, and are something I plan to do in the time I have left on earth.
Another one of the most original scripts in years, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a tough sit through at many times. Yet it has so much dark peppered humor and spot on performances (mainly McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and especially Sam Rockwell) it is hard to turn away.
The true story of how one man met his wife, The Big Sick is still the best rom com I have seen in nearly a decade. All the actors are hilarious and convincing, and the writing is top-notch. I still can’t get over that 9/11 joke.
I had never thought of what could be outside the walls of Disney World before I saw The Florida Project. I doubt I am alone. With some of the best acting from children you will see, and a sublime Willem Dafoe, the movie takes us to a place that has been under the shadows of Disney for far too long.
Like most, I had to wait nearly a month before I could see Phantom Thread, but it was far worth the wait. Daniel Day-Lewis gives (no surprise) a perfectly majestic performance as a dress-maker in 1950s London, whose new muse (Vicky Krieps) must put up with him. Director Paul Thomas Anderson treats the film as gentle as the fabric that Woodcock works with in his shop.
Of all the love stories of this year, my favorite still goes to that of a mute help worker and a sea creature in The Shape of Water. Guillermo Del Toro gives us a world of endless possibilities, filled with memorable characters (don’t get me started on how much we love to hate Michael Shannon here), astounding visuals, and a love that is not easy to forget.
I can imagine a lot of people being surprised at my number one pick, but after more than one viewing, I just could not deny IT. Undoubtably one of the top four or five adaptations of Stephen King, the film is far more than a horror masterpiece. It is also about coming of age (I have yet to meet anyone who though negatively of the kid performances, all of whom are perfect in their roles), young love, bullying, and, of course, clowns.
Floating has never been so terrifying. Or enjoyable.
Despite some holes and question marks in the screenplay, Blade Runner 2049still manages to be the best sci-fi sequel since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
It is a movie that challenges the mind and brightens your eyes with some of the most gorgeous imagery of recent years. I have only seen the original once, but I know that I have to return to get some answers (though not all the questions will have them).