Mike at the Movies

Photo | Submitted Zachary Levi and Mark Strong star in “Shazam!” rated PG-13.

Photo | Submitted
Zachary Levi and Mark Strong star in “Shazam!” rated PG-13.

Shazam! (PG-13)

Yeah, I know, it’s a comics superhero movie and they’re supposed to be lame. The writers and producers of this film know that as well, so they play the superhero for somewhat of a dunce.

Zachary Levi (Shazam) hits the pot of gold that franchises bring to lead actors and has a terrific time doing all of the stunts except flying. He cannot quite manage that for some time but his attempts are very funny, especially when his coach, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), challenges him to “leap tall buildings at a single bound” and Shazam makes it to the 17th floor of a 25-story office building before crashing into a window.

The film is really more about Billy Batson, Shazam’s young alter-ego. It is he who is Freddy’s friend and who is forced to try all
these impossible tasks to prove he is a superhero. If there is a fault in the film, it is that the exposition is far too long. The action really starts with Shazam’s superhero, crimefighting antics. Freddy records all of it as “Visual Proof of Authenticity,” even when Shazam’s powers are more ordinary than super. The fact that Shazam/Batson can switch characters at the utterance of the word “Shazam!” comes in handy when Shazam, in red costume with a gold thunderbolt, wants to hide from Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) whose only function seems to be getting Billy or Shazam to tell him the secret word while holding a powerful old staff. Doing so will transfer all Shazam’s powers to Sivana who then can wreak destruction on an innocent world.

Gradually other superheroes join Shazam in fighting evil—superhero Daria (Meagan Good), superhero Freddy (Adam Brody) and superhero Pedro (D.J. Cotrona). It gets so bad that a greeting goes like this: “I’m a Future Man. What’s your Super Power?” There’s a great sentimental finish to this film and a clear message that subsequent episodes are to follow. And yes, Zachary Levi is about 6’3” though perhaps not as well developed as Shazam, but it’s early in his career.

Photo | Submitted Taraji P. Henson stars in “The Best of Enemies.”

Photo | Submitted
Taraji P. Henson stars in “The Best of Enemies.”

 

The Best of Enemies (PG-13)

Based on true events, this film tells the story of civil rights activist Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) and local Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell). Theirs is an unlikely story because Ann pushed back against the disrespectful treatment of blacks in early ‘70s Durham, North Carolina, and C.P.’s “business” was hating blacks, Jews and anyone who was not white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

The film highlights the conflict. When a black person is late to an event, a white guy wisecracks: “You’re late. Must be on African time.” A bunch of redneck Klansmen shoot up a woman’s house because she is rumored to have a black boyfriend. C.P.’s wife, Mary (Anne Heche), reminds him gently that they would have no problems providing money for their son’s schooling if he would only open his gasoline pumps to black customers.

The turning point in the story is the burning of the black school in Durham, North Carolina. Activist and community organizer Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) is called in to see if he can find a solution. His way is the charrette way: Get the two groups to mix, exchange views and find a compromise. Wisely, he selects C.P. and Ann as his co-chairs. They must not only share views but share a lunch table where they spend the first few days not speaking to one another.

The breakthrough for the charrette in general is whites listening to the gospel music that closes each meeting for the blacks. From that seed, and the kindness that Ann shows toward C.P.’s mentally handicapped son as well as a coffee break shared by Ann and Mary, ice begins to break. The ice breaks slowly, thought, as the Klan sabotages a local business, intimidates delegates to the charrette, an elder in the Klan justifies the shooting of a black home, saying “Sometimes there are necessary evils,” and C.P. is selected “Exalted Cyclops of the Year” by the North Carolina state KKK office. The tide relentlessly turns so that the final election of alternatives for the local black school voted on by the charrette is a bit of an anti-climax, but facts are facts.

The performances are first rate. Rockwell is an eventually loveable creep while Henson’s character softens enough to see both sides. I think you will like it and older kids, 12+, can learn a lot about race in America in the ‘70s.

The Missing Link (PG)

A ton of acting talent is piled into this whimsical piece of self-realization as a Sasquatch named Mr. Link and Susan (Zach Galafianakis—all talent is voice only) struggles to find his cousins, the Yetis, on the other side of the world from Washington
state where he lives an increasingly lonely and bored life. Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), operating on a clumsily written
tip, goes to Washington to find a Sasquatch and ends up with Link. He is pursued all the way by the armed assassin Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant), hired by the strictly aristocratic and evil Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) who wants to keep pure his Royal Academy of Adventurers.

Along the way, Frost picks up an old love, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), and together they try to find the Yetis and each other. The obvious quest may be for the Yeti hangout in Shangri-La, but the deeper journey is for identity. Once at Shangri-La,
the trio mostly struggles to get out. It is not exactly paradise. The various escapes are fun to watch and highly creative, especially the “human chain” that evolves near the end.

Not to put a too serious point on the business, there are rich lessons for kids and adults delivered along the way. This should keep the kids amused and adults painless on a Saturday afternoon. The animation is stop motion and is very smoothly done,
especially the facial movements, and it is easy to forget that the characters are actually puppets!

Little (PG-13)

Another familiar format here as there is an age-switch, this time brought on accidentally by Stevie (Harley Taylor), an amateur magician who just gets teed off at the uppity behavior of Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall). Jordan is the autocrat’s autocrat; her staff runs for cover every morning when she appears. There are ample reasons for Stevie to wave her wand and wish Jordan was little.

Jordan wakes up as Little Jordan (Marsai Martin), and the switch is on. The grease that lubricates this film is Issa Rae as April Williams, Jordan’s assistant and frustrated colleague at an ad agency. She labors valiantly while her ideas go unexpressed and her frustration mounts. She is a relief for the audience as, almost without exception, she keeps her cool and speaks at a
recognizable volume level, adding subtlety to a film that has little. Realizing that an age switch has transpired, she drolly observes: “That’s for white people because black people don’t have the time.” She does have a scene of over-heating as hunky Justin Hartley appears as Mr. Marshall, a teacher in Little Jordan’s school. The school scenes are not as amusing as one might wish. Another scene that should have been effectively shortened is one in which, at lunch an already outrageously dressed Little Jordan gets on top of a piano and sings. FAR too long!

As all such movies must, this one allows Jordan Sr. to get back to her proper age and April gets to pitch her idea to the group for an app called “Discover-ize.” It, of course, is a—see for yourself. There is a corny but effective close to the film, which has a bumpy ride with a smooth glide to a stop.

After (PG-13)

Tessa (Josephine Langford) is off to college, leaving her high school boyfriend, Noah (Dylan Arnold), a senior in high school, behind, thus clearing the deck, in a way, for Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), a rough-hewn Brit who loves reciting bits of
novels. Dressed throughout 95 percent of the film as a dowdy high school student, it is amazing that Tessa finds this hunk, but a secret lurks in the script that is crucial near the end.

Other than that, this is a pretty run-of-the mill, coming-of-age, first romance, parental disappointment film like you have seen so often. If you are in the target range for this film (15-22), you will likely see this plot crop up time and again. A twist in this film is that there are half-brothers, Hardin (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) and Landon (Shane Paul McGhie), one white and one black. Race, however, plays no discernible role in the film or the relationships but it is a shame that Jennifer Beals as Karen Gibson, Landon’s mother, and Peter Gallagher as Ken Scott, Hardin’s dad, are not given larger parts.

There’s a lot of warming-up smooching in the film and one consummation scene, but that’s about it as the film meanders to its
end. It will draw tears from its female teen audience, undoubtedly, while parents check their databases for this title because they’ll swear that they’ve seen this one before.

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