“If a superhero can’t save his family, he’s not much of a hero after all.” Shazam! (2019)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

The entirety of the superhero film genre deals with issues of identity and family and belonging. The best entries – Superman, Dick Tracy, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Versetransport us to escapist realms while metaphorically helping reconcile the harsh reality of our daily lives vs. our wish fulfillment fantasy to champion all underdogs and right all wrongs. This disconnect between the inner child who still feels all things are possible and the jaded adult who fears the best of life has passed one by keeps us spinning the wheel at the superhero box office in the hopes of finding our ultimate champion on the silver screen.

And Shazam! comes pretty damn close.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Based on the classic Fawcett Comics character Captain Marvel, Shazam was  acquired by DC Comics in a copyright dispute in the 1950s over the character’s (overstated) similarities to Superman. DC, ironically in turn, lost the rights to use the name (but not the character) “Captain Marvel” to Marvel Comics in the 1970s, and Marvel’s version of “Captain Marvel” had her cinematic debut one month ago. Consequently, DC’s “Captain Marvel” now goes by “Shazam,” which in actuality is the magic word young Billy Batson exclaims to become “The Big Red Cheese” Captain Marvel (but we can’t actually call him “Captain Marvel” any more). Clear as mud? Thanks a lot, intellectual property laws. (It’s all explained much better and in much more detail here.)

None of this matters one whit to your ultimate enjoyment of David F. Sandberg’s film treatment of Shazam (which was also a corny Saturday morning Filmation live action series in the 1970s and a Republic serial in the 1940s). For the casual film-goer, the more relevant comparison is to Tom Hanks’ classic comedy Big as a wish fulfillment fantasy of a little boy lost who assumes adulthood (and superpowers) will solve all his real-life problems (spoiler alert: they don’t). Shazam even offers an onscreen nod to Big’s FAO Schwartz super-sized floor piano keyboard duet.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Asher Angel (think young Zac Efron, but a bit less precious) plays foster kid Billy Batson, ever on the hunt for the birth mother he lost years ago at a winter carnival and who mysteriously never reclaimed her son. Batson bounces from group home to group home until he lands at the beautifully blended foster home of Rosa and Victor Vasquez (warm and earthy Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews). Overeager and lonely foster brother Freddy Freeman (It‘s Jack Dylan Grazer in a dynamite and heartbreaking turn) introduces Billy to the nerdy joys of super hero trivia, and, before we know it, flash-bam-boom!, Billy finds himself one subway stop away from the magical “Rock of Eternity,” imbued with magical abilities by an ancient wizard (an almost unrecognizable Djimon Hounsou).

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

When Billy shouts “Shazam!” (acronym of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury and the respective abilities of each), the young boy transforms into 6’3″ Zachary Levi (Chuck, Tangled, She Loves Me) whose sitcom/musical comedy ethos paired with a physique that now seems to have muscles-on-top-of-muscles makes him the perfect choice for this whimsical hero.

The film is saddled, as are most comic book adaptations alas, with a “take over the world” megalomaniac antagonist. This time, Mark Strong plays Dr. Sivana, and, in his typical glowering skinny/tall-British-Stanley-Tucci-with-dodgy-dental-work-way, Strong meanders about the film, saying vaguely apocalyptic things and shooting energy bolts from his hands. He’s completely unnecessary.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Thematically, Strong’s primary contribution seems to be to further the film’s exploration of family lost and family gained. Sivana’s father is a Lex Luthor-esque SOB, played by the go-to actor for Lex-Luthor-esque SOBs John Glover (Gremlins 2, Smallville … where, in fact, he played Lex Luthor’s dad) whose brutal parenting style predictably turns his little lad into a grade-A psychopath.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Shazam! works best when the film turns its gaze toward the adorable band of misfits in Billy’s foster home. The child actors are loving, lovable, believable, and kind. The challenges Billy endures embracing his new home and relinquishing his dream of reuniting with his birth mother are poignant and accessible and juxtapose nicely with the comic farce of him learning to be a proper super hero. Levi is an utter delight playing a 14-year-old boy in an (overgrown) man’s body, attempting superheroics when all he really wants to do is gobble junk food and play video games. At one point, Batson in his superhero persona observes, “If a superhero can’t save his family, he’s not much of a hero after all.” Amen to that. Amen to that.

 

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Thanks to my boss Susan and coworker Megan for this! #wishfulfillment

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats Theatre Company with two offerings – The Canterbury Tales and Xanadu – this summer

From our press release … which is why I refer to myself in the third person on my own blog … or I’m just having a nervous breakdown. Or both.

Canterbury Tales

Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats Theatre Company is set to open its sixth summer season at West Park, performing outdoor professional theatre at movie-ticket prices, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays throughout June and July. This year, the group’s season will open with a modern adaption of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (by Lindsay Price), followed by the 2007 Broadway musical smash, Xanadu (based on the 1980 cult classic movie of the same name), with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar.

Canterbury Tales, directed by Anne Levy (Brighton), is set to star Matt Cameron (South Lyon), Dale Dobson (Milford), Jenna Hinton (Farmington Hills), Jeff Miller (Ann Arbor), Tina Paraventi (Ypsilanti), Debbie Secord (Ypsilanti), Jeff Stringer (Ann Arbor), and Jennifer Sulkowski (Plymouth). Tina Paraventi, who plays the show’s holier-than-thou Prioress, expressed great excitement about this new adaptation: “This is a wonderful adaptation of Chaucer’s Middle-English collection of stories, accessible to today’s audiences, very high-energy and entertaining. It’s also great fun for the actors, who not only play the travelers, but also act out different roles in the stories told by each traveler.” Debbie Secord (who plays the devilish Wife of Bath) agreed: “This cast and crew are phenomenal and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish with this show. I must say, I am particularly fond of the host of characters I will be playing in the show, most notably the Wife of Bath and the chicken—ahem—hen, Pertelote. I must say, I’ve never played poultry before and am looking forward to it!”

This hilarious, energetic show will run at West Park, in the band shell area, from June 16th to July 2nd at 7:00pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

Xanadu Penny SeatsNext up is the 2007 Tony nominated musical comedy, Xanadu. It tells the tale of a Greek Muse’s decent from Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach, California, to inspire a struggling artist to achieve the greatest artistic creation of all time – the world’s first roller disco. And yes, there will be roller skating in the park!

With direction and choreography provided by Phil Simmons, along with Musical Direction by Richard Alder, the show will feature performers Paige Martin (Ann Arbor), Matthew Pecek (Berkley), Roy Sexton (Saline), Kasey Donnelly (Ypsilanti), Allison Simmons (Holland), Sebastian Gerstner (Ann Arbor), Logan Balcom (Hillsdale), Jenna Pittman (Waterford), and Kristin McSweeney (Ypsilanti).

Roy Sexton, who plays Danny Maguire, the show’s curmudgeonly businessman, summed up the feelings of many in the cast about Xanadu‘s quirky place in the musical theatre cannon: “I’ve loved Xanadu since I first viewed it – about a million times – on HBO in the early 80s. I wore out two copies of the ELO/Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly soundtrack, but I always lived in shame because the film was such a notorious Hollywood bomb. When it was revived and reinvented so successfully on Broadway, I secretly (well, not so secretly) hoped the Penny Seats would eventually take on this campy, kitschy, satirical stage re-do of the movie. The score is crackerjack and the narrative is just so hysterically loopy that I knew it would be a great fit for us. I live in shame no more!”

Xanadu will run at West Park’s band shell from July 14th to July 30th at 7:00pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. 

Advance tickets to both shows are available at the group’s website, www.pennyseats.org.  Although the curtain goes up at 7:00pm each evening, pre-show picnicking is encouraged for audience members, and the group will sell water and concessions at the park as well. 

ABOUT THE PENNY SEATS: Founded in 2010, we’re performers and players, minimalists and penny-pinchers.  We think theatre should be fun and stirring, not stuffy or repetitive.  We believe going to a show should not break the bank.  And we find Michigan summer evenings beautiful. Thus, we produce dramas and comedies, musicals and original adaptations, classics and works by up-and-coming playwrights.  And you can see any of our shows for the same price as a movie ticket.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about The Penny Seats call 734-926-5346 or Visit: www.pennyseats.org.

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Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.  My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.