Shazam!

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 7/16/19;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $140.24 million;
$298.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material.
Stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djion Hounsou, Faithe Merman Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Meagan Good, Ross Butler, D.J. Cotrona, Michelle Borth, Adam Brody, John Glover.

The movie based on the character now known as Shazam has been one of the pleasant surprises of late in an entertainment landscape crowded with superhero adaptations.

For his 80th anniversary, the filmmakers have magnificently captured the essence of one of the most influential characters in early comic book superhero history while successfully re-contextualizing him for a world that is now littered with many of the very comic book tropes he helped inspire (and which the film has a lot of fun calling out and subverting).

The story involves a foster kid named Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who is summoned into a magical realm by a wizard seeking to empower a new champion to keep the evil forces of the seven deadly sins at bay. When Billy speaks the word “Shazam,” he is transformed into the hero of the same name, though with an adult body.

The name Shazam is derived from the mythological heroes from which he draws his powers: the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury.

The older Shazam version of Billy is played by Zachary Levi, whose goofy charm perfectly embodies the notion of a child trying to be a superhero. The film is essentially the superhero movie version of Big, and you can be sure that the film doesn’t miss its chances to reference that fact.

With Billy still possessing a teenager’s mind while learning to deal with his new powers, he seeks the advice of foster brother Freddy Freeman (not to be confused with the Atlanta Braves first baseman). Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a huge fan of superheroes and begins building Shazam’s fan base with YouTube videos showing off his powers, which include flight, superspeed and the ability to shoot lightning bolts from his hands.

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The idea of wish fulfillment is a strong recurring theme in the film, as what kid doesn’t daydream about having fantastic abilities that let them put their worries behind them?

The flipside of Billy’s story is Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who as a child was rejected by the wizard and has spent 45 years seeking artifacts to return him to the wizard’s cave. In doing so, he becomes the champion for the deadly sins, giving him the power to seek retribution against those who tormented him over the years.

Sivana wants the powers of Shazam for himself so that the spirits of the sins will be free to rain havoc upon the world once more. This of course leads to another classic battle between good and evil that no good comic book movie should be without.

The parallel journeys of Billy and Sivana force the film into a tricky balancing act that director David F. Sandberg somehow pulls off. In contrast to the lighthearted superhero romp of Billy and Freddy, Sivana’s story is more like something out of a horror film, with scary monsters lurking in the shadows causing pain and destruction.

Another positive side effect of the film is the spotlight it puts on foster families, and it’s interesting this film came so soon after 2018’s very good Instant Family, which also dealt with the subject. The foster storyline gives Shazam! a lot of its heart, and the kids in Billy’s foster family end up serving the plot in a huge way that ends up producing one of the biggest fist-pumping moments for fans of the Shazam comics.

Speaking of which, the character’s tumultuous publication history is a big factor in what may be one of the oddest cinematic coincidences of recent years.

The character was introduced by Fawcett Comics in 1939 as Captain Marvel and became the top-selling comic book of the 1940s, even more popular than Superman. He even inspired DC Comics to give Superman the power of flight, when before the Man of Steel was simply able to jump long distances. Captain Marvel was also one of the first heroes to inspire a family of sidekicks with similar powers, including a female version of the main hero.

Nonetheless, DC sued Fawcett claiming that Captain Marvel was basically a ripoff of Superman, and by the early 1950s Fawcett discontinued the character.

In the meantime, Marvel Comics created its own Captain Marvel in the 1960s and seized the trademark on the name, so that when DC acquired publishing rights to the original Captain Marvel and revived the character in the 1970s it couldn’t use the character’s original name in comic book titles, which is how he became known as just Shazam.

As it turned out, a movie based on the Marvel Comics version would end up coming out just a month before Shazam!, the dueling “Captain Marvel” properties adding to Hollywood lore of similarly themed movies hitting theaters at the same time, like the rival James Bond movies of 1983, multiple Columbus movies of 1992, and the Armageddon vs. Deep Impact asteroid movies of 1998.

And, as if Shazam not being allowed to use his original name weren’t enough, Marvel’s movie wasn’t even based on the original version of its own Captain Marvel, but a rebooted version with a previously obscure female superhero taking up the mantle.

In another coincidence, both Captain Marvel movies would feature Djimon Hounsou, who plays the wizard in Shazam! and reprises his Guardians of the Galaxy role as a Kree soldier in Captain Marvel.

In fact, Shazam! is something of an amalgamation of the current superhero movie trend. Like Spider-Man: Homecoming, it plays a Ramones song over an animated end credits sequence (though Shazam!’s serves the motifs of the movie better).

Adam Brody and D.J. Cotrona, who in 2007 had been cast in a now-canceled “Justice League” movie, finally get their chance to play superheroes in Shazam!. Mark Strong returns to the DC Comics fold having previously played Sinestro in the awful Green Lantern movie. And with his role as Sivana’s father, John Glover has now played the father of two DC supervillains,, having played Lex Luthor’s father on “Smallville” (he’s also voiced “The Riddler” in Batman cartoons and played a villain in Batman & Robin).

The Shazam! Blu-ray contains a sequel of sorts in the form of a four-minute motion comic called “Superhero Hooky” in which Billy must explain why he and his foster siblings ditched school for a superhero adventure.

The Blu-ray also includes a whopping 16 deleted scenes that run about 37 minutes in total. About half of them are alternate or lesser-developed versions of sequences in the final film, taken from an earlier cut before the story was tweaked to add a bit bigger scale. There are also some fun additional moments featuring the Shazam family, and a tease of a future supervillain to be played by Dwayne Johnson.

Among the behind-the-scenes material, the most comprehensive is the 27-minute “The Magical World of Shazam,” which delves into all aspects of the production. The making of the climactic battle is the focus of a separate 10-minute scene study. The three-minute “Super Fun Zac” puts a spotlight on Levi in the title role, while the six-minute “Shazamily Values” looks into the foster family aspect of the movie.

Finally, the history and identity of the character is touched upon on the six-minute “Who Is Shazam?”

Netflix Orders ‘The Sandman’ Series Based on Neil Gaiman Comics

Netflix has ordered 10 episodes of the Warner Bros. Television series “The Sandman” based on Neil Gaiman’s DC comic book series.

A blend of modern myth and fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama and legend are interwoven, “The Sandman” follows the people and places affected by Morpheus, the Dream King, as he mends the cosmic — and human — mistakes he’s made during his vast existence.

The writer/showrunner/executive producer will be Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman, “Grey’s Anatomy”) with Gaiman (Good Omens, Coraline) and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, “Krypton”) writing and executive producing. Gaiman, Heinberg and Goyer will co-write the first episode.

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“We’re thrilled to partner with the brilliant team that is Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg to finally bring Neil’s iconic comic book series ‘The Sandman ’ to life onscreen,” said Channing Dungey, VP of original series at Netflix, in a statement. “From its rich characters and storylines to its intricately built-out worlds, we’re excited to create an epic original series that dives deep into this multi-layered universe beloved by fans around the world.”

‘Supergirl’ Season Four on Disc Sept. 17

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Supergirl: The Complete Fourth Season on Blu-ray and DVD Sept. 17 (order date Aug. 13).

The season deals with Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) confronting an anti-alien movement led by Agent Liberty (Sam Witwer), as well as a conspiracy involving a duplicate of Supergirl trained by a hostile foreign government.

The cast also includes Mehcad Brooks, Chyler Leigh, Katie McGrath, Jesse Rath, Nicole Maines, April Parker, David Harewood and Jon Cryer.

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The Blu-ray and DVD includes all 22 episodes, plus highlights from the show’s panel at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a “Villains: Modes of Persuasion” featurette, and a featurette about the season’s “Elseworlds” crossover event with other DC TV series.

The Blu-ray will also include the “Elseworlds” episodes from “The Flash” and “Arrow.”

The fourth season is currently available to own digitally, and a digital copy is included with the Blu-ray.

Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’ Soars Up Digital Originals Chart

“When They See Us,” the controversial miniseries about the Central Park Five that was created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix, shot up to No. 2 on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals chart the week ended June 8.

The four-episode drama series is based on the notorious 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five juveniles – four black and one Latino – were sent to prison for allegedly raping a white woman jogger. They were exonerated after the real rapist confessed, but by then had already served their time.

In the week since the program’s May 31 debut, the number of average daily Demand Expressions soared 170% to 52.5 million, sending the series to No. 2 from No. 13 on the digital originals chart – right behind “Stranger Things,” which remains at No. 1 for the third consecutive week.

Demand Expressions is a proprietary Parrot Analytics metric that draws from a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

A “digital original” is a multi-episode series in which the most recent season was first made available on a streaming platform such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu.

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“When They See Us” has generated a flood of media coverage in recent weeks. Most recently, prosecutor Linda Fairstein, who as head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex-crimes unit played a key role in prosecuting the five young men, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece blasted the series as a “fabrication” and maintained that the suspects’ exoneration doesn’t mean they aren’t guilty of other crimes they were convicted of at the time.

The five were part of a group of about 30 teenagers in Central Park on the evening of April 19, 1989, when several people in the park were robbed and assaulted.

Demand for “Stranger Things” was relatively unchanged from the prior week. “Lucifer,” based on a character from the DC Comics comic-book series “The Sandman,” slipped to No. 3 despite a 4% uptick in demand – likely triggered by word that Netflix has renewed the show for a fifth and final season.

A 68% surge in average daily Demand Expressions sent “Black Mirror” back up to No. 4 from No. 8 the prior week. The British sci-fi anthology series from Charlie Brooker returned to Netflix for a fifth season on June 5.

Rounding out the top five on the weekly digital originals chart was Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” up from No. 6 the prior week with a 39% spike in demand. The dystopian drama’s third season also premiered on June 5.

Two other series made it into the top 10 on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals chart with significant increases in demand.

Debuting at No. 6 was Amazon Prime Video’s “Good Omens,” a six-part miniseries starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant as angels seeking to prevent the apocalypse. All six episodes of the series were released on May 31, leading to a 93% gain in average daily Demand Expressions.

Returning to the top 10, at No. 10, was “Swamp Thing,” with a 116% spike in demand. The live-action DC Universe series premiered May 31 and was canceled a week later, with word that there would be no second season.

“Swamp Thing” was the third show to launch on DC Universe after “Titans” and “Doom Patrol” both enjoyed successful launches.

Media Play News has teamed with Parrot Analytics to provide readers with a weekly top 10 of the most popular digital original TV series in the United States, based on the firm’s  proprietary metric called Demand Expressions, which measures global demand for TV content through a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

 

‘Shazam!’ Flying to Home Video in July From Warner

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the DC Comics superhero movie Shazam! digitally July 2, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray July 16.

The film tells the story of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a teenager in foster care who is empowered by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to become the superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi) to defend the realms of magic from the evil Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong).

The cast also includes Jack Dylan Grazer, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews.

The film earned $138.2 million at the domestic box office.

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The character first appeared in comic books published by Fawcett in 1940 under the name Captain Marvel, and was later acquired by DC.

To avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics character of Captain Marvel (whose own movie will be available for digital download May 28 and on disc June 11), DC eventually changed the character’s name to Shazam, the word Billy says to transform into the adult superhero (also the name of the Wizard who gives Billy his powers).

Shazam is an acronym derived from the names of the six mythological heroes from which the character draws his power: the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury.

The Shazam! Blu-ray and special-edition DVD will include an exclusive Shazam motion comic, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a breakdown of the carnival scene, and the featurettes “The Magical World of Shazam,” “Super Fun Zac,” “Shazamily Values” and “Who is Shazam?”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of Shazam! will feature Dolby Vision HDR and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

A 3D Blu-ray is listed for preorder at WBshop.com as well.

‘The Flash’ Season Five on Disc Aug. 27

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release The Flash: The Complete Fifth Season on Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 27 (order date July 23).

The season deals with team Flash working with Barry and Iris’ future daughter, Nora, who has come back in time to confront a new threat to metahumans in Central City..

The Blu-ray and DVD includes all 22 episodes, plus highlights from the show’s panel at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International,deleted scenes, a gag reel, the featurette “The Evolution of Killer Frost,” a “Villains: Modes of Persuasion” featurette, and a featurette about the season’s “Elseworlds” crossover event with other DC TV series.

The Blu-ray will also include the “Elseworlds” episodes from “Arrow” and “Supergirl.”

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The cast includes Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Hartley Sawyer, Danielle Nicolet, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Chris Klein, Tom Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin.

The fifth season is currently available to own digitally, and a digital copy is included with the Blu-ray.

‘Arrow’ Season Seven on Disc Aug. 20

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Arrow: The Complete Seventh Season on Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 20 (order date July 16).

The season deals with the aftermath of Oliver Queen’s surrendering to the FBI and publicly admitting to being the vigilante Green Arrow.

The Blu-ray and DVD includes all 22 episodes, plus highlights from the show’s panel at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a “Villains: Modes of Persuasion” featurette, and a featurette about the season’s “Elseworlds” crossover event with other DC TV series.

The Blu-ray will also include the “Elseworlds” episodes from “The Flash” and “Supergirl.”

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The cast includes Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Echo Kellum, Rick Gonzalez, Juliana Harkavy, Colton Haynes, Kirk Acevedo and Sea Shimooka.

The seventh season is currently available to own digitally, and a digital copy is included with the Blu-ray.

Warner Releasing ‘Lego DC: Batman — Family Matters’ Aug. 6

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the animated movie Lego DC: Batman — Family Matters on Blu-ray, DVD and digitally Aug. 6.

The film is a follow up to previous direct-to-video movies based on the Lego DC Super Heroes video games, and not the theatrically released The Lego Batman Movie.

The story involves Batman, Batgirl, Robin and other superheroes facing off against Red Hood, who is obsessed with destroying the Bat-family and all of Gotham City.

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The cast includes Troy Baker as Batman, Alyson Stoner as Batgirl, Scott Menville as Robin, Jason Spisak as Red Hood, Steve Blum as Scarecrow, Zach Callison as Billy Batson, Cam Clarke as Brother Eye and the Bat Computer, Will Friedle as Nightwing, Ralph Garman as Wizard, Jake Green as Fred, Josh Keaton as Board Member, Tom Kenny as Comissioner Gordon and Penguin, Christian Lanz as Two-Face, Nolan North as Alfred and Killer Croc, Andre Sogliuzza as Riddler, Tara Strong as Batwoman, and Fred Tatasciore as Solomon Grundy.

The Blu-ray and DVD releases will include an 84-piece Lego mini Ultimate Batmobile while supplies last.

Aquaman

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/26/19;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $334.52 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.
Stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ludi Lin, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison.

It’s a bit amazing to think that the Justice League member so often derided as “the one who talks to fish and is useless on land” is now the subject of the highest-grossing movie based on a DC Comics character at the worldwide box office.

Already a regular target of parody shows such as “Robot Chicken,” the Aquaman character was famously used as the centerpiece of a storyline on HBO’s “Entourage” involving a blockbuster movie version directed by James Cameron — poking fun at both Cameron’s penchant for water movies and the idea that anyone would ever make an Aquaman movie.

Well, the real film, directed by James Wan, certainly dispels any notion that Aquaman isn’t suited for the big screen. Coincidentally, with this film and Furious 7, Wan became the only director other than Cameron (with Avatar and Titanic) to guide two films from separate franchises into the global box office’s billion-dollar club.

Jason Momoa takes on the title role, his third film appearing as the character, after a cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and an expanded presence in Justice League. His larger-than-life persona and carefree attitude serve the film well by helping the audience accept the bizarreness of the worlds being created without the need to take it too seriously.

Arthur Curry (Momoa) is the product of the unexpected love of a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman) who ends up at his shore when she escapes an arranged marriage. Arthur’s unique heritage gives him superhuman abilities, such as strength, invulnerability, the ability to swim fast and a telepathic bond with sea creatures.

With his reputation as a hero established in Justice League, Arthur is sought out by the princess Mera (Amber Heard) to claim the throne of Atlantis from his half-brother (Patrick Wilson), who wants to destroy the surface world.

To do that, he and Mera must embark on a quest to locate a mythical weapon that will allow him to assert his claim as the rightful king of Atlantis.

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The story will draw a lot of comparisons with Black Panther in that both deal with heroes introduced in earlier films, with their own films focused on tying their origins into storylines involving taking control of their hidden kingdoms away from maniacal family members who want to conquer the outside world. Tonally, the film is more like Thor: Ragnarok, which also deals with a battle for the throne of a powerful kingdom. These recent superhero movies have certainly embraced that Shakespearean power dynamics motif lately (which may just speak to how most comic books can be reduced to a few fundamental tropes before all the personality and detail that makes them popular are added).

Aquaman

Between the “Game of Thrones”-esque political intrigue and “Indiana Jones”-style adventure subplot, much of the film’s success owes to its sense of fun and its willingness to depict absolutely anything on screen despite how absurd it is while treating it as epic. Wan fills almost every frame with fantastic imagery awash in vibrant color that really shines through in its high-definition Blu-ray presentation. Many of the scenes look as if Wan pulled them directly from a comic book, and even makes Aquaman’s traditional orange and green costume look cool, which should no doubt please fans of the character.

The Blu-ray includes more than an hour-and-a-half of featurettes detailing all the aspects of the production, from Momoa’s casting, to the stunt work, to the development of the depictions of the undersea kingdoms that comprise the Atlantean realms.

One of the more interesting videos in this regard is the “Kingdoms of the Seven Seas,” a profile of underwater politics hosted by Dolph Lundgren, who plays the ruler of one of them. Between this and his recent turn in a “Rocky” retrospective on the Creed II Blu-ray, Lundgren has been pretty busy on the Warner lot hosting bonus videos.

Another interesting tidbit comes during an analysis of the film’s memorable sequence involving the devolved creatures of the Trench, which plays to Wan’s horror roots. At one point, an excited Wan suggests the Trench should be the basis of its own movie. Unsurprisingly, a Trench spinoff has already been announced.

Finally, the disc includes a three-minute scene from the upcoming Shazam! movie.

Warner, Nickelodeon Present ‘Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the animated crossover movie Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles digitally May 14, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray June 4.

A joint production of Warner Bros. Animation, Nickelodeon and DC, the film unites the forces of the Dark Knight and the Heroes in a Half-Shell to overcome the evil plans afoot in Gotham City when Shredder joins forces with Ra’s al Ghul.

The cast includes Troy Baker as the voices of both Batman and the Joker, the first time one actor has played both in the same film; Cas Anvar as Ra’s al Ghul; Rachel Bloom as Batgirl; John DiMaggio as Mr. Freeze; Tara Strong as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy; Tom Kenny as Penguin; Carlos Alazraqui as Bane, Brian George as Alfred; Ben Giroux as Robin; Jim Meskimen as Commissioner Gordon and Scarecrow; Keith Ferguson as Two-Face and Baxter Stockman; Eric Bauza as Leonardo; Darren Criss as Raphael; Kyle Mooney as Michelangelo; Baron Vaughn as Donatello; and Andrew Kishino as Shredder.

The film is inspired by the comic book miniseries series Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles released in 2016 by DC Comics and IDW Publishing.

Blu-ray and digital bonus material includes the featurette “Cowabunga, Batman! When Comic Worlds Collide,” an exploration of the crossover concept; the featurette “Fight Night in Gotham,” about animating different fight styles; and a preview of the upcoming DC Universe animated movie Batman: Hush.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray will include Dolby Vision HDR and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.