Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Lightning in a Beer Bottle: Shazam!

The real Captain Marvel makes his debut in Shazam! (David F. Sandberg, 2019). Inspired by the whimsical adventures of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family from way back in the 1940s, Shazam! tells the story of orphan Billy Batson, an orphan boy who can transform into the World's Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel, by yelling "SHAZAM!"

SHAZAM, of course, is one of the most famous acronyms in comics, and it describes the powers bestowed on Billy:

S - Solomon's wisdom
H - Hercules' strength
A - Atlas' stamina
Z - Zeus' power
A - Achilles' courage
M - Mercury's speed

It's just a shame that DC surrendered use of the "Captain Marvel" name to Marvel Studios when the character and his family have so much history behind them. Kudos to the filmmakers, though, for avoiding what I feared most: calling Captain Marvel "Shazam." Sure, it leaves the hero without a proper sobriquet, but the search for a superhero name for Billy Batson's adult form becomes a fun little comedic thread woven through the film.

Minutiae aside, is this a good movie? Well, it's funny and family-friendly (in the sense that it honours the best family values, like caring, understanding, respect, and tenderness). It's well-acted across the board, and while the screenplay isn't brilliant, it does the job - though I found the pacing a bit rushed. It would have been nice to dedicate a little more time to Billy's arc. It works, but it would have been more plausible had the creators spent more time on character development and shortened the initial fight a bit. The creators also take some liberties with Sivana, turning him into a kind of low-rent Black Adam instead of the mad scientist he's supposed to be, but I can see why they made the choice for the sake of story economy.

That being said, these are minor complaints. As with Aquaman, I'm grateful that DC's characters are being treated with a little more playfulness and less grand import. Save the dark stuff for the Batman family (but maybe lighten them up just a little too, huh, Warner Brothers? Just don't go camp. No one will ever do a better camp Batman than the 60s TV series, so don't go there.)

Kudos, too, to the filmmakers for adding at least three references to Big, two obvious and hilarious, one a little more subtle but appreciated. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Weapons Raised

From the D&D Nerdieth Anniversary back in 2004. 14 years ago, longer than I spent in grade school. Oy. Really shows how terrain makes games like this more immersive, though. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

Quick Take: The Oath

The Oath (Ike Barinholtz, 2018) might have worked better as a straight drama, but even so, boy, was this incredibly effective and chilling. Maybe it won't look so funny in a couple of years. Imagine if your government asked all citizens to sign a "voluntary" loyalty oath--how long could you hold out in a climate of rising fear and mandated conformity? In The Oath, the idea is played for laughs, but there's a real undercurrent of genuine terror here. I find it very interesting that the protagonist, the lone holdout in his family actually snaps under the pressure at one point, but only briefly, and the film quickly moves on. I think this was pretty smart filmmaking; Barinholtz is telling us that having all the moral high ground in the world isn't much help when a brownshirt goon is threatening to break your arm into a half-dozen pieces.

Also, considering this movie and his role in the Supergirl TV series, Bruce Boxleitner is in danger of being typecast as the Vice President that gets suddenly elevated to the presidency in the wake of scandal.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

In the Year 2099

While looking over some of next year's dates in Google Calendar, I spotted my own birthday, which I have set up as a recurring event. Out of morbid curiosity, I started clicking forward through time, month by month, mentally calculating my age as the years flew by. 2020...2021...2022...2032...2042...2058...2067 (Canada's bicentennial; I'll be 98)...2075...2080...2090...until, finally, 2099, the last time my birthday recurs. Should I actually live that long, I'll be 130 years old.

Even though it's likely I'll die decades before 2099, I was still mildly irked that Google Calendar arbitrarily chose to stop marking my birthdays before 2100. It felt a little like the opposite of a bullet with my name on it. "No point in noting his birthday anymore; surely he'll be toast by then." Thanks, Google! I mean, you're probably right, but it still feels a little harsh. I was really hoping to see the 22nd century. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Quick Take: Drive a Crooked Road

In Drive a Crooked Road (Richard Quine, 1954), poor Mickey Rooney plays against type as a loser looking for love and finding only betrayal and the collapse of his personal world. At least the femme fatale feels bad about leading him to his doom.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

An Optimist's Vote

Adapted from a Facebook post from yesterday...

Sylvia and I just returned home after voting in today's Alberta provincial election. We supported the re-election bid of Jon Carson, a member of Rachel Notley's New Democratic Party. Effectively, this means we're voting for another four years of Notley/NDP government in Alberta.

I worked for the Alberta Liberal caucus for six and a half years because I thought at the time they were the best progressive alternative to the late-era PCs. But I was happy to vote for the NDP in 2015 because Rachel Notley and her team proved they had the drive and the vision to bring long-overdue change to Alberta. Since being elected, they've governed sensibly during incredibly challenging times, bringing dignity to the Legislature and making the tough decisions needed for our long-term prosperity: doing the incredibly hard work of starting real economic diversification, instituting a carbon tax to curb our emissions, winding down coal, improving farm safety, cutting child poverty in half, setting a minimum wage, and protecting the vulnerable. The UCP would deliberately undo all that progress and waste millions of taxpayer dollars on referenda on issues that are outside the realm of provincial power anyway. On top of all that, Rachel Notley and her people have run a virtually scandal-free government, whereas the UCP has corruption built in thanks to their tainted leadership race, vandalism of election signs (sometimes using fascist iconography) and utterly vile pronouncements from a number of UCP candidates, most left unrebuked by leader Jason Kenney.

Despite having worked for the Liberals for years and my support for the NDP now, I don't consider myself a partisan. I'll vote for any team that fights for my values: compassion, reason, science-based decision making, long-term thinking, support for public institutions, care for the vulnerable, ethical behaviour. Right now, Rachel's NDP is the best fit for me, and, I believe, this province. In a few hours, I'll find out if my fellow Albertans agree. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Tower and TIE

A little something for Gaming & Guinness XIV. Scott is doing the lion's share of the work, but I will be, at the very least, contributing some painted terrain for a very special X-Wing scenario...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Quick Take: The Train Robbers

The Train Robbers (Burt Kennedy, 1973) is pretty fine late-period John Wayne with good performances from a stable of veterans; the film also features really gorgeous cinematography. The opening sequence is moody and a bit out of step with the tone of the lighthearted actioner that follows, but it's welcome nonetheless, and the ending is one of those cheesy surprises that you can't help but roll your eyes but love anyway. Better than I expected.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Quick Take: My Name is Julia Ross

Not the first movie about gaslighting and not the last, but screened in 2019 My Name is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis, 1945) takes on a chilling subtext as we all become Julia, trapped in a world where the forces of darkness gaslight us all by insisting that truth isn't truth and all the news is fake. Like Julia, we'll need a miracle to escape before the trap closes.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Quick Take: Godzilla vs. Megalon

Godzilla vs. Megalon (Jun Fukuda, 1973), along with several others of the Godzilla Showa era, scared the heck out of me as a kid. The monsters were huge and scary looking, the sound effects loud and weird, and I freaked out whenever Megalon melted and burned Japanese tanks. Sure, you couldn't see the crews burning, but I knew they were there, and I was horrified.

But even though I was scared, I had a great time. What kid doesn't love a giant robot fighting alongside Godzilla? That was the very definition of a good day for a child in the 1970s.

Rewatching the film last week - my chosen debut for the launch of The Criterion Channel - I finally saw Godzilla vs. Megalon for what it is: a fairly lazy and slipshod entry in a series that was well past its prime by this point. But that doesn't mean I don't still love it, even though I don't rate it very highly. If nothing else, it's sincere kid's entertainment.