The texture of a movie like “Shazam” is to find the balance of tone that creates an interesting diametric and dynamic. Overall in actuality, the movie is a mixed bag with enough energy and might to make it entertaining but with not enough originality to make it transformative. There is a no awesome “ah-ha” moment and, in many points, it devolves into simple fanboy structure without a necessity for logic. Now granted when these are functioning as montages with 80s songs, it can connect. But in comparison to say “Guardians Of The Galaxy”, there is no heart. The intention at the focus of the story about family should feel more connected and meaningingful. The director and star Zachary Levi are certainly trying but you almost see too much of their effort on screen which means it wasn’t inherently natural. Levi is very earnest…maybe too much so though he does convey the awkwardness of Billy Batson very well. The construct of the conflict itself is basic…and perhaps it needs to be but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels at many points unfulfilling.
The actual introduction to the movie which introduces another character has much more breathe of thought but that too is wasted in that character’s development. Mark Strong’s role as an adversary comes off as hollow. It could have been a deep seated regret and texture of family that really would have given the film more texture. Many aspects in this regard seem unfinished. “Shazam” is not a bad film…it just seems very incomplete. And again the aspect of heart and tone within DC, even the standalone films which worked to a good degree in “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” doesn’t connect here. Sometimes, the film goes very dark in places without that balance…and, as a result, feels empty. Even the final sequences which should reflect a culmination seems almost haphazard. But as a takeback, it is great to see a superhero movie like this made since “Shazam” is the most likable superhero at times but seeing these flaws on screen instead of that perfect role model shows that we are all fallible.
By Tim Wassberg
The texture of “Dumbo” is an unusual one. The original, one of the first films from the animation studio at Disney, was barely a feature and buried in the lingo and perception of the time. Like “Pinnochio”, the perception was not on reality or magical realism but purely an simple surrealist fantasy. There was an edge of darkness for sure but yet the story seemed very intimate. It was not a story told by humans but by the animals themselves. The texture of a mouse and an elephant becoming friends and overcoming obstacles against those who would make them perform. The aspect of the dark world and the unknown coming towards the innocent while blended in the wonder of flight. These thematic bases are textures that were essential in “Pinnochio” and even “Bambi”. Tim Burton creates a mileau to understand “Dumbo” in the modern context (even though the story again takes place in the early 1900s). The story points are sound and the essence of whimsy is inferred in many points. But as a fable despite the ultimate resolution, the essence of risk seems candylike.
Most of the characters are painted in saccarine colors and disposition. In many ways, there is a reflectivity of 1950s nostalgia in many ways. Unlike the previous “Dumbo”, the parallels are in a pair of children who have lost their mother and a father unable to connect after returning from the war. The reconnection of both Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito as a circus ringleader and a big time promoter in their first pairing in a way since “Batman Returns” seems to not have the crackle their scenes so richly deserve. In many ways this may be the way the characters are drawn which come off muted at times and two dimensional but nonetheless the archetypes even seem stilted. Granted this is meant to work in an almost hazy way.
However when push comes to shove at the end, it is the circus folk who help propogate the progression of the third act that really harken back to true Burton when the mechanics of the ideas fuel the intention and, by extension, the eccentricities of the characters. The character that should have the most empathy is Dumbo, and that is the success of the movie since, by taking away the muse in Timothy the mouse, forces the texture even more so. While certain aspects of surrealism from the cartoon couldn’t cross over sensibly in a narrative based production per se, Burton does find a way to include pink elephants (which undeniably would be a good reason to take on the show from the get go) although the matter of approaching them is quite different.
Both Colin Farrell and Eva Green take on thankless roles per se that progress the story but adhere to the essence of Burton. But what Dumbo essentially is is Burton-lite, using his talents for a broader, more subdued audience. There is nothing wrong with this at all…it tends to make most of the film though very passive…effectively done…but in many way inert both characterwise and in a way creatively. There is the essential world building that Burton is known for but even the Danny Elfman score has lightness to it. Again, no problems but nothing that lifts the heart undeniably.
There is a glimmer in Dumbo’s eyes as he watches the pink elephants but that is fleeting. But there is also nothing quite like the moment in the animated film where Dumbo’s mother cradles her young baby in her arms from her jail and swings him back and forth. “Dumbo” makes its story in the modern era through an essence of nostalgia and human fraility but in doing so loses a little bit of the magic of being separate. There is a mythic structure in the final shots that bears ode to “The Lion King” in an ironic way. Also, listen to the final notes of the closing credits where that aspect of the original lingers…just a tiny bit.
By Tim Wassberg
Considered the pinnacle of power in some ways in the Marvel universe, Captain Marvel’s perception reached a fever pitch after the ending of “Infinity War” because of the intention that Carol Danvers is the savior that will save the wiping off on the universe that Thanos did. After watching the progression but especially in the final minutes per se, one sees how the reversal of fortune could possibly work. The only issue is that, in all fairness, it is very hard to follow up the emotional and textural wallop that was “Infinity War” which worked very much on all levels. Captain Marvel seems at times almost cartoonish comparatively. Granted it is an origin story but throughout much of the film’s first half it feels esoteric in many ways and meandering in others. While the directors (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck), who have made many indie films together, seem to handle the action quite well, it again feels at times too cartoonish and melding aspects of one corner of the Marvel Universe with “Guardians” and the other side with “Avengers” without really existing in most. The de-aging of Sam Jackson makes him almost the sidekick here which is interesting playing back to that mid-90s vibe allowing him for some great comic bits.
Brie Larson is trying her best and her workout regiment obviously shows that she is up for the task but the tone related (also because some of the dialogue is quite stilted) makes the staccato of the acting seem monotone in a way. It be seen very primarily in the scenes between her and Annette Bening which even in her brief elements, makes the acting look flawless and effortless. The tonality also of Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos, without giving anything away, has some balance but the focus is a bit off, which again might be directing. Little technical elements of 1990s Los Angeles also don’t fit but is a small detail in the bigger picture (i.e. the light rails as well as an underground tunnel in Union Station). Finally the aspect of Jude Law’s character although key to the story feels empty and again stilted at times compared to the effortlessness of Dumbledore in “Crimes Of Grindewald” just a few months ago. The resolution pushes the story forward of course and the texture of 90s songs both works and doesn’t because unlike the mix tape of “Guardians” it is not integral to the story as far as meaning. “Captain Marvel” bridges the gap but doesn’t necessarily do it fantastically, only adequately.
By Tim Wassberg