Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Best of Enemies and Short Takes on Shazam!

Some History Is Stranger than Fiction, Some Inspires Fiction

Reviews by Ken Burke

        The Best of Enemies (Robin Bissell)   rated PG-13

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Based on actual 1971 events in Durham, NC, we follow the conflict over needed school desegregation with the opposition fronted by local Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) on one side, civil rights activist Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) on the other.  I can’t say how accurate this may be to the events depicted (although what little I’ve read about the circumstances indicate a reasonable rendition’s being presented here), but the overt racism of this community's certainly a fact, with many of the town’s White citizens (using the KKK to help enforce what city officials are reluctant to do) totally opposed to allowing Black students to attend local White schools, despite the long-standing-integration-order from the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1954 as well as a need to provide an educational home for these African-American students pushed out of their own school by a major electrical fire.  The town agrees to participate in a massive mediation event, abiding by the voted decision of their chosen “senators” after extensive opportunities for each side to present its case.  While you could easily look up the result in any historical site, I’ll stay true to my no spoilers policy at this point, encourage you to both read more about this event for yourself (given its surprising resolution), and seek out The Best of Enemies to watch, a film I find to be considerably more interesting, dynamic, and successful than many of my critical brethren who’ve often been less than kind in their critiques of its notable merits. 

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: We begin with plain white credits on a black screen while we hear the actual voices of the 2 main characters of the upcoming narrative (based on true 1971 Durham, NC events), Ann Atwater (played by Taraji P. Henson), a local civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis (played by Sam Rockwell), the Exalted Cyclops (essentially, president) of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.  As we then meet each of them they’re doing what drives their lives: she’s arguing with a city worker, trying to reverse a decision about a young woman being evicted from her home, demanding repair issues related to the involved landlord be on the next City Council agenda; he’s presiding over a regular meeting of the Klan featuring prayers because “our way of life needs protecting” and a new recruit into his Youth Corps.  After his meeting, though, we see their “way of life” as a few of them drive to the home of a White woman with a Black boyfriend, wait until she turns on her upstairs light, then assault her first floor with rifle fire as a warning to her, a grotesque scene made all the more disturbing with the use of slo-mo-images of pieces of furniture and wall flying around, set to the ironic mismatch of Roy Orbison’s "Blue Bayou" (lots of interesting info below the YouTube screen), with poignant lyrics such as “Ah, that girl of mine by side The silver moon and the evening tide Oh, some sweet day gonna take away This hurtin’ inside.”  (Bissell makes excellent use of his soundtrack throughout, sometimes supporting screen actions, sometimes juxtaposing, sometimes just enhancing rhythm of a scene.)  Equally grotesque is that not only is Ellis publically known as the local KKK honcho but also local leaders, such as Mayor Carvie Oldham (Bruce McGill), call on him and his minions to accomplish tasks they can’t do legally, such as pack the Council meeting early so when Ann and her large contingent arrive they’re forced to stand in the back of the room, spilling out the door.  It doesn’t really matter if they’re even there, though, because despite Ann’s angry citation of 79 complaints against this negligent landlord the Council easily votes to give him another 90 days to do his needed repairs (in retrospect, whether he ever even did them or not I’m not sure).

 We don’t see much of Ann’s home life except she has a daughter who doesn’t get much screen time (most of Atwater’s presence is in her Operation Breakthrough office or in the later scenes of school-integration-negotiation), but we do observe C.P. and wife Mary (Anne Heche) as involved parents for their 3 kids at home (although she’s not all that supportive of his Klan role), even more so for their institutionalized Downs Syndrome son, Larry (Kevin Iannucci), largely disconnected from life around him, doesn’t speak, becomes horribly traumatized when he’s given a roommate in a similar condition, the Ellis family not able to afford a private room (C.P. runs a gas station, barely providing enough support for all of them as it is).  Atwater’s ongoing disgust with the way the Klan helps preserve Durham’s status quo is fully put to the test when faulty wiring in the Black school sparks a fire destroying about half the building, with no thought by city officials to allow Black kids into the White school; rather, they’re forced to keep attending their own damaged space (where resources were scant to begin with, using books not appropriate for the designated grades), occupying what rooms they can (despite having to navigate charred remains, noxious odors) on morning/afternoon shifts so each child’s only getting about 3 hours daily rather than their full curriculum.  When the NAACP steps in, Judge Leslie Haliford (Tim Ware) stalls on ordering integration, instead takes an aide’s advice, brings in mediator Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) to run a city-wide, 2-week process (charrette) where dialogue leads to proposals voted on by 12 “senators" from the community, 8 votes needed to confirm anything.  After initial mutual rejection, Ann and C.P. reluctantly agree to be co-chairs with 5 others on each side chosen at random, the White faction concerned only about 2 senators from the town’s more liberal members, nurse Henrietta Kaye (Sope Aluko) and store-owner Lee Thrombley (John Gallager Jr.), with C.P.’s private task to dissuade Lee  from breaking ranks.  Early on in the process a decision’s made to end each session with Gospel hymns but some Whites object, as this seems to be too Black-oriented (none of the Whites stay to sing anyway), so for balance C.P.’s allowed to set up a Klan-materials-display which some Black teens start to destroy until Ann stops them, encourages them to read the brochures to try to understand what motivates these people (C.P. quietly watches it all).  Ann also somehow gets a friend at Larry’s facility to move the kid to a private room, which C.P. accepts even though he angrily tells Ann to stay out of his family business.  However, Ellis backs off of his “persuasive” task with Trombley when he finds out the man’s a Vietnam vet (C.P. didn’t serve) who respects the Blacks he fought beside during the war, as other Klansmen pick up on C.P.’s silent retreat from his mission.⇐

 Additional pressure’s put on Trombley, though, when a surprise city-instigated-inspection finds a minor problem supposedly “serious” enough to shut down his store for awhile, plus the Klan calls C.P. to an unscheduled meeting where a high-level-state-KKK-honcho bestows the Exalted Cyclops of the Year award on him (with mixed-feelings among some of his local troops because Mary took it on herself to visit Ann in gratitude for her help with Larry but a couple of the Klansmen saw her leave Ann’s house, taunted C.P. about it, even went to directly harass Mary at home when C.P. wasn't there), all this intended to insure these 2 “no” votes when the charrette soon comes to an end.  None of that seems necessary—despite Trombley‘s brave refusal to be intimidated, voting “yes” on all 3 final proposals—when nurse Kaye caves in on the final, crucial, full-desegregation vote, timidly deciding “no” (although she must have joined Lee on the previous plans to put 1 White, 1 Black student on the School Board, increase the schools’ budget so Black kids can attend remedial classes in the summer, because both passed 8-6 with the Black senators supporting all of that).  However, when the final issue of at least 25% of each race at each school comes to a decision, it’s 7-4 until C.P. steps up to cast the final ballot; he shocks everyone, saying while the Klan gave him the first sense of belonging he’d ever experienced he can’t honestly say he hates Blacks so he tears up his Klan card, votes “yes,” becomes a hero to the Black community, anathema to his former buddies, with one of his gas pumps set on fire soon thereafter.  Once the fire’s out, he’s asked by the oil company if he wants to replace what burned off; he hesitates noting business has completely dried up.  Ann comes to his rescue, however, with a long line of Black-driven-cars ready for a fill-up, leading us to the pre-credits photos/video of the actual Atwater and Ellis, text about their enduring friendship, anti-discrimination activities into their final years.⇐ (One last note about ... Enemies shall not be secret, though; there’s plenty of Dr. Pepper consumed during this film, showing excellent taste by all concerned even though this Texas-based-product [at least back then; I once lived near DP's Dallas plant] originates considerably farther from North Carolina than much-closer-based Coca-Cola from Georgia so I’m comforted this carbonated nectar of the gods was honored in Durham during that time even if some basic tenets of humanity weren’t.)

So What? I’m not sure which of the following is the most surprising to me: (1) A Deep South Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan could renounce his overt racism in an effort to work with and for the large African-American segment of his community; (2) As late as 1971 a city such as Durham, NC (despite its proud post-Confederacy-heritage among many of its White citizens) would still have segregated public schools, given the Supreme Court had decided in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) such social disenfranchisement was unconstitutional; (3) The Klan in Durham then was so overt everyone seemed to know its members, especially Ellis (why bother with the hoods?); or (4) The collective critical community (I have a new name for this group of professional-taste-arbiters; see the first paragraph of the Shazam! review much farther below for specifics) could be so hostile to this based-on-fact-film, with the Rotten Tomatoes survey yielding only 52% positive reviews while the folks at Metacritic are even less supportive with a 49% average score.  I suppose Katie Walsh of the Los Angeles Times is as representative as anyone in her dismissal of Bissell’s vision: “It's a remarkable message of human connection, but the sanded-down cinematic narrative has a serious perspective problem. […] Bissell offers up the kind of easy-to-digest pablum that provides emotional catharsis and a safe space for white liberals to tut disapprovingly at racism, a performative display of allyship, but it never pushes anyone to question their own role within — and personal benefit from — a society steeped in white supremacy and class inequalities. Films like this have long worn out their welcome.”  Needless to say, my 4-stars-rating shows a very different experience with this film, so while I’d fall under Walsh’s category of “white liberals,” I don’t find fault (nor imbalance) in a structure where she claims […] the very uneven story is weighted heavily toward the journey of the redeemed Klansman in the equation, C.P. Ellis,” because as a guy who grew up in the South (Gulf Coast Texas) in the 1950s-‘60s (where my locally-esteemed Ball High School was integrated in 1965 with no problems, although I got a sense the following year [when I was off in college] racial relations in Galveston became tense because the Black community had their well-embraced Central High closed down for some reason, forcing every public school student in the city to attend Ball High whether they’d previously shown such an interest or not), I think it was crucial for this film to emphasize the hate active in Ellis (largely in frustration his life circumstances offered him little more than the local Blacks, with his status in the Klan as his only prior sense of self-worth before finding areas of common ground with Atwater) could still be actively counteracted.

 Walsh may have valid reasons for her arguments (I haven’t read the book by Osha Gray Davidson, The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South [1996] this film’s partly based on nor have I done any extensive research on this situation in 1971 Durham—we can’t turn to Atwater or Ellis for further commentary either, as both are deceased), but just for consideration here’s a short video (6:24) with some background on the event, with brief testimony from our 2 principals, quick cuts from the film, lots of statements from Davidson which might offer some beginning perspective prior to delving deeper into the supposed-problems Walsh is citing.  Certainly, Durham inherently had its own problems if the Court’s order for states to desegregate their schools “with all deliberate speed” still had produced no results 17 years later, so much so that a good number of Durham’s White residents felt it was acceptable for Black students to not only continue attending a poorly-maintained, poorly-supplied school but also to go in shifts using whatever facilities hadn’t been totally damaged by the fire, so these kids were barely getting a level of minimal instruction each day (seemingly based on the White attitude most of these Black students had no future in this society anyway so what difference did it make how thorough their schooling was).  While it’s acknowledged in … Enemies there wasn’t total, mutual racial hatred in Durham during this era (emphasized by the White senator whose store manager was his Black Vietnam War buddy, along with his other Black employees, plus Atwater’s genuine concern for the trauma suffered by Ellis’ institutionalized son), the racial divide was deep, anger easily reached the boiling point, the resolution to desegregate likely continued to generate hostility despite the common agreement to abide by the senators' decision (probably entered into with the expectation there’d be no way to get the necessary White votes to bring about this radical change), all of which was shown to me in legitimate, recognizable terms.  Maybe (probably "quite likely") I’m becoming just a naïve old White man easily swayed by sentiment around challenging/overcoming racial injustice, but, even if so, I think there are plenty of people who’d find value in … Enemies despite its general dismissal by many who make a living evaluating movies.  (I can speak from a short distance of disengagement from that categorization as I don’t make a cent off of this blog, pay for my own tickets [except those infrequent times when I can attend critics’ screenings], have no organizational, employment, or income pressure on what I review or how I approach it, so admittedly I face none of the space limitations, deadlines, concerns about job security these professional critics must endure.)  I encourage you to read as much as you want about ... Enemies, give it serious consideration, hopefully decide you’ll go watch it for yourself.

Bottom Line Final Comments: A reasonable number of people did choose to watch … Enemies in its debut playing on 1,705 domestic (U.S.-Canada) screens, but even though it came in at #6 last weekend it still made only $4.4 million (against a $10 million budget) which is paltry compared to the largely-escapist-entertainment toping it: Shazam! (David F. Sandberg, review just below; $56.8 million [all these are domestic returns]), Pet Sematary [2019] (Kevin Kölsch and Dennie Widmyer, no review from us [there’s enough horror in the news about the living, no need to pay for more of it about zombies]; $24.5 million), Dumbo (Tim Burton, review in our April 4, 2019 posting; $18.2 million), Us (Jordan Peele, review in our March 27, 2019 posting; $13.8 million), Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, review in our March 14, 2019 posting; $12.4 million).  So, even though 3 of those have been out for awhile they all commanded considerably more (April 5-7) in “I-don’t-want-to-think-about-it-I-just-want-to-cheer-or-scream-or-cry”-dollars, which is sad given the proven star power of the leads in … Enemies (Rockwell’s won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [Martin McDonagh, 2017; review in our December 7, 2017 posting]—where he plays another bigot who finally starts to come around—Henson’s been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [David Fincher, 2008]), along with the relevance of a true story of sworn-mutual-haters finding a way to overcome deep-seated-differences while moving past the immediate issue of school integration in their community by continuing to work together on other issues of social justice for decades thereafter, rather than building walls whether ideological or border-based.  Rockwell and Henson are up to their usual standards of successful portrayals here, their characters each initially coming from a position of total unacceptance of the other based on an ingrained heritage of bias on his part, ongoing frustration with dismissive White dominance on hers, yet they eventually find themselves open to reconsideration during the procedures of the charrette, reconciliation in the years following.

 In the mild-but-continuing-backlash against Best Picture Oscar-winning Green Book (Peter Farrelly, 2018; review in our November 29, 2018 posting), also for focusing on attitudinal-evolution by the White protagonist (seemingly not giving enough focus on the Black one, although I really don’t agree with that criticism either), it’s getting to be almost a knee-jerk reaction to castigate a film for emphasizing the White perspective too much (admittedly, a reasonable concern when projects about racial conflicts are run by White directors and screenwriters, but arts criticism often runs afoul of marketing realities in such a mega-budget-business); maybe I’m wrong in how I’m interpreting what I saw (although it’s hard for anyone not to do that, at least until they’ve had some after-the-event-dialogue to consider other relevant viewpoints), but I think Atwater and the community she represented were given appropriate voice and focus in a story that depends upon the surprising turnaround by avowed-racist Ellis; so, yes, he gets the dramatic highlight with a lengthy speech at the final vote, but that’s what this story—along with documented history in this case—is all about, with a soul-stirring-victory over entrenched racism coming from the least-likely of sources.  Well, all that brings me to my standard tactic of wrapping up a review with the use of a Musical Metaphor (here’s a related aside: I’m just now finishing reading the fascinating Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami [2018] where Metaphors take on a physical existence—along with deadly Double Metaphors and more-contemplative Ideas—so I’m even more attuned than usual to the power of such conceptual devices in our cognitive lives), which in this case will be a song that slips in toward the end of the film’s soundtrack, Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” (from the 1971 album Al Green Gets Next to You) at (a 1973 live performance with poor video quality but solid audio), which—like the one I’m going to use below with Shazam!—is fundamentally a romantic song (involving heartache in this case) but one offering useful commentary for this film (maybe for me too, considering how far out on a limb I am from many other film critics concerning The Best of Enemies), because, as I’m sure Bissell intended when he chose this track, the lyrics speak to both Atwater and Ellis (along with the communities they represent) in terms of feeling “so tired of being alone, I’m so tired of on-my-own […] Yeah, you don’t know what I’m talkin’ about Sometimes late at night I get to wonderin’ about you,” whether that “you” is the lost woman in the song or the film’s hostile people across town putting up barriers, shooting up homes, rejecting a more-mixed-community (just as close by today for me in San Francisco [of all places!], the mayor’s attempts to establish more homeless shelters are met with NIMBY opposition in every neighborhood she’s recommended).  What happened in Durham in 1971 certainly wasn’t part of an ongoing-wave of enlightenment yielding a tolerant, inclusive society today, but it does offer hope that change is possible, even when difficult to bring about yet alone sustain across time.
(still striving toward) SHORT TAKES (not quite fully there yet)
(please note that spoilers also appear here)
            Shazam! (David F. Sandberg)   rated PG-13

This is the latest origin story of a DC Comics-based superhero, teenage Billy Batson, given the ability by a wizard to say a magic word allowing him to become an adult warrior possessing extraordinary powers, so—of course—he battles an equally-powerful supervillain intent—of course—on world domination, but there’s much humor here as well.

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 As explored in my review of Captain Marvel, that female superhero from the Marvel Cinematic universe is the most current manifestation by this name (at the site you can scroll down to the Carol Danvers link to learn of her earlier time as Ms. Marvel) about a character originally male (no transsexual dynamics involved, just a socially-conscious-shift bringing more powerful women into the pages of comic books as well as onto various-screens).  The guy who began as Captain Marvel in print (1939) was absorbed by DC Comics after a copyright-infringement-lawsuit, but by the time DC brought him back (in limbo 1954-1971), Marvel Comics had been able to claim his name so DC reworked him as Shazam, which becomes confusing due to that also being the name of the ancient wizard from whom he takes his powers when first saying the word, then reverts back to his teenage identity when next he utters it.  Given these comics titans each own aspects of this character (DC commands most of it; Marvel just has the name so they had to create new origins/explanations for their various Capt. M’s) I felt an obligation to see what this rendition of the Capt. Marvel concept is like (clearly part of the DC Expanded Universe as other known superheroes are cited), which I must say I enjoyed more than the recent MCU episode (it felt too much like a mix of Superman and Green Lantern origin stories, merely a set-up before the latest Avengers offering [Endgame, Anthony and Joe Russo, due April 26, 2019], in which Capt. Powerhouse will likely play a chief role in rescuing the MCU from the devastation of Thanos), largely because of the self-depreciating-humor about this genre which permeates Shazam! In both script and characterizations.  Others in the Often Cranky Critics Universe (henceforth, OCCU!) have been receptive as well (drastically more so than with … Enemies), as it’s scored a praiseworthy 91% positive-reviews-cluster at RT, a reasonably-supportive (for them, the more consistently cranky ones) 71% MC average score, with audiences flocking to it for debut weekend ($102.3 million worldwide [$56.8 million domestically], only barely topped by Dumbo [Tim Burton; review in our April 4, 2019 posting] in terms of domestic theater availabilities [4,217 for the superhero, 4,259 for the elephant—although Captain Marvel is still holding its own after 5 weeks in 3,573 domestic venues, boasting a current worldwide haul of $1.038 billion {$374 million domestically, easily #1 so far this year}]).  All of the Shazam! Impact is pretty amazing for a character whose success rises from the realm of magic, making it clear he channels the powers of the Fantasy genre (as does Dr. Strange in the MCU)—plausibly-akin to The Force in Star Wars stories—not Science Fiction as these tales are sometimes miscategorized (although a character like Shazam—whether elderly wizard or youthful superhero—does coexist in both the MCU and the DCEU with “Science Fantasy” characters such as Spider-Man or Superman where there’s an attempt to offer a “rational” explanation of how these super-beings came to be who they now are).

 Should you be among the seeming-few who weren’t attending a Shazam! screening in recent days, the basic storyline is an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) by that name several decades ago began summoning many people to his secret cave/temple, the Rock of Eternity (probably exists in a parallel dimension), because, as the last of his kind, he needs to find someone pure enough of heart to whom he can transfer his powers in order to keep 7 demons—the Deadly Sins—captive, although young Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto), like all the others, is deemed unworthy, sent back to his usual life where he’s berated by his father and older brother.  Decades later, 4-year-old Billy Batson (David Kohlsmith) loses his mother at a carnival, then spends the rest of his life (he’s now going on 15) running away from various foster homes in search of her, but the system tries one last time, assigning him (now played by Asher Angel) to the Philadelphia group home of Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa (Marta Milans) Vazquez, with 5 others: teenagers Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), much younger Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), and Billy’s superhero-obsessed-roommate, roughly 12-year-old Freddie Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer)—from what I’ve read (but not in the comics), this version of Shazam follows closely what you’d find in more-recent-DC-publications.  Despite his rebelliousness, Billy feels somewhat comfortable in his new surroundings, even to the point of retaliating against local teenage bullies harassing disabled-Freddie, so he’s whisked off by the wizard as the last hope for humanity as Thaddeus (with the resources of his family corporation) finally managed to regain entrance to the Rock where he confronted the wizard, took the Eye of Sin into his head, thereby releasing the demons who now inhabit him (called forth at his will), attacks the wizard, almost killing him.  Just before he expires, Shazam transforms Billy into the new adult Champion (Zachery Levi) with many superpowers (Solomon’s wisdom [his least-used-attribute later on], Hercules’ strength, Atlas’ stamina, Zeus’ sense of command including shooting lightning from his hands, Achilles’ courage and near-invulnerability, Mercury’s speed [including flight]—you can see why DC felt this character was too much like Superman when they went to court) whenever he says “Shazam,” with a reversion back to his teenage self at the next utterance of the name (a lot of the comedy comes from this adolescent mind within a hulking adult body [not unlike Tom Hanks’ transformation in Big {Penny Marshall, 1988}, including a brief reference to the large foot-played-piano from that earlier fantasy]), but Billy’s ultimately must summon up all his capabilities in battling evil-adult Sivana (Mark Strong)—killed his family in revenge for his childhood—as well as protect his new foster-siblings from the unleashed Sins (he’s now connected to them after finding birth-Mom-Marilyn [Caroline Palmer], who purposely abandoned him feeling herself inadequate as a teenage-parent years ago).

 Actually, Sivana keeps one Sin—Envy—within himself, channeling powers similar to Shazam’s; thus, their battle pits 2 equal warriors, although the elder one has the advantage of mature cunning.  Shazam manages to triumph, though, by enticing Envy into the open, relegating Thaddeus to just being an unthreatening older human (you know, like me), then using the wizard’s magical staff (Sivana’s been pompously carrying it around) to endow the 5 kids of his new family with equal powers so soon the Eye’s been pulled out of Thaddeus, the demons are again imprisoned in the Rock, and the Marvel family’s (whatever they call themselves now, enjoying a quick cameo from Superman at the end) ready for future action, which will be needed because in a mid-credits-scene Sivana’s visited in jail by the evil, caterpillar-like Master Mind (in a post-credits scene, Freddie’s still testing Shazam’s powers, finds he can’t communicate with fish like in Aquaman [James Wan; review in our January 2, 2019  posting], a power Billy calls “stupid” in an intra-DCEU-joke, probably setting up an eventual joining in the Justice League [especially given their mutual box-office-successes]).⇐  Even if you haven’t chosen to read the spoiler-filled-portion of my review you might enjoy this video (11:09) in anticipation of seeing the movie, which gives useful background on the Shazam superhero (we could just say “Shazam” at this point, given the wizard’s demise)—beware of it being interrupted twice by ads, though—as well as this one (9:06), offering a head-to-head-comparison of the primary protagonists in Shazam! and Captain Marvel.  If all that’s not enough to keep you busy until next time we meet, here’s my Musical Metaphor for Shazam!, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic” (from their 1965 debut album of the same name) at (a live performance with good audio, poor video [and a false start], so maybe you’d prefer the original recording) in honor of the unabashed-acceptance of magic as a component of the pseudo-science-based-DCEU (goes for the MCU too), where situations more akin to the wizarding-world of Harry Potter stories—in the form of Shazam’s mystical powers (along with mythological-based-situations of Wonder Woman and Aquaman)—are juxtaposed with no hesitation to the imaginative-physics that yields Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Cyborg (see Justice League [Zack Snyder, 2017; review in our November 23, 2017 posting] for more on most of these characters).  Yes, this song’s about purely-human-romance spurred on by a love of music, but you need to indulge this type of exuberance in order to appreciate the childish-charm (as did the many youngsters at my showing) of Shazam!, encouraging a sense of “you can’t seem to find How you got there, so just blow your mind.”  Shazam!’s not as human-salvation-uplifting as The Best of Enemies, but for escapist pleasures—despite an overly-long-battle-scene at the end among Billy, Thaddeus, the monstrous Sins, and a family of Marvels—it’s a soothing escape from our constantly-negative-news-reports of one global crisis after another.

 Here's one last note to you: I finally broke down and bought a little Roku box for ease in watching Netflix’s new episodes of former-FOX TV’s Arrested Development (with scripts still as wacky as always, thankfully), also allowing me to discover what I might have missed by not catching the recent-but-brief-theatrical-release of
The Highwaymen (John Lee Hancock), about the 2 aging ex-Texas Rangers (played marvelously here by Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson) who were able to “capture”—through a vicious slaughter—notorious outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (under directive from Texas Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson [Kathy Bates]).  I won’t give it an official review but if I had it would likely be in the 4-star-range because I found it very watchable, well-written, with a fine collection of actors in the cast, this time emphasizing what it felt like to be on the hunt for these so-called “celebrity outlaws,” presented now as cold-blooded-killers; if you’d like to know more, check out the official site along with the OCCU’s unsupportive (you can’t trust these people) opinions: RT response—54%and MC score—58%.  Sorry, no Musical Metaphor; this is truly what Short Takes could be about.  But, if you must have one, how about this clip from the classic (easily worth every 1 of the 5 stars I’d assign if I’d ever choose to review it) Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) which starts in German (!) then goes just to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ famous “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” used in the soundtrack—and as was always said at the end of TV’s The Beverly Hillbillies (music also from Flatt and Scruggs), “Y’all come back now, ya hear.”
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about The Best of Enemies: (click the 3 little bars in the upper left corner and the topics right below them for more details, especially on the real people and situations involved here) (19:34 interview with actors Sam Rockwell, Taraji P. Henson and the actual community facilitator Bill Reddick; lots of info on the film’s background in the text below the YouTube screen)

Here’s more information about Shazam!: (11:19 fast-paced, fact-filled video about this movie’s Easter Eggs, cameos, and mid/post-credits-scenes; Spoilers apply here as well)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 29,750 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


  1. i watch shazam and it was great

  2. Can't say I disliked Shazam! but it was like eating cotton candy, a gooey mess that you knew was not going to sit well in the end. The Mark Strong character is worthwhile and has potential in the future as the Lex Luther equivalent. The biggest problem was the casting of Zachery Levi as the adult Shazam. He just did not bring anything to the role much less believably as the adult Billy. Sort of a George Clooney Batman flop compared to the much superior Michael Keaton and Christain Bale versions. Aquaman? No contest, Aquaman wins on all counts.

  3. Hi rj, Thanks as always for your comments (haven't heard from you in awhile, glad to have your input again). For me, Levi was fine as the adult Shazam given the whole movie was intended to be "cotton candy" as compared to DC's usual gloomy attitudes (which, I agree, Aquaman "marvel"ously transcends) with the superhero version of Billy an adult in body only, not in mind, although I do agree Keaton and Bale were superior to Clooney in Batman casting. Let's soon see what you (and I) think about "Avengers: Endgame." Ken

  4. Hi Unknown, Sorry I overlooked replying to your comment; glad you enjoyed Shazam!. Your link looks interesting as well; unfortunately, I can't read the language. Ken