Fury propelled by fun
Effortlessly charming and genuinely funny, Shazam: Fury of the Gods lampoons the genre as often as it delivers an impressive piece of superhero derring-do. Billy Batson (the invaluable Zachery Levi) is suffering from a crisis of faith. He's convinced he's not worthy of the powers bestowed upon him by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). That the local press has dubbed him and his surrogate brothers and sisters he's shared his abilities with the "Philadelphia Fiascos" certainly doesn't help. Although they may have the best of intentions, while in superhero mode Mary (Grace Currey), Freddy (Adam Brody), Darla (Megan Good), Pedro (D.J. Cotrona) and Eugene (Ross Butler) sometimes cause as much damage as they do good. Soon turning 18, Billy is also concerned that in aging out of the foster care system, he'll have to leave his "family" behind.
Their mettle is tested when the Daughters of Atlas – Hespera (Hellen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Lui) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) – escape from what was supposed to be eternal confinement, to retrieve the Staff of the Gods which bestows upon and takes away superpowers. The trio sets out to take the Shazam Family's powers away, creating as much chaos and destruction as possible along the way. One of the things that separate the Shazam films from other superhero fare is the youthful exuberance they contain, realized by the conceit that the consciousness of kids resides in the bodies of these mighty mortals. The sense of innocence they portray generates a great many laughs and gives an avenue to connect with the characters. To be sure, there's not much new here, but the light-hearted approach makes all the difference. In theaters.
Elephant clings to hope
Based on the Newbury Award-winning novel by Kate DiCamillo, Wendy Rogers' The Magician's Elephant is a vibrant, timely story that's far more than a children's story. A fairy tale for our times, the setting is a post-war kingdom reeling from the violence that's beset them, mental and emotional wounds affecting the populace, a sense of futility weighing them down.
Raised by a bitter veteran (Mandy Patinkin) who rescued him during the war, Peter (Noah Jupe) is a surprisingly optimistic young man who holds on to the belief that his sister, who he was separated from during the conflict, is still alive. One day he visits a fortune teller (Natasia Demetriou) who cryptically confirms this hope, saying if he were to follow an elephant, he would find his missing sibling. Coincidentally, a well-meaning magician's (Benedict Wong) trick goes awry and he conjures an errant pachyderm. The King (Aasif Mandvi) tells Peter he can keep the elephant if he can complete three impossible feats; defeat a fearsome warrior, fly and make the depressed Countess (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) laugh.
At times whimsical, at others dire, Rogers never lets either dominate the movie, though it's never less than optimistic. That sentiment never seems insincere, while the story's serious narrative foundation keeps us engaged and makes the film's ultimate resolution satisfying.
While the animation isn't as slickly rendered at Pixar productions, it has a distinctive look that pairs well with the fairy tale aspects of the story and is no less immersive. Equally so is DiCamillo's story, a tale that hooks us from the start, thanks to its wide-eyed hero and Rogers' refusal to pander to the audience. Elephant reminds us of the power of hope and doesn't make us feel foolish for doing so. Streaming on Netflix.
Supercell nothing but hot air
Herbert James Winterstern's Supercell, a B-grade Twister rip-off, looks much more convincing and expensive than its modest budget would lead us to believe. The visual effects are the best part of this disaster movie clone, but I have to give Winterstern some credit; he knows he's selling us a parcel of used goods and tips his hat to Jan de Bont's 1996 hit on more than one occasion.
When William (Daniel Diemer) was 5 years old, his storm-chasing father, Bill Brody (Richard Gunn), was killed by a tornado. Since then, he's been obsessed by the weather and the storms it creates. Hoping to find out more about his father, William lights out to hunt up Roy (Skeet Ulrich), his dad's former business partner who operates a storm-chasing service with Zane (Alec Baldwin). While all this is happening, William's overprotective mother, Quinn (Anne Heche), is in hot pursuit with his girlfriend Harper (Jordan Kristine Seamon) in tow, intent on saving him from his reckless behavior and the many storms in the offing.
It's obvious Baldwin is having a good time, Winterstern unable or unwilling to reign him in, the actor over-the-top every moment he's on screen. This is a paycheck movie for Ulrich and Hache, in one of her final roles, while Diemer has the charisma of a jar of paste. To be sure, it may seem petty to criticize performances in a film like this, but an engaged cast can at least provide a point of entry or interest when everything else in a movie is subpar. Alas, Supercell contains little in the way to recommend it. If you're a special effects nerd, you'll likely appreciate the technological wizardry on display. Other than that, this is just a bunch of hot air. Available via Video-On-Demand.