Tag Archive: Shazam


STG201

Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the best superhero series yet returned Tuesday, as Stargirl begins a new season on the CW network.  After the city of superheroes was blown apart in last season’s finale, viewers will catch up with Brec Bassinger’s Courtney Whitmore aka Stargirl as she tries to lead a new generation of Justice Society of America superheroes.  But is it meant to be?  Yvette Monreal’s Wildcat is reeling from killing Brainwave, justifiably or not.  Cameron Gellman’s Hourman is trying to track down Solomon Grundy.  And Anjelika Washington’s Beth Chapel continues her turn as the saddest character on TV, now losing her relationship with her parents even more, plus Charlie, the cyber entity that no longer knows her.  Worst of all, it’s the end of the school year and Courtney finds she’s stuck in summer school.

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Ten years of movie reviews.  How do you pick the best?  Our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too.  What makes a great movie?  #1 for us is great writing—great storytelling.  #2 is re-watchability.  Lots of movies are good, but if every time you watch it you enjoy it all over again and maybe find something you didn’t see before, then you likely got far more value from the movie than the price of a movie ticket.  #3 is innovation—there’s nothing to top off a good story like new technology surprising us.  Finally, the experience must be fun—why else would you devote two hours or more of your valuable time?

So in Casey Kasem style, here are the Top 40 movies we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021.  These are our favorites.  How should you use lists like this?  If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these movies.  If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new movies to take a look at.  Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1.  As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre movies, so don’t expect to see strict dramas or a lot of Best Picture Oscar winners here.  Title links are to our original borg review.

Let’s get started!

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With what seems like an ever-widening move away from superhero movies for kids in the live-action arm of DC Entertainment–from a too-long recut of Justice League to another Suicide Squad movie aimed at adult audiences–fans of comic book movies for all ages should be glad to hear three big pieces of news this month from Warner Brothers about forthcoming film projects.  It’s hard to beat word that Helen Mirren has been cast as a new villainess in Shazam: Fury of the Gods, the sequel to Zachary Levi’s Shazam!, a good-hearted favorite of the DC live-action movies.  Along with her untouchable slate of acting honors, Mirren’s performances in the RED and Fast & Furious franchises make her perfect casting. 

Now Pierce Brosnan is returning to theaters in a major role since we last saw him in the great action-drama The Foreigner (reviewed here).  He’s playing Dr. Fate opposite Dwayne Johnson, who has the title role, in Black Adam, coming in July 2022.  That DC project keeps sounding better and better, and Johnson has been talking about it publicly since at least 2008.  It will feature Sarah Shahi (Fairly Legal, Life, Psych) as Isis and Aldis Hodge (Leverage, Black Mirror, Star Trek: Short Treks) as Carter Hall aka Hawkman.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If first impressions are everything, the first four minutes of the new CW series Superman & Lois look like a great next series to add to your DVR.  But that’s not where the writers of the series take us, leaning more into the soap opera drama audiences saw in years of Smallville.  The typical Superman tale follows Clark Kent from rural America to the big city of Metropolis, when the typical Supes story takes off.  This series reverses that plan, moving Supes and his family back to Smallville when newspaper man Clark Kent loses his job in the big city.  What happens when you take a strong-willed city woman like Lois Lane and her and Clark’s two (newly created) citified (twin) sons to Smallville?  Fans loving to watch Superman soaring in the supersuit, righting wrongs and exploring the globe, will need to take a backseat for at least part of the new series.  Economic downturns, the scam of reverse mortgages, embedded conflicts between rural and urban America–things you probably don’t turn to for your next CW superhero series–is the direction of the new series.  But what about strong-willed Lois?  Although she gets to share the title, Lois doesn’t get much to do–yet.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After what I viewed as the best superhero series pilot yet here at borg back in May, Stargirl never let up, never let us down, and with this week’s season finale rises to become the very best superhero series yet.  We can slice and dice and compare series like The Flash and Arrow, Supergirl, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but did any of them adapt the comic book mythos to the screen as written and drawn by years of comic book writers and artists?  Or did they all twist the stories to cut away at what made the stories enduring in the first place?  Even Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina–two fantastic comic book adaptations–were nudged aside by thirteen perfect episodes of comic books in TV form.  Not since the heart in the original series The Flash, The Incredible Hulk, and the animated series Superfriends has a series full of superhero characters gotten so much so right.  And one scene in the season finale was so good, so surprising, it may have you stand up and cheer.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Isn’t this a great time for a new superhero series to begin?  If you agree then you’re in luck, because tonight’s premiere episode of Stargirl might be DC Comics’ best TV pilot yet.  Prepare to meet the next superheroes from the corners of 30 years of DC Comics.  Courtney Whitmore’s relationship with her new stepdad is like you’d expect at first–awkward.  But it’s doubly awkward when he’s an over-eager good guy named Patrick played by Luke Wilson (known best for his roles in Wes Anderson movies and an unforgettable spot on The X-Files).  Courtney (seen above sporting a rather timely mask) discovers there is more than meets the eye with Pat, and the series opener will propel viewers further ahead into his secrets and past–sooner than you might expect.  The result is incredibly promising, a pilot mixing well-done special effects with a great story, a coming of age tale targeted at kids, a fun cast of familiar faces and a new young actress hitting the ground running (or soaring), a cool car and a 1950s vibe, and throwbacks for viewers who keep their eyes open.  And the entire first season is now available on digital.

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Swamp Thing ad

When people with creativity and skill have their grasp on the reins of DC Comics properties, great things can happen.  Unfortunately it’s a rarity.  Although its Arrowverse on the CW Network were good efforts, DC at the movies hasn’t shown much promise until last year’s Shazam!, although Aquaman was another good effort.  But the big win of live-action DC Comics adaptations was last year’s Swamp Thing (above) featuring the titular creature and other Justice League Dark characters Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger.  The series was our own selection here at borg for top superhero series last year.  Shazam! and Swamp Thing prove that with good writing, production, and acting talent both movie and television adaptations truly worthy of the comic book source material are possible.

New streaming provider HBO Max announced this week its own team-up.  It will join J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions to produce a new live-action Justice League Dark series with Warner Brothers Television (in addition, a project related to Stephen King’s The Shining called Overlook was also announced).

Justice League Dark is, as the title suggests, a band of superpowered characters from the shadows of the DCU.  Spanish artist Mikel Janin was tasked with re-imagining the look of these more offbeat and occult characters from their earlier individual series and appearances for the New 52 launch in 2011, and for us Justice League Dark is synonymous with Janin’s designs, shown above and below (we interviewed Mikel about the new look here at borg back in March 2012).  The JLD then included Zatanna, Constantine, Deadman, Shade, Madame Xanadu, Swamp Thing, the Phantom Stranger, Frankenstein, and the Enchantress, and more as they would emerge throughout the series’ short 40-issue run.

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When we created last year’s preview of 2019 movies we were pretty sure we were going to have some great movies this year, but we were surprised by what ended up being the best.  All year we tried to keep up with what Hollywood had to offer and homed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our annual picks in our Best Movies of 2019.

GenredomAs always, we’re after the best genre content of the year–with our top categories from the Best in Movies.  There are thousands of other places that cover plain vanilla dramas and the rest of the film world, but here we’re looking for movies we want to watch.  What do all of this year’s selections have in common?  In addition to those elements that define each part of genredom, each has a good story.  Special effects without a good story is not good entertainment, and we saw plenty of films this year that missed that crucial element.

Come back later this month for our print media picks, and our annual borg Hall of Fame inductees.  And if you missed it, check out our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2019 here.  Wait no further, here are our movie picks for 2019:

Best Film, Best Superhero Movie, Best Re-Imagining on Film Shazam! (Warner Bros.).  Movies are supposed to be a wonder, right?  What brought the magic of the movies back to theaters more than Shazam?  Why did DC take so long to adapt a superhero to the scene perfectly?  Who cares–they finally did it.  Faithful to the character from the #1 selling superhero book of the 1940s, this was the superhero movie many of us have been waiting for for the past 50 years (or more).  Full of superhero fun, one of the best training montages ever, Zachary Levi’s boyish hero was perfectly matched to Jack Dylan Grazer’s take on best pal Freddy.  It’s also the only superhero movie we can think of that got better as it went along, culminating in a fantastic, satisfying third act and finale.  This is what we want more of.  And it was the first DC superhero movie of the millennium that could be watched and enjoyed by the entire family.  Honorable mention: Glass (Universal), Spider-Man: Far From Home (Sony Pictures).

Best Fantasy Movie, Best Adventure Movie, Best Comedy MovieJumanji: The Next Level (Columbia Pictures).  The only issue with this film was that its status as a sequel will prompt some to not recognize it for the gigantic success it truly is.  With adventure scenes bigger and better than anything in the entire Indiana Jones franchise, two movies in and director Jake Kasdan proved a sequel can actually be as good as the original.  The four stars didn’t miss a beat, swapping roles and adding new laughs, and the new characters inside and outside the game were perfectly spliced in to tell a new tale.  The bridge crossing scene is now the adventure film scene to beat.  An epic fantasy that’s loads of fun.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Movie: Shazam! (Disney/Marvel), Captain Marvel (Disney/Marvel).

Best Movie Borg, Best Borg Film – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Carl, Terminator: Dark Fate (Paramount Pictures).  It would have been almost impossible for James Cameron and director Tim Miller not to get this right, a new thread through time reuniting Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and a new T-800 with Arnold back with another take on his greatest borg of all time.  New characters and new effects kept the franchise from getting boring, but this was more than just getting by, a big sci-fi spectacle with great cyborg battles, and easily the best cyborg fix this year.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Make no mistake, Billy Batson aka Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel (aka Shazam since 2012) has always been the most difficult to fold into the DC pantheon of superheroes.  With Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman–the trinity at the top of DC Comics for so long–audiences always know much of what those characters are going to bring to a story even before they walk into the theater.  To be fair, Billy wasn’t a DC original, shuffled much later into the DC universe because of some decades-long legal tedium.  Billy Batson is a kid who suddenly becomes a superhero, so the trailers have been compared to Penny Marshall’s Big, another story about a kid suddenly dealing with being grown-up.  And that is, indeed, part of Shazam!  The movie is also part origin story, because although Shazam! adheres to Billy’s origin story going back to the 1940s (just as Captain America: The First Avenger adhered to its source material), much of the audience that saw the character in his heyday–when he was even more popular and well-known than Superman–aren’t around to make up the target moviegoing audience.  But Big and an origin story is just the beginning.

You know it when you watch a movie unfold and realize something great is happening.  DC Entertainment–the movie guys–finally paid attention to DC Comics–the actual writers and artists who built the character from the ground up–and at last delivered what this comic book reader has always wanted.  Shazam!, the story, Zachary Levi‘s superhero, and a new young actor named Jack Dylan Grazer as Billy’s friend Freddy–are fantastic.  The magic, wonder, and heart of DC Comics is finally back in the theaters.  It’s a gamechanger for the DC universe, because it finally steps away from Zack Snyder’s dark and brooding Justice League and returns it to the roots of DC Comics and DC At the Movies that we first got a taste of with Christopher Reeve’s first Superman and Michael Keaton’s first Batman.  So if the executives at DC are paying attention, and audiences agree once the film hits general release April 5, this could be an opportunity for a switch-up–an excuse to build a new Marvel-level superhero film universe around the new, amazingly fun and appealing superhero characters in this film.

At its core, the story by new screenwriter Henry Gayden updating a script by Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After, Jack the Giant Slayer, Goosebumps) is about a foster family and the importance of family, so don’t think this is another frivolous superhero movie to be easily dismissed.  As with Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it’s loaded with emotional beats, and it’s all heart.  What do kids care about, and what are they afraid of?  The film takes some time to look seriously at these things.  It’s not only laugh-out-loud funny in spots, expect some snorts, too.  But look for some emotional pangs along the way, on par with an oft-forgotten superhero movie that may have more heart than any other, the 1980 John Ritter sleeper (and one of my favorites) Hero At Large.  Which makes Shazam! also a movie for fans who count Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Incredibles among their most favorite superhero movies.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new edition of a book about the popularity of Fawcett Comics‘ original Captain Marvel, the world’s mightiest mortal–the superhero renamed Shazam and featured in a new movie this month starring Zachary Levi–will be the perfect trip through time for fans who have enjoyed the character in his many stories going back to his debut in 1939.  My personal favorite Captain Marvel stories can be found in the original Whiz Comics (all in the public domain and available to read online now here) and as drawn by Alex Ross in his landmark graphic novel with Mark Waid, Kingdom Come.  For the first time in a softcover edition, Chip Kidd’s Shazam: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal has been reprinted by Abrams ComicArts just in time for the release of the film, Shazam!

For those not in-the-know, this is the Captain Marvel who now goes by Shazam (the word that causes him to bring forth his powers)–the one owned by DC Comics today, and not the one owned by Marvel Comics and also in theaters now in the movie Captain Marvel (reviewed here at borg).  Shazam: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal is a historical work, and it doesn’t hesitate to use the name he’s always been known as by his fans.  As told by writer Chip Kidd, the Captain Marvel fan club had 400,000 people in it in its best year in the 1940s, and Fawcett projected 40 million followers of the character in books and film.  Captain Marvel books sold 1.3 million copies per month, not a common feat even today.  Does anything approach that kind of fan club status today?  At the height of the character it was more popular than Superman and Batman, and so of course the character had hundreds of tie-in products.

Readers will marvel over a reprint of the entire story from Captain Marvel Adventures, Issue #1–created by two then unknowns: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, and reprints of several colorful covers from Whiz Comics, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel Comics, WOW Comics, Master Comics, America’s Greatest Comics, Spy Smasher, and even Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny, plus pages of scans of original comic pages from ex-Fawcett staff.

The book uses photographs from a collection of some of the scarcest superhero collectibles known, including images of books, toys, and paper ephemera for Captain Marvel and the entire Marvel Family–superhero kids like Billy Batson–the boy who turns into Captain Marvel–and his friends who use the Shazam powers but remain as kids.

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