Just say the word.
by Jeff Bowles
(Be sure to check out my video review of Shazam! on YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central.)
Shazam! is the kind of movie just about anyone can get behind. Film audiences segment into a multitude of groups, but when it comes to comic flicks, you’re either on board for the ridiculousness or you aren’t. Younger audiences tend to take a movie like this more seriously, whereas more mature viewers are often left scratching their heads. When science fiction and fantasy work best, they indulge in a certain real-world approach to emotionality, family, romance, regret, passion, and they do so at high enough levels that any and all nerdy accoutrements go down a little bit smoother, in that for many people out there, they’re extraordinarily hard to swallow.
Shazam! is a big, fun, friendly superhero movie with more heart and humor than just about any other DC Comics offering made in the last twenty years. During a time in which Superman is angst-ridden and Batman is a violent rage-freak, Shazam! understands home is where the heart is. Ask any comic movie fan the difference between the two behemoth companies, Marvel and DC, and you’re likely to hear Marvel is fun and DC is morose. Such is the genius of David F. Sandberg’s new movie. It feels Marvel-fun but engages the kind of deep archetypes and mythic dynamics DC Comics has been famous for since the 1930s.
Billy Batson is an orphan looking for a place to finally call home. He thinks finding his birth mother is the answer, but the truth is, if she’d wanted to be found, he wouldn’t have to break into cop cars and hack suspect ID computers for her deets. Enter the Vazquez family, genuinely supportive parental figures Victor and Rosa, and a full house of five other kids, all of them orphans. The dynamics at play in the Vazquez household expound in wonderful ways when Billy expects disaffection and dysfunction and finds hardcore familial love. And the other kids are all great to watch onscreen, always eager with another funny quip or charming character quirk.
To wit, Billy’s roommate, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), perhaps the best personification of a sympathetic sidekick you’re likely to see all year. He’s disabled, hilarious, and he’s got a keen geek obsession. Superheroes, after all, exist in this world in spades. In fact, one of Batman’s famous baterangs is a star narrative prop, and Freddy’s knowledge of said-comic-isms comes in pretty handy when Billy gets his powers and then has to figure out what the hell to do with them.
Off world or in another realm, or wherever/whenever else you prefer, the ancient god of right-makes-might, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), searches for a suitable replacement after millennia of tireless service. Unfortunately, the forces of evil are on the hunt for a successor, too. The clock’s seriously ticking, so in a spray of CG pyrotechnics and unexpected altruism on Billy’s part, Shazam summons our would-be hero to his mysterious throne room and endows the kid with strength, speed, flight, and of course, killer lightning powers. All Billy has to do is say his name, and he’ll transform into a musclebound adult version of himself in a red suit and sparkly white cape. Zachary Levi plays the god-like, full-grown superhero with all the adolescent joy, immaturity, and zany recklessness we’d expect from a teenager stuck in a man’s body. This is the where the movie kicks into full Tom Hanks’ Big mode, and Levi is the perfect choice. You get the sense this kind of thing is a walk in the park for him. It’s almost criminal how much fun he appears to be having.
Just as Billy begins to feel confident in his new dual identity, the evil Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong)—similarly endowed with incredible power, but by monstrous avatars of the seven deadly sins—arrives to threaten his heroic dominance, his life, and all the wonderful new people he’s come to love. The real joy of Shazam! is that it takes for granted how crucial it is to have people who care about and support you. So when Mom and Dad and all the other kids are in danger, we really feel the urgency. The filmmakers value them and what they mean to Billy, and we can’t help but do the same.
Billy Batson may not be a groundbreaking addition to the world of comic movies, but he does offer us a glimpse at a different kind of pop superhero psychology. There’s not much tragedy, horrific scarring, or trauma in his makeup, no more or less than in you or me. It’s almost a relief that the film only sparingly engages in world-ending theatrics. An interesting paradigm emerged in March and April, 2019 when Marvel Studios released Captain Marvel, and Warner Bros./DC released Shazam! As any fan will tell you, Shazam was also originally called Captain Marvel, and years ago, the two companies settled the branding dispute out of court. Apparently, Marvel was dead set on maintaining a character that carried their moniker and DC, well, maybe they realized Shazam is a better name for a boy-in-man combo that literally cannot do anything cool unless he, as the advertising declares, says the word.
But whereas Captain Marvel was a movie about finally realizing the power that always dwelt inside, Shazam! is about a sudden overwhelming change of fortune. Sometimes the thing you need most is right there in front of you. It is also admittedly the ultimate adolescent boyhood fantasy to wake up one day and find out you’ve got super powers. Shazam! won’t win any awards for exploring gender, sexuality, or race, but its heart is in the right place, and lest we forget, we could still be watching scowling Superman beating the crap out of growling Batman for no discernible reason other than MUSLCES! ANGER! KA-POW!
Billy Batson is enormously relatable, the perennial loner and outsider who has so much more to offer people than he knows. Who hasn’t felt unloved? Who’s never been lonely? Yet isn’t there always just a bit of hope in all the neglectful crap we have to put up with? Someday an amazing person will recognize me, and I’ll finally come home. It’s the emotional psychology of a movie like this that makes it so effective. Yes, the world is a terrible place sometimes, but when we take off our costumes and put away our utility belts, all we really want to do is laugh and dream.
On the surface, Shazam! is just another silly superhero movie in a sea of nearly identical offerings. But it’s also a fine example of comic book storytelling done right, supremely enjoyable, heartwarming, surprising, in fact more than enough to redeem the brooding misanthropy of other recent DC films. It rivals the very best of Marvel, and what’s more, it recognizes when a cape is just a cape. You don’t need to wipe out half of humanity or destroy the globe to bring out the hero in people. When the chips are down, all you have to do is say the word.
Am I … am I still here? Still just a slightly overweight yet lovable, handsome, and humble author/movie reviewer? I’ll work on that. We’ll get there, folks.
The new Shazam! movie gets 9 sparkling red tights out of 10
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My mom and uncle are obsessed with Westerns. They grew up watching Westerns and still make time for them every weekend. While watching a Western with my mom, I had the idea of writing a young adult Western…with a steampunk twist. I brainstormed a ranch with a family secret. Along came TREASURE DARKLY.
After the first draft, it was recommended I add in a romantic theme. Thus, Clark and Amethyst fell in love. It worked. I didn’t have to force them together. They were already best friends, and it flowed that they should develop romantic feelings for each other.
Then came the challenging part. My first editor for the story wanted more romance. I wasn’t a romance writer. Sure, my main characters each had a love interest, but I wouldn’t call my early works romances.
I set out to read romance novels to get a feel for the genre. I read some young adult romances, some Harlequins, and then I discovered a love of paranormal romance. I devoured those and wanted more. Eventually, I felt ready to write my own romance.
Young adult romances are tricky. Some people don’t want any sex in YA novels; some people say its okay. I struggled with that fine line before firmly stepping onto the “no sex” side. Yes, the book does get a bit steamy, but there is never explicit sex.
“But teens already know everything about sex,” I’ve been told.
Okay, that might be the case, but it doesn’t mean every young adult book has to contain graphic sex scenes. I want my books to be more about the adventure and setting than erotica.
Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult fantasy author who dapples in the steampunk realm. You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com.
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The Christmas Cruise, by Tammy Tate is a really cute romance story which could have been so much more. This story combines romance with science fiction when the two main characters, who are attracted to one another but won’t admit it to themselves, both happen to be swept from their Christmas cruise in the Burmuda Triangle onto a deserted island from the past.
It’s a good plot and it could work if the characters were more developed and didn’t just accept what was happening without a second thought. The story moves from point A to point B in a fairly straight line, at a fairly quick pace, lacking any real twists or surprises. Just the fact that they are the only two to be swept away gave me trouble buying in, and when they return without any logical explaination as to how it happened, it lost me totally.
If the author had taken the time and effort to expand the plot, and portray believable reactions to absurd circumstances, The Christmas Cruise could have been a really entertaining story. As it is, it lacks depth of character and is difficult to swollow. I can only give it three quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
We all want our children to grow up to an environment free from bias and discrimination. We want them to have opportunities to achieve their dreams and to believe they can accomplish anything. We also want our children to feel included and loved in all situations, from school, to home to religious institutions.
The best way to achieve this is to weave diversity into the fabric of our children’s lives. We can do this in many ways, one of which is by providing our children with a selection of multicultural books which allow them to imagine experiencing life in a different way and from a different perspective.
When you read multicultural books you are transported to a different culture and are exposed to new ideas about housing, food, schooling, transport and religion. I always remember when I read the books written by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë as a teenage girl. These books were my first real exposure to the poor treatment of children and women during the Victoria era. I was horrified by the terrible conditions the orphaned girls experienced at Lowood School and the terrible illnesses that ravaged the learners. Later on in my life I read books about the lives of several female Victorian writers and I came to realise just how restricted their lives were. Female’s were not considered to have the intelligence or seriousness necessary to write novels. My own mother experienced discrimination as a young girl when her father refused to buy her a school uniform when she won a scholarship to attend a local grammar school. He didn’t believe in educating girls.
As I have walked my path as a reader, I have read a wide variety of books about life in numerous countries from the great cities of the USA, London and Paris to country towns and rural villages in Africa and Asia. Through reading, I have experienced life in Japan, China and Chile. I have tried to share these experiences with my own children by reading them abridged versions of classic stories like The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, a story of an empathetic doctor who travels to Africa and has adventures on this great continent, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper, set in Upper New York State during the French Indian wars, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee set in Alabama and Oliver Twist set in Victorian London. They have also read a number of more recent books set in various countries.
Multicultural books teach us about other peoples cultures and religious beliefs and helps to instill positive attitudes about acceptance and tolerance. Some of the books that spring to mind that I read to my pre-teen boys are Fattipuffs & Thinifers by André Maurois which teaches children about segregation in an entertaining and light hearted way, I am David by Anne Holm, the story of a boy who escapes from a Bulgarian communist concentration camp and makes his way to Denmark, and The Diary of a Young Girl written by Anne Frank, that tells of her life as a young Jewish girl growing up in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. These sorts of books help teach children that while we all have different religions, celebrations and traditions, we are actually all the same. We all need to eat, drink and sleep. We all aspire to an education, job and happy family life.
While it is good for children to understand history and learn from the mistakes of the past, it is best to select titles that present a variety of points of view so as to prevent stereotyping.
The modern world is becoming more cosmopolitan and diverse due to the ease with which people can travel and communicate. My son plays computer games with friends from all over the world including India, the UK, the USA and Dubai. His school provides a boarding option and caters to boys from all over the world and a variety of different backgrounds, including Chinese, American, British, German, French and a number of African countries. There are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Christian boys all attending classes together, doing activities and sports together and enjoying themselves as a group. Diversity is a popular topic with many modern authors and I have recently read three lovely picture books aimed at teaching children about acceptance in a fun and simple way.
Myrtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes is about Myrtle, a turtle who is purple and, as a result, she and her family are different from other turtles. You can read my review on Goodreads here: Goodreads review of Myrtle the Purple Turtle.
Kids get it by Sally Huss is a story about self-worth and the equality of all children in the eyes of God. You can read my Goodreads review here: Goodreads review of Kids Get It.
The cover of Who do I see in the Mirror? by Vese Aghoghovbia Aladewolu shares “the important message relayed to children is to love the skin they’re in.”. You can read my Goodreads review here: Goodreads review of Who do I see in the Mirror?
There are also a large selection of non-fiction books for children which describe the cultures and lives of the people of the world.
What do you think about the role of books in promoting diversity? Let me know in the comments.
About Robbie Cheadle
Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
I have recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.
I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Find Robbie Cheadle
Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads
Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram
Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books
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Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother’s Grief
“The Making of a Memoir” is a bi-monthly blog series which explores the stages of writing a memoir as I write the story of losing my nineteen year old son, Michael, to suicide, through his story and the tale of a life without him and the grief I experience every day, even after he’s been gone for a decade. Some progress has been made toward the actual writing of the book since the last segment. I made a final decision on the title above for the book, and work on the cover is in progress with Art Rosch at Starrts Creative. Although there is still a lot of material still to sort through and compile what I want to include, I managed to work through a considerable amount. The going is slow, as I knew it would be, due to the emotional nature of the material and the memories some of it awakens.
In the last segment, “Stage 1: Prewriting Tasks“, I said I expected this book to be the most difficult story I have ever attempted to write, and that has proven to be true. In fact, it has proven to be difficult in more ways than I had imagined. This segment was supposed to be titled “Stage 2: Selling the Story”, but alas, unexpected “Obstacles and Roadblocks” has become a more appropriate title. Over the past two months, I run into several and I’m still trying to find a way around, over or through one huge one in particular – legalities.
Memoir can and should be a work of creative nonfiction. It is a true story told creatively, so as to capture and hold the readers’ attention. What memoir is not, is a work of fiction, with fictitional characters and places. You are telling a true story, something that actually happened, something in which other real people played different roles, and to tell the story, their parts must be told as well, even if the tale doesn’t portray all of them in a positive light. A good memoir must be told with honesty, from the heart.
As I sorted through the plethora of material I have gathered and saved since my son’s death: his poetry, writings and artwork; my poetry and writings; and oh so many photos, I couldn’t help but think about the other people involved, directly or indirectly with the story of the events leading up to Mike’s death and also the events that came after, and I realized that there were more than a few, people associated with Mike, and law enforcement officers, who might not want this story to come out because of the manner in which they might be viewed for their parts in his death.
It normally wouldn’t be a problem at all. I’m writing the story of events as they happened to the best of my knowledge. Many facts surrounding Mike’s death were suspicious, and for a time I believed that Mike might have been murdered. Things didn’t add up, but the proof to back up what I know to be true was withheld from me by local law enforcement. I no longer entertain the idea that Mike’s death was anything other than suicide, without the proof that the events happened the way I claim they did, I could be open to liable in telling this story.
The individuals involved wouldn’t really be a problem. The obvious solution is to change the names. Even in a true story, real people can have fictitious names, without damaging author credibility. Authors do this all the time; you just state that some names have been changed and readers won’t feel cheated.
The law enforcement agency and certain individual agents present a bigger problem. Do I change the names of the law enforcement agents? Do I change the name of the area they represent? How much can be changed before a true story becomes a work of fiction? The proof I lack wouldn’t portray the local law in a positive way and they know it, so they aren’t likely to have a change of heart about sharing it with me for the book. They play major roles in the events leading up to Mike’s death, and the story really can’t be told without their inclusion.
Although this issue has presented a roadblock that appears it might be unsurpassable, I have a couple of ideas on how I might be able to get around it. I need to let it play out and see. If not, I’ll look for a way to go over, or under if I have to. This is a story that must be told, and I’m determined to tell it. By the next segment, in June, I should be moving forward once more. I’ll let you know how it gets resolved. I do hope you’ll join me then.
Join me in my writing journey through “The Making of a Memoir” the second Monday every other month on Writing to be Read: February, April, June, August, October and December. To be sure not to miss one segment, subscribe to email or follow on WordPress for notification of new content.
Romance author Amy Cecil writes both contemporary and historical romance, but her latest release, Ripper, is like no historical romance I’ve ever read. Set in London, during the times of the Jack the Ripper roamed the streets of White Chapel, this story explores possibilities and throws in more than a few surprising twists.
Life is looking up for Marie, with a new client turned lover, it looks as if she might be able to leave behind her life of poverty. But Jax’s behaviors cause suspicions she can’t ignore, suspicions that, if proven true, might make it impossible to follow this dream life she’s found. What’s a girl to do when she learns the man she loves might be Jack the Ripper?
A cleverly-crafted tale that will keep readers guessing until the last pages. I give Ripper five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.