erik lundegaard

Wednesday April 24, 2019

Leading the League in Doubles and Homers

The other day I wrote about the last MLB player to lead the league in doubles and triples in the same season (Cesar Tovar, 1970), along with all the guys who have lead the league in both since then, just not in the same year. (Rudi, Brett, Yount, Molitor, Van Slyke, Knoblauch, Garciaparra and Bobby Abreu.) 

Steve Krevisky's SABR page, which I came across in my research, also includes a list of guys who led the league in doubles and homers in the same season. Last on his list is Willie Stargell in 1973, so I knew Krevisky's list was created before 1995, since that's when Albert Belle did it. Question: Who was the last guy to do it? 

I assumed there would be more recent names. Doubles and triples hitters seem like different beasts; and while there are classic doubles hitter (Knoblauch, Edgar), you also got guys like David Ortiz and Albert Pujols who do both well. Ortiz retired 17th on the all-time HR list with 541 and 12th on the all-time doubles list with 632. Pujols is even better: 6th in dingers, 10th in doubles. So surely one of those guys led the league in both in the same season. 

Nope. 

Well, what about Miggy. Big with both. Or A-Rod?

Nope and nope. 

Junior? Never led the league in doubles. Jason Giambi? Never led the league in HRs. 

Short answer is that between Stargell ‘73 and today, it’s only been Albert Belle in ‘95.

As for the guys who did in separate seasons? Longer list, with a lot of the above names. 

No.  PLAYER 2Bs 2Bs HRs HRs HRs HRs HRs
1 Andres Galarraga  1988   1996        
2 Juan Gonzalez 1998   1992 1993      
3 Alex Rodriguez* 1996   2001 2002 2003 2005 2007
4 Albert Pujols 2003   2009 2010      
7 Adrian Beltre** 2010   2004        
5 David Ortiz 2016   2006        
6 Miguel Cabrera 2008 2012 2011 2014      
8 Nolan Arenado 2017   2015 2016 2018    

* A-Rod is the only guy who did this for three different teams: Doubles with M’s, league leader in HRs thrice for Texas and twice for NYY
** Beltre is the only guy who did it in both leagues

Look at the last two guys. Miggy just kept missing. And Arenado? Good god, could he have gotten any closer? 

BTW: If you‘ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that the 2Bs/3Bs guys since 1970, and the 2Bs/HRs guys since 1970/73, don't include any of the same names. Meaning, since 1970, no one has led the league in all three categories (doubles, triples, homers) at some point in their career. 

Here's the question: Has anyone in baseball led the league in all three stats at some point in their career?

OK, that's not the question, since, yes, guys have done that—particularly in the deadball era when homers were often inside-the-parkers, and so it was kind of the same skill set: hit the ball were they ain't and run like hell.

Here's the last question: Who has done it since the deadball era? And who is the last guy to do it? 

That's next.

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Posted at 03:15 PM on Apr 24, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Tuesday April 23, 2019

Movie Review: Robin Hood of El Dorado (1936)

WARNING: SPOILERS

It’s got a great director (William Wellman), a strong if long-in-the-tooth leading man (Warner Baxter), fascinating source material (the life of Joaquin Murrieta, the likely inspiration for Zorro), and progressive attitudes about Mexicans and the discrimination they faced. For example:

Bill: Johnny and I can run into town to see a lawyer. Must be some laws around here that protects you Mexicans.

Or:

Juanita: You are not a bandit.
Joaquin: Against the Americanos, yes.
Juanita: Do not call that banditry, Joaquin. That is what they call it. I call it the only way to get back that which was ours. 

In 1936? From MGM—the most conservative of the big studios? Wow.

Shame the movie isn’t better.

10 writers
Robin Hood of El Dorado movie reviewIt’s based on a book by Walter Noble Burns, who grew up in Kentucky in the 19th century, became a journalist in Chicago in the early 20th, and wrote books about legends of the Old West after he retired from reporting : “The Saga of Billy the Kid” in 1926, “Tombstone” in 1927, and this one, “The Robin Hood of El Dorado,” in 1932, which is also the year he died.

What’s the problem with this one? Maybe all the newbie writers. Two of its three credited screenwriters never got credit for another screenplay: director Wellman (who got subsequent story credits but not screenplay credits); and actor Joseph Calleia (best known to me as Pete Menzies in “Touch of Evil“). The third credited screenwriter is Melvin Levy, a playwright who came to Hollywood, wrote B pictures, became a friendly witness during the blacklist (naming one name), then made a living off TV. His final credits were the shows I watched in the’70s: “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Charlie’s Angels.” This is his first screenwriting credit.

But they had help. IMDb lists seven uncredited screenwriters: 

  • Rowland Brown (“Angels with Dirty Faces”)
  • Peter Kyne (westerns)
  • James Kevin McGuinness ( “A Night at the Opera”)
  • Howard Emmett Rogers (“Tarzan and his Mate”)
  • Lynn Starling (“Magnificent Obsession”)
  • C. Gardner Sullivan (“All Quiet on the Western Front”)
  • Dan Totheroh (“The Count of Monte Cristo”).

One assumes they were brought in to punch things up or straighten things out. Sadly, too much of the movie remains crooked and punchless.

In the newly ceded territory of California, Joaquin is boisterous and happy as he prepares to marry his love, Rosita. Per the Hollywood tradition, even though the male half of the romance is played by an Anglo, the female half can go native: here, one-named Mexican actress Margo. Per another Hollywood tradition, there’s a bit of an age gap. Gap? It’s a canyon. Baxter 47, Margo 19.

Several things happen at the wedding. An American rep shows up, someone throws a knife, Joaquin takes the blame, and so he’s banished by his rich father-in-law. Also gold is discovered at Seder’s Mill. Cue montage of everyone running toward gold.

Not Joaquin. He’s a happy farmer. But some nearby prospectors resent him—and covet his wife—and one night they show up like Trumpsters, demanding he leave.

Joaquin: Who are you to tell me this?
Prospector: We’re good American citizens, that’s who we are! And that’s who you ain’t!

He’s knocked out and comes to with the help of the two good Anglos in the movie, Bill and Johnnie (Bruce Cabot and Eric Linden), then finds his wife on the bed—dead. The real Rosita was supposed raped, and this is as close to that suggestion as the Hays Office would probably allow back then. I was surprised it allowed this much, to be honest.

His revenge against the men is quick, lethal but still honorable (with one, he makes it a fair draw), and he dismisses a grimy, admiring Mexican outlaw Three-Fingered Jack (J. Carrol Naish, Hollywood’s go-to white actor for non-white roles), although the outlaw remains admiring: “There goes a man,” he tells his compadres—a line right out of “The Right Stuff.”

I thought of another movie—just can’t figure out which—as his rise as an outlaw is seen via the price on his head: $500, $1,000, $3500. Tops out at $5k. It’s a good shorthand. His last go at a respectable life ends when he’s whipped and his brother killed by more asshole Anglos. He teams up with Three-Fingered Jack and they set up camps with happy-go-lucky Mexicans, who dance, sing, and perform horse stunts. It’s like Sherwood Forest in California.

Second half blues
Overall, though, there’s really not much Robin Hood in “Robin Hood of El Dorado.” At one point, he tries to rob from rich Mexicans, the hacendados, only to be told by another fiery woman, Juanita (Ann Loring), that they’ve all suffered. She becomes his love interest, joining the rebels, but there’s not much drama in the second half. There’s no Prince John-type villain, either. The main drama is that they accidentally kill the bride-to-be of Johnnie in a stagecoach robbery, turning the two good Anglos against Joaquin, whose men are trapped and slaughtered in Hidden Valley. Joaquin, wounded, manages to escape long enough to reach the grave of Rosita, where he repeats her final words:

I am cold. It’s growing dark. Put your arms around me.

That’s not a bad end but doesn’t make up for the lack of drama in the second half. Imagine a Robin Hood movie in which Will Scarlet’s bride is killed, he blames Robin, and leads a team of soldiers into Sherwood Forest to slaughter them all. That’s kinda this. 

But it cries to be remade. We deserve a good Joaquin Murrieta biopic. Or he does.

SLIDESHOW


  • ”Robin Hood of El Dorado“ was written and adapted in a time of progressive populism. Maybe it should be remade now in a time of regressive and xenophobic populism? 

  • A sop for the mostly white audience. ”Not you guys; the bad ones.“

  • These guys. 19th-century Trumpsters demanding the Mexican get out of ”their“ country.  

  • During the whipping. 

  • Love this shorthand for the outlaws taking over California, including that little pueblo in the south. 

  • A hero to the people. Great shot, Wild Bill. 

  • Early rock concert. 

  • The good Anglo, Bruce Cabot of ”King Kong“ fame, looks, here, a bit like Edward Albert in the early ‘70s.

  • The second-half love interest. Ann Loring was good in her first screen role, with dazzling eyes, but only has five listed credits. Anyone know what happened? 

  • The slaughter. Imagine this in Sherwood Forest. 

  • Making it back to Rosita. ”It’s growing dark." And will grow darker. *FIN*
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Posted at 07:43 AM on Apr 23, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  
Monday April 22, 2019

Conspiracy Theorist in Chief

There's a good, sad article by The New Yorker‘s Elizabeth Kolbert about conspiracy theorists called (in print) “That’s What You Think” and (online) “What's New About Conspiracy Theories?”

(SEO has made dullards of us all.) 

Kolbert reviews four new books about conspiracy theories and theorists; about what's new and what isn‘t, and tries to lay it all out. 

One thing that’s new is this thing; where you‘re reading this. The like-minded find each other easier online, and if initially we thought this meant scrapbook makers and baseball card collectors, experience has shown it’s often the worst of the worst. There are certain subreddits you don't want to go down.

“This category of recent conspiracy theorists is really a global network of village idiots,” Pozner tells Merlan. “They would have never been able to find each other before, but now it's this synergistic effect of the combination of all of them from all over the world. There are haters from Australia and Europe and they can all make a YouTube video in fifteen seconds.”

YouTube is key, too, since it and other sites tend to push users toward more sensational versions of the material they‘re already watching. Their motives, says Kolbert, is commercial, not political, but the result is the same: extremism. 

Classic conspiracy theories, Kolbert writes, tend to try to make sense of something that shatters our worldview: JFK assassination, 9/11. There has to be a reason for this unreasonable thing. But one thing that sets theorists like QAnon apart, Kolbert writes, “is a lack of interest in explanation.” What’s the child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton out of the basement of a DC pizza place that doesn't really have a basement trying to make sense of?  “There is often nothing to explain,” Kolbert quotes one author. “The new conspiracism sometimes seems to arise out of thin air.”

And then there's Trump, the man who reps our loutish age:

Historically, Muirhead and Rosenblum maintain, it's been out-of-power groups that have been drawn to tales of secret plots. Today, it's those in power who insist the game is rigged, and no one more insistently than the so-called leader of the free world.

It's beyond his birtherism and “fake news” and “witchhunt.” Business Insider lists 19 examples of his conspiracy theories. I didn't know, for example, he'd floated rumors that Justice Scalia had been murdered rather than died of natural causes. 

Key graf:

Democracies depend on buy-in; citizens need to believe in certain basics, starting with the legitimacy of elections. Trump both runs the government and runs it down. The electoral system, he asserts, can't be trusted. Voter fraud is rampant. His contempt for institutions ranging from the courts (“slow and political”) to the Federal Communications Commission (“so sad and unfair”) to the F.B.I. (“What are they hiding?”) weakens those institutions, thereby justifying his contempt. As government agencies “lose competence and capacity, they will come to look more and more illegitimate to more and more people,” Muirhead and Rosenblum observe.

Those are the forces against us. 

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Posted at 04:19 PM on Apr 22, 2019 in category U.S. History   |   Permalink  

Leading the League in Doubles and Triples

One recent night when I was having trouble sleeping, I spent time perusing Baseball Reference, came across Cesar Tovar's page, and saw that he'd led the league in both doubles and triples in 1970. I already knew this—I'd even written about it—but this time a light bulb went off. How common was that—to lead the league in both categories in the same year? Who was the last guy to do it? 

Turns out: Pretty uncommon. Tovar's the last guy to do it. 

Searching for the answer, I came across a SABR page by Steve Krevisky on various baseball feats, including leading the league in both doubles and triples in the same season. Here's Krevisky's list:

NO. PLAYER YEAR YEAR YEAR YEAR
1 Honus Wagner 1900 1908    
2 Ty Cobb 1908 1911 1917  
3 Bobby Veach 1919      
4 Rogers Hornsby 1921      
5 Charlie Gehringer 1923      
6 Joe Vosmik 1935      
7 Stan Musial 1943 1946 1948 1949
8 Zoilo Versalles 1965      
9 Lou Brock 1968      
10 Cesar Tovar 1970      

Before going further, how about a hand for Stan the Man? Since the deadball era, this feat has only happened 10 times—and he has four of them. Career, he's 19th all-time in triples (and everyone ahead of him is pre-WWII), and third all-time in doubles (Speaker, Rose). Plus 475 HRs, which, when he retired in 1963, was sixth all-time, behind Ruth, Foxx, Williams, Ott and Gehrig. No wonder he was The Man.

That said, Krevisky's list, I could tell, was old. His list of guys who led the league in doubles and homers in the same year ends with Willie Stargell in 1973 when I knew Albert Belle did it in 1995. So, to make sure, I crunched all the doubles/triples numbers after 1970.

And I couldn't find anyone who'd done it after Tovar.

I did find a few guys who led the league in doubles and triples—just not in the same year:

NO. PLAYERS 2Bs 2Bs 3Bs 3Bs 3Bs
1 Joe Rudi 1974   1972    
2 George Brett 1978 1990 1975 1976 1979
3 Robin Yount 1980 1982 1983 1988  
4 Paul Molitor 1987   1991    
5 Andy Van Slyke 1992   1988    
6 Chuck Knoblauch 1994   1996    
7 Nomar Garciaparra 2002   1997    
8 Bobby Abreu 2002   1999    

Before going further, how about a hand for George Brett? Not just for being a five-time leader but for the 12-year gap in his doubles titles. And how the hell did he lead the league in triples three times with Willie Wilson on his team? Answer: Wilson didn't become a full-time player until 1979, then led the league in triples five times in the ‘80s.

BTW, anyone guessing Bobby Abreu for this list, go to the head of the class. 

Since I kept seeing players from the Kansas City Royals, I wondered how often someone on that team led the league in either category from 1970 to 1990. Answer: 16 times: Brett with 5, Wilson with 5 (triples), Hal McRae twice (doubles), Amos Otis twice (doubles), Lou Piniella (doubles) and Freddie Patek (triples). In the AL, the next closest team is the Milwaukee Brewers with eight: Yount, Molitor, Cooper, Pedro Garcia. Boston has seven, the Twins have five. In the NL, the Expos have eight league leaders, with Houston and Philly at seven each. No one’s close to the Royals.

Anyway, that's the answer to that late-night question: The last man to lead the league in both doubles and triples in the same season is Cesar “Pepe” Tovar in 1970. Nice coincidence: I just happen to have a picture with him that fateful year:

My brother Chris and I with Cesar Tovar in 1970. 

More soon.

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Posted at 07:58 AM on Apr 22, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Sunday April 21, 2019

Box Office: Calm Before the Avengers Storm

Probably because it hops around a lot—so far this century, showing up as early as March 23 (2008) and as late as April 23 (2000)—Hollywood doesn't seem to have much of an Easter weekend strategy the way it does with other holidays.

Here are the box office winners for movies opening on past Easter weekends. Detect the pattern:

  • 2009: Hannah Montana the Movie ($32.3)
  • 2010: Clash of the Titans ($61.2)
  • 2011: Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family ($25)
  • 2012: American Reunion ($21.5)
  • 2013: G.I. Joe: Retaliation ($40.5)
  • 2014: Heaven Is For Real ($22.5)
  • 2015: Furious 7 ($147.2)
  • 2016: Batman v. Superman ($166)
  • 2017: The Fate of the Furious ($98.7)
  • 2018: Ready Player One ($41.7)
  • 2019: The Curse of La Llorona ($26.5)

Yeah, there isn't one. It's gotten more blockbustery, but that's true for March and April, generally. They‘ve opened everything from concert films to gross-out comedies to muscle-car muscle-man movies to—this year—horror. Generally we celebrate the weekend Christ died and ascended by watching people beat each other up. As the Bible intended. 

This weekend, after “La Llorona,” a horror movie I hadn’t heard of until it opened, “Shazam!,” Warner Bros.' more tongue-and-cheek entry into the superhero world, finished second with another $17.3, to bring its domestic total to $121. It's not falling fast (just 29% this weekend) but seems assured of being the lowest-grossing entry in the DCEU—a title currently held by “Justice League” (of all movies) at $229. It also seems just as assured of catching the lowest-grossing entry in the MCU (“Incredible Hulk” at $134) but that's probably the only one it‘ll catch. The second-lowest-grossing MCU movie, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is at $176. 

Anyway, I liked “Shazam!” and hope they keep making movies like it. 

The religious entry for Easter weekend, “Breakthrough,” about a boy who falls through the ice and is saved by prayer, got surprisingly good reviews (67% on RT) considering how painfully bad the trailer always felt to me. But even with good reviews, it still just grossed $11 mil. This is why you can’t have nice movies, Christians; you don't go see them. Unless they‘re not nice and/or part of the culture wars. (Cf., “Passion of the Christ.”)

Fourth is the seventh weekend of “Captain Marvel”: another $9 to bring its total domestic gross to just over $400 million. That’s seventh-best in the MCU, and only needs another $9 mil to be fifth-best. Another $12 and it surpasses “Wonder Woman”—the highest-grossing DCEU film. 

All in all, a quiet weekend at the box office. It's next weekend that things get noisy. 

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Posted at 05:47 PM on Apr 21, 2019 in category Movies - Box Office   |   Permalink  
Saturday April 20, 2019

Quote of the Day

“Any American but for the president of the United States would be indicted for these actions.”

—Ryan Goodman, NYU law professor, referring to the redacted Mueller Report, on NPR's Weekend Edition. Rebuttal, or pre-buttal, came from former Whitewater prosecutor under Ken Starr, Solomon Wisenberg, a man whose name leaves a lot to live up to, who states that only one incident detailed in the Mueller Report constitutes, to him, obstruction of justice. Shame we didn't get more into the why of it.

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Posted at 07:31 AM on Apr 20, 2019 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  
Friday April 19, 2019

Mueller, Redacted

New York Times website, yesterday.

I celebrated when they arrested Michael Cohen last August. I went our for drinks with my friend David. We toasted. I thought walls were closing in on the sonuvabitch. 

I didn't celebrate yesterday when a redacted version of the Mueller Report was finally released by Attorney General William Barr (whose name goes down in infamy for how he's played this), even though on the whole the report is damning, embarassing, pathetic, shameless.

Mueller begins this way—first page, second graf:

The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.

I'm old enough to remember when Trump's team denied this. They‘re probably still doing so on some level when it suits them. 

Was the Russian government doing what it could to elect Donald Trump president of the United States? Obviously. Did the Trump campaign seek their help? Vocally. Did they then lie about their contacts with Russians and Wikileaks? Repeatedly. 

Was it a conspiracy? Apparently not. Again, from the first few pages of the report:

As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

I expected this, though. I was hoping maybe for a smoking gun but assumed we wouldn't get it.

So onto the second part. Did Trump obstruct, impede and attempt to shut down the varous investigations (FBI, DOJ, Mueller) into potential collusion? Of course he did. He did it on national television. Beyond that, Mueller cites—is it 10 incidents?—in which Trump told subordinates to essentially engage in obstruction of justice. The subordinate didn't follow through, but that's still obstruction of justice. What finally brought down Nixon, George Conway reminds us in a Washington Post Op-Ed, was a recording of Nixon telling CIA director Richard Helms to urge the FBI away from the Watergate investigation. Helms didn't follow through, either, but it was still obstruction of justice. Back then, that was enough. 

Trump did this x 10 and he's still in the Oval Office. 

Here's NPR's political reporter Carrie Johnson on “Morning Edition” this morning

It's hard to imagine—according to a lot of former prosecutors with whom I‘ve spoken—that if this involved any other person, that it would not have resulted in some criminal charge.

That’s a big reason why I'm not celebrating. I was counting on the rule of law to come to our aid. And it didn‘t. It hasn’t. Maybe someday, but not today.  

I'm also not celebrating because the Trumpers will continue to lie about it. And Fox News will repeat their lies as truth and add their own; and so will Rush and Matt and Alex and Breitbart and Sinclair and the GOP. There are no honorable Republicans anymore because they don't have to be. They can lie and Fox will call it truth. They can be corrupt and dishonorable and Fox will call them honorable. They can be racist and Fox will say it's the other side that's racist. World without end. 

Many people are celebrating this line from the report. It's Trump's reaction when he learned that Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel back in May 2017—a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey:

This is the end of my presidency. I'm fucked.

I'm not celebrating that, either. He wasn't fucked. It wasn't the end of his presidency. That line just makes me sadder.  

You know who's celebrating? One of the report's more chilling lines is what one Russian texted another on Nov. 8, 2016:

Putin has won. 

That's who's celebrating: Putin. Putin and Fox News.

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Posted at 03:53 PM on Apr 19, 2019 in category Politics   |   Permalink  
Wednesday April 17, 2019

Movie Review: Shazam! (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

A great idea doesn’t necessarily make a great movie. David S. Goyer realized that if someone with Superman’s powers suddenly showed up on earth, people would freak and governments and militaries would marshal their forces. Then Zack Snyder turned it into “Man of Steel,” and “Batman v. Superman.” Damn.

The great idea here is that when Billy Batson turns into Captain Marvel, he may change appearance, voice, powers, but he doesn’t change personality or knowledge; he stays who he is: a 14 year-old boy. So it’s like Superman + the Tom Hanks movie “Big.” I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how they pitched it. Best part? They didn’t blow it. They kept Zack Snyder away.

The “Big”/“Superman” thing was obvious from the first trailer, so I expected it, and expected to be entertained by it; and I was, mostly. It’s a little dumber than I thought, but it’s fun enough.

What I didn’t expect? The metaphor about the Democratic Party.

Worst job recruiter ever
Shazam! reviewInitially I was confused. We’re on a car ride to grandma’s house in 1974? With Lex Luthor’s dad (John Glover)? And the kid playing with a Magic 8 ball in the backseat being bullied by his father and older brother—is that supposed to be our Captain Marvel/Shazam? So is this thing set in ’74—around the same time as the Saturday morning live-action TV show—or is that our villain? Except with that timeline, Mark Strong would have to be my age—born in 1963—and ... oh, he is. Kudos, Mark. You look great for our age.

When the fortunes in the Magic 8 ball turn into squiggly symbols, the car crackles with energy, ice forms on the windows, and the kid, Thaddeus (Ethan Pugiotto), is transported alone to “the Rock of Eternity,” which is like an interdimensional cavern. There, an ancient wizard with a long white beard and staff (Djimon Hounsou) tells him he’s searching for a new superpowered champion to help the world. The champion must be “pure of heart.” A former champion, not pure of heart, went bad and released the seven deadly sins into the world. Oddly, those sins are still in the cavern, encased in whispering statues along the walls. So they’re both in the world and trapped in the Rock of Eternity? OK.  

Anyway, the kid fails the test (he reaches for an energy ball, which is a no-no or something), he’s transported back to Dad’s car, becomes histrionic and causes an accident which leaves asshole dad paralyzed for life. That’s our cold open. And we haven’t met our lead yet.

Billy Batson, a gosh-gee newsboy in the original comics, a twentysomething radio operator in the 1941 live-action serial, and a long-haired Tiger-Beat teen in the 1974 TV series, is, here, a young, pretty-eyed punk (Asher Angel of Disney channel’s “Andi Mack”). He suckers a pair of Philly cops so he can get into their patrol car and look up the address of the woman he thinks is his biological mom. He has a long list of possibilities in his notebook and she’s the only one not crossed out. Turns out she’s black. Then the cops arrive and bust his head open for suckering them. Kidding. It’s jokes and kid gloves. You know Philly cops. But he winds up in another foster home.

This one is about as nice as you can get—a big ramshackle house run by the Vazqueses: Victor (Cooper Andrews), portly, jovial, philosophical, and Rosa (Marta Milans), who looks like a harried Angelina Jolie. The kids include:

  • Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer of “Me, Myself and I”), a white, supertalkative, superhero-obsessed teen with a crutch
  • Faithe (Darla Dudley of “This Is Us”), a supertalkative and superneedy black girl who dispenses hugs like a priest dispenses wafers at the Eucharist
  • Eugene (Ian Chen of “Fresh Off the Boat”), a Chinese-American gamer/hacker
  • Pedro (Jovan Armand), portly and reticent
  • Mary (Grace Fulton), the eldest, getting ready for college

If I’d been thinking, I would’ve realized where this was going—particularly with Freddy and Mary—but I’m kind of glad I wasn’t. Once it arrived, it was a joy.

This foster family is large, loud and big-hearted but Billy keeps his distance. He’s got a foot out the door already. At school, Fawcett Central High—for Fawcett Comics, the publisher of Shazam in the 1940s—there are bullies, of course, and they pick on Freddy, of course, and so Billy has to stand up for him since he can’t for himself. Then the bullies give chase. Billy escapes to a subway, flips them off from behind closed doors, settles in; then the subway speeds up, the other passengers disappear, and the stops take on those squiggly symbols we’d seen in the Magic 8 ball. When the doors open, Billy’s in the “Rock of Eternity.” Good bit? He glances back at the subway map to check the stop.

Before all this, by the way, young Thaddeus (now a glowering Mark Strong), had set up a research institute investigating incidents like his from ’74—the hieroglyphics, the transportation, the wizard, the offer of power, the test, the failure—which has happened to dozens of people around the world. When the symbols are finally captured on video, Thaddeus figures out the pattern: the seven symbols that need to be repeated seven times to open the gateway. That’s what he does. He returns, pushes the old wizard aside, absorbs the seven deadly sins, and accumulates vast power to wreak havoc on the world. To be sure, we mostly see him wreaking havoc on his father’s company. He tosses the older brother out the window, unleashes the seven deadly sins to kill board members in horrible ways, and saves Greed to tear his father apart limb from limb. Oddly, he doesn’t stay to watch it. You’d think after nearly a half-century of hatred and resentment, he might.

So with the seven deadly sins gone from the Rock of Eternity, is that why Billy passes the test? Because there is no test? So why was he chosen then? He’s not exactly pure of heart. Why isn’t Faithe chosen? Or Mary? Or Victor Vasquez for god’s sake? Maybe there was an answer and I missed it.

This is the part where I got whiffs of the Democratic party. Old man Shazam has spent at least 45 years searching for a replacement, a champion, to take over; and he’s interviewed dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands, and none of them passed his purity test. Meanwhile, evil gathered.

But forget the metaphor. How much of a fuck-up is this Shazam? He keeps picking people who can’t pass the test, and probably fucks them over for life; and one of them becomes so incensed, and obsessed, he becomes a supervillain. And he seemed like a decent kid at the start! That’s some shitty program.

Anyway, I assume that’s why Billy Batson, who isn’t exactly pure of heart, gets the gig. At this point, they needed to pick somebody. And he says “Shazam!” and turns into what would be called Captain Marvel (Zachary Levi in a padded suit) but for copyright issues with Marvel Inc. That actually leads to a good bit, as he and Freddy, but mostly Freddy, try to come up with different names for him: Captain Thunder, Captain Sparklefingers, Thundercrack, Mr. Philadelphia, Zaptain America, Sir Zaps-a-Lot.

I anticipated this being my favorite part of the movie and it was. Among the antics he and Freddy get into:

  • testing CM’s superpowers
  • buying beer
  • sipping beer and spitting it out
  • buying tons of candy instead
  • going to a “Gentleman’s Club”—CM at least

He stops crooks at a convenience store, then rescues an attractive woman from a purse-snatching. Except he pisses her off by calling her an “old lady” and she’s already maced the purse-snatcher. He wasn’t needed. Another good bit.

Along with “Big,” some of it reminded me of “Greatest American Hero,” the short-lived but often-funny superhero show of the early’80s, starring William Katt as a schoolteacher who is given a superhero suit but loses the instruction book: He’s forever flying into walls and things. He’s the George of the Jungle of the city. Similarly, Shazam doesn’t really know what he can do or how to do it. Takes him forever to figure out flying. But as they’re testing all he can (and can’t) do, Freddy video-records it and uploads onto YouTube, where it gets tons of hits. The true source of 21st-century power. Question, though: Couldn’t anyone with skillz trace the videos back to Freddy? And thus his family? Not exactly smart. 

Foster Family: the new FF
Eventually the fun ends when Thaddeus, now Dr. Sivana, the longtime Captain Marvel villain, shows up, envious that another champion was chosen. I’m curious what he’d been doing after the boardroom. Does he have a plan? World domination or anything? Does he and the 7 Deadlies just want to wreak havoc? It’s electing Trump, isn’t it? I bet it’s electing Trump.

Sivana makes quick work of Shazam, who is new to his powers, and just a kid, after all. I like this part. Superpowers don’t a superhero make. Just because you’re super doesn’t mean you’re brave. Billy/Shazam flees, and it takes his foster family being threatened before he begins to fight back against someone whose powers seem greater than this. Oh, and in the process, he finds his real biological mom, who’s an awful person. His real family is the foster family, and they turn into—of course—the Marvel family: Freddie becomes Captain Marvel Jr. (if he could be so named), Mary is Mary Marvel. Etc. Each has one of Shazam’s powers.

I liked that. I like the “family you create” motif, which is very Hollywood. Even so, that, along with the mid-credits sequence introducing Mister Mind, who is, after all, a fucking caterpillar, reminded me that C.C. Beck’s world was always kind of stupid. (Mouse over the poster for an example.) Tawny Tiger? Captain Marvel’s shortie cape and his Brezhnev eyebrows? Holy Moley? Superman gets “Man of Steel” and “Man of Tomorrow,” Batman gets “Caped Crusader,” and the best nickname Beck can come up with is “The Big Red Cheese”? Even as a kid I thought Shazam comics were dumb. They were dumb by the standards of Golden Age comics, let alone the Mighty Marvel Age I was living in.

So congratulations to screenwriter Henry Gayden (“Earth to Echo”), director David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”), and the cast and the casting director. DC is finally turning it around. Before, they had great source material and turned it into crap; now, they have crap source material (Wonder Woman, Shazam!), and are turning it into something, if not great, at least fun and palatable.

Don’t envy them Mister Mind, though. 

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Posted at 09:48 AM on Apr 17, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
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