Saturday, March 16, 2013

Watch This Movie: Oz, The Great And Powerful

This Got Dang Epic.
It's been a while since I did a movie review but, truth is, there haven't been to many great ones. I guess there haven't been too many putridly awful ones either, since I review those as well. So now we've finally got a big budget movie coming from the House of Mouse, the first omen of the blockbuster summer season that is slowly drawing nigh upon us, like the Day of the Apocalypse.

Let's get all the obvious stuff out of the way. Oz is based off of the story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, one of fourteen Oz books he wrote, and one of thirty two! in the series. You see, Frank Baum, who wrote these stories, had other people continue it after he stopped, in an era when I guess nobody cared about copyright and profiting off of other people's work? Maybe that's too pessimistic a view, let's just say they got permission.

The visuals are predictably sublime, although they tend to the incredibly vivid, bright and cartoonsih, especially in the landscapes. In other movies this might be a hit against it, but Oz's world sort of requires that look, and it doesn't look bad. There are some amazing landscapes, like the City f Oz, the flights through the air in Bubbles, and Chynatown with its porcelain inhabitants.

As an aside, this was made for 3D, which I'm losing my taste for and so skipped on. There was obvious pandering to the camera on occasion, with creatures, people and vegetations leaping forward as close as possible to the camera's lens in order to amaze the audience. Young kids might like this. To me, they were 'meh' moments, neither adding or subtracting. I guess you can give it a pass as a children's film, although I find such tactics tacky.
This. In 3D. Sort of wish I'd done that now.

Then again, we're talking about a movie directed by Sam Raimi, who sort of specializes in kitch, cliche and tacky. And nobody holds it against him either, because when you see his movies, you know, 'this is a Sam Raimi movie'. When you see his name, you know what to expect. In fact, I predicted Raimi would use a frightening cut away where a villainous shadow would be projected against the wall while hiding the features of the villain, a la Doctor Octopus in Spider Man 2. Raimi did not dissapoint.

I suppose his touch is appropriate for this film since it is treading a line between epic fantasy and children's fairytale, a line that's difficult to balance and that critics assailed The Hobbit for. In fact I've seen similar criticism against Oz, and still am not entirely onboard with where they're coming from. Let's not forget that while the story is trying to entertain adults it's still based on a book series aimed at children. So some of the dialogue is sharp, witty annnnd surprisingly inappropriately sexual at times. This is combined against bright visuals, flying monkeys, people made out of porcelain, munchkins, a cackling Wicked Witch, and the like. I'm sure the super serious epic lovers would have enjoyed a diabolical Wicked Witch with deep seated emotional issues and complicated motivations, but that's just really not the Oz style of story. Even expanded into this type of film, there aren't going to be intricate layers of character development. You'll lose half the audience.
Yeah yeah, this is where the cheese begins.

Talking about story, while many of the characters do come off simplistically, especially the villains, Oz himself makes an interesting character progression. At the beginning he's self serving, aware that he's a simple conman and using his skills to deceive and lie his way through life. This has ramifications throughout his journey in Oz as he realizes people are coming to depend on him, and yet he has no real power to do anything. The people in this story with true, sheer power, are the witches. Whether Glenda the Good or the Wicked Witch of the West, these women are hurling out fireballs, energy streams and at one point tossing Oz around like a rag doll. In order to combat them, Oz has to mature, and realize his ability to drive these people out is through his natural gift of intelligence and illusion, putting his chicanery to good use.

There's going to be some feminist criticism of the use of women in this movie. The main villain is a witch and I thought she came off quite well. Glenda the Good, because of her inability to magically overcome the other witches, is forced to depend on Oz. The Wicked Witch emerges as a reaction of Oz's lies. So, there's going to be a lot of focus from some circles on how everything seems to circulate on Oz getting things done. Then again, he's the hero, and Glenda comes across as a noble leader who pushes her people forward even when Oz wants to run away like a coward. So really, the Wicked Witch comes across as the weakest female in the group, but they can't all be independent women.
The Witches. Oh, and the Wizard.
So why am I recommending it? It's just fun. Look, if you can't tolerate a movie that has to pander to kids at times, this one isn't for you. But as bad of an actor as I think James Franco is, his shtick works in roles like this, where you're essentially placing him in the role of a somewhat loveable loser. Rachel Weisz is great as the remaining daughter of Oz, Michelle Williams balances the awkward task of coming across as the pure and good witch with being a strong leader. Her scenes just ooze honesty. And what cane we say about Mila Kunis? Well, she did exactly as she was told by Sam Raimi, and that was to toast her acting with a lot of cheese. I've seen her do 'better', but in the roles she's asked to occupy I can see why her acting is so odd.

And hey, you've got a film full of magic, flying apes and munckin warriors combined with flying balloons, robotic strawmen and holographic projected illusions. It's the closest to steampunk I've seen in a movie in quite a while, and it's just fun. Plus, again, the writing is sharp. Franco's interactions with his companions are just funny, and he really does come across as a self aware con artist caught up in circumstances beyond his control. If you can't take the child's element, don't watch it, but I think you're missing out on a pretty good time.

Final Note: Mila Kunis is as fine as ever.
Posters and Trailers, as usual, coming up!

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