Skip to main content

Review: The Man Behind the Curtain (Oz The Great and Powerful)

Rapscallion and traveling magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco), you can call him Oz, performs acts for audiences across the dusty roads of Kansas. He's not happy with his place in life and a conflict presented in the form of a cuckolded strong man makes Oz's decision to escape all too easy.

A tornado whisks Oscar off to a foreign land where there are none of the problems that plague his life.

He is greeted on the shore by a woman who doesn't fit the general description of a witch. Theodora (a game Mila Kunis) explains to Oz that his arrival in their land is foretold by a prophecy and he will be the wizard to save the kingdom of vast riches. Without much hesitance, Oz tells Theodora that he is in fact the answer to their prayers.

Theodora, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) are the three powers that reside in Emerald City. The sisters are feuding and in order for Oz to claim the throne, he must defeat the wicked witch who slayed the previous King. Oz agrees to this condition while forgetting he isn't an actual wizard.

Sleight of hand won't save Oz if he wants to defeat the wicked witch and his habit of forming enemies with women he meets also poses challenges. Fortunately, he went have to do it alone, aid comes in the form of a flying monkey, Finley (Zach Braff), and a china doll (Joey King).

Selecting James Franco as the titular Oz was a curious choice, while Franco is a showman in most regards, he seems miscast for this role. A prequel to The Wizard of Oz requires a lead man with a sense of authority even if he questions himself. Oz needed a charismatic actor to pull it together.

Sam Raimi does what he can with this huge project (a few of his trademark scares), but there is only so much he can bring to a Disney tentpole. These flicks have been focus grouped and tested so that they appeal to as large an audience as possible. Tinkering with the formula is generally frowned upon, but Raimi knows where to hide some visual flourish.

There is a sense of too many endings before the film closes out, but it is a slight addition so the overall effect isn't lost, though franchise building is definitely felt.

Oz: The Great and Powerful is made up of too many moods to coalesce into a tonally consistent film. There are winks from Army of Darkness, candy-colored visuals from Alice in Wonderland and heartwarming moments from the original Oz. The tonal twist and turns are a little distracting and the lead feels too disingenuous to make it work entirely, but background characters like Finley and China girl (lovingly rendered pieces of SFX) present some warmth to a story that suffers a little too often from a post-modern sense of irony.

**1/2 out of ****

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Anomalisa

Weird is rarely used as a good quality in film criticism, but few words so completely describe Charlie Kaufman’s work as weird does. All of his films are a window into his very particular worldview, and that p.o.v. is certainly unlike anything seen in pop culture. For that reason, Anomalisa became an entry on many most anticipated lists for 2015. That Kaufman chose stop-motion to tell this story made the picture an event. So it came as a disappointment when the film was one of the year’s more mundane efforts.

Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have an energy and heart at the center that is not present here. Previous collaborators like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry were able to temper the overwhelming negativity Charlie Kaufman occasionally falls prey to, but, this time, the writer doesn’t have a director to rein things in. In all of his efforts to create an experience that is both familiar and alienating, Kaufman may have accidentally created something host…

Hulk vs. The Incredible Hulk vs. The Avengers

There are two movies about the Hulk and one that features the green monster as a major player. One was made in 2003 by an auteur, starring a little-known Aussie. Five years later The Incredible Hulk came out to the same tepid reaction as Ang Lee's Hulk did. This weekend, The Avengers made the Hulk as popular as he has been in a long time. So it comes down to this: Hulk vs. Hulk vs. Hulk. Who will smash whom?

Round One: Acting
Edward Norton outshines Eric Bana as the dual persona of the meek Bruce Banner and the rage-induced Hulk. Eric Bana was given little to do but run and fight and often the audience was just waiting for him to transform. With the Incredible Hulk, Norton's Banner is fully fleshed-out and we are given a reason to care about him. Being allowed to go a little dark with Banner's scenes questioning what is left of his life provided emotional resonance to the character that Hulk lacked. Yet even with the capable performance that Norton gives there was something …

The Dream Is Real

For my money there is nothing cooler than the idea of a city folding in on itself.