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Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) Review

Few films have enjoyed as much recognition and popularity throughout history as The Wizard of Oz.  Even with a notable group of naysayers, the 1939 release is still regarded as a classic and mandatory viewing for anybody.  Needless to say, any sort of follow-up would pretty much be set up for disappointment, and in 1985 the Return to Oz didn’t leave too much of an impact.  At least, not in the long run.  It’s probably even of less surprise then, that a prequel of sorts released this year will suffer the same fate.

Things start well enough with the eye-catching opening credits and a classic, black-and-white look as we’re introduced to James Franco’s Oz.  While it isn’t entirely clear at first, his Oz is actually a tough character to get behind.  We know from the trailers that he’s an everyday magician and essentially becomes a conman when he arrives in Oz.  The problem isn’t that he’s a liar, but that he oftentimes basks in his own ego, exudes a sort of snobbiness and a general lack of concern.  This isn’t just a concern in the opening act, it stretches throughout the entire film.  He almost comes off like an anti-hero, but this isn’t in-line with how his character is necessarily supposed to come off.  There’s just a lack of sympathy due to his general lack of sympathy (with a couple exceptions).

Another problem arises literally right when Oz lands in, well, Oz: Oz itself.  If you want to know the final word on how Oz looks and feels, it’s colorful but artificial.  If nothing else, Oz should be a bit of a visual spectacle, but it’s a little tough to feel brought in when so much is clearly CGI.  There are actual sets and everything isn’t as abused as, say, the Star Wars prequels, but throughout the movie I was saying “this is to The Wizard of Oz what the prequels are to Star Wars.”

Now, I’m not one who decries every little aspects of the Star Wars prequels.  Likewise, I wouldn’t say Oz the Great and Powerful is devoid of good points.  The first 20 minutes are a solid way to start the film; it’s nostalgic, a good touch base with the characters and again, we get nice opening credits.  One of the characters, a porcelain doll, is a clear highlight of the film and probably the closest it comes to actual emotion.  I mentioned above how Oz’s character left me with a cold shoulder save for a few parts; his interactions with the doll comprised most of those.

But even when talking about what worked well, it’s so easy to get back to what doesn’t work.  Both Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz feel like they were written off for silliness and, if not that, then the costume design, make up and effects accomplish just that.  There are also some sharp plot holes when taking The Wizard of Oz into account, ranging from details such as why the characters are written the way they are, to the actual existence of the story itself.  There’s potential to explain this in a sequel, but that’ll be a tough bridge to connect.

Oz the Great and Powerful has a few neat ideas in place, but ultimately stumbles with inconsistencies as abundant as its own color spectrum.  Even the potentially invigorating moments merely instill a sense of superficiality.  Oz has a small assortment of tricks up his sleeve, but only a couple of them are actually pulled off.

 
 

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A Movie a Day Catch-Up (Part I)

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit lazy on my New Year’s Resolution to watch a movie per day.  Work, friends and family don’t exactly offer several opportunities, but I still try to keep to it and watch as much as I can, which has made for a little over a dozen viewings thus far.  To keep things more spaced out than my 2012 recap, I’ll aim for about five movies per post.  I’ll gradually get more of these to you, so here you go, hopefully the first of many updates.

The Road

This film was torture.  What could’ve (and should’ve) been a poignant, engaging piece turned out to be little more than a dragged out, downright agonizing experience.  If the filmmakers wanted to make us feel as miserable as the characters in the film, then job well done.  Except it felt that awful for all the wrong reasons; a lack of sympathy, awkward and annoying characters, no real story or plot, and numbing boredom.

The Prince of Egypt

Better than much of the material Disney was rolling out around the time, The Prince of Egypt made Dreamworks seem like a serious contender for the next supplier of (near) classic animated features…then we got the Madagascar and Shrek sequels.  Regardless, The Prince of Egypt did exactly what any animated feature should, it told a story while taking full advantage of technology and visuals.  There’s a surprising amount of heart and development to both the story and especially the characters too, much more than what several live action films afford us (see above).

Sideways

As an introvert, I found Sideways a very self-reflective piece.  I swear I saw myself as Paul Giamatti’s character, and it still scares me.  It might be odd to use that word when describing a dramedy, but I think it adds all the more humanity and strength to the film.  Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are a wonderful combination; they’re authentically fleshed out as people who generally don’t get along, but still like and even need each other.  And when you’ve got something as strongly forged as that, the rest of the material essentially writes itself.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Even though The Hobbit is a 2012 release, I didn’t catch it until the new year.  For the longest time I thought I’d just catch the HFR 3D IMAX showing (look at all those caps), if only for the Star Trek Into Darkness prologue.  But the trip and reception didn’t mix well enough for me, so I caught a standard 2D showing.  My thoughts?  It’s good, just not Lord of the Rings good.  What’s odd is that a lot of the things people didn’t like are things that didn’t bother me.  I didn’t mind the opening in the Shire too much, the dwarfs obnoxious behavior aside; Radaghast I honestly found amusing and a decent overall character; and even though the sets are clearly CGI most of the time, it’s still a beauty to look at.  Plus, I kind of think that’s the point, given the book is seen more as a kind of childhood story for some.  The Lord of the Rings is more real and dark, hence the real sets.  My problems do come with the length and an apparent misuse of development, especially given the fact we have to wait for two more parts.  And while it was great to see Smeagol again, I actually found the whole riddles sequence a bit overrated.  Also, none of the main villainous characters really did anything for me.  I still enjoyed the film and would watch it again if I could set aside the time, but it didn’t leave me suspended like The Lord of the Rings did.

Inglourious Basterds

One of my co-workers lent this movie to me, essentially saying that if I loved Django Unchained, I’ll love this.  I still remembered seeing previews for Inglourious Basterds and feeling like it wouldn’t be my cup of tea.  Still, I took and watched it and, to be honest, my early impressions weren’t far off.  So far the Quentin Tarantino movies I’ve seen have been pretty easy for me to pinpoint my opinion on before I even see it.  The only surprises were Pulp Fiction, which I thought I’d hate and wound up loving, and Django which I figured I’d enjoy, but ended up loving the hell out of it.  Inglourious Basterds managed to accomplish what I thought no Tarantino movie could or should: bore me.  Other than the opening with Christoph Waltz and the “sticky situation”, I couldn’t wait for the movie to end.  Even Reservoir Dogs, a film almost devoid of laughs for me, maintained my interest.  This just did absolutely nothing for me.

 
 

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Theater Feature: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Welcome to the latest in a long line of adapted material made for film: Snow White.  The industry is at a point where originality is hardly of concern for writers, producers and studios.  What else can help to explain the early release of the comical Mirror Mirror prior to the serious, superior version?

As for Snow White and the Huntsman on its own, what we have is a film that surprises as much as it disappoints.  The film looks beautiful, but that only cuts so deep.  The action and circumstances get crazy and interesting, but often with the absence of vital explanations and details.  Nevermind the abrupt opening, because even for a two-hour flick Snow White and the Huntsman feels very underutilized.  A lot of ground is apparently covered, which would be fine if everything didn’t come up so conveniently.

For all the darkness and divergences, Snow White and the Huntsman is still fundamentally the fairy tale it takes inspiration from.  But even then so much feels made up along the way.  The result is a lack of true fulfillment and the occasional eye-rolling moment.  It’s all a shame too, as there’s a lot of potential here.  If the film was really going to work with everything it had in place, then it should have gone all out with its epic characteristics.  Snow White’s latest is pretty and certainly creative in many regards, but underneath is little more than skin and bones.

 
 

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Quote Review: Green Lantern (2011)

“You don’t think I would recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?”

Too ambitious and underdeveloped to be a good summer film, Green Lantern glosses over the source material too much for both newcomers and avid fans of the superhero to truly appreciate. The few action sequences are enjoyable, albeit in a completely silly and thematically inconsistent way.  For that much, there is some entertainment to be had, but you’ll have to keep your expectations and standards quite low.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2012 in Film Review, Movie Review

 

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Quote Review: Immortals (2011)

“Witness hell.”

Rather than making a film like 300 seem obsolete, Immortals achieves little beyond making similar, previously released action-centered films look and feel more like The Lord of the Rings. Immortals simply has no place in a field already cluttered to high hell with trite attempts at (overly) dramatic and epic action. Almost nothing about the film works; even the often reliable Mickey Rourke can’t achieve being that fun of an antagonist. Even if you have next to no knowledge about Greek mythology, it’s so easy to pick the film apart that by the time we get to the stale action, there’s little room for enjoyment.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Film Review, Movie Review

 

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Quote Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

“When I’m around you, I kind of feel like I’m on drugs. Not that I do drugs.”

If there’s anything Scott Pilgrim vs. the World accomplishes besides being a colorful, clustered collage of entertainment, it’s that you could use it as a valuable case in support of legalizing certain substances. I leave you to decide which.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Film Review, Movie Review

 

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