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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington On Movies: Oz The Great And Powerful

 

Oz, The Great and Powerful (Three  Stars)

U.S.: Sam Raimi, 2013

Let’s imagine a  new  version of one of the world‘s certifiably well loved movies: that beloved, be-lioned  and still lively 1939 MGM classic, The Wizard of Oz –  or envision what Oz, The Great and Powerful from the Disney Studio has turned out to be.

First you throw out Dorothy, or any kind  Dorothy little-human-girl-protagonist equivalent. (Makes sense , I guess, since anyone trying to walk in Judy Garland’s ruby red slippers, was bound to catch critic-flak. Who wants to be compared to that?) Then you upgrade the wizard character — Professor Marvel, as played with gloriously hammy eloquence by the great Frank Morgan in 1939 — from a supporting role to central star. To catch a younger audience, you turn Marvel into a sexy ladies’ man played by James Franco.

Then you surround Oz, or Oscar, as he’s been renamed here (avoid the obvious Oscar host Franco joke) with sexy star witches,  Instead of a dithering moonstruck  Billie Burke type as Glinda the Good and a ferociously cackling Margaret Hamilton type as The Wicked Witch of the West, you cast super-blonde Michelle Williams as Glinda, and ultra-brunette Mila Kunis as her antagonist Theodora. A.k.a. The WWW.  You turn the three into a sort of  romantic triangle — and you end up with Kunis doing Margaret Hamilton anyway.

Wait. There’s more. Not content with two sexy witches, you bring in another beautiful nasty lady, called Evanora, (played by Rachel Weisz), and have her stage a kind of palace coup before a cast of thousands. You give The Wizard a garrulous flying monkey named Finlley as a sidekick. You dump the old Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Jr. and Bert Lahr parts of The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman and The Cowardly Lion (or perhaps their granddads), because, again, who wants to be compared to Ray Bolger, Jack Haley Jr. And Bert Lahr? Or to give any reviewer the chance to recall the unfortunate original Tin Woodman, Buddy Ebsen, and tell how he nearly got painted to death and was dropped from the movie but came back and became a star anyway on The Beverly Hillbillies.

You clutter up the landscape with Munchkins and Winkies and more flying monkeys and colors vaguely reminiscent of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds turned into a video game. You don’t write any new songs –except one that flitted by so fast I barely heard it. (Who wants to be compared to Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “If I Only had a Brain?“) You stage a big slam-bang climax, reminiscent of Ten Days that Shook the World, with Munchkins . You…

But why go any further? There’s lots of good stuff in Oz — production stuff, thanks to the visual artists, like designer Robert Stromberg and the cinematographer Peter Deming. But on a script level, do you have any real hope for this movie? You probably should have abandoned it as soon as you heard that Franco was the new Wizard of Oz. Instead of the smoothie con man patter of a Frank Morgan equivalent, or the quick-witted raps of  Robert Downey, Jr. (reportedly the original choice for this movie), we get the lackadaisical pseudo-seductive gabs of Franco, who is at his best playing rebels (James Dean, Allen Ginsberg) or laid-back, grinning stoner types (Pineapple Express). And then he doesn’t even get a good equivalent of the ’39 movie’s poppy field scene.

Maybe  Downey, Jr. could have brought it off. (His dad, Robert Downey, Sr. — a prince — reminds you a little of Professor Marvel.) At least Downey could have got the voice, which Franco really doesn’t even try for. (Nor, it has to be said, do the writers, Mitchell  Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire.) But to take the world of a populist, feminist writer like “The Wizard of Oz’s” L. Frank Baum (who preferred girl heroines) and to give that make-believe world, as a hero,  Franco’s randy Oscar, surrounded by sexy witches, seems like a recipe for trouble . The film isn’t nad  – it has enough good people and colorful  scenes to keep it floating along on a wave of semi-entertainment. But I’d suggest that a big-bucks Wizard of Oz prequel, without a Dorothy-style  heroine, and without songs or much comedy, is often barking up the wrong psychedelic tree.

The movie was directed by Sam Raimi, who sometimes seemed closer to the spirit of  The Wizard of Oz in the Evil Dead movies than he does in this new Oz. (Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell pops up as Oz‘s gatekeeper.) It was written by Kapner (of the Bruce Willis-Matt Perry comedy The Whole Nine Yards) and Lindsay-Abaire (of Robots, Rise of the Guardians and Rabbit Hole).  Together, with a good cast and splashy visuals, they‘ve made a spectacular Oz movie with precious little of the fun, funniness, charm, gaiety, exuberance, wit, songs, or tongue-in-cheek wit and wonder that the original had.

There is some. And the filmmakers  do pay lots of homages to both the book and the 1939 movie. In tribute and remembrance, they shoot the first Kansas scenes of Oz in black and white and then switch to color (not quite as spectacularly an effect as in 1939, when most films were in monochrome). And there are numerous Ozzy in-jokes. Yet, this is an Oz that nobody involved  (except Mila Kunis, when she gets to take off on Hamilton) seems to enjoy doing all that much much. It’s good-looking of course — most big-budget movies these days at least give you that that — but not in any memorable or really engaging way.

When I was 11 or so, I saw the Judy Garland Wizard of Oz for the first time. And, like many of you, I suspect, it seemed to be a movie that I’d known and had somewhere inside me always, that I’d been watching (on Thanksgiving, of course) forever. My Grandpa Axel smiled at the Scarecrow. My Grandmas Marie’s face lit up as she talked about Judy singing Over the Rainbow. My mother Edna, who’s taken me to see Garland in A Star is Born, talked about the first time she saw it, and she laughed at the Lion. I settled down in my grandparents’ living room to see it for that first time, and later when it was all over, everything seemed right, everything seemed perfect, and that included of course, Frank Morgan as The “great and powerful” Wizard of Oz. Perfect. Now, who wants to be compared to that?

 

9 Responses to “Wilmington On Movies: Oz The Great And Powerful”

  1. robert hileman says:

    This IS NOT THE WIZARD OF OZ! I went expecting not to like this movie. It was entertaining, and charming. You critics need to pull your heads out… every other movie has a sequel orprequel… just because thise

  2. robert hileman says:

    Is a classic you could at least be real

  3. seanh says:

    I don’t think that you are giving this movie a fair review. Yes it may not be the same Oz that you grew up with, but I believe this movie wasn’t for you or people like you, but a younger group and those who grew up liking the idea of an updated version of otherwise a great kids story. You are comparing this to a version that was done almost 100 years ago. Come on, be fair in your critique. Acting then will always be better, than now.
    So there is a little laziness in the acting. If this is a prequel then it is supposed to seem unprepared and a little careless. I think it is a great setup for the next movie.
    I always felt that this story would have been great with CGI technology. I think it was wonderfully made and I look forward to the next one.

  4. bsmith says:

    How does one become a critic? The reason why I ask is because you all can’t tell a good movie from a whole in a wall.

  5. Phillip says:

    Excellent film, great introduction to frank’s work… albeit a new interpretation. I have read some of the books and find this film to he quite wonderous..epic..and grand. Can’t wait for the sequel that reimagines dorthy’s first time in oz! Loved the original movie which departed from frank’s vision. THERE WERE NO RUBY RED SLIPPERS in the book. So let the people spinning the tale continue to create, if we did everything the same…every wall would be white and life would lack spice. Cheers:D

  6. Captain Celluloid says:

    RE: “bsmith” How does one become a critic?”

    First, one learns to spell or at least run the spell checker

    Second, one learns how to write . . . . yes, it can be learned.

    Third, one has something to say . . . . and backs it up.

    . . . . and most importantly; one learns that being a critic is not
    just about “liking” or “disliking” something . . . .

    To wit; not agreeing with you does not make a critic “wrong.”

  7. Sally-n-Chicago says:

    I’m probably the only one on board who sides with Wilmington. No, it’s not the original OZ, but it’s ruined with all the technology and actors who lack energy.

  8. jomamash says:

    I liked it even less than Wilmington. The problems with casting are the least of it.

    The film gives very little sense of what the situation was like before Oscar landed. Without a solid sense of the given circumstances, the events seemed pretty random to me and after an hour, I just waited, and waited, for it to be over.

    We learn of the prophesy predicting a new wizard but what power did Weisz and Kunis’ witches have and what was their relationship with each other? How old are the 3 witches (don’t want to give spoilers)? If Glinda’s bubble is just for show, does that mean she could have made Oscar fly with just a waggle of her wand?

    Williams was the only one who brought any interesting spin to her character, though most of that seemed a carryover from My Week w Marilyn.

    I don’t know the books so take no offense at having a male lead. But the idea that all the witches look to Oscar as at the very least a figure head of power seems unfortunate. Even Glinda, who’s supposed to be the good witch, has a cynical sense of what the people need: a man to believe in.

  9. Sam E. says:

    Wilmington is being a bit harsh. He didn’t even mention the two best characters in the film(the good guy flying monkey Fink and porcelain doll). I agree entirely about the casting though, the film should have taken a note from the 1939 film and cast more character actors instead of A-list leading role types who distract from the film as much as they compliment it.

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Wilmington

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Julian Schnabel: Years ago, I was down there with my cousin’s wife Corky. She was wild — she wore makeup on her legs, and she had a streak in her hair like Yvonne De Carlo in “The Munsters.” She liked to paint. I had overalls on with just a T-shirt and looked like whatever. We were trying to buy a bunch of supplies with my cousin Jesse’s credit card. They looked at the credit card, and then they looked at us and thought maybe we stole the card, so they called Jesse up. He was a doctor who became the head of trauma at St. Vincent’s. They said, “There’s somebody here with this credit card and we want to know if it belongs to you.”

He said, “Well, does the woman have dyed blonde hair and fake eyelashes and look like she stepped out of the backstage of some kind of silent movie, and is she with some guy who has wild hair and is kind of dressed like a bum?”

“Yeah, that’s them.”

“Yeah, that’s my cousin and my wife. It’s okay, they can charge it on my card.”
~ Julian Schnabel Remembers NYC’s Now-Shuttered Pearl Paint

MB Cool. I was really interested in the aerial photography from Enter the Void and how one could understand that conceptually as a POV, while in fact it’s more of an objective view of the city where the story takes place. So it’s an objective and subjective camera at the same time. I know that you’re interested in Kubrick. We’ve talked about that in the past because it’s something that you and I have in common—

GN You’re obsessed with Kubrick, too.

MB Does he still occupy your mind or was he more of an early influence?

GN He was more of an early influence. Kubrick has been my idol my whole life, my own “god.” I was six or seven years old when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I never felt such cinematic ecstasy. Maybe that’s what brought me to direct movies, to try to compete with that “wizard of Oz” behind the film. So then, years later, I tried to do something in that direction, like many other directors tried to do their own, you know, homage or remake or parody or whatever of 2001. I don’t know if you ever had that movie in mind for your own projects. But in my case, I don’t think about 2001 anymore now. That film was my first “trip” ever. And then I tried my best to reproduce on screen what some drug trips are like. But it’s very hard. For sure, moving images are a better medium than words, but it’s still very far from the real experience. I read that Kubrick said about Lynch’s Eraserhead, that he wished he had made that movie because it was the film he had seen that came closest to the language of nightmares.

Matthew Barney and Gaspar Noé