Movie review: “Oz the Great and Powerful”

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Partner and I saw “Oz the Great and Powerful,” with James Franco and Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis, this past weekend. We knew the reviews hadn’t been great, but we knew also that it had done terrific box office the past few weeks, and that a number of my friends had seen it.

 

 

Um. Well . . .

 

 

I am, as you’d expect, a huge Ozphile. I love the 1939 movie (what gay man doesn’t?), and “Wicked” (both book and musical), and I own all fourteen of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, and I have seen “The Wiz” and a couple of the other knockoff versions. It’s a rich mythology, and lots of people have had fun playing in the wonderland that Baum created.

 

 

But this new movie is a mess, frankly. It has some great bits: the opening credits are wonderful – an animated sequence of magic tricks – and there are some beautiful scenes along the way: gorgeous super-realistic color, flowers that are gems and musical instruments. But it tries to recapture the amiable magic of the 1939 movie, and it fails. There are all kinds of winking reminiscences of the old movie: a lion, and some scarecrows, and a reference to “having no heart,” and singing/dancing Munchkins.

 

As in the 1939 movie, we open in Kansas, in a sepia-toned black-and-white. The Wizard (Mr. Franco) is a sideshow conjuror and a womanizer. He gets in a hot-air balloon to escape from the circus strongman, who’s just found out that his girlfriend has been seeing the Wizard on the side.

 

 

Cue the tornado!

 

 

The Land of Oz, naturally, is super-Technicolor. We meet witches, and flying monkeys, and talking birds. The movie was filmed in 2D/3D, so there are lots of soaring / flying / coasting scenes; when the Wizard first gets to Oz, he rides down a waterfall in a way that reminded me exactly of the Splash Mountain ride at Disney World. (If there’s not an “Oz” ride in Disney World within ten years – provided this movie is a hit – I’ll eat my magical hat.)

 

 

You’d think, with all that background material, that the screenwriters would have had enough to work with.

 

 

But they ended up with a thin movie full of thin characters.

 

 

You know what? Save yourself the heartache. Go to Netflix and see “Wild at Heart” instead. It’s a very sly retelling of the Oz story, and it’s much better than “Oz the Great and Powerful”:

 

 

 


 

Movie review: “The Bourne Legacy”


Partner and I finally saw “The Bourne Legacy” last weekend.

 

First of all, there was this Jeremy Renner fellow, who has interesting eyes and a nice face and a very neato body. He’s Aaron Cross, a supersoldier / agent who’s caught in an elaborate doublecross / triplecross scheme, and who fights back.

 

 

Like so many modern action/adventures, it’s an extended chase scene. It is, however, an exceptionally well-done extended chase scene. It has the usualparkour stuff, but also mopeds and motorcycles and cars. Never for a moment do you lose focus, or forget the goal.

 

 

The thing that surprised me, however, is the cinematography.

 

 

There are a couple of scenes, in among the frantic chases, that are beautifully dreamlike:

 

 

–         An opening sequence in the mountains of Alaska, including a scene with Renner diving (mostly naked) in a freezing river in front of a waterfall, like every Hawaiian idyll you’ve ever seen, but at forty degrees below;

–         A violent shootout in a remote abandoned house, all white wood and long staircase and peaceful autumn foliage outside, that feels like something out of “Inception”;

–         A panic in a Manila drug factory, with hundreds of workers in pink smocks and pink hairnets running for the exits;

–         Manila itself, a Third World dreamscape of alleyways and broken rooftops and smoggy skylines;

–         An Elysian archipelago of tropical islands, and a small boat running between them.

 

 

The supporting cast (Scott Glenn, Ed Norton, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, Stacy Keach) could have been replaced with nobodies, or cardboard cutouts. The movie’s all about Jeremy and his traveling companion / hostage / girlfriend, Rachel Weisz. You know it’s going to turn out okay for them (until the sequel, anyway).

 

 

Partner and I highly recommend this picture.

 

 

And we’re deeply committed to the sequel.


 

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