Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz The Great and PowerfulOz the Great and Powerful

Release Date: March 8, 2013

Director: Sam Raimi

Stars: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: You know the land. Not the story.

Seventy-four years after the release of The Wizard of Oz, Sam Raimi (director of the Spider-Man trilogy and Evil Dead trilogy) and co. bring us a story of how a small-time magician comes to rule the mystical land.

This is however many years B.T. (Before Toto) and it follows a small-time Kansas magician, Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who gets swept up by a tornado and to an enchanted land, and is eventually forced into a power struggle between the land’s three witches: Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Glinda (Michelle Williams) and Theodora (Mila Kunis).

The people of Oz have been waiting for the one true Wizard to free the land of all of its turmoil, especially that caused by the Wicked Witch. While the people of Oz accept the wizard with open arms, the witches are unsure if he is telling the truth.

He isn’t. Oscar is more of a professional con artist more than a true magician, and some of his actions toward a few of the witches do not benefit anyone. He makes poor decisions left, right and centre, but it’s all on his journey to become a great man; and to force the Wicked Witch out of the land, as the prophecy suggests.

As with all Disney movies, there has to be a message. This one is clear by the end, but during, it isn’t too clear. What’s this trying to teach the kids? Is it trying to teach them that con artist “ladies men” who uses the same lame trick on girls, might eventually face a wicked backlash? Are they urging children not to eat apples, as Snow White teaches eating red apples means death, and now eating green apples means one gets transformed into a witch? Or perhaps if one lies their way through life, but become a greater person in the end and learn the folly of your ways, they’ll still be rewarded by fortune and fame? No, that doesn’t sound right.

It is really all about the journey (Down the yellow brick road, perhaps?) of changing from a selfish person, to a selfless one. It also teaches that the power of friendship and believing in yourself will conquer all. Oz makes friends along the way that impact his life and help him fight evil forces. China Girl (voiced by Joey King) is a now-orphaned child made of China, whose village was destroyed by the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys. Don’t underestimate her though, she may appear to be fragile, but she has a fair amount of backbone! The other is Finley (voiced by Zach Braff), a CGI-animated monkey who is both servant and useful companion. He is the odd one out, as he seems to be the only monkey of all the land to not be on the evil side, like all the other flying monkeys.

Finley’s the runt of the flying monkeys litter, because the evil ones  look as if they have been taking one too many steroids. The 1939 monkeys are incredibly creepy with those little smiles and their impressive numbers, but these CGI-body building monkeys with sharp teeth shall instil fear in kids of a new generation. Some of the content is intense and frightening (like when intense battles of legitimate wizardry occur and the flying monkeys themselves, or even the tornado sequence at the beginning), but it’s not nearly as disturbing as some material previously seen in 1985’s Return to Oz. The content here isn’t enough to bring about a soft PG-13 rating, but it’s enough to urge me to warn off small children. It feels as if sometimes Raimi forgets this is meant to be a family feature.

It’s simply amazing to see the advancements in technology in 74 years, where the monkeys were once in costumes and now they’re animated, or how much can now be achieved visually. Raimi makes some really special nods to the 1939 classic. The first fifteen (or so) minutes are played out in Kansas in black and white, or even the tornado sequence itself. There are also incredibly sweet poetic scenes where Joey King and Zach Braff portray more than one character. King plays the little China Girl in the land of Oz, but she also plays a small girl in a wheelchair back in Kansas, and because Oscar can’t make her walk in Kansas, it’s really heart-warming to see him help her in the mystical land of Oz. Braff plays Frank in the land of Kansas and Finley in Oz, where Oscar is able to cherish the friendship Finley has to offer, instead of taking Frank’s friendship for granted and treating him purely as a servant.

Raimi also manages to keep this a bit different, by, for example, by only having a part of a musical number. When Oscar and co. visit the Munchkins of Oz, their musical number is cut off mid-song. He also makes this visually beautiful with some notable 3D visual effects and some really cool CGI-animation for the monkeys and a certain green someone. When battles of sorcery occur, it’s visually compelling. This is a great movie, but the main fault is the simple story. It really only follows Oz and his journey to become the legendary Wizard, and his attempts to rid the land of the Wicked Witch. It makes up for it by being visually great, charming and heart-warming at parts. Even though this might not make you feel as magical as you feel watching the 1939 classic, it’s a satisfying substitute.

As for the acting, no one really stands out. James Franco works the charming leading man role by smiling a whole lot, the three witches are good (Williams being the best) and Zach Braff makes Finley sound a bit too much like Chicken Little. He’s a monkey, Braff, not a chicken!

75/100

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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man

Release Date: July 3, 2012

Director: Marc Webb

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

Runtime: 136 min

Tagline: His past was kept from him. His search for answers has just begun.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former partner.

While inferior to Spider-Man 2 of the Sam Raimi trilogy, it’s vastly superior to Spider-Man 3, but it’s a little better than the first Spider-Man. It doesn’t have too many villains, and Marc Webb is a worthy enough director to reboot the great super hero. It doesn’t really ever reach amazing, as Raimi set the bar pretty high, but it is pretty awesome. Granted, The Pretty Awesome Spider-Man doesn’t have a good ring to it.

Peter has to deal with a few situations throughout the feature: some relationship problems, deaths within the family, a police captain, and of course, the Lizard.

Peter is having a few relationship problems with his new girlfriend Gwen Stacy, because he wants to keep her safe. Of course, super heroes are going to have villains. Also, one other relationship problem could arise because he’s never vibrantly exciting. He tells a few jokes, and he has that charming smile he’s always flashing, but that’s about it. Nothing else is virtually off about him, but there aren’t any other notable things about him. No one can forget the great Tobey Maguire, and comparisons between the two are inevitable. Garfield is pretty bland compared to Maguire. Gwen Stacy is a great love choice for Spider-Man. Garfield may be bland when he’s without Stacy (portrayed by Emma Stone), but when the two are together, they’re a pretty fine team. I really like Gwen Stacy, maybe even more than Mary Jane Watson.

Any of you who have seen the original Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, or are generally familiar with the story of Peter Parker, will know which family member of his gets killed off fairly early in the story.  The death of this character brings on solid character development to Peter, as it fills him with a need for vengeance, a trait one would not think of when they hear the word: super hero; but that is one of the primary traits of Parker after this time. Parker’s search for this character’s killer is actually realistic. He goes through a countless number of thugs in search of a man with a star tattoo on his left wrist. This ultimately puts him in the path of a New York police Captain, and that said Police Captain thinks Parker is a vigilant menace, mirroring the character of J. Jonah Jameson.

Compared to Raimi’s first Spider-Man, there are some things this does better, and things it does worse. The introduction to Peter’s new found powers is better, and funnier. Sometimes, the things he does are cooler. Although, no one can forget those “Go go spider web!” or “Up, up and away! ” lines that Maguire uttered in the original Spider-Man. The search for his relative’s killer is more realistic in this, because he just doesn’t find the killer off the bat. Though, if he did find the killer off the bat, it would bring closure much earlier in the story, and Spidey wouldn’t be haunted by that unholy ghost called vengeance.

That whole sub-plot goes on in the first bit of the film, and the actual super villain (in the full Lizard state) doesn’t get fully introduced until after the one-hour mark. Dr. Curt Connors has motivations that are quite easy to understand. He only has one arm, so he has a raging jealousy of lizards because they can regrow limbs. His motivations are easy to understand, but his master plan… not so much. He wants to turn everyone into lizards. Sure, we’ll be stronger and faster, but everyone’s more content being human… We’ll have scaly skin, and even a year supply of hand and skin lotions can’t cure that.

While it probably won’t enter the reboot series status of something like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it still makes the sequels look promising. There are some great action sequences, dramatic scenes and plot development, and it’s a great introduction to a new Spider-Man series. Garfield may make for an often unfunny Spider-Man, as all the jokes are given to Police Captain Stacy, Gwen, Uncle Ben and Aunt May; but maybe the writers will give him a little more flare and heart in the sequels.

75/100

Spider-Man – A (short) film review by Daniel Prinn – A great start to a solid trilogy

Spider-Man

Release Date: May 3, 2002

Director: Sam Raimi

Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe

Release Date: 121 min

Tagline: Does whatever a spider can.

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is an average everyday science wiz, until he goes on a field trip and gets bitten by a spider that gives him superhuman abilities. After tragedy befalls his family, Peter must use his abilities to become New York’s masked saviour.

Along the way, he deals with a number of things: coping with his newfound abilities, fight for the love of Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and fight the evil Green Goblin.

It’s quite the action film; and it is one of my favourite super-hero films. The storyline is  well-structured, the characters are likeable, the acting is good, and the direction is great. I liked the villain in this one; but the action sequences aren’t very memorable.

The film also stars James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris and J.K. Simmons.

It’s a good movie, and a great first film for a great movie trilogy.

 

75/100