Release: Friday, March 9, 2012


I expected a little more out of Alec Trevelyan in this new Bond-like outing. Unfortunately, there were no clever quips about how they are about to destroy their targets in this one.

A British Secret Service agent finds himself on a questionable, albeit dangerous assignment: stopping the men (man?) responsible for the string of London bombings at all costs. He’s given little technology, even less support from his superiors, and only one partner, Mark (Tom Burke), to help out on the mission. This is, of course, during the height of the fear of terrorism following the 9/11 attacks on the United States and the sting of that attack is accurately refocused on the British landscape. It sickens me that there need not even be a dramatic film made to show just how devastating this time period was and continues to be, but regardless, here comes one. And you know what? It’s not half bad.

However, in Cleanskin ‘not half bad’ is a lot more telling of its confused direction than anything. The first half of this film is rather suspenseful, replete with compelling chase scenes, ultra-violence and Sean Bean being stiff as a board in his role as Ewan. (Actually, the latter is a trend that continues throughout, leaving me to question whether or not I truly appreciate what it is that he does.) The second half becomes something of a chore, sitting through a series of well-written terrorist propaganda campaigns whose intentions are to create the illusion that these people are really just acting out of good faith. What they are, in fact, are monsters. Straight-up killers. The second half of the film does absolutely nothing in the way of swaying our opinion of these religious zealots. If it isn’t intended to do such a thing — show us that even terrorist cells such as the London bombers are people simply acting on faith, not out of just anarchy and plain evil — there are far too many moments throughout that seem to indicate as much. Hence, the directorial mess that Cleanskin ultimately becomes.

For example, there are two main leads in this film that you need to pay close attention to. One is obviously that of Ewan, the Secret Service Operative and the second is a young student named Ash (Abhin Galeya), who is very intelligent, smartly dressed and intensely angry. We’ll ditch Bean’s character for now, since in the movie his story somewhat takes a backseat to that of Galeya’s. A few substantial flashbacks reveal Ash’s history; of how he went from quiet student to terrorist, his conscience being torn apart by wanting to lead a normal life with then-girlfriend Kate (Tuppence Middleton) and also wanting to fulfill his duties to God……read: his perceived duties. A good bulk of the middle section of this film — if not entirely the middle third — is dedicated to developing Ash, the mentality of a man living amongst whites, the likes of which he for the most part detests. Ash meets a man by the name of Nabil (Peter Polycarpou) who takes him under his wing to explain why exactly Ash feels the anger that he does. Nabil spoonfeeds Ash all the rhetoric one could ever need to psychologically snap. Call it propaganda, call it brainwashing. I just called it annoying, and a rather unnecessarily detailed detour from our main story.

So…we are now armed with all this character development on Ash’s part, and we must find a way to see how his emotional story and that of Ewan will intersect. Unfortunately, Ewan, a battle-hardened veteran now working for the BSS, is a rather flat and boring character in this film. Granted, he can kick some ass — male or female, he does not seem to care. Even if he isn’t operating beside (or maybe in the shadow of) a man like 007, I looked forward to another gruff but enjoyable performance from former Agent 006. In this film Bean is no fun. That’s not the biggest deal in the world, though, given that the movie is perpetually serious and doesn’t lend even a second to spare for a joke. He fits the scenery. But he’s not worth rooting for, at the same time.

What Hadi Hajaig’s second film boils down to is a rather brutal, yet realistic portrayal of how latent racism has become; a microcosm of this global problem exists in the relationship between Ash and Kate (Kate being a white Briton, and Ash being a Muslim). He is desperately wanting to lead a normal life with her, but Nabil insists he has other, more important obligations. Every time Ewan is on the hunt for further information or just trying to locate the next terror target, his will and determination to protect his country from this hatred is displayed with brute, often sickening force. One would assume these two ideals would mesh together well in a film: the passionate devotion of a British patriot versus the dedication of a freedom fighter to tear all of it down.

Unfortunately, Hajaig’s attempt doesn’t quite make it all fit on the screen neatly and we are left with a headache and a sick conscience for having witnessed so much hatred on display. After watching this it feels like we’ve just been flicking through endless news channels about the escalating global violence, and it doesn’t really leave us with the most optimistic outlook on existential crises such as the war on terror.

Perhaps such is not the film’s responsibility, though.


3-0Recommendation: This is a decent action film loaded with plenty of gore, violence and racial tension. Stylistically its a strange mix between Jason Statham machismo and Kathryn Bigelow’s sharp political commentary, but there’s not much grace to it, and not much warmth in its storytelling. There’s little room for civilized conversation when so much is at stake, and the controversial subjects visited upon throughout make this difficult for me to definitively say ‘Yes, it’s worth seeing,’ or ‘No, you should absolutely avoid.’ If you happen to come across it, it’s worth an evening watch. Well, maybe not. It could leave some disturbing images in your head before you fall asleep…


Running Time: 108 mins.

Quoted: “I fought over there, to stop this from happening here. . . again. Didn’t stop, they’re not going to stop, and neither will I. I’m going to find everyone of them, and send them to the death they prey for.”

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Spring Breakers


Release: Friday, March 22, 2013


Spring Break forever, b*tches…

This being the mantra of Harmony Korine’s new movie, Spring Breakers begs but just one question: is it hot — or not?

Thanks to impressive performances, a Drive-esque soundtrack and editing effects, and borderline gratuitous nudity Spring Breakers distinguishes itself from other debauch films of its kind — things like Project X, The Hangover, and a whole host of post-American Pie boy-fantasy adventures. James Franco knocks it dead in one of the most unlikely leads I’ve ever seen him undertake (remember, he was on the cover of High Times magazine following his performance in Pineapple Express.) This role is better than him appearing to be the new Hollywood ambassador for potheads.

Then there’s the four girls at the heart of this get-crunk story: Brit (Ashley Brenson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez) who define what hardcore partying is all about, and most of them are rather likable. In films that are thin on morality and all about some “good times,” being able to like the main characters is a big plus. Just for comparison’s sake, Nima Nourizadeh’s version (Project X) suffered from a case of featuring detestable teenage punks, thereby the film became far less attractive. Here, while the bikinis are let loose the sun radiates magnificently, and the drugs, guns and good times simply roll.

If that doesn’t at least intrigue you, perhaps you would not be an ideal test audience for Spring Breakers. But that doesn’t matter. Surface appeal isn’t everything in this film…even though losing clothes does seem to become the overarching theme here. There is a surprisingly wholesome quality in the message being sent by shedding your bathing suits and your inhibitions — in this case, anyway.

These four girls are looking for a way out. Out of the far-too-familiar college dorm; out of the routine existence in their one-horse town; out of their own minds. There is, however, one tiny speed bump on the road to progress: moneh. Having lots of it. So the girls decide they are not going to let anything stop them from having their idealistic vacation and they pull off a crazy heist to ensure that their break is everything they want. The fact that this is the way these girls are starting their spring break is indication enough that the ensuing hour or so of the film will be nothing but insanity. Most of us don’t experience what these girls go through on their first night — for the entirety of our breaks. At least, from what we can remember….

The girls finally arrive at their destination. And because the intro to the film made such an impression — an extensive dream sequence of party guys and gals in technicolor and slow-motion shots getting doused in salt water and alcohol — we are excited that these four have finally found the action as well. By the time Brit and friends join the scene we are well buried in the psyche of spring breakers, and far removed from our normal sense of decency, control and pretty much anything that makes us people. Indeed, this is a more animalistic movie than we’ve seen in a minute. Every fantasy is quickly gratified with the help of a beer-soaked camera angle, a tinge of southern sun flare caught in the lens; and for thirty minutes this is somewhat enjoyable. Obviously, it’s not enough to sustain a film. Good thing Spring Breakers packed for more than that.

A good portion of the film consists of choppy edits that more often than not successfully refocus our attention on more important matters. Despite how grand and chaotic the parties are, there’s a darker element lurking beneath the surface, a strange liquid seeping beneath everyone’s bare feet that slap the hot concrete. The difference between having a good time and remaining safe is constantly blurred, and the trend towards glorifying the party-hard mentality makes for some disconcerting moments. At least two of the four girls are completely hell-bent on drawing the line as far as they can. One of them is not as committed, and the fourth winds up with a close call that makes even her think that this scene is too cray-cray.

If you think about this film being one gigantic party, imagine the first half or so being the actual party and the moment we meet Franco’s rapper dude “Alien” when the four girls get busted at one particularly raucous affair at a hotel, the morning/day after. It’s not so much a tonal shift we undergo in the second half as it is a more forceful approach to the message trying to be relayed throughout. At what point do we stop sacrificing dignity for a good time? At what point do we stop caring about our physical well-being for the sake of things being different for a week?

This is where Franco’s character gets to shine. As a fairly prominent rap star who’s obsessed with money, power and violence (he likes to keep Scarface on repeat on the DVD player) he poses as an interesting, if not off-kilter challenge to these girls’ thirst for spring break excitement. ‘Alien’ is immediately entranced by the fact that these ladies are willing to stick by him and see whatever it is that he does. At first that sinking feeling kicks in: what in the heck are these girls getting into? Why is there absolutely no sense of boundaries or sanctity of any kind in this film? But if you keep watching, you’re bound to find it.

Alien is a very interesting choice for Franco. Despite the fact that you can ultimately tell who it is behind that ballin’ set of gold teeth, the quaff of thin dreadlocks and that infamous Florida-tanned exterior the character is at once hilarious, insightful and something close to charming. This is due wholly to James Franco having the time of his life in this position. I waited for a long time for the dreaded twist to happen where Franco would end up doing something terrible to these poor wayward coeds, but what I got instead was a twist I was not expecting. I’m not sure if anyone expected it. I think Britney Spears helped play a hand in that.


3-5Recommendation: I would go if you’re even slightly curious about what this movie seems to be about. I almost guarantee you (sorry, no money back) that you will be surprised by the level of social commentary being made in the midst of such youthful jubilation and recklessness. If you’re seeking pure entertainment, then you’re needing a ticket in your hand. Now.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “Look at all my sh*t!!!”

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Seven Psychopaths


Release: Friday, October 12, 2012 (limited)


All I really have to say is that was an awful lot of bloodshed over a Shih Tzu……..then again, that’s just the perfect addition to a film parodying a genre of films that seems to make fun of violence itself. Seven Psychopaths will not apologize for the violence, either. And thank goodness, because it shouldn’t.

Despite it being the second full-length feature film from Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (his first being 2008’s In Bruges), Psychopaths plays out as comfortably and entertainingly as something churned out by a director with about 10 or 20 projects already under his or her belt. And, despite the brutality throughout, there’s an incredible charm to the direction; a sense of brazen authority in the way it mixes graphic violence with silly parody in the strangest of times.

Colin Farrell is but one of many oddball characters (….okay, psychopaths, if you wanna get technical) who is up to the task of demonstrating just how outrageous the crime dramedy film has become these days. He plays Marty, a drunk/Hollywood screenwriter who’s been bashing his head against the wall under the stress of missed deadlines and writer’s block. He’s got an idea of what he’s going to do but so far only the title Seven Psychopaths, and one character sketch (Psychopath #1) have come to him. Luckily, his loudmouthed friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) has a few ideas and would like nothing more but to be included in Marty’s writing and idea-generation process.

But of course with Billy being Billy — which is speaking more to Sam Rockwell having one heck of a field day in this film — he simply can’t sustain his sense of purpose just by playing side-seat driver in Marty’s vehicle here. He is an actor of some description, but nothing doing on that front either. Naturally, he turns to dognapping and enlists the help of his good friend Hans (Christopher Walken) to return these poor dogs for cash. This is a pretty legitimate way of earning money for awhile; that is, until Billy takes a little Shih Tzu that just so happens to belong to one of the most ruthless criminals in the Los Angeles area — a balding bully named Charlie (Woody Harrelson).

Now, describing this movie and where it goes with its various plots is a little like describing to someone your own family tree: it’s complicated, and you shouldn’t be surprised to see that person’s eyes start to glaze over a few minutes in. In fact the plot structure is remarkably like a family-tree in its design. The main thread in Psychopaths is this story being written about seven guys with varying degrees of rage and varying degrees of justification to back up their actions. But whereas Farrell’s character is trying to get his story done, we in the audience are trying to figure out where everyone ELSE is coming from, and what they have to do with him. Most are linked to him in some inexplicable or violent manner….others begin to factor in as Marty is explaining his movie and who the psychopaths are going to be. I was a particular fan of one creation: the Vietnamese veteran guy who dresses like a priest, uses a hooker for attention and attempts to exact revenge on Americans for what was done to his people. It’s completely over the top, but at the same time, so completely necessary!

There is but one symptom of being a fan of these psychopaths: a little bit of a headache, and a touch of confusion. This is only because a good majority of the film is spent going back and forth between the situation facing Marty, Billy and Hans involving the ruthless Charlie who’s after his dog, and the scenes Marty is setting up for his movie. Ostensibly, this film is a film about a film within a film. Confused yet? No? Cool; sitting through this highly entertaining film will not be an issue for you. If there is a weak link in the chain, it is the snappy editing that brings us to and from these psychopathic introductions Marty has in his mind — it may take a while for people to catch on that this is what’s really going on.

The rest of the aspects to the film — most notably the charismatic acting style — succeed on so many levels that these moments of confusion remain brief and are hardly a threat to disrupting the film’s balance, one’s ability to enjoy themselves while watching one of the silliest violent movies ever, or even make much of a threat to derailing the storyline much. Despite the jump back-and-forths between real world and Marty’s screenplay, the film remains remarkably focused with as many subplots as it has going on. Tom Waits, as Zachariah in one such subplot, adds to the delightful entourage of badassery. Walken nails his role (as though there was any doubt he wouldn’t…) and he absolutely shines in the moments he needs to. The conclusion of the film is given such life thanks to Christopher Walken being Christopher Walken. The scene is infused with a sensitivity and passion visited upon in some scenes before, but never embellished upon until this moment; it becomes vital for differentiating Seven Psychopaths from being a cold-blooded killing machine.

McDonagh’s second outing as writer-director stylistically may not explore too much new territory but that does not mean the ground we’re covering again is not worth the revisit. His films are quite unique in the strangeness of the experience, which also happens to be a trademark stamp of Tarantino’s work. Still, McDonagh’s effort feels different, if not more lighthearted, and has certainly earned its place in the discussion of great cinema.


4-0Recommendation: Seven Psychopaths is a must-see movie. Simply put. For the laughs, the violence, the constant bickering, and for the cute little Shih Tzu…this is a very unique experience and I fully recommend it to everyone and anyone. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 109 mins.

Quoted: “Art and peace and all that shit can wait.”

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The Incredible Burt Wonderstone


Release: Friday, March 15, 2013


It’s a little bit of a wonder and a magic trick in itself that this one didn’t turn out to be better. And I’m not going to write it off as a disaster, either, but this will become in a few weeks a very forgettable installment in Carell’s (and Carrey’s) comedic career(s).

Burt Wonderstone (Carell) is a jackass. That much is clear.

I guess, like many absurdly rich, famous people, the size of the ego can grow to equally absurd proportions, and this is the approach Michael Scott…, Steve Carell takes in creating a lead role who’s ultimately doomed for failure once a new, and more captivating performer (Jim Carrey) comes onto the Las Vegas scene. Wonderstone has lived quite a lavish lifestyle up to this point, performed the exact same magic acts for the past decade or so, and has never left the side of his childhood friend, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). The two have built their careers on the concept of a “magical friendship” on stage and they perform all their stunts together, sometimes requesting the help of a female audience member (ultimately, this becomes a whole other trick…and not really the magical kind). Regardless, at the end of the night when the two are done with their set, we can tell that 10 years of going through the motions has worn on the friendship of the two magicians.

Where our uneven tandem finally gets challenged — I say ‘uneven’ since Burt Wonderstone insists on believing this act is more about him than his partner Anton — is when they learn of a new kind of magician, a man by the name of Steve Gray, who does what is known as ‘street magic.’ Self-mutilation apparently now comes packaged under a new name; how lovely.

Also an egomaniacal twit, Carrey’s Steve Gray represents the new era of magic…. he’s the hotness. With long flowing hair (which looks great on Jim Carrey, by the way…I haven’t seen the man with hair this crazy since his days as Ace!!) The two old dogs must learn new tricks, and fast. That is, if they want to remain relevant and compete with tricks like…well, I won’t go into detail there because some things Steve Gray does is a little icky. But here’s the grand sum of the plot: they do try to compete.

Yes, the magical friendship pair try a ‘street art trick’ of their own by attempting to spend an entire week trapped in a suspended plastic box with holes punched in it, all while being dangled over the Las Vegas strip. Quite a sight to behold. Too bad it doesn’t go well….(not a spoiler, don’t worry. You’ll see this coming a mile away). When this all goes awry, it results in the two friends parting ways and Burt is left scrounging for new places to perform since his act can no longer be sustained without Anton. But even this highly expected and well-worn path being walked on here as Burt finds himself going back to his roots to realize why he went into magic at all, is not what kills Burt Wonderstone. Not for me. I might have a higher tolerance for stupid films, anyway, I might have to grant you that, but still.

What is bad with this film is the good stuff; meaning, the attempts at being a laugh-per-minute comedy fail time and time again throughout the film, with some jokes simply smacking the floor with a heavy thud. They just don’t land gracefully, or at all. There’s this one moment where Burt’s assistant, Jane (Olivia Wilde) has come over to Burt’s shanty little hotel room just to check on him and make sure he’s alright, and the only thing Burt can do is try to turn it into a make out session. This, I presume, was intended for comedy, but what it came off as was plain awkward, pointless and dumb. Pointless in the sense that we already know how much of a stubborn jerk Burt is, we didn’t need more of it.

Deleted scenes, anyone?

Where I found comedy was partly in Carrey’s role as Steve Gray who does some absolutely ridiculous stunts, and partly in James Gandolfini being in the movie. Period. That was funny on its own since he stuck out like a sore thumb. Gandolfini, as Burt and Anton’s former boss at his grand casino/resort hotel, perpetually threw off the vibe that Carell and Carrey were creating because all I can see that guy do is intimidate people, and on occasion, shoot them. That’s an oversimplification of Gandolfini’s career, of course, but I couldn’t look past these facts. But he wasn’t terrible in the film. Miscast, perhaps.

Alan Arkin lights up the screen a little later on, playing the one-and-only Rance Holloway — the famous magician who inspired Burt and Anton to become magicians themselves. He becomes involved in one of the lazier plot fillers in this film by residing in the very retirement home Burt has washed up on performing low-key magic acts for the elderly there. Burt catches the guy’s attention (not a good thing, in this case…) and yadda-yadda-yadda, we get the typical big-picture perspective stuff, about how the glory days are so long gone and “why would anyone else ever try to copy me”…that kind of rigamarole. He’s a funny dude, no lie; but we’ve heard these exact words uttered by thousands, probably literally thousands of other actors in films similar to this beforehand.

And even more unfortunately for a man of his talents, Arkin is at the mercy of an audience which is pretty close to yawning having just sat through a dry spell of joke-free scenes or even unintentionally funny moments. He comes in to help Burt find his mojo again. Cool…yawn

The remainder of the film simply falls apart as well, a dilapidated Pinto with all four wheels blowing out in the final 30 or so minutes. The final act and trick of the film, following a rather uninspiring reuniting between Burt and Anton, and the inclusion of Jane as part of the Incredible Burt and Anton act, is so preposterous it became funny in its own way. Perhaps this was the intention. Perhaps this was the intention all along — does this film at any point give itself room to be serious?

Though that was actually a rhetorical question, the answer is simply ‘No.’ The Incredible Burt Wonderstone does make some good use out of Jim Carrey as the outrageous street performer (he claims in an interview that he never intended to be making fun of any particular street performer, say, Criss Angel).

My final conclusion about this film? Well it’s not an overly positive one, but I did not hate it. I may have set myself up for failure by going in wanting a level of comedy something LIKE Anchorman, The Office, or heck….Crazy, Stupid, Love, or even Dan In Real Life. That’s a pretty diverse list of Carell’s achievements right there. So where on the list does Burt Wonderstone get placed? Not the bottom, definitely not the top, but in meager middle territory.

The stars in this film will likely do many more films similar to this, and that’s alright. But with them playing magicians, I was hoping they might create a grander illusion.


2-5Recommendation: I would go if you really are in love with Steve Carell and/or Jim Carrey. I mean, I did. That was probably the greatest trick of them all. There’s not much else to behold in this film beyond Carell and Carrey acting crazy goofy around one another…more so Carrey.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “It’s natural for a dying leaf to be frightened of the autumn wind.”

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Oz, The Great and Powerful


Release: Friday, March 8, 2013


Somewhere over the rainbow, a new director was buried up to his neck in notes, Munchkins (the kind from Dunkin Donuts, not the ones in the movie) and contemporary revisions to one of the most classic fairy tale stories of all time. Too bad the end result didn’t come out quite as dreamy as the first. Then again, when do they ever?

Sam Raimi takes off for the wonderful land of Oz in his visually dazzling prequel to the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, for a good portion of this ride we still feel like we’ve been left back in plain old Kansas, as far as good acting is concerned. Given the fact that it has been quite a minute since yours truly has seen a movie rated PG, my first thought was to go, “Oh, yeah. They probably can’t do or say such-and-such…” But sacrificing more adult thematic elements for a broader MPAA rating ultimately was not what made this version a weak film. When I refer to “good acting,” I don’t expect Daniel Day-Lewis to pop out of a hedge and astound us with all the research he’s done to become the best possible Munchkin or goblin he can be; a film like this can get away with passable acting from moderately believable characters. You can suspend disbelief for everything else, and heck — why not? That’s the magic many who go to see this film are seeking!

James Franco is the main perpetrator of the lazy acting evident across the board. Mila Kunis plays Theodora/The Wicked Witch of the West, Rachel Weisz is Evanora, and Michelle Williams is Glinda (the Good Witch). Other notables include Zach Braff as the voice behind Frank Finley, Oz’s soon-to-be monkey/assistant; Bill Cobbs plays the Master Tinker; Joey King gets to voice Oz’s other sidekick, the China Doll.

The three witches are painted as rather blank canvasses, although they are never at any point really boring to watch. They’re simply predictable archetypes that fail to conquer any new territory within the genre of make-believe. This little detail is not so much a problem when you find yourself swooning over the incredible CGI and crazy colors. But when it comes time to meet and greet a lost man in a hot air balloon that has fallen into Oz from another very strange place, the dialogue and the acting really must make the elder members of the audience nostalgic for the film of yesteryear.

Back to Franco: as more-or-less the centerpiece for the film, he needs to realize his acting chops have got to be a heck of a lot better than this to sell a movie this well-established. (And by well-established, I mean having 50+ years of being loved by millions.) The more frustrating fact is that we’ve seen him do it before! Franco was mesmerizing in 127 Hoursthat one story about the fearless outdoorsman who got trapped in a narrow canyon in Utah and had to cut his right arm off in order to escape and survive. While this was no character study, Oscar “Oz” Diggs certainly has some huge mythical shoes to fill to go from being the outsider to The Great Wizard of Oz. The so-called Great and Powerful has got to step it up a notch for Dorothy  to have any interest in journeying to Emerald City with some annoying tin man, a scaredy-cat lion and a scarecrow. Oz’s lines are delivered with such passionless methodology it became dangerously close to being boring. Not to mention, the script was not great either. More than a few times I found myself dumbstruck by the things Oz said; things that certainly didn’t feel true to the spirit of this adventure. I’m not giving these things away, mind you, in the fear I might spoil some of the fascination.

The character of Oz was probably the biggest let-down for me in that I can totally see Franco elevating his performance in this role quite easily had he been given a few extra weeks or months to get it down. Or at least that could have been time enough for him to figure out that perhaps simple character acting is kind of lame. I guess a deadline is a deadline and the actors knew what they were doing. Right???

Beyond my knit-pickiness, I had little else to worry about with this place. Wardrobe, special effects, sound and extras were not a problem. Not in the slightest. The costumes were fanciful, the journey into Oz breathtaking — arguably a high point for children and grown-ups alike — and could have been even more so in 3D. The many extra actors hired as citizens and creatures and other weird thing-a-majigs that inhabit the land of Oz were fine as well. One note about the sound, though. At the time I didn’t notice it, but the film lacked any sing-a-longs, or any real soundtrack that any of us would remember. It didn’t really require it, and since it would be a tough act to follow the soundtrack of the original with, I’d imagine Raimi just told the sound director just to not even bother trying.

Where Oz The Great and Powerful allowed its imagination to run wild, other than the great special effects, was over the course of the journey Oscar had to make from Emerald City and out into the vast expanse of Oz. Tasked with hunting down and defeating the Wicked Witch, Oscar must prove himself to be the Great Wizard everyone automatically assumed he was upon his arrival. He encounters a little monkey, named Frank Finley, who is getting harassed by some nasty (like, really nasty) vines and overgrowth near a forest. Oscar sets him free, thus the immediate and everlasting servitude Frank now believes he owes the Wizard. Later, Oscar and Frank come upon what looks like a war zone in “China Town” (cute, because this entire area is made entirely out of chinaware.) It is here they find the China Doll girl, who’s in some serious trouble and explains that the Wicked Witch had sent her minions out across the land to search for the so-called Wizard who has just come into town, and wherever they don’t find him, presumably the minions get to destroy everything and everyone. That would appear to be the case here, anyway, since she appears to be the sole survivor with a terrible wound. Oscar reluctantly helps her, too and the partnership has become an odd trio. And so we move on down the Yellow Brick Road.

The overarching theme doesn’t require much of the viewer at all. Oz The Great and Powerful teaches one to always believe in him or herself; to believe that there’s something more than that which they see in a mirror. Oscar’s “great” transition from selfish, dirt-poor and misogynistic circus magician to sympathetic, richer-beyond-his-wildest-dreams and being a creative force (in a way that helps more people than just himself) is meant to leave the greatest impact on us. Thanks to Franco’s underwhelming performance and a good deal of contrivances along the way (more spoilers, so I won’t say), the end result is not as profound as Raimi may have expected.

Is it satisfying? Depends on what you’re coming for.

Is it captivating? Sure, the visuals are stunning and may rival things like Avatar, Brave, and Hugo. Mired in visual riches, Raimi’s new vision treats the original with respect by paying obvious tributes with certain plot elements, but more often than not it stays in shadows where it could have been dancing in the sunshine.


3-0Recommendation: I would go and see Oz The Great and Powerful because there certainly have been worse adaptations of great old films. But if you are not a fan of James Franco, I would stay far away since this film will not help persuade you that yes, he is in fact a good actor. Apparently he has his moments. Still, a pretty fun time for most, and the kids are definitely going to be entranced.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 127 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t want to be a good man; I want to be a great one.”

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