Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Mitchell Kapner & David Lindsay-Abaire
Genre: Adventure/Family/Fantasy
Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis
Running Time: 130 minutes

Oz the Great and Powerful begins with a wonderful black-and-white prologue. In 1905, a hack magician named Oscar Diggs (James Franco) performs a small-time circus act in between trying to shag the local women. He flirts with the wrong girl, however, and ends up running for his life. Diggs (also known by his stage name, Oz) escapes in a hot air balloon, only to get sucked into a nearby tornado. Somehow this tornado takes him to the Land of Oz, and it is here that the film pans out to full technicolor, bringing this magical new world to life.

Oscar, confused but grateful to no longer be in danger, wanders around his new surroundings before meeting the witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis). She believes that Oscar is actually the wizard that has been prophesied to return and overthrow the Wicked Witch, and she brings him to meet her sister, fellow witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz). They send him to the Dark Forest to destroy the Wicked Witch’s wand, but he discovers that this witch is not so wicked after all — she’s actually Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams). Now Oscar finds himself caught in the middle of a battle between the two sides, all while being forced to masquerade as the powerful Wizard of Oz.

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

As a film, Oz the Great and Powerful is likely exactly as you might expect it to be. It works well as a kid’s film — Oscar meets some crowd-pleasing fantasy characters on his way, including a china doll and a flying monkey — though its 2+ hour running time might be a burden for some little ones. The Land of Oz is colorful and vibrant, and the Munchkin inhabitants of Emerald City are sure to be a hit (despite having a very small role). In this regard, the film succeeds.

However, it’s hard not to expect more in the hands of director Sam Raimi. The characters are hardly interesting. James Franco makes Oz come across as a total sleazeball, and it’s hard to buy in to the fact that he has any ‘good’ values underneath. Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz do well with their material, but Mila Kunis is completely out of her element as Theodora. Kunis isn’t given much to work with, but her performance is devoid of any real emotion.

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

I also noticed some issues with the CGI — there were multiple occasions where the actors’ interactions with the artificial characters were completely off (i.e. Franco trying to shake the china girl’s hand but there being a noticable gap in between). For a film with a budget north of $200 million, these quirks are inexcusable.

And so goes Oz the Great and Powerful, a superficially pretty film without any real depth. Judging from my audience’s reaction, the kids seem to be digging it, so the film has that going for it. It’s just a shame that it isn’t as magical as it could have been.

6/10

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Movie Review: Take This Waltz [2011]

Take This Waltz [2011]

Take This Waltz [2011]
Director: Sarah Polley
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman
Runtime: 116 minutes

It has come to the point where I will see anything Michelle Williams is in. She has become one of the most consistently brilliant actresses over the last few years, and she does not disappoint in Take This Waltz, director Sarah Polley’s second feature film.

Williams stars as Margot, a happily married 28-year-old freelance writer who begins to fall for the curious artist across the street. This new love interest, Daniel (Luke Kirby), intrigues her in ways her loving husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), does not. While Lou is a caring, playful companion, Margot wonders what life would be like with someone else. Her strong attraction to the handsome Daniel begins a “waltz” of sorts — she doesn’t want to cheat on her husband, but she doesn’t want to cease seeing her neighbor as well. Ultimately, something has to give.

We are teased for much of the film’s running time. Margot and Daniel continue to push the boundaries of a platonic relationship, and we are there to witness the internal struggles of both, as well as the obliviousness of Lou. Clearly, this is not an ideal situation for any of them, but the emotions are just too powerful to control.

Take This Waltz [2011] -- Seth Rogen & Michelle Williams

During one critical scene, Margot and her sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) are showering completely nude with a number of other women at the local gym. Stripped of their self-consciousness, they are talking about whatever comes to mind, including relationships (naturally). One older woman bluntly states that “new things become old” — words that expertly resonate within Margot’s love triangle.

In essence, that statement is the moral of the film. Sure, the grass always looks greener on the other side, but is it worth leaving the comforting stability of the present in order to get there? Just how far is too far?

My favorite moments in the film have a key 80s song as their backdrop — “Video Killed the Radio Star.” In one powerful scene, Margot and Daniel are riding together in an amusement park ride as the song blasts over the speakers. They are having a great time, laughing, throwing their hands up in the air. Suddenly, the ride abruptly stops, as does the music. The stark reality of their inappropriate behavior hits them like a bag of bricks — they had a moment of pure bliss without any lingering thoughts of their situation, but it ended just as quickly as it began. The song is also used in a later scene to echo this sentiment.

Take This Waltz [2011]

Take This Waltz is not without faults, however. It takes a while to build momentum, and this may throw off some casual viewers. Also, a strong argument could be made for the film to end about 15 minutes earlier than it did. I was expecting the movie to end on one particularly sad note, but Polley kept it going in favor of adding a different type of resolution. In a way, everything came back around full circle. The jarring transition to the film’s “real” ending threw me off at first, and in fact, it had me question my overall rating. The more I think about it, however, the more I like it. Still, the conclusion will not appeal to everyone.

Not enough can be said about Michelle Williams’ performance here, as she is fantastic as always. Her character is eccentric and lively, and we always have a feel for her mental thought processes. Luke Kirby is also surprisingly great as the rickshaw-driving artist who is charming but with the right amount of sleaze to back it up. Furthermore, it was refreshing to see both Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman in dramatic roles, each doing well with their limited screen time.

The initial reception to Take This Waltz has been decidedly mixed, but for my money this is a moving film that feels both fresh and authentic. Those who have been in similar situations will easily feel a connection. Folks, keep an eye on Sarah Polley — she looks to have a very bright future behind the camera.

8/10

 
Take This Waltz is currently available on demand. The U.S. theatrical release is scheduled for June 29.